The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 13

How in the noon of night that pibroch thrills,

Savage and shrill! But with the breath which fills

Their mountain pipe, so fill the mountaineers

With the fierce native daring which instils

The stirring memory of a thousand years.

BYRON.

We must now leave the lower parties in our historical drama, to attend to the incidents which took place among those of a higher rank and greater importance.

We pass from the hut of an armourer to the council room of a monarch, and resume our story just when, the tumult beneath being settled, the angry chieftains were summoned to the royal presence. They entered, displeased with and lowering upon each other, each so exclusively filled with his own fancied injuries as to be equally unwilling and unable to attend to reason or argument. Albany alone, calm and crafty, seemed prepared to use their dissatisfaction for his own purposes, and turn each incident as it should occur to the furtherance of his own indirect ends.

The King’s irresolution, although it amounted even to timidity, did not prevent his assuming the exterior bearing becoming his situation. It was only when hard pressed, as in the preceding scene, that he lost his apparent composure. In general, he might be driven from his purpose, but seldom from his dignity of manner. He received Albany, Douglas, March, and the prior, those ill assorted members of his motley council, with a mixture of courtesy and loftiness, which reminded each haughty peer that he stood in the presence of his sovereign, and compelled him to do the beseeming reverence.

Having received their salutations, the King motioned them to be seated; and they were obeying his commands when Rothsay entered. He walked gracefully up to his father, and, kneeling at his footstool, requested his blessing. Robert, with an aspect in which fondness and sorrow were ill disguised, made an attempt to assume a look of reproof, as he laid his hand on the youth’s head and said, with a sigh, “God bless thee, my thoughtless boy, and make thee a wiser man in thy future years!”

“Amen, my dearest father!” said Rothsay, in a tone of feeling such as his happier moments often evinced. He then kissed the royal hand, with the reverence of a son and a subject; and, instead of taking a place at the council board, remained standing behind the King’s chair, in such a position that he might, when he chose, whisper into his father’s ear.

The King next made a sign to the prior of St. Dominic to take his place at the table, on which there were writing materials, which, of all the subjects present, Albany excepted, the churchman was alone able to use. The King then opened the purpose of their meeting by saying, with much dignity:

“Our business, my lords, respected these unhappy dissensions in the Highlands, which, we learn by our latest messengers, are about to occasion the waste and destruction of the country, even within a few miles of this our own court. But, near as this trouble is, our ill fate, and the instigations of wicked men, have raised up one yet nearer, by throwing strife and contention among the citizens of Perth and those attendants who follow your lordships and others our knights and nobles. I must first, therefore, apply to yourselves, my lords, to know why our court is disturbed by such unseemly contendings, and by what means they ought to be repressed? Brother of Albany, do you tell us first your sentiments on this matter.”

“Sir, our royal sovereign and brother,” said the Duke, “being in attendance on your Grace’s person when the fray began, I am not acquainted with its origin.”

“And for me,” said the Prince, “I heard no worse war cry than a minstrel wench’s ballad, and saw no more dangerous bolts flying than hazel nuts.”

“And I,” said the Earl of March, “could only perceive that the stout citizens of Perth had in chase some knaves who had assumed the Bloody Heart on their shoulders. They ran too fast to be actually the men of the Earl of Douglas.”

Douglas understood the sneer, but only replied to it by one of those withering looks with which he was accustomed to intimate his mortal resentment. He spoke, however, with haughty composure.

“My liege,” he said, “must of course know it is Douglas who must answer to this heavy charge, for when was there strife or bloodshed in Scotland, but there were foul tongues to asperse a Douglas or a Douglas’s man as having given cause to them? We have here goodly witnesses. I speak not of my Lord of Albany, who has only said that he was, as well becomes him, by your Grace’s side. And I say nothing of my Lord of Rothsay, who, as befits his rank, years, and understanding, was cracking nuts with a strolling musician. He smiles. Here he may say his pleasure; I shall not forget a tie which he seems to have forgotten. But here is my Lord of March, who saw my followers flying before the clowns of Perth. I can tell that earl that the followers of the Bloody Heart advance or retreat when their chieftain commands and the good of Scotland requires.”

“And I can answer —” exclaimed the equally proud Earl of March, his blood rushing into his face, when the King interrupted him.

“Peace! angry lords,” said the King, “and remember in whose presence you stand. And you, my Lord of Douglas, tell us, if you can, the cause of this mutiny, and why your followers, whose general good services we are most willing to acknowledge, were thus active in private brawl.”

“I obey, my lord,” said Douglas, slightly stooping a head that seldom bent. “I was passing from my lodgings in the Carthusian convent, through the High Street of Perth, with a few of my ordinary retinue, when I beheld some of the baser sort of citizens crowding around the Cross, against which there was nailed this placard, and that which accompanies it.”

He took from a pocket in the bosom of his buff coat a human hand and a piece of parchment. The King was shocked and agitated.

“Read,” he said, “good father prior, and let that ghastly spectacle be removed.”

The prior read a placard to the following purpose:

“Inasmuch as the house of a citizen of Perth was assaulted last night, being St. Valentine’s Eve, by a sort of disorderly night walkers, belonging to some company of the strangers now resident in the Fair City; and whereas this hand was struck from one of the lawless limmers in the fray that ensued, the provost and magistrates have directed that it should be nailed to the Cross, in scorn and contempt of those by whom such brawl was occasioned. And if any one of knightly degree shall say that this our act is wrongfully done, I, Patrick Charteris of Kinfauns, knight, will justify this cartel in knightly weapons, within the barrace; or, if any one of meaner birth shall deny what is here said, he shall be met with by a citizen of the Fair City of Perth, according to his degree. And so God and St. John protect the Fair City!”

“You will not wonder, my lord,” resumed Douglas, “that, when my almoner had read to me the contents of so insolent a scroll, I caused one of my squires to pluck down a trophy so disgraceful to the chivalry and nobility of Scotland. Where upon, it seems some of these saucy burghers took license to hoot and insult the hindmost of my train, who wheeled their horses on them, and would soon have settled the feud, but for my positive command that they should follow me in as much peace as the rascally vulgar would permit. And thus they arrived here in the guise of flying men, when, with my command to repel force by force, they might have set fire to the four corners of this wretched borough, and stifled the insolent churls, like malicious fox cubs in a burning brake of furze.”

There was a silence when Douglas had done speaking, until the Duke of Rothsay answered, addressing his father:

“Since the Earl of Douglas possesses the power of burning the town where your Grace holds your court, so soon as the provost and he differ about a night riot, or the terms of a cartel, I am sure we ought all to be thankful that he has not the will to do so.”

“The Duke of Rothsay,” said Douglas, who seemed resolved to maintain command of his temper, “may have reason to thank Heaven in a more serious tone than he now uses that the Douglas is as true as he is powerful. This is a time when the subjects in all countries rise against the law: we have heard of the insurgents of the Jacquerie in France; and of Jack Straw, and Hob Miller, and Parson Ball, among the Southron; and we may be sure there is fuel enough to catch such a flame, were it spreading to our frontiers. When I see peasants challenging noblemen, and nailing the hands of the gentry to their city cross, I will not say I fear mutiny — for that would be false — but I foresee, and will stand well prepared for, it.”

“And why does my Lord Douglas say,” answered the Earl of March, “that this cartel has been done by churls? I see Sir Patrick Charteris’s name there, and he, I ween, is of no churl’s blood. The Douglas himself, since he takes the matter so warmly, might lift Sir Patrick’s gauntlet without soiling of his honour.”

“My Lord of March,” replied Douglas, “should speak but of what he understands. I do no injustice to the descendant of the Red Rover, when I say he is too slight to be weighed with the Douglas. The heir of Thomas Randolph might have a better claim to his answer.”

“And, by my honour, it shall not miss for want of my asking the grace,” said the Earl of March, pulling his glove off.

“Stay, my lord,” said the King. “Do us not so gross an injury as to bring your feud to mortal defiance here; but rather offer your ungloved hand in kindness to the noble earl, and embrace in token of your mutual fealty to the crown of Scotland.”

“Not so, my liege,” answered March; “your Majesty may command me to return my gauntlet, for that and all the armour it belongs to are at your command, while I continue to hold my earldom of the crown of Scotland; but when I clasp Douglas, it must be with a mailed hand. Farewell, my liege. My counsels here avail not, nay, are so unfavourably received, that perhaps farther stay were unwholesome for my safety. May God keep your Highness from open enemies and treacherous friends! I am for my castle of Dunbar, from whence I think you will soon hear news. Farewell to you, my Lords of Albany and Douglas; you are playing a high game, look you play it fairly. Farewell, poor thoughtless prince, who art sporting like a fawn within spring of a tiger! Farewell, all — George of Dunbar sees the evil he cannot remedy. Adieu, all.”

The King would have spoken, but the accents died on his tongue, as he received from Albany a look cautioning him to forbear. The Earl of March left the apartment, receiving the mute salutations of the members of the council whom he had severally addressed, excepting from Douglas alone, who returned to his farewell speech a glance of contemptuous defiance.

“The recreant goes to betray us to the Southron,” he said; “his pride rests on his possessing that sea worn hold which can admit the English into Lothian [the castle of Dunbar]. Nay, look not alarmed, my liege, I will hold good what I say. Nevertheless, it is yet time. Speak but the word, my liege — say but ‘Arrest him,’ and March shall not yet cross the Earn on his traitorous journey.”

“Nay, gallant earl,” said Albany, who wished rather that the two powerful lords should counterbalance each other than that one should obtain a decisive superiority, “that were too hasty counsel. The Earl of March came hither on the King’s warrant of safe conduct, and it may not consist with my royal brother’s honour to break it. Yet, if your lordship can bring any detailed proof —”

Here they were interrupted by a flourish of trumpets.

“His Grace of Albany is unwontedly scrupulous today,” said Douglas; “but it skills not wasting words — the time is past — these are March’s trumpets, and I warrant me he rides at flight speed so soon as he passes the South Port. We shall hear of him in time; and if it be as I have conjectured, he shall be met with though all England backed his treachery.”

“Nay, let us hope better of the noble earl,” said the King, no way displeased that the quarrel betwixt March and Douglas had seemed to obliterate the traces of the disagreement betwixt Rothsay and his father in law; “he hath a fiery, but not a sullen, temper. In some things he has been — I will not say wronged, but disappointed — and something is to be allowed to the resentment of high blood armed with great power. But thank Heaven, all of us who remain are of one sentiment, and, I may say, of one house; so that, at least, our councils cannot now be thwarted with disunion. Father prior, I pray you take your writing materials, for you must as usual be our clerk of council. And now to business, my lords; and our first object of consideration must be this Highland cumber.”

“Between the Clan Chattan and the Clan Quhele,” said the prior, “which, as our last advices from our brethren at Dunkeld inform us, is ready to break out into a more formidable warfare than has yet taken place between these sons of Belial, who speak of nothing else than of utterly destroying one another. Their forces are assembling on each side, and not a man claiming in the tenth degree of kindred but must repair to the brattach of his tribe, or stand to the punishment of fire and sword. The fiery cross hath flitted about like a meteor in every direction, and awakened strange and unknown tribes beyond the distant Moray Firth — may Heaven and St. Dominic be our protection! But if your lordships cannot find remedy for evil, it will spread broad and wide, and the patrimony of the church must in every direction be exposed to the fury of these Amalekites, with whom there is as little devotion to Heaven as there is pity or love to their neighbour — may Our Lady be our guard! We hear some of them are yet utter heathens, and worship Mahound and Termagaunt.”

“My lords and kinsmen,” said Robert, “ye have heard the urgency of this case, and may desire to know my sentiments before you deliver what your own wisdom shall suggest. And, in sooth, no better remedy occurs to me than to send two commissioners, with full power from us to settle such debates as be among them, and at the same time to charge them, as they shall be answerable to the law, to lay down their arms, and forbear all practices of violence against each other.”

“I approve of your Grace’s proposal,” said Rothsay; “and I trust the good prior will not refuse the venerable station of envoy upon this peacemaking errand. And his reverend brother, the abbot of the Carthusian convent, must contend for an honour which will certainly add two most eminent recruits to the large army of martyrs, since the Highlanders little regard the distinction betwixt clerk and layman in the ambassadors whom you send to them.”

“My royal Lord of Rothsay,” said the prior, “if I am destined to the blessed crown of martyrdom, I shall be doubtless directed to the path by which I am to attain it. Meantime, if you speak in jest, may Heaven pardon you, and give you light to perceive that it were better buckle on your arms to guard the possessions of the church, so perilously endangered, than to employ your wit in taunting her ministers and servants.”

“I taunt no one, father prior,” said the youth, yawning; “Nor have I much objection to taking arms, excepting that they are a somewhat cumbrous garb, and in February a furred mantle is more suiting to the weather than a steel corselet. And it irks me the more to put on cold harness in this nipping weather, that, would but the church send a detachment of their saints — and they have some Highland ones well known in this district, and doubtless used to the climate — they might fight their own battles, like merry St. George of England. But I know not how it is, we hear of their miracles when they are propitiated, and of their vengeance if any one trespasses on their patrimonies, and these are urged as reasons for extending their lands by large largesses; and yet, if there come down but a band of twenty Highlanders, bell, book, and candle make no speed, and the belted baron must be fain to maintain the church in possession of the lands which he has given to her, as much as if he himself still enjoyed the fruits of them.”

“Son David,” said the King, “you give an undue license to your tongue.”

“Nay, Sir, I am mute,” replied the Prince. “I had no purpose to disturb your Highness, or displease the father prior, who, with so many miracles at his disposal, will not face, as it seems, a handful of Highland caterans.”

“We know,” said the prior, with suppressed indignation, “from what source these vile doctrines are derived, which we hear with horror from the tongue that now utters them. When princes converse with heretics, their minds and manners are alike corrupted. They show themselves in the streets as the companions of maskers and harlots, and in the council as the scorners of the church and of holy things.”

“Peace, good father!” said the King. “Rothsay shall make amends for what he has idly spoken. Alas! let us take counsel in friendly fashion, rather than resemble a mutinous crew of mariners in a sinking vessel, when each is more intent on quarrelling with his neighbours than in assisting the exertions of the forlorn master for the safety of the ship. My Lord of Douglas, your house has been seldom to lack when the crown of Scotland desired either wise counsel or manly achievement; I trust you will help us in this strait.”

“I can only wonder that the strait should exist, my lord,” answered the haughty Douglas. “When I was entrusted with the lieutenancy of the kingdom, there were some of these wild clans came down from the Grampians. I troubled not the council about the matter, but made the sheriff, Lord Ruthven, get to horse with the forces of the Carse — the Hays, the Lindsays, the Ogilvies, and other gentlemen. By St. Bride! When it was steel coat to frieze mantle, the thieves knew what lances were good for, and whether swords had edges or no. There were some three hundred of their best bonnets, besides that of their chief, Donald Cormac, left on the moor of Thorn and in Rochinroy Wood; and as many were gibbeted at Houghmanstares, which has still the name from the hangman work that was done there. This is the way men deal with thieves in my country; and if gentler methods will succeed better with these Earish knaves, do not blame Douglas for speaking his mind. You smile, my Lord of Rothsay. May I ask how I have a second time become your jest, before I have replied to the first which you passed on me?”

“Nay, be not wrathful, my good Lord of Douglas,” answered the Prince; “I did but smile to think how your princely retinue would dwindle if every thief were dealt with as the poor Highlanders at Houghmanstares.”

The King again interfered, to prevent the Earl from giving an angry reply.

“Your lordship,” said he to Douglas, “advises wisely that we should trust to arms when these men come out against our subjects on the fair and level plan; but the difficulty is to put a stop to their disorders while they continue to lurk within their mountains. I need not tell you that the Clan Chattan and the Clan Quhele are great confederacies, consisting each of various tribes, who are banded together, each to support their own separate league, and who of late have had dissensions which have drawn blood wherever they have met, whether individually or in bands. The whole country is torn to pieces by their restless feuds.”

“I cannot see the evil of this,” said the Douglas: “the ruffians will destroy each other, and the deer of the Highlands will increase as the men diminish. We shall gain as hunters the exercise we lose as warriors.”

“Rather say that the wolves will increase as the men diminish,” replied the King.

“I am content,” said Douglas: “better wild wolves than wild caterans. Let there be strong forces maintained along the Earish frontier, to separate the quiet from the disturbed country. Confine the fire of civil war within the Highlands; let it spend its uncontrolled fury, and it will be soon burnt out for want of fuel. The survivors will be humbled, and will be more obedient to a whisper of your Grace’s pleasure than their fathers, or the knaves that now exist, have, been to your strictest commands.”

“This is wise but ungodly counsel,” said the prior, shaking his head; “I cannot take it upon my conscience to recommend it. It is wisdom, but it is the wisdom of Achitophel, crafty at once and cruel.”

“My heart tells me so,” said the King, laying his hand on his breast —“my heart tells me that it will be asked of me at the awful day, ‘Robert Stuart, where are the subjects I have given thee?’ It tells me that I must account for them all, Saxon and Gael, Lowland, Highland, and Border man; that I will not be required to answer for those alone who have wealth and knowledge, but for those also who were robbers because they were poor, and rebels because they were ignorant.”

“Your Highness speaks like a Christian king,” said the prior; “but you bear the sword as well as the sceptre, and this present evil is of a kind which the sword must cure.”

“Hark ye, my lords,” said the Prince, looking up as if a gay thought had suddenly struck him. “Suppose we teach these savage mountaineers a strain of chivalry? It were no hard matter to bring these two great commanders, the captain of the Clan Chattan and the chief of the no less doughty race of the Clan Quhele, to defy each other to mortal combat. They might fight here in Perth — we would lend them horse and armour; thus their feud would be stanched by the death of one, or probably both, of the villains, for I think both would break their necks in the first charge; my father’s godly desire of saving blood would be attained; and we should have the pleasure of seeing such a combat between two savage knights, for the first time in their lives wearing breeches and mounted on horses, as has not been heard of since the days of King Arthur.”

“Shame upon you, David!” said the King. “Do you make the distress of your native country, and the perplexity of our councils, a subject for buffoonery?”

“If you will pardon me, royal brother,” said Albany, “I think that, though my princely nephew hath started this thought in a jocular manner, there may be something wrought out of it, which might greatly remedy this pressing evil.”

“Good brother,” replied the King, “it is unkind to expose Rothsay’s folly by pressing further his ill timed jest. We know the Highland clans have not our customs of chivalry, nor the habit or mode of doing battle which these require.”

“True, your Grace,” answered Albany; “yet I speak not in scorn, but in serious earnest. True, the mountaineers have not our forms and mode of doing battle in the lists, but they have those which are as effectual to the destruction of human life, and so that the mortal game is played, and the stake won and lost, what signifies it whether these Gael fight with sword and lance, as becomes belted knights, or with sandbags, like the crestless churls of England, or butcher each other with knives and skenes, in their own barbarous fashion? Their habits, like our own, refer all disputed rights and claims to the decision of battle. They are as vain, too, as they are fierce; and the idea that these two clans would be admitted to combat in presence of your Grace and of your court will readily induce them to refer their difference to the fate of battle, even were such rough arbitrement less familiar to their customs, and that in any such numbers as shall be thought most convenient. We must take care that they approach not the court, save in such a fashion and number that they shall not be able to surprise us; and that point being provided against, the more that shall be admitted to combat upon either side, the greater will be the slaughter among their bravest and most stirring men, and the more the chance of the Highlands being quiet for some time to come.”

“This were a bloody policy, brother,” said the King; “and again I say, that I cannot bring my conscience to countenance the slaughter of these rude men, that are so little better than so many benighted heathens.”

“And are their lives more precious,” asked Albany, “than those of nobles and gentlemen who by your Grace’s license are so frequently admitted to fight in barrace, either for the satisfying of disputes at law or simply to acquire honour?”

The King, thus hard pressed, had little to say against a custom so engrafted upon the laws of the realm and the usages of chivalry as the trial by combat; and he only replied: “God knows, I have never granted such license as you urge me with unless with the greatest repugnance; and that I never saw men have strife together to the effusion of blood, but I could have wished to appease it with the shedding of my own.”

“But, my gracious lord,” said the prior, “it seems that, if we follow not some such policy as this of my Lord of Albany, we must have recourse to that of the Douglas; and, at the risk of the dubious event of battle, and with the certainty of losing many excellent subjects, do, by means of the Lowland swords, that which these wild mountaineers will otherwise perform with their own hand. What says my Lord of Douglas to the policy of his Grace of Albany?”

“Douglas,” said the haughty lord, “never counselled that to be done by policy which might be attained by open force. He remains by his opinion, and is willing to march at the head of his own followers, with those of the barons of Perth shire and the Carse, and either bring these Highlanders to reason or subjection, or leave the body of a Douglas among their savage wildernesses.”

“It is nobly spoken, my Lord of Douglas,” said Albany; “and well might the King rely upon thy undaunted heart and the courage of thy resolute followers. But see you not how soon you may be called elsewhere, where your presence and services are altogether indispensable to Scotland and her monarch? Marked you not the gloomy tone in which the fiery March limited his allegiance and faith to our sovereign here present to that space for which he was to remain King Robert’s vassal? And did not you yourself suspect that he was plotting a transference of his allegiance to England? Other chiefs, of subordinate power and inferior fame, may do battle with the Highlanders; but if Dunbar admit the Percies and their Englishmen into our frontiers, who will drive them back if the Douglas be elsewhere?”

“My sword,” answered Douglas, “is equally at the service of his Majesty on the frontier or in the deepest recesses of the Highlands. I have seen the backs of the proud Percy and George of Dunbar ere now, and I may see them again. And, if it is the King’s pleasure I should take measures against this probable conjunction of stranger and traitor, I admit that, rather than trust to an inferior or feebler hand the important task of settling the Highlands, I would be disposed to give my opinion in favour of the policy of my Lord of Albany, and suffer those savages to carve each other’s limbs, without giving barons and knights the trouble of hunting them down.”

“My Lord of Douglas,” said the Prince, who seemed determined to omit no opportunity to gall his haughty father in law, “does not choose to leave to us Lowlanders even the poor crumbs of honour which might be gathered at the expense of the Highland kerne, while he, with his Border chivalry, reaps the full harvest of victory over the English. But Percy hath seen men’s backs as well as Douglas; and I have known as great wonders as that he who goes forth to seek such wool should come back shorn.”

“A phrase,” said Douglas, “well becoming a prince who speaks of honour with a wandering harlot’s scrip in his bonnet, by way of favor.”

“Excuse it, my lord,” said Rothsay: “men who have matched unfittingly become careless in the choice of those whom they love par amours. The chained dog must snatch at the nearest bone.”

“Rothsay, my unhappy son!” exclaimed the King, “art thou mad? or wouldst thou draw down on thee the full storm of a king and father’s displeasure?”

“I am dumb,” returned the Prince, “at your Grace’s command.”

“Well, then, my Lord of Albany,” said the King, “since such is your advice, and since Scottish blood must flow, how, I pray you, are we to prevail on these fierce men to refer their quarrel to such a combat as you propose?”

“That, my liege,” said Albany, “must be the result of more mature deliberation. But the task will not be difficult. Gold will be needful to bribe some of the bards and principal counsellors and spokesmen. The chiefs, moreover, of both these leagues must be made to understand that, unless they agree to this amicable settlement —”

“Amicable, brother!” said the King, with emphasis.

“Ay, amicable, my liege,” replied his brother, “since it is better the country were placed in peace, at the expense of losing a score or two of Highland kernes, than remain at war till as many thousands are destroyed by sword, fire, famine, and all the extremities of mountain battle. To return to the purpose: I think that the first party to whom the accommodation is proposed will snatch at it eagerly; that the other will be ashamed to reject an offer to rest the cause on the swords of their bravest men; that the national vanity, and factious hate to each other, will prevent them from seeing our purpose in adopting such a rule of decision; and that they will be more eager to cut each other to pieces than we can be to halloo them on. And now, as our counsels are finished, so far as I can aid, I will withdraw.”

“Stay yet a moment,” said the prior, “for I also have a grief to disclose, of a nature so black and horrible, that your Grace’s pious heart will hardly credit its existence, and I state it mournfully, because, as certain as that I am an unworthy servant of St. Dominic, it is the cause of the displeasure of Heaven against this poor country, by which our victories are turned into defeat, our gladness into mourning, our councils distracted with disunion, and our country devoured by civil war.”

“Speak, reverend prior,” said the King; “assuredly, if the cause of such evils be in me or in my house, I will take instant care to their removal.”

He uttered these words with a faltering voice, and eagerly waited for the prior’s reply, in the dread, no doubt, that it might implicate Rothsay in some new charge of folly or vice. His apprehensions perhaps deceived him, when he thought he saw the churchman’s eye rest for a moment on the Prince, before he said, in a solemn tone, “Heresy, my noble and gracious liege — heresy is among us. She snatches soul after soul from the congregation, as wolves steal lambs from the sheep fold.”

“There are enough of shepherds to watch the fold,” answered the Duke of Rothsay. “Here are four convents of regular monks alone around this poor hamlet of Perth, and all the secular clergy besides. Methinks a town so well garrisoned should be fit to keep out an enemy.”

“One traitor in a garrison, my lord,” answered the prior, “can do much to destroy the security of a city which is guarded by legions; and if that one traitor is, either from levity, or love of novelty, or whatever other motive, protected and fostered by those who should be most eager to expel him from the fortress, his opportunities of working mischief will be incalculably increased.”

“Your words seem to aim at some one in this presence, father prior,” said the Douglas; “if at me, they do me foul wrong. I am well aware that the abbot of Aberbrothock hath made some ill advised complaints, that I suffered not his beeves to become too many for his pastures, or his stock of grain to burst the girnels of the monastery, while my followers lacked beef and their horses corn. But bethink you, the pastures and cornfields which produced that plenty were bestowed by my ancestors on the house of Aberbrothock, surely not with the purpose that their descendant should starve in the midst of it; and neither will he, by St. Bride! But for heresy and false doctrine,” he added, striking his large hand heavily on the council table, “who is it that dare tax the Douglas? I would not have poor men burned for silly thoughts; but my hand and sword are ever ready to maintain the Christian faith.”

“My lord, I doubt it not,” said the prior; “so hath it ever been with your most noble house. For the abbot’s complaints, they may pass to a second day. But what we now desire is a commission to some noble lord of state, joined to others of Holy Church, to support by strength of hand, if necessary, the inquiries which the reverend official of the bounds, and other grave prelates, my unworthy self being one, are about to make into the cause of the new doctrines, which are now deluding the simple, and depraving the pure and precious faith, approved by the Holy Father and his reverend predecessors.”

“Let the Earl of Douglas have a royal commission to this effect,” said Albany; “and let there be no exception whatever from his jurisdiction, saving the royal person. For my own part, although conscious that I have neither in act nor thought received or encouraged a doctrine which Holy Church hath not sanctioned, yet I should blush to claim an immunity under the blood royal of Scotland, lest I should seem to be seeking refuge against a crime so horrible.”

“I will have nought to do with it,” said Douglas: “to march against the English, and the Southron traitor March, is task enough for me. Moreover, I am a true Scotsman, and will not give way to aught that may put the Church of Scotland’s head farther into the Roman yoke, or make the baron’s coronet stoop to the mitre and cowl. Do you, therefore, most noble Duke of Albany, place your own name in the commission; and I pray your Grace so to mitigate the zeal of the men of Holy Church who may be associated with you, that there be no over zealous dealings; for the smell of a fagot on the Tay would bring back the Douglas from the walls of York.”

The Duke hastened to give the Earl assurance that the commission should be exercised with lenity and moderation.

“Without a question,” said King Robert, “the commission must be ample; and did it consist with the dignity of our crown, we would not ourselves decline its jurisdiction. But we trust that, while the thunders of the church are directed against the vile authors of these detestable heresies, there shall be measures of mildness and compassion taken with the unfortunate victims of their delusions.”

“Such is ever the course of Holy Church, my lord,” said the prior of St. Dominic’s.

“Why, then, let the commission be expedited with due care, in name of our brother Albany, and such others as shall be deemed convenient,” said the King. “And now once again let us break up our council; and, Rothsay, come thou with me, and lend me thine arm; I have matter for thy private ear.”

“Ho, la!” here exclaimed the Prince, in the tone in which he would have addressed a managed horse.

“What means this rudeness, boy?” said the King; “wilt thou never learn reason and courtesy?”

“Let me not be thought to offend, my liege,” said the Prince; “but we are parting without learning what is to be done in the passing strange adventure of the dead hand, which the Douglas hath so gallantly taken up. We shall sit but uncomfortably here at Perth, if we are at variance with the citizens.”

“Leave that to me,” said Albany. “With some little grant of lands and money, and plenty of fair words, the burghers may be satisfied for this time; but it were well that the barons and their followers, who are in attendance on the court, were warned to respect the peace within burgh.”

“Surely, we would have it so,” said the King; “let strict orders be given accordingly.”

“It is doing the churls but too much grace,” said the Douglas; “but be it at your Highness’s pleasure. I take leave to retire.”

“Not before you taste a flagon of Gascon wine, my lord?” said the King.

“Pardon,” replied the Earl, “I am not athirst, and I drink not for fashion, but either for need or for friendship.” So saying, he departed.

The King, as if relieved by his absence, turned to Albany, and said: “And now, my lord, we should chide this truant Rothsay of ours; yet he hath served us so well at council, that we must receive his merits as some atonement for his follies.”

“I am happy to hear it,” answered Albany, with a countenance of pity and incredulity, as if he knew nothing of the supposed services.

“Nay, brother, you are dull,” said the King, “for I will not think you envious. Did you not note that Rothsay was the first to suggest the mode of settling the Highlands, which your experience brought indeed into better shape, and which was generally approved of; and even now we had broken up, leaving a main matter unconsidered, but that he put us in mind of the affray with the citizens?”

“I nothing doubt, my liege,” said the Duke of Albany, with the acquiescence which he saw was expected, “that my royal nephew will soon emulate his father’s wisdom.”

“Or,” said the Duke of Rothsay, “I may find it easier to borrow from another member of my family that happy and comfortable cloak of hypocrisy which covers all vices, and then it signifies little whether they exist or not.”

“My lord prior,” said the Duke, addressing the Dominican, “we will for a moment pray your reverence’s absence. The King and I have that to say to the Prince which must have no further audience, not even yours.”

The Dominican bowed and withdrew.

When the two royal brothers and the Prince were left together, the King seemed in the highest degree embarrassed and distressed, Albany sullen and thoughtful, while Rothsay himself endeavoured to cover some anxiety under his usual appearance of levity. There was a silence of a minute. At length Albany spoke.

“Royal brother,” he said, “my princely nephew entertains with so much suspicion any admonition coming from my mouth, that I must pray your Grace yourself to take the trouble of telling him what it is most fitting he should know.”

“It must be some unpleasing communication indeed, which my Lord of Albany cannot wrap up in honied words,” said the Prince.

“Peace with thine effrontery, boy,” answered the King, passionately. “You asked but now of the quarrel with the citizens. Who caused that quarrel, David? What men were those who scaled the window of a peaceful citizen and liege man, alarmed the night with torch and outcry, and subjected our subjects to danger and affright?”

“More fear than danger, I fancy,” answered the Prince; “but how can I of all men tell who made this nocturnal disturbance?”

“There was a follower of thine own there,” continued the King — “a man of Belial, whom I will have brought to condign punishment.”

“I have no follower, to my knowledge, capable of deserving your Highness’s displeasure,” answered the Prince.

“I will have no evasions, boy. Where wert thou on St. Valentine’s Eve?”

“It is to be hoped that I was serving the good saint, as a man of mould might,” answered the young man, carelessly.

“Will my royal nephew tell us how his master of the horse was employed upon that holy eve?” said the Duke of Albany.

“Speak, David; I command thee to speak,” said the King.

“Ramorny was employed in my service, I think that answer may satisfy my uncle.”

“But it will not satisfy me,” said the angry father. “God knows, I never coveted man’s blood, but that Ramorny’s head I will have, if law can give it. He has been the encourager and partaker of all thy numerous vices and follies. I will take care he shall be so no more. Call MacLouis, with a guard.”

“Do not injure an innocent man,” interposed the Prince, desirous at every sacrifice to preserve his favourite from the menaced danger: “I pledge my word that Ramorny was employed in business of mine, therefore could not be engaged in this brawl.”

“False equivocator that thou art!” said the King, presenting to the Prince a ring, “behold the signet of Ramorny, lost in the infamous affray! It fell into the hands of a follower of the Douglas, and was given by the Earl to my brother. Speak not for Ramorny, for he dies; and go thou from my presence, and repent the flagitious counsels which could make thee stand before me with a falsehood in thy mouth. Oh, shame, David — shame! as a son thou hast lied to thy father, as a knight to the head of thy order.”

The Prince stood mute, conscience struck, and self convicted. He then gave way to the honourable feelings which at bottom he really possessed, and threw himself at his father’s feet.

“The false knight,” he said, “deserves degradation, the disloyal subject death; but, oh! let the son crave from the father pardon for the servant who did not lead him into guilt, but who reluctantly plunged himself into it at his command. Let me bear the weight of my own folly, but spare those who have been my tools rather than my accomplices. Remember, Ramorny was preferred to my service by my sainted mother.”

“Name her not, David, I charge thee,” said the King; “she is happy that she never saw the child of her love stand before her doubly dishonoured by guilt and by falsehood.”

“I am indeed unworthy to name her,” said the Prince; “and yet, my dear father, in her name I must petition for Ramorny’s life.”

“If I might offer my counsel,” said the Duke of Albany, who saw that a reconciliation would soon take place betwixt the father and son, “I would advise that Ramorny be dismissed from the Prince’s household and society, with such further penalty as his imprudence may seem to merit. The public will be contented with his disgrace, and the matter will be easily accommodated or stifled, so that his Highness do not attempt to screen his servant.”

“Wilt thou, for my sake, David,” said the King, with a faltering voice and the tear in his eye, “dismiss this dangerous man? — for my sake, who could not refuse thee the heart out of my bosom?”

“It shall be done, my father — done instantly,” the Prince replied; and seizing the pen, he wrote a hasty dismissal of Ramorny from his service, and put it into Albany’s hands. “I would I could fulfil all your wishes as easily, my royal father,” he added, again throwing himself at the King’s feet, who raised him up and fondly folded him in his arms.

Albany scowled, but was silent; and it was not till after the space of a minute or two that he said: “This matter being so happily accommodated, let me ask if your Majesty is pleased to attend the evensong service in the chapel?”

“Surely,” said the King. “Have I not thanks to pay to God, who has restored union to my family? You will go with us, brother?”

“So please your Grace to give me leave of absence — no,” said the Duke. “I must concert with the Douglas and others the manner in which we may bring these Highland vultures to our lure.”

Albany retired to think over his ambitious projects, while the father and son attended divine service, to thank God for their happy reconciliation.

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