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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XI


Treaty of Peaee between James IV. of Scotland and Henry VII. of England.—Minority of James V.—His Adventures in disguise.—The Gaberlunzie Man.

King James the Fifth in Scotland reign'd
Like many other kings;
He did some common-place affairs,
And divers curious things.

After the fall of the House of Douglas, no one chieftain seems to have been especially potent on the Borders until some time further, when the sixth Earl of Angus, ycleped Bell-the-Cat, made rapid strides to power. He was Warden of the east and middle marches, Lord of Liddesdale and Jedwood forest, and possessed of the strong castles of Tantallon, Douglas, and Hermitage.

Respected more for his lineage than for his virtues, he found a large body of the nobility of the land, who thought more of lineage than virtue, ready so far to obey his treasonable behests as to assail, with him, the foundations of the throne, on which sat James III: and, in fine, matters came to such a pass, that the disaffected assembled an army with which they attacked and slew the king, near the village of Bannockburn, where Bruce, in aforetime had achieved worthier things. James's army was composed of Highlanders, who could in no wise resist the men of Annandale and Liddesdale, who carried spears two ells longer than those used by the rest of their countrymen.

James IV. was a vigorous, energetic, and active prince, but head-strong and self-opiniated—failings which at last proved his ruin. A treaty of perpetual peace was concluded between him and Henry VII. of England in 1503, and by way of cementing the good understanding, he wedded at Edinburgh (not at Gretna) Margaret the eldest daughter of this king. In the subsequent reign of Henry VIII., a series of complaints were brought against some Scots abroad, who were blowing upon the embers of an ancient quarrel they had had with the Portuguese, and which had nearly died out. With this the English had had nothing to do ; but as its reviviscence now clashed with English interests, it-brought about a rupture, which was never thoroughly made up.

James invaded England in 1513, and was defeated : and on the 9th of September in the same year, contrary to the advice of all his councillors of war, he encountered his newly declared enemies at Flodden Field, where he was slain.

During the minority of James V., Scottish affairs were in a most troublous and disordered state: the nobles were ignobly plotting against each other and the regency: the Queen mother was counterplotting against them; the chieftains on the borders were devouring each other by rapine and violence ; and the English of Cumberland and Northumberland, not unassisted sometimes by the government, were cruelly ^ravaging the Merse, the Debateable Land, and all the parts adjacent, so that, as Cardinal Wolsey observed, " There was left neither house, fortress, village, tree, cattle, corn, or other succour for man."

The piratical system of moss-trooping was now in its meridian; as regularly as the sun set, parties of marauders set out to plunder their neighbours of their beeves and sheep, which parties, if pursued, fled to the fastnesses of Tarras Moss, or the Debateable Land ; the dislocated government had no power, or no inclination to check this state of things; and by this time, the thieves of Annan-dale and Liddesdale had become notorious.

James V., like the eastern king in the Arabian Nights, took much pleasure in paying visits to his unsuspecting subjects muffled up in the dark features of disguise. He would habit himself in the vesture of a country loon, and enter the kitchen of the farmer's gudewife, with whom he would hold discourse on the prospects of the coming harvest, the treatment of landlords, and the government of the king; or he would assume the tatters of a gaberlunzie man, and try the courtesy and alms-giving of the noble, gentle, and simple, as his fantasy directed.

There appear to have been two motives for the adoption of this practice : in the first place, he was naturally enamoured of romance, sport, and adventure ; and in the second place, such was the inefficiency of deputies in the correction of abuses, such the feebleness of the administrators of justice, as compared with the power of the turbulent, such the intrigues of the barons in plotting and counterplotting against himself and each other, and such the difficulty in coming at the real truth in regard to the condition of his people in distant parts of his kingdom, that he resolved personally to visit such places as he was desirous of gaining knowledge about, and to see into the actual amount of existing grievances with his own eyes.

In the amusing prosecution of these adventures, he unreservedly went into either the hall of the castle, pertaining to any of his noble retainers, or into the hut of the cotter who dwelt on the moor. To these last, his peregrinations were most especially directed, so that at last he was styled, "The king of the poor."

That the royal author of the Gaberlunzie Man was also the hero of the exploit therein so blithely chanted, is a point on which antiquaries are pretty well agreed. If he has not received conviction of its paternity. from circumstantial evidence, at all events, sentence has been unanimously passed on him from " habit and repute," as the Scottish men of law say.

One cold night during the inclement season of the year, as the gudewife of a certain cotter was busied about her domestic matters, assisted by a comely maiden, her daughter, there came to the door an ancient-looking man dressed in beggar's weeds. After bidding her many good den good e'ens, he besought her of her courtesy to give him lodging, until he could again proceed on his peregrination.

The laws of hospitality were such, that she needed no second request, but incontinently granted to him her welcome, her vivers,—those indeed that might be found in her scantily furnished cupboard,—and also a resting-place for the night.

Thus received, he sat down by the fire with hearty good will, for he was wet with the recent shower; his spirits rose, he brightened up at the thought of his comfortable quarters; and by way of making acquaintance with the daughter, he patted her on the shoulder—a liberty in so old a man that was readily pardoned. So high indeed did the ebullition of his gaiety effervesce, that he irresistibly burst forth in melody, and joyously vociferated divers excellent songs.

It is not the cassock nor the hood that will make the holy monk, nor the veil that will make the unspotted vestal, nor the superfine coat that will make the modern gentleman, nor the tattered weeds that will make the penniless beggar.

Never mind; here was a supposed old gaberlunzie that needed victuals and shelter; and for these necessaries he, in return, did all he could to amuse his entertainers.

Either his merry sayings, or his pleasant tales of adventure, so divertingly narrated to the maiden, or else the discovery that she might have made, of his not being the uncomely wight he had represented, or else, in addition to this, the few sweet words which he slily poured into her ears when the mother was at the further end of the kitchen; these, some or all of them, so wrought upon the ardency of her youthful heart, that his society and his converse had now become intensely agreeable to her, so that she did not know how she should ever again be able to do without them.

The good easy mother little suspected the change that had suddenly come o'er the spirit of her daughter, and dreamt not of the nature of the turn their dialogue had taken.

He declared to her that he would willingly go with her to the world's end, whithersoever the fates should direct: and she, having been absolutely poisoned by the delicious venom of his protestations, confessed that she was dead to every care but love, and would blindly follow him, even where, when, and how he should choose to lead.

Affairs had now arrived at a somewhat critical position.

Between these two a plot was concocted; the purpose of which was, that they should both elope and escape away together in the middle of the night.

Alas for love! it is a glorious passion when it is wise and well directed ; but if it is suffered to run wild, it will ofttimes lead its slaves into sore perplexities.

They arose a short time before the cock crew; they carefully lifted the latch of the door, and then, finding themselves withoutside, they closed it behind them, and fled away into the wilderness.

Oh, the unbounded liberty of the wilderness ! Ye may wander north, south, east, west, up and down, right and left, free, unfettered, unimpeded ; ye may also knaw roots and grubs, if bakers shops fail; or ye may starve upon nothing, and die in a quagmire,—and nobody know anything about it.

When the bright eye of the sun opened upon the hills in the morning, then did the gudewife open her eyes also ; leisurely she lifted herself from her pallet, and leisurely, says the chronicle, did she put her vestments about her.

Her first hospitable solicitude was to know how the gaberlunzie had slept; wherefore she took her course toward the servant's room which had been given up to him. On entering therein, she found it empty; she proceeded further with a sentiment of astonishment springing up within her; she went to the bed where he had lain ; the straw was cold —the beggar had vanished.

She wrung her hands, she raved, she filled the house with lamentations loud and deep; every one was in a stir, and troubled with a thousand conjectures.

Some, in affright, ran to the coffers to see whether anything had been stolen; others ran to the cupboards and chests, in order to assure themselves of the extent of the robbery that had been committed on them. Nothing, howbeit, was missing. Everything was safe, perfect, and in its place as afore.

Thus relieved in apprehension, though still perplexed with the greatest wonderment, the mother returned in some degree to her" senses. She breathed freer, she ceased her sorrowings, and she assuaged her tears.

"Since nothing is missing as we can see," said she to her servant maid, "since the churn in the dairy is safe, and the milk untouched, go now and awaken my daughter, and bid her come hither."

Alack then, if it must be so; now the real amount of her affliction must be revealed.

The servant went to the maiden's room, but had not one half crossed the floor, ere she was stricken with as much amazement as ever had troubled the whole household just before.

"The sheets were cold and she was away," says the ancient and royal historiographer: and the servant came screaming back to her mistress, declaring that, forsooth, she was off with the Gaberlunzie man!

Now then did a thousand distracting passions cruelly torture every dweller in that habitation. The old woman well nigh went out of her wits; she hastily resolved on divers plans for pursuing the fugitives, sometimes this way, sometimes the other, in any or every likely direction in which they may have fled; but so sorely racked was she with fears and vexations, that although she. formed these plans of pursuit, and although she desired eagerly to undertake them herself, still, as she could not guess as to which way they might have gone, and as she wished every known road explored, and as she could not take every one of them her single self, she became at last so confused, so anxious, and so bewildered, that she could do nothing at all in the matter.

She hurried some on horseback to ride the country over, and some she despatched to run off through by-roads and crooked paths, to look, to search, to hunt, to inquire.

She never thought of despatching any one to Gretna; but Gretna was nothing then. No matter, they had not gone to Gretna—at least, we do not know for certain whether they had or not; at all events, they had not gone to the village of Springfield, for as we said before, they had fled into the wilderness.

Still, says the chronicle, she never ceased to curse and to ban : and according to her commandments, seconded by the anxiety of the whole establishment, her vassals never ceased to ride and to run.

Truth, however, will at last prevail; and mystery, deception, mistake, and ignorance, will have an end.

In a most secluded and retired glen, "where none could see," the ancient gaberlunzie-man and the young maiden were at last discovered, comfortably enjoying the solace of a country life : they were sporting away the time in loving discourse, and, at the moment of discovery, were discussing their vivers, for we are told that they were cutting a slice from a new cheese.

So content were they with the issue of the exploit and with each other's society, that he vowed to love her for aye with words most ardent; and she positively declared that certainly and truly, she should be very loth to leave him : she confessed it honestly—she would not conceal it—she did allow, most sincerely, that she should be much grieved to leave him.

"But," added she with some apprehension, "if my mother knew that I were now with you' greatly would she indeed be troubled."

"My dear," quoth he in return, "harbour no fears and no misgivings on her account. You have not yet learnt the beggar's dialect, such as will enable you to accompany me from town to town, and pleasantly to carry on the gaberlunzie traffic. Mislike me not for what I have done. I will earn thee bread by my industry and the sale of my wares: my spinnels and quhorles, and other matters of merchandise, together with the love we bear each other, will carry us to the world's end—and back again if we list. I will bow my leg, and crook my knee, and draw a black patch over my eye, so that folks shall say I be crippled and blind: and this disguisement, shown up to the inspection of the King's lieges (who, in his chevisance, will be blinder than we), shall be a rare subject for merriment with us. Whilst pity and alms be the meed that they will plentifully shower upon the old gaberlunzie-man, we will sing in the security of our secret, and be blithesome."

What could she do? how could she help it?

If she had been reluctant to comply, she could not have refrained; but not being one whit reluctant, she did not even try to refrain.

How sweet are the words of those who urge us to do the very thing we desire!

If the facetious monarch honestly restored the gudewife to her peace, and the maiden to her home, after he had satisfied his liking for adventure, he made her taste happiness indeed, after the anxiety whereinto he had at first plunged her: and if tricks and practical jokes be unwise to play, the least that can be afterwards done is, to make an ample amends. But it is dangerous to play with young ladies' hearts. Some fancy that their hearts are very tough, and will bear a deal of pulling about: this is a mistake : they are made of egg-shell, and are easily crushed.


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