The Black Douglas
Author of "The Raiders," "The Stickit Minister," etc.
New York Doubleday & McClure Co. 1899
By S.R. CROCKETT.
The Black Douglas rides Home.
My Fair Lady
Two riding together
The Rose-red Pavilion
The Witch Woman
The Prisoning of Malise the Smith
The Douglas Muster
The Crossing of the Ford
Laurence sings a Hymn
The Braes of Balmaghie
The Ambassador of France
Mistress Maud Lindesay
A Daunting Summons
Captain of the Earl's Guard
The Night Alarm
Sholto captures a Prisoner of Distinction
The Lamp is blown out
The Morning Light
La Joyeuse baits her Hook
Andro the Penman gives an Account of his Stewardship.
The Bailies of Dumfries
Wager of Battle
Sholto wins Knighthood
The Second Flouting of Maud Lindesay
The Dogs and the Wolf hold Council
The Lion Tamer
The Young Lords ride away
On the Castle Roof
The Bower by yon Burnside
The Gaberlunzie Man
"Edinburgh Castle, Tower, and Town"
The Black Bull's Head
Betrayed with a Kiss
The Lion at Bay
The Rising of the Douglases
A Strange Meeting
The MacKims come to Thrieve
The Gift of the Countess.
The Mission of James the Gross
The Withered Garland
Astarte the She-wolf
Malise fetches a Clout
Laurence takes New Service
The Boasting of Gilles de Sille
The Country of the Dread
Caesar Martin's Wife
The Mercy of La Meffraye
The Battle with the Were-wolves
The Altar of Iron
The Marshal's Chamber
The Jesting of La Meffraye
The Cross under the Apron
The Red Milk
The Shadow behind the Throne
The Tower of Death
The White Tower of Machecoul
The Last Sacrifice to Barran-Sathanas
His Demon hath deserted him
Leap Year in Galloway
THE BLACK DOUGLAS
THE BLACK DOUGLAS RIDES HOME
Merry fell the eve of Whitsunday of the year 1439, in the fairest and heartsomest spot in all the Scottish southland. The twined May-pole had not yet been taken down from the house of Brawny Kim, master armourer and foster father to William, sixth Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway.
Malise Kim, who by the common voice was well named "The Brawny," sat in his wicker chair before his door, overlooking the island-studded, fairy-like loch of Carlinwark. In the smithy across the green bare-trodden road, two of his elder sons were still hammering at some armour of choice. But it was a ploy of their own, which they desired to finish that they might go trig and point-device to the Earl's weapon-showing to-morrow on the braes of Balmaghie. Sholto and Laurence were the names of the two who clanged the ringing steel and blew the smooth-handled bellows of tough tanned hide, that wheezed and puffed as the fire roared up deep and red before sinking to the right welding-heat in a little flame round the buckle-tache of the girdle brace they were working on.
And as they hammered they talked together in alternate snatches and silences?—Sholto, the elder, meanwhile keeping an eye on his father. For their converse was not meant to reach the ear of the grave, strong man who sat so still in the wicker chair with the afternoon sun shining in his face.
"Hark ye, Laurence," said Sholto, returning from a visit to the door of the smithy, the upper part of which was open. "No longer will I be a hammerer of iron and a blower of fires for my father. I am going to be a soldier of fortune, and so I will tell him—"
"When wilt thou tell him?" laughed his brother, tauntingly. "I wager my purple velvet doublet slashed with gold which I bought with mine own money last Rood Fair that you will not go across and tell him now. Will you take the dare?"
"The purple velvet—you mean it?" said Sholto, eagerly. "Mind, if you refuse, and will not give it up after promising, I will nick that lying throat of yours with my gullie knife!"
And with that Sholto threw down his pincers and hammer, and valorously pushed open the lower door of the smithy. He looked with bold, dark blue eye at his father, and strode slowly across the grimy door-step. Brawny Kim had not moved for an hour. His great hands lay in his lap, and his eyes looked at the purple ridges of Screel, across the beautiful loch of Carlinwark, which sparkled and dimpled restlessly among its isles like a wilful beauty bridling under the gaze of a score of gallants.
But, even as he went, Sholto's step slowed, and lost its braggart strut and confidence. Behind him Laurence chuckled and laughed, smiting his thigh in his mocking glee.
"The purple velvet, mind you, Sholto! How well it will become you, coft from Rob Halliburton, our mother's own brother, seamed with red gold and lined with yellow satin and cramosie. Well indeed will it set you when Maud Lindesay, the maid who came from the north for company to the Earl's sister, looks forth from the canopy upon you as you stand in the archers' rank on the morrow's morn."
Sholto squared his shoulders, and with a little backward hitch of his elbow which meant "Wait till I come back, and I will pay you for this flouting," he strode determinedly across the green space towards his father.
The master armourer of Earl Douglas did not lift his eyes till his son had half crossed the road. Then, even as if a rank of spearmen at the word of command had lifted their glittering points to the "ready," Sholto MacKim stopped dead where he was, with a sort of gasp in his throat, like one who finds his defenceless body breast high against the line of hostile steel.
"The purple velvet!" came the cautious whisper from behind. But the taunt was powerless now.
The smith held his son a moment with his eyes.
"Well?" came in the deep low voice, more like the lowest tones of an organ than the speech of a man.
Sholto stood fixed, then half turning on his heel he began to walk towards the corner of the dwelling-house, over which a gay streamer of the early creeping convolvulus danced and swung in the stirring of the light breeze.
"You wish speech with me?" said his father, in the same level and thrilling undertone.
"No," said Sholto, hesitant in spite of himself, "but I thought—that is I desired—saw you my sister Magdalen pass this way? I have somewhat to give her."
"Ah, so," said Brawny Kim, without moving, "a steel breastplate, belike. Thou hast the brace-buckle in thy hand. Doth the little Magdalen go with you to the weapon-show to-morrow?"
"No, father," said Sholto, stammering, "but I was uneasy for the child. It is full an hour since I heard her voice."
"Then," said his father, "finish your work, put out the fire, and go seek your sister."
Sholto brought his hands together and made the little inclination of the head which was a sign of filial respect. Then, solemn as if he had been in his place in the ordered line of the Earl's first levy of archer men, he turned him about and went back to the smithy.
Laurence lay all abroad on the heap of charcoal of which the armourer's welding fire was made. He was fairly expiring with laughter, and when his brother angrily kicked him in the ribs, he only waggled an ineffectual hand and feebly crowed in his throat like a cock, in his efforts to stifle the sounds of mirth.
"Get up, fool," hissed his angry brother; "help me with this accursed hammer-striking, or I will make an end of such a giggling lout as you. Here, hold up."
And seizing his younger brother by the collar of his blue working blouse, he dragged him upon his feet.
"Now, by the saints," said Sholto, "if you cast your gibes upon me, by Saint Andrew I will break every bone in your idiot's body."
"The purple velvet—oh, the purple velvet!" gasped Laurence, as soon as he could recover speech, "and the eyes of Maud Lindesay!"
"That will teach you to think rather of the eyes of Laurence MacKim!" cried Sholto, and without more ado he hit his brother with his clinched knuckles a fair blow on the bridge of his nose.
The next moment the two youths were grappling together like wild cats, striking, kicking, and biting with no thought except of who should have the best of the battle. They rolled on the floor, now tussling among the crackling faggots, anon pitching soft as one body on the peat dust in the corner, again knocking over a bench and bringing down the tools thereon to the floor with a jingle which might have been heard far out on the loch. They were still clawing and cuffing each other in blind rage, when a hand, heavy and remorseless, was laid upon each. Sholto found himself being dabbled in the great tempering cauldron which stood by his father's forge. Laurence heard his own teeth rattle as he was shaken sideways till his joints waggled like those of a puppet at Keltonhill Fair. Then it was his turn to be doused in the water. Next their heads were soundly knocked together, and finally, like a pair of arrows sent right and left, Laurence sped forth at the window in the gable end and found himself in the midst of a gooseberry bush, whilst Sholto, flying out of the door, fell sprawling on all fours almost under the feet of a horse on which a young man sat, smilingly watching the scene.
Brawny Kim scattered the embers of the fire on the forge-hearth, and threw the breastplate and girdle-brace at which the boys had been working into a corner of the smithy. Then he turned to lock the door with the massive key, which stood so far out from the upper leaf that to it the horses waiting their turns to be shod were ordinarily tethered.
As he did so he caught sight of the young man sitting silent on the black charger. Instantly a change passed over his face. With one motion of his hand he swept the broad blue bonnet from his brow, and bowed the grizzled head which had worn it low upon his breast. Thus for the breathing of a breath the master armourer stood, and then, replacing his bonnet, he looked up again at the young knight on horseback.
"My lord," he said, after a long pause, in which he waited for the youth to speak, "this is not well—you ride unattended and unarmed."
"Ah, Malise," laughed the young Earl, "a Douglas has few privileges if he may not sometimes on a summer eve lay aside his heavy prisonment of armour and don such a suit as this! What think you, eh? Is it not a valiant apparel, as might almost beseem one who rode a-courting?"
The mighty master-smith looked at the young man with eyes in which reverence, rebuke, and admiration strove together.
"But," he said, wagging his head with a grave humorousness, "your lordship needs not to ride a-courting. You are to be married to a great dame who will bring you wealth, alliance, and the dower of provinces."
The young man shrugged his shoulders, and swung lightly off his charger, which turned to look at him as he stood and patted its neck.
"Know you not, Malise," he said, "that the Earl of Douglas must needs marry provinces and the Lord of Galloway wed riches? But what is there in that to prevent Will Douglas going courting at eighteen years of his age as a young man ought. But have no fear, I come not hither seeking the favour of any, save of that lily flower of yours, the only true May-blossom that blooms on the Three Thorns of Carlinwark. I would look upon the angel smile on the face of your little daughter Magdalen. An she be here, I would toss her arm-high for a kiss of her mouth, which I would rather touch than that of lady or leman. For I do ever profess myself her vassal and slave. Where have you hidden her, Malise? Declare it or perish!"
The smith lifted up his voice till it struck on the walls of his cottage and echoed like thunder along the shores of the lake.
"Dame Barbara," he cried, and again, getting no answer, "ho, Dame Barbara, I say!"
Then at the second hallo, a shrill and somewhat peevish voice proceeded from within the house opposite.
"Aye, coming, can you not hear, great nolt! 'Deed and 'deed 'tis a pretty pass when a woman with the cares of an household must come running light-toe and clatter-heel to every call of such a lazy lout. Husband, indeed—not house-band but house-bond, I wot—house-torment, house-thorn, house-cross—"
A sonsy, well-favoured, middle-aged head, strangely at variance with the words which came from it, peeped out, and instantly the scolding brattle was stilled. Back went the head into the dark of the house as if shot from a bombard.
Malise MacKim indulged in a low hoarse chuckle as he caught the words: "Eh, 'tis my Lord William! Save us, and me wanting my Ryssil gown that cost me ten silver shillings the ell, and no even so muckle as my white peaked cap upon my head."
Her husband glanced at the young Earl to see if he appreciated the savour of the jest. Then he looked away, turning the enjoyment over and over under his own tongue, and muttering: "Ah, well, 'tis not his fault. No man hath a sense of humour before he is forty years of his age—and, for that matter, 'tis all the riper at fifty."
The young man's eyes were looking this way and that, up and down the smooth pathway which skirted like a green selvage the shores of the loch.
"Malise," he said, as if he had already forgotten his late eager quest for the little Magdalen, "Darnaway here has a shoe loose, and to-morrow I ride to levy, and may also joust a bout in the tilt-yard of the afternoon. I would not ask you to work in Whitsuntide, but that there cometh my Lord Fleming and Alan Lauder of the Bass, bringing with them an embassy from France—and I hear there may be fair ladies in their company."
"Ah!" quoth Malise, grimly, "so I have heard it said concerning the embassies of Charles, King of France!"
But the young man only smiled, and dusted off one or two flecks of foam which had blown backwards from his horse's bit upon the rich crimson doublet of finest velvet, which, cinctured closely at the waist, fell half-way to his knees in heavy double pleats sewn with gold. A hunting horn of black and gold was suspended about his neck by a bandolier of dark leather, subtiley embroidered with bosses of gold. Laced boots of soft black hide, drawn together on the outside from ankle to mid-calf with a golden cord, met the scarlet "chausses" which covered his thighs and outlined the figure of him who was the noblest youth and the most gallant in all the realm of Scotland.
Earl William wore no sword. Only a little gold-handled poignard with a lady's finger ring set upon the point of the hilt was at his side, and he stood resting easily his hand upon it as he talked, drawing it an inch from its sheath and snicking it back again nonchalantly, with a sound like the clicking of a well-oiled lock.
"Clink the strokes strongly and featly, Malise, for to-morrow, when the Black Douglas rides upon Black Darnaway under the eyes of—well—of the ladies whom the ambassadors are bringing to greet me, there must be no stumbling and no mistakes. Or on the head of Malise MacKim the matter shall be, and let that wight remember that the Douglas does not keep a dule tree up there by the Gallows Slock for nothing."
The mighty smith was by this time examining the hoofs of the Earl's charger one by one with such instinctive delicacy of touch that Darnaway felt the kindly intent, and, bending his neck about, blew and snuffled into the armourer's tangled mat of crisp grey hair.
"Up there!" exclaimed MacKim, as the warm breath tickled his neck, and at the burst of sound the steed shifted and clattered upon the hard-beaten floor of the smithy, tossing his head till the bridle chains rang again.
"Eh, my Lord William," an altered voice came from the door-step, where Dame Barbara MacKim, now clothed and in her right mind, stood louting low before the young Earl, "but this is a blythe and calamitatious day for this poor bit bigging o' the Carlinwark—to think that your honour should visit his servants! Will you no come ben and sit doon in the house-place? 'Tis far from fitting for your feet to pass thereupon. But gin ye will so highly favour—"
"Nay, I thank you, good Dame Barbara," said the Earl, very courteously taking off the close-fitting black cap with the red feather in it which was upon his head. "I must bide but a moment for your husband to set right certain nails in the hoofs of Darnaway here, to ready me for the morrow. Do you come to see the sport? So buxom a dame as the mistress of Carlinwark should not be absent to encourage the lads to do their best at the sword-play and the rivalry of the butts."
And as the dame came forth courtesying and bowing her delighted thanks, Earl William, setting a forefinger under her triple chin, stooped and kissed her in his gayest and most debonair manner.
"Eh, only to think on't," cried the dame, clapping her hands together as she did at mass, "that I, Barbara MacKim, that am marriet to a donnert auld carle like Malise there, should hae the privileege o' a salute frae the bonny mou' o' Yerl William—(Thank ye kindly, my lord!)—and be inveeted to the weepen-shawing to sit amang the leddies and view the sport. Malise, my man, caa' ye no that an honour, a privileege? Is that no owing to me being the sister—on my faither's side—o' Ninian Halliburton, merchant and indweller in Dumfries?"
"Nay, nay, good dame," laughed the Earl, "'tis all for the sake of your own very sufficient charms! I trust that your good man here is not jealous, for beauty, you well do ken, ever sends the wits of a Douglas woolgathering. Nevertheless, let us have a draught of your home-brewed ale, for kissing is but dry work, after all, and little do I think of it save" (he set his cap on his head with a gallant wave of his hand) "in the case of a lady so fair and tempting as Dame Barbara MacKim!"
At this the dame cast up her hands and her eyes again. "Eh, what will Marget Ahanny o' the Shankfit say noo—this frae the Yerl William. Eh, sirce, this is better than an Abbot's absolution. I declare 'tis mair sustainin' than a' the consolations o' religion. Malise, do you hear, great dour cuif that ye are, what says my lord? And you to think so little of your married wife as ye do! Think shame, you being what ye are, and me the ain sister to that master o' merchandise and Bailie o' Dumfries, Maister Ninian Halliburton o' the Vennel!"
And with that she vanished into the black oblong of the door opposite the smithy.
MY FAIR LADY
The strong man of Carlinwark made no long job of the horseshoeing. For, as he hammered and filed, he marked the eye of the young Earl restlessly straying this way and that along the green riverside paths, and his fingers nervously tapping the ashen casing of the smithy window-sill. Malise MacKim smiled to himself, for he had not served a Douglas for thirty years without knowing by these signs that there was the swing of a kirtle in the case somewhere.
Presently the last nail was made firm, and Black Darnaway was led, passaging and tossing his bridle reins, out upon the green sward. Malise stood at his head till the Douglas swung himself into the saddle with a motion light as the first upward flight of a bird.
He put his hand into a pocket in the lining of his "soubreveste" and took out a golden "Lion" of the King's recent mintage. He spun it in the air off his thumb and then looked at it somewhat contemptuously as he caught it.
"I think you and I, Master-Armourer, could send out a better coinage than that with the old Groat press over there at Thrieve!" he said.
Malise smiled his quiet smile.
"If the Earl of Douglas deigns to make me the master of his mint, I promise him plenty of good, sound, broad pieces of a noble design—that is, till Chancellor Crichton hangs me for coining in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh."
"That would he never, with the Douglas lances to prick you a way out and the Douglas gold to buy the good-will of traitorous judges!"
Half unconsciously the Earl sighed as he looked at the fair lake growing rosy in the light of the sunset. His boyish face was overspread with care, and for the moment seemed all too young to have inherited so great a burden. But the next moment he was himself again.
"I know, Malise," he said, "that I cannot offer you gold in return for your admirable handicraft. But 'tis nigh to Keltonhill Fair, do you divide this gold Lion betwixt those two brave boys of yours. Faith, right glad was I to be Earl of Douglas and not a son of his master armourer when I saw you disciplining for their souls' good Messires Sholto and Laurence there!"
The smith smiled grimly.
"They are good enough lads, Sholto and Laurence both, but they will be for ever gnarring and grappling at each other like messan dogs round a kirk door."
"They will not make the worse soldiers for that, Malise. I pray you forgive them for my sake."
The master armourer took the hand of his young lord on which he was about to draw a riding glove of Spanish leather. Very reverently he kissed the signet ring upon it.
"My dear lord," he said, "I can refuse naught to any of your great and gracious house, and least of all to you, the light and pleasure of it—aye, and the light of a surly old man's heart, more even than the duty he owes to his own married wife! Oh, be careful, my lord, for you are the desire of many hearts and the hope of all this land."
He hesitated a moment, and then added with a kind of curious bashfulness—
"But I am concerned about ye this nicht, William Douglas—I fear that ye could not—would not permit me—"
"Could not permit what—out with it, old grumble-pate?"
"That I should saddle my Flanders mare and ride after you. Malise MacKim would not be in the way even if ye went a-trysting. He kens brawly, in such a case, when to turn his head and look upon the hills and the woods and the bonny sleeping waters."
The Earl laughed and shook his head.
"Na, na, Malise," he said, "were I indeed on such a quest the sight of your grey pow would fright a fair lady, and the mere trampling of that club-footed she-elephant of yours put to flight every sentiment of love. Remember the Douglas badge is a naked heart. Can I ride a-courting, therefore, with all my fighting tail behind me as though I besought an alliance with the King of England's daughter?"
Silently and sadly the strong man watched the young Earl ride away to the south along that fair lochside. He stood muttering to himself and looking long under his hand after his lord. The rider bowed his head as he passed under the rich blazonry of the white May-blossom, which, like creamy lace, covered the Three Thorns of Carlinwark, now deeply stained with rose colour from the clouds of sunset.
"Aye, aye," he said, "the Douglas badge is indeed a heart—but it is a bleeding heart. God avert the omen, and keep this young man safe—for though many love him, there be more that would rejoice at his fall."
The rider on Black Darnaway rode right into the saffron eye of the sunset. On his left hand Carlinwark and its many islets burned rich with spring-green foliage, all splashed with the golden sunset light. Darnaway's well-shod hoofs sent the diamond drops flying, as, with obvious pleasure, he trampled through the shallows. Ben Gairn and Screel, boldly ridged against the southern horizon, stood out in dark amethyst against the glowing sky of even, but the young rider never so much as turned his head to look at them.
Presently, however, he emerged from among the noble lakeside trees upon a more open space. Broom and whin blossom clustered yellow and orange beneath him, garrisoning with their green spears and golden banners every knoll and scaur. But there were broad spaces of turf here and there on which the conies fed, or fought terrible battles for the meek ear-twitching does, "spat-spatting" at each other with their fore paws and springing into the air in their mating fury.
William of Douglas reined up Darnaway underneath the whispering foliage of a great beech, for all at unawares he had come upon a sight that interested him more than the noble prospect of the May sunset.
In the centre of the golden glade, and with all their faces mistily glorified by the evening light, he saw a group of little girls, singing and dancing as they performed some quaint and graceful pageant of childhood.
Their young voices came up to him with a wistful, dying fall, and the slow, graceful movement of the rhythmic dance seemed to affect the young man strangely. Involuntarily he lifted his close-fitting feathered cap from his head, and allowed the cool airs to blow against his brow.
"See the robbers passing by, passing by, passing by, See the robbers passing by, My fair lady!"
The ancient words came up clearly and distinctly to him, and softened his heart with the indefinable and exquisite pathos of the refrain whenever it is sung by the sweet voices of children.
"These are surely but cottars' bairns," he said, smiling a little at his own intensity of feeling, "but they sing like little angels. I daresay my sweetheart Magdalen is amongst them."
And he sat still listening, patting Black Darnaway meanwhile on the neck.
"What did the robbers do to you, do to you, do to you, What did the robbers do to you, My fair lady?"
The first two lines rang out bold and clear. Then again the wistfulness of the refrain played upon his heart as if it had been an instrument of strings, till the tears came into his eyes at the wondrous sorrow and yearning with which one voice, the sweetest and purest of all, replied, singing quite alone:
"They broke my lock and stole my gold, stole my gold, stole my gold, Broke my lock and stole my gold, My fair lady!"
The tears brimmed over in the eyes of William Douglas, and a deep foreboding of the mysteries of fate fell upon his heart and abode there heavy as doom.
He turned his head as though he felt a presence near him, and lo! sudden and silent as the appearing of a phantom, another horse was alongside of Black Darnaway, and upon a white palfrey a maiden dressed also in white sat, smiling upon the young man, fair to look upon as an angel from heaven.
Earl William's lips parted, but he was too surprised to speak. Nevertheless, he moved his hand to his head in instinctive salutation; but, finding his bonnet already off, he could only stare at the vision which had so suddenly sprung out of the ground.
The lady slowly waved her hand in the direction of the children, whose young voices still rang clear as cloister bells tolling out the Angelus, and whose white dresses waved in the light wind as they danced back and forth with a slow and graceful motion.
"You hear, Earl William," she said, in a low, thrilling voice, speaking with a foreign accent, "you hear? You are a good Christian, doubtless, and you have heard from your uncle, the Abbot, how praise is made perfect 'out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.' Hark to them; they sing of their own destinies—and it may be also of yours and mine."
And so fascinated and moved at heart at once by her beauty and by her strange words, the Douglas listened.
"What did the robbers do to you, do to you, do to you, What did the robbers do to you, My fair lady?"
The lady on the delicately pacing palfrey turned the darkness of her eyes from the white-robed choristers to the face of the young man. Then, with an impetuous motion of her hand, she urged him to listen for the next words, which swept over Earl William's heart with a cadence of unutterable pain and inexplicable melancholy.
"They broke my lock and stole my gold, stole my gold, stole my gold, Broke my lock and stole my gold, My fair lady!"
He turned upon his companion with a quick energy, as if he were afraid of losing himself again.
"Who are you, lady, and what do you here?"
The girl (for in years she was little more) smiled and reined her steed a little back from him with an air at once prettily petulant and teasing.
"Is that spoken as William Douglas or as the Justicer of Galloway—a country where, as I understand, there is no trial by jury?"
The light of a radiant smile passed from her lips into his soul.
"It is spoken as a man speaks to a woman beautiful and queenly," he said, not removing his eyes from her face.
"I fear I may have startled you," she said, without continuing the subject. "Even as I came I saw you were wrapped in meditation, and my palfrey going lightly made no sound on the grass and leaves."
Her voice was so sweet and low that William Douglas, listening to it, wished that she would speak on for ever.
"The hour grows late," he said, remembering himself. "You must have far to ride. Let me be your escort homewards if you have none worthier than I."
"Alas," she answered, smiling yet more subtly, "I have no home near by. My home is very far and over many turbulent seas. I have but a maiden's pavilion in which to rest my head. Yet since I and my company must needs travel through your domains, Earl William, I trust you will not be so cruel as to forbid us?"
"Yes,"—he was smiling now in turn, and catching somewhat of the gay spirit of the lady,—"as overlord of all this province I do forbid you to pass through these lands of Galloway without first visiting me in my house of Thrieve!"
The lady clapped her hands and laughed, letting her palfrey pace onwards through the woodland glades bridle free, while Black Darnaway, compelled by his master's hand, followed, tossing his head indignantly because it had been turned from the direction of his nightly stable on the Castle Isle.
TWO RIDING TOGETHER
"Joyous," she cried, as they went, "Oh, most joyous would it be to see the noble castle and to have all the famous two thousand knights to make love to me at once! To capture two thousand hearts at one sweep of the net! What would Margaret of France herself say to that?"
"Is there no single heart sufficient to satisfy you, fair maid?" said the young man, in a low voice; "none loyal enough nor large enough for you that you desire so many?"
"And what would I do with one if it were in my hands," she said wistfully; "that is, if it were a worthy heart and one worth the taking. Ever since I was a child I have always broken my toys when I tired of them."
The voices of the singing children on the green came more faintly to their ears, but the words were still clear to be understood.
"Off to prison you must go, you must go, you must go, Off to prison you must go, My fair lady!"
"You hear? It is my fate!" she said.
"Nay," answered the Earl, passionately, still looking in her eyes. "Mine, mine—not yours! Gladly I would go to prison or to death for the love of one so fair!"
"My lord, my lord," she laughed, with a tolerant protest in her voice, "you keep up the credit of your house right nobly. How goes the distich? My mother taught it me upon the bridge of Avignon, where also as here in Scotland the children dance and sing."
"First in the love of Woman, First in the field of fight, First in the death that men must die, Such is the Douglas' right!"
"Here and now," he said, still looking at her, "'tis only the first I crave."
"Earl William, positively you must come to Court!" she shrilled into sudden tinkling laughter; "there be ladies there more worthy of your ardour than a poor errant maiden such as I."
"A Court," cried Earl William, scornfully, "to the Seneschal's court! Nay, truly. Could a Stewart ever keep his faith or pay his debts? Never, since the first of them licked his way into a lady's favour."
"Oh," she answered lightly, "I meant not the Court of Stirling nor yet the Chancellor's Castle of Edinburgh. I meant the only great Court—the Court of France, the Court of Charles the Seventh, the Court which already owns the sway of its rarest ornament, your own Scottish Princess Margaret."
"Thither I cannot go unless the King of France grants me my father's rights and estates!" he said, with a certain sternness in his tone.
"Let me look at your hand," she answered, with a gentle inclination of her fair head, from which the lace that had shrouded it now streamed back in the cool wind of evening.
Stopping Darnaway, the young Earl gave the girl his hand, and the white palfrey came to rest close beneath the shoulder of the black war charger.
"To-morrow," she said, looking at his palm, "to-morrow you will be Duke of Touraine. I promise it to you by my power of divination. Does that satisfy you?"
"I fear you are a witch, or else a being compound of rarer elements than mere flesh and blood," said the Earl.
"Is that a spirit's hand," she said, laughing lightly and giving her own rosy fingers into his, "or could even the Justicer of Galloway find it in his heart to burn these as part of the body of a witch?"
She shuddered and pretended to gaze piteously up at him from under the long lashes which hardly raised themselves from her cheek.
"Spirit-slender, spirit-white they are," he replied, "and as for being the fingers of a witch—doubtless you are a witch indeed. But I will not burn so fair things as these, save as it might be with the fervours of my lips."
And he stooped and pressed kiss after kiss upon her hand.
Gently she withdrew her fingers from his grasp and rode further apart, yet not without one backward glance of perfectest witchery.
"I doubt you have been overmuch at Court already," she said. "I did not well to ask you to go thither."
"Why must I not go thither?" he asked.
"Because I shall be there," she replied softly, courting him yet again with her eyes.
As they rode on together through the rich twilight dusk, the young man observed her narrowly as often as he could.
Her skin was fair with a dazzling clearness, which even the gathering gloom only caused to shine with a more perfect brilliance, as if a halo of light dwelt permanently beneath its surface. Faint responsive roses bloomed on either cheek and, as it seemed, cast a shadow of their colour down her graceful neck. Dark eyes shone above, fresh and dewy with love and youth, and smiled out with all ancientest witcheries and allurements in their depths. Her lithe, slender body was simply clad in a fair white cloth of some foreign fabric, and her waist, of perfectest symmetry, was cinctured by a broad ring of solid silver, which, to the young man, looked so slender that he could have clasped it about with both his hands.
So they rode on, through the woods mostly, until they reached a region which to the Earl appeared unfamiliar. The glades were greener and denser. The trees seemed more primeval, the foliage thicker overhead, the interspaces of the golden evening sky darker and less frequent.
"In what place may your company be assembled?" he asked. "Strange it is that I know not this spot. Yet I should recognise each tree by conning it, and of every rivulet in Galloway I should be able to tell the name. Yet with shame do I confess that I know not where I am."
"Ah," said the girl, her face growing luminous through the gloom, "you called me a witch, and now you shall see. I wave my hands, so—and you are no more in Galloway. You are in the land of faery. I blow you a kiss, so—and lo! you are no more William, sixth Earl of Douglas and proximate Duke of Touraine, but you are even as True Thomas, the Beloved of the Queen of the Fairies, and the slave of her spell!"
"I am indeed well content to be Thomas Rhymer," he answered, submitting himself to the wooing glamour of her eyes, "so be that you are the Lady of the milk-white hind!"
"A courtier indeed," she laughed; "you need not to seek your answer. You make a poor girl afraid. But see, yonder are the lights of my pavilion. Will it please you to alight and enter? The supper will be spread, and though you must not expect any to entertain you, save only this your poor Queen Mab" (here she made him a little bow), "yet I think you will not be ill content. They do not say that Thomas of Ercildoune had any cause for complaint. Do you know," she continued, a fresh gaiety striking into her voice, "it was in this very wood that he was lost."
But William Douglas sat silent with the wonder of what he saw. Their horses had all at once come out on a hilltop. The sequestered boskage of the trees had gradually thinned, finally dwarfing into a green drift of fern and birchen foliage which rose no higher than Black Darnaway's chest, and through which his rider's laced boots brushed till the Spanish leather of their gold-embossed frontlets was all jetted with gouts of dew.
Before him swept horizonwards a great upward drift of solemn pine trees, the like of which for size he had never seen in all his domain. Or so, at least, it seemed in that hour of mystery and glamour. For behind them the evening sky had dulled to a deep and solemn wash of blood red, across which lay one lonely bar of black cloud, solid as spilled ink on a monkish page. But under the trees themselves, blazing with lamps and breathing odours of all grace and daintiness, stood a lighted pavilion of rose-coloured silk, anchored to the ground with ropes of sendal of the richest crimson hue.
"Let your horse go free, or tether him to a pine; in either case he will not wander far," said the girl. "I fear my fellows have gone off to lay in provisions. We have taken a day or two more on the way than we had counted on, so that to-night's feast makes an end of our store. But still there is enough for two. I bid you welcome, Earl William, to a wanderer's tent. There is much that I would say to you."
THE ROSE-RED PAVILION
As the young Earl paused a moment without to tether Black Darnaway to a fallen trunk of a pine, a chill and melancholy wind seemed to rise suddenly and toss the branches dark against the sky. Then it flew off moaning like a lost spirit, till he could hear the sound of its passage far down the valley. An owl hooted and a swart raven disengaged himself from the coppice about the door of the pavilion, and fluttered away with a croak of disdainful anger. Black Darnaway turned his head and whinnied anxiously after his master.
But William Douglas, though little more than a boy if men's ages are to be counted by years, was yet a true child of Archibald the Grim, and he passed through the mysterious encampment to the door of the lighted pavilion with a carriage at once firm and assured. He could faintly discern other tents and pavilions set further off, with pennons and bannerets, which the passing gust had blown flapping from the poles, but which now hung slackly about their staves.
"I would give a hundred golden St. Andrews," he muttered, "if I could make out the scutcheon. It looks most like a black dragon couchant on a red field, which is not a Scottish bearing. The lady is French, doubtless, and passes through from Ireland to visit the Chancellor's Court at Edinburgh."
The Black Douglas paused a moment at the tent-flap, which, being of silken fabric lined with heavier material, hung straight and heavy to the ground.
"Come in, my lord," cried the low and thrilling voice of his companion from within. "With both hands I bid you welcome to my poor abode. A traveller must not be particular, and I have only those condiments with me which my men have brought from shipboard, knowing how poor was the provision of your land. See, do you not already repent your promise to sup with me?"
She pointed to the table on which sparkled cut glass of Venice and rich wreathed ware of goldsmiths' work. On these were set out oranges and rare fruits of the Orient, such as the young man had never seen in his own bleak and barren land.
But the Douglas did no more than glance at the luxury of the providing. A vision fairer and more beautiful claimed his eyes. For even as he paused in amazement, the lady herself stood before him, transformed and, as it seemed, glorified. In the interval she had taken off the cloak which, while on horseback, she had worn falling from her shoulders. A thin robe of white silk broidered with gold at once clothed and revealed her graceful and gracious figure, even as a glove covers but does not conceal the hand upon which it is drawn. Whether by intent or accident, the collar had been permitted to fall aside at the neck and showed the dazzling whiteness of the skin beneath, but at the bosom it was secured by a button set with black pearls which constituted the lady's only ornament.
Her arms also were bare, and showed in the lamplight whiter than milk. She had removed the silver belt, and was tying a red silken scarf about her waist in a manner which revealed a swift grace and lithe sinuosity of movement, making her beauty appear yet more wonderful and more desirable to the young man's eyes.
On either side the pavilion were placed folding couches of rosy silk, and in the corner, draped with rich blue hangings, glimmered the lady's bed, its fair white linen half revealed. Two embroidered pillows were at the foot, and on a little table beside it a crystal ball on a black platter.
No crucifix or prie-dieu, such as in those days was in every lady's bower, could be discerned anywhere about the pavilion.
So soon as the tent-flap had fallen with a soft rustle behind him, the Earl William abandoned himself to the strange enchantment of his surroundings. He did not stop to ask himself how it was possible that such dainty providings had been brought into the midst of his wide, wild realm of Galloway. Nor yet why this errant damsel should in the darksome night-time find herself alone on this hilltop with the tents of her retinue standing empty and silent about. The present sufficed him. The soft radiance of dark eyes fell upon him, and all the quick-running, inconsiderate Douglas blood rushed and sang in his veins, responsive to that subtle shining.
He was with a fair woman, and she not unwilling to be kind. That was ever enough for all the race of the Black Douglas. What the Red Douglas loved is another matter. Their ambitions were more reputable, but greatly less generous.
"My lord," said the lady, giving him her hand, "will you lead me to the table? I cannot offer you the refreshment of any elaborate toilet, but here, at least, is wheaten bread to eat and wine of a good vintage to drink."
"You yourself scarce need such earthly sustenance," he answered gallantly, "for your eyes have stolen the radiance of the stars, and 'tis evident that the night dews visit your cheek only as they do the roses—to render them more fresh and fair."
"My lord flatters well for one so young;" she smiled as she seated herself and motioned him to sit close beside her. "How comes it that in this wild place you have learned to speak so chivalrously?"
"When one answers beauty the words are somehow given," he said, "and, moreover, I have not dwelt in grey Galloway all my days."
"You speak French?" she queried in that tongue.
"Ah," she said when he answered, "the divine language. I knew you were perfect." And so for a long while the young man sat spellbound, watching the smiles coming and going upon her red and flower-like lips, and listening to the fast-running ripple of her foreign talk. It was pleasure enough to hearken without reply.
It seemed no common food of mortal men that was set before William Douglas, served with the sweep of white arms and the bend of delicate fingers upon the chalice stem. He did not care to eat, but again and again he set the wine cup down empty, for the vintage was new to him, and brought with it a haunting aroma, instinct with strange hopes and vivid with unknown joys.
The pavilion, with its cords of sendal and its silver hanging lamps, spun round about him. The fair woman herself seemed to dissolve and reunite before his eyes. She had let down the full-fed river of her hair, and it flowed in the Venetian fashion over her white shoulders, sparkling with an inner fire—each fine silken thread, as it glittered separate from its fellows, twining like a golden snake.
And the ripple of her laughter played upon the young man's heart carelessly as a lute is touched by the hands of its mistress. Something of the primitive glamour of the night and the stars clung to this woman. It seemed a thing impossible that she should be less pure than the air and the waters, than the dewy grass beneath and the sky cool overhead. He knew not that the devil sat from the first day of creation on Eden wall, that human sin is all but as eternal as human good, and that passion rises out of its own ashes like the phoenix bird of fable and stands again all beautiful before us, a creature of fire and dew.
Presently the lady rose to her feet, and gave the Earl her hand to lead her to a couch.
"Set a footstool by me," she bade him, "I desire to talk to you."
"You know not my name," she said, after a pause that was like a caress, "though I know yours. But then the sun in mid-heaven cannot be hidden, though nameless bide the thousand stars. Shall I tell you mine? It is a secret; nevertheless, I will tell you if such be your desire."
"I care not whether you tell me or no," he answered, looking up into her face from the low seat at her feet. "Birth cannot add to your beauty, nor sparse quarterings detract from your charm. I have enough of both, good lack! And little good they are like to do me."
"Shall I tell you now," she went on, "or will you wait till you convoy me to Edinburgh?"
"To Edinburgh!" cried the young man, greatly astonished. "I have no purpose of journeying to that town of mine enemies. I have been counselled oft by those who love me to remain in mine own country. My horoscope bids me refrain. Not for a thousand commands of King or Chancellor will I go to that dark and bloody town, wherein they say lies waiting the curse of my house."
"But you will go to please a woman?" she said, and leaned nearer to him, looking deep into his eyes.
For a moment William Douglas wavered. For a moment he resisted. But the dark, steadfast orbs thrilled him to the soul, and his own heart rose insurgent against his reason.
"I will come if you ask me," he said. "You are more beautiful than I had dreamed any woman could be."
"I do ask you!" she continued, without removing her eyes from his face.
"Then I will surely come!" he replied.
She set her hand beneath his chin and bent smilingly and lightly to kiss him, but with an imprisoned passionate cry the young man suddenly clasped her in his arms. Yet even as he did so, his eyes fell upon two figures, which, silent and motionless, stood by the open door of the pavilion.
THE WITCH WOMAN
One of these was Malise the Smith, towering like a giant. His hands rested on the hilt of a mighty sword, whose blade sparkled in the lamplight as if the master armourer had drawn it that moment from the midst of his charcoal fire.
A little in front of Malise there stood another figure, less imposing in physical proportions, but infinitely more striking in dignity and apparel. This second was a man of tall and spare frame, of a countenance grave and severe, yet with a certain kindly power latent in him also. He was dressed in the white robe of a Cistercian, with the black scapulary of the order. On his head was the mitre, and in his hand the staff of the abbot of a great establishment which he wears when he goes visiting his subsidiary houses. More remarkable than all was the monk's likeness to the young man who now stood before him with an expression of indignant surprise on his face, which slowly merged into anger as he understood why these two men were there.
He recognised his uncle the Abbot William Douglas, the head of the great Abbey of Dulce Cor upon Solway side.
This was he who, being the son and heir of the brother of the first Duke of Touraine, had in the flower of his age suddenly renounced his domains of Nithsdale that he might take holy orders, and who had ever since been renowned throughout all Scotland for high sanctity and a multitude of good works.
The pair stood looking towards the lady and William Douglas without speech, a kind of grim patience upon their faces.
It was the Earl who was the first to speak.
"What seek you here so late, my lord Abbot?" he said, with all the haughtiness of the unquestioned head of his mighty house.
"Nay, what seeks the Earl William here alone so late?" answered the Abbot, with equal directness.
The two men stood fronting each other. Malise leaned upon his two-handed sword and gazed upon the ground.
"I have come," the Abbot went on, after vainly waiting for the young Earl to offer an explanation, "as your kinsman, tutor, and councillor, to warn you against this foreign witch woman. What seeks she here in this land of Galloway but to do you hurt? Have we not heard her with our own ears persuade you to accompany her to Edinburgh, which is a city filled with the power and deadly intent of your enemies?"
Earl William bowed ironically to his uncle, and his eye glittered as it fell upon Malise MacKim.
"I thank you, Uncle," he said. "I am deeply indebted for your so great interest in me. I thank you too, Malise, for bringing about this timely interference. I will pay my debts one day. In the meantime your duty is done. Depart, both of you, I command you!"
Outside the thunder began to growl in the distance. An extraordinary feeling of oppression had slowly filled the air. The lamps, swinging on the pavilion roof tree, flickered and flared, alternately rising and sinking like the life in the eyes of a dying man.
All the while the lady sat still on the couch, with an expression of amused contempt on her face. But now she rose to her feet.
"And I also ask, in the name of the King of France, by what right do you intrude within the precincts of a lady's bower. I bid you to leave me!"
She pointed imperiously with her white finger to the black, oblong doorway, from which Malise's rude hand had dragged the covering flap to the ground.
But the churchman and his guide stood their ground.
Suddenly the Abbot reached a hand and took the sword on which the master armourer leaned. With its point he drew a wide circle upon the rich carpets which formed the floor of the pavilion.
"William Douglas," he said, "I command you to come within this circle, whilst in the right of my holy office I exorcise that demon there who hath so nearly beguiled you to your ruin."
The lady laughed a rich ringing laugh.
"These are indeed high heroics for so plain and poor an occasion. I need not to utter a word of explanation. I am a lady travelling peaceably under escort of an ambassador of France, through a Christian country. By chance, I met the Earl Douglas, and invited him to sup with me. What concern, spiritual or temporal, may that be of yours, most reverend Abbot? Who made you my lord Earl's keeper?"
"Woman or demon from the pit!" said the Abbot, sternly, "think not to deceive William Douglas, the aged, as you have cast the glamour over William Douglas, the boy. The lust of the flesh abideth no more for ever in this frail tabernacle. I bid thee, let the lad go, for he is dear to me as mine own soul. Let him go, I say, ere I curse thee with the curse of God the Almighty!"
The lady continued to smile, standing meantime slender and fair before them, her bosom heaving a little with emotion, and her hair rippling in red gold confusion down her back.
"Certainly, my lord Earl came not upon compulsion. He is free to return with you, if he yet be under tutors and governors, or afraid of the master's stripes. Go, Earl William, I made a mistake; I thought you had been a man. But since I was wrong I bid you get back to the monk's chapter house, to clerkly copies and childish toys."
Then black and sullen anger glared from the eyes of the Douglas.
"Get hence," he cried. "Hence, both of you—you, Uncle William, ere I forget your holy office and your kinsmanship; you, Malise, that I may settle with to-morrow ere the sun sets. I swear it by my word as a Douglas. I will never forgive either of you for this night's work!"
The fair white hand was laid upon his wrist.
"Nay," said the lady, "do not quarrel with those you love for my poor sake. I am indeed little worth the trouble. Go back with them in peace, and forget her who but sat by your side an hour neither doing you harm nor thinking it."
"Nay," he cried, "that will I not. I will show them that I am old enough to choose my company for myself. Who is my uncle that he should dictate to me that am an earl of Douglas and a peer of France, or my servant that he should come forth to spy upon his master?"
"Then," she whispered, smiling, "you will indeed abide with me?"
He gave her his hand.
"I will abide with you till death! Body and soul, I am yours alone!"
"By the holy cross of our Lord, that shall you not!" cried Malise; "not though you hang me high as Haman for this ere the morrow's morn!"
And with these words he sprang forward and caught his master by the wrist. With one strong pull of his mighty arm he dragged him within the circle which the Abbot had marked out with the sword's point.
The lady seemed to change colour. For at that moment a gust of wind caused the lamps to flicker, and the outlines of her white-robed figure appeared to waver like an image cast in water.
"I adjure and command you, in the name of God the One and Omnipotent, to depart to your own place, spirit or devil or whatever you may be!"
The voice of the Abbot rose high above the roaring of the bursting storm without. The lady seemed to reach an arm across the circle as if even yet to take hold of the young man. The Abbot thrust forward his crucifix.
And then the bolt of God fell. The whole pavilion was illuminated with a flash of light so intense and white that it appeared to blind and burn up all about. The lady was seen no more. The silken covering blazed up. Malise plunged outward into the darkness of the storm, carrying his young master lightly as a child in his arms, while the Abbot kept his feet behind him like a boat in a ship's wake. The thunder roared overhead like the sea bellowing in a cave's mouth, and the great pines bent their heads away from the mighty wind, straining and creaking and lashing each other in their blind fury.
Malise and the Abbot seemed to hear about them the plunging of riderless horses as they stumbled downwards through the night, their path lit by lightning flashes, green and lilac and keenest blue, and bearing between them the senseless form of William Earl of Douglas.
THE PRISONING OF MALISE THE SMITH
[Now these things, material to the life and history of William, sixth Earl of Douglas, are not written from hearsay, but were chronicled within his lifetime by one who saw them and had part therein, though the part was but a boy's one. His manuscript has come down to us and lies before the transcriber. Sholto MacKim, the son of Malise the Smith, testifies to these things in his own clerkly script. He adds particularly that his brother Laurence, being at the time but a boy, had little knowledge of many of the actual facts, and is not to be believed if at any time he should controvert anything which he (Sholto) has written. So far, however, as the present collector and editor can find out, Laurence MacKim appears to have been entirely silent on the subject, at least with his pen, so that his brother's caveat was superfluous.]
* * * * *
The instant Lord William entered his own castle of Thrieve over the drawbridge, and without even returning the salutations of his guard, he turned about to the two men who had so masterfully compelled his return.
"Ho, guard, there!" he cried, "seize me this instant the Abbot of the New Abbey and Malise MacKim."
And so much surprised but wholly obedient, twenty archers of the Earl's guard, commanded by old John of Abernethy, called Landless Jock, fell in at back and front.
Malise, the master armourer, stood silent, taking the matter with his usual phlegm, but the Abbot was voluble.
"William," he said, holding out his hands with an appealing gesture, "I have laboured with you, striven with, prayed for you. To-night I came forth through the storm, though an old man, to deliver you from the manifest snares of the devil—"
But the Earl interrupted his recital without compunction.
"Set Malise MacKim in the inner dungeon," he cried. "Thrust his feet into the great stocks, and let my lord Abbot be warded safely in the castle chapel. He is little likely to be disturbed there at his devotions."
"Aye, my lord, it shall be done!" said Landless Jock, shaking his head, however, with gloomy foreboding, as the haughty young Earl in his wet and torn disarray flashed past him without further notice of the two men whom the might of his bare word had committed to prison. The Earl sprang up the narrow turret stairs, passing as he did so through the vaulted hall of the men-at-arms, where more than a hundred stout archers and spearmen sat carousing and singing, even at that advanced hour of the night, while as many more lay about the corridors or on the wooden shelves which they used for sleeping upon, and which folded back against the wall during the day. At the first glimpse of their young master, every man left awake among them struggled to his feet, and stood stiffly propped, drunk or sober according to his condition, with his eyes turned towards the door which gave upon the turnpike stair. But with a slight wave of his hand the Earl passed on to his own apartment.
Here he found his faithful body-servant, Rene le Blesois, stretched across the threshold. The staunch Frenchman rose mechanically at the noise of his master's footsteps, and, though still soundly asleep, stood with the latch of the door in his hand, and the other held stiffly to his brow in salutation.
Left to his own devices, Lord William Douglas would doubtless have cast himself, wet as he was, upon his bed had not Le Blesois, observing his lord's plight even in his own sleep-dulled condition, entered the chamber after his master and, without question or speech, silently begun to relieve him of his wet hunting dress. A loose chamber gown of rich red cloth, lined with silk and furred with "cristy" grey, hung over the back of an oaken chair, and into this the young Earl flung himself in black and sullen anger.
Le Blesois, still without a word spoken, left the room with the wet clothes over his arm. As he did so a small object rolled from some fold or crevice of the doublet, where it had been safely lodged till displaced by the loosening of the belt, or the removing of the banderole of his master's hunting horn.
Le Blesois turned at the tinkling sound, and would have stopped to lift it up after the manner of a careful servitor. But the eye of his lord was upon the fallen object, and with an abrupt wave of his hand towards the door, and the single word "Go!" the Earl dismissed his body-servant from the room.
Then rising hastily from his chair, he took the trinket in his hand and carried it to the well-trimmed lamp which stood in a niche that held a golden crucifix.
The Lord Douglas saw lying in his palm a ring of singular design. The main portion was formed of the twisting bodies of a pair of snakes, the jewel work being very cunningly interlaced and perfectly finished. Their eyes were set with rubies, and between their open mouths they carried an opal, shaped like a heart. The stone was translucent and faintly luminous like a moonstone, but held in its heart one fleck of ruby red, in appearance like a drop of blood. By some curious trick of light, in whatever position the ring was held, this drop still appeared to be on the point of detaching itself and falling to the ground.
Earl William examined it in the flicker of the lamp. He turned it every way, narrowly searching inside the golden band for a posy, but not a word of any language could he find engraved upon it.
"I saw the ring upon her hand—I am certain I saw it on her hand!" He said these words over and over to himself. "It is then no dream that I have dreamed."
There came a low knocking at the door, a rustling and a whispering without. Instantly the Earl thrust the ring upon his own finger with the opal turned inward, and, with the dark anger mark of his race strongly dinted upon his fair young brow, he faced the unseen intruder.
"Who is there?" he cried loudly and imperiously.
The door opened with a rasping of the iron latch, and a little girlish figure clothed from head to foot in a white night veil danced in. She clapped her hands at sight of him.
"You are come back," she cried; "and you have so fine a gown on too. But Maud Lindesay says it is very wrong to be out of doors so late, even if you are Earl of Douglas, and a great man now. Will you never play at 'Catch-as-catch-can' with David and me any more?"
"Margaret," said the young Earl, "what do you away from your chamber at all? Our mother will miss you, and I do not want her here to-night. Go back at once!"
But the little wilful maiden, catching her skirts in her hands at either side and raising them a little way from the ground, began to dance a dainty pas seul, ending with a flashing whirl and a low bow in the direction of her audience.
At this William Douglas could not choose but smile, and soon threw himself down on the bed, setting his clasped hands behind his head, and contenting himself with looking at his little sister.
Though at this time but eight years of age, Margaret of Douglas was possessed of such extraordinary vitality and character that she seemed more like eleven. She had the clear-cut, handsome Douglas face, the pale olive skin, the flashing dark eyes, and the crisp, blue-black hair of her brother. A lithe grace and quickness, like those of a beautiful wild animal, were characteristic of every movement.
"Our mother hath been anxious about you, brother mine," said the little girl, tiring suddenly of her dance, and leaping upon the other end of the couch on which her brother was reclining. Establishing herself opposite him, she pulled the coverlet up about her so that presently only her face could be seen peeping out from under the silken folds.
"Oh, I was so cold, but I am warmer now," she cried. "And if Maid Betsy A'hannay comes to take me away, I want you to stretch out your hand like this, and say: 'Seneschal, remove that besom to the deep dungeon beneath the castle moat,' as we used to do in our plays before you became a great man. Then I could stay very long and talk to you all through the night, for Maud Lindesay sleeps so sound that nothing can awake her."
Gradually the anger passed out of the face of William Douglas as he listened to his sister's prattle, like the vapours from the surface of a hill tarn when the sun rises in his strength. He even thought with some self-reproach of his treatment of Malise and of his uncle the Abbot. But a glance at the ring on his finger, and the thought of what might have been his good fortune at that moment but for their interference, again hardened his resolution to adamant within his breast.
His sister's voice, clear and high in its childish treble, recalled him to himself.
"Oh, William, and there is such news; I forgot, because I have been so overbusied with arranging my new puppet's house that Malise made for me. But scarcely were you gone away on Black Darnaway ere a messenger came from our granduncle James at Avondale that he and my cousins Will and James arrive to-morrow at the Thrieve with a company to attend the wappenshaw."
The young man sprang to his feet, and dashed one hand into the palm of the other.
"This is ill tidings indeed!" he cried. "What does the Fat Flatterer at Castle Thrieve? If he comes to pay homage, it will be but a mockery. Neither he nor Angus had ever any good-will to my father, and they have none to me."
"Ah, do not be angry, William," cried the little maid. "It will be beautiful. They will come at a fitting time. For to-morrow is the great levy of the weapon-showing, and our cousins will see you in your pride. And they will see me, too, in my best green sarcenet, riding on a white palfrey at your side as you promised."
"A weapon-showing is not a place for little girls," said the Earl, mollified in spite of himself, casting himself down again on the couch, and playing with the serpent ring on his finger.
"Ah, now," cried his sister, her quick eyes dancing everywhere at once, "you are not attending to a single word I say. I know by your voice that you are not. That is a pretty ring you have. Did a lady give it to you? Was it our Maudie? I think it must have been our Maud. She has many beautiful things, but mostly it is the young men who wish to give her such things. She never sends any of them back, but keeps them in a box, and says that it is good to spoil the Egyptians. And sometimes when I am tired she will tell me the history of each, and whether he was dark or fair. Or make it all up just as good when she forgets. But, oh, William, if I were a lady I should fall in love with nobody but you. For you are so handsome—yes, nearly as handsome as I am myself—(she passed her hands lightly through her curls as she spoke). And you know I shall marry no one but a Douglas—only you must not ask me to wed my cousin William of Avondale, for he is so stern and solemn; besides, he has always a book in his pocket, and wishes me to learn somewhat out of it as if I were a monk. A Douglas should not be a monk, he should be a soldier."
So she lay snugly on the bed and prattled on to her brother, who, buried in his thoughts and occupied with his ring, let the hours slip on till at the open door of the Earl's chamber there appeared the most bewitching face in the world, as many in that castle and elsewhere were ready to prove at the sword's point. The little girl caught sight of it with a shrill cry of pleasure, instantly checked and hushed, however, at the thought of her mother.
"O Maudie," she cried, "come hither into William's room. He has such a beautiful ring that a lady gave him. I am sure a lady gave it him. Was it you, Maud Lindesay? You are a sly puss not to tell me if it was. William, it is wicked and provoking of you not to tell me who gave you that ring. If it had been some one you were not ashamed of, you would be proud of the gift and confess. Whisper to me who it was. I will not tell any one, not even Maudie."
Her brother had risen to his feet with a quick movement, girding his red gown about him as he rose.
"Mistress Maud," he said respectfully, "I fear I have given you anxiety by detaining your charge so late. But she is a wilful madam, as you have doubtless good cause to know, and ill to advise."
"She is a Douglas," smiled the fair girl, who stood at the chamber door refusing his invitation to enter, with a flash of the eye and a quick shake of the head which betokened no small share of the same qualities; "is not that enough to excuse her for being wayward and headstrong?"
Earl William wasted no more words of entreaty upon his sister, but seized her in his arms, and pulling the coverlet in which she had huddled herself up with her pert chin on her knees, more closely about her, he strode along the passage with her in his arms till he stopped at an open door leading into a large chamber which looked to the south.
"There," he said, smiling at the girl who had followed behind him, "I will lock her in with you and take the key, that I may make sure of two such uncertain charges."
But the girl had deftly extracted the key even as she passed in after him, and as the bolts shot from within she cried: "I thank you right courteously, Lord William, but mine apothecary, fearing that the air of this isle of Thrieve might not agree with me, bade me ever to sleep with the key of the door under my pillow. Against fevers and quinsies, cold iron is a sovereign specific."
And for all his wounded heart, Earl William smiled at the girl's sauciness as he went slowly back to his chamber, taking, in spite of his earldom, pains to pass his mother's door on tiptoe.
THE DOUGLAS MUSTER
The day of the great weapon-showing broke fair and clear after the storm of the night. The windows of heaven had had all their panes cleaned, and even after it was daylight the brighter stars appeared—only, however, to wink out again when the sun arose and shone on the wet fields, coming forth rejoicing like a bridegroom from his chamber.
And equally bright and strong came forth the young Earl, every trace of the anger and disappointment of the night having been removed from his face, if not from his mind, by the recreative and potent sleep of youth and health.
In the hall he called for Sir John of Abernethy, nicknamed Landless Jock.
"Conduct my uncle the Abbot from the chapel where he has been all night at his devotions, to his chamber, and furnish him with what he may require, and bring up Malise the Smith from the dungeon. Let him come into my presence in the upper hall."
William Douglas went into a large oak-ceiled chamber, wide and high, running across the castle from side to side, and with windows that looked every way over the broad and fertile strath of Dee.
Presently, with a trampling of mailed feet and the double rattle which denoted the grounding of a pair of steel-hilted partisans, Malise was brought to the door by two soldiers of the Earl's outer guard.
The huge bulk of Brawny Kim filled up the doorway almost completely, and he stood watching the Douglas with an unmoved gravity which, in the dry wrinkles about his eyes, almost amounted to humorous appreciation of the situation.
Yet it was Malise who spoke first. For at his appearance the Earl had turned his back upon his retainer, and now stood at the window that looks towards the north, from which he could see, over the broad and placid stretches of the river, the men putting up the pavilions and striking spears into the ground to mark out the spaces for the tourney of the next day.
"A fair good morrow to you, my lord," said the smith. "Grievous as my sin has been, and just as is your resentment, give me leave to say that I have suffered more than my deserts from the ill-made chains and uncouth manacles wherewith they confined me in the black dungeon down there. I trow they must have been the workmanship of Ninian Lamont the Highlandman, who dares to call himself house-smith of Thrieve. I am ready to die if it be your will, my lord; but if you are well advised you will hang Ninian beside me with a bracelet of his own rascal handiwork about his neck. Then shall justice be satisfied, and Malise MacKim will die happy."
The Earl turned and looked at his ancient friend. The wrinkles about the brow were deeply ironical now, and the grey eyes of the master armourer twinkled with appreciation of his jest.
"Malise," cried his master, warningly, "do not play at cat's cradle with the Douglas. You might tempt me to that I should afterwards be sorry for. A man once dead comes not to life again, whatever monks prate. But tell me, how knew you whither I had gone yester-even? For, indeed, I knew not myself when I set out. And in any event, was it a thing well done for my foster father to spy upon me the son who was also his lord?"
The anger was mostly gone now out of the frank young face of the Earl, and only humiliation and resentment, with a touch of boyish curiosity, remained.
"Indeed," answered the smith, "I watched you not save under my hand as you rode away upon Black Darnaway, and then I turned me to the seat by the wall to listen to the cavillings of Dame Barbara, the humming of the bees, and the other comfortable and composing sounds of nature."
"How then did you come to follow me in the undesirable company of my uncle the Abbot?"
"For that you are in the debt of my son Sholto, who, seeing a lady wait for you in the greenwood, climbed a tree, and there from amongst the branches he was witness of your encounter."
"So—" said the Douglas, grimly, "it is to Master Sholto that I am indebted somewhat."
"Aye," said his father, "do not forget him. For he is a good lad and a bold, as indeed he proved to the hilt yestreen."
"In what consisted his boldness?" asked the Earl.
"In that he dared come home to me with a cock-and-bull story of a witch lady, who appeared suddenly where none had been a moment before, and who had immediately enchanted my lord Earl. Well nigh did I twist his neck, but he stuck to it. Then came riding by my lord Abbot on his way to Thrieve, and I judged that the matter, as one of witchcraft, was more his affair than mine."
"Now hearken," cried the Earl, in quick, high tones of anger, "let there be no more of such folly, or on your life be it. The lady whom you insulted was travelling with her company through Galloway from France. She invited me to sup with her, and dared me to adventure to Edinburgh in her company. Answer me, wherein was the witchcraft of that, saving the witchery natural to all fair women?"
"Did she not prophesy to you that to-day you would be Duke of Touraine, and receive the ambassadors of the King of France?"
"Well," said the Earl, "where is your wit that you give ear to such babblings? Did she not come from that country, as I tell you, and who should hear the latest news more readily than she?"
The smith looked a little nonplussed, but stuck to it stoutly that none but a witch woman would ride alone at nightfall upon a Galloway moor, or unless by enchantment set up a pavilion of silk and strange devices under the pines of Loch Roan.
"Well," said Earl William, feeling his advantage and making the most of it, "I see that in all my little love affairs I must needs take my master armourer with me to decide whether or no the lady be a witch. He shall resolve for me all spiritual questions with his forehammer. Malise MacKim a witch pricker! Ha—this is a change indeed. Malise the Smith will make the censor of his lord's love affairs, after what certain comrades of his have told me of his own ancient love-makings. Will he deign to come to the weapon-showing to-day, and instead of examining the swords and halberts, the French arbalasts and German fusils, demit that part of his office to Ninian the Highlandman, and go peering into ladies' eyes for sorceries and scanning their lips for such signs of the devil as lurk in the dimples of their chins? In this he will find much employment and that of a congenial sort."
Malise was vanquished, less by the sarcasm of the Earl than by the fear that perhaps the Highlandman might indeed have his place of honour as chief military expert by his master's right hand at the examination of weapons that day on the green holms of Balmaghie.
"I may have been overhasty, my lord," he said hesitatingly, "but still do I think that the woman was far from canny."
The Earl laughed and, turning him about by the shoulders, gave him a push down the stair, crying, "Oh, Malise, Malise, have you lived so long in the world without finding out that a beautiful woman is always uncanny!"
The levy that day of clansmen owning fealty to the Douglas was no hasty or local one. It was not, indeed, a "rising of the countryside," such as took place when the English were reported to be over the border, when the beacon fires were thrown west from Criffel to Screel, from Screel to Cairnharrow, and then tossed northward by the three Cairnsmuirs and topmost Merrick far over the uplands of Kyle, till from the sullen brow of Brown Carrick the bale fire set the town drum of Ayr beating its alarming note. Still this muster was a day on which every Douglas vassal must ride in mail with all his spears behind him—or bide at home and take the consequences.
All the night from distant parishes and outlying valleys horsemen had been riding, clothed in complete panoply of mail. These were the knights, barons, freeholders, who owned allegiance to the house of Douglas. Each lord was followed by his appointed tail of esquires and men-at-arms; behind these dense clusters of heavily armed spearmen marched steadily along the easiest paths by the waterside and over the lower hill passes. Light running footmen slung their swords over their backs by leathern bandoliers and pricked it briskly southwards over the bent so brown. Archers there were from the border towards the Solway side—lithe men, accustomed to spring from tussock to tuft of shaking grass, whose long strides and odd spasmodic side leapings betrayed even on the plain and unyielding pasture lands the place of their amphibious nativity.
"The Jack herons of Lochar," these were named by the men of Galloway. But there was no jeering to their faces, for not one of those Maxwells, Sims, Patersons, and Dicksons would have thought twice of leaping behind a tree stump to wing a cloth-yard shaft into a scoffer's ribs at thirty yards, taking his chance of the dule tree and the hempen cord thereafter for the honour of Lochar.
THE CROSSING OF THE FORD
It was still early morning of the great day, when Sholto and Laurence MacKim, leaving their mother in the kitchen, and their young sister Magdalen trying a yet prettier knot to her kerchief, took their way by the fords of Glen Lochar to an eminence then denominated plainly the Whinny Knowe, the same which afterwards gained and has kept to this day the more fatal designation of Knock Cannon. The lads were dressed as became the sons of so prosperous a craftsman (and master armourer to boot) as Malise MacKim of the Carlinwark.
Laurence, the younger, wore his archer's jack over the suit of purple velvet, high boots of yellow leather, and, withal, a dainty cap set far back on his head, from which sprouted the wing of a blackcock in as close imitation as Master Laurence dared compass of the Earl Douglas himself. His bow was slung at his back all ready for the inspection. A sash of orange silk was twisted about his slim waist, and in this he would set his thumb knowingly, and stare boldly as often as the pair of brothers overtook a pretty girl. For Master Laurence loved beauty, and thought not lightly of his own.
Sholto, though, as we shall soon see, despised not love, had eyes more for the knights and men-at-arms, and considered that his heaven would be fully attained as soon as he should ride one of those great prancing horses, and carry a lance with the pennon of the Douglas upon it.
Meanwhile he wore the steel cap of the home guard, the ringed neck mail, the close-fitting doublet of blue dotted over with red Douglas hearts and having the white cross of St. Andrew transversely upon it. About his waist was a peaked brace of shining plate armour, damascened in gold by Malise himself, and filling out his almost girlish waist to manlier proportions. From this depended a row of tags of soft leather. Close chain-mail covered his legs, to which at the knees were added caps of triple plate. A sheaf of arrows in a blue and gold quiver on his right side, a sword of metal on his left, and a short Scottish bow in his hand completed the attire of a fully equipped and efficient archer of the Earl's guard.
The lads were soon at the fords of Lochar, where in the dry summers the stones show all the way across—one in the midst being named the Black Douglas, noted as the place where, as tradition affirms, Archibald the Grim used to pause in crossing the ford to look at his new fortress of Thrieve, rising on its impregnable island above the rich water meadows.
Now neither Sholto nor Laurence wished to wet their leg array before the work and pageant of the day began. This was the desire of Laurence, because of the maids who would assemble on the Boreland Braes, and of Sholto inasmuch as he hoped to win the prize for the best accoutrement and the most point-device attiring among all the archers of the Earl's guard. The young men had asked crusty Simon Conchie, the boatman at the Ferry Croft, to set them over, offering him a groat for his pains. But he was far too busy to pay any attention to mere silver coin on such an occasion, only pausing long enough to cry to them that they must e'en cross at the fords, as many of their betters would do that day.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but either to strip to the waist or to wait the chances of the traffic. Both Sholto and Laurence were exceedingly loath to take the former course. They had not, however, long to hesitate, for a train of sumpter mules, belonging to the Lord Herries of Terregles, whose father had been with Archibald the Tineman in France, came up laden with the choicest products of the border country which he designed to offer as part of the "Service-Kane" to his overlord, the Earl of Douglas.
Now mules are all of them snorting, ill-conditioned brutes, and are ever ready to run away upon the least excuse, or even without any. So as soon as those of Lord Herries' train caught the glint of Sholto's blue baldric and shining steel girdle-brace appearing suddenly from behind a knoll, they incontinently bolted every way with noses to the ground, scattering packs and brandishing heels like young colts turned out to grass. It chanced that one of the largest mules made directly towards the fords of Lochar, and the youths, catching the flying bridle at either side, applied a sort of brake which sufficiently slowed the beast's movements to enable such agile skipjacks as Sholto and Laurence to mount. But as they were concerned more with their leaping from the ground than with what was already upon the animal's back, their heads met with a crash in the midst, in which collision the superior weight of the younger had very naturally the better of the encounter.
Sholto dropped instantly back to the ground. He was somewhat stunned by the blow, but the sight of his brother triumphantly splashing through the shallows aroused him. He arose, and seizing the first stone that came to hand hurled it after Laurence, swearing fraternally that he would smite him in the brisket with a dirk as soon as he caught him for that dastard blow. The first stone flew wide, though the splash caused the mule to shy into deeper water, to the damping of his rider's legs. But the second, being better aimed, took the animal fairly on the rump, and, fetching up on a fly-galled spot, frightened it with bumping bags and loud squeals into the woods of Glen Lochar, which come down close to the fords on every side. Here presently Laurence found himself, like Absalom, caught in the branches of a beech, and left hanging between heaven and earth. A rider in complete plate of black mail caught him down, still holding on to his bow, and, placing him across the saddle, brought down the flat of his gauntleted hand upon a spot of the lad's person which, being uncovered by mail, responded with a resounding smack. Then, amid the boisterous laughter of the men-at-arms, he let Laurence slip to the ground.
But the younger son of Brawny Kim, master armourer of Carlinwark, was not the lad to take such an insult meekly, even from a man-at-arms riding on horseback. He threw his bow into the nearest thicket, and seizing the most convenient ammunition, which chanced to be in great plenty that day upon the braes of Balmaghie, pursued his insulter along the glade with such excellent aim and good effect that the black unadorned armour of the horseman showed disks of defilement all over, like a tree trunk covered with toadstool growths.
"Shoot down the intolerable young rascal! Shall he thus beard my Lord Maxwell?" cried a voice from the troop which witnessed the chase. And more than one bow was bent, and several hand-fusils levelled from the company which followed behind.
But the injured knight threw up his visor.
"Hold, there!" he cried, "the boy is right. It was I who insulted him, and he did right to be revenged, though the rogue's aim is more to be admired than his choice of weapons. Come hither, lad. Tell me who thou art, and what is thy father's quality?"
"I am Laurence MacKim, an archer of my lord's guard, and the younger son of Malise MacKim, master armourer to the Douglas."
Laurence, being still angry, rang out his titles as if they had been inscribed in the book of the Lion-King-at-Arms.
"Saints save us," cried the knight in swart armour, "all that!"
Then, seeing the boy ready to answer back still more fiercely, he continued with a courteous wave of the hand.
"I humbly ask your pardon, Master Laurence. I am glad the son of Brawny Kim hath no small part of his father's spirit. Will you take service and be my esquire, as becomes well a lad of parts who desires to win his way to a knighthood?"
The heart of Laurence MacKim beat quickly—a horse to ride—an esquire—perhaps if he had luck and much fighting, a knighthood. Nevertheless, he answered with a bold straight look out of his black eyes.
"I am an archer of my lord Douglas' outer guard. I can have no promotion save from him or those of his house—not even from the King himself."
"Well said!" cried the knight; "small wonder that the Douglas is the greatest man in Scotland. I will speak to the Earl William this day concerning you."
Lord Maxwell rode on at the head of his company with a courteous salutation, which not a few behind him who had heard the colloquy imitated. Laurence stood there with his heart working like yeast within him, and his colour coming and going to think what he had been offered and what he had refused.
"God's truth," he said to himself, "I might have been a great man if I had chosen, while Sholto, that old sober sides, was left lagging behind."
Then he looked about for his bow and went swaggering along as if he were already Sir Laurence and the leader of an army.
But Nemesis was upon him, and that in the fashion which his pride would feel the most.
"Take that, beast of a Laurence!" cried a voice behind him.
And the lad received a jolt from behind which loosened his teeth in their sockets and discomposed the dignified stride with which in imagination he was commanding the armies of the Douglas.
LAURENCE SINGS A HYMN
Laurence turned and beheld his brother. In another instant the two young men had clinched and were rolling on the ground, wrestling and striking according to their ability. Sholto might easily have had the best of the fray, but for the temper aroused by Laurence's recent degradation, for the elder brother was taller by an inch, and of a frame of body more lithe and supple. Moreover, the accuracy of Sholto MacKim's shape and the severe training of the smithy had not left a superfluous ounce of flesh on him anywhere.
In a minute the brothers had become the centre of a riotous, laughing throng of varlets—archers seeking their corps, and young squires sent by their lords to find out the exact positions allotted to each contingent by the provost of the camp. For as the wappenshaw was to be of three days' duration in all its nobler parts, a wilderness of tents had already begun to arise under the scattered white thorns of the great Boreland Croft which stretched up from the river.
These laughed and jested after their kind, encouraging the youths to fight it out, and naming Laurence the brock or badger from his stoutness, and the slim Sholto the whitterick or, as one might say, weasel.
"At him, Whitterick—grip him! Grip him! Now you have him at the pinch! Well pulled, Brock! 'Tis a certainty for Brock—good Brock! Well done—well done! Ah, would you? Hands off that dagger! Let fisticuffs settle it! The Whitterick hath it—the Whitterick!"
And thus ran the comment. Sholto being cumbered with his armour, Laurence might in time have gotten the upper grip. But at this moment a diversion occurred which completely altered the character of the conflict. A stout, reddish young man came up, holding in his hand a staff painted with twining stripes of white and red, which showed him to be the marshal of that part of the camp which pertained to the Earl of Angus. He looked on for a moment from the skirts of the crowd, and then elbowed his way self-importantly into the centre, till he stood immediately above Laurence and Sholto.
"What means this hubbub, I say? Quit your hold there and come with me; my Lord of Angus will settle this dispute."
He had come up just when the young men were in the final grips, when Sholto had at last gotten his will of his brother's head, and was, as the saying is, giving him "Dutch spice" in no very knightly fashion.
The Angus marshal, seeing this, seized Sholto by the collar of his mailed shirt, and drawing him suddenly back, caused him to lose hold of his brother, who as quickly rose to his feet. The red man began to beat Sholto about the headpiece right heartily with his staff, which exercise made a great ringing noise, though naturally, the skull cap being the work of Malise MacKim, little harm ensued to the head enclosed therein.
But Master Laurence was instantly on fire.
"Here, Foxy-face," he cried, "let my brother a-be! What business is it of yours if two gentlemen have a difference? Go back to your Angus kernes and ragged craw-bogle Highland folk!"
Meanwhile Sholto had recovered from his surprise, and the crowd of varlets was melting apace, thinking the Angus marshal some one of consequence. But the brothers MacKim were not the lads to take beating with a stick meekly, and the provost, who indeed had nothing to do with the Galloway part of the encampment, had far better have confined his officiousness to his own quarters.
"Take him on the right, Sholto," cried Laurence, "and I will have at him from this side." The Red Angus drew his sword and threatened forthwith to slay the lads if they came near him. But with a spring like that of a grey Grimalkin of the woods, Sholto leapt within his guard ere he had time to draw back his arm for thrust or parry, and at the same moment Laurence, snatching the red and white staff out of his hand, dealt him so sturdy a clout between the shoulders that, though he was of weight equal to both of his opponents taken together, he was knocked breathless at the first blow and went down beneath the impetus of Sholto's attack.
Laurence coolly disengaged his brother, and began to thrash the Angus man with his own staff upon all exposed parts, till the dry wood broke. Then he threw the pieces at his head, and the two brothers went off arm in arm to find a woody covert in which to repair damages against the weapon-showing, and the inspection of their lord and his keen-eyed master armourer.
As soon as they had discovered such a sequestered holt, Laurence, who had frequent experience of such rough-and-tumble encounters, stripped off his doublet of purple velvet, and, turning the sleeve inside out, he showed his brother that it was lined with a rough-surfaced felt cloth almost of the nature of teasle. This being rubbed briskly upon any dusty garment or fouled armour proved most excellent for restoring its pristine gloss and beauty. The young men, being as it were born to the trade and knowing that their armament must meet their father's inexorable eye, as he passed along their lines with the Earl, rubbed and polished their best, and when after half an hour's sharp work each examined the other, not a speck or stain was left to tell of the various casual incidents of the morning. Two bright, fresh-coloured youths emerged from their thicket, immaculately clad, and with countenances of such cherubic innocence, that my lord the Abbot William of the great Cistercian Abbey of Dulce Cor, looking upon them as with bare bowed heads they knelt reverently on one knee to ask his blessing, said to his train, "They look for all the world like young angels! It is a shame and a sin that two such fair innocents should be compelled to join in aught ruder than the chanting of psalms in holy service."
Whereat one of his company, who had been witness to their treatment of the Angus provost and also of Laurence's encounter with the knight of the black armour, was seized incontinently with a fit of coughing which almost choked him.
"Bless you, my sons," said the Abbot, "I will speak to my nephew, the Earl, concerning you. Your faces plead for you. Evil cannot dwell in such fair bodies. What are your names?"
The younger knelt with his fingers joined and his eyes meekly on the grass, while Sholto, who had risen, stood quietly by with his steel cap in his hand.
"Laurence MacKim," answered the younger, modestly, without venturing to raise his eyes from the ground, "and this is my brother Sholto."
"Can you sing, pretty boy?" said the Abbot to Laurence.
"We have never been taught," answered downright Sholto. But his brother, feeling that he was losing chances, broke in:
"I can sing, if it please your holiness."
"And what can you sing, sweet lad?" asked the Abbot, smiling with expectation and setting his hand to his best ear to assist his increasing deafness.
"Shut your fool's mouth!" said Sholto under his breath to his brother.
"Shut your own! 'Tis ugly as a rat-trap at any rate!" responded Laurence in the same key. Then aloud to the Abbot he said, "An it please you, sir, I can sing 'O Mary Quean!'"
The Abbot smiled, well pleased.
"Ah, exceeding proper, a song to the honour of the Queen of Heaven (he devoutly crossed himself at the name),—I knew that I could not be mistaken in you."
"Your pardon, most reverend," interjected Sholto, anxiously, "please you to excuse my brother; his voice hath just broken and he cannot sing at present." Then, under his breath, he added, "Laurie MacKim, you God-forgotten fool, if you sing that song you will get us both stripped in a thrice and whipped on the bare back for insolence to the Earl's uncle!"
"Go to," said his brother, "I will sing. The old cook is monstrous deaf at any rate."
"Sing," said the Abbot, "I would hear you gladly. So fair a face must be accompanied by the pipe of a nightingale. Besides, we sorely need a tenor for the choir at Sweetheart."
So, encouraged in this fashion, the daring Laurence began:
"Nae priests aboot me shall be seen To mumble prayers baith morn and e'en, I'll swap them a' for Mary Quean! I'll bid nae mess for me be sung, Dies ille, dies irae, Nor clanking bells for me be rung, Sic semper solet fieri! I'll gang my ways to Mary Quean."
"Ah, very good, very good, truly," said the Abbot, thrusting his hand into his pouch beneath his gown, "here are two gold nobles for thee, sweet lad, and another for your brother, whose countenance methinks is somewhat less sweet. You have sung well to the praise of our Lady! What did you say your name was? Of a surety, we must have you at Sweetheart. And you have the Latin, too, as I heard in the hymn. It is a thing most marvellous. Verily, the very unction of grace must have visited you in your cradle!"
Laurence held down his head with all his native modesty, but the more open Sholto grew red in the face, hearing behind him the tittering and shoulder-shaking of the priests and lay servants in the Abbot's train, and being sure that they would inform their master as soon as he passed on concerning the true import of Master Laurence's song. He was muttering in a rapid recitative, "Oh, wait—wait, Laurie MacKim, till I get you on the Carlinwark shore. A sore back and a stiff skinful of bones shalt thou have, and not an inch of hide on thee that is not black and blue. Amen!" he added, stopping his maledictions quickly, for at that moment the Abbot came somewhat abruptly to the end of his speech.