The Ten-foot Chain - novelonlinefull.com
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The duke was seated before the fireplace in the hall. The forge had been removed; and instead there were some logs smoldering there, for the morning was cool. But his glance recalled the circ.u.mstances of his last encounter with the smith. The watchful page was quick to seize his cue.
"He comes alone," the page announced.
The duke gave a start, then began to chuckle.
"_Tiens! Tiens!_ He comes alone! 'Tis true, this is the time limit I set. Send the creature in."
And his highness continued to laugh all the time that the page was gone.
But he laughed softly, for he was alone. Presently he heard a subdued clinking of steel. He greeted his subject with a sly smile.
Most subjects of Louis the Terrible would have been overjoyed to be received by their sovereign so graciously. But Gaspard the smith showed no special joy. He wasn't nearly so proud, either, as he had been that other time he had appeared before his lord. He bent his knee. He remained kneeling until the duke told him to get up. The duke was still smiling.
"So my three days were enough," said his highness.
"Enough and sufficient," quoth the smith.
Now that he was on his feet again he was once more the man. He and the duke looked at each other almost as equals.
"Tell me about it," said Louis.
"Well, I'll tell you," Gaspard began; "you see, I'm a smith."
"But incapable of forging a chain strong enough to hold a woman."
"I'm not so sure," Gaspard replied. "It was a good chain."
He put out his left wrist and examined it. The steel handcuff was still there. Up and back from it ran the chain which the smith had been carrying over his shoulder. He hauled the chain down. He displayed the other end of it, still ornamented by the companion bracelet.
"What happened? How did she get out of it?" queried the duke.
"She got thin," Gaspard responded with melancholy. "She didn't want me to work. She wanted the money that I could earn. Yes. She even wanted me to work. But it had to be her kind of work; something--something--how shall I say it?--something that wouldn't interfere with our love."
"And you didn't love her?"
"Sure I loved her," flared the smith. "Eh--_bon Dieu_! I wouldn't have coupled up with her if I hadn't loved her; but, also, I loved something else. I loved my work. I'm a smith. I'm a sh.o.e.r of horses, a forger of iron, a worker in steel. I'm what the good G.o.d made me, and I've the good G.o.d's work to do!
"So after a certain amount of honeymoon I had to get back to my forge.
Joseph the carter, his Percherons; who could shoe them but me?"
"And she didn't like that?"
"No. When I made her sit in my forge she pined and whined and refused to eat. I was crazy. But I did my work. And this morning when I awoke I found that she had slipped away."
"You were already enchained," said his highness, "by your work."
The smith misunderstood.
"You can see it was no trick chain," he said, holding up the chain he himself had forged and playing with the links.
"Aye," said the duke, for he loved these philosophic disquisitions, when he was in the mood for them. "Aye, chains are the nature of the universe. The planets are chained. The immortal soul is chained to the mortal body. The body itself is chained to its l.u.s.ts and frailties."
"I'm a smith," said Gaspard, "and I want to work."
"We're not happy when we are chained," the duke continued to reflect aloud. "But I doubt that we'd be happier were our chains to disappear.
No matter." He regarded Gaspard the smith with real benignancy. "At least you've proven the fatal quality of one particular chain--the thing I wanted to prove. And--you've saved the princess."
"'Twas of her I wanted to speak," Gaspard spoke up. "This is a good chain. I forged it myself."
"Yes, I know you're a smith," said the duke.
"Well, then," said Gaspard, "I've been thinking. Suppose--now that I've still got it on me--that we try it on the princess, after all." He noticed the duke's look of amazement. "I'm willing," said Gaspard. "I'm willing to have another try--"
"_Dieu de bon Dieu!_" quoth the duke. "Never content!" He recovered himself. He felt kindly toward the smith. "Haven't you heard?" he demanded. "The princess has forged a chain of her own. She eloped with that young Sieur de Macon the same day you declined to chain her to yourself."