The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott

Chapter 7

This quarrel may draw blood another day.

Henry IV. Part I.

The conclave of citizens appointed to meet for investigating the affray of the preceding evening had now assembled. The workroom of Simon Glover was filled to crowding by personages of no little consequence, some of whom wore black velvet cloaks, and gold chains around their necks. They were, indeed, the fathers of the city; and there were bailies and deacons in the honoured number. There was an ireful and offended air of importance upon every brow as they conversed together, rather in whisper than aloud or in detail. Busiest among the busy, the little important assistant of the previous night, Oliver Proudfute by name, and bonnet maker by profession, was bustling among the crowd, much after the manner of the seagull, which flutters, screams, and sputters most at the commencement of a gale of wind, though one can hardly conceive what the bird has better to do than to fly to its nest and remain quiet till the gale is over.

Be that as it may, Master Proudfute was in the midst of the crowd, his fingers upon every one’s button and his mouth in every man’s ear, embracing such as were near to his own stature, that he might more closely and mysteriously utter his sentiments; and standing on tiptoe, and supporting himself by the cloak collars of tall men, that he might dole out to them also the same share of information. He felt himself one of the heroes of the affair, being conscious of the dignity of superior information on the subject as an eyewitness, and much disposed to push his connexion with the scuffle a few points beyond the modesty of truth. It cannot be said that his communications were in especial curious and important, consisting chiefly of such assertions as these:

“It is all true, by St. John! I was there and saw it myself — was the first to run to the fray; and if it had not been for me and another stout fellow, who came in about the same time, they had broken into Simon Glover’s house, cut his throat, and carried his daughter off to the mountains. It is too evil usage — not to be suffered, neighbour Crookshank; not to be endured, neighbour Glass; not to be borne, neighbours Balneaves, Rollock, and Chrysteson. It was a mercy that I and that stout fellow came in, was it not, neighbour and worthy Bailie Craigdallie?”

These speeches were dispersed by the busy bonnet maker into sundry ears. Bailie Craigdallie, a portly guild brother, the same who had advised the prorogation of their civic council to the present place and hour, a big, burly, good looking man, shook the deacon from his cloak with pretty much the grace with which a large horse shrugs off the importunate fly that has beset him for ten minutes, and exclaimed, “Silence, good citizens; here comes Simon Glover, in whom no man ever saw falsehood. We will hear the outrage from his own mouth.”

Simon being called upon to tell his tale, did so with obvious embarrassment, which he imputed to a reluctance that the burgh should be put in deadly feud with any one upon his account. It was, he dared to say, a masking or revel on the part of the young gallants about court; and the worst that might come of it would be, that he would put iron stanchions on his daughter’s window, in case of such another frolic.

“Why, then, if this was a mere masking or mummery,” said Craigdallie, “our townsman, Harry of the Wind, did far wrong to cut off a gentleman’s hand for such a harmless pleasantry, and the town may be brought to a heavy fine for it, unless we secure the person of the mutilator.”

“Our Lady forbid!” said the glover. “Did you know what I do, you would be as much afraid of handling this matter as if it were glowing iron. But, since you will needs put your fingers in the fire, truth must be spoken. And come what will, I must say, that the matter might have ended ill for me and mine, but for the opportune assistance of Henry Gow, the armourer, well known to you all.”

“And mine also was not awanting,” said Oliver Proudfute, “though I do not profess to be utterly so good a swordsman as our neighbour Henry Gow. You saw me, neighbour Glover, at the beginning of the fray?”

“I saw you after the end of it, neighbour,” answered the glover, drily.

“True — true; I had forgot you were in your house while the blows were going, and could not survey who were dealing them.”

“Peace, neighbour Proudfute — I prithee, peace,” said Craigdallie, who was obviously tired of the tuneless screeching of the worthy deacon.

“There is something mysterious here,” said the bailie; “but I think I spy the secret. Our friend Simon is, as you all know, a peaceful man, and one that will rather sit down with wrong than put a friend, or say a neighbourhood, in danger to seek his redress. Thou, Henry, who art never wanting where the burgh needs a defender, tell us what thou knowest of this matter.”

Our smith told his story to the same purpose which we have already related; and the meddling maker of bonnets added as before, “And thou sawest me there, honest smith, didst thou not?”

“Not I, in good faith, neighbour,” answered Henry; “but you are a little man, you know, and I might overlook you.”

This reply produced a laugh at Oliver’s expense, who laughed for company, but added doggedly, “I was one of the foremost to the rescue for all that.”

“Why, where wert thou, then, neighbour?” said the smith; “for I saw you not, and I would have given the worth of the best suit of armour I ever wrought to have seen as stout a fellow as thou at my elbow.”

“I was no farther off, however, honest smith; and whilst thou wert laying on blows as if on an anvil, I was parrying those that the rest of the villains aimed at thee behind thy back; and that is the cause thou sawest me not.”

“I have heard of smiths of old time who had but one eye,” said Henry; “I have two, but they are both set in my forehead, and so I could not see behind my back, neighbour.”

“The truth is, however,” persevered Master Oliver, “there I was, and I will give Master Bailie my account of the matter; for the smith and I were first up to the fray.”

“Enough at present,” said the bailie, waving to Master Proudfute an injunction of silence. “The precognition of Simon Glover and Henry Gow would bear out a matter less worthy of belief. And now, my masters, your opinion what should be done. Here are all our burgher rights broken through and insulted, and you may well fancy that it is by some man of power, since no less dared have attempted such an outrage. My masters, it is hard on flesh and blood to submit to this. The laws have framed us of lower rank than the princes and nobles, yet it is against reason to suppose that we will suffer our houses to be broken into, and the honour of our women insulted, without some redress.”

“It is not to be endured!” answered the citizens, unanimously.

Here Simon Glover interfered with a very anxious and ominous countenance. “I hope still that all was not meant so ill as it seemed to us, my worthy neighbours; and I for one would cheerfully forgive the alarm and disturbance to my poor house, providing the Fair City were not brought into jeopardy for me. I beseech you to consider who are to be our judges that are to hear the case, and give or refuse redress. I speak among neighbours and friends, and therefore I speak openly. The King, God bless him! is so broken in mind and body, that he will but turn us over to some great man amongst his counsellors who shall be in favour for the time. Perchance he will refer us to his brother the Duke of Albany, who will make our petition for righting of our wrongs the pretence for squeezing money out of us.”

“We will none of Albany for our judge!” answered the meeting with the same unanimity as before.

“Or perhaps,” added Simon, “he will bid the Duke of Rothsay take charge of it; and the wild young prince will regard the outrage as something for his gay companions to scoff at, and his minstrels to turn into song.”

“Away with Rothsay! he is too gay to be our judge,” again exclaimed the citizens.

Simon, emboldened by seeing he was reaching the point he aimed at, yet pronouncing the dreaded name with a half whisper, next added, “Would you like the Black Douglas better to deal with?”

There was no answer for a minute. They looked on each other with fallen countenances and blanched lips.

But Henry Smith spoke out boldly, and in a decided voice, the sentiments which all felt, but none else dared give words to: “The Black Douglas to judge betwixt a burgher and a gentleman, nay, a nobleman, for all I know or care! The black devil of hell sooner! You are mad, father Simon, so much as to name so wild a proposal.”

There was again a silence of fear and uncertainty, which was at length broken by Bailie Craigdallie, who, looking very significantly to the speaker, replied, “You are confident in a stout doublet, neighbour Smith, or you would not talk so boldly.”

“I am confident of a good heart under my doublet, such as it is, bailie,” answered the undaunted Henry; “and though I speak but little, my mouth shall never be padlocked by any noble of them all.”

“Wear a thick doublet, good Henry, or do not speak so loud,” reiterated the bailie in the same significant tone. “There are Border men in the town who wear the bloody heart on their shoulder. But all this is no rede. What shall we do?”

“Short rede, good rede,” said the smith. “Let us to our provost, and demand his countenance and assistance.”

A murmur of applause went through the party, and Oliver Proudfute exclaimed, “That is what I have been saying for this half hour, and not one of ye would listen to me. ‘Let us go to our provost,’ said I. ‘He is a gentleman himself, and ought to come between the burgh and the nobles in all matters.”

“Hush, neighbours — hush; be wary what you say or do,” said a thin meagre figure of a man, whose diminutive person seemed still more reduced in size, and more assimilated to a shadow, by his efforts to assume an extreme degree of humility, and make himself, to suit his argument, look meaner yet, and yet more insignificant, than nature had made him.

“Pardon me,” said he; “I am but a poor pottingar. Nevertheless, I have been bred in Paris, and learned my humanities and my cursus medendi as well as some that call themselves learned leeches. Methinks I can tent this wound, and treat it with emollients. Here is our friend Simon Glover, who is, as you all know, a man of worship. Think you he would not be the most willing of us all to pursue harsh courses here, since his family honour is so nearly concerned? And since he blenches away from the charge against these same revellers, consider if he may not have some good reason more than he cares to utter for letting the matter sleep. It is not for me to put my finger on the sore; but, alack! we all know that young maidens are what I call fugitive essences. Suppose now, an honest maiden — I mean in all innocence — leaves her window unlatched on St. Valentine’s morn, that some gallant cavalier may — in all honesty, I mean — become her Valentine for the season, and suppose the gallant be discovered, may she not scream out as if the visit were unexpected, and — and — bray all this in a mortar, and then consider, will it be a matter to place the town in feud for?”

The pottingar delivered his opinion in a most insinuating manner; but he seemed to shrink into something less than his natural tenuity when he saw the blood rise in the old cheek of Simon Glover, and inflame to the temples the complexion of the redoubted smith.

The last, stepping forward, and turning a stern look on the alarmed pottingar, broke out as follows: “Thou walking skeleton! thou asthmatic gallipot! thou poisoner by profession! if I thought that the puff of vile breath thou hast left could blight for the tenth part of a minute the fair fame of Catharine Glover, I would pound thee, quacksalver! in thine own mortar, and beat up thy wretched carrion with flower of brimstone, the only real medicine in thy booth, to make a salve to rub mangy hounds with!”

“Hold, son Henry — hold!” cried the glover, in a tone of authority, “no man has title to speak of this matter but me. Worshipful Bailie Craigdallie, since such is the construction that is put upon my patience, I am willing to pursue this riot to the uttermost; and though the issue may prove that we had better have been patient, you will all see that my Catharine hath not by any lightness or folly of hers afforded grounds for this great scandal.”

The bailie also interposed. “Neighbour Henry,” said he, “we came here to consult, and not to quarrel. As one of the fathers of the Fair City, I command thee to forego all evil will and maltalent you may have against Master Pottingar Dwining.”

“He is too poor a creature, bailie,” said Henry Gow, “for me to harbour feud with — I that could destroy him and his booth with one blow of my forehammer.”

“Peace, then, and hear me,” said the official. “We all are as much believers in the honour of the Fair Maiden of Perth as in that of our Blessed Lady.” Here he crossed himself devoutly. “But touching our appeal to our provost, are you agreed, neighbours, to put matter like this into our provost’s hand, being against a powerful noble, as is to be feared?”

“The provost being himself a nobleman,” squeaked the pottingar, in some measure released from his terror by the intervention of the bailie. “God knows, I speak not to the disparagement of an honourable gentleman, whose forebears have held the office he now holds for many years —”

“By free choice of the citizens of Perth,” said the smith, interrupting the speaker with the tones of his deep and decisive voice.

“Ay, surely,” said the disconcerted orator, “by the voice of the citizens. How else? I pray you, friend Smith, interrupt me not. I speak to our worthy and eldest bailie, Craigdallie, according to my poor mind. I say that, come amongst us how he will, still this Sir Patrick Charteris is a nobleman, and hawks will not pick hawks’ eyes out. He may well bear us out in a feud with the Highlandmen, and do the part of our provost and leader against them; but whether he that himself wears silk will take our part against broidered cloak and cloth of gold, though he may do so against tartan and Irish frieze, is something to be questioned. Take a fool’s advice. We have saved our Maiden, of whom I never meant to speak harm, as truly I knew none. They have lost one man’s hand, at least, thanks to Harry Smith —”

“And to me,” added the little important bonnet maker.

“And to Oliver Proudfute, as he tells us,” continued the pottingar, who contested no man’s claim to glory provided he was not himself compelled to tread the perilous paths which lead to it. “I say, neighbours, since they have left a hand as a pledge they will never come in Couvrefew Street again, why, in my simple mind, we were best to thank our stout townsman, and the town having the honour and these rakehells the loss, that we should hush the matter up and say no more about it.”

These pacific counsels had their effect with some of the citizens, who began to nod and look exceedingly wise upon the advocate of acquiescence, with whom, notwithstanding the offence so lately given, Simon Glover seemed also to agree in opinion. But not so Henry Smith, who, seeing the consultation at a stand, took up the speech in his usual downright manner.

“I am neither the oldest nor the richest among you, neighbours, and I am not sorry for it. Years will come, if one lives to see them; and I can win and spend my penny like another, by the blaze of the furnace and the wind of the bellows. But no man ever saw me sit down with wrong done in word or deed to our fair town, if man’s tongue and man’s hand could right it. Neither will I sit down with this outrage, if I can help it. I will go to the provost myself, if no one will go with me; he is a knight, it is true, and a gentleman of free and true born blood, as we all know, since Wallace’s time, who settled his great grandsire amongst us. But if he were the proudest nobleman in the land, he is the Provost of Perth, and for his own honour must see the freedoms and immunities of the burgh preserved — ay, and I know he will. I have made a steel doublet for him, and have a good guess at the kind of heart that it was meant to cover.”

“Surely,” said Bailie Craigdallie, “it would be to no purpose to stir at court without Sir Patrick Charteris’s countenance: the ready answer would be, ‘Go to your provost, you borrel loons.’ So, neighbours and townsmen, if you will stand by my side, I and our pottingar Dwining will repair presently to Kinfauns, with Sim Glover, the jolly smith, and gallant Oliver Proudfute, for witnesses to the onslaught, and speak with Sir Patrick Charteris, in name of the fair town.”

“Nay,” said the peaceful man of medicine, “leave me behind, I pray you: I lack audacity to speak before a belted knight.”

“Never regard that, neighbour, you must go,” said Bailie Craigdallie. “The town hold me a hot headed carle for a man of threescore; Sim Glover is the offended party; we all know that Harry Gow spoils more harness with his sword than he makes with his hammer and our neighbour Proudfute, who, take his own word, is at the beginning and end of every fray in Perth, is of course a man of action. We must have at least one advocate amongst us for peace and quietness; and thou, pottingar, must be the man. Away with you, sirs, get your boots and your beasts — horse and hattock, I say, and let us meet at the East Port; that is, if it is your pleasure, neighbours, to trust us with the matter.”

“There can be no better rede, and we will all avouch it,” said the citizens. “If the provost take our part, as the Fair Town hath a right to expect, we may bell the cat with the best of them.”

“It is well, then, neighbours,” answered the bailie; “so said, so shall be done. Meanwhile, I have called the whole town council together about this hour, and I have little doubt,” looking around the company, “that, as so many of them who are in this place have resolved to consult with our provost, the rest will be compliant to the same resolution. And, therefore, neighbours, and good burghers of the Fair City of Perth, horse and hattock, as I said before, and meet me at the East Port.”

A general acclamation concluded the sitting of this species of privy council, or Lords of the Articles; and they dispersed, the deputation to prepare for the journey, and the rest to tell their impatient wives and daughters of the measures they had taken to render their chambers safe in future against the intrusion of gallants at unseasonable hours.

While nags are saddling, and the town council debating, or rather putting in form what the leading members of their body had already adopted, it may be necessary, for the information of some readers, to state in distinct terms what is more circuitously intimated in the course of the former discussion.

It was the custom at this period, when the strength of the feudal aristocracy controlled the rights, and frequently insulted the privileges, of the royal burghs of Scotland, that the latter, where it was practicable, often chose their provost, or chief magistrate, not out of the order of the merchants, shopkeepers, and citizens, who inhabited the town itself, and filled up the roll of the ordinary magistracy, but elected to that preeminent state some powerful nobleman, or baron, in the neighbourhood of the burgh, who was expected to stand their friend at court in such matters as concerned their common weal, and to lead their civil militia to fight, whether in general battle or in private feud, reinforcing them with his own feudal retainers. This protection was not always gratuitous. The provosts sometimes availed themselves of their situation to an unjustifiable degree, and obtained grants of lands and tenements belonging to the common good, or public property of the burgh, and thus made the citizens pay dear for the countenance which they afforded. Others were satisfied to receive the powerful aid of the townsmen in their own feudal quarrels, with such other marks of respect and benevolence as the burgh over which they presided were willing to gratify them with, in order to secure their active services in case of necessity. The baron, who was the regular protector of a royal burgh, accepted such freewill offerings without scruple, and repaid them by defending the rights of the town by arguments in the council and by bold deeds in the field.

The citizens of the town, or, as they loved better to call it, the Fair City, of Perth, had for several generations found a protector and provost of this kind in the knightly family of Charteris, Lords of Kinfauns, in the neighbourhood of the burgh. It was scarce a century (in the time of Robert III) since the first of this distinguished family had settled in the strong castle which now belonged to them, with the picturesque and fertile scenes adjoining to it. But the history of the first settler, chivalrous and romantic in itself, was calculated to facilitate the settlement of an alien in the land in which his lot was cast. We relate it as it is given by an ancient and uniform tradition, which carries in it great indications of truth, and is warrant enough, perhaps, for it insertion in graver histories than the present.

During the brief career of the celebrated patriot Sir William Wallace, and when his arms had for a time expelled the English invaders from his native country, he is said to have undertaken a voyage to France, with a small band of trusty friends, to try what his presence (for he was respected through all countries for his prowess) might do to induce the French monarch to send to Scotland a body of auxiliary forces, or other assistance, to aid the Scots in regaining their independence.

The Scottish Champion was on board a small vessel, and steering for the port of Dieppe, when a sail appeared in the distance, which the mariners regarded, first with doubt and apprehension, and at last with confusion and dismay. Wallace demanded to know what was the cause of their alarm. The captain of the ship informed him that the tall vessel which was bearing down, with the purpose of boarding that which he commanded, was the ship of a celebrated rover, equally famed for his courage, strength of body, and successful piracies. It was commanded by a gentleman named Thomas de Longueville, a Frenchman by birth, but by practice one of those pirates who called themselves friends to the sea and enemies to all who sailed upon that element. He attacked and plundered vessels of all nations, like one of the ancient Norse sea kings, as they were termed, whose dominion was upon the mountain waves. The master added that no vessel could escape the rover by flight, so speedy was the bark he commanded; and that no crew, however hardy, could hope to resist him, when, as was his usual mode of combat, he threw himself on board at the head of his followers.

Wallace smiled sternly, while the master of the ship, with alarm in his countenance and tears in his eyes, described to him the certainty of their being captured by the Red Rover, a name given to De Longueville, because he usually displayed the blood red flag, which he had now hoisted.

“I will clear the narrow seas of this rover,” said Wallace.

Then calling together some ten or twelve of his own followers, Boyd, Kerlie, Seton, and others, to whom the dust of the most desperate battle was like the breath of life, he commanded them to arm themselves, and lie flat upon the deck, so as to be out of sight. He ordered the mariners below, excepting such as were absolutely necessary to manage the vessel; and he gave the master instructions, upon pain of death, so to steer as that, while the vessel had an appearance of attempting to fly, he should in fact permit the Red Rover to come up with them and do his worst. Wallace himself then lay down on the deck, that nothing might be seen which could intimate any purpose of resistance. In a quarter of an hour De Longueville’s vessel ran on board that of the Champion, and the Red Rover, casting out grappling irons to make sure of his prize, jumped on the deck in complete armour, followed by his men, who gave a terrible shout, as if victory had been already secured. But the armed Scots started up at once, and the rover found himself unexpectedly engaged with men accustomed to consider victory as secure when they were only opposed as one to two or three. Wallace himself rushed on the pirate captain, and a dreadful strife began betwixt them with such fury that the others suspended their own battle to look on, and seemed by common consent to refer the issue of the strife to the fate of the combat between the two chiefs. The pirate fought as well as man could do; but Wallace’s strength was beyond that of ordinary mortals. He dashed the sword from the rover’s hand, and placed him in such peril that, to avoid being cut down, he was fain to close with the Scottish Champion in hopes of overpowering him in the grapple. In this also he was foiled. They fell on the deck, locked in each other’s arms, but the Frenchman fell undermost; and Wallace, fixing his grasp upon his gorget, compressed it so closely, notwithstanding it was made of the finest steel, that the blood gushed from his eyes, nose, and month, and he was only able to ask for quarter by signs. His men threw down their weapons and begged for mercy when they saw their leader thus severely handled. The victor granted them all their lives, but took possession of their vessel, and detained them prisoners.

When he came in sight of the French harbour, Wallace alarmed the place by displaying the rover’s colours, as if De Longueville was coming to pillage the town. The bells were rung backward, horns were blown, and the citizens were hurrying to arms, when the scene changed. The Scottish Lion on his shield of gold was raised above the piratical flag, and announced that the Champion of Scotland was approaching, like a falcon with his prey in his clutch. He landed with his prisoner, and carried him to the court of France, where, at Wallace’s request, the robberies which the pirate had committed were forgiven, and the king even conferred the honour of knighthood on Sir Thomas de Longueville, and offered to take him into his service. But the rover had contracted such a friendship for his generous victor, that he insisted on uniting his fortunes with those of Wallace, with whom he returned to Scotland, and fought by his side in many a bloody battle, where the prowess of Sir Thomas de Longueville was remarked as inferior to that of none, save of his heroic conqueror. His fate also was more fortunate than that of his patron. Being distinguished by the beauty as well as strength of his person, he rendered himself so acceptable to a young lady, heiress of the ancient family of Charteris, that she chose him for her husband, bestowing on him with her hand the fair baronial Castle of Kinfauns, and the domains annexed to it. Their descendants took the name of Charteris, as connecting themselves with their maternal ancestors, the ancient proprietors of the property, though the name of Thomas de Longueville was equally honoured amongst them; and the large two handed sword with which he mowed the ranks of war was, and is still, preserved among the family muniments. Another account is, that the family name of De Longueville himself was Charteris. The estate afterwards passed to a family of Blairs, and is now the property of Lord Gray.

These barons of Kinfauns, from father to son, held, for several generations, the office of Provost of Perth, the vicinity of the castle and town rendering it a very convenient arrangement for mutual support. The Sir Patrick of this history had more than once led out the men of Perth to battles and skirmishes with the restless Highland depredators, and with other enemies, foreign and domestic. True it is, he used sometimes to be weary of the slight and frivolous complaints unnecessarily brought before him, and in which he was requested to interest himself. Hence he had sometimes incurred the charge of being too proud as a nobleman, or too indolent as a man of wealth, and one who was too much addicted to the pleasures of the field and the exercise of feudal hospitality, to bestir himself upon all and every occasion when the Fair Town would have desired his active interference. But, notwithstanding that this occasioned some slight murmuring, the citizens, upon any serious cause of alarm, were wont to rally around their provost, and were warmly supported by him both in council and action.

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