When Princes meet, Astrologers may mark it
An ominous conjunction, full of boding,
Like that of Mars with Saturn.
One hardly knows whether to term it a privilege or a penalty annexed to the quality of princes, that, in their intercourse with each other, they are required by the respect which is due to their own rank and dignity, to regulate their feelings and expressions by a severe etiquette, which precludes all violent and avowed display of passion, and which, but that the whole world are aware that this assumed complaisance is a matter of ceremony, might justly pass for profound dissimulation. It is no less certain, however, that the overstepping of these bounds of ceremonial, for the purpose of giving more direct vent to their angry passions, has the effect of compromising their dignity with the world in general; as was particularly noted when those distinguished rivals, Francis the First and the Emperor Charles, gave each other the lie direct, and were desirous of deciding their differences hand to hand, in single combat.
Charles of Burgundy, the most hasty and impatient, nay, the most imprudent prince of his time, found himself, nevertheless, fettered within the magic circle which prescribed the most profound deference to Louis, as his Suzerain and liege Lord, who had deigned to confer upon him, a vassal of the crown, the distinguished honour of a personal visit. Dressed in his ducal mantle, and attended by his great officers and principal knights and nobles, he went in gallant cavalcade to receive Louis XI. His retinue absolutely blazed with gold and silver; for the wealth of the Court of England being exhausted by the wars of York and Lancaster, and the expenditure of France limited by the economy of the Sovereign, that of Burgundy was for the time the most magnificent in Europe. The cortege of Louis, on the contrary, was few in number, and comparatively mean in appearance, and the exterior of the King himself, in a threadbare cloak, with his wonted old high crowned hat stuck full of images, rendered the contrast yet more striking; and as the Duke, richly attired with the coronet and mantle of state, threw himself from his noble charger, and, kneeling on one knee, offered to hold the stirrup while Louis dismounted from his little ambling palfrey, the effect was almost grotesque.
The greeting between the two potentates was, of course, as full of affected kindness and compliment as it was totally devoid of sincerity. But the temper of the Duke rendered it much more difficult for him to preserve the necessary appearances, in voice, speech, and demeanour; while in the King, every species of simulation and dissimulation seemed so much a part of his nature that those best acquainted with him could not have distinguished what was feigned from what was real.
Perhaps the most accurate illustration, were it not unworthy two such high potentates, would be to suppose the King in the situation of a stranger, perfectly acquainted with the habits and dispositions of the canine race, who, for some, purpose of his own, is desirous to make friends with a large and surly mastiff that holds him in suspicion and is disposed to worry him on the first symptoms either of diffidence or of umbrage. The mastiff growls internally, erects his bristles, shows his teeth, yet is ashamed to fly upon the intruder, who seems at the same time so kind and so confiding, and therefore the animal endures advances which are far from pacifying him, watching at the same time the slightest opportunity which may justify him in his own eyes for seizing his friend by the throat.
The King was no doubt sensible, from the altered voice, constrained manner, and abrupt gestures of the Duke, that the game he had to play was delicate, and perhaps he more than once repented having ever taken it in hand. But repentance was too late, and all that remained for him was that inimitable dexterity of management, which the King understood equally at least with any man that ever lived.
The demeanour which Louis used towards the Duke was such as to resemble the kind overflowing of the heart in a moment of sincere reconciliation with an honoured and tried friend, from whom he had been estranged by temporary circumstances now passed away, and forgotten as soon as removed. The King blamed himself for not having sooner taken the decisive step, of convincing his kind and good kinsman by such a mark of confidence as he was now bestowing, that the angry passages which had occurred betwixt them were nothing in his remembrance, when weighed against the kindness which received him when an exile from France, and under the displeasure of the King his father. He spoke of the good Duke of Burgundy, as Philip the father of Duke Charles was currently called, and remembered a thousand instances of his paternal kindness.
“I think, cousin,” he said, “your father made little difference in his affection betwixt you and me; for I remember when by an accident I had bewildered myself in a hunting party, I found the good Duke upbraiding you with leaving me in the forest, as if you had been careless of the safety of an elder brother.”
The Duke of Burgundy’s features were naturally harsh and severe; and when he attempted to smile, in polite acquiescence to the truth of what the King told him, the grimace which he made was truly diabolical.
“Prince of dissemblers,” he said, in his secret soul, “would that it stood with my honour to remind you how you have requited all the benefits of our House!”
“And then,” continued the King, “if the ties of consanguinity and gratitude are not sufficient to bind us together, my fair cousin, we have those of spiritual relationship; for I am godfather to your fair daughter Mary, who is as dear to me as one of my own maidens; and when the Saints (their holy name be blessed!) sent me a little blossom which withered in the course of three months, it was your princely father who held it at the font, and celebrated the ceremony of baptism with richer and prouder magnificence than Paris itself could have afforded. Never shall I forget the deep, the indelible impression which the generosity of Duke Philip, and yours, my dearest cousin, made upon the half broken heart of the poor exile!”
“Your Majesty,” said the Duke, compelling himself to make some reply, “acknowledged that slight obligation in terms which overpaid all the display which Burgundy could make, to show a due sense of the honour you had done its Sovereign.”
“I remember the words you mean, fair cousin,” said the King, smiling; “I think they were, that in guerdon of the benefit of that day, I, poor wanderer, had nothing to offer, save the persons of myself, of my wife, and of my child. — Well, and I think I have indifferently well redeemed my pledge.”
“I mean not to dispute what your Majesty is pleased to aver,” said the Duke; “but —”
“But you ask,” said the King, interrupting him, “how my actions have accorded with my words. — Marry thus: the body of my infant child Joachim rests in Burgundian earth — my own person I have this morning placed unreservedly in your power — and, for that of my wife, — truly, cousin, I think, considering the period of time which has passed, you will scarce insist on my keeping my word in that particular. She was born on the Day of the Blessed Annunciation” (he crossed himself, and muttered an Ora pro nobis 183), “some fifty years since; but she is no farther distant than Rheims, and if you insist on my promise being fulfilled to the letter, she shall presently wait your pleasure.”
Angry as the Duke of Burgundy was at the barefaced attempt of the King to assume towards him a tone of friendship and intimacy, he could not help laughing at the whimsical reply of that singular monarch, and his laugh was as discordant as the abrupt tones of passion in which he often spoke. Having laughed longer and louder than was at that period, or would now be, thought fitting the time and occasion, he answered in the same tone, bluntly declining the honour of the Queen’s company, but stating his willingness to accept that of the King’s eldest daughter, whose beauty was celebrated.
“I am happy, fair cousin,” said the King, with one of those dubious smiles of which he frequently made use, “that your gracious pleasure has not fixed on my younger daughter, Joan. I should otherwise have had spear breaking between you and my cousin of Orleans; and, had harm come of it, I must on either side have lost a kind friend and affectionate cousin.”
“Nay, nay, my royal sovereign,” said Duke Charles, “the Duke of Orleans shall have no interruption from me in the path which he has chosen par amours. The cause in which I couch my lance against Orleans must be fair and straight.”
Louis was far from taking amiss this brutal allusion to the personal deformity of the Princess Joan. On the contrary, he was rather pleased to find that the Duke was content to be amused with broad jests, in which he was himself a proficient, and which (according to the modern phrase) spared much sentimental hypocrisy. Accordingly, he speedily placed their intercourse on such a footing that Charles, though he felt it impossible to play the part of an affectionate and reconciled friend to a monarch whose ill offices he had so often encountered, and whose sincerity on the present occasion he so strongly doubted, yet had no difficulty in acting the hearty landlord towards a facetious guest; and so the want of reciprocity in kinder feelings between them was supplied by the tone of good fellowship which exists between two boon companions — a tone natural to the Duke from the frankness, and, it might be added, the grossness of his character, and to Louis, because, though capable of assuming any mood of social intercourse, that which really suited him best was mingled with grossness of ideas and of caustic humour and expression.
Both Princes were happily able to preserve, during the period of a banquet at the town house of Peronne, the same kind of conversation, on which they met as on a neutral ground, and which, as Louis easily perceived, was more available than any other to keep the Duke of Burgundy in that state of composure which seemed necessary to his own safety.
Yet he was alarmed to observe that the Duke had around him several of those French nobles, and those of the highest rank, and in situations of great trust and power, whom his own severity or injustice had driven into exile; and it was to secure himself from the possible effects of their resentment and revenge, that (as already mentioned) he requested to be lodged in the Castle or Citadel of Peronne, rather than in the town itself. This was readily granted by Duke Charles, with one of those grim smiles of which it was impossible to say whether it meant good or harm to the party whom it concerned. 184
But when the King, expressing himself with as much delicacy as he could, and in the manner he thought best qualified to lull suspicion asleep, asked whether the Scottish Archers of his Guard might not maintain the custody of the Castle of Peronne during his residence there, in lieu of the gate of the town which the Duke had offered to their care, Charles replied, with his wonted sternness of voice and abruptness of manner, rendered more alarming by his habit, when he spoke, of either turning up his mustaches, or handling his sword or dagger, the last of which he used frequently to draw a little way, and then return to the sheath 185,
“Saint Martin! No, my Liege. You are in your vassal’s camp and city — so men call me in respect to your Majesty — my castle and town are yours, and my men are yours; so it is indifferent whether my men at arms or the Scottish Archers guard either the outer gate or defences of the Castle. — No, by Saint George! Peronne is a virgin fortress — she shall not lose her reputation by any neglect of mine. Maidens must be carefully watched, my royal cousin, if we would have them continue to live in good fame.”
“Surely, fair cousin, and I altogether agree with you,” said the King, “I being in fact more interested in the reputation of the good little town than you are — Peronne being, as you know, fair cousin, one of those upon the same river Somme, which, pledged to your father of happy memory for redemption of money, are liable to be redeemed upon repayment. And, to speak truth; coming, like an honest debtor, disposed to clear off my obligations of every kind, I have brought here a few sumpter mules loaded with silver for the redemption — enough to maintain even your princely and royal establishment, fair cousin, for the space of three years.”
“I will not receive a penny of it,” said the Duke, twirling his mustaches — “the day of redemption is past, my royal cousin; nor were there ever serious purpose that the right should be exercised, the cession of these towns being the sole recompense my father ever received from France, when, in a happy hour for your family, he consented to forget the murder of my grandfather, and to exchange the alliance of England for that of your father. Saint George! if he had not so acted, your royal self, far from having towns in the Somme, could scarce have kept those beyond the Loire. No — I will not render a stone of them, were I to receive for every stone so rendered its weight in gold. I thank God, and the wisdom and valour of my ancestors, that the revenues of Burgundy, though it be a duchy, will maintain my state, even when a King is my guest, without obliging me to barter my heritage.”
“Well, fair cousin,” answered the King, with the same mild and placid manner as before, and unperturbed by the loud tone and violent gestures of the Duke, “I see that you are so good a friend to France that you are unwilling to part with aught that belongs to her. But we shall need some moderator in those affairs when we come to treat of them in council. — What say you to Saint Paul?”
“Neither Saint Paul, nor Saint Peter, nor e’er a Saint in the Calendar,” said the Duke of Burgundy, “shall preach me out of the possession of Peronne.”
“Nay, but you mistake me,” said King Louis, smiling; “I mean Louis de Luxembourg, our trusty constable, the Count of Saint Paul. — Ah! Saint Mary of Embrun! we lack but his head at our conference! the best head in France, and the most useful to the restoration of perfect harmony betwixt us.”
“By Saint George of Burgundy!” said the Duke, “I marvel to hear your Majesty talk thus of a man, false and perjured, both to France and Burgundy — one who hath ever endeavoured to fan into a flame our frequent differences, and that with the purpose of giving himself the airs of a mediator. I swear by the Order I wear that his marshes shall not be long a resource for him!”
“Be not so warm, cousin,” said the King, smiling, and speaking under his breath; “when I wished for the head constable, as a means of ending the settlement of our trifling differences, I had no desire for his body, which might remain at Saint Quentin’s with much convenience.”
“Ho! ho! I take your meaning, my royal cousin,” said Charles, with the same dissonant laugh which some other of the King’s coarse pleasantries had extorted; and added, stamping his heel on the ground, “I allow, in that sense, the head of the Constable might be useful at Peronne.”
These, and other discourses, by which the King mixed hints at serious affairs amid matters of mirth and amusement, did not follow each other consecutively; but were adroitly introduced during the time of the banquet at the Hotel de Ville, during a subsequent interview in the Duke’s own apartments, and, in short, as occasion seemed to render the introduction of such delicate subjects easy and natural.
Indeed, however rashly Louis had placed himself in a risk which the Duke’s fiery temper and the mutual subjects of exasperated enmity which subsisted betwixt them rendered of doubtful and perilous issue, never pilot on an unknown coast conducted himself with more firmness and prudence. He seemed to sound with the utmost address and precision the depths and shallows of his rival’s mind and temper, and manifested neither doubt nor fear when the result of his experiments discovered much more of sunken rocks and of dangerous shoals than of safe anchorage.
At length a day closed which must have been a wearisome one to Louis, from the constant exertion, vigilance, precaution, and attention which his situation required, as it was a day of constraint to the Duke, from the necessity of suppressing the violent feelings to which he was in the general habit of giving uncontrolled vent.
No sooner had the latter retired into his own apartment, after he had taken a formal leave of the King for the night, than he gave way to the explosion of passion which he had so long suppressed; and many an oath and abusive epithet, as his jester, Le Glorieux said, “fell that night upon heads which they were never coined for,” his domestics reaping the benefit of that hoard of injurious language which he could not in decency bestow on his royal guest, even in his absence, and which was yet become too great to be altogether suppressed. The jests of the clown had some effect in tranquillizing the Duke’s angry mood — he laughed loudly, threw the jester a piece of gold, caused himself to be disrobed in tranquillity, swallowed a deep cup of wine and spices, went to bed, and slept soundly.
The couchee of King Louis is more worthy of notice than that of Charles; for the violent expression of exasperated and headlong passion, as indeed it belongs more to the brutal than the intelligent part of our nature, has little to interest us, in comparison to the deep workings of a vigorous and powerful mind.
Louis was escorted to the lodgings he had chosen in the Castle, or Citadel of Peronne, by the Chamberlains and harbingers of the Duke of Burgundy, and received at the entrance by a strong guard of archers and men at arms.
As he descended from his horse to cross the drawbridge, over a moat of unusual width and depth, he looked on the sentinels, and observed to Comines, who accompanied him, with other Burgundian nobles, “They wear Saint Andrew’s crosses — but not those of my Scottish Archers.”
“You will find them as ready to die in your defence, Sire,” said the Burgundian, whose sagacious ear had detected in the King’s tone of speech a feeling which doubtless Louis would have concealed if he could. “They wear the Saint Andrew’s Cross as the appendage of the collar of the Golden Fleece, my master the Duke of Burgundy’s Order.”
“Do I not know it?” said Louis, showing the collar which he himself wore in compliment to his host. “It is one of the dear bonds of fraternity which exist between my kind brother and myself. We are brothers in chivalry, as in spiritual relationship; cousins by birth, and friends by every tie of kind feeling and good neighbourhood. — No farther than the base court, my noble lords and gentlemen! I can permit your attendance no farther — you have done me enough of grace.”
“We were charged by the Duke,” said D’Hymbercourt, “to bring your Majesty to your lodging. — We trust your Majesty will permit us to obey our master’s command.”
“In this small matter,” said the King, “I trust you will allow my command to outweigh his, even with you his liege subjects. — I am something indisposed, my lords — something fatigued. Great pleasure hath its toils, as well as great pain. I trust to enjoy your society better tomorrow. — And yours, too, Seignior Philip of Comines — I am told you are the annalist of the time — we that desire to have a name in history must speak you fair, for men say your pen hath a sharp point, when you will. — Goodnight, my lords and gentles, to all and each of you.”
The Lords of Burgundy retired, much pleased with the grace of Louis’s manner, and the artful distribution of his attentions; and the King was left with only one or two of his own personal followers, under the archway of the base court of the Castle of Peronne, looking on the huge tower which occupied one of the angles, being in fact the Donjon, or principal Keep, of the palace. This tall, dark, massive building was seen clearly by the same moon which was lighting Quentin Durward betwixt Charleroi and Peronne, which, as the reader is aware, shone with peculiar lustre. The great Keep was in form nearly resembling the White Tower in the Citadel of London, but still more ancient in its architecture, deriving its date, as was affirmed, from the days of Charlemagne. The walls were of a tremendous thickness, the windows very small, and grated with bars of iron, and the huge clumsy bulk of the building cast a dark and portentous shadow over the whole of the courtyard.
“I am not to be lodged there,” the King said, with a shudder that had something in it ominous.
“No,” replied the gray headed seneschal, who attended upon him unbonneted. “God forbid! — Your Majesty’s apartments are prepared in these lower buildings which are hard by, and in which King John slept two nights before the battle of Poitiers.”
“Hum — that is no lucky omen neither,” muttered the King; “but what of the Tower, my old friend? and why should you desire of Heaven that I may not be there lodged?”
“Nay, my gracious Liege,” said the seneschal, “I know no evil of the Tower at all, only that the sentinels say lights are seen, and strange noises heard in it at night; and there are reasons why that may be the case, for anciently it was used as a state prison, and there are many tales of deeds which have been done in it.”
Louis asked no further questions; for no man was more bound than he to respect the secrets of a prison house. At the door of the apartments destined for his use, which, though of later date than the Tower, were still both ancient and gloomy, stood a small party of the Scottish Guard, which the Duke, although he declined to concede the point to Louis, had ordered to be introduced, so as to be near the person of their master. The faithful Lord Crawford was at their head.
“Crawford — my honest and faithful Crawford,” said the King, “where hast thou been today? — Are the Lords of Burgundy so inhospitable as to neglect one of the bravest and most noble gentlemen that ever trode a court? — I saw you not at the banquet.”
“I declined it, my Liege,” said Crawford, “times are changed with me. The day has been that I could have ventured a carouse with the best man in Burgundy and that in the juice of his own grape; but a matter of four pints now flusters me, and I think it concerns your Majesty’s service to set in this an example to my gallants.”
“Thou art ever prudent,” said the King, “but surely your toil is the less when you have so few men to command? — and a time of festivity requires not so severe self denial on your part as a time of danger.”
“If I have few men to command,” said Crawford, “I have the more need to keep the knaves in fitting condition; and whether this business be like to end in feasting or fighting, God and your Majesty know better than old John of Crawford.”
“You surely do not apprehend any danger?” said the King hastily, yet in a whisper.
“Not I,” answered Crawford; “I wish I did; for, as old Earl Tineman 186 used to say, apprehended dangers may be always defended dangers. — The word for the night, if your Majesty pleases?”
“Let it be Burgundy, in honour of our host and of a liquor that you love, Crawford.”
“I will quarrel with neither Duke nor drink, so called,” said Crawford, “provided always that both be sound. A good night to your Majesty!”
“A good night, my trusty Scot,” said the King, and passed on to his apartments.
At the door of his bedroom Le Balafre was placed sentinel. “Follow me hither,” said the King, as he passed him; and the Archer accordingly, like a piece of machinery put into motion by an artist, strode after him into the apartment, and remained there fixed, silent, and motionless, attending the royal command.
“Have you heard from that wandering Paladin, your nephew?” said the King; “for he hath been lost to us, since, like a young knight who had set out upon his first adventures, he sent us home two prisoners as the first fruits of his chivalry.”
“My Lord, I heard something of that,” said Balafre, “and I hope your Majesty will believe that if he acted wrongfully, it was in no shape by any precept or example, since I never was so bold as to unhorse any of your Majesty’s most illustrious house, better knowing my own condition, and —”
“Be silent on that point,” said the King; “your nephew did his duty in the matter.”
“There indeed,” continued Balafre, “he had the cue from me. — ‘Quentin,’ said I to him, ‘whatever comes of it, remember you belong to the Scottish Archer Guard, and do your duty whatever comes on’t.’”
“I guess he had some such exquisite instructor,” said Louis; “but it concerns me that you answer me my first question. — Have you heard of your nephew of late? — Stand aback, my masters,” he added, addressing the gentlemen of his chamber, “for this concerneth no ears but mine.”
“Surely, please your Majesty,” said Balafre, “I have seen this very evening the groom Charlot, whom my kinsman dispatched from Liege, or some castle of the Bishop’s which is near it, and where he hath lodged the Ladies of Croye in safety.”
“Now Our Lady of Heaven be praised for it!” said the King. “Art thou sure of it? — sure of the good news?”
“As sure as I can be of aught,” said Le Balafre, “the fellow, I think, hath letters for your Majesty from the Ladies of Croye.”
“Haste to get them,” said the King. “Give the harquebuss to one of these knaves — to Oliver — to any one. Now Our Lady of Embrun be praised! and silver shall be the screen that surrounds her high altar!”
Louis, in this fit of gratitude and devotion, doffed, as usual, his hat, selected from the figures with which it was garnished that which represented his favourite image of the Virgin, placed it on a table, and, kneeling down, repeated reverently the vow he had made.
The groom, being the first messenger whom Durward had despatched from Schonwaldt, was now introduced with his letters. They were addressed to the King by the Ladies of Croye, and barely thanked him in very cold terms for his courtesy while at his Court, and something more warmly for having permitted them to retire and sent them in safety from his dominions; expressions at which Louis laughed very heartily, instead of resenting them. He then demanded of Charlot, with obvious interest, whether they had not sustained some alarm or attack upon the road? Charlot, a stupid fellow, and selected for that quality, gave a very confused account of the affray in which his companion, the Gascon, had been killed, but knew of no other. Again Louis demanded of him, minutely and particularly, the route which the party had taken to Liege; and seemed much interested when he was informed, in reply, that they had, upon approaching Namur, kept the more direct road to Liege, upon the right bank of the Maes, instead of the left bank, as recommended in their route. The King then ordered the man a small present, and dismissed him, disguising the anxiety he had expressed as if it only concerned the safety of the Ladies of Croye.
Yet the news, though they implied the failure of one of his own favourite plans, seemed to imply more internal satisfaction on the King’s part than he would have probably indicated in a case of brilliant success. He sighed like one whose breast has been relieved from a heavy burden, muttered his devotional acknowledgments with an air of deep sanctity, raised up his eyes, and hastened to adjust newer and surer schemes of ambition.
With such purpose, Louis ordered the attendance of his astrologer, Martius Galeotti, who appeared with his usual air of assumed dignity, yet not without a shade of uncertainty on his brow, as if he had doubted the King’s kind reception. It was, however, favourable, even beyond the warmest which he had ever met with at any former interview. Louis termed him his friend, his father in the sciences — the glass by which a king should look into distant futurity — and concluded by thrusting on his finger a ring of very considerable value. Galeotti, not aware of the circumstances which had thus suddenly raised his character in the estimation of Louis, yet understood his own profession too well to let that ignorance be seen. He received with grave modesty the praises of Louis, which he contended were only due to the nobleness of the science which he practised, a science the rather the more deserving of admiration on account of its working miracles through means of so feeble an agent as himself; and he and the King took leave, for once much satisfied with each other.
On the Astrologer’s departure, Louis threw himself into a chair, and appearing much exhausted, dismissed the rest of his attendants, excepting Oliver alone, who, creeping around with gentle assiduity and noiseless step, assisted him in the task of preparing for repose.
While he received this assistance, the King, unlike to his wont, was so silent and passive, that his attendant was struck by the unusual change in his deportment. The worst minds have often something of good principle in them — banditti show fidelity to their captain, and sometimes a protected and promoted favourite has felt a gleam of sincere interest in the monarch to whom he owed his greatness. Oliver le Diable, le Mauvais (or by whatever other name he was called expressive of his evil propensities), was, nevertheless, scarcely so completely identified with Satan as not to feel some touch of grateful feeling for his master in this singular condition, when, as it seemed, his fate was deeply interested and his strength seemed to be exhausted. After for a short time rendering to the King in silence the usual services paid by a servant to his master at the toilette, the attendant was at length tempted to say, with the freedom which his Sovereign’s indulgence had permitted him in such circumstances, “Tete dieu, Sire, you seem as if you had lost a battle; and yet I, who was near your Majesty during this whole day, never knew you fight a field so gallantly.”
“A field!” said King Louis, looking up, and assuming his wonted causticity of tone and manner. “Pasques dieu, my friend Oliver, say I have kept the arena in a bullfight; for a blinder, and more stubborn, untameable, uncontrollable brute than our cousin of Burgundy never existed, save in the shape of a Murcian bull, trained for the bull feasts. — Well, let it pass — I dodged him bravely. But, Oliver, rejoice with me that my plans in Flanders have not taken effect, whether as concerning those two rambling Princesses of Croye, or in Liege — you understand me?”
“In faith, I do not, Sire,” replied Oliver; “it is impossible for me to congratulate your Majesty on the failure of your favourite schemes, unless you tell me some reason for the change in your own wishes and views.”
“Nay,” answered the King, “there is no change in either, in a general view. But, Pasques dieu, my friend, I have this day learned more of Duke Charles than I before knew. When he was Count de Charalois, in the time of the old Duke Philip and the banished Dauphin of France, we drank, and hunted, and rambled together — and many a wild adventure we have had. And in those days I had a decided advantage over him — like that which a strong spirit naturally assumes over a weak one. But he has since changed — has become a dogged, daring, assuming, disputatious dogmatist, who nourishes an obvious wish to drive matters to extremities, while he thinks he has the game in his own hands. I was compelled to glide as gently away from each offensive topic, as if I touched red hot iron. I did but hint at the possibility of those erratic Countesses of Croye, ere they attained Liege (for thither I frankly confessed that, to the best of my belief, they were gone), falling into the hands of some wild snapper upon the frontiers, and, Pasques dieu! you would have thought I had spoken of sacrilege. It is needless to tell you what he said, and quite enough to say that I would have held my head’s safety very insecure, if, in that moment, accounts had been brought of the success of thy friend, William with the Beard, in his and thy honest scheme of bettering himself by marriage.”
“No friend of mine, if it please your Majesty,” said Oliver, “neither friend nor plan of mine.”
“True, Oliver,” answered the King; “thy plan had not been to wed, but to shave such a bridegroom. Well, thou didst wish her as bad a one, when thou didst modestly hint at thyself. However, Oliver, lucky the man who has her not; for hang, draw, and quarter were the most gentle words which my gentle cousin spoke of him who should wed the young Countess, his vassal, without his most ducal permission.”
“And he is, doubtless, as jealous of any disturbances in the good town of Liege?” asked the favourite.
“As much, or much more,” replied the King, “as your understanding may easily anticipate; but, ever since I resolved on coming hither, my messengers have been in Liege to repress, for the present, every movement to insurrection; and my very busy and bustling friends, Rousalaer and Pavillon, have orders to be quiet as a mouse until this happy meeting between my cousin and me is over.”
“Judging, then, from your Majesty’s account,” said Oliver dryly, “the utmost to be hoped from this meeting is that it should not make your condition worse — Surely this is like the crane that thrust her head into the fox’s mouth, and was glad to thank her good fortune that it was not bitten off. Yet your Majesty seemed deeply obliged even now to the sage philosopher who encouraged you to play so hopeful a game.”
“No game,” said the King sharply, “is to be despaired of until it is lost, and that I have no reason to expect it will be in my own case. On the contrary, if nothing occurs to stir the rage of this vindictive madman, I am sure of victory; and surely, I am not a little obliged to the skill which selected for my agent, as the conductor of the Ladies of Croye, a youth whose horoscope so far corresponded with mine that he hath saved me from danger, even by the disobedience of my own commands, and taking the route which avoided De la Marck’s ambuscade.”
“Your Majesty,” said Oliver, “may find many agents who will serve you on the terms of acting rather after their own pleasure than your instructions.”
“Nay, nay, Oliver,” said Louis impatiently, “the heathen poet speaks of Vota diis exaudita malignis, — wishes, that is, which the saints grant to us in their wrath; and such, in the circumstances, would have been the success of William de la Marck’s exploit, had it taken place about this time, and while I am in the power of this Duke of Burgundy. — And this my own art foresaw — fortified by that of Galeotti — that is, I foresaw not the miscarriage of De la Marck’s undertaking, but I foresaw that the expedition of yonder Scottish Archer should end happily for me — and such has been the issue, though in a manner different from what I expected; for the stars, though they foretell general results, are yet silent on the means by which such are accomplished, being often the very reverse of what we expect, or even desire. — But why talk I of these mysteries to thee, Oliver, who art in so far worse than the very devil, who is thy namesake, since he believes and trembles; whereas thou art an infidel both to religion and to science, and wilt remain so till thine own destiny is accomplished, which as thy horoscope and physiognomy alike assure me, will be by the intervention of the gallows!”
“And if it indeed shall be so,” said Oliver, in a resigned tone of voice, “it will be so ordered, because I was too grateful a servant to hesitate at executing the commands of my royal master.”
Louis burst into his usual sardonic laugh. — “Thou hast broke thy lance on me fairly, Oliver; and by Our Lady thou art right, for I defied thee to it. But, prithee, tell me in sadness, dost thou discover anything in these measures towards us which may argue any suspicion of ill usage?”
“My Liege,” replied Oliver, “your Majesty and yonder learned philosopher look for augury to the stars and heavenly host — I am an earthly reptile, and consider but the things connected with my vocation. But methinks there is a lack of that earnest and precise attention on your Majesty which men show to a welcome guest of a degree so far above them. The Duke tonight pleaded weariness, and saw your Majesty not farther than to the street, leaving to the officers of his household the task of conveying you to your lodgings. The rooms here are hastily and carelessly fitted up — the tapestry is hung up awry — and, in one of the pieces, as you may observe, the figures are reversed and stand on their heads, while the trees grow with their roots uppermost.”
“Pshaw! accident, and the effect of hurry,” said the King. “When did you ever know me concerned about such trifles as these?”
“Not on their own account are they worth notice,” said Oliver; “but as intimating the degree of esteem in which the officers of the Duke’s household observe your Grace to be held by him. Believe me, that, had his desire seemed sincere that your reception should be in all points marked by scrupulous attention, the zeal of his people would have made minutes do the work of days. — And when,” he added, pointing to the basin and ewer, “was the furniture of your Majesty’s toilette of other substance than silver?”
“Nay,” said the King, with a constrained smile, “that last remark upon the shaving utensils, Oliver, is too much in the style of thine own peculiar occupation to be combated by any one. — True it is, that when I was only a refugee, and an exile, I was served upon gold plate by order of the same Charles, who accounted silver too mean for the Dauphin, though he seems to hold that metal too rich for the King of France. Well, Oliver, we will to bed. — Our resolution has been made and executed; there is nothing to be done, but to play manfully the game on which we have entered. I know that my cousin of Burgundy, like other wild bulls, shuts his eyes when he begins his career. I have but to watch that moment, like one of the tauridors 187 whom we saw at Burgos, and his impetuosity places him at my mercy.”
183 intercede for us
184 Scott quotes from the Memoires of De Comines as follows: “these nobles . . . inspired Louis with so much suspicion that he . . . demanded to be lodged in the old Castle of Peronne, and thus rendered himself an absolute captive.”
185 this gesture, very indicative of a fierce character, is also by stage tradition a distinction of Shakespeare’s Richard III. S.
186 an Earl of Douglas, so called. S.
187 Spanish bull fighters
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00