BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT
BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT
Speak of the Devil" whispered La Fosse in my ear and moved by the
words and by the significance of his glance I turned in my chair.
The door had opened and under the lintel stood the thick-set figure
of the Comte de Chatellerault. Before him a lacquey in my
escutcheoned livery of red-and-gold was receiving with back
obsequiously bent his hat and cloak.
A sudden hush fell upon the assembly where a moment ago this very
man had been the subject of our talk and silenced were the wits
that but an instant since had been making free with his name and
turning the Languedoc courtship - from which he was newly returned
with the shame of defeat - into a subject for heartless mockery and
jest. Surprise was in the air for we had heard that Chatellerault
was crushed by his ill-fortune in the lists of Cupid and we had not
looked to see him joining so soon a board at which - or so at least
I boasted - mirth presided.
And so for a little space the Count stood pausing on my threshold
whilst we craned our necks to contemplate him as though he had been
an object for inquisitive inspection. Then a smothered laugh from
the brainless La Fosse seemed to break the spell. I frowned. It
was a climax of discourtesy whose impression I must at all costs
I leapt to my feet with a suddenness that sent my chair gliding a
full half-yard along the glimmering parquet of the floor and in two
strides I had reached the Count and put forth my hand to bid him
welcome. He took it with a leisureliness that argued sorrow. He
advanced into the full blaze of the candlelight and fetched a dismal
sigh from the depths of his portly bulk.
"You are surprised to see me Monsieur le Marquis" said he and
his tone seemed to convey an apology for his coming - for his very
Now Nature had made my Lord of Chatellerault as proud and arrogant
as Lucifer - some resemblance to which illustrious personage his
downtrodden retainers were said to detect in the lineaments of his
swarthy face. Environment had added to that store of insolence
wherewith Nature had equipped him and the King's favour - in which
he was my rival - had gone yet further to mould the peacock
attributes of his vain soul. So that this wondrous humble tone of
his gave me pause; for to me it seemed that not even a courtship
gone awry could account for it in such a man.
"I had not thought to find so many here" said he. And his next
words contained the cause of his dejected air. "The King Monsieur
de Bardelys has refused to see me; and when the sun is gone we
lesser bodies of the courtly firmament must needs turn for light
and comfort to the moon." And he made me a sweeping bow.
"Meaning that I rule the night?" quoth I and laughed. "The figure
is more playful than exact for whilst the moon is cold and
cheerless me you shall find ever warm and cordial. I could have
wished Monsieur de Chatellerault that your gracing my board were
due to a circumstance less untoward than His Majesty's displeasure."
"It is not for nothing that they call you the Magnificent" he
answered with a fresh bow insensible to the sting in the tail
of my honeyed words.
I laughed and setting compliments to rest with that I led him
to the table.
"Ganymede a place here for Monsieur le Comte. Gilles Antoine
see to Monsieur de Chatellerault. Basile wine for Monsieur le
Comte. Bestir there!"
In a moment he was become the centre of a very turmoil of attention.
My lacqueys flitted about him buzzing and insistent as bees about
a rose. Would Monsieur taste of this capon a la casserole or of
this truffled peacock? Would a slice of this juicy ham a l'anglaise
tempt Monsieur le Comte or would he give himself the pain of
trying this turkey aux olives? Here was a salad whose secret
Monsieur le Marquis's cook had learnt in Italy and here a
vol-au-vent that was invented by Quelon himself.
Basile urged his wines upon him accompanied by a page who bore a
silver tray laden with beakers and Wagons. Would Monsieur le Comte
take white Armagnac or red Anjou? This was a Burgundy of which
Monsieur le Marquis thought highly and this a delicate Lombardy
wine that His Majesty had oft commended. Or perhaps Monsieur de
Chatellerault would prefer to taste the last vintage of Bardelys?
And so they plagued him and bewildered him until his choice was
made; and even then a couple of them held themselves in readiness
behind his chair to forestall his slightest want. Indeed had he
been the very King himself no greater honour could we have shown
him at the Hotel de Bardelys.
But the restraint that his coming had brought with it hung still
upon the company for Chatellerault was little loved and his
presence there was much as that of the skull at an Egyptian banquet.
For of all these fair-weather friends that sat about my table -
amongst whom there were few that had not felt his power - I feared
there might be scarcely one would have the grace to dissemble his
contempt of the fallen favourite. That he was fallen as much his
words as what already we had known had told us.
Yet in my house I would strive that he should have no foretaste of
that coldness that to-morrow all Paris would be showing him and
to this end I played the host with all the graciousness that role
may bear and overwhelmed him with my cordiality whilst to thaw
all iciness from the bearing of my other guests I set the wines to
flow more freely still. My dignity would permit no less of me
else would it have seemed that I rejoiced in a rival's downfall and
took satisfaction from the circumstance that his disfavour with the
King was like to result in my own further exaltation.
My efforts were not wasted. Slowly the mellowing influence of the
grape pronounced itself. To this influence I added that of such
wit as Heaven has graced me with and by a word here and another
there I set myself to lash their mood back into the joviality out
of which his coming had for the moment driven it.
And so presently Good-Humour spread her mantle over us anew and
quip and jest and laughter decked our speech until the noise of
our merry-making drifting out through the open windows must have
been borne upon the breeze of that August night down the rue
Saint-Dominique across the rue de l'Enfer to the very ears perhaps
of those within the Luxembourg telling them that Bardelys and his
friends kept another of those revels which were become a byword in
Paris and had contributed not a little to the sobriquet of
"Magnificent" which men gave me.
But later as the toasts grew wild and were pledged less for the
sake of the toasted than for that of the wine itself wits grew
more barbed and less restrained by caution; recklessness hung a
moment like a bird of prey above us then swooped abruptly down
in the words of that fool La Fosse.
"Messieurs" he lisped with that fatuousness he affected and with
his eye fixed coldly upon Chatellerault "I have a toast for you."
He rose carefully to his feet - he had arrived at that condition in
which to move with care is of the first importance. He shifted his
eye from the Count to his glass which stood half empty. He signed
to a lacquey to fill it. "To the brim gentlemen" he commanded.
Then in the silence that ensued he attempted to stand with one
foot on the ground and one on his chair; but encountering
difficulties of balance he remained upright - safer if less
"Messieurs I give you the most peerless the most beautiful the
most difficult and cold lady in all France. I drink to those her
thousand graces of which Fame has told us and to that greatest
and most vexing charm of all - her cold indifference to man. I
pledge you too the swain whose good fortune it maybe to play
Endymion to this Diana.
"It will need" pursued La Fosse who dealt much in mythology and
classic lore - "it will need an Adonis in beauty a Mars in valour
an Apollo in song and a very Eros in love to accomplish it. And I
fear me" he hiccoughed "that it will go unaccomplished since the
one man in all France on whom we have based our hopes has failed.
Gentlemen to your feet! I give you the matchless Roxalanne de
Such amusement as I felt was tempered by apprehension. I shot a
swift glance at Chatellerault to mark how he took this pleasantry
and this pledging of the lady whom the King had sent him to woo but
whom he had failed to win. He had risen with the others at La
Fosse's bidding either unsuspicious or else deeming suspicion too
flimsy a thing by which to steer conduct. Yet at the mention of her
name a scowl darkened his ponderous countenance. He set down his
glass with such sudden force that its slender stem was snapped and
a red stream of wine streaked the white tablecloth and spread around
a silver flowerbowl. The sight of that stain recalled him to himself
and to the manners he had allowed himself for a moment to forget.
"Bardelys a thousand apologies for my clumsiness" he muttered.