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- Two Penniless Princesses - 20/42 -
'And wherefore not, if theirs is gentle blood?' said Sir Patrick.
'Nay, now, Sir Patrick, stand not on your Scotch pride. Gentlemen all, if you will, but you gave me to understand that this was none of your barefoot gentlemen, and I ask if you can tell who he truly is?'
'I have never been told, my Lord, and I had rather you put the question to himself than to me.'
'Call him then, an' so please you.'
Sir Patrick saw no alternative save compliance; and he found Ringan undergoing a severe rating, not unaccompanied by blows from the wood of his master's lance. The perfect willingness to die for one another was a mere natural incident, but the having transgressed, and caused such a serious scrape, made George very indignant and inflict condign punishment. 'Better fed than he had ever been in his life, the rogue' (and he looked it, though he muttered, 'A bannock and a sup of barley brose were worth the haill of their greasy beeves!'). 'Better fed than ever before. Couldn't the daft loon keep the hands of him off poor folks' bit goose? In Lent, too!' (by far the gravest part of the offence).
George did, however, transfer Ringan's explanation to Sir Patrick, and make some apology. A nest of goose eggs apparently unowned had been too much for him, incited further by a couple of English horseboys, who were willing to share goose eggs for supper, and let the Scotsman bear the wyte of it. The goose had been nearer than expected, and summoned her kin; the gander had shown fight; the geese had gabbled, the gooseherd and his kind came to the rescue, the horseboys had made off; Ringan, impeded by his struggle with the ferocious gander, was caught; and Geordie had come up just in time to see him pricked with goads and axes to a tree, where a halter was making ready for him. Of course, without asking questions, George hurried to save him, pushing his horse among the angry crew, and striking right and left, and equally of course the other Scots came to his assistance.
Sir Patrick agreed that he could not have done otherwise, though better things might have been hoped of Ringan by this time.
'But,' said he, 'there's not an end yet of the coil. Here has my Lord of Suffolk been speiring after your name and quality, till I told him he must ask at you and not at me.'
'Tell'd you the dour meddling Englishman my name?' asked George.
'I told him only what ye told me yerself. In that there was no lie. But bethink you, royal maidens dinna come to speak for lads without a cause.'
George's colour mounted high in his sunburnt, freckled cheek.
'Kens--ken they, trow ye, Sir Pate?'
'Cannie folk, even lassies, can ken mair than they always tell,' said the knight of Glenuskie. 'Yonder is my Lord Marquis, as they ca' him; so bethink you weel how you comport yerself with him, and my counsel is to tell him the full truth. He is a dour man towards underlings, whom he views as made not of the same flesh and blood with himself, but he is the very pink of courtesy to men of his own degree.'
'Set him up,' quoth the heir of the Douglas, with a snort. 'His own degree, indeed! scarce even a knight's son!'
'What he deems his own degree, then,' corrected Sir Patrick; 'but he holds himself full of chivalry to them, and loves a spice of the errant knight; ye may trust his honour. And mind ye,' he added, laughing, 'I've never been told your name and quality.'
Which the Master of Angus returned with an equally canny laugh. The young man, as he approached the Marquis, drew his head up, straightened his tall form, brushed off the dust that obscured the bloody heart on his breast, and altogether advanced with a step and bearing far more like the great Earl's son than the man-at-arms of the Glenuskie following; his eyes bespoke equality or more as they met those of William de la Pole, and yet there was that in the glance which forbade the idea of insolence, so that Suffolk, instead of remaining seated rose to meet him and took him aside, standing as they talked.
'Sir Squire,' he said, 'for such I understand your degree in chivalry to be.'
'I have not won my spurs,' said George.
'It is not our rule to take to foreign courts gentlemen from another realm unknown to us,' proceeded Suffolk, with much civility; 'therefore, unless any vow of chivalry binds you, I should be glad to know who it is who does my banner the honour of riding in its company for a time. If a secret, it is safe with me.'
George gave his name.
'That is the name of one of the chief nobles in Scotland,' said Suffolk. 'Do I see before me his son?' George bowed.
'Then, my Lord Douglas, am I permitted to ask wherefore this mean disguise? Is it for some vow of chivalry, or for that which is the guerdon of chivalry?' the Marquis added in a lower, softer tone, which, however, extremely chafed the proud young Scot, all the more that he felt himself blushing.
'My Lord,' he said, 'I am not bound to render a reason to any save my father, from whom I hope for letters shortly.'
To his further provocation Suffolk smiled meaningly, and answered--
'I understand. But if my Lord Douglas would honour my suite by assuming the place that befits him, I should be happy that aught of mine should serve--'
'I am beholden to you, my Lord, for the offer,' replied George, somewhat roughly. 'Whatever I make use of must be my father's or my own. All I crave of you is to keep my secret, and not make me the common talk. Have I your licence to depart?'
Wherewith, tall, irate, and shamefaced, the Master of Angus stalked away to meet David Drummond, to whom he confided his disgusts.
'The parlous fulebody! As though I were like to make myself a mere sport for ballad-mongers, such as Lady Elleen is always mooning after; or as if I would stoop to borrow a following of the English blackguard, to bolster up my state like King Herod in a mystery play. If my father lists, he may send me out a band, but the Douglas shall have Douglas's men, or none at all.'
David approved the sentiment, but added--
'Ye could win to Jeanie if ye took your right place.'
'What good would that do me while she is full of her fine daffing, singing, clacking, English knights, that would only gibe at the red-haired Scot? Let her wait to see what the Red Douglas's hand can do in time of need! But, Davie, you that can speak to her, let her know how deeply I thank her for what she did even now on my behalf, or rather on puir Ringan's, and that I am trebly bound to her service though I make no minstrel fule's work.'
David delivered his message, but did not obtain much by it for his friend's satisfaction, for Jeanie only tossed her head and answered--
'Does the gallant cock up his bonnet because he thinks it was for his sake. It was Elleen's doing there, firstly; and next, wadna we have done the like for the meanest of Jamie's subjects?'
'Dinna credit her, Davie,' said Eleanor. 'Ye should have seen her start in her saddle, and wheel round her palfrey at Malcolm's first word.'
'It wasna for him,' replied Jean hotly. 'They dinna hang the like of him for twisting a goose's neck; it was for the puir leal laddie; and ye may tak' that to him.'
'Shall I, Elleen?' asked David, with a twinkle in his eye of cousinly teasing.
'An' ye do not, I shall proclaim ye in the lists at Nanci as a corbie messenger and mansworn squire, unworthy of your spurs,' threatened Jeanie, in all good humour however.
Suffolk, baffled in his desire to patronise the young Master of Angus, examined both Sir Patrick and Lady Drummond as far as their caution would allow, telling that the youth had confessed his rank and admitted the cause--making inquiry whether the match would be held suitable in Scotland, and why it had not taken place there--a matter difficult to explain, since it did not merely turn upon the young lady's ambition--which would have gone for nothing--but on the danger to the Crown of offending rival houses. Suffolk had a good deal about him of the flashy side of chivalry, and loved its brilliance and romance; he was an honourable man, and the weak point about him was that he never understood that knighthood should respect men of meaner birth. He was greatly flattered by the idea of having the eldest son of the great Earl of Angus riding as an unknown man-at-arms in his troop, and on the way likewise to the most chivalrous of kings. His scheme would have been to equip the youth fully with horse and arms, and at some brilliant tourney see him carry all before him, like Du Gueselin in his boyhood, and that the eclat of the affair should reflect itself upon his sponsor. But there were two difficulties in the way--the first that the proud young Scot showed no intention of being beholden to any Englishman, and secondly, that the tall, ungainly youth did not look as if he had attained to the full strength or management of his own limbs; and though in five or ten years' time he might be a giant in actual warfare, he did not appear at all likely to be a match for the highly-trained champions of the tilt-yard. Moreover, he was not a knight as yet, and on sounding Sir Patrick it was elicited that he was likely to deem it high treason to be dubbed
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