Chapter VII. In the Streets of Paris
 

They crossed the bridge to the right bank of the river, and followed the stream down for some distance. Passing through some narrow lanes, they presently emerged into a street of higher pretensions, and stopped at the door of a small house wedged in between two of much larger size. The boy took a key from his girdle, opened the door, and entered.

"Stand here a moment, I pray you," he said; "I will fetch a light."

In a few seconds he appeared with a lantern. He shut and barred the door, and then led the way upstairs and showed them into a small but well- furnished room, which was lighted by a hanging lamp. He then went to a buffet, brought out a flask of wine and two goblets, and said: "Will it please you to be seated and to help yourselves to the wine; my master may possibly be detained for some little time before he is able to see you." Then he went out and closed the door behind him.

"It is evident, Tom," Guy said, as he took off his hat and cloak, and seated himself, "that the doctor has a good idea of making himself comfortable. Sit down, we may have to wait some time."

"Do you think that it will be safe to touch the wine, Master Guy? Perchance it may be drugged."

"Why should it be?" Guy asked. "We are not such important personages that anyone can desire to make away with us. I am convinced that the doctor was in earnest when he told me that story that I repeated to you this evening. It is possible that he may not be able to give us as much information as he said, but that he means well by us I am certain; and I think we may be sure that his wine is as good as his apartments are comfortable."

This turned out to be the case; the wine was excellent, and the archer soon laid aside any doubt he might have entertained. From time to time steps could be heard in the apartment above, and it was evident that it was here that the interview between the doctor and his visitor was taking place. Presently a ring was heard below.

"Another visitor," Guy said. Getting up, he slightly drew aside a thick curtain that hung before a casement, a moment later he let it fall again. "There are two men-at-arms standing on the other side of the street and one at the door." He heard the door opened, then the boy's step was heard on the stairs, two or three minutes later there was a movement above and the sound of the footsteps of two men coming down. Presently the outside door closed, two or three minutes elapsed; then the door opened and the Italian entered.

"I regret that I have kept you so long," he said courteously, "but my visitor was not to be got rid of hastily. It was a lady, and there is no hurrying ladies. When a man comes in, I have already ascertained what he desires to know; he listens to my answer and takes his departure. A woman, on the contrary, has a thousand things to ask, and for the most part they are questions quite beyond my power to answer."

"I have, as you see, Signor Montepone, brought my tall countryman with me; as you noticed me, I doubt not for a moment that you also marked him when we entered the city. Knowing nothing of the ways of Paris, but having heard that the streets were very unsafe after dark, I thought it best to bring him with me; and I am indeed glad that I did so, for we met with several very rough-looking characters on our way to Notre Dame, and had I been alone I might have had trouble."

"You did quite right," the Italian said; "I regretted afterwards that I did not myself advise you to bring some one with you, for indeed it is not safe for one man to go abroad alone after dark. And now, will you accompany me upstairs; this tall fellow will doubtless be able to pass the time with that flask of wine until you return."

"He should be able to do so," Guy said with a smile, "for indeed it is the best wine I have tasted, so far as my judgment goes, since I crossed the Channel, and indeed the best I have ever tasted."

"'Tis good wine. I received a cask of it from the grower, a Burgundian noble, who had, as he believed, gained some advantage from following my advice."

The man led the way upstairs. The room he entered there was much larger than that which they had left, extending over the whole floor. It was draped similarly to that in the booth, but was far more handsomely and elaborately got up. The hangings were of heavy cloth sprinkled with stars, the ceiling was blue with gold stars, a planisphere and astrolabe stood in the centre of the room, and a charcoal fire burned in a brazier beside them. A pair of huge bats with outstretched wings hung by wires from the ceiling, their white teeth glistening in the light of four lamps on stands, some six feet high, one in each corner of the room. The floor was covered with a dark Eastern carpet, a large chair with a footstool in front stood at a short distance from the planisphere; at one end was a massive table on which were retorts, glass globes, and a variety of apparatus new to Guy. At the other end of the room there was a frame some eight feet square on which a white sheet was stretched tightly.

"Now, Master Guy," the Italian said, "firstly, I beg you to give me the date of your birth and if possible the hour, for I would for my own information if not for yours, cast your horoscope. I like to know for my own satisfaction, as far as may be, the future of those with whom I have to deal. If I perceive that misfortunes and perhaps death threaten them, it is clearly of no use my entering into relations with them. In your case, of course, it is with your mistress that I am chiefly concerned; still as your fortunes are at present so closely mixed up with hers, I may learn something of much utility to me from your horoscope."

"I was born on the 8th of December, 1394, and shall be therefore seventeen in a fortnight's time. I was born a few minutes after midnight, for I have heard my mother say that the castle bell had sounded but a few minutes before I was born. She said that she had been anxious about it, because an old woman had predicted that if she ever had a child born on the 7th day of the month, it would be in every way unfortunate; so my mother was greatly pleased that I had escaped the consequences predicted."

"And now," the Italian went on, having made a note in his tablets, "what said your lady?"

"She bid me say, sir, that she was very sensible of the advantage that it would be to her to receive news or warning from one so well informed as yourself; and that she on her part promises that she will befriend and protect your daughter should you at any time bring her to her castle in England, or should she come alone with such tokens from you as that she might be known; and this promise my lady vows on the sacraments to keep."

"Then we are in agreement," the Italian said; "and right glad am I to know that should aught befall me, my daughter will be in such good hands. As far as worldly means are concerned her future is assured, for I have laid out much of the money I have received in jewels of value, which will produce a sum that will be an ample dowry for her. Now I can give you some news. The Duke of Berri with the queen came two days since from Melun to Corbeil, and Louis of Bavaria came on here yesterday to the Duke of Aquitaine with a message to Burgundy and to the butchers, asking that they would allow him to attend the queen to Paris, and that she might reside in his house of Nasle. Burgundy was minded to grant her leave, but at a meeting of the chiefs of the guild of butchers this afternoon they resolved to refuse the request; and this evening they have broken every door and window of the Duke of Berri's house, and committed great damages there, so that it should not be habitable; they resolved that Berri should not enter Paris, but that the queen might come. I hear that it has been determined that the king shall be placed in the Louvre, where the citizens of Paris can keep guard over him and prevent any attempt by the Orleanists to carry him away.

"All this will make no difference to your mistress directly; the point of it is that the power of these butchers, with whom go the guild of skinners and others, is so increasing that even the Duke of Burgundy is forced to give in to them. Some of the other guilds and the greater part of the respectable traders are wholly opposed to these men. They themselves may care little whether Orleans or Burgundy sways the court and the king, but this usurpation of the butchers, who have behind them the scum of Paris, is regarded as a danger to the whole city, and the feeling may grow into so hot a rage that there may be serious rioting in the streets. I tell you this that you may be prepared. Assuredly the butchers are not likely to interfere with any save such of the townspeople as they may deem hostile to them, and no harm would intentionally be done to her or to any other hostage of Burgundy. But the provost of the silversmiths is one of those who withstands them to the best of his power, and should matters come to serious rioting his house might be attacked. The leaders of the butchers' guild would be glad to see him killed, and their followers would still more like to have the sacking of his rich magazine of silver goods and the spoiling of his furniture.

"I say not that things are likely to come to that yet, but there is no telling how far they may be carried. It is but a dark cloud in the distance at present, but it may in time burst into a storm that will deluge the streets of Paris with blood. I may tell you that, against you as English there is no strong feeling at present among the Burgundians, for I am informed that the duke has taken several bodies of English archers into his pay, and that at Soissons and other towns he has enlisted a score or two of these men. However, I am sure to gain information long before matters come to any serious point, except a sudden outbreak arise from a street broil. I may tell you that one result of the violence of the butchers to-day may be to cause some breach between them and the Burgundian nobles, who are, I am told, greatly incensed at their refusing to give permission to the Duke of Berri to come here after Burgundy had acceded to his request, and that these fellows should venture to damage the hotel of one of the royal dukes seemed to them to be still more intolerable. The Duke of Burgundy may truckle to these fellows, but his nobles will strongly resent their interference and their arrogant insolence, and the duke may find that if he is to retain their support he will have to throw over that of these turbulent citizens. Moreover, their conduct adds daily to the strength of the Orleanists among the citizens, and if a strong Armagnac force approaches Paris they will be hailed by no small portion of the citizens as deliverers."

"In truth I can well understand, Signor Montepone, that the nobles should revolt against this association with butchers and skinners; 'tis past all bearing that fellows like these should thus meddle in public affairs."

"The populace of Paris has ever been turbulent," the Italian replied. "In this it resembles the cities of Flanders, and the butchers are ever at the bottom of all tumults. Now I will introduce my daughter to you; it is well that you should know her, for in case of need she may serve as a messenger, and it may be that I may some day ask you to present her to your lady."

He opened the door. "Katarina!" he said without raising his voice, and at once a girl came running up from the floor below.

"This is my daughter, Master Aylmer; you have seen her before."

Katarina was a girl of some fourteen years of age. She was dressed in black, and was tall and slight. Her complexion was fairer than that of her father, and she already gave promise of considerable beauty. Guy bowed to her as she made her reverence, while her face lit up with an amused smile.

"Your father says I have seen you before, signora, but in sooth I know not where or how, since it was but this morning that I arrived in Paris."

"We parted but half an hour since, monsieur."

"Parted?" Guy repeated with a puzzled expression on his face. "Surely you are jesting with me."

"Do you not recognize my messenger?" the Italian said with a smile. "My daughter is my assistant. In a business like mine one cannot trust a stranger to do one service, and as a boy she could come and go unmarked when she carries a message to persons of quality. She looks a saucy page in the daytime when she goes on the business, but after nightfall she is dressed as you saw her this evening. As a girl she could not traverse the streets unattended, and I am far too busy to bear her company; but as a boy she can go where she likes, and indeed it is only when we are alone, and there is little chance of my having visitors, that she appears in her proper character."

"You must be very courageous, signora," Guy said; "but, indeed, I can well imagine that you can pass where you will without anyone suspecting you to be a girl, for the thought that this was so never entered my head."

"I am so accustomed to the disguise," she said, "that I feel more comfortable in it than dressed as I now am, and it is much more amusing to be able to go about as I like than to remain all day cooped up here when my father is abroad."

"And now, Master Aylmer, that you have made my daughter's acquaintance, and I have told you what news I have gathered, it needs not that I should detain you longer; the hour is getting late already, and your lady may well be getting anxious at your absence. Can you read?"

"Yes, signor; the priest at my lady's castle in England, of which my father is castellan during my lord's absences, instructed me."

"It is well; for sometimes a note can be slipped into a hand when it would not be safe to deliver a message by word of mouth. From time to time if there be anything new you shall hear from me, but there will be no occasion for you to come hither again unless there is something of importance on which I may desire to have speech with you, or you with me. Remain here, Katarina, until my return; I will see monsieur out, and bar the door after him."

Passing downstairs Guy looked in at the room where he had left the archer. The latter sprung to his feet as he entered with a somewhat dazed expression on his face, for indeed, he had fallen off into a sound sleep.

"We are going now, Tom," Guy said. "I have concluded my business with this gentleman. We will not go back the way we came," he went on, as they issued into the street, "for I am sure we should never find our way through those alleys. Let us keep along here until we come to a broader street leading the way we wish to go; fortunately, with the river to our left, we cannot go very far wrong."

They presently came to a street leading in the desired direction. They had scarcely entered it when they heard ahead of them the sound of a fray. A loud cry arose, and there was a clashing of sword-blades.

"Come on, Tom!" Guy said; "it may be that some gentleman is attacked by these ruffians of the streets."

Starting off at a run, they soon arrived at the scene of combat, the features of which they were able to see by the light of the lamp that hung in the centre of the street. A man was standing in a narrow doorway, which prevented his being attacked except in front, and the step on which he stood gave him a slight advantage over his adversaries. These were nearly a dozen in number, and were evidently, as Guy had supposed, street ruffians of the lowest class. Without hesitation Guy and the archer fell upon them, with a shout of encouragement to the defender of the doorway, who was evidently sorely pressed. Tom's quarter-staff sent two of the men rolling on the ground almost before they realized that they were attacked, while Guy ran another through the body. For a moment the assailants scattered, but then, seeing that they were attacked by only two men, they fell upon them with fury.

Guy defended himself stoutly, but he would have fared badly had it not been for the efforts of Long Tom, whose staff descended with such tremendous force upon the heads of his assailants that it broke down their guard, and sent man after man on to the pavement. Guy himself received a sharp wound in the shoulder, but cut down another of his assailants; and the defender of the door, leaving his post of vantage, now joined them, and in a couple of minutes but four of the assailants remained on their feet, and these, with a shout of dismay, turned and took to their heels. Guy had now opportunely arrived. As the latter took off his hat he saw time to look at the gentleman to whose assistance he had so that the stranger was but a year or two older than himself.

"By our Lady, sir," the young man said, "you arrived at a lucky moment, for I could not much longer have kept these ruffians at bay. I have to thank you for my life, which, assuredly, they would have taken, especially as I had disposed of two of their comrades before you came up. May I ask to whom I am so indebted? I am Count Charles d'Estournel."

"My name is Guy Aylmer, sir; I am the son of Sir James Aylmer, an English knight, and am here as the esquire of Dame Margaret de Villeroy, who arrived but this morning in Paris."

"And who is this stalwart fellow whose staff has done more execution than both our sword-blades?" the young count asked; "verily it rose and fell like a flail on a thrashing-floor."

"He is one of Dame Margaret's retainers, and the captain of a band of archers in her service, but is at present here as one of her men-at-arms."

"In truth I envy her so stout a retainer. Good fellow, I have to thank you much, as well as Monsieur Guy Aylmer, for your assistance."

"One is always glad of an opportunity to stretch one's arms a bit when there is but a good excuse for doing so," the archer said; "and one needs no better chance than when one sees a gentleman attacked by such scum as these ruffians," and he motioned to the men lying stretched on the ground.

"Ah, you are English!" D'Estournel said with a slight smile at Tom's very broken French. "I know all about you now," he went on, turning to Guy. "I was not present today when your lady had audience with Burgundy, but I heard that an English dame had arrived, and that the duke came but badly out of the encounter in words with her. But we had best be moving on or we may have the watch on us, and we should be called upon to account for these ten fellows lying here. I doubt not but half of them are only stunned and will soon make off, the other six will have to be carried away. We have a good account to give of ourselves, but the watch would probably not trouble themselves to ask any questions, and I have no fancy for spending a night locked up in the cage with perhaps a dozen unsavoury malefactors. Which way does your course lie, sir?"

"We are lodged at the house of Maitre Leroux, provost of the silversmiths."

"Then you are going in the wrong direction. You return up this street, then turn to your right; his house is in the third street to the left. I shall do myself the honour of calling in the morning to thank you more fully for the service you have rendered me, which, should it ever fall into my power, you can count on my returning. My way now lies in the opposite direction."

After mutual salutes they parted, and Guy followed the directions given to them.

"That was a sharp skirmish, Master Guy," Long Tom said contentedly; "the odds were just enough to make it interesting. Did you escape scatheless?"

"Not altogether, Tom, I had a sword-thrust in my shoulder; but I can do with it until I get back, when I will get you to bandage it for me."

"That will I; I did not get so much as a scratch. A quarter-staff is a rare weapon in a fight like that, for you can keep well out of the reach of their swords. In faith I have not had so pleasant an exercise since that fight Dickon and I had in the market-place at Winchester last Lammas fair."

"I am afraid Dame Margaret will scold us for getting into a fray."

"Had it not been for your wound we need have said nothing about it; but you may be sure that you will have to carry your arm in a sling for a day or two, and she will want to know the ins and outs of the matter."

"I think the affair has been a fortunate one, for it has obtained for me the friendship of a young Burgundian noble. Friendless as we are here, this is no slight matter, and I by no means grudge the amount of blood I have lost for such a gain. There is a light in Dame Margaret's casement; she said that she should sit up till my return, and would herself let me in, for the household would be asleep two hours ago; and as Maitre Leroux and his wife have shown themselves so kindly disposed towards us, she should not like the household disturbed at such an hour. I was to whistle a note or two of Richard Mon Roi, and she would know that we were without."

He whistled a bar or two of the air, they saw a shadow cross the casement, then the light disappeared, and in a minute they heard the bolts undrawn and the door opened.

"You are late, Guy," she said; "I have been expecting you this hour past. Why, what has happened to you?" she broke off as she saw his face.

"It is but a trifle, lady," he said; "a sword-thrust in the shoulder, and a little blood. Long Tom will bind it up. Our delay was caused partly by the fact that the Italian was engaged, and it was half-an-hour before I could see him. Moreover, we had been kept at the trysting-place, as the guide did not recognize me owing to Tom being with me; and lastly, we were somewhat delayed by the matter that cost me this sword-thrust, which I in no way grudge, since it has gained for us a friend who may be useful."

Tom had by this time barred the door and had gone upstairs. "I am disappointed in you, Guy," Dame Margaret said severely when they entered the room. "I told you to keep yourself free from frays of all kinds, and here you have been engaged in one before we have been twelve hours in Paris."

"I crave your pardon, madam, but it is not in human nature to stand by without drawing a sword on behalf of a young gentleman defending himself against a dozen cut-throats. I am sure that in such a case your ladyship would be the first to bid me draw and strike in. The matter did not last three minutes. Tom disposed of six of them with his quarter-staff, the gentleman had killed two before we arrived, and I managed to dispose of two others, the rest took to their heels. The young gentleman was Count Charles d'Estournel; he is, as it seems, in the Duke of Burgundy's train; and as we undoubtedly saved his life, he may turn out a good and useful friend."

"You are right, Guy; I spoke perhaps too hastily. And now about the other matter."

Guy told her all that had taken place.

"And what is this man like?" she asked when he had concluded.

"Now that I saw him without the astrologer's robe and in his ordinary costume he seemed to me a very proper gentleman," Guy replied. "He is my height or thereabouts, grave in face and of good presence. I have no doubt that he is to be trusted, and he has evidently resolved to do all in his power to aid you, should it be necessary to do so. He would scarce have introduced his daughter to me had it not been so."

"He must be a strange man," Dame Margaret said thoughtfully.

"He is certainly no common man, lady. As I have told you, he believes thoroughly in his science, and but adopts the costume in which I first saw him and the role of a quack vendor of nostrums in order that his real profession may not be known to the public, and so bring him in collision with the church."

"It seems to me, Guy," Dame Margaret said the next morning, "that as you have already made the acquaintance of a young French noble, and may probably meet with others, 'twill be best that, when we have finished our breakfast, you should lose no time in sallying out and providing yourself with suitable attire. Spare not money, for my purse is very full. Get yourself a suit in which you can accompany me fitly if I again see the duke, or, as is possible, have an interview with the queen. Get two others, the one a quiet one, and not likely to attract notice, for your ordinary wear; the other a more handsome one, to wear when you go into the company of the young men of station like this Burgundian noble whom you succoured last night. Your father being a knight, you may well, as the esquire of my lord, hold your head as high as other young esquires of good family in the train of French nobles."

On Agnes and Charlie coming into the room, the latter exclaimed, "Why have you got your arm in a scarf, Guy?"

"He was in a fray last night, Charlie. He and Tom came upon a number of ruffians fighting a young gentleman, so they joined in and helped him, and Guy was wounded in the shoulder."

"Did they beat the bad men, mother?"

"Yes, dear; Guy had taken a sword with him, as it was after dark, and Tom had his quarter-staff."

"Then the others can have had no chance," Charlie said decidedly. "I have often seen Long Tom playing with the quarter-staff, and he could beat anyone in the castle. I warrant he laid about him well. I should have liked to have been there to have seen it, mother."

"It will be a good many years yet, Charlie, before you will be old enough to go out after dark in such a place as Paris."

"But I saw real fighting at the castle, mother, and I am sure I was not afraid even when the cannon made a great noise."

"No, you behaved very well, Charlie; but it is one thing to be standing on the top of a keep and another to be in the streets when a fray is going on all round."

"Did you kill anyone, Guy?" the boy asked eagerly.

"Some of them were wounded," Guy replied, "but I cannot say for certain that anyone was killed."

"They ought to be killed, these bad men who attack people in the street. If I were King of France I would have all their heads chopped off."

"It is not so easy to catch them, Charlie. When the watch come upon them when they are doing such things there is not much mercy shown to them."

As soon as breakfast was over Guy went out, after learning from Maitre Leroux the address of a tradesman who generally kept a stock of garments in store, in readiness for those passing through Paris, who might not have time to stop while clothes were specially made for them. He returned in the course of an hour, followed by a boy carrying a wooden case with the clothes that he had bought. He had been fortunate in getting two suits which fitted him perfectly. They had been made for a young knight who had been despatched by the duke to Flanders just after he had been measured for them, and the tailor said that he was glad to sell them, as for aught he knew it might be weeks or even months before the knight returned, and he could make other suits for him at his leisure. Thus he was provided at once with his two best suits; for the other he had been measured, and it was to be sent in a couple of days. On his return he went straight to his room, and attired himself in readiness to receive the visit of Count Charles d'Estournel.

The suit consisted of an orange-coloured doublet coming down to the hips, with puce sleeves; the trousers were blue, and fitting closely to the legs; the shoes were of the great length then in fashion, being some eighteen inches from the heel to the pointed toe. The court suit was similar in make, but more handsome--the doublet, which was of crimson, being embroidered with gold; the closely-fitting trousers were striped with light blue and black; the cap with the suit in which he was now dressed was yellow, that with the court suit crimson, and both were high and conical, resembling a sugar-loaf in shape. From his sword-belt he carried a light straight sword, instead of the heavier one that would be carried in actual warfare, and on the right side was a long dagger.

Charlie clapped his hands as he entered the sitting-room.

"That will do very well, Master Esquire," Dame Margaret said with a smile; "truly you look as well fitted as if they had been made for you, and the colours are well chosen."

Guy told her how he had obtained them.

"You are very fortunate," she said, "and this afternoon, when I mean to take a walk to see the city, I shall feel that I am well escorted with you by my side."

"Shall you take us, mother?" Charlie asked anxiously.

"I intend to do so. You are so accustomed to be in the open air that you would soon pine if confined here, though indeed the air outside is but close and heavy compared with that at home. I have been speaking to Master Leroux while you have been away, and he tells me that a post goes once a week to Lille, and that he will send a letter for me to Sir Eustace under cover to a worthy trader of that town, who will forward it thence to Villeroy by a messenger. Therefore I shall write this morning; my lord will be pleased indeed to learn that we are so comfortably bestowed here, and that there is no cause for any uneasiness on his part."