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The Line of Love by James Branch Cabell

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Again there was silence; and again the fire leapt with delight at the
jest.

Sylvia Vernon arose suddenly and cried, "I would I had not come!"

Then said Sir John: "Nay, this is but a feeble grieving you have wakened.
For, madam--you whom I loved once!--you are in the right. Our blood runs
thinner than of yore; and we may no longer, I think, either sorrow or
rejoice very deeply."

"It is true," she said; "but I must go; and, indeed, I would to God I had
not come!"

Sir John was silent; he bowed his head, in acquiescence perhaps, in
meditation it may have been; but he stayed silent.

"Yet," said she, "there is something here which I must keep no longer:
for here are all the letters you ever writ me."

Whereupon she handed Sir John a little packet of very old and very faded
papers. He turned them awkwardly in his hand once or twice; then stared
at them; then at the lady.

"You have kept them--always?" he cried.

"Yes," she responded, wistfully; "but I must not be guilty of continuing
such follies. It is a villainous example to my grandchildren," Dame
Sylvia told him, and smiled. "Farewell."

Sir John drew close to her and took her hands in his. He looked into her
eyes for an instant, holding himself very erect,--and it was a rare event
when Sir John looked any one squarely in the eyes,--and he said,
wonderingly, "How I loved you!"

"I know," she murmured. Sylvia Vernon gazed up into his bloated old face
with a proud tenderness that was half-regretful. A quavering came into
her gentle voice. "And I thank you for your gift, my lover,--O brave true
lover, whose love I was not ever ashamed to own! Farewell, my dear; yet a
little while, and I go to seek the boy and girl we know of."

"I shall not be long, madam," said Sir John. "Speak a kind word for me in
Heaven; for I shall have sore need of it."

She had reached the door by this. "You are not sorry that I came?"

Sir John answered, very sadly: "There are many wrinkles now in your dear
face, my lady; the great eyes are a little dimmed, and the sweet
laughter is a little cracked; but I am not sorry to have seen you thus.
For I have loved no woman truly save you alone; and I am not sorry.
Farewell." And for a moment he bowed his unreverend gray head over her
shrivelled fingers.

3. "_This Pitch, as Ancient Writers do Report, doth Defile_"

"Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to the vice of lying!"
chuckled Sir John, and leaned back rheumatically in his chair and
mumbled over the jest.

"Yet it was not all a lie," he confided, as if in perplexity, to the
fire; "but what a coil over a youthful green-sickness 'twixt a lad and a
wench more than forty years syne!

"I might have had money of her for the asking," he presently went on;
"yet I am glad I did not; which is a parlous sign and smacks of dotage."

He nodded very gravely over this new and alarming phase of his character.

"Were it not a quaint conceit, a merry tickle-brain of Fate," he asked of
the leaping flames, after a still longer pause, "that this mountain of
malmsey were once a delicate stripling with apple cheeks and a clean
breath, smelling of civet, and as mad for love, I warrant you, as any
Amadis of them all? For, if a man were to speak truly, I did love her.

"I had the special marks of the pestilence," he assured a particularly
incredulous--and obstinate-looking coal,--a grim, black fellow that,
lurking in a corner, scowled forbiddingly and seemed to defy both the
flames and Sir John. "Not all the flagons and apples in the universe
might have comforted me; I was wont to sigh like a leaky bellows; to weep
like a wench that hath lost her grandam; to lard my speech with the
fag-ends of ballads like a man milliner; and did, indeed, indite sonnets,
canzonets, and what not of mine own elaboration.

"And Moll did carry them," he continued; "plump brown-eyed Moll, that
hath married Hodge the tanner, and reared her tannerkins, and died
long since."

But the coal remained incredulous, and the flames crackled merrily.

"Lord, Lord, what did I not write?" said Sir John, drawing out a paper
from the packet, and deciphering by the firelight the faded writing.

Read Sir John:

"_Have pity, Sylvia? Cringing at thy door
Entreats with dolorous cry and clamoring,
That mendicant who quits thee nevermore;
Now winter chills the world, and no birds sing
In any woods, yet as in wanton Spring
He follows thee; and never will have done,
Though nakedly he die, from following
Whither thou leadest.

"Canst thou look upon
His woes, and laugh to see a goddess' son
Of wide dominion, and in strategy

"More strong than Jove, more wise than Solomon,
Inept to combat thy severity?
Have pity, Sylvia! And let Love be one
Among the folk that bear thee company_."

"Is it not the very puling speech of your true lover?" he chuckled; and
the flames spluttered assent. "_Among the folk that bear thee company_,"
he repeated, and afterward looked about him with a smack of gravity.
"Faith, Adam Cupid hath forsworn my fellowship long since; he hath no
score chalked up against him at the Boar's Head Tavern; or, if he have, I
doubt not the next street-beggar might discharge it."

"And she hath commended me to her children as a very gallant gentleman
and a true knight," Sir John went on, reflectively. He cast his eyes
toward the ceiling, and grinned at invisible deities. "Jove that sees all
hath a goodly commodity of mirth; I doubt not his sides ache at times, as
if they had conceived another wine-god."

"Yet, by my honor," he insisted to the fire; then added,
apologetically,--"if I had any, which, to speak plain, I have not,--I am
glad; it is a brave jest; and I did love her once."

Then the time-battered, bloat rogue picked out another paper, and read:

"'_My dear lady,--That I am not with thee to-night is, indeed, no fault
of mine; for Sir Thomas Mowbray hath need of me, he saith. Yet the
service that I have rendered him thus far is but to cool my heels in his
antechamber and dream of two great eyes and of that net of golden hair
wherewith Lord Love hath lately snared my poor heart. For it comforts
me_--' And so on, and so on, the pen trailing most juvenal sugar, like a
fly newly crept out of the honey-pot. And ending with a posy, filched, I
warrant you, from some ring.

"I remember when I did write her this," he explained to the fire. "Lord,
Lord, if the fire of grace were not quite out of me, now should I be
moved. For I did write it; and it was sent with a sonnet, all of Hell,
and Heaven, and your pagan gods, and other tricks of speech. It should be
somewhere."

He fumbled with uncertain fingers among the papers. "Ah, here it is," he
said at last, and he again began to read aloud.

Read Sir John:

"_Cupid invaded Hell, and boldly drove
Before him all the hosts of Erebus,
Till he had conquered: and grim Cerberus
Sang madrigals, the Furies rhymed of love,
Old Charon sighed, and sonnets rang above
The gloomy Styx; and even as Tantalus
Was Proserpine discrowned in Tartarus,
And Cupid regnant in the place thereof_.

"_Thus Love is monarch throughout Hell to-day;
In Heaven we know his power was always great;
And Earth acclaimed Love's mastery straightway
When Sylvia came to gladden Earth's estate:--
Thus Hell and Heaven and Earth his rule obey,
And Sylvia's heart alone is obdurate_.

"Well, well," sighed Sir John, "it was a goodly rogue that writ it,
though the verse runs but lamely! A goodly rogue!

"He might," Sir John suggested, tentatively, "have lived cleanly, and
forsworn sack; he might have been a gallant gentleman, and begotten
grandchildren, and had a quiet nook at the ingleside to rest his old
bones: but he is dead long since. He might have writ himself _armigero_
in many a bill, or obligation, or quittance, or what not; he might have
left something behind him save unpaid tavern bills; he might have heard
cases, harried poachers, and quoted old saws; and slept in his own family
chapel through sermons yet unwrit, beneath his presentment, done in
stone, and a comforting bit of Latin: but he is dead long since."

Sir John sat meditating for a while; it had grown quite dark in the room
as he muttered to himself. He rose now, rather cumbrously and
uncertainly, but with a fine rousing snort of indignation.

"Zooks!" he said, "I prate like a death's-head. A thing done hath an end,
God have mercy on us all! And I will read no more of the rubbish."

He cast the packet into the heart of the fire; the yellow papers curled
at the edges, rustled a little, and blazed; he watched them burn to the
last spark.

"A cup of sack to purge the brain!" cried Sir John, and filled one to the
brim. "And I will go sup with Doll Tearsheet."

* * * * *

SEPTEMBER 29, 1422

"_Anoon her herte hath pitee of his wo,
And with that pitee, love com in also;
Thus is this quene in pleasaunce and in loye_."

_Meanwhile had old Dome Sylvia returned contentedly to the helpmate whom
she had accepted under compulsion, and who had made her a fair husband,
as husbands go. It is duly recorded, indeed, on their shared tomb, that
their forty years of married life were of continuous felicity, and set a
pattern to all Norfolk. The more prosaic verbal tradition is that Lady
Vernon retained Sir Robert well in hand by pointing out, at judicious
intervals, that she had only herself to blame for having married such a
selfish person in preference to a hero of the age and an ornament of the
loftiest circles.

I find, on consultation of the Allonby records, that Sylvia Vernon died
of a quinsy, in 1419, surviving Sir Robert by some three months. She had
borne him four sons and four daughters: of these there remained at
Winstead in 1422 only Sir Hugh Vernon, the oldest son, knighted by Henry
V at Agincourt, where Vernon had fought with distinction; and Adelais
Vernon, the youngest daughter, with whom the following has to do._

CHAPTER IV

_The Episode Called "Sweet Adelais"_

1. _Gruntings at Aeaea_

It was on a clear September day that the Marquis of Falmouth set out for
France. John of Bedford had summoned him posthaste when Henry V was
stricken at Senlis with what bid fair to prove a mortal distemper; for
the marquis was Bedford's comrade-in-arms, veteran of Shrewsbury,
Agincourt and other martial disputations, and the Duke-Regent suspected
that, to hold France in case of the King's death, he would presently need
all the help he could muster.

"And I, too, look for warm work," the marquis conceded to Mistress
Adelais Vernon, at parting. "But, God willing, my sweet, we shall be wed
at Christmas for all that. The Channel is not very wide. At a pinch I
might swim it, I think, to come to you."

He kissed her and rode away with his men. Adelais stared after them,
striving to picture her betrothed rivalling Leander in this fashion, and
subsequently laughed. The marquis was a great lord and a brave captain,
but long past his first youth; his actions went somewhat too deliberately
ever to be roused to the high lunacies of the Sestian amorist. So Adelais
laughed, but a moment later, recollecting the man's cold desire of her,
his iron fervors, Adelais shuddered.

This was in the court-yard at Winstead. Roger Darke of Yaxham, the girl's
cousin, standing beside her, noted the gesture, and snarled.

"Think twice of it, Adelais," said he.

Whereupon Mistress Vernon flushed like a peony. "I honor him," she said,
with some irrelevance, "and he loves me."

Roger scoffed. "Love, love! O you piece of ice! You gray-stone saint!
What do you know of love?" Master Darke caught both her hands in his.
"Now, by Almighty God, our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ!" he said,
between his teeth, his eyes flaming; "I, Roger Darke, have offered you
undefiled love and you have mocked at it. Ha, Tears of Mary! how I love
you! And you mean to marry this man for his title! Do you not believe
that I love you, Adelais?" he whimpered.

Gently she disengaged herself. This was of a pattern with Roger's
behavior any time during the past two years. "I suppose you do," Adelais
conceded, with the tiniest possible shrug. "Perhaps that is why I find
you so insufferable."

Afterward Mistress Vernon turned on her heel and left Master Darke. In
his fluent invocation of Mahound and Termagaunt and other overseers of
the damned he presently touched upon eloquence.

2. _Comes One with Moly_

Adelais came into the walled garden of Winstead, aflame now with autumnal
scarlet and gold. She seated herself upon a semicircular marble bench,
and laughed for no apparent reason, and contentedly waited what Dame Luck
might send.

She was a comely maid, past argument or (as her lovers habitually
complained) any adequate description. Circe, Colchian Medea, Viviane du
Lac, were their favorite analogues; and what old romancers had fabled
concerning these ladies they took to be the shadow of which Adelais
Vernon was the substance. At times these rhapsodists might have supported
their contention with a certain speciousness, such as was apparent
to-day, for example, when against the garden's hurly-burly of color, the
prodigal blazes of scarlet and saffron and wine-yellow, the girl's green
gown glowed like an emerald, and her eyes, too, seemed emeralds, vivid,
inscrutable, of a clear verdancy that was quite untinged with either blue
or gray. Very black lashes shaded them. The long oval of her face (you
might have objected), was of an absolute pallor, rarely quickening to a
flush; but her petulant lips burned crimson, and her hair mimicked the
dwindling radiance of the autumn sunlight and shamed it. All in all, the
aspect of Adelais Vernon was, beyond any questioning, spiced with a
sorcerous tang; say, the look of a young witch shrewd at love-potions,
but ignorant of their flavor; yet before this the girl's comeliness had
stirred men's hearts to madness, and the county boasted of it.

Presently Adelais lifted her small imperious head, and then again she
smiled, for out of the depths of the garden, with an embellishment of
divers trills and roulades, came a man's voice that carolled blithely.

Sang the voice:

_"Had you lived when earth was new
What had bards of old to do
Save to sing in praise of you?

"Had you lived in ancient days,
Adelais, sweet Adelais,
You had all the ancients' praise,--
You whose beauty would have won
Canticles of Solomon,
Had the sage Judean king
Gazed upon this goodliest thing
Earth of Heaven's grace hath got.

"Had you gladdened Greece, were not
All the nymphs of Greece forgot?

"Had you trod Sicilian ways,
Adelais, sweet Adelais_,

"You had pilfered all their praise:
Bion and Theocritus
Had transmitted unto us
Honeyed harmonies to tell
Of your beauty's miracle,
Delicate, desirable,
And their singing skill were bent
You-ward tenderly,--content,
While the world slipped by, to gaze
On the grace of you, and praise
Sweet Adelais_."

Here the song ended, and a man, wheeling about the hedge, paused to
regard her with adoring eyes. Adelais looked up at him, incredibly
surprised by his coming.

This was the young Sieur d'Arnaye, Hugh Vernon's prisoner, taken at
Agincourt seven years earlier and held since then, by the King's command,
without ransom; for it was Henry's policy to release none of the
important French prisoners. Even on his death-bed he found time to
admonish his brother, John of Bedford, that four of these,--Charles
d'Orleans and Jehan de Bourbon and Arthur de Rougemont and Fulke
d'Arnaye,--should never be set at liberty. "Lest," as the King said, with
a savor of prophecy, "more fire be kindled in one day than all your
endeavors can quench in three."

Presently the Sieur d'Arnaye sighed, rather ostentatiously; and Adelais
laughed, and demanded the cause of his grief.

"Mademoiselle," he said,--his English had but a trace of accent,--"I am
afflicted with a very grave malady."

"What is the name of this malady?" said she.

"They call it love, mademoiselle."

Adelais laughed yet again and doubted if the disease were incurable. But
Fulke d'Arnaye seated himself beside her and demonstrated that, in his
case, it might not ever be healed.

"For it is true," he observed, "that the ancient Scythians, who lived
before the moon was made, were wont to cure this distemper by
blood-letting under the ears; but your brother, mademoiselle, denies me
access to all knives. And the leech Aelian avers that it may be cured by
the herb agnea; but your brother, mademoiselle, will not permit that I go
into the fields in search of this herb. And in Greece--he, mademoiselle,
I might easily be healed of my malady in Greece! For in Greece is the
rock, Leucata Petra, from which a lover may leap and be cured; and the
well of the Cyziceni, from which a lover may drink and be cured; and the
river Selemnus, in which a lover may bathe and be cured: but your brother
will not permit that I go to Greece. You have a very cruel brother,
mademoiselle; seven long years, no less, he has penned me here like a
starling in a cage."

And Fulke d'Arnaye shook his head at her reproachfully.

Afterward he laughed. Always this Frenchman found something at which to
laugh; Adelais could not remember in all the seven years a time when she
had seen him downcast. But while his lips jested of his imprisonment, his
eyes stared at her mirthlessly, like a dog at his master, and her gaze
fell before the candor of the passion she saw in them.

"My lord," said Adelais, "why will you not give your parole? Then you
would be free to come and go as you elected." A little she bent toward
him, a covert red showing in her cheeks. "To-night at Halvergate the Earl
of Brudenel holds the feast of Saint Michael. Give your parole, my lord,
and come with us. There will be in our company fair ladies who may
perhaps heal your malady."

But the Sieur d'Arnaye only laughed. "I cannot give my parole," he said,
"since I mean to escape for all your brother's care." Then he fell to
pacing up and down before her. "Now, by Monseigneur Saint Medard and the
Eagle that sheltered him!" he cried, in half-humorous self-mockery;
"however thickly troubles rain upon me, I think that I shall never give
up hoping!" After a pause, "Listen, mademoiselle," he went on, more
gravely, and gave a nervous gesture toward the east, "yonder is France,
sacked, pillaged, ruinous, prostrate, naked to her enemy. But at
Vincennes, men say, the butcher of Agincourt is dying. With him dies the
English power in France. Can his son hold that dear realm? Are those tiny
hands with which this child may not yet feed himself capable to wield a
sceptre? Can he who is yet beholden to nurses for milk distribute
sustenance to the law and justice of a nation? He, I think not,
mademoiselle! France will have need of me shortly. Therefore, I cannot
give my parole."

"Then must my brother still lose his sleep, lord, for always your
safe-keeping is in his mind. To-day at cock-crow he set out for the coast
to examine those Frenchmen who landed yesterday."

At this he wheeled about. "Frenchmen!"

"Only Norman fishermen, lord, whom the storm drove to seek shelter in
England. But he feared they had come to rescue you."

Fulke d'Arnaye shrugged his shoulders. "That was my thought, too," he
admitted, with a laugh. "Always I dream of escape, mademoiselle. Have a
care of me, sweet enemy! I shall escape yet, it may be."

"But I will not have you escape," said Adelais. She tossed her glittering
little head. "Winstead would not be Winstead without you. Why, I was but
a child, my lord, when you came. Have you forgotten, then, the lank,
awkward child who used to stare at you so gravely?"

"Mademoiselle," he returned, and now his voice trembled and still the
hunger in his eyes grew more great, "I think that in all these years I
have forgotten nothing--not even the most trivial happening,
mademoiselle,--wherein you had a part. You were a very beautiful child.
Look you, I remember as if it were yesterday that you never wept when
your good lady mother--whose soul may Christ have in his keeping!--was
forced to punish you for some little misdeed. No, you never wept; but
your eyes would grow wistful, and you would come to me here in the
garden, and sit with me for a long time in silence. 'Fulke,' you would
say, quite suddenly, 'I love you better than my mother.' And I told you
that it was wrong to make such observations, did I not, mademoiselle? My
faith, yes! but I may confess now that I liked it," Fulke d'Arnaye ended,
with a faint chuckle.

Adelais sat motionless. Certainly it was strange, she thought, how the
sound of this man's voice had power to move her. Certainly, too, this man
was very foolish.

"And now the child is a woman,--a woman who will presently be Marchioness
of Falmouth. Look you, when I get free of my prison--and I shall get
free, never fear, mademoiselle,--I shall often think of that great lady.
For only God can curb a man's dreams, and God is compassionate. So I hope
to dream nightly of a gracious lady whose hair is gold and whose eyes are
colored like the summer sea and whose voice is clear and low and very
wonderfully sweet. Nightly, I think, the vision of that dear enemy will
hearten me to fight for France by day. In effect, mademoiselle, your
traitor beauty will yet aid me to destroy your country."

The Sieur d'Arnaye laughed, somewhat cheerlessly, as he lifted her hand
to his lips.

And certainly also (she concluded her reflections) it was absurd how this
man's touch seemed an alarm to her pulses. Adelais drew away from him.

"No!" she said: "remember, lord, I, too, am not free."

"Indeed, we tread on dangerous ground," the Frenchman assented, with a
sad little smile. "Pardon me, mademoiselle. Even were you free of your
trothplight--even were I free of my prison, most beautiful lady, I have
naught to offer you yonder in that fair land of France. They tell me that
the owl and the wolf hunt undisturbed where Arnaye once stood. My chateau
is carpeted with furze and roofed with God's Heaven. That gives me a
large estate--does it not?--but I may not reasonably ask a woman to share
it. So I pray you pardon me for my nonsense, mademoiselle, and I pray
that the Marchioness of Falmouth may be very happy."

And with that he vanished into the autumn-fired recesses of the garden,
singing, his head borne stiff. Oh, the brave man who esteemed misfortune
so slightly! thought Adelais. She remembered that the Marquis of Falmouth
rarely smiled; and once only--at a bull-baiting--had she heard him laugh.
It needed bloodshed, then, to amuse him, Adelais deduced, with that
self-certainty in logic which is proper to youth; and the girl shuddered.

But through the scarlet coppices of the garden, growing fainter and yet
more faint, rang the singing of Fulke d'Arnaye.

Sang the Frenchman:

"Had you lived in Roman times
No Catullus in his rhymes
Had lamented Lesbia's sparrow:
He had praised your forehead, narrow
As the newly-crescent moon,
White as apple-trees in June;
He had made some amorous tune
Of the laughing light Eros
Snared as Psyche-ward he goes
By your beauty,--by your slim,
White, perfect beauty.

"After him
Horace, finding in your eyes
Horace limned in lustrous wise,
Would have made you melodies
Fittingly to hymn your praise,
Sweet Adelais."

3. Roger is Explicit

Into the midst of the Michaelmas festivities at Halvergate that night,
burst a mud-splattered fellow in search of Sir Hugh Vernon. Roger Darke
brought him to the knight. The fellow then related that he came from
Simeon de Beck, the master of Castle Rising, with tidings that a strange
boat, French-rigged, was hovering about the north coast. Let Sir Hugh
have a care of his prisoner.

Vernon swore roundly. "I must look into this," he said. "But what shall I
do with Adelais?"

"Will you not trust her to me?" Roger asked. "If so, cousin, I will very
gladly be her escort to Winstead. Let the girl dance her fill while she
may, Hugh. She will have little heart for dancing after a month or so of
Falmouth's company."

"That is true," Vernon assented; "but the match is a good one, and she is
bent upon it."

So presently he rode with his men to the north coast. An hour later Roger
Darke and Adelais set out for Winstead, in spite of all Lady Brudenel's
protestations that Mistress Vernon had best lie with her that night at
Halvergate.

It was a clear night of restless winds, neither warm nor chill, but fine
September weather. About them the air was heavy with the damp odors of
decaying leaves, for the road they followed was shut in by the autumn
woods, that now arched the way with sere foliage, rustling and whirring
and thinly complaining overhead, and now left it open to broad splashes
of moonlight, where fallen leaves scuttled about in the wind vortices.
Adelais, elate with dancing, chattered of this and that as her gray mare
ambled homeward, but Roger was moody.

Past Upton the road branched in three directions; here Master Darke
caught the gray mare's bridle and turned both horses to the left.

"Why, of whatever are you thinking!" the girl derided him. "Roger, this
is not the road to Winstead!"

He grinned evilly over his shoulder. "It is the road to Yaxham, Adelais,
where my chaplain expects us."

In a flash she saw it all as her eyes swept these desolate woods. "You
will not dare!"

"Will I not?" said Roger. "Faith, for my part, I think you have mocked me
for the last time, Adelais, since it is the wife's duty, as Paul very
justly says, to obey."

Swiftly she slipped from the mare. But he followed her. "Oh, infamy!" the
girl cried. "You have planned this, you coward!"

"Yes, I planned it," said Roger Darke. "Yet I take no great credit
therefor, for it was simple enough. I had but to send a feigned message
to your block-head brother. Ha, yes, I planned it, Adelais, and I planned
it well. But I deal honorably. To-morrow you will be Mistress Darke,
never fear."

He grasped at her cloak as she shrank from him. The garment fell, leaving
the girl momentarily free, her festival jewels shimmering in the
moonlight, her bared shoulders glistening like silver. Darke, staring at
her, giggled horribly. An instant later Adelais fell upon her knees.

"Sweet Christ, have pity upon Thy handmaiden! Do not forsake me, sweet
Christ, in my extremity! Save me from this man!" she prayed, with
entire faith.

"My lady wife," said Darke, and his hot, wet hand sank heavily upon her
shoulder, "you had best finish your prayer before my chaplain, I think,
since by ordinary Holy Church is skilled to comfort the sorrowing."

"A miracle, dear lord Christ!" the girl wailed. "O sweet Christ, a
miracle!"

"Faith of God!" said Roger, in a flattish tone; "what was that?"

For faintly there came the sound of one singing.

Sang the distant voice:

_"Had your father's household been
Guelfic-born or Ghibelline,
Beatrice were unknown
On her star-encompassed throne.

"For, had Dante viewed your grace,
Adelais, sweet Adelais,
You had reigned in Bice's place,--
Had for candles, Hyades,
Rastaben, and Betelguese,--
And had heard Zachariel
Chaunt of you, and, chaunting, tell
All the grace of you, and praise
Sweet Adelais."_

4. _Honor Brings a Padlock_

Adelais sprang to her feet. "A miracle!" she cried, her voice shaking.
"Fulke, Fulke! to me, Fulke!"

Master Darke hurried her struggling toward his horse. Darke was muttering
curses, for there was now a beat of hoofs in the road yonder that led to
Winstead. "Fulke, Fulke!" the girl shrieked.

Then presently, as Roger put foot to stirrup, two horsemen wheeled about
the bend in the road, and one of them leapt to the ground.

"Mademoiselle," said Fulke d'Arnaye, "am I, indeed, so fortunate as to be
of any service to you?"

"Ho!" cried Roger, with a gulp of relief, "it is only the French
dancing-master taking French leave of poor cousin Hugh! Man, but you
startled me!"

Now Adelais ran to the Frenchman, clinging to him the while that she told
of Roger's tricks. And d'Arnaye's face set mask-like.

"Monsieur," he said, when she had ended, "you have wronged a sweet and
innocent lady. As God lives, you shall answer to me for this."

"Look you," Roger pointed out, "this is none of your affair, Monsieur
Jackanapes. You are bound for the coast, I take it. Very well,--ka me,
and I ka thee. Do you go your way in peace, and let us do the same."

Fulke d'Arnaye put the girl aside and spoke rapidly in French to his
companion. Then with mincing agility he stepped toward Master Darke.

Roger blustered. "You hop-toad! you jumping-jack!" said he, "what do
you mean?"

"Chastisement!" said the Frenchman, and struck him in the face.

"Very well!" said Master Darke, strangely quiet. And with that they
both drew.

The Frenchman laughed, high and shrill, as they closed, and afterward
he began to pour forth a voluble flow of discourse. Battle was wine
to the man.

"Not since Agincourt, Master Coward--he, no!--have I held sword in hand.
It is a good sword, this,--a sharp sword, is it not? Ah, the poor
arm--but see, your blood is quite black-looking in this moonlight, and I
had thought cowards yielded a paler blood than brave men possess. We live
and learn, is it not? Observe, I play with you like a child,--as I played
with your tall King at Agincourt when I cut away the coronet from his
helmet. I did not kill him--no!--but I wounded him, you conceive?
Presently, I shall wound you, too. My compliments--you have grazed my
hand. But I shall not kill you, because you are the kinsman of the
fairest lady earth may boast, and I would not willingly shed the least
drop of any blood that is partly hers. Ohe, no! Yet since I needs must do
this ungallant thing--why, see, monsieur, how easy it is!"

Thereupon he cut Roger down at a blow and composedly set to wiping his
sword on the grass. The Englishman lay like a log where he had fallen.

"Lord," Adelais quavered, "lord, have you killed him?"

Fulke d'Arnaye sighed. "Helas, no!" said he, "since I knew that you
did not wish it. See, mademoiselle,--I have but made a healthful and
blood-letting small hole in him here. He will return himself to
survive to it long time--Fie, but my English fails me, after these so
many years--"

D'Arnaye stood for a moment as if in thought, concluding his
meditations with a grimace. After that he began again to speak in
French to his companion. The debate seemed vital. The stranger
gesticulated, pleaded, swore, implored, summoned all inventions between
the starry spheres and the mud of Cocytus to judge of the affair; but
Fulke d'Arnaye was resolute.

"Behold, mademoiselle," he said, at length, "how my poor Olivier excites
himself over a little matter. Olivier is my brother, most beautiful lady,
but he speaks no English, so that I cannot present him to you. He came to
rescue me, this poor Olivier, you conceive. Those Norman fishermen of
whom you spoke to-day--but you English are blinded, I think, by the fogs
of your cold island. Eight of the bravest gentlemen in France,
mademoiselle, were those same fishermen, come to bribe my gaoler,--the
incorruptible Tompkins, no less. He, yes, they came to tell me that Henry
of Monmouth, by the wrath of God King of France, is dead at Vincennes
yonder, mademoiselle, and that France will soon be free of you English.
France rises in her might--" His nostrils dilated, he seemed taller; then
he shrugged. "And poor Olivier grieves that I may not strike a blow for
her,--grieves that I must go back to Winstead."

D'Arnaye laughed as he caught the bridle of the gray mare and turned her
so that Adelais might mount. But the girl, with a faint, wondering cry,
drew away from him.

"You will go back! You have escaped, lord, and you will go back!"

"Why, look you," said the Frenchman, "what else may I conceivably do? We
are some miles from your home, most beautiful lady,--can you ride those
four long miles alone? in this night so dangerous? Can I leave you here
alone in this so tall forest? He, surely not. I am desolated,
mademoiselle, but I needs must burden you with my company homeward."

Adelais drew a choking breath. He had fretted out seven years of
captivity. Now he was free; and lest she be harmed or her name be
smutched, however faintly, he would go back to his prison, jesting. "No,
no!" she cried aloud.

But he raised a deprecating hand. "You cannot go alone. Olivier here
would go with you gladly. Not one of those brave gentlemen who await me
at the coast yonder but would go with you very, very gladly, for they
love France, these brave gentlemen, and they think that I can serve her
better than most other men. That is very flattering, is it not? But all
the world conspires to flatter me, mademoiselle. Your good brother, by
example, prizes my company so highly that he would infallibly hang the
gentleman who rode back with you. So, you conceive, I cannot avail myself
of their services. But with me it is different, hein? Ah, yes, Sir Hugh
will merely lock me up again and for the future guard me more vigilantly.
Will you not mount, mademoiselle?"

His voice was quiet, and his smile never failed him. It was this steady
smile which set her heart to aching. Adelais knew that no natural power
could dissuade him; he would go back with her; but she knew how
constantly he had hoped for liberty, with what fortitude he had awaited
his chance of liberty; and that he should return to captivity, smiling,
thrilled her to impotent, heart-shaking rage. It maddened her that he
dared love her thus infinitely.

"But, mademoiselle," Fulke d'Arnaye went on, when she had mounted, "let
us proceed, if it so please you, by way of Filby. For then we may ride a
little distance with this rogue Olivier. I may not hope to see Olivier
again in this life, you comprehend, and Olivier is, I think, the one
person who loves me in all this great wide world. Me, I am not very
popular, you conceive. But you do not object, mademoiselle?"

"No!" she said, in a stifled voice.

Afterward they rode on the way to Filby, leaving Roger Darke to regain at
discretion the mastership of his faculties. The two Frenchmen as they
went talked vehemently; and Adelais, following them, brooded on the
powerful Marquis of Falmouth and the great lady she would shortly be; but
her eyes strained after Fulke d'Arnaye.

Presently he fell a-singing; and still his singing praised her in a
desirous song, yearning but very sweet, as they rode through the autumn
woods; and his voice quickened her pulses as always it had the power to
quicken them, and in her soul an interminable battling dragged on.

Sang Fulke d'Arnaye:

_"Had you lived when earth was new
What had bards of old to do
Save to sing in praise of you?

"They had sung of you always,
Adelais, sweet Adelais,
As worthiest of all men's praise;
Nor had undying melodies,
Wailed soft as love may sing of these
Dream-hallowed names,--of Heloise,
Ysoude, Salome, Semele,
Morgaine, Lucrece, Antiope,
Brunhilda, Helen, Melusine,
Penelope, and Magdalene:
--But you alone had all men's praise,
Sweet Adelais"_

5. _"Thalatta!"_

When they had crossed the Bure, they had come into the open country,--a
great plain, gray in the moonlight, that descended, hillock by hillock,
toward the shores of the North Sea. On the right the dimpling lustre of
tumbling waters stretched to a dubious sky-line, unbroken save for the
sail of the French boat, moored near the ruins of the old Roman
station, Garianonum, and showing white against the unresting sea, like
a naked arm; to the left the lights of Filby flashed their unblinking,
cordial radiance.

Here the brothers parted. Vainly Olivier wept and stormed before
Fulke's unwavering smile; the Sieur d'Arnaye was adamantean: and
presently the younger man kissed him on both cheeks and rode slowly
away toward the sea.

D'Arnaye stared after him. "Ah, the brave lad!" said Fulke d'Arnaye. "And
yet how foolish! Look you, mademoiselle, that rogue is worth ten of me,
and he does not even suspect it."

His composure stung her to madness.

"Now, by the passion of our Lord and Saviour!" Adelais cried, wringing
her hands in impotence; "I conjure you to hear me, Fulke! You must not do
this thing. Oh, you are cruel, cruel! Listen, my lord," she went on with
more restraint, when she had reined up her horse by the side of his,
"yonder in France the world lies at your feet. Our great King is dead.
France rises now, and France needs a brave captain. You, you! it is you
that she needs. She has sent for you, my lord, that mother France whom
you love. And you will go back to sleep in the sun at Winstead when
France has need of you. Oh, it is foul!"

But he shook his head. "France is very dear to me," he said, "yet there
are other men who can serve France. And there is no man save me who may
to-night serve you, most beautiful lady."

"You shame me!" she cried, in a gust of passion. "You shame my
worthlessness with this mad honor of yours that drags you jesting to your
death! For you must die a prisoner now, without any hope. You and Orleans
and Bourbon are England's only hold on France, and Bedford dare not let
you go. Fetters, chains, dungeons, death, torture perhaps--that is what
you must look for now. And you will no longer be held at Winstead, but in
the strong Tower at London."

"Helas, you speak more truly than an oracle," he gayly assented.

And hers was the ageless thought of women. "This man is rather foolish
and peculiarly dear to me. What shall I do with him? and how much must I
humor him in his foolishness?"

D'Arnaye stayed motionless: but still his eyes strained after Olivier.

Well, she would humor him. There was no alternative save that of perhaps
never seeing Fulke again.

Adelais laid her hand upon his arm. "You love me. God knows, I am not
worthy of it, but you love me. Ever since I was a child you have loved
me,--always, always it was you who indulged me, shielded me, protected me
with this fond constancy that I have not merited. Very well,"--she
paused, for a single heartbeat,--"go! and take me with you."

The hand he raised shook as though palsied. "O most beautiful!" the
Frenchman cried, in an extreme of adoration; "you would do that! You
would do that in pity to save me--unworthy me! And it is I whom you call
brave--me, who annoy you with my woes so petty!" Fulke d'Arnaye slipped
from his horse, and presently stood beside the gray mare, holding a
small, slim hand in his. "I thank you," he said, simply. "You know that
it is impossible. But yes, I have loved you these long years. And
now--Ah, my heart shakes, my words tumble, I cannot speak! You know that
I may not--may not let you do this thing. Why, but even if, of your
prodigal graciousness, mademoiselle, you were so foolish as to waste a
little liking upon my so many demerits--" He gave a hopeless gesture.
"Why, there is always our brave marquis to be considered, who will so
soon make you a powerful, rich lady. And I?--I have nothing."

But Adelais had rested either hand upon a stalwart shoulder, bending down
to him till her hair brushed his. Yes, this man was peculiarly dear to
her: she could not bear to have him murdered when in equity he deserved
only to have his jaws boxed for his toplofty nonsense about her; and,
after all, she did not much mind humoring him in his foolishness.

"Do you not understand?" she whispered. "Ah, my paladin, do you think I
speak in pity? I wished to be a great lady,--yes. Yet always, I think, I
loved you, Fulke, but until to-night I had believed that love was only
the man's folly, the woman's diversion. See, here is Falmouth's ring."
She drew it from her finger, and flung it awkwardly, as every woman
throws. Through the moonlight it fell glistening. "Yes, I hungered for
Falmouth's power, but you have shown me that which is above any temporal
power. Ever I must crave the highest, Fulke--Ah, fair sweet friend, do
not deny me!" Adelais cried, piteously. "Take me with you, Fulke! I will
ride with you to the wars, my lord, as your page; I will be your wife,
your slave, your scullion. I will do anything save leave you. Lord, it is
not the maid's part to plead thus!"

Fulke d'Arnaye drew her warm, yielding body toward him and stood in
silence. Then he raised his eyes to heaven. "Dear Lord God," he cried, in
a great voice, "I entreat of Thee that if through my fault this woman
ever know regret or sorrow I be cast into the nethermost pit of Hell for
all eternity!" Afterward he kissed her.

And presently Adelais lifted her head, with a mocking little laugh.
"Sorrow!" she echoed. "I think there is no sorrow in all the world.
Mount, my lord, mount! See where brother Olivier waits for us yonder."

* * * * *

JUNE 5, 1455--AUGUST 4, 1462

_"Fortune fuz par clercs jadis nominee, Qui toi, Francois, crie et nomme
meurtriere."_

_So it came about that Adelais went into France with the great-grandson
of Tiburce d'Arnaye: and Fulke, they say, made her a very fair husband.
But he had not, of course, much time for love-making.

For in France there was sterner work awaiting Fulke d'Arnaye, and he set
about it: through seven dreary years he and Rougemont and Dunois managed,
somehow, to bolster up the cause of the fat-witted King of Bourges (as
the English then called him), who afterward became King Charles VII of
France. But in the February of 1429--four days before the Maid of Domremy
set forth from her voice-haunted Bois Chenu to bring about a certain
coronation in Rheims Church and in Rouen Square a flamy martyrdom--four
days before the coming of the good Lorrainer, Fulke d'Arnaye was slain at
Rouvray-en-Beausse in that encounter between the French and the English
which history has commemorated as the Battle of the Herrings.

Adelais was wooed by, and betrothed to, the powerful old Comte de
Vaudremont; but died just before the date set for this second marriage,
in October, 1429. She left two sons: Noel, born in 1425, and Raymond,
born in 1426; who were reared by their uncle, Olivier d'Arnaye. It was
said of them that Noel was the handsomest man of his times, and Raymond
the most shrewd; concerning that you will judge hereafter. Both of these
d'Arnayes, on reaching manhood, were identified with the Dauphin's party
in the unending squabbles between Charles VII and the future Louis XI.

Now you may learn how Noel d'Arnaye came to be immortalized by a legacy
of two hundred and twenty blows from an osierwhip--since (as the testator
piously affirms), "chastoy est une belle aulmosne."_

CHAPTER V

_The Episode Called In Necessity's Mortar_

1. "Bon Bec de Paris"

There went about the Rue Saint Jacques a notable shaking of heads on the
day that Catherine de Vaucelles was betrothed to Francois de Montcorbier.

"Holy Virgin!" said the Rue Saint Jacques; "the girl is a fool. Why has
she not taken Noel d'Arnaye,--Noel the Handsome? I grant you Noel is an
ass, but, then, look you, he is of the nobility. He has the Dauphin's
favor. Noel will be a great man when our exiled Dauphin comes back from
Geneppe to be King of France. Then, too, she might have had Philippe
Sermaise. Sermaise is a priest, of course, and one may not marry a
priest, but Sermaise has money, and Sermaise is mad for love of her. She
might have done worse. But Francois! Ho, death of my life, what is
Francois? Perhaps--he, he!--perhaps Ysabeau de Montigny might inform us,
you say? Doubtless Ysabeau knows more of him than she would care to
confess, but I measure the lad by other standards. Francois is
inoffensive enough, I dare assert, but what does Catherine see in him? He
is a scholar?--well, the College of Navarre has furnished food for the
gallows before this. A poet?--rhyming will not fill the pot. Rhymes are a
thin diet for two lusty young folk like these. And who knows if Guillaume
de Villon, his foster-father, has one sou to rub against another? He is
canon at Saint Benoit-le-Betourne yonder, but canons are not Midases. The
girl will have a hard life of it, neighbor, a hard life, I tell you,
if--but, yes!--if Ysabeau de Montigny does not knife her some day. Oh,
beyond doubt, Catherine has played the fool."

Thus far the Rue Saint Jacques.

This was on the day of the Fete-Dieu. It was on this day that Noel
d'Arnaye blasphemed for a matter of a half-hour and then went to the
Crowned Ox, where he drank himself into a contented insensibility; that
Ysabeau de Montigny, having wept a little, sent for Gilles Raguyer, a
priest and aforetime a rival of Francois de Montcorbier for her favors;
and that Philippe Sermaise grinned and said nothing. But afterward
Sermaise gnawed at his under lip like a madman as he went about seeking
for Francois de Montcorbier.

2. "_Deux estions, et n'avions qu'ung Cueur_"

It verged upon nine in the evening--a late hour in those days--when
Francois climbed the wall of Jehan de Vaucelles' garden.

A wall!--and what is a wall to your true lover? What bones, pray, did the
Sieur Pyramus, that ill-starred Babylonish knight, make of a wall? did
not his protestations slip through a chink, mocking at implacable granite
and more implacable fathers? Most assuredly they did; and Pyramus was a
pattern to all lovers. Thus ran the meditations of Master Francois as he
leapt down into the garden.

He had not, you must understand, seen Catherine for three hours. Three
hours! three eternities rather, and each one of them spent in Malebolge.
Coming to a patch of moonlight, Francois paused there and cut an agile
caper, as he thought of that approaching time when he might see Catherine
every day.

"Madame Francois de Montcorbier," he said, tasting each syllable with
gusto. "Catherine de Montcorbier. Was there ever a sweeter juxtaposition
of sounds? It is a name for an angel. And an angel shall bear it,--eh,
yes, an angel, no less. O saints in Paradise, envy me! Envy me," he
cried, with a heroical gesture toward the stars, "for Francois would
change places with none of you."

He crept through ordered rows of chestnuts and acacias to a window
wherein burned a dim light. He unslung a lute from his shoulder and
began to sing, secure in the knowledge that deaf old Jehan de Vaucelles
was not likely to be disturbed by sound of any nature till that time
when it should please high God that the last trump be noised about the
tumbling heavens.

It was good to breathe the mingled odor of roses and mignonette that was
thick about him. It was good to sing to her a wailing song of unrequited
love and know that she loved him. Francois dallied with his bliss,
parodied his bliss, and--as he complacently reflected,--lamented in the
moonlight with as tuneful a dolor as Messire Orpheus may have evinced
when he carolled in Hades.

Sang Francois:

_"O Beauty of her, whereby I am undone!
O Grace of her, that hath no grace for me!
O Love of her, the bit that guides me on
To sorrow and to grievous misery!
O felon Charms, my poor heart's enemy!
O furtive murderous Pride! O pitiless, great
Cold Eyes of her! have done with cruelty!
Have pity upon me ere it be too late!

"Happier for me if elsewhere I had gone
For pity--ah, far happier for me,
Since never of her may any grace be won,
And lest dishonor slay me, I must flee.
'Haro!' I cry, (and cry how uselessly!)
'Haro!' I cry to folk of all estate,

"For I must die unless it chance that she
Have pity upon me ere it be too late.

"M'amye, that day in whose disastrous sun
Your beauty's flower must fade and wane and be
No longer beautiful, draws near,--whereon
I will nor plead nor mock;--not I, for we
Shall both be old and vigorless! M'amye,
Drink deep of love, drink deep, nor hesitate
Until the spring run dry, but speedily
Have pity upon me--ere it be too late!

"Lord Love, that all love's lordship hast in fee,
Lighten, ah, lighten thy displeasure's weight,
For all true hearts should, of Christ's charity,
Have pity upon me ere it be too late."_

Then from above a delicate and cool voice was audible. "You have mistaken
the window, Monsieur de Montcorbier. Ysabeau de Montigny dwells in the
Rue du Fouarre."

"Ah, cruel!" sighed Francois. "Will you never let that kite hang upon
the wall?"

"It is all very well to groan like a bellows. Guillemette Moreau did not
sup here for nothing. I know of the verses you made her,--and the gloves
you gave her at Candlemas, too. Saint Anne!" observed the voice, somewhat
sharply; "she needed gloves. Her hands are so much raw beef. And the
head-dress at Easter,--she looks like the steeple of Saint Benoit in it.
But every man to his taste, Monsieur de Montcorbier. Good-night, Monsieur
de Montcorbier." But, for all that, the window did not close.

"Catherine--!" he pleaded; and under his breath he expressed uncharitable
aspirations as to the future of Guillemette Moreau.

"You have made me very unhappy," said the voice, with a little sniff.

"It was before I knew you, Catherine. The stars are beautiful, m'amye,
and a man may reasonably admire them; but the stars vanish and are
forgotten when the sun appears."

"Ysabeau is not a star," the voice pointed out; "she is simply a lank,
good-for-nothing, slovenly trollop."

"Ah, Catherine--!"

"You are still in love with her."

"Catherine--!"

"Otherwise, you will promise me for the future to avoid her as you would
the Black Death."

"Catherine, her brother is my friend--!"

"Rene de Montigny is, to the knowledge of the entire Rue Saint Jacques, a
gambler and a drunkard and, in all likelihood, a thief. But you prefer,
it appears, the Montignys to me. An ill cat seeks an ill rat. Very
heartily do I wish you joy of them. You will not promise? Good-night,
then, Monsieur de Montcorbier."

"Mother of God! I promise, Catherine."

From above Mademoiselle de Vaucelles gave a luxurious sigh. "Dear
Francois!" said she.

"You are a tyrant," he complained. "Madame Penthesilea was not more
cruel. Madame Herodias was less implacable, I think. And I think that
neither was so beautiful."

"I love you," said Mademoiselle de Vaucelles, promptly.

"But there was never any one so many fathoms deep in love as I. Love
bandies me from the postern to the frying-pan, from hot to cold. Ah,
Catherine, Catherine, have pity upon my folly! Bid me fetch you Prester
John's beard, and I will do it; bid me believe the sky is made of
calf-skin, that morning is evening, that a fat sow is a windmill, and I
will do it. Only love me a little, dear."

"My king, my king of lads!" she murmured.

"My queen, my tyrant of unreason! Ah, yes, you are all that is ruthless
and abominable, but then what eyes you have! Oh, very pitiless, large,
lovely eyes--huge sapphires that in the old days might have ransomed
every monarch in Tamerlane's stable! Even in the night I see them,
Catherine."

"Yet Ysabeau's eyes are brown."

"Then are her eyes the gutter's color. But Catherine's eyes are twin
firmaments."

And about them the acacias rustled lazily, and the air was sweet
with the odors of growing things, and the world, drenched in
moonlight, slumbered. Without was Paris, but old Jehan's garden-wall
cloistered Paradise.

"Has the world, think you, known lovers, long dead now, that were once as
happy as we?"

"Love was not known till we discovered it."

"I am so happy, Francois, that I fear death."

"We have our day. Let us drink deep of love, not waiting until the spring
run dry. Catherine, death comes to all, and yonder in the church-yard the
poor dead lie together, huggermugger, and a man may not tell an
archbishop from a rag-picker. Yet they have exulted in their youth, and
have laughed in the sun with some lass or another lass. We have our day,
Catherine."

"Our day wherein I love you!"

"And wherein I love you precisely seven times as much!"

So they prattled in the moonlight. Their discourse was no more
overburdened with wisdom than has been the ordinary communing of lovers
since Adam first awakened ribless. Yet they were content, who, were young
in the world's recaptured youth.

Fate grinned and went on with her weaving.

3. "Et Ysabeau, Qui Dit: Enne!"

Somewhat later Francois came down the deserted street, treading on air.
It was a bland summer night, windless, moon-washed, odorous with
garden-scents; the moon, nearing its full, was a silver egg set on
end--("Leda-hatched," he termed it; "one may look for the advent of Queen
Heleine ere dawn"); and the sky he likened to blue velvet studded with
the gilt nail-heads of a seraphic upholsterer. Francois was a poet, but a
civic poet; then, as always, he pilfered his similes from shop-windows.

But the heart of Francois was pure magnanimity, the heels of Francois
were mercury, as he tripped past the church of Saint Benoit-le-Betourne,
stark snow and ink in the moonlight. Then with a jerk Francois paused.

On a stone bench before the church sat Ysabeau de Montigny and Gilles
Raguyer. The priest was fuddled, hiccuping in his amorous dithyrambics as
he paddled with the girl's hand. "You tempt me to murder," he was saying.
"It is a deadly sin, my soul, and I have no mind to fry in Hell while my
body swings on the Saint Denis road, a crow's dinner. Let Francois live,
my soul! My soul, he would stick little Gilles like a pig."

Raguyer began to blubber at the thought.

"Holy Macaire!" said Francois; "here is a pretty plot a-brewing." Yet
because his heart was filled just now with loving-kindness, he forgave
the girl. _"Tantaene irae?"_ said Francois; and aloud, "Ysabeau, it is
time you were abed."

She wheeled upon him in apprehension; then, with recognition, her rage
flamed. "Now, Gilles!" cried Ysabeau de Montigny; "now, coward! He is
unarmed, Gilles. Look, Gilles! Kill for me this betrayer of women!"

Under his mantle Francois loosened the short sword he carried. But the
priest plainly had no mind to the business. He rose, tipsily fumbling a
knife, and snarling like a cur at sight of a strange mastiff. "Vile
rascal!" said Gilles Raguyer, as he strove to lash himself into a rage.
"O coward! O parricide! O Tarquin!"

Francois began to laugh. "Let us have done with this farce," said he.
"Your man has no stomach for battle, Ysabeau. And you do me wrong, my
lass, to call me a betrayer of women. Doubtless, that tale seemed the
most apt to kindle in poor Gilles some homicidal virtue: but you and I
and God know that naught has passed between us save a few kisses and a
trinket or so. It is no knifing matter. Yet for the sake of old time,
come home, Ysabeau; your brother is my friend, and the hour is somewhat
late for honest women to be abroad."

"Enne?" shrilled Ysabeau; "and yet, if I cannot strike a spark of courage
from this clod here, there come those who may help me, Francois de
Montcorbier. 'Ware Sermaise, Master Francois!"

Francois wheeled. Down the Rue Saint Jacques came Philippe Sermaise, like
a questing hound, with drunken Jehan le Merdi at his heels. "Holy
Virgin!" thought Francois; "this is likely to be a nasty affair. I would
give a deal for a glimpse of the patrol lanterns just now."

He edged his way toward the cloister, to get a wall at his back. But
Gilles Raguyer followed him, knife in hand. "O hideous Tarquin! O
Absalom!" growled Gilles; "have you, then, no respect for churchmen?"

With an oath, Sermaise ran up. "Now, may God die twice," he panted, "if I
have not found the skulker at last! There is a crow needs picking between
us two, Montcorbier."

Hemmed in by his enemies, Francois temporized. "Why do you accost me thus
angrily, Master Philippe?" he babbled. "What harm have I done you? What
is your will of me?"

But his fingers tore feverishly at the strap by which the lute was swung
over his shoulder, and now the lute fell at their feet, leaving Francois
unhampered and his sword-arm free.

This was fuel to the priest's wrath. "Sacred bones of Benoit!" he
snarled; "I could make a near guess as to what window you have been
caterwauling under."

From beneath his gown he suddenly hauled out a rapier and struck at the
boy while Francois was yet tugging at his sword.

Full in the mouth Sermaise struck him, splitting the lower lip through.
Francois felt the piercing cold of the steel, the tingling of it against
his teeth, then the warm grateful spurt of blood; through a red mist, he
saw Gilles and Ysabeau run screaming down the Rue Saint Jacques.

He drew and made at Sermaise, forgetful of le Merdi. It was shrewd work.
Presently they were fighting in the moonlight, hammer-and-tongs, as the
saying is, and presently Sermaise was cursing like a madman, for Francois
had wounded him in the groin. Window after window rattled open as the Rue
Saint Jacques ran nightcapped to peer at the brawl. Then as Francois
hurled back his sword to slash at the priest's shaven head--Frenchmen had
not yet learned to thrust with the point in the Italian manner--Jehan le
Merdi leapt from behind, nimble as a snake, and wrested away the boy's
weapon. Sermaise closed with a glad shout.

"Heart of God!" cried Sermaise. "Pray, bridegroom, pray!"

But Francois jumped backward, tumbling over le Merdi, and with apish
celerity caught up a great stone and flung it full in the priest's
countenance.

The rest was hideous. For a breathing space Sermaise kept his feet, his
outspread arms making a tottering cross. It was curious to see him peer
about irresolutely now that he had no face. Francois, staring at the
black featureless horror before him, began to choke. Standing thus, with
outstretched arms, the priest first let fall his hands, so that they hung
limp from the wrists; his finger-nails gleamed in the moonlight. His
rapier tinkled on the flagstones with the sound of shattering glass, and
Philippe Sermaise slid down, all a-jumble, crumpling like a broken toy.
Afterward you might have heard a long, awed sibilance go about the
windows overhead as the watching Rue Saint Jacques breathed again.

Francois de Montcorbier ran. He tore at his breast as he ran, stifling.
He wept as he ran through the moon-washed Rue Saint Jacques, making
animal-like and whistling noises. His split lip was a clammy dead thing
that napped against his chin as he ran.

"Francois!" a man cried, meeting him; "ah, name of a name, Francois!"

It was Rene de Montigny, lurching from the Crowned Ox, half-tipsy. He
caught the boy by the shoulder and hurried Francois, still sobbing, to
Fouquet the barber-surgeon's, where they sewed up his wound. In
accordance with the police regulations, they first demanded an account of
how he had received it. Rene lied up-hill and down-dale, while in a
corner of the room Francois monotonously wept.

Fate grinned and went on with her weaving.

4. "_Necessite Faict Gens Mesprende_"

The Rue Saint Jacques had toothsome sauce for its breakfast. The quarter
smacked stiff lips over the news, as it pictured Francois de Montcorbier
dangling from Montfaucon. "Horrible!" said the Rue Saint Jacques, and
drew a moral of suitably pious flavor.

Guillemette Moreau had told Catherine of the affair before the day was
aired. The girl's hurt vanity broke tether.

"Sermaise!" said she. "Bah, what do I care for Sermaise! He killed him in
fair fight. But within an hour, Guillemette,--within a half-hour after
leaving me, he is junketing on church-porches with that trollop. They
were not there for holy-water. Midnight, look you! And he swore to
me--chaff, chaff! His honor is chaff, Guillemette, and his heart a
bran-bag. Oh, swine, filthy swine! Eh, well, let the swine stick to his
sty. Send Noel d'Arnaye to me."

The Sieur d'Arnaye came, his head tied in a napkin.

"Foh!" said she; "another swine fresh from the gutter? No, this is a
bottle, a tun, a walking wine-barrel! Noel, I despise you. I will marry
you if you like."

He fell to mumbling her hand. An hour later Catherine told Jehan de
Vaucelles she intended to marry Noel the Handsome when he should come
back from Geneppe with the exiled Dauphin. The old man, having wisdom,
lifted his brows, and returned to his reading in _Le Pet au Diable_.

The patrol had transported Sermaise to the prison of Saint Benoit, where
he lay all night. That day he was carried to the hospital of the Hotel
Dieu. He died the following Saturday.

Death exalted the man to some nobility. Before one of the apparitors of
the Chatelet he exonerated Montcorbier, under oath, and asked that no
steps be taken against him. "I forgive him my death," said Sermaise,
manly enough at the last, "by reason of certain causes moving him
thereunto." Presently he demanded the peach-colored silk glove they would
find in the pocket of his gown. It was Catherine's glove. The priest
kissed it, and then began to laugh. Shortly afterward he died, still
gnawing at the glove.

Francois and Rene had vanished. "Good riddance," said the Rue Saint
Jacques. But Montcorbier was summoned to answer before the court of the
Chatelet for the death of Philippe Sermaise, and in default of his
appearance, was subsequently condemned to banishment from the kingdom.

The two young men were at Saint Pourcain-en-Bourbonnais, where Rene had
kinsmen. Under the name of des Loges, Francois had there secured a place
as tutor, but when he heard that Sermaise in the article of death had
cleared him of all blame, Francois set about procuring a pardon.
[Footnote: There is humor in his deposition that Gilles and Ysabeau and
he were loitering before Saint Benoit's in friendly discourse,--"pour soy
esbatre." Perhaps Rene prompted this; but in itself, it is characteristic
of Montcorbier that he trenched on perjury, blithely, in order to screen
Ysabeau.] It was January before he succeeded in obtaining it.

Meanwhile he had learned a deal of Rene's way of living. "You are a
thief," Francois observed to Montigny the day the pardon came, "but you
have played a kindly part by me. I think you are Dysmas, Rene, not
Gestas. Heh, I throw no stones. You have stolen, but I have killed. Let
us go to Paris, lad, and start afresh."

Montigny grinned. "I shall certainly go to Paris," he said. "Friends wait
for me there,--Guy Tabary, Petit Jehan and Colin de Cayeux. We are
planning to visit Guillaume Coiffier, a fat priest with some six hundred
crowns in the cupboard. You will make one of the party, Francois."

"Rene, Rene," said the other, "my heart bleeds for you."

Again Montigny grinned. "You think a great deal about blood nowadays," he
commented. "People will be mistaking you for such a poet as was crowned
Nero, who, likewise, gave his time to ballad-making and to murdering
fathers of the Church. Eh, dear Ahenabarbus, let us first see what the
Rue Saint Jacques has to say about your recent gambols. After that, I
think you will make one of our party."

5. "_Yeulx sans Pitie!_"

There was a light crackling frost under foot the day that Francois came
back to the Rue Saint Jacques. Upon this brisk, clear January day it was
good to be home again, an excellent thing to be alive.

"Eh, Guillemette, Guillemette," he laughed. "Why, lass--!"

"Faugh!" said Guillemette Moreau, as she passed him, nose in air. "A
murderer, a priest-killer."

Then the sun went black for Francois. Such welcoming was a bucket of
cold water, full in the face. He gasped, staring after her; and pursy
Thomas Tricot, on his way from mass, nudged Martin Blaru in the ribs.

"Martin," said he, "fruit must be cheap this year. Yonder in the gutter
is an apple from the gallows-tree, and no one will pick it up."

Blaru turned and spat out, "Cain! Judas!"

This was only a sample. Everywhere Francois found rigid faces, sniffs,
and skirts drawn aside. A little girl in a red cap, Robin Troussecaille's
daughter, flung a stone at Francois as he slunk into the cloister of
Saint Benoit-le-Betourne. In those days a slain priest was God's servant
slain, no less; and the Rue Saint Jacques was a respectable God-fearing
quarter of Paris.

"My father!" the boy cried, rapping upon the door of the Hotel de la
Porte-Rouge; "O my father, open to me, for I think that my heart is
breaking."

Shortly his foster-father, Guillaume de Villon, came to the window.
"Murderer!" said he. "Betrayer of women! Now, by the caldron of John! how
dare you show your face here? I gave you my name and you soiled it. Back
to your husks, rascal!"

"O God, O God!" Francois cried, one or two times, as he looked up into
the old man's implacable countenance. "You, too, my father!"

He burst into a fit of sobbing.

"Go!" the priest stormed; "go, murderer!"

It was not good to hear Francois' laughter. "What a world we live in!"
he giggled. "You gave me your name and I soiled it? Eh, Master Priest,
Master Pharisee, beware! _Villon_ is good French for _vagabond_, an
excellent name for an outcast. And as God lives, I will presently drag
that name through every muckheap in France."

Yet he went to Jehan de Vaucelles' home. "I will afford God one more
chance at my soul," said Francois.

In the garden he met Catherine and Noel d'Arnaye coming out of the house.
They stopped short. Her face, half-muffled in the brown fur of her cloak,
flushed to a wonderful rose of happiness, the great eyes glowed, and
Catherine reached out her hands toward Francois with a glad cry.

His heart was hot wax as he fell before her upon his knees. "O heart's
dearest, heart's dearest!" he sobbed; "forgive me that I doubted you!"

And then for an instant, the balance hung level. But after a while,
"Ysabeau de Montigny dwells in the Rue du Fouarre," said Catherine, in a
crisp voice,--"having served your purpose, however, I perceive that
Ysabeau, too, is to be cast aside as though she were an old glove.
Monsieur d'Arnaye, thrash for me this betrayer of women."

Noel was a big, handsome man, like an obtuse demi-god, a foot taller
than Francois. Noel lifted the boy by his collar, caught up a stick and
set to work. Catherine watched them, her eyes gemlike and cruel.

Francois did not move a muscle. God had chosen.

After a little, though, the Sieur d'Arnaye flung Francois upon the
ground, where he lay quite still for a moment. Then slowly he rose
to his feet. He never looked at Noel. For a long time Francois
stared at Catherine de Vaucelles, frost-flushed, defiant, incredibly
beautiful. Afterward the boy went out of the garden, staggering like
a drunken person.

He found Montigny at the Crowned Ox. "Rene," said Francois, "there is no
charity on earth, there is no God in Heaven. But in Hell there is most
assuredly a devil, and I think that he must laugh a great deal. What was
that you were telling me about the priest with six hundred crowns in his
cupboard?"

Rene slapped him on the shoulder. "Now," said he, "you talk like a man."
He opened the door at the back and cried: "Colin, you and Petit Jehan and
that pig Tabary may come out. I have the honor, messieurs, to offer you a
new Companion of the Cockleshell--Master Francois de Montcorbier."

But the recruit raised a protesting hand. "No," said he,--"Francois
Villon. The name is triply indisputable, since it has been put upon me
not by one priest but by three."

6. _"Volia l'Estat Divers d'entre Eulx"_

When the Dauphin came from Geneppe to be crowned King of France, there
rode with him Noel d'Arnaye and Noel's brother Raymond. And the
longawaited news that Charles the Well-Served was at last servitor to
Death, brought the exiled Louis post-haste to Paris, where the Rue Saint
Jacques turned out full force to witness his triumphal entry. They
expected, in those days, Saturnian doings of Louis XI, a recrudescence of
the Golden Age; and when the new king began his reign by granting Noel a
snug fief in Picardy, the Rue Saint Jacques applauded.

"Noel has followed the King's fortunes these ten years," said the Rue
Saint Jacques; "it is only just. And now, neighbor, we may look to see
Noel the Handsome and Catherine de Vaucelles make a match of it. The
girl has a tidy dowry, they say; old Jehan proved wealthier than the
quarter suspected. But death of my life, yes! You may see his tomb in
the Innocents' yonder, with weeping seraphim and a yard of Latin on it.
I warrant you that rascal Montcorbier has lain awake in half the prisons
in France thinking of what he flung away. Seven years, no less, since he
and Montigny showed their thieves' faces here. La, the world wags,
neighbor, and they say there will be a new tax on salt if we go to war
with the English."

Not quite thus, perhaps, ran the meditations of Catherine de Vaucelles
one still August night as she sat at her window, overlooking the acacias
and chestnuts of her garden. Noel, conspicuously prosperous in blue and
silver, had but now gone down the Rue Saint Jacques, singing, clinking
the fat purse whose plumpness was still a novelty. That evening she had
given her promise to marry him at Michaelmas.

This was a black night, moonless, windless. There were a scant half-dozen
stars overhead, and the thick scent of roses and mignonette came up to
her in languid waves. Below, the tree-tops conferred, stealthily, and the
fountain plashed its eternal remonstrance against the conspiracy they
lisped of.

After a while Catherine rose and stood contemplative before a long mirror
that was in her room. Catherine de Vaucelles was now, at twenty-three, in
the full flower of her comeliness. Blue eyes the mirror showed
her,--luminous and tranquil eyes, set very far apart; honey-colored hair
massed heavily about her face, a mouth all curves, the hue of a
strawberry, tender but rather fretful, and beneath it a firm chin; only
her nose left something to be desired,--for that feature, though
well-formed, was diminutive and bent toward the left, by perhaps the
thickness of a cobweb. She might reasonably have smiled at what the
mirror showed her, but, for all that, she sighed.

"O Beauty of her, whereby I am undone," said Catherine, wistfully. "Ah,
God in Heaven, forgive me for my folly! Sweet Christ, intercede for me
who have paid dearly for my folly!"

Fate grinned in her weaving. Through the open window came the sound of a
voice singing.

Sang the voice:

_"O Beauty of her, whereby I am undone!
O Grace of her, that hath no grace for me!
O Love of her, the bit that guides me on
To sorrow and to grievous misery!
O felon Charms, my poor heart's enemy--"_

and the singing broke off in a fit of coughing.

Catherine had remained motionless for a matter of two minutes, her head
poised alertly. She went to the gong and struck it seven or eight times.

"Macee, there is a man in the garden. Bring him to me, Macee,--ah, love
of God, Macee, make haste!"

Blinking, he stood upon the threshold. Then, without words, their lips
met.

"My king!" said Catherine; "heart's emperor!"

"O rose of all the world!" he cried.

There was at first no need of speech.

But after a moment she drew away and stared at him. Francois, though he
was but thirty, seemed an old man. His bald head shone in the
candle-light. His face was a mesh of tiny wrinkles, wax-white, and his
lower lip, puckered by the scar of his wound, protruded in an eternal
grimace. As Catherine steadfastly regarded him, the faded eyes,
half-covered with a bluish film, shifted, and with a jerk he glanced over
his shoulder. The movement started a cough tearing at his throat.

"Holy Macaire!" said he. "I thought that somebody, if not Henri Cousin,
the executioner, was at my heels. Why do you stare so, lass? Have you
anything to eat? I am famished."

In silence she brought him meat and wine, and he fell upon it. He ate
hastily, chewing with his front teeth, like a sheep.

When he had ended, Catherine came to him and took both his hands in hers
and lifted them to her lips. "The years have changed you, Francois," she
said, curiously meek.

Francois put her away. Then he strode to the mirror and regarded it
intently. With a snarl, he turned about. "The years!" said he. "You are
modest. It was you who killed Francois de Montcorbier, as surely as
Montcorbier killed Sermaise. Eh, Sovereign Virgin! that is scant cause
for grief. You made Francois Villon. What do you think of him, lass?"

She echoed the name. It was in many ways a seasoned name, but
unaccustomed to mean nothing. Accordingly Francois sneered.

"Now, by all the fourteen joys and sorrows of Our Lady! I believe that
you have never heard of Francois Villon! The Rue Saint Jacques has not
heard of Francois Villon! The pigs, the gross pigs, that dare not peep
out of their sty! Why, I have capped verses with the Duke of Orleans. The
very street-boys know my Ballad of the Women of Paris. Not a drunkard in
the realm but has ranted my jolly Orison for Master Cotard's Soul when
the bottle passed. The King himself hauled me out of Meung gaol last
September, swearing that in all France there was not my equal at a
ballad. And you have never heard of me!"

Once more a fit of coughing choked him mid-course in his indignant
chattering.

She gave him a woman's answer: "I do not care if you are the greatest
lord in the kingdom or the most sunken knave that steals ducks from Paris
Moat. I only know that I love you, Francois."

For a long time he kept silence, blinking, peering quizzically at her
lifted face. She did love him; no questioning that. But presently he
again put her aside, and went toward the open window. This was a matter
for consideration.

The night was black as a pocket. Staring into it, Francois threw back his
head and drew a deep, tremulous breath. The rising odor of roses and
mignonette, keen and intolerably sweet, had roused unforgotten pulses in
his blood, had set shame and joy adrum in his breast.

The woman loved him! Through these years, with a woman's unreasoning
fidelity, she had loved him. He knew well enough how matters stood
between her and Noel d'Arnaye; the host of the Crowned Ox had been
garrulous that evening. But it was Francois whom she loved. She was
well-to-do. Here for the asking was a competence, love, an ingleside of
his own. The deuce of it was that Francois feared to ask.

"--Because I am still past reason in all that touches this ignorant,
hot-headed, Pharisaical, rather stupid wench! That is droll. But love is
a resistless tyrant, and, Mother of God! has there been in my life a day,
an hour, a moment when I have not loved her! To see her once was all that
I had craved,--as a lost soul might covet, ere the Pit take him, one
splendid glimpse of Heaven and the Nine Blessed Orders at their fiddling.
And I find that she loves me--me! Fate must have her jest, I perceive,
though the firmament crack for it. She would have been content enough
with Noel, thinking me dead. And with me?" Contemplatively he spat out of
the window. "Eh, if I dared hope that this last flicker of life left in
my crazy carcass might burn clear! I have but a little while to live; if
I dared hope to live that little cleanly! But the next cup of wine, the
next light woman?--I have answered more difficult riddles. Choose, then,
Francois Villon,--choose between the squalid, foul life yonder and her
well-being. It is true that starvation is unpleasant and that hanging is
reported to be even less agreeable. But just now these considerations are
irrelevant."

Staring into the darkness he fought the battle out. Squarely he faced the
issue; for that instant he saw Francois Villon as the last seven years
had made him, saw the wine-sodden soul of Francois Villon, rotten and
weak and honeycombed with vice. Moments of nobility it had; momentarily,
as now, it might be roused to finer issues; but Francois knew that no
power existent could hearten it daily to curb the brutish passions. It
was no longer possible for Francois Villon to live cleanly. "For what am
I?--a hog with a voice. And shall I hazard her life's happiness to get me
a more comfortable sty? Ah, but the deuce of it is that I so badly need
that sty!"

He turned with a quick gesture.

"Listen," Francois said. "Yonder is Paris,--laughing, tragic Paris, who
once had need of a singer to proclaim her splendor and all her misery.
Fate made the man; in necessity's mortar she pounded his soul into the
shape Fate needed. To king's courts she lifted him; to thieves' hovels
she thrust him down; and past Lutetia's palaces and abbeys and taverns
and lupanars and gutters and prisons and its very gallows--past each in
turn the man was dragged, that he might make the Song of Paris. He could
not have made it here in the smug Rue Saint Jacques. Well! the song is
made, Catherine. So long as Paris endures, Francois Villon will be
remembered. Villon the singer Fate fashioned as was needful: and, in this
fashioning, Villon the man was damned in body and soul. And by God! the
song was worth it!"

She gave a startled cry and came to him, her hands fluttering toward his
breast. "Francois!" she breathed.

It would not be good to kill the love in her face.

"You loved Francois de Montcorbier. Francois de Montcorbier is dead. The
Pharisees of the Rue Saint Jacques killed him seven years ago, and that
day Francois Villon was born. That was the name I swore to drag through
every muckheap in France. And I have done it, Catherine. The Companions
of the Cockleshell--eh, well, the world knows us. We robbed Guillamme
Coiffier, we robbed the College of Navarre, we robbed the Church of Saint
Maturin,--I abridge the list of our gambols. Now we harvest. Rene de
Montigny's bones swing in the wind yonder at Montfaucon. Colin de Cayeux
they broke on the wheel. The rest--in effect, I am the only one that
justice spared,--because I had diverting gifts at rhyming, they said.
Pah! if they only knew! I am immortal, lass. _Exegi monumentum_. Villon's
glory and Villon's shame will never die."

He flung back his bald head and laughed now, tittering over that
calamitous, shabby secret between all-seeing God and Francois Villon. She
had drawn a little away from him. This well-reared girl saw him exultant
in infamy, steeped to the eyes in infamy. But still the nearness of her,
the faint perfume of her, shook in his veins, and still he must play the
miserable comedy to the end, since the prize he played for was to him
peculiarly desirable.

"A thief--a common thief!" But again her hands fluttered back. "I drove
you to it. Mine is the shame."

"Holy Macaire! what is a theft or two? Hunger that causes the wolf to
sally from the wood, may well make a man do worse than steal. I could
tell you--For example, you might ask in Hell of one Thevenin Pensete, who
knifed him in the cemetery of Saint John."

He hinted a lie, for it was Montigny who killed Thevenin Pensete. Villon
played without scruple now.

Catherine's face was white. "Stop," she pleaded; "no more, Francois,--ah,
Holy Virgin! do not tell me any more."

But after a little she came to him, touching him almost as if with
unwillingness. "Mine is the shame. It was my jealousy, my vanity,
Francois, that thrust you back into temptation. And we are told by those
in holy orders that the compassion of God is infinite. If you still care
for me, I will be your wife."

Yet she shuddered.

He saw it. His face, too, was paper, and Francois laughed horribly.

"If I still love you! Go, ask of Denise, of Jacqueline, or of Pierrette,
of Marion the Statue, of Jehanne of Brittany, of Blanche Slippermaker, of
Fat Peg,--ask of any trollop in all Paris how Francois Villon loves. You
thought me faithful! You thought that I especially preferred you to any
other bed-fellow! Eh, I perceive that the credo of the Rue Saint Jacques
is somewhat narrow-minded. For my part I find one woman much the same as
another." And his voice shook, for he saw how pretty she was, saw how she
suffered. But he managed a laugh.

"I do not believe you," Catherine said, in muffled tones. "Francois! You
loved me, Francois. Ah, boy, boy!" she cried, with a pitiable wail; "come
back to me, boy that I loved!"

It was a difficult business. But he grinned in her face.

"He is dead. Let Francois de Montcorbier rest in his grave. Your voice is
very sweet, Catherine, and--and he could refuse you nothing, could he,
lass? Ah, God, God, God!" he cried, in his agony; "why can you not
believe me? I tell you Necessity pounds us in her mortar to what shape
she will. I tell you that Montcorbier loved you, but Francois Villon
prefers Fat Peg. An ill cat seeks an ill rat." And with this,
tranquillity fell upon his soul, for he knew that he had won.

Her face told him that. Loathing was what he saw there.

"I am sorry," Catherine said, dully. "I am sorry. Oh, for high God's
sake! go, go! Do you want money? I will give you anything if you will
only go. Oh, beast! Oh, swine, swine, swine!"

He turned and went, staggering like a drunken person.

Once in the garden he fell prone upon his face in the wet grass. About
him the mingled odor of roses and mignonette was sweet and heavy; the
fountain plashed interminably in the night, and above him the chestnuts
and acacias rustled and lisped as they had done seven years ago. Only he
was changed.

"O Mother of God," the thief prayed, "grant that Noel may be kind to
her! Mother of God, grant that she may be happy! Mother of God, grant
that I may not live long!"

And straightway he perceived that triple invocation could be, rather
neatly, worked out in ballade form. Yes, with a separate prayer to each
verse. So, dismissing for the while his misery, he fell to considering,
with undried cheeks, what rhymes he needed.

* * * * *

JULY 17, 1484

"_Et puis il se rencontre icy une avanture merveilleuse, c'est que le
fils de Grand Turc ressemble a Cleonte, a peu de chose pres_."

_Noel d'Arnaye and Catherine de Vaucelles were married in the September
of 1462, and afterward withdrew to Noel's fief in Picardy. There Noel
built him a new Chateau d'Arnaye, and through the influence of Nicole
Beaupertuys, the King's mistress, (who was rumored in court by-ways to
have a tenderness for the handsome Noel), obtained large grants for its
maintenance. Madame d'Arnaye, also, it is gratifying to record, appears
to have lived in tolerable amity with Sieur Noel, and neither of them
pried too closely into the other's friendships.

Catherine died in 1470, and Noel outlived her but by three years. Of the
six acknowledged children surviving him, only one was legitimate--a
daughter called Matthiette. The estate and title thus reverted to Raymond
d'Arnaye, Noel's younger brother, from whom the present family of Arnaye
is descended.

Raymond was a far shrewder man than his predecessor. For ten years'
space, while Louis XI, that royal fox of France, was destroying feudalism
piecemeal,--trimming its power day by day as you might pare an
onion,--the new Sieur d'Arnaye steered his shifty course between France
and Burgundy, always to the betterment of his chances in this world
however he may have modified them in the next. At Arras he fought beneath
the orifiamme; at Guinegate you could not have found a more staunch
Burgundian: though he was no warrior, victory followed him like a
lap-dog. So that presently the Sieur d'Arnaye and the Vicomte de
Puysange--with which family we have previously concerned ourselves--were
the great lords of Northern France.

But after the old King's death came gusty times for Sieur Raymond. It is
with them we have here to do_.

CHAPTER VI

_The Episode Called The Conspiracy of Arnaye_

1. _Policy Tempered with Singing_

"And so," said the Sieur d'Arnaye, as he laid down the letter, "we may
look for the coming of Monsieur de Puysange to-morrow."

The Demoiselle Matthiette contorted her features in an expression of
disapproval. "So soon!" said she. "I had thought--"

"Ouais, my dear niece, Love rides by ordinary with a dripping spur, and
is still as arbitrary as in the day when Mars was taken with a net and
amorous Jove bellowed in Europa's kail-yard. My faith! if Love distemper
thus the spectral ichor of the gods, is it remarkable that the warmer
blood of man pulses rather vehemently at his bidding? It were the least
of Cupid's miracles that a lusty bridegroom of some twenty-and-odd should
be pricked to outstrip the dial by a scant week. For love--I might tell
you such tales--"

Sieur Raymond crossed his white, dimpled hands over a well-rounded
paunch and chuckled reminiscently; had he spoken doubtless he would have
left Master Jehan de Troyes very little to reveal in his Scandalous
Chronicle: but now, as if now recalling with whom Sieur Raymond
conversed, d'Arnaye's lean face assumed an expression of placid sanctity,
and the somewhat unholy flame died out of his green eyes. He was like no
other thing than a plethoric cat purring over the follies of kittenhood.
You would have taken oath that a cultured taste for good living was the
chief of his offences, and that this benevolent gentleman had some sixty
well-spent years to his credit. True, his late Majesty, King Louis XI,
had sworn Pacque Dieu! that d'Arnaye loved underhanded work so heartily
that he conspired with his gardener concerning the planting of cabbages,
and within a week after his death would be heading some treachery against
Lucifer; but kings are not always infallible, as his Majesty himself had
proven at Peronne.

"--For," said the Sieur d'Arnaye, "man's flesh is frail, and the devil is
very cunning to avail himself of the weaknesses of lovers."

"Love!" Matthiette cried. "Ah, do not mock me, my uncle! There can be no
pretence of love between Monsieur de Puysange and me. A man that I have
never seen, that is to wed me of pure policy, may look for no Alcestis in
his wife."

"You speak like a very sensible girl," said Sieur Raymond, complacently.
"However, so that he find her no Guinevere or Semiramis or other
loose-minded trollop of history, I dare say Monsieur de Puysange will
hold to his bargain with indifferent content. Look you, niece, he, also,
is buying--though the saying is somewhat rustic--a pig in a poke."

Matthiette glanced quickly toward the mirror which hung in her apartment.
The glass reflected features which went to make up a beauty already
be-sonneted in that part of France; and if her green gown was some months
behind the last Italian fashion, it undeniably clad one who needed few
adventitious aids. The Demoiselle Matthiette at seventeen was very tall,
and was as yet too slender for perfection of form, but her honey-colored
hair hung heavily about the unblemished oval of a countenance whose nose
alone left something to be desired; for this feature, though well shaped,
was unduly diminutive. For the rest, her mouth curved in an
irreproachable bow, her complexion was mingled milk and roses, her blue
eyes brooded in a provoking calm; taking matters by and large, the smile
that followed her inspection of the mirror's depths was far from
unwarranted. Catherine de Vaucelles reanimate, you would have sworn; and
at the abbey of Saint Maixent-en-Poitou there was a pot-belly monk, a
Brother Francois, who would have demonstrated it to you, in an
unanswerable ballad, that Catherine's daughter was in consequence all
that an empress should be and so rarely is. Harembourges and Bertha
Broadfoot and white Queen Blanche would have been laughed to scorn,
demolished and proven, in comparison (with a catalogue of very intimate
personal detail), the squalidest sluts conceivable, by Brother Francois.

But Sieur Raymond merely chuckled wheezily, as one discovering a fault in
his companion of which he disapproves in theory, but in practice finds
flattering to his vanity.

"I grant you, Monsieur de Puysange drives a good bargain," said Sieur
Raymond. "Were Cleopatra thus featured, the Roman lost the world very
worthily. Yet, such is the fantastic disposition of man that I do not
doubt the vicomte looks forward to the joys of to-morrow no whit more
cheerfully than you do: for the lad is young, and, as rumor says, has
been guilty of divers verses,--ay, he has bearded common-sense in the
vext periods of many a wailing rhyme. I will wager a moderate amount,
however, that the vicomte, like a sensible young man, keeps these
whimsies of flames and dames laid away in lavender for festivals and the
like; they are somewhat too fine for everyday wear."

Sieur Raymond sipped the sugared wine which stood beside him. "Like
any sensible young man," he repeated, in a meditative fashion that was
half a query.

Matthiette stirred uneasily. "Is love, then, nothing?" she murmured.

"Love!" Sieur Raymond barked like a kicked mastiff. "It is very
discreetly fabled that love was brought forth at Cythera by the ocean
fogs. Thus, look you, even ballad-mongers admit it comes of a
short-lived family, that fade as time wears on. I may have a passion for
cloud-tatters, and, doubtless, the morning mists are beautiful; but if I
give rein to my admiration, breakfast is likely to grow cold. I deduce
that beauty, as represented by the sunrise, is less profitably considered
than utility, as personified by the frying-pan. And love! A niece of mine
prating of love!" The idea of such an occurrence, combined with a fit of
coughing which now came upon him, drew tears to the Sieur d'Arnaye's
eyes. "Pardon me," said he, when he had recovered his breath, "if I speak
somewhat brutally to maiden ears."

Matthiette sighed. "Indeed," said she, "you have spoken very brutally!"
She rose from her seat, and went to the Sieur d'Arnaye. "Dear uncle,"
said she, with her arms about his neck, and with her soft cheek brushing
his withered countenance, "are you come to my apartments to-night to tell
me that love is nothing--you who have shown me that even the roughest,
most grizzled bear in all the world has a heart compact of love and
tender as a woman's?"

The Sieur d'Arnaye snorted. "Her mother all over again!" he complained;
and then, recovering himself, shook his head with a hint of sadness.

He said: "I have sighed to every eyebrow at court, and I tell you this
moonshine is--moonshine pure and simple. Matthiette, I love you too
dearly to deceive you in, at all events, this matter, and I have learned
by hard knocks that we of gentle quality may not lightly follow our own
inclinations. Happiness is a luxury which the great can very rarely
afford. Granted that you have an aversion to this marriage. Yet consider
this: Arnaye and Puysange united may sit snug and let the world wag;
otherwise, lying here between the Breton and the Austrian, we are so many
nuts in a door-crack, at the next wind's mercy. And yonder in the South,
Orleans and Dunois are raising every devil in Hell's register! Ah, no, ma
mie; I put it to you fairly is it of greater import that a girl have her
callow heart's desire than that a province go free of Monsieur War and
Madame Rapine?"

"Yes, but--" said Matthiette.

Sieur Raymond struck his hand upon the table with considerable heat.
"Everywhere Death yawps at the frontier; will you, a d'Arnaye, bid him
enter and surfeit? An alliance with Puysange alone may save us. Eheu, it
is, doubtless, pitiful that a maid may not wait and wed her chosen
paladin, but our vassals demand these sacrifices. For example, do you
think I wedded my late wife in any fervor of adoration? I had never seen
her before our marriage day; yet we lived much as most couples do for
some ten years afterward, thereby demonstrating--"

He smiled, evilly; Matthiette sighed.

"--Well, thereby demonstrating nothing new," said Sieur Raymond. "So do
you remember that Pierre must have his bread and cheese; that the cows
must calve undisturbed; that the pigs--you have not seen the sow I had
to-day from Harfleur?--black as ebony and a snout like a rose-leaf!--must
be stied in comfort: and that these things may not be, without an
alliance with Puysange. Besides, dear niece, it is something to be the
wife of a great lord."

A certain excitement awoke in Matthiette's eyes. "It must be very
beautiful at Court," said she, softly. "Masques, fetes, tourneys every
day;--and they say the new King is exceedingly gallant--"

Sieur Raymond caught her by the chin, and for a moment turned her
face toward his. "I warn you," said he, "you are a d'Arnaye; and
King or not--"

He paused here. Through the open window came the voice of one singing to
the demure accompaniment of a lute.

"Hey?" said the Sieur d'Arnaye.

Sang the voice:

"_When you are very old, and I am gone,
Not to return, it may be you will say--
Hearing my name and holding me as one
Long dead to you,--in some half-jesting way
Of speech, sweet as vague heraldings of May
Rumored in woods when first the throstles sing--
'He loved me once.' And straightway murmuring
My half-forgotten rhymes, you will regret
Evanished times when I was wont to sing
So very lightly, 'Love runs into debt.'_"

"Now, may I never sit among the saints," said the Sieur d'Arnaye, "if
that is not the voice of Raoul de Prison, my new page."

"Hush," Matthiette whispered. "He woos my maid, Alys. He often sings
under the window, and I wink at it."

Sang the voice:

_"I shall not heed you then. My course being run
For good or ill, I shall have gone my way,
And know you, love, no longer,--nor the sun,
Perchance, nor any light of earthly day,
Nor any joy nor sorrow,--while at play
The world speeds merrily, nor reckoning
Our coming or our going. Lips will cling,
Forswear, and be forsaken, and men forget
Where once our tombs were, and our children sing--
So very lightly!--'Love runs into debt.'

"If in the grave love have dominion
Will that wild cry not quicken the wise clay,
And taunt with memories of fond deeds undone,--
Some joy untasted, some lost holiday,--
All death's large wisdom? Will that wisdom lay
The ghost of any sweet familiar thing
Come haggard from the Past, or ever bring
Forgetfulness of those two lovers met
When all was April?--nor too wise to sing
So very lightly, 'Love runs into debt.'

"Yet, Matthiette, though vain remembering
Draw nigh, and age be drear, yet in the spring
We meet and kiss, whatever hour beset
Wherein all hours attain to harvesting,--
So very lightly love runs into debt."_

"Dear, dear!" said the Sieur d'Arnaye. "You mentioned your maid's
name, I think?"

"Alys," said Matthiette, with unwonted humbleness.

Sieur Raymond spread out his hands in a gesture of commiseration. "This
is very remarkable," he said. "Beyond doubt, the gallant beneath has made
some unfortunate error. Captain Gotiard," he called, loudly, "will you
ascertain who it is that warbles in the garden such queer aliases for our
good Alys?"

2. _Age Glosses the Text of Youth_

Gotiard was not long in returning; he was followed by two men-at-arms,
who held between them the discomfited minstrel. Envy alone could have
described the lutanist as ill-favored; his close-fitting garb, wherein
the brave reds of autumn were judiciously mingled, at once set off a
well-knit form and enhanced the dark comeliness of features less French
than Italian in cast. The young man now stood silent, his eyes mutely
questioning the Sieur d'Arnaye.

"Oh, la, la, la!" chirped Sieur Raymond. "Captain, I think you are at

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