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Book of Scottish Story
The Lady Isabel

A Legendary Tale of the Fifteenth Century

The Lady Isabel was a Scottish baronís daughter, and far was she famed. Were others fair, she was fairer ; were others rich, she was richer. In short, all perfections were said to be centred in the Lady Isabel, and yet that quality for which she ought to have been most prized, seemed the one which made the least noise in the world, - this was her devoted duty to her father. She was his only child - the child of his old age, the idol of his heart, and the lamp of his life. But still was he a cruel father; for in return for her duteous affection, he had determined to wed her to a man she had never seen, while he knew that her heart was anotherís.

The Lord of Ormisdale was the son of his ancient friend, and the possessor of broad lands in a distant part of Scotland. The two old men had sworn to each other that their children should be united, but ere this paction, the youth had been sent abroad to be initiated in the art of war - an art but too much practised in his native country at that time; for be it known that our peerless beauty bloomed in the 15th century, when the feuds of the Scottish nobility were frequent and deadly. Much was bruited abroad of the goodly person and brave qualities of the young earl, but of this Lady Isabel had no opportunity of judging, for never, as has been told, had she seen him. She had, however, but too often seen his cousin Roderick, and to him was her heart devoted. It was true he had neither title, nor lands, nor vassals; but he was a handsome, a noble, and a gallant youth, and he had knelt at her feet, confessed his love, and swore eternal constancy; and though, when she thought of her father, she turned coldly away, it was but to treasure his image in her heart, and to weep most bitter tears for the hapless fate which doomed her to wed another. Roderick, by-and-by, went away to a foreign land, distraught by his passion for the Lady Isabel ; and the time was long, and he returned not, and none spoke of him, or seemed to think of him, save his disconsolate love. But it was not so; for the old Baron loved him for his worth and manly bearing; and when he saw his daughter drooping her head like a lily, he too was unhappy, and repented him of his rash vow, though he would rather have sacrificed his own life, and hers too, than have broken his oath. And so time passed on, and many were the suitors that sought the hand of the Lady Isabel. Some loved her for herself, some for her great possessions, and some for both; but all were sent hopeless away.

And now the time was at hand when the sun was to shine upon the nineteenth birthday of the baronís daughter, and multitudes were invited to his castle to celebrate the festival with mirth and revelry. Many were the reasons on which he had thrown wide his castle gates and welcomed numerous guests, and ample the hospitable provision he had made for them; but never, during his life, or that of his forefathers, had there been such doings as now. Whole hecatombs of sheep and oxen bled on the occasion, with wain-loads of deer, wild and tame fowl, and other creatures. Every country seemed to have been taxed for fruit and other delicacies, while beer of the strongest, and wines of the richest, seemed, by the quantities provided, to be intended absolutely to flow in rivers. The birthday of the Lady Isabel had been celebrated, as it came round, ever since that on which she first drew her breath, but never had there been even imagined such preparations as this. The tongues of all the gossiping old dowagers in the kingdom were set a-going on the occasion: some assigned one reason for this extraordinary entertainment, and some another. There were several whose eager curiosity caused them so much uneasiness, that they went so far as to ask an explanation of the old baron himself They were all, however, foiled in the attempt to penetrate the mystery, and therefore settled in their own minds that the old man had either lost his wits altogether, or was in his dotage.

Nor, to speak the truth, did the young lady, on whose account was all this turmoil, feel less surprised than other people at her fatherís unbounded extravagance, especially as there arrived from the capital chest after chest, packed with the richest vestments, cut in the approved fashion of the day, and boxes filled with jewellery, which, added to the family gems she already possessed, might have furnished the dowry of a princess.

The day at length arrived for which all this extraordinary preparation had been made ; and the baron, not content with charging his daughter to apparel herself in a suit which, by its exceeding splendour, seemed to have been particularly intended for the occasion, and to wear her most costly jewels, also commanded her maidens to tax their wits in ornamenting and setting off, to the best advantage, the charms of their young mistress.

And now, after having arranged all things, and being promised implicit obedience by his daughter, the mystery of all his magnificent proceedings was partly unravelled by his telling her that they were that night to expect the arrival of the Earl of Ormisdale. He moreover presented her with a mask, and informed her that he had taken order that each of his guests should put on a visor before they enter the ball-room, after they left the banqueting-hall, and that he had done this for her sake, that the eye of idle curiosity should not read in her features what was passing in her mind when she first met her betrothed. It was in vain that the afflicted Lady Isabel pled most movingly for a more private meeting, for her father was deaf to her entreaties, while he affirmed that his precaution of the visor would do away all objections, and was so peremptory in the matter, that, as usual, she acquiesced; and having thanked and kissed his dutiful daughter, he withdrew from her with renewed youth in his step, and joy in his eye. How different, however, were the feelings of his daughter on this momentous subject ! and sore averse was she to meet the man she was sure that she could never love; and many were the tears shed, and many the resolves she made to retract all her promises, and live and die in solitude. But then she bethought her of the despair of her poor old fatheróof his tender, though mistaken loveóof the few remaining years of his life embittered by disappointmentóand his death probably hurried on through her means. All this was too much when laid in the balance with only her own happiness, and she still sustained the character of a dutiful daughter, by heroically determining to sacrifice all selfishness at the altar of filial duty and affection.

But though this was her ultimate resolve, we need not be surprised that, when decked in her splendid attire, and presiding in the gorgeous banqueting-hall of her father, she looked and felt as if assisting at a funeral feast, and that she even then would have been the better of the visor to prevent many conjectures on what her saddened looks might mean. But the time for assuming the mask arrived, and the nobles of the land, with their haughty dames, and many a knight, and many a damsel fair, bedight in silk and cloth of gold, and blazing with jewels, graced the tapestried ball-room, on which a flood of brilliant light was poured from lamp and torch. And each in joyous mood, cheered by the merry minstrels, and by the sound of harp and viol, impatiently awaited the commencement of the dance, when they were informed that it was stayed for an expected and honourable guest. And now again curiosity was at its height. But presently there was a flourish of the music, and a cry of the ushers to make way for the noble Earl of Ormisdale, and the large doors at the foot of the hall were flung wide open, and the gallant young earl, masked, and attended by a train of young gentlemen, all his kinsmen, or picked and chosen friends, advanced amid murmurs of admiration to the middle of the hall. Here they were met and welcomed by the baron, who led the earl to his lovely daughter, and having presented him to her, the guests were presently gratified by seeing the gallant young nobleman take the hand of the Lady Isabel, and lead her out to dance, Nor were there any present whose eyes did not follow them with admiration, though the measure chosen by the high-born damsel savoured more that night of grace and dignity than lightness of either heart or heel. Meantime, the old baron was so full of joy and delight, that it was remarked by all, as he was still seen near his daughter and her partner. But their hearts were both quaking: the unhappy Lady Isabelís with thinking of her promise to her father, and that of her betrothed with a fear known only to himself, for he had heard that she had loved, and now observed her narrowly. And, not content with this, he asked her, as he sat beside her, many a wily question, till at last he spoke his fears in plain guise, and she, with many sighs and tears shed within her mask, confessed the truth; still saying, that for her fatherís sake she would be his wife, if he accepted of her on such terms. But now her father whispered to her that she must presently prepare to keep her word, as this must be her bridal-night, for to that purpose alone was this high wassail kept. Her lover, too, no way daunted by his knowledge of her heart, pressed on his suit to have it so. And now was the despairing damsel almost beside herself when her father, announcing aloud his purpose to the astonished guests, called for the priest, and caused all to unmask. But in what words shall we paint the surprise, the delight, the flood of joy that came upon the heart of the Lady Isabel, when the earlís mask was removed, and she beheld in him her much beloved Roderick, who, his cousin being dead, was now the Earl of Ormisdale!

And now was each corner of the castle, from basement stone to turret height, filled with joyous greetings, and the health and happiness of the noble Earl Roderick, and of his bride, the dutiful Lady Isabel, deeply drank in many a wassail bowl.

The stately castle and its revels, the proud baron and his pomp, the beauteous dame and her childrenís children, have now passed away into oblivion, save this slight record, which has only been preserved in remembrance of the daughterís virtue, who preferred her fatherís happiness to her own.


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