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Chapter 10 The Sentinel

Where should this music be? i' the air or the earth?

THE TEMPEST

I was all ear, And took in strains that might create a soul Under the ribs of death.

COMUS

Quentin had hardly reached his little cabin, in order to make some necessary changes in his dress, when his worthy relation required to know the full particulars of all that had befallen him at the hunt.

The youth, who could not help thinking that his uncle's hand was probably more powerful than his understanding, took care, in his reply, to leave the King in full possession of the victory which he had seemed desirous to appropriate. Le Balafre's reply was a boast of how much better he himself would have behaved in the like circumstances, and it was mixed with a gentle censure of his nephew's slackness in not making in to the King's assistance, when he might be in imminent peril. The youth had prudence, in answer, to abstain from all farther indication of his own conduct, except that, according to the rules of woodcraft, he held it ungentle to interfere with the game attacked by another hunter, unless he was specially called upon for his assistance. The discussion was scarcely ended, when occasion was afforded Quentin to congratulate himself for observing some reserve towards his kinsman. A low tap at the door announced a visitor -- it was presently opened, and Oliver Dain, or Mauvais, or Diable, for by all these names he was known, entered the apartment.

This able but most unprincipled man has been already described in so far as his exterior is concerned. The aptest resemblance of his motions and manners might perhaps be to those of a domestic cat, which, while couching in seeming slumber, or gliding through the apartment with slow, stealthy, and timid steps, is now engaged in watching the hole of some unfortunate mouse, now in rubbing herself with apparent confidence and fondness against those by whom she desires to be caressed, and, presently after, is flying upon her prey, or scratching, perhaps, the very object of her former cajolements.

He entered with stooping shoulders, a humble and modest look, and threw such a degree of civility into his address to the Seignior Balafre, that no one who saw the interview could have avoided concluding that he came to ask a boon of the Scottish Archer. He congratulated Lesly on the excellent conduct of his young kinsman in the chase that day, which, he observed, had attracted the King's particular attention. He here paused for a reply; and, with his eyes fixed on the ground, save just when once or twice they stole upwards to take a side glance at Quentin, he heard Balafre observe that his Majesty had been unlucky in not having himself by his side instead of his nephew, as he would questionless have made in, and speared the brute, a matter which he understood Quentin had left upon his Majesty's royal hands, so far as he could learn the story.

"But it will be a lesson to his Majesty," he said, "while he lives, to mount a man of my inches on a better horse; for how could my great hill of a Flemish dray horse keep up with his Majesty's Norman runner? I am sure I spurred till his sides were furrowed. It is ill considered, Master Oliver, and you must represent it to his Majesty."

Master Oliver only replied to this observation by turning towards the bold, bluff speaker one of those slow, dubious glances which, accompanied by a slight motion of the hand, and a gentle depression of the head to one side, may be either interpreted as a mute assent to what is said, or as a cautious deprecation of farther prosecution of the subject. It was a keener, more scrutinizing glance, which he bent on the youth, as he said, with an ambiguous smile, "So, young man, is it the wont of Scotland to suffer your Princes to be endangered for the lack of aid in such emergencies as this of today?"

"It is our custom," answered Quentin, determined to throw no farther light on the subject, "not to encumber them with assistance in honourable pastimes, when they can aid themselves without it. We hold that a Prince in a hunting field must take his chance with others, and that he comes there for the very purpose. What were woodcraft without fatigue and without danger?"

"You hear the silly boy," said his uncle; "that is always the way with him; he hath an answer or a reason ready to be rendered to every one. I wonder whence he hath caught the gift; I never could give a reason for anything I have ever done in my life, except for eating when I was a-hungry, calling the muster roll, and such points of duty as the like."

"And pray, worthy Seignior," said the royal tonsor, looking at him from under his eyelids, "what might your reason be for calling the muster roll on such occasions?"

"Because the Captain commanded me," said Le Balafre. "By Saint Giles (patron saint of lepers, beggars, and cripples. He has been especially venerated in England and Scotland), I know no other reason! If he had commanded Tyrie or Cunningham, they must have done the same."

"A most military final cause!" said Oliver. "But, Seignior Le Balafre, you will be glad, doubtless, to learn that his Majesty is so far from being displeased with your nephew's conduct, that he hath selected him to execute a piece of duty this afternoon."

"Selected him?" said Balafre in great surprise -- "selected me, I suppose you mean?"

"I mean precisely as I speak," replied the barber, in a mild but decided tone; "the King hath a commission with which to intrust your nephew."

"Why, wherefore, and for what reason?" said Balafre. "Why doth he choose the boy, and not me?"

"I can go no farther back than your own ultimate cause, Seignior Le Balafre, such are his Majesty's commands. But," said he, "if I might use the presumption to form a conjecture, it may be his Majesty hath work to do, fitter for a youth like your nephew, than for an experienced warrior like yourself, Seignior Balafre. -- Wherefore, young gentleman, get your weapons and follow me. Bring with you a harquebuss, for you are to mount sentinel."

"Sentinel!" said the uncle. "Are you sure you are right, Master Oliver? The inner guards of the Castle have ever been mounted by those only who have (like me) served twelve years in our honourable body."

"I am quite certain of his Majesty's pleasure," said Oliver, "and must no longer delay executing it."

"But," said Le Balafre, "my nephew is not even a free Archer, being only an Esquire, serving under my lance."

"Pardon me," answered Oliver; "the King sent for the register not half an hour since, and enrolled him among the Guard. Have the goodness to assist to put your nephew in order for the service."

Balafre, who had no ill nature, or even much jealousy in his disposition, hastily set about adjusting his nephew's dress, and giving him directions for his conduct under arms, but was unable to refrain from larding them with interjections of surprise at such luck's chancing to fall upon the young man so early.

It had never taken place before in the Scottish Guard, he said, not even in his own instance. But doubtless his service must be to mount guard over the popinjays and Indian peacocks, which the Venetian ambassador had lately presented to the King -- it could be nothing else; and such duty being only fit for a beardless boy (here he twirled his own grim mustaches), he was glad the lot had fallen on his fair nephew.

Quick and sharp of wit, as well as ardent in fancy, Quentin saw visions of higher importance in this early summons to the royal presence, and his heart beat high at the anticipation of rising into speedy distinction. He determined carefully to watch the manners and language of his conductor, which he suspected must, in some cases at least, be interpreted by contraries, as soothsayers are said to discover the interpretation of dreams. He could not but hug himself on having observed strict secrecy on the events of the chase, and then formed a resolution, which, for so young a person, had much prudence in it, that while he breathed the air of this secluded and mysterious Court, he would keep his thoughts locked in his bosom, and his tongue under the most careful regulation.

His equipment was soon complete, and, with his harquebuss on his shoulder (for though they retained the name of Archers, the Scottish Guard very early substituted firearms for the long bow, in the use of which their nation never excelled), he followed Master Oliver out of the barrack.

His uncle looked long after him, with a countenance in which wonder was blended with curiosity; and though neither envy nor the malignant feelings which it engenders entered into his honest meditations, there was yet a sense of wounded or diminished self importance, which mingled with the pleasure excited by his nephew's favourable commencement of service.

He shook his head gravely, opened a privy cupboard, took out a large bottrine of stout old wine, shook it to examine how low the contents had ebbed, filled and drank a hearty cup; then took his seat, half reclining, on the great oaken settle; and having once again slowly shaken his head, received so much apparent benefit from the oscillation, that, like the toy called a mandarin, he continued the motion until he dropped into a slumber, from which he was first roused by the signal to dinner.

When Quentin Durward left his uncle to these sublime meditations, he followed his conductor, Master Oliver, who, without crossing any of the principal courts, led him, partly through private passages exposed to the open air, but chiefly through a maze of stairs, vaults, and galleries, communicating with each other by secret doors and at unexpected points, into a large and spacious latticed gallery, which, from its breadth, might have been almost termed a hall, hung with tapestry more ancient than beautiful, and with a very few of the hard, cold, ghastly looking pictures, belonging to the first dawn of the arts which preceded their splendid sunrise. These were designed to represent the Paladins of Charlemagne, who made such a distinguished figure in the romantic history of France; and as this gigantic form of the celebrated Orlando constituted the most prominent figure, the apartment acquired from him the title of Rolando's Hall, or Roland's Gallery.

(Charlemagne . . . was accounted a saint during the dark ages: and Louis XI, as one of his successors, honoured his shrine with peculiar observance. S.)

(Orlando: also called Roland. His history may be read in the Chanson de Roland.)

"You will keep watch here," said Oliver, in a low whisper, as if the hard delineations of monarchs and warriors around could have been offended at the elevation of his voice, or as if he had feared to awaken the echoes that lurked among the groined vaults and Gothic drop work on the ceiling of this huge and dreary apartment.

"What are the orders and signs of my watch?" answered Quentin, in the same suppressed tone.

"Is your harquebuss loaded?" replied Oliver, without answering his query.

"That," answered Quentin, "is soon done;" and proceeded to charge his weapon, and to light the slow match (by which when necessary it was discharged) at the embers of a wood fire, which was expiring in the huge hall chimney -- a chimney itself so large that it might have been called a Gothic closet or chapel appertaining to the hall.

When this was performed, Oliver told him that he was ignorant of one of the high privileges of his own corps, which only received orders from the King in person, or the High Constable of France, in lieu of their own officers. "You are placed here by his Majesty's command, young man," added Oliver, "and you will not be long here without knowing wherefore you are summoned. Meantime your walk extends along this gallery. You are permitted to stand still while you list, but on no account to sit down, or quit your weapon. You are not to sing aloud, or whistle, upon any account; but you may, if you list, mutter some of the church's prayers, or what else you list that has no offence in it, in a low voice. Farewell, and keep good watch."

"Good watch!" thought the youthful soldier as his guide stole away from him with that noiseless gliding step which was peculiar to him, and vanished through a side door behind the arras.

"Good watch! but upon whom and against whom? -- for what, save bats or rats, are there here to contend with, unless these grim old representatives of humanity should start into life for the disturbance of my guard? Well, it is my duty, I suppose, and I must perform it."

With the vigorous purpose of discharging his duty, even to the very rigour, he tried to while away the time with some of the pious hymns which he had learned in the convent in which he had found shelter after the death of his father -- allowing in his own mind, that, but for the change of a novice's frock for the rich military dress which he now wore, his soldierly walk in the royal gallery of France resembled greatly those of which he had tired excessively in the cloistered seclusion of Aberbrothick.

Presently, as if to convince himself he now belonged not to the cell but to the world, he chanted to himself, but in such tone as not to exceed the license given to him, some of the ancient rude ballads which the old family harper had taught him, of the defeat of the Danes at Aberlemno and Forres, the murder of King Duffus at Forfar, and other pithy sonnets and lays which appertained to the history of his distant native country, and particularly of the district to which he belonged. This wore away a considerable space of time, and it was now more than two hours past noon when Quentin was reminded by his appetite that the good fathers of Aberbrothick, however strict in demanding his attendance upon the hours of devotion, were no less punctual in summoning him to those of refection; whereas here, in the interior of a royal palace, after a morning spent in exercise, and a noon exhausted in duty, no man seemed to consider it as a natural consequence that he must be impatient for his dinner.

There are, however, charms in sweet sounds which can lull to rest even the natural feelings of impatience by which Quentin was now visited. At the opposite extremities of the long hall or gallery were two large doors, ornamented with heavy architraves, probably opening into different suites of apartments, to which the gallery served as a medium of mutual communication. As the sentinel directed his solitary walk betwixt these two entrances, which formed the boundary of his duty, he was startled by a strain of music which was suddenly waked near one of those doors, and which, at least in his imagination, was a combination of the same lute and voice by which he had been enchanted on the preceding day. All the dreams of yesterday morning, so much weakened by the agitating circumstances which he had since undergone, again arose more vivid from their slumber, and, planted on the spot where his ear could most conveniently, drink in the sounds, Quentin remained, with his harquebuss shouldered, his mouth half open, ear, eye, and soul directed to the spot, rather the picture of a sentinel than a living form, -- without any other idea than that of catching, if possible, each passing sound of the dulcet melody.

These delightful sounds were but partially heard -- they languished, lingered, ceased entirely, and were from time to time renewed after uncertain intervals. But, besides that music, like beauty, is often most delightful, or at least most interesting, to the imagination when its charms are but partially displayed and the imagination is left to fill up what is from distance but imperfectly detailed, Quentin had matter enough to fill up his reverie during the intervals of fascination. He could not doubt, from the report of his uncle's comrades and the scene which had passed in the presence chamber that morning, that the siren who thus delighted his ears, was not, as he had profanely supposed, the daughter or kinswoman of a base Cabaretier (inn keeper), but the same disguised and distressed Countess for whose cause kings and princes were now about to buckle on armour, and put lance in rest. A hundred wild dreams, such as romantic and adventurous youth readily nourished in a romantic and adventurous age, chased from his eyes the bodily presentiment of the actual scene, and substituted their own bewildering delusions, when at once, and rudely, they were banished by a rough grasp laid upon his weapon, and a harsh voice which exclaimed, close to his ear, "Ha! Pasques dieu, Sir Squire, methinks you keep sleepy ward."

The voice was the tuneless, yet impressive and ironical tone of Maitre Pierre, and Quentin, suddenly recalled to himself, saw, with shame and fear, that he had, in his reverie, permitted Louis himself -- entering probably by some secret door, and gliding along by the wall, or behind the tapestry -- to approach him so nearly as almost to master his weapon.

The first impulse of his surprise was to free his harquebuss by a violent exertion, which made the King stagger backward into the hall. His next apprehension was that, in obeying the animal instinct, as it may be termed, which prompts a brave man to resist an attempt to disarm him, he had aggravated, by a personal struggle with the King, the displeasure produced by the negligence with which he had performed his duty upon guard; and, under this impression, he recovered his harquebuss without almost knowing what he did, and, having again shouldered it, stood motionless before the Monarch, whom he had reason to conclude he had mortally offended.

Louis, whose tyrannical disposition was less founded on natural ferocity or cruelty of temper, than on cold blooded policy and jealous suspicion, had, nevertheless, a share of that caustic severity which would have made him a despot in private conversation, and he always seemed to enjoy the pain which he inflicted on occasions like the present. But he did not push his triumph far, and contented himself with saying, "Thy service of the morning hath already overpaid some negligence in so young a soldier. -- Hast thou dined?"

Quentin, who rather looked to be sent to the Provost Marshal than greeted with such a compliment, answered humbly in the negative.

"Poor lad," said Louis, in a softer tone than he usually spoke in, "hunger hath made him drowsy. -- I know thine appetite is a wolf," he continued; "and I will save thee from one wild beast as thou didst me from another; thou hast been prudent too in that matter, and I thank thee for it. -- Canst thou yet hold out an hour without food?"

"Four-and-twenty, Sire," replied Durward, "or I were no true Scot."

"I would not for another kingdom be the pasty which should encounter thee after such a vigil," said the King; "but the question now is, not of thy dinner, but of my own. I admit to my table this day, and in strict privacy, the Cardinal Balue and this Burgundian -- this Count de Crevecoeur -- and something may chance; the devil is most busy when foes meet on terms of truce."

He stopped, and remained silent, with a deep and gloomy look. As the King was in no haste to proceed, Quentin at length ventured to ask what his duty was to be in these circumstances.

"To keep watch at the beauffet, with thy loaded weapon," said Louis; "and if there is treason, to shoot the traitor."

"Treason, Sire! and in this guarded castle!" exclaimed Durward.

"You think it impossible," said the King, not offended, it would seem, by his frankness; "but our history has shown that treason can creep into an auger hole. -- Treason excluded by guards! Oh, thou silly boy! -- quis custodiat ipsos custodes -- who shall exclude the treason of those very warders?"

"Their Scottish honour," answered Durward, boldly.

"True: most right: -- thou pleasest me," said the King, cheerfully; "the Scottish honour was ever true, and I trust it accordingly. But treason!" -- here he relapsed into his former gloomy mood, and traversed the apartment with unequal steps -- "she sits at our feasts, she sparkles in our bowls, she wears the beard of our counsellors, the smiles of our courtiers, the crazy laugh of our jesters -- above all, she lies hid under the friendly air of a reconciled enemy. Louis of Orleans trusted John of Burgundy -- he was murdered in the Rue Barbette. John of Burgundy trusted the faction of Orleans -- he was murdered on the bridge of Montereau. -- I will trust no one -- no one. Hark ye; I will keep my eye on that insolent Count; ay, and on the churchman too, whom I hold not too faithful. When I say, Ecosse, en avant (Forward, Scotland), shoot Crevecoeur dead on the spot."

"It is my duty," said Quentin, "your Majesty's life being endangered."

"Certainly -- I mean it no otherwise," said the King. "What should I get by slaying this insolent soldier? -- Were it the Constable Saint Paul indeed" -- here he paused, as if he thought he had said a word too much, but resumed, laughing, "our brother-in-law, James of Scotland -- your own James, Quentin -- poniarded the Douglas when on a hospitable visit, within his own royal castle of Skirling."

(Douglas: the allusion in the text is to the fate of James, Earl of Douglas, who, upon the faith of a safe conduct, after several acts of rebellion, visited James the Second in the Castle of Stirling. The king stabbed Douglas, who received his mortal wound from Sir Patrick Grey, one of the king's attendants.)

"Of Stirling," said Quentin, "and so please your Highness. -- It was a deed of which came little good."

"Stirling call you the castle?" said the King, overlooking the latter part of Quentin's speech. "Well, let it be Stirling -- the name is nothing to the purpose. But I meditate no injury to these men -- none. -- It would serve me nothing. They may not purpose equally fair by me -- I rely on thy harquebuss."

"I shall be prompt at the signal," said Quentin; "but yet"

"You hesitate," said the King. "Speak out -- I give thee full leave. From such as thou art, hints may be caught that are right valuable."

"I would only presume to say," replied Quentin, "that your Majesty having occasion to distrust this Burgundian, I marvel that you suffer him to approach so near your person, and that in privacy."

"Oh, content you, Sir Squire," said the King. "There are some dangers which when they are braved, disappear, and which yet, when there is an obvious and apparent dread of them displayed, become certain and inevitable. When I walk boldly up to a surly mastiff, and caress him, it is ten to one I soothe him to good temper; if I show fear of him, he flies on me and rends me. I will be thus far frank with thee. -- It concerns me nearly that this man returns not to his headlong master in a resentful humour. I run my risk, therefore. I have never shunned to expose my life for the weal of my kingdom. Follow me."

Louis led his young Life Guardsman, for whom he seemed to have taken a special favour, through the side door by which he had himself entered, saying, as he showed it him, "He who would thrive at Court must know the private wickets and concealed staircases -- ay, and the traps and pitfalls of the palace, as well as the principal entrances, folding doors, and portals."

After several turns and passages, the King entered a small vaulted room, where a table was prepared for dinner with three covers. The whole furniture and arrangements of the room were plain almost to meanness. A beauffet, or folding and movable cupboard, held a few pieces of gold and silver plate, and was the only article in the chamber which had in the slightest degree the appearance of royalty. Behind this cupboard, and completely hidden by it, was the post which Louis assigned to Quentin Durward; and after having ascertained, by going to different parts of the room, that he was invisible from all quarters, he gave him his last charge: "Remember the word, Posse, en avant; and so soon as ever I utter these sounds, throw down the screen -- spare not for cup or goblet, and be sure thou take good aim at Crevecoeur -- if thy piece fail, cling to him, and use thy knife -- Oliver and I can deal with the Cardinal."

Having thus spoken, he whistled aloud, and summoned into the apartment Oliver, who was premier valet of the chamber as well as barber, and who, in fact, performed all offices immediately connected with the King's person, and who now appeared, attended by two old men, who were the only assistants or waiters at the royal table. So soon as the King had taken his place, the visitors were admitted; and Quentin, though himself unseen, was so situated as to remark all the particulars of the interview.

The King welcomed his visitors with a degree of cordiality which Quentin had the utmost difficulty to reconcile with the directions which he had previously received, and the purpose for which he stood behind the beauffet with his deadly weapon in readiness. Not only did Louis appear totally free from apprehension of any kind, but one would have supposed that those visitors whom he had done the high honour to admit to his table were the very persons in whom he could most unreservedly confide, and whom he was, most willing to honour. Nothing could be more dignified, and, at the same time, more courteous than his demeanour. While all around him, including even his own dress, was far beneath the splendour which the petty princes of the kingdom displayed in their festivities, his own language and manners were those of a mighty Sovereign in his most condescending mood. Quentin was tempted to suppose, either that the whole of his previous conversation with Louis had been a dream, or that the dutiful demeanour of the Cardinal, and the frank, open, and gallant bearing of the Burgundian noble had entirely erased the King's suspicion.

But whilst the guests, in obedience to the King, were in the act of placing themselves at the table, his Majesty darted one keen glance on them, and then instantly directed his look to Quentin's post. This was done in an instant; but the glance conveyed so much doubt and hatred towards his guests, such a peremptory injunction on Quentin to be watchful in attendance, and prompt in execution, that no room was left for doubting that the sentiments of Louis continued unaltered, and his apprehensions unabated. He was, therefore, more than ever astonished at the deep veil under which that Monarch was able to conceal the movements of his jealous disposition.

Appearing to have entirely forgotten the language which Crevecoeur had held towards him in the face of his Court, the King conversed with him of old times, of events which had occurred during his own exile in the territories of Burgundy, and inquired respecting all the nobles with whom he had been then familiar, as if that period had indeed been the happiest of his life, and as if he retained towards all who had contributed to soften the term of his exile, the kindest and most grateful sentiments.

"To an ambassador of another nation," he said, "I would have thrown something of state into our reception; but to an old friend, who often shared my board at the Castle of Genappes (during his residence in Burgundy, in his father's lifetime, Genappes was the usual abode of Louis. . . . S.), I wished to show myself, as I love best to live, old Louis of Valois, as simple and plain as any of his Parisian badauds (idlers). But I directed them to make some better cheer than ordinary for you, Sir Count, for I know your Burgundian proverb, 'Mieux vault bon repas que bel habit' (a good meal is better than a beautiful coat. (Present spelling is vaut.)); and therefore I bid them have some care of our table. For our wine, you know well it is the subject of an old emulation betwixt France and Burgundy, which we will presently reconcile; for I will drink to you in Burgundy, and you, Sir Count, shall pledge me in Champagne. -- Here, Oliver, let me have a cup of Vin d'Auxerre;" and he hummed gaily a song then well known,

"Auxerre est le boisson des Rois."

(Auxerre wine is the beverage of kings)

"Here, Sir Count, I drink to the health of the noble Duke of Burgundy, our kind and loving cousin. -- Oliver, replenish yon golden cup with Vin de Rheims, and give it to the Count on your knee -- he represents our loving brother. -- My Lord Cardinal, we will ourself fill your cup."

"You have already, Sire, even to overflowing," said the Cardinal, with the lowly mien of a favourite towards an indulgent master.

"Because we know that your Eminence can carry it with a steady hand," said Louis. "But which side do you espouse in the great controversy, Sillery or Auxerre -- France or Burgundy?"

"I will stand neutral, Sire," said the Cardinal, "and replenish my cup with Auvernat."

"A neutral has a perilous part to sustain," said the King; but as he observed the Cardinal colour somewhat, he glided from the subject and added, "But you prefer the Auvernat, because it is so noble a wine it endures not water. -- You, Sir Count, hesitate to empty your cup. I trust you have found no national bitterness at the bottom."

"I would, Sire," said the Count de Crevecoeur, "that all national quarrels could be as pleasantly ended as the rivalry betwixt our vineyards."

"With time, Sir Count," answered the King, "with time -- such time as you have taken to your draught of Champagne. -- And now that it is finished, favour me by putting the goblet in your bosom, and keeping it as a pledge of our regard. It is not to every one that we would part with it. It belonged of yore to that terror of France, Henry V of England, and was taken when Rouen was reduced, and those islanders expelled from Normandy by the joint arms of France and Burgundy. It cannot be better bestowed than on a noble and valiant Burgundian, who well knows that on the union of these two nations depends the continuance of the freedom of the continent from the English yoke."

The Count made a suitable answer, and Louis gave unrestrained way to the satirical gaiety of disposition which sometimes enlivened the darker shades of his character. Leading, of course, the conversation, his remarks, always shrewd and caustic, and often actually witty, were seldom good natured, and the anecdotes with which he illustrated them were often more humorous than delicate; but in no one word, syllable, or letter did he betray the state of mind of one who, apprehensive of assassination, hath in his apartment an armed soldier with his piece loaded, in order to prevent or anticipate an attack on his person.

The Count de Crevecoeur gave frankly in to the King's humour (the nature of Louis XI's coarse humour may be guessed at by those who have perused the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, which are grosser than most similar collections of the age. S.); while the smooth churchman laughed at every jest and enhanced every ludicrous idea, without exhibiting any shame at expressions which made the rustic young Scot blush even in his place of concealment. In about an hour and a half the tables were drawn; and the King, taking courteous leave of his guests, gave the signal that it was his desire to be alone.

So soon as all, even Oliver, had retired, he called Quentin from his place of concealment; but with a voice so faint, that the youth could scarcely believe it to be the same which had so lately given animation to the jest, and zest to the tale. As he approached, he saw an equal change in his countenance. The light of assumed vivacity had left the King's eyes, the smile had deserted his face, and he exhibited all the fatigue of a celebrated actor, when he has finished the exhausting representation of some favourite character, in which, while upon the stage, he had displayed the utmost vivacity.

"Thy watch is not yet over," said he to Quentin; "refresh thyself for an instant -- yonder table affords the means; I will then instruct thee in thy farther duty. Meanwhile it is ill talking between a full man and a fasting."

He threw himself back on his seat, covered his brow with his hand, and was silent.

这音乐在哪儿呢?在空中,还是在地上?

《暴风雨》

我竖起耳朵聆听,

听那能在死神的肋骨下创造出灵魂的美妙的旋律。

《科莫斯》

昆丁刚走进他的小屋更换衣服,他那可敬的舅父便走来打听他打野猪时发生的详细情况。

这年轻人十分肯定他舅父的手要比他的头脑更胜一筹,所以他在回答时,注意让国王占有他想要据为己有的胜利。巴拉弗雷的回答则是吹嘘他在类似情况下会表现得多么出色,从而含有对外甥行动怠慢的温和责备:责怪他在国王临危时没有及时给他援助。年轻人在回答时小心地回避为自己的表现作进一步辩解:只是说根据狩猎规则,除非有人特意请求帮助,就不宜干预别的猎手打猎,否则会被认为很不高尚。这一讨论还没结束,昆丁便有充分理由对自己在和舅父谈话时的含蓄和保留而感到庆幸。他听到一个轻轻的敲门声,说明有客人到来。门一开,就看见奥利弗·丹(或称坏蛋奥利弗,魔鬼奥利弗,反正这些都是他的别名)走了进来。

对这位能干而最无原则的人,我们已就其外貌进行过一番描述。但就其动作和态度来说,也许最恰当的比喻莫过于一只假寐的或胆怯地悄悄溜过房间的家猫:它时而注视着老鼠洞,时而像是在亲热和喜悦地擦着它希望给它抚摸的某个人的身体,然而转眼之间,突然向它要逮的老鼠扑过去,或用爪子抓它原先讨好卖乖的对象。

他垂着双肩,带着一副卑躬的神情走了进来。他向巴拉弗雷讲话时表现得如此谦恭有礼,看见这一会见的人都难免会推测,他是特意来向这位苏格兰卫士求情的。他首先给莱斯利道喜,说他年轻的外甥今天打猎时表现得非常出色。据他看,已获得了国王的青睐。说到这里他停了一下,等待对方的回答。他把眼睛盯在地上,只是有一两次抬起眼皮望望,想从侧面偷看昆丁一眼。巴拉弗雷说道:“国王陛下真不走运,当时留在他身边的可惜不是我而是我外甥。要是我在他身边,我肯定会及时把野猪戳死掉。但据我所知的事情经过,我认为,昆丁是把这事让陛下承当了。不过,这对陛下也是个教训,”他说道,“请他永远记住,以后得给我这种个子的人一匹好马骑。否则,像我骑的那种弗兰德棕色马如何跟得上陛下骑的诺曼底产的快马呢?我敢说,我用脚楼不停地赶马,把马的两侧都刺伤了。奥利弗老爷,这可是考虑欠周的。你得把这事向陛下说说。”

奥利弗老爷对这番话的回答只是朝这粗率大胆的武士半信半疑地慢慢望了一眼,用手略微摆动了一下,并把头稍稍偏向一边。这一姿势既可以解释为他默然同意他讲的话,又可以解释为小心地示意他不宜把这话题继续下去。他投向年轻人身上的目光则显得更精明,更犀利。他带着暧昧的微笑说道:“年轻人,难道在今天这种紧急情况下让你的君主得不到援助而遭受危险,是你们苏格兰人的习惯做法?”

“我们的习惯是,”昆丁回答说,决心对这事不再多啰嗦,“在人们进行高尚娱乐时,只要他们自己能对付,我们就不必用我们的帮助来麻烦他们。我们认为,在打猎场上君主也得和别人一样碰碰他们的运气,而他们去的目的也正是为了这个。不劳累无危险的打猎算什么打猎?”

“你听这傻小子说的,”他舅父讲道,“他就是这么个脾气。对谁他都有一个现成的回答,或现成的理由。我真奇怪他是从哪儿得来的这个才能。除开饿了吃饭、上操点名和诸如此类的职责规定以外,我就找不出什么理由来为我一生干过的任何事情进行辩解。”

“尊敬的先生,”国王这位理发师从眼皮底下望着他说道,“在这种场合下,您点名能有什么理由呢?”

“因为队长命令我这样做,”巴拉弗雷说道,“圣贾尔斯在上,我不知道有别的理由!如果他命令蒂里和坎宁安,他们也会照办。”

“这真是一个最有军人气派的、压倒一切的理由!”奥利弗说道,“不过,巴拉弗雷先生,当您知道,国王对您外甥的表现并非不满,您肯定会很高兴。他已选定他今天下午去执行一项任务。”

“选定他?”巴拉弗雷十分惊奇地说道,“我想您的意思是选定我吧?”

“我说的正是我要表达的意思,”理发师以一种温和而坚定的语气回答道,“国王有件事要委托您外甥办。”

“为了什么?”巴拉弗雷说道,“他干吗挑选这个娃娃而不挑选我?”

“我也无法比您自己提出的压倒一切的理由走得更远。巴拉弗雷先生,这是陛下的命令。不过,”他又说道,“如果我可以妄自揣测的话,可能是陛下有项工作更适合您外甥这样的年轻人,而不适合您这样一个老练的武士。年轻的绅士,拿好你的武器跟我走吧。记住带支火绳枪,因为你得站岗放哨。”

“放哨!”当舅父的说道,一奥利弗老爷,您能肯定您没说错吗?要知道,只有在我们荣誉的卫队服役过十二年的(像我这样的)人才有资格去城堡站内岗。”

“陛下的意愿我十分清楚,”奥利弗说道,“不得再有延误。”

“不过,”巴拉弗雷说道,一我外甥还只是我门下的一个扈从,连一名自由射手都算不上。”

“对不起,”奥利弗回答道,“国王在不到半小时以前已派人要走了名册,把他正式编人了卫队。请帮忙给您外甥收拾收拾,好让他去执行勤务。”

巴拉弗雷天性善良,也没有多少嫉妒心。他赶忙着手整理外甥的衣服,给他讲些执勤应注意的事项;与此同时,他对这年轻人这么早就碰到好运,不由得发出一声声惊叹。

“在苏格兰卫队里这种事可是破天荒头一遭,’他说道,“从没有过这种先例。他的任务肯定是去看守威尼斯大使最近献给国王的鹦鹉和印度孔雀——不可能是别的。既然这种任务只适于没胡子的小孩,”(这时他捻捻他那浓密的胡须)“我自然很高兴看到这事落在我的好外甥头上。”

机智敏锐、富于幻想的昆丁由于这么快便应召去国王跟前服役,因而看到了自己迅速得到晋升的前景。想到将很快出人头地,他不禁高兴得心跳起来。他决心仔细观察带领他的这个人的态度和谈吐,因为他觉得,至少在某些情况下,必须像算命的据说通过反面来解释睡梦一样,也通过反面来解释这人的表现。不过,他不能不庆幸自己在猎野猪的事情上严守了秘密。他下了一个决心,这对年轻人来说颇为审慎:只要他还继续呆在这个神秘的幽宫,他一定丝毫不暴露自己内心的思想,严严地封住自己的口舌。

很快他便装备齐全,肩上扛着火统枪(尽管苏格兰卫队还保留着射手的名称,但他们很早就用火枪来代替他们民族从不擅长使用的长弓),跟随奥利弗师傅离开了营房。

他舅父的脸上流露出一种又惊异又好奇的神情,久久地望着他远去的背影。虽然在他这老实人的思想当中既无忌妒的成分,也未混杂忌妒所产生的恶念,然而他还是产生了一种自尊心受到伤害或贬抑的感觉,而这种感觉又和眼见外甥旗开得胜所引起的愉快心情掺和在一起。

他严肃地摇摇头,打开一个私厨取出一大瓶陈年老酒,摇摇瓶子,看里面装的酒还剩多少,然后斟满酒杯一饮而尽。这时他半靠着地坐在一张长橡木椅上,再一次缓缓地摇着头。他从这摇头晃脑的动作中领受了许多显而易见的妙处,就像人们称之为“达官贵人”的玩具那样,继续摇晃着,最后沉沉入睡,直到开饭的号音把他吵醒。

昆丁·达威特留下他舅父独自进行他的思索,跟随他的引路人奥利弗师傅径自往皇宫走去。奥利弗领着他走的不是主要的庭院,而是穿过迷宫般的楼梯、穹形地下室,以及在意想不到的地方以暗门相通的长廊,最后来到一个大而宽敞的带格子富的长廊。从宽度看来,这长廊几乎称得上一个大厅。壁上垂着的挂毯古色古香,但并不见得十分美丽。此外还挂着在光辉的文艺复兴时代之前的启蒙时期创作的几幅生硬、冷漠而可怕的肖像。这些像画的都是在法国富于浪漫色彩的历史上曾经显赫一时的查理曼大帝的骑士。由于著名的奥尔兰多以其庞大的身躯成为骑士中最突出的人物,因此这间房子便以他命名,称为“罗兰厅”或“罗兰廊”。

“你将在这里站岗。”奥利弗低声说道,仿佛担心一提高嗓门就会冒犯周围的君王和武士们的威严,或唤起在这可怕的大房间的穹拱和天花板的哥德式垂饰之间潜伏着的回声。

“我守卫要记住什么口令?”昆丁同样压低了嗓门问道。

“你的火统枪上膛了吗?”奥利弗反问道,而没有回答他的询问。

“要上膛很快。”昆丁回答道,说着便着手给枪装火药,并在一个大烟囱里行将熄灭的柴火余烬上点燃慢速引线(必要时就靠这引线来开火)。顺便说说,这室内的烟囱真是大得出奇,可以称它为“哥德式暗室”或附属于大厅的小教堂。

这事办完以后,奥利弗便对他说,他对苏格兰卫队至高无上的特权真是毫无所知。事实上,卫队人员只由国王本人或由法国总督直接下达命令。“年轻人,是国王陛下亲自下命令派你在这儿站岗的,”奥利弗补充说道,“你很快就会知道召你来是什么原因。你巡逻的范围就是这个大厅的两侧。如果你高兴,你可以站着,但决不许你坐着或离开你的武器。你绝不可以大声唱,或吹口哨。但假如你高兴,你可以轻声地哼点教堂的祷告或别的无伤大雅的东西。再见,祝你站好这班岗。”

“站好这班岗!”年轻人想到。这时那引路人已通过他特有的悄然无声的滑行般的动作从他身旁溜走,消失在那挂毡后面的边门里。“站好这班岗!警戒的对象是谁?除了蝙蝠和老鼠外,还有什么可值得注意的?难道这些古老而严峻的人类代表还会还魂来打扰我站岗吗?得了,这是我的职责,我必须履行我的职责。”

他决心最严格地履行他的职责,但也想哼哼在他父亲死后他躲藏在寺院里时学会的几首圣歌来消磨消磨时光。他在内心深处不得不承认,除了他那时穿的新僧袍换成了他现在穿的这身华丽的军装以外,此刻他在法国皇宫穿廊里作为哨兵的来回走动与他在孤独的阿伯布罗迪克寺院中极为厌倦的来回散步十分相似。

仿佛为了证明自己已经不是寺院僧人而是个凡夫俗子,他用不超过许可范围的声调哼起了年老的家庭坚琴师教给他的古老而粗算的民谣;这些民谣讲的是丹麦人在阿伯列姆诺和福雷斯遭到的失败,以及杜弗斯国王在福法尔遇难的传说。此外他还哼了另外几首歌颂他遥远的祖国的历史,特别是他家乡的诗歌。这样哼着,不觉已消磨了好长一段时间。眼下已是下午两点多,昆丁感到肚子很饿。想起过去在阿伯布罗迪克寺院,神父们尽管严格要求他参加祷告,但也准时地召呼他去进餐;然而在这个皇宫里却谁也没有想到,在操练了一早晨,站岗了一下午之后,裹腹充饥对他来说自然是当务之急。

然而,甜美的声音往往具有一种魅力,甚至能平息昆丁此刻感到的不耐烦情绪。在这长廊的两端各有一个装有厚而重的门框的大门,也许是通向以长廊相通的两套房间。当放哨的昆丁在他岗哨范围以内的两道门之间来回走动时,从一道门里突然传出一阵乐声,使他为之一怔,因为至少就他的想象来说,它和那前一天使他如痴如醉的音乐完全是出自同一个诗琴和同一个歌喉。虽然经历过的一系列惊心动魄的事情已大大冲淡了昨天早晨的梦幻,但此刻它却带着更强的生命力从沉睡中苏醒过来。昆丁像生了根似的站在耳朵最容易倾听这乐声的地方,肩上扛着火统枪,半张着嘴,眼耳和心灵都全神贯注地指向奏乐的地方,看来更像一尊哨兵的塑像,而不像一个活的哨兵,因为他惟一的想法就是尽可能抓住那美妙旋律的每个音符!

然而他也不过是部分地听到这悦耳的音乐——乐声低吟回旋,以至完全中止,但经过不确定的间歇之后又蓦然响起。音乐也像美貌一样,正是在“若隐若现”间显示其魅力,而让想象填补距离造成的不足时,才显得最为动人,至少更能激起人们的想像力。此外,陶醉于音乐间歇中的昆丁也还有足够的内容来充实自己的梦幻。根据他舅父同僚的谈话和当天早晨觐见厅所发生的情况来判断,他可以毫不怀疑地肯定,此刻以悦耳的音乐来打动他的仙女,并不像他以俗人之心揣度的那样,是一个下等酒店老板的女儿或亲属,而是君王们将要为之大动干戈的那位乔装打扮的不幸的伯爵小姐。年轻人在一个富于冒险精神的浪漫主义时代很容易想人非非,使得具体而现实的情景从他眼里消失,而代之以令人眼花缭乱的幻觉。但这时忽然有人粗鲁地握住他的武器,顿时无情地赶走了这些幻觉。只听见一个严厉的声音贴着他耳朵喊道:“哈,我的老天爷!扈从先生,我看你是在这儿边站岗边打盹啊!”

这正是皮埃尔老爷那干巴巴、威严而又带些讥刺的声音。昆丁猛地清醒过来,他羞惧地看到,由于自己沉浸在梦幻当中,竟让路易王本人——也许他是从某个暗门进来,然后沿着墙壁或藏在挂毯后面溜过来的——来到自己跟前,几乎牢牢地抓住了他的武器。惊奇带来的第一个冲动的反应是通过一个强有力的动作夺回火统枪,从而使国王踉跄地向后倒回大厅。但他接着又感到害怕,担心自己由于听从了那驱使勇士们对解除其武装的企图进行抵抗的所谓动物本能,已通过和国王这一面对面的交锋,加剧了国王对他疏忽职守产生的愤怒。在这个印象的影响下,他几乎不知不觉地把收回了的火统枪重新扛在肩上,然后呆呆地站在他有理由认为被他严重冒犯了的国王面前。

路易王的专横性格与其说是建立在天生的凶狠和残酷上面,不如说是建立在冷静的策略和猜忌上面。然而,他的性情中也有一种讥刺和严酷的成分,使他在私人谈话中显得令人生畏,使人总感觉他喜欢在类似目前的情况下给别人施加些痛苦以获得愉快。不过,他并没有过分利用当前这个胜利给他带来的喜悦,而只是说了这么一句:

“算你今早为我效的力抵消了这样一个年轻人常犯的疏忽。你吃过饭了吗?”

昆丁原以为会被送到军法总监那儿去受审,没料到却受到这样一种客气的对待,便谦卑地回答说他还没有吃饭。

“可怜的小伙子,”路易王以比往常更温和的语气说道,“饥饿使他困了。我知道你具有狼一般的大胃口,”他继续说道,“我将像你从野猪嘴里救我一样,把你从饿狼嘴里救出来——在猎野猪那件事情上你也表现得很审慎,我很感谢你——你能不能饿着肚子再坚持一个小时呢?”

“陛下,二十四小时也可以,”达威特回答道,“要不我就算不上一个真正的苏格兰人。”

“在你饿了这么长的时间之后,要是一块馅饼碰到你,那它可倒霉了;即使再给我一个王国,我也不愿充当馅饼这样一个角色,”国王说道,“不过,现在的问题不在于你的午餐,而在于我自己的午餐。今天我极其秘密地邀请了巴卢红衣主教和那位勃艮第人——克雷维格伯爵。有可能发生点什么情况——因为仇人在休战的条件下聚会正是魔鬼最活跃的时刻。”

他没再说下去,而是带着阴沉的面容默不作声地呆立着。看到国王并不急于讲下去,昆丁最后贸然问道,在这种情况下他该如何行事。

“拿着上好膛的枪在食橱旁边守卫,”路易王说道,“如有背叛,将背叛者就地枪杀。”

“陛下,您说会发生背叛!况且是在这样一个警卫森严的城堡!”达威特惊奇地说道。

“你认为不可能,”国王说道,看来对他的坦率并不见怪,“但我们的历史表明,背叛是无孔不人的。有警卫就能排除背叛!啊,你真是个傻孩子!——quis custodiat ipso custodes——那么谁又来制止警卫人员本身的背叛呢?”

“凭他们苏格兰人的荣誉感。”达威特大胆地回答道。

“对,非常正确——我很喜欢你。”国王高兴地说道,“苏格兰人的荣誉感一直是可靠的,我也信赖它。不过背叛这玩意呀!”这时他又陷入他先前那种阴郁的情绪中,步履不匀地走过大厅——“它可是坐在我们的筵席桌上,在我们酒碗里闪闪发光。它蓄着谋士的胡须,含着朝臣们的微笑,发出弄臣们的大笑——它尤其会潜藏在和解的敌人的友好表情底下。奥尔良·路易相信勃艮第·约翰——结果在巴尔贝特大街遇害。勃艮第·约翰相信奥尔良这个宗派——结果也在蒙特罗桥遇害。我谁也不相信——一个也不相信。你听着,我会留心那个无礼的伯爵,也会当心那位主教,因为我并不认为他十分忠诚。当我一说Ecosse,en avant,你就把克雷维格就地打死。”

“这是我的责任,”昆丁说道,“因为陛下遇到生命危险。”

“当然——我指的正是这种情况,”国王说道,“要不,杀死这个无礼的武夫对我有什么好处?要真是圣保罗总督的话,”这里他停顿了一下,仿佛感到自己吐露了一句不该说的话,但接着又大声笑道,“还有我的堂弟、苏格兰的詹姆斯——昆丁,你们的詹姆斯——在他自己的斯克尔林皇宫里杀死了来友好访问的道格拉斯。”

“如果陛下不见怪的话,应该说是斯特尔林皇宫。”昆丁说道,“这是次毫无益处的行动。”

“你们叫作斯特尔林城堡吗?”国王说道,不大在意昆丁后半句话的内容,“好吧,就让它是斯特尔林城堡吧——名字无关紧要。不过我并不想加害这两个人——这对我没有什么好处。但他们对我不见得怀有同样的好意——我信赖你的火统枪。”

“一听到信号我就立刻行动,”昆丁说道,“不过——”

“你犹豫了,”国王说道,“你讲完吧。我给你充分的许可。从你这样一个人的嘴里,我们可以得到一些确实宝贵的启示。”

“我只想不揣冒昧地说,”昆丁回答道,“既然陛下有理由怀疑这位勃艮第人,我很奇怪,您竟然容许他这样接近御体,而且在十分神秘的情况下。”

“啊,扈从先生,我可以给你个满意的回答,”国王说道,“有些危险的事要是你挺身而出,就会化险为夷,假如你明显地表现出惧怕,它们反会变得肯定而不可避免。要是我大胆地走到一匹凶恶的猛犬跟前,抚摸它,十有八九我会使它乖乖地服帖下来。要是我显得害怕,它就会扑到我身上来,把我撕碎。我想坦白地把这情况交待给你——对我说来很要紧的一点是,不能让这个人带着愤怒去见他鲁莽的主人。因此我才冒这个危险。为了法国的利益我从来没回避过生命危险。跟我走吧。”

路易领着他似乎特别宠爱的这位年轻卫士穿过他进来时走过的那道边门,一边指给他看,一边说道:“谁想在宫廷得势,谁就得熟悉这些暗门和暗梯——是的,还有宫里的各种陷阱,以及主门。摺门和门廊。”

在转了几个弯、穿过几个走廊之后,国王走进一个拱形小室,里面已摆好一个餐桌,上面放着三套餐具。室内的整个陈设简单得几乎到了简陋的地步。一个餐橱,或称折叠式移动餐柜,装着几个金银盘碟,算是室内稍具有点皇家气派的惟一家具。橱柜就是路易指给昆丁所要站的地方,完全被挡住看不见。路易又走到房子各个旮旯去检查,肯定从任何角度都看不见有人站岗之后,便向昆丁最后一次交代任务:“记住口令Ecosse,en avant;一旦我说出这几个字,你就把屏风推倒——别可惜柜里装的大杯小盏。你得保证对克雷维格瞄好准——假如枪失灵,你就搂住他用刀干——奥利弗和我对付得了红衣主教。”

交代完毕之后,国王便大声吹了个口哨,把奥利弗召了进来。这人是皇宫首席侍臣兼御前理发师,实际上掌管与御体直接有关的一切事务。此刻他在两位老人——御桌旁仅有的两位侍者的伴随下登场。国王一就座,客人立即被请了进来。虽然昆丁自己隐匿在一边,但他的位置却使他看得见国王召见的全部细节。

国王颇为热情地迎接宾客。昆丁感到这种热情的表现和先前给他的吩咐以及让他手持致命武器站在食橱后面待命的意图极难调和。不但路易看来毫无戒心可言,而且人们自然会设想,给以至高的荣誉邀请赴宴的两位宾客,他可以毫无保留地信赖,并乐意给予这种荣誉。他的仪态真是再庄严再客气不过。周围的一切,包括他自己的衣着在内,虽远不及小王公们在宴会上的豪华,但语言和态度却表现出一位强有势力的君主的优越感。昆丁禁不住推想,要么他和路易先前的谈话全是一场幻梦,要么就是主教恭顺的态度和那位勃艮第贵族坦率豪爽的举止已完全消除了国王的猜疑。

然而,当客人遵命就座的时候,国王陛下向他们投以锐利的目光,接着又把它移向昆丁所站的位置。虽然时间只有一刹那,但那目光却表达出对客人莫大的猜疑和仇恨,对昆丁则传达了果断而严厉的命令:守卫要警觉,执行要敏捷。毋庸置疑,这都说明路易的意图丝毫未变,戒心丝毫未减。因此,昆丁对国王用来掩饰自己多疑性格表现的那层厚厚的帷幕比先前更为吃惊。

国王看起来仿佛完全忘记了克雷维格当着满朝文武的面曾对他使用过的挑衅语言,而和他大谈往昔:回忆他在勃艮第流亡期间发生过的一些事情,打听他当时熟悉的一些贵族;仿佛那段流亡生活真是他一生中最愉快的时期,好像他对那些帮助过他改善生活条件的人们都保留着最亲切的感激之情。

“要是别国的大使,”他说,“我也许会在接见中增添点郑重其事的味道,但对待曾在热纳佩城堡经常和我进过餐的老朋友,我倒想按我平常最喜欢的方式办事,不改过去瓦卢瓦·路易的本色,仍然像一般巴黎市民那样简朴。不过,我还是叫人为你伯爵先生准备了点比平常更好的食品,因为我知道你们勃艮第人的格言‘华服不如美食’,因此我吩咐他们把饭菜搞好些。你知道,我们的酒是法兰西和勃艮第之间的传统竞争项目。此刻我们将把这个竞争调和一下。我将用勃艮第葡萄酒为你干杯,而你伯爵先生将用香槟酒为我干杯——喂,奥利弗,给我来一杯奥克塞尔酒。”接着他兴致勃勃地哼起一首当时有名的歌——

《奥克塞尔酒是国王的饮料》“伯爵先生,我为高贵的勃艮第公爵,我亲爱的堂弟的健康干杯。奥利弗,你把那个金杯斟满雷姆酒,跪着奉给伯爵——他代表我亲爱的堂弟——我的主教大人,我将自己给你斟酒。”

“陛下,您已经给我斟满了,甚至快溢出来了。”主教带着受宠的奴才那种卑下的表情说道。

“那是因为我知道主教阁下喝酒的海量,”路易说道,“不过,在这伟大的竞争中你是支持哪一方呢——是西勒里还是奥克塞尔——是法兰西还是勃艮第呢?”

“陛下,我将保持中立,”红衣主教说道,“用奥维纳酒来斟满我的酒杯吧。”

“中立者可得扮演一个危险的角色。”国王说道。但当他看到红衣主教脸红了一下,便悄悄避开这个话题,补充说道:“不过,你宁肯喝奥维纳酒,是因为这酒十分高贵,容不得掺水——你伯爵先生对喝干这杯酒颇感犹豫,我想你在这酒杯底下并没有发现什么味苦的民族之仇吧。”

“陛下,”克雷维格伯爵说道,“但愿所有国家的争端都能像我们葡萄园之间的竞争那样得到和睦解决。”

“只要有时间,伯爵先生,”国王回答道,“只要有时间——像你喝香槟酒这样从容而充裕的时间——酒喝完了,就请你赏光把这酒杯揣在怀里,保留它作为纪念,表示我对你的一点心意吧。并不是对任何人我都舍得给这个酒杯的。这是法国可畏的强敌,英国的亨利第五从前使用过的酒杯,是在鲁昂被收复,法国和勃艮第联军把岛国人赶出诺曼底时缴获的。把它赠送给一位高贵而勇敢的勃艮第人真是再好不过,因为他十分懂得,要使欧洲大陆继续摆脱英国人的枷锁,就必须依靠这两个国家的联盟。”

伯爵作了一个适当的回答。路易王开始毫无拘束地表现出一种带讽刺的诙谐,这种诙谐有时能使人性格中阴暗的一面显得活跃开朗一点。谈话自然是随他来引导的。他的谈吐固然很锋利,富于讥刺,往往也很聪明俏皮,但很少谈得上厚道,他用于解释和说明的一些轶事趣闻也是幽默胜于优雅。然而,他说的每个词、每个音节、每个字母都丝毫没暴露出在室内布有荷枪实弹的士兵,以防被对方暗杀的戒备心理。

克雷维格伯爵对国王的幽默感坦然地表现出真诚的高兴。圆滑的主教则对国王讲的每个笑话都放声大笑,并对一些滑稽之处添油加醋,有些言词甚至使那藏在一边的乡巴佬似的年轻苏格兰人也为之脸红。但他自己却毫不害羞。大约过了一个半小时,宴会才告结束。国王向宾客客气地告辞之后,示意说他想独自呆一会儿。

一当所有的人,甚至包括奥利弗都离开之后,他把昆丁从他藏匿的地方叫了出来。但声音太微弱了,那年轻人很难相信这声音的主人刚才说起笑话还那么有声有色,讲起故事还那么津津有味。当他走近时,他看见国王的脸部表情也发生了同样的变化。强颜欢笑时的炯炯目光已从眼里消失,脸上的微笑也不见了。他表现出一个名演员在台上十分活跃地、淋漓尽致地扮演完了自己喜爱的角色之后充分感到的疲劳。

“你的岗还没站完,”他对昆丁说道,“吃点东西,休息一下——那边桌子上有些吃的——等下我还要向你交代下一步的任务。不过,饱汉和饿汉交谈是不公道的。”

他倒在椅子里,用手掩着额头,默不作声。



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