"Out upon you, Henry! You are a disgraced man, man sworn to your burgher oath, and a traitor to the Fair City, unless you come instantly forth!"
It would seem that nurse Shoolbred's applications were now so far successful that Catharine's senses were in some measure restored; for, turning her face more towards that of her lover than her former posture permitted, she let her right hand fall on his shoulder, leaving her left still in his possession, and seeming slightly to detain him, while she whispered: "Do not go, Henry—stay with me; they will kill thee, these men of blood."
It would seem that this gentle invocation, the result of finding the lover alive whom she expected to have only recognised as a corpse, though it was spoken so low as scarcely to be intelligible, had more effect to keep Henry Wynd in his present posture than the repeated summons of many voices from without had to bring him downstairs.
"Mass, townsmen," cried one hardy citizen to his companions, "the saucy smith but jests with us! Let us into the house, and bring him out by the lug and the horn."
"Take care what you are doing," said a more cautious assailant. "The man that presses on Henry Gow's retirement may go into his house with sound bones, but will return with ready made work for the surgeon. But here comes one has good right to do our errand to him, and make the recreant hear reason on both sides of his head."
The person of whom this was spoken was no other than Simon Glover himself. He had arrived at the fatal spot where the unlucky bonnet maker's body was lying, just in time to discover, to his great relief, that when it was turned with the face upwards by Bailie Craigdallie's orders, the features of the poor braggart Proudfute were recognised, when the crowd expected to behold those of their favorite champion, Henry Smith. A laugh, or something approaching to one, went among those who remembered how hard Oliver had struggled to obtain the character of a fighting man, however foreign to his nature and disposition, and remarked now that he had met with a mode of death much better suited to his pretensions than to his temper. But this tendency to ill timed mirth, which savoured of the rudeness of the times, was at once hushed by the voice, and cries, and exclamations of a woman who struggled through the crowd, screaming at the same time, "Oh, my husband—my husband!"
Room was made for the sorrower, who was followed by two or three female friends. Maudie Proudfute had been hitherto only noticed as a good looking, black haired woman, believed to be "dink" and disdainful to those whom she thought meaner or poorer than herself, and lady and empress over her late husband, whom she quickly caused to lower his crest when she chanced to hear him crowing out of season. But now, under the influence of powerful passion, she assumed a far more imposing character.
"Do you laugh," she said, "you unworthy burghers of Perth, because one of your own citizens has poured his blood into the kennel? or do you laugh because the deadly lot has lighted on my husband? How has he deserved this? Did he not maintain an honest house by his own industry, and keep a creditable board, where the sick had welcome and the poor had relief? Did he not lend to those who wanted, stand by his neighbours as a friend, keep counsel and do justice like a magistrate?"
"It is true—it is true," answered the assembly; "his blood is our blood as much as if it were Henry Gow's."
"You speak truth, neighbours," said Bailie Craigdallie; "and this feud cannot be patched up as the former was: citizen's blood must not flow unavenged down our kennels, as if it were ditch water, or we shall soon see the broad Tay crimsoned with it. But this blow was never meant for the poor man on whom it has unhappily fallen. Every one knew what Oliver Proudfute was, how wide he would speak, and how little he would do. He has Henry Smith's buff coat, target, and head piece. All the town know them as well as I do: there is no doubt on't. He had the trick, as you know, of trying to imitate the smith in most things. Some one, blind with rage, or perhaps through liquor, has stricken the innocent bonnet maker, whom no man either hated or feared, or indeed cared either much or little about, instead of the stout smith, who has twenty feuds upon his hands."
"What then, is to be done, bailie?" cried the multitude.
"That, my friends, your magistrates will determine for you, as we shall instantly meet together when Sir Patrick Charteris cometh here, which must be anon. Meanwhile, let the chirurgeon Dwining examine that poor piece of clay, that he may tell us how he came by his fatal death; and then let the corpse be decently swathed in a clean shroud, as becomes an honest citizen, and placed before the high altar in the church of St. John, the patron of the Fair City. Cease all clamour and noise, and every defensible man of you, as you would wish well to the Fair Town, keep his weapons in readiness, and be prepared to assemble on the High Street at the tolling of the common bell from the townhouse, and we will either revenge the death of our fellow citizen, or else we shall take such fortune as Heaven will send us. Meanwhile avoid all quarrelling With the knights and their followers till we know the innocent from the guilty. But wherefore tarries this knave Smith? He is ready enough in tumults when his presence is not wanted, and lags he now when his presence may serve the Fair City? What ails him, doth any one know? Hath he been upon the frolic last Fastern's Even?"
"Rather he is sick or sullen, Master Bailie," said one of the city's mairs, or sergeants; "for though he is within door, as his knaves report, yet he will neither answer to us nor admit us."
"So please your worship, Master Bailie," said Simon Glover, "I will go myself to fetch Henry Smith. I have some little difference to make up with him. And blessed be Our Lady, who hath so ordered it that I find him alive, as a quarter of an hour since I could never have expected!"
"Bring the stout smith to the council house," said the bailie, as a mounted yeoman pressed through the crowd and whispered in his ear, "Here is a good fellow who says the Knight of Kinfauns is entering the port."
Such was the occasion of Simon Glover presenting himself at the house of Henry Gow at the period already noticed.
Unrestrained by the considerations of doubt and hesitation which influenced others, he repaired to the parlour; and having overheard the bustling of Dame Shoolbred, he took the privilege of intimacy to ascend to the bedroom, and, with the slight apology of "I crave your pardon, good neighbour," he opened the door and entered the apartment, where a singular and unexpected sight awaited him. At the sound of his voice, May Catharine experienced a revival much speedier than Dame Shoolbred's restoratives had been able to produce, and the paleness of her complexion changed into a deep glow of the most lovely red. She pushed her lover from her with both her hands, which, until this minute, her want of consciousness, or her affection, awakened by the events of the morning, had well nigh abandoned to his caresses. Henry Smith, bashful as we know him, stumbled as he rose up; and none of the party were without a share of confusion, excepting Dame Shoolbred, who was glad to make some pretext to turn her back to the others, in order that she might enjoy a laugh at their expense, which she felt herself utterly unable to restrain, and in which the glover, whose surprise, though great, was of short duration, and of a joyful character, sincerely joined.
"Now, by good St. John," he said, "I thought I had seen a sight this morning that would cure me of laughter, at least till Lent was over; but this would make me curl my cheek if I were dying. Why, here stands honest Henry Smith, who was lamented as dead, and toll'd out for from every steeple in town, alive, merry, and, as it seems from his ruddy complexion, as like to live as any man in Perth. And here is my precious daughter, that yesterday would speak of nothing but the wickedness of the wights that haunt profane sports and protect glee maidens. Ay, she who set St. Valentine and St. Cupid both at defiance—here she is, turned a glee maiden herself, for what I can see! Truly, I am glad to see that you, my good Dame Shoolbred, who give way to no disorder, have been of this loving party."
"You do me wrong, my dearest father," said Catharine, as if about to weep. "I came here with far different expectations than you suppose. I only came because—because—"
"Because you expected to find a dead lover," said her father, "and you have found a living one, who can receive the tokens of your regard, and return them. Now, were it not a sin, I could find in my heart to thank Heaven that thou hast been surprised at last into owning thyself a woman. Simon Glover is not worthy to have an absolute saint for his daughter. Nay, look not so piteously, nor expect condolence from me! Only I will try not to look merry, if you will be pleased to stop your tears, or confess them to be tears of joy."
"If I were to die for such a confession," said poor Catharine, "I could not tell what to call them. Only believe, dear father, and let Henry believe, that I would never have come hither; unless—unless—"
"Unless you had thought that Henry could not come to you," said her father. "And now, shake hands in peace and concord, and agree as Valentines should. Yesterday was Shrovetide, Henry; We will hold that thou hast confessed thy follies, hast obtained absolution, and art relieved of all the guilt thou stoodest charged with."
"Nay touching that, father Simon," said the smith, "now that you are cool enough to hear me, I can swear on the Gospels, and I can call my nurse, Dame Shoolbred, to witness—"
"Nay—nay," said the glover, "but wherefore rake up differences which should all be forgotten?"
"Hark ye, Simon!—Simon Glover!" This was now echoed from beneath.
"True, son Smith," said the glover, seriously, "we have other work in hand. You and I must to the council instantly. Catharine shall remain here with Dame Shoolbred, who will take charge of her till we return; and then, as the town is in misrule, we two, Harry, will carry her home, and they will be bold men that cross us."
"Nay, my dear father," said Catharine, with a smile, "now you are taking Oliver Proudfute's office. That doughty burgher is Henry's brother at arms."
Her father's countenance grew dark.
"You have spoke a stinging word, daughter; but you know not what has happened. Kiss him, Catharine, in token of forgiveness."
"Not so," said Catharine; "I have done him too much grace already. When he has seen the errant damsel safe home, it will be time enough to claim his reward."
"Meantime," said Henry, "I will claim, as your host, what you will not allow me on other terms."
He folded the fair maiden in his arms, and was permitted to take the salute which she had refused to bestow.
As they descended the stair together, the old man laid his hand on the smith's shoulder, and said: "Henry, my dearest wishes are fulfilled; but it is the pleasure of the saints that it should be in an hour of difficulty and terror."
"True," said the smith; "but thou knowest, father, if our riots be frequent at Perth, at least they seldom last long."
Then, opening a door which led from the house into the smithy, "here, comrades," he cried, "Anton, Cuthbert, Dingwell, and Ringen! Let none of you stir from the place till I return. Be as true as the weapons I have taught you to forge: a French crown and a Scotch merrymaking for you, if you obey my command. I leave a mighty treasure in your charge. Watch the doors well, let little Jannekin scout up and down the wynd, and have your arms ready if any one approaches the house. Open the doors to no man till father Glover or I return: it concerns my life and happiness."
The strong, swarthy giants to whom he spoke answered: "Death to him who attempts it!"
"My Catharine is now as safe," said he to her father, "as if twenty men garrisoned a royal castle in her cause. We shall pass most quietly to the council house by walking through the garden."
He led the way through a little orchard accordingly, where the birds, which had been sheltered and fed during the winter by the good natured artisan, early in the season as it was, were saluting the precarious smiles of a February sun with a few faint and interrupted attempts at melody.
"Hear these minstrels, father," said the smith; "I laughed at them this morning in the bitterness of my heart, because the little wretches sung, with so much of winter before them. But now, methinks, I could bear a blythe chorus, for I have my Valentine as they have theirs; and whatever ill may lie before me for tomorrow, I am today the happiest man in Perth, city or county, burgh or landward."
"Yet I must allay your joy," said the old glover, "though, Heaven knows, I share it. Poor Oliver Proudfute, the inoffensive fool that you and I knew so well, has been found this morning dead in the streets."
"Only dead drunk, I trust?" said the smith; "nay, a candle and a dose of matrimonial advice will bring him to life again."
"No, Henry—no. He is slain—slain with a battle axe or some such weapon."
"Impossible!" replied the smith; "he was light footed enough, and would not for all Perth have trusted to his hands, when he could extricate himself by his heels."
"No choice was allowed him. The blow was dealt in the very back of his head; he who struck must have been a shorter man than himself, and used a horseman's battle axe, or some such weapon, for a Lochaber axe must have struck the upper part of his head. But there he lies dead, brained, I may say, by a most frightful wound."
"This is inconceivable," said Henry Wynd. "He was in my house at midnight, in a morricer's habit; seemed to have been drinking, though not to excess. He told me a tale of having been beset by revellers, and being in danger; but, alas! you know the man—I deemed it was a swaggering fit, as he sometimes took when he was in liquor; and, may the Merciful Virgin forgive me! I let him go without company, in which I did him inhuman wrong. Holy St. John be my witness! I would have gone with any helpless creature; and far more with him, with whom I have so often sat at the same board and drunken of the same cup. Who, of the race of man, could have thought of harming a creature so simple and so unoffending, excepting by his idle vaunts?"
"Henry, he wore thy head piece, thy buff coat; thy target. How came he by these?"
"Why, he demanded the use of them for the night, and I was ill at ease, and well pleased to be rid of his company, having kept no holiday, and being determined to keep none, in respect of our misunderstanding."
"It is the opinion of Bailie Craigdallie and all our sagest counsellors that the blow was intended for yourself, and that it becomes you to prosecute the due vengeance of our fellow citizen, who received the death which was meant for you."
The smith was for some time silent. They had now left the garden, and were walking in a lonely lane, by which they meant to approach the council house of the burgh without being exposed to observation or idle inquiry.
"You are silent, my son, yet we two have much to speak of," said Simon Glover. "Bethink thee that this widowed woman, Maudlin, if she should see cause to bring a charge against any one for the wrong done to her and her orphan children, must support it by a champion, according to law and custom; for, be the murderer who he may, we know enough of these followers of the nobles to be assured that the party suspected will appeal to the combat, in derision, perhaps, of we whom they will call the cowardly burghers. While we are men with blood in our veins, this must not be, Henry Wynd."
"I see where you would draw me, father," answered Henry, dejectedly, "and St. John knows I have heard a summons to battle as willingly as war horse ever heard the trumpet. But bethink you, father, how I have lost Catharine's favour repeatedly, and have been driven well nigh to despair of ever regaining it, for being, if I may say so, even too ready a man of my hands. And here are all our quarrels made up, and the hopes that seemed this morning removed beyond earthly prospect have become nearer and brighter than ever; and must I with the dear one's kiss of forgiveness on my lips, engage in a new scene of violence, which you are well aware will give her the deepest offence?"
"It is hard for me to advise you, Henry," said Simon; "but this I must ask you: Have you, or have you not, reason to think that this poor unfortunate Oliver has been mistaken for you?"
"I fear it too much," said Henry. "He was thought something like me, and the poor fool had studied to ape my gestures and manner of walking, nay the very airs which I have the trick of whistling, that he might increase a resemblance which has cost him dear. I have ill willers enough, both in burgh and landward, to owe me a shrewd turn; and he, I think, could have none such."
"Well, Henry, I cannot say but my daughter will be offended. She has been much with Father Clement, and has received notions about peace and forgiveness which methinks suit ill with a country where the laws cannot protect us, unless we have spirit to protect ourselves. If you determine for the combat, I will do my best to persuade her to look on the matter as the other good womanhood in the burgh will do; and if you resolve to let the matter rest—the man who has lost his life for yours remaining unavenged, the widow and the orphans without any reparation for the loss of a husband and father—I will then do you the justice to think that I, at least, ought not to think the worse of you for your patience, since it was adopted for love of my child. But, Henry, we must in that case remove ourselves from bonny St. Johnston, for here we will be but a disgraced family."
Henry groaned deeply, and was silent for an instant, then replied: "I would rather be dead than dishonoured, though I should never see her again! Had it been yester evening, I would have met the best blade among these men at arms as blythely as ever I danced at a maypole. But today, when she had first as good as said, 'Henry Smith, I love thee!' Father Glover; it is very hard. Yet it is all my own fault. This poor unhappy Oliver! I ought to have allowed him the shelter of my roof, when he prayed me in his agony of fear; or; had I gone with him, I should then have prevented or shared his fate. But I taunted him, ridiculed him, loaded him with maledictions, though the saints know they were uttered in idle peevishness of impatience. I drove him out from my doors, whom I knew so helpless, to take the fate which was perhaps intended for me. I must avenge him, or be dishonoured for ever. See, father, I have been called a man hard as the steel I work in. Does burnished steel ever drop tears like these? Shame on me that I should shed them!"
"It is no shame, my dearest son," said Simon; "thou art as kind as brave, and I have always known it. There is yet a chance for us. No one may be discovered to whom suspicion attaches, and where none such is found, the combat cannot take place. It is a hard thing to wish that the innocent blood may not be avenged. But if the perpetrator of this foul murder be hidden for the present, thou wilt be saved from the task of seeking that vengeance which Heaven doubtless will take at its own proper time."
As they spoke thus, they arrived at the point of the High Street where the council house was situated. As they reached the door, and made their way through the multitude who thronged the street, they found the avenues guarded by a select party of armed burghers, and about fifty spears belonging to the Knight of Kinfauns, who, with his allies the Grays, Blairs, Moncrieffs, and others, had brought to Perth a considerable body of horse, of which these were a part. So soon as the glover and smith presented themselves, they were admitted to the chamber in which the magistrates were assembled.
A woman wails for justice at the gate, A widow'd woman, wan and desolate.
The council room of Perth presented a singular spectacle. In a gloomy apartment, ill and inconveniently lighted by two windows of different form and of unequal size, were assembled, around a large oaken table, a group of men, of whom those who occupied the higher seats were merchants, that is, guild brethren, or shopkeepers, arrayed in decent dresses becoming their station, but most of them bearing, like, the Regent York, "signs of war around their aged necks"—gorgets, namely, and baldricks, which sustained their weapons. The lower places around the table were occupied by mechanics and artisans, the presidents, or deacons, as they were termed, of the working classes, in their ordinary clothes, somewhat better arranged than usual. These, too, wore pieces of armour of various descriptions. Some had the blackjack, or doublets covered with small plates of iron of a lozenge shape, which, secured through the upper angle, hung in rows above each [other], and which, swaying with the motion of the wearer's person, formed a secure defence to the body. Others had buff coats, which, as already mentioned, could resist the blow of a sword, and even a lance's point, unless propelled with great force. At the bottom of the table, surrounded as it was with this varied assembly, sat Sir Louis Lundin; no military man, but a priest and parson of St. John's, arrayed in his canonical dress, and having his pen and ink before him. He was town clerk of the burgh, and, like all the priests of the period (who were called from that circumstance the Pope's knights), received the honourable title of Dominus, contracted into Dom, or Dan, or translated into Sir, the title of reverence due to the secular chivalry.
On an elevated seat at the head of the council board was placed Sir Patrick Charteris, in complete armour brightly burnished—a singular contrast to the motley mixture of warlike and peaceful attire exhibited by the burghers, who were only called to arms occasionally. The bearing of the provost, while it completely admitted the intimate connexion which mutual interests had created betwixt himself, the burgh, and the magistracy, was at the same time calculated to assert the superiority which, in virtue of gentle blood and chivalrous rank, the opinions of the age assigned to him over the members of the assembly in which he presided. Two squires stood behind him, one of them holding the knight's pennon, and another his shield, bearing his armorial distinctions, being a hand holding a dagger, or short sword, with the proud motto, "This is my charter." A handsome page displayed the long sword of his master, and another bore his lance; all which chivalrous emblems and appurtenances were the more scrupulously exhibited, that the dignitary to whom they belonged was engaged in discharging the office of a burgh magistrate. In his own person the Knight of Kinfauns appeared to affect something of state and stiffness which did not naturally pertain to his frank and jovial character.
"So you are come at length, Henry Smith and Simon Glover," said the provost. "Know that you have kept us waiting for your attendance. Should it so chance again while we occupy this place, we will lay such a fine on you as you will have small pleasure in paying. Enough—make no excuses. They are not asked now, and another time they will not be admitted. Know, sirs, that our reverend clerk hath taken down in writing, and at full length, what I will tell you in brief, that you may see what is to be required of you, Henry Smith, in particular. Our late fellow citizen, Oliver Proudfute, hath been found dead in the High Street, close by the entrance into the wynd. It seemeth he was slain by a heavy blow with a short axe, dealt from behind and at unawares; and the act by which he fell can only be termed a deed of foul and forethought murder. So much for the crime. The criminal can only be indicated by circumstances. It is recorded in the protocol of the Reverend Sir Louis Lundin, that divers well reported witnesses saw our deceased citizen, Oliver Proudfute, till a late period accompanying the entry of the morrice dancers, of whom he was one, as far as the house of Simon Glover, in Curfew Street, where they again played their pageant. It is also manifested that at this place he separated from the rest of the band, after some discourse with Simon Glover, and made an appointment to meet with the others of his company at the sign of the Griffin, there to conclude the holiday. Now, Simon, I demand of you whether this be truly stated, so far as you know? and further, what was the purport of the defunct Oliver Proudfute's discourse with you?"
"My Lord Provost and very worshipful Sir Patrick," answered Simon Glover, "you and this honourable council shall know that, touching certain reports which had been made of the conduct of Henry Smith, some quarrel had arisen between myself and another of my family and the said Smith here present. Now, this our poor fellow citizen, Oliver Proudfute, having been active in spreading these reports, as indeed his element lay in such gossipred, some words passed betwixt him and me on the subject; and, as I think, he left me with the purpose of visiting Henry Smith, for he broke off from the morrice dancers, promising, as it seems, to meet them, as your honour has said, at the sign of the Griffin, in order to conclude the evening. But what he actually did, I know not, as I never again saw him in life."
"It is enough," said Sir Patrick, "and agrees with all that we have heard. Now, worthy sirs, we next find our poor fellow citizen environed by a set of revellers and maskers who had assembled in the High Street, by whom he was shamefully ill treated, being compelled to kneel down in the street, and there to quaff huge quantities of liquor against his inclination, until at length he escaped from them by flight. This violence was accomplished with drawn swords, loud shouts, and imprecations, so as to attract the attention of several persons, who, alarmed by the tumult, looked out from their windows, as well as of one or two passengers, who, keeping aloof from the light of the torches, lest they also had been maltreated, beheld the usage which our fellow citizen received in the High Street of the burgh. And although these revellers were disguised, and used vizards, yet their disguises were well known, being a set of quaint masking habits prepared some weeks ago by command of Sir John Ramorny, Master of the Horse to his Royal Highness the Duke of Rothsay, Prince Royal of Scotland."
A low groan went through the assembly.
"Yes, so it is, brave burghers," continued Sir Patrick; "our inquiries have led us into conclusions both melancholy and terrible. But as no one can regret the point at which they seem likely to arrive more than I do, so no man living can dread its consequences less. It is even so, various artisans employed upon the articles have described the dresses prepared for Sir John Ramorny's mask as being exactly similar to those of the men by whom Oliver Proudfute was observed to be maltreated. And one mechanic, being Wingfield the feather dresser, who saw the revellers when they had our fellow citizen within their hands, remarked that they wore the cinctures and coronals of painted feathers which he himself had made by the order of the Prince's master of horse.
"After the moment of his escape from these revellers, we lose all trace of Oliver' but we can prove that the maskers went to Sir John Ramorny's, where they were admitted, after some show of delay. It is rumoured that thou, Henry Smith, sawest our unhappy fellow citizen after he had been in the hands of these revellers. What is the truth of the matter?"
"He came to my house in the wynd," said Henry, "about half an hour before midnight; and I admitted him, something unwillingly, as he had been keeping carnival while I remained at home; and 'There is ill talk,' says the proverb, 'betwixt a full man and a fasting.'"
"And in which plight seemed he when thou didst admit him?" said the provost.
"He seemed," answered the smith, "out of breath, and talked repeatedly of having been endangered by revellers. I paid but small regard, for he was ever a timorous, chicken spirited, though well meaning, man, and I held that he was speaking more from fancy than reality. But I shall always account it for foul offence in myself that I did not give him my company, which he requested; and if I live, I will found masses for his soul, in expiation of my guilt."
"Did he describe those from whom he received the injury?" said the provost.
"Revellers in masking habits," replied Henry.
"And did he intimate his fear of having to do with them on his return?" again demanded Sir Patrick.
"He alluded particularly to his being waylaid, which I treated as visionary, having been able to see no one in the lane."
"Had he then no help from thee of any kind whatsoever?" said the provost.
"Yes, worshipful," replied the smith; "he exchanged his morrice dress for my head piece, buff coat, and target, which I hear were found upon his body; and I have at home his morrice cap and bells, with the jerkin and other things pertaining. He was to return my garb of fence, and get back his own masking suit this day, had the saints so permitted."
"You saw him not then afterwards?"
"Never, my lord."
"One word more," said the provost. "Have you any reason to think that the blow which slew Oliver Proudfute was meant for another man?"
"I have," answered the smith; "but it is doubtful, and may be dangerous to add such a conjecture, which is besides only a supposition."
"Speak it out, on your burgher faith and oath. For whom, think you, was the blow meant?"
"If I must speak," replied Henry, "I believe Oliver Proudfute received the fate which was designed for myself; the rather that, in his folly, Oliver spoke of trying to assume my manner of walking, as well as my dress."
"Have you feud with any one, that you form such an idea?" said Sir Patrick Charteris.
"To my shame and sin be it spoken, I have feud with Highland and Lowland, English and Scot, Perth and Angus. I do not believe poor Oliver had feud with a new hatched chicken. Alas! he was the more fully prepared for a sudden call!"
"Hark ye, smith," said the provost, "answer me distinctly: Is there cause of feud between the household of Sir John Ramorny and yourself?"
"To a certainty, my lord, there is. It is now generally said that Black Quentin, who went over Tay to Fife some days since, was the owner of the hand which was found in Couvrefew Street upon the eve of St. Valentine. It was I who struck off that hand with a blow of my broadsword. As this Black Quentin was a chamberlain of Sir John, and much trusted, it is like there must be feud between me and his master's dependants."
"It bears a likely front, smith," said Sir Patrick Charteris. "And now, good brothers and wise magistrates, there are two suppositions, each of which leads to the same conclusion. The maskers who seized our fellow citizen, and misused him in a manner of which his body retains some slight marks, may have met with their former prisoner as he returned homewards, and finished their ill usage by taking his life. He himself expressed to Henry Gow fears that this would be the case. If this be really true, one or more of Sir John Ramorny's attendants must have been the assassins. But I think it more likely that one or two of the revellers may have remained on the field, or returned to it, having changed perhaps their disguise, and that to those men (for Oliver Proudfute, in his own personal appearance, would only have been a subject of sport) his apparition in the dress, and assuming, as he proposed to do, the manner, of Henry Smith, was matter of deep hatred; and that, seeing him alone, they had taken, as they thought, a certain and safe mode to rid themselves of an enemy so dangerous as all men know Henry Wynd is accounted by those that are his unfriends. The same train of reasoning, again, rests the guilt with the household of Sir John Ramorny. How think you, sirs? Are we not free to charge the crime upon them?"
The magistrates whispered together for several minutes, and then replied by the voice of Bailie Craigdallie: "Noble knight, and our worthy provost, we agree entirely in what your wisdom has spoken concerning this dark and bloody matter; nor do we doubt your sagacity in tracing to the fellowship and the company of John Ramorny of that ilk the villainy which hath been done to our deceased fellow citizen, whether in his own character and capacity or as mistaking him for our brave townsman, Henry of the Wynd. But Sir John, in his own behalf, and as the Prince's master of the horse, maintains an extensive household; and as, of course, the charge will be rebutted by a denial, we would ask how we shall proceed in that case. It is true, could we find law for firing the lodging, and putting all within it to the sword; the old proverb of 'Short rede, good rede,' might here apply; for a fouler household of defiers of God, destroyers of men, and debauchers of women are nowhere sheltered than are in Ramorny's band. But I doubt that this summary mode of execution would scarce be borne out by the laws; and no tittle of evidence which I have heard will tend to fix the crime on any single individual or individuals."
Before the provost could reply, the town clerk arose, and, stroking his venerable beard, craved permission to speak, which was instantly granted.
"Brethren," he said, "as well in our fathers' time as ours; hath God, on being rightly appealed to, condescended to make manifest the crimes of the guilty and the innocence of those who may have been rashly accused. Let us demand from our sovereign lord, King Robert, who, when the wicked do not interfere to pervert his good intentions, is as just and clement a prince as our annals can show in their long line, in the name of the Fair City, and of all the commons in Scotland, that he give us, after the fashion of our ancestors, the means of appealing to Heaven for light upon this dark murder, we will demand the proof by 'bier right,' often granted in the days of our sovereign's ancestors, approved of by bulls and decretals, and administered by the great Emperor Charlemagne in France, by King Arthur in Britain, and by Gregory the Great, and the mighty Achaius, in this our land of Scotland."
"I have heard of the bier right, Sir Louis," quoth the provost, "and I know we have it in our charters of the Fair City; but I am something ill learned in the ancient laws, and would pray you to inform us more distinctly of its nature."
"We will demand of the King," said Sir Louis Lundin, "my advice being taken, that the body of our murdered fellow citizen be transported into the High Church of St. John, and suitable masses said for the benefit of his soul and for the discovery of his foul murder. Meantime, we shall obtain an order that Sir John Ramorny give up a list of such of his household as were in Perth in the course of the night between Fastern's Even and this Ash Wednesday, and become bound to present them on a certain day and hour, to be early named, in the High Church of St. John, there one by one to pass before the bier of our murdered fellow citizen, and in the form prescribed to call upon God and His saints to bear witness that he is innocent of the acting, art or part, of the murder. And credit me, as has been indeed proved by numerous instances, that, if the murderer shall endeavour to shroud himself by making such an appeal, the antipathy which subsists between the dead body and the hand which dealt the fatal blow that divorced it from the soul will awaken some imperfect life, under the influence of which the veins of the dead man will pour forth at the fatal wounds the blood which has been so long stagnant in the veins. Or, to speak more certainly, it is the pleasure of Heaven, by some hidden agency which we cannot comprehend, to leave open this mode of discovering the wickedness of him who has defaced the image of his Creator."
"I have heard this law talked of," said Sir Patrick, "and it was enforced in the Bruce's time. This surely is no unfit period to seek, by such a mystic mode of inquiry, the truth to which no ordinary means can give us access, seeing that a general accusation of Sir John's household would full surely be met by a general denial. Yet I must crave farther of Sir Louis, our reverend town clerk, how we shall prevent the guilty person from escaping in the interim?"
"The burghers will maintain a strict watch upon the wall, drawbridges shall be raised and portcullises lowered, from sunset to sunrise, and strong patrols maintained through the night. This guard the burghers will willingly maintain, to secure against the escape of the murderer of their townsman."
The rest of the counsellors acquiesced, by word, sign, and look, in this proposal.
"Again," said the provost, "what if any one of the suspected household refuse to submit to the ordeal of bier right?"
"He may appeal to that of combat," said the reverend city scribe, "with an opponent of equal rank; because the accused person must have his choice, in the appeal to the judgment of God, by what ordeal he will be tried. But if he refuses both, he must be held as guilty, and so punished."
The sages of the council unanimously agreed with the opinion of their provost and town clerk, and resolved, in all formality, to petition the King, as a matter of right, that the murder of their fellow citizen should be inquired into according to this ancient form, which was held to manifest the truth, and received as matter of evidence in case of murder so late as towards the end of the 17th century. But before the meeting dissolved, Bailie Craigdallie thought it meet to inquire who was to be the champion of Maudie, or Magdalen, Proudfute and her two children.
"There need be little inquiry about that," said Sir Patrick Charteris; "we are men, and wear swords, which should be broken over the head of any one amongst us who will not draw it in behalf of the widow and orphans of our murdered fellow citizen, and in brave revenge of his death. If Sir John Ramorny shall personally resent the inquiry, Patrick Charteris of Kinfauns will do battle with him to the outrance, whilst horse and man may stand, or spear and blade hold together. But in case the challenger be of yeomanly degree, well wot I that Magdalen Proudfute may choose her own champion among the bravest burghers of Perth, and shame and dishonour were it to the Fair City for ever could she light upon one who were traitor and coward enough to say her nay! Bring her hither, that she may make her election."
Henry Smith heard this with a melancholy anticipation that the poor woman's choice would light upon him, and that his recent reconciliation with his mistress would be again dissolved, by his being engaged in a fresh quarrel, from which there lay no honourable means of escape, and which, in any other circumstances, he would have welcomed as a glorious opportunity of distinguishing himself, both in sight of the court and of the city. He was aware that, under the tuition of Father Clement, Catharine viewed the ordeal of battle rather as an insult to religion than an appeal to the Deity, and did not consider it as reasonable that superior strength of arm or skill of weapon should be resorted to as the proof of moral guilt or innocence. He had, therefore, much to fear from her peculiar opinions in this particular, refined as they were beyond those of the age she lived in.
While he thus suffered under these contending feelings, Magdalen, the widow of the slaughtered man, entered the court, wrapt in a deep mourning veil, and followed and supported by five or six women of good (that is, of respectability) dressed in the same melancholy attire. One of her attendants held an infant in her arms, the last pledge of poor Oliver's nuptial affections. Another led a little tottering creature of two years, or thereabouts, which looked with wonder and fear, sometimes on the black dress in which they had muffled him, and sometimes on the scene around him.
The assembly rose to receive the melancholy group, and saluted them with an expression of the deepest sympathy, which Magdalen, though the mate of poor Oliver, returned with an air of dignity, which she borrowed, perhaps, from the extremity of her distress. Sir Patrick Charteris then stepped forward, and with the courtesy of a knight to a female, and of a protector to an oppressed and injured widow, took the poor woman's hand, and explained to her briefly by what course the city had resolved to follow out the vengeance due for her husband's slaughter.
Having, with a softness and gentleness which did not belong to his general manner, ascertained that the unfortunate woman perfectly understood what was meant, he said aloud to the assembly: "Good citizens of Perth, and freeborn men of guild and craft, attend to what is about to pass, for it concerns your rights and privileges. Here stands Magdalen Proudfute, desirous to follow forth the revenge due for the death of her husband, foully murdered, as she sayeth, by Sir John Ramorny, Knight, of that Ilk, and which she offers to prove, by the evidence of bier right, or by the body of a man. Therefore, I, Patrick Charteris, being a belted knight and freeborn gentleman, offer myself to do battle in her just quarrel, whilst man and horse may endure, if any one of my degree shall lift my glove. How say you, Magdalen Proudfute, will you accept me for your champion?"
The widow answered with difficulty: "I can desire none nobler."
Sir Patrick then took her right hand in his, and, kissing her forehead, for such was the ceremony, said solemnly: "So may God and St. John prosper me at my need, as I will do my devoir as your champion, knightly, truly, and manfully. Go now, Magdalen, and choose at your will among the burgesses of the Fair City, present or absent, any one upon whom you desire to rest your challenge, if he against whom you bring plaint shall prove to be beneath my degree."
All eyes were turned to Henry Smith, whom the general voice had already pointed out as in every respect the fittest to act as champion on the occasion. But the widow waited not for the general prompting of their looks. As soon as Sir Patrick had spoken, she crossed the floor to the place where, near the bottom of the table, the armourer stood among the men of his degree, and took him by the hand.
"Henry Gow, or Smith," she said, "good burgher and draftsman, my—my—"
"Husband," she would have said, but the word would not come forth: she was obliged to change the expression.
"He who is gone, loved and prized you over all men; therefore meet it is that thou shouldst follow out the quarrel of his widow and orphans."
If there had been a possibility, which in that age there was not, of Henry's rejecting or escaping from a trust for which all men seemed to destine him, every wish and idea of retreat was cut off when the widow began to address him; and a command from Heaven could hardly have made a stronger impression than did the appeal of the unfortunate Magdalen. Her allusion to his intimacy with the deceased moved him to the soul. During Oliver's life, doubtless, there had been a strain of absurdity in his excessive predilection for Henry, which, considering how very different they were in character, had in it something ludicrous. But all this was now forgotten, and Henry, giving way to his natural ardour, only remembered that Oliver had been his friend and intimate—a man who had loved and honoured him as much as he was capable of entertaining such sentiments for any one, and, above all, that there was much reason to suspect that the deceased had fallen victim to a blow meant for Henry himself.
It was, therefore, with an alacrity which, the minute before, he could scarce have commanded, and which seemed to express a stern pleasure, that, having pressed his lips to the cold brow of the unhappy Magdalen, the armourer replied:
"I, Henry the Smith, dwelling in the Wynd of Perth, good man and true, and freely born, accept the office of champion to this widow Magdalen and these orphans, and will do battle in their quarrel to the death, with any man whomsoever of my own degree, and that so long as I shall draw breath. So help me at my need God and good St. John!"
There arose from the audience a half suppressed cry, expressing the interest which the persons present took in the prosecution of the quarrel, and their confidence in the issue.
Sir Patrick Charteris then took measures for repairing to the King's presence, and demanding leave to proceed with inquiry into the murder of Oliver Proudfute, according to the custom of bier right, and, if necessary, by combat.
He performed this duty after the town council had dissolved, in a private interview between himself and the King, who heard of this new trouble with much vexation, and appointed next morning, after mass, for Sir Patrick and the parties interested to attend his pleasure in council. In the mean time, a royal pursuivant was despatched to the Constable's lodgings, to call over the roll of Sir John Ramorny's attendants, and charge him, with his whole retinue, under high penalties, to abide within Perth until the King's pleasure should be farther known.
In God's name, see the lists and all things fit; There let them end it—God defend the right!
Henry IV. Part II.
In the same council room of the conventual palace of the Dominicans, King Robert was seated with his brother Albany, whose affected austerity of virtue, and real art and dissimulation, maintained so high an influence over the feeble minded monarch. It was indeed natural that one who seldom saw things according to their real forms and outlines should view them according to the light in which they were presented to him by a bold, astucious man, possessing the claim of such near relationship.
Ever anxious on account of his misguided and unfortunate son, the King was now endeavouring to make Albany coincide in opinion with him in exculpating Rothsay from any part in the death of the bonnet maker, the precognition concerning which had been left by Sir Patrick Charteris for his Majesty's consideration.
"This is an unhappy matter, brother Robin," he said—"a most unhappy occurrence, and goes nigh to put strife and quarrel betwixt the nobility and the commons here, as they have been at war together in so many distant lands. I see but one cause of comfort in the matter, and that is, that Sir John Ramorny having received his dismissal from the Duke of Rothsay's family, it cannot be said that he or any of his people who may have done this bloody deed—if it has truly been done by them—have been encouraged or hounded out upon such an errand by my poor boy. I am sure, brother, you and I can bear witness how readily, upon my entreaties, he agreed to dismiss Ramorny from his service, on account of that brawl in Curfew Street."
"I remember his doing so," said Albany; "and well do I hope that the connexion betwixt the Prince and Ramorny has not been renewed since he seemed to comply with your Grace's wishes."
"Seemed to comply! The connexion renewed!" said the King. "What mean you by these expressions, brother? Surely, when David promised to me that, if that unhappy matter of Curfew Street were but smothered up and concealed, he would part with Ramorny, as he was a counsellor thought capable of involving him in similar fooleries, and would acquiesce in our inflicting on him either exile or such punishment as it should please us to impose—surely you cannot doubt that he was sincere in his professions, and would keep his word? Remember you not that, when you advised that a heavy fine should be levied upon his estate in Fife in lieu of banishment, the Prince himself seemed to say that exile would be better for Ramorny, and even for himself?"
"I remember it well, my royal brother. Nor, truly, could I have suspected Ramorny of having so much influence over the Prince, after having been accessory to placing him in a situation so perilous, had it not been for my royal kinsman's own confession, alluded to by your Grace, that, if suffered to remain at court, he might still continue to influence his conduct. I then regretted I had advised a fine in place of exile. But that time is passed, and now new mischief has occurred, fraught with much peril to your Majesty, as well as to your royal heir, and to the whole kingdom."
"What mean you, Robin?" said the weak minded King. "By the tomb of our parents! by the soul of Bruce, our immortal ancestor! I entreat thee, my dearest brother, to take compassion on me. Tell me what evil threatens my son, or my kingdom?"
The features of the King, trembling with anxiety, and his eyes brimful of tears, were bent upon his brother, who seemed to assume time for consideration ere he replied.
"My lord, the danger lies here. Your Grace believed that the Prince had no accession to this second aggression upon the citizens of Perth—the slaughter of this bonnet making fellow, about whose death they clamour, as a set of gulls about their comrade, when one of the noisy brood is struck down by a boor's shaft."
"Their lives," said the King, "are dear to themselves and their friends, Robin."
"Truly, ay, my liege; and they make them dear to us too, ere we can settle with the knaves for the least blood wit. But, as I said, your Majesty thinks the Prince had no share in this last slaughter; I will not attempt to shake your belief in that delicate point, but will endeavour to believe along with you. What you think is rule for me, Robert of Albany will never think otherwise than Robert of broad Scotland."
"Thank you, thank you," said the King, taking his brother's hand. "I knew I might rely that your affection would do justice to poor heedless Rothsay, who exposes himself to so much misconstruction that he scarcely deserves the sentiments you feel for him."
Albany had such an immovable constancy of purpose, that he was able to return the fraternal pressure of the King's hand, while tearing up by the very roots the hopes of the indulgent, fond old man.
"But, alas!" the Duke continued, with a sigh, "this burly, intractable Knight of Kinfauns, and his brawling herd of burghers, will not view the matter as we do. They have the boldness to say that this dead fellow had been misused by Rothsay and his fellows, who were in the street in mask and revel, stopping men and women, compelling them to dance, or to drink huge quantities of wine, with other follies needless to recount; and they say that the whole party repaired in Sir John Ramorny's, and broke their way into the house in order to conclude their revel there, thus affording good reason to judge that the dismissal of Sir John from the Prince's service was but a feigned stratagem to deceive the public. And hence they urge that, if ill were done that night by Sir John Ramorny or his followers, much it is to be thought that the Duke of Rothsay must have at least been privy to, if he did not authorise, it."
"Albany, this is dreadful!" said the King. "Would they make a murderer of my boy? would they pretend my David would soil his hands in Scottish blood without having either provocation or purpose? No—no, they will not invent calumnies so broad as these, for they are flagrant and incredible."
"Pardon, my liege," answered the Duke of Albany; "they say the cause of quarrel which occasioned the riot in Curfew Street, and, its consequences, were more proper to the Prince than to Sir John, since none suspects, far less believes, that that hopeful enterprise was conducted for the gratification of the knight of Ramorny."
"Thou drivest me mad, Robin!" said the King.
"I am dumb," answered his brother; "I did but speak my poor mind according to your royal order."
"Thou meanest well, I know," said the King; "but, instead of tearing me to pieces with the display of inevitable calamities, were it not kinder, Robin, to point me out some mode to escape from them?"
"True, my liege; but as the only road of extrication is rough and difficult, it is necessary your Grace should be first possessed with the absolute necessity of using it, ere you hear it even described. The chirurgeon must first convince his patient of the incurable condition of a shattered member, ere he venture to name amputation, though it be the only remedy."
The King at these words was roused to a degree of alarm and indignation greater than his brother had deemed he could be awakened to.
"Shattered and mortified member, my Lord of Albany! amputation the only remedy! These are unintelligible words, my lord. If thou appliest them to our son Rothsay, thou must make them good to the letter, else mayst thou have bitter cause to rue the consequence."
"You construe me too literally, my royal liege," said Albany. "I spoke not of the Prince in such unbeseeming terms, for I call Heaven to witness that he is dearer to me as the son of a well beloved brother than had he been son of my own. But I spoke in regard to separating him from the follies and vanities of life, which holy men say are like to mortified members, and ought, like them, to be cut off and thrown from us, as things which interrupt our progress in better things."
"I understand—thou wouldst have this Ramorny, who hath been thought the instrument of my son's follies, exiled from court," said the relieved monarch, "until these unhappy scandals are forgotten, and our subjects are disposed to look upon our son with different and more confiding eyes."
"That were good counsel, my liege; but mine went a little—a very little—farther. I would have the Prince himself removed for some brief period from court."
"How, Albany! part with my child, my firstborn, the light of my eyes, and—wilful as he is—the darling of my heart! Oh, Robin! I cannot, and I will not."
"Nay, I did but suggest, my lord; I am sensible of the wound such a proceeding must inflict on a parent's heart, for am I not myself a father?" And he hung his head, as if in hopeless despondency.
"I could not survive it, Albany. When I think that even our own influence over him, which, sometimes forgotten in our absence, is ever effectual whilst he is with us, is by your plan to be entirely removed, what perils might he not rush upon? I could not sleep in his absence—I should hear his death groan in every breeze; and you, Albany, though you conceal it better, would be nearly as anxious."
Thus spoke the facile monarch, willing to conciliate his brother and cheat himself, by taking it for granted that an affection, of which there were no traces, subsisted betwixt the uncle and nephew.
"Your paternal apprehensions are too easily alarmed, my lord," said Albany. "I do not propose to leave the disposal of the Prince's motions to his own wild pleasure. I understand that the Prince is to be placed for a short time under some becoming restraint—that he should be subjected to the charge of some grave counsellor, who must be responsible both for his conduct and his safety, as a tutor for his pupil."
"How! a tutor, and at Rothsay's age!" exclaimed the' King; "he is two years beyond the space to which our laws limit the term of nonage."
"The wiser Romans," said Albany, "extended it for four years after the period we assign; and, in common sense, the right of control ought to last till it be no longer necessary, and so the time ought to vary with the disposition. Here is young Lindsay, the Earl of Crawford, who they say gives patronage to Ramorny on this appeal. He is a lad of fifteen, with the deep passions and fixed purpose of a man of thirty; while my royal nephew, with much more amiable and noble qualities both of head and heart, sometimes shows, at twenty-three years of age, the wanton humours of a boy, towards whom restraint may be kindness. And do not be discouraged that it is so, my liege, or angry with your brother for telling the truth; since the best fruits are those that are slowest in ripening, and the best horses such as give most trouble to the grooms who train them for the field or lists."
The Duke stopped, and, after suffering King Robert to indulge for two or three minutes in a reverie which he did not attempt to interrupt, he added, in a more lively tone: "But, cheer up, my noble liege; perhaps the feud may be made up without farther fighting or difficulty. The widow is poor, for her husband, though he was much employed, had idle and costly habits. The matter may be therefore redeemed for money, and the amount of an assythment may be recovered out of Ramorny's estate."
"Nay, that we will ourselves discharge," said King Robert, eagerly catching at the hope of a pacific termination of this unpleasing debate. "Ramorny's prospects will be destroyed by his being sent from court and deprived of his charge in Rothsay's household, and it would be ungenerous to load a falling man. But here comes our secretary, the prior, to tell us the hour of council approaches. Good morrow, my worthy father."
"Benedicite, my royal liege," answered the abbot.
"Now, good father," continued the King, "without waiting for Rothsay, whose accession to our counsels we will ourselves guarantee, proceed we to the business of our kingdom. What advices have you from the Douglas?"
"He has arrived at his castle of Tantallon, my liege, and has sent a post to say, that, though the Earl of March remains in sullen seclusion in his fortress of Dunbar, his friends and followers are gathering and forming an encampment near Coldingham, Where it is supposed they intend to await the arrival of a large force of English, which Hotspur and Sir Ralph Percy are assembling on the English frontier."
"That is cold news," said the King; "and may God forgive George of Dunbar!"
The Prince entered as he spoke, and he continued: "Ha! thou art here at length, Rothsay; I saw thee not at mass."
"I was an idler this morning," said the Prince, "having spent a restless and feverish night."
"Ah, foolish boy!" answered the King; "hadst thou not been over restless on Fastern's Eve, thou hadst not been feverish on the night of Ash Wednesday."
"Let me not interrupt your praying, my liege," said the Prince, lightly. "Your Grace Was invoking Heaven in behalf of some one—an enemy doubtless, for these have the frequent advantage of your orisons."
"Sit down and be at peace, foolish youth!" said his father, his eye resting at the same time on the handsome face and graceful figure of his favourite son. Rothsay drew a cushion near to his father's feet, and threw himself carelessly down upon it, while the King resumed.
"I was regretting that the Earl of March, having separated warm from my hand with full assurance that he should receive compensation for everything which he could complain of as injurious, should have been capable of caballing with Northumberland against his own country. Is it possible he could doubt our intentions to make good our word?"
"I will answer for him—no," said the Prince. "March never doubted your Highness's word. Marry, he may well have made question whether your learned counsellors would leave your Majesty the power of keeping it."
Robert the Third had adopted to a great extent the timid policy of not seeming to hear expressions which, being heard, required, even in his own eyes, some display of displeasure. He passed on, therefore, in his discourse, without observing his son's speech, but in private Rothsay's rashness augmented the displeasure which his father began to entertain against him.
"It is well the Douglas is on the marches," said the King. "His breast, like those of his ancestors, has ever been the best bulwark of Scotland."
"Then woe betide us if he should turn his back to the enemy," said the incorrigible Rothsay.
"Dare you impeach the courage of Douglas?" replied the King, extremely chafed.
"No man dare question the Earl's courage," said Rothsay, "it is as certain as his pride; but his luck may be something doubted."
"By St. Andrew, David," exclaimed his father, "thou art like a screech owl, every word thou sayest betokens strife and calamity."
"I am silent, father," answered the youth.
"And what news of our Highland disturbances?" continued the King, addressing the prior.
"I trust they have assumed a favourable aspect," answered the clergyman. "The fire which threatened the whole country is likely to be drenched out by the blood of some forty or fifty kerne; for the two great confederacies have agreed, by solemn indenture of arms, to decided their quarrel with such weapons as your Highness may name, and in your royal presence, in such place as shall be appointed, on the 30th of March next to come, being Palm Sunday; the number of combatants being limited to thirty on each side; and the fight to be maintained to extremity, since they affectionately make humble suit and petition to your Majesty that you will parentally condescend to waive for the day your royal privilege of interrupting the combat, by flinging down of truncheon or crying of 'Ho!' until the battle shall be utterly fought to an end."
"The wild savages!" exclaimed the King, "would they limit our best and dearest royal privilege, that of putting a stop to strife, and crying truce to battle? Will they remove the only motive which could bring me to the butcherly spectacle of their combat? Would they fight like men, or like their own mountain wolves?"
"My lord," said Albany, "the Earl of Crawford and I had presumed, without consulting you, to ratify that preliminary, for the adoption of which we saw much and pressing reason."
"How! the Earl of Crawford!" said the King. "Methinks he is a young counsellor on such grave occurrents."
"He is," replied Albany, "notwithstanding his early years, of such esteem among his Highland neighbours, that I could have done little with them but for his aid and influence."
"Hear this, young Rothsay!" said the King reproachfully to his heir.
"I pity Crawford, sire," replied the Prince. "He has too early lost a father whose counsels would have better become such a season as this."
The King turned next towards Albany with a look of triumph, at the filial affection which his son displayed in his reply.
Albany proceeded without emotion. "It is not the life of these Highlandmen, but their death, which is to be profitable to this commonwealth of Scotland; and truly it seemed to the Earl of Crawford and myself most desirable that the combat should be a strife of extermination."
"Marry," said the Prince, "if such be the juvenile policy of Lindsay, he will be a merciful ruler some ten or twelve years hence! Out upon a boy that is hard of heart before he has hair upon his lip! Better he had contented himself with fighting cocks on Fastern's Even than laying schemes for massacring men on Palm Sunday, as if he were backing a Welsh main, where all must fight to death."
"Rothsay is right, Albany," said the King: "it were unlike a Christian monarch to give way in this point. I cannot consent to see men battle until they are all hewn down like cattle in the shambles. It would sicken me to look at it, and the warder would drop from my hand for mere lack of strength to hold it."
"It would drop unheeded," said Albany. "Let me entreat your Grace to recollect, that you only give up a royal privilege which, exercised, would win you no respect, since it would receive no obedience. Were your Majesty to throw down your warder when the war is high, and these men's blood is hot, it would meet no more regard than if a sparrow should drop among a herd of battling wolves the straw which he was carrying to his nest. Nothing will separate them but the exhaustion of slaughter; and better they sustain it at the hands of each other than from the swords of such troops as might attempt to separate them at your Majesty's commands. An attempt to keep the peace by violence would be construed into an ambush laid for them; both parties would unite to resist it, the slaughter would be the same, and the hoped for results of future peace would be utterly disappointed."
"There is even too much truth in what you say, brother Robin," replied the flexible King. "To little purpose is it to command what I cannot enforce; and, although I have the unhappiness to do so each day of my life, it were needless to give such a very public example of royal impotency before the crowds who may assemble to behold this spectacle. Let these savage men, therefore, work their bloody will to the uttermost upon each other: I will not attempt to forbid what I cannot prevent them from executing. Heaven help this wretched country! I will to my oratory and pray for her, since to aid her by hand and head is alike denied to me. Father prior, I pray the support of your arm."
"Nay, but, brother," said Albany, "forgive me if I remind you that we must hear the matter between the citizens of Perth and Ramorny, about the death of a townsman—"
"True—true," said the monarch, reseating himself; "more violence—more battle. Oh, Scotland! Scotland! if the best blood of thy bravest children could enrich thy barren soil, what land on earth would excel thee in fertility! When is it that a white hair is seen on the beard of a Scottishman, unless he be some wretch like thy sovereign, protected from murder by impotence, to witness the scenes of slaughter to which he cannot put a period? Let them come in, delay them not. They are in haste to kill, and, grudge each other each fresh breath of their Creator's blessed air. The demon of strife and slaughter hath possessed the whole land!"
As the mild prince threw himself back on his seat with an air of impatience and anger not very usual with him, the door at the lower end of the room was unclosed, and, advancing from the gallery into which it led (where in perspective was seen a guard of the Bute men, or Brandanes, under arms), came, in mournful procession, the widow of poor Oliver, led by Sir Patrick Charteris, with as much respect as if she had been a lady of the first rank. Behind them came two women of good, the wives of magistrates of the city, both in mourning garments, one bearing the infant and the other leading the elder child. The smith followed in his best attire, and wearing over his buff coat a scarf of crape. Bailie Craigdallie and a brother magistrate closed the melancholy procession, exhibiting similar marks of mourning.
The good King's transitory passion was gone the instant he looked at the pallid countenance of the sorrowing widow, and beheld the unconsciousness of the innocent orphans who had sustained so great a loss, and when Sir Patrick Charteris had assisted Magdalen Proudfute to kneel down and, still holding her hand, kneeled himself on one knee, it was with a sympathetic tone that King Robert asked her name and business. She made no answer, but muttered something, looking towards her conductor.
"Speak for the poor woman, Sir Patrick Charteris," said the King, "and tell us the cause of her seeking our presence."
"So please you, my liege," answered Sir Patrick, rising up, "this woman, and these unhappy orphans, make plaint to your Highness upon Sir John Ramorny of Ramorny, Knight, that by him, or by some of his household, her umquhile husband, Oliver Proudfute, freeman and burgess of Perth, was slain upon the streets of the city on the eve of Shrove Tuesday or morning of Ash Wednesday."
"Woman," replied the King, with much kindness, "thou art gentle by sex, and shouldst be pitiful even by thy affliction; for our own calamity ought to make us—nay, I think it doth make us—merciful to others. Thy husband hath only trodden the path appointed to us all."
"In his case," said the widow, "my liege must remember it has been a brief and a bloody one."
"I agree he hath had foul measure. But since I have been unable to protect him, as I confess was my royal duty, I am willing, in atonement, to support thee and these orphans, as well or better than you lived in the days of your husband; only do thou pass from this charge, and be not the occasion of spilling more life. Remember, I put before you the choice betwixt practising mercy and pursuing vengeance, and that betwixt plenty and penury."
"It is true, my liege, we are poor," answered the widow, with unshaken firmness "but I and my children will feed with the beasts of the field ere we live on the price of my husband's blood. I demand the combat by my champion, as you are belted knight and crowned king."
"I knew it would be so!" said the King, aside to Albany. "In Scotland the first words stammered by an infant and the last uttered by a dying greybeard are 'combat—blood—revenge.' It skills not arguing farther. Admit the defendants."
Sir John Ramorny entered the apartment. He was dressed in a long furred robe, such as men of quality wore when they were unarmed. Concealed by the folds of drapery, his wounded arm was supported by a scarf or sling of crimson silk, and with the left arm he leaned on a youth, who, scarcely beyond the years of boyhood, bore on his brow the deep impression of early thought and premature passion. This was that celebrated Lindsay, Earl of Crawford, who, in his after days, was known by the epithet of the Tiger Earl, and who ruled the great and rich valley of Strathmore with the absolute power and unrelenting cruelty of a feudal tyrant. Two or three gentlemen, friends of the Earl, or of his own, countenanced Sir John Ramorny by their presence on this occasion. The charge was again stated, and met by a broad denial on the part of the accused; and in reply, the challengers offered to prove their assertion by an appeal to the ordeal of bier right.
"I am not bound," answered Sir John Ramorny, "to submit to this ordeal, since I can prove, by the evidence of my late royal master, that I was in my own lodgings, lying on my bed, ill at ease, while this provost and these bailies pretend I was committing a crime to which I had neither will nor temptation. I can therefore be no just object of suspicion."
"I can aver," said the Prince, "that I saw and conversed with Sir John Ramorny about some matters concerning my own household on the very night when this murder was a-doing. I therefore know that he was ill at ease, and could not in person commit the deed in question. But I know nothing of the employment of his attendants, and will not take it upon me to say that some one of them may not have been guilty of the crime now charged on them."
Sir John Ramorny had, during the beginning of this speech, looked round with an air of defiance, which was somewhat disconcerted by the concluding sentence of Rothsay's speech.
"I thank your Highness," he said, with a smile, "for your cautious and limited testimony in my behalf. He was wise who wrote, 'Put not your faith in princes.'"
"If you have no other evidence of your innocence, Sir John Ramorny," said the King, "we may not, in respect to your followers, refuse to the injured widow and orphans, the complainers, the grant of a proof by ordeal of bier right, unless any of them should prefer that of combat. For yourself, you are, by the Prince's evidence, freed from the attaint."
"My liege," answered Sir John, "I can take warrant upon myself for the innocence of my household and followers."
"Why, so a monk or a woman might speak," said Sir Patrick Charteris. "In knightly language, wilt thou, Sir John de Ramorny, do battle with me in the behalf of thy followers?"
"The provost of Perth had not obtained time to name the word combat," said Ramorny, "ere I would have accepted it. But I am not at present fit to hold a lance."
"I am glad of it, under your favour, Sir John. There will be the less bloodshed," said the King. "You must therefore produce your followers according to your steward's household book, in the great church of St. John, that, in presence of all whom it may concern, they may purge themselves of this accusation. See that every man of them do appear at the time of high mass, otherwise your honour may be sorely tainted."
"They shall attend to a man," said Sir John Ramorny.
Then bowing low to the King, he directed himself to the young Duke of Rothsay, and, making a deep obeisance, spoke so as to be heard by him alone. "You have used me generously, my lord! One word of your lips could have ended this controversy, and you have refused to speak it."
"On my life," whispered the Prince, "I spake as far as the extreme verge of truth and conscience would permit. I think thou couldst not expect I should frame lies for thee; and after all, John, in my broken recollections of that night, I do bethink me of a butcherly looking mute, with a curtal axe, much like such a one as may have done yonder night job. Ha! have I touched you, sir knight?"
Ramorny made no answer, but turned as precipitately as if some one had pressed suddenly on his wounded arm, and regained his lodgings with the Earl of Crawford; to whom, though disposed for anything rather than revelry, he was obliged to offer a splendid collation, to acknowledge in some degree his sense of the countenance which the young noble had afforded him.
In pottingry he wrocht great pyne; He murdreit mony in medecyne.
When, after an entertainment the prolonging of which was like torture to the wounded knight, the Earl of Crawford at length took horse, to go to his distant quarters in the Castle of Dupplin, where he resided as a guest, the Knight of Ramorny retired into his sleeping apartment, agonized by pains of body and anxiety of mind. Here he found Henbane Dwining, on whom it was his hard fate to depend for consolation in both respects. The physician, with his affectation of extreme humility, hoped he saw his exalted patient merry and happy.
"Merry as a mad dog," said Ramorny, "and happy as the wretch whom the cur hath bitten, and who begins to feel the approach of the ravening madness! That ruthless boy, Crawford, saw my agony, and spared not a single carouse. I must do him justice, forsooth! If I had done justice to him and to the world, I had thrown him out of window and cut short a career which, if he grew up as he has begun, will prove a source of misery to all Scotland, but especially to Tayside. Take heed as thou undoest the ligatures, chirurgeon, the touch of a fly's wing on that raw glowing stump were like a dagger to me."
"Fear not, my noble patron," said the leech, with a chuckling laugh of enjoyment, which he vainly endeavoured to disguise under a tone of affected sensibility. "We will apply some fresh balsam, and—he, he, he!—relieve your knightly honour of the irritation which you sustain so firmly."
"Firmly, man!" said Ramorny, grinning with pain; "I sustain it as I would the scorching flames of purgatory. The bone seems made of red hot iron; thy greasy ointment will hiss as it drops upon the wound. And yet it is December's ice, compared to the fever fit of my mind!"
"We will first use our emollients upon the body, my noble patron," said Dwining; "and then, with your knighthood's permission; your servant will try his art on the troubled mind; though I fain hope even the mental pain also may in some degree depend on the irritation of the wound, and that, abated as I trust the corporeal pangs will soon be, perhaps the stormy feelings of the mind may subside of themselves."
"Henbane Dwining," said the patient, as he felt the pain of his wound assuaged, "thou art a precious and invaluable leech, but some things are beyond thy power. Thou canst stupify my bodily cause of this raging agony, but thou canst not teach me to bear the score of the boy whom I have brought up—whom I loved, Dwining—for I did love him—dearly love him! The worst of my ill deeds have been to flatter his vices; and he grudged me a word of his mouth, when a word would have allayed this cumber! He smiled, too—I saw him smile—when yon paltry provost, the companion and patron of wretched burghers, defied me, whom this heartless prince knew to be unable to bear arms. Ere I forget or forgive it, thou thyself shalt preach up the pardoning of injuries! And then the care for tomorrow! Think'st thou, Henbane Dwining, that, in very reality, the Wounds of the slaughtered corpse will gape and shed tears of fresh blood at the murderer's approach?"
"I cannot tell, my lord, save by report," said Dwining, "which avouches the fact."
"The brute Bonthron," said Ramorny, "is startled at the apprehension of such a thing, and speaking of being rather willing to stand the combat. What think'st thou? He is a fellow of steel."
"It is the armourer's trade to deal with steel," replied Dwining.
"Were Bonthron to fall, it would little grieve me," said Ramorny; "though I should miss an useful hand."
"I well believe your lordship will not sorrow as for that you lost in Curfew Street. Excuse my pleasantry, he, he! But what are the useful properties of this fellow Bonthron?"
"Those of a bulldog," answered the knight, "he worries without barking."
"You have no fear of his confessing?" said the physician.
"Who can tell what the dread of approaching death may do?" replied the patient. "He has already shown a timorousness entirely alien from his ordinary sullenness of nature; he, that would scarce wash his hands after he had slain a man, is now afraid to see a dead body bleed."
"Well," said the leech, "I must do something for him if I can, since it was to further my revenge that he struck yonder downright blow, though by ill luck it lighted not where it was intended."
"And whose fault was that, timid villain," said Ramorny, "save thine own, who marked a rascal deer for a buck of the first head?"
"Benedicite, noble sir," replied the mediciner; "would you have me, who know little save of chamber practice, be as skilful of woodcraft as your noble self, or tell hart from hind, doe from roe, in a glade at midnight? I misdoubted me little when I saw the figure run past us to the smith's habitation in the wynd, habited like a morrice dancer; and yet my mind partly misgave me whether it was our man, for methought he seemed less of stature. But when he came out again, after so much time as to change his dress, and swaggered onward with buff coat and steel cap, whistling after the armourer's wonted fashion, I do own I was mistaken super totam materiem, and loosed your knighthood's bulldog upon him, who did his devoir most duly, though he pulled down the wrong deer. Therefore, unless the accursed smith kill our poor friend stone dead on the spot, I am determined, if art may do it, that the ban dog Bonthron shall not miscarry."
"It will put thine art to the test, man of medicine," said Ramorny; "for know that, having the worst of the combat, if our champion be not killed stone dead in the lists, he will be drawn forth of them by the heels, and without further ceremony knitted up to the gallows, as convicted of the murder; and when he hath swung there like a loose tassel for an hour or so, I think thou wilt hardly take it in hand to cure his broken neck."
"I am of a different opinion, may it please your knighthood," answered Dwining, gently. "I will carry him off from the very foot of the gallows into the land of faery, like King Arthur, or Sir Huon of Bordeaux, or Ugero the Dane; or I will, if I please, suffer him to dangle on the gibbet for a certain number of minutes, or hours, and then whisk him away from the sight of all, with as much ease as the wind wafts away the withered leaf."
"This is idle boasting, sir leech," replied Ramorny. "The whole mob of Perth will attend him to the gallows, each more eager than another to see the retainer of a nobleman die, for the slaughter of a cuckoldly citizen. There will be a thousand of them round the gibbet's foot."
"And were there ten thousand," said Dwining, "shall I, who am a high clerk, and have studied in Spain, and Araby itself, not be able to deceive the eyes of this hoggish herd of citizens, when the pettiest juggler that ever dealt in legerdemain can gull even the sharp observation of your most intelligent knighthood? I tell you, I will put the change on them as if I were in possession of Keddie's ring."
"If thou speakest truth," answered the knight, "and I think thou darest not palter with me on such a theme, thou must have the aid of Satan, and I will have nought to do with him. I disown and defy him."
Dwining indulged in his internal chuckling laugh when he heard his patron testify his defiance of the foul fiend, and saw him second it by crossing himself. He composed himself, however, upon observing Ramorny's aspect become very stern, and said, with tolerable gravity, though a little interrupted by the effort necessary to suppress his mirthful mood:
"Confederacy, most devout sir—confederacy is the soul of jugglery. But—he, he, he!—I have not the honour to be—he, he!—an ally of the gentleman of whom you speak—in whose existence I am—he, he!—no very profound believer, though your knightship, doubtless, hath better opportunities of acquaintance."
"Proceed, rascal, and without that sneer, which thou mayst otherwise dearly pay for."
"I will, most undaunted," replied Dwining. "Know that I have my confederate too, else my skill were little worth."
"And who may that be, pray you?"
"Stephen Smotherwell, if it like your honour, lockman of this Fair City. I marvel your knighthood knows him not."
"And I marvel thy knaveship knows him not on professional acquaintance," replied Ramorny; "but I see thy nose is unslit, thy ears yet uncropped, and if thy shoulders are scarred or branded, thou art wise for using a high collared jerkin."
"He, he! your honour is pleasant," said the mediciner. "It is not by personal circumstances that I have acquired the intimacy of Stephen Smotherwell, but on account of a certain traffic betwixt us, in which an't please you, I exchange certain sums of silver for the bodies, heads, and limbs of those who die by aid of friend Stephen."
"Wretch!" exclaimed the knight with horror, "is it to compose charms and forward works of witchcraft that you trade for these miserable relics of mortality?"
"He, he, he! No, an it please your knighthood," answered the mediciner, much amused with the ignorance of his patron; "but we, who are knights of the scalpel, are accustomed to practise careful carving of the limbs of defunct persons, which we call dissection, whereby we discover, by examination of a dead member, how to deal with one belonging to a living man, which hath become diseased through injury or otherwise. Ah! if your honour saw my poor laboratory, I could show you heads and hands, feet and lungs, which have been long supposed to be rotting in the mould. The skull of Wallace, stolen from London Bridge; the head of Sir Simon Fraser [the famous ancestor of the Lovats, slain at Halidon Hill (executed in London in 1306)], that never feared man; the lovely skull of the fair Katie Logie [(should be Margaret Logie), the beautiful mistress of David II]. Oh, had I but had the fortune to have preserved the chivalrous hand of mine honoured patron!"
Out upon thee, slave! Thinkest thou to disgust me with thy catalogue of horrors? Tell me at once where thy discourse drives. How can thy traffic with the hangdog executioner be of avail to serve me, or to help my servant Bonthron?"
"Nay, I do not recommend it to your knighthood, save in an extremity," replied Dwining. "But we will suppose the battle fought and our cock beaten. Now we must first possess him with the certainty that, if unable to gain the day, we will at least save him from the hangman, provided he confess nothing which can prejudice your knighthood's honour."
"Ha! ay, a thought strikes me," said Ramorny. "We can do more than this, we can place a word in Bonthron's mouth that will be troublesome enough to him whom I am bound to curse for being the cause of my misfortune. Let us to the ban dog's kennel, and explain to him what is to be done in every view of the question. If we can persuade him to stand the bier ordeal, it may be a mere bugbear, and in that case we are safe. If he take the combat, he is fierce as a baited bear, and may, perchance, master his opponent; then we are more than safe, we are avenged. If Bonthron himself is vanquished, we will put thy device in exercise; and if thou canst manage it cleanly; we may dictate his confession, take the advantage of it, as I will show thee on further conference, and make a giant stride towards satisfaction for my wrongs. Still there remains one hazard. Suppose our mastiff mortally wounded in the lists, who shall prevent his growling out some species of confession different from what we would recommend?"