Eustacie had started up in dismay, crying out, ’Ah! M. l’Abbe, as you are a gentleman, betray me not. Oh! have they sent you to find me? Have pity on us! You loved my husband!’
‘You have nothing to fear from me, Lady,’ said the young man, still kneeling; ’if you are indeed a distressed fugitive—so am I. If you have shelter and friends—I have none.’
‘Is it indeed so?’ said Eustacie, wistfully, yet scarce reassured. ’You are truly not come from my uncle. Indeed, Monsieur, I would not doubt you, but you see I have so much at stake. I have my little one here, and they mean so cruelly by her.’
’Madame, I swear by the honour of a nobleman—nay, by all that is sacred—that I know nothing of your uncle. I have been a wanderer for many weeks past; proscribed and hunted down because I wished to seek into the truth.’
‘Ah!’ said Eustacie, with a sound of relief, and of apology, ’pardon me, sir; indeed, I know you were good. You loved my husband;’ and she reached out her hand to raise him, when he kissed it reverently. Little bourgeoise and worn mendicant as they were in dress, the air of the Louvre breathed round them; and there was all its grace and dignity as the lady turned round to her astonished hosts, saying, ’Good sir, kind mother, this gentleman is, indeed, what you took me for, a fugitive for the truth. Permit me to present to you, Monsieur l’Abbe de Mericour—at least, so he was, when last I had the honour to see him.’
The last time HE had seen her, poor Eustacie had been incapable of seeing anything save that bloody pool at the foot of the stairs.
Mericour now turned and explained. ‘Good friends,’ he said courteously, but with the fierete of the noble not quite out of his tone, ’I beg your grace. I would not have used so little ceremony, if I had not been out of myself at recognizing a voice and a tune that could belong to none but Madame—–’
‘Sit down, sir,’ said Noemi, a little coldly and stiffly—for Mericour was a terrible name to Huguenots ears; ’a true friend to this lady must needs be welcome, above all if he comes in Heaven’s name.’
‘Sit down and eat, sir,’ added Gardon, much more heartily; ’and forgive us for not having been more hospitable—but the times have taught us to be cautious, and in that lady we have a precious charge. Rest; for you look both weary and hungry.’
Eustacie added an invitation, understanding that he would not sit without her permission, and then, as he dropped into a chair, she exclaimed, ‘Ah! sir, you are faint, but you are famished.’
‘It will pass,’ he said; ‘I have not eaten to-day.’
Instantly a meal was set before him, and ere long he revived; and as the shutters were closed, and shelter for the night promised to him by a Huguenot family lodging in the same house, he began to answer Eustacie’s anxious questions, as well as to learn from her in return what had brought her into her present situation.