The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 5

Up! lady fair, and braid thy hair,

And rouse thee in the breezy air,

Up! quit thy bower, late wears the hour,

Long have the rooks caw’d round the tower.

JOANNA BAILLIE.

Startled from her repose by the noise of the affray, the Fair Maid of Perth had listened in breathless terror to the sounds of violence and outcry which arose from the street. She had sunk on her knees to pray for assistance, and when she distinguished the voices of neighbours and friends collected for her protection, she remained in the same posture to return thanks. She was still kneeling when her father almost thrust her champion, Henry Smith, into her apartment; the bashful lover hanging back at first, as if afraid to give offence, and, on observing her posture, from respect to her devotion.

“Father,” said the armourer, “she prays; I dare no more speak to her than to a bishop when he says mass.”

“Now, go thy ways, for a right valiant and courageous blockhead,” said her father — and then speaking to his daughter, he added, “Heaven is best thanked, my daughter, by gratitude shown to our fellow creatures. Here comes the instrument by whom God has rescued thee from death, or perhaps from dishonour worse than death. Receive him, Catharine, as thy true Valentine, and him whom I desire to see my affectionate son.”

“Not thus — father,” replied Catharine. “I can see — can speak to no one now. I am not ungrateful — perhaps I am too thankful to the instrument of our safety; but let me thank the guardian saint who sent me this timely relief, and give me but a moment to don my kirtle.”

“Nay, God-a-mercy, wench, it were hard to deny thee time to busk thy body clothes, since the request is the only words like a woman that thou hast uttered for these ten days. Truly, son Harry, I would my daughter would put off being entirely a saint till the time comes for her being canonised for St. Catherine the Second.”

“Nay, jest not, father; for I will swear she has at least one sincere adorer already, who hath devoted himself to her pleasure, so far as sinful man may. Fare thee well, then, for the moment, fair maiden,” he concluded, raising his voice, “and Heaven send thee dreams as peaceful as thy waking thoughts. I go to watch thy slumbers, and woe with him that shall intrude on them!”

“Nay, good and brave Henry, whose warm heart is at such variance with thy reckless hand, thrust thyself into no farther quarrels tonight; but take the kindest thanks, and with these, try to assume the peaceful thoughts which you assign to me. Tomorrow we will meet, that I may assure you of my gratitude. Farewell.”

“And farewell, lady and light of my heart!” said the armourer, and, descending the stair which led to Catharine’s apartment, was about to sally forth into the street, when the glover caught him by the arm.

“I shall like the ruffle of tonight,” said he, “better than I ever thought to do the clashing of steel, if it brings my daughter to her senses, Harry, and teaches her what thou art worth. By St. Macgrider! I even love these roysterers, and am sorry for that poor lover who will never wear left handed chevron again. Ay! he has lost that which he will miss all the days of his life, especially when he goes to pull on his gloves; ay, he will pay but half a fee to my craft in future. Nay, not a step from this house tonight,” he continued “Thou dost not leave us, I promise thee, my son.”

“I do not mean it. But I will, with your permission, watch in the street. The attack may be renewed.”

“And if it be,” said Simon, “thou wilt have better access to drive them back, having the vantage of the house. It is the way of fighting which suits us burghers best — that of resisting from behind stone walls. Our duty of watch and ward teaches us that trick; besides, enough are awake and astir to ensure us peace and quiet till morning. So come in this way.”

So saying, he drew Henry, nothing loth, into the same apartment where they had supped, and where the old woman, who was on foot, disturbed as others had been by the nocturnal affray, soon roused up the fire.

“And now, my doughty son,” said the glover, “what liquor wilt thou pledge thy father in?”

Henry Smith had suffered himself to sink mechanically upon a seat of old black oak, and now gazed on the fire, that flashed back a ruddy light over his manly features. He muttered to himself half audibly: “Good Henry — brave Henry. Ah! had she but said, dear Henry!”

“What liquors be these?” said the old glover, laughing. “My cellar holds none such; but if sack, or Rhenish, or wine of Gascony can serve, why, say the word and the flagon foams, that is all.”

“The kindest thanks,” said the armourer, still musing, “that’s more than she ever said to me before — the kindest thanks — what may not that stretch to?”

“It shall stretch like kid’s leather, man,” said the glover, “if thou wilt but be ruled, and say what thou wilt take for thy morning’s draught.”

“Whatever thou wilt, father,” answered the armourer, carelessly, and relapsed into the analysis of Catharine’s speech to him. “She spoke of my warm heart; but she also spoke of my reckless hand. What earthly thing can I do to get rid of this fighting fancy? Certainly I were best strike my right hand off, and nail it to the door of a church, that it may never do me discredit more.”

“You have chopped off hands enough for one night,” said his friend, setting a flagon of wine on the table. “Why dost thou vex thyself, man? She would love thee twice as well did she not see how thou doatest upon her. But it becomes serious now. I am not to have the risk of my booth being broken and my house plundered by the hell raking followers of the nobles, because she is called the Fair Maid of Perth, an’t please ye. No, she shall know I am her father, and will have that obedience to which law and gospel give me right. I will have her thy wife, Henry, my heart of gold — thy wife, my man of mettle, and that before many weeks are over. Come — come, here is to thy merry bridal, jolly smith.”

The father quaffed a large cup, and filled it to his adopted son, who raised it slowly to his head; then, ere it had reached his lips, replaced it suddenly on the table and shook his head.

“Nay, if thou wilt not pledge me to such a health, I know no one who will,” said Simon. “What canst thou mean, thou foolish lad? Here has a chance happened, which in a manner places her in thy power, since from one end of the city to the other all would cry fie on her if she should say thee nay. Here am I, her father, not only consenting to the cutting out of the match, but willing to see you two as closely united together as ever needle stitched buckskin. And with all this on thy side — fortune, father, and all — thou lookest like a distracted lover in a ballad, more like to pitch thyself into the Tay than to woo a lass that may be had for the asking, if you can but choose the lucky minute.”

“Ay, but that lucky minute, father? I question much if Catharine ever has such a moment to glance on earth and its inhabitants as might lead her to listen to a coarse ignorant borrel man like me. I cannot tell how it is, father; elsewhere I can hold up my head like another man, but with your saintly daughter I lose heart and courage, and I cannot help thinking that it would be well nigh robbing a holy shrine if I could succeed in surprising her affections. Her thoughts are too much fitted for Heaven to be wasted on such a one as I am.”

“E’en as you like, Henry,” answered the glover. “My daughter is not courting you any more than I am — a fair offer is no cause offend; only if you think that I will give in to her foolish notions of a convent, take it with you that I will never listen to them. I love and honour the church,” he said, crossing himself, “I pay her rights duly and cheerfully — tithes and alms, wine and wax, I pay them as justly, I say, as any man in Perth of my means doth — but I cannot afford the church my only and single ewe lamb that I have in the world. Her mother was dear to me on earth, and is now an angel in Heaven. Catharine is all I have to remind me of her I have lost; and if she goes to the cloister, it shall be when these old eyes are closed for ever, and not sooner. But as for you, friend Gow, I pray you will act according to your own best liking, I want to force no wife on you, I promise you.”

“Nay, now you beat the iron twice over,” said Henry. “It is thus we always end, father, by your being testy with me for not doing that thing in the world which would make me happiest, were I to have it in my power. Why, father, I would the keenest dirk I ever forged were sticking in my heart at this moment if there is one single particle in it that is not more your daughter’s property than my own. But what can I do? I cannot think less of her, or more of myself, than we both deserve; and what seems to you so easy and certain is to me as difficult as it would be to work a steel hauberk out of bards of flax. But here is to you, father,” he added, in a more cheerful tone; “and here is to my fair saint and Valentine, as I hope your Catharine will be mine for the season. And let me not keep your old head longer from the pillow, but make interest with your featherbed till daybreak; and then you must be my guide to your daughter’s chamber door, and my apology for entering it, to bid her good morrow, for the brightest that the sun will awaken, in the city or for miles round.”

“No bad advice, my son,” said the honest glover, “But you, what will you do? Will you lie down beside me, or take a part of Conachar’s bed?”

“Neither,” answered Harry Gow; “I should but prevent your rest, and for me this easy chair is worth a down bed, and I will sleep like a sentinel, with my graith about me.” As he spoke, he laid his hand on his sword.

“Nay, Heaven send us no more need of weapons. Goodnight, or rather good morrow, till day peep; and the first who wakes calls up the other.”

Thus parted the two burghers. The glover retired to his bed, and, it is to be supposed, to rest. The lover was not so fortunate. His bodily frame easily bore the fatigue which he had encountered in the course of the night, but his mind was of a different and more delicate mould. In one point of view, he was but the stout burgher of his period, proud alike of his art in making weapons and wielding them when made; his professional jealousy, personal strength, and skill in the use of arms brought him into many quarrels, which had made him generally feared, and in some instances disliked. But with these qualities were united the simple good nature of a child, and at the same time an imaginative and enthusiastic temper, which seemed little to correspond with his labours at the forge or his combats in the field. Perhaps a little of the hare brained and ardent feeling which he had picked out of old ballads, or from the metrical romances, which were his sole source of information or knowledge, may have been the means of pricking him on to some of his achievements, which had often a rude strain of chivalry in them; at least, it was certain that his love to the fair Catharine had in it a delicacy such as might have become the squire of low degree, who was honoured, if song speaks truth, with the smiles of the King of Hungary’s daughter. His sentiments towards her were certainly as exalted as if they had been fixed upon an actual angel, which made old Simon, and others who watched his conduct, think that his passion was too high and devotional to be successful with maiden of mortal mould. They were mistaken, however. Catharine, coy and reserved as she was, had a heart which could feel and understand the nature and depth of the armourer’s passion; and whether she was able to repay it or not, she had as much secret pride in the attachment of the redoubted Henry Gow as a lady of romance may be supposed to have in the company of a tame lion, who follows to provide for and defend her. It was with sentiments of the most sincere gratitude that she recollected, as she awoke at dawn, the services of Henry during the course of the eventful night, and the first thought which she dwelt upon was the means of making him understand her feelings.

Arising hastily from bed, and half blushing at her own purpose —“I have been cold to him, and perhaps unjust; I will not be ungrateful,” she said to herself, “though I cannot yield to his suit. I will not wait till my father compels me to receive him as my Valentine for the year: I will seek him out, and choose him myself. I have thought other girls bold when they did something like this; but I shall thus best please my father, and but discharge the rites due to good St. Valentine by showing my gratitude to this brave man.”

Hastily slipping on her dress, which, nevertheless, was left a good deal more disordered than usual, she tripped downstairs and opened the door of the chamber, in which, as she had guessed, her lover had passed the hours after the fray. Catharine paused at the door, and became half afraid of executing her purpose, which not only permitted but enjoined the Valentines of the year to begin their connexion with a kiss of affection. It was looked upon as a peculiarly propitious omen if the one party could find the other asleep, and awaken him or her by performance of this interesting ceremony.

Never was a fairer opportunity offered for commencing this mystic tie than that which now presented itself to Catharine. After many and various thoughts, sleep had at length overcome the stout armourer in the chair in which he had deposited himself. His features, in repose, had a more firm and manly cast than Catharine had thought, who, having generally seen them fluctuating between shamefacedness and apprehension of her displeasure, had been used to connect with them some idea of imbecility.

“He looks very stern,” she said; “if he should be angry? And then when he awakes — we are alone — if I should call Dorothy — if I should wake my father? But no! it is a thing of custom, and done in all maidenly and sisterly love and honour. I will not suppose that Henry can misconstrue it, and I will not let a childish bashfulness put my gratitude to sleep.”

So saying, she tripped along the floor of the apartment with a light, though hesitating, step; and a cheek crimsoned at her own purpose; and gliding to the chair of the sleeper, dropped a kiss upon his lips as light as if a rose leaf had fallen on them. The slumbers must have been slight which such a touch could dispel, and the dreams of the sleeper must needs have been connected with the cause of the interruption, since Henry, instantly starting up, caught the maiden in his arms, and attempted to return in ecstasy the salute which had broken his repose. But Catharine struggled in his embrace; and as her efforts implied alarmed modesty rather than maidenly coyness, her bashful lover suffered her to escape a grasp from which twenty times her strength could not have extricated her.

“Nay, be not angry, good Henry,” said Catharine, in the kindest tone, to her surprised lover. “I have paid my vows to St. Valentine, to show how I value the mate which he has sent me for the year. Let but my father be present, and I will not dare to refuse thee the revenge you may claim for a broken sleep.”

“Let not that be a hinderance,” said the old glover, rushing in ecstasy into the room; “to her, smith — to her: strike while the iron is hot, and teach her what it is not to let sleeping dogs lie still.”

Thus encouraged, Henry, though perhaps with less alarming vivacity, again seized the blushing maiden in his arms, who submitted with a tolerable grace to receive repayment of her salute, a dozen times repeated, and with an energy very different from that which had provoked such severe retaliation. At length she again extricated herself from her lover’s arms, and, as if frightened and repenting what she had done, threw herself into a seat, and covered her face with her hands.

“Cheer up, thou silly girl,” said her father, “and be not ashamed that thou hast made the two happiest men in Perth, since thy old father is one of them. Never was kiss so well bestowed, and meet it is that it should be suitably returned. Look up, my darling! look up, and let me see thee give but one smile. By my honest word, the sun that now rises over our fair city shows no sight that can give me greater pleasure. What,” he continued, in a jocose tone, “thou thoughtst thou hadst Jamie Keddie’s ring, and couldst walk invisible? but not so, my fairy of the dawning. Just as I was about to rise, I heard thy chamber door open, and watched thee downstairs, not to protect thee against this sleepy headed Henry, but to see with my own delighted eyes my beloved girl do that which her father most wished. Come, put down these foolish hands, and though thou blushest a little, it will only the better grace St. Valentine’s morn, when blushes best become a maiden’s cheek.”

As Simon Glover spoke, he pulled away, with gentle violence, the hands which hid his daughter’s face. She blushed deeply indeed, but there was more than maiden’s shame in her face, and her eyes were fast filling with tears.

“What! weeping, love?” continued her father; “nay — nay, this is more than need. Henry, help me to comfort this little fool.”

Catharine made an effort to collect herself and to smile, but the smile was of a melancholy and serious cast.

“I only meant to say, father,” said the Fair Maid of Perth, with continued exertion, “that in choosing Henry Gow for my Valentine, and rendering to him the rights and greeting of the morning, according to wonted custom, I meant but to show my gratitude to him for his manly and faithful service, and my obedience to you. But do not lead him to think — and, oh, dearest father, do not yourself entertain an idea — that I meant more than what the promise to be his faithful and affectionate Valentine through the year requires of me.”

“Ay — ay —— ay — ay, we understand it all,” said Simon, in the soothing tone which nurses apply to children. “We understand what the meaning is; enough for once — enough for once. Thou shalt not be frightened or hurried. Loving, true, and faithful Valentines are ye, and the rest as Heaven and opportunity shall permit. Come, prithee, have done: wring not thy tiny hands, nor fear farther persecution now. Thou hast done bravely, excellently. And now, away to Dorothy, and call up the old sluggard; we must have a substantial breakfast, after a night of confusion and a morning of joy, and thy hand will be needed to prepare for us some of these delicate cakes which no one can make but thyself; and well hast thou a right to the secret, seeing who taught it thee. Ah! health to the soul of thy dearest mother,” he added, with a sigh; “how blythe would she have been to see this happy St. Valentine’s morning!”

Catharine took the opportunity of escape which was thus given her, and glided from the room. To Henry it seemed as if the sun had disappeared from the heaven at midday, and left the world in sudden obscurity. Even the high swelled hopes with which the late incident had filled him began to quail, as he reflected upon her altered demeanour — the tears in her eyes, the obvious fear which occupied her features, and the pains she had taken to show, as plainly as delicacy would permit, that the advances which she had made to him were limited to the character with which the rites of the day had invested him. Her father looked on his fallen countenance with something like surprise and displeasure.

“In the name of good St. John, what has befallen you, that makes you look as grave as an owl, when a lad of your spirit, having really such a fancy for this poor girl as you pretend, ought to be as lively as a lark?”

“Alas, father!” replied the crestfallen lover, “there is that written on her brow which says she loves me well enough to be my Valentine, especially since you wish it, but not well enough to be my wife.”

“Now, a plague on thee for a cold, downhearted goosecap,” answered the father. “I can read a woman’s brow as well, and better, than thou, and I can see no such matter on hers. What, the foul fiend, man! there thou wast lying like a lord in thy elbow chair, as sound asleep as a judge, when, hadst thou been a lover of any spirit, thou wouldst have been watching the east for the first ray of the sun. But there thou layest, snoring I warrant, thinking nought about her, or anything else; and the poor girl rises at peep of day, lest any one else should pick up her most precious and vigilant Valentine, and wakes thee with a grace which — so help me, St. Macgrider! — would have put life in an anvil; and thou awakest to hone, and pine, and moan, as if she had drawn a hot iron across thy lips! I would to St. John she had sent old Dorothy on the errand, and bound thee for thy Valentine service to that bundle of dry bones, with never a tooth in her head. She were fittest Valentine in Perth for so craven a wooer.”

“As to craven, father,” answered the smith, “there are twenty good cocks, whose combs I have plucked, can tell thee if I am craven or no. And Heaven knows that I would give my good land, held by burgess’ tenure, with smithy, bellows, tongs, anvil, and all, providing it would make your view of the matter the true one. But it is not of her coyness or her blushes that I speak; it is of the paleness which so soon followed the red, and chased it from her cheeks; and it is of the tears which succeeded. It was like the April showers stealing upon and obscuring the fairest dawning that ever beamed over the Tay.”

“Tutti taitti,” replied the glover; “neither Rome nor Perth were built in a day. Thou hast fished salmon a thousand times, and mightst have taken a lesson. When the fish has taken the fly, to pull a hard strain on the line would snap the tackle to pieces, were it made of wire. Ease your hand, man, and let him rise; take leisure, and in half an hour thou layest him on the bank. There is a beginning as fair as you could wish, unless you expect the poor wench to come to thy bedside as she did to thy chair; and that is not the fashion of modest maidens. But observe me; after we have had our breakfast, I will take care thou hast an opportunity to speak thy mind; only beware thou be neither too backward nor press her too hard. Give her line enough, but do not slack too fast, and my life for yours upon the issue.”

“Do what I can, father,” answered Henry, “you will always lay the blame on me — either that I give too much head or that I strain the tackle. I would give the best habergeon I ever wrought, that the difficulty in truth rested with me, for there were then the better chance of its being removed. I own, however, I am but an ass in the trick of bringing about such discourse as is to the purpose for the occasion.”

“Come into the booth with me, my son, and I will furnish thee with a fitting theme. Thou knowest the maiden who ventures to kiss a sleeping man wins of him a pair of gloves. Come to my booth; thou shalt have a pair of delicate kid skin that will exactly suit her hand and arm. I was thinking of her poor mother when I shaped them,” added honest Simon, with a sigh; “and except Catharine, I know not the woman in Scotland whom they would fit, though I have measured most of the high beauties of the court. Come with me, I say, and thou shalt be provided with a theme to wag thy tongue upon, providing thou hast courage and caution to stand by thee in thy wooing.”

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