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- St. Martin's Summer - 1/54 -
St. Martin's Summer
by Rafael Sabatini
Originally published in 1921
I. THE SENESCHAL OF DAUPHINY II. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE III. THE DOWAGER'S COMPLIANCE IV. THE CHATEAU DE CONDILLAC V. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LOSES HIS TEMPER VI. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE KEEPS HIS TEMPER VII. THE OPENING OF THE TRAP VIII. THE CLOSING OF THE TRAP IX. THE SENESCHAL'S ADVICE X. THE RECRUIT XI. VALERIE'S GAOLER XII. A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE XIII. THE COURIER XIV. FLORIMOND'S LETTER XV. THE CONFERENCE XVI. THE UNEXPECTED XVII. HOW MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LEFT CONDILLAC XVIII. IN THE MOAT XIX. THROUGH THE NIGHT XX. FLORIMOND DE CONDILLAC XXI. THE GHOST IN THE CUPBOARD XXII. THE OFFICES OF MOTHER CHURCH XXIII. THE JUDGMENT OF GARNACHE XXIV. SAINT MARTINS EVE
SAINT MARTIN'S SUMMER
THE SENESCHAL OF DAUPHINY
My Lord of Tressan, His Majesty's Seneschal of Dauphiny, sat at his ease, his purple doublet all undone, to yield greater freedom to his vast bulk, a yellow silken undergarment visible through the gap, as is visible the flesh of some fruit that, swollen with over-ripeness, has burst its skin.
His wig - imposed upon him by necessity, not fashion lay on the table amid a confusion of dusty papers, and on his little fat nose, round and red as a cherry at its end, rested the bridge of his horn-rimmed spectacles. His bald head - so bald and shining that it conveyed an unpleasant sense of nakedness, suggesting that its uncovering had been an act of indelicacy on the owner's part - rested on the back of his great chair, and hid from sight the gaudy escutcheon wrought upon the crimson leather. His eyes were closed, his mouth open, and whether from that mouth or from his nose - or, perhaps, conflicting for issue between both - there came a snorting, rumbling sound to proclaim that my Lord the Seneschal was hard at work upon the King's business.
Yonder, at a meaner table, in an angle between two windows, a pale-faced thread-bare secretary was performing for a yearly pittance the duties for which my Lord the Seneschal was rewarded by emoluments disproportionately large.
The air of that vast apartment was disturbed by the sounds of Monsieur de Tressan's slumbers, the scratch and splutter of the secretary's pen, and the occasional hiss and crackle of the logs that burned in the great, cavern-like fireplace. Suddenly to these another sound was added. With a rasp and rattle the heavy curtains of blue velvet flecked with silver fleurs-de-lys were swept from the doorway, and the master of Monsieur de Tressan's household, in a well filled suit of black relieved by his heavy chain of office, stepped pompously forward.
The secretary dropped his pen, and shot a frightened glance at his slumbering master; then raised his hands above his head, and shook them wildly at the head lackey.
"Sh!" he whispered tragically. "Doucement, Monsieur Anselme."
Anselme paused. He appreciated the gravity of the situation. His bearing lost some of its dignity; his face underwent a change. Then with a recovery of some part of his erstwhile resolution:
"Nevertheless, he must be awakened," he announced, but in an undertone, as if afraid to do the thing he said must needs be done.
The horror in the secretary's eyes increased, but Anselme's reflected none of it. It was a grave thing, he knew by former experience, to arouse His Majesty's Seneschal of Dauphiny from his after-dinner nap; but it was an almost graver thing to fail in obedience to that black-eyed woman below who was demanding an audience.
Anselme realized that he was between the sword and the wall. He was, however, a man of a deliberate habit that was begotten of inherent indolence and nurtured among the good things that fell to his share as master of the Tressan household. Thoughtfully he caressed his tuft of red beard, puffed out his cheeks, and raised his eyes to the ceiling in appeal or denunciation to the heaven which he believed was somewhere beyond it.
"Nevertheless, he must be awakened," he repeated.
And then Fate came to his assistance. Somewhere in the house a door banged like a cannon-shot. Perspiration broke upon the secretary's brow. He sank limply back in his chair, giving himself up for lost. Anselme started and bit the knuckle of his forefinger in a manner suggesting an inarticulate imprecation.
My Lord the Seneschal moved. The noise of his slumbers culminated in a sudden, choking grunt, and abruptly ceased. His eyelids rolled slowly back, like an owl's, revealing pale blue eyes, which fixed themselves first upon the ceiling, then upon Anselme. Instantly he sat up, puffing and scowling, his hands shuffling his papers.
"A thousand devils! Anselme, why am I interrupted?" he grumbled querulously, still half-asleep. "What the plague do you want? Have you no thought for the King's affairs? Babylas" - this to his secretary - "did I not tell you that I had much to do; that I must not be disturbed?"
It was the great vanity of the life of this man, who did nothing, to appear the busiest fellow in all France, and no audience - not even that of his own lackeys - was too mean for him to take the stage to in that predilect role.
"Monsieur le Comte," said Anselme, in tones of abject self-effacement, "I had never dared intrude had the matter been of less urgency. But Madame the Dowager of Condillac is below. She begs to see Your Excellency instantly."
At once there was a change. Tressan became wide-awake upon the instant. His first act was to pass one hand over the wax-like surface of his bald head, whilst his other snatched at his wig. Then he heaved himself ponderously out of his great chair. He donned his wig, awry in his haste, and lurched forward towards Anselme, his fat fingers straining at his open doublet and drawing it together.
"Madame la Douairiere here?" he cried. "Make fast these buttons, rascal! Quick! Am I to receive a lady thus? Am I - ? Babylas," he snapped, interrupting himself and turning aside even as Anselme put forth hands to do his bidding. "A mirror, from my closet! Dispatch!"
The secretary was gone in a flash, and in a flash returned, even as Anselme completed his master's toilet. But clearly Monsieur de Tressan had awakened in a peevish humour, for no sooner were the buttons of his doublet secured than with his own fingers he tore them loose again, cursing his majordomo the while with vigour.
"You dog, Anselme, have you no sense of fitness, no discrimination? Am I to appear in this garment of the mode of a half-century ago before Madame la Marquise? Take it off; take it off, man! Get me the coat that came last month from Paris - the yellow one with the hanging sleeves and the gold buttons, and a sash - the crimson sash I had from Taillemant. Can you move no quicker, animal? Are you still here?"
Anselme, thus enjoined, lent an unwonted alacrity to his movements, waddling grotesquely like a hastening waterfowl. Between him and the secretary they dressed my Lord the Seneschal, and decked him out till he was fit to compare with a bird of paradise for gorgeousness of colouring if not for harmony of hues and elegance of outline.
Babylas held the mirror, and Anselme adjusted the Seneschal's wig, whilst Tressan himself twisted his black mustachios - how they kept their colour was a mystery to his acquaintance - and combed the tuft of beard that sprouted from one of his several chins.
He took a last look at his reflection, rehearsed a smile, and bade Anselme introduce his visitor. He desired his secretary to go to the devil, but, thinking better of it, he recalled him as he reached the door. His cherished vanity craved expression.
"Wait!" said he. "There is a letter must be written. The King's business may not suffer postponement - not for all the dowagers in France. Sit down."
Babylas obeyed him. Tressan stood with his back to the open door. His ears, strained to listen, had caught the swish of a woman's gown. He cleared his throat, and. began to dictate:
"To Her Majesty the Queen-Regent - " He paused, and stood with knitted brows, deep in thought. Then he ponderously repeated - "To Her Majesty the Queen Regent - Have you got that?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Comte. 'To Her Majesty the Queen Regent.'"
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