The Suitors of Yvonne
The Suitors of Yvonne
CHAPTER I. OF HOW A BOY DRANK TOO MUCH WINE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
ANDREA DE MANCINI SPRAWLED, INGLORIOUSLY drunk, upon the floor. His legs were thrust under the table, and his head rested against the chair from which he had slipped; his long black hair was tossed and dishevelled; his handsome, boyish face flushed and garbed in the vacant expression of idiocy.
"I beg a thousand pardons, M. de Luynes," quoth he in the thick, monotonous voice of a man whose brain but ill controls his tongue,-"I beg a thousand pardons for the unseemly poverty of our repast. 'T is no fault of mine. My Lord Cardinal keeps a most unworthy table for me. Faugh! Uncle Giulio is a Hebrew-if not by birth, by instinct. He carries his purse-strings in a knot which it would break his heart to unfasten. But there! some day my Lord Cardinal will go to heaven-to the lap of Abraham. I shall be rich then, vastly rich, and I shall bid you to a banquet worthy of your most noble blood. The Cardinal's health-perdition have him for the niggardliest rogue unhung!"
I pushed back my chair and rose. The conversation was taking a turn that was too unhealthy to be pursued within the walls of the Palais Mazarin, where there existed, albeit the law books made no reference to it, the heinous crime of lèse-Eminence-a crime for which more men had been broken than it pleases me to dwell on.
"Your table, Master Andrea, needs no apology," I answered carelessly. "Your wine, for instance, is beyond praise."
"Ah, yes! The wine! But, ciel! Monsieur," he ejaculated, for a moment opening wide his heavy eyelids, "do you believe 't was Mazarin provided it? Pooh! 'T was a present made me by M. de la Motte, who seeks my interest with my Lord Cardinal to obtain for him an appointment in his Eminence's household, and thus thinks to earn my good will. He's a pestilent creature, this la Motte," he added, with a hiccough,-"a pestilent creature; but, Sangdieu! his wine is good, and I'll speak to my uncle. Help me up, De Luynes. Help me up, I say; I would drink the health of this provider of wines."
I hurried forward, but he had struggled up unaided, and stood swaying with one hand on the table and the other on the back of his chair. In vain did I remonstrate with him that already he had drunk overmuch.
"'T is a lie!" he shouted. "May not a gentleman sit upon the floor from choice?"
To emphasise his protestation he imprudently withdrew his hand from the chair and struck at the air with his open palm. That gesture cost him his balance. He staggered, toppled backward, and clutched madly at the tablecloth as he fell, dragging glasses, bottles, dishes, tapers, and a score of other things besides, with a deafening crash on to the floor.
Then, as I stood aghast and alarmed, wondering who might have overheard the thunder of his fall, the fool sat up amidst the ruins, and filled the room with his shrieks of drunken laughter.
"Silence, boy!" I thundered, springing towards him. "Silence! or we shall have the whole house about our ears."
And truly were my fears well grounded, for, before I could assist him to rise, I heard the door behind me open. Apprehensively I turned, and sickened to see that that which I had dreaded most was come to pass. A tall, imposing figure in scarlet robes stood erect and scowling on the threshold, and behind him his valet, Bernouin, bearing a lighted taper.
Mancini's laugh faded into a tremulous cackle, then died out, and with gaping mouth and glassy eyes he sat there staring at his uncle.
Thus we stayed in silence while a man might count mayhap a dozen; then the Cardinal's voice rang harsh and full of anger.
"'T is thus that you fulfil your trust, M. de Luynes!" he said.
"Your Eminence-" I began, scarce knowing what I should say, when he cut me short.
"I will deal with you presently and elsewhere." He stepped up t