The Countess De Saint - Geran HTML version

The Countess De Saint-Geran
About the end of the year 1639, a troop of horsemen arrived, towards midday, in a little
village at the northern extremity of the province of Auvergne, from the direction of Paris.
The country folk assembled at the noise, and found it to proceed from the provost of the
mounted police and his men. The heat was excessive, the horses were bathed in sweat,
the horsemen covered with dust, and the party seemed on its return from an important
expedition. A man left the escort, and asked an old woman who was spinning at her
door if there was not an inn in the place. The woman and her children showed him a
bush hanging over a door at the end of the only street in the village, and the escort
recommenced its march at a walk. There was noticed, among the mounted men, a
young man of distinguished appearance and richly dressed, who appeared to be a
prisoner. This discovery redoubled the curiosity of the villagers, who followed the
cavalcade as far as the door of the wine-shop. The host came out, cap in hand, and the
provost enquired of him with a swaggering air if his pothouse was large enough to
accommodate his troop, men and horses. The host replied that he had the best wine in
the country to give to the king's servants, and that it would be easy to collect in the
neighbourhood litter and forage enough for their horses. The provost listened
contemptuously to these fine promises, gave the necessary orders as to what was to be
done, and slid off his horse, uttering an oath proceeding from heat and fatigue. The
horsemen clustered round the young man: one held his stirrup, and the provost
deferentially gave way to him to enter the inn first. No, more doubt could be entertained
that he was a prisoner of importance, and all kinds of conjectures were made. The men
maintained that he must be charged with a great crime, otherwise a young nobleman of
his rank would never have been arrested; the women argued, on the contrary, that it
was impossible for such a pretty youth not to be innocent.
Inside the inn all was bustle: the serving-lads ran from cellar to garret; the host swore
and despatched his servant-girls to the neighbours, and the hostess scolded her
daughter, flattening her nose against the panes of a downstairs window to admire the
handsome youth.
There were two tables in the principal eating-room. The provost took possession of one,
leaving the other to the soldiers, who went in turn to tether their horses under a shed in
the back yard; then he pointed to a stool for the prisoner, and seated himself opposite to
him, rapping the table with his thick cane.
"Ouf!" he cried, with a fresh groan of weariness, "I heartily beg your pardon, marquis, for
the bad wine I am giving you!"