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Hold fast thy truth, young soldier. -- Gentle maiden, Keep you your promise plight -- leave age its subtleties, And gray hair'd policy its maze of falsehood, But be you candid as the morning sky, Ere the high sun sucks vapours up to stain it.--THE TRIAL
On the perilous and important morning which preceded the meeting of the two Princes in the Castle of Peronne, Oliver le Dain did his master the service of an active and skilful agent, making interest for Louis in every quarter, both with presents and promises; so that when the Duke's anger should blaze forth, all around should be interested to smother, and not to increase, the conflagration. He glided like night, from tent to tent, from house to house, making himself friends, but not in the Apostle's sense, with the Mammon of unrighteousness. As was said of another active political agent, "his finger was in every man's palm, his mouth was in every man's ear;" and for various reasons, some of which we have formerly hinted at, he secured the favour of many Burgundian nobles, who either had something to hope or fear from France, or who thought that, were the power of Louis too much reduced, their own Duke would be likely to pursue the road to despotic authority, to which his heart naturally inclined him, with a daring and unopposed pace.
Where Oliver suspected his own presence or arguments might be less acceptable, he employed that of other servants of the King; and it was in this manner that he obtained, by the favour of the Count de Crevecoeur, an interview betwixt Lord Crawford, accompanied by Le Balafre, and Quentin Durward, who, since he had arrived at Peronne, had been detained in a sort of honourable confinement. Private affairs were assigned as the cause of requesting this meeting; but it is probable that Crevecoeur, who was afraid that his master might be stirred up in passion to do something dishonourably violent towards Louis, was not sorry to afford an opportunity to Crawford to give some hints to the young Archer, which might prove useful to his master.
The meeting between the countrymen was cordial and even affecting.
"Thou art a singular youth," said Crawford, stroking the head of young Durward, as a grandsire might do that of his descendant. "Certes, you have had as meikle good fortune as if you had been born with a lucky hood on your head."
"All comes of his gaining an Archer's place at such early years," said Le Balafre; "I never was so much talked of, fair nephew, because I was five and twenty years old before I was hors de page [passed out of the rank of the page]."
"And an ill looking mountainous monster of a page thou wert, Ludovic," said the old commander, "with a beard like a baker's shool, and a back like old Wallace Wight [so called because of his vigour and activity]."
"I fear," said Quentin, with downcast eyes, "I shall enjoy that title to distinction but a short time -- since it is my purpose to resign the service of the Archer Guard."
Le Balafre was struck almost mute with astonishment, and Crawford's ancient features gleamed with displeasure. The former at length mustered words enough to say, "Resign! -- leave your place in the Scottish Archers! -- such a thing was never dreamed of. I would not give up my situation to be made Constable of France."
"Hush! Ludovic," said Crawford; "this youngster knows better how to shape his course with the wind than we of the old world do. His journey hath given him some pretty tales to tell about King Louis; and he is turning Burgundian, that he may make his own little profit by telling them to Duke Charles."
"If I thought so," said Le Balafre, "I would cut his throat with my own hand, were he fifty times my sister's son."
"But you would first inquire whether I deserved to be so treated, fair kinsman?" answered Quentin; "and you, my lord, know that I am no tale bearer; nor shall either question or torture draw out of me a word to King Louis's prejudice, which may have come to my knowledge while I was in his service. -- So far my oath of duty keeps me silent. But I will not remain in that services in which, besides the perils of fair battle with mine enemies, I am to be exposed to the dangers of ambuscade on the part of my friends."
"Nay, if he objects to lying in ambuscade," said the slow witted Le Balafre, looking sorrowfully at the Lord Crawford, "I am afraid, my lord, that all is over with him! I myself have had thirty bushments break upon me, and truly I think I have laid in ambuscade twice as often myself, it being a favourite practice in our King's mode of making war."
"It is so indeed, Ludovic," answered Lord Crawford; "nevertheless, hold your peace, for I believe I understand this gear better than you do."
"I wish to Our Lady you may, my lord," answered Ludovic; "but it wounds me to the very midriff, to think my sister's son should fear an ambushment."
"Young man," said Crawford, "I partly guess your meaning. You have met foul play on the road where you travelled by the King's command, and you think you have reason to charge him with being the author of it."
"I have been threatened with foul play in the execution of the King's commission," answered Quentin; "but I have had the good fortune to elude it -- whether his Majesty be innocent or guilty in the matter, I leave to God and his own conscience. He fed me when I was a-hungered -- received me when I was a wandering stranger. I will never load him in his adversity with accusations which may indeed be unjust, since I heard them only from the vilest mouths."
"My dear boy -- my own lad!" said Crawford, taking him in his arms. -- "Ye think like a Scot, every joint of you! Like one that will forget a cause of quarrel with a friend whose back is already at the wall, and remember nothing of him but his kindness."
"Since my Lord Crawford has embraced my nephew," said Ludovic Lesly, "I will embrace him also -- though I would have you to know that to understand the service of an ambushment is as necessary to a soldier as it is to a priest to be able to read his breviary."
"Be hushed, Ludovic," said Crawford; "ye are an ass, my friend, and ken not the blessing Heaven has sent you in this braw callant. -- And now tell me, Quentin, my man, hath the King any advice of this brave, Christian, and manly resolution of yours, for, poor man, he had need, in his strait, to ken what he has to reckon upon. Had he but brought the whole brigade of Guards with him! -- But God's will be done. -- Kens he of your purpose, think you?"
"I really can hardly tell," answered Quentin; "but I assured his learned Astrologer, Martius Galeotti, of my resolution to be silent on all that could injure the King with the Duke of Burgundy. The particulars which I suspect, I will not (under your favour) communicate even to your lordship; and to the philosopher I was, of course, far less willing to unfold myself."
"Ha! -- ay!" answered Lord Crawford. -- "Oliver did indeed tell me that Galeotti prophesied most stoutly concerning the line of conduct you were to hold; and I am truly glad to find he did so on better authority than the stars."
"He prophesy!" said Le Balafre, laughing; "the stars never told him that honest Ludovic Lesly used to help yonder wench of his to spend the fair ducats he flings into her lap."
"Hush! Ludovic," said his captain, "hush! thou beast, man! -- If thou dost not respect my gray hairs, because I have been e'en too much of a routier myself, respect the boy's youth and innocence, and let us have no more of such unbecoming daffing."
"Your honour may say your pleasure," answered' Ludovic Lesly; "but, by my faith, second sighted Saunders Souplesaw, the town souter of Glen Houlakin, was worth Galeotti, or Gallipotty, or whatever ye call him, twice told, for a prophet. He foretold that all my sister's children, would die some day; and he foretold it in the very hour that the youngest was born, and that is this lad Quentin -- who, no doubt, will one day die, to make up the prophecy -- the more's the pity -- the whole curney of them is gone but himself. And Saunders foretold to myself one day, that I should be made by marriage, which doubtless will also happen in due time, though it hath not yet come to pass -- though how or when, I can hardly guess, as I care not myself for the wedded state, and Quentin is but a lad. Also, Saunders predicted --"
"Nay," said Lord Crawford, "unless the prediction be singularly to the purpose, I must cut you short, my good Ludovic; for both you and I must now leave your nephew, with prayers to Our Lady to strengthen him in the good mind he is in; for this is a case in which a light word might do more mischief than all the Parliament of Paris could mend. My blessing with you, my lad; and be in no hurry to think of leaving our body; for there will be good blows going presently in the eye of day, and no ambuscade."
"And my blessing, too, nephew," said Ludovic Lesly; "for, since you have satisfied our most noble captain, I also am satisfied, as in duty bound."
"Stay, my lord," said Quentin, and led Lord Crawford a little apart from his uncle. "I must not forget to mention that there is a person besides in the world, who, having learned from me these circumstances, which it is essential to King Louis's safety should at present remain concealed, may not think that the same obligation of secrecy, which attaches to me as the King's soldier, and as having been relieved by his bounty, is at all binding on her."
"On her!" replied Crawford; "nay, if there be a woman in the secret, the Lord have mercy, for we are all on the rocks again!"
"Do not suppose so, my lord," replied Durward, "but use your interest with the Count of Crevecoeur to permit me an interview with the Countess Isabelle of Croye, who is the party possessed of my secret, and I doubt not that I can persuade her to be as silent as I shall unquestionably myself remain, concerning whatever may incense the Duke against King Louis."
The old soldier mused for a long time -- looked up to the ceiling, then down again upon the floor -- then shook his head -- and at length said, "There is something in all this, which, by my honour, I do not understand. The Countess Isabelle of Croye! -- an interview with a lady of her birth, blood, and possessions! -- and thou a raw Scottish lad, so certain of carrying thy point with her? Thou art either strangely confident, my young friend, or else you have used your time well upon the journey. But, by the cross of Saint Andrew, I will move Crevecoeur in thy behalf; and, as he truly fears that Duke Charles may be provoked against the King to the extremity of falling foul, I think it likely he may grant thy request, though, by my honour, it is a comical one!"
So saying, and shrugging up his shoulders, the old Lord left the apartment, followed by Ludovic Lesly, who, forming his looks on those of his principal, endeavoured, though knowing nothing of the cause of his wonder, to look as mysterious and important as Crawford himself.
In a few minutes Crawford returned, but without his attendant, Le Balafre. The old man seemed in singular humour, laughing and chuckling to himself in a manner which strangely distorted his stern and rigid features, and at the same time shaking his head, as at something which he could not help condemning, while he found it irresistibly ludicrous. "My certes, countryman," said he, "but you are not blate -- you will never lose fair lady for faint heart! Crevecoeur swallowed your proposal as he would have done a cup of vinegar, and swore to me roundly, by all the saints in Burgundy, that were less than the honour of princes and the peace of kingdoms at stake, you should never see even so much as the print of the Countess Isabelle's foot on the clay. Were it not that he had a dame, and a fair one, I would have thought that he meant to break a lance for the prize himself. Perhaps he thinks of his nephew, the County Stephen. A Countess! -- would no less serve you to be minting at? -- But come along -- your interview with her must be brief. -- But I fancy you know how to make the most of little time -- ho! ho! ho! -- By my faith, I can hardly chide thee for the presumption, I have such a good will to laugh at it!"
With a brow like scarlet, at once offended and disconcerted by the blunt inferences of the old soldier, and vexed at beholding in what an absurd light his passion was viewed by every person of experience, Durward followed Lord Crawford in silence to the Ursuline convent, in which the Countess was lodged, and in the parlour of which he found the Count de Crevecoeur.
"So, young gallant," said the latter sternly, "you must see the fair companion of your romantic expedition once more, it seems."
"Yes, my Lord Count," answered Quentin firmly, "and what is more, I must see her alone."
"That shall never be," said the Count de Crevecoeur. -- "Lord Crawford, I make you judge. This young lady, the daughter of my old friend and companion in arms, the richest heiress in Burgundy, has confessed a sort of a -- what was I going to say? -- in short, she is a fool, and your man at arms here a presumptuous coxcomb. -- In a word, they shall not meet alone."
"Then will I not speak a single word to the Countess in your presence," said Quentin, much delighted. "You have told me much that I did not dare, presumptuous as I may be, even to hope."
"Ay, truly said, my friend," said Crawford. "You have been imprudent in your communications; and, since you refer to me, and there is a good stout grating across the parlour, I would advise you to trust to it, and let them do the worst with their tongues. What, man! the life of a King, and many thousands besides, is not to be weighed with the chance of two young things whilly whawing in ilk other's ears for a minute."
So saying, he dragged off Crevecoeur, who followed very reluctantly, and cast many angry glances at the young Archer as he left the room.
In a moment after, the Countess Isabelle entered on the other side of the grate, and no sooner saw Quentin alone in the parlour, than she stopped short, and cast her eyes on the ground for the space of half a minute. "Yet why should I be ungrateful," she said, "because others are unjustly suspicious? -- My friend -- my preserver, I may almost say, so much have I been beset by treachery, my only faithful and constant friend!"
As she spoke thus, she extended her hand to him through the grate, nay, suffered him to retain it until he had covered it with kisses, not unmingled with tears. She only said, "Durward, were we ever to meet again, I would not permit this folly."
If it be considered that Quentin had guided her through so many perils -- that he had been, in truth, her only faithful and zealous protector, perhaps my fair readers, even if countesses and heiresses should be of the number, will pardon the derogation.
But the Countess extricated her hand at length, and stepping a pace back from the grate, asked Durward, in a very embarrassed tone, what boon he had to ask of her? -- "For that you have a request to make, I have learned from the old Scottish Lord, who came here but now with my cousin of Crevecoeur. Let it be but reasonable," she said, "but such as poor Isabelle can grant with duty and honour uninfringed, and you cannot tax my slender powers too highly. But, oh! do not speak hastily -- do not say," she added, looking around with timidity, "aught that might, if overheard, do prejudice to us both!"
"Fear not, noble lady," said Quentin sorrowfully; "it is not here that I can forget the distance which fate has placed between us, or expose you to the censures of your proud kindred, as the object of the most devoted love to one, poorer and less powerful -- not perhaps less noble -- than themselves. Let that pass like a dream of the night to all but one bosom, where, dream as it is, it will fill up the room of all existing realities."
"Hush! hush!" said Isabelle "for your own sake -- for mine -- be silent on such a theme. Tell me rather what it is you have to ask of me."
"Forgiveness to one," replied Quentin, "who, for his own selfish views, hath conducted himself as your enemy."
"I trust I forgive all my enemies," answered Isabelle; "but oh, Durward! through what scenes have your courage and presence of mind protected me! -- Yonder bloody hall -- the good Bishop -- I knew not till yesterday half the horrors I had unconsciously witnessed!"
"Do not think on them," said Quentin, who saw the transient colour which had come to her cheek during their conference fast fading into the most deadly paleness. -- "Do not look back, but look steadily forward, as they needs must who walk in a perilous road. Hearken to me. King Louis deserves nothing better at your hand, of all others; than to be proclaimed the wily and insidious politician which he really is. But to tax him as the encourager of your flight -- still more as the author of a plan to throw you into the hands of De la Marck -- will at this moment produce perhaps the King's death or dethronement; and, at all events, the most bloody war between France and Burgundy which the two countries have ever been engaged in."
"These evils shall not arrive for my sake, if they can be prevented," said the Countess Isabelle; "and indeed your slightest request were enough to make me forego my revenge, were that at any time a passion which I deeply cherish. Is it possible I would rather remember King Louis's injuries than your invaluable services? -- Yet how is this to be? -- When I am called before my Sovereign, the Duke of Burgundy, I must either stand silent or speak the truth. The former would be contumacy; and to a false tale you will not desire me to train my tongue."
"Surely not," said Durward; "but let your evidence concerning Louis be confined to what you yourself positively know to be truth; and when you mention what others have reported, no matter how credibly, let it be as reports only, and beware of pledging your own personal evidence to that, which, though you may fully believe, you cannot personally know to be true. The assembled Council of Burgundy cannot refuse to a monarch the justice which in my country is rendered to the meanest person under accusation. They must esteem him innocent, until direct and sufficient proof shall demonstrate his guilt. Now, what does not consist with your own certain knowledge, should be proved by other evidence than your report from hearsay."
"I think I understand you," said the Countess Isabelle.
"I will make my meaning plainer," said Quentin; and was illustrating it accordingly by more than one instance when the convent bell tolled.
"That," said the Countess, "is a signal that we must part -- part for ever! -- But do not forget me, Durward; I will never forget you -- your faithful services --"
She could not speak more, but again extended her hand, which was again pressed to his lips; and I know not how it was, that, in endeavouring to withdraw her hand, the Countess came so close to the grating that Quentin was encouraged to press the adieu on her lips. The young lady did not chide him -- perhaps there was no time; for Crevecoeur and Crawford, who had been from some loophole eye witnesses if not ear witnesses, also, of what was passing, rushed into the apartment, the first in a towering passion, the latter laughing, and holding the Count back.
"To your chamber, young mistress -- to your chamber!" exclaimed the Count to Isabelle, who, flinging down her veil, retired in all haste -- "which should be exchanged for a cell, and bread and water. -- And you, gentle sir, who are so malapert, the time will come when the interests of kings and kingdoms may not be connected with such as you are; and you shall then learn the penalty of your audacity in raising your beggarly eyes --"
"Hush! hush! -- enough said -- rein up -- rein up," said the old Lord "and you, Quentin, I command you to be silent, and begone to your quarters. -- There is no such room for so much scorn, neither, Sir Count of Crevecoeur, that I must say now he is out of hearing. -- Quentin Durward is as much a gentleman as the King, only, as the Spaniard says, not so rich. He is as noble as myself, and I am chief of my name. Tush, tush! man, you must not speak to us of penalties."
"My lord, my lord," said Crevecoeur impatiently, "the insolence of these foreign mercenaries is proverbial, and should receive rather rebuke than encouragement from you, who are their leader."
"My Lord Count," answered Crawford, "I have ordered my command for these fifty years without advice either from Frenchman or Burgundian; and I intend to do so, under your favour, so long as I shall continue to hold it."
"Well, well, my lord," said Crevecoeur, "I meant you no disrespect; your nobleness, as well as your age, entitle you to be privileged in your impatience; and for these young people. I am satisfied to overlook the past, since I will take care that they never meet again."
"Do not take that upon your salvation, Crevecoeur," said the old Lord, laughing; "mountains, it is said, may meet, and why not mortal creatures that have legs, and life and love to put those legs in motion? Yon kiss, Crevecoeur, came tenderly off -- methinks it was ominous."
"You are striving again to disturb my patience," said Crevecoeur, "but I will not give you that advantage over me. -- -- Hark! they toll the summons to the Castle -- an awful meeting, of which God only can foretell the issue."
"This issue I can foretell," said the old Scottish lord, "that if violence is to be offered to the person of the King, few as his friends are, and surrounded by his shall neither fall alone nor unavenged; and grieved I am that his own positive orders have prevented my taking measures to prepare for such an issue."
"My Lord of Crawford," said the Burgundian, "to anticipate such evil is the sure way to give occasion to it. Obey the orders of your royal master, and give no pretext for violence by taking hasty offence, and you will find that the day will pass over more smoothly than you now conjecture."
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