The History of the Lady Betty Stair

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Publisher Description

IN the year 1798 the palace of Holyrood was inhabited by a swarm of French people,—his Royal Highness the Comte d’Artois, who in his youth had danced so deliciously on the tightrope as to be the admiration of the Little Trianon, and in his old age was Charles X. of France; his Savoyard princess, Marie Thérèse; and some gentlemen and ladies in waiting. Among the suite were four persons whose lives had been remotely but strangely connected in the old days at Versailles; and as fate is an adept at such tricks, all four of them were brought together in this old haunted palace when the Comte d’Artois took up his abode there. One of them, the Abbé de Ronceray, was a brave, gentle old priest, who had once been a soldier and was a soldier still at heart; another was De Bourmont, a fellow with a fine figure, a plain face, but irresistible among the ladies; the third was Bastien,—handsome, but an arrant scoundrel; and the fourth was Lady Betty Stair, one of the sweetest creatures that ever lived. Years before, in 1789, when Lady Betty was a mere chit of fifteen, she knew both De Bourmont and Bastien well by sight. They were officers in the Queen’s Musketeers, and Lady Betty’s education had been finished at the palace of Versailles, under the care of Madame Mirabel, an ancient hanger-on of the court, so they had a plenty of chances to meet. But she was so young and unformed that De Bourmont had never noticed the handsome slip of a girl; and Bastien had a most unpleasant recollection of her. In those days she had a brother, Angus Macdonald, an officer in the Scottish Guard of the King of France, as his father had been before him. The Macdonalds were of those who had poured out their blood and treasure with a free hand for the Stuarts, and esteemed George III. just as much a “Hanoverian rat” as George I. They were also of that remnant of the Highland families which held to the old religion, and, being cut off thereby from the profession of arms in their own country, they were apt to pass over to France, in each generation, and see some service under the fleur-de-lis of the Bourbons. The old laird himself had served in Berwick’s brigade, and had married a French girl, who died young, leaving him a boy and girl. The son, therefore, following the traditions of his family, went to France for the restless years of his youth, and the old laird sent his only daughter, the apple of his eye, with her brother to be “finished” in her mother’s land. The brother and sister had the simple ways of Scotch people, and, in spite of Madame Mirabel’s “finishing” process, Lady Betty, who was the most highbred creature imaginable, could never get over this pretty simplicity. She and Angus openly kissed each other quite warmly at parting, no matter who was present; and one morning—it was that terrible October day in 1789, when Versailles entertained strange company, consisting of a hundred thousand of the “canaille,” as the Versailles people called them—she kissed Angus in sight of Bastien, who did not know they were brother and sister. Bastien, passing along a few minutes after, ogled Lady Betty very odiously, which she responded to by a cool stare, quite unlike a French girl’s drooping glance; and Bastien, then and there, made the greatest mistake of his life. He paid Lady Betty an impudent compliment and completed his folly by a motion as if to kiss her.

Now, Lady Betty held in her hand a large green fan, and when Bastien thought he was about to gain a kiss, she raised the fan, and, bringing it down on his nose with all the strength in her strong young arm, gave him such a whack that he was, in a minute, as bloody as a butcher, and wore court-plaster for a week.

Lady Betty, having done this timely act of justice, immediately fled, blushing with the fierceness of insulted maidenhood, while Bastien stood still and cursed her and her green fan. Being a highly accomplished liar, however, he invented a romance of a baker’s wife having assaulted him while he was trying, later in the morning, to keep her out of the Queen’s bedroom; and he really made a very comical story out of it—only, there was not a word of truth in it.

But events so terrible followed a few days after, that for months, and even years, Lady Betty almost forgot this adventure. Besides the outbreak of that ferocious thirst for freedom called the Revolution, Lady Betty met with a dreadful sorrow and loss. Within a week of the episode of the green fan and Bastien’s nose, Angus Macdonald was found one evening, shortly after dark, lying stark and dead in the forest of Fontainebleau, and he had evidently lost his life in a duel.

Fiction & Literature
May 8
Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria

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