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In winter's tedious nights, sit by the fire, With good old folks, and let them tell thee tales Of woeful ages, long ago betid: And, ere thou bid goodnight, to quit their grief, Tell thou the lamentable fall of me. ~King Richard II Act V. Scene I.
Far different had been the fate of the misguided heir of Scotland from that which was publicly given out in the town of Falkland. His ambitious uncle had determined on his death, as the means of removing the first and most formidable barrier betwixt his own family and the throne. James, the younger son of the King, was a mere boy, who might at more leisure be easily set aside. Ramorny's views of aggrandisement, and the resentment which he had latterly entertained against his masters made him a willing agent in young Rothsay's destruction. Dwining's love of gold, and his native malignity of disposition, rendered him equally forward. It had been resolved, with the most calculating cruelty, that all means which might leave behind marks of violence were to be carefully avoided, and the extinction of life suffered to take place of itself by privation of every kind acting upon a frail and impaired constitution. The Prince of Scotland was not to be murdered, as Ramorny had expressed himself on another occasion, he was only to cease to exist. Rothsay's bedchamber in the Tower of Falkland was well adapted for the execution of such a horrible project. A small, narrow staircase, scarce known to exist, opened from thence by a trapdoor to the subterranean dungeons of the castle, through a passage by which the feudal lord was wont to visit, in private and in disguise, the inhabitants of those miserable regions. By this staircase the villains conveyed the insensible Prince to the lowest dungeon of the castle, so deep in the bowels of the earth, that no cries or groans, it was supposed, could possibly be heard, while the strength of its door and fastenings must for a long time have defied force, even if the entrance could have been discovered. Bonthron, who had been saved from the gallows for the purpose, was the willing agent of Ramorny's unparalleled cruelty to his misled and betrayed patron.
This wretch revisited the dungeon at the time when the Prince's lethargy began to wear off, and when, awaking to sensation, he felt himself deadly cold, unable to move, and oppressed with fetters, which scarce permitted him to stir from the dank straw on which he was laid. His first idea was that he was in a fearful dream, his next brought a confused augury of the truth. He called, shouted, yelled at length in frenzy but no assistance came, and he was only answered by the vaulted roof of the dungeon. The agent of hell heard these agonizing screams, and deliberately reckoned them against the taunts and reproaches with which Rothsay had expressed his instinctive aversion to him. When, exhausted and hopeless, the unhappy youth remained silent, the savage resolved to present himself before the eyes of his prisoner. The locks were drawn, the chain fell; the Prince raised himself as high as his fetters permitted; a red glare, against which he was fain to shut his eyes, streamed through the vault; and when he opened them again, it was on the ghastly form of one whom he had reason to think dead. He sunk back in horror.
"I am judged and condemned," he exclaimed, "and the most abhorred fiend in the infernal regions is sent to torment me!"
"I live, my lord," said Bonthron; "and that you may live and enjoy life, be pleased to sit up and eat your victuals."
"Free me from these irons," said the Prince, "release me from this dungeon, and, dog as thou art, thou shalt be the richest man in Scotland."
"If you would give me the weight of your shackles in gold," said Bonthron, "I would rather see the iron on you than have the treasure myself! But look up; you were wont to love delicate fare--behold how I have catered for you."
The wretch, with fiendish glee, unfolded a piece of rawhide covering the bundle which he bore under' his arm, and, passing the light to and fro before it, showed the unhappy Prince a bull's head recently hewn from the trunk, and known in Scotland as the certain signal of death. He placed it at the foot of the bed, or rather lair, on which the Prince lay.
"Be moderate in your food," he said; "it is like to be long ere thou getst another meal."
"Tell me but one thing, wretch," said the Prince. "Does Ramorny know of this practice?"
"How else hadst thou been decoyed hither? Poor woodcock, thou art snared!" answered the murderer.
With these words, the door shut, the bolts resounded, and the unhappy Prince was left to darkness, solitude, and misery. "Oh, my father!--my prophetic father! The staff I leaned on has indeed proved a spear!"
We will not dwell on the subsequent hours, nay, days, of bodily agony and mental despair.
But it was not the pleasure of Heaven that so great a crime should be perpetrated with impunity.
Catharine Glover and the glee woman, neglected by the other inmates, who seemed to be engaged with the tidings of the Prince's illness, were, however, refused permission to leave the castle until it should be seen how this alarming disease was to terminate, and whether it was actually an infectious sickness. Forced on each other's society, the two desolate women became companions, if not friends; and the union drew somewhat closer when Catharine discovered that this was the same female minstrel on whose account Henry Wynd had fallen under her displeasure. She now heard his complete vindication, and listened with ardour to the praises which Louise heaped on her gallant protector. On the other hand, the minstrel, who felt the superiority of Catharine's station and character, willingly dwelt upon a theme which seemed to please her, and recorded her gratitude to the stout smith in the little song of "Bold and True," which was long a favourite in Scotland.
Oh, bold and true, In bonnet blue, That fear or falsehood never knew, Whose heart was loyal to his word, Whose hand was faithful to his sword-- Seek Europe wide from sea to sea, But bonny blue cap still for me!
I've seen Almain's proud champions prance, Have seen the gallant knights of France, Unrivall'd with the sword and lance, Have seen the sons of England true, Wield the brown bill and bend the yew. Search France the fair, and England free, But bonny blue cap still for me!
In short, though Louise's disreputable occupation would have been in other circumstances an objection to Catharine's voluntarily frequenting her company, yet, forced together as they now were, she found her a humble and accommodating companion.
They lived in this manner for four or five days, and, in order to avoid as much as possible the gaze, and perhaps the incivility, of the menials in the offices, they prepared their food in their own apartment. In the absolutely necessary intercourse with domestics, Louise, more accustomed to expedients, bolder by habit, and desirous to please Catharine, willingly took on herself the trouble of getting from the pantler the materials of their slender meal, and of arranging it with the dexterity of her country.
The glee woman had been abroad for this purpose upon the sixth day, a little before noon; and the desire of fresh air, or the hope to find some sallad or pot herbs, or at least an early flower or two, with which to deck their board, had carried her into the small garden appertaining to the castle. She re-entered her apartment in the tower with a countenance pale as ashes, and a frame which trembled like an aspen leaf. Her terror instantly extended itself to Catharine, who could hardly find words to ask what new misfortune had occurred.
"Is the Duke of Rothsay dead?"
"Worse! they are starving him alive."
"No--no--no--no!" said Louise, speaking under her breath, and huddling her words so thick upon each other that Catharine could hardly catch the sense. "I was seeking for flowers to dress your pottage, because you said you loved them yesterday; my poor little dog, thrusting himself into a thicket of yew and holly bushes that grow out of some old ruins close to the castle wall, came back whining and howling. I crept forward to see what might be the cause --and, oh! I heard a groaning as of one in extreme pain, but so faint, that it seemed to arise out of the very depth of the earth. At length, I found it proceeded from a small rent in the wall, covered with ivy; and when I laid my ear close to the opening, I could hear the Prince's voice distinctly say, 'It cannot now last long'--and then it sunk away in something like a prayer."
"Gracious Heaven! did you speak to him?"
"I said, 'Is it you, my lord?' and the answer was, 'Who mocks me with that title?' I asked him if I could help him, and he answered with a voice I shall never forget, 'Food--food! I die of famine!' So I came hither to tell you. What is to be done? Shall we alarm the house?"
"Alas! that were more likely to destroy than to aid," said Catharine.
"And what then shall we do?" said Louise.
"I know not yet," said Catharine, prompt and bold on occasions of moment, though yielding to her companion in ingenuity of resource on ordinary occasions: "I know not yet, but something we will do: the blood of Bruce shall not die unaided."
So saying, she seized the small cruise which contained their soup, and the meat of which it was made, wrapped some thin cakes which she had baked into the fold of her plaid, and, beckoning her companion to follow with a vessel of milk, also part of their provisions, she hastened towards the garden.
"So, our fair vestal is stirring abroad?" said the only man she met, who was one of the menials; but Catharine passed on without notice or reply, and gained the little garden without farther interruption.
Louise indicated to her a heap of ruins, which, covered with underwood, was close to the castle wall. It had probably been originally a projection from the building; and the small fissure, which communicated with the dungeon, contrived for air, had terminated within it. But the aperture had been a little enlarged by decay, and admitted a dim ray of light to its recesses, although it could not be observed by those who visited the place with torchlight aids.
"Here is dead silence," said Catharine, after she had listened attentively for a moment. "Heaven and earth, he is gone!"
"We must risk something," said her companion, and ran her fingers over the strings of her guitar.
A sigh was the only answer from the depth of the dungeon. Catharine then ventured to speak. "I am here, my lord--I am here, with food and drink."
"Ha! Ramorny! The jest comes too late; I am dying," was the answer.
"His brain is turned, and no wonder," thought Catharine; "but whilst there is life, there may be hope."
"It is I, my lord, Catharine Glover. I have food, if I could pass it safely to you."
"Heaven bless thee, maiden! I thought the pain was over, but it glows again within me at the name of food."
"The food is here, but how--ah, how can I pass it to you? the chink is so narrow, the wall is so thick! Yet there is a remedy-- I have it. Quick, Louise; cut me a willow bough, the tallest you can find."
The glee maiden obeyed, and, by means of a cleft in the top of the wand, Catharine transmitted several morsels of the soft cakes, soaked in broth, which served at once for food and for drink.
The unfortunate young man ate little, and with difficulty, but prayed for a thousand blessings on the head of his comforter. "I had destined thee to be the slave of my vices," he said, "and yet thou triest to become the preserver of my life! But away, and save thyself."
"I will return with food as I shall see opportunity," said Catharine, just as the glee maiden plucked her sleeve and desired her to be silent and stand close.
Both crouched among the ruins, and they heard the voices of Ramorny and the mediciner in close conversation.
"He is stronger than I thought," said the former, in a low, croaking tone. "How long held out Dalwolsy, when the knight of Liddesdale prisoned him in his castle of Hermitage?"
"For a fortnight," answered Dwining; "but he was a strong man, and had some assistance by grain which fell from a granary above his prison house."
"Were it not better end the matter more speedily? The Black Douglas comes this way. He is not in Albany's secret. He will demand to see the Prince, and all must be over ere he comes."
They passed on in their dark and fatal conversation.
"Now gain we the tower," said Catharine to her companion, when she saw they had left the garden. "I had a plan of escape for myself; I will turn it into one of rescue for the Prince. The dey woman enters the castle about vesper time, and usually leaves her cloak in the passage as she goes into the pantlers' office with the milk. Take thou the cloak, muffle thyself close, and pass the warder boldly; he is usually drunken at that hour, and thou wilt go as the dey woman unchallenged through gate and along bridge, if thou bear thyself with confidence. Then away to meet the Black Douglas; he is our nearest and only aid."
"But," said Louise, "is he not that terrible lord who threatened me with shame and punishment?"
"Believe it," said Catharine, "such as thou or I never dwelt an hour in the Douglas's memory, either for good or evil. Tell him that his son in law, the Prince of Scotland dies--treacherously famished--in Falkland Castle, and thou wilt merit not pardon only, but reward."
"I care not for reward," said Louise; "the deed will reward itself. But methinks to stay is more dangerous than to go. Let me stay, then, and nourish the unhappy Prince, and do you depart to bring help. If they kill me before you return, I leave you my poor lute, and pray you to be kind to my poor Charlot."
"No, Louise," replied Catharine, "you are a more privileged and experienced wanderer than I--do you go; and if you find me dead on your return, as may well chance, give my poor father this ring and a lock of my hair, and say, Catharine died in endeavouring to save the blood of Bruce. And give this other lock to Henry; say, Catharine thought of him to the last, and that, if he has judged her too scrupulous touching the blood of others, he will then know it was not because she valued her own."
They sobbed in each other's arms, and the intervening hours till evening were spent in endeavouring to devise some better mode of supplying the captive with nourishment, and in the construction of a tube, composed of hollow reeds, slipping into each other, by which liquids might be conveyed to him. The bell of the village church of Falkland tolled to vespers. The dey, or farm woman, entered with her pitchers to deliver the milk for the family, and to hear and tell the news stirring. She had scarcely entered the kitchen when the female minstrel, again throwing herself in Catharine's arms, and assuring her of her unalterable fidelity, crept in silence downstairs, the little dog under her arm. A moment after, she was seen by the breathless Catharine, wrapt in the dey woman's cloak, and walking composedly across the drawbridge.
"So," said the warder, "you return early tonight, May Bridget? Small mirth towards in the hall--ha, wench! Sick times are sad times!"
"I have forgotten my tallies," said the ready witted French woman, "and will return in the skimming of a bowie."
She went onward, avoiding the village of Falkland, and took a footpath which led through the park. Catharine breathed freely, and blessed God when she saw her lost in the distance. It was another anxious hour for Catharine which occurred before the escape of the fugitive was discovered. This happened so soon as the dey girl, having taken an hour to perform a task which ten minutes might have accomplished, was about to return, and discovered that some one had taken away her grey frieze cloak. A strict search was set on foot; at length the women of the house remembered the glee maiden, and ventured to suggest her as one not unlikely to exchange an old cloak for a new one. The warder, strictly questioned, averred he saw the dey woman depart immediately after vespers; and on this being contradicted by the party herself, he could suggest, as the only alternative, that it must needs have been the devil.
As, however, the glee woman could not be found, the real circumstances of the case were easily guessed at; and the steward went to inform Sir John Ramorny and Dwining, who were now scarcely ever separate, of the escape of one of their female captives. Everything awakens the suspicions of the guilty. They looked on each other with faces of dismay, and then went together to the humble apartment of Catharine, that they might take her as much as possible by surprise while they inquired into the facts attending Louise's disappearance.
"Where is your companion, young woman?" said Ramorny, in a tone of austere gravity.
"I have no companion here," answered Catharine.
"Trifle not," replied the knight; "I mean the glee maiden, who lately dwelt in this chamber with you."
"She is gone, they tell me," said Catharine--"gone about an hour since."
"And whither?" said Dwining.
"How," answered Catharine, "should I know which way a professed wanderer may choose to travel? She was tired no doubt of a solitary life, so different from the scenes of feasting and dancing which her trade leads her to frequent. She is gone, and the only wonder is that she should have stayed so long."
"This, then," said Ramorny, "is all you have to tell us?"
"All that I have to tell you, Sir John," answered Catharine, firmly; "and if the Prince himself inquire, I can tell him no more."
"There is little danger of his again doing you the honour to speak to you in person," said Ramorny, "even if Scotland should escape being rendered miserable by the sad event of his decease."
"Is the Duke of Rothsay so very ill?" asked Catharine.
"No help, save in Heaven," answered Ramorny, looking upward.
"Then may there yet be help there," said Catharine. "if human aid prove unavailing!"
"Amen!" said Ramorny, with the most determined gravity; while Dwining adopted a face fit to echo the feeling, though it seemed to cost him a painful struggle to suppress his sneering yet soft laugh of triumph, which was peculiarly excited by anything having a religious tendency.
"And it is men--earthly men, and not incarnate devils, who thus appeal to Heaven, while they are devouring by inches the life blood of their hapless master!" muttered Catharine, as her two baffled inquisitors left the apartment. "Why sleeps the thunder? But it will roll ere long, and oh! may it be to preserve as well as to punish!"
The hour of dinner alone afforded a space when, all in the castle being occupied with that meal, Catharine thought she had the best opportunity of venturing to the breach in the wall, with the least chance of being observed. In waiting for the hour, she observed some stir in the castle, which had been silent as the grave ever since the seclusion of the Duke of Rothsay. The portcullis was lowered and raised, and the creaking of the machinery was intermingled with the tramp of horse, as men at arms went out and returned with steeds hard ridden and covered with foam. She observed, too, that such domestics as she casually saw from her window were in arms. All this made her heart throb high, for it augured the approach of rescue; and besides, the bustle left the little garden more lonely than ever. At length the hour of noon arrived; she had taken care to provide, under pretence of her own wishes, which the pantler seemed disposed to indulge, such articles of food as could be the most easily conveyed to the unhappy captive. She whispered to intimate her presence; there was no answer; she spoke louder, still there was silence.
"He sleeps," she muttered these words half aloud, and with a shuddering which was succeeded by a start and a scream, when a voice replied behind her:
"Yes, he sleeps; but it is for ever."
She looked round. Sir John Ramorny stood behind her in complete armour, but the visor of his helmet was up, and displayed a countenance more resembling one about to die than to fight. He spoke with a grave tone, something between that of a calm observer of an interesting event and of one who is an agent and partaker in it.
"Catharine," he said, "all is true which I tell you. He is dead. You have done your best for him; you can do no more."
"I will not--I cannot believe it," said Catharine. "Heaven be merciful to me! it would make one doubt of Providence, to think so great a crime has been accomplished."
"Doubt not of Providence, Catharine, though it has suffered the profligate to fall by his own devices. Follow me; I have that to say which concerns you. I say follow (for she hesitated), unless you prefer being left to the mercies of the brute Bonthron and the mediciner Henbane Dwining."
"I will follow you," said Catharine. "You cannot do more to me than you are permitted."
He led the way into the tower, and mounted staircase after staircase and ladder after ladder.
Catharine's resolution failed her. "I will follow no farther," she said. "Whither would you lead me? If to my death, I can die here."
"Only to the battlements of the castle, fool," said Ramorny, throwing wide a barred door which opened upon the vaulted roof of the castle, where men were bending mangonels, as they called them (military engines, that is, for throwing arrows or stones), getting ready crossbows, and piling stones together. But the defenders did not exceed twenty in number, and Catharine thought she could observe doubt and irresolution amongst them.
"Catharine," said Ramorny, "I must not quit this station, which is necessary for my defence; but I can speak with you here as well as elsewhere."
"Say on," answered Catharine, "I am prepared to hear you."
"You have thrust yourself, Catharine, into a bloody secret. Have you the firmness to keep it?"
"I do not understand you, Sir John," answered the maiden.
"Look you. I have slain--murdered, if you will--my late master, the Duke of Rothsay. The spark of life which your kindness would have fed was easily smothered. His last words called on his father. You are faint--bear up--you have more to hear. You know the crime, but you know not the provocation. See! this gauntlet is empty; I lost my right hand in his cause, and when I was no longer fit to serve him, I was cast off like a worn out hound, my loss ridiculed, and a cloister recommended, instead of the halls and palaces in which I had my natural sphere! Think on this--pity and assist me."
"In what manner can you require my assistance?" said the trembling maiden; "I can neither repair your loss nor cancel your crime."
"Thou canst be silent, Catharine, on what thou hast seen and heard in yonder thicket. It is but a brief oblivion I ask of you, whose word will, I know, be listened to, whether you say such things were or were not. That of your mountebank companion, the foreigner, none will hold to be of a pin point's value. If you grant me this, I will take your promise for my security, and throw the gate open to those who now approach it. If you will not promise silence, I defend this castle till every one perishes, and I fling you headlong from these battlements. Ay, look at them--it is not a leap to be rashly braved. Seven courses of stairs brought you up hither with fatigue and shortened breath; but you shall go from the top to the bottom in briefer time than you can breathe a sigh! Speak the word, fair maid; for you speak to one unwilling to harm you, but determined in his purpose."
Catharine stood terrified, and without power of answering a man who seemed so desperate; but she was saved the necessity of reply by the approach of Dwining. He spoke with the same humble conges which at all times distinguished his manner, and with his usual suppressed ironical sneer, which gave that manner the lie.
"I do you wrong, noble sir, to intrude on your valiancie when engaged with a fair damsel. But I come to ask a trifling question."
"Speak, tormentor!" said Ramorny; "ill news are sport to thee even when they affect thyself, so that they concern others also."
"Hem!--he, he!--I only desired to know if your knighthood proposed the chivalrous task of defending the castle with your single hand --I crave pardon, I meant your single arm? The question is worth asking, for I am good for little to aid the defence, unless you could prevail on the besiegers to take physic--he, he, he!-- and Bonthron is as drunk as ale and strong waters can make him; and you, he, and I make up the whole garrison who are disposed for resistance."
"How! Will the other dogs not fight?" said Ramorny.
"Never saw men who showed less stomach to the work," answered Dwining --"never. But here come a brace of them. Venit extrema dies. He, he, he!"
Eviot and his companion Buncle now approached, with sullen resolution in their faces, like men who had made their minds up to resist that authority which they had so long obeyed.
"How now!" said Ramorny, stepping forward to meet them. "Wherefore from your posts? Why have you left the barbican, Eviot? And you other fellow, did I not charge you to look to the mangonels?"
"We have something to tell you, Sir John Ramorny," answered Eviot. "We will not fight in this quarrel."
"How--my own squires control me?" exclaimed Ramorny.
"We were your squires and pages, my lord, while you were master of the Duke of Rothsay's household. It is bruited about the Duke no longer lives; we desire to know the truth."
"What traitor dares spread such falsehoods?" said Ramorny.
"All who have gone out to skirt the forest, my lord, and I myself among others, bring back the same news. The minstrel woman who left the castle yesterday has spread the report everywhere that the Duke of Rothsay is murdered, or at death's door. The Douglas comes on us with a strong force--"
"And you, cowards, take advantage of an idle report to forsake your master?" said Ramorny, indignantly.
"My lord," said Eviot, "let Buncle and myself see the Duke of Rothsay, and receive his personal orders for defence of this castle, and if we do not fight to the death in that quarrel, I will consent to be hanged on its highest turret. But if he be gone by natural disease, we will yield up the castle to the Earl of Douglas, who is, they say, the King's lieutenant. Or if--which Heaven forefend!--the noble Prince has had foul play, we will not involve ourselves in the guilt of using arms in defence of the murderers, be they who they will."
"Eviot," said Ramorny, raising his mutilated arm, "had not that glove been empty, thou hadst not lived to utter two words of this insolence."
"It is as it is," answered Evict, "and we do but our duty. I have followed you long, my lord, but here I draw bridle."
"Farewell, then, and a curse light on all of you!" exclaimed the incensed baron. "Let my horse be brought forth!"
"Our valiancie is about to run away," said the mediciner, who had crept close to Catharine's side before she was aware. "Catharine, thou art a superstitious fool, like most women; nevertheless thou hast some mind, and I speak to thee as one of more understanding than the buffaloes which are herding about us. These haughty barons who overstride the world, what are they in the day of adversity? Chaff before the wind. Let their sledge hammer hands or their column resembling legs have injury, and bah! the men at arms are gone. Heart and courage is nothing to them, lith and limb everything: give them animal strength, what are they better than furious bulls; take that away, and your hero of chivalry lies grovelling like the brute when he is hamstrung. Not so the sage; while a grain of sense remains in a crushed or mutilated frame, his mind shall be strong as ever. Catharine, this morning I was practising your death; but methinks I now rejoice that you may survive to tell how the poor mediciner, the pill gilder, the mortar pounder, the poison vender, met his fate, in company with the gallant Knight of Ramorny, Baron in possession and Earl of Lindores in expectation--God save his lordship!"
"Old man," said Catharine, "if thou be indeed so near the day of thy deserved doom, other thoughts were far wholesomer than the vainglorious ravings of a vain philosophy. Ask to see a holy man --"
"Yes," said Dwining, scornfully, "refer myself to a greasy monk, who does not--he! he! he!--understand the barbarous Latin he repeats by rote. Such would be a fitting counsellor to one who has studied both in Spain and Arabia! No, Catharine, I will choose a confessor that is pleasant to look upon, and you shall be honoured with the office. Now, look yonder at his valiancie, his eyebrow drops with moisture, his lip trembles with agony; for his valiancie --he! he! he!--is pleading for his life with his late domestics, and has not eloquence enough to persuade them to let him slip. See how the fibres of his face work as he implores the ungrateful brutes, whom he has heaped with obligations, to permit him to get such a start for his life as the hare has from the greyhounds when men course her fairly. Look also at the sullen, downcast, dogged faces with which, fluctuating between fear and shame, the domestic traitors deny their lord this poor chance for his life. These things thought themselves the superior of a man like me! and you, foolish wench, think so meanly of your Deity as to suppose wretches like them are the work of Omnipotence!"
"No! man of evil--no!" said Catharine, warmly; "the God I worship created these men with the attributes to know and adore Him, to guard and defend their fellow creatures, to practise holiness and virtue. Their own vices, and the temptations of the Evil One, have made them such as they now are. Oh, take the lesson home to thine own heart of adamant! Heaven made thee wiser than thy fellows, gave thee eyes to look into the secrets of nature, a sagacious heart, and a skilful hand; but thy pride has poisoned all these fair gifts, and made an ungodly atheist of one who might have been a Christian sage!"
"Atheist, say'st thou?" answered Dwining. "Perhaps I have doubts on that matter--but they will be soon solved. Yonder comes one who will send me, as he has done thousands, to the place where all mysteries shall be cleared."
Catharine followed the mediciner's eye up one of the forest glades, and beheld it occupied by a body of horsemen advancing at full gallop. In the midst was a pennon displayed, which, though its bearings were not visible to Catharine, was, by a murmur around, acknowledged as that of the Black Douglas. They halted within arrow shot of the castle, and a herald with two trumpets advanced up to the main portal, where, after a loud flourish, he demanded admittance for the high and dreaded Archibald Earl of Douglas, Lord Lieutenant of the King, and acting for the time with the plenary authority of his Majesty; commanding, at the same time, that the inmates of the castle should lay down their arms, all under penalty of high treason.
"You hear?" said Eviot to Ramorny, who stood sullen and undecided. "Will you give orders to render the castle, or must I?"
"No, villain!" interrupted the knight, "to the last I will command you. Open the gates, drop the bridge, and render the castle to the Douglas."
"Now, that's what may be called a gallant exertion of free will," said Dwining. "Just as if the pieces of brass that were screaming a minute since should pretend to call those notes their own which are breathed through them by a frowsy trumpeter."
"Wretched man!" said Catharine, "either be silent or turn thy thoughts to the eternity on the brink of which thou art standing."
"And what is that to thee?" answered Dwining. "Thou canst not, wench, help hearing what I say to thee, and thou wilt tell it again, for thy sex cannot help that either. Perth and all Scotland shall know what a man they have lost in Henbane Dwining!"
The clash of armour now announced that the newcomers had dismounted and entered the castle, and were in the act of disarming the small garrison. Earl Douglas himself appeared on the battlements, with a few of his followers, and signed to them to take Ramorny and Dwining into custody. Others dragged from some nook the stupefied Bonthron.
"It was to these three that the custody of the Prince was solely committed daring his alleged illness?" said the Douglas, prosecuting an inquiry which he had commenced in the hall of the castle.
"No other saw him, my lord," said Eviot, "though I offered my services."
"Conduct us to the Duke's apartment, and bring the prisoners with us. Also should there be a female in the castle, if she hath not been murdered or spirited away--the companion of the glee maiden who brought the first alarm."
"She is here, my lord," said Eviot, bringing Catharine forward.
Her beauty and her agitation made some impression even upon the impassible Earl.
"Fear nothing, maiden," he said; "thou hast deserved both praise and reward. Tell to me, as thou wouldst confess to Heaven, the things thou hast witnessed in this castle."
Few words served Catharine to unfold the dreadful story.
"It agrees," said the Douglas, "with the tale of the glee maiden, from point to point. Now show us the Prince's apartment."
They passed to the room which the unhappy Duke of Rothsay had been supposed to inhabit; but the key was not to be found, and the Earl could only obtain entrance by forcing the door. On entering, the wasted and squalid remains of the unhappy Prince were discovered, flung on the bed as if in haste. The intention of the murderers had apparently been to arrange the dead body so as to resemble a timely parted corpse, but they had been disconcerted by the alarm occasioned by the escape of Louise. Douglas looked on the body of the misguided youth, whose wild passions and caprices had brought him to this fatal and premature catastrophe.
"I had wrongs to be redressed," he said; "but to see such a sight as this banishes all remembrance of injury!"
"He! he! It should have been arranged," said Dwining, "more to your omnipotence's pleasure; but you came suddenly on us, and hasty masters make slovenly service."
Douglas seemed not to hear what his prisoner said, so closely did he examine the wan and wasted features, and stiffened limbs, of the dead body before him. Catharine, overcome by sickness and fainting, at length obtained permission to retire from the dreadful scene, and, through confusion of every description, found her way to her former apartment, where she was locked in the arms of Louise, who had returned in the interval.
The investigations of Douglas proceeded. The dying hand of the Prince was found to be clenched upon a lock of hair, resembling, in colour and texture, the coal black bristles of Bonthron. Thus, though famine had begun the work, it would seem that Rothsay's death had been finally accomplished by violence. The private stair to the dungeon, the keys of which were found at the subaltern assassin's belt, the situation of the vault, its communication with the external air by the fissure in the walls, and the wretched lair of straw, with the fetters which remained there, fully confirmed the story of Catharine and of the glee woman.
"We will not hesitate an instant," said the Douglas to his near kinsman, the Lord Balveny, as soon as they returned from the dungeon. "Away with the murderers! hang them over the battlements."
"But, my lord, some trial may be fitting," answered Balveny.
"To what purpose?" answered, Douglas. "I have taken them red hand; my authority will stretch to instant execution. Yet stay--have we not some Jedwood men in our troop?"
"Plenty of Turnbulls, Rutherfords, Ainslies, and so forth," said Balveny.
"Call me an inquest of these together; they are all good men and true, saving a little shifting for their living. Do yon see to the execution of these felons, while I hold a court in the great hall, and we'll try whether the jury or the provost marshal do their work first; we will have Jedwood justice--hang in haste and try at leisure."
"Yet stay, my lord," said Ramorny, "you may rue your haste--will you grant me a word out of earshot?"
"Not for worlds!" said Douglas; "speak out what thou hast to say before all that are here present."
"Know all; then," said Ramorny, aloud, "that this noble Earl had letters from the Duke of Albany and myself, sent him by the hand of yon cowardly deserter, Buncle--let him deny it if he dare-- counselling the removal of the Duke for a space from court, and his seclusion in this Castle of Falkland."
"But not a word," replied Douglas, sternly smiling, "of his being flung into a dungeon--famished--strangled. Away with the wretches, Balveny, they pollute God's air too long!"
The prisoners were dragged off to the battlements. But while the means of execution were in the act of being prepared, the apothecary expressed so ardent a desire to see Catharine once more, and, as he said, for the good of his soul, that the maiden, in hopes his obduracy might have undergone some change even at the last hour, consented again to go to the battlements, and face a scene which her heart recoiled from. A single glance showed her Bonthron, sunk in total and drunken insensibility; Ramorny, stripped of his armour, endeavouring in vain to conceal fear, while he spoke with a priest, whose good offices he had solicited; and Dwining, the same humble, obsequious looking, crouching individual she had always known him. He held in his hand a little silver pen, with which he had been writing on a scrap of parchment.
"Catharine," he said--"he, he, he!--I wish to speak to thee on the nature of my religious faith."
"If such be thy intention, why lose time with me? Speak with this good father."
"The good father," said Dwining, "is--he, he!--already a worshipper of the deity whom I have served. I therefore prefer to give the altar of mine idol a new worshipper in thee, Catharine. This scrap of parchment will tell thee how to make your way into my chapel, where I have worshipped so often in safety. I leave the images which it contains to thee as a legacy, simply because I hate and contemn thee something less than any of the absurd wretches whom I have hitherto been obliged to call fellow creatures. And now away--or remain and see if the end of the quacksalver belies his life."
"Our Lady forbid!" said Catharine.
"Nay," said the mediciner, "I have but a single word to say, and yonder nobleman's valiancie may hear it if he will."
Lord Balveny approached, with some curiosity; for the undaunted resolution of a man who never wielded sword or bore armour and was in person a poor dwindled dwarf, had to him an air of something resembling sorcery."
"You see this trifling implement," said the criminal, showing the silver pen. "By means of this I can escape the power even of the Black Douglas."
"Give him no ink nor paper," said Balveny, hastily, "he will draw a spell."
"Not so, please your wisdom and valiancie--he, he, he!" said Dwining with his usual chuckle, as he unscrewed the top of the pen, within which was a piece of sponge or some such substance, no bigger than a pea.
"Now, mark this--" said the prisoner, and drew it between his lips. The effect was instantaneous. He lay a dead corpse before them, the contemptuous sneer still on his countenance.
Catharine shrieked and fled, seeking, by a hasty descent, an escape from a sight so appalling. Lord Balveny was for a moment stupified, and then exclaimed, "This may be glamour! hang him over the battlements, quick or dead. If his foul spirit hath only withdrawn for a space, it shall return to a body with a dislocated neck."
His commands were obeyed. Ramorny and Bonthron were then ordered for execution. The last was hanged before he seemed quite to comprehend what was designed to be done with him. Ramorny, pale as death, yet with the same spirit of pride which had occasioned his ruin, pleaded his knighthood, and demanded the privilege of dying by decapitation by the sword, and not by the noose.
"The Douglas never alters his doom," said Balveny. "But thou shalt have all thy rights. Send the cook hither with a cleaver."
The menial whom he called appeared at his summons.
"What shakest thou for, fellow?" said Balveny; "here, strike me this man's gilt spurs from his heels with thy cleaver. And now, John Ramorny, thou art no longer a knight, but a knave. To the halter with him, provost marshal! hang him betwixt his companions, and higher than them if it may be."
In a quarter of an hour afterwards, Balveny descended to tell the Douglas that the criminals were executed.
"Then there is no further use in the trial," said the Earl. "How say you, good men of inquest, were these men guilty of high treason --ay or no?"
"Guilty," exclaimed the obsequious inquest, with edifying unanimity, "we need no farther evidence."
"Sound trumpets, and to horse then, with our own train only; and let each man keep silence on what has chanced here, until the proceedings shall be laid before the King, which cannot conveniently be till the battle of Palm Sunday shall be fought and ended. Select our attendants, and tell each man who either goes with us or remains behind that he who prates dies."
In a few minutes the Douglas was on horseback, with the followers selected to attend his person. Expresses were sent to his daughter, the widowed Duchess of Rothsay, directing her to take her course to Perth, by the shores of Lochleven, without approaching Falkland, and committing to her charge Catharine Glover and the glee woman, as persons whose safety he tendered.
As they rode through the forest, they looked back, and beheld the three bodies hanging, like specks darkening the walls of the old castle.
"The hand is punished," said Douglas, "but who shall arraign the head by whose direction the act was done?"
"You mean the Duke of Albany?" said Balveny.
"I do, kinsman; and were I to listen to the dictates of my heart, I would charge him with the deed, which I am certain he has authorised. But there is no proof of it beyond strong suspicion, and Albany has attached to himself the numerous friends of the house of Stuart, to whom, indeed, the imbecility of the King and the ill regulated habits of Rothsay left no other choice of a leader. Were I, therefore, to break the bond which I have so lately formed with Albany, the consequence must be civil war, an event ruinous to poor Scotland while threatened by invasion from the activity of the Percy, backed by the treachery of March. No, Balveny, the punishment of Albany must rest with Heaven, which, in its own good time, will execute judgment on him and on his house."
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