I'll take thee to the good green wood, And make thine own hand choose the tree.--OLD BALLAD
"Now God be praised, that gave us the power of laughing, and making others laugh, and shame to the dull cur who scorns the office of a jester! Here is a joke, and that none of the brightest (though it might pass, since it has amused two Princes), which hath gone farther than a thousand reasons of state to prevent a war between France and Burgundy."
Such was the inference of Le Glorieux, when, in consequence of the reconciliation of which we gave the particulars in the last chapter, the Burgundian guards were withdrawn from the Castle of Peronne, the abode of the King removed from the ominous Tower of Count Herbert, and, to the great joy both of French and Burgundians, an outward show at least of confidence and friendship seemed so established between Duke Charles and his liege lord. Yet still the latter, though treated with ceremonial observance, was sufficiently aware that he continued to be the object of suspicion, though he prudently affected to overlook it, and appeared to consider himself as entirely at his ease.
Meanwhile, as frequently happens in such cases, whilst the principal parties concerned had so far made up their differences, one of the subaltern agents concerned in their intrigues was bitterly experiencing the truth of the political maxim that if the great have frequent need of base tools, they make amends to society by abandoning them to their fate, so soon as they find them no longer useful.
Thus was Hayraddin Maugrabin, who, surrendered by the Duke's officers to the King's Provost Marshal, was by him placed in the hands of his two trusty aides de camp, Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre, to be dispatched without loss of time. One on either side of him, and followed by a few guards and a multitude of rabble -- this playing the Allegro, that the Penseroso, [the mirthful and the serious. Cf. Milton's poems by these names.] -- he was marched off (to use a modern comparison, like Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy) to the neighbouring forest; where, to save all farther trouble and ceremonial of a gibbet, and so forth, the disposers of his fate proposed to knit him up to the first sufficient tree.
They were not long in finding an oak, as Petit Andre facetiously expressed it, fit to bear such an acorn; and placing the wretched criminal on a bank, under a sufficient guard, they began their extemporaneous preparations for the final catastrophe. At that moment, Hayraddin, gazing on the crowd, encountered the eyes of Quentin Durward, who, thinking he recognized the countenance of his faithless guide in that of the detected impostor, had followed with the crowd to witness the execution, and assure himself of the identity.
When the executioners informed him that all was ready, Hayraddin, with much calmness, asked a single boon at their hands.
"Anything, my son, consistent with our office," said Trois Eschelles.
"That is," said Hayraddin, "anything but my life."
"Even so," said Trois Eschelles, "and something more, for you seem resolved to do credit to our mystery, and die like a man, without making wry mouths -- why, though our orders are to be prompt, I care not if I indulge you ten minutes longer."
"You are even too generous," said Hayraddin.
"Truly we may be blamed for it," said Petit Andre, "but what of that? -- I could consent almost to give my life for such a jerry come tumble, such a smart, tight, firm lad, who proposes to come from aloft with a grace, as an honest fellow should."
"So that if you want a confessor --" said Trois Eschelles.
"Or a lire of wine --" said his facetious companion.
"Or a psalm --" said Tragedy.
"Or a song --" said Comedy.
"Neither, my good, kind, and most expeditious friends," said the Bohemian. "I only pray to speak a few minutes with yonder Archer of the Scottish Guard."
The executioners hesitated a moment; but Trois Eschelles, recollecting that Quentin Durward was believed, from various circumstances, to stand high in the favour of their master, King Louis, they resolved to permit the interview.
When Quentin, at their summons, approached the condemned criminal, he could not but be shocked at his appearance, however justly his doom might have been deserved. The remnants of his heraldic finery, rent to tatters by the fangs of the dogs, and the clutches of the bipeds who had rescued him from their fury to lead him to the gallows, gave him at once a ludicrous and a wretched appearance. His face was discoloured with paint and with some remnants of a fictitious beard, assumed for the purpose of disguise, and there was the paleness of death upon his cheek and upon his lip; yet, strong in passive courage, like most of his tribe, his eye, while it glistened and wandered, as well as the contorted smile of his mouth, seemed to bid defiance to the death he was about to die.
Quentin was struck, partly with horror, partly with compassion, as he approached the miserable man; and these feelings probably betrayed themselves in his manner, for Petit Andre called out, "Trip it more smartly, jolly Archer. -- This gentleman's leisure cannot wait for you, if you walk as if the pebbles were eggs, and you afraid of breaking them."
"I must speak with him in privacy," said the criminal, despair seeming to croak in his accent as he uttered the words.
"That may hardly consist with our office, my merry Leap the ladder," said Petit Andre, "we know you for a slippery eel of old."
"I am tied with your horse girths, hand and foot," said the criminal. "You may keep guard around me, though out of earshot -- the Archer is your own King's servant. And if I give you ten guilders --"
"Laid out in masses, the sum may profit his poor soul," said Trois Eschelles.
"Laid out in wine or brantwein, it will comfort my poor body," responded Petit Andre. "So let them be forthcoming, my little crack rope."
"Pay the bloodhounds their fee," said Hayraddin to Durward, "I was plundered of every stiver when they took me -- it shall avail thee much."
Quentin paid the executioners their guerdon, and, like men of promise, they retreated out of hearing -- keeping, however, a careful eye on the criminal's motions. After waiting an instant till the unhappy man should speak, as he still remained silent, Quentin at length addressed him, "And to this conclusion thou hast at length arrived?"
"Ay," answered Hayraddin, "it required neither astrologer, or physiognomist, nor chiromantist to foretell that I should follow the destiny of my family."
"Brought to this early end by thy long course of crime and treachery?" said the Scot.
"No, by the bright Aldebaran and all his brother twinklers!" answered the Bohemian. "I am brought hither by my folly in believing that the bloodthirsty cruelty of a Frank could be restrained even by what they themselves profess to hold most sacred. A priest's vestment would have been no safer garb for me than a herald's tabard, however sanctimonious are your professions of devotion and chivalry."
"A detected impostor has no right to claim the immunities of the disguise he had usurped," said Durward.
"Detected!" said the Bohemian. "My jargon was as good as yonder old fool of a herald's, but let it pass. As well now as hereafter."
"You abuse time," said Quentin. "If you have aught to tell me, say it quickly, and then take some care of your soul."
"Of my soul?" said the Bohemian, with a hideous laugh. "Think ye a leprosy of twenty years can be cured in an instant? -- If I have a soul, it hath been in such a course since I was ten years old and more, that it would take me one month to recall all my crimes, and another to tell them to the priest! -- and were such space granted me, it is five to one I would employ it otherwise."
"Hardened wretch, blaspheme not! Tell me what thou hast to say, and I leave thee to thy fate," said Durward, with mingled pity and horror.
"I have a boon to ask," said Hayraddin; "but first I will buy it of you; for your tribe, with all their professions of charity, give naught for naught."
"I could well nigh say, thy gifts perish with thee," answered Quentin, "but that thou art on the very verge of eternity. -- Ask thy boon -- reserve thy bounty -- it can do me no good -- I remember enough of your good offices of old."
"Why, I loved you," said Hayraddin, "for the matter that chanced on the banks of the Cher; and I would have helped you to a wealthy dame. You wore her scarf, which partly misled me, and indeed I thought that Hameline, with her portable wealth, was more for your market penny than the other hen sparrow, with her old roost at Bracquemont, which Charles has clutched, and is likely to keep his claws upon."
"Talk not so idly, unhappy man," said Quentin; "yonder officers become impatient."
"Give them ten guilders for ten minutes more," said the culprit, who, like most in his situation, mixed with his hardihood a desire of procrastinating his fate, "I tell thee it shall avail thee much."
"Use then well the minutes so purchased," said Durward, and easily made a new bargain with the Marshals men.
This done, Hayraddin continued. -- "Yes, I assure you I meant you well; and Hameline would have proved an easy and convenient spouse. Why, she has reconciled herself even with the Boar of Ardennes, though his mode of wooing was somewhat of the roughest, and lords it yonder in his sty, as if she had fed on mast husks and acorns all her life."
"Cease this brutal and untimely jesting," said Quentin, "or, once more I tell you, I will leave you to your fate."
"You are right," said Hayraddin, after a moment's pause; "what cannot be postponed must be faced! -- Well, know then, I came hither in this accursed disguise, moved by a great reward from De la Marck, and hoping a yet mightier one from King Louis, not merely to bear the message of defiance which yon may have heard of, but to tell the King an important secret."
"It was a fearful risk," said Durward.
"It was paid for as such, and such it hath proved," answered the Bohemian. "De la Marck attempted before to communicate with Louis by means of Marthon; but she could not, it seems, approach nearer to him than the Astrologer, to whom she told all the passages of the journey, and of Schonwaldt; but it is a chance if her tidings ever reach Louis, except in the shape of a prophecy. But hear my secret, which is more important than aught she could tell. William de la Marck has assembled a numerous and strong force within the city of Liege, and augments it daily by means of the old priest's treasures. But he proposes not to hazard a battle with the chivalry of Burgundy, and still less to stand a siege in the dismantled town. This he will do -- he will suffer the hot brained Charles to sit down before the place without opposition, and in the night, make an outfall or sally upon the leaguer with his whole force. Many he will have in French armour, who will cry, France, Saint Louis, and Denis Montjoye, as if there were a strong body of French auxiliaries in the city. This cannot choose but strike utter confusion among the Burgundians; and if King Louis, with his guards, attendants, and such soldiers as he may have with him, shall second his efforts, the Boar of Ardennes nothing doubts the discomfiture of the whole Burgundian army. -- There is my secret, and I bequeath it to you. Forward or prevent the enterprise -- sell the intelligence to King Louis, or to Duke Charles, I care not -- save or destroy whom thou wilt; for my part, I only grieve that I cannot spring it like a mine, to the destruction of them all."
"It is indeed an important secret," said Quentin, instantly comprehending how easily the national jealousy might be awakened in a camp consisting partly of French, partly of Burgundians.
"Ay, so it is," answered Hayraddin; "and now you have it, you would fain begone, and leave me without granting the boon for which I have paid beforehand."
"Tell me thy request," said Quentin. "I will grant it if it be in my power."
"Nay, it is no mighty demand -- it is only in behalf of poor Klepper, my palfrey, the only living thing that may miss me. -- A due mile south, you will find him feeding by a deserted collier's hut; whistle to him thus" (he whistled a peculiar note), "and call him by his name, Klepper, he will come to you; here is his bridle under my gaberdine -- it is lucky the hounds got it not, for he obeys no other. Take him, and make much of him -- I do not say for his master's sake, -- but because I have placed at your disposal the event of a mighty war. He will never fail you at need -- night and day, rough and smooth, fair and foul, warm stables and the winter sky, are the same to Klepper; had I cleared the gates of Peronne, and got so far as where I left him, I had not been in this case. -- Will you be kind to Klepper?"
"I swear to you that I will," answered Quentin, affected by what seemed a trait of tenderness in a character so hardened.
"Then fare thee well!" said the criminal. "Yet stay -- stay -- I would not willingly die in discourtesy, forgetting a lady's commission. -- This billet is from the very gracious and extremely silly Lady of the Wild Boar of Ardennes, to her black eyed niece -- I see by your look I have chosen a willing messenger. -- And one word more -- I forgot to say, that in the stuffing of my saddle you will find a rich purse of gold pieces, for the sake of which I put my life on the venture which has cost me so dear. Take them, and replace a hundred fold the guilders you have bestowed on these bloody slaves -- I make you mine heir."
"I will bestow them in good works and masses for the benefit of thy soul," said Quentin.
"Name not that word again," said Hayraddin, his countenance assuming a dreadful expression; "there is -- there can be, there shall be -- no such thing! -- it is a dream of priestcraft."
"Unhappy, most unhappy being! Think better! let me speed for a priest -- these men will delay yet a little longer. I will bribe them to it," said Quentin. "What canst thou expect, dying in such opinions, and impenitent?"
"To be resolved into the elements," said the hardened atheist, pressing his fettered arms against his bosom; "my hope, trust, and expectation is that the mysterious frame of humanity shall melt into the general mass of nature, to be recompounded in the other forms with which she daily supplies those which daily disappear, and return under different forms -- the watery particles to streams and showers, the earthy parts to enrich their mother earth, the airy portions to wanton in the breeze, and those of fire to supply the blaze of Aldebaran and his brethren. -- In this faith have I lived, and I will die in it! -- Hence! begone! -- disturb me no farther! -- I have spoken the last word that mortal ears shall listen to."
Deeply impressed with the horrors of his condition, Quentin Durward yet saw that it was vain to hope to awaken him to a sense of his fearful state. He bade him, therefore, farewell, to which the criminal only replied by a short and sullen nod, as one who, plunged in reverie, bids adieu to company which distracts his thoughts. He bent his course towards the forest, and easily found where Klepper was feeding. The creature came at his call, but was for some time unwilling to be caught, snuffing and starting when the stranger approached him. At length, however, Quentin's general acquaintance with the habits of the animal, and perhaps some particular knowledge of those of Klepper, which he had often admired while Hayraddin and he travelled together, enabled him to take possession of the Bohemian's dying bequest. Long ere he returned to Peronne, the Bohemian had gone where the vanity of his dreadful creed was to be put to the final issue -- a fearful experience for one who had neither expressed remorse for the past, nor apprehension for the future!
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