Two Penniless Princesses by J. M. Synge
Chapter 12. Sorrow Ended
'Done to death by slanderous tongues Was the Hero that here lies: Death, avenger of wrongs, Gives her fame which never dies.' Much Ado About Nothing.
A day's rest revived Jean enough to make her eager to push on to Chalons, and enough likewise to revive her coquettish and petulant temper.
Sigismund and Eleanor might ride on together in a species of paradise, as having not only won each other's love, but acted out a bit of the romance that did not come to full realisation much more often in those days than in modern ones. They were quite content to let King Rene glory in them almost as much as he had arrived at doing in his own daughter and her Ferry, and they could be fully secure; Sigismund had no one's consent to ask, save a formal licence from his cousin, the Emperor Frederick III., who would pronounce him a fool for wedding a penniless princess, but had no real power over him; while Eleanor was certain that all her kindred would feel that she was fulfilling her destiny, and high sweet thoughts of thankfulness and longing to be a blessing to him who loved her, and to those whom he ruled, filled her spirit as she rode through the shady woods and breezy glades, bright with early summer.
Jean, however, was galled by the thought that every one at home would smile and say that she might have spared her journey, and that, in spite of all her beauty, she had just ended by wedding the Scottish laddie whom she had scorned. True, her heart knew that she loved him and none other, and that he truly merited her; but her pride was not willing that he should feel that he had earned her as a matter of course, and she was quite as ungracious to Sir George Douglas, the Master of Angus, as ever she had been to Geordie of the Red Peel, and she showed all the petulance of a semi-convalescent. She would not let him ride beside her, his horse made her palfrey restless, she said; and when King Rene talked about her true knight, she pretended not to understand.
'Ah!' he said, 'be consoled, brave sire; we all know it is the part of the fair lady to be cruel and merciless. Let me sing you a roman both sad and true!'
Which good-natured speech simply irritated George beyond bearing. 'The daft old carle,' muttered he to Sir Patrick, 'why cannot he let me gang my ain gate, instead of bringing all their prying eyes on me? If Jean casts me off the noo, it will be all his fault.'
These small vexations, however, soon faded out of sight when the drooping, half-hoisted banner was seen on the turrets of Chateau le Surry, and the clang of a knell came slow and solemn on the wind.
No one was at first visible, but probably a warder had announced their approach, for various figures issued from the gateway, some coming up to Rene, and David Drummond seeking his father. The tidings were in one moment made known to the two poor girls--a most sudden shock, for they had parted with their sister in full health, as they thought, and Sir Patrick had only supposed her to have been chilled by the thunderstorm. Yet Eleanor's first thought was, 'Ah! I knew it! Would that I had clung closer to her and never been parted.' But the next moment she was startled by a cry--Jean had slid from her horse, fainting away in George Douglas's arms.
Madame de Ste. Petronelle was at hand, and the Lady of Glenuskie quickly on the spot; and they carried her into the hall, where she revived, and soon was in floods of tears. These were the days when violent demonstration was unchecked and admired as the due of the deceased, and all stood round, weeping with her. King Charles himself leaning forward to wring her hands, and cry, 'My daughter, my good daughter!' As soon as the first tempest had subsided, the King supported Eleanor to the chapel, where, in the midst of rows of huge wax candles, Margaret lay with placid face, and hands clasped over a crucifix, as if on a tomb, the pall that covered all except her face embellished at the sides with the blazonry of France and Scotland. Her husband, with his thin hands clasped, knelt by her head, and requiems were being sung around by relays of priests. There was fresh weeping and wailing as the sisters cast sprinklings of holy water on her, and then Jean, sinking down quite exhausted, was supported away to a chamber where the sisters could hear the story of these last sad days from Lady Drummond.
The solemnities of Margaret's funeral took their due course--a lengthy one, and then, or rather throughout, there was the consideration what was to come next. Too late, all the Court seemed to have wakened to regret for Margaret. She had been open-handed and kindly, and the attendants had loved her, while the ladies who had gossiped about her habits now found occupation for their tongues in indignation against whosoever had aspersed her discretion. The King himself, who had always been lazily fond of the belle fille who could amuse him, was stirred, perhaps by Rene, into an inquiry into the scandalous reports, the result of which was that Jamet de Tillay was ignominiously banished from the Court, and Margaret's fair fame vindicated, all too late to save her heart from breaking. The displeasure that Charles expressed to his son in private on the score of poor Margaret's wrongs, is, in fact, believed to have been the beginning of the breach which widened continually, till finally the unhappy father starved himself to death in a morbid dread of being poisoned by his son.
However, for the present, the two Scottish princesses reaped the full benefit of all the feeling for their sister. The King and Queen called them their dearest daughters, and made all sorts of promises of marrying and endowing them, and Louis himself went outwardly through all the forms of mourning and devotion, and treated his two fair sisters with extreme civility, such as they privately declared they could hardly bear, when they recollected how he had behaved before Margaret.
Jean in especial flouted him with all the sharpness and pertness of which she was capable; but do what she would, he received it all with a smiling indifference and civility which exasperated her all the more.
The Laird and Lady of Glenuskie were in some difficulty. They could not well be much longer absent from Scotland, and yet Lilias had promised the poor Dauphiness not to leave her sisters except in some security. Eleanor's fate was plain enough, Sigismund followed her about as her betrothed, and the only question was whether, during the period of mourning, he should go back to his dominions to collect a train worthy of his marriage with a king's daughter; but this he was plainly reluctant to do. Besides the unwillingness of a lover to lose sight of his lady, the catastrophe that had befallen the sisters might well leave a sense that they needed protection. Perhaps, too, he might expect murmurs at his choice of a dowerless princess from his vassals of the Tirol.
At any rate, he lingered and accompanied the Court to Tours, where in the noble old castle the winter was to be spent.
There Sir Patrick and his wife were holding a consultation. Their means were well-nigh exhausted. What they had collected for their journey was nearly spent, and so was the sum with which Cardinal Beaufort had furnished his nieces. It was true that Eleanor and Jean were reckoned as guests of the French King, and the knight and lady and attendants as part of their suite; but the high proud Scottish spirits could not be easy in this condition, and they longed to depart, while still by selling the merely ornamental horses and some jewels they could pay their journey. But then Jean remained a difficulty. To take her back to Scotland was the most obvious measure, where she could marry George of Angus as soon as the mourning was ended.
'Even if she will have him,' said Dame Lilias, 'I doubt me whether her proud spirit will brook to go home unwedded.'
'Dost deem the lassie is busking herself for higher game? That were an evil requital for his faithful service and gallant daring.'
'I cannot tell,' said Lilias. 'The maid has always been kittle to deal with. I trow she loves Geordie in her inmost heart, but she canna thole to feel herself bound to him, and it irks her that when her sisters are wedded to sovereign princes, she should gang hame to be gudewife to a mere Scots Earl's son.'
'The proud unthankful peat! Leave her to gang her ain gate, Lily. And yet she is a bonny winsome maid, that I canna cast off.'
'Nor I, Patie, and I have gi'en my word to her sister. Yet gin some prince cam' in her way, I'd scarce give much for Geordie's chance.'
'The auld king spake once to me of his younger son, the Duke of Berry, as they call him,' said Sir Patrick; 'but the Constable told me that was all froth, the young duke must wed a princess with a tocher.'
'I trust none will put it in our Jeanie's light brain,' sighed Lily, 'or she will be neither to have nor to hold.'
The consultation was interrupted by the sudden bursting in of Jean herself. She flew up to her friends with outstretched hands, and hid her face in Lilias's lap.
'Oh, cousins, cousins! tak' me away out of his reach. He has been the death of poor Meg, now he wants to be mine.'
They could not understand her at first, and indeed shame as well as dismay made her incoherent--for what had been proposed to her was at that time unprecedented. It is hard to believe it, yet French historians aver that the Dauphin Louis actually thought of obtaining a dispensation for marrying her. In the unsettled condition of the Church, when it was divided by the last splinterings, as it were, of the great schism, perhaps the astute Louis deemed that any prince might obtain anything from whichever rival Pope he chose to acknowledge, though it was reserved for Alexander Borgia to grant the first licence of this kind. To Jean the idea was simply abhorrent, alike as regarded her instincts and for the sake of the man himself. His sneering manner towards her sister had filled her with disgust and indignation, and he had, in those days, been equally contemptuous towards herself--besides which she was aware of his share in her capture by Balchenburg, and whispers had not respected the manner in which his silence had fostered the slanders that had broken Margaret's heart.
'I would sooner wed a viper!' she said.
What was Louis's motive it is very hard to guess. Perhaps there was some real admiration of Jean's beauty, and it seems to have been his desire that his wife should be a nonentity, as was shown in his subsequent choice of Charlotte of Savoy. Now Jean was in feature very like her sister Isabel, Duchess of Brittany, who was a very beautiful woman, but not far from being imbecile, and Louis had never seen Jean display any superiority of intellect or taste like Margaret or Eleanor, but rather impatience of their pursuits, and he therefore might expect her to be equally simple with the other sister. However that might be, Sir Patrick was utterly incredulous; but when his wife asked Madame Ste. Petronelle's opinion, she shook her head, and said the Sire Dauphin was a strange ower cannie chiel, and advised that Maitre Jaques Coeur should be consulted.
'Who may he be?'
'Ken ye not Jaques Coeur? The great merchant of Bourges--the man to whom, above all others, France owes it that we be not under the English yoke. The man, I say, for it was the poor Pucelle that gave the first move, and ill enough was her reward, poor blessed maiden as she was. A saint must needs die a martyr's death, and they will own one of these days that such she was! But it was Maitre Coeur that stirred the King and gave him the wherewithal to raise his men--lending, they called it, but it was out of the free heart of a true Frenchman who never looked to see it back again, nor even thanks for it!'
'A merchant?' asked Sir Patrick.
'Ay, the mightiest merchant in the realm. You would marvel to see his house at Bourges. It would fit a prince! He has ships going to Egypt and Africa, and stores of silk enough to array all the dames and demoiselles in France! Jewels fit for an emperor, perfumes like a very grove of camphire. Then he has mines of silver and copper, and the King has given him the care of the coinage. Everything prospers that he sets his hand to, and he well deserves it, for he is an honest man where honest men are few.'
'Is he here?'
'Yea; I saw his green hood crossing the court of the castle this very noon. The King can never go on long without him, though there are those that so bate him that I fear he may have a fall one of these days. Methinks I heard that he ay hears his morning mass when here at the little chapel of St. James, close to the great shrine of St. Martin, at six of the clock in the morning, so as to be private. You might find him there, and whatever he saith to you will be sooth, whether it be as you would have it, or no.'
On consideration Sir Patrick decided to adopt the lady's advice, and on her side she reflected that it might be well to take care that the interview did not fail for want of recognition.
The glorious Cathedral of Tours was standing up dark, but with glittering windows, from the light within deepening the stained glass, and throwing out the beauty of the tracery, while the sky, brightening in the autumn morning, threw the towers into relief, when, little recking of all this beauty, only caring to find the way, Sir Patrick on the one hand, the old Scots French lady on the other, went their way to the noble west front, each wrapped in a long cloak, and not knowing one another, till their eyes met as they gave each other holy water at the door, after the habit of strangers entering at the same time.
Then Madame de Ste. Petronelle showed the way to the little side chapel, close to the noble apse. There, beneath the six altar-candles, a priest was hurrying through a mass in a rapid ill-pronounced manner, while, besides his acolyte, worshippers were very few. Only the light fell on the edges of a dark- green velvet cloak and silvered a grizzled head bowed in reverence, and Madame de Ste. Petronelle touched Sir Patrick and made him a significant sign.
Daylight was beginning to reveal itself by the time the brief service was over. Sir Patrick, stimulated by the lady, ventured a few steps forward, and accosted Maitre Coeur as he rose, and drawing forward his hood was about to leave the church.
'Beau Sire, a word with you. I am the kinsman and attendant of the Scottish King's sisters.'
'Ah! one of them is to be married. My steward is with me. It is to him you should speak of her wardrobe,' said Jaques Coeur, an impatient look stealing over his keen but honest visage.
'It is not of Duke Sigismund's betrothed that I would speak,' returned the Scottish knight; 'it is of her sister.'
Jaques Coeur's dark eyes cast a rapid glance, as of one who knew not who might lurk in the recesses of a twilight cathedral.
'Not here,' he said, and he led Sir Patrick away with him down the aisle, out into the air, where a number of odd little buildings clustered round the walls of the cathedral, even leaning against it, heedless of the beauty they marred.
'By your leave, Father,' he said, after exchanging salutations with a priest, who was just going out to say his morning's mass, and leaving his tiny bare cell empty. Here Sir Patrick could incredulously tell his story, and the merchant could only sigh and own that he feared that there was every reason to believe that the intention was real. Jaques Coeur, religiously, was shocked at the idea, and, politically, wished the Dauphin to make a more profitable alliance. He whispered that the sooner the lady was out of reach the better, and even offered to advance a loan to facilitate the journey.
There followed a consultation in the securest place that could be devised, namely, in the antechamber where Sir Patrick and Lady Drummond slept to guard their young princesses, in the palace at Tours, Jean, Eleanor, and Madame de Ste. Petronelle having a bedroom within.
Sir Patrick's view was that Jean might take her leave in full state and honour, leaving Eleanor to marry her Duke in due time; but the girl shuddered at this. 'Oh no, no; he would call himself my brother for the nonce and throw me into some convent! There is nothing for it but to make it impossible. Sir Patie, fetch Geordie, and tell him, an' he loves me, to wed me on the spot, and bear me awa' to bonnie Scotland. Would that I had never been beguiled into quitting it.'
'Geordie Douglas! You were all for flouting him a while ago,' said Eleanor, puzzled.
'Dinna be sae daft like, Elleen, that was but sport, and--and a maid may not hold herself too cheap! Geordie that followed me all the way from home, and was sair hurt for me, and freed me from yon awsome castle. Oh, could ye trow that I could love ony but he?'
It was not too easy to refrain from saying, 'So that's the end of all your airs,' but the fear of making her fly off again withheld Lady Drummond, and even Eleanor.
George did not lodge in the castle, and Sir Patrick could not sound him till the morning; but for a long space after the two sisters had laid their heads on the pillow Jean was tossing, sometimes. sobbing; and to her sister's consolations she replied, 'Oh, Elleen, he can never forgive me! Why did my hard, dour, ungrateful nature so sport with his leal loving heart? Will he spurn me the now? Geordie, Geordie, I shall never see your like! It would but be my desert if I were left behind to that treacherous spiteful prince,--I wad as soon be a mouse in a cat's claw!'
But George of Angus made no doubt. He had won his ladylove at last, and the only further doubt remained as to how the matter was to be carried out. Jaques Coeur was consulted again. No priest at Tours would, he thought, dare to perform the ceremony, for fear of after-vengeance of the Dauphin; and Sir Patrick then suggested Father Romuald, who had been lingering in his train waiting to cross the Alps till his Scotch friends should have departed and winter be over; but the deed would hardly be safely done within the city.
The merchant's advice was this: Sir Patrick, his Lady, and the Master of Angus had better openly take leave of the Court and start on the way to Brittany. No opposition would be made, though if Louis suspected Lady Jean's presence in their party, he might close the gates and detain her; Jaques Coeur therefore thought she had better travel separately at first. For Eleanor, as the betrothed bride of Sigismund, there was no danger, and she might therefore remain at Court with the Queen. Jaques Coeur, the greatest merchant of his day, had just received a large train of waggons loaded with stuffs and other wares from Bourges, on the way to Nantes, and he proposed that the Lady Jean should travel with one attendant female in one of these, passing as the wife and daughter of the foreman. These two personages had actually travelled to Tours, and were content to remain there, while their places were taken by Madame de Ste. Petronelle and Jean.
We must not describe the parting of the sisters, nor the many messages sent by Elleen to bonny Scotland, and the brothers and sisters she was willing to see no more for the sake of her Austrian Duke. Of her all that needs to be said is that she lived and died happy and honoured, delighting him by her flow of wit and poetry, and only regretting that she was a childless wife.
Barbe and Trudchen were to remain in her suite, Barbe still grieving for 'her boy,' and hoping to devote all she could obtain as wage or largesse to masses for his soul, and Trudchen, very happy in the new world, though being broken in with some difficulty to civilised life.
Having been conveyed by by-streets to the great factory or shop of Maltre Coeur at Tours, a wonder in itself, though far inferior to his main establishment at Bourges, Madame de Ste. Petronelle and Jean, with her faithful Skywing nestled under her cloak, were handed by Jaques himself to seats in a covered wain, containing provisions for them and also some more delicate wares, destined for the Duchess of Brittany. He was himself in riding gear, and a troop of armed servants awaited him on horseback.
'Was he going with them?' Jean asked.
'Not all the way,' he said; but he would not part with the lady till he had resigned her to the charge of the Sire de Glenuskie. The state of the roads made it so needful that a strong guard should accompany any valuable convoy, that his going with the party would excite no suspicion.
So they journeyed on in the wain at the head of a quarter of a mile of waggons and pack-horses, slowly indeed, but so steadily that they were sure of a good start before the princess's departure was known to the Court.
It was at the evening halt at a conventual grange that they came up with the rest of the party, and George Douglas spurred forward to meet them, and hold out his eager arms as Jean sprang from the waggon. Wisdom as well as love held that it would be better that Jean should enter Brittany as a wife, so that the Duke might not be bribed or intimidated into yielding her to Louis. It was in the little village church, very early the next morning, that George Douglas received the reward of his long patience in the hand of Joanna Stewart, a wiser, less petulant, and more womanly being than the vain and capricious lassie whom he had followed from Scotland two years previously.