SIR WALTER STEWART was received next day by King James with all that kindness which he was used to lavish upon his favourites, among whom the accomplished knight held by no means the lowest place in his estimation.
Apartments were immediately allotted to him near the royal person, and his time became almost entirely occupied by his duties as a courtier. he failed not, however, to take all opportunities that occurred of cultivating his talent for music under the auspices of Sir William Rogers and his fascinating niece. Notwithstanding the knight’s bold confidence to the contrary, the lady’s designs against his heart might have been very rapidly successful had not the baseness of her motives inclined her to waver from time to time between the balance of rival advantages, which were offered to her by an encouragement of Cochran, who had declared himself to be her lover. Thus it was that she often scared Sir Walter Stewart at the very moment when, to all appearance, he seemed most likely unconsciously to gorge the bait, and thus it was that several years glided imperceptibly away without the lady finding herself one bit nearer to the attainment of either of her objects. Still, however, Sir Walter would ever and anon return within the sphere of her attraction, and the fair Juliet always the more easily managed to conjure him back thither, that they were frequently brought together to sing and to play in presence of the royal pair in those little private meetings which were held almost nightly in the Queen’s apartment. As for Sir William Rogers, he did all he could to fix his niece’s determination towards securing an alliance with Sir Walter Stewart, not only from his unconquerable abhorrence of the unrefined mason on the one hand, but also from his conviction that his own ambitious views were fully as likely to be helped forward by the lady’s union with the gallant knight, for whom moreover he had an especial respect, because of his genius and accomplishment in that divine art to which he was himself so enthusiastically attached.
The royal party was one night assembled, as usual, in the apartment of Queen Margaret, who, sated in a gorgeous chair, richly attired, as became her station, and attended by Ramsay, and some of her maids of honour, and with her angelic countenance lighted up with unfeigned rapture, listened to the mingled voices and minstrelsy of Sir William Rogers, Sir Walter Stewart, and the lovely Juliet Manvers. The King was engaged with Cochran, at a table at one end of the room, in looking over some plans, which had reference to the buildings then going on within the castle. Anyone who had witnessed them, whilst so employed, would have said that neither his Majesty, nor his architect, were much occupied in the subject which was the ostensible object of their consideration, for whilst the ears of the monarch seemed ever and anon to draw off his attention to the music, the heavy eyes of Cochran were perpetually wandering towards the person of the songstress. Ere the music had been long continued, each of them yielded to the irresistible impulse which had moved in him, and, whilst the King drew a chair, and seated himself opposite to the performers, Cochran placed himself behind it, and, with that vulgar and unpolished air, which the magnificence of his dress rendered on lu the more apparent, leaned awkwardly over the back of it, and riveted his gloating gaze upon the lady’s charms. The piece had come to its close, and the royal pair were bestowing their commendations liberally upon those who had executed it, when three loud and solemn taps were heard at the door of the chamber. King James started, and at once assumed an air of intense and serious anxiety, and the Queen, and all present, were more or less disturbed at this interruption.
“I had forgotten!” exclaimed the King, as if speaking to himself alone, – “Enter! thou art at all times welcome!”
The door slowly opened at his word, and the tall thin figure of Andrew the Flemish Astrologer stood in the doorway, habited as he has been already described, and with a long white rod in his right hand. With his left hand upon his breast, he made a low and solemn reverence to the King, and then pointing his rod over his shoulder, he seemed silently to indicate his desire that his Majesty should follow him.
“Lead on!” cried the King, with an awe-stricken voice and air, whilst he arose from his chair, and hastily put on his hat and cloak. “If we are called by the stars, we are at all times ready to give due obedience to them,” and, with these words, he immediately retired with the Astrologer.
Ramsay, Stewart, Rogers, and Juliet Manvers, made their several reverences to the Queen, in which they were clumsily joined by Cochran, and all took their leave. They were no sooner out of the Royal presence, than Cochran, rudely thrusting himself before Ramsay and Sir Walter Stewart, bustled busily up to the lady, as she hung on her uncle’s arm, so as to engage the unoccupied place next her, to the exclusion of everyone else. Sir Walter was somewhat chafed at this rudeness, and might have forgotten himself, had not his rising anger been checked by the voice of one of the Queen’s ladies, who called him by his name. The Knight stopped to ascertain what she wanted.
“Sir Walter Stewart,” said the lady, “the Queen commands thee to return, for a brief space, to her apartment, that she may again hear thee sing that French ballad of thine own composition, which so much pleased her Majesty two nights ago. Her Majesty would fain have the words, and catch the notes of it.”
“I humbly obey her Majesty’s command,” replied the Knight, returning with the lady immediately.
On entering the Queen’s apartment, he made his reverence to her Majesty and she, having again signified her wishes to him in a very gracious manner, she motioned him to take up a lute, and seat himself on a stool near her chair; and after having done as she desired, he began to sing the ballad she had named, and to accompany himself on the instrument.
In the meanwhile the King followed the solemn step and apparition-like figure of the Astrologer till he brought his Majesty to an angular part of the castle-wall that, skirting the giddy precipice of lofty rock on which the fortress stands, looked out over the country to the south and west. But that which was an extensive and magnificent prospect by day, was at this moment shrouded in the shades of night. There he took his stand, and pointed upwards with his rod. The moon was in its second quarter, and shed a pale and partial light. A strange and portentous arch of black and very opaque clouds, rested its extremities on the verges of the northern and southern horizon, and spanned the heavens through the zenith. Behind this, all to the eastward, was one dark vault, impenetrable to the eye, whilst the western edge of the arch was tinged with bright rainbow hues, and the whole sky below it, upon that side, was serene and cloudless. As the king gazed upwards in wonder, not unmingled with dread, a bright flash of lightning suddenly illumined the whole of the black and solid concave of clouds behind them, and the walls of the castle were shaken by a tremendous peal of thunder. The heart of the royal James quailed within him. The peal was reverberated from the bold front of Dumyot, with a harsh and crashing sound, and then, after visiting and rousing up every echo among the Ochills, it rolled away fearfully up the valley of the Forth, until it died amid the distant western mountains. Filled with superstitious dread, the king grasped the left arm of the Astrologer, who stood unmoved, with his rod extended in his right hand.
“Holy Virgin Mother, Messire Andrew! what do these dread signs portend?” cried James, with deep anxiety of voice and manner.
“These!” exclaimed Andrew, in French, and in a wild and enthusiastic tone, that would have sounded as contemptuous in the King’s ear, but for the intensity of his desire to have his fears and doubts put to rest; “these are but the mere auxiliaries of Heaven’s appalling oratory. See! – know ye not yonder stars which now approach each other to a conjunction so threatening!”
“Mars and Venus approaching to strange and fearful conjunction indeed,” replied the King, shuddering. What can it bode?”
“And see ye not that they are in the ascendant, whilst Jupiter is sinking fast? Now, they are almost in contact – and now!”
“Heaven in its mercy defend us, what a dreadful peal!” cried the King, as the thunder again burst terribly over his head. “And see, the thick and inky veil begins to rend asunder into separate clouds, like some vast army breaking its general mass into its several legions. And behold now, how they divide and subdivide, careering swiftly like squadrons of horsemen over the vault of the heavens. And now, look how strangely and capriciously the broken-up clouds have here veiled, and there revealed, the different portions of the sky!”
“Aye,” said the Astrologer, solemnly, “and now the mystic dance is done. Each several fragment of vapour hath taken his place. The characters are fixed; and now ’tis man’s fault is he read not enough of Heaven’s will in so wide-spread and so plainly written a book. There we can see the Hydra, and there the Greyhounds – there the greater, and there the lesser Dog. But where is the Lion? And where the Northern Crown?”
“Alas, Messire Andrew! thou lookest as if thou wert dismayed by these fearful prodigies,” exclaimed the King again, with an anxiously inquiring eye. “What is it that you dread they may portend?”
“It is grievous for me to translate to your Majesty the meaning of these dreadfully ominous portents,” replied Andrew, gravely, after a long pause, during which he seemed gradually to call down his spirit from the heavens, where it had been soaring for sometime amid all the wonders they displayed. “Yet it is better for you to know their fearful warnings, so far as mortals may interpret them,” continued he, rising into a wild kind of inspiration. “Danger is threatened to the King! – to the King of Scotland! Beware of the princes and lords of the land! Those in whom thou takest the most pleasure may prove thy greatest bane! Commotions and wars are to be looked for and dreaded! Beware! beware! Oh, King! lest the Scottish Lion be devoured by its whelps!”
“The Scottish Lion devoured by its whelps!” re-echoed the King, in the muttered voice of dismay. “Danger from the princes and nobles of the land! Danger from those in whom we take most pleasure! What doth all this import? And in especial, what meaneth this last strange enigma? What! – the Queen! speak Messire Andrew? Or would it point at those who most enjoy my favour? Why dost thou not answer me? Wars and commotions – the powerful influence of Mars is plain – but that of Venus! – say! – speak! Surely, surely that doth not touch the loyalty of our Queen?”
“The moment of divination has passed away for this night,” said the cunning Astrologer, in a low hollow voice, like that produced from an over-exhausted spirit. “I am now weak and blind as other men. Yet said I nothing of her most gracious Majesty Queen Margaret, whom God long preserve! The planet your Majesty speaks of hath two several and distinct influences – one, the which may operate as touching things more immediately under the dominion of woman’s passion, and the other, as denoting a mere point of time. This latter interpretation would seem to me, at this moment, to be by far the more likely, for, as Mars would predict battles, his conjunction with the Star of Evening would rather appear to me to mark that they will arise in the evening of your Majesty’s reign, which may God and St. Andrew render long and prosperous!”
“Nay, but can’st thou not yet inquire more closely, Messire Andrew?” demanded the King, impatiently. “These doubts are worse than ignorance.”
“Another time we may find fit opportunity to solve them, good my liege,” replied the Astrologer, with a low reverence. “The spirit of divination hath passed from me, and I am now no more than a weak and blind mortal. And see! even the heavens have refused to yield up farther knowledge of future events to the sons of earth, for they have wrapped themselves up in one dark and impenetrable veil of cloud. To-night the book of fate is shut! – Saw ye that! The elements themselves forbid all farther question.”
As he spoke, a terrible glare of lightning blazed around them, momentarily illuminating every feature of the grand scenery by which they were surrounded. A fearful clap of thunder again burst over their heads with awful magnificence, and rolled terribly away. A furious wind began to blow, and large drops of rain descended, a tempest was approaching, and the King, sunk, disheartened, and unsatisfied, was driven in by the natural results of those threatenings in the sky, which he had been so attentively watching, to brood upon those fanciful horrors and dangers with which they, in reality, had no connection. He returned towards the Queen’s apartment in deep thought, and he had entered it fully, before the notes of the music that still sounded in it had power to rouse him from his abstraction. Sir Walter Stewart still sat near the Queen’s footstool, singing to the accompaniment of his lute, and her Majesty and her maids of honour were still eagerly occupied in listening.
“Ha!” cried King James, as he recovered perfect consciousness of the scene before him and speaking with a highly disturbed air and tone; “methought our privacy had been relieved from all further interruption for this night?”
“Pardon, my liege! – my love!” cried the Queen, rising from her chair, and affectionately taking his arm. “Pardon, if we have done aught to displeasure thee! I and my maidens had a mind to hear again that sweet ballad of Sir Walter Stewart’s making, which he sang so pleasantly to us the other night, as you may remember. He was brought back, therefore, in obedience to my command, and if there be aught of blame in this, it is all mine own. That he hath stayed so long after he did return, if fault in that there be, it must be charged against his own pleasing minstrelsy, which did so enchain the ears of his hearers, that time passed by unheeded.”
“permit me, you Majesty, to take my leave,” said Sir Walter, making his wonted obeisance to the King as he retired.
“Good night,” said the King, with more of condescension, but with less of warmth than he was accustomed to use towards one whom he so much favoured.
All that night the royal mind was vexed by frightful waking visions, that haunted it to the exclusion of sleep. In vain did his Majesty try to embody them into anything like a clear and connected picture of coming events. But dark though the ground was upon which he worked, certain prominent lights continually started from it, and remained stationary before him, so as ultimately to fix themselves in some degree upon him as probable truths. The most stimulating of these might be guessed at, from the royal orders which were issued on the following morning. The court was hastily and unexpectedly removed to Edinburgh Castle; and soon afterwards, the two Princes of the blood-royal, the Duke of Albany, and the Earl of Mar, were, to the astonishment of all men, seized and made prisoners. Mar was confined in Craigmillar Castle. But of Albany, the King seemed anxious to take especial care, for he was committed to custody in Edinburgh Castle itself, where he might be more particularly guarded under the royal eye.
Yet all this did not seem to have relieved Hames’ mind from the terrors which had taken possession of it. The approach of the nobles to the royal person was less encouraged than it had ever been. The King’s favourites, though still permitted to have their usual intercourse with him, were all in their turns looked upon at times with an eye of doubt. Sir Walter Stewart sensibly felt, that he was subjected to a greater portion of the effects of this suspicious temper than any of the others. An excuse had been found for his being deprived of such apartments in the Castle of Edinburgh, as he had had in that of Stirling, and he was obliged to hire lodgings within the walls of the city. His presence at the private parties in the Queen’s apartment was rarely, if ever, required. The musical meetings there were of themselves less frequent, and when they did take place, he was not among the number of the performers. To make amends for this, he spent more of his time in the pursuit of his favourite science, with the fair Juliet Manvers, in the apartments of Sir William Rogers, and as the lady seemed to be making, day after day, greater inroads upon his heart, so did Sir Walter Stewart himself rise every day more and more in the estimation of the musical knight. With such a source of amusement, Sir Walter was less affected by the coldness which he experienced at court, than might have been naturally supposed. But he felt deeply for the confinement of the Princes, with whom he had been admitted into habits of intimacy that bordered upon the warmth of friendship. Yet, much as he was personally attached to them, and anxiously as he would have wished to have befriended them, he knew enough to convince him that he could make no effort in their behalf, that would not have a certain tendency to lead to some fatal issue, both as regarded them and himself. But the death of the Earl of Mar, which happened soon afterwards, and which was most suspiciously given out as having taken place suddenly, by apoplexy, in a warm bath,* so roused his feelings, that he resolved to take the first opportunity of making some attempt to save Albany, and to this he was more immediately stimulated by something that occurred to him one night, as he was walking and ruminating on the Castle-hill.
“Sir Walter Stewart,” said a man, who stood muffled up in a cloak, to him, as he was striding slowly past, unconscious that there was anyone near him, “wilt thou not halt for a moment to speak to an old friend?”
“My Lord Huntly!” cried Sir Walter, in astonishment, after approaching the figure, and ascertaining who it was that spoke.
“Hush! – name me not so loudly!” replied Huntly. “The very air hath ears, yea, and eyes too. I am here in secret and in disguise. Were I discovered, my life might pay for it. Come farther this way into the shadow. I would speak with thee about matters which no one else must hear, and my time is short. We must save Albany!”
“Most willingly would I aid in doing so,” replied Sir Walter. “But how is his safety to be secured?”
“Thou canst be eminently useful,” replied Huntly.
“I know thy zeal in a friend’s behalf, and although thou mightest have shown some unwillingness to take part with us, when our grievances amounted to nothing more than royal neglect, yet perhaps thou mayest now be more sharpened to our purpose, when thou seest that the murderous knife hath already been drawn upon us, that the first victim hath been already sacrificed, and that victim too a high and noble prince of the blood royal, who was, moreover, thy friend.”
“Nay, surely thou dost not believe that my Lord Mar died other than a natural death?” said Sir Walter.
“A natural death!” exclaimed Huntly. “Aye, a death naturally occurring from a weak and cruel brother’s jealousy. That species of natural death, to wit, which the sheep may very naturally receive from the hand of the butcher!”
“Why, they say he died in a bath,” said Sir Walter.
“And in so saying they say truly,” replied Huntly. Of a truth he died in a bath – a hot bath, into which he was kindly put to recover him from a deep cut in the main artery of his arm, given him by one of the royal executioners.”
“‘Tis horrible, if true!” said Sir Walter, shuddering.
“‘Tis as true as it is horrible,” continued Huntly. “And now methinks I may trust to your being less scrupulous in listening to the grievances of the lords, than thou wert when I last touched the topic with thee at Stirling.”
“My Lord,” replied Sir Walter, “I will honestly tell thee, that to save Albany, a man whom I honour as a royal prince and a highly accomplished knight, and whom, moreover, I hold in deep affection as a friend, I am willing to put mine own life to utmost peril, and this the more too, that if I can save him I shall think that my so doing will be the preserving of the right arm of Scotland. But in anything that may touch my fealty directly to the person of King James, I must be held excused, seeing that I have already received too much kindness from his Majesty, to permit me to prove in anywise a rebel to him, – but in this matter of the Duke of Albany, my judgment tells me that I shall, by saving him, be doing good service to my king as well as to my country.”
“Then let us leave all else at present, and talk of this matter in hand,” said Huntly. “Thou art well versed in the customs and affairs of France, and canst speak its tongue. Couldst thou not contrive to discover, whether some barque may not be soon looked for from thence with merchandise?”
“So far, my Lord, I can answer thee here upon the spot,” replied Sir Walter. “It so chances that I look daily for the arrival of a captain, well known to me, who trades in wine. He is the bearer of certain casks for me, and I can therefore go to inquire regarding him without much suspicion. It shall be done to-morrow.”
“This is most lucky,” said Huntly. “So now let us consider well as to our plans. Knowest thou how the Duke is guarded?”
“I do not lodge within the castle,” replied Sir Walter. “Nor am I so often within its walls as I wont to be. But this I know, that the Duke is guarded most strictly. The captain of the guard himself keeps the key of the apartment where he is imprisoned, and where, to make all things secure, his chamberlain is locked up with him, and no one is allowed to go in or out who is not in the first place most narrowly examined. But yet will I scrupulously observe, and make myself master of the whole circumstances, and of the exact position of things, and it will go hard with me if I cannot find some way of baffling their vigilance.”
“Then let us part to-night, lest we be observed,” said Huntly. “That accursed astrologer, Flemish Andrew, may again start up before us, like the devil in our path.”
“Um,” replied Sir Walter, doubtingly; “thou mayest not be very far from the truth in thy evil suspicions of him, my Lord. I liked not his last visit.”
“Well, no matter,” said the Earl; “to-morrow night we may meet again.”
“Aye, to-morrow night – here, and at the same hour,” replied Sir Walter. “But if I come not, my Lord, I would have thee believe, that if not unwillingly detained by the King, I may perhaps be employing myself more usefully elsewhere.”
“I shall so believe,” replied Huntly; “then farewell till our next meeting, be that when it may.”
The friends then parted, and took different ways, to avoid all chance of been seen together, and Sir Walter Stewart was about to enter the head of the close where his lodging was situated, when he was accosted by a person who came limping up to him, with all the appearance of a jaded foot traveller, and who addressed him in humble, but by no means clownish, salutation.
“Sir Knight,” said he, “wilt thou vouchsafe to pardon me, a stranger, and deign to tell me whether thou canst direct me to the lodging of Sir Walter Stewart of Stradawn?”
“Surely I have heard that voice before,” said the knight, without replying the question.
“Sir Walter! – my father!” exclaimed the other in great surprise.
“What!” exclaimed Sir Walter, in no less astonishment, and in anything but a gracious tone, “Charley Stewart! In the name of all that is wonderful what hath brought thee to Edinburgh? This is not well. Methought I had arranged all things to thy heart’s content, for thy proper employment in thine own native district. But I forget how time flies. Doubtless ere this thou art as learned in thine art, and in the use of the goose, needles, shears, and bodkin, as the great and accomplished Mr. Jonathan Junkins himself.”
“I crave your pardon, Sir Knight,” replied Charley. “Ill as the spirit of the Stewart that is within me might brook such mean drudgery, I struggled hard to break it into the destiny which thou hadst been pleased to assign me. But the rude caitiff churls that worked in Junkins’ shop, and some of the boorish neighbours too, presuming on my youth, fastened on me the offensive nickname of Tàillear-crubach, or the lame tailor. This I could not bear; and after having well pummelled some dozen or so of them, one after the other, I deemed it as well to secure peace for the future, by giving up all just claim to so ignominious a title.”
“By saint Michael, my boy,” cried Sir Walter, cordially taking Charley’s hand; “I cannot say but thou didst well. What a strapping burly chield thou hast grown! But what hast thou been doing with thyself then, since thou gavest up tailoring?”
“I have learned to ride, and to use a sword and a lance indifferent well,” said Charley.
“bravo!” cried Sir Walter. “By the Rood, thou art mine own very flesh and blood! trust me, had I guessed that thou wert made of such metal, I should never have thought of tying thee to a tailor’s board, I promise thee. Would I had known this sooner! But now! – How fares it with thy mother, boy?”
“Well, Sir Walter,” replied Charley with a deep sigh. “She was well when I last saw her.”
“Would that I had sooner known thy merits, Charley!” said Sir Walter, with a depth of feeling which he had not yet displayed. “I might then have – But now I am too far involved with another – The fates have been cruelly against thee, boy.”
“They have indeed!” said Charley, with an emotion which almost choked him.
“Well! well!” said Sir Walter, affectionately squeezing his hand. “Come – cheer up, Charley! I may yet have it in my power to do something for thee. And by Saint Andrew,” continued the knight, after a short pause, “now I think on’t, thou hast come to me in the very nick of time. Thine aid will be most useful to me. But this is neither the time nor the place to talk about such matters. Come, let us to my lodging, that I may procure you refreshment and rest; for your pale face, hollow eyes, and clinging cheeks, would seem to say that thou greatly lackest both; and as thou mayest require to be up betimes, I shall delay farther questioning of thee till a fitter opportunity.”
But as you will hardly wish to wait, gentlemen, until Charley Stewart has had such necessary restoration of exhausted nature, as shall enable him to tell his own story, I shall hastily sketch, at somewhat greater length than he had time to do, what took place with him during those years that have elapsed since we last heard of him. A few months had sufficed to sicken him, as we have seen, of the shopboard of Mister Jonathan Junkins. For a time he lived quietly with his mother, soothing her sorrow with all the tenderness of the kindest of hearts, following out his learning under the kind instruction of the then priest of Dounan, who had taken an especial favour for him; and, lastly, occupying himself in the delightful task of communicating to Rosa MacDermot, that knowledge which he thus gained. Now and then, to be sure, spite of his lameness, he took pleasure in exercising himself in athletic feats; and in this practice, he was much aided by an accidental acquaintance, which he chanced to make with a certain Sir Piers Gordon, a small land-holder in a neighbouring glen, who, himself a dependant of the Earl of Huntly, was glad to collect a few retainers about him, in any way, to help him to uphold his dignity. Under the auspices of this well-trained soldier, Charley became an expert handler of the claymore, a fearless horseman, and no very contemptible wielder of a lance; and he had more than once had the satisfaction, of making one of the party who accompanied his patron, in some of those skirmishes or minor movements of warfare between clans, which the wild and unsettled state of the country rendered much too common in those days to be always particularised, far less to be chronicled.
Charley was one day seated, with Rosa MacDermot, on their favourite flowery bank, by the side of the same spring I formerly described as gushing from below a mossy stone, under the grove of weeping birches, where we last heard of them together. But Rosa was now grown almost a woman, being tall of her age, and of very handsome person; and the scar of the cross-mark on her cheek had now become so slight, that so far from being a deformity, it rather gave an interesting expression to her otherwise blooming and richly beautiful countenance. Her love for Charley, and his for her, had grown with every day they had lived. But maiden modesty on her part, and delicacy on his, had made both of them somewhat more reserved, and more guarded in giving way to the expression of it. She no longer talked of being his wifey; and when he, hurried on by the feelings of the moment, was led to allude to their future union, when future prospects should smile more kindly upon them, her words, though tender, were few, whilst her eyes and her blushes spoke volumes.
They were intently engaged in converse together, when they were interrupted by a most unseemly looking object that appeared before them. If they had never beheld it until that moment, they might have had doubts as to which of the sexes it belonged to. The face was hideous, the nose being very prominent and hooked, so as to project over the mouth, which was hardly perceptible. The eyes, when open, were great, round, and fiery, and they were covered by eyelids of an unnatural largeness, so that the strange and regular alternation of the muscular motion, which was exerted in the dropping and raising of them, produced the most fearful effect. Enveloped as the head was in an old soiled red tartan plaid, which was twisted around it, and fell in large folds over half the person, after being knotted behind over the back, the whole body had a bunchy bird-like appearance, which was rendered still more uncouth, by its being supported on the bare, wiry, dirt-begrimmed shanks, and claw-like talons, which sprawled out beneath a short grey petticoat. The real name of this strange, unearthly looking monster, was lost in her antiquity. She had appeared in that district many years before, no one knew from whence; and as all her marks were then the same as I have described them now, it is not wonderful that she should have acquired, from the rude people, the name of the Howlet, from her extreme likeness to that ill-omened bird. And tired as she had long been of kicking against the scorn of the world, and callous as she had been rendered under all the miseries it had heaped upon her, she now answered to that appellation, with the same readiness which she might probably have shown in the more sunny days of her youth, when she cheerfully replied to her own proper name, and to the fond endearments pf a father and a mother. Yet, let it not be imagined that she, miserably abandoned as she had so long been to all that was wretched in human existence, had not her moments of reflection on happier days, long since gone by, the recollection of which only the more embittered the present. Nor is it to be supposed that, much as she had suffered, she herself had been bereft of all the better feelings of humanity. her external appearance was enough to endow her, in the estimation of the vulgar, with all the attributes of malignity, as well as with the dread powers of sorcery. But although her approach never failed to produce a certain sensation of awe in the gentle mind of Rosa MacDermot, it was always mingled with a very large share of pity for the poor creature’s penury and distress; and this was fully participated by the good hearted Charley Stewart.
“Poor Howley!” cried Rosa, the moment she beheld her; “it is long since I have seen thee. Where hast thou been wandering during this many a day?”
“Some food for charity’s sake!” said the Howlet, in that half shooting, half whistling tone of voice, which strangely carried out her otherwise remarkable similarity to the bird she was called after. “I am starving! I am famished! Some food for charity’s sake!”
“Poor Howley, thou shalt never want it whilst I can help thee to it!” said the compassionate girl.
“Though hard-heartedness and scorn may meet me at every other door in this weary and wicked world,” said the Howlet, “I still find charity here.”
“Sit down then on the bank there,” said Rosa, “and I will run and bring thee food in a moment.”
“God’s blessing be upon thee, fair maiden!” said the Howlet, with deep feeling.
“Thou canst bless, then!” said Charley Stewart gravely, after Rosa was gone.
“I can pray to God to bless!” replied the Howlet; “and, unlike the men of this world, a God of all goodness will not refuse to listen to such a prayer, because it comes from the heart of a poor outcast, the scorn of this heartless world, clothed in rags, and starving for food. And who should I pray for, if I did not pray for blessings on that angel?”
“She is an angel, Howley!” cried Charley, with ecstacy – “an angel in soul as well as in form. See how she comes tripping with her basket and pitcher, as if she hardly trod the earth!”
The old woman fastened her long hands greedily on the viands, the moment they came within her reach, her eyes glaring wide, and shutting alternately, and her ravenous hunger urged her to devour her food so fast, that it was fearful to behold her; and then, as she did so, she went on muttering in her whistling voice, “The holy Virgin bless thee, my fair maiden! Och! och! what pain it is to swallow. Three days have I been denied food by my flinty-hearted fellow creatures! yet may God, in his mercy, forgive them! Three days! three whole days! The blessing of Heaven, its best blessings on thee, thou angel! Och, such pain! Thou shalt be a landed lady yet! Och, och! Thou shalt marry a man with a knight’s spur at his heel! Och! such a pang at my heart! Och! oh!” –
Rosa and Charley Stewart, who had both been swallowing her words, with as much avidity as she had been devouring the food that had been given her, now both started up in dire alarm, and ran towards the old woman. Her eyes rolled dreadfully for a moment, and then they became fixed; the basket she held dropped from her hands; her arms and limbs stretched themselves out in rigid convulsion; her head fell stiffly back on the bank, and when they essayed to raise it up, they found that she was dead.
It was many a long day before Rosa MacDermot could shake off the horrible impression which this scene had made upon her young mind, so far as to be able to recal it with anything approaching tranquillity. Charley, however, had often pondered deeply on the words which had fallen from the old woman, and he was impatient till the time did come, when he felt that he might venture to allude to them.
“Charley,” said Rosa anxiously, and tenderly taking his hand, as they were one day sitting together on their favourite spot; “something grieves thee in secret. Thou wert not wont to conceal a thought from me; why shouldst thou do so now? Why shouldst thou deny me my share of that sadness, which, being thine, ought to belong to both of us!”
“Rosa,” replied Charley, fervently returning her gentle pressure; “I will honestly confess my folly. Those idle words of the poor Howlet have clung to my soul with a heaviness which I cannot shake off.”
“Idle words they were indeed,” replied Rosa; “words idly uttered by the poor crazy creature in the delirium of starvation. But, idle or not, they boded no evil to me; and is it by Charley Stewart that they are to be grudged to me?”
“Think of their import, Rosa,” replied Charley, gravely; “and then you will see that I can scarcely be expected calmly to contemplate them.”
“What!” exclaimed Rosa, smiling – “that I am to be a landed lady! Is that a matter that should give thee pain to think of?”
“Reflect, Rosa, by what means it was said that thou art to become so,” replied Charley, with a sigh. “By marrying a man with a knight’s spurs at his heels! Ran not the old woman’s word so? And canst thou believe that I can coolly contemplate the probable accomplishment of any such prophecy?”
“Charley!” cried Rosa, with great feeling, whilst tears swelled from under her beautiful eyelids, “canst thou believe it possible that I should ever forget all I owe to thee? Canst thou believe that I can forget my often repeated vows? Canst thou believe that those infant affections which have grown up with me, strengthening as they grew, until they have now ripened with me in womanhood, can ever perish but with my life? My life is thine, for to the I owe it. My soul is thine. for to thee I am indebted for stocking it with its best and purest sympathies. Canst thou then doubt that I ever could be any other’s than thine?”
“May the Virgin ever bless thee for thy words, my love!” cried Charley, with ecstacy. “I am satisfied of the truth of thine affection. Yet had I been better pleased if that old woman had never given utterance to those idle dreams of hers. At such a time too! – so awful! Just before her vexed and worn out spirit took its flight from its wretched earthly tenement!”
“It was awful indeed!” said Rosa, solemnly. “But methinks,” added she, after a pause, and in a more cheerful tone – “Methinks the poor Howlet’s words might bear a more pleasing interpretation than thou wouldst seem inclined to put upon them; yea, and to my fancy, much more natural withal.”
“As how?” demanded Charley, eagerly.
“Marry, that thou mayst be the man with the knight’s spurs at his heels,” said Rosa, drooping her voice and her eyes, and blushing deeply.
“What!” exclaimed Charley, energetically. “By all the saints in the kalendar, but that were an interpretation indeed! I thank thee, Rosa, for thy augury. Trust me, if it lacks accomplishment, in due time, it shall not be my fault. Though I have been turned over into the dirt, by him to whom I should have looked for countenance and support, to encourage me in a nobler career – by him to whom I reasonably looked for the education befitting a soldier, – thanks to mine honest patron, Sir Piers, I am not now altogether in want of it. Thanks, moreover, be to God, that I have never done anything which may, with reason, make my father ashamed of me. And, with the blessing of Saint Andrew on this arm of mine, I may yet live to earn those honours, which his indifference towards me would have denied me.”
Rosa did not altogether enjoy perfect ease of mind after Charley Stewart had left her. She thought, with some pride to be sure, of the nobleness of that spirit which she had thus seen blaze up within him. But she felt that she had now the dread responsibility of having thus roused it; and all a woman’s fears for the consequences were awakened in her bosom. Nor was the happiness of the days that followed increased by this accidental conversation. For now, she rarely or ever saw him, in whose society her whole life had hitherto glided on with so much felicity. Alice Asher too, had her complaints to make of her son’s frequent and long absence from her; and the only consolation the maiden had, was in frequently visiting the mother of Charley Stewart – to talk over his merits – a theme of which neither of them were very likely to tire – and to sigh for his presence.
Meanwhile Charley was almost constant in his attendance upon Sir Piers Gordon; and he very soon distinguished himself so much in all the accomplishments of a soldier, that he became the most cherished and favoured of the old soldier’s followers. But this was not all; for, unknown to himself, and altogether without any effort on his part, he found especial favour in the sight of Marcella Gordon, niece, and acknowledged heiress of his patron, Sir Piers. This was a lady, by no means uncomely, though of most uncommonly masculine manners and mind, who, at any time, would have much preferred to witness a fray, or even to take her share in it, than to sit down to a feast, or to mix in a dance or a masking party. She became smitten with Charley Stewart for his martial acquirements, bold bearing in the saddle, and hardihood at all times; and for all these he well merited her admiration.
Sir Piers Gordon and his party were one day returning from an expedition, which had been suddenly undertaken in pursuit of some Catteranes, whom, as being public marauders, and general enemies to all, he had, without scruple, followed across the territories of the Stewart of Stradawn. He passed at no great distance from the humble dwelling of Mrs. MacDermot.
“So please thee, Sir Knight,” said Charley Stewart to Sir Piers, “I will turn aside a brief space to yonder cottage, to say a few words to an old friend, whom I have not seen for many a day; and I will join thee again ere thou hast ridden a long mile.”
“I care not if I go with thee, Charley,” said Sir Piers; “that is, if thy friend’s house can furnish me with a draught of anything better than water, for my throat is parched like a mountain corry in the dog-days.”
“Such as that humble roof may afford, I think I may venture to promise thee,” replied Charley, somewhat disappointed at being so attended.
“I shall go with thee too,” said Marcella Gordon, who, on this occasion, had followed her uncle in his expedition.
The men-at-arms having been halted by the road-side, Charley led the way to the widow’s cottage. As he rode forth from among the trees of the birch-grove, that flanked one side of the house, and partly shaded half its front, Rosa’s quick eyes caught his figure – her heart bounded with joy, and in a moment she was at the door, and, from the first irresistible impulse of her heart, she almost sprang into his arms; but immediately perceiving that her lover was not alone, she blushed, and hastily retreated within doors.
“Is that your sister, young man?” demanded the Lady Marcella.
“No, lady,” replied Charley, in some confusion; “but she is a very old friend of mine.”
“A very young friend of thine, methinks!” said Sir Piers. “She is very beautiful.”
Mrs. MacDermot now appeared, and ushered the strangers into the house with well-blended humility and kindness, and proceeded to do the little hospitalities of her unpretending roof. Charley was himself abashed and baulked; but yet he conversed with Rosa, though in that chastened manner that more than anything else betrays the consciousness of lovers, in the eyes of those who may be observing them. No eyes were more penetrating than those of Marcella Gordon. They shot basilisks at the pair. The visit was necessarily short, and the parting between Rosa and Charley was doubly severe to both, since they were thus compelled by the presence of others, to conceal their emotions.
“By all the saints, but thou art a happy fellow, Stewart!” said Sir Piers Gordon to Charley, as they turned away to join the party. “That is the prettiest young creature I have seen for many a long day.”
“I see little to admire about her,” said the Lady Marcella, with a scornful air; “a waxen child! a smock-faced red and white pippin!”
“Nay, Marcella, women are no judges of beauty in their own sex,” replied Sir Piers. “I say she is very lovely; and I say again thou art a happy fellow, Stewart; for, judging from appearances, thou seem’st to be right well established in her affections.”
“We have known one another since her childhood,” said Charley Stewart, hurriedly.
“And so now thou wouldst fain convert her from thy playmate into thy wife,” said Sir Piers, laughing.
“My wife, Sir Piers!” said Charley, in great confusion. “What could I do with a wife, who am so poor and unknown? I must e’en follow Fortune for some time as my mistress, and court her till she smiles upon me.”
“fear not that she will refuse to smile upon one of thy merit,” said the Lady Marcella. “One who can ride, and wield his weapons as thou canst, may well look to Fortune providing something better for him than the obscure and low-bred orphan of a common man-at-arms.”
Charley Stewart was silent, but Sir Piers was not altogether so blind as not to perceive how matters stood with his niece. He had observed the Lady Marcella’s manner, – was struck with her words, – and a strong conviction entered his mind that she had allowed herself to fall in love with Charley Stewart. Now his affection for Charley had waxed so strong, that, knowing the good blood that was in him, he would have rejoiced to have seen him the husband of Marcella. But feeling that it would be prudent, before giving encouragement to any such scheme, that he should privately satisfy himself as to the suspicions he entertained of an existing attachment between Charley and Rosa MacDermot, and, having failed in one attempt to lead Charley to be explicit, he privately resolved in his own mind, secretly to visit Mrs. MacDermot herself, from whom he looked to receive clearer and more ready information.
Having accordingly ridden over to her house alone, the very next morning, he soon learned from the worthy woman the whole history of the lovers. He was not a little disappointed to find that he had made no shred a guess, and that, to so honest and honourable a mind as his, there thus remained no fair hope of the completion of that alliance, which would have been so agreeable to him, as well as to his niece. All that he had learned from the widow regarding Charley, had only served to increase his admiration of him, and to make his regret the greater. But being now in possession of the fact, he thought it his duty to deal plainly with the Lady Marcella, and he accordingly embraced the very first opportunity he could command of speaking with her in private.
“marcella,” said he to her abruptly, “what think ye of Charley Stewart?”
“A proper young man, I promise thee,” replied the lady, with the same want of ceremony.
“His lameness is unfortunate, – it mars his appearance much,” said Sir Piers. “And that cross scar on his cheek is anything but ornamental.”
“Pshaw!” cried the lady; “a fico for his scar! I hope, ere he dies, to see his manly face seamed by many a deeper ornament of the same sort, gained in tough fight, man to man. And as to his lameness! show me one that will vault into his saddle with him, or ride with him, or hold a lance with him after he is in it! Charley Stewart is a prince of a fellow!”
“All that is very true, niece,” said Sir Piers; “but methinks thou speakest of him with unusual warmth. Pray Heaven thou be’st not in love with the young man!”
“Nay, uncle, since I must needs say so, that is already past praying for,” replied Marcella, with a sigh; which, as it was the first that ever in her life escaped her, was a precious deep one.
“I am sorry to hear thee say so, niece,” said Sir Piers; “for thy case is hopeless, seeing that thou hast already a rival, to whom he is not only attached, but affianced.”
“What, uncle!” exclaimed the lady, in a supercilious tone; “dost thou think so very meanly of thy niece, as to suppose that the whey-faced orphan of a miserable man-at-arms, can have any chance with me, when I, the heiress of thy lands, choose to enter the lists?”
“I think and hope too well of my niece and heiress,” said Sir Piers gravely, “to believe, that, for her own gratification, she will try to divide two hearts already united by the tenderest vows that affection can form.”
“Affection!” exclaimed the lady; “tush, nonsense, uncle! the affection of children! the brotherly and sisterly affection of babes, for such was the sort of affection of which Stewart himself spoke, and his words are all we have yet to go upon.”
“Pardon me,” said her uncle calmly; “I have yet better information than anything we have gathered from him. Suspecting that Charley Stewart’s merits were beginning to render him not altogether without interest in your eyes, I deemed it to be my duty to know the truth regarding this attachment between him and Rosa MacDermot. With this view I visited the Widow MacDermot herself, and from her I learned, that the bond between the pair, lacks nothing to complete it, but the holy sacrament that may fasten the tie for ever.”
“And until that tie be fixed, it is nothing,” said the lady. “Yet what sort of evidence would you bring me, truly, of this same attachment? That of an of woman, who, in her folly, sees everything just according to the way her wishes may lead her fancy. I will believe Stewart himself before a dozen such crones, especially where self-interest, and the interest of her girl, must so evidently sway her. Let me but try my influence on him, and thou shalt see how soon he will forget this peasant maid. Thou shalt see -”
“I grieve to find that thou art so resolved to blind thyself, niece!” interrupted Sir Piers, very seriously; “but it is alike my duty to see that you neither run into hopeless misery, nor try to convert that misery into happiness, by unjustly and cruelly ruining the peace of another. I shall again visit the Widow’s cottage, this very afternoon. I shall see and converse with the daughter herself, after which I shall hold plainer converse that I have ever yet done with Stewart. If I find that you have judged correctly, and that there is nothing more in this matter than that the mother hath allowed her judgment to be warped by her wishes, my best endeavours shall not be wanting to accomplish those desires which thou hast so clearly exposed to me. But I tell thee honestly, that if, on the other hand, I find that the Widow has judged and reported truly, I shall, for your sake, as well as for that of Stewart, do all I can to promote his union with Rosa MacDermot.”
“Say’st thou so, old man?” muttered the Lady Marcella to herself, after her uncle had left; “then must I act – aye, and act quickly, and boldly too.”
After a moment’s thought, she clapped her hands for her page, and sent him directly to entreat that Stewart would favour her with a private interview immediately. He came at her summons; and, after the usual salutations were over, she, with a face that, spite of her determined and dauntless character, absolutely burned, from the very nature of the communication she had resolved to make, entered upon it in a low yet steady and unbroken tone.
“I take it for granted, Stewart,” said she “that the few words I let fall, the other day, when we were returning from our pursuit after the caitiff Catteranes, were not thrown away upon one of your quick wit. They were not uttered without intention; and they have, I trust, proved to thee that thy rare merits have not escaped my notice, and that I take no common interest in thee.”
The Lady Marcella paused for an answer; and the astonished Charley Stewart, having mumbled some confused and ill-connected expressions of gratitude for her good opinion, she continued in a yet calmer and more collected tone.
“I have thus sent for thee, honestly to confess to thee, that the interest I take in thee is of a nature, which could not permit me to see unmoved, one, who is so manifestly born for better fortunes, ignorantly to mar them from too humble an estimation of his own merits, and, without looking higher, blindly to tie himself down from all chance of rising, by rashly binding himself to baseness and poverty. If ever a desire of turning the issues of fate into their proper course, might be an excuse for a woman speaking out more openly and plainly that tyrant custom has permitted her sex to do, certain I am it might be reasonably held to be in the present case. But, were it otherwise, thou hast already seen enough of me to know, that I am no ordinary woman; and I, who have dared much, would dare this too – yea, and ten times more, to secure mine own peace, and thy happiness. Reflect, then, on the words I uttered as we returned from our expedition. Know, that Fortune hath not refused to shine on thy deserts, for she now offers thee the hand and fortune of her who addresses thee.”
“Lady!” exclaimed Charley Stewart, staggering back with absolute amazement, and altogether unable to answer coherently, from the confusion he was thrown into – “I have been foolishly reserved, lady. I have been strangely and grievously misconceived. Yet I thought I had spoken plainly enough. I – I – I am altogether unworthy of any one of thy station. I am already pledged to another.”
“I was not altogether unprepared for some such confession,” said the lady, with a self-possession, arising from the circumstance that she spoke truly. “I had heard, and I did see enough to make me aware that something had passed between thee and the silly girl MacDermot. But these were childish ties, entered into when thou couldst have no foreknowledge of thine own fortunes; and they must of stern necessity, yield to that expediency which now demands thine exaltation.”
“Lady,” replied Stewart, who by this time began to be somewhat more master of his faculties, “I have learned enough to know that thru exaltation can never be purchased by treachery, perfidy, and cruelty. Rosa MacDermot and I loved one another whilst she was yet a child, it is true, but we have loved one another ever since with a growing affection, which has produced vows of the most solemn nature between us. I love her more than I do life itself; and not for all the wealth or honours that this world could bestow, would I cease to love her.”
“So great a constancy, and so true a heart, proves but the more how much thou wert born for knighthood,” said the lady, calmly. “And, perhaps, entangled as thou seemest to have been, it might have been due to such honour as might befit a knight, to have clung to engagements so made. But to render such a case of so great self-devotion rational, it would at least be requisite that it should be mutual. Hast thou proof that it is really so? Hast thou never had doubts on that score? No suspicions?”
“Proof of the love of Rosa MacDermot, lady!” exclaimed Charley, with astonishment. “Doubts of Rosa! I should as soon ask for proof that the blessed sun gives light, or have doubts that the glorious orb might drop from the firmament.”
“Other men before thee have been as honestly confiding, and yet have been deceived,” said the lady. “The humble soil where thou hast rooted thine affections, is not always that which produces the most virtuous fruits.”
“What wouldst thou hint, lady?” demanded Charley, in a disturbed and agitated tone.
“I grieve to tell thee,” replied the lady. “It pains me to be compelled to undeceive thee, by withdrawing thee from thy pleasing dreams, to look boldly on the afflicting truth. Yet I must tell thee, that thy heroic constancy hath not been met by a like unshaken return of it.”
“Say – what? Holy saints protect me!” cried Charley Stewart, in a great ly agitated and excited manner. “What wouldst thou insinuate, lady? Rosa unfaithful? – oh! impossible! Where is the liar who hath thus abused thine ear regarding her who is purity and truth itself? Tell me his name, that I may make my sword drink his base black heart’s blood!”
“Be calm, Stewart,” replied the lady, with imperturbable placidity of manner. “Thou wilt gain nothing by yielding thyself up to blind rage. I thrust thou wilt see that it is no ordinary affection in me that can prompt me to the disclosure that I am now about to make to thee.”
“Speak on, lady. Oh keep me not in suspense!” cried Charley Stewart, wildly breaking in on her mysterious pause.
“Stewart,” said the lady, solemnly, ” thou wert prepared to withstand all temptation that might be calculated to break the rash vows of youthful ignorance. But she for whom you made them – she for whose sake thou wouldst have so honourably maintained them to the sacrifice of wealth and advancement – she, I fear, has had less resolution to resist their allurements. Be not too much astonished or shocked, for I must tell thee, that mine uncle Sir Piers Gordon, is the favoured lover of Rosa MacDermot.”
“Thine uncle Sir Piers, Lady?” cried Charley, petrified with surprise. “Impossible! it cannot be!”
“Strange as it may seem to thee, and strange as it unquestionably is,” replied the Lady Marcella, “it is in reality but too true that she favours his visits for her own purposes. he has already found his way to the widow’s cottage more than once, and he has even ventured to hint to myself that he has not been coldly received – and then, Stewart -”
“Lady,” interrupted Charley, impatiently and violently, “I would not believe even Sir Piers himself if he were to tell me this! – and yet,” added he, after a pause, during which he struck his forehead with the palm of his hand, and seemed to be immersed in deep thought, “and yet, he was strangely struck with her when first they met! But the time is so short – so very short since then – she! – Rosa! – Oh, Rosa never could have been brought, in so short a time, to forget the days of her childhood, and her oft repeated vows to me!”
“Reflect, Stewart,” said the lady, “that mine uncle is a landed laird, and a belted knight, with spurs at his heels!”
“What!” exclaimed Charley Stewart, in an intense agony of excited feeling, and with a half choked voice, “landed laird, saidst thou! a belted knight, with spurs at his heels! Can it be? Oh! that accursed prophecy of that most accursed hag! But art thou sure of what thou sayest, lady? How canst thou satisfy me? By all the holy saints I must be satisfied!”
“Nay,” replied Marcella, coolly, “I can satisfy thee no otherwise than by saying that I have his own word for it, and -”
“His own word!” cried Charley; “oh, wicked, wicked, and most deceitful man, thus wilfully to undermine me! Though I was less open in thy presence, lady, yet I said enough to him afterwards, to have enabled even a fool and a dotard, to have read my meaning.”
“So indeed he hinted,” replied Marcella; “but then his apology for the interpretation which he hath found it convenient to put upon thy words is, that he has been encouraged by the girl herself. And as he was with her but yesterday, if he had not spoken truly as to this, he would have hardly hurried back again thither as soon as he has now done.”
“Back, didst thou say, lady?” exclaimed Stewart, growing black with rage and jealousy. “Back! – whither? – when? – how? – Oh, my brain is burning! Back, didst thou say?”
“Yea,” replied the Lady Marcella, with perfect calmness, “mine uncle, Sir Piers, hath gone to visit Rosa MacDermot this very afternoon. He parted from me for that purpose but a few minutes before thou camest in hither. He is on his way thither now. Go! – convince thyself! But be prudent. Act not rashly. Forget not that a knight, such as he is, hath a natural belief in him that he is entitled to some little license, where the matter concerns those only of such low degree as the girl Rosa MacDermot can boast of.”
Charley Stewart listened to those words of the Lady Marcella with a fixedness of eye, and of aspect that was almost too fearful for her, bold as she was, to look upon. He seemed intent upon devouring every syllable she uttered. And yet, his intentness of gaze was more like that of a maniac than of a rational man. She had no sooner finished than he ground his teeth, clenched his hands, struck them both with violence upon his bosom, and then rushed from the chamber, without giving utterance to a word.
“I have stung him to the quick,” muttered the Lady Marcella, in soliloquy, after he was gone. “And now,” added she, bitterly, “my prudent uncle has some chance of learning, to his cost, that it were better to face the lean and starving lioness when preying for food for her famished whelps than to step between a woman and her love. I never meant to have brought this upon him. He hath brought it altogether upon himself; and now let him look to it, that his heritage be not mine some few good years before he would have had it descend upon me. Should the plot chance to work so, my triumph over this youth will be easy and certain.”
The honest old knight, Sir Piers Gordon, had ridden quietly over the hill, attended only by two of his people, and having left them to take charge of his horse in the wood at no great distance from the widow’s cottage, he had walked up thither alone. Mrs. MacDermot had been too much gratified by his friendly talk during his former visit to her not to have made her daughter acquainted with all that passed. Though his present call was unlooked for, Rosa was already so far prepared to expect that his visit was a visit of kindness that she readily obeyed the request, which he conveyed to her through her mother, to favour him with her presence. He spoke to her with all the kindness of a father, and, in answer to his inquiries, she blushingly unbosomed herself to him as if he had stood to her in that degree of relationship. She felt, indeed, that he was the patron and the benefactor of him who was all in this world to her, and she was from this cause already prepared to love and reverence him. he was full of benevolent plans for the accomplishment of their union, and the furtherance of thier happiness, and he sat with her on the turf-seat at the cottage door, expounding them to her, with her hand affectionately in his, and with his face eagerly turned towards her, in the earnestness of his conversation, till the sun, which shed his parting radiance upon them, was just about to sink behind the opposite mountain. Even the sound of a furiously galloping horse, which came thundering towards them, failed to arouse them from their interesting talk. Suddenly it burst out from the woodland, foaming and panting upon the green, within a few yards of the spot where they were sitting, and a man, more like a maniac than a rational being, threw himself from the saddle. His naked sword was gleaming in his hand ere his feet had well touched the ground. It was Charley Stewart.
“Traitor!” cried he in a hoarse choking voice, “up and defend thy vile life!”
“Charley! Charley!” cried Rosa, springing towards him, “harm not a hair of his head!”
“What! perjured girl!” cried Charley, pushing her from him so rudely as to extend her at some distance from him nearly senseless on the green; “wouldst thou whet the very edge of my sword against him by thy base entreaties for him? Come on, traitor!”
“Stewart, are ye mad?” cried the Knight; “listen to reason.”
“Cowardly traitor that thou art, I will listen to nothing from thee,” cried Charley Stewart, gnashing his teeth and foaming at the mouth with fury. “Draw and defend thyself, or by Heaven I will forthwith rid thee of thy vile dastard life! draw, I say!”
“Nay, he must be mad!” cried Sir Piers; “yet I must defend my life, though it should be to the peril of his.”
But Sir Piers, who sought only to protect himself from Charley’s furious assault, accidentally failed in his very first guard. The weight of his assailant’s blow broke through it, and falling upon the knight’s head, which had then nothing on it but a bonnet, it stretched him motionless on the sward. Charley Stewart stood for a moment to look with horror upon his work – the blood was gushing forth from the wound, and dyeing the white hair of him who had been his patron and friend. From that he turned and gazed upon the prostrate figure of Rosa MacDermot, who still ay in a kind of half-swoon from the effects of his violence. He felt as if his bursting heart would have forced its way through his side. Rouse from his trance by the screams of the Widow MacDermot, he heard the galloping of horses approaching, and rushing mechanically into the thickest part of the wood, he made his way towards the mountains, where night soon overtook him. Still he continued to wander on, however, without fixed intention or direction; and it was only on finding at daybreak that he had already fled far towards the south that, after having given due way to his affliction, he resolved to travel towards Edinburgh to seek his father, where, as we have already seen, he ultimately arrived weary and woe-begone.
The next morning after Charley Stewart’s appearance in Edinburgh his father, Sir Walter Stewart, aroused him from the deep sleep into which his fatigue of body had thrown him, and which, as it was nearly the first he had had since the sad events which had driven him from the north, even their cruel influence upon his mind could not disturb. In reply to Sir Walter’s inquiries, he gave him a brief statement of his history and his misfortunes, and his wounded spirit was soothed by the kind sympathy which Sir Walter manifested towards him.
“Charley,” said he, “thy fate hath been a cruel one, truly; but thou must bestir thee to shake off thy sorrows. Nothing better as a cure for melancholy than action. I have an emprise on hand that is for thee the very medicine that thou lackest, and as it may speedily end with thee in a journey to France as the esquire of a knight whom it will do thee much honour to serve, it is, of all others, the very best chance that could befal thee under present circumstances. But the morning wears, and we must go to work without farther loss of time.”
Sir Walter Stewart having disguised himself and his son Charley in broad slouched hats and cloaks, they sallied forth together. At the head of the close, they found two hacknies in the High Street, held by a single groom.** They leaped into their saddles, and, without any inquiry or explanation as to whither they were bound, they rode forth together, at a gentle pace, from the southern part of the city, as if they had been bent more on pleasure than business. They had not gone farther in that direction than just beyond the Burgh Loch, a piece of water which then occupied that extent of flat low ground now know by the name of The Meadows,*** when Sir Walter turned his horse’s head to the westward, and, spurring forward, he and Charley galloped together through the woodland, the groves, and the thickets, which partially covered the Burgh Muir, and gradually sweeping round at a point considerably to the westward of the Castle rock, they then pushed forward at a furious pace in a northerly direction, making straight for that part of the shore of the Firth of Forth, lying immediately to the westward of the citadel of Leith. That which is now a continuous town, was then almost a wilderness of sandy-hillocks, which stretched considerably farther into the sea than the land now does, its water having since much encroached on that part of the coast during the lapse of ages. Taking up a position on a bare elevated spot, Sir Walter looked with anxious eyes towards the roadstead. There were but a few vessels there; but one seemed to be slowly coming up to her anchorage, with a fair breeze from the east, but with her sails so curtailed as betokened caution in those on board. Sir Walter seemed to eye her with peculiar interest for some time, and then he addressed a rough red-faced pilot, who was standing below on the beach, beside his boat, watching the vessel steadfastly, as if he wished to make out what sort of craft she might be.
“Is not that a foreign barque, friend?” demanded Sir Walter.
“Aye, aye, sir,” replied the pilot; “she is a furrener. If I’m not far mista’en it’s the Garron of Burdy, Captain Davy Trummel, with wine aboard. I think I ken her rig – and a clever rig it is, let me tell ye.”
“She seems a goodly sea-boat, well fitted to fly quickly over so long a voyage,” replied Sir Walter, carelessly.
“That she is, I’ll be sworn sir,” answered the pilot. “Few in the trade can match her, I promise ye. But what strange mortals them French Munseers are after all: why they should call a vessel a Garron, the which is the swiftest bit of a craft my eyes ever came across, I can’t nowise reasonably comprehend, unless it be out of a mere spirit of contradiction. But I must call out the lads, and be off to her, for there’s the signal flying for me.”
“Thou shalt take me aboard with thee, and have something for thy guerdon,” said Sir Walter. “I would taste this Frenchman’s wines, ere the palate of the good Burghers become acquainted with them.”
“Willingly will I do thy pleasure, sir,” replied the man; and, running towards a solitary cottage which stood upon a bank hard by, he began shouting out “Jemmy!” and “Harry!” till two lads, who were his sons and assistants, appeared.
“Thou must tarry here with the horses, till I return from on board, Charles,” said Sir Walter. “This is the very vessel I looked for – the Garonne of Bordeaux, Captain De Tremouille. He is an old friend of mine, and I would fain have some talk with him.”
Sir Walter was speedily rowed on board by the pilot and his two sons. The barque took up her proper ground, under the directions which the helmsman received from the experienced old sailor. The anchor was let go, and she sung round to her moorings. Charley Stewart passed a considerable time in walking the horses about ere he saw the boat leave the barque. At length he beheld it pulling towards the shore, and Sir Walter again joined him, bearing two large bundles, which were stowed away behind their saddles, in such a manner as to be covered by their cloaks as they rode, and following the same circuitous route which they had taken in their way out, they returned to the city, and regained the Knight’s lodgings without observation.