Murder While I Smile

Murder While I Smile by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online

Book: Murder While I Smile by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Smith
Tags: regency Mystery/Romance
where is the glory in being sold in the stalls? You may find Mrs. Radcliffe’s gothic novels there, along with chapbooks. There is nothing else for it. I must shoot off a toe and take up limping.”
    “That would hardly make the Rondeaux more interesting,” Luten replied. “Not that they aren’t plenty interesting enough,” he added hastily, when Prance squinted at him.
    “Did you really find them interesting?” Prance asked with pathetic eagerness.
    “Certainly I did.”
    “They are fascinating,” Corinne lied earnestly.
    Coffen, with an equally kind heart but less finesse, stared from Luten to Corinne with a wrinkled brow.
    “What did you think of my characterization of the dux bellorum? Both of you. The truth, now.”
    “Very interesting,” Luten said, with an earnest frown, as if recalling various intriguing details.
    “I tried to give him a broad interpretation,” Prance said, his face assuming a professional air that threatened expansion of his favorite theme.
    “I was just a little uncertain,” Coffen said, for he didn’t want to make a faux pas in his praise, “was it Arthur you meant by the dux bellorum? It might have been clearer if you had called him King Arthur.”
    “Bah! You are biased by the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Total fiction.”
    “Geoffrey Monmouth, you say? Can’t say I ever heard of the fellow.”
    Luten said, “We don’t know that the whole story isn’t fiction. Surely it is myth, or legend.”
    Prance shook his head at their abysmal ignorance. “The Arthur you were expecting is the product of the French Middle Ages. Arthur is much older than that. My research goes back to Nennius, the Historia Britonum, a ninth-century compilation. According to Nennius, Arthur was, in fact, a mercenary. Nothing but a professional soldier.”
    “That don’t add much to the romance,” Coffen said.
    “It adds considerably to the authenticity!” Prance snapped. “It is only the French, and of course, the Welsh, who transform Arthur into a man of miracles and marvels, slaying monsters and shooting the boar.”
    “I noticed all that sort of thing was missing from the Rondeaux,” Coffen said. “It’s all arguments between leaders before the battles, then the actual battles.”
    “Naturally I tried to include some parallels to our Peninsular War, to give the works a modern meaning. I saw the dux bellorum as a symbol for our Wellington.”
    “How clever!” Corinne said. She saw he was enjoying himself and decided to indulge him with a question. “I am halfway through the book, Reg, and I have not read anything of the Round Table yet,” she said with a questioning look.
    “That is more nonsense!” Prance cried, his ire rising at this familiar complaint. “There was no mention of a Round Table until Wace’s Roman de Brut. A French author! Then Layamon, cribbing from Wace, came up with the actual carpenter and implied dimensions of the table. The table held more than sixteen hundred men. It’s ridiculous. I did the arithmetic. Do you know what the diameter of such a table would be?”
    “Nope,” Coffen said, scratching his ear and glancing along the street in a way that implied he was ready to move on.
    “One thousand and nineteen feet. That is the diameter, mind, not the circumference, and it allows only two feet apiece at a conference. This is scarcely room for a chair. Not that they had chairs at the time. At three feet each, and some of them must have been fat, the diameter would be over fifteen hundred feet. There isn’t a room in all of England big enough to hold such a table.”
    “You might squeeze it into Westminster Abbey, or Saint Paul’s,” Coffen said, in an effort to be helpful. “I never thought poetry would take so much arithmetic.”
    Luten and Corinne exchanged a look. Her lips moved unsteadily.
    Luten said, “Perhaps you are too literal, Reg. Poetic license, you know ...”
    “Need a license to write rhymes, do you?” Coffen asked. “Another dodge

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