The Lady and the Unicorn

Free The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

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Authors: Tracy Chevalier
Tags: Fiction:Historical
Claude and went over to the chest full of dresses.
I stepped from Claude's room and strode towards my chamber. As I passed each lady she fell in line behind me until I was like a mother duck leading her four ducklings. When I reached my door my other daughters were standing together, heads bowed. They too followed me when I passed. One of the ladies shut the door. I turned around. ‘Let us pray that Claude's soul may yet be saved,’ I said to their solemn faces. We knelt.

I knew the moment I saw him that I wouldn't like him. I don't normally judge so quickly — I leave that to my wife. But when he walked in with Léon Le Vieux he looked around my workshop as if it were some slummy Paris street rather than the rue Haute off the Plâce de la Chapelle — respectable enough for a lissier . Then he didn't bother to meet my eye but watched Christine and Aliénor as they moved about the room, him with his well-cut tunic and tight Paris hose. This one is too sure of himself, I thought. He'll be nothing but trouble.
I was surprised he had come at all. I've been weaving thirty years and never had an artist travel all the way from Paris to see me. There's no need for it — all I want are the artist's designs and a good cartoonist like Philippe de la Tour to draw them large. Artists are no help to a lissier .
Léon hadn't warned me he would be bringing with him this Nicolas des Innocents, and they came earlier than expected. We were all in the workshop, preparing for the cutting-off of the tapestry we had been weaving. I had detached the cartoon from under the tapestry and was rolling it up to store with the other tapestry designs I own. Georges Le Jeune was removing the last of the bobbins. Luc was sweeping a place clear on the floor where we would lay out the tapestry when we had cut it from the loom. Christine and Aliénor were sewing shut the last slits in the tapestry left between the colours. Philippe de la Tour stood by, rethreading Aliénor's needle, looking for it when she dropped it, finding more slits in the tapestry for her to sew. He wasn't needed at the workshop, but he knew today was the cutting-off and found reasons to stay.
When Léon Le Vieux appeared at one of the workshop windows that open onto the street, my wife and I jumped up, and she ran to open the door for him. We were surprised that a stranger followed him in, but once Léon had introduced Nicolas as the artist who made the designs for the new tapestries, I nodded and said, ‘You are welcome, gentlemen. My wife will bring you food and drink.’ Christine hurried through the doorway connecting the workshop and the house at the back. We have two houses together, one where we eat and sleep, the other the workshop. Both have windows and doors opening into the street at the front and the garden at the back, to give the weavers clear light to work by.
Aliénor got to her feet to follow her mother. ‘Tell your mother to bring in some cheese, some oysters,’ I said quietly as she slipped away. ‘Send Madeleine to buy some sweet cakes. And serve them double beer, not small.’ I turned back to the men. ‘Have you just come to Brussels?’ I asked Léon. ‘I was expecting you next week at the Feast of Corpus Christi.’
‘We arrived yesterday,’ Léon said. ‘The roads were not bad — very dry, in fact.’
‘Is Brussels always so quiet?’ Nicolas said, picking bits of wool off his tunic. He would give that up soon if he stayed here long — wool clings to everyone in the workshop.
‘Some say it is already too lively,’ I answered coolly, annoyed that his first words were spoken with such a sneer. ‘Though it is quieter here than by the Grand-Place. We don't need to be so close to the centre for our work. I expect you're used to different down in Paris. We get reports of the doings there.’
‘Paris is the finest city in the world. When I go back I shall never leave it again.’
‘If you like it so much, why did you come

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