It was just the sort of informal pageant to delight the heart of Provence. No more dainty and captivating interlude had been seen at a festival.
There was a great deal of wonderment about the way in which the scene had been arranged, but it was really quite simple. According to the usual fashion the guests were seated on only one side of the table, the other side being left free for the servants to present the various dishes. The company faced the river, and the trees that canopied the table were behind them. Nothing, therefore, hindered Peirol from luring his pigeons to a point within hearing of his voice, and concealing himself in the thick leafage until Ranulph gave the signal for them to be brought upon the stage. Most of the afternoon was spent in watching and discussing Peirol and the pigeons.
“A pigeon has certain advantages,” observed Gualtier Giffard, as he and the troubadour, sitting a little way from the others, watched the carriers rise and circle in the air. “He need only rise high enough to see his goal,—and fly there.” “Pity but a man might do the same,” said Ranulph lightly. The eyes of the two young men met for an instant in unspoken understanding. Under some conditions they might have felt themselves rivals. But neither the penniless younger son of a Norman house, nor a landless troubadour of Avignon, had much hope of meeting Count Thibaut’s views for his only daughter.
“It would be rather absurd,” Ranulph went on, stroking the feathers of the little dun pigeon Rien-du-Tout, “for a bird to outdo a man. Perhaps some day we shall even sail the air as now we sail the seas. Picture to yourself a winged galleon with yourself at the helm—about to discover a world beyond the sunset. It is all in having faith, I tell you. Unbelief is the dragon of the ancient fables.”
The Norman smiled rather sadly. “Meanwhile,” he said, “having no flying ships and no new crusades to prove our mettle, we spend ourselves on such errands as we have, or beat the air vainly—like the pigeons. Were it not that a man owes loyalty to his house and to his King I would enlist under the piebald banner of the Templars. But my brother and I have set ourselves to win back the place that our fathers lost, and until that is done I have no errand with dragons.”
Ranulph nodded, thoughtfully. “The King would be glad of more such service,” he said. “Good fortune be with you!”
Hail, Poet—and farewell! Our
day is past,
Yet may we hear new songs before we die,
The chanteys of the mightiest and the last,—
The squadrons of the sky.
We knew the rhythm of myriad marching feet,
Gray tossing seas that rocked the wind-whipped sail,
The drumming hoofs of horses, and the beat
Of stern hearts clad in mail.
But you—earth-fettered we shall watch
Topping the mountains, battling winds,—to dare
Challenge the lammergeyer where she swings
Down the long lanes of air.