Tales from Scottish Ballads
The following is from Tales from Scottish Ballads by Elizabeth W. Grierson:
Once upon a time there was a King of Scotland, called King Aylmer, who had one little daughter, whose name was Jean. She was his only daughter, and, as her mother was dead, he adored her. He gave her whatever she liked to ask for, and her nursery was so full of toys and games of all kinds, that it was a wonder that any little girl, even although she was a Princess, could possibly find time to play with them all.
She had a beautiful white palfrey to ride on, and two piebald ponies to draw her little carriage when she wanted to drive; but she had no one of her own age to play with, and often she felt very lonely, and she was always asking her father to bring her someone to play with.
"By my troth," he would reply, "but that were no easy matter, for thou art a royal Princess, and it befits not that such as thou shouldst play with children of less noble blood."
Then little Princess Jean would go back to her splendid nurseries with the tears rolling down her cheeks, wishing with all her heart that she had been born just an ordinary little girl.
King Aylmer had gone away on a hunting expedition one day, and Princess Jean was playing alone as usual, in her nursery, when she heard the sound of her father's horn outside the castle walls, and the old porter hurried across the courtyard to open the gate. A moment later the King's voice rang through the hall, calling loudly for old Elspeth, the nurse.
The old dame hurried down the broad staircase, followed by the little Princess, who was surprised that her father had returned so early from his hunting, and what was her astonishment to see him standing, with all his nobles round him, holding a fair-haired boy in his arms.
The boy's face was very white, and his eyes were shut, and the little Princess thought that he was dead, and ran up to a gray-haired baron, whose name was Athelbras, and hid her face against his rough hunting coat.
But old Elspeth ran forward and took the boy's hand in hers, and laid her ear against his heart, and then she asked that he might be carried up into her own chamber, and that the housekeeper might be sent after them with plenty of blankets, and hot water, and red wine.
When all this had been done, King Aylmer noticed his little daughter, and when he saw how pale her cheeks were, he patted her head and said, "Cheer up, child, the young cock-sparrow is not dead; 'tis but a swoon caused by the cold and wet, and methinks when old Elspeth hath put a little life into him, thou wilt mayhap have found a playfellow."
Then he called for his horse and rode away to hunt again, and Princess Jean was once more left alone. But this time she did not feel lonely.
Her father's wonderful words, "Thou wilt mayhap have found a playfellow," rang in her ears, and she was so busy thinking about them, sitting by herself in the dark by the nursery fire, that she started when old Elspeth opened the door of her room and called out, "Come, Princess, the young gentleman hath had a sweet sleep, and would fain talk with thee."
The little Princess went into the room on tip-toe, and there, lying on the great oak settle by the fire, was the boy whom she had seen in her father's arms. He seemed about four years older than she was, and he was very handsome, with long yellow hair, which hung in curls round his shoulders, and merry blue eyes, and rosy cheeks.
He smiled at her as she stood shyly in the doorway, and held out his hand. "I am thy humble servant, Princess," he said. "If it had not been for thy father's kindness, and for this old dame's skill, I would have been dead ere now."
Princess Jean did not know what to say; she had often wished for someone who was young enough to play with her, but now that she had found a real playmate, she felt as if someone had tied her tongue.
"What is thy name, and where dost thou come from?" she asked at last.
The boy laughed, and pointed to a little stool which stood beside the settle. "Sit down there," he said, "and I will tell thee. I have often wished to have a little sister of my own, and now I will pretend that thou art my little sister."
Princess Jean did as she was bid, and went and sat down on the stool, and the stranger began his tale.
"My name is Hynde Horn," he said, "and I am a King's son."
"And I am a King's daughter," said the little Princess, and then they both laughed.
Then the boy's face grew grave again.
"They called my father King Allof," he said, "and my mother's name was Queen Godyet, and they reigned over a beautiful country far away in the East. I was their only son, and we were all as happy as the day was long, until a wicked king, called Mury, came with his soldiers, and fought against my father, and killed him, and took his kingdom. My mother and I tried to escape, but the fright killed my mother--she died in a hut in the forest where we had hidden ourselves, and some soldiers found me weeping beside her body, and took me prisoner, and carried me to the wicked King.
"He was too cruel to kill me outright--he wanted me to die a harder death--so he bade his men tie my hands and my feet, and carry me down to the sea-shore, and put me in a boat, and push it out into the sea; and there they left me to die of hunger and thirst.
"At first the sun beat down on my face, and burned my skin, but by and by it grew dark, and a great storm arose, and the boat drifted on and on, and I grew so hungry, and then so thirsty--oh! I thought I would die of thirst--and at last I became unconscious, for I remember nothing more
until I woke up to find yonder kind old dame bending over me."
"The boat was washed up on our shore, just as his Highness the King rode past," explained old Elspeth, who was stirring some posset over the fire, and listening to the story.
"And what did you say your name was?" demanded the little Princess, who had listened with eager attention to the story.
"Hynde Horn," repeated the boy, whose eyes were wet with tears at the thought of all that he had gone through.
"Prince Hynde Horn," corrected Princess Jean, who liked always to have her title given to her, and expected that other people liked the same.
"Well, I suppose I ought to be King Horn now, were it not for that wicked King who hath taken my Kingdom, as well as my father's life; but the people in my own land always called me Hynde Horn, and I like the old name best."
"But what doth it mean?" persisted the little Princess.
The boy blushed and looked down modestly. "It is an old word which in our language means 'kind' or 'courteous,' but I am afraid that they flattered me, for I did not always deserve it."
The little Princess clapped her hands. "We will call thee by it," she said, "until thou provest thyself unworthy of it."
After this a new life opened up for the little girl.
King Aylmer, finding that the young Prince who had been so unexpectedly thrown on his protection was both modest and manly, determined to befriend him, and to give him a home at his Court until he was old enough to go and try to recover his kingdom, and avenge his parents' death, so he gave orders that a suite of rooms in the castle should be given to him, and arranged that Baron Athelbras, his steward, should train him in all knightly accomplishments, such as hawking and tilting at the ring. He soon found out too that Hynde Horn had a glorious voice, and sang like a bird, so he gave orders that old Thamile, the minstrel, should teach him to play the harp; and soon he could play it so well, that the whole Court would sit round him in the long winter evenings, and listen to his music.
He was so sweet-tempered, and lovable, that everyone liked him, and would say to one another that the people in his own land had done well to name him Hynde Horn.
To the little Princess he was the most delightful companion, for he was never too busy or too tired to play with her. He taught her to ride as she had never ridden before, not merely to jog along the road on her fat palfrey, but to gallop alongside of him under the trees in the forest, and they used to be out all day, hunting and hawking, for he trained two dear little white falcons and gave them to her, and taught her to carry them on her wrist; and she grew so fat and rosy that everyone said it was a joyful day when Hynde Horn was washed up on the sea-shore in the boat.
But alas! people do not remain children for ever, and, as years went on, Hynde Horn grew into as goodly a young man as anyone need wish to see, and of course he fell in love with Princess Jean, and of course she fell in love with him. Everyone was quite delighted, and said, "What is to hinder them from being married at once, and then when Princess Jean comes to be Queen, we will be quite content to have Hynde Horn for our King?"
But wise King Aylmer would not agree to this. He knew that it is not good for any man to have no difficulties to overcome, and to get everything that he wants without any trouble.
"Nay," he said, "but the lad hath to win his spurs first, and to show us of what stuff he is made. Besides, his father's Kingdom lies desolate, ruled over by an alien. He shall be betrothed to my daughter, and we will have a great feast to celebrate the event, and then I will give him a ship, manned by thirty sailors, and he shall go away to his own land in search of adventure, and when he hath done great deeds of daring, and avenged his father's death, he shall come again, and my daughter will be waiting for him."
So there was a splendid feast held at the castle, and all the great lords and barons came to it, and Princess Jean and Hynde Horn were betrothed amidst great rejoicing, for everyone was glad to think that their Princess would wed someone whom they knew, and not a stranger.
But the hearts of the two lovers were heavy, and when the feast was over, and all the guests had gone away, they went out on a little balcony in front of the castle, which overlooked the sea. It was a lovely evening, the moon was full, and by its light they could see the white sails of the ship lying ready in the little bay, waiting to carry Hynde Horn far away to other lands. The roses were nodding their heads over the balcony railings and the honeysuckle was falling in clusters from the castle walls, but it might have been December for all that poor Princess Jean cared, and the tears rolled fast down her face as she thought of the parting.
"Alack, alack, Hynde Horn," she said, "could I but go with thee! How shall I live all these years, with no one to talk to, or to ride with?"
Then he tried to comfort her with promises of how brave he would be, and how soon he would conquer his father's enemies and come back to her; but they both knew in their hearts that this was the last time that they would be together for long years to come.
At last Hynde Horn drew a long case from his pocket, out of which he took a beautifully wrought silver wand, with three little silver laverocks [larks] sitting on the end of it. "This," he said, "dear love, is for thee; the sceptre is a token that thou rulest in my heart, as well as over broad Scotland, and the three singing laverocks are to remind thee of me, for thou hast oft-times told me that my poor singing reminds thee of a lark."
Then Princess Jean drew from her finger a gold ring, set with three priceless diamonds. It was so small it would only go on the little finger of her lover's left hand. "This is a token of my love," she said gravely, "therefore guard it well. When the diamonds are bright and shining, thou shalt know that my love for thee will be burning clear and true; but if ever they lose their lustre and grow pale and dim, then know thou that some evil hath befallen me. Either I am dead, or else someone tempts me to be untrue."
Next morning the fair white ship spread her sails, and carried Hynde Horn far away over the sea. Princess Jean stood on the little balcony until the tallest mast had disappeared below the horizon, and then she threw herself on her bed, and wept as though her heart would break.
After this, for many a long day, there was nothing heard of Hynde Horn, not even a message came from him, and people began to say that he must be dead, and that it was high time that their Princess forgot him, and listened to the suit of one of the many noble princes who came to pay court to her from over the sea. She would not listen to them, however, and year after year went by.
Now it happened, that, when seven years had passed, a poor beggar went up one day to the castle in the hope that one of the servants would see him, and give him some of the broken bread and meat that was always left from the hall table. The porter knew him by sight and let him pass into the courtyard, but although he loitered about for a whole hour, no one appeared to have time to speak to him. It seemed as if something unusual were going on, for there were horses standing about in the courtyard, held by grooms in strange liveries, and servants were hurrying along, as if they were so busy they hardly knew what to do first. The old beggar man spoke to one or two of them as they passed, but they did not pay any attention to him, so at last he thought it was no use waiting any longer, and was about to turn away, when a little scullery-maid came out of the kitchen, and began to wash some pots under a running tap. He went up to her, and asked if she could spare him any broken victuals.
She looked at him crossly. "A pretty day to come for broken victuals," she cried, "when we all have so much to do that we would need twenty fingers on every hand, and four pairs of hands at the very least. Knowst thou not that an embassage has come from over the sea, seeking the hand of our Princess Jean for the young Prince of Eastnesse, he that is so rich that he could dine off diamonds every day, an' it suited him, and they are all in the great hall now, talking it over with King Aylmer? Only 'tis said that the Princess doth not favour the thought; she is all for an old lover called Hynde Horn, whom everyone else holds to be dead this many a year. Be it as it may, I have no time to talk to the like of thee, for we have a banquet to cook for fifty guests, not counting the King and all his nobles. The like of it hath not been seen since the day when Princess Jean and that Hynde Horn plighted their troth these seven years ago. But hark'ee, old man, it might be well worth thy while to come back to-morrow; there will be plenty of picking then." And, flapping her dish-clout in the wind, she ran into the kitchen again.
The old beggar went away, intending to take her advice and return on the morrow; but as he was walking along the sands to a little cottage where he sometimes got a night's lodging, he met a gallant Knight on horseback, who was very finely dressed, and wore a lovely scarlet cloak.
The beggar thought that he must be one of the King's guests, who had come out for a gallop on the smooth yellow sands, and he stood aside and pulled off his cap; but the Knight drew rein, and spoke to him.
"God shield thee, old man," he said, "and what may the news be in this country? I used to live here, but I have been in far-off lands these seven years, and I know not how things go on."
"Sire," answered the beggar, "things have gone on much as usual for these few years back, but it seems as if changes were in the air. I was but this moment at the castle, and 'twas told me that the young Prince Eitel, heir to the great Kingdom of Eastnesse, hath sent to crave the hand of our Princess; and although the young lady favours not his suit (she being true to an old love, one Hynde Horn, who is thought to be dead), the King her father is like to urge her to it, for the King of Eastnesse is a valuable ally, and fabulously rich."
Then a strange light came into the stranger's eyes, and, to the beggar's astonishment, he sprang from his horse, and held out the rein to him. "Wilt do me a favour, friend?" he said. "Wilt give me thy beggar's wallet, and staff, and cloak, if I give thee my horse, and this cloak of crimson sarsenet? I have a mind to turn beggar."
The beggar scratched his head, and looked at him in surprise. "He hath been in the East, methinks," he muttered, "and the sun hath touched his brain, but anyhow 'tis a fair exchange; that crimson cloak will sell for ten merks any day, and for the horse I can get twenty pounds," and presently he cantered off, well pleased with the bargain, while the other,--the beggar's wallet in his hand, his hat drawn down over his eyes, and leaning on his staff,--began to ascend the steep hill leading to the castle.
When he reached the great gate, he knocked boldly on the iron knocker, and the knock was so imperious that the porter hastened to open it at once. He expected to see some lordly knight waiting there, and when he saw no one but a weary-looking beggar man, he uttered an angry exclamation, and was about to shut the great gate in his face, but the beggar's voice was wondrously sweet and low, and he could not help listening to it.
"Good porter, for the sake of St Peter and St Paul, and for the sake of Him who died on the Holy Rood, give a cup of wine, and a little piece of bread, to a poor wayfarer."
As the porter hesitated between pity and impatience, the pleading voice went on, "And one more boon would I crave, kind man. Carry a message from me to the fair bride who is to be betrothed this day, and ask her if she will herself hand the bite and the sup to one who hath come from far?"
"Ask the Bride! ask the Princess Jean to come and feed thee with her own hands!" cried the man in astonishment. "Nay, thou art mad. Away with thee; we want no madmen here," and he would have thrust the beggar aside; but the stranger laid his hand on his shoulder, and said calmly, as if he were giving an order to a servant, "Go, tell her it is for the sake of Hynde Horn." And the old porter turned and went without a word.
Meanwhile all the guests in the castle were gathered at the banquet in the great banqueting hall. On a raised dais at the end of the room sat King Aylmer and the great Ambassador who had come from Prince Eitel of Eastnesse, and between them sat Princess Jean, dressed in a lovely white satin dress, with a little circlet of gold on her head. The King and the Ambassador were in high spirits, for they had persuaded the Princess to marry Prince Eitel in a month and a day from that time; but poor Princess Jean looked pale and sad.
As all the lords and nobles who were feasting in the hall below stood up and filled their glasses, and drank to the health of Prince Eitel of Eastnesse and his fair bride, she had much ado to keep the tears from falling, as she thought of the old days when Hynde Horn and she went out hunting and hawking together.
Just at that moment the door opened, and the porter entered, and, without looking to the right hand or to the left, marched straight up the hall and along the dais, until he came to where Princess Jean sat; then he stooped down and whispered something to her.
In a moment the Princess' pale face was like a damask rose, and, taking a glass full of ruby-red wine in one hand, and a farl of cake in the other, she rose, and walked straight out of the hall.
"By my faith," said King Aylmer, who was startled by the look on his daughter's face, "something hath fallen out, I ween, which may change the whole course of events," and he rose and followed her, accompanied by the Ambassador and all the great nobles.
At the head of the staircase they stopped and watched the Princess as she went down the stairs and across the courtyard, her long white robe trailing behind her, with the cup of ruby-red wine in one hand, and the farl of cake in the other.
When she came to the gateway, there was no one there but a poor old beggar man, and all the foreign noblemen looked at each other and shook their heads, and said, "Certs, but it misdoubts us if this bride will please our young Prince, if she is wont to disturb a court banquet because she must needs serve beggars with her own hands."
But Princess Jean heard none of this. With trembling hands she held out the food to the beggar. He raised the wine to his lips, and pledged the fair bride before he drank it, and when he handed the glass back to her, lo! in the bottom of it lay the gold ring which she had given to her lover Hynde Horn, seven long years before.
"Oh," she cried breathlessly, snatching it out of the glass, "tell me quickly, I pray thee, where thou didst find this? Was't on the sea, or in a far-off land, and was the hand that it was taken from alive or dead?"
"Nay, noble lady," answered the beggar, and at the sound of his voice Princess Jean grew pale again, "I did not get it on the sea, or in a far-off land, but in this country, and from the hand of a fair lady. It was a pledge of love, noble Princess, which I had given to me seven long years ago, and the diamonds were to be tokens of the brightness and constancy of that love. For seven long years they have gleamed and sparkled clearly, but now they are dim, and losing their brightness, so I fear me that my lady's love is waning and growing cold."
Then Princess Jean knew all, and she tore the circlet of gold from her head and knelt on the cold stones at his feet, and cried, "Hynde Horn, my own Hynde Horn, my love is not cold, neither is it dim; but thou wert so long in coming, and they said it was my duty to marry someone else. But now, even if thou art a beggar, I will be a beggar's wife, and follow thee from place to place, and we can harp and sing for our bread."
Hynde Horn laughed a laugh that was pleasant to hear, and he threw off the beggar's cloak, and, behold, he was dressed as gaily as any gallant in the throng.
"There is no need of that, Sweetheart," he said. "I did it but to try thee. I have not been idle these seven years; I have killed the wicked King, and come into my own again, and I have fought and conquered the Saracens in the East, and I have gold enough and to spare."
Then he drew her arm within his, and they crossed the courtyard together and began to ascend the stairs. Suddenly old Athelbras, the steward, raised his cap and shouted, "It is Hynde Horn, our own Hynde Horn," and then there was such a tumult of shouting and cheering that everyone was nearly deafened. Even the Ambassador from Eastnesse and all his train joined in it, although they knew that now Princess Jean would never marry their Prince; but they could not help shouting, for everyone looked so happy.
And the next day there was another great banquet prepared, and riders were sent all over the country to tell the people everywhere to rejoice, for their Princess was being married, not to any stranger, but to her old lover, Hynde Horn, who had come back in time after all.