List Of Contents | Contents of St. Martin's Summer, by Rafael Sabatini
Next Page > >

St. Martin's Summer

by Rafael Sabatini

Originally published in 1921






My Lord of Tressan, His Majesty's Seneschal of Dauphiny, sat at his
ease, his purple doublet all undone, to yield greater freedom to
his vast bulk, a yellow silken undergarment visible through the gap,
as is visible the flesh of some fruit that, swollen with
over-ripeness, has burst its skin.

His wig - imposed upon him by necessity, not fashion lay on the
table amid a confusion of dusty papers, and on his little fat nose,
round and red as a cherry at its end, rested the bridge of his
horn-rimmed spectacles.  His bald head - so bald and shining that
it conveyed an unpleasant sense of nakedness, suggesting that its
uncovering had been an act of indelicacy on the owner's part -
rested on the back of his great chair, and hid from sight the gaudy
escutcheon wrought upon the crimson leather.  His eyes were closed,
his mouth open, and whether from that mouth or from his nose - or,
perhaps, conflicting for issue between both - there came a snorting,
rumbling sound to proclaim that my Lord the Seneschal was hard at
work upon the King's business.

Yonder, at a meaner table, in an angle between two windows, a
pale-faced thread-bare secretary was performing for a yearly pittance
the duties for which my Lord the Seneschal was rewarded by emoluments
disproportionately large.

The air of that vast apartment was disturbed by the sounds of
Monsieur de Tressan's slumbers, the scratch and splutter of the
secretary's pen, and the occasional hiss and crackle of the logs
that burned in the great, cavern-like fireplace.  Suddenly to these
another sound was added.  With a rasp and rattle the heavy curtains
of blue velvet flecked with silver fleurs-de-lys were swept from
the doorway, and the master of Monsieur de Tressan's household, in
a well filled suit of black relieved by his heavy chain of office,
stepped pompously forward.

The secretary dropped his pen, and shot a frightened glance at his
slumbering master; then raised his hands above his head, and shook
them wildly at the head lackey.

"Sh!" he whispered tragically.  "Doucement, Monsieur Anselme."

Anselme paused.  He appreciated the gravity of the situation.  His
bearing lost some of its dignity; his face underwent a change.  Then
with a recovery of some part of his erstwhile resolution:

"Nevertheless, he must be awakened," he announced, but in an
undertone, as if afraid to do the thing he said must needs be done.

The horror in the secretary's eyes increased, but Anselme's reflected
none of it.  It was a grave thing, he knew by former experience, to
arouse His Majesty's Seneschal of Dauphiny from his after-dinner
nap; but it was an almost graver thing to fail in obedience to that
black-eyed woman below who was demanding an audience.

Anselme realized that he was between the sword and the wall.  He
was, however, a man of a deliberate habit that was begotten of
inherent indolence and nurtured among the good things that fell to
his share as master of the Tressan household.  Thoughtfully he
caressed his tuft of red beard, puffed out his cheeks, and raised
his eyes to the ceiling in appeal or denunciation to the heaven
which he believed was somewhere beyond it.

"Nevertheless, he must be awakened," he repeated.

And then Fate came to his assistance.  Somewhere in the house a door
banged like a cannon-shot.  Perspiration broke upon the secretary's
brow.  He sank limply back in his chair, giving himself up for lost.
Anselme started and bit the knuckle of his forefinger in a manner
suggesting an inarticulate imprecation.

My Lord the Seneschal moved.  The noise of his slumbers culminated
in a sudden, choking grunt, and abruptly ceased.  His eyelids rolled
slowly back, like an owl's, revealing pale blue eyes, which fixed
themselves first upon the ceiling, then upon Anselme.  Instantly he
sat up, puffing and scowling, his hands shuffling his papers.

"A thousand devils!  Anselme, why am I interrupted?" he grumbled
querulously, still half-asleep.  "What the plague do you want?  Have
you no thought for the King's affairs?  Babylas" - this to his
secretary - "did I not tell you that I had much to do; that I must
not be disturbed?"

It was the great vanity of the life of this man, who did nothing,
to appear the busiest fellow in all France, and no audience - not
even that of his own lackeys - was too mean for him to take the
stage to in that predilect role.

"Monsieur le Comte," said Anselme, in tones of abject self-effacement,
"I had never dared intrude had the matter been of less urgency.  But
Madame the Dowager of Condillac is below.  She begs to see Your
Excellency instantly."

At once there was a change.  Tressan became wide-awake upon the
instant.  His first act was to pass one hand over the wax-like
surface of his bald head, whilst his other snatched at his wig.
Then he heaved himself ponderously out of his great chair.  He
donned his wig, awry in his haste, and lurched forward towards
Anselme, his fat fingers straining at his open doublet and drawing
it together.

"Madame la Douairiere here?" he cried.  "Make fast these buttons,
rascal!  Quick!  Am I to receive a lady thus?  Am I - ?  Babylas,"
he snapped, interrupting himself and turning aside even as Anselme
put forth hands to do his bidding.  "A mirror, from my closet!

The secretary was gone in a flash, and in a flash returned, even
as Anselme completed his master's toilet.  But clearly Monsieur de
Tressan had awakened in a peevish humour, for no sooner were the
buttons of his doublet secured than with his own fingers he tore
them loose again, cursing his majordomo the while with vigour.

"You dog, Anselme, have you no sense of fitness, no discrimination?
 Am I to appear in this garment of the mode of a half-century ago
before Madame la Marquise?  Take it off; take it off, man!  Get me
the coat that came last month from Paris - the yellow one with the
hanging sleeves and the gold buttons, and a sash - the crimson sash
I had from Taillemant.  Can you move no quicker, animal?  Are you
still here?"

Anselme, thus enjoined, lent an unwonted alacrity to his movements,
waddling grotesquely like a hastening waterfowl.  Between him and
the secretary they dressed my Lord the Seneschal, and decked him
out till he was fit to compare with a bird of paradise for
gorgeousness of colouring if not for harmony of hues and elegance
of outline.

Babylas held the mirror, and Anselme adjusted the Seneschal's wig,
whilst Tressan himself twisted his black mustachios - how they kept
their colour was a mystery to his acquaintance - and combed the
tuft of beard that sprouted from one of his several chins.

He took a last look at his reflection, rehearsed a smile, and bade
Anselme introduce his visitor.  He desired his secretary to go to
the devil, but, thinking better of it, he recalled him as he reached
the door.  His cherished vanity craved expression.

"Wait!" said he.  "There is a letter must be written.  The King's
business may not suffer postponement - not for all the dowagers in
France.  Sit down."

Babylas obeyed him.  Tressan stood with his back to the open door.
His ears, strained to listen, had caught the swish of a woman's
gown.  He cleared his throat, and.  began to dictate:

"To Her Majesty the Queen-Regent - "  He paused, and stood with
knitted brows, deep in thought.  Then he ponderously repeated -
"To Her Majesty the Queen Regent - Have you got that?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Comte.  'To Her Majesty the Queen Regent.'"

There was a step, and a throat-clearing cough behind him.

"Monsieur de Tressan," said a woman's voice, a rich, melodious
voice, if haughty and arrogant of intonation.

On the instant he turned, advanced a step, and bowed.

"Your humblest servant, madame," said he, his hand upon his heart.
"This is an honour which  - "

"Which necessity thrusts upon you," she broke in imperiously.
"Dismiss that fellow."

The secretary, pale and shy, had risen.  His eyes dilated at the
woman's speech.  He looked for a catastrophe as the natural result
of her taking such a tone with this man who was the terror of his
household and of all Grenoble.  Instead, the Lord Seneschal's
meekness left him breathless with surprise.

"He is my secretary, madame.  We were at work as you came.  I was
on the point of inditing a letter to Her Majesty.  The office of
Seneschal in a province such as Dauphiny is helas!  - no sinecure."
He sighed like one whose brain is weary.  "It leaves a man little
time even to eat or sleep."

"You will be needing a holiday, then," said she, with cool
insolence.  "Take one for once, and let the King's business give
place for half an hour to mine."

The secretary's horror grew by leaps and bounds.

Surely the storm would burst at last about this audacious woman's
head.  But the Lord Seneschal - usually so fiery and tempestuous -
did no more than make her another of his absurd bows.

"You anticipate, madame, the very words I was about to utter.
Babylas, vanish!"  And he waved the scribbler doorwards with a
contemptuous hand.  "Take your papers with you - into my closet
there.  We will resume that letter to Her Majesty when madame shall
have left me."

The secretary gathered up his papers, his quills, and his inkhorn,
and went his way, accounting the end of the world at hand.

When the door had closed upon him, the Seneschal, with another bow
and a simper, placed a chair at his visitor's disposal.  She looked
at the chair, then looked at the man much as she had looked at the
chair, and turning her back contemptuously on both, she sauntered
towards the fireplace.  She stood before the blaze, with her whip
tucked under her arm, drawing off her stout riding-gloves.  She was
a tall, splendidly proportioned woman, of a superb beauty of
countenance, for all that she was well past the spring of life.

In the waning light of that October afternoon none would have
guessed her age to be so much as thirty, though in the sunlight
you might have set it at a little more.  But in no light at all
would you have guessed the truth, that her next would be her
forty-second birthday.  Her face was pale, of an ivory pallor that
gleamed in sharp contrast with the ebony of her lustrous hair.
Under the long lashes of low lids a pair of eyes black and insolent
set off the haughty lines of her scarlet lips.  Her nose was thin
and straight, her neck an ivory pillar splendidly upright upon her
handsome shoulders.

She was dressed for riding, in a gown of sapphire velvet, handsomely
laced in gold across the stomacher, and surmounted at the neck,
where it was cut low and square, by the starched band of fine linen
which in France was already replacing the more elaborate ruff.  On
her head, over a linen coif, she wore a tall-crowned grey beaver,
swathed with a scarf of blue and gold.

Standing by the hearth, one foot on the stone kerb, one elbow leaning
lightly on the overmantel, she proceeded leisurely to remove her

The Seneschal observed her with eyes that held an odd mixture of
furtiveness and admiration, his fingers - plump, indolent-looking
stumps - plucking at his beard.

"Did you but know, Marquise, with what joy, with what a - "

"I will imagine it, whatever it may be," she broke in, with that
brusque arrogance that marked her bearing.  "The time for flowers
of rhetoric is not now.  There is trouble coming, man; trouble,
dire trouble."

Up went the Seneschal's brows; his eyes grew wider.

"Trouble?" quoth he.  And, having opened his mouth to give exit to
that single word, open he left it.

She laughed lazily, her lip curling, her face twisting oddly, and
mechanically she began to draw on again the glove she had drawn off.

"By your face I see how well you understand me," she sneered.  "The
trouble concerns Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye."

"From Paris - does it come from Court?"  His voice was sunk.

She nodded.  "You are a miracle of intuition today, Tressan."

He thrust his tiny tuft of beard between his teeth - a trick he had
when perplexed or thoughtful.  "Ah!" he exclaimed at last, and it
sounded like an indrawn breath of apprehension.  "Tell me more."

"What more is there to tell?  You have the epitome of the story."

"But what is the nature of the trouble?  What form does it take,
and by whom are you advised of it?"

"A friend in Paris sent me word, and his messenger did his work
well, else had Monsieur de Garnache been here before him, and I
had not so much as had the mercy of this forewarning."

"Garnache?" quoth the Count.  "Who is Garnache?"

"The emissary of the Queen-Regent.  He has been dispatched hither
by her to see that Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye has justice and

Tressan fell suddenly to groaning and wringing his hands a pathetic
figure had it been less absurd.

"I warned you, madame!  I warned you how it would end," he cried.
"I told you - "

"Oh, I remember the things you told me," she cut in, scorn in her
voice.  "You may spare yourself their repetition.  What is done is
done, and I'll not - I would not - have it undone.  Queen-Regent
or no Queen-Regent, I am mistress at Condillac; my word is the only
law we know, and I intend that so it shall continue."

Tressan looked at her in surprise.  This unreasoning, feminine
obstinacy so wrought upon him that he permitted himself a smile and
a lapse into irony and banter.

"Parfaitement," said he, spreading his hands, and bowing.  "Why
speak of trouble, then?"

She beat her whip impatiently against her gown, her eyes staring
into the fire.  "Because, my attitude being such as it is, trouble
will there be."

The Seneschal shrugged his shoulders, and moved a step towards her.
He was cast down to think that he might have spared himself the
trouble of donning his beautiful yellow doublet from Paris.  She
had eyes for no finery that afternoon.  He was cast down, too, to
think how things might go with him when this trouble came.  It
entered his thoughts that he had lain long on a bed of roses in
this pleasant corner of Dauphiny, and he was smitten now with fear
lest of the roses he should find nothing remaining but the thorns.

"How came the Queen-Regent to hear of - of mademoiselle's - ah -
situation?" he inquired.

Next Page > >

Other sites: