Why then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open.
It was upon a delicious summer morning, before the sun had assumed its scorching power, and while the dews yet cooled and perfumed the air, that a youth, coming from the northeastward approached the ford of a small river, or rather a large brook, tributary to the Cher, near to the royal Castle of Plessis les Tours, whose dark and multiplied battlements rose in the background over the extensive forest with which they were surrounded. These woodlands comprised a noble chase, or royal park, fenced by an enclosure, termed, in the Latin of the middle ages, Plexitium, which gives the name of Plessis to so many villages in France. The castle and village of which we particularly speak, was called Plessis les Tours, to distinguish it from others, and was built about two miles to the southward of the fair town of that name, the capital of ancient Touraine, whose rich plain has been termed the Garden of France.
On the bank of the above mentioned brook, opposite to that which the traveller was approaching, two men, who appeared in deep conversation, seemed, from time to time, to watch his motions; for, as their station was much more elevated, they could remark him at considerable distance.
The age of the young traveller might be about nineteen, or betwixt that and twenty; and his face and person, which were very prepossessing, did not, however, belong to the country in which he was now a sojourner. His short gray cloak and hose were rather of Flemish than of French fashion, while the smart blue bonnet, with a single sprig of holly and an eagle’s feather, was already recognized as the Scottish head gear. His dress was very neat, and arranged with the precision of a youth conscious of possessing a fine person. He had at his back a satchel, which seemed to contain a few necessaries, a hawking gauntlet on his left hand, though he carried no bird, and in his right a stout hunter’s pole. Over his left shoulder hung an embroidered scarf which sustained a small pouch of scarlet velvet, such as was then used by fowlers of distinction to carry their hawks’ food, and other matters belonging to that much admired sport. This was crossed by another shoulder belt, to which was hung a hunting knife, or couteau de chasse. Instead of the boots of the period, he wore buskins of half dressed deer’s skin.
Although his form had not yet attained its full strength, he was tall and active, and the lightness of the step with which he advanced, showed that his pedestrian mode of travelling was pleasure rather than pain to him. His complexion was fair, in spite of a general shade of darker hue, with which the foreign sun, or perhaps constant exposure to the atmosphere in his own country, had, in some degree, embrowned it.
His features, without being quite regular, were frank, open, and pleasing. A half smile, which seemed to arise from a happy exuberance of animal spirits, showed now and then that his teeth were well set, and as pure as ivory; whilst his bright blue eye, with a corresponding gaiety, had an appropriate glance for every object which it encountered, expressing good humour, lightness of heart, and determined resolution.
He received and returned the salutation of the few travellers who frequented the road in those dangerous times with the action which suited each. The strolling spearman, half soldier, half brigand, measured the youth with his eye, as if balancing the prospect of booty with the chance of desperate resistance; and read such indications of the latter in the fearless glance of the passenger, that he changed his ruffian purpose for a surly “Good morrow, comrade,” which the young Scot answered with as martial, though a less sullen tone. The wandering pilgrim, or the begging friar, answered his reverent greeting with a paternal benedicite 7; and the dark eyed peasant girl looked after him for many a step after they had passed each other, and interchanged a laughing good morrow. In short, there was an attraction about his whole appearance not easily escaping attention, and which was derived from the combination of fearless frankness and good humour, with sprightly looks and a handsome face and person. It seemed, too, as if his whole demeanour bespoke one who was entering on life with no apprehension of the evils with which it is beset, and small means for struggling with its hardships, except a lively spirit and a courageous disposition; and it is with such tempers that youth most readily sympathizes, and for whom chiefly age and experience feel affectionate and pitying interest.
The youth whom we have described had been long visible to the two persons who loitered on the opposite side of the small river which divided him from the park and the castle; but as he descended the rugged bank to the water’s edge, with the light step of a roe which visits the fountain, the younger of the two said to the other, “It is our man — it is the Bohemian! If he attempts to cross the ford, he is a lost man — the water is up, and the ford impassable.”
“I judge him by the blue cap,” said the other, “for I cannot see his face. Hark, sir; he hallooes to know whether the water be deep.”
“Nothing like experience in this world,” answered the other, “let him try.”
The young man, in the meanwhile, receiving no hint to the contrary, and taking the silence of those to whom he applied as an encouragement to proceed, entered the stream without farther hesitation than the delay necessary to take off his buskins. The elder person, at the same moment, hallooed to him to beware, adding, in a lower tone, to his companion, “Mortdieu — gossip — you have made another mistake — this is not the Bohemian chatterer.”
But the intimation to the youth came too late. He either did not hear or could not profit by it, being already in the deep stream. To one less alert and practised in the exercise of swimming, death had been certain, for the brook was both deep and strong.
“By Saint Anne! but he is a proper youth,” said the elder man. “Run, gossip, and help your blunder, by giving him aid, if thou canst. He belongs to thine own troop — if old saws speak truth, water will not drown him.”
Indeed, the young traveller swam so strongly, and buffeted the waves so well, that, notwithstanding the strength of the current, he was carried but a little way down from the ordinary landing place.
By this time the younger of the two strangers was hurrying down to the shore to render assistance, while the other followed him at a graver pace, saying to himself as he approached, “I knew water would never drown that young fellow. — By my halidome 10, he is ashore, and grasps his pole! — If I make not the more haste, he will beat my gossip for the only charitable action which I ever saw him perform, or attempt to perform, in the whole course of his life.”
There was some reason to augur such a conclusion of the adventure, for the bonny Scot had already accosted the younger Samaritan, who was hastening to his assistance, with these ireful words: “Discourteous dog! why did you not answer when I called to know if the passage was fit to be attempted? May the foul fiend catch me, but I will teach you the respect due to strangers on the next occasion.”
This was accompanied with that significant flourish with his pole which is called le moulinet, because the artist, holding it in the middle, brandishes the two ends in every direction like the sails of a windmill in motion. His opponent, seeing himself thus menaced, laid hand upon his sword, for he was one of those who on all occasions are more ready for action than for speech; but his more considerate comrade, who came up, commanded him to forbear, and, turning to the young man, accused him in turn of precipitation in plunging into the swollen ford, and of intemperate violence in quarrelling with a man who was hastening to his assistance.
The young man, on hearing himself thus reproved by a man of advanced age and respectable appearance, immediately lowered his weapon, and said he would be sorry if he had done them injustice; but, in reality, it appeared to him as if they had suffered him to put his life in peril for want of a word of timely warning, which could be the part neither of honest men nor of good Christians, far less of respectable burgesses, such as they seemed to be.
“Fair son,” said the elder person, “you seem, from your accent and complexion, a stranger; and you should recollect your dialect is not so easily comprehended by us; as perhaps it may be uttered by you.”
“Well, father,” answered the youth, “I do not care much about the ducking I have had, and I will readily forgive your being partly the cause, provided you will direct me to some place where I can have my clothes dried; for it is my only suit, and I must keep it somewhat decent.”
“For whom do you take us, fair son?” said the elder stranger, in answer to this question.
“For substantial burgesses, unquestionably,” said the youth; “or — hold; you, master, may be a money broker, or a corn merchant; and this man a butcher, or grazier.”
“You have hit our capacities rarely,” said the elder, smiling. “My business is indeed to trade in as much money as I can and my gossip’s dealings are somewhat of kin to the butcher’s. As to your accommodation we will try to serve you; but I must first know who you are, and whither you are going, for, in these times, the roads are filled with travellers on foot and horseback, who have anything in their head but honesty and the fear of God.”
The young man cast another keen and penetrating glance on him who spoke, and on his silent companion, as if doubtful whether they, on their part, merited the confidence they demanded; and the result of his observation was as follows.
The eldest and most remarkable of these men in dress and appearance, resembled the merchant or shopkeeper of the period. His jerkin, hose, and cloak were of a dark uniform colour, but worn so threadbare that the acute young Scot conceived that the wearer must be either very rich or very poor, probably the former. The fashion of the dress was close and short, a kind of garment which was not then held decorous among gentry, or even the superior class of citizens, who generally wore loose gowns which descended below the middle of the leg.
The expression of this man’s countenance was partly attractive and partly forbidding. His strong features, sunk cheeks, and hollow eyes had, nevertheless, an expression of shrewdness and humour congenial to the character of the young adventurer. But then, those same sunken eyes, from under the shroud of thick black eyebrows, had something in them that was at once commanding and sinister. Perhaps this effect was increased by the low fur cap, much depressed on the forehead, and adding to the shade from under which those eyes peered out; but it is certain that the young stranger had some difficulty to reconcile his looks with the meanness of his appearance in other respects. His cap, in particular, in which all men of any quality displayed either a brooch of gold or of silver, was ornamented with a paltry image of the Virgin, in lead, such as the poorer sort of pilgrims bring from Loretto 11.
His comrade was a stout formed, middle sized man, more than ten years younger than his companion, with a down looking visage and a very ominous smile, when by chance he gave way to that impulse, which was never, except in reply to certain secret signs that seemed to pass between him and the elder stranger. This man was armed with a sword and dagger; and underneath his plain habit the Scotsman observed that he concealed a jazeran, or flexible shirt of linked mail, which, as being often worn by those, even of peaceful professions, who were called upon at that perilous period to be frequently abroad, confirmed the young man in his conjecture that the wearer was by profession a butcher, grazier, or something of that description, called upon to be much abroad. The young stranger, comprehending in one glance the result of the observation which has taken us some time to express, answered, after a moment’s pause, “I am ignorant whom I may have the honour to address,” making a slight reverence at the same time, “but I am indifferent who knows that I am a cadet of Scotland; and that I come to seek my fortune in France, or elsewhere, after the custom of my countrymen.”
“Pasques dieu! and a gallant custom it is,” said the elder stranger. “You seem a fine young springald, and at the right age to prosper, whether among men or women. What say you? I am a merchant, and want a lad to assist in my traffic; I suppose you are too much a gentleman to assist in such mechanical drudgery?”
“Fair sir,” said the youth, “if your offer be seriously made — of which I have my doubts — I am bound to thank you for it, and I thank you accordingly; but I fear I should be altogether unfit for your service.”
“What!” said the senior, “I warrant thou knowest better how to draw the bow, than how to draw a bill of charges — canst handle a broadsword better than a pen — ha!”
“I am, master,” answered the young Scot, “a braeman, and therefore, as we say, a bowman. But besides that, I have been in a convent, where the good fathers taught me to read and write, and even to cipher.”
“Pasques dieu! that is too magnificent,” said the merchant. “By our Lady of Embrun 12, thou art a prodigy, man!”
“Rest you merry, fair master,” said the youth, who was not much pleased with his new acquaintance’s jocularity, “I must go dry myself, instead of standing dripping here, answering questions.”
The merchant only laughed louder as he spoke, and answered, “Pasques dieu! the proverb never fails — fier comme un Ecossois 13 — but come, youngster, you are of a country I have a regard for, having traded in Scotland in my time — an honest poor set of folks they are; and, if you will come with us to the village, I will bestow on you a cup of burnt sack and a warm breakfast, to atone for your drenching. — But tete bleau! what do you with a hunting glove on your hand? Know you not there is no hawking permitted in a royal chase?”
“I was taught that lesson,” answered the youth, “by a rascally forester of the Duke of Burgundy. I did but fly the falcon I had brought with me from Scotland, and that I reckoned on for bringing me into some note, at a heron near Peronne, and the rascally schelm 14 shot my bird with an arrow.”
“What did you do?” said the merchant.
“Beat him,” said the youngster, brandishing his staff, “as near to death as one Christian man should belabour another — I wanted not to have his blood to answer for.”
“Know you,” said the burgess, “that had you fallen into the Duke of Burgundy’s hands, he would have hung you up like a chestnut?”
“Ay, I am told he is as prompt as the King of France for that sort of work. But, as this happened near Peronne, I made a leap over the frontiers, and laughed at him. If he had not been so hasty, I might, perhaps, have taken service with him.”
“He will have a heavy miss of such a paladin as you are, if the truce should break off,” said the merchant, and threw a look at his own companion, who answered him with one of the downcast lowering smiles which gleamed along his countenance, enlivening it as a passing meteor enlivens a winter sky.
The young Scot suddenly stopped, pulled his bonnet over his right eyebrow, as one that would not be ridiculed, and said firmly, “My masters, and especially you, sir, the elder, and who should be the wiser, you will find, I presume, no sound or safe jesting at my expense. I do not altogether like the tone of your conversation. I can take a jest with any man, and a rebuke, too, from my elder, and say thank you, sir, if I know it to be deserved; but I do not like being borne in hand as if I were a child, when, God wot, I find myself man enough to belabour you both, if you provoke me too far.”
The eldest man seemed like to choke with laughter at the lad’s demeanour — his companion’s hand stole to his sword hilt, which the youth observing, dealt him a blow across the wrist, which made him incapable of grasping it, while his companion’s mirth was only increased by the incident.
“Hold, hold,” he cried, “most doughty Scot, even for thine own dear country’s sake, and you, gossip, forbear your menacing look. Pasques-dieu! let us be just traders, and set off the wetting against the knock on the wrist, which was given with so much grace and alacrity. — And hark ye, my young friend,” he said to the young man, with a grave sternness which, in spite of all the youth could do, damped and overawed him, “no more violence. I am no fit object for it, and my gossip, as you may see, has had enough of it. Let me know your name.”
“I can answer a civil question civilly,” said the youth; “and will pay fitting respect to your age, if you do not urge my patience with mockery. Since I have been here in France and Flanders, men have called me, in their fantasy, the Varlet with the Velvet Pouch, because of this hawk purse which I carry by my side; but my true name, when at home, is Quentin Durward.”
“Durward!” said the querist; “is it a gentleman’s name?”
“By fifteen descents in our family,” said the young man; “and that makes me reluctant to follow any other trade than arms.”
“A true Scot! Plenty of blood, plenty of pride, and right great scarcity of ducats, I warrant thee. — Well, gossip,” he said to his companion, “go before us, and tell them to have some breakfast ready yonder at the Mulberry grove; for this youth will do as much honour to it as a starved mouse to a housewife’s cheese. And for the Bohemian — hark in thy ear.”
His comrade answered by a gloomy but intelligent smile, and set forward at a round pace, while the elder man continued, addressing young Durward, “You and I will walk leisurely forward together, and we may take a mass at Saint Hubert’s Chapel in our way through the forest; for it is not good to think of our fleshly before our spiritual wants.” 15
Durward, as a good Catholic, had nothing to object against this proposal, although he might probably have been desirous, in the first place; to have dried his clothes and refreshed himself. Meanwhile, they soon lost sight of their downward looking companion, but continued to follow the same path which he had taken, until it led them into a wood of tall trees, mixed with thickets and brushwood, traversed by long avenues, through which were seen, as through a vista, the deer trotting in little herds with a degree of security which argued their consciousness of being completely protected.
“You asked me if I were a good bowman,” said the young Scot. “Give me a bow and a brace of shafts, and you shall have a piece of venison in a moment.”
“Pasques dieu! my young friend,” said his companion, “take care of that; my gossip yonder hath a special eye to the deer; they are under his charge, and he is a strict keeper.”
“He hath more the air of a butcher than of a gay forester,” answered Durward. “I cannot think yon hang dog look of his belongs to any one who knows the gentle rules of woodcraft.”
“Ah, my young friend,” answered his companion, “my gossip hath somewhat an ugly favour to look upon at the first; but those who become acquainted with him never are known to complain of him.”
Quentin Durward found something singularly and disagreeably significant in the tone with which this was spoken; and, looking suddenly at the speaker, thought he saw in his countenance, in the slight smile that curled his upper lip, and the accompanying twinkle of his keen dark eye, something to justify his unpleasing surprise. “I have heard of robbers,” he thought to himself, “and of wily cheats and cutthroats — what if yonder fellow be a murderer, and this old rascal his decoy duck! I will be on my guard — they will get little by me but good Scottish knocks.”
While he was thus reflecting, they came to a glade, where the large forest trees were more widely separated from each other, and where the ground beneath, cleared of underwood and bushes, was clothed with a carpet of the softest and most lovely verdure, which, screened from the scorching heat of the sun, was here more beautifully tender than it is usually to be seen in France. The trees in this secluded spot were chiefly beeches and elms of huge magnitude, which rose like great hills of leaves into the air. Amidst these magnificent sons of the earth there peeped out, in the most open spot of the glade, a lowly chapel, near which trickled a small rivulet. Its architecture was of the rudest and most simple kind; and there was a very small lodge beside it, for the accommodation of a hermit or solitary priest, who remained there for regularly discharging the duty of the altar. In a small niche over the arched doorway stood a stone image of Saint Hubert, with the bugle horn around his neck, and a leash of greyhounds at his feet. The situation of the chapel in the midst of a park or chase, so richly stocked with game, made the dedication to the Sainted Huntsman peculiarly appropriate.
Towards this little devotional structure the old man directed his steps, followed by young Durward; and, as they approached, the priest, dressed in his sacerdotal garments, made his appearance in the act of proceeding from his cell to the chapel, for the discharge, doubtless, of his holy office. Durward bowed his body reverently to the priest, as the respect due to his sacred office demanded; whilst his companion, with an appearance of still more deep devotion, kneeled on one knee to receive the holy man’s blessing, and then followed him into church, with a step and manner expressive of the most heartfelt contrition and humility.
The inside of the chapel was adorned in a manner adapted to the occupation of the patron saint while on earth. The richest furs of such animals as are made the objects of the chase in different countries supplied the place of tapestry and hangings around the altar and elsewhere, and the characteristic emblazonments of bugles, bows, quivers, and other emblems of hunting, surrounded the walls, and were mingled with the heads of deer, wolves, and other animals considered beasts of sport. The whole adornments took an appropriate and silvan character; and the mass itself, being considerably shortened, proved to be of that sort which is called a hunting mass, because in use before the noble and powerful, who, while assisting at the solemnity, are usually impatient to commence their favourite sport.
Yet, during this brief ceremony, Durward’s companion seemed to pay the most rigid and scrupulous attention; while Durward, not quite so much occupied with religious thoughts, could not forbear blaming himself in his own mind for having entertained suspicions derogatory to the character of so good and so humble a man. Far from now holding him as a companion and accomplice of robbers, he had much to do to forbear regarding him as a saint-like personage.
When mass was ended, they retired together from the chapel, and the elder said to his young comrade, “It is but a short walk from hence to the village — you may now break your fast with an unprejudiced conscience — follow me.”
Turning to the right, and proceeding along a path which seemed gradually to ascend, he recommended to his companion by no means to quit the track, but, on the contrary, to keep the middle of it as nearly as he could. Durward could not help asking the cause of this precaution.
“You are now near the Court, young man,” answered his guide; “and, Pasques-dieu! there is some difference betwixt walking in this region and on your own heathy hills. Every yard of this ground, excepting the path which we now occupy, is rendered dangerous, and well nigh impracticable, by snares and traps, armed with scythe blades, which shred off the unwary passenger’s limb as sheerly as a hedge bill lops a hawthorn sprig — and calthrops that would pierce your foot through, and pitfalls deep enough to bury you in them for ever; for you are now within the precincts of the royal demesne, and we shall presently see the front of the Chateau.”
“Were I the King of France,” said the young man, “I would not take so much trouble with traps and gins, but would try instead to govern so well that no man should dare to come near my dwelling with a bad intent; and for those who came there in peace and goodwill, why, the more of them the merrier we should be.”
His companion looked round affecting an alarmed gaze, and said, “Hush, hush, Sir Varlet with the Velvet Pouch! for I forgot to tell you, that one great danger of these precincts is, that the very leaves of the trees are like so many ears, which carry all which is spoken to the King’s own cabinet.”
“I care little for that,” answered Quentin Durward; “I bear a Scottish tongue in my head, bold enough to speak my mind to King Louis’s face, God bless him — and for the ears you talk of, if I could see them growing on a human head, I would crop them out of it with my wood knife.”
7 equivalent to the English expression, “Bless you.”
8 an intimate friend or companion (obsolete)
9 refers to the old saw, ‘Who is born to be hanged will never be drowned.’
10 originally something regarded as sacred, as a relic; formerly much used in solemn oaths
11 a city in Italy, containing the sanctuary of the Virgin Mary called the Santa Casa, reputed to have been brought there by angels.
12 a town in France containing a cathedral in which was a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, said to have been sculptured by St. Luke
13 proud or haughty as a Scotchman
14 rogue, rascal (obsolete or Scotch)
15 This silvan saint . . . was passionately fond of the chase, and used to neglect attendance on divine worship for this amusement. While he was once engaged in this pastime, a stag appeared before him, having a crucifix bound betwixt his horns, and he heard a voice which menaced him with eternal punishment if he did not repent of his sins. He retired from the world and took orders . . . Hubert afterwards became Bishop of Maestrecht and Liege. S.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00