Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 20

The Billet

Go to — thou art made, if thou desirest to be so. —

If not, let me see thee still the fellow of servants,

and not fit to touch Fortune’s fingers. —

TWELFTH NIGHT

When the tables were drawn, the Chaplain, who seemed to have taken a sort of attachment to Quentin Durward’s society, or who perhaps desired to extract from him farther information concerning the meeting of the morning, led him into a withdrawing apartment, the windows of which, on one side, projected into the garden, and as he saw his companion’s eye gaze rather eagerly upon the spot, he proposed to Quentin to go down and take a view of the curious foreign shrubs with which the Bishop had enriched its parterres.

Quentin excused himself as unwilling to intrude, and therewithal communicated the check which he had received in the morning. The Chaplain smiled, and said that there was indeed some ancient prohibition respecting the Bishop’s private garden.

“But this,” he added, with a smile, “was when our reverend father was a princely young prelate of not more than thirty years of age, and when many fair ladies frequented the Castle for ghostly consolation. Need there was,” he said with a downcast look, and a smile, half simple and half intelligent, “that these ladies, pained in conscience, who were ever lodged in the apartments now occupied by the noble Canoness, should have some space for taking the air, secure from the intrusion of the profane. But of late years,” he added, “this prohibition, although not formally removed, has fallen entirely out of observance, and remains but as the superstition which lingers in the brain of a superannuated gentleman usher. If you please,” he added, “we will presently descend, and try whether the place be haunted or no.”

Nothing could have been more agreeable to Quentin than the prospect of a free entrance into the garden, through means of which, according to a chance which had hitherto attended his passion, he hoped to communicate with, or at least obtain sight of, the object of his affections, from some such turret or balcony window, or similar “coign of vantage,” as at the hostelry of the Fleur de Lys, near Plessis, or the Dauphin’s Tower, within that Castle itself. Isabelle seemed still destined, wherever she made her abode, to be the Lady of the Turret. 155

When Durward descended with his new friend into the garden, the latter seemed a terrestrial philosopher, entirely busied with the things of the earth, while the eyes of Quentin, if they did not seek the heavens, like those of an astrologer, ranged, at least, all around the windows, balconies, and especially the turrets, which projected on every part from the inner front of the old building, in order to discover that which was to be his cynosure.

While thus employed, the young lover heard with total neglect, if indeed he heard at all, the enumeration of plants, herbs, and shrubs which his reverend conductor pointed out to him, of which this was choice, because of prime use in medicine, and that more choice for yielding a rare flavour to pottage, and a third, choicest of all, because possessed of no merit but its extreme scarcity. Still it was necessary to preserve some semblance at least of attention, which the youth found so difficult, that he fairly wished at the devil the officious naturalist and the whole vegetable kingdom. He was relieved at length by the striking of a clock, which summoned the Chaplain to some official duty.

The reverend man made many unnecessary apologies for leaving his new friend, and concluded by giving him the agreeable assurance that he might walk in the garden till supper, without much risk of being disturbed.

“It is,” said he, “the place where I always study my own homilies, as being most sequestered from the resort of strangers. I am now about to deliver one of them in the chapel, if you please to favour me with your audience. I have been thought to have some gift. — But the glory be where it is due!”

Quentin excused himself for this evening, under pretence of a severe headache, which the open air was likely to prove the best cure for, and at length the well meaning, priest left him to himself.

It may be well imagined, that in the curious inspection which he now made, at more leisure, of every window or aperture which looked into the garden, those did not escape which were in the immediate neighbourhood of the small door by which he had seen Marthon admit Hayraddin, as he pretended, to the apartment of the Countesses. But nothing stirred or showed itself, which could either confute or confirm the tale which the Bohemian had told, until it was becoming dusky, and Quentin began to be sensible, he scarce knew why, that his sauntering so long in the garden might be subject of displeasure or suspicion. Just as he had resolved to depart, and was taking what he had destined for his last turn under the windows which had such attraction for him, he heard above him a slight and cautious sound, like that of a cough, as intended to call his attention, and to avoid the observation of others. As he looked up in joyful surprise, a casement opened, a female hand was seen to drop a billet, which fell into a rosemary bush that grew at the foot of the wall. The precaution used in dropping this letter prescribed equal prudence and secrecy in reading it. The garden, surrounded, as we have said, upon two sides, by the buildings of the palace, was commanded, of course, by the windows of many apartments, but there was a sort of grotto of rock work, which the Chaplain had shown Durward with much complacency. To snatch up the billet, thrust it into his bosom, and hie to this place of secrecy, was the work of a single minute. He there opened the precious scroll, and blessed, at the same time, the memory of the Monks of Aberbrothick, whose nurture had rendered him capable of deciphering its contents.

The first line contained the injunction, “Read this in secret,” — and the contents were as follows: “What your eyes have too boldly said, mine have perhaps too rashly understood. But unjust persecution makes its victims bold, and it were better to throw myself on the gratitude of one, than to remain the object of pursuit to many. Fortune has her throne upon a rock but brave men fear not to climb. If you dare do aught for one that hazards much, you need but pass into this garden at prime tomorrow, wearing in your cap a blue and white feather, but expect no farther communication. Your stars have, they say, destined you for greatness, and disposed you to gratitude. — Farewell — be faithful, prompt, and resolute, and doubt not thy fortune.”

Within this letter was enclosed a ring with a table diamond, on which were cut, in form of a lozenge, the ancient arms of the House of Croye.

The first feeling of Quentin upon this occasion was unmingled ecstasy — a pride and joy which seemed to raise him to the stars — a determination to do or die, influenced by which he treated with scorn the thousand obstacles that placed themselves betwixt him and the goal of his wishes.

In this mood of rapture, and unable to endure any interruption which might withdraw his mind, were it but for a moment, from so ecstatic a subject of contemplation, Durward, retiring to the interior of the castle, hastily assigned his former pretext of a headache for not joining the household of the Bishop at the supper meal, and, lighting his lamp, betook himself to the chamber which had been assigned him, to read, and to read again and again, the precious billet, and to kiss a thousand times the no less precious ring.

But such high wrought feelings could not remain long in the same ecstatic tone. A thought pressed upon him, though he repelled it as ungrateful — as even blasphemous — that the frankness of the confession implied less delicacy on the part of her who made it, than was consistent with the high romantic feeling of adoration with which he had hitherto worshipped the Lady Isabelle. No sooner did this ungracious thought intrude itself, than he hastened to stifle it, as he would have stifled a hissing and hateful adder that had intruded itself into his couch. Was it for him — him the Favoured — on whose account she had stooped from her sphere, to ascribe blame to her for the very act of condescension, Without which he dared not have raised his eyes towards her? Did not her very dignity of birth and of condition reverse, in her case, the usual rules which impose silence on the lady until her lover shall have first spoken? To these arguments, which he boldly formed into syllogisms and avowed to himself, his vanity might possibly suggest one which he cared not to embody even mentally with the same frankness — that the merit of the party beloved might perhaps warrant, on the part of the lady, some little departure from common rules, and, after all, as in the case of Malvolio 156, there was example for it in chronicle. The Squire of low degree, of whom he had just been reading, was, like himself, a gentleman void of land and living, and yet the generous Princess of Hungary bestowed on him, without scruple, more substantial marks of her affection than the billet he had just received:

“‘Welcome,’ she said, ‘my swete Squyre,

My heart’s roots, my soul’s desire,

I will give thee kisses three,

And als five hundrid poundis in fee.’”

And again the same faithful history made the King of Hongrie himself avouch —

“I have yknown many a page,

Come to be Prince by marriage.”

So that, upon the whole, Quentin generously and magnanimously reconciled himself to a line of conduct on the Countess’s part by which he was likely to be so highly benefited.

But this scruple was succeeded by another doubt, harder of digestion. The traitor Hayraddin had been in the apartments of the ladies, for aught Quentin knew, for the space of four hours, and, considering the hints which he had thrown out of possessing an influence of the most interesting kind over the fortunes of Quentin Durward, what should assure him that this train was not of his laying? And if so, was it not probable that such a dissembling villain had set it on foot to conceal some new plan of treachery — perhaps to seduce Isabelle out of the protection of the worthy Bishop? This was a matter to be closely looked into, for Quentin felt a repugnance to this individual proportioned to the unabashed impudence with which he had avowed his profligacy, and could not bring himself to hope that anything in which he was concerned could ever come to an honourable or happy conclusion.

These various thoughts rolled over Quentin’s mind like misty clouds, to dash and obscure the fair landscape which his fancy had at first drawn, and his couch was that night a sleepless one. At the hour of prime — ay, and an hour before it, was he in the castle garden, where no one now opposed either his entrance or his abode, with a feather of the assigned colour, as distinguished as he could by any means procure in such haste. No notice was taken of his appearance for nearly two hours, at length he heard a few notes of the lute, and presently the lattice opened right above the little postern door at which Marthon had admitted Hayraddin, and Isabelle, in maidenly beauty, appeared at the opening, greeted him half kindly, half shyly, coloured extremely at the deep and significant reverence with which he returned her courtesy — shut the casement, and disappeared.

Daylight and champaign could discover no more! The authenticity of the billet was ascertained — it only remained what was to follow, and of this the fair writer had given him no hint. But no immediate danger impended — the Countess was in a strong castle, under the protection of a Prince, at once respectable for his secular and venerable for his ecclesiastical authority. There was neither immediate room nor occasion for the exulting Squire interfering in the adventure, and it was sufficient if he kept himself prompt to execute her commands whensoever they should be communicated to him. But Fate purposed to call him into action sooner than he was aware of.

It was the fourth night after his arrival at Schonwaldt, when Quentin had taken measures for sending back on the morrow, to the Court of Louis, the remaining groom who had accompanied him on his journey, with letters from himself to his uncle and Lord Crawford, renouncing the service of France, for which the treachery to which he had been exposed by the private instructions of Hayraddin gave him an excuse, both in honour and prudence, and he betook himself to his bed with all the rosy coloured ideas around him which flutter about the couch of a youth when he loves dearly, and thinks his love is as sincerely repaid.

But Quentin’s dreams, which at first partook of the nature of those happy influences under which he had fallen asleep, began by degrees to assume a more terrific character.

He walked with the Countess Isabelle beside a smooth and inland lake, such as formed the principal characteristic of his native glen, and he spoke to her of his love, without any consciousness of the impediments which lay between them. She blushed and smiled when she listened — even as he might have expected from the tenor of the letter, which, sleeping or waking, lay nearest to his heart. But the scene suddenly changed from summer to winter — from calm to tempest, the winds and the waves rose with such a contest of surge and whirlwind as if the demons of the water and of the air had been contending for their roaring empires in rival strife. The rising waters seemed to cut off their advance and their retreat — the increasing tempest, which dashed them against each other, seemed to render their remaining on the spot impossible, and the tumultuous sensations produced by the apparent danger awoke the dreamer.

He awoke, but although the circumstances of the vision had disappeared, and given place to reality, the noise, which had probably suggested them, still continued to sound in his ears.

Quentin’s first impulse was to sit erect in bed and listen with astonishment to sounds, which, if they had announced a tempest, might have shamed the wildest that ever burst down from the Grampians, and again in a minute he became sensible that the tumult was not excited by the fury of the elements, but by the wrath of men. He sprang from bed, and looked from the window of his apartment, but it opened into the garden, and on that side all was quiet, though the opening of the casement made him still more sensible from the shouts which reached his ears that the outside of the castle was beleaguered and assaulted, and that by a numerous and determined enemy. Hastily collecting his dress and arms, and putting them on with such celerity as darkness and surprise permitted, his attention was solicited by a knocking at the door of his chamber. As Quentin did not immediately answer, the door, which was a slight one, was forced open from without, and the intruder, announced by his peculiar dialect to be the Bohemian, Hayraddin Maugrabin, entered the apartment. A phial which he held in his hand, touched by a match, produced a dark flash of ruddy fire, by means of which he kindled a lamp, which he took from his bosom.

“The horoscope of your destinies,” he said energetically to Durward, without any farther greeting, “now turns upon the determination of a minute.”

“Caitiff!” said Quentin, in reply, “there is treachery around us, and where there is treachery thou must have a share in it.”

“You are mad,” answered Maugrabin. “I never betrayed any one but to gain by it — and wherefore should I betray you, by whose safety I can take more advantage than by your destruction? Hearken for a moment, if it be possible for you, to one note of reason, ere it is sounded into your ear by the death shut of ruin. The Liegeois are up — William de la Marck with his band leads them. — Were there means of resistance, their numbers and his fury would overcome them, but there are next to none. If you would save the Countess and your own hopes, follow me, in the name of her who sent you a table diamond, with three leopards engraved on it.”

“Lead the way,” said Quentin, hastily. “In that name I dare every danger.”

“As I shall manage it,” said the Bohemian, “there is no danger, if you can but withhold your hand from strife which does not concern you, for, after all, what is it to you whether the Bishop, as they call him, slaughters his flock, or the flock slaughters the shepherd? — Ha! ha! ha! Follow me, but with caution and patience, subdue your own courage, and confide in my prudence and my debt of thankfulness is paid, and you have a Countess for your spouse. — Follow me.”

“I follow,” said Quentin, drawing his sword, “but the moment in which I detect the least sign of treachery, thy head and body are three yards separate!”

Without more conversation the Bohemian, seeing that Quentin was now fully armed and ready, ran down the stairs before him, and winded hastily through various side passages, until they gained the little garden. Scarce a light was to be seen on that side, scarce any bustle was to be heard, but no sooner had Quentin entered the open space, than the noise on the opposite side of the castle became ten times more stunningly audible, and he could hear the various war cries of “Liege! Liege! Sanglier! Sanglier! 157” shouted by the assailants, while the feebler cry of “Our Lady for the Prince Bishop!” was raised in a faint and faltering tone by those of the prelate’s soldiers who had hastened, though surprised and at disadvantage, to the defence of the walls.

But the interest of the fight, notwithstanding the martial character of Quentin Durward, was indifferent to him, in comparison with the fate of Isabelle of Croye, which, he had reason to fear, would be a dreadful one, unless rescued from the power of the dissolute and cruel freebooter who was now, as it seemed, bursting the gates of the castle. He reconciled himself to the aid of the Bohemian, as men in a desperate illness refuse not the remedy prescribed by quacks and mountebanks, and followed across the garden, with the intention of being guided by him until he should discover symptoms of treachery, and then piercing him through the heart, or striking his head from his body.

Hayraddin seemed himself conscious that his safety turned on a feather weight, for he forbore, from the moment they entered the open air, all his wonted gibes and quirks, and seemed to have made a vow to act at once with modesty, courage, and activity.

At the opposite door, which led to the ladies’ apartments, upon a low signal made by Hayraddin, appeared two women, muffled in the black silk veils which were then, as now, worn by the women in the Netherlands. Quentin offered his arm to one of them, who clung to it with trembling eagerness, and indeed hung upon him so much, that had her weight been greater, she must have much impeded their retreat. The Bohemian, who conducted the other female, took the road straight for the postern which opened upon the moat, through the garden wall, close to which the little skiff Was drawn up, by means of which Quentin had formerly observed Hayraddin himself retreating from the castle.

As they crossed, the shouts of storm and successful violence seemed to announce that the castle was in the act of being taken, and so dismal was the sound in Quentin’s ears, that he could not help swearing aloud, “But that my blood is irretrievably devoted to the fulfilment of my present duty, I would back to the wall, take faithful part with the hospitable Bishop, and silence some of those knaves whose throats are full of mutiny and robbery!”

The lady, whose arm was still folded in his, pressed it lightly as he spoke, as if to make him understand that there was a nearer claim on his chivalry than the defence of Schonwaldt, while the Bohemian exclaimed, loud enough to be heard, “Now, that I call right Christian frenzy, which would turn back to fight when love and fortune both demand that we should fly.

“On, on — with all the haste you can make. — Horses wait us in yonder thicket of willows.”

“There are but two horses,” said Quentin, who saw them in the moonlight.

“All that I could procure without exciting suspicion — and enough,” replied the Bohemian. “You two must ride for Tongres ere the way becomes unsafe — Marthon will abide with the women of our horde, with whom she is an old acquaintance. Know she is a daughter of our tribe, and only dwelt among you to serve our purpose as occasion should fall.”

“Marthon!” exclaimed the Countess, looking at the veiled female with a shriek of surprise, “is not this my kinswoman?”

“Only Marthon,” said Hayraddin. “Excuse me that little piece of deceit. I dared not carry off both the Ladies of Croye from the Wild Boar of Ardennes.”

“Wretch!” said Quentin, emphatically — “but it is not — shall not be too late — I will back to rescue the Lady Hameline.”

“Hameline,” whispered the lady, in a disturbed voice, “hangs on thy arm, to thank thee for her rescue.”

“Ha! what! — How is this?” said Quentin, extricating himself from her hold, and with less gentleness than he would at any other time have used towards a female of any rank. “Is the Lady Isabelle then left behind! — Farewell — farewell.”

As he turned to hasten back to the castle, Hayraddin laid hold of him. — “Nay, hear you — hear you — you run upon your death! What the foul fiend did you wear the colours of the old one for? — I will never trust blue and white silk again. But she has almost as large a dower — has jewels and gold — hath pretensions, too, upon the earldom.”

While he spoke thus, panting on in broken sentences, the Bohemian struggled to detain Quentin, who at length laid his hand on his dagger, in order to extricate himself.

“Nay, if that be the case,” said Hayraddin, unloosing his hold, “go — and the devil, if there be one, go along with you!”

And, soon as freed from his hold, the Scot shot back to the castle with the speed of the wind.

Hayraddin then turned round to the Countess Hameline, who had sunk down on the ground, between shame, fear, and disappointment.

“Here has been a mistake,” he said, “up, lady, and come with me — I will provide you, ere morning comes, a gallanter husband than this smock faced boy, and if one will not serve, you shall have twenty.”

The Lady Hameline was as violent in her passions, as she was vain and weak in her understanding. Like many other persons, she went tolerably well through the ordinary duties of life, but in a crisis like the present, she was entirely incapable of doing aught, save pouring forth unavailing lamentations, and accusing Hayraddin of being a thief, a base slave, an impostor, a murderer.

“Call me Zingaro,” returned he, composedly, “and you have said all at once.”

“Monster! you said the stars had decreed our union, and caused me to write — Oh, wretch that I was!” exclaimed the unhappy lady.

“And so they had decreed your union,” said Hayraddin, “had both parties been willing — but think you the blessed constellations can make any one wed against his will? — I was led into error with your accursed Christian gallantries, and fopperies of ribbons and favours — and the youth prefers veal to beef, I think — that ‘s all. — Up and follow me, and take notice, I endure neither weeping nor swooning.”

“I will not stir a foot,” said the Countess, obstinately.

“By the bright welkin, but you shall, though!” exclaimed Hayraddin. “I swear to you, by all that ever fools believed in, that you have to do with one, who would care little to strip you naked, bind you to a tree, and leave you to your fortune!”

“Nay,” said Marthon, interfering, “by your favour she shall not be misused. I wear a knife as well as you, and can use it. — She is a kind woman, though a fool. — And you, madam, rise up and follow us. — Here has been a mistake, but it is something to have saved life and limb. There are many in yonder castle would give all the wealth in the world to stand where we do.”

As Marthon spoke, a clamour, in which the shouts of victory were mingled with screams of terror and despair, was wafted to them from the Castle of Schonwaldt.

“Hear that, lady!” said Hayraddin, “and be thankful you are not adding your treble pipe to yonder concert. Believe me, I will care for you honestly, and the stars shall keep their words, and find you a good husband.”

Like some wild animal, exhausted and subdued by terror amid fatigue, the Countess Hameline yielded herself up to the conduct of her guides, and suffered herself to be passively led whichever way they would. Nay, such was the confusion of her spirits and the exhaustion of her strength, that the worthy couple, who half bore, half led her, carried on their discourse in her presence without her even understanding it.”

“I ever thought your plan was folly,” said Marthon. “Could you have brought the young people together, indeed, we might have had a hold on their gratitude, and a footing in their castle. But what chance of so handsome a youth wedding this old fool?”

“Rizpah,” said Hayraddin, “you have borne the name of a Christian, and dwelt in the tents of those besotted people, till thou hast become a partaker in their follies. How could I dream that he would have made scruples about a few years’ youth or age, when the advantages of the match were so evident? And thou knowest, there would have been no moving yonder coy wench to be so frank as this coming Countess here, who hangs on our arms as dead a weight as a wool pack. I loved the lad too, and would have done him a kindness: to wed him to this old woman was to make his fortune, to unite him to Isabelle were to have brought on him De la Marck, Burgundy, France — every one that challenges an interest in disposing of her hand. And this silly woman’s wealth being chiefly in gold and jewels, we should have had our share. But the bow string has burst, and the arrow failed. Away with her — we will bring her to William with the Beard. By the time he has gorged himself with wassail, as is his wont, he will not know an old Countess from a young one. Away, Rizpah — bear a gallant heart. The bright Aldebaran still influences the destinies of the Children of the Desert!”

155 Coign of vantage: an advantageous position for observation or action. Cf. ‘no jutty, frieze, buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird hath made his pendent bed and procreant cradle.’ Macbeth, I, vi, 6.

156 Olivia’s steward in Twelfth Night

157 the Wild Boar: a name given to William de la Marck

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