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sessed that transparent fairness rarely seen, unless in persons of English descent, enhanced by a glossy elasticity, which sadly put to shame the faded cheeks of her kinswoman, withered by vigils and dissipation.
• This would never do!' murmured Madame de Montméry, as she noted the resplendent beauty of the timid young girl. 'I would not that even the Marquis should see me thrown into the shade by this minion. This very day I shall despatch her, under the care of my woman, to the superior at Moret, where, till Gerard's return, she may abide for the completion of her education ; and should he fall in the wars, as his headlong rashness renders probable, she may become a permanent inmate of the convent. The good abbess has too many obligations to us not to accept a moderate dowry with a kinswoman of the Marchioness de Montméry.'
On the return of the Marquis from Draveil, the affair was briefly explained to him, when, as usual, he approved of the arrangements of his wife. But he testified little interest in the affair. His faculties were already impaired by the influence of a malady, which in a few weeks' time carried him to the grave, leaving Madame la Marquise sole comptroller of his princely inheritance.
Engrossed by the cares and irritations inseparable from such a charge, Madame de Montméry had scarcely enough leisure to discover the tediousness of a year of widowhood. Though resolved to reappear in the world at its expiration more brilliant than ever, to imbibe anew the incense of poets and flatterers of the court, and, if possi. ble, unite herself in second marriage with a man of untarnished blazon and illustrious lineage, she was too much occupied with processes of law, and the comptes rendus of her various intendants, to do more than direct the preparation of an infinity of rich attires and costly suits of jewels, in which she intended to blaze forth on her reappearance at Versailles. Madame de Pompadour's death (which occurred eight months after that of the Marquis) had cleared the way for a thousand ambitious projects on the part of the unprincipled beauties of the court of Louis XV.
Of 'cette jeune Esther,' meanwhile, the ostentatious widow knew no more than was communicated once a quarter by her friend the abbess-namely, that she edified the whole convent by her piety, gentleness, and grace-to say nothing of the divine beauty which, one day or other, would cause strange emotions among the profane; which laudations were, of course, accompanied with the usual claims for the cost of the young lady's maintenance and education. These missives were carefully laid aside by Madame de Montméry, to be exhibited to her severe brother on his return from the army, in evidence of the noble manner in which she had performed her duty to his protégée.
From time to time there arrived a harsh letter from Darley, de. manding tidings of his beloved Hester, his nursling, his darling, to which the Marchioness returned a dry and succinct reply. But she saw that there must be no trifling with this stern guardian-that she was deeply accountable to him for the welfare of the girl—and that he was capable of proceeding to the worst extremities to avenge any evil that befell his favourite niece.
What, therefore, was the consternation of Madame de Montméry
when, at the expiration of the fifth quarter of Hester's residence at Moret, and of her own widowhood-just as she was beginning to enjoy with almost more than her former animation the gorgeous festivals of Versailles, and the addresses of a hundred noble adorers, --she was apprized, by the superior of Moret, that Mademoiselle Darley (no longer cette belle Esther !) must be instantly removed from the establishment. In the hope of softening by a gratuity the determination of the Abbess, Madame de Montméry hastened with all speed to Moret; but, alas! only to find her perplexities converted into utter consternation. The gentle, timid Hester, the model of pensionnaires, had disgraced the convent-her family-herself! Permitted by the indulgence of the partial abbess, to accompany the noble family of one of her companions to a royal rendezvous de chasse held within half a league of Moret, during the sojourn of the court at Fontainbleau, Hester, on the second day of the fêtes, had disap. peared from her friends—had been forty-eight hours absent—and at length made her way on foot to the gates of the convent, in such a plight as to render her reception a matter of grace on the part of the abbess. To these humiliating statements, and the bursts of fury from the Marchioness which succeeded, poor Hester, pale and motionless as a statue, replied only by an almost unconscious assertion that she was married that time would bring her innocence to light -in confirmation of which she showed on her finger a diamond ring of considerable value. Her two judges were startled. They saw at once that she had fallen a victim to some bold and practised seducer of the court. But neither persuasions nor menaces could ex. tract from the lips of the young girl further avowals, further explanation. So public, meanwhile, had been the scandal, that the abbess persisted in her refusal to retain her pensionnaire : and, sorely against her will, the Marchioness was forced to convey back the humbled delinquent to the Hôtel Montméry.
A secluded chamber was now assigned to Hester. The Marchio. ness decided that the disgrace of the recent event could only be obliterated by an immediate marriage ; and nothing was easier than for the rich widow to secure by a sufficient dowry an alliance suit. able to the modest pretensions of her niece. She even commenced negotiations with the intendant of her Languedoc estates for the hand of his son ; and finally signified to Hester, that unless the unknown seducer, whose name she refused to disclose, presented himself within two months to claim her as his wife, she must give her hand to Alexis Duval. Madame de Montméry trembled at the mere apprehension of Gerard's return, till the clearing up of a mystery so dishonourable to his beloved niece.
Meanwhile nothing could exceed the wretchedness of the un. happy Hester. Her obstinacy in refusing to disclose the name of him whom she regarded as her plighted husband arose, in truth, from ignorance of his title. In offering himself as her protector, when separated from her party by the crowd assembled in the gardens of the palace of Fontainbleau, to witness a feu d'artifice in honour of the king's arrival, he had described himself as one of the royal household; and, on her ingenuous avowal of her own name and situation, had declared himself to be an intimate acquaintance of the Marquise de Montméry. Confiding in this assurance, the poor
girl, in the course of the scandalous deceptions practised upon her, after being persuaded to accept a refuge in the palace, gave full credit to his assertions that his rank and fortune were such as to preclude all possibility of refusal on the part of her relations, when he should present himself to claim the hand of his affianced wife. How could she disbelieve him? His deportment was so noble,his eloquence so convincing, his manner so graceful! He was the only man from whose lips she had heard avowals of admiration, professions of love ; and even now, amid all her humiliations, (and the discredit thrown upon her assertions of having escaped from the palace, on discovering that attempts were made to detain her a prisoner,) those professions and those graceful gestures dwelt upon her memory as endowed with only too dangerous a charm. She felt that she could love that audacious stranger. Morning, noon, and night she prayed upon her bended knees that he might fulfil his pledges, and appear to claim her as his own, so as to prevent her being forced into a hateful marriage, to the injury of an honourable
Certain, from their former conversation, that he for whose crime she was making atonement was well acquainted with her abode, and might have learned at Moret her removal from the convent, she persuaded herself day after day that her penance was about to end, that he would come,—that the preparations for her marriage with Alexis Duval would be discontinued, -that happiness was still in store for her. But every night she laid down her aching head upon a sleepless pillow !-no token of his arrival !-no change in her destinies!
Madame de Montméry had nothing further to apprehend from the introduction of the poor girl into her coterie. • Cette belle Esther' was wasting to a shadow. Not a tinge of colour on her cheek,-not a spark of animation in her downcast eyes. To crown all, the preliminaries of peace were signed, and it was expected that a few weeks' time would bring back the French armies from Germany, and the Marchioness actually shuddered as she anticipated the arrival of her brother.
* Expect not a day's delay after the appointed period,' said she to her suffering niece. • Alexis Duval is already arrived in Paris. The writings are preparing—you will find that I have supplied a handsome dowry and noble trousseau. I have neglected nothing to secure the happiness of her who has so ill repaid my former bounties.'
Sometimes poor Hester persuaded herself that her unknown lover, not daring to present himself to Madame de Montméry, might be wandering in the vicinity of the Hôtel, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the object of his attachment. Her allotted chamber overlooked the court-yard ; she had no means of obtaining a view of the place, Aware, however, that every day at a certain hour Madame de Montmíry quitted the Hôtel to exhibit herself and her sumptuous equipage on the Cours la Reine, she watched one morning till the coach and six rolled out of the porte cochère, and the household servants retreated to the offices ; then, stealing from her retreat, made her way to those gorgeous saloons which she never considered without awe, as the habitation of her heartless kinswoman. With a stealthy step she traversed the gaudy chambers, across whose windows were
drawn heavy draperies of crimson brocade, embellished with fringes of golden bullion. But the fresh air from without reached her as she approached the boudoir which terminated the suite. That window at least must be open. The termination of all her sorrows was perhaps at hand !-and, with the sanguine impetuosity of youth, the heart of the poor invalid beat almost to bursting when she reflected that she might be on the eve of beholding him whose features were indelibly impressed upon her memory, -upon her affections. He, at least, would not despise her-he, at least, must still treat her with gentleness and respect.
At that moment a strain of music reached her from without. А military band was striking up in the Place, as if to honour the arrival of some royal personage. With a panting bosom, regardless of the strange figure she must present with her dishevelled hair and long white wrapper, Hester approached the open window. A bril liant procession was indeed passing : the King in person, followed by his whole état major, proceeding to pass in review his royal guard upon the esplanade of the Hotel des Invalides.
Amid the tumultuous clash of cymbals and braying of trumpets that celebrated the royal progress, the crowd assembled in the Place fancied they heard a piercing shriek. And it might be so ; for the royal personage whose uncovered head was so affably declined to the salutations of the multitude was no other than the lawless libertine of Fontainbleau : and the fair wasted corpse which, on the return of Madame de Montméry from her drive, was found extended cold across the sill of the fatal window, was that of the predestined niece of Gerard Darley !
Fortunately for the Marchioness, her brother was not fated to return alive to France to work out his threat of retribution.
It was considered a singular circumstance, however, that from the period in question to the day of her death she never again set foot in her hotel in the Place Vendôme. Many people conceived that her precipitate retreat to her estates in Languedoc was produced by the refusal of the King to sign her contract of marriage with the Comte de Hainvilier, a member of the royal household. But the publication of the archives of police at the Revolution proved that Madame de Montméry had been escorted thither under surveillance, by virtue of a lettre de cachet. She was never suffered to reappear at court,Louis XV. being desirous to usurp to himself the monopoly of heart. lessness and crime, as well as to secure the secret of his disgraceful excesses.
Such was the history of the fatal window, to which a superstitious charm was long attached by the after possessors of the Hôtel Montméry. The demolition of this strange memento of the vices of the olden time occurred within the last few months, in the course of the improvement achieved in the house by its new proprietress, the Baroness de Feucheres.
A LEGEND OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT.
In the year A.D. 1215, the inhabitants of the few cottages that were at that time scattered along the banks of Whippingham Creek, were thrown into a state of great alarm by the arrival of four large vessels. Most of them fled away, and those that were unable to escape were still more dismayed to hear the chiefs of these intruders and their armed followers conversing together in a foreign language. They made no doubt but that it was another invasion of the Danes, for which they knew the island to be altogether unprepared, as they had been free from their inroads ever since the Conquest.
The Danes, whenever they came, burnt and destroyed whatever they found. The present visiters, however, acted differently. Instead of destroying anything, after turning the inhabitants out, they took possession of the cottages, and set to work to make them as comfortable as they could for their own residence ; keeping, however, a few of the natives to slave for them in fetching wood and water, under the threat of the utter destruction of their property when they went away.
The strangers, however, did not appear to have the slightest intention of leaving their present quarters again, but seemed to be preparing to make it their permanent abode; for all that evening men were employed disembarking deer'shides and costly furs, broad pieces of woollen cloth, cooking vessels of all kinds, huge piles of dried venison and hams, together with a number of casks of wine. They were also surprised to see disembark a quantity of most costly armour, such as only the nobility or the most wealthy knights were able to afford.
One of the poor fishermen, who had been thus unceremoniously dispossessed of his dwelling, ventured to hint to the person who seemed the chief of the strangers, and was almost the only one that appeared to be English, that if they intended to make a long stay in the island, there were many fairer and more convenient houses to which he would be happy to conduct them.
• Ha!' said the chief, with an air of offended dignity. “Let me give you this advice,-keep your prattling tongue quiet, and take no notice of what you see or hear, or’-finishing his sentence by signs, putting his forefinger and thumb round his neck, and then pointing up to a large bough of an oak tree that was spreading over their heads. “And now it strikes me,' he continued, 'that it would not be amiss just to hang one churl at starting; it would make the remainder more respectful and attentive. Here, De Mark, send Gigo here with half a dozen of his men and a halter.
When they had come, he made a sign with his finger, and in an instant one end of the rope was thrown over the bough of the tree, and the other tied in a running noose round the poor fisherman's neck.
Shall we lift him ?' said Gigo, turning to his master to see whether he had changed his mind.
Lift away,' said the chief, looking on with listless indifference. Gigo's assistants quickly hauled upon the loose end of the rope, and the unfortunate man was soon swinging in the air. He struggled