The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 29

Still harping on my daughter.

Hamlet.

Two hours before the black cock crew, Simon Glover was wakened by a well known voice, which called him by name.

“What, Conachar!” he replied, as he started from sleep, “is the morning so far advanced?” and, raising his eyes, the person of whom he was dreaming stood before him; and at the same moment, the events of yesterday rushing on his recollection, he saw with surprise that the vision retained the form which sleep had assigned it, and it was not the mail clad Highland chief, with claymore in hand, as he had seen him the preceding night, but Conachar of Curfew Street, in his humble apprentice’s garb, holding in his hand a switch of oak. An apparition would not more have surprised our Perth burgher. As he gazed with wonder, the youth turned upon him a piece of lighted bog wood which he carried in a lantern, and to his waking exclamation replied:

“Even so, father Simon: it is Conachar, come to renew our old acquaintance, when our intercourse will attract least notice.”

So saying, he sat down on a tressel which answered the purpose of a chair, and placing the lantern beside him, proceeded in the most friendly tone:

“I have tasted of thy good cheer many a day, father Simon; I trust thou hast found no lack in my family?”

“None whatever, Eachin MacIan,” answered the glover, for the simplicity of the Celtic language and manners rejects all honorary titles; “it was even too good for this fasting season, and much too good for me, since I must be ashamed to think how hard you fared in Curfew Street.”

“Even too well, to use your own word,” said Conachar, “for the deserts of an idle apprentice and for the wants of a young Highlander. But yesterday, if there was, as I trust, enough of food, found you not, good glover, some lack of courteous welcome? Excuse it not — I know you did so. But I am young in authority with my people, and I must not too early draw their attention to the period of my residence in the Lowlands, which, however, I can never forget.”

“I understand the cause entirely,” said Simon; “and therefore it is unwillingly, and as it were by force, that I have made so early a visit hither.”

“Hush, father — hush! It is well you are come to see some of my Highland splendour while it yet sparkles. Return after Palm Sunday, and who knows whom or what you may find in the territories we now possess! The wildcat may have made his lodge where the banqueting bower of MacIan now stands.”

The young chief was silent, and pressed the top of the rod to his lips, as if to guard against uttering more.

“There is no fear of that, Eachin,” said Simon, in that vague way in which lukewarm comforters endeavour to turn the reflections of their friends from the consideration of inevitable danger.

“There is fear, and there is peril of utter ruin,” answered Eachin, “and there is positive certainty of great loss. I marvel my father consented to this wily proposal of Albany. I would MacGillie Chattanach would agree with me, and then, instead of wasting our best blood against each other, we would go down together to Strathmore and kill and take possession. I would rule at Perth and he at Dundee, and all the great strath should be our own to the banks of the Firth of Tay. Such is the policy I have caught from your old grey head, father Simon, when holding a trencher at thy back, and listening to thy evening talk with Bailie Craigdallie.”

“The tongue is well called an unruly member,” thought the glover. “Here have I been holding a candle to the devil, to show him the way to mischief.”

But he only said aloud: “These plans come too late.”

“Too late indeed!” answered Eachin. “The indentures of battle are signed by our marks and seals, the burning hate of the Clan Quhele and Clan Chattan is blown up to an inextinguishable flame by mutual insults and boasts. Yes, the time is passed by. But to thine own affairs, father Glover. It is religion that has brought thee hither, as I learn from Niel Booshalloch. Surely, my experience of thy prudence did not lead me to suspect thee of any quarrel with Mother Church. As for my old acquaintance, Father Clement, he is one of those who hunt after the crown of martyrdom, and think a stake, surrounded with blazing fagots, better worth embracing than a willing bride. He is a very knight errant in defence of his religious notions, and does battle wherever he comes. He hath already a quarrel with the monks of Sibyl’s Isle yonder about some point of doctrine. Hast seen him?”

“I have,” answered Simon; “but we spoke little together, the time being pressing.”

“He may have said that there is a third person — one more likely, I think, to be a true fugitive for religion than either you, a shrewd citizen, or he, a wrangling preacher — who would be right heartily welcome to share our protection? Thou art dull, man, and wilt not guess my meaning — thy daughter, Catharine.”

These last words the young chief spoke in English; and he continued the conversation in that language, as if apprehensive of being overheard, and, indeed, as if under the sense of some involuntary hesitation.

“My daughter Catharine,” said the glover, remembering what the Carthusian had told him, “is well and safe.”

“But where or with whom?” said the young chief. “And wherefore came she not with you? Think you the Clan Quhele have no cailliachs as active as old Dorothy, whose hand has warmed my haffits before now, to wait upon the daughter of their chieftain’s master?”

“Again I thank you,” said the glover, “and doubt neither your power nor your will to protect my daughter, as well as myself. But an honourable lady, the friend of Sir Patrick Charteris, hath offered her a safe place of refuge without the risk of a toilsome journey through a desolate and distracted country.”

“Oh, ay, Sir Patrick Charteris,” said Eachin, in a more reserved and distant tone; “he must be preferred to all men, without doubt. He is your friend, I think?”

Simon Glover longed to punish this affectation of a boy who had been scolded four times a day for running into the street to see Sir Patrick Charteris ride past; but he checked his spirit of repartee, and simply said:

“Sir Patrick Charteris has been provost of Perth for seven years, and it is likely is so still, since the magistrates are elected, not in Lent, but at St. Martinmas.”

“Ah, father Glover,” said the youth, in his kinder and more familiar mode of address, “you are so used to see the sumptuous shows and pageants of Perth, that you would but little relish our barbarous festival in comparison. What didst thou think of our ceremonial of yesterday?”

“It was noble and touching,” said the glover; “and to me, who knew your father, most especially so. When you rested on the sword and looked around you, methought I saw mine old friend Gilchrist MacIan arisen from the dead and renewed in years and in strength.”

“I played my part there boldly, I trust; and showed little of that paltry apprentice boy whom you used to — use just as he deserved?”

“Eachin resembles Conachar,” said the glover, “no more than a salmon resembles a gar, though men say they are the same fish in a different state, or than a butterfly resembles a grub.”

“Thinkest thou that, while I was taking upon me the power which all women love, I would have been myself an object for a maiden’s eye to rest upon? To speak plain, what would Catharine have thought of me in the ceremonial?”

“We approach the shallows now,” thought Simon Glover, “and without nice pilotage we drive right on shore.”

“Most women like show, Eachin; but I think my daughter Catharine be an exception. She would rejoice in the good fortune of her household friend and playmate; but she would not value the splendid MacIan, captain of Clan Quhele, more than the orphan Conachar.”

“She is ever generous and disinterested,” replied the young chief. “But yourself, father, have seen the world for many more years than she has done, and can better form a judgment what power and wealth do for those who enjoy them. Think, and speak sincerely, what would be your own thoughts if you saw your Catharine standing under yonder canopy, with the command over an hundred hills, and the devoted obedience of ten thousand vassals; and as the price of these advantages, her hand in that of the man who loves her the best in the world?”

“Meaning in your own, Conachar?” said Simon.

“Ay, Conachar call me: I love the name, since it was by that I have been known to Catharine.”

“Sincerely, then,” said the glover, endeavouring to give the least offensive turn to his reply, “my inmost thought would be the earnest wish that Catharine and I were safe in our humble booth in Curfew Street, with Dorothy for our only vassal.”

“And with poor Conachar also, I trust? You would not leave him to pine away in solitary grandeur?”

“I would not,” answered the glover, “wish so ill to the Clan Quhele, mine ancient friends, as to deprive them, at the moment of emergency, of a brave young chief, and that chief of the fame which he is about to acquire at their head in the approaching conflict.”

Eachin bit his lip to suppress his irritated feelings as he replied: “Words — words — empty words, father Simon. You fear the Clan Quhele more than you love them, and you suppose their indignation would be formidable should their chief marry the daughter of a burgess of Perth.”

“And if I do fear such an issue, Hector MacIan, have I not reason? How have ill assorted marriages had issue in the house of MacCallanmore, in that of the powerful MacLeans — nay, of the Lords of the Isles themselves? What has ever come of them but divorce and exheredation, sometimes worse fate, to the ambitious intruder? You could not marry my child before a priest, and you could only wed her with your left hand; and I—” he checked the strain of impetuosity which the subject inspired, and concluded, “and I am an honest though humble burgher of Perth, who would rather my child were the lawful and undoubted spouse of a citizen in my own rank than the licensed concubine of a monarch.”

“I will wed Catharine before the priest and before the world, before the altar and before the black stones of Iona,” said the impetuous young man. “She is the love of my youth, and there is not a tie in religion or honour but I will bind myself by them! I have sounded my people. If we do but win this combat — and, with the hope of gaining Catharine, we SHALL win it — my heart tells me so — I shall be so much lord over their affections that, were I to take a bride from the almshouse, so it was my pleasure, they would hail her as if she were a daughter of MacCallanmore. But you reject my suit?” said Eachin, sternly.

“You put words of offence in my mouth,” said the old man, “and may next punish me for them, since I am wholly in your power. But with my consent my daughter shall never wed save in her own degree. Her heart would break amid the constant wars and scenes of bloodshed which connect themselves with your lot. If you really love her, and recollect her dread of strife and combat, you would not wish her to be subjected to the train of military horrors in which you, like your father, must needs be inevitably and eternally engaged. Choose a bride amongst the daughters of the mountain chiefs, my son, or fiery Lowland nobles. You are fair, young, rich, high born, and powerful, and will not woo in vain. You will readily find one who will rejoice in your conquests, and cheer you under defeat. To Catharine, the one would be as frightful as the other. A warrior must wear a steel gauntlet: a glove of kidskin would be torn to pieces in an hour.”

A dark cloud passed over the face of the young chief, lately animated with so much fire.

“Farewell,” he said, “the only hope which could have lighted me to fame or victory!”

He remained for a space silent, and intensely thoughtful, with downcast eyes, a lowering brow, and folded arms. At length he raised his hands, and said: “Father — for such you have been to me — I am about to tell you a secret. Reason and pride both advise me to be silent, but fate urges me, and must be obeyed. I am about to lodge in you the deepest and dearest secret that man ever confided to man. But beware — end this conference how it will — beware how you ever breathe a syllable of what I am now to trust to you; for know that, were you to do so in the most remote corner of Scotland, I have ears to hear it even there, and a hand and poniard to reach a traitor’s bosom. I am — but the word will not out!”

“Do not speak it then,” said the prudent glover: “a secret is no longer safe when it crosses the lips of him who owns it, and I desire not a confidence so dangerous as you menace me with.”

“Ay, but I must speak, and you must hear,” said the youth. “In this age of battle, father, you have yourself been a combatant?”

“Once only,” replied Simon, “when the Southron assaulted the Fair City. I was summoned to take my part in the defence, as my tenure required, like that of other craftsmen, who are bound to keep watch and ward.”

“And how felt you upon that matter?” inquired the young chief.

“What can that import to the present business?” said Simon, in some surprise.

“Much, else I had not asked the question,” answered. Eachin, in the tone of haughtiness which from time to time he assumed.

“An old man is easily brought to speak of olden times,” said Simon, not unwilling, on an instant’s reflection, to lead the conversation away from the subject of his daughter, “and I must needs confess my feelings were much short of the high, cheerful confidence, nay, the pleasure, with which I have seen other men go to battle. My life and profession were peaceful, and though I have not wanted the spirit of a man, when the time demanded it, yet I have seldom slept worse than the night before that onslaught. My ideas were harrowed by the tales we were told — nothing short of the truth — about the Saxon archers: how they drew shafts of a cloth yard length, and used bows a third longer than ours. When I fell into a broken slumber, if but a straw in the mattress pricked my side I started and waked, thinking an English arrow was quivering in my body. In the morning, as I began for very weariness to sink into some repose, I was waked by the tolling of the common bell, which called us burghers to the walls; I never heard its sound peal so like a passing knell before or since.”

“Go on — what further chanced?” demanded Eachin.

“I did on my harness,” said Simon, “such as it was; took my mother’s blessing, a high spirited woman, who spoke of my father’s actions for the honour of the Fair Town. This heartened me, and I felt still bolder when I found myself ranked among the other crafts, all bowmen, for thou knowest the Perth citizens have good skill in archery. We were dispersed on the walls, several knights and squires in armour of proof being mingled amongst us, who kept a bold countenance, confident perhaps in their harness, and informed us, for our encouragement, that they would cut down with their swords and axes any of those who should attempt to quit their post. I was kindly assured of this myself by the old Kempe of Kinfauns, as he was called, this good Sir Patrick’s father, then our provost. He was a grandson of the Red Rover, Tom of Longueville, and a likely man to keep his word, which he addressed to me in especial, because a night of much discomfort may have made me look paler than usual; and, besides, I was but a lad.”

“And did his exhortation add to your fear or your resolution?” said Eachin, who seemed very attentive.

“To my resolution,” answered Simon; “for I think nothing can make a man so bold to face one danger at some distance in his front as the knowledge of another close behind him, to push him forward. Well, I mounted the walls in tolerable heart, and was placed with others on the Spey Tower, being accounted a good bowman. But a very cold fit seized me as I saw the English, in great order, with their archers in front, and their men at arms behind, marching forward to the attack in strong columns, three in number. They came on steadily, and some of us would fain have shot at them; but it was strictly forbidden, and we were obliged to remain motionless, sheltering ourselves behind the battlement as we best might. As the Southron formed their long ranks into lines, each man occupying his place as by magic, and preparing to cover themselves by large shields, called pavesses, which they planted before them, I again felt a strange breathlessness, and some desire to go home for a glass of distilled waters. But as I looked aside, I saw the worthy Kempe of Kinfauns bending a large crossbow, and I thought it pity he should waste the bolt on a true hearted Scotsman, when so many English were in presence; so I e’en staid where I was, being in a comfortable angle, formed by two battlements. The English then strode forward, and drew their bowstrings — not to the breast, as your Highland kerne do, but to the ear — and sent off their volleys of swallow tails before we could call on St. Andrew. I winked when I saw them haul up their tackle, and I believe I started as the shafts began to rattle against the parapet. But looking round me, and seeing none hurt but John Squallit, the town crier, whose jaws were pierced through with a cloth yard shaft, I took heart of grace, and shot in my turn with good will and good aim. A little man I shot at, who had just peeped out from behind his target, dropt with a shaft through his shoulder. The provost cried, ‘Well stitched, Simon Glover!’ ‘St. John, for his own town, my fellow craftsmen!’ shouted I, though I was then but an apprentice. And if you will believe me, in the rest of the skirmish, which was ended by the foes drawing off, I drew bowstring and loosed shaft as calmly as if I had been shooting at butts instead of men’s breasts. I gained some credit, and I have ever afterwards thought that, in case of necessity — for with me it had never been matter of choice — I should not have lost it again. And this is all I can tell of warlike experience in battle. Other dangers I have had, which I have endeavoured to avoid like a wise man, or, when they were inevitable, I have faced them like a true one. Upon other terms a man cannot live or hold up his head in Scotland.”

“I understand your tale,” said Eachin; “but I shall find it difficult to make you credit mine, knowing the race of which I am descended, and especially that I am the son of him whom we have this day laid in the tomb — well that he lies where he will never learn what you are now to hear! Look, my father, the light which I bear grows short and pale, a few minutes will extinguish it; but before it expires, the hideous tale will be told. Father, I am — a COWARD! It is said at last, and the secret of my disgrace is in keeping of another!”

The young man sunk back in a species of syncope, produced by the agony of his mind as he made the fatal communication. The glover, moved as well by fear as by compassion, applied himself to recall him to life, and succeeded in doing so, but not in restoring him to composure. He hid his face with his hands, and his tears flowed plentifully and bitterly.

“For Our Lady’s sake, be composed,” said the old man, “and recall the vile word! I know you better than yourself: you are no coward, but only too young and inexperienced, ay, and somewhat too quick of fancy, to have the steady valour of a bearded man. I would hear no other man say that of you, Conachar, without giving him the lie. You are no coward: I have seen high sparks of spirit fly from you even on slight enough provocation.”

“High sparks of pride and passion!” said the unfortunate youth; “but when saw you them supported by the resolution that should have backed them? The sparks you speak of fell on my dastardly heart as on a piece of ice which could catch fire from nothing: if my offended pride urged me to strike, my weakness of mind prompted me the next moment to fly.”

“Want of habit,” said Simon; “it is by clambering over walls that youths learn to scale precipices. Begin with slight feuds; exercise daily the arms of your country in tourney with your followers.”

“And what leisure is there for this?” exclaimed the young chief, starting as if something horrid had occurred to his imagination. “How many days are there betwixt this hour and Palm Sunday, and what is to chance then? A list inclosed, from which no man can stir, more than the poor bear who is chained to his stake. Sixty living men, the best and fiercest — one alone excepted! — which Albyn can send down from her mountains, all athirst for each other’s blood, while a king and his nobles, and shouting thousands besides, attend, as at a theatre, to encourage their demoniac fury! Blows clang and blood flows, thicker, faster, redder; they rush on each other like madmen, they tear each other like wild beasts; the wounded are trodden to death amid the feet of their companions! Blood ebbs, arms become weak; but there must be no parley, no truce, no interruption, while any of the maimed wretches remain alive! Here is no crouching behind battlements, no fighting with missile weapons: all is hand to hand, till hands can no longer be raised to maintain the ghastly conflict! If such a field is so horrible in idea, what think you it will be in reality?”

The glover remained silent.

“I say again, what think you?”

“I can only pity you, Conachar,” said Simon. “It is hard to be the descendant of a lofty line — the son of a noble father — the leader by birth of a gallant array, and yet to want, or think you want, for still I trust the fault lies much in a quick fancy, that over estimates danger — to want that dogged quality which is possessed by every game cock that is worth a handful of corn, every hound that is worth a mess of offal. But how chanced it that, with such a consciousness of inability to fight in this battle, you proffered even now to share your chiefdom with my daughter? Your power must depend on your fighting this combat, and in that Catharine cannot help you.”

“You mistake, old man,” replied Eachin: “were Catharine to look kindly on the earnest love I bear her, it would carry me against the front of the enemies with the mettle of a war horse. Overwhelming as my sense of weakness is, the feeling that Catharine looked on would give me strength. Say yet — oh, say yet — she shall be mine if we gain the combat, and not the Gow Chrom himself, whose heart is of a piece with his anvil, ever went to battle so light as I shall do! One strong passion is conquered by another.”

“This is folly, Conachar. Cannot the recollection of your interest, your honour, your kindred, do as much to stir your courage as the thoughts of a brent browed lass? Fie upon you, man!”

“You tell me but what I have told myself, but it is in vain,” replied Eachin, with a sigh. “It is only whilst the timid stag is paired with the doe that he is desperate and dangerous. Be it from constitution; be it, as our Highland cailliachs will say, from the milk of the white doe; be it from my peaceful education and the experience of your strict restraint; be it, as you think, from an overheated fancy, which paints danger yet more dangerous and ghastly than it is in reality, I cannot tell. But I know my failing, and — yes, it must be said! — so sorely dread that I cannot conquer it, that, could I have your consent to my wishes on such terms, I would even here make a pause, renounce the rank I have assumed, and retire into humble life.”

“What, turn glover at last, Conachar?” said Simon. “This beats the legend of St. Crispin. Nay — nay, your hand was not framed for that: you shall spoil me no more doe skins.”

“Jest not,” said Eachin, “I am serious. If I cannot labour, I will bring wealth enough to live without it. They will proclaim me recreant with horn and war pipe. Let them do so. Catharine will love me the better that I have preferred the paths of peace to those of bloodshed, and Father Clement shall teach us to pity and forgive the world, which will load us with reproaches that wound not. I shall be the happiest of men; Catharine will enjoy all that unbounded affection can confer upon her, and will be freed from apprehension of the sights and sounds of horror which your ill assorted match would have prepared for her; and you, father Glover, shall occupy your chimney corner, the happiest and most honoured man that ever —”

“Hold, Eachin — I prithee, hold,” said the glover; “the fir light, with which this discourse must terminate, burns very low, and I would speak a word in my turn, and plain dealing is best. Though it may vex, or perhaps enrage, you, let me end these visions by saying at once: Catharine can never be yours. A glove is the emblem of faith, and a man of my craft should therefore less than any other break his own. Catharine’s hand is promised — promised to a man whom you may hate, but whom you must honour — to Henry the armourer. The match is fitting by degree, agreeable to their mutual wishes, and I have given my promise. It is best to be plain at once; resent my refusal as you will — I am wholly in your power. But nothing shall make me break my word.”

The glover spoke thus decidedly, because he was aware from experience that the very irritable disposition of his former apprentice yielded in most cases to stern and decided resolution. Yet, recollecting where he was, it was with some feelings of fear that he saw the dying flame leap up and spread a flash of light on the visage of Eachin, which seemed pale as the grave, while his eye rolled like that of a maniac in his fever fit. The light instantly sunk down and died, and Simon felt a momentary terror lest he should have to dispute for his life with the youth, whom he knew to be capable of violent actions when highly excited, however short a period his nature could support the measures which his passion commenced. He was relieved by the voice of Eachin, who muttered in a hoarse and altered tone:

“Let what we have spoken this night rest in silence for ever. If thou bring’st it to light, thou wert better dig thine own grave.”

Thus speaking, the door of the hut opened, admitting a gleam of moonshine. The form of the retiring chief crossed it for an instant, the hurdle was then closed, and the shieling left in darkness.

Simon Glover felt relieved when a conversation fraught with offence and danger was thus peaceably terminated. But he remained deeply affected by the condition of Hector MacIan, whom he had himself bred up.

“The poor child,” said he, “to be called up to a place of eminence, only to be hurled from it with contempt! What he told me I partly knew, having often remarked that Conachar was more prone to quarrel than to fight. But this overpowering faint heartedness, which neither shame nor necessity can overcome, I, though no Sir William Wallace, cannot conceive. And to propose himself for a husband to my daughter, as if a bride were to find courage for herself and the bridegroom! No — no, Catharine must wed a man to whom she may say, ‘Husband, spare your enemy’— not one in whose behalf she must cry, ‘Generous enemy, spare my husband!”

Tired out with these reflections, the old man at length fell asleep. In the morning he was awakened by his friend the Booshalloch, who, with something of a blank visage, proposed to him to return to his abode on the meadow at the Ballough. He apologised that the chief could not see Simon Glover that morning, being busied with things about the expected combat; and that Eachin MacIan thought the residence at the Ballough would be safest for Simon Glover’s health, and had given charge that every care should be taken for his protection and accommodation.

Niel Booshalloch dilated on these circumstances, to gloss over the neglect implied in the chief’s dismissing his visitor without a particular audience.

“His father knew better,” said the herdsman. “But where should he have learned manners, poor thing, and bred up among your Perth burghers, who, excepting yourself, neighbour Glover, who speak Gaelic as well as I do, are a race incapable of civility?”

Simon Glover, it may be well believed, felt none of the want of respect which his friend resented on his account. On the contrary, he greatly preferred the quiet residence of the good herdsman to the tumultuous hospitality of the daily festival of the chief, even if there had not just passed an interview with Eachin upon a subject which it would be most painful to revive.

To the Ballough, therefore, he quietly retreated, where, could he have been secure of Catharine’s safety, his leisure was spent pleasantly enough. His amusement was sailing on the lake in a little skiff, which a Highland boy managed, while the old man angled. He frequently landed on the little island, where he mused over the tomb of his old friend Gilchrist MacIan, and made friends with the monks, presenting the prior with gloves of martens’ fur, and the superior officers with each of them a pair made from the skin of the wildcat. The cutting and stitching of these little presents served to beguile the time after sunset, while the family of the herdsman crowded around, admiring his address, and listening to the tales and songs with which the old man had skill to pass away a heavy evening.

It must be confessed that the cautious glover avoided the conversation of Father Clement, whom he erroneously considered as rather the author of his misfortunes than the guiltless sharer of them. “I will not,” he thought, “to please his fancies, lose the goodwill of these kind monks, which may be one day useful to me. I have suffered enough by his preachments already, I trow. Little the wiser and much the poorer they have made me. No — no, Catharine and Clement may think as they will; but I will take the first opportunity to sneak back like a rated hound at the call of his master, submit to a plentiful course of haircloth and whipcord, disburse a lusty mulct, and become whole with the church again.”

More than a fortnight had passed since the glover had arrived at Ballough, and he began to wonder that he had not heard news of Catharine or of Henry Wynd, to whom he concluded the provost had communicated the plan and place of his retreat. He knew the stout smith dared not come up into the Clan Quhele country, on account of various feuds with the inhabitants, and with Eachin himself, while bearing the name of Conachar; but yet the glover thought Henry might have found means to send him a message, or a token, by some one of the various couriers who passed and repassed between the court and the headquarters of the Clan Quhele, in order to concert the terms of the impending combat, the march of the parties to Perth, and other particulars requiring previous adjustment. It was now the middle of March, and the fatal Palm Sunday was fast approaching.

Whilst time was thus creeping on, the exiled glover had not even once set eyes upon his former apprentice. The care that was taken to attend to his wants and convenience in every respect showed that he was not forgotten; but yet, when he heard the chieftain’s horn ringing through the woods, he usually made it a point to choose his walk in a different direction. One morning, however, he found himself unexpectedly in Eachin’s close neighbourhood, with scarce leisure to avoid him, and thus it happened.

As Simon strolled pensively through a little silvan glade, surrounded on either side with tall forest trees, mixed with underwood, a white doe broke from the thicket, closely pursued by two deer greyhounds, one of which griped her haunch, the other her throat, and pulled her down within half a furlong of the glover, who was something startled at the suddenness of the incident. The ear and piercing blast of a horn, and the baying of a slow hound, made Simon aware that the hunters were close behind, and on the trace of the deer. Hallooing and the sound of men running through the copse were heard close at hand. A moment’s recollection would have satisfied Simon that his best way was to stand fast, or retire slowly, and leave it to Eachin to acknowledge his presence or not, as he should see cause. But his desire of shunning the young man had grown into a kind of instinct, and in the alarm of finding him so near, Simon hid himself in a bush of hazels mixed with holly, which altogether concealed him. He had hardly done so ere Eachin, rosy with exercise, dashed from the thicket into the open glade, accompanied by his foster father, Torquil of the Oak. The latter, with equal strength and address, turned the struggling hind on her back, and holding her forefeet in his right hand, while he knelt on her body, offered his skene with the left to the young chief, that he might cut the animal’s throat.

“It may not be, Torquil; do thine office, and take the assay thyself. I must not kill the likeness of my foster —”

This was spoken with a melancholy smile, while a tear at the same time stood in the speaker’s eye. Torquil stared at his young chief for an instant, then drew his sharp wood knife across the creature’s throat with a cut so swift and steady that the weapon reached the backbone. Then rising on his feet, and again fixing a long piercing look on his chief, he said: “As much as I have done to that hind would I do to any living man whose ears could have heard my dault (foster son) so much as name a white doe, and couple the word with Hector’s name!”

If Simon had no reason before to keep himself concealed, this speech of Torquil furnished him with a pressing one.

“It cannot be concealed, father Torquil,” said Eachin: “it will all out to the broad day.”

“What will out? what will to broad day?” asked Torquil in surprise.

“It is the fatal secret,” thought Simon; “and now, if this huge privy councillor cannot keep silence, I shall be made answerable, I suppose, for Eachin’s disgrace having been blown abroad.”

Thinking thus anxiously, he availed himself at the same time of his position to see as much as he could of what passed between the afflicted chieftain and his confidant, impelled by that spirit of curiosity which prompts us in the most momentous, as well as the most trivial, occasions of life, and which is sometimes found to exist in company with great personal fear.

As Torquil listened to what Eachin communicated, the young man sank into his arms, and, supporting himself on his shoulder, concluded his confession by a whisper into his ear. Torquil seemed to listen with such amazement as to make him incapable of crediting his ears. As if to be certain that it was Eachin who spoke, he gradually roused the youth from his reclining posture, and, holding him up in some measure by a grasp on his shoulder, fixed on him an eye that seemed enlarged, and at the same time turned to stone, by the marvels he listened to. And so wild waxed the old man’s visage after he had heard the murmured communication, that Simon Glover apprehended he would cast the youth from him as a dishonoured thing, in which case he might have lighted among the very copse in which he lay concealed, and occasioned his discovery in a manner equally painful and dangerous. But the passions of Torquil, who entertained for his foster child even a double portion of that passionate fondness which always attends that connexion in the Highlands took a different turn.

“I believe it not,” he exclaimed; “it is false of thy father’s child, false of thy mother’s son, falsest of my dault! I offer my gage to heaven and hell, and will maintain the combat with him that shall call it true. Thou hast been spellbound by an evil eye, my darling, and the fainting which you call cowardice is the work of magic. I remember the bat that struck the torch out on the hour that thou wert born — that hour of grief and of joy. Cheer up, my beloved. Thou shalt with me to Iona, and the good St. Columbus, with the whole choir of blessed saints and angels, who ever favoured thy race, shall take from thee the heart of the white doe and return that which they have stolen from thee.”

Eachin listened, with a look as if he would fain have believed the words of the comforter.

“But, Torquil,” he said, “supposing this might avail us, the fatal day approaches, and if I go to the lists, I dread me we shall be shamed.”

“It cannot be — it shall not!” said Torquil. “Hell shall not prevail so far: we will steep thy sword in holy water, place vervain, St. John’s Wort, and rowan tree in thy crest. We will surround thee, I and thy eight brethren: thou shalt be safe as in a castle.”

Again the youth helplessly uttered something, which, from the dejected tone in which it was spoken, Simon could not understand, while Torquil’s deep tones in reply fell full and distinct upon his ear.

“Yes, there may be a chance of withdrawing thee from the conflict. Thou art the youngest who is to draw blade. Now, hear me, and thou shalt know what it is to have a foster father’s love, and how far it exceeds the love even of kinsmen. The youngest on the indenture of the Clan Chattan is Ferquhard Day. His father slew mine, and the red blood is seething hot between us; I looked to Palm Sunday as the term that should cool it. But mark! Thou wouldst have thought that the blood in the veins of this Ferquhard Day and in mine would not have mingled had they been put into the same vessel, yet hath he cast the eyes of his love upon my only daughter Eva, the fairest of our maidens. Think with what feelings I heard the news. It was as if a wolf from the skirts of Farragon had said, ‘Give me thy child in wedlock, Torquil.’ My child thought not thus: she loves Ferquhard, and weeps away her colour and strength in dread of the approaching battle. Let her give him but a sign of favour, and well I know he will forget kith and kin, forsake the field, and fly with her to the desert.”

“He, the youngest of the champions of Clan Chattan, being absent, I, the youngest of the Clan Quhele, may be excused from combat” said Eachin, blushing at the mean chance of safety thus opened to him.

“See now, my chief;” said Torquil, “and judge my thoughts towards thee: others might give thee their own lives and that of their sons — I sacrifice to thee the honour of my house.”

“My friend — my father,” repeated the chief, folding Torquil to his bosom, “what a base wretch am I that have a spirit dastardly enough to avail myself of your sacrifice!”

“Speak not of that. Green woods have ears. Let us back to the camp, and send our gillies for the venison. Back, dogs, and follow at heel.”

The slowhound, or lyme dog, luckily for Simon, had drenched his nose in the blood of the deer, else he might have found the glover’s lair in the thicket; but its more acute properties of scent being lost, it followed tranquilly with the gazehounds.

When the hunters were out of sight and hearing, the glover arose, greatly relieved by their departure, and began to move off in the opposite direction as fast as his age permitted. His first reflection was on the fidelity of the foster father.

“The wild mountain heart is faithful and true. Yonder man is more like the giants in romaunts than a man of mould like ourselves; and yet Christians might take an example from him for his lealty. A simple contrivance this, though, to finger a man from off their enemies’ chequer, as if there would not be twenty of the wildcats ready to supply his place.”

Thus thought the glover, not aware that the strictest proclamations were issued, prohibiting any of the two contending clans, their friends, allies, and dependants, from coming within fifty miles of Perth, during a week before and a week after the combat, which regulation was to be enforced by armed men.

So soon as our friend Simon arrived at the habitation of the herdsman, he found other news awaiting him. They were brought by Father Clement, who came in a pilgrim’s cloak, or dalmatic, ready to commence his return to the southward, and desirous to take leave of his companion in exile, or to accept him as a travelling companion.

“But what,” said the citizen, “has so suddenly induced you to return within the reach of danger?”

“Have you not heard,” said Father Clement, “that, March and his English allies having retired into England before the Earl of Douglas, the good earl has applied himself to redress the evils of the commonwealth, and hath written to the court letters desiring that the warrant for the High Court of Commission against heresy be withdrawn, as a trouble to men’s consciences, that the nomination of Henry of Wardlaw to be prelate of St. Andrews be referred to the Parliament, with sundry other things pleasing to the Commons? Now, most of the nobles that are with the King at Perth, and with them Sir Patrick Charteris, your worthy provost, have declared for the proposals of the Douglas. The Duke of Albany had agreed to them — whether from goodwill or policy I know not. The good King is easily persuaded to mild and gentle courses. And thus are the jaw teeth of the oppressors dashed to pieces in their sockets, and the prey snatched from their ravening talons. Will you with me to the Lowlands, or do you abide here a little space?”

Neil Booshalloch saved his friend the trouble of reply.

“He had the chief’s authority,” he said, “for saying that Simon Glover should abide until the champions went down to the battle.”

In this answer the citizen saw something not quite consistent with his own perfect freedom of volition; but he cared little for it at the time, as it furnished a good apology for not travelling along with the clergyman.

“An exemplary man,” he said to his friend Niel Booshalloch, as soon as Father Clement had taken leave —“a great scholar and a great saint. It is a pity almost he is no longer in danger to be burned, as his sermon at the stake would convert thousands. O Niel Booshalloch, Father Clement’s pile would be a sweet savouring sacrifice and a beacon to all decent Christians! But what would the burning of a borrel ignorant burgess like me serve? Men offer not up old glove leather for incense, nor are beacons fed with undressed hides, I trow. Sooth to speak, I have too little learning and too much fear to get credit by the affair, and, therefore, I should, in our homely phrase, have both the scathe and the scorn.”

“True for you,” answered the herdsman.

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