Under the Rose Part 50

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"Why did she give it to you?"

"To protect her, Sire."

The monarch's countenance became more thoughtful; less acrimonious.

How the present seemed involved in the past! Were kings, then, enmeshed in the web of their own acts? Were even the G.o.ds not exempt from retributory justice? Those were days of superst.i.tion, when a coincidence a.s.sumed the importance of inexorable destiny.

"Once was it drawn against me," said Francis, reflectively.



"I trust, Sire, it may never again be drawn by an enemy of your Majesty."

The king did not reply, but stood as a man who yet took counsel with himself.

"By what right," he asked, finally, "do you speak for the lady?"

A moment the duke looked disconcerted. "By what right?"

Then swiftly he regarded the girl. As quickly--a flash it seemed--her dark eyes made answer, their language more potent than words. He could but understand; doubt and misgiving were forgotten; the hesitation vanished from his manner. Hastily crossing to her side, he took her hand and unresistingly it lay in his. His heart beat faster; her sudden acquiescence filled him with wonder; at the same time, his task seemed easier. To protect her now! The king coughed ironically, and the duke turned from her to him.

"By what right, your Majesty?" he said in a voice which sounded different to Francis. "This lady is my affianced bride, Sire."

Pique, umbrage, mingled in the expression which replaced all other feeling on the king's countenance as he heard this announcement. With manifest displeasure he looked from one to the other.

"Is this true, Mademoiselle?" he asked, sternly.

Her cheek was red, but she held herself bravely.

"Yes, Sire," she said.

A new emotion leaped to the duke's face as he heard her lips thus fearlessly confirm the answer of her eyes. And so before the monarch--in that court which Marguerite called the Court of Love--they plighted their troth.

Something in their manner, however, puzzled the observant king; an exaltation, perhaps, uncalled for by the simple telling of a secret understanding between them; that rapid interchange of glances; that significance of manner when the duke stepped to her side. Francis bit his lips.

"_Ma foi!_" he exclaimed, sharply. "This is somewhat abrupt. How long, my Lord, since she promised to be your wife?"

"Since your Majesty spoke," returned the duke, tranquilly.

"And before that?"

"Before? I only knew that _I_ loved _her_, Sire."

"And now you know, for the first time, that _she_ loves _you_?" added the king, dryly. "But the emperor--are you not presuming overmuch that he will give his consent? Or think you"--with fine irony--"that marriages of state are made in Heaven?"

"It was once my privilege, Sire, so to serve the emperor, as his Majesty thought, that he bade me ask of him what I would, when I would.

Heretofore have I had nothing to ask; now, everything."

Some of the asperity faded from Francis' glance. The situation appealed to his strong penchant for merry _plaisanterie_.

Besides--such was his overweening pride--to hear a woman confess she cared for another dampened his own ardor, instead of stimulating it.

"None but himself could be his parallel;" the royal lover could brook no rival. Had she merely desired to marry the former fool--the Countess of Chateaubriant had had a husband--but to love him!

After all, she was but an audacious slip of a girl; a dark-browed, bold gipsy; by nature, intended for the motley--yes, the d.u.c.h.esse d'Etampes was right. Then, he liked not her parentage; she was a constant reminder of one who had been like to make vacant the throne of France, and to destroy, root and branch, the proud house of Orleans. Moreover, whispered avarice, he would save the castle for himself; a stately and right royal possession. He had, indeed, been over-generous in proffering it. Love, said reason, was unstable, flitting; woman, a will-o'-the-wisp; but a castle--its n.o.ble solidity would endure. At the same time, policy admonished the king that the duke was a subject of his good brother, the emperor, and a rich, powerful n.o.ble withal.

So with such grace as he could command Francis greeted one whom he preferred to regard as an ally rather than an enemy.

"Truly, my Lord," he said not discourteously, masking in a courtly manner his personal dislike for him whose sharp criticism he once had felt in Fools' hall, "a nimble-witted jester was lost when you resumed the dignity of your position. But," he added cautiously, as a sudden thought moved him, "this lady has appeared somewhat unexpectedly; the house of Friedwald is not an inconsequential one."

"What mean you, Sire?" asked the young man, as the king paused.

Francis studied him shrewdly. "Why," he replied at length, hesitatingly, "there is that controversy of the Constable of Dubrois; certain lands and a castle, long since rightly confiscated."

"Your Majesty, there is another castle, and lands to spare, in a distant country," returned the duke quickly. "These will suffice."

"As you will," said the king in a livelier tone. "For the future, command our good offices--since you have made us sponsor of your fortunes."

With which well-covered confession of his own defeat, Francis strode away. As he turned, however, he caught the smile of the d.u.c.h.esse d'Etampes and crossed to her graciously.

"Your dress becomes you well, Anne," he said.

She glanced down at herself demurely; her lashes veiled a sudden gleam of triumph. "How kind of you, Sire, to notice--my poor gown."

"I was right," murmured Triboulet, joyfully, as he saw king and favorite walking together. "No one will ever replace the d.u.c.h.ess."

Silent, hand in hand, the duke and the joculatrix stood upon the balcony. Below them lay the earth, wrapped in hazy light. Behind them, the court, with its glamour.

"Have I done well, Jacqueline, to answer the king as I have done?" he said finally. "Are you content to resign all--forever--here in France?

To go with me--"

"Into a new world," she interrupted. "Once I asked you to take me, but you hesitated, and were like to leave me behind you."

"But now 'tis I who ask," he answered.

"And I--who hesitate?" looking out over the valley, where the shadow of a cloud crossed the land.

"Do you hesitate, Jacqueline?"

She turned. About her lips trembled the old fleeting smile.

"What woman knows her mind, Sir Fool? Yet if it were not so--"

"If it were not so?" he said, eagerly.

Her eyes became grave on a sudden. "I might believe I had been of one mind--long."

"Jacqueline!--sweet jestress!--"

He caught her suddenly in his arms, his fine young features aglow.

This then was the goal of his desires; a goal of delight, far, far beyond all youthful dreams or early imaginings. With drooping eyelids, she stood in his embrace; she, once so proud, so self-willed. He drew her closer--kissed her hair!--the rose!--

She raised her head, and--sweeter still--he kissed her lips.

Across the valley the shadow receded; vanished. In the full glory of nightly splendor lay the earth, and as the mystic radiance lighted up a world of beauty, it seemed at last they beheld their world; the light more beautiful for the shade and the purple mists.

Under the Rose Part 50

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Under the Rose Part 50 summary

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