(The STORY OF A NOBLE HOUSE IN THE REIGN ON TERROR)
"MONSIEUR LE VICOMTE DE MAURY." This announcement made one evening in January, 1793, at the outer drawing-room door of the Château de Grou, had rather a singular effect on six well-bred people who were sitting there.
The old Marquise, enthroned in a high arm-chair beside the yawning chimney with its wood-fire, made an exclamation, and threw a half-fierce, half-laughing glance at her son the Marquis, who started up from the table where he was playing backgammon with his wife's cousin, the Chevalier de Mazan. The younger Marquise, a thin, precise-looking woman of five-and-forty, pinched her mouth up into its most forbidding expression, and raised her eyes with a frown from the tapestry-frame over which she and her daughter-in-law, the Comtesse de Grou, were bending and blinding themselves. The Comte, seeing his father's hasty movement, got up too from his chair in the background, and came forward one or two steps with a dignified slowness which was in itself a reproof to his perturbed relations.
There was no time to say or do anything. The visitor, welcome or not, walked forward into the room and met these six pairs of eyes, curious, angry, contemptuous, cold, astonished, haughty. Not one friendly look, not one sign of welcome. The visitor's cheeks, already ruddy from the cold air outside, took a deeper shade as he exchanged formal bows with the inmates of this inhospitable salon. His appearance at least did not deserve such a reception. A handsome, spirited-looking young man, a head and shoulders taller than the other gentlemen present, with one of those expressive faces that give unprejudiced people an instant feeling of liking and confidence. At the Château de Grou, however, M. de Maury was regarded as an enemy, for several reasons, and it was not without hesitation that the old Marquise brought herself to treat him as an equal, and politely motioned him to a chair.
"Sit down, monsieur, J beg of you," said she. "You are out late this evening, but perhaps it is the fashion. It is long since I lived in Paris, and I do not know what they do there now."
"Pardon me, madame, for appearing at such a strange hour," said M. de Maury. "But, as you may imagine, it is only an affair of the greatest importance that has brought me here at all."
"Indeed! And to what do we owe this unusual honor ? " said the Marquise blandly.
"Madame, it is—it may be—a matter of life and death."
"Is it possible ? Before we come to anything so serious, may one ask for the last news from Paris ? I should not care to leave the world in a state of ignorance. What are your good friends the patriots doing now, monsieur ? "
"There is no special news this week, madame. It is still disturbed, of course, but the people will calm down in time. If the Constitution we have made is allowed to work, we shall have peace and prosperity, in which all our past confusion will be forgotten."
"Then, monsieur, we shall all have to pray for bad memories," said the Chevalier.
"What is your saint, your hero, doing? M. de Lafayette—what do you call him—Motier? " said the Marquis, laughing. " By-the-bye, let me apologize for my ill-trained servants, who gave you your title at the door. The fact is, monsieur, I forget who you are. Citoyen—"
"Bernard Lavigne," said the young man, smiling a little. " One must be willing to sacrifice empty distinctions at the wish of the nation. But, monsieur—let me ask you—was anything great and sublime ever done without a touch of absurdity in the doing it ? "
"Perhaps not; but one wants the sublimity to excuse the Absurdity," said the Marquis. "And to speak candidly, I have seen absurdities enough, and horrors enough, in these last two years; but my very strongest spectacles have not availed to detect the sublimity."
"There is something sublime on the tapis now, however," said the old Marquise. "A matter of life and death. Will Monsieur de Maury break it to us before he enters on the subject of Monsieur de Lafayette ?"
"Madame," began Bernard, with a little hesitation His eyes wandered once or twice round the room, as if to reassure themselves of something.
"Do not disturb yourself said Madame de Grou. "All our hearts are strong enough to bear bad news. At least, I can promise that you will see no weakness."
The Vicomte bowed.
"A report has reached us, madame," he said, "that you are thinking of emigration. It has spread itself in the town and in the neighboring villages. People say that you mean to drive away in state in your large coach with all your household, without any attempt at concealment Mesdames et messieurs," he went on, rising from his chair, and looking earnestly round on all the dimly-lit faces, "believe what I say, and do not distrust me. In the present state of people's minds, you cannot attempt anything more dangerous. Your carnage will not be allowed to pass. Seeking liberty, you will find yourselves in prison. I warn you honestly, and as a friend."
There was a moment's pause after the young man had spoken.
"And as a friend, what would you advise us to do?" said the Marquis.
"Ah, cher monsieur, thank you a thousand times! Will you indeed trust me, and take my advice? Then let me implore you to stay here, and not to think of emigration. You are comparatively safe here. There are still some who respect you. And my father's influence will do a great deal for your protection. Ah, let me hear that you have given up all thoughts of this mad and dangerous scheme."
The Chevalier glanced at the Comte and laughed a little sneeringly, as he leaned over the backgammon board. The Marquis smiled too.
"And this is your new French liberty!" he said. " A man cannot drive away from his house in his own carriage without being stopped and imprisoned. Curious, truly ! "
"One has not far to seek for an explanation in this case, my dear Marquis," said the Chevalier de Mazan, nodding his head with a side glance at M. de Maury. " In fact, you may take it as a general rule that, where the people rise unexpectedly, they are egged on to it by some person superior in birth to themselves—some person with a motive. But such persons are too apt to spoil their own game by a lurking wish to stand well with all parties."
Monsieur de Mazan was generally considered the genius, the wit, and the wise man of the family. Everybody hung upon his words, smiled, and looked to see how they were taken by the object of them.
"I am glad to think," said Bernard, "that Monsieur de Grou does not share in the vile suspicions of monsieur his cousin. He has known me too long—"
"And have I had any reason to increase my esteem with my knowledge?" said the Marquis, with a little bow.
The young man was about to answer, when an appearance at the door which separated the salon from another room beyond checked the words upon his lips.
A girl, dressed in white, very slim and graceful, with a small fair face and large frightened blue eyes, stood still in the tapestry-framed doorway, and gazed at him. His low bow seemed to bring her back to herself She answered it with as weeping courtesy, and glided round with light steps on the polished floor, behind the two younger Mesdames de Grou and their frame, to a corner behind the old Marquise's chair.
"Have you brought me my fan, Léonore?" said the old woman.
"Here it is, madame," said the girl, in a low voice, putting it into her hand.
But while she spoke and moved she never took her eyes away from the Vicomte de Maury, who stood opposite to her with his face to the whole circle. Her entrance seemed to silence them all for a moment The Chevalier still smiled, with a snake-like contentment, keeping his black eyes fixed on Bernard; but the Marquis looked a little disturbed, and his face twitched angrily.
The young Comtesse de Grou, a weak, impatient-looking little person, glanced up at her husband, who was standing near her, with an expression which said, " Finish this scene, for pity's sake !" And the Comte, stepping forward with a Louis-Quatorze air, ventured to ask M. de Maury whether they might expect any further information.
"I have warned your family of their danger, monsieur, " replied Bernard quietly, " and I still hope, not without avail I must endure your suspicions, which I might have expected. I am happy to know that there is one person, at least, who will not share in them."
"Never, never !" came a quick half-whisper from behind the Marquise's chair.
Bernard bowed gratefully,
"Allons, this is too much ! " said the Chevalier, in a low tone, to M. de Grou. "Will you complete this business, or must I ? "
But the old Marquise was doing it for them.
"Adieu, then, monsieur," she said, rising. "We bag to offer you our thanks. If your warning is founded en fact, we probably shall never meet again. I would only ask you to use your influence and that of monsieur votre pére to make our stay in prison as short as possible."
M. de Maury bowed low, and walked out of the room. The Marquis waved his son back, and followed him himself.
"Listen to me a moment, mon cher," he said, drawing him aside in the ante-room. " I believe myself that you are honest in your way. But you see you are in bad odor with De Mazan and the ladies. He is jealous of you, and they are all on his side."
"Pardon, monsieur—not all, or where would be his jealousy?"
"Ah! I did not count the demoiselle herself. But listen: I will give you a chance, on my own responsibility. Emigrate with us. Trust yourself to that same dangerous coach. When we are safe over the frontier, you can quarrel with De Mazan—shoot him, if you like—and then you have your chance."
"You are very good, monsieur, but my lot is cast in with France. As to that coach—if you would but believe the danger!—ah, let me at least save mademoiselle your niece ! "
"It is impossible," said the Marquis, turning away. "I have given my word to De Mazan. I cannot break it if I would."
"What horror! what barbarity ! To sacrifice such a life—"
"Let us say no more. Some one is coming. I thank you for your good intentions. Adieu, adieu ! "
The Marquis de Grou tripped back into the salon, looking quite old and grave, and the Vicomte de Maury left the château.
MDLLE. LEONORE de GROU D'ISAMBERT was an important person in her family. Her father had married—an unusual step for a younger son, and, what was more extraordinary still, had made a love-match with—the heiress of the Isam-berts, thus possessing himself of a fine Château and a large estate, and becoming quite independent of his own people. But he did not long enjoy his good fortune. He and his wife both died young, and their one child was taken charge of by her grandmother, the old Marquise de Grou.
Léonore was a quiet timid girl, and her submission to the stately, severe, domineering old lady was unusually complete and unquestioning, even for that country and that time. She was to marry M. de Mazan, a cold-hearted man of the world, more than twenty years older than herself Clever, well-bred, aristocratic, an altogether delightful person, said the De Grou chorus whenever he was mentioned. Only the little Marquis sometimes held his peace; there were one or two points on which he differed with his wife's brilliant cousin. Nothing that signified, of course; only slight doubts whether it was really possible to be cruel, grasping, ungenerous, and yet hold the front rank among gentlemen.
No regular contract had yet been made between M. de Mazan and Mdlle. d'Isambert, but every one understood that the match was to be, and approved of it. Those fine estates could not be in better hands than the Chevalier's, His connection with the family was also an advantage. Léonore was already eighteen, and the marriage might have taken place before this had it not been for the great disturbances in France, which had a restraining effort oft the Chevalier's eagerness.
Her château was near Paris, in the thick of the Revolution ; and he thought it might be as well to wait for quieter times, and not to hamper himself just now with a young unwilling bride. Her family would take care that she did not escape him.
And this emigration scheme would take her away from the influence of young Bernard de Maury. His father, the Comte de Maury, the De Grou's nearest neighbor, had never been very friendly with them, having a way of considering his humanity before his nobility, quite against all their traditions. But till within the last year or two Bernard had been a frequent guest at the Château de Grou; the Marquis liked him, and an old childish friendship between him and Léonore had advanced into something not the less sweet because it was hopeless, and because in its language there were few spoken words.
Even now Bernard was not without his allies in the château, though perhaps they were not very powerful ones. There was an old woman, Pernette Flicquet by name, who had been nurse to Mdlle. d'Isambert, Léonore's mother, and to Léonore herself. It was in her charge that Léo-nore had come from Isambert to Grou, after her mother's death.
Pernette's daughter Jeanneton had also come in the suite of the little demoiselle, and not long after had received per-mission from the Marquis to marry Luc Bienbon, a garde-chasse of M. de Maury's. Pernette had at once established herself in antagonism to the old Marquise, who often threatened to turn her off, but always ended by granting a contemptuous forgiveness, knowing that the sharp, plain-spoken, republican old woman was almost indispensable to Léonore.
"Allez !" said Madame de Grou, " Pernette talks all the nonsense you can imagine, but she is good at heart Who cares for her and her tongue ? Let her stay."
If Pernette and her daughter could have poisoned M. de Mazan, and given their young lady to Bernard de Maury, they would have been troubled with few scruples. But the great Grou household was too much for them, and till now they had only grumbled.
The preparations for driving off in the family coach went on quite openly. The ladies superintended the packing of their wardrobes, and Pernette, with sour acquiescence, received the Marquise's order to get ready Mdlle. d'Isambert's best gowns and jewelry.
"Hé!" said Pernette, "a fine present for the nation ! Madame is determined it shall have everything. Now if I had my will, we should bury a few chests in the courtyard."
"For you to dig up when we are gone, my good Pernette ?" said Madame de Grou.
"As madame pleases. But where mademoiselle goes, certainly I go," answered Pernette coolly.
"What! You mean to venture yourself in this dangerous coach? Seriously, have you heard any of these reports—that we shall drive ourselves straight to the guillotine ? On is it all in Monsieur le Vicomte de Maury's imagination ?"
At that moment Pernette's heart was softened towards the old lady, who seemed to appeal to her as a friend, looking at her with eyes full of human anxiety, but not a touch of fear.
"Madame la Marquise knows what those dogs of villagers are," said she. "I have only heard from my daughter what her husband says—that it is a great danger. M. le Vicomte has more sense than most of these gentlemen. He knows what he is talking about."
"But we do not trust him," said the Marquise, shaking her head. "He and his father are false and dishonorable. Go, Pernette, do as I tell you, and send mademoiselle to me."
"Ah, these poor nobles!" said Pernette, as she trotted off to do her duty. " I have but half a heart for the patriots. But if we can save the sweetest of them all, the others must go their own way."
Certainly the household had no lack of warnings. During the next day or two, the dogs of the Château howled almost unceasingly; the Grou ghost, a white flying figure, who used sometimes to sweep with a rustle of wings and garments over the head of any one who found himself benighted outside the walls, was suddenly endued with a voice, and screamed and sobbed at night round the towers like an Irish Banshee : so the story goes.
Mdlle. d'Isambert had a strange and rather terrible dream, which she told to Pernette, and also to her grandmother. They both laughed; but the dream left its impression, and had its consequence.
"Madame," said Léonore to the Marquise, "I dreamed that the large coach with the six brown horses was drawn up yonder, under our windows, on the green beyond the moat."
"And why not at the door ?" said Madame de Grou.
"Indeed I do not know. It stood there, and you were all getting in. I saw you, one by one, as I looked out of my window—you, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins, and Monsieur le Chevalier."
"And not yourself? That was droll enough."
"I was in my room—the door was locked and the window was barred, so that I could not get out. Ah, how terrified I was ! I called to you, but you did not hear. I ran up and down the room; I shook the door; I tried to squeeze myself through the bars of the window. I thought I was left alone in the château—you had all forgotten me. The coach moved off round the grass—it was night, you know, and there were lanterns burning, and I saw frost sparkling on the ground. Then I tried again and pushed myself through the bars, and clambered down the wall through the ivy—I do not know how. Then I ran through the cold wet grass and overtook the coach just as it turned to go down the hill. I sprang to the door and held on with both hands, and cried out to you to take me in. Ah, now comes the frightful part of the dream! The people in the coach—they were not you—it was full of GHOSTS—strange luminous forms, through which I saw their skeletons.
Heavens I what a terrible sight! I fell backwards into the grass; and then I awoke."
For once Léonore forgot her awe of her grandmother, crouched down by her side, and hid her face against her stiff satin gown. Madame de Grou looked down at kef with a smile of mixed affection and contempt.
"A wonderful dream, truly I " said she. " But it has not been the custom of our family to dream terrors any more than to feel them. However, my dear Léonore, console yourself. Your safety is very important; and when we emigrate, you certainly will not be forgotten or left behind Foolish girl, have a little more courage, and learn to laugh at your dreams. Stand up : there is some one coming."
"Shall you tell the others, madame?" asked Léonore, rising to her feet.
"I certainly shall not repeat such absurdities," answered Madame de Grou. "And if you must have your terrors, pray keep them to yourself. "
The young Comtesse came tripping into the room, to ask some question of her grandmother; and Léonore, who was not fond of her cousin, withdrew into a window, and looked out across the wintry landscape. The Château stood high perched on a hill, with woods behind, and a broad slope of park-land, crossed by avenues, dividing it from the little town of Grou, which crept and established itself up the sides of the valley. Behind the long blue ridge opposite was the village of Maury and its château, smaller and less important than Grou, but held for many centuries by a race without any stain upon their name, foremost always in the wars and councils of the province. But now they were traitors to their order; and if a lady of Grou let her eyes wander across the faint smoke and dark roofs in the valley to those heights beyond, which always caught the last western sun, it would have been an insult to suppose that her well-trained thoughts could stray as far as the Château de Maury.
IT had never been the custom of the lords of Grou to shut their gates against anybody ; they were far too proud to be suspicious. Thus there were peasants going in and out of the courtyard at all hours, and thus Luc and Jeanneton were able to pay as many visits as they pleased to their good mother Pernette.
On one of those days of suspense, before any attempt was made to carry out the emigration plan, at about five in the ovening, Léonore was sitting in the window of her own room. She had escaped from the salon half an hour before, and had been trying to strengthen and console herself by reading the Imitation, but now the fast-fading light obliged her to lay the book down. Her long white fingers were folded over its brown cover, and her face was turned towards the window.
The sky was very clear, but the landscape was already shrouded in twilight: nothing was plainly to be seen but the ridge of distant hills, which could only bring sad thoughts to her mind. In the pale, unconscious, immovable face there was a desolate resignation; at eighteen Léonore had nothing to hope for; her fate was fixed; even a wish was wrong and forbidden.
She would hardly have confessed what it was that she wanted; after all, her life was like the lives of all other French young ladies. And if it was not arranged quite to please her, why, was it not right to give up one's own will ? was this world ever a happy place ? Certain high precepts of the book she had been reading were in her mind as she sat, and made her ashamed of her discontent, but a little more despairing too; how could she ever reach such heights of willing self-denial ?
"My pretty one will be perished, sitting here," said the voice of old Pernette. "And she will lose all her senses if she dreams too much over that book of madame's."
"It is a very beautiful good book, Pernette," said Léonore, slowly rousing herself, and turning her blue eyes from the window to her old nurse's anxious withered face.
"That may be," said Pernette. " I can't read, as made-moiselle knows, and I am quite contented. I never saw anything but sighs and frowns come from reading those books. Madame la Marquise is always in a demon of a temper after she has done her reading. Mademoiselle has the temper of an angel, on the contrary, but she will make herself sad and dismal, and that is all the worse for her poor servants. Now she is not in a good-humor, and I came to beg her to do something for me."
"What is it, then, Pernette? My humors make no difference to you," said Léonore, smiling very sweetly.
"Mademoiselle, my daughter Jeanneton is in the garden at the foot of the turret-stairs. She has a special message which she will give to no one but our little princess herself Will she be wrapped up in this great cloak, and go down to speak to poor Jeanneton ? "
"Why could not she come here ? " asked Léonore. But she got up, and Pernette hastily put the cloak round her shoulders.
"Dame, she was in a hurry. She had a reason of her own, ma petite."
Mademoiselle d'Isambert, accustomed to trust her old nurse implicitly, followed her out of the room and down a winding staircase, which opened by a little turret-door into a corner of the garden between the walls and the moat A few evergreens made a shelter, and close by there was a bridge of planks laid over the moat for the convenience of the servants, who were thus able to take the shortest way to the village.
Jeanneton, in her high starched cap, jacket and short petticoats, was standing on the grass outside the turret-door.
"What have you to say to me, Jeanneton ? " said Léonore's low sweet voice in the doorway.
"Would mademoiselle step outside ? There was a person who—wished to speak to her," stammered the femme Bienbon—la Bienbonne, as her neighbors called her.
"Quick, petite!" whispered Pernette. "Yonder—in the shadow of those bushes ! It is an affair of life and death !"
Though Léonore was timid, she was by no means a coward, and she stepped down from the doorway and glided across the grass, like a slender ghost in the twilight, till she reached the bushes that Pernette pointed out to her. A man was standing there, withdrawn in the shadow. He started forward and kissed her hand.
"Ah, monsieur, is it you ?" exclaimed Léonore, under her breath.
"Do not be angry with your poor friend, mademoiselle. Léonore, you know me very well. You trust me, do you not ?"
"You need not ask that."
She raised her pale face, looking at him wistfully. Her own strong feelings had suddenly driven out all thought of the proprieties, of her stern grandmother, of the Chevalier, of the stiff and horrified circle at the Château. Her ruling thoughts now were of pride in her lover and joy in his presence. He was so different from all the other gentlemen she knew, with his frank manners and generous instincts.
To compare him with M. de Mazan, it was indeed ' Hyperion to a satyr ;" but Léonore's devout comparison was of the Archangel Michael to his great adversary.
One need hardly say that, for anything either of them knew, it might have been a warm summer evening when they stood there under the bush. But after a minute or two a little of the girl's anxious timidity came back to her.
"Is it safe for you to be here?" she whispered. "Why did you come?"
"Léonore, first, will you do as I ask you ? Promise me that."
"Ah, if I could, mon ami; but I dare not! It is very wicked of me to be here now. But you know those women cheated me. And I am not really sorry, for I longed to thank you for coming that night to warn us, like a good true friend."
"Then they have not changed their plans? It is still to be THAT TERRIBLE COACH ? "
"O yes; and I think it will end in our all dying. I dreamt of it"—and she shivered—"I won't tell you my dream, though you would not laugh at it as my grandmother did. But are you angry, Bernard, that I cannot make you that promise? What did you want me to do? I will do it if I can."
"Let me take you away with me, now, into safety. You must consent. If you care for me in the least, you will."
"And leave the others to their fate ?" she said, after a moment's pause.
"It is the fate they have chosen for themselves," he answered passionately. "Why should these people, in their obstinate running on death, be allowed to drag you with them ? It is a horror—an unheard—of tyranny ! If you can refuse me now, you never loved me! Come, my angel."
"How is it that you can save me, and not them?" said Léonore, holding back from him.
"Because you will be safe at Maury. My father will welcome you as his daughter. And the people have no rage against you—how could they have ? But in such times the innocent go with the guilty. You will come with me?"
"Do not ask me—I cannot!"
"Ah, then, pardon my mistake ! I had a foolish notion that you cared for me, mademoiselle," said Bernard, setting his teeth, and beginning to walk away.
"Bernard, stay ! If my life would save yours, you would goon see—What am I saying? Be patient, and listen to me. I am very miserable; but one's duty must come first—you always used to think so. How could I leave my grandmother to go through this danger alone ? I have belonged to her all my life—how could I steal away and desert her now like a coward? I always was stupid and cowardly ; I know it very well. But this thing I will not do, it is too dishonorable. I am bound to my family, and I must stay with them. Ah, let us both try and bear it bravely. Go away and forget me : that is the best thing you can do."
"Then you will stay here and forget me ? " said De Maury.
Léonore shook her head, while her tears ran fast.
"Well, my queen, my fairy, my crowned saint," he said, suddenly falling on one knee, " this I swear to you ! If you will not save yourself, you shall be saved! You are not angry with me for that ? But as to your anger, I see I must risk it."
"If you run yourself into danger for my sake, I shall indeed be angry. Ah, Jeanneton, what is it ?"
"Mademoiselle, Madame le Marquise is coming upstairs !"
"Heavens ! Adieu, Bernard ! If she knew of this, she would kill me !"
M. de Maury watched the white flying figure cross the grass and dart in at the tower-door. Then he pulled his slouched hat over his face, and slowly and carefully left the precincts of the Château. He almost forgot his disappointment, on his way down the hill, in the necessity of making fresh plans. And whatever future dangers and difficulties might be, it was inspiriting to find how thoroughly worthy she was—this gentle timid maiden of Grou—of a brave man's devotion.
THE next afternoon a family council was held in the salon. Léonore, who had not been called to it, was sitting by the wood-fire in her grandmother's large room, busy with some embroidery, when her cousin, the young Comtesse, came in and joined her. She walked up to the fire and stood there shivering.
Léonore had never had much sympathy with this young-eat of the Mosdames de Grou, whose ways were often those of a child without its attractiveness; but now, lifting her eyes to her face, she saw there something quite new. The Comtesse was flushed and agitated, and was looking down at her cousin with a tearful, trembling nervousness.
"What is it, ma cousine ?" said Léonore. " Have you been in the salon ? What have they decided ? "
"Something dreadful!" said the Comtesse. "I declare to you, if I live through this night, it will be only to die of terror afterwards. Yes, I know I ought to be ashamed of myself. You may well look surprised; you thought you were the only coward in the house—at least, our grandmother always says so. But here is another to keep you company."
"What is it all about," said Léonore.
"We start to-night, child—imagine! Figure to yourself what a terrible scene it will be ! AND THE COACH IS NOT TO COME TO THE DOOR, BUT TO BE DRAWN UP ON THE GREEN YONDER ; and we shall drive away by the cart-road into the country, so as to avoid the town altogether. Madame Grandmother and Xavier de Mazan have arranged it all. What do you think of it ? To me it seems a detestable plan ; but what is my little voice ! M. de Grou, of course, obeys his mother, and Madame de Grou has no opinion at all; and Franco is never will disagree with Xavier; so there we are. But if you chose to speak to Xavier, it might make some difference."
"My dear, you are quite mistaken. I am nobody."
Léonore had laid her needle down, and was gazing at the red logs. The short afternoon would soon die away into twilight; then would come the evening, AND THEN LIFE OR DEATH ! The Comtesse stood beside her cousin, a strange contrast to Léonore's dreamy grace, with her stiff little figure, high heels, and mountain of thickly-powdered hair.
"But why do you dislike this plan so much ? " said Léonore, without looking up,
"O, because I hate the dark," said the Comtesse petulantly. "I am afraid of it, I tell you, and all the horrid flashing lights; I think it is much more dangerous than daylight So cold too. I wish we could stay here. I don't believe any one would hurt us. They would be a set of ungrateful monsters if they did. Tell me the truth now; Léonore : do you think we shall be allowed to pass ? "
"I don't know—no, I think not."
"Then it will be the fault of those odious De Maurya."
The little Comtesse quailed before the angry flash of her cousin's eyes, generally so soft and timid.
"You have no right to say a word against them ! If they could save us, we should be safe, though certainly we have not deserved anything from them. De Maury—if nobility went by worth, theirs would be the noblest name in France."
The Comtesse shrugged her shoulders, threw up her hands and laughed.
"Well, Léonore, this is very fine, my dear child. You are quite enthusiastic But if one may venture to advise you, don't let Xavier de Mazan hear anything like that."
"I do not care what he hears ; it makes no difference to me," said Léonore. "If one must die, must give up all, it is at least a blessing to have known something good and noble on earth."
"Mon Dieu, my cousin," said the Countesse more seriously, " is it right for a demoiselle to talk in this way ? I assure you one might almost imagine that you were in love with that young De Maury. But I will not be so unkind as to repeat what you say. Only pray take care, and control yourself a little."
"Why should I hide it, especially now?" said Léonore, looking up into her cousin's face with shining eyes, but without any change of color or variation of voice. " If you have found it out for yourself, so be it I love him with, all my heart! And I would rather die to-night than escape safely out of the country and be married—ah ! "
Her voice suddenly failed, and she hid her face in her hands, with something between a groan and a cry.
"Léonore, you freeze me with horror!" said her cousin. " Heavens ! is it possible that I should have lived to hear such words from a relation—from a demoiselle de Grou? You feel shame, do you not ? You well may. Unwomanly, degraded ! I cannot believe my ears ! The girl must be mad!"
"No," said Léonore. "But I have told the truth, perhaps for the first time in my life, and I am glad of it."
"And I am sorry," said the Comtesse, with dignity, "to find you so unworthy of your name. I will try to forget what you have said, unfortunate girl. A year hence, if we live, you will be thankful to me for not reminding you of it."
A rustle, and a few measured taps upon the boards, told Léonore that her cousin was leaving the room. She sat still, with her face hidden, cold and stiff with a misery too great for tears. After some time she heard a distant bustle in the Château, and sounds of her grandmother returning. In her present state of mind, feeling unable to meet her, she left her frame there by the fire, and went through her own room and up some steps into a little room in the turret, where there was no furniture but a table, a prie-dieu chair and a crucifix on the wall.
Here, in summer, Léonore was accustomed to spend a good deal of her time; no heat could penetrate those old white walls, and only at a certain time in the morning did the sun force his way through the ivy veil of the single loophole-window, and throw a tender garland of leafy shadows round the crucifix. But now the little room was very cold, and already in twilight Léonore knelt down, hoping presently to feel stronger and calmer. Then she would go to her grandmother, and once more entreat her to take Bernard's advice, and give up this wild scheme. Perhaps she might listen ; if not, by to-morrow at this time where might they not be?
LEONORE knelt on, her forehead bowed upon the chair, her clasped hands stretched Out and drooping forward. The sun was gone down, the hills of Maury had lost their last rosy tints, and the stars were beginning to come out; but it was quite dark in the little oratory, and her prayers had passed insensibly into dreams. At first they were peaceful and pleasant ones, but after a time they changed, and her terrible dream of a few nights before came back to her with more than its first horror : THE COACH DRAWN UP IN THAT STRANGE PLACE—an idea which Madame de Grou had, indeed, boldly utilized—her own agony and terror at being left behind; her escape down the wall; HER OVERTAKING THE COACH AND SEEING THE GHOSTS, WHO NOW SEEMED TO STRETCH OUT THEIR LONG RATTLING HANDS TO SEIZE HSR AND DRAG HER IN AMONG THEM—it was all too terrible, and Léonore awoke screaming, and found herself cold, weary, faint, and trembling on her knees in the turret-room.
She had no means of knowing the time, but felt sure that she had slept there for hours, it was so very dark and cold. Getting up with difficulty, she moved to the door and tried to open it, but could not succeed; it seemed to be fastened on the outside. Then she knocked, and called "Pernette" in a voice that seemed to refuse to be heard, feeling all the time as if she was dreaming on still; and then, as there was no answer, she sat down where she had been kneeling before, and leaning her chin on her hands, gazed up at the narrow window. Through its thick greenish glass she could just discern one star, Targe and bright, looking in upon her in her loneliness, and suddenly bringing to her mind what Bernard had said the evening before, " If you will not save yourself you shall be saved." She had not thought much about that; it seemed so impossible: she must submit to the same fate as her relations, and no one could save her from it Still the words roused an instinct of life in her weary mind ; she no longer thought she was dreaming, and began to wonder what they were all doing, how she was to get out, whether they had all gone away hours ago, and left her behind. No, that could not be.
Then she noticed some strange shadows and flashes of light which were falling now and then on the arched stone sides of that window, and glimmering on the glass. Sounds began to reach her ears—a rattle of harness, a creaking of wheels, a buzz of many voices. Léonore sprang to her feet, full of a new waking terror of being left behind. Could her grandmother have forgotten her, after all, and Pernette too? Might the door have been locked by mistake, and would she be left here to starve ?—for there was no scrambling out of that window, as in her dream ! That would be more dreadful than the guillotine. Again she knocked on the door, called, listened, but could hear nothing, and felt sure that the door at the foot of the stairs must be fastened as well as this. The reality was more dreadful than any dream. Locked up and forgotten ! The peasants would perhaps burn the château, and there would be no escape for her, unless by any chance Bernard knew that she was still there, and came to look for her. Ah, it was too terrible !
She stood shivering in the dark, and did not know what to think or what to do. After watching the lights and shadows on the window as they flashed and fell, an idea occurred to her : she might at least see what they meant She dragged and pushed the heavy table underneath the window, lifted the chair upon it, and so managed to climb up on the deep sloping window-sill. Clasping the bar with one hand, she opened the window with the other, and plunged it among the frosted ivy-leaves, tearing them from their stalks and scattering them. Then, bending her head forward, she could see the green beyond the moat, and on it a dark mass under a sky of stars, with torches flickering and men crowding about it Is was the Marquis's great coach ! The harness-chains rattled, as the horses stamped and tossed their heads, but feet of horses and men were silent on the grass, and Léonore, looking down at them, shivered with cold, for the scene was like a wild unearthly dream. The people seemed to be in great haste, running backwards and forwards between the coach and the side-door of the château. Presently the servants stood aside, two advancing with flaring torches in their hands, and six people, two-and-two, came stepping carefully across the grass to the coach-door.
Léonore could not see their faces, but she knew each one well. First, the old Marquise and her son ; then the younger Marquise and her son the Comte; then the Comtesse and the Chevalier de Mazan.
Léonore leaned forward as far as she could, and waved her hand into the frosty darkness, crying out in a voice that trembled and failed,
"Madame, are you going away without me ? I am locked up here: you are leaving me behind ! "
Perhaps the voice was hardly strong enough to reach her grandmother's ear; yet the old Marquise stopped suddenly and turned back from the coach-door as she was about to get in. There was a pause, a little hurried talk among the group of Léonore's relations. But their momentary hesitation was soon over; to the girl's amazement they got into the coach one after another, the servants drew back, the postilions cracked their whips, and with many a groan and rumble the great vehicle moved off round the grass in the direction of a rough cart-road into the country, by which they hoped to escape any pursuit.
It was Léonore's dream, REPEATED FOR THE THIRD TIME, only she was a prisoner, and reality, fortunately for her, would not let her even try to overtake them. She still clung to her window till the last sound of the coach was lost in the distance, and even afterwards; for, tiring as her cramped posture was, it at least gave her a sight of the stars, and of the dim world on which they were shining. She clung there till another sound rose slowly on her ears—the angry roar of a crowd coming up from the village. They came nearer and nearer, crowding up the hill, till she could see the flare of the torches they carried, and hear their voices, which seemed to die away into a low resolute growl as they approached the Château. But a few words were carried to her by a light cold wind which swept over their heads, and then rustled the leaves beside her window :
"FIRE, FIRE ! BURN THE WILD BEASTS IN THEIR DEN !"
Léonore felt her brain reeling, and her senses failing suddenly. She let herself slip from the window-sill to the table, and then to the floor, where she fell down heavily and lay still.
MADEMOISELLE D'ISAMBERT woke from her fainting fit to find herself outside the Château, on the edge of the moat, in the dark shadow of those same trees and bushes under which she had met her lover the evening before. He was beside her now, supporting her head on his arm, and her hair and face were wet with the cold water that he had been splashing over her. Cold it was indeed, for the moat was partly frozen, but perhaps it answered his purpose all the better.
"Léonore," he whispered, " keep yourself perfectly still. We are in great danger, but I shall save you. Can you stand up ? I am afraid to let you lie on this grass."
With the instinct of obedience that Seldom failed her, she rose at once, and stood leaning on his arm. But the things she had seen were not to be forgotten, even in the peace and safety of his presence.
"THEY ALL WENT AWAY IN THE COACH," she whispered, " AND LEFT ME BEHIND. Did my grandmother forget me? O, what could it mean ? "
"Patience! You will know all some day; and your grandmother will be glad too," said Bernard, his voice trembling a little as if he was deeply moved.
"Are they safe, do you think? I wonder why she went without me. I wish I knew. What are all those people doing out there ? They have not burnt the Château yet ?"
"No. When they are gone, I will take you away to a safe place."
Bernard stood quite still, holding her fast, and listening intently to all the strange noises that broke upon the beautiful night, the hoarse voices, the tramping feet, the wild laughter and cries of triumph, inside and outside of the whole building. Lights were flashing in the windows, and many of the mob were busy destroying and pulling to pieces the stately rooms ; but many, too, were waiting outside for something, and presently a horrid yell announced that it was coming. The Vicomte de Maury knew very well what it was, and drew his rescued treasure a little closer. To her it was still like a dream ; only now, under all the terror, there was a vague sense of happiness.
Slowly rumbling along the uneven road, heavy wheels were approaching the Château. The horses' feet could not be distinguished from the tramp of many men that accompanied them. It was with a certain frightful solemnity, worthy of the Great Revolution, that THE MARQUIS DE GROU'S COACH WAS ESCORTED BACK TO HIS OWN DOOR. From their hiding-place Bernard and Léonore saw it come slowly up, saw the crowd part to receive it, saw it stop where it had stopped before, and, by the lights that were glaring and flickering all about, saw the door opened, and THOSE SIX PEOPLE MADE TO DESCEND. Not that any force was necessary, for each one of them, even the little Comtesse de Grou, stepped out with as calm and proud a grace as if he or she were arriving at Versailles, instead of drawing nearer to the guillotine. Only the old Marquise, as her son gravely offered her his hand to walk into the house, waved him back and turned towards the mob with an air of fearless command.
"Where is that old traitress, Pernette Flicquet? Can any of you tell me ? What has she done with my granddaughter, Mdlle. d'Isambert ? "
She waited a moment, but met with no answer, and the Marquis, taking her hand, led her once more across their old threshold.
"Ah, let me go to her! I must, I must !" exclaimed Léonore.
"No, Léonore, you shall not," said Bernard de Maury.
She was half fainting again, and the strong young man lifted her in his arms like a child, and carried her across the moat by the plank-bridge, down the hill and across the valley to his father's house, while all the good patriots of the neighborhood were occupied in sacking the Château de Grou, before escorting its owners away
Go Prison and the Guillotine!
The one that was saved of that doomed family found herself a prisoner too, but her jailers were the Vicomte de Maury, old Pernette, and Jeanneton. It was not till many days after that terrible night that she was calm and well enough to listen to the history of how it all happened.
Of course she had been locked in the oratory by friendly hands. The departure of the coach had been hurried on by a rumor which came up that evening from the village, that the people of Grou, led on by a patriot from the nearest large town, would be at the Château in an hour's time. The coach was ordered round at once, the last arrangements were hurried through, and only just before starting did the Marquise discover that her granddaughter was missing. The turret door was locked, and the key had disappeared. Pernette too was nowhere to be found.
The Marquise declared at first that nothing would induce her to start without Léonore ; but all the rest of her family were of a different opinion, and even the Chevalier could not see any reason for sacrificing six valuable lives.
Then the little Comtesse had stepped forward, and had said in the hearing of them all: "I do not think you need disturb yourself, madame. Léonore has probably escaped to Maury. It was only this evening that she confessed to me her love for M. le Vicomte." After this the Marquise seemed half stunned, and made no further resistance to going with the rest.
When the coach had driven off, Pernette came out of the cupboard hidden with tapestry, where she had sat and listened, admitted M. de Maury at the turret-door, and guided him to the room where they found Léonore insensible : THUS SHE WAS SAVED IN SPITE OF HERSELF.
* * * * *
The grandchildren of Madame la Comtesse de Maury, née de Grou d'lsambert, tell this story to their friends as they show them the old château, still grand, though defaced and half ruined by its experiences of revolution. And then, as we stand looking out on the green parterre beyond the moat, which is now drained and planted as a garden, a fair young Léonore de Maury, with the large frightened blue eyes of her grandmother, looks at us and says, in suddenly lowered tones, "AND—WILL YOU BELIEVE ME?—TO THIS DAY, ON FROSTT MORNINGS IN JANUARY, ONE SEES THE TRACES OF A COACH AND SIX UPON THE GRASS OUT THERE."
It seems impossible to doubt her word, but English love of evidence makes us ask the young lady if she has seen these spectral impressions herself. Up go her pretty hands, shoulders, and eyebrows, in despair at our incredulity.