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- Two Penniless Princesses - 1/42 -


Two Penniless Princesses

by Charlotte M. Yonge

CHAPTER 1

DUNBAR

''Twas on a night, an evening bright When the dew began to fa', Lady Margaret was walking up and down, Looking over her castle wa'.'

The battlements of a castle were, in disturbed times, the only recreation-ground of the ladies and play-place of the young people. Dunbar Castle, standing on steep rocks above the North Sea, was not only inaccessible on that side, but from its donjon tower commanded a magnificent view, both of the expanse of waves, taking purple tints from the shadows of the clouds, with here and there a sail fleeting before the wind, and of the rugged headlands of the coast, point beyond point, the nearer distinct, and showing the green summits, and below, the tossing waves breaking white against the dark rocks, and the distance becoming more and more hazy, in spite of the bright sun which made a broken path of glory along the tossing, white-crested waters.

The wind was a keen north-east breeze, and might have been thought too severe by any but the 'hardy, bold, and wild' children who were merrily playing on the top of the donjon tower, round the staff whence fluttered the double treasured banner with 'the ruddy lion ramped in gold' denoting the presence of the King.

Three little boys, almost babies, and a little girl not much older, were presided over by a small elder sister, who held the youngest in her lap, and tried to amuse him with caresses and rhymes, so as to prevent his interference with the castle- building of the others, with their small hoard of pebbles and mussel and cockle shells.

Another maiden, the wind tossing her long chestnut-locks, uncovered, but tied with the Scottish snood, sat on the battlement, gazing far out over the waters, with eyes of the same tint as the hair. Even the sea-breeze failed to give more than a slight touch of colour to her somewhat freckled complexion; and the limbs that rested in a careless attitude on the stone bench were long and languid, though with years and favourable circumstances there might be a development of beauty and dignity. Her lips were crooning at intervals a mournful old Scottish tune, sometimes only humming, sometimes uttering its melancholy burthen, and she now and then touched a small harp that stood by her side on the seat.

She did not turn round when a step approached, till a hand was laid on her shoulder, when she started, and looked up into the face of another girl, on a smaller scale, with a complexion of the lily-and-rose kind, fair hair under her hood, with a hawk upon her wrist, and blue eyes dancing at the surprise of her sister.

'Eleanor in a creel, as usual!' she cried.

'I thought it was only one of the bairns,' was the answer.

'They might coup over the walls for aught thou seest,' returned the new-comer. 'If it were not for little Mary what would become of the poor weans?'

'What will become of any of us?' said Eleanor. 'I was gazing out over the sea and wishing we could drift away upon it to some land of rest.'

'The Glenuskie folk are going to try another land,' said Jean. 'I was in the bailey-court even now playing at ball with Jamie when in comes a lay-brother, with a letter from Sir Patrick to say that he is coming the night to crave permission from Jamie to go with his wife to France. Annis, as you know, is betrothed to the son of his French friends, Malcolm is to study at the Paris University, and Davie to be in the Scottish Guards to learn chivalry like his father. And the Leddy of Glenuskie--our Cousin Lilian--is going with them.'

'And she will see Margaret,' said Eleanor. 'Meg the dearie! Dost remember Meg, Jeanie?'

'Well, well do I remember her, and how she used to let us nestle in her lap and sing to us. She sang like thee, Elleen, and was as mother-like as Mary is to the weans, but she was much blithesomer--at least before our father was slain.'

'Sweetest Meg! My whole heart leaps after her,' cried Eleanor, with a fervent gesture.

'I loved her better than Isabel, though she was not so bonnie,' said Jean.

'Jeanie, Jeanie,' cried Eleanor, turning round with a vehemence strangely contrasting with her previous language, 'wherefore should we not go with Glenuskie to be with Meg at Bourges?'

Jeanie opened her blue eyes wide.

'Go to the French King's Court?' she said.

'To the land of chivalry and song,' exclaimed Eleanor, 'where they have courts of love and poetry, and tilts and tourneys and minstrelsy, and the sun shines as it never does in this cold bleak north; and above all there is Margaret, dear tender Margaret, almost a queen, as a queen she will be one day. Oh! I almost feel her embrace.'

'It might be well,' said Jean, in the matter-of-fact tone of a practical young lady; 'mewed up in these dismal castles, we shall never get princely husbands like our sisters. I might be Queen of Beauty, I doubt me whether you are fair enough, Eleanor.'

'Oh, that is not what I think of,' said Eleanor. 'It is to see our own Margaret, and to see and hear the minstrel knights, instead of the rude savages here, scarce one of whom knows what knighthood means!'

'Ay, and they will lay hands on us and wed us one of these days,' returned Jean, 'unless we vow ourselves as nuns, and I have no mind for that.'

'Nor would a convent always guard us,' said Eleanor; 'these reivers do not stick at sanctuary. Now in that happy land ladies meet with courtesy, and there is a minstrel king like our father, Rene is his name, uncle to Margaret's husband. Oh! it would be a very paradise.'

'Let us go, let us go!' exclaimed Jean.

'Go!' said Mary, who had drawn nearer to them while they spoke. 'Whither did ye say?'

'To France--to sister Margaret and peace and sunshine,' said Eleanor.

'Eh!' said the girl, a pale fair child of twelve; 'and what would poor Jamie and the weans do, wanting their titties?'

'Ye are but a bairn, Mary,' was Jean's answer. 'We shall do better for Jamie by wedding some great lords in the far country than by waiting here at home.'

'And James will soon have a queen of his own to guide him,' added Eleanor.

'I'll no quit Jamie or the weans,' said little Mary resolutely, turning back as the three-year-old boy elicited a squall from the eighteen-months one.

'Johnnie! Johnnie! what gars ye tak' away wee Andie's claw? Here, my mannie.'

And she was kneeling on the leads, making peace over the precious crab's claw, which, with a few cockles and mussels, was the choicest toy of these forlorn young Stewarts; for Stewarts they all were, though the three youngest, the weans, as they were called, were only half-brothers to the rest.

Nothing, in point of fact, could have been much more forlorn than the condition of all. The father of the elder ones, James I., the flower of the whole Stewart race, had nine years before fallen a victim to the savage revenge and ferocity of the lawless men whom he had vainly endeavoured to restrain, leaving an only son of six years old and six young daughters. His wife, Joanna, once the Nightingale of Windsor, had wreaked vengeance in so barbarous a manner as to increase the dislike to her as an Englishwoman. Forlorn and in danger, she tried to secure a protector by a marriage with Sir James Stewart, called the Black Knight of Lorn; but he was unable to do much for her, and only added the feuds of his own family to increase the general danger. The two eldest daughters, Margaret and Isabel, were already contracted to the Dauphin and the Duke of Brittany, and were soon sent to their new homes. The little King, the one darling of his mother, was snatched from her, and violently transferred from one fierce guardian to another; each regarding the possession of his person as a sanction to tyranny. He had been introduced to the two winsome young Douglases only as a prelude to their murder, and every day brought tidings of some fresh violence; nay, for the second time, a murder was perpetrated in the Queen's own chamber.

The poor woman had never been very tender or affectionate, and had the haughty demeanour with which the house of Somerset had thought fit to assert their claims to royalty. The cruel slaughter of her first husband, perhaps the only person for whom she had ever felt a softening love, had hardened and soured her.


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