Chapter 8. Stings
 
'Yet one asylum is my own,
   Against the dreaded hour; 
 A long, a silent, and a lone, 
   Where kings have little power.'--SCOTT.

At Chalons, the Sieur de Terreforte and his son Olivier, a very quiet, stiff, and well-trained youth, met Sir Patrick and the Lady of Glenuskie. Terreforte was within the province of Champagne, and as long as the Court remained at Chalons the Sieur felt bound to remain in attendance on the King--lodging at his own house, or hotel, as he called it, in the city. Dame Lilias did not regret anything which gave her a little more time with her daughter, and enabled Annis to make a little more acquaintance with her bridegroom and his family before being left alone with them. Moreover, she hoped to see something more of her cousins the princesses.

But they came not. The Dauphin and his wife arrived from their excursion and took up their abode in the Castle of Surry le Chateau, at a short distance from thence and thither went the Lady of Glenuskie with her husband to pay her respects, and present the betrothed of her daughter.

Margaret was sitting in a shady nook of the walls, under the shade of a tall, massive tower, with a page reading to her, but in that impulsive manner which the Court of France thought grossiere and sauvage; she ran down the stone stairs and threw herself on the neck of her cousin, exclaiming, however, 'But where are my sisters?'

'Are they not with your Grace? I thought to find them here!'

'Nay! They were to start two days after us, with an escort of archers, while we visited the shrine of St. Menehould. They might have been here before us,' exclaimed Margaret, in much alarm. 'My husband thought our train would be too large if they went with us.'

'If we had known that they were not to be with your Grace, we would have tarried for them,' said Dame Lilias.

'Oh, cousin, would that you bad!'

'Mayhap King Rene and his daughter persuaded them to wait a few days.'

That was the best hope, but there was much uneasiness when another day passed and the Scottish princesses did not appear. Strange whispers, coming from no one knew where, began to be current that they had disappeared in company with some of those wild and gay knights who had met at the tournament at Nanci.

In extreme alarm and indignation, Margaret repaired to her husband. He was kneeling before the shrine of the Lady in the Chapel of Surry, telling his beads, and he did not stir, or look round, or relax one murmur of his Aves, while she paced about, wrung her hands, and vainly tried to control her agitation. At last he rose, and coldly said, 'I knew it could be no other who thus interrupted my devotions.'

'My sisters!' she gasped.

'Well, what of them?'

'Do you know what wicked things are said of them--the dear maids? Ah!'--as she saw his strange smile--'you have heard! You will silence the fellows, who deserve to have their tongues torn out for defaming a king's daughters.'

'Verily, ma mie,' said Louis, 'I see no such great improbability in the tale. They have been bred up to the like, no doubt a mountain kite of the Vosges is a more congenial companion than a chevalier bien courtois.'

'You speak thus simply to tease your poor Margot,' she said, pleading yet trembling; 'but I know better than to think you mean it.'

'As my lady pleases,' he said.

'Then will I send Sir Patrick with an escort to seek them at Nanci and bring them hither?'

'Where is this same troop to come from?' demanded Louis.

'Our own Scottish archers, who will see no harm befall my blessed father's daughters.'

'Ha! say you so? I had heard a different story from Buchan, from the Grahams, the Halls. Revenge is sweet--as your mother found it.'

'The murderers had only their deserts.'

Louis shrugged his shoulders, 'That is as their sons may think.'

'No one would be so dastardly as to wreak vengeance on two young helpless maids,' cried Margaret. 'Oh! sir, help me; what think you?'

'Madame knows better than I do the spirit alike of her sisters and of her own countrymen.'

'Nay, nay, Monsieur, husband, do but help me! My poor sisters in this strange land! You, who are wiser than all, tell me what can have become of them?'

'What can I say, Madame? Love--love of the minstrel kind seems to run in the family. You all have supped full thereof at Nanci. If report said true, there was a secret lover in their suite. What so likely as that the May game should have become earnest?'

'But, sir, we are accountable. My sisters were entrusted to us.'

'Not to me,' said Louis. 'If the boy, your brother, expected me to find husbands and dowers for a couple of wild, penniless, feather-pated damsels-errant, he expected far too much. I know far too well what are Scotch manners and ideas of decorum to charge myself with the like.'

'Sir, do you mean to insult me?' demanded Margaret, rising to the full height of her tall stature.

'That is as Madame may choose to fit the cap,' he said, with a bow; 'I accuse her of nothing,' but there was an ironical smile on his thin lips which almost maddened her.

'Speak out; oh, sir, tell me what you dare to mean!' she said, with a stamp of her foot, clasping her hands tightly. He only bowed again.

'I know there are evil tongues abroad,' said Margaret, with a desperate effort to command her voice; 'but I heeded them no more than the midges in the air while I knew my lord and husband heeded them not! But--oh! say you do not.'

'Have I said that I did?'

'Then for a proof--dismiss and silence that foul-slandering wretch, Jamet de Tillay.'

'A true woman's imagination that to dismiss is to silence,' he laughed.

'It would show at least that you will not brook to have your wife defamed! Oh! sir, sir,' she cried, 'I only ask what any other husband would have done long ago of his own accord and rightful anger. Smile not thus--or you will see me frenzied.'

'Smiles best befit woman's tears ' said Louis coolly. 'One moment for your sisters, the next for yourself.'

'Ah! my sisters! my sisters! Wretch that I am, to have thought of my worthless self for one moment. Ah! you are only teasing your poor Margot! You will act for your own honour and theirs in sending out to seek them!'

'My honour and theirs may be best served by their being forgotten.'

Margaret became inarticulate with dismay, indignation, disappointment, as these envenomed stings went to her very soul, further pointed by the curl of Louis's thin lips and the sinister twinkle of his little eyes. Almost choked, she stammered forth the demand what he meant, only to be answered that he did not pretend to understand the Scottish errant nature, and pointing to a priest entering the church, he bade her not make herself conspicuous, and strolled away.

Margaret's despair and agony were inexpressible. She stood for some minutes leaning against a pillar to collect her senses. Then her first thought was of consulting the Drummonds, and she impetuously dashed back to her own apartments and ordered her palfrey and suite to be ready instantly to take her to Chalons.

Madame la Dauphine's palfreys were all gone to Ghalons to be shod. In fact, there were some games going on there, and trusting to the easy-going habits of their mistress, almost all her attendants had lounged off thither, even the maidens, as well as the pages, who felt Madame de Ste. Petronelle's sharp eyes no longer over them.

'Tell me,' said Margaret, to the one lame, frightened old man who alone seemed able to reply to her call, 'do you know who commanded the escort which were with my sisters, the Princesses of Scotland?'

The old man threw up his hands. How should he know? 'The escort was of the savage Scottish archers.'

'I know that; but can you not tell who they were--nor their commander?'

'Ah! Madame knows that their names are such as no Christian ears can understand, nor lips speak!'

'I had thought it was the Sire Andrew Gordon who was to go with them. He with the blue housings on the dapple grey.'

'No, Madame; I heard the Captain Mercour say Monsieur le Dauphin had other orders for him. It was the little dark one--how call they him?--ah! with a more reasonable name--Le Halle, who led the party of Mesdames. Madame! Madame! let me call some of Madame's women!'

'No, no,' gasped Margaret, knowing indeed that none whom she wished to see were within call. 'Thanks, Jean, here--now go,' and she flung him a coin.

She knew now that whatever had befallen her sisters had been by the connivance if not the contrivance of her husband, unwilling to have the charge and the portioning of the two penniless maidens imposed upon him. And what might not that fate be, betrayed into the hands of one who had so deadly a blood-feud with their parents! For Hall was the son of one of the men whose daggers had slain James I., and whose crime had been visited with such vindictive cruelty by Queen Joanna. The man's eyes had often scowled at her, as if he longed for vengeance-- and thus had it been granted him.

Margaret, with understanding to appreciate Louis's extraordinary ability, had idolised him throughout in spite of his constant coldness and the satire with which he treated all her higher tastes and aspirations, continually throwing her in and back upon herself, and blighting her instincts wherever they turned. She had accepted all this as his superiority to her folly, and though the thwarted and unfostered inclinations in her strong unstained nature had occasioned those aberrations and distorted impulses which brought blame on her, she had accepted everything hitherto as her own fault, and believed in, and adored the image she had made of him throughout. Now it was as if her idol had turned suddenly into a viper in her bosom, not only stinging her by implied acquiescence in the slanders upon her discretion, if not upon her fair fame, but actually having betrayed her innocent sisters by means of the deadly enemy of their family-- to what fate she knew not.

To act became an immediate need to the unhappy Dauphiness at once, as the only vent to her own misery, and because she must without loss of time do something for the succour of her young sisters, or ascertain their fate.

She did not spend a moment's thought on the censure any imprudent measure of her own might bring on her, but hastily summoning the only tirewoman within reach, she exchanged her blue and gold embroidered robe for a dark serge which she wore on days of penance, with a mantle and hood of the same, and, to Linette's horror and dismay, bade her attend her on foot to the Hotel de Terreforte, in Chalons.

Linette was in no position to remonstrate, but could only follow, as the lady, wrapped in her cloak, descended the steps, and crossed the empty hall. The porter let her pass unquestioned, but there were a few guards at the great gateway, and one shouted, 'Whither away, pretty Linette?'

Margaret raised her hood and looked full at him, and he fell back. He knew her, and knew that Madame la Dauphine did strange things. The road was stony and bare and treeless, unfrequented at first, and it was very sultry, the sun shining with a heavy melting heat on Margaret's weighty garments; but she hurried on, never feeling the heat, or hearing Linette's endeavours to draw her attention to the heavy bank of gray clouds tinged with lurid red gradually rising, and whence threatening growls of thunder were heard from time to time. She really seemed to rush forward, and poor, panting Linette toiled after her, feeling ready to drop, while the way was as yet unobstructed, as the two beautiful steeples of the Cathedral and Notre Dame de l'Epine rose before them; but after a time, as they drew nearer, the road became obstructed by carts, waggons, donkeys, crowded with country-folks and their wares, with friars and ragged beggars, all pressing into the town, and jostling one another and the two foot-passengers all the more as rain-drops began to fall, and the thunder sounded nearer.

Margaret had been used to walking, but it was all within parks and pleasances, and she was not at all used to being pushed about and jostled. Linette knew how to make her way far better, and it was well for them that their dark dresses and hoods and Linette's elderly face gave the idea of their being votaresses of some sacred order, and so secured them from actual personal insult; but as they clung together they were thrust aside and pushed about, while the throng grew thicker, the streets narrower, the storm heavier, the air more stifling and unsavoury.

A sudden rush nearly knocked them down, driving them under a gargoyle, whose spout was streaming with wet, and completed the drenching; but there was a porch and an open door of a church close behind, and into this Linette dragged her mistress. Dripping, breathless, bruised, she leant against a pillar, not going forward, for others, much more gaily dressed, had taken refuge there, and were chattering away, for little reverence was paid at that date to the sanctity of buildings.

'Will the King be there, think you?' eagerly asked a young girl, who had been anxiously wiping the wet from her pink kirtle.

'Certes--he is to give the prizes,' replied a portly dame in crimson.

'And the Lady of Beauty? I long to see her.'

'Her beauty is passing--except that which was better worth the solid castle the King gave her,' laughed the stout citizen, who seemed to be in charge of them.

'The Dauphiness, too--will she be there?'

'Ah, the Dauphiness!' said the elder woman, with a meaning sound and shake of the head.

'Scandal--evil tongues!' growled the man.

'Nay, Master Jerome, there's no denying it, for a merchant of Bourges told me. She runs about the country on foot, like no discreet woman, let alone a princess, with a good-for-nothing minstrel after her. Ah, you may grunt and make signs, but I had it from the Countess de Craylierre's own tirewoman, who came for a bit of lace, that the Dauphin is about to divorce her, for the Sire Jamet de Tillay caught her kissing the minstrel on a bench in the garden at Nanci.'

'I would not trust the Sire de Tillay's word. He is in debt to every merchant of the place--a smooth-tongued deceiver. Belike he is bribed to defame the poor lady, that the Dauphin may rid himself of a childless wife.'

The young girl was growing restless, declaring that the rain was over, and that they should miss the getting good places at the show. Margaret had stood all this time leaning against her pillar, with hands clenched together and teeth firm set, trying to control the shuddering of horror and indignation that went through her whole frame. She started convulsively when Linette moved after the burgher, but put a force upon herself when she perceived that it was in order to inquire how best to reach the Hotel de Terreforte.

He pointed to the opposite door of the church, and Linette, reconnoitring and finding that it led into a street entirely quiet and deserted, went back to the Dauphiness, whom she found sunk on her knees, stiff and dazed.

'Come, Madame,' she entreated, trying to raise her, 'the Hotel de Terreforte is near, these houses shelter us, and the rain is nearly over.'

Margaret did not move at first; then she looked up and said, 'What was it that they said, Linette?'

'Oh! no matter what they said, Madame; they were ignorant creatures, who knew not what they were talking about. Come, you are wet, you are exhausted. This good lady will know how to help you.'

'There is no help in man,' said Margaret, wildly stretching out her arms. 'Oh, God! help me--a desolate woman--and my sisters! Betrayed! betrayed!'

Very much alarmed, Linette at last succeeded in raising her to her feet, and guiding her, half-blinded as she seemed, to the portal of the Hotel de Terreforte--an archway leading into a courtyard. It was by great good fortune that the very first person who stood within it was old Andrew of the Cleugh, who despised all French sports in comparison with the completeness of his master's equipment, and was standing at the gate, about to issue forth in quest of leather to mend a defective strap. His eyes fell on the forlorn wanderer, who had no longer energy to keep her hood forward. 'My certie! he exclaimed, in utter amaze.

The Scottish words and voice seemed to revive Margaret, and she tottered forward, exclaiming, 'Oh! good man, help me! take me to the Lady.'

Fortunately the Lady of Glenuskie, being much busied in preparations for her journey, had sent Annis to the sports with the Lady of Terreforte, and was ready to receive the poor, drenched, exhausted being, who almost stumbled into her motherly arms, weeping bitterly, and incoherently moaning something about her sisters, and her husband, and 'betrayed.'

Old Christie was happily also at home, and dry clothing, a warm posset, and the Lady's own bed, perhaps still more her soothing caresses, brought Margaret back to the power of explaining her distress intelligibly--at least as regarded her sisters. She had discovered that their escort had been that bitter foe of their house, Robert Hall, and she verily believed that he had betrayed her sisters into the hands of some of the routiers who infested the roads.

Dame Lilias could not but think it only too likely; but she said 'the worst that could well befall the poor lassies in that case would be their detention until a ransom was paid, and if their situation was known, the King, the Dauphin, and the Duke of Brittany would be certain one or other to rescue them by force of arms, if not to raise the money.' She saw how Margaret shuddered at the name of the Dauphin.

'Oh! I have jewels--pearls--gold,' cried Margaret. 'I could pay the sum without asking any one! Only, where are they, where are they? What are they not enduring--the dear maidens! Would that I had never let them out of my sight!'

'Would that I had not!' echoed Dame Lilias. 'But cheer up, dear Lady, Madame de Ste. Petronelle is with them and will watch over them; and she knows the ways of the country, and how to deal with these robbers, whoever they may be. She will have a care of them.'

But though the Lady of Glenuskie tried to cheer the unhappy princess, she was full of consternation and misgivings as to the fate of her young cousins, whom she loved heartily, and she was relieved when, in accordance with the summons that she had sent, her husband's spurs were heard ringing on the stair.

He heard the story with alarm. He knew that Sir Andrew Gordon had been told off to lead the convoy, and had even conversed with him on the subject.

'Who exchanged him for Hall?' he inquired.

'Oh, do not ask,' cried the unhappy Margaret, covering her face with her hands, and the shrewder Scots folk began to understand, as glances passed between them, though they spared her.

She had intended throwing herself at the feet of the King, who had never been unkind to her, and imploring his succour; but Sir Patrick brought word that the King and Dauphin were going forth together to visit the Abbot of a shrine at no great distance, and as soon as she heard that the Dauphin was with his father, she shrank together, and gave up her purpose for the present. Indeed, Sir Patrick thought it advisable for him to endeavour to discover what had really become of the princesses before applying to the King, or making their loss public. Nor was the Dauphiness in a condition to repair to Court. Dame Lilias longed to keep her and nurse and comfort her that evening; but while the spiteful whispers of De Tillay were abroad, it was needful to be doubly prudent, and the morning's escapade must if possible be compensated by a public return to Chateau le Surry. So Margaret was placed on Lady Drummond's palfrey, and accompanied home by all the attendants who could be got together. She could hardly sit upright by the time the short ride was over, for pain in the side and stitch in her breath. Again Lady Drummond would have stayed with her, but the Countess de Craylierre, who had been extremely offended and scandalised by the expedition of the Dauphiness, made her understand that no one could remain there except by the invitation of the Dauphin, and showed great displeasure at any one but herself attempting the care of Madame la Dauphine, who, as all knew, was subject to megrims.

Margaret entreated her belle cousine to return in the morning and tell her what had been done, and Dame Lilias accordingly set forth with Annis immediately after mass and breakfast with the news that Sir Patrick had taken counsel with the Sieur de erreforte, and that they had got together such armed attendants as they could, and started with their sons for Nanci, where they hoped to discover some traces of the lost ladies.

Indeed, he had brought his wife on his way, and was waiting in the court in case the Princess should wish to see him before he went; but Lilias found poor Margaret far too ill for this to be of any avail. She had tossed about all night, and now was lying partly raised on a pile of embroidered, gold-edged pillows, under an enormous, stiff, heavy quilt, gorgeous with heraldic colours and devices, her pale cheeks flushed with fever, her breath catching painfully, and with a terrible short cough, murmuring strange words about her sisters, and about cruel tongues. A crowd of both sexes and all ranks filled the room, gazing and listening.

She knew her cousin at her entrance, clasped her hand tight, and seemed to welcome her native tongue, and understand her assurance that Sir Patrick was gone to seek her sisters; but she wandered off into, 'Don't let him ask Jamet. Ah, Katie Douglas, keep the door! They are coming.'

Her husband, returning from the morning mass, had way made for him as he advanced to the bed, and again her understanding partly returned, as he said in his low, dry voice, 'How now, Madame?'

She looked up at him, held out her hot hand, and gasped, 'Oh, sir, sir, where are they?'

'Be more explicit, ma mie,' he said, with an inscrutable face.

'You know, you know. Oh, husband, my Lord, you do not believe it. Say you do not believe it. Send the whispering fiend away. He has hidden my sisters.'

'She raves,' said Louis. 'Has the chirurgeon been with her?'

'He is even now about to bleed her, my Lord,' said Madame de Craylierre, 'and so I have sent for the King's own physician.'

Louis's barber-surgeon (not yet Olivier le Dain) was a little, crooked old Jew, at sight of whom Margaret screamed as if she took him for the whispering fiend. He would fain have cleared the room and relieved the air, but this was quite beyond his power; the ladies, knights, pages and all chose to remain and look on at the struggles of the poor patient, while Madame de Craylierre and Lady Drummond held her fast and forced her to submit. Her husband, who alone could have prevailed, did not or would not speak the word, but shrugged his shoulders and left the room, carrying off with him at least his own attendants.

When she saw her blood flow, Margaret exclaimed, 'Ah, traitors, take me instead of my father--only--a priest.'

Presently she fainted, and after partly reviving, seemed to doze, and this, being less interesting, caused many of the spectators to depart.

When she awoke she was quite herself, and this was well, for the King came to visit her. Margaret was fond of her father-in-law, who had always been kind to her; but she was too ill, and speech hurt her too much, to allow her to utter clearly all that oppressed her.

'My sisters! my poor sisters!' she moaned.

'Ah! ma belle fille, fear not. All will be well with them. No doubt, my good brother Rene has detained them, that Madame Eleanore may study a little more of his music and painting. We will send a courier to Nanci, who will bring good news of them,' said the King, in a caressing voice which soothed, if it did not satisfy, the sufferer.

She spoke out some thanks, and he added, 'They may come any moment, daughter, and that will cheer your little heart, and make you well. Only take courage, child, and here is my good physician, Maitre Bertrand, come to heal you.'

Margaret still held the King's hand, and sought to detain him. 'Beau pere, beau pere,' she said, 'you will not believe them! You will silence them.'

'Whom, what, ma mie?'

'The evil-speakers. Ah! Jamet.'

'I believe nothing my fair daughter tells me not to believe.'

'Ah! sire, he speaks against me. He says--'

'Hush! hush, child. Whoever vexes my daughter shall have his tongue slit for him. But here we must give place to Maitre Bertrand.'

Maitre Bertrand was a fat and stolid personage, who, nevertheless, had a true doctor's squabble with the Jew Samiel and drove him out. His treatment was to exclude all the air possible, make the patient breathe all sorts of essences, and apply freshly-killed pigeons to the painful side.

Margaret did not mend under this method. She begged for Samiel, who had several times before relieved her in slight illnesses; but she was given to understand that the Dauphin would not permit him to interfere with Maitre Bertrand.

'Ah!' she said to Dame Lilias, in their own language, 'my husband calls Bertrand an old fool! He does not wish me to recover! A childless wife is of no value. He would have me dead! And so would I--if my fame were cleared. If my sisters were found! Oh! my Lord, my Lord, I loved him so!'

Poor Margaret! Such was her cry, whether sane or delirious, hour after hour, day after day. Only when delirious she rambled into Scotch and talked of Perth; went over again her father's murder, or fancied her sisters in the hands of some of the ferocious chieftains of the North, and screamed to Sir Patrick or to Geordie Douglas to deliver them. Where was all the chivalry of the Bleeding Heart?

Or, again, she would piteously plead her own cause with her husband--not that he was present, a morning glance into her room sufficed him; but she would excuse her own eager folly--telling him not to be angered with her, who loved him wholly and entirely, and begging him to silence the wicked tongues that defamed her.

When sensible she was very weak, and capable of saying very little; but she clung fast to Lady Drummond, and, Dauphin or no Dauphin, Dame Lilias was resolved on remaining and watching her day and night, Madame de Craylierre becoming ready to leave the nursing to her when it became severe.

The King came to see his daughter-in-law almost every day, and always spoke to her in the same kindly but unmeaning vein, assuring her that her sisters must be safe, and promising to believe nothing against herself; but, as the Lady of Glenuskie knew from Olivier de Terreforte, taking no measures either to discover the fate of the princesses or to banish and silence Jamet de Tillay, though it was all over the Court that the Dauphiness was dying for love of Alain Chartier. Was it that his son prevented him from acting, or was it the strange indifference and indolence that always made Charles the Well- Served bestir himself far too late?

Any way, Margaret of Scotland was brokenhearted, utterly weary of life, and with no heart or spirit to rally from the illness caused by the chill of her hasty walk. She only wished to live long enough to know that her sisters were safe, see them again, and send them under safe care to Brittany. She exacted a promise from Dame Lilias never to leave them again till they were in safe hands, with good husbands, or back in Scotland with their brother and good Archbishop Kennedy. 'Bid Jeanie never despise a true heart; better, far better, than a crown,' she sighed.

Louis concerned himself much that all the offices of religion should be provided. He attended the mass daily celebrated in her room, and caused priests to pray in the farther end continually. Lady Drummond, who had not given up hope, and believed that good tidings of her sisters might almost be a cure, thought that he really hurried on the last offices, at which he devoutly assisted. However, the confession seemed to have given Margaret much comfort. She told Dame Lilias that the priest had shown her how to make an offering to God of her sore suffering from slander and evil report, and reminded her that to endure it patiently was treading in the steps of her Master. She was resolved, therefore, to make no further struggle nor complaint, but to trust that her silence and endurance would be accepted. She could pray for her sisters and their safety, and she would endeavour to yield up even that last earthly desire to be certified of their safety, and to see their bonnie faces once more. So there she lay, a being formed by nature and intellect to have been the inspiring helpmeet of some noble-hearted man, the stay of a kingdom, the education of all around her in all that was beautiful and refined, but cast away upon one of the most mean and selfish-hearted of mankind, who only perceived her great qualities to hate and dread their manifestation in a woman, to crush them by his contempt; and finally, though he did not originate the cruel slander that broke her heart, he envenomed it by his sneers, so as to deprive her of all power of resistance.

The lot of Margaret of Scotland was as piteous as that of any of the doomed house of Stewart. And there the Lady of Glenuskie and Annis de Terreforte watched her sinking day by day, and still there were no tidings of Jean and Eleanor from Nanci, no messenger from Sir Patrick to tell where the search was directed.