Then I clung to my father. I could hold him tight in the dark, and the flambeaux only cast in a fitful flickering light. ‘Oh, sir,’ said I, ‘you cannot wish to part with your little Meg!’
‘You are your mother’s child, Meg,’ he said sadly. ’I gave you up to her to dispose of at her will.’
‘And you will thank me one of these days for your secure home,’ said my mother. ’If these rogues continue disaffected, who knows what they may leave us in England!’
‘At least we should be together,’ I cried, and I remember how I fondled my father’s hand in the dark, and how he returned it. We should never have thought of such a thing in the light; he would have been ashamed to allow such an impertinence, and I to attempt it.
Perhaps it emboldened me to say timidly: ‘If he were not so old—–’
But my mother declared that she could not believe her ears that a child of hers should venture on making such objections—so unmaidenly, so undutiful to a parti selected by the queen and approved by her parents.
As the coach stopped at our own door I perceived that certain strange noises that I had heard proceeded from Eustace laughing and chuckling to himself all the way. I must say I thought it very unkind and cruel when we had always loved each other so well. I would hardly bid him good-night, but ran up to the room I shared with nurse and Annora, and wept bitterly through half the night, little comforted by nurse’s assurance that old men were wont to let their wives have their way far more easily than young ones did.
A little mutual aversion.
I had cried half the night, and when in the morning little Nan wanted to hear about my ball, I only answered that I hated the thought of it. I was going to be married to a hideous old man, and be carried to France, and should never see any of them again. I made Nan cry too, and we both came down to breakfast with such mournful faces that my mother chid me sharply for making myself such a fright.
Then she took me away to the still-room, and set me for an hour to make orange cakes, while she gave orders for the great dinner that we were to give that day, I knew only too well for whose sake; and if I had only known which orange cake was for my betrothed, would not it have been a bitter one! By and by my mother carried me off to be dressed. She never trusted the tiring-woman to put the finishing touches with those clumsy English fingers; and, besides, she bathed my swollen eyelids with essences, and made me rub my pale cheeks with a scarlet ribbon, speaking to me so sharply that I should not have dared to shed another tear.
When I was ready, all in white, and she, most stately in blue velvet and gold, I followed her down the stairs to the grand parlour, where stood my father, with my brothers and one or two persons in black, who I found were a notary and his clerk, and there was a table before them with papers, parchment, a standish, and pens. I believe if it had been a block, and I had had to lay my head on it, like poor Lady Jane Grey, I could not have been much more frightened.