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Quentin Durward
by Walter Scott
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes



(1823)



Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a law-clerk and judge, Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire, one of the leading figures of Scottish Toryism and of the Highland Society. Scott was the first English-language author to achieve international fame, largely with novels of a romantic past.

Abridged: JH

For more works by Walter Scott, see The Index



Quentin Durward


I. - The Wanderer Meets Louis XI.

It was upon a delicious summer morning that a youth approached the ford of a small river, near the Royal castle of Plessis-les-Tours, in ancient Touraine.

The age of the young traveller might be about nineteen or twenty, and his face and person were very prepossessing. His smart blue bonnet, with sprig of holly and eagle's feather, was already recognised as the Scottish headgear.

Two persons loitered on the opposite side of the small river and observed the youth. "Hark, sir, he halloes to know whether the water be deep," said the younger of the two.

"Nothing like experience in this world," answered the other, "let him try."

The young man receiving no hint to the contrary entered the stream, and to one less alert in the exercise of swimming death had been certain, for the brook was both deep and strong. As it was, he was carried but a little way from the ordinary landing-place.

But the bonnie Scot turned wrathfully on the younger of the strangers for not warning him of the stream, and only the reproof of the elder prevented a violent quarrel.

"Fair son," he said, "you seem a stranger, and you should recollect your dialect is not so easily comprehended by us."

"Well, father," answered the youth, "I do not care much about the ducking I have had, provided you will direct me to some place where I can have my clothes dried, for it is my only suit, and I must keep it somewhat decent."

"For whom do you take us, fair son?" said the elder stranger.

"For substantial burgesses," said the youth. "You, master, may be a money-broker or a corn-merchant."

"My business is to trade in as much money as I can," said the elder, smiling. "As to your accommodation we will try to serve you. It is but a short walk from hence to the village. Let me know your name, and follow me."

"My true name when at home is Quentin Durward," said the youth.

Proceeding along a path they came in sight of the whole front of the Castle of Plessis-les-Tours.

"I have some friend to see in this quarter," said Durward. "My mother's own brother, Ludovic Lesly - an honest and noble name."

"And so it is I doubt not," said the old man. "But of three Leslies in the Scottish Guard two are called Ludovic."

"They call my kinsman Ludovic with the Scar," said Quentin.

"The man you speak of we, I think, call Le Balafré; from that scar on his face," answered his companion. "A proper man and a good soldier. Men call me Maître Pierre - a plain man. I owe you a breakfast, Master Quentin, for the wetting my mistake procured you."

While they were speaking they reached the entrance of the village of Plessis, and presently approached the court-yard of an inn of unusual magnitude.

Maître Pierre lifted the latch of the side door, and led the way into a large room, where arrangements had been made for a substantial breakfast. He whistled and the landlord entered, and bowed with reverence.

Quentin Durward had eaten little for two days, and Maître Pierre seemed delighted with the appetite of the young Scot, who indeed devoured an enormous repast. When his appetite had been satisfied, and the old man had put several questions, the door opened, and a girl, whose countenance, so young and so lovely, was graver, Quentin thought, than belongs to an early beauty, entered with a platter and a cup of delicate workmanship.

"How now, Jacqueline?" said Maître Pierre. "Did I not desire that Dame Perette should bring what I wanted? But I blame thee not, thou art too young to be - what thou must be one day - a false and treacherous thing, like the rest of thy giddy sex. Here is a Scottish cavalier will tell you the same."

But Durward, with the feelings of youth, 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 Maître Pierre, in whom the bravado of the young gallant seemed only to excite laughter.

Jacqueline vanished, and Maître Pierre, after filling a goblet with silver pieces, and bidding Quentin Durward take it and remain in the hostelry until he had seen his kinsman, Le Balafré, also left the apartment.

Within a short time Ludovic Lesly, or Le Balafré (as he was generally known), a robust hard-featured soldier upwards of six feet high, was announced.

Quentin greeted his uncle, and the following day the as taken before Lord Crawford, the commander of the Scottish Archers, the king's bodyguard, and enrolled in that honourable corps as esquire to Le Balafré.

II. - The Scottish Archer

Quentin, accompanying his uncle into the presence-chamber of Louis XI., started so suddenly that he almost dropped his weapon when he recognised in the King of France the merchant, Maître Pierre. No less astonished was he when the king, whose quick eye had at once discovered him, walked straight to the place where he was posted, and addressing Le Balafré, said: "Your kinsman is a fair youth, though fiery. We love to cherish such spirits, and mean to make more than ever we did of the brave men who are around us."

A boar-hunt, wherein the life of Louis was saved from imminent danger by the courage and dexterity of Quentin Durward, brought the young Scot still further into royal favour: "Thou hast begun thy wood-craft well," said the king; "and Maître Pierre owes thee as good an entertainment as he gave thee in the village yonder. I like thee, and will do thee good. Build on no man's favour but mine - not even on thine uncle's or Lord Crawford's, and say nothing of thy timely aid in this matter of the boar, for if a man makes boast that he has served a king in such a pinch, he must take the braggart humour for its own recompense."

So Quentin kept silence discreetly, and was rewarded by a gold chain from the king, by speedy promotion to the rank of free archer, and by being employed to act as sentinel in the private gallery of Louis. And here he once more beheld the young lady whom he had seen at his memorable breakfast, and who had been called Jacqueline. She proved to be the youthful Countess Isabelle, heiress of the rich earldom of Croye, who had fled with her aunt, the Countess Hameline, from the overlordship of the Duke of Burgundy. Had death been the penalty Durward must needs have rendered to this beauty and her companion the same homage which he paid to royalty. They received it as those who were accustomed to the deference of inferiors; but he thought that the young lady coloured slightly and seemed embarrassed.

Occupation and adventure now crowded upon Durward with the force of a spring tide.

Louis, anxious to be on good terms with Burgundy, induced the ladies of Croye to retreat from their concealment at the Court of France, and to place themselves under the protection of the Prince Bishop of Liége. Durward was delighted when the king told him that he was selected, with four others under his command, to escort the Countess Isabelle and her companion to the little court of their relative the bishop, in the safest and most secret manner possible.

They set out at midnight, and Lady Hameline soon interrogated the captain of her escort, and learnt that he was of noble birth.

"Methinks, my cousin," said the Lady Isabelle softly, "we must be safe under this young gentleman's safeguard."

The journey was accomplished, not without perils and hazards, and then four days after the arrival at the bishop's palace, the townsmen of Liége rose in mad revolt, and, led by a ferocious noble, William de la Marck, whom all men called the Wild Boar of Ardennes, overpowered the bishop's guards, and seized the palace. The bishop himself was murdered by De la Marck's orders, in his very dining hall; the Countess Isabelle escaped under Durward's protection, while the Countess Hameline remained to become the wife of the Wild Boar. The son of a burgher with whom Durward had made friends undertook to guide the Countess Isabelle and her companion to the frontiers of Burgundy.

"My resolution is taken," said the young lady; "I return to my native country, to throw myself on the mercy of Charles, Duke of Burgundy."

"And you resolve to become the bride, then, of the Count of Campo-basso, the unworthy favourite of Charles?" said Quentin, who had been told the reason why refuge had been sought with Louis.

"No, Durward, no!" said the Lady Isabelle, "to that hated condition all Burgundy's power shall not sink a daughter of the House of Croye. Burgundy may seize on my lands and fiefs, he may imprison my person in a convent, but that is the worst I have to expect; and worse than that I will endure ere I give my hand to Campo-basso. Ah, Durward, were I your sister, and could you promise me shelter in some of those mountain-glens which you love to describe, where for charity, or for the few jewels I have preserved, I might lead an unharassed life, and forget the lot I was born to, that were indeed a prospect for which it were worth risk of further censure to wander farther and wider!"

The tenderness of voice with which the Countess Isabelle made this admission, at once filled Quentin with joy, and cut him to the very heart.

"Lady," he said at last, "I should act foully against my honour did I suffer you to think I have power in Scotland to afford you other protection than that of the poor arm which is now by your side. Our castle was stormed at midnight, and all were cut off that belonged to my name. Even had the King of Scotland a desire to do me justice, he dared not, for the sake of one poor individual, provoke a chief who rides with five hundred horse."

"Alas!" said the Countess, "there is no corner of the world safe from oppression! No more of Scotland, then; no more of Scotland!"

In the humour of mutual confidence, and forgetting the singularity of their own situation, as well as the perils of the road, the travellers pursued their journey for several hours.

The artificial distinction which divided the two lovers - for such we may now term them - seemed dissolved by the circumstance in which they were placed. For the present, the Countess was as poor as the youth, and for her safety, honour, and life, she was exclusively indebted to his presence of mind, valour, and devotion. They spoke not, indeed, of love, but the thoughts of it were on both sides unavoidable.

It was two hours after noon when a party of De la Marck's banditti appeared, and shortly after a body of men-at-arms under a knight's pennon. The former were soon put to rout by the superiority of the latter, whose banner Countess Isabelle recognised as that of the Count of Crèvecoeur, a noble Burgundian.

"Noble Count!" said Isabelle, as Crèvecoeur gazed on her with doubt and uncertainty, "Isabelle of Croye, the daughter of your old companion in arms, Count Reinold of Croye, renders herself, and asks protection from your valour for her and hers."

"Thou shalt have it, fair kinswoman, were it against a host," said Crèvecoeur. "This is a rough welcome to your home, my pretty cousin, but you and your foolish match-making aunt have made such wild use of your wings of late, that I fear you must be contented to fold them up in a cage for a little while. For my part, my duty will be ended when I have conducted you to the court of the Duke, at Peronne."

III. - A Prize for Honour

The king had ventured, with a small company of his Scottish archers, to be his own ambassador to his troublesome subject the Duke of Burgundy, and Louis and Charles were together at Peronne when the news of the revolt at Liége was brought to them by Crèvecoeur, under whose escort the Countess Isabelle returned to the protection of her suzerain.

The Countess was lodged in the Convent of the Ursulines, and with the Lady Abbess and the Countess of Crèvecoeur attended the presence of the Duke.

In vain Charles stormed and swore that she should marry whom he would.

"My lord," she replied, undismayed, "if you deprive me of my lands, you take away all that your ancestors' generosity gave, and you break the only bonds which attach us together. You cannot dispose the hand of any gentlewoman by force."

The Duke, with a furious glance, turned to his secretary.

"Write," he said, "our doom of forfeiture and imprisonment against this disobedient and insolent minion! She shall to the penitentiary, to herd with those whose lives have rendered them her rivals in effrontery!"

There was a general murmur.

"My Lord Duke," said Crèvecoeur, "this must be better thought on. We, your faithful vassals, cannot suffer dishonour to the nobility and chivalry of Burgundy. If the Countess hath done amiss, let her be punished - but in the manner that becomes her rank and ours, who stand connected with her house."

The Duke paused for a moment, and looked full at his counsellor with the stare of a bull. Prudence, however, prevailed over fury, he saw the sentiment was general in his council, and, being rather of a coarse and violent, than of a malignant temper - felt ashamed of his own dishonourable proposal.

"You are right, Crèvecoeur," he said, "and I spoke hastily. Her fate shall be determined according to the rules of chivalry. Her flight to Liége hath given the signal for the bishop's murder. He that best avenges that deed, and brings us the head of the Wild Boar of Ardennes, shall claim her hand of us; and, if she denies his right, we can at least grant him her lands, leaving it to his generosity to allow her what means he will to retire into a convent."

"Nay!" said the Countess. "Think, I am the daughter of Count Reinold - of your father's old, valiant, and faithful servant. Would you hold me out as a prize to the best sword-player?"

"Your ancestress," said the Duke, "was won at a tourney - you shall be fought for in real melee. Only thus far, for Count Reinold's sake, the successful prizer shall be a gentleman of unimpeached birth, and unstained bearings, but, be he such, and the poorest who ever drew the strap of a sword-belt through the tongue of a buckle, he shall have at least the proffer of your hand. I swear it by my ducal crown, and by the order that I wear. Ha, messires," he added, turning to the nobles present, "this at least is, I think, in conformity with the rules of chivalry?"

Isabelle's remonstrances were drowned in a general and jubilant assent, above which was heard the voice of old Lord Crawford, regretting the weight of years that prevented his striking for so fair a prize.

Le Balafré dared not speak aloud in such a presence, but he muttered to himself:

"Now, Saunders Souplejaw, hold thine own! Thou always saidst the fortune of our house was to be won by marriage, and never had you such a chance to keep your word with us."

The Countess of Crèvecoeur whispered to Isabelle, that perhaps the successful competitor might prove one who should reconcile to obedience. Love, like despair, catches at straws, and the tears of the Countess Isabelle flowed more placidly while she dwelt upon the hope this insinuation conveyed.

IV. - The Winning of the Prize

King Louis and his guards sallied from the gateway of Peronne, to join the Burgundian army under Duke Charles, which commenced at the same time its march against Liége. Ere the troops were fully on march Quentin Durward received from an unknown hand a billet which Lady Hamelin had sent to the Countess Isabelle, mentioning that her William - as she called the Wild Boar - had determined, for purposes of policy, in the first action to have others dressed in his coat-armour, and himself to assume the arms of Orleans, with a bar sinister. Durward had also learnt from other sources that the rebels of Liége hoped to scatter confusion amongst the Burgundians by shouting Vive la France!

The battle began on the night of the arrival of the forces outside Liége, when De la Marck boldly sallied out and attacked the invaders. It was not till daybreak that the Burgundians began to show the qualities which belong to superior discipline, and the great mass of Liégois were compelled to retreat, and at length to fly. Soon the whole became a confused tide of fighters, fliers, and pursuers, which rolled itself towards the city walls, and at last poured into the undefended breach through which the Liégois had sallied.

Quentin had seen the arms of Orleans, and made more than human exertions to overtake the special object of his pursuit. Le Balafré, and several of his comrades, were with him marvelling at the gallantry displayed by so young a soldier. On the very brink of the breach, De la Marck - for it was himself - succeeded in effecting a momentary stand. H mace of iron in his hand, before which everything seemed to go down.

Quentin singled him out, and ascended the ruins to measure swords with the Boar of Ardennes. A shout announced that the besiegers were entering the city at another point, and De la Marck endeavoured to effect a retreat, only to be prevented by Quentin, Le Balafré, and their comrades. De la Marck found his retreat cut off, and bade his lieutenant break through if he could, and escape. "With me it is over," he added. "I am man enough now that I am brought to bay, to send some of these vagabond Scots to hell before me." About six of De la Marck's best men remained to perish with their master, and fronted the archers who were not many more in number.

Quentin had but time to bid his uncle and comrades stand back, when De la Marck sprang upon him with a bound; light of foot and quick of eye, Quentin leaped aside.

They then closed like wolf and wolf-dog, their comrades on either side remaining inactive spectators, for Le Balafré roared out for fair play.

The huge strength of the Boar of Ardennes began to give way to fatigue, so wounded was he, but he fought on unabated in courage and ire, and Quentin's victory seemed dubious and distant, when a female voice behind him called him by his name, ejaculating, "Help! help! for the sake of the blessed Virgin!"

Quentin turned his head and beheld a maiden, who with her family had aided him to escape with Isabelle, dragged forcibly along by a French soldier.

"Wait for me but one moment!" he exclaimed to De la Marck, and sprang to extricate the girl from her dangerous situation.

"I wait no man's pleasure," said De la Marck, flourishing his mace and beginning to retreat.

"You shall wait mine, though, by your leave," said Balafré; "I will not have any nephew baulked." So saying, he instantly assaulted De la Marck with his two-handed sword.

Quentin was obliged to take the defenceless maiden to her father's house, and in the meantime the King and the Duke of Burgundy entered the city on horseback, and ditched orders to stop the sack of the city. When the terrified town was restored to some moderate degree of order, Louis and Charles proceeded to hear the claims which respected the County of Croye and its fair mistress. Doubt and mystery involved the several pretensions of those who claimed the merit of having dispatched the murderer of the bishop, for the rich reward promised brought death to all who were arrayed in De la Marck's resemblance.

In the midst of conflicting claims Crawford pressed forward into the circle, dragging Le Balafré after him. "Away with your hoofs and hides, and painted iron!" cried Crawford. "No one, save he who slew the Boar, can show the tusks!"

He flung on the floor the bloody head, easily known as that of De la Marck, and which was instantly recognised by all who had seen him.

"Crawford," said Louis, "I trust it is one of my faithful Scots who has won this prize?"

"It is Ludovic Lesly, Sire, whom we call Le Balafré," replied the old soldier.

"But is he noble?" said the Duke. "Is he of gentle blood? Otherwise our promise is void."

"I will warrant him a branch of the tree of Rother, as noble as any house in France or Burgundy," said Crawford.

"There is then no help for it," said the Duke; "and the fairest and richest heiress in Burgundy must be the wife of a rude mercenary soldier."

"May it please your Majesty, and your grace," said Crawford. "I must speak for my countryman and old comrade. He hath acted by my advice and resigns his claim to him by whom the Wild Boar was actually brought to bay, who is his maternal nephew, and is of the House of Durward, descended from that Allan Durward who was High Steward of Scotland."

"Nay, if it be young Durward," said Crèvecoeur; "there is nothing more to be said. I have much reason to believe your Grace will find her more amenable to authority than on former occasions. But why should I grudge this youth his preferment, since after all, it is sense, firmness, and gallantry, which have put him in possession of wealth, rank, and beauty!"


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