Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 29

Recrimination

Thy time is not yet out — the devil thou servest

Has not as yet deserted thee. He aids

The friends who drudge for him, as the blind man

Was aided by the guide, who lent his shoulder

O’er rough and smooth, until he reached the brink

Of the fell precipice — then hurl’d him downward.

OLD PLAY

When obeying the command, or rather the request of Louis — for he was in circumstances in which, though a monarch, he could only request Le Glorieux to go in search of Martius Galeotti — the jester had no trouble in executing his commission, betaking himself at once to the best tavern in Peronne, of which he himself was rather more than an occasional frequenter, being a great admirer of that species of liquor which reduced all other men’s brains to a level with his own.

He found, or rather observed, the Astrologer in the corner of the public drinking room — stove, as it is called in German and Flemish, from its principal furniture — sitting in close colloquy with a female in a singular and something like a Moorish or Asiatic garb, who, as Le Glorieux approached Martius, rose as in the act to depart.

“These,” said the stranger, “are news upon which you may rely with absolute certainty,” and with that disappeared among the crowd of guests who sat grouped at different tables in the apartment.

“Cousin Philosopher,” said the jester, presenting himself, “Heaven no sooner relieves one sentinel than it sends another to supply the place. One fool being gone, here I come another, to guide you to the apartments of Louis of France.”

“And art thou the messenger?” said Martius, gazing on him with prompt apprehension, and discovering at once the jester’s quality, though less intimated, as we have before noticed, than was usual, by his external appearance.

“Ay, sir, and like your learning,” answered Le Glorieux. “When Power sends Folly to entreat the approach of Wisdom, ‘t is a sure sign what foot the patient halts upon.”

“How if I refuse to come, when summoned at so late an hour by such a messenger?” said Galeotti.

“In that case, we will consult your ease, and carry you,” said Le Glorieux. “Here are half a score of stout Burgundian yeomen at the door, with whom He of Crevecoeur has furnished me to that effect. For know that my friend Charles of Burgundy and I have not taken away our kinsman Louis’s crown, which he was ass enough to put into our power, but have only filed and clipt it a little, and, though reduced to the size of a spangle, it is still pure gold. In plain terms, he is still paramount over his own people, yourself included, and Most Christian King of the old dining hall in the Castle of Peronne, to which you, as his liege subject, are presently obliged to repair.”

“I attend you, sir,” said Martius Galeotti, and accompanied Le Glorieux accordingly — seeing, perhaps, that no evasion was possible.

“Ay, sir,” said the Fool, as they went towards the Castle, “you do well; for we treat our kinsman as men use an old famished lion in his cage, and thrust him now and then a calf to mumble, to keep his old jaws in exercise.”

“Do you mean,” said Martius, “that the King intends me bodily injury?”

“Nay, that you can guess better than I,” said the jester; “for though the night be cloudy, I warrant you can see the stars through the mist. I know nothing of the matter, not I— only my mother always told me to go warily near an old rat in a trap, for he was never so much disposed to bite.”

The Astrologer asked no more questions, and Le Glorieux, according to the custom of those of his class, continued to run on in a wild and disordered strain of sarcasm and folly mingled together, until he delivered the philosopher to the guard at the Castle gate of Peronne, where he was passed from warder to warder, and at length admitted within Herbert’s Tower.

The hints of the jester had not been lost on Martius Galeotti, and he saw something which seemed to confirm them in the look and manner of Tristan, whose mode of addressing him, as he marshalled him to the King’s bedchamber, was lowering, sullen, and ominous. A close observer of what passed on earth, as well as among the heavenly bodies, the pulley and the rope also caught the Astrologer’s eye; and as the latter was in a state of vibration he concluded that some one who had been busy adjusting it had been interrupted in the work by his sudden arrival. All this he saw, and summoned together his subtilty to evade the impending danger, resolved, should he find that impossible, to defend himself to the last against whomsoever should assail him.

Thus resolved, and with a step and look corresponding to the determination he had taken, Martius presented himself before Louis, alike unabashed at the miscarriage of his predictions, and undismayed at the Monarch’s anger, and its probable consequences.

“Every good planet be gracious to your Majesty!” said Galeotti, with an inclination almost Oriental in manner. “Every evil constellation withhold its influence from my royal master!”

“Methinks,” replied the King, “that when you look around this apartment, when you think where it is situated, and how guarded, your wisdom might consider that my propitious stars had proved faithless and that each evil conjunction had already done its worst. Art thou not ashamed, Martius Galeotti, to see me here and a prisoner, when you recollect by what assurances I was lured hither?”

“And art thou not ashamed, my royal Sire?” replied the philosopher, “thou, whose step in science was so forward, thy apprehension so quick, thy perseverance so unceasing — art thou not ashamed to turn from the first frown of fortune, like a craven from the first clash of arms? Didst thou propose to become participant of those mysteries which raise men above the passions, the mischances, the pains, the sorrows of life, a state only to be attained by rivalling the firmness of the ancient Stoic, and dost thou shrink from the first pressure of adversity, and forfeit the glorious prize for which thou didst start as a competitor, frightened out of the course, like a scared racer, by shadowy and unreal evils?”

“Shadowy and unreal! frontless as thou art!” exclaimed the King. “Is this dungeon unreal? — the weapons of the guards of my detested enemy Burgundy, which you may hear clash at the gate, are those shadows? What, traitor, are real evils, if imprisonment, dethronement, and danger of life are not so?”

“Ignorance — ignorance, my brother, and prejudice,” answered the sage, with great firmness, “are the only real evils. Believe me that Kings in the plenitude of power, if immersed in ignorance and prejudice, are less free than sages in a dungeon, and loaded with material chains. Towards this true happiness it is mine to guide you — be it yours to attend to my instructions.”

“And it is to such philosophical freedom that your lessons would have guided me?” said the King very bitterly. “I would you had told me at Plessis that the dominion promised me so liberally was an empire over my own passions; that the success of which I was assured, related to my progress in philosophy, and that I might become as wise and as learned as a strolling mountebank of Italy! I might surely have attained this mental ascendency at a more moderate price than that of forfeiting the fairest crown in Christendom, and becoming tenant of a dungeon in Peronne! Go, sir, and think not to escape condign punishment. — There is a Heaven above us!”

“I leave you not to your fate,” replied Martius, “until I have vindicated, even in your eyes, darkened as they are, that reputation, a brighter gem than the brightest in thy crown, and at which the world shall wonder, ages after all the race of Capet 201 are mouldered into oblivion in the charnels of Saint Denis.”

“Speak on,” said Louis. “Thine impudence cannot make me change my purposes or my opinion. — Yet as I may never again pass judgment as a King, I will not censure thee unheard. Speak, then — though the best thou canst say will be to speak the truth. Confess that I am a dupe, thou an impostor, thy pretended science a dream, and the planets which shine above us as little influential of our destiny as their shadows, when reflected in the river, are capable of altering its course.”

“And how know’st thou,” answered the Astrologer boldly, “the secret influence of yonder blessed lights? Speak’st thou of their inability to influence waters, when yet thou know’st that ever the weakest, the moon herself — weakest because nearest to this wretched earth of ours — holds under her domination not such poor streams as the Somme, but the tides of the mighty ocean itself, which ebb and increase as her disc waxes and wanes, and watch her influence as a slave waits the nod of a Sultana? And now, Louis of Valois, answer my parable in turn. — Confess, art thou not like the foolish passenger, who becomes wroth with his pilot because he cannot bring the vessel into harbour without experiencing occasionally the adverse force of winds and currents? I could indeed point to thee the probable issue of thine enterprise as prosperous, but it was in the power of Heaven alone to conduct thee thither; and if the path be rough and dangerous, was it in my power to smooth or render it more safe? Where is thy wisdom of yesterday, which taught thee so truly to discern that the ways of destiny are often ruled to our advantage, though in opposition to our wishes?”

“You remind me — you remind me,” said the King hastily, “of one specific falsehood. You foretold yonder Scot should accomplish his enterprise fortunately for my interest and honour; and thou knowest it has so terminated that no more mortal injury could I have received than from the impression which the issue of that affair is like to make on the excited brain of the Mad Bull of Burgundy. This is a direct falsehood. — Thou canst plead no evasion here — canst refer to no remote favourable turn of the tide, for which, like an idiot sitting on the bank until the river shall pass away, thou wouldst have me wait contentedly. — Here thy craft deceived thee. — Thou wert weak enough to make a specific prediction, which has proved directly false.”

“Which will prove most firm and true,” answered the Astrologer boldly. “I would desire no greater triumph of art over ignorance, than that prediction and its accomplishment will afford. — I told thee he would be faithful in any honourable commission. — Hath he not been so? — I told thee he would be scrupulous in aiding any evil enterprise. — Hath he not proved so? — If you doubt it, go ask the Bohemian, Hayraddin Maugrabin.”

The King here coloured deeply with shame and anger.

“I told thee,” continued the Astrologer, “that the conjunction of planets under which he set forth augured danger to the person — and hath not his path been beset by danger? — I told thee that it augured an advantage to the sender — and of that thou wilt soon have the benefit.”

“Soon have the benefit!” exclaimed the King. “Have I not the result already, in disgrace and imprisonment?”

“No,” answered the Astrologer, “the End is not as yet — thine own tongue shall ere long confess the benefit which thou hast received, from the manner in which the messenger bore himself in discharging thy commission.”

“This is too — too insolent,” said the King, “at once to deceive and to insult. — But hence! — think not my wrongs shall be unavenged. — There is a Heaven above us!”

Galeotti turned to depart.

“Yet stop,” said Louis; “thou bearest thine imposture bravely out. — Let me hear your answer to one question and think ere you speak. — Can thy pretended skill ascertain the hour of thine own death?”

“Only by referring to the fate of another,” said Galeotti.

“I understand not thine answer,” said Louis.

“Know then, O King,” said Martius, “that this only I can tell with certainty concerning mine own death, that it shall take place exactly twenty-four hours before that of your Majesty.” 202

“Ha! sayest thou?” said Louis, his countenance again altering. “Hold — hold — go not — wait one moment. — Saidst thou, my death should follow thine so closely?”

“Within the space of twenty-four hours,” repeated Galeotti firmly, “if there be one sparkle of true divination in those bright and mysterious intelligences, which speak, each on their courses, though without a tongue. I wish your Majesty good rest.”

“Hold — hold — go not,” said the King, taking him by the arm, and leading him from the door. “Martius Galeotti, I have been a kind master to thee — enriched thee — made thee my friend — my companion — the instructor of my studies. — Be open with me, I entreat you. — Is there aught in this art of yours in very deed? — Shall this Scot’s mission be, in fact, propitious to me? — And is the measure of our lives so very — very nearly matched? Confess, my good Martius, you speak after the trick of your trade. — Confess, I pray you, and you shall have no displeasure at my hand. I am in years — a prisoner — likely to be deprived of a kingdom — to one in my condition truth is worth kingdoms, and it is from thee, dearest Martius, that I must look for this inestimable jewel.”

“And I have laid it before your Majesty,” said Galeotti, “at the risk that, in brutal passion, you might turn upon me and rend me.”

“Who, I, Galeotti?” replied Louis mildly. “Alas! thou mistakest me! — Am I not captive — and should not I be patient, especially since my anger can only show my impotence? — Tell me then in sincerity. — Have you fooled me? — Or is your science true, and do you truly report it?”

“Your Majesty will forgive me if I reply to you,” said Martius Galeotti, “that time only — time and the event, will convince incredulity. It suits ill the place of confidence which I have held at the council table of the renowned conqueror, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary — nay, in the cabinet of the Emperor himself — to reiterate assurances of that which I have advanced as true. If you will not believe me, I can but refer to the course of events. A day or two days’ patience will prove or disprove what I have averred concerning the young Scot, and I will be contented to die on the wheel, and have my limbs broken joint by joint, if your Majesty have not advantage, and that in a most important degree, from the dauntless conduct of that Quentin Durward. But if I were to die under such tortures, it would be well your Majesty should seek a ghostly father, for, from the moment my last groan is drawn, only twenty-four hours will remain to you for confession and penitence.”

Louis continued to keep hold of Galeotti’s robe as he led him towards the door, and pronounced, as he opened it, in a loud voice, “Tomorrow we ‘ll talk more of this. Go in peace, my learned father. — Go in peace. — Go in peace!”

He repeated these words three times; and, still afraid that the Provost Marshal might mistake his purpose, he led the Astrologer into the hall, holding fast his robe, as if afraid that he should be torn from him, and put to death before his eyes. He did not unloose his grasp until he had not only repeated again and again the gracious phrase, “Go in peace,” but even made a private signal to the Provost Marshal to enjoin a suspension of all proceedings against the person of the Astrologer.

Thus did the possession of some secret information, joined to audacious courage and readiness of wit, save Galeotti from the most imminent danger; and thus was Louis, the most sagacious, as well as the most vindictive, amongst the monarchs of the period, cheated of his revenge by the influence of superstition upon a selfish temper and a mind to which, from the consciousness of many crimes, the fear of death was peculiarly terrible.

He felt, however, considerable mortification at being obliged to relinquish his purposed vengeance, and the disappointment seemed to be shared by his satellites, to whom the execution was to have been committed. Le Balafre alone, perfectly indifferent on the subject, so soon as the countermanding signal was given, left the door at which he had posted himself, and in a few minutes was fast asleep. The Provost Marshal, as the group reclined themselves to repose in the hall after the King retired to his bedchamber, continued to eye the goodly form of the Astrologer with the look of a mastiff watching a joint of meat which the cook had retrieved from his jaws, while his attendants communicated to each other in brief sentences, their characteristic sentiments.

“The poor blinded necromancer,” whispered Trois Eschelles, with an air of spiritual unction and commiseration, to his comrade, Petit Andre, “hath lost the fairest chance of expiating some of his vile sorceries, by dying through means of the cord of the blessed Saint Francis, and I had purpose, indeed, to leave the comfortable noose around his neck, to scare the foul fiend from his unhappy carcass.”

“And I,” said Petit Andre, “have missed the rarest opportunity of knowing how far a weight of seventeen stone will stretch a three plied cord! — It would have been a glorious experiment in our line — and the jolly old boy would have died so easily!”

While this whispered dialogue was going forward, Martius, who had taken the opposite side of the huge stone fireplace, round which the whole group was assembled, regarded them askance, and with a look of suspicion. He first put his hand into his vest, and satisfied himself that the handle of a very sharp double edged poniard, which he always carried about him, was disposed conveniently for his grasp; for, as we have already noticed, he was, though now somewhat unwieldy, a powerful, athletic man, and prompt and active at the use of his weapon. Satisfied that this trusty instrument was in readiness, he next took from his bosom a scroll of parchment, inscribed with Greek characters, and marked with cabalistic signs, drew together the wood in the fireplace, and made a blaze by which he could distinguish the features and attitude of all who sat or lay around — the heavy and deep slumbers of the Scottish soldier, who lay motionless, with rough countenance as immovable as if it were cast in bronze — the pale and anxious face of Oliver, who at one time assumed the appearance of slumber, and again opened his eyes and raised his head hastily, as if stung by some internal throe, or awakened by some distant sound — the discontented, savage, bulldog aspect of the Provost, who looked —

“frustrate of his will,

not half sufficed, and greedy yet to kill”

— while the background was filled up by the ghastly, hypocritical countenance of Trois Eschelles — whose eyes were cast up towards Heaven, as if he was internally saying his devotions — and the grim drollery of Petit Andre, who amused himself with mimicking the gestures and wry faces of his comrade before he betook himself to sleep.

Amidst these vulgar and ignoble countenances nothing could show to greater advantage than the stately form, handsome mien, and commanding features of the Astrologer, who might have passed for one of the ancient magi, imprisoned in a den of robbers, and about to invoke a spirit to accomplish his liberation. And, indeed, had he been distinguished by nothing else than the beauty of the graceful and flowing beard which descended over the mysterious roll which he held in his hand, one might have been pardoned for regretting that so noble an appendage had been bestowed on one who put both talents, learning, and the advantages of eloquence, and a majestic person, to the mean purposes of a cheat and an imposter.

Thus passed the night in Count Herbert’s Tower, in the Castle of Peronne. When the first light of dawn penetrated the ancient Gothic chamber, the King summoned Oliver to his presence, who found the Monarch sitting in his nightgown, and was astonished at the alteration which one night of mortal anxiety had made in his looks. He would have expressed some anxiety on the subject, but the King silenced him by entering into a statement of the various modes by which he had previously endeavoured to form friends at the Court of Burgundy, and which Oliver was charged to prosecute so soon as he should be permitted to stir abroad.

And never was that wily minister more struck with the clearness of the King’s intellect, and his intimate knowledge of all the springs which influence human actions, than he was during that memorable consultation.

About two hours afterwards, Oliver accordingly obtained permission from the Count of Crevecoeur to go out and execute the commissions which his master had intrusted him with, and Louis, sending for the Astrologer, in whom he seemed to have renewed his faith, held with him, in like manner, a long consultation, the issue of which appeared to give him more spirits and confidence than he had at first exhibited; so that he dressed himself, and received the morning compliments of Crevecoeur with a calmness at which the Burgundian Lord could not help Wondering, the rather that he had already heard that the Duke had passed several hours in a state of mind which seemed to render the King’s safety very precarious.

201 the surname of the kings of France, beginning with Hugh Capet, 987

202 This story appropriated by Scott was told of Tiberius, whose soothsayer made the prediction that his own death would take place three days before that of the Emperor. Louis received a similar reply from a soothsayer, who had foretold the death of one of his favourites. Greatly incensed, he arranged for the death of the soothsayer when he should leave the royal presence after an interview. When Louis questioned him as to the day of his death, the astrologer answere that “it would be exactly three days before that of his Majesty. There was, of course, care taken that he should escape his destined fate, and he was ever after much protected by the King, as a man of real science, and intimately connected with the royal destinies.” S. . . . Louis was the slave of his physicians also. Cottier, one of these, was paid a retaining fee of ten thousand crowns, besides great sums in lands and money. “He maintained over Louis unbounded influence, by using to him the most disrespectful harshness and insolence. ‘I know,’ he said to the suffering King, ‘that one morning you will turn me adrift like so many others. But, by Heaven, you had better beware, for you will not live eight days after you have done so!’ S.

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