The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 21

In God’s name, see the lists and all things fit;

There let them end it — God defend the right!

Henry IV. Part II.

In the same council room of the conventual palace of the Dominicans, King Robert was seated with his brother Albany, whose affected austerity of virtue, and real art and dissimulation, maintained so high an influence over the feeble minded monarch. It was indeed natural that one who seldom saw things according to their real forms and outlines should view them according to the light in which they were presented to him by a bold, astucious man, possessing the claim of such near relationship.

Ever anxious on account of his misguided and unfortunate son, the King was now endeavouring to make Albany coincide in opinion with him in exculpating Rothsay from any part in the death of the bonnet maker, the precognition concerning which had been left by Sir Patrick Charteris for his Majesty’s consideration.

“This is an unhappy matter, brother Robin,” he said —“a most unhappy occurrence, and goes nigh to put strife and quarrel betwixt the nobility and the commons here, as they have been at war together in so many distant lands. I see but one cause of comfort in the matter, and that is, that Sir John Ramorny having received his dismissal from the Duke of Rothsay’s family, it cannot be said that he or any of his people who may have done this bloody deed — if it has truly been done by them — have been encouraged or hounded out upon such an errand by my poor boy. I am sure, brother, you and I can bear witness how readily, upon my entreaties, he agreed to dismiss Ramorny from his service, on account of that brawl in Curfew Street.”

“I remember his doing so,” said Albany; “and well do I hope that the connexion betwixt the Prince and Ramorny has not been renewed since he seemed to comply with your Grace’s wishes.”

“Seemed to comply! The connexion renewed!” said the King. “What mean you by these expressions, brother? Surely, when David promised to me that, if that unhappy matter of Curfew Street were but smothered up and concealed, he would part with Ramorny, as he was a counsellor thought capable of involving him in similar fooleries, and would acquiesce in our inflicting on him either exile or such punishment as it should please us to impose — surely you cannot doubt that he was sincere in his professions, and would keep his word? Remember you not that, when you advised that a heavy fine should be levied upon his estate in Fife in lieu of banishment, the Prince himself seemed to say that exile would be better for Ramorny, and even for himself?”

“I remember it well, my royal brother. Nor, truly, could I have suspected Ramorny of having so much influence over the Prince, after having been accessory to placing him in a situation so perilous, had it not been for my royal kinsman’s own confession, alluded to by your Grace, that, if suffered to remain at court, he might still continue to influence his conduct. I then regretted I had advised a fine in place of exile. But that time is passed, and now new mischief has occurred, fraught with much peril to your Majesty, as well as to your royal heir, and to the whole kingdom.”

“What mean you, Robin?” said the weak minded King. “By the tomb of our parents! by the soul of Bruce, our immortal ancestor! I entreat thee, my dearest brother, to take compassion on me. Tell me what evil threatens my son, or my kingdom?”

The features of the King, trembling with anxiety, and his eyes brimful of tears, were bent upon his brother, who seemed to assume time for consideration ere he replied.

“My lord, the danger lies here. Your Grace believed that the Prince had no accession to this second aggression upon the citizens of Perth — the slaughter of this bonnet making fellow, about whose death they clamour, as a set of gulls about their comrade, when one of the noisy brood is struck down by a boor’s shaft.”

“Their lives,” said the King, “are dear to themselves and their friends, Robin.”

“Truly, ay, my liege; and they make them dear to us too, ere we can settle with the knaves for the least blood wit. But, as I said, your Majesty thinks the Prince had no share in this last slaughter; I will not attempt to shake your belief in that delicate point, but will endeavour to believe along with you. What you think is rule for me, Robert of Albany will never think otherwise than Robert of broad Scotland.”

“Thank you, thank you,” said the King, taking his brother’s hand. “I knew I might rely that your affection would do justice to poor heedless Rothsay, who exposes himself to so much misconstruction that he scarcely deserves the sentiments you feel for him.”

Albany had such an immovable constancy of purpose, that he was able to return the fraternal pressure of the King’s hand, while tearing up by the very roots the hopes of the indulgent, fond old man.

“But, alas!” the Duke continued, with a sigh, “this burly, intractable Knight of Kinfauns, and his brawling herd of burghers, will not view the matter as we do. They have the boldness to say that this dead fellow had been misused by Rothsay and his fellows, who were in the street in mask and revel, stopping men and women, compelling them to dance, or to drink huge quantities of wine, with other follies needless to recount; and they say that the whole party repaired in Sir John Ramorny’s, and broke their way into the house in order to conclude their revel there, thus affording good reason to judge that the dismissal of Sir John from the Prince’s service was but a feigned stratagem to deceive the public. And hence they urge that, if ill were done that night by Sir John Ramorny or his followers, much it is to be thought that the Duke of Rothsay must have at least been privy to, if he did not authorise, it.”

“Albany, this is dreadful!” said the King. “Would they make a murderer of my boy? would they pretend my David would soil his hands in Scottish blood without having either provocation or purpose? No — no, they will not invent calumnies so broad as these, for they are flagrant and incredible.”

“Pardon, my liege,” answered the Duke of Albany; “they say the cause of quarrel which occasioned the riot in Curfew Street, and, its consequences, were more proper to the Prince than to Sir John, since none suspects, far less believes, that that hopeful enterprise was conducted for the gratification of the knight of Ramorny.”

“Thou drivest me mad, Robin!” said the King.

“I am dumb,” answered his brother; “I did but speak my poor mind according to your royal order.”

“Thou meanest well, I know,” said the King; “but, instead of tearing me to pieces with the display of inevitable calamities, were it not kinder, Robin, to point me out some mode to escape from them?”

“True, my liege; but as the only road of extrication is rough and difficult, it is necessary your Grace should be first possessed with the absolute necessity of using it, ere you hear it even described. The chirurgeon must first convince his patient of the incurable condition of a shattered member, ere he venture to name amputation, though it be the only remedy.”

The King at these words was roused to a degree of alarm and indignation greater than his brother had deemed he could be awakened to.

“Shattered and mortified member, my Lord of Albany! amputation the only remedy! These are unintelligible words, my lord. If thou appliest them to our son Rothsay, thou must make them good to the letter, else mayst thou have bitter cause to rue the consequence.”

“You construe me too literally, my royal liege,” said Albany. “I spoke not of the Prince in such unbeseeming terms, for I call Heaven to witness that he is dearer to me as the son of a well beloved brother than had he been son of my own. But I spoke in regard to separating him from the follies and vanities of life, which holy men say are like to mortified members, and ought, like them, to be cut off and thrown from us, as things which interrupt our progress in better things.”

“I understand — thou wouldst have this Ramorny, who hath been thought the instrument of my son’s follies, exiled from court,” said the relieved monarch, “until these unhappy scandals are forgotten, and our subjects are disposed to look upon our son with different and more confiding eyes.”

“That were good counsel, my liege; but mine went a little — a very little — farther. I would have the Prince himself removed for some brief period from court.”

“How, Albany! part with my child, my firstborn, the light of my eyes, and — wilful as he is — the darling of my heart! Oh, Robin! I cannot, and I will not.”

“Nay, I did but suggest, my lord; I am sensible of the wound such a proceeding must inflict on a parent’s heart, for am I not myself a father?” And he hung his head, as if in hopeless despondency.

“I could not survive it, Albany. When I think that even our own influence over him, which, sometimes forgotten in our absence, is ever effectual whilst he is with us, is by your plan to be entirely removed, what perils might he not rush upon? I could not sleep in his absence — I should hear his death groan in every breeze; and you, Albany, though you conceal it better, would be nearly as anxious.”

Thus spoke the facile monarch, willing to conciliate his brother and cheat himself, by taking it for granted that an affection, of which there were no traces, subsisted betwixt the uncle and nephew.

“Your paternal apprehensions are too easily alarmed, my lord,” said Albany. “I do not propose to leave the disposal of the Prince’s motions to his own wild pleasure. I understand that the Prince is to be placed for a short time under some becoming restraint — that he should be subjected to the charge of some grave counsellor, who must be responsible both for his conduct and his safety, as a tutor for his pupil.”

“How! a tutor, and at Rothsay’s age!” exclaimed the’ King; “he is two years beyond the space to which our laws limit the term of nonage.”

“The wiser Romans,” said Albany, “extended it for four years after the period we assign; and, in common sense, the right of control ought to last till it be no longer necessary, and so the time ought to vary with the disposition. Here is young Lindsay, the Earl of Crawford, who they say gives patronage to Ramorny on this appeal. He is a lad of fifteen, with the deep passions and fixed purpose of a man of thirty; while my royal nephew, with much more amiable and noble qualities both of head and heart, sometimes shows, at twenty-three years of age, the wanton humours of a boy, towards whom restraint may be kindness. And do not be discouraged that it is so, my liege, or angry with your brother for telling the truth; since the best fruits are those that are slowest in ripening, and the best horses such as give most trouble to the grooms who train them for the field or lists.”

The Duke stopped, and, after suffering King Robert to indulge for two or three minutes in a reverie which he did not attempt to interrupt, he added, in a more lively tone: “But, cheer up, my noble liege; perhaps the feud may be made up without farther fighting or difficulty. The widow is poor, for her husband, though he was much employed, had idle and costly habits. The matter may be therefore redeemed for money, and the amount of an assythment may be recovered out of Ramorny’s estate.”

“Nay, that we will ourselves discharge,” said King Robert, eagerly catching at the hope of a pacific termination of this unpleasing debate. “Ramorny’s prospects will be destroyed by his being sent from court and deprived of his charge in Rothsay’s household, and it would be ungenerous to load a falling man. But here comes our secretary, the prior, to tell us the hour of council approaches. Good morrow, my worthy father.”

“Benedicite, my royal liege,” answered the abbot.

“Now, good father,” continued the King, “without waiting for Rothsay, whose accession to our counsels we will ourselves guarantee, proceed we to the business of our kingdom. What advices have you from the Douglas?”

“He has arrived at his castle of Tantallon, my liege, and has sent a post to say, that, though the Earl of March remains in sullen seclusion in his fortress of Dunbar, his friends and followers are gathering and forming an encampment near Coldingham, Where it is supposed they intend to await the arrival of a large force of English, which Hotspur and Sir Ralph Percy are assembling on the English frontier.”

“That is cold news,” said the King; “and may God forgive George of Dunbar!”

The Prince entered as he spoke, and he continued: “Ha! thou art here at length, Rothsay; I saw thee not at mass.”

“I was an idler this morning,” said the Prince, “having spent a restless and feverish night.”

“Ah, foolish boy!” answered the King; “hadst thou not been over restless on Fastern’s Eve, thou hadst not been feverish on the night of Ash Wednesday.”

“Let me not interrupt your praying, my liege,” said the Prince, lightly. “Your Grace Was invoking Heaven in behalf of some one — an enemy doubtless, for these have the frequent advantage of your orisons.”

“Sit down and be at peace, foolish youth!” said his father, his eye resting at the same time on the handsome face and graceful figure of his favourite son. Rothsay drew a cushion near to his father’s feet, and threw himself carelessly down upon it, while the King resumed.

“I was regretting that the Earl of March, having separated warm from my hand with full assurance that he should receive compensation for everything which he could complain of as injurious, should have been capable of caballing with Northumberland against his own country. Is it possible he could doubt our intentions to make good our word?”

“I will answer for him — no,” said the Prince. “March never doubted your Highness’s word. Marry, he may well have made question whether your learned counsellors would leave your Majesty the power of keeping it.”

Robert the Third had adopted to a great extent the timid policy of not seeming to hear expressions which, being heard, required, even in his own eyes, some display of displeasure. He passed on, therefore, in his discourse, without observing his son’s speech, but in private Rothsay’s rashness augmented the displeasure which his father began to entertain against him.

“It is well the Douglas is on the marches,” said the King. “His breast, like those of his ancestors, has ever been the best bulwark of Scotland.”

“Then woe betide us if he should turn his back to the enemy,” said the incorrigible Rothsay.

“Dare you impeach the courage of Douglas?” replied the King, extremely chafed.

“No man dare question the Earl’s courage,” said Rothsay, “it is as certain as his pride; but his luck may be something doubted.”

“By St. Andrew, David,” exclaimed his father, “thou art like a screech owl, every word thou sayest betokens strife and calamity.”

“I am silent, father,” answered the youth.

“And what news of our Highland disturbances?” continued the King, addressing the prior.

“I trust they have assumed a favourable aspect,” answered the clergyman. “The fire which threatened the whole country is likely to be drenched out by the blood of some forty or fifty kerne; for the two great confederacies have agreed, by solemn indenture of arms, to decided their quarrel with such weapons as your Highness may name, and in your royal presence, in such place as shall be appointed, on the 30th of March next to come, being Palm Sunday; the number of combatants being limited to thirty on each side; and the fight to be maintained to extremity, since they affectionately make humble suit and petition to your Majesty that you will parentally condescend to waive for the day your royal privilege of interrupting the combat, by flinging down of truncheon or crying of ‘Ho!’ until the battle shall be utterly fought to an end.”

“The wild savages!” exclaimed the King, “would they limit our best and dearest royal privilege, that of putting a stop to strife, and crying truce to battle? Will they remove the only motive which could bring me to the butcherly spectacle of their combat? Would they fight like men, or like their own mountain wolves?”

“My lord,” said Albany, “the Earl of Crawford and I had presumed, without consulting you, to ratify that preliminary, for the adoption of which we saw much and pressing reason.”

“How! the Earl of Crawford!” said the King. “Methinks he is a young counsellor on such grave occurrents.”

“He is,” replied Albany, “notwithstanding his early years, of such esteem among his Highland neighbours, that I could have done little with them but for his aid and influence.”

“Hear this, young Rothsay!” said the King reproachfully to his heir.

“I pity Crawford, sire,” replied the Prince. “He has too early lost a father whose counsels would have better become such a season as this.”

The King turned next towards Albany with a look of triumph, at the filial affection which his son displayed in his reply.

Albany proceeded without emotion. “It is not the life of these Highlandmen, but their death, which is to be profitable to this commonwealth of Scotland; and truly it seemed to the Earl of Crawford and myself most desirable that the combat should be a strife of extermination.”

“Marry,” said the Prince, “if such be the juvenile policy of Lindsay, he will be a merciful ruler some ten or twelve years hence! Out upon a boy that is hard of heart before he has hair upon his lip! Better he had contented himself with fighting cocks on Fastern’s Even than laying schemes for massacring men on Palm Sunday, as if he were backing a Welsh main, where all must fight to death.”

“Rothsay is right, Albany,” said the King: “it were unlike a Christian monarch to give way in this point. I cannot consent to see men battle until they are all hewn down like cattle in the shambles. It would sicken me to look at it, and the warder would drop from my hand for mere lack of strength to hold it.”

“It would drop unheeded,” said Albany. “Let me entreat your Grace to recollect, that you only give up a royal privilege which, exercised, would win you no respect, since it would receive no obedience. Were your Majesty to throw down your warder when the war is high, and these men’s blood is hot, it would meet no more regard than if a sparrow should drop among a herd of battling wolves the straw which he was carrying to his nest. Nothing will separate them but the exhaustion of slaughter; and better they sustain it at the hands of each other than from the swords of such troops as might attempt to separate them at your Majesty’s commands. An attempt to keep the peace by violence would be construed into an ambush laid for them; both parties would unite to resist it, the slaughter would be the same, and the hoped for results of future peace would be utterly disappointed.”

“There is even too much truth in what you say, brother Robin,” replied the flexible King. “To little purpose is it to command what I cannot enforce; and, although I have the unhappiness to do so each day of my life, it were needless to give such a very public example of royal impotency before the crowds who may assemble to behold this spectacle. Let these savage men, therefore, work their bloody will to the uttermost upon each other: I will not attempt to forbid what I cannot prevent them from executing. Heaven help this wretched country! I will to my oratory and pray for her, since to aid her by hand and head is alike denied to me. Father prior, I pray the support of your arm.”

“Nay, but, brother,” said Albany, “forgive me if I remind you that we must hear the matter between the citizens of Perth and Ramorny, about the death of a townsman —”

“True — true,” said the monarch, reseating himself; “more violence — more battle. Oh, Scotland! Scotland! if the best blood of thy bravest children could enrich thy barren soil, what land on earth would excel thee in fertility! When is it that a white hair is seen on the beard of a Scottishman, unless he be some wretch like thy sovereign, protected from murder by impotence, to witness the scenes of slaughter to which he cannot put a period? Let them come in, delay them not. They are in haste to kill, and, grudge each other each fresh breath of their Creator’s blessed air. The demon of strife and slaughter hath possessed the whole land!”

As the mild prince threw himself back on his seat with an air of impatience and anger not very usual with him, the door at the lower end of the room was unclosed, and, advancing from the gallery into which it led (where in perspective was seen a guard of the Bute men, or Brandanes, under arms), came, in mournful procession, the widow of poor Oliver, led by Sir Patrick Charteris, with as much respect as if she had been a lady of the first rank. Behind them came two women of good, the wives of magistrates of the city, both in mourning garments, one bearing the infant and the other leading the elder child. The smith followed in his best attire, and wearing over his buff coat a scarf of crape. Bailie Craigdallie and a brother magistrate closed the melancholy procession, exhibiting similar marks of mourning.

The good King’s transitory passion was gone the instant he looked at the pallid countenance of the sorrowing widow, and beheld the unconsciousness of the innocent orphans who had sustained so great a loss, and when Sir Patrick Charteris had assisted Magdalen Proudfute to kneel down and, still holding her hand, kneeled himself on one knee, it was with a sympathetic tone that King Robert asked her name and business. She made no answer, but muttered something, looking towards her conductor.

“Speak for the poor woman, Sir Patrick Charteris,” said the King, “and tell us the cause of her seeking our presence.”

“So please you, my liege,” answered Sir Patrick, rising up, “this woman, and these unhappy orphans, make plaint to your Highness upon Sir John Ramorny of Ramorny, Knight, that by him, or by some of his household, her umquhile husband, Oliver Proudfute, freeman and burgess of Perth, was slain upon the streets of the city on the eve of Shrove Tuesday or morning of Ash Wednesday.”

“Woman,” replied the King, with much kindness, “thou art gentle by sex, and shouldst be pitiful even by thy affliction; for our own calamity ought to make us — nay, I think it doth make us — merciful to others. Thy husband hath only trodden the path appointed to us all.”

“In his case,” said the widow, “my liege must remember it has been a brief and a bloody one.”

“I agree he hath had foul measure. But since I have been unable to protect him, as I confess was my royal duty, I am willing, in atonement, to support thee and these orphans, as well or better than you lived in the days of your husband; only do thou pass from this charge, and be not the occasion of spilling more life. Remember, I put before you the choice betwixt practising mercy and pursuing vengeance, and that betwixt plenty and penury.”

“It is true, my liege, we are poor,” answered the widow, with unshaken firmness “but I and my children will feed with the beasts of the field ere we live on the price of my husband’s blood. I demand the combat by my champion, as you are belted knight and crowned king.”

“I knew it would be so!” said the King, aside to Albany. “In Scotland the first words stammered by an infant and the last uttered by a dying greybeard are ‘combat — blood — revenge.’ It skills not arguing farther. Admit the defendants.”

Sir John Ramorny entered the apartment. He was dressed in a long furred robe, such as men of quality wore when they were unarmed. Concealed by the folds of drapery, his wounded arm was supported by a scarf or sling of crimson silk, and with the left arm he leaned on a youth, who, scarcely beyond the years of boyhood, bore on his brow the deep impression of early thought and premature passion. This was that celebrated Lindsay, Earl of Crawford, who, in his after days, was known by the epithet of the Tiger Earl, and who ruled the great and rich valley of Strathmore with the absolute power and unrelenting cruelty of a feudal tyrant. Two or three gentlemen, friends of the Earl, or of his own, countenanced Sir John Ramorny by their presence on this occasion. The charge was again stated, and met by a broad denial on the part of the accused; and in reply, the challengers offered to prove their assertion by an appeal to the ordeal of bier right.

“I am not bound,” answered Sir John Ramorny, “to submit to this ordeal, since I can prove, by the evidence of my late royal master, that I was in my own lodgings, lying on my bed, ill at ease, while this provost and these bailies pretend I was committing a crime to which I had neither will nor temptation. I can therefore be no just object of suspicion.”

“I can aver,” said the Prince, “that I saw and conversed with Sir John Ramorny about some matters concerning my own household on the very night when this murder was a-doing. I therefore know that he was ill at ease, and could not in person commit the deed in question. But I know nothing of the employment of his attendants, and will not take it upon me to say that some one of them may not have been guilty of the crime now charged on them.”

Sir John Ramorny had, during the beginning of this speech, looked round with an air of defiance, which was somewhat disconcerted by the concluding sentence of Rothsay’s speech.

“I thank your Highness,” he said, with a smile, “for your cautious and limited testimony in my behalf. He was wise who wrote, ‘Put not your faith in princes.’”

“If you have no other evidence of your innocence, Sir John Ramorny,” said the King, “we may not, in respect to your followers, refuse to the injured widow and orphans, the complainers, the grant of a proof by ordeal of bier right, unless any of them should prefer that of combat. For yourself, you are, by the Prince’s evidence, freed from the attaint.”

“My liege,” answered Sir John, “I can take warrant upon myself for the innocence of my household and followers.”

“Why, so a monk or a woman might speak,” said Sir Patrick Charteris. “In knightly language, wilt thou, Sir John de Ramorny, do battle with me in the behalf of thy followers?”

“The provost of Perth had not obtained time to name the word combat,” said Ramorny, “ere I would have accepted it. But I am not at present fit to hold a lance.”

“I am glad of it, under your favour, Sir John. There will be the less bloodshed,” said the King. “You must therefore produce your followers according to your steward’s household book, in the great church of St. John, that, in presence of all whom it may concern, they may purge themselves of this accusation. See that every man of them do appear at the time of high mass, otherwise your honour may be sorely tainted.”

“They shall attend to a man,” said Sir John Ramorny.

Then bowing low to the King, he directed himself to the young Duke of Rothsay, and, making a deep obeisance, spoke so as to be heard by him alone. “You have used me generously, my lord! One word of your lips could have ended this controversy, and you have refused to speak it.”

“On my life,” whispered the Prince, “I spake as far as the extreme verge of truth and conscience would permit. I think thou couldst not expect I should frame lies for thee; and after all, John, in my broken recollections of that night, I do bethink me of a butcherly looking mute, with a curtal axe, much like such a one as may have done yonder night job. Ha! have I touched you, sir knight?”

Ramorny made no answer, but turned as precipitately as if some one had pressed suddenly on his wounded arm, and regained his lodgings with the Earl of Crawford; to whom, though disposed for anything rather than revelry, he was obliged to offer a splendid collation, to acknowledge in some degree his sense of the countenance which the young noble had afforded him.

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