"Marry, that can his mediciner," said Dwining. "Let me wait on him, and have the opportunity to lay but a finger on his wound, and trust me he shall betray no confidence."
"Why, there's a willing fiend, that needs neither pushing nor prompting!" said Ramorny.
"As I trust I shall need neither in your knighthood's service."
"We will go indoctrinate our agent," continued the knight. "We shall find him pliant; for, hound as he is, he knows those who feed from those who browbeat him; and he holds a late royal master of mine in deep hate for some injurious treatment and base terms which he received at his hand. I must also farther concert with thee the particulars of thy practice, for saving the ban dog from the hands of the herd of citizens."
We leave this worthy pair of friends to their secret practices, of which we shall afterwards see the results. They were, although of different qualities, as well matched for device and execution of criminal projects as the greyhound is to destroy the game which the slowhound raises, or the slowhound to track the prey which the gazehound discovers by the eye. Pride and selfishness were the characteristics of both; but, from the difference of rank, education, and talents, they had assumed the most different appearance in the two individuals.
Nothing could less resemble the high blown ambition of the favourite courtier, the successful gallant, and the bold warrior than the submissive, unassuming mediciner, who seemed even to court and delight in insult; whilst, in his secret soul, he felt himself possessed of a superiority of knowledge, a power both of science and of mind, which placed the rude nobles of the day infinitely beneath him. So conscious was Henbane Dwining of this elevation, that, like a keeper of wild beasts, he sometimes adventured, for his own amusement, to rouse the stormy passions of such men as Ramorny, trusting, with his humble manner, to elude the turmoil he had excited, as an Indian boy will launch his light canoe, secure from its very fragility, upon a broken surf, in which the boat of an argosy would be assuredly dashed to pieces. That the feudal baron should despise the humble practitioner in medicine was a matter of course; but Ramorny felt not the less the influence which Dwining exercised over him, and was in the encounter of their wits often mastered by him, as the most eccentric efforts of a fiery horse are overcome by a boy of twelve years old, if he has been bred to the arts of the manege. But the contempt of Dwining for Ramorny was far less qualified. He regarded the knight, in comparison with himself, as scarcely rising above the brute creation; capable, indeed, of working destruction, as the bull with his horns or the wolf with his fangs, but mastered by mean prejudices, and a slave to priest craft, in which phrase Dwining included religion of every kind. On the whole, he considered Ramorny as one whom nature had assigned to him as a serf, to mine for the gold which he worshipped, and the avaricious love of which was his greatest failing, though by no means his worst vice. He vindicated this sordid tendency in his own eyes by persuading himself that it had its source in the love of power.
"Henbane Dwining," he said, as he gazed in delight upon the hoards which he had secretly amassed, and which he visited from time to time, "is no silly miser that doats on those pieces for their golden lustre: it is the power with which they endow the possessor which makes him thus adore them. What is there that these put not within your command? Do you love beauty, and are mean, deformed, infirm, and old? Here is a lure the fairest hawk of them all will stoop to. Are you feeble, weak, subject to the oppression of the powerful? Here is that will arm in your defence those more mighty than the petty tyrant whom you fear. Are you splendid in your wishes, and desire the outward show of opulence? This dark chest contains many a wide range of hill and dale, many a fair forest full of game, the allegiance of a thousand vassals. Wish you for favour in courts, temporal or spiritual? The smiles of kings, the pardon of popes and priests for old crimes, and the indulgence which encourages priest ridden fools to venture on new ones—all these holy incentives to vice may be purchased for gold. Revenge itself, which the gods are said to reserve to themselves, doubtless because they envy humanity so sweet a morsel—revenge itself is to be bought by it. But it is also to be won by superior skill, and that is the nobler mode of reaching it. I will spare, then, my treasure for other uses, and accomplish my revenge gratis; or rather I will add the luxury of augmented wealth to the triumph of requited wrongs."
Thus thought Dwining, as, returned from his visit to Sir John Ramorny, he added the gold he had received for his various services to the mass of his treasure; and, having gloated over the whole for a minute or two, turned the key on his concealed treasure house, and walked forth on his visits to his patients, yielding the wall to every man whom he met and bowing and doffing his bonnet to the poorest burgher that owned a petty booth, nay, to the artificers who gained their precarious bread by the labour of their welked hands.
"Caitiffs," was the thought of his heart while he did such obeisance—"base, sodden witted mechanics! did you know what this key could disclose, what foul weather from heaven would prevent your unbonneting? what putrid kennel in your wretched hamlet would be disgusting enough to make you scruple to fall down and worship the owner of such wealth? But I will make you feel my power, though it suits my honour to hide the source of it. I will be an incubus to your city, since you have rejected me as a magistrate. Like the night mare, I will hag ride ye, yet remain invisible myself. This miserable Ramorny, too, he who, in losing his hand, has, like a poor artisan, lost the only valuable part of his frame, he heaps insulting language on me, as if anything which he can say had power to chafe a constant mind like mine! Yet, while he calls me rogue, villain, and slave, he acts as wisely as if he should amuse himself by pulling hairs out of my head while my hand had hold of his heart strings. Every insult I can pay back instantly by a pang of bodily pain or mental agony, and—he, he!—I run no long accounts with his knighthood, that must be allowed."
While the mediciner was thus indulging his diabolical musing, and passing, in his creeping manner, along the street, the cry of females was heard behind him.
"Ay, there he is, Our Lady be praised!—there is the most helpful man in Perth," said one voice.
"They may speak of knights and kings for redressing wrongs, as they call it; but give me worthy Master Dwining the potter carrier, cummers," replied another.
At the same moment, the leech was surrounded and taken hold of by the speakers, good women of the Fair City.
"How now, what's the matter?" said Dwining, "whose cow has calved?"
"There is no calving in the case," said one of the women, "but a poor fatherless wean dying; so come awa' wi' you, for our trust is constant in you, as Bruce said to Donald of the Isles."
"Opiferque per orbem dicor," said Henbane Dwining. "What is the child dying of?"
"The croup—the croup," screamed one of the gossips; "the innocent is rouping like a corbie."
"Cynanche trachealis—that disease makes brief work. Show me the house instantly," continued the mediciner, who was in the habit of exercising his profession liberally, not withstanding his natural avarice, and humanely, in spite of his natural malignity. As we can suspect him of no better principle, his motive most probably may have been vanity and the love of his art.
He would nevertheless have declined giving his attendance in the present case had he known whither the kind gossips were conducting him, in time sufficient to frame an apology. But, ere he guessed where he was going, the leech was hurried into the house of the late Oliver Proudfute, from which he heard the chant of the women as they swathed and dressed the corpse of the umquhile bonnet maker for the ceremony of next morning, of which chant the following verses may be received as a modern imitation:
Viewless essence, thin and bare, Well nigh melted into air, Still with fondness hovering near The earthly form thou once didst wear,
Pause upon thy pinion's flight; Be thy course to left or right, Be thou doom'd to soar or sink, Pause upon the awful brink.
To avenge the deed expelling Thee untimely from thy dwelling, Mystic force thou shalt retain O'er the blood and o'er the brain.
When the form thou shalt espy That darken'd on thy closing eye, When the footstep thou shalt hear That thrill'd upon thy dying ear,
Then strange sympathies shall wake, The flesh shall thrill, the nerves shall quake, The wounds renew their clotter'd flood, And every drop cry blood for blood!
Hardened as he was, the physician felt reluctance to pass the threshold of the man to whose death he had been so directly, though, so far as the individual was concerned, mistakingly, accessory.
"Let me pass on, women," he said, "my art can only help the living—the dead are past our power."
"Nay, but your patient is upstairs—the youngest orphan"—Dwining was compelled to go into the house. But he was surprised when, the instant he stepped over the threshold, the gossips, who were busied with the dead body, stinted suddenly in their song, while one said to the others:
"In God's name, who entered? That was a large gout of blood."
"Not so," said another voice, "it is a drop of the liquid balm."
"Nay, cummer, it was blood. Again I say, who entered the house even now?"
One looked out from the apartment into the little entrance, where Dwining, under pretence of not distinctly seeing the trap ladder by which he was to ascend into the upper part of this house of lamentation, was delaying his progress purposely, disconcerted with what had reached him of the conversation.
"Nay, it is only worthy Master Henbane Dwining," answered one of the sibyls.
"Only Master Dwining," replied the one who had first spoken, in a tone of acquiescence—"our best helper in need! Then it must have been balm sure enough."
"Nay," said the other, "it may have been blood nevertheless; for the leech, look you, when the body was found, was commanded by the magistrates to probe the wound with his instruments, and how could the poor dead corpse know that that was done with good purpose?"
"Ay, truly, cummer; and as poor Oliver often mistook friends for enemies while he was in life, his judgment cannot be thought to have mended now."
Dwining heard no more, being now forced upstairs into a species of garret, where Magdalen sat on her widowed bed, clasping to her bosom her infant, which, already black in the face and uttering the gasping, crowing sound which gives the popular name to the complaint, seemed on the point of rendering up its brief existence. A Dominican monk sat near the bed, holding the other child in his arms, and seeming from time to time to speak a word or two of spiritual consolation, or intermingle some observation on the child's disorder.
The mediciner cast upon the good father a single glance, filled With that ineffable disdain which men of science entertain against interlopers. His own aid was instant and efficacious: he snatched the child from the despairing mother, stripped its throat, and opened a vein, which, as it bled freely, relieved the little patient instantaneously. In a brief space every dangerous symptom disappeared, and Dwining, having bound up the vein, replaced the infant in the arms of the half distracted mother.
The poor woman's distress for her husband's loss, which had been suspended during the extremity of the child's danger, now returned on Magdalen with the force of an augmented torrent, which has borne down the dam dike that for a while interrupted its waves.
"Oh, learned sir," she said, "you see a poor woman of her that you once knew a richer. But the hands that restored this bairn to my arms must not leave this house empty. Generous, kind Master Dwining, accept of his beads; they are made of ebony and silver. He aye liked to have his things as handsome as any gentleman, and liker he was in all his ways to a gentleman than any one of his standing, and even so came of it."
With these words, in a mute passion of grief she pressed to her breast and to her lips the chaplet of her deceased husband, and proceeded to thrust it into Dwining's hands.
"Take it," she said, "for the love of one who loved you well. Ah, he used ever to say, if ever man could be brought back from the brink of the grave, it must be by Master Dwining's guidance. And his ain bairn is brought back this blessed day, and he is lying there stark and stiff, and kens naething of its health and sickness! Oh, woe is me, and walawa! But take the beads, and think on his puir soul, as you put them through your fingers, he will be freed from purgatory the sooner that good people pray to assoilzie him."
"Take back your beads, cummer; I know no legerdemain, can do no conjuring tricks," said the mediciner, who, more moved than perhaps his rugged nature had anticipated, endeavoured to avoid receiving the ill omened gift. But his last words gave offence to the churchman, whose presence he had not recollected when he uttered them.
"How now, sir leech!" said the Dominican, "do you call prayers for the dead juggling tricks? I know that Chaucer, the English maker, says of you mediciners, that your study is but little on the Bible. Our mother, the church, hath nodded of late, but her eyes are now opened to discern friends from foes; and be well assured—"
"Nay, reverend father," said Dwining, "you take me at too great advantage. I said I could do no miracles, and was about to add that, as the church certainly could work such conclusions, those rich beads should be deposited in your hands, to be applied as they may best benefit the soul of the deceased."
He dropped the beads into the Dominican's hand, and escaped from the house of mourning.
"This was a strangely timed visit," he said to himself, when he got safe out of doors. "I hold such things cheap as any can; yet, though it is but a silly fancy, I am glad I saved the squalling child's life. But I must to my friend Smotherwell, whom I have no doubt to bring to my purpose in the matter of Bonthron; and thus on this occasion I shall save two lives, and have destroyed only one."
Lo! where he lies embalmed in gore, His wound to Heaven cries: The floodgates of his blood implore For vengeance from the skies.
Uranus and Psyche.
The High Church of St. John in Perth, being that of the patron saint of the burgh, had been selected by the magistrates as that in which the community was likely to have most fair play for the display of the ordeal. The churches and convents of the Dominicans, Carthusians, and others of the regular clergy had been highly endowed by the King and nobles, and therefore it was the universal cry of the city council that "their ain good auld St. John," of whose good graces they thought themselves sure, ought to be fully confided in, and preferred to the new patrons, for whom the Dominicans, Carthusians, Carmelites, and others had founded newer seats around the Fair City. The disputes between the regular and secular clergy added to the jealousy which dictated this choice of the spot in which Heaven was to display a species of miracle, upon a direct appeal to the divine decision in a case of doubtful guilt; and the town clerk was as anxious that the church of St. John should be preferred as if there had been a faction in the body of saints for and against the interests of the beautiful town of Perth.
Many, therefore, were the petty intrigues entered into and disconcerted for the purpose of fixing on the church. But the magistrates, considering it as a matter touching in a close degree the honour of the city, determined, with judicious confidence in the justice and impartiality of their patron, to confide the issue to the influence of St. John.
It was, therefore, after high mass had been performed with the greatest solemnity of which circumstances rendered the ceremony capable, and after the most repeated and fervent prayers had been offered to Heaven by the crowded assembly, that preparations were made for appealing to the direct judgment of Heaven on the mysterious murder of the unfortunate bonnet maker.
The scene presented that effect of imposing solemnity which the rites of the Catholic Church are so well qualified to produce. The eastern window, richly and variously painted, streamed down a torrent of chequered light upon the high altar. On the bier placed before it were stretched the mortal remains of the murdered man, his arms folded on his breast, and his palms joined together, with the fingers pointed upwards, as if the senseless clay was itself appealing to Heaven for vengeance against those who had violently divorced the immortal spirit from its mangled tenement.
Close to the bier was placed the throne which supported Robert of Scotland and his brother Albany. The Prince sat upon a lower stool, beside his father—an arrangement which occasioned some observation, as, Albany's seat being little distinguished from that of the King, the heir apparent, though of full age, seemed to be degraded beneath his uncle in the sight of the assembled people of Perth. The bier was so placed as to leave the view of the body it sustained open to the greater part of the multitude assembled in the church.
At the head of the bier stood the Knight of Kinfauns, the challenger, and at the foot the young Earl of Crawford, as representing the defendant. The evidence of the Duke of Rothsay in expurgation, as it was termed, of Sir John Ramorny, had exempted him from the necessity of attendance as a party subjected to the ordeal; and his illness served as a reason for his remaining at home. His household, including those who, though immediately in waiting upon Sir John, were accounted the Prince's domestics, and had not yet received their dismissal, amounted to eight or ten persons, most of them esteemed men of profligate habits, and who might therefore be deemed capable, in the riot of a festival evening, of committing the slaughter of the bonnet maker. They were drawn up in a row on the left side of the church, and wore a species of white cassock, resembling the dress of a penitentiary. All eyes being bent on them, several of this band seemed so much disconcerted as to excite among the spectators strong prepossessions of their guilt. The real murderer had a countenance incapable of betraying him—a sullen, dark look, which neither the feast nor wine cup could enliven, and which the peril of discovery and death could not render dejected.
We have already noticed the posture of the dead body. The face was bare, as were the breast and arms. The rest of the corpse was shrouded in a winding sheet of the finest linen, so that, if blood should flow from any place which was covered, it could not fail to be instantly manifest.
High mass having been performed, followed by a solemn invocation to the Deity, that He would be pleased to protect the innocent, and make known the guilty, Eviot, Sir John Ramorny's page, was summoned to undergo the ordeal. He advanced with an ill assured step. Perhaps he thought his internal consciousness that Bonthron must have been the assassin might be sufficient to implicate him in the murder, though he was not directly accessory to it. He paused before the bier; and his voice faltered, as he swore by all that was created in seven days and seven nights, by heaven, by hell, by his part of paradise, and by the God and author of all, that he was free and sackless of the bloody deed done upon the corpse before which he stood, and on whose breast he made the sign of the cross, in evidence of the appeal. No consequences ensued. The body remained stiff as before, the curdled wounds gave no sign of blood.
The citizens looked on each other with faces of blank disappointment. They had persuaded themselves of Eviot's guilt, and their suspicions had been confirmed by his irresolute manner. Their surprise at his escape was therefore extreme. The other followers of Ramorny took heart, and advanced to take the oath with a boldness which increased as one by one they performed the ordeal, and were declared, by the voice of the judges, free and innocent of every suspicion attaching to them on account of the death of Oliver Proudfute.
But there was one individual who did not partake that increasing confidence. The name of "Bonthron—Bonthron!" sounded three times through the aisles of the church; but he who owned it acknowledged the call no otherwise than by a sort of shuffling motion with his feet, as if he had been suddenly affected with a fit of the palsy.
"Speak, dog," whispered Eviot, "or prepare for a dog's death!"
But the murderer's brain was so much disturbed by the sight before him, that the judges, beholding his deportment, doubted whether to ordain him to be dragged before the bier or to pronounce judgment in default; and it was not until he was asked for the last time whether he would submit to the ordeal, that he answered, with his usual brevity:
"I will not; what do I know what juggling tricks may be practised to take a poor man's life? I offer the combat to any man who says I harmed that dead body."
And, according to usual form, he threw his glove upon the floor of the church.
Henry Smith stepped forward, amidst the murmured applauses of his fellow citizens, which even the august presence could not entirely suppress; and, lifting the ruffian's glove, which he placed in his bonnet, laid down his own in the usual form, as a gage of battle. But Bonthron raised it not.
"He is no match for me," growled the savage, "nor fit to lift my glove. I follow the Prince of Scotland, in attending on his master of horse. This fellow is a wretched mechanic."
Here the Prince interrupted him. "Thou follow me, caitiff! I discharge thee from my service on the spot. Take him in hand, Smith, and beat him as thou didst never thump anvil! The villain is both guilty and recreant. It sickens me even to look at him; and if my royal father will be ruled by me, he will give the parties two handsome Scottish axes, and we will see which of them turns out the best fellow before the day is half an hour older."
This was readily assented to by the Earl of Crawford and Sir Patrick Charteris, the godfathers of the parties, who, as the combatants were men of inferior rank, agreed that they should fight in steel caps, buff jackets, and with axes, and that as soon as they could be prepared for the combat.
The lists were appointed in the Skinners' Yards—a neighbouring space of ground, occupied by the corporation from which it had the name, and who quickly cleared a space of about thirty feet by twenty-five for the combatants. Thither thronged the nobles, priests, and commons—all excepting the old King, who, detesting such scenes of blood, retired to his residence, and devolved the charge of the field upon the Earl of Errol, Lord High Constable, to whose office it more particularly belonged. The Duke of Albany watched the whole proceeding with a close and wary eye. His nephew gave the scene the heedless degree of notice which corresponded with his character.
When the combatants appeared in the lists, nothing could be more striking than the contrast betwixt the manly, cheerful countenance of the smith, whose sparkling bright eye seemed already beaming with the victory he hoped for, and the sullen, downcast aspect of the brutal Bonthron, who looked as if he were some obscene bird, driven into sunshine out of the shelter of its darksome haunts. They made oath severally, each to the truth of his quarrel—a ceremony which Henry Gow performed with serene and manly confidence, Bonthron with a dogged resolution, which induced the Duke of Rothsay to say to the High Constable: "Didst thou ever, my dear Errol, behold such a mixture of malignity, cruelty, and I think fear, as in that fellow's countenance?"
"He is not comely," said the Earl, "but a powerful knave as I have seen."
"I'll gage a hogshead of wine with you, my good lord, that he loses the day. Henry the armourer is as strong as he, and much more active; and then look at his bold bearing! There is something in that other fellow that is loathsome to look upon. Let them yoke presently, my dear Constable, for I am sick of beholding him."
The High Constable then addressed the widow, who, in her deep weeds, and having her children still beside her, occupied a chair within the lists: "Woman, do you willingly accept of this man, Henry the Smith, to do battle as your champion in this cause?"
"I do—I do, most willingly," answered Magdalen Proudfute; "and may the blessing of God and St. John give him strength and fortune, since he strikes for the orphan and fatherless!"
"Then I pronounce this a fenced field of battle," said the Constable aloud. "Let no one dare, upon peril of his life, to interrupt this combat by word, speech, or look. Sound trumpets, and fight, combatants!"
The trumpets flourished, and the combatants, advancing from the opposite ends of the lists, with a steady and even pace, looked at each other attentively, well skilled in judging from the motion of the eye the direction in which a blow was meditated. They halted opposite to, and within reach of, each other, and in turn made more than one feint to strike, in order to ascertain the activity and vigilance of the opponent. At length, whether weary of these manoeuvres, or fearing lest in a contest so conducted his unwieldy strength would be foiled by the activity of the smith, Bonthron heaved up his axe for a downright blow, adding the whole strength of his sturdy arms to the weight of the weapon in its descent. The smith, however, avoided the stroke by stepping aside; for it was too forcible to be controlled by any guard which he could have interposed. Ere Bonthron recovered guard, Henry struck him a sidelong blow on the steel headpiece, which prostrated him on the ground.
"Confess, or die," said the victor, placing his foot on the body of the vanquished, and holding to his throat the point of the axe, which terminated in a spike or poniard.
"I will confess," said the villain, glaring wildly upwards on the sky. "Let me rise."
"Not till you have yielded," said Harry Smith.
"I do yield," again murmured Bonthron, and Henry proclaimed aloud that his antagonist was defeated.
The Dukes of Rothsay and Albany, the High Constable, and the Dominican prior now entered the lists, and, addressing Bonthron, demanded if he acknowledged himself vanquished.
"I do," answered the miscreant.
"And guilty of the murder of Oliver Proudfute?"
"I am; but I mistook him for another."
"And whom didst thou intend to slay?" said the prior. "Confess, my son, and merit thy pardon in another world for with this thou hast little more to do."
"I took the slain man," answered the discomfited combatant, "for him whose hand has struck me down, whose foot now presses me."
"Blessed be the saints!" said the prior; "now all those who doubt the virtue of the holy ordeal may have their eyes opened to their error. Lo, he is trapped in the snare which he laid for the guiltless."
"I scarce ever saw the man," said the smith. "I never did wrong to him or his. Ask him, an it please your reverence, why he should have thought of slaying me treacherously."
"It is a fitting question," answered the prior. "Give glory where it is due, my son, even though it is manifested by thy shame. For what reason wouldst thou have waylaid this armourer, who says he never wronged thee?"
"He had wronged him whom I served," answered Bonthron, "and I meditated the deed by his command."
"By whose command?" asked the prior.
Bonthron was silent for an instant, then growled out: "He is too mighty for me to name."
"Hearken, my son," said the churchman; "tarry but a brief hour, and the mighty and the mean of this earth shall to thee alike be empty sounds. The sledge is even now preparing to drag thee to the place of execution. Therefore, son, once more I charge thee to consult thy soul's weal by glorifying Heaven, and speaking the truth. Was it thy master, Sir John Ramorny, that stirred thee to so foul a deed?"
"No," answered the prostrate villain, "it was a greater than he." And at the same time he pointed with his finger to the Prince.
"Wretch!" said the astonished Duke of Rothsay; "do you dare to hint that I was your instigator?"
"You yourself, my lord," answered the unblushing ruffian.
"Die in thy falsehood, accursed slave!" said the Prince; and, drawing his sword, he would have pierced his calumniator, had not the Lord High Constable interposed with word and action.
"Your Grace must forgive my discharging mine office: this caitiff must be delivered into the hands of the executioner. He is unfit to be dealt with by any other, much less by your Highness."
"What! noble earl," said Albany aloud, and with much real or affected emotion, "would you let the dog pass alive from hence, to poison the people's ears with false accusations against the Prince of Scotland? I say, cut him to mammocks upon the spot!"
"Your Highness will pardon me," said the Earl of Errol; "I must protect him till his doom is executed."
"Then let him be gagged instantly," said Albany. "And you, my royal nephew, why stand you there fixed in astonishment? Call your resolution up—speak to the prisoner—swear—protest by all that is sacred that you knew not of this felon deed. See how the people look on each other and whisper apart! My life on't that this lie spreads faster than any Gospel truth. Speak to them, royal kinsman, no matter what you say, so you be constant in denial."
"What, sir," said Rothsay, starting from his pause of surprise and mortification, and turning haughtily towards his uncle; "would you have me gage my royal word against that of an abject recreant? Let those who can believe the son of their sovereign, the descendant of Bruce, capable of laying ambush for the life of a poor mechanic, enjoy the pleasure of thinking the villain's tale true."
"That will not I for one," said the smith, bluntly. "I never did aught but what was in honour towards his royal Grace the Duke of Rothsay, and never received unkindness from him in word, look, or deed; and I cannot think he would have given aim to such base practice."
"Was it in honour that you threw his Highness from the ladder in Curfew Street upon Fastern's [St. Valentine's] Even?" said Bonthron; "or think you the favour was received kindly or unkindly?"
This was so boldly said, and seemed so plausible, that it shook the smith's opinion of the Prince's innocence.
"Alas, my lord," said he, looking sorrowfully towards Rothsay, "could your Highness seek an innocent fellow's life for doing his duty by a helpless maiden? I would rather have died in these lists than live to hear it said of the Bruce's heir!"
"Thou art a good fellow, Smith," said the Prince; "but I cannot expect thee to judge more wisely than others. Away with that convict to the gallows, and gibbet him alive an you will, that he may speak falsehood and spread scandal on us to the last prolonged moment of his existence!"
So saying, the Prince turned away from the lists, disdaining to notice the gloomy looks cast towards him, as the crowd made slow and reluctant way for him to pass, and expressing neither surprise nor displeasure at a deep, hollow murmur, or groan, which accompanied his retreat. Only a few of his own immediate followers attended him from the field, though various persons of distinction had come there in his train. Even the lower class of citizens ceased to follow the unhappy Prince, whose former indifferent reputation had exposed him to so many charges of impropriety and levity, and around whom there seemed now darkening suspicions of the most atrocious nature.
He took his slow and thoughtful way to the church of the Dominicans; but the ill news, which flies proverbially fast, had reached his father's place of retirement before he himself appeared. On entering the palace and inquiring for the King, the Duke of Rothsay was surprised to be informed that he was in deep consultation with the Duke of Albany, who, mounting on horseback as the Prince left the lists, had reached the convent before him. He was about to use the privilege of his rank and birth to enter the royal apartment, when MacLouis, the commander of the guard of Brandanes, gave him to understand, in the most respectful terms, that he had special instructions which forbade his admittance.
"Go at least, MacLouis, and let them know that I wait their pleasure," said the Prince. "If my uncle desires to have the credit of shutting the father's apartment against the son, it will gratify him to know that I am attending in the outer hall like a lackey."
"May it please you," said MacLouis, with hesitation, "if your Highness would consent to retire just now, and to wait awhile in patience, I will send to acquaint you when the Duke of Albany goes; and I doubt not that his Majesty will then admit your Grace to his presence. At present, your Highness must forgive me, it is impossible you can have access."
"I understand you, MacLouis; but go, nevertheless, and obey my commands."
The officer went accordingly, and returned with a message that the King was indisposed, and on the point of retiring to his private chamber; but that the Duke of Albany would presently wait upon the Prince of Scotland.
It was, however, a full half hour ere the Duke of Albany appeared—a period of time which Rothsay spent partly in moody silence, and partly in idle talk with MacLouis and the Brandanes, as the levity or irritability of his temper obtained the ascendant.
At length the Duke came, and with him the lord High Constable, whose countenance expressed much sorrow and embarrassment.
"Fair kinsman," said the Duke of Albany, "I grieve to say that it is my royal brother's opinion that it will be best, for the honour of the royal family, that your Royal Highness do restrict yourself for a time to the seclusion of the High Constable's lodgings, and accept of the noble Earl here present for your principal, if not sole, companion until the scandals which have been this day spread abroad shall be refuted or forgotten."
"How is this, my lord of Errol?" said the Prince in astonishment. "Is your house to be my jail, and is your lordship to be my jailer?"
"The saints forbid, my lord," said the Earl of Errol "but it is my unhappy duty to obey the commands of your father, by considering your Royal Highness for some time as being under my ward."
"The Prince—the heir of Scotland, under the ward of the High Constable! What reason can be given for this? is the blighting speech of a convicted recreant of strength sufficient to tarnish my royal escutcheon?"
"While such accusations are not refuted and denied, my kinsman," said the Duke of Albany, "they will contaminate that of a monarch."
"Denied, my lord!" exclaimed the Prince; "by whom are they asserted, save by a wretch too infamous, even by his own confession, to be credited for a moment, though a beggar's character, not a prince's, were impeached? Fetch him hither, let the rack be shown to him; you will soon hear him retract the calumny which he dared to assert!"
"The gibbet has done its work too surely to leave Bonthron sensible to the rack," said the Duke of Albany. "He has been executed an hour since."
"And why such haste, my lord?" said the Prince; "know you it looks as if there were practice in it to bring a stain on my name?"
"The custom is universal, the defeated combatant in the ordeal of battle is instantly transferred from the lists to the gallows. And yet, fair kinsman," continued the Duke of Albany, "if you had boldly and strongly denied the imputation, I would have judged right to keep the wretch alive for further investigation; but as your Highness was silent, I deemed it best to stifle the scandal in the breath of him that uttered it."
"St. Mary, my lord, but this is too insulting! Do you, my uncle and kinsman, suppose me guilty of prompting such an useless and unworthy action as that which the slave confessed?"
"It is not for me to bandy question with your Highness, otherwise I would ask whether you also mean to deny the scarce less unworthy, though less bloody, attack upon the house in Couvrefew Street? Be not angry with me, kinsman; but, indeed, your sequestering yourself for some brief space from the court, were it only during the King's residence in this city, where so much offence has been given, is imperiously demanded."
Rothsay paused when he heard this exhortation, and, looking at the Duke in a very marked manner, replied:
"Uncle, you are a good huntsman. You have pitched your toils with much skill, but you would have been foiled, not withstanding, had not the stag rushed among the nets of free will. God speed you, and may you have the profit by this matter which your measures deserve. Say to my father, I obey his arrest. My Lord High Constable, I wait only your pleasure to attend you to your lodgings. Since I am to lie in ward, I could not have desired a kinder or more courteous warden."
The interview between the uncle and nephew being thus concluded, the Prince retired with the Earl of Errol to his apartments; the citizens whom they met in the streets passing to the further side when they observed the Duke of Rothsay, to escape the necessity of saluting one whom they had been taught to consider as a ferocious as well as unprincipled libertine. The Constable's lodgings received the owner and his princely guest, both glad to leave the streets, yet neither feeling easy in the situation which they occupied with regard to each other within doors.
We must return to the lists after the combat had ceased, and when the nobles had withdrawn. The crowds were now separated into two distinct bodies. That which made the smallest in number was at the same time the most distinguished for respectability, consisting of the better class of inhabitants of Perth, who were congratulating the successful champion and each other upon the triumphant conclusion to which they had brought their feud with the courtiers. The magistrates were so much elated on the occasion, that they entreated Sir Patrick Charteris's acceptance of a collation in the town hall. To this Henry, the hero of the day, was of course invited, or he was rather commanded to attend. He listened to the summons with great embarrassment, for it may be readily believed his heart was with Catharine Glover. But the advice of his father Simon decided him. That veteran citizen had a natural and becoming deference for the magistracy of the Fair City; he entertained a high estimation of all honours which flowed from such a source, and thought that his intended son in law would do wrong not to receive them with gratitude.
"Thou must not think to absent thyself from such a solemn occasion, son Henry," was his advice. "Sir Patrick Charteris is to be there himself, and I think it will be a rare occasion for thee to gain his goodwill. It is like he may order of thee a new suit of harness; and I myself heard worthy Bailie Craigdallie say there was a talk of furbishing up the city's armoury. Thou must not neglect the good trade, now that thou takest on thee an expensive family."
"Tush, father Glover," answered the embarrassed victor, "I lack no custom; and thou knowest there is Catharine, who may wonder at my absence, and have her ear abused once more by tales of glee maidens and I wot not what."
"Fear not for that," said the glover, "but go, like an obedient burgess, where thy betters desire to have thee. I do not deny that it will cost thee some trouble to make thy peace with Catharine about this duel; for she thinks herself wiser in such matters than king and council, kirk and canons, provost and bailies. But I will take up the quarrel with her myself, and will so work for thee, that, though she may receive thee tomorrow with somewhat of a chiding, it shall melt into tears and smiles, like an April morning, that begins with a mild shower. Away with thee, then, my son, and be constant to the time, tomorrow morning after mass."
The smith, though reluctantly, was obliged to defer to the reasoning of his proposed father in law, and, once determined to accept the honour destined for him by the fathers of the city, he extricated himself from the crowd, and hastened home to put on his best apparel; in which he presently afterwards repaired to the council house, where the ponderous oak table seemed to bend under the massy dishes of choice Tay salmon and delicious sea fish from Dundee, being the dainties which the fasting season permitted, whilst neither wine, ale, nor metheglin were wanting to wash them down. The waits, or minstrels of the burgh, played during the repast, and in the intervals of the music one of them recited With great emphasis a long poetical account of the battle of Blackearnside, fought by Sir William Wallace and his redoubted captain and friend, Thomas of Longueville, against the English general Seward—a theme perfectly familiar to all the guests, who, nevertheless, more tolerant than their descendants, listened as if it had all the zest of novelty. It was complimentary to the ancestor of the Knight of Kinfauns, doubtless, and to other Perthshire families, in passages which the audience applauded vociferously, whilst they pledged each other in mighty draughts to the memory of the heroes who had fought by the side of the Champion of Scotland. The health of Henry Wynd was quaffed with repeated shouts, and the provost announced publicly, that the magistrates were consulting how they might best invest him with some distinguished privilege or honorary reward, to show how highly his fellow citizens valued his courageous exertions.
"Nay, take it not thus, an it like your worships," said the smith, with his usual blunt manner, "lest men say that valour must be rare in Perth when they reward a man for fighting for the right of a forlorn widow. I am sure there are many scores of stout burghers in the town who would have done this day's dargue as well or better than I. For, in good sooth, I ought to have cracked yonder fellow's head piece like an earthen pipkin—ay, and would have done it, too, if it had not been one which I myself tempered for Sir John Ramorny. But, an the Fair City think my service of any worth, I will conceive it far more than acquitted by any aid which you may afford from the common good to the support of the widow Magdalen and her poor orphans."
"That may well be done," said Sir Patrick Charteris, "and yet leave the Fair City rich enough to pay her debts to Henry Wynd, of which every man of us is a better judge than him self, who is blinded with an unavailing nicety, which men call modesty. And if the burgh be too poor for this, the provost will bear his share. The Rover's golden angels have not all taken flight yet."
The beakers were now circulated, under the name of a cup of comfort to the widow, and anon flowed around once more to the happy memory of the murdered Oliver, now so bravely avenged. In short, it was a feast so jovial that all agreed nothing was wanting to render it perfect but the presence of the bonnet maker himself, whose calamity had occasioned the meeting, and who had usually furnished the standing jest at such festive assemblies. Had his attendance been possible, it was drily observed by Bailie Craigdallie, he would certainly have claimed the success of the day, and vouched himself the avenger of his own murder.
At the sound of the vesper bell the company broke up, some of the graver sort going to evening prayers, where, with half shut eyes and shining countenances, they made a most orthodox and edifying portion of a Lenten congregation; others to their own homes, to tell over the occurrences of the fight and feast, for the information of the family circle; and some, doubtless, to the licensed freedoms of some tavern, the door of which Lent did not keep so close shut as the forms of the church required. Henry returned to the wynd, warm with the good wine and the applause of his fellow citizens, and fell asleep to dream of perfect happiness and Catharine Glover.
We have said that, when the combat was decided, the spectators were divided into two bodies. Of these, when the more respectable portion attended the victor in joyous procession, much the greater number, or what might be termed the rabble, waited upon the subdued and sentenced Bonthron, who was travelling in a different direction, and for a very opposite purpose. Whatever may be thought of the comparative attractions of the house of mourning and of feasting under other circumstances, there can be little doubt which will draw most visitors, when the question is, whether we would witness miseries which we are not to share, or festivities of which we are not to partake. Accordingly, the tumbril in which the criminal was conveyed to execution was attended by far the greater proportion of the inhabitants of Perth.
A friar was seated in the same car with the murderer, to whom he did not hesitate to repeat, under the seal of confession, the same false asseveration which he had made upon the place of combat, which charged the Duke of Rothsay with being director of the ambuscade by which the unfortunate bonnet maker had suffered. The same falsehood he disseminated among the crowd, averring, with unblushing effrontery, to those who were nighest to the car, that he owed his death to his having been willing to execute the Duke of Rothsay's pleasure. For a time he repeated these words, sullenly and doggedly, in the manner of one reciting a task, or a liar who endeavours by reiteration to obtain a credit for his words which he is internally sensible they do not deserve. But when he lifted up his eyes, and beheld in the distance the black outline of a gallows, at least forty feet high, with its ladder and its fatal cord, rising against the horizon, he became suddenly silent, and the friar could observe that he trembled very much.
"Be comforted, my son," said the good priest, "you have confessed the truth, and received absolution. Your penitence will be accepted according to your sincerity; and though you have been a man of bloody hands and cruel heart, yet, by the church's prayers, you shall be in due time assoilzied from the penal fires of purgatory."
These assurances were calculated rather to augment than to diminish the terrors of the culprit, who was agitated by doubts whether the mode suggested for his preservation from death would to a certainty be effectual, and some suspicion whether there was really any purpose of employing them in his favour, for he knew his master well enough to be aware of the indifference with which he would sacrifice one who might on some future occasion be a dangerous evidence against him.
His doom, however, was sealed, and there was no escaping from it. They slowly approached the fatal tree, which was erected on a bank by the river's side, about half a mile from the walls of the city—a site chosen that the body of the wretch, which was to remain food for the carrion crows, might be seen from a distance in every direction. Here the priest delivered Bonthron to the executioner, by whom he was assisted up the ladder, and to all appearance despatched according to the usual forms of the law. He seemed to struggle for life for a minute, but soon after hung still and inanimate. The executioner, after remaining upon duty for more than half an hour, as if to permit the last spark of life to be extinguished, announced to the admirers of such spectacles that the irons for the permanent suspension of the carcass not having been got ready, the concluding ceremony of disembowelling the dead body and attaching it finally to the gibbet would be deferred till the next morning at sunrise.
Notwithstanding the early hour which he had named, Master Smotherwell had a reasonable attendance of rabble at the place of execution, to see the final proceedings of justice with its victim. But great was the astonishment and resentment of these amateurs to find that the dead body had been removed from the gibbet. They were not, however, long at a loss to guess the cause of its disappearance. Bonthron had been the follower of a baron whose estates lay in Fife, and was himself a native of that province. What was more natural than that some of the Fife men, whose boats were frequently plying on the river, should have clandestinely removed the body of their countryman from the place of public shame? The crowd vented their rage against Smotherwell for not completing his job on the preceding evening; and had not he and his assistant betaken themselves to a boat, and escaped across the Tay, they would have run some risk of being pelted to death. The event, however, was too much in the spirit of the times to be much wondered at. Its real cause we shall explain in the following chapter.
Let gallows gape for dogs, let men go free.
The incidents of a narrative of this kind must be adapted to each other, as the wards of a key must tally accurately with those of the lock to which it belongs. The reader, however gentle, will not hold himself obliged to rest satisfied with the mere fact that such and such occurrences took place, which is, generally speaking, all that in ordinary life he can know of what is passing around him; but he is desirous, while reading for amusement, of knowing the interior movements occasioning the course of events. This is a legitimate and reasonable curiosity; for every man hath a right to open and examine the mechanism of his own watch, put together for his proper use, although he is not permitted to pry into the interior of the timepiece which, for general information, is displayed on the town steeple.
It would be, therefore, uncourteous to leave my readers under any doubt concerning the agency which removed the assassin Bonthron from the gallows—an event which some of the Perth citizens ascribed to the foul fiend himself, while others were content to lay it upon the natural dislike of Bonthron's countrymen of Fife to see him hanging on the river side, as a spectacle dishonourable to their province.
About midnight succeeding the day when the execution had taken place, and while the inhabitants of Perth were deeply buried in slumber, three men muffled in their cloaks, and bearing a dark lantern, descended the alleys of a garden which led from the house occupied by Sir John Ramorny to the banks of the Tay, where a small boat lay moored to a landing place, or little projecting pier. The wind howled in a low and melancholy manner through the leafless shrubs and bushes; and a pale moon "waded," as it is termed in Scotland, amongst drifting clouds, which seemed to threaten rain. The three individuals entered the boat with great precaution to escape observation. One of them was a tall, powerful man; another short and bent downwards; the third middle sized, and apparently younger than his companions, well made, and active. Thus much the imperfect light could discover. They seated themselves in the boat and unmoored it from the pier.
"We must let her drift with the current till we pass the bridge, where the burghers still keep guard; and you know the proverb, 'A Perth arrow hath a perfect flight,'" said the most youthful of the party, who assumed the office of helmsman, and pushed the boat off from the pier; whilst the others took the oars, which were muffled, and rowed with all precaution till they attained the middle of the river; they then ceased their efforts, lay upon their oars, and trusted to the steersman for keeping her in mid channel.
In this manner they passed unnoticed or disregarded beneath the stately Gothic arches of the old bridge, erected by the magnificent patronage of Robert Bruce in 1329, and carried away by an inundation in 1621. Although they heard the voices of a civic watch, which, since these disturbances commenced, had been nightly maintained in that important pass, no challenge was given; and when they were so far down the stream as to be out of hearing of these guardians of the night, they began to row, but still with precaution, and to converse, though in a low tone.
"You have found a new trade, comrade, since I left you," said one of the rowers to the other. "I left you engaged in tending a sick knight, and I find you employed in purloining a dead body from the gallows."
"A living body, so please your squirehood, Master Buncle, or else my craft hath failed of its purpose."
"So I am told, Master Pottercarrier; but, saving your clerkship, unless you tell me your trick, I will take leave to doubt of its success."
"A simple toy, Master Buncle, not likely to please a genius so acute as that of your valiancie. Marry, thus it is. This suspension of the human body, which the vulgar call hanging, operates death by apoplexia—that is, the blood being unable to return to the heart by the compression of the veins, it rushes to the brain, and the man dies. Also, and as an additional cause of dissolution, the lungs no longer receive the needful supply of the vital air, owing to the ligature of the cord around the thorax; and hence the patient perishes."
"I understand that well enough. But how is such a revulsion of blood to the brain to be prevented, sir mediciner?" said the third person, who was no other than Ramorny's page, Eviot.
"Marry, then," replied Dwining, "hang me the patient up in such fashion that the carotid arteries shall not be compressed, and the blood will not determine to the brain, and apoplexia will not take place; and again, if there be no ligature around the thorax, the lungs will be supplied with air, whether the man be hanging in the middle heaven or standing on the firm earth."
"All this I conceive," said Eviot; "but how these precautions can be reconciled with the execution of the sentence of hanging is what my dull brain cannot comprehend."
"Ah! good youth, thy valiancie hath spoiled a fair wit. Hadst thou studied with me, thou shouldst have learned things more difficult than this. But here is my trick. I get me certain bandages, made of the same substance with your young valiancie's horse girths, having especial care that they are of a kind which will not shrink on being strained, since that would spoil my experiment. One loop of this substance is drawn under each foot, and returns up either side of the leg to a cincture, with which it is united; these cinctures are connected by divers straps down the breast and back, in order to divide the weight. And there are sundry other conveniences for easing the patient, but the chief is this: the straps, or ligatures, are attached to a broad steel collar, curving outwards, and having a hook or two, for the better security of the halter, which the friendly executioner passes around that part of the machine, instead of applying it to the bare throat of the patient. Thus, when thrown off from the ladder, the sufferer will find himself suspended, not by his neck, if it please you, but by the steel circle, which supports the loops in which his feet are placed, and on which his weight really rests, diminished a little by similar supports under each arm. Thus, neither vein nor windpipe being compressed, the man will breathe as free, and his blood, saving from fright and novelty of situation, will flow as temperately as your valiancie's when you stand up in your stirrups to view a field of battle."
"By my faith, a quaint and rare device!" quoth Buncle.
"Is it not?" pursued the leech, "and well worth being known to such mounting spirits as your valiancies, since there is no knowing to what height Sir John Ramorny's pupils may arrive; and if these be such that it is necessary to descend from them by a rope, you may find my mode of management more convenient than the common practice. Marry, but you must be provided with a high collared doublet, to conceal the ring of steel, and, above all, such a bonus socius as Smother well to adjust the noose."
"Base poison vender," said Eviot, "men of our calling die on the field of battle."
"I will save the lesson, however," replied Buncle, "in case of some pinching occasion. But what a night the bloody hangdog Bonthron must have had of it, dancing a pavise in mid air to the music of his own shackles, as the night wind swings him that way and this!"
"It were an alms deed to leave him there," said Eviot; "for his descent from the gibbet will but encourage him to new murders. He knows but two elements—drunkenness and bloodshed."
"Perhaps Sir John Ramorny might have been of your opinion," said Dwining; "but it would first have been necessary to cut out the rogue's tongue, lest he had told strange tales from his airy height. And there are other reasons that it concerns not your valiancies to know. In truth, I myself have been generous in serving him, for the fellow is built as strong as Edinburgh Castle, and his anatomy would have matched any that is in the chirurgical hall of Padua. But tell me, Master Buncle, what news bring you from the doughty Douglas?"
"They may tell that know," said Buncle. "I am the dull ass that bears the message, and kens nought of its purport. The safer for myself, perhaps. I carried letters from the Duke of Albany and from Sir John Ramorny to the Douglas, and he looked black as a northern tempest when he opened them. I brought them answers from the Earl, at which they smiled like the sun when the harvest storm is closing over him. Go to your ephemerides, leech, and conjure the meaning out of that."
"Methinks I can do so without much cost of wit," said the chirurgeon; "but yonder I see in the pale moonlight our dead alive. Should he have screamed out to any chance passenger, it were a curious interruption to a night journey to be hailed from the top of such a gallows as that. Hark, methinks I do hear his groans amid the whistling of the wind and the creaking of the chains. So—fair and softly; make fast the boat with the grappling, and get out the casket with my matters, we would be better for a little fire, but the light might bring observation on us. Come on, my men of valour, march warily, for we are bound for the gallows foot. Follow with the lantern; I trust the ladder has been left.
"Sing, three merry men, and three merry men, And three merry men are we, Thou on the land, and I on the sand, And Jack on the gallows tree."
As they advanced to the gibbet, they could plainly hear groans, though uttered in a low tone. Dwining ventured to give a low cough once or twice, by way of signal; but receiving no answer, "We had best make haste," said he to his companions, "for our friend must be in extremis, as he gives no answer to the signal which announces the arrival of help. Come, let us to the gear. I will go up the ladder first and cut the rope. Do you two follow, one after another, and take fast hold of the body, so that he fall not when the halter is unloosed. Keep sure gripe, for which the bandages will afford you convenience. Bethink you that, though he plays an owl's part tonight, he hath no wings, and to fall out of a halter may be as dangerous as to fall into one."
While he spoke thus with sneer and gibe, he ascended the ladder, and having ascertained that the men at arms who followed him had the body in their hold, he cut the rope, and then gave his aid to support the almost lifeless form of the criminal.
By a skilful exertion of strength and address, the body of Bonthron was placed safely on the ground; and the faint yet certain existence of life having been ascertained, it was thence transported to the river side, where, shrouded by the bank, the party might be best concealed from observation, while the leech employed himself in the necessary means of recalling animation, with which he had taken care to provide himself.
For this purpose he first freed the recovered person from his shackles, which the executioner had left unlocked on purpose, and at the same time disengaged the complicated envelopes and bandages by which he had been suspended. It was some time ere Dwining's efforts succeeded; for, in despite of the skill with which his machine had been constructed, the straps designed to support the body had stretched so considerably as to occasion the sense of suffocation becoming extremely overpowering. But the address of the surgeon triumphed over all obstacles; and, after sneezing and stretching himself, with one or two brief convulsions, Bonthron gave decided proofs of reanimation, by arresting the hand of the operator as it was in the act of dropping strong waters on his breast and throat, and, directing the bottle which contained them to his lips, he took, almost perforce, a considerable gulp of the contents.
"It is spiritual essence double distilled," said the astonished operator, "and would blister the throat and burn the stomach of any other man. But this extraordinary beast is so unlike all other human creatures, that I should not wonder if it brought him to the complete possession of his faculties."
Bonthron seemed to confirm this: he started with a strong convulsion, sat up, stared around, and indicated some consciousness of existence.
"Wine—wine," were the first words which he articulated.
The leech gave him a draught of medicated wine, mixed with water. He rejected it, under the dishonourable epithet of "kennel washings," and again uttered the words, "Wine—wine."
"Nay, take it to thee, i' the devil's name," said the leech, "since none but he can judge of thy constitution."
A draught, long and deep enough to have discomposed the intellects of any other person, was found effectual in recalling those of Bonthron to a more perfect state; though he betrayed no recollection of where he was or what had befallen him, and in his brief and sullen manner asked why he was brought to the river side at this time of night.
"Another frolic of the wild Prince, for drenching me as he did before. Nails and blood, but I would—"
"Hold thy peace," interrupted Eviot, "and be thankful, I pray you, if you have any thankfulness in you, that thy body is not crow's meat and thy soul in a place where water is too scarce to duck thee."
"I begin to bethink me," said the ruffian; and raising the flask to his mouth, which he saluted with a long and hearty kiss, he set the empty bottle on the earth, dropped his head on his bosom, and seemed to muse for the purpose of arranging his confused recollections.
"We can abide the issue of his meditations no longer," said Dwining; "he will be better after he has slept. Up, sir! you have been riding the air these some hours; try if the water be not an easier mode of conveyance. Your valours must lend me a hand. I can no more lift this mass than I could raise in my arms a slaughtered bull."
"Stand upright on thine own feet, Bonthron, now we have placed thee upon them," said Eviot.
"I cannot," answered the patient. "Every drop of blood tingles in my veins as if it had pinpoints, and my knees refuse to bear their burden. What can be the meaning of all this? This is some practice of thine, thou dog leech!"
"Ay—ay, so it is, honest Bonthron," said Dwining—"a practice thou shalt thank me for when thou comest to learn it. In the mean while, stretch down in the stern of that boat, and let me wrap this cloak about thee."
Assisted into the boat accordingly, Bonthron was deposited there as conveniently as things admitted of. He answered their attentions with one or two snorts resembling the grunt of a boar who has got some food particularly agreeable to him.
"And now, Buncle," said the chirurgeon, "your valiant squireship knows your charge. You are to carry this lively cargo by the river to Newburgh, where you are to dispose of him as you wot of; meantime, here are his shackles and bandages, the marks of his confinement and liberation. Bind them up together, and fling them into the deepest pool you pass over; for, found in your possession, they might tell tales against us all. This low, light breath of wind from the west will permit you to use a sail as soon as the light comes in and you are tired of rowing. Your other valiancie, Master Page Eviot, must be content to return to Perth with me afoot, for here severs our fair company. Take with thee the lantern, Buncle, for thou wilt require it more than we, and see thou send me back my flasket."
As the pedestrians returned to Perth, Eviot expressed his belief that Bonthron's understanding would never recover the shock which terror had inflicted upon it, and which appeared to him to have disturbed all the faculties of his mind, and in particular his memory.
"It is not so, an it please your pagehood," said the leech. "Bonthron's intellect, such as it is, hath a solid character: it Will but vacillate to and fro like a pendulum which hath been put in motion, and then will rest in its proper point of gravity. Our memory is, of all our powers of mind, that which is peculiarly liable to be suspended. Deep intoxication or sound sleep alike destroy it, and yet it returns when the drunkard becomes sober or the sleeper is awakened. Terror sometimes produces the same effect. I knew at Paris a criminal condemned to die by the halter, who suffered the sentence accordingly, showing no particular degree of timidity upon the scaffold, and behaving and expressing himself as men in the same condition are wont to do. Accident did for him what a little ingenious practice hath done for our amiable friend from whom we but now parted. He was cut down and given to his friends before life was extinct, and I had the good fortune to restore him. But, though he recovered in other particulars, he remembered but little of his trial and sentence. Of his confession on the morning of his execution—he! he! he! (in his usual chuckling manner)—he remembered him not a word. Neither of leaving the prison, nor of his passage to the Greve, where he suffered, nor of the devout speeches with which he—he! he! he!—edified—he! he! he!—so many good Christians, nor of ascending the fatal tree, nor of taking the fatal leap, had my revenant the slightest recollection.' But here we reach the point where we must separate; for it were unfit, should we meet any of the watch, that we be found together, and it were also prudent that we enter the city by different gates. My profession forms an excuse for my going and coming at all times. Your valiant pagehood will make such explanation as may seem sufficing."
"I shall make my will a sufficient excuse if I am interrogated," said the haughty young man. "Yet I will avoid interruption, if possible. The moon is quite obscured, and the road as black as a wolf's mouth."
"Tut," said the physicianer, "let not your valour care for that: we shall tread darker paths ere it be long."
Without inquiring into the meaning of these evil boding sentences, and indeed hardly listening to them in the pride and recklessness of his nature, the page of Ramorny parted from his ingenious and dangerous companion, and each took his own way.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
The ominous anxiety of our armourer had not played him false. When the good glover parted with his intended son in law, after the judicial combat had been decided, he found what he indeed had expected, that his fair daughter was in no favourable disposition towards her lover. But although he perceived that Catharine was cold, restrained, collected, had cast away the appearance of mortal passion, and listened with a reserve, implying contempt, to the most splendid description he could give her of the combat in the Skinners' Yards, he was determined not to take the least notice of her altered manner, but to speak of her marriage with his son Henry as a thing which must of course take place. At length, when she began, as on a former occasion, to intimate that her attachment to the armourer did not exceed the bounds of friendship, that she was resolved never to marry, that the pretended judicial combat was a mockery of the divine will, and of human laws, the glover not unnaturally grew angry.
"I cannot read thy thoughts, wench; nor can I pretend to guess under what wicked delusion it is that you kiss a declared lover, suffer him to kiss you, run to his house when a report is spread of his death, and fling yourself into his arms when you find him alone [alive]. All this shows very well in a girl prepared to obey her parents in a match sanctioned by her father; but such tokens of intimacy, bestowed on one whom a young woman cannot esteem, and is determined not to marry, are uncomely and unmaidenly. You have already been more bounteous of your favours to Henry Smith than your mother, whom God assoilzie, ever was to me before I married her. I tell thee, Catharine, this trifling with the love of an honest man is what I neither can, will, nor ought to endure. I have given my consent to the match, and I insist it shall take place without delay, and that you receive Henry Wynd tomorrow, as a man whose bride you are to be with all despatch."
"A power more potent than yours, father, will say no," replied Catharine.
"I will risk it; my power is a lawful one, that of a father over a child, and an erring child," answered her father. "God and man allow of my influence."
"Then, may Heaven help us," said Catharine; "for, if you are obstinate in your purpose, we are all lost."
"We can expect no help from Heaven," said the glover, "when we act with indiscretion. I am clerk enough myself to know that; and that your causeless resistance to my will is sinful, every priest will inform you. Ay, and more than that, you have spoken degradingly of the blessed appeal to God in the combat of ordeal. Take heed! for the Holy Church is awakened to watch her sheepfold, and to extirpate heresy by fire and steel; so much I warn thee of."
Catharine uttered a suppressed exclamation; and, with difficulty compelling herself to assume an appearance of composure, promised her father that, if he would spare her any farther discussion of the subject till tomorrow morning, she would then meet him, determined to make a full discovery of her sentiments.
With this promise Simon Glover was obliged to remain contented, though extremely anxious for the postponed explanation. It could not be levity or fickleness of character which induced his daughter to act with so much apparent inconsistency towards the man of his choice, and whom she had so lately unequivocally owned to be also the man of her own. What external force there could exist, of a kind powerful enough to change the resolutions she had so decidedly expressed within twenty-four hours, was a matter of complete mystery.
"But I will be as obstinate as she can be," thought the glover, "and she shall either marry Henry Smith without farther delay or old Simon Glover will know an excellent reason to the contrary."
The subject was not renewed during the evening; but early on the next morning, just at sun rising, Catharine knelt before the bed in which her parent still slumbered. Her heart sobbed as if it would burst, and her tears fell thick upon her father's face. The good old man awoke, looked up, crossed his child's forehead, and kissed her affectionately.
"I understand thee, Kate," he said; "thou art come to confession, and, I trust, art desirous to escape a heavy penance by being sincere."
Catharine was silent for an instant.
"I need not ask, my father, if you remember the Carthusian monk, Clement, and his preachings and lessons; at which indeed you assisted so often, that you cannot be ignorant men called you one of his converts, and with greater justice termed me so likewise?"
"I am aware of both," said the old man, raising himself on his elbow; "but I defy foul fame to show that I ever owned him in any heretical proposition, though I loved to hear him talk of the corruptions of the church, the misgovernment of the nobles, and the wild ignorance of the poor, proving, as it seemed to me, that the sole virtue of our commonweal, its strength and its estimation, lay among the burgher craft of the better class, which I received as comfortable doctrine, and creditable to the town. And if he preached other than right doctrine, wherefore did his superiors in the Carthusian convent permit it? If the shepherds turn a wolf in sheep's clothing into the flock, they should not blame the sheep for being worried."
"They endured his preaching, nay, they encouraged it," said Catharine, "while the vices of the laity, the contentions of the nobles, and the oppression of the poor were the subject of his censure, and they rejoiced in the crowds who, attracted to the Carthusian church, forsook those of the other convents. But the hypocrites—for such they are—joined with the other fraternities in accusing their preacher Clement, when, passing from censuring the crimes of the state, he began to display the pride, ignorance, and luxury of the churchmen themselves—their thirst of power, their usurpation over men's consciences, and their desire to augment their worldly wealth."
"For God's sake, Catharine," said her father, "speak within doors: your voice rises in tone and your speech in bitterness, your eyes sparkle. It is owing to this zeal in what concerns you no more than others that malicious persons fix upon you the odious and dangerous name of a heretic."
"You know I speak no more than what is truth," said Catharine, "and which you yourself have avouched often."
"By needle and buckskin, no!" answered the glover, hastily. "Wouldst thou have me avouch what might cost me life and limb, land and goods? For a full commission hath been granted for taking and trying heretics, upon whom is laid the cause of all late tumults and miscarriages; wherefore, few words are best, wench. I am ever of mind with the old maker:
"Since word is thrall and thought is free, Keep well thy tongue, I counsel thee."
"The counsel comes too late, father," answered Catharine, sinking down on a chair by her father's bedside. "The words have been spoken and heard; and it is indited against Simon Glover, burgess in Perth, that he hath spoken irreverent discourses of the doctrines of Holy Church."
"As I live by knife and needle," interrupted Simon, "it is a lie! I never was so silly as to speak of what I understood not."
"And hath slandered the anointed of the church, both regular and secular," continued Catharine.
"Nay, I will never deny the truth," said the glover: "an idle word I may have spoken at the ale bench, or over a pottle pot of wine, or in right sure company; but else, my tongue is not one to run my head into peril."
"So you think, my dearest father; but your slightest language has been espied, your best meaning phrases have been perverted, and you are in dittay as a gross railer against church and churchmen, and for holding discourse against them with loose and profligate persons, such as the deceased Oliver Proudfute, the smith Henry of the Wynd, and others, set forth as commending the doctrines of Father Clement, whom they charge with seven rank heresies, and seek for with staff and spear, to try him to the death. But that," said Catharine, kneeling, and looking upwards with the aspect of one of those beauteous saints whom the Catholics have given to the fine arts—"that they shall never do. He hath escaped from the net of the fowler; and, I thank Heaven, it was by my means."
"Thy means, girl—art thou mad?" said the amazed glover.
"I will not deny what I glory in," answered Catharine: "it was by my means that Conachar was led to come hither with a party of men and carry off the old man, who is now far beyond the Highland line."
"Thou my rash—my unlucky child!" said the glover, "hast dared to aid the escape of one accused of heresy, and to invite Highlanders in arms to interfere with the administration of justice within burgh? Alas! thou hast offended both against the laws of the church and those of the realm. What—what would become of us, were this known?"
"It is known, my dear father," said the maiden, firmly—"known even to those who will be the most willing avengers of the deed."
"This must be some idle notion, Catharine, or some trick of those cogging priests and nuns; it accords not with thy late cheerful willingness to wed Henry Smith."
"Alas! dearest father, remember the dismal surprise occasioned by his reported death, and the joyful amazement at finding him alive; and deem it not wonder if I permitted myself, under your protection, to say more than my reflection justified. But then I knew not the worst, and thought the danger exaggerated. Alas I was yesterday fearfully undeceived, when the abbess herself came hither, and with her the Dominican. They showed me the commission, under the broad seal of Scotland, for inquiring into and punishing heresy; they showed me your name and my own in a list of suspected persons; and it was with tears—real tears, that the abbess conjured me to avert a dreadful fate by a speedy retreat into the cloister, and that the monk pledged his word that you should not be molested if I complied."
"The foul fiend take them both for weeping crocodiles!" said the glover.
"Alas!" replied Catharine, "complaint or anger will little help us; but you see I have had real cause for this present alarm."
"Alarm! call it utter ruin. Alas! my reckless child, where was your prudence when you ran headlong into such a snare?"
"Hear me, father," said Catharine; "there is still one mode of safety held out: it is one which I have often proposed, and for which I have in vain supplicated your permission."
"I understand you—the convent," said her father. "But, Catharine, what abbess or prioress would dare—"
"That I will explain to you, father, and it will also show the circumstances which have made me seem unsteady of resolution to a degree which has brought censure upon me from yourself and others. Our confessor, old Father Francis, whom I chose from the Dominican convent at your command—"
"Ay, truly," interrupted the glover; "and I so counselled and commanded thee, in order to take off the report that thy conscience was altogether under the direction of Father Clement."
"Well, this Father Francis has at different times urged and provoked me to converse on such matters as he judged I was likely to learn something of from the Carthusian preacher. Heaven forgive me my blindness! I fell into the snare, spoke freely, and, as he argued gently, as one who would fain be convinced, I even spoke warmly in defence of what I believed devoutly. The confessor assumed not his real aspect and betrayed not his secret purpose until he had learned all that I had to tell him. It was then that he threatened me with temporal punishment and with eternal condemnation. Had his threats reached me alone, I could have stood firm; for their cruelty on earth I could have endured, and their power beyond this life I have no belief in."
"For Heaven's sake!" said the glover, who was well nigh beside himself at perceiving at every new word the increasing extremity of his daughter's danger, "beware of blaspheming the Holy Church, whose arms are as prompt to strike as her ears are sharp to hear."
"To me," said the Maid of Perth, again looking up, "the terrors of the threatened denunciations would have been of little avail; but when they spoke of involving thee, my father, in the charge against me, I own I trembled, and desired to compromise. The Abbess Martha, of Elcho nunnery, being my mother's kinswoman, I told her my distresses, and obtained her promise that she would receive me, if, renouncing worldly love and thoughts of wedlock, I would take the veil in her sisterhood. She had conversation on the topic, I doubt not, with the Dominican Francis, and both joined in singing the same song.
"'Remain in the world,' said they, 'and thy father and thou shall be brought to trial as heretics; assume the veil, and the errors of both shall be forgiven and cancelled.' They spoke not even of recantation of errors of doctrine: all should be peace if I would but enter the convent."
"I doubt not—I doubt not," said Simon: "the old glover is thought rich, and his wealth would follow his daughter to the convent of Elcho, unless what the Dominicans might claim as their own share. So this was thy call to the veil, these thy objections to Henry Wynd?"
"Indeed, father, the course was urged on all hands, nor did my own mind recoil from it. Sir John Ramorny threatened me with the powerful vengeance of the young Prince, if I continued to repel his wicked suit; and as for poor Henry, it is but of late that I have discovered, to my own surprise—that—that I love his virtues more than I dislike his faults. Alas! the discovery has only been made to render my quitting the world more difficult than when I thought I had thee only to regret."
She rested her head on her hand and wept bitterly.
"All this is folly," said the glover. "Never was there an extremity so pinching, but what a wise man might find counsel if he was daring enough to act upon it. This has never been the land or the people over whom priests could rule in the name of Rome, without their usurpation being controlled. If they are to punish each honest burgher who says the monks love gold, and that the lives of some of them cry shame upon the doctrines they teach, why, truly, Stephen Smotherwell will not lack employment; and if all foolish maidens are to be secluded from the world because they follow the erring doctrines of a popular preaching friar, they must enlarge the nunneries and receive their inmates on slighter composition. Our privileges have been often defended against the Pope himself by our good monarchs of yore, and when he pretended to interfere with the temporal government of the kingdom, there wanted not a Scottish Parliament who told him his duty in a letter that should have been written in letters of gold. I have seen the epistle myself, and though I could not read it, the very sight of the seals of the right reverend prelates and noble and true barons which hung at it made my heart leap for joy. Thou shouldst not have kept this secret, my child—but it is no time to tax thee with thy fault. Go down, get me some food. I will mount instantly, and go to our Lord Provost and have his advice, and, as I trust, his protection and that of other true hearted Scottish nobles, who will not see a true man trodden down for an idle word."