The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 6

Never to man shall Catharine give her hand.

Taming of the Shrew.

The breakfast was served, and the thin soft cakes, made of flour and honey according to the family receipt, were not only commended with all the partiality of a father and a lover, but done liberal justice to in the mode which is best proof of cake as well as pudding. They talked, jested, and laughed. Catharine, too, had recovered her equanimity where the dames and damsels of the period were apt to lose theirs — in the kitchen, namely, and in the superintendence of household affairs, in which she was an adept. I question much if the perusal of Seneca for as long a period would have had equal effect in composing her mind.

Old Dorothy sat down at the board end, as was the homespun fashion of the period; and so much were the two men amused with their own conversation, and Catharine occupied either in attending to them or with her own reflections, that the old woman was the first who observed the absence of the boy Conachar.

“It is true,” said the master glover; “go call him, the idle Highland loon. He was not seen last night during the fray neither, at least I saw him not. Did any of you observe him?”

The reply was negative; and Henry’s observation followed:

“There are times when Highlanders can couch like their own deer — ay, and run from danger too as fast. I have seen them do so myself, for the matter of that.”

“And there are times,” replied Simon, “when King Arthur and his Round Table could not make stand against them. I wish, Henry, you would speak more reverently of the Highlanders. They are often in Perth, both alone and in numbers, and you ought to keep peace with them so long as they will keep peace with you.”

An answer of defiance rose to Henry’s lips, but he prudently suppressed it. “Why, thou knowest, father,” he said, smiling, “that we handicrafts best love the folks we live by; now, my craft provides for valiant and noble knights, gentle squires and pages, stout men at arms, and others that wear the weapons which we make. It is natural I should like the Ruthvens, the Lindsays, the Ogilvys, the Oliphants, and so many others of our brave and noble neighbours, who are sheathed in steel of my making, like so many paladins, better than those naked, snatching mountaineers, who are ever doing us wrong, especially since no five of each clan have a rusty shirt of mail as old as their brattach; and that is but the work of the clumsy clan smith after all, who is no member of our honourable mystery, but simply works at the anvil, where his father wrought before him. I say, such people can have no favour in the eyes of an honest craftsman.”

“Well — well,” answered Simon; “I prithee let the matter rest even now, for here comes the loitering boy, and, though it is a holyday morn, I want no more bloody puddings.”

The youth entered accordingly. His face was pale, his eyes red, and there was an air of discomposure about his whole person. He sat down at the lower end of the table, opposite to Dorothy, and crossed himself, as if preparing for his morning’s meal. As he did not help himself to any food, Catharine offered him a platter containing some of the cakes which had met with such general approbation. At first he rejected her offered kindness rather sullenly; but on her repeating the offer with a smile of goodwill, he took a cake in his hand, broke it, and was about to eat a morsel, when the effort to swallow seemed almost too much for him; and though he succeeded, he did not repeat it.

“You have a bad appetite for St. Valentine’s morning, Conachar,” said his good humoured master; “and yet I think you must have slept soundly the night before, since I conclude you were not disturbed by the noise of the scuffle. Why, I thought a lively glune amie would have been at his master’s side, dirk in hand, at the first sound of danger which arose within a mile of us.”

“I heard but an indistinct noise,” said the youth, his face glowing suddenly like a heated coal, “which I took for the shout of some merry revellers; and you are wont to bid me never open door or window, or alarm the house, on the score of such folly.”

“Well — well,” said Simon; “I thought a Highlander would have known better the difference betwixt the clash of swords and the twanging on harps, the wild war cry and the merry hunt’s up. But let it pass, boy; I am glad thou art losing thy quarrelsome fashions. Eat thy breakfast, any way, as I have that to employ thee which requires haste.”

“I have breakfasted already, and am in haste myself. I am for the hills. Have you any message to my father?”

“None,” replied the glover, in some surprise; “but art thou beside thyself, boy? or what a vengeance takes thee from the city, like the wing of the whirlwind?”

“My warning has been sudden,” said Conachar, speaking with difficulty; but whether arising from the hesitation incidental to the use of a foreign language, or whether from some other cause, could not easily be distinguished. “There is to be a meeting — a great hunting —” Here he stopped.

“And when are you to return from this blessed hunting?” said the master; “that is, if I may make so bold as to ask.”

“I cannot exactly answer,” replied the apprentice. “Perhaps never, if such be my father’s pleasure,” continued Conachar, with assumed indifference.

“I thought,” said Simon Glover, rather seriously, “that all this was to be laid aside, when at earnest intercession I took you under my roof. I thought that when I undertook, being very loth to do so, to teach you an honest trade, we were to hear no more of hunting, or hosting, or clan gatherings, or any matters of the kind?”

“I was not consulted when I was sent hither,” said the lad, haughtily. “I cannot tell what the terms were.”

“But I can tell you, sir Conachar,” said the glover, angrily, “that there is no fashion of honesty in binding yourself to an honest craftsman, and spoiling more hides than your own is worth; and now, when you are of age to be of some service, in taking up the disposal of your time at your pleasure, as if it were your own property, not your master’s.”

“Reckon with my father about that,” answered Conachar; “he will pay you gallantly — a French mutton for every hide I have spoiled, and a fat cow or bullock for each day I have been absent.”

“Close with him, friend Glover — close with him,” said the armourer, drily. “Thou wilt be paid gallantly at least, if not honestly. Methinks I would like to know how many purses have been emptied to fill the goat skin sporran that is to be so free to you of its gold, and whose pastures the bullocks have been calved in that are to be sent down to you from the Grampian passes.”

“You remind me, friend,” said the Highland youth, turning haughtily towards the smith, “that I have also a reckoning to hold with you.”

“Keep at arm’s length, then,” said Henry, extending his brawny arm: “I will have no more close hugs — no more bodkin work, like last night. I care little for a wasp’s sting, yet I will not allow the insect to come near me if I have warning.”

Conachar smiled contemptuously. “I meant thee no harm,” he said. “My father’s son did thee but too much honour to spill such churl’s blood. I will pay you for it by the drop, that it may be dried up, and no longer soil my fingers.”

“Peace, thou bragging ape!” said the smith: “the blood of a true man cannot be valued in gold. The only expiation would be that thou shouldst come a mile into the Low Country with two of the strongest galloglasses of thy clan; and while I dealt with them, I would leave thee to the correction of my apprentice, little Jankin.”

Here Catharine interposed. “Peace,” she said, “my trusty Valentine, whom I have a right to command; and peace you, Conachar, who ought to obey me as your master’s daughter. It is ill done to awaken again on the morrow the evil which has been laid to sleep at night.”

“Farewell, then, master,” said Conachar, after another look of scorn at the smith, which he only answered with a laugh —“farewell! and I thank you for your kindness, which has been more than I deserve. If I have at times seemed less than thankful, it was the fault of circumstances, and not of my will. Catharine —” He cast upon the maiden a look of strong emotion, in which various feelings were blended. He hesitated, as if to say something, and at length turned away with the single word “farewell.”

Five minutes afterwards, with Highland buskins on his feet and a small bundle in his hand, he passed through the north gate of Perth, and directed his course to the Highlands.

“There goes enough of beggary and of pride for a whole Highland clan,” said Henry. “He talks as familiarly of gold pieces as I would of silver pennies, and yet I will be sworn that the thumb of his mother’s worsted glove might hold the treasure of the whole clan.”

“Like enough,” said the glover, laughing at the idea; “his mother was a large boned woman, especially in the fingers and wrist.”

“And as for cattle,” continued Henry, “I reckon his father and brothers steal sheep by one at a time.”

“The less we say of them the better,” said the glover, becoming again grave. “Brothers he hath none; his father is a powerful man — hath long hands — reaches as far as he can, and hears farther than it is necessary to talk of him.”

“And yet he hath bound his only son apprentice to a glover in Perth?” said Henry. “Why, I should have thought the gentle craft, as it is called, of St. Crispin would have suited him best; and that, if the son of some great Mac or O was to become an artisan, it could only be in the craft where princes set him the example.”

This remark, though ironical, seemed to awaken our friend Simon’s sense of professional dignity, which was a prevailing feeling that marked the manners of the artisans of the time.

“You err, son Henry,” he replied, with much gravity: “the glovers’ are the more honourable craft of the two, in regard they provide for the accommodation of the hands, whereas the shoemakers and cordwainers do but work for the feet.”

“Both equally necessary members of the body corporate,” said Henry, whose father had been a cordwainer.

“It may be so, my son,” said the glover; “but not both alike honourable. Bethink you, that we employ the hands as pledges of friendship and good faith, and the feet have no such privilege. Brave men fight with their hands; cowards employ their feet in flight. A glove is borne aloft; a shoe is trampled in the mire. A man greets a friend with his open hand; he spurns a dog, or one whom he holds as mean as a dog, with his advanced foot. A glove on the point of a spear is a sign and pledge of faith all the wide world over, as a gauntlet flung down is a gage of knightly battle; while I know no other emblem belonging to an old shoe, except that some crones will fling them after a man by way of good luck, in which practice I avow myself to entertain no confidence.”

“Nay,” said the smith, amused with his friend’s eloquent pleading for the dignity of the art he practised, “I am not the man, I promise you, to disparage the glover’s mystery. Bethink you, I am myself a maker of gauntlets. But the dignity of your ancient craft removes not my wonder, that the father of this Conachar suffered his son to learn a trade of any kind from a Lowland craftsman, holding us, as they do, altogether beneath their magnificent degree, and a race of contemptible drudges, unworthy of any other fate than to be ill used and plundered, as often as these bare breeched dunnie wassals see safety and convenience for doing so.”

“Ay,” answered the glover, “but there were powerful reasons for — for —” he withheld something which seemed upon his lips, and went on: “for Conachar’s father acting as he did. Well, I have played fair with him, and I do not doubt but he will act honourably by me. But Conachar’s sudden leave taking has put me to some inconvenience. He had things under his charge. I must look through the booth.”

“Can I help you, father?” said Henry Gow, deceived by the earnestness of his manner.

“You! — no,” said Simon, with a dryness which made Henry so sensible of the simplicity of his proposal, that he blushed to the eyes at his own dulness of comprehension, in a matter where love ought to have induced him to take his cue easily up.

“You, Catharine,” said the glover, as he left the room, “entertain your Valentine for five minutes, and see he departs not till my return. Come hither with me, old Dorothy, and bestir thy limbs in my behalf.”

He left the room, followed by the old woman; and Henry Smith remained with Catharine, almost for the first time in his life, entirely alone. There was embarrassment on the maiden’s part, and awkwardness on that of the lover, for about a minute; when Henry, calling up his courage, pulled the gloves out of his pocket with which Simon had supplied him, and asked her to permit one who had been so highly graced that morning to pay the usual penalty for being asleep at the moment when he would have given the slumbers of a whole twelvemonth to be awake for a single minute.

“Nay, but,” said Catharine, “the fulfilment of my homage to St. Valentine infers no such penalty as you desire to pay, and I cannot therefore think of accepting them.”

“These gloves,” said Henry, advancing his seat insidiously towards Catharine as he spoke, “were wrought by the hands that are dearest to you; and see — they are shaped for your own.”

He extended them as he spoke, and taking her arm in his robust hand, spread the gloves beside it to show how well they fitted.

“Look at that taper arm,” he said, “look at these small fingers; think who sewed these seams of silk and gold, and think whether the glove and the arm which alone the glove can fit ought to remain separate, because the poor glove has had the misfortune to be for a passing minute in the keeping of a hand so swart and rough as mine.”

“They are welcome as coming from my father,” said Catharine; “and surely not less so as coming from my friend (and there was an emphasis on the word), as well as my Valentine and preserver.”

“Let me aid to do them on,” said the smith, bringing himself yet closer to her side; “they may seem a little over tight at first, and you may require some assistance.”

“You are skilful in such service, good Henry Gow,” said the maiden, smiling, but at the same time drawing farther from her lover.

“In good faith, no,” said Henry, shaking his head: “my experience has been in donning steel gauntlets on mailed knights, more than in fitting embroidered gloves upon maidens.”

“I will trouble you then no further, and Dorothy shall aid me, though there needs no assistance; my father’s eye and fingers are faithful to his craft: what work he puts through his hands is always true to the measure.”

“Let me be convinced of it,” said the smith —“let me see that these slender gloves actually match the hands they were made for.”

“Some other time, good Henry,” answered the maiden, “I will wear the gloves in honour of St. Valentine, and the mate he has sent me for the season. I would to Heaven I could pleasure my father as well in weightier matters; at present the perfume of the leather harms the headache I have had since morning.”

“Headache, dearest maiden!” echoed her lover.

“If you call it heartache, you will not misname it,” said Catharine, with a sigh, and proceeded to speak in a very serious tone.

“Henry,” she said, “I am going perhaps to be as bold as I gave you reason to think me this morning; for I am about to speak the first upon a subject on which, it may well be, I ought to wait till I had to answer you. But I cannot, after what has happened this morning, suffer my feelings towards you to remain unexplained, without the possibility of my being greatly misconceived. Nay, do not answer till you have heard me out. You are brave, Henry, beyond most men, honest and true as the steel you work upon —”

“Stop — stop, Catharine, for mercy’s sake! You never said so much that was good concerning me, save to introduce some bitter censure, of which your praises were the harbingers. I am honest, and so forth, you would say, but a hot brained brawler, and common sworder or stabber.”

“I should injure both myself and you in calling you such. No, Henry, to no common stabber, had he worn a plume in his bonnet and gold spurs on his heels, would Catharine Glover have offered the little grace she has this day voluntarily done to you. If I have at times dwelt severely upon the proneness of your spirit to anger, and of your hand to strife, it is because I would have you, if I could so persuade you, hate in yourself the sins of vanity and wrath by which you are most easily beset. I have spoken on the topic more to alarm your own conscience than to express my opinion. I know as well as my father that, in these forlorn and desperate days, the whole customs of our nation, nay, of every Christian nation, may be quoted in favour of bloody quarrels for trifling causes, of the taking deadly and deep revenge for slight offences, and the slaughter of each other for emulation of honour, or often in mere sport. But I knew that for all these things we shall one day be called into judgment; and fain would I convince thee, my brave and generous friend, to listen oftener to the dictates of thy good heart, and take less pride in the strength and dexterity of thy unsparing arm.”

“I am — I am convinced, Catharine” exclaimed Henry: “thy words shall henceforward be a law to me. I have done enough, far too much, indeed, for proof of my bodily strength and courage; but it is only from you, Catharine, that I can learn a better way of thinking. Remember, my fair Valentine, that my ambition of distinction in arms, and my love of strife, if it can be called such, do not fight even handed with my reason and my milder dispositions, but have their patrons and sticklers to egg them on. Is there a quarrel, and suppose that I, thinking on your counsels, am something loth to engage in it, believe you I am left to decide between peace or war at my own choosing? Not so, by St. Mary! there are a hundred round me to stir me on. ‘Why, how now, Smith, is thy mainspring rusted?’ says one. ‘Jolly Henry is deaf on the quarrelling ear this morning!’ says another. ‘Stand to it, for the honour of Perth,’ says my lord the Provost. ‘Harry against them for a gold noble,’ cries your father, perhaps. Now, what can a poor fellow do, Catharine, when all are hallooing him on in the devil’s name, and not a soul putting in a word on the other side?”

“Nay, I know the devil has factors enough to utter his wares,” said Catharine; “but it is our duty to despise such idle arguments, though they may be pleaded even by those to whom we owe much love and honour.”

“Then there are the minstrels, with their romaunts and ballads, which place all a man’s praise in receiving and repaying hard blows. It is sad to tell, Catharine, how many of my sins that Blind Harry the Minstrel hath to answer for. When I hit a downright blow, it is not — so save me — to do any man injury, but only to strike as William Wallace struck.”

The minstrel’s namesake spoke this in such a tone of rueful seriousness, that Catharine could scarce forbear smiling; but nevertheless she assured him that the danger of his own and other men’s lives ought not for a moment to be weighed against such simple toys.

“Ay, but,” replied Henry, emboldened by her smiles, “methinks now the good cause of peace would thrive all the better for an advocate. Suppose, for example, that, when I am pressed and urged to lay hand on my weapon, I could have cause to recollect that there was a gentle and guardian angel at home, whose image would seem to whisper, ‘Henry, do no violence; it is my hand which you crimson with blood. Henry, rush upon no idle danger; it is my breast which you expose to injury;’ such thoughts would do more to restrain my mood than if every monk in Perth should cry, ‘Hold thy hand, on pain of bell, book, and candle.’”

“If such a warning as could be given by the voice of sisterly affection can have weight in the debate,” said Catharine, “do think that, in striking, you empurple this hand, that in receiving wounds you harm this heart.”

The smith took courage at the sincerely affectionate tone in which these words were delivered.

“And wherefore not stretch your regard a degree beyond these cold limits? Why, since you are so kind and generous as to own some interest in the poor ignorant sinner before you, should you not at once adopt him as your scholar and your husband? Your father desires it, the town expects it, glovers and smiths are preparing their rejoicings, and you, only you, whose words are so fair and so kind, you will not give your consent.”

“Henry,” said Catharine, in a low and tremulous voice, “believe me I should hold it my duty to comply with my father’s commands, were there not obstacles invincible to the match which he proposes.”

“Yet think — think but for a moment. I have little to say for myself in comparison of you, who can both read and write. But then I wish to hear reading, and could listen to your sweet voice for ever. You love music, and I have been taught to play and sing as well as some minstrels. You love to be charitable, I have enough to give, and enough to keep, as large a daily alms as a deacon gives would never be missed by me. Your father gets old for daily toil; he would live with us, as I should truly hold him for my father also. I would be as chary of mixing in causeless strife as of thrusting my hand into my own furnace; and if there came on us unlawful violence, its wares would be brought to an ill chosen market.”

“May you experience all the domestic happiness which you can conceive, Henry, but with some one more happy than I am!”

So spoke, or rather so sobbed, the Fair Maiden of Perth, who seemed choking in the attempt to restrain her tears.

“You hate me, then?” said the lover, after a pause.

“Heaven is my witness, no.”

“Or you love some other better?”

“It is cruel to ask what it cannot avail you to know. But you are entirely mistaken.”

“Yon wildcat, Conachar, perhaps?” said Henry. “I have marked his looks —”

“You avail yourself of this painful situation to insult me, Henry, though I have little deserved it. Conachar is nothing to me, more than the trying to tame his wild spirit by instruction might lead me to take some interest in a mind abandoned to prejudices and passions, and therein, Henry, not unlike your own.”

“It must then be some of these flaunting silkworm sirs about the court,” said the armourer, his natural heat of temper kindling from disappointment and vexation —“some of those who think they carry it off through the height of their plumed bonnets and the jingle of their spurs. I would I knew which it was that, leaving his natural mates, the painted and perfumed dames of the court, comes to take his prey among the simple maidens of the burgher craft. I would I knew but his name and surname!”

“Henry Smith,” said Catharine, shaking off the weakness which seemed to threaten to overpower her a moment before, “this is the language of an ungrateful fool, or rather of a frantic madman. I have told you already, there was no one who stood, at the beginning of this conference, more high in my opinion than he who is now losing ground with every word he utters in the tone of unjust suspicion and senseless anger. You had no title to know even what I have told you, which, I pray you to observe, implies no preference to you over others, though it disowns any preference of another to you. It is enough you should be aware that there is as insuperable an objection to what you desire as if an enchanter had a spell over my destiny.”

“Spells may be broken by true men,” said, the smith. “I would it were come to that. Thorbiorn, the Danish armourer, spoke of a spell he had for making breastplates, by singing a certain song while the iron was heating. I told him that his runic rhymes were no proof against the weapons which fought at Loncarty — what farther came of it it is needless to tell, but the corselet and the wearer, and the leech who salved his wound, know if Henry Gow can break a spell or no.”

Catharine looked at him as if about to return an answer little approving of the exploit he had vaunted, which the downright smith had not recollected was of a kind that exposed him to her frequent censure. But ere she had given words to her thoughts, her father thrust his head in at the door.

“Henry,” he said, “I must interrupt your more pleasing affairs, and request you to come into my working room in all speed, to consult about certain matters deeply affecting the weal of the burgh.”

Henry, making his obeisance to Catharine, left the apartment upon her father’s summons. Indeed, it was probably in favour of their future friendly intercourse, that they were parted on this occasion at the turn which the conversation seemed likely to take. For, as the wooer had begun to hold the refusal of the damsel as somewhat capricious and inexplicable after the degree of encouragement which, in his opinion, she had afforded; Catharine, on the other hand, considered him rather as an encroacher upon the grace which she had shown him than one whose delicacy rendered him deserving of such favour. But there was living in their bosoms towards each other a reciprocal kindness, which, on the termination of the dispute, was sure to revive, inducing the maiden to forget her offended delicacy, and the lover his slighted warmth of passion.

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