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Jane Goodwin Austin - A Nameless Nobleman (1881)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

This story of the days of the " grand monarch" has long been a favorite and was successfully dramatized.

AT a brilliant function in the grand gallery of the palace at Versailles in the second half of his reign, Louis XIV saw his mistress, Madame de Montespan, flirting audaciously with the Vicomte de Montarnaud, a young gallant from Provence.

Addressing the young gallant's father, a courtier of seventy, the King said : "Monsieur de Montarnaud, you asked permission, some time ago, to marry your eldest son to Mademoiselle de Rochenbois, your ward. I withdraw my opposition, and permit the marriage. It may take place in the royal chapel, and we shall P> see whether some place about the court can be found for the bride, who will remain here while the Vicomte returns to duty."

Further talk elicited from the Comte the fact that his younger son, Francois, was at the Chateau de Montarnaud in Provence, with the Comte's ward, Valerie de Rochenbois, whereupon Louis observed:

"Really, Monsieur de Montarnaud, you are a man of re-source. Since it was not permitted to marry your eldest son to your wealthy ward, you shut her up in a country house with the younger one, trusting to the chapter of accidents for a marriage, public or private, before there should be time to prevent it. I shall, however, expect to receive Madame la Vicomtesse de Montarnaud, nee Rochenbois, within the month."

Approaching Madame de Montespan, the King then remarked that, judging by the expression on the Vicomte's face, she was probably congratulating him upon his approaching marriage. Enjoying the confusion of the two, the King again announced his intentions as to the marriage and ordered the young man to go to Montarnaud for his father's ward the next day. Not long after this event, the Comte with his eldest son, Gaston, arrived at the Chateau de Montarnaud a few moments only after Francois, a lad of twenty, had confessed to his father's ward his love for her. While Gaston was acquainting his brother with the condition of affairs, the Comte informed Valerie of the King's commands as to herself and Gaston. The brothers had not been on friendly terms since their childhood, and the news now brought by the elder did not tend to greater amity. An open quarrel was presently averted by the tactful interference of their father, who led away his elder son, while Francois vainly sought an interview with Valerie, to whom he at length succeeded in despatching a note by the hands of her old nurse, Marie. The note entreated her to let him know at midnight, when he would be stationed under her window, whether she would marry him. Valerie was by no means sure of her own mind. She was indifferent to Gaston, but, being of a frivolous, butterfly temperament, she greatly inclined toward the gay life that marriage with him would open to her.

While Francois waited in the darkness for Valerie's response, Gaston set off through the garden in search of adventures in the auberge of the village of Montarnaud, followed at a little distance by Valerie's governess, Mademoiselle Salerne, who had previously imagined him in love with her and now, filled with jealousy and suspicion, was resolved to spy upon him. The young Abbe Despard, the tutor of Francois, while walking in the garden meanwhile, encountered her returning from her quest of Gaston, and reproached her for imprudence. Resolved to spy upon him also, the governess did not return to the house, as his quick ear assured him, and he came to the conclusion that she was either acting as a spy or was set to watch perhaps lest a private meeting of Francois and Valerie should be interrupted. At midnight Francois, mounted on a fruit-ladder, stood at Valerie's window to receive her answer, only to learn that she was not sufficiently fond of him to give up the splendors of court life for his sake. Francois was beginning to storm when interrupted by his brother's voice from below crying out "Robbers!" A kick from Gaston then brought Francois and the ladder to the ground, and a conflict ensued in which the more powerful Francois was victor, and, fearing lest he had given the other a mortal blow, he fled. He had hardly done this, however, when his sense of honor urged him to return and face the consequences, and at this moment he encountered his friend, the Abbe, who counseled him to wait for a few moments till he, the Abbe, could ascertain what had taken place.

The Abbe presently returned with the news that Gaston was not dead, was perhaps not mortally injured, but that his father was in a white rage on account of the probable displeasure of the King, and that the governess had accused Francois of "the murder," as she termed it. The Abbe then advised his pupil to remain in hiding for a short time, and produced a note to Francois from Valerie urging the same course. The young Baron reluctantly yielded to persuasion and for several days remained concealed in the home of the Abbe's father, a grocer in Marseilles. At last a letter from Valerie reached him by the hands of Abbe Despard, in which the writer admitted that, although she did not love Gaston, she did greatly desire to live at the court, and that she must go.

On reading these words Francois resolved to sell his estates in Normandy and leave France, saying: "I have no longer a country, a home, or a name. The King of France has stolen my .father's honor and my fiancee's faith. I renounce all that makes me a Frenchman, and I leave the country of Louis the Fourteenth, never to set foot upon its soil again."

Upon this the Abbe suggested that he resume the surgical studies that had once interested him, adding that army hospitals were rapid schools; that if Francois desired it he would expatriate himself also; and that in the same hospitals he could give his services as chaplain. Francois readily adopted the suggestion as to the study of surgery.

About six years after these events the young Baron and his friend were on board a French privateer, the former ranking as ship's surgeon and the other as chaplain; and while cruising in Buzzard's Bay, in the Pilgrim Colony, they were wrecked near the Falmouth shore. As France and England were then at war, the officers and crew of the wrecked vessel were accounted enemies and marched to Boston, the Abbe among them. But Francois, having swum ashore, escaped capture.

Two days later, Humphrey Wilder, a farmer near Falmouth, left home with his wife, a Quaker preacher, to attend Quarterly Meeting at New Bedford, leaving their grown daughter Molly alone in charge of the house. Wilder was a member of the Church of England, and, though yielding to his wife's imperious will in many things, utterly refused to forsake his church for Quakerism, and insisted that their only child should be reared in the Anglican faith. On leaving England he prudently settled himself as far from any Friends' meeting-place as might be, so that Deborah, to her great vexation, could attend only such infrequent gatherings as the Quarterly Meetings. Their only neighbors were a family named Hetherford, and Deborah wished Molly to marry Reuben Hetherford, a mean, small-natured rustic. Humphrey did not favor the proposal; but Reuben was the only young man in the neighborhood, and an unmarried woman was of small importance in the Pilgrim Colony. He had, however, distinctly said that Reuben was not to enter the house in his absence, unless accompanied by Mercy Hetherford, the young man's sister.

As Molly sat at her spinning-wheel after her parents had driven away, she saw Reuben's face against the window, and, after slipping into place the bolt across the door, held a brief parley with him at the window, which she opened slightly. Reuben explained that he stopped to say that Mercy would come to stay with her presently, and suggested that he should come in for a little. To this Molly replied as her father had bidden her, and remarking that it was too cold for standing at open windows returned to her spinning, while her disappointed lover went home in sullen rage. In the afternoon Mercy Hetherford arrived to keep her company, and as a storm had now arisen Reuben came at nightfall to take them both to the Hetherford farmhouse after supper. As Reuben sat at the table with the two girls, Molly's repulsion to him increased when she observed his uncouth manners and listened to his harsh voice, and ,she felt that she could never endure to be his wife. He had much to say of the wreck of a French privateer two nights previously, and added that, while the officers and crew had been nearly all taken prisoners, it was supposed that a few had escaped and were in hiding. Twenty dollars a head had been offered for all Frenchmen who should be found, he said, and he wished he might have the luck to capture one of the fugitives.

He now announced that it was time for them all to set out for the Hetherford house, where his mother was expecting Molly; but the latter, to his great indignation, declared that she should stay where she was, and when he attempted to command she informed him that she did not recognize his right to command her, and that whatever engagement had hitherto existed between them she now broke off altogether. From this position she would not retreat, and the Hetherfords departed in wrath.

Left alone with only her cat for company, Molly assured herself that there was nothing to fear, but presently a tapping at the window caught her attention and she saw a man's face against the pane. She seized her father's clumsy pistol and pointed it toward the window, but the man did not stir. He only uttered the one word, "Bread." That he was starving his white face now assured her, and she hastened to let him in. As she did so a fierce blast of wind hurled him over the threshold in a senseless heap upon the floor. As he lay there Molly perceived not only that the helpless stranger was young and handsome, but that his arm, which was doubled under him, was broken. Her efforts to straighten it aroused him, and he murmured something in French, becoming again unconscious immediately.

The thought that this might be the chief of a band of French marauders crossed Molly's mind, but she said to herself that she must not let the man die even though he might be her enemy; and with the assistance of such domestic remedies as she had at hand consciousness returned once more and she thereupon gave him food.

With returning strength the stranger related how his arm had been broken against the rocks, and with some difficulty Molly comprehended his broken English. Following his directions, she arranged matters so that with his unhurt right hand he drew the bone into place, and she then applied splints and bandages. After this had been done she half-drew, half-led him to the bed in the next room and there left him, after ministering to his comfort so far as she was able. As she bent over him the next morning he was sleeping uneasily and murmuring the name of Valerie--a possible sweetheart, Molly thought with a twinge of pain.

A loud knock on the outer door aroused the sleeper, and after bidding him make no noise she returned to the kitchen and. removed every trace of the stranger's presence before she opened the house door to admit Amariah Coffin, the Wilders' hired man, who had returned from driving her parents to New Bedford. He was a privileged member of the house-hold, and to him she explained in regard to Reuben and Mercy, and also that while he boarded with the Hetherfords he was not to ask any of them to come and stay with her, as she was not afraid to be alone for the six days of her parents' absence, since he was to come every day to attend to the live stock. After Amariah had gone to the barn, Molly found her patient in feverish alarm:

"Is it the English to prisoner me?" he demanded.

"No," she replied soothingly, "you are quite safe here, and I will care for you." She then told him her name in response to his question, learned that his name was Francois, and presently busied herself in arranging for his comfort and security, wondering the while at the strange new joy and light that had come into her life.

Later in the day, when Amariah entered the kitchen to warm his hands, he told of footprints he had seen in the snow around the house, and of a strange knife he had found in the barn and had let Reuben Hetherford take, and how Reuben said he would track the owner twenty miles but he would find him.

The same day Mrs. Hetherford visited Molly in order to plead her son's cause, but to no effect, and the days of the Wilders' absence were unbroken by another visitor till the morning of the last.

On the previous day Amariah set out to bring the Wilders home, and Molly then arranged a sleeping-place for her patient in the attic, as he was unwilling to have his presence known to her parents. She had hardly accomplished his transfer the next morning when she was surprised by a call from Reuben, accompanied by John Dibley, a constable, with a search-warrant. Molly informed the constable that she would show him over the house, but that Reuben must keep watch on the outside lest any Frenchman should escape during the search. She accordingly led Dibley from cellar to garret but by reason of many words about loose boards in the attic floor the cautious constable satisfied himself with a cursory glance from the stair-head that nothing was to be seen there but some "house-hold stuff out of use," and declined her offer to pull it away that he might see no one was concealed behind it.

At sunset Amariah returned with her parents, but her mother was found to be so ill as to need putting to bed at once. Humphrey explained that word had been left for a doctor to come from New Bedford on the morrow; but as it then turned out the practitioner was away, and a Dutch doctor, named Schwarz, arrived in his place. Molly, observing him closely, noticed the use of a French word or two in his speech, and on her next stolen visit to Francois—their love for each other being now no secret to either of them—she told of his presence. Francois was startled, not knowing whether the stranger might prove friend or enemy.

Meanwhile Schwarz, in talking with Amariah, learned of the finding of the knife, and, seeking out Reuben, played upon his fears with suggestions of poisoned blades till the latter readily yielded up the knife to him. He at once recognized the dagger as belonging to Francois, and adroitly arranged that it should reach its owner at the hands of Molly, whose patient then knew that Dr. Schwarz was the Abbe Despard, who had escaped from Boston in disguise.

While Schwarz was attending upon Mrs. Wilder Molly's room was given up to his use, and there the friends met at last. After recounting their adventures the Abbe proposed that they should escape to Canada that night, and was much disturbed when he learned that his friend would not leave until Molly became his wife. Remonstrance was useless, and when Francois had gained her consent to marry him at three o'clock that night, it was settled that the Abbe should perform the ceremony. She had heard the priest speak of his friend as Monsieur le Baron and had supposed Le Baron to be her lover's surname, and was willing enough to bear that name. Arraying herself in some India-muslin curtains embroidered by her grandmother, and some lace of her mother's for a veil, she was able to satisfy her maidenly desire for a white gown. She was married in her own chamber by the whispered voice of the priest, and a few moments later her husband and the Abbe departed, Francois to return and claim her when the war between French and English should be over.

Two years and more went by. Her rheumatic fever left Deborah Wilder a querulous semi-invalid, and in the following summer Humphrey died of sunstroke. Ere his death Molly confessed her secret, only to learn that he already partly knew; that he had seen her in her bridal dress through a partly open door, but that he never had doubted her. Deborah died the next season, leaving Molly alone, and it was settled that she should live with Mrs. Hetherford, but on the evening after the funeral Francois appeared.

Not long before his return he had learned of the peace, in his barrack quarters in Canada, and, through a letter to the Abbe, from the latter's sister Clotilde, news of his father's death soon followed by that of his brother Gaston in a duel. Clotilde added that Gaston's widow never had ceased to love his brother. The Abbe expected that his friend would at once return to the Old World, but, saying that his wife did not wish to live in France, he declined to go.

"Your wife? Mademoiselle Marie Wilder?"

"No, Madame Le Baron, as she herself named her future husband." The Abbe then announced that he had not actually married Francois to Mary Wilder, that he had used only the words of solemn troth-plight and one of the penitential psalms.

"I knew that you were to leave her immediately. I had seen you in love three or four times already; I knew that if you ever did return it would be easy to complete the ceremony begun, or to procure dispensation from the vows of betrothal. I deceived you for your own good."

Francois found it difficult to forgive this lack of honor in his friend, but he did so at length, and they parted, the Abbe for France and Francois for Falmouth. On the way he put up at an inn in Plymouth and was instrumental in preventing several ignorant practitioners from amputating the injured leg of the landlady, Betty Tilley. Under his care the diseased knee-joint was cured, and Dr. Le Baron then went on his way. It was arranged that Francois and Molly should be married by Squire Drew, of Falmouth, the next morning after his return; and Dame Hetherford, to whom Molly explained that she and Dr. Le Baron had long been betrothed, putting aside her former resentment, accompanied the pair to the magistrate's as a witness.

They were to pause at Plymouth for a day or two on the way to Boston, where Francois had intended their home should be, and while they were there three of the selectmen of the town called to invite him to remain as surgeon, physician, and apothecary, his skill in the matter of Dame Tilley's leg having been greatly admired. A tract of twenty-five acres outside the village and a house-lot on the main street within it were offered to him by the town, besides such fees as were customary. The offer was accepted with the proviso that while he was not to mention to any but the three selectmen the fact of his Catholic faith, no one was to seek to convert him to Protestantism.

On the Abbe's return to France he went to Montarnaud, where his sister Clotilde was nurse to the little daughter of the Comtesse Valerie; but in spite of the questioning of the Comtesse she learned nothing of Francois from the Abbe. From other sources, however, she ascertained that her brother-in-law was alive, and the Abbe was finally induced to impart such knowledge of Francois as he possessed.

A year after the marriage of Dr. Le Baron, the Abbe visited Plymouth and informed his friend that after consulting his ecclesiastical superiors he had learned that, garbled and shortened as was the ceremony in the Wilder farmhouse, it was an actual marriage, and he asked pardon for having led Dr. Le Baron into any doubt of the validity of the rite. He added that a secret Roman Catholic Mission had been established in Boston, and invited the doctor to visit him there, to which proposal Francois assented.

On arriving in Boston the doctor attended a secret mass, after which he was led to a room in which he found Valerie de Montarnaud. To repeated expressions of her affection he returned but cold replies, assuring her that there was no woman in the world whom it would be so impossible for him to love as herself. Leaving her, he inquired of the Abbe the motive for his plot, and the priest explained that he was in New England as a propagandist of the faith, and that the mission was supported by the Comtesse. As Dr. Le Baron was the heir, after her child, of nearly all the property of the Comtesse, she wished to consult him regarding its disposition and to bring him into sympathy with the work of the mission. This she had fancied could best be done in a personal interview. The hearer did not put entire faith in the priest's sincerity, but assured him that had his heart not been protected by a very vivid love of his wife, much harm might have come from the plot. The next day he returned to Plymouth.

When the Le Barons' first-born son, Lazarus, was a well-grown lad his father made a voyage as the medical attendant of the Marquis de Vieux, an eccentric and wealthy invalid, to be absent several months. Nothing was heard of the vessel in which they sailed till in three months news came to Plymouth that the Belle Isle had been captured by pirates and burned, only a single sailor escaping to tell the tale. A year later Reuben Hetherford again asked Molly to marry him, which she refused to do, and to support herself opened a dame school, having studied much with her husband and son. At a later period she was visited by the Abbe, who wished to take her son to be educated in France and assume the place there to which his birth entitled him, a proposal which Mrs. Le Baron declined with dignity. The Abbe wrote to the Comtesse of his failure, and she, resolving to manage the affair herself, presently appeared in Plymouth with the priest and her daughter, and on meeting with Mrs. Le Baron implored her to let the boy stand in his father's place, inherit the name and estates, and in due time wed his cousin, the daughter of Valerie. Mrs. Le Baron consented that the matter should be brought before the boy in his mother's presence; but before this could be done Dr. Le Baron appeared, having but recently escaped from the pirates by whom he was supposed to have been killed. The question of the boy's future was now put before the father and, as before, the decision was left to young Lazarus whether he would take his father's rank and fortunes in France and become a stranger to his parents, or remain the son of a country physician. His answer was to be given to the Comtesse early the next morning, no further word being said to him on the subject by either parent.

At ten o'clock the next day Lazarus came to his parents, saying:

"They've sailed, father, and the gentleman bade me say good-by to you for all of them; and the lady added, `And tell him we shall trouble him no more: he is safe."

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