Two Penniless Princesses by J. M. Synge
Chapter 2. Departure
'I bowed my pride, A horse-boy in his train to ride.'--SCOTT.
The Lady of Glenuskie, as she was commonly called, was a near kinswoman of the Royal House, Lilias Stewart, a grand-daughter of King Robert II., and thus first cousin to the late King. Her brother, Malcolm Stewart, had resigned to her the little barony of Glenuskie upon his embracing the life of a priest, and her becoming the wife of Sir Patrick Drummond, the son of his former guardian.
Sir Patrick had served in France in the Scotch troop who came to the assistance of the Dauphin, until he was taken prisoner by his native monarch, James I., then present with the army of Henry V. He had then spent two years at Windsor, in attendance upon that prince, until both were set at liberty by the treaty made by Cardinal Beaufort. In the meantime, his betrothed, Lilias, being in danger at home, had been bestowed in the household of the Countess of Warwick, where she had been much with an admirable and saintly foreign lady, Esclairmonde de Luxembourg, who had taken refuge from the dissensions of her own vexed country among the charitable sisterhood of St. Katharine in the Docks in London.
Sir Patrick and his lady had thus enjoyed far more training in the general European civilisation than usually fell to the lot of their countrymen; and they had moreover imbibed much of the spirit of that admirable King, whose aims at improvement, religious, moral, and political, were so piteously cut short by his assassination. During the nine miserable years that had ensued it had not been possible, even in conjunction with Bishop Kennedy, to afford any efficient support or protection to the young King and his mother, and it had been as much as Sir Patrick could do to protect his own lands and vassals, and do his best to bring up his children to godly, honourable, and chivalrous ways; but amid all the evil around he had decided that it was well-nigh impossible to train them to courage without ruffianism, or to prevent them from being tainted by the prevailing standard. Even among the clergy and monastic orders the type was very low, in spite of the endeavours of Bishop Kennedy, who had not yet been able to found his university at St. Andrews; and it had been agreed between him and Sir Patrick that young Malcolm Drummond, a devout and scholarly lad of earnest aspiration, should be trained at the Paris University, and perhaps visit Padua and Bologna in preparation for that foundation, which, save for that cruel Eastern's E'en, would have been commenced by the uncle whose name he bore.
The daughter had likewise been promised in her babyhood to the Sire de Terreforte, a knight of Auvergne, who had come on a mission to the Scotch Court in the golden days of the reign of James I., and being an old companion-in-arms of Sir Patrick, had desired to unite the families in the person of his infant son Olivier and of Annis Drummond.
Lady Drummond had ever since been preparing her little daughter and her wardrobe. The whole was in a good state of forwardness; but it must be confessed that she was somewhat taken aback when she beheld two young ladies riding up the glen with her husband, sons, and their escort; and found, on descending to welcome them, that they were neither more nor less than the two eldest unmarried princesses of Scotland.
'And Dame Lilias,' proceeded her knight, 'you must busk and boune you to be in the saddle betimes the morn, and put Tweed between these puir lasses and their foes--or shall I say their ower well wishers?'
The ladies of Scotland lived to receive startling intelligence, and Lady Drummond's kind heart was moved by the two forlorn, weary-looking figures, with traces of tears on their cheeks. She kissed them respectfully, conducted them to the guest-chamber, which was many advances beyond their room at Dunbar in comfort, and presently left her own two daughters, Annis and Lilias, and their nurse, to take care of them, since they seemed to have neither mails nor attendants of their own, while she sought out her husband, as he was being disarmed by his sons, to understand what was to be done.
He told her briefly of the danger and perplexity in which the presence of the two poor young princesses might involve themselves, their brother, and the kingdom itself, by exciting the greed, jealousy, and emulation of the untamed nobles and Highland chiefs, who would try to gain them, both as an excuse for exactions from the King and out of jealousy of one another. To take them out of reach was the only ready means of preventing mischief, and the Bishop of St. Andrews had besought Sir Patrick to undertake the charge.
'We are bound to do all we can for their father's daughters,' Dame Lilias owned, 'alike as our King and the best friend that ever we had, or my dear brother Malcolm, Heaven rest them both! But have they no servants, no plenishing?'
'That must we provide,' said Sir Patrick. 'We must be their servants, Dame. Our lasses must lend them what is fitting, till we come where I can make use of this, which my good Lord of St. Andrews gave me.'
'What is it, Patie? Not the red gold?'
'Oh no! I have heard of the like. Ye ken Morini, as they call him, the Lombard goldsmith in the Canongate? Weel, for sums that the Bishop will pay to Morini, sums owing, he says, by himself to the Crown--though I shrewdly suspect 'tis the other way, gude man!--then the Lombard's fellows in York, London, or Paris, or Bourges will, on seeing this bit bond, supply us up to the tune of a hundred crowns. Thou look'st mazed, Lily, but I have known the like before. 'Tis no great sum, but mayhap the maidens' English kin will do somewhat for them before they win to their sister.'
'I would not have them beholden to the English,' said Dame Lilias, not forgetting that she was a Stewart.
Her husband perhaps scarcely understood the change made in the whole aspect of the journey to her. Not only had she to hurry her preparations for the early start, but instead of travelling as the mistress of the party, she and her daughter would, in appearance at least, be the mere appendages of the two princesses, wait upon them, give them the foremost place, supply their present needs from what was provided for themselves, and it was quite possible have likewise to control girlish petulance and inexperience in the strange lands where her charges must appear at their very best, to do honour to their birth and their country.
But the loyal woman made up her mind without a word of complaint after the first shock, and though a busy night was not the best preparation for a day's journey, she never lay down; nor indeed did her namesake daughter, who was to be left at a Priory on their way, there to decide whether she had a vocation to be a nun.
So effectually did she bestir herself that by six o'clock the next morning the various packages were rolled up for bestowal on the sumpter horses, and the goods to be left at home locked up in chests, and committed to the charge of the trusty seneschal and his wife; a meal, to be taken in haste, was spread on the table in the hall, to be swallowed while the little rough ponies were being laden.
Mass was to be heard at the first halting-place, the Benedictine nunnery of Trefontana on Lammermuir, where Lilias Drummond was to be left, to be passed on, when occasion served, to the Sisterhood at Edinburgh.
The fresh morning breezes over the world of heather brightened the cheeks and the spirits of the two sisters; the first wrench of parting was over with them, and they found themselves treated with much more observance than usual, though they did not know that the horses they were riding had been trained for the special use of the Lady of Glenuskie and her daughter Annis upon the journey.
They rode on gaily, Jean with her inseparable falcon Skywing, Eleanor with her father's harp bestowed behind her--she would trust it to no one else. They were squired by their two cousins, David and Malcolm, who, in spite of David's murmurs, felt the exhilaration of the future as much as they did, as they coursed over the heather, David with two great greyhounds with majestic heads at his side, Finn and Finvola, as they were called.
The graver and sadder ones of the party, father, mother, and the two young sisters, rode farther back, the father issuing directions to the seneschal, who accompanied them thus far, and the mother watching over the two fair young girls, whose hearts were heavy in the probability that they would never meet again, for how should a Scottish Benedictine nun and the wife of a French seigneur ever come together? nor would there be any possibility of correspondence to bridge over the gulf.
The nunnery was strong, but not with the strength of secular buildings, for, except when a tempting heiress had taken refuge there, convents were respected even by the rudest men.
Numerous unkempt and barely-clothed figures were coming away from the gates, a pilgrim or two with brown gown, broad hat, and scallop shell, the morning's dole being just over; but a few, some on crutches, some with heads or limbs bound up, were waiting for their turn of the sister-infirmarer's care. The pennon of the Drummond had already been recognised, and the gate-ward readily admitted the party, since the house of Glenuskie were well known as pious benefactors to the Church.
They were just in time for a mass which a pilgrim priest was about to say, and they were all admitted to the small nave of the little chapel, beyond which a screen shut off the choir of nuns. After this the ladies were received into the refectory to break their fast, the men folk being served in an outside building for the purpose. It was not sumptuous fare, chiefly consisting of barley bannocks and very salt and dry fish, with some thin and sour ale; and David's attention was a good deal taken up by a man-at-arms who seemed to have attached himself to the party, but whom he did not know, and who held a little aloof from the rest--keeping his visor down while eating and drinking, in a somewhat suspicious manner, as though to avoid observation.
Just as David had resolved to point this person out to his father, Sir Patrick was summoned to speak to the Lady Prioress. Therefore the youth thought it incumbent upon him to deal with the matter, and advancing towards the stranger, said, 'Good fellow, thou art none of our following. How, now!' for a pair of gray eyes looked up with recognition in them, and a low voice whispered, 'Davie Drummond, keep my secret till we be across the Border.'
'Geordie, what means this?'
'I canna let her gang! I ken that she scorns me.'
'That proud peat Jean?'
'Whist! whist! She scorns me, and the King scarce lent a lug to my father's gude offer, so that he can scarce keep the peace with their pride and upsettingness. But I love her, Davie, the mere sight of her is sunshine, and wha kens but in the stour of this journey I may have the chance of standing by her and defending her, and showing what a leal Scot's heart can do? Or if not, if I may not win her, I shall still be in sight of her blessed blue een!'
David whistled his perplexity. 'The Yerl,' said he, 'doth he ken?'
'I trow not! He thinks me at Tantallon, watching for the raid the Mackays are threatening--little guessing the bird would be flown.'
'How cam' ye to guess that same, which was, so far as I know, only decided two days syne?'
'Our pursuivant was to bear a letter to the King, and I garred him let me bear him company as one of his grooms, so that I might delight mine eyes with the sight of her.'
David laughed. His time was not come, and this love and admiration for his young cousin was absurd in his eyes. 'For a young bit lassie,' he said; 'gin it had been a knight! But what will your father say to mine?'
'I will write to him when I am well over the Border,' said Geordie, 'and gin he kens that your father had no hand in it he will deem no ill-will. Nor could he harm you if he did.'
David did not feel entirely satisfied, on one side of his mind as to his own loyalty to his father, or Geordie's to 'the Yerl,' and yet there was something diverting to the enterprising mind in the stolen expedition; and the fellow-feeling which results in honour to contemporaries made him promise not to betray the young man and to shield him from notice as best he might. With Geordie's motive he had no sympathy, having had too many childish squabbles with his cousin for her to be in his eyes a sublime Princess Joanna, but only a masterful Jeanie.
Sir Patrick, absorbed in orders to his seneschal, did not observe the addition to his party; and as David acted as his squire, and had been seen talking to the young man, no further demur was made until the time when the home party turned to ride back to Glenuskie, and Sir Patrick made a roll-call of his followers, picked men who could fairly be trusted not to embroil the company by excesses or imprudences in England or France.
Besides himself, his wife, sons and daughters, and the two princesses, the party consisted of Christian, female attendant for the ladies, the wife of Andrew of the Cleugh, an elderly, well-seasoned man-at-arms, to whom the banner was entrusted; Dandie their son, a stalwart youth of two or three-and-twenty, who, under his father, was in charge of the horses; and six lances besides. Sir Patrick following the French fashion, which gave to each lance two grooms, armed likewise, and a horse-boy. For each of the family there was likewise a spare palfrey, with a servant in charge, and one beast of burthen, but these last were to be freshly hired with their attendants at each stage.
Geordie, used to more tumultuous and irregular gatherings, where any man with a good horse and serviceable weapons was welcome to join the raid, had not reckoned on such a review of the party as was made by the old warrior accustomed to more regular warfare, and who made each of his eight lances--namely, the two Andrew Drummonds, Jock of the Glen, Jockie of Braeside, Willie and Norman Armstrong, Wattie Wudspurs, and Tam Telfer--answer to their names, and show up their three followers.
'And who is yon lad in bright steel?' Sir Patrick asked.
'Master Davie kens, sir,' responded old Andrew. David, being called, explained that he was a leal lad called Geordie, whom he had seen in Edinburgh, and who wished to join them, go to France, and see the world under Sir Patrick's guidance, and that he would be at his own charges. 'And I'll be answerable for him, sir,' concluded the lad.
'Answer! Ha! ha! What for, eh? That he is a long-legged lad like your ain self. What more? Come, call him up!'
The stranger had no choice save to obey, and came up on a strong white mare, which old Andrew scanned, and muttered to his son, 'The Mearns breed--did he come honestly by it?'
'Up with your beaver, young man,' said Sir Patrick peremptorily; 'no man rides with me whose face I have not seen.'
A face not handsome and thoroughly Scottish was disclosed, with keen intelligence in the gray eyes, and a certain air of offended dignity, yet self-control, in the close-shut mouth. The cheeks were sunburnt and freckled, a tawny down of young manhood was on the long upper lip, and the short-cut hair was red; but there was an intelligent and trustworthy expression in the countenance, and the tall figure sat on horseback with the upright ease of one well trained.
'Soh!' said Sir Patrick, looking him over, 'how ca' they you, lad?'
'Geordie o' the Red Peel,' he answered.
'That's a by-name,' said the knight sternly; 'I must have the full name of any man who rides with me.'
'George Douglas, then, if nothing short of that will content you!'
'Are ye sib to the Earl?'
'Ay, sir, and have rid in his company.'
'Whose word am I to take for that?'
'Mine, sir, a word that none has ever doubted,' said the youth boldly. 'By that your son kens me.'
David here vouched for having seen the young man in the Angus following, when he had accompanied his father in the last riding of the Scots Parliament at Edinburgh; and this so far satisfied Sir Patrick that he consented to receive the stranger into his company, but only on condition of an oath of absolute obedience so long as he remained in the troop.
David could see that this had not been reckoned on by the high- spirited Master of Angus; and indeed obedience, save to the head of the name, was so little a Scottish virtue that Sir Patrick was by no means unprepared for reluctance.
'I give thee thy choice, laddie,' he said, not unkindly; 'best make up your mind while thou art still in thine own country, and can win back home. In England and France I can have no stragglers nor loons like to help themselves, nor give cause for a fray to bring shame on the haill troop in lands that are none too friendly. A raw carle like thyself, or even these lads of mine, might give offence unwittingly, and then I'd have to give thee up to the laws, or to stand by thee to the peril of all, and of the ladies themselves. So there's nothing for it but strict keeping to orders of myself and Andrew Drummond of the Cleugh, who kens as well as I do what sorts to be done in these strange lands. Wilt thou so bind thyself, or shall we part while yet there is time?'
'Sir, I will,' said the young man, 'I will plight my word to obey you, and faithfully, so long as I ride under your banner in foreign parts--provided such oath be not binding within this realm of Scotland, nor against my lealty to the head of my name.'
'Nor do I ask it of thee,' returned Sir Patrick heartily, but regarding him more attentively; 'these are the scruples of a true man. Hast thou any following?'
'Only a boy to lead my horse to grass,' replied George, giving a peculiar whistle, which brought to his side a shock-headed, barefooted lad, in a shepherd's tartan and little else, but with limbs as active as a wild deer, and an eye twinkling and alert.
'He shall be put in better trim ere the English pock-puddings see him,' said Douglas, looking at him, perhaps for the first time, as something unsuited to that orderly company.
'That is thine own affair,' said Sir Patrick. 'Mine is that he should comport himself as becomes one of my troop. What's his name?'
'Ringan Raefoot,' replied Geordie Sir Patrick began to put the oath of obedience to him, but the boy cried out--
'I'll ne'er swear to any save my lawful lord, the Yerl of Angus, and my lord the Master.'
'Hist, Ringan,' interposed Geordie. 'Sir, I will answer for his faith to me, and so long as he is leal to me he will be the same to thee; but I doubt whether it be expedient to compel him.'
So did Sir Patrick, and he said--
'Then be it so, I trust to his faith to thee. Only remembering that if he plunder or brawl, I may have to leave him hanging on the next bush.'
'And if he doth, the Red Douglas will ken the reason why,' quoth Ringan, with head aloft.
It was thought well to turn a deaf ear to this observation. Indeed, Geordie's effort was to elude observation, and to keep his uncouth follower from attracting it. Ringan was not singular in running along with bare feet. Other 'bonnie boys,' as the ballad has it, trotted along by the side of the horses to which they were attached in the like fashion, though they had hose and shoon slung over their shoulders, to be donned on entering the good town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Not without sounding of bugle and sending out a pursuivant to examine into the intentions and authorisation of the party, were they admitted, Jean and Eleanor riding first, with the pursuivant proclaiming--'Place, place for the high and mighty princesses of Scotland.'
It was an inconvenient ceremony for poor Sir Patrick, who had to hand over to the pursuivant, in the name of the princesses, a ring from his own finger. Largesse he could not attempt, but the proud spirit of himself and his train could not but be chafed at the expectant faces of the crowd, and the intuitive certainty that 'Beggarly Scotch' was in every disappointed mind.
And this was but a foretaste of what the two royal maidens' presence would probably entail throughout the journey. His wife added to this care uneasiness as to the deportment of her three maidens. Of Annis she had not much fear, but she suspected Jean and Eleanor of being as wild and untamed as hares, and she much doubted whether any counsels might not offend their dignity, and drive them into some strange behaviour that the good people of Berwick would never forget.
They rode in, however, very upright and stately, with an air of taking possession of the place on their brother's behalf; and Jean bowed with a certain haughty grace to the deputy-warden who came out to receive them, Eleanor keeping her eye upon Jean and imitating her in everything. For Eleanor, though sometimes the most eager, and most apt to commit herself by hasty words and speeches, seemed now to be daunted by the strangeness of all around, and to commit herself to the leading of her sister, though so little her junior.
She was very silent all through the supper spread for them in the hall of the castle, while Jean exchanged conversation with their host upon Iceland hawks and wolf and deer hounds, as if she had been a young lady keeping a splendid court all her life, instead of a poverty-stricken prisoner in castle after castle.
'Jeanie,' whispered Eleanor, as they lay down on their bed together, 'didst mark the tall laddie that was about to seat himself at the high table and frowned when the steward motioned him down?'
'What's that to me? An ill-nurtured carle,' said Jean; 'I marvel Sir Patie brooks him in his meinie!'
Eleanor was a little in awe of Jeanie in this mood, and said no more, but Annis, who slept on a pallet at their feet, heard all, and guessed more as to the strange young squire.
Fain would she and Eleanor have discussed the situation, but Jean's blue eyes glanced heedfully and defiantly at them, and, moreover, the young gentleman in question, after that one error, effaced himself, and was forgotten for the time in the novelty of the scenes around.
The sub-warden of Berwick, mindful of his charge to obviate all occasions of strife, insisted on sending a knight and half-a- dozen men to escort the Scottish travellers as far as Durham. David Drummond and the young ladies murmured to one another their disgust that the English pock-pudding should not suppose Scots able to keep their heads with their own hands; but, as Jean sagely observed, 'No doubt he would not wish them to have occasion to hurt any of the English, nor Jamie to have to call them to account.'
This same old knight consorted with Sir Patrick, Dame Lilias, and Father Romuald, and kept a sharp eye on the little party, allowing no straggling on any pretence, and as Sir Patrick enforced the command, all were obliged to obey, in spite of chafing; and the scowls of the English Borderers, with the scant courtesy vouchsafed by these sturdy spirits, proved the wisdom of the precaution.
At Durham they were hospitably entertained in the absence of the Bishop. The splendour of the cathedral and its adjuncts much impressed Lady Drummond, as it had done a score of years previously; but, though Malcolm ventured to share her admiration, Jean was far above allowing that she could be astonished at anything in England. In fact, she regarded the stately towers of St. Cuthbert as so much stolen family property which 'Jamie' would one day regain; and all the other young people followed suit. David even made all the observations his own sense of honour and the eyes of his hosts would permit, with a view to a future surprise. The escort of Sir Patrick was asked to York by a Canon who had to journey thither, and was anxious for protection from the outlaws--who had begun to renew the doings of Robin Hood under the laxer rule of the young Henry VI, though things were expected to be better since the young Duke of York had returned from France.
Perhaps this arrangement was again a precaution for the preservation of peace, and at York there was a splendid entertainment by Cardinal Kemp; but all the 'subtleties' and wonders--stags' heads in their horns, peacocks in their pride, jellies with whole romances depicted in them, could not reconcile the young Scots to the presumption of the Archbishop reckoning Scotland into his province. Durham was at once too monastic and too military to have afforded much opportunity for recruiting the princesses' wardrobe; but York was the resort of the merchants of Flanders, and Christie was sent in quest of them and their wares, for truly the black serge kirtles and shepherd's tartan screens that had made the journey from Dunbar were in no condition to do honour to royal damsels.
Jean was in raptures with the graceful veils depending from the horned headgear, worn, she was told, by the Duchess of Burgundy; but Eleanor wept at the idea of obscuring the snood of a Scottish maiden, and would not hear of resigning it.
'I feel as Elleen no more,' she said, 'but a mere Flanders popinjay. It has changed my ain self upon me, as well as the country.'
'Thou shouldst have been born in a hovel!' returned Jean, raising her proud little head. 'I feel more than ever what I am--a true princess!'
And she looked it, with beauty enhanced by the rich attire which only made Eleanor embarrassed and uncomfortable.
Malcolm, the more scrupulous of the Drummond brothers, begged of George Douglas, when at Durham, to write to his father and declare himself to Sir Patrick, but the youth would do neither. He did not think himself sufficiently out of reach, and, besides, the very sight of a pen was abhorrent to him. There was something pleasing to him in the liberty of a kind of volunteer attached to the expedition, and he would not give it up. Nor was he without some wild idea of winning Jean's notice by some gallant exploit on her behalf before she knew him for the object of her prejudice, the Master of Angus. As to Sir Patrick, he was far too busy trying to compose Border quarrels, and gleaning information about the Gloucester and Beaufort parties at Court, to have any attention to spare for the young man riding in his suite with the barefooted lad ever at his stirrup.
Geordie never attempted to secure better accommodation than the other lances; he groomed his steed himself, with a little assistance from Ringan, and slept in the straw of its bed, with the lad curled up at his feet; the only difference observable between him and the rest being that he always groomed himself every night and morning as carefully as the horse, a ceremony they thought entirely needless.