Tales from Scottish Ballads
The following is from Tales from Scottish Ballads by Elizabeth W. Grierson:
The Laird O' Logie
It was Twelfth-night, and in the royal Palace of Holyrood a great masked ball was being held, for the King, James VI., and his young wife, Anne of Denmark, had been keeping Christmas there, and the old walls rang with gaiety such as had not been since the ill-fated days of Mary Stuart.
It was a merry scene; everyone was in fancy dress, and wore a mask, so that even their dearest friends could not know them, and great was the merriment caused by the efforts which some of the dancers made to guess the names of their partners.
One couple in the throng, however, appeared to know and recognise each other, for, as a tall slim maiden dressed as a nun, who had been dancing with a stout old monk, passed a young man in the splendid dress of a French noble, she dropped her handkerchief, and, as the young Frenchman picked it up and gave it to her, she managed to exchange a whisper with him, unnoticed by her elderly partner.
Ten minutes later she might have been seen, stealing cautiously down a dark, narrow flight of stairs, that led to a little postern, which she opened with a key which she drew from her girdle, and, closing it behind her, stepped out on the stretch of short green turf, which ran along one side of the quaint chapel. It was bright moonlight, but she stole behind one of the buttresses that cast heavy shadows on the grass, and waited.
Nearly a quarter of an hour passed before another figure issued from the same little postern and joined her. This time it was the young French noble, his finery hidden by a guard's long cloak.
"Pardon me, sweetheart," he said, throwing aside his disguise and putting his hand caressingly on her shoulder, "but 'tis not my fault that thou art here before me. I had to dance a minuet with her Majesty the Queen; she was anxious to show the court dames how 'tis done in Denmark, and, as thou knowest, I have learned the Danish steps passably well dancing it so often with thee. So I was called on, and Arthur Seaton, and a mention was made of thee, but Gertrud Van Hollbell volunteered to fill thy place."
"Gertrud is a good-natured wench, and I will tell her so; but did her Majesty not notice my absence?"
"Nay, verily, she was so busy talking with me, and I gave her no time to miss thee," said the young man, laughing, but his companion's face was troubled. They had taken off their masks, and a stranger looking at them would have taken them for what they seemed to be, a dark-haired, black-eyed Frenchman, and a fair English nun. But Hugh Weymes of Logie was a simple Scottish gentleman, in spite of his dress, and looks; and the maiden, Mistress Margaret Twynlace, was a Dane, who had come over, along with one or two others, as maid-in-waiting to the young Queen, who had insisted on having some of her own countrywomen about her.
Mistress Margaret's fair hair, and fairer skin, so different from that of the young Scotch ladies, had quite captivated young Weymes, and the two had been openly betrothed.
They had plenty of chances of speaking to each other in the palace, where Weymes was stationed in his capacity of gentleman of the King's household, and the young man was somewhat at a loss to understand why Margaret should have arranged a secret meeting which might bring them both into trouble were it known, for Queen Anne was very strict, and would have no lightsome maids about her, and were it to reach her ears that Margaret had met a man in the dark, even although it was the man she intended to marry, she would think nothing of packing her off to Denmark at a day's notice.
Now, as this was the very last thing that Hugh wanted to happen, his voice had a touch of reproach in it, as he began to point out the trouble that might ensue if any prying servant should chance to see them, or if Margaret's absence were noticed by the Queen.
But the girl hardly listened to him.
"What doth it matter whether I am sent home or not?" she said passionately. "Thou canst join me there and Denmark is as fair as Scotland; but it boots not to joke and laugh, for I have heavy news to tell thee. Thou must fly for thy life. 'Tis known that thou hast had dealings with my Lord of Bothwell, that traitor to the King, and thy life is in danger."
The young man looked at her in surprise. "Nay, sweet Meg," he said, "but methinks the Christmas junketing hath turned thy brain, for no man can bring a word against me, and I stand high in his Majesty's favour. Someone hath been filling thy ears with old wives' tales."
"But I know thou art in danger," she persisted, wringing her hands in despair when she saw how lightly he took the news. "I do not understand all the court quarrels, for this land is not my land, but I know that my Lord Bothwell hates the King, and that the King distrusts my Lord Bothwell, and, knowing this, can I not see that there is danger in thy having been seen talking to the Earl in a house in the Cowgate? and, moreover, it is said that he gave thee a packet which thou art supposed to have carried hither. Would that I could persuade thee to fly, to take ship at Leith, and cross over to Denmark; my parents would harbour thee till the storm blew past."
Margaret was in deadly earnest, but her lover only laughed again, and assured her that she had been listening to idle tales. To him it seemed incredible that he could get into any trouble because he had lately held some intercourse with his father's old friend, the Earl of Bothwell, and had, at his request, carried back a sealed packet to give to one of the officials at the palace, on his return from a trip to France. It was true that Lord Bothwell was in disfavour with the King, who suspected him of plotting against his person, but Hugh believed that his royal master was mistaken, and, as he had only been about the court a couple of months or so, he had not yet learned how dangerous it was to hold intercourse with men who were counted the King's enemies.
So he soothed Margaret's fears with playful words, promising to be more discreet in the future, and keep aloof from the Earl, and in a short time they were back in the ballroom, and he, at least, was dancing as merrily as if there was no such word as treason.
For two or three weeks after the Twelfth-night ball, life at Holyrood went on so quietly that Margaret Twynlace was inclined to think that her lover had been right, and that she had put more meaning into the rumours which she had heard than they were intended to convey, and, as she saw him going quietly about his duties, apparently in as high favour as before with the King, she shook off her load of anxiety, and tried to forget that she had ever heard the Earl of Bothwell's name.
But without warning the blow fell. One morning, as she was seated in the Queen's ante-chamber, busily engaged, along with the other maids, in sewing a piece of tapestry which was to be hung, when finished, in the Queen's bedroom, Lady Hamilton entered the room in haste, bearing dire tidings.
It had become known at the palace the evening before, that a plot had been discovered, planned by the Earl of Bothwell, to seize the King and keep him a prisoner, while the Earl was declared regent. As it was known that young Hugh Weymes, one of the King's gentlemen, had been seen in conversation with him some weeks before, he had been seized and his boxes searched, and in them had been found a sealed packet, containing letters to one of the King's councillors, who was now in France, asking his assistance, and signed by Bothwell himself.
The gentleman had not returned--probably word had been sent to him of his danger--but young Weymes had been promptly arrested, although he disclaimed all knowledge of the contents of the packet, and had been placed under the care of Sir John Carmichael, keeper of the King's guard, until he could be tried.
"And there will only be one sentence for him," said the old lady grimly; "it's beheaded he will be. 'Tis a pity, for he was a well-favoured youth; but what else could he expect, meddling with such matters?" and then she left the room, eager to find some fresh listeners to whom she could tell her tale.
As the door closed behind her a sudden stillness fell over the little room. No one spoke, although some of the girls glanced pityingly at Margaret, who sat, as if turned to stone, with a still, white face, and staring eyes. Gertrud Van Hollbell, her countrywoman and bosom friend, rose at last, and went and put her arms round her.
"He is a favourite with the Queen, Margaret, and so art thou," she whispered, "and after all it was not he who wrote the letter. If I were in thy place, I would beg her Majesty, and she will beg the King, and he will be pardoned."
But Margaret shook her head with a wan smile. She knew too well the terrible danger in which her lover stood, and she rightly guessed that the Queen would have no power to avert it.
At that moment the door opened, and the Queen herself entered, and all the maidens stood up to receive her. She looked grave and sad, and her eyes filled with tears as they fell on Margaret, who had been her playmate when they were both children in far-away Denmark, and who was her favourite maid-of-honour.
Seeing this, kind-hearted Gertrud gave her friend a little push. "See," she whispered, "she is sorry for thee; if thou go now and beg of her she will grant thy request."
Slowly, as if in a dream, the girl stepped forward, and knelt at her royal Mistress's feet, but the Queen laid her hand gently on her 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 ill
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 has 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.