A country lip may have the velvet touch;
Though she’s no lady, she may please as much.
Perth, boasting, as we have already mentioned, so large a portion of the beauties of inanimate nature, has at no time been without its own share of those charms which are at once more interesting and more transient. To be called the Fair Maid of Perth would at any period have been a high distinction, and have inferred no mean superiority in beauty, where there were many to claim that much envied attribute. But, in the feudal times to which we now call the reader’s attention, female beauty was a quality of much higher importance than it has been since the ideas of chivalry have been in a great measure extinguished. The love of the ancient cavaliers was a licensed species of idolatry, which the love of Heaven alone was theoretically supposed to approach in intensity, and which in practice it seldom equalled. God and the ladies were familiarly appealed to in the same breath; and devotion to the fair sex was as peremptorily enjoined upon the aspirant to the honour of chivalry as that which was due to Heaven. At such a period in society, the power of beauty was almost unlimited. It could level the highest rank with that which was immeasurably inferior.
It was but in the reign preceding that of Robert III. that beauty alone had elevated a person of inferior rank and indifferent morals to share the Scottish throne; and many women, less artful or less fortunate, had risen to greatness from a state of concubinage, for which the manners of the times made allowance and apology. Such views might have dazzled a girl of higher birth than Catharine, or Katie, Glover, who was universally acknowledged to be the most beautiful young woman of the city or its vicinity, and whose renown, as the Fair Maid of Perth, had drawn on her much notice from the young gallants of the royal court, when it chanced to be residing in or near Perth, insomuch that more than one nobleman of the highest rank, and most distinguished for deeds of chivalry, were more attentive to exhibit feats of horsemanship as they passed the door of old Simon Glover, in what was called Couvrefew, or Curfew, Street, than to distinguish themselves in the tournaments, where the noblest dames of Scotland were spectators of their address. But the glover’s daughter — for, as was common with the citizens and artisans of that early period, her father, Simon, derived his surname from the trade which he practised — showed no inclination to listen to any gallantry which came from those of a station highly exalted above that which she herself occupied, and, though probably in no degree insensible to her personal charms, seemed desirous to confine her conquests to those who were within her own sphere of life. Indeed, her beauty being of that kind which we connect more with the mind than with the person, was, notwithstanding her natural kindness and gentleness of disposition, rather allied to reserve than to gaiety, even when in company with her equals; and the earnestness with which she attended upon the exercises of devotion induced many to think that Catharine Glover nourished the private wish to retire from the world and bury herself in the recesses of the cloister. But to such a sacrifice, should it be meditated, it was not to be expected her father, reputed a wealthy man and having this only child, would yield a willing consent.
In her resolution of avoiding the addresses of the gallant courtiers, the reigning beauty of Perth was confirmed by the sentiments of her parent.
“Let them go,” he said —“let them go, Catharine, those gallants, with their capering horses, their jingling spurs, their plumed bonnets, and their trim mustachios: they are not of our class, nor will we aim at pairing with them. Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird chooses her mate; but you will not see the linnet pair with the sparrow hawk, nor the Robin Redbreast with the kite. My father was an honest burgher of Perth, and could use his needle as well as I can. Did there come war to the gates of our fair burgh, down went needles, thread, and shamoy leather, and out came the good head piece and target from the dark nook, and the long lance from above the chimney. Show me a day that either he or I was absent when the provost made his musters! Thus we have led our lives, my girl, working to win our bread, and fighting to defend it. I will have no son in law that thinks himself better than me; and for these lords and knights, I trust thou wilt always remember thou art too low to be their lawful love, and too high to be their unlawful loon. And now lay by thy work, lass, for it is holytide eve, and it becomes us to go to the evening service, and pray that Heaven may send thee a good Valentine tomorrow.”
So the Fair Maid of Perth laid aside the splendid hawking glove which she was embroidering for the Lady Drummond, and putting on her holyday kirtle, prepared to attend her father to the Blackfriars monastery, which was adjacent to Couvrefew Street in which they lived. On their passage, Simon Glover, an ancient and esteemed burgess of Perth, somewhat stricken in years and increased in substance, received from young and old the homage due to his velvet jerkin and his golden chain, while the well known beauty of Catharine, though concealed beneath her screen — which resembled the mantilla still worn in Flanders — called both obeisances and doffings of the bonnet from young and old.
As the pair moved on arm in arm, they were followed by a tall handsome young man, dressed in a yeoman’s habit of the plainest kind, but which showed to advantage his fine limbs, as the handsome countenance that looked out from a quantity of curled tresses, surmounted by a small scarlet bonnet, became that species of headdress. He had no other weapon than a staff in his hand, it not being thought fit that persons of his degree (for he was an apprentice to the old glover) should appear on the street armed with sword or dagger, a privilege which the jackmen, or military retainers of the nobility, esteemed exclusively their own. He attended his master at holytide, partly in the character of a domestic, or guardian, should there be cause for his interference; but it was not difficult to discern, by the earnest attention which he paid to Catharine Glover, that it was to her, rather than to her father, that he desired to dedicate his good offices.
Generally speaking, there was no opportunity for his zeal displaying itself; for a common feeling of respect induced passengers to give way to the father and daughter.
But when the steel caps, barrets, and plumes of squires, archers, and men at arms began to be seen among the throng, the wearers of these warlike distinctions were more rude in their demeanour than the quiet citizens. More than once, when from chance, or perhaps from an assumption of superior importance, such an individual took the wall of Simon in passing, the glover’s youthful attendant bristled up with a look of defiance, and the air of one who sought to distinguish his zeal in his mistress’s service by its ardour. As frequently did Conachar, for such was the lad’s name, receive a check from his master, who gave him to understand that he did not wish his interference before he required it.
“Foolish boy,” he said, “hast thou not lived long enough in my shop to know that a blow will breed a brawl; that a dirk will cut the skin as fast as a needle pierces leather; that I love peace, though I never feared war, and care not which side of the causeway my daughter and I walk upon so we may keep our road in peace and quietness?”
Conachar excused himself as zealous for his master’s honour, yet was scarce able to pacify the old citizen.
“What have we to do with honour?” said Simon Glover. “If thou wouldst remain in my service, thou must think of honesty, and leave honour to the swaggering fools who wear steel at their heels and iron on their shoulders. If you wish to wear and use such garniture, you are welcome, but it shall not be in my house or in my company.”
Conachar seemed rather to kindle at this rebuke than to submit to it. But a sign from Catharine, if that slight raising of her little finger was indeed a sign, had more effect than the angry reproof of his master; and the youth laid aside the military air which seemed natural to him, and relapsed into the humble follower of a quiet burgher.
Meantime the little party were overtaken by a tall young man wrapped in a cloak, which obscured or muffled a part of his face — a practice often used by the gallants of the time, when they did not wish to be known, or were abroad in quest of adventures. He seemed, in short, one who might say to the world around him: “I desire, for the present, not to be known or addressed in my own character; but, as I am answerable to myself alone for my actions, I wear my incognito but for form’s sake, and care little whether you see through it or not.”
He came on the right side of Catharine, who had hold of her father’s arm, and slackened his pace as if joining their party.
“Good even to you, goodman.”
“The same to your worship, and thanks. May I pray you to pass on? Our pace is too slow for that of your lordship, our company too mean for that of your father’s son.”
“My father’s son can best judge of that, old man. I have business to talk of with you and with my fair St. Catharine here, the loveliest and most obdurate saint in the calendar.”
“With deep reverence, my lord,” said the old man, “I would remind you that this is good St. Valentine’s Eve, which is no time for business, and that I can have your worshipful commands by a serving man as early as it pleases you to send them.”
“There is no time like the present,” said the persevering youth, whose rank seemed to be a kind which set him above ceremony. “I wish to know whether the buff doublet be finished which I commissioned some time since; and from you, pretty Catharine (here he sank his voice to a whisper), I desire to be informed whether your fair fingers have been employed upon it, agreeably to your promise? But I need not ask you, for my poor heart has felt the pang of each puncture that pierced the garment which was to cover it. Traitress, how wilt thou answer for thus tormenting the heart that loves thee so dearly?”
“Let me entreat you, my lord,” said Catharine, “to forego this wild talk: it becomes not you to speak thus, or me to listen. We are of poor rank but honest manners; and the presence of the father ought to protect the child from such expressions, even from your lordship.”
This she spoke so low, that neither her father nor Conachar could understand what she said.
“Well, tyrant,” answered the persevering gallant, “I will plague you no longer now, providing you will let me see you from your window tomorrow, when the sun first peeps over the eastern hills, and give me right to be your Valentine for the year.”
“Not so, my lord; my father but now told me that hawks, far less eagles, pair not with the humble linnet. Seek some court lady, to whom your favours will be honour; to me — your Highness must permit me to speak the plain truth — they can be nothing but disgrace.”
As they spoke thus, the party arrived at the gate of the church.
“Your lordship will, I trust, permit us here to take leave of you?” said her father. “I am well aware how little you will alter your pleasure for the pain and uneasiness you may give to such as us but, from the throng of attendants at the gate, your lordship may see that there are others in the church to whom even your gracious lordship must pay respect.”
“Yes — respect; and who pays any respect to me?” said the haughty young lord. “A miserable artisan and his daughter, too much honoured by my slightest notice, have the insolence to tell me that my notice dishonours them. Well, my princess of white doe skin and blue silk, I will teach you to rue this.”
As he murmured thus, the glover and his daughter entered the Dominican church, and their attendant, Conachar, in attempting to follow them closely, jostled, it may be not unwillingly, the young nobleman. The gallant, starting from his unpleasing reverie, and perhaps considering this as an intentional insult, seized on the young man by the breast, struck him, and threw him from him. His irritated opponent recovered himself with difficulty, and grasped towards his own side, as if seeking a sword or dagger in the place where it was usually worn; but finding none, he made a gesture of disappointed rage, and entered the church. During the few seconds he remained, the young nobleman stood with his arms folded on his breast, with a haughty smile, as if defying him to do his worst. When Conachar had entered the church, his opponent, adjusting his cloak yet closer about his face, made a private signal by holding up one of his gloves. He was instantly joined by two men, who, disguised like himself, had waited his motions at a little distance. They spoke together earnestly, after which the young nobleman retired in one direction, his friends or followers going off in another.
Simon Glover, before he entered the church, cast a look towards the group, but had taken his place among the congregation before they separated themselves. He knelt down with the air of a man who has something burdensome on his mind; but when the service was ended, he seemed free from anxiety, as one who had referred himself and his troubles to the disposal of Heaven. The ceremony of High Mass was performed with considerable solemnity, a number of noblemen and ladies of rank being present. Preparations had indeed been made for the reception of the good old King himself, but some of those infirmities to which he was subject had prevented Robert III from attending the service as was his wont. When the congregation were dismissed, the glover and his beautiful daughter lingered for some time, for the purpose of making their several shrifts in the confessionals, where the priests had taken their places for discharging that part of their duty. Thus it happened that the night had fallen dark, and the way was solitary, when they returned along the now deserted streets to their own dwelling.
Most persons had betaken themselves to home and to bed. They who still lingered in the street were night walkers or revellers, the idle and swaggering retainers of the haughty nobles, who were much wont to insult the peaceful passengers, relying on the impunity which their masters’ court favour was too apt to secure them.
It was, perhaps, in apprehension of mischief from some character of this kind that Conachar, stepping up to the glover, said, “Master, walk faster — we are dogg’d.”
“Dogg’d, sayest thou? By whom and by how many?”
“By one man muffled in his cloak, who follows us like our shadow.”
“Then will it never mend my pace along the Couvrefew Street for the best one man that ever trode it.”
“But he has arms,” said Conachar.
“And so have we, and hands, and legs, and feet. Why, sure, Conachar, you are not afraid of one man?”
“Afraid!” answered Conachar, indignant at the insinuation; “you shall soon know if I am afraid.”
“Now you are as far on the other side of the mark, thou foolish boy: thy temper has no middle course; there is no occasion to make a brawl, though we do not run. Walk thou before with Catharine, and I will take thy place. We cannot be exposed to danger so near home as we are.”
The glover fell behind accordingly, and certainly observed a person keep so close to them as, the time and place considered, justified some suspicion. When they crossed the street, he also crossed it, and when they advanced or slackened their pace, the stranger’s was in proportion accelerated or diminished. The matter would have been of very little consequence had Simon Glover been alone; but the beauty of his daughter might render her the object of some profligate scheme, in a country where the laws afforded such slight protection to those who had not the means to defend themselves.
Conachar and his fair charge having arrived on the threshold of their own apartment, which was opened to them by an old female servant, the burgher’s uneasiness was ended. Determined, however, to ascertain, if possible, whether there had been any cause for it, he called out to the man whose motions had occasioned the alarm, and who stood still, though he seemed to keep out of reach of the light. “Come, step forward, my friend, and do not play at bo peep; knowest thou not, that they who walk like phantoms in the dark are apt to encounter the conjuration of a quarterstaff? Step forward, I say, and show us thy shapes, man.”
“Why, so I can, Master Glover,” said one of the deepest voices that ever answered question. “I can show my shapes well enough, only I wish they could bear the light something better.”
“Body of me,” exclaimed Simon, “I should know that voice! And is it thou, in thy bodily person, Harry Gow? Nay, beshrew me if thou passest this door with dry lips. What, man, curfew has not rung yet, and if it had, it were no reason why it should part father and son. Come in, man; Dorothy shall get us something to eat, and we will jingle a can ere thou leave us. Come in, I say; my daughter Kate will be right glad to see thee.”
By this time he had pulled the person, whom he welcomed so cordially, into a sort of kitchen, which served also upon ordinary occasions the office of parlour. Its ornaments were trenchers of pewter, mixed with a silver cup or two, which, in the highest degree of cleanliness, occupied a range of shelves like those of a beauffet, popularly called “the bink.” A good fire, with the assistance of a blazing lamp, spread light and cheerfulness through the apartment, and a savoury smell of some victuals which Dorothy was preparing did not at all offend the unrefined noses of those whose appetite they were destined to satisfy.
Their unknown attendant now stood in full light among them, and though his appearance was neither dignified nor handsome, his face and figure were not only deserving of attention, but seemed in some manner to command it. He was rather below the middle stature, but the breadth of his shoulders, length and brawniness of his arms, and the muscular appearance of the whole man, argued a most unusual share of strength, and a frame kept in vigour by constant exercise. His legs were somewhat bent, but not in a manner which could be said to approach to deformity, on the contrary, which seemed to correspond to the strength of his frame, though it injured in some degree its symmetry.
His dress was of buff hide; and he wore in a belt around his waist a heavy broadsword, and a dirk or poniard, as if to defend his purse, which (burgher fashion) was attached to the same cincture. The head was well proportioned, round, close cropped, and curled thickly with black hair. There was daring and resolution in the dark eye, but the other features seemed to express a bashful timidity, mingled with good humor, and obvious satisfaction at meeting with his old friends.
Abstracted from the bashful expression, which was that of the moment, the forehead of Henry Gow, or Smith, for he was indifferently so called, was high and noble, but the lower part of the face was less happily formed. The mouth was large, and well furnished with a set of firm and beautiful teeth, the appearance of which corresponded with the air of personal health and muscular strength which the whole frame indicated. A short thick beard, and mustachios which had lately been arranged with some care, completed the picture. His age could not exceed eight and twenty.
The family appeared all well pleased with the unexpected appearance of an old friend. Simon Glover shook his hand again and again, Dorothy made her compliments, and Catharine herself offered freely her hand, which Henry held in his massive grasp, as if he designed to carry it to his lips, but, after a moment’s hesitation, desisted, from fear lest the freedom might be ill taken. Not that there was any resistance on the part of the little hand which lay passive in his grasp; but there was a smile mingled with the blush on her cheek, which seemed to increase the confusion of the gallant.
Her father, on his part, called out frankly, as he saw his friend’s hesitation: “Her lips, man — her lips! and that’s a proffer I would not make to every one who crosses my threshold. But, by good St. Valentine, whose holyday will dawn tomorrow, I am so glad to see thee in the bonny city of Perth again that it would be hard to tell the thing I could refuse thee.”
The smith, for, as has been said, such was the craft of this sturdy artisan, was encouraged modestly to salute the Fair Maid, who yielded the courtesy with a smile of affection that might have become a sister, saying, at the same time: “Let me hope that I welcome back to Perth a repentant and amended man.”
He held her hand as if about to answer, then suddenly, as one who lost courage at the moment, relinquished his grasp; and drawing back as if afraid of what he had done, his dark countenance glowing with bashfulness, mixed with delight, he sat down by the fire on the opposite side from that which Catharine occupied.
“Come, Dorothy, speed thee with the food, old woman; and Conachar — where is Conachar?”
“He is gone to bed, sir, with a headache,” said Catharine, in a hesitating voice.
“Go, call him, Dorothy,” said the old glover; “I will not be used thus by him: his Highland blood, forsooth, is too gentle to lay a trencher or spread a napkin, and he expects to enter our ancient and honourable craft without duly waiting and tending upon his master and teacher in all matters of lawful obedience. Go, call him, I say; I will not be thus neglected.”
Dorothy was presently heard screaming upstairs, or more probably up a ladder, to the cock loft, to which the recusant apprentice had made an untimely retreat; a muttered answer was returned, and soon after Conachar appeared in the eating apartment. There was a gloom of deep sullenness on his haughty, though handsome, features, and as he proceeded to spread the board, and arrange the trenchers, with salt, spices, and other condiments — to discharge, in short, the duties of a modern domestic, which the custom of the time imposed upon all apprentices — he was obviously disgusted and indignant with the mean office imposed upon him.
The Fair Maid of Perth looked with some anxiety at him, as if apprehensive that his evident sullenness might increase her father’s displeasure; but it was not till her eyes had sought out his for a second time that Conachar condescended to veil his dissatisfaction, and throw a greater appearance of willingness and submission into the services which he was performing.
And here we must acquaint our reader that, though the private interchange of looks betwixt Catharine Glover and the young mountaineer indicated some interest on the part of the former in the conduct of the latter, it would have puzzled the strictest observer to discover whether that feeling exceeded in degree what might have been felt by a young person towards a friend and inmate of the same age, with whom she had lived on habits of intimacy.
“Thou hast had a long journey, son Henry,” said Glover, who had always used that affectionate style of speech, though no ways akin to the young artisan; “ay, and hast seen many a river besides Tay, and many a fair bigging besides St. Johnston.”
“But none that I like half so well, and none that are half so much worth my liking,” answered the smith. “I promise you, father, that, when I crossed the Wicks of Baiglie, and saw the bonny city lie stretched fairly before me like a fairy queen in romance, whom the knight finds asleep among a wilderness of flowers, I felt even as a bird when it folds its wearied wings to stoop down on its own nest.”
“Aha! so thou canst play the maker [old Scottish for poet] yet?” said the glover. “What, shall we have our ballets and our roundels again? our lusty carols for Christmas, and our mirthful springs to trip it round the maypole?”
“Such toys there may be forthcoming, father,” said Henry Smith, “though the blast of the bellows and the clatter of the anvil make but coarse company to lays of minstrelsy; but I can afford them no better, since I must mend my fortune, though I mar my verses.”
“Right again — my own son just,” answered the glover; “and I trust thou hast made a saving voyage of it?”
“Nay, I made a thriving one, father: I sold the steel habergeon that you wot of for four hundred marks to the English Warden of the East Marches, Sir Magnus Redman. He scarce scrupled a penny after I gave him leave to try a sword dint upon it. The beggardly Highland thief who bespoke it boggled at half the sum, though it had cost me a year’s labour.”
“What dost thou start at, Conachar?” said Simon, addressing himself, by way of parenthesis, to the mountain disciple; “wilt thou never learn to mind thy own business, without listening to what is passing round thee? What is it to thee that an Englishman thinks that cheap which a Scottishman may hold dear?”
Conachar turned round to speak, but, after a moment’s consideration, looked down, and endeavoured to recover his composure, which had been deranged by the contemptuous manner in which the smith had spoken of his Highland customer.
Henry went on without paying any attention to him. “I sold at high prices some swords and whingers when I was at Edinburgh. They expect war there; and if it please God to send it, my merchandise will be worth its price. St. Dunstan make us thankful, for he was of our craft. In short, this fellow (laying his hand on his purse); who, thou knowest, father, was somewhat lank and low in condition when I set out four months since, is now as round and full as a six weeks’ porker.”
“And that other leathern sheathed, iron hilted fellow who hangs beside him,” said the glover, “has he been idle all this while? Come, jolly smith, confess the truth — how many brawls hast thou had since crossing the Tay?”
“Nay, now you do me wrong, father, to ask me such a question (glancing a look at Catharine) in such a presence,” answered the armourer: “I make swords, indeed, but I leave it to other people to use them. No — no, seldom have I a naked sword in my fist, save when I am turning them on the anvil or grindstone; and they slandered me to your daughter Catharine, that led her to suspect the quietest burgess in Perth of being a brawler. I wish the best of them would dare say such a word at the Hill of Kinnoul, and never a man on the green but he and I.”
“Ay — ay,” said the glover, laughing, “we should then have a fine sample of your patient sufferance. Out upon you, Henry, that you will speak so like a knave to one who knows thee so well! You look at Kate, too, as if she did not know that a man in this country must make his hand keep his head, unless he will sleep in slender security. Come — come, beshrew me if thou hast not spoiled as many suits of armour as thou hast made.”
“Why, he would be a bad armourer, father Simon, that could not with his own blow make proof of his own workmanship. If I did not sometimes cleave a helmet, or strike a point through a harness, I should not know what strength of fabric to give them; and might jingle together such pasteboard work as yonder Edinburgh smiths think not shame to put out of their hands.”
“Aha, now would I lay a gold crown thou hast had a quarrel with some Edinburgh ‘burn the wind’ upon that very ground?”
[“Burn the wind,” an old cant term for blacksmith, appears in Burns:
Then burnewin came on like death, At every chaup, etc.]
“A quarrel! no, father,” replied the Perth armourer, “but a measuring of swords with such a one upon St. Leonard’s Crags, for the honour of my bonny city, I confess. Surely you do not think I would quarrel with a brother craftsman?”
“Ah, to a surety, no. But how did your brother craftman come off?”
“Why, as one with a sheet of paper on his bosom might come off from the stroke of a lance; or rather, indeed, he came not off at all, for, when I left him, he was lying in the Hermit’s Lodge daily expecting death, for which Father Gervis said he was in heavenly preparation.”
“Well, any more measuring of weapons?” said the glover.
“Why, truly, I fought an Englishman at Berwick besides, on the old question of the supremacy, as they call it — I am sure you would not have me slack at that debate? — and I had the luck to hurt him on the left knee.”
“Well done for St. Andrew! to it again. Whom next had you to deal with?” said Simon, laughing at the exploits of his pacific friend.
“I fought a Scotchman in the Torwood,” answered Henry Smith, “upon a doubt which was the better swordsman, which, you are aware, could not be known or decided without a trial. The poor fellow lost two fingers.”
“Pretty well for the most peaceful lad in Perth, who never touches a sword but in the way of his profession. Well, anything more to tell us?”
“Little; for the drubbing of a Highlandman is a thing not worth mentioning.”
“For what didst thou drub him, O man of peace?” inquired the glover.
“For nothing that I can remember,” replied the smith, “except his presenting himself on the south side of Stirling Bridge.”
“Well, here is to thee, and thou art welcome to me after all these exploits. Conachar, bestir thee. Let the cans clink, lad, and thou shalt have a cup of the nut brown for thyself, my boy.”
Conachar poured out the good liquor for his master and for Catharine with due observance. But that done, he set the flagon on the table and sat down.
“How now, sirrah! be these your manners? Fill to my guest, the worshipful Master Henry Smith.”
“Master Smith may fill for himself, if he wishes for liquor,” answered the youthful Celt. “The son of my father has demeaned himself enough already for one evening.”
“That’s well crowed for a cockerel,” said Henry; “but thou art so far right, my lad, that the man deserves to die of thirst who will not drink without a cupbearer.”
But his entertainer took not the contumacy of the young apprentice with so much patience. “Now, by my honest word, and by the best glove I ever made,” said Simon, “thou shalt help him with liquor from that cup and flagon, if thee and I are to abide under one roof.”
Conachar arose sullenly upon hearing this threat, and, approaching the smith, who had just taken the tankard in his hand, and was raising it to his head, he contrived to stumble against him and jostle him so awkwardly, that the foaming ale gushed over his face, person, and dress. Good natured as the smith, in spite of his warlike propensities, really was in the utmost degree, his patience failed under such a provocation. He seized the young man’s throat, being the part which came readiest to his grasp, as Conachar arose from the pretended stumble, and pressing it severely as he cast the lad from him, exclaimed: “Had this been in another place, young gallows bird, I had stowed the lugs out of thy head, as I have done to some of thy clan before thee.”
Conachar recovered his feet with the activity of a tiger, and exclaimed: “Never shall you live to make that boast again!” drew a short, sharp knife from his bosom, and, springing on Henry Smith, attempted to plunge it into his body over the collarbone, which must have been a mortal wound. But the object of this violence was so ready to defend himself by striking up the assailant’s hand, that the blow only glanced on the bone, and scarce drew blood. To wrench the dagger from the boy’s hand, and to secure him with a grasp like that of his own iron vice, was, for the powerful smith, the work of a single moment.
Conachar felt himself at once in the absolute power of the formidable antagonist whom he had provoked; he became deadly pale, as he had been the moment before glowing red, and stood mute with shame and fear, until, relieving him from his powerful hold, the smith quietly said: “It is well for thee that thou canst not make me angry; thou art but a boy, and I, a grown man, ought not to have provoked thee. But let this be a warning.”
Conachar stood an instant as if about to reply, and then left the room, ere Simon had collected himself enough to speak. Dorothy was running hither and thither for salves and healing herbs. Catharine had swooned at the sight of the trickling blood.
“Let me depart, father Simon,” said Henry Smith, mournfully, “I might have guessed I should have my old luck, and spread strife and bloodshed where I would wish most to bring peace and happiness. Care not for me. Look to poor Catharine; the fright of such an affray hath killed her, and all through my fault.”
“Thy fault, my son! It was the fault of yon Highland cateran, whom it is my curse to be cumbered with; but he shall go back to his glens tomorrow, or taste the tolbooth of the burgh. An assault upon the life of his master’s guest in his house! It breaks all bonds between us. But let me see to thy wound.”
“Catharine!” repeated the armourer —“look to Catharine.”
“Dorothy will see to her,” said Simon; “surprise and fear kill not; skenes and dirks do. And she is not more the daughter of my blood than thou, my dear Henry, art the son of my affections. Let me see the wound. The skene occle is an ugly weapon in a Highland hand.”
“I mind it no more than the scratch of a wildcat,” said the armourer; “and now that the colour is coming to Catharine’s cheek again, you shall see me a sound man in a moment.”
He turned to a corner in which hung a small mirror, and hastily took from his purse some dry lint to apply to the slight wound he had received. As he unloosed the leathern jacket from his neck and shoulders, the manly and muscular form which they displayed was not more remarkable than the fairness of his skin, where it had not, as in hands and face, been exposed to the effects of rough weather and of his laborious trade. He hastily applied some lint to stop the bleeding; and a little water having removed all other marks of the fray, he buttoned his doublet anew, and turned again to the table, where Catharine, still pale and trembling, was, however, recovered from her fainting fit.
“Would you but grant me your forgiveness for having offended you in the very first hour of my return? The lad was foolish to provoke me, and yet I was more foolish to be provoked by such as he. Your father blames me not, Catharine, and cannot you forgive me?”
“I have no power to forgive,” answered Catharine, “what I have no title to resent. If my father chooses to have his house made the scene of night brawls, I must witness them — I cannot help myself. Perhaps it was wrong in me to faint and interrupt, it may be, the farther progress of a fair fray. My apology is, that I cannot bear the sight of blood.”
“And is this the manner,” said her father, “in which you receive my friend after his long absence? My friend, did I say? Nay, my son. He escapes being murdered by a fellow whom I will tomorrow clear this house of, and you treat him as if he had done wrong in dashing from him the snake which was about to sting him!”
“It is not my part, father,” returned the Maid of Perth, “to decide who had the right or wrong in the present brawl, nor did I see what happened distinctly enough to say which was assailant, or which defender. But sure our friend, Master Henry, will not deny that he lives in a perfect atmosphere of strife, blood, and quarrels. He hears of no swordsman but he envies his reputation, and must needs put his valour to the proof. He sees no brawl but he must strike into the midst of it. Has he friends, he fights with them for love and honour; has he enemies, he fights with them for hatred and revenge. And those men who are neither his friends nor foes, he fights with them because they are on this or that side of a river. His days are days of battle, and, doubtless, he acts them over again in his dreams.”
“Daughter,” said Simon, “your tongue wags too freely. Quarrels and fights are men’s business, not women’s, and it is not maidenly to think or speak of them.”
“But if they are so rudely enacted in our presence,” said Catharine, “it is a little hard to expect us to think or speak of anything else. I will grant you, my father, that this valiant burgess of Perth is one of the best hearted men that draws breath within its walls: that he would walk a hundred yards out of the way rather than step upon a worm; that he would be as loth, in wantonness, to kill a spider as if he were a kinsman to King Robert, of happy memory; that in the last quarrel before his departure he fought with four butchers, to prevent their killing a poor mastiff that had misbehaved in the bull ring, and narrowly escaped the fate of the cur that he was protecting. I will grant you also, that the poor never pass the house of the wealthy armourer but they are relieved with food and alms. But what avails all this, when his sword makes as many starving orphans and mourning widows as his purse relieves?”
“Nay, but, Catharine, hear me but a word before going on with a string of reproaches against my friend, that sound something like sense, while they are, in truth, inconsistent with all we hear and see around us. What,” continued the glover, “do our King and our court, our knights and ladies, our abbots, monks, and priests themselves, so earnestly crowd to see? Is it not to behold the display of chivalry, to witness the gallant actions of brave knights in the tilt and tourney ground, to look upon deeds of honour and glory achieved by arms and bloodshed? What is it these proud knights do, that differs from what our good Henry Gow works out in his sphere? Who ever heard of his abusing his skill and strength to do evil or forward oppression, and who knows not how often it has been employed as that of a champion in the good cause of the burgh? And shouldst not thou, of all women, deem thyself honoured and glorious, that so true a heart and so strong an arm has termed himself thy bachelor? In what do the proudest dames take their loftiest pride, save in the chivalry of their knight; and has the boldest in Scotland done more gallant deeds than my brave son Henry, though but of low degree? Is he not known to Highland and Lowland as the best armourer that ever made sword, and the truest soldier that ever drew one?”
“My dearest father,” answered Catharine, “your words contradict themselves, if you will permit your child to say so. Let us thank God and the good saints that we are in a peaceful rank of life, below the notice of those whose high birth, and yet higher pride, lead them to glory in their bloody works of cruelty, which haughty and lordly men term deeds of chivalry. Your wisdom will allow that it would be absurd in us to prank ourselves in their dainty plumes and splendid garments; why, then, should we imitate their full blown vices? Why should we assume their hard hearted pride and relentless cruelty, to which murder is not only a sport, but a subject of vainglorious triumph? Let those whose rank claims as its right such bloody homage take pride and pleasure in it; we, who have no share in the sacrifice, may the better pity the sufferings of the victim. Let us thank our lowliness, since it secures us from temptation. But forgive me, father, if I have stepped over the limits of my duty, in contradicting the views which you entertain, with so many others, on these subjects.”
“Nay, thou hast even too much talk for me, girl,” said her father, somewhat angrily. “I am but a poor workman, whose best knowledge is to distinguish the left hand glove from the right. But if thou wouldst have my forgiveness, say something of comfort to my poor Henry. There he sits, confounded and dismayed with all the preachment thou hast heaped together; and he, to whom a trumpet sound was like the invitation to a feast, is struck down at the sound of a child’s whistle.”
The armourer, indeed, while he heard the lips that were dearest to him paint his character in such unfavourable colours, had laid his head down on the table, upon his folded arms, in an attitude of the deepest dejection, or almost despair.
“I would to Heaven, my dearest father,” answered Catharine, “that it were in my power to speak comfort to Henry, without betraying the sacred cause of the truths I have just told you. And I may — nay, I must have such a commission,” she continued with something that the earnestness with which she spoke and the extreme beauty of her features caused for the moment to resemble inspiration.
“The truth of Heaven,” she said, in a solemn tone, “was never committed to a tongue, however feeble, but it gave a right to that tongue to announce mercy, while it declared judgment. Arise, Henry — rise up, noble minded, good, and generous, though widely mistaken man. Thy faults are those of this cruel and remorseless age, thy virtues all thine own.”
While she thus spoke, she laid her hand upon the smith’s arm, and extricating it from under his head by a force which, however gentle, he could not resist, she compelled him to raise towards her his manly face, and the eyes into which her expostulations, mingled with other feelings, had summoned tears.
“Weep not,” she said, “or rather, weep on, but weep as those who have hope. Abjure the sins of pride and anger, which most easily beset thee; fling from thee the accursed weapons, to the fatal and murderous use of which thou art so easily tempted.”
“You speak to me in vain, Catharine,” returned the armourer: “I may, indeed, turn monk and retire from the world, but while I live in it I must practise my trade; and while I form armour and weapons for others, I cannot myself withstand the temptation of using them. You would not reproach me as you do, if you knew how inseparably the means by which I gain my bread are connected with that warlike spirit which you impute to me as a fault, though it is the consequence of inevitable necessity. While I strengthen the shield or corselet to withstand wounds, must I not have constantly in remembrance the manner and strength with which they may be dealt; and when I forge the sword, and temper it for war, is it practicable for me to avoid the recollection of its use?”
“Then throw from you, my dear Henry,” said the enthusiastic girl, clasping with both her slender hands the nervous strength and weight of one of the muscular armourer’s, which they raised with difficulty, permitted by its owner, yet scarcely receiving assistance from his volition —“cast from you, I say, the art which is a snare to you. Abjure the fabrication of weapons which can only be useful to abridge human life, already too short for repentance, or to encourage with a feeling of safety those whom fear might otherwise prevent from risking themselves in peril. The art of forming arms, whether offensive or defensive, is alike sinful in one to whose violent and ever vehement disposition the very working upon them proves a sin and a snare. Resign utterly the manufacture of weapons of every description, and deserve the forgiveness of Heaven, by renouncing all that can lead to the sin which most easily besets you.”
“And what,” murmured the armourer, “am I to do for my livelihood, when I have given over the art of forging arms for which Henry of Perth is known from the Tay to the Thames?”
“Your art itself,” said Catharine, “has innocent and laudable resources. If you renounce the forging of swords and bucklers, there remains to you the task of forming the harmless spade, and the honourable as well as useful ploughshare — of those implements which contribute to the support of life, or to its comforts. Thou canst frame locks and bars to defend the property of the weak against the stouthrief and oppression of the strong. Men will still resort to thee, and repay thy honest industry —”
But here Catharine was interrupted. Her father had heard her declaim against war and tournaments with a feeling that, though her doctrine were new to him, they might not, nevertheless, be entirely erroneous. He felt, indeed, a wish that his proposed son in law should not commit himself voluntarily to the hazards which the daring character and great personal strength of Henry the Smith had hitherto led him to incur too readily; and so far he would rather have desired that Catharine’s arguments should have produced some effect upon the mind of her lover, whom he knew to be as ductile when influenced by his affections as he was fierce and intractable when assailed by hostile remonstrances or threats. But her arguments interfered with his views, when he heard her enlarge upon the necessity of his designed son in law resigning a trade which brought in more ready income than any at that time practised in Scotland, and more profit to Henry of Perth in particular than to any armourer in the nation. He had some indistinct idea that it would not be amiss to convert, if possible, Henry the Smith from his too frequent use of arms, even though he felt some pride in being connected with one who wielded with such superior excellence those weapons, which in that warlike age it was the boast of all men to manage with spirit. But when he heard his daughter recommend, as the readiest road to this pacific state of mind, that her lover should renounce the gainful trade in which he was held unrivalled, and which, from the constant private differences and public wars of the time, was sure to afford him a large income, he could withhold his wrath no longer. The daughter had scarce recommended to her lover the fabrication of the implements of husbandry, than, feeling the certainty of being right, of which in the earlier part of their debate he had been somewhat doubtful, the father broke in with:
“Locks and bars, plough graith and harrow teeth! and why not grates and fire prongs, and Culross girdles, and an ass to carry the merchandise through the country, and thou for another ass to lead it by the halter? Why, Catharine, girl, has sense altogether forsaken thee, or dost thou think that in these hard and iron days men will give ready silver for anything save that which can defend their own life, or enable them to take that of their enemy? We want swords to protect ourselves every moment now, thou silly wench, and not ploughs to dress the ground for the grain we may never see rise. As for the matter of our daily bread, those who are strong seize it, and live; those who are weak yield it, and die of hunger. Happy is the man who, like my worthy son, has means of obtaining his living otherwise than by the point of the sword which he makes. Preach peace to him as much as thou wilt, I will never be he will say thee nay; but as for bidding the first armourer in Scotland forego the forging of swords, curtal axes, and harness, it is enough to drive patience itself mad. Out from my sight! and next morning I prithee remember that, shouldst thou have the luck to see Henry the Smith, which is more than thy usage of him has deserved, you see a man who has not his match in Scotland at the use of broadsword and battle axe, and who can work for five hundred marks a year without breaking a holyday.”
The daughter, on hearing her father speak thus peremptorily, made a low obeisance, and, without further goodnight, withdrew to the chamber which was her usual sleeping apartment.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00