Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 30

Ay, this is be who wears die wreath of bays

Wove by Apollo and the Sisters Nine,

Which Jove’s dread lightning scathes not. He hath doft

The cumbrous helm of steel, and flung aside

The yet more galling diadem of gold;

While, with a leafy circlet round his brows,

He reigns the King of Lover and of Poets.

A cautious approach to the chimney, that is, the favorite walk of the King, who is described by Shakspeare as bearing

  — the style of King of Naples,

 Of both the Sicilies, and Jerusalem,

Yet not so wealthy as an English yeoman,

gave Arthur the perfect survey of his Majesty in person. He saw an old man, with locks and beard, which, in amplitude and whiteness, nearly rivalled those of the envoy from Schwytz, but wit a fresh and ruddy color in his cheek, and an eye of great vivacity. His dress was showy to a degree almost inconsistent with his years; and his step, not only firm, but full of alertness and vivacity, while occupied in traversing the short and sheltered walk, which he had chosen, rather for comfort than fot privacy, showed juvenile vigor still animating an aged frame. The old King carried his tablets and a pencil in his hand, seeming totally abstracted in his own thoughts, and indifferent to being observed by several persons from the public street beneath his elevated promenade.

Of these, some, from their dress and manner, seemed themselves Troubadours; for they held in their hands rebecks, rotes, small portable harps, and other indications of their profession Such appeared to be stationary, as if engaged in observing and recording their remarks on the meditations of their Prince. Other passengers, bent on their own more serious affairs, looked up to the King as to some one whom they were accustomed to see daily, but never passed without doffing their bonnets, and expressing, by a suitable obeisance, a respect and affection towards his person, which appeared to make up in cordiality of feeling what it wanted in deep and solemn deference.

Rene, in the meanwhile, was apparently unconscious both of the gaze of such as stood still, or the greeting of those who passed on, his mind seeming altogether engrossed with the apparent labor of some arduous task in poetry or music. He walked fast or slow as best suited the progress of composition. At times he stopped to mark hastily down on his tablets something which seemed to occur to him as deserving of preservation; at other times he dashed out what he had written, and flung down the pencil as if in a sort of despair. On these occasions, the Sibylline leaf was carefully picked up by a beautiful page, his only attendant, who reverently observed the first suitable opportunity of restoring it again to his royal hand. The same youth bore a viol, on which, at a signal from his master, he occasionally struck a few musical notes, to which the old King listened, now with a soothed and satisfied air, now with a discontented and anxious brow. At times, his enthusiasm Tose so high, that he even hopped and skipped with an activity which his years did not promise; at other times his motions were extremely slow, and occasionally he stood still, like one wrapped in the deepest and most anxious meditation. When he chanced to look on the group which seemed to watch his motions, and who ventured even to salute him with a murmur of applause, it was only to distinguish them with a friendly and good-humored nod; a salutation with which, likewise, he failed not to reply to the greeting of the occasional passengers, when his earnest attention to his task, whatever it might be, permitted him to observe them.

At length the royal eye lighted upon Arthur, whose attitude of silent observation, and the distinction of ~is figure, pointed him out as a stranger. Rene beckoned to his page, who, receiving his master’s commands in a whisper, descended from the royal chimney, to the broader platform beneath, which was open to general resort. The youth, addressing Arthur with much courtesy, informed him the King desired to speak with him. The young Englishman had no alternative but that of approaching, though pondering much in his own mind how he ought to comport himself towards such a singular specimen of royalty.

When he drew near, King Rene addressed him in a tone of courtesy not unmingled with dignity, and Arthur’s awe in his immediate presence was greater than he himself could have anticipated from his previous conception of the royal character.

“You are, from your appearance, fair sir,” said King Rene a stranger in this country. By what name must we call you, and to what business are we to ascribe the happiness of seeing you at our court?”

Arthur remained a moment silent, and the good old man imputing it to awe and timidity, proceeded in an encouraging tone.

“Modesty in youth is ever commendable you are doubtless an acolyte in the noble and joyous science of Minstrelsy and Music, drawn hither by the willing welcome which we afford to the professors of those arts, in which — praise be to Our Lady and the Saints! — we have ourself been deemed a proficient.”

“I do not aspire to the honors of a Troubadour,” answered Arthur.

“I believe you,” answered the King, “for your speech smacks of the northern, or Norman-French, such as is spoken in England and other unrefined nations. But you are a minstrel perhaps, from these ultramontane parts. Be assured we despise not their efforts; for we have listened, not without pleasure and instruction, to many of their bold and wild romaunts, which, though rude in device and language, and therefore far inferior to the regulated poetry of our Troubadours, have yet something in their powerful and rough measure, which occasionally rouses the heart like the sound of a trumpet.”

“I have felt the truth of your Grace’s observation, when I have heard the songs of my country,” said Arthur; “but I have neither skill nor audacity to imitate what I admire — My latest residence has been in Italy”

“You are perhaps then a proficient in painting,” said Rene; “an art which applies itself to the eye as poetry and music do to the ear, and is scarce less in esteem with us. If you arc skilful in the art, you have come to a monarch who loves it, and the fair country in which it is practised.”

“In simple truth, Sire, I am an Englishman, and my hand has been too much welk’d and hardened by practice of the bow, the lance, and the sword, to touch the harp, or even the pencil.”

“An Englishman!” said Rene obviously relaxing in the warmth of his welcome; “and what brings you here? England and I have long had little friendship together.”

“It is even on that account that I am here,” said Arthur. “I come to pay my homage to your Grace’s daughter, the Princess Margaret of Anjon, whom I and many true English-men regard still as our Queen, though traitors have usurped her title.”

“Alas, good youth,” said Rene, “I must grieve for you, while I respect your loyalty and faith. Had my daughter Margaret been of my mind, she had long since abandoned pretensions, which have drowned in seas of blood the noblest and bravest of her adherents.”

The King seemed about to say more, but checked himself.

“Go to my palace,” he said; “inquire for the Seneschal Hugh de Saint Cyr, he will give thee the means of seeing Margaret, that is, if it be her will to see thee. If not, good English youth, return to my palace, and thou shalt have hospitable entertainment; for a King who loves minstrelsy, music, and painting, is ever more sensible to the claims of honor, virtue, and loyalty; and I read in thy looks thou art possessed of these qualities, and willingly believe thou may’st, in more quiet times, aspire to share the honors of the joyous science. But if thou hast a heart to be touched by the sense of beauty and fair proportion, it will leap within thee at the first sight of my palace, the stately grace of which may be compared to the faultless form of some high-bred dame, or the artful, yet seemingly simple modulations of such a tune as we have been now composing.”

The King seemed disposed to take his instrument, an dindulge the youth with a rehearsal of the strain he had just arranged; but Arthur at that moment experienced the painful internal feeling of that peculiar spedes of shame, which well-constructed minds feel when they see others express a great assumption of importance, with a confidence that they are exciting admiration, when in fact they are only exposing themselves to ridicule. Arthur, in short, took leave, “in very shame.” of the King of Naples, both the Sicilies, and Jerusalem, in a manner somewhat more abrupt than ceremony demanded. The King looked after him, with some wonder at this want of breeding, which, however, he imputed to his visitor’s insular education, and then again began to twangle his viol.

“The old fool!” said Arthur; “his daughter is dethroned, his dominions crumbling to pieces, his family on the eve of becoming extinct, his grandson driven from one lurking-place to another, and expelled from his mother’s inheritance, — and he can find amusement in these fopperies! I thought him with his long white beard, like Nicholas Bonstetten; but the old Swiss is a Solomon compared with him.”

As these and other reflections, highly disparaging to King Rene, passed through Arthur’s mind, he reached the place of rendezvous, and found Thiebault, beneath the steaming fountain, forced from one of those hot springs which had been the delight of the Romans from an early period. Thiebault, having assured his master that his retinue, horse and man, were so disposed as to be ready on an instant’s call, readily undertook to guide him to King Rene’s palace, which, from its singularity, and indeed its beauty of architecture, deserved the eulogium which the old monarch had bestowed upon it. The front consisted of three towers of Roman architecture, two of them being placed on the angles of the palace, and the third, which served the purpose of a mausoleum, forming a part of the group, though somewhat detached from the other buildings. This last was a structure of beautiful proportions. The lower part of the edifice was square, serving as a sort of pedestal to the upper part, which was circular, and surrounded by columns of massive granite. The other two towers at the angles of the palace were round, and also ornamented with pillars, and with a double row of windows. In front of, and connected with, these Roman remains, to which a date has been assigned as early as the fifth or sixth century, arose the ancient palace of the Counts of Provence, built a century or two later, but where a rich Gothic or Moorish front contrasted, and yet harmonized, with the more regular and massive architecture of the lords of the world. It is not more than thirty or forty years since this very curious remnant of antique art was destroyed to make mom for new public buildings, which have never yet been erected.

Arthur really experienced some sensation of the kind which the old King had prophesied, and stood looking with wonder at the ever-open gate of the palace, into which men of all kinds seemed to enter freely. After looking around for a few minutes, the young Englishman ascended the steps of a noble portico, and asked of a porter, as old and as lazy as a great man’s domestic ought to be, for the seneschal named to him by the King. The corpulent janitor, with great politeness, put the stranger under the charge of a page, who ushered him to a chamber, in which be found another aged functionary of higher rank, with a comely face, a clear composed eye, and a brow which, having never been knit into gravity, intimated that the seneschal of Aix was a proficient in the philosophy of his royal master. He recognized Arthur the moment he addressed him.

“You speak northern French, fair sir; you have lighter haji and a fairer complexion than the natives of this country — You ask after Queen Margaret — By all these marks I read you English — Her Grace of England is at this moment paying a vow at the monastery of Mont Saint Victoire, and if your name be Arthur Philipson, I have commission to forward you to her presence immediately, that is, as soon as you have tasted of the royal provision.”

The young man would have remonstrated, but the senesehal left him no leisure.

“Meat and mass,” he said, “never hindered work — it is perilous to youth to journey too far on an empty stomach-he himself would take a mouthful with the Queen’s guest, and pledge him to boot in a flask of old Hermitage.”

The board was covered with an alacrity which showed that hospitality was familiarly exercised in King Rene’s dominions Pasties, dishes of game, the galiant boar’s head, and other delicacies, were placed on the table, and the seneschal played the merry host, frequently apologizing (unnecessarily) for showing an indifferent example, as it was his duty to carve before King Rene, and the good King was never pleased unless he saw him feed lustily as well as carve featly.

“But for you, sir guest, eat freely, since you may not see food again till sunset; for the good Queen takes her misfortunes so to heart that sighs are her food, and her tears a bottle of drink, as the Psalmist bath it. But I bethink me you will need steeds for yourself and your equipage to reach Mont Saint Victoire, which is seven miles from Aix.”

Arthur intimated that he had a guide and horses in attendance, and begged permission to take his adieu. The worthy seneschal, his fair round belly graced with a gold chain, accompanied him to the gate with a step, which a gentle fit of the gout had rendered uncertain, but which, he assured Arthur, would vanish before three days’ use of the hot springs. Thiebault appeared before the gate, not with the tired steeds from which they had dismounted an hour since, but with fresh palfreys from the stable of the King.

“They are yours from the moment you have put foot in stirrup,” said the senesehal; “the good King Rene never received back as his property a horse which he had lent to a guest; and that is perhaps one reason why his Highness and we of his household must walk often a-foot.”

Here the seneschal exchanged greetings with his young visitors, who rode forth to seek Queen Margaret’s place of temporary retirement at the celebrated monastery of Saint Victoire. He demanded of his guide in which direction it lay, who pointed, with an air of triumph, to a mountain three thousand feet and upwards in height, which arose at five or six miles’ distance from the town, and which its bold and rocky summit rendered the most distinguished object of the landscape. Thiebault spoke of it with unusual glee and energy, so much so as to lead Arthur to conceive that his trusty squire had not neglected to avail himself of the lavish hospitality of Le bon Roi Rene. Thiebault, however, continued to expatiate on the fame of the mountain and monastery. They derived their name, he said, from a great victory which was gained by a Roman general, named Caio Mario, against two large armies of Saracens with ultramoritane names (the Teutones probably and Cimbri) in gratitude to Heaven for which victory Caio Mario vowed to build a monastery on the mountain for the service of the Virgin Mary, in honor of whom he had been baptized. With all the importance of a local connoisseur, Thiebault proceeded to prove his general assertion by specific facts.

“Yonder,” he said, “was the camp of the Saracens, from which, when the battle was apparently decided, their wives and women rushed, with horrible screams, dishevelled hair, and the gestures of furies, and for a time prevailed in stopping the flight of the men.” He pointed out too the river, for access to which, cut off by the superior generalship of the Romans, the barbarians, whom he called Saracens, hazarded the action, and whose streams they empurpled with their blood. In short, he mentioned many circumstances which showed how accurately tradition will preserve the particulars of ancient events, even whilst forgetting, misstating, and confounding dates and persons.

Perceiving that Arthur lent him a not unwilling ear, — for it may be supposed that the education of a youth bred up in the hcat of civil wars was not well qualified to criticize his account of the wars of a distant period, — the Provencal, when he had exhausted this topic, drew up close to his master’s side, arid asked, in a suppressed tone, whether he knew, or was desirous of being made acquainted with, the cause of Margaret’s having left Aix, to establish herself in the monastery of Saint Victoire?

“For the accomplishment of a vow,” answered Arthur; “all the world knows it.”

“All Aix knows the contrary,” said Thiebault; “and I can tell you the truth, so I were sure it would not offend your seignorie.

“The truth can offend no reasonable man, so it be expressed in the terms of which Queen Margaret must be spoken in the presence of an Englishman.”

Thus replied Arthur, willing to receive what information he could gather, and desirous, at the same time, to check the petulance of his attendant.

“I have nothing,” replied his follower, “to state in disparagement of the gracious Queen, whose only misfortune is, that, like her royal father, she has more titles than towns. Besides, I know well that you Englishmen, though you speak wildly of your sovereigns yourselves, will not permit others to fail in respect to them.”

“Say on, then,” answered Arthur.

“Your seignorie must know, then,” said Thiebault, “that the good King Rene has been much disturbed by the deep melancholy which afflicted Queen Margaret, and has bent himself with all his power to change it into a gayer humor. He made entertainments in public and in private; he assembled minstrels and troubadours, whose music and poetry might have drawn smiles from one on his deathbed. The whole country resounded with mirth and glee, and the gracious Queen could not Stir abroad in the most private manner, but before she had gone a hundred paces, she lighted on an ambush, consisting of some pretty pageant, or festivious mummery, composed often by the good King himself, which interrupted her solitude, in purpose of relieving her heavy thoughts with some pleasant pastime. But the Queen’s deep melancholy rejected all these modes of dispelling it, and at length she confined herself to her own apartments, and absolutely refused to see even her royal father, because he generally brought into her presence those whose productions he thought likely to soothe her sorrow. Indeed she seemed to hear the harpers with loathing, and excepting one wandering Englishman, who sang a rude and melancholy ballad, which threw her into a flood of tears, and to whom she gave a chain of price, she never seemed to look at or be conscious of the presence of any one. And at length, as I have had the honor to tell your seignorie, she refused to see even her royal father unless he came alone and that he found no heart to do.”

“I wonder not at it,” said the young man; “by the White Swan, I am rather surprised his mummery drove her not to frenzy.”

Something like it indeed took place,” said Thiebault; “and I will tell your seignorie how it chanced. You must know that good King Rene, unwilling to abandon his daughter to the foul fiend of melancholy, bethought him of making a grand effort. You must know further, that the King, powerful in all the craft of Troubadours and Jongleurs, is held in peculiar esteem for conducting mysteries, and other of those gamesome and delightful sports and processions with which our holy Church permits her graver ceremonies to be relieved and diversified, to the cheering of the hearts of all true children of religion. It is admitted that no one has ever been able to approach his excellence in the arrangement of the Fete-Dieu; and the tune to which the devils cudgel King Herod, to the great edification of all Christian spectators, is of our good King’s royal composition. He bath danced at Tarascon in the ballet of Saint Martha and the Dragon, and was accounted in his own person the only actor competent to present the Tarrasque. His Highness introduced also a new ritual into the consecration of the Boy Bishop, and composed an entire set of grotesque music for the Festival of Asses. In short, his Grace’s strength lies in those pleasing and becoming festivities which strew the path of edification with flowers, and send men dancing and singing on their way to Heaven.

“Now the good King Rene, feeling his own genius for such recreative compositions, resolved to exert it to the utmost, in the hope that he might there by relieve the melancholy in which his daughter was plunged, and which infected all that approached her. It chanced, some short time since, that the Queen was absent for certain days, I know not where or on what business, but it gave the good King time to make his preparations. So when his daughter returned, he with much importunity prevailed on her to make part of a religious processon to Saint Sauveur, the principal church in Aix. The Queen, innocent of what was intended, decked herself with solemnity, to witness and partake of what she expected would prove a work of grave piety. But no sooner had she appeared on the esplanade in front of the palace than more than a hundred in asks, dressed up like Turks, Jews, Saracens, Moors, and I know not whom besides, crowded around to offer her their homage, in the character of the Queen of Sheba; and a grotesque piece of music called them to arrange themselves for a ludicrous ballet, in which they addressed the Queen in the most entertaining manner, and with the most extravagant gestures. The queen, stunned with the noise, and affronted with the petulance of this unexpected onset, would have gone back into the palace but the doors had been shut by the King’s order so soon as she set forth; and her retreat in that direction was cut off. Finding herself excluded from the palace, the Queen advanced to the front of the facade, and endeavored by signs and words to appease the hubbub, but the maskers, who had their instructions, only answered with songs, music, and shouts.”

“I would,” said Arthur, “there had been a score of English yeomen in presence, with their quarter-staves, to teach the bawling villains respect for one that has worn the crown of England!”

“All the noise that was made before was silence and soft music, continued Thiebault, “till that when the good King himself appeared, grotesquely dressed in the character of King Solomon — ”

“To whom, of all princes, he has the least resemblance,” said Arthur —

“With such capers and gesticulations of welcome to the Queen of Sheba, as, I am assured by those who saw it; would have brought a dead man alive again, or killed a living man with laughing. Among other properties, he had in his hand a truncheon, somewhat formed like a fool’s bauble — ”

“A most fit sceptre for such a sovereign,” said Arthur —

“Which was headed,” continued Thiebault, “by a model of the Jewish Temple, finely gilded and curiously cut in pasteboard. He managed this with the utmost grace, and delighted every spectator by his gayety and activity, excepting the Queen, who, the more he skipped and capered, seemed to be the more incensed, until, on his approaching her to conduct her to the procession, she seemed roused to a sort of frenzy, struck the truncheon out of his hand, and breaking through the crowd, who felt as if a tigress had leapt amongst them from a showman’s cart, rushed into the royal courtyard. Ere the order of the scenic representation, which her violence had interrupted could be restored, the Queen again issued forth, mounted, and attended by two or three English cavaliers of her Majesty’s suite. She forced her way through the crowd, without regarding either their safety or her own, flew like a hail-storm along the streets, and never drew bridle till she was as far up this same Mont Saint Victoire as the road would permit. She was then received into the convent, and has since remained there; and a vow of penance is the pretext to cover over the quarrel betwixt her and her father.”

“How long may it be,” said Arthur, “since these things chanced?”

“It is but three days since Queen Margaret left Aix in the manner I have told you. — But we are come as far up the mountain as men usually ride. See, yonder is the monastery rising betwixt two huge rocks, which form the very top of Mont Saint Victoire. There is no more open ground than is afforded by the cleft, into which the convent of Saint Mary of Victory is, as it were, niched; and the access is guarded by the most dangerous precipices. To ascend the mountain, you must keep that narrow path which, winding and turning among the cliffs, leads at length to the summit of the hill, and the gate of the monastery.”

“And what becomes of you and the horses?” said Arthur.

“We will rest,” said Thiebault, “in the hospital maintained by the good fathers at the bottom of the mountain, for the accommodation of those who attend on pilgrims; — for I promise you the shrine is visited by many who come from afar, and are attended both by man and horse. — Care not for me, — I shall be first under cover; but there muster yonder in the west some threatening clouds, from which your seignorie may suffer inconvenience, unless you reach the convent in time. I will give you an hour to do the feat, and will say you are as active as a chamois bunter, if you reach it within the time.”

Arthur looked around him, and did indeed remark a mustering of clouds in the distant west, which threatened soon to change the character of the day, which had hitherto been brilliantly clear, and so serene that the falling of a leaf might have been heard. He therefore turned him to the steep and rocky path which ascended the mountains, sometimes by scaling almost precipitous rocks, and sometimes by reaching their tops by a more circuitous process. It winded through thickets of wild boxwood and other low aromatic shrubs, which afforded some pasture for the mountain goats, but were a bitter annoyance to the traveller who had to press through them. Such obstacles were so frequent that the full hour allowed by Thiebault had elapsed before he stood on the summit of Mont Saint Victoire, and in front of the singular convent of the same name.

We have already said, that the crest of the mountain, consisting entirely of one bare and solid rock, was divided by cleft or opening into two heads or peaks, between which the convent was built, occupying all the space between them. The front of the building was of the most ancient and sombre cast of the old Gothic, or rather, as it has been termed, the Saxon and in that respect corresponded with the savage exterior of the naked cliffs, of which the structure seemed to make a part, and by which it was entirely surrounded, excepting a small open space of more level ground, where, at the expense of much toil, and by carrying earth up the hill, from different spots where they could collect it in small quantities, the good fathers had been able to arrange the accommodations of a garden.

A bell summoned a lay-brother, the porter of this singularly situated monastery, to whom Arthur announced himself as an English merchant, Philipson by name, who came to pay his duty to Queen Margaret. The porter, with much respect, showed the stranger into the convent, and ushered him into a parlor, which, looking towards Aix, commanded an extensive and splendid prospect over the southern and western parts of Provence. This was the direction in which Arthur had approached the mountain from Aix; but the circuitous path by which he had ascended had completely carried him round the hill. The western side of the monastery, to which the parlor looked, commanded the noble view we have mentioned and a species of balcony, which, connecting the two twin crags, at this place not above four or five yards asunder, ran along the front of the building, and appeared to be constructed for the purpose of enjoying it. But on stepping from one of the windows of the parlor upon this battlemented bartisan, Arthur became aware that the wall on which the parapet rested stretched along the edge of a precipice, which sank sheer down five hundred feet at least from the foundations of the convent. Surprised and startled at finding himself on so giddy a verge, Arthur turned his eyes from the gulf beneath him to admire the distant landscape, partly illuminated, with ominous lustre, by the now westerly sun. The setting beams showed in dark red splendor a vast variety of hill and dale, champaign and cultivated ground, with towns, churches, and castles, some of which rose from among trees, while others seemed founded on rocky eminences, others again lurked by the side of streams or lakes, to which the heat and drought of the climate naturally attracted them.

The rest of the landscape presented similar objects when the weather was serene, but they were now rendered indistinct, or altogether obliterated, by the sullen shade of the approaching clouds, which gradually spread over great part of the horizon, and threatened altogether to eclipse the sun, though the lord of the horizon still struggled to maintain his influence, and, like a dying hero, seemed most glorious even in the moment of defeat. Wild sounds, like groans and howls, formed by the wind, in the numerous caverns of the rocky mountain, added to the terrors of the scene, and seemed to foretell the fury of some distant storm, though the air in general was even unnaturally calm and breathless. In gazing on this extraordinary scene, Arthur did justice to the monks who had chosen this wild and grotesque situation, from which they could witness Nature in her wildest and grandest demonstrations, and compare the nothingness of humanity with her awful convulsions.

So much was Arthur awed by the scene before him, that he had almost forgotten, while gazing from the bartisan, the important business which had brought him to this place, when it was suddenly recalled by finding himself in the presence of Margaret of Anjou, who, not seeing him in the parlor of reception, had stepped upon the balcony, that she might meet with him the sooner.

The Queen’s dress was black, without any ornament except a gold coronal of an inch in breadth, restraining her long black tresses, of which advancing years, and misfortunes, had partly altered the hue. There was placed within the circlet a black plume with a red rose, the last of the season, which the good father who kept the garden had presented to her that morning as the badge of her husband’s house. Care, fatigue, and sorrow, seemed to dwell on her brow and her features. To another messenger, she would in all probability have administered a sharp rebuke, for not being alert in his duty to receive her as she entered; but Arthur’s age and appearance corresponded with that of her loved and lost son. He was the son of a lady whom Margaret had loved with almost sisterly affection, and the presence of Arthur continued to excite in the dethroned Queen the same feelings of maternal tenderness which had been awakened on their first meeting in the Cathedral of Strassburg. She raised him as he kneeled at her feet, spoke to him with much kindness, and encouraged him to detail at full length his father’s message, and such other news as his brief residence at Dijon had made him acquainted with.

She demanded which way Duke Charles had moved with his army.

“As I was given to understand by the master of his artillery,” said Arthur, “towards the Lake of Neufchatel, on which ude he proposes his first attack on the Swiss.”

“The headstrong fool!” said Queen Margaret, — “he resembles the poor lunatic, who went to the summit of the mountain, that he might meet the rain half-way. — Does thy father, then,” continued Margaret, “advise me to give up the last remains of the extensive territories, once the dominions of our royal House, and for some thousand crowns, and the paltry aid of a few hundred lances, to relinquish what is left of our patrimony to our proud and selfish kinsman of Burgundy, who extends his claim to our all, and affords so little help, or even promise of help, in return?”

“I should have ill discharged my father’s commission, said Arthur, “if I had left your Highness to think that he recommends so great a sacrifice. He feels most deeply the Duke of Burgundy’s grasping desire of dominion. Nevertheless, he thinks that Provence must, on King Rene’s death, or sooner, fall either to the share of Duke Charles, or to Louis of France, whatever opposition your Highness may make to such a destination; and it may be that my father, as a knight and a soldier, hopes much from obtaining the means to make another attempt on Britain. But the decision must rest with your Highness.”

“Young man,” said the Queen, “the contemplation of a question so doubtful almost deprives me of reason!”

As she spoke, she sank down, as one who needs rest, on a stone seat placed on the very verge of the balcony, regardless of the storm, which now began to rise with dreadful gusts of wind, the course of which being intermitted and altered by the crags round which they howled, it seemed as if in very deed Boreas, and Eurus, and Caurus, unchaining the winds from every quarter of heaven, were contending for mastery around the convent of our Lady of Victory. Amid this tumult, and amid billows of mist which concealed the bottom of the precipice, and masses of clouds which racked fearfully over their heads, the roar of the descending waters rather resembled the fall of cataracts than the rushing of torrents of rain. The seat on which Margaret had placed herself was in a considerable degree sheltered from the storm, but its eddies, varying in every direction, often tossed aloft her dishevelled hair; and we cannot describe the appearance of her noble and beautiful, yet ghastly and wasted features, agitated strongly by anxious hesitation and conflicting thoughts, unless to those of our readers who have had the advantage of having seen our inimitable Siddons 22 in such a character as this. Arthur, confounded by anxiety and terror, could only beseech her Majesty to retire before the fury of the approaching storm, into the interior of the convent.

“No,” she replied with firmness; “roofs and walls have ears, and monks, though they have forsworn the world, are not the less curious to know what passes beyond their cells. It is in this place you must hear what I have to say; as a soldier you should scorn a blast of wind or a shower of rain; and to me, who have often held counsel amidst the sound of trumpets and clash of arms, prompt for instant fight, the war of elements is an unnoticed trifle. I tell thee, young Arthur Vere, as I would to your father — as I would to my son — if indeed Heaven had left such a blessing to a wretch forlorn — ”

She paused, and then proceeded.

“I tell thee, as I would have told my beloved Edward, that Margaret, whose resolutions were once firm and immovable as these rocks among which we are placed, is now doubtful and variable as the clouds which are drifting around us. I told your father, in the joy of meeting once more a subject of such inappreciable loyalty, of the sacrifices I would make to assure the assistance of Charles of Burgundy to so gallant an undertaking as that proposed to him by the faithful Oxford. But since I saw him I have had cause of deep reflection. I met my aged father only to offend, and, I say it with shame, to insult the old man in presence of his people. Our tempers are as opposed as the sunshine, which a short space since gilded a serene and beautiful landscape, differs from the tempests which are now wasting it. I spurned with open scorn and contempt what he, in his mistaken affection, had devised for means of consolation, and, disgusted with the idle follies which he had devised for curing the melancholy of a dethroned Queen, a widowed spouse - and, alas! a childless mother, — I retired hither from the noisy and idle mirth, which was the bitterest aggravation of my sorrows. Such and so gentle is Rene’s temper, that even my unfilial conduct will not diminish my influence over him; and if your father had announced, that the Duke of Burgundy, like a knight and a sovereign, had cordially and nobly entered into the plan of the faithful Oxford, I could have found it in my heart to obtain the cession of territory his cold and ambitious policy requires, in order to ensure the assistance, which he now postpones to afford till he has gratified his own haughty humor by settling needless quarrels with his unoffending neighbors. Since I have been here, and calmness and solitude have given me time to reflect, I have thought on the offences I have given the old man, and on the wrongs I was about to do him. My father, let me do him justice, is also the father of his people. They have dwelt under their vines and fig-trees, in ignoble ease perhaps, but free from oppression and exaction, and their happiness has been that of their good King. Must I change all this? — Must I aid in turning over these contented people to a fierce, headlong, arbitrary prince? — May I not break even the easy and thoughtless heart of my poor old father, should I succeed in urging him to do so? — These are questions which I shudder even to ask myself. On the other hand, to disappoint the toils, the venturous hopes of your father, to forego the only opportunity which may ever again offer itself, of revenge on the bloody traitors of York, and restoration of the House of Lancaster! — Arthur, the scene around us is not so convulsed by the fearful tempest and the driving clouds, as my mind is by doubt and uncertainty.”

“Alas!”. replied Arthur, “I am too young and inexperienced to be your Majesty’s adviser in a case so arduous. I would my father had been in presence himself.”

“I know what he would have said,” replied the Queen; “but, knowing all, I despair of aid from human counsellors — I have sought others, but they also are deaf to my entreaties. Yes, Arthur, Margaret’s misfortunes have rendered her superstitious. Know, that beneath these rocks, and under the foundation of this convent, there runs a cavern, entering by a secret and defended passage a little to the westward of the summit, and running through the mountain, having an opening to the south, from which, as from this partisan, you can view the landscape so lately seen from this balcony, or the strife of winds and confusion of clouds which we now behold. In the middle of this cavernous thoroughfare is a natural pit, or perforation, of great but unknown depth. A stone dropped into it is heard to dash from side to side, until the noise of its descent, thundering from cliff to cliff, dies away in distant and faint tinkling, less loud than that of a sheep’s bell at a mile’s distance. The common people, in their jargon, call this fearful gulf Lou Garagoule; and the traditions of the monastery annex wild and tearful recollections to a place in itself sufficiently terrible. Oracles, it is said, spoke from thence in pagan days by subterranean voices, arising from the abyss; and from these the Roman general is said to have heard, in strange and uncouth rhymes, promises of the victory which gives name to this mountain. These oracles, it is averred, may be yet consulted after performance of strange rites, in which heathen ceremonies are mixed with Christian acts of devotion. The abbots of Mont Saint Victoire have denounced the consultation of Lou Garagoule, and the spirits who reside there, to be criminal. But as the sin may be expiated by presents to the Church, by masses, and penances, the door is sometimes opened by the complaisant fathers to those whose daring curiosity leads them, at all risks, and by whatever means, to search into futurity. Arthur, I have made the experiment, and am even now returned from the gloomy cavern in which according to the traditional ritual, I have spent six hours by the margin of the gulf, a place so dismal, that after its horrors even this tempestuous scene is refreshing.”

The Queen stopped, and Arthur, the more struck with the wild tale, that it reminded him of his place of imprisonment at La Ferette, asked anxiously if her inquiries had obtained any answer.

“None whatever,” replied the unhappy princess. “The demons of Garagoule, if there be such, are deaf to the suit of an unfortunate wretch like me, to whom neither friends nor fiends will afford counsel or assistance. It is my father’s circumstances which prevent my instant and strong resolution. Were my own claims on this piping and paltry nation of Troubadours alone interested, I could, for the chance of once more setting my foot in merry England, as easily and willingly resign them and their paltry coronet, as I commit to the storm this idle emblem of the royal rank which I have lost.”

As Margaret spoke, she tore from her hair the sable feather and rose which the tempest had detached from the circlet in which they were placed, and tossed them from the battlement with a gesture of wild energy. They were instantly whirled off in a bickering eddy of the agitated clouds, which swept the feather far distant into empty space, through which the eye could not pursue it. But while that of Arthur involuntarily strove to follow its course, a contrary gust of wind caught the red rose, and drove it back against his breast, so that it was easy for him to catch hold of and retain it.

“Joy, joy, and good fortune, royal mistress!” he said, returning to her the emblematic flower “the tempest brings back the badge of Lancaster to its proper owner.”

“I accept the omen,” said Margaret but it concerns yourself, noble youth, and not me. The feather which is borne away to waste and desolation is Margaret’s emblem. My eyes will never see the restoration of the line of Lancaster. But you will live to behold it, and to aid to achieve it, and to dye our red rose deeper yet in the blood of tyrants and traitors. My thoughts are so strangely poised, that a feather or a flower may turn the scale. But my head is still giddy, and my heart sick. — To-morrow you shall see another Margaret, and till then adieu.”

It was time to retire, for the tempest began to be mingled with fiercer showers of rain. When they re-entered the parlor, the Queen clapped her hands, and two female attendants entered.”

“Let the Father Abbot know,” she said, “that it is out desire that this young gentleman receive for this night such hospitality as befits an esteemed friend of ours. — Till to-morrow, young sir, farewell.”

With a countenance which betrayed not the late emotion of her mind, and with a stately courtesy that would have become her when she graced the halls of Windsor, she extended her hand, which the youth saluted respectfully. After her leaving the parlor, the Abbot entered, and in his attention to Arthur’s entertainment and accommodation for the evening, showed his anxiety to meet and obey Queen Margaret’s wishes.

22 Mrs. Siddons the tragedian — died 1831.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/anne/chapter30.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29