What! had Maitre Gardon refused? Forbidden that the subject should be mentioned to his daughter? Impossible! Either Mace had managed matters foolishly, or the old man had some doubt of him which she could remove, or else it was foolish reluctance to part with his daughter-in-law. Or the gossips were right after all, and he knew her to be too light-minded, if not worse, to be the wife of any pious young minister. Or there was some mystery. Any way, Madame la Duchesse would see him, and bring him to his senses, make him give the girl a good husband if she were worthy, or devote her to condign punishment if she were unworthy.
CHAPTER XXXIV. MADAME LA DUCHESSE
He found an ancient dame in dim brocade.—–TENNYSON
Madame la Duchesse de Quinet had been a great heiress and a personal friend and favourite of Queen Jeanne d’Albret. She had been left a widow after five years’ marriage, and for forty subsequent years had reigned despotically in her own name and that of mon fils. Busied with the support of the Huguenot cause, sometimes by arms, but more usually by politics, and constantly occupied by the hereditary government of one of the lesser counties of France, the Duke was all the better son for relinquishing to her the home administration, as well as the education of his two motherless boys; and their confidence and affection were perfect, though he was almost as seldom at home as she was abroad. At times, indeed, she had visited Queen Jeanne at Nerac; but since the good Queen’s death, she only left the great chateau of Quinet to make a royal progress of inspection through the family towns, castles, and estates, sometimes to winter in her beautiful hereditary hotel at Montauban, and as at present to attend any great assembly of the Reformed.
Very seldom was her will not law. Strong sense and judgment, backed by the learning that Queen Marguerite of Navarre had introduced among the companions of her daughter, had rendered her superior to most of those with whom she came in contact: and the Huguenot ministers, who were much more dependent on their laity than the Catholic priesthood, for the most part treated her as not only a devout and honourable woman, an elect lady, but as a sort of State authority. That she had the right-mindedness to respect and esteem such men as Theodore Beza, Merlin, &c., who treated her with great regard, but never cringed, had not become known to the rest. Let her have once pronounced against poor little Esperance Gardon, and public disgrace would be a matter of certainty.
There she sat in her wainscoted walnut cabinet, a small woman by her inches, but stately enough to seem of majestic stature, and with gray eyes, of inexpressible keenness, which she fixed upon the halting, broken form of Isaac Gardon, and his grave, venerable face, as she half rose and made a slight acknowledgment of his low bow.