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       The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France. Vol. 3 (of 3), p.1
 

         Part #3 of The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France series by Lewis Wingfield
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The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France. Vol. 3 (of 3)


  Produced by Charles Bowen, from page scans provided by Google Books

  Transcriber's Notes:

  1. Page scan source: https://books.google.com/books?id=hxFLAAAAIAAJ

  2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

  3. Errata listed at the end of the printed edition have been inserted at the appropriate place in all volumes.

  THE MAID OF HONOUR

  THE MAID OF HONOUR

  A Tale of the Dark Days of France

  BY

  THE HON. LEWIS WINGFIELD

  AUTHOR OF

  "LADY GRIZEL," "THE LORDS OF STROGUE," "ABIGEL ROWE"

  ETC.

  _IN THREE VOLUMES_ VOL. III.

  LONDON RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.

  1891

  [_All Rights Reserved_]

  TO

  WILLIAM HENRY WELDON.

  A TRIBUTE

  OF OLD FRIENDSHIP.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER XX.

  Diplomacy.

  CHAPTER XXI.

  The Spiders Spin.

  CHAPTER XXII.

  Domestic Cookery.

  CHAPTER XXIII.

  A Passage of Arms.

  CHAPTER XXIV.

  Madame de Breze is Nervous.

  CHAPTER XXV.

  Will the Sword Fall?

  CHAPTER XXVI.

  Will Jean Boulot Come?

  CHAPTER XXVII.

  The Decks are Cleared for Action.

  CHAPTER XXVIII.

  The Baron is Energetic.

  CHAPTER XXIX.

  Noblesse Oblige.

  THE MAID OF HONOUR.

  CHAPTER XX.

  DIPLOMACY.

  It was a matter of imperative necessity to beat down at once theprotecting barriers within which the victim had ensconced herself, andhere was the first difficulty to be conquered. It was evident thatGabrielle's written ultimatum called for a reply. At the suggestion,Clovis fairly winced. Was he to grovel in the mud, and accept herhumiliating terms? Never! And in writing, too! He would rather cut offhis hand. What did Providence mean by creating marquises unfurnishedwith necessary adjuncts? Are not fowls provided with plumes and polarbears with fur? Why for years had the purse yawned for him, and thensuddenly shut itself up? Not the purse exactly, for there existed thathateful allowance, which he would never, never soil his fingers with;but the marital authority and position which go with unstinted means!They had both shrivelled away, and the Marquis de Gange smarted as ifhe had been tarred and feathered. What would people say when the lastwhimsey of the chatelaine leaked out? She posed as a martyr, but tookgood care to protect herself against martyrdom. And what was the awfulgrievance? That the exigencies of his scientific studies (of which shewas too ignorant and stupid to know aught) required the professionalassistance of a diplomaed disciple of the prophet, and that the adeptselected by the prophet chanced to be a woman! Was ever anything solow and paltry as this ridiculous assumption of jealousy? Had he,Clovis, ever made love to Mademoiselle Brunelle? Never. Delighting inlike pursuits, they were dear and trusted friends after the manner ofmale friendship, and none but a base nature could take umbrage at suchan alliance.

  Judging from her absurd precautions of changed locks and newly-openeddoors, the martyr seemed to consider herself in peril--evidently meantthe country to suppose so. Her husband was an ogre--a roaringFee-fo-fum--would by and by serve up her tender limbs on toast, withrich and luscious gravy. The abbe might argue till he was black in theface, but if Mistress Gabrielle could be haughty, so could he. Hedeclined to answer the letter.

  "Dear me! a scandal!" objected the abbe in distress, "an inevitablescandal! Might his attached and ever-devoted brother go forth and playthe ambassador?"

  Pharamond might do what he deemed right, on the clear understandingthat the head of the house would not consent to anything that shouldhold him up to ridicule.

  Armed thus with maimed powers, Pharamond went on his mission. He hadalmost traversed the length of the long saloon, ere Gabrielle, lookingup from her embroidery, beheld the intruder. The blood rushed to herface, then slowly ebbed. They would not accept her terms, then, butwould force their presence on her?

  Bidding the girl and boy who were romping on the floor, to retire totheir school-room, she laid her work upon the table, and with crossedhands waited.

  "Madame must try and pardon this intrusion," began the abbe, meekly,"because it could not be avoided. I am here to speak, for my brotherwould not write, and it is rude not to answer a letter. Will madame beso courteous as to hear me out?"

  Gabrielle, after a moment's reflection, pointed to a seat, butPharamond shook his head.

  "Madame does not accept me as a friend," he observed, drily, "so Ihave no desire to stay a moment more than I'm obliged."

  "A friend? Who has never done me anything but harm!"

  "Are we to discuss all that again?" he replied. "You have yourselfadmitted, more than once, that you owed much to me, and yet youcompelled me by your own conduct reluctantly to withdraw what I hadgiven."

  "You do well to remind me!" returned Gabrielle, swelling withcontempt. "Your terms of peace were that your brother's wife was tobecome your mistress! You are right to stand. Say what you have tosay, and quickly."

  "I have, in the first place, to point out to Madame la Marquise theresult of her present course of action. Does a wife, think you, gainin the world's esteem by constantly insulting her husband?"

  "I have never insulted my husband."

  "Not by making a fool of him before all his class--by treating himlike an ill-bred child, that may not be trusted? By driving him frombeneath the roof which should be his?"

  "What?" ejaculated Gabrielle, amazed.

  "That is what you have done, and, believe me, the world will beagainst you, however plausible a tale you may invent."

  "Is he going away?" faltered the marquise, beginning to see theposition in another light.

  "Is it probable that so proud a man would stay to be made thelaughing-stock of all Touraine? Of course not. Beggary were betterthan such deep disgrace as that. His name is yours, and yet to yourown shame you wilfully drag it in the mire. We are all going away, soyou will have your chateau to yourself, and when we arrive in Paris itis you who will be the laughing-stock."

  "Going away! How will you all live?" asked the marquise, pondering.

  "Expelled from the home that should have been our brother's, thechevalier and I will return to Montpelier. The marquis will retreat toSpa, and take service with the mesmerists. He will be happy there incongenial society, for though very poor, he will be freed from dreadof insult."

  Gabrielle was bewildered. She was being held up
to herself in the mostnatural manner possible, as a tyrant, an insulter of the poor, in whomdwelt neither justice nor compassion. It was not true, she knew thatright well; but perhaps without intent, she had been harsh. Yetno--with a remembrance of the crowning outrage of that woman's return,came renewed courage.

  The abbe concluded he had gained a point and followed it swiftly withanother thrust.

  "Madame will excuse me, if I remark that she is given tohallucinations, such as are common in hysterical subjects. She suffersfrom delusions, invents charges against her sorely-stricken husband,which at expense of his private feelings must be rebutted. Hisposition having been rendered untenable by his wealthy wife, he iscompelled to leave her house, and in doing so refrains from the onepunishment which lies within easy reach. If he chose, he could removehis children, but he will not, for he has learned with pain that oneof madame's chief delusions is that she has herself been divided fromher offspring. That he may not be placed in the wrong, by any moresuch idle fancies, he consents to sacrifice himself, and will leavethem with madame _for the present_. I think I have followed all myinstructions, and with madame's permission will retire."

  The abbe who had spoken with dispassionate calm, made a low reverence,and without looking at the lady moved slowly down the saloon. Wouldshe call him back? No. Better to leave her to chew the cud of bitterand perplexing thought. The arrow was planted, and now would fester.Toinon would surely appear with another letter in the evening. Hisfingers were on the door handle when a low, sad voice called, "Abbe!"

  Did he hear aright? He turned with manifest reluctance. "Madamedeigned to speak?"

  "Yes. Come back, I pray you."

  With a slight but eloquent shoulder shrug of deprecation, the cunningchurchman moved up the saloon again, very slowly, as if under protest.

  "Madame would wish to know," he asked, "how soon she will be quit ofus? Alas! we must crave indulgence, for my brother's scientificinstruments will take long to pack. They are brittle and expensivearticles which, under the new conditions, he could never afford toreplace."

  The marquise was visibly troubled, and the abbe had some ado to keephis countenance. The man was a human chameleon, and poor Gabrielle hadnot the weapons wherewith to smite such animals. His manner was sostaid and stern, yet meek withal, that she could scarce believe thatit was over this same passionless face that she had seen pass and fadedissolving views of such deep-dyed iniquity. Was this the satyr whohad inflicted scorching kisses; who had by turns cajoled and brutallythreatened her--the man of whom she had grown to be mortally afraid?He had just held up for contemplation a portrait of herself, which,though hideously distorted, was like. But was it? It was, and yet itwas not. He had made her out a monster.

  So they were going away and would leave her in peace with thechildren? How unexpected a _denouement_. It never entered the simplehead of Gabrielle to suspect that the man was lying. Proud as she washerself, she could understand and appreciate, and even applaud thefeeling which preferred independent poverty to gilded bondage. And shehad meant so well in what she had done! But put as it had just been,it did seem wrong to make a husband--even a bad one--so dependent. Aman dependent on a woman is always a subject for ridicule. Womangoverned by her feelings is so easily misled!

  Ah me! Permit me to moralize for just a minute. Why is it that themore angelic we are--the more ready to moult our earthy plumage--weshould be the less fit to combat those of earth? The more guilelessand innocent a woman is--quite fit to soar aloft with newly-sproutedwings--the more abjectly pitiable a victim. Perhaps it means thatearth should be left to the earthy, and that angels have no businesshere at all.

  The marquise, while arranging bolts and barriers was quite under theimpression that she was a martyr, that a menacing sword was danglingoverhead which would fall and pierce her skull, and now she wastold--and there seemed some truth in it--that she had been carriedaway by imagination. According to the abbe she stood convicted ofhysteria! If their method of showing displeasure took the form ofretreat with bag and baggage, leaving her the solitary mistress of thefield, how could she be in danger? They would leave presently,declaring that the heiress had flung her money in their faces in sovulgar a fashion that self-respect compelled departure. Draped in thepicturesque dignity of rags, they, not she, would wear the auriole ofmartyrdom--a consideration as new as disconcerting. It wassatisfactory to find that Clovis, bad as she knew him to be, could beso proud. There must be much latent good in a selfish man who, toshield his manhood from smirching, will cheerfully abandon flesh-pots.His wife had calculated (and justly, too) that though he might whineand grumble, he would accept any conditions which did not withdraw thecomforts which made life worth living. His wife fully intended that heshould have ample means to play ducks and drakes with, but, surroundedas he was by a bad _entourage_, he must not be permitted to be master.And, lo and behold, he snapped his fingers at the money, and electedto wear the rags!

  Rapidly reviewing the situation, Gabrielle's heart warmed in a tepidmanner to the man whom she had wrongly read. She approved the attitudehe had assumed, but could not allow him to retain it.

  The abbe had rightly appraised the exceeding generosity of her natureand had played on it. When she called him back he was pleased to markhow clouded was her brow, how shaken was her fixed resolve.

  "Clovis has judged me harshly," she observed. "I never wished to drivehim from his home."

  Things were going well. The outraged one was apologizing for herconduct.

  "Que voulez-vous!" replied the abbe with a shrug. "He has my fullapproval. It is not well to place an honourable man in a falseposition."

  "Nor an honourable woman either," aptly retorted the marquise.

  "That brings us to the burning question," said the abbe, drawing astep nearer, in his earnestness. "The fault, if fault it was, wasmine, not Clovis's, and I am prepared to bear the blame of my ownactions. A little more blame or less," he added, lightly, "cannot makemuch difference, since I know you consider me a demon. That is alldead and buried--blown away and done with." By a graceful gesture thechurchman blew away the past. "It was I who brought back MademoiselleBrunelle for prudential reasons, which I admit humbly now wereunjustifiable. I thought your objection to the lady was founded on herinterference in the nursery and nothing more, and, as you know, shequite understands that in future she has no place there. If yourmemory serves you, you will remember my pointing out once that a manlike Clovis requires to be led by a woman. You could not or would notlead him--that is your affair; and I felt convinced that we werefortunate in his having a leader whose relations with him wereplatonic. What if, deprived of her, he had pitched on an affinity ofexactly the opposite stamp?"

  This was true also. Gabrielle felt that it was.

  "As it is by your line of action you lead the world to suppose thatyou deem them guilty, and you know as well as I do that although sheonce talked nonsense in bravado, they are innocent. You drive us fromthe house and we go. Need I remark that mademoiselle goes with us?Thus you accentuate the suggestion of impropriety which you are awaredoes not exist, instead of showing by your behaviour that you aresatisfied of the innocence of both."

  "Do you think to persuade me," asked the marquise, with sad wonder, inwhich was a tinge of bitterness, "to accept the woman's presence? Theson of the Church calls for too lavish a display of Christiancharity."

  "I call on you for nothing," returned the abbe, meekly, "since in aweek we shall be gone. The scandal of disruption will lie with you; weare not responsible."

  So the man persisted in proving her to be in the wrong!

  "I do not desire that you should go away, and I will admit that I havebeen precipitate. What does Clovis want? I am ready to do all I can tomeet his views, but he must not suppose that I will accept thatwoman."

  The marquise's barriers were tottering. Even the abbe had not expectedthat she would show such feebleness of purpose. His point ofrefraining to strike at her through her offspring, by removing them,was cleverly imagined, and
had told. Would it be prudent to administeranother stroke now, to attempt by a vigorous charge to carry thecitadel at once, or would it be wiser to wait? It would not do topresent the appearance of taking too much upon himself. Clovis must beforced to come forward and play his part. The ground was wellprepared. The wife felt compunctious visitings, and so the husbandmight say his say without loss of dignity. The abbe resolved,therefore, that it was time for him to retire into shadow. So heechoed quietly, "What does he want? Nothing, since as you yourselfwrote, 'all is over.' When you first propounded the notion to me, Iknew he would not forgive that testament."

  So that was at the bottom of it all. Who could have guessed that adreamy man, wrapped in scientific mists, should so hotly resent aninfringement of marital authority? She appeared to have wanderedunwittingly so far into the thicket of error, that it seemed vain togrope after the right; and yet, as she repeated to herself again andagain, she had meant so extremely well!

  The presentiment was proved to be idle wind, since they were all readyto go without a struggle. Had not M. Galland declared it to be due tomorbid fancy? The scandal of an open separation must be avoided forthe children's sake. What answer could she make to Victor when, grownto manhood, he asked why his father was a beggar? The proposed exodusmust be stopped at all hazards. What if the white-robed marquise wereto dabble the hem of her skirt in the mire of deception for a little,or, to put it more nicely, make use of diplomatic arts? Supposing thatshe were to allow herself to be persuaded into cancelling the will,had she not arranged for the contingency? The unlucky will had somehowproduced the worst of effects upon the marquis, and there could be nopossibility of peace till that question was set at rest. The idea ofso deceiving her husband, brought a guilty tingle to her cheek, butthere seemed no other way to cut the knot. Infatuated as he was withthe woman who had behaved so abominably, and had made her life sowretched, she would never really consent to leave the future of thedarlings in his hands; but might she not pretend to do so? A signaturewith a cross appended would speak for itself. For the sake of futureharmony, it might be judicious to appear to give way. Though it isnaughty to do wrong, we all know that the naughtiness becomes a virtuewhen it is clear that it will result in good. Raising her deep blueeyes to meet the abbe's, she remarked that she would consider all thathe had said, and let him know her decision later.

  Pharamond bowed. "Decision--on what point?" he inquired.

  "Oblige me," replied the marquise, "by requesting M. le Marquis toleave things as they are until he hears again from me."

  The interview had been most satisfactory, and Pharamond's face beamedas he went down the staircase. What an admirable inspiration that hadbeen about their enforced departure, with bag and baggage--and withAglae! And how easily the poor soul had tumbled into the specioussnare. And then he laughed aloud at the fancied picture of Clovis inhis poverty. That he of all men should sacrifice his comforts! Beforehis marriage with the heiress, he had been used to a measure of it,but since he had lain on roses, their perfume had become a necessity.Moreover, his own heavily-cumbered estates were in one of the mostturbulent provinces, where landlords might whistle for their rents.Were he in sober earnest to resign his position of prince consort,black bread and a garret would be his fate. To think that Gabrielleshould be so hoodwinked! What was she going to consider? and how longwould she be about it?

  As Clovis listened to his brother's report, he rubbed his nose inperplexity, glancing askance at Algae, who nodded her head inapproval.

  "She will come to her senses, and all will be well," declared thatlady. "She will know that the vulgar _intriguante_ is a poor,harmless, humble friend of milord's, who only asks for the opportunityto forgive. Va! I bear no malice to jealous mad women. She hunted meaway with ignominy, yet did I not clasp her to me afterwards? It wasfor monsieur's sake, for whom he knows I would spill my blood, Iforced myself to do so. What is she to me? Except for your sake,nothing!"

  Clovis bit his nails to the quick as he walked about the room. Thatshe had changed her mind was well, but would she not insist upon someconditions which he could not, as a man, accept? He was not going tokneel in the dust. They must all make up their minds to that. He wasready to meet her half-way if she would promise to behave better inthe future, but as to any more school-boy treatment, he would submitto nothing of the kind.

  It was pitiable to see the weak, unstable man fluttering in borrowedplumes, blown out with a proud conviction in his heroic strength ofcharacter.

  "Monsieur!" cried Algae, in her rolling tones of thunder, "oblige meby sitting down. Since I was so disgraced here, my nerves are not whatthey were. Clovis, I was going to say--" she added, with a great roar,clapping her large hands together in guileless glee--"Monsieur leMarquis and I," she went on needlessly to explain to the abbe, "aresuch _bons camarades_ that if I was not conscious of lowly descent,and in terror of the jealous mad woman, I should almost think I washis sister! But, oh! mon Dieu, what rashness! If the servants were tohear me call him Clovis, and report the awful delinquency to the palenun upstairs, what shrieks and screams! When saints condescend tohuman frailties, they are very much like other mortals."

  "Always call me Clovis. I insist on it," observed, with benignauthority, the bird in borrowed plumes.

  Algae, with one of those impulsive movements, which in so massive awoman were charming, because unexpected, jumped up and kissed themarquis's hand, and pressed it to her bosom. "Clovis. To me alwaysClovis--when we are alone with the abbe," she murmured, gratefully,"but not in public--for your sake. Since you are so kind--sokind--cannot I put up with annoyance from the nun? So far as I amconcerned, accept all, and any of her conditions. If she drives meforth again, I can take up my residence at Blois, which is not so veryfar, and you will sometimes come and see me."

  Algae was vastly improved. With delighted admiration Clovis had, sinceher return, become assured of it. Her spirits were more airy, herhumour more refined; and she fairly bubbled over with good nature, andshe never made remarks now that were unpleasantly pithy. What anadvantage large women have over small ones! It is given to the smallto be querulous and vixenish. The large and stout ones are conspicuousfor indulgent charity, You rarely find them speaking ill of theirneighbours. Clovis was quite convinced that Algae was a dusky pearl,and blamed himself severely for mistrusting her at the time of theattempted suicide.

  Gabrielle was not long in coming to a decision. Having been admittedlyprecipitate, and having looked at things from their worst point ofview, it was her place to show generosity. What could she lose byfalling in with the wishes of the men, and making a new will to pleasethem, which, in the event of her death, would be no better thanwaste-paper? Since Clovis could show a proper pride, such as becamehis rank, it would not be well to torment him. It had been a nobletrait that in the same breath, he should have proposed to retire fromthe scene, and yet not distress her about the children. Supposing hehad gone, along with Algae, and had taken the dear ones with him?Legally, she would have had no remedy. It never should be said that hecould be more generous than she. The baleful woman whose evil spellshad wrecked her content must go, of course; but she should be allowedto take her time, and not be expelled violently, as before.Ostensibly, she had come on a visit. Let her remain for a week or twolonger, and quietly withdraw. No harm would be done. No scandal wouldarise. The acute incident would be closed, giving way to a prospect oftranquillity.

  His wife sent a short note to the marquis, begging his attendance inthe boudoir. He made a wry face, for it was terribly like aschoolboy's summons to receive a flogging.

  But Algae, the large-hearted, placed her brown hands upon hisshoulders and shook him amicably. "You are indeed a child, my Clovis,and deserve the flogging!" she said, cheerily. "Fi donc! A gentlemanobeys a lady's bidding. Would you have her come down here and singpeccavi before me, whom she detests? Infant! go to her and make it up,and if she proposes stipulations about me, be sure to accede to themall."

  Clovis obeyed with a bad grace, and entered his
wife's boudoir withthe sorry air of a malefactor who pleads guilty--a condition that wasnot improved by the dignified courtesy of his reception. With a serenesmile, Gabrielle bade him sit by her side.

  "We seem doomed to have misunderstandings," she sighed; "and I am fainto confess that the blame is equally divided. I unwittingly offendedyou on a money question. I often wish that there was no such thing asmoney."

  The exordium was promising, and Clovis plucked up his spirits. With apolite bow he remained silent.

  "What would you have me do?" she asked.

  "Release me from the possible prospect of being held up to ridicule bymy children."

  "It shall be done--upon conditions."

  Ah! There were to be conditions then? The anger of the marquis rose.His face assumed so sullen an expression that Gabrielle felt lesscompunction as to her pious fraud. Such men as her husband and hisbrother were not fit to have the custody of children; as to that shehad no doubt. When she proceeded to explain that he might send for anotary, and she would sign another will on condition that a certainperson undertook to withdraw from the circle, Clovis could scarcecontain his passion.

  When the marechal's solicitors had forced him to obedience it was badenough--but now--to receive peremptory orders from his wife! He wasnot such a ninny as to be taken in by the little sop. That Algae wasto be allowed to stay on for a week or two just to keep up appearancesmade no difference. He had chosen to engage a female secretary andhelper concerning whose relations with himself there could be nosuspicion in any healthy mind, and he was to be deprived of herassistance in his work through a morbid and unworthy suspicion.

  "What if I refuse?" he said, sulkily. "You will play the martyr, Isuppose?"

  "I will place the matter before the Seigneurie and magistrates ofBlois," Gabrielle quietly replied. "The line they counsel I willtake."

  The wrath of the marquis boiled over. His hands shook, and his fingerstwitched as though he would like to strike her.

  "You will do that?" he muttered, harshly. "You will wash our linen inpublic to make me a fool before the province? You will deliberatelycreate a public _esclandre_ at so dangerous a moment?"

  "Alas!" returned his wife, mournfully, "the scandal is made by you.All I ask is to be treated with respect. Rid me for ever of her whohas been the shadow across our path, and I will carry out your wishes.Refuse, and I will seek the protection of the Seigneurie, who shallarbitrate between us."

  "I will return you a written answer," Clovis said, abruptly rising andmaking for the door. He could not and would not be ordered thus topart with Algae; and yet he was sorely anxious for the cancelling ofthe hateful document. He was not capable of steering his bark aloneamong rocks and shallows, but must seek counsel from the others. Theywere awaiting him, and in a white heat of vexation he poured out tothem his woes.

  Mademoiselle Brunelle laughed merrily, directing sly looks ofintelligence at the abbe, who frowned over his brother's shoulder, andpursed his lips.

  Appeal to the Seigneurie, indeed! It was well to know of such aproject in order to circumvent it. Clovis had been awkward andunskilful; and he, the abbe, must assume henceforth more openly thecommand of operations. Inopportune stiff necks are productive of noend of worry. Why could not the silly zany have done as he was bid,have accepted every suggestion, leaving further action to the others?The all-important object was to secure a proper will, and that pointgained, both Pharamond and Algae were well aware of what the next stepwould have to be. Clovis, the shilly-shally, must henceforth beexcluded from a hand in the management of affairs. The lucky fellowshould reap his share of profit by and by without the sweat of labour.His abortive interview with his wife had produced one good result. Hewas more than ever exasperated against her, and swore, with needlessoaths, that he would never look on her or speak to her again.

  "In that he must please himself," Pharamond remarked withindifference; "but he must take up his pen and write. If he wouldcease fretting and fidgeting, and sit down, his obliging brother woulddictate, and the epistle should be of the shortest. Would mademoisellekindly listen and suggest, since for her there were no secrets?"

  The letter placed an hour later in the hand of Gabrielle ran thus:--

  "Madame,--Your instructions shall be obeyed. I have sent to Blois fora notary.

  "Your affectionate husband,

  "Clovis."

 
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