Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 17

The Espied Spy

What, the rude ranger? and spied spy? — hands off —

You are for no such rustics.

BEN JONSON’S TALE OF ROBIN HOOD

When Quentin sallied from the convent, he could mark the precipitate retreat of the Bohemian, whose dark figure was seen in the far moonlight flying with the speed of a flogged hound quite through the street of the little village, and across the level meadow that lay beyond.

“My friend runs fast,” said Quentin to himself, “but he must run faster yet, to escape the fleetest foot that ever pressed the heather of Glen Houlakin!”

Being fortunately without his cloak and armour, the Scottish mountaineer was at liberty to put forth a speed which was unrivalled in his own glens, and which, notwithstanding the rate at which the Bohemian ran, was likely soon to bring his pursuer up with him. This was not, however, Quentin’s object, for he considered it more essential to watch Hayraddin’s motions, than to interrupt them. He was the rather led to this by the steadiness with which the Bohemian directed his course, and which, continuing even after the impulse of the violent expulsion had subsided, seemed to indicate that his career had some more certain goal for its object than could have suggested itself to a person unexpectedly turned out of good quarters when midnight was approaching, to seek a new place of repose. He never even looked behind him, and consequently Durward was enabled to follow him unobserved. At length, the Bohemian having traversed the meadow and attained the side of a little stream, the banks of which were clothed with alders and willows, Quentin observed that he stood still, and blew a low note on his horn, which was answered by a whistle at some little distance.

“This is a rendezvous,” thought Quentin, “but how shall I come near enough to overhear the import of what passes? The sound of my steps, and the rustling of the boughs through which I must force my passage, will betray me, unless I am cautious — I will stalk them, by Saint Andrew, as if they were Glen Isla deer — they shall learn that I have not conned woodcraft for naught. Yonder they meet, the two shadows — and two of them there are — odds against me if I am discovered, and if their purpose be unfriendly, as is much to be doubted. And then the Countess Isabelle loses her poor friend — Well, and he were not worthy to be called such, if he were not ready to meet a dozen in her behalf. Have I not crossed swords with Dunois, the best knight in France, and shall I fear a tribe of yonder vagabonds? Pshaw! — God and Saint Andrew to friend, they will find me both stout and wary.”

Thus resolving, and with a degree of caution taught him by his silvan habits, our friend descended into the channel of the little stream, which varied in depth, sometimes scarce covering his shoes, sometimes coming up to his knees, and so crept along, his form concealed by the boughs overhanging the bank, and his steps unheard amid the ripple of the water. (We have ourselves, in the days of yore, thus approached the nest of the wakeful raven.) In this manner the Scot drew near unperceived, until he distinctly heard the voices of those who were the subject of his observation, though he could not distinguish the words. Being at this time under the drooping branches of a magnificent weeping willow, which almost swept the surface of the water, he caught hold of one of its boughs, by the assistance of which, exerting at once much agility, dexterity, and strength, he raised himself up into the body of the tree, and sat, secure from discovery, among the central branches.

From this situation he could discover that the person with whom Hayraddin was now conversing was one of his own tribe, and at the same time he perceived, to his great disappointment, that no approximation could enable him to comprehend their language, which was totally unknown to him. They laughed much, and as Hayraddin made a sign of skipping about, and ended by rubbing his shoulder with his hand, Durward had no doubt that he was relating the story of the bastinading which he had sustained previous to his escape from the convent.

On a sudden, a whistle was again heard in the distance, which was once more answered by a low tone or two of Hayraddin’s horn. Presently afterwards, a tall, stout, soldierly looking man, a strong contrast in point of thews and sinews to the small and slender limbed Bohemians, made his appearance. He had a broad baldric over his shoulder, which sustained a sword that hung almost across his person, his hose were much slashed, through which slashes was drawn silk, or tiffany, of various colours, they were tied by at least five hundred points or strings, made of ribbon, to the tight buff jacket which he wore, the right sleeve of which displayed a silver boar’s head, the crest of his Captain. A very small hat sat jauntily on one side of his head, from which descended a quantity of curled hair, which fell on each side of a broad face, and mingled with as broad a beard, about four inches long. He held a long lance in his hand, and his whole equipment was that of one of the German adventurers, who were known by the name of lanzknechts, in English, spearmen, who constituted a formidable part of the infantry of the period. These mercenaries were, of course, a fierce and rapacious soldiery, and having an idle tale current among themselves, that a lanzknecht was refused admittance into heaven on account of his vices, and into hell on the score of his tumultuous, mutinous, and insubordinate disposition, they manfully acted as if they neither sought the one nor eschewed the other.

“Donner and blitz! 132” was his first salutation, in a sort of German French, which we can only imperfectly imitate, “Why have you kept me dancing in attendance dis dree nights?”

“I could not see you sooner, Meinherr,” said Hayraddin, very submissively, “there is a young Scot, with as quick an eye as the wildcat, who watches my least motions. He suspects me already, and, should he find his suspicion confirmed, I were a dead man on the spot, and he would carry back the women into France again.”

“Was henker! 133” said the lanzknecht, “we are three — we will attack them tomorrow, and carry the women off without going farther. You said the two valets were cowards — you and your comrade may manage them, and the Teufel 134 shall hold me, but I match your Scots wildcat.”

“You will find that foolhardy,” said Hayraddin, “for besides that we ourselves count not much in fighting, this spark hath matched himself with the best knight in France, and come off with honour — I have seen those who saw him press Dunois hard enough.”

“Hagel and sturmwetter! 135 It is but your cowardice that speaks,” said the German soldier.

“I am no more a coward than yourself,” said Hayraddin “but my trade is not fighting. — If you keep the appointment where it was laid, it is well — if not, I guide them safely to the Bishop’s Palace, and William de la Marck may easily possess himself of them there, provided he is half as strong as he pretended a week since.”

“Poz tausend! 136” said the soldier, “we are as strong and stronger, but we hear of a hundreds of the lances of Burgund, — das ist, see you, — five men to a lance do make five hundreds, and then hold me the devil, they will be fainer to seek for us, than we to seek for them, for der Bischoff hath a goot force on footing — ay, indeed!”

“You must then hold to the ambuscade at the Cross of the Three Kings, or give up the adventure,” said the Bohemian.

“Geb up — geb up the adventure of the rich bride for our noble hauptman 137 — Teufel! I will charge through hell first. — Mein soul, we will be all princes and hertzogs, whom they call dukes, and we will hab a snab at the wein kellar 138, and at the mouldy French crowns, and it may be at the pretty garces too [meaning the countesses], when He with de beard is weary on them.”

“The ambuscade at the Cross of the Three Kings then still holds? “ said the Bohemian.

“Mein Gob ay, — you will swear to bring them there, and when they are on their knees before the cross, and down from off their horses, which all men do, except such black heathens as thou, we will make in on them and they are ours.”

“Ay, but I promised this piece of necessary villainy only on one condition,” said Hayraddin. — “I will not have a hair of the young man’s head touched. If you swear this to me, by your Three Dead Men of Cologne, I will swear to you, by the Seven Night Walkers, that I will serve you truly as to the rest. And if you break your oath, the Night Walkers shall wake you seven nights from your sleep, between night and morning, and, on the eighth, they shall strangle and devour you.”

“But donner and bagel, what need you be so curious about the life of this boy, who is neither your bloot nor kin?” said the German.

“No matter for that, honest Heinrick, some men have pleasure in cutting throats, some in keeping them whole. — So swear to me, that you will spare him life and limb, or by the bright star Aldebaran, this matter shall go no farther. — Swear, and by the Three Kings, as you call them, of Cologne — I know you care for no other oath.”

“Du bist ein comische man 139,” said the lanzknecht, “I swear.”

“Not yet,” said the Bohemian. “Face about, brave lanzknecht, and look to the east, else the Kings may not hear you.”

The soldier took the oath in the manner prescribed, and then declared that he would be in readiness, observing the place was quite convenient, being scarce five miles from their present leaguer.

“But were it not making sure work to have a fahnlein 140 of riders on the other road, by the left side of the inn, which might trap them if they go that way?”

The Bohemian considered a moment, and then answered. “No — the appearance of their troops in that direction might alarm the garrison of Namur, and then they would have a doubtful fight, instead of assured success. Besides, they shall travel on the right bank of the Maes, for I can guide them which way I will, for sharp as this same Scottish mountaineer is, he hath never asked any one’s advice, save mine, upon the direction of their route. Undoubtedly, I was assigned to him by an assured friend, whose word no man mistrusts till they come to know him a little.”

“Hark ye, friend Hayraddin,” said the soldier, “I would ask you somewhat. You and your bruder were, as you say yourself, gross sternen deuter, that is, star lookers and geister seers 141. Now, what henker was it made you not foresee him, your bruder Zamet, to be hanged?”

“I will tell you, Heinrick,” said Hayraddin, “if I could have known my brother was such a fool as to tell the counsel of King Louis to Duke Charles of Burgundy, I could have foretold his death as sure as I can foretell fair weather in July. Louis hath both ears and hands at the Court of Burgundy, and Charles’s counsellors love the chink of French gold as well as thou dost the clatter of a wine pot. — But fare thee well, and keep appointment — I must await my early Scot a bow shot without the gate of the den of the lazy swine yonder, else will he think me about some excursion which bodes no good to the success of his journey.”

“Take a draught of comfort first,” said the lanzknecht, tendering him a flask — “but I forget, thou art beast enough to drink nothing but water, like a vile vassal of Mahound and Termagund 142.”

“Thou art thyself a vassal of the wine measure and the flagon,” said the Bohemian. “I marvel not that thou art only trusted with the bloodthirsty and violent part of executing what better heads have devised. — He must drink no wine who would know the thoughts of others, or hide his own. But why preach to thee, who hast a thirst as eternal as a sand bank in Arabia?

“Fare thee well. Take my comrade Tuisco with thee — his appearance about the monastery may breed suspicion.”

The two worthies parted, after each had again pledged himself to keep the rendezvous at the Cross of the Three Kings. Quentin Durward watched until they were out of sight, and then descended from his place of concealment, his heart throbbing at the narrow escape which he and his fair charge had made — if, indeed, it could yet be achieved — from a deep laid plan of villainy. Afraid, on his return to the monastery, of stumbling upon Hayraddin, he made a long detour, at the expense of traversing some very rough ground, and was thus enabled to return to his asylum on a different point from that by which he left it.

On the route, he communed earnestly with himself concerning the safest plan to be pursued. He had formed the resolution, when he first heard Hayraddin avow his treachery, to put him to death so soon as the conference broke up, and his companions were at a sufficient distance, but when he heard the Bohemian express so much interest in saving his own life, he felt it would be ungrateful to execute upon him, in its rigour, the punishment his treachery had deserved. He therefore resolved to spare his life, and even, if possible, still to use his services as a guide, under such precautions as should ensure the security of the precious charge, to the preservation of which his own life was internally devoted.

But whither were they to turn? — The Countesses of Croye could neither obtain shelter in Burgundy, from which they had fled, nor in France, from which they had been in a manner expelled. The violence of Duke Charles, in the one country, was scarcely more to be feared than the cold and tyrannical policy of King Louis in the other. After deep thought, Durward could form no better or safer plan for their security, than that, evading the ambuscade, they should take the road to Liege by the left hand of the Maes, and throw themselves, as the ladies originally designed, upon the protection of the excellent Bishop. That Prelate’s will to protect them could not be doubted, and, if reinforced by this Burgundian party of men at arms, he might be considered as having the power. At any rate, if the dangers to which he was exposed from the hostility of William de la Marck, and from the troubles in the city of Liege, appeared imminent, he would still be able to protect the unfortunate ladies until they could be dispatched to Germany with a suitable escort.

To sum up this reasoning — for when is a mental argument conducted without some reference to selfish consideration? — Quentin imagined that the death or captivity to which King Louis had, in cold blood, consigned him, set him at liberty from his engagements to the crown of France: which, therefore, it was his determined purpose to renounce, The Bishop of Liege was likely, he concluded, to need soldiers, and he thought that, by the interposition of his fair friends, who now, especially the elder Countess, treated him with much familiarity, he might get some command, and perhaps might have the charge of conducting the Ladies of Croye to some place more safe than the neighbourhood of Liege. And, to conclude, the ladies had talked, although almost in a sort of jest, of raising the Countess’s own vassals, and, as others did in those stormy times, fortifying her strong castle against all assailants whatever, they had jestingly asked Quentin whether he would accept the perilous office of their Seneschal, and, on his embracing the office with ready glee and devotion, they had, in the same spirit, permitted him to kiss both their hands on that confidential and honourable appointment. Nay, he thought that the hand of the Countess Isabelle, one of the best formed and most beautiful to which true vassal ever did such homage, trembled when his lips rested on it a moment longer than ceremony required, and that some confusion appeared on her cheek and in her eye as she withdrew it. Something might come of all this, and what brave man, at Quentin Durward’s age, but would gladly have taken the thoughts which it awakened, into the considerations which were to determine his conduct?

This point settled, he had next to consider in what degree he was to use the farther guidance of the faithless Bohemian. He had renounced his first thought of killing him in the wood, and, if he took another guide, and dismissed him alive, it would be sending the traitor to the camp of William de la Marck, with intelligence of their motions. He thought of taking the Prior into his counsels, and requesting him to detain the Bohemian by force, until they should have time to reach the Bishop’s castle, but, on reflection, he dared not hazard such a proposition to one who was timid both as an old man and a friar, who held the safety of his convent the most important object of his duty, and who trembled at the mention of the Wild Boar of Ardennes.

At length Durward settled a plan of operation on which he could the better reckon, as the execution rested entirely upon himself, and, in the cause in which he was engaged, he felt himself capable of everything. With a firm and bold heart, though conscious of the dangers of his situation, Quentin might be compared to one walking under a load, of the weight of which he is conscious, but which yet is not beyond his strength and power of endurance. Just as his plan was determined, he reached the convent.

Upon knocking gently at the gate, a brother, considerately stationed for that purpose by the Prior, opened it, and acquainted him that the brethren were to be engaged in the choir till daybreak, praying Heaven to forgive to the community the various scandals which had that evening taken place among them.

The worthy friar offered Quentin permission to attend their devotions, but his clothes were in such a wet condition that the young Scot was obliged to decline the opportunity, and request permission, instead, to sit by the kitchen fire, in order to his attire being dried before morning, as he was particularly desirous that the Bohemian, when they should next meet, should observe no traces of his having been abroad during the night. The friar not only granted his request, but afforded him his own company, which fell in very happily with the desire which Durward had to obtain information concerning the two routes which he had heard mentioned by the Bohemian in his conversation with the lanzknecht. The friar, entrusted upon many occasions with the business of the convent abroad, was the person in the fraternity best qualified to afford him the information he requested, but observed that, as true pilgrims, it became the duty of the ladies whom Quentin escorted, to take the road on the right side of the Maes, by the Cross of the Kings, where the blessed relics of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (as the Catholic Church has named the eastern Magi who came to Bethlehem with their offerings) had rested as they were transported to Cologne, and on which spot they had wrought many miracles.

Quentin replied that the ladies were determined to observe all the holy stations with the utmost punctuality, and would certainly visit that of the Cross, either in going to or from Cologne, but they had heard reports that the road by the right side of the river was at present rendered unsafe by the soldiers of the ferocious William de la Marck.

“Now may Heaven forbid,” said Father Francis, “that the Wild Boar of Ardennes should again make his lair so near us! — Nevertheless, the broad Maes will be a good barrier betwixt us, even should it so chance.”

“But it will be no barrier between my ladies and the marauder, should we cross the river, and travel on the right,” answered the Scot.

“Heaven will protect its own, young man,” said the friar, “for it were hard to think that the Kings of yonder blessed city of Cologne, who will not endure that a Jew or infidel should even enter within the walls of their town, could be oblivious enough to permit their worshippers, coming to their shrine as true pilgrims, to be plundered and misused by such a miscreant dog as this Boar of Ardennes, who is worse than a whole desert of Saracen heathens, and all the ten tribes of Israel to boot.”

Whatever reliance Quentin, as a sincere Catholic, was bound to rest upon the special protection of Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, he could not but recollect that the pilgrim habits of the ladies being assumed out of mere earthly policy, he and his charge could scarcely expect their countenance on the present occasion, and therefore resolved, as far as possible, to avoid placing the ladies in any predicament where miraculous interposition might be necessary, whilst, in the simplicity of his good faith, he himself vowed a pilgrimage to the Three Kings of Cologne in his own proper person, provided the simulate design of those over whose safety he was now watching, should be permitted by those reasonable and royal, as well as sainted personages, to attain the desired effect.

That he might enter into this obligation with all solemnity, he requested the friar to show him into one of the various chapels which opened from the main body of the church of the convent, where, upon his knees, and with sincere devotion, he ratified the vow which he had made internally. The distant sound of the choir, the solemnity of the deep and dead hour which he had chosen for this act of devotion, the effect of the glimmering lamp with which the little Gothic building was illuminated — all contributed to throw Quentin’s mind into the state when it most readily acknowledges its human frailty, and seeks that supernatural aid and protection which, in every worship, must be connected with repentance for past sins and resolutions of future amendment. That the object of his devotion was misplaced, was not the fault of Quentin, and, its purpose being sincere, we can scarce suppose it unacceptable to the only true Deity, who regards the motives, and not the forms of prayer, and in whose eyes the sincere devotion of a heathen is more estimable than the specious hypocrisy of a Pharisee.

Having commended himself and his helpless companions to the Saints, and to the keeping of Providence, Quentin at length retired to rest, leaving the friar much edified by the depth and sincerity of his devotion.

132 thunder and lightning!

133 what the deuce!

134 the devil

135 hail and stormy weather!

136 Zounds!

137 leader or captain

138 wine cellar

139 thou art a droll fellow

140 a regiment or company

141 seers of ghosts

142 the name of the god of the Saracens in medieaval romances where he is linked with Mahound

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