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Chapter 6 The Bohemians

Sae rantingly, sae wantingly, Sae dantingly gaed he, He play'd a spring and danced a round Beneath the gallows tree!

OLD SONG

(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.)

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.' ('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.) 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 (a small copper coin worth a quarter of a cent, current in France in the fifteenth century.) 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 (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.), 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!" (in Mohammedan religion the name of the chief of the fallen angels) 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 (a small farm)."

"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 Heraclitus, and their master, the Provost, termed them Jean qui pleure and Jean qui rit.

(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)

(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.)

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 (blessed are they who die in the Lord), 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! (patron saint of Tours, Lucca, and of penitent drunkards. He was greatly honoured in the Middle Ages.) 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 (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.), 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."

他去时,气势喧嚣,神态威武,

来到绞架下,将身一跃,跳了一圈舞!

《古老的民谣》

昆丁·达威特所受的并不是一种可以改善道德情操,使人心地善良的教育。由于培养和训练,他和他家庭的其他成员已习惯于把狩猎看作是种娱乐,把战争看作他们惟一的正业,而他们生活的意义便是顽强地忍受,然后狠狠地报复那使他们家族濒于灭亡的世仇。然而在报仇雪耻当中也混杂着一种原始的骑士精神,甚至于以礼待人,从而软化了他们内心的残忍。因此,他们在进行正义的复仇行动的同时,也依然适当地考虑人道和宽厚的原则。那位可敬的老修道士对达威特的教导,或许由于在长期患病的逆境中要比在健康和顺利时更易于接受,自然使他更深切地意识到自己应宽厚为怀。考虑到人们当时的愚昧和对军人生涯普遍怀有的偏爱以及他自己所受的教育,这年轻人确实要比其他人更清醒地意识到军人的职责。

回想起和舅父的会面,他既感到为难又深党失望。他本来抱着很大的希望,因为,通信在当时虽然不可能,但有时一位香客。一个冒险商人或伤残的士兵会把莱斯利的英名带到格兰一呼拉金。所有这些人都赞扬莱斯利在法国国王托付给他的平凡任务中表现出的无畏的勇气与成就。昆丁的想像力也曾按自己的方式描绘出他舅父的形象,把他过着冒险生涯的成功的舅父(人们转述时也许完整无缺地表现了他的赫赫战功)看作是靠刀剑赢得皇冠,当上驸马,为游吟诗人所歌颂的游侠勇士。但现在他却不得不承认他只是个低等骑士。然而,由于他为尊敬父母及其亲属的感情所蔽,又受到他早年对舅父的好感的影响,再加缺乏经验,而且深情地怀念着过世的母亲,他自然看不见他母亲这惟一的兄弟所扮演的真实角色——一个普通的雇佣兵,与助长着法国动荡形势的许多雇佣兵并没多少差别。

勒巴拉弗雷虽然不是一味残忍成性,但他对人的生命和痛苦却漠不关心。他十分无知,不择手段地贪图胜利品,挥霍无度以满足他的私欲。只顾自己利益和需要的习性已使他变成了世界上最自私的动物之一。正如读者所注意到的,他不可能深入地思考任何问题而不考虑这对自己有无好处,或者,像人们所说的那样,不把自我摆进去。不过,他并不是本着以黄金律为准则的思想感情,而是十分不同的。此外,他的职责和乐趣的狭窄范围已逐渐限制了他的思想和愿望,并在很大程度上熄灭了曾激励过自己青春的荣誉感和建功立业的欲望。总而言之,巴拉弗雷是个厉害的兵痞,无情、自私、心地狭隘;他积极而大胆地执行自己的任务,除了对国王忠贞不贰,并偶尔和他的朋友兼忏悔师波尼法斯师兄厮混以外,就不承认有更多的人生目的。要是他有更多的才能,也许他本会被提拔担任一个重要的指挥官,因为熟悉每个卫士的国王很信任巴拉弗雷的勇气和忠诚,何况这苏格兰人既有足够的聪明,也有足够的狡黠,充分懂得国王的特殊嗜好,并能够迎合他。然而他的才能毕竟有限,无法高升,尽管在许多场合下他都受到路易王的垂青和宠幸,巴拉弗雷仍然只是一个保镖,或如人们所说的苏格兰射手。

昆丁没有看出舅父为人的全貌,自不免对他听到妹夫全家罹难后表现出的冷漠而感到吃惊。此外也使他感到诧异的是,像他这样一个近亲竟没给他一点金钱帮助。要不是皮埃尔老爷的慷慨,他本会迫不得已直接向他请求接济。不过,把疏忽了外甥的燃眉之急归咎于舅父的贪婪也是对他的冤枉。巴拉弗雷自己既然不缺钱,也就没想到他外甥会急需钱。否则像他那样看重自己的亲戚的人,定会像为他死去的妹妹和妹夫的幸福竭尽心力那样,也会为活着的外甥尽力而为。不过,不管原因和动机如何,年轻的达威特对这一疏忽很不满意。他不止一次地后悔,他没有在他和护林官吵架以前留在勃艮第为公爵服役。“那时,不管我处境如何,”他思量道,“我一想到万不得已我还有舅舅这么一个为我撑腰的亲属,我就能打起精神。如今我算是见到了他。去他的,连我亲娘的胞兄,一个同乡、骑士给我的帮助还不及一个陌生的工匠。人们有理由认为,那一刀固然砍掉了他全部的美貌,同时也使他血液中的一切高贵品质丧失殆尽!”

达威特后悔他没有机会向勒巴拉弗雷提到皮埃尔老爷,以便获得对他的进一步了解。当时他舅舅接二连三地向他提问,而图尔城圣马丁教堂大钟的报时声突兀地打断了他们的相遇。他回想道,那老头固然外表固执乖戾,言语尖酸刻薄,但举动却慷慨大方。像这样一个陌生人的确抵得上一个冷冰冰的亲戚——“我们苏格兰的格言是怎么说来着?”——“宁要善良的陌生人,不要疏远的亲戚。”我将去找他。既然他如店主所说是个有钱人,我想要找到他也并不费事。他至少会出些好主意来指点我。如果他也像许多有钱人那样经常出国,我想做他的保镖也会像为路易王一样富于冒险性。

昆丁这样想着时,在潜意识里,或在藏匿着自己也不愿承认的秘密的内心深处,有个声音悄然响起:也许那塔楼里的少女,那纱巾和诗琴的女主人会和他一道参加那冒险的旅行。

这苏格兰青年人正这样思索着,只见迎面走来了两个神情庄重的人,一望便知是图尔城的市民。他以年轻人对长辈应有的尊敬脱下帽子毕恭毕敬地请求他们带他到皮埃尔老爷家里去。

“好小子,带你到谁家里去?”其中一个老人说道。

“到皮埃尔老爷家去,他是一个大丝绸商,那边公园里的桑树都是他种的。”达威特说道。

“年轻人,”挨他稍近的那位对他说道,“你未免过早地从事一种无聊的行业。”

“而你也选错了人作为你欺诈的对象。”离他较远的那个更为粗鲁地说道,“图尔的市政官是不习惯让外来的流浪小丑这么对他讲话的。”

看到一个简单而有礼貌的问题竟然无缘无故地冒犯了两个体面的绅士,昆丁十分吃惊,对他们粗鲁的回答也忘了表示愤慨,只是呆望着他们的背影,眼见他们加快步子离去,不时还回过头来看看他,似乎想尽快摆脱他可能带来的危害。

接着他又碰到一群修整葡萄藤的人,他又向他们打听这事。他们反问他究竟是要找当校长的皮埃尔老爷,还是当木匠师傅的皮埃尔老爷,抑或是当法警的皮埃尔老爷?当然还有半打别的皮埃尔老爷。但所有这些人都和他要找的对不上号。于是这伙农民便指责他是在无理取闹,并扬言要把他打翻在地,以作为椰榆他们的报复。年长的那个农民在他们当中或许有些威望,总算功住他们不要动手。

“瞧他讲的话和他那小丑帽子,”他说,“你们就知道他是个外来的江湖骗子。有些人说他们是魔术师,算命的,另一些人叫他们变戏法的,等等。谁也不知道他们肚于里有些什么鬼名堂。我就听说有个人和骗子打赌,赌他在一个穷人的葡萄园里吃葡萄直至胀破肚皮。结果他吃了足以装一车的葡萄,却连一个扣子也不用解来松松衣服。我们最好悄悄放开他。他走他的,我们走我们的。朋友,要是你想避免更不愉快的事,那么看在上帝分上,也看在马尔穆梯埃圣女和图尔圣马丁分上,悄悄走开,别再为你的皮埃尔老爷劳神了。谁知道呢?它很可能是个魔鬼的别名。”

苏格兰人发现自己远不是他们的对手,不吭声地走掉才是上策。那几个农民以为他有耍弄巫术和吞噬葡萄的本领,起先还畏惧地想躲开他,等他走了一段距离之后,勇气倍增,先是对他吼叫和咒骂,后来竟用石头助威,尽管相距很远,对他们厌恶的对象已不能造成危害。昆丁一边继续往前走,一边寻思,要么是他自己着了魔,要么都兰城的人是最愚蠢、野蛮。最不友好的法国农民。他观察到的另一起事件也不见得有助于消除他的这一看法。

在那湍急而美丽的谢尔河上游一个小山坡上,正好在他走着的这条小径的前方,有两三株栗子树构成了一个美妙的小树林。旁边呆立着三四个农民,眼睛朝上,显然是在凝望近旁的树枝间悬挂着的某个东西。即使是最微小的好奇的冲动也往往会打破年轻人的沉思,正像手上随意掷出的一块卵石也会打破一潭清水的宁静。昆丁加快步伐,轻捷地踏上那个小山坡,正好赶上那引人注目的可怕镜头——原来那是一个挂在树枝上,进行着垂死挣扎的男人身体。

“你们干吗不割断绳索救他下来?”那随时准备像保护自己遭受侵害的荣誉那样挺身而出减轻别人痛苦的年轻人说道。其中有个农民面孔粘土般苍白,充满恐惧地向他指指树上刻着的一个记号。正像税务官所熟悉的某些符咒般的刻痕看来颇像一只“宽箭”,这个记号则像一朵“百合花”。年轻的达威特既不懂得也不在意这符号的含义,便将身一纵,轻轻跳到树上,从袋子里取出高原居民或森林里的人少不了的工具——那信得过的“黑刀”。他觉察出了情况的紧迫,便叫底下的人接住那人的躯体,同时一刀割断了绞索。

然而旁观者并没有支持他这个人道的举动。他们根本没给达威特任何帮助,而像为他卤莽的行动感到惊恐,不约而同地四处逃散,仿佛害怕仅仅当个旁观者也会被说成无法无天的帮凶。那人的躯体既然没有被在底下的人抱住,便沉沉地跌落在地上。昆丁立刻跳下树来,但他气恼地发现那人已经断了气。他还不想就此放弃希望。他松开套在那可怜人脖子上的绞索,解开上衣,把水洒在他脸上,并采取了另一些常用的急救办法。

正在这时,周围忽然响起一阵喧哗声,人们用他听不懂的语言七嘴八舌地在讲话。他还来不及顾盼一下,就已经被几个着奇装异服的男人和女人围住。有两只胳膊粗暴地一把将他抱住,同时一把出鞘的尖刀对准了他的喉咙。

“你这埃布利斯的白人奴才!”一个男人以不地道的法语说道,“你谋杀了他,还要抢劫他吗?好在我们把你抓住了。得让你受到惩罚。”

顿时周围的人都拔出了刀。那凶狠狰狞的面孔,朝他怒目而视,带着一副狼要扑羊的表情。

年轻的苏格兰人的勇气和镇静使他摆脱了危险。“我的老爷们,你们是什么意思?”他说道,“如果这人是你们的朋友,那你们要知道,我刚才纯粹是以慈悲为怀把他救下来的,你们最好是想法救活他,而不要错待一个救了他性命的陌生人。”

这时,几个妇女已接过那硬邦邦的躯体,把达威特一直在进行的急救继续做下去。不过,同样没有什么效果。她们只好放弃了徒劳的抢救,用她们东方人的表情尽情地抒发悲痛。妇女们一边呼天喊地,一边扯着她们长长的黑发。男人们则像在撕他们的衣服,往自己头上撒灰。最后他们已完全沉浸于悼念仪式中,而不再注意达威特的存在。根据情况来判断,他们也已相信他是无辜的。本来他最聪明的做法肯定是从这些野蛮人身边走开,让他们自行其是。但他是在临危不惧的教育下长大的,同时也难免感到年轻人那种急切的好奇心的诱惑。

这个男男女女混在一起的奇异的人群,戴着头巾和帽子;这些帽子,总的看来,更像他自己戴的无边帽,而不像普通法国人带的那种法国帽。有几个男人有着鬈曲的黑胡须。他们的脸孔也都差不多黑得像非洲人。一两个像是他们首领的人脖子上耳朵上都带着俗丽的银首饰,披着黄色、红色或淡绿色的肩巾,而腿和胳膊却是裸露着的。这伙人总的说来外表都显得肮脏可怜。达威特看到他们带的武器只有他们刚才用来威胁过他的长刀。但一个样于灵活的年轻人则佩带着一把短弯刀或称摩尔刀。这个年轻人经常把手放在刀柄上,比其余的人更纵情地表达自己的悲拗,在悲恸中还似乎夹杂着复仇的恫吓。

这个哭叫着的乱糟糟的人群与昆丁过去见到过的在外表上迥然不同,他几乎想断言,他们是一伙阿拉伯人,是他听说过或读过的小说中描写过的,专与高贵的骑士和基督教君主作对的“异教鹰犬”。他正想离开这个危险的人群,忽然听见马队奔跑的声音。这伙假想的阿拉伯人刚把同伴的躯体抬在肩上,立刻受到了一队法国骑兵的袭击。

这一突如其来的幽灵般的袭击使得哀悼者的恸哭变成了恐惧的尖叫。他们顿时把尸体扔在地上。周围的人则表现出动作的高度灵巧,有的想往马肚子底下钻,以躲避对准着他们的长矛。长矛手一个个大声喊道:“打倒这些可恶的异教蠢贼——抓住只管杀——把他们都像畜生一样捆起来——像戳狼一样戳死他们!”

喊声自然伴随着相应的暴行。然而逃跑者如此敏捷,而树丛和灌木林又使得地形对骑士不利,结果只有两人被擒。有一个进行了一番抵抗,就是那佩刀的年轻人。昆丁也似乎被命运之神选来作为箭靶子。几个兵一齐动手把他抓住。他们不顾他的抗议,用绳子把他捆绑起来。抓他的人的动作十分熟练和敏捷,说明他们在捕人方面早已不是新手。

昆丁焦急地望着马队的首领,想从他手上获释。当他认出他就是皮埃尔老爷那个两眼朝下的沉默的伴侣时,他真不知该感到高兴还是惊恐。的确,不管那些异乡人犯有什么罪,这位军官都会根据早上的情况,知道他达威特和他们没有任何瓜葛。但更难判断的是,究竟这位阴森可怕的人物是否愿意作出有利于他的裁判,或主动为他作证。同时他也怀疑,是否他应向他直接申诉以改善他的处境。

但容许他犹豫的时间并不多。“特罗瓦—艾歇尔和小安德烈,”那眼朝下望的军官对他两个手下人说道,“这儿几株树正合适。我将教训这些不信上帝,偷鸡摸狗的巫师巫婆:他们竟敢在国王的法律惩罚他们可恶的同伙时破坏国王的法律。孩子们快下马执行任务。”

特罗瓦—艾歇尔和小安德烈立刻从马上跳下来。昆丁看见他们各自在鞍头和鞍尾备有一两卷绳子。他们赶忙把绳子解开。原来每束绳子实际上是一个绞索,套因已调整好,随时可以使用。昆丁看到已经挑选出三根绞索,并意识到他们打算把其中一根套在自己脖子上,顿时感到血液在血管里凉了半截。他向那位军官大声呼吁说,今天早晨他们还见过面,他理应在一个友好的盟国享有自由的苏格兰人应享的权利。他断然否认他认识和他一道被捕的外乡人,也否认原先知道他们干的坏事。

听到达威特呼吁的这位军官在他说话时根本不屑望他一眼,对他攀相识的那些话也不予理睬。有几个农民,也许是想主动作证,也许是由于好奇心的驱使,这时已走了过来。那军官略微转过身来对着其中一两个粗暴地问道:“这年轻人也和流浪汉是一伙吗?”

“先生,是一伙,”一个乡巴伦回答道,“高贵的军法总监,正如我们告诉过阁下的,是他狗胆包大,最先割断索子,把按国王陛下的法律理应处死的这个流氓放下来的。”

“我凭上帝和图尔的圣马丁发誓,在那帮人抢我们田里的庄稼时,他就和他们在一起。”另一个乡巴伦说道。

“爹,你说的不对,”一个小孩说道,“原来的那个异教徒是黑皮肤,而这年轻人是白皮肤。原来那个头上是短的鬈发,而这年轻人是长的金色鬈发。”

“孩子,你说得不错,”那农民说道,“也许你还会说原来那个穿的是绿外套,而这个穿的是灰上衣。但军法总监阁下知道,他们能像换衣服那样更换他们的面貌。所以我还是认为他就是那个人。”

“你们看见他企图救一个被处死的叛徒,于扰国王的司法,这就够了。”那军官说道,“特罗瓦—艾歇尔和小安德烈,快动手。”

“军官老爷,你住手!”那年轻人带着临死前的痛苦叫道,“听我说——你别叫我无辜地死去——我今世的同胞以及来世上帝的正义都将向你讨还杀我的血债。”

“我今世和来世都将为自己的行为负责。”那军官冷冷地说道,一边用左手向行刑者做了个手势。然后他带着邪恶的胜利的微笑用食指指指他那也许是今早被达威特打得受了伤,而用块肩巾吊起来的右臂。

“卑鄙的小人!”昆丁说道,因为那动作使他相信此人之所以如此严厉,完全是出于报私仇的动机,根本不能指望他发善心。

“这可怜的年轻人在说胡话。”那军官说道,“特罗瓦—艾歇尔,在他归西天以前对他说句安慰的话吧。在没有忏悔师在场的时候,你能在这种场合给临刑者带来安慰。你花一分钟时间给他一点心灵上的劝慰,然后马上把他打发掉吧。我得继续去巡视。士兵们,跟我来!”

军法总监在卫队的跟随下骑着马往前走去,只有两三个人留下来帮助行刑。不幸的年轻人向他投去一个绝望的黯淡的目光,仿佛在那远去的马蹄声中听到他得救的最后希望已经消失。他痛



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