"Fool enough and cool enough may rhyme together passing well," said the glover; "but thou art good natured, and I think lovest this crony of thine. It stands awkwardly with us and him just now," continued Simon. "Thou knowest there hath been some talk of marriage between my daughter Catharine and Henry Gow?"
"I have heard some such song since St. Valentine's Morn. Ah! he that shall win the Fair Maid of Perth must be a happy man; and yet marriage spoils many a pretty fellow. I myself somewhat regret—"
"Prithee, truce with thy regrets for the present, man," interrupted the glover, somewhat peevishly. "You must know, Oliver, that some of these talking women, who I think make all the business of the world their own, have accused Henry of keeping light company with glee women and suchlike. Catharine took it to heart; and I held my child insulted, that he had not waited upon her like a Valentine, but had thrown himself into unseemly society on the very day when, by ancient custom, he might have had an opportunity to press his interest with my daughter. Therefore, when he came hither late on the evening of St. Valentine's, I, like a hasty old fool, bid him go home to the company he had left, and denied him admittance. I have not seen him since, and I begin to think that I may have been too rash in the matter. She is my only child, and the grave should have her sooner than a debauchee, But I have hitherto thought I knew Henry Gow as if he were my son. I cannot think he would use us thus, and it may be there are means of explaining what is laid to his charge. I was led to ask Dwining, who is said to have saluted the smith while he was walking with this choice mate. If I am to believe his words, this wench was the smith's cousin, Joan Letham. But thou knowest that the potter carrier ever speaks one language with his visage and another with his tongue. Now, thou, Oliver, hast too little wit—I mean, too much honesty—to belie the truth, and as Dwining hinted that thou also hadst seen her—"
"I see her, Simon Glover! Will Dwining say that I saw her?"
"No, not precisely that; but he says you told him you had met the smith thus accompanied."
"He lies, and I will pound him into a gallipot!" said Oliver Proudfute.
"How! Did you never tell him, then, of such a meeting?"
"What an if I did?" said the bonnet maker. "Did not he swear that he would never repeat again to living mortal what I communicated to him? and therefore, in telling the occurrent to you, he hath made himself a liar."
"Thou didst not meet the smith, then," said Simon, "with such a loose baggage as fame reports?"
"Lackaday, not I; perhaps I did, perhaps I did not. Think, father Simon—I have been a four years married man, and can you expect me to remember the turn of a glee woman's ankle, the trip of her toe, the lace upon her petticoat, and such toys? No, I leave that to unmarried wags, like my gossip Henry."
"The upshot is, then," said the glover, much vexed, "you did meet him on St. Valentine's Day walking the public streets—"
"Not so, neighbour; I met him in the most distant and dark lane in Perth, steering full for his own house, with bag and baggage, which, as a gallant fellow, he carried in his arms, the puppy dog on one and the jilt herself—and to my thought she was a pretty one—hanging upon the other."
"Now, by good St. John," said the glover, "this infamy would make a Christian man renounce his faith, and worship Mahound in very anger! But he has seen the last of my daughter. I would rather she went to the wild Highlands with a barelegged cateran than wed with one who could, at such a season, so broadly forget honour and decency. Out upon him!"
"Tush—tush! father Simon," said the liberal minded bonnet maker, "you consider not the nature of young blood. Their company was not long, for—to speak truth, I did keep a little watch on him—I met him before sunrise, conducting his errant damsel to the Lady's Stairs, that the wench might embark on the Tay from Perth; and I know for certainty, for I made inquiry, that she sailed in a gabbart for Dundee. So you see it was but a slight escape of youth."
"And he came here," said Simon, bitterly, "beseeching for admittance to my daughter, while he had his harlot awaiting him at home! I had rather he had slain a score of men! It skills not talking, least of all to thee, Oliver Proudfute, who, if thou art not such a one as himself, would fain be thought so. But—"
"Nay, think not of it so seriously," said Oliver, who began to reflect on the mischief his tattling was likely to occasion to his friend, and on the consequences of Henry Gow's displeasure, when he should learn the disclosure which he had made rather in vanity of heart than in evil intention.
"Consider," he continued, "that there are follies belonging to youth. Occasion provokes men to such frolics, and confession wipes them off. I care not if I tell thee that, though my wife be as goodly a woman as the city has, yet I myself—"
"Peace, silly braggart," said the glover in high wrath; "thy loves and thy battles are alike apocryphal. If thou must needs lie, which I think is thy nature, canst thou invent no falsehood that may at least do thee some credit? Do I not see through thee, as I could see the light through the horn of a base lantern? Do I not know, thou filthy weaver of rotten worsted, that thou durst no more cross the threshold of thy own door, if thy wife heard of thy making such a boast, than thou darest cross naked weapons with a boy of twelve years old, who has drawn a sword for the first time of his life? By St. John, it were paying you for your tale bearing trouble to send thy Maudie word of thy gay brags."
The bonnet maker, at this threat, started as if a crossbow bolt had whizzed past his head when least expected. And it was with a trembling voice that he replied: "Nay, good father Glover, thou takest too much credit for thy grey hairs. Consider, good neighbour, thou art too old for a young martialist to wrangle with. And in the matter of my Maudie, I can trust thee, for I know no one who would be less willing than thou to break the peace of families."
"Trust thy coxcomb no longer with me," said the incensed glover; "but take thyself, and the thing thou call'st a head, out of my reach, lest I borrow back five minutes of my youth and break thy pate!"
"You have had a merry Fastern's Even, neighbour," said the bonnet maker, "and I wish you a quiet sleep; we shall meet better friends tomorrow."
"Out of my doors tonight!" said the glover. "I am ashamed so idle a tongue as thine should have power to move me thus."
"Idiot—beast—loose tongued coxcomb," he exclaimed, throwing himself into a chair, as the bonnet maker disappeared; "that a fellow made up of lies should not have had the grace to frame one when it might have covered the shame of a friend! And I—what am I, that I should, in my secret mind, wish that such a gross insult to me and my child had been glossed over? Yet such was my opinion of Henry, that I would have willingly believed the grossest figment the swaggering ass could have invented. Well, it skills not thinking of it. Our honest name must be maintained, though everything else should go to ruin."
While the glover thus moralised on the unwelcome confirmation of the tale he wished to think untrue, the expelled morrice dancer had leisure, in the composing air of a cool and dark February night, to meditate on the consequences of the glover's unrestrained anger.
"But it is nothing," he bethought himself, "to the wrath of Henry Wynd, who hath killed a man for much less than placing displeasure betwixt him and Catharine, as well as her fiery old father. Certainly I were better have denied everything. But the humour of seeming a knowing gallant, as in truth I am, fairly overcame me. Were I best go to finish the revel at the Griffin? But then Maudie will rampauge on my return—ay, and this being holiday even, I may claim a privilege. I have it: I will not to the Griffin—I will to the smith's, who must be at home, since no one hath seen him this day amid the revel. I will endeavour to make peace with him, and offer my intercession with the glover. Harry is a simple, downright fellow, and though I think he is my better in a broil, yet in discourse I can turn him my own way. The streets are now quiet, the night, too, is dark, and I may step aside if I meet any rioters. I will to the smith's, and, securing him for my friend, I care little for old Simon. St. Ringan bear me well through this night, and I will clip my tongue out ere it shall run my head into such peril again! Yonder old fellow, when his blood was up, looked more like a carver of buff jerkins than a clipper of kid gloves."
With these reflections, the puissant Oliver walked swiftly, yet with as little noise as possible, towards the wynd in which the smith, as our readers are aware, had his habitation. But his evil fortune had not ceased to pursue him. As he turned into the High, or principal, Street, he heard a burst of music very near him, followed by a loud shout.
"My merry mates, the morrice dancers," thought he; "I would know old Jeremy's rebeck among an hundred. I will venture across the street ere they pass on; if I am espied, I shall have the renown of some private quest, which may do me honour as a roving blade."
With these longings for distinction among the gay and gallant, combated, however, internally, by more prudential considerations, the bonnet maker made an attempt to cross the street. But the revellers, whoever they might be, were accompanied by torches, the flash of which fell upon Oliver, whose light coloured habit made him the more distinctly visible. The general shout of "A prize—a prize" overcame the noise of the minstrel, and before the bonnet maker could determine whether it were better to stand or fly, two active young men, clad in fantastic masking habits, resembling wild men, and holding great clubs, seized upon him, saying, in a tragical tone: "Yield thee, man of bells and bombast—yield thee, rescue or no rescue, or truly thou art but a dead morrice dancer."
"To whom shall I yield me?" said the bonnet maker, with a faltering voice; for, though he saw he had to do with a party of mummers who were afoot for pleasure, yet he observed at the same time that they were far above his class, and he lost the audacity necessary to support his part in a game where the inferior was likely to come by the worst.
"Dost thou parley, slave?" answered one of the maskers; "and must I show thee that thou art a captive, by giving thee incontinently the bastinado?"
"By no means, puissant man of Ind," said the bonnet maker; "lo, I am conformable to your pleasure."
"Come, then," said those who had arrested him—"come and do homage to the Emperor of Mimes, King of Caperers, and Grand Duke of the Dark Hours, and explain by what right thou art so presumptuous as to prance and jingle, and wear out shoe leather, within his dominions without paying him tribute. Know'st thou not thou hast incurred the pains of high treason?"
"That were hard, methinks," said poor Oliver, "since I knew not that his Grace exercised the government this evening. But I am willing to redeem the forfeit, if the purse of a poor bonnet maker may, by the mulct of a gallon of wine, or some such matter."
"Bring him before the emperor," was the universal cry; and the morrice dancer was placed before a slight, but easy and handsome, figure of a young man, splendidly attired, having a cincture and tiara of peacock's feathers, then brought from the East as a marvellous rarity; a short jacket and under dress of leopard's skin fitted closely the rest of his person, which was attired in flesh coloured silk, so as to resemble the ordinary idea of an Indian prince. He wore sandals, fastened on with ribands of scarlet silk, and held in his hand a sort of fan, such as ladies then used, composed of the same feathers, assembled into a plume or tuft.
"What mister wight have we here," said the Indian chief, "who dares to tie the bells of a morrice on the ankles of a dull ass? Hark ye, friend, your dress should make you a subject of ours, since our empire extends over all Merryland, including mimes and minstrels of every description. What, tongue tied? He lacks wine; minister to him our nutshell full of sack."
A huge calabash full of sack was offered to the lips of the supplicant, while this prince of revellers exhorted him:
"Crack me this nut, and do it handsomely, and without wry faces."
But, however Oliver might have relished a moderate sip of the same good wine, he was terrified at the quantity he was required to deal with. He drank a draught, and then entreated for mercy.
"So please your princedom, I have yet far to go, and if I were to swallow your Grace's bounty, for which accept my dutiful thanks, I should not be able to stride over the next kennel."
"Art thou in case to bear thyself like a galliard? Now, cut me a caper—ha! one—two—three—admirable. Again—give him the spur (here a satellite of the Indian gave Oliver a slight touch with his sword). Nay, that is best of all: he sprang like a cat in a gutter. Tender him the nut once more; nay, no compulsion, he has paid forfeit, and deserves not only free dismissal but reward. Kneel down—kneel, and arise Sir Knight of the Calabash! What is thy name? And one of you lend me a rapier."
"Oliver, may it please your honour—I mean your principality."
"Oliver, man. Nay, then thou art one of the 'douze peers' already, and fate has forestalled our intended promotion. Yet rise up, sweet Sir Oliver Thatchpate, Knight of the honourable order of the Pumpkin—rise up, in the name of nonsense, and begone about thine own concerns, and the devil go with thee!"
So saying, the prince of the revels bestowed a smart blow with the flat of the weapon across the bonnet maker's shoulders, who sprung to his feet with more alacrity of motion than he had hitherto displayed, and, accelerated by the laugh and halloo which arose behind him, arrived at the smith's house before he stopped, with the same speed with which a hunted fox makes for his den.
It was not till the affrighted bonnet maker had struck a blow on the door that he recollected he ought to have bethought himself beforehand in what manner he was to present himself before Henry, and obtain his forgiveness for his rash communications to Simon Glover. No one answered to his first knock, and, perhaps, as these reflections arose in the momentary pause of recollection which circumstances permitted, the perplexed bonnet maker might have flinched from his purpose, and made his retreat to his own premises, without venturing upon the interview which he had purposed. But a distant strain of minstrelsy revived his apprehensions of falling once more into the hands of the gay maskers from whom he had escaped, and he renewed his summons on the door of the smith's dwelling with a hurried, though faltering, hand. He was then appalled by the deep, yet not unmusical, voice of Henry Gow, who answered from within: "Who calls at this hour, and what is it that you want?"
"It is I—Oliver Proudfute," replied the bonnet maker; "I have a merry jest to tell you, gossip Henry."
"Carry thy foolery to some other market. I am in no jesting humour," said Henry. "Go hence; I will see no one tonight."
"But, gossip—good gossip," answered the martialist with out, "I am beset with villains, and beg the shelter of your roof!"
"Fool that thou art!" replied Henry; "no dunghill cock, the most recreant that has fought this Fastern's Eve, would ruffle his feathers at such a craven as thou!"
At this moment another strain of minstrelsy, and, as the bonnet maker conceited, one which approached much nearer, goaded his apprehensions to the uttermost; and in a voice the tones of which expressed the undisguised extremity of instant fear he exclaimed:
"For the sake of our old gossipred, and for the love of Our Blessed Lady, admit me, Henry, if you would not have me found a bloody corpse at thy door, slain by the bloody minded Douglasses!"
"That would be a shame to me," thought the good natured smith, "and sooth to say, his peril may be real. There are roving hawks that will strike at a sparrow as soon as a heron."
With these reflections, half muttered, half spoken, Henry undid his well fastened door, proposing to reconnoitre the reality of the danger before he permitted his unwelcome guest to enter the house. But as he looked abroad to ascertain how matters stood, Oliver bolted in like a scared deer into a thicket, and harboured himself by the smith's kitchen fire before Henry could look up and down the lane, and satisfy himself there were no enemies in pursuit of the apprehensive fugitive. He secured his door, therefore, and returned into the kitchen, displeased that he had suffered his gloomy solitude to be intruded upon by sympathising with apprehensions which he thought he might have known were so easily excited as those of his timid townsman.
"How now!" he said, coldly enough, when he saw the bonnet maker calmly seated by his hearth. "What foolish revel is this, Master Oliver? I see no one near to harm you."
"Give me a drink, kind gossip," said Oliver: "I am choked with the haste I have made to come hither."
"I have sworn," said Henry, "that this shall be no revel night in this house: I am in my workday clothes, as you see, and keep fast, as I have reason, instead of holiday. You have had wassail enough for the holiday evening, for you speak thick already. If you wish more ale or wine you must go elsewhere."
"I have had overmuch wassail already," said poor Oliver, "and have been well nigh drowned in it. That accursed calabash! A draught of water, kind gossip—you will not surely let me ask for that in vain? or, if it is your will, a cup of cold small ale."
"Nay, if that be all," said Henry, "it shall not be lacking. But it must have been much which brought thee to the pass of asking for either."
So saying, he filled a quart flagon from a barrel that stood nigh, and presented it to his guest. Oliver eagerly accepted it, raised it to his head with a trembling hand, imbibed the contents with lips which quivered with emotion, and, though the potation was as thin as he had requested, so much was he exhausted with the combined fears of alarm and of former revelry, that, when he placed the flagon on the oak table, he uttered a deep sigh of satisfaction, and remained silent.
"Well, now you have had your draught, gossip," said the smith, "what is it you want? Where are those that threatened you? I could see no one."
"No—but there were twenty chased me into the wynd," said Oliver. "But when they saw us together, you know they lost the courage that brought all of them upon one of us."
"Nay, do not trifle, friend Oliver," replied his host; "my mood lies not that way."
"I jest not, by St. John of Perth. I have been stayed and foully outraged (gliding his hand sensitively over the place affected) by mad David of Rothsay, roaring Ramorny, and the rest of them. They made me drink a firkin of Malvoisie."
"Thou speakest folly, man. Ramorny is sick nigh to death, as the potter carrier everywhere reports: they and he cannot surely rise at midnight to do such frolics."
"I cannot tell," replied Oliver; "but I saw the party by torchlight, and I can make bodily oath to the bonnets I made for them since last Innocents'. They are of a quaint device, and I should know my own stitch."
"Well, thou mayst have had wrong," answered Henry. "If thou art in real danger, I will cause them get a bed for thee here. But you must fill it presently, for I am not in the humour of talking."
"Nay, I would thank thee for my quarters for a night, only my Maudie will be angry—that is, not angry, for that I care not for—but the truth is, she is overanxious on a revel night like this, knowing my humour is like thine for a word and a blow."
"Why, then, go home," said the smith, "and show her that her treasure is in safety, Master Oliver; the streets are quiet, and, to speak a blunt word, I would be alone."
"Nay, but I have things to speak with thee about of moment," replied Oliver, who, afraid to stay, seemed yet unwilling to go. "There has been a stir in our city council about the affair of St. Valentine's Even. The provost told me not four hours since, that the Douglas and he had agreed that the feud should be decided by a yeoman on either party and that our acquaintance, the Devil's Dick, was to wave his gentry, and take up the cause for Douglas and the nobles, and that you or I should fight for the Fair City. Now, though I am the elder burgess, yet I am willing, for the love and kindness we have always borne to each other, to give thee the precedence, and content myself with the humbler office of stickler."
Henry Smith, though angry, could scarce forbear a smile.
"If it is that which breaks thy quiet, and keeps thee out of thy bed at midnight, I will make the matter easy. Thou shalt not lose the advantage offered thee. I have fought a score of duels—far, far too many. Thou hast, I think, only encountered with thy wooden soldan: it were unjust—unfair—unkind—in me to abuse thy friendly offer. So go home, good fellow, and let not the fear of losing honour disturb thy slumbers. Rest assured that thou shalt answer the challenge, as good right thou hast, having had injury from this rough rider."
"Gramercy, and thank thee kindly," said Oliver much embarrassed by his friend's unexpected deference; "thou art the good friend I have always thought thee. But I have as much friendship for Henry Smith as he for Oliver Proudfute. I swear by St. John, I will not fight in this quarrel to thy prejudice; so, having said so, I am beyond the reach of temptation, since thou wouldst not have me mansworn, though it were to fight twenty duels."
"Hark thee," said the smith, "acknowledge thou art afraid, Oliver: tell the honest truth, at once, otherwise I leave thee to make the best of thy quarrel."
"Nay, good gossip," replied the bonnet maker, "thou knowest I am never afraid. But, in sooth, this is a desperate ruffian; and as I have a wife—poor Maudie, thou knowest—and a small family, and thou—"
"And I," interrupted Henry, hastily, "have none, and never shall have."
"Why, truly, such being the case, I would rather thou fought'st this combat than I."
"Now, by our halidome, gossip," answered the smith, "thou art easily gored! Know, thou silly fellow, that Sir Patrick Charteris, who is ever a merry man, hath but jested with thee. Dost thou think he would venture the honour of the city on thy head, or that I would yield thee the precedence in which such a matter was to be disputed? Lackaday, go home, let Maudie tie a warm nightcap on thy head, get thee a warm breakfast and a cup of distilled waters, and thou wilt be in ease tomorrow to fight thy wooden dromond, or soldan, as thou call'st him, the only thing thou wilt ever lay downright blow upon."
"Ay, say'st thou so, comrade?" answered Oliver, much relieved, yet deeming it necessary to seem in part offended. "I care not for thy dogged humour; it is well for thee thou canst not wake my patience to the point of falling foul. Enough—we are gossips, and this house is thine. Why should the two best blades in Perth clash with each other? What! I know thy rugged humour, and can forgive it. But is the feud really soldered up?"
"As completely as ever hammer fixed rivet," said the smith. "The town hath given the Johnstone a purse of gold, for not ridding them of a troublesome fellow called Oliver Proudfute, when he had him at his mercy; and this purse of gold buys for the provost the Sleepless Isle, which the King grants him, for the King pays all in the long run. And thus Sir Patrick gets the comely inch which is opposite to his dwelling, and all honour is saved on both sides, for what is given to the provost is given, you understand, to the town. Besides all this, the Douglas hath left Perth to march against the Southron, who, men say, are called into the marches by the false Earl of March. So the Fair City is quit of him and his cumber."
"But, in St. John's name, how came all that about," said Oliver, "and no one spoken to about it?"
"Why, look thee, friend Oliver, this I take to have been the case. The fellow whom I cropped of a hand is now said to have been a servant of Sir John Ramorny's, who hath fled to his motherland of Fife, to which Sir John himself is also to be banished, with full consent of every honest man. Now, anything which brings in Sir John Ramorny touches a much greater man—I think Simon Glover told as much to Sir Patrick Charteris. If it be as I guess, I have reason to thank Heaven and all the saints I stabbed him not upon the ladder when I made him prisoner."
"And I too thank Heaven and all the saints, most devoutly," said Oliver. "I was behind thee, thou knowest, and—"
"No more of that, if thou be'st wise. There are laws against striking princes," said the smith: "best not handle the horseshoe till it cools. All is hushed up now."
"If this be so," said Oliver, partly disconcerted, but still more relieved, by the intelligence he received from his better informed friend, "I have reason to complain of Sir Patrick Charteris for jesting with the honour of an honest burgess, being, as he is, provost of our town."
"Do, Oliver; challenge him to the field, and he will bid his yeoman loose his dogs on thee. But come, night wears apace, will you be shogging?"
"Nay, I had one word more to say to thee, good gossip. But first, another cup of your cold ale."
"Pest on thee for a fool! Thou makest me wish thee where told liquors are a scarce commodity. There, swill the barrelful an thou wilt."
Oliver took the second flagon, but drank, or rather seemed to drink, very slowly, in order to gain time for considering how he should introduce his second subject of conversation, which seemed rather delicate for the smith's present state of irritability. At length, nothing better occurred to him than to plunge into the subject at once, with, "I have seen Simon Glover today, gossip."
"Well," said the smith, in a low, deep, and stern tone of voice, "and if thou hast, what is that to me?"
"Nothing—nothing," answered the appalled bonnet maker. "Only I thought you might like to know that he questioned me close if I had seen thee on St. Valentine's Day, after the uproar at the Dominicans', and in what company thou wert."
"And I warrant thou told'st him thou met'st me with a glee woman in the mirk loaning yonder?"
"Thou know'st, Henry, I have no gift at lying; but I made it all up with him."
"As how, I pray you?" said the smith.
"Marry, thus: 'Father Simon,' said I, 'you are an old man, and know not the quality of us, in whose veins youth is like quicksilver. You think, now, he cares about this girl,' said I, 'and, perhaps, that he has her somewhere here in Perth in a corner? No such matter; I know,' said I, 'and I will make oath to it, that she left his house early next morning for Dundee.' Ha! have I helped thee at need?"
"Truly, I think thou hast, and if anything could add to my grief and vexation at this moment, it is that, when I am so deep in the mire, an ass like thee should place his clumsy hoof on my head, to sink me entirely. Come, away with thee, and mayst thou have such luck as thy meddling humour deserves; and then I think, thou wilt be found with a broken neck in the next gutter. Come, get you out, or I will put you to the door with head and shoulders forward."
"Ha—ha!" exclaimed Oliver, laughing with some constraint, "thou art such a groom! But in sadness, gossip Henry, wilt thou not take a turn with me to my own house, in the Meal Vennel?"
"Curse thee, no," answered the smith.
"I will bestow the wine on thee if thou wilt go," said Oliver.
"I will bestow the cudgel on thee if thou stay'st," said Henry.
"Nay, then, I will don thy buff coat and cap of steel, and walk with thy swashing step, and whistling thy pibroch of 'Broken Bones at Loncarty'; and if they take me for thee, there dare not four of them come near me."
"Take all or anything thou wilt, in the fiend's name! only be gone."
"Well—well, Hal, we shall meet when thou art in better humour," said Oliver, who had put on the dress.
"Go; and may I never see thy coxcombly face again."
Oliver at last relieved his host by swaggering off, imitating as well as he could the sturdy step and outward gesture of his redoubted companion, and whistling a pibroch composed on the rout of the Danes at Loncarty, which he had picked up from its being a favourite of the smith's, whom he made a point of imitating as far as he could. But as the innocent, though conceited, fellow stepped out from the entrance of the wynd, where it communicated with the High Street, he received a blow from behind, against which his headpiece was no defence, and he fell dead upon the spot, an attempt to mutter the name of Henry, to whom he always looked for protection, quivering upon his dying tongue.
Nay, I will fit you for a young prince.
We return to the revellers, who had, half an hour before, witnessed, with such boisterous applause, Oliver's feat of agility, being the last which the poor bonnet maker was ever to exhibit, and at the hasty retreat which had followed it, animated by their wild shout. After they had laughed their fill, they passed on their mirthful path in frolic and jubilee, stopping and frightening some of the people whom they met, but, it must be owned, without doing them any serious injury, either in their persons or feelings. At length, tired with his rambles, their chief gave a signal to his merry men to close around him.
"We, my brave hearts and wise counsellors, are," he said, "the real king over all in Scotland that is worth commanding. We sway the hours when the wine cup circulates, and when beauty becomes kind, when frolic is awake, and gravity snoring upon his pallet. We leave to our vice regent, King Robert, the weary task of controlling ambitious nobles, gratifying greedy clergymen, subduing wild Highlanders, and composing deadly feuds. And since our empire is one of joy and pleasure, meet it is that we should haste with all our forces to the rescue of such as own our sway, when they chance, by evil fortune, to become the prisoners of care and hypochondriac malady. I speak in relation chiefly to Sir John, whom the vulgar call Ramorny. We have not seen him since the onslaught of Curfew Street, and though we know he was somedeal hurt in that matter, we cannot see why he should not do homage in leal and duteous sort. Here, you, our Calabash King at arms, did you legally summon Sir John to his part of this evening's revels?"
"I did, my lord."
"And did you acquaint him that we have for this night suspended his sentence of banishment, that, since higher powers have settled that part, we might at least take a mirthful leave of an old friend?"
"I so delivered it, my lord," answered the mimic herald.
"And sent he not a word in writing, he that piques himself upon being so great a clerk?"
"He was in bed, my lord, and I might not see him. So far as I hear, he hath lived very retired, harmed with some bodily bruises, malcontent with your Highness's displeasure, and doubting insult in the streets, he having had a narrow escape from the burgesses, when the churls pursued him and his two servants into the Dominican convent. The servants, too, have been removed to Fife, lest they should tell tales."
"Why, it was wisely done," said the Prince, who, we need not inform the intelligent reader, had a better title to be so called than arose from the humours of the evening—"it was prudently done to keep light tongued companions out of the way. But St. John's absenting himself from our solemn revels, so long before decreed, is flat mutiny and disclamation of allegiance. Or, if the knight be really the prisoner of illness and melancholy, we must ourself grace him with a visit, seeing there can be no better cure for those maladies than our own presence, and a gentle kiss of the calabash. Forward, ushers, minstrels, guard, and attendants! Bear on high the great emblem of our dignity. Up with the calabash, I say, and let the merry men who carry these firkins, which are to supply the wine cup with their life blood, be chosen with regard to their state of steadiness. Their burden is weighty and precious, and if the fault is not in our eyes, they seem to us to reel and stagger more than were desirable. Now, move on, sirs, and let our minstrels blow their blythest and boldest."
On they went with tipsy mirth and jollity, the numerous torches flashing their red light against the small windows of the narrow streets, from whence nightcapped householders, and sometimes their wives to boot, peeped out by stealth to see what wild wassail disturbed the peaceful streets at that unwonted hour. At length the jolly train halted before the door of Sir John Ramorny's house, which a small court divided from the street.
Here they knocked, thundered, and halloo'd, with many denunciations of vengeance against the recusants who refused to open the gates. The least punishment threatened was imprisonment in an empty hogshead, within the massamore [principal dungeon] of the Prince of Pastimes' feudal palace, videlicet, the ale cellar. But Eviot, Ramorny's page, heard and knew well the character of the intruders who knocked so boldly, and thought it better, considering his master's condition, to make no answer at all, in hopes that the revel would pass on, than to attempt to deprecate their proceedings, which he knew would be to no purpose. His master's bedroom looking into a little garden, his page hoped he might not be disturbed by the noise; and he was confident in the strength of the outward gate, upon which he resolved they should beat till they tired themselves, or till the tone of their drunken humour should change. The revellers accordingly seemed likely to exhaust themselves in the noise they made by shouting and beating the door, when their mock prince (alas! too really such) upbraided them as lazy and dull followers of the god of wine and of mirth.
"Bring forward," he said, "our key, yonder it lies, and apply it to this rebellious gate."
The key he pointed at was a large beam of wood, left on one side of the street, with the usual neglect of order characteristic of a Scottish borough of the period.
The shouting men of Ind instantly raised it in their arms, and, supporting it by their united strength, ran against the door with such force, that hasp, hinge, and staple jingled, and gave fair promise of yielding. Eviot did not choose to wait the extremity of this battery: he came forth into the court, and after some momentary questions for form's sake, caused the porter to undo the gate, as if he had for the first time recognised the midnight visitors.
"False slave of an unfaithful master," said the Prince, "where is our disloyal subject, Sir John Ramorny, who has proved recreant to our summons?"
"My lord," said Eviot, bowing at once to the real and to the assumed dignity of the leader, "my master is just now very much indisposed: he has taken an opiate—and—your Highness must excuse me if I do my duty to him in saying, he cannot be spoken with without danger of his life."
"Tush! tell me not of danger, Master Teviot—Cheviot—Eviot—what is it they call thee? But show me thy master's chamber, or rather undo me the door of his lodging, and I will make a good guess at it myself. Bear high the calabash, my brave followers, and see that you spill not a drop of the liquor, which Dan Bacchus has sent for the cure of all diseases of the body and cares of the mind. Advance it, I say, and let us see the holy rind which incloses such precious liquor."
The Prince made his way into the house accordingly, and, acquainted with its interior, ran upstairs, followed by Eviot, in vain imploring silence, and, with the rest of the rabble rout, burst into the room of the wounded master of the lodging.
He who has experienced the sensation of being compelled to sleep in spite of racking bodily pains by the administration of a strong opiate, and of having been again startled by noise and violence out of the unnatural state of insensibility in which he had been plunged by the potency of the medicine, may be able to imagine the confused and alarmed state of Sir John Ramorny's mind, and the agony of his body, which acted and reacted upon each other. If we add to these feelings the consciousness of a criminal command, sent forth and in the act of being executed, it may give us some idea of an awakening to which, in the mind of the party, eternal sleep would be a far preferable doom. The groan which he uttered as the first symptom of returning sensation had something in it so terrific, that even the revellers were awed into momentary silence; and as, from the half recumbent posture in which he had gone to sleep, he looked around the room, filled with fantastic shapes, rendered still more so by his disturbed intellects, he muttered to himself:
"It is thus, then, after all, and the legend is true! These are fiends, and I am condemned for ever! The fire is not external, but I feel it—I feel it at my heart—burning as if the seven times heated furnace were doing its work within!"
While he cast ghastly looks around him, and struggled to recover some share of recollection, Eviot approached the Prince, and, falling on his knees, implored him to allow the apartment to be cleared.
"It may," he said, "cost my master his life."
"Never fear, Cheviot," replied the Duke of Rothsay; "were he at the gates of death, here is what should make the fiends relinquish their prey. Advance the calabash, my masters."
"It is death for him to taste it in his present state," said Eviot: "if he drinks wine he dies."
"Some one must drink it for him—he shall be cured vicariously; and may our great Dan Bacchus deign to Sir John Ramorny the comfort, the elevation of heart, the lubrication of lungs, and lightness of fancy, which are his choicest gifts, while the faithful follower, who quaffs in his stead, shall have the qualms, the sickness, the racking of the nerves, the dimness of the eyes, and the throbbing of the brain, with which our great master qualifies gifts which would else make us too like the gods. What say you, Eviot? will you be the faithful follower that will quaff in your lord's behalf, and as his representative? Do this, and we will hold ourselves contented to depart, for, methinks, our subject doth look something ghastly."
"I would do anything in my slight power," said Eviot, "to save my master from a draught which may be his death, and your Grace from the sense that you had occasioned it. But here is one who will perform the feat of goodwill, and thank your Highness to boot."
"Whom have we here?" said the Prince, "a butcher, and I think fresh from his office. Do butchers ply their craft on Fastern's Eve? Foh, how he smells of blood!"
This was spoken of Bonthron, who, partly surprised at the tumult in the house, where he had expected to find all dark and silent, and partly stupid through the wine which the wretch had drunk in great quantities, stood in the threshold of the door, staring at the scene before him, with his buff coat splashed with blood, and a bloody axe in his hand, exhibiting a ghastly and disgusting spectacle to the revellers, who felt, though they could not tell why, fear as well as dislike at his presence.
As they approached the calabash to this ungainly and truculent looking savage, and as he extended a hand soiled as it seemed with blood, to grasp it, the Prince called out:
"Downstairs with him! let not the wretch drink in our presence; find him some other vessel than our holy calabash, the emblem of our revels: a swine's trough were best, if it could be come by. Away with him! let him be drenched to purpose, in atonement for his master's sobriety. Leave me alone with Sir John Ramorny and his page; by my honour, I like not yon ruffian's looks."
The attendants of the Prince left the apartment, and Eviot alone remained.
"I fear," said the Prince, approaching the bed in different form from that which he had hitherto used—"I fear, my dear Sir John, that this visit has been unwelcome; but it is your own fault. Although you know our old wont, and were your self participant of our schemes for the evening, you have not come near us since St. Valentine's; it is now Fastern's Even, and the desertion is flat disobedience and treason to our kingdom of mirth and the statutes of the calabash."
Ramorny raised his head, and fixed a wavering eye upon the Prince; then signed to Eviot to give him something to drink. A large cup of ptisan was presented by the page, which the sick man swallowed with eager and trembling haste. He then repeatedly used the stimulating essence left for the purpose by the leech, and seemed to collect his scattered senses.
"Let me feel your pulse, dear Ramorny," said the Prince; "I know something of that craft. How! Do your offer me the left hand, Sir John? that is neither according to the rules of medicine nor of courtesy."
"The right has already done its last act in your Highness's service," muttered the patient in a low and broken tone.
"How mean you by that?" said the Prince. "I am aware thy follower, Black Quentin, lost a hand; but he can steal with the other as much as will bring him to the gallows, so his fate cannot be much altered."
"It is not that fellow who has had the loss in your Grace's service: it is I, John of Ramorny."
"You!" said the Prince; "you jest with me, or the opiate still masters your reason."
"If the juice of all the poppies in Egypt were blended in one draught," said Ramorny, "it would lose influence over me when I look upon this." He drew his right arm from beneath the cover of the bedclothes, and extending it towards the Prince, wrapped as it was in dressings, "Were these undone and removed," he said, "your Highness would see that a bloody stump is all that remains of a hand ever ready to unsheath the sword at your Grace's slightest bidding."
Rothsay started back in horror. "This," he said, "must be avenged!"
"It is avenged in small part," said Ramorny—"that is, I thought I saw Bonthron but now; or was it that the dream of hell that first arose in my mind when I awakened summoned up an image so congenial? Eviot, call the miscreant—that is, if he is fit to appear."
Eviot retired, and presently returned with Bonthron, whom he had rescued from the penance, to him no unpleasing infliction, of a second calabash of wine, the brute having gorged the first without much apparent alteration in his demeanour.
"Eviot," said the Prince, "let not that beast come nigh me. My soul recoils from him in fear and disgust: there is something in his looks alien from my nature, and which I shudder at as at a loathsome snake, from which my instinct revolts."
"First hear him speak, my lord," answered Ramorny; "unless a wineskin were to talk, nothing could use fewer words. Hast thou dealt with him, Bonthron?"
The savage raised the axe which he still held in his hand, and brought it down again edgeways.
"Good. How knew you your man? the night, I am told, is dark."
"By sight and sound, garb, gait, and whistle."
"Enough, vanish! and, Eviot, let him have gold and wine to his brutish contentment. Vanish! and go thou with him."
"And whose death is achieved?" said the Prince, released from the feelings of disgust and horror under which he suffered while the assassin was in presence. "I trust this is but a jest! Else must I call it a rash and savage deed. Who has had the hard lot to be butchered by that bloody and brutal slave?"
"One little better than himself," said the patient, "a wretched artisan, to whom, however, fate gave the power of reducing Ramorny to a mutilated cripple—a curse go with his base spirit! His miserable life is but to my revenge what a drop of water would be to a furnace. I must speak briefly, for my ideas again wander: it is only the necessity of the moment which keeps them together; as a thong combines a handful of arrows. You are in danger, my lord—I speak it with certainty: you have braved Douglas, and offended your uncle, displeased your father, though that were a trifle, were it not for the rest."
"I am sorry I have displeased my father," said the Prince, entirely diverted from so insignificant a thing as the slaughter of an artisan by the more important subject touched upon, "if indeed it be so. But if I live, the strength of the Douglas shall be broken, and the craft of Albany shall little avail him!"
"Ay—if—if. My lord," said Ramorny, "with such opposites as you have, you must not rest upon if or but; you must resolve at once to slay or be slain."
"How mean you, Ramorny? Your fever makes you rave" answered the Duke of Rothsay.
"No, my lord," said Ramorny, "were my frenzy at the highest, the thoughts that pass through my mind at this moment would qualify it. It may be that regret for my own loss has made me desperate, that anxious thoughts for your Highness's safety have made me nourish bold designs; but I have all the judgment with which Heaven has gifted me, when I tell you that, if ever you would brook the Scottish crown, nay, more, if ever you would see another St. Valentine's Day, you must—"
"What is it that I must do, Ramorny?" said the Prince, with an air of dignity; "nothing unworthy of myself, I hope?"
"Nothing, certainly, unworthy or misbecoming a prince of Scotland, if the bloodstained annals of our country tell the tale truly; but that which may well shock the nerves of a prince of mimes and merry makers."
"Thou art severe, Sir John Ramorny," said the Duke of Rothsay, with an air of displeasure; "but thou hast dearly bought a right to censure us by what thou hast lost in our cause."
"My Lord of Rothsay," said the knight, "the chirurgeon who dressed this mutilated stump told me that the more I felt the pain his knife and brand inflicted, the better was my chance of recovery. I shall not, therefore, hesitate to hurt your feelings, while by doing so I may be able to bring you to a sense of what is necessary for your safety. Your Grace has been the pupil of mirthful folly too long; you must now assume manly policy, or be crushed like a butterfly on the bosom of the flower you are sporting on."
"I think I know your cast of morals, Sir John: you are weary of merry folly—the churchmen call it vice—and long for a little serious crime. A murder, now, or a massacre, would enhance the flavour of debauch, as the taste of the olive gives zest to wine. But my worst acts are but merry malice: I have no relish for the bloody trade, and abhor to see or hear of its being acted even on the meanest caitiff. Should I ever fill the throne, I suppose, like my father before me, I must drop my own name, and be dubbed Robert, in honour of the Bruce; well, an if it be so, every Scots lad shall have his flag on in one hand and the other around his lass's neck, and manhood shall be tried by kisses and bumpers, not by dirks and dourlachs; and they shall write on my grave, 'Here lies Robert, fourth of his name. He won not battles like Robert the First. He rose not from a count to a king like Robert the Second. He founded not churches like Robert the Third, but was contented to live and die king of good fellows!' Of all my two centuries of ancestors, I would only emulate the fame of—
"Old King Coul, Who had a brown bowl."
"My gracious lord," said Ramorny, "let me remind you that your joyous revels involve serious evils. If I had lost this hand in fighting to attain for your Grace some important advantage over your too powerful enemies, the loss would never have grieved me. But to be reduced from helmet and steel coat to biggin and gown in a night brawl—"
"Why, there again now, Sir John," interrupted the reckless Prince. "How canst thou be so unworthy as to be for ever flinging thy bloody hand in my face, as the ghost of Gaskhall threw his head at Sir William Wallace? Bethink thee, thou art more unreasonable than Fawdyon himself; for wight Wallace had swept his head off in somewhat a hasty humour, whereas I would gladly stick thy hand on again, were that possible. And, hark thee, since that cannot be, I will get thee such a substitute as the steel hand of the old knight of Carslogie, with which he greeted his friends, caressed his wife, braved his antagonists, and did all that might be done by a hand of flesh and blood, in offence or defence. Depend on it, John Ramorny, we have much that is superfluous about us. Man can see with one eye, hear with one ear, touch with one hand, smell with one nostril; and why we should have two of each, unless to supply an accidental loss or injury, I for one am at a loss to conceive."
Sir John Ramorny turned from the Prince with a low groan.
"Nay, Sir John;" said the Duke, "I am quite serious. You know the truth touching the legend of Steel Hand of Carslogie better than I, since he was your own neighbour. In his time that curious engine could only be made in Rome; but I will wager an hundred marks with you that, let the Perth armourer have the use of it for a pattern, Henry of the Wynd will execute as complete an imitation as all the smiths in Rome could accomplish, with all the cardinals to bid a blessing on the work."
"I could venture to accept your wager, my lord," answered Ramorny, bitterly, "but there is no time for foolery. You have dismissed me from your service, at command of your uncle?"
"At command of my father," answered the Prince.
"Upon whom your uncle's commands are imperative," replied Ramorny. "I am a disgraced man, thrown aside, as I may now fling away my right hand glove, as a thing useless. Yet my head might help you, though my hand be gone. Is your Grace disposed to listen to me for one word of serious import, for I am much exhausted, and feel my force sinking under me?"
"Speak your pleasure," said the Prince; "thy loss binds me to hear thee, thy bloody stump is a sceptre to control me. Speak, then, but be merciful in thy strength of privilege."
"I will be brief for mine own sake as well as thine; indeed, I have but little to say. Douglas places himself immediately at the head of his vassals. He will assemble, in the name of King Robert, thirty thousand Borderers, whom he will shortly after lead into the interior, to demand that the Duke of Rothsay receive, or rather restore, his daughter to the rank and privileges of his Duchess. King Robert will yield to any conditions which may secure peace. What will the Duke do?"
"The Duke of Rothsay loves peace," said the Prince, haughtily; "but he never feared war. Ere he takes back yonder proud peat to his table and his bed, at the command of her father, Douglas must be King of Scotland."
"Be it so; but even this is the less pressing peril, especially as it threatens open violence, for the Douglas works not in secret."
"What is there which presses, and keeps us awake at this late hour? I am a weary man, thou a wounded one, and the very tapers are blinking, as if tired of our conference."
"Tell me, then, who is it that rules this kingdom of Scotland?" said Ramorny.
"Robert, third of the name," said the Prince, raising his bonnet as he spoke; "and long may he sway the sceptre!"
"True, and amen," answered Ramorny; "but who sways King Robert, and dictates almost every measure which the good King pursues?"
"My Lord of Albany, you would say," replied the Prince. "Yes, it is true my father is guided almost entirely by the counsels of his brother; nor can we blame him in our consciences, Sir John Ramorny, for little help hath he had from his son."
"Let us help him now, my lord," said Ramorny. "I am possessor of a dreadful secret: Albany hath been trafficking with me, to join him in taking your Grace's life! He offers full pardon for the past, high favour for the future."
"How, man—my life? I trust, though, thou dost only mean my kingdom? It were impious! He is my father's brother—they sat on the knees of the same father—lay in the bosom of the same mother. Out on thee, man, what follies they make thy sickbed believe!"
"Believe, indeed!" said Ramorny. "It is new to me to be termed credulous. But the man through whom Albany communicated his temptations is one whom all will believe so soon as he hints at mischief—even the medicaments which are prepared by his hands have a relish of poison."
"Tush! such a slave would slander a saint," replied the Prince. "Thou art duped for once, Ramorny, shrewd as thou art. My uncle of Albany is ambitious, and would secure for himself and for his house a larger portion of power and wealth than he ought in reason to desire. But to suppose he would dethrone or slay his brother's son—Fie, Ramorny! put me not to quote the old saw, that evil doers are evil dreaders. It is your suspicion, not your knowledge, which speaks."
"Your Grace is fatally deluded. I will put it to an issue. The Duke of Albany is generally hated for his greed and covetousness. Your Highness is, it may be, more beloved than—"
Ramorny stopped, the Prince calmly filled up the blank: "More beloved than I am honoured. It is so I would have it, Ramorny."
"At least," said Ramorny, "you are more beloved than you are feared, and that is no safe condition for a prince. But give me your honour and knightly word that you will not resent what good service I shall do in your behalf, and lend me your signet to engage friends in your name, and the Duke of Albany shall not assume authority in this court till the wasted hand which once terminated this stump shall be again united to the body, and acting in obedience to the dictates of my mind."
"You would not venture to dip your hands in royal blood?" said the Prince sternly.
"Fie, my lord, at no rate. Blood need not be shed; life may, nay, will, be extinguished of itself. For want of trimming it with fresh oil, or screening it from a breath of wind, the quivering light will die in the socket. To suffer a man to die is not to kill him."
"True—I had forgot that policy. Well, then, suppose my uncle Albany does not continue to live—I think that must be the phrase—who then rules the court of Scotland?"
"Robert the Third, with consent, advice, and authority of the most mighty David, Duke of Rothsay, Lieutenant of the Kingdom, and alter ego; in whose favour, indeed, the good King, wearied with the fatigues and troubles of sovereignty, will, I guess, be well disposed to abdicate. So long live our brave young monarch, King David the Third!
"Ille manu fortis Anglis ludebit in hortis."
"And our father and predecessor," said Rothsay, "will he continue to live to pray for us, as our beadsman, by whose favour he holds the privilege of laying his grey hairs in the grave as soon, and no earlier, than the course of nature permits, or must he also encounter some of those negligences in consequence of which men cease to continue to live, and can change the limits of a prison, or of a convent resembling one, for the dark and tranquil cell, where the priests say that the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest?"
"You speak in jest, my lord," replied Ramorny: "to harm the good old King were equally unnatural and impolitic."
"Why shrink from that, man, when thy whole scheme," answered the Prince, in stern displeasure, "is one lesson of unnatural guilt, mixed with short sighted ambition? If the King of Scotland can scarcely make head against his nobles, even now when he can hold up before them an unsullied and honourable banner, who would follow a prince that is blackened with the death of an uncle and the imprisonment of a father? Why, man, thy policy were enough to revolt a heathen divan, to say nought of the council of a Christian nation. Thou wert my tutor, Ramorny, and perhaps I might justly upbraid thy lessons and example for some of the follies which men chide in me. Perhaps, if it had not been for thee, I had not been standing at midnight in this fool's guise (looking at his dress), to hear an ambitious profligate propose to me the murder of an uncle, the dethronement of the best of fathers. Since it is my fault as well as thine that has sunk me so deep in the gulf of infamy, it were unjust that thou alone shouldst die for it. But dare not to renew this theme to me, on peril of thy life! I will proclaim thee to my father—to Albany—to Scotland—throughout its length and breadth. As many market crosses as are in the land shall have morsels of the traitor's carcass, who dare counsel such horrors to the heir of Scotland. Well hope I, indeed, that the fever of thy wound, and the intoxicating influence of the cordials which act on thy infirm brain, have this night operated on thee, rather than any fixed purpose."
"In sooth, my lord," said Ramorny, "if I have said any thing which could so greatly exasperate your Highness, it must have been by excess of zeal, mingled with imbecility of understanding. Surely I, of all men, am least likely to propose ambitious projects with a prospect of advantage to myself! Alas! my only future views must be to exchange lance and saddle for the breviary and the confessional. The convent of Lindores must receive the maimed and impoverished knight of Ramorny, who will there have ample leisure to meditate upon the text, 'Put not thy faith in princes.'"
"It is a goodly purpose," said the Prince, "and we will not be lacking to promote it. Our separation, I thought, would have been but for a time. It must now be perpetual. Certainly, after such talk as we have held, it were meet that we should live asunder. But the convent of Lindores, or what ever other house receives thee, shall be richly endowed and highly favoured by us. And now, Sir John of Ramorny, sleep—sleep—and forget this evil omened conversation, in which the fever of disease and of wine has rather, I trust, held colloquy than your own proper thoughts. Light to the door, Eviot."
A call from Eviot summoned the attendants of the Prince, who had been sleeping on the staircase and hall, exhausted by the revels of the evening.
"Is there none amongst you sober?" said the Duke of Rothsay, disgusted by the appearance of his attendants.
"Not a man—not a man," answered the followers, with a drunken shout, "we are none of us traitors to the Emperor of Merry makers!"
"And are all of you turned into brutes, then?" said the Prince.
"In obedience and imitation of your Grace," answered one fellow; "or, if we are a little behind your Highness, one pull at the pitcher will—"
"Peace, beast!" said the Duke of Rothsay. "Are there none of you sober, I say?"
"Yes, my noble liege," was the answer; "here is one false brother, Watkins the Englishman."
"Come hither then, Watkins, and aid me with a torch; give me a cloak, too, and another bonnet, and take away this trumpery," throwing down his coronet of feathers. "I would I could throw off all my follies as easily. English Wat, attend me alone, and the rest of you end your revelry, and doff your mumming habits. The holytide is expended, and the fast has begun."
"Our monarch has abdicated sooner than usual this night," said one of the revel rout; but as the Prince gave no encouragement, such as happened for the time to want the virtue of sobriety endeavoured to assume it as well as they could, and the whole of the late rioters began to adopt the appearance of a set of decent persons, who, having been surprised into intoxication, endeavoured to disguise their condition by assuming a double portion of formality of behaviour. In the interim the Prince, having made a hasty reform in his dress, was lighted to the door by the only sober man of the company, but, in his progress thither, had well nigh stumbled over the sleeping bulk of the brute Bonthron.
"How now! is that vile beast in our way once more?" he said in anger and disgust. "Here, some of you, toss this caitiff into the horse trough; that for once in his life he may be washed clean."
While the train executed his commands, availing themselves of a fountain which was in the outer court, and while Bonthron underwent a discipline which he was incapable of resisting, otherwise than by some inarticulate groans and snorts, like, those of a dying boar, the Prince proceeded on his way to his apartments, in a mansion called the Constable's lodgings, from the house being the property of the Earls of Errol. On the way, to divert his thoughts from the more unpleasing matters, the Prince asked his companion how he came to be sober, when the rest of the party had been so much overcome with liquor.
"So please your honour's Grace," replied English Wat, "I confess it was very familiar in me to be sober when it was your Grace's pleasure that your train should be mad drunk; but in respect they were all Scottishmen but myself, I thought it argued no policy in getting drunken in their company, seeing that they only endure me even when we are all sober, and if the wine were uppermost, I might tell them a piece of my mind, and be paid with as many stabs as there are skenes in the good company."
"So it is your purpose never to join any of the revels of our household?"
"Under favour, yes; unless it be your Grace's pleasure that the residue of your train should remain one day sober, to admit Will Watkins to get drunk without terror of his life."
"Such occasion may arrive. Where dost thou serve, Watkins?"
"In the stable, so please you."
"Let our chamberlain bring thee into the household, as a yeoman of the night watch. I like thy favour, and it is something to have one sober fellow in the house, although he is only such through the fear of death. Attend, therefore, near our person; and thou shalt find sobriety a thriving virtue."
Meantime a load of care and fear added to the distress of Sir John Ramorny's sick chamber. His reflections, disordered as they were by the opiate, fell into great confusion when the Prince, in whose presence he had suppressed its effect by strong resistance, had left the apartment. His consciousness, which he had possessed perfectly during the interview, began to be very much disturbed. He felt a general sense that he had incurred a great danger, that he had rendered the Prince his enemy, and that he had betrayed to him a secret which might affect his own life. In this state of mind and body, it was not strange that he should either dream, or else that his diseased organs should become subject to that species of phantasmagoria which is excited by the use of opium. He thought that the shade of Queen Annabella stood by his bedside, and demanded the youth whom she had placed under his charge, simple, virtuous, gay, and innocent.
"Thou hast rendered him reckless, dissolute, and vicious," said the shade of pallid Majesty. "Yet I thank thee, John of Ramorny, ungrateful to me, false to thy word, and treacherous to my hopes. Thy hate shall counteract the evil which thy friendship has done to him. And well do I hope that, now thou art no longer his counsellor, a bitter penance on earth may purchase my ill fated child pardon and acceptance in a better world."
Ramorny stretched out his arms after his benefactress, and endeavoured to express contrition and excuse; but the countenance of the apparition became darker and sterner, till it was no longer that of the late Queen, but presented the gloomy and haughty aspect of the Black Douglas; then the timid and sorrowful face of King Robert, who seemed to mourn over the approaching dissolution of his royal house; and then a group of fantastic features, partly hideous, partly ludicrous, which moped, and chattered, and twisted themselves into unnatural and extravagant forms, as if ridiculing his endeavour to obtain an exact idea of their lineaments.
A purple land, where law secures not life.
The morning of Ash Wednesday arose pale and bleak, as usual at this season in Scotland, where the worst and most inclement weather often occurs in the early spring months. It was a severe day of frost, and the citizens had to sleep away the consequences of the preceding holiday's debauchery. The sun had therefore risen for an hour above the horizon before there was any general appearance of life among the inhabitants of Perth, so that it was some time after daybreak when a citizen, going early to mass, saw the body of the luckless Oliver Proudfute lying on its face across the kennel in the manner in which he had fallen under the blow; as our readers will easily imagine, of Anthony Bonthron, the "boy of the belt"—that is the executioner of the pleasure—of John of Ramorny.
This early citizen was Allan Griffin, so termed because he was master of the Griffin Inn; and the alarm which he raised soon brought together first straggling neighbours, and by and by a concourse of citizens. At first from the circumstance of the well known buff coat and the crimson feather in the head piece, the noise arose that it was the stout smith that lay there slain. This false rumour continued for some time, for the host of the Griffin, who himself had been a magistrate, would not permit the body to be touched or stirred till Bailie Craigdallie arrived, so that the face was not seen..
"This concerns the Fair City, my friends," he said, "and if it is the stout Smith of the Wynd who lies here, the man lives not in Perth who will not risk land and life to avenge him. Look you, the villains have struck him down behind his back, for there is not a man within ten Scotch miles of Perth, gentle or simple, Highland or Lowland, that would have met him face to face with such evil purpose. Oh, brave men of Perth! the flower of your manhood has been cut down, and that by a base and treacherous hand."
A wild cry of fury arose from the people, who were fast assembling.
"We will take him on our shoulders," said a strong butcher, "we will carry him to the King's presence at the Dominican convent"
"Ay—ay," answered a blacksmith, "neither bolt nor bar shall keep us from the King, neither monk nor mass shall break our purpose. A better armourer never laid hammer on anvil!"
"To the Dominicans—to the Dominicans!" shouted the assembled people.
"Bethink you, burghers," said another citizen, "our king is a good king and loves us like his children. It is the Douglas and the Duke of Albany that will not let good King Robert hear the distresses of his people."
"Are we to be slain in our own streets for the King's softness of heart?" said the butcher. "The Bruce did otherwise. If the King will not keep us, we will keep ourselves. Ring the bells backward, every bell of them that is made of metal. Cry, and spare not, St. Johnston's hunt is up!"
"Ay," cried another citizen, "and let us to the holds of Albany and the Douglas, and burn them to the ground. Let the fires tell far and near that Perth knew how to avenge her stout Henry Gow. He has fought a score of times for the Fair City's right; let us show we can once to avenge his wrong. Hally ho! brave citizens, St. Johnston's hunt is up!"
This cry, the well known rallying word amongst the inhabitants of Perth, and seldom heard but on occasions of general uproar, was echoed from voice to voice; and one or two neighbouring steeples, of which the enraged citizens possessed themselves, either by consent of the priests or in spite of their opposition, began to ring out the ominous alarm notes, in which, as the ordinary succession of the chimes was reversed, the bells were said to be rung backward.
Still, as the crowd thickened, and the roar waxed more universal and louder, Allan Griffin, a burly man with a deep voice, and well respected among high and low, kept his station as he bestrode the corpse, and called loudly to the multitude to keep back and wait the arrival of the magistrates.
"We must proceed by order in this matter, my masters, we must have our magistrates at our head. They are duly chosen and elected in our town hall, good men and true every one; we will not be called rioters, or idle perturbators of the king's peace. Stand you still, and make room, for yonder comes Bailie Craigdallie, ay, and honest Simon Glover, to whom the Fair City is so much bounden. Alas—alas! my kind townsmen, his beautiful daughter was a bride yesternight; this morning the Fair Maid of Perth is a widow before she has been a wife."
This new theme of sympathy increased the rage and sorrow of the crowd the more, as many women now mingled with them, who echoed back the alarm cry to the men.
"Ay—ay, St. Johnston's hunt is up! For the Fair Maid of Perth and the brave Henry Gow! Up—up, every one of you, spare not for your skin cutting! To the stables!—to the stables! When the horse is gone the man at arms is useless—cut off the grooms and yeomen; lame, maim, and stab the horses; kill the base squires and pages. Let these proud knights meet us on their feet if they dare!"
"They dare not—they dare not," answered the men; "their strength is their horses and armour; and yet the haughty and ungrateful villains have slain a man whose skill as an armourer was never matched in Milan or Venice. To arms!—to arms, brave burghers! St. Johnston's hunt is up!"
Amid this clamour, the magistrates and superior class of inhabitants with difficulty obtained room to examine the body, having with them the town clerk to take an official protocol, or, as it is still called, a precognition, of the condition in which it was found. To these delays the multitude submitted, with a patience and order which strongly marked the national character of a people whose resentment has always been the more deeply dangerous, that they will, without relaxing their determination of vengeance, submit with patience to all delays which are necessary to ensure its attainment. The multitude, therefore, received their magistrates with a loud cry, in which the thirst of revenge was announced, together with the deferential welcome to the patrons by whose direction they expected to obtain it in right and legal fashion.
While these accents of welcome still rung above the crowd, who now filled the whole adjacent streets, receiving and circulating a thousand varying reports, the fathers of the city caused the body to be raised and more closely examined; when it was instantly perceived, and the truth publicly announced, that not the armourer of the Wynd, so highly and, according to the esteemed qualities of the time, so justly popular among his fellow citizens, but a man of far less general estimation, though not without his own value in society, lay murdered before them—the brisk bonnet maker, Oliver Proudfute. The resentment of the people had so much turned upon the general opinion that their frank and brave champion, Henry Gow, was the slaughtered person, that the contradiction of the report served to cool the general fury, although, if poor Oliver had been recognised at first, there is little doubt that the cry of vengeance would have been as unanimous, though not probably so furious, as in the case of Henry Wynd. The first circulation of the unexpected intelligence even excited a smile among the crowd, so near are the confines of the ludicrous to those of the terrible.
"The murderers have without doubt taken him for Henry Smith," said Griffin, "which must have been a great comfort to him in the circumstances."
But the arrival of other persons on the scene soon restored its deeply tragic character.
Who's that that rings the bell? Diablos, ho! The town will rise.
Othello, Act II. Scene III.
The wild rumours which flew through the town, speedily followed by the tolling of the alarm bells spread general consternation. The nobles and knights, with their followers, gathered in different places of rendezvous, where a defence could best be maintained; and the alarm reached the royal residence where the young prince was one of the first to appear, to assist, if necessary, in the defence of the old king. The scene of the preceding night ran in his recollection; and, remembering the bloodstained figure of Bonthron, he conceived, though indistinctly, that the ruffian's action had been connected with this uproar. The subsequent and more interesting discourse with Sir John Ramorny had, however, been of such an impressive nature as to obliterate all traces of what he had vaguely heard of the bloody act of the assassin, excepting a confused recollection that some one or other had been slain. It was chiefly on his father's account that he had assumed arms with his household train, who, clad in bright armour, and bearing lances in their hands, made now a figure very different from that of the preceding night, when they appeared as intoxicated Bacchanalians. The kind old monarch received this mark of filial attachment with tears of gratitude, and proudly presented his son to his brother Albany, who entered shortly afterwards. He took them each by the hand.
"Now are we three Stuarts," he said, "as inseparable as the holy trefoil; and, as they say the wearer of that sacred herb mocks at magical delusion, so we, while we are true to each other, may set malice and enmity at defiance."
The brother and son kissed the kind hand which pressed theirs, while Robert III expressed his confidence in their affection. The kiss of the youth was, for the time, sincere; that of the brother was the salute of the apostate Judas.
In the mean time the bell of St. John's church alarmed, amongst others, the inhabitants of Curfew Street. In the house of Simon Glover, old Dorothy Glover, as she was called (for she also took name from the trade she practised, under her master's auspices), was the first to catch the sound. Though somewhat deaf upon ordinary occasions, her ear for bad news was as sharp as a kite's scent for carrion; for Dorothy, otherwise an industrious, faithful, and even affectionate creature, had that strong appetite for collecting and retailing sinister intelligence which is often to be marked in the lower classes. Little accustomed to be listened to, they love the attention which a tragic tale ensures to the bearer, and enjoy, perhaps, the temporary equality to which misfortune reduces those who are ordinarily accounted their superiors. Dorothy had no sooner possessed herself of a slight packet of the rumours which were flying abroad than she bounced into her master's bedroom, who had taken the privilege of age and the holytide to sleep longer than usual.
"There he lies, honest man," said Dorothy, half in a screeching and half in a wailing tone of sympathy—"there he lies; his best friend slain, and he knowing as little about it as the babe new born, that kens not life from death."
"How now!" said the glover, starting up out of his bed. "What is the matter, old woman? Is my daughter well?"
"Old woman!" said Dorothy, who, having her fish hooked, chose to let him play a little. "I am not so old," said she, flouncing out of the room, "as to bide in the place till a man rises from his naked bed—"
And presently she was heard at a distance in the parlour beneath, melodiously singing to the scrubbing of her own broom.
"Dorothy—screech owl—devil—say but my daughter is well!"
"I am well, my father," answered the Fair Maid of Perth, speaking from her bedroom, "perfectly well, but what, for Our Lady's sake, is the matter? The bells ring backward, and there is shrieking and crying in the streets."
"I will presently know the cause. Here, Conachar, come speedily and tie my points. I forgot—the Highland loon is far beyond Fortingall. Patience, daughter, I will presently bring you news."
"Ye need not hurry yourself for that, Simon Glover," quoth the obdurate old woman; "the best and the worst of it may be tauld before you could hobble over your door stane. I ken the haill story abroad; 'for,' thought I, 'our goodman is so wilful that he'll be for banging out to the tuilzie, be the cause what it like; and sae I maun e'en stir my shanks, and learn the cause of all this, or he will hae his auld nose in the midst of it, and maybe get it nipt off before he knows what for.'"
"And what is the news, then, old woman?" said the impatient glover, still busying himself with the hundred points or latchets which were the means of attaching the doublet to the hose.
Dorothy suffered him to proceed in his task till she conjectured it must be nearly accomplished; and foresaw that; if she told not the secret herself, her master would be abroad to seek in person for the cause of the disturbance. She, therefore, halloo'd out: "Aweel—aweel, ye canna say it is me fault, if you hear ill news before you have been at the morning mass. I would have kept it from ye till ye had heard the priest's word; but since you must hear it, you have e'en lost the truest friend that ever gave hand to another, and Perth maun mourn for the bravest burgher that ever took a blade in hand!"
"Harry Smith! Harry Smith!" exclaimed the father and the daughter at once.
"Oh, ay, there ye hae it at last," said Dorothy; "and whose fault was it but your ain? ye made such a piece of work about his companying with a glee woman, as if he had companied with a Jewess!"
Dorothy would have gone on long enough, but her master exclaimed to his daughter, who was still in her own apartment: "It is nonsense, Catharine—all the dotage of an old fool. No such thing has happened. I will bring you the true tidings in a moment," and snatching up his staff, the old man hurried out past Dorothy and into the street, where the throng of people were rushing towards the High Street.
Dorothy, in the mean time, kept muttering to herself: "Thy father is a wise man, take his ain word for it. He will come next by some scathe in the hobbleshow, and then it will be, 'Dorothy, get the lint,' and 'Dorothy, spread the plaster;' but now it is nothing but nonsense, and a lie, and impossibility, that can come out of Dorothy's mouth. Impossible! Does auld Simon think that Harry Smith's head was as hard as his stithy, and a haill clan of Highlandmen dinging at him?"
Here she was interrupted by a figure like an angel, who came wandering by her with wild eye, cheek deadly pale, hair dishevelled, and an apparent want of consciousness, which terrified the old woman out of her discontented humour.
"Our Lady bless my bairn!" said she. "What look you sae wild for?"
"Did you not say some one was dead?" said Catharine, with a frightful uncertainty of utterance, as if her organs of speech and hearing served her but imperfectly.
"Dead, hinny! Ay—ay, dead eneugh; ye'll no hae him to gloom at ony mair."
"Dead!" repeated Catharine, still with the same uncertainty of voice and manner. "Dead—slain—and by Highlanders?"
"I'se warrant by Highlanders, the lawless loons. Wha is it else that kills maist of the folks about, unless now and than when the burghers take a tirrivie, and kill ane another, or whiles that the knights and nobles shed blood? But I'se uphauld it's been the Highlandmen this bout. The man was no in Perth, laird or loon, durst have faced Henry Smith man to man. There's been sair odds against him; ye'll see that when it's looked into."
"Highlanders!" repeated Catharine, as if haunted by some idea which troubled her senses. "Highlanders! Oh, Conachar—Conachar!"
"Indeed, and I dare say you have lighted on the very man, Catharine. They quarrelled, as you saw, on the St. Valentine's Even, and had a warstle. A Highlandman has a long memory for the like of that. Gie him a cuff at Martinmas, and his cheek will be tingling at Whitsunday. But what could have brought down the lang legged loons to do their bloody wark within burgh?"
"Woe's me, it was I," said Catharine—"it was I brought the Highlanders down—I that sent for Conachar—ay, they have lain in wait—but it was I that brought them within reach of their prey. But I will see with my own eyes—and then—something we will do. Say to my father I will be back anon."
"Are ye distraught, lassie?" shouted Dorothy, as Catharine made past her towards the street door. "You would not gang into the street with the hair hanging down your haffets in that guise, and you kenn'd for the Fair Maid of Perth? Mass, but she's out in the street, come o't what like, and the auld Glover will be as mad as if I could withhold her, will she nill she, flyte she fling she. This is a brave morning for an Ash Wednesday! What's to be done? If I were to seek my master among the multitude, I were like to be crushed beneath their feet, and little moan made for the old woman. And am I to run after Catharine, who ere this is out of sight, and far lighter of foot than I am? so I will just down the gate to Nicol Barber's, and tell him a' about it."
While the trusty Dorothy was putting her prudent resolve into execution, Catharine ran through the streets of Perth in a manner which at another moment would have brought on her the attention of every one who saw her hurrying on with a reckless impetuosity wildly and widely different from the ordinary decency and composure of her step and manner, and without the plaid, scarf, or mantle which "women of good," of fair character and decent rank, universally carried around them, when they went abroad. But, distracted as the people were, every one inquiring or telling the cause of the tumult, and most recounting it different ways, the negligence of her dress and discomposure of her manner made no impression on any one; and she was suffered to press forward on the path she had chosen without attracting more notice than the other females who, stirred by anxious curiosity or fear, had come out to inquire the cause of an alarm so general—it might be to seek for friends for whose safety they were interested.
As Catharine passed along, she felt all the wild influence of the agitating scene, and it was with difficulty she forbore from repeating the cries of lamentation and alarm which were echoed around her. In the mean time, she rushed rapidly on, embarrassed like one in a dream, with a strange sense of dreadful calamity, the precise nature of which she was unable to define, but which implied the terrible consciousness that the man who loved her so fondly, whose good qualities she so highly esteemed, and whom she now felt to be dearer than perhaps she would before have acknowledged to her own bosom, was murdered, and most probably by her means. The connexion betwixt Henry's supposed death and the descent of Conachar and his followers, though adopted by her in a moment of extreme and engrossing emotion, was sufficiently probable to have been received for truth, even if her understanding had been at leisure to examine its credibility. Without knowing what she sought except the general desire to know the worst of the dreadful report, she hurried forward to the very spot which of all others her feelings of the preceding day would have induced her to avoid.
Who would, upon the evening of Shrovetide, have persuaded the proud, the timid, the shy, the rigidly decorous Catharine Glover that before mass on Ash Wednesday she should rush through the streets of Perth, making her way amidst tumult and confusion, with her hair unbound and her dress disarranged, to seek the house of that same lover who, she had reason to believe, had so grossly and indelicately neglected and affronted her as to pursue a low and licentious amour? Yet so it was; and her eagerness taking, as if by instinct, the road which was most free, she avoided the High Street, where the pressure was greatest, and reached the wynd by the narrow lanes on the northern skirt of the town, through which Henry Smith had formerly escorted Louise. But even these comparatively lonely passages were now astir with passengers, so general was the alarm. Catharine Glover made her way through them, however, while such as observed her looked on each other and shook their heads in sympathy with her distress. At length, without any distinct idea of her own purpose, she stood before her lover's door and knocked for admittance.
The silence which succeeded the echoing of her hasty summons increased the alarm which had induced her to take this desperate measure.
"Open—open, Henry!" she cried. "Open, if you yet live! Open, if you would not find Catharine Glover dead upon your threshold!"
As she cried thus frantically to ears which she was taught to believe were stopped by death, the lover she invoked opened the door in person, just in time to prevent her sinking on the ground. The extremity of his ecstatic joy upon an occasion so unexpected was qualified only by the wonder which forbade him to believe it real, and by his alarm at the closed eyes, half opened and blanched lips, total absence of complexion, and apparently total cessation of breathing.
Henry had remained at home, in spite of the general alarm, which had reached his ears for a considerable time, fully determined to put himself in the way of no brawls that he could avoid; and it was only in compliance with a summons from the magistrates, which, as a burgher, he was bound to obey, that, taking his sword and a spare buckler from the wall, he was about to go forth, for the first time unwillingly, to pay his service, as his tenure bound him.
"It is hard," he said, "to be put forward in all the town feuds, when the fighting work is so detestable to Catharine. I am sure there are enough of wenches in Perth that say to their gallants, 'Go out, do your devoir bravely, and win your lady's grace'; and yet they send not for their lovers, but for me, who cannot do the duties of a man to protect a minstrel woman, or of a burgess who fights for the honour of his town, but this peevish Catharine uses me as if I were a brawler and bordeller!"
Such were the thoughts which occupied his mind, when, as he opened his door to issue forth, the person dearest to his thoughts, but whom he certainly least expected to see, was present to his eyes, and dropped into his arms.
His mixture of surprise, joy, and anxiety did not deprive him of the presence of mind which the occasion demanded. To place Catharine Glover in safety, and recall her to herself was to be thought of before rendering obedience to the summons of the magistrates, however pressingly that had been delivered. He carried his lovely burden, as light as a feather, yet more precious than the same quantity of purest gold, into a small bedchamber which had been his mother's. It was the most fit for an invalid, as it looked into the garden, and was separated from the noise of the tumult.
"Here, Nurse—Nurse Shoolbred—come quick—come for death and life—here is one wants thy help!"
Up trotted the old dame. "If it should but prove any one that will keep thee out of the scuffle," for she also had been aroused by the noise; but what was her astonishment when, placed in love and reverence on the bed of her late mistress, and supported by the athletic arms of her foster son, she saw the apparently lifeless form of the Fair Maid of Perth.
"Catharine Glover!" she said; "and, Holy Mother, a dying woman, as it would seem!"
"Not so, old woman," said her foster son: "the dear heart throbs—the sweet breath comes and returns! Come thou, that may aid her more meetly than I—bring water—essences—whatever thy old skill can devise. Heaven did not place her in my arms to die, but to live for herself and me!"
With an activity which her age little promised, Nurse Shoolbred collected the means of restoring animation; for, like many women of the period, she understood what was to be done in such cases, nay, possessed a knowledge of treating wounds of an ordinary description, which the warlike propensities of her foster son kept in pretty constant exercise.
"Come now," she said, "son Henry, unfold your arms from about my patient, though she is worth the pressing, and set thy hands at freedom to help me with what I want. Nay, I will not insist on your quitting her hand, if you will beat the palm gently, as the fingers unclose their clenched grasp."
"I beat her slight, beautiful hand!" said Henry; "you were as well bid me beat a glass cup with a forehammer as tap her fair palm with my horn hard fingers. But the fingers do unfold, and we will find a better way than beating"; and he applied his lips to the pretty hand, whose motion indicated returning sensation. One or two deep sighs succeeded, and the Fair Maid of Perth opened her eyes, fixed them on her lover, as he kneeled by the bedside, and again sunk back on the pillow. As she withdrew not her hand from her lover's hold or from his grasp, we must in charity believe that the return to consciousness was not so complete as to make her aware that he abused the advantage, by pressing it alternately to his lips and his bosom. At the same time we are compelled to own that the blood was colouring in her cheek, and that her breathing was deep and regular, for a minute or two during this relapse.
The noise at the door began now to grow much louder, and Henry was called for by all his various names of Smith. Gow, and Hal of the Wynd, as heathens used to summon their deities by different epithets. At last, like Portuguese Catholics when exhausted with entreating their saints, the crowd without had recourse to vituperative exclamations.