Sacred heaven! what masticators! what bread!
We left our young stranger in France situated more comfortably than he had found himself since entering the territories of the ancient Gauls. The breakfast, as we hinted in the conclusion of the last chapter, was admirable. There was a pate de Perigord, over which a gastronome would have wished to live and die, like Homer’s lotus eaters 20, forgetful of kin, native country, and all social obligations whatever. Its vast walls of magnificent crust seemed raised like the bulwarks of some rich metropolitan city, an emblem of the wealth which they are designed to protect. There was a delicate ragout, with just that petit point de l’ail 21 which Gascons love, and Scottishmen do not hate. There was, besides, a delicate ham, which had once supported a noble wild boar in the neighbouring wood of Mountrichart. There was the most exquisite white bread, made into little round loaves called boules (whence the bakers took their French name of boulangers), of which the crust was so inviting, that, even with water alone, it would have been a delicacy. But the water was not alone, for there was a flask of leather called bottrine, which contained about a quart of exquisite Vin de Beaulne. So many good things might have created appetite under the ribs of death. What effect, then, must they have produced upon a youngster of scarce twenty, who (for the truth must be told) had eaten little for the two last days, save the scarcely ripe fruit which chance afforded him an opportunity of plucking, and a very moderate portion of barley bread? He threw himself upon the ragout, and the plate was presently vacant — he attacked the mighty pasty, marched deep into the bowels of the land, and seasoning his enormous meal with an occasional cup of wine, returned to the charge again and again, to the astonishment of mine host, and the amusement of Maitre Pierre.
The latter indeed, probably because he found himself the author of a kinder action than he had thought of, seemed delighted with the appetite of the young Scot; and when, at length, he observed that his exertions began to languish, endeavoured to stimulate him to new efforts by ordering confections, darioles 22, and any other light dainties he could think of, to entice the youth to continue his meal. While thus engaged, Maitre Pierre’s countenance expressed a kind of good humour almost amounting to benevolence, which appeared remote from its ordinary sharp, caustic, and severe character. The aged almost always sympathize with the enjoyments of youth and with its exertions of every kind, when the mind of the spectator rests on its natural poise and is not disturbed by inward envy or idle emulation.
Quentin Durward also, while thus agreeably employed, could do no otherwise than discover that the countenance of his entertainer, which he had at first found so unprepossessing, mended when it was seen under the influence of the Vin de Beaulne, and there was kindness in the tone with which he reproached Maitre Pierre, that he amused himself with laughing at his appetite, without eating anything himself.
“I am doing penance,” said Maitre Pierre, “and may not eat anything before noon, save some comfiture and a cup of water. — Bid yonder lady,” he added, turning to the innkeeper, “bring them hither to me.”
The innkeeper left the room, and Maitre Pierre proceeded, “Well, have I kept faith with you concerning the breakfast I promised you?”
“The best meal I have eaten,” said the youth, “since I left Glen Houlakin.”
“Glen — what?” demanded Maitre Pierre. “Are you going to raise the devil, that you use such long tailed words?”
“Glen Houlakin,” answered Quentin good humouredly, “which is to say the Glen of the Midges, is the name of our ancient patrimony, my good sir. You have bought the right to laugh at the sound, if you please.”
“I have not the least intention to offend,” said the old man; “but I was about to say, since you like your present meal so well, that the Scottish Archers of the guard eat as good a one, or a better, every day.”
“No wonder,” said Durward; “for if they be shut up in the swallows’ nests all night, they must needs have a curious appetite in the morning.”
“And plenty to gratify it upon,” said Maitre Pierre. “They need not, like the Burgundians, choose a bare back, that they may have a full belly — they dress like counts, and feast like abbots.”
“It is well for them,” said Durward.
“And wherefore will you not take service here, young man? Your uncle might, I dare say, have you placed on the file when there should a vacancy occur. And, hark in your ear, I myself have some little interest, and might be of some use to you. You can ride, I presume, as well as draw the bow?”
“Our race are as good horsemen as ever put a plated shoe into a steel stirrup; and I know not but I might accept of your kind offer. Yet, look you, food and raiment are needful things, but, in my case, men think of honour, and advancement, and brave deeds of arms. Your King Louis — God bless him, for he is a friend and ally of Scotland — but he lies here in this castle, or only rides about from one fortified town to another; and gains cities and provinces by politic embassies, and not in fair fighting. Now, for me, I am of the Douglases’ mind, who always kept the fields, because they loved better to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak.”
“Young man,” said Maitre Pierre, “do not judge too rashly of the actions of sovereigns. Louis seeks to spare the blood of his subjects, and cares not for his own. He showed himself a man of courage at Montl’hery.”
“Ay, but that was some dozen years ago or more,” answered the youth — “I should like to follow a master that would keep his honour as bright as his shield, and always venture foremost in the very throng of the battle.”
“Why did you not tarry at Brussels, then, with the Duke of Burgundy? He would put you in the way to have your bones broken every day; and, rather than fail, would do the job for you himself — especially if he heard that you had beaten his forester.”
“Very true,” said Quentin; “my unhappy chance has shut that door against me.”
“Nay, there are plenty of daredevils abroad, with whom mad youngsters may find service,” said his adviser. “What think you, for example, of William de la Marck?”
“What!” exclaimed Durward, “serve Him with the Beard — serve the Wild Boar of Ardennes — a captain of pillagers and murderers, who would take a man’s life for the value of his gaberdine, and who slays priests and pilgrims as if they were so many lance knights and men at arms? It would be a blot on my father’s scutcheon for ever.”
“Follow the foul fiend as soon,” said Quentin. “Hark in your ear — he is a burden too heavy for earth to carry — hell gapes for him! Men say that he keeps his own father imprisoned, and that he has even struck him — can you believe it?”
Maitre Pierre seemed somewhat disconcerted with the naive horror with which the young Scotsman spoke of filial ingratitude, and he answered, “You know not, young man, how short a while the relations of blood subsist amongst those of elevated rank;” then changed the tone of feeling in which he had begun to speak, and added, gaily, “besides, if the Duke has beaten his father, I warrant you his father hath beaten him of old, so it is but a clearing of scores.”
“I marvel to hear you speak thus,” said the Scot, colouring with indignation; “gray hairs such as yours ought to have fitter subjects for jesting. If the old Duke did beat his son in childhood, he beat him not enough; for better he had died under the rod, than have lived to make the Christian world ashamed that such a monster had ever been baptized.”
“At this rate,” said Maitre Pierre, “as you weigh the characters of each prince and leader, I think you had better become a captain yourself; for where will one so wise find a chieftain fit to command him?”
“You laugh at me, Maitre Pierre,” said the youth, good humouredly, “and perhaps you are right; but you have not named a man who is a gallant leader, and keeps a brave party up here, under whom a man might seek service well enough.”
“I cannot guess whom you mean.”
“Why, he that hangs like Mahomet’s coffin 25 (a curse be upon Mahomet!) between the two loadstones — he that no man can call either French or Burgundian, but who knows to hold the balance between them both, and makes both of them fear and serve him, for as great princes as they be.”
“I cannot guess whom you mean,” said Maitre Pierre, thoughtfully.
“Why, whom should I mean but the noble Louis de Luxembourg, Count of Saint Paul, the High Constable of France? Yonder he makes his place good with his gallant little army, holding his head as high as either King Louis or Duke Charles, and balancing between them like the boy who stands on the midst of a plank, while two others are swinging on the opposite ends.” 26
“He is in danger of the worst fall of the three,” said Maitre Pierre. “And hark ye, my young friend, you who hold pillaging such a crime, do you know that your politic Count of Saint Paul was the first who set the example of burning the country during the time of war? and that before the shameful devastation which he committed, open towns and villages, which made no resistance, were spared on all sides?”
“Nay, faith,” said Durward, “if that be the case, I shall begin to think no one of these great men is much better than another, and that a choice among them is but like choosing a tree to be hung upon. But this Count de Saint Paul, this Constable, hath possessed himself by clean conveyance of the town which takes its name from my honoured saint and patron, Saint Quentin” 27 (here he crossed himself), “and methinks were I dwelling there, my holy patron would keep some look out for me — he has not so many named after him as your more popular saints — and yet he must have forgotten me, poor Quentin Durward, his spiritual godson, since he lets me go one day without food, and leaves me the next morning to the harbourage of Saint Julian, and the chance courtesy of a stranger, purchased by a ducking in the renowned river Cher, or one of its tributaries.”
“Blaspheme not the saints, my young friend,” said Maitre Pierre. “Saint Julian is the faithful patron of travellers; and, peradventure, the blessed Saint Quentin hath done more and better for thee than thou art aware of.”
As he spoke, the door opened, and a girl rather above than under fifteen years old, entered with a platter, covered with damask, on which was placed a small saucer of the dried plums which have always added to the reputation of Tours, and a cup of the curiously chased plate which the goldsmiths of that city were anciently famous for executing with a delicacy of workmanship that distinguished them from the other cities of France, and even excelled the skill of the metropolis. The form of the goblet was so elegant that Durward thought not of observing closely whether the material was of silver, or like what had been placed before himself, of a baser metal, but so well burnished as to resemble the richer ore.
But the sight of the young person by whom this service was executed attracted Durward’s attention far more than the petty minutiae of the duty which she performed.
He speedily made the discovery that a quantity of long black tresses, which, in the maiden fashion of his own country, were unadorned by any ornament, except a single chaplet lightly woven out of ivy leaves, formed a veil around a countenance which, in its regular features, dark eyes, and pensive expression, resembled that of Melpomene 28, though there was a faint glow on the cheek, and an intelligence on the lips and in the eye, which made it seem that gaiety was not foreign to a countenance so expressive, although it might not be its most habitual expression. Quentin even thought he could discern that depressing circumstances were the cause why a countenance so young and so lovely was graver than belongs to early beauty; and as the romantic imagination of youth is rapid in drawing conclusions from slight premises, he was pleased to infer, from what follows, that the fate of this beautiful vision was wrapped in silence and mystery.
“How now, Jacqueline?” said Maitre Pierre, when she entered the apartment. “Wherefore this? Did I not desire that Dame Perette should bring what I wanted? — Pasques dieu! — Is she, or does she think herself, too good to serve me?”
“My kinswoman is ill at ease,” answered Jacqueline, in a hurried yet a humble tone, — “ill at ease, and keeps her chamber.”
“She keeps it alone, I hope!” replied Maitre Pierre, with some emphasis; “I am vieux routier 29, and none of those upon whom feigned disorders pass for apologies.”
Jacqueline turned pale, and even tottered at the answer of Maitre Pierre; for it must be owned that his voice and looks, at all times harsh, caustic, and unpleasing, had, when he expressed anger or suspicion, an effect both sinister and alarming.
The mountain chivalry of Quentin Durward was instantly awakened, and he hastened to approach Jacqueline and relieve her of the burden she bore, and which she passively resigned to him, while, with a timid and anxious look, she watched the countenance of the angry burgess. It was not in nature to resist the piercing and pity craving expression of her looks, and Maitre Pierre proceeded, not merely with an air of diminished displeasure, but with as much gentleness as he could assume in countenance and manner, “I blame not thee, Jacqueline, and thou art too young to be, what it is pity to think thou must be one day — a false and treacherous thing, like the rest of thy giddy sex. No man ever lived to man’s estate, but he had the opportunity to know you all 30. Here is a Scottish cavalier will tell you the same.”
Jacqueline looked for an instant on the young stranger, as if to obey Maitre Pierre, but the glance, momentary as it was, appeared to Durward a pathetic appeal to him for support and sympathy; and with the promptitude dictated by the feelings of youth, and the romantic veneration for the female sex inspired by his education, he answered hastily that he would throw down his gage to any antagonist, of equal rank and equal age, who should presume to say such a countenance as that which he now looked upon, could be animated by other than the purest and the truest mind.
The young woman grew deadly pale, and cast an apprehensive glance upon Maitre Pierre, in whom the bravado of the young gallant seemed only to excite laughter, more scornful than applausive. Quentin, whose second thoughts generally corrected the first, though sometimes after they had found utterance, blushed deeply at having uttered what might be construed into an empty boast in presence of an old man of a peaceful profession; and as a sort of just and appropriate penance, resolved patiently to submit to the ridicule which he had incurred. He offered the cup and trencher to Maitre Pierre with a blush in his cheek, and a humiliation of countenance which endeavoured to disguise itself under an embarrassed smile.
“You are a foolish young man,” said Maitre Pierre, “and know as little of women as of princes, — whose hearts,” he said, crossing himself devoutly, “God keeps in his right hand.”
“And who keeps those of the women, then?” said Quentin, resolved, if he could help it, not to be borne down by the assumed superiority of this extraordinary old man, whose lofty and careless manner possessed an influence over him of which he felt ashamed.
“I am afraid you must ask of them in another quarter,” said Maitre Pierre, composedly.
Quentin was again rebuffed, but not utterly disconcerted. “Surely,” he said to himself, “I do not pay this same burgess of Tours all the deference which I yield him, on account of the miserable obligation of a breakfast, though it was a right good and substantial meal. Dogs and hawks are attached by feeding only — man must have kindness, if you would bind him with the cords of affection and obligation. But he is an extraordinary person; and that beautiful emanation that is even now vanishing — surely a thing so fair belongs not to this mean place, belongs not even to the money gathering merchant himself, though he seems to exert authority over her, as doubtless he does over all whom chance brings within his little circle. It is wonderful what ideas of consequence these Flemings and Frenchmen attach to wealth — so much more than wealth deserves, that I suppose this old merchant thinks the civility I pay to his age is given to his money. I a Scottish gentleman of blood and coat armour, and he a mechanic of Tours!”
Such were the thoughts which hastily traversed the mind of young Durward; while Maitre Pierre said with a smile, and at the same time patting Jacqueline’s heed, from which hung down her long tresses, “This young man will serve me, Jacqueline, thou mayst withdraw. I will tell thy negligent kinswoman she does ill to expose thee to be gazed on unnecessarily.”
“It was only to wait on you,” said the maiden. “I trust you will not be displeased with my kinswoman, since” —
“Pasques dieu!” said the merchant, interrupting her, but not harshly, “do you bandy words with me, you brat, or stay you to gaze upon the youngster here? — Begone — he is noble, and his services will suffice me.”
Jacqueline vanished; and so much was Quentin Durward interested in her sudden disappearance that it broke his previous thread of reflection, and he complied mechanically when Maitre Pierre said, in the tone of one accustomed to be obeyed, as he threw himself carelessly upon a large easy chair, “Place that tray beside me.”
The merchant then let his dark eyebrows sink over his keen eyes so that the last became scarce visible, or but shot forth occasionally a quick and vivid ray, like those of the sun setting behind a dark cloud, through which its beams are occasionally darted, but singly and for an instant.
“That is a beautiful creature,” said the old man at last, raising his head, and looking steadily and firmly at Quentin, when he put the question, — “a lovely girl to be the servant of an auberge 31? She might grace the board of an honest burgess; but ’tis a vile education, a base origin.”
It sometimes happens that a chance shot will demolish a noble castle in the air, and the architect on such occasions entertains little goodwill towards him who fires it, although the damage on the offender’s part may be wholly unintentional. Quentin was disconcerted, and was disposed to be angry — he himself knew not why — with this old man, for acquainting him that this beautiful creature was neither more nor less than what her occupation announced; the servant of the auberge — an upper servant, indeed, and probably a niece of the landlord, or such like; but still a domestic, and obliged to comply with the humour of the customers, and particularly of Maitre Pierre, who probably had sufficiency of whims, and was rich enough to ensure their being attended to.
The thought, the lingering thought, again returned on him, that he ought to make the old gentleman understand the difference betwixt their conditions, and call on him to mark, that, how rich soever he might be, his wealth put him on no level with a Durward of Glen Houlakin. Yet, whenever he looked on Maitre Pierre’s countenance with such a purpose, there was, notwithstanding the downcast look, pinched features, and mean and miserly dress, something which prevented the young man from asserting the superiority over the merchant which he conceived himself to possess. On the contrary, the oftener and more fixedly Quentin looked at him, the stronger became his curiosity to know who or what this man actually was; and he set him down internally for at least a Syndic or high magistrate of Tours, or one who was, in some way or other, in the full habit of exacting and receiving deference. Meantime, the merchant seemed again sunk into a reverie, from which he raised himself only to make the sign of the cross devoutly, and to eat some of the dried fruit, with a morsel of biscuit. He then signed to Quentin to give him the cup, adding, however, by way of question, as he presented it, “You are noble, you say?”
“I surely am,” replied the Scot, “if fifteen descents can make me so — so I told you before. But do not constrain yourself on that account, Maitre Pierre — I have always been taught it is the duty of the young to assist the more aged.”
“An excellent maxim,” said the merchant, availing himself of the youth’s assistance in handing the cup, and filling it from a ewer which seemed of the same materials with the goblet, without any of those scruples in point of propriety which, perhaps, Quentin had expected to excite.
“The devil take the ease and familiarity of this old mechanical burgher!” said Durward once more to himself. “He uses the attendance of a noble Scottish gentleman with as little ceremony as I would that of a gillie from Glen Isla.”
The merchant, in the meanwhile, having finished his cup of water, said to his companion, “From the zeal with which you seem to relish the Vin de Beaulne, I fancy you would not care much to pledge me in this elemental liquor. But I have an elixir about me which can convert even the rock water into the richest wines of France.”
As he spoke, he took a large purse from his bosom, made of the fur of the sea otter, and streamed a shower of small silver pieces into the goblet, until the cup, which was but a small one, was more than half full.
“You have reason to be more thankful, young man,” said Maitre Pierre, “both to your patron Saint Quentin and to Saint Julian, than you seemed to be but now. I would advise you to bestow alms in their name. Remain in this hostelry until you see your kinsman, Le Balafre, who will be relieved from guard in the afternoon. I will cause him to be acquainted that he may find you here, for I have business in the Castle.”
Quentin Durward would have said something to have excused himself from accepting the profuse liberality of his new friend; but Maitre Pierre, bending his dark brows, and erecting his stooping figure into an attitude of more dignity than he had yet seen him assume, said in a tone of authority, “No reply, young man, but do what you are commanded.”
With these words he left the apartment, making a sign, as he departed, that Quentin must not follow him.
The young Scotsman stood astounded, and knew not what to think of the matter. His first most natural, though perhaps not most dignified impulse, drove him to peer into the silver goblet, which assuredly was more than half full of silver pieces to the number of several scores, of which perhaps Quentin had never called twenty his own at one time during the course of his whole life. But could he reconcile it to his dignity as a gentleman, to accept the money of this wealthy plebeian? — This was a trying question; for, though he had secured a good breakfast, it was no great reserve upon which to travel either back to Dijon, in case he chose to hazard the wrath and enter the service of the Duke of Burgundy, or to Saint Quentin, if he fixed on that of the Constable Saint Paul; for to one of those powers, if not to the king of France, he was determined to offer his services. He perhaps took the wisest resolution in the circumstances, in resolving to be guided by the advice of his uncle; and, in the meantime, he put the money into his velvet hawking pouch, and called for the landlord of the house, in order to restore the silver cup — resolving, at the same time, to ask him some questions about this liberal and authoritative merchant.
The man of the house appeared presently; and, if not more communicative, was at least more loquacious, than he had been formerly. He positively declined to take back the silver cup. It was none of his, he said, but Maitre Pierre’s, who had bestowed it on his guest. He had, indeed, four silver hanaps of his own, which had been left him by his grandmother, of happy memory, but no more like the beautiful carving of that in his guest’s hand, than a peach was like a turnip — that was one of the famous cups of Tours, wrought by Martin Dominique, an artist who might brag all Paris.
“And, pray, who is this Maitre Pierre,” said Durward, interrupting him, “who confers such valuable gifts on strangers?”
“Who is Maitre Pierre?” said the host, dropping the words as slowly from his mouth as if he had been distilling them.
“Ay,” said Durward, hastily and peremptorily, “who is this Maitre Pierre, and why does he throw about his bounties in this fashion? And who is the butcherly looking fellow whom he sent forward to order breakfast?”
“Why, fair sir, as to who Maitre Pierre is, you should have asked the question of himself; and for the gentleman who ordered breakfast to be made ready, may God keep us from his closer acquaintance!”
“There is something mysterious in all this,” said the young Scot. “This Maitre Pierre tells me he is a merchant.”
“And if he told you so,” said the innkeeper, “surely he is a merchant.”
“What commodities does he deal in?”
“Oh, many a fair matter of traffic,” said the host; “and especially he has set up silk manufactories here which match those rich bales that the Venetians bring from India and Cathay. You might see the rows of mulberry trees as you came hither, all planted by Maitre Pierre’s command, to feed the silk worms.”
“And that young person who brought in the confections, who is she, my good friend?” said the guest.
“My lodger, sir, with her guardian, some sort of aunt or kinswoman, as I think,” replied the innkeeper.
“And do you usually employ your guests in waiting on each other?” said Durward; “for I observed that Maitre Pierre would take nothing from your hand, or that of your attendant.”
“Rich men may have their fancies, for they can pay for them,” said the landlord; “this is not the first time Maitre Pierre has found the true way to make gentlefolks serve at his beck.”
The young Scotsman felt somewhat offended at the insinuation; but, disguising his resentment, he asked whether he could be accommodated with an apartment at this place for a day, and perhaps longer.
“Certainly,” the innkeeper replied; “for whatever time he was pleased to command it.”
“Could he be permitted,” he asked, “to pay his respects to the ladies, whose fellow lodger he was about to become?”
The innkeeper was uncertain. “They went not abroad,” he said, “and received no one at home.”
“With the exception, I presume, of Maitre Pierre?” said Durward.
“I am not at liberty to name any exceptions,” answered the man, firmly but respectfully.
Quentin, who carried the notions of his own importance pretty high, considering how destitute he was of means to support them, being somewhat mortified by the innkeeper’s reply, did not hesitate to avail himself of a practice common enough in that age. “Carry to the ladies,” he said, “a flask of vernat, with my humble duty; and say that Quentin Durward, of the house of Glen Houlakin, a Scottish cavalier of honour, and now their fellow lodger, desires the permission to dedicate his homage to them in a personal interview.”
The messenger departed, and returned, almost instantly, with the thanks of the ladies, who declined the proffered refreshment, and, with their acknowledgments to the Scottish cavalier, regretted that, residing there in privacy, they could not receive his visit.
Quentin bit his lip, took a cup of the rejected vernat, which the host had placed on the table. “By the mass, but this is a strange country,” said he to himself, “where merchants and mechanics exercise the manners and munificence of nobles, and little travelling damsels, who hold their court in a cabaret 32, keep their state like disguised princesses! I will see that black browed maiden again, or it will go hard, however;” and having formed this prudent resolution, he demanded to be conducted to the apartment which he was to call his own.
The landlord presently ushered him up a turret staircase, and from thence along a gallery, with many doors opening from it, like those of cells in a convent; a resemblance which our young hero, who recollected, with much ennui, an early specimen of a monastic life, was far from admiring. The host paused at the very end of the gallery, selected a key from the large bunch which he carried at his girdle, opened the door, and showed his guest the interior of a turret chamber; small, indeed, but which, being clean and solitary, and having the pallet bed and the few articles of furniture, in unusually good order, seemed, on the whole, a little palace.
“I hope you will find your dwelling agreeable here, fair sir,” said the landlord. “I am bound to pleasure every friend of Maitre Pierre.”
“Oh, happy ducking!” exclaimed Quentin Durward, cutting a caper on the floor, so soon as his host had retired: “Never came good luck in a better or a wetter form. I have been fairly deluged by my good fortune.”
As he spoke thus, he stepped towards the little window, which, as the turret projected considerably from the principal line of the building, not only commanded a very pretty garden of some extent, belonging to the inn, but overlooked, beyond its boundary, a pleasant grove of those very mulberry trees which Maitre Pierre was said to have planted for the support of the silk worm. Besides, turning the eye from these more remote objects, and looking straight along the wall, the turret of Quentin was opposite to another turret, and the little window at which he stood commanded a similar little window in a corresponding projection of the building. Now, it would be difficult for a man twenty years older than Quentin to say why this locality interested him more than either the pleasant garden or the grove of mulberry trees; for, alas! eyes which have been used for forty years and upwards, look with indifference on little turret windows, though the lattice be half open to admit the air, while the shutter is half closed to exclude the sun, or perhaps a too curious eye — nay, even though there hang on the one side of the casement a lute, partly mantled by a light veil of sea green silk. But, at Durward’s happy age, such accidents, as a painter would call them, form sufficient foundation for a hundred airy visions and mysterious conjectures, at recollection of which the full grown man smiles while he sighs, and sighs while he smiles.
As it may be supposed that our friend Quentin wished to learn a little more of his fair neighbour, the owner of the lute and veil — as it may be supposed he was at least interested to know whether she might not prove the same whom he had seen in humble attendance on Maitre Pierre, it must of course be understood that he did not produce a broad staring visage and person in full front of his own casement. Durward knew better the art of bird catching; and it was to his keeping his person skilfully withdrawn on one side of his window; while he peeped through the lattice, that he owed the pleasure of seeing a white, round, beautiful arm take down the instrument, and that his ears had presently after their share in the reward of his dexterous management.
The maid of the little turret, of the veil, and of the lute sang exactly such an air as we are accustomed to suppose flowed from the lips of the high born dames of chivalry, when knights and troubadours listened and languished. The words had neither so much sense, wit, or fancy as to withdraw the attention from the music, nor the music so much of art as to drown all feeling of the words. The one seemed fitted to the other; and if the song had been recited without the notes, or the air played without the words, neither would have been worth noting. It is; therefore, scarcely fair to put upon record lines intended not to be said or read, but only to be sung. But such scraps of old poetry have always had a sort of fascination for us; and as the tune is lost for ever unless Bishop 33 happens to find the notes, or some lark teaches Stephens 34 to warble the air — we will risk our credit, and the taste of the Lady of the Lute, by preserving the verses, simple and even rude as they are:
Ah! County Guy, the hour is nigh,
The sun has left the lea,
The orange flower perfumes the bower,
The breeze is on the sea.
The lark, his lay who thrill’d all day,
Sits hush’d his partner nigh;
Breeze, bird, and flower confess the hour,
But where is County Guy?
The village maid steals through the shade,
Her shepherd’s suit to hear;
To beauty shy, by lattice high,
Sings high born Cavalier.
The star of Love, all stars above,
Now reigns o’er earth and sky;
And high and low the influence know —
But where is County Guy?
Whatever the reader may think of this simple ditty, it had a powerful effect on Quentin, when married to heavenly airs, and sung by a sweet and melting voice, the notes mingling with the gentle breezes which wafted perfumes from the garden, and the figure of the songstress being so partially and obscurely visible as threw a veil of mysterious fascination over the whole.
At the close of the air, the listener could not help showing himself more boldly than he had yet done, in a rash attempt to see more than he had yet been able to discover. The music instantly ceased — the casement was closed, and a dark curtain, dropped on the inside, put a stop to all farther observation on the part of the neighbour in the next turret.
Durward was mortified and surprised at the consequence of his precipitance, but comforted himself with the hope that the Lady of the Lute could neither easily forego the practice of an instrument which seemed so familiar to her, nor cruelly resolve to renounce the pleasures of fresh air and an open window for the churlish purpose of preserving for her own exclusive ear the sweet sounds which she created. There came, perhaps, a little feeling of personal vanity to mingle with these consolatory reflections. If, as he shrewdly suspected, there was a beautiful dark tressed damsel inhabitant of the one turret, he could not but be conscious that a handsome, young, roving, bright locked gallant, a cavalier of fortune, was the tenant of the other; and romances, those prudent instructors, had taught his youth that if damsels were shy, they were yet neither void of interest nor of curiosity in their neighbours’ affairs.
Whilst Quentin was engaged in these sage reflections, a sort of attendant or chamberlain of the inn informed him that a cavalier desired to speak with him below.
20 see the Odyssey, chap. ix, where Odysseus arrives at the land of the Lotus eaters: “whosoever of them ate the lotus’s honeyed fruit resolved to bring tidings back no more and never to leave the place, but with the Lotus eaters there desired to stay, to feed on lotus and forget his going home.” Palmer’s Translation.
21 a little flavor of garlic. The French is ungrammatical.
22 cream cakes
23 Wild Boar
24 Adolphus, son of Arnold and of Catherine de Bourbon. . . . He made war against his father; in which unnatural strife he made the old man prisoner, and used him with the most brutal violence, proceeding, it is said, even to the length of striking him with his hand. Arnold, in resentment of this usage, disinherited the unprincipled wretch, and sold to Charles of Burgundy whatever rights he had over the duchy of Gueldres and earldom of Zutphen. . . . S.
25 there is a tradition that Mahomet’s coffin is suspended in mid air Without any support, the most generally accepted explanation being that the coffin is of iron and is placed between two magnets
26 This part of Louis XI’s reign was much embarrassed by the intrigues of the Constable Saint Paul, who affected independence, and carried on intrigues with England, France, and Burgundy at the same time. According to the usual fate of such variable politicians, the Constable ended by drawing upon himself the animosity of all the powerful neighbours whom he had in their turn amused and deceived. He was delivered up by the Duke of Burgundy to the King of France, tried, and hastily executed for treason, A. D. 1475. S.
27 it was by his possession of this town of Saint Quentin that the Constable was able to carry on those political intrigues which finally cost him so dear. S.
28 the Muse of tragedy
29 one who is experienced in the ways of the world
30 he (Louis) entertained great contempt for the understanding, and not less for the character, of the fair sex. S.
31 an inn
32 a public house
33 Sir Henry Rowley, an English composer and professor of music at Oxford in 1848. Among his most popular operas are Guy Mannering and The Kniqht of Snowdon
34 Catherine (1794-1882): a vocalist and actress who created Susanna in the Marriage of Figaro, and various parts in adaptation of Scott.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00