Gateway to the Classics: Troubadour Tales by Evaleen Stein
Troubadour Tales by  Evaleen Stein

The Page of Count Reynaurd

How He Earned the Favor of King René and Won a Silver Cup for Cleverness in the Latin Tongue

"PIERROT! Pierrot! are thy saddle-bags well fastened? And how fare my lutestrings? Have a care lest some of them snap with jogging over this rough bit of road. And, Pierrot, next time we pass a fine periwinkle thou hadst best jump down and pluck a fresh bunch for my Barbo's ears."

The speaker, Count Reynaurd of Poitiers, patted the fluffy black mane of his horse Barbo, and loosened the great nosegay of blue flowers tucked into his harness and nodding behind his ears. Barbo was gaily decked out; long sprays of myrtle dangled from his saddle-bow, and a wreath of periwinkle and violets hung round his neck; for the Count Reynaurd was not only a noble lord, but also a famous troubadour. That is to say, he spent his time riding from castle to castle, playing on his lute or viol, and singing beautiful songs of his own making.

In the days when he lived, which was many hundred years ago, there were numberless such poet-singers strolling over the sunny land of France, and especially that part which lies to the south and is called Provence. Many of the greatest of these kept little pages to wait upon them and carry their musical instruments; and so it was that Pierrot rode a little white palfrey by the side of Count Reynaurd, and carried his lute, and gathered the periwinkle for the gay bouquets that decorated Barbo's ears.

It was May-time, and they were journeying through the lovely land of Provence, which was quite enough to make any one happy, and the count and Pierrot were fairly brimming over with good humor as they rode along. They were bound for the old town of Aix, where in those days stood the palace of the good King René, whom everybody loved.

Now, King René himself was a troubadour, although he could not wander about over the country as did the others, but was obliged to stay in Aix and govern his people. Yet he spent hours and hours every day writing poetry and making up music for it; and he delighted above all things to gather about him all who could finger a lutestring or sing a merry song. There were always dozens of fine troubadours staying with King René, and he was never weary of adding to their number, and of seeking out the best in France; and so it chanced he had heard much of the great skill of Pierrot's master and also of another noble lord, the Count William of Auvergne. The friends of each of these boasted that none other in all France was worthy to be called the champion of the troubadours. So René had sent messages to both, inviting them to come and visit him, and to hold a contest of song, saying he would give a beautiful collar of jewels to the one who sang the better.

In response to this invitation, the Count William was already in Aix, having come the day before, after a long journey from his castle in Auvergne. He was now resting, awaiting the Count Reynaurd, and pleasing himself in thinking of the glory of winning the jeweled collar; for he fully expected by and by to carry it off as his prize.

Meantime, Count Reynaurd and Pierrot trotted gaily along the road to Aix. The almond-trees were in flower, and from one of them Pierrot had broken a little switch covered with rosy blossoms, with which he now and then tapped the flank of his little white palfrey, who would then kick up her heels and frisk along at a rollicking pace. Pierrot's own legs looked lovely in party-colored hose, the right being a beautiful pearl-gray and the left a delicate robin's-egg blue; his doublet was of pink silk embroidered in silver and slashed with white satin; and on his head he wore a jaunty cap with a long feather. He was a handsome little fellow, with bright eyes and dark curls, and as gay and lively as the great black crickets that live in Provence.

His master, Count Reynaurd, looked very stately in a suit of plum-colored velvet, with a collar of fine lace fastened with a golden violet, which he often felt, so as to be sure he had not lost it and that it was still tightly clasped. For the gold violet was a prize that the Count had just won in the town of Toulouse, whither, every May-time, all the troubadours used to go and hold great contests, called the Games of Flowers. At these games each one sang a song, and the most skilful received prizes, a violet of gold and a rose of silver being the most wished for.

So Count Reynaurd was very proud and happy thinking how finely the violet would serve to clasp the collar of jewels he expected to win from King René, and he smiled pleasantly when Pierrot called out to him:

"See, my Lord! are not those the high towers of Aix?"

Count Reynaurd looked ahead, and, sure enough, far in the distance rose the city of Aix. They set their horses a-galloping, and in a little while found themselves riding through its quaint, crooked streets, till they reached the great square where stood the king's palace. This was a very beautiful one, strangely built, with two ancient round towers and a wide porch with many pillars; all about it was a lovely garden full of orange and acacia trees, and sweet roses and jasmines clambered over everything.

Count Reynaurd and Pierrot dismounted at the palace gate, and were led into the great hall where sat King René, wearing a blue robe embroidered in bright flowers. He was an old man, and his hair and long beard were quite white, but he was gay and happy-hearted as Pierrot himself. When he saw the Count Reynaurd enter the hall, he arose from his throne and came down and embraced and kissed him, and patted Pierrot kindly. For René was not like most kings, who are very particular to have everybody about them as stiff and uncomfortable as possible.

Then presently the Count William, who had been walking in the garden, hearing of the arrival of Reynaurd, came hurrying in, his own little page Henri following close upon his heels. He greeted Count Reynaurd very cordially, for he had often met him at the games of Toulouse, and the little pages Henri and Pierrot soon became the best of friends also.

As the day was now drawing to a close, the good old king invited them all into the banquet hall, where were already gathered numbers of troubadours, and minnesingers who were the troubadours of Germany. Some were eating and drinking; some were telling stories or making up poetry; while still others were playing on all sorts of musical instruments, and were altogether having the jolliest kind of time.

Reynaurd and Pierrot were very hungry after their long ride, and so were glad to sit down at one of the long tables while the king's seneschals brought in roasted boar's-head and venison pasties, and large baskets of the fine white bread of Provence and of brown marchpanes, which were nice little old-time French cookies full of raisins and covered with nuts and poppy-seeds.

Pierrot waited upon his master very prettily, and then feasted upon dainties to his heart's content, all the while listening with delight to the gay songs of the troubadours and minnesingers. By and by his curly head began to nod, and he fell asleep while still munching a marchpane, and slept so soundly that he had to be shaken when it was time to go upstairs, where a little cot was spread for him close to the great canopied bed of the Count Reynaurd.

So the days passed merrily on. But when, time after time, King René fixed a day for the contest between the Counts Reynaurd and William, they would plead that they were not ready; for they had grown so lazy and pampered by the life they led in the palace that they dawdled away their time in idle pleasure.

At last the king grew impatient, and declared that he would shut them up, each in his own room, where they must stay for ten days composing their songs; and he commanded that then they should appear before him, and be judged and rewarded according to their skill.

So Count William and Count Reynaurd were escorted up the palace stairway to their chamber doors, and each agreed, upon his knightly honor, which was a very solemn vow indeed, that he would not set foot beyond his threshold until the day appointed by the good king; and it became the duty of Pierrot and Henri to bring food and wait upon their noble masters.

But these two masters fared differently in their song-making. In the apartments of Henri's lord, things went far from smoothly; for, although Count William was really a very accomplished troubadour, yet when he found himself shut up and obliged to make a song, not a word could he write. Indeed, poets declare that this is often the way with them; most beautiful verses will suddenly pop into their heads, sometimes in the middle of the night, so that they have to jump up in the dark to get pencil and paper to write them down before they forget; while, many times, if they have paper and pen ready, so contrary are their wits that very likely they can not write a word! And so it was with the Count William.

He fussed and fumed, but not even the least little bit of a rhyme could he make; and the more he wished it, the more impossible it seemed to become. He strode up and down the room; he snatched his paper and tore it into bits; and then he scolded Henri till the poor little fellow tiptoed out in his little pointed velvet shoes, and fled to the garden, where he sat down under an orange tree, and consoled himself with some fresh cookies that one of the kitchen scullions brought out to him. As he crunched down the sugary morsels he now and then flung a crumb to the pretty goldfishes in a fountain by his side; and then he wondered what any one wanted to make up poetry for anyway, especially when it was May-time and one might sit in King René's garden, and above all, on a day when King René's cooks were making sweetmeats.

Meantime, across the corridor from Henri's master things were going on very differently with the noble Reynaurd and Pierrot. As luck would have it, this count was getting on famously. He had composed a most beautiful poem, and lovely music by which to sing it, and was altogether so pleased with himself and all the world that he snapped his fingers joyously, and fetched Pierrot a playful slap on the shoulder, crying, "Hey, Pierrot, just listen to this!" And then in a loud voice he began to sing.

Pierrot was so delighted that he clapped his hands, and declared he was quite sure his lord would win the prize, and shame the Count William into everlasting silence. Then he helped himself to a couple of great golden oranges from a basket he had just brought to Reynaurd, and strutted out to air himself, and to boast to Henri of his master's superior skill.

Meantime, Count Reynaurd sang over and over his new song, each time roaring it out louder and louder, till his lungs fairly ached.

While all this was going on, the Count William, in a great rage, was still striding up and down the floor of his chamber, which happened to be across the corridor and at no great distance from that of the happy Reynaurd. And, as it happened also, when Pierrot went out he forgot to close the door behind him—a fact which Count Reynaurd had not noticed. The door was very thick and heavy, and fitted badly between the stone walls, so it was not to be wondered at that Pierrot did not manage to latch it.

As it was, the loud voice of Count Reynaurd came rolling forth, and suddenly the Count William, angrily pacing the floor, stood stock-still and pricked up his ears.

Now, the count's ears were famous for being extraordinarily sharp, and he was also wonderfully apt at remembering anything to which he had once carefully listened. He knew in a moment the voice of Count Reynaurd, and then a broad smile crept over his face, and he listened harder than ever.

As Reynaurd kept singing over and over again, it was not long till Count William had the whole song by heart, and then, seizing his own lute, he began practising it very softly.

"Ha, ha, ha!" he laughed to himself. "Thou great foolish Reynaurd! Canst thou never learn how to hold thy tongue? But never mind, I will play such a trick on thee as will teach thee a lesson thou'lt not soon forget. Ha, ha, ha!" And then he practised longer, till he knew both the poetry and music as well as Count Reynaurd himself.

The next day, Pierrot, still exulting over his master's skill, happened to meet Henri in the garden, and asked how his noble lord was getting on.

"Oh!" said Henri, "finely. He has just made a lovely new song!" And with that he hummed a snatch of the melody he had heard Count William singing, and which he thought his master had composed.

As Pierrot heard the music he could scarce believe his ears; first he was speechless with astonishment, but at last he sputtered out:

"It is not true—it is stolen! That is my dear master's, the Count Reynaurd's!"

"Pierrot," burst in Henri, "I would have thee understand that my noble lord, the Count William, does not steal, and is a far better singer, anyhow, than thy great Reynaurd!"

From this matters went from bad to worse, till the two little pages were just on the point of coming to blows; but, fortunately, at this point one of King René's seneschals caught sight of them, and, hastening up, gave each a sound cuff on the ear, crying out as he did so:

"Ho, ye saucy little knaves! Know ye not the good king will have no brawlers upon these palace grounds? Take that, sirrahs! and see to it that ye behave more seemly hereafter."

The pages being thus forcibly separated, Pierrot ran as fast as his legs could carry him up the palace stairs, and burst into his master's chamber, panting out indignantly:

"Dear Lord Reynaurd, the wicked Count William has stolen thy beautiful song and will win the prize! And I tried to stop Henri, and—o-o-oh—" Here poor Pierrot, still smarting under the cuff from the seneschal, quite broke down, and was obliged to double his fists very hard and bite his lips to keep back the angry tears.

At first Count Reynaurd gasped with astonishment, and then jumped up in a towering passion. But by and by his wits came back to him, and he remembered that Count William had always been a good friend of his; but then his heart misgave him as he remembered, too, that Count William was a famous joker, and loved a jest above all things.

The more he thought of it, the more sure he felt that William only meant in some way to tease him, though he could not understand how he had learned the song. Just then his eyes fell on the door, that Pierrot in his haste had left unfastened, as usual; and then it flashed through Count Reynaurd's mind how Count William had found out about the music. Reynaurd, moreover, had no doubt but that, before the king, William would probably sing the piece as his own,—a thing which he could easily do, as René had announced that they would be called on in alphabetical order, according to the names of their domains; and as Auvergne thus came before Poitiers, Reynaurd knew that Count William would sing first, and that it would then be hard to make the people believe that the song was his and not William's; yet he determined, if possible, to try in some way to get the better of him.

He thought and thought very hard for a little while, and then suddenly he said to Pierrot:

"Pierrot, dost thou still remember the Latin tongue that good Father Ambrose taught thee last winter in our castle in Poitiers?"

The little page assured his lord that he did, for he was really a clever scholar in the Latin tongue, which both his master and the Count William understood but indifferently.

Then Count Reynaurd called him close to his side, and whispered a plan to him that seemed to please them both mightily. Pierrot at once took the goose-quill pen that Reynaurd handed him, and after screwing up his face and working very carefully, he wrote these lines:

Hoc carmen non composui,

Quod cano, quod cano!

and this he took great pains to teach his master.

The next day Count Reynaurd sang his song over again and again, and Pierrot purposely left the door ajar. Count William noticed that after every stanza there were two new lines added in another tongue:

Hoc carmen non composui,

Quod cano, quod cano!

At first this puzzled Count William very much indeed.

"Faugh!" he said to himself at length, "that ridiculous Reynaurd is seeking to give a learned air to his poetry! I dare say he has picked up those lines out of some old manuscript, and thinks to pass himself off for a great scholar."

Then Count William tried to make out the meaning of the words, which were fitted into the rhyme of the stanzas in such a way that they could not well be left out. He studied over them till he thought he understood them, though, as it turned out, he was quite mistaken. But as it was a common way with the troubadours to end every stanza with similar lines, which they called the refrain, Count William suspected nothing, and set himself to work to learn the new words.

The time that the king had allowed the rival noblemen was now almost up, and in two days more the song-contest took place.

The great banqueting-hall had been beautifully hung with garlands of flowers and gay banners. At one end of it the king's throne stood on a dais, and over it swung a scarlet canopy like an enormous poppy-flower turned upside down. In the middle of the room were placed long tables, and in the palace kitchens the cooks were running about busying themselves preparing the great feast that was to follow.

By and by King René came into the hall and took his seat on the throne. He wore a rich robe of purple velvet, embroidered all over in the brightest silks and gold; after him came a great troupe of troubadours and minnesingers, some carrying their own harps or viols, and some followed by little pages who bore their masters' belongings.

As the good King René looked at his gay company and the brilliantly lighted hall and the long tables, his eyes sparkled with delight, and his heart swelled with joy when he thought of the coming contest; for he was never so pleased as when thus surrounded by his dear troubadours, whom he loved to make in every way as happy as possible.

Then, when all was ready, a gaily dressed herald came into the hall, and kneeling before the king, and bowing to the assembled company, announced the coming of the two counts, William and Reynaurd. All the other troubadours and minnesingers stood up, and King

René smiled graciously as the two noblemen entered, followed by their pages, Pierrot and Henri, each of whom carried a viol bedecked with long silken ribbons.

When the counts had saluted the king and taken their places before him, he commanded a seneschal to bear in the prize; and so the beautiful collar of jewels was brought in upon a silver tray and placed on a carved bench beside the king. Then a herald stepped out, and, lifting the collar upon the point of a flower-wreathed lance, displayed it to all the company and announced the terms of the contest of song about to take place.

This ceremony was a great deal better and prettier than the customs of most of the other royal courts of that time. In all the lands except where King René lived, when the people desired entertainment, they used to gather together to see contests called tournaments, in which noble lords tried to overthrow one another with real lances on which were no garlands. But King René could not endure such barbarous displays, and so in his palace no one fought another except with pretty verses, and the best poet was champion.

When all the usual ceremonies had been gone through, the king called Count William to step forth first and sing his song. There was a merry twinkle in the count's eyes as he took his viol from Henri, hung the silken ribbons about his neck, and then, after striking a few soft notes with the tips of his fingers, began to sing, as his own, the song made up by Count Reynaurd. He went through the whole piece, although each time when he came to the Latin lines he mumbled them over so that the words sounded indistinct, and one could not be certain just what they were.

When he had finished, the king was delighted, and all the listeners clapped their hands and wondered how it would be possible for Count Reynaurd to do better. Indeed, they looked rather pityingly on Reynaurd, as one already defeated.

Then, when the cheers had somewhat quieted down, King René commanded Count Reynaurd to stand forth and take his turn for the prize. Reynaurd quietly stepped out, and, saluting the king, said:

"My royal liege, the song to which you have just listened was not the work of Count William of Auvergne, but of myself, Reynaurd of Poitiers."

At this, as Count Reynaurd had expected, every one looked incredulous, and Count William pretended to be very indignant, and declared that he had not been outside of his own apartments for the ten days; that he had not set eyes on Count Reynaurd through all that time; and altogether he appeared to be terribly angry that Count Reynaurd should hint that the song belonged to him.

Count Reynaurd, however, asked but one thing of the king, who readily granted his request. It was that Count William be commanded to sing the song once more, and that each time he should sing the Latin lines as plainly as possible.

Count William looked somewhat abashed at this proposal, and began to suspect that a trap had been laid for him. However, he could not refuse to do the command of King René, especially when it seemed so simple a thing; and so he was obliged to sing again, and say the Latin words plainly, all the while very angry with himself because on the spur of the moment he could think of no other words to put in place of the Latin refrain, which was so cleverly woven into each stanza that it could not be left out without spoiling the rhyme.

The king listened attentively, for, as the Count Reynaurd knew, René was a good Latin scholar himself; and presently, when the refrain came into the song:

Hoc carmen non composui,

Quod cano, quod cano!

King René began to laugh; and he laughed and laughed till the tears fairly ran down his cheeks; for what do you think the words really mean? They mean:

I did not make this song,

That I sing, that I sing!

When the king at last managed to stop laughing for a few minutes, he translated the lines so that every one could hear.

At first Count William looked very blank; then, realizing how cleverly the tables had been turned upon him and he had been caught in his own prank, he enjoyed the joke as much as anybody, and laughed the loudest of all. Indeed, such a "Ha, ha!" as went up through the whole banquet-hall was never before heard, and the very rafters seemed to shake with glee.

The good king was so delighted with the entertainment that he called Count Reynaurd and Count William both before him, and taking a hand of each, he declared that the jeweled collar must be divided equally between them. He at once ordered his goldsmiths to set to work to make it into two collars instead of one; which they could very easily do, as it was so wide and heavy.

Then the king had a lovely silver cup brought in for Pierrot, because of his cleverness in the Latin tongue; and afterward the whole company of troubadours and minnesingers and pages sat down and feasted so merrily that, years later, when Pierrot himself grew to be a famous troubadour, he used often to sing, in the castles of the French nobles, of the gaiety of that great festival.

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