Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott

Chapter 9

The Boar Hunt

I will converse with unrespective boys

And iron witted fools. None are for me

that look into me with suspicious eyes.

KING RICHARD

All the experience which the Cardinal had been able to collect of his master’s disposition, did not, upon the present occasion, prevent his falling into a great error of policy. His vanity induced him to think that he had been more successful in prevailing upon the Count of Crevecoeur to remain at Tours, than any other moderator whom the King might have employed, would, in all probability, have been. And as he was well aware of the importance which Louis attached to the postponement of a war with the Duke of Burgundy, he could not help showing that he conceived himself to have rendered the King great and acceptable service. He pressed nearer to the King’s person than he was wont to do, and endeavoured to engage him in conversation on the events of the morning.

This was injudicious in more respects than one, for princes love not to see their subjects approach them with an air conscious of deserving, and thereby seeming desirous to extort, acknowledgment and recompense for their services; and Louis, the most jealous monarch that ever lived, was peculiarly averse and inaccessible to any one who seemed either to presume upon service rendered or to pry into his secrets.

Yet, hurried away, as the most cautious sometimes are, by the self satisfied humour of the moment, the Cardinal continued to ride on the King’s right hand, turning the discourse, whenever it was possible, upon Crevecoeur and his embassy which, although it might be the matter at that moment most in the King’s thoughts, was nevertheless precisely that which he was least willing to converse on. At length Louis, who had listened to him with attention, yet without having returned any answer which could tend to prolong the conversation, signed to Dunois, who rode at no great distance, to come up on the other side of his horse.

“We came hither for sport and exercise,” said he, “but the reverend Father here would have us hold a council of state.”

“I hope your Highness will excuse my assistance,” said Dunois; “I am born to fight the battles of France, and have heart and hand for that, but I have no head for her councils.”

“My Lord Cardinal hath a head turned for nothing else, Dunois,” answered Louis; “he hath confessed Crevecoeur at the Castle gate, and he hath communicated to us his whole shrift. — Said you not the whole?” he continued, with an emphasis on the word, and a glance at the Cardinal, which shot from betwixt his long dark eyelashes as a dagger gleams when it leaves the scabbard.

The Cardinal trembled, as, endeavouring to reply to the King’s jest, he said that though his order were obliged to conceal the secrets of their penitents in general, there was no sigillum confessionis 78 which could not be melted at his Majesty’s breath.

“And as his Eminence,” said the King, “is ready to communicate the secrets of others to us, he naturally expects that we should be equally communicative to him; and, in order to get upon this reciprocal footing, he is very reasonably desirous to know if these two ladies of Croye be actually in our territories. We are sorry we cannot indulge his curiosity, not ourselves knowing in what precise place errant damsels, disguised princesses, distressed countesses, may lie leaguer within our dominions, which are, we thank God and our Lady of Embrun, rather too extensive for us to answer easily his Eminence’s most reasonable inquiries. But supposing they were with us, what say you, Dunois, to our cousin’s peremptory demand?”

“I will answer you, my Liege, if you will tell me in sincerity, whether you want war or peace,” replied Dunois, with a frankness which, while it arose out of his own native openness and intrepidity of character, made him from time to time a considerable favourite with Louis, who, like all astucious persons, was as desirous of looking into the hearts of others as of concealing his own.

“By my halidome,” said he, “I should be as well contented as thyself, Dunois, to tell thee my purpose, did I myself but know it exactly. But say I declared for war, what should I do with this beautiful and wealthy young heiress, supposing her to be in my dominions?”

“Bestow her in marriage on one of your own gallant followers, who has a heart to love, and an arm to protect her,” said Dunois.

“Upon thyself, ha!” said the King. “Pasques dieu! thou art more politic than I took thee for, with all thy bluntness.”

“Nay,” answered Dunois, “I am aught except politic. By our Lady of Orleans, I come to the point at once, as I ride my horse at the ring. Your Majesty owes the house of Orleans at least one happy marriage.”

“And I will pay it, Count. Pasques dieu, I will pay it! — See you not yonder fair couple?”

The King pointed to the unhappy Duke of Orleans and the Princess, who, neither daring to remain at a greater distance from the King, nor in his sight appear separate from each other, were riding side by side, yet with an interval of two or three yards betwixt them, a space which timidity on the one side, and aversion on the other, prevented them from diminishing, while neither dared to increase it.

Dunois looked in the direction of the King’s signal, and as the situation of his unfortunate relative and the destined bride reminded him of nothing so much as of two dogs, which, forcibly linked together, remain nevertheless as widely separated as the length of their collars will permit, he could not help shaking his head, though he ventured not on any other reply to the hypocritical tyrant. Louis seemed to guess his thoughts.

“It will be a peaceful and quiet household they will keep — not much disturbed with children, I should augur. But these are not always a blessing.” 79

It was, perhaps, the recollection of his own filial ingratitude that made the King pause as he uttered the last reflection, and which converted the sneer that trembled on his lip into something resembling an expression of contrition. But he instantly proceeded in another tone.

“Frankly, my Dunois, much as I revere the holy sacrament of matrimony” (here he crossed himself), “I would rather the house of Orleans raised for me such gallant soldiers as thy father and thyself, who share the blood royal of France without claiming its rights, than that the country should be torn to pieces, like to England, by wars arising from the rivalry of legitimate candidates for the crown. The lion should never have more than one cub.”

Dunois sighed and was silent, conscious that contradicting his arbitrary Sovereign might well hurt his kinsman’s interests but could do him no service; yet he could not forbear adding, in the next moment,

“Since your Majesty has alluded to the birth of my father, I must needs own that, setting the frailty of his parents on one side, he might be termed happier, and more fortunate, as the son of lawless love than of conjugal hatred.”

“Thou art a scandalous fellow, Dunois, to speak thus of holy wedlock,” answered Louis jestingly. “But to the devil with the discourse, for the boar is unharboured. — Lay on the dogs, in the name of the holy Saint Hubert! — Ha! ha! tra-la-la-lira-la” — And the King’s horn rang merrily through the woods as he pushed forward on the chase, followed by two or three of his guards, amongst whom was our friend Quentin Durward. And here it was remarkable that, even in the keen prosecution of his favourite sport, the King in indulgence of his caustic disposition, found leisure to amuse himself by tormenting Cardinal Balue.

It was one of that able statesman’s weaknesses, as we have elsewhere hinted, to suppose himself, though of low rank and limited education, qualified to play the courtier and the man of gallantry. He did not, indeed, actually enter the lists of chivalrous combat, like Becket, or levy soldiers, like Wolsey. But gallantry, in which they also were proficients, was his professed pursuit; and he likewise affected great fondness for the martial amusement of the chase. Yet, however well he might succeed with certain ladies, to whom his power, his wealth, and his influence as a statesman might atone for deficiencies in appearance and manners, the gallant horses, which he purchased at almost any price, were totally insensible to the dignity of carrying a Cardinal, and paid no more respect to him than they would have done to his father, the carter, miller, or tailor, whom he rivalled in horsemanship. The King knew this, and, by alternately exciting and checking his own horse, he brought that of the Cardinal, whom he kept close by his side, into such a state of mutiny against his rider, that it became apparent they must soon part company; and then, in the midst of its starting, bolting, rearing, and lashing out, alternately, the royal tormentor rendered the rider miserable, by questioning him upon many affairs of importance, and hinting his purpose to take that opportunity of communicating to him some of those secrets of state which the Cardinal had but a little while before seemed so anxious to learn. 80

A more awkward situation could hardly be imagined than that of a privy councillor forced to listen to and reply to his sovereign, while each fresh gambade of his unmanageable horse placed him in a new and more precarious attitude — his violet robe flying loose in every direction, and nothing securing him from an instant and perilous fall save the depth of the saddle, and its height before and behind. Dunois laughed without restraint; while the King, who had a private mode of enjoying his jest inwardly, without laughing aloud, mildly rebuked his minister on his eager passion for the chase, which would not permit him to dedicate a few moments to business.

“I will no longer be your hindrance to a course,” continued he, addressing the terrified Cardinal, and giving his own horse the rein at the same time.

Before Balue could utter a word by way of answer or apology, his horse, seizing the bit with his teeth, went forth at an uncontrollable gallop, soon leaving behind the King and Dunois, who followed at a more regulated pace, enjoying the statesman’s distressed predicament. If any of our readers has chanced to be run away with in his time (as we ourselves have in ours), he will have a full sense at once of the pain, peril, and absurdity of the situation. Those four limbs of the quadruped, which, noway under the rider’s control, nor sometimes under that of the creature they more properly belong to, fly at such a rate as if the hindermost meant to overtake the foremost; those clinging legs of the biped which we so often wish safely planted on the greensward, but which now only augment our distress by pressing the animal’s sides — the hands which have forsaken the bridle for the mane — the body, which, instead of sitting upright on the centre of gravity, as old Angelo 81 used to recommend, or stooping forward like a jockey’s at Newmarket 82, lies, rather than hangs, crouched upon the back of the animal, with no better chance of saving itself than a sack of corn — combine to make a picture more than sufficiently ludicrous to spectators, however uncomfortable to the exhibiter. But add to this some singularity of dress or appearance on the part of the unhappy cavalier — a robe of office, a splendid uniform, or any other peculiarity of costume — and let the scene of action be a race course, a review, a procession, or any other place of concourse and public display, and if the poor wight would escape being the object of a shout of inextinguishable laughter, he must contrive to break a limb or two, or, which will be more effectual, to be killed on the spot; for on no slighter condition will his fall excite anything like serious sympathy. On the present occasion, the short violet coloured gown of the Cardinal, which he used as riding dress (having changed his long robes before he left the Castle), his scarlet stockings, and scarlet hat, with the long strings hanging down, together with his utter helplessness, gave infinite zest to his exhibition of horsemanship.

The horse, having taken matters entirely into his own hand, flew rather than galloped up a long green avenue; overtook the pack in hard pursuit of the boar, and then, having overturned one or two yeomen prickers, who little expected to be charged in the rear — having ridden down several dogs, and greatly confused the chase — animated by the clamorous expostulations and threats of the huntsman, carried the terrified Cardinal past the formidable animal itself, which was rushing on at a speedy trot, furious and embossed with the foam which he churned around his tusks. Balue, on beholding himself so near the boar, set up a dreadful cry for help, which, or perhaps the sight of the boar, produced such an effect on his horse, that the animal interrupted its headlong career by suddenly springing to one side; so that the Cardinal, who had long kept his seat only because the motion was straight forward, now fell heavily to the ground. The conclusion of Balue’s chase took place so near the boar that, had not the animal been at that moment too much engaged about his own affairs, the vicinity might have proved as fatal to the Cardinal, as it is said to have done to Favila, King of the Visigoths of Spain 83. The powerful churchman got off, however, for the fright, and, crawling as hastily as he could out of the way of hounds and huntsmen, saw the whole chase sweep by him without affording him assistance, for hunters in those days were as little moved by sympathy for such misfortunes as they are in our own. The King, as he passed, said to Dunois, “Yonder lies his Eminence low enough — he is no great huntsman, though for a fisher (when a secret is to be caught) he may match Saint Peter himself. He has, however, for once, I think, met with his match.”

The Cardinal did not hear the words, but the scornful look with which they were spoken led him to suspect their general import. The devil is said to seize such opportunities of temptation as were now afforded by the passions of Balue, bitterly moved as they had been by the scorn of the King. The momentary fright was over so soon as he had assured himself that his fall was harmless; but mortified vanity, and resentment against his Sovereign, had a much longer influence on his feelings. After all the chase had passed him, a single cavalier, who seemed rather to be a spectator than a partaker of the sport, rode up with one or two attendants, and expressed no small surprise to find the Cardinal upon the ground, without a horse or attendants, and in such a plight as plainly showed the nature of the accident which had placed him there. To dismount, and offer his assistance in this predicament — to cause one of his attendants to resign a staid and quiet palfrey for the Cardinal’s use — to express his surprise at the customs of the French Court, which thus permitted them to abandon to the dangers of the chase, and forsake in his need, their wisest statesman, were the natural modes of assistance and consolation which so strange a rencontre supplied to Crevecoeur, for it was the Burgundian ambassador who came to the assistance of the fallen Cardinal.

He found the minister in a lucky time and humour for essaying some of those practices on his fidelity, to which it is well known that Balue had the criminal weakness to listen. Already in the morning, as the jealous temper of Louis had suggested, more had passed betwixt them than the Cardinal durst have reported to his master. But although he had listened with gratified ears to the high value, which, he was assured by Crevecoeur, the Duke of Burgundy placed upon his person and talents, and not without a feeling of temptation, when the Count hinted at the munificence of his master’s disposition, and the rich benefices of Flanders, it was not until the accident, as we have related, had highly irritated him that, stung with wounded vanity, he resolved, in a fatal hour, to show Louis XI that no enemy can be so dangerous as an offended friend and confidant. On the present occasions he hastily requested Crevecoeur to separate from him lest they should be observed, but appointed him a meeting for the evening in the Abbey of Saint Martin’s at Tours, after vesper service; and that in a tone which assured the Burgundian that his master had obtained an advantage hardly to have been hoped for except in such a moment of exasperation. In the meanwhile, Louis, who, though the most politic Prince of his time, upon this, as on other occasions, had suffered his passions to interfere with his prudence, followed contentedly the chase of the wild boar, which was now come to an interesting point. It had so happened that a sounder (i.e., in the language of the period, a boar of only two years old), had crossed the track of the proper object of the chase, and withdrawn in pursuit of him all the dogs (except two or three couples of old stanch hounds) and the greater part of the huntsmen. The King saw, with internal glee, Dunois, as well as others, follow upon this false scent, and enjoyed in secret the thought of triumphing over that accomplished knight in the art of venerie, which was then thought almost as glorious as war. Louis was well mounted, and followed, close on the hounds; so that, when the original boar turned to bay in a marshy piece of ground, there was no one near him but the King himself. Louis showed all the bravery and expertness of an experienced huntsman; for, unheeding the danger, he rode up to the tremendous animal, which was defending itself with fury against the dogs, and struck him with his boar spear; yet, as the horse shied from the boar, the blow was not so effectual as either to kill or disable him. No effort could prevail on the horse to charge a second time; so that the King, dismounting, advanced on foot against the furious animal, holding naked in his hand one of those short, sharp, straight, and pointed swords, which huntsmen used for such encounters. The boar instantly quitted the dogs to rush on his human enemy, while the King, taking his station, and posting himself firmly, presented the sword, with the purpose of aiming it at the boar’s throat, or rather chest, within the collarbone; in which case, the weight of the beast, and the impetuosity of its career, would have served to accelerate its own destruction. But, owing to the wetness of the ground, the King’s foot slipped, just as this delicate and perilous manoeuvre ought to have been accomplished, so that the point of the sword encountering the cuirass of bristles on the outside of the creature’s shoulder, glanced off without making any impression, and Louis fell flat on the ground. This was so far fortunate for the Monarch, because the animal, owing to the King’s fall, missed his blow in his turn, and in passing only rent with his tusk the King’s short hunting cloak, instead of ripping up his thigh. But when, after running a little ahead in the fury of his course, the boar turned to repeat his attack on the King at the moment when he was rising, the life of Louis was in imminent danger. At this critical moment, Quentin Durward, who had been thrown out in the chase by the slowness of his horse, but who, nevertheless, had luckily distinguished and followed the blast of the King’s horn, rode up, and transfixed the animal with his spear.

The King, who had by this time recovered his feet, came in turn to Durward’s assistance, and cut the animal’s throat with his sword. Before speaking a word to Quentin, he measured the huge creature not only by paces, but even by feet — then wiped the sweat from his brow, and the blood from his hands — then took off his hunting cap, hung it on a bush, and devoutly made his orisons to the little leaden images which it contained — and at length, looking upon Durward, said to him, “Is it thou, my young Scot? — Thou hast begun thy woodcraft well, and Maitre Pierre owes thee as good entertainment as he gave thee at the Fleur de Lys yonder. — Why dost thou not speak? Thou hast lost thy forwardness and fire, methinks, at the Court, where others find both.”

Quentin, as shrewd a youth as ever Scottish breeze breathed caution into, had imbibed more awe than confidence towards his dangerous master, and was far too wise to embrace the perilous permission of familiarity which he seemed thus invited to use. He answered in very few and well chosen words, that if he ventured to address his Majesty at all, it could be but to crave pardon for the rustic boldness with which he had conducted himself when ignorant of his high rank.

“Tush! man,” said the King; “I forgive thy sauciness for thy spirit and shrewdness. I admired how near thou didst hit upon my gossip Tristan’s occupation. You have nearly tasted of his handiwork since, as I am given to understand. I bid thee beware of him; he is a merchant who deals in rough bracelets and tight necklaces. Help me to my horse; — I like thee, and will do thee good. Build on no man’s favour but mine — not even on thine uncle’s or Lord Crawford’s — and say nothing of thy timely aid in this matter of the boar; for if a man makes boast that he has served a King in such pinch, he must take the braggart humour for its own recompense.”

The King then winded his horn, which brought up Dunois and several attendants, whose compliments he received on the slaughter of such a noble animal, without scrupling to appropriate a much greater share of merit than actually belonged to him; for he mentioned Durward’s assistance as slightly as a sportsman of rank, who, in boasting of the number of birds which he has bagged, does not always dilate upon the presence and assistance of the gamekeeper. He then ordered Dunois to see that the boar’s carcass was sent to the brotherhood of Saint Martin, at Tours, to mend their fare on holydays, and that they might remember the King in their private devotions.

“And,” said Louis, “who hath seen his Eminence my Lord Cardinal? Methinks it were but poor courtesy, and cold regard to Holy Church to leave him afoot here in the forest.”

“May it please you,” said Quentin, when he saw that all were silent, “I saw his Lordship the Cardinal accommodated with a horse, on which he left the forest.”

“Heaven cares for its own,” replied the King. “Set forward to the Castle, my lords; we’ll hunt no more this morning. — You, Sir Squire,” addressing Quentin, “reach me my wood knife — it has dropt from the sheath beside the quarry there. Ride on, Dunois — I follow instantly.”

Louis, whose lightest motions were often conducted like stratagems, thus gained an opportunity to ask Quentin privately, “My bonny Scot, thou hast an eye, I see. Canst thou tell me who helped the Cardinal to a palfrey? — Some stranger, I should suppose; for, as I passed without stopping, the courtiers would likely be in no hurry to do him such a timely good turn.”

“I saw those who aided his Eminence but an instant, Sire,” said Quentin; “it was only a hasty glance, for I had been unluckily thrown out, and was riding fast to be in my place; but I think it was the Ambassador of Burgundy and his people.”

“Ha,” said Louis. “Well, be it so. France will match them yet.”

There was nothing more remarkable happened, and the King, with his retinue, returned to the Castle.

78 seal of confession

79 Here the King touches on the very purpose for which he pressed on the match with such tyrannic severity, which was that as the Princess’s personal deformity admitted little chance of its being fruitful, the branch of Orleans, which was next in succession to the crown, might be, by the want of heirs, weakened or extinguished

80 In imputing to the Cardinal a want of skill in horsemanship, I recollected his adventure in Paris when attacked by assassins, on which occasion his mule, being scared by the crowd, ran away with the rider, and taking its course to a monastery, to the abbot of which he formerly belonged; was the means of saving his master’s life. . . . S.

81 a celebrated riding and fencing master at the beginning of the nineteenth century

82 the scene of the annual horse races has been at Newmarket Heath since the time of James I

83 he was killed by a bear while hunting

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