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- Bonnie Prince Charlie - 30/56 -
"And did you never think of escaping, father?"
"The first few years of my confinement I was always thinking of it, Ronald, but nothing ever came of my thought. I had no tools to burrow through a four foot wall, and if I could have done so I should have tried if it had only been to give me something to do, had it not been that I hoped some day to obtain my release, and that any attempt at escape would, if discovered, as it was almost certain to be, decrease my chances."
Not a word was said that evening as to their future plans, all their thoughts being in the past; but the next morning Colonel Leslie said at breakfast:
"And now what are we going to do next? How do we stand?"
"I know no more than you do, Angus. I do not know whether the king has gifted my mother's estate to others, as assuredly he has done my father's lands. If he has, I have been thinking that the best plan will be to ask the king's permission to leave the kingdom and return to your native Scotland."
"I am very fond of Scotland, Amelie; but I have also a fondness for living, and how I should live in Scotland I have not the most remote idea. My estate there was but a small one, and was forfeited thirty years ago; so unless I become a gaberlunzie and sit on the steps of St. Andrews asking for alms, I don't see how we should get porridge, to say nothing of anything else. No, Amelie, it seems to me that we must stop in France. For very shame they cannot let the daughter of the Marquis de Recambours starve, and they must at least restore you a corner of your parents estates, if it be but a farm. How are we off for funds at present?" he asked with a laugh. "I hope at least we have enough to pay our hotel bill."
"We have forty louis in cash, father; the remains of the hundred you committed to Malcolm with me."
"Is that so?" he exclaimed. "All I can say is that that money has lasted longer than any that ever passed through my fingers before."
"We have plenty of money," the countess said quietly. "I have all the jewels which came to me from my mother, and their sale will keep us for years, either in Scotland or France."
"That is good indeed," the colonel said cheerily.
"Yes; I took them all with me when I was sent to the convent, and have parted with none save the diamond necklet which I gave to the girl who brought Ronald and me together, as a parting keepsake, and a brooch with which I rewarded the men who aided us in the forest; but seriously, Angus, we must settle upon something."
"I quite agree with you, Amelie; but what is that something to be?"
"I should think, Angus, that the proper thing would be for me to write to the king thanking him for our release, asking his commands, and petitioning him that my mother's estates may be restored to me. I will also ask permission to retire to some southern town where there are waters which may do good to your rheumatism."
Colonel Leslie frowned.
"I suppose that is the right thing to do, Amelie; though, for my part, I cannot thank a sovereign whom I have served well after such treatment as I have received. I would rather beg my bread from door to door."
"No, I would not ask you, Angus, and of course you are differently placed; but I have my rights as a peeress of France; besides I have on my own account no complaint against the king. It was my father who shut me up in the convent, not the king."
"By the way, Amelie," her husband said, "you are not yet in mourning."
"Nor do I intend to be," she said firmly; "unless I have to go to court no thread of mourning do I put on. My father behaved like a tyrant to me, and I will not feign a grief at an event which has brought us happiness. Well, Ronald, what do you think had best be done? You and Malcolm have managed so well that we had best leave it for you to decide."
"I think what you propose, mother, is best. I think you had better travel down to some place near where your mother's estates lay, and then write your petition to the king. I will leave you there and return with it to Paris, and will there consult Colonel Hume and Marshal Saxe as to how it should be delivered to the king."
This plan was carried out. The party journeyed together to Poitiers, and there having seen his parents comfortably settled in a small house near the town, and remained with them a few days, Ronald with Malcolm returned to Paris, bearing with him his mother's memorial to the king.
Ronald was glad to find that Colonel Hume was now recovered from his wound. Marshal Saxe too was better; the latter at once took charge of the petition, and said that he would hand it to the king on the first opportunity. Ronald accompanied the marquis several times to Versailles, but the latter had no private audience with the king, and thought it better not to present the memorial in public. One day, however, he was called into the king's closet.
When he emerged with the king, Ronald thought from his expression of countenance that things had not gone well. On leaving the palace he mounted his horse -- for he was now well enough to ride -- and as he set out he called Ronald, who with other gentlemen had accompanied him to ride beside him.
"Things have not gone well," he said. "Your father's enemies have evidently been at work, and have been poisoning the king's mind. He read the memorial, and then said harshly, 'The Countess of Recambours has forfeited all rights to her mother's estates by marrying an alien. The lands of France are for the King of France's subjects, not for soldiers of fortune.' This touched me, and I said, 'Your majesty may recollect that I am an alien and a soldier of fortune, and methinks that in time of war the swords of our soldiers of fortune have done such things for France that they have earned some right to gratitude. In a hundred battles our Scottish troops have fought in the front ranks, and had it not been for the Irish Brigade we should not have had to write Fontenoy down among the list of French victories."
"You are bold, marshal," the king said angrily.
"I am bold, sire," I replied, "because I am in the right: and I humbly submit that a brave soldier like Colonel Leslie deserves better treatment than he has received at the hands of France."
The king rose at once.
"An answer to the petition will be sent to you tomorrow, marshal."
"I bowed, and without another word the king left his closet and entered the room of audience. However, lad, you must not look so downcast. We could perhaps expect no more the first time. Of course every man who has a hope, or who has a relation who has a hope, of obtaining the grant of your mother's estates is interested in exciting the king's displeasure against her; besides which there is, as you have told me, the Duc de Chateaurouge, who may be regarded as a personal enemy of your father, and who has the king's ear as much as anyone about him. However, we must have courage. I consider my personal honour is touched in the matter now, and I will not let the matter drop till justice is done."
At the appointed time Ronald again called at Marshal Saxe's hotel, and watched the gay crowd of officers and nobles who were gathered in his reception rooms. An hour later a royal attendant entered and handed a document to the marshal. The latter glanced at it and looked around. As soon as his eye fell upon Ronald he nodded to him.
"Here is the judgement," he said in a low tone, as he handed him the paper. "You see it is directed to the countess, to my care. I suppose you will start with it at once."
"Yes, marshal; the horses are saddled and we shall leave immediately."
"Don't hurry your horses," the marshal said with a slight smile; "from the king's manner I think that the contents are such that a few hours' delay in the delivery will cause the countess no pain. However, I do not anticipate anything very harsh. In the first place, although the king is swayed by favourites who work on his prejudices, his intention is always to be just; and in the second place, after granting the release of your parents as a boon to me he can scarcely annul the boon by any severe sentence. Will you tell the countess from me that I am wholly at her service, and that, should any opportunity offer, she may be sure that I will do what I can to incline the king favourably towards her. Lastly, Leslie, take care of yourself. The change in the king's manner shows that you have powerful enemies, and now that you have succeeded in obtaining your parents' freedom you have become dangerous. Remember the attack that was made upon you before, when there seemed but little chance that you would ever succeed in obtaining their release or in seriously threatening the interests of those who were looking forward to the reversion of the family estates. Their enmity now, when it only needs a change in the king's mood to do justice to your parents, will be far greater than before.
"Bid your father, too, to have a care for himself and your mother. Remember that violence is common enough, and there are few inquiries made. An attack upon a lonely house and the murder of those within it is naturally put down as the act of some party of discharged soldiers or other ruffians. Tell him therefore he had best get a few trusty men around him, and be on guard night and day against a treacherous attack. Those who stand in the way of powerful men in France seldom live long, so he cannot be too careful."
A quarter of an hour later Ronald was on horseback. He had already provided himself with a pass to leave the city after the usual hour of closing the gates, and he and Malcolm were soon in the open country. As they rode along Ronald repeated the warning that the marshal had given him.
"He is quite right, Ronald, and you cannot be too careful. We have against us, first, this vindictive Duc de Chateaurouge, who, no doubt, has poisoned the king's mind. In all France there is no one whom I would not rather have as a foe. He is powerful, unscrupulous, and vindictive; he would hesitate at nothing to carry out anything on which he had set his mind, and would think no more of obtaining the removal of one whom he considered to stand in his way than of crushing a worm. Even as a young man he had a villainous reputation, and was regarded as one of the most dangerous men about the court. To do him justice, he is brave and a fine swordsman, and for choice he would rather slay with his own hands those who offend him than by other means. Though he was but three-and-twenty at the time I first left France he had fought half a dozen duels and killed as many men, and several others who were known to have offended him died suddenly. Some were killed in street brawls, returning home at night, one
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