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- At Agincourt - 30/58 -


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 Maître 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.

[Illustration: "THE KING EXTENDED HIS HAND TO GUY, WHO WENT ON ONE KNEE TO KISS IT."]

"Truly it was well done, young sir, and I owe you thanks for having given so shrewd a lesson to these brawlers, Maître 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.


At Agincourt - 30/58

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