A Gentleman of France

A Gentleman of France
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第2章 THE SPORT OF FOOLS.(2)

Returning to my room,and locking the door,I hastily opened the missive,which was sealed with a large seal,and wore every appearance of importance.I found its contents to exceed all my expectations.The King of Navarre desired me to wait on him at noon on the following day,and the letter concluded with such expressions of kindness and goodwill as left me in no doubt of the Prince's intentions.I read it,I confess,with emotions of joy and gratitude which would better have become a younger man,and then cheerfully sat down to spend the rest of the day in making such improvements in my dress as seemed possible.With a thankful heart I concluded that I had now escaped from poverty,at any rate from such poverty as is disgraceful to a gentleman;and consoled myself for the meanness of the appearance I must make at Court with the reflection that a day or two would mend both habit and fortune.

Accordingly,it was with a stout heart that I left my lodgings a few minutes before noon next morning,and walked towards the castle.It was some time since I had made so public an appearance in the streets,which the visit of the King of Navarre's Court;had filled with an unusual crowd,and I could not help fancying as I passed that some of the loiterers eyed me with a covert smile;and,indeed,I was shabby enough.But finding that a frown more than sufficed to restore the gravity of these gentry,I set down the appearance to my own self-consciousness,and,stroking my moustachios,strode along boldly until I saw before me,and coming to meet me,the same page who had delivered the note.

He stopped in front of me with an air of consequence,and making me a low bow--whereat I saw the bystanders stare,for he was as gay a young spark as maid-of-honour could desire--he begged me to hasten,as the king awaited me in his closet.

'He has asked for you twice,sir,'he continued importantly,the feather of his cap almost sweeping the ground.

'I think,'I answered,quickening my steps,'that the king's letter says noon,young sir.If I am late on such an occasion,he has indeed cause to complain of me.'

'Tut,tut!'he rejoined waving his hand with a dandified 'It is no matter.One man may steal a horse when another may not look over the wall,you know.'

A man may be gray-haired,he may be sad-complexioned,and yet he may retain some of the freshness of youth.On receiving this indication of a favour exceeding all expectation,I remember Ifelt the blood rise to my face,and experienced the most lively gratitude.I wondered who had spoken in my behalf,who had befriended me;and concluding at last that my part in the affair at Brouage had come to the king's ears,though I could not conceive through whom,I passed through the castle gates with an air of confidence and elation which was not unnatural,I think,under the circumstances.Thence,following my guide,I mounted the ramp and entered the courtyard.

A number of grooms and valets were lounging here,some leading horses to and fro,others exchanging jokes with the wenches who leaned from the windows,while their fellows again stamped up and down to keep their feet warm,or played ball against the wall in imitation of their masters.Such knaves are ever more insolent than their betters;but I remarked that they made way for me with respect,and with rising spirits,yet a little irony,I reminded myself as I mounted the stairs of the words,'whom the king delighteth to honour!'

Reaching the head of the flight,where was a soldier on guard,the page opened the door of the antechamber,and standing aside bade me enter.I did so,and heard the door close behind me.

For a moment I stood still,bashful and confused.It seemed to me that there were a hundred people in the room,and that half the eyes which met mine were women's,Though I was not altogether a stranger to such state as the Prince of Conde had maintained,this crowded anteroom filled me with surprise,and even with a degree of awe,of which I was the next moment ashamed.True,the flutter of silk and gleam of jewels surpassed anything I had then seen,for my fortunes had never led me to the king's Court;but an instant's reflection reminded me that my fathers had held their own in such scenes,and with a bow regulated rather by this thought than by the shabbiness of my dress,I advanced amid a sudden silence.

'M.de Marsac!'the page announced,in a tone which sounded a little odd in my ears;so much so,that I turned quickly to look at him.He was gone,however,and when I turned again the eyes which met mine were full of smiles.A young girl who stood near me tittered.Put out of countenance by this,I looked round in embarrassment to find someone to whom I might apply.

The room was long and narrow,panelled in chestnut,with a row of windows on the one hand,and two fireplaces,now heaped with glowing logs,on the other.Between the fireplaces stood a rack of arms.Round the nearer hearth lounged a group of pages,the exact counterparts of the young blade who had brought me hither;and talking with these were as many young gentlewomen.Two great hounds lay basking in the heat,and coiled between them,with her head on the back of the larger,was a figure so strange that at another time I should have doubted my eyes.It wore the fool's motley and cap and bells,but a second glance showed me the features were a woman's.A torrent of black hair flowed loose about her neck,her eyes shone with wild merriment,and her face,keen,thin,and hectic,glared at me from the dog's back.Beyond her,round the farther fireplace,clustered more than a score of gallants and ladies,of whom one presently advanced to me.

'Sir,'he said politely--and I wished I could match his bow--'you wished to see--?'

'The King of Navarre,'I answered,doing my best.

He turned to the group behind him,and said,in a peculiarly even,placid tone,'He wishes to see the King of Navarre.'Then in solemn silence he bowed to me again and went back to his fellows.

Stanley John Weyman

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