The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 31

Ah, me! in sooth he was a shameless wight,

Sore given to revel and ungodly glee:

Few earthly things found favour in his sight,

Save concubines and carnal companie,

And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree.

BYRON.

With the next morning the humour of the Duke of Rothsay was changed. He complained, indeed, of pain and fever, but they rather seemed to stimulate than to overwhelm him. He was familiar with Ramorny, and though he said nothing on the subject of the preceding night, it was plain he remembered what he desired to obliterate from the memory of his followers — the ill humour he had then displayed. He was civil to every one, and jested with Ramorny on the subject of Catharine’s arrival.

“How surprised will the pretty prude be at seeing herself in a family of men, when she expects to be admitted amongst the hoods and pinners of Dame Marjory’s waiting women! Thou hast not many of the tender sex in thy household, I take it, Ramorny?”

“Faith, none except the minstrel wench, but a household drudge or two whom we may not dispense with. By the way, she is anxiously inquiring after the mistress your Highness promised to prefer her to. Shall I dismiss her, to hunt for her new mistress at leisure?”

“By no means, she will serve to amuse Catharine. And, hark you, were it not well to receive that coy jillet with something of a mumming?”

“How mean you, my lord?”

“Thou art dull, man. We will not disappoint her, since she expects to find the Duchess of Rothsay: I will be Duke and Duchess in my own person.”

“Still I do not comprehend.”

“No one so dull as a wit,” said the Prince, “when he does not hit off the scent at once. My Duchess, as they call her, has been in as great a hurry to run away from Falkland as I to come hither. We have both left our apparel behind. There is as much female trumpery in the wardrobe adjoining to my sleeping room as would equip a whole carnival. Look you, I will play Dame Marjory, disposed on this day bed here with a mourning veil and a wreath of willow, to show my forsaken plight; thou, John, wilt look starch and stiff enough for her Galwegian maid of honour, the Countess Hermigild; and Dwining shall present the old Hecate, her nurse — only she hath more beard on her upper lip than Dwining on his whole face, and skull to boot. He should have the commodity of a beard to set her forth conformably. Get thy kitchen drudges, and what passable pages thou hast with thee, to make my women of the bedroom. Hearest thou? about it instantly.”

Ramorny hasted into the anteroom, and told Dwining the Prince’s device.

“Do thou look to humour the fool,” he said; “I care not how little I see him, knowing what is to be done.”

“Trust all to me,” said the physician, shrugging his shoulders. “What sort of a butcher is he that can cut the lamb’s throat, yet is afraid to hear it bleat?”

“Tush, fear not my constancy: I cannot forget that he would have cast me into the cloister with as little regard as if he threw away the truncheon of a broken lance. Begone — yet stay; ere you go to arrange this silly pageant, something must be settled to impose on the thick witted Charteris. He is like enough, should he be left in the belief that the Duchess of Rothsay is still here, and Catharine Glover in attendance on her, to come down with offers of service, and the like, when, as I need scarce tell thee, his presence would be inconvenient. Indeed, this is the more likely, that some folks have given a warmer name to the iron headed knight’s great and tender patronage of this damsel.”

“With that hint, let me alone to deal with him. I will send him such a letter, that for this month he shall hold himself as ready for a journey to hell as to Falkland. Can you tell me the name of the Duchess’s confessor?”

“Waltheof, a grey friar.”

“Enough — then here I start.”

In a few minutes, for he was a clerk of rare celerity, Dwining finished a letter, which he placed in Ramorny’s hand.

“This is admirable, and would have made thy fortune with Rothsay. I think I should have been too jealous to trust thee in his household, save that his day is closed.”

“Read it aloud,” said Dwining, “that we may judge if it goes trippingly off.”

And Ramorny read as follows: “By command of our high and mighty Princess Marjory, Duchess of Rothsay, and so forth, we Waltheof, unworthy brother of the order of St. Francis, do thee, Sir Patrick Charteris, knight of Kinfauns, to know, that her Highness marvels much at the temerity with which you have sent to her presence a woman of whose fame she can judge but lightly, seeing she hath made her abode, without any necessity, for more than a week in thine own castle, without company of any other female, saving menials; of which foul cohabitation the savour is gone up through Fife, Angus, and Perthshire. Nevertheless, her Highness, considering the ease as one of human frailty, hath not caused this wanton one to be scourged with nettles, or otherwise to dree penance; but, as two good brethren of the convent of Lindores, the Fathers Thickskull and Dundermore, have been summoned up to the Highlands upon an especial call, her Highness hath committed to their care this maiden Catharine, with charge to convey her to her father, whom she states to be residing beside Loch Tay, under whose protection she will find a situation more fitting her qualities and habits than the Castle of Falkland, while her Highness the Duchess of Rothsay abides there. She hath charged the said reverend brothers so to deal with the young woman as may give her a sense of the sin of incontinence, and she commendeth thee to confession and penitence. — Signed, Waltheof, by command of an high and mighty Princess”; and so forth.

When he had finished, “Excellent — excellent!” Ramorny exclaimed. “This unexpected rebuff will drive Charteris mad! He hath been long making a sort of homage to this lady, and to find himself suspected of incontinence, when he was expecting the full credit of a charitable action, will altogether confound him; and, as thou say’st, it will be long enough ere he come hither to look after the damsel or do honour to the dame. But away to thy pageant, while I prepare that which shall close the pageant for ever.”

It was an hour before noon, when Catharine, escorted by old Henshaw and a groom of the Knight of Kinfauns, arrived before the lordly tower of Falkland. The broad banner which was displayed from it bore the arms of Rothsay, the servants who appeared wore the colours of the Prince’s household, all confirming the general belief that the Duchess still resided there. Catharine’s heart throbbed, for she had heard that the Duchess had the pride as well as the high courage of the house of Douglas, and felt uncertain touching the reception she was to experience. On entering the castle, she observed that the train was smaller than she had expected, but, as the Duchess lived in close retirement, she was little surprised at this. In a species of anteroom she was met by a little old woman, who seemed bent double with age, and supported herself upon an ebony staff.

“Truly thou art welcome, fair daughter,” said she, saluting Catharine, “and, as I may say, to an afflicted house; and I trust (once more saluting her) thou wilt be a consolation to my precious and right royal daughter the Duchess. Sit thee down, my child, till I see whether my lady be at leisure to receive thee. Ah, my child, thou art very lovely indeed, if Our Lady hath given to thee a soul to match with so fair a body.”

With that the counterfeit old woman crept into the next apartment, where she found Rothsay in the masquerading habit he had prepared, and Ramorny, who had evaded taking part in the pageant, in his ordinary attire.

“Thou art a precious rascal, sir doctor,” said the Prince; “by my honour, I think thou couldst find in thy heart to play out the whole play thyself, lover’s part and all.”

“If it were to save your Highness trouble,” said the leech, with his usual subdued laugh.

“No — no,” said Rothsay, “I never need thy help, man; and tell me now, how look I, thus disposed on the couch — languishing and ladylike, ha?”

“Something too fine complexioned and soft featured for the Lady Marjory of Douglas, if I may presume to say so,” said the leech.

“Away, villain, and marshal in this fair frost piece — fear not she will complain of my effeminacy; and thou, Ramorny, away also.”

As the knight left the apartment by one door, the fictitious old woman ushered in Catharine Glover by another. The room had been carefully darkened to twilight, so that Catharine saw the apparently female figure stretched on the couch without the least suspicion.

“Is that the maiden?” asked Rothsay, in a voice naturally sweet, and now carefully modulated to a whispering tone. “Let her approach, Griselda, and kiss our hand.”

The supposed nurse led the trembling maiden forward to the side of the couch, and signed to her to kneel. Catharine did so, and kissed with much devotion and simplicity the gloved hand which the counterfeit duchess extended to her.

“Be not afraid,” said the same musical voice; “in me you only see a melancholy example of the vanity of human greatness; happy those, my child, whose rank places them beneath the storms of state.”

While he spoke, he put his arms around her neck and drew her towards him, as if to salute her in token of welcome. But the kiss was bestowed with an earnestness which so much overacted the part of the fair patroness, that Catharine, concluding the Duchess had lost her senses, screamed aloud.

“Peace, fool! it is I— David of Rothsay.”

Catharine looked around her; the nurse was gone, and the Duke tearing off his veil, she saw herself in the power of a daring young libertine.

“Now be present with me, Heaven!” she said; “and Thou wilt, if I forsake not myself.”

As this resolution darted through her mind, she repressed her disposition to scream, and, as far as she might, strove to conceal her fear.

“The jest hath been played,” she said, with as much firmness as she could assume; “may I entreat that your Highness will now unhand me?” for he still kept hold of her arm.

“Nay, my pretty captive, struggle not — why should you fear?”

“I do not struggle, my lord. As you are pleased to detain me, I will not, by striving, provoke you to use me ill, and give pain to yourself, when you have time to think.”

“Why, thou traitress, thou hast held me captive for months,” said the Prince, “and wilt thou not let me hold thee for a moment?”

“This were gallantry, my lord, were it in the streets of Perth, where I might listen or escape as I listed; it is tyranny here.”

“And if I did let thee go, whither wouldst thou fly?” said Rothsay. “The bridges are up, the portcullis down, and the men who follow me are strangely deaf to a peevish maiden’s squalls. Be kind, therefore, and you shall know what it is to oblige a prince.”

“Unloose me, then, my lord, and hear me appeal from thyself to thyself, from Rothsay to the Prince of Scotland. I am the daughter of an humble but honest citizen. I am, I may well nigh say, the spouse of a brave and honest man. If I have given your Highness any encouragement for what you have done, it has been unintentional. Thus forewarned, I entreat you to forego your power over me, and suffer me to depart. Your Highness can obtain nothing from me, save by means equally unworthy of knighthood or manhood.”

“You are bold, Catharine,” said the Prince, “but neither as a knight nor a man can I avoid accepting a defiance. I must teach you the risk of such challenges.”

While he spoke, he attempted to throw his arms again around her; but she eluded his grasp, and proceeded in the same tone of firm decision.

“My strength, my lord, is as great to defend myself in an honourable strife as yours can be to assail me with a most dishonourable purpose. Do not shame yourself and me by putting it to the combat. You may stun me with blows, or you may call aid to overpower me; but otherwise you will fail of your purpose.”

“What a brute you would make me!” said the Prince. “The force I would use is no more than excuses women in yielding to their own weakness.”

He sat down in some emotion.

“Then keep it,” said Catharine, “for those women who desire such an excuse. My resistance is that of the most determined mind which love of honour and fear of shame ever inspired. Alas! my lord, could you succeed, you would but break every bond between me and life, between yourself and honour. I have been trained fraudulently here, by what decoys I know not; but were I to go dishonoured hence, it would be to denounce the destroyer of my happiness to every quarter of Europe. I would take the palmer’s staff in my hand, and wherever chivalry is honoured, or the word Scotland has been heard, I would proclaim the heir of a hundred kings, the son of the godly Robert Stuart, the heir of the heroic Bruce, a truthless, faithless man, unworthy of the crown he expects and of the spurs he wears. Every lady in wide Europe would hold your name too foul for her lips; every worthy knight would hold you a baffled, forsworn caitiff, false to the first vow of arms, the protection of woman and the defence of the feeble.”

Rothsay resumed his seat, and looked at her with a countenance in which resentment was mingled with admiration. “You forget to whom you speak, maiden. Know, the distinction I have offered you is one for which hundreds whose trains you are born to bear would feel gratitude.”

“Once more, my lord,” resumed Catharine, “keep these favours for those by whom they are prized; or rather reserve your time and your health for other and nobler pursuits — for the defence of your country and the happiness of your subjects. Alas, my lord, how willingly would an exulting people receive you for their chief! How gladly would they close around you, did you show desire to head them against the oppression of the mighty, the violence of the lawless, the seduction of the vicious, and the tyranny of the hypocrite!”

The Duke of Rothsay, whose virtuous feelings were as easily excited as they were evanescent, was affected by the enthusiasm with which she spoke. “Forgive me if I have alarmed you, maiden,” he said “thou art too noble minded to be the toy of passing pleasure, for which my mistake destined thee; and I, even were thy birth worthy of thy noble spirit and transcendent beauty, have no heart to give thee; for by the homage of the heart only should such as thou be wooed. But my hopes have been blighted, Catharine: the only woman I ever loved has been torn from me in the very wantonness of policy, and a wife imposed on me whom I must ever detest, even had she the loveliness and softness which alone can render a woman amiable in my eyes. My health is fading even in early youth; and all that is left for me is to snatch such flowers as the short passage from life to the grave will now present. Look at my hectic cheek; feel, if you will, my intermitting pulse; and pity me and excuse me if I, whose rights as a prince and as a man have been trampled upon and usurped, feel occasional indifference towards the rights of others, and indulge a selfish desire to gratify the wish of the passing moment.”

“Oh, my lord!” exclaimed Catharine, with the enthusiasm which belonged to her character —“I will call you my dear lord, for dear must the heir of Bruce be to every child of Scotland — let me not, I pray, hear you speak thus! Your glorious ancestor endured exile, persecution, the night of famine, and the day of unequal combat, to free his country; do you practise the like self denial to free yourself. Tear yourself from those who find their own way to greatness smoothed by feeding your follies. Distrust yon dark Ramorny! You know it not, I am sure — you could not know; but the wretch who could urge the daughter to courses of shame by threatening the life of the aged father is capable of all that is vile, all that is treacherous!”

“Did Ramorny do this?” said the Prince.

“He did indeed, my lord, and he dares not deny it.”

“It shall be looked to,” answered the Duke of Rothsay. “I have ceased to love him; but he has suffered much for my sake, and I must see his services honourably requited.”

“His services! Oh, my lord, if chronicles speak true, such services brought Troy to ruins and gave the infidels possession of Spain.”

“Hush, maiden — speak within compass, I pray you,” said the Prince, rising up; “our conference ends here.”

“Yet one word, my Lord Duke of Rothsay,” said Catharine, with animation, while her beautiful countenance resembled that of an admonitory angel. “I cannot tell what impels me to speak thus boldly; but the fire burns within me, and will break out. Leave this castle without an hour’s delay; the air is unwholesome for you. Dismiss this Ramorny before the day is ten minutes older; his company is most dangerous.”

“What reason have you for saying this?”

“None in especial,” answered Catharine, abashed at her own eagerness —“none, perhaps, excepting my fears for your safety.”

“To vague fears the heir of Bruce must not listen. What, ho! who waits without?”

Ramorny entered, and bowed low to the Duke and to the maiden, whom, perhaps, he considered as likely to be preferred to the post of favourite sultana, and therefore entitled to a courteous obeisance.

“Ramorny,” said the Prince, “is there in the household any female of reputation who is fit to wait on this young woman till we can send her where she may desire to go?”

“I fear,” replied Ramorny, “if it displease not your Highness to hear the truth, your household is indifferently provided in that way; and that, to speak the very verity, the glee maiden is the most decorous amongst us.”

“Let her wait upon this young person, then, since better may not be. And take patience, maiden, for a few hours.”

Catharine retired.

“So, my lord, part you so soon from the Fair Maid of Perth? This is, indeed, the very wantonness of victory.”

“There is neither victory nor defeat in the case,” returned the Prince, drily. “The girl loves me not; nor do I love her well enough to torment myself concerning her scruples.”

“The chaste Malcolm the Maiden revived in one of his descendants!” said Ramorny.

“Favour me, sir, by a truce to your wit, or by choosing a different subject for its career. It is noon, I believe, and you will oblige me by commanding them to serve up dinner.”

Ramorny left the room; but Rothsay thought he discovered a smile upon his countenance, and to be the subject of this man’s satire gave him no ordinary degree of pain. He summoned, however, the knight to his table, and even admitted Dwining to the same honour. The conversation was of a lively and dissolute cast, a tone encouraged by the Prince, as if designing to counterbalance the gravity of his morals in the morning, which Ramorny, who was read in old chronicles, had the boldness to liken to the continence of Scipio.

The banquet, nothwithstanding the Duke’s indifferent health, was protracted in idle wantonness far beyond the rules of temperance; and, whether owing simply to the strength of the wine which he drank, or the weakness of his constitution, or, as it is probable, because the last wine which he quaffed had been adulterated by Dwining, it so happened that the Prince, towards the end of the repast, fell into a lethargic sleep, from which it seemed impossible to rouse him. Sir John Ramorny and Dwining carried him to his chamber, accepting no other assistance than that of another person, whom we will afterwards give name to.

Next morning, it was announced that the Prince was taken ill of an infectious disorder; and, to prevent its spreading through the household, no one was admitted to wait on him save his late master of horse, the physician Dwining, and the domestic already mentioned; one of whom seemed always to remain in the apartment, while the others observed a degree of precaution respecting their intercourse with the rest of the family, so strict as to maintain the belief that he was dangerously ill of an infectious disorder.

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