Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

and desperate engagement, Count Vienne was taken prisoner, and the citizens who survived the slaughter retired within their gates. The command devolving upon Eustace St. Pierre, a man of mean birth, but of exalted virtue, he offered to capitulate with Edward, provided he permitted them to depart with life and liberty.

3. Edward, to avoid the imputation of cruelty, consented to spare the bulk of the plebeians, provided they delivered up to him six of their principal citizens with halters about their necks, as victims of due atonement for that spirit of rebellion with which they had inflamed the vulgar. When his messenger, Sir Walter Mauny, delivered the terms, consternation and pale dismay were impressed on every countenance. To a long and dead silence, deep sighs and groans succeeded; till Eustace St. Pierre, getting up to a little eminence, thus addressed the assembly : —

4. “My friends, we are brought to great straits this day. We must either yield to the terms of our cruel and ensnaring conqueror, or give up our tender infants, our wives and daughters, to the bloody and brutal lusts of the violating soldiers. Is there any expedient left whereby we may avoid, on the one hand, the guilt and infamy of delivering up those who have suffered every misery with you; or, on the other hand, the desolation and horror of a sacked city ?

5. “There is, my friends, — there is one expedient left! A gracious, an excellent, a godlike expedient ! Is there any one here to whom virtue is dearer than life? Let him offer himself an oblation for the safety of his people! He shall not fail of a blessëd approbation from that Power who offered up His only Son for the salvation of mankind.”

6. He spoke. But a universal silence prevailed. Each man looked around for the example of that virtue and magnanimity which all wished to approve in

themselves, though they wanted the resolution. At length St. Pierre resumed:-“I doubt not but there are many here as ready, nay, more zealous for this martyrdom, than I can be; though the station to which I am raised by the captivity of Count Vienne imparts a right to be the first in giving my life for your sakes. I give it freely! I give it cheerfully! — Who comes next?

7. “ Your son !” exclaimed a youth not yet come to maturity. — “Ah! my child!” cried St. Pierre; “I am then twice sacrificed. — But no:— I have rather begotten thee a second time. Thy years are few, but full, my son. The victim of virtue has reached the utmost purpose and goal of mortality. — Who next, my friends ? This is the hour of heroes!”

8. “ Your kinsman!” cried John d'Aire. — “ Your kinsman!” cried James Wissant. — “Your kinsman!” cried Peter Wissant. — “Ah!” exclaimed Sir Walter Mauny, bursting into tears, “why was not I a citizen of Calais !”

9. The sixth victim was still wanting, but was quickly supplied by lot from numbers who were now emulous of so ennobling an example. The keys of the city were then delivered to Sir Walter. He took the six prisoners into his custody; then ordered the gates to be opened, and gave charge to his attendants to conduct the remaining citizens, with their families, through the camp of the English.

10. Before they departed, however, they desired permission to take their last adieu of their deliverers. What a parting! What a scene! They crowded, with their wives and children, about St. Pierre and his fellow-prisoners. They embraced, they clung around, they fell prostrate before them. They groaned, they wept aloud, and the joint clamor of their mourning passed the gates of the city, and was heard throughout the English camp.

11. The English by this time were apprised of what passed within Calais. They heard the voice of lamentation, and their souls were touched with compassion. Each of the soldiers prepared a portion of his own victuals to welcome and entertain the half-famished inhabitants; loading them with as much as their. present weakness was able to bear, in order to supply them with sustenance by the way.

12. At length St. Pierre and his fellow-victims appeared, under the conduct of Sir Walter and a guard. All the tents of the English were instantly emptied. The soldiers poured from all parts, and arranged themselves on each side, to behold, to contem'plate, to admire, this little band of patriots, as they passed. They bowed down to them on all sides. They murmured their applause of that virtue which they could not but revere, even in enemies; and they regarded those ropes which the devoted men had voluntarily assumed about their necks, as ensigns of greater dignity than that of the British garter.

13. As soon as they had reached the presence, “Mauny," says the monarch, " are these the principal inhabitants of Calais ?“They are,” says Mauny. “ They are not only the principal men of Calais, they are the principal men of France, my lord, if virtue has any share in the act of ennobling.”

14. “ Were they delivered peaceably ?” asks Edward. “Was there no resistance, no commotion, among the people ?” – “Not in the least, my lord. The people would all have perished rather than have delivered the least of these to your majesty. They are selfdelivered, self-devoted ; and come to offer up their inestimable heads as an ample equivalent for the ransom of thousands."

15. Edward was secretly piqued at this reply of Sir Walter; but he knew the privilege of a British subject, and suppressed his resentment. “Experience,” says he,“ has ever shown that lenity only serves to invite people to new crimes. Severity, at times, is indispensably necessary to compel subjects to submission, by punishment and example. - Go,” he cried to an officer, “ lead these men to execution.”

16. At this instant a sound of triumph was heard throughout the camp. The queen had just arrived, with a powerful reinforcement of gallant troops. Sir Walter flew to receive her majesty, and briefly informed her of the particulars respecting the six victims. As soon as she had been welcomed by Edward and his court, she desired a private audience.

17. “My lord,” said she, “the question I am to enter upon is not touching the lives of a few mechanics; - it respects the honor of the English nation ; it respects the glory of my Edward, my husband, my king. You think you have sentenced six of your enemies to death. No, my lord, they have sentenced themselves; and their execution would be the execution of their own orders, not the orders of Edward. The stage on which they would suffer would be to them a stage of honor; but a stage of shame to Edward; a reproach on his conquests; an indelible disgrace to his name.

18. “Let us rather disappoint these haughty burghers, who wish to invest themselves with glory at our expense. We cannot wholly deprive them of the merit of a sacrifice so nobly intended, but we may cut them short of their desires. In the place of that death by which their glory would be consum'mate, let us bury them under gifts ; let us put them to confusion with applauses. We shall thereby defeat them of that popular opinion which never fails to attend those who suffer in the cause of virtue.”

19. “I am convinced. You have prevailed. Be it so !” replied Edward. « Prevent the execution. Have them instantly before us.” They came; when Queen

Philippa, with an aspect and accent diffusing sweetness, thus bespoke them:

20. “Natives of France, and inhabitants of Calais ! You have put us to a vast expense of blood and treasure in the recovery of our just and natural inheritance.. But you have acted up to the best of an erroneous judgment; and we admire and honor in you that valor and virtue by which we have so long been kept out of our rightful possessions. — You noble burghers! You excellent citizens! Though you were tenfold the enemies of our person and our throne, we can feel for you nothing on our part save respect and affection.

21. “You have been sufficiently tested. We loose your chains; we snatch you from the scaffold; and we thank you for that lesson of humiliation which you teach us, when you show us that excellence is not of blood, of title, or of station ; that virtue gives a dignity superior to that of kings; and that those whom the Almighty informs with sentiments like yours are justly and eminently raised above all human distinctions.

22. “You are now free to depart to your kinsfolk, to your countrymen, to all those whose lives and liberties you have so nobly redeemed, provided you refuse not the tokens of our esteem. Yet we would rather bind you to ourselves by every endearing obligation; and for this purpose we offer to you your choice of the gifts and honors that Edward has to bestow. Rivals for fame, but always friends to virtue, we wish that England were entitled to call you her sons.”

23. “Ah! my country,” exclaimed St. Pierre ; wit. is now that I tremble for you. Edward only wins our cities; but Philippa conquers hearts !

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »