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The Sestina
by [?]

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 EITHER
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?” He 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 shrivelled gentleman of fifty-odd sat at a desk and scowled.

He presently said, “You may go, Yeck.” He had risen, the magisterial attitude with which he had awaited her advent cast aside. “O God!” he said; “you, madame!” His thin hands, scholarly hands, were plucking at the air.

Dame Alianora had paused, greatly astonished, and there was an interval before she said, “I do not recognize you, messire.”

“And yet, madame, I recall very clearly that some thirty years ago Count Berenger, then reigning in Provence, had about his court four daughters, each one of whom was afterward wedded to a king. First, Margaret, the eldest, now regnant in France; then Alianora, the second and most beautiful of these daughters, whom troubadours hymned as La Belle. She was married a long while ago, madame, to the King of England, Lord Henry, third of that name to reign in these islands.”

Dame Alianora’s eyes were narrowing. “There is something in your voice,” she said, “which I recall.”

He answered: “Madame and Queen, that is very likely, for it is a voice which sang a deal in Provence when both of us were younger. I concede with the Roman that I have somewhat deteriorated since the reign of good Cynara. Yet have you quite forgotten the Englishman who made so many songs of you? They called him Osmund Heleigh.”

“He made the Sestina of Spring which my father envied,” the Queen said; and then, with a new eagerness: “Messire, can it be that you are Osmund Heleigh?” He shrugged assent. She looked at him for a long time, rather sadly, and afterward demanded if he were the King’s man or of the barons’ party. The nervous hands were raised in deprecation.

“I have no politics,” he began, and altered it, gallantly enough, to, “I am the Queen’s man, madame.”