Chapter VI. In Paris
 

"A bold dame and a fair one," John of Burgundy said to the gentlemen round him when Margaret left the chamber. "Methinks that she would be able to hold Villeroy even should Sir Eustace be away."

"That would she," one of the knights said with a laugh. "I doubt not that she would buckle on armour if need were. But we must make some allowance for her heat; it is no pleasant thing to be taken away from her castle and brought hither as a hostage, to be held for how long a time she knows not."

"It was the safest way of securing the castle," the duke said. "Can one doubt that, with her by his side, her husband would open his gates to the English, should they appear before it? He himself is a vassal both of England and France, and should the balance be placed before him, there can be little doubt that her weight would incline him to England. How well these English women keep their youth! One might believe her to be but a few years past twenty, and yet she is the mother of that girl, who is well-nigh as tall as herself."

"And who bids to be as fair, my lord duke."

"And as English, De Porcelet. She would be a difficult eaglet to tame, if I mistake not; and had she been the spokeswoman, methinks she would have answered as haughtily as did her mother. But it might be no bad plan to mate her to a Frenchman. It is true that there is the boy, but the fief might well be bestowed upon her if so mated, on the ground that the boy would likely take after his father and mother and hold Villeroy for England rather than for France. However, she is young yet; in a couple of years, De Porcelet, it will be time for you to urge your suit, if so inclined."

There was a general smile from the circle standing round, but the young knight said gravely, "When the time comes, my lord duke, I may remind you of what you have said. 'Tis a fair young face, honest and good, though at present she must naturally feel with her mother at being thus haled away from her home."

Sir Victor escorted Margaret to the court-yard. As they appeared at the entrance a knight came up and saluted her.

"I am intrusted by the duke with the honour of escorting you to your lodgings," he said; "I am Hugo de Chamfort, the duke's chamberlain."

After assisting her into the saddle he mounted a horse which an attendant brought up and placed himself by her side. Two men-at-arms with their surtouts embroidered with the cognizance of Burgundy led the way, and the rest of the party followed in the same order in which they had come. The distance was short, and beyond a few questions by the knight as to the journey and how she had been cared for on the way, and Margaret's replies, little was said until they reached the house of the provost of the silversmiths. As they rode up to the door Maitre Leroux himself came out from the house.

"Welcome, lady," he said, "to my abode. My wife will do all that she can to make you comfortable."

"I am sorry indeed, good sir," Margaret said, "to be thus forced upon your hospitality, and regret the trouble that my stay will impose upon you."

"Say not so, lady," he said, "we deem it an honour that his grace the Duke of Burgundy should have selected us for the honour of entertaining you. The house is large, and we have no family. Chambers are already prepared for yourself, your daughter, and son, while there are others at your disposal for your following."

"I would not trespass too much upon you," she said. "My daughter can sleep with me, and I am sure that my esquire here, Master Guy Aylmer, will gladly share a room with my boy. I can obtain lodgings for my four followers without."

"You will grieve me much if you propose it, lady. There is a large room upstairs unoccupied, and I will place pallets for them there; and as for their meals they can have them apart."

By this time they had mounted a fine flight of stairs, at the top of which Dame Leroux was standing to receive her guests. She was a kindly-looking woman between thirty and forty years of age.

"Welcome, Lady Margaret," she said with a cordiality that made Margaret feel at once that her visit was not regarded as an infliction. "We are quiet people, but will do our best to render your stay here a pleasant one."

"Thanks indeed, mistress!" Margaret replied. "I feared much that my presence would be felt as a burden, and had hardly hoped for so kind a welcome. This is my daughter Agnes, and my son Charles." Then she turned to Sir Hugo: "I pray you to give my thanks to his grace the Duke of Burgundy, and to thank him for having so well bestowed me. I thank you also for your courtesy for having conducted me here."

"I will convey your message to the duke," he said, "who will, I am sure, be pleased to hear of your contentment."

Maitre Leroux accompanied the knight downstairs again, and when he had mounted and ridden off he called two servitors, and bade one carry the luggage upstairs, and the other conduct the men to the stables he had taken for the horses.

"After you have seen to their comfort," he said to Robert Picard, "you will return hither; you will find a meal prepared for you, and will be bestowed together in a chamber upstairs."

In the meantime his wife had ushered Dame Margaret into a very handsomely furnished apartment. "This is at your entire service, Lady Margaret," she said. "The bedroom behind it is for yourself, the one next to it for your daughter, unless you would prefer that she should sleep with you."

"I thank you. I was telling your husband that I should prefer that; and my son and esquire can therefore occupy the second room. But I fear greatly that I am disturbing yourself and your husband."

"No, indeed; our sitting-room and bedroom are on the other side of the landing. These are our regular guest-chambers, and your being here will make no change whatever in our arrangements. I only regret that the apartments are not larger."

"Do not apologize, I beg of you, madam. I can assure you that the room is far handsomer than that to which I have been accustomed. You citizens of Paris are far in advance of us in your ideas of comfort and luxury, and the apartments both at Villeroy and in my English home cannot compare with these, except in point of size. I never dreamt that my prison would be so comfortable."

"Say not prison, I pray you, lady. I heard, indeed, that your visit to the court was not altogether one of your own choice; but, believe me, here at least you will be but a guest, and an honoured and welcome one. I will leave you now. If there is aught that you desire, I pray you to ring that bell on the table; refreshments will be quickly served. Had I known the precise hour at which you would come we should have been in readiness for you, but I thought not that you would arrive till evening."

"I hope that you will give me much of your company, mistress," Margaret said warmly. "We know no one in this great city, and shall be glad indeed if, when you can spare time, you will sit with us."

"Well, children, what do you think of this?" she asked when their hostess had left the room.

"It is lovely, mother," Agnes said. "Look at the inlaid cabinets, and the couches and tables, and this great warm rug that covers all the floor, how snug and comfortable it all is. Why, mother, I never saw anything like this."

"You might have seen something like it had you ever been in the house of one of our rich London traders, Agnes; at least so I have heard, though in truth I have never myself been in so luxuriously furnished a room. I only hope that we may stay here for some time. The best of it is that these good people evidently do not regard us as a burden. No doubt they are pleased to oblige the Duke of Burgundy, but, beyond that, their welcome seemed really sincere. Now let us see our bedroom. I suppose that is yours, Charlie, through the door in the corner."

The valises had already been brought to the rooms by another entrance, and Margaret and her daughter were charmed with their bedroom. A large ewer and basin of silver stood on a table which was covered with a white cloth, snowy towels hung beside it; the hangings of the bed were of damask silk, and the floor was almost covered by an Eastern carpet. An exquisitely carved wardrobe stood in one corner.

"It is all lovely!" Agnes said, clapping her hands. "You ought to have your room at home fitted up like this, mother."

"It would take a large slice out of a year's revenue, Agnes," her mother said with a smile, "to furnish a room in this fashion. That wardrobe alone is worth a knight's ransom, and the ewer and basin are fit for a king. I would that your father could see us here; it would ease his anxiety about us. I must ask how I can best despatch a messenger to him."

When they returned to the other apartment they found the table already laid, and in a short time a dainty repast was served. To this Guy sat down with them, for except when there were guests, when his place was behind his lord's chair, he had always been treated as one of the family, and as the son of Sir Aylmer rather than as a page.

"Well, Master Guy, what think you of affairs?"

"They seem well to the eye, mistress, but I would not trust that Duke of Burgundy for an hour. With that long face of his and the hooked nose and his crafty look he resembles little a noble of France. He has an evil face, and one which accords well with the foul murder of the king's brother. However, as I see not that he has aught to gain by holding you here,--save that he thinks it will ensure our lord's keeping his castle for him,--there is no reason why he should not continue to treat you honourably and courteously. We have yet to learn whether Master Leroux is one of his party, or whether he is in favour of Armagnac."

"I should think that he cannot be for Armagnac," she said, "or Duke John would hardly have quartered us upon him. No doubt it was done under the semblance of goodwill, but most men would have considered it a heavy tax, even though, as I expect, we shall not remain here long. Doubtless, however, the trader considers that his complaisance in the matter would be taken by the duke as a sign of his desire to show that at least he is not hostile to him."

When they rose from the table Guy, at his mistress's suggestion, went below and found the four men sitting in the great kitchen, where they had just finished an ample meal.

"You have seen to the horses, Robert?"

"Yes, Master Guy, they are comfortably bestowed, with an abundance of provender."

"I am going out to see how matters stand in the town. Our lady says that at all times two of you must remain here, as it may be necessary to send messages, or should she wish to go out, to escort her, but the other two can be out and about as they please, after first inquiring of me whether there is aught for them to do. You can arrange among yourselves which shall stay in, taking turns off duty. Tom, you had better not go out till after dark. There is something in the cut of your garments which tells that you are not French. Robert will go out with me now, and find a clothier, and bid him send garments here for you to choose from, or if he has none to fit, which may likely enough be, send him to measure you. It might lead to broils and troubles were any of the rabble to notice that you were a stranger."

"That is right enough, Master Guy; and in sooth I have no desire to go out at present, for after riding for the last six days I am well content to sit quiet and take my ease here."

Guy then started with Robert Picard. Except in the streets where the principal merchants dwelt, the town struck him as gloomy and sombre. The palaces of the nobles were veritable fortresses, the streets were ill- paved and evil-smelling, and the people in the poorer quarters had a sinister aspect.

"I should not care to wander about in this district after nightfall, Robert," Guy said to the man-at-arms, who kept close to his elbow.

"Nor I," the man growled. "It is as much as I can do to keep my hands off my dagger now, for methinks that nine out often of the fellows loitering about would cut our throats willingly, if they thought that we had but a crown in our pockets."

Presently they found themselves on the quays, and, hailing a boat, rowed up the river a little beyond the walls. Hearing the sound of music they landed, and on seeing a number of people gather round some booths they discharged the boat and went on. They found that it was a sort of fair. Here were sword-players and mountebanks, pedlars who vended their wares at a lower price than those at which they were sold within the limits of the city, booths at which wine and refreshments could be obtained. Here many soldiers were sitting drinking, watching the passers-by, and exchanging ribald jests with each other, and sometimes addressing observations to the wives and daughters of the citizens, amid fits of laughter at the looks of indignation on the part of their husbands or fathers.

"It is evidently a holiday of some sort," Guy remarked, as they found that the fair extended for a considerable distance, and that the crowd was everywhere large. They stopped for a minute or two in front of a booth of more pretensions than the generality. In front of it a man was beating a drum, and a negro walking up and down attired in showy garments. The drum ceased and the latter shouted:

"Those of you who wish to see my master, the famous Elminestres, the most learned doctor in Europe, who can read the stars, cast your horoscope, foretell your future, and cure your ailments, should not lose this opportunity."

The curtains opened behind, and a man dressed in dark garments with a long black cloak spotted with silver stars came forward.

"You have heard, good people, what my slave has said. He speaks with knowledge. I saved his life in the deserts of Africa when he was all but dead with fever, by administering to him one of my wonderful potions; he at once recovered and devoted himself to my service. I have infallible remedies for every disease, therefore do you who are sick come to me and be cured; while for you who do not suffer I can do as much or more, by telling you of your future, what evils to avoid and what chances to grasp."

He stood for a minute silent, his eyes wandering keenly over the spectators. "I see," he said, "one among you who loves a fair maiden standing beside him. At present her parents are unfavourable to his suit, but if he will take my advice he will be able to overcome their objections and to win the damsel. Another I see who has come to Paris with the intention of enlisting in the service of our good duke, and who, I foresee, will attain rank and honour and become a distinguished soldier if he does but act prudently at the critical moment, while if he takes a wrong turn misfortune and death will befall him. I see a youth of gentle blood who will become a brave knight, and will better his condition by marriage. He has many dangers to go through before that, and has at present a serious charge for one so young; but as he has circumspection as well as courage he may pass through them unharmed. To him too I could give advice that may be valuable, more especially as he is a stranger to the land, as are those of whom he is in charge."

"It is wonderful, Master Guy!" Robert Picard whispered in Guy's ear in a tone of astonished awe.

"The knave doubtless saw us ride in this morning, and recognized me again. There is naught of magic in it, but the fellow must be shrewd, or he would not have so quickly drawn his conclusions. I will go in and speak to him presently, for though I believe not his prophecies one jot, a fellow of this sort may be useful. Let us be moving on at present."

They passed two monks, who were scowling angrily at the man, who was just exciting the laughter of the crowd by asserting that there was a holy man present who usually preferred a flask of good wine to saying his vespers.

"Rogues like this should be whipped and branded, Brother Anselmo."

"Ay, ay," the other agreed: "and yet," he added slyly, "it may be that he has not altogether missed his mark this time. We are not the only two monks here," he went on as the other turned upon him angrily, "and it may well be that among them is one who answers to the fellow's lewd description."

On the outskirts of the fair were many people of higher degree. Knights and ladies strolled on the turf exchanging greetings, looking for a minute or two at the gambols of a troupe of performing dogs, or at a bout of cudgel play--where two stout fellows belaboured each other heartily, and showed sufficient skill to earn from the crowd a shower of small pieces of money, when at last they ceased from pure exhaustion. Half an hour later Guy returned to the booth of the doctor, and went in by a side entrance, to which those who wished to consult the learned man had been directed by the negro. The latter was at the entrance, and, observing that Guy's condition was above that of the majority of his master's clients, at once took him into an inner apartment divided from the rest of the tent by a hanging. Over the top of this was stretched a black cloth spotted with silver stars, and similar hangings surrounded it; thus all light was cut off, and the room was dimly illuminated by two lamps. A table with a black cloth stood at the back. On this stood a number of phials and small boxes, together with several retorts and alembics. The doctor was seated on a tripod stool. He rose and was about to address Guy in his usual style, when the latter said:

"So you saw us ride in this morning, Master Doctor, and guessed shrewdly as to our condition and nationality. As to the latter, indeed, it needed no sorcery, for it must have been plain to the dullest that my mistress and her daughter were not of French blood, and though I am much less fair, it was a pretty safe guess to suppose that I also was of their country. I need not tell you that I have not come here either for charms or nostrums, but it seemed to me that being, as you said, strangers here, we might benefit by the advice of one who like yourself notes things quickly, and can form his own conclusions."

The doctor removed his tall conical cap, and placed it on the table.

"You guess rightly," he said with a smile. "I was in the crowd and marked you enter, and a soldier standing next to me observed to a comrade that he had heard that Burgundy had sent the herald to demand the surrender of a castle held by one Sir Eustace, a knight who was known to have friendly leanings towards the English, being a vassal of their king for estates that had come to him with an English wife, and that doubtless this was the lady. When my eye fell on you in the crowd I said: Here is a youth of shrewdness and parts, he is alone and is a foreigner, and maybe I can be of service to him; therefore I shot my shaft, and, as you see, with success. I said to myself: This youth, being a stranger, will know of no one to whom he can turn for information, and I can furnish him with almost any that he may require. I come in contact with the highest and the lowest, for the Parisians are credulous, and after dark there are some of rank and station who come to my doors for filtres and nostrums, or to have their horoscope cast and their futures predicted. You will ask why one who has such clients should condescend to stand at a booth and talk to this rabble; but it has its purpose. Were I known only as one whom men and women visit in secret, I should soon become suspected of black arts, the priests would raise an outcry against me, and one of these days I might be burned. Here, however, I ostensibly earn my living as a mountebank vendor of drugs and nostrums, and therefore no one troubles his head about me."

"There is one thing that you have not told me," Guy said when he ceased speaking. "Having, as you say, good clients besides your gains here, why should you trouble to interest yourself in our affairs?"

"Shrewdly put, young sir. I will be frank with you. I too am a stranger, and sooner or later I may fall into discredit, and the power of the church be too much for me. When I saw your mistress to-day I said to myself: Here is an English lady of rank, with a castle and estate in England; should I have to fly-and I have one very dear to me, for whose sake I value my life-it might be well for me that I should have one friend in England who would act as protectress to her should aught befall me. Your mistress is a stranger here, and in the hands of enemies. I may be of use to her. I know this population of Paris, and can perhaps give her better information of what is going on both at the court and in the gutter than any other man, and may be able to render her assistance when she most needs it; and would ask but in payment that, should I come to England, she will extend her protection to my daughter until I can find a home and place her there. You see I am playing an open game with you."

"I will reply as frankly," Guy said. "When I came in here it was, as I told the man-at-arms my companion, with the thought that one who had noticed us so shrewdly, and had recognized me so quickly in the crowd, was no ordinary mountebank, but a keen, shrewd man who had some motive for thus addressing me, and I see that my view was a right one. As to your proposal I can say naught before I have laid it before my mistress, but for myself I may say at once that it recommends itself to me as excellent. We are, as you say, strangers here, and know of no one from whom we might obtain information as to what is going on. My mistress, if not an actual prisoner, is practically so, being held with her children as hostages for my lord's loyalty to France. She is the kindest of ladies, and should she authorize me to enter into further communication with you, you may be sure that she would execute to the full the undertaking you ask for on behalf of your daughter. Where can I see you again? This is scarce a place I could often resort to without my visits being noticed, if, as is likely enough, the Duke of Burgundy may occasionally set spies to inform him as to what we are doing, and whether my mistress is in communication with any who are regarded as either doubtful or hostile to his faction."

"If you will be in front of Notre Dame this evening at nine o'clock, I will meet you there and conduct you to my abode, where you can visit me free of any fear of observation."

"What name shall I call you?" Guy asked.

"My name is Montepone. I belong to a noble family of Mantua, but mixing myself up with the factions there, I was on the losing side, and unfortunately it happened that in a fray I killed a noble connected with all the ruling families; sentence of death was passed upon me in my absence, my property was confiscated. Nowhere in Italy should I have been safe from the dagger of the assassin, therefore I fled to France, and for ten years have maintained myself by the two arts which so often go together, astrology and buffoonery. I had always been fond of knowledge, and had learned all that could be taught in the grand science of astrology, so that however much I may gull fools here, I have obtained the confidence of many powerful personages by the accuracy of my forecasts. Had Orleans but believed my solemn assurance he would not have ridden through the streets of Paris to his death that night, and in other cases where I have been more trusted I have rendered valuable assistance."

The belief in astrology had never gained much hold upon the mass of the English people, many as were the superstitions that prevailed among them. Guy had never even given the matter a thought. Montepone, however, evidently believed in his powers of foreseeing the future, and such powers did not in themselves seem altogether impossible to the lad; he therefore made no direct reply, but saying that he would not fail to be at the appointed place at nine that evening, took his leave.

"Truly, Master Guy, I began to be uneasy about you," Robert Picard said when he rejoined him, "and was meditating whether I had best enter the tent, and demand what had become of you. It was only the thought that there might have been others before you, and that you had to wait your turn before seeing him, that restrained me. You have not been taking his nostrums, I trust; for they say that some of those men sell powders by which a man can be changed into a wolf."

Guy laughed. "I have taken nothing, Robert, and if I had I should have no fear of such a change happening to me. I have but talked to the man as to how he came to know me, and it is as I thought,--he saw us as we entered. He is a shrewd fellow, and may well be of some use to us."

"I like not chaffering with men who have intercourse with the devil," Picard said, shaking his head gravely; "nothing good comes of it. My mother knew a man who bought a powder that was to cure his wife of jealousy; and indeed it did, for it straightway killed her, and he was hung. I think that I can stand up against mortal man as well as another, but my blood ran cold when I saw you enter yon tent, and I fell into a sweat at your long absence."

"The man is not of that kind, Robert, so you can reassure yourself. I doubt not that the nostrums he sells are perfectly harmless, and that though they may not cure they will certainly not kill."

They made their way back to the house of the provost of the silversmiths.

"Well, what do you think of Paris, Guy?" Dame Margaret asked when he entered.

"It is a fine city, no doubt, lady, but in truth I would rather be in the country than in this wilderness of narrow streets. But indeed I have had somewhat of an adventure, and one which I think may prove of advantage;" and he then related to his mistress his visit to the booth of the supposed doctor.

"Do you think that he is honest, Guy?" she asked when he concluded.

"I think so, madam. He spoke honestly enough, and there was a ring of truth in what he said; nor do I see that he could have had any motive for making my acquaintance save what he stated. His story seemed to me to be a natural one; but I shall be able to judge better when I see him in his own house and with this daughter he speaks of; that is, if your ladyship is willing that I should meet him."

"I am willing enough," she said, "for even if he is a spy of Burgundy's there is nothing that we wish to conceal. I have come here willingly, and have no thought of making my escape, or of mixing myself up in any of the intrigues of the court. Therefore there is no harm that he can do us, while on the other hand you may learn much from him, and will gather in a short time whether he can be trusted. Then by all means go and meet him this evening. But it would be as well to take Tom with you. It does not seem to me at all likely that any plot can be intended, but at any rate it will be well that you should have one with you whom you can thoroughly trust, in case there is any snare set, and to guard you against any lurking cut-throats."

"I will tell him to be in readiness to go with me. It will be his turn to go out with one of the others this evening, and he might not be back in time if I did not warn him."

"What arms shall I take with me?" Long Tom said, when Guy told him of their expedition.

"Nothing but your sword and quarter-staff. I see that many of the beggars and others that one meets in the streets carry long staffs, and yours is not much longer than the generality. You brought it tied up with your bow, so you would do well to carry it, for in a street broil, where there is room to swing it, you could desire no better weapon, in such strong hands as yours, Tom. Besides, you can knock down and disable with it and no great harm is done, whereas if you used your sword there would be dead men; and although by all I hear these are not uncommon objects in the streets of Paris, there might be trouble if the town watch came up, as we are strangers. I shall carry a stout cudgel myself, as well as my sword."

Accordingly at half-past eight they set out. Guy put on a long cloak and a cap such as was worn by the citizens, but strengthened inside by a few bands of steel forming sufficient protection to the head against any ordinary blow. This he had purchased at a stall on his way home. Tom had put on the garments that had been bought for him that afternoon, consisting of a doublet of tanned leather that could be worn under armour or for ordinary use, and was thick enough to afford considerable protection. The streets were already almost deserted; those who were abroad hurried along looking with suspicion at all whom they met, and walking in the middle of the road so as to avoid being taken by surprise by anyone lurking in the doorways or at the corners of alleys. Once or twice men came out and stared at Guy and his companion by the light of the lanterns suspended across the streets, but there was nothing about their appearance to encourage an attack, and the stalwart figure of the archer promised hard blows rather than plunder. Arriving at the square in front of Notre Dame they waited awhile. Here there were still people about, for it was a rendezvous both for roistering young gallants, thieves, and others starting on midnight adventures. After walking backwards and forwards two or three times Guy said, "You had best stand here in the shadow of this buttress while I go and place myself beneath that hanging lamp; seeing that we are together, and he, looking perhaps only for one, may not recognize me."

On reaching the lamp, Guy took off his hat, so that the light should fall on his face, waited for a minute, and then replaced it. As soon as he did so a slightly-built lad came up to him.

"Were you not at the fair by the river to-day, sir, and are you not expecting some one to meet you here?"

"That is so, lad. If you will tell me whom I am expecting I shall know that he has sent you, though, indeed, I looked to meet himself and not a messenger."

"Montepone," the lad said.

"That is right. Why is he not here himself?"

"He received a message before starting that one whose orders he could not neglect would call upon him this evening, and he therefore sent me to the rendezvous. I have been looking anxiously for you, but until now had not seen you."

"I have a companion with me; being a stranger here in Paris, I did not care to be wandering through the streets alone. He is a countryman of mine, and can be trusted."

"It is indeed dangerous to be out alone. It is seldom that I am in the streets after dark, but the doctor came with me and placed me in a corner of the porch, and then returned by himself, telling me to stir not until I saw you; and that should you not come, or should I not be able to make you out, I was to remain until he came for me even if I waited until morning."

"I will fetch my follower," Guy said, "and am ready to accompany you."

The lad was evidently unwilling to be left there for a moment alone, and he walked back with Guy to the buttress where the archer was standing.

"This is our guide, Tom," Guy said, as the archer stepped out to join him; "the person I expected was unable to come himself. Now, lad, I am ready; you see we are well guarded."

The boy nodded, evidently reassured by the bulk of the archer, and was about to step on ahead of them, when Guy said, "You had best walk with us. If you keep in front, it will seem as if you were guiding us, and that would point us out at once as strangers. Is it far to the place you are taking us to?"

"A short quarter of an hour's walk, sir."