Rescue or none, Sir Knight, I am your captive:
Deal with me what your nobleness suggests —
Thinking the chance of war may one day place you
Where I must now be reckon’d — I’ the roll
Of melancholy prisoners.
The skirmish betwixt the Schwarzreiters and the Burgundian men at arms lasted scarcely five minutes, so soon were the former put to the rout by the superiority of the latter in armour, weight of horse, and military spirit. In less than the space we have mentioned, the Count of Crevecoeur, wiping his bloody sword upon his horse’s mane ere he sheathed it, came back to the verge of the forest, where Isabelle had remained a spectator of the combat. One part of his people followed him, while the other continued to pursue the flying enemy for a little space along the causeway.
“It is shame,” said the Count, “that the weapons of knights and gentlemen should be soiled by the blood of those brutal swine.”
So saying, he returned his weapon to the sheath and added, “This is a rough welcome to your home, my pretty cousin, but wandering princesses must expect such adventures. And well I came up in time, for, let me assure you, the Black Troopers respect a countess’s coronet as little as a country wench’s coif, and I think your retinue is not qualified for much resistance.”
“My Lord Count,” said the Lady Isabelle, “without farther preface, let me know if I am a prisoner, and where you are to conduct me.”
“You know, you silly child,” answered the Count, “how I would answer that question, did it rest on my own will. But you, and your foolish match making, marriage hunting aunt, have made such wild use of your wings of late, that I fear you must be contented to fold them up in a cage for a little while. For my part, my duty, and it is a sad one, will be ended when I have conducted you to the Court of the Duke, at Peronne for which purpose I hold it necessary to deliver the command of this reconnoitring party to my nephew, Count Stephen, while I return with you thither, as I think you may need an intercessor. — And I hope the young giddy pate will discharge his duty wisely.”
“So please you, fair uncle,” said Count Stephen, “if you doubt my capacity to conduct the men at arms, even remain with them yourself, and I will be the servant and guard of the Countess Isabelle of Croye.”
“No doubt, fair nephew,” answered his uncle, “this were a goodly improvement on my scheme, but methinks I like it as well in the way I planned it. Please you, therefore, to take notice, that your business here is not to hunt after and stick these black hogs, for which you seemed but now to have felt an especial vocation, but to collect and bring to me true tidings of what is going forward in the country of Liege, concerning which we hear such wild rumours. Let some half score of lances follow me and the rest remain with my banner under your guidance.”
“Yet one moment, cousin of Crevecoeur,” said the Countess Isabelle, “and let me, in yielding myself prisoner, stipulate at least for the safety of those who have befriended me in my misfortunes. Permit this good fellow, my trusty guide, to go back unharmed to his native town of Liege.”
“My nephew,” said Crevecoeur, after looking sharply at Glover’s honest breadth of countenance, “shall guard this good fellow, who seems, indeed, to have little harm in him, as far into the territory as he himself advances, and then leave him at liberty.”
“Fail not to remember me to the kind Gertrude,” said the Countess to her guide, and added, taking a string of pearls from under her veil, “Pray her to wear this in remembrance of her unhappy friend.”
Honest Glover took the string of pearls, and kissed with clownish gesture, but with sincere kindness, the fair hand which had found such a delicate mode of remunerating his own labours and peril.
“Umph! signs and tokens,” said the Count, “any farther bequests to make, my fair cousin? — It is time we were on our way.”
“Only,” said the Countess, making an effort to speak, “that you will be pleased to be favourable to this — this young gentleman.”
“Umph!” said Crevecoeur, casting the same penetrating glance on Quentin which he had bestowed on Glover, but apparently with a much less satisfactory result, and mimicking, though not offensively, the embarrassment of the Countess.
“Umph! — Ay — this is a blade of another temper. — And pray, my cousin, what has this — this very young gentleman done, to deserve such intercession at your hands?”
“He has saved my life and honour,” said the Countess, reddening with shame and resentment.
Quentin also blushed with indignation, but wisely concluded that to give vent to it might only make matters worse.
“Life and honour? — Umph!” said again the Count Crevecoeur, “methinks it would have been as well, my cousin, if you had not put yourself in the way of lying under such obligations to this very young gentleman. — But let it pass. The young gentleman may wait on us, if his quality permit, and I will see he has no injury — only I will myself take in future the office of protecting your life and honour, and may perhaps find for him some fitter duty than that of being a squire of the body to damosels errant.”
“My Lord Count,” said Durward, unable to keep silence any longer, “lest you should talk of a stranger in slighter terms than you might afterwards think becoming, I take leave to tell you, that I am Quentin Durward, an Archer of the Scottish Bodyguard, in which, as you well know, none but gentlemen and men of honour are enrolled.”
“I thank you for your information, and I kiss your hands, Seignior Archer,” said Crevecoeur, in the same tone of raillery. “Have the goodness to ride with me to the front of the party.”
As Quentin moved onward at the command of the Count, who had now the power, if not the right, to dictate his motions, he observed that the Lady Isabelle followed his motions with a look of anxious and timid interest, which amounted almost to tenderness, and the sight of which brought water into his eyes. But he remembered that he had a man’s part to sustain before Crevecoeur, who, perhaps of all the chivalry in France or Burgundy, was the least likely to be moved to anything but laughter by a tale of true love sorrow. He determined, therefore, not to wait his addressing him, but to open the conversation in a tone which should assert his claim to fair treatment, and to more respect than the Count, offended perhaps at finding a person of such inferior note placed so near the confidence of his high born and wealthy cousin, seemed disposed to entertain for him.
“My Lord Count of Crevecoeur,” he said, in a temperate but firm tone of voice, “may I request of you, before our interview goes farther, to tell me if I am at liberty, or am to account myself your prisoner?”
“A shrewd question,” replied the Count, “which at present I can only answer by another. — Are France and Burgundy, think you, at peace or war with each other?”
“That,” replied the Scot, “you, my lord, should certainly know better than I. I have been absent from the Court of France, and have heard no news for some time.”
“Look you there,” said the Count, “you see how easy it is to ask questions, but how difficult to answer them. Why, I myself, who have been at Peronne with the Duke for this week and better, cannot resolve this riddle any more than you, and yet, Sir Squire, upon the solution of that question depends the said point, whether you are prisoner or free man, and, for the present, I must hold you as the former. — Only, if you have really and honestly been of service to my kinswoman, and for you are candid in your answers to the questions I shall ask, affairs shall stand the better with you.”
“The Countess of Croye,” said Quentin, “is best judge if I have rendered any service, and to her I refer you on that matter. My answers you will yourself judge of when you ask me your questions.”
“Umph! — haughty enough,” muttered the Count of Crevecoeur, “and very like one that wears a lady’s favour in his hat, and thinks he must carry things with a high tone, to honour the precious remnant of silk and tinsel. Well, sir, I trust it will be no abatement of your dignity, if you answer me, how long you have been about the person of the Lady Isabelle of Croye?”
“Count of Crevecoeur,” said Quentin Durward, “if I answer questions which are asked in a tone approaching towards insult, it is only lest injurious inferences should be drawn from my silence respecting one to whom we are both obliged to render justice. I have acted as escort to the Lady Isabelle since she left France to retire into Flanders.”
“Ho! ho!” said the Count, “and that is to say, since she fled from Plessis les Tours? — You, an Archer of the Scottish Guard, accompanied her, of course, by the express orders of King Louis?”
However little Quentin thought himself indebted to the King of France, who, in contriving the surprisal of the Countess Isabelle by William de la Marck, had probably calculated on the young Scotchman’s being slain in her defence, he did not yet conceive himself at liberty to betray any trust which Louis had reposed, or had seemed to repose, in him, and therefore replied to Count Crevecoeur’s inference that it was sufficient for him to have the authority of his superior officer for what he had done, and he inquired no farther.
“It is quite sufficient,” said the Count. “We know the King does not permit his officers to send the Archers of his Guard to prance like paladins by the bridle rein of wandering ladies, unless he hath some politic purpose to serve. It will be difficult for King Louis to continue to aver so boldly that he knew’ not of the Ladies of Croye’s having escaped from France, since they were escorted by one of his own Life guard. — And whither, Sir Archer, was your retreat directed?”
“To Liege, my lord,” answered the Scot, “where the ladies desired to be placed under the protection of the late Bishop.”
“The late Bishop!” exclaimed the Count of Crevecoeur, “is Louis of Bourbon dead? — Not a word of his illness had reached the Duke. — Of what did he die?”
“He sleeps in a bloody grave, my lord — that is, if his murderers have conferred one on his remains.”
“Murdered!” exclaimed Crevecoeur again. — “Holy Mother of Heaven! — young man, it is impossible!”
“I saw the deed done with my own eyes, and many an act of horror besides.”
“Saw it! and made not in to help the good Prelate!” exclaimed the Count, “or to raise the castle against his murderers? — Know’st thou not that even to look on such a deed, without resisting it, is profane sacrilege?”
“To be brief, my lord,” said Durward, “ere this act was done, the castle was stormed by the bloodthirsty William de la Marck, with help of the insurgent Liegeois.”
“I am struck with thunder,” said Crevecoeur. “Liege in insurrection! — Schonwaldt taken! — the Bishop murdered — Messenger of sorrow, never did one man unfold such a packet of woes! — Speak — knew you of this assault — of this insurrection — of this murder? — Speak — thou art one of Louis’s trusted Archers, and it is he that has aimed this painful arrow. — Speak, or I will have thee torn with wild horses!”
“And if I am so torn, my lord, there can be nothing rent out of me, that may not become a true Scottish gentleman: I know no more of these villainies than you — was so far from being partaker in them, that I would have withstood them to the uttermost, had my means in a twentieth degree equalled my inclination. But what could I do? — they were hundreds, and I but one. My only care was to rescue the Countess Isabelle, and in that I was happily successful. Yet, had I been near enough when the ruffian deed was so cruelly done on the old man, I had saved his gray hairs, or I had avenged them, and as it was, my abhorrence was spoken loud enough to prevent other horrors.”
“I believe thee, youth,” said the Count, “thou art neither of an age nor nature to be trusted with such bloody work, however well fitted to be the squire of dames. But alas! for the kind and generous Prelate, to be murdered on the hearth where he so often entertained the stranger with Christian charity and princely bounty — and that by a wretch, a monster! a portentous growth of blood and cruelty! — bred up in the very hall where he has imbrued his hands in his benefactor’s blood! But I know not Charles of Burgundy — nay, I should doubt of the justice of Heaven, if vengeance be not as sharp, and sudden, and severe, as this villainy has been unexampled in atrocity. And, if no other shall pursue the murderer” — here he paused, grasped his sword, then quitting his bridle, struck both gauntleted hands upon his breast, until his corselet clattered, and finally held them up to heaven, as he solemnly continued, — “I— I, Philip Crevecoeur of Cordes, make a vow to God, Saint Lambert, and the Three Kings of Cologne, that small shall be my thought of other earthly concerns, till I take full revenge on the murderers of the good Louis of Bourbon, whether I find them in forest or field, in city or in country, in hill or in plain, in King’s Court or in God’s Church! and thereto I pledge hands and living, friends and followers, life and honour. So help me God, and Saint Lambert of Liege, and the Three Kings of Cologne!”
When the Count of Crevecoeur had made his vow, his mind seemed in some sort relieved from the overwhelming grief and astonishment with which he had heard the fatal tragedy that had been acted at Schonwaldt, and he proceeded to question Durward more minutely concerning the particulars of that disastrous affair, which the Scot, nowise desirous to abate the spirit of revenge which the Count entertained against William de la Marck, gave him at full length.
“But those blind, unsteady, faithless, fickle beasts, the Liegeois,” said the Count, “that they should have combined themselves with this inexorable robber and murderer, to put to death their lawful Prince!”
Durward here informed the enraged Burgundian that the Liegeois, or at least the better class of them, however rashly they had run into the rebellion against their Bishop, had no design, so far as appeared to him, to aid in the execrable deed of De la Marck but, on the contrary, would have prevented it if they had had the means, and were struck with horror when they beheld it.
“Speak not of the faithless, inconstant plebeian rabble!” said Crevecoeur. “When they took arms against a Prince who had no fault, save that he was too kind and too good a master for such a set of ungrateful slaves — when they armed against him, and broke into his peaceful house, what could there be in their intention but murder? — when they banded themselves with the Wild Boar of Ardennes, the greatest homicide in the marches of Flanders, what else could there be in their purpose but murder, which is the very trade he lives by? And again, was it not one of their own vile rabble who did the very deed, by thine own account? I hope to see their canals running blood by the flight of their burning houses. Oh, the kind, noble, generous lord, whom they have slaughtered! — Other vassals have rebelled under the pressure of imposts and penury but the men of Liege in the fullness of insolence and plenty.”
He again abandoned the reins of his war horse, and wrung bitterly the hands, which his mail gloves rendered untractable. Quentin easily saw that the grief which he manifested was augmented by the bitter recollection of past intercourse and friendship with the sufferer, and was silent accordingly, respecting feelings which he was unwilling to aggravate, and at the same time felt it impossible to soothe. But the Count of Crevecoeur returned again and again to the subject — questioned him on every particular of the surprise of Schonwaldt, and the death of the Bishop, and then suddenly, as if he had recollected something which had escaped his memory, demanded what had become of the Lady Hameline, and why she was not with her kinswoman?
“Not,” he added contemptuously, “that I consider her absence as at all a loss to the Countess Isabelle, for, although she was her kinswoman, and upon the whole a well meaning woman, yet the Court of Cocagne never produced such a fantastic fool, and I hold it for certain that her niece, whom I have always observed to be a modest and orderly young lady, was led into the absurd frolic of flying from Burgundy to France, by that blundering, romantic old match making and match seeking idiot!” 173
What a speech for a romantic lover to hear! and to hear, too, when it would have been ridiculous in him to attempt what it was impossible for him to achieve — namely, to convince the Count, by force of arms, that he did foul wrong to the Countess — the peerless in sense as in beauty — in terming her a modest and orderly young woman, qualities which might have been predicated with propriety of the daughter of a sunburnt peasant, who lived by goading the oxen, while her father held the plough. And then, to suppose her under the domination and supreme guidance of a silly and romantic aunt! — The slander should have been repelled down the slanderer’s throat. But the open, though severe, physiognomy of the Count of Crevecoeur, the total contempt which he seemed to entertain for those feelings which were uppermost in Quentin’s bosom, overawed him, not for fear of the Count’s fame in arms, that was a risk which would have increased his desire of making out a challenge — but in dread of ridicule, the weapon of all others most feared by enthusiasts of every description, and which, from its predominance over such minds, often checks what is absurd, and fully as often smothers that which is noble.
Under the influence of this fear of becoming an object of scorn rather than resentment, Durward, though with some pain, confined his reply to a confused account of the Lady Hameline’s having made her escape from Schonwaldt before the attack took place. He could not, indeed, have made his story very distinct, without throwing ridicule on the near relation of Isabelle and perhaps incurring some himself, as having been the object of her preposterous expectations. He added to his embarrassed detail, that he had heard a report, though a vague one, of the Lady Hameline’s having again fallen into the hands of William de la Marck.
“I trust in Saint Lambert that he will marry her,” said Crevecoeur, “as indeed, he is likely enough to do, for the sake of her moneybags, and equally likely to knock her on the head, so soon as these are either secured in his own grasp, or, at farthest, emptied.”
The Count then proceeded to ask so many questions concerning the mode in which both ladies had conducted themselves on the journey, the degree of intimacy to which they admitted Quentin himself, and other trying particulars, that, vexed, and ashamed, and angry, the youth was scarce able to conceal his embarrassment from the keen sighted soldier and courtier, who seemed suddenly disposed to take leave of him, saying, at the same time, “Umph — I see it is as I conjectured, on one side at least, I trust the other party has kept her senses better. — Come, Sir Squire, spur on, and keep the van, while I fall back to discourse with the Lady Isabelle. I think I have learned now so much from you, that I can talk to her of these sad passages without hurting her nicety, though I have fretted yours a little. — Yet stay, young gallant — one word ere you go. You have had, I imagine, a happy journey through Fairyland — all full of heroic adventure, and high hope, and wild minstrel-like delusion, like the gardens of Morgaine la Fee 174. Forget it all, young soldier,” he added, tapping him on the shoulder, “remember yonder lady only as the honoured Countess of Croye — forget her as a wandering and adventurous damsel. And her friends — one of them I can answer for — will remember, on their part, only the services you have done her, and forget the unreasonable reward which you have had the boldness to propose to yourself.”
Enraged that he had been unable to conceal from the sharp sighted Crevecoeur feelings which the Count seemed to consider as the object of ridicule, Quentin replied indignantly, “My Lord Count, when I require advice of you, I will ask it, when I demand assistance of you, it will be time enough to grant or refuse it, when I set peculiar value on your opinion of me, it will not be too late to express it.”
“Heyday!” said the Count, “I have come between Amadis and Oriana, and must expect a challenge to the lists!” 175
“You speak as if that were an impossibility,” said Quentin. “When I broke a lance with the Duke of Orleans, it was against a head in which flowed better blood than that of Crevecoeur. — When I measured swords with Dunois, I engaged a better warrior.”
“Now Heaven nourish thy judgment, gentle youth,” said Crevecoeur, still laughing at the chivalrous inamorato. “If thou speak’st truth, thou hast had singular luck in this world, and, truly, if it be the pleasure of Providence exposes thee to such trials, without a beard on thy lip, thou wilt be mad with vanity ere thou writest thyself man. Thou canst not move me to anger, though thou mayst to mirth. Believe me, though thou mayst have fought with Princes, and played the champion for Countesses, by some of those freaks which Fortune will sometimes exhibit, thou art by no means the equal of those of whom thou hast been either the casual opponent, or more casual companion. I can allow thee like a youth, who hath listened to romances till he fancied himself a Paladin, to form pretty dreams for some time, but thou must not be angry at a well meaning friend, though he shake thee something roughly by the shoulders to awake thee.”
“My Lord of Crevecoeur,” said Quentin, “my family —”
“Nay, it was not utterly of family that I spoke,” said the Count, “but of rank, fortune, high station, and so forth, which place a distance between various degrees and classes of persons. As for birth, all men are descended from Adam and Eve.”
“My Lord Count,” repeated Quentin, “my ancestors, the Durwards of Glen Houlakin —”
“Nay,” said the Count, “if you claim a farther descent for them than from Adam, I have done! Good even to you.”
He reined back his horse, and paused to join the Countess, to whom, if possible, his insinuations and advices, however well meant, were still more disagreeable than to Quentin, who, as he rode on, muttered to himself, “Cold blooded, insolent, overweening coxcomb! — Would that the next Scottish Archer who has his harquebuss pointed at thee, may not let thee off so easily as I did!”
In the evening they reached the town of Charleroi, on the Sambre, where the Count of Crevecoeur had determined to leave the Countess Isabelle, whom the terror and fatigue of yesterday, joined to a flight of fifty miles since morning, and the various distressing sensations by which it was accompanied, had made incapable of travelling farther with safety to her health. The Count consigned her, in a state of great exhaustion, to the care of the Abbess of the Cistercian convent in Charleroi, a noble lady, to whom both the families of Crevecoeur and Croye were related, and in whose prudence and kindness he could repose confidence.
Crevecoeur himself only stopped to recommend the utmost caution to the governor of a small Burgundian garrison who occupied the place, and required him also to mount a guard of honour upon the convent during the residence of the Countess Isabelle of Croye — ostensibly to secure her safety, but perhaps secretly to prevent her attempting to escape. The Count only assigned as a cause for the garrison’s being vigilant, some vague rumours which he had heard of disturbances in the Bishopric of Liege. But he was determined himself to be the first who should carry the formidable news of the insurrection and the murder of the Bishop, in all their horrible reality, to Duke Charles, and for that purpose, having procured fresh horses for himself and suite, he mounted with the resolution of continuing his journey to Peronne without stopping for repose, and, informing Quentin Durward that he must attend him, he made, at the same time, a mock apology for parting fair company, but hoped that to so devoted a squire of dames a night’s journey by moonshine would be more agreeable than supinely to yield himself to slumber like an ordinary mortal.
Quentin, already sufficiently afflicted by finding that he was to be parted from Isabelle, longed to answer this taunt with an indignant defiance, but aware that the Count would only laugh at his anger, and despise his challenge, he resolved to wait some future time, when he might have an opportunity of obtaining some amends from this proud lord, who, though for very different reasons, had become nearly as odious to him as the Wild Boar of Ardennes himself. He therefore assented to Crevecoeur’s proposal, as to what he had no choice of declining, and they pursued in company, and with all the despatch they could exert, the road between Charleroi and Peronne.
173 Court of Cocagne: a fabled land intended to ridicule the stories of Avalon, the apple green island, the home of King Arthur. “Its houses were built of good things to eat: roast geese went slowly down the street, turning themselves, and inviting the passersby to eat them; buttered larks fell in profusion; the shingles of the houses were of cake.” Cent. Dict. Cocagne has also been called Lubberland.
174 half-sister of Arthur. Her gardens abounded in all good things; music filled the air, and the inhabitants enjoyed perpetual youth
175 Amadis is the hero of a famous mediaeval romance originally written in Portuguese, but translated into French and much enlarged by subsequent romancers. Amadis is represented as a model of chivalry. His lady was Oriana.
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