NICHOL the Jester having left this world for, we trust, a better, and thereto we cry “God rest his soul,” Peregrine his son reigned in his stead.
This was in accordance with custom. Six times had cap and bells descended from father to son: we see Peregrine as the seventh inheritor thereto, which, perchance, holds some significance. Pythagorus would doubtless have told us it held much; would have told us we find in seven the last of the limited numbers, a mere step from it to the free vibrations. Also he would have seen double significance in that Peregrine’s own name held the same vibration. And who are we to say him nay?
For my part I would no more dream of venturing to gainsay him than I would venture to gainsay the old sage who read the message of the stars at his birth. This sage, finding him born under the third decanate of Sagittarius, with Uranus in the ascendant, and having muttered of houses, and cusps, and aspects, and signs, and I know not what besides,—and if I did would refrain from further enumeration lest I should weary you,—proclaimed him one born to wander, a seeker after that which is not easily found,—of the sign of Sagittarius, and the planet Uranus are antiquarians and alchemists. He gave him also favours from one of high birth, which favours should wither like June roses when picked; gave him sorrow as companion for a space,—though truly there is no mother’s son of us knows not that companion for a while,—and the end of his life’s journey he saw not. Whereat I, for one, rejoice, since—though I would not venture to gainsay the old sage—I believe that the ordering of a man’s destiny lies not with the stars, but with One Who holds the universe in the Hollow of His Hand.
Lisette, wife of Nichol the Jester, gave however full credence to the sage, a credence equal to that she gave to the dogmas of Holy Church, therein showing herself illogical after the manner of women, since our Mother the Church has ever bade us have no dealing with omens, dreams, the riddle of the stars, and such-like fooleries. Despite this, and having given, as we have seen, credulous ear to the sage’s prophecy, she named the boy Peregrine.
When first breeched he was costumed as a miniature edition of his sire, half black, half white, in cognizance of the rôle he would later play in truth. The cap surrounded a chubby face, not yet outgrown the solemnity of babyhood. His hand, fat and dimpled, grasped the belled bauble. Borne aloft on his father’s shoulder to the great hall, he was set in the midst of the squires and dames,—more particularly the dames, since the squires for the most part were that day following their lord over Exmoor in pursuit of the wild red deer.
They saw in him a pretty enough plaything; found, for a time at least, greater novelty in his solemn silences and rare smiles than in his father’s jests. The Lady Clare de Belisle entering with her own child, a girl babe of two summers, touched the tiny jester’s cheek with one jewelled finger, commended him for a bonny boy. The two children gazed at each other solemn-eyed, till Isabel, the girl, putting forth her hand was for taking the young jester’s bauble from him. Thereat Peregrine clutched it jealously to his breast, having no mind to part with his toy.
“I want,” said Isabel, one fat finger pointed towards the treasure clutched by the scowling boy. That was the way with Isabel in childhood as in later years, knowing what she desired she hesitated not to demand it, and obtain it by whatever means came best to hand.
It is not becoming that the son of a Jester should deny the desire of his Lady’s daughter. Nichol, the dames, my Lady even, were prepared for insistence, a ruthless seizing of the treasure from the baby grasp; when suddenly and without compulsion, the child’s mien changed. Of his own accord he tendered the bauble to Isabel.
She took it, smiling. Even babes can be gracious when their wish is granted. For a moment she held it examining it with curiosity, a curiosity soon satiated, since after a brief space she held it in a listless hand, tendered it again.