Then happy low, lie down;
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
SECOND PART OF KING HENRY IV.
Forty men at arms, carrying alternately naked swords and blazing torches, served as the escort, or rather the guard, of King Louis, from the town hall of Peronne to the Castle; and as he entered within its darksome and gloomy strength, it seemed as if a voice screamed in his ear that warning which the Florentine has inscribed over the portal of the infernal regions, “Leave all hope behind.” 192
At that moment, perhaps, some feeling of remorse might have crossed the King’s mind, had he thought on the hundreds, nay, thousands whom, without cause, or on light suspicion, he had committed to the abysses of his dungeons, deprived of all hope of liberty, and loathing even the life to which they clung by animal instinct.
The broad glare of the torches outfacing the pale moon, which was more obscured on this than on the former night, and the red smoky light which they dispersed around the ancient buildings, gave a darker shade to that huge donjon, called the Earl Herbert’s Tower. It was the same that Louis had viewed with misgiving presentiment on the preceding evening, and of which he was now doomed to become an inhabitant, under the terror of what violence soever the wrathful temper of his overgrown vassal might tempt him to exercise in those secret recesses of despotism.
To aggravate the King’s painful feelings, he saw, as he crossed the courtyard, one or two bodies, over each of which had been hastily flung a military cloak. He was not long in discerning that they were corpses of slain Archers of the Scottish Guard, who having disputed, as the Count Crevecoeur informed him, the command given them to quit the post near the King’s apartments, a brawl had ensued between them and the Duke’s Walloon bodyguards, and before it could be composed by the officers on either side, several lives had been lost.
“My trusty Scots!” said the King as he looked upon this melancholy spectacle; “had they brought only man to man, all Flanders, ay, and Burgundy to boot, had not furnished champions to mate you.”
“Yes, an it please your Majesty,” said Balafre, who attended close behind the King, “Maistery mows the meadow 193 — few men can fight more than two at once. — I myself never care to meet three, unless it be in the way of special duty, when one must not stand to count heads.”
“Art thou there, old acquaintance,” said the King, looking behind him; “then I have one true subject with me yet.”
“And a faithful minister, whether in your councils, or in his offices about your royal person,” whispered Oliver le Dain.
“We are all faithful,” said Tristan l’Hermite gruffly; “for should they put to death your Majesty, there is not one of us whom they would suffer to survive you, even if we would.”
“Now, that is what I call good corporal bail for fidelity,” said Le Glorieux, who, as already mentioned, with the restlessness proper to an infirm brain, had thrust himself into their company.
Meanwhile the Seneschal, hastily summoned, was turning with laborious effort the ponderous key which opened the reluctant gate of the huge Gothic Keep, and was at last fain to call for the assistance of one of Crevecoeur’s attendants. When they had succeeded, six men entered with torches, and showed the way through a narrow and winding passage, commanded at different points by shot holes from vaults and casements constructed behind, and in the thickness of the massive walls. At the end of this passage arose a stair of corresponding rudeness, consisting of huge blocks of stone, roughly dressed with the hammer, and of unequal height. Having mounted this ascent, a strong iron clenched door admitted them to what had been the great hall of the donjon, lighted but very faintly even during the daytime (for the apertures, diminished, in appearance by the excessive thickness of the walls, resembled slits rather than windows), and now but for the blaze of the torches, almost perfectly dark. Two or three bats, and other birds of evil presage, roused by the unusual glare, flew against the lights, and threatened to extinguish them; while the Seneschal formally apologized to the King that the State Hall had not been put in order, such was the hurry of the notice sent to him, adding that, in truth, the apartment had not been in use for twenty years, and rarely before that time, so far as ever he had heard, since the time of King Charles the Simple.
“King Charles the Simple!” echoed Louis; “I know the history of the Tower now. — He was here murdered by his treacherous vassal, Herbert, Earl of Vermandois. — So say our annals. I knew there was something concerning the Castle of Peronne which dwelt on my mind, though I could not recall the circumstance. — Here, then, my predecessor was slain!”
“Not here, not exactly here, and please your Majesty,” said the old Seneschal, stepping with the eager haste of a cicerone who shows the curiosities of such a place.
“Not here, but in the side chamber a little onward, which opens from your Majesty’s bedchamber.”
He hastily opened a wicket at the upper end of the hall, which led into a bedchamber, small, as is usual in those old buildings; but, even for that reason, rather more comfortable than the waste hall through which they had passed. Some hasty preparations had been here made for the King’s accommodation. Arras had been tacked up, a fire lighted in the rusty grate, which had been long unused, and a pallet laid down for those gentlemen who were to pass the night in his chamber, as was then usual.
“We will get beds in the hall for the rest of your attendants,” said the garrulous old man; “but we have had such brief notice, if it please your Majesty. — And if it please your Majesty to look upon this little wicket behind the arras, it opens into the little old cabinet in the thickness of the wall where Charles was slain; and there is a secret passage from below, which admitted the men who were to deal with him. And your Majesty, whose eyesight I hope is better than mine, may see the blood still on the oak floor, though the thing was done five hundred years ago.”
While he thus spoke, he kept fumbling to open the postern of which he spoke, until the King said, “Forbear, old man — forbear but a little while, when thou mayst have a newer tale to tell, and fresher blood to show. — My Lord of Crevecoeur, what say you?”
“I can but answer, Sire, that these two interior apartments are as much at your Majesty’s disposal as those in your own Castle at Plessis, and that Crevecoeur, a name never blackened by treachery or assassination, has the guard of the exterior defences of it.”
“But the private passage into that closet, of which the old man speaks?” This King Louis said in a low and anxious tone, holding Crevecoeur’s arm fast with one hand, and pointing to the wicket door with the other.
“It must be some dream of Mornay’s,” said Crevecoeur, “or some old and absurd tradition of the place; but we will examine.”
He was about to open the closet door, when Louis answered, “No, Crevecoeur, no. — Your honour is sufficient warrant. — But what will your Duke do with me, Crevecoeur? He cannot hope to keep me long a prisoner; and — in short, give me your opinion, Crevecoeur.”
“My Lord, and Sire,” said the Count, “how the Duke of Burgundy must resent this horrible cruelty on the person of his near relative and ally, is for your Majesty to judge; and what right he may have to consider it as instigated by your Majesty’s emissaries, you only can know. But my master is noble in his disposition, and made incapable, even by the very strength of his passions, of any underhand practices. Whatever he does, will be done in the face of day, and of the two nations. And I can but add, that it will be the wish of every counsellor around him — excepting perhaps one — that he should behave in this matter with mildness and generosity, as well as justice.”
“Ah! Crevecoeur,” said Louis, taking his hand as if affected by some painful recollections, “how happy is the Prince who has counsellors near him, who can guard him against the effects of his own angry passions! Their names will be read in golden letters, when the history of his reign is perused. — Noble Crevecoeur, had it been my lot to have such as thou art about my person!”
“It had in that case been your Majesty’s study to have got rid of them as fast as you could,” said Le Glorieux.
“Aha! Sir Wisdom, art thou there?” said Louis, turning round, and instantly changing the pathetic tone in which he had addressed Crevecoeur, and adopting with facility one which had a turn of gaiety in it. — “Hast thou followed us hither?”
“Ay, Sir,” answered Le Glorieux, “Wisdom must follow, in motley, where Folly leads the way in purple.”
“How shall I construe that, Sir Solomon?” answered Louis. “Wouldst thou change conditions with me?”
“Not I, by my halidome,” quoth Le Glorieux, “if you would give me fifty crowns to boot.”
“Why, wherefore so? — Methinks I could be well enough contented, as princes go, to have thee for my king.”
“Ay, Sire,” replied Le Glorieux, “but the question is, whether, judging of your Majesty’s wit from its having lodged you here, I should not have cause to be ashamed of having so dull a fool.”
“Peace, sirrah!” said the Count of Crevecoeur, “your tongue runs too fast.”
“Let it take its course,” said the King, “I know of no such fair subject of raillery as the follies of those who should know better. — Here, my sagacious friend, take this purse of gold, and with it the advice never to be so great a fool as to deem yourself wiser than other people. Prithee, do me so much favour as to inquire after my astrologer, Martius Galeotti, and send him hither to me presently.”
“I will, without fail, my Liege,” answered the jester; “and I wot well I shall find him at Jan Dopplethur’s, for philosophers, as well as fools, know where the best wine is sold.”
“Let me pray for free entrance for this learned person through your guards, Seignior de Crevecoeur,” said Louis.
“For his entrance, unquestionably,” answered the Count; “but it grieves me to add that my instructions do not authorize me to permit any one to quit your Majesty’s apartments. — I wish your Majesty a goodnight,” he subjoined, “and will presently make such arrangements in the outer hall, as may put the gentlemen who are to inhabit it more at their ease.”
“Give yourself no trouble for them, Sir Count,” replied the King, “they are men accustomed to set hardships at defiance; and, to speak truth, excepting that I wish to see Galeotti, I would desire as little farther communication from without this night as may be consistent with your instructions.”
“These are, to leave your Majesty,” replied Crevecoeur, “undisputed possession of your own apartments. Such are my master’s orders.”
“Your Master, Count,” answered Louis, “whom I may also term mine, is a right gracious master. — My dominions,” he added, “are somewhat shrunk in compass, now that they have dwindled to an old hall and a bedchamber, but they are still wide enough for all the subjects which I can at present boast of.”
The Count of Crevecoeur took his leave, and shortly after, they could hear the noise of the sentinels moving to their posts, accompanied with the word of command from the officers, and the hasty tread of the guards who were relieved. At length all became still, and the only sound which filled the air was the sluggish murmur of the river Somme, as it glided, deep and muddy, under the walls of the castle.
“Go into the hall, my mates,” said Louis to his train; “but do not lie down to sleep. Hold yourselves in readiness, for there is still something to be done tonight, and that of moment.”
Oliver and Tristan retired to the hall, accordingly, in which Le Balafre and the two officers had remained, when the others entered the bedchamber. They found that those without had thrown fagots enough upon the fire to serve the purpose of light and heat at the same time, and, wrapping themselves in their cloaks, had sat down on the floor, in postures which variously expressed the discomposure and dejection of their minds. Oliver and Tristan saw nothing better to be done than to follow their example and, never very good friends in the days of their court prosperity, they were both equally reluctant to repose confidence in each other upon this strange and sudden reverse of fortune. So the whole party sat in silent dejection.
Meanwhile their master underwent, in the retirement of his secret chamber, agonies that might have atoned for some of those which had been imposed by his command. He paced the room with short and unequal steps, often stood still and clasped his hands together, and gave loose, in short, to agitation, which in public he had found himself able to suppress so successfully. At length, pausing and wringing his hands, he planted himself opposite to the wicket door, which had been pointed out by old Mornay as leading to the scene of the murder of one of his predecessors, and gradually gave voice to his feelings in a broken soliloquy.
“Charles the Simple — Charles the Simple! — what will posterity call the Eleventh Louis, whose blood will probably soon refresh the stains of thine! Louis the Fool — Louis the Driveller — Louis the Infatuated — are all terms too slight to mark the extremity of my idiocy! To think these hot headed Liegeois, to whom rebellion is as natural as their food, would remain quiet — to dream that the Wild Beast of Ardennes would for a moment be interrupted in his career of force and bloodthirsty brutality — to suppose that I could use reason and arguments to any good purpose with Charles of Burgundy, until I had tried the force of such exhortations with success upon a wild bull. Fool, and double idiot that I was! But the villain Martius shall not escape. — He has been at the bottom of this, he and the vile priest, the detestable Balue. If I ever get out of this danger, I will tear from his head the Cardinal’s cap, though I pull the scalp along with it! But the other traitor is in my hands — I am yet King enough — have yet an empire roomy enough — for the punishment of the quack salving, word mongering, star gazing, lie coining impostor, who has at once made a prisoner and a dupe of me! — The conjunction of the constellations — ay, the conjunction. — He must talk nonsense which would scarce gull a thrice sodden sheep’s head, and I must be idiot enough to think I understand him! But we shall see presently what the conjunction hath really boded. But first let me to my devotions.” 194
Above the little door, in memory perhaps of the deed which had been done within, was a rude niche, containing a crucifix cut in stone. Upon this emblem the King fixed his eyes, as if about to kneel, but stopped short, as if he applied to the blessed image the principles of worldly policy, and deemed it rash to approach its presence without having secured the private intercession of some supposed favourite. He therefore turned from the crucifix as unworthy to look upon it, and selecting from the images with which, as often mentioned, his hat was completely garnished, a representation of the Lady of Clery, knelt down before it, and made the following extraordinary prayer; in which, it is to be observed, the grossness of his superstition induced him, in some degree, to consider the Virgin of Clery as a different person from the Madonna of Embrun, a favourite idol, to whom he often paid his vows.
“Sweet Lady of Clery,” he exclaimed, clasping his hands and beating his breast while he spoke, “blessed Mother of Mercy! thou who art omnipotent with Omnipotence, have compassion with me, a sinner! It is true, that I have something neglected thee for thy blessed sister of Embrun; but I am a King, my power is great, my wealth boundless; and, were it otherwise, I would double the gabelle on my subjects, rather than not pay my debts to you both. Undo these iron doors — fill up these tremendous moats — lead me, as a mother leads a child, out of this present and pressing danger! If I have given thy sister the county of Boulogne, to be held of her for ever, have I no means of showing devotion to thee also? Thou shalt have the broad and rich province of Champagne, and its vineyards shall pour their abundance into thy convent. I had promised the province to my brother Charles; but he, thou knowest, is dead — poisoned by that wicked Abbe of Saint John d’Angely, whom, if I live, I will punish! — I promised this once before, but this time I will keep my word. — If I had any knowledge of the crime, believe, dearest patroness, it was because I knew no better method of quieting the discontents of my kingdom. Oh, do not reckon that old debt to my account today; but be, as thou hast ever been, kind, benignant, and easy to be entreated! Sweetest Lady, work with thy child, that he will pardon all past sins, and one — one little deed which I must do this night — nay, it is no sin, dearest Lady of Clery — no sin, but an act of justice privately administered, for the villain is the greatest impostor that ever poured falsehood into a Prince’s ear, and leans besides to the filthy heresy of the Greeks. He is not deserving of thy protection, leave him to my care; and hold it as good service that I rid the world of him, for the man is a necromancer and wizard, that is not worth thy thought and care — a dog, the extinction of whose life ought to be of as little consequence in thine eyes as the treading out a spark that drops from a lamp, or springs from a fire. Think not of this little matter, gentlest, kindest Lady, but only consider how thou canst best aid me in my troubles! and I here, bind my royal signet to thy effigy, in token that I will keep word concerning the county of Champagne, and that this shall be the last time I will trouble thee in affairs of blood, knowing thou art so kind, so gentle, and so tender hearted.” 195
After this extraordinary contract with the object of his adoration, Louis recited, apparently with deep devotion, the seven penitential psalms 196 in Latin, and several aves and prayers especially belonging to the service of the Virgin. He then arose, satisfied that he had secured the intercession of the Saint to whom he had prayed, the rather, as he craftily reflected, that most of the sins for which he had requested her mediation on former occasions had been of a different character, and that, therefore, the Lady of Clery was less likely to consider him as a hardened and habitual shedder of blood than the other saints whom he had more frequently made confidants of his crimes in that respect.
When he had thus cleared his conscience, or rather whited it over like a sepulchre, the King thrust his head out at the door of the hall, and summoned Le Balafre into his apartment. “My good soldier,” he said, “thou hast served me long, and hast had little promotion. We are here in a case where I may either live or die; but I would not willingly die an ungrateful man, or leave, so far as the Saints may place it in my power, either a friend or an enemy unrecompensed. Now I have a friend to be rewarded, that is thyself — an enemy to be punished according to his deserts, and that is the base, treacherous villain; Martius Galeotti, who, by his impostures and specious falsehoods, has trained me hither into the power of my mortal enemy, with as firm a purpose of my destruction as ever butcher had of slaying the beast which he drove to the shambles.”
“I will challenge him on that quarrel, since they say he is a fighting blade, though he looks somewhat unwieldy,” said Le Balafre. “I doubt not but the Duke of Burgundy is so much a friend to men of the sword that he will allow us a fair field within some reasonable space, and if your Majesty live so long, and enjoy so much freedom, you shall behold me do battle in your right, and take as proper a vengeance on this philosopher as your heart could desire.”
“I commend your bravery and your devotion to my service,” said the King. “But this treacherous villain is a stout man at arms, and I would not willingly risk thy life, my brave soldier.”
“I were no brave soldier, if it please your Majesty,” said Balafre, “if I dared not face a better man than he. A fine thing it would be for me, who can neither read nor write, to be afraid of a fat lurdane, who has done little else all his Life!”
“Nevertheless,” said the King, “it is not our pleasure so to put thee in venture, Balafre. This traitor comes hither, summoned by our command. We would have thee, so soon as thou canst find occasion, close up with him, and smite him under the fifth rib. — Dost thou understand me?”
“Truly I do,” answered Le Balafre, “but, if it please your Majesty, this is a matter entirely out of my course of practice. I could not kill you a dog unless it were in hot assault, or pursuit, or upon defiance given, or such like.”
“Why, sure, thou dost not pretend to tenderness of heart,” said the King; “thou who hast been first in storm and siege, and most eager, as men tell me, on the pleasures and advantages which are gained on such occasions by the rough heart and the bloody hand?”
“My lord,” answered Le Balafre, “I have neither feared nor spared your enemies, sword in hand. And an assault is a desperate matter, under risks which raise a man’s blood so that, by Saint Andrew, it will not settle for an hour or two — which I call a fair license for plundering after a storm. And God pity us poor soldiers, who are first driven mad with danger, and then madder with victory. I have heard of a legion consisting entirely of saints; and methinks it would take them all to pray and intercede for the rest of the army, and for all who wear plumes and corselets, buff coats and broadswords. But what your Majesty purposes is out of my course of practice, though I will never deny that it has been wide enough. As for the Astrologer, if he be a traitor, let him e’en die a traitor’s death — I will neither meddle nor make with it. Your Majesty has your Provost and two of his Marshals men without, who are more fit for dealing with him than a Scottish gentleman of my family and standing in the service.”
“You say well,” said the King; “but, at least, it belongs to thy duty to prevent interruption, and to guard the execution of my most just sentence.”
“I will do so against all Peronne,” said Le Balafre. “Your Majesty need not doubt my fealty in that which I can reconcile to my conscience, which, for mine own convenience and the service of your royal Majesty, I can vouch to be a pretty large one — at least, I know I have done some deeds for your Majesty, which I would rather have eaten a handful of my own dagger than I would have done for any one else.”
“Let that rest,” said the King, “and hear you — when Galeotti is admitted, and the door shut on him, do you stand to your weapon, and guard the entrance on the inside of the apartment. Let no one intrude — that is all I require of you. Go hence, and send the Provost Marshal to me.”
Balafre left the apartment accordingly, and in a minute afterwards Tristan l’Hermite entered from the hall.
“Welcome, gossip,” said the King; “what thinkest thou of our situation?”
“As of men sentenced to death,” said the Provost Marshal, “unless there come a reprieve from the Duke.”’
“Reprieved or not, he that decoyed us into this snare shalt go our fourrier to the next world, to take up lodgings for us,” said the King, with a grisly and ferocious smile. “Tristan, thou hast done many an act of brave justice — finis — I should have said funis coronat opus 197 — thou must stand by me to the end.”
“I will, my Liege,” said Tristan, “I am but a plain fellow, but I am grateful. I will do my duty within these walls, or elsewhere; and while I live, your Majesty’s breath shall pour as potential a note of condemnation, and your sentence be as literally executed, as when you sat on your own throne. They may deal with me the next hour for it if they will — I care not.”
“It is even what I expected of thee, my loving gossip,” said Louis; “but hast thou good assistance? — The traitor is strong and able bodied, and will doubtless be clamorous for aid. The Scot will do naught but keep the door, and well that he can be brought to that by flattery and humouring. Then Oliver is good for nothing but lying, flattering, and suggesting dangerous counsels; and, Ventre Saint Dieu! I think is more like one day to deserve the halter himself than to use it to another. Have you men, think you, and means, to make sharp and sure work?”
“I have Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre with me,” said he, “men so expert in their office that, out of three men, they would hang up one ere his two companions were aware. And we have all resolved to live or die with your Majesty, knowing we shall have as short breath to draw when you are gone, as ever fell to the lot of any of our patients. — But what is to be our present subject, an it please your Majesty? I love to be sure of my man; for, as your Majesty is pleased sometimes to remind me, I have now and then mistaken the criminal, and strung up in his place an honest labourer, who had given your Majesty no offence.”
“Most true,” said the other. “Know then, Tristan, that the condemned person is Martius Galeotti. — You start, but it is even as I say. The villain hath trained us all hither by false and treacherous representations, that he might put us into the hands of the Duke of Burgundy without defence.”
“But not without vengeance!” said Tristan, “were it the last act of my life, I would sting him home like an expiring wasp, should I be crushed to pieces on the next instant!”
“I know thy trusty spirit,” said the King, “and the pleasure which, like other good men, thou dost find in the discharge of thy duty, since virtue, as the schoolmen say, is its own reward. But away and prepare the priests, for the victim approaches.”
“Would you have it done in your own presence, my gracious Liege?” said Tristan.
Louis declined this offer; but charged the Provost Marshal to have everything ready for the punctual execution of his commands the moment the Astrologer left his apartment.
“For,” said the King, “I will see the villain once more, just to observe how he bears himself towards the master whom he has led into the toils. I shall love to see the sense of approaching death strike the colour from that ruddy cheek, and dim that eye which laughed as it lied. — Oh, that there were but another with him, whose counsels aided his prognostications! But if I survive this — look to your scarlet, my Lord Cardinal! for Rome shall scarce protect you — be it spoken under favour of Saint Peter and the blessed Lady of Clery, who is all over mercy. — Why do you tarry? Go get your rooms ready. I expect the villain instantly. I pray to Heaven he take not fear and come not! — that were indeed a balk. — Begone, Tristan — thou wert not wont to be so slow when business was to be done.”
“On the contrary, an it like your Majesty, you were ever wont to say that I was too fast, and mistook your purpose, and did the job on the wrong subject. Now, please your Majesty to give me a sign, just when you part with Galeotti for the night, whether the business goes on or no. I have known your Majesty once or twice change your mind, and blame me for over dispatch.” 198
“Thou suspicious creature,” answered King Louis, “I tell thee I will not change my mind — but to silence thy remonstrances, observe, if I say to the knave at parting, ‘There is a Heaven above us!’ then let the business go on; but if I say ‘Go in peace,’ you will understand that my purpose is altered.”
“My head is somewhat of the dullest out of my own department,” said Tristan l’Hermite. “Stay, let me rehearse. — If you bid him depart in peace, I am to have him dealt upon?”
“No, no — idiot, no,” said the King, “in that case, you let him pass free. But if I say, ‘There is a heaven above us,’ up with him a yard or two nearer the planets he is so conversant with.”
“I wish we may have the means here,” said the Provost.
“Then up with him, or down with him, it matters not which,” answered the King, grimly smiling.
“And the body,” said the Provost, “how shall we dispose of it?”
“Let me see an instant,” said the King — “the windows of the hall are too narrow; but that projecting oriel is wide enough. We will over with him into the Somme, and put a paper on his breast, with the legend, ‘Let the justice of the King pass toll free.’ The Duke’s officers may seize it for duties if they dare.”
The Provost Marshal left the apartment of Louis, and summoned his two assistants to council in an embrasure in the great hall, where Trois Eschelles stuck a torch against the wall to give them light. They discoursed in whispers, little noticed by Oliver le Dain, who seemed sunk in dejection, and Le Balafre, who was fast asleep.
“Comrades,” said the Provost to his executioners, “perhaps you have thought that our vocation was over, or that, at least, we were more likely to be the subjects of the duty of others than to have any more to discharge on our own parts. But courage, my mates! Our gracious master has reserved for us one noble cast of our office, and it must be gallantly executed, as by men who would live in history.”
“Ay, I guess how it is,” said Trois Eschelles; “our patron is like the old Kaisers of Rome, who, when things came to an extremity, or, as we would say, to the ladder foot with them, were wont to select from their own ministers of justice some experienced person, who might spare their sacred persons from the awkward attempts of a novice, or blunderer in our mystery. It was a pretty custom for Ethnics; but, as a good Catholic, I should make some scruple at laying hands on the Most Christian King.”
“Nay, but, brother, you are ever too scrupulous,” said Petit Andre. “If he issues word and warrant for his own execution, I see not how we can in duty dispute it. He that dwells at Rome must obey the Pope — the Marshalsmen, must do their master’s bidding, and he the King’s.”
“Hush, you knaves!” said the Provost Marshal, “there is here no purpose concerning the King’s person, but only that of the Greek heretic pagan and Mahomedan wizard, Martius Galeotti.”
“Galeotti!” answered Petit-Andre, “that comes quite natural. I never knew one of these legerdemain fellows, who pass their lives, as one may say, in dancing upon a tight rope, but what they came at length to caper at the end of one — tchick.”
“My only concern is,” said Trois Eschelles, looking upwards, “that the poor creature must die without confession.”
“Tush! tush!” said the Provost Marshal, in reply, “he is a rank heretic and necromancer — a whole college of priests could not absolve him from the doom he has deserved. Besides, if he hath a fancy that way, thou hast a gift, Trois Eschelles, to serve him for ghostly father thyself. But, what is more material, I fear you most use your poniards, my mates; for you have not here the fitting conveniences for the exercise of your profession.”
“Now our Lady of the Isle of Paris forbid,” said Trois Eschelles, “that the King’s command should find me destitute of my tools! I always wear around my body Saint Francis’s cord, doubled four times, with a handsome loop at the farther end of it; for I am of the company of Saint Francis, and may wear his cowl when I am in extremis 199 — I thank God and the good fathers of Saumur.”
“And for me,” said Petit Andre, “I have always in my budget a handy block and sheaf, or a pulley as they call it, with a strong screw for securing it where I list, in case we should travel where trees are scarce, or high branched from the ground. I have found it a great convenience.”
“That will suit us well,” said the Provost Marshal. “You have but to screw your pulley into yonder beam above the door, and pass the rope over it. I will keep the fellow in some conversation near the spot until you adjust the noose under his chin, and then —”
“And then we run up the rope,” said Petit Andre, “and, tchick, our Astrologer is so far in Heaven that he hath not a foot on earth.”
“But these gentlemen,” said Trois Eschelles, looking towards the chimney, “do not these help, and so take a handsel of our vocation?”
“Hem! no,” answered the Provost, “the barber only contrives mischief, which he leaves other men to execute; and for the Scot, he keeps the door when the deed is a-doing, which he hath not spirit or quickness sufficient to partake in more actively — every one to his trade.” 200
With infinite dexterity, and even a sort of professional delight which sweetened the sense of their own precarious situation, the worthy executioners of the Provost’s mandates adapted their rope and pulley for putting in force the sentence which had been uttered against Galeotti by the captive Monarch — seeming to rejoice that that last action was to be one so consistent with their past lives. Tristan l’Hermite sat eyeing their proceedings with a species of satisfaction; while Oliver paid no attention to them whatever; and Ludovic Lesly, if, awaked by the bustle, he looked upon them at all, considered them as engaged in matters entirely unconnected with his own duty, and for which he was not to be regarded as responsible in one way or other.
192 The Florentine (1265-1321): Dante Alighieri, the greatest of Italian poets. The Divine Comedy, his chief work, describes his passage through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; the inscription here referred to Dante places at the entrance of Hell.
193 maist, a Scotch form of most. That is, there is strength in numbers
194 Louis kept his promise of vengeance against Cardinal La Balue, whom he always blamed as having betrayed him to Burgundy. After he had returned to his own kingdom, he caused his late favourite to be immured in one of the iron cages at Loches. These were constructed with horrible ingenuity, so that a person of ordinary size could neither stand up at his full height, nor lie lengthwise in them. Some ascribe this horrid device to Balue himself. At any rate, he was confined in one of these dens for eleven years, nor did Louis permit him to be liberated till his last illness. S.
195 As overheard and reported by the court jester this historic prayer reads as follows: “Ah, my good Lady, my gentle mistress, my only friend, in whom alone I have resource, I pray you to supplicate God in my behalf, and to be my advocate with him that he may pardon me the death of my brother whom I caused to be poisoned by that wicked Abbot of Saint John. I confess my guilt to thee as to my good patroness and mistress. But then what could I do? he was perpetually causing disorder in my kingdom. Cause me then to be pardoned, my good Lady, and I know what a reward I will give thee.”
196 the 6th, 32d, 38th, 51st, 102d, 130th, and 143d, so called from their penitential character
197 the end — I should have said the rope — crowns the work
198 The Provost Marshal was often so precipitate in execution as to slay another person instead of him whom the King had indicated. This always occasioned a double execution, for the wrath or revenge of Louis was never satisfied with a vicarious punishment. S.
199 at the point of death
200 The author has endeavoured to give to the odious Tristan l’Hermite a species of dogged and brutal fidelity to Louis, similar to the attachment of a bulldog to his master. With all the atrocity of his execrable character, he was certainly a man of courage, and was in his youth made knight in the breach of Fronsac, with a great number of other young nobles, by the honour giving hand of the elder Dunois, the celebrated hero of Charles the Fifth’s reign. S.
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