Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under the Rose" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



UNDER THE ROSE

by

FREDERIC S. ISHAM

Author of The Strollers

With illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy



[Frontispiece: Kneeling, he received it.]



The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Publishers : Indianapolis

Copyright Nineteen Hundred Three
The Bowen-Merrill Company
January



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

      I  A NEST OF NINNIES
     II  A ROYAL EAVESDROPPER
    III  A GIFT FOR THE DUKE
     IV  AN IMPATIENT SUITOR
      V  JACQUELINE FETCHES THE PRINCESS' FAN
     VI  THE ARRIVAL OF THE DUKE
    VII  THE COURT OF LOVE
   VIII  A BRIEF TRUCE
     IX  THE FLIGHT OF THE FOOL
      X  THE FOOL RETURNS TO THE CASTLE
     XI  A NEW MESSENGER TO THE EMPEROR
    XII  THE DUKE ENTERS THE LISTS
   XIII  A CHAPLET FOR THE DUKE
    XIV  AN EARLY MORNING VISIT
     XV  A NEW DISCOVERY
    XVI  TIDINGS FROM THE COURT
   XVII  JACQUELINE'S QUEST
  XVIII  THE SECRET OF THE JESTERS
    XIX  A FIGURE IN THE MOONLIGHT
     XX  AN UNEQUAL CONFLICT
    XXI  THE DESERTED HUT
   XXII  THE TALE OF THE SWORD
  XXIII  THE DWARF MAKES AN EARLY CALL
   XXIV  AN ENCOUNTER AT THE BRIDGE
    XXV  IN THE TENT OF THE EMPEROR
   XXVI  THE DEBT OF NATURE
  XXVII  A MAID OF FRANCE
 XXVIII  THE FAVORITE IS ALARMED
   XXIX  THE FAVORITE IS REASSURED



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Kneeling, he received it . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

Taking the book, he opened it at random, mechanically sinking
  at her feet.

He threw the dregs of his glass in the face of the jester.

He looked not at the young girl, but calmly met the scrutiny
  of the king.



UNDER THE ROSE


CHAPTER I

A NEST OF NINNIES

"A song, sweet Jacqueline!"

"No, no--"

"Jacqueline!--Jacqueline!--"

"No more, I say--"

A jingle of tinkling bells mingled with the squeak of a viola; the
guffaws of a rompish company blended with the tuneless chanting of
discordant minstrels, and the gray parrot in its golden cage, suspended
from one of the oaken beams of the ceiling, shook its feathers for the
twentieth time and screamed vindictively at the roguish band.

Jingle, jingle, went the merry bells; squeak, squeak, the tightened
strings beneath the persistent scraping of the rosined bow.  On his
throne in Fools' hall, Triboulet, the king's hunchback, leaned
complacently back, his eyes bent upon a tapestry but newly hung in that
room, the meeting place of jesters, buffoons and versifiers.

"We appeal to Triboulet--"

"Triboulet!"

A girl's silvery laugh rang out.

"Triboulet!"

Again the derisive musical tones.

Upon his chair of state, the dwarf did not answer; professed not to
hear.  By the uncertain glimmer of torches and the flickering glow of
the fire he was engaged in tracing a resemblance to himself in the
central figure of the composition wrought in threads of silk--Momus,
fool by patent to Jove, thrust from Olympus and greeting the earth-born
with a great grin.

"An excellent likeness!" muttered Triboulet.  "A very pretty likeness!"
he continued, swelling with pride.

And truly it was said that sprightly ladies, working between love and
pleasure times, drew from the court fool for their conception of the
mythological buffoon, reproducing Triboulet's great head; his mouth,
proportionately large; his protruding eyes; his bowed back, short,
twisted legs and long, muscular arms; and his nose far larger than that
of Francis, who otherwise had the largest nose in the kingdom.

But how could they depict the meanness of soul that dwelt in that
extraordinary shell?  The blithesome tapestry-makers, albeit adepts in
form, grace and harmony, could not touch the subjectiveness of
existence.  Thus it was a double pleasure for Triboulet to see, limned
in well-chosen hues, his form, the crookedness of which he was as proud
as any courtier of his symmetry and beauty, the while his dark, vain
soul lay concealed behind the mask of merry deformity and laughing
monstrosity.

"Would your Majesty like to command me?"

The mocking feminine voice recalled Triboulet from his pleasing
contemplation.

"No, no!" he answered, sullenly, and condescended to turn his glance
upon the assemblage.

Over a goodly gathering of jesters, buffoons, poets, and even
philosophers, he lorded it, holding his head as high as his hump would
permit and conscious of his own place in the esteem of the king.  Not
long ago the monarch had laughed and applauded when Triboulet had
twisted his features into a horrid grimace, and since then the dwarf's
little heart had expanded with such arrogance, it seemed to him he was
almost Francis himself as he sat there on Francis' sometime throne; and
these Sir Jollys were his subjects all--Marot, Caillette, Brusquet,
Villot, and the lesser lights, jesters of barons, cardinals and even
bishops!  Rabelais, too, that poor, dissolute devil of a writer,
learned as Homer, brutish as Homer's swine--all subjects of his, the
king of jesters, save one; one whom he eyed with certain fear and
wonder; fear, because she was a woman--and Triboulet esteemed all the
sex but "highly perfected devils"--and wonder, at finding her different
from, and more perplexing than even the rest of her kind!

"Jacqueline!--"

now she was perched on one corner of the table, and her face had a
witch-like loveliness, as though borrowing its pallor and beauty from
the moon, source of all magic and necromancy.  Her eyes shone with such
luster that, seeking their hue, they held the observer's gaze in
mocking languor, and cheated the inquisitive coxcomb of his quest, the
while the disdainful lips curved laughingly and so bewildered him, he
forgot the customary phrases and stood staring like a nonny.  Her
footstep fell so light, she was so agile and quick, the superstitious
dwarf swore she was but a creature of the night and held surreptitious
meetings with all the familiar spirits of demonology.  As she never
denied the uncanny imputation, but only displayed her small white teeth
maliciously, by way of answer, Triboulet felt assured he was right and
crossed himself religiously whenever she gazed too fixedly at him.

A most _gracieuse folle_, her dress was in keeping with her character,
yellow being the predominating color.  To the fanciful adornment of the
gown her lithe figure lent itself readily, while her rebellious curls
were well adapted to that badge of her servitude, the jaunty cap that
crowned their waving abundance.

In especial disdain, from her position upon the corner of the table,
her glance wandered down the board and rested on Rabelais, the
gourmand, before whom were an empty trencher and tankard.  The
priest-doctor-writer-scamp who affected the company of jesters and
liked not a little the hospitality of Fools' hall, which adjoined the
pastry branch of the castle kitchen and was not far removed from the
wine butts, had just unrolled a bundle of manuscript, all daubed with
trencher grease and tankard drippings, and was about to read aloud the
strange adventures of one Pantagruel, when, overcome by indulgence, his
head fell forward on the table, almost in the wooden platter, and the
papers fluttered to the floor.

"Put him out!" commanded Triboulet from his high place.

But she of the jaunty cap sprang from the table.

"How wise are your Majesty's decrees!" she said mockingly with her
glance upon the dwarf.  He shifted uneasily in the throne.  "You should
have put him out before!  But now"--turning contemptuously to the poor
figure of the great man--"he's harmless.  His silence is golden; his
speech was dross."

"And yet," answered Marot, thoughtfully, "the king esteems him; the
king who is at once scholar, poet, wit, soldier--"

"Soldier!" she exclaimed, quickly.  "When he can not conquer Italy and
regain his heritage!"

"Can not?" ventured Triboulet, mindful of the dignity of his royal
master.  "Why not?"

"Because the women would conquer him!"

"Nay; the king prefers the blue eyes of France," spoke up the
cardinal's fool, he of the viola.

"Then do you set our queen of fools, our fair Jacqueline, out of his
Majesty's good graces," interposed one of the lesser jesters, a mere
baron's hireling, who long had burned with secret admiration for the
maid of the coquettish cap.

"I am _such_ a fool as to want the good graces of no man--or monarch!"
she replied boldly, without glancing at the speaker.

"An he were in love, you would be two fools!" laughed Caillette, the
court poet.

"In love, 'tis only the man is the fool or--the fooled!" she returned
pointedly, and Caillette, despite his self-possession, flushed
painfully.  Since Diane de Poitiers had wedded her ancient lord, the
poet had become grave, studious, almost sad.

"And is your mistress, the king's ward, fooling with her betrothed?" he
asked quickly, conscious of knowing winks and nudges.

"The Princess Louise and the Duke of Friedwald are to wed for reasons
of state," said the young woman, gravely.  "There'll be no fools."

"Ah, a loveless match!"

"But not a landless one!" retorted she of the cap without the bells.
"Besides, it cements the friendship of Francis and Charles V!  What
more would you?  But I'll tell you a secret."

At that the company flocked around her, as though there was something
enticing in her tone; the vague promise of an interesting bit of gossip
or the indefinite suggestion of a court scandal.

"A secret!" said the cardinal's fool, rubbing his hands together.  His
master often rewarded him for particularly choice morsels of loose
tittle-tattle.

"Oh, nothing very wicked!" she answered, waving them back with her
small hand.  "'Tis only that they play at make-believe in love, the
princess and her betrothed!  But after all, it is far more sensible
than real love-making, where if the pleasure be more acute, the pangs
are therefore the greater.  She addresses to him the tenderest
counterfeit verses; he returns them in kind.  She even simulated such
an illusory sadness that the duke has sent his own jester, who has but
just arrived at court, to amuse her (ahem!) dullness, until he himself
could come!"

At this the cardinal's buffoon looked disappointed, for his master
liked more highly-flavored hearsay, while Triboulet frowned and brought
down his heavy fist upon the arm of the throne.

"A new jester forsooth!" he exclaimed.

"And why not?" Lifting her swart brows, quizzically.

"We are already overstocked with 'prentice fools," he retorted, looking
over the throng.

"Ah, you fear perhaps some one may depose you?" remarked Jacqueline
coldly.

A guarded laugh arose from the gathering and the dwarf's eyes gleamed.

"Depose me, Triboulet!" he shouted, rising.  "Triboulet is sovereign
lord of all at whom he mocks!  His wand is mightier than an episcopal
miter!"

In his overweening rage and vanity he fairly crouched before the
throne, eying them all like a cat.  His thick lips trembled; his eyes
became bloodshot.

He forgot all prudence.

"Doth not the king himself seek my advice?"  He laughed horribly.
"Hath not, perhaps, many a fair gentleman been burned--aye, burned to
ashes as a Calvinist!--at my suggestion!"

"Miserable wretch!  Spy!" exclaimed the young woman, paler than a lily,
as she bent her eyes, with fully opened lids, upon him.

As if to shield himself, he raised his hand, yet drunkenness or wrath
overcame caution and superstition, and the red eyes met the dark ones.
But a moment, and the former dropped sullenly; a strange thrill ran
through him.  He thought he was bewitched.

"_Non nobis Domine!_" he murmured, striving to recall a hymn.  As Latin
was the language of witchcraft, so, also, was it the antidote.
Contemptuously she turned her back and walked slowly to the fire.  Upon
her white face and supple figure played the elfish glow, lighting the
little cap and the waving tresses beneath.

Regarding her furtively, Triboulet's courage returned, since she was
looking at the coals, not at him.

"Ho, ho!" he said jocosely.  "You all thought I was sincere.  Listen,
my children!  The art of fooling lies in trumped-up earnestness."  He
smiled hideously.

"Bravo, Triboulet!" cried an admiring voice.

"Only time and art can give you such mastery over the passions,"
continued the jester.  "Which one of you would depose me?  Who so ugly
as I?  Poets, philosophers!  I snap my fingers at them.  Poor moths!
And you dare bait me with a new-comer!  Let him look to himself!"  From
earnestness to grandiloquence was but a step.

"Let him come!"  And Triboulet, imitating the pose of Francis himself,
drew his wooden sword.

"Let him come!" he repeated, fiercely.

"Who?" called out a gay and reckless voice.

Through the doorway leading into the kitchen stepped a young man;
slender, almost boyish in appearance, with light-brown hair and
deep-set eyes that belied the gaiety and mirth of his features.  His
costume, that of a Jester, was silk of finest texture and design, upon
which were skilfully fashioned in threads of silver the arms of Charles
V, King of Spain and Emperor of Germany, the powerful rival of Francis,
whose friendship now, for reasons of state, the latter sought.

Smilingly the foreign jester gazed around the room; at the unusual
furnishings, picturesque, yet appropriate; at the inmates, the fools
scattered about the great board or near the mighty fireplace; the
renowned philosopher, Rabelais, sleeping on his arms, with hand
outstretched toward the neglected tankard; at the striking appearance
of the girl who looked with casual, careless interest upon him; at the
grotesque, crook-backed figure before the throne.

And observing the incongruity of his surroundings, he laughed lightly,
while his glance, turning inquiringly if not insolently, from one to
the other, lingered in some surprise upon the young woman.  He had
heard that in far-away France the motley was not confined to men.  Had
not Jeanne, queen of Charles I, possessed her jestress, Artaude de Puy,
"_folle_ to our dear companion," as said the king?  Had not Madame
d'Or, wearer of the bells, kept the nobles laughing?  Had not the
haughty, eccentric Don John, his handsome, merry joculatrix, attached
to his princely household?

But knowing only by rumor of these matters, the jester from abroad
looked hard at her, the first madcap in petticoats he had ever seen.
For her part, Jacqueline bore his scrutiny with visible annoyance.

"Well," she said impatiently, a flash of resentment in her fine eyes,
"have you conned me over enough?"

"Too much, mistress," he replied in no wise abashed, "an it hath
displeased you.  Too little to please myself."

"Yourself!" she returned, with sudden anger at his persistent gaze.
"Some lord's plaything to beat or whip; a toy--"

"And yet a poet who can make rhymes on woman's beauty," he answered
with a careless laugh.

"Another courtier!" grumbled Triboulet.  "Lacking true wit, fools
nowadays essay only compliments to cover their dullness."

With the same air of insolent amusement, the new-comer turned to the
throne and its occupant, whom he subjected to an even more deliberate
investigation.

"Is it man or manikin, gentle mistress?" he asked, after concluding his
examination.

She did not deign to answer, but the offended Triboulet waved his
wooden sword vindictively.

"Manikin!" he roared, and sprang with vicious lunges upon the duke's
jester, who falling back before the suddenness of the assault, whipped
out his weapon in turn, and, laughing, threw himself into an attitude
of defense.

"A mortal combat!" cried the cardinal's wit-snapper.

"Charles V and Francis!" exclaimed Caillette, referring to the personal
challenge which had once passed between the two great monarchs.  "With
a throne for the victor!" he added gaily, indicating Triboulet's chair
of state.

The clatter and din awoke Rabelais, who drowsily regarded the
combatants with lack-luster gaze and undoubtedly thought himself once
more amid the fanciful conflicts of fearful giants.

"Fall to, Pantagruel, my merry Paladin!" he exclaimed bombastically.
"Cut, slash, stab, fence and justle!"  And himself, reaching for an
imaginary sword, encountered the tankard which he would have raised to
his lips but that his shaggy head fell again to the board before his
willing arm had obeyed the passing impulse of his sluggish brain.

"Fence!--justle!" he murmured, and slept once more.

But the parrot, again disturbed, could not so easily compose itself to
slumber.  Whipping its head from its downy nest, it outspread its gray
wings gloriously and screamed and shouted, as though venting all the
thunders of the Vatican upon the offending belligerents.  And above the
uproar and noise of arms, rabble and bird, arose the piercing voice of
Triboulet:

"Watch me spit this bantam-cock!"



CHAPTER II

A ROYAL EAVESDROPPER

Tough and sharp-pointed, a wooden sword was no insignificant weapon,
wielded by the thews and sinews of a Triboulet.  Crouching like an
animal, the king's buffoon sprang with headlong fury, uttering hoarse,
guttural sounds that awakened misgivings regarding the fate of his too
confident antagonist.

"Do not kill him, Triboulet!" cried Marot, alarmed lest the duke's fool
should be slain outright.  "Remember he has journeyed from the court of
Charles V!"

"Charles V!" came through Triboulet's half-closed teeth.  "My master's
one great enemy!"

"Hush!" muttered Villot.  "Our master's enemy is now his dear friend!"

"Friend!" sneered the other, but even as he thrust, his sword tingled
sharply in his hand, and, whisked magically out of his grip, described
a curve in the air and fell at a far end of the room.  At the same time
a stinging blow descended smartly on the dwarf's hump.

"Pardon me!" laughed the duke's fool.  "Being unused to such exercise,
my blade fell by mistake on your back."

If looks could have killed, Triboulet would have achieved his original
purpose, but after a vindictive though futile glance his head drooped
despondently.  To have been thus humiliated before those whom he
regarded as his vassals!  What jest could restore him the prestige he
had enjoyed; what play of words efface the shame of that public
chastisement?  Had he been beaten by the king--but thus to suffer at
the hand of a foreign fool!  And the monarch--would he learn of
it?--the punishment of the royal jester?  As in a dream, he heard the
hateful voices of the company.

"'Tis not the first time he has been wounded--there!" said fearless
Caillette, who openly acknowledged his aversion for the king's favorite
fool.  "But be seated, gentle sir," he added to the stranger, "and
share our rough hospitality."

"Rough, certes!" commented the other, as he returned his blade to his
belt.  "And as I see no stool--"

"There's the throne!" returned Caillette, courteously.  "Since you have
overcome Triboulet, his place is yours."

"A precarious place!" said the new-comer, easily, dropping,
nevertheless, into the chair.

"The king is dead!  Long live the king!" cried the cardinal's jester.

"Long live the king!" they shouted, every fool and zany raising a
tankard, save the dwarf and the young woman, the former continuing to
glare vindictively upon the usurper, and the latter to all intent
remaining oblivious of the ceremony of installation.  Poised upon a
chair, she idly thrust her fingers through the gilded bars of the cage
that hung from the rafters and gently stroked the head of the now
complaisant bird.

"Poor Jocko!  Poor Jocko!" she murmured.

"La!--la!--la!--" sang the parrot, responsive to her light caress.

"Your Majesty's wishes!  Your Majesty's decree!" exclaimed the monastic
wit-worm.

"Hear!  hear!" roared Brusquet.

"Silence!" commanded Marot.  "His Majesty speaks."

"Toot! toot! toot!" rang out the flourish of a trumpet, a clarion
prelude to the fiat from the throne.

The new king in motley arose; heedless, devil-may-care, very erect in
his preposterously pointed shoes.

"I appoint you, Thony, treasurer of the exchequer, because you are
quick at sleight-of-hand," he began.

"Good," laughed Marot.  "An he's more light-fingered than his
predecessor, he's a master of prestidigitation!"

"You, Brusquet," went on the new master of Fool's hall, "I reward with
the government of Guienne, for he who governs his own house so ill is
surely fitted for greater tasks of incompetency."

This allusion to the petticoat rule which dominated the luckless jester
at home was received in good part by all save the hapless domestic
bondman himself.

"You, Villot, are made admiral of the fleet."

Villot smiled, thinking how Francis had but recently bestowed that
office upon the impoverished husband of pretty Madame d'Etaille.

"Thanks, your Majesty," he began, "but if some post nearer home--"

"You are to sail at once!"

"But my wife--"

"Will remain at court!" announced the duke's jester with great decision.

Villot made a wry face.  The king in motley smiled significantly.  "A
safe haven, Villot!  Besides, remember a court without ladies is like a
spring without flowers."

A movement resembling apprehension swept through the company.  The
epigram had been Francis'; the court--a flower-bed of roses--was, in
consequence, a thorny maze for a jester to tread.  From her chair at
the far end of the room, the young woman looked at the new-comer for
the first time since his enthronement.  Her fingers yet played between
the gilded bars; the posture she had assumed set forth the pliant grace
of her figure.  Above the others, she glanced at him, her hair very
black against the golden cage; her arm, very white, half unsheathed
from the great hanging sleeve.

"You are over-bold," she said, a peculiar smile upon her lips.

"Nay; I have spoken no treason, mistress," he retorted blithely.

"Not by word of mouth, perhaps, but by imputation."

He raised his brows with a gesture of wanton protest, while the face
before him clouded.  Her eyes held his; her little teeth just gleamed
between the crimson of her lips.

"I presume you consider Charles the more fitting monarch?" she
continued.

Was it the disdain of her voice?  Did she read his passing thoughts?
Did she challenge him to utter them?

"In truth," the jester said carelessly, "Charles builds fortresses, not
pleasure palaces; and garrisons them with soldiers, not ladies."

She half-smiled.  Her glance fell.  Her hand moved caressingly, the
sleeve waving beneath.

"Poor Jocko!  Poor Jocko!" she murmured.

Triboulet's glance beamed with delight.  She was casting her spell over
his enemy.

"Oh," muttered Triboulet, "if the king could but have heard!"

Perhaps it was a breath of air, but the tapestry depicting the
misadventures of Momus waved and moved.  Triboulet, who noted
everything, saw this, and suffered an expression of triumph momentarily
to rest upon his malignant features.  Had his prayer been answered?  "A
spring without flowers," forsooth!  Dearly cherished the august
gardener his beautiful roses.  Great red roses; white roses; blossoms
yet unopened!

Following his gaze, a significant light appeared in the young woman's
eyes, while her arm fell to her side.

"Now to see Presumption sue for pardon," she whispered to herself.

One by one the company, too, turned in the direction Triboulet was
looking.  In portraiture the classical buffoon grinned and gibed at
them from the tapestry; and even from his high station above the clouds
Jupiter, who had ejected the offending fool of the gods, looked less
stern and implacable.  An expectant hush fell upon the assemblage, when
suddenly Jove and Momus alike were unceremoniously thrust aside, and,
as the folds fell slowly back, before the many-hued curtain stood a man
of stately and majestic mien.

A man whose appearance caused deep-seated consternation, whose
forbidding aspect made the very silence portentous and terrifying.
With dress slashed and laced, rich in jewelry and precious stones, he
remained motionless, regarding the motley gathering, while an ominous
half-smile played about his features.  He said nothing, but his reserve
was more sinister than language.  Capricious, cruel was his face; in
his eyes shone covert enjoyment of the situation.

Would he never speak?  With one hand he stroked his beard; with the
other he toyed with the lace on his doublet.

"You were talking, children," he said, finally, "before I came in."

"If your Majesty," ventured Triboulet, "has heard all, your Majesty
will not blame--us!"  And he glanced malevolently toward the duke's
Jester, who, upon the king's abrupt entrance, had descended from the
platform.

Observing the emblazoned arms of Charles V upon the dress of the
culprit, a faint look of surprise swept Francis' face.  Did it recall
that fatal day, when on the field of battle, a rival banner had waved
ever illusively; ever beyond his reach?  Now it shone before him as
though mocking his friendship for his one-time powerful enemy, the only
man he feared, the emperor who had overthrown him.  The sinister smile
of the king gave way to gloomy thoughtfulness.

"Who is this knave?" he asked at length, fixedly regarding the
erstwhile badge of his defeat.

"A poor fool, Sire!" replied the kneeling man.

"Those arms, embroidered on your dress--what do they mean?" said the
king shortly.

"The arms of my master's master, your Majesty!" was the over-confident
answer.

"Who is your master?"

"The Duke of Friedwald, Sire, the betrothed of the Princess Louise."

"And your purpose here?"

"My master sent me to the princess.  'I'll miss thee, rogue,' said he.
''Tis proof of love to send thee, my merry companion of the wine cup!
But go!  Nature hath formed thee to conjure sadness from a lady's
face.'  So I set out upon my perilous journey, and, favored by fortune,
am but safely arrived.  I was e'en now about to repair to the princess,
whom I trust, in my humble way, to amuse."

"And thou shalt!" said the king, significantly.

"Oh, your Majesty!" with assumed modesty.

"That is," added Francis, "if it will amuse her to see you hanged!"

"And if it did not amuse her, Sire?" spoke up the new-comer, without a
tremor in his voice.

"What then?" asked the king.

"It would be a breach of hospitality to hang me, the servant of the
duke who is servant of Charles V!" he replied boldly.

Francis started.  Like a menace shone the arms of the great emperor.
Vividly he recalled his own humiliation, his long captivity, and
mistrusted the power of his subtile, amiable friend-enemy.  Friendship?
Sweeter was hatred.  But the promptings of wisdom had suggested the
policy of peace; the reins of expediency drove him, autocrat or slave,
to the doctrines of loving brotherhood.  He turned his gloomy eyes upon
the glowing countenance of Triboulet.

"What say you, fool?"

"Your Majesty," answered the eager dwarf, "could hang him without
breach of hospitality."

"How do you make that good, Triboulet?" asked the monarch.

"The duke has given him to the princess.  The princess is a subject of
your Majesty.  The king of France has jurisdiction over the princess'
fool and surely can proceed in so small a matter as hanging him."

Francis bent a malignant look upon the young man.  Behind the dwarf
stood the jestress, now an earnest spectator of the scene.

"This new-comer's stay with us promises to be brief, Caillette," she
whispered.

"Hark, you witch!  He answers," returned the poet.

"What can he say?" she retorted, shrugging her shoulders.  "He is
already condemned."

"Are you pleased, mistress?  Just because the poor fellow stared at you
overmuch."

"Oh," she said, insensibly, "it was written he should hang himself.
Now we'll hear how ably Audacity parleys with Fate."

"It would be no breach of hospitality, Sire, to hang the princess'
fool," spoke the condemned man with no sign of waning confidence, "yet
it would seem to depreciate the duke's gift.  Your Majesty should hang
the one and spare the other.  'Tis a matter of logic," he went on
quickly, "to point out where the duke's gift ends and the princess'
fool begins.  A gift is a gift until it is received.  The princess has
not yet received the duke's gift.  Therefore, your Majesty can not hang
me, as the princess' fool; nor would your Majesty desire to hang me as
the duke's gift."

Imperceptibly the monarch's mien relaxed, for next to a contest with
blades he liked the quick play of words.

"Answer him, Triboulet," he said.

"Your Majesty--your Majesty--" stammered the dwarf, and paused in
despair, his wits failing him at the critical juncture.

"Enough!" commanded the king, sternly.  A sound of suppressed merriment
even as he spoke startled the gathering.  "Who laughed?" he cried
suddenly.  "Was it you, mistress?" fastening his eyes upon the young
woman.

Her head fell lower and lower like some dark flower on a slender stem.
From out of the veil of her mazy hair came a voice, soft with seeming
humility.

"It might have been Jocko, Sire," she said.  "He sometimes laughs like
that."

The king looked from the woman to the bird; then from the bird to the
woman, a gleam of recollection in his glance.

"Humph!" he muttered.  "Is this where you serve your mistress?  Look to
it you serve not yourself ill!"

An instant her eyes flashed upward.

"My mistress is at prayers," she answered, and looked down again as
quickly.

"And you meanwhile prefer the drollery of these madcaps to the
attentions of our courtiers?" said Francis, more gently.  "Certes are
you gipsy-born!"

Her hands clasped tighter, but she answered not, and he turned more
sternly to the new king of the motley.  "As for you," he continued,
"for the present the duke's gift is spared.  But let the princess' fool
look to himself.  Remember, a guarded tongue insures a ripe old age,
and even a throne in Fools' hall is fraught with hazard.  Here! some of
you, take this"--indicating the sleeping Rabelais--"and throw it into
the horse-pond.  Yet see that he does not drown--your heads upon it!
'Tis to him France looks for learning."

He paused; glanced back at the kneeling girl.  "You, Mistress
Who-Seeks-to-Hide-Her-Face, teach that parrot not to laugh!" he added
grimly.

The tapestry waved.  Mute the motley throng stared where the king had
stood.  A light hand touched the arm of the duke's fool, and, turning,
he beheld the young woman; her eyes were alight with new fire.

"In God's name," she exclaimed, passionately, "let us leave.  You have
done mischief enough.  Follow me."

"Where'er you will," he responded gallantly.



CHAPTER III

A GIFT FOR THE DUKE

The sun and the breeze contended with the mist, intrenched in the
stronghold of the valley.  From the east the red orb began its attack;
out of the west rode the swift-moving zephyrs, and, vanquished, the
wavering vapor stole off into thin air, or hung in isolated wreaths above
the foliage on the hillside.  Soon the conquering light brightly
illumined a medieval castle commanding the surrounding country; the
victorious breeze whispered loudly at its gloomy casements.  A great
Norman structure, somber, austere, it was, however brightened with many
modern features that threatened gradually to sap much of its ancient
majesty.

"Fill up the moat," Francis had ordered.  "'Tis barbaric!  What lover
would sigh beneath walls thirty feet thick!  And the portcullis!  Away
with it!  Summon my Italian painters to adorn the walls.  We may yet make
habitable these legacies from the savage, brutal past."

So the mighty walls, once set in a comparative wilderness, a tangle of
thicket and underbrush, now arose from garden, lawn and park, where even
the deer were no longer shy, and the water, propelled by artificial
power, shot upward in jets.

Seated at a window which overlooked this sylvan aspect, modified if not
fashioned by man, a young woman with seeming conscientiousness, told her
beads.  The apartment, though richly furnished, was in keeping with the
devout character of its fair mistress.  A brush or aspersorium, used for
sprinkling holy water, was leaning against the wall.  Upon a table lay an
open psalter, with its long hanging cover and a ball at the extremity of
the forel.  Behind two tall candlesticks stood an altar-table which,
being unfolded, revealed three compartments, each with a picture, painted
by Andrea del Sarto, the once honored guest of Francis.

The Princess Louise, cousin of Francis' former queen, Claude, had been
reared with rigid strictness, although provided with various preceptors
who had made her more or less proficient in the profane letters, as they
were then called, Latin, Greek, theology and philosophy.  The fame of her
beauty had gone abroad; her hand had been often sought, but the obdurate
king had steadfastly refused to sanction her betrothal until Charles, the
emperor, himself proposed a union between the fair ward of the French
monarch and one of his nobles, the young Duke of Friedwald.  To this
Francis had assented, for he calculated upon thus drawing to his
interests one of his rival's most chivalrous knights, while far-seeing
Charles believed he could not only retain the duke, but add to his own
court the lovely and learned ward of the king.

And in this comedy of aggrandizement the puppets were willing--as puppets
must needs be.  Indeed, the duke was seriously enamored of the princess,
whose portrait he had seen in miniature, and had himself importuned the
emperor to intercede with Francis, knowing that the only way to the
lady's hand was through the good offices of him who aspired to the
mastery of all Europe, if not the world.

Charles, unwilling to disoblige one whose principality was the most
powerful of the Austrian provinces he sought to absorb in his scheme for
the unification of all nations, offered no demur to a request fraught
with advantage to himself.  Besides, cold and calculating though he was,
the emperor entertained a certain affection for the duke, who on one
occasion, when Charles had been sore beset by the troops of Solyman, had
extricated his royal leader from the alternatives of ignominious capture
or an untimely end.  Accordingly, a formal proposal, couched in language
of warm friendship to the king, was despatched by the emperor.  When
Francis, with some misgiving, arising from experience with womankind,
laid the matter before Louise, she, to his surprise, proved her devotion
and loyalty by her entire submissiveness, and the king, kissing her hand,
generously vowed the wedding festivities should be worthy of her beauty
and fealty.

Was she thinking of that scene now and the many messages which had
subsequently passed between her distant lover and herself, as the white
fingers ceased to tell the beads?  Was she questioning fate and the
future when the rosary fell from her hand and the clinking of the great
glass beads on the hard floor aroused her from a reverie?  Languidly she
rose, crossed the room toward a low dressing table, when at the same time
one of the several doors of the apartment opened, admitting the jestress,
Jacqueline, whose long, flowing gown of dark green bore no distinguishing
mark of the motley she had assumed the night before.  The dreamy, almost
lethargic, gaze of the princess rested for a moment upon the ardent eyes
of the maid who stood motionless before her.

"The duke's jester who arrived last night awaits your pleasure without,"
said the girl.

"Bid him enter.  Stay!  The fillet for my hair.  Seems he a merry fellow?"

"So merry, Madam, he mimicked the king last night in Fool's hall, beat
Triboulet, appointed knaves in jest to high offices, and had been hanged
for his forwardness but that he narrowly saved his neck by a slender
device."

"What; all that in so short a time!" exclaimed the princess.  "A most
presumptuous rogue!"

"The king, Madam, was behind the tapestry and heard it all: his
appointment of Thony as treasurer, because he is apt at palming money;
Brusquet, governor of Guienne, since he governs his own home so ill; and
Villot, admiral of the fleet, that he might sail away and leave his
pretty wife behind him."

"I'll warrant me the story is known to the entire court ere this,"
laughed the lady.  "Won't Madame d'Etaille be in a temper!  And the
admiral when he hears of it--on the high seas!  The king was
eavesdropping, you say, and yet spared the jester?  He must bear a
charmed life."

"He dubbed himself the duke's gift, Madam, and boldly claimed privilege
under the poor cloak of hospitality."

"Surely," murmured the princess, "there will be no lack of entertainment
with this knave under the same roof.  Too much entertainment, I fear me.
Well, admit the bold fellow."

Crossing to the door, the maid pushed it back and the figure of the
jester passed the threshold:--a figure so graceful and well-built, the
lady's eyes, turning toward him with mild inquiry, lingered with
approval; lingered, and were upraised to a fair, handsome face, when
approval gave way to wonder.

Was this the imprudent, hot-brained rogue who had swaggered in Fools'
hall, and made a farce of the affairs of the nation?  His countenance
seemed that of a courtier rather than a low-born scape-grace; his bearing
in consonance, as, approaching the princess, he knelt near the edge of
her sweeping crimson garment.  Quietly the maid withdrew to a corner of
the apartment where she seated herself on a low stool, her fingers idly
playing with the delicate carvings of a vase of silver, containing water
that had been blessed and standing conveniently near the aspersorium.

"You come from the Duke of Friedwald, fool?" said the mistress,
recovering from her surprise.

"Yes, Princess."

Louise smiled, and looked toward the maid as if to say: "Why, he's a
model of decorum!" but the girl continued regarding the figures on the
vase, seemingly indifferent to the scene before her.

"I hear, sirrah, but a poor account of your behavior last night,"
continued the princess.  "You must have a care, or I shall send you back
to the duke and command him to have you whipped.  You have been here but
overnight, yet how many enemies have you made?  The king; the admiral,
and--last but not least--a certain lady.  Poor fool! you may have saved
your neck, but for how long?  Fie! what an account must I give of you to
your master!"

"Ah, Madam," he answered quickly, "you show me now the folly of it all."

"Let me see," she went on more gently, "what we may do, since you are
penitent?  The king may forgive; the admiral forget, but the lady--she
will neither forget nor forgive.  Fortunately, I think she fears to
disoblige me, and, if I let it be known you are an indispensable part of
my household--" she paused thoughtfully--"besides, she has a little
secret she would keep from the king.  Yes; the secret will save you!"
And Louise smiled knowingly, as one who, although most devout, perhaps
had missed a few paters or credos in listening to idle worldly gossip.

"Madam," he said, raising his head, "you overwhelm me with your goodness."

"Oh, I like her not; a most designing creature," returned the lady
carelessly.  "But you may rise.  Hand me that embroidery," she added when
he had obeyed.  "How do I know the duke, my betrothed, whom I have never
seen, has not sent you to report upon my poor charms?  What if you were
only his emissary?"

"Princess," he answered, "I am but a fool; no emissary.  If I were--"

"Well?"

She smiled indulgently at the open admiration written so boldly upon his
face, and, encouraged by her glance, he regarded her swiftly,
comprehensively; the masses of hair the fillet ill-confined; eyes,
soft-lidded, dreamy as a summer's day; a figure, pagan in generous
proportions; a foot, however, _petite_, Parisian, peeping from beneath a
robe, heavy, voluminous, vivid!

"If you were?" she suggested, passing a golden thread through the cloth
she held.

"I would write him the miniature he has of you told but half the truth."

"So you have seen the miniature?  It lies carelessly about, no doubt?"
Yet her tone was not one of displeasure.

"The duke frequently draws it from his breast to look at it."

"And so many handsome women in the kingdom, too!" laughed the princess.
"A tiny, paltry bit of vellum!"

Her lips curled indulgently, as of a person sure of herself.  Did not the
fool's glance pay her that tribute to which she was not a stranger?  Her
lashes, suddenly lifted, met his fully, and drove his look, grown
overbold, to cover.  The princess smiled; she might well believe the
stories about him; yet was not ill-pleased.  "Like master; like man!"
says the proverb.  She continued to survey the graceful figure,
well-poised head and handsome features of the jester.

"Tell me, sirrah," she continued, "of the duke.  Straightforwardly,
or--I'll leave thee to the mercy of madam the admiral's wife!  What is he
like?"

"A fairly likely man!"

"'Tis what one says of a man when one can say nothing else.  He is not
then very handsome?"

"He has never been so considered!"

The princess' needle remained suspended, then viciously plunged into the
golden Cupid she was embroidering.  "The king hath played with me," she
murmured.  "He represented him as one of the most distinguished-appearing
knights in the emperor's domains.  Is he dark or light?" she went on.

"Dark."

"Tall?"

"Rather short."

"His eyes?" said the lady, after an ominous pause.

"Brown."

"His manners?"

"Those of a soldier."

"His speech?"

"That of one born to command."

"Command!" returned the princess, ironically.  "Odious word!"

"You, Madam," quickly answered the jester, "he would serve."

A moment her glance challenged his, coldly, proudly, and then her
features softened.  The indolent look crept into her eyes once more; the
tension of her lips relaxed.

"Command and serve!" laughed the princess.  "A paradox, if not a paragon,
it seems!  Not handsome--probably ugly!--a soldier--full of oaths--a
blusterer--strong in his cups!  What a list of qualifications!
Well"--with a sigh--"what must needs be must be!  The emperor plays the
rook; Francis moves his pawn--my poor self.  The game, beyond the two
moves, is naught to us.  Perhaps we shall be sacrificed, one or both!
What of that, if it's a draw, or one of the players checkmates the
other--"

"But, Princess," cried the fool, "he loves you!
Passionately!--devotedly!--"

"A passing fancy for a painted semblance!" said the lady, as rising she
turned toward the casement, the golden Cupid falling from her lap to the
floor.  In the rhythmic ease of her movement, in her very attitude, was
consciousness of her own power, but to the poet-jester, surrounded as he
was by symbols of worship and devotion, her expressed self-doubt seemed
that of some saintly being, cloistered in the solitude of a sanctuary.

"Nay," he answered swiftly, "he has but to see you--with the sunlight in
your hair--as I see you now!  The pawn, Madam, would become a queen; his
queen!  What would matter to him the game of Charles or Francis?  Let
Charles grow greater, or Francis smaller.  His gain would be--you!"

The fingers of the maid who sat at the far end of the room ceased to
caress the silver vase; her hands were tightly clasped together; in her
dark eyes was an ironical light, as her gaze passed from the jester to
her mistress.  Almost motionless stood the princess until he had
finished; motionless it would have seemed but for the chain on her
breast, which rose and fell with her breathing.  From the jeweled network
which half-bound her hair shone flashes of light; a tress which escaped
the glittering environment lay like a serpent of gold upon the crimson of
her gown where the neck softly uprose.  A hue, delicately rich as the
tinted leaves of orange blossoms, mantled her cheeks.

She shook her head in soft dissent.  "Queen for how long?" she answered
gently.  "As long as gentle Claude was queen for Francis?  As long as
saintly Eleanor held undisputed sway?"

"As long as Eleanor is queen in the hearts of her people!" he exclaimed,
passionately.  "As long as France is her bridegroom!"

Deliberately she half-turned, the coil of gold falling over her shoulder.
Near her hand, white against the dark casement, a blood-red rose trembled
at the entrance of her chamber, and, grasping it lightly, she held it to
her face as if its perfume symbolized her thoughts.

"Is there so much constancy in the world?" she asked musingly.  "Can such
singleness of heart exist?  Like this flower which would bloom and die at
my window?  A bold flower, though!  Day by day has it been growing
nearer.  Here," she added, breaking it from the stem and holding it to
the jester.

"Madam!" he cried.

"Take it," she laughed, "and--send it to the duke!"  Kneeling, he
received it.  "Thou art a fellow of infinite humor indeed.  Equally at
home in a lady's boudoir, or a fools' drinking bout.  Come, Jacqueline,
Queen Marguerite awaits our presence.  She has a new chapter to read, but
whether another instalment of her tales, or a prayer for her Mirror of
the Sinful Soul, I know not.  As for you, sir"--with a parting
smile--"later we shall walk in the garden.  There you may await us."



CHAPTER IV

AN IMPATIENT SUITOR

"Well, Sir Mariner, do you not fear to venture so far on a dangerous
sea?" asked a mocking voice.

"A dangerous sea, fair Jacqueline?" he replied, stroking the head of
the hound which lay before the bench.  "I see nothing save smiling
fields and fragrant beds of flowers."

"Oh, I recognize now Monsieur Diplomat, not Sir Mariner!" she retorted.

Beneath her head-dress, resembling in some degree two great butterfly
wings, her face looked smaller than its wont.  Laced tight, after the
fashion, the _cotte-hardie_ made her waist appear little larger than
could be clasped by the hands of a soldier, while a silken-shod foot
with which she tapped the ground would have nestled neatly in his palm.
Was it pique that moved her thus to address the duke's jester?  Since
he had arrived, Jacqueline had been relegated, as it were, to the
corner.  She, formerly ever first with the princess, had perforce stood
aside on the coming of the foreign fool whose company her mistress
strangely seemed to prefer to her own.

First had it been talking, walking and jesting, in which last
accomplishment he proved singularly expert, judging from the peals of
laughter to which her mistress occasionally gave vent.  Then it had
become riding, hawking and, worst of all, reading.  Lately Louise,
learned, as has been set forth, in the profane letters, had displayed a
marked favor for books of all kinds--The Tree of Battles, by Bonnet,
the Breviary of Nobles in verse, the "_Livre des faits d'armes et de
chevalerie_," by Christine de Pisan; and in a secluded garden spot,
with her fool and servant, she sedulously pursued her literary labors.

As books were rare, being hand-printed and hand-illumined, the
princess' choice of volumes was not large, but Marguerite, the king's
sister, possessed some rarely executed poems--in their mechanical
aspect; the monarch permitted her the use of several precious
chronicles; while the abbess in the convent near by, who esteemed
Louise for her piety and accomplishments, submitted to her care a
gorgeously painted, satin-bound Life of Saint Agnes, a Roman virgin who
died under the sanguinary persecution of Diocletian.  But Jacqueline
frowningly noticed that the saint's life lay idle--conspicuously,
though fittingly, on the altar-table--while a manuscript of the Queen
of Navarre suspiciously accompanied the jester when he sought the
pleasant nook selected for reading and conversation.

It was to this spot the maid repaired one soft summer afternoon, where
she found the fool and a volume--Marguerite's, by the purple binding
and the love-knot in silver!--awaiting doubtless the coming of the
princess; and at the sight of them, the book of romance and the jester
who brought it, what wonder her patience gave way?

"You have been here now a fortnight, Monsieur Diplomat," she continued,
bending the eyes which Triboulet so feared upon the other.

"Thirteen days, to be exact, sweet Jacqueline!" he answered calmly.

"Indeed!  Then there is some hope for you, if you've kept track of
time," she returned pointedly.

Still he forbore to qualify his manner, save with a latent smile that
further exasperated the girl.

"What mean you, gentle mistress?" he asked quietly, without even
looking at her.

"'Sweet Jacqueline!'  'Gentle mistress!' you are profuse with soft
words!" she cried sharply.

"And yet they turn you not from anger."

"Anger!" she said, her eyes flashing.  "Not another man at court would
dare to talk to me as you do."

At this he lifted his brows and surveyed her much as one would a
spoiled child, a glance that excited in her the same emotion she had
experienced the night of his arrival in Fools' hall, when he had
contemplated her in her garb of Joculatrix, as some misplaced anomaly.

"I know, mistress," he returned ironically, "you have a reputation for
sorcery.  But I think it lies more in your eyes than in the moon."

"And yet I can see the future for all that," she replied, persistently,
defiantly.

"The future?" he retorted, and looked from the earth to the sky.  "What
is the goal of yonder tiny cloud?  Can you tell me that?"

"The goal?" she repeated, uplifting her head.  "Wait!  It is very
small.  The sun is already swallowing it up."

"Heigho!" yawned the jester, outstretching his yellow-pointed boot, "I
catch not the moral to the fable--an there be one!

"The moral!" she said, quickly.  "Ask Marot."

"Why Marot?"  Balancing the stick with the fool's head in his hand.

"Because he dared love Queen Marguerite!" she answered impetuously.
"The fool in motley; the lady in purple!  How he jested at her wedding!
How he wept when he thought himself alone!"

"He had but himself to blame, Jacqueline," returned the other with
composure, although his eyes were now bent straight before him.  "He
could not climb to her; she could not stoop to him.  Yet I daresay, it
was a mad dream he would not have foregone."

"Not have foregone!" she exclaimed, quickly.  "What would he not have
given to tear it from his breast; aye, though he tore his heart with
it!  That day, bright and fair, when Henry d'Albret, King of Navarre,
took her in his arms and kissed her brow!  When amid gay festivities
she became his bride!  Not have foregone?  Yes; Marot would forego that
day--and other days."

Still that inertia; that irritating immobility.  "What a tragic tale
for a summer day!" was his only comment.

"And Caillette!" she continued, rapidly.  "Distinguished in mien,
graceful in manner.  In the house of his patron, he dared look up to
that nobleman's daughter, Diane de Poitiers.  A dream; a youthful
dream!  Enter Monsieur de Brézé, grand seneschal of Normandy.  Shall I
tell you the rest?  How Caillette stares, moody, knitting his brows at
his cups!  Of what is the jester thinking?"

"Whether the grand seneschal will let him sleep with the spaniels,
Jacqueline, or turn him out," laughed the jester.

Angrily she clasped her hands before her.  "Is it the way your mind
would move?" she retorted.

"A jester without a roof to cover him is like a dog without a kennel,
mistress."

Disdain, contempt, rapidly crossed her face, but her lip curved
knowingly and her voice came more gently, because of the greater sting
that lay behind her words.

"You but seek to flout me from my tale," she said sweetly.  "Caillette
is none such, as you know.  They were young together.  'Twas said he
confessed his love; that tokens passed between them.  Rhymes he writ to
her; a flower, perhaps, she gave him.  A flower he yet cherishes,
mayhap; dried, faded, yet plucked by her!"

Involuntarily the hand of her listener touched his breast, the first
sign he had made that her story moved him.  Jacqueline, watching him
keenly, smiled, and demurely looked away.  Her next words seemed to
dance from her lips, as with head bent, like a butterfly poised, she
addressed her remark to vacancy.

"A flower for himself, no doubt!  Not given him for another!"

Whereupon she turned in time to catch the burning flush which flamed
his cheek and left it paler than she had ever seen it.  At this first
signal of her success--proving that he was not impregnable to her
attack--she hummed a little song and beat time on the sward with a
green-shod foot.

"What mean you?" he asked, momentarily dropping his unruffled manner.

"Not much!"  Lightly she tripped to a bush, broke off a flower and
regarded it mischievously.  "Why should people hide that which is so
sweet and fragrant?" she remarked, and set the rose in her hair.

"Hide?" he said, looking at the flower, but not at her.

"I trust you kept the rose, Monsieur Diplomat?" she spoke up, suddenly,
her expression most serious.

"What rose?" he asked, now become restless beneath her cutting tongue.

"What rose!  As if you did not know!  How innocent you look!  How many
roses are there in the world?  A thousand?  Or only one?  What rose?
Her rose, of course.  Have you got it?  I hope so--for the duke is
coming and might ask for it!"

This, then, was the information she had taken such a roundabout way to
communicate!  It was to this end she had purposely led the conversation
by adroit stages, studying him gaily, impatiently or maliciously, as
she marked the effect of her words upon him.  All alive, she stepped
back laughing; elate, she put her arms about a branch of the rose-bush
and drew a score of roses to her bosom, as though she were a witch,
impervious to thorns.  He had risen--yes, there was no doubt about
it!--but her sunny face was turned to the flowers.  His countenance
became at once puzzled and thoughtful.

"The duke--coming--"  He condescended to ask for information now.

Sidewise she gazed at him, unrelenting.  "Does the flower become me?"
she asked.

"The duke--coming--" he repeated.

"How impolite!  To refuse me a compliment!" she flashed.

The next moment he was by her side, and had taken her arm, almost
roughly.  "Speak out!" he cried.  "Some one is coming!  What duke is
coming?"

"You hurt me!" she exclaimed, angrily.  He loosened his grasp.

"What duke?" she answered scornfully.  "Her duke!  Your duke!  The
emperor's duke!"

"The Duke of Friedwald?" he asked.

"Of course!  The princess' fiancé; bridegroom-to-be; future husband,
lord and master," she explained, with indubious and positive iteration.

"But the time--set for the wedding---has not expired," he protested
with what she thought seemed a suspicion that she was playing with him.

"That is easily answered," she said cheerfully.  "The duke, it seems,
has become more and more enamored.  Finally his passion has so grown
and grown he fears to let it grow any more, and, as the only way out of
the difficulty, petitioned the king to curtail the time of probation
and relieve him of the constantly augmenting suspense.  To which his
most gracious Majesty, having been a lover himself (on divers
occasions) and measuring the poor fellow's troubles by the qualms he
has himself experienced, has seen generously fit to cut off a few weeks
of waiting and set the wedding for the near future."

"How know you this?" he demanded, sharply, striding to and fro.

"This morning the princess sent me with a message to the Countess
d'Etampes.  You know her?  You have heard?  She has succeeded the
Countess of Châteaubriant.  Well, the king was with her--not the
Countess of Châteaubriant, but the other one, I mean.  They left poor
me to await his Majesty's pleasure, and, as the Countess d'Etampes has
but newly succeeded to her present exalted position and the king has
not yet discovered her many imperfections, I should certainly have
fallen asleep for weariness had I not chanced to overhear portions of
their conversation.  The Countess d'Etampes, it seemed, was very angry.
'Your Majesty promised to send her home,' she said.  'But, my dear,
give me time,' pleaded the king.  'Pack her off at once,' she demanded,
raising her voice.  'Send her to her husband.  That's where she
belongs.  Think of him, poor fellow!'  Laughing, his Majesty
capitulated.  'Well, well, back to her castle goes the Countess of
Châteaubriant!'  Thereupon--"

"But the duke, mistress," interrupted the jester, who had become more
and more impatient during the prolonged narration.  "The duke?"

"Am I not to tell it in my own way?" she returned.  "What manners you
have!  First, you pinch my arm until I must needs cry out.  Then you
ask a question and interrupt me before I can answer."

"Interrupt!" he muttered.  "You might have told a dozen tales.  What
care I for the king's Jezebels?"

"Jezebels!" she repeated, in mock horror.  "I see plainly, if you don't
die one way, you will another."

"'Tis usually the case.  But go on with your story."

"If I can not tell it in my own way--"

"Tell it as you will, if your way be as slow as your tongue is sharp,"
he answered sullenly.

"Sharp!  Jezebels!  You deserve not to hear, but--the king, it seems,
had laid the duke's request before the Countess d'Etampes.  'Here is an
impatient suitor,' he said gaily.  'How shall we cure his passion?'
'By marrying him,' blithely answered this light-of-love.  ''Tis a
medicine that never fails!'  His Majesty frowned; I could not see him,
but felt sure of it from his tone, for although he neglects the queen,
yet, to some degree, is mindful of her dignity.  'Marriage is a holy
state, Madam,' he replied severely.  'There's no doubt about it,
Francis,' returned the lady, 'and therefore is the antidote to passion.
But a man bent on matrimony is like a child that wants a toy.  Better
give it to him at once--the plaything will the sooner be thrown aside!'
'Nay, Madam,' he said reprovingly, 'the duke shall have his wish, but
for no such reason.'  'What reason then?' quoth she, petulantly.
'Because thou hast shown me love is a monarch stronger than any king
and that we are but as slaves in its hands!' he exclaimed,
passionately.  'I know I shall like the duke,' cried she, 'since he is
the cause of that pretty speech.'

"At this point, not daring to listen longer, I coughed; there was
silence; then the countess herself appeared at the door and looked at
me sharply.  With such grace as I could command, I delivered my
message, left the house and was hurrying through the garden when chance
threw you in my way.  And now you have it all, sir."

"The princess--has she heard the king has received a letter from the
duke, and that his Majesty has changed the wedding date?"

The jester spoke slowly, but Jacqueline was assured that beneath his
deliberate manner surged deep and conflicting emotions; that his
calmness was no more than a mask to conceal his pain.  Had he given
utterance to the feeling that beset him, had he betrayed more than a
suggestion of the passion, rage or grief which struggles for mastery
beneath a forced sloth of sensibility, she would have once more mocked
him with laughter.  But perhaps his very quiescence inclined her to
look upon him with a grain of sympathy or compassion, for her tones
were now grave.

"The princess knows; has heard all from the king.  Not long since he
sent for her.  Will she consent?  What else can she do?  'Tis the
monarch who commands; we who obey!"

"Is the court then only a mart, a guildhall?" he exclaimed.  "A
woman--even a princess--should be won, not--exchanged!"

Her lashes drooped; in her gaze shone once more the ironical amusement.
"Why," she said, "from what wilds, or forests, have you come?  The
heart follows where the trader lists!  Think you the princess will wear
the willow?" she laughed.  "How well you know women!"

"Do you mean that she--"

"I mean that her welfare is in strong hands; that there will be few
greater in all the land; none more honored!  The duke's principality is
vast--but here comes the princess."  The hound sprang to his feet and
ran gamboling down the path.  "Ask her the rest yourself, most
Unsophisticated Fool!  Ah,"--with a touch she could not resist--"what a
handsome bride she will make for the duke!"



CHAPTER V

JACQUELINE FETCHES THE PRINCESS' FAN

Through the flowery path, so narrow her gown brushed the leaves on
either side, the Princess Louise appeared, walking slowly.  A
head-dress, heart-shaped, held her hair in its close confines; the gown
of cloth-of-silver damask fitted closely to her figure, and, from the
girdle, hung a long pendent end, elaborately enriched.  With short,
sharp barks, the dog bounded before her, but the hand usually extended
to caress the animal remained at her side.

Intently the jester watched her draw near and ever nearer, their common
trysting spot, her favorite garden nook.  A handsome bride, forsooth,
as Jacqueline had suggested.  All in white was she now; a glittering
white, with silver adornment; ravishingly hymeneal.  A bride for a
duke--or a king--more stately than the queen; handsomer than the
favorite of favorites who ruled the king and France.

"Jacqueline," she said, evincing neither surprise nor any other
emotion, as she approached, "go and fetch my fan.  I believe 'tis in
the king's ante-chamber."

"Madam carried no fan when"--began the girl.

"Then 'tis somewhere else.  Do not bandy words, but find it."

Sinking on the bench as the maid walked quickly away, she remained for
some moments in silent thought,--a reverie the jester forbore to
disturb.  Her head rested on her arm, from which fell the flowing
sleeve almost to the ground; her wrist was lightly inclasped by a
slender golden band of delicate Byzantine enamel work; over the
sculptured form of the stone griffin that constituted one of the
supports of the ancient Norman bench flowed the voluminous folds of her
dress, partly concealing the monster from view.  Against the clambering
ivy which for centuries had reveled in this chosen spot, and which the
landscape gardeners of Francis had wisely spared, lay her hand, a small
ring of curious workmanship gleaming from her finger.  The ring caused
the jester to start, remembering he had last seen it worn by the king.

Truly, the capricious, but august, monarch must have been well pleased
with the complaisance of his fair ward, and the face of the fool,
glowing and eager, became on the instant hard and cold.  Did he
experience now the first pangs of that sorrow Jacqueline had vividly
portrayed as the love-portion of Marot and Caillette?  Faintly the ivy
whispered above the princess, telling perhaps of other days when,
centuries gone by, some Norman lady had been wooed and won, or wooed
and lost, in the shadow of the griffin, which, silent, sphinx-like, yet
endured through the ages.

Idly the Princess Louise plucked a leaf from the old, old vine, picked
it apart and let the pieces float away.  As they fluttered and fell at
the jester's feet she regarded him with thoughtful blue eyes.

"How far is it," she asked, "to the duke's principality?"

If he had doubted the maid's story, he was now convinced.  The ring and
her question confirmed Jacqueline's narrative.  Moodily he surveyed the
great claws of the griffin, firmly planted on the earth, and then
looked from the feet to the laughing mouth of the stone figure, or so
much of it as the shining dress left uncovered.

"About fifteen days' journey, Princess," he replied.

"No farther?"

"Barring accidents, it may be made in that time."

She did not notice how dull was his tone; how he avoided her gaze.
Blind to him, she turned the ring around and around on her finger, as
though her thoughts were concentrated on it.

"Accidents," she repeated, her hand now motionless.  "Is the way
perilous?"

"The country is most unsettled."

"What do you mean by unsettled?" she continued, bending forward with
fingers clasped over her knees.  Supinely she waved a foot back and
forth, showing and then withdrawing the point of a jeweled slipper, and
a suggestion of lavender in silk network above.  "What do you call
unsettled?"

"The country is infested with many roving bands commanded by the
so-called independent barons who owe allegiance to neither king nor
emperor," he answered.  "Their homes are perched, like eagles' nests,
upon some mountain peak that commands the valleys travelers must
proceed through.  A fierce, untamed crew, bent on rapine and murder!"

"Did you encounter any such?" Gently.

"Ofttimes."

"And left unscathed?"

"Because I was a jester, Madam; something less than man; a lordling's
slave; a woman's plaything!  Their sentinels shared with me their
flasks; I slept before their signal fires, and even supped in the heart
of their stone fastnesses.  Fools and monks are safe among them, for
the one amuses and the other absolves their sins.  Yet is there one
free baron," he added reflectively, "whom even I should have done well
to avoid; he, the most feared, the most savage!  Louis, the bastard of
Pfalz-Urfeld!"

"Have you ever met him?" asked the princess, in a mechanical tone.

"No," with a short laugh.  "A few of his knaves I encountered, however,
whose conduct shamed the courtesy of the other mountain rogues.  I all
but fared ill indeed, from them.  To the pleasantry of my greeting,
they replied with the true pilferer's humor; the free baron had ordered
every one searched.  They would have robbed and stripped me, despite
the color of my coat, only fortunately, instead of a fool's staff, I
had a good blade of the duke's.  For a moment it was cut and
thrust--not jest and gibe; the suddenness of the attack surprised them,
and before they could digest the humor of it the fool had slipped away."

She leaned inertly back against the soft cushion of ivy.  In the shadow
the tint on her cheeks deepened, but below the sunlight played about
her shoulders through leafy interspace, or crept in dancing spots down
over her gown and arms.

"The duke would not be molested by these outlaws?" she continued,
pursuing her line of questioning.

"The duke has a strong arm," he answered cautiously.  "They may be well
content to permit him to come and go as he sees fit."

"Well, well," she said, perversely, "I was only curious about the
distance and the country."

"For leagues the land is wild, bleak, inhospitable, and then 'tis
level, monotonous, deserted, so lonely the song dies on the wandering
minstrel's lips.  But the duke rides fast with his troop and soon would
cover the mountain paths and dreary wastes."

"Nay," she interrupted impatiently, "I asked not how the duke would
ride."

"I thought you wished to know, Princess," he replied, humbly.

"You thought"--she began angrily, sitting erect.

"I know, Princess; a fool should but jest, not think."

"Why do you cross me to-day?" she demanded petulantly.  "Can you not
see--"

Abruptly she rose; impatiently moved away; but a few steps, however,
when she turned, her face suddenly free from annoyance, in her eyes a
soft decision.

"There!" she exclaimed with a smile, half-arch, half-repentant.  "How
can any one be angry on such a day--all sunshine, butterflies and
flowers!"

He did not reply, and, mistress once more of herself, she drew near.

"What a contrast to the stuffy palace, with all the courtiers,
ministers and lap-dogs!" she went on.  "Here one can breathe.  But how
shall we make the most of such a day?  Stroll into the forest; sit by
the fountain; run over the grass?"

Her voice was softer than it had been; her words fraught with
suggestions of exhilarating companionship.  Did she note their effect?
At any rate, she laughed lightly.

"But how," she resumed, surveying the great enfolding skirt, "could one
trip the sward with this monstrous gown, weighted with wreaths of
silver?  Is it not but one of the many penalties of high birth?  Oh,
for the short skirts of the lowly!  What comfort to be arrayed like
Jacqueline!"

"And she, Princess, doubtless thinks likewise of more gorgeous
apparel."  His heart beat faster as he strove to answer her in kind.

"A waste of cloth in vanity, as saith Master Calvin!" she replied,
lifting her arms that shone with creamy softness from the dangling
folds of heavy silk.  "Were it not for this courtly encumbrance, I
should propose going into the fields with the haymakers.  You may see
them now--look!--through the opening in the foliage."

With an expression, part resignation, part regret, she leaned against
the wind-worn griffin which formed the arm of the bench.  Fainter
sounded the warning of the jestress in the ears of the duke's fool; so
faint it became but a weak admonition.  More and more he abandoned
himself to the pleasure of the moment.

"To make the most of the day," the princess had said.

How?  By denying himself the sight of her ever-varying grace; by
refusing to yield to the charm of her voice.  He raised his head more
boldly; through her drooping lashes a lazy light shot forth upon him,
and the shadow of a smile seemed to say: "That is better.  When the
mistress is indulgent, a fool should not be unbending.  A melancholy
jester is but poor company."

And so her mood swayed his; he forgot his resolution, his pride, and
yielded to the infatuation of the moment.  But when he endeavored to
call the weapons of his office to his aid, her glance and the shadow of
that smile left him witless.  Jest, fancy and whim had taken flight.

"Well?" she said.  "Well, Sir Fool?"

His color shifted; withal his half-embarrassment, there was something
graceful and noble in his bearing.

"Madam"--he began, and stopped for want of matter to put into words.

But if the princess was annoyed at the new-found dullness of her
_plaisant_, her manner did not show it.

"What," she said, gently; "no news from the court; no word of intrigue;
no story of the king?  I should seek a courtier for my companion, not a
jester.  But there!  What book have you brought?" indicating the volume
that lay upon the bench.

"Guillaume de Lorris's 'Romance of the Rose,'" he answered, more freely.

"Where did we leave off?"

"Where the hero, arriving at a fountain, beheld a beautiful rose tree,"
said the fool in a low tone.  "Desiring the rose, he reached to gather
it--"

"Yes, I remember.  And then, Reason and Danger did battle with Love."

"Is it your wish we continue?" he asked, taking the book in his hand.

"I would fain learn if he gathers his rose.  Nay, sit here on the bench
and I"--brightly--"may look over your shoulder ever and anon, to steal
a glimpse of the pretty pictures."

Unquestioningly, he obeyed her, the book, illumined, gleaming in the
sunshine; the letters, red, gold, many-hued, dancing before them.  Love
in crimson, the five silver shafts of Cupid, the Tower of Jealousy, a
frowning fortress, the Rose, incentive for endless striving and
endeavor--all floated by on the creamy parchment leaves.  So interested
was she in these wondrous pages, executed with such precision and
perfection, with marginal adornment, and many a graceful turn and fancy
in initial letter and tail-piece, she seemed to him for the moment
rather some simple lowly maiden than a proud princess of the realm.

"How much splendor the penman has shown!" she murmured, her breath on
his cheek.  "'Tis more beautiful than the 'Life of Saint Agnes.'  Is
not that figure well done?  A hard, austere old man; Reason, I believe,
in monkish attire."

"Reason, or Duty, ever partakes of the monastery," he retorted with a
short, mirthless laugh.

"Duty; obedience!" she broke in.  "Do I not know them?  Please turn the
page."

Reaching over, she herself did so, her fingers touching his, her bosom
just brushing his shoulder; and then she flushed, for it was Venus's
self the page revealed, standing on a grassy bank and showing Love the
rose.  Around the queen of beauty floated a silver gauze; her hair was
indicated by threads of gold tossed luxuriantly about her; upon the
shoulder of Love rested her hand, encouraging him in his quest.  Most
zealously had the monk-artist executed the lovely lady, as though some
heart-dream flowed from the ink on his pen, every line exact, each
feature radiantly shown.  Some youthful anchorite, perhaps, was he, and
this the fair temptation that had assailed his fancy; such a vision as
St. Anthony wrestled with in the grievous solitude of his hermit cell.

From the book and the picture, the jester, feeling the princess draw
back impulsively, dared look up, and, looking up, could not look down
from a loveliness surpassing the idealization on vellum of a monkish
dream.  From head to foot, the sunlight bathed the princess, glistening
in her hair until it was alive with light.  Even when he gazed into her
blue eyes he was conscious of a more flaming glory than lay in the
heavens of their depths; a splendent maze that shed a brightness around
her.

"Oh, Princess," he said, wildly, "I know what the king hath told you!
Why you wear the monarch's ring!"

"The monarch's ring!" she repeated, as recalled suddenly from wandering
thought.  "Why--how know you--ah, Jacqueline--"

"And a ring signifieth consent.  You will fulfill the king's desire?"

"The king's desire?" she replied, mechanically.  "Is it not the will of
God?"

"But your own heart?" he cried, holding her with his eager gaze.

She laid her hand on his shoulder; her eyes answered his.  Did she not
realize the tragedy the future held for him?  Or did to-morrow seem far
off, and the present become her greater concern?  Was hers the
philosophy of Marguerite's code which taught that the sweets of
admiration should be gathered on the moment?  That a cry of pain from a
worshiping heart, however lowly, was honeyed flattery to Love's
votaries?  As the jester looked at her a sudden chill seized his
breast.  Jacqueline's mocking laughter rang in his ears.  "Ask her the
rest yourself, most Unsophisticated Fool!"

"Then you will obey the king?" he persisted, dully.

"Why," she answered, smiling and bending nearer, "will you spoil the
day?"

"You would give yourself to a man, whether or not you loved him?"

A frown gathered on the princess' brow, but she stooped, herself picked
up the book he had dropped, brushed the earth from it and seated
herself upon the bench.  Her manner was quiet, resolute; her action, a
rebuke to the forward fool.

"Will you not read?" she said, with an inscrutable look.

"True," he exclaimed, rising quickly, "I was sent to amuse--"

"And you have found me a too exacting mistress?" she asked, more
gently, checking the implied reproach.

"Exacting!" he repeated.

"What then?" she said, half sadly.

"Nothing," he answered.

But in his mind Jacqueline's scornful words reiterated themselves:
"Think you the princess will wear the willow?"

Taking the book, he opened it at random, mechanically sinking at her
feet.  The quest, the idle quest!  Was it but an awakening?  So far lay
the branch above his reach!  His voice rose and fell with the mystic
rhythm of the meter, now dwelling on death and danger, the shortness of
life, the sweetness of passion; then telling the pleasures of the dance.

[Illustration: Taking the book, he opened it at random, mechanically
sinking at her feet.]

Lower fell the princess' hand until it touched the reader's head;
touched and lingered.  Before the fool's eyes the letters of the book
became blurred and then faded away.  Doubt, misgiving, fear, vanished
on the moment.  The flower she had given him seemed to burn on his
heart.  He forgot the decree of the king; her equivocation; the
unanswered question.  Passionately he thrust his hand into his doublet.

"The rose and love are one," he cried.  "The rose is--"

"Pardon me, Madam," said a voice, and Jacqueline, clear-eyed, calm,
stood before them; "the fan was not in the king's ante-chamber, or I
should have been here sooner.  I trust you have not been put out for
want of it?"

"Not at all, Jacqueline," returned her mistress, with a natural,
tranquil movement, "although"--sharply--"you were gone longer than you
should have been!"



CHAPTER VI

THE ARRIVAL OF THE DUKE

Proficient as a poet, bold as a soldier, adroit as a statesman, the
king was, nevertheless, most fitted for the convivial role of host, and
no part that he played in his varied repertoire afforded such
opportunity for the nice display of his unusual talents.  History hath
sneered at his rhymes as flat, stale and unprofitable; upon the bloody
field he had been defeated and subsequently imprisoned; clever in
diplomacy, the sagacity of his opponent, Charles, had in truth
overmatched him; yet as the ostentatious Boniface, in grand bib and
tucker, prodigal in joviality and good-fellowship, his reputation rests
without a flaw.

In anticipation of the arrival of the duke and his suite, the monarch
had ordered a series of festivities and entertainments such as would
gratify his desire for pageantry and display, and at the same time do
honor to a guest who was to espouse one of France's fairest wards.  To
the castle repaired tailors, embroiderers and goldsmiths to make and
devise garments for knights, ladies, lords and esquires and for the
trapping, decking and adorning of coursers, jennets and palfries.
Bales of silks and satins had been long since conveyed thither from
distant Paris, in anticipation of the coming marriage; and the old
Norman castle that had once resounded with the clashing of arms, the
snap of the cross-bow and the clang of the catapult now echoed with the
merry stir and flurry of peace; a bee-hive of activity wherein were no
drones; marshal, grand master, chancellor and grand chamberlain
preparing for mysteries and hunting parties; dowagers, matrons and
maids making ready for balls and other pastimes.

With this new influx of population to the pleasure palace came a
plentiful sprinkling of wayside minstrels, jugglers, mountebanks,
dulcimer and lute players, street poets who sang the praises of some
fair cobbleress or pretty sausage girl; scamps of students from the
Paris haunts of vice, loose fellows who conned the classical poets by
day and took a purse by night; dancers, dwarfs, and merry men all, not
averse to--

  "Haunch and ham, and cheek and chine
  While they gurgled their throats with right good wine."


Here sauntered a wit-cracker, a peacock feather in his hand, arm-in-arm
with an impoverished "banquet beagle," or "feast hound;" there passed a
jack in green, a bladder under his arm and a tankard at his belt, with
which latter he begged that sort of alms that flows from a spigot.  As
vagrant followers hover on the verge of a camp, or watchful vultures
circle around their prey, so these lower parasites (distinct from the
other well-born, more aristocratic genus of smell-feast) prowled
vigilantly without the castle walls and beyond the limits of the royal
pleasure grounds, finding occasional employment from lackey, valet or
equerry, who, imitating their betters, amused themselves betimes with
some low buffoon or vulgar clown and rewarded him for his gross stories
and antics with a crust and a cup.

Faith, in those thrice happy days, every henchman could whistle to him
his shabby poet, and every ostler hold court in the stable, with a
_visdase_, or ass face, to keep the audience in a roar, and a
nimble-footed trull to set them into ecstasies.  But woe betide the
honest wayfarer who strolled beyond the orderly precincts of the king's
walls after dusk; for if some street coxcomb was too drunk to rob him,
or a ribald Latin scholar saw him not, he surely ran into a nest of
pavement tumblers or cellar poets who forthwith stripped him and turned
him loose in the all-insufficient garb of nature.

A fantastic, waggish crew--yet Francis minded them not, so long as they
observed sufficient etiquette to keep their distance from his royal
person and immediate following.  This nice decorum, however, be it
said, was an unwritten law with these waifs and scatterlings, knowing
the merry monarch who tolerated them afar would feel no compunction at
hanging them severally, or in squads, from the convenient branches of
the trees surrounding the castle, should the humor seize him that such
summary chastisement were best for their morals and the welfare of the
community.  Thus, though bold, were they also shy, drinking humbly from
a black-jack quart in the kitchen and vanishing docilely enough when
the sovereign cook bid them be gone with warm words or by flinging over
them ladles of hot soup.

One bright morning, like rabbits peeping from their holes when they
hear the footfall of the hunter, these field ramblers and wayside
peregrinators were all agog, emerging from grassy cover and thicket
retreat, to gaze open-mouthed after a gay cavalcade that issued from
the castle gate, and rode southward with waving banner and piercing
trumpet note.

"The king, knaves!" cried a grimy estray with bells upon his person
that jingled like those of a Jewish high priest, to a group of players
and gamesters.  "Already my mouth waters at the thoughts of the wedding
feast, and the scraps and bones that will be thrown away.  There I
warrant you we'll all find hearty cheer."

"Why are fools ever welcome at a wedding?" asked a singing scholar.

"Because there are two in the ceremony, and the rest make the chorus,"
answered a philandering mime.

"And our merry monarch goeth down the road to meet one of the two,"
said a close-cropped rogue.

"Well, he's a brave knight to come so far to yield himself captive--to
a woman," returned the student.  "As Horace saith--"

"Thou calumniator! shrimp of a man!" exclaimed a dark-browed drab
dressed like a gipsy, seizing the scholar's short doublet.  "An I get
at you--"

"Take the garment, you harridan, not the man," he retorted, slipping
deftly out of the jerkin and dancing away to a safe distance.

"Ha! there's wedded bliss for you!" laughed a man in Franciscan attire,
a rough rascal disguised as one of those priests called "God's fools"
or "Christ's fools."  "A week ago, when I married them, they were
billing and cooing.  But to your holes, children!  When the king
returns he would not have his guest gaze upon such scarecrows and
trollops.  Disperse, and Beelzebub take you!"  And as the group
scattered the sound of beating horses' hoofs died away in the distance.

Francis was unusually good-humored that day.  Apprised by a herald that
the duke and his followers were nearing the castle, he had sent the
messenger back announcing a trysting-place, and now rode forth to meet
his guest and escort him with honor to the castle.  Upon a noble steed,
black as night, the monarch sat; the saddle and trappings crimson in
color; the stirrup and bit, of gold; a jaunty plume of white ostrich
feathers waving above the jetty mane.  The costume of the king's
stalwart figure displayed a splendid suit of plate armor, enriched with
chased work and ornament in gold, his appearance in keeping with his
character of monarch and knight who sought to revive the spirit of
chivalry at a period when the practical modern tendencies seriously
threatened to undermine the practices and traditions of a once-exalted,
but now fast-failing, institution for the regulation of morals and
conduct.

By his side, less radiant only in comparison with the august monarch,
rode the rank and quality of the realm, with silver and spangles, and
fluttering plumes, scabbards gleaming with jewels, and girdles adorned
with rich settings.  Furiously galloping behind came an attenuated
snow-white charger, bearing the hunchback.  A bladder dangling over his
shoulder, his bagpipe hanging from his waist, Triboulet bobbed
frantically up and down, clinging desperately to the saddle or winding
his legs about the charger's neck to preserve his equilibrium.

"You would better jog along more quietly, fool," observed a courtier,
warningly, "or you will suffer for it."

"Alas, sir," replied Triboulet, "I stick my spurs into my horse to keep
him quiet, but the more I prick him the more unruly I find the
obstinate beast."

The king, who heard, laughed, and the dwarf's heart immediately
expanded, auguring he should soon be restored to the monarch's favor;
for since the night the buffoon had failed to answer the duke's jester
in Fools' hall Francis had received Triboulet's advances and small
pleasantries with terrifying coldness.  In fact, the dwarf had never
passed such an uncomfortable period during his career, save on one
memorable occasion when a band of mischievous pages had set upon him,
carried him to the scaffold and nailed his enormous ears to the beam.
Now, reassured, burning with delight, the jester spurred presumptuously
forward, no longer feeling bound to lag in the rear.

"Go back!" cried an angry knight.  "I can not bear a fool on my right."

Triboulet reined in his horse, but pushed ahead on the other side of
the rider who had spoken.

"I can bear it very well," he retorted and found his proud reward in
the company's laughter.  The remark, moreover, passed from lip to lip
to the king, and the misshapen jester felt his little cup of happiness
filled once more to the brim; his old prestige seemed coming back to
him; holding his position in the road, he gazed disdainfully at the
disgruntled knight, and the other returned the look with one of hearty
ill-will, muttering an imprecation and warning just above his breath.

"Sire," called out Triboulet, loudly, now above fearing courtier,
knight or any high official of the realm, "the Count de Piseione says
he will beat me to death."

"If he does," good-naturedly answered the king, "I will hang him
quarter of an hour afterward."

"Please, your Majesty, hang him quarter of an hour before."

Thus right pleasantly, with quip and jest, and many a smart sally, did
the monarch and his retinue draw near the meeting spot, where at a fork
of the road, beneath the shade of overhanging branches, were already
assembled a goodly group of soldiers.  Beyond them, at a respectful
distance, stood many beasts of burden, heavily laden, the great packs
promising stores of rare and costly gifts.  At the head of the troopers
was a thick-set man, with broad shoulders and brawny frame, mounted on
a powerful gray horse.  This leader, whom the approaching company
surmised to be the duke, sat motionless as a statue, gazing steadfastly
at the shining armor and gallant figure of the king who spurred to him,
a friendly greeting on his lips.  Then, lightly springing to earth and
throwing his bridle to one of his troop, the foreign noble approached
the royal horseman on foot, and, bending his head, knelt before him,
respectfully kissing his hand.

Grim, silent, with hardened faces, the duke's men regarded the scene,
their dusty attire (albeit rich enough beneath the marks of travel),
sun-burned visages and stolid manner in marked contrast with the
bearing and aspect of the king's gay following.  One of the alien troop
pulled a red mustachio fiercely and eyed a blithe popinjay of the court
with quizzical superiority; the others remained, stock-still, but
observant.

"I see you are punctual and waiting, noble sir!" said the monarch gaily
when the initial formalities had been complied with.  "But that is no
more than should be expected from--an impatient bridegroom."  Then,
gazing curiously, yet with penetrating look, on the features of his
guest, who now had arisen: "You appear slightly older than I expected
from the letter of our dear friend and brother, the emperor."

And truly the duke's appearance was that of a man more nearly five and
thirty than five and twenty; his face was brown from exposure and upon
his brow the scar of an old sword wound; yet a fearless, dashing
countenance; an eye that could kindle to headlong passion, and a
thick-set neck and heavy jaw that bespoke the foeman who would battle
to the last breath.

"Older, Sire?" he replied with composure.  "That must needs be, since
living in the saddle ages a man."

"Truly," returned the monarch, instinctively laying his hand upon his
sword.  "The clash of arms, the thunder of hoofs, the waving
banners--yes, Glory is a seductive mistress who robs us of our youth.
Have I not wooed her and found--gray hairs?  Who shall give me back
those days?"

"History, your Majesty, shall give them to posterity," answered the
duke.

"Even those we lost to Charles?" muttered the king, a shadow passing
over his countenance.

"Glory, Sire, is a mistress sometimes fickle in her favors."

"And yet we live but for--"  He broke off abruptly, and with the eye of
a trained commander surveyed the duke's men.  "Daredevils; daredevils,
all!" he muttered.

"Rough-looking fellows, Sire!" apologized the duke, "but tried and
faithful soldiers.  Somewhat dusty and road-worn."  And his eyes turned
meaningly to the king's suite; the flashing girdles of silver, the
shining hilts, the gorgeous cloaks and even the adornment of ribbons.

"Nay," said Francis meditatively, "on a rough journey I would fain have
these fire-eaters at my back.  They look as though they could cut and
hew."

"Moderately well, your Majesty," answered the duke with modesty.

"Will you mount, noble sir, and ride with me?  Yonder is the castle,
and in the castle is a certain fair lady whom you, no doubt, fain would
see."

Long gazed the Duke of Friedwald at the distant venerable pile of
stone; the majestic turrets and towers softly floating in a dreamy
mist; the setting, fresh, woody, green.  Long he looked at this
inviting picture and then breathed deeply.

"Ah, Sire, I would the meeting were over," he remarked in a low voice.

"Why so, sir?" asked the king in surprise.  "Do you fear you will not
fancy the lady?"

"I fear she may not fancy me," retorted the nobleman, soberly.  "Your
own remark, Sire; that I appear older than you had expected?" he
continued, gravely, significantly.

"A recommendation in your favor," laughed the monarch.  "I ever prefer
sober manhood to callow youth about me.  The one is a prop, stanch,
tried; the other a reed that bends this way and that, or breaks when
you press it too hard."

"I should be lacking in gratitude were I not deeply appreciative of
your Majesty's singular kindness," replied the duke, his face flushing
with pleasure.  "But your Majesty knows womankind--"

"Nay; I've studied them a little, but know them not," retorted Francis,
dryly.

"And it is unlikely the lady may find me all her imagination has
depicted," went on the nobleman, with palpable embarrassment.  "My
noble master, the emperor, hath--regarding me still as but a stripling
from his own vantage point of age and wisdom--represented me a young
man in his proposals.  But though I'm younger than I look, and feel no
older than I am, how young, or how old, shall I seem to the princess?"

"Young enough to be her husband; old enough for her to look up to,"
answered the monarch, reassuringly.

"Again," objected the duke, meditatively regarding the castle, "she may
be expecting a handsome, debonair bridegroom, and when she sees
me"--ruefully surveying himself--"what will she say?"

"What will she say?  'Yes' at the altar.  Is it not enough?"  Leaning
back in his saddle, the king's face expressed the enjoyment he derived
from the conversation with the backward and too conscientious soldier.
Here was a groom whose wedding promised the court much amusement and
satisfaction in those jovial days of jesting and merry-making.

"Come," resumed the king, encouragingly, "I'll warrant you more forward
in battle."

"Battle!" said the duke.  "That's another matter.  To see your foeman's
gleaming eyes!--but hers!--  Should they express anger, disdain--"

"Let yours show but the greater wrath," advised the king,
complaisantly.  "In love, like cures like!  Let me be your physician;
I'll warrant you'll find me proficient."

"I've heard your Majesty hath practised deeply," returned the noble,
readily, in spite of his perplexity.

"Deeply?"  Francis lifted his brow.  "I am but a superficial student;
master only of the rudiments; no graduate of the college of love.
Moreover, I've heard the letters you exchanged were--ahem!--well-enough
writ.  You pressed your suit warmly for one unlearned, a mere novice."

"Because I had seen her face, your Majesty; had it ever before me in
the painted miniature.  Any man"--with a rough eloquence and fervor
that impressed the king with the depth of his passion--"could well
worship at that fair shrine, but that she--"

"Forward, I beg you!" interrupted the king.  "Womankind are but frail
flesh, sir; easily molded; easily won.  She is a woman; therefore,
soft, yielding; yours for the asking.  You are over valorous at a
distance; too timorous near her.  Approach her boldly, and, though she
were Diana's self, I'll answer for your victory!  Eh, Triboulet, are
our ladies cold-hearted, callous, indifferent to merit?"

"Cold-hearted?" answered the dwarf, with a ludicrous expression of
feigned rapture.  "Were I to relate--but, no, my tongue is
silent--discretion--your Majesty will understand--"

"Well," said the duke, "with encouragement from the best-favored
scholar in the kingdom and the--ugliest, I should proceed with more
confidence."

"Best-favored!" smirked the little monster.  "Really, you flatter me."

"A whimsical fellow, Sire," vouchsafed the nobleman.

"When he is not tiresome," answered the monarch.  "On, gentlemen!"  And
the cavalcade swept down the road toward the castle.  Far behind, with
cracking of whip, followed the mules and their drivers.



CHAPTER VII

THE COURT OF LOVE

The rough Norman banqueting hall, with its massive rafters, frayed
tapestries and rude adornment of bristling heads of savage boars,
wide-spreading antlers and other trophies of the chase, had long since
been replaced under the king's directions by an apartment more to the
satisfaction of a monarch who was a zealous and lavish patron of the
brilliant Italian school of painting, sculpture and architecture.
Those barbarous decorations, celebrating the hunt, had been relegated
to subterranean regions, the walls dismantled, and the room turned over
to a corps of artists of such renown as Da Vinci, François Clouet, Jean
Cousin and the half-mad Benvenuto Cellini.

Where formerly wild boars had snarled with wicked display of yellow
tusks from the blackened plaster, now Cleopatra, in the full bloom of
her mature charms, reclined with her stalwart Roman hero in tender
dalliance.  Where once the proud and stately head of the majestic stag
had hung over door and panel, now classic nymphs bathed in a pellucid
pool, and the only horns were those which adorned the head of him who,
according to the story, dared gaze through the foliage, and was
rewarded for his too curious interest by--that then common form of
punishment--metamorphosis.

Overhead, vast transformation from the great ribbed beams of oak and
barren interspaces, graceful Peri floated on snow-white clouds and
roguish Cupids swam through the azure depths, to the edification of
nondescript prodigies, who constituted the massive molding, or frame,
to the decorative scene.  The ancient fireplace, broad and deep, had
given way to an ornate mantel of marble; the capacious tankard and
rotund pewter pot of olden times, suggestive of mighty butts of honest
beer, had been supplanted by goblets of silver and gold, covered with
scroll work, arabesques or chiseled figures.

In this spacious hall, begilt, bemirrored, assembled, on the evening of
the duke's arrival, Francis, his court and the guest of the occasion.
From wide-spreading chandeliers, with their pendent, pear-shaped
crystals, a thousand candles threw a flood of light upon the scene, as
'mid trumpet blast and softer strains of harmony, King Francis and good
Queen Eleanor led the way to the royal table; and thereat, shortly
after, at a signal from the monarch, the company seated themselves.

At the head of the board was the king; on his right, his lawful
consort, pale, composed, saintly; on his left, the Countess d'Etampes,
rosy, animated, free.  Next to the favorite sat the "fairest among the
learned and most learned among the fair," Marguerite, beloved sister of
Francis, and her second husband, Henry d'Albret, King of Navarre;
opposite, Henry the dauphin and his spouse, Catharine de Medici; not
far removed, Diane de Poitiers, whose dark eyes Henry ever openly
sought, while Catharine complacently talked affairs of state with the
chancellor.

In the midst of this illustrious company, and further surrounded by a
plentiful sprinkling of ruddy cardinals, fat bishops, constables,
governors, marshals and ladies, more or less distinguished through
birth or beauty, the Duke of Friedwald and the Princess Louise were a
center of attraction for the wits whose somewhat free jests the license
of the times permitted.  At the foot of the royal table places had been
provided for Marot, Caillette, Triboulet, Jacqueline and the duke's
fool.

The heads and figures of the ladies of the court were for the most part
fearfully and wonderfully bedecked.  In some instances the
horned-shaped head-dress had been followed by yet loftier steeples,
"battlements to combat God with gold, silver and pearls; wherein the
lances were great forked pins, and the arrows the little pins."  With
more simplicity, the Princess Louise wore her hair cased in a network
of gold and jewels, and the austere French moralist who assailed the
higher bristling ramparts of vanity would, perhaps, have borne in
silence this more modest bastion of the flesh and the devil.

But the face beneath was a greater danger to those who hold that beauty
is a menace to salvation; on her cheek hung the rosy banner of youth;
in her eyes shone the bright arrows of conquest.  And the duke,
discarding his backwardness, as a soldier his cloak before battle,
watched the hue that mantled her face, proffered his open breast to the
shining lances of her gaze, and capitulated unconditionally before the
smile of victory on her blood-red lips.  With his great shoulders, his
massive neck and broad, virile face, he seemed a Cyclops among pygmies
in that gathering of slender courtiers and she but a flower by his side.

"I thought, Sire, your duke was timorous, bashful as a boy?" murmured
the Countess d'Etampes to the king.

"He was--on the road!" answered the king thoughtfully.

"Then has he marvelously recovered his assurance."

"In love, Madam, as in battle, the zest grows with the fray," said
Francis with meaning.

"And the duke is reputed a brave soldier.  He looks very strong, as
if--almost--he might succeed with any woman he were minded to carry
off."

"To carry off!" laughed the monarch.  "'Tis he, Madam, who will be
bound in tethers!  At heart he's shame-faced as a callow younker."

She wilfully shook her head.  "No woman could keep him in
leading-strings, your Majesty.  There is something domineering, savage,
crushing, in his hand.  Look at it, on the table there.  Is it not
mighty as an iron gauntlet?  What other man at the board has such a
brutal hand?  The strength in it makes me shudder.  Will she not bend
to it; kiss it?"

With amused superiority Francis regarded his fair neighbor on the left.
"Women, Madam, are but hasty judges of men," he said, dryly, "and then
'tis fancy more than reason which governs their verdict.  If the duke
should seem over-confident, 'tis to hide a certain modesty, and not to
appear out of confidence in so large a company."

"And yet, Sire, at their first meeting he did not comport himself like
one easily put out," persisted the favorite.  "''Tis with a cold hand
you welcome me, Princess,' he said, noticing her insensibility of
manner.  Then rising he gazed upon her long and deep, as a soldier
might survey a battlefield.  'And yet,' said he, still holding her
fingers, 'I'll warrant me warm blood could course through this little
hand.'  At that the color rose in her cheek; behold! the statue was
touched with life and she looked at him as drawn against her will.  'If
my hand be cold, my Lord,' she answered, courteously, 'it belies the
character of your welcome.'  Whereupon he laughed like one who has had
a victory."

"Beshrew me," said the king, modifying his last observation, "if women
are not all eyes and ears!  I neither heard nor saw all that.  A little
constraint--a natural blush to punctuate their talk--the meeting seemed
conventional enough.  'Tis through your own romantic heart you looked,
Anne!"

Quicker circulated the goblets of silver, gold and crystal; faster
babbled the pretty lips; brighter grew the eyes beneath the stupendous
towers that crowned the heads of the court ladies.  All talked at once
without disturbing the king, who now whispered soft nothings in the ear
of the countess.  From the other tables in the hall arose a varying
cadence of clatter and laughter, which increased with the noise and din
of the king's own board; a clamor always just subservient to the deeper
chorus of the royal party; an accompaniment, as it were, full yet
unobtrusive, to the hubbub from the more exalted company.  But the
princely uproar growing louder, the grand-masters, grand-chamberlain,
gentlemen of the chamber and lesser lights of the church were enabled
to carol and make merry with less restraint.  The pungent smell of
roses permeated the hall, arising from a screen of shrubbery at one end
of the room wherein sang a hundred silver-toned birds.

At the king's table Caillette recited a merry roundelay, and Triboulet
roared out tale after tale, each more full-flavored than the one that
went before it, flinging smart sayings at marriage, and drawing a
ludicrous picture of the betrayed husband.  Villot, a lily in his hand,
which he regarded ever sentimentally, caroled the boisterous espousals
of a yokel and a cinder-wench, while Marot and a bishop contended in a
heated argument regarding the translation of a certain passage of
Ovid's "Art of Love."

Singularly pale, unusually tranquil, the duke's fool furtively watched
his master and the princess.  In contrast to his composure,
Jacqueline's merriment seemed the more unrestrained; she laughed like a
witch; her hands flashed with pretty gestures, and she had so tossed
her head, her hair floated around her, wild and disordered.

"Why are you so quiet?" she whispered to the duke's fool.

"Is there not enough merriment, mistress?" he answered, gravely.

"There can never be any to spare," she said.  "And you would do well to
remember your office."

"What do you mean?" he asked, absently.

"That you have many enemies; that you can not live at court with a
jaundiced countenance.  Heigh-ho!  Alackaday!  You should hie yourself
back to the woods and barren wastes of Friedwald, Master Fool."

Her sparkling glance returned to the exhilarating scene.  Well had the
assemblage been called a court of love.  Now soft eyes invited burning
glances, and graceful heads swayed alluringly toward the handsome
cavaliers who momentarily had found lodgment in hearts which, like
palaces, had many ante-chambers.  From hidden recesses, strains of
music filled the room with tinkling passages of sensuous, but illusive,
harmony; a dream of ardor, masked in the daintiness of a minuet.

Upon the back of the princess' chair rested one of the duke's hands;
with the other he lifted his glass--a frail thing in fingers better
adapted for a sword-hilt or massive battle mace.

"Drink, Princess," he said, bending over her, "to--our meeting!"

Her eyelids fluttered before his look; her breast rose a little.  The
scar on his brow held her gaze, as one fascinated, but she drew away
slightly and mechanically sought the tiny golden goblet at her elbow.
Dreamily, dreamily, sounded the rhythmical music; heavily, so heavily
hung the perfume in the air!  Full of mist seemed the hall; the king,
the queen, the countess, all of the party, unreal, fanciful.  The touch
of the goblet chilled her lips and she put it down quickly.

"Is not the wine to your liking?" he asked, his hand tightening on her
chair.  "Perhaps it is too sour for your taste?"

"Nay; I thought it rather sweet," she answered.  "Oh, I meant not
that--"

"It _is_ sweet wine, Princess," he said, setting down an empty glass.
"Sweeter than our Austrian vintage.  Not white and thin and watery, but
red--red as blood--red as your heart's blood--or mine--"

Crash! from the hand of the duke's jester had fallen a goblet to the
floor.  The princess started, turned; for a moment their glances
bridged the distance from where she sat, to the fools' end of the
table; then hers slowly fell; slowly, and she passed a hand, whereon
shone the king's ring, across her brow; looked up, as though once more
to span infinity with her gaze, when her eyes fell short and met the
duke's.  Deliberately he lifted his filled glass.

"Red as your heart's blood--and mine--my love!" he repeated; and then
stared sharply across the table at his jester.

Triboulet, swaggering in his chair, so high his feet could not touch
the floor, surveyed the broken glass, the duke and the duke's fool.
For some time his vigilant eyes had been covertly studying the
unconscious foreign jester, noting sundry signs and symptoms.  Nor had
the princess' look when the goblet had fallen, been lost upon the
misshapen buffoon; alert, wide-awake, his mind, quick to suspect,
reached a sudden conclusion; a conclusion which by rapid process of
reasoning became a conviction.  Privileged to speak where others must
need be silent, his profession that of prying subtlety, which spared
neither rank nor power so that it raised a laugh, he felt no hesitation
in publishing the information he had gleaned by his superior mental
nimbleness.

"Ho! ho!" he bellowed, the better to attract attention to himself.
"The duke sent his fool to amuse his betrothed and the fool hath lost
his heart to his mistress."

The king left off his whispering, Catharine turned from the chancellor,
Diane ceased furtively to regard Caillette, while the Queen of Navarre
laughed nervously and murmured:

"Princess and jester!  It will make another tale."

But Henry of Navarre looked gravely down.  He, and Francis' queen--a
passive spectator at the feast--and a bishop, whose interest lay in a
truffled capon, alone followed not the direction of the duke's eyes.
The fair favorite of the king clapped her hands, but the monarch
frowned, not having forgotten that night in Fools' hall when the jester
had appointed rogues to offices.

"What is this?  A fool in love with the princess?" said the king,
ominously.

"Even so, your Majesty," cried Triboulet.  "But a moment ago Duke
Robert did whisper to his bride-to-be, and the fool's hand trembled
like a leaf and dropped his glass.  Tra! la! la!  What a situation!
Holy Saint-Bagpipe!  Here's a comedy in high life!"

"A comedy!" repeated the duke, and half-rose from his chair, regarding
his fool with surprise and anger.

Now Triboulet roared.  Had he not in the past attained his high
position of favorite jester to the king by his very foolhardihood?  And
were not trusting lovers and all too-confiding husbands the legitimate
butt of all jesting?

"Look at the fool," he went on exultantly.  "Does any one doubt his
guilt?  He is silent; he can not speak!"

And, indeed, the foreign jester seemed momentarily disconcerted,
although he strove to appear indifferent.

"A presumptuous knave!" muttered Francis, darkly.  "He saved his neck
once only by a trick."

"Oh, the duke would not mind, now, if you were to hang him, Sire,"
answered Triboulet, blithely.

"True!" smiled the king.  "The question of breach of hospitality might
not occur.  What have you to say, fool?" he continued, turning to the
object of the buffoon's insidious and malicious attack.

"Laugh!" whispered Jacqueline, furtively pressing the arm of the duke's
fool.  "Laugh, or--"

The touch and her words appeared to arouse him from his lethargy and
the jester arose, but not before the princess, with flaming cheeks, but
proud bearing, had cast a quick glance in his direction; a glance
half-appealing, half-resentful.  Idly the joculatrix regarded him, her
hands upon the table playing with the glasses, her lips faintly
repeating the words of a roundelay:

  "For love is madness;
    While madness rules,
  Fools in love
    Remain but fools!
      Sing hoddy-doddy,
      Noddy!
    Remain but fools!"


With the eyes of the company upon him, the duke's fool impassively
studied the carven figure on his stick.  If he felt fear of the king's
anger, the resentment of his master, or the malice of the dwarf, his
countenance now did not betray it.  He had seemed about to speak, but
did not.

"Well, rascal, well?" called out the king.  "Do you think your wand
will save you, sirrah?" he added impatiently.

"Why not, Sire?" tranquilly answered the jester.

The duke's face grew more and more ominous.  Still the fool, looking
up, did not quail, but met his master's glance freely, and those who
observed noted it was the duke who first turned away, although his jaw
was set and his great fist clenched.  Swiftly the jester's gaze again
sought the princess, but she had plucked a spray of blossoms from the
table and was holding it to her lips, mindlessly biting the fragrant
leaves; and those who followed the fool's glance saw in her but a
picture of languid unconcern such as became a kinswoman of the king.

Almost imperceptibly the brow of the _plaisant_ clouded, but recovering
himself, he confronted the king with an enigmatic smile.

"Why not?" he repeated.  "In the Court of Love is not the fool's wand
greater than a king's miter or the pastoral staff of the Abbé de Lys?
Besides, Sire," he added quickly, "as a fool takes it, in the Court of
Love, not to love--is treason!"

"Good!" murmured the bishop, still eating.  "Not to love is treason!"

"Who alone is the culprit?  Whose heart alone is filled with umbrage,
hatred, pique?"

"Triboulet!  Triboulet, the traitor!" suddenly cried the countess,
sprightly as a child.

"Yes; Triboulet, the traitor!" exclaimed the fool, pointing the wand of
folly at the hunchback.

Even Francis' offended face relaxed.  "Positively, I shall never hang
this fellow," he said grimly to Marguerite.

"Before this tribunal of ladies whose beauty and learning he has
outraged by his disaffection and spleen, I summon him for trial,"
continued the duke's jester.  "Triboulet, arise!  Illustrious ladies of
the Court of Love, the offender is in your hands."

"A little monster!" spoke up Diane with a gesture of aversion, real or
affected.

"He is certainly somewhat reprehensible," added the Queen of Navarre,
whose tender heart ever inclined to the weaker side.

"An unconscionable rogue," murmured the bishop, complacently clasping
his fat fingers before him.

"So he is already tried by the Church and the tribunal," went on the
_plaisant_ of the duke.  "The Church hath excommunicated him and the
Court of Love--"

"Will banish him!" exclaimed the countess mirthfully, regarding the
captious monarch with mock defiance.

"Yes, banish him; turn him out," echoed Catharine, carelessly.

"But, your Majesty!" remonstrated the alarmed Triboulet, turning to the
monarch whose favor he had that day enjoyed.

"Appeal not to me!" returned Francis, sternly.  "Here Venus rules!"
And he gallantly inclined to the countess.

"Venus at whom he scoffs!" broke in Jacqueline, shrilly, leaning back
in her chair with her hands on her hips.

"You witch!--you sorceress!--it was you who"--he hissed with venomous
glance.

"Hear him!" exclaimed the girl, lightly.  "He calls me
witch--sorceress--because, forsooth, I am a woman!"

"A woman--a devil"--muttered Triboulet between his closed teeth.

"And now," she cried, rising, impetuously, "he says that women are
devils!  What shall we do with him?"

"Pelt him out!" answered the countess.  "Pelt him out!"

With peals of merriment and triumphant shouts, the court, of one
accord, directed a fusillade of fruits, nuts and other viands at the
head and person of the raging and hapless buffoon, the countess
herself, apple in hand--Eve bent upon vengeance--leading in the
assault.  The other tables responded with a cross-fire, and heavier
articles succeeded lighter, until after having endured the continuous
attack for a few moments as best he might, the unlucky dwarf raised his
arms above his head and fairly fled from the hall, leaving behind in
his haste a bagpipe and his wooden sword.

"So may all traitors be punished!" said the bishop unctuously, as he
reached for a dish of confections that had escaped the fair hands in
search of ammunition.

"Well," laughed the Countess d'Etampes, "if we have the support of the
Church--"

"I will confess you, myself, Madam," gallantly retorted the bishop.

"And all the Court of Love?" asked Marguerite.

"Ah, your Highness--all?--I am old--in need of rest--but with an
assistant or two--"

"Assistant or two!" interrupted Catharine, imperiously.  "Would the
task then be so great?"

"Nay"--with gentle expostulation--"but you--members of the court--are
many; not your sins."

"I suppose," whispered Jacqueline to the duke's fool, when the
attention of the company was thus withdrawn from the jester's end of
the table, "you think yourself in fine favor now?"

"Yes," he answered, absently; "thanks to your suggestion."

"My suggestion!" she repeated, scornfully.  "I gave you none."

"Well, then, your crossing Triboulet."

"Oh, that," she replied, picking at a bunch of grapes, "was to defend
my sex, not you."

"But your warning for me to laugh?"

"Why," she returned, demurely, "'twas to see you go more gallantly to
your execution.  And"--eating a grape--"that is reasonably certain to
be your fate.  You've only made a few more enemies to-night--the
duke--the--"

"Name them not, fair Jacqueline," he retorted, indifferent.

"True; you'll soon learn for yourself," she answered sharply.  "I think
I should prefer to be in Triboulet's place to yours at present."

"Why," he said, with a strange laugh, "there's a day for the duke and a
day for the fool."

Deliberately she turned from him and sang very softly:

  "For love is madness;
    (A dunce on a stool!)
  A king in love,
    A king and a fool!
      Sing hoddy-doddy,
      Noddy!
    A king and a fool!"


The monarch bent over the countess; Diane and the dauphin exchanged
messages with their eyes; Catharine smiled on Villot; the princess
listened to her betrothed; and the jestress alone of all the ladies
leaned back and sang, heart-free.  But suddenly she again broke off and
looked curiously at the duke's _plaisant_.

"Why did you not answer them with what was first in your mind?" she
asked.

"What was that?" he said, starting.

"How can I tell?" she returned, studying him.

"You can tell a great deal," he replied.

  "Sing hoddy-doddy,
  Noddy!
  The duke and the fool"--

she hummed, deigning no further words.



CHAPTER VIII

A BRIEF TRUCE

"Turn out these torch-bearers, human candlesticks, and _valets de
chambre_, and I'll get me to bed," commanded the duke, standing in the
center of his room, and the trooper with the fierce red mustaches waved
a swarm of pages, cup-bearers and attendants from the door and closed
it.  "How are the men quartered, Johann?"

"With all the creature comforts, my Lord," answered the soldier.  "The
king hath dressed them like popinjays; they drink overmuch, dice, and
run after the maids, but otherwise are well-behaved."

"Drink; dice; run after the maids!" said the noble, gazing thoughtfully
downward.  "Hold them in check, Johann, as though we were in a
campaign."

"Yes, my Lord," returned the man, staring impassively before him.

"And especially keep them from the kitchen wenches.  There's more
danger in these _femmes de chambre_, laundresses and scullery
Cinderellas than in a column of glittering steel.  Remember, no Court
of Love in the scullery.  Now go!  Yet stay, Johann!" he added,
suddenly.  "This fool of ours is a bold fellow.  Look to him well!"

Saluting respectfully, an expression of quick intelligence on his
florid features, the trooper backed out of the room.  With his hands
behind him, his shoulders bent forward, the duke long pondered, his
look, keen and discerning; his perspicacity clear, in spite of Francis'
wine, or the intoxication of the princess' eyes.  Although the noble's
glance seemed bent on vacancy, it was himself as well as others he was
studying; weighing the memorable events of the evening; recalling to
mind every word with the princess; reviewing her features, the
softening of her cold disdain; now, mentally distrustful, because she
was a woman; again, confident he already dominated the citadel of her
heart.

But a new element had entered into the field; an element
unforeseen--the jester!--and, although not attaching great importance
to this possible source of hazard in his plans for the future, the duke
was too good a soldier to disregard any risk, however slight.  In love
and battle, every peril should be avoided; every vulnerable point made
impregnable.  Besides, the fool was audacious, foolhardy; his language
of covert mockery and quick wit proved him an intelligent antagonist,
who might become a desperate one.

"A woman and a fool," muttered the duke, striding with quick step
across his chamber, "are two uncertain quantities.  The one should be
subjected; the other removed!"

Museful, he stood before the niche, wherein shone a cross of silver,
set with amethysts and turquoise, his rugged face lighted by the
uncertain flickering of the candles.

"Removed!" he repeated, contemplatively.  "And she--"

The clear tinkling of a bell broke in upon his cogitation; a faint,
musical sound that seemed at his very elbow.  He wheeled about
abruptly, saw nothing save the mysterious shadows of the curtains, the
flickering lamps, the dark outline of the canopy of the great bed.
Instinctively he knew he was not alone, and yet his gaze, rapidly
sweeping the apartment, failed to perceive an intruder.

Again the tinkling, a low laugh, and, turning sharply toward an alcove
from whence the sounds came, the duke, through the half-light and
trailing, sombrous shadows of its entrance, perceived a figure in a
chair.  From a candle set in a spiked, enameled stick, a yellow
glimmering, that came and went with the sputtering flame, rested upon
an ironical face, a graceful figure in motley and a wand with the
jester's head and the bell.  Without rising, the _plaisant_ quizzically
regarded the surprised nobleman, who in spite of his self-control had
stepped back involuntarily at the suddenness of the encounter.

"Good evening, my Lord," said the fool.  "I am like the genii of the
tale.  You think of me, and I appear."

Regaining his composure at once, the king's guest bent his heavy brows
over his deep-set eyes, and deliberately surveyed the fool.

"And now," went on the jester, gaily, "it is in your mind I am like as
suddenly to--disappear!  Am I at fault?"

"On the contrary, you are unusually clear-witted," was the answer.

"Oh, my Lord, you over-estimate my poor capacity!" returned the
nobleman's unasked caller with a deprecatory gesture.

The hands of the other worked impatiently; his herculean figure blocked
the doorway.  "You are a merry fellow!" he observed.  "It is to be
regretted, but--confess you have brought it upon yourself?"

"What?  My fate?  Oh, yes!"  And he indifferently regarded the wand and
the wooden figure upon it, without moving from the chair.

"You have no fear?" questioned the duke, quietly.

"Fear?  Why should I?"

Yawning, the fool stretched his arms, looking not at the nobleman, but
beyond him, and, instinctively, the princess' betrothed peered over his
shoulder in the semi-darkness behind, while his hand quickly sought his
sword.

"Fie, most noble Duke!" exclaimed the jester.  "We have no
eavesdroppers or interlopers, believe me!  We are entirely alone, you
and I--master and fool.  There; come no nearer, I beg!"  As the
nobleman menacingly moved toward him.

"Have you any argument to advance, Sir Fool, why I should not?" said
the other, grimly, a gleam of amusement depicted on his broad face as
he paused the while.

"An argument, sharp as a needle, somewhat longer!" replied the jester,
touching his breast and drawing from between the folds of his doublet a
shining hilt.

Harsh and loud laughed the king's guest.  "You fool," he said, "you had
your opportunity below there in the hall and missed it.  You hesitated,
went blindly another course, and now"--with ominous meaning--"you are
here!"

Upon the stick a candle dripped, sputtered and went out; the jester
bent forward and with the copper snuffer on the table near by deftly
trimmed the remaining light.

"Only fools fight in darkness," he remarked, quietly, "and here is but
one of them."

"You pit yourself and that--plaything!--against me?" asked the burly
soldier, derisively.

"Have you hunted the wild boar, my Lord?" lightly answered the other.
"How mighty it is!  How savage!  What tusks!  You know the pastime?  A
quick step, a sure arm, an eye like lightning--presto! your boar lies
on his back, with his feet in the air!  You, my Lord, are the boar;
big, clumsy, brutal!  Shall we begin the sport?  I promise to prick you
with every rush."

The prospective bridegroom paused thoughtfully.

"There is some justice in what you say," he returned, his manner that
of a man who has carefully weighed and considered a matter.  "I confess
to partiality for the thick of the fray, the brunt of the fight, where
men press all around you."

"Assuredly, my Lord; for then the boar is in his element; no matter how
he rushes, his tusks strike yielding flesh."

"Why should we fight at all--at present?" cautiously ventured the
noble, with further hesitation.  "Not that I doubt I could easily crush
you"--extending his muscular arms--"but you _might_ prick me, and, just
now, discretion may be the better part of valor.  I--a duke, engaged to
wed a princess, have much to lose; you, nothing!  A fool's stroke might
kill a king."

"Or a knave, my Lord!" added the _plaisant_.

"Or a knave, sirrah!" thundered the duke, the veins starting out on his
forehead.

The jester half drew his dagger; his quiet confidence and glittering
eye impressed even his antagonist, inured to scenes of violence and
strife.

"Is it a truce, most noble Lord?" said the fool, significantly.  "A
truce wherein we may call black, black; and white, white!  A truce
which may be broken by either of us, with due warning to the other?"

Knitting his brow, the noble stood motionless, deeply pondering, his
headlong passion evidently at combat with his judgment; then his face
cleared, a hard, brusque laugh burst from his lips and he brought his
fist violently down on the massive oak table near the door.

"So be it!" he assented, with a more open look.

"A truce--without any rushes from the boar?"

"Fool!  Does not my word suffice?" contemptuously retorted the duke.

"Yes; for although you are--what you are--you have been a soldier, and
would not break a truce."

"Such commendation from--my jester is, indeed, flattering!" satirically
remarked the king's guest, seating himself in a great chair which
brought him face to face with the fool and yet commanded the door, the
intruder's only means of retreat.

"Pardon me, the duke's jester, you mean?"

"Yes; mine!"

"A distinction with a difference!" retorted the fool.  "It is quite
true I am the duke's jester; it is equally untrue I am yours.
Therefore, we reach the conclusion that you and the duke are two
different persons.  Plainly, not being the duke, you are an impostor.
Have you any fault to find with my reasoning?"

"On the contrary," answered the other, with no sign of anger or
surprise, "your reasoning is all that could be desired.  Why should I
deny what you already know?  I was aware, of course, that you knew,
when I first learned his jester was in the castle.  Frankly, I am not
the duke--to you!"

"But with Francis and the court?" suggested the fool, uplifting his
brows.

"I am the duke--and such remain!  You understand?"

"Perfectly, my Lord," replied the jester, shrugging his shoulders.
"But since I am not the king, nor one of the courtiers, whom, for the
time being, have I the honor of addressing?  But, perhaps, I am
over-inquisitive."

"Not at all," said the other, with mocking ceremony.  "You are a
whimsical fellow; besides, I am taken with a man who stands near death
without flinching.  To tell you the truth, our truce is somewhat to my
liking.  There are few men who would have dared what you have to-night.
And although you're only a fool--will you drink with me from this
bottle on the table here?  I'm tired of ceremonies of rank and would
clink a glass in private with a merry fellow.  What say you?"

And leaning over, he filled two large goblets with the rich beverage
from a great flask placed on the stand for his convenience.  His face
lighted with gross conviviality, but behind his jovial, free manner,
that of a trooper in his cups, gleamed a furtive, guarded look, as
though he were studying and testing his man.

"I'm for a free life; some fighting; but snug walls around for
companionship," he continued.  "Look at my soldiers now; roistering,
love-making!  Charles?  Francis?  Not one of the troop would leave me
for emperor or king!  Not one but would follow me--where ambition
leads!"  Holding up the glass, he looked into the depths of the thick
burgundy.  "Why, a likely fellow like you should carry a gleaming
blade, not a wooden sword.  I know your duke--a man of lineage--a
string of titles long as my arm--an underling of the emperor, while
I"--closing his great jaw firmly--"owe allegiance to no man, or
monarch, which is the same thing.  Drink, lad; I'm pleased I did not
kill you."

"And I," laughed the _plaisant_, "congratulate myself you are still
alive--for the wine is excellent!"

"Still alive!" exclaimed the king's guest, boisterously, although a
dark shadow crossed his glance.

"I'm scarred from head to foot, and my hide is as tough as--"

"A boar's?" tapping his chin with the fool's head on his wand.

"Ah, you will have your jest," retorted the host of the occasion,
good-naturedly.  "It's bred in the bone.  A quality for a soldier.
Next to courage is that fine sense of humor which makes a man a _bon
camarade_.  Put down your graven image, lad; you were made to carry
arms, not baubles.  Put it down, I say, and touch glasses with Louis,
of Pfalz-Urfeld."

"The bastard of Hochfels!" exclaimed the jester, fixedly regarding the
man whose name was known throughout Europe for his reckless bravery,
his personal resources and his indomitable pride or love of freedom and
independence, which held him aloof from emperor or monarch, and made
him peer and leader among the many intractable spirits of the Austrian
country who had not yet bowed their necks to conquest; a soldier of
many battles, whose thick-walled fortress, perched picturesquely in
mid-air on a steep mountain top, established his security on all sides.

"The same, my friend of the motley," continued the other, not without
complacency, observing the effect of his announcement on the jester.

"He who calls himself the free baron of Hochfels?" observed the fool,
setting down the glass from which he had moderately partaken.

"Aye; a man of royal and peasant blood," harshly answered the
free-booter.  "Ambition, arrogance, are the kingly inheritance;
strength, a constitution of iron, the low-born legacy.  What think you
of such an endowment?"

"You are far from your castle, my Lord of Hochfels," commented the
jester, absently, unmindful of a question he felt not called upon to
answer.

"And yet as safe as in my own mountain nest," retorted the free baron,
or free-booter, indifferently.  "Who would betray me?  There is not a
trooper of mine but would die for his master.  You would not denounce
me, because--but why enumerate the reasons?  I hold you in the palm of
my hand, and, when I close my fingers, there's the end of you."

"But where--allow me; the wine has a rare flavor," and he reached for
the flask.

"Drink freely," returned the pretender; "it is the king's own, and you
are my guest.  You were about to ask--"

"Whence came the idea for this mad adventure?" said the jester, his
eyes seemingly bent in admiration on the goblet he held; a half globe
of crystal sustained by a golden Bacchus.

"Idea!" repeated the self-called baron, with a gesture of satisfaction.
"It was more than an idea.  It was an inspiration, born of that chance
which points the way to greatness.  The feat accomplished, all Europe
will wonder at the wanton exploit.  At first Francis will rage; then
seeing me impregnably intrenched, will make the best of the marriage,
especially as the groom is of royal blood.  Next, an alliance with the
French king against the emperor.  Why not; was not Francis once ready
to treat even with Solyman to defeat Charles, an overture which shocked
Christendom?  And while Charles' energies are bent to the task of
protecting his country from the Turks, a new leader appears; a
devil-may-care fellow--and then--and then--"

He broke off abruptly; stared before him, as though the fumes of wine
were at last beginning to rise to his head; toyed with his glass and
drank it quickly at a draft.  "What an alluring will-o'-the-wisp
is--to-morrow!" he muttered.

"An illusive hope that reconciles us with to-day," answered the
_plaisant_.

"Illusive!" cried the other.  "Only for poets, dreamers, fools!"

"And you, Sir Baron, are neither one nor the other," remarked the
jester.  "No philosopher, but a plain soldier, who chops heads--not
logic.  But the inspiration that caused you to embark upon this
hot-brained, pretty enterprise?"

"Upon a spur of rock that overlooks the road through the mountain is
set the Vulture's Nest, Sir Fool," began the adventurer in a voice at
once confident and arrogant.  "At least, so the time-honored fortress
of Hochfels is disparagingly designated by the people.  As the road is
the only pass through the mountains, naturally we come more or less in
contact with the people who go by our doors.  Being thus forced,
through the situation of our fortress, into the proximity of the
traveling public, we have, from time to time, made such sorties as are
practised by a beleaguered garrison, and have, in consequence, taken
prisoners many traffickers and traders, whose goods and chattels were
worthy of our attention as spoils of war.  Generally, we have confined
our operations to migratory merchants, who carry more of value and
cause less trouble than the emperor's soldiers or the king's troopers,
but occasionally we brush against one of the latter bands so that we
may keep in practice in laying our blades to the grindstone, and also
to show we are soldiers, not robbers."

"Which remains to be proved," murmured the attentive jester.  "Your
pardon, noble Lord"--as the other half-started from his chair--"let me
fill your glass.  'Tis a pity to neglect such royal wine.  Proceed with
your story.  Come we presently to the inspiration?"

"At once," answered the apparently appeased master of the fortress,
wiping his lips.  "One day our western outpost brought in a messenger,
and, when we had stripped the knave, upon him we found a miniature and
a letter from the princess to the duke.  The latter was prettily writ,
with here and there a rhyme, and moved me mightily.  The eagle hath its
mate, I thought, but the vulture of Hochfels is single, and this
reflection, with the sight of the picture and that right, fair script,
saddened me.

"And then, on a sudden, came the inspiration.  Why not play a hand in
this international marriage Charles and Francis were bringing about?  I
commanded the only road across the mountain; therefore, did command the
situation.  The emperor and the king should be but the wooden figures,
and I would pull the strings to make them dance.  The duke, your
master, why should he be more than a name?  The princess' letter told
me she had never seen her betrothed.  What easier than to redouble the
sentries in the valley, make prisoners of the messengers, clap them in
the fortress dungeons, read the missives, and then despatch them to
their respective destinations by men of my own?"

"Then that was the reason why on my way through the mountains your
knaves attacked me?" said the listener quickly.

"Exactly; to search you.  How you slipped through their hands I know
not."  And he glanced at the other curiously.

"They were but poor rogues," answered the jester quickly.

"Certainly are you not one!" exclaimed the free baron, with a glance of
approval at the slender figure of his antagonist.  "Two of them paid
for their carelessness.  The others were so shamed, they told me some
great knight had attacked them.  A fool in motley!" he laughed.  "No
wonder the rogues hung their heads!  But in deceiving me," he added
thoughtfully, "they permitted their master to run into an unknown
peril--his ignorance that a fool of the duke, or a fool wearing the
emblem of the emperor, had gone to Francis' court."

"You were saying, Sir Free Baron, you intended to read the messages
between the princess and the duke, and afterward to despatch them by
messengers of your own?" interrupted the _plaisant_.

"Such were my plans.  Moreover, I possessed a clerk--a knave who had
killed an abbot and fled from the monastery--a man of poetry, wit and
sentiment.  Whenever the letters lacked for ardor, and the lovers had
grown too timid, him I set to forge a postscript, or indite new
missives, which the rogue did most prettily, having studied love-making
under the monks.  And thus, Sir Fool, I courted and won the
princess--by proxy!"

"Of a certainty, your wooing was at least novel, Sir Knight of the
Vulture's Nest," dryly observed the jester.  "Although, had my master
known the deception, you would, perhaps, have paid dearly for it."

"Your master, forsooth!" laughed the outlaw lord.  "A puny scion of a
worn-out ancestry!  Such a woman as the princess wants a man of brawn
and muscle; no weakling of the nursery."

"Well," said the fool, slowly, "you became intermediary between the
princess and the duke, and the king and the emperor.  But to come into
the heart of France; to the king's very palace--did you not fear
detection?"

"How?" retorted the other, raising his head and resting his eyes,
bloodshot and heavy, on the fool's impassive features.  "The road
between the two monarchs is mine; no message can now pass.  The emperor
and the duke may wonder, but the way here is long, and"--with a
smile--"I have ample time for the enterprise ere the alarm can be
given."

"And you paved the way for your coming by altering the letters of the
duke, or forging new ones?" suggested the listener.

"How else?  A word added here and there; a post-script, or even a page!
As for their highnesses' seals, any fool can break and mend a seal.  In
a week the duke will wonder at the princess' silence; in a fortnight he
will become uneasy; in a month he will learn the cage has been left
open and the bird hath flown.  Then, too, shall the gates of the
dungeon be set ajar, and the true, but tardy, messengers permitted to
go their respective ways.  Is it not a nice adventure?  Am I not a
fitter leader than your duke?"

"Undoubtedly," returned the jester.  "He sits at home, while you are
here in his stead.  But what will the princess say when she learns?"

"Nothing.  She loves me already."

The fool turned pale; the hand that held his glass, however, was firm,
and he set the goblet down without a tremor.

"She may weep a little, but it will pass like a summer shower.  Women
are weak; women are yielding.  Have I not reason to know?" he burst
out.  "I, a--"

Brusquely he arose from his chair, leaving the sentence uncompleted.
Sternly he surveyed the jester.

"Why not take service with me?" he continued, abruptly.  "Austria is
ripe to revolt against the tyranny of the emperor.  With the discontent
in the Netherlands, the dissensions in Spain, Europe is like a field,
cut up, awaiting new-comers."

He paused to allow the force of his words to appeal to the other's
imagination.  "What say you?" he continued.  "Will you serve me?"

"The matter's worth thinking over," answered the fool, evasively.

"Well, take your time," said the king's guest, regarding him more
sharply.  "And now, as the candles are low and the flask is empty, you
had better take your leave."

At this intimation that the other considered the interview ended, the
fool started to his feet and deliberately made his way to the door
opening into the corridor.

"Good-night!" he said, and was about to depart when the free baron held
him with a word.

"Hold!  Why have you not attempted to unmask me--before?"

Steadily the two looked at each other; the eyes of the elder man,
cruel, deep, all-observing; those of the younger, steady, fearless,
undismayed.  Few of his troopers could withstand the sinister
penetration of Louis of Hochfels' gaze, but on the jester it seemed to
have no more effect than the casual glance of one of Francis' courtiers.

"You knew--and yet you made no sign?" continued the master of the
fortress.

"Because I like a strong play and did not wish to spoil it--too soon!"

The questioner's brow fell; the lids half-veiled the dark, savage eyes,
but the mouth relaxed.  "Ah, you always have your answer," he returned
with apparent cordiality.  "Good-night--and, by the by, our truce is at
an end."

"The truce--and the wine," said the jester, as with a ceremonious bow,
he vanished amid the shadows in the hall.

Slowly the free baron closed the door and locked it; looked at the
cross and at the bed, but made no motion toward either.

"He has already rejected my proposal," thought the self-styled duke.
"Does he seek for higher rewards by betraying me?  Or is it, then,
Triboulet told the truth?  Is he an aspiring lover of the princess?  Or
is he only faithful to his master?  Why have I failed to read him?  As
though a film lay across his eyes, that index to a man's soul!"

Motionless the free baron stood, long pondering deeply, until upon the
mantel the richly-chased clock began to strike musically, yet
admonishingly.  Whereupon he glanced at the cross; hesitated; then,
noting the lateness of the hour, and with, perhaps, a mental
reservation to retrieve his negligence on the morrow, he turned from
the silver, bejeweled symbol and immediately sought the sensuous bodily
enjoyment of a couch fit for a king or the pope himself.



CHAPTER IX

THE FLIGHT OF THE FOOL

Another festal day had come and gone.  The crimson shafts of the dying
sun had succumbed to the lengthening shadows of dusk, and the pigeons
were wending their way homeward to the castle parapets and battlements,
when, toward the arched entrance on the front, strode the duke's fool.
Beyond the castle walls and the inclosure of the pleasure grounds the
peace of twilight rested on the land; the great fields lay becalmed;
the distant forests were bivouacs of rest.

The afternoon had been a labor of pleasure; about the great basin of
the fountain had passed an ever-varying shifting of moving figures;
between the trees bright colors appeared and vanished, and from the
heart of concealed bowers had come peals of laughter or strains of
music.  Unnoticed among the merry throng in palace and park, the jester
had moved aimlessly about; unobserved now, he turned his back upon the
gray walls, satiated, perhaps, with the fêtes inaugurated by the kingly
entertainer.  But as he attempted to pass the gate, a stalwart guard
stepped forward, presenting a formidable-looking glave.

"Your permit to leave?" he said.

"A permit?  Of course!" replied the fool, and felt in his coat.  "But
what a handsome weapon you have; the staff all covered with velvet and
studded with brass tacks!"

"Has the Emperor Charles, then, no such weapons?" asked the gratified
soldier.

"None so handsome!  May I see it?"  The guard unsuspiciously handed the
glave to the jester, who immediately turned it upon the sentinel.

"Give it back, fool!" cried the alarmed guard.

"Nay; I am minded to call out and show a soldier of France disarmed by
a foreign fool."

"As well chop off my head with it!" sighed the man.

"And if I wish to walk without the gate?" suggested the jester.

"Go, good fool!" replied the other, without hesitation.

"Well, here is the glave.  If any one admires it again, let him study
the point.  But why may no one pass out?"

"Because so many soldiers and good citizens have been beaten and robbed
by those who hover around the palace.  But you may go in peace," he
added.  "No one will harm a fool.  If 'tis amusement you seek, there's
a camp on the verge of the forest where a dark-haired, good-looking
baggage dances and tells cards.  You can find the place from the noise
within, and if you're merry, they'll welcome you royally.  Go; and God
be with you!"

The jester turned from the good-natured guard and quickly walked down
the road, which wound gracefully through the valley and lost itself
afar in a fringe of woodland.  A light pattering on the hard earth
behind caused him to look about.  Following was a dog that now sprang
forward with joyous demonstration.  The fool stooped and gravely
caressed the hound which last he had seen at the princess' feet.

"Why," he said, "thou art now the fool's only friend at court."

When again he moved on with rapid, nervous stride, the animal came
after.  Darker grew the road; deeper hued the fields and stubble; more
somber the distant castle against the gloaming.  Only the cry of a
diving night-bird startled the stillness of the tranquil air; a
rapacious filcher that quickly rose, and swept onward through the sea
of night.  Its melancholy note echoed in the breast of the fool;
mechanically, without relaxing his swift pace, he looked upward to
follow it, when a short, sharp bark behind him and a premonition of
impending danger caused him to spring suddenly aside.  At the same time
a dagger descended in the empty air, just grazing the shoulder of the
jester, who, recovering himself, grasped the arm of his assailant and
grappled with him.  Finding him a man of little strength, the fool
easily threw him to the earth and kneeling on his breast in turn
menaced the assailant with the weapon he had wrested from him.

"Have you any reason, knave, why I should spare you?" asked the fool.

"If I had--for want of breath--it would fail me!" answered the
miscreant with some difficulty.

The duke's jester arose.  "Get up, rogue!" he said, and the man obeyed.

He was a pale, gaunt fellow, with long hair, unshaven face, hollow
cheeks, and dark eyes, set deeply in his head and shaded by thick,
black brows.  His dress consisted of a rough doublet, with lappet
sleeves, carried down to a point, tight leggings, broad shoes and the
puffed upper hose; the entire raiment frayed and worn; his flesh, or,
rather, his bones, showing through the scanty covering for his legs,
while his feet were no better protected than those of a trooper who has
been long on the march.  He displayed no fear or enmity; on the
contrary, his manner was rather friendly than otherwise, as though he
failed to understand the enormity of his offense and the position in
which he was placed.  Shifting from one foot to another, he crossed his
great, thin hands before him and patiently awaited his captor's
pleasure.  The latter surveyed him curiously, and, noting his woebegone
features and beggarly attire, pity, perhaps, assuaged his just anger
toward this starveling.

"Why did you wish to kill me?" asked the jester quietly, if somewhat
impatiently.

"It was not my wish, Master Fool," gently replied the other, but even
as he spoke the resignation in his manner gave way to a look of
apprehension.  Lifting his hand, he felt in his breast and glanced
about him on the road.  Then his face brightened.

"With your permission--I have e'en dropped something--"

And stooping, the scamp-scholar picked up a small, leathern-bound
volume from the ground, where it had fallen during the struggle, and
held it tightly clutched in his hand.  "Ah," he muttered with a glad
sigh, "I feared I had lost it--my Horace!  And now, Sir Jester, what
would you with me?"

"A question I might answer with a question," replied the fool.  "Having
failed in your enterprise, why should I spare you?"

"You shouldn't," returned the vagabond-student.  "The ancients teach
but the irrevocable law of retribution."

To hear a would-be assassin, a castaway out of pocket and heels and
elbows, calmly proclaiming the Greek doctrine of inevitableness, under
such circumstances, would have surprised an observer even more
experienced and worldly than the duke's fool.  Involuntarily his face
softened; this _pauvre diable_ gazed upon eternity with the calm eyes
of a Socrates.

"You do not then beg for life?" said the _plaisant_, his former
impatience merging into mild curiosity.

"Is it worth begging for?" asked the straitened book-worm.  "Life means
a pinched stomach, a cold body; Death, no hunger to fear, and a bed
that, though cold, chills us not.  What we know not doth not exist--for
us; ergo, to lie in the earth is to rest in the lap of luxury, for all
our consciousness of it.  But to be unconscious of the ills of this
perishable frame, Horace likewise must be as dead to us as our aches
and pains.  Thus is life made preferable to death.  Yes; I would live.
Hold, though--" he again hesitated in deep thought--"what avails Horace
if--" he began.

"Why, what new data have entered in the premises?" observed the
wondering jester.

"Nanette!" was the gloomy answer.

"Who, pray, is Nanette?" asked the fool, thrusting his assailant's
weapon in his jerkin.

"A wanton haggard whose tongue will run post sixteen stages together!
Who would make the devil himself malleable; then, work, hammer and
wire-draw him!"

"And what is she to you?"

"My wife!  That is, she claims that exalted place, having married me
one night when I was in my cups through a false priest who dresses as a
Franciscan monk.  'Fools in the court of God' are these priests called,
and truly he is a jester, for certainly is he no true monk.  But
Nanette, nevertheless, asserts she is the lawful partner of my sorrows.
So work your will on me.  A stroke, and the shivering spirit is wafted
across the Styx."

"And if I gave you not only your life--for a consideration hereafter to
be mentioned--but a small silver piece as well?" suggested the jester,
who had been for some moments buried in thought.

"Ha!" ejaculated the scamp-student, brightening.  "Your gift would
match the piece I already have and which--dolt that I was!--I
overlooked to include in my chain of reasoning."  And thrusting his
hand into his ragged doublet, after some search he extracted a
diminutive disk upon which he gazed not without ardor.  "Thus are we
forced to start the chain of reasoning anew," he remarked, "with Horace
and this bit of metal on one side of the scales and Nanette on the
other.  Now unless the devil sits on the beam with Nanette--which he's
like to do--the book and the bit of dross will outweigh her and we
arrive at the certitude that life, qualified as to duration, may be
happily endured."

"What argument does the dross carry, knave?" demanded the fool, looking
down at the hound that crouched at his feet.

"With it may be purchased that which warms the pinched stomach.  With
it may be bought an elixir, so strong and magical, it may breed
defiance even of Nanette.  Sir Fool, I have concluded to accept life
and the small silver piece."

"Well and good," commented the jester.  "But there are conditions
attached to my clemency."

"Conditions!" retorted the vagabond.  "What are conditions to a
philosopher, once he has reached a logical assurance?"

"First, you must find me a horse.  Your Nanette, as I take it, is a
gipsy and in the camp, are, surely, horses."

"But why should you want a horse?  'Tis not far to the castle?" said
the puzzled scholar.

"No; but 'tis far away from it.  Next, tell me where you got that small
piece of silver, like the one I have promised you?"

"From Nanette."

"What for?"

"To accomplish that which I have failed to do," replied the student,
willingly.  "But, alas, not having earned it, have I the right idly to
spend it?" he added, dolefully, half to himself.

"Why did Nanette--" began the jester.

But the other raised his arm with an expostulatory gesture.  "Many
things I know," he interrupted; "odds and ends of erudition, but a
woman's mind I know not, nor want to know.  I had as soon question
Beelzebub as her; yea, to stir up the devil with a stick.  If sparing
my life is contingent on my knowing why she does this, or that, then
let me pay the debt of nature."

"No; 'tis slight punishment to take from a man that which he values so
little he must reason with himself to learn if he value it at all,"
returned the duke's jester, slowly.  "We'll waive the question, if you
find me the horse."

"'Tis Nanette you must ask.  There's but one, old, yet serviceable--"

"Then take me to Nanette."

"Very well.  Follow me, sir; and if you're still of a mind when you see
her, you can question her."

"Why, is she so weird and witch-like to look upon?" said the fool.

"Nay; the devil hides his claws behind the daintiest fingers, all pink
and white.  He conceals his cloven hoof in a slipper, truly sylph-like."

"You arouse my curiosity.  I would fain meet this fair monster."

"Come then, Master Fool," replied the scamp-student, leaving the road
for the field to the right, and the jester, after a moment's
deliberation, turned likewise into the stubble, while the hound, as if
satisfied with the service it had performed, slowly retraced its way
toward the castle, stopping, however, now and then to look around after
the two men, whose figures grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
For some space they walked in silence; then the scholar paused, and,
pointing to a low, rambling house that once had been a hunter's lodge
and now had fallen into decay, exclaimed:

"There's where she lives, fool.  I'll warrant she's not alone."

At the same time a clamor of voices and a chorus of rough melody,
coming from the cottage, confirmed the assurance his spouse was not,
indeed, holding solitary vigil.

"'Tis e'en thus every night," murmured the scamp student in a
melancholy tone.  "She gathers 'round her the scum of all rudeness;
ragged alchemists of pleasure, who sing incessantly, like grasshoppers
on a summer day."

"Where is the horse?" said the jester, abruptly.

"Stalled in one of the rooms for safe keeping.  There are so many
rascals and thieves around, you see--"

"They e'en rob one another!" returned the fool.

Advancing more cautiously, the two men approached the ancient
forester's dwelling, the hue and cry sounding louder as they drew near,
a mingled discord of laughter, shouting and caterwauling, with a
woman's piercing voice at times dominating the general vociferation.
The philosopher shook his head despondingly, while, creeping to one of
the windows, the jester looked in.

Near the fire was a misshapen creature, a sort of monstrous imbecile
that chattered and moaned; a being that bore some resemblance to the
ancient morios once sold at the olden Forum Morionum to the ladies who
desired these hideous animals for their amusement.  At his feet
gamboled a dwarf that squeaked and screeched, distorting its face in
hideous grimaces.  Scattered about the room, singing, bawling or
brawling, were indigent morris dancers; bare-footed minstrels; a
pinched and needy versificator; a reduced mountebank; a swarthy clown,
with a hare's mouth; joculators of the streets, poor as rats and living
as such, straitened, heedless fellows, with heads full of nonsense and
purses empty, poor in pocket, but rich in _plaisanterie_.

Upon the table, with cards in her lap, which she studied idly, sat a
hard-featured, deep-bosomed woman, neither old nor uncomely, with
thick, black hair, coarse as a horse's mane, cheeks red as a berry,
glowing with health.  In her pose was a certain savage grace, an
untrammeled freedom which revealed the vigorous outlines of a
well-proportioned figure.  Her eye was bright as a diamond and bold as
a trooper's; when she lifted her head she looked disdainfully,
scornfully, fiercely, upon the strange and monstrous company of which
she was queen.

"Where can the thief-friar be?" muttered the student.  "He is usually
not far off from sweet Nanette."

"You mean the monk who had a hand in your nuptials?"

"Who else?  He, the source of all ill.  He who gave her the money of
which she e'en presented me a moiety.  Whoever employed him--was it
your friends, gentle sir?--rewarded him with gold.  Being a craven
rogue, I e'en suspect him of shifting the task to myself for a beggarly
pittance, whilst he is off with the lion's share."

The jester, watching the company within, made no reply.  From the
student to the woman, to the friar, was a chain leading--where?  He
found it not difficult to surmise.  Suddenly Nanette threw down the
cards and laughed harshly.

"Neither the devil nor his imps could read the things that are
happening in the castle!"

Then abruptly springing from the table, she made her way to the fire,
over which hung a pot of some savory stew, a magnet to the company's
sharp desire; for throughout all the boisterous merriment wandering
glances had invariably returned to it.  To reach the kettle and make
herself mistress of the culinary preparations, she cuffed a dwarf with
such vigor that he hobbled howling from a suspicious proximity to the
appetizing mess to a safe refuge beneath the table.  With equally
dauntless spirit, she pushed aside the herculean morio who had been
childishly standing over the pot, licking his fingers in eager
anticipation; whereupon the imbecile set up a sharp cry that blended
with the deeper roar of the lilliputian.

"And I caught the rabbit!" piteously bellowed the latter from his
retreat.

"And I found the turnips!" cried the colossal idiot, tears running down
his lubberly cheeks.

"Peace, you demons!" exclaimed the woman, waving the spoon at them,
"or, by the hell-born, you'll ne'er taste morsel of it!"

Quieted by this stupendous threat, they closed their mouths and opened
their eyes but the wider, while the gipsy spouse of the student stirred
and stirred the mixture in the iron pot, gazing at the fire with
frowning brow as though she would read some page of the future in the
leaping flames.

"Saw you but now how she served the dwarf and the overgrown lump?"
whispered the student to the duke's fool.  "Are you still minded to
meet her?"

For answer the jester left the window, stepped to the door, and,
opening it, strode into the room.



CHAPTER X

THE FOOL RETURNS TO THE CASTLE

As the duke's fool suddenly appeared in the crowded apartment, the
hubbub abruptly ceased; the minstrels and mountebanks gazed in surprise
at the slender figure of the alien jester whose rich garments
proclaimed him a personage of importance, one who had reached that
pinnacle in buffoonery, the high office of court _plaisant_.  The morio
crouched against the wall, his fear of the new-comer as great as his
body was large; the garret minstrels stopped strumming their
instruments, while the woman at the fire uttered a quick exclamation
and dropped the spoon with a clatter to the floor, where it was
promptly seized by the dwarf, who, taking advantage of the woman's
consternation, thrust it greedily to his lips.  But soon recovering
from her wonderment, the gipsy soundly boxed the dwarf's ears,
recovered her spoon and set herself once more to stirring the contents
of the pot.

The jester observed her for a moment--the heavy, bare arm moving round
and round over the kettle; her sunburnt legs uncovered to the knee; the
masculine attitude of her figure with the torn and worn garments that
covered her--and she seemed to him a veritable trull of disorder and
squalor.  The gipsy, too, looked at him over her shoulder, and, as she
gazed, her hand went slower and slower, until all motion ceased, and
the spoon lay on the edge of the pot, when she turned deliberately,
offering him the full sight of her bold cheeks and shameless eyes.

"Are you Nanette, wife of this philosopher?" asked the duke's fool,
approaching, and indicating the miserable scamp who clung near the
doorway as one undecided whether to enter or run away.

"Yes; I am Nanette, his true and lawful spouse," she answered with a
shrill laugh.  "Wilt come to me, true-love?" she called out to her
apprehensive yoke-mate.

"Nay; I'll go out in the air a while," hurriedly replied the
vagabond-scholar, and quickly vanished.

"Ah, how he loves me!" she continued.

"So much he prefers a cony-burrow to his own fireside," said the fool
dryly.

"A hole i' the earth is too good for such a scurvy fellow," she
retorted.  "But what would you here, fool?  A song, a jest, a dance?
Or have you come to learn a new story, or ballad, for the lordlings you
must entertain?"  Unabashed, she approached a step nearer.

"Your stories, mistress, would be unsuited for the court, and your
ballads best unsung," he retorted.  "I came, not to sharpen my wits,
but to learn from whom the thief-friar got the small piece of silver
you gave your consort, and, also, to procure a horse."

Her brazen eyes wavered.  "A horse and a fool flying," she muttered.
"Even what the cards showed.  The fool seeking the duke!"  A puzzled
look crossed her face.  "But the duke is here?" she continued to
herself.  "A strange riddle!  All the signs show devilment, but what it
is--"

"Good Nanette," interrupted the jester, satirically, "I have no time
for spells or incantation."

"How dared you come here," she said, hoarsely, "after--"

"After your mate proved but an indifferent servant of yours?" he
concluded, meeting her sullen gaze with one so stern and inflexible
that before it her eyes fell.

"Do you not know," she said, endeavoring to maintain a hardened front,
"I have but to say the word, and all these friends of mine would tear
you to pieces?  What would you do, my pretty fellows, an I ask you?"
she cried out, her voice rising audaciously.  "Would you suffer this
duke's jester to stand against me?"

Glances of suspicion and animosity shot from a score of eyes; fists
were half-clenched; knives appeared in a trice from the concealment of
rags, and a low murmur arose from the gathering.  Even the imbecile
morio, nature's trembling coward, became suddenly valiant, and, with
huge frame uplifted, seemed about to spring savagely upon the fool.  An
expression of disgust replaced all other feeling on the features of the
duke's _plaisant_.

"Spare me your threats, Nanette," he replied, coldly.  "Had you
intended to set them on me, you would have done it long ere this."

The woman hesitated.  His calm, almost contemptuous, confidence was not
without its effect upon her.  Had he trembled, she would have spoken,
but before his disdain, and the gay splendor of his attire, conspicuous
amid rags from rubbish heaps, she felt a sudden consciousness of her
own unclean environment; at the same time unusual warnings in her
conjurations recurred to her.  Something about him--was it dignity or
pride or a nameless fear she herself experienced but could not
understand?--beat down her eyes and she turned them doggedly away.

Abruptly she moved to the fire and again began to stir the mess, while
the suppressed excitement in the room at once subsided.  A minstrel
lightly touched his battered dulcimer; a poet hummed a song in the
dialect of thieves; a juggler began practising some deft work for hand
and eye, and he of the hare lip sank quietly into a corner and
patiently watched the simmering pot.  The dwarf, with some misgiving,
as a dog that is beaten crawls cautiously out of its kennel, crept from
beneath the table.

"Oh, mistress," he whimpered, "some of it has boiled over!"

"Boiled over!" echoed the morio, mournfully.

At the same time the woman grasped the handle of the heavy kettle,
lifted it from the jack, displaying in her bared arms the muscles of a
man, and, staggering beneath the load, bore it steaming to the table.
Amid the subsequent confusion, the gipsy held aloof from the demolition
of the rabbit, and, seating herself at the foot of the table, began
moodily once more to turn the cards.

A merry droll acted as host and dipped freely for all with the long
spoon, commenting the while he dispensed the mess according to the
wants of the miscellaneous gathering:  "Pot-luck!  'Tis luck, and
they're no field mice in it!  There's everything else!" or "A bit of
rabbit, my masters!  I'll warrant he'll hop down your throats as fast
as e'er he jumped a hillock."  And, when one ate too greedily, slap
went a spoonful of gravy o'er him with: "I thought you would catch it,
knave!"

"Are they not blithe devils 'round the caldron?" muttered the woman.
"There it is again!"--Bending over the bits of pasteboard on the table.
"The duke here!  And the fool on horseback!  What do the cards mean?"

"That I must have the horse, Nanette," said the duke's jester, standing
motionless and firm before the fireplace.

"Are you the fool?" she asked, more to herself than him.  "Why does he
wish to ride away?"

"Will you sell me the horse?" he demanded.

She hesitated.  Around them danced the shadows of the kettle-gourmands:

  "A kern and a drole, a varlet and a blade
  A drab and a rep, a skit and a jade--"

sang the street poet; the dwarf and the morio (a lilliputian and
Gulliver) fought a mimic combat; the juggler and the clown, who could
eat no more, were keeping time to a chorus by beating with their empty
trenchers on the table.

"Sell you the horse?  For what?" asked the gipsy.

"For five gold pieces."

"A fool with five gold pieces!" she exclaimed, incredulously.

"Here!  You may see them."  And he opened a purse he carried at his
girdle.

"Do not let them know," she said, hurriedly.  "They would kill you
and--"

"You would not get the money," he added, significantly.  "If you act
quickly, find me a horse and let me go; it is you, not they, who will
profit."

Abruptly she rose.  "It is fate," she remarked, her eyes greedy.

His glance, as he stood there, proud and stern, cut her sharply.  "Say
cupidity, Nanette!" he laughed softly.  "It is more profitable not to
betray me.  In the one case you get much; in the other, little."

"Stay here," she replied, hastily.  "I'll fetch the horse."  And
vanished.

A moment he remained, then resolutely turning to the door through which
she had disappeared, opened it, and found himself in a combined
sleeping-room and stable; a dark apartment, with floor of hardened
earth and a single window, open to wind and weather.  The atmosphere in
this chamber for man and beast was impregnated with the smell of mold
and dry-rot, mingled with the livelier effluvium of dirt and grime of
years; but amid the malodor and mustiness, on a couch under the window,
slumbered and snored the false Franciscan monk.  By his side was a
tankard, half-filled with stale sack, and in his hand he clutched a
gold piece as though he had had an intimation it would be safer there
than elsewhere on his person during the pot-valiant sleep he had
deliberately courted.  His hood had fallen back, displaying a bullet
head, red cheeks and purple nose, while the wooden beads of this
sottish counterfeit of a friar trailed from his girdle on the ground.
From a stall in a far corner a large, bony-looking nag turned its head
reproachfully, as if mentally protesting against such foul quarters and
the poor company they offered.  Its melancholy whinny upon the
appearance of the woman was a sigh for freedom; a sad suspiration to
the memory of radiant clover fields or poppy-starred meadows.

"Why, here's a holy man worn out by too many paternosters," commented
the duke's fool, standing on the threshold; and then gazed from the
gold piece in the monk's hand to the woman.  "I need not ask where you
got the silver, Nanette.  'Tis a chain of evidence leading--where?"

The gipsy replied only with dark looks, regarding his intrusion in this
inner sanctuary as a fresh provocation for her just displeasure.  The
jester, however, paid no attention to these signs of new acerbity on
her face.

Crossing to the couch, he shook the monk vigorously, but the latter
only held his piece of money tighter like a miser whose treasure is
threatened, and snored the louder.  Again the fool essayed to waken
him, and this time he opened his eyes, felt for his beads and commenced
to mutter a prayer in Latin words, strung together in meaningless
phrases.

"Why," commented the jester, "his learning is as false as his cloak.
Wake up, sirrah!  Would you approach Heaven's gate with a feigned
prayer on your lips and a toss-pot in your hand?"

"_Christe tuum_--I absolve you!  I absolve you!" muttered the friar.
"Go your way in peace."

"Hear me, thou trumped-up monk; do you want another piece of gold?"

"Gold!" repeated the other, tipsily.  "What--what for?  To--to help
some fool to paradise--or purgatory?  'Tis for the Church I beg, good
people.  The holy Church--Church I say!"

Winking and blinking, seeing nothing before him, he held out a
trembling hand.  "The piece of gold--give it to me!" he mumbled.

"Yes; in exchange for your cloak," answered the jester.

"My cloak, thou horse-leech!  Sell my skin for--piece of gold!  Want my
cloak?  Take it!"  And the dissembler rolled over, extending his arms.
The jester grasped the garment by the sleeves and with some difficulty
whipped it from him.

"Now hand me--the money and--cover me with rags that--I may sleep,"
continued the beer-bibber.  "So"--as he grasped the money the fool gave
him and stretched himself luxuriously beneath a noisome litter of
cast-off clothes and rubbish--"I languish in ecstasies!  The
angels--are singing around me."

With growing surprise and ill-humor had the woman observed this novel
proceeding, and now, when the jester had himself donned the false
friar's gown, she said grudgingly:

"You did not give him one of the five pieces?"

"No; there are still five left."

"A bit of gold for a cloak!" she grumbled.  "It is overmuch.  But
there!"  Unfastening a door that looked out upon the field.  "Give me
the money and be gone."

He grasped the bridle of the horse, handed her the promised reward,
and, drawing the hood of the monk's garment over his head, led the nag
out into the open air.  The door closed quickly behind him and he heard
the wooden bolt as it shot into place.  Above the dark outlines of the
forest, the moon, full-orbed, now shone in the sky, with a myriad
attendant stars, its silver beams flooding the open spaces and
revealing every detail, soft, dreamy, yet distinct.  A languorous,
redolent air just stirred the waving grain, on which rested a glossy
shimmer.

As the fool was about to spring upon the horse, a shadow suddenly
appeared around the corner of the house and the animal danced aside in
affright.  Before the jester could quiet and mount the nag, the shadow
resolved itself into a man, and, behind him, came a numerous band, the
play of light on helmet, sword and dagger revealing them as a party of
troopers.  Doubtless having indulged freely, they had become inclined
to new adventures, and accordingly had bent their footsteps toward the
"little house on the verge of the wood," where merry company was always
to be found.  At the sight of the duke's fool and the horse they
pressed forward, and, with one accord, surrounded him.

"The Franciscan monk!" cried one.

"Where is he going so late with the nag?" asked another.

"He's off to confess some one," exclaimed a third.

"A petticoat, most likely, the rogue!" rejoined the second speaker.

"Well, what have we to do with his love affairs?" laughed the first
trooper.  "Ride on, good father, and keep tryst."

"Yes, ride on!" the others called out.

The monk bowed.  An interruption which had promised to defeat his
designs seemed drawing to a harmless conclusion.  His hopes ran high;
the soldiers had not yet penetrated beneath the costume; he had already
determined to leap upon the horse in a rush for freedom when a heavy,
detaining hand was laid on his shoulder.

"One moment, knave!" said a deep voice, and, wheeling sharply, the fool
looked into the keen, ferret eyes of the trooper with the red
mustaches.  "I have a question to ask.  Have you done that which you
were to do?"

The friar nodded his assent.  "The fool will trouble the duke no more,"
he answered.

"Ah, he is"--began the soldier.

"Even so.  And now pray let me pass."

"Yes; let him pass!" urged one of the soldiers.  "Would you keep some
longing trollop waiting?"

The leader of the troopers did not answer; his glance was bent upon the
ground.  "Yes, you may go," he commented, "when--" and suddenly thrust
forth an arm and pulled back the enshrouding cloak.

"The duke's fool!" he cried.  "Close in, rogues!  Let him not escape."

Fiercely the fool's hand sought his breast; then, swiftly realizing
that it needed but a pretext to bring about the end desired by the
pretender in the castle, with an effort he restrained himself, and
confronted his assailants, outwardly calm.

"'Tis a poor jest which fails," he said, easily.

"Jest!" grimly returned he of the red mustaches.  "Call you it a jest,
this monk's disguise?  Once on the horse, it would have been no jest,
and I'll warrant you would soon have left the castle far behind.  Yes;
and but for the cloven foot, the jest, as you call it, would have
succeeded, too.  Had it not been," he added, "for the pointed, silken
shoe, peeping out from beneath the holy robe--a covering of vanity,
instead of holy nakedness--you would certainly have deceived me,
and"--with a brusque laugh--"slipped away from your master, the duke."

"The duke?" said the jester, as casting the now useless cloak from him,
he deliberately scrutinized the rogue.

"The duke," returned the man, stolidly.  "Well, this spoils our sport
for to-night, knaves," he went on, turning to the other troopers, "for
we must e'en escort the jester back to the castle."

"Beshrew him!" they answered, of one accord.  "A plague upon him!"

And slowly the fool and the soldiers began to retrace their way across
the moon-lit fields, the trooper with the red mustaches grumbling as
they went: "Such luck to turn back now, with all those mad-caps right
under our nose!  A curse to a dry march over a dusty meadow!  An
unsanctified dog of a monk!  'Tis like a campaign, with naught but
ditch water to drink.  The devil take the friar and the jester!
Forward! the fool in the center, and those he would have fooled around
him!"

And when they disappeared in the distance the gipsy woman might have
been seen leaving the house by the stable door and leading in the horse.



CHAPTER XI

A NEW MESSENGER TO THE EMPEROR

Between Caillette and the duke's jester had arisen one of those
friendships which spring more from similitude than unlikeness; an amity
of which each had been unconscious in its inception, but which had
gradually grown into a sentiment of comradeship.  Caillette was of
noble mien, graceful manner and elegant address; a soldier by
preference; a jester against his will, forced to the office by the
nobleman who had cared for and educated him.  In the duke's fool he had
found his other self; a man who like himself lent dignity to the gentle
art of jesting; who could turn a rhyme and raise a laugh without
resorting to grossness.

The line of demarcation between the clown and the merry-and-wise wit
was, in those days, not clearly drawn.  The stories of the former,
which made the matrons look down and the maidens to hide their faces,
were often more appreciated by the inebriate nobles than some subtile
comicality or nimble lines of poetry, that would serve to take home and
think over, and which improved with time like a wine of sound body.
Triboulet abused the ancient art of foolery, thought Caillette; the
duke's _plaisant_ played upon it with true drollery, and as a master
who has a delicate ear for an instrument, so Caillette, being sensitive
to broadness or stupidity which masked as humor or pleasantry, turned
naturally from the mountebank to the true jester.

Moreover, Caillette experienced a superior sadness, sifted through
years of infestivity and gloom, beginning when Diane was led to the
altar by the grand seneschal of Normandy, that threw an actual, albeit
cynical, interest about the love-tragedy of the duke's fool which the
other divined and--from his own past heart-throbs--understood.  The
_plaisant_ to the princess' betrothed, Caillette would have sworn, was
of gentle birth; his face, manner and bearing proclaimed it; he was,
also, a scholar and a poet; his courage, which Caillette divined,
fitted him for the higher office of arms.  Certainly, he became an
interesting companion, and the French jester sought his company on
every occasion.  And this fellowship, or intimacy, which he courted was
destined to send Caillette forth on a strange and adventuresome mission.

The day following the return of the duke's fool to the castle, Francis,
who early in his reign had sought to model his life after the
chivalrous romances, inaugurated a splendid and pompous tournament.
Some time before, the pursuivants had proclaimed the event and
distributed to the knights who were to take active part the shields of
arms of the four _juges-diseurs_, or umpires of the field.  On this
gala occasion the scaffolds and stands surrounding the arena were
bedecked in silks of bright colors; against the cloudless sky a
thousand festal flags waved and fluttered in the gentle breeze; beneath
the tasseled awning festoons of bright flowers embellished gorgeous
hangings and tapestries.

The king rode from the castle under a pavilion of cloth of gold and
purple velvet, with the letters F and R, boldly outlined, followed by
ladies and courtiers, pages and attendants.  Amid the shouts and huzzas
of the people, the monarch and his retinue took their places in the
center of the stand, the royal box hung with ornate brocades and
trimmings.

In an inclosure of white, next to that of the king, was seated the Lady
of the Tournament, the Princess Louise, and her maids of honor, arrayed
all in snowy garb, and, against the garish brilliancy of the general
background, a pompous pageantry of colors, the decoration of this
dainty nook shone in silvery contrast.  A garland of flowers was the
only crown the lady wore; no other adornment had her fair shoulders
save their own argent beauty, of which the fashion of the day permitted
a discernible suggestion.  One arm hung languorously across the
railing, as she leaned forward with seeming carelessness, but intently
directed her glance to the scene below, where the attendants were
arranging the ring or leading the wondrously pranked-out chargers to
their stalls.

Behind her, motionless as a statue, with face that looked paler, and
lips the redder, and hair the blacker, stood the maid Jacqueline.  If
the casual glance saw first the blond head, the creamy arms and sunny
blue eyes of the princess, it was apt to linger with almost a start of
wonder upon the striking figure of the jestress, a nocturnal touch in a
pearly picture.

"On my word, there's a decorative creature for any lord to have in his
house," murmured the aged chancellor of the kingdom, sitting near the
monarch.  "Who is she?"

"A beggar's brat Francis found here when he took the castle," replied
the beribboned spark addressed.  "You know the story?"

"Yes," said the white-haired diplomat, half-sadly.  "This castle once
belonged to the great Constable of Dubrois.  When he fell from favor
the king besieged him; the constable fled and died in Spain.  That
much, of course, I--and the world--know.  But the girl--"

"When our victorious monarch took possession of this ancient pile,"
explained the willing courtier, "the only ones left in it were an old
gamekeeper and his daughter, a gipsy-like maid who ran wild in the
woods.  Time hath tamed her somewhat, but there she stands."

"And what sad memories of a noble but unfortunate gentleman cluster
around her!" muttered the chancellor.  "Alas, for our brief hour of
triumph and favor!  Yesterday was he great; I, nothing.  To-day, what
am I, while he--is nothing."

A great murmur, resolving itself into shouts and resounding outcry,
interrupted the noble's reminiscent mood, as a thick-set figure in
richly chased armor, mounted on a massive horse, crossed the arena.

"_Bon Vouloir!_" they cried.  "_Bon Vouloir!_"

It was the name assumed by the free baron for the day, while other
knights were known for the time being by such euphonious and chivalrous
appellations as _Vaillant Desyr_, _Bon Espoir_ or _Coeur Loyal_.  _Bon
Vouloir_, upon this popular demonstration, reined his steed, and,
removing his head-covering, bowed reverently to the king and his suite,
deeply to the Lady of the Tournament and her retinue, and carelessly to
the vociferous multitude, after which he retired to a large tent of
crimson and gold, set apart for his convenience and pleasure.

From the purple box the monarch had nodded graciously and from the
silver bower the lady had smiled softly, so that the duke had no reason
for dissatisfaction; the attitude of the crowd was of small moment, an
unmusical accompaniment to the potent pantomime, of which the principal
figures were Francis, the King Arthur of Europe, and the princess,
queen of beauty's unbounded realm.

In front of the duke's pavilion was hung his shield, and by its side
stood his squire, fancifully dressed in rich colors.  Behind ranged the
men of arms, whose lances formed a fence to hold in check the people
from far and wide, among whom the pick-purses, light-fingered scamps,
and sturdy beggars conscientiously circulated, plying themselves
assiduously.  The fashion of the day prescribed carrying the purse and
the dagger dangling from the girdle, and many a good citizen departed
from the tourney without the one and with the other, and it is needless
to say which of the two articles the filcher left its owner.  And none
was more enthusiastic or demonstrative of the features of the lists
than these rapacious riflers, who loudly cheered the merry monarch or
shouted for his gallant knights, while deftly cutting purse-cords or
despoiling honest country dames of brooches, clasps or other treasured
articles of adornment.

Near the duke's pavilion, to the right, had been pitched a commodious
tent of yellow material, with ropes of the same color, and a fool's cap
crowning the pole in place of the customary banner.  Over the entrance
was suspended the jester's gilded wand and a staff, from which hung a
blown bladder.  Here were quartered the court jesters whom Francis had
commanded to be fittingly attired for the lists and to take part in the
general combat.  In vain had Triboulet pleaded that they would occasion
more merriment if assigned to the king's box than doomed to the arena.

"That may be," Francis had answered, "but on this occasion all the
people must witness your antics."

"Antics!"  Triboulet had shuddered.  "An I should be killed, your
Majesty?"

"Then it will be amusing to see you quiet for once in your life," had
been the laughing reply.

And with this poor assurance the dwarf had been obliged to content
himself--not merrily, 'tis true, but with much inward disquietude,
secretly execrating his monarch for this revival of ancient and
barbarous practices.

Now, in the rear of the jesters' pavilion, his face was yellow with
trepidation, as the armorer buckled on the iron plates about his
stunted figure, fastening and riveting them in such manner, he mentally
concluded he should never emerge from that frightful shell.

"The worst of it is," dryly remarked the hunchback's valet as he
briskly plied his little hammer, "these clothes are so heavy you
couldn't run away if you wanted to."

"Oh, that the duke were married and out of the kingdom!" Triboulet
fervently wished, and the fiery comments of Marot, Villot and those
other reckless spirits, who seemed to mind no more the prospect of
being spitted on a lance than if it were but a novel and not unpleasant
experience to look forward to, in no wise served to assuage his
heart-sinking.

At the entrance of the pavilion stood Caillette, who had watched the
passing of _Bon Vouloir_ and now was gazing upward into a sea of faces
from whence came a hum of voices like the buzzing of unnumbered bees.

"Certes," he commented, "the king makes much of this unmannered,
lumpish, beer-drinking noble who is going to wed the princess."

"Caillette," said the low voice of the duke's jester at his elbow,
"would you see a woman undone?"

"Why, _mon ami_!" lightly answered the French fool, "I've seen many
undone--by themselves."

"Ah," returned the other, "I appeal to your chivalry, and you answer
with a jest."

"How else," asked Caillette, with a peculiar smile that was at once
sweet and mournful, "can one take woman, save as a jest--a pleasant
mockery?"

"Your irony precludes the test of friendship--the service I was about
to ask of you," retorted the duke's fool, gravely.

"Test of friendship!" exclaimed the poet.  "'Tis the only thing I
believe in.  Love!  What is it?  A flame! a breath!  Look out there--at
the flatterers and royal sycophants.  Those are your emissaries of
love.  Ye gods! into the breasts of what jack-a-dandies and parasites
has descended the unquenchable fire of Jove!  Now as for
comradeship"--placing his hand affectionately on the other's
shoulder--"by Castor and Pollux, and all the other inseparables, 'tis
another thing.  But expound this strange anomaly--a woman wronged.  Who
is the woman?"

"The Princess Louise!"

Caillette glanced from the place where he stood to the center of the
stand and the white bower, inclining from which was a woman, haughty,
fair, beautiful; one whose face attracted the attention of the
multitude and who seemed not unhappy in being thus scrutinized and
admired.  Shaking his head slowly, the court poet dropped his eyes and
studied the sand at his feet.

"She looks not wronged," he said, dryly.  "She appears to enjoy her
triumphs."

"And yet, Caillette, 'tis all a farce," answered the duke's jester.

"So have I--thought--on other occasions."

And again his gaze flew upward, not, however, to the lady whom Francis
had gallantly chosen for Queen of Beauty, but, despite his alleged
cynicism, to a corner of the king's own box, where sat she who had once
been a laughing maid by his side and with whom he had played that
diverting pastoral, called "First Love."  It was only an instant's
return into the farcical but joyous past, and a moment later he was
sharply recalled into the arid present by the words of his companion.

"The man the Princess Louise is going to marry is no more Robert, the
Duke of Friedwald, than you are!" exclaimed the foreign fool.  "He is
the bastard of Pfalz-Urfeld, the so-called free baron of Hochfels.  His
castle commands the road between the true duke and Francis' domains.
He made himself master of all the correspondence, conceived the plan to
come here himself and intends to carry off the true lord's bride.
Indeed, in private, he has acknowledged it all to me, and, failing to
corrupt me to his service, last night set an assassin to kill me."

His listener, with folded arms and attentive mien, kept his eyes fixed
steadily upon the narrator, as if he doubted the evidence of his
senses.  Without, the marshals had taken their places in the lists and
another stentorian dissonance greeted these officers of the field from
the good-humored gathering, which, basking in the anticipation of the
feast they knew would follow the pageantry, clapped their hands and
flung up their caps at the least provocation for rejoicing.  Upon the
two jesters this scene of jubilation was lost, Caillette merely bending
closer to the other, with:

"But why have you not denounced him to the king?"

"Because of my foolhardiness in tacitly accepting at first this
free-booter as my master."

Caillette shot a keen glance at the other and smiled.  His eyes said:
"Foolhardiness!  Was it not, rather, some other emotion?  Had not the
princess leaned more than graciously toward her betrothed and--"

"I thought him but some flimsy adventurer," went on the duke's fool,
hastily, "and told myself I would see the play played out, holding the
key to the situation, and--"

"You underestimated him?"

"Exactly.  His plans were cunningly laid, and now--who am I that the
king should listen to me?  At best, if I denounce him, they would
probably consider it a bit of pleasantry, or--madness."

"Yes," reluctantly assented Caillette, Triboulet's words, "a fool in
love with the princess!" recurring to him; "it would be undoubtedly
even as you say."

The duke's jester looked down thoughtfully.  He had only half-expressed
to the French _plaisant_ the doubts which had assailed him since his
interview with Louis of Hochfels.  Who could read the minds of
monarchs?  The motives actuating them?  Should he be able to convince
Francis of the deception practised upon him, was it altogether unlikely
that the king might not be brought to condone the offense for the sake
of an alliance with this bastard of Pfalz-Urfeld and the other
unconquerable free barons of the Austrian border against Charles
himself?  Had not Francis in the past, albeit openly friendly with the
emperor, secretly courted the favor of the powerful German nobles in
Charles' own country?  Had not his covenant with the infidel, Solyman,
been a covert attempt to undermine the emperor's power?

From the day when, as young men, both had been aspirants for the
imperial throne of Germany and Francis had suffered defeat, the latter
had assiduously devoted himself to the retributory task of gaining the
ascendancy over his successful rival.  And now, although the tempering
years had assuaged their erstwhile passions and each had professed to
eschew war and its violence, might not this temptation prove too great
for Francis to resist a last blow at the emperor's prestige?  How easy
to affect disbelief of a fool, to overthrow the fabric of friendship
between Charles and himself, and at the same time apparently not
violate good faith or conscience!

The voice of Caillette broke in upon his thoughts.

"You will not then attempt to denounce him?"

The fool hesitated.  "Alone--out of favor with the king, I like not to
risk the outcome--but--if I may depend upon you--"

"Did ever friend refuse such a call?" exclaimed Caillette, promptly.  A
quick glance of gratitude flashed from the other's eyes.

"There is one flaw in the free baron's position," resumed the duke's
fool, more confidently; "a fatal one 'twill prove, if it is possible to
carry out my plans.  He thinks the emperor is in Austria, and his
followers guard the road through the mountains.  He tells himself not
only are the emperor and the Duke of Friedwald too far distant to hear
of the pretender and interfere with the nuptials, but that he obviates
even the contingency of their learning of that matter at all by
controlling the way through which the messengers must go.  Thus rests
he in double security--but an imaginary one."

"What mean you?" asked Caillette, attentively, from his manner giving
fuller credence to the extraordinary news he had just learned.

"That Charles, the emperor, is not in Austria, but in Aragon at
Saragossa, where he can be reached in time to prevent the marriage.
Just before my leaving, the emperor, to my certain knowledge, secretly
departed for Spain on matters pertaining to the governing of Aragon.
Charles plays a deep game in the affairs of Europe, though he works
ever silently and unobtrusively.  Is he not always beforehand with your
king?  When Francis was preparing the gorgeous field of the cloth of
gold for his English brother, did not Charles quietly leave for the
little isle, and there, without beat of drum, arrange his own affairs
before Henry was even seen by your pleasure-loving monarch?  Yes; to
the impostor and to Francis, Charles is in Austria; to us--for now you
share my secret--is he in Spain, where by swift riding he may be found,
and yet interdict in this matter."

"Then why--haven't you ere this fled to the emperor with the news?"

"Last night I had determined to get away, when first I was assaulted by
an assassin of the impostor, and next detained by his troop and brought
back to the castle.  I had even left on foot, trusting to excite less
suspicion, and hoping to find a horse on the way, but fortune was with
the pretender.  So here am I, closely watched--and waiting," he added
grimly.

The listener's demeanor was imperturbability itself.  He knew why the
other had taken him into his confidence, and understood the silent
appeal as plainly as though words had uttered it.  Perhaps he duly
weighed the perils of a flight without permission from the court of the
exacting and capricious monarch, and considered the hazards of the trip
itself through a wild and brigand-infested country.  Possibly, the
thought of the princess moved him, for despite his irony, it was his
mocking fate to entertain in his breast, against his will, a covert
sympathy for the gentler sex; or, looking into the passionate face of
his companion, he may have been conscious of some bond of brotherhood,
a fellow-feeling that could not resist the call upon his good-will and
amicable efforts.  The indifference faded from Caillette's face and
almost a boyish enthusiasm shone in his eyes.

"_Mon ami_, I'll do it!" he exclaimed, lightly.  "I'll ride to the
emperor for you."

Silently the jester of the duke wrung his hand.  "I've long sighed for
an adventure," laughed Caillette.  "And here is the opportunity.
Caillette, a knight-errant!  But"--his face falling--"the emperor will
look on me as a madman."

"Nay," replied the duke's _plaisant_, "here is a letter.  When he reads
it he will, at least, think the affair worth consideration.  He knows
me, and trusts my fidelity, and will be assured I would not jest on
such a serious matter.  Believe me, he will receive you as more than a
madman."

"Why, then, 'twill be a rare adventure," commented the other.
"Wandering in the country; the beautiful country, where I was reared;
away from the madness of courts.  Already I hear the wanton breezes
sighing in Sapphic softness and the forests' elegiac murmur.  Tell me,
how shall I ride?"

"As a knight to the border; thence onward as a minstrel.  In Spain
there's always a welcome for a blithe singer."

"'Tis fortunate I learned some Spanish love songs from a fair señora
who was in Charles' retinue the time he visited Francis," added
Caillette.  "An I should fail?" he continued, more gravely.

"You will not fail," was the confident reply.

"I am of your mind, but things will happen--sometimes--and why do you
not speak to the princess herself--to warn her--"

"Speak to her!" repeated the duke's jester, a shadow on his brow.
"When he has appealed to her, perhaps--when--"  He broke off abruptly.
His tone was proud; in his eyes a look which Caillette afterward
understood.  As it was, the latter nodded his head wisely.

"A woman whose fancy is touched is--what she is," he commented,
generally.  "Truly it would be a more thankless task, even, than
approaching the king.  For women were ever creatures of caprice, not to
be governed by any court of logic, but by the whimsical, fantastic
rules of Marguerite's court.  Court!" he exclaimed.  "The word suggests
law; reason; where merit hath justice.  Call it not Love's Court, but
love's caprice, or crochet.  But look you, there's another channel to
the princess' mind--yonder black-browed maid--our ally in motley--when
she chooses to wear it--Jacqueline."

"She likes me not," returned the fool.  "Would she believe me in such
an important matter?"

"I'm afraid not," tranquilly replied Caillette, "in view of the
improbability of your tale and the undoubted credentials held by this
pretender.  For my part, to look at the fellow was almost enough.  But
to the ladies, his brutality signifieth strength and power; and his
uncouthness, originality and genius.  Marguerite, even, is prepossessed
in his favor and has written a platonic poem in his honor.  As for the
princess"--pressing the other's arm gently--"do you not know, _mon
ami_, that women are all alike?  There is but one they obey--the
king--that is as high as their ambitions can reach--and even him they
deceive.  Why, the Countess d'Etampes--but this is no time for gossip.
We are fools, you and I, and love, my friend, is but broad farce at the
best."

Even as he spoke thus, however, from the lists came the voices of the
well-instructed heralds, secretaries of the occasion, who had delved
deeply into the practices of the merry and ancient pastime: "Love of
ladies!  For you and glory!  Chivalry but fights for love.  Look down,
fair eyes!" a peroration which was answered with many pieces of silver
from the galleries above, and which the gorgeously dressed officials
readily unbent to gather.  Among the fair hands which rewarded this
perfunctory apostrophe to the tender passion none was more lavish in
offerings than those matrons and maids in the vicinity of the king.  A
satirical smile again marred Caillette's face, but he kept his
reflections to himself, reverting to the business of the moment.

"I should be off at once!" he cried.  "But what can we do?  The king
hath commanded all the jesters to appear in the tournament to-day,
properly armed and armored, the better to make sprightlier sport amid
the ponderous pastime of the knights.  Here am I bound to shine on
horseback, willy-nilly.  Yet this matter of yours is pressing.  Stay!
I have it.  I can e'en fall from my horse, by a ruse, retire from the
field, and fly southward."

"Then will I wish you Godspeed, now," said the duke's fool.  "Never was
a stancher heart than thine, Caillette, or a truer friend."

"One word," returned the other, not without a trace of feeling which
even his cynicism could not hide.  "Beware of the false duke in the
arena!  It will be his opportunity to--"

"I understand," answered the duke's fool, again warmly pressing
Caillette's hand, "but with the knowledge you are fleeing to Spain I
have no fear for the future.  If we meet not after to-day--"

"Why, life's but a span, and our friendship has been short, but sweet,"
added the other.

Now without sounded a flourish of trumpets and every glance was
expectantly down-turned from the crowded stand, as with a clatter of
hoofs and waving of plumes France's young chivalry dashed into the
lists, divided into two parties, took their respective places and, at a
signal from the musicians, started impetuously against one another.



CHAPTER XII

THE DUKE ENTERS THE LISTS

In that first "joyous and gentle passage of arms," wherein the weapons
were those "of courtesy," their points covered with small disks,
several knights broke their lances fairly, two horsemen of the side
wearing red plumes became unseated, and their opponents, designated as
the "white plumes," swept on intact.

"Well done!" commented the king from his high tribunal, as the squires
and attendants began to clear the lists, assisting the fallen
belligerents to their tents.  "We shall have another such memorable
field as that of Ashby-de-la-Zouch!"

The following just, reduced to six combatants, three of the red plumes
and three of the white, was even yet more spirited than the first tilt,
for the former trio couched their lances with the determination to
retrieve the day for their party.  In this encounter two of the whites
were unhorsed, thus placing the contention once more on an equal basis,
while in the third conflict the whites again suffered similar disaster,
and but one remained to redeem his party's lapse from an advantage
gained in the opening combat.

All eyes were now fastened upon this single remnant of the white
fellowship in arms, who, to wrest victory from defeat, became obliged
to overcome each in turn of the trio of reds, a formidable task for one
who had already been successful in three stubborn matches.  It was a
hero-making opportunity, but, alas! for the last of the little white
company.  Like many another, he made a brave dash for honor and the
"bubble reputation"; the former slipped tantalizingly from his grasp,
and the latter burst and all its pretty colors dissolved in thin air.
Now he lay still on the sands and the king only remarked:

"Certes, he possessed courage."

And the words sounded like an epitaph, a not inglorious one, although
the hand that gripped the lance had failed.  The defeated champion was
removed; the opportunity had passed; the multitude stoically accepted
the lame and impotent conclusion, and the tournament proceeded.

Event followed event, and those court ladies who at first had professed
their nerves were weaker than their foremothers' now watched the arena
with sparkling eyes, no longer turning away at the thrilling moment of
contact.  Taking their cue from the king, they were lavish in praise
and generous in approval, and at an unusual exhibition of skill the
stand grew bright with waving scarfs and handkerchiefs.  Simultaneous
with such an animated demonstration from the galleries would come a
roar of approval from the peasantry below, crowded where best they
could find places, bespeaking for their part, likewise, an increasing
lust for the stirring pastime.

In truth, the only dissatisfied onlookers were the quick-fingered
spoilers and rovers who, packed as close as dried dates in a basket by
the irresistible forward press of the people, found themselves suddenly
occupationless, without power to move their arms, or ply their hands.
Thus held in a mighty compress, temporary prisoners with their spoils
in their pockets, and cheap jewelry shining enticingly all about them,
they were obliged for the time to comport themselves like honest
citizens.  But, although their bodies were in durance vile, their eyes
could roam covetously to a showy trinket on the broad bosom of some
buxom good-wife, or a gewgaw that hung from the neck of a red-cheeked
lass.

"Ha!" muttered the scamp-student to his good spouse, "here are all the
jolly boys immersed to their necks, like prisoners buried in the sand
by the Arabs."

"Hush!" she whispered, warningly.  "See you yonder--the duke's fool; he
wears the arms of Charles, the emperor."

"And there's the Duke of Friedwald himself," answered the ragged
scholar.  "Look! the jesters are going to fight.  They have arranged
them in two parties.  Half of them go with the duke and his knights;
the other half with his Lordship's opponents."

"But the duke's fool, by chance, is set against his master," she
mumbled, significantly.

"Call you it chance?" he said in a low voice, and Nanette nudged him
angrily in the side with her elbow, so that he cried out, and attention
would have been called to them but for a ripple of laughter which
started on the edge of the crowd and was taken up by the serried ranks.

"Ho! ho!  Look at Triboulet!" shouted the delighted populace.  "Ah, the
droll fellow!"

All eyes were now bent to the arena, where, on a powerful nag, sat
perched the misshapen jester.  With whip and spur he was vehemently
plying a horse that stubbornly stood as motionless as carven stone.
Thinking at the last moment of a plan for escape from the dangerous
features of the tourney, the hunchback had bribed one of the attendants
to fetch him a steed which for sullen obduracy surpassed any charger in
the king's stables.  Fate, he was called, because nothing could move or
change him, and now, with head pushed forward and ears thrust back, he
proved himself beneath the blows and spurring of the seemingly excited
rider, worthy of this appellation.

"Go on, Fate; go on!" exclaimed the apparently angry dwarf.  "Will you
be balky now, when Triboulet has glory within his grasp?  Miserable
beast! unhappy fate!  When bright eyes are watching the great
Triboulet!"

If not destined to score success with his lance, the dwarf at least had
won a victory through his comical situation and ready wit.  Fair ladies
forgot his ugliness; the pages his ill-humor; the courtiers his
vindictive slyness; the monarch the disappointment of his failure to
worst the duke's fool, and all applauded the ludicrous figure,
shouting, waving his arms, struggling with inexorable destiny.
Finally, in despair, his hands fell to his side.

"Oh, resistless necessity!" he cried.  But in his heart he said: "It is
well.  I am as safe as on a wooden horse.  Here I stand.  Let others
have their heads split or their bodies broken.  Triboulet, like the
gods, views the carnage from afar."

While this bit of unexpected comedy riveted the attention of the
spectators the duke and his followers had slowly ridden to their side
of the inclosure.  Here hovered the squires, adjusting a stirrup,
giving a last turn to a strap, or testing a bridle or girth.  Behind
stood the heralds, trumpeters and pursuivants in their bright garb of
office.  At his own solicitation had the duke been assigned an active
part in the day's entertainment.  The king, fearing for the safety of
his guest and the possible postponement of the marriage should any
injury befall him, had sought to dissuade him from his purpose, but the
other had laughed boisterously at the monarch's fears and sworn he
would break a lance for his lady love that day.  Francis, too gallant a
knight himself to interpose further objection to an announcement so in
keeping with the traditions of the lists, thereupon had ordered the
best charger in his stables to be placed at the disposal of the
princess' betrothed, and again nodded his approbation upon the
appearance of the duke in the ring.  But at least one person in that
vast assemblage was far from sharing the monarch's complaisant mood.

If the mind of the duke's fool had heretofore been filled with
bitterness upon witnessing festal honors to a mere presumptuous free
baron, what now were his emotions at the reception accorded him?  From
king to churl was he a gallant noble; he, a swaggerer, ill-born, a
terrorist of mountain passes.  Even as the irony of the demonstration
swept over the jester, from above fell a flower, white as the box from
whence it was wafted.  Downward it fluttered, a messenger of amity,
like a dove to his gauntlet.  And with the favor went a smile from the
Lady of the Lists.  But while _Bon Vouloir_ stood there, the symbol in
his hand and the applause ringing in his ears, into the tenor of his
thoughts, the consciousness of partly gratified ambition, there crept
an insinuating warning of danger.

"My Lord," said the trooper with the red mustache, riding by the side
of his master, "the fool is plotting further mischief."

"What mean you?" asked the free baron, frowning, as he turned toward
his side of the field.

"Go slowly, my Lord, and I will tell you.  I saw the fool and another
jester with their heads together," continued the trooper in a low tone.
"They were standing in front of the jesters' tent.  You bade me watch
him.  So I entered their pavilion at the back.  Making pretext to be
looking for a gusset for an armor joint, I made my way near the
entrance.  There, bending over barbet pieces, I overheard fragments of
their conversation.  It even bore on your designs."

"A conversation on my designs!  He has then dared--"

"All, my Lord.  A scheming knave!  After I had heard enough, I gathered
up a skirt of tassets--"

"What did you hear?" said the other, impatiently.

"A plan by which he hoped to let the emperor know--"

A loud flourish of trumpets near them interrupted the free baron's
informer, and when the clarion tones had ceased it was the master who
spoke.  "There's time but for a word now.  Come to my tent afterward.
Meanwhile," he went on, hurriedly, "direct a lance at the fool--"

"But, my Lord," expostulated the man, quickly, "the jesters only are to
oppose one another."

"It will pass for an accident.  Francis likes him not, and will clear
you of unknightly conduct, if--"  He finished with a boldly significant
look, which was not lost upon his man.

"Even if the leaden disk should fall from my lance and leave the point
bare?" said the trooper, hoarsely.

"Even that!" responded the free baron, hastily.

"_Laissez-aller!_" cried the marshals, giving the signal to begin.

Above, in her white box, the princess turned pale.  With bated breath
and parted lips, she watched the lines sweep forward, and, like two
great waves meeting, collide with a crash.  The dust that arose seemed
an all-enshrouding mist.  Beneath it the figures appeared, vague,
undefined, in a maze of uncertainty.

"Oh!" exclaimed Louise, striving to penetrate the cloud; "he is
victorious!"

"They have killed him!" said Jacqueline, at the same time staring
toward another part of the field.

"Killed him!--what--" began the princess, now rosy with excitement.

"No; he has won," added the maid, in the next breath, as a portion of
the obscuring mantle was swept aside.

"Of course!  Where are your eyes?" rejoined her mistress triumphantly.
"The duke, is one of the emperor's greatest knights."

"In this case, Madam, it is but natural your sight should be better
than my own," half-mockingly returned the maid.

And, in truth, the princess was right, for the king's guest, through
overwhelming strength and greater momentum, had lightly plucked from
his seat a stalwart adversary.  Others of his following failed not in
the "attaint," and horses and troopers floundered in the sand.  Apart
from the duke's victory, two especial incidents, one comic, stood out
in the confused picture.

That which partook of the humorous aspect, and was seen and appreciated
by all, had for its central figure an unwilling actor, the king's
hunchback.  Like the famous steed builded by the Greeks, Triboulet's
"wooden horse" contained unknown elements of danger, and even while the
jester was congratulating himself upon absolute immunity from peril the
nag started and quivered.  At the flourish of the brass instruments his
ears, that had lain back, were now pricked forward; he had once, in his
palmy, coltish time, been a battle charger, and, perhaps, some memory
of those martial days, the waving of plumes and the clashing of arms,
reawoke his combative spirit of old.  Or, possibly his brute
intelligence penetrated the dwarf's knavish pusillanimity, and,
changing his tactics that he might still range on the side of
perversity, resolved himself from immobility into a rampant agency of
motion.  Furiously he dashed into the thick of the conflict, and
Triboulet, paralyzed with fear and dropping his lance, was borne
helplessly onward, execrating the nag and his capricious humor.

Opposed to the hunchback rode Villot, who, upon reaching the dwarf and
observing his predicament, good-naturedly turned aside his point, but
was unable to avoid striking him with the handle as he rode by.  To
Triboulet that blow, reëchoing in the hollow depths of his steel shell,
sounded like the dissolution of the universe, and, not doubting his
last moment had come, mechanically he fell to earth, abandoning to its
own resources the equine Fate that had served him so ill.  Striking the
ground, and, still finding consciousness had not deserted him, instinct
prompted him to demonstrate that if his armor was too heavy for him to
run away in, as the smithy-_valet de chambre_ had significantly
affirmed, yet he possessed the undoubted strength and ability to crawl.
Thus, amid the guffaws of the peasantry and the smiles of the nobles,
he swiftly scampered from beneath the horses' feet, hurriedly left the
scene of strife, and finally reached triumphantly the haven of his tent.

The other incident, witnessed by Jacqueline, was of a more serious
nature.  As the lines swept together, with the dust rising before, she
perceived that the duke's trooper had swerved from his course and was
bearing down upon the duke's fool.

"Oh," she whispered to herself, "the master now retaliates on the
jester."  And held her breath.

Had he, too, observed these sudden perfidious tactics?  Apparently.
Yet he seemed not to shun the issue.

"Why does he not turn aside?" thought the maid.  "He might yet do it.
A fool and a knight, forsooth!"

But the fool pricked his horse deeply; it sprang to the struggle madly;
crash! like a thunderbolt, steed and rider leaped upon the trooper.
Then it was Jacqueline had murmured: "They have killed him!" not
doubting for a moment but that he had sped to destruction.

A second swift glance, and through the veil, less obscure, she saw the
jester riding, unharmed, his lance unbroken.  Had he escaped, after
all?  And the trooper?  He lay among the trampling horses' feet.  She
saw him now.  How had it all come about?  Her mind was bewildered, but
in spite of the princess' assertion to the contrary, her sight seemed
unusually clear.

"Good lance, fool!" cried a voice from the king's box.

"The jester rides well," said another.  "The knight's lance even passed
over his head, while the fool's struck fairly with terrific force."

"But why did he select the jester as an adversary?" continued the first
speaker.

"Mistakes will happen in the confusion of a _mêlée_--and he has paid
for his error," was the answer.  And Jacqueline knew that none would be
held accountable for the treacherous assault.

Now the fool had dismounted and she observed that he was bending over
another jester who had been unhorsed.  "Why," she murmured to herself
in surprise, "Caillette!  As good a soldier as a fool.  Who among the
jesters could have unseated him?"

But her wonderment would have increased, could she have overheard the
conversation between the duke's fool and Caillette, as the former
lifted the other from the sands and assisted him to walk, or rather
limp, to the jesters' pavilion.

"Did I not tell you to beware of the false duke?" muttered Caillette,
not omitting a parenthesis of deceptive groans.

"Ah, if it had only been he, instead," began the fool.

"Why," interrupted the seemingly injured man, "think you to stand up
against the boar of Hochfels?"

"I would I might try!" said the other quickly.

"Your success with the trooper has turned your head," laughed
Caillette, softly.  "One last word.  Look to yourself and fear not for
me.  Mine injuries--which I surmise are internal as they are not
visible--will excuse me for the day.  Nor shall I tarry at the palace
for the physician, but go straight on without bolus, simples or pills,
a very Mercury for speed.  Danger will I eschew and a pretty maid shall
hold me no longer than it takes to give her a kiss in passing.  Here
leave me at the tent.  Turn back to the field, or they will suspect.
Trust no one, and--you'll mind it not in a friend, one who would serve
you to the end?--forget the princess!  Serve her, save her, as you
will, but, remember, women are but creatures of the moment.  Adieu,
_mon ami_!"

And Caillette turned as one in grievous physical pain to an attendant,
bidding him speedily remove the armor, while the duke's fool, more
deeply stirred than he cared to show, moved again to the lists.



CHAPTER XIII

A CHAPLET FOR THE DUKE

Loud rang encomium and blessing on the king, as the people that night
crowded in the rear courtyard around the great tables set in the open
air, and groaning beneath viands, nutritious and succulent.  What swain
or yokel had not a meed of praise for the monarch when he beheld this
burden of good cheer, and, at the end of each board, elevated a little
and garlanded with roses, a rotund and portly cask of wine, with a
spigot projecting hospitably tablewards?

Forgotten were the tax-lists under which the commonalty labored; it was
"Hosanna" for Francis, and not a plowman nor tiller of the soil
bethought himself that he had fully paid for the snack and sup that
night.  How could he, having had no one to think for him; for then
Rousseau had not lived, Voltaire was unborn, and the most daring
approach to lese-majesty had been Rabelais' jocose: "The wearers of the
crown and scepter are born under the same constellation as those of cap
and bells."

Upon the green, smoking torches illumined the people and the
surroundings; beneath a great oven, the bright coals cast a vivid glow
far and near.  Close to the broad face of a cask--round and large like
that of a full-fed host presiding at the head of the board--sat the
Franciscan monk, whose gluttonous eye wandered from quail to partridge,
thence onward to pastry or pie, with the spigot at the end of the orbit
of observation.  Nor as it made this comprehensive survey did his
glance omit a casual inventory of the robust charms of a bouncing maid
on the opposite side of the table.  Scattered amid the honest,
good-natured visages of the trusting peasants were the pinched
adventurers from Paris, the dwellers of that quarter sacred to
themselves.  Yonder plump, frisky dame seemed like the lamb; the gaunt
knave by her side, the wolf.

At length the company could eat no more, although there yet remained a
void for drinking, and as the cups went circling and circling, their
laughter mingled with the distant strains of music from the great,
gorgeously lighted pavilion, where the king and his guests were
assembled to close the tourney fittingly with the celebration of the
final event--the awarding of the prize for the day.

"Can you tell me, good sir, to whom the umpires of the field have given
their judgment?" said a townsman to his country neighbor.

"Did you not hear the king of arms decide the Duke of Friedwald was the
victor?" answered the other.

"A decision of courtesy, perhaps?" insinuated the Parisian.

"Nay; two spears he broke, and overcame three adversaries during the
day.  Fairly he won the award."

"I wish we might see the presentation," interrupted a maid, pertly, her
longing eyes straying to the bright lights afar.

"Presentation!" repeated the countryman.  "Did we not witness the
sport?  A fig for the presentation!  Give me the cask and a juicy
haunch, with a lass like yourself to dance with after, and the nobles
are welcome to the sight of the prize and all the ceremony that goes
with it."

Within the king's pavilion, the spectacle alluded to, regretfully by
the girl and indifferently by the man, was at that moment being
enacted.  Upon a throne of honor, the lady of the tournament, attended
by two maids, looked down on a brilliant assemblage, through which now
approached the king and the princess' betrothed.  The latter seemed
somewhat thoughtful; his eye had but encountered that of the duke's
fool, whose gaze expressed a disdainful confidence the other fain would
have fathomed.  But for that unfortunate meeting in the lists which had
sealed the lips of the only person who had divined the hidden danger,
the free baron would now have been master of the _plaisant's_ designs.
Above, in the palace, the trooper with the red mustaches lay on his
couch unconscious.

For how long?  The court physician could not say.  The soldier might
remain insensible for hours.  Thus had the jester served himself with
that stroke better than he knew, and he of Hochfels bit his lip and
fumed inwardly, but to no purpose.  Not that he believed the peril to
be great, but the fact he could not grasp it goaded him, and he cursed
the trooper for a dolt and a poltroon that a mere fool should have
vanquished him.  And so he had left him, with a last look of disgust at
the silent lips that could not do his bidding, and had proceeded to the
royal pavilion, where the final act of the day's drama--more momentous
than the king or other spectators realized--was to be performed; an act
in which he would have appeared with much complacency, but that his
chagrin preyed somewhat on his vanity.

But his splendid self-control and audacity revealed to the courtly
assemblage no trace of what was passing in his mind.  He walked by the
king's side as one not unaccustomed to such exalted company, nor
overwhelmed by sudden honors.  His courage was superb; his demeanor
that of one born to command; in him seemed exemplified a type of brute
strength and force denoting a leader--whether of an army or a band of
swashbucklers.  As the monarch and the free baron drew near, the
princess slowly, gracefully arose, while now grouped around the throne
stood the heralds and pursuivants of the lists.  In her hand Louise
held the gift, covered with a silver veil, an end of which was carried
by each of the maids.

"Fair Lady of the Tournament," said the king, "this gallant knight is
_Bon Vouloir_, whom you have even heard proclaimed the victor of the
day."

"Approach, _Bon Vouloir_!" commanded the Queen of Love.

The maids uncovered the gift, the customary chaplet of beaten gold,
and, as the free baron bowed his head, the princess with a firm hand
fulfilled the functions of her office.  Rising, _Bon Vouloir_, amid the
exclamations of the court, claimed the privilege that went with the
bauble.  A moment he looked at the princess; she seemed to bend beneath
his regard; then leaning forward, deliberately rather than ardently, he
touched her cheek with his lips.  Those who watched the Queen of Love
closely observed her face become paler and her form tremble; but in a
moment she was again mistress of herself, her features prouder and
colder than before.

"Did you notice how he melted the ice of her nature?" whispered Diane,
with a malicious little laugh, to the countess.

"And yet 'twas not his--warmth that did it," wisely answered the
favorite of the king.

"His coldness, then," laughed the other, as the musicians began to
play, and the winner of the chaplet led the princess to the dance.  "Is
it not so, Sire?" she added, turning to the king, who at that moment
approached.

"He, indeed, forgot a part of the ceremony," graciously assented
Francis.

"A part of the ceremony, your Majesty?" questioned Diane.

"To kiss the two damsels of the princess; and one of them was worthy of
casual courtesy," he added, musingly.

"Which, Sire?" asked the countess, quickly.

"The dark-browed maid," returned the monarch, thoughtfully.  "Where did
I notice her last?"

And then he remembered.  It was she who, he suspected, had laughed that
night in Fools' hall.  Recalling the circumstance, the king looked
around for her, but she had drawn back.

"Is it your pleasure to open the festivities, Sire?" murmured the
favorite, and, without further words, Francis acquiesced, proffering
his arm to his companion.

Masque, costume ball, ballet, it was all one to the king and the court,
who never wearied of the diverting vagaries of the dance.  Now studying
that pantomimic group of merrymakers, in the rhythmical expression of
action and movement could almost be read the influence and relative
positions of the fair revelers.  The countess, airy and vivacious,
perched, as it were, lightly yet securely on the arm of the throne;
Diane, fearless, confident of the future through the dauphin;
Catharine, proud of her rank, undisturbed in her own exalted place as
wife of the dauphin; Marguerite, mixture of saint and sinner, a soft
heart that would oft-times turn the king from a hard purpose.

"There!  I've danced enough," said a panting voice, and Jacqueline,
breathless, paused before the duke's fool, who stood a motionless
spectator of the revelry.  In his rich costume of blue and white, the
figure of the foreign jester presented a fair and striking appearance,
but his face, proud and composed, was wanting in that spirit which
animated the features of his fellows in motley.

"One more turn, fair Jacqueline?" suggested Marot, her partner in the
dance.

"Not one!" she answered.

"Is that a dismissal?" he asked, lightly.

"'Tis for you to determine," retorted the maid.

"Modesty forbids I should interpret it to my desires," he returned,
laughing, as he disappeared.

Tall, seeming straighter than usual, upon each cheek a festal rose, she
stood before the duke's _plaisant_, inscrutable, as was her fashion,
the scarf about her shoulders just stirring from the effects of the
dance, and her lips parted to her hurried breathing.

"How did you like the ceremony?" she asked, quietly.  "And did you
know," she went on, without noticing the dark look in his eyes or
awaiting his response, "the lance turned upon you to-day was not a
'weapon of courtesy'?"

"You mean it was directed by intention?" he asked indifferently.

"Not only that," she answered.  "I mean that the disk had been removed
and the point left bare."

"A mistake, of course," he said, with a peculiar smile.

A look of impatience crossed her face, but she gazed at him intently
and her eyes held his from the floor where they would have strayed.

"Are you stupid, or do you but profess to be?" she demanded.  "Before
the tilt I noticed the duke and his trooper talking together.  When
they separated the latter, unobserved as he thought, struck the point
of his weapon against his stirrup.  The disk fell to the ground."

"Your glance is sharp, Jacqueline," he retorted, slowly.  "Thank you
for the information."

Her eyes kindled; an angry retort seemed about to spring from her lips.
It was with difficulty she controlled herself to answer calmly a moment
later.

"You mean it can serve you nothing?  Perhaps you are right.  To-day you
were lucky.  To-morrow you may be--what?  To-day you defended yourself
well and it was a good lance you bore.  Had it been any other jester,
the king would have praised him.  Because it was you, no word has been
spoken.  If anything, your success has annoyed him.  Several of the
court spoke of it; he answered not; 'tis the signal to ignore it,
and--you!"

"Then are you courageous to brave public opinion and hold converse with
me," he replied, with a smile.

"Public opinion!" she exclaimed with flashing eyes.  "What would they
say of a jestress?  Who is she?  What is she?"

She ended abruptly; bit her lips, showing her gleaming white teeth.
Then some emotion, more profound, swept over her expressive face; she
looked at him silently, and when she spoke her voice was more gentle.

"I can not believe," she continued thoughtfully, "that the duke told
his trooper to do that.  'Tis too infamous.  The man must have acted on
his own responsibility.  The duke could not, would not, countenance
such baseness."

"You have a good opinion of him, gentle mistress," he said in a tone
that exasperated her.

"Who has not?" she retorted, sharply.  "He is as brave as he is
distinguished.  Farewell.  If you served him better, and yourself less,
you--"

"Would serve myself better in the end?" he interrupted, satirically.
"Thanks, good Jacqueline.  A woman makes an excellent counselor."

Disdainfully she smiled; her face grew cold; her figure looked never
more erect and inflexible.

"Why," she remarked, "here am I wasting time talking when the music is
playing and every one is dancing.  Even now I see a courtier
approaching who has thrice importuned me."  And the jestress vanished
in the throng as abruptly as she had appeared.

Thoughtfully the duke's fool looked, not after her, but toward a far
end of the pavilion, where he last had seen the princess and her
betrothed.

"Caillette should now be well on his way," he told himself.  "No one
has yet missed him, or if they do notice his absence they will
attribute it to his injuries."

This thought lent him confidence; the implied warnings of the maid
passed unheeded from his mind; indeed, he had scarcely listened to
them.  Amid stronger passions, he felt the excitement of the subtile
game he and the free baron were playing; the blind conviction of a
gambler that he should yet win seized him, dissipating in a measure
more violent thoughts.

He began to calculate other means to make assurance doubly sure; an
intricate realm of speculation, considering the safeguards the boar of
Hochfels had placed about himself.  To offset the triumphs of the
king's guest there occurred to the jester the comforting afterthought
that the greater the other's successes now the more ignominious would
be his downfall.  The free baron had not hesitated to use any means to
obliterate his one foeman from the scene; and he repeated to himself
that he would meet force with cunning, and duplicity with stealth,
spinning such a web as lay within his own capacity and resources.  But
in estimating the moves before him, perhaps in his new-found trust, he
overlooked the strongest menace to his success--a hazard couched within
himself.

Outspreading from the pavilion's walls were floral bowers with myriad
lights that shone through the leaves and foliage, where tiny fragrant
fountains tinkled, or diminutive, fairy-like waterfalls fell amid
sweet-smelling plants.  Green, purple, orange, red, had been the colors
chosen in these dainty retreats for such of the votaries of the Court
of Love as should, from time to time, care to exchange the merry-making
within for the languorous rest without.  It was yet too early, however,
for the sprightly devotees to abandon the lively pleasures of the
dance, so that when the duke's fool abstractedly entered the balmy,
crimson nook, at first he thought himself alone.

Around him, carmine, blood-warm flowers exhaled a commingling
redolence; near him a toy-like fountain whispered very softly and
confidentially.  Through the foliage the figures moved and moved; on
the air the music fell and rose, thin in orchestration, yet brightly
penetrating in sparkling detail.  Buoyant were the violins; sportive
the flutes; all alive the gitterns; blithesome the tripping arpeggios
that crisply fell from the strings of the joyous harps.

The rustling of a gown admonished him he was not alone, and, looking
around, amid the crimson flowers, to his startled gaze, appeared the
face of her of whom he was thinking; above the broad, white brow shone
the radiance of hair, a gold that was almost bronze in that dim light;
through the green tangle of shrubbery, a silver slipper.

"Ah, it is you, fool?" she said languidly.  It may be, he contrasted
the indifference of her tones now with the unconscious softness of her
voice when she had addressed him on another occasion--in another
garden; for his face flushed, and he would have turned abruptly, when--

"Oh, you may remain," she added, carelessly.  "The duke has but left
me.  He received a message that the man hurt in the lists was most
anxious to see him."

Into the whirl of his reflections her words insinuated themselves.  Why
had the free baron gone to the trooper?  What made his presence so
imperative at the bedside of the soldier that he had abruptly abandoned
the festivities?  Surely, more than mere anxiety for the man's welfare.
The jester looked at the princess for the answer to these questions;
but her face was cold, smiling, unresponsive.  In the basin of the
fountain tiny fish played and darted, and as his eyes turned from her
to them they appeared as swift and illusive as his own surging fancies.

"The--duke, Madam, is most solicitous about his men," he said, in a
voice which sounded strangely calm.

"A good leader has always in mind the welfare of his soldiers," she
replied, briefly.

Her hand played among the blossoms.  Over the flowers she looked at
him.  Her features and arms were of the sculptured roundness of marble,
but the reflection of the roses bathed her in the warm hue of life.  As
he met her gaze the illumined pages of a book seemed turning before his
eyes.  Did she remember?

She could not but perceive his emotion; the tribute of a glance beyond
control, despite the proud immobility of his features.

"Sit here, fool," she said, not unkindly, "and you may tell me more
about the duke.  His exploits--of that battle when he saved the life of
the emperor."

The jester made no move to obey, but, looking down, answered coldly:
"The duke, Madam, likes not to have his poor deeds exploited."

"Poor deeds!" she returned, and seemed about to reply more sharply when
something in his face held her silent.

Leaning her head on her hand, she appeared to forget his presence;
motionless save for a foot that waved to and fro, betraying her
restless mood.  The sound of her dress, the swaying of the foot, held
his attention.  In that little bower the air was almost stifling, laden
with the perfume of many flowers.  Even the song of the birds grew
fainter.  Only the tiny fountain, more assertive than ever, became
louder and louder.  The princess breathed deeply; half-arose; a vine
caught in her hair; she stooped to disentangle it; then held herself
erect.

"How close it is in here!" she murmured, arranging the tress the plant
had disturbed.  "Go to the door, fool, and see if you can find your
master."

Involuntarily he had stepped toward her, as though to assist her, but
now stopped.  His face changed; he even laughed.  That last word, from
her lips, seemed to break the spell of self-control that held him.

"My master!" he said in a hard, scoffing tone.  "Whom mean you?  The
man who left you to go to the soldier?  That blusterer, my master!
That swaggering trooper!"

Her inertness vanished; the sudden anger and wonderment in her eyes met
the passion in his.

"How dare you--dare you--" she began.

"He is neither my master, nor the duke; but a mere free-booter, a
mountain terrorist!"

Pride and contempt replaced her surprise, but indignation still
remained.  His audacity in coming to her with this falsehood; his
hardihood in maintaining it, admitted of but one explanation.  By her
complaisance in the past she had fanned the embers of a passion which
now burst beyond control.  She realized how more than fair she looked
that evening--had she not heard it from many?--had not the eyes of the
king's guest told her?--and she believed that this lie must have sprung
to the jester's lips while he was regarding her.

As the solution crossed her mind, revealing the _plaisant_, a desperate
and despicable, as well as lowly wooer, her face relaxed.  In the
desire to test her conclusion, she laughed quietly, musically.  Cruelly
kind, smiled the princess.

"You are mad," she breathed softly.  "You are mad--because--because
you--"

He started, studying her eagerly.  He fancied he read relenting
softness in her gaze; a flash of memory into a past, where glamour and
romance, and the heart-history of the rose made up life's desideratum.
Wherein existence was but an allegory of love's quest, and the goal,
its consummation.  Had she not bent sedulously over the rose of the
poet?  Had not her breath come quickly, eagerly?  Could he not feel it
yet, sweet and warm on his cheek?  Into the past, having gone so far,
he stepped now boldly, as though to grasp again those illusive colors
and seize anew the intangible substance.  He was but young, when
shadows seem solid, when dreams are corporeal stuff, and fantasies,
rock-like strata of reality.

So he knelt before her.  "Yes," he said, "I love you!"

And thus remained, pale, motionless, all resentment or jealousy
succeeded by a stronger emotion, a feeling chivalric that bent itself
to a glad thraldom, the desire but to serve her--to save her.  His
heart beat faster; he raised his head proudly.

"Listen, Princess," he began.  "Though I meant it not, I fear I have
greatly wronged you.  I have much to ask your pardon for; much to tell
you.  It is I--I--"

The words died on his lips.  From the princess' face all softness had
suddenly vanished.  Her gaze passed him, cold, haughty.  Across the
illusory positiveness of his world--immaterial, psychological,
ghostly--an intermediate orb--a tangible shadow was thrown.  Behind him
stood the free baron and the king.  Quickly the fool sprang to his feet.

"Princess!" exclaimed the hoarse voice of the master of Hochfels.

"My Lord?"

For a moment neither spoke, and then the clear, cold voice of the
princess broke the silence.

"Are all the fools in your country so presumptuous, my Lord?" she said.

The king's countenance lightened; he turned his accusing glance upon
the fool.  As in a dream stood the latter; the words he would have
uttered remained unspoken.  But briefly the monarch surveyed him,
satirically, darkly; then turning, with a gesture, summoned an
attendant.  Not until the hands of two soldiers fell upon him did the
fool betray any emotion.  Then his face changed, and the stunned look
in his eyes gave way to an expression of such unbridled feeling that
involuntarily the king stepped back and the free baron drew his sword.
But neither had the monarch need for apprehension, nor the princess'
betrothed use for his weapon.  Some emotion, deeper than anger,
replaced the savage turmoil of the jester's thoughts, as with a last
fixed look at the princess he mechanically suffered himself to be led
away.  Louise's gaze perforce followed him, and when the canvas fell
and he had disappeared she passed a hand across her brow.

"Are you satisfied, my Lord?" said the king to the free baron.

"The knave has received his just deserts, Sire," replied the other,
and, stepping to the princess' side, raised her hand to his lips.

"_Mère de Dieu!_" cried the monarch, passing his arm in a friendly
manner over the free baron's shoulder and addressing Louise.  "You will
find Robert of Friedwald worthy of your high trust, cousin."

Without, they were soon whispering it.  The attendant, who was the
Count of Cross, breathed what he knew to the Duke of Montmorency, who
told Du Bellays, who related the story to Diane de Poitiers, who
embellished it for Villot, who carried it to Jacqueline.

"Triboulet has his wish," said the poet-fool, half-regretfully.  "There
is one jester the less."

"Where have they taken him?" asked the girl, steadily.

"Where--but to the keep!"

"That dungeon of the old castle?"

"Well," he returned significantly, "a fool and his jests--alas!--are
soon parted.  Let us make merry, therefore, while we may.  For what
would you?  Come, mistress--the dance--"

"No! no! no!" she exclaimed, so passionately he gazed at her in
surprise.



CHAPTER XIV

AN EARLY-MORNING VISIT

In a mood of contending thought, the free baron left his apartments the
next morning and traversed the tapestry-hung corridor leading toward
the servants' and soldiers' quarters.  He congratulated himself that
the incident of the past night had precipitated a favorable climax in
one source of possible instability, and that the fool who had opposed
him had been summarily removed from the field of action.  Confined
within the four walls of the castle dungeon, there was scant likelihood
he would cause further trouble and annoyance.  Francis' strong prison
house would effectively curb any more interference with, or dabbling
in, the affairs of the master of the Vulture's Nest.

Following the exposure of the jester's weakness, his passion for his
mistress, Francis, as Villot told Jacqueline, had immediately ordered
the fool into strictest confinement, the donjon of the ancient
structure.  In that darkened cell he had rested over night and there he
would no doubt remain indefinitely.  The king's guest had not been
greatly concerned with the jester's quixotic love for the princess,
being little disposed to jealousy.  He was no sighing solicitant for
woman's favor; higher allurements than woman's eyes, or admiration for
his inamorata, moved him--that edge of appetite for power, conquest
hunger, an itching palm for a kingdom.  His were the unscrupulous
soldier's rather than the eager true-love's dreams.

But to offset his satisfaction that the jester lay under restraint he
took in bad part the trooper's continued insensibility which deprived
him of the much-desired information.  When he had repaired to the
bedside of the soldier the night before he had only his trip for his
pains, as the man had again sunk into unconsciousness shortly before
his coming.  Thus the free baron was still in ignorance of the person
to whom the fool had betrayed him.  The fact that there still roamed an
unfettered some one who possessed the knowledge of his identity caused
him to knit his brows and look glum.

These jesters were daring fellows; several of them had borne arms, as,
for example, Clement Marot, who had been taken prisoner with Francis at
the battle of Pavia.  Brusquet had been a hanger-on of the camp at
Avignon; Villot, a Paris student; Caillette had received the spirited
education of a soldier in the household of his benefactor, Diane's
father.  And as for the others--how varied had been their
careers!--lives of hazard and vicissitude; scapegraces and
adventurers--existing literally by their wits.

To what careless or wanton head had his secret been confined?  What use
would the rashling make of it?  Daringly attempt to approach the throne
with this startling budget of information; impulsively seek the
princess; or whisper it over his cups among the _femmes de chambre_,
laundresses or scullery maids?

"If the soldier should never speak?" thought the free baron out of
humor, as he drew near the trooper's door.  "What a nest of suspicion
may be growing!  The wasps may be breeding.  A whisper may become an
ominous threat.  Is not the danger even greater than it was before,
when I could place my hand on my foeman?  The man must speak!--must!"

With a firm step the king's guest entered the chamber of the injured
soldier.  Upon a narrow bed lay the trooper, his mustachios appearing
unusually red and fierce against his now yellow, washed-out complexion.
As the free baron drew near the couch a tall figure arose from the side
of the bed.

"How is your patient, doctor?" said the visitor, shortly.

"Low," returned the other, laconically.  This person wore a black gown;
a pair of huge, broad-rimmed glasses rested on the bridge of a thin,
long nose, and in his claw-like fingers he held a vial, the contents of
which he stirred slowly.  His aspect was that of living sorrow and
melancholy.

"Has he been conscious again?" asked the caller.

"He has e'en lain as you see him," replied the wearer of the black robe.

"Humph!" commented the free baron, attentively regarding the motionless
and silent figure.

"I urged upon him the impropriety of sending for you at the
festivities," resumed the man, sniffing at the vial, "but he became
excited, swore he would leave the bed and brain me with mine own pestle
if I ventured to hinder him.  So I consented to convey his request."

"And when I arrived he was still as a log," supplemented the visitor,
gloomily.

"Alas, yes; although I tried to keep him up, giving him specifics and
carminatives and bleeding him once."

"Bleeding him!" cried the false duke, angrily, glowering upon the
impassive and woebegone countenance of the medical attendant.  "As if
he had not bled enough from his hurts!  Quack of an imposter!  You have
killed him!"

"As for that," retorted the man in a sing-song voice, "no one can tell
whether a medicine be antidote or poison, unless as leechcraft and
chirurgery point out--"

"His days are numbered," quoth the free baron to himself, staring
downward.  But as he spoke he imagined he saw the red mustachios move,
while one eye certainly glared with intelligent hatred upon the doctor
and turned with anxious solicitude upon his master.  The latter
immediately knelt by the bedside and laid his hand upon the already
cold one of the soldier.

"Speak!" he said.

It was the command of an officer to a trooper, an authoritative
bidding, and seemed to summon a last rallying energy from the failing
heart.  The man's gaze showed that he understood.  From the free
baron's eye flashed a glance of savage power and force.

"Speak!" he repeated, cruelly, imperatively.

The mustachios quivered; the leader bent his head low, so low his face
almost touched the soldier's.  A voice--was it a voice, so faint it
sounded?--breathed a few words:

"The emperor--Spain--Caillette gone!"

Quickly the free baron sprang to his feet.  The soldier seemed to fall
asleep; his face calm and tranquil as a campaigner's before the bivouac
fire at the hour of rest; the ugliness of his features glossed by a
new-found dignity; only his mustachios strangely fierce, vivid,
formidable, against the peace and pallor of his countenance.  The leech
looked at him; stopped stirring the drug; leaned over him; straightened
himself; took the vial once more from the table and threw the medicine
out of the window.  Then he methodically began gathering up bottles and
other receptacles, which he placed neatly in a handbag.  The free baron
passed through the door, leaving the cheerless practitioner still
gravely engaged in getting together his small belongings.

Soberly the king's guest walked down the echoing stairway out into the
open air of the court.  The emperor in Spain?  It seemed not unlikely.
Charles spent much of his time in that country, nor was it improbable
he had gone there quietly, without flourish of trumpet, for some
purpose of his own.  His ways were not always manifest; his personality
and mind-workings were characterized by concealment.  If the emperor
had gone to Spain, a messenger, riding post-haste, could reach Charles
in time to enable that monarch to interpose in the nuptials and
override the confidence the free baron had established for himself in
the court of Francis.  An impediment offered by Charles would be
equivalent to the abandonment of the entire marital enterprise.

Pausing before a massive arched doorway that led into a wing of the
castle where the free baron knew the jesters and certain of the
gentlemen of the chamber lodged, the master of Hochfels, in answer to
his inquiries from a servant, learned that Caillette had not been in
his apartments since the day before; that he had ridden from the
tournament, ostensibly to return to his rooms, but nothing had been
heard of him since.  And the oddest part of it was, as the old woman
volubly explained when the free baron had pushed his way into the
tastefully furnished chambers of the absent fool, the jester had been
desperately wounded; had groaned much when the duke's _plaisant_ had
assisted him from the field, and had been barely able to mount his
horse with the assistance of a squire.

Meditatively, while absorbing this prattle, the visitor gazed about
him.  The bed had been unslept in, and here and there were evidences of
a hasty and unpremeditated leave-taking.  Upon an open desk lay a
half-finished poem, obviously intended for no eyes save the writer's.
Several dainty missives and a lace handkerchief, with a monogram,
invited the unscrupulous and prying glance of the inquisitive
newsmonger.

But as these details offered nothing additional to the one great germ
of information embodied in the loquacity of the narrator, the free
baron turned silently away, breaking the thread of her volubility by
unceremoniously disappearing.  No further doubt remained in his mind
that the duke's _plaisant_ had sent a comrade in motley to the emperor,
and, as he would not have inspired a mere fool's errand, Charles
without question was in Spain, several days nearer to the court of the
French monarch than the princess' betrothed had presumed.  Caillette
had now been four-and-twenty hours on his journey; it would be useless
to attempt pursuit, as the jester was a gallant horseman, trained to
the hunt.  Such a man would be indefatigable in the saddle, and the
other realized that, strive as he might, he could never overcome the
handicap.

Then of what avail was one fool in the dungeon, with a second--on the
road?  Should he abandon his quest, be driven from his purpose by a
nest of motley meddlers?  The idea never seriously entered his mind; he
would fight it out doggedly upon the field of deception.  But how?  As
surely as the sun rose and set, before many days had come and gone the
hand of Charles would be thrust between him and his projects.
Circumspect, suspicious, was the emperor; he would investigate, and
investigation meant the downfall of the structure of falsehood that had
been erected with such skill and painstaking by the subtile architect.
The maker had pride in his work, and, to see it totter and tumble, was
a misfortune he would avert with his life--or fall with it.

As he had no intention, however, of being buried beneath the wreckage
of his endeavors, he sought to prop the weakening fabric of invention
and mendacity by new shuffling or pretense.  Should a disgraced fool be
his undoing?  From that living entombment should his foeman in cap and
bells yet indirectly summon the force to bend him to the dust, or send
him to the hangman's knot?

Step by step the king's guest had left the palace behind him, until the
surrounding shrubbery shut it from view, but the path, sweeping onward
with graceful curve, brought him suddenly to a beautiful château.  Lost
in thought, he gazed within the flowering ground, at the ornate
architecture, the marble statues and the little lake, in whose pellucid
depths were mirrored a thousand beauties of that chosen spot--an
improved Eden of the landscape gardener wherein resided the Countess
d'Etampes.

"Why," thought the free baron, brightening abruptly, "that chance which
served me last night, which forced the trooper to speak to-day, now has
led my stupid feet to the soothsayer."

Within a much begilt and gorgeous bower, he soon found himself awaiting
patiently the coming of the favorite.  Upon a tiny chair of gold, too
fragile for his bulk, the caller meanwhile inspected the ceilings and
walls of this dainty domicile, mechanically striving to decipher a
painted allegory of Venus and Mars, or Helen and Paris, or the countess
and Francis--he could not decide precisely its purport--when she who
had succeeded Châteaubriant floated into the room, dressed in some
diaphanous stuff, a natural accompaniment to the other decorations; her
dishabille a positive note of modesty amid the vivid colorings and
graceful poses of those tributes to love with which Primaticcio and
other Italian artists had adorned this bower.

"How charming of you!" vaguely murmured the lady, sinking lightly upon
a settee.  "What an early riser you must be, Duke."

Although it was then but two hours from noon, the visitor confessed
himself open to criticism in this regard.  "And you, as well, Madam,"
he added, "must plead guilty of the same fault.  One can easily see you
have been out in the garden, and," he blundered on, "stolen the tints
from the roses."

Sharply the countess looked at him, but read only an honest attempt at
a compliment.

"Why," she said, "you are becoming as great a flatterer as the rest of
them.  But confess now, you did not call to tell me that?"

The free baron looked from her through the folding doors into a
retiring apartment, set with arabesque designs, and adorned with inlaid
tables bearing statues of alabaster and enamel.  Purposely he waited
before he replied, and was gratified to see how curiously she regarded
him when again his glance returned to her.

"No, Madam," he answered, taking credit to himself for his diplomacy,
"it is not necessary that truth should be premeditated.  I had a
serious purpose in seeking you.  Of all the court you alone can assist
me; it is to you, only, I can look for aid.  Knowing you generous, I
have ventured to come."

"What a serious preamble," smiled the lady.  "How grave must be the
matter behind it!"

"The service I ask must be from the king," he went on, with seeming
embarrassment.

"Then why not go to his Majesty?" she interrupted, with the suggestion
of a frown.

"Because I should fail," he retorted, frankly.  "The case is one
wherein a messenger--like yourself--a friend--may I so call you?--would
win, while I, a rough soldier, should but make myself ridiculous, the
laughing stock of the court."

"You interest me," she laughed.  "It must be a pressing emergency when
you honor me--so early in the day."

"It is, Madam," he replied.  "Very pressing to me.  I want the wedding
day changed."

"Changed!" she exclaimed, staring at him.  "Deferred?"

"No; hastened, Madam.  It is too long to wait.  Go to the king; ask him
to shorten the interval; to set the day sooner.  I beg of you, Madam!"

His voice was hard and harsh.  It seemed almost a demand he laid upon
her.  Had he been less blunt or coercive, had he employed a more
honeyed appeal, she would not have felt so moved in his behalf.  In the
atmosphere of adulation and blandishment to which she was accustomed,
the free baron offered a marked contrast to the fine-spoken courtiers,
and she leaned back and surveyed him as though he were a type of the
lords of creation she had not yet investigated.

"Oh, this is delicious!" purred the countess.  "Samson in the toils!
His locks shorn by our fair Delilah!"

The thick-set soldier arose; muscular, well-knit, virile.  "I fear I am
detaining you, Madam," he said, coldly.

"No; you're not," she answered, merrily.  "Won't you be seated--please!
I should have known," she could not resist adding, "that love is as
sensitive as impatient."

"I see, Madam, that you have your mind made up to refuse me, and
therefore--"

"Refuse," repeated the favorite, surveying this unique petitioner with
rising amusement.  "How do you read my mind so well?"

"Then you haven't determined to refuse me?"  And he stepped toward her
quickly.

"No, I haven't," she answered, throwing back her head, like a spoiled
child.  "On the contrary, I will be your messenger, your advocate, and
will plead your cause, and will win your case, and the king shall say
'yes,' and you shall have your princess whene'er you list.  All this I
promise faithfully to do and perform.  And now, if you want to leave me
so sullenly, go!"

But the free baron dropped awkwardly to his knee, took her little hand
in his massive one and raised it to his lips.  "Madam, you overwhelm
me," he murmured.

"That is all very well," she commented, reflectively, "but what about
the princess?  What will she say when--"

"It shall be my task to persuade her.  I am sure she will consent,"
returned the suitor.

"Oh, you're sure of that?" observed the lady.  "You have some faith in
your own powers of persuasion--in certain quarters!"

"Not in my powers, Madam, but in the princess' amiability."

"Perhaps you have spoken to her already?" asked the countess.

"No, Madam; without your assistance, of what use would be her
willingness?"

"What a responsibility you place on my weak shoulders!" cried the
other.  "However, I will not shift the burden.  I will go to his
Majesty at once.  And do you"--gaily--"go to the princess."

"At your command!" he replied, and took his departure.

Without the inclosure of the château gardens, the free baron began to
review the events of the morning with complacency and satisfaction,
but, as he took up the threads of his case and examined them more
narrowly, his peace of mind was darkened with the shadow of a new
disquietude.  What if Francis, less easily cozened than the countess,
should find his suspicions aroused?  What if the princess, who had
immediately dismissed the fool's denouncement of the free baron as an
ebullition of blind jealousy--after informing her betrothed of the mad
accusation--should see in his request equivocal circumstances?  Or, was
the countess--like many of her sisters--given to second thoughts, and
would this after-reverie dampen the ardor of her impetuous promise?

"But," thought the king's guest, banishing these assailing doubts,
"there never yet was victory assured before the battle had been fought,
and, with renewed precautions, defeat is most unlikely."

By the time he had reached this conclusion he had arrived at the
princess' door.



CHAPTER XV

A NEW DISCOVERY

The dim rays of a candle glimmered within a cubical space, whereof the
sides consisted of four stone walls, and a ceiling and floor of the
same substantial material.  For furnishings were provided a
three-legged stool, a bundle of straw and--the tallow dip.  One of the
walls was pierced by a window, placed almost beyond the range of
vision; the outlook limited by day to a bit of blue sky or a patch of
verdant field, with the depressing suggestion of a barrier to this
outer world, three feet in thickness, massively built of stone and
mortar, hardened through the centuries.  At night these pictures faded
and the Egyptian darkness within became partly dispelled through the
brave efforts of the small wick; or when this half-light failed, a far
star without, struggling in the depths of the palpable obscure,
appeared the sole relief.

But now the few inches of candle had only begun to eke out its brief
period of transition and the solitary occupant of the cell could for
some time find such poor solace as lay in the companionship of the tiny
yellow flame.  With his arms behind him, the duke's fool moved as best
he might to and fro within the narrow confines of his jail; the events
which had led to his incarceration were so recent he had hardly yet
brought himself to realize their full significance.  Neither Francis'
anger nor the free baron's covert satisfaction during the scene
following their abrupt appearance in the bower of roses had greatly
weighed upon him; but not so the attitude of the princess.

How vividly all the details stood out in his brain!  The sudden
transitions of her manner; her seeming interest in his passionate
words; her eyes, friendly, tender, as he had once known them; then
portentous silence, frozen disdain.  What latent energy in the free
baron's look had invested her words with his spirit?  Had the adduction
of his mind compelled hers to his bidding, or had she but spoken from
herself?  Into the marble-like pallor of her face a faint flush had
seemed to insinuate itself, but the words had dropped easily from her
lips: "Are all the fools of your country so presumptuous, my Lord?"

Above the other distinctive features of that tragic night, to the
_plaisant_ this question had reiterated itself persistently in the
solitude of his cell.  True, he had forgotten he was only a jester; but
had it not been the memory of her soft glances that had hurried him on
to the avowal?  She had no fault to be condoned; the fool was the sole
culprit.  From her height, could she not have spared him the scorn and
contempt of her question?  Over and over, through the long hours he had
asked himself that, and, as he brooded, the idealization with which he
had adorned her fell like an enshrouding drapery to the dust; of the
vestment of fancy nothing but tatters remained.

A voice without, harsh, abrupt, broke in upon the jester's thoughts.
The prisoner started, listened intently, a gleam of fierce satisfaction
momentarily creeping into his eyes.  If love was dead, a less exalted
feeling still remained.

"How does the fool take his imprisonment?" asked the arrogant voice.

"Quietly, my Lord," was the jailer's reply.

"He is inclined to talk over much?"

"Not at all," answered the man.

A brief command followed; a key was inserted in the lock, and, with a
creaking of bolts and groaning of hinges, the warder swung back the
iron barrier.  Upon the threshold stood the commanding figure of the
free baron.  A moment he remained thus, and then, with an authoritative
gesture to the man, stepped inside.  The turnkey withdrew to a discreet
distance, where he remained within call, yet beyond the range of
ordinary conversation.  Immovably the king's guest gazed upon the
jester, who, unabashed, calmly endured the scrutiny.

"Well, fool," began the free baron, bluntly, "how like you your
quarters?  You fought me well; in truth very well.  But you labored
under a disadvantage, for one thing is certain: a jester in love is
doubly--a fool."

"Is that what you have come to say?" asked the plaisant, his bright
glance fastened on the other's confident face.

"I came--to return the visit you once made me," easily retorted the
master of Hochfels.  "By this time you have probably learned I am an
opponent to be feared."

"As one fears the assassin's knife, or a treacherous onslaught," said
the fool.

"Did I not say, when you left that night, the truce was over?" returned
the king's guest, frowning.

"True," was the ironical answer.  "Forewarned; forearmed.  And that
sort of warfare was to be expected from the bastard of Pfalz-Urfeld."

"Well," unreservedly replied the free baron, who for reasons of his own
chose not to challenge the affront, "in those two instances you were
not worsted.  And as for the trooper who attacked you--I know not
whether your lance or the doctor's lancet is responsible for his taking
off.  But you met him with true attaint.  You would have made a good
soldier.  It is to be regretted you did not place your fortune with
mine--but it is too late now."

"Yes," answered the _plaisant_, "it is too late."

Louis of Hochfels gave him a sharp look.  "You cling yet to some
forlorn hope?"

To the fool came the vision of a brother jester speeding southward,
ever southward.  The free baron smiled.

"Caillette, perhaps?" he suggested.  For a moment he enjoyed his
triumph, watching the expression of the fool's countenance, whereon he
fancied he read dismay and astonishment.

"You know then?" said the _plaisant_ finally.

"That you sent him to the emperor?  Yes."

In the fool's countenance, or his manner, the king's guest sought
confirmation of the dying trooper's words.  Also, was he fencing for
such additional information as he might glean, and for this purpose had
he come.  Had the emperor really gone to Spain?  The soldier's
assurance had been so faint, sometimes the free baron wondered if he
had heard aright, or if he had correctly interpreted the meager message.

"And you--of course--detained Caillette?" remarked the prisoner, with
an effort at indifference, his heart beating violently the while.

"No," slowly returned the other.  "He got away."

Into his eyes the fool gazed closely, as if to read and test this
unexpected statement.

"Got away!" he repeated.  "How, since you knew?"

"Because I learned too late," quietly replied the free baron.  "He was
four-and-twenty hours gone when I found out.  Too great a start to be
overcome."

"Why should you tell me this--unless it is a lie?" coolly asked the
jester.

"A lie!" exclaimed the visitor, frowning.

"Yes, like your very presence in Francis' court," added the fool,
fearlessly.

In the silence ensuing the passion slowly faded from the countenance of
the king's guest.  He remembered he had not yet ascertained what he
wished to know.

"Such recriminations from you remind me of a bird beating its wings
against the bars of its cage," at length came the unruffled response.
"Why should I lie?  There is no need for it.  You sent Caillette; he is
on his way now, for all of me.  For"--leading to the thread of what he
sought--"why should I have stopped him?  He embarked on a hopeless
chase.  How can he reach Austria and the emperor in time to prevent the
marriage?"

The jester's swift questioning glance was not lost upon the speaker,
who, after a pause, continued.  "Had I known, I am not sure I would
have prevented his departure.  What better way to dispose of him than
to let him go on a mad-cap journey?  Besides, you must have forgotten
about the passes.  How could you expect him to get by my sentinels?  It
will attract less attention to have him stopped there than here."

All this, spoken brusquely, was accompanied by frank, insolent looks
which beneath their seeming openness concealed an intentness of purpose
and a shrewd penetration.  Only the first abrupt change in the fool's
look, a slight one though it was, betrayed the jester to his caller.
In that swiftly passing gleam, as the free baron spoke of Austria, and
not of Spain, the other read full confirmation of what he desired to
know.

"He will do his best," commented the jester, carelessly.

"And man can do no more," retorted the king's guest.  "Many a battle
has been thus bravely lost."

He had hoped to provoke from the _plaisant_ some further expression of
self-content in his plans for the future, but the other had become
guarded.

What if he offered the fool clemency? asked the princess' betrothed of
himself.  If the jester had confidence in the future he would naturally
rather remain in the narrow confines of his dark chamber than consider
proposals from one whom he believed he would yet overcome.  The free
baron began to enjoy this strategic duplicity of language; the
environing dangers lent zest to equivocation; the seduction of finding
himself more potent than forces antagonistic became intoxicating to his
egotism.

"Why," he said, patronizingly, surveying the slender figure of the
fool, "a good man should die by the sword rather than go to the
scaffold.  What if I were to overlook Caillette and the rest?  He is
harmless,"--more shrewdly; "let him go.  As for the princess--well,
you're young; in the heyday for such nonsense.  I have never yet
quarreled seriously with man for woman's sake.  There are many graver
causes for contention--a purse, or a few acres of land; right royal
warfare.  If I get the king to forgive you, and the princess to
overlook your offense, will you well and truthfully serve me?"

"Never!" answered the fool, promptly.

"He is sure the message will reach Charles in Spain," mentally
concluded the king's guest.  "Yet," he continued aloud in a tone of
mockery, "you did not hesitate to betray your master yourself.  Why,
then, will you not betray him to me?"

"To him I will answer, not to you," returned the jester, calmly.

A contemptuous smile crossed the free baron's face.

"And tell him how you dared look up to his mistress?  That you sought
to save her from another, while you yourself poured your own burning
tale into her ear?  Two things I most admire in nature," went on the
free baron, with emphasis.  "A dare-devil who stops not for man or
Satan, and--an honest man.  You take but a compromising middle course;
and will hang, a hybrid, from some convenient limb."

"But not without first knowing that you, too, in all likelihood, will
adorn an equally suitable branch, my Lord of the thieves' rookery,"
said the jester, smiling.

Louis of Hochfels responded with an ugly look.  His bloodshot eyes took
fire beneath the provocation.

"Fool, you expect your duke will intervene!" he exclaimed.  "Not when
he has been told all by the king, or the princess," he sneered.  "Do
you think she cares?  You, a motley fool; a theme for jest between us."

"But when she learns about you?" retorted the plaisant, significantly.

"She will e'en be mistress of my castle."

"Castle?" laughed the Jester.  "A robber's aery! a footpad's retreat!
A rifler of the roads become a great lord?  You of royal blood!  Then
was your father a king of thieves!"

The free baron's face worked fearfully; the kingly part of him had been
a matter of fanatical pride; through it did he believe he was destined
to power and honors.  But before the cutting irony of the _plaisant_,
that which is heaven-born--self-control--dropped from him; the mad,
brutal rage of the peasant surged in his veins.

Infuriate his hand sought his sword, but before he could draw it the
fool, anticipating his purpose, had rushed upon him with such
impetuosity and suddenness that the king's guest, in spite of his bulk
and strength, was thrust against the wall.  Like a grip of iron, the
jester's fingers were buried in his opponent's throat.  For one so
youthful and slender in build, his power was remarkable, and, strive as
he might, the princess' betrothed could not shake him off.  Although
his arms pressed with crushing force about the figure of the fool, the
hand at his throat never relaxed.  He endeavored to thrust the
_plaisant_ from him, but, like a tiger, the jester clung; to and fro
they swayed; to the free baron, suffocated by that gauntlet of steel,
the room was already going around; black spots danced before his eyes.
He strove to reach for the dagger that hung from his girdle, but it was
held between them.  Perhaps the muscles of the king's guest had been
weakened by the excesses of Francis' court, yet was he still a mighty
tower of strength, and, mad with rage, by a last supreme effort he
finally managed to tear himself loose, hurling the fool violently from
him into the arms of the jailer, who, attracted by the sound of the
struggle, at that moment rushed into the cell.  This keeper, himself a
burly, herculean soldier, promptly closed with the prisoner.

Breathless, exhausted, the free baron marked the conflict now
transferred to the turnkey and the jester.  The former held the fool at
a decided disadvantage, as he had sprung upon the back of the jester
and was also unweakened by previous efforts.  But still the fool
contended fiercely, striving to turn so as to grapple with his
assailant, and wonderingly the free baron for a moment watched that
exhibition of virility and endurance.  During the wrestling the
jester's doublet had been torn open and suddenly the gaze of the king's
guest fell, as if fascinated, upon an object which hung from his neck.

Bending forward, he scrutinized more closely that which had attracted
his attention and then started back.  Harshly he laughed, as though a
new train of thought had suddenly assailed him, and looked earnestly
into the now pale face of the nearly helpless fool.

"Why," he cried, "here's a different complication!"

And stooping suddenly, he grasped the stool from the floor and brought
it down with crushing force upon the _plaisant's_ head.  A cowardly,
brutal blow; and at once the prisoner's grasp relaxed, and he lay
motionless in the arms of the warder, who placed him on the straw.

"I think the knave's dead, my Lord," remarked the man, panting from his
exertion.

"That makes the comedy only the stronger," replied the free baron
curtly, as he knelt by the side of the prostrate figure and thrust his
hand under the torn doublet.  Having procured possession of the object
which chance had revealed to him, he arose and, without further word,
left the cell.



CHAPTER XVI

TIDINGS FROM THE COURT

When Brusquet, the jester, fled from the camp at Avignon, where he had
presumed to practise medicine, to the detriment of the army, some one
said: "Fools and cats have nine lives," and the revised proverb had
been accepted at court.  It was this saying the turnkey muttered when
he bent over the prostrate figure of the duke's _plaisant_ after the
free baron had departed.  Thus one of the fabled sources of existence
was left the fool, and again it seemed the proverb would be realized.

Day after day passed, and still the vital spark burned; perhaps it
wavered, but in this extremity the jester had not been entirely
neglected; but who had befriended him, assisting the spirit and the
flesh to maintain their unification, he did not learn until some time
later.  Youth and a strong constitution were also a shield against the
final change, and when he began to mend, and his heart-beats grew
stronger, even the jailer, his erstwhile assailant, the most callous of
his several keepers, exhibited a stony interest in this unusual
convalescence.

The touch of a hand was the _plaisant's_ first impression of returning
consciousness, and then into his throbbing brain crept the outlines of
the prison walls and the small window that grudgingly admitted the
light.  To his confused thoughts these surroundings recalled the
struggle with the free baron and the jailer.  As across a dark chasm,
he saw the face of the false duke, whereon wonder and conviction had
given way to brutal rage, and, with the memory of that treacherous
blow, the fool half-started from his couch.

A low voice carried him back from the past to a vague cognizance of a
woman's form, standing at the head of the bed, and two grave, dark eyes
looking down upon him which he strove in vain to interrogate with his
own.  He would have spoken, but the soothing pressure of the hand upon
his forehead restrained him, and, turning to the wall, sleep overcame
him; a slumber long, sound and restorative.  Motionless the figure
remained, listening for some time to his deep breathing and then stole
away as silently as she had come.

Amid a solitude like that of a catacomb the hours ran their course; the
day grew old, and eventide replaced the waning flush in the west.  The
shadows deepened into night, and the first kisses of morn again merged
into the brighter prime.  Near the cell the only sound had been the
footstep of the warder, or the scampering of a rat, but now from afar
seemed to come a faint whispering, like the murmur of the ocean.  It
was the voice of awakened nature; the wind and the trees; the whir of
birds' wings, or the sound of other living creatures in the forest hard
by.  A song of life and buoyancy, it breathed just audibly its cheering
intonation about the prison bars, when the captive once more stirred
and gazed around him.  As he did so, the figure of the woman, who had
again noiselessly entered the cell, stepped forward and stood near the
couch.

"Are you better?" she asked.

He raised himself on his elbow, surprised at the unexpected appearance
of his visitor.

"Jacqueline!" he said, wonderingly, recognizing the features of the
joculatrix.  "I must have been unconscious all night."  And he stared
from her toward the window.

"Yes," she returned with a peculiar smile; "all night."  And bending
over him, she held a receptacle to his lips from which he mechanically
drank a broth, warm and refreshing, the while he endeavored to account
for the strangeness of her presence in the cell.  She placed the bowl
on the floor and then, straightening her slim figure, again regarded
him.

"You are improving fast," she commented, reflectively.

"Thanks to your sovereign mixture," he answered, lifting a hand to his
bandaged head, and striving to collect his scattered ideas which
already seemed to flow more consecutively.  The pain which had racked
his brow had grown perceptibly less since his last deep slumber, and a
grateful warmth diffused itself in his veins with a growing assurance
of physical relief.  "But may I ask how you came here?" he continued,
perplexity mingling with the sense of temporary languor that stole over
him.

"I heard the duke tell the king you had attacked him and he had struck
you down," she replied, after a pause.

His face darkened; his head throbbed once more; with his fingers he
idly picked at the straw.

"And the king, of course, believed," he said.  "Oh, credulous king!" he
added scornfully.  "Was ever a monarch so easily befooled?  A judge of
men?  No; a ruler who trusts rather to fortune and blind destiny.
Unlike Charles, he looks not through men, but at them."

"Think no more of it," she broke in, hastily, seeing the effect of her
words.

"Nay, good Jacqueline," quickly retorted the jester; "the truth, I pray
you.  Believe me, I shall mend the sooner for it.  What said the
duke--as he calls himself?"

"Why, he shook his head ruefully," answered the girl, not noticing his
reservation.  "'Your Majesty,' he said, 'for the memory of bygone
quibbles I sought him, but found him not--alack!--on the stool of
repentance.'"

About the fool's mouth quivered the grim suggestion of a half-smile.

"He is the best jester of us all," he muttered.  "And then?" fastening
his eyes upon hers.

"'No sooner, Sire,' went on the duke, 'had I entered the cell than he
rushed upon me, and, it grieves me, I used the wit-snapper roughly.'
So"--folding her hands before her and gazing at the _plaisant_--"I e'en
came to see if you were killed."

"You came," he said.  "Yes; but how?"

"What matters it?" she answered.  "Perhaps it was magic, and the
cell-doors flew open at my touch."

"I can almost believe it," he returned.

And his glance fell thoughtfully from her to the couch.  Before the
assault he had lain at night upon the straw on the floor, and this
unhoped-for immunity from the dampness of the stones or the scampering
of occasional rats suggested another starting point for mental inquiry.
She smiled, reading the interrogation on his face.

"One of the turnkeys furnished the bed," she remarked, shrewdly.  "Do
you like it?"

"It is a better couch than I have been accustomed to," he replied, in
no wise misled by her response, and surmising that her solicitation had
procured him this luxury.  "Nevertheless, the night has seemed
strangely long."

"It has been long," she returned, moving toward the window.  "A week
and more."

Surprise, incredulity, were now written upon his features.  That such
an interval should have elapsed since the evening of the free baron's
visit appeared incredible.  He could not see her countenance as she
spoke; only her figure; the upper portion bright, the lower fading into
the deep shadows beneath the aperture in the wall.

"You tell me I have lain here a week?" he asked finally, recalling
obscure memories of faintly-seen faces and voices heard as from afar.

"And more," she repeated.

For some moments he remained silent, passing from introspection to a
current of thought of which she could know nothing; the means he had
taken to thwart the ambitious projects of the king's guest.

"Has Caillette returned?" he continued, with ill-disguised eagerness.

"Caillette?" she answered, lifting her brows at the abruptness of the
inquiry.  "Has he been away?  I had not noticed.  I do not know."

"Then is he still absent," said the jester, decisively.  "Had he come
back, you would have heard."

Quickly she looked at him.  Caillette!--Spain!--these were the words he
had often uttered in his delirium.  Although he seemed much better and
the hot flush had left his cheeks, his fantasy evidently remained.

"A week and over!" resumed the fool, more to himself than to his
companion.  "But he still may return before the duke is wedded."

"And if he did return?" she asked, wishing to humor him.

"Then the duke is not like to marry the princess," he burst out.

"Not like--to marry!" she replied, suddenly, and moved toward him.  Her
clear eyes were full upon him; closely she studied his worn features.
"Not like--but he has married her!"

The jester strove to spring to his feet, but his legs seemed as relaxed
as his brain was dazed.

"Has married!--impossible!" he exclaimed fiercely.

"They were wedded two days since," she went on quietly, possibly
regretting that surprise, or she knew not what, had made her speak.

"Wedded two days since!"

He repeated it to himself, striving to realize what it meant.  Did it
mean anything?  He remembered how mockingly the jestress' face had
shone before him in the past; how derisive was her irony.  From Fools'
hall to the pavilion of the tournament had she flouted him.

"Wedded two days since!"

"You must have your drollery," he said, unsteadily, at length.

She did not reply, and he continued to question her with his eyes.
Quite still she remained, save for an almost imperceptible movement of
breathing.  Against the dull beams from the aperture above, her hair
darkly framed her face, pale, dim with half-lights, illusory.  When he
again spoke his voice sounded new to his own ears.

"How could the princess have been married?  Even if I have lain here as
long as you say, the day for the wedding was set for at least a week
from now."

"But changed!" she responded, unexpectedly.

"Changed!" he cried, sitting on the edge of the couch, and regarding
her as though he doubted he had heard aright.  "Why should it have been
changed?"

"Because the duke became a most impatient suitor," she answered.
"Daily he grew more eager.  Finally, to attain his end, he importuned
the countess.  She laughed, but good-naturedly acceded to his request,
and, in turn importuned the king--who generously yielded.  It has been
a rare laughing matter at court--that the duke, who appeared the least
passionate adorer, should really have been such a restless one."

"Dolt that I have been!" exclaimed the jester, with more anger, it
seemed to the girl, than jealousy.  "He knew about Caillette, but
professed to be ignorant that the emperor was in Spain.  And I believed
his words; thought I was holding something from him; let myself imagine
he could not penetrate my designs.  While all the time he was
intriguing with the king's favorite and felt the sense of his own
security.  What a cat's paw he made of me!  And so he--they are gone,
Jacqueline?"

"Yes," she returned, surprised at his language, and, for the first
time, wondering if the duke's wooing admitted of other complications
than she had suspected.  "They are on their way to the duke's kingdom."

"His kingdom!" said the fool, with derision.  "But go on.  Tell me
about it, Jacqueline.  Their parting with the court?  How they set out
on their journey.  All, Jacqueline; all!"

"They were married in the Chapelle de la Trinité," responded the girl,
hesitating.  Then with an odd side look, she went on rapidly: "The
bridal party made an imposing cavalcade: the princess in her litter,
behind a number of maids on horseback.  At the castle gates several
pages, dressed as Cupids, sent silver arrows after the bridal train.
'Hymen; Io Hymen!' cried the throng.  'Godspeed!' exclaimed Queen
Marguerite, and threw a parchment, tied with a golden ribbon, into the
princess' litter; an epithalamium, in verse, written in her own fair
hand.  '_Esto perpetua_!' murmured the red cardinal.  Besides the
groom's own men, the king sent a strong escort to the border, and thus
it was a numerous company that rode from the castle, with colors flying
and the princess' handkerchief fluttering from her litter a last
farewell."

"A last farewell!" repeated the fool.  "A splendent picture,
Jacqueline.  They all shouted _Te Deum_, and none stood there to warn
her."

"To warn!" retorted the jestress.  "Not a maid but envied her that
spectacle; the magnificence and splendor!"

"But not what will follow," he said, and, lying back on his couch,
closed his eyes.

Rapidly the scene passed before him; the false duke at the head of the
cavalcade, elate, triumphant; the princess in her litter, brilliant,
dazzling; the laughter, the hurried adieus; tears and smiles; the smart
sayings of the jesters, a bride their legitimate prey, her blushes the
delight of the facetious nobles; the complacency of the pleasure-loving
king--all floated before his eyes like the figment of a dream.  How
mocking the pomp and glitter!  For the princess, what an awakening was
to ensue!  The free baron must have known the emperor was in Spain, and
had met the fool's stratagem with a final masterly manoeuver.  The bout
was over; the first great bout; but in the next--would there be a next?
Jacqueline's words now implied a doubt.

"You are soon to leave here," she said.  "For Paris."

Seated on the stool, her hands crossed over her knees, Jacqueline
seemed no longer a creature of indefinite or ambiguous purpose.  On the
contrary, her profile was rimmed in light, and very matter-of-fact and
serious it seemed.

"Why am I to leave for Paris?" he remarked, absently.

"Because they are going to take you there," she returned, "to be tried
as a heretic."  He started and again sat up.  "In your room was found a
book by Calvin.  Of course," she went on, "you will deny it belonged to
you?"

"What would that avail?" he said, indifferently.  "But have the
followers of Luther, or Calvin, no friends in Francis' court?"

"Have they in Charles' domains?" she asked quickly.

"The Protestants in Germany are a powerful body; the emperor is forced
to bear with them."

"Here they have no friends--openly," she went on.
"Secretly--Marguerite, Marot; others perhaps.  But these will not serve
you; could not, if they would.  Besides, this heresy of which you are
accused is but a pretext to get rid of you."

"And how, good Jacqueline, has the king treated the new sect?"

She held her hand suddenly to her throat; her face went paler, as from
some tragic recollection.

"Oh," she answered, "do not speak of it!"

"They burned them?" he persisted.

"Before Notre Dame!"

Her voice was low; her eyes shone deep and gleaming.

"You are sorry, then, for those vile heretics?" asked the fool,
curiously.

She raised her head, half-resentfully.  "Their souls need no one's
pity," she retorted, proudly.

"And you think mine is soon like to be beyond earthly caring?"

Her glance became impatient.  "Most like," she returned, curtly.

"But what excuse does the king give for his cruelty?" he continued,
musingly.

"They threw down the sacred images in one of the churches.  Now a
heretic need expect no mercy.  They are placed in cages--hung from
beams--over the fire.  The court was commanded to witness the
spectacle--the king jested--the countess laughed, but her features were
white--"  Here the girl buried her face in her hands.  Soon, however,
she looked up, brushing back the hair from her brow.  "Marguerite has
interposed, but she is only a feather in the balance."  Abruptly she
arose.  "Would you escape such a fate?" she said.

He remained silent, thinking that if the mission to the emperor
miscarried, his own position might, indeed, be past mending.  If the
exposure of the free baron were long delayed, the fool's assurance in
his own ultimate release might prove but vain expectation.  In Paris
the trial would doubtless not be protracted.  From the swift tribunal
to the slow fire constituted no complicated legal process, and appeal
there was none, save to the king, from whom might be expected little
mercy, less justice.

"Escape!" the jester answered, dwelling on these matters.  "But how?"

"By leaving this prison," she answered, lowering her voice.

He glanced significantly at the walls, the windows and the door, beyond
which could be heard the tread of the jailer and the clanking of the
keys hanging from his girdle.

"I would have done that long since, Jacqueline, if I had had my will,"
he replied.

"Are you strong enough to attempt it?" she remarked, doubtfully,
scanning the thin face before her.

"Your words shall make me so," he retorted, and looking into his
glittering eyes, she almost believed him.

"Not to-day, but to-morrow," the girl added, thoughtfully.  "Perhaps
then--"

"I shall be ready," he broke in impatiently.  "What must I do?"

"Not drink this wine I have brought, but give it to the turnkey in the
morning.  Invite him to share it, but take none yourself, feigning
sudden illness.  He will not refuse, being always sharp-set for a cup.
Nothing can be done with the other jailers, but this one is a thirsty
soul, ever ready to bargain for a dram.  Your couch cost I know not how
many flagons.  Although he drinks many tankards and pitchers every day,
yet will this small bottle make him drowsy.  You will leave while he is
sleeping."

"In the daylight, mistress?" he asked, eagerly.  "Why not wait--"

"No," she said, decisively; "there is no other way.  This turnkey is
only a day watchman.  It is dangerous, but the best plan that suggested
itself.  I know many unfrequented corridors and passages through the
old part of the castle the king has not rebuilt, and a road at the
back, now little used, that runs through the wood and thicket down the
hill.  It is a desperate chance, but--"

"The danger of remaining is more desperate," he interrupted, quickly.
"Besides, we shall not fail.  It is in the book of fate."  His
expression changed; became fierce, eager.  "Are you, indeed, the
arbiter of that fate; the sorceress Triboulet feared?"

"You are thinking of the duke," she answered, with a frown, "and that
if you escape--"

"Truly, you are a sorceress," he replied, with a smile.  "I confess
life has grown sweet."

She moved abruptly toward the door.  "Nay, I meant not to offend you,"
he spoke up, more gently.

"It is your own fortunes you ever injure," she retorted, gazing coldly
back at him.

"One moment, sweet Jacqueline.  Why did you not go with the princess?"

Her face changed; grew dark; from eyes, deep and gloomy, she shot a
quick glance upon him.

"Perhaps--because I like the court too well to leave it," she answered
mockingly, and, vouchsafing no further word, quickly vanished.  It was
only when she had gone the jester suddenly remembered he had forgotten
to thank her for what she had done in the past or what she proposed
doing on the morrow.



CHAPTER XVII

JACQUELINE'S QUEST

"Truly, are you a right proper fool; for a man, merry in adversity, is
as wise as Master Rabelais.  Many the time have I heard him say a fit
of laughter drives away the devil, while the groans of flagellating
saints seem as music to Beelzebub's ears.  Thus, a wit-cracker is the
demon's enemy, and the band of Pantagruel, an evangelical brotherhood,
that with tankard and pot sends the arch-fiend back to the bottomless
pit."

And the fool's jailer, seated on the stool within the cell, stretched
out his legs and uplifted the bottle to his lips, while, judging from
the draft he took and assuming the verity of the theory he advanced,
the prince of darkness at that moment must have fled a considerable
distance into his chosen realms.

"Ah, you know the great philosopher, then?" commented the jester from
the couch, closely watching the sottish, intemperate face of his
keeper, and running his glance over the unwieldy form which bade fair
to outrival one of the wine butts in the castle cellar.

"Know him!" exclaimed this lowly votary.  "I have e'en been admitted to
his table--at the foot, 'tis true--when the brave fellows of Pantagruel
were at it.  Not for my wit was I thus honored"--the _plaisant_ made a
dissenting gesture, the irony of which passed over the head of the
speaker--"but because a giant flagon appeared but a child's toy in my
hands.  The followers of Pantagruel fell on both sides, like wheat
before the blade of the reaper, until Doctor Rabelais and myself only
were left.  From the head to the foot of the table the great man
looked.  How my heart swelled with pride!  'Swine of Epicurus, are you
still there?' he said.  And then--and then--"

With a crash the bottle fell from the hand of the keeper to the stone
floor.  The massive body swayed on the small stool; his eyes stupidly
shut and opened.

"Swine of Epicurus," he repeated.  "Swine--" and followed the bottle,
rolling gently from the stool.  He made but one motion, to extend his
huge bulk more comfortably, and then was still.

"Why," thought the fool, "if Jacqueline fails me not, all may yet be
well."

But even as he thus reflected the door of the cell opened, and a face
white as a lily, looked in.  Her glance passed hastily to the
motionless figure and an expression of satisfaction crossed her
features.

"The keys!" she said, and the jester, bending over the prostrate
jailer, detached them from his girdle.

"Lock the door when we leave," she continued.  "The other keeper does
not come to relieve him for six hours."

"It would be an offset for the many times he has locked me in,"
answered the fool.  "A scurvy trick; yet, as Master Rabelais says,
Pantagruelians select not their bed."

"Is this a time for jesting?" exclaimed the girl, impatiently.

"He has been treating me to Gargantuan discourse, Jacqueline," said the
fool, humbly.  "I was but answering him in kind."

"And by delay increasing our danger!"

"Our danger!" He started.

Since she had first broached the subject of escape but one sweet and
all-absorbing idea had possessed him--retaliation.  Liberty was the
means to that end, and every other thought and consideration had given
way to this desire.  He had fallen asleep with the free baron's dark
features imaged on his fevered brain; when he had awakened the morbid
fantasy had not left him.  But now, at her words, in her presence, a
new light was suddenly shed upon the enterprise, and he paused
abruptly, even as he turned to leave the cell.  With growing wonder she
watched his altered features.

"Well," she exclaimed, impatiently, "why do you stand there?"

"Should I escape, you, Jacqueline, would remain to bear the brunt," he
said, reflectively.  "The jailer, when he awakes, will tell the story:
who brought the wine; who succored the prisoner.  To go, but one course
is open."  And he glanced down upon the prostrate man.  "To silence him
forever!"

She started and half-shrank from him.  "Could you do it?"

He shook his head.  "In fair contest, I would have slain him.  But
now--it is not he, but I, who am helpless.  And yet what is such a
sot's life worth?  Nothing.  Everything.  Farewell, sweet jestress; I
must trust to other means, and--thank you."

The outstretched hand she seemed not to see, but tapped the floor of
the cell yet more impatiently with her foot, as was her fashion when
angered.  Here was the prison door open, and the captive enamored of
confinement; at the culminating point conjuring reasons why he should
not flee.  To have gone thus far; to have eliminated the jailer, and
then to draw back, with the keys in his hand--truly no scene in a
comedy could be more extravagant.  The girl laughed nervously.

"What egotists men are!" she said.  "Good Sir Jester, in offering you
liberty I am serving myself; myself, you understand!" she repeated.
"Let us hasten on, lest in defeating your own purpose, you defeat mine."

"What will you answer when he"--indicating the drugged
turnkey--"accuses you?"

"Was ever such perversity!" was all she deigned to reply, biting her
lip.

"You are somewhat wilful yourself, Jacqueline," he retorted, with that
smile which so exasperated her.

"Listen," she said at length, slowly, impressively.  "You need have no
fear for me when you go.  I tell you that more danger remains to me by
your staying than in your going; that your obstinacy leaves me
unprotected; that your compliance would be a boon to me.  By the memory
of my mother, by the truth of this holy book"--drawing a little volume
passionately from her bosom--"I swear to what I have told you."
Eagerly her eyes met his searching gaze, and he read in their depths
only truth and candor.  "I have a quest for you.  It concerns my life,
my happiness.  All I have done for you has been for this end."

Her eyes fell, but she raised them again quickly.  "Will you accept a
mission from one who is not--a princess?"

"Name her not!" exclaimed the jester sharply.  And then, recovering
himself, added, less brusquely: "What is it you want, mistress?"

"This is no time nor place to tell it," she went on rapidly, seeing by
his face that his dogged humor had melted before her appeal, "but soon,
before we part, you shall know all; what it is I wish to intrust in
your hands."

A moment she waited.  "Your argument is unanswerable, Jacqueline," he
said finally.  "I own myself puzzled, but I believe you, so--have your
way."

"This cloak then"--handing him a garment she had brought with
her--"throw it over you," she continued hurriedly.  "If we meet any one
it may serve as a disguise.  And here is a sword," bringing forth a
weapon that she had carried concealed beneath a flowing mantle.  "Can
you use it?"

"I can but try, Jacqueline," he replied, fastening the girdle about his
waist and half-drawing and then thrusting the blade back into the
scabbard.  "It seems a priceless weapon," he added, his eye lingering
on the richly inlaid hilt, "and has doubtless been wielded by a gallant
hand."

"Speak not of that," she retorted, sharply, a strange flash in her
eyes.  "He who handled it was the bravest, noblest--"  She broke off
abruptly, and they left the cell, he locking the door behind him.

Down the dimly lighted passage she walked rapidly, while the jester
tractably and silently followed.  His strength, he found, had come back
to him; the joys of freedom imparted new elasticity to his limbs; that
narrow, cheerless way looked brighter than a royal gallery, or Francis'
_Salle des Fêtes_.  Before him floated the light figure of the
jestress, moving faster and ever faster down the dark corridor, now
veering to the right or left, again ascending or descending well-worn
steps; a tortuous route through the heart of the ancient fortress,
whose mystery seemed dread and covert as that of a prison house.
Confidently, knowing well the puzzling interior plan of the old pile,
she traversed the labyrinth that was to lead them without, finally
pausing before a small door, which she tried.

"Usually it is unlocked," she said, in surprise.  "I never knew it
fastened before."

"Is that our only way out?"

"The only safe way.  Perhaps one of the keys--"

But he had already knelt before the door and the young girl watched him
with obvious anxiety.  He vainly essayed all the keys, save one, and
that he now strove to fit to the lock.  It slipped in snugly and the
stubborn bolt shot back.

Entering, he closed the door behind them and hastily looked around,
discovering that they stood in a crypt, the central part of which was
occupied by a burial vault.  In the crypt chapels were a number of
statues, in marble and bronze, most of them rude, antique, yet not of
indifferent workmanship, especially one before which the jestress, in
spite of the exigency of the moment, stopped as if impelled by an
irresistible impulse.  This monument, so read the inscription, had been
erected by the renowned Constable of Dubrois to his young and faithful
consort, Anne.

But a part of a minute the girl gazed, with a new and softened
expression, upon the marble likeness of the last fair mistress of the
castle, and then hurriedly crossed the old mosaic pavement, reaching a
narrow flight of stairs, which she swiftly ascended.  A door that
yielded to the fool's shoulder led into a deserted court, on one side
of which were the crumbling walls of the chapel.  Here several dark
birds perched uncannily on the dead branch of a massive oak that had
been shattered by lightning.  In its desolation the oak might have been
typical of the proud family, once rulers of the castle, whose corporeal
strength had long since mingled with the elements.

This open space the two fugitives quickly traversed, passing through a
high-arched entrance to an olden bridge that spanned a moat.  Long ago
had the feudal gates been overthrown by Francis; yet above the keystone
appeared, not the salamander, the king's heraldic emblem, but the
almost illegible device of the old constable.  Beyond the great ditch
outstretched a rolling country on which the jester gazed with eager
eyes, while his companion swiftly led the way to a clump of willow and
aspen on the other side of the moat.  Beneath the spreading branches
were tethered two horses, saddled and bridled.  Wonderingly he glanced
from them to her.

"From whence did you conjure them, gentle mistress?" asked the fool.

"Some one I knew placed them there."

"But why--two horses, good Jacqueline?"

"Because I am minded to show you the path through the wood," she
replied.  "You might mistake it and then my purpose would not be
served.  Give me your hand, sir.  I am wont to have my own way."  And
as he reluctantly extended his palm she placed her foot upon it,
springing lightly to the saddle.  "'Tis but a canter through the
forest.  The day is glorious, and 'twill be rare sport."

Already had she gathered in the reins and turned her horse, galloping
down a road that swept through a grove of poplar and birch, and he,
after a moment's hesitation, rode after her.  Like one born to the
chase, she kept her seat, her lithe figure swaying to the movements of
the steed.  Soon the brighter green of her gown fluttered amid the
somber-tinted pines and elms, as the younger forest growth merged into
a stern array of primeval monarchs.  Here reigned an austere silence--a
stillness that now became the more startlingly broken.

"Jacqueline!" said the fool, spurring toward her.  "Do you hear?"

"The hunters?  Yes," she replied.

"They are coming this way."

"Perhaps it were better to draw back from the road," she suggested,
calmly.

"Do you draw back to the castle!" he returned, quickly, his brow
overcast.

"And miss the hunt?  Not I, Monsieur Spoil-Sport."

"But if they find you with me?"

She only tossed her head wilfully and did not answer.

Nearer came the hue and cry of the chase.  A heavy-horned buck sprang
into the road and vanished like a flash into the timber on the other
side.  Shortly afterward, in a compact bunch, with heads downbent and
stiffened tails, the pack, a howling, discordant mass, swept across the
narrow, open space.

"Quick!" exclaimed the jester, and they turned their horses into the
underbrush.

Scarcely had they done so when, closely following the dogs, appeared
the first of the hunters, mounted on a splendid charger, with housings
of rose-velvet.

"_Pardieu!_" muttered the _plaisant_, "I owe the king no thanks, but he
rides well.  Do you not think so, Jacqueline?"

Her answering gaze was puzzling.  After Francis rode many lords and
ladies, a stream of color crossing the road; riding habits faced with
gold; satin doublets covered with _rivières_ of diamonds; torsades
wherein gold became the foil to precious stones.  So near was the
gorgeous cavalcade--the grand falconer, whippers-in, and the bearers of
hooded birds mingling with the courtiers immediately behind the
king--the escaped prisoner and the jestress could hear the panting of
horses.  Fleeting, transient, it passed; fainter sounded the din of
hounds and horn; now it almost died away in the distance.  The last
couple had scarcely vanished before the fool and his companion left
their ambush.

"You ride farther, Jacqueline?" he said.

"A little farther."

"It will be far to return," he protested.

"I have no fear," she answered, tranquilly.

Again he let her have her way, as one would yield to a wilful child.
On and on they sped; past the place where the deer-run crossed the
broader path; through an ever-varying forest; now on one side, a rocky
basin overrun with trees and shrubs; again, on the other hand, a great
gorge, in whose depths flowed a whispering stream.  Yonder appeared the
gray walls of an ancient monastery, one part only of which was
habitable; a turn in the road swallowed it up as though abruptly to
complete the demolition time was slowly to bring about.  On and on,
until the way became wilder and the wood more overgrown with bushes and
tangled shrubbery, when she suddenly stopped her horse.

He understood; at last they were to part.  And, remembering what he
owed to her, the Jester suddenly found himself regretting that here
their paths separated forever.  Swiftly his mind flew back to their
first meeting; when she had flouted him in Fools' hall.  A perverse,
capricious maid.  How she had ever crossed him, and yet--nursed him.

Attentively he regarded her.  The customary pallor of her face had
given way to a faint tint; her eyes were humid, dewy-bright; beneath
the little cap, the curling tresses would have been the despair of
those later-day reformers, the successors of Calvinists and Lutherans.

"A will-o'-the-wisp," he thought.  "A man might follow and never grasp
her."

Did she read what he felt?  That mingled gratitude and perplexity?  Her
clear eyes certainly seemed to have a peculiar mastery over the
thoughts of others.  Now they expressed only mockery.

"The greater danger is over," she said, quietly.  "From now on there is
less fear of your being taken."

"Thanks to you!" he answered, searching her with his glance.

Here he doubted not she would make known the quest of which she had
spoken.  Whatever it might be, he would faithfully requite her; even to
making his own purpose subservient to it.

"It is now time," she said, demurely, "to acquaint you with the
mission.  Of course, you will accept it?"

"Can you ask?" he answered, earnestly.

"You promise?"

"To serve you with my life."

"Then we had better go on," she continued.

"But, Mademoiselle, I thought--"

"That we were to part here?  Not at all.  I am not yet ready to leave
you.  In fact, good Master Jester, I am going with you.  _I_ am the
quest; _I_ am the mission.  Are you sorry you promised?"



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SECRET OF THE JESTRESS

She, the quest, the mission!  With growing amazement he gazed at her,
but she returned his look, as though enjoying his surprise.

"You do not seem overpleased with the prospect of my company?" she
observed.  "Or perhaps you fear I may encumber you?" With mock irony.
"Confess, the service is more onerous than you expected?"

Beneath her flushed, yet smiling face lay a nervous earnestness he
could divine, but not fathom.

"Different, certainly," he answered, brusquely.

Her eyes flashed.  "How complimentary you are!"

"For your own sake--"

"My sake!" she exclaimed, passionately.  Her little hand closed
fiercely; proudly her eyes burned into his.  "Think you I have taken
this step idly?  That it is but the caprice of a moment?  Oh, no; no!
It was necessary to flee from the court.  But to whom could a woman
turn?  Not to any of the court--tools of the king.  One person only was
there; he whose life was as good as forfeited.  Do you understand?"

"That my life belongs to you?  Yes.  But that you should leave the
court--where you have influence, friends--"

"Influence! friends!"

He was startled by the bitterness of her voice.

"Tell me, Jacqueline--why do you wish to go?" he said, wonderingly.

"Because I wish to," she returned, briefly, and stroked the shining
neck of her horse.

Indeed, how could she apprise him of events which were now the talk of
the court?  How Francis, evincing a sudden interest as strong as it was
unexpected, had exchanged Triboulet for herself, and the princess, at
the king's request, had taken the buffoon with her, and left the girl
behind.  The jestress' welcome to the household of the Queen of
Navarre; a subsequent bewildering shower of gifts; the complacent,
although respectful, attentions of the king.  How she had endured these
advances until no course remained save the one she had taken.  No; she
could not tell the duke's fool all this.

Between _folle_ and fugitive fell a mutual reserve.  Did he divine some
portion of the truth?  Are there moments when the mind, tuned to a
tension, may almost feel what another experiences?  Why had the girl
not gone with her mistress?  He remembered she had evaded this question
when he had asked it.  Looking at her, for the first time it crossed
his mind she would be held beautiful; an odd, strange beauty, imperious
yet girlish, and the conviction crept over him there might be more than
a shadow of excuse for her mad flight.

Beneath his scrutiny her face grew cold, disdainful.  "Like all men,"
she said, sharply, as though to stay the trend of his thoughts, "you
are prodigal in promises, but chary in fulfilment."

"Where is it your pleasure to go?" he asked quietly.

"That we shall speak of hereafter," she answered, haughtily.

"Forward then."

"I can ride on alone," she demurred, "if--"

"Nay; 'tis I who crave the quest," he returned, gravely.

Her face broke into smiles, "What a devoted cavalier!" she exclaimed.
"Come, then.  Let us ride out into the world.  At least, it is bright
and shining--to-day.  Do you fear to follow me, sir?  Or do you believe
with the hunchback that I am an enchantress and cast over whom I will
the spell of _diablerie_?"

"You may be an enchantress, mistress, but the spell you cast is not
_diablerie_," he answered in the same tone.

"Fine words!" she said, mockingly.  "But it remains to be seen into
what a world I am going to lead you!"  And rode on.

The rush of air, the swift motion, the changing aspect of nature were
apparently not without their effect on her spirits, for as they
galloped along she appeared to forget their danger, the certainty of
pursuit and the possibility of capture.  Blithesome she continued;
called his attention to a startled hare; pointed with her whip to a
red-eyed boar that sullenly retreated at their approach; laughed when
an overhanging branch swept her little cap from her head and merrily
thanked him when he hastily dismounted and returned it to her.

"You see, fool, what a burden I am like to prove!" she said,
readjusting the cap, and, ere he could answer, had passed on, as if
challenging him to a test of speed.

"Have a care!" he cried warningly, as they came to a rough stretch of
ancient highway, but she seemed not to hear him.

That she could ride in such madcap fashion, seemingly oblivious of the
gravity of their desperate fortunes, was not ill-pleasing to the
jester; no timorous companion, shrinking from phantoms, he surmised she
would prove.  Thus mile after mile they covered and the shadows had
reached their minimum length, when, coming to a clear pool of water,
they drew rein to refresh themselves from the provisions in the
saddle-bags.  Bread and wine--sumptuous fare for poor fugitives--they
ate and drank with keen relish.  Dreamily she watched the green insects
skimming over the surface of the shimmering water.  On the bank swayed
the rushes, as though making obeisance to a single gorgeous lily, set
like a queen in the center of this little shining kingdom.

"Was the repast to your liking?" she asked, suddenly looking from the
pool to him.

"Entirely, fair Jacqueline.  The wine was excellent.  Hunger gave it
bouquet, and appetite aged it.  Never did bread taste so wholesome, and
as for the service--"

"It was perfect--lacking grand master, grand chamberlain, grand
marshals, grand everybody," she laughed.

In the reflected glow from pool and shining leaves, her eyes were so
full of light he could but wonder if this were the same person who had
so gravely stood by his bedside in the cell.  That she should thus seem
carelessly to dismiss all thought of danger appeared the more
surprising, because he knew she was not one to lull herself with the
assurance of a false security.  To him her bright eyes said: "I am in
your care.  Be yours the task now."  And thus interpreting, he broke in
upon her thoughts.

"Having dined and wined so well, shall we go on, Jacqueline?"

To which she at once assented by rising, and soon they had left the
principality of the lily far in the distance.  Now the road so narrowed
he fell behind.  The character of the country had changed; some time
ago they had passed out of the wild forest, and had begun to traverse a
great, level plain, broken with stubble.  As far as the eye could
reach, no other human figures were visible; the land outstretched,
apparently without end; no habitations dotted the landscape, and, the
sole signs of life, wheeling birds of prey, languidly floated in the
air.  At length she glanced around.  Was it to reassure herself the
jester rode near; that she had not, unattended, entered that forbidding
territory?  Then she paused abruptly and the fool approached.

"By this time the turnkey should be relieved," she said.

"But not released," he answered, holding up the keys which he yet wore
at his girdle.  "They will have to come a long distance to find them,"
he continued, and threw the keys far away upon the sward.

"They may not think of following on this road at all," she returned.
"It is the old castle thoroughfare, long since disused."

"And leads where?"

"Southward, to the main road."

"How came you to know it?" he asked, quickly.

"How--because I lived in the castle before the king built the palace
and the new thoroughfare," she answered slowly.

"You lived in the castle, then, when it was the residence of the proud
Constable of Dubrois?  You must have been but a child," he added,
reflectively.

"Yes; but children may have long memories."

"In your case, certainly.  How well you knew all the passages and
corridors of the castle!"

She responded carelessly and changed the conversation.  The
thoroughfare broadening, for the remainder of the day they pressed
forward side by side.  But a single human figure, during all those
hours, they encountered, and that when the afternoon had fairly worn
away.  For some time they had pursued their journey silently, when at a
turn in the road the horse of the jester shied and started back.

At the same time an unclean, offensive-looking monk in Franciscan
attire arose suddenly out of the stubble by the wayside.  In his hand
he held a heavy staff, newly cut from the forest, a stock which in his
brawny arms seemed better adapted for a weapon than as a prop for his
sturdy frame.  From the rope girdle about his waist depended a rosary
whose great beads would have served the fingers of a Cyclops, and a
most diminutive, leathern-bound prayer-book.  At the appearance of the
fool and his companion, he opened an enormous mouth, and in a voice
proportionately large began to whine right vigorously:

"Charity, good people, for the Mother Church!  Charity in the name of
the Holy Mother!  In the name of the saints, the apostles and the
evangelists!  St. John, St. Peter, St.--"  Then broke off suddenly,
staring stupidly at the jester.

"The duke's fool!" he exclaimed.  "What are you doing here?  A plague
upon it!  You have as many lives as a monk."

"Call you yourself a monk, rascal?" asked the jester, contemptuously.

"At times.  Charity, good fool!" the canting rogue again began to
whine, edging nearer.  "Charity, mistress!  For the sake of the
prophets and the disciples!  The seven sacraments, the feast of the
Pentecost and the Passover!  In the name of the holy Fathers!  St.
Sebastian!  St. Michael!  St.--"

But the fugitives had already sped on, and the unregenerate knave
turned his pious eloquence into an unhallowed channel of oaths, waving
his staff menacingly after them.

"I fear me," said the jester, when they had put a goodly distance
between themselves and the solitary figure, "yonder brother craves
almsgiving with his voice, and enforces the bounty with his staff.  Woe
betide the good Samaritan who falls within reach of his pilgrim's prop."

"You knew him?" she asked.

"I had the doubtful pleasure," he answered.  "He was hired to kill me."

"Why?" in surprise.

"Because the--duke wanted me out of the way."

She asked no further questions, although he could see by her brow she
was thinking deeply.  Was the duke then no better than a common
assassin?  She frowned, then gave an impatient exclamation.

"It is inexplicable," she said, and rode the faster.

The jester, too, was silent, but his mind dwelt upon the future and its
hazards.  He little liked their meeting with the false monk.  Why was
the Franciscan traveling in their direction?  Had others of that band
of pillagers, street-fools and knave-minstrels, formerly infesting the
neighborhood of the palace, gone that way?  He did not believe the monk
would long pursue a solitary pilgrimage, for varlets of that kind have
common haunts and byways.  The encounter suggested hazard ahead as well
as the danger of pursuit from the palace.  But this apprehension of a
new source of peril he kept from his companion; since go on they must,
there was no need to disquiet her further.

The mystic silver light of the day had now become golden; the sky,
brilliant, many-colored, overdomed the vast, sullen earth; between two
roseate streamers a whitish crescent unobtrusively was set.  Seemingly
misplaced in a sanguinary sea, passionless it lay, but as the ocean of
light grew dull the crescent kindled.  Over a thick patch of pine trees
in the distance myriads of dark birds hovered and screamed in chorus.
Now they circled restlessly above that shaded spot; then darted off, a
cloud against the sky, and returned with renewed cawing and discord.
As the riders approached the din abruptly ceased, the creatures
mysteriously and suddenly vanishing into the depths of the thicket
below.

In the fading light, fool and jestress drew rein, and, moved by the
same purpose, looked about them.  On the one hand was the deserted,
desolate plain over which lay a sullen, gathering mist; on the other,
the sombrous obscurity of the wood.  Everywhere, an ominous silence,
and overhead the crescent growing in luster.

"Do you see any sign of house or inn?" said the girl, peering afar down
the road, which soon lost itself in the general monotony of the
landscape.

"None, mistress; the country seems alike barren of farmhouse or tavern."

"What shall we do?  I am full weary," she confessed.

"The forest offers the best protection," he reluctantly suggested.
Little as he favored delay, he realized the wisdom of sparing their
horses.  Moreover, her appeal was irresistible.

She gazed half-dubiously into that woody depth.  "Why not rest by the
wayside--in the moonlight?"

"I like not the open road," he answered.  "But if you fear the
darkness--"

For answer she guided her horse to the verge of the forest and lightly
sprang to the ground.  Upon a grassy knoll, but a little way within, he
spread his cloak.

"There, Jacqueline, is your couch," he said.

"But you?" she asked.  "To rob you thus of your cloak seems
ill-comradeship."

"The cloak is yours," he returned.  "As it is, you will find it but a
hard bed."

"It will seem soft as down," she replied, and seated herself on the
hillock.  In the gloom he could just distinguish the outline of her
figure, with her elbow on her knee, and her hair blacker than the
shadows themselves.  A long-drawn, moaning sound, coming without
warning behind her, caused the girl to turn.

"What is that?" she said, quickly.

"The wind, Jacqueline.  It is rising."

As he spoke, like a monster it entered the forest; about them branches
waved and tossed: a friendly star seen through the boughs lost itself
behind a cloud.  Yet no rain fell and the air seemed hot and dry,
despite the mists which clung to the ground.  A crash of thunder or a
flash of lightning would have relieved that sighing dolor which filled
the little patch of timber with its melancholy sounds.

Suddenly, above the plaint and murmur of wind and forest, the low,
clear voice of the girl arose; the melody was no ballad, arietta or
pastoral, such as he had before heard from her lips, but a simple hymn,
the setting by Calvin.  The jester started.  How came she to know that
forbidden music?  Not only to know, but to sing it as he had never
heard it sung before.  Sweetly it vibrated, her waywardness sunk in its
swelling rhythm; its melody freighted with the treasure of her trust.
As he listened he felt she was betraying to him the hidden well of her
faith; the secret of her religion; that she, his companion, was
proclaiming herself a heretic, and, therefore, doubly an outcast.

A stanza, and the melody died away on the wings of the tempest.  His
heart was beating violently; he looked expectantly toward her.  Even
more gently, like a lullaby to the turbulent night, the full-measured
cadence of the majestic psalm was again heard.  Then another voice,
deeper, fuller, blended with that of the first singer.  Unwavering, she
continued the song, as though it had been the most natural matter he
should join his voice with hers.  Fainter fell the harmony; then ceased
altogether--a hymn destined to become interwoven with terrible
memories, the tragic massacre of the Huguenots on the ill-fated night
of St. Bartholomew.  Again prevailed the tristful dirge of the pines.

"You sing well, mistress," said the jester, softly.  "Is it true you
are one of a hated sect?"

"As true as that you did not deny the heretic volume found in your
room," she replied.

A silence ensued between them.  "It was Marot placed the horses there
for us," she said, at length.  "He, too, is a heretic, and would have
saved you."

Thereafter the silence remained unbroken for some moments, and then--

"God keep you, mistress," he said.

"God keep you," she answered, softly.

Soon her deep breathing told him she was sleeping, and, as he listened,
in fancy he could hear the faint echoes of her voice, accompanied by
the sighing wind.  How intrepid had she seemed; how helpless was she
now; and, as he bent over her, divining yet not seeing, he asked
himself whence had come this faith in him, that like a child she
slumbered amid the unrest of nature?  What had her life been, who her
friends, that she should thus have chosen a jester as comrade?  What
had driven her forth from the court to nameless hazards?  Had he
surmised correctly?  Was it--

"The king," she murmured, with sudden restlessness in her sleep.

"The king," she repeated, with aversion.

In the jester's breast upleaped a fierce anger.  This was the
art-loving monarch who burned the fathers and brothers of the new
faith; this, the righteous ruler who condemned men to death for
psalm-singing or for listening to grave discourse; this the Christian
king, the brilliant patron of science and learning.

The storm had sighed itself to rest, the stars had come out, but
leaning with his back against a tree, the fool still kept vigil.



CHAPTER XIX

A FIGURE IN THE MOONLIGHT

Experiencing no further inconvenience than the ordinary vicissitudes of
traveling without litter or cavalcade, several days of wandering slowly
passed.  Few people they met, and those, for the most part, various
types of vagabonds and nomads; some wild and savage, roaming like
beasts from place to place; others, harmless, mere bedraggled birds of
passage.  In this latter class were the vagrant-entertainers, with
dancing rooster or singing dog, who stopped at every peasant's door.
To the shrill piping of the flageolet, these merry stragglers added a
step of their own, and won a crust for themselves, a bone for the dog
or a handful of grain for the performing fowl.

In those days when court ladies rode in carved and gilded coaches, and
their escorts on horses covered with silken, jeweled nets, the modest
appearance of the jestress and her companion was not calculated to
attract especial attention from the yokels and honest peasantry;
although their steeds, notwithstanding their unpretentious housings,
might still excite the cupidity of highway rogues.  As it minimized
their risk from this latter class, the young girl was content to wear
the cap of the jestress, piquantly perched upon her dark curls, thereby
suggesting an indefinable affinity with vagrancy and the itinerant
fraternity.

Not only had she donned the symbol of her office, but she endeavored to
act up to it, accepting the sweet with the sour, with ever a jest at
discomfort and concealing weariness with a smile.  Often the fool
wondered at her endurance and her calm courage in the face of peril,
for although they met with no misadventures, each day seemed fraught
with jeopardy.  Perhaps it was fortunate their attire, somewhat
travel-stained, appeared better suited to the character of poor,
migratory wearers of the cap and bells than to the more magnificent
roles of _fou du roi_ or _folle de la reine_.  But although they had
gone far, the jester knew they had not yet traveled beyond the reach of
Francis' arm, and that, while the king might reconcile himself to the
escape of the _plaisant_, he would not so easily tire in seeking the
maid.

Once they slept in the fields; again, beside an old ruined shrine, in
the shadow of an ancient cross; the third night, on the bank of a
stream, when it rained, and she shivered until dawn with no word of
complaint.  Fortunately the sun arose, bright and warm, drying the
garments that clung to her slender figure, At the peasants' houses they
paused no longer than necessary to procure food and drink, and, not to
awaken suspicion, she preferred paying them with a song of the people
rather than from the well-filled purse she had brought with her.

And as the fool listened to a sprightly, contagious carol and noted its
effect on clod and hind, he wondered if this could be the same voice he
had heard, uplifted in one of Master Calvin's psalms in the solitude of
the forest.  She had the gift of music, and, sometimes on the journey,
would break out with a catch or madrigal by Marot, Caillette, or
herself.  It appeared a brave effort to bear up under continued
hardship--insufficient rest and sharp riding--and the jester reproached
himself for thus taxing her strength; but often, when he suggested a
pause, she would shake her head wilfully, assert she was not tired, and
ride but the faster.

"No, no!" she would say; "if we would escape, we must keep on.  We can
rest afterward."

"Where do you wish to go?" he asked her once.

"There is time enough yet to speak of that," she returned, evasively.

"You have some plan, mistress?"

"Perhaps."

This answer forbade his further questioning; offended, possibly, his
sense of that confidence which is due comrade to comrade, but she
became immediately so propitiative and sweetly dependent--the
antithesis to that self-reliance her response implied--he thought no
more of it, but remained content with her reticence.  Half-shyly, she
looked at him beneath her dark lashes, as if to read how deeply he was
annoyed, and, seeing his face clear, laughed lightly.

"What are you laughing at, mistress?" he said.

"If I knew I could tell," she replied.

Toward sundown on the fourth day they came to a lonely inn, set in a
clearing on the verge of a forest.  They had ridden late in the
moonlight the night before, and all that morning and afternoon almost
without resting, and the first sight of the solitary hostelry was not
unwelcome to the weary fugitives.  A second inspection of the place,
however, awakened misgivings.  The building seemed the better adapted
for a fortress than a tavern, being heavily constructed with massive
doors and blinds, and loopholes above.  A brightly painted sign, The
Rooks' Haunt, waved cheerily, it is true, above the door, as though to
disarm suspicion, but the isolated situation of the inn, and the
depressing sense of the surrounding wilderness, might well cause the
wayfarer to hesitate whether to tarry there or continue his journey.

A glance at the pale face and unnaturally bright eyes of the girl
brought the jester, however, to a quick decision.  Springing from his
horse, he held out his hand to assist her, but, overcome by weakness,
or fatigue, she would have fallen had he not sustained her.  Quickly
she recovered, and with a faint flush mantling her white cheek,
withdrew from his grasp, while at the same time the landlord of the
tavern came forward to welcome his guests.

In appearance mine host was round and jovial; his bulk bespoke hearty
living; his rosy face reflected good cheer; his stentorian voice,
free-and-easy hospitality.  His eyes constituted the only setback to
this general impression of friendliness and fellow-feeling; they were
small, twinkling, glassy.

"Good even to you, gentle folk," he said.  "You tarry for the night, I
take it?"

"If you have suitable accommodations," answered the jester, reassured
by the man's aspect and manner.

"The Rooks' Haunt never yet turned away a weary traveler," answered the
landlord.  "You come from the palace?"

"Yes," briefly, as a lad led away their horses.

"And have done well?  Reaped a harvest from the merry lords and ladies?"

"There were many others there for that purpose," returned the jester,
following the proprietor to the door of the hostelry.

"True.  Still I'll warrant your fair companion cozened the silver
pieces from the pockets of the gentry."  And, smiling knowingly, he
ushered them into the principal living room of the tavern.

It was a smoke-begrimed apartment, with tables next to the wall, and
rough chairs and benches for the guests.  Heavy pine rafters spanned
the ceiling; the floor was sprinkled with sand; from a chain hung a
wrought-iron frame for candles.  Upon a shelf a row of battered
tankards, suggesting many a bout, shone dully, like a line of war-worn
troopers, while a great pewter pitcher, the worse for wear, commanded
the disreputable array.

In this room was gathered a nondescript company: mountebanks and
buffoons; rogues unclassified, drinking and dicing; a robust vagrant,
at whose feet slept a performing boar, with a ring--badge of
servitude--through its nose; a black-bearded, shaggy-haired Spanish
troubadour, with attire so ragged and worn as to have lost its
erstwhile picturesque characteristics.  This last far from
prepossessing worthy half-started from his seat upon the appearance of
fool and jestress; stared at them, and then resumed his place and the
ballad he had been singing:

  "Within the garden of Beaucaire
  He met her by a secret stair,
  Said Aucassin, 'My love, my pet,
  These old confessors vex me so!
  They threaten all the pains of hell
  Unless I give you up, _ma belle_,'--
  Said Aucassin to Nicolette."


Watching the nimble fingers of the shabby minstrel with pitiably
childish expression of amusement, a half-imbecile morio leaned upon the
table.  His huge form, for he was a giant among stalwart men, and his
great moon-shaped head made him at once an object hideous and miserable
to contemplate.  But the poor creature seemed unaware of his own
deformities, and smiled contentedly and patted the table caressingly to
the sprightly rhythm.

Gazing upon this choice assemblage, the _plaisant_ was vaguely
conscious that some of the curious and uncommon faces seemed familiar,
and the picture of the Franciscan monk whom they had overtaken on the
road recurred to him, together with the misgivings he had experienced
upon parting from that canting knave.  He half-expected to see Nanette;
to hear her voice, and was relieved that the gipsy on this occasion did
not make one of the unwonted gathering.  The landlord, observing the
fool's discriminating gaze, and reading something of what was passing
in his mind, reassuringly motioned the new-comers to an unoccupied
corner, and by his manner sought to allay such mistrust as the
appearance of his guests was calculated to inspire.

"We have to take those that come," he said, deprecatorily.  "The
rascals have money.  It is as good as any lord's.  Besides, whate'er
they do without, here must they behave.  And--for their credit--they
are docile as children; ruled by the cook's ladle.  You will find that,
though there be ill company, you will partake of good fare.  If I say
it myself, there's no better master of the flesh pots outside of Paris
than at this hostelry.  The rogues eat as well as the king's gentlemen.
Feasting, then fasting, is their precept."

"At present we have a leaning for the former, good host," carelessly
answered the fool.  "Though the latter will, no doubt, come later."

"For which reason it behooves a man to eat, drink and be merry while he
may," retorted the other.  "What say you to a carp on the spit, with
shallots, and a ham boiled with pistachios?"

"The ham, if it be ready.  Our appetites are too sharp to wait for the
fish."

"Then shall you have with it a cold teal from the marshes, and I'll
warrant such a repast as you have not tasted this many a day.  Because
a man lives in a retired spot, it does not follow he may not be an
epicure," he went on, "and in my town days I was considered a good
fellow among gourmands."  His eyes twinkled; he studied the new-comers
a moment, and then vanished kitchenward.

His self-praise as a provider of creature comforts proved not ill
deserved; the viands, well prepared, were soon set before them; a
serving lad filled their glasses from a skin of young but sound wine he
bore beneath his arm, and, under the influence of this cheer, the young
girl's cheek soon lost its pallor.  In the past she had become
accustomed to rough as well as gentle company; so now it was disdain,
not fear, she experienced in that uncouth gathering; the same sort of
contempt she had once so openly expressed for Master Rabelais,
whipper-in for all gluttons, wine-bibbers and free-livers.

As the darkness gathered without, the merriment increased within.  Over
the scene the dim light cast an uncertain luster.  Indefatigably the
dicers pursued their pastime, with now and then an audible oath, or
muttered imprecation, which belied that docility mine host had boasted
of.  The troubadour played and the morio yet listened.  Several of a
group who had been singing now sat in sullen silence.  Suddenly one of
them muttered a broken sentence and his fellows immediately turned
their eyes toward the corner where were fool and jestress.  This ripple
of interest did not escape the young girl's attention, who said
uneasily:

"Why do those men look at us?"

"One of them spoke to the others," replied the jester.  "He called
attention to something."

"What do you suppose it was?" she asked curiously.

"_Gladius gemmatus!_" ["The jeweled sword."]

Whence came the voice?  Near the couple, in a shadow, sat a woebegone
looking man who had been holding a book so close to his eyes as to
conceal his face.  Now he permitted the volume to fall and the jester
uttered an exclamation of surprise, as he looked upon those pinched,
worn, but well-remembered features.

"The scamp-student!" he said.

Immediately the reader buried his head once more behind the book and
spoke aloud in Latin as though quoting some passage which he followed
with his finger; "Did you understand?"

"Yes," answered the _plaisant_, apparently speaking to the jestress,
whose face wore a puzzled expression.

The scamp-student laid the volume on the table.  "These men are outlaws
and intend to kill you for your jeweled sword," he continued in the
language of Horace.

"Why do you tell me this?" asked the fool in the same tongue, now
addressing directly the scholar.

"Because you spared my life once; I would serve you now."

"What's all this monk's gibberish about?" cried an angry voice, as the
master of the boar stepped toward them.

"A discussion between two scholars," readily answered the scamp-student.

"Why don't you talk in a language we understand?" grumbled the man.

"Latin is the tongue of learning," was the humble response.

"I like not the sound of it," retorted the other, as he retired.  From
a distance, however, he continued to cast suspicious glances in their
direction.  Bewildered, the girl looked from one of the alleged
controverters to the other.  Who was this starveling the jester seemed
to know?  Again were they conversing in the language of the monastery,
and their colloquy led to a conclusion as unexpected as it was
startling.

"What if we leave the inn now?" asked the jester.

"They would prevent you."

"Who is the leader?"

"The man with the boar," answered the scamp-student.  "But it is the
morio who usually kills their victims."

The jester glanced at the colossal monster, repugnant in deformity, and
then at the girl, who was tapping impatiently on the table with her
white fingers.  The fool's color came and went; what human strength
might stand against that frightful prodigy of nature?

"Is there no way to escape?" he asked.

"Alas!  I can but warn; not advise," said the scholar.  "Already the
leader suspects me."

A half-shiver ran through him.  In the presence of actual and seemingly
assured death he had appeared calm, resigned, a Socrates in
temperament; before the mere prospect of danger the apprehensive
thief-and-fugitive elements of his nature uprose.  He would meet, when
need be, the grim-visaged monster of dissolution with the dignity of a
stoic, but by habit disdained not to dodge the shadow with the
practised agility of a filcher and scamp.  So the lower part of his
moral being began to cower; he glanced furtively at the company.

"Yes; I am sure I have put my own neck in it," he muttered.  "I must
devise a way to save it.  I have it.  We must seem to quarrel."  And
rising, he closed his book deliberately.

"Fool!" he said in a sharp voice.  "Your argument is as scurvy as your
Latin.  Thou, a philosopher!  A bookless, shallow dabbler!  So I treat
you and your reasonings!"

Whereupon, with a quick gesture, he threw the dregs of his glass in the
face of the jester.  So suddenly and unexpectedly was it done, the
other sprang angrily from his seat and half drew his sword.  A moment
they stood thus, the fool with his hand menacingly upon the hilt; the
scamp-scholar continuing to confront him with undiminished volubility.

[Illustration: He threw the dregs of his glass in the face of the
jester.]

"A smatterer! an ignoramus! a dunce!" he repeated in high-pitched tones
to the amusement of the company.

"Make a ring for the two monks, my masters," cried the man with the
boar.  "Then let each state his case with bludgeon or dagger."

"With bludgeon or dagger!" echoed the excited voice of the morio, whose
appearance had undergone a transformation.  The indescribable vacancy
with which he had listened to the minstrel was replaced by an
expression of revolting malignity.

The jestress half-arose, her face once more white, her dark eyes
fastened on the fool.  But the latter, realizing the purpose of the
affront, and the actual service the scamp-student had rendered him,
unexpectedly thrust back his blade.

"I'll not fight a puny bookworm," he said, and resumed his seat,
although his cheek was flushed.

"You bear a brave sword, fool, for one so loath to draw," sneered the
master of the boar.

Disappointed at this tame outcome of an affair which had so spirited a
beginning, the company, with derisive scoffing and muttered sarcasm,
resumed their places; all save the morio, who stood glaring upon the
jester.

"Stab! stab!" he muttered through his dry lips, and at that moment the
troubadour played a few chords on his instrument.  The passion faded
from the creature's face; quietly he turned and sought the chair
nearest to the minstrel.

"Sing, master," he said.

"_Diable_, thou art an insatiable monster!" grumbled the troubadour.

"Insatiable," smilingly repeated the strange being.

  "If you went also, _ma douce miette_!
  The joys of heaven I'd forego
  To have you with me there below,'--
  Said Aucassin to Nicolette."

softly sang the troubadour.

Over the gathering a marked constraint appeared to fall.  More soberly
the men shook their dice; the scamp-student took up his book, but even
Horace seemed not to absorb his undivided attention; a mountebank
attempted several tricks, but failed to amuse his spectators.  The
candles, burning low, began to drip, and the servant silently replaced
them.  Beneath lowering brows the master of the boar moodily regarded
the young girl, whose face seemed cold and disdainful in the flickering
light.  The _plaisant_ addressed a remark to her, but she did not
answer, and silently he watched the shadow on the floor, of the
chandelier swinging to and fro, like a waving sword.

"Will you have something more, good fool?" said the insinuating and
unexpected voice of the host at the _plaisant's_ elbow.

"Nothing."

"You were right not to draw," continued the boniface with a sharp look.
"What could a jester do with the blade?  I'll warrant you do not know
how to use it?"

"Nay," answered the fool; "I know how to use it not--and save my neck."

Mine host nodded approvingly.  "Ha! a merry fellow," he said.  "Come;
drink again.  'Twill make you sleep."

"I have better medicine than that," retorted the jester, and yawned.

"Ah, weariness.  I'll warrant you'll rest like a log," he added, as he
moved away.

At that some one who had been listening laughed, but the fool did not
look up.  A great clock began to strike with harsh clangor and
Jacqueline suddenly arose.  At the same time the minstrel, stretching
his arms, strolled to the door and out into the open air.

"Good-night, mistress," said the harsh voice of the master of the boar,
as his glittering eyes dwelt upon her graceful figure.

The girl responded coldly, and, amid a hush from the company, made her
way to the stairs, which she slowly mounted, preceded by the lad who
had waited upon them, and followed by the jester.

"A craven fellow for so trim a maid," continued he of the boar, as they
disappeared.  "She has eyes like friar's lanterns.  What a decoy she'd
make for the lords in Paris!"

"Yes," assented the landlord, "a pitfall to pill 'em and poll 'em."

At the end of the passage the guide of jestress and fool paused before
a door.  "Your room, mistress," he said.  "And yonder is yours, Master
Jester."  Then placing the candle on a stand and vouchsafing no further
words, he shuffled off in the darkness, leaving the two standing there.

"Lock your door this night, Jacqueline," whispered the fool.

"You submit over-easily to an affront," was her scornful retort,
turning upon the jester.

"Perhaps," he replied, phlegmatically.  "Yet forget not the bolt."

"It were more protection than you are apt to prove," she answered, and,
quickly entering the room closed hard the door.

A moment he stood in indecision; then rapped lightly.

"Jacqueline," he said, in a low voice.

There was no answer.

"Jacqueline!"

The bolt shot sharply into place, fastening the door.  No other
response would she make, and the jester, after waiting in vain for her
to speak, turned and made his way to his own chamber, adjoining hers.

Weary as the young girl was, she did not retire at once, but going to
the window, threw wide open the blinds.  Bright shone the moon, and,
leaning forth, she gazed upon clearing and forest sleeping beneath the
soft glamour.  A beautiful, yet desolate scene, with not a living
object visible--yes, one, and she suddenly drew back, for there,
motionless in the full light, and gazing steadfastly toward her room,
stood a figure in whom she recognized the Spanish troubadour.



CHAPTER XX

AN UNEQUAL CONFLICT

Surveying his room carefully in the dim light of a candle, the fool
discovered he stood in a small apartment, with a single window, whose
barren furnishings consisted of a narrow couch, a chair and a massive
wardrobe.  Unlike the chamber assigned to Jacqueline, the door was
without key or bolt; a significant fact to the jester, in view of the
warning he had received.  Nor was it possible to move wardrobe or bed,
the first being too heavy and the last being screwed to the floor, had
the occupant desired to barricade himself from the anticipated danger
without.  A number of suspicious stains enhanced the gruesome character
of the room, and as these appeared to lead to the wardrobe, the jester
carried his investigation to a more careful survey of that imposing
piece of furniture.  Opening the door, although he could not find the
secret of the mechanism, the fool concluded that the floor of this
ponderous wooden receptacle was a trap through which the body of the
victim could be secretly lowered.

This brief exploration of his surroundings occupied but a few moments,
and then, after blowing out the candle and heaping the clothes together
on the bed into some resemblance of a human figure lying there, the
jester drew his sword and softly crept down the passage toward the
stairs, at the head of which he paused and listened.  He could hear the
voices and see the shadows of the men below, and, with beating heart,
descended a few steps that he might catch what they were saying.
Crouching against the wall, with bated breath, he heard first the
landlord's tones.

"Well, rogues, what say you to another sack of wine?" asked the host,
cheerily.

"It will serve--while we wait," ominously answered the master of the
boar.

"Haven't we waited long enough?" said an impatient voice.

"Tut! tut! young blood," growled another, reprovingly.  "Would you
disturb him at his prayers?"

"The landlord is right," spoke up the leader.  "We have the night
before us.  Bring the wine."

In stentorian tones the host called the serving-man, and soon from the
clinking of cups, the clearing of throats, and the exclamations of
satisfaction, foully expressed, the listening jester knew that the skin
had been circulated and the tankards filled.  One man even began to
sing again an equivocal song, but was stopped by a warning imprecation
to which he ill-naturedly responded with a half-defiant curse.

"Knaves! knaves!" cried the reproachful voice of the landlord.  "Can
you not drink together like honest men?"

This mild expostulation of the host seemed not without its effect, for
the impending quarrel passed harmlessly away.

"Where, think you, he got the sword?" asked one of the gathering,
reverting to the enterprise in hand.

"Stole it, most likely," replied the leader.  "It is booty from the
palace."

"And therefore is doubly fair spoils," laughed another.

"Remember, rogues," interrupted the host, "one-third is my allotted
portion.  Else we fall out."

"Art so solicitous, thou corpulent scrimp!" grumbled he of the boar.
"Have you not always had the hulking share?  Pass the wine!"

"Foul names break no bones," laughed the host.  "You were always a
churlish, ungentle knave.  There's the wine, an it's not better than
your temper, beshrew me for the enemy of true hospitality.  But to show
I am none such, here's something to sup withal; prime head of calf.
Bolt and swig, as ye will."

The rattle of dishes and the play of forks succeeded this good-natured
suggestion.  It was truly evident mine host commanded the good will and
the services of the band by appealing to their appetites.  An esculent
roast or pungent stew was his cure for uprising or rebellion; a
high-seasoned ragout or fricassee became a sovereign remedy against
treachery or defection.  He could do without them, for knaves were
plentiful, but they could not so easily dispense with this fat master
of the board who had a knack in turning his hand at marvelous and
savory messes, for which he charged such full reckoning that his third
of the spoils, augmented by subsequent additions, was like to become
all.

A wave of anger against this unwieldy hypocrite and well-fed malefactor
swept over the jester.  The man's assumed heartiness, his manner of
joviality and good-fellowship, were only the mask of moral turpitude
and blackest purpose.  But for the lawless scholar, the fool would
probably have retired to his bed with full confidence in the probity
and honesty of the greatest delinquent of them all.

"What shall we do with the girl?" asked one of the outlaws,
interrupting this trend of thought in the listener's mind.

"Serve her the same as the fool," answered the landlord, carelessly.

"But she's a handsome wench," retorted the leader, thoughtfully.
"Straight as a poplar; eyes like a sloe.  With the boar and the jade, I
should do well, when I become tired resting here."

"If she's as easily tamed as the boar?" suggested the host,
significantly.

"Devil take me, if her nails are as long as his tusks," retorted the
follow, with a coarse laugh.

"An I had a hostelry in town, she could bait the nobles thither,"
commented the host, thoughtfully.

"Give her to the scamp-student," remarked the fellow who had first
spoken.

"Nay, since Nanette ran off with a street singer and left me
spouseless, I have made a vow of celibacy," hastily answered the piping
voice of the lank scholar.

A series of loud guffaws greeted the scamp-student's declaration, while
the subsequent rough humor of the knaves made the listener's cheek burn
with indignation.  Yet forced to listen he was, knowing that the
slightest movement on his part would quickly seal the fate of himself
and the young girl.  But every fiber of his being revoked against that
ribald talk; he bit his lip hard, hearing her name bandied about by
miscreants and wretches of the lowest type, and even welcomed a
startling change in the discourse, occasioned by the leader.

"Enough, rogues.  We must settle with the jester first.  Afterward, it
will be time enough to deal with the maid.  Hast done feeding and
tippling yet, morio?"

"Yes, master," said the suspiciously muffled voice of the imbecile.

"Here's the knife then.  You shall have another tankard when you come
back."

"Another tankard!" muttered the creature.

At these significant words, knowing that the crucial moment had come,
the jester retreated rapidly, and, making his way down the passage,
stood in a dark corner near his room.  As of one accord the voices
ceased below; a heavy creaking announced the approach of the morio;
nearer and nearer, first on the stairs, then in the upper corridor.
From where he remained concealed the fool dimly discerned the figure of
the would-be assassin.

At the door of the jestress' room it paused.  The fool lifted his
blade; the form passed on.  Before the chamber of the _plaisant_ its
movements became more stealthy; it bent and listened.  Should the
jester spring upon it now?  A strange loathing made him hesitate, and,
before he had time to carry his purpose into execution, the creature,
throwing aside further pretense of caution, swung back the door and
launched himself across the apartment.  A heavy blow, swiftly followed
by another; afterward, the stillness of death.

Every moment the jester expected an outcry; the announcement of the
fruitlessness of the attack, but the morio made no sound.  The silence
became oppressive; the _plaisant_ felt almost irresistibly impelled
toward that terrible chamber, when with heavy, lumbering step, the
creature reappeared, traversed the hall like a huge automaton and
mechanically descended the stairs.  Recovering from his surprise, the
fool again resumed his position commanding the scene below, and
breathlessly awaited the sequel to the singular pantomime he had
witnessed.

"Well, is it done?" asked the harsh voice of the master of the boar.

"Yes; done!" was the submissive answer.

"Good!  Now to get the sword."

"Not so fast," broke in the landlord.  "Do you kill, morio, without
drawing blood?  Look at his dagger."

The leader took the blade, examined it, and then began to call down
curses on the head of the imbecile monster.  "Clean, save for a thread
of cotton," he cried angrily.  "You never went near him."

"Yes, yes, master!" replied the creature, eagerly.

"Then, perhaps, you strangled him?" suggested the man.

"No; stab! stab!" reiterated the morio, in an almost imploring tone,
shrinking from the glances cast upon him.

"Bah!  You stabbed the bed, fool; not the man," roughly returned the
other.  "The rogue has guessed our purpose and left the room," he
continued, addressing the others.  "But he's skulking somewhere.  Well,
knaves, here's a little coursing for us all.  Up with you, morio, and
find him.  Perhaps, though, he may prefer to come down."  And the
leader called out: "Give yourself up, rascal, or it will be the worse
for you."

To this paradoxical threat no answer was returned.  Standing in the
shadow at the head of the stairs, the jester only gripped tighter the
hilt of the coveted sword, while across his vision flashed the picture
of the young girl, left helpless, alone!  What mercy would they show?
The coarse words of the master of the boar and the gibing, loose
responses of the company recurred to him, and, setting his jaw firmer,
the plaisant peered, with gleaming eyes, down into the semi-gloom.

"You won't answer?" cried the leader, after a short interval.  "Smell
him out then, rogues."

Knife in hand, the others at his heels, the morio slowly made his way
up the stairs.  Goaded by the taunts of the outlaws, his face was
distorted with ferocity; through his lips came a fierce, sibilant
breathing; in the dim light his colossal figure and enormous head
seemed in no wise human, but rather a murderous phantasm.  With head
rolling from side to side, stabbing in the air with his knife, he
continued to approach,--an object calculated to strike terror into any
breast.

"Oh! oh!" murmured a voice behind the jester, and, turning, he saw
Jacqueline.  Disturbed by the tumult and the loud voices, the jestress
had left her room to learn the cause of the unusual din, and now, with
her dark hair a cloud around her, stood gazing fearfully over the
fool's shoulder.

At the sound of the young girl's voice, so near, the _plaisant's_ hand,
which for the moment had been unsteady, became suddenly steel.  Almost
impatiently he awaited the coming of the morio; at last he drew near,
but, as if instinctively realizing the presence of danger, paused, his
arm ceasing to strike, but remaining stationary in the air.

"Go on!" impatiently shouted those behind him.

At the command the creature sprang forward furiously, when the sword of
the jester shot out; once, twice!  From the morio's grip fell the
dagger; over his face the lust for killing was replaced by a look of
surprise; with a single moan, he threw both arms on high, and,
tottering like an oak, the monster fell backward with a crash, carrying
with him the rogues behind.  Imprecations, threats and cries of pain
ensued; several knaves went limping away from the struggling group; one
lay prostrate as the morio himself; the master of the boar rubbed his
shoulder, anathematizing roundly the cause of the disaster.

"I think my arm's put out!" he said.  "Is the creature dead?" he added,
viciously.

"Dead as a herring," answered the landlord, bending over the motionless
figure.

"Beshrew me, I thought the jester was a craven," growled he of the
boar.  "What does it mean?"

"That he saw the snare and spread another," replied the host.

"Go back to your room, mistress," whispered the plaisant to the young
girl, "and lock yourself in."

"Nay; I'll not leave you," she replied.  "Do you think they will
return?" she added in a voice she strove to make firm.

"I am certain of it.  Go, I beg you--to your window and call out.  It
is a slender hope, but the best we have.  Fear not; I can hold the
stairs yet a while."

A moment she hesitated, then glided away.  At the same time he of the
boar grasped a sword in his left hand, and, with his right hanging
useless, rushed up the stairs.

"Oh, there you are, my nimble wit-cracker!" he cried, as the jester
stepped boldly out.  "'Twas a pretty piece of foolery you played on the
monster and us, but quip for quirk, my merry wag!"  And, so speaking,
he directed a violent thrust which, had it taken effect, would, indeed,
have made good the leader's threat.

But the _plaisant_ stepped aside, the blow grazed his shoulder, while
his own blade, by a rapid counter, passed through the throat of his
antagonist.  With a shriek, the blood gushing from the wound, the
master of the boar fell lifeless on the stairs, his sword clattering
downward.  At that gruesome sight, his fellows paused irresolute, and,
seeing their indecision, the jester rushed headlong upon them, striking
fiercely, when their hesitation turned into panic and the knaves fairly
fled.  Below, the irate landlord stamped and fumed, cuffing and
striking as he moved among them with threats and abuse.

"White-livered varlets!  Pigeon-hearted rogues!  Unmanned by a motley
fool!  A witling the lords beat with their slippers!  Because of a
chance blow against an imbecile, or a disabled man, you hesitate.  A
fig for them!  What if they be dead?  The spoil will be the greater for
the rest."

Thus exhorted, the knaves once more took heart and gathered for the
attack.  Glaves were provided for those in front, and the _plaisant_
waited, grimly determined, yet liking little the aspect of those
terrible weapons and feeling the end of the unequal contest was not far
distant, when a light hand was laid on his arm.

"Follow me quickly," said Jacqueline.  "We may yet escape.  Don't
question me, but come!" she went on hurriedly.

Impressed by her earnestness, the jester, after a moment's hesitation,
obeyed.  She led him to her room, closed and locked the door--but not
before a scampering of feet and sound of voices told them the rogues
had gained the upper passage--and drew him hastily to the window.

"See," she said eagerly.  "A ladder!"

"And at the foot of the ladder, our horses!" he exclaimed, in surprise.
"Who has done this?"

Her response was interrupted by a hand at their door and a clamor
without, followed by heavy blows.

"Quick, Jacqueline!" he cried, and helped her to the long ladder, set,
as it seemed, providentially against the wall.

"Can you do it?" he asked, yet holding her hand.  Her eyes gave him
answer, and he released her, watching her descend.

The door quivered beneath the general onslaught of the now exultant
outlaws, and, as a glave shattered the panel the jester threw himself
over the casement.  A deafening hubbub ensued; the door suddenly gave
way, and the band rushed into the room.  At the same time the
_plaisant_ ran down the ladder and sprang to the ground at the young
girl's side.  From above came exclamations of wonder and amazement,
mingled with invective.

"They're gone!" cried one.

"Here they are!" exclaimed another, looking down from the window.

The jester at once seized the means of descent, but not before the man
who had discovered them was on the upper rounds; a quick effort on the
fool's part, and ladder and rogue toppled over together.  The
enterprising knave lay motionless where he fell.

"_Vrai Dieu_!  He wanted to come down," said an approving voice.

Turning, the jester beheld the Spanish troubadour, who was composedly
engaged in placing bundles of straw against the wall of the inn.

"I don't think he'll bother you any more," continued the minstrel in
his deep tones.  "If you'll ride down the road, I'll join you in a
moment."

So saying, he knelt before the combustible accumulation he had been
diligently heaping together and struck a spark which, seizing on the
dry material, immediately kindled into a great flame.

"What are you doing, villain?" roared the landlord from the window,
discovering the forks of fire, already leaping and crackling about the
tavern.

"Only making a bonfire of a foul nest," lightly answered the minstrel,
standing back as though to admire his handiwork.  "Your vile hostelry
burns well, my dissembling host."

"Hell-dog! varlet!" screamed the proprietor, overwhelmed with
consternation.

"Is it thus you greet your guests?" replied the troubadour, throwing
another bundle of straw upon the already formidable conflagration.
"You were not wont to be so discourteous, my prince of bonifaces."

But recovering from his temporary stupor, the landlord, without reply,
disappeared from the window.

"Now may we safely leave the flames to the wind," commented the
minstrel, as he sprang upon a small nag which had been fastened to a
shed near by.  "As we have burned the roof over our heads," he
continued, addressing the wondering jester and his companion, who had
already mounted and were waiting, "let us seek another hostelry."

Swiftly the trio rode forth from the tavern yard, out into the moonlit
road.

"Not so quickly, my friends," commented the troubadour.  "As I fastened
the doors and blinds without, we may proceed leisurely, for it will be
some time before mine host and his friends can batter their way from
the inn.  Besides, it goes against the grain to run so precipitously
from my fire.  Such a beautiful _auto da fé_, as we say in Spain."

"Who are you, sir?" asked the fool.

The minstrel laughed, and answered in his natural voice.

"Don't you know me, _mon ami_?" he said, gaily.  "What a jest this will
be at court?  How it will amuse the king--"

"Caillette!" exclaimed the _plaisant_, loudly.  "Caillette!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE DESERTED HUT

"Himself!" laughed the minstrel.  "Did I not tell you I should become a
Spanish troubadour?"  Then, reaching out his hand, he added seriously:
"Right pleased am I to meet you.  But how came you here?"

"I have fled from the keep of the old castle, where I lay charged with
heresy," answered the jester, returning the hearty grip.

"The keep!" exclaimed Caillette in surprise.  "You are fortunate not to
have been brought to trial," he added, thoughtfully.  "Few get through
that seine, and his Holiness, the pope, I understand, has ordered the
meshes made yet smaller."

They had paused on the brow of a hill, commanding the view of road and
tavern.  Dazed, the young girl had listened to the greeting between the
two men.  This ragged, beard-begrown troubadour, the graceful, elegant
Caillette of Francis' court?  It seemed incredible.  At the same time,
through her mind passed the memory of the _plaisant's_ reiterated
exclamation in prison: "Caillette--in Spain!"--words she had attributed
to fever, not imagining they had any foundation in fact.

But now this unexpected encounter abruptly dispelled her first
supposition and opened a new field for speculation.  Certainly had he
been on a mission of some kind, somewhere, but what his errand she
could not divine.  A diplomat in tatters, serving a fellow-jester.
Fools had oft intruded themselves in great events ere this, but not
those who wore the motley; heretofore had the latter been content with
the posts of entertainers, leaving to others the more precarious
offices of intrigant.

But if she was surprised at Caillette's unexpected presence and
disguise, that counterfeit troubadour had been no less amazed to see
her, the joculatrix of the princess, in the mean garb of a wayside
_ministralissa_, wandering over the country like one born to the
nomadic existence.  That she had a nature as free as air and the spirit
of a gipsy he well believed, but that she would forego the security of
the royal household for the discomforts and dangers of a vagrant life
he could not reconcile to that other part of her character which he
knew must shrink from the actualities of the straggler's lot.  He had
watched her at the inn; how she held herself; how she was a part of,
and yet apart from, that migratory company; and what he had seen had
but added to his curiosity.

"Have you left the court, mistress?" he now asked abruptly.

"Yes," she answered, curtly.

Caillette gazed at her and her eyes fell.  Then put out with herself
and him, she looked up boldly.

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Why not, indeed?" he repeated, gently, although obviously wondering.

The constraint that ensued between them was broken by a new aspect of
the distant conflagration.  Fanned by the breeze, the flames had
ignited the thatched roof of the hostelry and fiery forks shot up into
the sky, casting a fierce glow over the surrounding scene.  Through the
glare, many birds, unceremoniously routed from their nests beneath the
eaves, flew distractedly.  Before the tavern, now burning on all sides,
could be distinguished a number of figures, frantically running hither
and thither, while above the crackling of the flames and the clamorous
cries of the birds was heard the voice of the proprietor, alternately
pleading with the knaves to save the tavern and execrating him who had
applied the torch.

"_Cap de Dieu_! the landlord will snare no more travelers," said
Caillette.  "My horse had become road-worn and perforce I had tarried
there sufficient while to know the company and the host.  When you
walked in with this fair maid, I could hardly believe my eyes.  'Twas a
nice trap, and the landlord an unctuous fellow for a villain.  Assured
that you could not go out as you came, I e'en prepared a less
conventional means of exit."

He had scarcely finished this explanation when, with a shower of sparks
and a mighty crash, the heavy roof fell.  A lambent flame burst from
the furnace; grew brighter, until the clouds became rose-tinted; a
glory as brilliant as short-lived, for soon the blaze subsided, the
glow swiftly faded, and the sky again darkened.

"It is over," murmured Caillette; and, as they touched their horses,
leaving the smoldering ruins behind them, he added: "But how came the
scamp-student to serve you?  I was watching closely, and listening,
too; so caught how 'twas done."

"I spared his life once," answered the jester.

"And he remembered?  'Tis passing strange from such a rogue.  A clever
device, to warn you in Latin that his friends intended to kill one or
both of you for the jeweled sword."

"Why," spoke up the young girl, her attention sharply arrested, "was it
not a mere discussion of some kind?  And--the quarrel?"

"A pretense on the rogue's part to avert the suspicion of the master of
the boar.  I could but marvel"--to the jester--"at your forbearance."

"I fear me Jacqueline had the right to a poor opinion of her squire,"
replied the duke's fool.  "Nor do I blame her," he laughed, "in
esteeming a stout bolt more protection than a craven blade."

But the girl did not answer.  Through her brain flashed the
recollection of her cold disdain; her scornful words; her abrupt
dismissal of the jester at her door.  Weighing what she had said and
done with what he had not said and done, she turned to him quickly,
impulsively.  Through the semi-darkness she saw the smile around his
mouth and the quizzical look with which he was regarding her.
Whereupon her courage failed.  She bit her lip and remained silent.
They had now passed the brow of the hill; on each side of the highway
the forests parted wider and wider, and the thoroughfare was bathed in
a white light.

As they rode along on this clearly illumined highway, Caillette glanced
interrogatively at the _plaisant_.  The outcome of his journey--should
he speak now?  Or later--when they were alone?  Heretofore neither had
made reference to it; Caillette, perhaps, because his mind had been
surprised into another train of thought by this unexpected encounter;
the duke's fool because the result of the journey was no longer
momentous.  Since the other had left, conditions were different.  The
good-natured scoffing and warnings of his fellow-jester had proved not
unwarranted.

The answer of the duke's fool to his companion's glance was a direct
inquiry.

"You found the emperor?" he said.

"Yes; and presented your message with some misgiving."

"And did he treat it with the scant consideration you expected?"

"On the contrary.  His Majesty read it not once, but twice, and changed
color."

"And then?"

The narrator paused and furtively surveyed the jestress.  Her face was
pale, emotionless; as they sped on, she seemed riding through no
volition of her own, the while she was vaguely conscious of the
dialogue of her companions.

"Whatever magic your letter contained," resumed Caillette, "it seemed
convincing to Charles.  'My brother Francis must be strangely credulous
to be so cozened by an impostor,' quoth he, with a gleam of humor in
his gaze."

"Impostor!"  It was the young girl who spoke, interrupting, in her
surprise, the troubadour's story.

"You did not know, mistress?" said Caillette.

"No," she answered, and listened the closer.

"When I left, two messages the emperor gave me," went on the other;
"one for the king, the other for you."  And taking from his doublet a
document, weighted with a ponderous disk, the speaker handed it to the
duke's fool, who silently thrust it in his breast.  "Moreover,
unexpectedly, but as good fortune would have it, his Majesty was even
then completing preparations for a journey through France to the
Netherlands, owing to unlooked-for troubles in that part of his
domains, and had already despatched his envoys to the king.  Charles
assured me that he would still further hasten his intended visit to the
Low Countries and come at once.  Meanwhile his communication to the
king"--tapping his breast--"will at least delay the nuptials, and, with
the promise of the emperor's immediate arrival, the marriage can not
occur."

"It has occurred," said the jester.

The other uttered a quick exclamation.  "Then have I failed in my
errand," he muttered, blankly.  "But the king--had he no suspicion?"

"It was through the Countess d'Etampes the monarch was led to change
the time for the festivities," spoke up Jacqueline, involuntarily.

"She!" exclaimed the poet, with a gesture of half-aversion.  For some
time they went on without further words; then suddenly Caillette drew
rein.

"This news makes it the more necessary I should hasten to the king," he
said.  "The emperor's message--Francis should receive it at once.
Here, therefore, must I leave you.  Or, why do you not return with
me?"--addressing the jester.  "The letter from Charles will exonerate
you and Francis will reward you in proportion to the injuries you have
suffered.  What say you, mistress?"

"That I will never go back," she answered, briefly, and looked away.

Caillette's perplexity was relieved by the _plaisant_.  "Farewell, if
you must leave," said the latter.  "We meet again, I trust."

"The fates willing," returned the poet.  "Farewell, and good fortune go
with you both."  And wheeling abruptly, he rode slowly back.  The
jester and the girl watched him disappear over the road they had come.

"A true friend," said the _plaisant_, as Caillette vanished in the
gloom.

"You regret not returning with him, perhaps?" she observed quickly.
"Honors and offices of preferment are not plentiful."

"I want none of them from Francis," he returned, as they started slowly
on their way.

The road before them descending gradually, passed through a gulch,
where the darkness was greater, and such light as sifted through the
larch and poplar trees rested in variable spots on the earth.  Overhead
the somber obscurity appeared touched with a veil of shimmer or sheen
like diamond dust floating through the mask of night.  Their horses but
crept along; the girl bent forward wearily; heretofore the excitement
and danger had sustained her, but now the reaction from all she had
endured bore down upon her.  She thought of calling to the fool; of
craving the rest she so needed; but a feeling of pride, or constraint,
held her silent.  Before her the shadows danced illusively; the film of
brightness changed and shifted; then all glimmering and partial shade
were swallowed up in a black chasm.

Riding near, the jester observed her form sway from side to side, and
spurred forward.  In a moment he had clasped her waist, then lifted her
from the saddle and held her before him.

"Jacqueline!" he cried.

She offered no resistance; her head remained motionless on his breast.
Sedulously he bent over her; the warm breath reassured him; tired
nature had simply succumbed.  Irresolute he paused, little liking the
sequestered gulch for a resting-place; divining the prickly thicket and
almost impenetrable brushwood that lined the road.  An unhealthy miasma
seemed to ascend from below and clog the air; through the tangle of
forest, phosphorus gleamed and glowworms flitted here and there.

Gathering the young form gently to him, the jester rode slowly on, and
the horse of his companion followed.  So he went, he knew not how long;
listening to her breathing that came, full and deep; half-fearing,
half-wondering at that relaxation.  For the first time he forgot about
the emperor and his purpose; the free baron and the desires of sweet
avengement.  He thought only of her he held; how courageous yet alone
she was in the world; how she had planned the service which won her the
right to his protection; her flight from Francis--but where?  To whom
could she go?  To whom could she turn?  Unconscious she lay in his arms
in that deep sleep, or heavy inertia following exhaustion, her pale
face against his shoulder; and as the young _plaisant_ bent over her
his heart thrilled with protecting tenderness.

"Why, what other maid," he thought, "would ride on until she dropped?
Would meet discomfort at every turn with a jest or a merry stave?"

And, but for him, whom else had she?  This young girl, had she not
become his burden of responsibility; his moral obligation?  For the
first time he seemed to realize how the fine tendrils of her nature had
touched his; touched and clung, ever so gently but fast.  Her fine
scorn for dissimulation; her answering integrity; the true adjustment
of her instinct--all had been revealed to him under the test of
untoward circumstances.

He saw her, too, secretly and silently cherishing a new faith in her
bosom, amid a throng, lax and infirm of purpose, and wonderment gave
way to another emotion, as his mind leaped from that past, with its
covert, inner life, to the untrammeled moment when she had thrown off
the mask in the solitude of the forest.  Had some deeper chord of his
nature been struck then?  Their aspirations of a kindred hope had
mingled in the majestic psalm; a larger harmony, remote from roundelay,
or sparkling cadenza, that drew him to this Calvin maid.  A solemn
earnestness fell upon his spirits; the starlight bathed his brow, and
he found the mystery of the night and nature inexplicably beautiful.

Afar the bell of some wanderer from the herd tinkled drowsily, arousing
him from his reverie.  The horses were ascending; the road emerged into
a plain, set with bracken and gorse, with here and there a single tree,
whose inclining trunk told of storms braved for many seasons.  Near the
highway, in the shadow of a poplar, stood a shepherd's hut, apparently
deserted and isolated from human kind.  The fool reined the horse,
which for some time had been moving painfully, and at that abrupt
cessation of motion the jestress looked up with a start.

Meeting his eyes, at first she did not withdraw her own; questioningly,
her bewildered gaze encountered his; then, with a quick movement, she
released herself from his arm and sprang to the ground.  He, too,
immediately dismounted.  She felt very wide-awake now, as though the
sudden consciousness of that encircling grasp, or something in his
glance before she slipped from him, had startled away the torpor of
somnolence.

"You fainted, or fell asleep, mistress," he said, quietly.

"Yes--I remember--in the gorge."

"It was impossible to stop there, so--I rode on.  But here, in this
shepherd's hut, we may find shelter."

And turning the horses, he would have led them to the door, but the
animals held back; then stood stock-still.  Striding to the hut, the
jester stepped in, but quickly sprang to one side, and as he did so
some creature shot out of the door and disappeared in the gloom.

"A wolf!" exclaimed the _plaisant_.

Entering the hut once more, he struck a light.  In a corner lay furze
and firewood, and from this store he drew, heaping the combustible
material on the hearth, until a cheering blaze fairly illumined the
worn and dilapidated interior.  Near the fireplace were a pot and
kettle, whose rusted appearance bespoke long disuse; but a trencher and
porridge spoon on a stool near by seemed waiting the coming of the
master.  A couch of straw had been the lonely shepherd's bed--and later
the lodgment of his enemy, the wolf.  Above it, on the wall, hung a
small crucifix of wood.  For the fugitives this mean abode appeared no
indifferent shelter, and it was with satisfaction the jester arranged a
couch for the girl, before the fire, a rude pallet, yet--

"Here you may rest, Jacqueline, without fear of being disturbed again
this night," he said.

She sank wearily upon the straw; then gave him her hand gratefully.
Her face looked rosy in the reflection from the hearth; a comforting
sense of warmth crept over her as she lay in front of the blaze; her
eyes were languorous with the luxury of the heat after a chilling ride.
Drawing the cloak to her chin, she smiled faintly.  Was it at his
solicitude?  He noticed how her hair swept from the saddle pillowing
her head, to the earth; and, sitting there on the stool, wondering,
perhaps, at its abundance, or half-dreaming, he forgot he yet held her
hand.  Gently she withdrew it, and he started; then, realizing how he
had been staring at her, with somewhat vacant gaze, perhaps, but
fixedly, he made a motion to rise, when her voice detained him.

"Why did you not tell me it was not a discussion with the
scamp-student?" she asked.  "Why did you let me imagine that you--"
Her eyes said the rest.  "You should not have permitted me to--to think
it," she reiterated.

He was silent.  She closed her eyes; but in a moment her lashes
uplifted.  Her glance flashed once more upon him.

"And I should not have thought it," she said.

"Jacqueline!" he cried, starting up.

She did not answer; indeed, seemed sleeping; her face turned from him.

Through the open doorway a streak of red in the east heralded the
coming glory of the morn.  "Peep, peep," twittered a bird on the roof
of the hovel.  From the poplar it was answered by a more melodious
phrase, a song of welcome to the radiant dawn.  A moment the jester
listened, his head raised to the growing splendor of the heavens, then
threw himself on the earthen floor of the hut and was at once overcome
with sleep.



CHAPTER XXII

THE TALE OF THE SWORD

The slanting rays of the sinking sun shot athwart the valley, glanced
from the tile roofs of the homes of the peasantry, and illumined the
lofty towers of a great manorial château.  To the rider, approaching by
the road that crossed the smiling pasture and meadow lands, the edifice
set on a mount--another of Francis' transformations from the gloomy
fortress home--appeared regal and splendid, compared with the humbler
houses of the people lying prostrate before it.  Viewed from afar, the
town seemed to abase itself in the presence of the architectural
preëminence of that monarch of buildings.  Even the sun, when it
withdrew its rays from the miscellaneous rabble of shops and dwellings,
yet lingered proudly upon the noble structure above, caressing its
imposing and august outlines and surrounding it with the glamour of the
afterglow, when the sun sank to rest.

Into the little town, at the foot of the big house, rode shortly before
nightfall the jester and his companion.  During the day the young girl
had seemed diffident and constrained; she who had been all vivacity and
life, on a sudden kept silence, or when she did speak, her tongue had
lost its sharpness.  The weapons of her office, bright sarcasm and
irony, or laughing persiflage, were sheathed; her fine features were
thoughtful; her dark eyes introspective.  In the dazzling sunshine, the
memory of their ride through the gorge; the awakening at the shepherd's
hut; something in his look then, something in his accents later, when
he spoke her name while she professed to sleep--seemed, perhaps,
unreal, dream-like.

His first greeting that morning had been a swift, almost questioning,
glance, before which she had looked away.  In her face was the
freshness of dawn; the grace of spring-tide.  Overhead sang a lark; at
their feet a brook whispered; around them solitude, vast, infinite.  He
spoke and she answered; her reserve became infectious; they ate their
oaten cakes and drank their wine, each strongly conscious of the
presence of the other.  Then he rose, saddled their horses, and
assisted her to mount.  She appeared over-anxious to leave the
shepherd's hut; the jester, on the other hand, cast a backward glance
at the poplar, the hovel, the brook.  A crisp, clear caroling of birds
followed them as they turned from the lonely spot.

So they rode, pausing betimes to rest, and even then she had little to
say, save once when they stopped at a rustic bridge which spanned a
stream.  Both were silent, regarding the horses splashing in the water
and clouding its clear depths with the yellow mud from its bed.  From
the cool shadows beneath the planks where she was standing, tiny fish,
disturbed by this unwonted invasion, shot forth like darts and vanished
into the opaque patches.  Half-dreamily watching this exodus of
flashing life from covert nook and hole, she said unexpectedly:

"Who is it that has wedded the princess?"

For a moment he did not answer; then briefly related the story.

"And why did you not tell me this before?" she asked when he had
finished.

"Would you have credited me--then?" he replied, with a smile.

Quickly she looked at him.  Was there that in her eyes which to him
robbed memory of its sting?  At their feet the water leaped and
laughed; curled around the stones, and ran on with dancing bubbles.
Perhaps he returned her glance too readily; perhaps the recollection of
the ride the night before recurred over-vividly to her, for she gazed
suddenly away, and he wondered in what direction her thoughts tended,
when she said with some reserve:

"Shall we go on?"

They had not long left the brook and the bridge, when from afar they
caught sight of the regal château and the clustering progeny of
red-roofed houses at its base.  At once they drew rein.

"Shall we enter the town, or avoid it by riding over the mead?" said
the _plaisant_.

"What danger would there be in going on?" she asked.  "Whom might we
meet?"

Thoughtfully he regarded the shining towers of the royal residence.
"No one, I think," he at length replied, and they went on.

Around the town ran a great wall, with watch-towers and a deep moat,
but no person questioned their right to the freedom of the place; a
sleepy soldier at the gate merely glancing indifferently at them as
they passed beneath the heavy archway.  Gabled houses, with a tendency
to incline from the perpendicular, overlooked the winding street; dull,
round panes of glass stared at them, fraught with mystery and the
possibility of spying eyes behind; but the thoroughfare in that
vicinity appeared deserted, save for an old woman seated in a doorway.
Before this grandam, whose lack-luster eyes were fastened steadfastly
before her, the fool paused and asked the direction of the inn.

"Follow your nose, if nature gave you a straight one," cried a jeering
voice from the other side of the thoroughfare.  "If it be crooked, a
blind man and a dog were a better guide."

The speaker, a squat, misshapen figure, had emerged from a passage
turning into the street, and now stood, twirling a fool's head on a
stick and gazing impudently at the new-comers.  The crone whom the
_plaisant_ had addressed remained motionless as a statue.

"Ha! ha!" laughed the oddity who had volunteered this malapert response
to the jester's inquiry, "yonder sign-post"--pointing to the aged
dame--"has lost its fingers--or rather its ears.  Better trust to your
nose."

"Triboulet!" exclaimed Jacqueline.

"Is it you, lady-bird?" said the surprised dwarf, recognizing in turn
the maid.  "And with the _plaisant_," staring hard at the fool.  Then a
cunning look gradually replaced the wonder depicted on his features.
"You are fleeing from the court; I, toward it," he remarked, jocosely.

"What mean you, fool?" demanded the horseman, sternly.

"That I have run away from the duke, fool," answered the hunchback.
"The foreign lord dared to beat me--Triboulet--who has only been beaten
by the king.  Sooner or later must I have fled, in any event, for what
is Triboulet without the court; or the court, without Triboulet?" his
indignation merging into arrogant vainglory.

"When did you leave the--duke?" asked the other, slowly.

"Several days ago," replied the dwarf, gazing narrowly at his
questioner.  "Down the road.  He should be far away by this time."

Suspiciously the duke's jester regarded the hunchback and then glanced
dubiously toward the gate through which they had entered the town.  He
had experienced Triboulet's duplicity and malice, yet in this instance
was disposed to give credence to his story, because he doubted not that
Louis of Hochfels would make all haste out of Francis' kingdom.  Nor
did it appear unreasonable that Triboulet should pine for the
excitement of his former life; the pleasures and gaiety which prevailed
at Fools' hall.  If the hunchback's information were true, they need
now have little fear of overtaking the free baron and his following, as
not far beyond the château-town the main road broke into two parts, the
one continuing southward and the other branching off to the east.

While the horseman was thus reflecting, Triboulet, like an imp, began
to dance before them, slapping his crooked knees with his enormous
hands.

"A good joke, my master and mistress in motley," he cried.  "The king
was weak enough to exchange his dwarf for a demoiselle; the latter has
fled; the monarch has neither one nor the other; therefore is he,
himself, the fool.  And thou, mistress, art also worthy of the madcap
bells," he added, his distorted face upturned to the jestress.

"How so?" she asked, not concealing the repugnance he inspired.

"Because you prefer a fool's cap to a king's crown," he answered,
looking significantly at her companion.  "Wherein you but followed the
royal preference for head-coverings.  Ho! ho!  I saw which way the wind
blew; how the monarch's eyes kindled when they rested on you; how the
wings of Madame d'Etampes's coif fluttered like an angry butterfly.
Know you what was whispered at court?  The reason the countess pleaded
for an earlier marriage for the duke?  That the princess might leave
the sooner--and take the jestress, her maid, with her.  But the king
met her manoeuver with another.  He granted the favorite's request--but
kept the jestress."

"Silence, rogue!" commanded the duke's fool, wheeling his horse toward
the dwarf.

"And then for her to turn from a throne-room to a dungeon," went on
Triboulet, satirically, as he retreated.  "As Brusquet wrote; 'twas:

  "'_Morbleu_!  A merry monarch and a jestress fair;
  A jestress fair, I ween!'--"


But ere the hunchback could finish this scurrilous doggerel of the
court, over which, doubtless, many loose witlings had laughed, the
girl's companion placed his hand on his sword and started toward the
dwarf.  The words died on Triboulet's lips; hastily he dodged into a
narrow space between two houses, where he was safe from pursuit.
Jacqueline's face had become flushed; her lips were compressed; the
countenance of the duke's _plaisant_ seemed paler than its wont.

"Little monster!" he muttered.

But the hunchback, in his retreat, was now regarding neither the
horseman nor the young girl.  His glittering eyes, as if fascinated,
rested on the weapon of the _plaisant_.

"What a fine blade you've got there!" he said curiously.  "Much better
than a wooden sword.  Jeweled, too, by the holy bagpipe!  And a coat of
arms!"--more excitedly--"yes, the coat of arms of the great Constable
of Dubrois.  As proud a sword as that of the king.  Where did you get
it?"  And in his sudden interest, the dwarf half-ventured from his
place of refuge.

"Answer him not!" said the girl, hastily.

"Was it you, mistress, gave it him?" he asked, with a sudden, sharp
look.

Her contemptuous gaze was her only reply.

"By the dust of kings, when last I saw it, the haughty constable
himself it was who wore it," continued Triboulet.  "Aye, when he defied
Francis to his face.  I can see him now, a rich surcoat over his gilded
armor; the queen-mother, an amorous Dulcinea, gazing at him, with all
her soul in her eyes; the brilliant company startled; even the king
overawed.  'Twas I broke the spell, while the monarch and the court
were silent, not daring to speak."

"You!"  From the young woman's eyes flashed a flame of deepest hatred.

The hunchback shrank back; then laughed.  "I, Triboulet!" he boasted.
"'Ha!' said I, 'he's greater than the king!' whereupon Francis frowned,
started, and answered the constable, refusing his claim.  Not long
thereafter the constable died in Spain, and I completed the jest.
'So,' said I, 'he is less than a man.'  And the king, who remembered,
laughed."

"Let us go," said the jestress, very white.

Silently the _plaisant_ obeyed, and Triboulet once more ventured forth.
"Momus go with you!" he called out after them.  And then:

  "'_Morbleu_!  A merry monarch and a jestress fair;'"


More quickly they rode on.  Furtively, with suppressed rage in his
heart, the duke's fool regarded his companion.  Her face was cold and
set, and as his glance rested on its pale, pure outline, beneath his
breath he cursed Brusquet, Triboulet and all their kind.  He understood
now--too well--the secret of her flight.  What he had heretofore been
fairly assured of was unmistakably confirmed.  The sight of the tavern
which they came suddenly upon and the appearance of the innkeeper
interrupted this dark trend of thought, and, springing from his horse,
the jester helped the girl to dismount.

The house, being situated in the immediate proximity of the grand
château, received a certain patronage from noble lords and ladies.
This trade had given the proprietor such an opinion of his hostelry
that common folk were not wont to be overwhelmed with welcome.  In the
present instance the man showed a disposition to scrutinize too closely
the modest attire of the new-comers and the plain housings of their
chargers, when the curt voice of the jester recalled him sharply from
this forward occupation.

With a shade less of disrespect, the proprietor bade them follow him;
rooms were given them, and, in the larger of the two chambers, the
_plaisant_, desiring to avoid the publicity of the dining and tap-room,
ordered their supper to be served.

During the repast the girl scarcely spoke; the capon she hardly
touched; the claret she merely sipped.  Once when she held the glass to
her lips, he noticed her hand trembled just a little, and then, when
she set down the goblet, how it closed, almost fiercely.  Beneath her
eyes shadows seemed to gather; above them her glance shone ominously.

"Oh," she said at length, as though giving utterance to some thought,
which, pent-up, she could no longer control; "the irony; the tragedy of
it!"

"What, Jacqueline?" he asked, gently, although he felt the blood
surging in his head.

  "'_Morbleu_!  A merry monarch'--"

she began, and broke off abruptly, rising to her feet, with a gesture
of aversion, and moving restlessly across the room.  "After all these
years!  After all that had gone before!"

"What has gone before, Jacqueline?"

"Nothing," she answered; "nothing."

For some time he sat with his sword across his knees, thinking deeply.
She went to the window and looked out.  When she spoke again her voice
had regained its self-command.

"A dark night," she said, mechanically.

"Jacqueline," he asked, glancing up from the blade, "why in the crypt
that day we escaped did you pause at that monument?"

Quickly she turned, gazing at him from the half-darkness in which she
stood.

"Did you see to whom the monument was erected?" she asked in a low
voice.

"To the wife of the constable.  But what was Anne, Duchess of Dubrois,
to you?"

"She was the last lady of the castle," said the girl softly.

Again he surveyed the jeweled emblem on the sword, mocking reminder of
a glory gone beyond recall.

"And how was it, mistress, the castle was confiscated by the king?" he
continued, after a pause.

"Shall I tell you the story?" she asked, her voice hardening.

"If you will," he answered.

"Triboulet's description of the scene where the constable braved the
king, insisting on his rights, was true," she observed, proudly.

"But why had the noble wearer of this sword been deprived of his
feudality and tenure?"

"Because he was strong and great, and the king feared him; because he
was noble and handsome, and the queen-regent loved him.  It was not her
hand only, Louise of Savoy, Francis' mother, offered, but--the throne."

"The throne!" said the wondering fool.

Quickly she crossed the room and leaned upon the table.  In the glimmer
of the candles her face was soft and tender.  He thought he had never
seen a sweeter or more womanly expression.

"But he refused it," she continued, "for he loved only the memory of
his wife, Lady Anne.  She, a perfect being.  The other--what?"

On her features shone a fine contempt.

"Then followed the endless persecution and spite of a woman scorned,"
she continued, rapidly.  "One by one, his honors were wrested from him.
He who had borne the flag triumphantly through Italy was deprived of
the government of Milan and replaced by a brother of Madame de
Châteaubriant, then favorite of the king.  His castle, lands, were
confiscated, until, driven to despair, he fled and allied himself with
the emperor.  'Traitor,' they called him.  He, a Bayard."

A moment she stood, an exalted look on her features; tall, erect; then
stepped toward him and took the sword.  With a bright and radiant
glance she surveyed it; pressed the hilt to her lips, and with both
hands held it to her bosom.  As if fascinated, the fool watched her.
Her countenance was upturned; a moment, and it fell; a dark shadow
crossed it; beneath her lashes her eyes were like night.

"But he failed because Charles, the emperor, failed him," she said,
almost mechanically, "and broken in spirit, met his death miserably in
exile.  Yet his cause was just; his memory is dearer than that of a
conqueror.  She, the queen-mother, is dead; God alone may deal with
her."

More composed, she resumed her place in the chair on the other side of
the table, the sword across her arm.

"And how came you, mistress," he asked, regarding her closely, "in the
pleasure palace built by Francis?"

"When the castle was taken, all who had not fled were a gamekeeper and
his little girl--myself.  The latter"--ironically--"pleased some of the
court ladies.  They commended her wit, and gradually was she advanced
to the high position she occupied when you arrived," with a strange
glance across the board at her listener.

"And the gamekeeper--your father--is dead?"

"Long since."

"The constable had no children?"

"Yes; a girl who, it is believed, died with him in Spain."

The entrance of the servant to remove the dishes interrupted their
further conversation.  As the door opened, from below came the voices
of new-comers, the impatient call of tipplers for ale, the rattle of
dishes in the kitchen.  Wrapped in the recollections the conversation
had evoked, to Jacqueline the din passed unnoticed, and when the
rosy-cheeked lass had gone--it was the jester who first spoke.

"What a commentary on the mockery of fate that the sword of such a man,
so illustrious, so unfortunate, should be intrusted to a fool!"

"Why," she said, looking at him, her arms on the table, "you drew it
bravely, and--once--more bravely--kept it sheathed."

His face flushed.  She half smiled; then placed the blade on the board
before him.

"There it is."

Above the sword he reached over, as if to place his hand on hers, but
she quickly rose.  Absently he returned the weapon to his girdle.  She
took a step or two from him, nervously; lifted her hand to her brow and
breathed deeply.

"How tired I feel!" she said.

Immediately he got up.  "You are worn out from the journey," he
observed, quickly.

But he knew it was not the journey that had most affected her.

"I will leave you," he went on.  "Have you everything you need?"

"Everything," she answered carelessly.

He walked to the door.  The light was on his face; hers remained shaded.

"Good-night," she said.

"Good-night, Jacqueline, Duchess of Dubrois," he answered, and,
turning, disappeared down the corridor.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE DWARF MAKES AN EARLY CALL

From one of the watch-towers of the town rang the clear note of a
trumpet, a tribute of melody, occasioned by the awakening in the east.
As the last clarion tones reëchoed over the sleeping village, a crimson
rim appeared above the horizon and soon the entire wheel of the chariot
of the sun-god rolled up out of the illimitable abyss and began its
daily race across the sky.  The stolid bugler yawned, tucked his
trumpet under his arm, and, having perfunctorily performed the duties
of his office, tramped downward with more alacrity than he had toiled
upward.

About the same time the sleepy guard at the town gate was relieved by
an equally drowsy-appearing trooper; here and there windows were flung
open, and around the well in the small public square the maids began to
congregate.  In the tap-room of the tavern the landlord moved about,
setting to rights the tables and chairs, or sprinkling fresh sand on
the floor.  The place had a stale, close odor, as though not long since
vacated by an inabstinent company, a supposition further borne out by
the disorder of the furniture, and the evidence the gathering had not
been over-nice about spilling the contents of their toss-pots.  The
host had but opened the front door, permitting the fresh, invigorating
air from without to enter, when the duke's _plaisant_, his cloak over
his arm, descended the stairs, and, addressing the landlord, asked when
he and his companion could be provided with breakfast.

"Breakfast!" grumbled the proprietor.  "The maids are hardly up and the
fires must yet be started.  It will be an hour or more before you can
be served."

The jester appeared somewhat dissatisfied, but contented himself with
requesting the other to set about the meal at once.

"You ride forth early," answered the man, in an aggrieved tone.

The _plaisant_ made no reply as he strode to the door and looked out;
noted sundry signs of awakening life down the narrow street, and then
returned to the tap-room.

"You had a noisy company here last night, landlord?" he vouchsafed,
glancing around the room and recalling the laughter and shouts he had
heard below until a late hour.

"Noisy company!" retorted the innkeeper.  "A goodly company that ate
and drank freely.  Distinguished company that paid freely.  The king's
own guards who are acting as escort to Robert, the Duke of Friedwald,
and his bride, the princess.  Noisy company, forsooth."

The young man started.  "The king's guards!" he said.  "What are they
doing here?"

The other vigorously rubbed the top of a table with a damp cloth.
"Acting as escort to the duke, as I told you," he replied.

"The duke is here, also?"

"Yes; at the château.  The princess had become weary of travel;
besides, had sprained her ankle, I heard, and would have it the
cavalcade should tarry a few days.  They e'en stopped at my door," he
went on ostentatiously, "and called for a glass of wine for the
princess.  'Tis true she took it with a frown, but the hardships of
journeying do not agree with grand folks."

These last words the jester, absorbed in thought, did not hear.  With
his back to the man, he stood gazing through the high window,
apparently across the street.  But between the two houses on the other
side of the thoroughfare was a considerable open space, and through
this, far away, on the mount, could be seen the château.  The sunlight
shone bright on turret and spire; its walls were white and glistening;
its outlines, graceful and airy as a fabric of imagination.

"And yet it was a handsome cavalcade," continued the proprietor, his
predilection for pomp overcoming his churlishness.  "The princess on a
steed with velvet housings, set with precious stones.  Her ladies
attired in eastern silks.  Behind the men of arms; Francis' troops in
rich armor; the duke's soldiers more simply arrayed.  At the head of
the procession rode--"

"Have the horses brought out at once."

Thus brusquely interrupted, the innkeeper stared blankly at his guest,
who had left the window and now stood in the center of the room
confronting him.  "And the breakfast?" asked the man.

"I have changed my mind and do not want it," was the curt response.

The host shrugged his shoulders disagreeably, as the plaisant turned
and ascended the stairs.  "Unprofitable travelers," muttered the
landlord, following with his gaze the retreating figure.

Hastily making his way to the room of the young girl, the jester
knocked on the door.

"Are you awake, Jacqueline?"

"Yes," answered a voice within.

"We must ride forth as soon as possible.  The duke is at the château."

"At the château!" she exclaimed in surprise.  Then after a pause: "And
Triboulet saw us.  He will tell that you are here.  I will come down at
once.  Wait," she added, as an afterthought seized her.

He heard her step to the window.  "I think the gates of the château are
open," she said.  "I am not sure; it is so far."

"Do you see any one on the road leading down?"

"No," came the answer.

"Nor could I.  But perhaps they have already passed."

Again the jester returned to the tap-room, where he found the landlord
polishing the pewter tankards.

"The horses?" said the fool sharply.

"The stable boy will bring them to the door," was the response, and the
innkeeper held a pot in the air and leisurely surveyed the shining
surface.

"The reckoning?"

Deliberately the man replaced the receptacle on the table, and,
pressing his thumbs together, began slowly to calculate: "Bottle of
wine, ten sous; capon, twenty sous; two rooms--" when the jester took
from his coat the purse the young girl had given him, and, selecting a
coin, threw it on the board.  At the sight of the purse and its golden
contents the countenance of the proprietor mollified; his price
forthwith varied with his changed estimate of his guest's condition.
"Two rooms, fifty sous; fodder, forty sous"--he went on.  "That would
make--"

"Keep the coin," said the _plaisant_, "and have the stable boy make
haste."

With new alacrity, the innkeeper thrust the pistole into a leathern
pouch he carried at his girdle.  A guest who paid so well could afford
to be eccentric, and if he and the young lady chose to travel without
breakfast, it was obviously not for the purpose of economy.  Therefore,
exclaiming something about "a lazy rascal that needed stirring up," the
now interested landlord was about to go to the barn himself, when, with
a loud clattering, a party of horsemen rode up to the tavern; the door
burst open and Triboulet, followed by a tall, rugged-looking man and a
party of troopers, entered the hall.

Swiftly the jester glanced around him; the room had no other door than
that before which the troopers were crowded; he was fairly caught in a
trap.  Remorsefully his thoughts flew to the young girl and the trust
she had imposed in him.  How had he rewarded that confidence?  By a
temerity which made this treachery on the part of the hunchback
possible.  Even now before him stood Triboulet, bowing ironically.

"I trust you are well?" jeered the dwarf, and with a light, dancing
step began to survey the other from side to side.  "And the lady--is
she also well this morning?  How pleased you both were to see me
yesterday!" assuming an insolent, albeit watchful, pose.  "So you
believed I had run away from the duke?  As if he could get on without
me.  What would be a honeymoon without Triboulet!  The maids of honor
would die of ennui.  One day they trick me out with true-lovers' knots!
the next, give me a Cupid's head for a wand.  Leave the duke!" he
repeated, bombastically.  "Triboulet could not be so unkind."

"Enough of this buffoonery!" said a decisive voice, and the dwarf drew
back, not without a grimace, to make room for a person of soldierly
mien, who now pushed his way to the front.  Over his doublet this
gentleman wore a somewhat frayed, but embroidered, cloak; his broad hat
was fringed with gold that had lost its luster; his countenance, deeply
burned, seemed that of an old campaigner.  He regarded the fool
courteously, yet haughtily.

"Your sword, sir!" he commanded, in the tone of one accustomed to being
obeyed.

"To whom should I give it?" asked the duke's jester.

"To the Vicomte de Gruise, commandant of the town.  I have a writ for
your arrest as a heretic."

"Who has lodged this information against me?"

"Triboulet.  That is, he procured the duke's signature to the writ."

"And you think the duke a party to this farce, my Lord?" said the fool,
with assumed composure.  "It has not occurred to you that before the
day is over all the village will be laughing at the spectacle of their
commandant--pardon me--being led by the nose by a jester?"

The officer's sun-burned face became yet redder; he frowned, then
glanced suspiciously at Triboulet, whose reputation was France-wide.

"This man was the duke's fool," screamed the dwarf, "and was imprisoned
by order of the king.  His companion who is here with him was formerly
jestress to the princess.  She is a sorceress and bewitched the
monarch.  Then her fancy seized upon the heretic, and, by her dark art,
she opened the door of the cell for him.  Together they fled; she from
the court, he from prison."

The commandant looked curiously from the hunchback to the accused.  If
this were acting, the dwarf was indeed a master of the art.

"Besides, his haste to leave the village," eagerly went on Triboulet.
"Why was he dressed at this hour?  Ask the landlord if he did not seem
unduly hurried?"

At this appeal the innkeeper, who had been an interested spectator, now
became a not unwilling witness.

"It is true he seemed hurried," he answered.  "When he first came down
he ordered breakfast.  I happened to mention the duke was at the
château, whereupon he lost his appetite with suspicious suddenness,
called for his horses, and was for riding off with all haste."

From the commandant's expression this testimony apparently removed any
doubts he may have entertained.  Above the heads of the troopers massed
in the doorway the duke's _plaisant_ saw Jacqueline, standing on the
stairs, with wide-open, dark eyes fastened upon him.  Involuntarily he
lifted his hand to his heart; across the brief space glance melted into
glance.

Persecuted Calvin maid--had not her fate been untoward enough without
this new disaster?  Had not the king wrought sufficient ill to her and
hers in the past?  Would she be sent back to the court; the monarch?
For himself he had no thought, but for her, who was nobler even than
her birthright.  He had been thrice a fool who had not heeded
portentous warnings--the sight of Triboulet, the clamor of the
troopers--and had failed to flee during the night.  As he realized the
penalty of his negligence would fall so heavily upon her, a cry of rage
burst from the fool's lips and he sprang toward his aggressors.  The
young girl became yet whiter; a moment she clung to the baluster; then
started to descend the stairs.  A dozen swords flashed before her eyes.

She drew in her breath sharply, when as if by some magic, the anger
faded from the face of the duke's fool; the hand he had raised to his
breast fell to his side; his blade remained sheathed.

"Your pardon, my Lord," he said to the commandant.  "I have no
intention of resisting the authority of the law, but if you will grant
me a few moments' private audience in this room, I promise to convince
you the Duke of Friedwald never signed that writ."

"Let him convince the council that examines heretics," laughed
Triboulet.  "I'll warrant they'll make short work of his arguments."

"I will give you my sword, sir," went on the jester.  "Afterward, if
you are satisfied, you shall return it to me.  If you are not, on my
word as a man of honor, I will go with you without more ado."

"A Calvinist, a jester, a man of honor!" cried the dwarf.

But narrowly the vicomte regarded the speaker.  "_Pardieu_!" he
exclaimed gruffly.  "Keep your sword!  I promise you I can look to my
own safety."  And in spite of Triboulet's remonstrance, he waved back
the troopers and closed the door upon the _plaisant_ and himself.

Outside the dwarf stormed and stamped.  "The jester is desperate.  It
is the noble count who is a nonny.  Open, fool-soldiers!"

This command not being obeyed by the men who guarded the entrance, the
dwarf began to abuse them.  A considerable interval elapsed; the
hunchback, who dared not go into the room himself, compromised by
kneeling before the keyhole; at the foot of the stairs stood the girl,
her strained gaze fastened upon the door.

"They must be near the window," muttered Triboulet in a disappointed
tone, rising.  "What can they be about?  Surely will he try to kill the
commandant."

But even as he spoke the door was suddenly thrown open and the vicomte
appeared on the threshold.

"Clear the hall!" he commanded sharply to the surprised soldiers.  "If
I mistake not," he went on, addressing the duke's jester, "your horses
are at the door."

"You are going to let them go?" burst forth Triboulet.

"I trust you and this fair lady"--turning to the wondering girl, who
now stood expectantly at the side of the foreign fool--"will not harbor
this incident against our hospitality," went on the vicomte, without
heeding the dwarf.

"The king will hang you!" exclaimed Triboulet, his face black with
disappointment and rage, as he witnessed the _plaisant_ and the
jestress leave the tavern together.  "Let them go and you must answer
to the king.  One is a heretic who threw down a cross; the other I
charge with being a sorceress."

A terrible arraignment in those days, yet the vicomte was apparently
deaf.  Hat in hand, he waved them adieu; the steeds sprang forward,
past the soldiers, and down the street.

"After them!" cried the dwarf to the troopers, "Dolts!  Joltheads!"

Whereupon one of the men, angered at this baiting, reaching out with
his iron boot, caught the dwarf such a sharp blow he staggered and
fell, striking his head so violently he lay motionless on the walk.  At
the same time, far above, a body of troopers might have been seen
issuing from the gates of the château and leisurely wending their way
downward.



CHAPTER XXIV

AN ENCOUNTER AT THE BRIDGE

Some part of the interview with the commandant which had resulted in
their release the jester told his companion as they sped down the
sloping plain in the early silvery light which transformed the
dew-drops and grassy moisture into veils of mist.  Behind them the
château was slowly fading from view; the town had already disappeared.
Around them the singing of the birds, the cooing of the cushat doves
and the buzzing of the bees, mingled in dreamy cadence.  On each side
stretched the plain which, washed by recent heavy rains, was now
spangled with new-grown flowers; here, far apart in sequestered beauty;
there, clustering companionably in a mass of color.

"Upon the strength of the letter from the emperor, the vicomte took the
responsibility of allowing us to depart," explained the fool.  "In it
his Majesty referred to his message to the king, to the part played by
him who took the place of the duke, and what he was pleased to term my
services to Francis and himself."

So much the _plaisant_ related, but he did not add that the commandant,
with Triboulet's words in mind, had at first demurred about permitting
the jestress to go.  "_Vrai Dieu_!" that person had exclaimed.  "If
what the dwarf said be true?  To cross the king!--and yet," he had
added cynically, "it sounds most unlike.  Did Aladdin flee from the
genii of the lamp?  Such a magician is Francis.  Châteaux,
gardens--'tis clearly an invention of Triboulet's!"  And the fallacy of
this conclusion the duke's _plaisant_ had not sought to demonstrate.

Without question, the young girl listened, but when he had finished her
features hardened.  Intuitively she divined a gap in the narrative;
herself!  From the dwarf's slur to Caillette's gentle look of surprise
constituted a natural span for reflection.  And the duke's fool, seeing
her face turn cold, attributed it, perhaps, to another reason.  Her
story recurred to him; she was no longer a nameless jestress; an
immeasurable distance separated a mere _plaisant_ from the survivor of
one of the noblest, if most unfortunate, families of France.  She had
not answered the night before when he had addressed her as the daughter
of the constable; motionless as a statue had she gazed after him; and,
remembering the manner of their parting, he now looked at her curiously.

"All's well that ends well," he said, "but I must crave indulgence,
Lady Jacqueline, for having brought you into such peril."

She flushed.  "Do you persist in that foolishness?" she returned
quickly.

"Do you deny the right to be so called?"

"Did I not tell you--the constable's daughter is dead?"

"To the world!  But to the fool--may he not serve her?"

His face was expectant; his voice, light yet earnest.  Her answer was
half-sad, half-bright, as though her tragedy, like those acted dramas,
had its less somber lines.  And in the stage versions of those dark,
mournful pieces were not the softer bits introduced with cap and bell?
The fool's stick and the solemn march of irresistible and lowering
destiny went hand in hand.  Everywhere the tinkle of the tiny bells.

"Poor service!" she retorted.  "A discredited mistress!"

"One I am minded for," he replied, a sudden flash in his eyes.

She looked away; her lips curved.

"For how long?" she said, half-mockingly, and touched her horse before
he could reply.

What words had her action checked on his lips?  A moment was he
disconcerted, then riding after her, he smiled, thinking how once he
had carelessly passed her by; how he had looked upon her but as a
wilful child.

A child, forsooth!  His pulses throbbed fast.  Life had grown strangely
sweet, as though from her look, when she had stood on the stairs, he
had drawn new zest.  To serve her seemed a happiness that drowned all
other ills; a selfish bond of subordination.  Her misfortunes dignified
her; her worn gown was dearer in his eyes than courtly splendor; the
disorder of her hair more becoming than nets of gold and coifs of
jewels.  He forgot their danger; the broad plain lay like a pleasure
garden before them; fairer in natural beauty than Francis' conventional
parks.

And she, too, had ceased to remember the dwarf's words, for the joy of
youth is strong, and the sunshine and air were rarely intoxicating.
There was a stirring rhythm in the movement of the steeds; noiselessly
their hoofs beat upon the soft earth and tender mosses.  The rains
which elsewhere had flooded the lowlands here but enlivened the vernal
freshness of the scene.  The air was full of floating thistle-down; a
cloud of insects dancing in the light, parted to let them pass.

At the sight of a bush, white with flowers, she uttered an exclamation
of pleasure, and broke off a branch covered with fragrant blossoms, as
they rode by.  Out of the depths of this store-house of sweets a
plundering humming-bird flashed and vanished, a jewel from nature's
crown!  She held the branch to her face and he glanced at her covertly;
she was all jestress again.  The cadence of that measured motion shaped
itself to an ancient lyric in keeping with the song of birds, the blue
sky, and the wild roses.

    "Hark! hark!
    Pretty lark!
  Little heedest thou my pain."

He bent his head listening; he could scarcely hear the words.  Was it a
sense of new security that moved her; the reaction of their narrow
escape; the knowledge they were leaving the château and all danger
behind them?

    "Hark! hark!
    Pretty lark!--"


Boom!  Far in the distance sounded the discharge of a cannon--its iron
voice the antithesis to the poet's dainty pastoral.  As the report
reverberated over the valley, from the grass innumerable insects arose;
the din died away; the disturbed earth-dwellers sank back to earth
again.  The song ceased from the young girl's lips, and, gazing quickly
back, she could just distinguish, above one of the parapets of the
château, a wreath, already nearly dissolved in the blue of the sky.
The jester, who had also turned in his saddle, met her look of inquiry.

"It sounds like a signal of some kind--a salute, perhaps," he said.

"Or a call to arms?" she suggested, and he made no answer.  "It
means--pursuit!"

Silent they rode on, but more rapidly.  With pale face and composed
mien she kept by his side; her resolute expression reassured him, while
her glance said: "Do not fear for me."  Gradually had they been
descending from the higher slopes of the country of which the
château-mount was the loftiest point and now were passing through the
lower stretches of land.

Here, the highway ran above fields, inundated by recent rains, and
marshes converted into shining lakes.  Out of the water uprose a grove
of trees, spectral-like; screaming wild-fowl skimmed the surface, or
circled above.  The pastoral peace of the meadows, garden of the wild
flower and home of the song-bird, was replaced by a waste of desolation
and wilderness.  Long they dashed on through the loneliness of that
land; a depressing flight--but more depressing than the abandoned and
forlorn aspect of the scene was the consciousness that their steeds had
become road-worn and were unable to respond.  Long, long, they
continued this pace, a strained period of suspense, and then the fool
drew rein.

"Look, Jacqueline," he said.  "The river!"

Before them, fed by the rivulets from the distant hills, the foaming
current threatened to overflow its banks.  Already the rising waters
touched the flimsy wooden structure that spanned the torrent.
Contemplatively he regarded it, and then placing his hand for a moment
on hers, said encouragingly:

"Perhaps, after all, we are borrowing trouble?"

She shook her head.  "If I could but think it," she answered.
Something seemed to rise in her throat.  "A moment I forgot, and--was
not unhappy!  But now I feel as though the end was closing about us."

He tightened his grasp.  "You are worn with fatigue; fanciful!" he
replied.

"The end!" she repeated, passionately.  "Yes; the end!"  And threw off
his hand.  "Look!"

He followed her eyes.  "Waving plumes!" he cried.  "And drawing nearer!
Come, Jacqueline! let us ride on!"

"How?" she answered, in a lifeless tone.  "The bridge will not hold."

For answer he turned his horse to it; proceeded slowly across.  It
wavered and bent; her wide-opened eyes followed him; once she lifted
her hand to her breast, and then became conscious he stood on the
opposite bank, calling her to follow.  She started; a strange smile was
on her lips, and touching her horse sharply, she obeyed.

"Is it to death he has called me?" she asked herself.

In her ears sounded the swash and eddying of the current; she closed
her eyes to keep from falling, when she felt a hand on the bridle, and
in a moment had reached the opposite shore.  The jester made no motion
to remount, but remained at her horse's head, closely surveying the
road they had traveled.

"Must we go on?" she said, mechanically.

"Only one of them can cross at a time," he answered, without stirring.
"It is better to meet them here."

"Oh," she spoke up, "if the waters would only rise a little more and
carry away the bridge."

He glanced quickly around him, weighing the slender chance for success
if he made that last desperate stand, and then, grasping a loose plank,
began using it as a lever against one of the weakened supports of the
bridge.  Soon the beam gave way, and the structure, now held but at the
middle and one side, had already begun to sag, when from around the
curve of the highway appeared Louis of Hochfels, and a dozen of his
followers.

The free baron rode to the brim of the torrent, regarded the flood and
the bridge, and stopped.  He was mounted on a black Spanish barb whose
glistening sides were flecked with foam; a cloak of cloth of gold fell
from his brawny shoulders; his heavy, red face looked out from beneath
a sombrero, fringed with the same metal.  A gleam of grim recollection
shone from his bloodshot eyes as they rested on the fool.

"Oh, there you are!" he shouted, with savage satisfaction.  "Out of the
frying-pan into the fire!  Or rather--for you escaped the fagots at
Notre Dame--out of the fire into the frying-pan!"

Above the tumult of the torrent his stentorian tones were plainly
heard.  Without response, the jester inserted the plank between the
structure and the middle support.  The other, perceiving his purpose,
uttered an execration that was drowned by the current, and irresolutely
regarded the means of communication between the two shores, obviously
undetermined about trusting his great bulk to that fragile intermedium.
Here was a temporary check on which he had not calculated.  But if he
demurred about crossing himself, the free baron did not long display
the same infirmity of purpose regarding his followers.

"Over with you!" he cried angrily to them.  "The lightest first!  Fifty
pistoles to the first across!"  And then, calling out to the fool: "In
half an hour, you, my fine wit-cracker, shall be hanging from a branch.
As for the maid, she is a witch, I am told--we will test her with
drowning."

Tempted by their leader's offer, one of the troopers, a lank,
muscular-looking fellow, at once drove the spurs into his horse.  Back
and forth moved the lever in the hands of the jester; the soldier was
midway on the bridge, when it sank suddenly to one side.  A moment it
acted as a dam, then bridge, horse and rider were swept away with a
crash and carried downward with the driving flood.  Vainly the trooper
sought to turn his steed toward the shore; the debris from the
structure soon swept him from his saddle.  Striking out strongly, he
succeeded in catching a trailing branch from a tree on the bank, but
the torrent gripped his body fiercely, and, after a desperate struggle,
tore him away.

As his helpless follower disappeared, the free baron gave a brief
command, and he and his troops posted rapidly down the bank.  The young
girl breathed a sigh of relief; her eyes were yet full of awe from the
death struggle she had witnessed.  Fascinated, her gaze had rested on
the drowning wretch; the pale face, the look of terror; but now she was
called to a realization of their own situation by the abrupt departure
of the squad on the opposite shore.

"They have gone," she cried, in surprise, as the party vanished among
the trees.

"But not far."  The jester's glance was bent down the stream.  "See,
where the torrent broadens.  They expect to find a fording place."

Once more they set forth; he knowing full well that the free baron and
his men, accustomed to the mountain torrents, unbridled by the melting
snows, would, in all likelihood, soon find a way to cross the freshet.
His mind misgave him that he had loosened the bridge at all.  Would it
not have been better to force the conflict there, when he had the
advantage of position?  But right or wrong, he had made his choice and
must abide by it.

To add to his discomfiture, his horse, which at first had lagged, now
began to limp, and, as they proceeded, this lameness became more
apparent.  With a twinge of heart, he plied the spur more strongly, and
the willing but broken creature responded as best it could.  Again it
hastened its pace, seeming in a measure to recover strength and
endurance, then, without warning, lurched, fell to its knees and
quickly rolled over on its side.  Jacqueline glanced back; the animal
lay motionless; the rider was vainly endeavoring to rise.  Pale with
apprehension she returned, and, dismounting, stood at the head of the
prostrate animal.  Determinedly the jester struggled, the perspiration
standing on his brow in beads.  At length, breathing hard, he rested
his head on his elbow.

"Here am I caught to stay, Jacqueline!" he said.  "The horse is dead.
But you--you must still go on."

With clasped hands she stood looking down at him.  She scarcely knew
what he was saying; her mind seemed in a stupor; with apathetic eyes
she gazed down the road.  But the accident had happened in a little
hollow, so that the outlook in either direction along the highway was
restricted.

"My emperor is both chivalrous and noble," continued the _plaisant_,
quickly.  "Go to him.  You must not wait here longer.  I did not tell
you, but I think the free baron will have no difficulty in crossing.
You have no time to lose.  Go; and--good-by!"

"But--he had a long way to ride--even if he could cross," she said
slowly, passing her hand over her brow.

"Jacqueline!" he cried out, impatiently.

She made no motion to leave, and, reading in her face her
determination, angered by his own helplessness, he strove violently to
release himself, until wrenching his foot in his frantic efforts, he
sank back with a groan.  At that sound of pain, wrung from him in spite
of his fortitude, all her seeming apathy vanished.  With a low cry, she
dropped on her knees in the road and swiftly took his head in her arms.

It was he, not the young girl, who spoke first.  He forgot all
peril--hers and his.  He only knew her warm, young arms were about him;
that her heart was throbbing wildly.

"Jacqueline!" he cried, passionately.  "Jacqueline!"  And threw an arm
about her, drawing her closer, closer.

Did she hear him?  She did not reply.  Nor did she release him.  She
did not even look down.  But he felt her bosom rising and falling
faster than its wont.

"Jacqueline," he repeated, "are you listening?"

She stirred slightly; the pallor left her face.  In her gaze shone a
light difficult to divine--pity, tenderness, a warmer passion?  Where
had he seen it before?  In the cell when he lay injured; in his waking
dreams?  It seemed the sudden dawn of the full beauty of her eyes; a
half-remembered impression which now became real.  Yet even as she
looked down his face changed; his eager glance grew dark; he listened
intently.

The sound of horses' hoofs beat upon the air.

"Jacqueline!--go!--there is yet time!"

Abruptly she arose.  He held out his hand for a last quick pressure; a
God-speed to this stanch maid-comrade of the motley.

"God keep you, mistress!"

Standing in the road, gazing up the hollow, she neither saw his hand
nor caught his words of farewell.  An expression of bewilderment had
overspread her features; quickly she glanced in the opposite direction.

"See! see!" she exclaimed, excitedly.

But he was past response; overcome by pain, in a last desperate attempt
to regain his feet, he had lost consciousness.  As he fell back, above
the hill in the direction she was looking, appeared the black plumes of
a band of horsemen.

"No; they are not--"

Her glance rested on the jester, lying there motionless, and hastening
to his side, she lifted his head and placed it in her lap.  So the
troopers of the Emperor Charles--a small squad of outriders--found her
sitting in the road, her hair disordered about her, her face the whiter
against that black shroud.



CHAPTER XXV

IN THE TENT OF THE EMPEROR

On an eminence commanding the surrounding country an unwonted spectacle
that same day had presented itself to the astonished gaze of the
workers in a neighboring vineyard.  Gleaming with crimson and gold, a
number of tents had appeared as by magic on the mount, the temporary
encampment of a rich and numerous cavalcade.  But it was not the
splendent aspect of this unexpected bivouac itself so much as the
colors and designs of the flags and banners floating above which
aroused the wonderment of the tillers of the soil.  Here gleamed no
salamander, with its legend, "In fire am I nourished; in fire I die,"
but the less magniloquent and more dreaded coat of arms of the emperor,
the royal rival and one-time jailer of the proud French monarch.

The sunlight, reflected from the golden tassels and ornamentation of
the tents, threw a flaming menace over the valley, and the peasants in
subdued tones talked of the sudden coming of the dreaded foeman.  _Mère
de Dieu_! what did it portend!  _Ventre Saint Gris_! were they going to
storm the fortresses of the king?  Was an army following this
formidable retinue of nobles, soldiers and servants?

Above, on the mount, as the sun climbed toward the meridian, was seated
in one of the largest of the tents a man of resolute and stern mien who
gazed reflectively toward the fertile plain outstretching in the
distance.  His grizzled hair told of the after-prime of life; he was
simply, even plainly, dressed, although his garments were of fine
material, and from his neck hung a heavy chain of gold.  His doublet
lacked the prolonged and grotesque peak, and was less puffed, slashed
and banded than the coat worn by those gallants of the day who looked
to Italy for the latest extravagances of fashion.  His hat, lying
carelessly on the table at his elbow, was devoid of aigrette, jewels or
plume; a head-covering for the campaign rather than the court.  Within
reach of his hand stood a heavy golden goblet of massive German
workmanship, the solid character of which contrasted with the drinking
vessels after Cellini's patterns affected by Francis.  This he raised
to his lips, drank deeply, replaced the goblet on the table, and said
as much to himself as to those around him:

"A fair land, this of our brother!  Small wonder he likes to play the
host, even to his enemies.  We may conquer him on the ensanguined
field, but he conquers us--or Henry of England!--on a field of cloth of
gold!"

"But for your Majesty to put yourself in the king's power?" ventured a
courtier, who wore a begemmed torsade and a cloak of Genoa velvet.

The monarch leaned back in his great chair and his face grew harsh.  As
he sat there musing, his virility and iron figure gave him rather the
appearance of the soldier than the emperor.  This impression his
surroundings further emphasized, for the walls of the tent were
covered, not with the gorgeous-colored Gobelins of the pleasure-loving
French, but with severe and stately tapestries from his native
Flanders, depicting in somber shades various scenes of martial triumph.
When he raised his head he cast a look of ominous displeasure upon the
last speaker.

"Had he not once the English king beneath his roof?" answered the
monarch.  "At Amboise, where we visited Francis some years ago, was
there any restraint put upon us?"

A grim smile crossed his features at the recollection of the gorgeous
_fêtes_ in his honor on that other occasion.  Perhaps, too, he thought
of the excitements held out by those servitors of the king, the frail
and fair ladies of the court, for he added:

"_Saints et saintes_! 'twas a palace of pleasure, not a dungeon, he
prepared for us.  But enough of this!  It is time we rode on.  Let the
cavalcade, with the tents, follow behind."

"Think you, your Majesty, if the princess be not yet married to the
bastard, she is like to espouse the true duke?" asked the courtier, as
a soldier left the tent to carry out the orders of the emperor.

Charles arose abruptly.  "Of a surety!  He must have loved her greatly,
else--"

The clattering of hoofs, drawing nearer, interrupted the emperor's
ruminations, and, wheeling sharply, he gazed without.  A band of
horsemen appeared on the mount.

"The outriders!" he said in surprise.  "Why have they returned?"

"They are bearing some one on a litter," answered the attendant noble,
"and--_cap de Dieu_--there is a woman with them!"

As the troops approached, the emperor strode forward.  Out in the
sunlight his face appeared older, more careworn, but although it cost
him an effort to walk, his step was unfaltering.  A moment he surveyed
the men with peremptory glance, and then, casting one look at their
burden, uttered an exclamation.  His surprise, however, was of short
duration.  At once his features resumed their customary rigor.

"What does this mean?" he asked, shortly, addressing the leader of the
soldiers.  "Is he badly hurt?"

"That I can not say, your Majesty," replied the man.  "A horse fell
upon his leg, which is badly bruised, and there may be other injuries."

"Where did you find him?" continued the emperor, still regarding the
pale face of the _plaisant_.

"Not far from here, your Majesty.  The woman was sitting in the road,
holding his head."

Charles' glance swiftly sought the jestress and then returned.

"They were being pursued, for shortly after we came a squad of men
appeared from the opposite direction.  When they saw us they fled.  The
woman insisted upon being brought here, when she learned of your
Majesty's presence."

"Take the injured man into the next tent and see he has every care.  As
for the woman, I will speak with her alone."

"Your Majesty's orders to break camp--" began the courtier.

"We have changed our mind and will remain here for the present."  And
the emperor, without further words, turned and reëntered his pavilion.

With his hands behind him, he stood thoughtfully leaning against a
table; his countenance had become somber, morose.  The twinges of pain
from a disease which afterward caused him to abdicate the throne and
relinquish all power and worldly vanities for a life of religious
meditation began to make themselves felt.  Love--ambition--what were
they?  The perishable flesh--was it the all-in-all?  Those sudden pangs
of the body seemed like over-forward confessors abruptly admonishing
him.

The jester and the woman--Francis and the princess--what had they
become to him now?  Figures in an intangible, illusory dream.  Deeply
religious, repentant, perhaps, for past misdeeds at such a moment as
this, the soldier-emperor stood before a silver crucifix.

"_Credo in sanctum_," he murmured, with contrite glance.  "How
repugnant is human glory! to conquer the earth; to barter what is
immortal!  _Carnis resurrectionem--_"

A shadow fell across the tapestry, and glancing from the blessed
symbol, he saw before him, kneeling on the rug, the figure of a woman.
For her it was an inauspicious interruption.  With almost a frown,
Charles, recalled from an absorbing period of oblation and
self-examination, surveyed the young girl.  The reflection of dark
colors from the hangings and tapestries softened the pallor of her
face; her hair hung about her in disorder; her figure, though meanly
garbed, was replete with youth and grace.  Silent she continued in the
posture of a suppliant.

"Well?" said the monarch finally, in a harsh voice.

Slowly she lifted her head; her dark eyes rested on the ruler
steadfastly, fearlessly.  "Your Majesty commanded my presence," she
answered.

"Who are you?" he asked coldly.

"I am called Jacqueline; my father was the Constable of Dubrois."

Incredulity replaced every other emotion on the emperor's features,
and, approaching her, he gazed attentively into the countenance she so
frankly uplifted.  With calmness she bore that piercing scrutiny; his
dark, troubled soul, looking out of his keen gray eyes, met an equally
lofty spirit.

"The Constable of Dubrois!  You, his daughter!" he repeated.

His thoughts swiftly pierced the shadows of the past; that umbrageous
past, darkened with war and carnage; the memory of triumphs; the
bitterness of defeats!  And studying her eyes, her face, as in a vision
he recalled the features, the bearing, of him who had held himself an
equal to his old rival, Francis.  A red spot rose to his cheek as he
reviewed the martial, combative days; the game of arms he had played so
often with Francis--and won!  Not always by daring, or courage--rather
by sagacity, clear-headedness, more potent than any other force!

But a pang of bodily suffering reminded him of the present and its
ills, and the vainglory of brief exultation faded as quickly as it had
assailed him; involuntarily his glance sought the sacred emblem of
intercession.  When he regarded her once more his face had resumed its
severe, uncompromising aspect.

"The constable was a proud, haughty man," he said, brusquely.  "Yea,
over-proud, in fact.  You know why he fled to me?"

"Yes, Sire," she answered, flushing resentfully.

"To persuade me to espouse his cause against the king.  Many times have
my good brother, Francis, and myself gone to war," he added,
reflectively and not without a certain complacency, "but then were we
engaged in troubles in the east; to keep the Mohammedans from
overrunning our Christian land.  How could I oblige the constable by
fighting the heathen and the believers in the gospel in one breath?
Your father--for I am ready to believe him such, by the evidence of
your face, and, especially, your eyes--accused me of little faith.  But
I had either to desert him, or Europe.  His cause was lost; 'twas the
fortune of war; the fate of great families becomes subservient to that
of nations."

He spoke as if rather presenting the case to himself than to her; as
though he sought to analyze his own action through the medium of time
and the trend of larger events.  Attentively she watched him with deep,
serious eyes, and, catching her almost accusing look and knowing how,
perhaps, he shuffled with history, his brow grew darker; he was visibly
annoyed at her--his own conscience--he knew not what!

"I did not complain, your Majesty," she said proudly.

Her answer surprised him.  Again he observed her attire; the pallor of
her face; the dark circles beneath her eyes.  Grimly he marked these
signs of poverty; those marks of the weariness and privations she had
undergone.

"Was it not your intention to seek me?  To beg an asylum, perhaps?" he
went on, less sternly.

"Not to beg, your Majesty!  To ask, yes!  But now--not that!"

"_Vrai Dieu_!" muttered Charles.  "There is the father over again!  It
is strange this maiden clothed almost in rags should claim such
illustrious parentage," he continued to himself, as he walked
restlessly to and fro.  "It is more strange I ask no other proofs than
herself--the evidence of my eyes!  Where did you come from?" he added,
aloud, pausing before her.  "The court of Francis?"

"Yes, Sire."

"Why did you leave the king?"

"Why--because--"  Her hands clenched.  The gray eyes continued to probe
her.  "Because I hate him!"

The emperor's face relaxed; a gleam of humor shone in his glance.
"Hate him whom so many of your sex love?" he replied.

Through her tresses he saw her face turn red; passionately she arose.
"With your Majesty's permission, I will go."

"Go?" he said abruptly.  "Where can you go?  You are somewhat quick of
temper, like--.  Have I refused you aught?  I could not serve your
father," he continued, taking her hand, and, not ungently, detaining
her, "but I may welcome his daughter--though necessity, the ruler of
kings, made me helpless in his behalf!"

As in a flash her resentment faded.  Half-paternally, half-severely, he
surveyed her.

"Sit down here," he went on, indicating a low stool.  "You are weary
and need refreshment."

Silent she obeyed, and the emperor, touching a bell, gave a low command
to the servitor who appeared.  In a few moments meat, fruits and wine
were set before her, and Charles, from his point of vantage--no throne
of gold, but a chair lined with Cordovan leather, watched her partake.
The pains had again left him; the monk gave way to the ruler; he
thought of no more phrases of the Credo, but with impassive face
listened to her story, or as much as she cared to relate.  When she had
finished, for some time he offered no comment.

"A strange tale," he said finally.  "But what will our nobles do when
ladies take mere fools for knight-errants?"

"He is no mere fool!" she spoke up, impulsively.

The emperor shot a quick look at her from beneath his lowering brows.

"I mean--he is brave--and has protected me many times," she explained
in some confusion.

"And so you, knowing what you were, remained--with a poor jester--a
clown--rather than leave him to his fate?" continued Charles,
inexorably, recalling the words of the outriders.

Her face became paler, but she held her head more proudly; the spirit
of the jestress sprang to her lips, "It is only kings, Sire, who fear
to cling to a forlorn cause!"

His eyes grew dark and gloomy; morosely he bent his gaze upon her.  No
one had ever before dared to speak to him like that, for Charles had no
love for jesters, and kept none in his court.  Unsparing, iron-handed,
he had gone his way.  But, perhaps, in her very fearlessness he
recognized a touch of his own inflexible nature.  At any rate, his
sternness soon gave way to an expression of melancholy.

"God alone knows the hearts of monarchs!" he said, somberly, and
directed his glance toward the crucifix.

Moved by his unexpected leniency and the aspect of his cheerlessness,
she immediately repented of her response.  He looked so old, and
melancholy, this great monarch.  When he again turned to her his face
and manner expressed no further cognizance of her reply.

"You need rest," he said, "and shall have a tent to yourself.  Now go!"
he continued, placing his hand for a moment, not unkindly, on her head.
"I shall give orders for your entertainment.  It will be rough
hospitality, but--you are used to that.  I am not sorry, child, you
hate our brother Francis, if it has driven you to our court."



CHAPTER XXVI

THE DEBT OF NATURE

Although the daughter of the constable received every attention
commensurate with the cheer of the camp, the day passed but slowly.
With more or less interest she viewed the diversified group of
soldiers, drawn by Charles from the various countries over which he
ruled: the brawny troops from Flanders; the alert-looking guards,
recruited from the mountains of Spain; the men of Friedwald, with
muscles tough as the fibers of the fir in their native forests.  Even
the Orient--suggestive of many campaigns!--had been drawn upon, and the
bright-garbed olive-skinned attendants, moving among the tents of
purple or crimson, blended picturesquely with the more solid masses of
color.

For the Flemish soldiery, who had brought the fool and herself to the
camp, the young girl had a nod and a word, but it was the men of
Friedwald who especially attracted her attention, and unconsciously she
found herself picturing the land that had fostered this stalwart and
rough soldiery.  A rocky, rugged region, surely; with vast forests,
unbroken brush!  Yonder armorer, polishing a joint of steel, seemed
like a survivor of that primeval epoch when the trees were roofs and
the ground the universal bed.  Once or twice she passed him, curiously
noting his great beard and giant-like limbs.  But he minded her not,
and this, perhaps, gave her courage to pause.

"What sort of country is Friedwald?" she said, abruptly.

"Wild," he answered.

"Is the duke liked?" she went on.

"Yes."

"Do you know his--jester?"

"No."

For all the information he would volunteer, the man might have been
Doctor Rabelais' model for laconicism, and a moment she stood there
with a slight frown.  Then she gazed at him meditatively; tap! tap!
went the tiny hammer in the mighty hand, and, laughing softly, she
turned.  These men of Friedwald were not unpleasing in her eyes.

Twice had she approached the tent wherein lay the fool, only to learn
that the emperor was with the duke's _plaisant_.  "A slight relapse of
fever," had said the Italian leech, as he blocked the entrance and
stared at her with wicked, twinkling eyes.  She need be under no
apprehension, he had added; but to her quick fancy his glance said: "A
maid wandering with a fool!"

Apprehension?  No; it could not be that she felt but a new sense of
loneliness; of that isolation which contact with strange faces
emphasized.  What had come over her? she asked herself.  She who had
been so self-sufficient; whose nature now seemed filled with sudden
yearnings and restlessness, impatience--she knew not what.  She who
thought she had partaken so abundantly of life's cup abruptly
discovered renewed sources for disquietude.  With welling heart she
watched the sun go down; the glory of the widely-radiating hues give
way to the pall of night.  Upon her young shoulders the mantle of
darkness seemed to rest so heavily she bowed her head in her hands.

"A maid and a fool!  Ah, foolish maid!" whispered the wanton breeze.

The pale light of the stars played upon her, and the dews fell, until
involuntarily shivering with the cold, she arose.  As she walked by the
emperor's quarters she noticed a figure silhouetted on the canvas
walls; to and fro the shadow moved, shapeless, grotesque, yet eloquent
of life's vexation of spirit.  Turning into her own tent, the jestress
lighted the wick of a silver lamp; a faint aroma of perfume swept
through the air.  It seemed to soothe her--or was it but
weariness?--and shortly she threw herself on the silken couch and sank
to dreamless slumber.

When she awoke, the bright-hued dome of the tent was aglow in the
morning sun; the reflected radiance bathed her face and form; her
heaviness of heart had taken wings.  The little lamp was still burning,
but the fresh fragrance of dawn had replaced the subtile odor of the
oriental essence.  Upon the rug a single streak of sunshine was
creeping toward her.  In the brazier which had warmed her tent the
glowing bark and cinnamon had turned to cold, white ash.

Through the girl's veins the blood coursed rapidly; a few moments she
lay in the rosy effulgence, restfully conscious that danger had fled
and that she was bulwarked by the emperor's favor, when a sudden
thought broke upon this half-wakeful mood, and caused her to spring,
all alert, from her couch.  To dress, with her had never been a matter
of great duration.  The hair of the joculatrix naturally rippled into
such waves as were the envy of the court ladies; her supple fingers
adjusted garment after garment with swift precision, while her figure
needed no device to lend grace to the investment.

Soon, therefore, had she left her tent, making her way through the
awakening camp.  In the royal kitchen the cook was bending over his
fires, while an assistant mixed a beverage of barley-water, yolks of
eggs and senna wine for Charles when he should become aroused.  Those
courtiers, already astir, cast many glances in the girl's direction, as
she moved toward the tent of the fool.

But if these gallants were sedulous, she was correspondingly
indifferent.  Anxiety or loyalty--that stanchness of heart which braved
even the ironical eyes of the black-robed master of medicine--drove her
again to the ailing jester's tent, and, remembering how she had ridden
into camp--and into the august emperor's favor--these fondlings of
fortune looked significantly from one to the other.

"A jot less fever, solicitous maid," said the leech in answer to the
inquiries of the jestress, and she endured the glance for the news,
although the former sent her away with her face aflame.

"An the leech let her in, he'd soon have to let the patient out," spoke
up a gallant.  "Her eyes are a sovereign remedy, where bolus, pills and
all vile potions might fail."

"If this be a sample of Francis' damsels, I care not how long we are in
reaching the Low Countries," answered a second.

To this the first replied in kind, but soon had these gallants matters
of more serious moment to divert them, for it began to be whispered
about that Louis of Hochfels had determined to push forward.  The
unwonted activity in the camp ere long gave credence to the rumor; the
troopers commenced looking to their weapons; squires hurried here and
there, while near the tents stood the horses, saddled and bridled,
undergoing the scrutiny of the grooms.

Some time, however, elapsed before the emperor himself appeared.
Nothing in the bead-roll, or devotional offering of the morning, had he
overlooked; the divers dishes that followed had been scrupulously
partaken of, and then only--as a man not to be hurried from the altar
or the table--had he emerged from his tent.  His glance mechanically
swept the camp, noting the bustle and stir, the absence of disorder,
and finally rested on the girl.  For a moment, from his look, it seemed
he might have forgotten her, and she who had involuntarily turned to
him so solicitously, on a sudden felt chilled, as confronted by a mask.
His voice, when at length he spoke, was hard, dry, matter-of-fact, and
it was Jacqueline whom he addressed.

"You slept well?"

"Yes, Sire," she answered.

"And have already been to the fool's tent, I doubt not."

The mask became half-quizzical, half-friendly, as her cheeks mantled
beneath his regard.  Was it but quiet avengement against a jestress
whose tongue had been unsparing enough, even to him, the day before?
Certes, here stood now only a rosy maid, robbed of her spirit; or a
_folle_, struck witless, and Charles' face softened, but immediately
grew stern, as his mind abruptly passed from wandering jestress and
fleeing fool to matters of more moment.

Under vow to the Virgin, the emperor had announced he would not draw
sword himself that day, but, seated beneath a canopy of velvet,
overlooking the valley, he so far compromised with conscience as
personally to direct the preparations for the conflict.  On his sable
throne, surrounded by funereal hangings, how white and furrowed, how
harassed with many cares, he appeared in the glare of the morn to the
young girl!  Was this he who held nearly all Europe in his palm? who
between martial commands talked of Holy Orders, the Apostolic See and
the Seven Sacraments to his priestly confessor?

And from aloof she studied him, with new doubts and misgiving, her
thoughts running fast; and anon bent her eyes to the hill on the other
side of the valley.  In her condition of mind, confused as before a
crisis, it was a distinct relief when toward noon word was brought that
the free baron was approaching.  Soon, not far distant, the _cortège_
of Louis of Hochfels was seen; at the front, flashing helmets and
breastplates; behind, a cavalcade of ladies on horseback and litters,
above which floated many flags and banners.

Would he come on; would he turn back?  Many opinions were rife.

"Oh," cried a page with golden hair, "there will be no battle after
all."

And truly, confronted by the aspect of the emperor's camp, the marauder
had at first hesitated; but if the dangers before him were great, those
behind were greater.  Accordingly, leaving the cavalcade of the
princess, her maids and attendants, the free baron of Hochfels,
surrounded by his own trusted troops, dashed forward arrogantly into
the valley, bent upon sweeping aside even the opposition of Charles
himself.

"Yonder's a daring knave, your Majesty," with some perturbation
observed the prelate who stood near the emperor's chair.

"Certes, he tilts at fame, or death, with a bold lance," replied
Charles.  "Would that Robert of Friedwald were there to cry him quits."

While thus he spoke, as calm as though secluded in one of his monastery
retreats, weighing the affairs of state, nearer and nearer drew the
soldiers of the bastard of Pfalz-Urfeld; roughly calculating, a force
numerically as strong as the emperor's own guard.

The young girl, her face now white and drawn, watched the approaching
band.  Would Charles never give the signal?  Imperturbable sat the
mounted troopers of the emperor, awaiting the word of command.  At
length, when her breath began to come fast and sharp, Charles raised
his arm.  In a solid, steady body, his men swept onward.  The girl
strove to look away, but could not.

Both bands, gaining in momentum, met with a crash.  That nice symmetry
of form and orderliness of movement was succeeded by a tangle of men
and horses; the bristling array of lances had vanished, and swords and
weapons for hand-to-hand warfare threw a play of light amid the jumble
of troops and steeds, flags and banners.  With sword red from carnage,
Louis of Hochfels drew his men around him, hurling them against the
firm front of Charles' veterans.  It was the crucial moment; the
turning point in a struggle that could not be prolonged, but would be
rather sharp, short and decisive.  If his men failed at the onset, all
was lost; if they gained but a little ascendancy now, their mastery of
the field became fairly assured.  Great would be the reward for
success; the fruits of victory--the emperor himself.  And savagely the
free baron cut down a stalwart trooper; his blade pierced the throat of
another.

"Clear the way to Charles!" he cried, exultantly.  "He is our guerdon."

So terrible that rush, the guard of Spain on the right and the troops
of Flanders on the left began to give way; only the men of Friedwald
stood, but with the breaking of the forces on each side it was
inevitable they, too, must soon be overwhelmed.  Involuntarily, as the
quick eye of the emperor detected this sign of impending disaster, he
half-started from his chair.  His hand sought his side; in his eyes
shone a steely light.  The prelate quickly crossed himself and raised
his head as if in prayer.

"The penance, Sire," he murmured, but his voice trembled.

Mechanically Charles replaced his blade.  "Yea; better a kingdom lost,"
he muttered, "than a broken vow."

Yet, after so many battles won in the field and Diet; after titanic
contests with kings in Christendom, and Solyman in the east, to fall,
by the mockery of fate, into the grasp of a thieving mountain rifler--

"Ambition! power! we sow but the sand," whispered satiety.

"Vainglory is a sleeveless errand," murmured the spirit of the
flagellant.

Yet he gazed half-fiercely at his priestly adviser, when suddenly his
gloomy eye brightened; the inutility of ambition was forgotten;
unconsciously he clasped the arm of the joculatrix, who had drawn near.
His grip was like a gauntlet; even in her tense, strained mood she
winced.

"The fight is not yet lost!" he exclaimed.  As he spoke the figure of a
knight, fully armed, who had made his way through the avenue of tents,
was seen swiftly descending the hill.  Upon his strong Arabian steed,
the rider's appearance and bearing signaled him as a soldier apart from
the rank and file of the guard.  His coat-of-arms, that of the house of
Friedwald, was richly emblazoned upon the housings of his courser.
Whence had he come?  The attendants and equerries had not seen him in
the camp.  Only the taciturn armorer of Friedwald looked complacently
after him, stroking his great beard, as one well satisfied.  As this
late-comer approached the scene of strife the flanks of the guard were
wavering yet more perilously.

"A miracle, Sire!" cried the prelate.

"But one that partakes more of earth than Heaven," retorted Charles,
with ready irony.

"Who is he, Sire?" breathlessly asked the young girl.  At her feet
whimpered the blue-eyed page, holding to her skirt, all his courage
gone.

But ere he could answer--if he had seen fit to do so--from below, out
of the vortex, came the clamorous shouts:

"The duke!  The duke!"

The master of the mountain pass heard also, and felt at that moment a
sudden thrill of premonition.  The guerdon; the quittance; could it be
possible after all, the end was not far?  He could not believe it, yet
a paroxysm of fury seized him; his strength became redoubled; wherever
his sword touched a trooper fell.

But like a wave, recovering from the recoil, the soldiers of Friedwald
broke upon his doomed band with a force manifold augmented; broke and
carried the flanks with it, for the assaulting parties to the right and
left were dismayed by the strength unexpectedly hurled against the
center.  The bulky Flemish, the lithe Spaniard, the lofty trooper of
Friedwald, overflowed the shattered line of the marauders.

"Duke Robert!" and "Friedwald!" shouted the Austrian band.

"Cowards!  Would you give way?" cried the free baron, striking among
them.  "Fools!  Better the sword than the rope.  Come!"

But in his frenzied efforts to rally his men the master of Hochfels
found himself face to face with the leader of the already victorious
troops.  At the sight of him the bastard paused; his breast rose and
fell with his labored breathing; his sword was dyed red, also his arms,
his clothes; from his forehead the blood ran down over his beard.  His
eyes rolled like those of an animal; he seemed something inhuman; an
incarnation of baffled purpose.

"If it is reprisal you want, Sir Duke, you shall have it," he panted.

"Reprisal!" exclaimed Robert of Friedwald, scornfully.  "The best you
can offer is your life."

And with that they closed.  Evading the strokes of his more bulky
antagonist, the younger man's sword repeatedly sought the vulnerable
part of the other's armor.  The free baron's strength became exhausted;
his blows rang harmlessly, or struck the empty air.

A sensation of pain admonished him of his own disability.  About him
his band had melted away; doggedly had they given up their lives
beneath sword, mace and poniard.  The ground was strewn with the slain;
riderless horses were galloping up the road.  The free baron breathed
yet harder; before his eyes he seemed to see only blood.

Of what avail had been his efforts?  He had won the princess, but how
brief had been his triumphs!  With a belief that was almost
superstition, he had imagined his destiny lay thronewards.  But the
curse of his birth had been a ban to his efforts; the bitterness of
defeat smote him.  He knew he was falling; his nerveless hand loosened
his blade.

"I am sped!" he cried; "sped!" and released his hold, while the tide of
conflict appeared abruptly to sweep away.

As he struck the earth an ornament that he had worn about his neck
became unfastened and dropped to the ground.  But once he moved; to
raise himself on his elbow.

"The hazard of the die!" he muttered, striving to see with eyes that
were growing blind.  A rush of blood interrupted him, he fell back,
straightened out, and stirred no more.

Now had the din of strife ceased altogether, when descending the slope
appeared a cavalcade, at the head of which rode a lady on a white
palfrey, followed by several maids and guarded by an escort of soldiers
who wore the king's own colors.  A stricken procession it seemed as it
drew near, the faces of the women white with fear; the gay attire and
gorgeous trappings--a mockery on that ensanguined arena.

Proudly proceeded the lady on the white horse, although in her eyes
shone a look of dread.  It was an age when women were accustomed to
scenes of bloodshed, inured to conflicts in the lists; yet she
shuddered as her palfrey picked its way across that field.  At the near
side of the hollow her glance singled out a motionless figure among
those lying where they had fallen, a thick-set man, whose face was
upturned to the sky.  One look into those glassy eyes, so unresponsive
to her own, and she quickly dismounted and fell on her knees beside the
recumbent form.  She took one of the cold hands in hers, but dropped it
with a scream.

"Dead!" she cried; "dead!"

The lady stared at that terribly repulsive face.  For some moments she
seemed dazed; sat there dully, the onlookers forbearing to disturb her.
Then her gaze encountered that of him who had slain the free baron and
she sprang to her feet.  On her features an expression of bewilderment
had been followed by one of recognition.

"The duke's fool!" she exclaimed wildly.  "He is dead, and you have
killed him!  The fool has murdered his master."

"It is true he is dead," answered the other, leaning heavily on his
sword and surveying the inanimate form, "but he was no master of mine."

"That, Madame la Princesse, we will also affirm," broke in an austere
voice.

Behind them rode the emperor, a dark figure among those bright gowns
and golden trappings, the saddle cloth and adornments of his steed
somber as his own garments.  As he spoke he waved back the cavalcade,
and, in obedience to the gesture, the ladies, soldiers and attendants
withdrew to a discreet distance.  Bitterly the princess surveyed the
monarch; overwrought, a torrent of reproaches sprang from her lips.

"Why has your Majesty made war on my lord?  Why have you countenanced
his enemies and harbored his murderers?"  And then, drawing her figure
to its full height, her tawny hair falling in a cloud about her
shoulders: "Be sure, Sire, my kinsman, the king, will know how to
avenge my wrongs."

"He can not, Madam," answered Charles coldly.  "They are already
avenged."

"Already avenged!" she exclaimed, with her gaze upon the prostrate
figure.

"Yes, Madam.  For he who hath injured you has paid the extreme penalty."

"He who was my husband has been foully murdered!" she retorted,
vehemently.  "What had the Duke of Friedwald done to bring upon himself
your Majesty's displeasure?"

"Nothing," answered the emperor, more gently.

"Nothing!  And yet he lies there--dead!"

"He who lies before you is not the duke, but Louis of Hochfels, the
bastard of Pfalz-Urfeld."

"Ah," she cried, excitedly, "I see you have been listening to the false
fool, his murderer."

An expression of annoyance appeared on the emperor's face.  He liked
not to be crossed at any time by any one.

"You have well called him the false fool, Madam," said Charles, curtly,
"for he is no true fool."

"And yet he rode with your troops!"

"To redeem his honor, Madam."

"His honor!"

With a scornful face she approached nearer to the monarch.

"His honor!  In God's name, what mean you?"

"That the false fool, Madam, is himself the Duke of Friedwald!"



CHAPTER XXVII

A MAID OF FRANCE

"The Duke of Friedwald!"

It was not the princess who thus exclaimed, but Jacqueline.  Charles
had spoken loudly, and, drawn irresistibly to the scene, she had caught
his significant words at the moment she recognized, in his brave
accoutrements, him whom she had known as the duke's fool.

When she had heard, above the din of the fray, the cries with which the
new-comer had been greeted, no suspicion of his identity had crossed
her mind.  She had wondered, been puzzled at the unexpected appearance
of Robert, Duke of Friedwald, but that he and the ailing fool were one
and the same was wide from her field of speculation.  In amazement, she
regarded the knight who had turned the tide of conflict, and then
started, noticing the colors he wore, a paltry yellow ribbon on his
arm, the badge of her office.  Much she had not understood now appeared
plain.  His assurance in Fools' hall; his reckless daring; his skill
with the sword.  He was a soldier, not a jester; a lord, not a lord's
servant.

Lost in no less wonder, the princess gazed from the free baron to
Charles, and back again to the lifeless form.  Stooping, she looked
steadfastly into the face, as though she would read its secret.
Perhaps, too, as she studied those features, piece by piece she patched
together the scenes of the past.  Her own countenance began to harden,
as though some part of that mask of death had fallen upon her, and when
she glanced once more at the emperor they saw she no longer doubted.
With forced self-control, she turned to the emperor.

"Doubtless, it is some brave pastime," she said to Charles.  "Will your
Majesty deign to explain?"

"Nay," answered the emperor, dryly; "that thankless task I'll leave to
him who played the fool."

Uncovering, the Duke of Friedwald approached.  The excitement of the
contest over, his pallid features marked the effects of his recent
injuries, the physical strain under which he had labored.  Her cold
eyes swept over him haughtily, inquiringly.

"For the part I have played, Madam," he said, "I ask your forbearance.
If we both labored under a delusion, I have only regret--"

"Regret!"  Was it an outburst of grief, or wounded pride?  He flushed,
but continued firmly:

"Madame la Princesse, when first a marriage was proposed between us I
was younger in experience if not in years than I am now; more used to
the bivouac or hunters' camps than courts.  And woman--" he
smiled--"well, she was a vague ideal.  At times, she came to me when
sleeping before the huntsman's fire in the solitudes of the forest;
again, was reflected from the pages of classic lore.  She seemed a part
of the woods and the streams, for by ancient art had she not been
turned into trees and running brooks?  So she whispered in the boughs
and murmured among the rushes.  Mere _Schwärmerei_.  Do you care to
hear?  'Tis the only defense I can offer."

Her contemptuous blue eyes remained fastened on him; she disdained to
answer.

"It was a dreamer from brake and copse who went in the disguise of a
jester to be near her; to win her for himself--and then, declare his
identity.  Well may you look scornful.  Love!--it is not such a
romantic quality--at court.  A momentary pastime, perhaps, but--a deep
passion--a passion stronger than rank, than death, than all--"

Above the face of her whom he addressed his glance rested upon
Jacqueline, and he paused.  The princess could but note, and a derisive
expression crept about her mouth.

"Once I would have told you all," he resumed.  "That night--when you
were Lady of the Lists.  But--"

He broke off abruptly, wishing to spare her the bitter memory of her
own acts.  Did she remember that day, when she had been queen of the
chaplet?  When she had crowned him whom now death and dishonor had
overtaken?

"The rest, Madam, you know--save this."  And stooping, he picked up the
ornament that had dropped from Louis of Hochfels' neck.  "Here,
Princess, is the miniature you sent me.  He, who used you so ill, stole
it from me in prison; through it, he recognized the fool for the duke;
with an assassin's blow he struck me down."

A moment he looked at that fair painted semblance.  Did it recall the
past too vividly?  His face showed no pain; only tranquillity.  His eye
was rather that of a connoisseur than a lover.  He smiled gently; then
held it to her.

Mechanically she let the portrait slip through her fingers, and it fell
to the moistened grass near the form of him who had wedded her.  Then
she drew back her dress so that it might not touch the body at her feet.

"Have I your Majesty's permission to withdraw?" she said, coldly.

"If you will not accept our poor escort to the king," answered Charles.

"My ladies and myself will dispense with so much honor, Sire," she
returned.

"Such service as we can command is at your disposal, Madam," he
repeated.

"It is not far distant to the château, Sire."

"As you will," said the emperor.

With no further word she bowed deeply, turned, and slowly retracing her
steps, mounted her horse, and rode away, followed by her maids and the
troopers of France.

As she disappeared, without one backward glance, the duke gazed quickly
toward the spot where Jacqueline had been standing.  He remembered the
young girl had heard his story; he had caught her eyes upon him while
he was telling it; very deep, serious, judicial, they seemed.  Were
they weighing his past infatuation for the princess; holding the scales
to his acts?  Swiftly he turned to her now, but she had vanished.  Save
for rough nurses, companions in arms, moving here and there among the
wounded, he and the emperor stood alone.  In the bushes a bird which
had left a nest of fledglings returned and caroled among the boughs; a
clarifying melody after the mad passions of the day.  The elder man
noted the direction of the duke's glance, the yellow ribbon on his arm.

"So it was a jestress, not a princess you found, thou dreamer," he
said, half-ironically.

"The daughter of the Constable of Dubrois, Sire," was the reply.

The emperor nodded.  "The family colors have changed," he observed
dryly.

"With fortune, Sire."

"Truly," said Charles, "fortune is a jestress.  She had like to play on
us this day.  But your fever?" he added, abruptly, setting his horse's
head toward camp.

"Is gone, Sire," answered the duke, riding by his side.

"And your injuries?"

"Were so slight they are forgotten."

"Then is the breath of battle better medicine than nostrum or salve.
In youth, 'tis the sword-point; in age, turn we to the hilt-cross.  But
this maid--have you won her?"

The young man changed color.  "Won her, Sire?" he replied.  "That I
know not--no word has passed--"

"No word," said the emperor, doubtingly.  "A knight-errant and a
castleless maid!"

The duke vouchsafed no answer.

"Humph!" added Charles.  "Thus do our plans come to naught.  If you got
her, and wore her, what end would be served?"

"No end of state, perhaps, Sire."

"Why," observed the monarch, "the state and the faith--what else is
there?  But go your way.  How smooth it may be no man can tell."

"Is the road like to be rougher than it has been, Sire?"

"The maid belongs to France," answered Charles, "and France belongs to
the king."

"The king!" exclaimed the duke, fiercely.

Involuntarily had they drawn rein in the shade of a tiny thicket
overlooking the valley.  Even from this slight exercise, bowed and
weary appeared the emperor's form.  The hand which controlled his steed
trembled, but the lines of his face spoke of unweakened sinew of
spirit, the iron grip of a will that only death might loosen.

"The king!" repeated the young man.  "He is no king of mine, nor hers.
To you, Sire, only, I owe allegiance, or my life, at your need."

A gentler expression softened the emperor's features, as a gleam of
sunshine forces itself into the somberest forest depths.

"We have had our need," he said.  "Not long since."

His glance swept the outlook below.  "Heaven watches over monarchs," he
added, turning a keen, satirical look on the other, "but through the
vigilance of our earthly servitors."

The duke's response was interrupted by the appearance below of a
horseman, covered with dust, riding toward them, and urging his weary
steed up the incline with spur and voice.  Deliberately the monarch
surveyed the new-comer.

"What make you of yonder fellow?" he said.  "He is not of the guard,
nor of the bastard's following."

"His housings are the color of France, Sire."

"Then can I make a shrewd guess of his purpose," observed the monarch.

As he spoke the horseman drew nearer and a moment later had stopped
before the emperor.

"A message from the king, Sire!" exclaimed the man, dismounting and
kneeling to present a formidable-looking document, with a great disk of
lead through which a silken string was drawn.

Breaking the seal, the emperor opened the missive.  "It is well," he
said at length, folding the parchment.  "The king was even on his way
to the château to await our coming, when he met Caillette and received
our communication.  Go you to the camp"--to the messenger--"where we
shall presently return."  And as the man rode away: "The king begs we
will continue our journey at our leisure," he added, "and announces he
will receive us at the château."

"And have I your permission to return to Friedwald, Sire?" asked the
other in a low voice.

"Alone?"

"Nay; I would conduct the constable's daughter there to safety."

"And thus needlessly court Francis' resentment?  Not yet."

The young man said no word, but his face hardened.

"Tut!" said the emperor, dryly, although not unkindly.  "Where's fealty
now?  Fine words; fine words!  A slender chit of a maid, forsooth.
Without lands, without dowry; with naught--save herself."

"Is she not enough, Sire?"

"Francis is more easily disarmed in his own castle by his own
hospitality than in the battle-field," observed Charles, without
replying to this question.  "In field have we conquered him; in palace
hath he conquered himself, and our friendship.  Therefore you and the
maid return in our train to the king's court."

"At your order, Sire."

But the young man's voice was cold, ominous.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE FAVORITE IS ALARMED

Thus it befell that both Robert of Friedwald and Jacqueline accompanied
the emperor to the little town, the scene of their late adventures, and
that they who had been fool and joculatrix rode once more through the
street they had ne'er expected to see again.  The flags were flying;
cannon boomed; they advanced beneath wreaths of roses, the way paved
with flowers.  Standing at the door of his inn, the landlord dropped
his jaw in amazement as his glance fell upon the jestress and her
companion behind the great emperor himself.  His surprise, too, was
abruptly voiced by a ragged, wayworn person not far distant in the
crowd, whose fingers had been busy about the pockets of his neighbors;
fingers which had a deft habit of working by themselves, while his eyes
were bent elsewhere and his lips joined in the general acclaim; fingers
which like antennas seemed to have a special intelligence of their own.
Now those long weapons of abstraction and appropriation ceased their
deft work; he became all eyes.

"Good lack!  Who may the noble gentleman behind the emperor be?" he
exclaimed.  "Surely 'tis the duke's fool."

"And ride with the emperor?" said a burly citizen at his elbow.  "'Tis
thou who art the fool."

"Truly I think so," answered the other.  "I see; believe; but may not
understand."

At that moment the duke's gaze in passing chanced to rest upon the
pinched and over-curious face of the scamp-student; a gleam of
recollection shone in his glance.  "_Gladius gemmatus!_" cried the
scholar, and a smile on the noble's countenance told him he had heard.
Turning the problem in his mind, the vagrant-philosopher forgot about
pilfering and the procession itself, when a soldier touched him roughly
on the shoulder.

"Are you the scamp-student?" said the trooper.

"Now they'll hang me with these spoils in my pockets," thought the
scholar.  But as bravely as might be, he replied: "The former I am; the
latter I would be."

"Then the Duke of Friedwald sent me to give you this purse," remarked
the man, suiting the action to the word.  "He bade me say 'tis to take
the place of a bit of silver you once did not earn."  And the trooper
vanished.

"Well-a-day!" commented the burly citizen, regarding the gold pieces
and the philosopher in wonderment of his own.  "You may be a fool, but
you must be an honest knave."

At the château the meeting between the two monarchs was unreservedly
cordial on both sides.  They spoke with satisfaction of the peace now
existing between them and of other matters social and political.  The
emperor deplored deeply the untimely demise of Francis' son, Charles,
who had caught the infection of plague while sleeping at Abbeville.
Later the misalliance of the princess was cautiously touched upon.
That lady, said Francis gravely, to whom the gaieties of the court at
the present time could not fail to be distasteful, had left the château
immediately upon her return.  Ever of a devout mind, she had repaired
to a convent and announced her intention of devoting herself, and her
not inconsiderable fortune, to a higher and more spiritual life.
Charles, who at that period of his lofty estates himself hesitated
between the monastery and the court, applauded her resolution, to which
the king perfunctorily and but half-heartedly responded.

Shortly after, the emperor, fatigued by his journey, begged leave to
retire to his apartments, whither he went, accompanied by his "brother
of France" and followed by his attendants.  At the door Francis, with
many expressions of good will, took leave of his royal guest for the
time being, and, turning, encountered the Duke of Friedwald.

Francis, himself once accustomed to assume the disguise of an archer of
the royal guard the better to pursue his love follies among the people,
now gazed curiously upon one who had befooled the entire court.

"You took your departure, my Lord," said the king, quietly, "without
waiting for the order of your going."

"He who enacts the fool, your Majesty, without patent to office must
needs have good legs," replied the young man.  "Else will he have his
fingers burnt."

"Only his fingers?" returned the monarch with a smile, somewhat
sardonic.

"Truly," thought the other, as Francis strode away, "the king regrets
the fool's escape from Notre Dame and the fagots."

During the next day Charles called first for his leech and then for a
priest, but whether the former or the latter, or both, temporarily
assuaged the restlessness of mortal disease, that night he was enabled
to be present at the character dances given in his honor by the ladies
of the court in the great gallery of the château.

At a signal from the cornet, gitterns, violas and pipes began to play,
and Francis and his august guest, accompanied by Queen Eleanor, and the
emperor's sister, Marguerite of Navarre, entered the hall, followed by
the dauphin and Catharine de Medici, Diane de Poitiers, the Duchesse
d'Etampes; marshal, chancellor and others of the king's friends and
counselors; courtiers, poets, jesters, philosophers; a goodly company,
such as few monarchs could summon at their beck and call.  Charles' eye
lighted; even his austere nature momentarily kindled amid that
brilliant spectacle; Francis' palace of pleasure was an intoxicating
antidote to spleen or hypochondria.  And when the court ladies, in a
dazzling band, appeared in the dance, led by the Duchesse d'Etampes, he
openly expressed his approval.

"Ah, Madam," he said to the Queen of Navarre, "there is little of the
monastery about our good brother's court."

"Did your Majesty expect we should cloister you?" she answered, with a
lively glance.

He gazed meditatively upon the "Rose of Valois," or the "Pearl of the
Valois," as she was sometimes called; then a shadow fell upon him; the
futility of ambition; the emptiness of pleasure.  In scanty attire, the
Duchesse d'Etampes, with the king, flashed before him; the former, all
beauty, all grace, her little feet trampling down care, so lightly.
Somberly he watched her, and sighed.  Mentally he compared himself to
Francis; they had traveled the road of life together, discarding their
youth at the same turn of the highway; yet here was his French brother,
indefatigable in the pursuit of merriment, while his own soul sang
_miséréré_ to the tune of Francis' fiddles.  Yet, had he overheard the
conversation of the favorite and the king, the emperor's moodiness
would not, perhaps, have been unmixed with a stronger feeling.

"Sire," the duchess was saying in her most persuasive manner, "while
you have Charles--once your keeper--in your power, here in the château,
you will surely punish him for the past and avenge yourself?  You will
make him revoke the treaty of Madrid, or shut him up in one of Louis
XI's oubliettes?"

"I will persuade him if I can," replied the king coldly, "but never
force him.  My honor, Madam, is dearer to me than my interests."

The favorite said no more of a cherished project, knowing Francis'
temper and his stubbornness when crossed.  She merely shrugged her
white shoulders and watched him closely.  The monarch had not scrupled
once to break his covenant with Charles, holding that treaties made
under duress, by _force majeure_, were legally void, while now--  But
the king was composed of contradictions, or--was her own influence
waning?

She had observed a new expression cross his countenance when in the
retinue of the emperor he had noted the daughter of the constable; such
a tenderness as she remembered at Bayonne when the king had looked upon
her, the duchess, for the first time.  When she next spoke her words
were the outcome of this train of thought.

"To think the jestress, Jacqueline, should turn out the daughter of
that traitor, the Constable of Dubrois," she observed, keenly.

"A traitor, certainly," said Francis, "but also a brave man.  Perhaps
we pressed him too hard," he added retrospectively.  "We were young in
years and hot-tempered."

"Your Majesty remembers the girl--a dark-browed, bold creature?"
remarked the duchess, smiling amiably.

"Dark-browed, perhaps, Madam; but I observed nothing bold in her
demeanor," answered the king.

"What! a jestress and not bold!  A girl who frequented Fools' hall; who
ran away from court with the _plaisant_!"  She glanced at him
mischievously, like a wilful child, but before his frown the smile
faded; involuntarily she clenched her hands.

"Madam," he replied cynically, "I have always noticed that women are
poor judges of their own sex."

And conducting her to a seat, he raised her jeweled fingers
perfunctorily to his lips, and, wheeling abruptly, left her.

"Ah!" thought Triboulet, ominously, who had been closely observing
them, "the king is much displeased."

Had the duchess observed the monarch's lack of warmth?  At any rate,
somewhat perplexedly she regarded the departing figure of the king;
then humming lightly, turned to a mirror to adjust a ringlet which had
fallen from the golden net binding her tresses.

"_Mère de Dieu_! woman never held man--or king--by sighing," she
thought, and laughed, remembering the Countess of Châteaubriant; a
veritable Niobe when the monarch had sent her home.

But Triboulet drew a wry face; his little heart was beating
tremulously; dark shadows crossed his mind.  Two portentous stars had
appeared in the horoscope of his destiny: he who had been the foreign
fool; she who was the daughter of the constable.  Almost fiercely the
hunchback surveyed the beautiful woman before him.  With her downfall
would come his own, and he believed the king had wearied of her.  How
hateful was her fair face to him at that moment!  Already in
imagination he experienced the bitterness of the fall from his high
estates, and shudderingly looked back to his own lowly beginning: a
beggarly street-player of bagpipes; ragged, wretched, importuning
passers-by for coppers; reviled by every urchin.  But she, meeting his
glance and reading his thought, only clapped her hands recklessly.

"How unhappy you look," she said.

"Madam, do you think the duke--" he began.

"I think he will cut off your head," she exclaimed, and Triboulet
turned yellow; but a few moments later took heart, the duchess was so
lightsome.

"By my sword--if I had one--our jestress has made a triumphant return,"
commented Caillette as he stood with the Duke of Friedwald near one of
the windows, surveying the animated scene.  "Already are some of the
ladies jealous as Barbary pigeons.  Her appearance has been remarked by
the Duc de Montrin and other gentlemen in attendance, and--look!  Now
the great De Guise approaches her.  Here one belongs to everybody."

The other did not answer and Caillette glanced quickly at him.  "You
will not think me over-bold," he went on, after a moment's hesitation,
"if I mention what is being whispered--by them?" including in a look
and the uplifting of his eyebrows the entire court.  The duke laid his
hand warmly on the shoulder of the poet-fool.  "Is there not that
between us which precludes the question?"

"I should not venture to speak about it," continued Caillette, meeting
the duke's gaze frankly, "but that you once honored me with your
confidence.  That I was much puzzled when I met you and--our erstwhile
jestress--matters not.  'Twas for me to dismiss my wonderment, and not
strive to reconcile my neighbor's affairs.  But when I hear every one
talking about my--friend, it is no gossip's task to come to him with
the unburdening of the prattle."

"What are they saying, Caillette?" asked the duke, in his eyes a darker
look.

"That you would wed this maid, but that the king will use his friendly
offices with Charles to prevent it."

"And do they say why Francis will so use his influence?" continued the
other.

"Because of the claim such a union might give an alien house to a vast
estate in France; the confiscated property of the Constable of Dubrois.
And--but the other reason is but babble, malice--what you will."  And
Caillette's manner quickly changed from grave to frivolous.  "Now, _au
revoir_; I'm off to Fools' hall," he concluded.  "Whenever it becomes
dull for you, seek some of your old comrades there."  And laughing,
Caillette disappeared.

Thoughtfully the duke continued to observe the jestress.  Between them
whirled the votaries of pleasure; before him swept the fragrance of
delicate perfumes; in his ears sounded the subtile enticement of soft
laughter.  Her face wore a proud, self-reliant expression; her eyes
that look which had made her seem so illusive from the inception of
their acquaintance.  And now, since his identity had been revealed, she
had seemed more puzzling to him than ever.  When he had sought her
glance, her look had told him nothing.  It was as though with the
doffing of the motley she had discarded its recollections.  In a
tentative mood, he had striven to fathom her, but found himself at a
loss.  She had been neither reserved, nor had she avoided him; to her
the past seemed a page, lightly read and turned.  Had Caillette truly
said "now she belonged to the world"?

Stepping upon one of the balconies overlooking the valley, the duke
gazed out over the tranquil face of nature, his figure drawn aside from
the flood of light within.  Between heaven and earth, the château
reared its stately pile, and far downward those twinkling flashes
represented the town; yonder faint line, like a dark thread, the
encircling wall.  Above the gate shone a glimmer from the narrow
casement of some officer's quarters; and the jester's misgivings when
they had ridden beneath the portcullis into the town for the first
time, recurred to him; also, the glad haste with which they had sped
away.

Memories of dangers, of the free and untrammeled character of their
wandering, that day-to-day intimacy, and night-to-night consciousness
of her presence haunted him.  Her loyalty, her fine sense of
comradeship, her inherent tenderness, had been revealed to him.  Still
he seemed to feel himself the jester, in the gathering of fools, and
she a _ministralissa_, with dark, deep eyes that baffled him.

The sound of voices near the window aroused him from this field of
speculation, voices that abruptly riveted his attention and held it:
the king's and Jacqueline's.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE FAVORITE IS REASSURED

The young man's brow drew dark; tumultuous thoughts filled his brain;
Caillette's words, Brusquet's rhymes, confirming his own conviction,
rankled in his mind.  This king dared arrogate a law absolute unto
himself; its statutes, his own caprices; its canons, his own
pretensions?  The duke remembered the young girl's outburst against the
monarch and a feeling of hatred arose in his breast; his hand
involuntarily sought his sword, the blade of Francis' implacable enemy.

"We have heard your story, my child, from our brother, the emperor,"
the king was saying, "and although your father rebelled against his
monarch, we harbor it not against the daughter."

"Sire," she answered, in a low tone, "I regret the emperor should have
acquainted you with this matter."

"You have no cause for fear," Francis replied, misinterpreting her
words.  She offered no response, and the duke, moving into the light,
observed the king was regarding the young girl intently, his tall
figure conspicuous above the courtiers.

Flushed, Jacqueline looked down; the white-robed form, however, very
straight and erect; her hair, untrammeled with the extreme conventions
of the day; a single flower a spot of color amid its abundance.  Even
the duchess--bejeweled, bedecked, tricked out--in her own mind had
pronounced the young girl beautiful, and there surely was no mistaking
the covert admiration of the monarch as his glance encompassed her.
Despite her assumed composure, it was obvious to the duke, however,
that only by a strong effort had she nerved herself to that evening's
task; the red hue on her cheeks, the brightness of her eyes, told of
the suppressed excitement her manner failed to betray.

"Why should you leave with Charles?" continued Francis.  "Perhaps were
we over-hasty in confiscating the castle of the constable.  _Vrai
Dieu_," he added, meditatively.  "Had he unbent but a little!
Marguerite told us we were driving him to despair, but the queen regent
and the rest of our counselors prevailed--"  He broke off abruptly and
directed a bolder gaze to hers.  "May not a monarch, Mademoiselle, undo
what he has done?"

"Even a king can not give life to the dead," she replied, and her voice
sounded hard and unyielding.

"No," he assented, moodily, "but it would not be impossible to restore
the castle--to his daughter."

"Sire!" she exclaimed in surprise; then shook her head.  "With your
Majesty's permission, I shall leave with the emperor."

Francis made an impatient movement; her inflexibility recalled one who
long ago had renounced his fealty to the throne; her resistance kindled
the flame that had been smoldering in his breast.

"But if I have pointed out to the emperor that your proper station is
here?" he went on.  "If he recognizes that it would be to your
disadvantage to divert that destiny which lies in France?"

His words were measured; his manner tinged with seeming paternal
interest; but, as through a mask, she discerned his face, cynical,
libidinous, the countenance of a Sybarite, not a king.  The air became
stifling; the ribaldry of laughter enveloped her; instinctively she
glanced around, and her restless, troubled gaze fell upon the duke.

What was it he read in her eyes?  A confession of insecurity, fear; a
mute appeal?  Before it all his doubts and misgivings vanished; the
look they exchanged was like that when she had stood on the staircase
in the inn.

Upon the monarch, engrossed in his purpose, it was lost.  If silence
give consent, then had she already acquiesced in a wish which, from a
king, became a demand.  But Francis, ever complaisant, with an
inconsistent chivalry worthy of the subterfuge of his character,
desired to appear forbearing, indulgent.

"For your own sake," he added, "must we refuse that permission you ask
of us."

She did not answer, and, noting the direction of her gaze, the eager
expectancy written on her face, Francis turned sharply.  At the same
time the duke stepped forward.

The benignity faded from the king's manner; his countenance, which "at
no time would have made a man's fortune," became rancorous, caustic;
the corners of his mouth appeared almost updrawn to his nostrils.  He
had little reason to care for the duke, and this interruption, so
flagrant, menacing almost, did not tend to enhance his regard.  In
nowise daunted, the young man stood before him.

"I trust, Sire, your Majesty will reconsider your decision?"

With a strained look the young girl regarded them.  To what new dangers
had she summoned him?  Was not she, the duke, even the emperor himself,
in the power of the king, for the present at least?  And knowing well
Francis' headstrong passions, his violence when crossed, it was not
strange at that moment her heart sank; she felt on the brink of an
abyss; a nameless peril toward which she had drawn the companion of her
flight.  It seemed an endless interval before the monarch spoke.

"Ah, you heard!" remarked Francis at length, satirically.

"Inadvertently, Sire," answered the duke.  His voice was steady, his
face pale, but in his blue eyes a glint as of fire came and went.
Self-assurance marked his bearing; dignity, pride.  He looked not at
the young girl, but calmly met the scrutiny of the king.  The latter
surveyed him from head to foot; then suddenly stared hard at a sword
whose hilt gleamed even brighter than his own, and was fashioned in a
form that recalled not imperfectly a hazard of other days.

[Illustration: He looked not at the young girl, but calmly met the
scrutiny of the king.]

"Where did you get that blade?" he asked, abruptly.

"From the daughter of the Constable of Dubrois."

"Why did she give it to you?"

"To protect her, Sire."

The monarch's countenance became more thoughtful; less acrimonious.
How the present seemed involved in the past!  Were kings, then,
enmeshed in the web of their own acts?  Were even the gods not exempt
from retributory justice?  Those were days of superstition, when a
coincidence assumed the importance of inexorable destiny.

"Once was it drawn against me," said Francis, reflectively.

"I trust, Sire, it may never again be drawn by an enemy of your
Majesty."

The king did not reply, but stood as a man who yet took counsel with
himself.

"By what right," he asked, finally, "do you speak for the lady?"

 A moment the duke looked disconcerted.  "By
what right?"

Then swiftly he regarded the girl.  As quickly--a flash it seemed--her
dark eyes made answer, their language more potent than words.  He could
but understand; doubt and misgiving were forgotten; the hesitation
vanished from his manner.  Hastily crossing to her side, he took her
hand and unresistingly it lay in his.  His heart beat faster; her
sudden acquiescence filled him with wonder; at the same time, his task
seemed easier.  To protect her now!  The king coughed ironically, and
the duke turned from her to him.

"By what right, your Majesty?" he said in a voice which sounded
different to Francis.  "This lady is my affianced bride, Sire."

Pique, umbrage, mingled in the expression which replaced all other
feeling on the king's countenance as he heard this announcement.  With
manifest displeasure he looked from one to the other.

"Is this true, Mademoiselle?" he asked, sternly.

Her cheek was red, but she held herself bravely.

"Yes, Sire," she said.

A new emotion leaped to the duke's face as he heard her lips thus
fearlessly confirm the answer of her eyes.  And so before the
monarch--in that court which Marguerite called the Court of Love--they
plighted their troth.

Something in their manner, however, puzzled the observant king; an
exaltation, perhaps, uncalled for by the simple telling of a secret
understanding between them; that rapid interchange of glances; that
significance of manner when the duke stepped to her side.  Francis bit
his lips.

"_Ma foi!_" he exclaimed, sharply.  "This is somewhat abrupt.  How
long, my Lord, since she promised to be your wife?"

"Since your Majesty spoke," returned the duke, tranquilly.

"And before that?"

"Before?  I only knew that _I_ loved _her_, Sire."

"And now you know, for the first time, that _she_ loves _you_?" added
the king, dryly.  "But the emperor--are you not presuming overmuch that
he will give his consent?  Or think you"--with fine irony--"that
marriages of state are made in Heaven?"

"It was once my privilege, Sire, so to serve the emperor, as his
Majesty thought, that he bade me ask of him what I would, when I would.
Heretofore have I had nothing to ask; now, everything."

Some of the asperity faded from Francis' glance.  The situation
appealed to his strong penchant for merry _plaisanterie_.
Besides--such was his overweening pride--to hear a woman confess she
cared for another dampened his own ardor, instead of stimulating it.
"None but himself could be his parallel;" the royal lover could brook
no rival.  Had she merely desired to marry the former fool--the
Countess of Châteaubriant had had a husband--but to love him!

After all, she was but an audacious slip of a girl; a dark-browed, bold
gipsy; by nature, intended for the motley--yes, the Duchesse d'Etampes
was right.  Then, he liked not her parentage; she was a constant
reminder of one who had been like to make vacant the throne of France,
and to destroy, root and branch, the proud house of Orleans.  Moreover,
whispered avarice, he would save the castle for himself; a stately and
right royal possession.  He had, indeed, been over-generous in
proffering it.  Love, said reason, was unstable, flitting; woman, a
will-o'-the-wisp; but a castle--its noble solidity would endure.  At
the same time, policy admonished the king that the duke was a subject
of his good brother, the emperor, and a rich, powerful noble withal.
So with such grace as he could command Francis greeted one whom he
preferred to regard as an ally rather than an enemy.

"Truly, my Lord," he said not discourteously, masking in a courtly
manner his personal dislike for him whose sharp criticism he once had
felt in Fools' hall, "a nimble-witted jester was lost when you resumed
the dignity of your position.  But," he added cautiously, as a sudden
thought moved him, "this lady has appeared somewhat unexpectedly; the
house of Friedwald is not an inconsequential one."

"What mean you, Sire?" asked the young man, as the king paused.

Francis studied him shrewdly.  "Why," he replied at length,
hesitatingly, "there is that controversy of the Constable of Dubrois;
certain lands and a castle, long since rightly confiscated."

"Your Majesty, there is another castle, and lands to spare, in a
distant country," returned the duke quickly.  "These will suffice."

"As you will," said the king in a livelier tone.  "For the future,
command our good offices--since you have made us sponsor of your
fortunes."

With which well-covered confession of his own defeat, Francis strode
away.  As he turned, however, he caught the smile of the Duchesse
d'Etampes and crossed to her graciously.

"Your dress becomes you well, Anne," he said.

She glanced down at herself demurely; her lashes veiled a sudden gleam
of triumph.  "How kind of you, Sire, to notice--my poor gown."

"I was right," murmured Triboulet, joyfully, as he saw king and
favorite walking together.  "No one will ever replace the duchess."

Silent, hand in hand, the duke and the joculatrix stood upon the
balcony.  Below them lay the earth, wrapped in hazy light.  Behind
them, the court, with its glamour.

"Have I done well, Jacqueline, to answer the king as I have done?" he
said finally.  "Are you content to resign all--forever--here in France?
To go with me--"

"Into a new world," she interrupted.  "Once I asked you to take me, but
you hesitated, and were like to leave me behind you."

"But now 'tis I who ask," he answered.

"And I--who hesitate?" looking out over the valley, where the shadow of
a cloud crossed the land.

"Do you hesitate, Jacqueline?"

She turned.  About her lips trembled the old fleeting smile.

"What woman knows her mind, Sir Fool?  Yet if it were not so--"

"If it were not so?" he said, eagerly.

Her eyes became grave on a sudden.  "I might believe I had been of one
mind--long."

"Jacqueline!--sweet jestress!--"

He caught her suddenly in his arms, his fine young features aglow.
This then was the goal of his desires; a goal of delight, far, far
beyond all youthful dreams or early imaginings.  With drooping eyelids,
she stood in his embrace; she, once so proud, so self-willed.  He drew
her closer--kissed her hair!--the rose!--

She raised her head, and--sweeter still--he kissed her lips.

Across the valley the shadow receded; vanished.  In the full glory of
nightly splendor lay the earth, and as the mystic radiance lighted up a
world of beauty, it seemed at last they beheld their world; the light
more beautiful for the shade and the purple mists.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under the Rose" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home