Sae rantingly, sae wantingly,
Sae dantingly gaed he,
He play’d a spring and danced a round
Beneath the gallows tree!
The manner in which Quentin Durward had been educated was not of a kind to soften the heart, or perhaps to improve the moral feeling. He, with the rest of his family, had been trained to the chase as an amusement, and taught to consider war as their only serious occupation, and that it was the great duty of their lives stubbornly to endure, and fiercely to retaliate, the attacks of their feudal enemies, by whom their race had been at last almost annihilated. And yet there mixed with these feuds a spirit of rude chivalry, and even courtesy, which softened their rigour; so that revenge, their only justice, was still prosecuted with some regard to humanity and generosity. The lessons of the worthy old monk, better attended to, perhaps, during a long illness and adversity, than they might have been in health and success, had given young Durward still farther insight into the duties of humanity towards others; and considering the ignorance of the period, the general prejudices entertained in favour of a military life, and the manner in which he himself had been bred, the youth was disposed to feel more accurately the moral duties incumbent on his station than was usual at the time.
He reflected on his interview with his uncle with a sense of embarrassment and disappointment. His hopes had been high; for although intercourse by letters was out of the question, yet a pilgrim, or an adventurous trafficker, or a crippled soldier sometimes brought Lesly’s name to Glen Houlakin, and all united in praising his undaunted courage, and his success in many petty enterprises which his master had intrusted to him. Quentin’s imagination had filled up the sketch in his own way, and assimilated his successful and adventurous uncle (whose exploits probably lost nothing in the telling) to some of the champions and knights errant of whom minstrels sung and who won crowns and kings’ daughters by dint of sword and lance. He was now compelled to rank his kinsman greatly lower in the scale of chivalry; but, blinded by the high respect paid to parents and those who approach that character — moved by every early prejudice in his favour — inexperienced besides, and passionately attached to his mother’s memory, he saw not, in the only brother of that dear relation, the character he truly held, which was that of an ordinary mercenary soldier, neither much worse nor greatly better than many of the same profession whose presence added to the distracted state of France.
Without being wantonly cruel, Le Balafre was, from habit, indifferent to human life and human suffering; he was profoundly ignorant, greedy of booty, unscrupulous how he acquired it, and profuse in expending it on the gratification of his passions. The habit of attending exclusively to his own wants and interests had converted him into one of the most selfish animals in the world; so that he was seldom able, as the reader may have remarked, to proceed far in any subject without considering how it applied to himself, or, as it is called, making the case his own, though not upon feelings connected with the golden rule, but such as were very different. To this must be added that the narrow round of his duties and his pleasures had gradually circumscribed his thoughts, hopes, and wishes, and quenched in a great measure the wild spirit of honour, and desire of distinction in arms, by which his youth had been once animated.
Balafre was, in short, a keen soldier, hardened, selfish, and narrow minded; active and bold in the discharge of his duty, but acknowledging few objects beyond it, except the formal observance of a careless devotion, relieved by an occasional debauch with brother Boniface, his comrade and confessor. Had his genius been of a more extended character, he would probably have been promoted to some important command, for the King, who knew every soldier of his bodyguard personally, reposed much confidence in Balafre’s courage and fidelity; and besides, the Scot had either wisdom or cunning enough perfectly to understand, and ably to humour, the peculiarities of that sovereign. Still, however, his capacity was too much limited to admit of his rising to higher rank, and though smiled on and favoured by Louis on many occasions, Balafre continued a mere Life Guardsman, or Scottish Archer.
Without seeing the full scope of his uncle’s character, Quentin felt shocked at his indifference to the disastrous extirpation of his brother in law’s whole family, and could not help being surprised, moreover, that so near a relative had not offered him the assistance of his purse, which, but for the generosity of Maitre Pierre, he would have been under the necessity of directly craving from him. He wronged his uncle, however, in supposing that this want of attention to his probable necessities was owing to avarice. Not precisely needing money himself at that moment, it had not occurred to Balafre that his nephew might be in exigencies; otherwise, he held a near kinsman so much a part of himself, that he would have provided for the weal of the living nephew, as he endeavoured to do for that of his deceased sister and her husband. But whatever was the motive, the neglect was very unsatisfactory to young Durward, and he wished more than once he had taken service with the Duke of Burgundy before he quarrelled with his forester. “Whatever had then become of me,” he thought to himself, “I should always have been able to keep up my spirits with the reflection that I had, in case of the worst, a stout back friend in this uncle of mine. But now I have seen him, and, woe worth him, there has been more help in a mere mechanical stranger, than I have found in my own mother’s brother, my countryman and a cavalier! One would think the slash, that has carved all comeliness out of his face, had let at the same time every drop of gentle blood out of his body.”
Durward now regretted he had not had an opportunity to mention Maitre Pierre to Le Balafre, in the hope of obtaining some farther account of that personage; but his uncle’s questions had followed fast on each other, and the summons of the great bell of Saint Martin of Tours had broken off their conference rather suddenly. That old man, he thought to himself, was crabbed and dogged in appearance, sharp and scornful in language, but generous and liberal in his actions; and such a stranger is worth a cold kinsman.
“What says our old Scottish proverb? — ‘Better kind fremit, than fremit kindred.’ 49 I will find out that man, which, methinks, should be no difficult task, since he is so wealthy as mine host bespeaks him. He will give me good advice for my governance, at least; and if he goes to strange countries, as many such do, I know not but his may be as adventurous a service as that of those Guards of Louis.”
As Quentin framed this thought, a whisper from those recesses of the heart in which lies much that the owner does not know of, or will not acknowledge willingly, suggested that, perchance, the lady of the turret, she of the veil and lute, might share that adventurous journey. As the Scottish youth made these reflections, he met two grave looking men, apparently citizens of Tours, whom, doffing his cap with the reverence due from youth to age, he respectfully asked to direct him to the house of Maitre Pierre.
“The house of whom, my fair son?” said one of the passengers.
“Of Maitre Pierre, the great silk merchant, who planted all the mulberry trees in the park yonder,” said Durward.
“Young man,” said one of them who was nearest to him, “you have taken up an idle trade a little too early.”
“And have chosen wrong subjects to practise your fooleries upon,” said the farther one, still more gruffly. “The Syndic of Tours is not accustomed to be thus talked to by strolling jesters from foreign parts.”
Quentin was so much surprised at the causeless offence which these two decent looking persons had taken at a very simple and civil question, that he forgot to be angry at the rudeness of their reply, and stood staring after them as they walked on with amended pace, often looking back at him, as if they were desirous to get as soon as possible out of his reach.
He next met a party of vine dressers, and addressed to them the same question; and in reply, they demanded to know whether he wanted Maitre Pierre, the schoolmaster? or Maitre Pierre, the carpenter? or Maitre Pierre, the beadle? or half a dozen of Maitre Pierres besides. When none of these corresponded with the description of the person after whom he inquired, the peasants accused him of jesting with them impertinently, and threatened to fall upon him and beat him, in guerdon of his raillery. The oldest amongst them, who had some influence over the rest, prevailed on them to desist from violence.
“You see by his speech and his fool’s cap,” said he, “that he is one of the foreign mountebanks who are come into the country, and whom some call magicians and soothsayers, and some jugglers, and the like, and there is no knowing what tricks they have amongst them. I have heard of such a one’s paying a liard 50 to eat his bellyfull of grapes in a poor man’s vineyard; and he ate as many as would have loaded a wain, and never undid a button of his jerkin — and so let him pass quietly, and keep his way, as we will keep ours. — And you, friend, if you would shun worse, walk quietly on, in the name of God, our Lady of Marmoutier, and Saint Martin of Tours, and trouble us no more about your Maitre Pierre, which may be another name for the devil, for aught we know.”
The Scot finding himself much the weaker party, judged it his Wisest course to walk on without reply; but the peasants, who at first shrunk from him in horror, at his supposed talents for sorcery and grape devouring, took heart of grace as he got to a distance, and having uttered a few cries and curses, finally gave them emphasis with a shower of stones, although at such a distance as to do little or no harm to the object of their displeasure. Quentin, as he pursued his walk, began to think, in his turn, either that he himself lay under a spell, or that the people of Touraine were the most stupid, brutal, and inhospitable of the French peasants. The next incident which came under his observation did not tend to diminish this opinion.
On a slight eminence, rising above the rapid and beautiful Cher, in the direct line of his path, two or three large chestnut trees were so happily placed as to form a distinguished and remarkable group; and beside them stood three or four peasants, motionless, with their eyes turned upwards, and fixed, apparently, upon some object amongst the branches of the tree next to them. The meditations of youth are seldom so profound as not to yield to the slightest, impulse of curiosity, as easily as the lightest pebble, dropped casually from the hand, breaks the surface of a limpid pool. Quentin hastened his pace, and ran lightly up the rising ground, in time enough to witness the ghastly spectacle which attracted the notice of these gazers — which was nothing less than the body of a man, convulsed by the last agony, suspended on one of the branches.
“Why do you not cut him down?” said the young Scot, whose hand was as ready to assist affliction, as to maintain his own honour when he deemed it assailed.
One of the peasants, turning on him an eye from which fear had banished all expression but its own, and a face as pale as clay, pointed to a mark cut upon the bark of the tree, having the same rude resemblance to a fleur de lys which certain talismanic scratches, well known to our revenue officers, bear to a broad arrow. Neither understanding nor heeding the import of this symbol, young Durward sprung lightly as the ounce up into the tree, drew from his pouch that most necessary implement of a Highlander or woodsman, the trusty skene dhu 51, and, calling to those below to receive the body on their hands, cut the rope asunder in less than a minute after he had perceived the exigency.
But his humanity was ill seconded by the bystanders. So far from rendering Durward any assistance, they seemed terrified at the audacity of his action, and took to flight with one consent, as if they feared their merely looking on might have been construed into accession to his daring deed. The body, unsupported from beneath, fell heavily to earth in such a manner that Quentin, who presently afterwards jumped down, had the mortification to see that the last sparks of life were extinguished. He gave not up his charitable purpose, however, without farther efforts. He freed the wretched man’s neck from the fatal noose, undid the doublet, threw water on the face, and practised the other ordinary remedies resorted to for recalling suspended animation.
While he was thus humanely engaged, a wild clamour of tongues, speaking a language which he knew not, arose around him; and he had scarcely time to observe that he was surrounded by several men and women of a singular and foreign appearance, when he found himself roughly seized by both arms, while a naked knife, at the same moment, was offered to his throat.
“Pale slave of Eblis!” 52 said a man, in imperfect French, “are you robbing him you have murdered? — But we have you — and you shall abuy it.”
There were knives drawn on every side of him, as these words were spoken, and the grim and distorted countenances which glared on him were like those of wolves rushing on their prey.
Still the young Scot’s courage and presence of mind bore him out. “What mean ye, my masters?” he said; “if that be your friend’s body, I have just now cut him down, in pure charity, and you will do better to try to recover his life, than to misuse an innocent stranger to whom he owes his chance of escape.”
The women had by this time taken possession of the dead body, and continued the attempts to recover animation which Durward had been making use of, though with the like bad success; so that, desisting from their fruitless efforts, they seemed to abandon themselves to all the Oriental expressions of grief; the women making a piteous wailing, and tearing their long black hair, while the men seemed to rend their garments, and to sprinkle dust upon their heads. They gradually became so much engaged in their mourning rites, that they bestowed no longer any attention on Durward, of whose innocence they were probably satisfied from circumstances. It would certainly have been his wisest plan to have left these wild people to their own courses, but he had been bred in almost reckless contempt of danger, and felt all the eagerness of youthful curiosity.
The singular assemblage, both male and female, wore turbans and caps, more similar in general appearance to his own bonnet than to the hats commonly worn in France. Several of the men had curled black beards, and the complexion of all was nearly as dark as that of Africans. One or two who seemed their chiefs, had some tawdry ornaments of silver about their necks and in their ears, and wore showy scarfs of yellow, or scarlet, or light green; but their legs and arms were bare, and the whole troop seemed wretched and squalid in appearance. There were no weapons among them that Durward saw, except the long knives with which they had lately menaced him, and one short, crooked sabre, or Moorish sword, which was worn by an active looking young man, who often laid his hand upon the hill, while he surpassed the rest of the party in his extravagant expressions of grief, and seemed to mingle with them threats of vengeance.
The disordered and yelling group were so different in appearance from any beings whom Quentin had yet seen, that he was on the point of concluding them to be a party of Saracens, of those “heathen hounds,” who were the opponents of gentle knights and Christian monarchs in all the romances which he had heard or read, and was about to withdraw himself from a neighbourhood so perilous, when a galloping of horse was heard, and the supposed Saracens, who had raised by this time the body of their comrade upon their shoulders, were at once charged by a party of French soldiers.
This sudden apparition changed the measured wailing of the mourners into irregular shrieks of terror. The body was thrown to the ground in an instant, and those who were around it showed the utmost and most dexterous activity in escaping under the bellies as it were of the horses, from the point of the lances which were levelled at them, with exclamations of “Down with the accursed heathen thieves — take and kill — bind them like beasts — spear them like wolves!”
These cries were accompanied with corresponding acts of violence; but such was the alertness of the fugitives, the ground being rendered unfavourable to the horsemen by thickets and bushes, that only two were struck down and made prisoners, one of whom was the young fellow with the sword, who had previously offered some resistance. Quentin, whom fortune seemed at this period to have chosen for the butt of her shafts, was at the same time seized by the soldiers, and his arms, in spite of his remonstrances, bound down with a cord; those who apprehended him showing a readiness and dispatch in the operation, which proved them to be no novices in matters of police.
Looking anxiously to the leader of the horsemen, from whom he hoped to obtain liberty, Quentin knew not exactly whether to be pleased or alarmed upon recognising in him the down looking and silent companion of Maitre Pierre. True, whatever crime these strangers might be accused of, this officer might know, from the history of the morning, that he, Durward, had no connection with them whatever; but it was a more difficult question, whether this sullen man would be either a favourable judge or a willing witness in his behalf, and he felt doubtful whether he would mend his condition by making any direct application to him.
But there was little leisure for hesitation. “Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre,” said the down looking officer to two of his band, “These same trees stand here quite convenient. I will teach these misbelieving, thieving sorcerers to interfere with the King’s justice, when it has visited any of their accursed race. Dismount, my children, and do your office briskly.”
Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre were in an instant on foot, and Quentin observed that they had each, at the crupper and pommel of his saddle, a coil or two of ropes, which they hastily undid, and showed that, in fact, each coil formed a halter, with the fatal noose adjusted, ready for execution. The blood ran cold in Quentin’s veins, when he saw three cords selected, and perceived that it was proposed to put one around his own neck. He called on the officer loudly, reminded him of their meeting that morning, claimed the right of a free born Scotsman in a friendly and allied country, and denied any knowledge of the persons along with whom he was seized, or of their misdeed.
The officer whom Durward thus addressed, scarce deigned to look at him while he was speaking, and took no notice whatever of the claim he preferred to prior acquaintance. He barely turned to one or two of the peasants who were now come forward, either to volunteer their evidence against the prisoners, or out of curiosity, and said gruffly, “Was yonder young fellow with the vagabonds?”
“That he was, sir, and it please your noble Provostship,” answered one of the clowns; “he was the very first blasphemously to cut down the rascal whom his Majesty’s justice most deservedly hung up, as we told your worship.”
“I’ll swear by God, and Saint Martin of Tours, to have seen him with their gang,” said another, “when they pillaged our metairie 53.”
“Nay, but,” said a boy, “yonder heathen was black, and this youth is fair; yonder one had short curled hair, and this hath long fair locks.”
“Ay, child,” said the peasant, “and perhaps you will say yonder one had a green coat and this a gray jerkin. But his worship, the Provost, knows that they can change their complexions as easily as their jerkins, so that I am still minded he was the same.”
“It is enough that you have seen him intermeddle with the course of the King’s justice, by attempting to recover an executed traitor,” said the officer. — “Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre, dispatch.”
“Stay, signior officer!” exclaimed the youth in mortal agony; “hear me speak — let me not die guiltlessly — my blood will be required of you by my countrymen in this world, and by Heaven’s justice in that which is to follow.”
“I will answer for my actions in both,” said the Provost, coldly, and made a sign with his left hand to the executioners; then, with a smile of triumphant malice, touched with his forefinger his right arm, which hung suspended in a scarf, disabled probably by the blow which Durward had dealt him that morning.
“Miserable, vindictive wretch!” answered Quentin, persuaded by that action that private revenge was the sole motive of this man’s rigour, and that no mercy whatever was to be expected from him.
“The poor youth raves,” said the functionary: “speak a word of comfort to him ere he make his transit, Trois Eschelles; thou art a comfortable man in such cases when a confessor is not to be had. Give him one minute of ghostly advice, and dispatch matters in the next. I must proceed on the rounds. — Soldiers, follow me!”
The Provost rode on, followed by his guard, excepting two or three, who were left to assist in the execution. The unhappy youth cast after him an eye almost darkened by despair, and thought he heard in every tramp of his horse’s retreating hoofs the last slight chance of his safety vanish. He looked around him in agony, and was surprised, even in that moment, to see the stoical indifference of his fellow prisoners. They had previously testified every sign of fear, and made every effort of escape; but now, when secured and destined apparently to inevitable death, they awaited its arrival with the utmost composure. The scene of fate before them gave, perhaps, a more yellow tinge to their swarthy cheeks; but it neither agitated their features, nor quenched the stubborn haughtiness of their eye. They seemed like foxes, which, after all their wiles and artful attempts at escape are exhausted, die with a silent and sullen fortitude which wolves and bears, the fiercer objects of the chase, do not exhibit. They were undaunted by the conduct of the fatal executioners, who went about their work with more deliberation than their master had recommended, and which probably arose from their having acquired by habit a sort of pleasure in the discharge of their horrid office. We pause an instant to describe them, because, under a tyranny, whether despotic or popular, the character of the hangman becomes a subject of grave importance.
These functionaries were essentially different in their appearance and manners. Louis used to call them Democritus and Heraclitus54, and their master, the Provost, termed them Jean qui pleure and Jean qui rit55.
Trois Eschelles was a tall, thin, ghastly man, with a peculiar gravity of visage, and a large rosary round his neck, the use of which he was accustomed piously to offer to those sufferers on whom he did his duty. He had one or two Latin texts continually in his mouth on the nothingness and vanity of human life; and, had it been regular to have enjoyed such a plurality, he might have held the office of confessor to the jail in commendam with that of executioner. Petit Andre, on the contrary, was a joyous looking, round, active, little fellow, who rolled about in execution of his duty as if it were the most diverting occupation in the world. He seemed to have a sort of fond affection for his victims, and always spoke of them in kindly and affectionate terms. They were his poor honest fellows, his pretty dears, his gossips, his good old fathers, as their age or sex might be; and as Trois Eschelles endeavoured to inspire them with a philosophical or religious regard to futurity, Petit Andre seldom failed to refresh them with a jest or two, as if to induce them to pass from life as something that was ludicrous, contemptible, and not worthy of serious consideration.
I cannot tell why or wherefore it was, but these two excellent persons, notwithstanding the variety of their talents, and the rare occurrence of such among persons of their profession, were both more utterly detested than perhaps any creatures of their kind, whether before or since; and the only doubt of those who knew aught of them was, whether the grave and pathetic Trois Eschelles or the frisky, comic, alert Petit Andre was the object of the greatest fear, or of the deepest execration. It is certain they bore the palm in both particulars over every hangman in France, unless it were perhaps their master Tristan l’Hermite, the renowned Provost Marshal, or his master, Louis XI.
It must not be supposed that these reflections were of Quentin Durward’s making. Life, death, time, and eternity were swimming before his eyes — a stunning and overwhelming prospect, from which human nature recoiled in its weakness, though human pride would fain have borne up. He addressed himself to the God of his fathers; and when he did so, the little rude and unroofed chapel, which now held almost all his race but himself, rushed on his recollection.
“Our feudal enemies gave my kindred graves in our own land,” he thought, “but I must feed the ravens and kites of a foreign land, like an excommunicated felon!”
The tears gushed involuntarily from his eyes. Trois Eschelles, touching one shoulder, gravely congratulated him on his heavenly disposition for death, and pathetically exclaiming, Beati qui in Domino moriuntur 56, remarked, the soul was happy that left the body while the tear was in the eye. Petit Andre, slapping the other shoulder, called out, “Courage, my fair son! since you must begin the dance, let the ball open gaily, for all the rebecs are in tune,” twitching the halter at the same time, to give point to his joke. As the youth turned his dismayed looks, first on one and then on the other, they made their meaning plainer by gently urging him forward to the fatal tree, and bidding him be of good courage, for it would be over in a moment.
In this fatal predicament, the youth cast a distracted look around him. “Is there any good Christian who hears me,” he said, “that will tell Ludovic Lesly of the Scottish Guard, called in this country Le Balafre, that his nephew is here basely murdered?” The words were spoken in good time, for an Archer of the Scottish Guard, attracted by the preparations for the execution, was standing by, with one or two other chance passengers, to witness what was passing.
“Take heed what you do,” he said to the executioners, “if this young man be of Scottish birth, I will not permit him to have foul play.”
“Heaven forbid, Sir Cavalier,” said Trois Eschelles; “but we must obey our orders,” drawing Durward forward by one arm. “The shortest play is ever the fairest,” said Petit Andre, pulling him onward by the other.
But Quentin had heard words of comfort, and, exerting his strength, he suddenly shook off both the finishers of the law, and, with his arms still bound, ran to the Scottish Archer. “Stand by me, countryman,” he said, in his own language, “for the love of Scotland and Saint Andrew! I am innocent — I am your own native landsman. Stand by me, as you shall answer at the last day.”
“By Saint Andrew! they shall make at you through me!” said the Archer, and unsheathed his sword.
“Cut my bonds, countryman,” said Quentin, “and I will do something for myself.”
This was done with a touch of the Archer’s weapon, and the liberated captive, springing suddenly on one of the Provost’s guard, wrested from him a halbert with which he was armed. “And now” he said, “come on, if you dare.”
The two officers whispered together.
“Ride thou after the Provost Marshal,” said Trois Eschelles, “and I will detain them here, if I can. Soldiers of the Provost’s guard, stand to your arms.”
Petit Andre mounted his horse, and left the field, and the other Marshals men in attendance drew together so hastily at the command of Trois Eschelles, that they suffered the other two prisoners to make their escape during the confusion. Perhaps they were not very anxious to detain them; for they had of late been sated with the blood of such wretches, and, like other ferocious animals, were, through long slaughter, become tired of carnage. But the pretext was, that they thought themselves immediately called upon to attend to the safety of Trois Eschelles; for there was a jealousy, which occasionally led to open quarrels, betwixt the Scottish Archers and the Marshal guards, who executed the orders of their Provost.
“We are strong enough to beat the proud Scots twice over, if it be your pleasure,” said one of these soldiers to Trois Eschelles.
But that cautious official made a sign to him to remain quiet, and addressed the Scottish Archer with great civility. “Surely, sir, this is a great insult to the Provost Marshal, that you should presume to interfere with the course of the King’s justice, duly and lawfully committed to his charge; and it is no act of justice to me, who am in lawful possession of my criminal. Neither is it a well meant kindness to the youth himself, seeing that fifty opportunities of hanging him may occur, without his being found in so happy a state of preparation as he was before your ill advised interference.”
“If my young countryman,” said the Scot, smiling, “be of opinion I have done him an injury, I will return him to your charge without a word more dispute.”
“No, no! — for the love of Heaven, no!” exclaimed Quentin. “I would rather you swept my head off with your long sword — it would better become my birth, than to die by the hands of such a foul churl.”
“Hear how he revileth,” said the finisher of the law. “Alas! how soon our best resolutions pass away! — he was in a blessed frame for departure but now, and in two minutes he has become a contemner of authorities.”
“Tell me at once,” said the Archer, “what has this young man done.”
“Interfered,” answered Trois Eschelles, with some earnestness, “to take down the dead body of a criminal, when the fleur de lys was marked on the tree where he was hung with my own proper hand.”
“How is this, young man?” said the Archer; “how came you to have committed such an offence?”
“As I desire your protection,” answered Durward, “I will tell you the truth as if I were at confession. I saw a man struggling on the tree, and I went to cut him down out of mere humanity. I thought neither of fleur de lys nor of clove gilliflower, and had no more idea of offending the King of France than our Father the Pope.”
“What a murrain had you to do with the dead body, then?” said the Archer. “You ‘ll see them hanging, in the rear of this gentleman, like grapes on every tree, and you will have enough to do in this country if you go a-gleaning after the hangman. However, I will not quit a countryman’s cause if I can help it. — Hark ye, Master Marshals man, you see this is entirely a mistake. You should have some compassion on so young a traveller. In our country at home he has not been accustomed to see such active proceedings as yours and your master’s.”
“Not for want of need of them, Signior Archer,” said Petit Andre, who returned at this moment. “Stand fast, Trois Eschelles, for here comes the Provost Marshal; we shall presently see how he will relish having his work taken out of his hand before it is finished.”
“And in good time,” said the Archer, “here come some of my comrades.”
Accordingly, as the Provost Tristan rode up with his patrol on one side of the little bill which was the scene of the altercation, four or five Scottish Archers came as hastily up on the other, and at their head the Balafre himself.
Upon this urgency, Lesly showed none of that indifference towards his nephew of which Quentin had in his heart accused him; for he no sooner saw his comrade and Durward standing upon their defence, than he exclaimed, “Cunningham, I thank thee. — Gentlemen — comrades, lend me your aid. — It is a young Scottish gentleman — my nephew — Lindesay — Guthrie — Tyrie, draw, and strike in!”
There was now every prospect of a desperate scuffle between the parties, who were not so disproportioned in numbers but that the better arms of the Scottish cavaliers gave them an equal chance of victory. But the Provost Marshal, either doubting the issue of the conflict, or aware that it would be disagreeable to the King, made a sign to his followers to forbear from violence, while he demanded of Balafre, who now put himself forward as the head of the other party, what he, a cavalier of the King’s Bodyguard, purposed by opposing the execution of a criminal.
“I deny that I do so,” answered the Balafre. “Saint Martin! 57 there is, I think, some difference between the execution of a criminal and a slaughter of my own nephew!”
“Your nephew may be a criminal as well as another,” said the Provost Marshal; “and every stranger in France is amenable to the laws of France.”
“Yes, but we have privileges, we Scottish Archers,” said Balafre, “have we not, comrades?”
“Yes, yes,” they all exclaimed together. “Privileges — privileges! Long live King Louis — long live the bold Balafre — long live the Scottish Guard — and death to all who would infringe our privileges!”
“Take reason with you, gentlemen cavaliers,” said the Provost Marshal; “consider my commission.”
“We will have no reason at your hand,” said Cunningham; “our own officers shall do us reason. We will be judged by the King’s grace, or by our own Captain, now that the Lord High Constable is not in presence.”
“And we will be hanged by none,” said Lindesay, “but Sandie Wilson, the auld Marshals man of our ain body.”
“It would be a positive cheating of Sandie, who is as honest a man as ever tied noose upon hemp, did we give way to any other proceeding,” said the Balafre. “Were I to be hanged myself, no other should tie tippet about my craig.”
“But hear ye,” said the Provost Marshal, “this young fellow belongs not to you, and cannot share what you call your privileges.”
“What we call our privileges, all shall admit to be such,” said Cunningham.
“We will not hear them questioned!” was the universal cry of the Archers.
“Ye are mad, my masters,” said Tristan l’Hermite. “No one disputes your privileges; but this youth is not one of you.”
“He is my nephew,” said the Balafre, with a triumphant air.
“But no Archer of the Guard, I think,” retorted Tristan l’Hermite.
The Archers looked on each other in some uncertainty.
“Stand to it yet, comrade,” whispered Cunningham to Balafre. “Say he is engaged with us.”
“Saint Martin! you say well, fair countryman,” answered Lesly; and raising his voice, swore that he had that day enrolled his kinsman as one of his own retinue. This declaration was a decisive argument.
“It is well, gentlemen,” said the Provost Tristan, who was aware of the King’s nervous apprehension of disaffection creeping in among his Guards. “You know, as you say, your privileges, and it is not my duty to have brawls with the King’s Guards, if it is to be avoided. But I will report this matter for the King’s own decision; and I would have you to be aware, that, in doing so, I act more mildly than perhaps my duty warrants.”
So saying, he put his troop into motion, while the Archers, remaining on the spot, held a hasty consultation what was next to be done. “We must report the matter to Lord Crawford, our Captain, in the first place, and have the young fellow’s name put on the roll.”
“But, gentlemen, and my worthy friends and preservers,” said Quentin, with some hesitation, “I have not yet determined whether to take service with you or no.”
“Then settle in your own mind,” said his uncle, “whether you choose to do so, or be hanged — for I promise you, that, nephew of mine as you are, I see no other chance of your ‘scaping the gallows.”
This was an unanswerable argument, and reduced Quentin at once to acquiesce in what he might have otherwise considered as no very agreeable proposal; but the recent escape from the halter, which had been actually around his neck, would probably have reconciled him to a worse alternative than was proposed.
“He must go home with us to our caserne,” said Cunningham; “there is no safety for him out of our bounds, whilst these man hunters are prowling.”
“May I not then abide for this night at the hostelry where I breakfasted, fair uncle?” said the youth — thinking, perhaps, like many a new recruit, that even a single night of freedom was something gained.
“Yes, fair nephew,” answered his uncle, ironically, “that we may have the pleasure of fishing you out of some canal or moat, or perhaps out of a loop of the Loire, knit up in a sack for the greater convenience of swimming — for that is like to be the end on’t. The Provost Marshal smiled on us when we parted,” continued he, addressing Cunningham, “and that is a sign his thoughts were dangerous.”
“I care not for his danger,” said Cunningham; “such game as we are beyond his bird bolts. But I would have thee tell the whole to the Devil’s Oliver 58, who is always a good friend to the Scottish Guard, and will see Father Louis before the Provost can, for he is to shave him tomorrow.”
“But hark you,” said Balafre, “it is ill going to Oliver empty handed, and I am as bare as the birch in December.”
“So are we all,” said Cunningham. “Oliver must not scruple to take our Scottish words for once. We will make up something handsome among us against the next payday; and if he expects to share, let me tell you, the payday will come about all the sooner.”
“And now for the Chateau,” said Balafre; “and my nephew shall tell us by the way how he brought the Provost Marshal on his shoulders, that we may know how to frame our report both to Crawford and Oliver.”
48 The Bohemians: In . . . Guy Mannering the reader will find some remarks on the gipsies as they are found in Scotland. Their first appearance in Europe took place in the beginning of the fifteenth century. The account given by these singular people was, that it was appointed to them, as a penance, to travel for a certain number of years. Their appearance, however, and manners, strongly contradicted the allegation that they travelled from any religious motive. Their dress and accoutrements were at once showy and squalid; those who acted as captains and leaders of any horde, . . . were arrayed in dresses of the most showy colours, such as scarlet or light green; were well mounted; assumed the title of dukes and counts, and affected considerable consequence. The rest of the tribe were most miserable in their diet and apparel, fed without hesitation on animals which had died of disease, and were clad in filthy and scanty rags. . . . Their complexion was positively Eastern, approaching to that of the Hindoos. Their manners were as depraved as their appearance was poor and beggarly. The men were in general thieves, and the women of the most abandoned character. The few arts which they studied with success were of a slight and idle, though ingenious description. They practised working in iron, but never upon any great scale. Many were good sportsmen, good musicians. . . . But their ingenuity never ascended into industry. . . . Their pretensions to read fortunes, by palmistry and by astrology, acquired them sometimes respect, but oftener drew them under suspicion as sorcerers; the universal accusation that they augmented their horde by stealing children, subjected them to doubt and execration. . . . The pretension set up by these wanderers, of being pilgrims in the act of penance, although it . . . in many instances obtained them protection from the governments of the countries through which they travelled, was afterwards totally disbelieved, and they were considered as incorrigible rogues and vagrants. . . . A curious and accurate account of their arrival in France is quoted by Pasquier “On August 27th, 1427, came to Paris twelve penitents, . . . viz. a duke, an earl, and ten men, all on horseback, and calling themselves good Christians. They were of Lower Egypt, and gave out that, not long before, the Christians had subdued their country, and obliged them to embrace Christianity on pain of being put to death. Those who were baptized were great lords in their own country, and had a king and queen there. Soon after their conversion, the Saracens overran the country, and obliged them to renounce Christianity. When the Emperor of Germany, the King of Poland, and other Christian princes heard of this, they fell upon them, and obliged the whole of them, both great and small, to quit the country, and go to the Pope at Rome, who enjoined them seven years’ penance to wander over the world, without lying in a bed. They had been wandering five years when they came to Paris first. . . . Nearly all of them had their ears bored, and wore two silver rings in each. . . . The men were black, their hair curled; the women remarkably black, their only clothes a large old duffle garment, tied over the shoulders with a cloth or cord, and under it a miserable rocket; . . . notwithstanding their poverty, there were among them women who, by looking into people’s hands, told their fortunes, and what was worse, they picked people’s pockets of their money, and got it into their own, by telling these things through airy magic, et cetera.” Pasquier remarks upon this singular journal that however the story of a penance savours of a trick, these people wandered up and down France, under the eye, and with the knowledge, of the magistrates, for more than a hundred years; and it was not till 1561, that a sentence of banishment was passed against them in that kingdom. The arrival of the Egyptians (as these singular people were called) in various parts of Europe, corresponds with the period in which Timur or Tamerlane invaded Hindostan, affording its natives the choice between the Koran and death. There can be little doubt that these wanderers consisted originally of the Hindostanee tribes, who, displaced, and flying from the sabres of the Mohammedans, undertook this species of wandering life, without well knowing whither they were going. When they are in closest contact with the ordinary peasants around them, they still keep their language a mystery. There is little doubt, however, that it is a dialect of the Hindostanee, from the specimens produced by Grellman, Hoyland, and others, who have written on the subject. S.
49 ‘Better kind strangers than estranged kindred.’ The motto is engraved on a dirk, belonging to a person who had but too much reason to choose such a device. It was left by him to my father. The weapon is now in my possession. S.
50 a small copper coin worth a quarter of a cent, current in France in the fifteenth century.
51 black knife; a species of knife without clasp or hinge formerly much used by the Highlanders, who seldom travelled without such an ugly weapon, though it is now rarely used. S.
52 in Mohammedan religion the name of the chief of the fallen angels
53 a small farm
54 Democritus and Heraclitus: two Greek philosophers of the fifth century; the former because of his propensity to laugh at the follies of men was called the “laughing philosopher;” the latter, according to a current notion, probably unfounded, habitually wept over the follies of mankind
55 Jean qui pleure, and Jean qui rit: John who weeps and John who laughs. One of these two persons, . . might with more accuracy have been called Petit Jean, than Petit Andre. This was actually the name of the son of Henry de Cousin, master executioner of the High Court of Justice. S.
56 blessed are they who die in the Lord
57 patron saint of Tours, Lucca, and of penitent drunkards. He was greatly honoured in the Middle Ages.
58 Oliver Dain: Oliver’s name, or nickname, was Le Diable, which was bestowed on him by public hatred, in exchange for Le Daim, or Le Dain. He was originally the King’s barber, but afterwards a favourite counsellor. S.
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