Copyright
Elizabeth Wilson Grierson.

Tales From Scottish Ballads online

. (page 2 of 17)
Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonTales From Scottish Ballads → online text (page 2 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


shoulder.

"'Tis useless asking me, Margaret," she said. "God knows I would have
granted his pardon willingly. I do not believe that he meant treason to
his Grace, only he should not have carried the packet; but I have
besought the King already on his behalf and he will not hear me. Or his
lords will not," she added in an undertone.

Then the girl found her voice. "Oh Madam, I will go to the King myself,"
she cried, "if you think there is any chance. Perhaps if I found him
alone he might hear me. I shall tell him what I know is true, that Hugh
never dreamt that there was treason in the packet which he carried."

"Thou canst try it, my child," said the Queen, "though I fear me 'twill
be but little use. At the same time, the King is fond of thee, and thy
betrothal to young Weymes pleased him well."

So, with a faint hope rising in her heart, Margaret withdrew to her
little turret chamber, and there, with the help of the kind-hearted
Gertrud, she dressed herself as carefully as she could.

She remembered how the King had praised a dull green dress which she had
once worn, saying that in it she looked like a lily, so she put it on,
and Gertrud curled her long yellow hair, and fastened it in two thick
plaits behind, and sent her away on her errand with strong encouraging
words; then she sat down and waited, wondering what the outcome of it
all would be.

Alas! in little more than a quarter of an hour she heard steps coming
heavily up the stairs, and when Margaret entered, it needed no look at
her quivering face to know that she had failed.

"It is no use, Gertrud," she moaned, "no use, I tell thee. His Majesty
might have let him off - I saw by his face that he was sorry - but who
should come into the hall but my Lords Hamilton and Lennox, and then I
knew all hope was gone. They are cruel, cruel men, and they would not
hear of a pardon."

Gertrud did not speak; she knew that words of comfort would fall on deaf
ears, even if she could find any words of comfort to say, so she only
held out her arms, and gathered the poor heart-broken maiden into them,
and in silence they sat, until the light faded, and the stars came out
over Arthur's Seat. At last came a sound which made them both start. It
was the grating noise of a key being turned in a lock, and the clang of
bolts and bars, and then came the sound of marching feet, which passed
right under their little window. Gertrud rose and looked out, but
Margaret only shuddered. "They are taking him before the King," she
said. "They will question him, and he will speak the truth, and he will
lose his head for it."

She was right. The prisoner was being conducted to the presence of the
King and the Lords of Council, to be questioned, and, as he openly
acknowledged having spoken to the Earl of Bothwell, and did not deny
having carried the packet, although he swore that he had no idea of its
contents, his guilt was considered proved, and he was taken back to
prison, there to await sentence, which everyone knew would be death.

From the little window Gertrud watched the soldiers of the King's guard
lock and bar the great door, and give the key to Sir John Carmichael,
their captain, who crossed the square swinging it on his finger.

"Would that I had that key for half an hour," she muttered to herself.
"I would let the bird out of his cage, and old Karl Sevgen would do the
rest."

Margaret started up from the floor where she had been crouching in her
misery. "Old Karl Sevgen," she cried; "is he here?"

The old man was the captain of a little schooner which plied between
Denmark and Leith, who often carried messages backwards and forwards
between the Queen's maids and their friends.

"Ay," said Gertrud, glad to have succeeded in rousing her friend, and
feeling somehow that there was hope in the sound of the old man's
familiar name. "He sent up a message this evening - 'twas when thou wert
with the King - and if we have anything to send with him it must be at
Leith by the darkening to-morrow. I could get leave to go, if thou hadst
any message," she added doubtfully, for she saw by Margaret's face that
an idea had suddenly come to her, for she sat up and gazed into the
twilight with bright eyes and flushed cheeks.

"Gertrud," she said at last, "I see a way, a dangerous one, 'tis true,
but still it is a way. I dare not tell it thee. If it fails, the blame
must fall on me, and me alone; but if thou canst get leave to go down to
Leith and speak with old Karl alone, couldst thou tell him to look out
for two passengers in the small hours of Wednesday morning? And say that
when they are aboard the sooner he sails the better; and, Gertrud, tell
him from me, for the love of Heaven, to be silent on the matter."

Gertrud nodded. "I'll do as thou sayest, dear heart," she said, "and
pray God that whatever plan thou hast in thy wise little head may be
successful; but now must thou go to the Queen. It is thy turn to-night
to sleep in the ante-room."

"I know it," answered the girl, with a strange smile, and without saying
any more she kissed her friend, and, bidding her good-night, left the
room.

Outside the Queen's bed-chamber was a little ante-chamber, opening into
a tiny passage, on the other side of which was a room occupied by the
members of the King's bodyguard, who happened to be on duty for the
week.

It was the Queen's custom to have one of her maids sleeping in the
ante-room in case she needed her attendance through the night, and this
week the duty fell to Margaret.

After her royal mistress had retired, the girl lay tossing on her narrow
bed, thinking how best she could rescue the man she loved, and by the
morning her plans were made.

"Gertrud," she said next day, when the two were bending over their
needlework, somewhat apart from the other maids, "dost think that Karl
could get thee a length of rope? It must be strong, but not too thick,
so that I could conceal it about my person when I go to the Queen's
closet to-night. Thou couldst carry it home in a parcel, and the serving
man who goes with thee will think that it is something from Denmark."

"That can I," said Gertrud emphatically; "and if I have not a chance to
see thee, I will leave it in the coffer in thy chamber."

"Leave what?" asked the inquisitive old dowager who was supposed to
superintend the maids and their embroidery, who at that moment crossed
the room for another bundle of tapestry thread, and overheard the last
remark.

"A packet for Mistress Margaret, which she expects by the Danish boat,"
answered Gertrud promptly. "I have permission from her Majesty to go
this evening on my palfrey to Leith, to deliver some mails to Captain
Karl Sevgen, and to receive our packets in return."

"Ah," said the old dame kindly, "'tis a treat for thee doubtless to see
one of thine own countrymen, even although he is but a common sailor,"
and she shuffled back placidly to her seat.

Margaret went on with her work in silence, blessing her friend in her
heart for her ready wit, but she dare not look her thanks, in case some
curious eye might note it.

Gertrud was as good as her word. When Margaret went up to her little
room late in the evening, to get one or two things which she wanted
before repairing to the Queen's private apartments, she found a packet,
which would have disarmed all suspicions, lying on her coffer. For it
looked exactly like the bundles which found their way every month or two
to the Danish maids at Holyrood. It was sewn up in sailcloth, and was
addressed to herself in rude Danish characters; but she knew what was in
it, and in case the Queen might ask questions and laughingly desire to
see her latest present from home, she slit off the sailcloth, which she
hid in the coffer, and, unfolding the coil of rope, she wound it round
and round her body, under her satin petticoat. Luckily she was tall, and
very slender, and no one, unless they examined her very closely, would
notice the difference in her figure. Then, taking up a great duffle
cloak which she used when riding out in dirty weather, she made her way
to her post.

It seemed long that night before Queen Anne dismissed her. The King
lingered in the supper chamber, and the gentle Queen, full of sympathy
for her favourite, sat in the little ante-room and talked to her of
Denmark, and the happy days they had spent there. At last she departed,
just as the clock on the tower of St Giles struck twelve, and Margaret
was at liberty to unwind the coil of rope, and hide it among the
bedclothes, and then, wrapping the warm cloak round her, she lay down
and tried to wait quietly until it was safe to do what she intended to
do.

There were voices for awhile in the next room - the King and Queen were
talking - then they ceased entirely; but still she waited, until one
o'clock rang out, and she heard the guards pass on their rounds.

Then she rose, and, taking off her shoes, crept gently across the tiny
room and stealthily opened the door of the Queen's bedroom, and
listened. All was quiet except for the regular breathing of the
sleepers. A little coloured lamp which hung from the ceiling was burning
softly, and by its light she could see the different objects in the
room. Stealing to the dressing-table, she looked about for any trinkets
that would answer her purpose. The King's comb lay there, carefully cut
from black ivory, with gold stars let in along the rim; and there, among
other dainty trifles, was the mother-of-pearl and silver knife, set with
emeralds, which his Majesty had given the Queen as a keepsake, about the
time of their marriage. Margaret picked up both of these, and then,
retracing her steps, she closed the door behind her, and flung herself
on her bed to listen in breathless silence in case anyone had heard her
movements, and should come to ask what was wrong.

But all was quiet; not a soul had heard.

* * * * *

"The prisoner to be taken to the King now! Surely, fellow, thou art
dreaming." Sir John Carmichael, captain of the King's guard, sat up in
bed, and stared in astonishment at the soldier who had brought the
order.

"Nay," said the man stolidly. "But 'twas one of the Queen's wenches who
came to the guard-room, and told us, and as a token that it is true, and
no joke, she brought these from his Majesty," and he held out the gilded
comb and the little jewelled knife.

Sir John took them and turned them over in silence. He knew them well
enough, and, moreover, it was no uncommon thing for the King, when he
sent a messenger, as he often did, at an unaccustomed hour, to send also
some trinket which lay beside him at the moment, as a token; therefore
the honest gentleman suspected nothing, although he was loth to get out
of bed.

There was no help for it, however; the message had come from the King,
and King's messages must be obeyed, even though they seemed ill-timed
and ridiculous.

"What in the world has ta'en his Majesty now?" he grumbled, as he got up
reluctantly and began to hustle on his clothes. "Even though he wants to
question the lad alone, could he not have waited till the morning? 'Tis
the Queen's work, I warrant; she has a soft heart, and she will want his
Majesty to hear the young man's defence when none of the Lords of the
Council are by."

So saying, he took down the great key which hung on a nail at the head
of his bed, and went off with the soldiers to arouse young Weymes, who
seemed quite as surprised as Sir John at the sudden summons.

At the door of the Queen's ante-chamber they were met by the same
maid-of-honour who had taken the tokens to the guard, and she, modestly
shielding her face with a fold of her cloak, asked Sir John if he would
remain in the guard-room with the soldiers until she called for him
again, as the King wanted to question the prisoner alone in his chamber.

At the sound of her voice Hugh Logie started, although Sir John did not
seem to recognise it, else his suspicions might have been aroused. He
only waited until his prisoner followed the girl into the little room,
then he locked the door behind them as a precaution, and withdrew with
the soldiers into the guard-room, where he knew a bright fire and a
tankard of ale were always to be found.

Once in the ante-room, the young man spoke. "What means this,
Sweetheart?" he said. "What can the King want with me at this hour of
night?"

"Hush!" answered the girl, laying a trembling finger on her lips, while
her eyes danced in spite of the danger. "'Tis I who would speak with
thee, but on board Karl Sevgen's boat at Leith, and not here. See," and
she drew the rope from its hiding-place, "tie this round thy waist, and
I will let thee down from the window; by God's mercy it looks out on a
deserted part of the garden, where the guards but rarely come, and thou
canst steal over the ditch, and down the garden, and round the Calton
Hill, and so down to the sea at Leith. Karl's boat is there; he will be
watching for thee. Thou wilt know her by her long black hull, and by a
red light he will burn in the stern. Nay, Hugh," for he would have taken
her in his arms. "The danger is not over yet, and we will have time to
talk when we are at sea, for I am coming too; I dare not stay here to
face the King alone. Only I can steal out by that little door in the
tapestry" - luckily Sir John did not know that there was another way
out - "and meet thee in the garden."

The window was not very high, and the night was dark, and no one chanced
to pass that way as a figure slung itself down, and dropped lightly into
the ditch; and, when a guard did come round, Hugh lay flat among the mud
and nettles until he had passed, and by that time Margaret had stolen
out by the little postern, and was waiting for him at the foot of the
garden, and hand in hand they made their way over the rough uneven
fields which lay between them and Leith.

Meanwhile, Sir John Carmichael drank ale, and talked with the guards,
and waited; - and waited, and talked with the guards, and drank ale,
until his patience was well-nigh gone. At last, just when the day was
breaking, he went to the door of the ante-room to listen, and hearing
nothing, he knocked, and receiving no answer, he unlocked the door and
peeped in, not wishing to disturb the maid-of-honour, but merely to
satisfy himself that all was right. The moment he saw the open window
and the rope, he shouted to the guards, and rushed across the floor, and
thundered at the door of the King's apartment, hoping against hope that
the prisoner was still there.

But the King had been sleeping peacefully, and when he heard the story,
he was very angry at first, and talked of arresting Sir John, and sent
off horsemen, who rode furiously to Leith, in the hope of catching the
Danish boat. But they came back with the news that she had sailed with
the tide at three o'clock in the morning, after having taken two
passengers on board; and, after all, he could say little to Carmichael,
for had he not received the comb and the knife as tokens?

"Thou shouldst not have lingered so long at supper," said the Queen
slyly, only too pleased at the turn events had taken. "Then hadst thou
slept lighter, and would have awaked when the wench stole in to take the
things."

King James burst into a great laugh. "By my troth, thou art right," he
said, slapping his thigh. "The wench has been too clever for all of us,
for the Lords of the Council, and Carmichael, and me, and she deserves
her success. They must stay where they are for a time, for appearances'
sake, but, heark 'ee, Anne, when thou art writing to Denmark, thou canst
say that thou thinkest that my wrath will not last for ever."

Nor did it, and before many months had passed Hugh Weymes of Logie came
home in triumph, bringing with him his young wife, who had dared so much
and acted so boldly for his sake.




KINMONT WILLIE

"Oh, have ye na heard of the fause Sakelde?
Oh, have ye na heard of the keen Lord Scroope?
How they ha'e ta'en bauld Kinmont Willie,
On Haribee to hang him up?"


I well remember the dull April morning, in the year 1596, when my
father, William Armstrong of Kinmont, "Kinmont Willie," as he was called
by all the countryside, set out with me for a ride into Cumberland.

As a rule, when he set his face that way, he rode armed, and with all
his men behind him, for these were the old reiving days, when we folk
who dwelt on the Scottish side of the Border thought we had a right to
go and steal what we could, sheep, or oxen, or even hay, from the
English loons, who, in their turn, would come slipping over from their
side to take like liberties with us, and mayhap burn down a house or two
in the by-going.

My father was aye in the thick and throng of these raids, for he was
such a big powerful man that he was more than a match for three
Englishmen, did he chance to meet them. Men called him an outlaw, but we
thought little of that; most of the brave men on our side had been
outlawed at one time or another, and it did them little ill: indeed, it
was aye thought to be rather a feather in their cap.

Well, as I say, my father was not riding on business, as it were, this
morning, for just then there was a truce for a day or two between the
countries, the two Wardens of the Marches, Sir Walter Scott of
Buccleuch, and My Lord Scroope, having sent their deputies to meet and
settle some affairs at the Dayholme of Kershope, where a burn divides
England from Scotland. My father and I had attended the Truce Muster,
and were riding homeward with but a handful of men, when I took a sudden
notion into my head, that I would like to cross the Border, and ride a
few miles on English ground.

My birthday had fallen the week before (I was just eleven years old),
and my father, aye kind to his motherless bairns, had given me a new
pony, a little shaggy beast from Galloway, and, as I was keen to see how
it would run beside a big man's horse, I had pled hard for permission to
accompany him on it to the Muster.

As a rule I never rode with him. "I was too young for the work," he
would say; but that day he gave his consent, only making the bargain
that there should be no crying out or grumbling if I were tired or
hungry long ere we got home again. I had laughed at the idea as I
saddled my shaggy little nag, and, to make matters sure, I had gone to
Janet, the kitchen wench, and begged her for a satchel of oatcakes and
cheese, which I fastened to my saddle strap, little dreaming what need I
would have of them before the day was out.

The Truce Muster had broken up sooner than he expected, so my father saw
no reason why he should not grant my request, and let me have a canter
on English soil, for on a day of truce we could cross the Border if we
chose without the risk of being taken prisoners by Lord Scroope's men,
and marched off to Carlisle Castle, while the English had a like
privilege, and could ride down Liddesdale in open daylight, if they were
so minded.

Scarce had we crossed the little burn, however, which runs between
low-growing hazel bushes, and separates us from England, when two of the
men rode right into a bog, and when, after some half-hour's work, we got
the horses out again, we found that both of them wanted a shoe, and my
father said at once that we must go straight home, in case they went
lame.

At this I drew a long face. I had never been into England, and it was a
sore disappointment to be turned back just when we had reached it.

"Well, well," said my father, laughing, ever soft-hearted where I was
concerned, "I suppose I must e'en take thee a ride into Bewcastle, lad,
since we have got this length. The men can go back with the horses; 'tis
safe enough to go alone to-day."

So the men turned back, nothing loth, for Bewcastle Waste was no unknown
land to them, and my father and I rode on for eight miles or so, over
that most desolate country. Its bareness and loneliness disappointed me.
Somehow I had expected that England would be quite different from
Scotland, even although they were all one piece of land, with only a
burn running between.

"Hast had enough?" said my father at last, noticing my downcast face,
and drawing rein. "Didst expect all the trees to be made of silver, and
all the houses to be built of gold? Never mind, lad, every place looks
much the same in the month of April, I trow, especially when it has been
a backward season; but if summer were once and here, I'll let thee ride
with the troop, and mayhap thou wilt get a glimpse of 'Merrie Carlisle,'
as they call it. It lies over there, twelve miles or more from where we
stand."

As he pointed out the direction with his whip, we both became aware of a
large body of men, riding rapidly over the moor as if to meet us. My
father eyed them keenly, his face growing grave as he did so.

"Who are they, father?" I asked with a sinking heart. I had lived long
enough at Kinmont to know that men did not generally ride together in
such numbers unless they were bent on mischief.

"It's Sakelde, the English Warden's deputy, and no friend o' mine," he
answered with a frown, "and on any other day I would not have met him
alone like this for a hundred merks; but the truce holds for three days
yet, so we are quite safe; all the same, lad, we had better turn our
horses round, and slip in behind that little hill; they may not have
noticed us, and in that case 'tis no use rousing their curiosity."

Alas! we had no sooner set our horses to the trot, than it became
apparent that not only were we observed, but that for some reason or
other the leader of the band of horsemen was desirous of barring our
way.

He gave an order, - we could see him pointing with his hand, - and at once
his men spurred on their horses and began to spread out so as to
surround us. Then my father swore a big oath, and plunged his spurs into
his horse's sides. "Come on, Jock," he shouted, "sit tight and be a man;
if we can only get over the hill edge at Kershope, they'll pay for this
yet."

[Illustration: "MY FATHER EYED THEM KEENLY, HIS FACE GROWING GRAVE AS HE
DID SO."]

I will remember that race to my dying day. It appeared to last for
hours, but it could not have lasted many minutes, ten at the most,
during which time all the blood in my body seemed to be pounding and
surging in my head, and the green grass and the sky to be flying past
me, all mixed up together, and behind, and on all sides, came the
pit-pat of horses' feet, and then someone seized my pony's rein, and
brought him up with a jerk, and my father and I were sitting in the
midst of two hundred armed riders, whose leader, a tall man, with a thin
cunning face, regarded us with a triumphant smile.

"Neatly caught, thou thieving rogue," he said; "by my troth, neatly
caught. Who would have thought that Kinmont Willie would have been such
a fool as to venture so far from home without an escort? But I can
supply the want, and thou shalt ride to Carlisle right well attended,
and shall never now lack a guard till thou partest with thy life at
Haribee."

As the last word fell on my ear, I had much ado to keep my seat, for I
turned sick and faint, and all the crowd of men and horses seemed to
whirl round and round. Haribee! Right well I knew that fateful name, for
it was the place at Carlisle where they hanged prisoners. They could not
hang my father - they dare not - for although he had been declared an
outlaw, and might perhaps merit little love from the English, was not
this a day of truce, when all men could ride where they would in safety?

"'Tis a day of truce," I gasped with dry lips; but the men around me
only laughed, and I could hear that my father's fierce remonstrance met
with no better answer.

"Thou art well named, thou false Sakelde," I heard him say, and his
voice shook with fury, "for no man of honour would break the King's
truce in this way."

But Sakelde only gave orders to his men to bind their prisoner, saying,
as he did so, "I warrant Lord Scroope will be too glad to see thee to
think much about the truce, and if thou art so scrupulous, thou needest
not be hanged for a couple of days; the walls of Carlisle Castle are
thick enough to guard thee till then. Be quick, my lads," he went on,
turning to his men; "we have a good fourteen miles to ride yet, and I
have no mind to be benighted ere we reach firmer ground."

So they tied my father's feet together under his horse, and his hands
behind his back, and fastened his bridle rein to that of a trooper, and
the word was given for the men to form up, and they began to move
forward as sharply as the boggy nature of the ground would allow.


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonTales From Scottish Ballads → online text (page 2 of 17)