And he sent, and took her, as she was walking on the hillside above her father's house, and brought her to his grim old Castle of Hermitage.
The poor lassie was almost mad with terror, and tore her hair, and cried continually for her lover, until the cruel man threatened that if she did not hold her tongue he would send men to burn down Branksome Tower, and kill all its inmates.
And next morning, because she would not stop weeping, he called his chief man-at-arms, a brave, fearless fellow called Red Ringan, and told him to gather a band of spearmen, and ride over the hills to Teviotdale, and attack the old castle which was the home of the Lords of Buccleuch.
Now it chanced that that very morning, young Buccleuch set out alone to hunt the roe-buck and the dun deer which roamed in the woods that surrounded his castle. He had fine sport, and he went on, and on, and never noticed how far up among the hills he was getting, or how fast the day was passing, until it began to get dark.
Suddenly he looked up, and, to his astonishment, he saw, riding down the glen to meet him, a company of spearmen. He thought they were his own retainers, and walked boldly up to them, and never knew his mistake until he was seized, and bound hand and foot. They were really Lord Soulis' men, with Red Ringan at their head, and Red Ringan had thrown a glamour over his eyes, so that he could not distinguish between friends and foes. Of course Red Ringan was delighted at this piece of good luck, and he set the poor young man on a horse, and sent him over the hills to Hermitage, guarded by a handful of spearmen, while he rode on with the rest of his troop to Branksome, to see what mischief he could work there.
Thou canst think with what triumph my Lord Soulis would greet his prisoner, and with what bitter tears May o' Gorranberry would see him brought in, for she would know about the dungeon, and shudder to think what his fate would be.
'Twas said that the cruel lord mocked at young Buccleuch as he rode under the archway, and cried out to him, as if in jest—
"Thrice welcome, Buccleuch, thrice welcome to my castle. Nathless 'tis as a wedding guest thou comest. Certs, my bonnie May well deserves such a gallant groomsman."
Next morning the sun rose blood red, and just as its rays touched the gray stones of the grim old keep, the page came running to say that Red Ringan was riding down the hillside all alone. Methinks the wicked lord's heart gave a throb of fear, as he hurried out to the gate to meet his henchman.
"Where have ye stabled my gallant steeds?" he cried, "and wherefore do thy comrades tarry, whilst thou ridest home all alone?"
Red Ringan shook his head mournfully. "I bring thee heavy tidings, Master," he said. "The steeds are stabled, sure enough, but 'tis in a stable where they will rest till the Crack of Doom, and their riders lie beside them. Thou knowest Tarras Moss, and how fair and pleasant it lies, and how deep and cruel it is? My men mistook the path in the dark, and rode right into it, and, had it not been for my good brown mare, not one of us had been left to tell the tale. She struggled to firm footing right nobly, and brought me out alive on her back; but when I looked around me, I was all alone, Master, I was all alone."
Lord Soulis made no reply. With heavy steps he sought the low dark room where the great chest stood, with its iron bands, and its three rusty locks.
He shut the door behind him, and then, with clenched fist, he knocked thrice on the heavy lid. The first time he knocked, and the second time, such a groan came from the chest that his very blood ran cold; but at the third knock the locks opened, and the lid began to rise.
Lord Soulis turned away his head as Redcap had told him to do, and stood listening with all his might. A strange sullen muttering came from the chest, of which he could only distinguish these mysterious words, "Beware of a coming tree," and then the lid shut as slowly as it had opened, and the locks were locked with a jerk, as if by unseen hands.
Meanwhile, over the hills in Teviotdale there had been confusion and dismay when the young Lord of Buccleuch failed to return, and when news came by the country folk that he had been seen, bound hand and foot, being taken to Hermitage by Lord Soulis' men, the anger of the whole clan knew no bounds. For, as it is to-day, little Annie, so it was then. The Scotts of Buccleuch were strong and powerful, and held in honour far and near.
The young lord had one brother, Bold Walter by name. He was a mighty fighter and a right strong man, who carried a bow that no other man could bend, and who loved nothing better than to ride on a foray with all his father's moss-troopers at his back. Methinks Lord Soulis had forgotten Bold Walter when he meddled with his brother and his bride.
It did not take this brave knight long, when he heard the news, to send his riders out to North, and South, and East, and West, to call on his friends and clansmen to ride with him to the fray. And because he had heard of Old Redcap, and knew that Lord Soulis would be protected by his charms, he sent all the way to the Tower of Ercildoune for True Thomas, that wondrous Rhymer, who had been for seven years in Fairyland, and who, on his return to earth, had gone to the Abbey Church of St Mary, at Melrose, and had taken Sir Michael Scott's Spae-book from its dread hiding-place, for its writer had been buried with it in his arms.
So, before the next sun had set, Bold Walter had raised as fair an army as that which the King in Edinburgh had thought to send to Hermitage. The news of this army spread like wildfire over the country, ay, and over the hills to Hermitage, and I ween Lord Soulis' heart sank still lower when he heard of it, and once more he went for counsel to the magic chest. Again he knocked, and again the hollow groan rang out; but as the lid lifted, he forgot in his haste to turn his eyes away, and in a moment the charm was broken. The spirit spoke indeed, but it spoke sullenly and angrily.
"Alas," it said, "thou art undone. Thou hast forgotten my warning, and, instead of turning away thy head, thou hast raised thine eyes to look on me. Therefore thou must lock the door of this chamber, and give the key into my keeping, and for seven long years thou must not return, and I must remain silent."
The wicked may flourish like the green bay tree, little Annie, but vengeance will always overtake them at last; and I trow that Lord Soulis felt that vengeance was close on his heels, as he left that mysterious chamber, and locked the door, and drew the key from the lock, where it had always rested, in his life-time at least, and threw it over his left shoulder, which is, men say, the right way to give things to wizards and witches, and such-like beings.
The key sank in the ground, and there it remains for aught I know, and 'tis said that even to this day, at the end of every seven years, if anyone cares to listen, they may hear strange and awful sounds coming from that long-locked chamber.
[Footnote 23: "Somewhere about the autumn of 1806, the Earl of Dalkeith, being encamped near the Hermitage Castle, for the amusement of shooting, directed some workmen to clear away the rubbish from the door of the dungeon in order to ascertain its ancient dimensions and architecture. To the great astonishment of the labourers, a rusty iron key of considerable size was found among the ruins a little way from the dungeon door. The well-known tradition passed from one to another, and it was generally agreed that the malevolent demon who had so long retained possession of the key of the castle dungeon now found himself obliged to resign it to the heir-apparent of the domain."—Note on "Lord Soulis" in Leyden's Life and Works.]
Yet Lord Soulis' heart was not humbled, and he made up his mind, that, come what might, young Buccleuch should die. And in the wickedness and cruelty of his heart he determined that he himself should choose the manner of it.
So he had him brought before him. "What wouldst thou do, young Scott, if thou hadst me as I have thee?" he asked, in his cruel mocking voice.
"I would take thee to the good greenwood," answered Buccleuch haughtily, "and I would hang thee there, and I would make thine own hand wale the tree."
[Footnote 24: Choose.]
"Good," answered Lord Soulis; "then thou shalt do as thou hast said, and if bonnie May refuse to marry me, then she shall hang on a bush beside thee."
So they led him out to a wood full of tall trees, far up on whose upper branches sat hooded crows, looking down on them in solemn silence.
The first tree that Lord Soulis made his men halt under was a fir.
"Say, wilt thou hang on a fir tree, and let the hooded crows pick thy bones?" he asked roughly.
Young Buccleuch shook his head. "Nay, not so, my Lord of Soulis," he answered in mock humility, "for on windy nights at Branksome, the fir trees rock by the old towers, and the fir cones come pattering to the ground like rain. I heard them when I was a bairn, as I lay awake at night in my cot. Thou surely wouldst not have the heart to hang me on a tree which I have loved all my life."
Then Soulis told his men to pass on, and as they went through the wood their prisoner kept peeping and peering from side to side, and muttering to himself, as if he were looking for something. The men-at-arms could not hear what he was saying, and methinks they would have been much astonished if they had. For he knew the spirit that his brother was of, and he knew that he would not let him hang without an attempt at rescue, and he was saying over and over again to himself, "This death is no' for me, this death is no' for me."
At last they halted again under an aspen tree, whose leaves were quivering mournfully in the wind. Lord Soulis was growing impatient.
"Choose, and choose quickly," he cried, "or methinks I must choose for thee."
But again Buccleuch shook his head. "Not on an aspen tree, my lord, not on an aspen tree. I love its gray leaves better than any other, for it was under their shade that May o' Gorranberry and I first plighted our troth."
So on they went, and still the young man peered and looked, first in this direction, then in that, until at last he saw what seemed to be a bank of hazel branches pressing through the trees towards them. Then he gave a great shout, and leaped high in the air. "Methinks I spy a coming tree," he cried, and at the words Lord Soulis' face grew pale, for they recalled to him Redcap's warning, and he feared that his hour had come.
Everyone soon saw what the strange thing was which was coming towards them. It was Bold Walter of Buccleuch and his men, and each of them had stuck a branch of witch's hazel in his basnet, for 'tis said that a twig of hazel protects its wearer from the arts of magic, and they had no mind to be bewitched by the Lord of Hermitage.
So this was the coming tree that Redcap had warned Lord Soulis to beware of, and it had come in right earnest.
But Soulis remembered the charmed life that he bore, and he tried to shake fear from his heart.
"Ay, many may come, but few shall go back," he cried defiantly; "besides, ye come on a bootless errand. There is not a man in broad Scotland who hath the power to wound me."
"By my troth," replied Bold Walter, "but we shall soon prove that," and, drawing his bow, he sent an arrow straight in Lord Soulis' face.
Sure enough it fell harmless to the ground, and there was not even a scratch on the wicked lord's skin, and for a moment Buccleuch was baffled.
But Thomas of Ercildoune stepped forward. "He is bewitched, Sire," he said, "and protected by the charms of Redcap. No steel can break that charm, but mayhap if thy men bore him down with their lances, he might be taken."
In vain the spearmen crowded round, and struck him to the earth. The lances glanced harmlessly off his body, and never left so much as a mark on him.
Then they bound him hand and foot with hempen ropes, but, to their amazement, he burst them as if they had been threads of wool. Then someone brought chains of forged steel, and they bound those round his limbs, thinking that now they surely had him in their power; but he burst them as easily as if they had been made of tow.
At this everyone was daunted, and would have let him go, but Thomas of Ercildoune cried cheerily, "We'll bind him yet, lads, whatever betide."
As he spoke, he drew out from his bosom a little black leather-covered book, and at the sight of it all the spearmen fell back in awe. For it was Sir Michael Scott's "Book of Might," and, as I have said, Sir Michael was a wizard himself, and knew all about warlocks and witches, with their charms and spells, and he could undo everyone of them, and he had written all this knowledge down in his black Spae-book. When he died, the book had been buried deep in his grave in the Abbey at Melrose, and True Thomas had gone there, and recovered it, and he had brought it with him to aid Bold Walter of Buccleuch in rescuing his brother.
He turned over the leaves, and at last he found the place where Sir Michael had told how it was possible to bind a charmed man.
"Ye cannot bind a wizard with ropes," he read, "unless they be ropes of sifted sand."
"Where can we get some sifted sand?" he asked, and everyone looked round in dismay, for there was no sand there, under the trees.
"Come to the Nine-stane Rig," cried a man; "there is a burn runs past the bottom of it, and we will find plenty of sand there."
[Footnote 25: Stream.]
Thou knowest the Nine-stane Rig, little Annie, the hill that slopes down to Hermitage Water, with the circle of great stones standing on it, which, 'tis said, were placed there by wild and heathen men, hundreds of years ago. Well, they carried Lord Soulis there, and hurried him down to the burn, and they shaped ropes out of the sand that lies smooth and clean by the water-side.
But, shape the ropes as they might, they would neither twist nor twine; the dry sand just ran through their fingers, and once again they were baffled. Once more True Thomas turned to the spae-book, and this time he found that the sand would twist more easily if it were mixed with barley chaff, and the men of Teviotdale ran down the valley until they came to a field of growing barley. They pulled the ripe grain and beat it in their hands, and it was not long ere they returned with a napkin full of chaff. They mixed nine handfuls of it with the sand, for it was thus the "Book of Might" directed, and once more they tried to twist the ropes, but once more they failed.
"This is some of the wee man's work," muttered the country folk, who were standing looking on; and they were right. Old Redcap had not deserted his master, although the spell which caused the magic chest to open was broken, and he was at hand, doing his utmost to save him, though unseen by mortal eyes.
Again True Thomas turned over the leaves of Sir Michael's book, in the hope of finding something which would break even the most powerful spell, and at last he came to a page where it told how, if all else failed, the wizard must be boiled in lead.
Ay, thou mayst well shudder, little Annie, and hide thy face in my gown.
'Twas a terrible thing to do, but they did it.
They kindled a fire on the Nine-stane Rig, in the middle of the old Druid stones, and there they placed the great brass cauldron. They heated it red hot, and some of them hasted to Hermitage Castle, and stripped a sheet of lead from the roof, and they wrapped the wicked lord in it, and plunged him in, and stood round in solemn silence till the contents of that awful pot melted—lead, and bones, and all—and nought remained but a seething sea of molten metal.
So came the sinful man by his end, and to this day the cauldron remains, as thou knowest, child. It was brought over to the Skelf-hill, and there it stands, a fearful warning to evil-doers, while, on the spot where it was boiled, within the circle of stones on the Nine-stane Rig, the ground lies bare and fallow, for the very grass refuses to grow where such a terrible deed was done.
THE BROWNIE OF BLEDNOCK
"There came a strange wight to our town en', An' the fient a body did him ken; He twirled na' lang, but he glided ben, Wi' a weary, dreary hum.
His face did glow like the glow o' the West, When the drumly cloud had it half o'ercast; Or the struggling moon when she's sair distrest. O, Sirs! it was Aiken-Drum."
Did you ever hear how a Brownie came to our village of Blednock, and was frightened away again by a silly young wife, who thought she was cleverer than anyone else, but who did us the worst turn that she ever did anybody in her life, when she made the queer, funny, useful little man disappear?
Well, it was one November evening, in the gloaming, just when the milking was done, and before the bairns were put to bed, and everyone was standing on their doorsteps, having a crack about the bad harvest, and the turnips, and what chances there were of good prices for the stirks at the Martinmas Fair, when the queerest humming noise started down by the river.
[Footnote 26: Bullocks.]
It came nearer and nearer, and everyone stopped their clavers and began to look down the road. And, 'deed, it was no wonder that they stared, for there, coming up the middle of the highway, was the strangest, most frightsome-looking creature that human eyes had ever seen.
[Footnote 27: Idle talk.]
He looked like a little wee, wee man, and yet he looked almost like a beast, for he was covered with hair from head to foot, and he wore no clothing except a little kilt of green rashes which hung round his waist. His hair was matted, and his head hung forward on his breast, and he had a long blue beard, which almost touched the ground.
His legs were twisted, and knocked together as he walked, and his arms were so long that his hands trailed in the mud.
He seemed to be humming something over and over again, and, as he came near us we could just make out the words, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum?"
Eh, but I can tell you the folk were scared. If it had been the Evil One himself who had come to our quiet little village, I doubt if he would have caused more stir. The bairns screamed, and hid their faces in their mothers' gown-tails; while the lassies, idle huzzies that they were, threw down the pails of milk, which should have been in the milkhouse long ago, if they had not been so busy gossiping; and the very dogs crept in behind their masters, whining, and hiding their tails between their legs. The grown men, who should have known better, and who were not frightened to look the wee man in the face, laughed and hooted at him.
[Footnote 28: Excitement.]
"Did ye ever see such eyes?" cried one.
"His mouth is so big, he could swallow the moon," said another.
"Hech, sirs, but did ye ever see such a creature?" cried a third.
And still the poor little man went slowly up the street, crying wistfully, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum? Any wark for Aiken-Drum?"
Some of us tried to speak to him, but our tongues seemed to be tied, and the words died away on our lips, and we could only stand and watch him with frightened glances, as if we were bewitched.
Old Grannie Duncan, the oldest, and the kindest woman in the village, was the first to come to her senses. "He may be a ghost, or a bogle, or a wraith," she said; "or he may only be a harmless Brownie. It is beyond me to say; but this I know, that if he be an evil spirit, he will not dare to look on the Holy Book." And with that she ran into her cottage, and brought out the great leather-bound Bible which aye lay on her little table by the window.
She stood on the road, and held it out, right in front of the creature, but he took no more heed of it than if it had been an old song-book, and went slowly on, with his weary cry for work.
"He's just a Brownie," cried Grannie Duncan in triumph, "a simple, kindly Brownie. I've heard tell of such folk before, and many a long day's work will they do for the people who treat them well."
Gathering courage from her words, we all crowded round the wee man, and now that we were close to him, we saw that his hairy face was kind and gentle, and his tiny eyes had a merry twinkle in them.
"Save us, and help us, creature!" said an old man reprovingly, "but can ye no speak, and tell us what ye want, and where ye come from?"
For answer the Brownie looked all round him, and gave such a groan, that we scattered and ran in all directions, and it was full five minutes before we could pluck up our courage and go close to him again.
But Grannie Duncan stood her ground, like a brave old woman that she was, and it was to her that the creature spoke.
"I cannot tell thee from whence I come," he said. "'Tis a nameless land, and 'tis very different from this land of thine. For there we all learn to serve, while here everyone wishes to be served. And when there is no work for us to do at home, then we sometimes set out to visit thy land, to see if there is any work which we may do there. I must seem strange to human eyes, that I know; but if thou wilt, I will stay in this place awhile. I need not that any should wait on me, for I seek neither wages, nor clothes, nor bedding. All I ask for is the corner of a barn to sleep in, and a cogful of brose set down on the floor at bedtime; and if no one meddles with me, I will be ready to help anyone who needs me. I'll gather your sheep betimes on the hill; I'll take in your harvest by moonlight. I'll sing the bairns to sleep in their cradles, and, though I doubt you'll not believe it, you'll find that the babes will love me. I'll kirn your kirns for you, goodwives, and I'll bake your bread on a busy day; while, as for the men folk, they may find me useful when there is corn to thrash, or untamed colts in the stables, or when the waters are out in flood."
[Footnote 29: A churn.]
No one quite knew what to say in answer to the creature's strange request. It was an unheard-of thing for anyone to come and offer their services for nothing, and the men began to whisper among themselves, and to say that it was not canny, and 'twere better to have nothing to do with him.
But up spoke old Grannie Duncan again. "'Tis but a Brownie, I tell you," she repeated, "a poor, harmless Brownie, and many a story have I heard in my young days about the work that a Brownie can do, if he be well treated and let alone. Have we not been complaining all summer about bad times, and scant wages, and a lack of workmen to work the work? And now, when a workman comes ready to your hand, ye will have none of him, just because he is not bonnie to look on."
Still the men hesitated, and the silly young wenches screwed their faces, and pulled their mouths. "But, Grannie," cried they, "that is all very well, but if we keep such a creature in our village, no one will come near it, and then what shall we do for sweethearts?"
"Shame on ye," cried Grannie impatiently, "and on all you men for encouraging the silly things in their whimsies. It's time that ye were thinking o' other things than bonnie faces and sweethearts. 'Handsome is that handsome does,' is a good old saying; and what about the corn that stands rotting in the fields, an' it past Hallowe'en already? I've heard that a Brownie can stack a whole ten-acre field in a single night."
That settled the matter. The miller offered the creature the corner of his barn to sleep in, and Grannie promised to boil the cogful of brose, and send her grandchild, wee Jeannie, down with it every evening, and then we all said good-night, and went into our houses, looking over our shoulders as we did so, for fear that the strange little man was following us.
But if we were afraid of him that night, we had a very different song to sing before a week was over. Whatever he was, or wherever he came from, he was the most wonderful worker that men had ever known. And the strange thing was that he did most of it at night. He had the corn safe into the stackyards, and the stacks thatched, in the clap of a hand, as the old folk say.
The village became the talk of the countryside, and folk came from all parts to see if they could catch a glimpse of our queer, hairy little visitor; but they were always unsuccessful, for he was never to be seen when one looked for him. One might go into the miller's barn twenty times a day, and twenty times a day find nothing but a heap of straw; and although the cog of brose was aye empty in the morning, no one knew when he came home, or when he supped it.
But wherever there was work to be done, whether it was a sickly bairn to be sung to, or a house to be tidied up; a kirn that would not kirn, or a batch of bread that would not rise; a flock of sheep to be gathered together on a stormy night, or a bundle to be carried home by some weary labourer; Aiken-Drum, as we learned to call him, always got to know of it, and appeared in the nick of time. It looked as if we had all got wishing-caps, for we had just to wish, and the work was done.
Many a time, some poor mother, who had been up with a crying babe all night, would sit down with it in her lap, in front of the fire, in the morning, and fall fast asleep, and when she awoke, she would find that Aiken-Drum had paid her a visit, for the floor would be washed, and the dishes too, and the fire made up, and the kettle put on to boil; but the little man would have slipped away, as if he were frightened of being thanked.
The bairns were the only ones who ever saw him idle, and oh, how they loved him! In the gloaming, or when the school was out, one could see them away down in some corner by the burn-side, crowding round the little dark brown figure, with its kilt of rushes, and one would hear the sound of wondrous low sweet singing, for he knew all the songs that the little ones loved.
[Footnote 30: Stream.]
So by and by the name of Aiken-Drum came to be a household word amongst us, and although we so seldom saw him near at hand, we loved him like one of our ain folk.
And he might have been here still, had it not been for a silly, senseless young wife who thought she knew better than everyone else, and who took some idle notion into her empty head that it was not right to make the little man work, and give him no wage.
She dinned this into our heads, morning, noon, and night, and she would not believe us when we told her that Aiken-Drum worked for love, and love only.
[Footnote 31: Impressed this upon us.]
Poor thing, she could not understand anyone doing that, so she made up her mind that she, at least, would do what was right, and set us all an example.
"She did not mean any harm," she said afterwards, when the miller took her to task for it; but although she might not mean to do any harm, she did plenty, as senseless folk are apt to do when they cannot bear to take other people's advice, for she took a pair of her husband's old, mouldy, worn-out breeches, and laid them down one night beside the cogful of brose.
By my faith, if the village folk had not remembered so well what Aiken-Drum had said about wanting no wages, they would have found something better to give him than a pair of worn-out breeks.
Be that as it may, the long and the short of it was, that the dear wee man's feelings were hurt because we would not take his services for nothing, and he vanished in the night, as Brownies are apt to do, so Grannie Duncan says, if anyone tries to pay them, and we have never seen him from that day to this, although the bairns declare that they sometimes hear him singing down by the mill, as they pass it in the gloaming, on their way home from school.
SIR PATRICK SPENS
"The king sits in Dunfermline town, Drinking the blude-red wine; 'O whare will I get a skeely skipper, To sail this new ship o' mine?'
* * * * *
Half owre, half owre to Aberdour, 'Tis fifty fathoms deep, And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens, Wi' the Scots lords at his feet."
Now hearken to me, all ye who love old stories, and I will tell you how one of the bravest and most gallant of Scottish seamen came by his death.
'Tis the story of an event which brought mourning and dule to many a fair lady's heart, in the far-off days of long ago.
Now all the world knows that his Majesty, King Alexander the Third, who afterwards came by his death on the rocks at Kinghorn, had one only daughter, named Margaret, after her ancestress, the wife of Malcolm Canmore, whose life was so holy, and her example so blessed, that, to this day, men call her Saint Margaret of Scotland.
King Alexander had had much trouble in his life, for he had already buried his wife, and his youngest son David, and 'twas no wonder that, as he sat in the great hall of his Palace at Dunfermline, close to the Abbey Church, where he loved best to hold his Court, that his heart was sore at the thought of parting with his motherless daughter.
She had lately been betrothed to Eric, the young King of Norway, and it was now full time that she went to her new home. So a stately ship had been prepared to convey her across the sea; the amount of her dowry had been settled; her attendants chosen; and it only remained to appoint a captain to the charge of the vessel.
But here King Alexander was at a loss. It was now past midsummer, and in autumn the Northern Sea was wont to be wild and stormy, and on the skilful steering of the Royal bark many precious lives depended.
He thought first of one man skilled in the art of seamanship, and then he thought of another, and at last he turned in his perplexity to his nobles who were sitting around him.
"Canst tell me," he said, fingering a glass of red French wine as he spoke, "of a man well skilled in the knowledge of winds and tides, yet of gentle birth withal, who can be trusted to pilot this goodly ship of mine, with her precious burden, safely over the sea to Norway?"
The nobles looked at one another in silence for a moment, and then one of them, an old gray-haired baron, rose from his seat by Alexander's side.
"Scotland lacks not seamen, both gentle and simple, my Liege," he said, "who could be trusted with this precious charge. But there is one man of my acquaintance, who, above all others, is worthy of such a trust. I speak of young Sir Patrick Spens, who lives not far from here. Not so many years have passed over his head, but from a boy he has loved the sea, and already he knows more about it, and its moods, than white-haired men who have sailed on it all their lives. 'Tis his bride, he says, an' I trow he speaks the truth, for, although he is as fair a gallant as ever the eye of lady rested on, and although many tender hearts, both within the Court, and without, beat a quicker measure when his name is spoken, he is as yet free of love fancies, and aye bides true to this changeful mistress of his. Truly he may well count it an honour to have the keeping of so fair a flower entrusted to him."
"Now bring me paper and pen," cried the King, "and I will write to him this instant with mine own hand."
Slowly and laboriously King Alexander penned the lines, for in these days kings were readier with the sword than with the pen; then, folding the letter and sealing it with the great signet ring which he wore on the third finger of his right hand, he gave it to the old baron, and commanded him to seek Sir Patrick Spens without loss of time.
Now Sir Patrick dwelt near the sea, and when the baron arrived he found him pacing up and down on the hard white sand by the sea-shore, watching the waves, and studying the course of the tides. He was quite a young man, and 'twas little wonder if the story which the old baron had told was true, and if all the ladies' hearts in Fife ached for love of him, for I trow never did goodlier youth walk the earth, and men said of him that he was as gentle and courteous as he was handsome.
At first when he began to read the King's letter, his face flushed with pride, for who would not have felt proud to be chosen before all others in Scotland, to be the captain of the King's Royal bark? But the smile passed away almost as soon as it appeared, and a look of great sadness took its place. In silence he gazed out over the sea. Did something warn him at that moment that this would prove his last voyage;—that never again would he set foot in his beloved land?
It may be so; who can tell? Certain it is—the old baron recalled it to his mind in the sad days that were to come—that, when the young sailor handed back the King's letter to him, his eyes were full of tears.
"'Tis certainly a great honour," he said, "and I thank his Majesty for granting it to me, but methinks it was no one who loved my life, or the lives of those who sail with me, who suggested our setting out for Norway at this time of year."
Then, anxious lest the baron thought that he said this out of fear, or cowardice, he changed his tone, and hurried him up to his house to partake of some refreshment after his ride, while he gave orders to his seamen to get everything ready.
"Make haste, my men," he shouted in a cheerful, lusty voice, "for a great honour hath fallen to our lot. His Majesty hath deigned to entrust to us his much loved daughter, the Princess Margaret, that we may convey her, in the stately ship which he hath prepared, to her husband's court in Norway. Wherefore, let every man look to himself, and let him meet me at Aberdour, where the ship lies, on Sunday by nightfall, for we sail next day with the tide."
So on the Monday morning early, ere it struck eight of the clock, a great procession wound down from the King's Palace at Dunfermline to the little landing-stage at Aberdour, where the stately ship was lying, with her white sails set, like a gigantic swan.
Between the King and his son, the Prince of Scotland, rode the Princess Margaret, her eyes red with weeping, for in those days it was no light thing to set out for another land, and she felt that the parting might be for ever. And so, in good sooth, it proved to be, in this world at least, for before many years had passed all three were in their graves; but that belongs not to my tale.
Next rode the high and mighty persons who were to accompany the Princess to her husband's land, and be witnesses of the fulfilment of the marriage contract. These were their Graces the Earl and Countess of Menteith, his Reverence the Abbot of Balmerino, the good Lord Bernard of Monte-Alto, and many others, including a crowd of young nobles, five and fifty in all, who had been asked to swell the Princess's retinue, and who were only too glad to have a chance of getting a glimpse of other lands.
Next came a long train of sumpter mules, with the Princess's baggage, and that of her attendants. And last of all, guarded well by men-at-arms, came the huge iron-bound chests which contained her dowry: seven thousand merks in good white money; and there were other seven thousand merks laid out for her in land in Scotland.
Sir Patrick Spens was waiting to receive the Princess on board the ship. Right courteously, I ween, he handed her to her cabin, and saw that my Lady of Menteith, in whose special care she was, was well lodged also, as befitted her rank and station. But I trow that his lip curled with scorn when he saw that the five and fifty young nobles had provided themselves with five and fifty feather beds to sleep on.
He himself was a hardy man, as a sailor ought to be, and he loved not to see men so careful of their comfort.
At last the baggage, and the dowry, and even the feather beds were stowed away; and the last farewells having been said, the great ship weighed anchor, and sailed slowly out of the Firth of Forth.
Ah me, how many eyes there were, which watched it sail away, with husband, or brother, or sweetheart on board, which would wait in vain for many a long day for its return!
Sir Patrick made a good voyage. The sea was calm, the wind was in his favour, and by the evening of the third day he brought his ship with her precious burden safe to the shores of Norway.
"Now the Saints be praised," he said to himself as he cast anchor, "for the Princess is safe, let happen what may on our return voyage."
In great state, and with much magnificence, Margaret of Scotland was wedded to Eric of Norway, and great feasting and merry-making marked the event. For a whole month the rejoicing went on. The Norwegian nobles vied with each other who could pay most attention to the Scottish strangers. From morning to night their halls rang with music, and gaiety, and dancing. No wonder that the young nobles;—nay, no wonder that even Sir Patrick Spens himself, careful seaman though he was, forgot to think of the homeward journey, or to remember how soon the storms of winter would be upon them.
In good sooth they might have remained where they were till the spring, and then this tale need never have been told, had not a thoughtless taunt touched their Scottish pride to the quick.
The people of Norway are a frugal race, and to the older nobles all this feasting and junketing seemed like wild, needless extravagance.
"Our young men have gone mad," they said to each other; "if this goes on, the country will be ruined. 'Tis those strangers who have done it. It would be a good day for Norway if they would bethink themselves, and sail for home."
That very night there was a great banquet, an' I warrant that there was dire confusion in the hall when a fierce old noble of Royal blood, an uncle of the King, spoke aloud to Sir Patrick Spens in the hearing of all the company.
"Now little good will the young Queen's dowry do either to our King or to our country," he said, "if it has all to be eaten up, feasting a crowd of idle youngsters who ought to be at home attending to their own business."
Sir Patrick turned red, and then he turned white. What the old man said was very untrue; and he knew it. For, besides the young Queen's dowry, a large sum of money had been taken over in the ship, to pay for the expenses of her attendants, and of the nobles in her train.
"'Tis false. Ye lie," he said bluntly; "for I wot I brought as much white money with me as would more than pay for all that hath been spent on our behalf. If these be the ways of Norway, then beshrew me, but I like them not."
With these words he turned and left the hall followed by all the Scottish nobles. Without speaking a word to any of them, he strode down to the harbour, where his ship was lying, and ordered the sailors to begin to make ready at once, for he would sail for home in the morning.
The night was cold and dreary; there was plainly a storm brewing. It was safe and snug in the harbour, and the sailors were loth to face the dangers of the voyage. But their captain looked so pale and stern, that everyone feared to speak.
"Master," said an old man at last—he was the oldest man on board, and had seen nigh seventy years—"I have never refused to do thy bidding, and I will not begin to-night. We will go, if go we must; but, if it be so, then may God's mercy rest on us. For late yestreen I saw the old moon in the sky, and she was nursing the new moon in her arms. It needs not me to tell thee, for thou art as weather-wise as I am, what that sign bodes."
"Say ye so?" said Sir Patrick, startled in spite of his anger; "then, by my troth, we may prepare for a storm. But tide what may, come snow or sleet, come cold or wet, we head for Scotland in the morning."
So the stately ship set her sails once more, and for a time all went well. But when they had sailed for nigh three days, and were thinking that they must be near Scotland, the sky grew black and the wind arose, and all signs pointed to a coming storm.
Sir Patrick took the helm himself, and did his best to steer the ship through the tempest which soon broke over them, and which grew worse and worse every moment. The sailors worked with a will at the ropes, and even the foolish young nobles, awed by the danger which threatened them, offered their assistance. But they were of little use, and certs, one would have laughed to have seen them, had the peril not been so great, with their fine satin cloaks wrapped round them, and carrying their feathered hats under their arms, trying to step daintily across the deck, between the rushes of the water, in order that they might not wet their tiny, cork-heeled, pointed-toed shoes.
Alack, alack, neither feathered hats, nor pointed shoon, availed to save them! Darker and darker grew the sea, and every moment the huge waves threatened to engulf the goodly vessel.
Sir Patrick Spens had sailed on many a stormy sea, but never in his life had he faced a tempest like this. He knew that he and all his gallant company were doomed men unless the land were near. That was their only hope, to find some harbour and run into it for shelter.
Soon the huge waves were breaking over the deck, and the bulwarks began to give way. Truly their case was desperate, and even the gay young nobles grew grave, and many hearts were turned towards the homes which they would never see again.
"Send me a man to take the helm," shouted Sir Patrick hoarsely, "while I climb to the top of the mast, and try if I can see land."
Instantly the old sailor who had warned him of the coming storm, the night before, was at his side.
"I will guide the ship, captain," he said, "if thou art bent on going aloft; but I fear me thou wilt see no land. Sailors who are out on their last voyage need not look for port."
Now Sir Patrick was a brave man, and he meant to fight for life; so he climbed up to the mast head, and clung on there, despite the driving spray and roaring wind, which were like to drive him from his foothold. In vain he peered through the darkness, looking to the right hand and to the left; there was no land to be seen, nothing but the great green waves, crested with foam, which came springing up like angry wolves, eager to swallow the gallant ship and her luckless crew.
Suddenly his cheek grew pale, and his eyes dark with fear. "We are dead men now," he muttered; for, not many feet below him, seated on the crest of a massive wave, he saw the form of a beautiful woman, with a cruel face and long fair hair, which floated like a veil on the top of the water. 'Twas a mermaid, and he knew what the sight portended.
She held up a silver bowl to him, with a little mocking laugh on her lips. "Sail on, sail on, my guid Scots lords," she cried, and her sweet, false voice rose clear and shrill above the tumult of the waves, "for I warrant ye'll soon touch dry land."
"We may touch the land, but 'twill be the land that lies fathoms deep below the sea," replied Sir Patrick grimly, and then the weird creature laughed again, and floated away in the darkness.
When she had passed Sir Patrick glanced down at the deck, and the sight that met him there only deepened his gloom.
Worn with the beating of the waves, a bolt had sprung in the good ship's side, and a plank had given way, and the cruel green water was pouring in through the hole.
Verily, they were facing death itself now; yet the strong man's heart did not quail.
He had quailed at the sight of the mermaid's mocking eyes, but he looked on the face of death calmly, as befitted a brave and a good man. Perhaps the thought came to him, as it came to another famous seaman long years afterwards, that heaven is as near by sea as by land, and in the thought there was great comfort.
There was but one more thing to be done; after that they were helpless.
"Now, my good Scots lords," he cried, and I trow a look of amusement played round his lips even at that solemn hour, "now is the time for those featherbeds of thine. There are five and fifty of them; odds take it, if they be not enough to stop up one little hole."
At the words the poor young nobles set to work right manfully, forgetting in their fear, that their white hands were bruised and bleeding, and their dainty clothes all wet with sea-water.
Alack! alack! ere half the work was done, the good ship shivered from bow to stern, and went slowly down under the waves; and Sir Patrick Spens and his whole company met death, as, in their turn, all men must meet him, and passed to where he had no more power over them.
So there, under the waters of the gray Northern Sea he rested, lying in state, as it were, with the Scottish lords and his own faithful sailors round him; while there was dule and woe throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, and fair women wept as they looked in vain for the husbands, and the brothers, and the lovers who would return to them no more.
And, while the long centuries come and go, he is resting there still, with the Scots lords and his faithful sailors by him, waiting for a Day, whose coming may be long, but whose coming will be sure, when the sea shall give up its dead.
"Young Bekie was as brave a knight As ever sailed the sea; And he's done him to the Court of France To serve for meat and fee.
He hadna been in the Court of France A twelvemonth, nor sae lang, Till he fell in love with the King's daughter, And was thrown in prison strang."
It was the Court of France: the gayest, and the brightest, and the merriest court in the whole world. For there the sun seemed always to be shining, and the nobles, and the fair Court ladies did not know what care meant.
In all the palace there was only one maiden who wore a sad and troubled look, and that was Burd Isbel, the King's only daughter.
A year before she had been the lightest-hearted maiden in France. Her face had been like sunshine, and her voice like rippling music; but now all was changed. She crept about in silence, with pale cheeks, and clouded eyes, and the King, her father, was in deep distress.
He summoned all the great doctors, and offered them all manner of rewards if only they would give him back, once more, his light-hearted little daughter. But they shook their heads gravely; for although doctors can do many things, they have not yet found out the way to make heavy hearts light again.
All the same these doctors knew what ailed the Princess, but they dare not say so. That would have been to mention a subject which nearly threw the King into a fit whenever he thought of it.
For just a year before, a brave young Scottish Knight had come over to France to take service at the King's Court. His name was Young Bekie, and he was so strong and so noble that at first the King had loved him like a son. But before long the young man had fallen in love with Burd Isbel, and of course Burd Isbel had fallen in love with him, and he had gone straight to the King, and asked him if he might marry her;—and then the fat was in the fire.
For although the stranger seemed to be brave, and noble, and good, and far superior to any Frenchman, he was not of royal birth, and the King declared that it was a piece of gross impertinence on his part ever to think of marrying a king's daughter.
It was in vain that the older nobles, who had known Burd Isbel since she was a child, begged for pity for the young man, and pointed out his good qualities; the King would not listen to them, but stamped, and stormed, and raged with anger. He gave orders that the poor young Knight should be shut up in prison at once, and threatened to take his life; and he told his daughter sharply that she was to think no more about him.
But Burd Isbel could not do that, and she used to creep to the back of the prison door, when no one was near, and listen wistfully, in the hope that she might hear her lover's voice. For a long time she was unsuccessful, but one day she heard him bemoaning his hard fate—to be kept a prisoner in a foreign land, with no chance of sending a message to Scotland of the straits that he was in.
"Oh," he murmured piteously to himself, "if only I could send word home to Scotland to my father, he would not leave me long in this vile prison. He is rich, and he would spare nothing for my ransom. He would send a trusty servant with a bag of good red gold, and another of bonnie white silver, to soften the cruel heart of the King of France."
Then she heard him laugh bitterly to himself.
"There is little chance that I will escape," he muttered, "for who is likely to carry a message to Scotland for me? No, no, my bones will rot here; that is clear enough. And yet how willingly I would be a slave, if I could escape. If only some great lady needed a servant, I would gladly run at her horse's bridle if she could gain me my liberty. If only a widow needed a man to help her, I would promise to be a son to her, if she could obtain my freedom. Nay, if only some poor maiden would promise to wed me, and crave my pardon at the King's hand, I would in return carry her to Scotland, and dower her with all my wealth; and that is not little, for am I not master of the forests, and the lands, and the Castle of Linnhe?"
Many a maiden would have been angry had she heard her lover speak these words; but Burd Isbel loved him too much to be offended at anything which he said, so she crept away to her chamber with a determined look on her girlish face.
"'Tis not for thy lands or thy Castle," she whispered, "but for pure love of thee. Love hath made maidens brave ere now, and it will make them brave again."
That night, when all the palace was quiet, Burd Isbel wrapped herself in a long gray cloak, and crept noiselessly from her room. She might have been taken for a dark shadow, had it not been for her long plait of lint-white hair and her little bare feet, which peeped out and in beneath the folds of her cloak, as she stole down the great polished staircase.
Silently she crept across the hall, and peeped into the guard-room.
All the guards were asleep, and, on the wall above their heads hung the keys of the palace, and beside them a great iron key. That was the key of the prison. She stole across the floor on tip-toe, making no more noise than a mouse, and, stretching up her hand, she took down the heavy key, and hid it under her cloak. Then she sped quickly out of the guard-room, and through a turret door, into a dark courtyard where the prison was. She fitted the key in the lock. It took all her strength to turn it, but she managed it at last, and, shutting the door behind her, she went into the little cell where Young Bekie was imprisoned.
A candle flickered in its socket on the wall, and by its light she saw him lying asleep on the cold stone floor. She could not help giving a little scream when she saw him, for there were three mice and two great rats sitting on the straw at his head, and they had nibbled away nearly all his long yellow hair, which she had admired so much when first he came to Court. His beard had grown long and rough too, for he had had no razors to shave with, and altogether he looked so strange that she hardly knew him.
At the sound of her voice he woke and started up, and the mice and the rats scampered away to their holes. He knew her at once, and in a moment he forgot his dreams of slaves, and widows, and poor maidens. He sprang across the floor, and knelt at her feet, and kissed her little white hands.
"Ah," he said, "now would I stay here for ever, if I might always have thee for a companion."
But Burd Isbel was a sensible maiden, and she knew that if her lover meant to escape, he must make haste, and not waste time in making pretty speeches. She knew also that if he went out of prison looking like a beggar or a vagabond, he would soon be taken captive again, so she hurried back to the palace, and went hither and thither noiselessly with her little bare feet, and presently she returned with her hands full of parcels.
She had brought a comb to comb the hair which the rats had left on his head, and a razor for him to shave himself with, and she had brought five hundred pounds of good red money, so that he might travel like a real Knight.
Then, while he was making his toilet, she went into her father's stable, and led out a splendid horse, strong of limb, and fleet of foot, and on it she put a saddle and a bridle which had been made for the King's own charger.
Finally, she went to the kennels, and, stooping down, she called softly, "Hector, Hector."
A magnificent black hound answered her call and came and crouched at her feet, fawning on them and licking them. After him came three companions, all the same size, and all of them big enough to kill a man.
These dogs belonged to Burd Isbel, and they were her special pets. A tear rolled down her face as she stooped and kissed their heads.
"I am giving you to a new master, darlings," she said. "See and guard him well."
Then she led them to where the horse was standing, saddled and bridled; and there, beside him, stood Young Bekie. Now that his beard was trimmed, and his hair arranged, he looked as gallant, and brave, and noble as ever.
When Burd Isbel told him that the money, and the hounds, and the horse with its harness, were all his, he caught her in his arms, and swore that there had never been such a brave and generous maiden born before, and that he would serve her in life and death.
Then, as time was pressing, and the dawn was beginning to break, they had to say farewell; but before they did so, they vowed a solemn vow that they would be married to each other within three years. After this Burd Isbel opened the great gate, and her lover rode away, with money in his pocket, and hounds by his side, like the well-born Knight that he was; and nobody who met him ever imagined that he was an escaped prisoner, set free by the courage of the King's daughter.
* * * * *
Alas, alas, for the faithfulness of men! Young Bekie was brave, and gentle, and courteous, but his will was not very strong, and he liked to be comfortable. And it came about that, after he had been back in Scotland for a year, the Scotch King had a daughter for whom he wanted to find a husband, and he made up his mind that Young Bekie would be the very man for her.
So he proposed that he should marry her, and was quite surprised and angry when the young man declined.
"It is an insult to my daughter," he said, and he determined to force Bekie to do as he wanted, by using threats. So he told the Knight, that, if he agreed to marry his daughter, he would grow richer and richer, but, if he refused, he would lose all his lands, and the Castle of Linnhe.
Poor Young Bekie! I am afraid he was not a hero, for he chose to marry the Princess and keep his lands, and he tried to put the thought of Burd Isbel and what she had done for him, and the solemn vow that he had made to her, out of his head.
Meanwhile Burd Isbel lived on at her father's court, and because her heart was full of faith and love, it grew light and merry again, and she began to dance and to sing as gaily as ever.
But early one morning she woke up with a start, and there, at the foot of her bed, stood the queerest little manikin that she had ever seen. He was only about a foot high, and he was dressed all in russet brown, and his face was just like a wrinkled apple.
"Who art thou?" she cried, starting up, "and what dost thou want?"
"My name is Billy Blin," said the funny old man. "I am a Brownie, and I come from Scotland. My family all live there, and we are all very kind-hearted, and we like to help people. But it is no time to be talking of my affairs, for I have come to help thee. I have just been wondering how thou couldst lie there and sleep so peacefully when this is Young Bekie's wedding day. He is to be married at noon."
"Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do?" cried poor Burd Isbel in deep distress. "It is a long way from France to Scotland, and I can never be there in time."
Billie Blin waved his little hand. "I will manage it for thee," he said, "if thou wilt only do what I tell thee. Go into thy mother's chamber as fast as thou canst, and get two of thy mother's maids-of-honour. And, remember, thou must be careful to see that they are both called Mary. Then thou must dress thyself in thy most beautiful dress. Thou hast a scarlet dress, I know, which becomes thee well, for I have seen thee wear it. Nay, be not surprised; we Brownies can see people when they do not see us. Put that dress on, and let thy Maries be dressed all in green. And in thy father's treasury there are three jewelled belts, each of them worth an earl's ransom. These thou must get, and clasp them round thy waists, and steal down to the sea-shore, and there, on the water, thou wilt see a beautiful Dutch boat. It will come to the shore for thee, and thou must step in, and greet the crew with a Mystic Greeting. Then thy part is done. I will do the rest."
The Brownie vanished, and Burd Isbel made haste to do exactly what he had told her to do.
She ran to her mother's room, and called to two maids called Mary to come and help her to dress. Then she put on her lovely scarlet robe, and bade them attire themselves in green, and she took the jewelled girdles out of the treasury, and gave one to each of them to put on; and when they were dressed they all went down to the sea-shore.
There, on the sea, as the Brownie had promised, was a beautiful Dutch boat, with its sails spread. It came dancing over the water to them, and when Burd Isbel stepped on board, and greeted the sailors with a Mystic Greeting, they turned its prow towards Scotland, and Billy Blin appeared himself, and took the helm.
Away, away, sailed the ship, until it reached the Firth of Tay, and there, high up among the hills, stood the Castle of Linnhe.
When Burd Isbel and her maidens went to the gate they heard beautiful music coming from within, and their hearts sank. They rang the bell, and the old porter appeared.
"What news, what news, old man?" cried Burd Isbel. "We have heard rumours of a wedding here, and would fain know if they be true or no?"
"Certs, Madam, they are true," he answered; "for this very day, at noon, the Master of this place, Young Bekie, will be married to the King of Scotland's daughter."
Then Burd Isbel felt in her jewelled pouch, and drew out three merks. "Take these, old man," she said, "and bid thy master speak to me at once."
The porter did as he was bid, and went upstairs to the great hall, where all the wedding guests were assembled. He bent low before the King, and before the Queen, and then he knelt before his young lord.
"I have served thee these thirty and three years, Sire," he said, "but never have I seen ladies come to the gate so richly attired as the three who wait without at this moment. There is one of them clad in scarlet, such scarlet as I have never seen, and two are clad in green, and they have girdles round their waists which might well pay an earl's ransom."
When the Scottish Princess heard these words, she tossed her head haughtily. She was tall and buxom, and she was dressed entirely in cloth of gold.
"Lack-a-day," she said, "what a to-do about three strangers! This old fool may think them finely dressed, but I warrant some of us here are every whit as fine as they."
But Young Bekie sprang to his feet. He knew who it was, and the thought of his ingratitude brought the tears to his eyes.
"I'll wager my life 'tis Burd Isbel," he cried, "who has come over the sea to seek me."
Then he ran downstairs, and sure enough it was Burd Isbel.
He clasped her in his arms, and kissed her, and now that he had her beside him, it seemed to him as if he had never loved anyone else.
But the wedding guests came trooping out, and when they heard the story they shook their heads.
"A likely tale," they cried. "Who is to believe it? If she be really the King of France's daughter, how came she here alone, save for those two maidens?"
But some of them looked at the jewelled girdles, and held their peace.
Then Burd Isbel spoke out clearly and simply. "I rescued my love out of prison," she said, "and gave him horse and hounds. And if the hounds know me not, then am I proved false." So saying she raised her voice. "Hector, Hector," she cried, and lo! the great black hound came bounding out of its kennel, followed by its companions, and lay down fawning at her feet, and licked them.
Then the wedding guests knew that she had told the truth, and they turned their eyes on Young Bekie, to see what he would do. He, on his part, was determined that he would marry Burd Isbel, let happen what might.
"Take home your daughter again," he cried impatiently to the King, "and my blessing go with her; for she sought me ere I sought her. This is my own true love; I can wed no other."
"Nay," answered the King, in angry astonishment, "but this thing cannot be. Whoever heard of a maiden being sent home unwed, when the very wedding guests were assembled? I tell thee it cannot be."
In despair Young Bekie turned to the lady herself. "Good lack, Madam," he cried, "is there no one else whom thou canst marry? There is many a better and manlier man than I, who goes seeking a wife. There, for instance, stands my cousin John. He is taller and stronger than I, a better fighter, and a right good man. Couldst thou not accept him for a husband? If thou couldst, I would pay him down five hundred pounds of good red gold on his wedding day."
A murmur of displeasure ran through the crowd of wedding guests at this bold proposal, and the King grasped his sword in a rage. But, to everyone's amazement, the Princess seemed neither displeased nor daunted. She blushed rosy red, and smiled softly.
"Keep thy money to thyself, Bekie," she answered. "Thy cousin John and I have no need of it. Neither doth he require a bribe to make him willing to take me for his wife. To speak truth, we loved each other long ere I set eyes on thee, and 'twas but the King, my father, who would have none of him. Perchance by now he hath changed his mind."
So there were two weddings in the Castle of Linnhe instead of one. Young Bekie married Burd Isbel, and his cousin John married the King's daughter, and they "lived happy, happy, ever after."
THE EARL OF MAR'S DAUGHTER
"It was intil a pleasant time, Upon a simmer's day, The noble Earl of Mar's daughter Went forth to sport and play."
Long, long ago, in a country far away over the sea, there lived a Queen who had an only son. She was very rich, and very great, and the only thing that troubled her was that her son did not want to get married in the very least.
In vain his mother gave grand receptions and court balls, to which she asked all the young countesses and baronesses, in the hope that the Prince would take a fancy to one of them. He would talk to them, and dance with them, and be very polite, but, when his mother hinted that it was time that he looked for a wife, he only shrugged his shoulders and said that there was not a pretty girl amongst them.
And perhaps there was some truth in his answer, for the maidens of that country were all fat, and little, and squat, and everyone of them waddled like a duck when she walked.
"If thou canst not find a wife to thy liking at home," the Queen would say, "go to other countries and see the maidens there; surely somewhere thou wouldst find one whom thou couldst love."
But Prince Florentine, for that was his name, only shook his head and laughed.
"And marry a shrew," he would say mockingly; "for when the maidens heard my name, and knew for what purpose I had come, they would straightway smile their sweetest, and look their loveliest, and I would have no chance of knowing what manner of maidens they really were."
Now the Queen had a very wonderful gift. She could change a man's shape, so that he would appear to be a hare, or a cat, or a bird; and at last she proposed to the Prince that she should turn him into a dove, and then he could fly away to foreign countries, and go up and down until he saw some maiden whom he thought he could really love, and then he could go back to his real shape, and get to know her in the usual way.
This proposal pleased Prince Florentine very much. "He would take good care not to fall in love with anyone," he told himself; but, as he hated the stiffness and ceremony of court life, it seemed to him that it would be good fun to be free to go about as he liked and to see a great many different countries.
So he agreed to his mother's wishes; and one day she waved a little golden wand over his head, and gave him a very nasty draught to drink, made from black beetles' wings, and wormwood, and snails' ears, and hedgehogs' spikes, and before he knew where he was, he was changed into a beautiful gray dove, with a white ring round its neck.
At first when he saw himself in this changed guise he was frightened; but his mother quickly tied a tiny charm round his neck, and hid it under his soft gray feathers, and taught him how to press it against his heart until a fragrant odour came from it, and as soon as he did this, he became once more a handsome young man.
Then he was very pleased, and kissed her, and said farewell, promising to return some day with a beautiful young bride; and after that he spread his wings, and flew away in search of adventure.
For a year and a day he wandered about, now visiting this country, now that, and he was so amused and interested in all the strange and wonderful things that he saw, that he never once wanted to turn himself into a man, and he completely forgot that his mother expected that he was looking out for a wife.
At last, one lovely summer's day, he found himself flying over broad Scotland, and, as the sun was very hot, he looked round for somewhere to shelter from its rays. Just below him was a stately castle, surrounded by magnificent trees.
"This is just what I want," he said to himself; "I will rest here until the sun goes down."
So he folded his wings, and sank gently down into the very heart of a wide-spreading oak tree, near which, as good fortune would have it, there was a field of ripening grain, which provided him with a hearty supper. Here, for many days, the Prince took up his abode, partly because he was getting rather tired of flying about continually, and partly because he began to feel interested in a lovely young girl who came out of the castle every day at noon, and amused herself with playing at ball under the spreading branches of the great tree. Generally she was quite alone, but once or twice an old lady, evidently her governess, came with her, and sat on a root, which formed a comfortable seat, and worked at some fine embroidery, while her pupil amused herself with her ball.
Prince Florentine soon found out that the maiden's name was Grizel, and that she was the only child of the Earl of Mar, a nobleman of great riches and renown. She was very beautiful, so beautiful, indeed, that the Prince sat and feasted his eyes upon her all the time that she was at play, and then, when she had gone home, he could not sleep, but, sat with wide-open eyes, staring into the warm twilight, and wondering how he could get to know her. He could not quite make up his mind whether he should use his mother's charm, and take his natural shape, and walk boldly up to the castle and crave her father's permission to woo her, or fly away home, and send an ambassador with a train of nobles, and all the pomp that belonged to his rank, to ask for her hand.
The question was settled for him one day, however, and everything happened quite differently from what he expected.
On a very hot afternoon, Lady Grizel came out, accompanied by her governess, and, as usual, the old lady sat down to her embroidery, and the girl began to toss her ball. But the sun was so very hot that by and by the governess laid down her needle and fell fast asleep, while her pupil grew tired of running backwards and forwards, and, sitting down, began to toss her ball right up among the branches. All at once it caught in a leafy bough, and when she was gazing up, trying to see where it was, she caught sight of a beautiful gray dove, sitting watching her. Now, as I have said, Lady Grizel was an only child, and she had had few playmates, and all her life she had been passionately fond of animals, and when she saw the bird, she stood up and called gently, "Oh Coo-me-doo, come down to me, come down." Then she whistled so softly and sweetly, and stretched out her white hands above her head so entreatingly, that Prince Florentine left his branch, and flew down and alighted gently on her shoulder.
The delight of the maiden knew no bounds. She kissed and fondled her new pet, which perched quite familiarly on her arm, and promised him a latticed silver cage, with bars of solid gold.
The bird allowed the girl to carry him home, and soon the beautiful cage was made, and hung up on the wall of her chamber, just inside the window, and Coo-me-doo, as the dove was named, placed inside.
He seemed perfectly happy, and grew so tame that soon he went with his mistress wherever she went, and all the people who lived near the castle grew quite accustomed to seeing the Earl's daughter driving or riding with her tame dove on her shoulder.
When she went out to play at ball, Coo-me-doo would go with her, and perch up in his old place, and watch her with his bright dark eyes. One day when she was tossing the ball among the branches it rolled away, and for a long time she could not find it, and at last a voice behind her said, "Here it is," and, turning round, she saw to her astonishment a handsome young man dressed all in dove-gray satin, who handed her the ball with a stately bow.
Lady Grizel was frightened, for no strangers were allowed inside her father's park, and she could not think where he had come from; but just as she was about to call out for help, the young man smiled and said, "Lady, dost thou not know thine own Coo-me-doo?"
Then she glanced up into the branches, but the bird was gone, and as she hesitated (for the stranger spoke so kindly and courteously she did not feel very much alarmed), he took her hand in his.
"'Tis true, my own love," he said; "but if thou canst not recognise thy favourite when his gray plumage is changed into gray samite, mayhap thou wilt know him when the gray samite is once more changed into softest feathers; and, pressing a tiny gold locket which he wore, to his heart, he vanished, and in his stead was her own gray dove, hovering down to his resting-place on her shoulder.
"Oh, I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it," she cried, putting up her hand to stroke her pet; but the feathers seemed to slip from between her fingers, and once more the gallant stranger stood before her.
"Sit thee down and rest, Sweetheart," he said, leading her to the root where her governess was wont to sit, while he stretched himself on the turf at her feet, "and I will explain the mystery to thee."
Then he told her all. How his mother was a great Queen away in a far country, and how he was her only son. Lady Grizel's fears were all gone now, and she laughed merrily as he described the girls who lived in his own country, and told her how little and fat they were, and how they waddled when they walked; but when he told her how his mother had used her magic and turned him into a dove, in order that he might bring home a wife, her face grew grave and pale.
"My father hath sworn a great oath," she said, "that I shall never wed with anyone who lives out of Scotland; so I fear we must part, and thou must go elsewhere in search of a bride."
But Prince Florentine shook his head.
"Nay," he said, "but rather than part from thee, I will live all my life as a dove in a cage, if I may only be near thee, and talk to thee when we are alone."
"But what if my father should want me to wed with some Scottish lord?" asked the maiden anxiously; "couldst thou bear to sit in thy cage and sing my wedding song?"
"That could I not," answered Prince Florentine, drawing her closer to him; "and in order to prevent such a terrible thing happening, Sweetheart, we must find ways and means to be married at once, and then, come what may, no one can take thee from me. This very evening I must go and speak to thy father."
Now the Earl of Mar was a violent man, and his fear lay on all the country-side—even his only child was afraid of him—and when her lover made this suggestion she clung to him and begged him with tears in her eyes not to do this. She told him what a fiery temper the Earl had, and how she feared that when he heard his story he would simply order him to be hanged on the nearest tree, or thrown into the dungeon to starve to death. So for a long time they sat and talked, now thinking of one plan, now of another, but none of them seemed of any use, and it seemed as though Prince Florentine must either remain in the shape of her pet dove, or go away altogether.
All at once Lady Grizel clapped her hands. "I have it, I have it," she cried; "why cannot we be married secretly? Old Father John out at the chapel on the moor could marry us; he is so old and so blind, he would never recognise me if I went bare-headed and bare-footed like a gipsy girl; and thou must go dressed as a woodman, with muddy shoes, and an axe over thine arm. Then we can dwell together as we are doing now, and no one will suspect that the Earl of Mar's daughter is married to her tame pet dove, which sits on her shoulder, and goes with her wherever she goes. And if the worst comes to the worst, and some gallant Scotch wooer appears, why, then we must confess what we have done, and bear the consequences together."
A few days later, in the early morning, when old Father John, the priest who served the little chapel which stood on the heather-covered moor, was preparing to say Mass, he saw a gipsy girl, bare-headed and bare-footed, steal into the chapel, followed by a stalwart young woodman, clad all in sober gray, with a bright wood-axe gleaming on his shoulder.
In a few words they told him the purpose for which they had come, and after he had said Mass the kindly old priest married them, and gave them his blessing, never doubting but that they were a couple of simple country lovers who would go home to some tiny cottage in the woods near by. Little did he think that only half a mile away a page boy, wearing the livery of the Earl of Mar, was patiently waiting with a white palfrey until his young mistress should return, accompanied by her gray dove, from visiting an old nurse, "who," she told her governess, "was teaching her how to spin."
And little did her father, or her governess, or any of the servants at the castle, think that Lady Grizel was leading a double life, and that the gray dove which was always with her, and which she seemed to love more than any other of her pets, was a gray dove only when anyone else was by, but turned into a gallant young Prince, who ate, and laughed, and talked with her the moment they were alone.
Strange to say, their secret was never found out for seven long years, even although every year a little son was born to them, and carried away under the gray dove's wing to the country far over the sea. At these times Lady Grizel used to cry and be very sad, for she dare not keep her babies beside her, but had to kiss them, and let them go, to be brought up by their Grandmother whom she had never seen.
Every time Prince Florentine carried home a new baby, he brought back tidings to his wife how tall, and strong, and brave her other sons were growing, and tender messages from the Queen, his mother, telling her how she hoped that one day she would be able to come home with her husband, and then they would be all together.
But year after year went by, and still the fierce old Earl lived on, and there seemed little hope that poor Lady Grizel would ever be able to go and live in her husband's land, and she grew pale and thin. And year after year her father grew more and more angry with her, because he wanted her to marry one of the many wooers who came to crave her hand; but she would not.
"I love to dwell alone with my sweet Coo-me-doo," she used to say, and the old Earl would stamp his foot, and go out of her chamber muttering angry words in his vexation.
At last, one day, a very great and powerful nobleman arrived with his train to ask the Earl's daughter to marry him. He was very rich, and owned four beautiful castles, and the Earl said, "Now, surely, my daughter will consent."
But she only gave her old answer, "I love best to live alone with my sweet Coo-me-doo."
Then her father slammed the door in a rage, and went into the great hall, where all his men-at-arms were, and swore a mighty oath, that on the morrow, before he broke his fast, he would wring the neck of the wretched bird, which seemed to have bewitched his daughter.
Now just above his head, in the gallery, hung Coo-me-doo's cage with the golden bars, and he happened to be sitting in it, and when he heard this threat he flew away in haste to his wife's room and told her.
"I must fly home and crave help of my mother," he said; "mayhap she may be able to aid us, for I shall certainly be no help to thee here, if my neck be wrung to-morrow. Do thou fall in with thy father's wishes, and promise to marry this nobleman; only see to it that the wedding doth not take place until three clear days be past."
Then Lady Grizel opened the window, and he flew away, leaving her to act her part as best she might.
Now it chanced that next evening, in the far distant land over the sea, the Queen was walking up and down in front of her palace, watching her grandsons playing at tennis, and thinking sadly of her only son and his beautiful wife whom she had never seen. She was so deep in thought, that she never noticed that a gray dove had come sailing over the trees, and perched itself on a turret of the palace, until it fluttered down, and her son, Prince Florentine, stood beside her.
She threw herself into his arms joyfully, and kissed him again and again; then she would have called for a feast to be set, and for her minstrels to play, as she always did on the rare occasions when he came home, but he held up his hand to stop her.
"I need neither feasting nor music, Mother," he said, "but I need thy help sorely. If thy magic cannot help me, then my wife and I are undone, and in two days she will be forced to marry a man whom she hates," and he told the whole story.
"And what wouldst thou that I should do?" asked the Queen in great distress.
"Give me a score of men-at-arms to fly over the sea with me," answered the Prince, "and my sons to help me in the fray."
But the Queen shook her head sadly.
"'Tis beyond my power," she said; "but mayhap Astora, the old dame who lives by the sea-shore, might help me, for in good sooth thy need is great. She hath more skill in magic than I have."
So she hurried away to a little hut near the sea-shore where the wise old woman lived, while her son waited anxiously for her return.
At last she appeared again, and her face was radiant.
"Dame Astora hath given me a charm," she said, "which will turn four-and-twenty of my stout men-at-arms into storks, and thy seven sons into white swans, and thou thyself into a gay gos-hawk, the proudest of all birds."
Now the Earl of Mar, full of joy at the disappearance of the gray dove, which seemed to have bewitched his daughter, had bade all the nobles throughout the length and breadth of fair Scotland to come and witness her wedding with the lover whom he had chosen for her, and there was feasting, and dancing, and great revelry at the castle. There had not been such doings since the marriage of the Earl's great-grandfather a hundred years before. There were huge tables, covered with rich food, standing constantly in the hall, and even the common people went in and out as they pleased, while outside on the green there was music, and dancing, and games.
Suddenly, when the revelry was at its height, a flock of strange birds appeared on the horizon, and everyone stopped to look at them. On they came, flying all together in regular order, first a gay gos-hawk, then behind him seven snow-white swans, and behind the swans four-and-twenty large gray storks. When they drew near, they settled down among the trees which surrounded the castle green, and sat there, each on his own branch, like sentinels, watching the sport.
At first some of the people were frightened, and wondered what this strange sight might mean, but the Earl of Mar only laughed.
"They come to do honour to my daughter," he said; "'tis well that there is not a gray dove among them, else had he found an arrow in his heart, and that right speedily," and he ordered the musicians to strike up a measure.
The Lady Grizel was amongst the throng, dressed in her bridal gown, but no one noticed how anxiously she glanced at the great birds which sat so still on the branches.
Then a strange thing happened. No sooner had the musicians begun to play, and the dancers begun to dance, than the twenty-four gray storks flew down, and each of them seized a nobleman, and tore him from his partner, and whirled him round and round as fast as he could, holding him so tightly with his great gray wings that he could neither draw his sword nor struggle. Then the seven white swans flew down and seized the bridegroom, and tied him fast to a great oak tree. Then they flew to where the gay gos-hawk was hovering over Lady Grizel, and they pressed their bodies so closely to his that they formed a soft feathery couch, on which the lady sat down, and in a moment the birds soared into the air, bearing their precious burden on their backs, while the storks, letting the nobles go, circled round them to form an escort; and so the strange army of birds flew slowly out of sight, leaving the wedding guests staring at one another in astonishment, while the Earl of Mar swore so terribly that no one dare go near him.
* * * * *
And although the story of this strange wedding is told in Scotland to this day, no one has ever been able to guess where the birds came from, or to what land they carried the beautiful Lady Grizel.
"'Oh, it's Hynde Horn fair, and it's Hynde Horn free; Oh, where were you born, and in what countrie?' 'In a far distant countrie I was born; But of home and friends I am quite forlorn.'"
Once upon a time there was a King of Scotland, called King Aylmer, who had one little daughter, whose name was Jean. She was his only daughter, and, as her mother was dead, he adored her. He gave her whatever she liked to ask for, and her nursery was so full of toys and games of all kinds, that it was a wonder that any little girl, even although she was a Princess, could possibly find time to play with them all.
She had a beautiful white palfrey to ride on, and two piebald ponies to draw her little carriage when she wanted to drive; but she had no one of her own age to play with, and often she felt very lonely, and she was always asking her father to bring her someone to play with.
"By my troth," he would reply, "but that were no easy matter, for thou art a royal Princess, and it befits not that such as thou shouldst play with children of less noble blood."
Then little Princess Jean would go back to her splendid nurseries with the tears rolling down her cheeks, wishing with all her heart that she had been born just an ordinary little girl.
King Aylmer had gone away on a hunting expedition one day, and Princess Jean was playing alone as usual, in her nursery, when she heard the sound of her father's horn outside the castle walls, and the old porter hurried across the courtyard to open the gate. A moment later the King's voice rang through the hall, calling loudly for old Elspeth, the nurse.
The old dame hurried down the broad staircase, followed by the little Princess, who was surprised that her father had returned so early from his hunting, and what was her astonishment to see him standing, with all his nobles round him, holding a fair-haired boy in his arms.
The boy's face was very white, and his eyes were shut, and the little Princess thought that he was dead, and ran up to a gray-haired baron, whose name was Athelbras, and hid her face against his rough hunting coat.
But old Elspeth ran forward and took the boy's hand in hers, and laid her ear against his heart, and then she asked that he might be carried up into her own chamber, and that the housekeeper might be sent after them with plenty of blankets, and hot water, and red wine.
When all this had been done, King Aylmer noticed his little daughter, and when he saw how pale her cheeks were, he patted her head and said, "Cheer up, child, the young cock-sparrow is not dead; 'tis but a swoon caused by the cold and wet, and methinks when old Elspeth hath put a little life into him, thou wilt mayhap have found a playfellow."
Then he called for his horse and rode away to hunt again, and Princess Jean was once more left alone. But this time she did not feel lonely.
Her father's wonderful words, "Thou wilt mayhap have found a playfellow," rang in her ears, and she was so busy thinking about them, sitting by herself in the dark by the nursery fire, that she started when old Elspeth opened the door of her room and called out, "Come, Princess, the young gentleman hath had a sweet sleep, and would fain talk with thee."
The little Princess went into the room on tip-toe, and there, lying on the great oak settle by the fire, was the boy whom she had seen in her father's arms. He seemed about four years older than she was, and he was very handsome, with long yellow hair, which hung in curls round his shoulders, and merry blue eyes, and rosy cheeks.
He smiled at her as she stood shyly in the doorway, and held out his hand. "I am thy humble servant, Princess," he said. "If it had not been for thy father's kindness, and for this old dame's skill, I would have been dead ere now."
Princess Jean did not know what to say; she had often wished for someone who was young enough to play with her, but now that she had found a real playmate, she felt as if someone had tied her tongue.
"What is thy name, and where dost thou come from?" she asked at last.
The boy laughed, and pointed to a little stool which stood beside the settle. "Sit down there," he said, "and I will tell thee. I have often wished to have a little sister of my own, and now I will pretend that thou art my little sister."
Princess Jean did as she was bid, and went and sat down on the stool, and the stranger began his tale.
"My name is Hynde Horn," he said, "and I am a King's son."
"And I am a King's daughter," said the little Princess, and then they both laughed.
Then the boy's face grew grave again.
"They called my father King Allof," he said, "and my mother's name was Queen Godyet, and they reigned over a beautiful country far away in the East. I was their only son, and we were all as happy as the day was long, until a wicked king, called Mury, came with his soldiers, and fought against my father, and killed him, and took his kingdom. My mother and I tried to escape, but the fright killed my mother—she died in a hut in the forest where we had hidden ourselves, and some soldiers found me weeping beside her body, and took me prisoner, and carried me to the wicked King.
"He was too cruel to kill me outright—he wanted me to die a harder death—so he bade his men tie my hands and my feet, and carry me down to the sea-shore, and put me in a boat, and push it out into the sea; and there they left me to die of hunger and thirst.
"At first the sun beat down on my face, and burned my skin, but by and by it grew dark, and a great storm arose, and the boat drifted on and on, and I grew so hungry, and then so thirsty—oh! I thought I would die of thirst—and at last I became unconscious, for I remember nothing more until I woke up to find yonder kind old dame bending over me."
"The boat was washed up on our shore, just as his Highness the King rode past," explained old Elspeth, who was stirring some posset over the fire, and listening to the story.
"And what did you say your name was?" demanded the little Princess, who had listened with eager attention to the story.
"Hynde Horn," repeated the boy, whose eyes were wet with tears at the thought of all that he had gone through.
"Prince Hynde Horn," corrected Princess Jean, who liked always to have her title given to her, and expected that other people liked the same.
"Well, I suppose I ought to be King Horn now, were it not for that wicked King who hath taken my Kingdom, as well as my father's life; but the people in my own land always called me Hynde Horn, and I like the old name best."
"But what doth it mean?" persisted the little Princess.
The boy blushed and looked down modestly. "It is an old word which in our language means 'kind' or 'courteous,' but I am afraid that they flattered me, for I did not always deserve it."
The little Princess clapped her hands. "We will call thee by it," she said, "until thou provest thyself unworthy of it."
After this a new life opened up for the little girl.
King Aylmer, finding that the young Prince who had been so unexpectedly thrown on his protection was both modest and manly, determined to befriend him, and to give him a home at his Court until he was old enough to go and try to recover his kingdom, and avenge his parents' death, so he gave orders that a suite of rooms in the castle should be given to him, and arranged that Baron Athelbras, his steward, should train him in all knightly accomplishments, such as hawking and tilting at the ring. He soon found out too that Hynde Horn had a glorious voice, and sang like a bird, so he gave orders that old Thamile, the minstrel, should teach him to play the harp; and soon he could play it so well, that the whole Court would sit round him in the long winter evenings, and listen to his music.
He was so sweet-tempered, and lovable, that everyone liked him, and would say to one another that the people in his own land had done well to name him Hynde Horn.
To the little Princess he was the most delightful companion, for he was never too busy or too tired to play with her. He taught her to ride as she had never ridden before, not merely to jog along the road on her fat palfrey, but to gallop alongside of him under the trees in the forest, and they used to be out all day, hunting and hawking, for he trained two dear little white falcons and gave them to her, and taught her to carry them on her wrist; and she grew so fat and rosy that everyone said it was a joyful day when Hynde Horn was washed up on the sea-shore in the boat.
But alas! people do not remain children for ever, and, as years went on, Hynde Horn grew into as goodly a young man as anyone need wish to see, and of course he fell in love with Princess Jean, and of course she fell in love with him. Everyone was quite delighted, and said, "What is to hinder them from being married at once, and then when Princess Jean comes to be Queen, we will be quite content to have Hynde Horn for our King?"
But wise King Aylmer would not agree to this. He knew that it is not good for any man to have no difficulties to overcome, and to get everything that he wants without any trouble.
"Nay," he said, "but the lad hath to win his spurs first, and to show us of what stuff he is made. Besides, his father's Kingdom lies desolate, ruled over by an alien. He shall be betrothed to my daughter, and we will have a great feast to celebrate the event, and then I will give him a ship, manned by thirty sailors, and he shall go away to his own land in search of adventure, and when he hath done great deeds of daring, and avenged his father's death, he shall come again, and my daughter will be waiting for him."
So there was a splendid feast held at the castle, and all the great lords and barons came to it, and Princess Jean and Hynde Horn were betrothed amidst great rejoicing, for everyone was glad to think that their Princess would wed someone whom they knew, and not a stranger.
But the hearts of the two lovers were heavy, and when the feast was over, and all the guests had gone away, they went out on a little balcony in front of the castle, which overlooked the sea. It was a lovely evening, the moon was full, and by its light they could see the white sails of the ship lying ready in the little bay, waiting to carry Hynde Horn far away to other lands. The roses were nodding their heads over the balcony railings and the honeysuckle was falling in clusters from the castle walls, but it might have been December for all that poor Princess Jean cared, and the tears rolled fast down her face as she thought of the parting.
"Alack, alack, Hynde Horn," she said, "could I but go with thee! How shall I live all these years, with no one to talk to, or to ride with?"
Then he tried to comfort her with promises of how brave he would be, and how soon he would conquer his father's enemies and come back to her; but they both knew in their hearts that this was the last time that they would be together for long years to come.
At last Hynde Horn drew a long case from his pocket, out of which he took a beautifully wrought silver wand, with three little silver laverocks sitting on the end of it. "This," he said, "dear love, is for thee; the sceptre is a token that thou rulest in my heart, as well as over broad Scotland, and the three singing laverocks are to remind thee of me, for thou hast oft-times told me that my poor singing reminds thee of a lark."
[Footnote 32: Larks.]
Then Princess Jean drew from her finger a gold ring, set with three priceless diamonds. It was so small it would only go on the little finger of her lover's left hand. "This is a token of my love," she said gravely, "therefore guard it well. When the diamonds are bright and shining, thou shalt know that my love for thee will be burning clear and true; but if ever they lose their lustre and grow pale and dim, then know thou that some evil hath befallen me. Either I am dead, or else someone tempts me to be untrue."
Next morning the fair white ship spread her sails, and carried Hynde Horn far away over the sea. Princess Jean stood on the little balcony until the tallest mast had disappeared below the horizon, and then she threw herself on her bed, and wept as though her heart would break.
After this, for many a long day, there was nothing heard of Hynde Horn, not even a message came from him, and people began to say that he must be dead, and that it was high time that their Princess forgot him, and listened to the suit of one of the many noble princes who came to pay court to her from over the sea. She would not listen to them, however, and year after year went by.
Now it happened, that, when seven years had passed, a poor beggar went up one day to the castle in the hope that one of the servants would see him, and give him some of the broken bread and meat that was always left from the hall table. The porter knew him by sight and let him pass into the courtyard, but although he loitered about for a whole hour, no one appeared to have time to speak to him. It seemed as if something unusual were going on, for there were horses standing about in the courtyard, held by grooms in strange liveries, and servants were hurrying along, as if they were so busy they hardly knew what to do first. The old beggar man spoke to one or two of them as they passed, but they did not pay any attention to him, so at last he thought it was no use waiting any longer, and was about to turn away, when a little scullery-maid came out of the kitchen, and began to wash some pots under a running tap. He went up to her, and asked if she could spare him any broken victuals.
She looked at him crossly. "A pretty day to come for broken victuals," she cried, "when we all have so much to do that we would need twenty fingers on every hand, and four pairs of hands at the very least. Knowst thou not that an embassage has come from over the sea, seeking the hand of our Princess Jean for the young Prince of Eastnesse, he that is so rich that he could dine off diamonds every day, an' it suited him, and they are all in the great hall now, talking it over with King Aylmer? Only 'tis said that the Princess doth not favour the thought; she is all for an old lover called Hynde Horn, whom everyone else holds to be dead this many a year. Be it as it may, I have no time to talk to the like of thee, for we have a banquet to cook for fifty guests, not counting the King and all his nobles. The like of it hath not been seen since the day when Princess Jean and that Hynde Horn plighted their troth these seven years ago. But hark'ee, old man, it might be well worth thy while to come back to-morrow; there will be plenty of picking then." And, flapping her dish-clout in the wind, she ran into the kitchen again.
The old beggar went away, intending to take her advice and return on the morrow; but as he was walking along the sands to a little cottage where he sometimes got a night's lodging, he met a gallant Knight on horseback, who was very finely dressed, and wore a lovely scarlet cloak.
The beggar thought that he must be one of the King's guests, who had come out for a gallop on the smooth yellow sands, and he stood aside and pulled off his cap; but the Knight drew rein, and spoke to him.
"God shield thee, old man," he said, "and what may the news be in this country? I used to live here, but I have been in far-off lands these seven years, and I know not how things go on."
"Sire," answered the beggar, "things have gone on much as usual for these few years back, but it seems as if changes were in the air. I was but this moment at the castle, and 'twas told me that the young Prince Eitel, heir to the great Kingdom of Eastnesse, hath sent to crave the hand of our Princess; and although the young lady favours not his suit (she being true to an old love, one Hynde Horn, who is thought to be dead), the King her father is like to urge her to it, for the King of Eastnesse is a valuable ally, and fabulously rich."
Then a strange light came into the stranger's eyes, and, to the beggar's astonishment, he sprang from his horse, and held out the rein to him. "Wilt do me a favour, friend?" he said. "Wilt give me thy beggar's wallet, and staff, and cloak, if I give thee my horse, and this cloak of crimson sarsenet? I have a mind to turn beggar."
The beggar scratched his head, and looked at him in surprise. "He hath been in the East, methinks," he muttered, "and the sun hath touched his brain, but anyhow 'tis a fair exchange; that crimson cloak will sell for ten merks any day, and for the horse I can get twenty pounds," and presently he cantered off, well pleased with the bargain, while the other,—the beggar's wallet in his hand, his hat drawn down over his eyes, and leaning on his staff,—began to ascend the steep hill leading to the castle.