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- OF THE CAGED LION - 3/59 -
old at the time of the murder of the unfortunate Prince of Scotland; hut a flush of colour rose into the face of the guest, and he shortly answered, 'So I have been told;' and then assuming a seat near Sir David, he entered into conversation with him upon the condition of Scotland at the period, inquiring into the state of many of the families and districts by name. Almost always there was but one answer--murder--harrying--foray; and when the question followed, 'What had the Regent done?' there was a shrug of the shoulders, and as often Sir James's face flushed with a dark red fire, and his hand clenched at the hilt of the sword by his side.
'And is there not a man in Scotland left to strike for the right?' he demanded at last; 'cannot nobles, clergy, and burghers, band themselves in parliament to put down Albany and his bloody house, and recall their true head?'
'They love to have it so,' returned Sir David sadly. 'United, they might be strong enough; but each knows that his fellow, Douglas, Lennox, March, or Mar, would be ready to play the same game as Albany; and to raise a rival none will stir.'
'And so,' proceeded Sir James, bitterly, 'the manhood of Scotland goes forth to waste itself in an empty foreign war, merely to keep France in as wretched a state of misrule as itself.'
'Nay, nay, Sir,' cried Patrick angrily, 'it is to save an ancient ally from the tyranny of our foulest foe. It is the only place where a Scotsman can seek his fortune with honour, and without staining his soul with foul deeds. Bring our King home, and every sword shall be at his service.'
'What, when they have all been lavished on the crazy Frenchman?' said Sir James.
'No, Sir,' said Patrick, rising in his vehemence; 'when they have been brightened there by honourable warfare, not tarnished by home barbarities.'
'He speaks truly,' said Sir David; 'and though it will go to my heart to part with the lad, yet may I not say a word to detain him in a land where the contagion of violence can scarce be escaped by a brave man.'
Sir James gave a deep sigh as of pain, but as if to hinder its being remarked, promptly answered, 'That may be; but what is to be the lot of a land whose honest men desert her cause as too evil for them, and seek out another, that when seen closer is scarce less evil?'
'How, Sir!' cried Patrick; 'you a prisoner of England, yet speaking against our noble French allies, so foully trampled on?'
'I have lived long enough in England,' returned Sir James, 'to think that land happiest where law is strong enough to enforce peace and order.'
'The coward loons!' muttered Patrick, chiefly out of the spirit of opposition.
'You have been long in England, Sir?' said Lilias, hoping to direct the conversation into a more peaceful current.
'Many years, fair lady,' he replied, turning courteously to her; 'I was taken when I was a mere lad, but I have had gentle captors, and no over harsh prison.'
'And has no one ransomed you?' she asked pitifully, as one much moved by a certain patience on his brow, and in his sweet full voice.
'No one, lady. My uncle was but too willing that the heir should be kept aloof; and it is only now he is dead, that I have obtained leave from my friendly captor to come in search of my ransom.'
Lilias would have liked to know the amount, but it was not manners to ask, since the rate of ransom was the personal value of the knight; and her uncle put in the question, who was his keeper.
'The Earl of Somerset,' rather hastily answered Sir James; and then at once Lilias exclaimed, 'Ah, Uncle, is not the King, too, in his charge?' And then questions crowded on. 'What like is the King? How brooks he his durance? What freedom hath he? What hope is there of his return? Can he brook to hear of his people's wretchedness?'
This was the first question at which Sir James attempted to unclose his hitherto smiling and amused lip. Then it quivered, and the dew glittered in his eyes as he answered, 'Brook it! No indeed, lady. His heart burns within him at every cry that comes over the Border, and will well-nigh burst at what I have seen and heard! King Harry tells him that to send him home were but tossing him on the swords of the Albany. Better, better so, to die in one grapple for his country's sake, than lie bound, hearing her bitter wails, and unable to stir for her redress!' and as he dashed the indignant tear from his eyes, Patrick caught his hand.
'Your heart is in the right place, friend,' he said; 'I look on you as an honest man and brother in arms from this moment.'
''Tis a bargain,' said Sir James, the smile returning, and his eyes again glistening as he wrung Sir Patrick's hand. 'When the hour comes for the true rescue of Scotland, we will strike together.'
'And you will tell the King,' added Patrick, 'that here are true hearts, and I could find many more, only longing to fence him from the Albany swords, about which King Harry is so good as to fash himself.'
'But what like is the King?' asked Lilias eagerly. 'Oh, I would fain see him. Is it true that he was the tallest man at King Harry's sacring? more shame that he were there!'
'He and I are much of a height, lady,' returned the knight. 'Maybe I may give you the justest notion of him by saying that I am said to be his very marrow.'
'That explains your likeness to the poor Duke,' said Sir David, satisfied; 'and you too count kindred with our royal house, methinks?'
'I am sprung from Walter the Stewart, so much I know; my lands lie Carrick-wards,' said Sir James lightly, 'but I have been a prisoner so long, that the pedigree of my house was never taught me, and I can make no figure in describing my own descent.' And as though to put an end to the inquiry, he walked to the window, where Malcolm so soon as they had begun to talk of the misrule of Scotland, had ensconced himself in the window-seat with his new book, making the most of the failing light, and asked him whether the Monk of Iona equalled his expectations.
Malcolm was not easy to draw out at first, but it presently appeared that he had been baffled by a tough bit of Latinity. The knight looked, and readily expounded the sentence, so that all became plain; and then, as it was already too dark to pursue the study with comfort, he stood over the boy, talking to him of books and of poems, while the usually pale, listless, uninterested countenance responded by looks of eager delight and flushing colour.
It seemed as though each were equally pleased with the other: Sir James, at finding so much knowledge and understanding in a Scottish castle; and Malcolm, at, for the first time, meeting anything but contempt for his tastes from aught but an ecclesiastic.
Their talk continued till they were summoned to supper, which had been somewhat delayed to provide for the new-comers. It was a simple enough meal, suited to Lent, and was merely of dried fish, with barley bread and kail brose; but there were few other places in Scotland where it would have been served with so much of the refinement that Sir David Drummond and his late wife had learnt in France. A tablecloth and napkins, separate trenchers, and water for hand cleansing, were not always to be found in the houses of the nobles; and in fact, there were those who charged Malcolm's delicacy and timidity on the nisete or folly of his effeminate education; the having the rushes on the floor frequently changed, the preference of lamps for pine torches, and the not keeping falcons, dogs, swine, and all, pell mell in the great hall.
Lilias sat between her uncle and his guest, looking so fair and bright that Patrick felt fresh accesses of angry jealousy, while the visitor talked as one able to report to the natives from another world, and that world the hateful England, which as a Scotsman he was bound to abhor. Had it been France, it had been endurable, but praise of English habits was mere disloyalty; and yet, whenever Patrick tried to throw in a disparaging word, he found himself met with a quiet superiority such as he had believed no knight in Scotland could assume with him, and still it was neither brow-beating nor insolence, nothing that could give offence.
Malcolm begged to know whether there had not been a rare good poet in England, called Chaucer. Verily there had been, said the knight; and on a little solicitation, so soon as supper was over, he recited to the eager and delighted auditors the tale of patient Grisel, as rendered by Chaucer, calling forth eager comments from both Patrick and Lily, on the unknightliness of the Marquis. Malcolm, however, added, 'Yet, after all, she was but a mere peasant wench.'
'What makes that, young Sir?' replied Sir James gravely. 'I would have you to know that the husband's rank is the wife's, and the more unequal were their lot before, the more is he bound to respect her, and to make her be respected.'
'That may be, after the deed is done,' said Sir David, in a warning voice; 'but it is not well that like should not match with like. Many an evil have I seen in my time, from unequal mating.'
'And, Sir,' eagerly exclaimed Patrick, 'no doubt you can gainsay the slander, that our noble King has been caught in the toils of an artful Englishwoman, and been drawn in to promise her a share in his crown.'
A flush of crimson flamed forth on Sir James Stewart's cheeks, and his tawny eye glanced with a fire like red lightning, but he seemed, as it were, to be holding himself in, and answered with a voice forcibly kept low and calm, and therefore the more terribly stern, 'Young Sir, I warn you to honour your future queen.'
Sir David made a gesture with his hand, enforcing restraint upon his son, and turning to Sir James, said, 'Our queen will we honour, when such she is, Sir; but if you are returning to the King, it were well that he should know that our hot Scottish bloods, here, could scarce brook an English alliance, and certainly not one beneath his birth.'
'The King would answer, Sir,' returned Sir James, haughtily, but with
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