The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 3

Whence cometh Smith, be he knight, lord, or squire,

But from the smith that forged in the fire?


The armourer’s heart swelled big with various and contending sensations, so that it seemed as if it would burst the leathern doublet under which it was shrouded. He arose, turned away his head, and extended his hand towards the glover, while he averted his face, as if desirous that his emotion should not be read upon his countenance.

“Nay, hang me if I bid you farewell, man,” said Simon, striking the flat of his hand against that which the armourer expanded towards him. “I will shake no hands with you for an hour to come at least. Tarry but a moment, man, and I will explain all this; and surely a few drops of blood from a scratch, and a few silly words from a foolish wench’s lips, are not to part father and son when they have been so long without meeting? Stay, then, man, if ever you would wish for a father’s blessing and St. Valentine’s, whose blessed eve this chances to be.”

The glover was soon heard loudly summoning Dorothy, and, after some clanking of keys and trampling up and down stairs, Dorothy appeared bearing three large rummer cups of green glass, which were then esteemed a great and precious curiosity, and the glover followed with a huge bottle, equal at least to three quarts of these degenerate days.

“Here is a cup of wine, Henry, older by half than I am myself; my father had it in a gift from stout old Crabbe, the Flemish engineer, who defended Perth so stoutly in the minority of David the Second. We glovers could always do something in war, though our connexion with it was less than yours who work in steel and iron. And my father had pleased old Crabbe, some other day I will tell you how, and also how long these bottles were concealed under ground, to save them from the reiving Southron. So I will empty a cup to the soul’s health of my honoured father — May his sins be forgiven him! Dorothy, thou shalt drink this pledge, and then be gone to thy cock loft. I know thine ears are itching, girl, but I have that to say which no one must hear save Henry Smith, the son of mine adoption.”

Dorothy did not venture to remonstrate, but, taking off her glass, or rather her goblet, with good courage, retired to her sleeping apartment, according to her master’s commands.

The two friends were left alone.

“It grieves me, friend Henry,” said Simon, filling at the same time his own glass and his guest’s —“it grieves me from my soul that my daughter retains this silly humor; but also methinks, thou mightst mend it. Why wouldst thou come hither clattering with thy sword and dagger, when the girl is so silly that she cannot bear the sight of these? Dost thou not remember that thou hadst a sort of quarrel with her even before thy last departure from Perth, because thou wouldst not go like other honest quiet burghers, but must be ever armed, like one of the rascally jackmen that wait on the nobility? Sure it is time enough for decent burgesses to arm at the tolling of the common bell, which calls us out bodin in effeir of war.”

“Why, my good father, that was not my fault; but I had no sooner quitted my nag than I run hither to tell you of my return, thinking, if it were your will to permit me, that I would get your advice about being Mistress Catharine’s Valentine for the year; and then I heard from Mrs. Dorothy that you were gone to hear mass at the Black Friars. So I thought I would follow thither, partly to hear the same mass with you, and partly — Our Lady and St. Valentine forgive me! — to look upon one who thinks little enough of me. And, as you entered the church, methought I saw two or three dangerous looking men holding counsel together, and gazing at you and at her, and in especial Sir John Ramorny, whom I knew well enough, for all his disguise, and the velvet patch over his eye, and his cloak so like a serving man’s; so methought, father Simon, that, as you were old, and yonder slip of a Highlander something too young to do battle, I would even walk quietly after you, not doubting, with the tools I had about me, to bring any one to reason that might disturb you in your way home. You know that yourself discovered me, and drew me into the house, whether I would or no; otherwise, I promise you, I would not have seen your daughter till I had donn’d the new jerkin which was made at Berwick after the latest cut; nor would I have appeared before her with these weapons, which she dislikes so much. Although, to say truth, so many are at deadly feud with me for one unhappy chance or another, that it is as needful for me as for any man in Scotland to go by night with weapons about me.”

“The silly wench never thinks of that,” said Simon Glover: “she never has sense to consider, that in our dear native land of Scotland every man deems it his privilege and duty to avenge his own wrong. But, Harry, my boy, thou art to blame for taking her talk so much to heart. I have seen thee bold enough with other wenches, wherefore so still and tongue tied with her?”

“Because she is something different from other maidens, father Glover — because she is not only more beautiful, but wiser, higher, holier, and seems to me as if she were made of better clay than we that approach her. I can hold my head high enough with the rest of the lasses round the maypole; but somehow, when I approach Catharine, I feel myself an earthly, coarse, ferocious creature, scarce worthy to look on her, much less to contradict the precepts which she expounds to me.”

“You are an imprudent merchant, Harry Smith,” replied Simon, “and rate too high the goods you wish to purchase. Catharine is a good girl, and my daughter; but if you make her a conceited ape by your bashfulness and your flattery, neither you nor I will see our wishes accomplished.”

“I often fear it, my good father,” said the smith; “for I feel how little I am deserving of Catharine.”

“Feel a thread’s end!” said the glover; “feel for me, friend Smith — for Catharine and me. Think how the poor thing is beset from morning to night, and by what sort of persons, even though windows be down and doors shut. We were accosted today by one too powerful to be named — ay, and he showed his displeasure openly, because I would not permit him to gallant my daughter in the church itself, when the priest was saying mass. There are others scarce less reasonable. I sometimes wish that Catharine were some degrees less fair, that she might not catch that dangerous sort of admiration, or somewhat less holy, that she might sit down like an honest woman, contented with stout Henry Smith, who could protect his wife against every sprig of chivalry in the court of Scotland.”

“And if I did not,” said Henry, thrusting out a hand and arm which might have belonged to a giant for bone and muscle, “I would I may never bring hammer upon anvil again! Ay, an it were come but that length, my fair Catharine should see that there is no harm in a man having the trick of defence. But I believe she thinks the whole world is one great minster church, and that all who live in it should behave as if they were at an eternal mass.”

“Nay, in truth,” said the father, “she has strange influence over those who approach her; the Highland lad, Conachar, with whom I have been troubled for these two or three years, although you may see he has the natural spirit of his people, obeys the least sign which Catharine makes him, and, indeed, will hardly be ruled by any one else in the house. She takes much pains with him to bring him from his rude Highland habits.”

Here Harry Smith became uneasy in his chair, lifted the flagon, set it down, and at length exclaimed: “The devil take the young Highland whelp and his whole kindred! What has Catharine to do to instruct such a fellow as he? He will be just like the wolf cub that I was fool enough to train to the offices of a dog, and every one thought him reclaimed, till, in an ill hour, I went to walk on the hill of Moncrieff, when he broke loose on the laird’s flock, and made a havoc that I might well have rued, had the laird not wanted a harness at the time. And I marvel that you, being a sensible man, father Glover, will keep this Highland young fellow — a likely one, I promise you — so nigh to Catharine, as if there were no other than your daughter to serve him for a schoolmistress.”

“Fie, my son — fie; now you are jealous,” said Simon, “of a poor young fellow who, to tell you the truth, resides here because he may not so well live on the other side of the hill.”

“Ay — ay, father Simon,” retorted the smith, who had all the narrow minded feelings of the burghers of his time, “an it were not for fear of offence, I would say that you have even too much packing and peiling with yonder loons out of burgh.”

“I must get my deer hides, buckskins, kidskins, and so forth somewhere, my good Harry, and Highlandmen give good bargains.”

“They can afford them,” replied Henry, drily, “for they sell nothing but stolen gear.”

“Well — well, be that as it may, it is not my business where they get the bestial, so I get the hides. But as I was saying, there are certain considerations why I am willing to oblige the father of this young man, by keeping him here. And he is but half a Highlander neither, and wants a thought of the dour spirit of a ‘glune amie’ after all, I have seldom seen him so fierce as he showed himself but now.”

“You could not, unless he had killed his man,” replied the smith, in the same dry tone.

“Nevertheless, if you wish it, Harry, I’ll set all other respects aside, and send the landlouper to seek other quarters tomorrow morning.”

“Nay, father,” said the smith, “you cannot suppose that Harry Gow cares the value of a smithy dander for such a cub as yonder cat-a-mountain? I care little, I promise you, though all his clan were coming down the Shoegate with slogan crying and pipes playing: I would find fifty blades and bucklers would send them back faster than they came. But, to speak truth, though it is a fool’s speech too, I care not to see the fellow so much with Catharine. Remember, father Glover, your trade keeps your eyes and hands close employed, and must have your heedful care, even if this lazy lurdane wrought at it, which you know yourself he seldom does.”

“And that is true,” said Simon: “he cuts all his gloves out for the right hand, and never could finish a pair in his life.”

“No doubt, his notions of skin cutting are rather different,” said Henry. “But with your leave, father, I would only say that, work he or be he idle, he has no bleared eyes, no hands seared with the hot iron, and welked by the use of the fore hammer, no hair rusted in the smoke, and singed in the furnace, like the hide of a badger, rather than what is fit to be covered with a Christian bonnet. Now, let Catharine be as good a wench as ever lived, and I will uphold her to be the best in Perth, yet she must see and know that these things make a difference betwixt man and man, and that the difference is not in my favour.”

“Here is to thee, with all my heart, son Harry,” said the old man, filling a brimmer to his companion and another to himself; “I see that, good smith as thou art, thou ken’st not the mettle that women are made of. Thou must be bold, Henry; and bear thyself not as if thou wert going to the gallows lee, but like a gay young fellow, who knows his own worth and will not be slighted by the best grandchild Eve ever had. Catharine is a woman like her mother, and thou thinkest foolishly to suppose they are all set on what pleases the eye. Their ear must be pleased too, man: they must know that he whom they favour is bold and buxom, and might have the love of twenty, though he is suing for theirs. Believe an old man, woman walk more by what others think than by what they think themselves, and when she asks for the boldest man in Perth whom can she hear named but Harry Burn-the-wind? The best armourer that ever fashioned weapon on anvil? Why, Harry Smith again. The tightest dancer at the maypole? Why, the lusty smith. The gayest troller of ballads? Why, who but Harry Gow? The best wrestler, sword and buckler player, the king of the weapon shawing, the breaker of mad horses, the tamer of wild Highlandmen? Evermore it is thee — thee — no one but thee. And shall Catharine prefer yonder slip of a Highland boy to thee? Pshaw! she might as well make a steel gauntlet out of kid’s leather. I tell thee, Conachar is nothing to her, but so far as she would fain prevent the devil having his due of him, as of other Highlandmen. God bless her, poor thing, she would bring all mankind to better thoughts if she could.”

“In which she will fail to a certainty,” said the smith, who, as the reader may have noticed, had no goodwill to the Highland race. “I will wager on Old Nick, of whom I should know something, he being indeed a worker in the same element with myself, against Catharine on that debate: the devil will have the tartan, that is sure enough.”

“Ay, but Catharine,” replied the glover, “hath a second thou knowest little of: Father Clement has taken the young reiver in hand, and he fears a hundred devils as little as I do a flock of geese.”

“Father Clement!” said the smith. “You are always making some new saint in this godly city of St. Johnston. Pray, who, for a devil’s drubber, may he be? One of your hermits that is trained for the work like a wrestler for the ring, and brings himself to trim by fasting and penance, is he not?”

“No, that is the marvel of it,” said Simon: “Father Clement eats, drinks, and lives much like other folks — all the rules of the church, nevertheless, strictly observed.”

“Oh, I comprehend! — a buxom priest that thinks more of good living than of good life, tipples a can on Fastern’s Eve, to enable him to face Lent, has a pleasant in principio, and confesses all the prettiest women about the town?”

“You are on the bow hand still, smith. I tell you, my daughter and I could nose out either a fasting hypocrite or a full one. But Father Clement is neither the one nor the other.”

“But what is he then, in Heaven’s name?”

“One who is either greatly better than half his brethren of St. Johnston put together, or so much worse than the worst of them, that it is sin and shame that he is suffered to abide in the country.”

“Methinks it were easy to tell whether he be the one or the other,” said the smith.

“Content you, my friend,” said Simon, “with knowing that, if you judge Father Clement by what you see him do and hear him say, you will think of him as the best and kindest man in the world, with a comfort for every man’s grief, a counsel for every man’s difficulty, the rich man’s surest guide, and the poor man’s best friend. But if you listen to what the Dominicans say of him, he is — Benedicite! —(here the glover crossed himself on brow and bosom)— a foul heretic, who ought by means of earthly flames to be sent to those which burn eternally.”

The smith also crossed himself, and exclaimed: “St. Mary! father Simon, and do you, who are so good and prudent that you have been called the Wise Glover of Perth, let your daughter attend the ministry of one who — the saints preserve us! — may be in league with the foul fiend himself! Why, was it not a priest who raised the devil in the Meal Vennel, when Hodge Jackson’s house was blown down in the great wind? Did not the devil appear in the midst of the Tay, dressed in a priest’s scapular, gambolling like a pellack amongst the waves, the morning when our stately bridge was swept away?”

“I cannot tell whether he did or no,” said the glover; “I only know I saw him not. As to Catharine, she cannot be said to use Father Clement’s ministry, seeing her confessor is old Father Francis the Dominican, from whom she had her shrift today. But women will sometimes be wilful, and sure enough she consults with Father Clement more than I could wish; and yet when I have spoken with him myself, I have thought him so good and holy a man that I could have trusted my own salvation with him. There are bad reports of him among the Dominicans, that is certain. But what have we laymen to do with such things, my son? Let us pay Mother Church her dues, give our alms, confess and do our penances duly, and the saints will bear us out.”

“Ay, truly; and they will have consideration,” said the smith, “for any rash and unhappy blow that a man may deal in a fight, when his party was on defence, and standing up to him; and that’s the only creed a man can live upon in Scotland, let your daughter think what she pleases. Marry, a man must know his fence, or have a short lease of his life, in any place where blows are going so rife. Five nobles to our altar have cleared me for the best man I ever had misfortune with.”

“Let us finish our flask, then,” said the old glover; “for I reckon the Dominican tower is tolling midnight. And hark thee, son Henry; be at the lattice window on our east gable by the very peep of dawn, and make me aware thou art come by whistling the smith’s call gently. I will contrive that Catharine shall look out at the window, and thus thou wilt have all the privileges of being a gallant Valentine through the rest of the year; which, if thou canst not use to thine own advantage, I shall be led to think that, for all thou be’st covered with the lion’s hide, nature has left on thee the long ears of the ass.”

“Amen, father,” said the armourer, “a hearty goodnight to you; and God’s blessing on your roof tree, and those whom it covers. You shall hear the smith’s call sound by cock crowing; I warrant I put sir chanticleer to shame.”

So saying, he took his leave; and, though completely undaunted, moved through the deserted streets like one upon his guard, to his own dwelling, which was situated in the Mill Wynd, at the western end of Perth.

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