PEIROL OF THE PIGEONS
It was a great day in Count Thibaut’s castle. Every one knew that, down to the newest smallest scullery-maid. The Count had come home from England with Lady Philippa, his daughter, and there would be feasting and song and laughter for days and days and days.
Ranulph the troubadour, who had arrived in their company, was glad of a quiet hour in the garden before supper was served. He knew that he would have to sing that evening, and he wished to go over the melodies he had in mind, for he might on the spur of the moment compose new words to them. In fact a song in honor of his hostess was already in his thoughts. The very birds of the air seemed to welcome her. The warm southern winds were full of their warbling—beccafico, loriot, merle, citronelle, woodlark, nightingale,—every tree, copse and tuft of grass held a tiny minstrel. When the great gate opened to a fanfare of trumpets, from the castle walls there came the murmur of innumerable doves. A castle had its dove-cote as it had its poultry-yard or rabbit-warren, but the birds were not always so fearless or so many.
The song was nearly finished when the singer became aware that some one else was in the garden. A small boy, with serious dark eyes and a white pigeon in his arms, stood close by. Ranulph smiled a persuasive smile which few children could resist.
“And who are you, my lad?”
“Peirol, the gooseherd’s boy,” the youngster replied composedly. “You’re none of the family, are you?”
“Only a jongleur. You have a great many pigeons here.”
“That’s why I came in when I heard you playing. Does she—Lady Philippa— like pigeons?”
“I think she does. In fact I know she does. Why?”
“Grandfather said she would not care how many pigeons were killed to make pies. Nobody really loves them much, but me. They’re fond of me too.”
The boy gave a low call and a soft rush of wings was heard in every direction. Pigeons flew from tree-top, tower, parapet and gable, alighting on his head and arms until he looked like a little pigeon-tree in full bloom.
“Some of them are voyageurs,” he said, strewing salted pease for the strutting, cooing, softly crowding birds. “I’m training them every day. Some day I shall know more about pigeons than any one else in the world.”
Ranulph had some ado not to smile; the speaker was so small and the tone so assured. “Perhaps you will,” he said. “Are they as tame with others as they are with you?” “Some others,” answered Peirol gravely. “People who are patient and know how to keep still. They like you.”
A slaty-blue pigeon was already pecking at Ranulph’s pointed scarlet shoe for a grain lodged there. The troubadour bent down, held out his hand, and the bird walked into it. He had played with birds often enough in his vagabond early years to know their feelings. But now a wave of merry voices broke upon the garden paths.