Elizabeth Wilson Grierson.

Tales From Scottish Ballads online

. (page 14 of 17)
Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonTales From Scottish Ballads → online text (page 14 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

it she put a saddle and a bridle which had been made for the King's own

Finally, she went to the kennels, and, stooping down, she called softly,
"Hector, Hector."

A magnificent black hound answered her call and came and crouched at her
feet, fawning on them and licking them. After him came three companions,
all the same size, and all of them big enough to kill a man.

These dogs belonged to Burd Isbel, and they were her special pets. A
tear rolled down her face as she stooped and kissed their heads.

"I am giving you to a new master, darlings," she said. "See and guard
him well."

Then she led them to where the horse was standing, saddled and bridled;
and there, beside him, stood Young Bekie. Now that his beard was
trimmed, and his hair arranged, he looked as gallant, and brave, and
noble as ever.

When Burd Isbel told him that the money, and the hounds, and the horse
with its harness, were all his, he caught her in his arms, and swore
that there had never been such a brave and generous maiden born before,
and that he would serve her in life and death.

Then, as time was pressing, and the dawn was beginning to break, they
had to say farewell; but before they did so, they vowed a solemn vow
that they would be married to each other within three years. After this
Burd Isbel opened the great gate, and her lover rode away, with money in
his pocket, and hounds by his side, like the well-born Knight that he
was; and nobody who met him ever imagined that he was an escaped
prisoner, set free by the courage of the King's daughter.

* * * * *

Alas, alas, for the faithfulness of men! Young Bekie was brave, and
gentle, and courteous, but his will was not very strong, and he liked to
be comfortable. And it came about that, after he had been back in
Scotland for a year, the Scotch King had a daughter for whom he wanted
to find a husband, and he made up his mind that Young Bekie would be the
very man for her.

So he proposed that he should marry her, and was quite surprised and
angry when the young man declined.

"It is an insult to my daughter," he said, and he determined to force
Bekie to do as he wanted, by using threats. So he told the Knight, that,
if he agreed to marry his daughter, he would grow richer and richer,
but, if he refused, he would lose all his lands, and the Castle of

Poor Young Bekie! I am afraid he was not a hero, for he chose to marry
the Princess and keep his lands, and he tried to put the thought of Burd
Isbel and what she had done for him, and the solemn vow that he had made
to her, out of his head.

Meanwhile Burd Isbel lived on at her father's court, and because her
heart was full of faith and love, it grew light and merry again, and she
began to dance and to sing as gaily as ever.

But early one morning she woke up with a start, and there, at the foot
of her bed, stood the queerest little manikin that she had ever seen. He
was only about a foot high, and he was dressed all in russet brown, and
his face was just like a wrinkled apple.

"Who art thou?" she cried, starting up, "and what dost thou want?"

"My name is Billy Blin," said the funny old man. "I am a Brownie, and I
come from Scotland. My family all live there, and we are all very
kind-hearted, and we like to help people. But it is no time to be
talking of my affairs, for I have come to help thee. I have just been
wondering how thou couldst lie there and sleep so peacefully when this
is Young Bekie's wedding day. He is to be married at noon."

"Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do?" cried poor Burd Isbel in deep
distress. "It is a long way from France to Scotland, and I can never be
there in time."

Billie Blin waved his little hand. "I will manage it for thee," he said,
"if thou wilt only do what I tell thee. Go into thy mother's chamber as
fast as thou canst, and get two of thy mother's maids-of-honour. And,
remember, thou must be careful to see that they are both called Mary.
Then thou must dress thyself in thy most beautiful dress. Thou hast a
scarlet dress, I know, which becomes thee well, for I have seen thee
wear it. Nay, be not surprised; we Brownies can see people when they do
not see us. Put that dress on, and let thy Maries be dressed all in
green. And in thy father's treasury there are three jewelled belts, each
of them worth an earl's ransom. These thou must get, and clasp them
round thy waists, and steal down to the sea-shore, and there, on the
water, thou wilt see a beautiful Dutch boat. It will come to the shore
for thee, and thou must step in, and greet the crew with a Mystic
Greeting. Then thy part is done. I will do the rest."

The Brownie vanished, and Burd Isbel made haste to do exactly what he
had told her to do.

She ran to her mother's room, and called to two maids called Mary to
come and help her to dress. Then she put on her lovely scarlet robe, and
bade them attire themselves in green, and she took the jewelled girdles
out of the treasury, and gave one to each of them to put on; and when
they were dressed they all went down to the sea-shore.

There, on the sea, as the Brownie had promised, was a beautiful Dutch
boat, with its sails spread. It came dancing over the water to them, and
when Burd Isbel stepped on board, and greeted the sailors with a Mystic
Greeting, they turned its prow towards Scotland, and Billy Blin appeared
himself, and took the helm.

Away, away, sailed the ship, until it reached the Firth of Tay, and
there, high up among the hills, stood the Castle of Linnhe.

When Burd Isbel and her maidens went to the gate they heard beautiful
music coming from within, and their hearts sank. They rang the bell, and
the old porter appeared.

"What news, what news, old man?" cried Burd Isbel. "We have heard
rumours of a wedding here, and would fain know if they be true or no?"

"Certs, Madam, they are true," he answered; "for this very day, at noon,
the Master of this place, Young Bekie, will be married to the King of
Scotland's daughter."

Then Burd Isbel felt in her jewelled pouch, and drew out three merks.
"Take these, old man," she said, "and bid thy master speak to me at

The porter did as he was bid, and went upstairs to the great hall, where
all the wedding guests were assembled. He bent low before the King, and
before the Queen, and then he knelt before his young lord.

"I have served thee these thirty and three years, Sire," he said, "but
never have I seen ladies come to the gate so richly attired as the three
who wait without at this moment. There is one of them clad in scarlet,
such scarlet as I have never seen, and two are clad in green, and they
have girdles round their waists which might well pay an earl's ransom."

When the Scottish Princess heard these words, she tossed her head
haughtily. She was tall and buxom, and she was dressed entirely in cloth
of gold.

"Lack-a-day," she said, "what a to-do about three strangers! This old
fool may think them finely dressed, but I warrant some of us here are
every whit as fine as they."

But Young Bekie sprang to his feet. He knew who it was, and the thought
of his ingratitude brought the tears to his eyes.

"I'll wager my life 'tis Burd Isbel," he cried, "who has come over the
sea to seek me."

Then he ran downstairs, and sure enough it was Burd Isbel.

He clasped her in his arms, and kissed her, and now that he had her
beside him, it seemed to him as if he had never loved anyone else.

But the wedding guests came trooping out, and when they heard the story
they shook their heads.

"A likely tale," they cried. "Who is to believe it? If she be really the
King of France's daughter, how came she here alone, save for those two

But some of them looked at the jewelled girdles, and held their peace.

Then Burd Isbel spoke out clearly and simply. "I rescued my love out of
prison," she said, "and gave him horse and hounds. And if the hounds
know me not, then am I proved false." So saying she raised her voice.
"Hector, Hector," she cried, and lo! the great black hound came bounding
out of its kennel, followed by its companions, and lay down fawning at
her feet, and licked them.

Then the wedding guests knew that she had told the truth, and they
turned their eyes on Young Bekie, to see what he would do. He, on his
part, was determined that he would marry Burd Isbel, let happen what

"Take home your daughter again," he cried impatiently to the King, "and
my blessing go with her; for she sought me ere I sought her. This is my
own true love; I can wed no other."

"Nay," answered the King, in angry astonishment, "but this thing cannot
be. Whoever heard of a maiden being sent home unwed, when the very
wedding guests were assembled? I tell thee it cannot be."

In despair Young Bekie turned to the lady herself. "Good lack, Madam,"
he cried, "is there no one else whom thou canst marry? There is many a
better and manlier man than I, who goes seeking a wife. There, for
instance, stands my cousin John. He is taller and stronger than I, a
better fighter, and a right good man. Couldst thou not accept him for a
husband? If thou couldst, I would pay him down five hundred pounds of
good red gold on his wedding day."

A murmur of displeasure ran through the crowd of wedding guests at this
bold proposal, and the King grasped his sword in a rage. But, to
everyone's amazement, the Princess seemed neither displeased nor
daunted. She blushed rosy red, and smiled softly.

"Keep thy money to thyself, Bekie," she answered. "Thy cousin John and I
have no need of it. Neither doth he require a bribe to make him willing
to take me for his wife. To speak truth, we loved each other long ere I
set eyes on thee, and 'twas but the King, my father, who would have none
of him. Perchance by now he hath changed his mind."

So there were two weddings in the Castle of Linnhe instead of one. Young
Bekie married Burd Isbel, and his cousin John married the King's
daughter, and they "lived happy, happy, ever after."


"It was intil a pleasant time,
Upon a simmer's day,
The noble Earl of Mar's daughter
Went forth to sport and play."

Long, long ago, in a country far away over the sea, there lived a Queen
who had an only son. She was very rich, and very great, and the only
thing that troubled her was that her son did not want to get married in
the very least.

In vain his mother gave grand receptions and court balls, to which she
asked all the young countesses and baronesses, in the hope that the
Prince would take a fancy to one of them. He would talk to them, and
dance with them, and be very polite, but, when his mother hinted that it
was time that he looked for a wife, he only shrugged his shoulders and
said that there was not a pretty girl amongst them.

And perhaps there was some truth in his answer, for the maidens of that
country were all fat, and little, and squat, and everyone of them
waddled like a duck when she walked.

"If thou canst not find a wife to thy liking at home," the Queen would
say, "go to other countries and see the maidens there; surely somewhere
thou wouldst find one whom thou couldst love."

But Prince Florentine, for that was his name, only shook his head and

"And marry a shrew," he would say mockingly; "for when the maidens heard
my name, and knew for what purpose I had come, they would straightway
smile their sweetest, and look their loveliest, and I would have no
chance of knowing what manner of maidens they really were."

Now the Queen had a very wonderful gift. She could change a man's shape,
so that he would appear to be a hare, or a cat, or a bird; and at last
she proposed to the Prince that she should turn him into a dove, and
then he could fly away to foreign countries, and go up and down until he
saw some maiden whom he thought he could really love, and then he could
go back to his real shape, and get to know her in the usual way.

This proposal pleased Prince Florentine very much. "He would take good
care not to fall in love with anyone," he told himself; but, as he hated
the stiffness and ceremony of court life, it seemed to him that it would
be good fun to be free to go about as he liked and to see a great many
different countries.

So he agreed to his mother's wishes; and one day she waved a little
golden wand over his head, and gave him a very nasty draught to drink,
made from black beetles' wings, and wormwood, and snails' ears, and
hedgehogs' spikes, and before he knew where he was, he was changed into
a beautiful gray dove, with a white ring round its neck.

At first when he saw himself in this changed guise he was frightened;
but his mother quickly tied a tiny charm round his neck, and hid it
under his soft gray feathers, and taught him how to press it against his
heart until a fragrant odour came from it, and as soon as he did this,
he became once more a handsome young man.

Then he was very pleased, and kissed her, and said farewell, promising
to return some day with a beautiful young bride; and after that he
spread his wings, and flew away in search of adventure.

For a year and a day he wandered about, now visiting this country, now
that, and he was so amused and interested in all the strange and
wonderful things that he saw, that he never once wanted to turn himself
into a man, and he completely forgot that his mother expected that he
was looking out for a wife.

At last, one lovely summer's day, he found himself flying over broad
Scotland, and, as the sun was very hot, he looked round for somewhere to
shelter from its rays. Just below him was a stately castle, surrounded
by magnificent trees.

"This is just what I want," he said to himself; "I will rest here until
the sun goes down."

So he folded his wings, and sank gently down into the very heart of a
wide-spreading oak tree, near which, as good fortune would have it,
there was a field of ripening grain, which provided him with a hearty
supper. Here, for many days, the Prince took up his abode, partly
because he was getting rather tired of flying about continually, and
partly because he began to feel interested in a lovely young girl who
came out of the castle every day at noon, and amused herself with
playing at ball under the spreading branches of the great tree.
Generally she was quite alone, but once or twice an old lady, evidently
her governess, came with her, and sat on a root, which formed a
comfortable seat, and worked at some fine embroidery, while her pupil
amused herself with her ball.

Prince Florentine soon found out that the maiden's name was Grizel, and
that she was the only child of the Earl of Mar, a nobleman of great
riches and renown. She was very beautiful, so beautiful, indeed, that
the Prince sat and feasted his eyes upon her all the time that she was
at play, and then, when she had gone home, he could not sleep, but, sat
with wide-open eyes, staring into the warm twilight, and wondering how
he could get to know her. He could not quite make up his mind whether he
should use his mother's charm, and take his natural shape, and walk
boldly up to the castle and crave her father's permission to woo her, or
fly away home, and send an ambassador with a train of nobles, and all
the pomp that belonged to his rank, to ask for her hand.

The question was settled for him one day, however, and everything
happened quite differently from what he expected.

On a very hot afternoon, Lady Grizel came out, accompanied by her
governess, and, as usual, the old lady sat down to her embroidery, and
the girl began to toss her ball. But the sun was so very hot that by and
by the governess laid down her needle and fell fast asleep, while her
pupil grew tired of running backwards and forwards, and, sitting down,
began to toss her ball right up among the branches. All at once it
caught in a leafy bough, and when she was gazing up, trying to see where
it was, she caught sight of a beautiful gray dove, sitting watching her.
Now, as I have said, Lady Grizel was an only child, and she had had few
playmates, and all her life she had been passionately fond of animals,
and when she saw the bird, she stood up and called gently, "Oh
Coo-me-doo, come down to me, come down." Then she whistled so softly and
sweetly, and stretched out her white hands above her head so
entreatingly, that Prince Florentine left his branch, and flew down and
alighted gently on her shoulder.

The delight of the maiden knew no bounds. She kissed and fondled her new
pet, which perched quite familiarly on her arm, and promised him a
latticed silver cage, with bars of solid gold.

The bird allowed the girl to carry him home, and soon the beautiful cage
was made, and hung up on the wall of her chamber, just inside the
window, and Coo-me-doo, as the dove was named, placed inside.

He seemed perfectly happy, and grew so tame that soon he went with his
mistress wherever she went, and all the people who lived near the castle
grew quite accustomed to seeing the Earl's daughter driving or riding
with her tame dove on her shoulder.

When she went out to play at ball, Coo-me-doo would go with her, and
perch up in his old place, and watch her with his bright dark eyes. One
day when she was tossing the ball among the branches it rolled away, and
for a long time she could not find it, and at last a voice behind her
said, "Here it is," and, turning round, she saw to her astonishment a
handsome young man dressed all in dove-gray satin, who handed her the
ball with a stately bow.

Lady Grizel was frightened, for no strangers were allowed inside her
father's park, and she could not think where he had come from; but just
as she was about to call out for help, the young man smiled and said,
"Lady, dost thou not know thine own Coo-me-doo?"

Then she glanced up into the branches, but the bird was gone, and as she
hesitated (for the stranger spoke so kindly and courteously she did not
feel very much alarmed), he took her hand in his.

"'Tis true, my own love," he said; "but if thou canst not recognise thy
favourite when his gray plumage is changed into gray samite, mayhap thou
wilt know him when the gray samite is once more changed into softest
feathers; and, pressing a tiny gold locket which he wore, to his heart,
he vanished, and in his stead was her own gray dove, hovering down to
his resting-place on her shoulder.

"Oh, I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it," she cried, putting
up her hand to stroke her pet; but the feathers seemed to slip from
between her fingers, and once more the gallant stranger stood before

"Sit thee down and rest, Sweetheart," he said, leading her to the root
where her governess was wont to sit, while he stretched himself on the
turf at her feet, "and I will explain the mystery to thee."

Then he told her all. How his mother was a great Queen away in a far
country, and how he was her only son. Lady Grizel's fears were all gone
now, and she laughed merrily as he described the girls who lived in his
own country, and told her how little and fat they were, and how they
waddled when they walked; but when he told her how his mother had used
her magic and turned him into a dove, in order that he might bring home
a wife, her face grew grave and pale.

"My father hath sworn a great oath," she said, "that I shall never wed
with anyone who lives out of Scotland; so I fear we must part, and thou
must go elsewhere in search of a bride."

But Prince Florentine shook his head.

"Nay," he said, "but rather than part from thee, I will live all my life
as a dove in a cage, if I may only be near thee, and talk to thee when
we are alone."

"But what if my father should want me to wed with some Scottish lord?"
asked the maiden anxiously; "couldst thou bear to sit in thy cage and
sing my wedding song?"

"That could I not," answered Prince Florentine, drawing her closer to
him; "and in order to prevent such a terrible thing happening,
Sweetheart, we must find ways and means to be married at once, and then,
come what may, no one can take thee from me. This very evening I must go
and speak to thy father."

Now the Earl of Mar was a violent man, and his fear lay on all the
country-side - even his only child was afraid of him - and when her lover
made this suggestion she clung to him and begged him with tears in her
eyes not to do this. She told him what a fiery temper the Earl had, and
how she feared that when he heard his story he would simply order him to
be hanged on the nearest tree, or thrown into the dungeon to starve to
death. So for a long time they sat and talked, now thinking of one plan,
now of another, but none of them seemed of any use, and it seemed as
though Prince Florentine must either remain in the shape of her pet
dove, or go away altogether.

All at once Lady Grizel clapped her hands. "I have it, I have it," she
cried; "why cannot we be married secretly? Old Father John out at the
chapel on the moor could marry us; he is so old and so blind, he would
never recognise me if I went bare-headed and bare-footed like a gipsy
girl; and thou must go dressed as a woodman, with muddy shoes, and an
axe over thine arm. Then we can dwell together as we are doing now, and
no one will suspect that the Earl of Mar's daughter is married to her
tame pet dove, which sits on her shoulder, and goes with her wherever
she goes. And if the worst comes to the worst, and some gallant Scotch
wooer appears, why, then we must confess what we have done, and bear the
consequences together."

A few days later, in the early morning, when old Father John, the priest
who served the little chapel which stood on the heather-covered moor,
was preparing to say Mass, he saw a gipsy girl, bare-headed and
bare-footed, steal into the chapel, followed by a stalwart young
woodman, clad all in sober gray, with a bright wood-axe gleaming on his

In a few words they told him the purpose for which they had come, and
after he had said Mass the kindly old priest married them, and gave them
his blessing, never doubting but that they were a couple of simple
country lovers who would go home to some tiny cottage in the woods near
by. Little did he think that only half a mile away a page boy, wearing
the livery of the Earl of Mar, was patiently waiting with a white
palfrey until his young mistress should return, accompanied by her gray
dove, from visiting an old nurse, "who," she told her governess, "was
teaching her how to spin."

And little did her father, or her governess, or any of the servants at
the castle, think that Lady Grizel was leading a double life, and that
the gray dove which was always with her, and which she seemed to love
more than any other of her pets, was a gray dove only when anyone else
was by, but turned into a gallant young Prince, who ate, and laughed,
and talked with her the moment they were alone.

Strange to say, their secret was never found out for seven long years,
even although every year a little son was born to them, and carried away
under the gray dove's wing to the country far over the sea. At these
times Lady Grizel used to cry and be very sad, for she dare not keep her
babies beside her, but had to kiss them, and let them go, to be brought
up by their Grandmother whom she had never seen.

Every time Prince Florentine carried home a new baby, he brought back
tidings to his wife how tall, and strong, and brave her other sons were
growing, and tender messages from the Queen, his mother, telling her how
she hoped that one day she would be able to come home with her husband,
and then they would be all together.

But year after year went by, and still the fierce old Earl lived on, and
there seemed little hope that poor Lady Grizel would ever be able to go
and live in her husband's land, and she grew pale and thin. And year
after year her father grew more and more angry with her, because he
wanted her to marry one of the many wooers who came to crave her hand;
but she would not.

"I love to dwell alone with my sweet Coo-me-doo," she used to say, and
the old Earl would stamp his foot, and go out of her chamber muttering
angry words in his vexation.

At last, one day, a very great and powerful nobleman arrived with his
train to ask the Earl's daughter to marry him. He was very rich, and
owned four beautiful castles, and the Earl said, "Now, surely, my
daughter will consent."

But she only gave her old answer, "I love best to live alone with my
sweet Coo-me-doo."

Then her father slammed the door in a rage, and went into the great
hall, where all his men-at-arms were, and swore a mighty oath, that on

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17

Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonTales From Scottish Ballads → online text (page 14 of 17)