The Contract Part II
“Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!
Were the last words of Marmion — ”
“And they would have been your first —” said Lady Horatia Dumblaine as she threw aside her splendid album, and gave both her hands to her nephew, new from the land of laurels.
“A Chevy-chase and I not there!” he answered. “To hear of Vittoria and not to have seen it, is enough to lay my blushing honours thick upon me!”
“Well, Stewart, you have been pouring wine and oil upon your wounds among beautiful Samaritans. And so the Lady of Mornay is dead, leaving one daughter and a rich heiress, and her stepdaughter what the Scotch law pleases?”
“Custom, Madam,” interposed Lord Frederick Dumblaine in the tone of an English husband accustomed to think civility a virtue too good for use at home: “call it custom — a law not written, but enough to make parents ridiculous and their children enemies.”
“Solemnly true, my lord; but these half or reputed sisters are too inequal to be rivals. Emilia has her father’s estate, Marianne only his name, eighteen innocent years, and one or two friends. We shall see no romantic contest between Wallace Dumblaine’s school-day love and his manly estimate of gold. I beg your pardon, Stewart! That face rebukes me, but nobody can ever remember that Wallace is your cousin.”
“He has so much wit, fashion, and success, your want of remembrance is a rebuke to me.”
“We must all have our amusements, you know; a French philosopher has his cat — and Englishman his twelve pipes — Wallace chooses a clever coquette as fit to purr softly and raise agreeable clouds about him as Montaigne’s pet or Hobbes’s pipe. But by what name is the disinherited to be known?”
“By mine, if she pleases.”
The dry and cool simplicity of this answer, spoken in a tone which admitted no dispute, made Lady Horatia laugh heartily. Her husband might have frowned if he had not fallen asleep over a folio volume of heraldry.
“I rejoice to hear this change,” said the lady lowering her voice. “My husband is dazzled by his new ward Emilia, and I must obey him. Marianne could not return to this place, once her expected home and heritage, to be a dependent on the courtesy, certainly not the friendship of Scotch relatives. But her stepmother’s sister, Aunt Barbara as you always called her, is of the rough cocoa-nut kind — full of the milk or cream of human nature. Let her be the Bride-maid.”
Lady Barbara Dumblaine, a gaunt hard-featured Scotchwoman whose saffron skin and hair seemed her only recommendation for a handmaiden to “yellow-robed Hyman,” entered as her name was spoken.
“Could ye not have thought of the stramash this war would cause a lone woman! Fine kinsfolk at a spa; and you, Stewart, my gude brother’s son! I might have been taken for a conscrip if Wallace had na brought me here safe. Where have ye left the bonnie bride? And what would she have been fit for when Scotch women cut bread with the axe which beheaded an enemy or their own dresser?”
“Fit to polish the axe and spread honey on the bread!” he answered laughing.
“And hang like a cobweb in some proud brother’s kitchen!” added the maiden-sister with a sharp glance at the laird’s wife. “So the byrewoman died a Countess! Weel as she used to say, Chayhorse is come again! — And her lassie is a Yerl’s heiress! A bonnie tow to spin from the chance-bairn’s cradle to the castle top!”
“And Wallace Dumblaine will take that tow to darn his ravelled fortune.”
“Sweep awa’ auld hanks first, or he may tangle yours. Dinna ye mind how he and Marianne played at wedding when ye were bairns, and she ca’d him husband and he ca’d her his wee wifie? Did na ye fell him like a windle-straw when he said it was a fiction of Scotch law? And so it was — ay, ay — see to it — it’s ill sifting sand agains the wind.”
Stewart thanked the oracle for her second-sight and departed, sincerely resolved to escape the buzz and stings of this northern hive of relatives by remaining on the continent. The sudden cessation of hostilities and his own circumstances excused any change or abruptness in his arrangements. Preferring the safety of truth to shadowy delicacies, he repeated to Marianne the rumour concerning Wallace and Emilia. She answered by half-dropping her scarf and discovering the scar left on her neck by the blow he had intended for Wallace when the familiar title of “Wee Wifie” seemed too audaciously applied. He understood this mute reference to the fact, and hastened to reply, “I see nothing in this to alarm or pain you. But we will not wake the demons of rumour and defamation in Scotland. We will linger on these southern shores or cross the Apennines and shun odious intruders.”
“But till Wallace himself surrenders all claim —”
“His proposed marriage with Emilia seems a recognizance that he has none — unless. . . .”
Stewart felt her sudden recoil — the tremor of her whole frame, and the stony dampness of the hand she durst not withdraw. “Marianne,” he added in a very low and calm voice, “we met early, but our separation has been long. You have lived in your quiet loneliness and in the world. Ten years may have changed us both; but one change has not yet begun and shall not. You are absolute mistress of yourself — your safety and comfort are all I intend or consider. Preserve them both by trusting me!”
He did not expect or receive and immediate reply. She had often seen his anger without dismay, but this calmness was awful. The repose of a proud temper is more solemn than the sudden fire of a meek one. We are touched by the flute-tones of a powerful organ deeper than by a reed’s. She could not force herself to express or even hint the limits of her present trust, but she was too conscious of her defenceless state and his own power to abuse either, and he left her right, admirably right both in act and motive, wrong in manner, for she saw he deemed her dread of Wallace’s pretensions extreme and frivolous and held his own in too high esteem to obtrude them.
Emilia seemed to have occupied herself composedly in adding pearls to her head-dress. “So you have ventured again into your Abomelique’s blue chamber!” she said, “as you did at Salency. The old Baroness told me your adventures, Marianne, and something more. Do you know she chose to fancy an English aide-de-camp’s visit to her chateau might endanger it, while the mob were Bonapartists? All her neighbours and servants were told he sick guest’s name was Wallace, and Claude swears his apparition in the bed-chamber — you remember it! — was only to pay pretty Perrette a kind visit — as you paid the sick chevalier.”
“You cannot mean me to believe this — Claude knows — the Baron knows —”
“All the plain truth, of course! But clever historians never tell it, and servants tell all they see. They have told how they found a charming English lady in a swoon by accident, very near Monsieur Wallace. Really as every body has heard he was hurt by accident too about that time in France, and invited to Salency by the gracious Baroness, this maybe an awkward entanglement of chances.”
“But the physician and chaplain of Salency witnessed —”
“Ma belle soeur, they witnessed your marriage a week after, but the jest is that the pale interesting invalid who came and departed like a shadow, was called Wallace. Now don’t be angry with me because a silly woman made silly mysteries. Whey did you swoon, as she says, with your hair in such disorder? She would have been roughed, gemmed, and furbelowed for a spectacle so public.”
Marianne might have answered “if I am innocent, I have said enough — if guilty, nothing is enough” but with more womanly wisdom she was silent while her tormentor affected to look at a volume on the table — a memoir of the Duke of Brescia’s sacrifice of his sister, and Augusta of Württemberg’s death in her husband’s presence.
“What delightful studies! You should have over your chimney the copper tablet Pope Benedict fixed in the Duke’s villa. Well, there is no occasion for a thrill of sympathy. No blindfolded executioners are brought now from Strasburg to behead mysterious wives. Fouche and Benevento manage such trifles better.”
Then changing her tone to one of the blandest raillery while Stewart entered, she added, “I had almost forgotten — Wallace sends you this facsimile of the casket you dropped into the sea. It will serve as a sarcophagus for your next pet-dove to puzzle future Belzonis.”
Stewart threw as if by chance, the taper from his writing-desk on the casket and trampled on both. “See,” he said coldly, “how such counterfeits bear the light! You trifle too often with these contraband toys, Emilia, among outlaws. This passport must be used to-night and a chasseur waits to escort the Baron. You will travel like Lalla Rookh with your Fadladeen and Feramorz in disguise.”
A dismission so prompt and absolute yet so gracious admitted no dispute. Emilia left the room instantly, whispering with a viper’s glance, “The Caliph must be obeyed, but he knows how Zobeide concealed Sister Amine’s scars.”
“You remind me,” he said as the gate closed on her, “how Mahomet cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the cat which chose to fasten upon it. My dear novice, why should you entertain such visitors so expensively? Courage and common-sense would cost less than this waste of feelings they despise. Give your enemies a straw, say our old Saxon seers, and forget them.”
Had no mystery remained, this moment would have been worth the Hundred Days of the Emperor. But Marianne was paralyzed by her sister’s hideous hint, and the moment passed for ever.
A stranger would have thought the last bar had fallen, and the gate of their domestic life opened again. On all occasions when observers were present, she omitted no exterior kindness, as if conscious that his was her sole defence, but their divorce, however concealed, was still absolute; and the dagger which as he said, was placed between them, hung only by a single hair. Though assured that Claude and Mcquerie were safely held under surveillance of the French police, Marianne’s spirits failed visibly from this period. Perrette, either in mere officiousness or malice, hinted that her health might be expected to vary and require attention. She did not scruple to tell this conjecture to her lady whose harassed nerves and consequent decline of strength, caused sufficient change in her appearance. Inexpressibly alarmed at this false inference from her meagre looks and languid step, Marianne exerted herself by every possible means to resume cheerfulness and activity. She arranged her dress with the exactest care, proposed excursions which required effort and exposure, and encountered even dangerous fatigue in visiting the remains of Roman antiquities in Provence, expressing more earnest curiosity than she felt, to shew herself at ease in public.
Perhaps, like all studied exhibitions, this was too anxious to be successful. In dread of Perrette’s whisper, she forgot the possibility that her sudden vivacity and desire to avoid retirement, might seem finesse; and her refusal in the extremest rigour of a stormy season, to wear the usual close and ample wrappers, provoked more remark than it prevented. A letter, carelessly and rather mysteriously worded, brought an invitation to visit Lady Barbara Dumblaine. Kindness without delicacy was nothing new from the Scotch spinster, but this seemed the consequence of some hint that her protection might be useful. Her obscure and solitary abode might be thought a fit place of concealment and refuge, if Marianne was suspected again of correspondence with Wallace. The exquisite wretchedness caused by this thought admitted no relief except patience, and the suspicion would be best cured by remaining resolutely in Stewart’s presence and avoiding every semblance of distrust or fear. Therefore she no longer wished the separation she had almost resolved to demand, wisely judging that to live in his sight, every moment of her life subject and open to his scrutiny, would be the most decisive answer to false whispers.
Stewart seemed not displeased with the pretext afforded by the season to prolong their stay a few weeks in the south of France, and when the time of their embarkation was finally fixed, he loaded her with splendid trifles for Her Aunt Barbara’s toilet, adding especially an agate in the shape of an “elfin arrow” as it is called in Scotland, to guard her, as he said, against those witches who leave their elvish imps in the place of “fair-faced children” — a seeming jest, but seriously meant and remembered.
Marianne was silent but visibly trembled as she stood in the intenseness of agony. Either to change or guide the garrulous old man’s discourse, Emilia added, “I love plain matters and plain dresses. Madame Makequestion, as you aptly call her, Baron, is coming here, perhaps with Aunt Barbara’s embassy to my sister. She fancies wolves are abroad, and the green carriage with its peacock-trimmings is ready for you, Marianne, if you need a chaperone — to the Festival of Asses in Provence.”
The Baron’s closed eyes as he leaned over the harp muttering, “Exquisite — ravissant!” showed his ears might be trusted.
“Am I to conclude,” said Stewart without looking towards her, “that you negotiate these private treaties? If your sister chooses her Aunt’s escort to England, the choice is too natural and proper to be disputed — or concealed.”
“Only think how refreshing it must be to sit with two paralytic pugs and a purring Catalani at Kirkdrone after all this glare of French sunshine and gallantry! Don’t you sympathise, Stewart, with the dear delight of returning to oat-cake and red mittens? Haggis twice a week and sowins every day?”
And Emilia let her hand fall gently and as if naturally on her brother-in-law’s shoulder while she tapped Marianne’s cheek with provoking mirth.
“Do you know Aunt Barbara was enchanted with the agate you gave her? It is an elfin-arrow, a talisman to keep fairy-changelings from the cradle, she says. She would have come herself if dear Marianne had invited her, but it will be happiness enough to pity and nurse and advise you!”
“You choose, then, to reside with Lady Barbara when you reach Britain?”
“My Aunt has heard of our — of your removal and supposes my stay under her roof would relieve you from all incumbrance.”
“Pray take me with you!” interposed Emilia; “think with what grave dignity I should assist in a Scotch communion of charitable spinsters. — St. Barbe’s Soeurs de Charité?”
“Truth, modesty, and obedience are not among their vows, perhaps?”
“Patience is the fourth.”
“You look as pensive as Lalla Rookh and the noble Baron here as your Fadladeen. Well, I shall trust him to escort me on towards the frontiers tomorrow at day-break if his dream of chivalry lasts. Pronounce, now, will your sovereign trust you to our safe-guard? Will you go with me and our old gossiping gouvernante to Scotland? There, I leave you to hold council.” And slyly tossing a myrtle leaf half-faded into her sister’s lap, she tripped to the door and added, “Send me no summons to supper — I will hear the imperial decree, Marianne, when I come to your couchée.”
Her miserable sister looked at Stewart as if expecting, almost hoping to hear the worst. “Say nothing to me now!” he said, “I cannot bear it,” and without regarding or perhaps remembering that his guest’s slumber might be slight, he added, “How foolishly, how cruelly you use your power, woman! Was there any motive, any cause for this under-plot? Are you not free to class with your sister, if by caballing with her, you chose to make her your equal?”
“Strike, if you please, but hear me!” she said: “only tell me what you desire. Let us part as friends tonight — we will talk of this tomorrow.”
She spoke in a raised tone hoping to awake the Baron, for she began to fear an attack of delirious fever had seized Stewart. She had no idea of the perilous and painful position in which he found himself placed by contact with Claude, or the remotest thought how near that dreaded witness might be even while she spoke. But he remembered it and whispered bitterly, “You look to a dotard for protection! — you, for whose sake I suffer a villain and a harpy in my house!”
She stopped to hear no more and the Baron awoke.
Perplexed, indignant, and ashamed of the dilemma in which ungovernable chances placed him, Stewart entered the drawing-room with a countenance more flushed and a step less regular than Marianne had ever seen. Of all the inquisitors ill-fortune sends to witness domestic scenes, an old friend grown infirm in judgment and a young relative without any, are most apt to inflict torture.
“Charming, charming!” said the Baron taking the full privilege of gout and gallantry on a sofa between the two ladies. “Hercules between Pleasure and — what you call the other divinity in English?”
“Prudence,” said Emilia with a smile and an arch emphasis which fully explained the difference between wisdom and its semblance.
“Ma foi, that is not the right word. No, la belle, you should have said Bon Ton — good taste — Politeness — if Wisdom had not been polite, how would she have persuaded Hercules?”
“Wisdom was not at home with him,” returned the lady, and another brilliant glance pointed the jest.
Notwithstanding his excellence in the real and rare art of home-conversation, notwithstanding the politeness which in him was both principle and practice, Stewart felt at this instant hardly capable of either. He asked Marianne abruptly, almost fiercely, if her harp was in tune. Wisely and therefore as the Baron said, “politely,” she answered, “if you will accompany it.”
But his humour was not tuned. So much the power and purpose of words depend on the listener rather than the speaker, that her mild answer seemed coquetry, and there was offence even in her readiness to exhibit charms so often denied to him. Startled by the paleness and deep flush which passed over his brow alternately, she placed the harp near her sister and begged Emilia to play the charming air sung at Salency during the Feast of Roses.
“Ah, l’air divin! Mon ami, that is opportune to remind me of your chevalier Ecossais, M. Wallace — he is seeking a root of the true provençal rose to send on your lady’s jour-de-fête for her conservatory. Bon dieu! My memory is sexagenaire now — but he is at the Boule d’Or — at the hotel where Madame Makequestion reposes till she has your lady’s commands.”
“Make-question,” said Emilia, touching the harp-strings with the most careless air imaginable, “is an elegant refinement of Mcquerie and quite characteristic.”
“Madame is a free trader,” added Stewart. “A Scotch milliner can hardly expect commands in France, unless she has Pandora’s bandbox.”
“Mais voila! You are au fait as a French husband. Buy my equerry — you saw him with me, you know — he is beau-garçon and filled a casket with trifles for les belles in Belgium — the douaniers were importunate and he shewed them, as he said, his specimens of skulls for what you call Craniologs. Ah, ha! they never dreamed one infant’s — one small head could be so well filled.”
“Has he this precious specimen still?” The hollow tone of the questioner was so strange that even the Baron forgot his emerald snuff-box to look around.
“He keeps it for Spurzheim or Dr. Gall, he told me — I mean he told the douaniers who talked of sending for the mayor — the Herr-hatter of Coblentz. The bankers there were busy stirring up a search in a Swiss chalet for some skeleton — some reliques buried in an ice-valley long since. My courier made a troubadour-story of broken cabriolets and dead mules he had seen there, and the douaniers forgot their business to listen. Ah, le drôle!”
Though all this might have been said with the most entire indifference, it seemed as if every incident was a thread of the fatal clue designed to unfold the secret of her dishonour.
But human plans are as imperfect and insecure as human judgment. While our young friends deferred or lost the moments within their reach, events baffled them forever. The eagle escaped from Elba and all the subjects of England began to seek shelter in their native country except those whose military duty called them to her standard in Belgium. Stewart was of this number; and as usual, the importance of his official rank seemed to compensate for domestic nullity. He prepared for his new task with the cool composure of a commander familiar with the science and the dangers of war. The pomp and circumstance were already seen even in the remote province he inhabited, and Marianne was touched almost with awe at the mingled energy and indifference he dislplayed. “In less than forty summers, He said as a splendid brigade were marshalled on the heights of Provence, “except a few very miserable men, not one of these will remain. Even the happiest can only hope to be remembered by his children. We shall survive in nothing here.”
Marianne felt the melancholy inference and hastened to another subject, though hardly less painful. “Since you are ready for your crusade, may I not be useful as a ‘Soeur de Charité’?”
Perhaps she hoped to have been accepted as a volunteer in those kind duties which the nuns of that most venerable order perform in camps and hospitals. But Stewart either heedless or indisposed to accept this hint, continued his occupation with a countenance which seemed to say the allusion to a “sister’s charity” had displeased him. Marianne saw the term might be misconstrued and hastened to remove its offence. “Les Soeurs de Charité,” she added, “include travellers and strangers in their bounty. My father’s daughter is sick and forlorn at Nice — may we not give her the benefit of our escort to a safer country before hostilities begin?”
“Her letter is gracefully and discreetly written,” he answered, giving it a slight and cold glance: “if you owe it to her necessities or to her feelings as a neglected sister, she must be pitied, but I see no possible chance of accompanying her.”
“She is alone,” Marianne rejoined, conscious yet afraid of her own thoughts, and doubting whether this reluctance was not too much displayed to be without design.
“You believe she is alone at present, but who could be surprised if her own admiring Wallace should choose to rejoin her? I must leave you at the nearest port and they might deem themselves fit additions to your escort.”
“But you have not named the escort you have provided?”
This question was drily, perhaps haughtily asked, for Marianne perceived the suspicion his answer intimated, and her pride was roused by his jealousy even more than by the blind obedience he appeared to claim. “Your servants, perhaps, are a sufficient superintendence?”
“Or such a gouvernante,” he retorted, “as the ci-devant Mcquerie
“Raised from the kitchen to the parlour, where
Her wondering betters wait behind her chair;
Raised for some secret service unexprest,
And by its wages only to be guessed.”
“I cannot hate my father’s daughter or one you think fit to treat as if her father had been yours. I cannot answer an insult from a guest you choose; but she is gone, and as you have said, this picture is her warning that — that I have lost — that —”
She could not finish the sentence, and stung by the passion of unspeakable anguish, threw into the flames Emilia’s sketches of herself, Stewart and Wallace.
“And what do I lose?” he asked with equal ire but more calmness. “I whom you compel to view this heartless, worthless, audacious coxcomb as my heir and future representative? Why did you not accept him since his interest stands so high in your regard? You placed an air-drawn dagger between us and make it like Macbeth’s, a means to open a succession for my cousin Banquo’s race, not mine.”
He spoke with the most emphatic energy of truth while he adopted the poet’s fiction to enforce it. Marianne, thunder-struck by this strange yet not improbable inference from her conduct, perceived as when fire bursts forth in a mansion, many points and small fragments to which it gives a hideous and dazzling mightiness.
“Say all!” she said, “let me know all. But it is impossible that you should believe this — you only seek to excuse the disrespect — the mockery —”
She hesitated and paused, doubting what phrase could express the coldness she resented without implying that its removal would be welcome. Stewart caught her meaning from her want of speech.
“Disrespect and mockery, I confess, are the fittest words while we live on these terms. You imposed them on a pretext now absolutely cancelled, and began only by the whisper of a vulgar woman — a trafficker in vile secrets, made by chance during that mysterious walk —”
“Was it mysterious,” interrupted Marianne, not unwilling to arrest the most disputable word, “because the cause was so simply and instantly told?”
“Call it ill-timed, then, or unfortunate. We lose temper by arguing when we might act. Let us be wise enough to own we may grow wiser. I admit my share of blame if you will end the cause, and it can be ended best in another residence. Your birthday is in May — let us celebrate it at home — in our own home and country, and date a new life from that day.”
Marianne assented to this amnesty by silence, cold almost ungracious silence, for the thrill of feelings too deep for words or tears, might have resembled the shudder of repugnance. But the subject once decided was dismissed, and Stewart quietly pursued and completed his plan of removal from the Mediterranean shore to Britain, trusting the silver cord which had been loosened, might be knit again during the lapse of a few pleasant weeks in scenes continually changing, better than by another sudden trial of skill. Unless both parties could have seen themselves with each other’s eyes, they could not judge of their own demeanour. The small soft kindnesses which form the threads of that fine cord, cannot be woven by unpractised hands. Conscious of effort and design, the husband’s ordinary language became constrained, and advances half-made were repelled or retracted by the pride of womanhood. And thus like icebergs, they were divided and driven asunder by the current which secretly melted and subdued them.
The travellers pursued their way to a convenient haven on the shores of Provence and reached its medicinal baths without mischance. There they rested, as the short campaign near Baronne had terminated and the triumphant entry of the Allies into Paris already permitted English visitors to assemble in or near France. Many were surprised to see Marianne accompanied by Emilia Douglas. The successful claimant of her birthright, and the rival she had deep reason to fear of a more important interest in her husband’s affections. But the heiress accosted her relatives with such bland and cordial gaiety, and so earnestly pursued the opportunities offered by a southern spa to re-establish intimacy, that without manifesting useless aversion, Marianne could not escape their force. The extreme though secret difficulty of her position compelled her to suppress those indications of chagrin which more perfect unreserve with Stewart would have permitted. But he had carefully implied his intention was only to secure her from calumny by a residence on the continent sufficiently long to allow the ordinary death of idle rumours, yet secluded enough to permit a gradual separation of it should be proved fittest. The sparkling, fearless, and incessant vivacity of Emilia aided by high accomplishments and long knowledge of the world, rendered her a most successful occupant of those hours which a southern summer condemns to languor and ennui. Though the blandishments she practised and the notice they obtained from Stewart were strictly, even cautiously restrained within the limits of sisterly and courteous frankness, the timid and deject spirit of half-renounced affection shrunk from its approach. Perhaps in less embarrassing circumstances she would have shewn herself far more than equal to her sister in rich conversation and graceful talents; but her thoughts, words and movements seemed arrested, as by that withering spell which converted some princess to stone while her heart and eyes were allowed their powers. When they reached Marseilles Emilia made no scruple to display her readiness to exchange a sick chaperone’s route in quest of health, for a visit to Languedoc with her brother and sister, as she styled them with frequent and familiar emphasis. This plan seemed to be arranged almost without a reference to Marianne, except when Stewart said with quiet decision, “Your sister will amuse you in my frequent absences, and as her marriage with my nearest relative seems fixed, we owe her this courtesy.” That calm and courteous indifference, which as she had once been told, is the most insupportable because the most unmentionable evil, compelled her to receive this command without complaint or visible vexation. Of whom and what could she express jealousy without confessing too anxious fondness to preserve an unacknowledged and precarious tie? [Perhaps as she now often told herself with bitter and vain regret, her own conduct seen through a jaundiced medium, might have appeared a needless extreme of wavering distrust, or a mean device to screen real aversion under a pretence of the most unanswerable kind.] The ice between two persons thus miserably divided, soon becomes strong enough to bear the steps of a third.
Such thoughts were not likely to produce more cheerful or more cordial ease in her demeanour, and when they reached the beautiful villa hired on the banks of the Garonne, she almost loathed the paradise into which a serpent had intruded. Even Stewart’s absence would have been relief, but peace was now proclaimed, there was no legation to afford and excuse or a motive for his visits to Vienna which had been included in his first project, and the lingering consequences of half-cured wounds rendered this rest and retirement almost indispensable. Emilia rallied, advised, and at last ridiculed her sister, not in her brother-in-law’s presence, but in the many moments which home affords to that worst pest, a home-intruder. She preserved before Stewart the most gracious and adroit forbearance, therefore Marianne’s coldness had the disadvantage of contrast and apparent injustice. In private, she taxed her with perverse neglect of her talents and beauty, criticised her dress and complained of her indolent indifference to her husband’s health and amusements. When he was a spectator, all the small delicate cares which form the “wicker bridge” between hearts, were practised as by a privileged sister. She gradually assumed authority in the household, alleging her experience in continental lief, and the strength of spirit which as she said, a disengaged damsel enjoys while domestic anxieties devour a wife. This was said with charming grace to her “dear brother” and with ironical significance to Marianne, who yielded perhaps unwisely the precedence she felt ashamed to dispute. Servants, always the most close and critical observers, soon discovered that their lord and lady’s politeness and exact observance of each other was unmingled with sincere cordiality. They observed her brief and constrained conversation, her faded figure, and the irrepressible anguish she betrayed when she believed herself unseen. No remedy could be found for this anguish except to part, without any ostensible cause, not even one she could assign to herself except his kindness to her sister who had given no offence except her better claim to inheritance! A sad alternative, yet preferable to this lingering misery. How to open the subject to Stewart was the most painful difficulty. If she hinted at some whispers which had circulated to Emilia’s prejudice at Aix-la-Chapelle, he might justly despise the unsisterly desire to credit them, and refuse to believe that their protection was unwisely bestowed. The retirement in which his health and other circumstances detained them was at least a prudent choice in Emilia, even if she shared it from motives merely selfish. Happily it afforded one method of approaching Marianne’s purpose and she seized it by urging her regret that his stay with her should deprive him of the society afforded by Barèges or Pisa, or the many medicinal baths still nearer their retreat.
“I have not complained of solitude,” he answered drily, “if you regret or are weary of this arrangement of our establishment here, I mean, it may be most readily changed.”
“By a tour to Rome or Naples?”
“Sorrento has its recommendations if health alone was in question. But you should have wider society. Or you wish perhaps to return to Britain with Wallace and Emilia?”
“Wallace and Emilia!” She repeated the first name with a sudden rush of blood to her brow and bosom, sent by surprise at his announcement of their union.
“Such guests,” he added, only give two parties another to hate.”
On the 12th May 1801 a Swiss pedlar well-known in Avignon informed the police that he had found a villa on the banks of the Rhone evidently plundered and without any living inhabitants. Official search was begun. This villa had been hired by the Earl of Mornay for a short summer-residence, and occupied only a few days. The gendarmes found him lifeless at the door of his bedchamber which he seemed to have defended desperately. The corpse of a lady, apparently dead in childbirth, lay on the bed. Rings had been torn from her fingers, trunks rifled and nothing left except a secretaire containing a few sealed papers. No servants were discovered till the cries of two women were heard in an out-house. They gave a very confused account of the brigands who had seized and forced them into it at midnight. The villa stood on a terrace with steps descending to the river and must have been approached in boats, as no suspicious strangers had been seen on the roads, and the few neighbours were rigorously questioned. One of the female domestics, a rustic helper in the kitchen, said she had heard one of the robbers speak in a strange language, neither French nor English, but her own Provençal jargon made her description doubtful. The Swiss merchant remarked that the words she repeated signified a vow to atone by praying in as many churches as there were bells in Avignon. Every time those famous bells sounded, he was observed in every church in or near Avignon watching, as some believed, for the penitent. Other motives might have been suspected, but war was renewed, private affairs were lost in public revolutions, and sixteen years had passed when this letter revived old memories.
“The Prefect of Avignon will not neglect an appeal to the free and equal justice he administers. Soon after the last campaign, a young man bearing a distinguished name was received as a guest by the Baron de Salency and married under his roof the daughter of a Scotch nobleman whose mysterious death has never been explained. The heir of the family whose name the young man assumes, is prepared to prove him an impostor, the son of an adventuress known par amours to the Baron before her supposed acquaintance with other victims. The Pilgrim of your Eighteen Churches is not a lost witness.
“You, M. le Prefect, may remember many of these facts and enquire if others are truly represented. The soi-disant Chevalier Henry Stewart, his wife and her half-sister now occupy a villa belonging to the Baron de Salency near Avignon. Perhaps to involve the Baron, an old man, your friend and relative, in and expostion of long-pasts folly may seem a task too severe. But he and other men ought to learn how wide a tree of evil may spring from one seed cast by a boy on a common.”
The Prefect looked at the signature and seal of this letter. The name subscribed was noble and well-known; the armorial bearings those of an ancient family and the letter came by the courier of an accredited British envoy. But he only said, “I shall go to the Opera to-night.”
The theatre of Avignon was filled by a splendid crowd to see a new and celebrated “Norma.” “Whose,” said a young sculptor to his patron, “is that remarkable profile? Caracalla’s brow with the curls of a young Marcellus?”
“An Englishman’s — the Chevalier Henry Stewart — with some classic taste to suit his Roman outline. Do you not see two Graces with him?”
“I see a graceful Blonde, serious enough for a Norma, and a gay Brunette, perhaps an Adalgisa.”
“Hush! His wife and her half-sister. Rumour at Brussels says the husband is a worse impostor than the Pollio of our opera, and the lady capable of Norma’s sacrifice of herself or of her children.”
The sculptor resumed his study of the group, sketched it hastily in his tablets, and replied in a lower whisper, “I was in Brussels when this lady Marianne Stewart arrived at an hotel where a strange scene was acted, but —” he added very expressively — “the curtain has dropped.”
* * *
This artist whose talents were not confined to sculpture, soon discovered the villa occupied by the subject of his observations. It had been hired from a Baron of the old regime and contained a gallery of rare paintings which the maître d’hôtel was permitted to shew when strangers brought credentials. With a passport from his patron, our inquisitor was readily admitted, and as if by accident, left a small Roman coin under Titian’s portrait of Pope Leo. Professing a desire to copy this celebrated piece, he returned next day and saw the coin had not been exchanged, as he expected, for one of British currency. He knew the free-masonry by which the confederates in a deep scheme of financial fraud corresponded in public galleries or museums, and placed when he departed, a Lombard coin near the bust of Sforza. This being still unnoticed, he left at his third and last visit a gold Napoleon on which was cut in deep characters “Chamouny—Brussels” and on the reverse “July 17–1815.”
“Gold, silver, lead!” said the Englishman called Stewart, as he examined the deposits, “have we the swart demon of the mines among our amateurs?” and he placed them in his companion’s hand.
“Martin Waldeck’s fortune perhaps!” the lady answered with a musical laugh. “Three firebrands in disguise. Our Baron de Salency’s protégé was here this morning with his pencils, and he resembles one of Claude Thibert’s fifty-eight thieves more than an amateur of fine art, sketching Petrarch’s house.”
“This is not Cardinal Fesch’s gallery, or I might suspect Bonapartists. This date refers to their last campaign.”
“And,” she added with the keenest glance of very brilliant eyes, “to the day when you were found on the battlefield among the slain. Your death was believed at Brussels and Marianne arrived there on the same day, while Claude was lurking near the hotel. You must have heard of his exploits.”
Her companion made no reply, and left her abruptly. The artist was seen no more in Avignon.
From that day a deep but concealed change was observed by the half-widowed and half-wedded sharer of Stewart’s present domicile. In that worst solitude, among inmates without communion, sympathy or trust, Marianne had leisure to detect the symptoms of some secret evil and to imagine more. Question was difficult even if opportunity had been given; but all occasions of private conference were shunned, and his conversation when they met before witnesses, was brief and cold. Could the doubt of his right to the name he bore, be known to him, or whispered to more than herself? A frightful thought that she might be deceived — that such imposture had been practised, rendered her own demeanour chilling, when cordial kindness might have produced the explanation she feared yet most desired. His secret and deeper cause of distrust was utterly unknown though the affair at Brussels would have seemed a sufficient cause, if she had not believed it distinctly told. To advert to it even in her own thoughts was always painful, and she abhorred with womanly and generous pride, the task of compromising her sister, whose hand and entire selfishness would throw the whole of that cruel task on the victim of her error.
But an opportunity to fix or remove one wavering suspicion offered itself. If the self-called Stewart was a counterfeit, he could not know all the incidents of her childhood or the scenes in which the real Stewart had been her earliest playmate. Collecting her utmost courage she drew from her portfolio a slight sketch of the crescent-rock known by its traditional name “the King’s Chair” where she had been seated on her most eventful birthday. He only noticed the graceful wreaths of sea-pinks she had pencilled round it, and trembling at the inference this ignorance or forgetfulness of the past admitted, she added the outline of a grotesque figure in a mountaineer’s costume, such as soi-disant Claude was said to wear.
“Ah! a Gascon Cupid — crisp curls and jet black eyes — but why this beret and these sabots on a rock in misty Morven? One of Ossian’s spectres would have been more at home.”
“He does not recognize the muleteer’s boy,” thought Marianne. “Stewart could not have forgotten him.” And starting at the spectre raised by her own fears, but still unwilling to find them justified, she closed the portfolio, but not before he had taken from it a portrait begun by himslef, unfinished still, and faintly tinted. It represented her in Italian costume, a few flowers mingled with the silver net which covered her hair.
“You have dropped,” he said, “the flowers and the sparkling network which the artist has shewn here so significantly. Who would believe you who now love silence and gloom so often, could be a Flora if you chose, and near young flowers instead of burying them.”
His last words were keenly pointed but she felt only her won suspicions. “Those were Alpine flowers,” she answered, “supposed to detect impostors.” His face darkened till it seemed a stranger’s and as Marianne left the room, his hasty step shook the alabaster lamp on its pedestal. Its pale glare suited a dim and ghastly purpose.
“At last, then, said the Prefect of Avignon to his father-in-law, “you have found a tenant for your villa. An Englishman and his bride — young enough to choose a bower near Petrarch’s Vaucluse without listening to tales of robbers and assassins.”
“Legends, legends!” returned the Baron de Salency, “those robbers were in the consul’s days, and an Englishman’s death in the short truce of Amiens was not likely to find avengers.”
The Prefect had no long exchanged his military spurs for a civilian’s robe, and he made no immediate answer to the taunt, as he supposed, of an old aristocrat. After a short pause, he rejoined drily, “Justice might have been found even in our proudest days, and the death of a stranger at midnight, plundered by brigands, might be avenged even now if I had been permitted to find Claude Larron.”
“Prefect! I implore you remember! — that name is borne by a poor grisette’s son who has some claims on me. You, my relative, are concerned in our family’s honour.”
A smile, almost of contempt, passed over the magistrate’s face as he replied, “The grisette’s son would have been wiser if he had kept her name, and his father if he is ‘l’enfant du quelq’un’ has risked more honour by concealing than by avowing a boyish folly. What has been gained? To escape a just penance for his first offence, this boy was allowed to escape with a changed name. How can we blame other offenders for assuming it? Thus it has become a password among felons, quoted in Bicêtres — placarded on prison-walls and —”
“My good friend, consider the first offence was only an adventure with contrabandistes —”
“Well, I agree it was only the first step on the ladder of crime, and if young as he was then, and excused by example, he had been wrenched from its chain, we should not have to-day the shame of avoiding justice. Baron, I tell you plainly we have cause to believe he might enable us to trace and punish the accomplices in the crime committed in your villa.”
“In this, the sixteenth year since its date!” The Baron repeated these words with uneasy gestures, and added in a tone of querulous reproach, “You mean to charge me with these consequences?”
“No, Baron, though some light love probably brought the Englishman to an obscure home in our land during a brief peace with England. And, as you know, his death was hardly cared for and almost unremembered, or you would not find his daughter and her husband tenanting your villa, the very spot where he perished miserably.”
“Impossible! — utterly impossible! — Who could imagine — how can you believe his daughter the wife of the Chevalier Henry Stewart?”
“Less surprise, my dear Baron, and more faith in my experience. I do not say I believe the lady is this Chevalier’s wife, because I am not assured that he is the real Henry Stewart — but I dare believe she is truly as she is called, the daughter of the English nobleman mysteriously slain. Your soi-distant son — forgive the word, has been here disguised as an itinerant artist. He saw, he tells me, this lady at Brussels and learned remarkable circumstances. In short, Baron, he might be a most important witness if the brevet-mark you have given him as your relative did not prevent our officials from seeing clearly. Another consequence of the light love you taught his mother.”
The Baron’s smile of half-flattered vanity provoked another smile from his confidant, who continued to surprise him. “Every house, Baron, has its secret tribunal of free-judges in the servant’s hall. Your tenant has his inquisitors and they tell tales fit for the Causes Celèbres.”
“Of Martin Guerre, perhaps! Have we such impostors among us?”
“Remember, as a clever woman of the world and a Frenchman has written, to do nothing is sometimes great wisdom. Let events take their own course. They move so regularly — causes have their consequences so irresistibly that we must see justice done if we can wait.”
All the prodigious clamour of French postillions was heard in the court; dogs barked, men chattered, bells rang, and in another instant the Baron de Salency alighted flourishing his chapeau while Emilia sprang into the hall and ran to her sister’s boudoir as if assured of a thousand welcomes.
“Ah, my dear friend! Ah, mon cher!” whispered the old French nobleman as he seated himself by the blazing beech-fire. “Vive St. Louis and St. George. We shall send this Corsican hawk to his rock again. But you will see our loyalty. Ah! there never was even a French dog that betrayed its master except one, and he was a puppy and had never seen the great nation!”
“How is Madame?” said Stewart to interrupt his guest’s tirade of French prejudice poured out in vile English. “Do you trust her to the care of her faithful poodle Cupidon of true French lineage?”
“Ah ha! English badinage. By the way, she says your cadeau was finer than the Duc de Montausier’s new-year’s gift. Faith, if you English give our wives bracelets clasped with diamond hearts, what will your Julias expect?”
“Montausier’s Julia,” said his host humouring the kind old man’s national vanity, “had a garland resembling French flowers. We only give evergreens. But how fares the great city? Our Rochester said he learnt to turn his back on his King from your Brantôme.”
“Pshaw, my dear lord, Brusquet only played that buffon-trick to plague his wife and the shrew Catherine de Medicis. You islanders teach us how to manage kings and vixens. Are your door double? I have, my dear friend, a kindness — an English kindness to ask. Ah! — we may use French to angels — but English must be spoken to brave men!” And he laid his hand on his heart with the attitude of Talma.
“I have heard,” answered Stewart laughing, “that we should write in Italian, boast in Spanish, and cheat in Greek.”
“Vive Dieu! But I am almost eighty and I cannot learn Greek now, whatever Cato might do at fourscore. So I must try (he added smiling at the mirror) to please les Belles without. Now this leads to my affair — There is a poor garçon — ha hem! Madame la Baronne was something jealous thirty years ago — this garçon — you understand —”
“Eh, well — well — this Claude, as he calls himself, has been wild — very wild — too free among contrabandistes and the Chevalier Paul’s pupils in your seas — and you know that little affair at Salency. Now, my very dear friend, if you would not see him when he shall come on board your frigate —”
“But, Baron, I hold the King of England’s commission. I am a magistrate, an hereditary judge among my peers — how can I be blind when I may be cited as a witness?”
The Frenchman knew all the difficulty, therefore he chose to hear nothing. “But you never saw him at Salency, my best friend, and the gendarmerie — the police-spies will never think of looking for him where you are. Madame, your charming lady, bright as her eyes are, would never recognize him. Ah-ha! he was Arlequin one at our petite comédie. With his dowlas shirt and Gascon beret, he would cheat Fouche and all his actresses. Let him be your courier — he is one Cupidon on horseback.”
“But my servants, Baron! Philippe and the waiting-woman have French eyes and ears —” Monsieur de Salency shewed his bright new teeth and made a half pirouette which the elder Vestris would have adored. “Mon cher! forgive my enjouement — they have seen him to-night and know no more than M. Descartes did of the world’s wheels. May I send for my second positillion?”
Stewart, surprised at all this farce and rather curious to see the end, gave orders for the attendance of his guest’s servant, and a man presently entered in the huge jack-boots, broad hat and tricoloured waistcoat of a French jockey which could not hide a very handsome countenance and some pretension to grace. “Take off your chevelure, my friend, said his patron, “and stand nearer the light — Milord Anglois promises his protection.”
The eyes of Stewart and his protégé met and there was a dead pause for more than a minute. Not much more as the Frenchman was present.
“You see, my dear friend, you say I have finesse — you need not fear to blush at being what you English call mystified. Claude, render thanks to Monseigneur — he will not see you in the ship nor remember your name. Adieu! mon tres chèr ami! — no thanks — make my homage to the adorable — Ah, ciel! how she deplored when you were thought defunct — more than the fishing matron.”
While M. de Salency made, as he believed, this well-timed digression, Claude indulged himself in a long sly grin, and a stolen glance at Stewart’s eye. Caesar, the old stag-hound we have often mentioned, rose and walked round him with an air of suspicious recognizance.
“But, my dear friend,” pursued the Baron, allowing no space for interruption, “France is the land of la belle passion — l’amour immortelle — there was the Marquise of Faublas placed a glass lid on the coffin of her lord and changed his shroud in winter from cambric to blue satin and swan’s down. Ah! as your Shakespear says — she wore a green and yellow melancholy — and sat like Patience on a pillion. Claude, Cramoozon, prepare the cabriolet — Bon Dieu! — I must be barbarous and hasten away la belle Emilie — she comes only to make adieus —”
“Baron,” said Stewart as the door closed on the seeming postillion, “I cannot deceive you — this man is known to me — perhaps to many others. If you regard his safety as a — as an old servant’s son, keep him near you. The petty theft he commited at Salency is not his worst peril. One of my family was assaulted in the Alpine road — an aged woman died mysteriously on the coast made famous by the pirate Paul — Claude is suspected and may be accused.”
“Send him to Scotland, then, mon cher, and let him seek his old mess-mates. My father was of Ireland, you may know, and ran by your King George’s coach with his pistol ready while the democrats threw stones. When le Roi or his minister asked if my father wanted a favor, he said, “The good King had better make a Scotsman of me.”
“But, my good Baron, your Claude knows Scottish law as old clans practised it, too well already. If he has taken life with a red hand, as they say, I cannot save him though I will not point him out. I am a counsellor of the state and must not suborn justice if I could. He goes at his own peril and I warn him —”
The Baron did not chose to hear. “Well, well! We catch eels when wild asses stir the mud. But, mon ami, I pray you excuse me to la belle et bonne. I must be alerte for the roads are troubled and the brigands abroad. Claude is a diable boiteux — an Asmodeus at home anywhere. He drove the cabriolet of a demoiselle to the next post — Mademoiselle Mac — Macjupiter, perhaps, for she is a Minerve — superbe, embonpoint —”
“And disposed to hear Rabelais’ bells if they chime ‘prends ton valet?’”
“Bah! she is Minerve sage — a gouvernante — friend of your famille — he brought her from the Rhine-boat with your kinsman the chevalier Wallace. But what is the Rhine to the Loire, or the Garonne? Ah! My friend! now I look at you, there is fever and flush still: our bland climate is not enough — try Bonavis again.”
“My wound is painful sometimes, but drugs and doctors cannot cure all. Let us try this vintage before I take desperate remedies.”
“Ah! true, true!” said the Baron sighing over his last draught. “We must return to the ladies.”
Though the good Baron de Salency was not accustomed to the vintages of Gascony he was soon more qualified to sleep than to resume his journey as a fair lady’s escort. But while he was telling his hundredth story of Versailles and la belle Antoinette, Philippe entered and whispered his master mysteriously.
“Yes, yes, my dear lord — we linger too long — what says old Homer? After wine take water, which I translate les nymphes — let us be classical and — and — follow the Graces.”
“Philippe comes to announce a visit from the Prefect of Avignon — let me advice you, Baron, to accept my valet’s attendance to my chamber. He will shew you a safe passage.”
“Mon Dieu! — the Prefect — the police! They have spies everywhere — my portfeuille! Sacre! if they find my papers, mon cher, all is lost! Louis is lost if that portefeuille fails —”
Stewart, though he saw no probability that any material secret had been entrusted to this old courtier, was not ignorant of his avowed devotion to the crown of France. Whether his vanity or his confused imagination filled his portfolio with political treasures, there might be danger if the intruders came from Napoleon’s party. Or they might belong to that still more frequent and formidable class, neither soldiers nor police, but practising extortion in the name of both. But the first task was to secure the safety of his infirm and trusting guest. Fear, instead of sobering the Baron, seemed to add imbecility of mind to weakness of body, and his attempt to walk ended in reeling to the sofa where he lay half-stammering, half-sobbing his lamentations.
“Take care of him, Philippe, while I change my dress — let no man enter till we know their warrant.” And most sincerely assuring the Baron that his safety should be his first care, Stewart made haste to assume his regimentals and warn Marianne to remain in her apartment. As usual it had an ante-room in which at this moment Perrette was stationed at a mirror studying, perhaps, the effect of her lady’s shawl on her own pretty person. A start, too natural to be quite ungraceful and little shriek was all the time permitted when Stewart opened the door. But he advanced no farther and spoke hastily. “Seek your sister, Marianne! and keep her in your own room. I have instant use for hers — a private passage leads from it to the orchard — the Baron must be had there till — till family secrets are safe.”
Perrette’s confusion did not quell her curiosity or her cunning. While he spoke, she was busily gathering the trinkets from the toilet and folding the rich mantle closer.
“Shame on this folly! he exclaimed seizing her with no gentle grasp, “the gendarmes are at the door and you know or ought to know what is the risk. Leave these baubles to amuse them.” He gave one glance at the contents. She knew them too well, and rejoicing at the prize, more important than jewels, lost no time in gliding out of sight with the casket, to conceal it for future profit and from present danger.
A detachment of armed men surrounded the villa, and he had scarcely returned to the supper-room where the Baron still lay almost stupefied, before Philippe was compelled to usher in the leader of this domiciliary visit. His master received the official personage, a swarthy ruffian-looking Gascon in dress half-military and half clownish, with the utmost courteous coolness. His own superb uniform and commanding figure were an admirable contrast.
“I am honoured by this visit, gentlemen; but how can I assist the civil power?”
Monsieur Sgagnarelle, the sub-Prefect and chief butcher of Avignon, was at some loss how to answer this unexpected civility, nor was he wholly unmoved by the rich silver goblets sparkling on the table.
“Taste your own nectar, Monsieur Prêfet: are men or horses in requisition for the great cause? Mine and my friend’s are ready.”
The civic officer looked at his instructions. “M. le Colonel, I pray your patience. We are here to seek Claude Larron, ex-lieutenant of Marine, soi-disant courier to the Sieur de Salency now present.”
Phillipe interposed a hint to prevent the Baron’s blunders. “All the domestics, grooms, and all are below except the avant-courier sent for Monseigneur’s relays.”
“How long has he been gone?” asked the magistrate sharply.
“Half an hour, perhaps,” answered Philippe bowing with profound homage to the questioner and a meaning glance at his master: “he can hardly be beyond the first barrier.”
“The gendarmerie have brought in a prisoner!” was shouted from the hall. Stewart urged the largest flask of tokay towards the Prefect, and another to the trembling Baron while two soldiers of the municipal guard led in their prize, a lank-haired man in an English travelling-coat of very rusty black, and a red woollen night-cap.
“Where do you come from?” quoth the inquisitor eyeing his large pockets carefully.
“He speaks no French,” said one of the soldiers — “nor English either!” added another. “The fellow is Scotch — I served in the Scotch brigade once.”
“Well, interpret for him. Ask his name and where he is going.”
The deponent held out a greasy passport — “Alick Cathcart McCarsquill — hem — procurator-fiscal in Aberdeen — travelling towards Coblentz. — How the devil did he come this road?”
These last words were added by Stewart in an undertone as if spoken to himself.
“If Colonel Stewart will just be pleased to precognosce me,” said the stranger in a strong Aberdeenshire accent. “I’m no acquaint with any of they fusiliers, but if there be any decent town-clerk who can read in this good company —” and he bowed humbly to all the officials, “I can shew him my business-papers.”
“We only want to know your business on this road without a pass from the last barrier?”
“What div ye ca’ a barrier?” asked the Scotch man of business.
“I say, sir,” rejoined the magistrate in tolerably good English and a stern tone, “what is your business?”
“Dinna ye ken what a Scotch man of business is?” was the Scottish answer.
“Give him a glass of your own cognac,” said Stewart, “and see if aqua-vita can melt bronze —”
The Prefect was too vain to be untouched by and English aristocrat’s tone of equality. He assented with a gracious smile, first giving his subalterns a hint to search their prisoner’s pockets. Among two or three red-taped packets one was found addressed to the Prefect himself. Being opened in due form, it appeared to be a letter from the Scotch banker at Coblentz requiring him to detain Claude Larron of whom a description was annexed, and to visit the Pass of the Glaciers where a party of travellers with all their muleteers, equipage, and jewels had sunk in an ice-valley. “Mount and ride with Monsieur to the next post!” exclaimed the magistrate, all zeal to search for the rich caravans. “Chevalier Stewart and M. le Baron, accept my profound consideration — we must search elsewhere — Gendarmes, en avance, vivat!”
And the tramp of the departing troop was heard by the Baron with tears of joy and by Stewart with a long fit of laughter, while Philippe, shrugging his shoulders, made haste to tell his lady “all was safe.”
“While our Baron enjoys his Palace of Rainbows,” said the Prefect, “let us talk of more earthly things. An old Scotch milliner’s bandbox or a smuggler’s pace, was not as you may suspect, my real object here. But as the matter concerns life and may change the position of two persons in your family — I see you are already prepared.”
Stewart was silent. Uninformed of the affair at Brussels, his first thought was of the supposed attempt on the life of Wallace in the presence of Marianne. A man of the world with more policy or less courage might have professed ignorance. He chose the easiest, rarest, and most direct step by stating all he knew to the magistrate, who noted it carefully. “This,” he replied, “agrees with other information; but my present purpose is to trace another fact — in short another murder — different in place, time, and circumstance. “Have you,” he added, changing the lamp’s position with some art to throw its whole light on his hearer’s face — “Have you heard nothing?”
“Of what fact?”
“Forgive me if I thought my presence seemed to raise some feminine agitation. Well, the subject may have been unfit for ladies’ ears. This villa, twenty-two years since, had another tenant from your island, a young rich gallant stranger. He lived her with a companion called his wife. Both were found dead by our police, the villa robbed, their two servants missing.”
“You speak of my wife’s father, the last Earl of Mornay!”
“Of him and perhaps of her mother. Soon after his decease his maternal nephew came with a Procurator to investigate this crime, Nothing was distinctly proved — the felons had escaped, the dead were interred and the heir took his inheritance.”
“But not questioned?”
“True — neither unquestioned nor unstained. The Earl’s widow appeared from Scotland with her child and its claims were admitted. The orphan of the unknown mother —”
“Is my wife,” interposed Stewart with some sternness. But the well-practised Frenchman pressed his hand on his left breast with a most gracious gesture. “My best friend,” he resumed, “you know me and I know English honour. I have said enough in the saloon to amuse our Baron and the valets. Our enquiry can be pursued without their knowledge and a clue has been found. Do you observe nothing remarkable in your cellar?”
“Truly,” Stewart answered with half a smile, “my science in your country’s wines is not deep and my old French butler Philippe keeps the key. How shall we visit it at this hour unobserved?”
The Prefect consulted his tablets. “There is a private entrance, probably contrived by some thirsty son of Adam, from the garden. We shall find it so slightly walled up that we may enter as they do still. You gay guest Wallace studied it last night.”
Stewart, too proud and too much involved in this strange mystery to hesitate, allowed the Prefect to precede him into the large shadowy garden which he trod as if perfectly familiar with its mazes. “I was a schoolboy here once,” he whispered, laughing with national gaiety even at this moment of deep import. “My visits to the Baron’s cellar then were more for ripe lips than old wine. But here is the niche of the old door, and stones as loosely piled as in my days of sport.” So saying, he withdrew a few rough blocks and Stewart saw a sufficient space for their entrance into the crypt.
“I have heard,” bolded the Prefect, “that such vaults contain worse fame than coal-mines. We must see if our lamp will burn — Ha! — this portion of your cellar has been unknown or forgotten — here are only casks old enough for the old philosopher.” Walking cautiously round, but first covering the opened gap in the wall with their cloaks, the two enquirers directed their light into every nook and crevice till they stopped before a recess half-filled with mouldering wine-vessels. Here, as if seeking darkness, with his back towards them, stood a man in tattered garments. The Prefect raised his pistol, Stewart grasped the throat and hair — The hair remained in his grasp — The tatters fell in dust, and a skeleton lay at their feet.
“You see,” said the Prefect with composure which Stewart could not imitate, “I have not been misinformed. That dealer in woman’s toys, that soi-disant Mcquerie or Mcquestin now in our hospital, confesses she was the only female domestic in the Earl of Mornay’s household while he chose to live in this obscure villa, except a waiting-woman and a nurse who fled from the robbers with an infant almost newborn. You know how that nurse and child escaped.”
“Mcquestin says she knew the leader of the robbers was her fellow-servant’s husband, a man named McCasquill or M’Campbell in his own country, which he left to avoid public punishment for frauds committed in his practice as what you call an attorney. The woman was bold and beautiful, the lawyer bold and crafty, and behold! she called herself the Earl’s widow and the mother of the heiress.”
“But where are the proofs?”
“We see one. She has sworn that the only male domestic, a young stripling, hid himself in the cellar when he saw three ruffians entering his master’s house. He was never found and therefore supposed to have shared their crime and their escape. Observe this fragment of a livery and this button — the cypher of the Earl. He may have perished in the deadly fumes of a cellar long closed.”
“Or purposely locked up by the gang if he was an accomplice. We may find some share of the plunder among the remains.”
“Our informer,” said the Prefect while he carefully cast his lamplight round, “insists on this poor victim’s innocence. Perhaps homicide was not intended, but the Earl defended desperately the entrance to his lady’s chamber where she lay dying or dead after her child’s birth. He was found mortally wounded at her door.”
“You have learned, at least, the names of the criminals if —” Stewart’s pause was understood by the Prefect, who answered in his lowest tone. “M’Campbell, she says, only proposed theft — the death-blow was given by an outlawed vagrant Claus or Claude Larron, sometimes called Babuti, or Staller. My agents have his portrait and a map of his professional journeys.”
“But the third?”
“First let me finish my professional task — odious but necessary.”
He struck a piece of metal twice against the wall and two gendarmes presented themselves. As he instructed them, they placed the remains of the dead in a receptacle prepared for them, and having dug up the pavement, searched every nook and broken into fragments all the remnants of wine-vessels, the superior made a formal note of their proceedings and both departed.
Morning had begun and Stewart returned with his friend through the garden-walks, not unobservant of the pretext used to avoid and answer to his last question. But he urged it solemnly, and the Frenchman made a warning gesture — “We may have listeners — Wylies — our Wills o’ the Wisp are abroad.”
And he pointed to a form flattering like Taglioni’s Giselle, among the tall reeds of a fountain. It disappeared but not before he had distinguished Marianne’s cloak and whispered, “Aha! Madame is anxious — we must be absentees no longer.”
Again attempting to evade his questioner, he would have entered the breakfast-room. “Only one word,” whispered Stewart, “Yes or No?”
“YES,” was the reply in that deep whisper which strikes the ear more than a death-bell. “Now,” he added, “let me act my part.”
“The breakfast-table waited for them. Marianne too composedly seat to have been the wearer of the cloak, Emilia all smiles and graces. The Prefect suddenly assuming all his gay coxcombery, began the conversazione.
“The Peres, we must supposed, have no fear of spirits, being our guardians themselves. Else I should ask if the ladies of the chateau always slept undisturbed.”
“Last night,” Marianne ventured to reply, “we had all brief sleep.”
“And I troubled dreams. I may say in this company that my father-in-law’s house is haunted.”
“A foolish legend,” interposed the Baron, “invented to hide amours.”
“O! pardon me if you know the secret. But as I want instruction, your charming tenants will allow me to confess a little curiosity. Last night I slept in the Blue Chamber.”
Emilia’s silver laugh was ready. “Confess! — confess! You have been an Abomelique and feared your Fatima’s ghost.”
“My Fatima,” he replied with grave irony, “had no kind sister Anne. But her father will tell you that after his first English tenants —”
“Son,” the Baron interposed, “so many years have passed that my memory will not serve me on such subjects,” and his graver tone implied his displeasure at any reference to the tragic history of his villa.
“Our English friends,” persisted the Prefect, “will not be surprised at superstition which shews the affinity of Norman and British legends. Before my happy marriage I was a college-student, full of ballads and strange creeds. I had firm faith in witches and water-nymphs — Peris and Gazelles — such as I see now —” and he bowed with mock reverence to the sisters.
“Monsieur Prefét, you have studied Shakespear and devise a compliment when your subject fails —”
“I submit to every bright-eyed Rosalind’s wit. The blue chamber in this house had been the scene of an old romance. I was brave and chose to sleep in it — alone. My servant, frightened, locked the gates and slept with the gardeners in an out-house — distant as you know. Certainly, at dead midnight, I heard steps — the heavy steps of one man, ascending the stairs.”
“Of course you followed?”
“I did, and saw nothing though the sound was still distinct and strong. The steps seemed to descend and pass me. Am I not pale, ladies, at the remembrance?”
“Ah, Prefect, perhaps some rosy flask —”
“Had been too near, you suspect? Well, I doubted myself and watched the next night with hair-triggers. I heard the steps of two men slowly and heavily, and again saw nothing. On the third night three seemed near me —”
He stopped, and earnest almost fearful expectation appeared among his listeners.
“By the next day’s light, I renewed my search and found my visitors were the echoes of bargemen’s steps on the terrace-bank adjoining. Ten years have passed since this unpoetical discovery, yet last night those steps startled me again.”
“Fie fie!” said Emilia, perceiving Stewart’s eye sought her sister’s, “you were dreaming of the past.”
“Frightened men, as I have heard you say, have no curiosity, but being not much startled, I was curious, and knowing these gardens well, I walked to the terrace and the fountain.”
“Alone?” The sagacious Prefect smiled as he avoided the question.
“I had my armour of good conscience and therefore was not amazed when I saw an apparition — an Egerîa in a modern cloak busy among water-lilies.”
“You saw Perrette,” said Emilia with instant and apt readiness. “She was trusted with her lady’s jewel-box and wore her cloak perhaps to hide it. Forgive us, Prefect, if we mistook your officials for brigands last night.”
“It is singular,” he resumed in the same bland tone, “that the former tenant of this house, when visited by real robbers, entrusted his writing-desk to a favourite servant. The poor fellow was suffocated in the cellar, but his master’s heir wisely caused a search and secured the box, no doubt with useful papers.”
Silence followed, a silence well understood by more than half the breakfast-party. The Prefect broke it first with the most easy nonchalance, addressing himself to Stewart. “To-day promises us good sport. Two foxes are unearthed and we may find the Third.”
The villa, or as it was sometimes called, le Le Petit Chateau de Salency, stood among thickets of roses planted when its Seigneurs gave a crown of white roses and a dower to the most approved maiden of the village, elected annually, by the inhabitants. Its present occupiers had revived the custom and as the anniversary of the Feast of Roses happened to precede the day appointed for their departure, Marianne wished to celebrate it. Their garden contained a gallery built to receive a store of Roman relics and ancient paintings, heirlooms of Salency, and often exhibited to travellers or artists. Philipped, acting as custodian, had closed the doors as usual after a painter’s visit, and on the next day found on one of the sofas a small Roman coin called a bajocchi. On the next, a Sicilian coin, and on the third a Tuscan of still larger value lay in the same place, though as he believed none except himself had access. Surprised and alarmed, the faithful old servant resolved to watch privately, and the following morning was seen returning from the gallery, pale, tottering, and as if severely bruised. Whatever had occurred, he made no comment; and probably fearing to interrupt the brief festivity of their last days at Salency, reserved his story for the Prefect of Avignon.
Marianne knew some strange legends were attached to the Picture Gallery, and therefore hoped to cure the superstitious terrors of the peasantry by distributing bowls of cream and baskets of fruit and flowers under its shadow. She was waiting for the curé whose school these small prizes aided more than finances, a seeing a woman’s shadow in the opposite mirror, had begun to give some slight order when she discovered the face was not Perrette’s. The intruder wore a dress not greatly different but over a great square figure. Marianne did not start or shriek, but with rare presence of mind, threw open the wide sashed door into the Garden of Roses. There she was dismayed to see a crowd of armed peasants trampling on the gates and tearing down the trellis with cries of “Vive Napoleon! a bas les Anglaises!” One urchin too hastily climbing on a vine-branch, fell from the wall at Marianne’s feet. She had raised him in her arms when a shower of stones surrounded her. The disguised woman shouted “Save my child! She will strangle it as she smothered her own!” But Marianne still grasped the boy, screening him from the glass and tiles hurled at her. So suddenly, so wholly, had this peril seized her that she seemed unconscious of its extent, and stood unshrinking while the rapid gallop of cavalry announced other visitors. Still the ferocious gang pressed round her urged by the female ruffians yelling “Give us the boy! — ours shan’t be buried — we are no lady-mothers.”
“Take care of her — of her only,” said Stewart while his horse leaping over the broken wall, into the midst of the crowd, made a wide circle among them. Philippe caught his mistress as she fainted more with joyful surprise at the rescue than with horror at these hideous clamours.
“How now, messieurs,” shouted the Prefect of Avignon waving his official baton, “is this your liberty? Take care of your own goods — your wives and children,” he added laughing, “are evils for me to manage. Here is one too large,” and he snatched the broad straw hat which the wearer had spread over a mass of borrowed hair. “Madame or mademoiselle Babuti, I doubt whether those long-curls and earrings will save you from fines and fetters.”
“Gently, Monsieur Claude Larron or Chevalier Stewart if that name pleases you better! ask your lady why I come.”
Stewart stopped his speech by wrenching a half-concealed weapon from his grasp. The gendarmes saw their Prefect’s signal and gathered round the prisoner, now unmuffled from his woman’s cloak. Cooly recommending “Madame” to their care, he took Stewart’s arm. “You see our angry apes,” he began, “they would have stabbed you in the Emperor’s name as they stoned me in the King’s — when you came to my rescue — but the sons of slaves are always tyrants.”
Stewart neither remembered that chivalrous rescue nor heard his friend’s grateful allusion. He only said, “Why did they speak of strangling children?”
“Why do she-wolves bark and howl? But let us speak of your friends. You have one called Glenalm — Glenalpine or some Gaelic name we Gauls cannot pronounce. He is busy with a bush-rope of family secrets — old love-legends — woman’s politics, always more plague than man’s.”
“But Glenalmond is a second Jonathan and shuns womankind.”
“Even Oldback had an Eveline, my friend! Well, here is his letter — read it while our wine cools.”
Stewart read the letter thrice and returned it open. “I thank you,” he said fixing his deep eye on the Prefect’s. “I thank you for this trust in me, even if you doubt Glenalmond. You do not know him and have no reason to believe —”
“Except that I know you, and know how your parole was redeemed and your life risqued to save mine. No, my friend! I have not forgotten and your enemies remember. You were no safe neighbour for the Carbonari who plot in your gallery and would have silenced your servant by bribes or blows. Such bush-ropes shall not pull down an oak.”
The brave Frenchman’s hand received an English grasp. No other answer was needed or could have been spoken. A volume of smoke and fire rushed from the gallery — alarm-bells rung, and the screams of women rose among the shouts of the gendarmerie. Ever prompt and cool, the Prefect said, “Let the old pictures perish — we may find trap-doors.” And forcing his way into the burning ruin, he assisted in raising a mass of rich mosaic called the Cardinal’s Catafalque, and seized whatever resembled manuscripts or arms. As if to correct his estimate of French character, many of the villagers gave earnest aid in preventing the flames from reaching the villa and devouring the Garden of Roses. But the Festival was ended, though to their great surprise the young village-bride chosen to be queen of the day, received her dower and the garland formed of a few roses saved from the fire. While they murmured applause, and old man crept from his seat among the ruins and pointing to his grey hair, addressed Stewart. “Ah, milord! I have been honest thirty years — I thought — I meant to save madame’s jewel-box — but I was tempted — I was weak — and it dropped among those ashes.”
Stewart knew the man. He had been the oldest gardener at Salency and bountifully treated. Two gendarmes, led by the faithful dog whose share in the affray had been glorious, soon found the casket bearing Marianne’s cypher. The Prefect glanced at it slightly and shrugged his shoulders. “The old sin and punishment. A man covets gold and finds a child’s trash. However, the fire is out and the mob have had their chorus. Let them sing and they will pay.”
“Still awake!” said Stewart as he entered Marianne’s room with a countenance so calm that Perrette, though gifted with a waiting-woman’s cunning, could detect no change. But affection has a finer eye than craft, and the pen trembled in Marianne’s hand. “Still writing with that pen of spun glass and silver filigree? — fit materials for a lady’s billet — let me shew you how Spanish romancers write.” And opening a volume he read or seemed to read in that language all the particulars of this day’s events and of his friend’s communication. She did not and could not express the surprise he expected. His candour doubled his right to know her first informer but it seemed too late — words almost always false and often ruinous. With judgment so clear, and absolute temper was scarcely a fault in him, and the whole might have been told now with less pain and peril than after a longer secrecy. He saw her hesitation and changed the subject. “Your arabesque casket has been found near the Cardinal’s Gallery — it would have been safer in the Cardinal’s Gorge among the Alps!”
“It is not mine now,” she said, “and the gorge-robbers would be disappointed. Emilia — my sister borrowed it for a few trifles. Perhaps she left it as a gift to the Bride of Salency.”
“The lid is broken; lift it.” — “Not without her presence — keep or send it to herself.”
Stewart fixed the whole force of his dark eye upon her and only answered by a Spanish sentence “A Secret Lost Paradise.”
Any toys to sell pretty mistress? said a lean man with a small box of trinketry, addressing himself to the smiling damsel in a balcony of the Hotel Crillon. She smiled, touched her lip expressively, and descended to a private door. “Come under this trellis,” she whispered. “What will you give for this bijou?”
The dealer examined the ebony and silver inlaid in the casket she offered with a purchaser’s contempt while she studied his broad flat face built like a vessel meant for deep lading.
“Old, mademoiselle, and the worse for damp and bruises — here is a rent near the keyhole, and a hinge missing. You may have these earrings or this penholder in exchange, or ten livres —”
“Bah! I can borrow madame’s pen when I please, and these pendants are not long enough.”
“True,” said the tradesman leering at his customer, “nobody would look at them among those silk curls. Well here is a pair fit for the Duchess of St. Simon, and I may live to see Mademoiselle Perrette a duchess too.” This was enough: the soubrette tripped away leaving the prize in the pawnbroker’s grasp. He wrapped it carefully out of sight and lingered till he saw a face and figure he knew to be English.
“Monsieur will pardon me,” he said as the traveller, equipped for travelling, strode hastily across the court, “I have urgent business with the Baron de Salency and they tell me he is abroad. Has he left Avignon?”
“You will find him at or near the Hotel de Ville; but his time is short and allows no leisure.”
Still the questioner pressed on the Englishman and touching his sleeve whispered, “Danger!”
The word was spoken emphatically and with an English accent. The Englishman surveyed the speaker sternly and answered, “Your hint concerns a minister of police. Go to his office.” And he would have passed the stranger if his sleeve had not been grasped again.
“Chevalier Stewart, I know you and your friends at home. Let me speak to you where we are less observed for I hazard something. An order for ten thousand francs has been paid within this hour by the Baron de Salency’s banker to a person sent by Claude Larron.”
Stewart visibly started but replied by a dry question. “Who is Claude?”
“Some say the Baron’s courier — his favorite certainly — perhaps a foster-mother’s son — perhaps his own. But it is not too late to ask whether this bounty — this order was a gift or an extortion.”
“But how came all this to your knowledge and who are you?”
“A poor man and an alien here, not strong enough to make enemies. The order was brought to me in payment for some jewels and to redeem others from our Public House of Pawns, our Mont-de-Piete, but I refused it — the handwriting was suspicious and I doubted the signature. Sir, if you are the Baron’s friend, seek him.”
“Will you name this suspected person and be a witness?”
“Neither, but I will trust you with a clue —” he whispered two words in Stewart’s ear and saw the brightness of his deep clear eye change to fire. Then raising his cloak he added, “This casket is a pledge which I shall place according to the laws of Avignon, in our Hospice of Pawns with the owner’s name annexed. There you may see it and hear of me. I shall be ready when the time is fit — not now. But seek your friend while he is alive. Your dog followed him to the old Hall of Justice and has not returned.
The informer saw he had shewn and said enough. Profiting by a rush of carriages into the narrow street, he disappeared.
Couriers scolded, horse and postillions stamped, but where was the Baron de Salency? His dressing-box and bon-bonnieres were all arranged and his chasseur mounted, till noon and even night had begun. Alarm and curiosity spread, the police were roused and after very long and vain search, both his friends and servants concluded he had been privately arrested, or had seen cause to conceal himself from official enquiry. Women, always busy in affairs of mystery or romance, were quickened in this matter by their kindness for a harmless and gay patron of dress and gossipry. One of these dames while seeking fuel for her evening fire, heard groans under her pile of brushwood. Neighbours gathered, and from beneath the centre crept crept a figure greatly resembling herself. The hood, nightcap and petticoat were soon loosened and forth came the gallant Baron. Boys and beggars shouted and danced round him, but women shewed more sympathy and called an escort of gendarmerie to protect his person. His story seemed strangely incoherent. He had been induced, he said, by a message from his friend the commissary of Avignon to enter, as he supposed, the douaniere’s office for the usual preliminaries of a journey, when strangers thrust him rudely from the stairs, whispered some words implying and arrest and hurried him into a boat where blindfolded and fiercely threatened he was compelled to sign an order for ten thousand francs payable to “Claude Larron.” After the extortion they muffled him in woman’s garments and left him to his destiny under the wood pile of a poor laundress.
“This is extraordinary M. Le Baron,” said the minister of police, “and grievous, for your English friend the chevalier Henry Stewart made enquiry at your banker’s and found the order had been paid early in this day. Do you remember any peculiar marks in the dress or persons of the men you call strangers?”
“Nothing,” the Baron answered, “except the coarse dress of boatmen and the imperfect French spoken by two. The hand which guided his pen was smooth and well-shaped.”
“And why, monsieur,” said the official sharply addressing Stewart, “why was your visit to the banker earlier than to me, when official aid seemed so necessary?”
“I thought,” he replied in very pure and fluent French, “my guest’s absence might have been caused by some remembrance of unfinished business there.”
“A singular coincidence!” murmured the commissary, “and was no comment made on the large order paid to a stranger?”
“Not to a stranger — the Baron’s bounty to this — this dependent on his family has been frequent and well-known. I have heard him propose to equip Claude for a voyage and had no peculiar suspicion, especially knowing your surveillance.”
Still the minister shrugged his shoulders, and Stewart remembering “a bag of winds tied by a silver thong,” left the Baron to use his purse if he thought fit. But Claude was already arrested and a day of trial speedily appointed from which no hope of any sentence less than exile or the galleys could be probable. When summoned to give evidence, Stewart nothing in the prisoner’s defence except the plain unvarnished statement he had offered first.
“Messieurs,” said the advocate of public justice, “the accused is known as the boldest contrabandiste between the Pas de Vent and Avignon, yet he cites an English officer, known as we are told from Talavera to Toulouse, as his vindicator. After aiding the free trade of Old Spain in Catalonia he wishes to promote it, perhaps, in California or to civilize Juan Fernandez. Of course, this foster-son of the Baron’s family wanted equipment. His patron is able to supply it, and this generous Englishman, superior to old prejudices, encourages the demand. Our agents found a proof which shall be shewn.”
After a long pause had given this theatric appeal due effect, the French advocate suddenly changed his theme. “Suppose,” he said, “this potent witness, this model of English honour, should prove an impostor? We can shew our judges that an accident among the Alps placed a wandering boy, perhaps a goatherd or a muleteer’s, under the bountiful care of an English traveller. This traveller had a son of the same age and chose the young Swiss for one of his playmates — the stroller absconded, the English patron died in a battle too famous, but as his remains were not found among those now buried in Belgium, the vagrant assumes his place, profits by his knowledge of family secrets, and is among us under an undisputed name. Undisputed, I say, because the nearest kinsman of the deceased wished to spare a deceived woman’s peace and honour. Now, messieurs, have we not a key to the Chevalier Henri Stewart’s zeal for the accused? Is it not more probable that he should aid and protect an adventurer to prevent his own detection, than from mere love of justice? Consider, too, how largely the assault on my client’s life had it prospered might have benefited this soi-disant chevalier. It might have removed the most inconvenient observer and claimant of his pretended rights. Therefor I demand his arrest as an accomplice, not a witness, and I have proofs that the man called Claude was secreted in his house, and a passenger in disguise on board the ship which conveyed him to an obscure corner of England where, we may observe, he dares not stay. Let the evidence be taken.”
Very formidably the proofs were arranged, and when the new prisoner was surrounded by officials, his face and figure were examined with no favorable eyes. He stood before the tribunal, quietly and steadily regarding the rude crowd of spectators, while his opponent Wallace placed his superb figure and bright face in the most public position. The contrast was powerful. Stewart’s pale brow and unmoved attitude made no appeal to the passionate audience and when after a long clamour, he addressed the judges, more than half the assembly expected to hear a confession.
“My answer,” he said, “is a tribute to the justice, not the power of this tribunal. I am an Englishman accredited by the envoys of my nation and the noblest residents in yours. If this accusation had not been so suddenly and desperately made, my name would have had better defenders than myself. The Advocate
you have heard has spoken truth, pagebut not all the truth. It is true as his witnesses have told you, that my father’s gratitude induced him to take with him from Chamouny a boy whose courage and sagacity saved my life. We were many days together in the valley formed by an avalanche near the Arve and escaped by the coming of help he risked his life to call. Why he preferred a roving life to the home my father offered, I cannot answer. That mine ever gave him shelter from the laws of France, I deny absolutely. He came to my villa in Provence with the Baron de Salency, employed as his courier and recommended to my notice as a favorite son, suspected but not guilty of some connivance with contrabandistes. The agents of your police can prove they visited my house within the same hour, searched it unopposed, and found him at a distant barrier. It is true the Baron was my guest till a false message allured him to the boat, where extortioners waited for their purpose. Is it probable, had my aid been given, that I should have remained in this province, or entered this court to challenge suspicion? The Baron’s servants have been cited to prove that after the battle where I fell among the wounded, I came to this chateau in Salency with no passport except his surgeon’s kindness. He received me as a French nobleman always receives a stranger. My distress was sufficient passport, and he knew France need not fear an English soldier. My affianced wife was his guest also. It is marvellous that she, who believed me dead, did not immediately recognize a man muffled in a borrowed cloak, too feeble to speak, and too hideously mangled to be known even by his oldest servant? That our marriage was without public ceremony — that her voice cannot be heard — is the concern of another tribunal. The cloak, I admit, belonged to Claude. He found me among the dying, wrapped me in it, and conveyed me to a hospital. He is one of the many faithful and brave men I have found in France, and his countrymen will not judge him less mercifully than he judged me.”
At this appeal to the best feelings of the audience a murmur of applause spread. The speaker might have passed undistinguished while silent, but when he spoke, his brow, his eye, and especially his voice became commanding and even awful. “What grace! what self-possession! what courage!” whispered the men of law — the multitude admired his readiness to plead for one of themselves. Still the crafty Procurator insisted on the fact that Henry Stewart had given no proof of his identity, and if it was proved, it also proved that he had a strong motive to disguise the truth in Claude’s favor. But the Englishman saw an unexpected witness enter the court. The Prior of the Grand St. Bernard came to testify the truth of his statement. He told the particulars of an assault made on his priory a few days before by unknown brigands whose violence was repelled by his monks assisted by an English visitor. “The chevalier here present,” he added, “and his dog which we had given him when he lodged with us in his boyhood. Monsieur Wallace, if he is still in this hall of justice, must remember his enquiries at our gate concerning the avalanche in the Pass of the Arve.”
The Prior of St. Bernard had shewn noble hospitality to the soldiers of the second Hannibal in their passage over the Alps, and his entrance was welcomed with shouts of approbation. But the Advocate of the prosecution knew his country men and waited peaceable till their volatile humour was spent. Then courteously bowing to the reverend stranger he asked if the tribunal owed his visit to accident.
Not absolutely — he had heard of the trial while on his way through Avignon and was interested by the name of the English parties.
Would Monsieur positively declare he had seen the prisoner at his monastery?
No, he could not identify Claude — among the hundreds who visited the Grand St. Bernard, his memory in advanced age might be treacherous. But the Chevalier Henry Stewart could not be forgotten. His voice, and the remarkable richness of its tones in earnest speech had been observed by all the brotherhood.
Would the venerable Prieur state the mode of his coming?
Assuredly the circumstances were recorded in the journal of their Hospice. A young man with the dress and manners of a muleteer brought the wounded Englishman begging admission till his wounds were healed. Both remained a few weeks and proceeded, he believed, towards Provence for milder air.
“And during their visit, a robbery was attempted on this most bountiful Hospice, and the wounded man joined in the affray?”
“Not in the affray, but he gave good advice to our defenders, and seemed well versed in the military art. Certainly the young muleteer appeared to know the names and character of the banditti.”
The Advocate proposed other questions and the replies were given with candid simplicity. Probably the audience were surprized when he drew from the Prior’s evidence a conclusion totally hostile to Stewart. He remarked that the whole proved nothing except his appearance there in very questionable company, but the robbers’ visit allowed more than suspicion of some secret connivance. Such an attack had never occurred within a century, and must have been encouraged by some accomplice within the walls. He left the inference generously to his hearers.
Madame la Baronne de Salency was the next witness. Splendidly attired and smiling with all her skill, she was received with the devotion paid by Frenchmen even to Laffarge. Her appearance was required to prove that Claude had been seen in the Chateau de Salency during the visit of the supposed Stewart and had been found concealed near his chamber at midnight. Then, as on this occasion, the most urgent intercession had been made by Stewart in his favor.
“Had not the Baroness lost several jewels?”
Many, though none were discovered in Claude’s possession. Her fille-de-chambre, Perrette, had been unable to to find her favorite aigrette and a charming pen wreathed with emeralds.
The jeweller, she said, had left Avignon to assist the Monsieur Baute at Geneva.
An old meagre man, not unlike that famous artist, crept forward and asked leave to see the prisoner. Claude raised his head and eyed him with a shrewd smile.
“Mylords,” said the old man speaking in a foreign accent, “this man is one of my customers. I have another on my books called Claude Larron. He is older, swarthier, and of a comelier face — he speaks English well and I have sold him many things.”
“We must know who you are,” interposed the Public Accuser. “Are you a shopkeeper in Avignon?”
“I have a little shop,” said the respondent, “but people call me a traveller.”
“Ah! ah! monsieur is Scotch, and a pedlar perhaps?”
The Northman with more energy than prudence denied the name in good broad Scotch. He had been a clerk in is young days and a trader in America. Now he travelled with trinkets to the fairs of Frankfort and St. Germain. His brother, a jeweller in Avignon, would vouch for his integrity.
Several persons in the crowd with very little regard to the etiquette of a judicial court shouted their assent to his statement. Indeed the little merchant, as he called himself, was a well-known stroller, dealing largely in women’s toys and rarities.
“Will Madame condescend to tell us whether the jewelled pen was found again?”
Never, but she had another very closely resembling it. It was the gift of a friend, an amateur of French bijoux. And the charming Baroness exhibited her brilliant teeth with a coquettish smile.
“No doubt, madame, an adorer of French jewels in every shape. Perhaps after lending it to this kind amateur, madame did not observe that one of its ornaments was lost.”
The Baroness had very vague remembrance. Her trousseau was splendid — she had so many superb pledges of friendship — it was impossible to trace these slight losses.
“Well,” persisted her examinant, “we shall owe some thanks to this trifle. Madame may not remember that on some occasion she lent her friend a pen which he used perhaps with too much energy. For one of the emeralds dropped into the letter he wrote in her presence. With due gallantry he gave the pen to be newly embellished by a jeweller and wrote an order which resembles precisely the writing or endorsement of the forged bill. Why he preferred this itinerant artist to a resident may be guessed. Perhaps in the haste which some secrets require he forgot the paper which contained the emerald. Our judges may consider the inference.”
The paper’s contents were read aloud and the strong convulsion which passed over Stewart’s features could not be unseen. He listened evidently with the deepest surprise and indignation. The paper was a copy, apparently of a letter addressed to his wife, and threatening a public disclosure of the imposture she permitted, if her assent to certain conditions was not immediate. These conditions seemed to be an absolute renouncement of her supposed husband’s claims, and a public departure from his society.
Claude’s accuser knew the force of this unexpected proof would fall most heavily on Stewart. It appeared and absolute token that his claims were at least subject to secret treaties, and the writer of the letter might be the endorser of the forgery without knowing how it had been obtained. Claude was still unredeemed from the charge, and the tribunal after a long debate, postponed his sentence. French laws could claim no power over Stewart’s person and he was suffered to depart with the terrible certainty that an enemy had reached the very heart of his domestic peace. If such letters had been received, a secret must have been festering where candid trust would have enabled him to prevent disgrace. A pebble may fix a rocking-stone, and a pen settled the wavering mass of public opinions against him.
Either extreme excitement of thought or extreme fatigue began to confuse his faculties. He strove to read, then to write, but the letters seemed flakes of fire. Strange, excruciating, insupportable pangs thrilled through his brain, and he started as if his ear had been stabbed when the waves of the Rhone broke gently against its banks. The confession of the convicted felon, the frightful evidence he had seen could not remain secret. “She is right,” he said to himself, “we ought to part — but how? — unless — unless —”
Dark and troubled thoughts gathered strength — a shadow of which he could not see the form, seemed before him.
* * *
“If these Englishmen,” said the Baroness de Salency, “had half the wit of their superb horses, they would perform their caracoles more gracefully. Could not your new friend send his wife to board among the Beguins instead of publishing what was half-burned and ought to have been buried?”
“What is published?” asked the cautious Prefect.
“Fie, my good friend, I am no inquisitor. All the gossips of Avignon know how the Feast of Roses ended — the secret in the arabesque casket, the lady’s death, if a wet veil and a slipper found near the river, and too near her home, are proofs. These are facts, I suppose?”
“Except the circumstances — enough for graver historians. The Rhone has many boats — one may have been seen near her home. Her death is only supposed, her absence may be voluntary. Who saw the veil, the slipper, or the casket?”
“And who can tell whether the lady might not return to her first choice and elope instead of committing suicide? Or might not the second bridegroom remember Desdemona and act Othello?”
“Well,” rejoined the Prefect bowing gallantly, “a lovely queen, half a Frenchwoman, said the wisest of her sex was only a little less foolish than the rest. None but a woman would have dared to tell us this.”
“Ah, ah! Queen Mary might have governed her Scotchmen if she had not married two. Perhaps this Stewart will seek another as fair and foolish.”
“He may soon find a fairer,” returned the Prefect with another bow to his examiner, then added in a whisper to himself, “and a greater fool.”
“Badly managed, Claude!” said a muffled man as he sat by a wild meagre-looking passenger in the hold. “You will be hanged if the revenue-officers find you here, unless the captain throws you out to feed the lobsters.”
“He knows the Guernsey trade too well, monsieur, and he may be blindfolded, you see, or you would not have slipped on board so cleverly with a lord of parliament and session.”
“Pho! there is always darkness under a lamp. You escaped the Douane at the French port, by riding on a well-fed pig through that blind alley. The swinish multitude thought you were a symbol of Power seated on Plenty.”
So they helped me to overset the law. But the captain thinks me an emigrant noble and the crew like my cognac. You can do the rest, you know.” — “Not if your wife chooses to get rid of you, Claude, by a hangman’s knot. That was an ugly business in Flanders — owls have eyes at night.” — “They can wink when they choose and so can a Scotch judge, Monsieur Procureur, if that is your name.” — “Not here — hist! — come nearer, taste this schnapps — Ha, ha! can you not guess how that business might be smothered and buried?”
Claude’s red eyes flashed, but he gathered his brows over them while the cloaked man lowered his whisper. “Husbands — English husbands have no patience with such accidents, and divorces are slow things — slow things for people in haste!”
“And people must be married first,” muttered Claude as he finished the spiced bowl at one draught.
“Shrewdly said, my friend! There’s the difficulty — how must that be proved?”
“Why, by treating her as ill as she pleases — that is one way, you know, among English husbands.”
“Maybe so, faith! — but a sea-voyage — a pleasant change of air is no such ill treatment — better than gaol and a trial for infanticide, which might happen to this pretty lady — unless you choose that part of the comedy yourself, friend Claude!”
There was both tragedy and comedy in Claude’s glance as he half-shewed his profile to the dull lanthorn’s light. The man he called “Monsieur le Procureur” prepared another potent glass, probably to obtain a more certain answer.
“Now, you and I can guess how soon a tight-built cutter and a brisk gale would carry you and other people out of danger without shame or blame — aye and find the pretty one an easier husband notwithstanding that dark night in Flanders — eh, Claude?”
“Who is her husband now?” The lanthorn, dull as it was, seemed to strong for Claude’s companion, and he turned its hood before he answered. “Did you ever hear of more than one?”
“Something about a Scotch saying in a game at blind-man’s buff — Paul Jones’s coast, eh?”
Both were silent a few minutes. The soi-disant lawyer spoke first. “Then the man’s best way is to send her snugly out of sight — bigamy is no joke in England or Scotland either — the lady can come back when she pleases — no registers of births and burials kept in Flanders.”
“How shall I know he thinks it the best way?” These words were spoken in a tone which seemed to tell the questioner’s assent. The Scotchman seized it. “Two hundred guineas in English gold or Napoleon’s silver! A free passage now a free trade for ever!”
“Till we are hanged!” said Claude shewing all his bold bright eyes and laughing hoarsely.
“Is that all?” — “Enough for you, rascal! You have been paid already for grave-digging. The lady’s first-born lay in state, no doubt!”
“I am her husband and the child lies where it can be found. If she has a second husband, monsieur, tell him so.” — “Whose husband, dreamer?” — “Why, the Scotch lord’s heiress — your Countess Emilia — tell your wise judges made her a lady, she thought she was my wife.”
Another pause followed. “Come, this clears the fog. So Madame Emilie sent the nurseling to be fostered by her pretty sister! Womanly craft, faith, and you sent a pistol-shot among the ice-rocks to frighten prying travellers!” — “Monsieur, my father was a pastry-cook and wrapped his sweetmeats in the lampoons made of him. Say what you please of me. The pistol-shot did you no great harm when you were bullying the woman you want to call wife. Now what do you want with me?”
“I, my good friend? Who spoke of her? Has her sister no husband? Can you do nothing for him?”
“What will he do for me?” was Claude’s last question. We may guess the answer.
“Ah, senora! how long have you forgotten me?” said a little Spanish girl creeping from the nest of cushions which had concealed her. Marianne started almost with horror. Accustomed to be her playmate during this voyage, the child might have lurked in her hiding-place long enough to be a dangerous witness. It was wise to ascertain yet impossible to ask how long. “Do you know,” said the prater, “there is a man-woman in the ship — a Jingaro, they say, in a French-woman’s straw bonnet — and he has the most curious box! I saw him packing a wax baby in it among feathers — and he was going — No, he was in the hold with a man who spoke like a Scotch lord.”
Stewart’s entrance stopped her, but she had said enough. Marianne felt her heart grow cold at the thought of the secret Claude might tell. Though Glenalmond might have told all he knew in the fairest and kindest mode, she felt how other narrators might injure the truth she had communicated to him so directly. His long conference must, she supposed, have led to a full discussion of the facts — how they had been received was still unknown. She was not unwilling to detain the little Spaniard as a relief from such a subject, and the child was ready to supply her own. “Why are you not always dressed in pearls?” she said. “These look like Aladdin’s gifts before the Princess changed her old lamp for a new one.”
Marianne smiled at Stewart whose gift they had been. But the smile was not returned. There was offence in her readiness to wear such brief distinctions while she meditated a divorce from the bestower. He dismissed their young guest to her servants’ care, and assumed his place at the supper-table in silence. “You share in yesterday’s pageant was a long one,” said Marianne striving to seem at ease. “Your Scotch friend was disposed to establish clanship.”
“He has no pride in the dining, dancing clan who let grass grow at his gate till they saw his coronet restored, and would desert him no to seek straws. You have resolved, it seems, to leave me?”
Believing or hoping that he alluded only to her early departure from the table, she replied, “We re both weary with the farce of representation and I want rest — Good night.”
“Stay and first tell me why representation is or was ever necessary. I ask the truth as a favor — you are generous enough to grant it as my right — unless truth and obedience are not among the four vows of a “Soeur de Charité.”
So much the power and purpose of words depend on the listener rather than the speaker, that her spirit gave its own sweetness to words full of deep and bitter meaning; and hers to his prejudiced ear seemed mockery and evasion. “You are kind,” she said, “in allowing some secrets to a charitable sister — but I wrote — I enabled Lord Glenalmond to explain.”
“Well, madam! — finish — you have not answered me. What was he instructed to explain?”
Marianne saw his flushed brow and flashing eye. Had Glenalmond omitted his task? Was it possible that the Night in Flanders was left for her to name? She was silent, her courage and presence of mind failed at the very instant which demanded all.
“You chose your counsel well, at least,” he added after a short and stern pause. “Glenalmond’s age may not present attraction, though common magnets fail in frost.”
“O pardon me!” she answered, “he was your guardian — your oldest friend — and I thought — I believed you must know why my sister —”
“I know no reason, madam. If you choose, most falsely and absurdly, to consider her a rival, all the world must see you are a step, and an important step, above her in any scale of precedence.”
Unconscious of the mist raised in his mind by his friend’s statement, and shocked at the confusion of ideas which she ascribed to a slight excess, Marianne replied in the gentlest tone. “Of Emilia — as my father’s daughter, I wish to think as seldom as possible or as much, but it is too late to discuss this subject. We will wait till tomorrow.”
Even these soft words were not calculated to undeceive him, though their gentleness turned away his anger. Both still misunderstood each other, and again, unhappily, both waited for tomorrow.
“Vive la France!” sung Philippe as he sat with Perrette in the chalet while the Baron’s cortège disappeared. “Where else, mademoiselle, would you see a flower of the Alps planted so politely in a great lord’s beaupart?”
“Not unless it was old and cracked!” said Perrette laughing. “When we were in Paris, looking at what you call grand library, I saw a wedding-contract for seven years — the children to be shared, and lots cast for the odd one. I fancy, Philippe, our Baron has been casting lots.”
“An odd bold boy he has taken,” added Stewart’s English groom, “but we are rid of him.”
“And where was his fault, pray, Monsieur Jean Tomkins, if he liked my parrot better than your dumb English bull-dog? Nobody will ever think your island-churls lent him those black diamond eyes and that head like a tuft of silk.”
“He might steal them,” answered bluff John Tomkins, “as his father stole other things.” Philippe took a pinch of snuff and chose to sleep.
“Non, va t’en — as our echo at Charenton said when you shouted Satan. I tell you, Serjeant Tomkins, your master would have hanged that boy’s father if he had not cared for other people’s secrets.”
“My colonel, not my master!” muttered John, “and more than one deserves to be hanged — I know what I know.”
“And I know what I see. If my lady had borrowed a Frenchwoman’s wit, she would have taken her first husband and left the second to take opium enough himself.”
The military servant stood erect and Perrette offered a flask as a peace-offering. “My lady had a French abigail, however, and that was enough. People can get rid of wives without opium or prussic acid — I saw who sneaked out one night, Perrette, while you held the door, and I know who rode away next morning with his waistcoat red.”
“Ah, ha! and our gallant Baron was second?”
John recovered his prudence and his upright position.
“But was it not better, monsieur Jean,” continued Perrette with one of her brightest smiles, “to break a chain than to drag it along without helping each other?”
“Bah!” interrupted Philippe suddenly awakening, “cannot they carry it without jingle? English bonhommie — what you call love, is good, very good though it make no sound like our snuff-boxes.”
“Snuff, snuff, M. Philippe! I tell you we shall see mischief. If ever there was deathfire I saw it in his eye when they met last. Did not she faint though nobody else could see? A real faint, for it spoiled her curls?”
“Too pretty to be spoiled, if they were your handiwork,” interposed the Englishman. “And if my colonel wants a second wife, other ladies won’t be so ready to faint. Your fine duchess may live to be a widow, or your pretty Spanish girl with her eyes like lamps, may grow old enough to use them.”
“I know who the first wife might have been jealous of. When I dress a lady, monsieur Anglais, don’t I know her mind best?”
“And don’t I know her husband’s — I who have dressed his horse these ten years? Mind my warning, ma’amselle, and mind the old song:
All the fruits you value, Jessy,
Double sweets you keep in;
When with hearts you dally, Jessy,
Kindness let them steep in;
Keep them not too long in ice,
Acids will not soften;
Tears are brine, and wit a spice
May be used too often!
Put no trust in frozen climes,
There the tempest rendeth —
You may wrong me nineteen times
But beware the twentieth, Jessy,
O Beware the Twentieth!
The melodrama of the wandering boy did not end as his new friend expected. During his short dialogue near her cabriolet, the dog had observed a prize worth his conveyance and carried off the reticule of the splendid lady unseen. The hotel where Stewart lodged was disturbed by the shouts of the police. “Strangle the dog — he is one of the bald Bernadines’ breed and knows the Alps too well. He saw our prefect pocket a paper belonging to his master, and before daybreak he carried culottes and all through the window while Monsieur slept. Faith, ’twas a letter to some English lord and they say it is lost again.”
“He sleeps too often on such matters. But this bandog has stolen a woman’s bauble now, and we must have him to the concierge with his master. They can’t hang him for a Sans Culotte.”
Though Stewart did not bestow turquoise and silver on his stud, he considered his stables were as secure a sanctuary for any distressed animal as a Persian’s. A silver amulet silence the messengers of justice, and the dog conscious of present patronage allowed his protector to discover the velvet cushion on which he had couched. Finding the owner was in the same hotel, he sent his servant to restore it, and as the Duke de St. Simon’s gorgeous equipage passed near the door, a natural curiosity led him to observe the occupier. The principal contents of the souvenir in which he had seen her name were an affiche or handbill describing Fanchon Babuti — the same she had carefully taken from the child’s hand and concealed. Its exact accordance with her own person struck him irresistibly, but how could he hope for truth from her in her present station? With bolder policy he went to the Duke himself. He told him the device of some unknown enemy to conceal the birth of the Baron de Salency’s grandson, and the peculiar peril it created. His appeal produced the frankness it displayed. As he had calculated, the marshal-duke was proud to shew his republican contempt of accidental distinctions. “She shall tell all,” he said with rough kindness: “There is no shame in having been one of the people. Call her when you will — if she is a fool and cannot speak truth till she is unwedded, like old Fualdes’ petticoated spy, she shall be Fanchon Babuti again — Divorces are cheap things.”
Stewart carefully reminded him that his fair young wife had no criminal confession to make, and only requested to receive in his presence a signature of the statement she gave. After a short delay, the lady entered and was sternly questioned by her husband. Her answers were given with an air of simple and almost childish humility. She knew nothing of the Scotchwoman, she said, who had hired her at Coblentz to attend a sick child while she conveyed it to its mother. She did not know why it was rejected and herself hastily dismissed, but she confirmed in every particular the narrative written by Marianne. Being urged to tell whether the boy called Julienson was, according to her belief, the same she had seen at Coblentz, she answered by describing accurately the eyes, hair, and complexion of the babe she had nursed, and signed an attestation of the whole. This, countersigned by her husband, was entrusted to Stewart, who promised secrecy if no public accusation was urged. Where this ill-fated boy had been conveyed or whether he still lived was the next question; and after some tears and trembling, she confessed that dreading personal disgrace she had left him in the custody of the police, among whom, she hinted, a Scotch spy had been busy. The marshal promised to assist in rescuing him, if found in his reputed father’s haunts, and Stewart departed with another aid, as. he hoped, to resist and expose conspiracy.
Mounted on a pony old and grave as Prince Mitternich’s renowned Owl-face and as often seen in strange places, Julienson opened the last gate of his grandfather’s park and trotted on he knew not whither, in the first hour of a summer morning. But before he had lost sight of the old chateau’s turrets, Owlface remembered his rich manger and made a resolute change of step. The struggle ended by depositing his young rider on the turf and galloping homewards with speed which defied pursuit. Thus deserted, the little pupil of St. Julien wept till hunger required better aliment than tears, and began to look wistfully among the unripe strawberries. A huge dog sprang from the thicket and considering him with sundry sniffs and precautions, seemed to claim his acquaintance. Very certain that a well-fed dog must have no distant home, Julien accepted the guidance he offered and walked by his side till, hearing a monitory whistle, he ran barking joyfully to the driver of the splendid caleche.
“Mitand! Maurice! Stop! Ask that pretty child how he comes here alone.” Julien would have shrunk sullenly back, but the lady of the caleche was peremptory and her servants led him to her side. To her caressing questions he yielded very evasive answers but was compelled to admit he had left home alone and unknown, with a steed less loyal than Don Quixote’s.
“This is Monsieur the Baron’s new grandson,” interposed the lady’s outrider; “they say he is not to stay at Salency, but if madame pleases, I will take him there.”
“No, no, no! I will not go back — unless — unless —” and he looked eagerly at his new acquaintance — “unless you will go too! They will send me to the wolves of Coblentz, they say, or the Slide of Alpnach.”
“I know nothing of the Baroness,” said the lady of the caleche rather scornfully, “and my little brave Mitand will say nothing where he found you. Go home and salute your grandfather.”
“But you must come too,” persisted Julien holding fast her furred and brocaded pelisse, “you have short nose and thick neck — you are the woman he wants to see — come and he will give you a hundred livres. Look — look at this affiche!” And he pulled from his pocket a crumpled copy of the handbill describing the Swiss nurse whose evidence was deemed so important. The lady silenced him by whispering orders to her servant while she placed Julien beside her in the caleche, promising to be his intercessor. But she possessed herself of the paper in which she saw a description too alarmingly exact. Her husband, one of those bold soldiers raised to a dukedom by the chances of the revolution, would have been ill-pleased to find his wife cited as the ci-devant handmaiden of an unknown traveller on a very questionable purpose. The Duchess de St. Simon drew her rich frills of lace and her sparkling collarette of jewels high over her goitred throat, when her caleche stopped in Avignon and the ex-Prefect’s successor obeyed her summons. With a charming air of condescension and some soft flatteries which would have rendered a finer ear inattentive to her Swiss accent, madame recommended the young fugitive to the Sub-prefect’s care till his friends chose to reclaim him. The official, proud of la belle Marechale’s visit though he professed to be an adorer of equality, promised himself the pleasure of giving the little aristocrat a lesson. Finding Julien mutinous and stubborn, the Sub-prefect told him he had been seen leading a dog notoriously skilled in the tricks of mountain-smugglers, and deserved to be whipped and starved as those agents are apt to expedite their journeys home. He had more leisure to try this experiment than he had expected; and the boy tired of a jail’s black bread and blacker walls, began to listen willingly to songs of sea-kings and ships of gold among his fellow-prisoners. The most adroit of those prisoners spared no pains to amuse him, and he was soon the inmate of a smuggler’s den, their slave and victim.
Whoever has seen an illuminated ship in the dark expanse of night and a calm sea knows its magic power on the imagination. Crowned and garlanded with light, she seems a queenly spirit of the elements she unites and governs. The frigate which sailed thus splendidly was chosen by the Baron with a loyal hope of dating his second happiness from the anniversary of his King’s return, and with some pride in giving his bride even more nuptial pomp than the ancient ceremonies of Scotland. But as the glittering ship disappeared, many guessed how soon his bright hoped would vanish in as dim and remote shadows.
That imperial tribunal of Free Judges established in all societies, decided as usual, from appearances. They saw no proof that the boy thus singularly favored was the same produced at Coblentz, or really related to the Baron. Claude might have purchased his escape by acknowledging a child whose birth was disgraceful to his patron’s family, and might be dangerous to their lineal heirs. The players of a desperate game had finessed too far, and duped their friends to defeat their enemies. With such whispers, the relations of the Baron de Salency interposed to prevent the act of adoption his advanced age almost sufficed to render questionable. They were favored by the attestation of M’querie who remained in custody and finding Wallace careless of her promised release, chose to alarm him by admitting that the boy of Coblentz had survived and been conveyed to Scotland by Claude with his Swiss nurse Fanchon Babuti.
Wallace, conscious of the evil purpose of this admission which place an heir between him and his cousin’s estate if Marianne’s marriage was established, insisted on the infant’s death; while the Prefect of Avignon, assuming an interest in this affair as Stewart’s friend and the Baron de Salency’s son-in-law, urged both parties to demand the evidence of the nurse. Notices and citations were rapidly published in her native province but she was not to be found, and those who read the description of her person and remembered the dead female discovered on a coast frequented by Claude’s crew, made an awful inference. Of Claude himself it was impossible to gain certain information, and his evidence if produced would have deserved no implicit belief either concerning Babuti’s fate or the identity of the boy his doting father had been persuaded to adopt. The strongest probability seemed that one error had caused three sacrifices and the innocent young life begun in mystery had ended in despair. Emissaries were despatched to Orkney where Claude was supposed to lurk, having been heard to boast his right to be a sea-king in buccaneer fashion. “A Scotch queen (he said) had married an Orkney pirate and one Patrick Stewart had been a Jarl of the same nobility. Old Adam Bothwell had lived free enough there though he had been deep in a proud woman’s secrets.” Thus Stewart’s efforts to establish Marianne’s honour had only involved his own and perhaps his life. Her acquittal was contrived, not complete; and a crowd of small but constant innuendoes consumed his reputation, as moths devour a forest.
The Baron’s second choice proved less evidence of decaying intellect than his kind relatives hoped. His new lady adopted his zeal in trifles and delight in managing small mysteries with admirable skill and felicity. Therefor she busied herself in all the affairs of her household and neighbourhood, especially in the education of little Julienson, now reputed heir of Salency. Finding the Spanish orphan Minna had returned to Avignon under the Prefect’s guardianship, she invited her incessantly as a companion for her favorite, and another subject of rule. But though Avignon had no longer its court of love and queen-beauty, it possessed romancers equal in invention to the most famous of old Provence. These fabulists discovered that as nothing had been distinctly proved, Minna might be the mysterious child of Coblentz. Her apparent age concurred; her name was a diminutive of Marianne whose guest she had been, and the Prefect, a gallant widower without children, might have been generously willing to receive her as his ward, availing himself of a Spanish name which in these days of change and confusion, none would dispute. But, as usual, the whisper was unheard by the only persons it concerned, and the Baroness Barbare persisted in displaying her fond authority over Julienson and Minna. The consequences were more certain and complete than his enemies expected. Capricious indulgence and continual hints of his high prospects made the boy insolent to his grandfather, and intolerable to his attendants. Even his good old benefactress became a subject of his mimicry and scorn when she perplexed her cook with instructions to make haggis and scolded her soubrettes in broad Scotch. These domestics revenged themselves by listening to the hints of their master’s relatives and watching every occasion to shew their contempt of the Scotch changeling’s usurpation. He was not slow in feeling their taunts and the cold looks of the Baron, to whom his presence became painful as the doubtful and unworthy burthen thrust on him by a degraded son. And when the young adder thus intruded into his house seemed strong enough to sting, the aged man listened less unwillingly to those who urged his imperfect and perhaps pretended claim. Minna, strong in a thousand little graces which won the Baron and his wife even more than her young beauty, was soon first in their favor, and Julien as he was now almost always called without the surname of Salency, saw himself forsaken. He grew fierce and sullen, seeking opportunities to shew his ire against his rival who knew already with feminine instinct how to use her power. And the strong distinction between male and female tact was never more decided than in the ways of tormenting chosen by this boy and girl of equal age and not unequal talent. Cool, bland, and quiet, the little ichneumon fastened on her victim take care to sting unseen, till his struggles ended in flight. Tempted by the contents of what his grandmother called her “shuttle”, a pigeon-hole drawer full of old papers, trinkets and strange coins, Julien became a second Gil-Blas.
Little Julienson was soon the favorite employment of Aunt Barbara’s solitude, though some discreet hints were whispered that such marked adoption might bear no favorable inference to Marianne’s reputation. Her answer was positive in proportion to her self-love. If the babe, she said, was “of kin,” it had a right to her kindness; if a stranger, kindness was but Christian and he should have it. “St. Julian’s gift” as Glenalmond called him, in jesting allusion to the patron-saint of travellers and romancers, had the bright black eyes of Provencal beauty and the soft complexion probably derived from at least one British parent. He was too young to know the danger of monopolizing power, but old enough to see the success of his fond frolics round his patroness. Her unequal temper encouraged the insolence which provoked malice. “A bonny thing,” said an old herdsman as his bonnet received a shower of mud from the heels of Julienson’s pony, “to see a knight’s spur on a chance-bairn! A rowan-tree switch would fit him better.”
“I am no chance-bairn,” he shouted, “and I am to be a knight!” He stopped short, awed by the dark deep eye of a stranger, and conscious of its irresistible command, clung cowering to Lady Barbara while Glenalmond introduced the Baron de Salency and left him to fulfil the purpose of his visit. After a gracious preamble, he told the tale she had been prepared to hear. The Baron had visited Holyrood to receive his King’s thanks for long loyalty, mingled with condolence for the sudden death of Madame de Salency, caused by too great efforts at a royal ball. Freed from fears of her displeasure and strengthened by court-favor, he had resolved to acknowledge the child as his son’s misconduct had cast friendless into the world. An act of adoption according to Napoleon’s code would secure to his innocent grandson the estate and name for which he had no legal heir. Therefor the good old Baron came to thank Lady Barbara for her bounty to a deserted foundling, and give him in her presence the honourable names of Louis-Xavier-Amadis de Salency by the rites of baptism.
Never was baptism witnessed with more true devotion, such as springs from thankfulness and joy. Her niece’s name was now vindicated by every possible proof and her own made known to fame. The Baron’s gifts, bonmots, and gallantries were an absolute scattering of roses, and in his presence her cat, macaw, and pet urchin slept together in rare peace. Perhaps her truly grandame-style of indulgence tempted him to give her some right to the name. Her ancient blood and a few whispers of land in fee completed his discovery that broad Scotch is original French. Louis XVIII had been a guest at Holyrood and a Scotch lady must be well received at Paris. A billet borrowed from Balzac and a bow worthy the Duc de Nivernois announced his hopes to their inspirer whose answer was in one plain word while her thought was of astonishing the Provost of Dumborbie. A husband cannot be more tyrannical than ten cousins, and one wasp is better than a swarm of mosquitoes. So thought Glenalmond and ensured his own escape by a splendid cadeau in the Baron’s name of rich antique lace which graced her launch into the new world of wedlock a few hours before she embarked for the land of lilies.