Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 36

The Sally

The wretch condemn’d with life to part,

Still, still on hope relies,

And every pang that rends the heart,

Bids expectation rise.

Hope, like the glimmering taper’s light,

Adorns and cheers the way;

And still, the darker grows the night,

Emits a brighter ray.

GOLDSMITH

Few days had passed ere Louis had received, with a smile of gratified vengeance, the intelligence that his favourite and his councillor, the Cardinal Balue, was groaning within a cage of iron, so disposed as scarce to permit him to enjoy repose in any posture except when recumbent, and of which, be it said in passing, he remained the unpitied tenant for nearly twelve years. The auxiliary forces which the Duke had required Louis to bring up had also appeared, and he comforted himself that their numbers were sufficient to protect his person against violence, although too limited to cope, had such been his purpose, with the large army of Burgundy. He saw himself also at liberty, when time should suit, to resume his project of marriage between his daughter and the Duke of Orleans; and, although he was sensible to the indignity of serving with his noblest peers under the banners of his own vassal, and against the people whose cause he had abetted, he did not allow these circumstances to embarrass him in the meantime, trusting that a future day would bring him amends.

“For chance,” said he to his trusty Oliver, “may indeed gain one hit, but it is patience and wisdom which win the game at last.”

With such sentiments, upon a beautiful day in the latter end of harvest, the King mounted his horse; and, indifferent that he was looked upon rather as a part of the pageant of a victor, than in the light of an independent Sovereign surrounded by his guards and his chivalry, King Louis sallied from under the Gothic gateway of Peronne, to join the Burgundian army, which commenced at the same time its march against Liege.

Most of the ladies of distinction who were in the place attended, dressed in their best array, upon the battlements and defences of the gate, to see the gallant show of the warriors setting forth on the expedition. Thither had the Countess Crevecoeur brought the Countess Isabelle. The latter attended very reluctantly, but the peremptory order of Charles had been, that she who was to bestow the palm in the tourney should be visible to the knights who were about to enter the lists.

As they thronged out from under the arch, many a pennon and shield was to be seen, graced with fresh devices, expressive of the bearer’s devoted resolution to become a competitor for a prize so fair. Here a charger was painted starting for the goal — there an arrow aimed at a mark — one knight bore a bleeding heart, indicative of his passion — another a skull and a coronet of laurels, showing his determination to win or die. Many others there were; and some so cunningly intricate and obscure, that they might have defied the most ingenious interpreter. Each knight, too, it may be presumed, put his courser to his mettle, and assumed his most gallant seat in the saddle, as he passed for a moment under the view of the fair bevy of dames and damsels, who encouraged their valour by their smiles, and the waving of kerchiefs and of veils. The Archer Guard, selected almost at will from the flower of the Scottish nation, drew general applause, from the gallantry and splendour of their appearance.

And there was one among these strangers who ventured on a demonstration of acquaintance with the Lady Isabelle, which had not been attempted even by the most noble of the French nobility. It was Quentin Durward, who, as he passed the ladies in his rank, presented to the Countess of Croye, on the point of his lance, the letter of her aunt.

“Now, by my honour,” said the Count of Crevecoeur, “that is over insolent in an unworthy adventurer!”

“Do not call him so, Crevecoeur,” said Dunois; “I have good reason to bear testimony to his gallantry — and in behalf of that lady, too.”

“You make words of nothing,” said Isabelle, blushing with shame, and partly with resentment; “it is a letter from my unfortunate aunt. — She writes cheerfully, though her situation must be dreadful.”

“Let us hear, let us hear what says the Boar’s bride,” said Crevecoeur.

The Countess Isabelle read the letter, in which her aunt seemed determined to make the best of a bad bargain, and to console herself for the haste and indecorum of her nuptials, by the happiness of being wedded to one of the bravest men of the age, who had just acquired a princedom by his valour. She implored her niece not to judge of her William (as she called him) by the report of others, but to wait till she knew him personally. He had his faults, perhaps, but they were such as belonged to characters whom she had ever venerated. William was rather addicted to wine, but so was the gallant Sir Godfrey, her grandsire — he was something hasty and sanguinary in his temper, such had been her brother Reinold of blessed memory; he was blunt in speech, few Germans were otherwise; and a little wilful and peremptory, but she believed all men loved to rule. More there was to the same purpose; and the whole concluded with the hope and request that Isabelle would, by means of the bearer, endeavour her escape from the tyrant of Burgundy, and come to her loving kinswoman’s Court of Liege, where any little differences concerning their mutual rights of succession to the Earldom might be adjusted by Isabelle’s marrying Earl Eberson — a bridegroom younger indeed than his bride, but that, as she (the Lady Hameline) might perhaps say from experience, was an inequality more easy to be endured than Isabelle could be aware of. 227

Here the Countess Isabelle stopped, the Abbess observing, with a prim aspect, that she had read quite enough concerning such worldly vanities, and the Count of Crevecoeur, breaking out, “Aroint thee, deceitful witch! — Why, this device smells rank as the toasted cheese in a rat trap. — Now fie, and double fie, upon the old decoy duck!”

The Countess of Crevecoeur gravely rebuked her husband for his violence.

“The Lady,” she said, “must have been deceived by De la Marck with a show of courtesy.”

“He show courtesy!” said the Count. “I acquit him of all such dissimulation. You may as well expect courtesy from a literal wild boar, you may as well try to lay leaf gold on old rusty gibbet irons. No — idiot as she is, she is not quite goose enough to fall in love with the fox who has snapped her, and that in his very den. But you women are all alike — fair words carry it — and, I dare say, here is my pretty cousin impatient to join her aunt in this fool’s paradise, and marry the Bear Pig.”

“So far from being capable of such folly,” said Isabelle, “I am doubly desirous of vengeance on the murderers of the excellent Bishop, because it will, at the same time, free my aunt from the villain’s power.”

“Ah! there indeed spoke the voice of Croye!” exclaimed the Count, and no more was said concerning the letter.

But while Isabelle read her aunt’s epistle to her friends, it must be observed that she did not think it necessary to recite a certain postscript, in which the Countess Hameline, lady-like, gave an account of her occupations, and informed her niece that she had laid aside for the present a surcoat which she was working for her husband, bearing the arms of Croye and La Marck in conjugal fashion, parted per pale, because her William had determined, for purposes of policy, in the first action to have others dressed in his coat armour and himself to assume the arms of Orleans, with a bar sinister — in other words, those of Dunois. There was also a slip of paper in another hand, the contents of which the Countess did not think it necessary to mention, being simply these words: “If you hear not of me soon, and that by the trumpet of Fame, conclude me dead, but not unworthy.”

A thought, hitherto repelled as wildly incredible, now glanced with double keenness through Isabelle’s soul. As female wit seldom fails in the contrivance of means, she so ordered it that ere the troops were fully on march, Quentin Durward received from an unknown hand the billet of Lady Hameline, marked with three crosses opposite to the postscript, and having these words subjoined: “He who feared not the arms of Orleans when on the breast of their gallant owner, cannot dread them when displayed on that of a tyrant and murderer.”

A thousand thousand times was this intimation kissed and pressed to the bosom of the young Scot! for it marshalled him on the path where both Honour and Love held out the reward, and possessed him with a secret unknown to others, by which to distinguish him whose death could alone give life to his hopes, and which he prudently resolved to lock up in his own bosom.

But Durward saw the necessity of acting otherwise respecting the information communicated by Hayraddin, since the proposed sally of De la Marck, unless heedfully guarded against, might prove the destruction of the besieging army, so difficult was it, in the tumultuous warfare of those days, to recover from a nocturnal surprise. After pondering on the matter, he formed the additional resolution, that he would not communicate the intelligence save personally, and to both the Princes while together, perhaps because he felt that to mention so well contrived and hopeful a scheme to Louis whilst in private, might be too strong a temptation to the wavering probity of that Monarch, and lead him to assist, rather than repel, the intended sally. He determined, therefore, to watch for an opportunity of revealing the secret whilst Louis and Charles were met, which, as they were not particularly fond of the constraint imposed by each other’s society, was not likely soon to occur.

Meanwhile the march continued, and the confederates soon entered the territories of Liege. Here the Burgundian soldiers, at least a part of them, composed of those bands who had acquired the title of Ecorcheurs, or flayers, showed, by the usage which they gave the inhabitants, under pretext of avenging the Bishop’s death, that they well deserved that honourable title; while their conduct greatly prejudiced the cause of Charles, the aggrieved inhabitants, who might otherwise have been passive in the quarrel, assuming arms in self defence, harassing his march by cutting off small parties, and falling back before the main body upon the city itself, thus augmenting the numbers and desperation of those who had resolved to defend it. The French, few in number, and those the choice soldiers of the country, kept, according to the King’s orders, close by their respective standards, and observed the strictest discipline, a contrast which increased the suspicions of Charles, who could not help remarking that the troops of Louis demeaned themselves as if they were rather friends to the Liegeois than allies of Burgundy.

At length, without experiencing any serious opposition, the army arrived in the rich valley of the Maes, and before the large and populous city of Liege. The Castle of Schonwaldt they found had been totally destroyed, and learned that William de la Marck, whose only talents were of a military cast, had withdrawn his whole forces into the city, and was determined to avoid the encounter of the chivalry of France and Burgundy in the open field. But the invaders were not long of experiencing the danger which must always exist in attacking a large town, however open, if the inhabitants are disposed to defend it desperately.

A part of the Burgundian vanguard, conceiving that, from the dismantled and breached state of the walls, they had nothing to do but to march into Liege at their ease, entered one of the suburbs with the shouts of “Burgundy, Burgundy, Kill, kill — all is ours! — Remember Louis of Bourbon!”

But as they marched in disorder through the narrow streets, and were partly dispersed for the purpose of pillage, a large body of the inhabitants issued suddenly from the town, fell furiously upon them, and made considerable slaughter. De la Marck even availed himself of the breaches in the walls, which permitted the defenders to issue out at different points, and, by taking separate routes into the contested suburb, to attack, in the front, flank, and rear at once the assailants, who, stunned by the furious, unexpected, and multiplied nature of the resistance offered, could hardly stand to their arms. The evening, which began to close, added to their confusion.

When this news was brought to Duke Charles, he was furious with rage, which was not much appeased by the offer of King Louis to send the French men at arms into the suburbs, to rescue and bring off the Burgundian vanguard. Rejecting this offer briefly, he would have put himself at the head of his own Guards, to extricate those engaged in the incautious advance; but D’Hymbercourt and Crevecoeur entreated him to leave the service to them, and, marching into the scene of action at two points with more order and proper arrangement for mutual support, these two celebrated captains succeeded in repulsing the Liegeois, and in extricating the vanguard, who lost, besides prisoners, no fewer than eight hundred men, of whom about a hundred were men at arms. The prisoners, however, were not numerous, most of them having been rescued by D’Hymbercourt, who now proceeded to occupy the contested suburb, and to place guards opposite to the town, from which it was divided by an open space, or esplanade, of five or six hundred yards, left free of buildings for the purposes of defence. There was no moat betwixt the suburb and town, the ground being rocky in that place. A gate fronted the suburb, from which sallies might be easily made, and the wall was pierced by two or three of those breaches which Duke Charles had caused to be made after the battle of Saint Tron, and which had been hastily repaired with mere barricades of timber.

D’Hymbercourt turned two culverins on the gate, and placed two others opposite to the principal breach, to repel any sally from the city, and then returned to the Burgundian army, which he found in great disorder. In fact, the main body and rear of the numerous army of the Duke had continued to advance, while the broken and repulsed vanguard was in the act of retreating; and they had come into collision with each other, to the great confusion of both. The necessary absence of D’Hymbercourt, who discharged all the duties of Marechal du Camp, or, as we should now say, of Quartermaster General, augmented the disorder; and to complete the whole, the night sank down dark as a wolf’s mouth; there fell a thick and heavy rain, and the ground on which the beleaguering army must needs take up their position, was muddy and intersected with many canals. It is scarce possible to form an idea of the confusion which prevailed in the Burgundian army, where leaders were separated from their soldiers, and soldiers from their standards and officers. Every one, from the highest to the lowest, was seeking shelter and accommodation where he could individually find it; while the wearied and wounded, who had been engaged in the battle, were calling in vain for shelter and refreshment; and while those who knew nothing of the disaster were pressing on to have their share in the sack of the place, which they had no doubt was proceeding merrily.

When D’Hymbercourt returned, he had a task to perform of incredible difficulty, and imbittered by the reproaches of his master, who made no allowance for the still more necessary duty in which he had been engaged, until the temper of the gallant soldier began to give way under the Duke’s unreasonable reproaches.

“I went hence to restore some order in the van,” he said, “and left the main body under your Grace’s own guidance, and now, on my return, I can neither find that we have front, flank, nor rear, so utter is the confusion.”

“We are the more like a barrel of herrings,” answered Le Glorieux, “which is the most natural resemblance for a Flemish army.”

The jester’s speech made the Duke laugh, and perhaps prevented a farther prosecution of the altercation betwixt him and his general.

By dint of great exertion, a small lusthaus, or country villa of some wealthy citizen of Liege, was secured and cleared of other occupants, for the accommodation of the Duke and his immediate attendants; and the authority of D’Hymbercourt and Crevecoeur at length established a guard in the vicinity, of about forty men at arms, who lighted a very large fire, made with the timber of the outhouses, which they pulled down for the purpose.

A little to the left of this villa, and betwixt it and the suburb, which, as we have said, was opposite to the city gate, and occupied by the Burgundian Vanguard, lay another pleasure house, surrounded by a garden and courtyard, and having two or three small enclosures or fields in the rear of it. In this the King of France established his own headquarters. He did not himself pretend to be a soldier further than a natural indifference to danger and much sagacity qualified him to be called such; but he was always careful to employ the most skilful in that profession, and reposed in them the confidence they merited. Louis and his immediate attendants occupied this second villa, a part of his Scottish Guard were placed in the court, where there were outhouses and sheds to shelter them from the weather; the rest were stationed in the garden. The remainder of the French men at arms were quartered closely together and in good order, with alarm posts stationed, in case of their having to sustain an attack.

Dunois and Crawford, assisted by several old officers and soldiers, amongst whom Le Balafre was conspicuous for his diligence, contrived, by breaking down walls, making openings through hedges, filling up ditches, and the like, to facilitate the communication of the troops with each other, and the orderly combination of the whole in case of necessity.

Meanwhile, the King judged it proper to go without farther ceremony to the quarters of the Duke of Burgundy, to ascertain what was to be the order of proceeding, and what cooperation was expected from him. His presence occasioned a sort of council of war to be held, of which Charles might not otherwise have dreamed.

It was then that Quentin Durward prayed earnestly to be admitted, as having something of importance to deliver to the two Princes. This was obtained without much difficulty, and great was the astonishment of Louis, when he heard him calmly and distinctly relate the purpose of William de la Marck to make a sally upon the camp of the besiegers, under the dress and banners of the French. Louis would probably have been much better pleased to have had such important news communicated in private, but as the whole story had been publicly told in presence of the Duke of Burgundy, he only observed, that, whether true or false, such a report concerned them most materially.

“Not a whit! — not a whit!” said the Duke carelessly. “Had there been such a purpose as this young man announces, it had not been communicated to me by an Archer of the Scottish Guard.”

“However that may be,” answered Louis, “I pray you, fair cousin, you and your captains, to attend, that to prevent the unpleasing consequences of such an attack, should it be made unexpectedly, I will cause my soldiers to wear white scarfs over their armour. — Dunois, see it given out on the instant — that is,” he added, “if our brother and general approves of it.”

“I see no objection,” replied the Duke, “if the chivalry of France are willing to run the risk of having the name of the Knights of the Smock Sleeve bestowed on them in future.”

“It would be a right well adapted title, friend Charles,” said Le Glorieux, “considering that a woman is the reward of the most valiant.”

“Well spoken, Sagacity,” said Louis. “Cousin, good night, I will go arm me. — By the way, what if I win the Countess with mine own hand?

“Your Majesty,” said the Duke, in an altered tone of voice, “must then become a true Fleming.”

“I cannot,” answered Louis, in a tone of the most sincere confidence, “be more so than I am already, could I but bring you, my dear cousin, to believe it.”

The Duke only replied by wishing the King good night in a tone resembling the snort of a shy horse, starting from the caress of the rider when he is about to mount, and is soothing him to stand still.

“I could pardon all his duplicity,” said the Duke to Crevecoeur, “but cannot forgive his supposing me capable of the gross folly of being duped by his professions.”

Louis, too, had his confidences with Oliver le Dain, when he returned to his own quarters. “This,” he said, “is such a mixture of shrewdness and simplicity, that I know not what to make of him. Pasques dieu! think of his unpardonable folly in bringing out honest De la Marck’s plan of a sally before the face of Burgundy, Crevecoeur, and all of them, instead of rounding it in my ear, and giving me at least the choice of abetting or defeating it!”

“It is better as it is, Sire,” said Oliver; “there are many in your present train who would scruple to assail Burgundy undefied, or to ally themselves with De la Marck.”

“Thou art right, Oliver. Such fools there are in the world, and we have no time to reconcile their scruples by a little dose of self interest. We must be true men, Oliver, and good allies of Burgundy, for this night at least — time may give us a chance of a better game. Go, tell no man to unarm himself; and let them shoot, in case of necessity, as sharply on those who cry France and St. Denis! as if they cried Hell and Satan! I will myself sleep in my armour. Let Crawford place Quentin Durward on the extreme point of our line of sentinels, next to the city. Let him e’en have the first benefit of the sally which he has announced to us — if his luck bear him out, it is the better for him. But take an especial care of Martius Galeotti, and see he remain in the rear, in a place of the most absolute safety — he is even but too venturous, and, like a fool, would be both swordsman and philosopher. See to these things, Oliver, and good night. — Our Lady of Clery, and Monseigneur St. Martin of Tours, be gracious to my slumbers!” 228

227 The marriage of William de la Marck with the Lady Hameline is as apocryphal as the lady herself. — S.

228 The Duke of Burgundy, full of resentment for the usage which the Bishop had received from the people of Liege (whose death, as already noticed, did not take place for some years after), and knowing that the walls of the town had not been repaired since they were breached by himself after the battle of Saint Tron, advanced recklessly to their chastisement. His commanders shared his presumptuous confidence: for the advanced guard of his army, under the Marechal of Burgundy, and Seigneur D’Hymbercourt, rushed upon one of the suburbs, without waiting for the rest of their army, which, commanded by the Duke in person, remained about seven or eight leagues in the rear. The night was closing, and, as the Burgundian troops observed no discipline, they were exposed to a sudden attack from a party of the citizens commanded by Jean de Vilde, who, assaulting them in the front and rear, threw them into great disorder, and killed more than eight hundred men, of whom one hundred were men at arms. When Charles and the King of France came up, they took up their quarters in two villas situated near to the wall of the city. In the two or three days which followed, Louis was distinguished for the quiet and regulated composure with which he pressed the siege, and provided for defence in case of sallies; while the Duke of Burgundy, no way deficient in courage, and who showed the rashness and want of order which was his principal characteristic, seemed also extremely suspicious that the King would desert him and join with the Liegeois. They lay before the town for five or six days, and at length fixed the 30th of October, 1468, for a general storm. The citizens, who had probably information of their intent, resolved to prevent their purpose and determined on anticipating it by a desperate sally through the breaches in their walls. They placed at their head six hundred of the men of the little territory of Fraudemont, belonging to the Bishopric of Liege, and reckoned the most valiant of their troops. They burst out of the town on a sudden, surprised the Duke of Burgundy’s quarters, ere his guards could put on their armour, which they had laid off to enjoy some repose before the assault. The King of France’s lodgings were also attacked and endangered. A great confusion ensued, augmented incalculably by the mutual jealousy and suspicions of the French and Burgundians. The people of Liege were, however, unable to maintain their hardy enterprise, when the men at arms of the king and Duke began to recover from their confusion, and were finally forced to retire within their walls, after narrowly missing the chance of surprising both King Louis and the Duke of Burgundy, the most powerful princes of their time. At daybreak the storm took place, as had been originally intended, and the citizens, disheartened and fatigued by the nocturnal sally, did not make so much resistance as was expected. Liege was taken and miserably pillaged, without regard to sex or age, things sacred or things profane. These particulars are fully related by Comines in his Memoires, liv. ii, chap. 11, 12, 13, and do not differ much from the account of the same events given in the text. S.

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