The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 22

In pottingry he wrocht great pyne;

He murdreit mony in medecyne.


When, after an entertainment the prolonging of which was like torture to the wounded knight, the Earl of Crawford at length took horse, to go to his distant quarters in the Castle of Dupplin, where he resided as a guest, the Knight of Ramorny retired into his sleeping apartment, agonized by pains of body and anxiety of mind. Here he found Henbane Dwining, on whom it was his hard fate to depend for consolation in both respects. The physician, with his affectation of extreme humility, hoped he saw his exalted patient merry and happy.

“Merry as a mad dog,” said Ramorny, “and happy as the wretch whom the cur hath bitten, and who begins to feel the approach of the ravening madness! That ruthless boy, Crawford, saw my agony, and spared not a single carouse. I must do him justice, forsooth! If I had done justice to him and to the world, I had thrown him out of window and cut short a career which, if he grew up as he has begun, will prove a source of misery to all Scotland, but especially to Tayside. Take heed as thou undoest the ligatures, chirurgeon, the touch of a fly’s wing on that raw glowing stump were like a dagger to me.”

“Fear not, my noble patron,” said the leech, with a chuckling laugh of enjoyment, which he vainly endeavoured to disguise under a tone of affected sensibility. “We will apply some fresh balsam, and — he, he, he! — relieve your knightly honour of the irritation which you sustain so firmly.”

“Firmly, man!” said Ramorny, grinning with pain; “I sustain it as I would the scorching flames of purgatory. The bone seems made of red hot iron; thy greasy ointment will hiss as it drops upon the wound. And yet it is December’s ice, compared to the fever fit of my mind!”

“We will first use our emollients upon the body, my noble patron,” said Dwining; “and then, with your knighthood’s permission; your servant will try his art on the troubled mind; though I fain hope even the mental pain also may in some degree depend on the irritation of the wound, and that, abated as I trust the corporeal pangs will soon be, perhaps the stormy feelings of the mind may subside of themselves.”

“Henbane Dwining,” said the patient, as he felt the pain of his wound assuaged, “thou art a precious and invaluable leech, but some things are beyond thy power. Thou canst stupify my bodily cause of this raging agony, but thou canst not teach me to bear the score of the boy whom I have brought up — whom I loved, Dwining — for I did love him — dearly love him! The worst of my ill deeds have been to flatter his vices; and he grudged me a word of his mouth, when a word would have allayed this cumber! He smiled, too — I saw him smile — when yon paltry provost, the companion and patron of wretched burghers, defied me, whom this heartless prince knew to be unable to bear arms. Ere I forget or forgive it, thou thyself shalt preach up the pardoning of injuries! And then the care for tomorrow! Think’st thou, Henbane Dwining, that, in very reality, the Wounds of the slaughtered corpse will gape and shed tears of fresh blood at the murderer’s approach?”

“I cannot tell, my lord, save by report,” said Dwining, “which avouches the fact.”

“The brute Bonthron,” said Ramorny, “is startled at the apprehension of such a thing, and speaking of being rather willing to stand the combat. What think’st thou? He is a fellow of steel.”

“It is the armourer’s trade to deal with steel,” replied Dwining.

“Were Bonthron to fall, it would little grieve me,” said Ramorny; “though I should miss an useful hand.”

“I well believe your lordship will not sorrow as for that you lost in Curfew Street. Excuse my pleasantry, he, he! But what are the useful properties of this fellow Bonthron?”

“Those of a bulldog,” answered the knight, “he worries without barking.”

“You have no fear of his confessing?” said the physician.

“Who can tell what the dread of approaching death may do?” replied the patient. “He has already shown a timorousness entirely alien from his ordinary sullenness of nature; he, that would scarce wash his hands after he had slain a man, is now afraid to see a dead body bleed.”

“Well,” said the leech, “I must do something for him if I can, since it was to further my revenge that he struck yonder downright blow, though by ill luck it lighted not where it was intended.”

“And whose fault was that, timid villain,” said Ramorny, “save thine own, who marked a rascal deer for a buck of the first head?”

“Benedicite, noble sir,” replied the mediciner; “would you have me, who know little save of chamber practice, be as skilful of woodcraft as your noble self, or tell hart from hind, doe from roe, in a glade at midnight? I misdoubted me little when I saw the figure run past us to the smith’s habitation in the wynd, habited like a morrice dancer; and yet my mind partly misgave me whether it was our man, for methought he seemed less of stature. But when he came out again, after so much time as to change his dress, and swaggered onward with buff coat and steel cap, whistling after the armourer’s wonted fashion, I do own I was mistaken super totam materiem, and loosed your knighthood’s bulldog upon him, who did his devoir most duly, though he pulled down the wrong deer. Therefore, unless the accursed smith kill our poor friend stone dead on the spot, I am determined, if art may do it, that the ban dog Bonthron shall not miscarry.”

“It will put thine art to the test, man of medicine,” said Ramorny; “for know that, having the worst of the combat, if our champion be not killed stone dead in the lists, he will be drawn forth of them by the heels, and without further ceremony knitted up to the gallows, as convicted of the murder; and when he hath swung there like a loose tassel for an hour or so, I think thou wilt hardly take it in hand to cure his broken neck.”

“I am of a different opinion, may it please your knighthood,” answered Dwining, gently. “I will carry him off from the very foot of the gallows into the land of faery, like King Arthur, or Sir Huon of Bordeaux, or Ugero the Dane; or I will, if I please, suffer him to dangle on the gibbet for a certain number of minutes, or hours, and then whisk him away from the sight of all, with as much ease as the wind wafts away the withered leaf.”

“This is idle boasting, sir leech,” replied Ramorny. “The whole mob of Perth will attend him to the gallows, each more eager than another to see the retainer of a nobleman die, for the slaughter of a cuckoldly citizen. There will be a thousand of them round the gibbet’s foot.”

“And were there ten thousand,” said Dwining, “shall I, who am a high clerk, and have studied in Spain, and Araby itself, not be able to deceive the eyes of this hoggish herd of citizens, when the pettiest juggler that ever dealt in legerdemain can gull even the sharp observation of your most intelligent knighthood? I tell you, I will put the change on them as if I were in possession of Keddie’s ring.”

“If thou speakest truth,” answered the knight, “and I think thou darest not palter with me on such a theme, thou must have the aid of Satan, and I will have nought to do with him. I disown and defy him.”

Dwining indulged in his internal chuckling laugh when he heard his patron testify his defiance of the foul fiend, and saw him second it by crossing himself. He composed himself, however, upon observing Ramorny’s aspect become very stern, and said, with tolerable gravity, though a little interrupted by the effort necessary to suppress his mirthful mood:

“Confederacy, most devout sir — confederacy is the soul of jugglery. But — he, he, he! — I have not the honour to be — he, he! — an ally of the gentleman of whom you speak — in whose existence I am — he, he! — no very profound believer, though your knightship, doubtless, hath better opportunities of acquaintance.”

“Proceed, rascal, and without that sneer, which thou mayst otherwise dearly pay for.”

“I will, most undaunted,” replied Dwining. “Know that I have my confederate too, else my skill were little worth.”

“And who may that be, pray you?”

“Stephen Smotherwell, if it like your honour, lockman of this Fair City. I marvel your knighthood knows him not.”

“And I marvel thy knaveship knows him not on professional acquaintance,” replied Ramorny; “but I see thy nose is unslit, thy ears yet uncropped, and if thy shoulders are scarred or branded, thou art wise for using a high collared jerkin.”

“He, he! your honour is pleasant,” said the mediciner. “It is not by personal circumstances that I have acquired the intimacy of Stephen Smotherwell, but on account of a certain traffic betwixt us, in which an’t please you, I exchange certain sums of silver for the bodies, heads, and limbs of those who die by aid of friend Stephen.”

“Wretch!” exclaimed the knight with horror, “is it to compose charms and forward works of witchcraft that you trade for these miserable relics of mortality?”

“He, he, he! No, an it please your knighthood,” answered the mediciner, much amused with the ignorance of his patron; “but we, who are knights of the scalpel, are accustomed to practise careful carving of the limbs of defunct persons, which we call dissection, whereby we discover, by examination of a dead member, how to deal with one belonging to a living man, which hath become diseased through injury or otherwise. Ah! if your honour saw my poor laboratory, I could show you heads and hands, feet and lungs, which have been long supposed to be rotting in the mould. The skull of Wallace, stolen from London Bridge; the head of Sir Simon Fraser [the famous ancestor of the Lovats, slain at Halidon Hill (executed in London in 1306)], that never feared man; the lovely skull of the fair Katie Logie [(should be Margaret Logie), the beautiful mistress of David II]. Oh, had I but had the fortune to have preserved the chivalrous hand of mine honoured patron!”

Out upon thee, slave! Thinkest thou to disgust me with thy catalogue of horrors? Tell me at once where thy discourse drives. How can thy traffic with the hangdog executioner be of avail to serve me, or to help my servant Bonthron?”

“Nay, I do not recommend it to your knighthood, save in an extremity,” replied Dwining. “But we will suppose the battle fought and our cock beaten. Now we must first possess him with the certainty that, if unable to gain the day, we will at least save him from the hangman, provided he confess nothing which can prejudice your knighthood’s honour.”

“Ha! ay, a thought strikes me,” said Ramorny. “We can do more than this, we can place a word in Bonthron’s mouth that will be troublesome enough to him whom I am bound to curse for being the cause of my misfortune. Let us to the ban dog’s kennel, and explain to him what is to be done in every view of the question. If we can persuade him to stand the bier ordeal, it may be a mere bugbear, and in that case we are safe. If he take the combat, he is fierce as a baited bear, and may, perchance, master his opponent; then we are more than safe, we are avenged. If Bonthron himself is vanquished, we will put thy device in exercise; and if thou canst manage it cleanly; we may dictate his confession, take the advantage of it, as I will show thee on further conference, and make a giant stride towards satisfaction for my wrongs. Still there remains one hazard. Suppose our mastiff mortally wounded in the lists, who shall prevent his growling out some species of confession different from what we would recommend?”

“Marry, that can his mediciner,” said Dwining. “Let me wait on him, and have the opportunity to lay but a finger on his wound, and trust me he shall betray no confidence.”

“Why, there’s a willing fiend, that needs neither pushing nor prompting!” said Ramorny.

“As I trust I shall need neither in your knighthood’s service.”

“We will go indoctrinate our agent,” continued the knight. “We shall find him pliant; for, hound as he is, he knows those who feed from those who browbeat him; and he holds a late royal master of mine in deep hate for some injurious treatment and base terms which he received at his hand. I must also farther concert with thee the particulars of thy practice, for saving the ban dog from the hands of the herd of citizens.”

We leave this worthy pair of friends to their secret practices, of which we shall afterwards see the results. They were, although of different qualities, as well matched for device and execution of criminal projects as the greyhound is to destroy the game which the slowhound raises, or the slowhound to track the prey which the gazehound discovers by the eye. Pride and selfishness were the characteristics of both; but, from the difference of rank, education, and talents, they had assumed the most different appearance in the two individuals.

Nothing could less resemble the high blown ambition of the favourite courtier, the successful gallant, and the bold warrior than the submissive, unassuming mediciner, who seemed even to court and delight in insult; whilst, in his secret soul, he felt himself possessed of a superiority of knowledge, a power both of science and of mind, which placed the rude nobles of the day infinitely beneath him. So conscious was Henbane Dwining of this elevation, that, like a keeper of wild beasts, he sometimes adventured, for his own amusement, to rouse the stormy passions of such men as Ramorny, trusting, with his humble manner, to elude the turmoil he had excited, as an Indian boy will launch his light canoe, secure from its very fragility, upon a broken surf, in which the boat of an argosy would be assuredly dashed to pieces. That the feudal baron should despise the humble practitioner in medicine was a matter of course; but Ramorny felt not the less the influence which Dwining exercised over him, and was in the encounter of their wits often mastered by him, as the most eccentric efforts of a fiery horse are overcome by a boy of twelve years old, if he has been bred to the arts of the manege. But the contempt of Dwining for Ramorny was far less qualified. He regarded the knight, in comparison with himself, as scarcely rising above the brute creation; capable, indeed, of working destruction, as the bull with his horns or the wolf with his fangs, but mastered by mean prejudices, and a slave to priest craft, in which phrase Dwining included religion of every kind. On the whole, he considered Ramorny as one whom nature had assigned to him as a serf, to mine for the gold which he worshipped, and the avaricious love of which was his greatest failing, though by no means his worst vice. He vindicated this sordid tendency in his own eyes by persuading himself that it had its source in the love of power.

“Henbane Dwining,” he said, as he gazed in delight upon the hoards which he had secretly amassed, and which he visited from time to time, “is no silly miser that doats on those pieces for their golden lustre: it is the power with which they endow the possessor which makes him thus adore them. What is there that these put not within your command? Do you love beauty, and are mean, deformed, infirm, and old? Here is a lure the fairest hawk of them all will stoop to. Are you feeble, weak, subject to the oppression of the powerful? Here is that will arm in your defence those more mighty than the petty tyrant whom you fear. Are you splendid in your wishes, and desire the outward show of opulence? This dark chest contains many a wide range of hill and dale, many a fair forest full of game, the allegiance of a thousand vassals. Wish you for favour in courts, temporal or spiritual? The smiles of kings, the pardon of popes and priests for old crimes, and the indulgence which encourages priest ridden fools to venture on new ones — all these holy incentives to vice may be purchased for gold. Revenge itself, which the gods are said to reserve to themselves, doubtless because they envy humanity so sweet a morsel — revenge itself is to be bought by it. But it is also to be won by superior skill, and that is the nobler mode of reaching it. I will spare, then, my treasure for other uses, and accomplish my revenge gratis; or rather I will add the luxury of augmented wealth to the triumph of requited wrongs.”

Thus thought Dwining, as, returned from his visit to Sir John Ramorny, he added the gold he had received for his various services to the mass of his treasure; and, having gloated over the whole for a minute or two, turned the key on his concealed treasure house, and walked forth on his visits to his patients, yielding the wall to every man whom he met and bowing and doffing his bonnet to the poorest burgher that owned a petty booth, nay, to the artificers who gained their precarious bread by the labour of their welked hands.

“Caitiffs,” was the thought of his heart while he did such obeisance —“base, sodden witted mechanics! did you know what this key could disclose, what foul weather from heaven would prevent your unbonneting? what putrid kennel in your wretched hamlet would be disgusting enough to make you scruple to fall down and worship the owner of such wealth? But I will make you feel my power, though it suits my honour to hide the source of it. I will be an incubus to your city, since you have rejected me as a magistrate. Like the night mare, I will hag ride ye, yet remain invisible myself. This miserable Ramorny, too, he who, in losing his hand, has, like a poor artisan, lost the only valuable part of his frame, he heaps insulting language on me, as if anything which he can say had power to chafe a constant mind like mine! Yet, while he calls me rogue, villain, and slave, he acts as wisely as if he should amuse himself by pulling hairs out of my head while my hand had hold of his heart strings. Every insult I can pay back instantly by a pang of bodily pain or mental agony, and — he, he! — I run no long accounts with his knighthood, that must be allowed.”

While the mediciner was thus indulging his diabolical musing, and passing, in his creeping manner, along the street, the cry of females was heard behind him.

“Ay, there he is, Our Lady be praised! — there is the most helpful man in Perth,” said one voice.

“They may speak of knights and kings for redressing wrongs, as they call it; but give me worthy Master Dwining the potter carrier, cummers,” replied another.

At the same moment, the leech was surrounded and taken hold of by the speakers, good women of the Fair City.

“How now, what’s the matter?” said Dwining, “whose cow has calved?”

“There is no calving in the case,” said one of the women, “but a poor fatherless wean dying; so come awa’ wi’ you, for our trust is constant in you, as Bruce said to Donald of the Isles.”

“Opiferque per orbem dicor,” said Henbane Dwining. “What is the child dying of?”

“The croup — the croup,” screamed one of the gossips; “the innocent is rouping like a corbie.”

“Cynanche trachealis — that disease makes brief work. Show me the house instantly,” continued the mediciner, who was in the habit of exercising his profession liberally, not withstanding his natural avarice, and humanely, in spite of his natural malignity. As we can suspect him of no better principle, his motive most probably may have been vanity and the love of his art.

He would nevertheless have declined giving his attendance in the present case had he known whither the kind gossips were conducting him, in time sufficient to frame an apology. But, ere he guessed where he was going, the leech was hurried into the house of the late Oliver Proudfute, from which he heard the chant of the women as they swathed and dressed the corpse of the umquhile bonnet maker for the ceremony of next morning, of which chant the following verses may be received as a modern imitation:

Viewless essence, thin and bare,

Well nigh melted into air,

Still with fondness hovering near

The earthly form thou once didst wear,

Pause upon thy pinion’s flight;

Be thy course to left or right,

Be thou doom’d to soar or sink,

Pause upon the awful brink.

To avenge the deed expelling

Thee untimely from thy dwelling,

Mystic force thou shalt retain

O’er the blood and o’er the brain.

When the form thou shalt espy

That darken’d on thy closing eye,

When the footstep thou shalt hear

That thrill’d upon thy dying ear,

Then strange sympathies shall wake,

The flesh shall thrill, the nerves shall quake,

The wounds renew their clotter’d flood,

And every drop cry blood for blood!

Hardened as he was, the physician felt reluctance to pass the threshold of the man to whose death he had been so directly, though, so far as the individual was concerned, mistakingly, accessory.

“Let me pass on, women,” he said, “my art can only help the living — the dead are past our power.”

“Nay, but your patient is upstairs — the youngest orphan”— Dwining was compelled to go into the house. But he was surprised when, the instant he stepped over the threshold, the gossips, who were busied with the dead body, stinted suddenly in their song, while one said to the others:

“In God’s name, who entered? That was a large gout of blood.”

“Not so,” said another voice, “it is a drop of the liquid balm.”

“Nay, cummer, it was blood. Again I say, who entered the house even now?”

One looked out from the apartment into the little entrance, where Dwining, under pretence of not distinctly seeing the trap ladder by which he was to ascend into the upper part of this house of lamentation, was delaying his progress purposely, disconcerted with what had reached him of the conversation.

“Nay, it is only worthy Master Henbane Dwining,” answered one of the sibyls.

“Only Master Dwining,” replied the one who had first spoken, in a tone of acquiescence —“our best helper in need! Then it must have been balm sure enough.”

“Nay,” said the other, “it may have been blood nevertheless; for the leech, look you, when the body was found, was commanded by the magistrates to probe the wound with his instruments, and how could the poor dead corpse know that that was done with good purpose?”

“Ay, truly, cummer; and as poor Oliver often mistook friends for enemies while he was in life, his judgment cannot be thought to have mended now.”

Dwining heard no more, being now forced upstairs into a species of garret, where Magdalen sat on her widowed bed, clasping to her bosom her infant, which, already black in the face and uttering the gasping, crowing sound which gives the popular name to the complaint, seemed on the point of rendering up its brief existence. A Dominican monk sat near the bed, holding the other child in his arms, and seeming from time to time to speak a word or two of spiritual consolation, or intermingle some observation on the child’s disorder.

The mediciner cast upon the good father a single glance, filled With that ineffable disdain which men of science entertain against interlopers. His own aid was instant and efficacious: he snatched the child from the despairing mother, stripped its throat, and opened a vein, which, as it bled freely, relieved the little patient instantaneously. In a brief space every dangerous symptom disappeared, and Dwining, having bound up the vein, replaced the infant in the arms of the half distracted mother.

The poor woman’s distress for her husband’s loss, which had been suspended during the extremity of the child’s danger, now returned on Magdalen with the force of an augmented torrent, which has borne down the dam dike that for a while interrupted its waves.

“Oh, learned sir,” she said, “you see a poor woman of her that you once knew a richer. But the hands that restored this bairn to my arms must not leave this house empty. Generous, kind Master Dwining, accept of his beads; they are made of ebony and silver. He aye liked to have his things as handsome as any gentleman, and liker he was in all his ways to a gentleman than any one of his standing, and even so came of it.”

With these words, in a mute passion of grief she pressed to her breast and to her lips the chaplet of her deceased husband, and proceeded to thrust it into Dwining’s hands.

“Take it,” she said, “for the love of one who loved you well. Ah, he used ever to say, if ever man could be brought back from the brink of the grave, it must be by Master Dwining’s guidance. And his ain bairn is brought back this blessed day, and he is lying there stark and stiff, and kens naething of its health and sickness! Oh, woe is me, and walawa! But take the beads, and think on his puir soul, as you put them through your fingers, he will be freed from purgatory the sooner that good people pray to assoilzie him.”

“Take back your beads, cummer; I know no legerdemain, can do no conjuring tricks,” said the mediciner, who, more moved than perhaps his rugged nature had anticipated, endeavoured to avoid receiving the ill omened gift. But his last words gave offence to the churchman, whose presence he had not recollected when he uttered them.

“How now, sir leech!” said the Dominican, “do you call prayers for the dead juggling tricks? I know that Chaucer, the English maker, says of you mediciners, that your study is but little on the Bible. Our mother, the church, hath nodded of late, but her eyes are now opened to discern friends from foes; and be well assured —”

“Nay, reverend father,” said Dwining, “you take me at too great advantage. I said I could do no miracles, and was about to add that, as the church certainly could work such conclusions, those rich beads should be deposited in your hands, to be applied as they may best benefit the soul of the deceased.”

He dropped the beads into the Dominican’s hand, and escaped from the house of mourning.

“This was a strangely timed visit,” he said to himself, when he got safe out of doors. “I hold such things cheap as any can; yet, though it is but a silly fancy, I am glad I saved the squalling child’s life. But I must to my friend Smotherwell, whom I have no doubt to bring to my purpose in the matter of Bonthron; and thus on this occasion I shall save two lives, and have destroyed only one.”

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