Meantime Berenger had received a greater shock than she or her father understood in the looking over of some of the family parchments kept in store at the castle. The Chevalier, in showing them to him, had chiefly desired to glorify the family by demonstrating how its honours had been won, but Berenger was startled at finding that Nid-de-Merle had been, as it appeared to him, arbitrarily and unjustly declared to be forfeited by the Sieur de Bellaise, who had been thrown into prison by Louis XI. for some demonstration in favour of the poor Duke de Berri, and granted to the favourite Ribaumont. The original grant was there, and to his surprise he found it was to male heirs—the male heirs alone of the direct line of the Ribaumont—to whom the grant was made. How, then, came it to Eustacie? The disposal had, with almost equal injustice, been changed by King Henry II. and the late Count de Ribaumont in favour of the little daughter whose union with the heir of the elder line was to conclude all family feuds. Only now did Berenger understand what his father had said on his death-bed of flagrant injustice committed in his days of darkness. He felt that he was reaping the reward of the injuries committed against the Chevalier and his son on behalf of the two unconscious children. He would willingly at once have given up all claim to the Nid-de-Merle estate—and he was now of age; two birthdays had passed in his captivity and brought him to years of discretion—but he had no more power than before to dispose of what was the property of Eustacie and her child; and the whole question of the validity of his marriage would be given up by his yielding even the posthumous claim that might have devolved on him in case of Eustacie’s death. This would be giving up her honour, a thing impossible.
‘Alas!’ he sighed, ’my poor father might well say he had bound a heavy burthen round my neck.’
And from that time his hopes sank lower as the sense of the justice of his cause left him. He could neither deny his religion nor his marriage, and therefore could do nothing for his own deliverance; and he knew himself to be suffering in the cause of a great injustice; indeed, to be bringing suffering on the still more innocent Philip.
The once proudly indifferent youth was flagging now; was losing appetite, flesh, and colour; was unwilling to talk or to take exercise; and had a wan and drooping air that was most painful to watch. It seemed as if the return of summer brought a sense of the length and weariness of the captivity, and that the sunshine and gaiety of the landscape had become such a contrast to the captives’ deadness of spirit that they could hardly bear to behold them, and felt the dull prison walls more congenial to their feelings than the gaiety of the summer hay and harvest-fields.
CHAPTER XXXVII. BEATING AGAINST THE BARS
My horse is weary of the stall, And I am sick of captive thrall.—LADY OF THE LAKE