The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 11

Fair is the damsel, passing fair;

Sunny at distance gleams her smile;

Approach — the cloud of woful care

Hangs trembling in her eye the while.

Lucinda, a Ballad.

We must here trace a little more correctly the events which had been indistinctly seen from the window of the royal apartments, and yet more indistinctly reported by those who witnessed them. The glee maiden, already mentioned, had planted herself where a rise of two large broad steps, giving access to the main gateway of the royal apartments, gained her an advantage of a foot and a half in height over those in the court, of whom she hoped to form an audience. She wore the dress of her calling, which was more gaudy than rich, and showed the person more than did the garb of other females. She had laid aside an upper mantle, and a small basket which contained her slender stock of necessaries; and a little French spaniel dog sat beside them, as their protector. An azure blue jacket, embroidered with silver, and sitting close to the person, was open in front, and showed several waistcoats of different coloured silks, calculated to set off the symmetry of the shoulders and bosom, and remaining open at the throat. A small silver chain worn around her neck involved itself amongst these brilliant coloured waistcoats, and was again produced from them; to display a medal of the same metal, which intimated, in the name of some court or guild of minstrels, the degree she had taken in the gay or joyous science. A cmall scrip, suspended over her shoulders by a blue silk riband; hung on her left side.

Her sunny complexion, snow white teeth, brilliant black eyes, and raven locks marked her country lying far in the south of France, and the arch smile and dimpled chin bore the same character. Her luxuriant raven locks, twisted around a small gold bodkin, were kept in their position by a net of silk and gold. Short petticoats, deep laced with silver, to correspond with the jacket, red stockings which were visible so high as near the calf of the leg, and buskins of Spanish leather, completed her adjustment, which, though far from new, had been saved as an untarnished holiday suit, which much care had kept in good order. She seemed about twenty-five years old; but perhaps fatigue and wandering had anticipated the touch of time in obliterating the freshness of early youth.

We have said the glee maiden’s manner was lively, and we may add that her smile and repartee were ready. But her gaiety was assumed, as a quality essentially necessary to her trade, of which it was one of the miseries, that the professors were obliged frequently to cover an aching heart with a compelled smile. This seemed to be the case with Louise, who, whether she was actually the heroine of her own song, or whatever other cause she might have for sadness, showed at times a strain of deep melancholy thought, which interfered with and controlled the natural flow of lively spirits which the practice of the joyous science especially required. She lacked also, even in her gayest sallies, the decided boldness and effrontery of her sisterhood, who were seldom at a loss to retort a saucy jest, or turn the laugh against any who interrupted or interfered with them.

It may be here remarked, that it was impossible that this class of women, very numerous in that age, could bear a character generally respectable. They were, however, protected by the manners of the time; and such were the immunities they possessed by the rights of chivalry, that nothing was more rare than to hear of such errant damsels sustaining injury or wrong, and they passed and repassed safely, where armed travellers would probably have encountered a bloody opposition. But though licensed and protected in honour of their tuneful art, the wandering minstrels, male or female, like similar ministers to the public amusement, the itinerant musicians, for instance, and strolling comedians of our own day, led a life too irregular and precarious to be accounted a creditable part of society. Indeed, among the stricter Catholics, the profession was considered as unlawful.

Such was the damsel who, with viol in hand, and stationed on the slight elevation we have mentioned, stepped forward to the bystanders and announced herself as a mistress of the gay science, duly qualified by a brief from a Court of Love and Music held at Aix, in Provence, under the countenance of the flower of chivalry, the gallant Count Aymer; who now prayed that the cavaliers of merry Scotland, who were known over the wide world for bravery and courtesy, would permit a poor stranger to try whether she could afford them any amusement by her art. The love of song was like the love of fight, a common passion of the age, which all at least affected, whether they were actually possessed by it or no; therefore the acquiescence in Louise’s proposal was universal. At the same time, an aged, dark browed monk who was among the bystanders thought it necessary to remind the glee maiden that, since she was tolerated within these precincts, which was an unusual grace, he trusted nothing would be sung or said inconsistent with the holy character of the place.

The glee maiden bent her head low, shook her sable locks, and crossed herself reverentially, as if she disclaimed the possibility of such a transgression, and then began the song of “Poor Louise.” which we gave at length in the last chapter.

Just as she commenced, she was stopped by a cry of “Room — room — place for the Duke of Rothsay!”

“Nay, hurry no man on my score,” said a gallant young cavalier, who entered on a noble Arabian horse, which he managed with exquisite grace, though by such slight handling of the reins, such imperceptible pressure of the limbs and sway of the body, that to any eye save that of an experienced horseman the animal seemed to be putting forth his paces for his own amusement, and thus gracefully bearing forward a rider who was too indolent to give himself any trouble about the matter.

The Prince’s apparel, which was very rich, was put on with slovenly carelessness. His form, though his stature was low, and his limbs extremely slight, was elegant in the extreme; and his features no less handsome. But there was on his brow a haggard paleness, which seemed the effect of care or of dissipation, or of both these wasting causes combined. His eyes were sunk and dim, as from late indulgence in revelry on the preceding evening, while his cheek was inflamed with unnatural red, as if either the effect of the Bacchanalian orgies had not passed away from the constitution, or a morning draught had been resorted to, in order to remove the effects of the night’s debauchery.

Such was the Duke of Rothsay, and heir of the Scottish crown, a sight at once of interest and compassion. All unbonneted and made way for him, while he kept repeating carelessly, “No haste — no haste: I shall arrive soon enough at the place I am bound for. How’s this — a damsel of the joyous science? Ay, by St. Giles! and a comely wench to boot. Stand still, my merry men; never was minstrelsy marred for me. A good voice, by the mass! Begin me that lay again, sweetheart.”

Louise did not know the person who addressed her; but the general respect paid by all around, and the easy and indifferent manner in which it was received, showed her she was addressed by a man of the highest quality. She recommenced her lay, and sung her best accordingly; while the young duke seemed thoughtful and rather affected towards the close of the ditty. But it was not his habit to cherish such melancholy affections.

“This is a plaintive ditty, my nut brown maid,” said he, chucking the retreating glee maiden under the chin, and detaining her by the collar of her dress, which was not difficult, as he sat on horseback so close to the steps on which she stood. “But I warrant me you have livelier notes at will, ma bella tenebrosa; ay, and canst sing in bower as well as wold, and by night as well as day.”

“I am no nightingale, my lord,” said Louise, endeavouring to escape a species of gallantry which ill suited the place and circumstances — a discrepancy to which he who addressed it to her seemed contemptuously indifferent.

“What hast thou there, darling?” he added, removing his hold from her collar to the scrip which she carried.

Glad was Louise to escape his grasp, by slipping the knot of the riband, and leaving the little bag in the Prince’s hand, as, retiring back beyond his reach, she answered, “Nuts, my lord, of the last season.”

The Prince pulled out a handful of nuts accordingly. “Nuts, child! they will break thine ivory teeth, hurt thy pretty voice,” said Rothsay, cracking one with his teeth, like a village schoolboy.

“They are not the walnuts of my own sunny clime, my lord,” said Louise; “but they hang low, and are within the reach of the poor.”

“You shall have something to afford you better fare, poor wandering ape,” said the Duke, in a tone in which feeling predominated more than in the affected and contemptuous gallantry of his first address to the glee maiden.

At this moment, as he turned to ask an attendant for his purse, the Prince encountered the stern and piercing look of a tall black man, seated on a powerful iron grey horse, who had entered the court with attendants while the Duke of Rothsay was engaged with Louise, and now remained stupefied and almost turned to stone by his surprise and anger at this unseemly spectacle. Even one who had never seen Archibald Earl of Douglas, called the Grim, must have known him by his swart complexion, his gigantic frame, his buff coat of bull’s hide, and his air of courage, firmness, and sagacity, mixed with indomitable pride. The loss of an eye in battle, though not perceptible at first sight, as the ball of the injured organ remained similar to the other, gave yet a stern, immovable glare to the whole aspect.

The meeting of the royal son in law with his terrible stepfather [father in law] was in circumstances which arrested the attention of all present; and the bystanders waited the issue with silence and suppressed breath, lest they should lose any part of what was to ensue.

When the Duke of Rothsay saw the expression which occupied the stern features of Douglas, and remarked that the Earl did not make the least motion towards respectful, or even civil, salutation, he seemed determined to show him how little respect he was disposed to pay to his displeased looks. He took his purse from his chamberlain.

“Here, pretty one,” he said, “I give thee one gold piece for the song thou hast sung me, another for the nuts I have stolen from thee, and a third for the kiss thou art about to give me. For know, my pretty one, that when fair lips, and thine for fault of better may be called so, make sweet music for my pleasure, I am sworn to St. Valentine to press them to mine.”

“My song is recompensed nobly,” said Louise, shrinking back; “my nuts are sold to a good market; farther traffic, my lord, were neither befitting you nor beseeming me.”

“What! you coy it, my nymph of the highway?” said the Prince, contemptuously. “Know damsel, that one asks you a grace who is unused to denial.”

“It is the Prince of Scotland — the Duke of Rothsay,” said the courtiers around, to the terrified Louise, pressing forward the trembling young woman; “you must not thwart his humor.”

“But I cannot reach your lordship,” she said, timidly, “you sit so high on horseback.”

“If I must alight,” said Rothsay, “there shall be the heavier penalty. What does the wench tremble for? Place thy foot on the toe of my boot, give me hold of thy hand. Gallantly done!” He kissed her as she stood thus suspended in the air, perched upon his foot and supported by his hand; saying, “There is thy kiss, and there is my purse to pay it; and to grace thee farther, Rothsay will wear thy scrip for the day.”

He suffered the frightened girl to spring to the ground, and turned his looks from her to bend them contemptuously on the Earl of Douglas, as if he had said, “All this I do in despite of you and of your daughter’s claims.”

“By St. Bride of Douglas!” said the Earl, pressing towards the Prince, “this is too much, unmannered boy, as void of sense as honour! You know what considerations restrain the hand of Douglas, else had you never dared —”

“Can you play at spang cockle, my lord?” said the Prince, placing a nut on the second joint of his forefinger, and spinning it off by a smart application of the thumb. The nut struck on Douglas’s broad breast, who burst out into a dreadful exclamation of wrath, inarticulate, but resembling the growl of a lion in depth and sternness of expression.

“I cry your pardon, most mighty lord,” said the Duke of Rothsay, scornfully, while all around trembled; “I did not conceive my pellet could have wounded you, seeing you wear a buff coat. Surely, I trust, it did not hit your eye?”

The prior, despatched by the King, as we have seen in the last chapter, had by this time made way through the crowd, and laying hold on Douglas’s rein, in a manner that made it impossible for him to advance, reminded him that the Prince was the son of his sovereign; and the husband of his daughter.

“Fear not, sir prior,” said Douglas. “I despise the childish boy too much to raise a finger against him. But I will return insult for insult. Here, any of you who love the Douglas, spurn me this quean from the monastery gates; and let her be so scourged that she may bitterly remember to the last day of her life how she gave means to an unrespective boy to affront the Douglas.”

Four or five retainers instantly stepped forth to execute commands which were seldom uttered in vain, and heavily would Louise have atoned for an offence of which she was alike the innocent, unconscious, and unwilling instrument, had not the Duke of Rothsay interfered.

“Spurn the poor glee woman!” he said, in high indignation; “scourge her for obeying my commands! Spurn thine own oppressed vassals, rude earl — scourge thine own faulty hounds; but beware how you touch so much as a dog that Rothsay hath patted on the head, far less a female whose lips he hath kissed!”

Before Douglas could give an answer, which would certainly have been in defiance, there arose that great tumult at the outward gate of the monastery, already noticed, and men both on horseback and on foot began to rush headlong in, not actually fighting with each other, but certainly in no peaceable manner.

One of the contending parties, seemingly, were partizans of Douglas, known by the cognizance of the bloody heart; the other were composed of citizens of the town of Perth. It appeared they had been skirmishing in earnest when without the gates, but, out of respect to the sanctified ground, they lowered their weapons when they entered, and confined their strife to a war of words and mutual abuse.

The tumult had this good effect, that it forced asunder, by the weight and press of numbers, the Prince and Douglas, at a moment when the levity of the former and the pride of the latter were urging both to the utmost extremity. But now peacemakers interfered on all sides. The prior and the monks threw themselves among the multitude, and commanded peace in the name of Heaven, and reverence to their sacred walls, under penalty of excommunication; and their expostulations began to be listened to. Albany, who was despatched by his royal brother at the beginning of the fray, had not arrived till now on the scene of action. He instantly applied himself to Douglas, and in his ear conjured him to temper his passion.

“By St. Bride of Douglas, I will be avenged!” said the Earl. “No man shall brook life after he has passed an affront on Douglas.”

“Why, so you may be avenged in fitting time,” said Albany; “but let it not be said that, like a peevish woman, the Great Douglas could choose neither time nor place for his vengeance. Bethink you, all that we have laboured at is like to be upset by an accident. George of Dunbar hath had the advantage of an audience with the old man; and though it lasted but five minutes, I fear it may endanger the dissolution of your family match, which we brought about with so much difficulty. The authority from Rome has not yet been obtained.”

“A toy!” answered Douglas, haughtily; “they dare not dissolve it.”

“Not while Douglas is at large, and in possession of his power,” answered Albany. “But, noble earl, come with me, and I will show you at what disadvantage you stand.”

Douglas dismounted, and followed his wily accomplice in silence. In a lower hall they saw the ranks of the Brandanes drawn up, well armed in caps of steel and shirts of mail. Their captain, making an obeisance to Albany, seemed to desire to address him.

“What now, MacLouis?” said the Duke.

“We are informed the Duke of Rothsay has been insulted, and I can scarce keep the Brandanes within door.”

“Gallant MacLouis,” said Albany, “and you, my trusty Brandanes, the Duke of Rothsay, my princely nephew, is as well as a hopeful gentleman can be. Some scuffle there has been, but all is appeased.”

He continued to draw the Earl of Douglas forward. “You see, my lord,” he said in his ear, “that, if the word ‘arrest’ was to be once spoken, it would be soon obeyed, and you are aware your attendants are few for resistance.”

Douglas seemed to acquiesce in the necessity of patience for the time. “If my teeth,” he said, “should bite through my lips, I will be silent till it is the hour to speak out.”

George of March, in the meanwhile, had a more easy task of pacifying the Prince. “My Lord of Rothsay,” he said, approaching him with grave ceremony, “I need not tell you that you owe me something for reparation of honour, though I blame not you personally for the breach of contract which has destroyed the peace of my family. Let me conjure you, by what observance your Highness may owe an injured man, to forego for the present this scandalous dispute.”

“My lord, I owe you much,” replied Rothsay; “but this haughty and all controlling lord has wounded mine honour.”

“My lord, I can but add, your royal father is ill — hath swooned with terror for your Highness’s safety.”

“Ill!” replied the Prince —“the kind, good old man swooned, said you, my Lord of March? I am with him in an instant.”

The Duke of Rothsay sprung from his saddle to the ground, and was dashing into the palace like a greyhound, when a feeble grasp was laid on his cloak, and the faint voice of a kneeling female exclaimed, “Protection, my noble prince! — protection for a helpless stranger!”

“Hands off, stroller!” said the Earl of March, thrusting the suppliant glee maiden aside.

But the gentler prince paused. “It is true,” he said, “I have brought the vengeance of an unforgiving devil upon this helpless creature. O Heaven! what a life, is mine, so fatal to all who approach me! What to do in the hurry? She must not go to my apartments. And all my men are such born reprobates. Ha! thou at mine elbow, honest Harry Smith? What dost thou here?”

“There has been something of a fight, my lord,” answered our acquaintance the smith, “between the townsmen and the Southland loons who ride with the Douglas; and we have swinged them as far as the abbey gate.”

“I am glad of it — I am glad of it. And you beat the knaves fairly?”

“Fairly, does your Highness ask?” said Henry. “Why, ay! We were stronger in numbers, to be sure; but no men ride better armed than those who follow the Bloody Heart. And so in a sense we beat them fairly; for, as your Highness knows, it is the smith who makes the man at arms, and men with good weapons are a match for great odds.”

While they thus talked, the Earl of March, who had spoken with some one near the palace gate, returned in anxious haste. “My Lord Duke! — my Lord Duke! your father is recovered, and if you haste not speedily, my Lord of Albany and the Douglas will have possession of his royal ear.”

“And if my royal father is recovered,” said the thoughtless Prince, “and is holding, or about to hold, counsel with my gracious uncle and the Earl of Douglas, it befits neither your lordship nor me to intrude till we are summoned. So there is time for me to speak of my little business with mine honest armourer here.”

“Does your Highness take it so?” said the Earl, whose sanguine hopes of a change of favour at court had been too hastily excited, and were as speedily checked. “Then so let it be for George of Dunbar.”

He glided away with a gloomy and displeased aspect; and thus out of the two most powerful noblemen in Scotland, at a time when the aristocracy so closely controlled the throne, the reckless heir apparent had made two enemies — the one by scornful defiance and the other by careless neglect. He heeded not the Earl of March’s departure, however, or rather he felt relieved from his importunity.

The Prince went on in indolent conversation with our armourer, whose skill in his art had made him personally known to many of the great lords about the court.

“I had something to say to thee, Smith. Canst thou take up a fallen link in my Milan hauberk?”

“As well, please your Highness, as my mother could take up a stitch in the nets she wove. The Milaner shall not know my work from his own.”

“Well, but that was not what I wished of thee just now,” said the Prince, recollecting himself: “this poor glee woman, good Smith, she must be placed in safety. Thou art man enough to be any woman’s champion, and thou must conduct her to some place of safety.”

Henry Smith was, as we have seen, sufficiently rash and daring when weapons were in question. But he had also the pride of a decent burgher, and was unwilling to place himself in what might be thought equivocal circumstances by the sober part of his fellow citizens.

“May it please your Highness,” he said, “I am but a poor craftsman. But, though my arm and sword are at the King’s service and your Highness’s, I am, with reverence, no squire of dames. Your Highness will find, among your own retinue, knights and lords willing enough to play Sir Pandarus of Troy; it is too knightly a part for poor Hal of the Wynd.”

“Umph — hah!” said the Prince. “My purse, Edgar.” (His attendant whispered him.) “True — true, I gave it to the poor wench. I know enough of your craft, sir smith, and of craftsmen in general, to be aware that men lure not hawks with empty hands; but I suppose my word may pass for the price of a good armour, and I will pay it thee, with thanks to boot, for this slight service.”

“Your Highness may know other craftsmen,” said the smith; “but, with reverence, you know not Henry Gow. He will obey you in making a weapon, or in wielding one, but he knows nothing of this petticoat service.”

“Hark thee, thou Perthshire mule,” said the Prince, yet smiling, while he spoke, at the sturdy punctilio of the honest burgher; “the wench is as little to me as she is to thee. But in an idle moment, as you may learn from those about thee, if thou sawest it not thyself, I did her a passing grace, which is likely to cost the poor wretch her life. There is no one here whom I can trust to protect her against the discipline of belt and bowstring, with which the Border brutes who follow Douglas will beat her to death, since such is his pleasure.”

“If such be the case, my liege, she has a right to every honest man’s protection; and since she wears a petticoat — though I would it were longer and of a less fanciful fashion — I will answer for her protection as well as a single man may. But where am I to bestow her?”

“Good faith, I cannot tell,” said the Prince. “Take her to Sir John Ramorny’s lodging. But, no — no — he is ill at ease, and besides, there are reasons; take her to the devil if thou wilt, but place her in safety, and oblige David of Rothsay.”

“My noble Prince,” said the smith, “I think, always with reverence, that I would rather give a defenceless woman to the care of the devil than of Sir John Ramorny. But though the devil be a worker in fire like myself, yet I know not his haunts, and with aid of Holy Church hope to keep him on terms of defiance. And, moreover, how I am to convey her out of this crowd, or through the streets, in such a mumming habit may be well made a question.”

“For the leaving the convent,” said the Prince, “this good monk” (seizing upon the nearest by his cowl)—“Father Nicholas or Boniface —”

“Poor brother Cyprian, at your Highness’s command,” said the father.

“Ay — ay, brother Cyprian,” continued the Prince —“yes. Brother Cyprian shall let you out at some secret passage which he knows of, and I will see him again to pay a prince’s thanks for it.”

The churchman bowed in acquiescence, and poor Louise, who, during this debate, had looked from the one speaker to the other, hastily said, “I will not scandalise this good man with my foolish garb: I have a mantle for ordinary wear.”

“Why, there, Smith, thou hast a friar’s hood and a woman’s mantle to shroud thee under. I would all my frailties were as well shrouded. Farewell, honest fellow; I will thank thee hereafter.”

Then, as if afraid of farther objection on the smith’s part, he hastened into the palace.

Henry Gow remained stupefied at what had passed, and at finding himself involved in a charge at once inferring much danger and an equal risk of scandal, both which, joined to a principal share which he had taken, with his usual forwardness, in the fray, might, he saw, do him no small injury in the suit he pursued most anxiously. At the same time, to leave a defenceless creature to the ill usage of the barbarous Galwegians and licentious followers of the Douglas was a thought which his manly heart could not brook for an instant.

He was roused from his reverie by the voice of the monk, who, sliding out his words with the indifference which the holy fathers entertained, or affected, towards all temporal matters, desired them to follow him. The smith put himself in motion, with a sigh much resembling a groan, and, without appearing exactly connected with the monk’s motions, he followed him into a cloister, and through a postern door, which, after looking once behind him, the priest left ajar. Behind them followed Louise, who had hastily assumed her small bundle, and, calling her little four legged companion, had eagerly followed in the path which opened an escape from what had shortly before seemed a great and inevitable danger.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/fair/chapter11.html

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