Black's Boys' and Girls' Library
TALES FROM SCOTTISH BALLADS
IN THE SAME SERIES
TALES OF KING ARTHUR by DOROTHY SENIOR MIKE (A Public School Story) by P. G. WODEHOUSE THE CAVEMEN, A TALE OF THE TIME OF by STANLEY WATERLOO WONDER TALES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD by JAMES BAIKIE, D.D., F.R.A.S. THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD by JOHN FINNEMORE ROBINSON CRUSOE by DANIEL DEFOE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON Edited by G. E. MITTON MOTHER GOOSE'S NURSERY RHYMES Edited by L. E. WALTER, M.B.E., B.Sc. TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS by THOMAS HUGHES IN THE YEAR OF WATERLOO } FACE TO FACE WITH NAPOLEON } by O. V. CAINE WITCH'S HOLLOW by A. W. BROOK MUCKLE JOHN by FREDERICK WATSON ANDERSEN'S FAIRY TALES AESOP'S FABLES THE ARABIAN NIGHTS GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES GRANNY'S WONDERFUL CHAIR by FRANCES BROWNE BRITISH FAIRY AND FOLK TALES by W. J. GLOVER THE ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE by MIGUEL DE CERVANTES COOK'S VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY MR. MIDSHIPMAN EASY TALES FROM HAKLUYT Selected by FRANK ELIAS GREEK WONDER TALES } OTTOMAN WONDER TALES } by LUCY M. GARNETT GULLIVER'S TRAVELS THE HEROES } THE WATER BABIES } by CHARLES KINGSLEY BOOK OF CELTIC STORIES by ELIZ. W. GRIERSON
A GIRL'S ADVENTURES IN KOREA by AGNES HERBERT
SIMILAR TO THE ABOVE
CRANFORD. By Mrs. ELIZABETH GASKELL. With 8 Illustrations in Colour
A. & C. BLACK, LTD., 4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W. 1
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
Melbourne THE OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Toronto THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA
Bombay Calcutta Madras MACMILLAN AND COMPANY, LTD.
TALES FROM SCOTTISH BALLADS
ELIZABETH W. GRIERSON
AUTHOR OF "THE BOOK OF CELTIC STORIES" "THE BOOK OF EDINBURGH" ETC.
WITH FOUR FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR FROM DRAWINGS BY ALLAN STEWART
A. & C. BLACK, LTD.
4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W. 1
Printed in Great Britain
First Edition ("Children's Tales from Scottish Ballads") published in 1906.
New Edition published in 1916.
Reprinted and included in Boys' and Girls' Library in 1925.
Reprinted in 1930.
MY TWO FIRESIDE CRITICS
A. S. G. AND J. B. G.
THE LOCHMABEN HARPER 1
THE LAIRD O' LOGIE 11
KINMONT WILLIE 32
THE GUDE WALLACE 63
THE WARLOCK O' OAKWOOD 81
MUCKLE-MOU'ED MEG 101
DICK O' THE COW 125
THE HEIR OF LINNE 143
BLACK AGNACE OF DUNBAR 161
THOMAS THE RHYMER 195
LORD SOULIS 214
THE BROWNIE OF BLEDNOCK 234
SIR PATRICK SPENS 244
YOUNG BEKIE 259
THE EARL OF MAR'S DAUGHTER 274
HYNDE HORN 291
THE GAY GOS-HAWK 310
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
FROM DRAWINGS BY ALLAN STEWART
"This very night we will ride over into Ettrick, and lift a wheen o' them" Frontispiece
"My father eyed them keenly, his face growing grave as he did so" 36
"''Tis a God's-penny,' cried the guests in amazement" 158
"When she approached he pulled off his bonnet and louted low" 198
THE LOCHMABEN HARPER
"Oh, heard ye of a silly harper, Wha lang lived in Lochmaben town, How he did gang to fair England, To steal King Henry's wanton brown?"
Once upon a time, there was an old man in Lochmaben, who made his livelihood by going round the country playing on his harp. He was very old, and very blind, and there was such a simple air about him, that people were inclined to think that he had not all his wits, and they always called him "The silly Lochmaben Harper."
Now Lochmaben is in Dumfriesshire, not very far from the English border, and the old man sometimes took his harp and made long journeys into England, playing at all the houses that he passed on the road.
Once when he returned from one of these journeys, he told everyone how he had seen the English King, King Henry, who happened to be living at that time at a castle in the north of England, and although he thought the King a very fine-looking man indeed, he thought far more of a frisky brown horse which his Majesty had been riding, and he had made up his mind that some day it should be his.
All the people laughed loudly when they heard this, and looked at one another and tapped their foreheads, and said, "Poor old man, his brain is a little touched; he grows sillier, and sillier;" but the Harper only smiled to himself, and went home to his cottage, where his wife was busy making porridge for his supper.
"Wife," he said, setting down his harp in the corner of the room, "I am going to steal the King of England's brown horse."
"Are you?" said his wife, and then she went on stirring the porridge. She knew her husband better than the neighbours did, and she knew that when he said a thing, he generally managed to do it.
The old man sat looking into the fire for a long time, and at last he said, "I will need a horse with a foal, to help me: if I can find that, I can do it."
"Tush!" said his wife, as she lifted the pan from the fire and poured the boiling porridge carefully into two bowls; "if that is all that thou needest, the brown horse is thine. Hast forgotten the old gray mare thou left at home in the stable? Whilst thou wert gone, she bore a fine gray foal."
"Ah!" said the old Harper, his eyes kindling. "Is she fond of her foal?"
"Fond of it, say you? I warrant bolts and bars would not keep her from it. Ride thou away on the old mare, and I will keep the foal at home; and I promise thee she will bring home the brown horse as straight as a die, without thy aid, if thou desire it."
"Thou art a clever woman, Janet: thou thinkest of everything," said her husband proudly, as she handed him his bowlful of porridge, and then sat down to sup her own at the other side of the fire, chuckling to herself, partly at her husband's words of praise, and partly at the simplicity of the neighbours, who called him a silly old harper.
Next morning the old man went into the stable, and, taking a halter from the wall, he hid it in his stocking; then he led out his old gray mare, who neighed and whinnied in distress at having to leave her little foal behind her. Indeed he had some difficulty in getting her to start, for when he had mounted her, and turned her head along the Carlisle road, she backed, and reared, and sidled, and made such a fuss, that quite a crowd collected round her, crying, "Come and see the silly Harper of Lochmaben start to bring home the King of England's brown horse."
At last the Harper got the mare to start, and he rode, and he rode, playing on his harp all the time, until he came to the castle where the King of England was. And, as luck would have it, who should come to the gate, just as he arrived, but King Henry himself. Now his Majesty loved music, and the old man really played very well, so he asked him to come into the great hall of the castle, and let all the company hear him play.
At this invitation the Harper jumped joyously down from his horse, as if to make haste to go in, and then he hesitated.
"Nay, but if it please your Majesty," he said humbly, "my old nag is footsore and weary: mayhap there is a stall in your Majesty's stable where she might rest the night."
Now the King loved all animals, and it pleased him that the old man should be so mindful of his beast; and seeing one of the stablemen in the distance, he turned his head and cried carelessly, "Here, sirrah! Take this old man's nag, and put it in a stall in the stable where my own brown horse stands, and see to it that it has a good supper of oats and a comfortable litter of hay."
Then he led the Harper into the hall where all his nobles were, and I need not tell you that the old man played his very best. He struck up such a merry tune that before long everybody began to dance, and the very servants came creeping to the door to listen. The cooks left their pans, and the chambermaids their dusters, the butlers their pantries; and, best of all, the stablemen came from the stables without remembering to lock the doors.
After a time, when they had all grown weary of dancing, the clever old man began to play such soft, soothing, quiet music, that everyone began to nod, and at last fell fast asleep.
He played on for a time, till he was certain that no one was left awake, then he laid down his harp, and slipped off his shoes, and stole silently down the broad staircase, smiling to himself as he did so.
With noiseless footsteps he crept to the stable door, which, as he expected, he found unlocked, and entered, and for one moment he stood looking about him in wonder, for it was the most splendid stable he had ever seen, with thirty horses standing side by side, in one long row. They were all beautiful horses, but the finest of all, was King Henry's favourite brown horse, which he always rode himself.
The old Harper knew it at once, and, quick as thought, he loosed it, and, drawing the halter which he had brought with him out of his stocking, he slipped it over its head.
Then he loosed his own old gray mare, and tied the end of the halter to her tail, so that, wherever she went, the brown horse was bound to follow. He chuckled to himself as he led the two animals out of the stable and across the courtyard, to the great wrought-iron gate, and when he had opened this, he let the gray mare go, giving her a good smack on the ribs as he did so. And the old gray mare, remembering her little foal shut up in the stable at home, took off at the gallop, straight across country, over hedges, and ditches, and walls, and fences, pulling the King's brown horse after her at such a rate that he had never even a chance to bite her tail, as he had thought of doing at first, when he was angry at being tied to it.
Although the mare was old, she was very fleet of foot, and before the day broke she was standing with her companion before her master's cottage at Lochmaben. Her stable door was locked, so she began to neigh with all her might, and at last the noise awoke the Harper's wife.
Now the old couple had a little servant girl who slept in the attic, and the old woman called to her sharply, "Get up at once, thou lazy wench! dost thou not hear thy master and his mare at the door?"
The girl did as she was bid, and, dressing herself hastily, went to the door and looked through the keyhole to see if it were really her master. She saw no one there save the gray mare and a strange brown horse.
"Oh mistress, mistress, get up," she cried in astonishment, running into the kitchen. "What do you think has happened? The gray mare has gotten a brown foal."
"Hold thy clavers!" retorted the old woman; "methinks thou art blinded by the moonlight, if thou knowest not the difference between a full-grown horse and a two-months'-old foal. Go and look out again and bring me word if 'tis not a brown horse which the mare has brought with her."
The girl ran to the door, and presently came back to say that she had been mistaken, and that it was a brown horse, and that all the neighbours were peeping out of their windows to see what the noise was about.
The old woman laughed as she rose and dressed herself, and went out with the girl to help her to tie up the two horses.
"'Tis the silly old Harper of Lochmaben they call him," she said to herself, "but I wonder how many of them would have had the wit to gain a new horse so easily?"
Meanwhile at the English castle the Harper had stolen silently back to the hall after he had let the horses loose, and, taking up his harp again, he harped softly until the morning broke, and the sleeping men round him began to awake.
The King and his nobles called loudly for breakfast, and the servants crept hastily away, afraid lest it might come to be known that they had left their work the evening before to listen to the stranger's music.
The cooks went back to their pans, and the chambermaids to their dusters, and the stablemen and grooms trooped out of doors to look after the horses; but presently they all came rushing back again, helter-skelter, with pale faces, for the stable door had been left open, and the King's favourite brown horse had been stolen, as well as the Harper's old gray mare. For a long time no one dare tell the King, but at last the head stableman ventured upstairs and broke the news to the Master-of-the-Horse, and the Master-of-the-Horse told the Lord Chamberlain, and the Lord Chamberlain told the King.
At first his Majesty was very angry, and threatened to dismiss all the grooms, but his attention was soon diverted by the cunning old Harper, who threw down his harp, and pretended to be in great distress.
"I am ruined, I am ruined!" he exclaimed, "for I lost the gray mare's foal just before I left Scotland, and I looked to the price of it for the rent, and now the old gray mare herself is gone, and how am I to travel about and earn my daily bread without her?"
Now the King was very kind-hearted, and he was sorry for the poor old man, for he believed every word of his story, so he clapped him on the back, and bade him play some more of his wonderful music, and promised to make up to him for his losses.
Then the wicked old Harper rejoiced, for he knew that his trick had succeeded, and he picked up his harp again, and played so beautifully that the King forgot all about the loss of his favourite horse.
All that day the Harper played to him, and on the morrow, when he would set out for home, in spite of all his entreaties that he would stay longer, he made his treasurer give him three times the value of his old gray mare, in solid gold, because he said that, if his servants had locked the stable door, the mare would not have been stolen, and, besides that, he gave him the price of the foal, which the wicked old man had said that he had lost. "For," said the King, "'tis a pity that such a marvellous harper should lack the money to pay his rent."
Then the cunning old Harper went home in triumph to Lochmaben, and the good King never knew till the end of his life how terribly he had been cheated.
THE LAIRD O' LOGIE
"I will sing if ye will hearken, If ye will hearken unto me; The king has ta'en a poor prisoner, The wanton laird o' young Logie."
It was Twelfth-night, and in the royal Palace of Holyrood a great masked ball was being held, for the King, James VI., and his young wife, Anne of Denmark, had been keeping Christmas there, and the old walls rang with gaiety such as had not been since the ill-fated days of Mary Stuart.
It was a merry scene; everyone was in fancy dress, and wore a mask, so that even their dearest friends could not know them, and great was the merriment caused by the efforts which some of the dancers made to guess the names of their partners.
One couple in the throng, however, appeared to know and recognise each other, for, as a tall slim maiden dressed as a nun, who had been dancing with a stout old monk, passed a young man in the splendid dress of a French noble, she dropped her handkerchief, and, as the young Frenchman picked it up and gave it to her, she managed to exchange a whisper with him, unnoticed by her elderly partner.
Ten minutes later she might have been seen, stealing cautiously down a dark, narrow flight of stairs, that led to a little postern, which she opened with a key which she drew from her girdle, and, closing it behind her, stepped out on the stretch of short green turf, which ran along one side of the quaint chapel. It was bright moonlight, but she stole behind one of the buttresses that cast heavy shadows on the grass, and waited.
Nearly a quarter of an hour passed before another figure issued from the same little postern and joined her. This time it was the young French noble, his finery hidden by a guard's long cloak.
"Pardon me, sweetheart," he said, throwing aside his disguise and putting his hand caressingly on her shoulder, "but 'tis not my fault that thou art here before me. I had to dance a minuet with her Majesty the Queen; she was anxious to show the court dames how 'tis done in Denmark, and, as thou knowest, I have learned the Danish steps passably well dancing it so often with thee. So I was called on, and Arthur Seaton, and a mention was made of thee, but Gertrud Van Hollbell volunteered to fill thy place."
"Gertrud is a good-natured wench, and I will tell her so; but did her Majesty not notice my absence?"
"Nay, verily, she was so busy talking with me, and I gave her no time to miss thee," said the young man, laughing, but his companion's face was troubled. They had taken off their masks, and a stranger looking at them would have taken them for what they seemed to be, a dark-haired, black-eyed Frenchman, and a fair English nun. But Hugh Weymes of Logie was a simple Scottish gentleman, in spite of his dress, and looks; and the maiden, Mistress Margaret Twynlace, was a Dane, who had come over, along with one or two others, as maid-in-waiting to the young Queen, who had insisted on having some of her own countrywomen about her.
Mistress Margaret's fair hair, and fairer skin, so different from that of the young Scotch ladies, had quite captivated young Weymes, and the two had been openly betrothed.
They had plenty of chances of speaking to each other in the palace, where Weymes was stationed in his capacity of gentleman of the King's household, and the young man was somewhat at a loss to understand why Margaret should have arranged a secret meeting which might bring them both into trouble were it known, for Queen Anne was very strict, and would have no lightsome maids about her, and were it to reach her ears that Margaret had met a man in the dark, even although it was the man she intended to marry, she would think nothing of packing her off to Denmark at a day's notice.
Now, as this was the very last thing that Hugh wanted to happen, his voice had a touch of reproach in it, as he began to point out the trouble that might ensue if any prying servant should chance to see them, or if Margaret's absence were noticed by the Queen.
But the girl hardly listened to him.
"What doth it matter whether I am sent home or not?" she said passionately. "Thou canst join me there and Denmark is as fair as Scotland; but it boots not to joke and laugh, for I have heavy news to tell thee. Thou must fly for thy life. 'Tis known that thou hast had dealings with my Lord of Bothwell, that traitor to the King, and thy life is in danger."
The young man looked at her in surprise. "Nay, sweet Meg," he said, "but methinks the Christmas junketing hath turned thy brain, for no man can bring a word against me, and I stand high in his Majesty's favour. Someone hath been filling thy ears with old wives' tales."
"But I know thou art in danger," she persisted, wringing her hands in despair when she saw how lightly he took the news. "I do not understand all the court quarrels, for this land is not my land, but I know that my Lord Bothwell hates the King, and that the King distrusts my Lord Bothwell, and, knowing this, can I not see that there is danger in thy having been seen talking to the Earl in a house in the Cowgate? and, moreover, it is said that he gave thee a packet which thou art supposed to have carried hither. Would that I could persuade thee to fly, to take ship at Leith, and cross over to Denmark; my parents would harbour thee till the storm blew past."
Margaret was in deadly earnest, but her lover only laughed again, and assured her that she had been listening to idle tales. To him it seemed incredible that he could get into any trouble because he had lately held some intercourse with his father's old friend, the Earl of Bothwell, and had, at his request, carried back a sealed packet to give to one of the officials at the palace, on his return from a trip to France. It was true that Lord Bothwell was in disfavour with the King, who suspected him of plotting against his person, but Hugh believed that his royal master was mistaken, and, as he had only been about the court a couple of months or so, he had not yet learned how dangerous it was to hold intercourse with men who were counted the King's enemies.
So he soothed Margaret's fears with playful words, promising to be more discreet in the future, and keep aloof from the Earl, and in a short time they were back in the ballroom, and he, at least, was dancing as merrily as if there was no such word as treason.
For two or three weeks after the Twelfth-night ball, life at Holyrood went on so quietly that Margaret Twynlace was inclined to think that her lover had been right, and that she had put more meaning into the rumours which she had heard than they were intended to convey, and, as she saw him going quietly about his duties, apparently in as high favour as before with the King, she shook off her load of anxiety, and tried to forget that she had ever heard the Earl of Bothwell's name.
But without warning the blow fell. One morning, as she was seated in the Queen's ante-chamber, busily engaged, along with the other maids, in sewing a piece of tapestry which was to be hung, when finished, in the Queen's bedroom, Lady Hamilton entered the room in haste, bearing dire tidings.
It had become known at the palace the evening before, that a plot had been discovered, planned by the Earl of Bothwell, to seize the King and keep him a prisoner, while the Earl was declared regent. As it was known that young Hugh Weymes, one of the King's gentlemen, had been seen in conversation with him some weeks before, he had been seized and his boxes searched, and in them had been found a sealed packet, containing letters to one of the King's councillors, who was now in France, asking his assistance, and signed by Bothwell himself.
The gentleman had not returned—probably word had been sent to him of his danger—but young Weymes had been promptly arrested, although he disclaimed all knowledge of the contents of the packet, and had been placed under the care of Sir John Carmichael, keeper of the King's guard, until he could be tried.
"And there will only be one sentence for him," said the old lady grimly; "it's beheaded he will be. 'Tis a pity, for he was a well-favoured youth; but what else could he expect, meddling with such matters?" and then she left the room, eager to find some fresh listeners to whom she could tell her tale.
As the door closed behind her a sudden stillness fell over the little room. No one spoke, although some of the girls glanced pityingly at Margaret, who sat, as if turned to stone, with a still, white face, and staring eyes. Gertrud Van Hollbell, her countrywoman and bosom friend, rose at last, and went and put her arms round her.
"He is a favourite with the Queen, Margaret, and so art thou," she whispered, "and after all it was not he who wrote the letter. If I were in thy place, I would beg her Majesty, and she will beg the King, and he will be pardoned."
But Margaret shook her head with a wan smile. She knew too well the terrible danger in which her lover stood, and she rightly guessed that the Queen would have no power to avert it.
At that moment the door opened, and the Queen herself entered, and all the maidens stood up to receive her. She looked grave and sad, and her eyes filled with tears as they fell on Margaret, who had been her playmate when they were both children in far-away Denmark, and who was her favourite maid-of-honour.
Seeing this, kind-hearted Gertrud gave her friend a little push. "See," she whispered, "she is sorry for thee; if thou go now and beg of her she will grant thy request."
Slowly, as if in a dream, the girl stepped forward, and knelt at her royal Mistress's feet, but the Queen laid her hand gently on her shoulder.
"'Tis useless asking me, Margaret," she said. "God knows I would have granted his pardon willingly. I do not believe that he meant treason to his Grace, only he should not have carried the packet; but I have besought the King already on his behalf and he will not hear me. Or his lords will not," she added in an undertone.
Then the girl found her voice. "Oh Madam, I will go to the King myself," she cried, "if you think there is any chance. Perhaps if I found him alone he might hear me. I shall tell him what I know is true, that Hugh never dreamt that there was treason in the packet which he carried."
"Thou canst try it, my child," said the Queen, "though I fear me 'twill be but little use. At the same time, the King is fond of thee, and thy betrothal to young Weymes pleased him well."
So, with a faint hope rising in her heart, Margaret withdrew to her little turret chamber, and there, with the help of the kind-hearted Gertrud, she dressed herself as carefully as she could.
She remembered how the King had praised a dull green dress which she had once worn, saying that in it she looked like a lily, so she put it on, and Gertrud curled her long yellow hair, and fastened it in two thick plaits behind, and sent her away on her errand with strong encouraging words; then she sat down and waited, wondering what the outcome of it all would be.
Alas! in little more than a quarter of an hour she heard steps coming heavily up the stairs, and when Margaret entered, it needed no look at her quivering face to know that she had failed.
"It is no use, Gertrud," she moaned, "no use, I tell thee. His Majesty might have let him off—I saw by his face that he was sorry—but who should come into the hall but my Lords Hamilton and Lennox, and then I knew all hope was gone. They are cruel, cruel men, and they would not hear of a pardon."
Gertrud did not speak; she knew that words of comfort would fall on deaf ears, even if she could find any words of comfort to say, so she only held out her arms, and gathered the poor heart-broken maiden into them, and in silence they sat, until the light faded, and the stars came out over Arthur's Seat. At last came a sound which made them both start. It was the grating noise of a key being turned in a lock, and the clang of bolts and bars, and then came the sound of marching feet, which passed right under their little window. Gertrud rose and looked out, but Margaret only shuddered. "They are taking him before the King," she said. "They will question him, and he will speak the truth, and he will lose his head for it."
She was right. The prisoner was being conducted to the presence of the King and the Lords of Council, to be questioned, and, as he openly acknowledged having spoken to the Earl of Bothwell, and did not deny having carried the packet, although he swore that he had no idea of its contents, his guilt was considered proved, and he was taken back to prison, there to await sentence, which everyone knew would be death.
From the little window Gertrud watched the soldiers of the King's guard lock and bar the great door, and give the key to Sir John Carmichael, their captain, who crossed the square swinging it on his finger.
"Would that I had that key for half an hour," she muttered to herself. "I would let the bird out of his cage, and old Karl Sevgen would do the rest."
Margaret started up from the floor where she had been crouching in her misery. "Old Karl Sevgen," she cried; "is he here?"
The old man was the captain of a little schooner which plied between Denmark and Leith, who often carried messages backwards and forwards between the Queen's maids and their friends.
"Ay," said Gertrud, glad to have succeeded in rousing her friend, and feeling somehow that there was hope in the sound of the old man's familiar name. "He sent up a message this evening—'twas when thou wert with the King—and if we have anything to send with him it must be at Leith by the darkening to-morrow. I could get leave to go, if thou hadst any message," she added doubtfully, for she saw by Margaret's face that an idea had suddenly come to her, for she sat up and gazed into the twilight with bright eyes and flushed cheeks.
"Gertrud," she said at last, "I see a way, a dangerous one, 'tis true, but still it is a way. I dare not tell it thee. If it fails, the blame must fall on me, and me alone; but if thou canst get leave to go down to Leith and speak with old Karl alone, couldst thou tell him to look out for two passengers in the small hours of Wednesday morning? And say that when they are aboard the sooner he sails the better; and, Gertrud, tell him from me, for the love of Heaven, to be silent on the matter."
Gertrud nodded. "I'll do as thou sayest, dear heart," she said, "and pray God that whatever plan thou hast in thy wise little head may be successful; but now must thou go to the Queen. It is thy turn to-night to sleep in the ante-room."
"I know it," answered the girl, with a strange smile, and without saying any more she kissed her friend, and, bidding her good-night, left the room.
Outside the Queen's bed-chamber was a little ante-chamber, opening into a tiny passage, on the other side of which was a room occupied by the members of the King's bodyguard, who happened to be on duty for the week.
It was the Queen's custom to have one of her maids sleeping in the ante-room in case she needed her attendance through the night, and this week the duty fell to Margaret.
After her royal mistress had retired, the girl lay tossing on her narrow bed, thinking how best she could rescue the man she loved, and by the morning her plans were made.
"Gertrud," she said next day, when the two were bending over their needlework, somewhat apart from the other maids, "dost think that Karl could get thee a length of rope? It must be strong, but not too thick, so that I could conceal it about my person when I go to the Queen's closet to-night. Thou couldst carry it home in a parcel, and the serving man who goes with thee will think that it is something from Denmark."
"That can I," said Gertrud emphatically; "and if I have not a chance to see thee, I will leave it in the coffer in thy chamber."
"Leave what?" asked the inquisitive old dowager who was supposed to superintend the maids and their embroidery, who at that moment crossed the room for another bundle of tapestry thread, and overheard the last remark.
"A packet for Mistress Margaret, which she expects by the Danish boat," answered Gertrud promptly. "I have permission from her Majesty to go this evening on my palfrey to Leith, to deliver some mails to Captain Karl Sevgen, and to receive our packets in return."
"Ah," said the old dame kindly, "'tis a treat for thee doubtless to see one of thine own countrymen, even although he is but a common sailor," and she shuffled back placidly to her seat.
Margaret went on with her work in silence, blessing her friend in her heart for her ready wit, but she dare not look her thanks, in case some curious eye might note it.
Gertrud was as good as her word. When Margaret went up to her little room late in the evening, to get one or two things which she wanted before repairing to the Queen's private apartments, she found a packet, which would have disarmed all suspicions, lying on her coffer. For it looked exactly like the bundles which found their way every month or two to the Danish maids at Holyrood. It was sewn up in sailcloth, and was addressed to herself in rude Danish characters; but she knew what was in it, and in case the Queen might ask questions and laughingly desire to see her latest present from home, she slit off the sailcloth, which she hid in the coffer, and, unfolding the coil of rope, she wound it round and round her body, under her satin petticoat. Luckily she was tall, and very slender, and no one, unless they examined her very closely, would notice the difference in her figure. Then, taking up a great duffle cloak which she used when riding out in dirty weather, she made her way to her post.
It seemed long that night before Queen Anne dismissed her. The King lingered in the supper chamber, and the gentle Queen, full of sympathy for her favourite, sat in the little ante-room and talked to her of Denmark, and the happy days they had spent there. At last she departed, just as the clock on the tower of St Giles struck twelve, and Margaret was at liberty to unwind the coil of rope, and hide it among the bedclothes, and then, wrapping the warm cloak round her, she lay down and tried to wait quietly until it was safe to do what she intended to do.
There were voices for awhile in the next room—the King and Queen were talking—then they ceased entirely; but still she waited, until one o'clock rang out, and she heard the guards pass on their rounds.
Then she rose, and, taking off her shoes, crept gently across the tiny room and stealthily opened the door of the Queen's bedroom, and listened. All was quiet except for the regular breathing of the sleepers. A little coloured lamp which hung from the ceiling was burning softly, and by its light she could see the different objects in the room. Stealing to the dressing-table, she looked about for any trinkets that would answer her purpose. The King's comb lay there, carefully cut from black ivory, with gold stars let in along the rim; and there, among other dainty trifles, was the mother-of-pearl and silver knife, set with emeralds, which his Majesty had given the Queen as a keepsake, about the time of their marriage. Margaret picked up both of these, and then, retracing her steps, she closed the door behind her, and flung herself on her bed to listen in breathless silence in case anyone had heard her movements, and should come to ask what was wrong.
But all was quiet; not a soul had heard.
* * * * *
"The prisoner to be taken to the King now! Surely, fellow, thou art dreaming." Sir John Carmichael, captain of the King's guard, sat up in bed, and stared in astonishment at the soldier who had brought the order.
"Nay," said the man stolidly. "But 'twas one of the Queen's wenches who came to the guard-room, and told us, and as a token that it is true, and no joke, she brought these from his Majesty," and he held out the gilded comb and the little jewelled knife.
Sir John took them and turned them over in silence. He knew them well enough, and, moreover, it was no uncommon thing for the King, when he sent a messenger, as he often did, at an unaccustomed hour, to send also some trinket which lay beside him at the moment, as a token; therefore the honest gentleman suspected nothing, although he was loth to get out of bed.
There was no help for it, however; the message had come from the King, and King's messages must be obeyed, even though they seemed ill-timed and ridiculous.
"What in the world has ta'en his Majesty now?" he grumbled, as he got up reluctantly and began to hustle on his clothes. "Even though he wants to question the lad alone, could he not have waited till the morning? 'Tis the Queen's work, I warrant; she has a soft heart, and she will want his Majesty to hear the young man's defence when none of the Lords of the Council are by."
So saying, he took down the great key which hung on a nail at the head of his bed, and went off with the soldiers to arouse young Weymes, who seemed quite as surprised as Sir John at the sudden summons.
At the door of the Queen's ante-chamber they were met by the same maid-of-honour who had taken the tokens to the guard, and she, modestly shielding her face with a fold of her cloak, asked Sir John if he would remain in the guard-room with the soldiers until she called for him again, as the King wanted to question the prisoner alone in his chamber.
At the sound of her voice Hugh Logie started, although Sir John did not seem to recognise it, else his suspicions might have been aroused. He only waited until his prisoner followed the girl into the little room, then he locked the door behind them as a precaution, and withdrew with the soldiers into the guard-room, where he knew a bright fire and a tankard of ale were always to be found.
Once in the ante-room, the young man spoke. "What means this, Sweetheart?" he said. "What can the King want with me at this hour of night?"
"Hush!" answered the girl, laying a trembling finger on her lips, while her eyes danced in spite of the danger. "'Tis I who would speak with thee, but on board Karl Sevgen's boat at Leith, and not here. See," and she drew the rope from its hiding-place, "tie this round thy waist, and I will let thee down from the window; by God's mercy it looks out on a deserted part of the garden, where the guards but rarely come, and thou canst steal over the ditch, and down the garden, and round the Calton Hill, and so down to the sea at Leith. Karl's boat is there; he will be watching for thee. Thou wilt know her by her long black hull, and by a red light he will burn in the stern. Nay, Hugh," for he would have taken her in his arms. "The danger is not over yet, and we will have time to talk when we are at sea, for I am coming too; I dare not stay here to face the King alone. Only I can steal out by that little door in the tapestry"—luckily Sir John did not know that there was another way out—"and meet thee in the garden."
The window was not very high, and the night was dark, and no one chanced to pass that way as a figure slung itself down, and dropped lightly into the ditch; and, when a guard did come round, Hugh lay flat among the mud and nettles until he had passed, and by that time Margaret had stolen out by the little postern, and was waiting for him at the foot of the garden, and hand in hand they made their way over the rough uneven fields which lay between them and Leith.
Meanwhile, Sir John Carmichael drank ale, and talked with the guards, and waited;—and waited, and talked with the guards, and drank ale, until his patience was well-nigh gone. At last, just when the day was breaking, he went to the door of the ante-room to listen, and hearing nothing, he knocked, and receiving no answer, he unlocked the door and peeped in, not wishing to disturb the maid-of-honour, but merely to satisfy himself that all was right. The moment he saw the open window and the rope, he shouted to the guards, and rushed across the floor, and thundered at the door of the King's apartment, hoping against hope that the prisoner was still there.
But the King had been sleeping peacefully, and when he heard the story, he was very angry at first, and talked of arresting Sir John, and sent off horsemen, who rode furiously to Leith, in the hope of catching the Danish boat. But they came back with the news that she had sailed with the tide at three o'clock in the morning, after having taken two passengers on board; and, after all, he could say little to Carmichael, for had he not received the comb and the knife as tokens?
"Thou shouldst not have lingered so long at supper," said the Queen slyly, only too pleased at the turn events had taken. "Then hadst thou slept lighter, and would have awaked when the wench stole in to take the things."
King James burst into a great laugh. "By my troth, thou art right," he said, slapping his thigh. "The wench has been too clever for all of us, for the Lords of the Council, and Carmichael, and me, and she deserves her success. They must stay where they are for a time, for appearances' sake, but, heark 'ee, Anne, when thou art writing to Denmark, thou canst say that thou thinkest that my wrath will not last for ever."
Nor did it, and before many months had passed Hugh Weymes of Logie came home in triumph, bringing with him his young wife, who had dared so much and acted so boldly for his sake.
"Oh, have ye na heard of the fause Sakelde? Oh, have ye na heard of the keen Lord Scroope? How they ha'e ta'en bauld Kinmont Willie, On Haribee to hang him up?"
I well remember the dull April morning, in the year 1596, when my father, William Armstrong of Kinmont, "Kinmont Willie," as he was called by all the countryside, set out with me for a ride into Cumberland.
As a rule, when he set his face that way, he rode armed, and with all his men behind him, for these were the old reiving days, when we folk who dwelt on the Scottish side of the Border thought we had a right to go and steal what we could, sheep, or oxen, or even hay, from the English loons, who, in their turn, would come slipping over from their side to take like liberties with us, and mayhap burn down a house or two in the by-going.
My father was aye in the thick and throng of these raids, for he was such a big powerful man that he was more than a match for three Englishmen, did he chance to meet them. Men called him an outlaw, but we thought little of that; most of the brave men on our side had been outlawed at one time or another, and it did them little ill: indeed, it was aye thought to be rather a feather in their cap.
Well, as I say, my father was not riding on business, as it were, this morning, for just then there was a truce for a day or two between the countries, the two Wardens of the Marches, Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, and My Lord Scroope, having sent their deputies to meet and settle some affairs at the Dayholme of Kershope, where a burn divides England from Scotland. My father and I had attended the Truce Muster, and were riding homeward with but a handful of men, when I took a sudden notion into my head, that I would like to cross the Border, and ride a few miles on English ground.
My birthday had fallen the week before (I was just eleven years old), and my father, aye kind to his motherless bairns, had given me a new pony, a little shaggy beast from Galloway, and, as I was keen to see how it would run beside a big man's horse, I had pled hard for permission to accompany him on it to the Muster.
As a rule I never rode with him. "I was too young for the work," he would say; but that day he gave his consent, only making the bargain that there should be no crying out or grumbling if I were tired or hungry long ere we got home again. I had laughed at the idea as I saddled my shaggy little nag, and, to make matters sure, I had gone to Janet, the kitchen wench, and begged her for a satchel of oatcakes and cheese, which I fastened to my saddle strap, little dreaming what need I would have of them before the day was out.
The Truce Muster had broken up sooner than he expected, so my father saw no reason why he should not grant my request, and let me have a canter on English soil, for on a day of truce we could cross the Border if we chose without the risk of being taken prisoners by Lord Scroope's men, and marched off to Carlisle Castle, while the English had a like privilege, and could ride down Liddesdale in open daylight, if they were so minded.
Scarce had we crossed the little burn, however, which runs between low-growing hazel bushes, and separates us from England, when two of the men rode right into a bog, and when, after some half-hour's work, we got the horses out again, we found that both of them wanted a shoe, and my father said at once that we must go straight home, in case they went lame.
At this I drew a long face. I had never been into England, and it was a sore disappointment to be turned back just when we had reached it.
"Well, well," said my father, laughing, ever soft-hearted where I was concerned, "I suppose I must e'en take thee a ride into Bewcastle, lad, since we have got this length. The men can go back with the horses; 'tis safe enough to go alone to-day."
So the men turned back, nothing loth, for Bewcastle Waste was no unknown land to them, and my father and I rode on for eight miles or so, over that most desolate country. Its bareness and loneliness disappointed me. Somehow I had expected that England would be quite different from Scotland, even although they were all one piece of land, with only a burn running between.
"Hast had enough?" said my father at last, noticing my downcast face, and drawing rein. "Didst expect all the trees to be made of silver, and all the houses to be built of gold? Never mind, lad, every place looks much the same in the month of April, I trow, especially when it has been a backward season; but if summer were once and here, I'll let thee ride with the troop, and mayhap thou wilt get a glimpse of 'Merrie Carlisle,' as they call it. It lies over there, twelve miles or more from where we stand."
As he pointed out the direction with his whip, we both became aware of a large body of men, riding rapidly over the moor as if to meet us. My father eyed them keenly, his face growing grave as he did so.
"Who are they, father?" I asked with a sinking heart. I had lived long enough at Kinmont to know that men did not generally ride together in such numbers unless they were bent on mischief.
"It's Sakelde, the English Warden's deputy, and no friend o' mine," he answered with a frown, "and on any other day I would not have met him alone like this for a hundred merks; but the truce holds for three days yet, so we are quite safe; all the same, lad, we had better turn our horses round, and slip in behind that little hill; they may not have noticed us, and in that case 'tis no use rousing their curiosity."
Alas! we had no sooner set our horses to the trot, than it became apparent that not only were we observed, but that for some reason or other the leader of the band of horsemen was desirous of barring our way.
He gave an order,—we could see him pointing with his hand,—and at once his men spurred on their horses and began to spread out so as to surround us. Then my father swore a big oath, and plunged his spurs into his horse's sides. "Come on, Jock," he shouted, "sit tight and be a man; if we can only get over the hill edge at Kershope, they'll pay for this yet."
I will remember that race to my dying day. It appeared to last for hours, but it could not have lasted many minutes, ten at the most, during which time all the blood in my body seemed to be pounding and surging in my head, and the green grass and the sky to be flying past me, all mixed up together, and behind, and on all sides, came the pit-pat of horses' feet, and then someone seized my pony's rein, and brought him up with a jerk, and my father and I were sitting in the midst of two hundred armed riders, whose leader, a tall man, with a thin cunning face, regarded us with a triumphant smile.
"Neatly caught, thou thieving rogue," he said; "by my troth, neatly caught. Who would have thought that Kinmont Willie would have been such a fool as to venture so far from home without an escort? But I can supply the want, and thou shalt ride to Carlisle right well attended, and shall never now lack a guard till thou partest with thy life at Haribee."
As the last word fell on my ear, I had much ado to keep my seat, for I turned sick and faint, and all the crowd of men and horses seemed to whirl round and round. Haribee! Right well I knew that fateful name, for it was the place at Carlisle where they hanged prisoners. They could not hang my father—they dare not—for although he had been declared an outlaw, and might perhaps merit little love from the English, was not this a day of truce, when all men could ride where they would in safety?
"'Tis a day of truce," I gasped with dry lips; but the men around me only laughed, and I could hear that my father's fierce remonstrance met with no better answer.
"Thou art well named, thou false Sakelde," I heard him say, and his voice shook with fury, "for no man of honour would break the King's truce in this way."
But Sakelde only gave orders to his men to bind their prisoner, saying, as he did so, "I warrant Lord Scroope will be too glad to see thee to think much about the truce, and if thou art so scrupulous, thou needest not be hanged for a couple of days; the walls of Carlisle Castle are thick enough to guard thee till then. Be quick, my lads," he went on, turning to his men; "we have a good fourteen miles to ride yet, and I have no mind to be benighted ere we reach firmer ground."
So they tied my father's feet together under his horse, and his hands behind his back, and fastened his bridle rein to that of a trooper, and the word was given for the men to form up, and they began to move forward as sharply as the boggy nature of the ground would allow.
I followed in the rear with a heavy heart. I could easily have escaped had I wanted to do so, for no one paid any attention to me; but I felt that, as long as I could, I must stay near my father, whose massive head and proud set face I could see towering above the surrounding soldiers, for he was many inches taller than any of them.
The spring evening was fast drawing to a close as we came to the banks of the Liddle, and splashed down a stony track to a place where there was a ford. As we paused for a moment or two to give the horses a drink, my father's voice rang out above the careless jesting of the troopers.
"Let me say good-bye to my eldest son, Sakelde, and send him home; or do the English war with bairns?"
I saw the blood rise to the English leader's thin sallow face at the taunt, but he answered quietly enough, "Let the boy speak to him and then go back," and a way was opened up for me to where my father sat, a bound and helpless prisoner, on his huge white horse.
One trooper, kinder than the rest, took my pony's rein as I slid off its back and ran to him. Many a time when I was little, had I had a ride on White Charlie, and I needed no help to scramble up to my old place on the big horse's neck.
My father could not move, but he looked down at me with all the anger and defiance gone out of his face, and a look on it which I had only seen there once before, and that was when he lifted me up on his knee after my mother died and told me that I must do my best to help him, and try to look after the little ones.
That look upset me altogether, and, forgetting the many eyes that watched us, and the fact that I was eleven years old, and almost a man, I threw my arms round his neck and kissed him again and again, sobbing and greeting as any bairn might have done, all the time.
"Ride home, laddie, and God be with ye. Remember if I fall that thou art the head of the house, and see that thou do honour to the name," he said aloud. Then he signed to me to go, and, just as I was clambering down, resting a toe in his stirrup, he made a tremendous effort and bent down over me. "If thou could'st but get word to the Lord of Buccleuch, laddie, 'tis my only chance. They dare not touch me for two days yet. Tell him I was ta'en by treachery at the time o' truce."
The whisper was so low I could hardly hear it, and yet in a moment I understood all it was meant to convey, and my heart beat until I thought that the whole of Sakelde's troopers must read my secret in my face as I passed through them to where my pony stood.
With a word of thanks I took the rein from the kindly man who had held it, and then stood watching the body of riders as they splashed through the ford, and disappeared in the twilight, leaving me alone.
But I felt there was work for me to do, and a ray of hope stole into my heart. True, it was more than twenty miles, as the crow flies, to Branksome Tower in Teviotdale, where my Lord of Buccleuch lived, and I did not know the road, which lay over some of the wildest hills of the Border country, but I knew that he was a great man, holding King James' commission as Warden of the Scottish Marches, and at his bidding the whole countryside would rise to a man. 'Twas well known that he bore no love to the English, and when he knew that my father had been taken in time of truce...! The fierce anger rose in my heart at the thought, and, burying my face in my pony's rough coat, I vowed a vow, boy as I was, to be at Branksome by the morning, or die in the attempt. I knew that it was no use going home to Kinmont for a man to ride with me, for it was out of my way, and would only be a waste of time.
It was almost dark now, but I knew that the moon would rise in three or four hours, and then there would be light enough for me to try to thread my way over the hills that lay between the valleys of the Teviot and Liddle. In the meantime, there was no special need to hurry, so I loosened my pony's rein, and let him nibble away at the short sweet grass which was just beginning to spring, while I unbuckled the bag of cakes which I had put up so gaily in the morning, and, taking one out, along with a bit of cheese, did my best to make a hearty meal. But I was not very successful, for when the heart is heavy, food goes down but slowly, and Janet's oatcake and the good ewe cheese, which at other times I found so toothsome, seemed fairly to stick in my throat, so at last I gave it up, and, taking the pony by the head, I began to lead him up the valley.
Although I had been down the Liddle as far as the ford once or twice before, it had always been in daylight, and my father had been with me; but I knew that as long as I kept close to the river I was all right for the first few miles, until the valley narrowed in, and then I must strike off among the high hills on my left.
It was slow work, for it was too dark to ride, and I dare not leave the water in case I lost my way, and by the time we had gone mayhap four or five miles, I had almost lost heart, for I was both tired and cold, and it seemed to me that half the night at least must be gone, and at this rate we would never reach Branksome at all.
At last, just when the tears were getting very near my eyes—for I was but a little chap to be set on such a desperate errand—I struck on a narrow road which led up a brae to my left, and going along it for a hundred yards or so, I saw a light which seemed to come from a cottage window. I stopped and looked at it, wondering if I dare go boldly up and knock.
In those lawless days one had to be cautious about going up to strange houses, for one never knew whether one would find a friend or an enemy within, so I determined to tie my pony to a tree, and steal noiselessly up to the building, and see what sort of place it was.
I did so, and found that the light came from a tiny thatched cottage standing by itself, sheltered by some fir trees. There appeared to be no dogs about, so I crept quite close to the little window, and peered in through a hole in the shutter. I could see the inside of the room quite plainly; it was poorly furnished, but beautifully clean. In a corner opposite the window stood a rough settle, while on a three-legged stool by the peat fire sat an old woman knitting busily, a collie dog at her feet.
There could be nothing to fear from her, so I knocked boldly at the door. The collie flew to the back of it barking furiously, but I heard the old woman calling him back, and presently she peeped out, asking who was there.
"'Tis I, Jock Armstrong of Kinmont," I said, "and I fain would be guided as to the quickest road to Branksome Tower."
The old woman peered over my head into the darkness, evidently expecting to see someone standing behind me.
"I ken Willie o' Kinmont; but he's a grown man," she said suspiciously, making as though she would shut the door.
"He's my father," I cried, vainly endeavouring to keep my voice steady, "and—and—I have a message to carry from him to the Lord of Buccleuch at Branksome." I would fain have told the whole story, but I knew it was better to be cautious. I was still no distance from the English Border, and it would take away the last chance of saving my father's life, were Sakelde to get to know that word of his doings were like to reach the Scottish Warden's ears.
"Loshsake, laddie!" exclaimed the old dame in astonishment, setting the door wide open so that the light might fall full on me, "'tis full twenty miles tae Branksome, an' it's a bad road ower the hills."
"But I have a pony," I said. "'Tis tied up down the roadway there, and the moon will rise."
"That it will in an hour or two, but all the same I misdoubt me that you'll lose your road. What's the matter wi' Kinmont Willie, that he has tae send a bairn like you his messages? Ye needna' be feared to speak out," she added as I hesitated; "Kinmont Willie is a friend of mine—at least, he did my goodman and me a good turn once—and I would like to pay it back again if I could."
I needed no second bidding; it was such a relief to have someone to share the burden, and I felt better as soon as I had told her, even although the telling brought the tears to my eyes.
The old woman listened attentively, and then shook her fist in the direction which the English had taken.
"He's a fause loon that Sakelde," she said, "and I'd walk to Carlisle any day to see him hanged. 'Twas he who stole our sheep, two years past at Martinmas, and 'twas your father brought them back again. But keep up your heart, my man; if you can get to the Bold Buccleuch he'll put things right, I'll warrant, and I'll do all I can for you. Go inbye, and sit down by the fire, and I'll go down the road and fetch the nag. You'll both be the better for a rest, and a bite o' something to eat, and when the moon is risen I'll take you up the hill, and show you the track. My goodman is away at Hawick market, or he would ha'e ridden a bit of the road wi' ye."
When I was a little fellow, before my mother died, she used to read me lessons out of her great Bible with the silver clasps, and of all the stories she read to me, I liked the lesson of the Good Samaritan best, and, looking back, now that I am a grown man, it seems to me that I met the Good Samaritan that night, only he was a woman.
After Allison Elliot, for that was her name, had brought my pony into her cow-house, and seen that he was supplied with both hay and water, she returned to the cottage, and with her own hands took off my coarse woollen hose and heavy shoon, and spread them on the hearth to dry, then she made me lie down on the settle, and, covering me up with a plaid, she bade me go to sleep, promising to wake me the moment the moon rose.
It was nearly eleven o'clock when she shook me gently, bidding me get up and put on my shoon, as it was time to be going, and, sitting up, I found a supper of wheaten bread and hot milk on the table, which she told me to eat, while she wrapped herself in a plaid and went out for the nag.
What with the sleep, and the dry clothes, and the warm food, I promise you I felt twice the man I had done a few hours earlier, and I chattered quite gaily to her as she led my pony up a steep hillside behind the cottage, for the moon was only beginning to rise, and there was still but little light. After we had gone some two miles, we struck a bridle track, well trodden by horses' hoofs, which wound upwards between two high hills.
Here Allison paused and looked keenly at the ground.
"This is the path," she said; "you can hardly lose it, for there have been riders over it yesterday or the day before. Scott o' Haining and his men, most likely, going home from their meeting at the Kershope Burn. This will lead you over by Priesthaugh Swire, and down the Allan into Teviotdale. Beware of a bog which you will pass some two miles on this side of Priesthaugh. 'Tis the mire Queen Mary stuck in when she rode to visit her lover when he lay sick at Hermitage. May the Lord be good to you, laddie, and grant you a safe convoy, for ye carry a brave heart in that little body o' yours!"
I thanked her with all my might, promising to go back and see her if my errand were successful; then I turned my pony's head to the hills, and spurred him into a brisk canter. He was a willing little beast, and mightily refreshed by Allison Elliot's hay, and, as the moon was now shining clearly, we made steady progress; but it was a long lonely ride for a boy of my age, and once or twice my courage nearly failed me: once when my pony put his foot into a sheep drain, and stumbled, throwing me clean over his head, and again when I missed the track, and rode straight into the bog Allison had warned me about, and in which the little beast was near sticking altogether, and I lost a good hour getting him to firm land and finding the track again.
The bright morning sun was showing above the Eastern horizon before I left the weary hills behind me, but it was easy work to ride down the sloping banks of the Allan, and soon I came to the wooded valley of the Teviot.
Urging on my tired pony, I cantered down the level haughs which lay by the river side, and it was not long before Branksome came in sight, a high square house, with many rows of windows, flanked by a massive square tower at each corner.
I rode up to the great doorway through an avenue of beeches and knocked timidly on the wrought-iron knocker, for I had never been to such a big house in my life before, and I felt that I made but a sorry figure, splashed as I was with mud from head to foot.
The old seneschal who came to the door seemed to think so too, for he looked me up and down with a broad grin on his face before he asked who I was, and on what business I had come.
"To see my Lord of Buccleuch, and carry a message to him from William Armstrong of Kinmont," I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster, for the fellow's smile angered me, and I feared that he might not think it worth his while to tell the Warden of my arrival.
"Then thou shalt see Sir Walter at once, young sir, if thou wilt walk this way," said the man, mimicking my voice good-naturedly, and, hitching my pony's bridle to an iron ring in the door-post, he led me along a stone passage, straight into a great vaulted hall, in the centre of which stood a long wooden table, with a smaller one standing crossways on a dais at its head.
A crowd of squires and men-at-arms stood round the lower table, laughing and jesting as they helped themselves with their hunting knives to slices from the huge joints, or quaffed great tankards of ale, while up at the top sat my Lord of Buccleuch himself, surrounded by his knights, and waited on by smart pages in livery, boys about my own age.
As the old seneschal appeared in the doorway there was a sudden silence, while he announced in a loud voice that a messenger had arrived from William Armstrong of Kinmont; but when he stepped aside, and everyone saw that the messenger was only a little eleven-years-old lad, a loud laugh went round the hall, and the smart pages whispered together and pointed to my muddy clothes.
When the old seneschal saw this, he gave me a kindly nudge.
"Yonder is my Lord of Buccleuch at the top of the table," he whispered; "go right up to him, and speak out thy message boldly."
I did as I was bid, though I felt my cheeks burn as I walked up the great hall, among staring men and whispering pages, and when I reached the dais where the Warden sat, I knelt at his feet, cap in hand, as my father had taught me to do before my betters.
Sir Walter Scott, Lord of Buccleuch, of whom I had heard so much, was a young, stern-looking man, with curly brown hair and keen blue eyes. His word was law on the Borders, and people said that even the King, in far-off Edinburgh, stood in awe of him; but he leant forward and spoke kindly enough to me.
"So thou comest from Armstrong of Kinmont, boy; and had Kinmont Willie no better messenger at hand, that he had to fall back on a smatchet like thee?"
"There were plenty of men at Kinmont, an' it please your lordship," I answered, "had I had time to seek them; but a man called Sakelde hath ta'en my father prisoner, and carried him to Carlisle, and I have ridden all night to tell thee of it, for he is like to be hanged the day after to-morrow, if thou canst not save him."
Here my voice gave way, and I could only cling to the great man's knee, for my quivering lips refused to say any more.
Buccleuch put his arm round me, and spoke slowly, as one would speak to a bairn.
"And who is thy father, little man?"
"Kinmont Willie," I gasped, "and he was ta'en last night, in truce time."
I felt the arm that was round me stiffen, and there was silence for a moment, then my lord swore a great oath, and let his clenched fist fall so heavily on the table, that the red French wine which stood before him splashed right out of the beaker, a foot or two in the air.
"My Lord of Scroope shall answer for this," he cried. "Hath he forgotten that men name me the Bold Buccleuch, and that I am Keeper o' the Scottish Marches, to see that justice is done to high and low, gentle and simple?"
Then he gave some quick, sharp orders, and ten or twelve men left the room, and a minute later I saw them, through a casement, throw themselves astride their horses, and gallop out of the courtyard. At the sight my heart lightened, for I knew that whatever could be done for my father would be done, for these men had gone to "warn the waters," or, in other words, to carry the tidings far and wide, and bid all the men of the Western Border be ready to meet their chief at some given trysting-place, and ride with him to the rescue.
Meanwhile the Warden lifted me on his knee, and began asking me questions, while the pages gathered round, no longer jeering, but with wide-open eyes.
"Thou art a brave lad," he said at last, after I had told him the whole story, "and, with thy father's permission, I would fain have thee for one of my pages. We must tell him how well thou hast carried the message, and ask him if he can spare thee for a year or two."
At any other time my heart would have leapt at this unheard-of good fortune, for to be a page in the Warden's household was the ambition of every well-born lad on the Border; but at that moment I felt as if Buccleuch hardly realised my father's danger.
"But he is lodged in Carlisle Castle, and men say the walls are thick," I said anxiously, "and it is garrisoned by my Lord Scroope's soldiers."
The Warden laughed.
"We will teach my Lord Scroope that there is no bird's nest that the Bold Buccleuch dare not harry," he said, and, seeing the look on his face, I was content.
Then, noticing how weary I was, he called one of the older pages, and bade him see that I had food and rest, and the boy, who had been one of the first to laugh before, but who now treated me with great respect, took me away to a little turret room which he shared with some of his fellows, and brought me a piece of venison pie, and then left me to go to sleep on his low pallet, promising to wake me when there were signs of the Warden and his men setting out.
I must have slept the whole day, for the little room was almost dark again, and the rain was beating wildly on the casement, when the boy came back. "My lord hath given orders for the horses to be saddled," he said, "and the trysting-place is Woodhouselee. I heard one squire tell another in the hall, for as a rule we pages know nothing, and are only expected to do as we are bid. I know not if my lord means thee to ride with him, but I was sent up to fetch thee."
It did not take me long to spring up and fasten my doublet, and follow my guide down to the great hall. Here all was bustle and confusion; men were standing about ready armed, making a hasty meal at the long table, which never seemed to be empty of its load of food, while outside in the courtyard some fifty or sixty horses were standing, ready saddled, with bags of fodder thrown over their necks.
Every few minutes a handful of men would ride up in the dusk, and, leaving their rough mountain ponies outside, would stride into the hall, and begin to eat as hard as they could, exchanging greetings between the mouthfuls. These were men from the neighbourhood, my friend informed me, mostly kinsmen of Buccleuch, and lairds in their own right, who had ridden to Branksome with their men to start with their chief.
There was Scott of Harden, and Scott of Goldilands, Scott of Commonside, and Scott of Allanhaugh, and many more whom I do not now remember, and they drank their ale, and laughed and joked, as if they were riding to a wedding, instead of on an errand which might cost them their lives.
Buccleuch himself was in the midst of them, booted and spurred, and presently his eye fell on me.
"Ha! my young cocksparrow," he cried. "Wilt ride with us to greet thy father, or are thy bones too weary? Small shame 'twould be to thee if they were."
"Oh, if it please thee, sire, let me ride," I said; "I am not too weary, if my pony is not," at which reply everyone laughed.
"I hear thy pony can scarce hirple on three legs," answered my lord, clapping me on my shoulder, "but I like a lad of spirit, and go thou shalt. Here, Red Rowan, take him up in front of thee, and see that a horse be led for Kinmont to ride home on."
I was about to protest that I was not a bairn to ride in front of any man, but Buccleuch turned away as if the matter were settled, and the big trooper who came up and took me in charge persuaded me to do as I was bid. "'Tis a dark night, laddie, and we ride fast," he said, "and my lord would be angered didst thou lose thy way, or fall behind," and although my pride was nettled at first, I was soon fain to confess that he was right, for the horses swung out into the wind and rain, and took to the hills at a steady trot, keeping together in the darkness in a way that astonished me. Red Rowan had a plaid on his shoulders which he twisted round me, and which sheltered me a little from the driving rain, and I think I must have dozed at intervals, for it seemed no time until we were over the hills, and down at Woodhouselee in Canonbie, where a great band of men were waiting for us, who had gathered from Liddesdale and Hermitage Water.
With scarcely a word they joined our ranks, and we rode silently and swiftly on, across the Esk, and the Graeme's country, until we reached the banks of the Eden.
Here we came to a standstill, for the river was so swollen with the recent rains that it seemed madness for any man to venture into the rushing torrent; but men who had ridden so far, and on such an errand, were not to be easily daunted.
"This way, lads, and keep your horses' heads to the stream," shouted a voice, and with a scramble we were down the bank, and the nags were swimming for dear life. I confess now, that at that moment I thought my last hour had come, for the swirling water was within an inch of my toes, and I clung to Red Rowan's coat with all the strength I had, and shut my eyes, and tried to think of my prayers. But it was soon over, and on the other side we waited a minute to see if any man were missing. Everyone was safe, however, and on we went till we were close on Carlisle, and could see the lights of the Castle rising up above the city wall.
Then Buccleuch called a halt, and everyone dismounted, and some forty men, throwing their bridle reins to their comrades, stepped to the front. Red Rowan was one of them, and I kept close to his side.
Everything must have been arranged beforehand, for not a word was spoken, but by the light of a single torch the little band arranged themselves in order, while I watched with wide-open eyes. They were not all armed, but they all had their hands full.
In the very front were ten men carrying hunting-horns and bugles; then came ten carrying three or four long ladders, which must have been brought with us on ponies' backs. Then came other ten, armed with great iron bars and forehammers; and only the last ten, among whom was the Warden himself and Red Rowan, were prepared as if for fighting.
At the word of command they set out, with long steady strides, and as no one noticed me, I went too, running all the time in order to keep up with them.
The Castle stood to the north side of the little city, close to the city wall, and the courtyard lay just below it. We stole up like cats in the darkness, fearful lest someone might hear us and give the alarm. Everyone seemed to be asleep, however, or else the roaring of the wind deadened the noise of our footsteps. In any case we reached the wall in safety, and as we stood at the bottom of it waiting till the men tied the ladders together, we could hear the sentries in the courtyard challenge as they went their rounds.
At last the ladders were ready, and Buccleuch gave his whispered orders before they were raised.
No man was to be killed, he said, if it could possibly be helped, as the two countries were at peace with each other, and he had no mind to stir up strife. All he wanted was the rescue of my father.
Then the ladders were raised, and bitter was the disappointment when it was found that they were too short. For a moment it seemed as if we had come all the weary way for nothing.
"It matters not, lads," said the Warden cheerily; "there be more ways of robbing a corbie's nest than one. Bide you here by the little postern, and Wat Scott and Red Rowan and I will prowl round, and see what we can see."
Along with these two stalwart men he vanished, while we crouched at the foot of the wall and waited; nor had we long to wait.
In ten minutes we could hear the bolts and bars being withdrawn, and the little door was opened by Buccleuch himself, who wore a triumphant smile. He had found a loophole at the back of the Castle left entirely unguarded, and without much difficulty he and his two companions had forced out a stone or two, until the hole was large enough for them to squeeze through, and had caught and bound the unsuspecting sentries as they came round, stuffing their mouths full of old clouts to hinder them from crying out and giving the alarm.
Once we were inside the courtyard he ordered the men with the iron bars and forehammers to be ready to beat open the doors, and then he gave the word to the men with the bugles and hunting horns.
Then began such a din as I had never heard before, and have never heard since. The bugles screeched, and the iron bars rang, and above all sounded the wild Border slogan, "Wha dare meddle wi' me?" which the men shouted with all their might. One would have thought that the whole men in Scotland were about the walls, instead of but forty.
And in good faith the people of the Castle, cowards that they were, and even my Lord Scroope himself, thought that they were beset by a whole army, and after one or two frightened peeps from out of windows, and behind doors, they shut themselves up as best they might in their own quarters, and left us to work our will, and beat down door after door until we came to the very innermost prison itself, where my father was chained hand and foot to the wall like any dog.
Just as the door was being burst open, my lord caught sight of me as I squeezed along the passage, anxious to see all that could be seen. He laid his hand on the men's shoulders and held them back.
"Let the bairn go first," he said; "it is his right, for he has saved him."
Then I darted across the cell, and stood at my father's side. What he said to me I never knew, only I saw that strange look once more on his face, and his eyes were very bright. Had he been a bairn or a woman I should have said he was like to weep. It was past in a moment, for there was little time to lose. At any instant the garrison might find out how few in numbers we were, and sally out to cut us off, so no time was wasted in trying to strike his chains off him.
With an iron bar Red Rowan wrenched the ring to which he was fastened, out of the wall, and, raising him on his back, carried him bodily down the narrow staircase, and out through the courtyard.
As we passed under my Lord Scroope's casement, my father, putting all his strength into his voice, called out a lusty "good night" to his lordship, which was echoed by the men with peals of laughter.
Then we hurried on to where the main body of troopers were waiting with the horses, and I warrant the shout that they raised when they saw us coming with my father in the midst of us, riding on Red Rowan's shoulder, might almost have been heard at Branksome itself.
When it died away we heard another sound which warned us that the laggards at the Castle had gathered their feeble courage, and were calling on the burghers of Carlisle to come to their aid, for every bell in the city was ringing, and we could see the flash of torches here and there.
Scarcely had the smiths struck the last fetter from my father's limbs than we heard the thunder of horses' hoofs behind us.
"To horse, lads," cried Buccleuch, and in another moment we were galloping towards the Eden, I in front of Red Rowan as before, and close to my father's side.
The English knew the lie of the land better than we did, for they were at the river before us, well-nigh a thousand of them, with Lord Scroope himself at their head. Apparently they never dreamed that we would attempt to swim the torrent, and thought we would have to show fight, for they were drawn up as if for a battle; but we dashed past them with a yell of defiance, and plunged into the flooded river, and once more we came safe to the other side. Once there we faced round, but the English made no attempt to follow; they sat on their horses, glowering at us in the dim light of the breaking day, but they said never a word.
Then my Lord of Buccleuch raised himself in his stirrups, and, plucking off his right glove, he flung it with all his might across the river, and, the wind catching it, it was blown right into their leader's face. "Take that, my Lord of Scroope," he cried; "mayhap 'twill cure thee of thy treachery, for if Sakelde took him, 'twas thou who harboured him, and if thou likest not my mode of visiting at thy Castle of Carlisle, thou canst call and lodge thy complaint at Branksome at thy leisure."
Then, with a laugh, he turned his horse's head and led us homewards, as the sun was rising and the world was waking up to another day.
THE GUDE WALLACE
"Would ye hear of William Wallace, An' sek him as he goes, Into the lan' of Lanark, Amang his mortal foes?
There were fyfteen English sojers, Unto his ladye came, Said, 'Gie us William Wallace, That we may have him slain.'"
I will tell you a tale of the Good Wallace, that brave and noble patriot who rose to deliver his country from the yoke of the English, and who spent his strength, and at last laid down his life, for that one end.
As all the world knows, the English King, Edward I., had defeated John Baliol at Dunbar, and he had laid claim to the kingdom of Scotland, and had poured his soldiers into that land.
Some of these soldiers, hearing of the strength, and wisdom, and prowess of the young champion who had arisen, like Gideon of old, for the succour of his people, determined to try to take him by stealth, before venturing to meet him in the open field.
'Twas known that Wallace was in the habit of visiting a lady, a friend of his, in the town of Lanark, so a band of these soldiers went to her house, and surrounded it, while the captain knocked at the door. When the lady opened it, and saw him, and saw also that her house was surrounded by his men, she was very much alarmed, which perhaps was not to be wondered at, for everyone was afraid of the English at that time.
The officer spoke to her in quite a friendly manner, however, and began to tell her about his own country, and how much richer and finer everything was there than in Scotland, and at last, when she was thoroughly interested, he hinted that it was in her power to marry an English lord if she cared to do so, and go and live in England altogether.
Now I am afraid that the lady was both silly and discontented, and it seemed to her that it would be a very fine thing indeed to be an English nobleman's wife, so she blushed and bridled, and looked up and down, and at last she asked how the thing could be managed.
"Well," said the officer cautiously, "there is only one condition, and that doth not seem to me to be a very hard one. It hath been told me that there is a rough and turbulent fellow who visits this house. His name is William Wallace, and because he is likely to stir up riots among the common people, it seems good to His Majesty, King Edward, that he should be taken prisoner. Would it be possible," and here his voice became very soft and persuasive, "for thee to let us know what night he intends to visit thee?"
At first the lady started back, and was very indignant with him for daring to suggest that she should do such a dishonourable thing.
"I am no traitor," she said proudly, "nor am I like Jael of old, who murdered the man who took shelter in her tent."
But the captain's voice was low and sweet, and the lady's nature was vain and fickle, and the prospect of marrying an English lord was very enticing, and so it came about that at last she yielded, and she told him how she was expecting young Wallace that very night at seven o'clock, and she promised to put a light in the window when he arrived.
Then the false woman went into her house and shut the door, and the soldiers set themselves to watch for the coming of their enemy.
How it happened I know not, but Wallace came, and walked boldly into the house without one of them seeing him, and he ran upstairs and knocked at the door of his friend's room.
When she opened it, he stood still, and stared at her in astonishment, for her face was pale and wild, and she looked at him with terror in her eyes. I warrant she had been wrestling with her conscience ever since she had spoken with the soldiers, and she had seen what an awful thing it is to be guilty of the blood of an innocent man.
"What ails thee?" cried Wallace, in his bluff, hearty way. "Thou lookest all distraught, as if thou hadst seen a ghost."
Then he held out his hand as if to greet her, but she stretched forth hers and pushed him away.
"Touch me not. I am like Judas,—Judas," she moaned, "who betrayed the innocent blood, and whose fate is written in the Holy Book for a warning to all poor recreants like to me."
Sir William Wallace thought that she had gone mad. "Vex not thyself," he said kindly. "Methinks thou hast been reading, and thinking, till thou hast fevered thy poor brain. Thou art no Judas, but mine own true friend, in whose house I find safe shelter when I need to visit Lanark."
"Safe shelter!" she cried, with a bitter laugh, and she dragged him to the window, and pointed out in the dusk the figures of four soldiers who were leaning against the garden gate. "Safe shelter, say ye, when I have betrayed thee to the English; for this house is watched by fifteen soldiers; and I have but to put a lamp in the window, as a signal that thou art within, and they will come and slay thee."
"And what is thy reward for this deed of treachery?" asked Wallace, a look of contempt coming over his open face. "What pay did the English loons promise thee?"
"They promised me an English lord for a husband," sobbed the wretched woman, who now would have done anything in her power to undo the wrong that she had done. "But oh, sir, I fear me I have wrought sore dule to thee this day, and sore dule to Scotland. If thou canst get free from this house, which I fear me thou wilt never do, thou canst denounce me as a traitor. I care not if I die the death."
"Now Heaven forfend!" said Wallace, whose kindly heart was touched by her distress, although he despised her for her false deed; "it shall never be said that William Wallace avenged himself on a woman, no matter what her crime might be. I trusted thee, and thou hast proved false, and so from henceforth we must go our different ways; but if thou art truly sorry, thou mayest yet help me, and, as for me, if once I get clear away from these Southron knaves outside. I will think no more of the matter."
"But canst thou get clear away?" questioned the lady anxiously. "I fear me, now that it is past seven o'clock, they will keep stricter watch than they did when thou camest in. 'Twill be impossible for thee to pass out in safety, and if thou remainest here, they will search the house when they tire of waiting for my signal."
"Impossible is not a word that I am well acquaint with, madam," he said, "and if, for the sake of the friendship that was between us in the days that are gone, thou wilt lend me some of thine attire, a gown and kirtle maybe, and a decent petticoat of homespun, and a cap such as wenches wear to shield their faces from the sun, I hope I may make good my escape under the very noses of these fellows."
Wondering to herself, the lady did as he asked her. She brought him a dark-coloured gown and kirtle, and a stout winsey petticoat, such as serving-maids wear, and after long search she found at the bottom of a drawer a milk-maid's cap.
Wallace proceeded to dress himself in these, and, when he had put them all on, and had clasped a leather belt round his waist, and wound an apron about his head, as lassies do to protect themselves from the rain or sun, and put the milk-maid's bonnet on top of all, I warrant even his own mother would not have known him.
"Now fetch me a milk-can," he said, "for I am no longer a soldier, but a modest maiden going to the well to draw water."
When she had brought it he bent low over her hand and gave it one kiss for the sake of old times; then he said farewell to her for ever, and opened the door, and walked boldly down the garden.
The four soldiers at the gate looked at one another in surprise when a tall damsel with a milk-can stood still at the foot of the garden path, and waited for them to open it. They had not known that the lady had a serving-maid.
"If it please thee, good sirs, to let me bye," broke in the maiden's voice in the gloom. "My mistress hath a sharp temper, and this water ought to have been fetched an hour ago."
She spoke with a lisp, and her accent was so outlandish that the men scarce understood what she said; but this they saw, that she wanted to go and draw water from the well, and they opened the gate to let her pass.
"If I dare leave my post, I would fain come and draw for thee," said one; "shame is it that such a pretty wench be left to go to the well alone."
The maiden paid no heed to the fellow's words, but tossed her head, and went quickly down the path to the well, taking such gigantic strides that the men gazed after her in wonder.
"Marry, but she covers the ground," said one.
"Certs, but I would rather walk one mile with her than two," said another.
"Methinks that we had better go after her and bring her back," cried a third. "I have heard say that this William Wallace, whom we are in search of, hath mighty long legs."
Horrified at the thought that they might have let the very man they were looking for escape, they hurried down the path after the serving-maid, and when they overtook her they found out in good sooth that she was William Wallace, for she drew a sword from under her kirtle, and killed all four of them, before they could lay hands on her.
When the four men lay dead before him, Wallace wasted no time over their burial, but drawing their bodies under a bush, where they were somewhat hidden from the passers-by, he hung the milk-can on a branch of a tree, and walked quietly away in the gathering darkness. No one who met a simple country girl walking out into the country ever dreamt of asking her who she was, or where she was going, and ere morning came, I promise you, her garments had been cast, and buried in a hole in the ground, and Wallace was making his way northward as fast as ever he could.
He had to be very careful which way he travelled, for there were soldiers quartered in many of the towns, who knew that there was a price set on his head, and who were only too anxious to catch him.
So he dare not venture into the towns, or into the districts where there were many houses, and it came to pass that, as he was nearing Perth, he was like to famish for want of food.
He had eaten almost nothing for three days, nor had he money wherewith to buy it.
Now, near to Perth there is a beautiful haugh or common, called the North Inch, which stretches along the river Tay, and as he was crossing that, he saw a pretty, rosy country girl washing clothes under a tree, and spreading them out to bleach in the sun. She looked so kind and so good-tempered that he thought he would speak to her, and mayhap, if he found that she lived near, he would ask her to give him something to eat.