Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 31

  — Want you a man

Experienced in the world and its affairs?

Here be is for your purpose. He’s a monk.

He hath forsworn the world and all its work,

The rather that he knows it passing well,

Special the worst of it, for he’s a monk.

Old Play.

While the dawn of the morning was yet gray, Arthur was awakened by a loud ringing at the gate of the monastery, and presently afterwards the porter entered the cell which had been allotted to him for his lodgings, to tell him, that if his name was Arthur Philipson, a brother of their order had brought him despatches from his father. The youth started up, hastily attired himself, and was introduced, in the parlor, to a Carmelite monk, being of the same order with the community of Saint Victoire.

“I have ridden many a mile, young man, to present you wlth this letter,” said the monk, “having undertaken to your father that it should be delivered without delay. I came to Aix last night during the storm, and, learning at the palace that you had ridden hither, I mounted as soon as the tempest abated and here I am.”

“I am beholden to you, father,” said the youth, “and if I could repay your pains with a small donative to your convent —”

“By no means,” answered the good father; “I took my personal trouble out of friendship to your father, and mine own errand led me this way. The expenses of my long journey have been amply provided for. But open your packet, I can answer your questions at leisure.”

The young man accordingly stepped into an embrasure of the window, and read as follows:—

“Son Arthur — Touching the state of the country, in so far as concerns the safety of travelling, know that the same is precarious. The Duke hath taken the towns of Brie and Granson, and put to death five hundred men, whom he made prisoners in garrison there. But the Confederates are approaching with a large force, and God will judge for the right. Howsoever the game may go, these are sharp wars, in which little quarter is spoken of on either side, and therefore there is no safety for men of our profession, till something decisive shall happen. In the meantime, you may assure the widowed lady that our correspondent continues well disposed to purchase the property which she has in hand; but will scarce be able to pay the price till his present pressing affairs shall be settled, which I hope will be in time to permit us to embark the funds in the profitable adventure I told our friend of. I have employed a friar, travelling to Provence, to carry this letter, which I trust will come safe. The bearer may be trusted.

“Your affectionate father,

“John Philipson.”

Arthur easily comprehended the latter part of the epistle, and rejoiced he had received it at so critical a moment. Ho questioned the Carmelite on the amount of the Duke’s army, which the monk stated to amount to sixty thousand men, while lie said the Confederates, though making every exertion, had not yet been able to assemble the third part of that number. The young Ferrand de Vaudemont was with their army, and had received, it was thought, some secret assistance from France; but as he was little known in arms, and had few followers, the empty title of General which he bore added little to the strength of the Confederates. Upon the whole, he reported that every chance appeared to be in favor of Charles, and Arthur, who looked upon his success as presenting the only chance in favor of his father’s enterprise, was not a little pleased to find it ensured, as far as depended on a great superiority of force. He had no leisure to make further inquiries, for the Queen at that moment entered the apartment, and the Carmelite, learning her quality, withdrew from her presence in deep reverence.

The paleness of her complexion still bespoke the fatigues of the day preceding; but as she graciously bestowed on Arthur the greetings of the morning, her voice was firm, her eye clear, and her countenance steady. “I meet you,” she said, “not as I left you, but determined in my purpose I am satisfied that if Rene does not voluntarily yield up his throne of Provence, by some step like that which we propose, he will be hurled from it by violence, in which, it may be, his life will not be spared. We will, therefore, to work with all speed — the worst is, that I cannot leave this convent till I have made the necessary penances for having visited the Garagoule, without performing which I were no Christian woman. When you return to Aix, inquire at the palace for my secretary, with whom this line will give you credence. I have, even before this door of hope opened to me, endeavored to form an estimate of King Rene’s situation, and collected the documents for that purpose. Tell him to send me, duly sealed, and under fitting charge, the small cabinet hooped with silver. Hours of penance for past errors may be employed to prevent others; and from the contents of that cabinet I shall learn whether I am, in this weighty matter, sacrificing my father’s interests to my own half-desperate hopes. But of this I have little or no doubt. I can cause the deeds of resignation and transference to be drawn up here under my own direction, and arrange the execution of them when I return to Aix, which shall be the first moment after my penance is concluded.”

And this letter, gracious madam,” said Arthur, “will inform you what events are approaching, and of what importance it may be to take time by the forelock. Place me but in possession of these momentous deeds, and I will travel night and day till I reach the Duke’s camp. I shall find him most likely in the moment of victory, and with his heart too much open to refuse a boon to the royal kinswoman who is surrendering to him all. We will — we must — in such an hour, obtain princely succors; and we shall soon see if the licentious Edward of York, the savage Richard, the treacherous and perjured Clarence, are hereafter to be lords of merry England or whether they must give place to a more rightful sovereign and better man. But oh! royal madam, all depends on haste.”

“True — yet a few days may-nay, must-cast the die between Charles and his opponents; and, ere making so great a surrender, it were as well to be assured that be whom we would propitiate is in capacity to assist us. All the events of a tragic and varied life have led me to see there is no such thing as an inconsiderable enemy. I will make haste, however, trusting ill the interim we may have good news from the banks of the lake at Neufchatel.”

“But who shall be employed to draw these most important deeds?” said the young man.

Margaret mused ere she replied — “The Father Guardian is complaisant, and I think faithful; but I would not willingly repose confidence in one of the Provencal monks. Stay, let me think — your father says the Carmelite who brought the letter may be trusted — he shall do the turn. He is a stranger, and will be silent for a piece of money. Farewell, Arthur de Vere. — You will be treated with all hospitality by my father. If thou dost receive farther tidings, thou wilt let me know them; or, should I have instructions to send, thou wilt hear from me. — So, benedicite.”

Arthur proceeded to wind down the mountain at a much quicker pace than he had ascended on the day before. The weather was now gloriously serene, and the beauties of vegetation, in a country where it never totally slumbers, were at once delicious and refreshing. His thoughts wandered from the crags of Mont Saint Victoire to the cliff of the canton of Unterwalden, and fancy recalled the moments when his walks through such scenery were not solitary, but when there was a form by his side, whose simple beauty was engraved on his memory. Such thoughts were of a pre-occupying nature; and I grieve to say that they entirely drowned the recollection of the mysterious caution given him by his father, intimating that Arthur might not be able to comprehend such letters as he should receive from him, till they were warmed before a fire. The first thing which reminded him of this singular caution was the seeing a chafing dish of charcoal in the kitchen of the hostelry at the bottom of the mountain, where he found Thiebault and his horses. This was the first fire which he had seen since receiving his father’s letter, and it reminded him not unnaturally of what the Earl had recommended. Great was his surprise to see that, after exposing the paper to the fire as if to dry it, a word emerged in an important passage of the letter, and the concluding words now read — “The bearer may not be trusted,” Well-nigh choked with shame and vexation, Arthur could think of no other remedy than instantly to return to the convent, and acquaint the Queen with this discovery, which be hoped still to convey to her in time to prevent any risk being incurred by the Carmelite’s treachery.

Incensed at himself, and eager to redeem his fault, he bent his manly breast against the steep hill, which was probably never scaled in so short a time as by the young heir of De Vere; for, within forty minutes from his commencing the ascent. he stood breathless and panting in the presence of Queen Margaret, who was alike surprised at his appearance and his exhausted condition.

“Trust not the Carmelite!” he exclaimed —” You are betrayed, noble Queen, and it is by my negligence. Here is my dagger — Bid me strike it into my heart!”

Margaret demanded and obtained a more special explanation, and when it was given, she said, “It is an unhappy chance; but your father’s instructions ought to have been more distinct. I have told yonder Carmelite the purpose of the contracts, and engaged with him to draw them. He has but now left me to serve at the choir. There is no withdrawing the confidence I have unhappily placed; but I can easily prevail with the Father Guardian to prevent the monk from leaving the convent till we are indifferent to his secrecy. It is our best chance to secure it, and we will take care that what inconvenience he sustains by his detention shall be, well recompensed. Meanwhile, rest thou, good Arthur, and undo the throat of thy mantle. Poor youth, thou art well-nigh exhausted with thy haste.”

Arthur obeyed, and sat down on a seat in the parlor; for the speed which he had exerted rendered him almost incapable of standing.

If I could but see,” he said, “the false monk, I would find a way to charm him to secrecy!”

“Better leave him to me,” said the Queen; “and, in a word, I forbid you to meddle with him. The coif can treat better with the cowl than the casque can do. Say no more of him. I joy to see you wear around your neck the holy relic 1 bestowed on you; — but what Moorish charmlet is that you wear beside it? Alas! I need not ask. Your heightened color, almost as deep as when you entered a quarter of an hour hence, confesses a true-love token. Alas I poor boy, hast thou not only such a share of thy country’s woes to bear, but also thine own load of affliction, not the less poignant now that future time will show thee how fantastic it is! Margaret of Anjon could once have aided wherever thy affections were placed; but now she can only contribute to the misery of her friends, not to their happiness. But this lady of the charm, Arthur, is she fair — is she wise and virtuous — is she of noble birth — and does she love?” — She perused his countenance with the glance of an eagle, and continued, “To all thou wouldst answer Yes, if shamefacedness permitted thee. Love her, then, in turn, my gallant boy, for love is the parent of brave actions. Go, my noble youth — high-born and loyal, valorous and virtuous, enamored and youthful, to what mayest thou not rise? The chivalry of ancient Europe only lives in a bosom like thine. Go, and let the praises of a Queen fire thy bosom with the love of honor and achievement. In three days we meet at Aix.”

Arthur, highly gratified with the Queen’s condescension, once more left her presence.

Returning down the mountain with speed very different from that which he had used in the ascent, he again found his Provencal squire, who had remained in much surprise at witnessing the confusion in which his master had left the inn, almost immediately after he had entered it without any apparent haste or agitation. Arthur explained his hasty return by alleging he had forgot his purse at the convent. “Nay, in that case,” said Thiebault, “considering what you left and where you left it, I do not wonder at your speed; though, Our Lady save me, as I never saw living creature, save a goat with a wolf at his heels, make his way over crag and briers with half such rapidity as you did.”

They reached Aix after about an hour’s riding, and Arthur lost no time in waiting upon the good King Rene, who gave him a kind reception, both in respect of the letter from the Duke of Burgundy, and in consideration of his being an Englishman, the avowed subject of the unfortunate Margaret. The placable monarch soon forgave his young guest the want of complaisance with which he had eschewed to listen to his compositions; and Arthur speedily found, that to apologize for his want of breeding in that particular, was likely to lead to a great deal more rehearsing than he could find patience to tolerate. He could only avoid the old King’s extreme desire to recite his own poems, and perform his own music, by engaging him in speaking of his daughter Margaret. Arthur had been sometimes induced to doubt the influence which the Queen boasted herself to possess over her aged father; but on being acquainted with him personally, he became convinced that her powerful understanding and violent passions inspired the feeble-minded and passive King with a mixture of pride, affection, and fear, which united to give her the most ample authority over him.

Although she had parted with him but a day or two since, and in a manner so ungracious on her side, Rene was as much overjoyed at hearing of the probability of her speedy return, as the fondest father could have been at the prospect of being reunited to the most duitiful child, whom he had not seen for years. The old King was impatient as a boy for the day of her arrival, and, still strangely unenlightened on the difference of her taste from his own, he was with difficulty induced to lay aside a project of meeting her in the character of old Palemon, —

“The prince of shepherds, and their pride,”

at the head of an Arcadian procession of nymphs and swains, to inspire whose choral dances and songs, every pipe and tambourine in the country was to be placed in requisition. Even the old seneschal, however, intimated his disapprobation of this species of joyeuse entree; so that Rene suffered himself at length to be persuaded that the Queen was too much occupied by the religious impressions to which she had been of late exposed, to receive any agreeable sensation from sights or sounds of levity. The King gave way to reasons which he could not sympathize with; and thus Margaret escaped the shock of welcome, which would perhaps have driven her in her impatience back to the mountain of Saint Victorie, and the sable cavern of Lou Garagoule.

During the time of her absence, the days of the court of Provence were employed in sports and rejoicings of every description; tilting at the barrier with blunted spears, riding at the ring, parties for hare-hunting and falconry, frequented by the youth of both sexes, in the company of whom the King delighted, while the evenings were consumed in dancing and music.

Arthur could not but be sensible, that not long since all this would have made him perfectly happy; but the last months of bis existence had developed his understanding and passions. He was now initiated in the actual business of human life, and looked on its amusements with an air of something like contempt; so that among the young and gay noblesse, who composed this merry court, he acquired the title of the youthful philosopher, which was not bestowed upon him, it may be opposed, as inferring anything of peculiar compliment.

On the fourth day news were received, by an express messenger, that Queen Margaret would enter Aix before the hour of noon, to resume her residence in her father’s palace. The good King Rene seemed, as it drew nigh, to fear the interview with his daughter as much as he had previously desired it, and contrived to make all around him partake of his fidgety anxiety. He tormented his steward and cooks to recollect what dishes they had ever observed her to taste of with approbation — he pressed the musicians to remember the tunes which she approved, and when one of them boldly replied he had never known her Majesty endure any strain with patience, the old monarch threatened to turn him out of his service for slandering the taste of his daughter. The banquet was ordered to be served at half-past eleven, as if accelerating it would have had the least effect upon hurrying the arrival of the expected guests; and the old King, with his napkin over his arm, traversed the hall from window to window, wearying everyone with questions, whether they saw anything of the Queen of England. Exactly as the bells tolled noon, the Queen, with a very small retinue, chiefly English, and in mourning habits like herself, rode into the town of Aix. King Rene, at the head of his court, failed not to descend from the front of his stately palace, and move along the street to meet his daughter. Lofty, proud, and jealous of incurring ridicule, Margaret was not pleased with this public greeting in the market-place. But she was desirous at present to make amends for her late petulance, and therefore she descended from her palfrey; and although something shocked at seeing Rene equipped with a napkin, she humbled herself to bend the knee to him, asking at once his blessing and forgiveness.

“Thou hast — thou hast my blessing, my suffering dove,” said the simple King to the proudest and most impatient princess that ever wept for a lost crown. — “And for thy pardon, how canst thou ask it, who never didst me an offence since God made me father to so gracious a child? — Rise, I say, rise nay, it is for me to ask thy pardon — True, I said in my ignorance, and thought within myself, that my heart had indicted a goody thing — but it vexed thee. It is therefore for me to crave pardon.” — And down sank King Rene upon both knees; and the people, who are usually captivated with anything resembling the trick of the scene, applauded with much noise, and some smothered laughter, a situation in which the royal daughter and her parent seemed about to rehearse the scene of the Roman Charity.

Margaret, sensitively alive to shame, and fully aware that her present position was sufficiently ludicrous in its publicity at least, signed sharply to Arthur, whom she saw in the King’s suite, to come to her; and using his arm to rise, she muttered to him aside, and in English, — “To what saint shall I vow myself, that I may preserve patience when I so much need it!”

“For pity’s sake, royal madam, recall your firmness of mind and composure,” whispered her esquire, who felt at the moment more embarrassed than honored by his distinguished office, for he could feel that the Queen actually trembled with vexation and impatience.

They at length resumed their route to the palace, the father and daughter arm in arm, a posture most agreeable to Margaret, who could bring herself to endure her father’s effusions of tenderness, and the general tone of his conversation, so that he was not overheard by others. In the same manner, she bore with laudable patience the teasing attentions which he addressed to her at table, noticed some of his particular courtiers, inquired after others, led the way to his favorite subjects of conversation on poetry, painting, and music, till the good King was as much delighted with the unwonted civilities of his daughter, as ever was lover with the favorable confessions of his mistress, when, after years of warm courtship, the ice of her bosom is at length thawed. It cost the haughty Margaret an effort to bend herself to play this part — her pride rebuked her for stooping to flatter her father’s foibles, in order to bring him over to the resignation of his dominions — yet having undertaken to do so, and so much having been already harzarded upon this sole remaining chance of success in an attack upon England, she saw, or was willing to see, no alternative.

Betwixt the banquet, and the ball by which it was to be followed, the Queen sought an opportunity of speaking to Arthur.

“Bad news, my sage counsellor,” she said. “The Carmelite never returned to the convent after the service was over. Having learned that you had come back in great haste, he had, I suppose, concluded he might stand in suspicion, so he left the convent of Mont Saint Victoire.”

“We must hasten the measures which your Majesty has resolved to adopt,” answered Arthur.

“I will speak with my father to-morrow. Meanwhile, you must enjoy the pleasures of the evening, for to you they may be pleasures. — Young Lady of Boisgelin, I give you this cavalier to be your partner for the evening.”

The black-eyed and pretty Provencale courtesied with due decorum, and glanced at the handsome young Englishman with an eye of approbation; but, whether afraid of his character as a philosopher, or his doubtful rank, added the saving clause, — “If my mother approves.”

“Your mother, damsel, will scarce, I think, disapprove of any partner whom you receive from the hands of Margaret of Anjou. Happy privilege of youth,” she added with a sigh, as the youthful couple went off to take their place in the bransle, 23 “which can snatch a flower even on the roughest road.”

Arthur acquitted himself so well during the evening, that perhaps the young Countess was only sorry that so gay and handsome a gallant limited his compliments and attentions within the cold bounds of that courtesy enjoined by the rules of ceremony.

23 Bransle, in English, brawl — a species of dance.

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