Gabriel and the Hour Book - Evaleen Stein

Lady Anne Writes to the King

After several days' journey they entered Bretagne, and before long drew near to the city of Nantes and the castle of Lady Anne. This castle was very large, and had many towers and gables and little turrets with sharp-pointed, conical roofs. There was a high wall and a moat all around it, and as Count Henri approached, he displayed a little banner given him by King Louis, and made of blue silk embroidered with three golden lilies.

At the sight of this, the keepers of the drawbridge (who in those days always had to be very watchful not to admit enemies to their lord's castle) instantly lowered the bridge, and Count Henri and his guard rode over and were respectfully received within the gate.

They dismounted in the courtyard, and then, after resting awhile in one of the rooms of the castle, Count Henri was escorted into the great hall of state, where Lady Anne was ready to receive him.

This hall was very large and handsome, with a high, arched ceiling, and walls hung with wonderful old tapestries. Standing about in groups were numbers of picturesquely dressed pages, ladies-in-waiting, richly clad, and Breton gentlemen gorgeous in velvets and lace ruffles, for a hundred of these always attended Lady Anne wherever she went. At one end of the hall was a dais spread with cloth of gold, and there, in a carved chair, sat the Lady Anne herself. She wore a beautiful robe of brocaded crimson velvet, and over her dark hair was a curious, pointed head-dress of white silk embroidered with pearls and gold thread.

As Count Henri approached, she greeted him very cordially; and then, kneeling before her, he said:

"My Lady, I have the happiness to deliver to your hands these bridal gifts which our gracious sovereign, King Louis, did me the honour to entrust to my care."

And then, as he handed to her the casket of jewels and the silken package containing the hour book, she replied:

"Sir Count, I thank you for your courtesy in bearing these gifts to me, and I am well pleased to receive them."

Then summoning a little page, she told him to carry the presents up to her own chamber, where she might examine them at her leisure.

By and by, Count Henri withdrew, after asking permission to start the next morning on his return to Paris; for he wished to report to the king that he had safely accomplished his errand.

And then Lady Anne, having given orders that he and his followers be hospitably entertained during their stay in the castle, mounted the great stone staircase, and went to her own room, for she very much wanted to look at the gifts from King Louis.

These she found on a table where the little page had placed them. The casket was uncovered, while the book was still wrapped up in the piece of silk, so that one could not tell just what it was.

Lady Anne opened the casket first, as it happened to be nearest to her; and she drew in her breath, and her eyes sparkled with pleasure, as she lifted out a magnificent necklace, and other rich jewels that gleamed and glittered in the light like blue and crimson fires. She tried on all the ornaments, and then, after awhile, when she had admired them to her heart's content, she took up the silk-covered package, and curiously unwrapped it. When she saw what it contained, however, her face grew radiant with delight, and—

"Ah!" she exclaimed to herself, "King Louis's gifts are indeed princely, and this one is the most royal of all!"

For King Louis had been entirely right in thinking nothing would please the Lady Anne quite so much as a piece of fine illumination.

Still holding the book carefully in her hands, she at once seated herself in a deep, cushioned chair, and began slowly to turn over the pages, taking the keenest pleasure, as she did so, in every fresh beauty on which her eyes fell. When she had gone about half through the book, she lifted it up to look more closely at an especially beautiful initial letter, and then, all at once, out fluttered the loose leaf which Gabriel had put in.

Countess relaxes in chair

"Began slowly to turn over the pages"

As it fell to the floor, a little page near by hastened to pick it up, and, bending on one knee, presented it to Lady Anne. At first she frowned a little, for she thought, as had Brother Stephen, that the book must have been badly bound. But when she took the leaf in her hand, to her surprise, she saw that it was different from the others, and that it had not been bound in with them; and then she read over the writing very carefully. When she had finished, she sat for some time, just as Brother Stephen had done, holding the page in her hand, while her face wore a very tender expression.

Lady Anne was really deeply touched by Gabriel's little prayer, and she wished greatly that she herself might find a way to help him and his family out of their trouble.

But the more she thought about it, she realized that she had no authority over a Norman nobleman, and that no one in France, except the king, was powerful enough to compel Count Pierre to release the peasant Viaud from imprisonment.

So going over to a little writing-table, she took out a thin sheet of parchment, a quaint goose-quill pen, and a small horn full of ink, and wrote a letter which she addressed to King Louis. Then she took the loose leaf on which Gabriel's prayer was written, and, folding it in with her letter, tied the little packet with a thread of scarlet silk (for no one used envelopes then), and sealed it with some red wax. And on the wax she pressed a carved ring which she wore, and which left a print that looked like a tiny tuft of ermine fur encircled by a bit of knotted cord; for this was Lady Anne's emblem, as it was called, and King Louis, seeing it, would know at once that the packet came from her.

Then she went down into the great hall of the castle, and sent one of her Breton gentlemen to bring Count Henri. When the latter entered, she said to him:

"Sir Count, it would give me great pleasure to keep you longer as my guest, but if you must return to Paris to-morrow, I will ask you to be my bearer for a little packet which I am anxious to send to King Louis."

Then, as she handed it to him, she added with a smile, "I give it to you now, for if you ride early in the morning, I must leave my Breton gentlemen to do the honours of your stirrup-cup."

(This last was the cup of wine which it was considered polite to offer a departing guest as he mounted his horse, and was a little ceremony over which Lady Anne liked to preside herself; that is, when her guests went away at agreeable hours.)

As Count Henri received the packet from her, he made a very deep bow, and replied that he would be most happy to serve the Lady Anne in any way he could, and that he only awaited her command to start at once on his journey.

"Nay," said Lady Anne, with another little smile, " 'tis no affair of state importance! Only a matter of my own on which I have set my heart. But I will not hear to your setting forth, until you have sat at my table and rested overnight in the castle."

To this Count Henri again gallantly bowed his obedience; and then, before long, Lady Anne led all the company into the great banquet-hall, where a number of long tables were set out with roasted game, and bread and wine and the many different cakes and sweetmeats of Bretagne.

The Lady Anne took her place at the head of the longest table of all, and she placed Count Henri at her right hand. Near them sat many of the ladies-in-waiting, and Breton gentlemen of the highest rank; while at the farther end, beyond a great silver saltcellar standing in the middle of the table, were seated those of less degree.

The dishes were of gold and silver, and Lady Anne herself was waited upon by two noblemen of Bretagne, for she lived very magnificently, as was fitting for the bride of King Louis.

When the supper was over, they all went back into the great castle hall, where bright fires of logs were blazing in the huge fireplaces; and as they sat in the firelight, they listened to the beautiful songs and music of two troubadours who had that day chanced to come to the castle, and who sang so sweetly that it was very late before the company broke up for the night.

All through the evening, however, in spite of the pleasant entertainment, Lady Anne, who was very sympathetic, could not help but think many times of poor little Gabriel, and how cold and hungry and miserable he must be! She had been much struck, too, with the beautiful way in which he had written out and ornamented his little prayer, for she was a good judge of such things; and, as she thought about it, she determined some day to see the lad herself. Meantime she was very anxious to help him as soon as possible. Indeed, she felt much happier when the next morning came, and Count Henri set out for Paris; for then she knew that her letter and Gabriel's little written page were on their way to King Louis.

In due time, Count Henri arrived safely at the king's palace, and delivered the packet from Lady Anne. And when King Louis broke the wax seal, and read the letter and Gabriel's little prayer, he, too, was deeply touched. Lady Anne's letter explained to him about finding the loose page in the beautiful book he had sent her, and asked that he would see to it that Count Pierre set the boy's father free.

This King Louis at once determined to do, for he was a just and kind-hearted monarch, and during his reign did much to lighten the taxes and oppression of the peasant-folk; and, moreover, in this trouble of Gabriel's father, he now took an especial interest, as it gave him great pleasure to grant any wish of the Lady Anne, whom he loved deeply.

So that very day he sent for a trusty messenger, and after explaining things to him, directed him to set out as soon as possible for St. Martin's Abbey, and there to seek out Brother Stephen and inquire about the little peasant boy, Gabriel Viaud. And then, if he found everything to be true that Gabriel had said in his prayer, he was to act according to further orders which King Louis gave him.