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- OF THE CAGED LION - 4/59 -
recovered command over himself, 'that it is for him to judge whom his subjects shall brook as their queen. Moreover,' he added, in a different and more conciliatory voice, 'Scotsmen must be proud indeed who disdain the late King's niece, the great-granddaughter of King Edward III., and as noble and queenly a demoiselle as ever was born in a palace.'
'She is so very fair, then?' said Lilies, who was of course on the side of true love. 'You have seen her, gentle Sir? Oh, tell us what are her beauties?'
'Fair damsel,' said Sir James, in a much more gentle tone, 'you forget that I am only a poor prisoner, who have only now and then viewed the lady Joan Beaufort with distant reverence, as destined to be my queen. All I can tell is, that her walk and bearing mark her out for a throne.'
'And oh!' cried Malcolm, 'is it not true that the King hath composed songs and poems in her honour?'
'Pah!' muttered Patrick; 'as though the King would be no better than a wandering minstrel rhymester!'
'Or than King David!' dryly said Sir James.
'It is true, then, Sir,' exclaimed Lilias. 'He doth verily add minstrelsy to his other graces? Know you the lines, Sir? Can you sing them to us? Oh, I pray you.'
'Nay, fair maid,' returned Sir James, 'methinks I might but add to the scorn wherewith Sir Patrick is but too much inclined to regard the captive King.'
'A captive, a captive--ay, minstrelsy is the right solace for a captive,' said Patrick; 'at least, so they say and sing. Our king will have better work when he gains his freedom. Only there will come before me a subtilty I once saw in jelly and blanc-mange, at a banquet in France, where a lion fell in love with a hunter's daughter, and let her, for love's sake, draw his teeth and clip his claws, whereupon he found himself made a sport for her father's hounds.'
'I promise you, Sir Patrick,' replied the guest, 'that the Lady Joan is more hike to send her Lion forth from the hunter's toils, with claws and teeth fresh-whetted by the desire of honour.
'But the lay--the hay, Sir,' entreated Lilias; 'who knows that it may not win Patrick to be the Lady Joan's devoted servant? Malcolm, your harp!'
Malcolm had already gone in quest of the harp he loved all the better for the discouragement thrown on his gentle tastes.
The knight leant back, with a pensive look softening his features as he said, after a little consideration, 'Then, fair lady, I will sing you the song made by King James, when he had first seen the fair mistress of his heart, on the slopes of Windsor, looking from his chamber window. He feigns her to be a nightingale.'
'And what is that, Sir?' demanded Lilias. 'I have heard the word in romances, and deemed it a kind of angel that sings by night.'
'It is a bird, sister,' replied Malcolm; 'Philomel, that pierces her breast with a thorn, and sings sweetly even to her death.'
'That's mere minstrel leasing, Malcolm,' said Patrick. 'I have both seen and heard the bird in France--Rossignol, as we call it there; and were I a lady, I should deem it small compliment to be likened to a little russet-backed, homely fowl such as that.'
'While I,' replied the prisoner, 'feel so much with your fair sister, that nightingales are a sort of angels that sing by night, that it pains me, when I think of winning my freedom, to remember that I shall never again hear their songs answering one another through the forest of Windsor.'
Patrick shrugged his shoulders, but Lilias was so anxious to hear the lay, that she entreated him to be silent; and Sir James, with a manly mellow voice, with an exceedingly sweet strain in it, and a skill, both of modulation and finger, such as showed admirable taste and instruction, poured forth that beautiful song of the nightingale at Windsor, which commences King James's story of his love, in his poem of the King's Quhair.
There was an eager pressing round to hear, and not only were Lilias and Malcolm, but old Sir David himself, much affected by the strain, which the latter said put him in mind of the days of King Robert III., which, sad as they were, now seemed like good old times, so much worse was the present state of affairs. Sir James, however, seemed anxious to prevent discussion of the verses he had sung, and applied to Malcolm to give a specimen of his powers: and thus, with music, ballad, and lay, the evening passed away, till the parting cup was sent round, and the Tutor of Glenuskie and Malcolm marshalled their guest to the apartment where he was to sleep, in a wainscoted box bedstead, and his two attendant squires, a great iron-gray Scot and a rosy honest-faced Englishman, on pallets on the floor.
In the morning he went on his journey, but not without an invitation to rest there again on his way back, whether with or without his ransom. He promised to come, saying that he should gladly bear to the King the last advices from one so honoured as the Tutor of Glenuskie; and, on their sides, Malcolm and Sir David resolved to do their best to have some gold pieces to contribute, rather than so 'proper a knight' should fail in raising his ransom; but gold was never plenty, and Patrick needed all that his uncle could supply, to bear him to those wars in France, where he looked for renown and fortune.
For these were, as may have been gathered, those evil days when James I. of Scotland was still a captive to England, and when the House of Albany exercised its cruel misrule upon Scotland; delaying to ransom the King, lest they should bring home a master.
Old Robert of Albany had been King Stork, his son Murdoch was King Log; and the misery was infinitely increased by the violence and lawlessness of Murdoch's sons. King Robert II. had left Scotland the fearful legacy of, as Froissart says, 'eleven sons who loved arms.' Of these, Robert III. was the eldest, the Duke of Albany the second. These were both dead, and were represented, the one by the captive young King James, the other by the Regent, Duke Murdoch of Albany, and his brother John, Earl of Buchan, now about to head a Scottish force, among whom Patrick Drummond intended to sail, to assist the French.
Others of the eleven, Earls of Athol, Menteith, &c., survived; but the youngest of the brotherhood, by name Malcolm, who had married the heiress of Glenuskie, had been killed at Homildon Hill, when he had solemnly charged his Stewart nephews and brothers to leave his two orphan children to the sole charge of their mother's cousin, Sir David Drummond, a good old man, who had been the best supporter and confidant of poor Robert III. in his unhappy reign, and in embassies to France had lost much of the rugged barbarism to which Scotland had retrograded during the wars with England.
CHAPTER II: THE RESCUE OF COLDINGHAM
It was a lonely tract of road, marked only by the bare space trodden by feet of man and horse, and yet, in truth, the highway between Berwick and Edinburgh, which descended from a heathery moorland into a somewhat spacious valley, with copsewood clothing one side, in the midst of which rose a high mound or knoll, probably once the site of a camp, for it still bore lines of circumvallation, although it was entirely deserted, except by the wandering shepherds of the neighbourhood, or occasionally by outlaws, who found an admirable ambush in the rear.
The spring had hung the hazels with tassels, bedecked the willows with golden downy tufts, and opened the primroses and celandines beneath them, when the solitary dale was disturbed by the hasty clatter of horses' feet, and hard, heavy breathing as of those who had galloped headlong beyond their strength. Here, however, the foremost of the party, an old esquire, who grasped the bridle-rein of youth by his side, drew up his own horse, and that which he was dragging on with him, saying -
'We may breathe here a moment; there is shelter in the wood. And you, Rab, get ye up to the top of Jill's Knowe, and keep a good look- out.'
'Let me go back, you false villain!' sobbed the boy, with the first use of his recovered breath.
'Do not be so daft, Lord Malcolm,' replied the Squire, retaining his hold on the boy's bridle; 'what, rin your head into the wolf's mouth again, when we've barely brought you off haill and sain?'
'Haill and sain? Dastard and forlorn,' cried Malcolm, with passionate weeping. 'I--I to flee and leave my sister--my uncle! Oh, where are they? Halbert, let me go; I'll never pardon thee.'
'Hoot, my lord! would I let you gang, when the Tutor spak to me as plain as I hear you now? "Take off Lord Malcolm," says he; "save him, and you save the rest. See him safe to the Earl of Mar." Those were his words, my lord; and if you wilna heed them, I will.'
'What, and leave my sister to the reivers? Oh, what may not they be doing to her? Let us go back and fall on them, Halbert; better die saving her than know her in Walter Stewart's hands. Then were I the wretched craven he calls me.'
'Look you, Lord Malcolm,' said Halbert, laying his finger on his nose, with a knowing expression, 'my young lady is safe from harm so long as you are out of the Master of Albany's reach. Had you come by a canny thrust in the fray, as no doubt was his purpose, or were you in his hands to be mewed in a convent, then were your sister worth the wedding; but the Master will never wed her while you live and have friends to back you, and his father, the Regent, will see she has no ill-usage. You'll do best for yourself and her too, as well as Sir David, if you make for Dunbar, and call ben your uncles of Athole and Strathern.--How now, Rab? are the loons making this way?'
'Na, na!' said Rab, descending; ''tis from the other gate; 'tis a knight in blue damasked steel: he, methinks, that harboured in our castle some weeks syne.'
'Hm!' said Halbert, considering; 'he looked like a trusty cheild:
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