The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 33

The hour is nigh: now hearts beat high;

Each sword is sharpen’d well;

And who dares die, who stoops to fly,

Tomorrow’s light shall tell.

Sir Edwald.

We are now to recall to our reader’s recollection, that Simon Glover and his fair daughter had been hurried from their residence without having time to announce to Henry Smith either their departure or the alarming cause of it. When, therefore, the lover appeared in Curfew Street, on the morning of their flight, instead of the hearty welcome of the honest burgher, and the April reception, half joy half censure, which he had been promised on the part of his lovely daughter, he received only the astounding intelligence, that her father and she had set off early, on the summons of a stranger, who had kept himself carefully muffled from observation. To this, Dorothy, whose talents for forestalling evil, and communicating her views of it, are known to the reader, chose to add, that she had no doubt her master and young mistress were bound for the Highlands, to avoid a visit which had been made since their departure by two or three apparitors, who, in the name of a Commission appointed by the King, had searched the house, put seals upon such places as were supposed to contain papers, and left citations for father and daughter to appear before the Court of Commission, on a day certain, under pain of outlawry. All these alarming particulars Dorothy took care to state in the gloomiest colours, and the only consolation which she afforded the alarmed lover was, that her master had charged her to tell him to reside quietly at Perth, and that he should soon hear news of them. This checked the smith’s first resolve, which was to follow them instantly to the Highlands, and partake the fate which they might encounter.

But when he recollected his repeated feuds with divers of the Clan Quhele, and particularly his personal quarrel with Conachar, who was now raised to be a high chief, he could not but think, on reflection, that his intrusion on their place of retirement was more likely to disturb the safety which they might otherwise enjoy there than be of any service to them. He was well acquainted with Simon’s habitual intimacy with the chief of the Clan Quhele, and justly augured that the glover would obtain protection, which his own arrival might be likely to disturb, while his personal prowess could little avail him in a quarrel with a whole tribe of vindictive mountaineers. At the same time his heart throbbed with indignation, when he thought of Catharine being within the absolute power of young Conachar, whose rivalry he could not doubt, and who had now so many means of urging his suit. What if the young chief should make the safety of the father depend on the favour of the daughter? He distrusted not Catharine’s affections, but then her mode of thinking was so disinterested, and her attachment to her father so tender, that, if the love she bore her suitor was weighed against his security, or perhaps his life, it was matter of deep and awful doubt whether it might not be found light in the balance. Tormented by thoughts on which we need not dwell, he resolved nevertheless to remain at home, stifle his anxiety as he might, and await the promised intelligence from the old man. It came, but it did not relieve his concern.

Sir Patrick Charteris had not forgotten his promise to communicate to the smith the plans of the fugitives. But, amid the bustle occasioned by the movement of troops, he could not himself convey the intelligence. He therefore entrusted to his agent, Kitt Henshaw, the task of making it known. But this worthy person, as the reader knows, was in the interest of Ramorny, whose business it was to conceal from every one, but especially from a lover so active and daring as Henry, the real place of Catharine’s residence. Henshaw therefore announced to the anxious smith that his friend the glover was secure in the Highlands; and though he affected to be more reserved on the subject of Catharine, he said little to contradict the belief that she as well as Simon shared the protection of the Clan Quhele. But he reiterated, in the name of Sir Patrick, assurances that father and daughter were both well, and that Henry would best consult his own interest and their safety by remaining quiet and waiting the course of events.

With an agonized heart, therefore, Henry Gow determined to remain quiet till he had more certain intelligence, and employed himself in finishing a shirt of mail, which he intended should be the best tempered and the most finely polished that his skilful hands had ever executed. This exercise of his craft pleased him better than any other occupation which he could have adopted, and served as an apology for secluding himself in his workshop, and shunning society, where the idle reports which were daily circulated served only to perplex and disturb him. He resolved to trust in the warm regard of Simon, the faith of his daughter, and the friendship of the provost, who, having so highly commended his valour in the combat with Bonthron, would never, he thought, desert him at this extremity of his fortunes. Time, however, passed on day by day; and it was not till Palm Sunday was near approaching, that Sir Patrick Charteris, having entered the city to make some arrangements for the ensuing combat, bethought himself of making a visit to the Smith of the Wynd.

He entered his workshop with an air of sympathy unusual to him, and which made Henry instantly augur that he brought bad news. The smith caught the alarm, and the uplifted hammer was arrested in its descent upon the heated iron, while the agitated arm that wielded it, strong before as that of a giant, became so powerless, that it was with difficulty Henry was able to place the weapon on the ground, instead of dropping it from his hand.

“My poor Henry,” said Sir Patrick, “I bring you but cold news; they are uncertain, however, and, if true, they are such as a brave man like you should not take too deeply to heart.”

“In God’s name, my lord,” said Henry, “I trust you bring no evil news of Simon Glover or his daughter?”

“Touching themselves,” said Sir Patrick, “no: they are safe and well. But as to thee, Henry, my tidings are more cold. Kitt Henshaw has, I think, apprised thee that I had endeavoured to provide Catharine Glover with a safe protection in the house of an honourable lady, the Duchess of Rothsay. But she hath declined the charge, and Catharine hath been sent to her father in the Highlands. What is worst is to come. Thou mayest have heard that Gilchrist MacIan is dead, and that his son Eachin, who was known in Perth as the apprentice of old Simon, by the name of Conachar, is now the chief of Clan Quhele; and I heard from one of my domestics that there is a strong rumour among the MacIans that the young chief seeks the hand of Catharine in marriage. My domestic learned this — as a secret, however — while in the Breadalbane country, on some arrangements touching the ensuing combat. The thing is uncertain but, Henry, it wears a face of likelihood.”

“Did your lordship’s servant see Simon Glover and his daughter?” said Henry, struggling for breath, and coughing, to conceal from the provost the excess of his agitation.

“He did not,” said Sir Patrick; “the Highlanders seemed jealous, and refused to permit him to speak to the old man, and he feared to alarm them by asking to see Catharine. Besides, he talks no Gaelic, nor had his informer much English, so there may be some mistake in the matter. Nevertheless, there is such a report, and I thought it best to tell it you. But you may be well assured that the wedding cannot go on till the affair of Palm Sunday be over; and I advise you to take no step till we learn the circumstances of the matter, for certainty is most desirable, even when it is painful. Go you to the council house,” he added, after a pause, “to speak about the preparations for the lists in the North Inch? You will be welcome there.”

“No, my good lord.”

“Well, Smith, I judge by your brief answer that you are discomposed with this matter; but, after all, women are weathercocks, that is the truth on’t. Solomon and others have proved it before you.”

And so Sir Patrick Charteris retired, fully convinced he had discharged the office of a comforter in the most satisfactory manner.

With very different impressions did the unfortunate lover regard the tidings and listen to the consoling commentary.

“The provost,” he said bitterly to himself, “is an excellent man; marry, he holds his knighthood so high, that, if he speaks nonsense, a poor man must hold it sense, as he must praise dead ale if it be handed to him in his lordship’s silver flagon. How would all this sound in another situation? Suppose I were rolling down the steep descent of the Corrichie Dhu, and before I came to the edge of the rock, comes my Lord Provost, and cries: ‘Henry, there is a deep precipice, and I grieve to say you are in the fair way of rolling over it. But be not downcast, for Heaven may send a stone or a bush to stop your progress. However, I thought it would be comfort to you to know the worst, which you will be presently aware of. I do not know how many hundred feet deep the precipice descends, but you may form a judgment when you are at the bottom, for certainty is certainty. And hark ye! when come you to take a game at bowls?’ And this gossip is to serve instead of any friendly attempt to save the poor wight’s neck! When I think of this, I could go mad, seize my hammer, and break and destroy all around me. But I will be calm; and if this Highland kite, who calls himself a falcon, should stoop at my turtle dove, he shall know whether a burgess of Perth can draw a bow or not.”

It was now the Thursday before the fated Palm Sunday, and the champions on either side were expected to arrive the next day, that they might have the interval of Saturday to rest, refresh themselves, and prepare for the combat. Two or three of each of the contending parties were detached to receive directions about the encampment of their little band, and such other instructions as might be necessary to the proper ordering of the field. Henry was not, therefore, surprised at seeing a tall and powerful Highlander peering anxiously about the wynd in which he lived, in the manner in which the natives of a wild country examine the curiosities of one that is more civilized. The smith’s heart rose against the man on account of his country, to which our Perth burgher bore a natural prejudice, and more especially as he observed the individual wear the plaid peculiar to the Clan Quhele. The sprig of oak leaves, worked in silk, intimated also that the individual was one of those personal guards of young Eachin, upon whose exertions in the future battle so much reliance was placed by those of their clan.

Having observed so much, Henry withdrew into his smithy, for the sight of the man raised his passion; and, knowing that the Highlander came plighted to a solemn combat, and could not be the subject of any inferior quarrel, he was resolved at least to avoid friendly intercourse with him. In a few minutes, however, the door of the smithy flew open, and flattering in his tartans, which greatly magnified his actual size, the Gael entered with the haughty step of a man conscious of a personal dignity superior to anything which he is likely to meet with. He stood looking around him, and seemed to expect to be received with courtesy and regarded with wonder. But Henry had no sort of inclination to indulge his vanity and kept hammering away at a breastplate which was lying upon his anvil as if he were not aware of his visitor’s presence.

“You are the Gow Chrom?” (the bandy legged smith), said the Highlander.

“Those that wish to be crook backed call me so,” answered Henry.

“No offence meant,” said the Highlander; “but her own self comes to buy an armour.”

“Her own self’s bare shanks may trot hence with her,” answered Henry; “I have none to sell.”

“If it was not within two days of Palm Sunday, herself would make you sing another song,” retorted the Gael.

“And being the day it is,” said Henry, with the same contemptuous indifference, “I pray you to stand out of my light.”

“You are an uncivil person; but her own self is fir nan ord too; and she knows the smith is fiery when the iron is hot.”

“If her nainsell be hammer man herself, her nainsell may make her nain harness,” replied Henry.

“And so her nainsell would, and never fash you for the matter; but it is said, Gow Chrom, that you sing and whistle tunes over the swords and harnishes that you work, that have power to make the blades cut steel links as if they were paper, and the plate and mail turn back steel lances as if they were boddle prins?”

“They tell your ignorance any nonsense that Christian men refuse to believe,” said Henry. “I whistle at my work whatever comes uppermost, like an honest craftsman, and commonly it is the Highlandman’s ‘Och hone for Houghman stares!’ My hammer goes naturally to that tune.”

“Friend, it is but idle to spur a horse when his legs are ham shackled,” said the Highlander, haughtily. “Her own self cannot fight even now, and there is little gallantry in taunting her thus.”

“By nails and hammer, you are right there,” said the smith, altering his tone. “But speak out at once, friend, what is it thou wouldst have of me? I am in no humour for dallying.”

“A hauberk for her chief, Eachin MacIan,” said the Highlander.

“You are a hammer man, you say? Are you a judge of this?” said our smith, producing from a chest the mail shirt on which he had been lately employed.

The Gael handled it with a degree of admiration which had something of envy in it. He looked curiously at every part of its texture, and at length declared it the very best piece of armour that he had ever seen.

“A hundred cows and bullocks and a good drift of sheep would be e’en ower cheap an offer,” said the Highlandman, by way of tentative; “but her nainsell will never bid thee less, come by them how she can.”

“It is a fair proffer,” replied Henry; “but gold nor gear will never buy that harness. I want to try my own sword on my own armour, and I will not give that mail coat to any one but who will face me for the best of three blows and a thrust in the fair field; and it is your chief’s upon these terms.”

“Hut, prut, man — take a drink and go to bed,” said the Highlander, in great scorn. “Are ye mad? Think ye the captain of the Clan Quhele will be brawling and battling with a bit Perth burgess body like you? Whisht, man, and hearken. Her nainsell will do ye mair credit than ever belonged to your kin. She will fight you for the fair harness hersell.”

“She must first show that she is my match,” said Henry, with a grim smile.

“How! I, one of Eachin MacIan’s leichtach, and not your match!”

“You may try me, if you will. You say you are a fir nan ord. Do you know how to cast a sledge hammer?”

“Ay, truly — ask the eagle if he can fly over Farragon.”

“But before you strive with me, you must first try a cast with one of my leichtach. Here, Dunter, stand forth for the honour of Perth! And now, Highlandman, there stands a row of hammers; choose which you will, and let us to the garden.”

The Highlander whose name was Norman nan Ord, or Norman of the Hammer, showed his title to the epithet by selecting the largest hammer of the set, at which Henry smiled. Dunter, the stout journeyman of the smith, made what was called a prodigious cast; but the Highlander, making a desperate effort, threw beyond it by two or three feet, and looked with an air of triumph to Henry, who again smiled in reply.

“Will you mend that?” said the Gael, offering our smith the hammer.

“Not with that child’s toy,” said Henry, “which has scarce weight to fly against the wind. Jannekin, fetch me Sampson; or one of you help the boy, for Sampson is somewhat ponderous.”

The hammer now produced was half as heavy again as that which the Highlander had selected as one of unusual weight. Norman stood astonished; but he was still more so when Henry, taking his position, swung the ponderous implement far behind his right haunch joint, and dismissed it from his hand as if it had flown from a warlike engine. The air groaned and whistled as the mass flew through it. Down at length it came, and the iron head sunk a foot into the earth, a full yard beyond the cast of Norman.

The Highlander, defeated and mortified, went to the spot where the weapon lay, lifted it, poised it in his hand with great wonder, and examined it closely, as if he expected to discover more in it than a common hammer. He at length returned it to the owner with a melancholy smile, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head as the smith asked him whether he would not mend his cast.

“Norman has lost too much at the sport already,” he replied. “She has lost her own name of the Hammerer. But does her own self, the Gow Chrom, work at the anvil with that horse’s load of iron?”

“You shall see, brother,” said Henry, leading the way to the smithy. “Dunter,” he said, “rax me that bar from the furnace”; and uplifting Sampson, as he called the monstrous hammer, he plied the metal with a hundred strokes from right to left — now with the right hand, now with the left, now with both, with so much strength at once and dexterity, that he worked off a small but beautifully proportioned horseshoe in half the time that an ordinary smith would have taken for the same purpose, using a more manageable implement.

“Oigh — oigh!” said the Highlander, “and what for would you be fighting with our young chief, who is far above your standard, though you were the best smith ever wrought with wind and fire?”

“Hark you!” said Henry; “you seem a good fellow, and I’ll tell you the truth. Your master has wronged me, and I give him this harness freely for the chance of fighting him myself.”

“Nay, if he hath wronged you he must meet you,” said the life guardsman. “To do a man wrong takes the eagle’s feather out of the chief’s bonnet; and were he the first in the Highlands, and to be sure so is Eachin, he must fight the man he has wronged, or else a rose falls from his chaplet.”

“Will you move him to this,” said Henry, “after the fight on Sunday?”

“Oh, her nainsell will do her best, if the hawks have not got her nainsell’s bones to pick; for you must know, brother, that Clan Chattan’s claws pierce rather deep.”

“The armour is your chief’s on that condition,” said Henry; “but I will disgrace him before king and court if he does not pay me the price.”

“Deil a fear — deil a fear; I will bring him in to the barrace myself,” said Norman, “assuredly.”

“You will do me a pleasure,” replied Henry; “and that you may remember your promise, I will bestow on you this dirk. Look — if you hold it truly, and can strike between the mail hood and the collar of your enemy, the surgeon will be needless.”

The Highlander was lavish in his expressions of gratitude, and took his leave.

“I have given him the best mail harness I ever wrought,” said the smith to himself, rather repenting his liberality, “for the poor chance that he will bring his chief into a fair field with me; and then let Catharine be his who can win her fairly. But much I dread the youth will find some evasion, unless he have such luck on Palm Sunday as may induce him to try another combat. That is some hope, however; for I have often, ere now, seen a raw young fellow shoot up after his first fight from a dwarf into a giant queller.”

Thus, with little hope, but with the most determined resolution, Henry Smith awaited the time that should decide his fate. What made him augur the worst was the silence both of the glover and of his daughter.

“They are ashamed,” he said, “to confess the truth to me, and therefore they are silent.”

Upon the Friday at noon, the two bands of thirty men each, representing the contending clans, arrived at the several points where they were to halt for refreshments.

The Clan Quhele was entertained hospitably at the rich abbey of Scone, while the provost regaled their rivals at his Castle of Kinfauns, the utmost care being taken to treat both parties with the most punctilious attention, and to afford neither an opportunity of complaining of partiality. All points of etiquette were, in the mean while, discussed and settled by the Lord High Constable Errol and the young Earl of Crawford, the former acting on the part of the Clan Chattan and the latter patronising the Clan Quhele. Messengers were passing continually from the one earl to the other, and they held more than: six meetings within thirty hours, before the ceremonial of the field could be exactly arranged.

Meanwhile, in case of revival of ancient quarrel, many seeds of which existed betwixt the burghers and their mountain neighbours, a proclamation commanded the citizens not to approach within half a mile of the place where the Highlanders were quartered; while on their part the intended combatants were prohibited from approaching Perth without special license. Troops were stationed to enforce this order, who did their charge so scrupulously as to prevent Simon Glover himself, burgess and citizen of Perth, from approaching the town, because he owned having come thither at the same time with the champions of Eachin MacIan, and wore a plaid around him of their check or pattern. This interruption prevented Simon from seeking out Henry Wynd and possessing him with a true knowledge of all that had happened since their separation, which intercourse, had it taken place, must have materially altered the catastrophe of our narrative.

On Saturday afternoon another arrival took place, which interested the city almost as much as the preparations for the expected combat. This was the approach of the Earl Douglas, who rode through the town with a troop of only thirty horse, but all of whom were knights and gentlemen of the first consequence. Men’s eyes followed this dreaded peer as they pursue the flight of an eagle through the clouds, unable to ken the course of the bird of Jove yet silent, attentive, and as earnest in observing him as if they could guess the object for which he sweeps through the firmament; He rode slowly through the city, and passed out at the northern gate. He next alighted at the Dominican convent and desired to see the Duke of Albany. The Earl was introduced instantly, and received by the Duke with a manner which was meant to be graceful and conciliatory, but which could not conceal both art and inquietude. When the first greetings were over, the Earl said with great gravity: “I bring you melancholy news. Your Grace’s royal nephew, the Duke of Rothsay, is no more, and I fear hath perished by some foul practices.”

“Practices!” said the Duke’ in confusion —“what practices? Who dared practise on the heir of the Scottish throne?”

“’Tis not for me to state how these doubts arise,” said Douglas; “but men say the eagle was killed with an arrow fledged from his own wing, and the oak trunk rent by a wedge of the same wood.”

“Earl of Douglas,” said the Duke of Albany, “I am no reader of riddles.”

“Nor am I a propounder of them,” said Douglas, haughtily, “Your Grace will find particulars in these papers worthy of perusal. I will go for half an hour to the cloister garden, and then rejoin you.”

“You go not to the King, my lord?” said Albany.

“No,” answered Douglas; “I trust your Grace will agree with me that we should conceal this great family misfortune from our sovereign till the business of tomorrow be decided.”

“I willingly agree,” said Albany. “If the King heard of this loss, he could not witness the combat; and if he appear not in person, these men are likely to refuse to fight, and the whole work is cast loose. But I pray you sit down, my lord, while I read these melancholy papers respecting poor Rothsay.”

He passed the papers through his hands, turning some over with a hasty glance, and dwelling on others as if their contents had been of the last importance. When he had spent nearly a quarter of an hour in this manner, he raised his eyes, and said very gravely: “My lord, in these most melancholy documents, it is yet a comfort to see nothing which can renew the divisions in the King’s councils, which were settled by the last solemn agreement between your lordship and myself. My unhappy nephew was by that agreement to be set aside, until time should send him a graver judgment. He is now removed by Fate, and our purpose in that matter is anticipated and rendered unnecessary.”

“If your Grace,” replied the Earl, “sees nothing to disturb the good understanding which the tranquillity and safety of Scotland require should exist between us, I am not so ill a friend of my country as to look closely for such.”

“I understand you, my Lord of Douglas,” said Albany, eagerly. “You hastily judged that I should be offended with your lordship for exercising your powers of lieutenancy, and punishing the detestable murderers within my territory of Falkland. Credit me, on the contrary, I am obliged to your lordship for taking out of my hands the punishment of these wretches, as it would have broken my heart even to have looked on them. The Scottish Parliament will inquire, doubtless, into this sacrilegious deed; and happy am I that the avenging sword has been in the hand of a man so important as your lordship. Our communication together, as your lordship must well recollect, bore only concerning a proposed restraint of my unfortunate nephew until the advance of a year or two had taught him discretion?”

“Such was certainly your Grace’s purpose, as expressed to me,” said the Earl; “I can safely avouch it.”

“Why, then, noble earl, we cannot be censured because villains, for their own revengeful ends, appear to have engrafted a bloody termination on our honest purpose?”

“The Parliament will judge it after their wisdom,” said Douglas. “For my part, my conscience acquits me.”

“And mine assoilzies me,” said the Duke with solemnity. “Now, my lord, touching the custody of the boy James, who succeeds to his father’s claims of inheritance?”

“The King must decide it,” said Douglas, impatient of the conference. “I will consent to his residence anywhere save at Stirling, Doune, or Falkland.”

With that he left the apartment abruptly.

“He is gone,” muttered the crafty Albany, “and he must be my ally, yet feels himself disposed to be my mortal foe. No matter, Rothsay sleeps with his fathers, James may follow in time, and then — a crown is the recompense of my perplexities.”

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