The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 10

Gentle friend,

Chide not her mirth, who was sad yesterday,

And may be so tomorrow.

JOANNA BAILLIE.

The Duke of Albany was, like his royal brother, named Robert. The Christian name of the latter had been John until he was called to the throne; when the superstition of the times observed that the name had been connected with misfortune in the lives and reigns of John of England, John of France, and John Baliol of Scotland. It was therefore agreed that, to elude the bad omen, the new king should assume the name of Robert, rendered dear to Scotland by the recollections of Robert Bruce. We mention this to account for the existence of two brothers of the same Christian name in one family, which was not certainly an usual occurrence, more than at the present day.

Albany, also an aged man, was not supposed to be much more disposed for warlike enterprise than the King himself. But if he had not courage, he had wisdom to conceal and cloak over his want of that quality, which, once suspected, would have ruined all the plans which his ambition had formed. He had also pride enough to supply, in extremity, the want of real valour, and command enough over his nerves to conceal their agitation. In other respects, he was experienced in the ways of courts, calm, cool, and crafty, fixing upon the points which he desired to attain, while they were yet far removed, and never losing sight of them, though the winding paths in which he trode might occasionally seem to point to a different direction. In his person he resembled the King, for he was noble and majestic both in stature and countenance. But he had the advantage of his elder brother, in being unencumbered with any infirmity, and in every respect lighter and more active. His dress was rich and grave, as became his age and rank, and, like his royal brother, he wore no arms of any kind, a case of small knives supplying at his girdle the place usually occupied by a dagger in absence of a sword.

At the Duke’s entrance the prior, after making an obeisance, respectfully withdrew to a recess in the apartment, at some distance from the royal seat, in order to leave the conversation of the brothers uncontrolled by the presence of a third person. It is necessary to mention, that the recess was formed by a window; placed in the inner front of the monastic buildings, called the palace, from its being the frequent residence of the Kings of Scotland, but which was, unless on such occasions, the residence of the prior or abbot. The window was placed over the principal entrance to the royal apartments, and commanded a view of the internal quadrangle of the convent, formed on the right hand by the length of the magnificent church, on the left by a building containing the range of cellars, with the refectory, chapter house, and other conventual apartments rising above them, for such existed altogether independent of the space occupied by King Robert and his attendants; while a fourth row of buildings, showing a noble outward front to the rising sun, consisted of a large hospitium, for the reception of strangers and pilgrims, and many subordinate offices, warehouses, and places of accommodation, for the ample stores which supplied the magnificent hospitality of the Dominican fathers. A lofty vaulted entrance led through this eastern front into the quadrangle, and was precisely opposite to the window at which Prior Anselm stood, so that he could see underneath the dark arch, and observe the light which gleamed beneath it from the eastern and open portal; but, owing to the height to which he was raised, and the depth of the vaulted archway, his eye could but indistinctly reach the opposite and extended portal. It is necessary to notice these localities.

We return to the conversation between the princely relatives.

“My dear brother,” said the King, raising the Duke of Albany, as he stooped to kiss his hand —“my dear, dear brother, wherefore this ceremonial? Are we not both sons of the same Stuart of Scotland and of the same Elizabeth More?”

“I have not forgot that it is so,” said Albany, arising; “but I must not omit, in the familiarity of the brother, the respect that is due to the king.”

“Oh, true — most true, Robin,” answered the King. “The throne is like a lofty and barren rock, upon which flower or shrub can never take root. All kindly feelings, all tender affections, are denied to a monarch. A king must not fold a brother to his heart — he dare not give way to fondness for a son.”

“Such, in some respects, is the doom of greatness, sire,” answered Albany; “but Heaven, who removed to some distance from your Majesty’s sphere the members of your own family, has given you a whole people to be your children.”

“Alas! Robert,” answered the monarch, “your heart is better framed for the duties of a sovereign than mine. I see from the height at which fate has placed me that multitude whom you call my children. I love them, I wish them well; but they are many, and they are distant from me. Alas! even the meanest of them has some beloved being whom he can clasp to his heart, and upon whom he can lavish the fondness of a father. But all that a king can give to a people is a smile, such as the sun bestows on the snowy peaks of the Grampian mountains, as distant and as ineffectual. Alas, Robin! our father used to caress us, and if he chid us it was with a tone of kindness; yet he was a monarch as well as I, and wherefore should not I be permitted, like him, to reclaim my poor prodigal by affection as well as severity?”

“Had affection never been tried, my liege,” replied Albany, in the tone of one who delivers sentiments which he grieves to utter, “means of gentleness ought assuredly to be first made use of. Your Grace is best judge whether they have been long enough persevered in, and whether those of discouragement and restraint may not prove a more effectual corrective. It is exclusively in your royal power to take what measures with the Duke of Rothsay you think will be most available to his ultimate benefit, and that of the kingdom.”

“This is unkind, brother,” said the King: “you indicate the painful path which you would have me pursue, yet you offer me not your support in treading it.”

“My support your Grace may ever command,” replied Albany; “but would it become me, of all men on earth, to prompt to your Grace severe measures against your son and heir? Me, on whom, in case of failure — which Heaven forefend! — of your Grace’s family, this fatal crown might descend? Would it not be thought and said by the fiery March and the haughty Douglas, that Albany had sown dissension between his royal brother and the heir to the Scottish throne, perhaps to clear the way for the succession of his own family? No, my liege, I can sacrifice my life to your service, but I must not place my honour in danger.”

“You say true, Robin. — you say very true,” replied the King, hastening to put his own interpretation upon his brother’s words. “We must not suffer these powerful and dangerous lords to perceive that there is aught like discord in the royal family. That must be avoided of all things: and therefore we will still try indulgent measures, in hopes of correcting the follies of Rothsay. I behold sparks of hope in him, Robin, from time to time, that are well worth cherishing. He is young — very young — a prince, and in the heyday of his blood. We will have patience with him, like a good rider with a hot tempered horse. Let him exhaust this idle humor, and no one will be better pleased with him than yourself. You have censured me in your kindness for being too gentle, too retired; Rothsay has no such defects.”

“I will pawn my life he has not,” replied Albany, drily.

“And he wants not reflection as well as spirit,” continued the poor king, pleading the cause of his son to his brother. “I have sent for him to attend council today, and we shall see how he acquits himself of his devoir. You yourself allow, Robin, that the Prince wants neither shrewdness nor capacity for affairs, when he is in the humor to consider them.”

“Doubtless, he wants neither, my liege,” replied Albany, “when he is in the humor to consider them.”

“I say so,” answered the King; “and am heartily glad that you agree with me, Robin, in giving this poor hapless young man another trial. He has no mother now to plead his cause with an incensed father. That must be remembered, Albany.”

“I trust,” said Albany, “the course which is most agreeable to your Grace’s feelings will also prove the wisest and the best.”

The Duke well saw the simple stratagem by which the King was endeavouring to escape from the conclusions of his reasoning, and to adopt, under pretence of his sanction, a course of proceeding the reverse of what it best suited him to recommend. But though he saw he could not guide his brother to the line of conduct he desired, he would not abandon the reins, but resolved to watch for a fitter opportunity of obtaining the sinister advantages to which new quarrels betwixt the King and Prince were soon, he thought, likely to give rise.

In the mean time, King Robert, afraid lest his brother should resume the painful subject from which he had just escaped, called aloud to the prior of the Dominicans, “I hear the trampling of horse. Your station commands the courtyard, reverend father. Look from the window, and tell us who alights. Rothsay, is it not?”

“The noble Earl of March, with his followers,” said the prior.

“Is he strongly accompanied?” said the King. “Do his people enter the inner gate?”

At the same moment, Albany whispered the King, “Fear nothing, the Brandanes of your household are under arms.”

The King nodded thanks, while the prior from the window answered the question he had put. “The Earl is attended by two pages, two gentlemen, and four grooms. One page follows him up the main staircase, bearing his lordship’s sword. The others halt in the court, and — Benedicite, how is this? Here is a strolling glee woman, with her viol, preparing to sing beneath the royal windows, and in the cloister of the Dominicans, as she might in the yard of an hostelrie! I will have her presently thrust forth.”

“Not so, father,” said the King. “Let me implore grace for the poor wanderer. The joyous science, as they call it, which they profess, mingles sadly with the distresses to which want and calamity condemn a strolling race; and in that they resemble a king, to whom all men cry, ‘All hail!’ while he lacks the homage and obedient affection which the poorest yeoman receives from his family. Let the wanderer remain undisturbed, father; and let her sing if she will to the yeomen and troopers in the court; it will keep them from quarrelling with each other, belonging, as they do, to such unruly and hostile masters.”

So spoke the well meaning and feeble minded prince, and the prior bowed in acquiescence. As he spoke, the Earl of March entered the hall of audience, dressed in the ordinary riding garb of the time, and wearing his poniard. He had left in the anteroom the page of honour who carried his sword. The Earl was a well built, handsome man, fair complexioned, with a considerable profusion of light coloured hair, and bright blue eyes, which gleamed like those of a falcon. He exhibited in his countenance, otherwise pleasing, the marks of a hasty and irritable temper, which his situation as a high and powerful feudal lord had given him but too many opportunities of indulging.

“I am glad to see you, my Lord of March,” said the King, with a gracious inclination of his person. “You have been long absent from our councils.”

“My liege,” answered March with a deep reverence to the King, and a haughty and formal inclination to the Duke of Albany, “if I have been absent from your Grace’s councils, it is because my place has been supplied by more acceptable, and, I doubt not, abler, counsellors. And now I come but to say to your Highness, that the news from the English frontier make it necessary that I should return without delay to my own estates. Your Grace has your wise and politic brother, my Lord of Albany, with whom to consult, and the mighty and warlike Earl of Douglas to carry your counsels into effect. I am of no use save in my own country; and thither, with your Highness’s permission, I am purposed instantly to return, to attend my charge, as Warden of the Eastern Marches.”

“You will not deal so unkindly with us, cousin,” replied the gentle monarch. “Here are evil tidings on the wind. These unhappy Highland clans are again breaking into general commotion, and the tranquillity even of our own court requires the wisest of our council to advise, and the bravest of our barons to execute, what may be resolved upon. The descendant of Thomas Randolph will not surely abandon the grandson of Robert Bruce at such a period as this?”

“I leave with him the descendant of the far famed James of Douglas,” answered March. “It is his lordship’s boast that he never puts foot in stirrup but a thousand horse mount with him as his daily lifeguard, and I believe the monks of Aberbrothock will swear to the fact. Surely, with all the Douglas’s chivalry, they are fitter to restrain a disorderly swarm of Highland kerne than I can be to withstand the archery of England and power of Henry Hotspur? And then, here is his Grace of Albany, so jealous in his care of your Highness’s person, that he calls your Brandanes to take arms when a dutiful subject like myself approaches the court with a poor half score of horse, the retinue of the meanest of the petty barons who own a tower and a thousand acres of barren heath. When such precautions are taken where there is not the slightest chance of peril — since I trust none was to be apprehended from me — your royal person will surely be suitably guarded in real danger.”

“My Lord of March,” said the Duke of Albany, “the meanest of the barons of whom you speak put their followers in arms even when they receive their dearest and nearest friends within the iron gate of their castle; and, if it please Our Lady, I will not care less for the King’s person than they do for their own. The Brandanes are the King’s immediate retainers and household servants, and an hundred of them is but a small guard round his Grace, when yourself, my lord, as well as the Earl of Douglas, often ride with ten times the number.”

“My Lord Duke,” replied March, “when the service of the King requires it, I can ride with ten times as many horse as your Grace has named; but I have never done so either traitorously to entrap the King nor boastfully to overawe other nobles.”

“Brother Robert,” said the King, ever anxious to be a peacemaker, “you do wrong even to intimate a suspicion of my Lord of March. And you, cousin of March, misconstrue my brother’s caution. But hark — to divert this angry parley — I hear no unpleasing touch of minstrelsy. You know the gay science, my Lord of March, and love it well. Step to yonder window, beside the holy prior, at whom we make no question touching secular pleasures, and you will tell us if the music and play be worth listening to. The notes are of France, I think. My brother of Albany’s judgment is not worth a cockle shell in such matters, so you, cousin, must report your opinion whether the poor glee maiden deserves recompense. Our son and the Douglas will presently be here, and then, when our council is assembled, we will treat of graver matters.”

With something like a smile on his proud brow, March withdrew into the recess of the window, and stood there in silence beside the prior, like one who, while he obeyed the King’s command, saw through and despised the timid precaution which it implied, as an attempt to prevent the dispute betwixt Albany and himself. The tune, which was played upon a viol, was gay and sprightly in the commencement, with a touch of the wildness of the troubadour music. But, as it proceeded, the faltering tones of the instrument, and of the female voice which accompanied it, became plaintive and interrupted, as if choked by the painful feelings of the minstrel.

The offended earl, whatever might be his judgment in such matters on which the King had complimented him, paid, it may be supposed, little attention to the music of the female minstrel. His proud heart was struggling between the allegiance he owed his sovereign, as well as the love he still found lurking in his bosom for the person of his well natured king, and a desire of vengeance arising out of his disappointed ambition, and the disgrace done to him by the substitution of Marjory Douglas to be bride of the heir apparent, instead of his betrothed daughter. March had the vices and virtues of a hasty and uncertain character, and even now, when he came to bid the King adieu, with the purpose of renouncing his allegiance as soon as he reached his own feudal territories, he felt unwilling, and almost unable, to resolve upon a step so criminal and so full of peril. It was with such dangerous cogitations that he was occupied during the beginning of the glee maiden’s lay; but objects which called his attention powerfully, as the songstress proceeded, affected the current of his thoughts, and riveted them on what was passing in the courtyard of the monastery. The song was in the Provencal dialect, well understood as the language of poetry in all the courts of Europe, and particularly in Scotland. It was more simply turned, however, than was the general cast of the sirventes, and rather resembled the lai of a Norman minstrel. It may be translated thus:

The Lay of Poor Louise.

Ah, poor Louise! The livelong day

She roams from cot to castle gay;

And still her voice and viol say,

Ah, maids, beware the woodland way;

Think on Louise.

Ah, poor Louise! The sun was high;

It smirch’d her cheek, it dimm’d her eye.

The woodland walk was cool and nigh,

Where birds with chiming streamlets vie

To cheer Louise.

Ah, poor Louise! The savage bear

Made ne’er that lovely grove his lair;

The wolves molest not paths so fair.

But better far had such been there

For poor Louise.

Ah, poor Louise! In woody wold

She met a huntsman fair and bold;

His baldrick was of silk and gold,

And many a witching tale he told

To poor Louise.

Ah, poor Louise! Small cause to pine

Hadst thou for treasures of the mine;

For peace of mind, that gift divine,

And spotless innocence, were thine.

Ah, poor Louise!

Ah, poor Louise! Thy treasure’s reft.

I know not if by force or theft,

Or part by violence, part by gift;

But misery is all that’s left

To poor Louise,

Let poor Louise some succour have!

She will not long your bounty crave,

Or tire the gay with warning stave;

For Heaven has grace, and earth a grave

For poor Louise.

The song was no sooner finished than, anxious lest the dispute should be revived betwixt his brother and the Earl of March, King Robert called to the latter, “What think you of the minstrelsy, my lord? Methinks, as I heard it even at this distance, it was a wild and pleasing lay.”

“My judgment is not deep my lord; but the singer may dispense with my approbation, since she seems to have received that of his Grace of Rothsay, the best judge in Scotland.”

“How!” said the King in alarm; “is my son below?”

“He is sitting on horseback by the glee maiden,” said March, with a malicious smile on his cheek, “apparently as much interested by her conversation as her music.”

“How is this, father prior?” said the King.

But the prior drew back from the lattice. “I have no will to see, my lord, things which it would pain me to repeat.”

“How is all this?” said the King, who coloured deeply, and seemed about to rise from his chair; but changed his mind, as if unwilling, perhaps, to look upon some unbecoming prank of the wild young prince, which he might not have had heart to punish with necessary severity. The Earl of March seemed to have a pleasure in informing him of that of which doubtless he desired to remain ignorant.

“My liege,” he cried, “this is better and better. The glee maiden has not only engaged the ear of the Prince of Scotland, as well as of every groom and trooper in the courtyard, but she has riveted the attention of the Black Douglas, whom we have not known as a passionate admirer of the gay science. But truly, I do not wonder at his astonishment, for the Prince has honoured the fair professor of song and viol with a kiss of approbation.”

“How!” cried the King, “is David of Rothsay trifling with a glee maiden, and his wife’s father in presence? Go, my good father abbot, call the Prince here instantly. Go, my dearest brother —” And when they had both left the room, the King continued, “Go, good cousin of March; there will be mischief, I am assured of it. I pray you go, cousin, and second my lord prior’s prayers with my commands.”

“You forget, my liege,” said March, with the voice of a deeply offended person, “the father of Elizabeth of Dunbar were but an unfit intercessor between the Douglas and his royal son in law.”

“I crave your pardon, cousin,” said the gentle old man. “I own you have had some wrong; but my Rothsay will be murdered — I must go myself.”

But, as he arose precipitately from his chair, the poor king missed a footstep, stumbled, and fell heavily to the ground, in such a manner that, his head striking the corner of the seat from which he had risen, he became for a minute insensible. The sight of the accident at once overcame March’s resentment and melted his heart. He ran to the fallen monarch, and replaced him in his seat, using, in the tenderest and most respectful manner, such means as seemed most fit to recall animation.

Robert opened his eyes, and gazed around with uncertainty. “What has happened? — are we alone? — who is with us?”

“Your dutiful subject, March,” replied the Earl.

“Alone with the Earl of March!” repeated the King, his still disturbed intellect receiving some alarm from the name of a powerful chief whom he had reason to believe he had mortally offended.

“Yes, my gracious liege, with poor George of Dunbar, of whom many have wished your Majesty to think ill, though he will be found truer to your royal person at the last than they will.”

“Indeed, cousin, you have had too much wrong; and believe me, we shall strive to redress —”

“If your Grace thinks so, it may yet be righted,” interrupted the Earl, catching at the hopes which his ambition suggested: “the Prince and Marjory Douglas are nearly related — the dispensation from Rome was informally granted — their marriage cannot be lawful — the Pope, who will do much for so godly a prince, can set aside this unchristian union, in respect of the pre-contract. Bethink you well, my liege,” continued the Earl, kindling with a new train of ambitious thoughts, to which the unexpected opportunity of pleading his cause personally had given rise —“bethink you how you choose betwixt the Douglas and me. He is powerful and mighty, I grant. But George of Dunbar wears the keys of Scotland at his belt, and could bring an English army to the gates of Edinburgh ere Douglas could leave the skirts of Carintable to oppose them. Your royal son loves my poor deserted girl, and hates the haughty Marjory of Douglas. Your Grace may judge the small account in which he holds her by his toying with a common glee maiden even in the presence of her father.”

The King had hitherto listened to the Earl’s argument with the bewildered feelings of a timid horseman, borne away by an impetuous steed, whose course he can neither arrest nor direct. But the last words awakened in his recollection the sense of his son’s immediate danger.

“Oh, ay, most true — my son — the Douglas! Oh, my dear cousin, prevent blood, and all shall be as you will. Hark, there is a tumult — that was the clash of arms!”

“By my coronet, by my knightly faith, it is true!” said the Earl, looking from the window upon the inner square of the convent, now filled with armed men and brandished weapons, and resounding with the clash of armour. The deep vaulted entrance was crowded with warriors at its farthest extremity, and blows seemed to be in the act of being exchanged betwixt some who were endeavouring to shut the gate and others who contended to press in.

“I will go instantly,” said the Earl of March, “and soon quell this sudden broil. Humbly I pray your Majesty to think on what I have had the boldness to propose.”

“I will — I will, fair cousin,” said the King, scarce knowing to what he pledged himself; “do but prevent tumult and bloodshed!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29