The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 36

The honest heart that’s free frae a’

Intended fraud or guile,

However Fortune kick the ba’,

Has aye some cause to smile.

BURNS.

We now return to the Fair Maid of Perth, who had been sent from the horrible scene at Falkland by order of the Douglas, to be placed under the protection of his daughter, the now widowed Duchess of Rothsay. That lady’s temporary residence was a religious house called Campsie, the ruins of which still occupy a striking situation on the Tay. It arose on the summit of a precipitous rock, which descends on the princely river, there rendered peculiarly remarkable by the cataract called Campsie Linn, where its waters rush tumultuously over a range of basaltic rock, which intercepts the current, like a dike erected by human hands. Delighted with a site so romantic, the monks of the abbey of Cupar reared a structure there, dedicated to an obscure saint, named St. Hunnand, and hither they were wont themselves to retire for pleasure or devotion. It had readily opened its gates to admit the noble lady who was its present inmate, as the country was under the influence of the powerful Lord Drummond, the ally of the Douglas. There the Earl’s letters were presented to the Duchess by the leader of the escort which conducted Catharine and the glee maiden to Campsie. Whatever reason she might have to complain of Rothsay, his horrible and unexpected end greatly shocked the noble lady, and she spent the greater part of the night in indulging her grief and in devotional exercises.

On the next morning, which was that of the memorable Palm Sunday, she ordered Catharine Glover and the minstrel into her presence. The spirits of both the young women had been much sunk and shaken by the dreadful scenes in which they had so lately been engaged; and the outward appearance of the Duchess Marjory was, like that of her father, more calculated to inspire awe than confidence. She spoke with kindness, however, though apparently in deep affliction, and learned from them all which they had to tell concerning the fate of her erring and inconsiderate husband. She appeared grateful for the efforts which Catharine and the glee maiden had made, at their own extreme peril, to save Rothsay from his horrible fate. She invited them to join in her devotions; and at the hour of dinner gave them her hand to kiss, and dismissed them to their own refection, assuring both, and Catharine in particular, of her efficient protection, which should include, she said, her father’s, and be a wall around them both, so long as she herself lived.

They retired from the presence of the widowed Princess, and partook of a repast with her duennas and ladies, all of whom, amid their profound sorrow, showed a character of stateliness which chilled the light heart of the Frenchwoman, and imposed restraint even on the more serious character of Catharine Glover. The friends, for so we may now term them, were fain, therefore, to escape from the society of these persons, all of them born gentlewomen, who thought themselves but ill assorted with a burgher’s daughter and a strolling glee maiden, and saw them with pleasure go out to walk in the neighbourhood of the convent. A little garden, with its bushes and fruit trees, advanced on one side of the convent, so as to skirt the precipice, from which it was only separated by a parapet built on the ledge of the rock, so low that the eye might easily measure the depth of the crag, and gaze on the conflicting waters which foamed, struggled, and chafed over the reef below.

The Fair Maiden of Perth and her companion walked slowly on a path that ran within this parapet, looked at the romantic prospect, and judged what it must be when the advancing summer should clothe the grove with leaves. They observed for some time a deep silence. At length the gay and bold spirit of the glee maiden rose above the circumstances in which she had been and was now placed.

“Do the horrors of Falkland, fair May, still weigh down your spirits? Strive to forget them as I do: we cannot tread life’s path lightly, if we shake not from our mantles the raindrops as they fall.”

“These horrors are not to be forgotten,” answered Catharine. “Yet my mind is at present anxious respecting my father’s safety; and I cannot but think how many brave men may be at this instant leaving the world, even within six miles of us, or little farther.”

“You mean the combat betwixt sixty champions, of which the Douglas’s equerry told us yesterday? It were a sight for a minstrel to witness. But out upon these womanish eyes of mine — they could never see swords cross each other without being dazzled. But see — look yonder, May Catharine — look yonder! That flying messenger certainly brings news of the battle.”

“Methinks I should know him who runs so wildly,” said Catharine. “But if it be he I think of, some wild thoughts are urging his speed.”

As she spoke, the runner directed his course to the garden. Louise’s little dog ran to meet him, barking furiously, but came back, to cower, creep, and growl behind its mistress; for even dumb animals can distinguish when men are driven on by the furious energy of irresistible passion, and dread to cross or encounter them in their career. The fugitive rushed into the garden at the same reckless pace. His head was bare, his hair dishevelled, his rich acton and all his other vestments looked as if they had been lately drenched in water. His leathern buskins were cut and torn, and his feet marked the sod with blood. His countenance was wild, haggard, and highly excited, or, as the Scottish phrase expresses it, much “raised.”

“Conachar!” said Catharine, as he advanced, apparently without seeing what was before him, as hares are said to do when severely pressed by the greyhounds. But he stopped short when he heard his own name.

“Conachar,” said Catharine, “or rather Eachin MacIan, what means all this? Have the Clan Quhele sustained a defeat?”

“I have borne such names as this maiden gives me,” said the fugitive, after a moment’s recollection. “Yes, I was called Conachar when I was happy, and Eachin when I was powerful. But now I have no name, and there is no such clan as thou speak’st of; and thou art a foolish maid to speak of that which is not to one who has no existence.”

“Alas! unfortunate —”

“And why unfortunate, I pray you?” exclaimed the youth. “If I am coward and villain, have not villainy and cowardice command over the elements? Have I not braved the water without its choking me, and trod the firm earth without its opening to devour me? And shall a mortal oppose my purpose?”

“He raves, alas!” said Catharine. “Haste to call some help. He will not harm me; but I fear he will do evil to himself. See how he stares down on the roaring waterfall!”

The glee woman hastened to do as she was ordered, and Conachar’s half frenzied spirit seemed relieved by her absence.

“Catharine,” he said, “now she is gone, I will say I know thee — I know thy love of peace and hatred of war. But hearken; I have, rather than strike a blow at my enemy, given up all that a man calls dearest: I have lost honour, fame, and friends, and such friends! (he placed his hands before his face). Oh! their love surpassed the love of woman! Why should I hide my tears? All know my shame; all should see my sorrow. Yes, all might see, but who would pity it? Catharine, as I ran like a madman down the strath, man and woman called ‘shame’ on me! The beggar to whom I flung an alms, that I might purchase one blessing, threw it back in disgust, and with a curse upon the coward! Each bell that tolled rung out, ‘Shame on the recreant caitiff!’ The brute beasts in their lowing and bleating, the wild winds in their rustling and howling, the hoarse waters in their dash and roar, cried, ‘Out upon the dastard!’ The faithful nine are still pursuing me; they cry with feeble voice, ‘Strike but one blow in our revenge, we all died for you!’”

While the unhappy youth thus raved, a rustling was heard in the bushes.

“There is but one way!” he exclaimed, springing upon the parapet, but with a terrified glance towards the thicket, through which one or two attendants were stealing, with the purpose of surprising him. But the instant he saw a human form emerge from the cover of the bushes, he waved his hands wildly over his head, and shrieking out, “Bas air Eachin!” plunged down the precipice into the raging cataract beneath.

It is needless to say, that aught save thistledown must have been dashed to pieces in such a fall. But the river was swelled, and the remains of the unhappy youth were never seen. A varying tradition has assigned more than one supplement to the history. It is said by one account, that the young captain of Clan Quhele swam safe to shore, far below the Linns of Campsie; and that, wandering disconsolately in the deserts of Rannoch, he met with Father Clement, who had taken up his abode in the wilderness as a hermit, on the principle of the old Culdees. He converted, it is said, the heart broken and penitent Conachar, who lived with him in his cell, sharing his devotion and privations, till death removed them in succession.

Another wilder legend supposes that he was snatched from death by the daione shie, or fairy folk, and that he continues to wander through wood and wild, armed like an ancient Highlander, but carrying his sword in his left hand. The phantom appears always in deep grief. Sometimes he seems about to attack the traveller, but, when resisted with courage, always flies. These legends are founded on two peculiar points in his story — his evincing timidity and his committing suicide — both of them circumstances almost unexampled in the history of a mountain chief.

When Simon Glover, having seen his friend Henry duly taken care of in his own house in Curfew Street, arrived that evening at the Place of Campsie, he found his daughter extremely ill of a fever, in consequence of the scenes to which she had lately been a witness, and particularly the catastrophe of her late playmate. The affection of the glee maiden rendered her so attentive and careful a nurse, that the glover said it should not be his fault if she ever touched lute again, save for her own amusement.

It was some time ere Simon ventured to tell his daughter of Henry’s late exploits, and his severe wounds; and he took care to make the most of the encouraging circumstance, that her faithful lover had refused both honour and wealth rather than become a professed soldier and follow the Douglas. Catharine sighed deeply and shook her head at the history of bloody Palm Sunday on the North Inch. But apparently she had reflected that men rarely advance in civilisation or refinement beyond the ideas of their own age, and that a headlong and exuberant courage, like that of Henry Smith, was, in the iron days in which they lived, preferable to the deficiency which had led to Conachar’s catastrophe. If she had any doubts on the subject, they were removed in due time by Henry’s protestations, so soon as restored health enabled him to plead his own cause.

“I should blush to say, Catharine, that I am even sick of the thoughts of doing battle. Yonder last field showed carnage enough to glut a tiger. I am therefore resolved to hang up my broadsword, never to be drawn more unless against the enemies of Scotland.”

“And should Scotland call for it,” said Catharine, “I will buckle it round you.”

“And, Catharine,” said the joyful glover, “we will pay largely for soul masses for those who have fallen by Henry’s sword; and that will not only cure spiritual flaws, but make us friends with the church again.”

“For that purpose, father,” said Catharine, “the hoards of the wretched Dwining may be applied. He bequeathed them to me; but I think you would not mix his base blood money with your honest gains?”

“I would bring the plague into my house as soon,” said the resolute glover.

The treasures of the wicked apothecary were distributed accordingly among the four monasteries; nor was there ever after a breath of suspicion concerning the orthodoxy of old Simon or his daughter.

Henry and Catharine were married within four months after the battle of the North Inch, and never did the corporations of the glovers and hammermen trip their sword dance so featly as at the wedding of the boldest burgess and brightest maiden in Perth. Ten months after, a gallant infant filled the well spread cradle, and was rocked by Louise to the tune of —

Bold and true,

In bonnet blue.

The names of the boy’s sponsors are recorded, as “Ane Hie and Michty Lord, Archibald Erl of Douglas, ane Honorabil and gude Knicht, Schir Patrick Charteris of Kinfauns, and ane Gracious Princess, Marjory Dowaire of his Serene Highness David, umquhile Duke of Rothsay.”

Under such patronage a family rises fast; and several of the most respected houses in Scotland, but especially in Perthshire, and many individuals distinguished both in arts and arms, record with pride their descent from the Gow Chrom and the Fair Maid of Perth.

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