Chapter XI. Danger Threatened
 

On being ushered into the royal apartment Guy was led up to the king, who was seated in a large arm-chair. He was stroking the head of a greyhound, and two or three other dogs lay at his feet. Except two attendants, who stood a short distance behind his chair, no one else was present. The king was pale and fragile-looking; there was an expression of weariness on his face, for in the intervals between his mad fits he had but little rest. He was naturally a kind-hearted man, and the troubles that reigned in France, the constant contention among the great lords, and even among the members of his own family, were a constant source of distress to him. Between the Duke of Burgundy, the queen, his nephew of Orleans, and the other royal dukes he had no peace, and the sense of his inability to remedy matters, and of his position of tutelage in the hands of whoever chanced for the moment to be in the ascendant, in no slight degree contributed to the terrible attacks to which he was subject. At the present moment the Duke of Burgundy was away, and therefore, feeling now comparatively free, he looked up with interest when the usher announced Guy Aylmer.

"You are young, indeed, sir," he said, as Guy made a deep bow, "to be the hero of the story that I heard this morning. I hear that you have been slaying many of the good citizens of Paris!"

"Some have certainly been slain, sire; but I think not that any of them could be considered as good citizens, being engaged, as they were, in attacking the house of the worshipful provost of the silversmiths, Maitre Leroux."

"I know him," the king said, "and have bought many rare articles of his handiwork, and more than once when I have needed it have had monies from him on usance. 'Tis a grave scandal that so good a citizen should thus be attacked in my city, but I will see that such doings shall not take place again. And now I would hear from your own lips how you and a few men defended the house so long, and, as I hear, with very heavy loss to those attacking it. I am told that you are English."

"Yes, sire, I have the honour to be an esquire to Sir Eustace de Villeroy, and am here in attendance upon his dame, who, with her two children, have been brought as hostages to Paris under your royal order."

A look of pain passed across the king's face. "Your lord is our vassal for his castle at Villeroy?"

"He is, sire, and is also a vassal of England for the estates of his wife."

"Since England and France are not at present on ill terms," the king said, "he may well discharge both duties without treason to either Henry or myself; but they told me that his vassalage to me has sat but lightly upon him."

"His father and grandfather, sire, were vassals of England, as Villeroy was then within the English bounds, but he is, I am assured, ready faithfully to render any service that your majesty might demand of him, and is willing to submit himself, in all respects, to your will. But since he wishes not to take any part in the troubles between the princes, it seems that both regard him with hostility. Two months since his castle was attacked by some eight thousand men from Ham, led by Sir Clugnet de Brabant. These he repulsed with heavy loss, and deemed that in so doing he was acting in accordance with your majesty's proclamation, and was rendering faithful service to you in holding the castle against your enemies, and he had hoped for your majesty's approbation. He was then deeply grieved when your royal herald summoned him, in your name, either to receive a garrison or to send his wife and children hither as hostages."

"I will see into the matter," the king said earnestly. "And so your mistress was bestowed at the house of Maitre Leroux?"

"She was, sire, and is most hospitably entertained by him."

"Now let us hear of this defence. Tell me all that took place; withhold nothing."

Guy related the details of the defence.

"Truly it was well done, young sir, and I owe you thanks for having given so shrewd a lesson to these brawlers, Maitre Leroux has good reasons for being thankful to the duke for lodging your lady in his house, for he would doubtless have lost his life had you and your four men not been there. When the Duke of Burgundy returns I will take council with him touching this matter of your mistress. I know that he gave me good reasons at the time for the bringing of her hither, but in the press of matters I do not recall what they were. At any rate, as she is here as my hostage her safety must be ensured, and for the present I will give orders that a guard be placed at the house."

He extended his hand to Guy, who went on one knee to kiss it and then retired.

He took the news back to Dame Margaret.

"I knew well enough that the poor king had nothing to do with the matter," she said. "Were it otherwise I would myself have asked for an audience with him; but I knew that it would be useless, he would but have replied to me as he has to you, that he must consult the duke."

In the afternoon the Italian called with his daughter upon Dame Margaret. The former was now dressed in accordance with his rank as an Italian noble, and the girl, on laying aside her cloak, was also in the costume of a young lady of position. Guy presented the count to his mistress.

"I am greatly indebted to you, Count Montepone," she said, "for the timely warning that you sent us, and still more for the service rendered to us by your daughter in summoning the Burgundian knights to our aid. Truly," she added with a smile, "it is difficult to believe that it was this young lady who was so busy on our behalf. I thank you, maiden, most heartily. And, believe me, should the time ever come when you require a friend; which I hope may never be the case, you will find one in me on whom you can confidently rely.

"This is my daughter Agnes. She is, methinks, but a year or so younger than yourself, though she is as tall or taller, and she will gladly be your friend also."

Katarina replied quietly and composedly, and Guy, as he watched her and Agnes talking together, was surprised at the way in which she adapted herself to circumstances. As a boy she assumed the character so perfectly that no one would suspect her of being aught else. She was a French gamin, with all the shrewdness, impudence, and self-confidence of the class. As he saw her at her father's in female attire something of the boy's nature seemed still to influence her. There was still a touch of sauciness in her manner, and something of defiance, as if she resented his knowledge of her in her other character. Now she had the quiet composure of a young lady of rank. As Dame Margaret had said, she was but little older than Agnes; but though less tall than the English girl, she looked a woman beside her. Guy stood talking with them while Dame Margaret and the count conversed apart. Gradually as they chatted Katarina's manner, which had at first been somewhat stiff, thawed, and Guy left her and Agnes together and went to look through the window.

He could vaguely understand that Katarina at first, knowing that Dame Margaret and Agnes must be aware of her going about as a boy, was standing a little on her dignity. The simple straightforwardness of Agnes and her admiration of the other's boldness and cleverness had disarmed Katarina, and it was not long before they were chatting and laughing in girlish fashion. There was a difference in their laughter, the result of the dissimilar lives they had led. One had ever been a happy, careless child, allowed to roam about in the castle or beyond it almost unattended, and had only to hold herself as became the position of a maiden of rank on special occasions, as when guests were staying in the castle; the other had been for years her father's assistant, engaged in work requiring shrewdness and quickness and not unattended at times with danger. She had been brought into contact with persons of all ranks and conditions, and at times almost forgot her own identity, and was in thought as well as manner the quick-witted messenger of her father. After the latter had chatted for some time with Dame Margaret he beckoned her to him.

"Dame Margaret has promised me to be your protector should aught befall me, child," he said, "and I charge you now in her hearing should anything happen to me to go at once to her castle at Villeroy, and should she not be there to her castle at Summerley, which lies but twelve miles from the English port of Southampton, and there to place yourself under her guardianship, and to submit yourself to her will and guidance wholly and entirely. It would be well indeed for you to have a quiet English home after our troubled life. To Italy you cannot go, our estates are long since confiscated; and did you return there you would find powerful enemies and but lukewarm friends. Besides, there would be but one mode of life open to you, namely, to enter a convent, which would, methinks, be of all others the least suited to your inclinations."

"I can promise you a hearty welcome," Dame Margaret said kindly. "I trust that you may never apply for it; but should, as your father says, aught happen to him, come to me fearlessly, and be assured that you will be treated as one of my own family. We shall ever be mindful of the fact that you saved our lives last night, and that nothing that we can do for you will cancel that obligation."

"I trust that I may never be called upon to ask your hospitality, Lady Margaret," the girl said quietly, "but I thank you with all my heart for proffering it, and I feel assured that I should find a happy home in England."

"'Tis strange how it has all come about," her father said. "'Tis scarce a month since I saw Dame Margaret enter Paris with her children, and the thought occurred to me that it would be well indeed for you were you in the charge of such a lady. Then, as if in answer to my thoughts, I saw her young esquire in the crowd listening to me, and was moved at once to say words that would induce him to call upon me afterwards, when I saw that I might possibly in these troublous times be of use to his mistress. And thus in but a short time what was at first but a passing thought has been realized. It is true that there are among my clients those whose protection I could obtain for you; but France is at present as much torn by factions as is our native Italy, and none can say but, however highly placed and powerful a man may be to-day, he might be in disgrace to- morrow."

Carefully wrapping his daughter up in her cloak again, the Italian took his leave, refusing the offer of Dame Margaret for two of her men-at-arms to accompany them.

"There is no fear of trouble of any sort to-day," he said. "The loss that was suffered last night was so severe that the people will be quiet for a few days, especially as the king, as well as the city authorities, are evidently determined to put a stop to rioting. Moreover, the fact that the Burgundian nobles have, now that the duke is away, taken a strong part against the butchers' faction has for the moment completely cowed them. But, apart from this, it is my special desire to return to my house unnoticed. It is seldom that I am seen going in and out, for I leave home as a rule before my neighbours are about, and do not return till after nightfall. I make no secret of my being a vendor of drugs at the fairs, and there are few can suspect that I have visitors after dark."

"I like your astrologer, Guy," Dame Margaret said when they had left. "Before I saw him I own that I had no great faith in his countship. Any man away from his native country can assume a title without anyone questioning his right to use it, so long as he is content to live in obscurity, and to abstain from attracting the attention of those who would be likely to make inquiries. But I have no doubt that our friend is, as he represents himself, the Count of Montepone, and I believe him to be sincere in the matter of his dealings with us. He tells me that he has received more than one hint that the reports that he deals with the stars and exercises divinations have come to the ears of the church, and it is likely ere long he may be forced to leave Paris, and indeed that he would have done so before now had it not been that some of those who have had dealings with him have exercised their influence to prevent things being pushed further.

"No doubt it is true that, as he asserts, he in no way dabbles in what is called 'black art,' but confines himself to reading the stars; and he owned to me that the success he has obtained in this way is to some extent based upon the information that he obtains from persons of all classes. He is evidently a man whose nature it is to conspire, not so much for the sake of any prospect of gain or advantage, but for the pleasure of conspiring. He has dealings with men of both factions. Among the butchers he is believed to be an agent of the duke, who has assumed the character of a vendor of nostrums simply as a disguise, while among the Armagnacs he is regarded as an agent of Orleans. It is doubtless a dangerous game to play, but it both helps him in his profession of astrologer and gives him influence and power. I asked him why he thus mingled in public affairs. He smiled and said: 'We are always conspiring in Italy; we all belong to factions. I have been brought up in an atmosphere of conspiracy, and it is so natural to me that I could scarce live without it. I am rich: men who trade upon the credulity of fools have plenty of clients. My business of a quack doctor brings me in an income that many a poor nobleman would envy. I travel when I like; I visit alternately all the great towns of France, though Paris has always been my head-quarters.

"'As an astrologer I have a wide reputation. The name of the Count Smarondi--for it is under that title that I practise--is known throughout France, though few know me personally or where I am to be found. Those who desire to consult me can only obtain access to me through some of those whose fortunes I have rightly foretold, and who have absolute faith in me, and even these must first obtain my consent before introducing anyone to me. All this mystery adds both to my reputation and to my fees. Could anyone knock at my door and ask me to calculate his horoscope he would prize it but little; when it is so difficult to obtain an introduction to me, and it is regarded as a matter of favour to be allowed to consult me, people are ready to pay extravagant sums for my advice. And,' he said with a smile, 'the fact that ten days or a fortnight always elapses between the time I am asked to receive a new client and his or her first interview with me, enables me to make such minute inquiries that I can not only gain their complete confidence by my knowledge of certain events in their past, but it will aid me in my divination of their future.

"'I believe in the stars, madame, wholly and implicitly, but the knowledge to be gained from them is general and not particular; but with that general knowledge, and with what I know of men's personal character and habits, of their connections, of their political schemes and personal ambitions, I am able in the majority of cases so to supplement the knowledge I gain from the stars, as to trace their future with an accuracy that seems to them astonishing indeed. For example, madame, had I read in the stars that a dire misfortune impended over you last night, and had I learned that there was a talk among the butchers that the provost of the silversmiths was a strong opponent of theirs, and that steps would shortly be taken to show the Parisians the danger of opposing them, it would have needed no great foresight on my part to tell you that you were threatened with a great danger, and that the danger would probably take the form of an attack by the rabble on the house you occupied. I should naturally put it less plainly. I should tell you to beware of this date, should warn you that I saw threatening faces and raised weapons, and that the sounds of angry shouts demanding blood were in my ears.

"'Any astrologer, madame, who works by proper methods can, from the conjunction of the stars at anyone's birth, calculate whether their aspect will be favourable or unfavourable at any given time, and may foretell danger or death; but it needs a knowledge of human nature, a knowledge of character and habits, and a knowledge of the questioner's surroundings to be able to go much farther than this. That I have had marvellous successes and that my counsels are eagerly sought depends, then, upon the fact that I leave nothing to chance, but that while enveloping myself in a certain amount of mystery I have a police of my own consisting of men of all stations, many, indeed most of whom, do not know me even by sight. They have no idea of the object of my inquiries, and indeed believe that their paymaster is the head of the secret police, or the agent of some powerful minister.'

"You see, Guy, the count spoke with perfect frankness to me. His object naturally was to gain my confidence by showing himself as he is, and to explain why he wished to secure a home for his daughter. He took up his strange profession in the first place as a means of obtaining his living, and perhaps to secure himself from the search of private enemies who would have had him assassinated could he have been found; but he follows it now from his love for an atmosphere of intrigue, and for the power it gives him, because, as he told me, he has already amassed a considerable fortune, and could well retire and live in luxury did he choose. He said frankly that if he did not so interest himself his existence would be simply intolerable to him.

"'I may take my daughter to England,' he said; 'I may stay there until I see her established in life, but when I had done so I should have to return here. Paris is always the centre of intrigues; I would rather live on a crust here than be a prince elsewhere.'

"He certainly succeeded in convincing me wholly of his sincerity, as far as we are concerned. Devoted to intrigue himself, he would fain that his daughter should live her life in peace and tranquillity, and that the money for which he has no use himself should be enjoyed by her. 'I have lost my rank,' he said, 'forfeited it, if you will; but she is the Countess Katarina of Montepone, and I should like to know that she and my descendants after her should live the life that my ancestors lived. It is a weakness, a folly, I know; but we have all our weak points and our follies. At any rate I see that that fancy could not well be carried out in France or in Italy, but it may be in England.' At any rate, after all he has told me I feel that he has it in his power to be a very useful friend and ally to us here; I am convinced that he is truly desirous of being so."

"And how did you like the girl, Agnes?" she said, raising her voice. Agnes had fetched Charlie in, and they were looking together down into the street while their mother was talking to Guy.

"I hardly know, mother; she seemed to be so much older than I am. Sometimes when she talked and laughed, I thought I liked her very much, and then a minute later it seemed to me that I did not understand her one bit. But I do think that she would be very nice when one came to know her thoroughly."

"She has lived so different a life to yourself, Agnes, that it is no wonder that you should feel at first that you have nothing in common with her. That she is very clever I have no doubt, and that she is brave and fearless we know. Can you tell us anything more, Guy?"

"Not very much more, Lady Margaret. I should say that she was very true and loyal. I think that at present she enters into what she has to do in something of the same spirit as her father, and that she thoroughly likes it. I think that she is naturally full of fun and has high spirits, and that she enjoys performing these missions with which she is entrusted as a child enjoys a game, and that the fact that there is a certain amount of danger connected with them is in itself attractive to her. I am glad that you have told me what he said to you about himself, for I could not understand him before. I think I can now, and understanding him one can understand his daughter."

At eight o'clock all retired to bed. They had had little sleep the night before, and the day had been full of events. Guy's last thought was that he was sorry for the king, who seemed to wish to do what was right, but who was a mere puppet in the hands of Burgundy or Queen Isobel, to be used as a lay figure when required by whichever had a temporary ascendency.

For the next fortnight Guy worked hard in the salle d'armes, being one of the first to arrive and the last to depart, and after taking a lesson from one or other of the masters he spent the rest of the morning in practising with anyone who desired an adversary. Well trained as he was in English methods of fighting, he mastered with a quickness that surprised his teachers the various thrusts and parries that were new to him. At the end of that time he was able to hold his own with the young Count d'Estournel, who was regarded as an excellent swordsman.

The attendance of the Burgundian nobles had now fallen off a good deal. The Armagnac army had approached Paris, St. Denis had opened its gates to them, and there were frequent skirmishes near the walls of Paris between parties of their knights and the Burgundians. Paris was just at present more quiet. Burgundy was still absent, and the future seemed so uncertain, that both factions in the city held their hands for a time.

The news that a reconciliation between Orleans and Burgundy had been fully effected, and that the great lords would soon enter Paris together, was received with a joy that was modified by recollections of the past. Burgundy and Orleans had once before sworn a solemn friendship, and yet a week or two later Orleans lay dead in the streets of Paris, murdered by the order of Burgundy. Was it likely that the present patching up of the quarrel would have a much longer duration? On the former occasion the quarrel was a personal one between the two great houses, now all France was divided. A vast amount of blood had been shed, there had been cruel massacres, executions, and wrongs, and the men of one faction had come to hate those of the other; and although neither party had dared to put itself in the wrong by refusing to listen to the mediators, it was certain that the reconciliation was a farce, and that it was but a short truce rather than a peace that had been concluded. Nevertheless Paris rejoiced outwardly, and hailed with enthusiasm the entry of the queen, the Dukes of Aquitaine, Burgundy, Berri, and Bourbon.

The Duke of Aquitaine was now acting as regent, though without the title, for the king was again insane. He had married Burgundy's daughter, but it was rumoured that he was by no means disposed to submit himself blindly to the advice of her father. The only effect of the truce between the parties was to add to the power of the Burgundian faction in Paris. But few of the Armagnac party cared to trust themselves in the city that had shown itself so hostile, but most of them retired to their estates, and the great procession that entered the town had been for the most part composed of adherents of Burgundy. Three days after their arrival in the town Guy, on leaving the salle d'armes, found Katarina in her boy's attire waiting for him at the corner of the street.

"My father would speak with you, Master Guy," she said shyly, for in the past two months she had always been in her girl's dress when he had met her. "Pray go at once," she said; "I will not accompany you, for I have other matters to attend to."

"Things are not going well," the count said when Guy entered the room; "the Orleanists are discouraged and the butchers triumphant. At a meeting last night they determined that a body of them should wait upon the Dukes of Aquitaine and Burgundy to complain of the conduct of the knights who fell upon them when attacking the silversmith's, and demand in the name of Paris their execution."

"They would never dare do that!" Guy exclaimed indignantly.

"They will assuredly do it, and I see not how they can be refused. The duke has no force that could oppose the Parisians. They might defend the Louvre and one or two of the strongly fortified houses, but the butchers would surround them with twenty thousand men. Burgundy's vassals might come to his assistance, but the gates of Paris would be closed, and it would need nothing short of an army and a long siege before they could enter Paris. When they had done so they might punish the leaders, but Burgundy would thereby lose for ever the support of the city, which is all-important to him. Therefore if you would save your friends you must warn them that it will be necessary for them to make their way out of Paris as quickly and as quietly as may be. In the next place, and principally, you yourself will assuredly be murdered. There was a talk of the meeting demanding your execution and that of your four men; but it was decided that there was no need to do this, as you could all be killed without trouble, and that possibly the Duke of Aquitaine might refuse on the ground that, as your lady had come here under safe-conduct as a royal hostage, you were entitled to protection, and it would be contrary to his honour to give you up.

"There are others who have displeased the Parisians whose lives they will also demand, and there are several women among them; therefore, it is clear that even the sex of your lady will not save her and her children from the fury and longing for revenge, felt by the family of Legoix and by Caboche the skinner. The only question is, where can they be bestowed in safety? I know what you would say, that all this is monstrous, and that it is incredible that the Parisians will dare to take such steps. I can assure you that it is as I say; the peril is most imminent. Probably to- night, but if not, to-morrow the gates of Paris will be closed, and there will be no escape for any whom these people have doomed to death. In the first place, you have to warn your Burgundian friends; that done, you must see to the safety of your four men. The three Frenchmen may, if they disguise themselves, perchance be able to hide in Paris, but your tall archer must leave the city without delay, his height and appearance would betray him in whatever disguise he were clad.

"Now as to your lady and the children, remain where they are they cannot. Doubtless were she to appeal to the Duke of Burgundy for protection he would place her in the Louvre, or in one of the other castles--that is, if she could persuade him of the intentions of the Parisians, which indeed it would be difficult for her to do; but even could she do so she would not be safe, for if he is forced to surrender some of his own knights and ladies of the court to these miscreants, he could not refuse to hand over Lady Margaret. They might, it is true, possibly escape from Paris in disguise, but I know that there is already a watch set at the gates. The only resource that I can see is that she should with her children come hither for a time. This is but a poor place for her, but I think that if anywhere she might be safe with me. No one knows that I have had any dealings whatever with you, and no one connects me in any way with politics. What should a vendor of nostrums have to do with such affairs? Thus, then, they might remain here without their presence being in the slightest degree suspected. At any rate I have as good means as any for learning what is being done at their councils, and should receive the earliest information were it decided that a search should be made here; and should this be done, which I think is most unlikely, I shall have time to remove them to some other place of concealment.

"Lastly, as to yourself, I take it that nothing would induce you to fly with your Burgundian friends while your lady is in hiding in Paris?"

"Assuredly not!" Guy said. "My lord appointed me to take charge of her and watch over her, and as long as I have life I will do so."

"You will not be able to aid her, and your presence may even add to her danger. Still, I will not say that your resolution is not honourable and right. But, at least, you must not stay here, for your detection would almost certainly lead to hers. You, however, can be disguised; I can darken your skin and hair, and, in some soiled garb you may hope to pass without recognition. Where to bestow you I will talk over with my daughter. As soon as it becomes dusk this evening she will present herself at the house-door of Maitre Leroux. She will bring with her disguises for your lady, the children, and yourself--I have many of them here--and as soon as it is quite dark she will guide here Dame Margaret with her daughter and son. You had best not sally out with them, but can follow a minute or two later and join them as soon as they turn down a side street. As to the men, you must arrange with them what they had best do. My advice is that they should this afternoon saunter out as if merely going for a walk. They ought to go separately; you can decide what they had best do when outside."