SOON after his return home, from his visit to the barque Garonne, Sir Walter Stewart got rid of his disguise, put on a courtier’s attire, and hastened to the Castle, to pay his usual attendance of ceremony on the King. This he made a point of never neglecting, notwithstanding the marked curtailment which his private, and more familiar intercourse with his Majesty had received. Whilst within the walls of the fortress, he contrived, quietly and without suspicion, to make himself master of the state of the roster of the officers of the royal guard. To his no small satisfaction, he discovered that the captain of the guard, for the next day, was to be a certain individual of the name of Strang, whom he knew to be a worthless, reckless, hard-drinking, gaming fellow. He then made all the observations that circumstances permitted, and, pleased with the information he had acquired, he returned to his lodging, in order fully to acquaint Charley with it, as well as with the whole of his plans, and with the manner in which he proposed to carry them into execution, so as to make him perfectly comprehend the part which he intended that he should play in them. To lull all after surmise regarding himself, as much as possible, he that evening appeared in the apartments of Sir William Rogers, and bore his share in the performance of the music that was given there. He then kept his appointment with the Earl of Huntly, in order to tell him that all was prepared, and, after a hasty interview, shortened by their apprehensions of being detected together, a circumstance which might have been ruinous to their projects, Sir Walter retired to his lodging for the night.
Some little time after guard-mounting, next morning, the bundles which they had brought from the French vessel were opened, and the Knight, and his son, proceeded to disguise themselves, by putting on the attire of French sailors, which they contained; and so perfectly did Sir Walter succeed in this operation, that his most intimate friend could not have known him. Wrapped up in cloaks, they then took their stand within the dark threshold of a deep doorway, that opened from the obscure entrance of the close where Sir Walter lodged. This was a position from which they could see every one who passed up or down the High Street, without a chance of their being themselves seen.
They had not stood long there, until their ears caught the distant, but unceasing jabber of the French tongue, coming up the High Street. It came from half-a-dozen or more voices at once, all being talkers and none listeners. The noise grew louder and louder, until Sir Walter, by stretching out his neck from his lurking-place, espied the captain or skipper of the French barque, approaching with some eight or ten of his crew. They came walking along close to the houses on his side of the way. They carried two small casks of wine, each of them slung on a pole between two men, who were changed from time to time as they required relief, whilst another man carried a little runlet on his shoulders. Sir Walter gave a particular whistle, and in a moment the whole party turned in under the covered entrance of the close, and laid down their burdens as if to rest themselves. In an instant, Sir Walter and Charley Stewart threw off their cloaks, and transferred them to two of the French sailors, who immediately retired into the Knight’s lodgings, whilst he and his son succeeded to the burdens they had carried. Having effected this change, Sir Walter held some private talk with Captain De Tremouille, after which the party moved on up the street, and so up the Castle-Hill, until they came to the castle gate. There the French skipper, in broken English, told the sentinel that he would fain speak a word to the captain of the guard, for whom he was the bearer of a small present of wine, and he and his whole party were speedily admitted.
“I do ave von leetil praisaint of vine for you, sare,” said the skipper, boldly addressing the scarlet-visaged captain of the guard. “Dis leetil cask for your own taste. De richest vine in de varld.”
“Thou are an especial good fellow, sir,” replied the captain, clumsily returning the exquisite bow which the Frenchmen had made him, whilst, at the same time, he eyed the runlet, and immediately consigned it to the particular care of one of his own people. “Nothing could possibly come more opportunely, and I am most grateful for thy courtesy. It must be confessed that you Frenchmen are the most perfect gentlemen in the world, and know how to do a thing genteelly.”
“Ah, sare, dat is too mosh compliment for me as van Frainchman,” replied the skipper, with a smile and a bow yet lower than his former one. “And de compliment is more bettaire dat she come from van so grait hero and de Capitaine Strang! Admirasion for de fame of him, did make me ave de grait desire to honnaire myself wid praisant him vid dis leetil gift, for vitch liberty I do hope he is not offend.”
“Offended, my dear fellow!” cried Captain Strang; “thy runlet comes to me as welcome as the very flowers in May! But how the pest dost thou chance to know my name, Sir Skipper?”
“De name and de fame of de grat hero, is alvaise know by all men all ovir de varld,” replied the skipper, with another most obsequious reverence.
“By St. Andrew, but this is a curious marvel though,” said the captain. “Who would have thought that my name could have been known in France as a hero! Yet certain it is that I have done some small deeds in my time, that these French mooshies may have heard of.”
“Deed, Monsieur le Capitaine!” cried De Tremouille, with feigned astonishment; “Vondaires in battaile! meeracailes in de feelde! van Achille of Scotlande! But all dat is nossing at all compare to de fame of Monsieur le Capitaine for his vonderful taste for de good vine! Ven dey do talk of good vine in France, dey do alvaise say – Aha! dis is vine fit for de pallait of van Empereur; bot dis ‘ere is more bettaire, dis is fit for de pallait of de famous Scottish hero, de Capitaine Strang, dat do know good vine more bettaire dan any oder man in de varld.”
“By all the saints, that is wonderful!” said the captain; “and yet that I can more easily understand. Yes, yes; few people can match me there. And then, to be sure, these wine-dealers in France must know some little of those who are judges of the good stuff, and who, moreover, like myself, do so much to encourage their trade. But hark ye, Mr. Skipper! what do ye with those other two casks which these fellows of thine are carrying?”
“Ah hah! dat is von praisant pour de Duc d’Albanie,” replied the skipper.
“Ha!” cried the captain of the guard, with a certain air of suspicion; “the Duke of Albany, saidst thou? How comest thou to have a present for the Duke of Albany?”
“Oh yaes, sare!” replied the imperturbable skipper, with great apparent innocence, “de vine is von cadeau, vat you do call praisant from de marchand at Bordeaux, vid de expectation dat de squisite taste of him may make mi Lor Duc to ave more of him pour de l’argent, and prevail on de Royal King, his broder, to ave some too also.
“Um – aye,” said the captain of the guard, with hesitation; “likely story enough – though there be but little chance of the King drinking ought of the Duke’s providing, whatever liquor the Duke may by and bye drink of his Majesty’s brewing. But ’twas natural enow in the merchant to think so, Mooshie. As for the Duke, he is no bad customer to his own fist, when he is well set with a jolly boon companion, such as myself for instance. So thou mayest as well leave thy twin-casks in my charge, friend; and I shall see that they are properly delivered. – At least,” added he, in an under voice, aside, ” I shall take care most conscientiously to deliver them in due time of their contents.”
“Tank you – very mosh tank you, sare,” replied the skipper. “Mais I not trobil you. De marchand did ordaire me to see dem in de royal hand of de Duc heemself. If I not do dat, I most take heem back again. Jean! Francois! il faut -”
“Um! – don’t be so hasty, man,” interrupted the captain of the guard, by no means willing to lose sight of the casks, and hesitating, and cogitating within himself, that if the wine was taken back, he would lose all chance of tasting it; whereas, if it was once lodged with the Duke, he had a fair prospect of being invited to share in it. “You Mooshies are as pestilent hasty as a bit of touch paper. Thou shalt deliver the wine thyself to the Duke. Here, Laurence – the keys of the Duke’s apartments! Now, Mooshie, do thou and three of thy fellows quickly shoulder the casks and follow me.”
The skipper immediately took up one end of the pole that swung one of the casks, and addressing Sir Walter Stewart by the name of Jean, he called to him roughly, in French, to take up the other end. Charley Stewart and a sailor hoisted up the second cask; and so they followed the captain of the guard up to the Duke’s apartments.
When the doors were opened, which gave access to the royal prisoner, they found the Duke of Albany sitting at a table in conversation with his chamberlain, his manly and somewhat stern countenance deprived of much of its wonted bloom and sunshine, from the confinement to which he had been subjected, and the melancholy anticipations which possessed his mind, though nothing had as yet been able to overpower his indomitable resolution. It was only when he arose from his chair, to ascertain what his visitors came about, that his powerful and well-proportioned person, and his broad chest, were fully exhibited.
“What is all this?” cried the Duke, somewhat impatiently.
“So please your Highness’s Grace, this French Mooshie skipper is the bearer of a present of that which he states to be very choice wine of his country’s growth,” said Captain Strang, with a low obeisance.
“Who can have thus remembered me in my misfortunes?” demanded the Duke.
“Nay,” replied Strang, “I question if either the giver of the gift, or he that hath it in charge, know ought of the position in which your Royal Highness is now placed. But stand forth, Sir Mooshie, and tell thine own tale.”
“Eh bien,” cried the skipper, advancing, and bowing three or four times to the ground; “Je le -”
“Hold! hold! Mooshie!” interrupted Captain Strang; “none of thine own outlandish language, dost thou hear? Thou canst speak our tongue well enow for all purposes, so keep to that, if it so please thee.”
“Very vell, Monsieur le Capitaine String,” replied the skipper, with a shrug, and a grimace, that showed his disappointment in being thus prevented from speaking to the Duke, in a language which would have veiled all he said from the apprehension of the captain of the guard – “Very vell, Monsieur le Capitaine; I vill make van attente to make onderstand de bad Englis of me to his Royal Highness de Duc D’Albanie. – I ave been send vid dis two cask of vine, as van cadeau from de marchand Beauvilliers at Bordeaux, to his Highness Royal de Duc d’Albanie, vid de ope dat de marchand van large ordaire from his Highness Royal, and from his royal broder, his Majesty de King.”
“I can promise nothing for his Majesty, friend,” replied the Duke; but for myself, I would have ye thank Monsieur Beauvilliers from me, and say to him, that if the wine liketh me well, I shall send him an order; that is to say, if there be aught of likelihood of my being alive to drink of it when it comes to hand. But what sort of wine is it that thou hast brought me?”
“In dat cask dere is shoice vine of Gascony,” said the skipper, pointing to that which Charley Stewart had helped to bear; “bot, goot as it is, I am force to tink dat de oder vine, in dis cask, vill give more plaisir to son Altesse Royale.”
“Sir,” said Sir Walter, bringing forward the cask, and speaking to the skipper in French, as if he were merely applying to him for orders, but in a tone so loud and distinct as to insure that the Duke should catch every word that fell from him – “do not show surprise at what I say, or recognise me, if you discover me. We are all friends. This cask contains the means of escape, with instructions how you are to effect it. Let not the captain of the guard depart without an invitation to supper; the contents of this cask will tell you why.”
“Sacre cochon!” cried the skipper, with an angry air, and at the same time bestowing a smart blow of a rattan on the shoulders of Sir Walter. “Sacre cochon que vous estes!”
“What did the fellow say to thee, friend skipper?” demanded the captain of the guard; ” and what dist thou say to him?”
“Mine Got! Monsieur le Capitaine String,” replied the skipper, “dis crew of mine is so great idil vans, dat dey vear out de patience of van Job heemself. I not be come to dis place ardly van moment, and bifore I decharge my cargo, ven dey must vant to leif me alone, and to go to run all over de cite, after de dance, and de Scottish preetee lasses. Be gar, Monsieur Jean, you sall vork pour dis, dat I do tell you, mon garçon.”
“Fear nothing, sir,” said Sir Walter, again in French, and humbly bowing to the skipper, as if making an earnest and contrite apology to his master; “act boldly; remember the south-western side – there thou shalt find friends beyond the walls.”
“Aha, Cocquin!” cried the skipper; “mais vous avez joué votre role à merveille -”
“What said the fellow? and what was thine answer to him?” demanded the captain of the guard again.
“Par bleu, Monsieur le Capitaine String, I ave make heem bon garçon at last,” replied the skipper: “I do ave make heem cry peccavée.”
“Was that all?” said the captain, gruffly. “Then come away, Mooshie, let us clear out of this. Thou and thy fellows have been long enough here.”
“Before thou goest, I would speak with thee, Captain Strang,” said the Duke. “If fame and mine own experience belie thee not, thou art great in thy judgment of wines. Wilt thou lend me thy company to-night at supper, that we may taste the stuff which this fellow hath brought me, of the rare quality of which he makes so great a boast?”
“Your Royal Highness’s Grace does me too much honour,” replied Strang, with a most obsequious bow. “My taste is but a poor and uncultivated taste; but I shall be proud to perfect it under your Royal Highness’s superior judgment and instruction.”
“Then let us have supper at four, good captain,” said the Duke; “and as my chamberlain here would fain invite those three poor knaves who guard the door, to watch for once within side of it, and to partake of his table, I would have thee see that, at my expense, enough of the best viands be provided for all.”
“Your Highness is too considerate,” replied Strang. “Yet, since your royal will runs so, it shall be obeyed to the letter. The supper shall be such as shall content you.” And then retiring, and shutting and locking the door upon his prisoners, he descended the outer steps, muttering to himself, – “The supper may well be a good one indeed, and thou mayest well eat and drink thy fill; for, if I be not far mistaken, it may be the last supper thou mayest eat, and the last wine thou mayest swallow.”
The skipper and his party now left the Castle, without farther question; and as they passed by the mouth of the close where Sir Walter Stewart lived, on their way down the High Street, the knight and his son were replaced by the two French sailors in the same adroit manner in which the change had been formerly effected; and they gained their lodgings, and got rid of their disguise, without having subjected themselves to the least suspicion, whilst the skipper continued his way out of the city, with the same number of followers as he had always had with him.
No sooner was the Duke of Albany free from the chance of interruption, than he and his chamberlain proceeded to wrench up the end of that cask which Sir Walter Stewart had so ingeniously and so particularly indicated, as the important one of the royal captive. They found it altogether devoid of wine, but, to their no small joy, they found within it a long coil of rope, and to shut up the cask again, and then to roll it into the corner, where they set it on end immediately in rear of that which contained the wine. They then hastily opened the roll of wax, and discovered that it contained a letter from Sir Walter, explaining the whole plan for their escape. Having studied this again and again, so as fully to possess themselves of its contents, they committed it to the ample fire-place, where it was immediately consumed, and then they sat down together to resolve and arrange all the minor parts and details of their plot. Whilst they were so employed, Captain Strang was unable to resist the devil that tempted him to taste his little runlet. It was excellent wine. He boldly, and with great determination, put in the spigot again, and gallantly retreated from it. But again and again was he drawn to it by an attraction as strong as that which the loadstone exerts over the needle. Again and again he drew the spigot, and sipped moderately. He would have drank deeply, had not economy whispered him that he had better preserve it for a future opportunity, seeing that he had the prospect of that night drinking so largely at another’s expense. But still he sipped and sipped from time to time, so that, although far from drunk when he appeared in the Duke of Albany’s apartment – nay, I may say, far from being even what is usually called half seas over – he had so whetted his thirst as to be ready to drink oceans; and the foundation he had laid was quite enough for a superstructure of perfect intoxication.
As the supper was to be partaken of by him and his people at the Duke’s expense, the captain of the guard had taken especial care to see that it was a good one. His Royal Highness sat at a small table near the huge fire-place, with Captain Strang upon his left hand. There they were first served by the chamberlain, and the three men of the guard, with all the delicacies they chose to call for; and large beakers of the new wine being placed before them, the captain gave full way to his Bacchanalian inclinations. By and bye they began to play at dice and tables, whilst the chamberlain and his three guests were supping. Though already not a little affected by the wine he had swallowed, the captain preserved enough of his cunning and knavish brains, to enable him to cheat most villainously. This did not escape the Duke, but he took care not to appear to perceive it – cursed his ill luck – and went on to lose, much to the satisfaction of his opponent, whilst the knavish Strang was secretly congratulating himself upon his own wonderful strength of head, which had so far prevailed over the comparative weakness of his royal adversary. Meanwhile the chamberlain was busily employed in supplying the captain, as well as his own peculiar guests, with wine, in the greatest abundance. By degrees, Strang became so much elevated, as to lose much of that obsequious respect with which he had at first treated his royal host.
“Delicious wine!” cried he, smacking his lips, after a long draught of it, which left his cup empty. “By the holy Virgin, delicious wine indeed! But – aw – aw -its goodness inflames me – aw – aw – with a furious desire to taste – aw – aw – to taste, I say, that other cask the French knave spoke of – aw – aw – that I mean, which stands yonder, behind – aw – aw – behind the barrel from which we have – aw – aw – been tasting; that, I mean – aw – aw – of which the French Mooshie spake so largely.”
The chamberlain darted a look of agony at his master; but the Duke preserved a perfect composure.
“Thou shalt taste it forthwith, Sir Captain,” said the Duke, giving, at the same time, a private signal to the chamberlain. “Go, use thy wimble, and bring us a flask of that other wine.”
The chamberlain, understanding his master, went to the barrels, and concealing them as much as he could by stooping over both of them, he fumbled with the wimble at the second cask; and, whilst he pretended to fill the can from it, he slyly drew its contents from the same which had been running all night, and then he poured out two sparkling goblets, and set them down on the table.
“Well, Sir Captain,” said the Duke, after Strang had taken a long draught of the wine, “what sayest thou to it? Is it as good as that which thou hast been all night drinking?”
“That which we have been drinking all night – aw – aw – is but as hog’s wash compared to it,” cried the Captain, his eyes beginning to goggle in his head, and emphatically dashing his empty cup down on the table. “No, no – aw – aw – my palate – aw – aw – is – aw – too true to be deceived that way. This, look ye, is a wine of – aw – aw – of superior growth, flavour, and body, not to be matched – not to be – aw – aw – matched, I tell ye – not to be matched.”
“It is, indeed, excellent, as thou sayest,” replied the Duke – “absolute nectar! Come, fill our goblets again.”
“By the Rood, but this is – aw – aw – wine indeed!” cried the captain of the guard again, after emptying his goblet for the second time. “It grows – aw – aw – better and better – aw – aw.”
“I feel it whizzing in my very brain,” said the Duke. “I doubt that thou wilt have but an easy conquest of me now, Sir Captain. But come, nevertheless, play away, for I will have my revenge.”
“What, ho, Sir Chamberlain,” cried the captain, getting more and more inebriated, and becoming, at the same time, still more and more convinced of his own strength of brain and sobriety, and his superiority, in these respects, over the Duke, exemplified, as it was, by his still farther gains. “What ho! – aw – aw – more wine – more wine and – aw – aw – from the same cask, dost thou hear, Sir Chamberlain – aw – aw – from the self-same virtuous cask. Why the fiend did’st thou not draw from that cask – aw – aw – at first? Come, wine, I tell thee! – aw – aw – aw – pour us out more of that nectar; my throat – aw – aw – is parched, and – aw – aw – the more I drink – aw – aw – the more I would drink. Wine! – aw – aw – wine, I say, Sir Chamberlain!”
The chamberlain spared not to fill and refill his goblet, nor was he less assiduous in filling those of the three men of the guard, until overcome by the soporific effects of the oceans of wine which they poured down, combined with those arising from the overwhelming heat of the rousing fire that had been purposely kept up, and irresistible drowsiness fell upon the captain and his men, and they, one after another, dropped into a deep sleep. The Duke, and his chamberlain, now armed themselves with knives from the table, and self-preservation having steeled up their minds to this bloody alternative, they sprang upon their defenceless victims. The work of death was speedy; all were despatched in a few moments. The keys were taken from the captain’s girdle-belt. The corpses were piled one over the other in the huge fire-place. and more fuel was heaped upon them, in order to consume them. The coil of rope was secured. The doors were opened with the greatest caution, and, having slipped silently down the outer stair, they stole away to a lonely corner of the rampart, on the south-western side of the fortress, where the height and precipitous nature of the rock had been supposed to have rendered sentinels unnecessary; and where, though the descent might be more dangerous in itself than at many other points in the vicinity, there was less risk of their being surprised and frustrated in their attempt.
At the foot of the Castle rock, under that part of the walls which I have now indicated, Sir Walter Stewart. and his son Charles, had been waiting impatiently ever since the day-light had disappeared. the night was starry, but there was little moon. That they might the better observe the walls, they climbed up the steep rock, immediately below the point where they knew that the attempt was likely to be made, till they came to the perpendicular part of the cliff, under the base of which they silently lay down to watch the event. After long and tedious expectation, during which they were often deceived by their fancy, they at length perceived a dark looking object getting over the top of the wall of the rampart, directly above them. They watched it with intense anxiety, as it began slowly to descend on them, till, as it neared them, they could distinguish it to be a human being, and the figure slowly grew upon their sight. The head and shoulders of another man thrust over the wall above, seemed anxiously to watch the success of him who was lowering himself. For a moment the descending figure rested on the narrow ledge of the rock at the foundation of the wall, and then it again began to come down gently over the perpendicular face of the cliff, until it was within some ten or fifteen feet of them. Their hope was now high, when all at once the figure seemed to be arrested in its progress downward, and swung to and fro for a time.
“What stops you?” demanded Sir Walter Stewart, in a distinct but subdued voice.
“If this be all the rope, it is too short,” said the person above them, in the same tone; “I have nothing now for it, but to take my chance and drop.”
“Fear not!” said Sir Walter; “we shall try to catch thee in our cloaks. Now! drop boldly!”
“Now then!” said the man in the air.
But although the united strength of Sir Walter Stewart and his son enabled them so to receive him, as to save him from utter destruction, the shock of his fall was so great, as to crush both of them down, and it was with difficulty that they prevented him and themselves from rolling down the rocky slope below them.
“How fares it with thee?” demanded Sir Walter.
“But indifferent well,” replied the other, unable to rise, and manifestly in great pain. “I fear I have broken my thigh-bone.”
“Holy Saint Andrew, what a misfortune!” exclaimed Sir Walter Stewart.”
“Call it not a misfortune,” said the attached and devoted chamberlain. “It was good that I tried it before the Duke, else might this accident have happened to him, and that indeed would have been a misfortune.”
“What hath happened?” demanded a faint voice, that came from the Duke, whose head and shoulders still appeared over the wall above.
“A small accident, but not a fatal one,” replied the chamberlain. “I am down; but beware, my gracious master, the rope is too short.”
“How much may it want?” demanded the Duke.
“About four or five ells, or so;” replied Sir Walter.
“Tarry till I return then,” said the Duke again. “But, hush! I must hide. Here come the rounds.”
The tramp of feet, and the clink of arms, now came faintly on their ears, as they lay, drawn in as much as possible, under the rock. Voices, too, were heard, but at such a distance above them, that they could not tell whether they uttered sounds of jocularity, or of strife and contention. At last they passed away – but whether the royal duke had been detected or not, they had no means of knowing. A very considerable time elapsed, during which their eyes were fixed intently, and most anxiously, on that part of the top of the wall whence the head of the royal captive had last been seen to disappear. The pain of the chamberlain’s fractured limb was excruciating, yet to him it was as nothing, compared to the agony of that suspense which was suffered by the whole three who waited for the result. At length, to their inexpressible relief, they beheld the Duke’s figure getting over the wall above them, – and down he came, slowly and gradually, till his toes touched the rocky ground on which they stood. Warm, though not loud, were the congratulations he received, and heartfelt were the thanks which he poured out upon his preservers – and deep was the grief which he uttered for the painful accident which had befallen his faithful servant. They learned from his Highness, that ere the rounds had approached near enough to observe him, he had laid himself down at length on the ground, within the deep shadow that prevailed under the wall; that they had passed within a few yards of him, talking and joking with each other, and most fortunately without observing him. They were no sooner fairly gone to the other parts of the walls, than he had stolen back to his prison, cut his blankets into ropes, and by this means supplied what was wanting of the length of that which had been furnished to him.
Altogether unmindful of his own safety, the Duke of Albany’s first desire was to provide for the proper care of his maimed chamberlain. It was with no small difficulty that they got him conveyed down the craggy slope, and when they reached the valley below, they halted, and held a consultation as to what was best to be done with him. The chamberlain himself proposed that they should carry him to the house of a friend of his own, near at hand, where he knew he would be concealed, and well cared for, and where he thought he could remain in safety until his broken limb should be so effectually cured as to enable him to escape.
“I will carry thee hither myself,” said the Duke of Albany. I can by no means flee hence, until I am assured of the safety of a servant, who hath ever been so devotedly faithful to me, and who is now, by the perversity of my fate, to be so painfully separated from me, when I most need his friendship.”
“Nay, I do entreat your Royal Highness to flee without a moment’s delay,” said Sir Walter Stewart; “every moment is precious to you. Leave him to me, and trust me, I will take every care of him.”
“Nay, I cannot consent to that,” said the Duke. “Thou must not be seen nor suspected to have had aught to do in this matter. Thou hast already perilled thyself enough. The house he speaks of is but a little farther along this hollow way, I will carry him thither myself.”
Sir Walter yielded to reason. They assisted the Duke to carry the chamberlain to a conveniently short distance from the house in question, the sufferer was then hoisted on his royal master’s back, who speedily bore him safely into his place of concealment.
“Now,” said Sir Walter to the Duke, when he had again joined them, a little way on beyond the house, “your Royal Highness must fly with all haste to the sea-side. This young man, who is a son of mine, will guide you to the spot where you will find a boat, which is ready waiting to convey you to the vessel that is prepared to carry you to France. He must supply the loss of your faithful chamberlain. Take him with you, my lord, and let him return to me when it may suit your convenience to part with him.”
“He shall be mine especial esquire,” said the Duke. – “Would I had a station to put him into, worthier of son of thine, and of one of his own apparent merits.”
“Your Royal Highness is too kind,” said Sir Walter. “Yet is the lad no disgrace to me, as I trust that you may find that he will prove none to you. May Saint Andrew give you safety and a prosperous breeze! – And here, Charley, take this ring as a pledge of a father’s affection, and let the sight of it be ever to thee as a monitor to make thee do thy duty like a man.”
Their parting was now warm, but brief. The Duke and his new attendant reached the seaside in safety. Sir Walter, who had hastened around the shores of the North Loch, and climbed the Calton Hill, waited impatiently upon its summit till the first dawn of daybreak. Then it was that he rejoiced to descry the white sail of the French barque, swoln by a merry and favourable breeze, pressing gallantly down the Firth, and he continued to watch it, until it was lost amidst the ruddy haze of the sunrise. He then walked slowly down the eastern slope of the hill, towards Holyrood, and making a wide circuit, he passed between Arthur Seat and Salisbury Craigs, through the hollow wooded valley, which, though now devoid of trees, is still well known by the name of the Hunter’s Bog, and then, turning his steps towards the southern gates of the city, he muffled himself well up in his cloak, and entered it, unnoticed, amid the crowds of market people who were passing inwards at the Port of the Kirk of Field; and so he gained his lodging without observation. there he soon afterwards heard of the astonishment, mortification, and dismay, which had possessed the King on learning this strange event, which he could not bring himself to believe until he went to see, with his own eyes, the half-consumed corpses of the captain of the guard and his men, and the rope which still hung dangling over the wall of the castle.
Sir Walter Stewart seemed to remain altogether unsuspected of any share in the escape of the Duke of Albany, though everyone was agreed in believing that his Royal Highness must have been aided from without the walls. But whether it was that ideal suspicion that conscience of itself begets, or whether there really were some grounds for it, the Knight could not help feeling persuaded that the King looked colder than ever upon him. He failed not, however, on that account, to pay his duties at court most unremittingly, though, frequent as were his visits there, they were comparatively small in number to those which he paid to the house of Sir William Rogers, where he now worshipped, more fervently than ever, at the shrine of that enchantress, the fair Juliet Manvers. He now found himself so irretrievably the captive of her charms, that he had for some time ceased to struggle in her net, and it was not long after the escape of Albany, that he sought an audience of King James, that he might humbly communicate his contemplated nuptials to him, and crave his royal leave for their consummation, as well as for his retirement for a time from court, that he might carry his lady to visit his own territories in Stradawn, of which he was to make her the mistress. From all that had lately passed, he was not much surprised that the King received his communication with apparent satisfaction, but he was very much astonished to find, that it procured for him the sudden and unexpected restoration of all that familiar cordiality of manner, which he had formerly, for so long a period, been in the constant habit of receiving from his Majesty.
“What! – marry!” cried the King. “And is this really so? – and a long attachment saidst thou?”
“An attachment that has grown since first we met, so please your gracious Majesty,” replied Sir Walter.
“Strange!” said the King, as if pondering within himself – “strange that all this should have escaped me. And yet, now I think on’t, I might have seen it. – We have done thee but scrimp justice, Sir Walter Stewart, but now, be assured, that we wish thee joy with all our heart. Thou hast indeed chosen a lovely bride. We – yea, and our Queen too – shall honour the wedding with our presence; and thy fair and accomplished lady shall not lack such royal gifts, as may befit us to bestow, and thy wife to receive. Trust me, that this wise step of thine hath much relieved – nay, we would say that it hath given us unfeigned joy.”
Thus reassured of the King’s favour, though from what cause he could not by any means divine, Sir Walter Stewart was happy. His marriage took place with great pomp of circumstance, in presence of King James and his Queen, Some months passed quickly and pleasantly away over the heads of the newly-married couple, who were especially detained at court, from one week to another, by the royal mandate, – and I need not tell you, that the lady basked with peculiar delight under the sunshiny smiles that fell upon her from the royal pair. Cochran was the only one about court who had reason to be dissatisfied with the match, seeing that he had himself shewn pretensions to Juliet Manvers, and had been in no little degree encouraged by her. But whether real or feigned, he manifested an especial cordiality towards Sir Walter, and he availed himself of every opportunity of frequenting his society, and that of his lady. To the lady, indeed, he was at all times most particularly attentive, so much so, in fact, that Sir Walter hardly relished his uncalled for complaisance. Moreover, he thought he began to detect a certain relaxation of that earnest desire to please him, which, for her own purposes, Juliet had so long displayed towards him before their union. She had now less occasion for dissimulation, since her object was gained, and so it happened that on more occasions than one, when impelled by the humour of the moment beyond the full restraint of her dissimulative powers, she had unveiled enough of her real character to make him doubt, whether her acceptance of him as her husband had been altogether the result of a disinterested affection for him. The seeds of unhappiness were thus thickly sown within his breast, and they began to vegetate so fast, that he at length came to the sudden resolution of carrying off his wife to his castle of Drummin.
“If thou are resolved to quit our court for a season,” said King James, when Sir Walter made his intentions known to his Majesty, “thou hast our royal permission, most unwillingly granted to thee, so to do. But say, what sort of habitation hast thou in the north?”
“‘Tis but a rude dwelling, so please your Majesty,” replied Sir Walter; ” and somewhat the worse perhaps for the warfare which hath been waged against it by time and weather.”
“Then shalt thou take Cochran, our architect, thither with thee, to plan and order its amendment,” replied the King. “‘Twas but the other day we were talking of thy concerns together, when he voluntarily offered to yield thee his best services.”
“‘Twas kind of him,” said Sir Walter, biting his lips, “but I can in nowise think of so troubling him. Indeed, for the present, I cannot well brook the expense of building, and I must e’en remain as I am for a time.”
“That shall be no hindrance to thee, Stewart,” said the King. “The stream of our royal bounty hath been untowardly diverted from thee for a time; it behoves us now to refresh thy parched roots, so that thou mayest again raise thy drooping head. The means shall be found from our royal treasury for thy building, and Cochran shall go with thee to Drummin – so let us think no more of this matter, seeing I have so settled it.”
Willingly would Sir Walter Stewart have dispensed with this most prominent mark of royal favour, but it was now impossible to decline it. Cochran received his Majesty’s command to hold himself in readiness to accompany Sir Walter Stewart and his lady to Stradawn, with secret delight, though he appeared to do so with that servile submission merely, with which he always bowed to the royal will, and for which he made himself ample amends by the arrogance with which he domineered over others. To Sir Walter Stewart he took especial care to be always smiling, pleasant, and accommodating; and although he complained, upon this occasion, that this northern journey was a severe obstruction to the prosecution of those architectural plans on which he pretended to rest his fame, he went down to Drummin with the intention of spinning out his visit to as great a length as he could decently make it extend.
Sir Walter Stewart, for his part, had no sooner fairly set his foot on his own threshold, than a thousand recollections connected with the tower of Drummin, and its neighbouring scenery, crowded upon his mind. This return to the abode of his early days, recalled the remembrance of his young affections, and the contrast which thus arose, in spite of him, between those which he felt persuaded were bestowed upon a creature who was innocent, natural, and true, and those which the sacrament of the holy church now demanded of him, as due to her whom he had so much reason to fear might turn out to be artful, artificial, and false, awakened certain unpleasant qualms within him, that he had failed to make that reparation to Alice Asher, which he once had it in his power to have made; and that now, by some strange witchery and infatuation he had been led to shut the door against that, and his own peace of mind, by one rash and irrevocable act. A direful dread now fell upon him, that he was about to be severely punished for his neglect of one, whose only sin might, with more justice, have been said to have been his – as it was incurred for him, and whose devotion to him, and whose whole conduct since her first and only error, had so well merited a different treatment at his hands. He could not trust his mind to think how much happier he might have now been with her. Nor did the image of his gallant Charley fail to haunt his imagination and to fill him with self-reproaches. Now it was that his soul winced under the wholesome, though sharp stings of conscience, and the fair visions of ambition, which had so continually flitted through his brain, lost their sunshine, and disappeared for a time, amid the dull and damp mists of self-dissatisfaction that settled down upon it. He felt that though the trial must necessarily be a painful one, it might probably be productive of a certain degree of after-relief to him, if he could procure an interview with Alice Asher. A vow existed between them – a vow that she had extracted from him, immediately previous to the birth of Charley Stewart, that they should never again meet, except in the event of an approach to her on the part of Sir Walter, for the purpose of offering her his hand in marriage. That, alas, was a reason which he could not urge now! But, on the ground of having to speak to her on the subject of her son, he sent for the good priest who was her confessor, and procured a dispensation from their mutual vow, so far as to admit of one short meeting between them. It took place; and, as you may easily imagine, their conference was of the tenderest, though purest description. It had more in it of tears than of smiles. reproaches were there, it is true; but they came not from the meek, penitent, and forgiving Alice Asher; they were numerously and largely heaped by Sir Walter Stewart on his own devoted head. The parting was a scene which I could not venture to describe; and far less could I convey to you the slightest notion of that accumulation of anguish which choked up the heart of Sir Walter, after having had this opportunity of more truly and perfectly knowing the full value of that gentle and devoted spirit, the innocent confidence of whose youth he had so abused, and whom he had so recklessly excluded from his bosom, in order to take him thither that cold and selfish heart which now legally possessed it. Full of such agonising thoughts as these, he had as yet got but a short way on his return from the dwelling of Alice, when his musing walk was suddenly broken in upon by Cochran, who came unexpectedly out upon him from a side-path that emerged from the wood, into that along which he was then going.
“That cottage, so prettily perched up yonder among the wood, on the brow of the hill you have this moment descended, belongs doubtless to some favourite forester of thine, Sir Walter,” said Cochran; “marry, the fellow is lodged in a palace, compared to those dens, scarcely fit for swine, in which the rude and savage inhabitants of this northern wilderness are seen to burrow themselves, like urchins, and which are hardly to be distinguished from the sterile and heath-covered soil on which they stand.”
“It is a neat cottage,” replied Sir Walter, hastily; and, immediately changing the subject, he went on talking rapidly, and at random, until he got rid of Cochran, on their arrival at Drummin; and, from the very dread of all farther impertinent questioning, he threw himself upon a horse, and rode away up the valley, under the pretence of some urgent business, and with the vain hope of shaking off his griefs.
“Now,” said Cochran, as he freely entered the Lady Stradawn’s private apartment; “now, I can tell thee, that my suspicions are this very day verified. Now thou mayst have no grudge that thou hast at last restored to me some of that love, which was mine of right, and which should have always been mine, had not the scrannel pipe of this Sir Walter so unfairly whistled it from me.”
“What wouldst thou insinuate?” demanded the lady, in some degree of surprise.
“I would only delicately hint, that thy husband Sir Walter is more in tune with another, than with thee,” replied Cochran, with a coarse laugh. “I have told thee so before, and now I have proof of the truth of what I told thee.”
“Proof, saidst thou?” cried the lady keenly. “What proof, I pray thee?”
“Did I not tell thee I had found him out?” said Cochran. “Did I not tell thee that he visits the cottagE that stands on the brow of the wooded hill yonder? I have this day proved that I was right, for I dogged his steps thither, saw him enter it, and watched him patiently, for two good hours, till he again issued forth. Nay, I know more. I know that she who inhabits it is an ancient sweatheart of his; but though an ancient lover, she is young, – aye! and moreover she is beautiful; for as I hovered about the place some two or three days ago, I chanced to get such a glimpse of her, as satisfied me of all that.”
“Base villain!” cried the lady, in a rage; “I will be revenged of him, and of her too. But,” added she, again assuming the command of her feelings, “I shall take mine own time.”
“Thou canst not be too speedy with thy vengeance as regards thy husband, if thou wouldst have me to help thee,” said Cochran, with a vulgar leer – “for, hark ye! – a secret in thine ear – I must go to-morrow – my time hath been long enough uselessly wasted here, – thanks to thine obduracy; and then this building is so far advanced towards completion, as hardly longer to require my master eye, so that little apology now remains for me for longer stay. Nor do I now will it much, seeing that it is of none effect; so I shall e’en hasten back to the court, to look after this earldom of Mar, which the King hath been talking of bestowing upon me, as a successor, much more worthy of it, than his traitorous brother who held it. ‘Tis well for me to be on the spot; yet couldst thou but think of giving me back that love, of which this false Sir Walter so wickedly robbed me, I might still contrive to stay awhile to help thee to thy revenge.”
“My vengeance must be deeply satiated ere any such passion as love can find room in this heart of mine,” said the lady, with eyes that darted lightnings. “At this moment it is over-charged with hate, which nothing can diminish til it is poured out in one vast flood of vengeance on those who have produced it. Go then, my good lord, for to that title thy fortune doth now most securely lead; go – and push it boldly on to the pinnacle of that glory to which it so clearly points. When we meet again, we may have better will, as well as better leisure, to unfold our mutual thoughts and wishes. Meanwhile, believe that mine are ever for thy welfare, and for that honourable advancement to thee, to which the elegance of thy person, as well as thy superiority in mind and manners, doth so well and amply entitle thee.”
“Thanks, lady! thy discernment is great and penetrating!” cried Cochran, whose vanity was so blown up by her extravagant praises of him, that, ere she wist, he, by way of an act of gallantry, and in a manner quite suited to the vulgarity of his character, threw his great coarse arms around her delicate neck, and snatched a rude embrace. But though it brought the colour indignantly into her face, she had too much cunning to resent it.
When Sir Walter Stewart returned home that evening, Cochran told him that he could be his guest no longer, seeing that he had received certain communications from his Majesty, which demanded his immediate departure from Drummin for the court. Sir Walter was by no means much afflicted at this intelligence. He exerted himself, however, to do Cochran all manner of hospitality, and to show him every kindness, and every mark of respect in his power, ere he went. He arose early next morning, therefore, to perform the last duties of a host to a parting guest, and, after Cochran and his escort were mounted, he walked by the side of the architect’s horse, talking with him by way of civil convoy, for more than a mile of the road, as in those days it was the usual custom of all hosts to do. As they were going up a little hill above Drummin, called the Calton, they espied a hawk perched upon the very top of a tall tree. Sir Walter had a birding piece in his hand, with which he had been for some time wont to practise.
“There is a fine fair shot for thee to try thy new-fangled weapon against, Sir Walter,” said Cochran, pointing to the hawk; “I wager thee five gold pieces that thou canst not bring him down.”
“The distance is great,” said Sir Walter, pointing his piece at the bird; ” but I accept your wager.”
“He is safe,” said Cochran.
“No!” cried Sir Walter exultingly, after discharging his piece, the bullet from which brought the bird fluttering to the ground. “He’s gone, an’ he were a king!”
“A good shot, truly!” said Cochran, treasuring up Sir Walter’s careless expression for his own future use and purpose. “Marry, but that is a dangerous piece of thine, Sir Knight. Take good care how you handle it, else may it perchance do thee a mischief. But I will keep thee no longer trudging thus by my horse’s side; so again I bid thee commend me to thy lady.” And so saying, he rode away more abruptly than might have very well beseemed any man of better breeding.
Cochran finished his journey to Stirling, where the King then was, and immediately presented himself at court. He was gratified by the reception he met with from James, who manifested no little joy at the return of his creature. But all mankind are misers, when taking account of the favours of the great, on whom they depend. Unmindful of the large ones they receive themselves, they look only with envious eyes on those, however small, that may be bestowed upon others. Thus it was with the unrighteous Haman, and thus it was with Cochran; for all the kindness which the King showed to him, in this his first interview, became as nothing, when weighed against the eagerness which his Majesty manifested in his inquiries after Sir Walter Stewart. These were as gall and verjuice to Cochran. In vain did he try to make trifling and oblique insinuations against the Knight of Stradawn, his royal master was in no humour to listen to them at the time, and they were each of them in succession lost to his ear, in the eagerness with which he put his next question. James put question after question as to all the particulars of his occupation at Drummin, as well as regarding the progress of the work, and it was only when he had come down to the day of his departure, that the insidious favourite contrived to catch the royal attention, by relating the story of the birding-piece.
“Sir Walter Stewart is undoubtedly a pretty gentleman, and of very various accomplishments,” said Cochran; “aye, and few know his qualifications better than he does himself.”
“He knows not his own accomplishments better than we do,” replied the King, in rather a dissatisfied tone.
“Pardon me,” replied Cochran, obsequiously, “I never ventured to say that he was vain of them. But your Majesty’s perception and judgment are unrivalled. Yet much as you have seen and observed of Sir Walter Stewart, I may venture to question, whether you have chanced to witness ought of his great skill and marvellous accuracy of eye in shooting with a birding-piece?”
“A birding-piece!” exclaimed the King, “we knew not that he ever used any such new-fashioned tool.”
“He hath not used it till of late,” said Cochran; “but it would seem that he hath lost no time in perfecting himself in the use of it, now that he hath taken it in hand. Your Majesty would be surprised to behold how expertly he can employ it. The last shot I saw him make with it was just as we were about to part, and it astonished me and all those who were in my company.”
“We shall ourselves see him use this strange weapon, the very first visit he may make to court,” said the King. “But what of this famous shot of his?”
“So please your Majesty, a sparrow-hawk sat on the very top of a straight upright pine tree of immense height. He was perched there so proudly and confidently in his lofty position, and, as he thought, so safely too, that he looked down as carelessly on our cavalcade below as if he had been the weather-cock on the needle point of some lofty church-spire. ‘There’s a shot for you, Sir Walter,’ said I, and I straightaway offered to gage five gold unicorns that he could do nought against it. ‘I take thy wager,’ said he; and with that he s=raised his piece, and without saying a word more, he presented it at the over-confident bird, and, to the astonishment of all present, down it came tumbling. ‘He’s gone!” cried he.”
“Aye, and your gold was gone too,” interrupted James, laughing heartily.
“Nay, your Majesty, I minded not my gold,” replied the wily Cochran; ” and had but these words of his been all the speech he uttered, I had been well contented to have lost a wager.”
“What said he else?” demanded James.
“So please your most gracious Majesty, I had rather leave the rest unsaid,” replied Cochran, with great affectation of discretion.
“Nay, but we would hear it all from thee,” cried the King, impatiently.
“If your most gracious Majesty commands, your faithful servant must obey,” replied Cochran. “Yet true as mine ears are wont to be to their office, I would hardly believe that I heard the words which they then conveyed to me.”
“We would have thee keep us no longer in suspense,” cried the King. “What words did Sir Walter Stewart utter?” “As the bird fell,” replied Cochran, with a gravity and a seriousness of aspect that would have seemed to imply a heavy charge against the Knight of Stradawn – “As the bird fell, Sir Walter, as I have already signified to your Majesty. exclaimed, ‘He’s gone;’ and then turning aside, he added, in a somewhat lower voice, ‘He’s gone! Would he were the King!‘ So, and please your Majesty, did mine ears report his words.”
“Ha!” exclaimed James, with an air of great dissatisfaction, “Ar’t sure that he so spake? From all that thou hast seen, as well as heard at Drummin, it would seem to us that both thine eyes and thine ears have been wonderfully sharp to pick up evil against Sir Walter Stewart. Was it likely that he should have thus wantonly spouted forth foul treason in the ears of so many witnesses, some of whom it would appear were sufficiently willing to report to us whatever might be turned to his prejudice! Go to, sir! I like not this! Those accurate ears of thine must have failed of their honest duty for once. Or if, for some object of thine own, thou hadst wilfully misinterpreted that which they did truly hear, we can tell thee that thou hast not hit thy mark with the same skill or success that Sir Walter Stewart did his. But we shall judge of him in person, and that right speedily, for already hath he received our royal command, borne to him by an especial messenger, to present himself at court by a certain day, in order to be present at the grand tournament which it is our royal will to hold, that we may for once essay to bring our sullen and iron-sinewed nobles around us.”
“I humbly crave your Majesty’s most gracious pardon,” said Cochran, much abashed, and with a cringing reverence. “Your Majesty’s matchless wisdom hath put this matter into so clear a light, that I begin to believe that my doubts – I mean the strong doubts I entertained of it at the time – were correct, and that the words must have somehow or other come to mine ear awry. I appeal to all the Saints, and to the blessed Virgin to boot, that I would rather hide than publish aught against anyone so much in your Majesty’s favour as Sir Walter Stewart would seem to be, especially one for whom I have, as I may say, so high a respect, and regard, and admiration.”
“We are satisfied.” replied the King. “‘Tis clear, that in this instance thine ears have deceived thee. None but one demented could have so spoken in such hearing; and Sir Walter Stewart is no madman. But we would talk no more of this. We would now confer with thee as to those plans at which we last looked ere thou wentest -”
“I will go seek them straightaway, your most gracious Majesty,” replied Cochran, and making more than ordinarily low and fawning obeisances, he gladly retired to breathe more freely, and to recover from the alarm of that danger which his very unwonted imprudence had brought upon him, and which had so nearly hurled him into the very pit which he had digged for another.
But we must now return to Drummin. – Though the –
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