The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 4

What’s all this turmoil crammed into our parts?

Faith, but the pit-a-pat of poor young hearts.

DRYDEN.

The sturdy armourer was not, it may be believed, slack in keeping the appointment assigned by his intended father in law. He went through the process of his toilet with more than ordinary care, throwing, as far as he could, those points which had a military air into the shade. He was far too noted a person to venture to go entirely unarmed in a town where he had indeed many friends, but also, from the character of many of his former exploits, several deadly enemies, at whose hands, should they take him at advantage, he knew he had little mercy to expect. He therefore wore under his jerkin a “secret,” or coat of chain mail, made so light and flexible that it interfered as little with his movements as a modern under waistcoat, yet of such proof as he might safely depend upon, every ring of it having been wrought and joined by his own hands. Above this he wore, like others of his age and degree, the Flemish hose and doublet, which, in honour of the holy tide, were of the best superfine English broadcloth, light blue in colour, slashed out with black satin, and passamented (laced, that is) with embroidery of black silk. His walking boots were of cordovan leather; his cloak of good Scottish grey, which served to conceal a whinger, or couteau de chasse, that hung at his belt, and was his only offensive weapon, for he carried in his hand but a rod of holly. His black velvet bonnet was lined with steel, quilted between the metal and his head, and thus constituted a means of defence which might safely be trusted to.

Upon the whole, Henry had the appearance, to which he was well entitled, of a burgher of wealth and consideration, assuming, in his dress, as much consequence as he could display without stepping beyond his own rank, and encroaching on that of the gentry. Neither did his frank and manly deportment, though indicating a total indifference to danger, bear the least resemblance to that of the bravoes or swashbucklers of the day, amongst whom Henry was sometimes unjustly ranked by those who imputed the frays in which he was so often engaged to a quarrelsome and violent temper, resting upon a consciousness of his personal strength and knowledge of his weapon. On the contrary, every feature bore the easy and good-humoured expression of one who neither thought of inflicting mischief nor dreaded it from others.

Having attired himself in his best, the honest armourer next placed nearest to his heart (which throbbed at its touch) a little gift which he had long provided for Catharine Glover, and which his quality of Valentine would presently give him the title to present, and her to receive, without regard to maidenly scruples. It was a small ruby cut into the form of a heart, transfixed with a golden arrow, and was inclosed in a small purse made of links of the finest work in steel, as if it had been designed for a hauberk to a king. Round the verge of the purse were these words:

Loves darts

Cleave hearts

Through mail shirts.

This device had cost the armourer some thought, and he was much satisfied with his composition, because it seemed to imply that his skill could defend all hearts saving his own.

He wrapped himself in his cloak, and hastened through the still silent streets, determined to appear at the window appointed a little before dawn.

With this purpose he passed up the High Street, and turned down the opening where St. John’s Church now stands, in order to proceed to Curfew Street; when it occurred to him, from the appearance of the sky, that he was at least an hour too early for his purpose, and that it would be better not to appear at the place of rendezvous till nearer the time assigned. Other gallants were not unlikely to be on the watch as well as himself about the house of the Fair Maid of Perth; and he knew his own foible so well as to be sensible of the great chance of a scuffle arising betwixt them.

“I have the advantage,” he thought, “by my father Simon’s friendship; and why should I stain my fingers with the blood of the poor creatures that are not worthy my notice, since they are so much less fortunate than myself? No — no, I will be wise for once, and keep at a distance from all temptation to a broil. They shall have no more time to quarrel with me than just what it may require for me to give the signal, and for my father Simon to answer it. I wonder how the old man will contrive to bring her to the window? I fear, if she knew his purpose, he would find it difficult to carry it into execution.”

While these lover-like thoughts were passing through his brain, the armourer loitered in his pace, often turning his eyes eastward, and eyeing the firmament, in which no slight shades of grey were beginning to flicker, to announce the approach of dawn, however distant, which, to the impatience of the stout armourer, seemed on that morning to abstain longer than usual from occupying her eastern barbican. He was now passing slowly under the wall of St. Anne’s Chapel (not failing to cross himself and say an ace, as he trode the consecrated ground), when a voice, which seemed to come from behind one of the flying buttresses of the chapel, said, “He lingers that has need to run.”

“Who speaks?” said the armourer, looking around him, somewhat startled at an address so unexpected, both in its tone and tenor.

“No matter who speaks,” answered the same voice. “Do thou make great speed, or thou wilt scarce make good speed. Bandy not words, but begone.”

“Saint or sinner, angel or devil,” said Henry, crossing himself, “your advice touches me but too dearly to be neglected. St. Valentine be my speed!”

So saying, he instantly changed his loitering pace to one with which few people could have kept up, and in an instant was in Couvrefew Street. He had not made three steps towards Simon Glover’s, which stood in the midst of the narrow street, when two men started from under the houses on different sides, and advanced, as it were by concert, to intercept his passage. The imperfect light only permitted him to discern that they wore the Highland mantle.

“Clear the way, cateran,” said the armourer, in the deep stern voice which corresponded with the breadth of his chest.

They did not answer, at least intelligibly; but he could see that they drew their swords, with the purpose of withstanding him by violence. Conjecturing some evil, but of what kind he could not anticipate, Henry instantly determined to make his way through whatever odds, and defend his mistress, or at least die at her feet. He cast his cloak over his left arm as a buckler, and advanced rapidly and steadily to the two men. The nearest made a thrust at him, but Henry Smith, parrying the blow with his cloak, dashed his arm in the man’s face, and tripping him at the same time, gave him a severe fall on the causeway; while almost at the same instant he struck a blow with his whinger at the fellow who was upon his right hand, so severely applied, that he also lay prostrate by his associate. Meanwhile, the armourer pushed forward in alarm, for which the circumstance of the street being guarded or defended by strangers who conducted themselves with such violence afforded sufficient reason. He heard a suppressed whisper and a bustle under the glover’s windows — those very windows from which he had expected to be hailed by Catharine as her Valentine. He kept to the opposite side of the street, that he might reconnoitre their number and purpose. But one of the party who were beneath the window, observing or hearing him, crossed the street also, and taking him doubtless for one of the sentinels, asked, in a whisper, “What noise was yonder, Kenneth? why gave you not the signal?”

“Villain,” said Henry, “you are discovered, and you shall die the death.”

As he spoke thus, he dealt the stranger a blow with his weapon, which would probably have made his words good, had not the man, raising his arm, received on his hand the blow meant for his head. The wound must have been a severe one, for he staggered and fell with a deep groan.

Without noticing him farther, Henry Smith sprung forward upon a party of men who seemed engaged in placing a ladder against the lattice window in the gable. Henry did not stop ether to count their numbers or to ascertain their purpose. But, crying the alarm word of the town, and giving the signal at which the burghers were wont to collect, he rushed on the night walkers, one of whom was in the act of ascending the ladder. The smith seized it by the rounds, threw it down on the pavement, and placing his foot on the body of the man who had been mounting, prevented him from regaining his feet. His accomplices struck fiercely at Henry, to extricate their companion. But his mail coat stood him in good stead, and he repaid their blows with interest, shouting aloud, “Help — help, for bonny St. Johnston! Bows and blades, brave citizens! bows and blades! they break into our houses under cloud of night.”

These words, which resounded far through the streets, were accompanied by as many fierce blows, dealt with good effect among those whom the armourer assailed. In the mean time, the inhabitants of the district began to awaken and appear on the street in their shirts, with swords and targets, and some of them with torches. The assailants now endeavoured to make their escape, which all of them effected excepting the man who had been thrown down along with the ladder. Him the intrepid armourer had caught by the throat in the scuffle, and held as fast as the greyhound holds the hare. The other wounded men were borne off by their comrades.

“Here are a sort of knaves breaking peace within burgh,” said Henry to the neighbours who began to assemble; “make after the rogues. They cannot all get off, for I have maimed some of them: the blood will guide you to them.”

“Some Highland caterans,” said the citizens; “up and chase, neighbours!”

“Ay, chase — chase! leave me to manage this fellow,” continued the armourer.

The assistants dispersed in different directions, their lights flashing and their cries resounding through the whole adjacent district.

In the mean time the armourer’s captive entreated for freedom, using both promises and threats to obtain it. “As thou art a gentleman,” he said, “let me go, and what is past shall be forgiven.”

“I am no gentleman,” said Henry —“I am Hal of the Wynd, a burgess of Perth; and I have done nothing to need forgiveness.”

“Villain, then hast done thou knowest not what! But let me go, and I will fill thy bonnet with gold pieces.”

“I shall fill thy bonnet with a cloven head presently,” said the armourer, “unless thou stand still as a true prisoner.”

“What is the matter, my son Harry?” said Simon, who now appeared at the window. “I hear thy voice in another tone than I expected. What is all this noise; and why are the neighbours gathering to the affray?”

“There have been a proper set of limmers about to scale your windows, father Simon; but I am like to prove godfather to one of them, whom I hold here, as fast as ever vice held iron.”

“Hear me, Simon Glover,” said the prisoner; “let me but speak one word with you in private, and rescue me from the gripe of this iron fisted and leaden pated clown, and I will show thee that no harm was designed to thee or thine, and, moreover, tell thee what will much advantage thee.”

“I should know that voice,” said Simon Glover, who now came to the door with a dark lantern in his hand. “Son Smith, let this young man speak with me. There is no danger in him, I promise you. Stay but an instant where you are, and let no one enter the house, either to attack or defend. I will be answerable that this galliard meant but some St. Valentine’s jest.”

So saying, the old man pulled in the prisoner and shut the door, leaving Henry a little surprised at the unexpected light in which his father-inlaw had viewed the affray.

“A jest!” he said; “it might have been a strange jest, if they had got into the maiden’s sleeping room! And they would have done so, had it not been for the honest friendly voice from betwixt the buttresses, which, if it were not that of the blessed saint — though what am I that the holy person should speak to me? — could not sound in that place without her permission and assent, and for which I will promise her a wax candle at her shrine, as long as my whinger; and I would I had had my two handed broadsword instead, both for the sake of St. Johnston and of the rogues, for of a certain those whingers are pretty toys, but more fit for a boy’s hand than a man’s. Oh, my old two handed Trojan, hadst thou been in my hands, as thou hang’st presently at the tester of my bed, the legs of those rogues had not carried their bodies so clean off the field. But there come lighted torches and drawn swords. So ho — stand! Are you for St. Johnston? If friends to the bonny burgh, you are well come.”

“We have been but bootless hunters,” said the townsmen. “We followed by the tracks of the blood into the Dominican burial ground, and we started two fellows from amongst the tombs, supporting betwixt them a third, who had probably got some of your marks about him, Harry. They got to the postern gate before we could overtake them, and rang the sanctuary bell; the gate opened, and in went they. So they are safe in girth and sanctuary, and we may go to our cold beds and warm us.”

“Ay,” said one of the party, “the good Dominicans have always some devout brother of their convent sitting up to open the gate of the sanctuary to any poor soul that is in trouble, and desires shelter in the church.”

“Yes, if the poor hunted soul can pay for it,” said another “but, truly, if he be poor in purse as well as in spirit, he may stand on the outside till the hounds come up with him.”

A third, who had been poring for a few minutes upon the ground by advantage of his torch, now looked upwards and spoke. He was a brisk, forward, rather corpulent little man, called Oliver Proudfute, reasonably wealthy, and a leading man in his craft, which was that of bonnet makers; he, therefore, spoke as one in authority.

“Canst tell us, jolly smith”— for they recognised each other by the lights which were brought into the streets —“what manner of fellows they were who raised up this fray within burgh?”

“The two that I first saw,” answered the armourer, “seemed to me, as well as I could observe them, to have Highland plaids about them.”

“Like enough — like enough,” answered another citizen, shaking his head. “It’s a shame the breaches in our walls are not repaired, and that these landlouping Highland scoundrels are left at liberty to take honest men and women out of their beds any night that is dark enough.”

“But look here, neighbours,” said Oliver Proudfute, showing a bloody hand which he had picked up from the ground; “when did such a hand as this tie a Highlandman’s brogues? It is large, indeed, and bony, but as fine as a lady’s, with a ring that sparkles like a gleaming candle. Simon Glover has made gloves for this hand before now, if I am not much mistaken, for he works for all the courtiers.”

The spectators here began to gaze on the bloody token with various comments.

“If that is the case,” said one, “Harry Smith had best show a clean pair of heels for it, since the justiciar will scarce think the protecting a burgess’s house an excuse for cutting off a gentleman’s hand. There be hard laws against mutilation.”

“Fie upon you, that you will say so, Michael Webster,” answered the bonnet maker; “are we not representatives and successors of the stout old Romans, who built Perth as like to their own city as they could? And have we not charters from all our noble kings and progenitors, as being their loving liegemen? And would you have us now yield up our rights, privileges, and immunities, our outfang and infang, our handhaband, our back bearand, and our blood suits, and amerciaments, escheats, and commodities, and suffer an honest burgess’s house to be assaulted without seeking for redress? No, brave citizens, craftsmen, and burgesses, the Tay shall flow back to Dunkeld before we submit to such injustice!”

“And how can we help it?” said a grave old man, who stood leaning on a two handed sword. “What would you have us do?”

“Marry, Bailie Craigdallie, I wonder that you, of all men, ask the question. I would have you pass like true men from this very place to the King’s Grace’s presence, raise him from his royal rest, and presenting to him the piteous case of our being called forth from our beds at this season, with little better covering than these shirts, I would show him this bloody token, and know from his Grace’s own royal lips whether it is just and honest that his loving lieges should be thus treated by the knights and nobles of his deboshed court. And this I call pushing our cause warmly.”

“Warmly, sayst thou?” replied the old burgess; “why, so warmly, that we shall all die of cold, man, before the porter turn a key to let us into the royal presence. Come, friends, the night is bitter, we have kept our watch and ward like men, and our jolly smith hath given a warning to those that would wrong us, which shall be worth twenty proclamations of the king. Tomorrow is a new day; we will consult on this matter on this self same spot, and consider what measures should be taken for discovery and pursuit of the villains. And therefore let us dismiss before the heart’s blood freeze in our veins.”

“Bravo — bravo, neighbour Craigdallie! St. Johnston for ever!”

Oliver Proudfute would still have spoken; for he was one of those pitiless orators who think that their eloquence can overcome all inconveniences in time, place, and circumstances. But no one would listen, and the citizens dispersed to their own houses by the light of the dawn, which began now to streak the horizon.

They were scarce gone ere the door of the glover’s house opened, and seizing the smith by the hand, the old man pulled him in.

“Where is the prisoner?” demanded the armourer.

“He is gone — escaped — fled — what do I know of him?” said the glover. “He got out at the back door, and so through the little garden. Think not of him, but come and see the Valentine whose honour and life you have saved this morning.”

“Let me but sheathe my weapon,” said the smith, “let me but wash my hands.”

“There is not an instant to lose, she is up and almost dressed. Come on, man. She shall see thee with thy good weapon in thy hand, and with villain’s blood on thy fingers, that she may know what is the value of a true man’s service. She has stopped my mouth overlong with her pruderies and her scruples. I will have her know what a brave man’s love is worth, and a bold burgess’s to boot.”

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