Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 5

The Man at Arms

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.

AS YOU LIKE IT

The cavalier who awaited Quentin Durward’s descent into the apartment where he had breakfasted, was one of those of whom Louis XI had long since said that they held in their hands the fortune of France, as to them were intrusted the direct custody and protection of the royal person.

Charles the Sixth had instituted this celebrated body, the Archers, as they were called, of the Scottish Bodyguard, with better reason than can generally be alleged for establishing round the throne a guard of foreign and mercenary troops. The divisions which tore from his side more than half of France, together with the wavering and uncertain faith of the nobility who yet acknowledged his cause, rendered it impolitic and unsafe to commit his personal safety to their keeping. The Scottish nation was the hereditary enemy of the English, and the ancient, and, as it seemed, the natural allies of France. They were poor, courageous, faithful; their ranks were sure to be supplied from the superabundant population of their own country, than which none in Europe sent forth more or bolder adventurers. Their high claims of descent, too, gave them a good title to approach the person of a monarch more closely than other troops, while the comparative smallness of their numbers prevented the possibility of their mutinying, and becoming masters where they ought to be servants.

On the other hand, the French monarchs made it their policy to conciliate the affections of this select band of foreigners, by allowing them honorary privileges and ample pay, which last most of them disposed of with military profusion in supporting their supposed rank. Each of them ranked as a gentleman in place and honour; and their near approach to the King’s person gave them dignity in their own eyes, as well as importance in those of the nation of France. They were sumptuously armed, equipped, and mounted; and each was entitled to allowance for a squire, a valet, a page; and two yeomen, one of whom was termed coutelier, from the large knife which he wore to dispatch those whom in the melee his master had thrown to the ground. With these followers, and a corresponding equipage, an Archer of the Scottish Guard was a person of quality and importance; and vacancies being generally filled up by those who had been trained in the service as pages or valets, the cadets of the best Scottish families were often sent to serve under some friend and relation in those capacities, until a chance of preferment should occur.

The coutelier and his companion, not being noble or capable of this promotion, were recruited from persons of inferior quality; but as their pay and appointments were excellent, their masters were easily able to select from among their wandering countrymen the strongest and most courageous to wait upon them in these capacities.

Ludovic Lesly, or as we shall more frequently call him, Le Balafre, by which name he was generally known in France, was upwards of six feet high, robust, strongly compacted in person, and hard favoured in countenance, which latter attribute was much increased by a large and ghastly scar, which, beginning on his forehead, and narrowly missing his right eye, had laid bare the cheek bone, and descended from thence almost to the tip of his ear, exhibiting a deep seam, which was sometimes scarlet, sometimes purple, sometimes blue, and sometimes approaching to black; but always hideous, because at variance with the complexion of the face in whatever state it chanced to be, whether agitated or still, flushed with unusual passion, or in its ordinary state of weather-beaten and sunburnt swarthiness.

His dress and arms were splendid. He wore his national bonnet, crested with a tuft of feathers, and with a Virgin Mary of massive silver for a brooch. These brooches had been presented to the Scottish Guard, in consequence of the King, in one of his fits of superstitions piety, having devoted the swords of his guard to the service of the Holy Virgin, and, as some say, carried the matter so far as to draw out a commission to Our Lady as their Captain General. The Archer’s gorget, arm pieces, and gauntlets, were of the finest steel, curiously inlaid with silver, and his hauberk, or shirt of mail, was as clear and bright as the frostwork of a winter morning upon fern or brier. He wore a loose surcoat or cassock of rich blue velvet, open at the sides like that of a herald, with a large white St. Andrew’s cross of embroidered silver bisecting it both before and behind; his knees and legs were protected by hose of mail and shoes of steel; a broad, strong poniard (called the Mercy of God), hung by his right side; the baldric for his two handed sword, richly embroidered, hung upon his left shoulder; but for convenience he at present carried in his hand that unwieldy weapon which the rules of his service forbade him to lay aside. 35

Quentin Durward — though, like the Scottish youth of the period, he had been early taught to look upon arms and war — thought he had never seen a more martial looking, or more completely equipped and accomplished man at arms than now saluted him in the person of his mother’s brother, called Ludovic with the Scar, or Le Balafre; yet he could not but shrink a little from the grim expression of his countenance, while, with its rough moustaches, he brushed first the one and then the other cheek of his kinsman, welcomed his nephew to France, and, in the same breath, asked what news from Scotland.

“Little good tidings, dear uncle,” replied young Durward; “but I am glad that you know me so readily.”

“I would have known thee, boy, in the landes of Bourdeaux, had I met thee marching there like a crane on a pair of stilts 36. But sit thee down — sit thee down — if there is sorrow to hear of, we will have wine to make us bear it. — Ho! old Pinch Measure, our good host, bring us of thy best, and that in an instant.”

The well known sound of the Scottish French was as familiar in the taverns near Plessis as that of the Swiss French in the modern guinguettes 37 of Paris; and promptly — ay, with the promptitude of fear and precipitation, was it heard and obeyed. A flagon of champagne stood before them, of which the elder took a draught, while the nephew helped himself only to a moderate sip to acknowledge his uncle’s courtesy, saying, in excuse, that he had already drunk wine that morning.

“That had been a rare good apology in the mouth of thy sister, fair nephew,” said Le Balafre; “you must fear the wine pot less, if you would wear beard on your face, and write yourself soldier. But, come — come — unbuckle your Scottish mail bag — give us the news of Glen Houlakin — How doth my sister?”

“Dead, fair uncle,” answered Quentin, sorrowfully.

“Dead!” echoed his uncle, with a tone rather marked by wonder than sympathy, — “why, she was five years younger than I, and I was never better in my life. Dead! the thing is impossible. I have never had so much as a headache, unless after revelling out of my two or three days’ furlough with the brethren of the joyous science — and my poor sister is dead — And your father, fair nephew, hath he married again?”

And, ere the youth could reply, he read the answer in his surprise at the question, and said, “What! no — I would have sworn that Allan Durward was no man to live without a wife. He loved to have his house in order — loved to look on a pretty woman too; and was somewhat strict in life withal — matrimony did all this for him. Now, I care little about these comforts, and I can look on a pretty woman without thinking on the sacrament of wedlock — I am scarce holy enough for that.”

“Alas! dear uncle, my mother was left a widow a year since, when Glen Houlakin was harried by the Ogilvies. My father, and my two uncles, and my two elder brothers, and seven of my kinsmen, and the harper, and the tasker, and some six more of our people, were killed in defending the castle, and there is not a burning hearth or a standing stone in all Glen Houlakin.”

“Cross of Saint Andrew!” said Le Balafre; “that is what I call an onslaught! Ay, these Ogilvies were ever but sorry neighbours to Glen Houlakin — an evil chance it was; but fate of war — fate of war. — When did this mishap befall, fair nephew?” With that he took a deep draught of wine, and shook his head with much solemnity, when his kinsman replied that his family had been destroyed upon the festival of Saint Jude 38 last bypast.

“Look ye there,” said the soldier; “I said it was all chance — on that very day I and twenty of my comrades carried the Castle of Roche Noir by storm, from Amaury Bras de fer, a captain of free lances, whom you must have heard of. I killed him on his own threshold, and gained as much gold as made this fair chain, which was once twice as long as it now is — and that minds me to send part of it on an holy errand. — Here, Andrew — Andrew!”

Andrew, his yeoman, entered, dressed like the Archer himself in the general equipment, but without the armour for the limbs — that of the body more coarsely manufactured — his cap without a plume, and his cassock made of serge, or ordinary cloth, instead of rich velvet. Untwining his gold chain from his neck, Balafre twisted off, with his firm and strong set teeth, about four inches from the one end of it, and said to his attendant, “Here, Andrew, carry this to my gossip, jolly Father Boniface, the monk of St. Martin’s; greet him well from me, by the same token that he could not say God save ye when we last parted at midnight. — Tell my gossip that my brother and sister, and some others of my house, are all dead and gone, and I pray him to say masses for their souls as far as the value of these links will carry him, and to do on trust what else may be necessary to free them from Purgatory. And hark ye, as they were just living people, and free from all heresy, it may be that they are well nigh out of limbo already, so that a little matter may have them free of the fetlocks; and in that case, look ye, ye will say I desire to take out the balance of the gold in curses upon a generation called the Ogilvies of Angus Shire, in what way soever the church may best come at them. You understand all this, Andrew?”

The coutelier nodded.

“Then look that none of the links find their way to the wine house ere the monk touches them; for if it so chance, thou shalt taste of saddle girth and stirrup leather till thou art as raw as Saint Bartholomew 39 — Yet hold, I see thy eye has fixed on the wine measure, and thou shalt not go without tasting.”

So saying, he filled him a brimful cup, which the coutelier drank off, and retired to do his patron’s commission.

“And now, fair nephew, let us hear what was your own fortune in this unhappy matter.”

“I fought it out among those who were older and stouter than I was, till we were all brought down,” said Durward, “and I received a cruel wound.”

“Not a worse slash than I received ten years since myself,” said Le Balafre. “Look at this, now, my fair nephew,” tracing the dark crimson gash which was imprinted on his face. — “An Ogilvy’s sword never ploughed so deep a furrow.”

“They ploughed deep enough,” answered Quentin, sadly, “but they were tired at last, and my mother’s entreaties procured mercy for me, when I was found to retain some spark of life; but although a learned monk of Aberbrothik, who chanced to be our guest at the fatal time, and narrowly escaped being killed in the fray, was permitted to bind my wounds, and finally to remove me to a place of safety, it was only on promise, given both by my mother and him, that I should become a monk.”

“A monk!” exclaimed the uncle. “Holy Saint Andrew! that is what never befell me. No one, from my childhood upwards, ever so much as dreamed of making me a monk. And yet I wonder when I think of it; for you will allow that, bating the reading and writing, which I could never learn, and the psalmody, which I could never endure, and the dress, which is that of a mad beggar — Our Lady forgive me! [here he crossed himself] and their fasts, which do not suit my appetite, I would have made every whit as good a monk as my little gossip at St. Martin’s yonder. But I know not why, none ever proposed the station to me. — Oh, so, fair nephew, you were to be a monk, then — and wherefore, I pray you?”

“That my father’s house might be ended, either in the cloister or in the tomb,” answered Quentin, with deep feeling.

“I see,” answered his uncle — “I comprehend. Cunning rogues — very cunning! They might have been cheated, though; for, look ye, fair nephew, I myself remember the canon Robersart who had taken the vows and afterwards broke out of cloister, and became a captain of Free Companions. He had a mistress, the prettiest wench I ever saw, and three as beautiful children. — There is no trusting monks, fair nephew — no trusting them — they may become soldiers and fathers when you least expect it — but on with your tale.”

“I have little more to tell,” said Durward, “except that, considering my poor mother to be in some degree a pledge for me, I was induced to take upon me the dress of a novice, and conformed to the cloister rules, and even learned to read and write.”

“To read and write!” exclaimed Le Balafre, who was one of that sort of people who think all knowledge is miraculous which chances to exceed their own. “To write, say’st thou, and to read! I cannot believe it — never Durward could write his name that ever I heard of, nor Lesly either. I can answer for one of them — I can no more write than I can fly. Now, in Saint Louis’s name, how did they teach it you?”

“It was troublesome at first,” said Durward, “but became more easy by use; and I was weak with my wounds, and loss of blood, and desirous to gratify my preserver, Father Peter, and so I was the more easily kept to my task. But after several months’ languishing, my good, kind mother died, and as my health was now fully restored, I communicated to my benefactor, who was also Sub Prior of the convent, my reluctance to take the vows; and it was agreed between us, since my vocation lay not to the cloister, that I should be sent out into the world to seek my fortune, and that to save the Sub Prior from the anger of the Ogilvies, my departure should have the appearance of flight; and to colour it I brought off the Abbot’s hawk with me. But I was regularly dismissed, as will appear from the hand and seal of the Abbot himself.”

“That is right, that is well,” said his uncle. “Our King cares little what other theft thou mayst have made, but hath a horror at anything like a breach of the cloister. And I warrant thee, thou hadst no great treasure to bear thy charges?”

“Only a few pieces of silver,” said the youth; “for to you, fair uncle, I must make a free confession.”

“Alas!” replied Le Balafre, “that is hard. Now, though I am never a hoarder of my pay, because it doth ill to bear a charge about one in these perilous times, yet I always have (and I would advise you to follow my example) some odd gold chain, or bracelet, or carcanet, that serves for the ornament of my person, and can at need spare a superfluous link or two, or it may be a superfluous stone for sale, that can answer any immediate purpose. But you may ask, fair kinsman, how you are to come by such toys as this.” (He shook his chain with complacent triumph.) “They hang not on every bush — they grow not in the fields like the daffodils, with whose stalks children make knights’ collars. What then? — you may get such where I got this, in the service of the good King of France, where there is always wealth to be found, if a man has but the heart to seek it at the risk of a little life or so.”

“I understood,” said Quentin, evading a decision to which he felt himself as yet scarcely competent, “that the Duke of Burgundy keeps a more noble state than the King of France, and that there is more honour to be won under his banners — that good blows are struck there, and deeds of arms done; while the most Christian King, they say, gains his victories by his ambassadors’ tongues.”

“You speak like a foolish boy, fair nephew,” answered he with the scar; “and yet, I bethink me, when I came hither I was nearly as simple: I could never think of a King but what I supposed him either sitting under the high deas, and feasting amid his high vassals and Paladins, eating blanc mange, with a great gold crown upon his head, or else charging at the head of his troops like Charlemagne 41 in the romaunts, or like Robert Bruce 42 or William Wallace 43 in our own true histories, such as Barbour 44 and the Minstrel45. Hark in thine ear, man — it is all moonshine in the water. Policy — policy does it all. But what is policy, you will say? It is an art this French King of ours has found out, to fight with other men’s swords, and to wage his soldiers out of other men’s purses. Ah! it is the wisest prince that ever put purple on his back — and yet he weareth not much of that neither — I see him often go plainer than I would think befitted me to do.”

“But you meet not my exception, fair uncle,” answered young Durward; “I would serve, since serve I must in a foreign land, somewhere where a brave deed, were it may hap to do one, might work me a name.”

“I understand you, my fair nephew,” said the royal man at arms, “I understand you passing well; but you are unripe in these matters. The Duke of Burgundy is a hot brained, impetuous, pudding headed, iron ribbed dare all. He charges at the head of his nobles and native knights, his liegemen of Artois and Hainault; think you, if you were there, or if I were there myself, that we could be much farther forward than the Duke and all his brave nobles of his own land? If we were not up with them, we had a chance to be turned on the Provost Marshal’s hands for being slow in making to; if we were abreast of them, all would be called well and we might be thought to have deserved our pay; and grant that I was a spear’s length or so in the front, which is both difficult and dangerous in such a melee where all do their best, why, my lord Duke says in his Flemish tongue, when he sees a good blow struck, ‘Ha! gut getroffen 46! a good lance — a brave Scot — give him a florin to drink our health;’ but neither rank, nor lands, nor treasures come to the stranger in such a service — all goes to the children of the soil.”

“And where should it go, in Heaven’s name, fair uncle?” demanded young Durward.

“To him that protects the children of the soil,” said Balafre, drawing up his gigantic height. “Thus says King Louis ‘My good French peasant — mine honest Jacques Bonhomme, get you to your tools, your plough and your harrow, your pruning knife and your hoe — here is my gallant Scot that will fight for you, and you shall only have the trouble to pay him. And you, my most serene duke, my illustrious count, and my most mighty marquis, e’en rein up your fiery courage till it is wanted, for it is apt to start out of the course, and to hurt its master; here are my companies of ordnance — here are my French Guards — here are, above all, my Scottish Archers, and mine honest Ludovic with the Scar, who will fight, as well or better than you, will fight with all that undisciplined valour which, in your father’s time, lost Cressy and Azincour 47. Now, see you not in which of these states a cavalier of fortune holds the highest rank, and must come to the highest honour?”

“I think I understand you, fair uncle,” answered the nephew; “but, in my mind, honour cannot be won where there is no risk. Sure, this is — I pray pardon me — an easy and almost slothful life, to mount guard round an elderly man whom no one thinks of harming, to spend summer day and winter night up in yonder battlements, and shut up all the while in iron cages, for fear you should desert your posts — uncle, uncle, it is but a hawk upon his perch, who is never carried out to the fields!”

“Now, by Saint Martin of Tours, the boy has some spirit! a right touch of the Lesly in him; much like myself, though always with a little more folly in it. Hark ye, youth — Long live the King of France! — scarce a day but there is some commission in hand, by which some of his followers may win both coin and credit. Think not that the bravest and most dangerous deeds are done by daylight. I could tell you of some, as scaling castles, making prisoners, and the like, where one who shall be nameless hath run higher risk and gained greater favour than any desperado in the train of desperate Charles of Burgundy. And if it please his Majesty to remain behind, and in the background, while such things are doing, he hath the more leisure of spirit to admire, and the more liberality of hand to reward the adventurers, whose dangers, perhaps, and whose feats of arms, he can better judge of than if he had personally shared them. Oh, ‘t is a sagacious and most politic monarch!”

His nephew paused, and then said, in a low but impressive tone of voice, “the good Father Peter used often to teach me there might be much danger in deeds by which little glory was acquired. I need not say to you, fair uncle, that I do in course suppose that these secret commissions must needs be honourable.”

“For whom or for what take you me, fair nephew,” said Balafre, somewhat sternly; “I have not been trained, indeed, in the cloister, neither can I write or read. But I am your mother’s brother; I am a loyal Lesly. Think you that I am like to recommend to you anything unworthy? The best knight in France, Du Guesclin himself, if he were alive again, might be proud to number my deeds among his achievements.”

“I cannot doubt your warranty, fair uncle,” said the youth; “you are the only adviser my mishap has left me. But is it true, as fame says, that this King keeps a meagre Court here at his Castle of Plessis? No repair of nobles or courtiers, none of his grand feudatories in attendance, none of the high officers of the crown; half solitary sports, shared only with the menials of his household; secret councils, to which only low and obscure men are invited; rank and nobility depressed, and men raised from the lowest origin to the kingly favour — all this seems unregulated, resembles not the manners of his father, the noble Charles, who tore from the fangs of the English lion this more than half conquered kingdom of France.”

“You speak like a giddy child,” said Le Balafre, “and even as a child, you harp over the same notes on a new string. Look you: if the King employs Oliver Dain, his barber, to do what Oliver can do better than any peer of them all, is not the kingdom the gainer? If he bids his stout Provost Marshal, Tristan, arrest such or such a seditious burgher, take off such or such a turbulent noble, the deed is done, and no more of it; when, were the commission given to a duke or peer of France, he might perchance send the King back a defiance in exchange. If, again, the King pleases to give to plain Ludovic le Balafre a commission which he will execute, instead of employing the High Constable, who would perhaps betray it, doth it not show wisdom? Above all, doth not a monarch of such conditions best suit cavaliers of fortune, who must go where their services are most highly prized, and most frequently in demand? — No, no, child, I tell thee Louis knows how to choose his confidants, and what to charge them with; suiting, as they say, the burden to each man’s back. He is not like the King of Castile, who choked with thirst, because the great butler was not beside to hand his cup. — But hark to the bell of St. Martin’s! I must hasten, back to the Castle — Farewell — make much of yourself, and at eight tomorrow morning present yourself before the drawbridge, and ask the sentinel for me. Take heed you step not off the straight and beaten path in approaching the portal! There are such traps and snap haunches as may cost you a limb, which you will sorely miss. You shall see the King, and learn to judge him for yourself — farewell.”

So saying, Balafre hastily departed, forgetting, in his hurry, to pay for the wine he had called for, a shortness of memory incidental to persons of his description, and which his host, overawed perhaps by the nodding bonnet and ponderous two handed sword, did not presume to use any efforts for correcting. It might have been expected that, when left alone, Durward would have again betaken himself to his turret, in order to watch for the repetition of those delicious sounds which had soothed his morning reverie. But that was a chapter of romance, and his uncle’s conversation had opened to him a page of the real history of life. It was no pleasing one, and for the present the recollections and reflections which it excited were qualified to overpower other thoughts, and especially all of a light and soothing nature.

Quentin resorted to a solitary walk along the banks of the rapid Cher, having previously inquired of his landlord for one which he might traverse without fear of disagreeable interruption from snares and pitfalls, and there endeavoured to compose his turmoiled and scattered thoughts, and consider his future motions, upon which his meeting with his uncle had thrown some dubiety.

35 St. Andrew was the first called to apostleship. He made many converts to Christianity and was finally crucified on a cross of peculiar form, which has since been called the St. Andrew’s cross. Certain of his relics were brought to Scotland in the fourth century, and he has since that time been honoured as the patron saint of that country. He is also the patron saint of the Burgundian Order, the Golden Fleece.

36 the crutches or stilts which in Scotland are used to pass rivers. They are employed by the peasantry of the country near Bordeaux to traverse those deserts of loose sand called Landes. S

37 common inns

38 October 28

39 he was flayed alive. In Michael Angelo’s Last Judgment he is represented as holding his skin in his hand

41 Charlemagne (742?-814): King of the Franks and crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800. His kingdom included Germany and France, the greater part of Italy, and Spain as far as the Ebro. As Emperor of the West he bore the title Caesar Augustus. He established churches and monasteries, and encouraged arts and learning. He figures largely in mediaeval minstrelsy, where the achievements of his knights, or paladins, rival those of Arthur’s court.

42 Robert Bruce: the grandson of Robert Bruce, the competitor with John Baliol for the Scottish throne. He defeated the English forces at Bannockburn in 1314, and thus secured the independence of Scotland, an independence which lasted until the two kingdoms were united under one crown in 1707.

43 William Wallace: another brave Scottish leader in the war for independence against Edward I of England. Wallace was betrayed in 1305 and carried to London, where he was cruelly executed as a traitor.

44 Barbour: an eminent Scottish poet contemporary with Chaucer. His principal work, The Bruce, records the life and deeds of Robert Bruce.

45 Harry the Minstrel or “Blind Harry” was the author of a poem on the life and deeds of Wallace which was held in peculiar reverence by the Scotch people.

46 well struck

47 two famous victories in the Hundred Years’ War gained over the French by the English, near the towns of Crecy and Agincourt, in 1346 and 1415. See Shakespeare’s Henry V for a description of the latter.

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