In Which I First Espy Roxanna, Comtesse de Vaudeville
Ah, Madame Garotte, stands yet your hugger-mugger maison at the end of the crooked track in the High Jabonne? I long to drink the black wine of Drucy from your squat tumblers, and stand beneath the oak lintel at dusk, listening to the song of the woodcock pierce the velvet summer night. Oh, Madame Garotte, do the fragrant skirts of petite Yvette, the scullery maid, still rustle past my old table as the church bell tolls across the lavender fields?
I first espied her in the Spring-tide. I was loafing by the Lascelles fountain in old Blamiens, taking the noonday sun as the cherry blossom drifted like perfumed snow in the gentle breezes. There was a stir, the mob was forced to part, and there she was, perched on a Lipizanner stallion, surrounded by coarse naves in serge doublets and peacock-feathered hats.
So this was Roxanna, Comtesse de Vaudeville, on her way to the town-house of Guillaume de Trombone. I looked upon her face, and was a changed man. Of a sudden, the old Brabantine pride was astir in my veins. How could this be permitted to continue?
Leaping over a meat-stall, I sprang through the crowd and stood before the cavalcade, legs akimbo, twirling my moustachios. Doffing my hat to her, I cried, indicating the guards at either side of her:
"Who are these churls, my lady, and how is it that you suffer their pestilent odours to befoul your transcendent fragrance?"
One of the fat fools spoke. "Begone, sirrah, lest we make a cullender of thee! We have no time to waste upon such a worm as thou." This, then, was Dribbel, Guillaume de Trombone's rat-faced serjeaunt-at-arms.
"Ha!" I laughed, drawing my rapier. "You are a curmudgeonly buffoon and I spit in the face of your badinage!"
In an instant, his henchmen had dismounted, and I was beset, at all points of the compass. But they were lumbering poltroons. I pinked the first about the ears, swept the hat from the second and sent his puny blade flying into a dungheap. Then I advanced upon the other two, who were at least man enough to offer me a fight, but they lacked the wherewithal to vex me.
One I pitched headlong into a horse-trough, the other I ran through the heart with a gay flourish. "You shall pay for these deeds!" cried the serjaunt-at-arms. I knocked him from his Percheron steed, boxed his ears, and made a pincushion of his hat.
Then I sheathed my rapier and stood at last before Roxanna, Comtesse de Vaudeville. Twirling my moustachios, I swept off my hat, and made an extravagant bow, in the Gavercy manner.
"It is my honour, dear lady, to rid of you of these pox-ridden dogs. Louis de Vascony, at your service."
Saying nothing, she tossed her head, and goaded her stallion, to be away. But as she rode off through the mob, she turned to look back. On her lovely face was confusion, and a blush crept over her damask features.
"Ha!" I cried, swigging on a flagon of ale and gnawing a haunch of venison.