Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 11

The Hall of Roland

Painters show cupid blind — Hath Hymen eyes?

Or is his sight warp’d by those spectacles

which parents, guardians, and advisers, lent him,

That he may look through them on lands and mansions,

On jewels, gold, and all such rich dotations,

And see their value ten times magnified? —

Methinks ‘t will brook a question.

THE MISERIES OF ENFORCED MARRIAGE

Louis XI of France, though the sovereign in Europe who was fondest and most jealous of power, desired only its substantial enjoyment; and though he knew well enough, and at times exacted strictly, the observances due to his rank, he was in general singularly careless of show.

In a prince of sounder moral qualities, the familiarity with which he invited subjects to his board — nay, occasionally sat at theirs — must have been highly popular; and even such as he was, the King’s homeliness of manners atoned for many of his vices with that class of his subjects who were not particularly exposed to the consequences of his suspicion and jealousy. The tiers etat, or commons of France, who rose to more opulence and consequence under the reign of this sagacious Prince, respected his person, though they loved him not; and it was resting on their support that he was enabled to make his party good against the hatred of the nobles, who conceived that he diminished the honour of the French crown, and obscured their own splendid privileges by that very neglect of form which gratified the citizens and commons.

With patience which most other princes would have considered as degrading, and not without a sense of amusement, the Monarch of France waited till his Life Guardsman had satisfied the keenness of a youthful appetite. It may be supposed, however, that Quentin had too much sense and prudence to put the royal patience to a long or tedious proof; and indeed he was repeatedly desirous to break off his repast ere Louis would permit him.

“I see it in thine eye,” he said good naturedly, “that thy courage is not half abated. Go on — God and Saint Denis! — charge again. I tell thee that meat and mass” (crossing himself) “never hindered the work of a good Christian man. Take a cup of wine; but mind thou be cautious of the wine pot — it is the vice of thy countrymen as well as of the English, who, lacking that folly, are the choicest soldiers ever wore armour. And now wash speedily — forget not thy benedicite, and follow me.”

Quentin obeyed, and, conducted by a different but as maze-like an approach as he had formerly passed, he followed Louis into the Hall of Roland.

“Take notice,” said the King, imperatively, “thou hast never left this post — let that be thine answer to thy kinsman and comrades — and, hark thee, to bind the recollection on thy memory, I give thee this gold chain” (flinging on his arm one of considerable value). “If I go not brave myself, those whom I trust have ever the means to ruffle it with the best. But when such chains as these bind not the tongue from wagging too freely, my gossip, L’Hermite, hath an amulet for the throat, which never fails to work a certain cure. And now attend. — No man, save Oliver or I myself, enters here this evening; but ladies will come hither, perhaps from the one extremity of the hall, perhaps from the other, perhaps one from each. You may answer if they address you, but, being on duty, your answer must be brief; and you must neither address them in your turn, nor engage in any prolonged discourse. But hearken to what they say. Thine ears as well as thy hands are mine — I have bought thee, body and soul. Therefore, if thou hearest aught of their conversation, thou must retain it in memory until it is communicated to me, and then forget it. And, now I think better on it, it will be best that thou pass for a Scottish recruit, who hath come straight down from his mountains, and hath not yet acquired our most Christian language. — Right. — So, if they speak to thee, thou wilt not answer — this will free you from embarrassment, and lead them to converse without regard to your presence. You understand me. — Farewell. Be wary, and thou hast a friend.”

The King had scarce spoken these words ere he disappeared behind the arras, leaving Quentin to meditate on what he had seen and heard. The youth was in one of those situations from which it is pleasanter to look forward than to look back; for the reflection that he had been planted like a marksman in a thicket who watches for a stag, to take the life of the noble Count of Crevecoeur, had in it nothing ennobling. It was very true that the King’s measures seemed on this occasion merely cautionary and defensive; but how did the youth know but he might be soon commanded on some offensive operation of the same kind? This would be an unpleasant crisis, since it was plain, from the character of his master, that there would be destruction in refusing, while his honour told him that there would be disgrace in complying. He turned his thoughts from this subject of reflection with the sage consolation so often adopted by youth when prospective dangers intrude themselves on their mind, that it was time enough to think what was to be done when the emergence actually arrived, and that sufficient for the day was the evil thereof.

Quentin made use of this sedative reflection the more easily that the last commands of the King had given him something more agreeable to think of than his own condition. The Lady of the Lute was certainly one of those to whom his attention was to be dedicated; and well in his mind did he promise to obey one part of the King’s mandate, and listen with diligence to every word that might drop from her lips that he might know if the magic of her conversation equalled that of her music. But with as much sincerity did he swear to himself, that no part of her discourse should be reported by him to the King which might affect the fair speaker otherwise than favourably.

Meantime, there was no fear of his again slumbering on his post. Each passing breath of wind, which, finding its way through the open lattice, waved the old arras, sounded like the approach of the fair object of his expectation. He felt, in short, all that mysterious anxiety and eagerness of expectation which is always the companion of love, and sometimes hath a considerable share in creating it.

At length, a door actually creaked and jingled (for the doors even of palaces did not in the fifteenth century turn on their hinges so noiseless as ours); but, alas! it was not at that end of the hall from which the lute had been heard. It opened, however, and a female figure entered, followed by two others, whom she directed by a sign to remain without, while she herself came forward into the hall. By her imperfect and unequal gait, which showed to peculiar disadvantage as she traversed this long gallery, Quentin at once recognised the Princess Joan, and with the respect which became his situation, drew himself up in an attitude of silent vigilance, and lowered his weapon to her as she passed. She acknowledged the courtesy by a gracious inclination of her head, and he had an opportunity of seeing her countenance more distinctly than he had in the morning.

There was little in the features of this ill fated Princess to atone for the misfortune of her shape and gait. Her face was, indeed, by no means disagreeable in itself, though destitute of beauty; and there was a meek impression of suffering patience in her large blue eyes, which were commonly fixed upon the ground. But besides that she was extremely pallid in complexion, her skin had the yellowish discoloured tinge which accompanies habitual bad health; and though her teeth were white and regular, her lips were thin and pale. The Princess had a profusion of flaxen hair, but it was so light coloured as to be almost of a bluish tinge; and her tire woman, who doubtless considered the luxuriance of her mistress’s tresses as a beauty, had not greatly improved matters by arranging them in curls around her pale countenance, to which they added an expression almost corpse-like and unearthly. To make matters still worse, she had chosen a vest or cymar of a pale green silk, which gave her, on the whole, a ghastly and even spectral appearance.

While Quentin followed this singular apparition with eyes in which curiosity was blended with compassion, for every look and motion of the Princess seemed to call for the latter feeling, two ladies entered from the upper end of the apartment.

One of these was the young person who upon Louis’s summons had served him with fruit, while Quentin made his memorable breakfast at the Fleur de Lys. Invested now with all the mysterious dignity belonging to the nymph of the veil and lute, and proved, besides (at least in Quentin’s estimation), to be the high born heiress of a rich earldom, her beauty made ten times the impression upon him which it had done when he beheld in her one whom he deemed the daughter of a paltry innkeeper, in attendance upon a rich and humorous old burgher. He now wondered what fascination could ever have concealed from him her real character. Yet her dress was nearly as simple as before, being a suit of deep mourning, without any ornaments. Her headdress was but a veil of crape, which was entirely thrown back, so as to leave her face uncovered; and it was only Quentin’s knowledge of her actual rank, which gave in his estimation new elegance to her beautiful shape, a dignity to her step which had before remained unnoticed, and to her regular features, brilliant complexion, and dazzling eyes, an air of conscious nobleness that enhanced their beauty.

Had death been the penalty, Durward must needs have rendered to this beauty and her companion the same homage which he had just paid to the royalty of the Princess. They received it as those who were accustomed to the deference of inferiors, and returned it with courtesy; but he thought — perhaps it was but a youthful vision — that the young lady coloured slightly, kept her eyes on the ground, and seemed embarrassed though in a trifling degree, as she returned his military salutation. This must have been owing to her recollection of the audacious stranger in the neighbouring turret at the Fleur de Lys; but did that discomposure express displeasure? This question he had no means to determine.

The companion of the youthful Countess, dressed like herself simply and in deep mourning, was at the age when women are apt to cling most closely to that reputation for beauty which has for years been diminishing. She had still remains enough to show what the power of her charms must once have been, and, remembering past triumphs, it was evident from her manner that she had not relinquished the pretensions to future conquests. She was tall and graceful, though somewhat haughty in her deportment, and returned the salute of Quentin with a smile of gracious condescension, whispering the next instant something into her companion’s ear, who turned towards the soldier as if to comply with some hint from the elder lady, but answered, nevertheless, without raising her eyes. Quentin could not help suspecting that the observation called on the young lady to notice his own good mien; and he was (I do not know why) pleased with the idea that the party referred to did not choose to look at him, in order to verify with her own eyes the truth of the observation. Probably he thought there was already a sort of mysterious connexion beginning to exist between them, which gave importance to the slightest trifle.

This reflection was momentary, for he was instantly wrapped up in attention to the meeting of the Princess Joan with these stranger ladies. She had stood still upon their entrance, in order to receive them, conscious, perhaps, that motion did not become her well; and as she was somewhat embarrassed in receiving and repaying their compliments, the elder stranger, ignorant of the rank of the party whom she addressed, was led to pay her salutation in a manner rather as if she conferred than received an honour through the interview.

“I rejoice,” she said, with a smile which was meant to express condescension at once and encouragement, “that we are at length permitted the society of such a respectable person of our own sex as you appear to be. I must say that my niece and I have had but little for which to thank the hospitality of King Louis. — Nay, niece, never pluck my sleeve — I am sure I read in the looks of this young lady sympathy for out situation. — Since we came hither, fair madam, we have been used little better than mere prisoners; and after a thousand invitations to throw our cause and our persons under the protection of France, the Most Christian King has afforded us at first but a base inn for our residence, and now a corner of this moth eaten palace, out of which we are only permitted to creep towards sunset, as if we were bats or owls, whose appearance in the sunshine is to be held matter of ill omen.”

“I am sorry,” said the Princess, faltering with the awkward embarrassment of the interview, “that we have been unable, hitherto, to receive you according to your deserts. — Your niece, I trust, is better satisfied?”

“Much — much better than I can express,” answered the youthful Countess. “I sought but safety and I have found solitude and secrecy besides. The seclusion of our former residence, and the still greater solitude of that now assigned to us, augment, in my eye, the favour which the King vouchsafed to us unfortunate fugitives.”

“Silence, my silly cousin,” said the elder lady, “and let us speak according to our conscience, since at last we are alone with one of our own sex — I say alone, for that handsome young soldier is a mere statue, since he seems not to have the use of his limbs, and I am given to understand he wants that of his tongue, at least in civilized language — I say, since no one but this lady can understand us, I must own there is nothing I have regretted equal to taking this French journey. I looked for a splendid reception, tournaments, carousals, pageants, and festivals; instead of which, all has been seclusion and obscurity! and the best society whom the King introduced to us, was a Bohemian vagabond, by whose agency he directed us to correspond with our friends in Flanders. — Perhaps,” said the lady, “it is his politic intention to mew us up here until our lives’ end, that he may seize on our estates, after the extinction of the ancient house of Croye. The Duke of Burgundy was not so cruel; he offered my niece a husband, though he was a bad one.”

“I should have thought the veil preferable to an evil husband,” said the Princess, with difficulty finding opportunity to interpose a word.

“One would at least wish to have the choice, madam,” replied the voluble dame. “It is, Heaven knows, on account of my niece that I speak; for myself, I have long laid aside thoughts of changing my condition. I see you smile, but by my halidome, it is true — yet that is no excuse for the King, whose conduct, like his person, hath more resemblance to that of old Michaud, the moneychanger of Ghent, than to the successor of Charlemagne.”

“Hold!” said the Princess, with some asperity in her tone; “remember you speak of my father.”

“Of your father!” replied the Burgundian lady, in surprise.

“Of my father,” repeated the Princess, with dignity, “I am Joan of France. — But fear not, madam,” she continued, in the gentle accent which was natural to her, “you designed no offence, and I have taken none. Command my influence to render your exile and that of this interesting young person more supportable. Alas! it is but little I have in my power, but it is willingly offered.”

Deep and submissive was the reverence with which the Countess Hameline de Croye, so was the elder lady called, received the obliging offer of the Princess’s protection. She had been long the inhabitant of courts, was mistress of the manners which are there acquired, and held firmly the established rule of courtiers of all ages, who, although their usual private conversation turns upon the vices and follies of their patrons, and on the injuries and neglect which they themselves have sustained, never suffer such hints to drop from them in the presence of the Sovereign or those of his family. The lady was, therefore, scandalised to the last degree at the mistake which had induced her to speak so indecorously in presence of the daughter of Louis. She would have exhausted herself in expressing regret and making apologies, had she not been put to silence and restored to equanimity by the Princess, who requested, in the most gentle manner, yet which, from a Daughter of France, had the weight of a command, that no more might be said in the way either of excuse or of explanation.

The Princess Joan then took her own chair with a dignity which became her, and compelled the two strangers to sit, one on either hand, to which the younger consented with unfeigned and respectful diffidence, and the elder with an affectation of deep humility and deference which was intended for such.

They spoke together, but in such a low tone that the sentinel could not overhear their discourse, and only remarked that the Princess seemed to bestow much of her regard on the younger and more interesting lady; and that the Countess Hameline, though speaking a great deal more, attracted less of the Princess’s attention by her full flow of conversation and compliment, than did her kinswoman by her brief and modest replies to what was addressed to her.

The conversation of the ladies had not lasted a quarter of an hour, when the door at the lower end of the hall opened, and a man entered shrouded in a riding cloak. Mindful of the King’s injunction, and determined not to be a second time caught slumbering, Quentin instantly moved towards the intruder, and, interposing between him and the ladies, requested him to retire instantly.

“By whose command?” said the stranger, in a tone of contemptuous surprise.

“By that of the King,” said Quentin, firmly, “which I am placed here to enforce.”

“Not against Louis of Orleans,” said the Duke, dropping his cloak.

The young man hesitated a moment; but how enforce his orders against the first Prince of the Blood, about to be allied, as the report now generally went, with the King’s own family?

“Your Highness,” he said, “is too great that your pleasure should be withstood by me. I trust your Highness will bear me witness that I have done the duty of my post so far as your will permitted.”

“Go to — you shall have no blame, young soldier,” said Orleans; and passing forward, paid his compliments to the Princess, with that air of constraint which always marked his courtesy when addressing her.

He had been dining, he said, with Dunois, and understanding there was society in Roland’s Gallery, he had ventured on the freedom of adding one to the number.

The colour which mounted into the pale cheek of the unfortunate Joan, and which for the moment spread something of beauty over her features, evinced that this addition to the company was anything but indifferent to her. She hastened to present the Prince to the two Ladies of Croye, who received him with the respect due to his eminent rank; and the Princess, pointing to a chair, requested him to join their conversation party.

The Duke declined the freedom of assuming a seat in such society; but taking a cushion from one of the settles, he laid it at the feet of the beautiful young Countess of Croye, and so seated himself, that, without appearing to neglect the Princess, he was enabled to bestow the greater share of his attention on her lovely neighbour.

At first, it seemed as if this arrangement rather pleased than offended his destined bride. She encouraged the Duke in his gallantries towards the fair stranger, and seemed to regard them as complimentary to herself. But the Duke of Orleans, though accustomed to subject his mind to the stern yoke of his uncle when in the King’s presence, had enough of princely nature to induce him to follow his own inclinations whenever that restraint was withdrawn; and his high rank giving him a right to overstep the ordinary ceremonies, and advance at once to familiarity, his praises of the Countess Isabelle’s beauty became so energetic, and flowed with such unrestrained freedom, owing perhaps to his having drunk a little more wine than usual — for Dunois was no enemy to the worship of Bacchus — that at length he seemed almost impassioned, and the presence of the Princess appeared well nigh forgotten.

The tone of compliment which he indulged was grateful only to one individual in the circle; for the Countess Hameline already anticipated the dignity of an alliance with the first Prince of the Blood, by means of her whose birth, beauty, and large possessions rendered such an ambitious consummation by no means impossible, even in the eyes of a less sanguine projector, could the views of Louis XI have been left out of the calculation of chances. The younger Countess listened to the Duke’s gallantries with anxiety and embarrassment, and ever and anon turned an entreating look towards the Princess, as if requesting her to come to her relief. But the wounded feelings and the timidity of Joan of France rendered her incapable of an effort to make the conversation more general; and at length, excepting a few interjectional civilities of the Lady Hameline, it was maintained almost exclusively by the Duke himself, though at the expense of the younger Countess of Croye, whose beauty formed the theme of his high flown eloquence.

Nor must I forget that there was a third person, the unregarded sentinel, who saw his fair visions melt away like wax before the sun, as the Duke persevered in the warm tenor of his passionate discourse. At length the Countess Isabelle de Croye made a determined effort to cut short what was becoming intolerably disagreeable to her, especially from the pain to which the conduct of the Duke was apparently subjecting the Princess.

Addressing the latter, she said, modestly, but with some firmness, that the first boon she had to claim from her promised protection was, “that her Highness would undertake to convince the Duke of Orleans that the ladies of Burgundy, though inferior in wit and manners to those of France, were not such absolute fools as to be pleased with no other conversation than that of extravagant compliment.”

“I grieve, lady,” said the Duke, preventing the Princess’s answer, “that you will satirize, in the same sentence, the beauty of the dames of Burgundy and the sincerity of the Knights of France. If we are hasty and extravagant in the expression of our admiration, it is because we love as we fight, Without letting cold deliberation come into our bosoms, and surrender to the fair with the same rapidity with which we defeat the valiant.”

“The beauty of our countrywomen,” said the young Countess, with more of reproof than she had yet ventured to use towards the high born suitor, “is as unfit to claim such triumphs, as the valour of the men of Burgundy is incapable of yielding them.”

“I respect your patriotism, Countess,” said the Duke; “and the last branch of your theme shall not be impugned by me, till a Burgundian knight shall offer to sustain it with lance in rest. But for the injustice which you have done to the charms which your land produces, I appeal from yourself to yourself. — Look there,” he said, pointing to a large mirror, the gift of the Venetian republic, and then of the highest rarity and value, “and tell me, as you look, what is the heart that can resist the charms there represented?”

The Princess, unable to sustain any longer the neglect of her lover, here sunk backwards on her chair with a sigh, which at once recalled the Duke from the land of romance, and induced the Lady Hameline to ask whether her Highness found herself ill.

“A sudden pain shot through my forehead,” said the Princess, attempting to smile; “but I shall be presently better.”

Her increasing paleness contradicted her words, and induced the Lady Hameline to call for assistance, as the Princess was about to faint.

The Duke, biting his lip, and cursing the folly which could not keep guard over his tongue, ran to summon the Princess’s attendants, who were in the next chamber, and when they came hastily, with the usual remedies, he could not but, as a cavalier and gentleman, give his assistance to support and to recover her. His voice, rendered almost tender by pity and self reproach, was the most powerful means of recalling her to herself, and just as the swoon was passing away, the King himself entered the apartment.

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