The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 17

Nay, I will fit you for a young prince.


We return to the revellers, who had, half an hour before, witnessed, with such boisterous applause, Oliver’s feat of agility, being the last which the poor bonnet maker was ever to exhibit, and at the hasty retreat which had followed it, animated by their wild shout. After they had laughed their fill, they passed on their mirthful path in frolic and jubilee, stopping and frightening some of the people whom they met, but, it must be owned, without doing them any serious injury, either in their persons or feelings. At length, tired with his rambles, their chief gave a signal to his merry men to close around him.

“We, my brave hearts and wise counsellors, are,” he said, “the real king over all in Scotland that is worth commanding. We sway the hours when the wine cup circulates, and when beauty becomes kind, when frolic is awake, and gravity snoring upon his pallet. We leave to our vice regent, King Robert, the weary task of controlling ambitious nobles, gratifying greedy clergymen, subduing wild Highlanders, and composing deadly feuds. And since our empire is one of joy and pleasure, meet it is that we should haste with all our forces to the rescue of such as own our sway, when they chance, by evil fortune, to become the prisoners of care and hypochondriac malady. I speak in relation chiefly to Sir John, whom the vulgar call Ramorny. We have not seen him since the onslaught of Curfew Street, and though we know he was somedeal hurt in that matter, we cannot see why he should not do homage in leal and duteous sort. Here, you, our Calabash King at arms, did you legally summon Sir John to his part of this evening’s revels?”

“I did, my lord.”

“And did you acquaint him that we have for this night suspended his sentence of banishment, that, since higher powers have settled that part, we might at least take a mirthful leave of an old friend?”

“I so delivered it, my lord,” answered the mimic herald.

“And sent he not a word in writing, he that piques himself upon being so great a clerk?”

“He was in bed, my lord, and I might not see him. So far as I hear, he hath lived very retired, harmed with some bodily bruises, malcontent with your Highness’s displeasure, and doubting insult in the streets, he having had a narrow escape from the burgesses, when the churls pursued him and his two servants into the Dominican convent. The servants, too, have been removed to Fife, lest they should tell tales.”

“Why, it was wisely done,” said the Prince, who, we need not inform the intelligent reader, had a better title to be so called than arose from the humours of the evening —“it was prudently done to keep light tongued companions out of the way. But St. John’s absenting himself from our solemn revels, so long before decreed, is flat mutiny and disclamation of allegiance. Or, if the knight be really the prisoner of illness and melancholy, we must ourself grace him with a visit, seeing there can be no better cure for those maladies than our own presence, and a gentle kiss of the calabash. Forward, ushers, minstrels, guard, and attendants! Bear on high the great emblem of our dignity. Up with the calabash, I say, and let the merry men who carry these firkins, which are to supply the wine cup with their life blood, be chosen with regard to their state of steadiness. Their burden is weighty and precious, and if the fault is not in our eyes, they seem to us to reel and stagger more than were desirable. Now, move on, sirs, and let our minstrels blow their blythest and boldest.”

On they went with tipsy mirth and jollity, the numerous torches flashing their red light against the small windows of the narrow streets, from whence nightcapped householders, and sometimes their wives to boot, peeped out by stealth to see what wild wassail disturbed the peaceful streets at that unwonted hour. At length the jolly train halted before the door of Sir John Ramorny’s house, which a small court divided from the street.

Here they knocked, thundered, and halloo’d, with many denunciations of vengeance against the recusants who refused to open the gates. The least punishment threatened was imprisonment in an empty hogshead, within the massamore [principal dungeon] of the Prince of Pastimes’ feudal palace, videlicet, the ale cellar. But Eviot, Ramorny’s page, heard and knew well the character of the intruders who knocked so boldly, and thought it better, considering his master’s condition, to make no answer at all, in hopes that the revel would pass on, than to attempt to deprecate their proceedings, which he knew would be to no purpose. His master’s bedroom looking into a little garden, his page hoped he might not be disturbed by the noise; and he was confident in the strength of the outward gate, upon which he resolved they should beat till they tired themselves, or till the tone of their drunken humour should change. The revellers accordingly seemed likely to exhaust themselves in the noise they made by shouting and beating the door, when their mock prince (alas! too really such) upbraided them as lazy and dull followers of the god of wine and of mirth.

“Bring forward,” he said, “our key, yonder it lies, and apply it to this rebellious gate.”

The key he pointed at was a large beam of wood, left on one side of the street, with the usual neglect of order characteristic of a Scottish borough of the period.

The shouting men of Ind instantly raised it in their arms, and, supporting it by their united strength, ran against the door with such force, that hasp, hinge, and staple jingled, and gave fair promise of yielding. Eviot did not choose to wait the extremity of this battery: he came forth into the court, and after some momentary questions for form’s sake, caused the porter to undo the gate, as if he had for the first time recognised the midnight visitors.

“False slave of an unfaithful master,” said the Prince, “where is our disloyal subject, Sir John Ramorny, who has proved recreant to our summons?”

“My lord,” said Eviot, bowing at once to the real and to the assumed dignity of the leader, “my master is just now very much indisposed: he has taken an opiate — and — your Highness must excuse me if I do my duty to him in saying, he cannot be spoken with without danger of his life.”

“Tush! tell me not of danger, Master Teviot — Cheviot — Eviot — what is it they call thee? But show me thy master’s chamber, or rather undo me the door of his lodging, and I will make a good guess at it myself. Bear high the calabash, my brave followers, and see that you spill not a drop of the liquor, which Dan Bacchus has sent for the cure of all diseases of the body and cares of the mind. Advance it, I say, and let us see the holy rind which incloses such precious liquor.”

The Prince made his way into the house accordingly, and, acquainted with its interior, ran upstairs, followed by Eviot, in vain imploring silence, and, with the rest of the rabble rout, burst into the room of the wounded master of the lodging.

He who has experienced the sensation of being compelled to sleep in spite of racking bodily pains by the administration of a strong opiate, and of having been again startled by noise and violence out of the unnatural state of insensibility in which he had been plunged by the potency of the medicine, may be able to imagine the confused and alarmed state of Sir John Ramorny’s mind, and the agony of his body, which acted and reacted upon each other. If we add to these feelings the consciousness of a criminal command, sent forth and in the act of being executed, it may give us some idea of an awakening to which, in the mind of the party, eternal sleep would be a far preferable doom. The groan which he uttered as the first symptom of returning sensation had something in it so terrific, that even the revellers were awed into momentary silence; and as, from the half recumbent posture in which he had gone to sleep, he looked around the room, filled with fantastic shapes, rendered still more so by his disturbed intellects, he muttered to himself:

“It is thus, then, after all, and the legend is true! These are fiends, and I am condemned for ever! The fire is not external, but I feel it — I feel it at my heart — burning as if the seven times heated furnace were doing its work within!”

While he cast ghastly looks around him, and struggled to recover some share of recollection, Eviot approached the Prince, and, falling on his knees, implored him to allow the apartment to be cleared.

“It may,” he said, “cost my master his life.”

“Never fear, Cheviot,” replied the Duke of Rothsay; “were he at the gates of death, here is what should make the fiends relinquish their prey. Advance the calabash, my masters.”

“It is death for him to taste it in his present state,” said Eviot: “if he drinks wine he dies.”

“Some one must drink it for him — he shall be cured vicariously; and may our great Dan Bacchus deign to Sir John Ramorny the comfort, the elevation of heart, the lubrication of lungs, and lightness of fancy, which are his choicest gifts, while the faithful follower, who quaffs in his stead, shall have the qualms, the sickness, the racking of the nerves, the dimness of the eyes, and the throbbing of the brain, with which our great master qualifies gifts which would else make us too like the gods. What say you, Eviot? will you be the faithful follower that will quaff in your lord’s behalf, and as his representative? Do this, and we will hold ourselves contented to depart, for, methinks, our subject doth look something ghastly.”

“I would do anything in my slight power,” said Eviot, “to save my master from a draught which may be his death, and your Grace from the sense that you had occasioned it. But here is one who will perform the feat of goodwill, and thank your Highness to boot.”

“Whom have we here?” said the Prince, “a butcher, and I think fresh from his office. Do butchers ply their craft on Fastern’s Eve? Foh, how he smells of blood!”

This was spoken of Bonthron, who, partly surprised at the tumult in the house, where he had expected to find all dark and silent, and partly stupid through the wine which the wretch had drunk in great quantities, stood in the threshold of the door, staring at the scene before him, with his buff coat splashed with blood, and a bloody axe in his hand, exhibiting a ghastly and disgusting spectacle to the revellers, who felt, though they could not tell why, fear as well as dislike at his presence.

As they approached the calabash to this ungainly and truculent looking savage, and as he extended a hand soiled as it seemed with blood, to grasp it, the Prince called out:

“Downstairs with him! let not the wretch drink in our presence; find him some other vessel than our holy calabash, the emblem of our revels: a swine’s trough were best, if it could be come by. Away with him! let him be drenched to purpose, in atonement for his master’s sobriety. Leave me alone with Sir John Ramorny and his page; by my honour, I like not yon ruffian’s looks.”

The attendants of the Prince left the apartment, and Eviot alone remained.

“I fear,” said the Prince, approaching the bed in different form from that which he had hitherto used —“I fear, my dear Sir John, that this visit has been unwelcome; but it is your own fault. Although you know our old wont, and were your self participant of our schemes for the evening, you have not come near us since St. Valentine’s; it is now Fastern’s Even, and the desertion is flat disobedience and treason to our kingdom of mirth and the statutes of the calabash.”

Ramorny raised his head, and fixed a wavering eye upon the Prince; then signed to Eviot to give him something to drink. A large cup of ptisan was presented by the page, which the sick man swallowed with eager and trembling haste. He then repeatedly used the stimulating essence left for the purpose by the leech, and seemed to collect his scattered senses.

“Let me feel your pulse, dear Ramorny,” said the Prince; “I know something of that craft. How! Do your offer me the left hand, Sir John? that is neither according to the rules of medicine nor of courtesy.”

“The right has already done its last act in your Highness’s service,” muttered the patient in a low and broken tone.

“How mean you by that?” said the Prince. “I am aware thy follower, Black Quentin, lost a hand; but he can steal with the other as much as will bring him to the gallows, so his fate cannot be much altered.”

“It is not that fellow who has had the loss in your Grace’s service: it is I, John of Ramorny.”

“You!” said the Prince; “you jest with me, or the opiate still masters your reason.”

“If the juice of all the poppies in Egypt were blended in one draught,” said Ramorny, “it would lose influence over me when I look upon this.” He drew his right arm from beneath the cover of the bedclothes, and extending it towards the Prince, wrapped as it was in dressings, “Were these undone and removed,” he said, “your Highness would see that a bloody stump is all that remains of a hand ever ready to unsheath the sword at your Grace’s slightest bidding.”

Rothsay started back in horror. “This,” he said, “must be avenged!”

“It is avenged in small part,” said Ramorny —“that is, I thought I saw Bonthron but now; or was it that the dream of hell that first arose in my mind when I awakened summoned up an image so congenial? Eviot, call the miscreant — that is, if he is fit to appear.”

Eviot retired, and presently returned with Bonthron, whom he had rescued from the penance, to him no unpleasing infliction, of a second calabash of wine, the brute having gorged the first without much apparent alteration in his demeanour.

“Eviot,” said the Prince, “let not that beast come nigh me. My soul recoils from him in fear and disgust: there is something in his looks alien from my nature, and which I shudder at as at a loathsome snake, from which my instinct revolts.”

“First hear him speak, my lord,” answered Ramorny; “unless a wineskin were to talk, nothing could use fewer words. Hast thou dealt with him, Bonthron?”

The savage raised the axe which he still held in his hand, and brought it down again edgeways.

“Good. How knew you your man? the night, I am told, is dark.”

“By sight and sound, garb, gait, and whistle.”

“Enough, vanish! and, Eviot, let him have gold and wine to his brutish contentment. Vanish! and go thou with him.”

“And whose death is achieved?” said the Prince, released from the feelings of disgust and horror under which he suffered while the assassin was in presence. “I trust this is but a jest! Else must I call it a rash and savage deed. Who has had the hard lot to be butchered by that bloody and brutal slave?”

“One little better than himself,” said the patient, “a wretched artisan, to whom, however, fate gave the power of reducing Ramorny to a mutilated cripple — a curse go with his base spirit! His miserable life is but to my revenge what a drop of water would be to a furnace. I must speak briefly, for my ideas again wander: it is only the necessity of the moment which keeps them together; as a thong combines a handful of arrows. You are in danger, my lord — I speak it with certainty: you have braved Douglas, and offended your uncle, displeased your father, though that were a trifle, were it not for the rest.”

“I am sorry I have displeased my father,” said the Prince, entirely diverted from so insignificant a thing as the slaughter of an artisan by the more important subject touched upon, “if indeed it be so. But if I live, the strength of the Douglas shall be broken, and the craft of Albany shall little avail him!”

“Ay — if — if. My lord,” said Ramorny, “with such opposites as you have, you must not rest upon if or but; you must resolve at once to slay or be slain.”

“How mean you, Ramorny? Your fever makes you rave” answered the Duke of Rothsay.

“No, my lord,” said Ramorny, “were my frenzy at the highest, the thoughts that pass through my mind at this moment would qualify it. It may be that regret for my own loss has made me desperate, that anxious thoughts for your Highness’s safety have made me nourish bold designs; but I have all the judgment with which Heaven has gifted me, when I tell you that, if ever you would brook the Scottish crown, nay, more, if ever you would see another St. Valentine’s Day, you must —”

“What is it that I must do, Ramorny?” said the Prince, with an air of dignity; “nothing unworthy of myself, I hope?”

“Nothing, certainly, unworthy or misbecoming a prince of Scotland, if the bloodstained annals of our country tell the tale truly; but that which may well shock the nerves of a prince of mimes and merry makers.”

“Thou art severe, Sir John Ramorny,” said the Duke of Rothsay, with an air of displeasure; “but thou hast dearly bought a right to censure us by what thou hast lost in our cause.”

“My Lord of Rothsay,” said the knight, “the chirurgeon who dressed this mutilated stump told me that the more I felt the pain his knife and brand inflicted, the better was my chance of recovery. I shall not, therefore, hesitate to hurt your feelings, while by doing so I may be able to bring you to a sense of what is necessary for your safety. Your Grace has been the pupil of mirthful folly too long; you must now assume manly policy, or be crushed like a butterfly on the bosom of the flower you are sporting on.”

“I think I know your cast of morals, Sir John: you are weary of merry folly — the churchmen call it vice — and long for a little serious crime. A murder, now, or a massacre, would enhance the flavour of debauch, as the taste of the olive gives zest to wine. But my worst acts are but merry malice: I have no relish for the bloody trade, and abhor to see or hear of its being acted even on the meanest caitiff. Should I ever fill the throne, I suppose, like my father before me, I must drop my own name, and be dubbed Robert, in honour of the Bruce; well, an if it be so, every Scots lad shall have his flag on in one hand and the other around his lass’s neck, and manhood shall be tried by kisses and bumpers, not by dirks and dourlachs; and they shall write on my grave, ‘Here lies Robert, fourth of his name. He won not battles like Robert the First. He rose not from a count to a king like Robert the Second. He founded not churches like Robert the Third, but was contented to live and die king of good fellows!’ Of all my two centuries of ancestors, I would only emulate the fame of —

“Old King Coul,

Who had a brown bowl.”

“My gracious lord,” said Ramorny, “let me remind you that your joyous revels involve serious evils. If I had lost this hand in fighting to attain for your Grace some important advantage over your too powerful enemies, the loss would never have grieved me. But to be reduced from helmet and steel coat to biggin and gown in a night brawl —”

“Why, there again now, Sir John,” interrupted the reckless Prince. “How canst thou be so unworthy as to be for ever flinging thy bloody hand in my face, as the ghost of Gaskhall threw his head at Sir William Wallace? Bethink thee, thou art more unreasonable than Fawdyon himself; for wight Wallace had swept his head off in somewhat a hasty humour, whereas I would gladly stick thy hand on again, were that possible. And, hark thee, since that cannot be, I will get thee such a substitute as the steel hand of the old knight of Carslogie, with which he greeted his friends, caressed his wife, braved his antagonists, and did all that might be done by a hand of flesh and blood, in offence or defence. Depend on it, John Ramorny, we have much that is superfluous about us. Man can see with one eye, hear with one ear, touch with one hand, smell with one nostril; and why we should have two of each, unless to supply an accidental loss or injury, I for one am at a loss to conceive.”

Sir John Ramorny turned from the Prince with a low groan.

“Nay, Sir John;” said the Duke, “I am quite serious. You know the truth touching the legend of Steel Hand of Carslogie better than I, since he was your own neighbour. In his time that curious engine could only be made in Rome; but I will wager an hundred marks with you that, let the Perth armourer have the use of it for a pattern, Henry of the Wynd will execute as complete an imitation as all the smiths in Rome could accomplish, with all the cardinals to bid a blessing on the work.”

“I could venture to accept your wager, my lord,” answered Ramorny, bitterly, “but there is no time for foolery. You have dismissed me from your service, at command of your uncle?”

“At command of my father,” answered the Prince.

“Upon whom your uncle’s commands are imperative,” replied Ramorny. “I am a disgraced man, thrown aside, as I may now fling away my right hand glove, as a thing useless. Yet my head might help you, though my hand be gone. Is your Grace disposed to listen to me for one word of serious import, for I am much exhausted, and feel my force sinking under me?”

“Speak your pleasure,” said the Prince; “thy loss binds me to hear thee, thy bloody stump is a sceptre to control me. Speak, then, but be merciful in thy strength of privilege.”

“I will be brief for mine own sake as well as thine; indeed, I have but little to say. Douglas places himself immediately at the head of his vassals. He will assemble, in the name of King Robert, thirty thousand Borderers, whom he will shortly after lead into the interior, to demand that the Duke of Rothsay receive, or rather restore, his daughter to the rank and privileges of his Duchess. King Robert will yield to any conditions which may secure peace. What will the Duke do?”

“The Duke of Rothsay loves peace,” said the Prince, haughtily; “but he never feared war. Ere he takes back yonder proud peat to his table and his bed, at the command of her father, Douglas must be King of Scotland.”

“Be it so; but even this is the less pressing peril, especially as it threatens open violence, for the Douglas works not in secret.”

“What is there which presses, and keeps us awake at this late hour? I am a weary man, thou a wounded one, and the very tapers are blinking, as if tired of our conference.”

“Tell me, then, who is it that rules this kingdom of Scotland?” said Ramorny.

“Robert, third of the name,” said the Prince, raising his bonnet as he spoke; “and long may he sway the sceptre!”

“True, and amen,” answered Ramorny; “but who sways King Robert, and dictates almost every measure which the good King pursues?”

“My Lord of Albany, you would say,” replied the Prince. “Yes, it is true my father is guided almost entirely by the counsels of his brother; nor can we blame him in our consciences, Sir John Ramorny, for little help hath he had from his son.”

“Let us help him now, my lord,” said Ramorny. “I am possessor of a dreadful secret: Albany hath been trafficking with me, to join him in taking your Grace’s life! He offers full pardon for the past, high favour for the future.”

“How, man — my life? I trust, though, thou dost only mean my kingdom? It were impious! He is my father’s brother — they sat on the knees of the same father — lay in the bosom of the same mother. Out on thee, man, what follies they make thy sickbed believe!”

“Believe, indeed!” said Ramorny. “It is new to me to be termed credulous. But the man through whom Albany communicated his temptations is one whom all will believe so soon as he hints at mischief — even the medicaments which are prepared by his hands have a relish of poison.”

“Tush! such a slave would slander a saint,” replied the Prince. “Thou art duped for once, Ramorny, shrewd as thou art. My uncle of Albany is ambitious, and would secure for himself and for his house a larger portion of power and wealth than he ought in reason to desire. But to suppose he would dethrone or slay his brother’s son — Fie, Ramorny! put me not to quote the old saw, that evil doers are evil dreaders. It is your suspicion, not your knowledge, which speaks.”

“Your Grace is fatally deluded. I will put it to an issue. The Duke of Albany is generally hated for his greed and covetousness. Your Highness is, it may be, more beloved than —”

Ramorny stopped, the Prince calmly filled up the blank: “More beloved than I am honoured. It is so I would have it, Ramorny.”

“At least,” said Ramorny, “you are more beloved than you are feared, and that is no safe condition for a prince. But give me your honour and knightly word that you will not resent what good service I shall do in your behalf, and lend me your signet to engage friends in your name, and the Duke of Albany shall not assume authority in this court till the wasted hand which once terminated this stump shall be again united to the body, and acting in obedience to the dictates of my mind.”

“You would not venture to dip your hands in royal blood?” said the Prince sternly.

“Fie, my lord, at no rate. Blood need not be shed; life may, nay, will, be extinguished of itself. For want of trimming it with fresh oil, or screening it from a breath of wind, the quivering light will die in the socket. To suffer a man to die is not to kill him.”

“True — I had forgot that policy. Well, then, suppose my uncle Albany does not continue to live — I think that must be the phrase — who then rules the court of Scotland?”

“Robert the Third, with consent, advice, and authority of the most mighty David, Duke of Rothsay, Lieutenant of the Kingdom, and alter ego; in whose favour, indeed, the good King, wearied with the fatigues and troubles of sovereignty, will, I guess, be well disposed to abdicate. So long live our brave young monarch, King David the Third!

“Ille manu fortis

Anglis ludebit in hortis.”

“And our father and predecessor,” said Rothsay, “will he continue to live to pray for us, as our beadsman, by whose favour he holds the privilege of laying his grey hairs in the grave as soon, and no earlier, than the course of nature permits, or must he also encounter some of those negligences in consequence of which men cease to continue to live, and can change the limits of a prison, or of a convent resembling one, for the dark and tranquil cell, where the priests say that the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest?”

“You speak in jest, my lord,” replied Ramorny: “to harm the good old King were equally unnatural and impolitic.”

“Why shrink from that, man, when thy whole scheme,” answered the Prince, in stern displeasure, “is one lesson of unnatural guilt, mixed with short sighted ambition? If the King of Scotland can scarcely make head against his nobles, even now when he can hold up before them an unsullied and honourable banner, who would follow a prince that is blackened with the death of an uncle and the imprisonment of a father? Why, man, thy policy were enough to revolt a heathen divan, to say nought of the council of a Christian nation. Thou wert my tutor, Ramorny, and perhaps I might justly upbraid thy lessons and example for some of the follies which men chide in me. Perhaps, if it had not been for thee, I had not been standing at midnight in this fool’s guise (looking at his dress), to hear an ambitious profligate propose to me the murder of an uncle, the dethronement of the best of fathers. Since it is my fault as well as thine that has sunk me so deep in the gulf of infamy, it were unjust that thou alone shouldst die for it. But dare not to renew this theme to me, on peril of thy life! I will proclaim thee to my father — to Albany — to Scotland — throughout its length and breadth. As many market crosses as are in the land shall have morsels of the traitor’s carcass, who dare counsel such horrors to the heir of Scotland. Well hope I, indeed, that the fever of thy wound, and the intoxicating influence of the cordials which act on thy infirm brain, have this night operated on thee, rather than any fixed purpose.”

“In sooth, my lord,” said Ramorny, “if I have said any thing which could so greatly exasperate your Highness, it must have been by excess of zeal, mingled with imbecility of understanding. Surely I, of all men, am least likely to propose ambitious projects with a prospect of advantage to myself! Alas! my only future views must be to exchange lance and saddle for the breviary and the confessional. The convent of Lindores must receive the maimed and impoverished knight of Ramorny, who will there have ample leisure to meditate upon the text, ‘Put not thy faith in princes.’”

“It is a goodly purpose,” said the Prince, “and we will not be lacking to promote it. Our separation, I thought, would have been but for a time. It must now be perpetual. Certainly, after such talk as we have held, it were meet that we should live asunder. But the convent of Lindores, or what ever other house receives thee, shall be richly endowed and highly favoured by us. And now, Sir John of Ramorny, sleep — sleep — and forget this evil omened conversation, in which the fever of disease and of wine has rather, I trust, held colloquy than your own proper thoughts. Light to the door, Eviot.”

A call from Eviot summoned the attendants of the Prince, who had been sleeping on the staircase and hall, exhausted by the revels of the evening.

“Is there none amongst you sober?” said the Duke of Rothsay, disgusted by the appearance of his attendants.

“Not a man — not a man,” answered the followers, with a drunken shout, “we are none of us traitors to the Emperor of Merry makers!”

“And are all of you turned into brutes, then?” said the Prince.

“In obedience and imitation of your Grace,” answered one fellow; “or, if we are a little behind your Highness, one pull at the pitcher will —”

“Peace, beast!” said the Duke of Rothsay. “Are there none of you sober, I say?”

“Yes, my noble liege,” was the answer; “here is one false brother, Watkins the Englishman.”

“Come hither then, Watkins, and aid me with a torch; give me a cloak, too, and another bonnet, and take away this trumpery,” throwing down his coronet of feathers. “I would I could throw off all my follies as easily. English Wat, attend me alone, and the rest of you end your revelry, and doff your mumming habits. The holytide is expended, and the fast has begun.”

“Our monarch has abdicated sooner than usual this night,” said one of the revel rout; but as the Prince gave no encouragement, such as happened for the time to want the virtue of sobriety endeavoured to assume it as well as they could, and the whole of the late rioters began to adopt the appearance of a set of decent persons, who, having been surprised into intoxication, endeavoured to disguise their condition by assuming a double portion of formality of behaviour. In the interim the Prince, having made a hasty reform in his dress, was lighted to the door by the only sober man of the company, but, in his progress thither, had well nigh stumbled over the sleeping bulk of the brute Bonthron.

“How now! is that vile beast in our way once more?” he said in anger and disgust. “Here, some of you, toss this caitiff into the horse trough; that for once in his life he may be washed clean.”

While the train executed his commands, availing themselves of a fountain which was in the outer court, and while Bonthron underwent a discipline which he was incapable of resisting, otherwise than by some inarticulate groans and snorts, like, those of a dying boar, the Prince proceeded on his way to his apartments, in a mansion called the Constable’s lodgings, from the house being the property of the Earls of Errol. On the way, to divert his thoughts from the more unpleasing matters, the Prince asked his companion how he came to be sober, when the rest of the party had been so much overcome with liquor.

“So please your honour’s Grace,” replied English Wat, “I confess it was very familiar in me to be sober when it was your Grace’s pleasure that your train should be mad drunk; but in respect they were all Scottishmen but myself, I thought it argued no policy in getting drunken in their company, seeing that they only endure me even when we are all sober, and if the wine were uppermost, I might tell them a piece of my mind, and be paid with as many stabs as there are skenes in the good company.”

“So it is your purpose never to join any of the revels of our household?”

“Under favour, yes; unless it be your Grace’s pleasure that the residue of your train should remain one day sober, to admit Will Watkins to get drunk without terror of his life.”

“Such occasion may arrive. Where dost thou serve, Watkins?”

“In the stable, so please you.”

“Let our chamberlain bring thee into the household, as a yeoman of the night watch. I like thy favour, and it is something to have one sober fellow in the house, although he is only such through the fear of death. Attend, therefore, near our person; and thou shalt find sobriety a thriving virtue.”

Meantime a load of care and fear added to the distress of Sir John Ramorny’s sick chamber. His reflections, disordered as they were by the opiate, fell into great confusion when the Prince, in whose presence he had suppressed its effect by strong resistance, had left the apartment. His consciousness, which he had possessed perfectly during the interview, began to be very much disturbed. He felt a general sense that he had incurred a great danger, that he had rendered the Prince his enemy, and that he had betrayed to him a secret which might affect his own life. In this state of mind and body, it was not strange that he should either dream, or else that his diseased organs should become subject to that species of phantasmagoria which is excited by the use of opium. He thought that the shade of Queen Annabella stood by his bedside, and demanded the youth whom she had placed under his charge, simple, virtuous, gay, and innocent.

“Thou hast rendered him reckless, dissolute, and vicious,” said the shade of pallid Majesty. “Yet I thank thee, John of Ramorny, ungrateful to me, false to thy word, and treacherous to my hopes. Thy hate shall counteract the evil which thy friendship has done to him. And well do I hope that, now thou art no longer his counsellor, a bitter penance on earth may purchase my ill fated child pardon and acceptance in a better world.”

Ramorny stretched out his arms after his benefactress, and endeavoured to express contrition and excuse; but the countenance of the apparition became darker and sterner, till it was no longer that of the late Queen, but presented the gloomy and haughty aspect of the Black Douglas; then the timid and sorrowful face of King Robert, who seemed to mourn over the approaching dissolution of his royal house; and then a group of fantastic features, partly hideous, partly ludicrous, which moped, and chattered, and twisted themselves into unnatural and extravagant forms, as if ridiculing his endeavour to obtain an exact idea of their lineaments.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00