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The Young Chevalier
by [?]

‘If you think you have the time, or the game worth the candle,’ replied the other with a shrug.

‘One would suppose you were never at the pains to observe her,’ said Ballantrae.

‘I am not very observant,’ said Balmile. ‘She seems comely.’

‘You very dear and dull dog!’ cried Ballantrae; ‘chastity is the most besotting of the virtues. Why, she has a look in her face beyond singing! I believe, if you was to push me hard, I might trace it home to a trifle of a squint. What matters? The height of beauty is in the touch that’s wrong, that’s the modulation in a tune. ‘Tis the devil we all love; I owe many a conquest to my mole’–he touched it as he spoke with a smile, and his eyes glittered;–‘we are all hunchbacks, and beauty is only that kind of deformity that I happen to admire. But come! Because you are chaste, for which I am sure I pay you my respects, that is no reason why you should be blind. Look at her, look at the delicious nose of her, look at her cheek, look at her ear, look at her hand and wrist–look at the whole baggage from heels to crown, and tell me if she wouldn’t melt on a man’s tongue.’

As Ballantrae spoke, half jesting, half enthusiastic, Balmile was constrained to do as he was bidden. He looked at the woman, admired her excellences, and was at the same time ashamed for himself and his companion. So it befell that when Marie-Madeleine raised her eyes, she met those of the subject of her contemplations fixed directly on herself with a look that is unmistakable, the look of a person measuring and valuing another–and, to clench the false impression, that his glance was instantly and guiltily withdrawn. The blood beat back upon her heart and leaped again; her obscure thoughts flashed clear before her; she flew in fancy straight to his arms like a wanton, and fled again on the instant like a nymph. And at that moment there chanced an interruption, which not only spared her embarrassment, but set the last consecration on her now articulate love.

Into the wine-shop there came a French gentleman, arrayed in the last refinement of the fashion, though a little tumbled by his passage in the wind. It was to be judged he had come from the same formal gathering at which the others had preceded him; and perhaps that he had gone there in the hope to meet with them, for he came up to Ballantrae with unceremonious eagerness.

‘At last, here you are!’ he cried in French. ‘I thought I was to miss you altogether.’

The Scotsmen rose, and Ballantrae, after the first greetings, laid his hand on his companion’s shoulder.

‘My lord,’ said he, ‘allow me to present to you one of my best friends and one of our best soldiers, the Lord Viscount Gladsmuir.’

The two bowed with the elaborate elegance of the period.

‘Monseigneur,’ said Balmile, ‘je n’ai pas la pretention de m’affubler d’un titre que la mauvaise fortune de mon roi ne me permet pas de porter comma il sied. Je m’appelle, pour vous servir, Blair de Balmile tout court.’ [My lord, I have not the effrontery to cumber myself with a title which the ill fortunes of my king will not suffer me to bear the way it should be. I call myself, at your service, plain Blair of Balmile.]

‘Monsieur le Vicomte ou monsieur Bler’ de Balmail,’ replied the newcomer, ‘le nom n’y fait rien, et l’on connait vos beaux faits.’ [The name matters nothing, your gallant actions are known.]

A few more ceremonies, and these three, sitting down together to the table, called for wine. It was the happiness of Marie- Madeleine to wait unobserved upon the prince of her desires. She poured the wine, he drank of it; and that link between them seemed to her, for the moment, close as a caress. Though they lowered their tones, she surprised great names passing in their conversation, names of kings, the names of de Gesvre and Belle- Isle; and the man who dealt in these high matters, and she who was now coupled with him in her own thoughts, seemed to swim in mid air in a transfiguration. Love is a crude core, but it has singular and far-reaching fringes; in that passionate attraction for the stranger that now swayed and mastered her, his harsh incomprehensible language, and these names of grandees in his talk, were each an element.