Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 25

The Unbidden Guest

No human quality is so well wove

In warp and woof, but there ‘s some flaw in it:

I’ve known a brave man fly a shepherd’s cur,

A wise man so demean him, drivelling idiocy

Had wellnigh been ashamed on’t. For your crafty,

Your worldly wise man, he, above the rest,

Weaves his own snares so fine, he ‘s often caught in them.

OLD PLAY

Quentin, during the earlier part of the night journey, had to combat with that bitter heartache which is felt when youth parts, and probably forever, with her he loves. As, pressed by the urgency of the moment, and the impatience of Crevecoeur, they hasted on through the rich lowlands of Hainault, under the benign guidance of a rich and lustrous harvest moon, she shed her yellow influence over rich and deep pastures, woodland, and cornfields, from which the husbandmen were using her light to withdraw the grain, such was the industry of the Flemings, even at that period, she shone on broad, level, and fructifying rivers, where glided the white sail in the service of commerce, uninterrupted by rock and torrent, beside lively quiet villages, whose external decency and cleanliness expressed the ease and comfort of the inhabitants, — she gleamed upon the feudal castle of many a Baron and Knight, with its deep moat, battlemented court, and high belfry — for the chivalry of Hainault was renowned among the nobles of Europe — and her light displayed at a distance, in its broad beam, the gigantic towers of more than one lofty minster.

Yet all this fair variety, however, differing from the waste and wilderness of his own land, interrupted not the course of Quentin’s regrets and sorrows. He had left his heart behind him when he departed from Charleroi, and the only reflection which the farther journey inspired was that every step was carrying him farther from Isabelle. His imagination was taxed to recall every word she had spoken, every look she had directed towards him, and, as happens frequently in such cases, the impression made upon his imagination by the recollection of these particulars, was even stronger than the realities themselves had excited.

At length, after the cold hour of midnight was past, in spite alike of love and of sorrow, the extreme fatigue which Quentin had undergone the two preceding days began to have an effect on him, which his habits of exercise of every kind, and his singular alertness and activity of character, as well as the painful nature of the reflections which occupied his thoughts, had hitherto prevented his experiencing. The ideas of his mind began to be so little corrected by the exertions of his senses, worn out and deadened as the latter now were by extremity of fatigue, that the visions which the former drew superseded or perverted the information conveyed by the blunted organs of seeing and hearing, and Durward was only sensible that he was awake, by the exertions which, sensible of the peril of his situation, he occasionally made to resist falling into a deep and dead sleep. Every now and then, strong consciousness of the risk of falling from or with his horse roused him to exertion and animation, but ere long his eyes again were dimmed by confused shades of all sorts of mingled colours, the moonlight landscape swam before them, and he was so much overcome with fatigue, that the Count of Crevecoeur, observing his condition, was at length compelled to order two of his attendants, one to each rein of Durward’s bridle, in order to prevent the risk of his falling from his horse.

When at length they reached the town of Landrecy, the Count, in compassion to the youth, who had now been in a great measure without sleep for three nights, allowed himself and his retinue a halt of four hours, for rest and refreshment. Deep and sound were Quentin’s slumbers, until they were broken by the sound of the Count’s trumpet, and the cry of his Fouriers 176 and harbingers, “Debout! debout! Ha! Messires, en route, en route! 177

Yet, unwelcomely early as the tones came, they awaked him a different being in strength and spirits from what he had fallen asleep. Confidence in himself and his fortunes returned with his reviving spirits, and with the rising sun. He thought of his love no longer as a desperate and fantastic dream, but as a high and invigorating principle, to be cherished in his bosom, although he might never purpose to himself, under all the difficulties by which he was beset, to bring it to any prosperous issue.

“The pilot,” he reflected, “steers his bark by the polar star, although he never expects to become possessor of it, and the thoughts of Isabelle of Croye shall make me a worthy man at arms, though I may never see her more. When she hears that a Scottish soldier named Quentin Durward distinguished himself in a well fought field, or left his body on the breach of a disputed fortress, she will remember the companion of her journey, as one who did all in his power to avert the snares and misfortunes which beset it, and perhaps will honour his memory with a tear, his coffin with a garland.”

In this manly mood of bearing his misfortune, Quentin felt himself more able to receive and reply to the jests of the Count of Crevecoeur, who passed several on his alleged effeminacy and incapacity of undergoing fatigue. The young Scot accommodated himself so good humouredly to the Count’s raillery, and replied at once so happily and so respectfully, that the change of his tone and manner made obviously a more favourable impression on the Count than he had entertained from his prisoner’s conduct during the preceding evening, when, rendered irritable by the feelings of his situation, he was alternately moodily silent or fiercely argumentative. The veteran soldier began at length to take notice of his young companion as a pretty fellow, of whom something might be made, and more than hinted to him that would he but resign his situation in the Archer Guard of France, he would undertake to have him enrolled in the household of the Duke of Burgundy in an honourable condition, and would himself take care of his advancement. And although Quentin, with suitable expressions of gratitude, declined this favour at present, until he should find out how far he had to complain of his original patron, King Louis, he, nevertheless, continued to remain on good terms with the Count of Crevecoeur, and, while his enthusiastic mode of thinking, and his foreign and idiomatical manner of expressing himself, often excited a smile on the grave cheek of the Count, that smile had lost all that it had of sarcastic and bitter, and did not exceed the limits of good humour and good manners.

Thus travelling on with much more harmony than on the preceding day, the little party came at last within two miles of the famous and strong town of Peronne, near which the Duke of Burgundy’s army lay encamped, ready, as was supposed, to invade France, and, in opposition to which, Louis XI had himself assembled a strong force near Saint Maxence, for the purpose of bringing to reason his over powerful vassal.

Perrone, situated upon a deep river, in a flat country, and surrounded by strong bulwarks and profound moats, was accounted in ancient as in modern times, one of the strongest fortresses in France. 178 The Count of Crevecoeur, his retinue, and his prisoner, were approaching the fortress about the third hour after noon, when riding through the pleasant glades of a large forest, which then covered the approach to the town on the east side, they were met by two men of rank, as appeared from the number of their attendants, dressed in the habits worn in time of peace, and who, to judge from the falcons which they carried on their wrists, and the number of spaniels and greyhounds led by their followers, were engaged in the amusement of hawking. But on perceiving Crevecoeur, with whose appearance and liveries they were sufficiently intimate, they quitted the search which they were making for a heron along the banks of a long canal, and came galloping towards him.

“News, news, Count of Crevecoeur,” they cried both together, “will you give news, or take news? or will you barter fairly?”

“I would barter fairly, Messires,” said Crevecoeur, after saluting them courteously, “did I conceive you had any news of importance sufficient to make an equivalent for mine.”

The two sportsmen smiled on each other, and the elder of the two, a fine baronial figure, with a dark countenance, marked with that sort of sadness which some physiognomists ascribe to a melancholy temperament, and some, as the Italian statuary augured of the visage of Charles I, consider as predicting an unhappy death, turning to his companion, said, “Crevecoeur has been in Brabant, the country of commerce, and he has learned all its artifices — he will be too hard for us if we drive a bargain.”

“Messires,” said Crevecoeur, “the Duke ought in justice to have the first of my wares, as the Seigneur takes his toll before open market begins. But tell me, are your news of a sad or a pleasant complexion?”

The person whom he particularly addressed was a lively looking man, with an eye of great vivacity, which was corrected by an expression of reflection and gravity about the mouth and upper lip — the whole physiognomy marking a man who saw and judged rapidly, but was sage and slow in forming resolutions or in expressing opinions. This was the famous Knight of Hainault, son of Collara, or Nicolas de l’Elite, known in history, and amongst historians, by the venerable name of Philip de Comines179, at this time close to the person of Duke Charles the Bold, and one of his most esteemed counsellors. He answered Crevecoeur’s question concerning the complexion of the news of which he and his companion, the Baron D’Hymbercourt180, were the depositaries.

“They were,” he said, “like the colours of the rainbow, various in hue, as they might be viewed from different points, and placed against the black cloud or the fair sky. — Such a rainbow was never seen in France or Flanders, since that of Noah’s ark.”

“My tidings,” replied Crevecoeur, “are altogether like the comet, gloomy, wild, and terrible in themselves, yet to be accounted the forerunners of still greater and more dreadful evils which are to ensue.”

“We must open our bales,” said Comines to his companion, “or our market will be forestalled by some newcomers, for ours are public news. — In one word, Crevecoeur — listen and wonder — King Louis is at Peronne.”

“What!” said the Count in astonishment, “has the Duke retreated without a battle? and do you remain here in your dress of peace, after the town is besieged by the French? — for I cannot suppose it taken.”

“No, surely,” said D’Hymbercourt, “the banners of Burgundy have not gone back a foot, and still King Louis is here.”

“Then Edward of England must have come over the seas with his bowmen,” said Crevecoeur, “and, like his ancestors, gained a second field of Poictiers?”

“Not so,” said Comines. “Not a French banner has been borne down, not a sail spread from England — where Edward is too much amused among the wives of the citizens of London to think of playing the Black Prince. Hear the extraordinary truth. You know, when you left us, that the conference between the commissioners on the parts of France and Burgundy was broken up, without apparent chance of reconciliation.”

“True, and we dreamt of nothing but war.”

“What has followed has been indeed so like a dream,” said Comines, “that I almost expect to awake, and find it so. Only one day since, the Duke had in council protested so furiously against farther delay that it was resolved to send a defiance to the King, and march forward instantly into France. Toison d’Or, commissioned for the purpose, had put on his official dress, and had his foot in the stirrup to mount his horse, when lo! the French herald Montjoie rode into our camp.

“We thought of nothing else than that Louis had been beforehand with our defiance, and began to consider how much the Duke would resent the advice which had prevented him from being the first to declare war. But a council being speedily assembled, what was our wonder when the herald informed us, that Louis, King of France, was scarce an hour’s riding behind, intending to visit Charles, Duke of Burgundy, with a small retinue, in order that their differences might be settled at a personal interview!”

“You surprise me, Messires,” said Crevecoeur, “yet you surprise me less than you might have expected, for, when I was last at Plessis les Tours, the all trusted Cardinal Balue, offended with his master, and Burgundian at heart, did hint to me that he could so work upon Louis’s peculiar foibles as to lead him to place himself in such a position with regard to Burgundy that the Duke might have the terms of peace of his own making. But I never suspected that so old a fox as Louis could have been induced to come into the trap of his own accord. What said the Burgundian counsellors?”

“As you may guess,” answered D’Hymbercourt, “talked much of faith to be observed, and little of advantage to be obtained by such a visit, while it was manifest they thought almost entirely of the last, and were only anxious to find some way to reconcile it with the necessary preservation of appearances.”

“And what said the Duke?” continued the Count of Crevecoeur.

“Spoke brief and bold as usual,” replied Comines. “‘Which of you was it,’ he asked, ‘who witnessed the meeting of my cousin Louis and me after the battle of Montl’hery, when I was so thoughtless as to accompany him back within the intrenchments of Paris with half a score of attendants, and so put my person at the King’s mercy?’ I replied, that most of us had been present, and none could ever forget the alarm which it had been his pleasure to give us. ‘Well,’ said the Duke, ‘you blamed me for my folly, and I confessed to you that I had acted like a giddy pated boy, and I am aware, too, that my father of happy memory being then alive, my kinsman, Louis, would have had less advantage by seizing on my person than I might now have by securing his. But, nevertheless, if my royal kinsman comes hither on the present occasion, in the same singleness of heart under which I then acted, he shall be royally welcome. — If it is meant by this appearance of confidence to circumvent and to blind me, till he execute some of his politic schemes, by Saint George of Burgundy, let him to look to it!’ And so, having turned up his mustaches and stamped on the ground, he ordered us all to get on our horses, and receive so extraordinary a guest.” 181

“And you met the King accordingly?” replied the Count of Crevecoeur. “Miracles have not ceased — How was he accompanied?”

“As slightly as might be,” answered D’Hymbercourt, “only a score or two of the Scottish Guard, and a few knights and gentlemen of his household among whom his astrologer, Galeotti, made the gayest figure.”

“That fellow,” said Crevecoeur, “holds some dependence on the Cardinal Balue — I should not be surprised that he has had his share in determining the King to this step of doubtful policy. Any nobility of higher rank?”

“There are Monsieur of Orleans, and Dunois,” replied Comines.

“I will have a rouse with Dunois,” said Crevecoeur, “wag the world as it will. But we heard that both he and the Duke had fallen into disgrace, and were in prison.”

“They were both under arrest in the Castle of Loches, that delightful place of retirement for the French nobility,” said D’Hymbercourt, “but Louis has released them, in order to bring them with him — perhaps because he cared not to leave Orleans behind. For his other attendants, faith, I think his gossip, the Hangman Marshal, with two or three of his retinue, and Oliver, his barber, may be the most considerable — and the whole bevy so poorly arrayed, that, by my honour, the King resembles most an old usurer, going to collect desperate debts, attended by a body of catchpolls.”

“And where is he lodged?” said Crevecoeur.

“Nay, that,” replied the Comines, “is the most marvellous of all. Our Duke offered to let the King’s Archer Guard have a gate of the town, and a bridge of boats over the Somme, and to have assigned to Louis himself the adjoining house, belonging to a wealthy burgess, Giles Orthen, but, in going thither, the King espied the banners of De Lau and Pencil de Riviere, whom he had banished from France, and scared, as it would seem, with the thought of lodging so near refugees and malcontents of his own making, he craved to be quartered in the castle of Peronne, and there he hath his abode accordingly.”

“Why, God ha’ mercy!” exclaimed Crevecoeur, “this is not only not being content with venturing into the lion’s den, but thrusting his head into his very jaws. — Nothing less than the very bottom of the rat trap would serve the crafty old politician!”

“Nay,” said Comines, “D’Hymbercourt hath not told you the speech of Le Glorieux 182 — which, in my mind, was the shrewdest opinion that was given.”

“And what said his most illustrious wisdom?” asked the Count.

“As the Duke,” replied Comines, “was hastily ordering some vessels and ornaments of plate and the like, to be prepared as presents for the King and his retinue, by way of welcome on his arrival:

“‘Trouble not thy small brain about it, my friend Charles,’ said Le Glorieux, ‘I will give thy cousin Louis a nobler and a fitter gift than thou canst, and that is my cap and bells, and my bauble to boot, for, by the mass, he is a greater fool than I am, for putting himself in thy power.’

“‘But if I give him no reason to repent it, sirrah, how thou?’ said the Duke.

“‘Then, truly, Charles, thou shalt have cap and bauble thyself, as the greatest fool of the three of us.’

“I promise you this knavish quip touched the Duke closely — I saw him change colour and bite his lip. And now, our news are told, noble Crevecoeur, and what think you they resemble?”

“A mine full charged with gunpowder,” answered Crevecoeur, “to which, I fear, it is my fate to bring the kindled linstock. Your news and mine are like flax and fire, which cannot meet without bursting into flame, or like certain chemical substances which cannot be mingled without an explosion. Friends — gentlemen — ride close by my rein, and when I tell you what has chanced in the bishopric of Liege, I think you will be of opinion that King Louis might as safely have undertaken a pilgrimage to the infernal regions as this ill timed visit to Peronne.”

The two nobles drew up close on either hand of the Count, and listened, with half suppressed exclamations, and gestures of the deepest wonder and interest, to his account of the transactions at Liege and Schonwaldt. Quentin was then called forward, and examined and re-examined on the particulars of the Bishop’s death, until at length he refused to answer any farther interrogatories, not knowing wherefore they were asked, or what use might be made of his replies.

They now reached the rich and level banks of the Somme, and the ancient walls of the little town of Peronne la Pucelle, and the deep green meadows adjoining, now whitened with the numerous tents of the Duke of Burgundy’s army, amounting to about fifteen thousand men.

176 subordinate officers who secure quarters for the army while manoeuvring

177 arise, let us set out!

178 Indeed, though lying on an exposed and warlike frontier, it was never taken by an enemy, but preserved the proud name of Peronne la Pucelle, until the Duke of Wellington, a great destroyer of that sort of reputation, took the place in the memorable advance upon Paris in 1815. S.

179 Philip de Comines was described in the former editions of this work as a little man, fitted rather for counsel than action. This was a description made at a venture, to vary the military portraits with which the age and work abound. Sleidan the historian, upon the authority of Matthieu d’Arves, who knew Philip de Comines, and had served in his household, says he was a man of tall stature, and a noble presence. The learned Monsieur Petitot . . . intimates that Philip de Comines made a figure at the games of chivalry and pageants exhibited on the wedding of Charles of Burgundy with Margaret of England in 1468. . . . He is the first named, however, of a gallant band of assailants, knights and noblemen, to the number of twenty, who, with the Prince of Orange as their leader, encountered, in a general tourney, with a party of the same number under the profligate Adolf of Cleves, who acted as challenger, by the romantic title of Arbre d’or. The encounter, though with arms of courtesy, was very fierce, and separated by main force, not without difficulty. Philip de Comines has, therefore, a title to be accounted tam Martre quam Mercurio . . . S.

180 D’Hymbercourt, or Imbercourt, was put to death by the inhabitants of Ghent, with the Chancellor of Burgundy, in the year 1477. Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold, appeared in mourning in the marketplace, and with tears besought the life of her servants from her insurgent subjects, but in vain. S.

181 After the battle of Montl’hery, in 1465, Charles . . . had an interview with Louis under the walls of Paris, each at the head of a small party. The two Princes dismounted, and walked together so deeply engaged in discussing the business of their meeting, that Charles forgot the peculiarity of his situation; and when Louis turned back towards the town of Paris, from which he came, the Count of Charalois kept him company so far as to pass the line of outworks with which Paris was surrounded, and enter a field work which communicated with the town by a trench. . . . His escort and his principal followers rode forward from where he had left them. . . . To their great joy the Count returned uninjured, accompanied with a guard belonging to Louis. The Burgundians taxed him with rashness in no measured terms. “Say no more of it,” said Charles; “I acknowledge the extent of my folly, but I was not aware what I was doing till I entered the redoubt.” Memoires de Philippe de Comines. — S.

182 the jester of Charles of Burgundy of whom more hereafter. S.

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