Chapter V. – How Adam and Elsie were Received by Black Agnes.

[Black Agnes Contents]

   “Who are you?” inquired the warder when Adam sprang from his horse, and assisted his wife to alight. “Who are you? I ask, and where is my comrade Hepburn? Speak, man, I say, else I will brain you where you stand with my halberd.” 

   “Ca canny, man, ca canny,” quietly replied Home. “You surely ken Elsie Purves, and as for me I’m ane o’ auld Sir David’s lads frae Wedderburn came tae gie yer lady a bit hand in this camstersie ploy ye’r handing on Salisbury and his men. As for Rab Hepburn, puir chiel, he’s faen intae the hands o’ the Philistines, I’m thinkin’. An English archer let drive at us as we cam’ intae the toon, and it looks like as if he had yerked either Rab or his horse. I’m nae coward, warder, as ony Berwickshire rider will tell ye, but when the shafts began to fly I thought it was high time, as I had the lassie wi’ me, to pit yer guid stanewa’s atween me and the enemy. I couldna dae ony guid tae Rab by gaeing back tae fight the guard, for what could ae lad, hampered tae wi’ a lassie, avail again a score o’ Lincoln archers? See I jist cam’ on, and ony way, ye can tell yer mistress that I hae brocht her back her tirewoman safe and sound.” 

   “Is that the wey o’t?” replied the warder. “Man I’m sorry Rab didna get through; he’s a gran’ chiel a’ thegither, an’ a billy tae fight. Ye’ll need tae take his place on the wa’s, for we canna afford to lose a man.” “Noo, lassie,” addressing Elsie, “Come awa’, and I’ll tak’ ye tae her Ladyship’s maid; the Countess will want tae hear yer story as soon as she rises, and when I return, my bold Merseman, we’ll try the Castle beef and ale.” “Nae doubt yer nicht ride has sharpened yer appetite, and though we are sair beset, the larder and cellar are no’ empty yet; no, nor winna be, sae lang as the sea way is open, and the boats can come frae the Lowdens and Fife.” 

   Hardly had Home and his new friend Ronald Maxwell, the warder, finished their breakfast, when the visitor was summoned to the great hall to be interrogated by the lady of the Castle. Adam did not fear this inevitable interview, even though he had stolen a march on the Countess by marrying her tirewoman without permission, for, though Black Agnes was brave and steadfast in the face of opposition, and stern enough to her enemies and to wrongdoers, yet she was well beloved by her servants, for her heart was warm, and she never failed to sympathise with the joys and sorrows of her faithful adherents. So it was with confidence in her justice and goodness that the humble farmer’s son from the banks of the Whitadder made his obesiance to the proud Countess of Dunbar. 

   “What is this I hear, sirrah?” sternly asked her Ladyship. “How dared you to espouse my minion without my express permission, and by what right did a mere mosstrooping bonnet laird like Wedderburn presume to allow the unseasonable ceremony to be performed in the chapel of his paltry peel house?” “I trow me things have come to a pretty pass when a vassal of Dunbar so far forgets her duty as to think of marriage and merriment at a time when her master is at the wars, and her mistress closely besieged in her Lord’s castle.” “And Hepburn, my warder, they tell me, is no better.” “He, too, has married some Merse wanton. Well does it please me that the English have seized him and his too ready bride.” “I hope the archers will tan their hides most soundly with the toughest bow string. I ha’e no pity for Hepburn at all.” “He knew our grievous state, and should never have thought of such fooling in the circumstances.” “As for you and your wench, what hinders me, I wonder, from flogging you both right smartly and casting you outside the gates, to take your chance with the English hounds who howl around my home?” 

   “Yer ain tender heart, madam,” modestly and respectfully, yet firmly, answered Adam. “Surely ye wadna ill-use a puir lassie for lo’ing her lad ower weel; and as for me, I’ll be o’ mair use fighting for ye inside the wa’s than I wad be gin ye kicked me oot amang the pockpudding crew.” “Ay, ma leddy,” continued the cunning rascal, dropping on his knees before the Countess as he spoke, “If ye only look ower this slip, I’ll fight for ye till I dee and wirk for ye till I drap.” “But,” pawkily, “I’ll nae dee if I can help it. I’ll raither live tae serve yer Ladyship and his Lordshipm and the bonnie bairns.” “I’m sorry Rab Hepburn’s no got hame; but if ye’ll tak’ me I’ll fill his place, and dae his wark as fara as I can.” By this time Elsie, too, was on her knees besides her husband, and joined her tearful entreaties to his manlier appeal. 

   “Oh, my Leddy,” wept the youthful rbide, “wull ye no ha’e pity on the lad and me? We lo’e ane anither weel, and when he asked me to marry him I couldna nay nae.” 

   “Ah,” sneered the Countess, “it was too good a chance to miss, I suppose. You wenches will do anything for a man, and very often when you marry in haste you repent at leisure. “But cease this fooling and rise.” “You, Home, go to the battlements, and see that you merit my clemency by doing your duty faithfully and well. Elsie must wait upon me till the siege is raised, and I can obtain another tirewoman.” “No thanks, sirrah.” “Begone to the walls, and see that you fight as heartily as you love, and shoot as fairly as you plead.” 

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