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“ 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 emigrated, bearing with them arts and sciences, which they almost exclusively practised.
But to return to Pauline; the very violence of the storm, it might be supposed, would be sufficient excuse for her nonappearance, and at length, yielding to these arguments, she consented to remain till day.
The next morning rose gay and beautiful; the air had been purified by the heavy rains, and had that bracing, exhilarating freshness almost peculiar to France. Even the trembling Calvinists, as they hurried on, felt its influence, and were insensibly beguiled into something like hope. How can we despair of kindness from our fellow-beings when our Creator's manifold blessings are spread around us, when all nature, animate and inanimate, seems to join in glad hymns of praise ? At such moments our hearts are elevated beyond our worldly cares, and life, mere life, becomes a luxury !
The gloomy, indignant Pierre, was betrayed into a less desponding tone, and Pauline dried her tears as she hastily gathered a few autumn flowers, in memory of their rough bivouac and their early walk.
Alas ! for hopes too early crushed. They no sooner gained their village when they were summoned before M. de Monrevel, who, they were informed, was highly incensed at their protracted stay. Old Cambron vainly entreated that his lady might at least be allowed time for some slight refreshment; travel-stained and fatigued as she was, she was dragged before the governor with far less courtesy than was due even to the lowest of her sex.
The Marquis de Monrevel had, according to the custom of his time, been indulging the previous evening in a debauch, and his blood was still fevered by the effects of his intemperance. He turned his bloodshot eye on Pauline, and brutally
asked her name and religion. She answered him with calm dignity.
“Calvinist dogs ! I thought so," he replied; “let them hang; it will teach the others to howl their hymns within due bounds, and the maidens, if there be such, the dangers of night rambles.”
Pauline's blood rushed to her cheeks at this last taunt; she felt its bitterness even more than her impending doom, and remained speechless in disdainful anger, while Pierre also preserved an indignant silence. Not so Cambron, he poured forth an explanation; he spoke of Mademoiselle de Meyrarques' delicate nature and health, of the terrible storm, of her father's services; but the arguments he had considered so cogent were wasted on the obdurate judge.
“Oh, where, where is M. le Baron ?” cried the old man, as he wrung his hands in agony. “Can it be ? — can they indeed mean to hang a daughter of the Meyrarques, and Argaliers' bride ? Oh, Mademoiselle Pauline! my dear, dear lady, rouse youself !-speak to them !”
A sharp struggle seemed to writhe her gentle frame at this appeal.
“You are right, dear Cambron," she said; and, slowly advancing, she sank at the Marquis's feet. Pierre would have prevented her, -"Nay, stay me not, my kind friend,” she continued, “it is my duty. Yes, M. de Monrevel, here kneeling before you, my father's once frequent guest, I implore your justice, not your mercy; I ask not for my own life, though I am young, very young ; but spare these good men, these faithful servants - I alone ann guilty! Must they die because they would not leave their mistress to perish? Oh, sir! you have a mother and sisters, for their sakes be merciful, be just — do not make fidelity a crime!”
“Not for us — not for us shall you so degrade yourself, dear lady!” cried Cambron ; “we are honoured in dying for and with you !”
“We are honoured in dying for the good cause—for manhood—for the Lord !” interrupted Pierre. “Let us die, our murder will not remain unavenged.”
“Ha, canaille ! do you threaten us?” exclaimed Monrevel, almost trampling on Pauline, as he started forward and violently struck Pierre on the mouth. “To the gallows with them !- Down with the Huguenot crew! - Death to the heretics !”
His watchword cry was repeated by all in the room save one, his valet, who had already distinguished himself by his successful interposition in similar cases, and only preserved his post by his singular skill as a coiffeur.
“ They die at noon,” pursued Monrevel. “Remember the Lavèges' fate - Death to the heretics !”
The sad system of retaliation had been entered on by the Calvinists, and the Lavège family, inoffensive Catholics, had been ruthlessly murdered by them a short time previously. Accordingly the unhappy prisoners were removed from the room, and their judges sat down unconcernedly to breakfast, while three gibbets were in course of erection on the village green, opposite their windows. Jourdain, however, the compassionate valet, could not resist making an attempt in their favour, and, despairing of his own powers of persuasion, engaged a more powerful auxiliary in Mère St. Anne, abbess of the neighbouring Benedictine convent, who was well known for her truly Christian charity. He had obliged the holy mother by assisting in decorating her chapel on the last St. Michael with true Parisian taste; she had then promised him a boon, and he now claimed it.
The good nun was inexpressively grieved at his tale: a