Who’s that that rings the bell? Diablos, ho!
The town will rise.
Othello, Act II. Scene III.
The wild rumours which flew through the town, speedily followed by the tolling of the alarm bells spread general consternation. The nobles and knights, with their followers, gathered in different places of rendezvous, where a defence could best be maintained; and the alarm reached the royal residence where the young prince was one of the first to appear, to assist, if necessary, in the defence of the old king. The scene of the preceding night ran in his recollection; and, remembering the bloodstained figure of Bonthron, he conceived, though indistinctly, that the ruffian’s action had been connected with this uproar. The subsequent and more interesting discourse with Sir John Ramorny had, however, been of such an impressive nature as to obliterate all traces of what he had vaguely heard of the bloody act of the assassin, excepting a confused recollection that some one or other had been slain. It was chiefly on his father’s account that he had assumed arms with his household train, who, clad in bright armour, and bearing lances in their hands, made now a figure very different from that of the preceding night, when they appeared as intoxicated Bacchanalians. The kind old monarch received this mark of filial attachment with tears of gratitude, and proudly presented his son to his brother Albany, who entered shortly afterwards. He took them each by the hand.
“Now are we three Stuarts,” he said, “as inseparable as the holy trefoil; and, as they say the wearer of that sacred herb mocks at magical delusion, so we, while we are true to each other, may set malice and enmity at defiance.”
The brother and son kissed the kind hand which pressed theirs, while Robert III expressed his confidence in their affection. The kiss of the youth was, for the time, sincere; that of the brother was the salute of the apostate Judas.
In the mean time the bell of St. John’s church alarmed, amongst others, the inhabitants of Curfew Street. In the house of Simon Glover, old Dorothy Glover, as she was called (for she also took name from the trade she practised, under her master’s auspices), was the first to catch the sound. Though somewhat deaf upon ordinary occasions, her ear for bad news was as sharp as a kite’s scent for carrion; for Dorothy, otherwise an industrious, faithful, and even affectionate creature, had that strong appetite for collecting and retailing sinister intelligence which is often to be marked in the lower classes. Little accustomed to be listened to, they love the attention which a tragic tale ensures to the bearer, and enjoy, perhaps, the temporary equality to which misfortune reduces those who are ordinarily accounted their superiors. Dorothy had no sooner possessed herself of a slight packet of the rumours which were flying abroad than she bounced into her master’s bedroom, who had taken the privilege of age and the holytide to sleep longer than usual.
“There he lies, honest man,” said Dorothy, half in a screeching and half in a wailing tone of sympathy —“there he lies; his best friend slain, and he knowing as little about it as the babe new born, that kens not life from death.”
“How now!” said the glover, starting up out of his bed. “What is the matter, old woman? Is my daughter well?”
“Old woman!” said Dorothy, who, having her fish hooked, chose to let him play a little. “I am not so old,” said she, flouncing out of the room, “as to bide in the place till a man rises from his naked bed —”
And presently she was heard at a distance in the parlour beneath, melodiously singing to the scrubbing of her own broom.
“Dorothy — screech owl — devil — say but my daughter is well!”
“I am well, my father,” answered the Fair Maid of Perth, speaking from her bedroom, “perfectly well, but what, for Our Lady’s sake, is the matter? The bells ring backward, and there is shrieking and crying in the streets.”
“I will presently know the cause. Here, Conachar, come speedily and tie my points. I forgot — the Highland loon is far beyond Fortingall. Patience, daughter, I will presently bring you news.”
“Ye need not hurry yourself for that, Simon Glover,” quoth the obdurate old woman; “the best and the worst of it may be tauld before you could hobble over your door stane. I ken the haill story abroad; ‘for,’ thought I, ‘our goodman is so wilful that he’ll be for banging out to the tuilzie, be the cause what it like; and sae I maun e’en stir my shanks, and learn the cause of all this, or he will hae his auld nose in the midst of it, and maybe get it nipt off before he knows what for.’”
“And what is the news, then, old woman?” said the impatient glover, still busying himself with the hundred points or latchets which were the means of attaching the doublet to the hose.
Dorothy suffered him to proceed in his task till she conjectured it must be nearly accomplished; and foresaw that; if she told not the secret herself, her master would be abroad to seek in person for the cause of the disturbance. She, therefore, halloo’d out: “Aweel — aweel, ye canna say it is me fault, if you hear ill news before you have been at the morning mass. I would have kept it from ye till ye had heard the priest’s word; but since you must hear it, you have e’en lost the truest friend that ever gave hand to another, and Perth maun mourn for the bravest burgher that ever took a blade in hand!”
“Harry Smith! Harry Smith!” exclaimed the father and the daughter at once.
“Oh, ay, there ye hae it at last,” said Dorothy; “and whose fault was it but your ain? ye made such a piece of work about his companying with a glee woman, as if he had companied with a Jewess!”
Dorothy would have gone on long enough, but her master exclaimed to his daughter, who was still in her own apartment: “It is nonsense, Catharine — all the dotage of an old fool. No such thing has happened. I will bring you the true tidings in a moment,” and snatching up his staff, the old man hurried out past Dorothy and into the street, where the throng of people were rushing towards the High Street.
Dorothy, in the mean time, kept muttering to herself: “Thy father is a wise man, take his ain word for it. He will come next by some scathe in the hobbleshow, and then it will be, ‘Dorothy, get the lint,’ and ‘Dorothy, spread the plaster;’ but now it is nothing but nonsense, and a lie, and impossibility, that can come out of Dorothy’s mouth. Impossible! Does auld Simon think that Harry Smith’s head was as hard as his stithy, and a haill clan of Highlandmen dinging at him?”
Here she was interrupted by a figure like an angel, who came wandering by her with wild eye, cheek deadly pale, hair dishevelled, and an apparent want of consciousness, which terrified the old woman out of her discontented humour.
“Our Lady bless my bairn!” said she. “What look you sae wild for?”
“Did you not say some one was dead?” said Catharine, with a frightful uncertainty of utterance, as if her organs of speech and hearing served her but imperfectly.
“Dead, hinny! Ay — ay, dead eneugh; ye’ll no hae him to gloom at ony mair.”
“Dead!” repeated Catharine, still with the same uncertainty of voice and manner. “Dead — slain — and by Highlanders?”
“I’se warrant by Highlanders, the lawless loons. Wha is it else that kills maist of the folks about, unless now and than when the burghers take a tirrivie, and kill ane another, or whiles that the knights and nobles shed blood? But I’se uphauld it’s been the Highlandmen this bout. The man was no in Perth, laird or loon, durst have faced Henry Smith man to man. There’s been sair odds against him; ye’ll see that when it’s looked into.”
“Highlanders!” repeated Catharine, as if haunted by some idea which troubled her senses. “Highlanders! Oh, Conachar — Conachar!”
“Indeed, and I dare say you have lighted on the very man, Catharine. They quarrelled, as you saw, on the St. Valentine’s Even, and had a warstle. A Highlandman has a long memory for the like of that. Gie him a cuff at Martinmas, and his cheek will be tingling at Whitsunday. But what could have brought down the lang legged loons to do their bloody wark within burgh?”
“Woe’s me, it was I,” said Catharine —“it was I brought the Highlanders down — I that sent for Conachar — ay, they have lain in wait — but it was I that brought them within reach of their prey. But I will see with my own eyes — and then — something we will do. Say to my father I will be back anon.”
“Are ye distraught, lassie?” shouted Dorothy, as Catharine made past her towards the street door. “You would not gang into the street with the hair hanging down your haffets in that guise, and you kenn’d for the Fair Maid of Perth? Mass, but she’s out in the street, come o’t what like, and the auld Glover will be as mad as if I could withhold her, will she nill she, flyte she fling she. This is a brave morning for an Ash Wednesday! What’s to be done? If I were to seek my master among the multitude, I were like to be crushed beneath their feet, and little moan made for the old woman. And am I to run after Catharine, who ere this is out of sight, and far lighter of foot than I am? so I will just down the gate to Nicol Barber’s, and tell him a’ about it.”
While the trusty Dorothy was putting her prudent resolve into execution, Catharine ran through the streets of Perth in a manner which at another moment would have brought on her the attention of every one who saw her hurrying on with a reckless impetuosity wildly and widely different from the ordinary decency and composure of her step and manner, and without the plaid, scarf, or mantle which “women of good,” of fair character and decent rank, universally carried around them, when they went abroad. But, distracted as the people were, every one inquiring or telling the cause of the tumult, and most recounting it different ways, the negligence of her dress and discomposure of her manner made no impression on any one; and she was suffered to press forward on the path she had chosen without attracting more notice than the other females who, stirred by anxious curiosity or fear, had come out to inquire the cause of an alarm so general — it might be to seek for friends for whose safety they were interested.
As Catharine passed along, she felt all the wild influence of the agitating scene, and it was with difficulty she forbore from repeating the cries of lamentation and alarm which were echoed around her. In the mean time, she rushed rapidly on, embarrassed like one in a dream, with a strange sense of dreadful calamity, the precise nature of which she was unable to define, but which implied the terrible consciousness that the man who loved her so fondly, whose good qualities she so highly esteemed, and whom she now felt to be dearer than perhaps she would before have acknowledged to her own bosom, was murdered, and most probably by her means. The connexion betwixt Henry’s supposed death and the descent of Conachar and his followers, though adopted by her in a moment of extreme and engrossing emotion, was sufficiently probable to have been received for truth, even if her understanding had been at leisure to examine its credibility. Without knowing what she sought except the general desire to know the worst of the dreadful report, she hurried forward to the very spot which of all others her feelings of the preceding day would have induced her to avoid.
Who would, upon the evening of Shrovetide, have persuaded the proud, the timid, the shy, the rigidly decorous Catharine Glover that before mass on Ash Wednesday she should rush through the streets of Perth, making her way amidst tumult and confusion, with her hair unbound and her dress disarranged, to seek the house of that same lover who, she had reason to believe, had so grossly and indelicately neglected and affronted her as to pursue a low and licentious amour? Yet so it was; and her eagerness taking, as if by instinct, the road which was most free, she avoided the High Street, where the pressure was greatest, and reached the wynd by the narrow lanes on the northern skirt of the town, through which Henry Smith had formerly escorted Louise. But even these comparatively lonely passages were now astir with passengers, so general was the alarm. Catharine Glover made her way through them, however, while such as observed her looked on each other and shook their heads in sympathy with her distress. At length, without any distinct idea of her own purpose, she stood before her lover’s door and knocked for admittance.
The silence which succeeded the echoing of her hasty summons increased the alarm which had induced her to take this desperate measure.
“Open — open, Henry!” she cried. “Open, if you yet live! Open, if you would not find Catharine Glover dead upon your threshold!”
As she cried thus frantically to ears which she was taught to believe were stopped by death, the lover she invoked opened the door in person, just in time to prevent her sinking on the ground. The extremity of his ecstatic joy upon an occasion so unexpected was qualified only by the wonder which forbade him to believe it real, and by his alarm at the closed eyes, half opened and blanched lips, total absence of complexion, and apparently total cessation of breathing.
Henry had remained at home, in spite of the general alarm, which had reached his ears for a considerable time, fully determined to put himself in the way of no brawls that he could avoid; and it was only in compliance with a summons from the magistrates, which, as a burgher, he was bound to obey, that, taking his sword and a spare buckler from the wall, he was about to go forth, for the first time unwillingly, to pay his service, as his tenure bound him.
“It is hard,” he said, “to be put forward in all the town feuds, when the fighting work is so detestable to Catharine. I am sure there are enough of wenches in Perth that say to their gallants, ‘Go out, do your devoir bravely, and win your lady’s grace’; and yet they send not for their lovers, but for me, who cannot do the duties of a man to protect a minstrel woman, or of a burgess who fights for the honour of his town, but this peevish Catharine uses me as if I were a brawler and bordeller!”
Such were the thoughts which occupied his mind, when, as he opened his door to issue forth, the person dearest to his thoughts, but whom he certainly least expected to see, was present to his eyes, and dropped into his arms.
His mixture of surprise, joy, and anxiety did not deprive him of the presence of mind which the occasion demanded. To place Catharine Glover in safety, and recall her to herself was to be thought of before rendering obedience to the summons of the magistrates, however pressingly that had been delivered. He carried his lovely burden, as light as a feather, yet more precious than the same quantity of purest gold, into a small bedchamber which had been his mother’s. It was the most fit for an invalid, as it looked into the garden, and was separated from the noise of the tumult.
“Here, Nurse — Nurse Shoolbred — come quick — come for death and life — here is one wants thy help!”
Up trotted the old dame. “If it should but prove any one that will keep thee out of the scuffle,” for she also had been aroused by the noise; but what was her astonishment when, placed in love and reverence on the bed of her late mistress, and supported by the athletic arms of her foster son, she saw the apparently lifeless form of the Fair Maid of Perth.
“Catharine Glover!” she said; “and, Holy Mother, a dying woman, as it would seem!”
“Not so, old woman,” said her foster son: “the dear heart throbs — the sweet breath comes and returns! Come thou, that may aid her more meetly than I— bring water — essences — whatever thy old skill can devise. Heaven did not place her in my arms to die, but to live for herself and me!”
With an activity which her age little promised, Nurse Shoolbred collected the means of restoring animation; for, like many women of the period, she understood what was to be done in such cases, nay, possessed a knowledge of treating wounds of an ordinary description, which the warlike propensities of her foster son kept in pretty constant exercise.
“Come now,” she said, “son Henry, unfold your arms from about my patient, though she is worth the pressing, and set thy hands at freedom to help me with what I want. Nay, I will not insist on your quitting her hand, if you will beat the palm gently, as the fingers unclose their clenched grasp.”
“I beat her slight, beautiful hand!” said Henry; “you were as well bid me beat a glass cup with a forehammer as tap her fair palm with my horn hard fingers. But the fingers do unfold, and we will find a better way than beating”; and he applied his lips to the pretty hand, whose motion indicated returning sensation. One or two deep sighs succeeded, and the Fair Maid of Perth opened her eyes, fixed them on her lover, as he kneeled by the bedside, and again sunk back on the pillow. As she withdrew not her hand from her lover’s hold or from his grasp, we must in charity believe that the return to consciousness was not so complete as to make her aware that he abused the advantage, by pressing it alternately to his lips and his bosom. At the same time we are compelled to own that the blood was colouring in her cheek, and that her breathing was deep and regular, for a minute or two during this relapse.
The noise at the door began now to grow much louder, and Henry was called for by all his various names of Smith. Gow, and Hal of the Wynd, as heathens used to summon their deities by different epithets. At last, like Portuguese Catholics when exhausted with entreating their saints, the crowd without had recourse to vituperative exclamations.
“Out upon you, Henry! You are a disgraced man, man sworn to your burgher oath, and a traitor to the Fair City, unless you come instantly forth!”
It would seem that nurse Shoolbred’s applications were now so far successful that Catharine’s senses were in some measure restored; for, turning her face more towards that of her lover than her former posture permitted, she let her right hand fall on his shoulder, leaving her left still in his possession, and seeming slightly to detain him, while she whispered: “Do not go, Henry — stay with me; they will kill thee, these men of blood.”
It would seem that this gentle invocation, the result of finding the lover alive whom she expected to have only recognised as a corpse, though it was spoken so low as scarcely to be intelligible, had more effect to keep Henry Wynd in his present posture than the repeated summons of many voices from without had to bring him downstairs.
“Mass, townsmen,” cried one hardy citizen to his companions, “the saucy smith but jests with us! Let us into the house, and bring him out by the lug and the horn.”
“Take care what you are doing,” said a more cautious assailant. “The man that presses on Henry Gow’s retirement may go into his house with sound bones, but will return with ready made work for the surgeon. But here comes one has good right to do our errand to him, and make the recreant hear reason on both sides of his head.”
The person of whom this was spoken was no other than Simon Glover himself. He had arrived at the fatal spot where the unlucky bonnet maker’s body was lying, just in time to discover, to his great relief, that when it was turned with the face upwards by Bailie Craigdallie’s orders, the features of the poor braggart Proudfute were recognised, when the crowd expected to behold those of their favorite champion, Henry Smith. A laugh, or something approaching to one, went among those who remembered how hard Oliver had struggled to obtain the character of a fighting man, however foreign to his nature and disposition, and remarked now that he had met with a mode of death much better suited to his pretensions than to his temper. But this tendency to ill timed mirth, which savoured of the rudeness of the times, was at once hushed by the voice, and cries, and exclamations of a woman who struggled through the crowd, screaming at the same time, “Oh, my husband — my husband!”
Room was made for the sorrower, who was followed by two or three female friends. Maudie Proudfute had been hitherto only noticed as a good looking, black haired woman, believed to be “dink” and disdainful to those whom she thought meaner or poorer than herself, and lady and empress over her late husband, whom she quickly caused to lower his crest when she chanced to hear him crowing out of season. But now, under the influence of powerful passion, she assumed a far more imposing character.
“Do you laugh,” she said, “you unworthy burghers of Perth, because one of your own citizens has poured his blood into the kennel? or do you laugh because the deadly lot has lighted on my husband? How has he deserved this? Did he not maintain an honest house by his own industry, and keep a creditable board, where the sick had welcome and the poor had relief? Did he not lend to those who wanted, stand by his neighbours as a friend, keep counsel and do justice like a magistrate?”
“It is true — it is true,” answered the assembly; “his blood is our blood as much as if it were Henry Gow’s.”
“You speak truth, neighbours,” said Bailie Craigdallie; “and this feud cannot be patched up as the former was: citizen’s blood must not flow unavenged down our kennels, as if it were ditch water, or we shall soon see the broad Tay crimsoned with it. But this blow was never meant for the poor man on whom it has unhappily fallen. Every one knew what Oliver Proudfute was, how wide he would speak, and how little he would do. He has Henry Smith’s buff coat, target, and head piece. All the town know them as well as I do: there is no doubt on’t. He had the trick, as you know, of trying to imitate the smith in most things. Some one, blind with rage, or perhaps through liquor, has stricken the innocent bonnet maker, whom no man either hated or feared, or indeed cared either much or little about, instead of the stout smith, who has twenty feuds upon his hands.”
“What then, is to be done, bailie?” cried the multitude.
“That, my friends, your magistrates will determine for you, as we shall instantly meet together when Sir Patrick Charteris cometh here, which must be anon. Meanwhile, let the chirurgeon Dwining examine that poor piece of clay, that he may tell us how he came by his fatal death; and then let the corpse be decently swathed in a clean shroud, as becomes an honest citizen, and placed before the high altar in the church of St. John, the patron of the Fair City. Cease all clamour and noise, and every defensible man of you, as you would wish well to the Fair Town, keep his weapons in readiness, and be prepared to assemble on the High Street at the tolling of the common bell from the townhouse, and we will either revenge the death of our fellow citizen, or else we shall take such fortune as Heaven will send us. Meanwhile avoid all quarrelling With the knights and their followers till we know the innocent from the guilty. But wherefore tarries this knave Smith? He is ready enough in tumults when his presence is not wanted, and lags he now when his presence may serve the Fair City? What ails him, doth any one know? Hath he been upon the frolic last Fastern’s Even?”
“Rather he is sick or sullen, Master Bailie,” said one of the city’s mairs, or sergeants; “for though he is within door, as his knaves report, yet he will neither answer to us nor admit us.”
“So please your worship, Master Bailie,” said Simon Glover, “I will go myself to fetch Henry Smith. I have some little difference to make up with him. And blessed be Our Lady, who hath so ordered it that I find him alive, as a quarter of an hour since I could never have expected!”
“Bring the stout smith to the council house,” said the bailie, as a mounted yeoman pressed through the crowd and whispered in his ear, “Here is a good fellow who says the Knight of Kinfauns is entering the port.”
Such was the occasion of Simon Glover presenting himself at the house of Henry Gow at the period already noticed.
Unrestrained by the considerations of doubt and hesitation which influenced others, he repaired to the parlour; and having overheard the bustling of Dame Shoolbred, he took the privilege of intimacy to ascend to the bedroom, and, with the slight apology of “I crave your pardon, good neighbour,” he opened the door and entered the apartment, where a singular and unexpected sight awaited him. At the sound of his voice, May Catharine experienced a revival much speedier than Dame Shoolbred’s restoratives had been able to produce, and the paleness of her complexion changed into a deep glow of the most lovely red. She pushed her lover from her with both her hands, which, until this minute, her want of consciousness, or her affection, awakened by the events of the morning, had well nigh abandoned to his caresses. Henry Smith, bashful as we know him, stumbled as he rose up; and none of the party were without a share of confusion, excepting Dame Shoolbred, who was glad to make some pretext to turn her back to the others, in order that she might enjoy a laugh at their expense, which she felt herself utterly unable to restrain, and in which the glover, whose surprise, though great, was of short duration, and of a joyful character, sincerely joined.
“Now, by good St. John,” he said, “I thought I had seen a sight this morning that would cure me of laughter, at least till Lent was over; but this would make me curl my cheek if I were dying. Why, here stands honest Henry Smith, who was lamented as dead, and toll’d out for from every steeple in town, alive, merry, and, as it seems from his ruddy complexion, as like to live as any man in Perth. And here is my precious daughter, that yesterday would speak of nothing but the wickedness of the wights that haunt profane sports and protect glee maidens. Ay, she who set St. Valentine and St. Cupid both at defiance — here she is, turned a glee maiden herself, for what I can see! Truly, I am glad to see that you, my good Dame Shoolbred, who give way to no disorder, have been of this loving party.”
“You do me wrong, my dearest father,” said Catharine, as if about to weep. “I came here with far different expectations than you suppose. I only came because — because —”
“Because you expected to find a dead lover,” said her father, and you have found a living one, who can receive the tokens of your regard, and return them. Now, were it not a sin, I could find in my heart to thank Heaven that thou hast been surprised at last into owning thyself a woman. Simon Glover is not worthy to have an absolute saint for his daughter. Nay, look not so piteously, nor expect condolence from me! Only I will try not to look merry, if you will be pleased to stop your tears, or confess them to be tears of joy.”
“If I were to die for such a confession,” said poor Catharine, “I could not tell what to call them. Only believe, dear father, and let Henry believe, that I would never have come hither; unless — unless —”
“Unless you had thought that Henry could not come to you,” said her father. “And now, shake hands in peace and concord, and agree as Valentines should. Yesterday was Shrovetide, Henry; We will hold that thou hast confessed thy follies, hast obtained absolution, and art relieved of all the guilt thou stoodest charged with.”
“Nay touching that, father Simon,” said the smith, “now that you are cool enough to hear me, I can swear on the Gospels, and I can call my nurse, Dame Shoolbred, to witness —”
“Nay — nay,” said the glover, “but wherefore rake up differences which should all be forgotten?”
“Hark ye, Simon! — Simon Glover!” This was now echoed from beneath.
“True, son Smith,” said the glover, seriously, “we have other work in hand. You and I must to the council instantly. Catharine shall remain here with Dame Shoolbred, who will take charge of her till we return; and then, as the town is in misrule, we two, Harry, will carry her home, and they will be bold men that cross us.”
“Nay, my dear father,” said Catharine, with a smile, “now you are taking Oliver Proudfute’s office. That doughty burgher is Henry’s brother at arms.”
Her father’s countenance grew dark.
“You have spoke a stinging word, daughter; but you know not what has happened. Kiss him, Catharine, in token of forgiveness.”
“Not so,” said Catharine; “I have done him too much grace already. When he has seen the errant damsel safe home, it will be time enough to claim his reward.”
“Meantime,” said Henry, “I will claim, as your host, what you will not allow me on other terms.”
He folded the fair maiden in his arms, and was permitted to take the salute which she had refused to bestow.
As they descended the stair together, the old man laid his hand on the smith’s shoulder, and said: “Henry, my dearest wishes are fulfilled; but it is the pleasure of the saints that it should be in an hour of difficulty and terror.”
“True,” said the smith; “but thou knowest, father, if our riots be frequent at Perth, at least they seldom last long.”
Then, opening a door which led from the house into the smithy, “here, comrades,” he cried, “Anton, Cuthbert, Dingwell, and Ringen! Let none of you stir from the place till I return. Be as true as the weapons I have taught you to forge: a French crown and a Scotch merrymaking for you, if you obey my command. I leave a mighty treasure in your charge. Watch the doors well, let little Jannekin scout up and down the wynd, and have your arms ready if any one approaches the house. Open the doors to no man till father Glover or I return: it concerns my life and happiness.”
The strong, swarthy giants to whom he spoke answered: “Death to him who attempts it!”
“My Catharine is now as safe,” said he to her father, “as if twenty men garrisoned a royal castle in her cause. We shall pass most quietly to the council house by walking through the garden.”
He led the way through a little orchard accordingly, where the birds, which had been sheltered and fed during the winter by the good natured artisan, early in the season as it was, were saluting the precarious smiles of a February sun with a few faint and interrupted attempts at melody.
“Hear these minstrels, father,” said the smith; “I laughed at them this morning in the bitterness of my heart, because the little wretches sung, with so much of winter before them. But now, methinks, I could bear a blythe chorus, for I have my Valentine as they have theirs; and whatever ill may lie before me for tomorrow, I am today the happiest man in Perth, city or county, burgh or landward.”
“Yet I must allay your joy,” said the old glover, “though, Heaven knows, I share it. Poor Oliver Proudfute, the inoffensive fool that you and I knew so well, has been found this morning dead in the streets.”
“Only dead drunk, I trust?” said the smith; “nay, a candle and a dose of matrimonial advice will bring him to life again.”
“No, Henry — no. He is slain — slain with a battle axe or some such weapon.”
“Impossible!” replied the smith; “he was light footed enough, and would not for all Perth have trusted to his hands, when be could extricate himself by his heels.”
“No choice was allowed him. The blow was dealt in the very back of his head; he who struck must have been a shorter man than himself, and used a horseman’s battle axe, or some such weapon, for a Lochaber axe must have struck the upper part of his head. But there he lies dead, brained, I may say, by a most frightful wound.”
“This is inconceivable,” said Henry Wynd. “He was in my house at midnight, in a morricer’s habit; seemed to have been drinking, though not to excess. He told me a tale of having been beset by revellers, and being in danger; but, alas! you know the man — I deemed it was a swaggering fit, as he sometimes took when he was in liquor; and, may the Merciful Virgin forgive me! I let him go without company, in which I did him inhuman wrong. Holy St. John be my witness! I would have gone with any helpless creature; and far more with him, with whom I have so often sat at the same board and drunken of the same cup. Who, of the race of man, could have thought of harming a creature so simple and so unoffending, excepting by his idle vaunts?”
“Henry, he wore thy head piece, thy buff coat; thy target. How came he by these?”
“Why, he demanded the use of them for the night, and I was ill at ease, and well pleased to be rid of his company, having kept no holiday, and being determined to keep none, in respect of our misunderstanding.”
“It is the opinion of Bailie Craigdallie and all our sagest counsellors that the blow was intended for yourself, and that it becomes you to prosecute the due vengeance of our fellow citizen, who received the death which was meant for you.”
The smith was for some time silent. They had now left the garden, and were walking in a lonely lane, by which they meant to approach the council house of the burgh without being exposed to observation or idle inquiry.
“You are silent, my son, yet we two have much to speak of,” said Simon Glover. “Bethink thee that this widowed woman, Maudlin, if she should see cause to bring a charge against any one for the wrong done to her and her orphan children, must support it by a champion, according to law and custom; for, be the murderer who he may, we know enough of these followers of the nobles to be assured that the party suspected will appeal to the combat, in derision, perhaps, of we whom they will call the cowardly burghers. While we are men with blood in our veins, this must not be, Henry Wynd.”
“I see where you would draw me, father,” answered Henry, dejectedly, “and St. John knows I have heard a summons to battle as willingly as war horse ever heard the trumpet. But bethink you, father, how I have lost Catharine’s favour repeatedly, and have been driven well nigh to despair of ever regaining it, for being, if I may say so, even too ready a man of my hands. And here are all our quarrels made up, and the hopes that seemed this morning removed beyond earthly prospect have become nearer and brighter than ever; and must I with the dear one’s kiss of forgiveness on my lips, engage in a new scene of violence, which you are well aware will give her the deepest offence?”
“It is hard for me to advise you, Henry,” said Simon; “but this I must ask you: Have you, or have you not, reason to think that this poor unfortunate Oliver has been mistaken for you?”
“I fear it too much,” said Henry. “He was thought something like me, and the poor fool had studied to ape my gestures and manner of walking, nay the very airs which I have the trick of whistling, that he might increase a resemblance which has cost him dear. I have ill willers enough, both in burgh and landward, to owe me a shrewd turn; and he, I think, could have none such.”
“Well, Henry, I cannot say but my daughter will be offended. She has been much with Father Clement, and has received notions about peace and forgiveness which methinks suit ill with a country where the laws cannot protect us, unless we have spirit to protect ourselves. If you determine for the combat, I will do my best to persuade her to look on the matter as the other good womanhood in the burgh will do; and if you resolve to let the matter rest — the man who has lost his life for yours remaining unavenged, the widow and the orphans without any reparation for the loss of a husband and father — I will then do you the justice to think that I, at least, ought not to think the worse of you for your patience, since it was adopted for love of my child. But, Henry, we must in that case remove ourselves from bonny St. Johnston, for here we will be but a disgraced family.”
Henry groaned deeply, and was silent for an instant, then replied: “I would rather be dead than dishonoured, though I should never see her again! Had it been yester evening, I would have met the best blade among these men at arms as blythely as ever I danced at a maypole. But today, when she had first as good as said, ‘Henry Smith, I love thee!’ Father Glover; it is very hard. Yet it is all my own fault. This poor unhappy Oliver! I ought to have allowed him the shelter of my roof, when he prayed me in his agony of fear; or; had I gone with him, I should then have prevented or shared his fate. But I taunted him, ridiculed him, loaded him with maledictions, though the saints know they were uttered in idle peevishness of impatience. I drove him out from my doors, whom I knew so helpless, to take the fate which was perhaps intended for me. I must avenge him, or be dishonoured for ever. See, father, I have been called a man hard as the steel I work in. Does burnished steel ever drop tears like these? Shame on me that I should shed them!”
“It is no shame, my dearest son,” said Simon; “thou art as kind as brave, and I have always known it. There is yet a chance for us. No one may be discovered to whom suspicion attaches, and where none such is found, the combat cannot take place. It is a hard thing to wish that the innocent blood may not be avenged. But if the perpetrator of this foul murder be hidden for the present, thou wilt be saved from the task of seeking that vengeance which Heaven doubtless will take at its own proper time.”
As they spoke thus, they arrived at the point of the High Street where the council house was situated. As they reached the door, and made their way through the multitude who thronged the street, they found the avenues guarded by a select party of armed burghers, and about fifty spears belonging to the Knight of Kinfauns, who, with his allies the Grays, Blairs, Moncrieffs, and others, had brought to Perth a considerable body of horse, of which these were a part. So soon as the glover and smith presented themselves, they were admitted to the chamber in which the magistrates were assembled.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00