the clothes provided the traveler were old but cut from the finest cloth in the finest style. he recognized them as the work of the celebrated guido of florence, tailor to crowned heads. they fit loosely but very comfortably, with a hint of unsightly bagginess under the arms.
gruz watched impassively as the traveler dressed himself. "are the clothes to your satisfaction, sir?"
"indeed. they are very dry."
"will you wanting something to eat?"
"of course, if there is anything."
"i will speak frankly, sir. our larder is limited, as the master and his ward are not great trencherpersons."
"i am sorry to hear that." the traveler shrugged. "anything you can provide would be appreciated."
"no doubt, sir. i was thinking of your horse."
"ah. no doubt you can prepare him properly."
"the cook is quite an old hand at such matters. with mars being in the ascendancy for so long."
"of course. there is no reason the poor beast who served me so well in life should not render me this final service. and it will not, i am sorry to say, be a novel experience for myself."
"it's settled then. would you prefer to wait in the great room with the master, or in the kitchen?"
"in the kitchen!" for the first time since his arrival the traveler displayed something other than complete equanimity.
"i am afraid the only table is in the kitchen," gruz answered impassively. "i could, i suppose, bring you a plate in the great room. no doubt you are quite dextrous with a knife and fork. be that as it may, the thought of a single spot of grease from a side of grilled horsemeat falling on the furnishings in the great room - i don't care to think of it."
the traveler finished tying his cravat. "well - i've eaten in worse places. perhaps in worse company. but i think i will wait in the great room, as you call it, with the master."
"very good, sir." gruz picked up the candle and they left the room.
'will i be sleeping in that room?" the traveler asked as they moved down the corridor.
"if you like, sir. and if you sleep."
"so the master and his ward - they don't dine at all?"
"they don't dine at table."
"stop a minute."
gruz stopped, but did not turn.
"i am not a complete fool, you know. i know what your master is."
"really,sir?" now gruz did turn to face him. "i wouldn't have thought you the type to discuss masters with servants."
"your master is a gravigne - a creature who feeds on the golden souls of the innocent."
"but, you see," gruz replied. "i am not the type of servant who discusses his master - with either masters or servants."
"but i am not asking you anything. i am simply telling you what i know."
gruz gestured forward with the candle. "let us proceed. i am sure the master is grateful for your company and looks forward to it."
neither the master nor the ward rose when gruz and the traveler entered the room.
gruz was dismissed with the briefest of nods.
"be seated, sir," the voice from the shadows commanded. there were no chairs in the room , and the only other sofa was some distance from the fire. the traveler lowered himself on to it. he found himself directly across but at some distance from the woman but unable to see his host.
"i apologize for any lack of comfort in our hospitality," the powerful voice went on. "we go for long stretches of time here with no visitors at all. and then, suddenly, the visitors fall like rain. one never knows what to expect."
"yes," the traveler replied loudly. "especially with mars so long in the ascendancy. allow me to thank you for the dry clothing. i couldn't have done better at a visit to the tailor."
"no need to shout, sir. we both have excellent hearing. and now that you are properly seated, may i ask whom i have the pleasure of entertaining?"
"i have many names at my disposal," the traveler replied. "as i am sure you do yourself. for the present, i use the name, comte de st denis."
"ah! the comte de st denis, the comte de st denis! with such a name, i have no wonder you are being chased through the night. as for myself, you may know me as the baron anonyme. and this is my cousin, madamoiselle cecile."
"very good." the traveler bowed to the woman. seated beside the blazing fire and blending with its light, she was almost the only thing visible in the room.
"my servant has asked if you need anything in the nature of food and drink," the baron continued.
"that has been taken care of, very satisfactorily."
"would you like to spend the night with my cousin?"
"indeed i would. i see, sir, that you have not abandoned the old ways of hospitality."
"of course not." the voice showed a slight trace of annoyance. "do you take me for some puling christian, or man of the enlightenment? i am not monsieur de condorcet."
madamoiselle cecile spoke for the first time. "the night grows short, cousin. i am not sure i can do justice to this gallant fellow in the time left." she faced the traveler. "tomorrow night, sir, would that not be more suitable? you can spend the day here, gathering your strength."
"that sounds most agreeable."
"it is settled then."
"and you - you sleep during the day?"
"sleep!" cried the baron. "what a thought! no, sir, we hunt during the day. we hunt!"
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