You alone, I think, of all persons living, have learned, as you have settled by so many instances, to rise above mortality in such a testing, and unfailingly to merit by your conduct the plaudits and the adoration of our otherwise dissentient world. You have often spoken in the stead of Destiny, with nations to abide your verdict; and in so doing have both graced and hallowed your high vicarship. If I forbear to speak of this at greater length, it is because I dare not couple your well-known perfection with any imperfect encomium. Upon no plea, however, can any one forbear to acknowledge that he who seeks to write of noble ladies must necessarily implore at outset the patronage of her who is the light and mainstay of our age.
Therefore to you, madame—most excellent and noble lady, to whom I love to owe both loyalty and love—I dedicate this little book.
THE STORY OF THE SESTINA
“Armatz de fust e de fer e d’acier,
Mos ostal seran bosc, fregz,
e semdier, E mas cansos sestinas e descortz, E mantenrai los frevols
contra ’ls fortz.”
THE FIRST NOVEL.—ALIANORA OF PROVENCE, COMING IN DISGUISE AND IN ADVERSITY TO A CERTAIN CLERK, IS BY HIM CONDUCTED ACROSS A HOSTILE COUNTRY; AND IN THAT TROUBLED JOURNEY ARE MADE MANIFEST TO EACH THE SNARES WHICH HAD BEGUILED THEM AFORETIME.
In this place we have to do with the opening tale of the Dizain of Queens. I abridge, as afterward, at discretion; and an initial account of the Barons’ War, among other superfluities, I amputate as more remarkable for veracity than interest. The result, we will agree at outset, is that to the Norman cleric appertains whatever these tales may have of merit, whereas what you find distasteful in them you must impute to my delinquencies in skill rather than in volition.
Within the half hour after de Giars’ death (here one overtakes Nicolas mid-course in narrative) Dame Alianora thus stood alone in the corridor of a strange house. Beyond the arras the steward and his lord were at irritable converse.
First, “If the woman be hungry,” spoke a high and peevish voice, “feed her. If she need money, give it to her. But do not annoy me.”
“This woman demands to see the master of the house,” the steward then retorted.
“O incredible Boeotian, inform her that the master of the house has no time to waste upon vagabonds who select the middle of the night as an eligible time to pop out of nowhere. Why did you not do so in the beginning, you dolt?” The speaker got for answer only a deferential cough, and very shortly continued: “This is remarkably vexatious. Vox et praeterea nihil—which signifies, Yeck, that to converse with women is always delightful. Admit her.” This was done, and Dame Alianora came into an apartment littered with papers, where a neat and shriveled gentleman of fifty-odd sat at a desk and scowled.