I see thee yet, fair France — thou favour’d land
Of art and nature — thou art still before me,
Thy sons, to whom their labour is a sport,
So well thy grateful soil returns its tribute,
Thy sunburnt daughters, with their laughing eyes
And glossy raven locks. But, favour’d France,
Thou hast had many a tale of woe to tell
In ancient times as now.
Avoiding all conversation with any one (for such was his charge), Quentin Durward proceeded hastily to array himself in a strong but plain cuirass, with thigh and arm pieces, and placed on his head a good steel cap without any visor. To these was added a handsome cassock of chamois leather, finely dressed, and laced down the seams with some embroidery, such as might become a superior officer in a noble household.
These were brought to his apartment by Oliver, who, with his quiet, insinuating smile and manner, acquainted him that his uncle had been summoned to mount guard purposely that he might make no inquiries concerning these mysterious movements.
“Your excuse will be made to your kinsman,” said Oliver, smiling again, “and, my dearest son, when you return safe from the execution of this pleasing trust, I doubt not you will be found worthy of such promotion as will dispense with your accounting for your motions to any one, while it will place you at the head of those who must render an account of theirs to you.”
So spoke Oliver le Diable, calculating, probably, in his own mind, the great chance there was that the poor youth whose hand he squeezed affectionately as he spoke, must necessarily encounter death or captivity in the commission intrusted to his charge. He added to his fair words a small purse of gold, to defray necessary expenses on the road, as a gratuity on the King’s part.
At a few minutes before twelve at midnight, Quentin, according to his directions, proceeded to the second courtyard, and paused under the Dauphin’s Tower, which, as the reader knows, was assigned for the temporary residence of the Countesses of Croye. He found, at this place of rendezvous, the men and horses appointed to compose the retinue, leading two sumpter mules already loaded with baggage, and holding three palfreys for the two Countesses and a faithful waiting woman, with a stately war horse for himself, whose steel plated saddle glanced in the pale moonlight. Not a word of recognition was spoken on either side. The men sat still in their saddles as if they were motionless, and by the same imperfect light Quentin saw with pleasure that they were all armed, and held long lances in their hands. They were only three in number, but one of them whispered to Quentin, in a strong Gascon accent, that their guide was to join them beyond Tours.
Meantime, lights glanced to and fro at the lattices of the tower, as if there was bustle and preparation among its inhabitants. At length a small door, which led from the bottom of the tower to the court, was unclosed, and three females came forth attended by a man wrapped in a cloak. They mounted in silence the palfreys which stood prepared for them, while their attendant on foot led the way, and gave the passwords and signals to the watchful guards, whose posts they passed in succession. Thus they at length reached the exterior of these formidable barriers. Here the man on foot, who had hitherto acted as their guide, paused, and spoke low and earnestly to the two foremost females.
“May heaven bless you, Sire,” said a voice which thrilled upon Quentin Durward’s ear, “and forgive you, even if your purposes be more interested than your words express! To be placed in safety under the protection of the good Bishop of Liege, is the utmost extent of my desire.”
The person whom she thus addressed muttered an inaudible answer, and retreated back through the barrier gate, while Quentin thought that, by the moon glimpse, he recognized in him the King himself, whose anxiety for the departure of his guests had probably induced him to give his presence, in case scruples should arise on their part, or difficulties on that of the guards of the Castle.
When the riders were beyond the Castle, it was necessary for some time to ride with great precaution, in order to avoid the pitfalls, snares, and similar contrivances which were placed for the annoyance of strangers. The Gascon was, however, completely possessed of the clew to this labyrinth, and in a quarter of an hour’s riding they found themselves beyond the limits of Plessis le Parc, and not far distant from the city of Tours.
The moon, which had now extricated herself from the clouds through which she was formerly wading, shed a full sea of glorious light upon a landscape equally glorious. They saw the princely Loire rolling his majestic tide through the richest plain in France, and sweeping along between banks ornamented with towers and terraces, and with olives and vineyards. They saw the walls of the city of Tours, the ancient capital of Touraine, raising their portal towers and embattlements white in the moonlight, while from within their circle rose the immense Gothic mass, which the devotion of the sainted Bishop Perpetuus erected as early as the fifth century, and which the zeal of Charlemagne and his successors had enlarged with such architectural splendour as rendered it the most magnificent church in France. The towers of the church of Saint Gatien 114 were also visible, and the gloomy strength of the Castle, which was said to have been, in ancient times, the residence of the Emperor Valentinian 115.
Even the circumstances in which he was placed, though of a nature so engrossing, did not prevent the wonder and delight with which the young Scottishman, accustomed to the waste though impressive landscape of his own mountains, and the poverty even of his country’s most stately scenery, looked on a scene which art and nature seemed to have vied in adorning with their richest splendour. But he was recalled to the business of the moment by the voice of the elder lady (pitched at least an octave higher than those soft tones which bade adieu to King Louis), demanding to speak with the leader of the band. Spurring his horse forward, Quentin respectfully presented himself to the ladies in that capacity, and thus underwent the interrogatories of the Lady Hameline.
“What was his name, and what his degree?”
He told both.
“Was he perfectly acquainted with the road?”
“He could not,” he replied, “pretend to much knowledge of the route, but he was furnished with full instructions, and he was, at their first resting place, to be provided with a guide, in all respects competent to the task of directing their farther journey, meanwhile, a horseman, who had just joined them and made the number of their guard four, was to be their guide for the first stage.”
“And wherefore were you selected for such a duty, young gentleman?” said the lady. “I am told you are the same youth who was lately upon guard in the gallery in which we met the Princess of France. You seem young and inexperienced for such a charge — a stranger, too, in France, and speaking the language as a foreigner.”
“I am bound to obey the commands of the King, madam, but am not qualified to reason on them,” answered the young soldier.
“Are you of noble birth?” demanded the same querist.
“I may safely affirm so, madam,” replied Quentin.
“And are you not,” said the younger lady, addressing him in her turn, but with a timorous accent, “the same whom I saw when I was called to wait upon the King at yonder inn?”
Lowering his voice, perhaps from similar feelings of timidity, Quentin answered in the affirmative.
“Then methinks, my cousin,” said the Lady Isabelle, addressing the Lady Hameline, “we must be safe under this young gentleman’s safeguard, he looks not, at least, like one to whom the execution of a plan of treacherous cruelty upon two helpless women could be with safety intrusted.”
“On my honour,” said Durward, “by the fame of my house, by the bones of my ancestry, I could not, for France and Scotland laid into one, be guilty of treachery or cruelty towards you!”
“You speak well, young man,” said the Lady Hameline, “but we are accustomed to hear fair speeches from the King of France and his agents. It was by these that we were induced, when the protection of the Bishop of Liege might have been attained with less risk than now, or when we might have thrown ourselves on that of Winceslaus of Germany, or of Edward of England, to seek refuge in France. And in what did the promises of the King result? In an obscure and shameful concealing of us, under plebeian names, as a sort of prohibited wares in yonder paltry hostelry, when we — who, as thou knowest, Marthon” (addressing her domestic), “never put on our head tire save under a canopy, and upon a dais of three degrees — were compelled to attire ourselves, standing on the simple floor, as if we had been two milkmaids.”
Marthon admitted that her lady spoke a most melancholy truth.
“I would that had been the sorest evil, dear kinswoman,” said the Lady Isabelle, “I could gladly have dispensed with state.”
“But not with society,” said the elder Countess, “that, my sweet cousin, was impossible.”
“I would have dispensed with all, my dearest kinswoman,” answered Isabelle, in a voice which penetrated to the very heart of her young conductor and guard, “with all, for a safe and honourable retirement. I wish not — God knows, I never wished — to occasion war betwixt France and my native Burgundy, or that lives should be lost for such as I am. I only implored permission to retire to the Convent of Marmoutier, or to any other holy sanctuary.”
“You spoke then like a fool, my cousin,” answered the elder lady, “and not like a daughter of my noble brother. It is well there is still one alive who hath some of the spirit of the noble House of Croye. How should a high born lady be known from a sunburnt milkmaid, save that spears are broken for the one, and only hazel poles shattered for the other? I tell you, maiden, that while I was in the very earliest bloom, scarcely older than yourself, the famous Passage of Arms at Haflinghem was held in my honour, the challengers were four, the assailants so many as twelve. It lasted three days, and cost the lives of two adventurous knights, the fracture of one backbone, one collarbone, three legs, and two arms, besides flesh wounds and bruises beyond the heralds’ counting, and thus have the ladies of our House ever been honoured. Ah! had you but half the heart of your noble ancestry, you would find means at some court where ladies’ love and fame in arms are still prized, to maintain a tournament at which your hand should be the prize, as was that of your great grandmother of blessed memory, at the spear running of Strasbourg, and thus should you gain the best lance in Europe, to maintain the rights of the House of Croye, both against the oppression of Burgundy and the policy of France.”
“But, fair kinswoman,” answered the younger Countess, “I have been told by my old nurse, that although the Rhinegrave 116 was the best lance at the great tournament at Strasbourg, and so won the hand of my respected ancestor, yet the match was no happy one, as he used often to scold, and sometimes even to beat, my great grandmother of blessed memory.”
“And wherefore not?” said the elder Countess, in her romantic enthusiasm for the profession of chivalry, “why should those victorious arms, accustomed to deal blows when abroad, be bound to restrain their energies at home? A thousand times rather would I be beaten twice a day by a husband whose arm was as much feared by others as by me, than be the wife of a coward, who dared neither to lift hand to his wife, nor to any one else!”
“I should wish you joy of such an active mate, fair aunt,” replied Isabelle, “without envying you, for if broken bones be lovely in tourneys, there is nothing less amiable in ladies’ bower.”
“Nay, but the beating is no necessary consequence of wedding with a knight of fame in arms,” said the Lady Hameline, “though it is true that your ancestor of blessed memory, the Rhinegrave Gottfried, was something rough tempered, and addicted to the use of Rheinwein.
“The very perfect knight is a lamb among ladies, and a lion among lances. There was Thibault of Montigni — God be with him! — he was the kindest soul alive, and not only was he never so discourteous as to lift hand against his lady, but, by our good dame, he who beat all enemies without doors, found a fair foe who could belabour him within. — Well, ‘t was his own fault — he was one of the challengers at the Passage of Haflinghem, and so well bestirred himself, that, if it had pleased Heaven, and your grandfather, there might have been a lady of Montigni who had used his gentle nature more gently.”
The Countess Isabelle, who had some reason to dread this Passage of Haflinghem, it being a topic upon which her aunt was at all times very diffuse, suffered the conversation to drop, and Quentin, with the natural politeness of one who had been gently nurtured dreading lest his presence might be a restraint on their conversation, rode forward to join the guide, as if to ask him some questions concerning their route.
Meanwhile the ladies continued their journey in silence, or in such conversation as is not worth narrating, until day began to break, and as they had then been on horseback for several hours, Quentin, anxious lest they should be fatigued, became impatient to know their distance from the nearest resting place.
“I will show it you,” answered the guide, “in half an hour.”
“And then you leave us to other guidance?” continued Quentin.
“Even so, Seignior Archer,” replied the man, “my journeys are always short and straight. When you and others, Seignior Archer, go by the bow, I always go by the cord.”
The moon had by this time long been down, and the lights of dawn were beginning to spread bright and strong in the east, and to gleam on the bosom of a small lake, on the verge of which they had been riding for a short space of time. This lake lay in the midst of a wide plain, scattered over with single trees, groves and thickets, but which might be yet termed open, so that objects began to be discerned with sufficient accuracy. Quentin cast his eye on the person whom he rode beside, and under the shadow of a slouched overspreading hat, which resembled the sombrero of a Spanish peasant, he recognised the facetious features of the same Petit Andre whose fingers, not long since, had, in concert with those of his lugubrious brother, Trois Eschelles, been so unpleasantly active about his throat. — Impelled by aversion, not altogether unmixed with fear (for in his own country the executioner is regarded with almost superstitious horror), which his late narrow escape had not diminished, Durward instinctively moved his horse’s head to the right, and pressing him at the same time with the spur, made a demi-volte, which separated him eight feet from his hateful companion.
“Ho, ho, ho, ho!” exclaimed Petit Andre, “by Our Lady of the Grave, our young soldier remembers us of old. What! comrade, you bear no malice, I trust? — every one wins his bread in this country. No man need be ashamed of having come through my hands, for I will do my work with any that ever tied a living weight to a dead tree. — And God hath given me grace to be such a merry fellow withal. — Ha! ha! ha! — I could tell you such jests I have cracked between the foot of a ladder and the top of the gallows, that, by my halidome, I have been obliged to do my job rather hastily, for fear the fellows should die with laughing, and so shame my mystery!”
As he thus spoke he edged his horse sideways to regain the interval which the Scot had left between them, saying, at the same time, “Come, Seignior Archer, let there be no unkindness betwixt us! — For my part, I always do my duty without malice, and with a light heart, and I never love a man better than when I have put my scant of wind collar about his neck, to dub him Knight of the order of Saint Patibularius 117, as the Provost’s Chaplain, the worthy Father Vaconeldiablo 118, is wont to call the Patron Saint of the Provostry.”
“Keep back, thou wretched object!” exclaimed Quentin, as the finisher of the law again sought to approach him closer, “or I shall be tempted to teach you the distance that should be betwixt men of honour and such an outcast.”
“La you there, how hot you are!” said the fellow, “had you said men of honesty, there had been some savour of truth in it, but for men of honour, good lack, I have to deal with them every day, as nearly and closely as I was about to do business with you. — But peace be with you, and keep your company to yourself. I would have bestowed a flagon of Auvernat upon you to wash away every unkindness —— but ‘t is like you scorn my courtesy. — Well. Be as churlish as you list — I never quarrel with my customers — my jerry come tumbles, my merry dancers, my little playfellows, as Jacques Butcher says to his lambs — those in fine, who, like your seigniorship, have H. E. M. P. written on their foreheads. — No, no, let them use me as they list, they shall have my good service at last — and yourself shall see, when you next come under Petit Andre’s hands, that he knows how to forgive an injury.”
So saying, and summing up the whole with a provoking wink, and such an interjectional tchick as men quicken a dull horse with, Petit Andre drew off to the other side of the path, and left the youth to digest the taunts he had treated him with, as his proud Scottish stomach best might. A strong desire had Quentin to have belaboured him while the staff of his lance could hold together, but he put a restraint on his passion, recollecting that a brawl with such a character could be creditable at no time or place, and that a quarrel of any kind, on the present occasion, would be a breach of duty, and might involve the most perilous consequences. He therefore swallowed his wrath at the ill timed and professional jokes of Mons. Petit Andre, and contented himself with devoutly hoping that they had not reached the ears of his fair charge, on which they could not be supposed to make an impression in favour of himself, as one obnoxious to such sarcasms. But he was speedily roused from such thoughts by the cry of both the ladies at once, to “Look back — look back! — For the love of Heaven look yourself, and us — we are pursued!”
Quentin hastily looked back, and saw that two armed men were in fact following them, and riding at such a pace as must soon bring them up with their party. “It can,” he said, “be only some of the Provostry making their rounds in the forest. — Do thou look,” he said to Petit Andre, “and see what they may be.”
Petit Andre obeyed, and rolling himself jocosely in the saddle after he had made his observations, replied, “These, fair sir, are neither your comrades nor mine — neither Archers nor Marshals men — for I think they wear helmets, with visors lowered, and gorgets of the same. — A plague upon these gorgets of all other pieces of armour! — I have fumbled with them an hour before I could undo the rivets.”
“Do you, gracious ladies,” said Durward, without attending to Petit Andre, “ride forward — not so fast as to raise an opinion of your being in flight, and yet fast enough to avail yourself of the impediment which I shall presently place between you and these men who follow us.”
The Countess Isabelle looked to their guide, and then whispered to her aunt, who spoke to Quentin thus: “We have confidence in your care, fair Archer, and will rather abide the risk of whatever may chance in your company, than we will go onward with that man, whose mien is, we think, of no good augury.”
“Be it as you will, ladies,” said the youth. “There are but two who come after us, and though they be knights, as their arms seem to show, they shall, if they have any evil purpose, learn how a Scottish gentleman can do his devour in the presence and for the defence of such as you.
“Which of you,” he continued, addressing the guards whom he commanded, “is willing to be my comrade, and to break a lance with these gallants?”
Two of the men obviously faltered in resolution, but the third, Bertrand Guyot, swore that cap de diou, were they Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, he would try their mettle, for the honour of Gascony.
While he spoke, the two knights — for they seemed of no less rank — came up with the rear of the party, in which Quentin, with his sturdy adherent, had by this time stationed himself. They were fully accoutred in excellent armour of polished steel, without any device by which they could be distinguished.
One of them, as they approached, called out to Quentin, “Sir Squire, give place — we come to relieve you of a charge which is above your rank and condition. You will do well to leave these ladies in our care, who are fitter to wait upon them, especially as we know that in yours they are little better than captives.”
“In return to your demand, sirs,” replied Durward, “know, in the first place, that I am discharging the duty imposed upon me by my present sovereign, and next, that however unworthy I may be, the ladies desire to abide under my protection.”
“Out, sirrah!” exclaimed one of the champions, “will you, a wandering beggar, put yourself on terms of resistance against belted knights?”
“They are indeed terms of resistance,” said Quentin, “since they oppose your insolent and unlawful aggression, and if there be difference of rank between us, which as yet I know not, your discourtesy has done it away. Draw your sword, or if you will use the lance, take ground for your career.”
While the knights turned their horses, and rode back to the distance of about a hundred and fifty yards, Quentin, looking to the ladies, bent low on his saddlebow, as if desiring their favourable regard, and as they streamed towards him their kerchiefs, in token of encouragement, the two assailants had gained the distance necessary for their charge.
Calling to the Gascon to bear himself like a man, Durward put his steed into motion, and the four horsemen met in full career in the midst of the ground which at first separated them. The shock was fatal to the poor Gascon, for his adversary, aiming at his face, which was undefended by a visor, ran him through the eye into the brain, so that he fell dead from his horse.
On the other hand, Quentin, though labouring under the same disadvantage, swayed himself in the saddle so dexterously, that the hostile lance, slightly scratching his cheek, passed over his right shoulder, while his own spear, striking his antagonist fair upon the breast, hurled him to the ground. Quentin jumped off, to unhelm his fallen opponent, but the other knight (who had never yet spoken), seeing the fortune of his companion, dismounted still more speedily than Durward, and bestriding his friend, who lay senseless, exclaimed, “In the name of God and Saint Martin, mount, good fellow, and get thee gone with thy woman’s ware — Ventre Saint Gris, they have caused mischief enough this morning.”
“By your leave, Sir Knight,” said Quentin, who could not brook the menacing tone in which this advice was given, “I will first see whom I have had to do with, and learn who is to answer for the death of my comrade.”
“That shalt thou never live to know or to tell,” answered the knight. “Get thee back in peace, good fellow. If we were fools for interrupting your passage, we have had the worst, for thou hast done more evil than the lives of thee and thy whole hand could repay. — Nay, if thou wilt have it” (for Quentin now drew his sword, and advanced on him), “take it with a vengeance!”
So saying, he dealt the Scot such a blow on the helmet, as, till that moment (though bred where good blows were plenty), he had only read of in romance. It descended like a thunderbolt, beating down the guard which the young soldier had raised to protect his head, and, reaching his helmet of proof, cut it through so far as to touch his hair, but without farther injury while Durward, dizzy, stunned, and beaten down on one knee, was for an instant at the mercy of the knight, had it pleased him to second his blow. But compassion for Quentin’s youth, or admiration of his courage, or a generous love of fair play, made him withhold from taking such advantage: while Durward, collecting himself, sprang up and attacked his antagonist with the energy of one determined to conquer or die, and at the same time with the presence of mind necessary for fighting the quarrel out to the best advantage. Resolved not again to expose himself to such dreadful blows as he had just obtained, he employed the advantage of superior agility, increased by the comparative lightness of his armour, to harass his antagonist by traversing on all sides, with a suddenness of motion and rapidity of attack against which the knight — in his heavy panoply — found it difficult to defend himself without much fatigue.
It was in vain that this generous antagonist called aloud to Quentin that there now remained no cause of fight betwixt them, and that he was loath to be constrained to do him injury. Listening only to the suggestions of a passionate wish to redeem the shame of his temporary defeat, Durward continued to assail him with the rapidity of lightning — now menacing him with the edge, now with the point of his sword, and ever keeping such an eye on the motions of his opponent, of whose superior strength he had had terrible proof, that he was ready to spring backward, or aside, from under the blows of his tremendous weapon.
“Now the devil be with thee for an obstinate and presumptuous fool,” muttered the knight, “that cannot be quiet till thou art knocked on the head!”
So saying, he changed his mode of fighting, collected himself, as if to stand on the defensive, and seemed contented with parrying, instead of returning, the blows which Quentin unceasingly aimed at him, with the internal resolution that the instant when either loss of breath or any false or careless pass of the young soldier should give an opening, he would put an end to the fight by a single blow. It is likely he might have succeeded in this artful policy, but Fate had ordered it otherwise.
The duel was still at the hottest, when a large party of horse rode up, crying, “Hold, in the King’s name!”
Both champions stepped back — and Quentin saw, with surprise, that his Captain, Lord Crawford, was at the head of the party who had thus interrupted their combat. There was also Tristan l’Hermite, with two or three of his followers, making, in all, perhaps twenty horse.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00