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A STORY OF THE CEVENNES.
BY ELIZABETH O'HARA.
It was a dark and dreary night on which three figures, emerging from the protecting shelter of some thick brushwood, attempted to brave the fury of the weather, while crossing the desolate plain which spread itself before their disheartened gaze. The wind rushed fiercely along, the rain dashed with fury against them, while the black, gathering clouds, lowered full of electric fire. The storm, it was evident, had not reached its height, though even now its violence was awful, even to men, and one of these wayfarers was a woman. They were dressed in the costume of the time and country, Languedocian peasants at the end of the sixteenth century; but though no outward difference was perceptible, the respectful bearing of the men showed that they looked up to their companion as a superior.
Courage, mademoiselle !” said the elder; "a little while and we shall have passed this unsheltered common, -- the Lord never deserts His own.”
“ He will protect us, sweet lady. Lean on me, I am stronger than my father.
father. What a gale it blows ! one would think the witches were holding their Sabbath here.”
Hush, Pierre ! this is no place for jesting.”
“I do not jest, father; though Jean Cavalier, Roland, and some of them, scoff at witches, I cannot. Did not Gabriel Cavalier tell what he saw when in hiding at the glass-house? And if any of the papistical crew be in hearing now, let them hear me curse them !”
“Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord; to Him only belong cursings.”
“Let the Lord awake, then, mademoiselle — let Him hear our groans; the cry of the faithful, of the poor suffering Protestants, rises and meets no answer.”
“ True, boy; and if there be witches — as who can doubt it ?- they will delight in persecuting those who despise their mumming rites."
“Ay, father, our oppressors grind us down, soul and body! Who knows but even this storm proceeds from their malice ? My blood boils when I think that, to please a licentious old man's leman "
“ Hush, Pierre ! this is treason.”
“Forgive me, mademoiselle, it is truth. Louis,—the great Louis, as they call him,- is an evil liver, and to please his mistress, – to satisfy her conscience, forsooth! the base creature, unworthy daughter of the D’Aubignés, whose religion she has denied for vile lucre,— to please her, forsooth! we are denied our just rights — yet we, too, are Frenchmen !”
“Pierre is right, lady; the scarlet woman rides over us but it will not always be so— we have our prophets.”
“Alas, poor Cambron! Heaven preserve us! what a flash was that! This is, indeed, fearful !”
“Hasten, hasten, dear lady, there is an old barn not far from here, there we can find refuge. On, father, on!”
Their humble shelter was speedily gained, when the girl sank exhausted on some mouldering straw, while her faithful retainers disposed their cloaks about her so as to preserve her still better from the piercing cold. Despite all her efforts, her firmness gave way before fatigue, terror, and discomfort, and
she wept long and violently, her emotion becoming hysterical, and adding to her companions' embarrassment.
“This is, indeed, a sorry place for Mademoiselle de Meyrarques. Could my dear master the Comte ever have supposed his daughter would be reduced to such straits ? No wonder she weeps.”
“Tush, father! 'tis not for silken hangings or delicate attire our lady grieves, her soul is above such trifles; it is for the dear aunt she lost to-day-it is for the dear cousin whom she hurries to comfort."
“Alas ! alas, for both! How can she tell the noble baron that his revered mother died to-day, her death hastened by misery and want ?- a D'Argaliers in want! And she who was a mother to the country, she cared not for creeds, her charity was open to all, and now our tyrants deny her even a graveher body lies in unhallowed ground !”
“Better even that than dishonour, father. Was not Mère Cavalier's corse dragged on a hurdle to the nearest dunghill, even before her daughter's eyes ? Lord, Lord, how long wilt Thou suffer?”
In this gloomy converse the two men passed away the time, while their mistress seemed insensible to all exterior objects and absorbed in grief. At last the violence of her emotion wore itself out, and she sunk into an uneasy slumber.
“She sleeps— God be praised for it !” said the old man. “For nights this delicate flower, the lily of Languedoc, has known no rest. Her nights were passed watching by her aunt's death-bed praying for our suffering brethren."
“And for how long may she sleep now, father? The night wears on, and should we not return to Gas de Marafas by the appointed hour, you know the penalty-death to the Calvinist who is not within bounds then; neither rank nor sex will be spared by M. de Monrevel's wrath."
“ There is, indeed, that danger; but they will not touch her— they dare not harm a Meyrarques !”
They dare do anything, father. What consideration ever arrested their ferocious cruelty ?”.
“But her cousin, M. le Baron d’Argaliers, is protected by the Dukes de Chevrence and de Montfort, father and son, and, though they be Catholics, they are true Frenchmen.”
“He is not here, though.”
“But he is at Versailles, gone with three noble gentlemen, to see if he can, at any sacrifice, restore peace and freedom of conscience to his brethren. He has had an audience of the king - they cannot harm his cousin. No Christian would turn a dog from his door on such a night as this. Hark! d'ye hear that, Pierre ?—'tis a wolf's howl. How can our demoiselle leave even this poor hut ? 'Tis impossible ! we must remain till daybreak.”
“ As well stay here and be hanged as go out and become a prey to the wolves; in either case our death is certain. And yet, were it not for you and our sweet lady, had I but a knife in my girdle, I would trust the beasts rather than our tyrants. If the first are full they will let us pass, but the others tear us for their own pleasure.”
“Nay, Pierre, if you fear our masters, go-I will remain by Mademoiselle Pauline."
No, no, father, that cannot be, and you know it. Why, even the Catholics would cry shame on me were I to return without you. Then there are these ravening beasts prowling around the door ; if one of these mouldering planks gives way they will be in on you, and I must come between her and their fangs. And here am I without a knife, deprived even of that by our foes. Up, Lord, for the heathen are on us !”
Pierre had not exaggerated the difficulties and dangers of their situation. To venture forth seemed most hazardous; to remain, was almost certain death ; for, by a recent proclamation of the deputy governor, M. de Monrevel, the Calvinists were confined to certain districts, only allowed to quit them at stated hours, while the slightest infringement of these rules, however involuntary, was punished by death. The two devoted men had received permission to leave Gas de Marafas in search of their mistress, Mademoiselle de Meyrarques, who had been allowed to remain with her dying aunt, the Baronne d'Argaliers, and whose leave had now expired. The way had been long and weary to the delicate girl, already worn out by grief and fatigue, and it was impossible that she could proceed further through the storm. When aroused from her stupor, she was greatly alarmed to find that their time had already nearly expired, and vainly endeavoured to persuade her humble friends to pursue their road, but they would not leave her; besides, as old Cambron observed, it was scarcely possible that even the brutal Monrevel himself would put the rigours of the law in force towards her. She was so universally respected in the country; her father, an old follower of Turenne, had always been a devoted adherent of the king's; and her cousin and fiancé, the Baron d'Argaliers, had patriotically expended immense sums in endeavouring to appease the unhappy troubles which desolated the Midi; his life and fortune, his domestic happiness, had been sacrificed to his country; many more enlightened Catholic noblemen had entered into his views; the Duke de Chevrence warmly adopted his opinions, and by his influence and example many wavering Protestants had been prevented from joining Cavalier and the other insurgents in the mountains of the Cevennes. All historians agree, that had Louvois and his bigoted, narrow-minded master granted Argaliers' moderate propositions, the civil war would have immediately ceased, France would have been spared the misery and shame of the dragonades and the loss of many of her industrious population, who emi