Two Penniless Princesses by J. M. Synge
Chapter 6. The Price of a Goose
'We would have all such offenders cut off, and we give express charge that, in the marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages.' --King Henry V.
The Marquis of Suffolk's was a slow progress both in England and abroad, with many halts both on account of weather and of feasts and festivals. Cardinal Beaufort had hurried the party away from London partly in order to make the match with Margaret of Anjou irrevocable, partly for the sake of removing Eleanor of Scotland, the only maiden who had ever produced the slightest impression on the monastic-minded Henry of Windsor.
When once out of London there were, however, numerous halts on the road,--two or three days of entertainment at every castle, and then a long delay at Canterbury to give time for Suffolk's retainers, and all the heralds, pursuivants, and other adjuncts of pomp and splendour, to join them. They were the guests of Archbishop Stafford, one of the peace party, and a friend of Beaufort and Suffolk, so that their entertainment was costly and magnificent, as befitted the mediaeval notions of a high-born gentleman, Primate of all England. A great establishment for the chase was kept by almost all prelates as a necessity; and whenever the weather was favourable, hunting and hawking could be enjoyed by the princesses and their suite. Indeed Jean, if not in the saddle, was pretty certain to be visiting the hawks all the morning, or else playing at ball or some other sport with her cousins or some of the young gentlemen of Suffolk's train, who were all devoted to her.
Lady Drummond found that to try to win her to quieter occupations was in vain. The girl would not even try to learn French from Father Romuald by reading, though she would pick up words and phrases by laughing and chattering with the young knights who chanced to know the language. But as by this time Dame Lilias had learnt that there were bounds that princely pride and instinct prevented from overpassing, she contented herself with seeing that there was fit attendance, either by her daughter Annis, Sir Patrick himself, or one or other of Lady Suffolk's ladies.
To some degree Eleanor shared in her sister's outdoor amusements, but she was far more disposed to exercise her mind than her body. After having pined in weariness for want of intellectual food, her opportunities were delightful to her. Not only did she read with Father Romuald with intense interest the copy of the bon Sire Jean Froissart in the original, which he borrowed from the Archbishop's library, but she listened with great zest to the readings which the Lady of Suffolk extracted from her chaplains and unwilling pages while the ladies sat at work, for the Marchioness, a grandchild of Geoffrey Chaucer, had a strong taste for literature. Moreover, from one of the choir Eleanor obtained lessons on the lute, as well as her beloved harp, and was taught to train her voice, and sing from 'pricke-song,' so that she much enjoyed this period of her journey.
Nothing could be more courteous and punctilious than the Marquis of Suffolk to the two princesses, and indeed to every one of his own degree; but there was something of the parvenu about him, and, unlike the Duke of York or Archbishop Stafford, who were free, bright, and good-natured to the meanest persons, he was haughty and harsh to every one below the line of gentle blood, and in his own train he kept up a discipline, not too strict in itself, but galling in the manner in which it was enforced by those who imitated his example. By the time the suite was collected, Christmas and the festival of St. Thomas a Becket were so near that it would have been neglect of a popular saint to have left his shrine without keeping his day. And after the Epiphany, though the party did reach Dover in a day's ride, a stormy period set in, putting crossing out of the question, and detaining the suite within the massive walls of the castle.
At last, on a brisk, windless day of frost, the crossing to Calais was effected, and there was another week of festivals spread by the hospitality of the Captain of Calais, where everything was as English as at Dover. When they again started on their journey, Suffolk severely insisted on the closest order, riding as travellers in a hostile country, where a misadventure might easily break the existing truce, although the territories of the Duke of Burgundy, through which their route chiefly lay, were far less unfavourable to the English than actual French countries; indeed, the Flemings were never willingly at war with the English, and some of the Burgundian nobles and knights had been on intimate terms with Suffolk. Still, he caused the heralds always to keep in advance, and allowed no stragglers behind the rearguard that came behind the long train of waggons loaded with much kitchen apparatus, and with splendid gifts for the bride and her family, as well as equipments for the wedding-party, and tents for such of the troop as could not find shelter in the hostels or monasteries where the slowly-moving party halted for the night. It was unsafe to go on after the brief hours of daylight, especially in the neighbourhood of the Forest of Ardennes, for wolves might be near on the winter nights. It was thus that the first trouble arose with Sir Patrick Drummond's two volunteer followers. Ringan Raefoot had become in his progress a very different looking being from the wild creature who had come with 'Geordie of the Red Peel,' but there was the same heart in him. He had endured obedience to the Knight of Glenuskie as a Scot, and with the Duke of York and through England the discipline of the troop had not been severe; but Suffolk, though a courtly, chivalrous gentleman to his equals, had not the qualities of popularity, and chafed his inferiors.
There were signs of confusion in the cavalcade as they passed between some of the fertile fields of Namur, and while Suffolk was halting and about to send a squire to the rear to interfere, a couple of his retainers hurried up, saying, 'My Lord, those Scottish thieves will bring the whole country down on us if order be not taken with them.'
Sir Patrick did not need the end of the speech to gallop off at full speed to the rear of all the waggons, where a crowd might be seen, and there was a perfect Babel of tongues, rising in only too intelligible shouts of rage. Swords and lances were flashing on one side among the horsemen, on the other stones were flying from an ever-increasing number of leather-jerkined men and boys, some of them with long knives, axes, and scythes.
George Douglas's high head seemed to be the main object of attack, and he had Ringan Raefoot before him across his horse, apparently retreating, while David, Malcolm, and a few more made charges on the crowd to guard him. When he was seen, there was a cry of which he could distinguish nothing but 'Ringan! Geordie! goose--Flemish hounds.'
Riding between, regardless of the stones, he shouted in the Burgundian French he had learnt in his campaigns, to demand the cause of the attack. The stones ceased, and the head man of the village, a stout peasant, came forward and complained that the varlet, as he called Ringan, had been stealing the village geese on their pond, and when they were about to do justice on him, yonder man-at-arms had burst in, knocked down and hurt several, and carried him off.
Before there had been time for further explanation, to Sir Patrick's great vexation, the Marshal of the troop and his guard came up, and the complaint was repeated. George, at the same time, having handed Ringan over to some others of the Scots, rode up with his head very high.
'Sir Patrick Drummond,' said the Marshal stiffly, 'you know my Lord's rules for his followers, as to committing outrages on the villeins of the country.'
'We are none of my Lord of Suffolk's following,' began Douglas; but Sir Patrick, determined to avoid a breach if possible, said--
'Sir Marshal, we have as yet heard but one side of the matter. If wrong have been done to these folk, we are ready to offer compensation, but we should hear how it has been--'
'Am I to see my poor laddie torn to bits, stoned, and hanged by these savage loons,' cried George, 'for a goose's egg and an old gander?'
Of course his defence was incomprehensible to the Flemings, but on their side a man with a bound-up head and another limping were produced, and the head man spoke of more serious damage to others who could not appear, demanding both the aggressors to be dealt with, i.e. to be hanged on the next tree.
'These men are of mine, Master Marshal,' said Sir Patrick.
'My Lord can permit no violence by those under his banner,' said the Marshal stiffly. 'I must answer it to him.'
'Do so then,' said Sir Patrick. 'This is a matter for him.'
The Marshal, who had much rather have disposed of the Scottish thieves on his own responsibility, was forced to give way so far as to let the appeal be carried to the Marquis of Suffolk, telling the Flemings, in something as near their language as he could accomplish, that his Lord was sure to see justice done, and that they should follow and make their complaint.
Suffolk sat on his horse, tall, upright, and angry. 'What is this I hear, Sir Patrick Drummond,' said he, 'that your miscreants of wild Scots have been thieving from the peaceful peasant-folk, and then beating them and murdering them? I deemed you were a better man than to stand by such deeds and not give up the fellows to justice.'
'It were shame to hang a man for one goose,' said Sir Patrick.
'All plunder is worthy of death,' returned the Englishman. 'Your Border law may be otherwise, but 'tis not our English rule of honest men. And here's this other great lurdane knave been striking the poor rogues down right and left! A halter fits both.'
'My Lord, they are no subjects of England. I deny your rights over them.'
'Whoever rides in my train is under me, I would have you to know, sir.'
'Hark ye, my Lord of Suffolk,' said Sir Patrick, coming near enough to speak in an undertone, 'that lurdane, as you call him, is heir of a noble house in Scotland, come here on a young man's freak of chivalry. You will do no service to the peace of the realms if you give him up to these churls, for making in to save his servant.'
Before Sir Patrick had done speaking, while Suffolk was frowning grimly in perplexity, a wild figure, with blood on the face, rushed forth with a limping run, crying 'Let the loons hang me and welcome, if they set such store by their lean old gander, but they shanna lay a finger on the Master.'
And he had nearly precipitated himself into the hands of the sturdy rustics, who shouted with exultation, but with two strides Geordie caught him up. 'Peace, Ringan! They shall no more hang thee than me,' and he stood with one hand on Ringan's shoulder and his sword in the other, looking defiant.
'If he be a young gentleman masking, I am not bound to know it,' said Suffolk impatiently to Drummond; 'but if he will give up that rascal, and make compensation, I will overlook it.'
'Who touches my fellow does so at his peril,' shouted George, menacing with his sword.
'Peace, young man!' said Sir Patrick. 'Look here, my Lord of Suffolk, we Scots are none of your men. We need no favour of you English with our allies. There be enough of us to make our way through these peasants to the French border, so unless you let us settle the matter with a few crowns to these rascallions, we part company.'
'The ladies were entrusted to my charge,' began Lord Suffolk.
At that instant, however, both Jean and Eleanor came on the scene, riding fast, having in truth been summoned by Malcolm, who shrewdly suspected that thus an outbreak might be best averted.
It was Eleanor who spoke first. In spite of all her shyness, when her blood was up, she was all the princess.
What is this, my Lord of Suffolk?' she said. 'If one of our following have transgressed, it is the part of ourselves and of Sir Patrick Drummond to see to it, as representing the King my brother.'
'Lady,' replied Suffolk, bowing low and doffing his cap, 'yonder ill-nurtured knave hath been robbing the country-folk, and the-- the man-at-arms there not only refuses to give him up to justice, but has hurt, well-nigh slain, some of them in violently taking him from them. They ride in my train and I am responsible.'
Jean broke in: 'He only served the cowardly loons right. A whole crowd of the rogues to hang one poor laddie for one goose! Shame on a gentleman for hearkening to the foul-mouthed villains one moment. Come here, Ringan. King Jamie's sister will never see them harm thee.'
Perhaps Suffolk was not sorry to see a way out of the perplexity. 'Far be it from a knight to refuse a boon to a fair lady in her selle, farther still to two royal damsels. The lives are granted, so satisfaction in coin be made to yon clamorous hinds.'
'I do not call it a boon but a right, said Eleanor gravely; 'nevertheless I thank you, my Lord Marquis.'
George would have thrown himself at their feet, but Jean coldly said, 'Spare thanks, sir. It was for my brother's right,' and she turned her horse away, and rode off at speed, while Eleanor could not help pausing to say, 'She is more blithe than she lists to own! Sir Patrick, what the fellows claim must come from my uncle's travelling purse.'
George's face was red. This was very bitter to him, but he could only say, 'It shall be repaid so soon as I have the power.'
The peasants meanwhile were trying to make the best bargain they could by representing that they were tenants of an abbey, so that the death of the gander was sacrilegious on that account as well as because it was in Lent. To this, however, Sir Patrick turned a deaf ear: he threw them a couple of gold pieces, with which, as he told them, they were much better off than with either the live goose or the dead Ringan.
Suffolk had halted for the mid-day rest and was waiting for him till this matter was disposed of. 'Sir Patrick Drummond,' he said with some ceremony, 'this company of yours may be Scottish subjects, but while they are riding with me I am answerable for them. It may be the wont in Scotland, but it is not with us English, to let unnamed adventurers ride under our banner.'
'The young man is not unnamed,' said Sir Patrick, on his mettle.
'You know him?'
'I'll no say, but I have an inkling. My son David kenn'd him and answered for him when he joined himself to my following; nor has he hitherto done aught to discredit himself.'
'What is his name, or the name he goes by?'
'H'm! Your Scottish names may belong to any one, from your earls down to your herdboys; and they, forsooth, are as like as not to call themselves gentlemen.'
'And wherefore not, if theirs is gentle blood?' said Sir Patrick.
'Nay, now, Sir Patrick, stand not on your Scotch pride. Gentlemen all, if you will, but you gave me to understand that this was none of your barefoot gentlemen, and I ask if you can tell who he truly is?'
'I have never been told, my Lord, and I had rather you put the question to himself than to me.'
'Call him then, an' so please you.'
Sir Patrick saw no alternative save compliance; and he found Ringan undergoing a severe rating, not unaccompanied by blows from the wood of his master's lance. The perfect willingness to die for one another was a mere natural incident, but the having transgressed, and caused such a serious scrape, made George very indignant and inflict condign punishment. 'Better fed than he had ever been in his life, the rogue' (and he looked it, though he muttered, 'A bannock and a sup of barley brose were worth the haill of their greasy beeves!'). 'Better fed than ever before. Couldn't the daft loon keep the hands of him off poor folks' bit goose? In Lent, too!' (by far the gravest part of the offence).
George did, however, transfer Ringan's explanation to Sir Patrick, and make some apology. A nest of goose eggs apparently unowned had been too much for him, incited further by a couple of English horseboys, who were willing to share goose eggs for supper, and let the Scotsman bear the wyte of it. The goose had been nearer than expected, and summoned her kin; the gander had shown fight; the geese had gabbled, the gooseherd and his kind came to the rescue, the horseboys had made off; Ringan, impeded by his struggle with the ferocious gander, was caught; and Geordie had come up just in time to see him pricked with goads and axes to a tree, where a halter was making ready for him. Of course, without asking questions, George hurried to save him, pushing his horse among the angry crew, and striking right and left, and equally of course the other Scots came to his assistance.
Sir Patrick agreed that he could not have done otherwise, though better things might have been hoped of Ringan by this time.
'But,' said he, 'there's not an end yet of the coil. Here has my Lord of Suffolk been speiring after your name and quality, till I told him he must ask at you and not at me.'
'Tell'd you the dour meddling Englishman my name?' asked George.
'I told him only what ye told me yerself. In that there was no lie. But bethink you, royal maidens dinna come to speak for lads without a cause.'
George's colour mounted high in his sunburnt, freckled cheek.
'Kens--ken they, trow ye, Sir Pate?'
'Cannie folk, even lassies, can ken mair than they always tell,' said the knight of Glenuskie. 'Yonder is my Lord Marquis, as they ca' him; so bethink you weel how you comport yerself with him, and my counsel is to tell him the full truth. He is a dour man towards underlings, whom he views as made not of the same flesh and blood with himself, but he is the very pink of courtesy to men of his own degree.'
'Set him up,' quoth the heir of the Douglas, with a snort. 'His own degree, indeed! scarce even a knight's son!'
'What he deems his own degree, then,' corrected Sir Patrick; 'but he holds himself full of chivalry to them, and loves a spice of the errant knight; ye may trust his honour. And mind ye,' he added, laughing, 'I've never been told your name and quality.'
Which the Master of Angus returned with an equally canny laugh. The young man, as he approached the Marquis, drew his head up, straightened his tall form, brushed off the dust that obscured the bloody heart on his breast, and altogether advanced with a step and bearing far more like the great Earl's son than the man-at-arms of the Glenuskie following; his eyes bespoke equality or more as they met those of William de la Pole, and yet there was that in the glance which forbade the idea of insolence, so that Suffolk, instead of remaining seated rose to meet him and took him aside, standing as they talked.
'Sir Squire,' he said, 'for such I understand your degree in chivalry to be.'
'I have not won my spurs,' said George.
'It is not our rule to take to foreign courts gentlemen from another realm unknown to us,' proceeded Suffolk, with much civility; 'therefore, unless any vow of chivalry binds you, I should be glad to know who it is who does my banner the honour of riding in its company for a time. If a secret, it is safe with me.'
George gave his name.
'That is the name of one of the chief nobles in Scotland,' said Suffolk. 'Do I see before me his son?' George bowed.
'Then, my Lord Douglas, am I permitted to ask wherefore this mean disguise? Is it for some vow of chivalry, or for that which is the guerdon of chivalry?' the Marquis added in a lower, softer tone, which, however, extremely chafed the proud young Scot, all the more that he felt himself blushing.
'My Lord,' he said, 'I am not bound to render a reason to any save my father, from whom I hope for letters shortly.'
To his further provocation Suffolk smiled meaningly, and answered--
'I understand. But if my Lord Douglas would honour my suite by assuming the place that befits him, I should be happy that aught of mine should serve--'
'I am beholden to you, my Lord, for the offer,' replied George, somewhat roughly. 'Whatever I make use of must be my father's or my own. All I crave of you is to keep my secret, and not make me the common talk. Have I your licence to depart?'
Wherewith, tall, irate, and shamefaced, the Master of Angus stalked away to meet David Drummond, to whom he confided his disgusts.
'The parlous fulebody! As though I were like to make myself a mere sport for ballad-mongers, such as Lady Elleen is always mooning after; or as if I would stoop to borrow a following of the English blackguard, to bolster up my state like King Herod in a mystery play. If my father lists, he may send me out a band, but the Douglas shall have Douglas's men, or none at all.'
David approved the sentiment, but added--
'Ye could win to Jeanie if ye took your right place.'
'What good would that do me while she is full of her fine daffing, singing, clacking, English knights, that would only gibe at the red-haired Scot? Let her wait to see what the Red Douglas's hand can do in time of need! But, Davie, you that can speak to her, let her know how deeply I thank her for what she did even now on my behalf, or rather on puir Ringan's, and that I am trebly bound to her service though I make no minstrel fule's work.'
David delivered his message, but did not obtain much by it for his friend's satisfaction, for Jeanie only tossed her head and answered--
'Does the gallant cock up his bonnet because he thinks it was for his sake. It was Elleen's doing there, firstly; and next, wadna we have done the like for the meanest of Jamie's subjects?'
'Dinna credit her, Davie,' said Eleanor. 'Ye should have seen her start in her saddle, and wheel round her palfrey at Malcolm's first word.'
'It wasna for him,' replied Jean hotly. 'They dinna hang the like of him for twisting a goose's neck; it was for the puir leal laddie; and ye may tak' that to him.'
'Shall I, Elleen?' asked David, with a twinkle in his eye of cousinly teasing.
'An' ye do not, I shall proclaim ye in the lists at Nanci as a corbie messenger and mansworn squire, unworthy of your spurs,' threatened Jeanie, in all good humour however.
Suffolk, baffled in his desire to patronise the young Master of Angus, examined both Sir Patrick and Lady Drummond as far as their caution would allow, telling that the youth had confessed his rank and admitted the cause--making inquiry whether the match would be held suitable in Scotland, and why it had not taken place there--a matter difficult to explain, since it did not merely turn upon the young lady's ambition--which would have gone for nothing--but on the danger to the Crown of offending rival houses. Suffolk had a good deal about him of the flashy side of chivalry, and loved its brilliance and romance; he was an honourable man, and the weak point about him was that he never understood that knighthood should respect men of meaner birth. He was greatly flattered by the idea of having the eldest son of the great Earl of Angus riding as an unknown man-at-arms in his troop, and on the way likewise to the most chivalrous of kings. His scheme would have been to equip the youth fully with horse and arms, and at some brilliant tourney see him carry all before him, like Du Gueselin in his boyhood, and that the eclat of the affair should reflect itself upon his sponsor. But there were two difficulties in the way--the first that the proud young Scot showed no intention of being beholden to any Englishman, and secondly, that the tall, ungainly youth did not look as if he had attained to the full strength or management of his own limbs; and though in five or ten years' time he might be a giant in actual warfare, he did not appear at all likely to be a match for the highly-trained champions of the tilt-yard. Moreover, he was not a knight as yet, and on sounding Sir Patrick it was elicited that he was likely to deem it high treason to be dubbed by any hand save that of his King or his father.
So the Marquis could only feel sagacious, and utter a hint or two before the ladies which fell the more short, since he was persuaded, by Eleanor's having been the foremost in the defence, that she was the object of the quest; and he now and then treated her to hints which she was slow to understand, but which exasperated while they amused her sister.
The journey was so slow that it was not until the fourth week in Lent that they were fairly in Lorraine. It had of course been announced by couriers, and at Thionville a very splendid herald reached them, covered all over with the blazonry of Jerusalem and the Two Sicilies, to say nothing of Provence and Anjou. He brought letters from King Rene, explaining that he and his daughters were en route from Provence, and he therefore designated a nunnery where he requested that the Scottish princesses and their ladies would deign to be entertained, and a monastery where my Lord Marquis of Suffolk and his suite would be welcomed, and where they were requested to remain till Easter week, by which time the King of France, the Dauphin, and Dauphiness would be near at hand, and there could be a grand entrance into Nanci. Of course there was nothing to be done but to obey though the Englishmen muttered that the delay was in order to cast the expense upon the rich abbeys, and to muster all the resources of Lorraine and Provence to cover the poverty of the many-titled King.
The Abbey where the gentlemen were lodged was so near Nanci that it was easy to ride into the city and make inquiries whether any tidings had arrived from Scotland; but nothing had come from thence for either the princesses, Sir Patrick, or Geordie of the Red Peel, so that the strange situation of the latter must needs continue as long as he insisted on being beholden for nothing to the English upstart, as he scrupled not to call Lord Suffolk, whose new-fashioned French title was an offence in Scottish ears.
The ladies on their side had not the relaxation of these expeditions. The Abbey was a large and wealthy one, but decidedly provincial. Only the Lady Abbess and one sister could speak 'French of Paris,' the others used a dialect so nearly German that Lady Suffolk could barely understand them, and the other ladies, whose French was not strong, could hold no conversation with them.
To insular minds, whether Scottish or English, every deviation of the Gallican ritual from their own was a sore vexation. If Lady Drummond had devotion enough not to be distracted by the variations, the young ladies certainly had not, and Jean very decidedly giggled during some of the most solemn ceremonies, such as the creeping to the cross--the large carved cross in the middle of the graveyard, to which all in turn went upon their knees on Good Friday and kissed it.
Last year, at this season, they had been shut up in their prison- castle, and had not shared in any of these ceremonies; and Eleanor tried to think of King Henry and Sister Esclairmonde, and how they were throwing their hearts into the great thoughts of the day, and she felt distressed at being infected by Jean's suppressed laughter at the movements of the fat Abbess, and at the extraordinary noises made by the younger nuns with clappers, as demonstrations against Judas on the way to the Easter Sepulchre.
She was so much shocked at herself that she wanted to confess; but Father Romuald had gone with the male members of the party, and the chaplain did not half understand her French, though he gave her absolution.
Meantime all the nuns were preparing Easter eggs, whereof there was a great exchange the next day, when the mass was as splendid as the resources of the Abbey could furnish, and all were full of joy and congratulation, the sense of oneness for once inspiring all.
Moreover, after mass, Sir Patrick and an Englishman rode over with tidings that King Rene had sent a messenger, who was on the Tuesday to guide them all to a glade where the King hoped to welcome the ladies as befitted their rank and beauty, and likewise to meet the royal travellers from Bourges, so that all might make their entry into Nanci together.
The King himself, it was reported, did nothing but ride backwards and forwards between Nanci and the convent where he had halted, arranging the details of the procession, and of the open-air feast at the rendezvous upon the way.
'I hope,' said Lady Suffolk, 'that King Rene's confections will not be as full of rancid oil as those of the good sisters. I know not which was more distasteful--their Lenten Fast or their Easter Feast. We have, certes, done our penance this Lent!'
To which the rest of the ladies could not but agree, though Lady Drummond felt it somewhat treasonable to the good nuns, their entertainers; and both she and Eleanor recollected how differently Esclairmonde would have felt the matter, and how little these matters of daily fare would have concerned her.
'To-day we shall see her!' exclaimed Eleanor, springing to the floor, as, early on a fine spring morning, the ladies in the guest-chamber of the nunnery began to bestir themselves at the sound of one of the many convent bells. 'They are at Toul, and we shall meet this afternoon. I have not slept all night for thinking of it.'
'No, and hardly let me sleep,' said Jean, slowly sitting up in bed. 'Thou hast waked me so often that I shall be pale and heavy-eyed for the pageant.'
'Little fear of that, my bonnie bell,' said old Christie, laughing.
'Besides,' said Eleanor, 'nobody will fash themselves to look at us in the midst of the pageant. There will be the King to see, and the bride. Oh, I wish we were not to ride in it, and could see it instead at our ease.'
'Thou wast never meant for a princess,' said Jean; 'Christie, Annis, for pity's sake, see till her. She is busking up her hair just as was gude enough for the old nuns, but no for kings and queens.'
'I hate the horned cap, in which I feel like a cow, and methought Meg wad feel the snood a sight for sair een,' said Eleanor.
'Meg indeed! Thou must frame thy tongue to Madame la Dauphine.'
'Before the lave of them, but not with sweet Meg herself.'
'Our sister behoves to have learnt what suits her station, and winna bide sic ways from an ower forward sister. Dinna put us all to shame, and make the folk trow we came from some selvage land,' said Jean, tossing her head.
'Hast ever seen me carry myself unworthy of King James's daughter?' proudly demanded Eleanor.
'Nay, now, bairnies, fash not yoursells that gate,' interfered old Christie; 'nae fear but Lady Elleen will be douce and canny enow when folks are there to see. She kens what fits a king's daughter.'
Jean made a little hesitation over kirtles and hoods, but fortunately ladies, however royal, had no objection to wearing the same robes twice, and both she and her sister were objects to delight the eyes of the crowding and admiring nuns when they mounted their palfreys in the quadrangle, and, attended by the Lady of Glenuskie and her daughter, rode forth with the Marchioness of Suffolk at the great gateway to join the cavalcade, headed by Suffolk and Sir Patrick.
After about two miles' riding on a woodland road they became aware of fitful strains of music and a continuous hum of voices, heard through the trees and presently a really beautiful scene opened before them, as the trees seemed to retreat, so as to unfold a wide level space, further enclosed by brilliant tapestry hangings, their scarlet, blue, gold and silver hues glittering in an April sun, and the fastenings concealed by garlands of spring flowers. An awning of rich gold embroidery on a green ground was spread so as to shelter a cloth glittering with plate and bestrewn with flowers; horses, in all varieties of ornamental housings, were being led about; there was a semicircle of musicians in the rear; and, as soon as the guests came in sight, there came forward, doffing his embroidered and jewelled cap, a gentleman of middle stature and of exceeding grace and courtesy, whose demeanour, no less than the attendance around him, left no doubt that this was no other than Rene, Duke of Anjou and of Lorraine, Count of Provence, and King of the Two Sicilies and of Jerusalem.
'Welcome,' he exclaimed in French, 'welcome, fair and royal maidens; welcome, noble lord, the representative of our dear brother and son of England. Deign on your journey to partake of the humble and rural fare of the poor minstrel shepherd.'
Wherewith the music broke out in strains of welcome from the grove, with voices betweenwhiles Rene himself assisted each princess to dismount, and respectfully kissed her on the cheek as she stood on the ground. Then, taking a hand of each, he led them to a great chestnut tree, the shade of whose branches was assisted by hangings of blue embroidered with white, beneath which cushions, mantles, and seats were spread, and a bevy of ladies in bright garments stood. From these came forward two beautiful young girls, with fair complexions and flowing golden hair, scarcely confined by the bands whence transparent veils descended. King Rene presented them as his two daughters, Yolande and Margaret, to the two Scottish maidens, and there were kindly as well as courtly embraces on either side. The Lady of Glenuskie, as a king's grand-daughter, with Annis and Lady Suffolk, had likewise been led up to take their places; the four royal maidens were seated together. Yolande, the most regularly beautiful, but with an anxious look on her face, talked to Eleanor of her journey; Margaret, who had one of those very simple, innocent-looking child-faces that sometimes form the mask of immense energy of character, was more absent and inattentive to her duties as hostess; moreover, she and Jean did not understand one another's language so well as did the other two. Delicate little cakes, and tall Venice glasses, spirally ornamented, and containing light wines, were served to them on the knee by a tall, large, fair-haired youth, who was named to them as the Duke Sigismund, of Alsace and the Tyrol.
Jean had time to look about, and heartily wish that her beautiful flaxen hair was loose, and not encumbered with the rolled headgear with two projecting horns, against which Elleen had rebelled; since York and even London were evidently behind the fashion. Margaret's hair was bound with a broad band of daisies, and Yolande's with violets, both in allusion to their names, Yolande being the French corruption of Violante, her Provencal name, in allusion to the golden violet. Jean thought of the Scottish thistle, and studied the dresses, tight-fitting 'cotte hardis' of bright, deep, soft, rose colour, edged with white fur, and white skirts embroidered with their appropriate flowers. She wondered how soon this could be imitated, casting a few glances at Duke Sigismund, who stood waiting, as if desirous of attracting Yolande's attention. Eleanor, on the other hand, even while answering Yolande, had a feeling as if she had arrived at the completion of the very vision which she had imagined on the dreary tower of Dunbar. Here was the warm spring sun, shining on a scene of unequalled beauty and brilliancy, set in the spring foliage and blossom, whence, as if to rival the human performers, gushes of nightingales' song came in every interval. Hearing Eleanor's eager question whether that were the nightingale whose liquid trillings she heard, King Rene realised that the Scottish maidens knew not the note, and signed to the minstrels to cease for a time, then came and sat on a cushion beside the young lady, and enjoyed her admiration.
'Ah!' she said, 'that is the king of the minstrel birds.'
He smiled. 'The royal lady then has her orders and ranks for the birds.'
'Oh yes. If the royal eagle is the king, and the falcon is the true knight, the nightingale and mavis, merle and lark, are the minstrels. And the lovely seagull, oh, how call you it?--with the long white floating wings rising and falling, is the graceful dancer.'
'Guifette,' Rene gave the word, 'or in Provence, Rondinel della mar--hirondelle de la mer!'
'Swallow! Ah, the pilgrim birds, who visit the Holy Land.'
'Lady, you should be of our court of the troubadours,' said Rene; 'your words should be a poem.'
He was called away at the moment, and craved her licence so politely that the chivalrous minstrel king seemed to Elleen all she had dreamt of. The whole was perfect, nothing wanting save that for which her heart was all the time beating high, the presence of her beloved sister Margaret. It was as if a scene out of a romance of fairyland had suddenly taken reality, and she more than once closed her eyes and squeezed her hands to try whether she was awake.
A fanfaron of trumpets came on the wind, and all were on the alert, while Eleanor's heart throbbed so that she could hardly stand, and caught at Margaret's arm, as she murmured with a gasp, 'My sister! My sister!'
'Ah! you are happy to meet once more,' said Margaret. 'The saints only know whether Yolande and I shall ever see one another's faces again when once I am carried away to your dreary England.'
'England is not mine, lady,' said Eleanor, rather sharply. 'We reckon the English as our bitterest foes.'
'You have come with an Englishman though,' said Margaret, 'whom I am to take for my husband,' and she laughed a gay innocent laugh. A grizzled old knight, whom I am not like to mistake for my true spouse. Have you seen him? What like is he?'
'The gentlest and sweetest of kings,' returned Eleanor; 'as fond of all that is good and fair and holy as is your own royal father.'
Margaret coughed a little. 'My husband should be a gallant warlike knight,' she said, 'such as was this king's father.'
'Oh, see! cried Eleanor. 'I saw the glitter of the spears through the trees. There's another blast of the trumpets! Oh! oh! it is a gallant sight! If only Jamie, my little brother, could see it! It stirs one's blood.'
'Ah yes, Elleen,' cried Jean. 'This is something to have come for.'
'And Margaret, sweet Madge,' repeated Eleanor to herself, in her native Scotch, while King Rene's trumpets, harps, and hautbois burst forth with an answering peal, so exciting her that her yellow-brown eyes sparkled and the colour rose in her cheeks, giving her a strange beauty full of eager spirit. Duke Sigismund turned and gazed at her in surprise, and an old herald who was waiting near observed, 'Is that the daughter of the captive King of Scotland? She has his very countenance and bearing.'
The trumpeters and other attendants, bearing the blue-lilied banner of France, appeared among the trees, and dividing, formed a lane for the advance of the royal personages. King Rene went forward to meet them, foremost, so as to be ready to hold the stirrup for his sister the Queen of France. Duke Sigismund seemed about to give his hand to the Infanta Violante, as the Provencaux called Yolande, but she was beforehand with him, linking her arm into Jean's, while Margaret took Eleanor's, and said in her ear, 'The great awkward German! He is come here to pay his court to Yolande, but she will none of him. She has better hopes.'
Eleanor hardly attended, for her whole soul was bent on the party arriving. King Charles, riding on a handsome bay horse, closely followed by a conveyance such as was called in England a whirlicote, from which the Queen was handed out by her brother, and then, on a sorrel palfrey, in a blue gold-embroidered riding-suit--could that be Margaret of Scotland? The long reddish-yellow hair and the tall figure had a familiar look. King Rene was telling her something as he helped her to alight, and with one spring, regardless of all, and of all ceremony, she sprang forward. 'My wee Jeanie! My Elleen! My titties! Mine ain wee things,' she cried in her native tongue, as she embraced them by turns, as if she would have devoured them, with a gush of tears.
Though these were times of great state and ceremony, yet they were also very demonstrative times, when tears and embracings were expected of near kindred; and, indeed, the King and Queen were equally occupied with their brother and nieces; but presently Eleanor heard a low voice observe, with a sort of sarcastic twang, 'If Madame has sufficiently satiated her tenderness, perhaps she will remember the due of others.' Margaret started as if stung, and Eleanor, looking up, beheld a face, young but sharp, and with a keen, hard, set look in the narrow eyes, contracted brow, and thin lips, that made her feel as though the serpent had found his way into her paradise. Hastily turning, Margaret presented her sisters to her husband, who bowed, and kissed each with those strange thin lips, that again made Eleanor shudder, perhaps because of his compliment, 'We are graced by these ladies, in whom we have another Madame la Dauphine, as well as an errant beauty.'
Jean appropriated the last words, but Elleen felt sure that the earlier ones were ironical, both to her and to the Dauphiness, on whose cheeks they brought a flush. The two kings, however, turned to receive the sisters, and nothing could be kinder than the tone of King Charles and Queen Marie towards the sisters of their good daughter, as they termed the Dauphiness, who on her side was welcomed by Rene as the sweet niece, sharer of his tastes, who brought minstrelsy and poetry in her train.
'Trust her for that, my fair uncle,' said her husband in a cold, dry tone.
All the royal personages sat down on the cushions spread on the grass to the 'rural fare,' as King Rene called it, which he had elaborately prepared for them, while the music sounded from the trees in welcome.
All was, as the kind prince announced, without ceremony, and he placed Lord Suffolk, as the representative of Henry VI., next to the young Infanta Margaret, and contrived that the Dauphiness should sit between her two sisters, whose hands she clasped from time to time within her own in an ecstasy of delight, while inquiries came from time to time, low breathed in her native tongue, for wee Mary and Jamie and baby Annaple. 'The very sound of your tongues is music to my lugs,' she said. 'And how much mair when ye speak mine ain bonnie Scotch, sic as I never hear save by times when one archer calls to another. Jeanie, you favour our mother. 'Tis gude for ye! I am blithe one of ye is na like puir Marget!'
'Dinna say that,' cried Jean, in an access of feeling. ''Tis hame, and it's hame to see sic a sonsie Scots face--and it minds me of my blessed father.'
It was true that Margaret and Eleanor both were thorough Scotswomen, and with the expressive features, the auburn colouring, and tall figures of their father; but there was for the rest a melancholy contrast between them, for while Elleen had the eager, hopeful, lively healthfulness of early youth, giving a glow to her countenance and animation to the lithe but scarcely-formed figure, Margaret, with the same original mould, had the pallor and puffiness of ill-health in her complexion, and a largeness of growth more unsatisfactory than leanness, and though her face was lighted up and her eyes sparkled with the joy of meeting her sisters, there were lines about the brow and round the mouth ill suited to her age, which was little over twenty years.