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Wilson's Border Tales
The Unbidden Guest


OR, JEDBURGH’S REGAL FESTIVAL.

"In the mid revels, the first ominous night
Of their espousals, when the room shone bright
With lighted tapers—the king and the queen leading
The curious measures, lords and ladies treading
The self-same strains—the king looks back by chance,
And spies a strange intruder fill the dance;
Namely, a mere anatomy, quite bare,
His naked limbs both without flesh and hair,
(As we decipher Death) who stalks about
Keeping true measure till the dance be out."
Heywood’s Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels.

There is no river in this country which presents, in its course, scenes more beautifully romantic than the little Jed. Though it exhibits not the dizzy cliffs where the eagles build their nests, the mass of waters, the magnitude and the boldness, which give the character of sublimity to a scene; yet, as it winds its course through undulating hills where the forest trees entwine their broad branches, or steals along by the foot of the red rocky precipices, where the wild flowers and the broom blossom from every crevice of their perpendicular sides, and from whose summits the woods bend down, beautiful as rainbows, it presenteth pictures of surpassing loveliness, which the eye delights to dwell upon. It is a fair sight to look down from the tree-clad hills upon the ancient burgh, while the river half circling it, and gardens, orchards, woods, in the beauty of summer blossoming, or the magnificence of their autumnal hues, encompassing it, while the venerable Abbey riseth stately in the midst of all as a temple in paradise. Such is the character of the scenery around Jedburgh now; and, in former ages, its beauty rendered it a favourite resort of the Scottish Kings.

About the year 1270, an orphan boy, named Patrick Douglas, herded a few sheep upon the hills, which were the property of the monks of Melrose. Some of the brotherhood, discovering him to be a boy of excellent parts, instructed him to read and to write; and perceiving the readiness with which he acquired these arts, they sought also to initiate him into all the learning of the age, and to bring him up for their order. To facilitate and complete his instructions, they had him admitted amongst them, as a convert or lay-brother. But, though the talents of the shepherd boy caused him to be regarded as a prodigy by all within the monastery, from the Lord Abbot down to the kitchener and his assistants; yet, with Patrick, as with many others even now, gifts were not graces. He had no desire to wear the white cassock, narrow scapulary, and plain linen hood of the Cistertian brethren; neither did he possess the devoutness necessary for performing his devotions seven times a day; and, when the bell roused him at two in the morning, to what was called the nocturnal service, Patrick arose reluctantly; for, though compelled to wedge himself into a narrow bed at eight o’clock in the evening, it was his wont to lie awake, musing on what he had read or learned, until past midnight; and, when the nocturnal was over, he again retired to sleep, until he was aroused at six for matins; but, after these, came other devotions called tierce, the sexte, the none, vespers, and the compline, at nine in the morning, at noon, at three in the afternoon, at six in the evening, and before eight. These services broke in on his favourite studies; and, possessing more talent than devotion, while engaged in them, he thought more of his studies than of them. Patrick, therefore, refused to take the monastic vow. He

"had heard of war,
And longed to follow to the field some warlike lord."

He, however, was beloved by all; and when he left the monastery, the Abbot and the brethren gave him their benediction, and bestowed gifts upon him. He also carried with him letters from the Lord Abbot and Prior, to men who were mighty in power at the court of King Philip of France.

From the testimonials which he brought with him, Patrick Douglas, the Scottish orphan, speedily obtained favour in the eyes of King Philip and his nobles, and became as distinguished on the field for his prowess and the feats of his arms, as he had been in the Abbey of Melrose for his attainments in learning. But a period of peace came; and he who was but a few years before a shepherd boy by Tweed-side, now bearing honours conferred on him by a foreign monarch, was invited as a guest to the palace of the illustrious Count of Dreux. A hundred nobles were there, each exhibiting all the pageantry of the age; and there, too, were a hundred ladies, vying with each other in beauty, and in the splendour of their array. But chief of all was Jolande, the daughter of their host, the Count of Dreux, and the fame of whose charms had spread throughout Christendom. Troubadours sang of her beauty, and princes bent the knee before her. Patrick Douglas beheld her charms. He gazed on them with a mixed feeling of awe, of regret, and of admiration. His eyes followed her, and his soul followed them. He beheld the devoirs which the great and the noble paid to her, and his heart was heavy: for she was the fairest and the proudest flower among the French nobility—he an exotic weed of desert birth. And, while princes strove for her hand, he remembered, he felt, that he was an orphan of foreign and of obscure parentage—a scholar by accident (but to be a scholar was no recommendation in those days, and it is but seldom that it is one even now), and a soldier of fortune, to whose name royal honours were not attached, while his purse was light, and who, because his feet covered more ground than he could call his own, his heels were denied the insignia of knighthood. Yet, while he ventured not to breathe his thoughts or wishes before her, he imagined that she looked on him more kindly, and that she smiled on him more frequently than on his lordly rivals; and his heart deceived itself, and rejoiced in secret.

Now, it was early in the year 1283, the evening was balmy for the season, the first spring flowers were budding forth, and the moon, as a silver crescent, was seen among the stars. The young scholar and soldier of unknown birth walked in the gardens of the Count of Dreux, and the lovely Jolande leaned upon his arm. His heart throbbed as he listened to the silver tones of her sweet voice, and felt the gentle pressure of her soft hand in his. He forgot that she was the daughter of a prince—he the son of a dead peasant. In the delirium of a moment, he had thrown himself on his knee before her, he had pressed her hand on his bosom, and gazed eagerly in her face.

She was startled by his manner, and had only said—"Sir! what means?"--though in a tone neither of reproach nor of pride, when what she would have said was cut short by the sudden approach of a page, who, bowing before her, stated that four commissioners having arrived from the King of Scotland, the presence of the Princess Jolande was required at the palace. Patrick Douglas started to his feet as he heard the page approach, and as he listened to his words, he trembled.

The princess blushed, and turning from Patrick, proceeded in confusion towards the palace; while he followed at a distance repenting of what he had said, and of what he had done, or, rather, wishing that he had said more, or said less.

"Yet," thought he, "she did not look on me as if I had spoken presumptuously! I will hope, though it be against hope—even though it be but the shadow of despair."

But an hour had not passed, although he sought to hide himself with his thoughts in his chamber, when he heard that the commissioners that had arrived from his native land, were Thomas Charteris, the High Chancellor; Patrick de Graham, William de St. Clair, and John de Soulis: and that their errand was to demand the beautiful Jolande as the bride and queen of their liege sovereign, Alexander the Third, yet called good.

Now, the praise of Alexander was echoed in every land. He was as a father to his people, and as a husband to his kingdom. He was wise, just, resolute, merciful. Scotland loved him—all nations honoured him. But Death, that spareth not the prince more than the peasant, and which, to short-sighted mortals, seemeth to strike alike at the righteous and the wicked, had made desolate the hearths of his palaces, and rendered their chambers solitary. Tribulation had fallen heavily on the head of a virtuous King. A granddaughter, the infant child of a foreign prince, was all that was left of his race; and his people desired that he should leave behind him, as inheritor of the crown, one who might inherit also his name and virtues. He was still in the full vigour of his manhood, and the autumn of years was invisible on his brow. No "single silverings" yet marked the raven ringlets which waved down his temples; and, though his years were forty and three, his appearance did not betoken him to be above thirty.

His people, therefore, wished, and his courtiers urged, that he should marry again; and fame pointed out the lovely Jolande, the daughter of the Count of Dreux, as his bride.

When Patrick Douglas, the learned and honoured, but fortuneless soldier, found that his new competitor for the hand of the gentle Jolande was none other than his sovereign, he was dumb with despair, and the last, the miserable hope which it imparts, and which maketh wretched, began to leave him. He now accused himself for having been made the sacrifice of a wild and presumptuous dream, and again he thought of the kindly smile and the look of sorrow which met together on her countenance, when, in a rash, impassioned moment, he fell on his knee before her, and made known what his heart felt.

But, before another sun rose, Patrick Douglas, the honoured military adventurer of King Philip, was not to be found in the palace of the Count de Dreux. Many were the conjectures concerning his sudden departure; and, amongst those conjectures as regarding the cause, many were right. But Jolande stole to her chamber, and in secret wept for the brave stranger.

More than two years passed away, and the negotiations between the courts of Scotland and of France, respecting the marriage of King Alexander and Fair Jolande, were continued; but, during that period, even the name of Patrick Douglas, the Scottish soldier, began to be forgotten—his learning became a dead letter, and his feats of arms continued no longer the theme of tongues. It is seldom that kings are such tardy wooers; but between the union of the good Alexander and the beautiful Jolande many obstacles were thrown. When, however, their nuptials were finally agreed to, it was resolved that they should be celebrated on a scale of magnificence, such as the world had not seen. Now, the loveliest spot in broad Scotland, where the Scottish King could celebrate the gay festivities, was the good town of Jedworth, or, as it is now called, Jedburgh. For it was situated, like an Eden, in the depth of an impenetrable forest; gardens circled it; wooded hills surrounded it; precipices threw their shadows over flowery glens; wooded hills embraced it; as the union of many arms; waters murmured amidst it; and it was a scene on which man could not gaze without forgetting, or regretting his fallen nature. Yea, the beholder might have said—"If the earth be yet so lovely, how glorious must it have been ere it was cursed because of man’s transgression!"

Thither, then, did the Scottish monarch, attended by all the well-affected nobles of his realm, repair to meet his bride. He took up his residence in the castle of his ancestors, which was situated near the Abbey, and his nobles occupied their own, or other houses, in other parts of the town; for Jedburgh was then a great and populous place, and, from the loveliness of its situation, the chosen residence of royalty. (It is a pity but that our princes and princesses saw it now, and they would hardly be again charmed with the cold, dead and bare beach of Brighton). An old writer (I forget whom) has stated, in describing the magnitude of Jedburgh in those days, that it was six times larger than Berwick. This, however, is a mistake; for Berwick, at that period, was the greatest maritime town in the kingdom, and surpassed London, which strove to rival it.

On the same day that King Alexander and his splendid retinue reached Jedburgh, his bride, escorted by the nobles of France and their attendants, also arrived. The dresses of the congregated thousands were gorgeous as summer flowers, and variegated as gorgeous. The people looked with wonder on the glittering throng. The trees had lost the hues of their fresh and living green—for brown October threw its deep shadows o’er the landscape—but the leaves yet trembled on the boughs from which they were loath to part; and as a rainbow that had died upon the trees, and left its hues and impression there, the embrowning forest appeared.

The marriage ceremony was performed in the Abbey, before Morel, the Lord Abbot, and glad assembled thousands. The town and the surrounding hills became a scene of joy. The bale-fires blazed from every hill; music echoed in the streets; and from every house, while the light of tapers gleamed, was heard the sounds of dance and song. The Scottish maiden and the French courtier danced by the side of the Jed together. But chief of all the festive scene was the assembly in the hall of the royal castle. At the farther end of the apartment, elevated on a purple covered dais, sat King Alexander, with the hand of his bridal queen locked in his. On each side were ranged, promiscuously, the Scottish and the French nobility, with their wives, daughters, and sisters. Music lent its influence to the scene, and the strains of a hundred instruments blended in a swell of melody.

Thrice a hundred tapers burned suspended from the roof, and on each side of the hall stood twenty men with branches of blazing pine. Now came the morris dance, with the antique dress and strange attitudes of the performers, which was succeeded by a dance of warriors in their coats of mail, and with their swords drawn. After these a masque, prepared by Thomas the Rhymer, who sat on the right hand of the King, followed; and the company laughed, wept, and wondered, as the actors performed their parts before them.

But now came the royal dance; the music burst into a bolder strain, and lord and lady rose, treading the strange measure down the hall, after the King and his fair Queen. Louder, and yet more loud the music pealed; and, though it was midnight, the multitude without shouted at its enlivenmg strains. Blithely the dance went on, and the King well nigh forgot the measure as he looked enraptured in the fair face of his beauteous bride.

He turned to take her hand in the dance, and in its stead the bony fingers of a skeleton were extended to him. He shrank back aghast; for royalty shuddereth at the sight of Death as doth a beggar, and, in its presence feeleth his power to be as the power of him who vainly commanded the waves of the sea to go back. Still the skeleton kept true measure before him—still it extended to him its bony hand. He fell back, in horror, against a pillar where a torch-bearer stood. The lovely Queen shrieked aloud, and fell as dead upon the ground. The music ceased—silence fell on the multitude—they stood still—they gazed on each other. Dismay caused the cold damp of terror to burst from every brow, and timid maidens sought refuge and hid their faces on the bosom of strangers. But still,visible to all, the spectre stood before the king, its bare ribs rattling as it moved, and its finger pointed towards him. The music, the dancers, became noiselss, as if death had whispered—"Hush!—be still!" For the figure of Death stood in the midst of them, as though it mocked them, and no sound was heard save the rattling of its bones, the moving of its teeth, and the motion of its fingers before the king.

The lord abbot gathered courage, he raised his crucifix from his breast, he was about to exorcise the strange spectre, when it bent its grim head before him, and vanished as it came—no man knew whither.

"Let the revels cease!" gasped the terror-stricken king; and they did cease. The day had begun in joy, it was ended in terror. Fear spread over the land, and while the strange tale of the marriage spectre was yet in the mouths of all men, yea, before six months had passed, the tidings spread that the good King Alexander, at whom the figure of Death had pointed its finger, was with the dead, and his young queen a widow in a strange land.

The appearance of the spectre became a tale of wonder amongst all men, descending from generation to generation, and unto this day it remains a mystery. But on the day after the royal festival at Jedburgh, Patrick Douglas, the learned soldier, took the vows, and became a monastic brother at Melrose, and, though he spoke of Jolande in his dreams, he smiled, as if in secret triumph, when the spectre that had appeared to King Alexander was mentioned in his hearing.


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