Our counsels waver like the unsteady bark,
That reels amid the strife of meeting currents.
If the night passed by Louis was carefully anxious and agitated, that spent by the Duke of Burgundy, who had at no time the same mastery over his passions, and, indeed, who permitted them almost a free and uncontrolled dominion over his actions, was still more disturbed.
According to the custom of the period, two of his principal and most favoured counsellors, D’Hymbercourt and De Comines, shared his bedchamber, couches being prepared for them near the bed of the prince. Their attendance was never more necessary than upon this night, when, distracted by sorrow, by passion, by the desire of revenge, and by the sense of honour, which forbade him to exercise it upon Louis in his present condition, the Duke’s mind resembled a volcano in eruption, which throws forth all the different contents of the mountain, mingled and molten into one burning mass.
He refused to throw off his clothes, or to make any preparation for sleep; but spent the night in a succession of the most violent bursts of passion. In some paroxysms he talked incessantly to his attendants so thick and so rapidly, that they were really afraid his senses would give way, choosing for his theme the merits and the kindness of heart of the murdered Bishop of Liege, and recalling all the instances of mutual kindness, affection, and confidence which had passed between them, until he had worked himself into such a transport of grief, that he threw himself upon his face in the bed, and seemed ready to choke with the sobs and tears which he endeavoured to stifle. Then starting from the couch, he gave vent at once to another and more furious mood, and traversed the room hastily, uttering incoherent threats, and still more incoherent oaths of vengeance, while stamping with his foot, according to his customary action, he invoked Saint George, Saint Andrew, and whomsoever else he held most holy, to bear witness that he would take bloody vengeance on De la Marck, on the people of Liege, and on him who was the author of the whole. — These last threats, uttered more obscurely than the others, obviously concerned the person of the King, and at one time the Duke expressed his determination to send for the Duke of Normandy, the brother of the King, and with whom Louis was on the worst terms, in order to compel the captive monarch to surrender either the Crown itself, or some of its most valuable rights and appanages.
Another day and night passed in the same stormy and fitful deliberations, or rather rapid transitions of passion, for the Duke scarcely ate or drank, never changed his dress, and, altogether, demeaned himself like one in whom rage might terminate in utter insanity. By degrees he became more composed, and began to hold, from time to time, consultations with his ministers, in which much was proposed, but nothing resolved on. Comines assures us that at one time a courier was mounted in readiness to depart for the purpose of summoning the Duke of Normandy, and in that event, the prison of the French Monarch would probably have been found, as in similar cases, a brief road to his grave.
At other times, when Charles had exhausted his fury, he sat with his features fixed in stern and rigid immobility, like one who broods over some desperate deed, to which he is as yet unable to work up his resolution. And unquestionably it would have needed little more than an insidious hint from any of the counsellors who attended his person to have pushed the Duke to some very desperate action. But the nobles of Burgundy, from the sacred character attached to the person of a King, and a Lord Paramount, and from a regard to the public faith, as well as that of their Duke, which had been pledged when Louis threw himself into their power, were almost unanimously inclined to recommend moderate measures; and the arguments which D’Hymbercourt and De Comines had now and then ventured to insinuate during the night, were, in the cooler hours of the next morning, advanced and urged by Crevecoeur and others. Possibly their zeal in behalf of the King might not be entirely disinterested.
Many, as we have mentioned, had already experienced the bounty of the King; others had either estates or pretensions in France, which placed them a little under his influence; and it is certain that the treasure which had loaded four mules when the King entered Peronne, became much lighter in the course of these negotiations.
In the course of the third day, the Count of Campobasso brought his Italian wit to assist the counsels of Charles; and well was it for Louis that he had not arrived when the Duke was in his first fury. Immediately on his arrival, a regular meeting of the Duke’s counsellors was convened for considering the measures to be adopted in this singular crisis.
On this occasion, Campobasso gave his opinion, couched in the apologue of the Traveller, the Adder, and the Fox; and reminded the Duke of the advice which Reynard gave to the man, that he should crush his mortal enemy, now that chance had placed his fate at his disposal. 203 De Comines, who saw the Duke’s eyes sparkle at a proposal which his own violence of temper had already repeatedly suggested, hastened to state the possibility that Louis might not be, in fact, so directly accessory to the sanguinary action which had been committed at Schonwaldt; that he might be able to clear himself of the imputation laid to his charge, and perhaps to make other atonement for the distractions which his intrigues had occasioned in the Duke’s dominions, and those of his allies; and that an act of violence perpetrated on the King was sure to bring both on France and Burgundy a train of the most unhappy consequences, among which not the least to be feared was that the English might avail themselves of the commotions and civil discord which must needs ensue, to repossess themselves of Normandy and Guyenne, and renew those dreadful wars which had only, and with difficulty, been terminated by the union of both France and Burgundy against the common enemy. Finally, he confessed that he did not mean to urge the absolute and free dismissal of Louis; but only that the Duke should avail himself no farther of his present condition than merely to establish a fair and equitable treaty between the countries, with such security on the King’s part as should make it difficult for him to break his faith, or disturb the internal peace of Burgundy in the future. D’Hymbercourt, Crevecoeur, and others signified their reprobation of the violent measures proposed by Campobasso, and their opinion, that in the way of treaty more permanent advantages could be obtained, and in a manner more honourable for Burgundy, than by an action which would stain her with a breach of faith and hospitality.
The Duke listened to these arguments with his looks fixed on the ground, and his brow so knitted together as to bring his bushy eyebrows into one mass. But when Crevecoeur proceeded to say that he did not believe Louis either knew of, or was accessory to, the atrocious act of violence committed at Schonwaldt, Charles raised his head, and darting a fierce look at his counsellor, exclaimed, “Have you too, Crevecoeur, heard the gold of France clink? — Methinks it rings in my council as merrily as ever the bells of Saint Denis. — Dare any one say that Louis is not the fomenter of these feuds in Flanders?”
“My gracious lord,” said Crevecoeur, “my hand has ever been more conversant with steel than with gold, and so far am I from holding that Louis is free from the charge of having caused the disturbances in Flanders, that it is not long since, in the face of his whole Court, I charged him with that breach of faith, and offered him defiance in your name. But although his intrigues have been doubtless the original cause of these commotions, I am so far from believing that he authorized the death of the Archbishop, that I believe one of his emissaries publicly protested against it; and I could produce the man, were it your Grace’s pleasure to see him.”
“It is our pleasure,” said the Duke. “Saint George, can you doubt that we desire to act justly? Even in the highest flight of our passion, we are known for an upright and a just judge. We will see France ourself — we will ourself charge him with our wrongs, and ourself state to him the reparation which we expect and demand. If he shall be found guiltless of this murder, the atonement for other crimes may be more easy. — If he hath been guilty, who shall say that a life of penitence in some retired monastery were not a most deserved and a most merciful doom? — Who,” he added, kindling as be spoke, “who shall dare to blame a revenge yet more direct and more speedy? — Let your witness attend. — We will to the Castle at the hour before noon. Some articles we will minute down with which he shall comply, or woe on his head! Others shall depend upon the proof. Break up the council, and dismiss yourselves. I will but change my dress, as this is scarce a fitting trim in which to wait on my most gracious Sovereign.”
With a deep and bitter emphasis on the last expression, the Duke arose and strode out of the room.
“Louis’s safety, and, what is worse, the honour of Burgundy, depend on a cast of the dice,” said D’Hymbercourt to Crevecoeur and to De Comines. “Haste thee to the Castle, De Comines, thou hast a better filed tongue than either Crevecoeur or I. Explain to Louis what storm is approaching — he will best know how to pilot himself. I trust this Life Guardsman will say nothing which can aggravate; for who knows what may have been the secret commission with which he was charged?”
“The young man,” said Crevecoeur, “seems bold, yet prudent and wary far beyond his years. In all which he said to me he was tender of the King’s character, as of that of the Prince whom he serves. I trust he will be equally so in the Duke’s presence. I must go seek him, and also the young Countess of Croye.”
“The Countess — you told us you had left her at Saint Bridget’s”
“Ay, but I was obliged,” said the Count, “to send for her express, by the Duke’s orders; and she has been brought hither on a litter, as being unable to travel otherwise. She was in a state of the deepest distress, both on account of the uncertainty of the fate of her kinswoman, the Lady Hameline, and the gloom which overhangs her own, guilty as she has been of a feudal delinquency, in withdrawing herself from the protection of her liege lord, Duke Charles, who is not the person in the world most likely to view with indifference what trenches on his seignorial rights.”
The information that the young Countess was in the hands of Charles, added fresh and more pointed thorns to Louis’s reflections. He was conscious that, by explaining the intrigues by which he had induced the Lady Hameline and her to resort to Peronne, she might supply that evidence which he had removed by the execution of Zamet Maugrabin, and he knew well how much such proof of his having interfered with the rights of the Duke of Burgundy would furnish both motive and pretext for Charles’s availing himself to the uttermost of his present predicament.
Louis discoursed on these matters with great anxiety to the Sieur de Comines, whose acute and political talents better suited the King’s temper than the blunt martial character of Crevecoeur, or the feudal haughtiness of D’Hymbercourt.
“These iron handed soldiers, my good friend Comines,” he said to his future historian, “should never enter a King’s cabinet, but be left with the halberds and partisans in the antechamber. Their hands are indeed made for our use, but the monarch who puts their heads to any better occupation than that of anvils for his enemies’ swords and maces, ranks with the fool who presented his mistress with a dog leash for a carcanet. It is with such as thou, Philip, whose eyes are gifted with the quick and keen sense that sees beyond the exterior surface of affairs, that Princes should share their council table, their cabinet — what do I say? — the most secret recesses of their soul.”
De Comines, himself so keen a spirit, was naturally gratified with the approbation of the most sagacious Prince in Europe, and he could not so far disguise his internal satisfaction, but that Louis was aware he had made some impression on him.
“I would,” continued he, “that I had such a servant, or rather that I were worthy to have such a one! I had not then been in this unfortunate situation, which, nevertheless, I should hardly regret, could I but discover any means of securing the services of so experienced a statist.”
De Comines said that all his faculties, such as they were, were at the service of his Most Christian Majesty, saving always his allegiance to his rightful lord, Duke Charles of Burgundy.
“And am I one who would seduce you from that allegiance?” said Louis pathetically. “Alas! am I not now endangered by having reposed too much confidence in my vassal? and can the cause of feudal good faith be more sacred with any than with me, whose safety depends on an appeal to it? — No, Philip de Comines — continue to serve Charles of Burgundy, and you will best serve him, by bringing round a fair accommodation with Louis of France. In doing thus you will serve us both, and one, at least, will be grateful. I am told your appointments in this Court hardly match those of the Grand Falconer and thus the services of the wisest counsellor in Europe are put on a level, or rather ranked below, those of a fellow who feeds and physics kites! France has wide lands — her King has much gold. Allow me, my friend, to rectify this scandalous inequality. The means are not distant. — Permit me to use them.”
The King produced a weighty bag of money; but De Comines, more delicate in his sentiments than most courtiers of that time, declined the proffer, declaring himself perfectly satisfied with the liberality of his native Prince, and assuring Louis that his desire to serve him could not be increased by the acceptance of any such gratuity as he had proposed.
“Singular man!” exclaimed the King; “let me embrace the only courtier of his time, at once capable and incorruptible. Wisdom is to be desired more than fine gold; and believe me, I trust in thy kindness, Philip, at this pinch, more than I do in the purchased assistance of many who have received my gifts. I know you will not counsel your master to abuse such an opportunity as fortune, and, to speak plain, De Comines, as my own folly, has afforded him.”
“To abuse it, by no means,” answered the historian, “but most certainly to use it.”
“How, and in what degree?” said Louis. “I am not ass enough to expect that I shall escape without some ransom — but let it be a reasonable one — reason I am ever Willing to listen to at Paris or at Plessis, equally as at Peronne.”
“Ah, but if it like your Majesty,” replied De Comines, “Reason at Paris or Plessis was used to speak in so low and soft a tone of voice, that she could not always gain an audience of your Majesty — at Peronne she borrows the speaking trumpet of Necessity, and her voice becomes lordly and imperative.”
“You are figurative,” said Louis, unable to restrain an emotion of peevishness; “I am a dull, blunt man, Sir of Comines. I pray you leave your tropes, and come to plain ground. What does your Duke expect of me?”
“I am the bearer of no propositions, my lord,” said De Comines; “the Duke will soon explain his own pleasure; but some things occur to me as proposals, for which your Majesty — ought to hold yourself prepared. As, for example, the final cession of these towns here upon the Somme.”
“I expected so much,” said Louis.
“That you should disown the Liegeois, and William de la Marck.”
“As willingly as I disclaim Hell and Satan,” said Louis.
“Ample security will be required, by hostages, or occupation of fortresses, or otherwise, that France shall in future abstain from stirring up rebellion among the Flemings.”
“It is something new,” answered the King, “that a vassal should demand pledges from his Sovereign; but let that pass too.”
“A suitable and independent appanage for your illustrious brother, the ally and friend of my master — Normandy or Champagne. The Duke loves your father’s house, my Liege.”
“So well,” answered Louis, “that, mort Dieu! he’s about to make them all kings. — Is your budget of hints yet emptied?”
“Not entirely,” answered the counsellor: “it will certainly be required that your Majesty will forbear molesting, as you have done of late, the Duke de Bretagne, and that you will no longer contest the right which he and other grand feudatories have, to strike money, to term themselves dukes and princes by the grace of God —”
“In a word, to make so many kings of my vassals. Sir Philip, would you make a fratricide of me? — You remember well my brother Charles — he was no sooner Duke of Guyenne, than he died. — And what will be left to the descendant and representative of Charlemagne, after giving away these rich provinces, save to be smeared with oil 204 at Rheims, and to eat their dinner under a high canopy?”
“We will diminish your Majesty’s concern on that score, by giving you a companion in that solitary exaltation,” said Philip de Comines. “The Duke of Burgundy, though he claims not at present the title of an independent king, desires nevertheless to be freed in future from the abject marks of subjection required of him to the crown of France — it is his purpose to close his ducal coronet with an imperial arch, and surmount it with a globe, in emblem that his dominions are independent.”
“And how dares the Duke of Burgundy, the sworn vassal of France,” exclaimed Louis, starting up, and showing an unwonted degree of emotion, “how dares he propose such terms to his Sovereign, as, by every law of Europe, should infer a forfeiture of his fief?”
“The doom of forfeiture it would in this case be difficult to enforce,” answered De Comines calmly. “Your Majesty is aware that the strict interpretation of the feudal law is becoming obsolete even in the Empire, and that superior and vassal endeavour to mend their situation in regard to each other, as they have power and. opportunity.
“Your Majesty’s interferences with the Duke’s vassals in Flanders will prove an exculpation of my master’s conduct, supposing him to insist that, by enlarging his independence, France should in future be debarred from any pretext of doing so.”
“Comines, Comines!” said Louis, arising again, and pacing the room in a pensive manner, “this is a dreadful lesson on the text Vae victis! 205 — You cannot mean that the Duke will insist on all these hard conditions?”
“At least I would have your Majesty be in a condition to discuss them all.”
“Yet moderation, De Comines, moderation in success, is — no one knows better than you — necessary to its ultimate advantage.”
“So please your Majesty, the merit of moderation is, I have observed, most apt to be extolled by the losing party. The winner holds in more esteem the prudence which calls on him not to leave an opportunity unimproved.”
“Well, we will consider,” replied the King; “but at least thou hast reached the extremity of your Duke’s unreasonable exaction? there can remain nothing — or if there does, for so thy brow intimates — what is it — what indeed can it be — unless it be my crown? which these previous demands, if granted, will deprive of all its lustre?”
“My lord,” said De Comines, “what remains to be mentioned, is a thing partly — indeed in a great measure within the Duke’s own power, though he means to invite your Majesty’s accession to it, for in truth it touches you nearly.”
“Pasques Dieu!” exclaimed the King impatiently, “what is it? — Speak out, Sir Philip — am I to send him my daughter for a concubine, or what other dishonour is he to put on me?”
“No dishonour, my Liege; but your Majesty’s cousin, the illustrious Duke of Orleans —”
“Ha!” exclaimed the King; but De Comines proceeded without heeding the interruption.
“— having conferred his affections on the young Countess Isabelle de Croye, the Duke expects your Majesty will, on your part, as he on his, yield your assent to the marriage, and unite with him in endowing the right noble couple with such an appanage, as, joined to the Countess’s estates, may form a fit establishment for a Child of France.”
“Never, never!” said the King, bursting out into that emotion which he had of late suppressed with much difficulty, and striding about in a disordered haste, which formed the strongest contrast to the self command which he usually exhibited.
“Never, never! — let them bring scissors, and shear my hair like that of the parish fool, whom I have so richly resembled — let them bid the monastery or the grave yawn for me, let them bring red hot basins to sear my eyes — axe or aconite — whatever they will, but Orleans shall not break his plighted faith to my daughter, or marry another while she lives!”
“Your Majesty,” said De Comines, “ere you set your mind so keenly against what is proposed, will consider your own want of power to prevent it. Every wise man, when he sees a rock giving way, withdraws from the bootless attempt of preventing the fall.”
“But a brave man,” said Louis, “will at least find his grave beneath it. De Comines, consider the great loss, the utter destruction, such a marriage will bring upon my kingdom. Recollect, I have but one feeble boy, and this Orleans is the next heir — consider that the Church hath consented to his union with Joan, which unites so happily the interests of both branches of my family, think on all this, and think too that this union has been the favourite scheme of my whole life — that I have schemed for it, fought for it, watched for it, prayed for it — and sinned for it. Philip de Comines, I will not forego it! Think man, think! — pity me in this extremity, thy quick brain can speedily find some substitute for this sacrifice — some ram to be offered up instead of that project which is dear to me as the Patriarch’s only son was to him. 206 Philip, pity me! — you at least should know that, to men of judgment and foresight, the destruction of the scheme on which they have long dwelt, and for which they have long toiled, is more inexpressibly bitter than the transient grief of ordinary men, whose pursuits are but the gratification of some temporary passion — you, who know how to sympathize with the deeper, the more genuine distress of baffled prudence and disappointed sagacity — will you not feel for me?”
“My Lord and King,” replied De Comines, “I do sympathize with your distress in so far as duty to my master —”
“Do not mention him!” said Louis, acting, or at least appearing to act, under an irresistible and headlong impulse, which withdrew the usual guard which he maintained over his language. “Charles of Burgundy is unworthy of your attachment. He who can insult and strike his councillors — he who can distinguish the wisest and most faithful among them by the opprobrious name of Booted Head!”
The wisdom of Philip de Comines did not prevent his having a high sense of personal consequence; and he was so much struck with the words which the King uttered, as it were, in the career of a passion which overleaped ceremony, that he could only reply by repetition of the words “Booted Head! It is impossible that my master the Duke could have so termed the servant who has been at his side since he could mount a palfrey — and that too before a foreign monarch! — it is impossible!”
Louis instantly saw the impression he had made, and avoiding alike a tone of condolence, which might have seemed insulting, and one of sympathy, which might have savoured of affectation; he said, with simplicity, and at the same time with dignity, “My misfortunes make me forget my courtesy, else I had not spoken to you of what it must be unpleasant for you to hear. But you have in reply taxed me with having uttered impossibilities — this touches my honour; yet I must submit to the charge, if I tell you not the circumstances which the Duke, laughing until his eyes ran over, assigned for the origin of that opprobrious name, which I will not offend your ears by repeating. Thus, then, it chanced. You, Sir Philip de Comines, were at a hunting match with the Duke of Burgundy, your master; and when he alighted after the chase, he required your services in drawing off his boots. Reading in your looks, perhaps, some natural resentment of this disparaging treatment, he ordered you to sit down in turn, and rendered you the same office he had just received from you. But offended at your understanding him literally, he no sooner plucked one of your boots off than he brutally beat it about your head till the blood flowed, exclaiming against the insolence of a subject who had the presumption to accept of such a service at the hand of his Sovereign; and hence he, or his privileged fool, Le Glorieux, is in the current habit of distinguishing you by the absurd and ridiculous name of Tete botte, which makes one of the Duke’s most ordinary subjects of pleasantry.” 207
While Louis thus spoke, he had the double pleasure of galling to the quick the person whom he addressed — an exercise which it was in his nature to enjoy, even where he had not, as in the present case, the apology that he did so in pure retaliation — and that of observing that he had at length been able to find a point in De Comines’s character which might lead him gradually from the interests of Burgundy to those of France. But although the deep resentment which the offended courtier entertained against his master induced him at a future period to exchange the service of Charles for that of Louis, yet, at the present moment, he was contented to throw out only some general hints of his friendly inclination towards France, which he well knew the King would understand how to interpret. And indeed it would be unjust to stigmatize the memory of the excellent historian with the desertion of his master on this occasion, although he was certainly now possessed with sentiments much more favourable to Louis than when he entered the apartment.
He constrained himself to laugh at the anecdote which Louis had detailed, and then added, “I did not think so trifling a frolic would have dwelt on the mind of the Duke so long as to make it worth telling again. Some such passage there was of drawing off boots and the like, as your Majesty knows that the Duke is fond of rude play; but it has been much exaggerated in his recollection. Let it pass on.”
“Ay, let it pass on,” said the King; “it is indeed shame it should have detained us a minute. — And now, Sir Philip, I hope you are French so far as to afford me your best counsel in these difficult affairs. You have, I am well aware, the clew to the labyrinth, if you would but impart it.”
“Your Majesty may command my best advice and service,” replied De Comines, “under reservation always of my duty to my own master.”
This was nearly what the courtier had before stated; but he now repeated it in a tone so different that, whereas Louis understood from the former declaration that the reserved duty to Burgundy was the prime thing to be considered, so he now saw clearly that the emphasis was reversed, and that more weight was now given by the speaker to his promise of counsel than to a restriction which seemed interposed for the sake of form and consistency. The King resumed his own seat, and compelled De Comines to sit by him, listening at the same time to that statesman as if the words of an oracle sounded in his ears. De Comines spoke in that low and impressive tone which implies at once great sincerity and some caution, and at the same time so slowly as if he was desirous that the King should weigh and consider each individual word as having its own peculiar and determined meaning.
“The things,” he said, “which I have suggested for your Majesty’s consideration, harsh as they sound in your ear, are but substitutes for still more violent proposals brought forward in the Duke’s counsels, by such as are more hostile to your Majesty. And I need scarce remind your Majesty, that the more direct and more violent suggestions find readiest acceptance with our master, who loves brief and dangerous measures better than those that are safe, but at the same time circuitous.”
“I remember,” said the King. “I have seen him swim a river at the risk of drowning, though there was a bridge to be found for riding two hundred yards.”
“True, Sire; and he that weighs not his life against the gratification of a moment of impetuous passion will, on the same impulse, prefer the gratification of his will to the increase of his substantial power.”
“Most true,” replied the King; “a fool will ever grasp rather at the appearance than the reality of authority. And this I know to be true of Charles of Burgundy. But, my dear friend De Comines, what do you infer from these premises?”
“Simply this, my lord,” answered the Burgundian, “that as your Majesty has seen a skilful angler control a large and heavy fish, and finally draw him to land by a single hair, which fish had broke through a tackle tenfold stronger, had the fisher presumed to strain the line on him, instead of giving him head enough for all his wild flourishes; even so your Majesty, by gratifying the Duke in these particulars on which he has pitched his ideas of honour, and the gratification of his revenge, may evade many of the other unpalatable propositions at which I have hinted; and which — including, I must state openly to your Majesty, some of those through which France would be most especially weakened — will slide out of his remembrance and attention, and, being referred to subsequent conferences and future discussion, may be altogether eluded.”
“I understand you, my good Sir Philip; but to the matter,” said the King. “To which of those happy propositions is your Duke so much wedded that contradiction will make him unreasonable and untractable?”
“To any or to all of them, if it please your Majesty, on which you may happen to contradict him. This is precisely what your Majesty must avoid; and to take up my former parable, you must needs remain on the watch, ready to give the Duke line enough whenever he shoots away under the impulse of his rage. His fury, already considerably abated, will waste itself if he be unopposed, and you will presently find him become more friendly and more tractable.”
“Still,” said the’ King, musing, “there must be some particular demands which lie deeper at my cousin’s heart than the other proposals. Were I but aware of these, Sir Philip”
“Your Majesty may make the lightest of his demands the most important simply by opposing it,” said De Comines, “nevertheless, my lord, thus far I can say, that every shadow of treaty will be broken off, if your Majesty renounce not William de la Marck and the Liegeois.”
“I have already said that I will disown them,” said the King, “and well they deserve it at my hand; the villains have commenced their uproar at a moment that might have cost me my life.”
“He that fires a train of powder,” replied the historian, “must expect a speedy explosion of the mine. — But more than mere disavowal of their cause will be expected of your Majesty by Duke Charles, for know that he will demand your Majesty assistance to put the insurrection down, and your royal presence to witness the punishment which he destines for the rebels.”
“That may scarce consist with our honour, De Comines,” said the King.
“To refuse it will scarcely consist with your Majesty’s safety,” replied De Comines. “Charles is determined to show the people of Flanders that no hope, nay, no promise, of assistance from France will save them in their mutinies from the wrath and vengeance of Burgundy.”
“But, Sir Philip, I will speak plainly,” answered the King. “Could we but procrastinate the matter, might not these rogues of Liege make their own part good against Duke Charles? The knaves are numerous and steady. — Can they not hold out their town against him?”
“With the help of the thousand archers of France whom your Majesty promised them, they might have done something, but —”
“Whom I promised them?” said the King. “Alas! good Sir Philip! you much wrong me in saying so.”
“But without whom,” continued De Comines, not heeding the interruption, “as your Majesty will not now likely find it convenient to supply them, what chance will the burghers have of making good their town, in whose walls the large breaches made by Charles after the battle of St. Tron are still unrepaired; so that the lances of Hainault, Brabant, and Burgundy may advance to the attack twenty men in front?”
“The improvident idiots!” said the King. “If they have thus neglected their own safety, they deserve not my protection. Pass on — I will make no quarrel for their sake.”
“The next point, I fear, will sit closer to your Majesty’s heart,” said De Comines.
“Ah!” replied the King, “you mean that infernal marriage! I will not consent to the breach of the contract betwixt my daughter Joan and my cousin of Orleans — it would be wresting the sceptre of France from me and my posterity; for that feeble boy, the Dauphin, is a blighted blossom, which will wither without fruit. This match between Joan and Orleans has been my thought by day, my dream by night. — I tell thee, Sir Philip, I cannot give it up! — Besides, it is inhuman to require me, with my own hand, to destroy at once my own scheme of policy, and the happiness of a pair brought up for each other.”
“Are they, then, so much attached?” said De Comines.
“One of them at least,” said the King, “and the one for whom I am bound to be most anxious. But you smile, Sir Philip — you are no believer in the force of love.”
“Nay,” said De Comines, “if it please you, Sire, I am so little an infidel in that particular that I was about to ask whether it would reconcile you in any degree to your acquiescing in the proposed marriage betwixt the Duke of Orleans and Isabelle de Croye, were I to satisfy you that the Countess’s inclinations are so much fixed on another, that it is likely it will never be a match?”
King Louis sighed. “Alas,” he said, “my good and dear friend, from what sepulchre have you drawn such dead comfort? Her inclinations, indeed! — Why, to speak truth, supposing that Orleans detested my daughter Joan, yet, but for this ill ravelled web of mischance, he must needs have married her; so you may conjecture how little chance there is of this damsel’s being able to refuse him under a similar compulsion, and he a Child of France besides. — Ah, no, Philip! little fear of her standing obstinate against the suit of such a lover. — Varium et mutabile 208, Philip.”
“Your Majesty may, in the present instance, undervalue the obstinate courage of this young lady. She comes of a race determinately wilful; and I have picked out of Crevecoeur that she has formed a romantic attachment to a young squire, who, to say truth, rendered her many services on the road.”
“Ha!” said the King — “an Archer of my Guards, by name Quentin Durward?”
“The same, as I think,” said De Comines; “he was made prisoner along with the Countess, travelling almost alone together.”
“Now, our Lord and our Lady, and Monseigneur Saint Martin, and Monseigneur Saint Julian, be praised every one of them!” said the King, “and all laud and honour to the learned Galeotti; who read in the stars that this youth’s destiny was connected with mine! If the maiden be so attached to him as to make her refractory to the will of Burgundy, this Quentin hath indeed been rarely useful to me.”
“I believe, my lord,” answered the Burgundian, “according to Crevecoeur’s report, that there is some chance of her being sufficiently obstinate; besides, doubtless, the noble Duke himself, notwithstanding what your Majesty was pleased to hint in way of supposition, will not willingly renounce his fair cousin, to whom he has been long engaged.”
“Umph!” answered the King — “but you have never seen my daughter Joan. — A howlet, man! — an absolute owl, whom I am ashamed of! But let him be only a wise man, and marry her, I will give him leave to be mad par amours for the fairest lady in France. — And now, Philip, have you given me the full map of your master’s mind?”
“I have possessed you, Sire, of those particulars on which he is at present most disposed to insist. But your Majesty well knows that the Duke’s disposition is like a sweeping torrent, which only passes smoothly forward when its waves encounter no opposition; and what may be presented to chafe him info fury, it is impossible even to guess. Were more distinct evidence of your Majesty’s practices (pardon the phrase, when there is so little time for selection) with the Liegeois and William de la Marck to occur unexpectedly, the issue might be terrible. — There are strange news from that country — they say La Marck hath married Hameline, the elder Countess of Croye.”
“That old fool was so mad on marriage that she would have accepted the hand of Satan,” said the King; “but that La Marck, beast as he is, should have married her, rather more surprises me.”
“There is a report also,” continued De Comines, “that an envoy, or herald, on La Marck’s part, is approaching Peronne; this is like to drive the Duke frantic with rage — I trust that he has no letters or the like to show on your Majesty’s part?”
“Letters to a Wild Boar!” answered the King. — “No, no, Sir Philip, I was no such fool as to cast pearls before swine. — What little intercourse I had with the brute animal was by message, in which I always employed such low bred slaves and vagabonds that their evidence would not be received in a trial for robbing a hen roost.”
“I can then only further recommend,” said De Comines, taking his leave, “that your Majesty should remain on your guard, be guided by events, and, above all, avoid using any language or argument with the Duke which may better become your dignity than your present condition.”
“If my dignity,” said the King, “grow troublesome to me — which it seldom doth while there are deeper interests to think of — I have a special remedy for that swelling of the heart. — It is but looking into a certain ruinous closet, Sir Philip, and thinking of the death of Charles the Simple; and it cures me as effectually as the cold bath would cool a fever. — And now, my friend and monitor, must thou be gone? Well, Sir Philip, the time must come when thou wilt tire reading lessons of state policy to the Bull of Burgundy, who is incapable of comprehending your most simple argument. — If Louis of Valois then lives, thou hast a friend in the Court of France. I tell thee, my Philip, it would be a blessing to my kingdom should I ever acquire thee; who, with a profound view of subjects of state, hast also a conscience, capable of feeling and discerning between right and wrong. So help me our Lord and Lady, and Monseigneur Saint Martin, Oliver and Balue have hearts as hardened as the nether millstone; and my life is embittered by remorse and penances for the crimes they make me commit. Thou, Sir Philip, possessed of the wisdom of present and past times, canst teach how to become great without ceasing to be virtuous.”
“A hard task, and which few have attained,” said the historian; “but which is yet within the reach of princes who will strive for it. Meantime, Sire, be prepared, for the Duke will presently confer with you.”
Louis looked long after Philip when he left the apartment, and at length burst into a bitter laugh. “He spoke of fishing — I have sent him home, a trout properly tickled! — And he thinks himself virtuous because he took no bribe, but contented himself with flattery and promises, and the pleasure of avenging an affront to his vanity! — Why, he is but so much the poorer for the refusal of the money — not a jot the more honest. He must be mine, though, for he hath the shrewdest head among them. Well, now for nobler game! I am to face this leviathan Charles, who will presently swim hitherward, cleaving the deep before him. I must, like a trembling sailor, throw a tub overboard to amuse him209. But I may one day find the chance of driving a harpoon into his entrails!” 210
203 The fox advised the man who had found a snake by the roadside to kill it. He, however, placed it in his bosom, and was afterwards bitten.
204 a king, priest, or prophet was consecrated by means of oil
205 woe to the vanquished!
206 Isaac, whose father Abraham, in obedience to the command of God, was about to sacrifice him upon the altar when a ram appeared, which Abraham offered in his stead.
207 The story is told more bluntly, and less probably, in the French memoirs of the period, which affirm that Comines, out of a presumption inconsistent with his excellent good sense, had asked of Charles of Burgundy to draw off his boots, without having been treated with any previous familiarity to lead to such a freedom. I have endeavoured to give the anecdote a turn more consistent with the sense and prudence of the great author concerned. S.
208 (semper femina): woman is always inconstant and capricious
209 If a ship is threatened by a school of whales, a tub is thrown into the sea to divert their attention. Hence to mislead an enemy, or to create a diversion in order to avoid a danger.
210 Scott says that during this interesting scene Comines first realized the great powers of Louis, and entertained from this time a partiality to France which allured him to Louis’s court in 1472. After the death of Louis he fell under the suspicion of that sovereign’s daughter and was imprisoned in one of the cages he has so feelingly described. He was subjected to trial and exiled from court, but was afterwards employed by Charles VIII in one or two important missions. He died at his Castle of Argenton in 1509, and was regretted as one of the most profound statesmen, and the best historian of his age.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00