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- Two Penniless Princesses - 40/42 -
'Done to death by slanderous tongues Was the Hero that here lies: Death, avenger of wrongs, Gives her fame which never dies.' Much Ado About Nothing.
A day's rest revived Jean enough to make her eager to push on to Chalons, and enough likewise to revive her coquettish and petulant temper.
Sigismund and Eleanor might ride on together in a species of paradise, as having not only won each other's love, but acted out a bit of the romance that did not come to full realisation much more often in those days than in modern ones. They were quite content to let King Rene glory in them almost as much as he had arrived at doing in his own daughter and her Ferry, and they could be fully secure; Sigismund had no one's consent to ask, save a formal licence from his cousin, the Emperor Frederick III., who would pronounce him a fool for wedding a penniless princess, but had no real power over him; while Eleanor was certain that all her kindred would feel that she was fulfilling her destiny, and high sweet thoughts of thankfulness and longing to be a blessing to him who loved her, and to those whom he ruled, filled her spirit as she rode through the shady woods and breezy glades, bright with early summer.
Jean, however, was galled by the thought that every one at home would smile and say that she might have spared her journey, and that, in spite of all her beauty, she had just ended by wedding the Scottish laddie whom she had scorned. True, her heart knew that she loved him and none other, and that he truly merited her; but her pride was not willing that he should feel that he had earned her as a matter of course, and she was quite as ungracious to Sir George Douglas, the Master of Angus, as ever she had been to Geordie of the Red Peel, and she showed all the petulance of a semi-convalescent. She would not let him ride beside her, his horse made her palfrey restless, she said; and when King Rene talked about her true knight, she pretended not to understand.
'Ah!' he said, 'be consoled, brave sire; we all know it is the part of the fair lady to be cruel and merciless. Let me sing you a roman both sad and true!'
Which good-natured speech simply irritated George beyond bearing. 'The daft old carle,' muttered he to Sir Patrick, 'why cannot he let me gang my ain gate, instead of bringing all their prying eyes on me? If Jean casts me off the noo, it will be all his fault.'
These small vexations, however, soon faded out of sight when the drooping, half-hoisted banner was seen on the turrets of Chateau le Surry, and the clang of a knell came slow and solemn on the wind.
No one was at first visible, but probably a warder had announced their approach, for various figures issued from the gateway, some coming up to Rene, and David Drummond seeking his father. The tidings were in one moment made known to the two poor girls--a most sudden shock, for they had parted with their sister in full health, as they thought, and Sir Patrick had only supposed her to have been chilled by the thunderstorm. Yet Eleanor's first thought was, 'Ah! I knew it! Would that I had clung closer to her and never been parted.' But the next moment she was startled by a cry--Jean had slid from her horse, fainting away in George Douglas's arms.
Madame de Ste. Petronelle was at hand, and the Lady of Glenuskie quickly on the spot; and they carried her into the hall, where she revived, and soon was in floods of tears. These were the days when violent demonstration was unchecked and admired as the due of the deceased, and all stood round, weeping with her. King Charles himself leaning forward to wring her hands, and cry, 'My daughter, my good daughter!' As soon as the first tempest had subsided, the King supported Eleanor to the chapel, where, in the midst of rows of huge wax candles, Margaret lay with placid face, and hands clasped over a crucifix, as if on a tomb, the pall that covered all except her face embellished at the sides with the blazonry of France and Scotland. Her husband, with his thin hands clasped, knelt by her head, and requiems were being sung around by relays of priests. There was fresh weeping and wailing as the sisters cast sprinklings of holy water on her, and then Jean, sinking down quite exhausted, was supported away to a chamber where the sisters could hear the story of these last sad days from Lady Drummond.
The solemnities of Margaret's funeral took their due course--a lengthy one, and then, or rather throughout, there was the consideration what was to come next. Too late, all the Court seemed to have wakened to regret for Margaret. She had been open-handed and kindly, and the attendants had loved her, while the ladies who had gossiped about her habits now found occupation for their tongues in indignation against whosoever had aspersed her discretion. The King himself, who had always been lazily fond of the belle fille who could amuse him, was stirred, perhaps by Rene, into an inquiry into the scandalous reports, the result of which was that Jamet de Tillay was ignominiously banished from the Court, and Margaret's fair fame vindicated, all too late to save her heart from breaking. The displeasure that Charles expressed to his son in private on the score of poor Margaret's wrongs, is, in fact, believed to have been the beginning of the breach which widened continually, till finally the unhappy father starved himself to death in a morbid dread of being poisoned by his son.
However, for the present, the two Scottish princesses reaped the full benefit of all the feeling for their sister. The King and Queen called them their dearest daughters, and made all sorts of promises of marrying and endowing them, and Louis himself went outwardly through all the forms of mourning and devotion, and treated his two fair sisters with extreme civility, such as they privately declared they could hardly bear, when they recollected how he had behaved before Margaret.
Jean in especial flouted him with all the sharpness and pertness of which she was capable; but do what she would, he received it all with a smiling indifference and civility which exasperated her all the more.
The Laird and Lady of Glenuskie were in some difficulty. They could not well be much longer absent from Scotland, and yet Lilias had promised the poor Dauphiness not to leave her sisters except in some security. Eleanor's fate was plain enough, Sigismund followed her about as her betrothed, and the only question was whether, during the period of mourning, he should go back to his dominions to collect a train worthy of his marriage with a king's daughter; but this he was plainly reluctant to do. Besides the unwillingness of a lover to lose sight of his lady, the catastrophe that had befallen the sisters might well leave a sense that they needed protection. Perhaps, too, he might expect murmurs at his choice of a dowerless princess from his vassals of the Tirol.
At any rate, he lingered and accompanied the Court to Tours, where in the noble old castle the winter was to be spent.
There Sir Patrick and his wife were holding a consultation. Their means were well-nigh exhausted. What they had collected for their journey was nearly spent, and so was the sum with which Cardinal Beaufort had furnished his nieces. It was true that Eleanor and Jean were reckoned as guests of the French King, and the knight and lady and attendants as part of their suite; but the high proud Scottish spirits could not be easy in this condition, and they longed to depart, while still by selling the merely ornamental horses and some jewels they could pay their journey. But then Jean remained a difficulty. To take her back to Scotland was the most obvious measure, where she could marry George of Angus as soon as the mourning was ended.
'Even if she will have him,' said Dame Lilias, 'I doubt me whether her proud spirit will brook to go home unwedded.'
'Dost deem the lassie is busking herself for higher game? That were an evil requital for his faithful service and gallant daring.'
'I cannot tell,' said Lilias. 'The maid has always been kittle to deal with. I trow she loves Geordie in her inmost heart, but she canna thole to feel herself bound to him, and it irks her that when her sisters are wedded to sovereign princes, she should gang hame to be gudewife to a mere Scots Earl's son.'
'The proud unthankful peat! Leave her to gang her ain gate, Lily. And yet she is a bonny winsome maid, that I canna cast off.'
'Nor I, Patie, and I have gi'en my word to her sister. Yet gin some prince cam' in her way, I'd scarce give much for Geordie's chance.'
'The auld king spake once to me of his younger son, the Duke of Berry, as they call him,' said Sir Patrick; 'but the Constable told me that was all froth, the young duke must wed a princess with a tocher.'
'I trust none will put it in our Jeanie's light brain,' sighed Lily, 'or she will be neither to have nor to hold.'
The consultation was interrupted by the sudden bursting in of Jean herself. She flew up to her friends with outstretched hands, and hid her face in Lilias's lap.
'Oh, cousins, cousins! tak' me away out of his reach. He has been the death of poor Meg, now he wants to be mine.'
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