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Title: Blanche
Author: Schubin, Ossip, 1854-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Blanche" ***

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Transcriber's Note:
   1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/blanchemaidof00schuiala

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



BLANCHE: THE MAID OF LILLE



[Illustration: tête de cire.]



                                BLANCHE:

                           The Maid of Lille



                     Translated from the German of
                             OSSIP SCHUBIN
                                   by
                             SARAH H. ADAMS



                           PRIVATELY PRINTED
                                 BOSTON
                                 MCMII



                         _Copyright, 1902, by_
                             SARAH H. ADAMS



                             Colonial Press
            Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
                        Boston, Mass., U. S. A.



                              INTRODUCTION


A few years since we chose to spend the summer in a châlet among the
Dolomites of South Tyrol. Weird, fantastic, inaccessible, mysterious,
grotesque, and yet often wearing a jewelled crown of eternal ice, these
peaks soared into the ether above and around us. "Nothing," says a
recent traveller, "can surpass the majesty and beauty of the towers and
ramparts, the battlemented walls, impregnable castles, and gracefully
pinnacled cathedrals into the forms of which their summits are built
up. Their colouring is another striking characteristic; many of them
rivet the eye with the richness of the tints,--deep reds, bright
yellows, silvery whites, and the dark blues and blacks of the rocks.
But all these colours are modified and softened by a peculiar grayish
white tint. The mountains look as if powdered over with some substance
less hard and cold than newly fallen snow."

Although within a day's drive of Pieve di Cadore,--Titian's
birthplace--and not far from Cortina, we could hardly have found a more
isolated spot. It was a hermitage, and we knew literally no one within
hundreds of miles.

Ossip Schubin, the popular German novelist at that time, had sent us a
volume of stories, with the request that we would translate them. We
selected the story now offered as being most in sympathy with our
romantic surroundings.

A learned Englishman has said, "If histories were written as histories
should be, boys and girls would cry to read them." But alas! how is the
spirit, the tone, of a dead century to be made to breathe again and
report itself? The landscape alone is permanent; new figures constantly
fill the foreground. Poetry, legend, myths, help us to divine some of
the strange chords in the human chant, which, heavily burdened with
sorrow, come down to us through the ages.

In this twentieth century no one sentiment or emotion is allowed so far
to dominate as to crush out all others. But how was it in the days of
the Crusaders, of the Minnesingers, of the Troubadours? If we would
realise the seclusion, the loneliness of many lives centuries ago, we
have only to enter either "The Wartburg" or the castle of Solmes
Brauenfels in the Rhine valley, which dates back a thousand years. Look
into the gloomy keeps; hear the shrieking of the bars in the heavy
portcullis; gaze down into the damp, ugly moats; or listen to the
soughing of the stormy winds in the branches of the tall forest trees
which closely environ these grim abodes. It is conceivable that
Elizabeth languished and died at "The Wartburg," when the chivalrous
Tannhäuser no longer came to inspire with love and song. Could even
Martin Luther have lived in these cold, black walls without his work
which daily rekindled his soul as he studied the inspired pages of the
Bible?

Among the annals of a wicked old past, this story appears as a legend
dimly connected with the pathetic face of the "Maid of Lille" a copy of
which is in the Boston Art Museum.

There is no appeal here to the modern girl. The word "altruism" had not
been invented. Yet there was genius in loving as Blanche did--what
trustful, boundless love, what exaggeration of the object loved! And
while to-day we strive to master a useless sorrow by a useful activity,
we can still appreciate the beauty and holiness of such love.

                                             SARAH H. ADAMS.



                                BLANCHE


In the museum at Lille, somewhat aside from the bewildering mass of
pictures, stands, in a glass case, a masterpiece of unknown origin--the
"tête de cire,"--a maiden's bust moulded in coloured wax.

You will smile when you hear of a coloured wax bust and think of Madame
Tussaud's collection, or of a pretty, insignificant doll's head; but
should you ever see the "tête de cire," instead of laughing you will
fold your hands, and, instead of Madame Tussaud's glass-eyed puppets,
will think of a lovely girl cut off in her early bloom, whom you once
saw at rest on the hard pillow of her coffin. Pale, with exquisite
features, reddish brown hair, eyes slightly blinking, as if afraid of
too much sun, a painfully resigned smile about her mouth, and with neck
slightly bent forward, as if awaiting her death-stroke, full of
touching innocence and of a languid grace, this waxen bust stands out
of its dull gold case,--the image of an angel who had lived an earthly
life and whose heart was broken by a mortal pain.

Whence came this masterly production? Nobody knows! One ascribes it to
Leonardo, another to Raphael, while still others have sought for its
origin in antiquity. Upon one point only all agree,--that the bust was
made from a cast taken after death.

The painter, Wickar, brought it out of Italy into France. 'Twas said
that he found it in a Tuscan convent.

                           *   *   *   *   *

The lovely girl smiles, pleased at the critical debates of the curious,
who wish to attribute this graceful creation to one of the illustrious
Heroes of Art: smiles and dreams!



                                   I


No, it could not be--'twould be a sacrilege!

He was forty-five and she scarcely seventeen. It could not be!

After a series of adventurous campaigns, after mourning over many
defeats and celebrating many victories, and finally losing his left leg
in the memorable battle of Marignano, Gottfried de Montalme, finding
himself disabled for the rough work of a soldier, had returned to
France and to his father's castle, whose gates his brother, the duke,
hospitably opened to him.

He found this brother a widower, and at the point of death; but beside
the dying man's couch was a lovely little maiden who offered her cheeks
to be kissed in welcome to the wanderer. She was the Duke of Montalme's
only child--Blanche, a heart's balm! the light of his eyes!

Leaving no male heir, the entire inheritance of the Duke of
Montalme--his castle and lands, with all the feudal rights appertaining
thereto,--would devolve upon the returned warrior, Gottfried. The
little maiden was badly provided for, and this the duke knew full well,
and it made his dying heart sad.

Gottfried sat by the bedside of his brother through the warm May
nights. He heard the ticking of the death-watch in the wainscoting of
the old walls, heard the dewdrops, as they slowly rustled through the
leaves of the giant lindens outside, heard the laboured breath of the
dying man--but more distinctly than all did he hear the beating of his
own heart.

Toward morning, when the first slant sunbeams shed a rosy glimmer into
the gray twilight of the sick man's room, this beating grew louder,
for, with the early sun, Blanche slipped into the chamber, and, leaning
compassionately over the sufferer, whispered, "Are you better, my
father?"

Ah! for the Duke of Montalme there was no better, and one night he laid
his damp, cold hand upon his brother's warm and powerful one, saying,
with the directness his near relationship warranted, "Gottfried, it
would be a great comfort to me if you would take Blanche for your
wife."

At this Gottfried blushed up to the roots of his gray hair, and
murmured, "What an idea to come into your head--I an old cripple, and
this young blossom! It would be a sacrilege!"

"She does not dislike you," said the duke.

The brave Gottfried blushed deeper, and said, "She is but a child."

"Oh, these conscientious notions!" grumbled the exhausted man. But
notions or not, Gottfried was firm, and of a marriage-bond with the
child would not hear; he promised to afford the little maiden loving
care and protection--promised to guard her as the apple of his eye--as
his own child, until he could, with confidence, lay her hand into that
of a worthy lover's.

And while he promised this, his voice sounded hollow and sad like the
tolling of a funeral bell. The duke, with the clear-sightedness of the
dying, cast a glance into his brother's heart, and discovered there a
holy secret.

"You're an angel, Gottfried," he murmured, "but you make a mistake,"
and shortly after breathed his last.

On the day of the funeral Dame Isabella von Auberive, a distant
relative whom Gottfried, for propriety's sake, had summoned hither,
arrived at the castle to share with him in the care of the young girl.
Beside her father's bier, surrounded by the dim, flickering candles, he
kissed the sweet orphan reverently on the brow, as one kisses the hem
of a Madonna's robe; and promised her his loving care. But when she, in
a torrent of childish grief, wound her arms about his neck and pressed
her little head against his shoulder, he became almost as white as the
dead man in his coffin, and tenderly but firmly released himself from
her.

It could not be--'twould be sacrilege.



                                   II

During the brilliant period in the reign of King Francis I., it
happened that in the marvellously fair, luxuriant Touraine, through
whose velvet green meadows ran the "gay-jewel-glistening Loire,--the
frolicsome, flippant Loire,"--there arose on its banks, one by one, the
stately dwellings of many a proud lord.

Somewhat apart from the others, in a retired spot, where King Francis's
elegant hunters seldom found their way, towered up the Castle of
Montalme; large, massive, with gloomy little windows sunk into deep
holes in the walls, and with a round turret on either wing. Stern and
forbidding, it looked down into the moat in whose waterless bed toads
and frogs revelled amid the moist green foliage; for the age was fast
drawing to a close in which every nobleman had been a little king, and
the simple heroic French feudality, blinded by the nimbus of Francis
I., were rapidly being transformed into a mere host of courtiers.

The dull uniformity in the architecture of Montalme stood out in
striking contrast to the rest of the castles of sunny, pleasure-loving
Touraine. The internal arrangement corresponded to the plain exterior,
and to the naïve pretensions of a century when, even in Blois and
Amboise, the favourite castles of the king, the doors were so low that
Francis himself, who is known to have been of regal stature, had to
stoop to enter them. The scantiness of the furniture in this huge
Castle of Montalme added to its forlorn aspect; nor was the slightest
deference paid to prevailing fashion. The ladies wore sombre-coloured
dresses, cut high in the neck, and covering the arms down to the very
end of the wrists; skirts hanging in long, heavy folds, allowing only
the pointed toe of the leather shoe to peep out. The gentlemen wore the
hair long, and their faces smoothly shaved; their doublets reached in
folds almost to the knees, as had been the fashion under the simple,
economical rule of the late king.

                           *   *   *   *   *

A year had glided by since the death of the duke. Blanche enjoyed the
happiness of youth, free from care, and Gottfried the peace of honest,
high-souled self-denial. A guardian angel, he limped about modestly at
the side of his niece, rejoicing to be able to remove every stone which
threatened to mar the smoothness of her path, or to scare away the
hawks lurking in ambush to surprise her innocence.

And when considering the charms of his dear little niece, Gottfried
thought of the orgies in the Amboise Castle, of the "petite bande" and
the merry raids of the king, the real aim of which was nothing higher
than some foolish love-adventure, he shuddered. Deeply and often he
pondered the matter. Blanche was eighteen--it was time for her to be
married--and yet his brave, faithful heart shrank with anguish at the
bare thought of it. He would not hesitate (at least he believed this of
himself) to part with her if only he could find a true-hearted,
honourable man. But in this age of beauty and song--the age of King
Francis such an one was hard to find.

Meanwhile Blanche was contented with her lonely, monotonous life,
perhaps, in part, because she knew no other, yet, also, because a
fountain of youthful gaiety was still unexhausted in her heart. There
were many things to do in the daytime, and she played chess with her
uncle in the long winter evenings, while sparks flashed out of the
heavy oak logs in the chimney, and the single tallow candle in its
artistically wrought iron candlestick wove a little island of light in
the Cimmerian darkness of the monstrous hall.

Sometimes Gottfried entertained her with stories--the legend of
Tristran and Iseult--or the pathetic tale of the Count of Lusignano and
the fair Melusina; often, too, he told her of his own adventures in
foreign lands.

But the happier Blanche made herself in this lonely life, the more
furious became Dame Isabella. She was a worthy woman, but never could
realise that her once distinguished beauty had long been buried under a
weight of corpulence, and therefore did not restrain herself from
putting on all sorts of ridiculous airs and graces, in order to attract
the attention of the whole neighbourhood to her supposed charms. Out of
sheer _ennui_ she ogled even her page, Philemon, a boy of twelve years,
although he cherished a modest but so much the more glowing adolescent
passion for the lovely Blanche.

Whilst winding endless skeins of silk off the hands of the page, she
sighed in a heart-breaking way, and made the most pointed remarks about
the laziness and unmannerliness of those noblemen who purposely avoided
any approach to the kind, chivalrous king.

Gottfried long forbore to respond to such innuendoes. Of what use would
it be to try to explain to this silly old person that the court of King
Francis was not the proper sphere for such a fat old woman as herself,
or for a little maiden like Blanche, who would receive a kind of
adulation before which the good, true-hearted warrior shuddered? Once,
however, when Dame Isabella, more excited than usual, stormed in upon
him and insisted that the young girl's future should be taken into
immediate consideration, he gave her an angry answer. But it did not
silence her, and though the worthy woman talked plenty of nonsense, yet
she sometimes made a remark that Gottfried could not think wholly
unjustifiable. "Blanche is eighteen years old!" stormed Dame Auberive;
"if you do not wish her to marry you must resolve to place her in one
of the nunneries, which are the only respectable refuge for unmarried
women of her position."

"Who told you that I did not want Blanche to marry?" exclaimed
Gottfried, with anger and agitation; "it is only that I have not yet
found any one good enough for her." But Dame Isabella replied with
cutting scorn, "No one will ever seem to you good enough for her!" and
bounced out of the room the picture of righteous indignation.

Shortly after this it happened that a young knight was brought into the
castle badly wounded; he had fallen among thieves, been robbed, and
left unconscious by the roadside. He must be a man of rank, the
servants thought who brought him in, for his dress, though soiled and
torn, was of the finest material, and he wore the full beard with
close-shaved hair which most of the courtiers wore in imitation of the
king. Gottfried recognised in him a certain Henri de Lancy who, at the
battle of Marignano, had fought beside him and won general admiration
for his bravery, and had, more than all, dragged him--his old friend
Gottfried--out of the thick of the battle after a ball had broken his
leg.

As he bent over the handsome youth lying there before him with closed
eyes, so pale and helpless, an emotion of deep pity overcame Gottfried,
and he exerted himself to the utmost to lavish on De Lancy all the
comforts which the poor castle of Montalme could command.

The sight of the wounded knight roused the quiet castle out of its
phlegmatic drowsiness, and the heart of Dame Isabella beat so wildly
that her orders confused the heads of her servants. Even through the
veins of the innocent Blanche thrilled a strange, dreamy unrest.

At that time there prevailed, together with a sultry kind of
viciousness, compared with which modern profligacy appears petty and
childish, a frank, genial naïveté, which is lost to our age with its
prudish, artificial morality. The most delicate maiden did not
hesitate, at that time, to lend help in nursing a sick man; and
besides, women in that century--thanks to the rarity of doctors--found
it necessary to acquire some knowledge of the healing art.

Hence it was that Blanche came to the assistance of Dame Isabella and
her Uncle Gottfried in the care of De Lancy, and as her hand was the
most delicate, it usually fell to her to loosen the bandages around the
ugly wound on his head, and as she had the steadiest nerve, it was
she who, with Gottfried's help, removed the splinter of a broken
sword-point from his shoulder.

Quiet and helpful as an angel, she hovered about the unconscious man.
But once, as she was bending over his couch to watch the breathing of
the sufferer, a great abatement of the wound fever happily set in. De
Lancy opened his eyes, which, though at times blue as the heavens
above, were at others black as an abyss. The "petite bande" knew these
eyes well.

Just now they were very blue and fixed with peculiar pleasure on the
tender little maiden. But she drew back embarrassed. The strange,
marvellous eyes had driven away his guardian angel, and from that hour
she avoided the sick man's room.

                           *   *   *   *   *

We shall readily imagine that Henri de Lancy would not endure to be
nursed like a sick woman, and, as soon as he could lift hand and foot,
he dragged himself off his couch--possibly his impatience to see the
pretty girl again had also something to do with this haste.

It provoked the young dandy that he could not introduce himself into
the presence of the ladies in a more elegant costume; yet his
comparatively simple travelling dress was becoming to him, and still
more (at least in the eyes of the sweet Blanche) his paleness, his
deep-sunk, feverish eyes, and the weakness in all his movements, which
he strove to hide; for there is something which appeals to the
sympathies of a true woman in seeing a strong, chivalrous man impatient
and mortified at his weakness. Under her dropped eyelids Blanche
watched all his movements, and was constantly considering how to remove
what might interfere with the comfort of the helpless invalid. Yet she
did not offer him the slightest service herself, only secretly made
Dame Isabella acquainted with the need. Her sympathy and her charming
bashfulness did not fail to touch the heart of the convalescent.

The "petite bande" would have laughed in scorn and right heartily, had
they seen how modestly the audacious De Lancy exerted himself to please
the unpretending little girl with the pale face of a novice.

And Lady Isabella neglected the page Philemon and adorned herself to
such a degree that--well--it cost De Lancy all the trouble in the world
not to laugh in her face. The finest part of her toilet was her
"coiffure," which in style dated back at least thirty years. It
consisted of a towering head-dress that ran up to a point, from which
an enormous veil fluttered down to her knees.

                           *   *   *   *   *

The days came and went--the beautiful July days--flooding Touraine with
golden sunshine from dawn to dewy eve. The air was heavy with the
perfume of roses and linden blossoms. Henri's hollow face had regained
its full, natural contour, and his arm had long been freed from the
sling. He was able to travel--yet of his departure spoke never so much
as a dying word.

He was only a merry-hearted, heedless fellow, but with a very
attractive manner; when it pleased him he could assume toward women at
once such a courteous, amiable, respectful manner that no one could
long be vexed with him, even were she the proudest of the daughters of
earth. He had so completely enchanted Dame Isabella that she spent
whole nights pondering over the preparation of the most _recherché_
viands. She served up to him the most skilfully made pies, capons
dressed with spices after the Spanish custom, or young peacocks which
she knew how to roast so artistically as not to singe a feather on tail
or little crown; and when the dame saw with what love-intoxicated gaze
he often fastened his eyes on the beautiful girl, she furthered his
intercourse with her as only she could. It would have delighted her to
win such an aristocratic connection as De Lancy.

But there was one person in Montalme who could not feel friendly toward
the gallant young knight--and this was the lord of the castle himself.

"How long is he going to stay?" he growled out one day to Dame
Isabella. "He has sent for his clothes and his pages, and next he will
be inviting his friends here to display Blanche's charms to the whole
country."

"Don't imagine this," said Isabella, with a shrewd smile; "lovers are
miserly, and would, if possible, keep the joy of their heart out of
sight of the entire world."

"The joy of his heart!" exclaimed Gottfried. "Then it is high time that
I interfered and obliged him to declare himself!"

"Let nothing of the kind occur to you!" exclaimed Isabella, with a look
of horror. "Spare the germ of his young love until it ripens into an
earnest desire for the happiness of marriage."

Gottfried became gloomy. "If I thought that the man would woo the girl
honourably! He is a most attractive fellow, but although brave and
generous, the best among the young coxcombs of to-day are proud of
transgressions which the worst in my day would have been ashamed of,
and, in fact, they regard it only as a good joke, an aristocratic
pastime, to seduce an innocent girl!" and he struck his brow with his
fist.

"Such an idea should never come into your mind," said Isabella,
passionately; "it is shocking in you to insult the man who saved your
life, by such scandalous suspicions. You call your suspicions
conscientious--they should properly bear quite a different name."

"What, then?" growled Gottfried. Dame Isabella stood on the tips of her
toes, and hissed in his ear, "Jealousy!"

At this he ground his teeth,--his eyebrows contracted with pain;--he
turned on his heels and left the room: determined to watch and be
silent!



                                  III


In the cool, lofty rooms of the Castle of Montalme Blanche wandered
about all this time like one bewildered by a great joy. Her eyes were
half-closed, as if dazzled by too clear a radiance, and her voice was
full of plaintive rapture, like that in which the nightingale sobs his
love through the warm summer nights, and all her motions had an added
grace.

But one day Dame Isabella whispered to her, "He is desperately in love
with you!"

And it awakened Blanche out of her sweet, unconscious ecstasy. She
began to test it--to doubt! She noticed exactly how often he addressed
a word directly to her, was sad if he passed her without seeking
response; his glance to her glance--his smile to her smile!



                                   IV


Dreamy afternoon stillness brooded over Montalme, the doves cooed
monotonously on the roof. In one of the deep, oak-panelled window
niches Blanche stood gazing down into the courtyard, which was full of
dark shadows. There stood De Lancy in the picturesque costume Titian
has immortalised in the portraits of Francis I., the puffed sleeves and
high ruff under which the handsomest man in France was pleased to hide
the stoop in his shoulders and the thickness of his neck.

To young De Lancy this costume was wonderfully becoming. With the black
velvet bonnet at his ear, he was amusing himself with a falcon, which,
perched on his shoulder, he alternately teased and soothed; then a
greyhound stretched to full length came bounding forward with light,
quick leaps, and sprang upon him. De Lancy slipped his thin, delicate
hand behind his ear, and stroked him with all the tenderness which men
of our day are accustomed to bestow on their dogs and horses, with a
certain pride in their training. At this, however, the falcon became
jealous, beat his wings, and pecked the hound with his beak. De Lancy
enjoyed teasing the two animals, and when by alternate caresses he had
made both positively unhappy, he pressed with one hand the head of the
falcon against his cheek, and with the other the head of the hound to
his breast. Then the two creatures were contented, and he smiled--his
eyes grew darker, and his white teeth glistened.

But the heart of the maiden, who, gazing down into the court, saw the
pretty play, was convulsed with pain,--was it a kind of jealousy which
agitated her--or simply a wish? Suddenly De Lancy glanced up, and
espying the young lady of the castle, greeted her respectfully. Blanche
thanked him somewhat bashfully, and drew back trembling from head to
foot. When she ventured again to look down into the court, De Lancy was
no longer to be seen.

But the wings of the gently moved afternoon air bore to her ear a
little song which the gay youth trilled to himself as he strolled away:


           "Ha! me chère ennemie
            Si tu veux m'apaiser,
            Redonne--moy la vie
            Par l'esprit d'un baiser.
            Ha! j'en ay la douceur
            Senti jusque au c[oe]ur.
            C'est une douce rage
            Qui nous poindra doucement
            Quand d'un même courage
            On s'aime incessament.
            Heureux sera le jour
            Que je mourrai d'amour!"



                                   V


This audacious love-song at that time flitted from lip to lip at the
court of King Francis, until about a year later the poet Ronsard sang
it,--and after he had enriched it with two or three daintily elaborated
verses it was incorporated with his works.

De Lancy had often hummed it when hastening through the gray corridors,
or walking in the garden under the sombre boughs of the blossoming
lindens. But never had Blanche heard it so completely and clearly. Warm
and full the tones of his voice rang in her ears. Through this
exuberant and frivolous nature passed the agitating sense of an almost
pathetic tenderness.

Blanche stared before her into the empty air, and there came into her
face a great terror--a mighty longing!



                                   VI


Gottfried watched and suffered--each hour more suspicious and uneasy.

In the castle chapel of Montalme stood a narrow-chested saint with
peaked beard,--St. Sebaldus,--who bore on his wooden forefinger an
amethyst ring. With this ring was connected a legend,--viz.,--that
whoever would have the courage to draw it off the finger at midnight
and put it on his own--to him Heaven would grant the fulfilment of his
wish, even were it the most presumptuous in the world. But should the
one who took off the jewel let it fall from his linger ere returning it
on the following night, as in duty bound, to the saint, some terrible
misfortune would speedily overtake him.

It was midnight, and deathly stillness reigned; the moonlight played
about the pointed roof and glittered in the deeply set windows of the
old castle. Black and heavy, almost as a bier-cloth, the shadow of this
gigantic old building spread over the ground. In the garden below, the
nightingales sobbed their sweet songs in the flowering lindens,
sometimes interrupted by the weird screech of an owl. Then a slender
figure glided softly through the echoing corridors of the castle--the
figure of a love-sick girl. At times she paused and listened and laid
her hand upon her breast. A vague, ghostly fear chilled the blood in
her veins. Now she stepped through the high hall adjoining the chapel.
She opened the door heavily weighted with its ornamental iron bands and
rosettes. The moonlight glanced through the coloured windows and
painted fantastic images on the brown church pews. Two long, brilliant
streaks of light cut through the shadows which broadened out over the
marble floor.

Above the altar hung a Madonna with attenuated arms and too long a
neck, as the "Primitives" in their naïve awkwardness like to picture
her. Blanche knelt before her and lisped an Ave and the Lord's Prayer;
then turning to the saint who, stiff and complacent, gazed down from
his pedestal, she drew the ring off his finger and put it on her own.

Just at this moment she heard a slight rustle outside, a confused
feeling of dread and fear suddenly came over her,--a vague, painful
fear of all the mysterious powers of night and darkness. Quite beside
herself, she was hurrying out of the chapel when, in her confusion, she
almost rushed into the arms of a man who stepped toward her in the
adjacent hall.

Although she had passed so softly through the house, one ear had
recognised her step,--Henri de Lancy,--by whose chamber she was obliged
to go in her way to the chapel.

And now he stood before her, and his blue eyes shone in the clear
moonlight, and he bent over her smiling. She started back, but did not
fly--only remained standing as if spellbound. When he seized her hand
and she tried to free herself, however, he held her fast, whispering,
"Stay only a little while, I pray you; I've so much to say to you!"

"Leave me! leave me!" she cried, timidly.

"Only a minute!" he begged of her. "You have always avoided me, I could
never say it to you, but indeed you must long have known how infinitely
I love you!"

He stooped over her--she trembled like a delicate rose-bud with which
the spring wind plays. She thought of the saint's ring which she had on
her finger for the purpose of conjuring Heaven to grant her Henri de
Lancy's love. Had the conjuration then worked so speedily? Oh,
measureless joy! Oh, never-anticipated blessedness!

And yet--

It was so still--so late! "Leave me! leave me!" she whispered. "Wait, I
must ask Gottfried."

"And do you believe he will know better than yourself whether you love
me?"

He laid his arm round her--his kiss hovered over her lips--when--the
door was torn open, and, with drawn dagger and face distorted with
rage, Gottfried rushed upon De Lancy. "Cowardly traitor!" he yelled,
and stopped, for Blanche, uttering a hoarse shriek of anguish,
stretched out her arms before the beloved man to protect him.

Woe! woe! in this moment the enchanted ring slipped from her finger!



                                  VII


Angry men's voices echoed through the halls and galleries--then
stillness reigned again.

Without, the dewdrops rustled in the leaves, but the nightingales were
hushed. In her lonely chamber sat a pale, sad girl, tearless and
comfortless. When the gray morning came a gloomy rider stormed out of
the castle.



                                  VIII


At that time,--in the beginning of the sixteenth century,--shortly
after the battle of Marignano, and the great awakening at Wittenberg,
there brooded over creation a sultry atmosphere, in which the thoughts
and feelings of men frothed and raved with unbridled wantonness,
stimulated by the storm-ridden air.

King Francis had brought back with him to his native land, after his
sojourn in Italy and his conference with Pope Leo, a highly cultivated
artistic taste, united with a certain subtle depravity of morals.
Henceforth his court became an open field for the fine arts, and an
arena for the most debauched, sensual orgies. And not merely owing to
his high position, but also because he maintained in the midst of his
wildest excesses the prestige of a magnanimous chivalry, his example
influenced all the young people of France directly and irresistibly.

It was in the zenith of this regal frivolity and regal favour that
Henri's voluptuous life was interrupted by the above-related intermezzo
of sincere, honest love for this child of Montalme. But it was at the
very time when King Francis, basely deserting his noble wife, the good
Queen Claude, at the head of a jolly troupe of knights, accompanied by
the most beautiful women of France, was roving from city to city, from
castle to castle, from forest to forest, making the air resound with
the clang of cymbals, the blowing of horns, and the baying of dogs; in
summer dropping down on the fairest flower-strewn meadows, or near
mossy-green woods to hold their revels, and in winter pelting each
other with snowballs and filling the various castles with shouts and
laughter.

Now here--now there--he appeared as in a fairy tale--like a vision--the
impersonation of joy. Where one hoped to find him he had just vanished,
and where he was not expected he came. This constant change of
residence frequently embarrassed his ministers or those immediately
responsible for affairs of state, as well as the foreign ambassadors.
And whilst the most serious problems were perplexing their heads, he,
with his knights and the "petite bande," was ranging all over the
country in search of adventure, and when needed was never to be found.

It was as difficult to prevent one's self from being infected with the
frivolity of the king's court--if living in the midst of it--as to keep
one's health intact in a plague lazaretto. To have done it, one must
have been peculiarly organised, and Henri de Lancy was not peculiarly
organised.



                                   IX


Weeks passed. Ever slower the time dragged on amid the aching stillness
of Montalme. Blanche's trembling hope, which resolved itself at first
into hot, feverish unrest, changed by degrees to stony despair.

She grew paler and paler--her languid steps ever more feeble--her talk
abstracted and disconnected. With head slightly bent forward, her lips
half-open, and her eyes fixed on vacancy, she watched and listened--in
vain! He came not, and nobody came who could give her any knowledge of
him. Once when Gottfried, who did not allow her to be out of his sight
in this sad, sad time, sought for her in vain in castle and garden, led
by a jealous suspicion, he climbed up into the tower chamber which De
Lancy had occupied. Through the half-open door he espied Blanche. She
was sitting at the foot of the bed upon which De Lancy had been laid
when wounded. She smiled, and on her innocent lips trembled the words
of his daring love-song:


           "Si tu veux m'apaiser
            Redonne--moi la vie
            Par l'esprit d'un baiser."


She was dreaming!

Whole nights she sat up sleepless in her bed and murmured or sang
softly to herself. And now many times through the stillness of night
she heard the beat of a horse's hoof at full speed passing her window.
Who could the rider be who thus hurried by Montalme at the dead of
night?

There was one person in the castle whose faith was firm as a rock in De
Lancy's truth. This was Dame Isabella. Daily she invented fresh excuses
for his remaining away--daily arrayed herself in expectation of his
return. For hours together she would grin and curtsey before the
mirror, preparing for her advent at court.

                           *   *   *   *   *

One day when Blanche, with her hands in her lap, sat brooding, Dame
Isabella rushed to her, exclaiming, "Blanche! Blanche! quick, the royal
hunting party is coming by the castle!"

Blanche trembled, for she knew that he must be among the king's
retinue. She stepped to the window.

Like a gold embroidered thundercloud, the hunting-party whirled out of
the distance and drew nearer. Horns sounded and rapid hoof-beats
vibrated on the air. As they approached, a good chance was afforded to
see the costly apparel of the ladies, and also of the gentlemen, of
whom an old chronicler of the times avers, not without point, that some
among them wore their lands and castles on their shoulders.

They fluttered by like a glittering swarm of birds of paradise. Blanche
stretched her little head forward--there he was--one of the first!

He did not even look up--but rushed by like a storm-wind, his face
turned to a blonde, regal lady, and looking proud and imposing indeed.
Blanche staggered back. What could there have been in that brilliant
throng of further interest to her? Dame Isabella, however, lingered at
the window, and grinned and bowed with might and main, while her huge
head-gear rocked comically back and forth.

And now the king approached on a milk-white steed with scarlet velvet,
gold-embroidered housings. He looked up, and was reminded of an amusing
picture which De Lancy, on his return to court, when questioned by the
ladies as to the adventure which had detained him so long away, had
drawn of a worthy old scarecrow who tended his wounds in Montalme. The
existence of the lovely maiden Blanche he had deemed it wisest to
conceal. Stifling a laugh, Francis returned Dame Isabella's greeting
with roguish exaggeration, then turning, whispered to those nearest
him, whereupon they also looked up, and being greeted by her, the
entire retinue stopped a minute to inspect the self-satisfied old
monstrosity. But they did not all possess the amiable courtesy which
distinguished the king even in his unrestrained naughtiness. One of the
ladies smiled, another laughed, and, like a spark in a ton of powder,
this laugh was enough to set off the kindling stuff of repressed
hilarity which at once exploded.

So pointed were the looks--so hearty the laughter of the party--that
even the self-admiring Isabella could not in the slightest degree be
deceived as to the cause of their merriment. Mortified, she drew back
out of sight, and the hunting party passed on. Yet at a distance the
sound of the continued laughter was audible. Dame Isabella was furious.
"They laughed at me, they pointed at me with their fingers!" she
repeated, over and over again, her corpulent figure, and especially her
double chin, trembling in a remarkable way; and utterly forgetting her
former admiration of the court, she added, "The disorderly mob! the
base women!"

Blanche, who, with her elbows in her hands, was staring straight before
her like one stunned, thought, "Perhaps he is laughing at me too!" and
thought these words aloud; since she had been so absorbed in sorrow and
longing she had often uttered whole sentences like one in a feverish
dream.

"That you may be sure of!" said Dame Isabella, in a huff, and rustled
out of the room to lay aside once and for all the ugly headgear which
she had had a chance to observe was in appalling contradiction to the
prevailing style. She distinctly recalled Henri de Lancy's expressed
admiration for this same head ornament. Now she knew that he had been
making fun of her, and anger and resentment gnawed at her heart.

It chanced that on the following day two mendicant friars sought
admission to the castle. Dame Isabella asked to have these bare-footed
martyrs conducted to her room, welcomed them hospitably and in the most
respectful manner; in the first place because she was pious, but in the
second because these wandering monks served as a kind of peripatetic
newspaper; for which their roving life afforded them sufficient variety
of material. Thus the lady obtained the most precise information about
the frivolities of the king and his rollicking companions, especially
the handsome De Lancy, who, she was told, among all these lawless
revellers was the worst. He was not only following the royal example to
the last extent (the monks exaggerated perhaps a trifle, seeing how
much it pleased their listener), but of late he had actually formed a
liaison with a married woman, the Countess de Sologne, whom, as she was
carefully guarded by her husband's jealousy, he visited secretly at
night. And they ended by saying, "It would not surprise us if the
castle lady heard the reckless knight ride by, since it was the
shortest way to Laemort, the hereditary seat of the Solognes."

We may rest assured that Dame Isabella gave the monks for this precious
communication plenty of money to spend on their way. Possessed of her
glorious bit of knowledge, she was dying to tell it, and seeing Blanche
at the chess-board, opposite her uncle, who exerted himself all the
time to try to distract her thoughts, she began immediately to relate
what she had heard. They were not prudish in those days, and if here
and there one cared to preserve the innocence of a young girl, that
blissful ignorance was by no means maintained which to-day is held
peculiarly sacred and inviolate.

Dame Isabella repeated word for word all she had heard of the shameful
proceedings which hourly went on in the Castle of Amboise, and of the
startling depravity of Henri de Lancy. In vain Gottfried attempted, by
his displeased looks, to silence her; she went on further, and advised
Blanche to rejoice that she had escaped the danger of becoming the wife
of this vicious fellow. Blanche sat stiff and straight, not uttering a
word, and continued to shove the little ivory figures slowly over the
board--that she made the castle execute the peculiar leaps of the
knight, Isabella did not notice. But when she finished by saying that
they might hear Henri de Lancy ride by nightly, since the nearest way
to his beloved duchess led by Montalme, they suddenly heard a painful
quiver like the dropping of a little bird which had been shot through
the heart. Blanche had fainted and fallen.

"Cruel woman!" exclaimed Gottfried, furiously, "must you tell? I could
be silent!"

He had long known of Henri's infidelity.

Consciousness soon returned to the poor girl, and with it the
recollection of her sorrow. Blanche longed to lose herself again, but
the blessing was denied her. Not even the repose of sleep did Heaven
grant her. She would lie awake, listening feverishly the whole night;
but no sound disturbed the deathlike stillness either the first or the
second night. During the day Blanche dragged herself from room to room,
as if her once flying feet were weighted with lead, but most of the
time she sat stiffly erect with her hands lying helplessly in her lap,
staring before her with glazed eyes.

The third day was drawing to a close. Gottfried came in, and, seating
himself beside her, inquired after her health. She replied there was
nothing the matter with her, but at the same time crept close to him
like a very sick child, and he, who had usually repulsed her innocent
caresses, now put his arm around her slender body and laid her little
head tenderly on his shoulder; he no longer thought of his own pain,
but of hers.

She begged him to tell her a story, as a sick child begs for a
cradle-song.

He had told her many a tale in bygone days, yet of all she liked best
to hear of his own adventures and what he himself had seen. Therefore
he asked now, "A true story, my jewel?" She shuddered, "Oh, no! no! a
fiction, my uncle, pray!"

He passed his hand thoughtfully over his brow. Nothing occurred to him
but a little legend which had been told him by a half-crazy monk who
was crouching on the steps of the Milan Cathedral, and with a somewhat
tremulous voice he began:

"It happens occasionally that in the midst of the blessedness of heaven
an angel looking down yearns for earth, which seems attractive in the
enchantment of distance. Then St. Peter, at the Almighty's command,
grudgingly opens the gates of heaven a little, and the angel slips
through. But however much he exerts himself and beats his wings, the
little fluttering things carry him up, and he cannot escape from the
spheres of sinless purity which float around Paradise. St. Peter
rattles his bunch of keys and again the gates of heaven open, and now
on the threshold stands Jesus Christ, well-beloved Son of the Father,
and infinitely compassionate Son of Man, who knows the earth
thoroughly. And when the lovely, unwise rebel turns his gold-encircled
little head to question him concerning it, he beckons him to come
nearer, and smiling lays a warm beating weight on his breast. Then he
says, 'Try it!'

"And lo! when now the angel attempts to lift his wings the little
weight which Jesus Christ has laid on his breast draws him down to
earth--for the weight is a human heart. Slowly, slowly he descends from
the spheres until he lands on a green meadow. There he sinks into a
deep, dreamless sleep, and when he awakes he has lost his wings,
forgotten his heavenly origin, and has become a man--only with an
intense longing in his soul for virtue and purity, which he is not
himself aware is homesickness; holiness, happiness, heaven, and home
being to him unconsciously one and the same thing. Yet but now howe'er
much his yearning may hurry him upward again, his heart chains him fast
to the earth and he cannot return to his radiant home until a great
human grief has broken the heart which was laid on his breast. Then our
Lord Jesus Christ glides downward to earth--takes the poor rebel in his
arms and carries him back to Paradise."

Gottfried paused. Blanche was silent a moment, then she sighed, "Your
story is sad, almost as sad as if it were a true one!"

To which Gottfried replied, "But it has a lovely ending!"

The sad maiden, however, was perfectly silent, and looking into her
melancholy eyes he discerned a doubt in them if even the joy of heaven
could compensate for that which we suffer and are deprived of on earth.

After a little while Blanche began, "Is the dear God then displeased if
an angel looking down yearns for the earth?"

"No," murmured Gottfried, "but he is sad, very sad!"



                                   X


For two nights she had had no sleep; on the third she was exhausted and
slept soundly, and dreamed a sweet--wonderfully sweet dream.

It seemed to her that she met her beloved in the garden. A delicious
perfume was wafted from the crown of the lindens, soft greenish shadows
spread twilight over the earth, and all nature, as in measureless
rapture, held its breath, no lightest touch of air stirred--she lay in
his arms, love-enchanted and his lips closed her mouth.

Thus she dreamed--when suddenly she sprang up as if one had struck her
heart with an iron hammer.

Was not that the sound of a horse's hoof which broke on the stillness
of night? In her long white nightdress she flew to the window.

She recognised him, notwithstanding the speed of his horse, and in
spite of the curtain of darkness with which midnight sought to veil his
figure. She bent far over the window-breasting and stretched out her
arms; a frightful longing confused her senses, and she sang--poor
child!--without knowing what the words meant:


           "Si tu veux m'apaiser
            Redonne--moi la vie
            Par l'esprit d'un baiser.

           "Heureux sera le jour
            Quand je mourrai d'amour!"


Louder and louder the voice swelled out, piercing as a cry of anguish;
yet full of a powerful sweetness the song echoed through the sultry
stillness of night. It struck the ear of the rider. He checked his
horse, looked around him, and then spurred the animal anew until he
leaped wildly on.

She bent forward--farther forward,--"Plus d'espoir!" she groaned. Her
heart was so heavy, so heavy! Beneath, the dew glistened like a silver
sheen over the azure fields, out of which an angel seemed calling her
to "Cool rest--cool rest!"

She bent forward--forward! and then fell many, many fathoms deep into
the moat below.

                           *   *   *   *   *

The heavy fall was heard in the castle, and soon the servants with
torches hurried forth to see what had happened.

There, below, glimmered something white as a blossom broken off by the
storm. They climbed down. The light of the torches played over a pale,
lovely face which smiled in death. She was not disfigured, not a
particle of dust, not a speck of mud or soil of earth, adhered to her
white garment, although she had fallen among plants growing in the mud.
In spotless purity the white folds wound about her beautiful limbs. And
when the people saw this, they marvelled, and said, "A miracle!" Then
one pressed through the throng, deathly pale with distorted face--Henri
de Lancy!

But Gottfried coldly turned him away from the dead maiden.

Right tenderly the old soldier lifted the lovely body in his arms,
murmuring:

"Her heart was broken--she is released!"



                                   XI


It was an age full of horrors, when the noblest blood of illustrious
Hellenism rose up to face a background of battles, orgies, and pulpit
harangues. It was not only a period in which Lorenzo de' Medici, in
disguise and at the head of a bacchanalian troop tore through the
streets of Florence; Benvenuto Cellini stabbed his enemies at the
street corners; Pope Leo at a cardinal's supper presented a sacrifice
of doves to the Goddess of Love upon a white marble altar, and
offered to his favourite, Raphael, a cardinal's hat in payment of his
bills--but a time also when Savonarola preached the loftiest
asceticism; Rabelais, in the midst of his obscene rhapsodies, created
the wonderful idyl of l'Abbaye de Telesme; Fra Angelico on his knees
painted his picture of Christ, and the triumphal procession of an
emperor ended in a monastery!

A time full of enigmas! and among the many enigmas which lived in it,
was one of a sad, silent monk, of whom his cloister-brethren asserted
that he once had led a very dissolute life, but now was the most
absorbed _dèvoté_.

And whilst King Francis, at variance with himself and the world, tried
to maintain, even to the end, the appearance of ostentatious levity,
and to win fresh renown as a patron of art, and to console himself for
his lost self-respect with the flatteries of the Duchess d'Etampes,
this monk devoted every single hour which remained to him, after the
barest satisfaction of his physical needs, and the fulfilment of
his religious duties, to one and the same work,--a sweet girl's
head,--which he, with his slender, effeminate, courtier's hand, formed
out of wax after a death mask, and ever again re-formed, and could
never finish to his own satisfaction. Discouraged, disappointed, he
destroyed each day the work of the preceding until finally, in the very
last year of his life he became more tranquil, and then under his
never-weary hands arose an exquisite maiden's head with a sweet,
thoughtful expression of face,--the little head bent forward as if
listening to a great joy, yet weighed down by the presentiment of a
terrible pain!

And he worked at the head on his knees, like Fra Angelico at his
ecstatic pictures of saints, and he coloured it most beautifully--but
still, not as if it were the head of a living maiden, but as of one who
had died in the freshness of youth. When he succeeded, he smiled and
closed his eyes for ever.



                                  XII


After long wanderings, the bust has found a resting-place in the museum
at Lille. Full of a dreamy pathos, it stands in its glass case--an
atonement for Love betrayed--in memory of the bitterest repentance.

As the embodiment of an old legend, it interests us and seems to say:
"A tear for Blanche of Montalme; for Henri de Lancy--a prayer!"





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