Two Penniless Princesses by J. M. Synge
Chapter 7. The Minstrel King's Court
'Where throngs of knights and barons bold, In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold, With store of ladies, whose bright eyes Rain influence, and judge the prize Of wit or arms, while both contend To win her grace whom all commend.'--L'Allegro.
The whole of the two Courts had to be received in the capital of Lorraine in full state under the beautiful old gateway, but as mediaeval pageants are wearisome matters this may be passed over, though it was exceptionally beautiful and poetic, owing to the influence of King Rene's taste, and it perfectly dazzled the two Scottish princesses--though, to tell the truth, they were somewhat disappointed in the personal appearance of their entertainers, who did not come up to their notion of royalty. Their father had been a stately and magnificent man; their mother a beautiful woman. Henry VI. was a tall, well-made, handsome man, with Plantagenet fairness and regularity of feature and a sweetness all his own; but both these kings were, like all the house of Valois, small men with insignificant features and sallow complexions. Rene, indeed, had a distinction about him that compensated for want of beauty, and Charles had a good-natured, easy, indolent look and gracious smile that gave him an undefinable air of royalty. Rene's daughters were both very lovely, but their beauty came from the other side of the house, with the blood of Charles the Great, through their mother, the heiress of Lorraine.
There was a curious contrast between the brothers-in-law, Charles, when dismounting at the castle gate, not disguising his weariness and relief that it was over, and Rene, eager and anxious, desirous of making all his bewildering multitude of guests as happy as possible, while the Dauphin Louis stood by, half interested and amused, half mocking. He was really fond of his uncle, though in a contemptuous superior sort of manner, despising his religious and honourable scruples as mere simplicity of mind.
Rene of Anjou has been hardly dealt with, as is often the case with princes upright, religious, and chivalrous beyond the average of their time, yet without the strength or the genius to enforce their rights and opinions, and therefore thrust aside. After his early unsuccessful wars his lands of Provence and Lorraine were islands of peace, prosperity, and progress, and withal he was an extremely able artist, musician, and poet, striving to revive the old troubadour spirit of Provence, and everywhere casting about him an atmosphere of refinement and kindliness.
The hall of his hotel at Nanci was a beautiful place, with all the gorgeous grace of the fifteenth century, and here his guests assembled for supper soon after their arrival, all being placed as much as possible according to rank. Eleanor found herself between a deaf old Church dignitary and Duke Sigismund, on whose other side was Yolande, the Infanta, as the Provencals called the daughter of Rene; while Jean found the Dauphin on one side of her and a great French Duke on the other. Louis amused himself with compliments and questions that sometimes nettled her, sometimes pleased her, giving her a sense that he might admire her beauty, but was playing on her simplicity, and trying to make her betray the destitution of her home and her purpose in coming.
Eleanor, on the other hand, found her cavalier more simple than herself. In fact, he properly belonged to the Infanta, but she paid no attention to him, nor did the Bishop try to speak to the Scottish princess. Sigismund's French was very lame, and Eleanor's not perfect, but she had a natural turn for languages, and had, in the convent, picked up some German, which in those days had many likenesses to her own broad Scotch. They made one another out, between the two languages, with signs, smiles, and laughter, and whereas the subtilties along the table represented the entire story of Sir Gawain and his Loathly Lady, she contrived to explain the story to him, greatly to his edification; and they went on to King Arthur, and he did his best to narrate the German reading of Sir Parzival. The difficulties engrossed them till the rose-water was brought in silver bowls to wash their fingers, on which Sigismund, after observing and imitating the two ladies, remarked that they had no such Schwarmerci in Deutschland, and Yolande looked as if she could well believe it, while Elleen, though ignorant of the meaning of his word, laughed and said they had as little in Scotland.
There was still an hour of daylight to come, and moon-rise would not be far off, so that the hosts proposed to adjourn to the garden, where fresh music awaited them.
King Rene was an ardent gardener. His love of flowers was viewed as one of his weaknesses, only worthy of an old Abbot, but he went his own way, and the space within the walls of his castle at Nanci was lovely with bright spring flowers, blossoming trees, and green walks, where, as Lady Suffolk said, her grandfather could have mused all day and all night long, to the sound of the nightingales.
But what the sisters valued it for was that they could ramble away together to a stone bench under the wall, and there sit at perfect ease together and pour out their hearts to one another. Margaret, indeed, seemed to bask in their presence, and held them as they leant against her as if to convince herself of their reality, and yet she said that they knew not what they did when they put the sea between themselves and Scotland, nor how sick the heart could be for its bonnie hills.
'0 gin I could see a mountain top again, I feel as though I could lay me down and die content. What garred ye come daundering to these weary flats of France?'
'Ah, sister, Scotland is not what you mind it when our blessed father lived!'
And they told her how their lives had been spent in being hurried from one prison-castle to another.
'Prison-castles be not wanting here,' replied Margaret with a sigh. Then, as Elleen held up a hand in delight at the thrill of a neighbouring nightingale, she cried, 'What is yon sing-song, seesaw, gurgling bird to our own bonnie laverock, soaring away to the sky, without making such a wark of tuning his pipes, and never thinking himself too dainty and tender for a wholesome frost or two! So Jamie sent you off to seek for husbands here, did he? Couldna ye put up with a leal Scot, like Glenuskie there?'
'There were too many of them,' said Jean.
'And not ower leal either,' said Eleanor.
'Lealty is a rare plant ony gate,' sighed Margaret, 'and where sae little is recked of our Scots royalty, mayhap ye'll find that tocherless lasses be less sought for than at hame. Didna I see thee, Elleen, clavering with that muckle Archduke that nane can talk with?'
'Ay,' said Eleanor.
'He is come here a-courting Madame Yolande, with his father's goodwill, for Alsace and Tyrol be his, mountains that might be in our ain Hielands, they tell me.'
'Methougnt,' said Eleanor, 'she scunnered from him, as Jeanie does at--shall I say whom?'
'And reason gude,' said Margaret. 'She has a joe of her ain, Count Ferry de Vaudemont, that is the heir male of the line, and a gallant laddie. At the great joust the morn methinks ye'll see what may well be sung by minstrels, and can scarce fail to touch the heart of a true troubadour, as is my good uncle Rene.'
Margaret became quite animated, and her sisters pressed her to tell them if she knew of any secret; but she playfully shook her head, and said that if she did know she would not mar the romaunt that was to be played out before them.
'Nay,' said Eleanor, 'we have a romaunt of our own. May I tell, Jeanie?'
'Who recks?' replied Jean, with a little toss of her head.
Thus Eleanor proceeded to tell her sister what--since the adventure of the goose--had gone far beyond a guess as to the tall, red-haired young man-at-arms who had ridden close behind David Drummond.
'Douglas, Douglas, tender and true,' exclaimed Margaret. 'He loves you so as to follow for weeks, nay, months, in this guise without word or look. Oh, Jeanie, Jeanie, happy lassie, did ye but ken it! Nay, put not on that scornful mou'. It sorts you not weel, my bairn. He is of degree befitting a Stewart, and even were he not, oh, sisters, sisters, better to wed with a leal loving soul in ane high peel-tower than to bear a broken heart to a throne!' and she fell into a convulsive fit of choked and bitter weeping, which terrified her sisters.
At the sound of a lute, apparently being brought nearer, accompanied with footsteps, she hastily recovered herself, and rose to her feet, while a smile broke out over her face, as the musician, a slender, graceful figure, appeared on the path in the moonlight.
'Answering the nightingales, Maitre Alain?' she said.
'This is the court of nightingales, Madame,' he replied. 'It is presumption to endeavour to rival them even though the heart be torn like that of Philomel.' Wherewith he touched his lute, and began to sing from his famous idyll--
'Ainsi mon coeur se guermentait De la grande douleur qu'il portait, En ce plaisant lieu solitaire Ou un doux ventelet venait, Si seri qu'on le sentait Lorsque la violette mieux flaire.'
Again, as Eleanor heard the sweet strains, and saw the long shadows of the trees and the light of the rising moon, it was like the attainment of her dreamland; and Margaret proceeded to make known to her sisters Maitre Alain Chartier, the prince of song, adding, 'Thou, too, wast a songster, sister Elleen, even while almost a babe. Dost sing as of old?'
'I have brought my father's harp,' said Eleanor.
'Ah! I must hear it,' she cried with effusion. 'The harp. It will be his voice again.'
'Madame! Madame! Madame la Dauphine. Out here! Ever reckless of dew--ay, and of waur than dew.'
These last words were added in Scotch, as a tall, dark-cloaked figure appeared on the scene from between the trees. Margaret laughed, with a little annoyance in her tone, as she said, 'Ever my shadow, good Madame, ever wearying yourself with care. Here, sisters, here is my trusty and well-beloved Dame de Ste. Petronelle, who takes such care of me that she dogs my footsteps like a messan.'
'And reason gude,' replied the lady. 'Here is the muckle hall all alight, and this King Rene, as they call him, twanging on his lute, and but that the Seigneur Dauphin is talking to the English Lord on some question of Gascon boundaries, we should have him speiring for you. I saw the eye of him roaming after you, as it was.'
'His eye seeking me!' cried Margaret, springing up from her languid attitude with a tone like exultation in her voice, such as evoked a low sigh from the old dame, as all began to move towards the castle. She was the widow of a Scotch adventurer who had won lands and honours in France; and she was now attached to the service of the Dauphiness, not as her chief lady--that post was held by an old French countess--but still close enough to her to act as her guardian and monitor whenever it was possible to deal with her.
The old lady, in great delight at meeting a compatriot, poured out her confidences to Dame Lilias of Glenuskie. Infinitely grieved and annoyed was she when, early as were the ordinary hours of the Court of Nanci, it proved that the Dauphiness had called up her sisters an hour before, and taken them across the chace which surrounded the castle to hear mass at a convent of Benedictine nuns.
It was perfectly safe, though only a tirewoman and a page followed the Dauphiness, and only Annis attended her two sisters, for the grounds were enclosed, and King Rene's domains were far better ruled and more peaceful than those of the princes who despised him. It was an exquisite spring morning, with grass silvery with dew and enamelled with flowers, birds singing ecstatically on every branch, squirrels here and there racing up a trunk. Margaret was in joyous spirits, and almost danced between her sisters. Eleanor was amazed at the luxuriant beauty of the scene, and could not admire enough. Jean, though at first a little cross at the early summons, could not but be infected with their delight, and the three laughed and frolicked together with almost childish glee in the delight of their content.
The great, gentle-eyed, long-horned kine were being driven in at the convent-yard to be milked by the lay-sisters; at another entrance, peasants, beggars, and sick were congregating; the bell from the lace-works spire rang out, and the Dauphiness led the way to the gateway, where, at her knock on the iron-studded door, a lay-sister looked through the wicket.
'Good sister, here are some early pilgrims to the shrine of St. Scolastique,' she began.
'To the other gate,' said the portress hastily. Margaret's face twinkled with fun. 'I wad fain take a turn with the beggar crew,' she said to her sisters in Scotch; 'but it might cause too great an outcry if I were kenned. Commend me to the Mere St. Antoine,' she added in French, 'and tell her that the Dauphiness would fain hear mass with her.'
The portress cast an anxious doubtful glance, but being apparently convinced, cried out for pardon, while hastily unlocking her door, and sending a message to the Abbess.
As they entered the cloistered quadrangle the nuns in black procession were on their way to mass, but turned aside to receive their visitors. Margaret knelt for a moment for the blessing and kiss of the Abbess, then greeted the nun whom she had mentioned, but begged for no further ceremony, and then was led into church.
It was a brief festival mass, and was not really over before she, with a restlessness of which her sisters began to be conscious, began to rise and make her way out. A nun followed and entreated her to stay and break her fast, but she would accept nothing save a draught of milk, swallowed hastily, and with signs of impatience as her sisters took their turn.
She walked quickly, rather as one guilty of an escapade, again surprising her sisters, who fancied the liberty of a married princess illimitable.
Jean even ventured to ask her why she went so fast, 'Would the King of France be displeased?'
'He! Poor gude sire Charles! He heeds not what one does, good or bad; no, not the murdering of his minion before his eyes,' said Margaret, half laughing.
'Thy husband, would he be angered?' pressed on Jean.
'My husband? Oh no, it is not in the depth and greatness of is thoughts to find fault with his poor worm,' said Margaret, a strange look, half of exultation, half of pain, on her face. 'Ah! Jeanie, woman, none kens in sooth how great and wise my Dauphin is, nor how far he sees beyond all around him, so that he cannot choose but scorn them and make them his tools. When he has the power, he will do more for this poor realm of France than any king before him.'
'As our father would have done for Scotland,' said Eleanor.
'Then he tells thee of his plans?'
'Me!' said Margaret, with the suffering look returning. 'How should he talk to me, the muckle uncouthie wife that I am, kenning nought but a wheen ballads and romaunts--not even able to give him the heir for whom he longs,' and she wrung her hands together, 'how can I be aught but a pain and grief to him!'
'Nay, but thou lovest him?' said Jean, over simply.
'Lassie!' exclaimed Margaret hotly, 'what thinkest thou I am made of? How should a wife not love her man, the wisest, canniest prince in Christendom, too! Love him! I worship him, as the trouveres say, with all my heart, and wad lay down my life if I could win one kind blush of his eye; and yet-- and yet--such a creature am I that I am ever wittingly or unwittingly transgressing these weary laws, and garring him think me a fool, or others report me such,' clenching her hands again.
'Madame de Ste. Petronelle?' asked Jean.
'She! Oh no! She is a true loyal Lindsay, heart and soul, dour and wearisome; but she would guard me from every foe, and most of all, as she is ever telling me, from mine ain self, that is my worst enemy. Only she sets about it in such guise that, for very vexation, I am driven farther! No, it is the Countess de Craylierre, who is forever spiting me, and striving to put whatever I do in a cruel light, if I dinna walk after her will-- hers, as if she could rule a king's daughter!'
And Margaret stamped her foot on the ground, while a hot flush arose in her cheeks. Her sisters, young girls as they were, could not understand her moods, either of wild mirth, eager delight in poetry and music, childish wilfulness and petulant temper or deep melancholy, all coming in turn with feverish alternation and vehemence. As the ladies approached the castle they were met by various gentlemen, among whom was Maitre Alain Chartier, and a bandying of compliments and witticisms began in such rapid French that even Eleanor could not follow it; but there was something in the ring of the Dauphiness's hard laugh that pained her, she knew not why.
At the entrance they found the chief of the party returning from the cathedral, where they had heard mass, not exactly in state, but publicly.
'Ha! ha! good daughter,' laughed the King, 'I took thee for a slug abed, but it is by thy errant fashion that thou hast cheated us.'
'I have been to mass at St Mary's,' returned Margaret, 'with my sisters. I love the early walk across the park.'
'No wonder,' came from between the thin lips of the Dauphin, as his keen little eye fell on Chartier. Margaret drew herself up and vouchsafed not to reply. Jean marvelled, but Eleanor felt with her, that she was too proud to defend herself from the insult. Madame de Ste. Petronelle, however, stepped forward and began: 'Madame la Dauphine loves not attendance. She made her journey alone with Mesdames ses soeurs with no male company, till she reached home.'
But before the first words were well out of the good lady's mouth Louis had turned away, with an air of the most careless indifference, to a courtier in a long gown, longer shoes, and a jewelled girdle, who became known to the sisters as Messire Jamet de Tillay. Eleanor felt indignant. Was he too heedless of his wife to listen to the vindication.
Madame de Ste. Petronelle took the Lady of Glenuskie aside and poured out her lamentations. That was ever the way, she said, the Dauphiness would give occasion to slanderers, by her wilful ways, and there were those who would turn all she said or did against her, poisoning the ear of the Dauphin, little as he cared.
'Is he an ill man to her?' asked Dame Lilias little prepossessed by his looks.
'He! Madame, mind you an auld tale of the Eatin wi' no heart in his body! I verily believe he and his father both were created like that giant. No that the King is sair to live with either, so that he can eat and drink and daff, and be let alone to take his ease. I have seen him; and my gude man and them we kenned have marked him this score of years; and whether his kingdom were lost or won, whether his best friends were free or bound, dead or alive, he recked as little as though it were a game of chess, so that he can sit in the ingle neuk at Bourges and toy with Madame de Beaute, shameless limmer that she is! and crack his fists with yon viper, Jamet de Tillay, and the rest of the crew. But he'll let you alone, and has a kindly word for them that don't cross him--and there be those that would go through fire and water for him. He is no that ill! But for his son, he has a sneer and a spite such as never his father had. He is never a one to sit still and let things gang their gate; hut he has as little pity or compassion as his father, and if King Charles will not stir a finger to hinder a gruesome deed, Dauphin Louis will not spare to do it so that he can gain by it, and I trow verily that to give pain and sting with that bitter tongue of his is joy to him.'
'Then is there no love between him and our princess?'
'Alack, lady, there is love, but 'tis all on one side of the house. I doubt me whether Messire le Dauphin hath it in him to love any living creature. I longed, when I saw your maidens, that my poor lady had been as bonnie as her sister Joanna; but mayhap that would not have served her better. If she were as dull as the Duchess of Brittany--who they say can scarce find a word to give to a stranger at Nantes--she might even anger him less than she does with her wit and her books and her verses, sitting up half the night to read and write rondeaux, forsooth!'
'Her blessed father's own daughter!'
'That may be; but how doth it suit a wife? It might serve here, where every one is mad after poesy, as they call it; but such ways are in no good odour with the French dames, who never put eye to book, pen to paper, nor foot to ground if they can help it; and when she behoves to gang off roaming afoot, as she did this morn, there's no garring the ill-minded carlines believe that there's no ill purpose behind.'
'It is scarce wise.'
'Yet to hear her, 'tis such walking and wearing herself out that keeps the life in her and alone gives her sleep. My puir bairn, worshipping the very ground her man sets foot on, and never getting aught but a gibe or a girn from him, and, for the very wilfulness of her sair heart, ever putting herself farther from him!'
Such was the piteous account that Madame de Ste. Petronelle (otherwise Dame Elspeth Johnstone) gave, and which the Lady of Glenuskie soon perceived to be only too true during the days spent at Nanci. To the two young sisters the condition of things was less evident. To Margaret their presence was such sunshine, that they usually saw her in her highest, most flighty, and imprudent spirits, taking at times absolute delight in shocking her two duennas; and it was in this temper that, one hot noon day, coming after an evening of song and music, finding Alain Chartier asleep on a bench in the garden, she declared that she must kiss the mouth from which such sweet strains proceeded, and bending down, imprinted so light a kiss as not to waken him, then turned round, her whole face rippling with silent laughter at the amusement of Jean and Margaret of Anjou, Elleen's puzzled gravity, and the horror and dismay of her elder ladies. But Dame Lilias saw what she did not--a look of triumphant malice on the face of Jamet de Tillay. Or at other times she would sit listening, with silent tears in her eyes, to plaintive Scottish airs on Eleanor's harp, which she declared brought back her father's voice to her, and with it the scent of the heather, and the very sight of Arthur's Seat or the hills of Perth. Elleen had some sudden qualms of heart lest her sister's blitheness should be covering wounds within; but she was too young to be often haunted by such thoughts in the delightful surroundings in which that Easter week was spent--the companionship of their sister and of the two young Infantas of Anjou, as well as all the charm of King Rene's graceful attention. Eleanor had opened to her fresh stores of beauty, exquisite illuminations, books of all kinds--legend, history, romance, poetry--all freely displayed to her by her royal host, who took an elderly man's delight in an intelligent girl; nor, perhaps, was the pleasure lessened by the need of explaining to Archduke Sigismund, in German ever improving, that which he could not understand. There was a delightful freedom about the Court--not hard, rugged, always on the defence, like that of Scotland; nor stiffly ecclesiastical, as had been that of Henry of Windsor; but though there was devotion every morning, there was for the rest of the day holiday-making according to each one's taste--not hawking, for the 'bon roi Rene' was merciful to the birds in nesting time, for which he was grumbled and laughed at by the young nobles, and it may be feared by Jean, who wanted to exhibit Skywing's prowess; but there was riding at the ring, and jousting, or long rides in the environs, minstrelsy in the gardens, and once a graceful ballet of the King's own composition; and the evenings, sometimes in-doors, sometimes out-of-doors, were given to song and music. Altogether it was a land of enchantment to most, whether gaily or poetically inclined.
Only there were certain murmurs by the rugged Scots and fierce Gascons among the guests. George observed to David Drummond that he felt as if this was a nest of eider-ducks, all down and fluff. Davie responded that it was like a pasteboard town in a mystery play, and that he longed to strike at it with his good broadsword. The English squire who stood by, in his turn compared it to a castle of flummery and blanc-manger. A French captain of a full company declared that he wished he had the plundering of it; and a fierce-looking mountaineer of the Vosges of Alsace growled that if the harping old King of Nowhere flouted his master, Duke Sigismund, maybe they should have a taste of plunder.
There was actually to be a tournament on the Monday, the day before the wedding, and a first tournament was a prodigious event in the life of a young lady. Jean was in the utmost excitement, and never looked at her own pretty face of roses and lilies in the steel mirror without comparing it with those of the two Infantas in the hope of being chosen Queen of Beauty; but, to her great disappointment, King Rene prudently ordained that there should be no such competition, but that the prizes should be bestowed by his sister, the Queen of France.
The Marquess of Suffolk requested Sir Patrick to convey to young Douglas a free offer of fitting him out for the encounter, with armour and horse if needful, and even of conferring knighthood on him, so that he might take his place on equal terms in the lists.
'He would like to do it, the insolent loon!' was Geordie's grim comment. 'Will De la Pole dare to talk of dubbing the Red Douglas! When I bide his buffet, it shall be in another sort. When I take knighthood, it shall be from my lawful King or my father.'
'So I shall tell him,' replied Sir Patrick, 'and I deem you wise, for there be tricks of French chivalry that a man needs to know ere he can acquit himself well in the lists; and to see you fail would scarce raise you in the eyes of your lady.'
'More like they would find too much earnest in the midst of their sham?' returned Geordie. 'You had best tell your English Marquis, as he calls himself, that he had better not trust a lance in a Scotsman hand, if he wouldna have all the shams that fret me beyond my patience about their ears.'
This was not exactly what Sir Patrick told the Marquis; though he was far from disapproving of the resolution. He kept an eye on this strange follower, and was glad to see that there was no evil or licence in his conduct, but that he chiefly consorted with David and a few other young squires to whom this week, so delightful to the ladies, was inexpressibly wearisome.
Tournaments have been described, so far as the nineteenth century can describe them, so often that no one wishes to hear more of their details. These had nearly reached their culmination in the middle of the fifteenth century. Defensive armour had become highly ornamental and very cumbrous, so that it was scarcely possible for the champions to do one another much harm, except that a fall under such a weight was dangerous. Thus it was only an exercise of skill in arms and horsemanship on which the ladies gazed as they sat in the gallery around Queen Marie, the five young princesses together forming, as the minstrels declared, a perfect wreath of loveliness. The Dauphiness, with a flush on her cheek and an eager look on her face, her tall form, and dress more carefully arranged than usual, looked well and princely; Eleanor, very like her, but much developed in expression and improved in looks since she left home, and a beauty of her own; but the palm lay between the other three--Yolande, tall, grave, stately, and anxious, with darker blue eyes and brown hair than her sister, who, with her innocent childish face, showing something of the shyness of a bride, sat somewhat back, as if to conceal herself between Yolande and Jean, who was all excitement, her cheeks flushed, and her sunny hair seeming to glow with a radiance of its own. Duke Sigismund was among the defenders, in a very splendid suit of armour, made in Italy, and embossed in that new taste of the Cinquecento that was fast coming in.
The two kings began with an amicable joust, in which Rene had the best of it. Then they took their seats, and as usual there was a good deal of riding one against the other at the lists, and shivering of lances; while some knights were borne backwards, horse and all, others had their helmets carried off; but Rene, who sat in great enjoyment, with his staff in hand, between his sister and her husband, King Charles, had taken care that all the weapons should be blunted. Sigismund, a tall, large, strongly made man, was for some time the leading champion. Perhaps there was an understanding that the Lion of Hapsburg and famed Eagle of the Tyrol was to carry all before him and win, in an undoubted manner, the prize of the tourney, and the hand of the Infanta Yolande. Certainly the colour rose higher and higher in her delicate cheek, but those nearest could see that it was not with pleasure, for she bit her lip with annoyance, and her eyes wandered in search of some one.
Presently, in a pause, there came forward on a tall white horse a magnificently tall man, in plain but bright armour, three allerions or beakless eagles on his breast, and on his shield a violet plant, with the motto, Si douce est la violette. The Dauphiness leant across her sister and squeezed Yolande's hand vehemently, as the knight inclined his lance to the King, and was understood to crave permission to show his prowess. Charles turned to Rene, whose good-humoured face looked annoyed, but who could not withhold his consent. The Dauphiness, whose vehement excitement was more visible than even Yolande's, whispered to Eleanor that this was Messire Ferry de Vaudemont, her true love, come to win her at point of the lance.
History is the parent of romance, and romance now and then becomes history. It is an absolute and undoubted fact that Count Frederic or Ferry de Vaudemont, the male representative of the line of Charles the Great, did win his lady-love, Yolande of Anjou, by his good lance within the lists, and that thus the direct descent was brought eventually back to Lorraine, though this was not contemplated at the time, since Yolande had then living both a brother and a nephew, and it was simply for her own sake that Messire Ferry, in all the strength and beauty that descended to the noted house of Guise, was now bearing down all before him, touching shield after shield, only to gain the better of their owners in the encounter. Yolande sat with a deep colour in her cheeks, and her hands clasped rigidly together without a movement, while the Lorrainer spectators, with a strong suspicion who the Knight of the Violet really was, and with a leaning to their own line, loudly applauded each victory.
King Rene, long ago, had had to fight for his wife's inheritance with this young man's father, who, supported by the strength of Burgundy, had defeated and made him prisoner, so that he was naturally disinclined to the match, and would have preferred the Hapsburg Duke, whose Alsatian possessions were only divided from his own by the Vosges; but his generous and romantic spirit could not choose but be gained by the proceeding of Count Ferry, and the mute appeal in the face and attitude of his much-loved daughter.
He could not help joining in the applause at the grace and ease of the young knight, till by and by all interest became concentrated on the last critical encounter with Sigismund.
Every one watched almost breathlessly as the big heavy Austrian, mounted on a fresh horse, and the slim Lorrainer in armour less strong but less weighty, had their meeting. Two courses were run with mere splintering of lance; at the third, while Rene held his staff ready to throw if signs of fighting a l'outrance appeared, Ferry lifted his lance a little, and when both steeds recoiled from the clash, the azure eagle of the Tyrol was impaled on the point of his lance, and Sigismund, though not losing his saddle, was bending low on it, half stunned by the force of the blow. Down went Rene's warder. Loud were the shouts, 'Vive the Knight of the Violet! Victory to the Allerions!'
The voice of Rene was as clear and exulting as the rest, as the heralds, with blast of trumpet, proclaimed the Chevalier de la Violette the victor of the day, and then came forward to lead him to the feet of the Queen of France. His helmet was removed, and at the face of manly beauty that it revealed, the applause was renewed; but as Marie held out the prize, a splendidly hilted sword, he bowed low, and said, 'Madame, one boon alone do I ask for my guerdon.' And withal, he laid the blue eagle on his lance at the feet of Yolande.
Rene was not the father to withstand such an appeal. He leapt from his chair of state, he hurried to Yolande in her gallery, took her by the hand, and in another moment Ferry had sprung from his horse, and on the steps knight and lady, in their youthful glory and grace, stood hand in hand, all blushes and bliss, amid the ecstatic applause of the multitude, while the Dauphiness shed tears of joy. Thus brilliantly ended the first tournament witnessed by the Scottish princesses. Eleanor had been most interested on the whole in Duke Sigismund, and had exulted in his successes, and been sorry to see him defeated, but then she knew that Yolande dreaded his victory, and she suspected that he did not greatly care for Yolande, so that, since he was not hurt, and was certainly the second in the field, she could look on with complacency.
Moreover, at the evening's dance, when Margaret and Suffolk, Ferry and Yolande stood up for a stately pavise together, Sigismund came to Eleanor, and while she was thinking whether or not to condole with him, he shyly mumbled something about not regretting--being free--the Dauphin, her brother, enduring a beaten knight. It was all in a mixture of French and German, mostly of the latter, and far less comprehensible than usual, unless, indeed, maidenly shyness made her afraid to understand or to seem to do so. He kept on standing by her, both of them, mute and embarrassed, not quite unconscious that they were observed, perhaps secretly derided by some of the lookers-on. The first relief was when the Dauphiness came and sat down by her sister, and began to talk fast in French, scarce heeding whether the Duke understood or answered her.
One question he asked was, who was the red-faced young man with stubbly sunburnt hair, and a scar on his cheek, who had appeared in the lists in very gaudy but ill-fitting armour, and with a great raw-boned, snorting horse, and now stood in a corner of the hall with his eyes steadily fixed on the Lady Joanna.
'So!' said Sigismund. 'That fellow is the Baron Rudiger von Batchburg Der Schelm! How has he the face to show himself here?'
'Is he one of your Borderers--your robber Castellanes?' asked Margaret.
'Even so! His father's castle of Balchenburg is so cunningly placed on the march between Elsass and Lothringen that neither our good host nor I can fully claim it, and these rogues shelter themselves behind one or other of us till it is, what they call in Germany a Rat Castle, the refuge of all the ecorcheurs and routiers of this part of the country. They will bring us both down on them one of these days, but the place is well-nigh past scaling by any save a gemsbock or an ecorcheur!'
Jean herself had remarked the gaze of the Alsatian mountaineer. It was the chief homage that her beauty had received, and she was somewhat mortified at being only viewed as part of the constellation of royalty and beauty doing honour to the Infantas. She believed, too, that if Geordie of the Red Peel had chosen, he could have brought her out in as effective and romantic a light as that in which Yolande had appeared, and she was in some of her moods hurt and angered with him for refraining, while in others she supposed sometimes that he was too awkward thus to venture himself, and at others she did him the justice of believing that he disdained to appear in borrowed plumes.
The wedding was by no means so splendid an affair as the tournament, as, indeed, it was merely a marriage by proxy, and Yolande and her Count of Vaudemont were too near of kin to be married before a dispensation could be procured.
The King and Queen of France would leave Nanci to see the bride partly on her way. The Dauphin and his wife were to tarry a day or two behind, and the princesses belonged to their Court. Sir Patrick had fulfilled his charge of conducting them to their sister, and he had now to avail himself of the protection of the King's party as far as possible on the way to Paris, where he would place Malcolm at the University, and likewise meet his daughter's bridegroom and his father.
Dame Lilias did not by any means like leaving her young cousins, so long her charge, without attendants of their own; but the Dauphiness gave them a tirewoman of her own, and undertook that Madame de Ste. Petronelle should attend them in case of need, as well as that she would endeavour to have Annis, when Madame de Terreforte, at her Court as long as they were there. They also had a squire as equerry, and George Douglas was bent on continuing in that capacity till his outfit from his father arrived, as it was sure to do sooner or later.
Margaret knew who he was, and promised Sir Patrick to do all in her power for him, as truly his patience and forbearance well deserved.
It was a very sorrowful parting between the two maidens and the Lady of Glenuskie, who for more than half a year had been as a mother to them, nay, more than their own mother had ever been; and bad done much to mitigate the sharp angles of their neglected girlhood by her influence. In a very few months more she would see James, and Mary, and the 'weans'; and the three sisters loaded her with gifts, letters, and messages for all. Eleanor promised never to forget her counsel, and to strive not to let the bright new world drive away all those devout feelings and hopes that Mother Clare and King Henry had inspired, and that Lady Drummond had done her best to keep up.
Duke Sigismund had communicated to Sir Patrick his intention of making a formal request to King James for the hand of the Lady Eleanor. He was to find an envoy to make his proposal in due form, who would join Sir Patrick at Terreforte after the wedding was over, so as to go with the party to Scotland.
Meantime, with many fond embraces and tears, Lady Drummond took leave of her princesses, and they owned themselves to feel as if a protecting wall had been taken away in her and her husband.
'It is folly, though, thus to speak,' said Jean, 'when we have our sister, and her husband, and his father, and all his Court to protect us.'
'We ought to be happy,' said Eleanor gravely. 'Outside here at Nanci, it is all that my fancy ever shaped, and yet--and yet there is a strange sense of fear beyond.'
'Oh, talk not that gate,' cried Jean, 'as thou wilt be having thy gruesome visions!'
'No; it is not of that sort,' returned Eleanor. 'I trow not! It may be rather the feeling of the vanity of all this world's show.'
'Oh, for mercy's sake, dinna let us have clavers of that sort, or we shall have thee in yon nunnery!' exclaimed Jean. 'See this girdle of Maggie's, which she has given me. Must I not make another hole to draw it up enough for my waist?'
'Jean herself was much disappointed when Margaret, with great regret, told her that the Dauphin had to go out of his way to visit some castles on his way to Chalons sur Marne, and that he could not encumber his hosts with so large a train as the presence of two royal ladies rendered needful. They were, therefore, to travel by another route, leading through towns where there were hostels. Madame de Ste. Petronelle was to go with them, and an escort of trusty Scots archers, and all would meet again in a fortnight's time.
All sounded simple and easy, and Margaret repeated, 'It will be a troop quite large enough to defend you from all ecorcheurs; indeed, they dare not come near our Scottish archers, whom Messire, my husband, has told off for your escort. And you will have your own squire,' she added, looking at Jean.
'That's as he lists,' said Jean scornfully.
'Ah, Jeanie, Jeanie, thou mayst have to rue it if thou turn'st lightly from a leal heart.'
'I'm not damsel-errant of romance, as thou and Elleen would fain be,' said Jean.
'Nay,' said Margaret, 'love is not mere romance. And oh, sister, credit me, a Scots lassie's heart craves better food than crowns and coronets. Hard and unco' cold be they, where there is no warmth to meet the yearning soul beneath, that would give all and ten times more for one glint of a loving eye, one word from a tender lip.' Again she had one of those hysteric bursts of tears, but she laughed herself back, crying, 'But what is the treason wifie saying of her gudeman--her Louis, that never yet said a rough word to his Meg?'
Then came another laugh, but she gathered herself up at a summons to come down and mount.
She was tenderly embraced by all, King Rene kissing her and calling her his dear niece and princess of minstrelsy, who should come to him at Toulouse and bestow the golden violet.
She rode away, looking back smiling and kissing her hand, but Eleanor's eyes grew wide and her cheeks pale.
'Jean,' she murmured, low and hoarsely, 'Margaret's shroud is up to her throat.'
'Hoots with thy clavers,' exclaimed Jeanie in return. 'I never let thee sing that fule song, but Meg's fancies have brought the megrims into thine head! Thou and she are pair.'
'That we shall be nae longer,' sighed Eleanor. 'I saw the shroud as clear as I see yon cross on the spire.'