THERE is a long, low, flat-topped, and prettily wooded eminence, that rises out of the middle of the bonny haughs of Kilmaichly, at some distance below the junction of the rivers Aven and Livat. I don’t remember that it has any particular name, but it looks, for all the world, like the fragment of some ancient plain, that must have been of much higher level than that from which it now rises, which fragment had been left, after the ground on each side of it had been worn down to its present level, by the changeful operations of the neighbouring streams. But whatever you geology gentlemen might say, as to what its origin might have been, every lover of nature must agree that it is a very beautiful little hill, covered as its slopes are with graceful weeping birches, and other trees. The bushes that still remain show that, in earlier times, it must have been thickly wooded with great oaks, which probably gave shelter to the ould auncient Druids, when engaged in their superstitious mysteries. At the period to which the greater part of my story belongs – that is, in and about that of the reign of King James III. – the blue smoke that curled up from among the trees betrayed the existence of a cottage, that sat perched upon the brow of its western extremity, looking towards the Castle of Drummin. This little dwelling was much better built, and, in every respect, much neater than any of those in the surrounding district; and its interior exhibited more comforts as to furniture and plenishing of all sorts, and those too of a description superior to anything of the kind which a mere cottager might have been reasonably expected to have possessed.
The inhabitants of this snug little dwelling were a very beautiful woman, of some four or five and twenty years of age, named Alice Asher, and her son, a handsome noble-looking boy, who, from certain circumstances affecting his birth, bore the name of Charles Stewart.
There was a well-doing and brave retainer of the house of Clan-Allan, called MacDermot, who had lived a little way up in Glen Livat, and who, for several years, had done good service to the Sir Walter Stewart, who was then chieftain of the Clan, as son and heir of that Sir Patrick whom my last Legend left so happily married to the Lady Catherine Forbes, and quietly settled at Drummin. This man MacDermot died bravely in a skirmish, leaving a widow and an infant daughter. It happened that some few months after the death of her husband, the good woman Bessy MacDermot went out to shear one of those small patches of wretched corn, which were then to be seen, almost as a wonder, scattered here and there, in these upland glens, and which belonged in run-rig, or in alternate ridges, to different owners, being so disposed, as you probably know, gentlemen, that all might have an equal interest, and consequently an equal inducement to assemble for its protection in the event of the sudden appearance of an enemy. Charley Stewart, then a fine, kind-hearted boy of some nine or ten years of age, had taken a great affection for the little Rosa, the child of Bessy MacDermot; and this circumstance had induced the mother to ask permission of Alice Asher to be allowed to take her son with her on this occasion to the harvest-field, that, whilst she went on with her work, he might watch the infant. Charley was delighted with his employment; and accordingly she laid the babe carefully down by him to leeward of one of the stooks of sheaves. Many an anxious glance did the fond mother throw behind her, as the onward progress of her work slowly but gradually increased her distance from Charley and his precious charge. The thoughts of her bereft and widowed state saddened her heart, and made it heavy, and rendered her eyes so moist from time to time, that ever and anon she was compelled to rest for an instant from her labour, in order to wipe away the tears with her sleeve. Her little Rosa was now all the world to her. The anxiety regarding the child which possessed her maternal bosom was always great; but, at the present moment, she had few fears about her safety, for, ever as she looked behind her, she beheld Charley Stewart staunchly fixed at his post, and busily employed in trying to catch the attention of the infant, and to amuse it by plucking from the sheaves those gaudy flowered weeds, of various kinds and hues, which Nature brought up everywhere so profusely among the grain, and which the rude and unlearned farmers of those early times took no pains to extirpate.
Whilst the parties were so occupied, the sun was shining brightly upon the new shorn stubble, that stretched away before the eyes of Charley Stewart, when its flat unbroken field of light was suddenly interrupted by a shadow that came sailing across it. He looked up into the air, and beheld a large bird hovering over him. Inexperienced as he was, and by no means aware that its apparent size was diminished by the height at which it was flying, he took it for a kite, or a buzzard, and it immediately ceased to occupy his attention. Round and round sailed the shadow upon the stubble, increasing in magnitude at every turn it made, but totally unheeded by the boy amid the interesting occupation in which he was engaged. At length a loud shriek reached him from the very farther end of the ridge. Charley started up from his sitting position, and beheld Bessie MacDermot rushing towards him, tossing her arms, and screaming as if she were distracted. She was yet too far off from him to enable him to gather her words, amidst the alarm that now seized him; and, accordingly, believing that she had been stung by some viper, or that she had cut herself desperately with the reaping-hook, he abandoned his charge, and ran off to meet her, that he might the sooner render her assistance; but by the time they had approached near enough to each other to enable him to catch up the import of her cries, he halted – for they made his little heart faint within him.
“The eagle! the eagle!” wildly screamed Bessy MacDermot. “Oh, my child! my child!”
Turning round hastily, Charley Stewart now saw that the very bird which he had so recently regarded with so little alarm, had now grown six times larger than he had believed it really to be. It was in the very act of swooping down upon the infant. Charley ran towards the spot, mingling his shrieks with those of the frantic mother; but ere their feet had carried them over half the distance towards it, they heard the cries of the babe, as the fell eagle was flapping his broad wings, in his exertions to lift it from the ground; and, ere they could reach it, the bird was already flying, heavily encumbered with his burden, over the surface of the standing corn, from which he gradually rose, as his pinions gained more air and greater way, till he finally soared upwards, and then held on his slow but strong course towards his nest in the neighbouring mountains.
“Oh, my babe! my babe!” cried the agonised Bessy MacDermot, her eyes starting from their very sockets, in her anxiety to keep sight of the object of her affections and her terrors.
But she did not follow it with her eyes alone. She paused not for a moment, but darted off through the standing corn and over moor and moss, hill and heugh, and through woods, and rills, and bogs, in the direction which the eagle was taking, without once thinking of poor little Charley Stewart, who kept after her as hard as his active little legs could carry him; and, great as the distance was which they had to run, the eagle, impeded as he was in his flight by the precious burden he carried, was still within reach of the eyes of the panting and agonised mother, when a thinner part of the wood enabled her to see, from the rising ground, the cliff where he finally rested, and where he deposited the child in his nest, that was well known to hang on a ledge in the face of the rock, a little way down from its bare summit. On ran the frantic mother with redoubled energy – for she remembered that an old man lived by himself in a little cot hard by the place, and she never rested till she sank down faint and exhausted at his door.
“Oh, Peter, Peter! – my baby, my baby!” was all she could utter as the old man came hobbling out to learn what was the matter.
“What has mischanced your baby, Mrs. MacDermot?” demanded Peter.
“Oh, the eagle! the eagle!” cried the distracted mother. “Oh, my child! my child!”
“Holy saints be about us! has the eagle carried off your child?” cried Peter, in horror.
“Och, yes, yes!” replied Bessy. “Oh, my baby, my baby!”
“St. Michael be here!” exclaimed Peter. “What can an old man like me do to help thee?”
“Ropes! ropes!” cried little Charley Stewart, who at this moment came up, so breathless and exhausted that he could hardly speak.
“Ropes!” said Peter; “not a rope have I. There’s a bit old hair-line up on the baulks there, to be sure, that my son Donald used for stretching his hang-net; but it has been so much in the water that I have some doubt if it would stand the weight of a man, even if we could get a man to go down over the nose of the craig; – and there is not a man but myself, that I know of, within miles of us.”
“You have forgotten me,” cried Charley Stewart, who had now somewhat recovered his wind. “I will go down over the craig. Come, then, Peter! – get out your hair-line. It will not break with my weight.”
“By the Rood but thou art a gallant little chield!” said Peter.
“Oh, the blessings of the Virgin on thee, my dearest Charley!” cried Bessy MacDermot, embracing him. “And yet,” added she, with hesitation, “why should I put Alice Asher’s boy to such peril, even to save mine own child? Oh, canst thou think of no other means? I cannot put Charley Stewart in peril.”
“Nay,” said Peter, “I know of no means; and, in truth, the poor bairn is like enough to have been already half devoured by the young eagles.”
“Merciful Mother of God!” cried poor Bessy, half fainting at the horrible thought. “Oh, my baby, my baby!”
“Come, old man,” cried Charley Stewart, with great determination, “we have no time to waste – we have lost too much already. Where is the hair-line you spake of? Tut, I must seek for it myself;” and rushing into the cot, he leaped upon a table, made one spring at the rafters, and, catching hold of them, he hoisted himself up, gained a footing on them, and ran along them like a cat. till he found the great bundle of hair-line. “Now,” said he, throwing it down and jumping after it; “come away, good Peter, as fast as thy legs can carry thee.”
Having reached the summit of the craig by a circuitous path, they could now descry the two eagles to whom the nest belonged soaring aloft at a great distance. they looked over the brow of the cliff as far as they could stretch with safety, but although old Peter was so well acquainted with the place where the nest was built as at once to be able to fix on the very spot whence the descent ought to be made, the verge of the rock there projected itself so far over the ledge where the nest rested as to render it quite invisible from above. They could only perceive the thick sea of pine foliage that arose up the slope below, and clustered closely against the base of the precipice. A few small stunted fir trees grew scattered upon otherwise bare summit where they stood. Old Peter sat himself down behind one of these, and placed a leg on each side of it so as to secure himself from all chance of being pulled over the precipice by any sudden jerk, while Charley’s little fingers were actively employed in undoing the great bundle of hair-line, and in tying one end of it round his body, and under his armpits. The unhappy mother was now busily assisting the boy, and now moving restlessly about, in doubtful hesitation whether she should yet allow him to go down. Now she was gazing at the distant eagles, and wringing her hands in terror lest they should return to their nest; and torn as she was between her cruel apprehensions for her infant on the one hand, and her doubts and fears about Charley Stewart on the other, she ejaculated the wildest and most incoherent prayers to all the saints for the protection and safety of both.
“Now,“ said Charley Stewart at length; “I’m ready. Keep a firm hold, Peter, and lower me gently.”
“Stay, stay, boy!” cried the old man. “Stick my skian dhu in your ho. If the owners of the nest should come home, by the Rood, but thou wilt need some weapon to make thee in some sort a match for them, in the welcome they will assuredly give thee.”
Charley Stewart slipped the skian dhu into his hoe, and went boldly but cautiously over the edge of the cliff. He was no sooner fairly swung in air than the hair rope stretched to a degree so alarming that Bessy MacDermot stood upon the giddy verge, gnawing her very fingers, from the horrible dread that possessed her, that she was to see it give way and divide. Peter sat astride against the root of the tree, carefully eyeing every inch of the line ere he allowed it to pass through his hands, and every now and then pausing – hesitating, and shaking his head most ominously, as certain portions of it, here and there, appeared to him to be of doubtful strength. Meanwhile, Charley felt himself gradually descending, and turning round and round at the end of the rope, by his own weight, his brave little heart beating, and his brain whirling, from the novelty and danger of his daring attempt – the screams of the young eagles sounding harshly in his ears, and growing louder and louder as he slowly neared them. By degrees he began distinctly to hear the faint cries of the child, and his courage and self-possession were restored to him, by the conviction that she was yet alive. In a few moments more he had the satisfaction to touch the ledge of rock with his toes, and he was at last enabled to relieve the rope from his weight, by planting himself upon its ample, but fearfully inclined surface. He shouted aloud, to make Peter aware that the line had so far done its duty, and then he cautiously approached the nest, where, to his great joy, he found the infant altogether uninjured, except by a cross cut upon her left cheek, which she seemed to have received from some accidental movement of the beak or talons of one of the two eaglets, between which she had been deposited by the old eagle. Had she not been placed between two so troublesome mates, and in a position so dangerous, nothing could have been more snug or easy than the bed in which the little Rosa was laid. The nest was about two yards square. It was built on the widest and most level part of the ledge, and it was composed of great sticks, covered with a thick layer of heather, over which rushes were laid to a considerable depth. Fortunately for the infant, the eaglets had been already full gorged ere she had been carried thither, and there yet lay beside them the greater part of the carcass of a lamb, and also a mountain hare, untouched, together with several moorfowl, and an immense quantity of bones and broken fragments of various animals.
Charley Stewart did not consume much time in his examination of the nest. Being at once satisfied that it would be worse than hazardous to trust the hair-line with the weight of the child, in addition to his own, he undid it from his body. Approaching the nest, he gently lifted the crying infant from between its two screeching and somewhat pugnacious companions. The moment he had done so, the little innocent became quiet, and instantly recognising him, she held out her hands, and smiled and chuckled to him, at once oblivious of all her miseries. Charley kissed his little favourite over and over again, and then he proceeded to tie the rope carefully around and across her, so as to guard against all possibility of its slipping. Having accomplished this, he shouted to Peter to pull away – kissed the little Rosa once more, and then committed her to the vacant air. Nothing could equal the anxiety he endured whilst he beheld the mother’s hands appear over the edge of the rock, and snatch her from his sight, nothing could match the shout of delight which he gave. The maternal screams of joy which followed, and which came faintly down to his ears, were to him a full reward for all the terrors of his desperate enterprise. For that instant he forgot the perilous situation in which he then stood, and the risk that he had yet to run ere he could hope to be extricated from it.
But a few moments only elapsed ere all thoughts of anything else but his own self-preservation were banished from his mind. The angry screams of the two old eagles came fearfully through the air, and he beheld them approaching the rock, cleaving the air with furious flight. He cast one look upwards, and saw the rope rapidly descending to him – but the eagles were coming still faster, and he had only time to wrench out a large stick from the nest, to aid him in defending himself, when they were both upon him. He had nothing for it but to crouch as close in under the angle of the rock as he could, and there he planted himself, with the stick in his right hand, and the skian dhu in his left, resolved to make the best fight he could of it. They commenced their attack on him whilst still on the wing, by flying at him, and striking fiercely at him with their talons, each returning alternately top the assault after making a narrow circuit in the air. Whilst thus engaged, Charley neither lost courage nor presence of mind, but contrived to deal to each of them a severe blow now and then with the rugged stick, as they came at him in succession. Finding that they could make no impression upon him in this way, sheltered as he was by his position under the projecting rock, they seemed at once to resolve, as if by mutual consent, to adopt a more resolute mode of attack.
Alighting on the ledge of rock at the same moment, one on each side of the place where he was crouching, both the eagles now assailed him at once with inconceivable ferocity. Half fronting that one which was to his right, he laid a severe blow on it, which somewhat staggered it in its onset. But whilst he was thus occupied with it, the other, which was to his left, tore open his cheek, with a blow of his talons, that had nearly stunned him. More from mechanical impulse, than from any actual design, he struck a back-handed blow with his skian dhu. Fortunately for him it proved most effectual, for it penetrated the eagle to the very heart, laid it fluttering on its back, and, in the violence of its struggles, it rolled over the inclined ledge, and fell dead to the bottom of the craig. But poor Charley had no leisure to rejoice over this piece of success. he looked anxiously to the hair-line, which hung dangling within reach of his grasp; but, ere he could seize it, his other enemy was at him again. As if it had profited by the severe lessons it had gotten, the strokes of this second eagle were given with so much rapidity and caution, that close as Charley Stewart was obliged to keep into the angle of the rock, and stupified as he was, in some degree, by the wound he had received, he was able to do little more than to defend his own person from injury, whilst he was obliged slowly to give ground before his feathered assailant. Whilst retreating and fighting in this manner, one blow of his stick, better directed than the rest, struck the eagle on the side of the skull, close to its juncture with the neck, and it went fluttering down over the rock, in the pangs of death, after its fellow. But alas! poor Charley Stewart’s victory cost him dear.
The two listeners above, who had seen the approach of the eagles, were dreadfully alarmed by the noise of the terrific conflict that was going on upon the ledge below. In vain did they shout to terrify the birds. In vain did old Peter frequently try the hair-line, by pulling gently at it, in the hope of finding that the weight of Charley’s body was attached to it. They were tortured by anxious uncertainty regarding him, and all was quiet. Winged by terror, Bessy MacDermot rushed, with her child in her arms, down the winding path, to a point whence she could command a view of the ledge. The boy was no longer there! She rubbed her dimmed eyes, gave one more intent gaze. From the very nature of the place, it was impossible that he could be there unseen by her, from the point she now occupied, and she was thus too certainly assured that he was gone. Uttering a despairing scream, she flew frantically down to look for him among the trees at the bottom of the cliff. There she sought all along the base of it, dreading every moment to have her eyes shocked with the sight of his mangled remains, and uttering the most doleful lamentations that she had murdered her dear friend’s gallant boy. She found both the dead eagles indeed, but she could see nothing of Charley Stewart. Old Peter then came hobbling after her, to join her in her search, and both of them went over the ground again and again in vain. A faint hope began at length to arise in the minds of both, that he might, after all, be still on the ledge above, though, perhaps, lying wounded, or in a swoon; and, although both felt it to be almost against all reason to indulge in it, they instantly prepared to return, to endeavour more perfectly to ascertain the fact; and, if it could be done no otherwise, Bessy MacDermot resolved to run and rouse the country, in order to procure strong ropes, and men to go down to examine the ledge itself.
Full of these intentions, they were in the act of quitting the bottom of the cliff, when a faint voice arrested their steps. They stopped to listen, and, after a little time, they were aware that it came down from over their heads. They looked up, but, seeing nothing, they became more than ever convinced, that it was Charley’s voice calling to them from the ledge, and they again turned to hurry away to assure him of help. But the voice came again, and so much stronger, as to satisfy them that the speaker could be at no very great distance from them.
“Peter! – Bessy! – I am here in the tree,” said Charley Stewart, “for the love of Saint Michael, stop and take me down!”
Some minutes elapsed before they could catch a glimpse of the poor boy. At length they discovered him, half way up a tall pine tree, hanging by his little coat to the knag of a broken branch. I may as well tell you at once how he came there. Whilst he was in the very act of dealing that last well directed blow of the stick, that proved so fatal to the second eagle, his foot slipped on the narrower and more inclined part of the ledge, to which he had been gradually driven back during the combat, and uttering that despairing scream which rang like his knell in the affrighted ears of Bessy MacDermot and Peter, he fell through the air, and crashed down among the dense foliage of the pine-tops below. One of his legs was broken across a bough, which it met with in his descent through the tree, but his head, and all his other vital parts, had luckily escaped injury; and the knag, which so fortunately caught his clothes, and kept him suspended, had been the providential means of saving him from that death, which he must have otherwise inevitably met with on coming to the ground.
But how were they to get poor Charley down from the tree? Old Peter could not climb it; but, seeing that it was furnished with branches nearly to its root, Bessy MacDermot gave her child into the hands of the old man, and, taking a double end of the hair-line with her, she clambered up the stem to the place where the boy was hanging. Tenderly relieving him from his distressing position, she quickly passed two or three double folds of the rope around him, and then lowered him gently down to Peter. So patient had Charley been under his sufferings, excruciating as they were, that it was not until they were about to move him from the ground, that they discovered the injury that his limb had received.
“Oh, what shall I do?” cried Bessy MacDermot, wringing her hands; “Oh, how can I face Alice Asher, after thus causing so sad a mischance to her darling, her beautiful boy?”
“Tut, Bessy, never mind me!” said Charley faintly, but with a gentle smile, that sorted but ill with his wounded and bloody countenance; “I shall soon get the better of all this; but if it had been twice as bad with me, Bessy, nay, if I had been killed outright, I should have well deserved it, for quitting my poor little Rosa there, as I did upon the harvest rig.”
“Nay, nay, my dearest boy, Charley,” said Mrs. MacDermot, kissing him, and weeping fondly over him; thou didst thy part faithfully. Had it not been for my foolish fright, and my silly screams when I first saw the eagle, thou wouldst never have left my child, and nought of these sad mischances could have happened.”
With some difficulty, and not without Bessy MacDermot’s help, old Peter managed to carry Charley Stewart down to his hut, whence he was afterwards moved home when proper assistance could be procured. Alice Asher was overpowered with grief when the darling of her heart was brought to her in this melancholy and maimed condition. But she readily forgave Bessy MacDermot for the innocent share she had had in producing it; and after Charley’s wounds were dressed, the bones of his fractured limb set, and that she was satisfied that his life was perfectly safe, she not only felt grateful to God that he had been so wonderfully preserved, but she began to regard him with honest pride for the gallant action he had performed.
“Well hast thou proved thyself, my boy, to be a true Clan-Allan Stewart!” said she to him, with a deep blush on her countenance, as she sat fondly watching by the bed where Charley was quietly sleeping, from the effects of the drugs that had been given him, till the tears began to follow one another fast from her eyelids. “Well might thy father now, methinks, make thee his lawful son by extending to me those holy rites, the false hope of obtaining which betrayed mine innocent and simple youth! Thou at least ought not to suffer for thine unhappy mother’s fault, which now nearly nine years of sorrow, of remorse, and of heartfelt penitence, and prayer, and penance, have not yet expiated! But God’s holy will be done!”
Poor afflicted Alice Asher had occasion to repeat these last words of pious resignation to the will of God more than once after the recovery of her son. She was deeply grateful to Heaven indeed that his life had been spared to her, and that his health and strength were completely restored to him, but his handsome countenance had been greatly and permanently disfigured by the deep cross-like scar that remained upon his left cheek, and the grace of his person had been much destroyed by the limping of his left leg, occasioned by the bad surgery of the rude practitioner who had set the broken bones. She bore this affliction, as she did all others, with meek submission, as a divine chastisement which her sin had well merited, though she wept to think that she had been visited through the suffering of her innocent boy. Some eight or nine long years passed away, during which Sir Walter Stewart of Drummin was liberal in providing richly for the wants of the mother, as well as for the education of her son, though he strictly avoided seeing either of them. the story of Charley’s brave achievement and severe accident reached him not, for he was at that time abroad upon his travels in foreign lands, and ere he returned home the talk about it had died away, so that it had never been permitted to exercise any influence upon him whatsoever.
Passing over these years, then, we find Alice Asher paler and thinner than before, but still most beautiful, sitting one morning, at the window of her cottage, that looked towards the tower of Drummin, which was partially seen from it through between the thick stems of the trees. her elbow rested on the window-sill and supported her head, which was surrounded by a broad fillet of black silk, from beneath which her hair clustered in fair ringlets around her finely formed features, and fell in long tresses over her neck and shoulders. Her close fitting kirtle and her loose and flowing gown were of sad-coloured silk, and the embroidered bosom of her snow-white smock was fastened with a golden brooch that sparkled with precious stones, and more than one of her fingers glittered with rings of considerable value. Alice was not always wont to be so adorned; but, ornamented as she thus was beyond the simplicity of that attire which she usually wore, her countenance bore no corresponding expression of gladness upon it. She sat gazing silently towards the distant stronghold of the Clan-Allan Stewarts, sighing deeply from time to time, until the thoughts that filled her heart gradually dimmed her large blue eyes, and the tears swelled over her eyelids and ran down her cheeks, and she finally began to relieve the heaviness of her soul by thinking aloud in broken and unconscious soliloquy.
“Aye! he is going to-day!” said she, in a melancholy tone. “He is going to the court to mix with the great, the proud, the gay, and the beautiful, and I shall not see him ere he goes! Yet the vow of separation which we mutually took had a saving condition in it. He might have come – he may at any time approach me – aye, and honourably too – when the object of his visit may be to do me and my boy justice. But, after so many years have passed away in disappointment, why should my fond and foolish heart still cling to deceitful hope? a hope, too, that wars with those of a purer and holier nature, which may yet ally me, a penitent sinner, to Heaven. then what have I to do with those glittering gauds that would better become a bride? Yet they are his pledges, if not of love at least of kindness and of friendship, sent to me from time to time to show me that I am not altogether forgotten, and surely there can be no harm in my wearing them? and then to-day – to-day, methought that he might have come. But if he had ever intended to come, would he have sent, as he has done, for Charley? Oh, my boy! would that he could but think of doing thee justice, and thy poor sinful mother would die contented! But, if he is pleased with the youth, may he not yet come hither along with him? How my silly heart beats at the very thought! What sound was that I heard? Can it be them? No, no, no, he will never come more to me! Alas, alas! my poor boy’s face and person have suffered too much to win a father’s eye, and he knows not the virtues that lie so modestly concealed within them. But what is that I see yonder! The bustle of the horsemen before the gate with their pampered steeds and their gay attire – their pennons fluttering, and the sun glancing from the broad blades of their Highland spears? What! was that a distant bugle blast I heard? Again! Then they are moving – aye, indeed! They are now galloping off along the terrace! Alas, alas, they are gone! and my vain and foolish hopes have gone with them!”
These last words were uttered in the deepest tone of anguish, and Alice drew hastily back into the darkest recess of the apartment, where she seated herself, covered her face with the palms of her hands, and wept aloud. Having thus given full vent to her feelings, she retired to the privacy of her closet, where she endeavoured to divert her mind by holy exercise from the sorrows that oppressed her. At length a gentle tap at the door informed her that her son had returned from his visit to Drummin, and tremblingly anxious to know the result of it, she immediately admitted him.
“Mother! my dearest mother!” said Charley Stewart, tenderly embracing her, and with a manifest effort to subdue certain emotions that were working within him; “Why hast thou been weeping?”
“Alas! I weep often, my beloved, my darling boy!” replied she, warmly responding to his caresses; “I weep, and I deserve to weep! But hast thou aught of tidings for me, that may give me a gleam of joy? Say – how wert thou received?”
“Why, well, mother!” replied Charley, endeavouring to assume a lively air; “I was well and kindly received, though neither, forsooth, with parade of arms, nor with flourish of trumpets, nor of clarions; but Sir Walter received me kindly.”
“Did he embrace thee, dear Charley?” demanded his mother with great anxiety of expression.
“Um – Aye,” replied her son, with some degree of hesitation; “he did embrace me, though hardly indeed with the same fervour that thou are wont to do, dearest mother. But then thou knowest, mother, that Sir Walter is a courtly knight of high degree, and they tell me that the fashion of such folks allows them not to yield themselves altogether, as we humbler people are wont to do, to the feelings that are within us.”
“Alas! thou say’st that which is but too true!” replied Alice, in a desponding tone; “but go on, boy.”
“Sir Walter put his hand on my shoulder, and turned me round,” continued Charley. “Then he made me walk a step or two, and eyed me narrowly from top to toe, pretty much as if he had been scanning the points and paces of a new horse. – ‘How camest thou so lame and so disfigured?’ demanded he. – ‘By a fall I had in climbing an eagle’s nest,’ replied I. – ‘A silly cause,’ said Sir Walter; and yet, perhaps, the bold blood that is in thee must bear the blame. But know, boy, that fate hath not given to all the power to climb into the eyry of the eagle.’ And having said this much he changed the subject of his talk.”
“Would that thou could’st but have gathered couraged enow to have told him all the circumstances of that adventure!”
“Nay, mother, I had courage for anything but to speak aught that might have sounded like mine own praise,” replied Charley.
“Would that he but knew thee as thou art!” said Alice, with a sigh. “Would that he but knew the soul that is within thee! With all his faults – and perhaps they are light, save that which concerns thee alone – he hath a generous spirit himself, and he could not but prize a generous spirit in one so kindred to him. But tell me all that passed. Did – did he – did he ask thee for tidings of me?”
“He did question me most particularly about thee,” replied Charley. “He questioned me as if he would have fain gathered from me the appearance and condition of every, the minutest feature of thy face, and of every line of thy form. He questioned as if with the intent of limning thy very portrait on the tablet of his mind; and, as if he would have traced it beside some picture, which he still wore in fresh and lively colours there, for the purpose, as it seemed to me, of making close and accurate comparison between them. thus he would pause at times during his questioning of me; and, after a few moments of deep abstraction, he would say, as if forgetful of my presence, and in converse with himself alone, – ‘Strange! aye, but she was then but fifteen, scarce ripened into woman – the change is nothing more than natural – the same loveliness, but more womanly;’ and so he went on, now to question, and now to talk of thee, for a good half hour or so.”
“And he!” cried Alice, with unwonted animation; “Say, boy, looked he well? I mean in health; for of his manly beauty, his tall and well knit form, his graceful air, his noble bearing, and his eagle eye! how could I have lived till now, without hearing from those who have seen and admired him? Alas!” added she, in a melancholy and subdued tone, “of such things I have perhaps inquired too much!”
“Sir Walter had all the ruddy hue, as well as the firmness of vigorous health, dear mother,” replied the youth.
“Thanks be to all the saints!” exclaimed Alice fervently. “Then, come boy – tell me what passed between you?”
“After all his questions touching thee and thy health were done,” said Charley, “ant that we had talked of other matters of no import, he sat down, and thus gravely addressed me as I stood before him: ‘I have been thinking how best to provide for thee, boy. I can see that thou art but ill fitted for hardy service, or the toils of war. And, by the Rood, it is well for thee that, in these times, there are other ways of winning to high fortune, yea, and to royal favour even, besides that which leads to either by doughty deeds of arms, where so many perish ere they have half completed the toilsome and perilous journey. Thou must content thee, then, with some peaceful trade. Let me see – let me see. Ah! I have it. Now-a-days, men have more chance to push themselves forward by the point of the needle, than by the point of the lance. What thinkest thou of Master Hommil, the king’s tailor, who, as all men say, hath a fair prospect of shaping such garb for himself as may yet serve him to wear for a peer’s robes, if he doth but use his shears with due discretion? This is the very thing for thee, and it is well that I have so luckily hit on it. I’ll have thee apprenticed to a tailor, and, when thy time is out, I’ll have thee taught in all the more curious mysteries of thine art, by its very highest professors, that none in the whole land shall be found to equal thee. Thou shalt travel to France for learning in the nicer parts of thy trade, and then, I will set thee up, close under the royal eye, with such a stock of rarest articles in thy shop, as will make it a very Campvere, for the variety and richness of its merchandize. But thou must begin thy schooling under Master Jonathan Junkins here, who, though but a country cultivator of cabbage, hath an eye towards the cut of a cloak or doublet, that might well beget the jealousy of the mighty Hommil himself. I once wore a rose-coloured suit of Jonathan’s make, that did excite the envy, yea, and the anger, too, of that great master, by the commendations that royalty himself was heard to pass upon it. Though there were some there, who, from malice, no doubt, did say, that the merit lay more in the shape of the wearer, than in that of the garments. But I am trifling. I have some orders to give ere I mount, and this, as to thy matter with Junkins, shall be one; and time wears, boy, and thou, too, hast some little way before thee to limp home; therefore, God keep thee. Bear my love, or, as she would have herself have it to be, my friendship, to thy mother. And, see here; give her this ring as a fresh remembrance of me. Farewell – I shall see that all be well arranged regarding thee ere I go; and I trust that thou wilt not idly baulk the prudent plans I have laid down for thee, or the good intentions I have towards thee; and so again, farewell, my boy!’ – and thus, my dearest mother, was I dismissed.”
“Well, God’s will be done!” said Alice, with a deep sigh, after a long pause, and after having betrayed a variety of emotions during her son’s narrative. “I had hoped better things for thee, by boy, but God’s will be done! Thou hast no choice but to submit, Charley. Forget not that Sir Walter Stewart is thy father, and that thou art bound by the law of nature to obey him.”
“It is because I do not forget that Sir Walter Stewart is my father, that I find it so hard a thing to obey him in this,” said Charley, with a degree of excitement, which all his earnestly exerted self-command was, for the moment, unable entirely to control. “But, as it happens, that it is just because he is bound to me by the law of nature, and by no other law, that he thus condemns me to be nailed down to the shop-board of a tailor, instead of giving me a courser to ride, and a lance to wield, so, as thou most truly sayest, dear mother, by the law of nature, but by that law alone, am I compelled to submit to this bitter mortification, and to obey him.”
“Nay, nay, dearest Charley, talk not thus!” cried Alice, throwing her arms around her son’s neck, and fondly kissing him; “talk not thus frowardly if thou lovest me!”
“Love thee, my dearest mother!” cried Charley, returning her embrace with intense fervour, and weeping from the overpowering strength of his feelings; “Nay, nay, thou canst not doubt my love to thee; thou canst not doubt that, on thy weal or thy woe, hangs the happiness or the misery of your poor boy. Be not vexed, dearest mother, for though I have spoken thus idly, trust me that a father’s word shall ever be with me as the strictest law, which I, so far as my nature can support me, shall never wilfully contravene.”
Charley Stewart again tenderly embraced his mother, and, scarcely aware that he was leaving her to weep, he hurried away to seek some consolation for himself, in a quarter where he never failed to find it. This was at the cottage of Bessy MacDermot, whither he was wont frequently to wander, for the purpose of listening to the innocent prattle of his young plaything Rosa, who, having now seen some eight or nine summers, was fast approaching the widow’s premises on the present occasion, he found Rosa by the side of a clear spring, that bubbled and sparkled out from beneath a large mossy stone, that projected from the lower part of the slope of a flowery bank, under the pensile drapery of a grove of weeping birches. The moment she beheld him, she came tripping to meet him, with a rustic wreath of gay marsh marigolds and water-lilies in her hand.
“Where have you been all this long, long morning, dearest Charley?” cried Rosa; “I have been so dull without you; and see what a wreath I have made for your bonnet! But I have a great mind to wear it myself, for you don’t deserve to have it, for being so long in coming to me.”
“I have been over at the castle, Rosa,” said Charley, stooping to embrace her, as she innocently held up her lips to be kissed by him. “I have been over at Drummin, looking at the grand array of steeds and horsemen. But what are these flowers? Water-lilies, as I hope to be saved! Holy Virgin! Rosa, how didst thou come by them?”
“I got them from the pool,” replied Rosa, hesitating, and gently tapping his cheek with a few stray flowers which she held in her hand; “I got them in the same way that you pulled them for me the other day, that is with a long hazel rod, with a crook at the end of it.”
“From the pool, Rosa?” cried Charley. “What could tempt thee to risk thy life for such trifles? If thou hadst slipt over the treacherous brink, where there was no one by to save thee – thou wert gone! irrecoverably gone! How couldst thou be so rash? my very flesh creeps to think on’t!”
“Don’t be angry with me, Charley!” said Rosa coaxingly – “What risk would I not run to give thee pleasure?”
“But you have given me anything but pleasure in this matter, Rosa,” said Charley; “I tremble too much to think of the hazard thou hast run, to look with pleasure on anything that could have occasioned it.”
“So thou wilt not let me put the wreath on thy bonnet, then/” said Rosa, with a tear half disclosing itself in her eye-lid; ” Come, come, Charley! sit down – sit down on this bank, and do let me put it upon thy bonnet.”
“If it will pleasure thee to make a fool of me, Rosa,” said Charley, smiling on her, and kissing her; “thou shalt do with me as thou mayest list.”
“That is a dear kind Charley,” cried Rosa, her moist eyes sparkling with delight, and throwing her arms around his neck; “I’ll make no fool of thee: I’ll make thee so handsome!”
“Handsome!” exclaimed Charley, laughing. “Why Rosa, it is making a fool of me, indeed, to say that thou can’st make me handsome, with this ugly deep cross-mark on my cheek.”
“That cross-mark on your cheek, Charley!” cried the little girl, with an intensity of feeling much beyond anything which her years might have warranted; “To me that cross-mark is beautiful! I love that noble brow of thine – those eyes, that whenever they look upon me, tell me that I am dear to thee – those lips, that so often kiss me, and instruct me, and say kind things to me – but that mark of the cross on thy cheek – oh, that hath to me a holy influence in’t; it reminds me that, but for thy noble courage which earned it for thee, I should have been food for the young eagles of the craig. Charley! I could not fail to love thee, for thy kindness to me; but I never could have loved thee as I do love thee, but for these living marks which you bear of all that you suffered for thine own little Rosa. Kiss me my dear, dear Charley!”
“My little wifey!” cried Charley, clasping the innocent girl in his arms, and mothering her with kisses.
“Aye,” said Rosa, artlessly, “I am thy little wifey. All the gossips say that I am fated to be so; for you know I have got my cross-mark as well as you, aye, and on my left cheek too. The eagles did that kind turn for me. They marked us both with the cross alike. See! you can see my cross here quite plain.”
“I do see it,” said Charley, kissing the place. “But thanks be to the Virgin thy beauty hath not suffered one whit by it. I can just discern that the mark is there, and that is all; and I trust that it will altogether disappear as you grow up to be a woman.”
“The Virgin forbid!” cried Rosa energetically. “The gossips say that we have been so miraculously signed with the cross expressly for each other, and I would not lose so happy a mark, no, not to be made a queen! But do let me put on thy chaplet, dear Charley. I hope to see thee some day with a grand casque on thy head – a tilting spear in thy hand – bestriding a noble steed, and riding at the ring with the best of them.”
“Alas, Rosa!” said Charley, with a deep sigh, “that will never be my fate!”
“Why not?” demanded Rosa; “surely Sir Walter Stewart may make thee his esquire?”
“Alas, no!” said Charley, despondingly. The casque he dooms me to is a tailor’s cowl – the shield a thimble – the lance a needle – and the gallant steed I am to mount is a tailor’s shop-board, and if ever I tilt with silk, velvet, or gold, it will be to convert them into cloaks and doublets for my betters!”
“A tailor!” exclaimed Rosa, with astonishment; “surely thou art jesting, Charley.”
“I’faith, it is too serious a matter to jest about,” replied Charley. “Truly I am doomed to handle the goosing iron of Master Jonathan Junkins.”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” shouted Rosa. “Ha, ha, ha, ha! – what an odd fancy of Sir Walter!”
“Nay, laugh not at my misery, Rosa,” said Charley, gravely, and somewhat piteously. “I cannot bear the thought of such a life! What think you, Rosa, of being a tailor’s wife?”
“So that thou wilt always call me thine own dear little wifey, I care not what thou art,” replied Rosa, tenderly, and throwing her arms around his neck. “And why, after all, mayest thou not be quite happy as a tailor? Old Johnny Junkins sings at his task from morning till night. Besides he hath no risk of being killed in battle, as my poor father was. He always sleeps in a whole skin, save when his wife Janet beats him with the ell-wand, and surely thou wouldst have no fears that I should do that for thee, dear Charley?”
It was now Charley’s turn to laugh, which he did very heartily, and having thus gained a temporary victory over his chagrin, he improved upon it by immediately taking a small Missal from his sporran, and commencing his daily occupation of giving instructions to Rosa, who greedily learned from him all that he could impart.
I mean now to give you some little amount of Sir Walter Stewart, gentlemen. You must know that he was one of the prettiest and most accomplished men of his time, and a great favourite at court. His perfection in all warlike exercises – his fondness for horses – and his fearless riding, were qualifications which fitted him for being the companion of the king’s brothers, the spirited Alexander Duke of Albany, and the tall and graceful John Earl of Mar, whilst his skill in fencing – his proficiency in music – and his taste in dress, secured for him a high place in the good graces of that elegant, but weak monarch, James the Third. With young Ramsay of Balmain, afterwards created Earl of Bothwell, he was in the best habits of intimacy. But with the lower minions of the king, I mean, with such as Cochran the mason – Rogers the musician – Leonard the Smith – Hommil the tailor – Torfefan the fencing-master, and Andrew the Flemish astrologer, he was more polite than familiar. With the ladies of the court Sir Walter Stewart was an object of admiration, nay, he was the theme of the praise of every one of them, from the beautiful, fascinating, and virtuous Queen Margaret herself, down to the humblest of her maids of honour. It is no wonder, then, that Sir Walter was induced to spend more of his time at court than among the wilds of his native mountains. On the occasion of which I am now speaking, he was on his way to the castle of Stirling, where James the Third was at that time residing, and after a long and tiresome journey, he and his attendants entered the city, and rode up to their hostel in the main street, at such an hour of the evening as made it neither very seemly nor very convenient for him to report himself to his majesty.*
Sir Walter Stewart was too well known not to command immediate attention from every one belonging to the inn. The horse-boys, who were grooming the numerous steeds, that were hooked up to various parts of the walls surrounding the yard, made way respectfully, not only for himself, but also for his people and their animals, and the cattle of some persons of less note and consideration, were turned out of their stalls for the accommodation of his horses. Meanwhile, the knight was ushered upstairs into the common room, by mine host in person, who, with his portly figure, stripped to his close yellow jacket and galligaskins, and with a fair linen towel hanging from his girdle, puffed and sweated up the steps before him, his large rubicund visage vying in the brightness of its scarlet, with the fiery coloured cap of coarse red cloth which he wore. Sir Walter found the large apartment surrounded by oaken tables and chairs, which were occupied by various guests, some eating, and some drinking, whilst the rattling of trenchers, the clinking of cans, the buzz of voices, and the hum of tongues, were so loud and continuous, as to render it difficult for him to detect a word of the conversation that was going on anywhere, except the clamorous calls for fresh supplies of provender, ale, or wine, which the bustling serving men and tapsters were hurrying to and fro to satisfy.
As the host showed Sir Walter to an unoccupied table at the upper end of the place, most of the guests arose and saluted him as he passed by them. To some of these he gave a condescending bow of recognition, whilst to others he hardly deigned to bestow more than a dignified acknowledgment of their courtesy. But he was no sooner seated, than he was left to his own particular comforts, and the knight was not sorry to be very soon enabled to do the same thing for himself, by paying his own addresses to the smoking party that was placed on the table before him. He had but just finished his meal, when the host entered, ushering in a very elegant young man, the richness of whose attire, as well as the perfection of its make, together with his noble air, at once showed him to be a gentleman of the court. His rose-coloured jacket, and amber trewse, were of the richest silk, and made to fit tight, so as to show off, to the greatest advantage, his very handsome person. His girdle-belt of black velvet, together with the pouch of the same material, sparkled with gems, as did also the sheaths and hilts of his sword and dagger. Several rich chains of gold were hung about his neck; his shoes had those long thin points, which were worn at that period, though they were not, in his instance, carried to any very absurd extravagance. His cloak was of blue velvet richly bordered with silver, and his broad jewelled hat, of scarlet stuff of the same material, was drawn over one side of his head, as a necessary precaution of counterpoise to the weight of the long feathers of green, blue, red, and yellow, which stretched out from it so far as to threaten to overbalance it on the other. From beneath this his brown hair hung down, curling over his ample brow, and spread itself in wide profusion over his shoulders.
“What, Ramsay!” exclaimed Sir Walter Stewart, rising to meet him with a cordial salutation, which again silenced the clatter of the trenchers and cans, and brought all eyes for some moments upon the two gentlemen. “This is a lucky meeting indeed.”
“Lucky!” replied Ramsay, smiling jocularly; “what a boorish phrase! It is indeed well worthy of one, who hath been rusticating so long amidst northern moors and mountains.”
“Cry your mercy, my lord of the court,” said Sir Walter Stewart, laughing.
“Nay,” continued Ramsay; “I know not whether thy clownish expression be most discourteous to me, or to thyself, – to me, as it would deny me all credit for this mine expressly purposed visit to thee, – or to thyself, for supposing that such a preux-chevalier, as thou art, could be, for the smallest fraction of time, within the atmosphere of the court, without being run after by those who love thee.”
“Thank thee! thank thee, my dear Ramsay,” replied Sir Walter, shaking him cordially by the hand, and laughing heartily; “Then will I say, that it was most kind of thee to find me out so soon, and to come thus purposely to take a stoup of French claret with me, and to pour thine agreeable talk into mine ear, so as to fill the empty vessel of mine ignorance, to a level with that of thine own full knowledge of courtly affairs, and of all the interesting occurrents which have chanced about the court since I last left it. So, sit thee down, I pray thee. We shall be private enow at this table, which is well out of ear-shot of all those noisy gormandizers and guzzlers.”
“Nay,” replied Ramsay, as he seated himself beside his friend; “thine emptiness is of too vast a profundity for me to be able to fill it at this time. On some other occasion I shall do my best to replenish thee, when we can have leisure for a longer talk together, than we can look to have to-night. I came hither only to carry thee away with me.”
“Whither wouldst have me go?” demanded Sir Walter. “Trust me, I am more disposed, at this moment, to enjoy mine case in mine inn, than to move anywhere else.”
“But I must have thee,” replied Ramsay, “rustic as thou art, thou must submit to be led by me for some little time, like a blind man who hath but newly recovered his eyesight, lest thou shouldst stumble amidst the blaze of courtly sunshine. I came to bring thee to a small supper, at the lodging of Sir William Rogers, that most cunning fingerer of the lute and harp, and whose practice thereupon,” continued he, sinking his voice almost to a whisper, “seems to have taught him a most marvellous power, of bringing what music may be most profitable for himself, out of that strange and many-stringed instrument called a Royal Sovereign.”
“hush, hush, Ramsay!” replied Sir Walter. “thy talk is dangerous in such a place as this. But say, does the King go to this party!”
“No,” replied Ramsay; “he is to be employed to-night in the occult science, to which he hath of late so much addicted himself. he is to be occupied with that knave Andrew the astrologer, in regarding and reading the stars.”
“Then, what boots it for is to go to the party of this empty piece of sounding brass?” demanded Sir Walter.
“Much, much, my dear Stewart,” replied Ramsay. “In the first place, thou shalt be introduced to his niece, who hath lately arrived from England. Thou shalt see and hear that fair Philomela, yclept Juliet Manvers, who plays and sings to admiration. Though here it behoves me, as thy friend, to bid thee take care of thy heart, for the uncle seems to have imported her, with the wise intent, of marrying her to some one of the court, and mine own heart hath already been very sorely assailed.”
“A dangerous siren, truly!” said Sir Walter, laughing; “yet methinks I may safely enough bid defiance to her enchantment.”
“We shall see,” replied Ramsay, with a doubtful nod of his head; “but be that as it may, my second reason for taking thee thither, is that, with exception of our host himself, we may at least spend one tolerably pleasant evening undrugged and unencumbered, with the base society of those vulgar fellows, whom the King, with so much mistaken judgment, hath chosen to associate in his favour, with two such well-born gentlemen as you and me. Cochran, that man whom nature hath built up of stone and mortar, and who would yet ape the graces of a finished lord of the court, as a bear would copy the gambols of a well educated Italian greyhound.”
“Hommil!” cried Sir Walter, laughing, and following up his friend’s humour. “Hommil! that thread-paper, whose sword and dagger would be better removed, to have their places supplied by his shears and his bodkin.”
“Leonard!” cried Ramsay, “Leonard! that man of iron, whose very face is a perfect forge, his chin being the stithy, his mouth the great bellows, his eyes the ignited charcoal, his nose the fore-hammer, and his brows the broken and smoke begrimmed pent-house that hangs over all.”
“Torfefan!” continued Stewart; “Torfefan! that bully og the backsword, rapier, and dagger, who, except when he is pot-valiant, is always so wise in his steel-devouring courage, as to spread it forth like the tail of a turkey-cock, always the wider, the weaker the adversary he may have to deal with.”
“Bravo! bravo!” cried Ramsay, absolutely shouting in his mirth; “bravo! bravo! – and then, last of all, Andrew, that solemn and mysterious knave, who seems as if he would pluck the stars from the skies, as I would the daisies from a flower border, and who, id I mistake not, will yet contrive to weave a good rich garland of fate out of them for himself, whatever he may do for others. To be compelled to keep such company, Stewart, is to pay a severe penalty for the daily converse and favour of a king. But his night, the monarch being engaged, as I told thee, each of these precious fellows hath gone on his own private amusement, for, as thou knowest, there is no such great love among them, as to make any two of them much desire to company together, so, to get rid for one single night of the whole of them but Rogers, whom we must admit to be by far the least offensive and most tolerable individual among them, is certainly a matter upon which we may very well congratulate ourselves.”
“True,” replied Sir Walter; “but I see no reason why we should not rid ourselves of Rogers, as well as of the rest, by staying and spending the evening together over this excellent wine. I must confess that I am somewhat travel-worn, and but little inclined for any such entertainment as he may give us.”
“Nay, that cannot be,” said Ramsay; “I gave my promise to him, ere I knew of thy coming, and when I heard of thine arrival, I pledged my word to bring thee with me. So, now, thou must not abandon me. Besides, as I told thee, the fellow is the best of these minions, and his music, not to mention that of his niece, is always some recompense for the endurance of his company. So haste thee to doff thy travelling weeds, and pink thyself out in such attire, as may make thee pleasing in the eyes of the fair and philomela-voiced Juliet. Be quick! for I shall wait for thee here.”
Sir Walter Stewart, rather unwillingly, summoned his servants – was lighted to his chamber, and soon returned, in a dress, which was in no wise put to shame by that of his friend, and they proceeded together to the lodgings of Sir William Rogers.
The apartments of this favourite minstrel of the king were not extensive, but, as the custom was, down to a very late period of our history, even the principal bed-room, which purposely contained a richly carved and highly ornamented bed, was thrown open, and all were lighted up with a blaze of lamps. The furniture was gorgeous and gaudy. The serving-men numerous, but not always expert, and the company was small, and chiefly composed of such persons as were likely to be willing to scrape their way up into favour at court, by grasping the skirt, and scrambling after the footsteps, of any one, however worthless, who might be rising there. The entrance of two gallants so distinguished as Ramsay and Sir Walter Stewart produced just such an effect as one might look for from the sudden arrival of two noble peacocks, in full glory of plumage, in the midst of a vulgar flock of turkeys. Each small individual present vainly endeavoured to hobble-gobble itself into notice, whilst the two greater and grander birds permitted their own agreeable admiration of themselves to be but little interrupted by the ruffling and noise of the creatures around them. To Sir William Rogers himself, however, court policy induced them to yield a full and respectful attention. He was a good looking, and rather stoutish man, with more of talent than of gentility in his face, for though his brows were heavy, his large eyes were always ready to respond, with powerful expression, to the varied feelings which music never failed to awaken within him. In music he was an enthusiast, but when not under the excitement which it invariably produced in him, his whole features betrayed that dull, sordid, self-complacency, only to be disturbed when his own immediate interest moved him.
The musical knight came forward to receive the two friends, with manifest satisfaction, as persons who raised the tone of his little society and have him additional consequence in the eyes of his other guests. he presented Sir Walter without delay to his fair niece, who arose gracefully from the harp, over which she had just begun to run her fingers in a prelude, and returned his salute with condescending smiles. She was very beautiful; but, although she appeared to be young, her beauty seemed somehow to want the freshness of youth. She looked like a gay garment which, though neither soiled nor worn, had lost somewhat of that glossy newness of surface with which it first came forth from the tailor’s shop. Whilst her regards were turned towards Ramsay or Sir Walter Stewart her countenance was covered with the most winning smiles she could wear; but when they chanced to wander round among the meaner personages of the company it assumed a degree of haughtiness that was not unmingled with contempt. This proceeded from her very expressive eyes, which beamed forth warm rays, when half veiled by her long dark eyelashes, and were quite in harmony with the mildness of her oval face, her polished forehead, and her dark and finely arched eye-brows. But when their orbs were broadly displayed by the rise of her full eye lid, the fires that shot from them were too formidable to be altogether agreeable. As was the fashion with ladies of any distinction in those days, her hair was but little seen – the greater part of it being capped up under a very tall, steeple-looking head-dress, which was of a shape much resembling an overgrown pottle-basket. This was of crimson velvet, ornamented with gold embroidery, and from the taper top of it descended a number of streamers of different colours, which hung down behind and floated over three-fourths of her person. She wore a rich robe of the same material and colour as the cap. This was made to fit her tightly as low as the waist, where it was confined by a richly wrought girdle of gold, from which it flowed loosely down, and swept the ground in a wide train, that covered a large extent of the floor around her, but which was so looped up at the sides as to display a deep cherry-coloured silk petticoat flowered with gold.
“Better had it been for thee, Juliet, to have sung when I first asked thee,” said Sir William Rogers to her; “thy minstrelsy might have passed well enough with our good friends here: but now thou must undergo the severe ordeal of the nicely critical ears of these our honoured and highly accomplished guests of the court. Sir Walter Stewart here, especially, is well know to be a master of the divine art of music – as, with his gracious favour, you may perchance by and by hear.”
“Alas! uncle, I know too well how silly I have been in allowing myself to be thus caught, and I feel too surely I am about to be punished for it!” replied the lady with a sigh, accompanied by a languishing glance at Sir Walter; “for who hath not heard of the exquisite science of Sir Walter Stewart? The fame of his accomplishments have made the proudest gallants of England envious. But his eyes hath too much benevolence in it to leave me to doubt that he will pity and pardon the faults that may spring from this trembling weakness of hand and fluttering of heart which his presence hath so suddenly brought upon me.”
The lady, quite accidentally no doubt, then assumed that attitude which was best calculated to display her person to advantage, and began to run her fingers over the chords with a boldness and strength of touch that proved her to be a very perfect mistress indeed of th instrument she handled, since she could thus make it discourse such music under circumstances which she had herself declared to be so unfavourable. Notwithstanding the overawing presence of Sir Walter Stewart, whose critical powers she had declared she so much dreaded, she commenced a beautiful love-ballad, in a full, firm, and clear voice, with which she very speedily whirled away the musical soul of the Knight of the Aven, who, in spite of his boast to the contrary, was immediately drawn towards her chair, over which he continued to hang during all the time of her performance. Song after song was sung by this siren in a style so superior to anything which he had ever heard before that he was perfectly enraptured. He was called upon to play and to sing in his turn, and the praises which he received, in terms of no very limited measure, from both uncle and niece, and which, if fame does not belie him, were not altogether unmerited, were re-echoed by the whole flock of gobbling turkeys who pressed around them. The lady then joined her voice to his in a tender and melting lay – and thus the evening passed away, till Sir Walter was called upon to hand her to the table, where an ample feast was spread, and where her very agreeable talk was rendered even yet more spirited by the rich wines which enlivened the imagination of both speaker and listener. The hours fled most agreeably; and before Sir Walter took his leave he readily entered into certain arrangements with the lovely Juliet, by which it was settled that next day was to be the first of a series of meetings for mutual practice in the art in which both so much delighted, their studies being of course to be carried on under the direction of Sir William Rogers himself.
“Well, Julietta,” said the uncle to the niece, after they were left alone, “how likest thou this new instrument, now that thou hast run the fingers of thy fancy over his stops?”
“The instrument is a handsome instrument enough,” replied Juliet. “The strings sound melodiously too. But much of mine affection must rest on the gold with which it may be enriched, and the value of the case which may contain it. Is this Stewart wealthy, I pray thee; and are his possessions ample enough for my desires?”
“I know that thy desires are ample enough,” replied Rogers; “but report speaks well of the wealth and possessions of this Sir Walter.”
“Somewhere in the bleak north, are they not?” said Juliet. “By all the saints, the cold and barren sod of this northern clime had hardly ever been pressed by my foot at all, had I not hoped to have mated me with some of its most wealthy nobles!”
“Thou hadst little chance of any such noble match where thou wert, Julietta,” replied Rogers; “and, let me tell thee the fates are quite as much against any such chance for thee here. These proud and dogged Scottish nobles scorn to grace a court, where the King makes so little account of them. And truly there is little wonder that they should thus take offence, seeing that the places in the royal favour, which by inheritance belong to them, should be filled by such beasts as Leonard – Torfefan – Hommil – Andrew – aye, and that prince of brutes, Cochran, too.”
“They are all beasts, as thou sayest, uncle,” replied Juliet; “though, if I were obliged to choose among them, I should rather tie myself to that coarse, clumsy elephant whom thou hast last named as king of these brutes, than to any of the others. He is the man, depend on’t, who hath the true and proper art to raise the edifice of his own fortunes; and, by using his broad shoulders as a scaffold, a bold woman might thereby mount, methinks, to wealth and honours.”
“He is a pestilent, pushing, proud, overbearing, ignorant, vulgar beast, I tell thee,” replied her uncle, much excited. “The brute despises music! Depend upon it, he will never rise to anything but to the garret story of one of his own buildings, from which, if some kind devil would but throw him down, to the dislocation of that accursed bull neck of his, I should cheerfully compose an especial jubilate. Oh, Apollo and Terpsichore! that a man of my musical science and learning, should be compelled to associate with so vile a piler of stones, and compounder of mortar!”
“I have a shrewd suspicion, that the measure of thy rage against Cochran, is but that of thy fears for his outstripping thee in thine ascent of the lofty tower of ambition,” replied Juliet. “But spurn him not, good uncle, if thou art wise; for his ladder is long, and strong; and might, with proper management, be useful to thee.”
“I should be right glad to see it so, July, could I but kick down both the ladder and its owner, after I should have so used them,” said Rogers. “But methinks thou wouldst fain carry ladder, hod and mortar and all, to the very top of the tower, on thine own shoulders, rather than lose the man they belong to.”
“Thou art grievously mistaken, uncle,” replied Juliet, keenly. “To rise into a high and wealthy station, and the higher and wealthier the better, would certainly be my desire; but I should much prefer youth, and beauty, and accomplishment, in the instrument which I might use for the gratification of mine ambition. If fate denies me all these indeed, then would I embrace age and deformity itself, rather than fail of mine object. Nay, thou canst hardly as yet guess to what means I should resort to secure its completion. As for Cochran, I know he loves me; for, in his great condescension, he hath vouchsafed to tell me so. Nor have I altogether kept the bear aloof. To wed myself to him would be to speculate, and that too with but an ungainly and unloveable subject. But if I could read the book of his fate, and find fortune and honours therein, it would not be the coarse edifice of his body, supported as it is upon such rustic pillars, and crowned by so vulgar and heavy a capital, that would deter me from embracing it. Yet ’tis but a speculation; and, being so, I must confess that I am disposed rather to grasp at this handsome Corinthian column of the Stewart, than to tie myself to that clumsy Cochran, whose clay image might, after all, crumble to pieces, and suffocate me in its dirty dust.”
“I am right glad that thou hast so determined, Juliet,” said Rogers. “I have no jealousy of this well-born knight, who hath, moreover, a greater feeling for the divine art of music than any of his cold countrymen with whom I have yet met, without even excepting Royalty itself. But I might as well see thee built up into a stone wall, as see thee the wife of Cochran! To see thy great musical genius tied to this most unmelodious and croaking chisseler of stones, and compounder of lime, sand, and cow’s-hair! I quaver at the very thought! But get thee to bed, my girl. Now that I know my ground-notes, I shall wonder if I work thee not out a piece that shall not only win thee this instrument of thy more recent desires, but enable thee to play upon it too, according as thou wilt, with thine own variations.”
Whilst this precious conversation was going on between the uncle and niece, Sir Walter Stewart gave the convoy to Ramsay as far the Royal Castle-gate, after which he returned towards his hostel. As he was pursuing his solitary way thither, he heard the clashing of swords; and, on moving quickly down the deserted street, he discovered, by the faint light that came from a new moon, two men pressing hard in fence against one, who was defending himself with great courage, with his back to a wall. Though he had no knowledge of the combatants, he could not stand by and see such foul play.
“For shame! for shame, gentlemen!” cried he. “What! two upon one!”
“Gentlemen, indeed!” cried he that was assailed, in a contemptuous tone, during the moment of breathing afforded him by Sir Walter’s interference; “Gentlemen indeed! – Tailors and scaramouches, else am I not the Earl of Huntly!”
“Again dost thou dare so to miscal the gentlemen of the court of his most Royal Majesty of Scotland?” cried one of the individuals, whom Sir Walter immediately discovered to be the pot-valiant Torfefan. “By all the gods of fire, thunder, and battle, thou shalt eat this good bilboa of mine. Have at thee, then, earl, or carl, or devil, if thou likest it!”
“Nay, then, my Lord of Huntly, I will myself relieve thee of this bold bird,” cried the knight; “do thou deal with the other.”
“Thanks for thy rescue, Sir Walter Stewart,” replied Huntly, now recognising his friend. “But thou hast left nought to me but the very shred of the skirt of the garment of this broil – the vile cabbage – the very tailor himself.”
“Trust me, thy man, though but the ninth-part of one, is as good as mine,” replied Sir Walter.
The combat was now renewed upon fairer terms, and, in a few moments, Torfefan’s sword was sent spinning into the air, and, falling from its flight, it rang upon the stones of the cause-way, and was shivered into pieces, whilst its owner was prostrated on his back by his over-anxiety to withdraw from the fury of his adversary’s onset. Sir Walter’s sword-point was immediately at his throat; and, at that very moment the weapon of his noble ally had pierced a fleshy part of his opponent, as he had turned to run away, which act of discretion, however, it did not prevent, for it rather pricked him on to a more active exertion of speed.
“Spare my life, good Sir Walter Stewart!” cried Torfefan, in an agony of fear. “Most noble Knight, spare the life of a fellow-courtier!”
“Get up, sir; I have no intention of taking it,” replied Sir Walter. “‘Tis enow for me that I have thus exorcised the spirit of the pottle-pot out of thee. ‘Twas that which made thine otherwise peaceful sword leap from its scabbard against thy betters. Get thee up, I say, and go home.”
“Thou art right, Sir Knight,” replied Torfefan, rising humbly upon his knees, and gradually gaining his legs. “I am at all times mild and peaceful, as so brave a man, and so perfect a master of fence ought to be, save when the flask hath somewhat inflamed my brain, and then, indeed, I am as dangerous as a devil. ‘Twas well that thou camest, else my Lord of Huntly, whom otherwise I so highly respect, had certainly died by my murderous hand.”
“‘Twas well, indeed, that thy bloody Bacchanalian rage was stayed in time,” said Sir Walter Stewart, ironically. “In this bout, thou hast so well proved thy title to bravery, as well as to science in fence, that who shall dare henceforth to deny these thy perfections? So take the advice of a friend, Signor Torfefan, and get thee straightway to bed, lest the dregs of that same pottle-pot, working in thee still, should draw down upon thee some more serious fracture than that of thy bilboa-blade.”
“Ha! true,” said Torfefan; “that was a loss indeed! But murderers will suffer at last; and if thou didst but know the blood which that same lethal weapon hath shed in my hands, and the lives which it hath sacrificed, thou would’st say, Sir Knight -”
“I would say that thou should’st forthwith hasten to thy bed,” interrupted Sir Walter. “If the King should hear of this brawl -”
“Gad so, that’s true, Sir Walter!” cried Torfefan; “thank thee for the hint. Were these reptiles, Cochran, Rogers, and the rest, to hear of this, they might work mine absolute destruction. Ah, that’s the worst feature of our King’s court, Sir Walter! The worst misfortune that has happened, I say, to us gentlemen of the court, is the admission to it of such vile scum as these Cochrans, and Rogers, and Leonards, and such like base mechanics. My very broil this blessed night, may be said to be owing to my permitting that lily-livered hog in armour, Hommil, to company with me. But while I am prating, these villains may get sight of me, and make their own story out of me. So I’ll tarry here no longer. Good night, Sir Walter Stewart; you are a brave gentleman, well fitted to company with the King.”
“What a cowardly boasting knave!” said Sir Walter, after he was gone.
“Yet, to such vermin are all the crumbs of royal favour thrown, to the utter starvation of those who are of noble breed!” cried Huntly, with bitterness. “I would fain drink one flask of wine with thee, Stewart, at thy hostel, ere I go home, to wash down the indignation and loathing, which the very sight of these scoundrel caitiffs hath brought into my throat. Let me go thither with thee straightway.”
“Willingly, my lord,” replied Sir Walter, and, arm and arm together, they proceeded to the hostel.
“Stewart,” said the Earl of Huntly, after they were seated at their wine, and leaning across the table to address his friend in a half whisper, though they were the only guests in the room at that late hour, “thou hast so much of the good will of great and small, that no one grudges thee the favour the king shows to thee; and there are few who have much jealousy of Ramsay either, seeing that he was whipping-boy to James,** and, moreover, that he is a gentleman of good descent. But neither lords nor commons, knights nor burgesses, can long tolerate the undue elevation and preferment of wretches, so worthless, as those who block up the royal presence from the approach of better men.”
“‘Tis unfortunate that it should be so,” said Sir Walter; “but has it never occurred to your Lordship, that the nobles of Scotland may have some small share of the blame, by absenting themselves from court as they do, so that the King lacks all opportunity of having their several merits brought under his eye.”
“You would not have the high-blooded war-steed to throw himself down in the same stye with obscene swine?” replied the Earl. “I would as soon thrust myself into a den of badgers, as sit down to partake of a king’s feast, with such company as that arrogant mason Cochran, and the other dunghill companions whom James so much delights to honour. The court must be cleared of all such, aye, and swept, and garnished, and perfumed too, before I shall dare to trust my nostrils within its precints”
“No one can say that such feelings are not quite natural, my lord,” replied Sir Walter Stewart; “but yet, I fear that the indulgence of them, can do nothing else but increase the disease which you would so fain cure. ‘Tis pity that some few of the nobles do not so far overcome them, as to appear now and then at court. As a soft answer turneth away wrath, so gentle conduct will often effect that which may defy the sternest boldness.”
“Nay, but how are we used when we do appear!” demanded the Earl. “Even Albany and Mar are treated as aliens; and if the very royal brothers of the monarch are scarcely noticed, in comparison with those nauseous toads who crawl about the king’s footstool, what can we of the humbler peerage expect?”
“There is great reason in what you say, my lord,” observed Sir Walter; “but hush! who comes here?”
A tall thin figure in black trewse, with a doublet of black slashed with flame-coloured silk, the body strangely covered with silver stars and having the signs of the zodiac on the broad belt that confined it, with a black cloak hanging from his shoulders, which had on it the sun and moon and seven stars, and his head shaded by a broad hat that bore a large plume of feathers, all of the same gloomy hue, stalked into the common room. From the small quantity of illumination which the single lamp that burned on their table threw around it, the person that came was bit indistinctly visible in the obscurity that especially prevailed at the lower end of the apartment; but when he came slowly forward within the influence of the light, Sir Walter Stewart and his friend the Earl of Huntly recognised the pale, thin, sharp, and prominent features, the cadaverous hue, the dark eyebrows, the piercing eyes, and the long black locks and beard of Andrew the Flemish Astrologer. He came as if in a waking dream; he stopped within a few feet of the table where they sat – started, as if suddenly returning to the consciousness of the realities around him – darted an inquiring look, first at Lord Huntly and then at Sir Walter Stewart, and then slowly inclining his head in silent and sombre salutation he turned from them and stalked away, without uttering a syllable.
The Earl and the Knight could not for some time shake off the superstitious dread that involuntarily crept over both of them at the sight of this man, who had thus so strangely and mysteriously visited them. His deep knowledge of the science to which he pretended was admitted by all, and his powers were supposed to extend over other regions besides those of the heavens. Their hearts were so chilled by his very aspect that both felt quite unfitted for renewing their conversation; and, without making one single remark on this strange intrusion, each drained the full cup that stood before him, and bidding one another good night, the serving men of the hostel were called, and they separated to seek their respective places of repose.