The Carrier Pigeon


Benjamin Disraeli

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:18.

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eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Table of Contents

  1. Charolois and Branchimont
  2. A Pert Page
  3. Love’s Messenger
  4. A Cruel Dart
  5. Another Message
  6. Flight and Discovery
  7. The Dove Returns to Imogene

Chapter 1.

Charolois and Branchimont

ALTHOUGH the deepest shades of twilight had descended upon the broad bosom of the valley, and the river might almost be recognised only by its rushing sound, the walls and battlements of the castle of Charolois, situate on one of the loftiest heights, still blazed in the reflected radiance of the setting sun, and cast, as it were, a glance of triumph at the opposing castle of Branchimont, that rose on the western side of the valley, with its lofty turrets and its massy keep black and sharply defined against the resplendent heaven.

Deadly was the hereditary feud between the powerful lords of these high places — the Counts of Charolois and the Barons of Branchimont, but the hostility which had been maintained for ages never perhaps raged with more virulence than at this moment; since the only male heir of the house of Charolois had been slain in a tournament by the late Baron of Branchimont, and the distracted father had avenged his irreparable loss in the life-blood of the involuntary murderer of his son.

Yet the pilgrim, who at this serene hour might rest upon his staff and gaze on the surrounding scene, would hardly deem that the darkest passions of our nature had selected this fair and silent spot for the theatre of their havoc.

The sun set; the evening star, quivering and bright, rose over the dark towers of Branchimont; from the opposite bank a musical bell summoned the devout vassals of Charolois to a beautiful shrine, wherein was deposited the heart of their late young lord, and which his father had raised on a small and richly wooded promontory, distant about a mile from his stern hold.

At the first chime on this lovely eve came forth a lovelier maiden from the postern of Charolois — the Lady Imogene, the only remaining child of the bereaved count, attended by her page, bearing her book of prayers. She took her way along the undulating heights until she reached the sanctuary. The altar was illumined; several groups were already kneeling — faces of fidelity well known to their adored lady; but as she entered, a palmer, with his broad hat drawn over his face, and closely muffled up in his cloak, dipped his hand at the same time with hers in the fount of holy water placed at the entrance of of the shrine, and pressed the beautiful fingers of the Lady Imogene. A blush, unperceived by the kneeling votaries, rose to her cheek; but apparently such was her self-control, or such her deep respect for the hallowed spot, that she exhibited no other symptom of emotion, and, walking to the high altar, was soon buried in her devotions.

The mass was celebrated — the vassals rose and retired. According to her custom, the Lady Imogene yet remained, and knelt before the tomb of her brother. A low whisper, occasionally sounding,-assured her that someone was at the confessional; and soon the palmer, who was now shrived, knelt at her side. ‘Lothair!’ muttered the lady, apparently at her prayers, ‘beloved Lothair, thou art too bold!’

‘Oh, Imogene! for thee what would I not venture?’ was the hushed reply.

‘For the sake of all our hopes, wild though they be, I counsel caution.’

‘Fear naught. The priest, flattered by my confession, is fairly duped. Let me employ this golden moment to urge what I have before entreated. Your father, Imogene, can never be appeased. Fly, then, my beloved! oh, fly!’

‘Oh, my Lothair! it never can be. Alas! whither can we fly?’

‘Sweet love! I pray thee listen:— to Italy. At the court of my cousin, the Duke of Milan, we shall be safe and happy. What care I for Branchimont, and all its fortunes? And for that, my vassals are no traitors. If ever the bright hour arrive when we may return in joy, trust me, sweet love, my flag will still wave on my father’s walls.’

‘Oh, Lothair! why did we meet? Why, meeting, did we not hate each other like our fated race? My heart is distracted. Can this misery be love? Yet I adore thee ———’

‘Lady!’ said the page, advancing, ‘the priest approaches.’

The Lady Imogene rose, and crossed herself before the altar.

‘To-morrow, at this hour,’ whispered Lothair.

The Lady Imogene nodded assent, and, leaning on her page, quitted the shrine.

Chapter 2.

A Pert Page

‘DEAREST Lady,’ said the young page, as they returned to the castle, ‘my heart misgives me. As we quitted the shrine, I observed Rufus, the huntsman, slink into the adjoining wood.’ ‘Hah! he is my father’s most devoted instrument: nor is there any bidding which he would hesitate to execute — a most ruthless knave!’

‘And can see like a cat in the dark, too,’ observed young Theodore.

‘I never loved that man, even in my cradle,’ said the Lady Imogene; ‘though he can fawn, too. Did he indeed avoid us?’

‘Indeed I thought so, madam.’

‘Ah! my Theodore, we have no friend but you, and you are but a little page.’

‘I would I were a stout knight, lady, and I would fight for you.’

‘I warrant you,’ said Imogene; ‘you have a bold heart, little Theodore, and a kind one. O holy Virgin. I pray thee guard in all perils my bright-eyed Lothair!’

‘Lord Branchimont is the finest knight I ever set eyes upon,’ said Theodore. ‘I would I were his squire.’

‘Thou shalt be his squire, too, little Theodore, if all goes well.’

‘Oh! glorious day, when I shall wear a sword instead of a scarf! Shall I indeed be his squire, lady sweet?’

‘Indeed I think thou wilt make a very proper squire.’

‘I would I were a knight like Lord Branchimont; as tall as a lance, and as strong as a lion; and such a fine beard too!’

‘It is indeed a beard, Theodore,’ said the Lady Imogene. ‘When wilt thou have one like it?’

‘Another summer, perchance,’ said Theodore, passing his small palm musingly over his smooth chin.

‘Another summer!’ said the Lady Imogene, laughing; ‘why, I may as soon hope to have a beard myself.’

‘I hope you will have Lord Branchimont’s,’ said the page.

‘Amen!’ responded the lady.

Chapter 3.

Love’s Messenger

THE apprehensions of the little Theodore proved to be too well founded. On the morning after the meeting of Lady Imogene with Lord Branchimont at the shrine of Charolois, she was summoned to the presence of her father, and, after having been loaded with every species of reproach and invective for her clandestine meeting with their hereditary foe, she was confined to a chamber in one of the loftiest towers of the castle, which she was never permitted to quit, except to walk in a long gloomy gallery with an old female servant remarkable for the acerbity of her mind and manners. Her page escaped punishment by flight; and her only resource and amusement was her mandolin.

The tower in which the Lady Imogene was imprisoned sprang out of a steep so precipitous that the position was considered impregnable. She was therefore permitted to open her lattice, which was not even barred. The landscape before her, which was picturesque and richly wooded, consisted of the enclosed chase of Charolois; but her jailers had taken due care that her chamber should not command a view of the castle of Branchimont. The valley and all its moving life were indeed entirely shut out from her. Often the day vanished without a human being appearing in sight. Very unhappy was the Lady Imo-gene, gazing on the silent woods, or pouring forth her passion over her lonely lute.

A miserable week had nearly elapsed. It was noon; the Lady Imogene was seated alone in her chamber, leaning her head upon her hand in thought, and dreaming of her Lothair, when a fluttering noise suddenly roused her, and, looking up, she beheld, to her astonishment, perched on the high back of a chair, a beautiful bird-a pigeon whiter than snow, with an azure beak, and eyes blazing with a thousand shifting tints. Not alarmed was the beautiful bird when the Lady Imogene gently approached it; but it looked up to her with eyes of intelligent tenderness, and flapped with some earnestness its pure and sparkling plume. The Lady Imogene smiled with marvelling pleasure, for the first time since her captivity; and putting forth her hand, which was even whiter than the wing, she patted the bright neck of the glad stranger, and gently stroked its soft plumage.

‘Heaven hath sent me a friend,’ exclaimed the beautiful Imogene; ‘Ah! what — what is this?’

‘Didst thou call, Lady Imogene?’ inquired the harsh voice of acid Martha, whom the exclamation of her mistress had summoned to the door.

‘Nothing — nothing — I want nothing,’ quickly answered Imogene, as she seized the bird with her hand, and, pressing it to her bosom, answered Martha over her shoulder. ‘Did she see thee, my treasure?’ continued the agitated Imogene, ‘Oh! did she see thee, my joy? Methinks we were not discovered.’ So saying, and tripping along on the lightest step imaginable, the captive secured the door; then bringing forth the bird from its sweet shelter, she produced a letter, which she had suddenly detected to be fastened under its left wing, and which she had perceived, in an instant, to be written by Lord Branchimont.

Her sight was dizzy, her cheek pale, her breath seemed to have deserted her. She looked up to heaven, she looked down upon the letter, and then she covered it with a thousand kisses; then, making a vigorous effort to collect herself, she read its strange and sweet contents:—

’Lothair to Imogene.

‘Soul of my existence! Mignon, in whom you may place implicit trust, has promised me to bear you this sign of my love. Oh, I love you, Imogene! I love you more even than this bird can the beautiful sky! Kiss the dove a thousand times, that I may steal the kisses again from his neck, and catch, even at this distance, your fragrant breath. My beloved, I am planning your freedom and our happiness. Each day Mignon shall come to tell you how we speed; each day shall he bring back some testimony of your fidelity to your own

Lothair.’

It was read — it was read with gushing and fast-flowing tears — tears of wild joy. A thousand times, ay, a thousand times, Imogene embraced the faithful Mignon; nor could she indeed have ever again parted with him, had she not remembered that all this time her Lothair was anxiously awaiting the return of his messenger. So she tore a leaf from her tablets and inscribed her devotion; then, fastening it with care under the wing, she bore Mignon to the window, and, bestowing upon him a last embrace, permitted him to extend his beautiful wings and launch into the air.

Bright in the sun glanced the white bird as it darted into the deep-blue sky. Imogene watched it until the sparkling form changed into a dusky shade, and the dusky shade vanished into the blending distance.

Chapter 4.

A Cruel Dart

IT WAS now a principal object with the fair captive of Charolois, that her unsympathising attendant should enter her chamber as little as possible, and only at seasons when there was no chance of a visit from Mignon. Faithful was the beautiful bird in these daily visits of consolation; and by his assistance, the correspondence with Lothair respecting her escape was actively maintained. A thousand plans were formed by the sanguine lovers-a thousand plans were canvassed, and then decided to be impracticable. One day, Martha was to be bribed; another, young Theodore was to reenter the castle disguised as a girl, and become, by some contrivance, her attendant; but reflection ever proved that these were as wild as lovers’ plans are wont to be; and another week stole away without anything being settled. Yet this second week was not so desolate as the first. On the contrary, it was full of exciting hope; and each day to hear that Lothair still adored her, and each day to be enabled to breathe back to him her own adoration, solaced the hours of her captivity. But Fate, that will often frown upon the fortunes of true love, decided that this sweet source of consolation should flow on no longer. Rufus, the huntsman, who was ever prowling about, and who at all times had a terribly quick eye for a bird, one day observed the carrier-pigeon sallying forth from the window of the tower. His practised sense instantly assured him that the bird was trained, and he resolved to watch its course.

‘Hah, hah!’ said Rufus, the huntsman, ‘is Branchimont thy dovecot? Methinks, my little rover, thou bearest news I long to read.’

Another and another day passed, and again and again Rufus observed the visits of Mignon; so, taking his cross-bow one fair morning, ere the dew had left the flowers, he wandered forth in the direction of Branchimont. True to his mission, Mignon soon appears, skimming along the sky. Beautiful, beautiful bird! Fond, faithful messenger of love! Who can doubt that thou well comprehendest the kindly purpose of thy consoling visits! Thou bringest joy to the unhappy, and hope to the despairing! She shall kiss thee, bright Mignon! Yes! an embrace from lips sweeter than the scented dawn in which thou revelest, shall repay thee for all thy fidelity! And already the Lady Imogene is at her post, gazing upon the unclouded sky, and straining her beautiful eyes, as it were, to anticipate the slight and gladsome form, whose first presence ever makes her heart tremble with a host of wild and conflicting emotions.

Ah! through the air an arrow from a bow that never erred — an arrow swifter than thy swiftest flight, Mignon, whizzes with fell intent. The snake that darts upon its unconscious prey less fleet and fatal!

It touches thy form — it transfixes thy beautiful breast! Was there no good spirit, then, to save thee, thou hope of the hopeless? Alas, alas! the blood gushes from thy breast, and from thine azure beak! Thy transcendent eye grows dim — all is over! The carrier-pigeon falls to the earth!

Chapter 5.

Another Message

A DAY without hearing from Lothair was madness; and, indeed, when hour after heavy hour rolled away without the appearance of Mignon, and the Lady Imogene found herself gazing upon the vanishing twilight, she became nearly frantic with disappointment and terror. While light remained, an indefinite hope maintained her; but when it was indeed night, and nothing but the outline of the surrounding hills was perceptible, she could no longer restrain herself; and, bursting into hysteric tears, she threw herself upon the floor of her chamber. Were they discovered? Had Lothair forgotten her? Wearied with fruitless efforts, had he left her to her miserable, her solitary fate? There was a slight sound — something seemed to have dropped. She looked up. At her side she beheld a letter, which, wrapped round a stone, had been thrown in at the window. She started up in an ecstasy of joy. She cursed herself for doubting for an instant the fidelity of her lover! She tore open the letter; but so great was her emotion that some minutes elapsed before she could decipher its contents. At length she learned that, on the ensuing eve, Lothair and Theodore, disguised as huntsmen of Charolois, would contrive to meet in safety beneath her window, and for the rest she must dare to descend. It was a bold, a very perilous plan. It was the project of desperation. But there are moments in life when desperation becomes success. Nor was the spirit of the Lady Imogene one that would easily quail. Hers was a true woman’s heart; and she could venture everything for love. She examined the steep; she cast a rapid glance at the means of making the descent: her shawls, her clothes, the hangings of her bed — here were resources — here was hope!

Full of these thoughts, some time elapsed before she was struck at the unusual mode in which the communication reached her. Where was Mignon? But the handwriting was the handwriting of Lothair. That she could not mistake. She might, however, have observed that the characters were faint — that the paper had the appearance of being stained or washed; but this she did not observe. She was sanguine — she was confident in the wisdom of Lothair. She knelt before an image of the Virgin, and poured forth her supplications for the success of their enterprise. And then, exhausted by all the agitation of the day, the Lady Imogene sunk into a deep repose.

Chapter 6.

Flight and Discovery

MORN came at length, but brought no Mignon. ‘He has his reasons,’ answered the Lady Imogene: ‘Lothair is never wrong. And soon, right soon, I hope, we shall need no messenger.’ Oh, what a long, long day was this, the last of her captivity! Will the night never come — that night she had once so much dreaded? Sun, wilt thou never set? There is no longer gladness in thy beams. The shadows, indeed, grow longer, and yet thine orb is as high in heaven as if it were an everlasting noon! The unceasing cry of the birds, once so consoling, now only made her restless. She listened, and she listened, until at length the rosy sky called forth their last thrilling chant, and the star of evening summoned them to roost.

It was twilight: pacing her chamber, and praying to the Virgin, the hours at length stole away. The chimes of the sanctuary told her that it wanted but a quarter of an hour to midnight. Already she had formed a rope of shawls: now she fastened it to the-lattice with all her force. The bell struck twelve, and the Lady Imogene delivered herself to her fate. Slowly and fearfully she descended, long suspended in the air, until her feet at length touched a ledge of rock. Cautiously feeling her footing, she now rested, and looked around her. She had descended about twenty feet. The moon shone bright on the rest of the descent, which was more rugged. It seemed not impracticable — she clambered down.

‘Hist! hist!’ said a familiar voice, ‘all is right, lady — but why did you not answer us?’

‘Ah! Theodore, where is my Lothair?’

‘Lord Branchimont is shaded by the trees — give me thy hand, sweet lady. Courage! all is right; but indeed you should have answered us.’

Imogene de Charolois is in the arms of Lothair de Branchimont.

‘We have no time for embraces,’ said Theodore; ‘the horses are ready. The Virgin be praised, all is right. I would not go through such an eight-and-forty hours again to be dubbed a knight on the spot. Have you Mignon?’

‘Mignon, indeed! he has not visited me these two days.’

‘But my letter,’ said Lothair-‘you received it?’

‘It was thrown in at my window,’ said the Lady Imogene.

‘My heart misgives me,’ said little Theodore. ‘Away! there is no time to lose. Hist! I hear footsteps. This way, dear friends. Hist! a shout! Fly! fly! Lord Branchimont, we are betrayed!’

And indeed from all quarters simultaneous sounds now rose, and torches seemed suddenly to wave in all quarters. Imogene clung to the neck of Lothair.

‘We will die together!’ she exclaimed, as she hid her face in his breast.

Lord Branchimont placed himself against a tree, and drew his mighty sword.

‘Seize him!’ shouted a voice, instantly recognised by Imogene; ‘seize the robber!’ shouted her father.

‘At your peril!’ answered Lothair to his surrounding foes.

They stood at bay — an awful group! The father and his murdering minions, alike fearful of encountering Branchimont and slaying their chieftain’s daughter; the red and streaming torches blending with the silver moonlight that fell full upon the fixed countenance of their entrapped victim and the distracted form of his devoted mistress.

There was a dead, still pause. It was broken by the denouncing tone of the father, ‘Cowards! do you fear a single arm? Strike him dead! spare not the traitress!’

But still the vassals would not move; deep as was their feudal devotion, they loved the Lady Imogene, and dared to disobey.

‘Let me, then, teach you your duty!’ exclaimed the exasperated father. He advanced, but a wild shriek arrested his extended sword; and as thus they stood, all alike prepared for combat, yet all motionless, an arrow glanced over the shoulder of the Count and pierced Lord Branchimont to the heart. His sword fell from his grasp, and he died without a groan.

Yes! the same bow that had for ever arrested the airy course of Mignon, had now, as fatally and as suddenly, terminated the career of the master of the carrier-pigeon. Vile Rufus, the huntsman, the murderous aim was thine!

Chapter 7.

The Dove Returns to Imogene

THE bell of the shrine of Charolois is again sounding; but how different its tone from the musical and inspiring chime that summoned the weary vassals to their grateful vespers! The bell of the shrine of Charolois is again sounding. Alas! it tolls a gloomy knell. Oh! valley of sweet waters, still are thy skies as pure as when she wandered by thy banks and mused over her beloved! Still sets thy glowing sun; and quivering and bright, like the ascending soul of a hero, still Hesperus rises from thy dying glory! But she, the maiden fairer than the fairest eve — no more shall her light step trip among the fragrance of its flowers; no more shall her lighter voice emulate the music of thy melodious birds. Oh, yes! she is dead — the beautiful Imogene is dead! Three days of misery heralded her decease. But comfort is there in all things; for the good priest who had often administered consolation to his unhappy mistress over her brother’s tomb, and who knelt by the side of her dying couch, assured many a sorrowful vassal, and many a sympathising pilgrim who loved to listen to the mournful tale, that her death was indeed a beatitude; for he did not doubt, from the distracted expressions that occasionally caught his ear, that the Holy Spirit, in that material form he most loves to honour, to wit, the semblance of a pure white dove, often solaced by his presence the last hours of Imogene de Charolois!

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005