But Dick was not satisfied with this offer. "May the mother of all the witches fly away with me," he said, "if the horse is not worth more than fifteen pounds. No, no, my Lord, twenty pounds is her price, an if thou wilt not pay that for her, she goes with me to-morrow to be sold at Morton Fair."
Now Lord Scroope happened to know the worth of the mare, so he paid the money down without more ado, and he kept his word about the milk cow.
As Dick pocketed the money, and took possession of the cow, he thought what a very clever fellow he was, and he held his head high as he rode out of the courtyard, and down the streets of Carlisle, still leading one horse, and driving the cow in front of him.
He had not gone very far before he met Lord Scroope's brother.
"Well met, fool," he cried, laying his hand on Dick's bridle rein. "Where in all the world didst get Johnie Armstrong's horse? I know 'tis his by the white feet and white forelock. Has my brother been having a fray with Scotland?"
"No," said the fool proudly, "but I have. The horse is mine by right of arms."
"Wilt sell him me?" asked the Warden's brother, who loved a good horse if only he could get him cheaply. "I will give thee ten pounds for him, and a milk cow into the bargain."
"Say twenty pounds," said Dick contemptuously, "and keep thy word about the milk cow, else the horse goes with me to Morton Fair."
Now the Warden's brother needed the horse, and, besides, it was not dear even at twenty pounds, so he paid down the money, and told the fool where to go for the milk cow.
An hour later Dick appeared at his own cottage door, and shouted for his wife. She rubbed her eyes and blinked with astonishment when she saw her husband mounted on a good black horse, and driving two fat milk cows before him.
Like everyone else, she had always counted him a fool, and had never looked for much help from him. So the loss of the three cows had been a serious matter to her, for the money which their milk brought had done much towards keeping up the house, and clothing the children.
"Here, woman," he cried joyously, leaping from his horse, and emptying the gold out of his pockets into her apron. "Thou madest a great to-do over thy coverlets, but I trow that forty pounds of good red money will pay for them fully, and the three cows which we lost were but thin, starved creatures, compared with these two that I have brought back, and here is a good horse into the bargain."
It all seemed too good to be true, and Dick's wife rubbed her eyes once more. "Take care that they be not taken from thee," she said. "Methinks the Armstrongs will demand vengeance."
"They will not get it from My Lord of Scroope," answered Dick, "for 'twas he who gave me leave to go and steal from them. But mayhap we live too near the Borders for our own comfort, now that we are so rich. When a man hath made his fortune by his wits, as I have, he deserves a little peace in his old age. What wouldst thou think of going further South into Westmoreland, and taking up house near thy mother's kinsfolk?"
"I would think 'twas the wisest plan that ever entered that silly pate of thine," answered his wife, who had never liked to live in such an unsettled region.
So they packed up their belongings, and, getting leave from Lord Scroope, they went to live at Burghunder-Stanmuir, where they passed for quite rich and clever people.
THE HEIR OF LINNE
"Lithe and listen, gentlemen, To sing a song I will beginne; It is of a lord of faire Scotland, Which was the unthrifty heire of Linne."
There was trouble in the ancient Castle of Linne. Upstairs in his low-roofed, oak-panelled chamber the old lord lay dying, and the servants whispered to one another, that, when all was over, and he was gone, there would be many changes at the old place. For he had been a good master, kind and thoughtful to his servants, and generous to the poor. But his only son was a different kind of man, who thought only of his own enjoyment; and John o' the Scales, the steward on the estate, was a hard task-master, and was sure to oppress the poor and helpless when the old lord was no longer there to keep an eye on him.
By the sick man's bedside sat an old nurse, the tears running down her wrinkled face. She had come to the castle long years before, with the fair young mistress who had died when her boy was born. She had taken the child from his dying mother's arms, and had brought him up as if he had been her own, and many a time since he became a man she had mourned, along with his father, over his reckless and sinful ways.
Now she saw nothing before him but ruin, and she shook her head sadly, and muttered to herself as she sat in the darkened room.
"Janet," said the old lord suddenly, "go and tell the lad to speak to me. He loves not to be chided, and of late years I have said but little to him. It did no good, and only angered him. But there are things which must be said, and something warns me that I must make haste to say them."
Noiselessly the old woman left the room, and went to do his bidding, and presently slow, unwilling footsteps sounded on the staircase, and the Lord of Linne's only son entered.
His father's eye rested on him with a fondness which nothing could conceal. For, as is the way with fathers, he loved him still, in spite of all the trouble and sorrow and heartache which he had caused him.
He was a fine-looking young fellow, tall and strong, and debonair, but his face was already beginning to show traces of the wild and reckless life which he was leading.
"I am dying, my son," said his father, "and I have sent for thee to ask thee to make me one promise."
A shadow came over the young man's careless face. He feared that his father might ask him to give up some of his boon companions, or never to touch cards or wine again, and he knew that his will was so weak, that, even if he made the promise, he would break it within a month.
But his father knew this as well as he did, and it was none of these things that he was about to ask, for he knew that to ask them would be useless.
"'Tis but a little promise, lad," he went on, "and one that thou wilt find easy to keep. I am leaving thee a large estate, and plenty of gold, but I know too well that in the days to come thou wilt spend the gold and sell the land. Thou canst not do otherwise, if thou continuest to lead the life thou art leading now. But think not that I sent for thee to chide thee, lad; the day is past for that. Promise only, that when the time I speak of hath come, and thou must needs sell the land, that thou wilt refuse to part with one corner of it. 'Tis the little lodge which stands in the narrow glen far up on the moor. 'Tis a tumble-down old place, and no man would think it worth his while to pay thee a price for it. It would go for an old song wert thou to sell it. Therefore I pray thee to give me thy solemn promise that when thou partest with all the rest, thou wilt still remain master of that. For remember this, lad," and in his eagerness the old man raised himself in his bed, "when all else is lost, and the friends whom thou hast trusted turn their backs and frown on thee, then go to that old lodge, for in it, though thou mayest not think so now, there will always be a trusty friend waiting for thee. Say, wilt thou promise?"
"Of course I will, father," said the young man, much moved; "but I never mean to sell any of the land. I am not so bad as all that. But if it makes thee happier, I swear now in thy presence that I will never part with the old lodge."
With a sigh of satisfaction the old lord fell back on his pillow, and before his son could call for help he was dead.
For the first few weeks after his father's death, the Heir of Linne seemed sobered, and as if he intended to lead a better life; but after a little while he forgot all about it, and began to riot and drink and gamble as hard as ever. He filled the old house with his friends, and wild revelry went on in it from morning till night.
He had always been wild and reckless; he was worse than ever now.
His father's friends shook their heads when they heard of his wild doings. "It cannot go on," they said. "He is doing no work, and he is throwing away his money right and left. Had he all the gold of the Indies, it would soon come to an end at this rate."
And they were right. It could not go on.
One day the young man found that not one penny remained of all the money which his father had left him, and there seemed nothing for it but to sell some of his land. Money must be got somehow, for he was deeply in debt. Besides, he had to live, and he had never been taught to work, and, even if he had, he was too lazy and idle to do it.
So away he went, and told his dilemma to his father's steward, John o' the Scales, who, as I have said, was a hard man, and a rogue into the bargain. He knew far more about money matters than his master's son, and when he heard the story which he had to tell him, his wicked heart gave a throb of joy.
Here, at last, was the very opportunity which he had been looking for: for, while the heir had been wasting his time, and spending his money, instead of looking after his estates, the dishonest steward had been filling his own pockets; and now he would fain turn a country gentleman.
So, with many fair words, and a great show of sympathy, he offered to buy the land for himself.
"Young men would be young men," he said, "and 'twas no wonder that a dashing young fellow, like the Heir of Linne, should wish to see the world, rather than stay quietly at home and look after his land. That was only fit for old men when they were past their prime. So, if he desired to part with the land, he would give him a fair price for it, and then there would be no need for him to trouble any more about money matters."
The foolish young man was quite ready to agree to this. All that he cared about was how to get money to pay his debts, and to enable him to go on gambling and drinking with his companions.
So when John o' the Scales named a price for the land, and drew up an agreement, he signed it readily, never dreaming that the cunning steward was cheating him, and that the land was worth at least three times as much as he was paying for it. There was only one corner of the estate which he refused to sell, and that was the narrow glen, far out on the hillside, where the old tumble-down lodge stood.
For the Heir of Linne was not wholly bad, and he had enough manliness left in him to remember the promise which he had made to his dying father.
So John o' the Scales became Lord of Linne, and a mighty big man he thought himself. He went to live, with his wife Joan, in the old castle, and he turned his back on his former friends, and tried to make everyone forget that up till now he had only been a steward.
Meanwhile the Heir of Linne, as people still called him—though, like Esau, he had sold his birthright—went away quite happily now that his pockets were once more filled with gold, and went on in his old ways, drinking, and gambling, and rioting, with his boon companions, as if he thought that this money would last for ever.
But of course it did not, and one fine day, nearly a year after he had sold his land, he found that his purse was quite empty again, except for a few small coins.
He had no more land to sell, and for the first time in his life he grew thoughtful, and began to wonder what he should do. But he never took the trouble to worry about anything, and he trusted that in the end it would all come right.
"I have no lack of friends," he thought to himself, "and in the past I have entertained them right royally; surely now it is their turn to entertain me, and by and by I shall look for work."
So with a light heart he travelled to Edinburgh, where most of his fine friends lived, never thinking but that they would be ready to receive him with open arms. Alas! he had yet to learn that the people who are most eager to share our prosperity are not always those who are readiest to share our adversity. With all his faults he had ever been open-handed and generous, and had lent his money freely, and he went boldly to their doors, intending to ask them to lend him money in return, now that he was in need of it.
But, to his surprise, instead of being glad to see him, one and all gave him the cold shoulder.
At the first house the servant came to the door with the message that his master was not at home, though the heir could have sworn that a moment before he had seen him peeping through the window.
The master of the next house was at home, but he began to make excuses, and to say how sorry he was, but he had just paid all his bills, and he had no more money by him; while at the third house his friend spoke to him quite sharply, just as if he had been a stranger, and told him that he ought to be ashamed of the way he had wasted his father's money, and sold his land, and that certainly he could not think of lending gold to him, as he would never expect to see it back again.
The poor young man went out into the street, feeling quite dazed with surprise.
"Ah, lack-a-day!" he said to himself bitterly. "So these are the men who called themselves my friends. As long as I was Heir of Linne, and master of my father's lands, they seemed to love me right well. Many a meal have they eaten at my table, and many a pound of mine hath gone into their pockets; and this is how they repay me."
After this things went from bad to worse. He tried to get work, but no one would hire him, and it was not very long before the Heir of Linne, who had been so proud and reckless in his brighter days, was going about in ragged clothes, begging his bread from door to door. No one who saw him now would have known him to be the bright-faced, handsome lad of whom the old lord had been so proud a few years before.
At last, one day when his courage was almost gone, the words which his father had spoken on his death-bed, and which he had forgotten up till now, flashed into his mind.
"He said that I would find a faithful friend in the little lodge up in the glen, when all my other friends had forsaken me," he said to himself. "I cannot think what he meant, but surely now is the time to test his words, for surely no man could be more forsaken than I am."
So he turned his face from the city, and wended his way over hill and dale, moor and river, till he came to the little lodge, standing in the lonely glen, high up on the moors near the Castle of Linne.
He had hardly seen the tumble-down old place since he was a boy, and somehow, from his father's words, he expected to find someone living in it—his good old nurse, perhaps. He was so worn out and miserable that the tears came into his eyes at the mere thought of seeing her kindly face. But the old building was quite deserted, and, when he forced open the rusty lock, and entered, he found nothing but a low, dark, comfortless room. The walls were bare and damp, and the little window was so overgrown with ivy that scarcely any light could get in. There was not even a chair or a table in it, nothing but a long rope with a noose at the end of it, which hung dangling down from the ceiling.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he noticed that on the rafter above the rope there was written in large letters—
"Ah, graceless wretch, I knew that thou wouldst soon spoil all, and bring thyself to poverty. So, to hide thy shame, and bring thy sorrows to an end, I left this rope, which will prove thy best friend."
"So my father knew the straits which my foolishness would bring me to, and he thought of this way of ending my life," said the poor young man to himself, and he felt so heart-broken, and so hopeless, that he put his head in the noose and tried to hang himself.
But this was not the end of which his father had been thinking when he wrote the words; he had only meant to give his son a lesson, which he hoped would be a warning to him. So, when he put his head in the noose, and took hold of the rope, the beam that it was fastened to gave way, and the whole ceiling came tumbling down on top of him.
For a long time he lay stunned on the floor, and when at last he came to himself, he could hardly remember what had happened. At last his eye fell on a packet, which had fallen down with the wood and the mortar, and was lying quite close to him.
He picked it up and opened it.
Inside there was a golden key, and a letter, which told him, that, if he would climb up through the hole in the ceiling, he would find a hidden room under the roof, and there, built into the wall, he would see three great chests standing together.
Wondering greatly to himself, he climbed up among the broken rafters, and he found that what the letter said was true. Sure enough there was a little dark room hidden under the roof, which no one had known of before, and there, standing side by side in the wall, were three iron-bound chests.
There was something written above them, as there had been something written above the rope, but this time the words filled him with hope. They ran thus:—
"Once more, my son, I set thee free; Amend thy Life and follies past: For if thou dost not amend thy life, This rope will be thy end at last."
With trembling hands the Heir of Linne fitted the golden key into the lock of one of the chests. It opened it easily, and when he raised the lid, what was his joy to find that the chest was full of bags of good red gold. There was enough of it to buy back his father's land, and when he saw it he hid his face in his hands, and sobbed for very thankfulness.
The key opened the other two chests as well, and he found that one of them was also full of gold, while the other was full of silver.
It was plain that his father had known how recklessly he would spend his money, and had stored up these chests for him here in this hidden place, where no one was likely to find them, so that when he was penniless, and had learned how wicked and stupid he had been, he might get another chance if he liked to take it.
He had indeed learned a lesson.
With outstretched hands he vowed a vow that he would follow his father's advice and mend his ways, and that from henceforth he would try to be a better man, and lead a worthier life, and use this money in a better way.
Then he lifted out three bags of gold, and hid them in his ragged cloak, and locked up the chests again, and took his way down the hill to his father's castle.
When he arrived, he peeped in at one of the windows, and there he saw John o' the Scales, fat and prosperous-looking, sitting with his wife Joan at the head of the table, and beside them three gentlemen who lived in the neighbourhood. They were laughing, and feasting, and pledging each other in glasses of wine, and, as he looked at them, he wondered how he had ever allowed the sleek, cunning-looking steward to become Lord of Linne in his father's place.
With something of his old pride he knocked at the door, and demanded haughtily to speak with the master of the castle. He was taken straight to the dining-hall, and when John o' the Scales saw him standing in his rags he broke into a rude laugh.
"Well, Spendthrift," he cried, "and what may thine errand be?"
The heir wondered if this man, who, in the old days had flattered and fawned upon him, had any pity left, and he determined to try him.
"Good John o' the Scales," he said, "I have come hither to crave thy help. I pray thee to lend me forty pence."
It was not a large sum. John o' the Scales had often had twice as much from him, but the churlish fellow started up in a rage.
"Begone, thou thriftless loon," he cried; "thou needst not come hither to beg. I swear that not one penny wilt thou get from me. I know too well how thou squandered thy father's gold."
Then the heir turned to John o' the Scales' wife Joan. She was a woman; perhaps she would be more merciful.
"Sweet madam," he said, "for the sake of blessed charity, bestow some alms on a poor wayfarer."
But Joan o' the Scales was a hard woman, and she had never loved her master's son, so she answered rudely, "Nay, by my troth, but thou shalt get no alms from me. Thou art little better than a vagabond; if we had a law to punish such, right gladly would I see thee get thy deserts."
Now one of the guests who sat at the board with this rich and prosperous couple was a knight called Sir Ned Agnew. He was not rich, but he was a gentleman, and he had been a friend of the old lord, and had known the Heir when he was a boy, and now, when he saw him standing, ragged and hungry, in the hall that had once been his own, he could not bear that he should be driven away with hard and cruel words. Besides, he felt very indignant with John o' the Scales, for he knew that he had bought the land far too cheaply. He had not much money to lend, but he could always spare a little.
"Come back, come back," he cried hastily, as he saw the Heir turn as if to leave the house. "Whatever thou art now, thou wert once a right good fellow, and thou wert always ready to part with thy money to anyone who needed it. I am a poor man myself, but I can lend thee forty pence at least; in fact I think that I could lend thee eighty, if thou art in sore want." Then, turning to his host, he added, "The Heir of Linne is a friend of mine, and I will count it a favour if thou wilt let him have a seat at thy table. I think it is as little as thou canst do, seeing that thou hadst the best of the bargain about his land."
John o' the Scales was very angry, but he dare not say much, for he knew in his heart that what the knight said was true, and, moreover, he did not want to quarrel with him, for he liked to be able to go to market, where people were apt to think of him still as the castle steward, and boast about "my friend, Sir Ned."
"Nay, thou knowest 'tis false," he blustered, "and I'll take my vow that, far from making a good bargain, I lost money over that matter, and, to prove what I say, I am willing to offer this young man, in the presence of you all, his lands back again, for a hundred merks less than I gave for them."
"'Tis done," cried the Heir of Linne, and before the astonished John o' the Scales could speak, he had thrown down a piece of money on the table before him.
"'Tis a God's-penny," cried the guests in amazement, for when anyone threw down a piece of money in that way, it meant that they had accepted the bargain, and that the other man could not draw back.
Then the Heir pulled out the three bags of gold from under his cloak, and threw them down on the table before John o' the Scales, who began to look very grave. He had never dreamt, when he offered to let the young man buy back the land, that he would ever be able to do it. He had meant it as a joke, and the joke was very much like turning into a reality. His face grew longer and longer as the Heir emptied out the good red gold in a heap.
"Count it," he cried triumphantly. "It is all there, and honest money. It is thine, and the land is mine, and once more I am the Lord of Linne."
Both John o' the Scales and his wife were very much taken aback; but there was nothing to be done but to count the money and to gather it up. John would fain have asked to be taken back as steward again, but the young lord knew now how dishonest he had been, and would not hear of such a thing.
"No, no," he said, "it is honest men whom I want now, and men who will be my friends when I am poor, as well as when I am rich. I think I have found such a man here," and he turned to Sir Ned Agnew. "If thou wilt accept the post, I shall be glad to have thee for my steward, and for the keeper of my forests, and my deer, as well. And for everyone of the pence which thou wert willing to lend me, I will pay thee a full pound."
So once more the rightful lord reigned in the Castle of Linne, and to everyone's surprise he settled down, and grew so like his father, that strangers who came to the neighbourhood would not believe the stories which people told them of the wild things which he had done in his youth.
BLACK AGNACE OF DUNBAR
"Some sing o' lords, and some o' knichts, An' some o' michty men o' war, But I sing o' a leddy bricht, The Black Agnace o' Dunnebar."
It was in the year 1338, when Bruce's son was but a bairn, and Scotland was guided by a Regent, that we were left, a household of women, as it were, to guard my lord's strong Castle of Dunbar.
My lord himself, Cospatrick, Earl of Dunbar and March, had ridden off to join the Regent, Sir Andrew Moray, and help him to drive the English out of the land. For the English King, Edward III., thought it no shame to war with bairns, and since he had been joined by that false loon, Edward Baliol, he had succeeded in taking many of our Scottish fortresses, including Edinburgh Castle, and in planting an English army in our midst.
Now the Castle of Dunbar, as all folk know, is a strong Castle, standing as it doth well out to sea, on a mass of solid rock, and connected with the mainland only by one narrow strip of land, which is defended by a drawbridge and portcullis, and walls of solid masonry. Its other sides need no defence, for the wild waters of the Northern Sea beat about them with such fury that it is only at certain times of the tide that even peaceful boatmen can find a safe landing. Indeed, 'tis one of the strongest fortresses in the country, and because of its position, lying not so far from the East Border, and being guard as it were to the Lothians, and Edinburgh, it is often called "The Key of Scotland."
My lord deemed it impregnable, as long as it was well supplied with food, so he had little scruple in leaving his young wife and her two little daughters alone there, with a handful of men-at-arms, too old, most of them, to be of any further service in the field, to guard them.
She, on her part, was very well content to stay, for was she not a daughter of the famous Randolph, and did she not claim kinship with Bruce himself? So fear to her was a thing unknown.
I, who was a woman of fifty then, and am well-nigh ninety now, can truly say that in all the course of a long life, I never saw courage like to hers.
I remember, as though it were yesterday, that cold January morning when my lord set off to the Burgh Muir, where he was to meet with the Regent. When all was ready, and his men were mounted and drawn up, waiting for their master, my lady stepped forth joyously, in the sight of them all, and buckled on her husband's armour.
"Ride forth and do battle for thy country and thine infant King, poor babe," she said, "and vex not thy heart for us who are left behind. We deserve not the name we bear, if we cannot hold the Castle till thy return, even though it were against King Edward himself. Thinkest thou not so, Marian?" and she turned round to where I was standing, a few paces back, with little Mistress Marjory clinging to my skirts, and little Mistress Jean in my arms.
For though I was but her bower-woman, I was of the same clan as my lady, and had served in her family all my life. I had carried her in my arms as I now carried her little daughter, and, at her marriage, I had come with her to her husband's home.
"Indeed, Madam, I trow we can, God and the Saints helping us," I answered, and at her brave words the soldiers raised a great cheer, and my lord, who was usually a stern man, and slow to show his feelings, put his arm round her and kissed her on the lips.
"Spoken like my own true wife," he said. "But in good troth, Sweetheart, methinks there is nothing to fear. For very shame neither King Edward nor his Captains will war against a woman, and, e'en if they do, if thou but keep the gates locked, and the portcullis down, I defy any one of them to gain admittance. And, look ye, the well in the courtyard will never run dry—'tis sunk in the solid rock—and besides the beeves that were salted down at Martinmas, and the meal that was laid in at the end of harvest, there are bags of grain hidden down in the dungeons, enough to feed a score of men for three months at least."
So saying, he leaped into his saddle, and rode out of the gateway, a gallant figure at the head of his troop of armed men, while we climbed to the top of the tower, and stood beside old Andrew, the watchman, and gazed after them until the last glint of their armour disappeared behind a rising hill.
After their departure all went well for a time. Indeed, it was as though the years had flown back, and my lady was once more a girl, so light-hearted and joyous was she, pleased with the novelty of being left governor of that great Castle. It seemed but a bit of play when, after ordering the house and setting the maidens to their tasks, she went round the walls with Walter Brand, a lame archer, who was gently born, and whom she had put in charge of our little fighting force, to see that all the men were at their posts.
And mere play it seemed to her still, when, some two weeks after my lord's departure, as she was sitting sewing in her little chamber, whose windows looked straight out over the sea, and I was rocking Mistress Jean's cradle, and humming a lullaby, little Mistress Marjory, who was five years old, and stirring for her age, came running down from the watch-tower, where she had been with old Andrew, and cried out that a great host of men on horseback were coming, and that old Andrew said that it was the English.
We were laughing at the bairn's story, and wondering who the strangers could be, when old Andrew himself appeared, a look of concern on his usually jocund face.
"Oh, my lady," he cried, "there be a body of armed men moving towards the Castle, led by a knight in splendid armour. A squire rides in front of him, carrying his banner; but the device is unknown to me, and I fear me it was never wrought by Scottish hands."
"Ah ha," laughed the Countess, rising and throwing away her tapestry. "Thou scentest an Englishman, dost thou, Andrew? Mayhap thy thoughts have run on them so much of late, that the habit hath dimmed thine eyes."
"Nay, nay, my lady," stammered old Andrew, half hurt by her gentle raillery, "mine een are keen enough as yet, although my limbs be old."
"'Tis but my sport, Andrew," she answered kindly. "I have always loved a jest, and I have no wish to grow old and grave before my time, even if I have the care of a whole Castle on my shoulders. But hark, there be the stranger's trumpets sounding before the gate. See to it that Walter Brand listens to his message, and answers it as befits the dignity of our house: and thou, do thou mount to thy watch-tower, and keep a good lookout on all that passes."
We waited in silence for some little space; we could hear the sound of voices, but no distinct words reached us.
At last Walter Brand came halting to the door and knocked. Like old Andrew, he wore an anxious look. He was devoted to the Countess, and was aye wont to be timorous where she was concerned.
"'Tis the English Earl of Salisbury," he said, "who desires to speak with your Grace. I asked him to entrust his message to me, and I would deliver it, but he gave answer haughtily, that he would speak with no one but the Countess."
"Then speak with me he shall," said my lady, with a flash of her eye, "but he must e'en bring himself to catch my words as they drop like pearls from the top of the tower. Summon the archers, Walter, and let them stand behind me for a bodyguard: no man need know how old and frail they be, if they are high enough up, and keep somewhat in the background. And thou, Marian, attend me, for 'tis not fitting that the Countess of Dunbar and March should speak with a strange knight in her husband's absence, without a bower-woman standing by."
Casting her wimple round her, she ascended the steep stone stairs, and, as we followed, Walter Brand put his head close to mine. "I like it not," he said in his sober way, "for this Earl of Salisbury is a bold, brazen-faced fellow, and to my ears his voice rings not true. I fear me, he wishes no good to our lady. They say, moreover, that he is one of the best Captains that the King of England hath, and he hath at least two hundred men with him."
"Trust my lady to look after her own, and her husband's honour," I said sharply, for, good man though he was, Walter Brand aye angered me; he seemed ever over-anxious, a character I love not in a man.
All the same my heart sank, as we stepped out on the flat roof of the tower, and glanced down over the battlements.
I saw at once that Walter had spoken truly. Montague, Earl of Salisbury, had a bold, bad face, and his words, though honeyed and low, had a false ring in them.
"My humblest greetings, fair lady," he cried; "my life is at thy service, for I heard but yesterday that thy lord, caitiff that he be, hath left thee alone among rough men, in this lonely wind-swept Castle. Methinks thou art accustomed to kinder treatment and therefore am I come to beg thee to open thy gates, and allow me to enter. By my soul, if thou wilt, I shall be thy servant to the death. Such beauty as thine was never meant to be wasted in the desert. Let me enter, and be thy friend, and I will deck thee with such jewels,—with gold and with pearls, that thou shalt be envied of all the ladies in Christendom."
My lady drew herself up proudly; but even yet she thought it was some sport, albeit not the sport that should have been offered to a noble dame in her husband's absence.
"Little care I for gold, or yet for pearls, my Lord of Salisbury," she said in grave displeasure. "I have jewels enough and to spare, and need not that a stranger should give them to me. As for the gates, I am a loyal wife, and I open them to no one until my good lord return."
Now, had my Lord of Salisbury been a true knight, or even a plain, honest, leal soldier, this answer of my lady's would have sufficed, and he would have parleyed no more, but would have departed, taking his men with him. But, villain that he was, his honeyed words rose up once more in answer.
"Oh, lady bright, oh, lady fair," he cried, "I pray thee have mercy on thy humble servant, and open thy gates and speak with him. Thou art far too beautiful to live in these cold Northern climes, among rough and brutal men. Come with me, and I will dress thee in cloth-of-gold, and take thee along with me to London. King Edward will welcome thee, for thy beauty will add lustre to his court, and we shall be married with all speed. I warrant the Countess of Salisbury will be a person of importance at the English court, and thou shalt have a retinue such as in this barren country ye little dream of. Thou shalt have both lords and knights to ride in thy train, and twenty little page boys to serve thee on bended knee; and hawks, and hounds, and horses galore, so thou wouldst join in the chase. Think of it, lady, and consider not thy rough and unkind lord. If he had loved thee in the least, would he have left thee in my power?"
Now the English lord's words were sweet, and he spoke in the soft Southern tongue, such as might wile a bird from the lift, if the bird chanced to have little sense, and when he ceased I glanced at my lady in alarm, lest for a moment she were tempted.
[Footnote 14: Sky.]
Heaven forgive me for the thought.
She had drawn herself up to her full height, and her face of righteous anger might have frightened the Evil One himself; and, by my Faith, I am not so very sure that it was not the Evil One who spoke by the mouth of my Lord of Salisbury.
The Countess was very stately, and of wondrous beauty. "Black Agnace," the common folk were wont to call her, because of her raven hair and jet black eyes. Verily at that moment these eyes of hers burned like stars of fire.
"Now shame upon thee, Montague, Earl of Salisbury," she cried, and because of her indignation her voice rang out clear as a trumpet. "Open my gates to thee, forsooth! go to London with thee, and be married to thee there, and bear thy name, and ride in the chase with thy horses and hounds, as if I were thy lawful Countess. Shame on thee, I say. I trow thou callest thyself a belted Earl, and a Christian Knight, and thou comest to me, the wife of a belted Earl—who, thank God, is also a Christian Knight, and a good man and true, moreover, which is more than thou art—with words like these. Yea," and she drew a dainty little glove from her girdle, and threw it down at the Earl's feet, "I cry thrice shame on thee, and here I fling defiance in thy face. Keep thy cloth-of-gold for thine own knights' backs; and as for thy squires and pages, if thou hast so many of them, give them each a sword, and set them on a horse, and bring them here to swell thy company. Bring them here, I say, and let them try to batter down these walls, for in no other way wilt thou ever set foot in Dunbar Castle."
A subdued murmur, as if of applause, ran through the ranks of the armed men, who stood drawn up in a body behind the English Earl. For men love bravery wherever they chance to meet it, and I trow we must have seemed to them but a feeble company to take upon us the defence of the Castle, and to throw defiance in the teeth of their lord.
But the bravery of the Countess did not seem to strike their leader; possibly he was not accustomed to receive such answers from the lips of women. His face flushed an angry red as his squire picked up my lady's little white glove and handed it to him.
"Now, by my soul, Madam," he cried, "thou shalt find that it is no light matter to jeer at armed men. I have come to thee with all courtesy, asking thee to open thy Castle gates, and thou hast flouted me to my face. Well, so be it. When next I come, 'twill be with other words, and other weapons. Mayhap thou wilt be more eager to treat with me then."
"Bring what thou wilt, and come when thou wilt," answered my lady passionately, "thou shalt ever find the same answer waiting thee. These gates of mine open to no one save my own true lord."
With a low mocking bow the Earl turned his horse's head to the South, and galloped away, followed by his men.
We stood on the top of the tower and watched them, I, with a heart full of anxious thoughts for the time that was coming, my lady with her head held high, and her eyes flaming, while the men stood apart and whispered among themselves. For we all knew that, although the English had taken themselves off, it was only for a time, and that they would return without fail.
When the last horseman had disappeared among the belt of trees which lay between us and the Lammermuirs, my lady turned round, her bonnie face all soft and quivering.
"Will ye stand by me, my men?" she asked.
"That will we, till the death, my lady," answered they, and one after another they knelt at her feet and kissed her hand, while, as for me, I could but take her in my arms, as I had done oft-times when she was a little child, and pray God to strengthen her noble heart.
Her emotion passed as quickly as it had come, however, and in a moment she was herself again, laughing and merry as if it had all been a game of play.
"Come down, Walter; come down, my men," she cried; "we must e'en hold a council of war, and lay our plans; while old Andrew will keep watch for us, and tell us when the black-faced knave is like to return."
And when we went downstairs into the great hall, and found that the silly wenches had heard all that had passed, and were bemoaning themselves for lost, and frightening little Mistress Marjory and Mistress Jean well-nigh out of their senses, I warrant she did not spare them, but called them a pack of chicken-hearted, thin-blooded baggages, and threatened that if they did not hold their tongues, and turn to their duties at once, she would send them packing, and then they would be at the mercy of the English in good earnest.
After that we set to work and made such preparations as we could. We set the wenches to draw water from the well, and to bake a good store of bannocks to be ready in time of need, for the men must not be hungry when they fought. Walter Brand and two of the strongest men-at-arms set to work to strengthen the gates, by laying ponderous billets of wood against them, and clasping these in their places by strong iron bars; while the rest, led by old Andrew, went round the Castle, looking to the loopholes, and the battlements, and examining the cross-bows and other weapons.
Upstairs and downstairs went my lady, overlooking everything, thinking of everything, as became a daughter of the great Randolph, while I sat and kept the bairns, who, poor little lassies, were puzzled to know what all the stir and din was about.
And indeed it was none too soon to look to all these things, for although the country seemed quiet enough through the hours of that short afternoon, when night fell, and I was putting the bairns to bed, my lady helping me—for, when one bears a troubled heart (and her heart must have been troubled, in spite of her cheerful face), it aye seems lighter when the hands are full—a little page came running in to tell us that there were lights flickering to Southward among the trees.
"Now hold thy silly tongue, laddie," said I, for I was anxious that we should at least get one good night's rest before the storm and stress of war came upon us.
My lady looked up with a smile from where she was kneeling beside Mistress Jean's cradle. "Let him be, Marian," she said; "the lad meant it well, and 'tis good to know how the danger threatens. Come, we will go up and watch with old Andrew."
So, as soon as the bairns were asleep, we threw plaids over our heads, and crept up the narrow stairs to where old Andrew was watching in his own little tower, which stood out from the great tower like a corbie's nest, and, crouching down behind the battlements to gain some shelter from the cruel wind, we watched the flickering lights coming nearer and nearer from the Southward, and listened to the shouting of men, and the tramp of horses' hoofs, which we could hear at times coming faintly through the storm.
[Footnote 15: Crow's.]
For two long hours we waited, and then, as we could only guess what was taking place, it being far too dark to see, we crept down the narrow stairs again, stiff and chilled, and threw ourselves, all dressed as we were, on our beds.
The gray winter dawn of next morning showed us that the English Earl meant to do his best to reduce our fortress in good earnest, for a small army of men had been brought up in the night, from Berwick most likely, and they were encamped on a strip of greensward facing the Castle. They must have spent a busy night, for already the tents had been pitched, and fires lit, and the men were now engaged in cooking their breakfast, and attending to their horses. At the sight my heart grew heavier and heavier; but my lady's spirits seemed to rise.
"'Tis a brave sight, is it not, Marian?" she said. "In good troth, my Lord of Salisbury does us too much honour, in setting a camp down at our gates, to amuse us in our loneliness. Methinks that is his own tent, there on the right, with the pennon floating in front of it; and there are the mangonells behind," and she pointed to a row of strange-looking machines, which were drawn up on a hill a little way to the rear. "Well, 'tis a stony coast; his lordship will have no trouble in finding stones to load them with."
"What be they, madam?" I asked, for in all my life I had never seen such things before.
My lady laughed as she turned her head to greet Walter Brand, who came up the stairs at that moment.
"Welcome, Walter," she said merrily. "We are just taking the measure of our foes, and here is Marian, who has never seen mangonells before, wondering what they are. They are engines for shooting stones with, Marian; for well the knaves know that arrows are but poor weapons with which to batter stone walls. But see, the fray begins, for yonder are the archers approaching, and yonder go the men down to the sea-shore to gather stones for the mangonells. Thou and I must e'en go down and leave the men to brave the storm. See to it, Walter, that they do not expose themselves unduly; we could ill afford to lose one of them."
Then began the weary onslaught which lasted for so many weeks. In good faith it seems to me that, had we known, when that first rush of arrows sounded through the air, how long it would be ere we were quiet again, we scarce would have had the courage to go on. And when those infernal engines were set off, and their volleys of stones and jagged pieces of iron sounded round our ears, the poor silly wenches lost their heads, and screamed aloud, while the bairns clung to my skirts, and hid their chubby faces in the folds.
But even then my lady was not daunted. Snatching up a napkin, she ran lightly up the stairs, and before anyone could stop her, she stepped forward to the battlements, and there, all unheeding of the danger in which she stood from the arrows of the enemy, she wiped the fragments of stone, and bits of loose mortar daintily from the walls, as if to show my Lord of Salisbury how little our Castle could be harmed by all the stones he liked to hurl against it.
It was bravely done, and again a murmur of admiration went through the English ranks; and—for I was peeping through a loophole—I trow that even the haughty Earl's face softened at the sight of her.
The story of that first day is but the story of many more days that followed. Showers of arrows flew from the cross-bows, volleys of stones fell from the mangonells, until we got so used to the sound of them, that by the third week the veriest coward among the maidens would go boldly up and wipe the dust away where a stone had been chipped, or another displaced, as calmly as our lady herself had done on that first terrible morning.
Their archers did little harm, for our men were so few, and our places of shelter so many, that they ran small risk of being hurt, and although one or two poor fellows were killed, and half a dozen more had wounds, it was nothing to be compared with the loss which the English suffered, for our archers had the whole army to take aim at, and I wot their shafts flew sure.
In vain they brought battering-rams and tried to batter down the doors. Our portcullis had resisted many an onslaught, and the gates behind it were made of oak a foot thick, and studded all over with iron nails, and they might as well have thought to batter down the Bass Rock itself.
So, in spite of all, as the weeks went by, we began to feel fairly safe and comfortable, although my lady never relaxed her vigilance, and went her round of the walls, early and late. At Walter's request she began to wear a morion on her head, and a breast-plate of fine steel, to protect her against any stray arrow, and in them, to my mind, she looked bonnier than ever. In good sooth, I think the very English soldiers loved her, not to speak of our own men; for whenever she appeared they would raise their caps as if in homage, and hum a couplet which ran in some wise thus—
"Come I early, come I late, I find Annot at the gate,"
as if they would praise her for her tireless watchfulness. One day, Earl Montague himself, moved to admiration by the manner in which Walter Brand had sent his shaft through the heart of an English knight, cried out in the hearing of all his army, "There comes one of my lady's tire-pins; Agnace's love-shafts go straight to the heart." At which words all our men broke into a mighty shout, and cheered, and cheered again, till the walls rang, and the echoes floated back from far out over the sea.
In spite of their admiration at our lady's bravery, however, the English were determined to conquer the Castle, and after a time, when they saw that their battering-rams and mangonells availed little, they bethought them of a more dangerous weapon of warfare.
It was somewhere towards the end of February, when one fine day a mighty sound of hammering arose from the midst of their camp.
"What are they doing now, think ye, Walter?" asked my lady lightly. "Is it possible that they look for so long a siege that they are beginning to build houses for themselves? Truly they are wise, for if my Lord of Salisbury means to stay there until I open my gates to him, he will grow weary of braving these harsh East winds in no better shelter than a tent."
But for once Walter Brand had no answering smile to give her.
"I fear me 'tis a sow that they are making," he said, "and if that be so we had need to look to our arms."
"A sow," repeated the Countess in graver tones. "I have oft heard of such machines, but I never saw one. Thy words hint of danger, Walter. Is a sow then so deadly that our walls cannot resist its onslaught?"
"It is deadly because it brings the enemy nearer us, my lady," answered Walter. "Hitherto our walls have been our shelter; without them we could not stand a moment, for we are outnumbered by the English a score of times over. These sows, as men name them, are great wooden buildings, which can hold at least forty men inside, and with a platform above where other thirty can stand. They be mounted on two great wheels, and can be run close up to the walls, and as they are oft as high as a house, 'twill be an easy matter for the men who stand on the platform to set up ladders and scale our walls, and after that what chance will there be for our poor handful of men? 'Tis not for myself I fear," he went on, "nor yet for the men. We are soldiers and we can face death; but if thou wouldst not fall into the hands of this English Earl, my lady, I would advise that thou, and Marian, and little Mistress Marjory and Mistress Jean, should set out in the boat the first dark night, when it is calm. 'Tis but ten miles to the Bass, and thou couldst aye find shelter there."
Thus spake honest Walter, who was, as I have said, ever timorous where my lady was concerned; but at his words she shook her head.
"And leave the Castle, Walter?" she said. "That will I never do till I open its doors to my own true lord. As for this English Earl and his sows—tush! I care not for them. If they have wood we have rock, my lad, and I warrant 'twill be a right strong sow that will stand upright after a lump of Dunbar rock comes crashing down on its back; so keep up thy courage, and get out the picks and crowbars. If they build sows by day, we can quarry stones by night."
So saying, my lady shook her little white fist, by way of defiance, in the direction of the tents which studded the greensward opposite, while Walter went off to do her bidding, muttering to himself that the famous Randolph himself was not better than she, for she had been born with the courage of Bruce, and the wisdom of Solomon.
So it came about, that, while the English gave over wasting arrows for a time, and turned their attention to the building of two great clumsy wooden structures, we would steal down in a body on dark nights to the little postern that opened on the shore, when the waves were dashing against the rocks, and making enough noise to deaden the sound of the picks, and while we women held a lanthorn or two, the men worked with might and main, hewing at the solid rock which stretched out to seaward for a few yards at the foot of the Castle wall. Then, when some huge block was loosened, ropes would be lowered, and with much ado, for our numbers were small, the unwieldy mass would be hoisted up, and placed in position on the top of the Castle, hidden, it is true, behind the battlements, but with the stones in front of it displaced, so that it could be rolled over with ease at a given signal.
We all took a turn at the ropes, and our hands were often raw and frayed with the work. 'Twas my lady who suffered most, for her skin was fine, and up till now she had never known what such labour meant.
At last the day came when the English mounted their great white sows on wheels, and filled them with armed men, and loaded the roofs of them with broad-shouldered, strapping fellows, who carried ladders and irons with which to scale our walls. When all was ready the mighty machines began to move forward, pushed by scores of willing arms, while we watched them in silence.
My lady and I were hidden in old Andrew's tower, for no word that Walter Brand could say could persuade her to go down beside Mistress Marjory, and Mistress Jean, and the serving wenches.
Instead of shooting, our archers stood motionless, stationed in groups behind the great boulders of rock, ready for Walter's signal.
On came the sows, until we could look down and see the men they carried, with upturned faces, and hands busy with the ladders they were raising to place against the walls. They were trundled over the narrow strip of land which connected us with the mainland, and stood still at last, close to our very gates.
"Now, lads," shouted Walter, and before a single ladder could be placed, our great blocks of rock went crashing down on them, hurling the top men in all directions, and driving in the wooden roofs on those who were inside.
Woe's me! Although they were our enemies, our hearts melted at the sight. The timbers of the sows cracked and fell in, and we could see nought but a mass of mangled, bleeding wretches. Had it not been that my lady feared treachery, and that she had sworn not to open the gates except to her husband, I ween she would fain have taken us all out to succour them.
As it was, we could only watch and pity, and keep the bairns in the chambers that looked on the sea, so that their young eyes should not gaze on so ghastly a scene.
And when night fell, and there was no light to guide our archers to shoot, though I trust that, in any case, mercy would have kept them from it, the English stole across the causeway, and pulled away the broken beams, and carried off the dead and wounded, and burned what remained of the sows.
After that day we had no more trouble from any attempts to storm the Castle.
But what force cannot do, hunger may. So my Lord of Salisbury, still sitting in front of our gates with his army, in order to prevent help reaching us from the land, set about starving us into submission. As yet we had had no need to trouble about food, for, as I have said, we had a store of grain, enough to last for some weeks yet, in the dungeon, and, long ere it was done, we looked for help reaching us by the sea, if it could not reach us by land.
It was soon made plain to us, however, that not only my Lord of Salisbury, but his royal master, King Edward, was determined that the "Key of Scotland" should fall into his hand, for one fine March morning a great fleet of ships came sailing round St Abb's Head, and took up their station betwixt us and the Bass Rock, and then we were left, without hope of succour, until our stock of provisions should be eaten up, and starvation forced us to give in.
Ah me! but it was weary work, living through the ever-lengthening days of that cold bleak springtime, waiting for the help which never came, which never could come, so it seemed to us, with that army watching us from the land, and that fleet of ships girding us in on the sea.
And all the time our store of food sank lower and lower, and the wenches' faces grew white, and the men pulled their belts tighter round their middles, and poor little Mistress Jean would turn wearily away from the water gruel which was all we had to give her, and moan and cry for the white bread and the milk to which she was accustomed. Mistress Marjory, on the other hand, being five years old, and wise for her years, never complained, though oft-times she would let the spoon fall into her porringer at supper-time, and, laying her head against my sleeve, would say in a wistful little voice that went to my very heart, "I cannot eat it, Marian; I am not hungry to-night."
As for my lady, she went about in those days in silence, with a stern, set face. It must have seemed to her that when the meal was all gone she must needs give in, for she could not see her children die before her eyes.
But Providence is aye ready to help those who help themselves, and, late one evening, towards the latter end of May, when we had held the castle for five long months, I chanced to be sitting alone in my chamber, when the Countess entered, looking very pale and wan.
"Wrap a plaid round thee, and come to the top of the tower, Marian," she said. "I cannot sleep, and I long for a breath of fresh air. It doth me no good to go up there by day, for I can see nothing but these English soldiers in front, and these English ships behind. But by night it is different. It is dark then, and I forget for a time how closely beset we are, and how few handfuls of meal there are in the girnels. I will tell thee, Marian," and here her voice sank to a whisper, "what as yet only myself and Walter Brand know, that if help doth not come within a week, we must either open our gates, or starve like rats in a hole."
[Footnote 16: Meal-barrels.]
"But a week is aye a week," I said soothingly, for I was frightened at the wildness of her look, "and help may come before it passes."
All the same my heart was heavy within me as I threw a wrap round my head, and followed her up the narrow stone stairs, and out on to the flat roof of the tower.
The footing was bad in the darkness, for although the battlements had been built up again since the day that we destroyed the sows, there were stones and pieces of rock lying about in all directions, and not being so young and light of foot as I once had been, I stumbled and fell.
"Do not stir till I get a light," cried my lady; "it is dangerous up here in the dark, and a twisted ankle would not mend matters."
She felt her way over to Andrew's watch-tower, and the old man lighted his lanthorn for her, and she came quickly back again, holding it low in case the enemy should see it, and send a few arrows in our direction. By its light I raised myself, and we went across to the northern turret, which looked straight over to the Bass Rock, and stood there, resting our arms on the wall.
Suddenly a speck of light shone out far ahead in the darkness. It flickered for a second and then disappeared. In a moment or two it appeared again, and then disappeared in the same way. I drew my lady's attention to it.
"'Tis a light from the Bass," she said in an excited whisper. "Someone is signalling. It can hardly be to the English, for the Rock is held by friends. Is it possible they can have seen our lanthorn? Let us try again. The English loons are likely to be asleep by now; they have had little to disturb their rest for some weeks back, and may well have grown lazy."
Cautiously she raised the lanthorn, and flashed its rays, once, twice, thrice over the waves. It was only for a second, but it was enough. The spark of light appeared three times in answer, and then all was dark again.
"Run and tell Walter," whispered my lady, and her very voice had changed. It was once more full of life and hope. The Bass Rock was but ten miles off, and if there were friends there watching us, and doubtless making plans to help us, was not that enough?
When Walter came we tried our test for the fourth time, and the answer came back as before.
"We must watch the sea, my lady," he said, when we were safely down in the great hall again. "Help will only come that way, and it will come in the dark. Heaven send that the English sailors have not seen what we have, and keep a double watch in consequence."
After that, we hardly slept. Night after night, we strained our eyes through the darkness in the direction of the Bass, and for five nights our watching was in vain.
But on the sixth, a Sunday, just on the stroke of twelve, the silence which had lasted so long was broken by the sound of shouting, and lights sprang up all round us, first on the ships and then on the land.
With anxious hearts we crowded round the loopholes, for we knew that somewhere, out among the lights, brave men were making a dash for our rescue, and we women, who could do nothing else, lifted up our hearts, and prayed that Heaven and the Holy St Michael would aid their efforts.
Meanwhile, the men manned the walls, ready to shoot if the English ships came within bow-shot, which they were scarce likely to do, as the coast was wild and rocky, and fraught with danger to those who were unacquainted with it.
Presently Walter called for wood to make a fire outside the little postern which opened on the rocks, and we ceased our prayers, and fell to work with a will, with the kitchen-wenches' choppers, on the empty barrels which were piled up in a corner of a cellar. We even drained our last flagon of oil to pour over them, and soon a fire was blazing on the rudely-cut-out landing-stage, and throwing its beams far out over the sea.
And there, dim and shadowy at first, but aye coming nearer and nearer, guided by its light, we saw a boat, not cut in any foreign fashion, but built and rigged near St Margaret's Hope. It was full of men; we could hear them cheering and shouting in our own good Scots tongue, which fell kindly on our ears after the soft mincing English which had been thrown at our heads for so many months.
They were safe now, for, as I have said, the ships through which they had slipped dare not follow them too near the coast, in case they ran upon the rocks, and the Castle sheltered them from any arrows which might be sent from the land. It sheltered us too, and we crowded down to the little landing-stage, and watched with breathless interest the boat which was bringing safety and succour to us.
"Bring down the bairns, Marian," said my lady. "Marjory at least is of an age to remember this."
I hastened to do her bidding, and, calling one of the wenches, we ran up and roused the sleeping lambs, telling them stories of the wonderful boat which was coming over the sea, bringing them nice things to eat once more; for, poor babes, the lack of dainty fare had been the hardest part of all the siege for them.
We had hardly got downstairs again, when the boat ran close up to our roughly constructed landing-stage, which was little more than a ledge of rock, and willing hands seized the ropes which were flung out to them.
Then amidst such cheering as I shall never forget, her crew jumped out. Forty men of them there were, strong, stalwart, strapping fellows, looking very different from our own poor lads, who were pinched and thin from long watching, and meagre fare. Their leader was Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, one of the bravest of Scottish knights, and most chivalrous of men, who had risked his life, and the lives of his men, in order to bring us help.
"Now Heaven and all the Saints be thanked, we are in time," he cried, as his eyes rested on my lady, who was standing at the head of the steps which led up to the little postern, with one babe in her arms, and the other clinging to her gown, "for dire tales have reached us of pestilence and starvation which were working their will within these walls."
Then he doffed his helmet, and ran up to where she was standing, and I wot there was not a dry eye in the crowd as he knelt and kissed her hand.
"Here greet I one of the bravest ladies in Christendom," he said, "for, by my troth, as long as the Scots tongue lasts, the story of how thou kept thy lord's castle in his absence will be handed down from father to son."
"Nay, noble sir," she answered, and there was a little catch in her voice as she spoke, "it hath not been so very hard after all. My men have been brave and leal, my walls are thick, and although the wolf hath come very near the door, he hath not as yet entered."
"Nor shall he," said Sir Alexander cheerily, as he picked up Mistress Marjory and kissed her, "for we have brought enough provisions with us to victual your Castle twice over."
And in good sooth they had. It took more than half an hour to unload the boat, and to carry its contents into the great hall. There had been kind hands and thoughtful hearts at the loading of it. There was milk for the bairns, and capons, and eggs. There was meat and ale for the men, and red French wine and white bread for my lady, and bags of grain and meal, and many other things which I scarce remember, but which were right toothsome, I can tell you, after the scanty fare on which we had been living.
And so ended the famous siege of Dunbar Castle, for on the morrow, the English, knowing that now it was hopeless to think of taking it, struck their camp, and by nightfall they were marching southwards, worsted by a woman.
And ere another day had passed, another band of armed men came riding through the woods that lie thickly o'er the valley in which lies the Lamp of Lothian; but this time we knew right well the device which was emblazoned on the banners, and the horses neighed, as horses are wont to do when they scent their own stables, and the riders tossed their caps in the air at the sight of us.
[Footnote 17: The Abbey of Haddington (an old name for it).]
And I trow that if my lady had wished for reward for all the weary months of anxiety which she had passed through, she had it in full measure when at long last she opened the Castle gates, and saw the look on her husband's face, as he took her in his arms, and kissed her, not once, but many times, there, in the courtyard, in the sight of us all.
THOMAS THE RHYMER
"True Thomas lay on Huntly bank; A ferlie he spied with his e'e; And there he saw a ladye bright, Came riding down by the Eildon tree."
More than six hundred years ago, there lived in the south of Scotland a very wonderful man named Thomas of Ercildoune, or Thomas the Rhymer.
He lived in an old tower which stood on the banks of a little river called the Leader, which runs into the Tweed, and he had the marvellous gift, not only of writing beautiful verses, but of forecasting the future:—that is, he could tell of events long before they happened.
People also gave him the name of True Thomas, for they said that he was not able to tell a lie, no matter how much he wished to do so, and this gift he had received, along with his gift of prophecy, from the Queen of the Fairies, who stole him away when he was young, and kept him in fairyland for seven years and then let him come back to this world for a time, and at last took him away to live with her in fairyland altogether.
I do not say that this is true; I can only say again that Thomas the Rhymer was a very wonderful man; and this is the story which the old country folk in Scotland tell about him.
One St Andrew's Day, as he was lying on a bank by a stream called the Huntly Burn, he heard the tinkling of little bells, just like fairy music, and he turned his head quickly to see where it was coming from.
A short distance away, riding over the moor, was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. She was mounted on a dapple-gray palfrey, and there was a halo of light shining all around her. Her saddle was made of pure ivory, set with precious stones, and padded with crimson satin. Her saddle girths were of silk, and on each buckle was a beryl stone. Her stirrups were cut out of clear crystal, and they were all set with pearls. Her crupper was made of fine embroidery, and for a bridle she used a gold chain.
She wore a riding-skirt of grass-green silk, and a mantle of green velvet, and from each little tress of hair in her horse's mane hung nine and fifty tiny silver bells. No wonder that, as the spirited animal tossed its dainty head, and fretted against its golden rein, the music of these bells sounded far and near.
She appeared to be riding to the chase, for she led seven greyhounds in a leash, and seven otter hounds ran along the path beside her, while round her neck was slung a hunting-horn, and from her girdle hung a sheaf of arrows.
As she rode along she sang snatches of songs to herself, or blew her horn gaily to call her dogs together.
"By my faith," thought Thomas to himself, "it is not every day that I have the chance of meeting such a beauteous being. Methinks she must be the Virgin Mother herself, for she is too fair to belong to this poor earth of ours. Now will I hasten over the hill, and meet her under the Eildon Tree; perchance she may give me her blessing."
So Thomas hasted, and ran, and came to the Eildon Tree, which grew on the slope of the Eildon Hills, under which, 'tis said, King Arthur and his Knights lie sleeping, and there he waited for the lovely lady.
When she approached he pulled off his bonnet and louted low, so that his face well-nigh touched the ground, for, as I have said, he thought she was the Blessed Virgin, and he hoped to hear some words of benison.
[Footnote 18: Bowed.]
But the lady quickly undeceived him. "Do not do homage to me," she said, "for I am not she whom thou takest me for, and cannot claim such reverence. I am but the Queen of Fairyland, and I ride to the chase with my horn and my hounds."
Then Thomas, fascinated by her loveliness, and loth to lose sight of her, began to make love to her; but she warned him that, if he did so, her beauty would vanish in a moment, and, worse still, she would have the power to throw a spell over him, and to carry him away to her own country. But I wot that her spell had fallen on Thomas already, for it seemed to him that there was nothing on earth to be compared to her favour.
"Here pledge I my troth with thee," he cried recklessly, "and little care I where I am carried, so long as thou art beside me," and as he said this, he gave her a kiss.
What was his horror, as soon as he had done so, to see an awful change come over the lady. Her beautiful clothes crumbled away, and she was left standing in a long ash-coloured gown. All the brightness round her vanished; her face grew pale and colourless; her eyes turned dim, and sank in her head; and, most terrible of all, one-half of her beautiful black hair went gray before his eyes, so that she looked worn and old.
A cruel smile came on her haggard face as she cried triumphantly, "Ah, Thomas, now thou must go with me, and thou must serve me, come weal, come woe, for seven long years."
Then she signed to him to get up behind her on her gray palfrey, and poor Thomas had no power to refuse. He glanced round in despair, taking a last look at the pleasant country-side he loved so well, and the next moment it vanished from his eyes, for the Eildon Hills opened beneath them, and they sank in gloomy caverns, leaving no trace behind.
For three days Thomas and the lady travelled on, in the dreadful gloom. It was like riding through the darkness of the darkest midnight. He could feel the palfrey moving beneath him; he could hear, close at hand, the roaring of the sea; and, ever as they rode, it seemed to him that they crossed many rivers, for, as the palfrey struggled through them, he could feel the cold rushing water creeping up to his knees, but never a ray of light came to cheer him.
He grew sick and faint with hunger and terror, and at last he could bear it no longer.
"Woe is me," he cried feebly, "for methinks I die for lack of food."
As he spoke these words, the lady turned her horse's head in the darkness, and, little by little, it began to grow lighter, until at last they emerged in open daylight, and found themselves in a beautiful garden.
It was full of fruit trees, and Thomas feasted his eyes on their cool green leaves and luscious burden; for, after the terrible darkness he had passed through, this garden seemed to him like the Garden of Paradise.
There were pear trees in it, covered with pears, and apple trees laden with great juicy apples; there were dates, and damsons, and figs, and grapes. Brightly coloured parrots were flitting about among the branches, and everywhere the thrushes were singing.
The lady drew rein under an apple tree, and, reaching up her hand, she plucked an apple, and handed it to him. "Take this for thine arles," she said; "it will confer a great gift on thee, for it will give thee a tongue that cannot lie, and from henceforth men shall call thee 'True Thomas.'"
[Footnote 19: Money paid at the engagement of a servant.]
Now, I am sorry to say that Thomas was not very particular about always being truthful, and this did not seem to him to be a very enviable gift. He wondered to himself what he would do if ever he got back to earth, and was always obliged to tell the truth, whether it were convenient or not.
"A bonnie gift, forsooth!" he said scornfully. "My tongue is my own, and I would prefer that no one meddled with it. If I am obliged always to tell the truth, how shall I fare when I once more go back to the wicked world? When I take a cow to market, have I always to point out the horn it hath lost, or the piece of skin that is torn? And when I talk to my betters, and would crave a boon of them, must I always tell them my real thoughts, instead of giving them the flattery which, let me tell you, Madam, goes a long way in obtaining a favour?"
"Now hold thy peace," said the lady sharply, "and think thyself favoured to see food at all. Many miles of our journey lie yet before us, and already thou criest out for hunger. Certs, if thou wilt not eat when thou canst, thou shalt have no more opportunity."
Poor Thomas was so hungry, and the apple looked so tempting, that at last he took it and ate it, and the Grace of Truth settled down on his lips for ever: that is why men called him "True Thomas," when in after years he returned to earth.
Then the lady shook her bridle rein, and the palfrey darted forward so quickly that it appeared to be almost flying. On and on they flew, until they came to the World's End, and a great desert stretched before them. Here the lady bade Thomas dismount and lean his head against her knee. "I have three wonders to show thee, Thomas," she said, "and it is thus that thou canst see them best."
Thomas did as he was bid, and when he laid his head against the Fairy Queen's knee, he saw three roads stretching away before him through the sand.
One of them was a rough and narrow road, with thick hedges of thorn on either side, and branches of tangled briar hanging down from them, and lying across the path. Any traveller who travelled by that road would find it beset with many difficulties.
The next road was smooth and broad, and it ran straight and level across the plain. It looked so easy a way that Thomas wondered that anyone ever wanted to go along the narrow path at all.
The third road wound along a hillside, and the banks above it and below it were covered with beautiful brackens, and their delicate fronds rose high on either side, so high, indeed, that they would shelter the wayfarer from the burning heat of the noonday sun.
"That is the best road of all," thought Thomas to himself; "it looks so fresh and cool, I should like to travel along it."
Then the lady's voice sounded in his ears. "Seest thou that narrow path," she asked, "all set about with thorns and briars? That is the Path of Righteousness, and there be but few, oh, so few! who ever ask where it leads to, or who try to travel by it. And seest thou that broad, broad road, that runs so smoothly across the desert? That is the Path of Wickedness, and I trow it is a pleasant way, and easy to travel by. Men think it so, at least, and, poor fools, they do not trouble to ask where it leads to. Some would fain persuade themselves that it leads to Heaven, but Heaven was never reached by an easy road. 'Tis the narrow road through the briars and thorns that leads us thither, and wise are the men who follow it. And seest thou that bonnie, bonnie road, that winds up round the ferny brae? That is the way to Fairyland, and that is the road which lies before us."
Here Thomas was about to speak, and to remonstrate with her for carrying him away, but she interrupted him.
"Hush," she said, "thou must be silent now, Thomas; the time for speech is past. Thou art on the borders of Elfland, and if ever mortal man speak a word in Elfland, he can nevermore go back to his own country."
So Thomas held his peace, and climbed sadly on the palfrey's back, and once more they started on their awful journey. On and on they went. The beautiful road through the ferns was soon left behind, and great mountains had to be crossed, and steep, narrow valleys, until at last, far away in the distance, a splendid castle appeared, standing on the top of a high hill.
It was built of pure white marble, with massive towers, and lovely gardens stretched in front of it.
"That castle is mine," said the lady proudly. "It belongs to me, and to my husband, who is the King of this country. He is a jealous man, and one greatly to be feared, and, if he knew how friendly thou and I have been, he would kill thee in his rage. Remember, therefore, what I told thee about keeping silence. Thou canst talk to me, an thou wilt, if an opportunity offers, but see to it that thou answerest no one else. There are knights and squires in abundance at my husband's court, and doubtless they would fain question thee about the country from whence thou art come, but thou must pay no heed to them, and I shall pretend that thou talkest in an unknown tongue, and that I learned to understand it in thine own country."
While she was speaking, Thomas was amazed to see that a great change had passed over her again. Her face grew bright, and her gray gown vanished, and the green mantle took its place, and once more she became the beauteous being who had charmed his eyes at the Huntly Burn. And he was still more amazed when, on looking down, he found that his own raiment was changed too, and that he was now dressed in a suit of soft, fine cloth, and that on his feet he wore velvet shoon.
The lady lifted the golden horn which hung from a cord round her neck, and blew a loud blast. At the sound of it all the squires, and knights, and great court ladies came hurrying out to meet their Queen, and Thomas slid from the palfrey's back, and walked humbly at her elbow.
As she had foretold, the pages and squires crowded round him, and would fain have learned his name, and the name of the country to which he belonged, but he pretended not to understand what they said, and so they all came into the great hall of the castle.
At the end of this hall there was a dais, and on it were two thrones. The King of Fairyland was sitting on one, and when he saw the Queen, he rose, and stretched out his hand, and led her to the other, and then a rich banquet was served by thirty knights, who offered the dishes on their bended knees. After that all the court ladies went up and did homage to their Royal Mistress, while Thomas stood, and gazed, and wondered at all the strange things which he saw.
At one side of the hall there was a group of minstrels, playing on all manner of strange instruments. There were harps, and fiddles, and gitterns, and psalteries, and lutes and rebecks, and many more that he could not name. And when these minstrels played, the knights and the gay court ladies danced or played games, or made merry jokes amongst themselves; while at the other side of the hall a very different scene went on. There were thirty dead harts lying on the stone floor, and stable varlets carried in dead deer until there were thirty of them stretched beside the harts, and the dogs lay and licked their blood, and the cooks came in with their long knives and cut up the animals, in the sight of all the court.
It was all so weird and horrible that Thomas wondered what manner of folk he had come to dwell among, and if he would ever get back to his own country.
For three days things went on in the same manner, and still he looked and wondered, and still he spoke to no one, not even to the Queen.
At last she spoke to him. "Dress thee, and get thee gone, Thomas," she said, "for thou mayest not linger here any longer. Myself will convey thee on thy journey, and take thee back safe and sound to thine own country again."
Thomas looked at her in amazement. "I have only been here three days," he said, "and methought thou spakest of seven years."
The lady smiled.
"Time passes quickly in this country, Thomas," she replied. "It may not appear so long to thee, but it is seven long years and more, since thou camest into Fairyland. I would fain have kept thee longer; but it may not be, and I will show to thee the reason. Every seven years an evil spirit comes, and chooses someone out of our court, and carries him away to unknown regions, and, as thou art a stranger, and a goodly fellow withal, I fear me his choice would fall on thee; and although I brought thee here, and have kept thee here for seven years, 'twill never be said that I betrayed thee to an evil spirit. Therefore this very night we must be gone."
So once more the gray palfrey was brought, and Thomas and the lady mounted it, and they went back by the road by which they had come, and once more they came to the Eildon Tree.
The sun was shining when they arrived, and the birds singing, and the Huntly Burn tinkling just as it had always done, and it seemed to Thomas more impossible than ever that he had been away from it all for more than seven years.
He felt strangely sorry to say farewell to the beautiful lady, and he asked her to give him some token that would prove to people that he had really been in Fairyland.
"Thou hast already the Gift of Truth," she replied, "and I will add to that the Gift of Prophecy, and of writing wondrous verses; and here is a harp that was fashioned in Fairyland. With its music, set to thine own words, no minstrel on earth shall be to thee a rival. So shall all the world know for certain that thou learnedst the art from no earthly teacher; and some day, perchance, I will return."
Then the lady vanished, and Thomas was left all alone.
After this, he lived at his Castle of Ercildoune for many a long year, and well he deserved the names of Thomas the Rhymer, and True Thomas, which the country people gave him; for the verses which he wrote were the sweetest that they had ever heard, while all the things which he prophesied came most surely to pass.
It is remembered still how he met Cospatrick, Earl of March, one sunny day, and foretold that, ere the next noon passed, a terrible tempest would devastate Scotland. The stout Earl laughed, but his laughter was short, for by next day at noon the tidings came that Alexander III., that much loved King, was lying stiff and stark on the sands of Kinghorn. He also foretold the battles of Flodden and Pinkie, and the dule and woe which would follow the defeat of the Scottish arms; but he also foretold Bannockburn, where
"The burn of breid Shall run fow reid,"
and the English be repulsed with great loss. He spoke of the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, under a prince who was the son of a French Queen, and who yet had the blood of Bruce in his veins. Which thing came true in 1603, when King James, son of the ill-fated Mary, who had been Queen of France as well as Queen of Scots, began to rule over both countries.
In view of these things, it was no wonder that the fame of Thomas of Ercildoune spread through the length and breadth of Scotland, or that men came from far and near to listen to his wonderful words.
* * * * *
Twice seven years came and went, and Scotland was plunged in war. The English King, Edward I., after defeating John Baliol at Dunbar, had taken possession of the country, and the doughty William Wallace had arisen to try to wrest it from his hand. The tide of war ebbed and flowed, now on this side of the Border, now on that, and it chanced that one day the Scottish army rested not far from the Tower of Ercildoune.
Beacons blazed red on Ruberslaw, tents were pitched at Coldingknowe, and the Tweed, as it rolled down to the sea, carried with it the echoes of the neighing of steeds, and of trumpet calls.
Then True Thomas determined to give a feast to the gallant squires and knights who were camped in the neighbourhood—such a feast as had never been held before in the old Tower of Ercildoune. It was spread in the great hall, and nobles were there in their coats of mail, and high-born ladies in robes of shimmering silk. There was wine in abundance, and wooden cups filled with homebrewed ale.
There were musicians who played sweet music, and wonderful stories of war and adventure went round.
And, best of all, when the feast was over, True Thomas, the host, called for the magic harp which he had received from the hands of the Elfin Queen. When it was brought to him a great silence fell on all the company, and everyone sat listening breathlessly while he sang to them song after song of long ago.
He sang of King Arthur and his Table, and his Knights, and told how they lay sleeping under the Eildon Hills, waiting to be awakened at the Crack of Doom. He sang of Gawaine, and Merlin, Tristrem and Isolde; and those who listened to the wondrous story felt somehow that they would never hear such minstrelsy again.
Nor did they. For that very night, when all the guests had departed, and the evening mists had settled down over the river, a soldier, in the camp on the hillside, was awakened by a strange pattering of little feet on the dry bent of the moorland.
[Footnote 20: Withered grass.]
Looking out of his tent, he saw a strange sight.
There, in the bright August moonlight, a snow-white hart and hind were pacing along side by side. They moved in slow and stately measure, paying little heed to the ever-increasing crowd who gathered round their path.
"Let us send for Thomas of Ercildoune," said someone at last; "mayhap he can tell us what this strange sight bodes."
"Yea, verily, let us send for True Thomas," cried everyone at once, and a little page was hastily despatched to the old tower.
Its master started from his bed when he heard the message, and dressed himself in haste. His face was pale, and his hands shook.
"This sign concerns me," he said to the wondering lad. "It shows me that I have spun my thread of life, and finished my race here."
So saying, he slung his magic harp on his shoulder, and went forth in the moonlight. The men who were waiting for him saw him at a distance, and 'twas noted how often he turned and looked back at his old tower, whose gray stones were touched by the soft autumn moonbeams, as though he were bidding it a long farewell.
He walked along the moor until he met the snow-white hart and hind; then, to everyone's terror and amazement, he turned with them, and all three went down the steep bank, which at that place borders the Leader, and plunged into the river, which was running at high flood.
"He is bewitched! To the rescue! To the rescue, ere it be too late!" cried the crowd with one voice.
But although a knight leaped on his horse in haste, and spurred him at once through the raging torrent, he could see nothing of the Rhymer or his strange companions. They had vanished, leaving neither sign nor trace behind them; and to this day it is believed that the hart and the hind were messengers from the Queen of the Fairies, and that True Thomas went back with them to dwell in her country for ever.
"Lord Soulis he sat in Hermitage Castle, And beside him Old Redcap sly;— 'Now, tell me, thou sprite, who art meikle of might, The death that I must die.'
They roll'd him in a sheet of lead, A sheet of lead for a funeral pall; They plunged him in the cauldron red, And melted him, lead, and bones, and all."
And so thou hast seen the great cauldron at Skelf-hill, little Annie, standing high up on the hillside, and thou wouldst fain hear its story.
'Tis a weird tale, Sweetheart, and one to make the blood run cold, for 'tis the story of a cruel and a wicked man, and how he came by a violent and a fearsome death. But Grannie will tell it thee, and when thou thinkest of it, thou must always try to remember how true it is what the Good Book says, that "all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword," which means, I take it, that they who show no mercy need expect none at the hands of others.
'Tis a tale of spirits and of witchcraft, child, things that in our days we do not believe in; but I had it from my grandfather, who had heard it when he was a laddie from the old shepherds out on the hills, and they believed it all and feared to pass that way in the dark.
But to come to the story itself. Long, long ago, in far bygone days, William de Soulis, Lord of Liddesdale, kept high state in his Castle of Hermitage. The royal blood of Scotland flowed in his veins, for he was sixth in descent from Alexander II., and could an ancestress of his have proved her right, he might have sat on the throne of Scotland.
Besides owning Liddesdale, he had lands in Dumfriesshire, and in the Lothians, and he might have been like the "Bold Buccleuch," a succourer of widows, and a defender of the oppressed and the destitute.
But instead of this he worked all manner of wickedness, till his very name was dreaded far and near. He oppressed his vassals; he troubled his neighbours; he was even at enmity with the King himself. And because he feared that his Majesty might come against him with an army, he had fortified his castle with much care. In order to do this thoroughly, he forced his vassals to work like beasts of burden, putting bores on their shoulders, and yoking them to sledges, on which they drew all kinds of building material to the castle.
[Footnote 21: Yokes.]
No wonder, then, that he was hated by rich and poor alike, and no wonder that his heart would quail at times, reckless and hardened though he was, for it is an ill thing not to have a friend in this world. Servants may be hired for money, but 'tis love, and love only, that can buy true friendship. Aye remember that, little Annie, aye remember that.
I say that he had no friends, but I am mistaken. 'Twas said he had one, and mayhap he would have been as well without him. For men would have it that Hermitage Castle was haunted by a familiar spirit.
As a rule he dwelt in a wooden chest, bound with rusty bars of iron; but occasionally, when Lord Soulis was alone, he would come out and talk with him. "Old Redcap," the country folk used to call him, and they said that he was a wee, wee man, with a red pirnie and twisted legs; but whether that be true or no, 'tis not for me to say.
[Footnote 22: Nightcap.]
'Twas also said that, one day, when Soulis and his uncanny friend were alone, Soulis asked him what his end would be; if he would die at home in his bed, or out on the hillside in fair fight with his foes? And Redcap made answer that he would throw his spell over him, and that that spell would keep him from all common dangers, from all weapons of war, and from all devices of peace; from arrows, and lances, and knives; from chains, and even from hempen ropes. He would be safe from all these, but there was one thing, and one thing alone, which the charm could not do, and that was to save him if ever men could take him and bind him with ropes of sifted sand.
Methinks I can hear Lord Soulis' laugh as Redcap told him this. "Ropes of sand, forsooth!" he would say. "Did ever man hear of ropes of sand?"
But he had forgotten that the Wizard of the North, Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie—the same who studied the wisdom of the East under the Moors at Toledo, in Spain, who could read the stars, and command familiar spirits to come and go at his bidding—had found out the way to forge ropes out of sand, and that, though Michael was dead, his Spae-book yet remained, in which he had written down all his magic.
"Moreover," added Redcap, "if ever danger threatens thee, knock thrice on this old chest, and the lid will rise, and I will speak; but beware lest thou lookest into it. When the lid begins to rise, turn thine eyes away, or the spell will be broken."
Now it chanced soon after this, that one morning, just as the day was breaking, Lord Soulis, as was his wont, sent one of his little pages up to the top of the tower, to look out over the country far and near, to see if there were any travellers who took the road to Hermitage. At first the boy saw nothing, but, as it grew lighter, the figure of a horseman, clad in the royal livery, appeared, riding down the hillside.
"Now what may thine errand be?" cried the page.
"I carry a message to Soulis of Hermitage from the King of Scotland," replied the stranger; "and he bids me tell that cruel Knight, that the report of his ill deeds has come to his Majesty's ears at Holyrood House, and that if ever again such stories reach him, he will send his soldiers to burn the castle, and put its lord to death."
Then the page hasted, and ran, and delivered this message to his master, whose face grew white with rage when he heard it. For he was an awful man, little Annie, an awful man, who in general feared neither God nor the King, and who could not brook to be reproved.
Under the castle there was a deep dungeon, cut out of the solid rock, and the entrance to it was by a hole in the courtyard, which was covered by a great flat stone. The stone rested on beams of oak, and Lord Soulis gave orders that the guards were to keep the King's messenger waiting outside the gate, and pretend to be very kind to him, giving him a tankard of ale, and a hunch of bread, until some of the men inside the castle had cut away those great oak beams.
Then they opened the gate, and told the poor man that Lord Soulis would speak with him if he would ride into the courtyard; and he rode in, and as soon as his horse stepped on the big flat stone that covered the mouth of the dungeon, it gave way beneath its weight, and both man and horse fell down, and were crushed to pieces on the hard stone floor, full thirty feet below.
The King was right wroth when he heard how his messenger had been treated, but before he could set off for Liddesdale to punish Lord Soulis, the punishment came from nearer home.
It chanced that the young Lord of Buccleuch wooed a lovely lady called May o' Gorranberry. 'Twas said that she was the bonniest lass in all Teviotdale, and in all Liddesdale, and the wedding day was fixed. But the wicked Lord Soulis, puffed up with pride at the way in which he had got rid of the King's messenger, and relying, doubtless, on Redcap's charm to protect him from danger, took it into his sinful head that he would like May o' Gorranberry for his wife.