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Book of Scottish Story
The Court Cave

Part 3

The stranger set out on his voluntary mission at a rapid pace, and soon arrived at the house. The door stood open, and he entered with the careless sauntering air of one entirely indifferent as to the welcome he might be greeted with. He found Colville seated apparently in no very pleasant humour, and his daughter, bustling about among the servant-maidens, wearing on her flushed cheek and suffused eye undoubted symptoms of the sorrow with which the morning’s adventure had afflicted her.

"Give you good-e’en, gudeman of Balmeny,” said the stranger, seating himself, without waiting an invitation, on the bench opposite Colville.

"The same to you, neebour,” said the landlord, in a tone that had little of welcome in it.

A few moments’ silence now ensued, Colville evidently waiting with some impatience for the tidings which the other seemed in no haste to communicate to him. But this could not last.

"Have you anything to tell, ask, or deliver, friend?” at last said Colville.

"This bright-eyed maiden is the bonny lass of Balmeny, I’m thinking," was the unreplying answer.

"That is my daughter, truly,” said the landlord, becoming more and more impatient; "does your coming concern her?”

"That it does," replied the stranger. "There’s an auld byeword, that ‘foul fish and fair daughters are nae keeping ware.’ This fair May is the object of my visit ; in short, gudeman, I come awooing."

At the sound of this magnetic word,a universal commotion arose in the dwelling of Colville. The maiden, who was its object, surveyed the stranger with indignation and surprise ; the servants whispered and tittered among each other; and Colville seemed for a moment about to give vent to the feelings of his anger, when the current of his feelings suddenly changed, and, directing a look of malicious joy to his daughter, he addressed the stranger—.

"Welcome, wooer—welcome. Come, lasses, set meat and drink before this gentle here; as the auld Earl of Douglas said, ‘ It’s ill arguing between a fu’ man and a fasting.’ "

The order was obeyed with great readiness by the serving maidens, who set before the stranger the household bread and cheese, and a bicker of no scanty dimensions, containing the reaming ale for which Scotland has been so long famous. There was a malicious rnerriment twinkling from every eye as the scene went on; for all knew well that the over-strained kindness of the host was soon to be converted into outrageous and overwhelming abuse of the guest. The stranger, however, seemed either not to notice or to slight these indications. He partook heartily of the good cheer set before him, and amused himself by returning with good-humoured smiles the stolen looks of the simpering maidens. He looked in vain, however, for Edith, who had retired from the place.

"And now,” said Colville, who began to think the stranger somewhat more at ease than he could have wished, " Your name, wooer?”

"My name?" said the stranger, somewhat embarrassed.

"Ay, your name—all men have a name. ‘Knaves’ [laying an emphasis on the word] many. ”

"True, gudeman, true. My name, then, is Stuart—James Stuart. I hope it pleases you?”

"The name is the best in the land, ” said the old man, touching his bonnet. As to the wearer—hem ! --‘a Stuarts are no sib to the king’, ye ken. What countryman are you ?"

"I was born at Stirling," said the stranger.

"Ay, ay, it may be, it may be," replied Walter Colville ; " but, to bring the matter to a point, what lands and living hae ye, friend ?”

"Sometimes less, sometimes more,” replied the stranger, "as I happen to be in the giving or the taking humour. . At the lowest ebb, however, I think they are at least worth all that ever called a Colville master.”

"Faith, and that’s a bauld word, neebour,” cried Colville, bitterly—" and one. that, I’m jalousing, you’ll find it difficult to make gude.”

"At your own time it shall be proved, gudeman; but it is not for myself I come to woo the bonny lass of Balmeny.
I am, thanks to a wise old man who sits in Windsor, wived already.”

"And who, in Beelzebub’s name, may you be blackfit for?” demanded Colville, rising in wrath.

"Give your daughter to the youth I shall name, and I will, on her wedding-day, fill you up one lippie with the red gold, and five running o’er with silver. ”

"Give her! To whom?”

"To one who loves her dearly; and, what is more, is dearly loved in return, old man. ”

"Who is he?” reiterated Colville.

"One who is worthy already of the hand of the best ae daughter of any laird in Fife ; and who, ere to-morrow’s
sun sets, will be wealthier than yourself.”

"Who—who—who is he?” cried the old man, stamping in a paroxysm of rage.

"Arthur Winton !” said the stranger.

The anger of Colville, when this unpleasing name was uttered, almost overwhelmed him.

"Out of my doors, you rascally impostor,” at length he was able to exclaim ; " out of my doors ! Swith away to the minion who sent you here, an you would wish not to taste the discipline of the whip, or to escape being worried by the tykes.”

To the stranger, the anger of the old man, instead of fear, seemed only to occasion merriment. He laughed so heartily at the violence into which the rage of his host seduced him, that the tears actually stood in his eyes—conduct that naturally increased the passion which it fed on. The servants stood looking on in silent wonder ; and Edith, startled by the noise of the discordant sounds, returned to the place in wonder and alarm.

An unexpected termination was suddenly put to the scene by the entrance of Arthur Winton. His cheek was flushed with haste ; and he was so breathless that he could hardly exclaim,—-

"Save yourself, sir stranger, by instant flight ; the Egyptians have tracked our path hither, and are pursuing us here with numbers ten times exceeding those we encountered in the cave.”

"Let them come,” said the stranger, with a smile; "Egyptians though they be, they cannot eat through stone walls or oaken doors. We will carouse within while they howl without, and drink the ‘dirige’ of their chief.”

Arthur said nothing, but looked doubtingly at Colville.

"And do you really imagine, worthy youth, and no less worthy blackfit, that I am to have my house sieged, my cattle stolen, and my corn carried off, to shield you from the consequences of your drunken brawls? Not I, by the cat of the blessed Bride. Out of my doors, ye ! caitiffs,—they can but slay you, and the whittle has crossed the craig of mony a ' better fellow than any of ye twasome is likely to prove. Begone, I say.”

"Nay, my dear father,” said Edith,imploringly, " do not drive them forth now; the Egyptians are approaching the house-they cannot escape. ”

"And they shall not stay here,” replied the old man, harshly, the tone of agony in which `Edith’s entreaties were uttered recalling all the bitterness of his feelings against Arthur.

"At least, Walter Colville,” said Arthur, "save this stranger. He cannot have offended you. It was on my errand he came hither. I will go forth alone. Perhaps one victim may suf{ice."

“Nay, brave youth," said the stranger, "we go together. Farewell, old man. You are a Scot, and yet have betrayed your guest. You are a Colville, and the first of the line that ever turned his back upon a Stuart at his utmost need."

The tone and sentiment of these words had a powerful effect on Walter Colville. A momentary confusion rested on his countenance, and then, with a smile ill put on, he said,- " Come, come, sirs ; I but joked wi’ ye. Did you really think that Walter Colville would abandon to his enemy any who have bitten his bannock, and kissed his cup as you have done ? Na, na; here you are safe while the auld wa’s stand. Sit down. I’ll go above and look out for the landloupers.”

The old man left the place accordingly, and Arthur, seizing the opportunity, retired to one corner with Edith, where the nature of their conversation could be only guessed from the animated looks and gestures of the affectionate pair.

The stranger in the meantime strode up and down the place, regardless of the affrighted servants, singing to himself-----

"O whaur will I get a bonny boy,
That will win hose and shoon;
That will rin to Lord Bamard’s yett,
And bid his ladye come?"

"What say you, my little man?” he continued, addressing a boy of twelve or thirteen years, who sat before the fire, sharing, with a shaggy collie, the contents of an ample cog, altogether unheeding the agitation which reigned around him ; " will you run to Wemyss Castle with a message to Sir David?"

"I’ the noo!” said the boy, looking up with an air expressive of the sense of the unparalleled oppression proposed in interrupting him during the sacred ceremony of supper.

The stranger laughed, and drawing from his bosom the purse we have so often spoken of, he displayed a Jacobus, and offered it to the boy. "Na, I’ll no gang for the yellow bawbee," said the urchin; "but if ye’ll gie me the braw whittle, I’ll rin. ” The stranger immediately put into his hand the dagger he coveted, and drawing him aside, conveyed to him in whispers the message he was to deliver.

Walter Colville now re-entered, and informed them that he had reconnoitred the Egyptians, who, including women and children, seemed to amount to above a hundred.

"Could I but get this younker beyond their clutches,” said the stranger, "a short half hour would disperse them like the leaves in autumn.”

Colville stared at this avowal, but was silent. The conviction of Arthur, that the speaker was not what he seemed, now seized on his mind also, but it appeared to inspire him with no pleasant feeling; on the contrary, anxiety deepened on his countenance the more and more he gazed on the handsome features of his guest, and the wild shouts of the Egyptians, which he had previously heard with comparative indifference, now evidently inspired him with the deepest terror.

It was agreed at length that the boy should make the attempt. To get him out of the house, without endangering the inmates, was comparatively easy, as the Egyptians as yet stood at some distance from the door. Once out, they had only his own ready wit and speed of foot to trust to. While Colville and Arthur therefore undid with due caution the massive bars and bolts which protected the oaken door, the stranger, anxious to witness the success of his messenger, ascended to the upper storey, and stood at the open casement. He was immediately observed by the Egyptians, who set up a yell of savage impatience at the sight, -the men brandishing their weapons, and the women waving their arms, as if threatening vengeance against him.

Their attention was now, however, directed from him to the youthful messenger, who approached towards them undauntedly. They went forward to meet him.

"The master sent me to see what ye’re a’ here for,” said the boy.

"Tell him,” said one of the Egyptians harshly, "we are come to demand the two strangers who have just entered his dwelling. Let him give them to our vengeance, and we will depart peaceably—not a feather or a rag of his shall be scathed by us.”

"And what if he shouldna just agreeto this?” said the boy, edging towards the west, covering the manoeuvre, as if retiring towards the house.

"If he refuse us, woe unto him. Vile will leave him neither corn nor cattle, kith nor kin ; burn his house with fire, and his own red blood shall lapper on his cold hearth-stone."

"Haith, carle, you maun tell him that yoursel," said the boy, as with one wild bound he sprung from the group, and, with the speed of a grayhound, made for the wood.

There was a cry of disappointment burst forth from the Egyptians as they perceived his intention, and many set out in pursuit. The chase was viewed with deep interest by the inmates of the house-for Colville, Edith, and Arthur Winton had now joined the stranger. The wood was not far distant ; the boy was famous for his swiftness of foot; and they could see that his pursuers were falling fast behind. To their dismay, however, they perceived at length that there was a powerful dog among the number, who continued the chase after all his human competitors had abandoned it in despair. He gained fast upon the boy. "He is lost!” said Edith, piteously; "that villanous dog will tear him to pieces.” But the event belied the maiden’s fear. Just as the ferocious animal seemed about to seize him, the boy was seen to turn upon his pursuer. The dog gave a loud howl, and fell to the ground, and the stranger could perceive his own dagger gleaming in the stripling’s hand, as he waved it in triumph o’er his head ere he disappeared among the trees.

"I could stake an earldom,” said the stranger exultingly, "on that boy’s proving a noble soldier! By the soul of Bruce, he can both fight and flee."

Colville’s terror, as he listened to these words, fairly mastered the composure which he had hitherto affected. He took off his bonnet, and bending lowly to the stranger, said in a tremulous voice---

"In Heaven’s name, say, oh! Say, sir, you are not the king !” ,

"Even so, good Walter, James of Scotland stands before you. Are you sorry to see me? By Saint Andrew, I had hoped I should be welcome to every honest house,-•—-ay, and every honest heart, in my dominions.”

Walter had dropped on his knee as the truth, which he had for some time suspected, was confirmed to him, and, looking up to his royal guest, while tears stood in his eyes-—"Welcome, my noble prince _; what is it of Walter Colville’s, from the bodle in his purse to the last drop of his heart’s blood, that the king’s not welcome to? I and mine, my liege, have fought, and bled, and died for the royal house. But to see your grace here in peril, surrounded by so many villains, and this old arm alone left to assist you! Oh! for the six braw fellows that I have seen prancing on yonder lea,—they would have cleared a way for your highness through them all !”

"Never fear for me, Walter Colville; I am not doomed to fall by a brawl of this kind, or in mine own land ;—so runs the rede."

The king now turned round, and perceived Arthur and Edith, who had retired to a little distance. When they saw they were observed, they advanced and would have kneeled; but the prince prevented this. He took them both by the hand, and imprinted on the lips of Edith a kiss, savouring as much of warm affection as of kingly courtesy.

Their attention was now directed to the operations of the Egyptians. They perceived, with some surprise, that a considerable number of them left the rest, and made for the wood, and that those who remained ceased the yelling manifestations of sorrow and revenge which had so affrighted Edith.

"They are meditating a retreat, methinks," said the king.

"I fear, my liege," said Colville, "they are rather planning some mode of successful assault ;" and the return of the Egyptians too soon verified the apprehension. They bore with them the trunk of a fallen tree, and the besieged at once saw the use for which this powerful engine was intended.

"My door can never withstand the shock of a ram like this,” cried Walter; " they will force a passage, and out and alas I your highness will be murdered- murdered in the house of Balmeny ! ”

James was proverbially brave, but it cannot be denied that he looked a little grave as he perceived the ponderous engine borne along, which in all probability would, in a few minutes, lay open the passage to a band of miscreants thirsting for his blood, and against whose rage the bravery of himself and his friends seemed a poor defence.

"Let the worst come to the worst," said he at length. " we three will make good this staircase for a stricken hour at least; before then the rescue must arrive.”

The king, Colville, and Arthur now sought the floor below ; Edith, with the serving-maidens, being stationed above, to be, in case of the Egyptians forcing an entry, still within the defence of the stair.

The door was of massive oak, studded with iron nails, and supported by three iron bolts of considerable thickness.

An additional defence was now added in the shape of planks placed diagonally under these bolts, and for a few moments the besieged imagined it might withstand the efforts of the assailants. But a few strokes of the tree soon showed the fallacy of this hope. The door shook under the first blow, and ere a score had been given, the yielding hinges showed that the Egyptians had well calculated the force of their instrument.

"lt must be cold steel that saves us after all," said the king, retreating to the staircase.

"Oh, that I and all my kin were stark dead on this floor, and your highness safe on Falkland green!” exclaimed Colville, wringing his wrinkled hands, and following.

They had scarcely gained their intended position at the upper landing of the staircase, when, yielding to a desperate stroke, the door flew open, and the infuriated Egyptians, shouting, made their way to the interior. Not finding those they sought below, they next proceeded to ascend the stair. This, however, was an ascent fatal to all who attempted it. Corpse after corpse fell backward among the enraged ruffians under the blows of the king and Arthur, until no one could be found daring enough to attempt the passage.

"Let us smeek them in their hive," at length cried a hoarse voice, " and so let them either roast or come forth. "

A shout of approbation followed this advice, and, while a chosen few remained to guard the stair, the remainder roamed about the house collecting together everything which could assist their diabolical design.

The king’s heart, and that of his brave companions, sank as they heard this resistless plan of destruction proposed and set about. It was for a moment only, however, for suddenly they heard the clear sweet voice of Edith exclaiming, "We are saved, we are saved! yonder comes the Lord of Wemyss and his gallant followers I” and immediately after the maiden herself appeared to reiterate the tidings.

"Are you sure of what you say, Edith?” asked the king eagerly. "How do the horsemen ride?”

"As if their coursers were winged,” replied Edith, "all of them; but one who backs a gray steed of surpassing power, is far before the rest, and ever and anon turns round, as if upbraidingly, to his followers.”

"My trusty David!” exclaimed the king, with emotion, "well wert thou worthy of the gallant gray!”

There was now heard a peculiar shout from among the Egyptians without, which was rightly interpreted as a signal of retreat; for it was immediately followed by the evacuation of the house; and so speedy and simultaneous was their flight, that the king could only perceive the latest of the tribe as they made for the wood, leaving to Wemyss and his companions a deserted field and an open entrance.

"Thanks, David, for this timely rescue, " said the king, as the knight bended the knee before him. "By my crown, the spurs were well bestowed on one who can so fairly use them ! ”

James, followed by Sir David, Walter, Arthur, and the rest, now led the way to the upper chamber, where the immoderate joy and hospitality of the old man displayed itself in the most substantial form. When they had caroused for some time, the king, turning to Colville, said,—

"Mine host, did I hear rightly when you said there was nothing beneath this roof-tree to which I was not welcome?"

"Your highness heard rightly."

"Give me then this fair maiden. We kings, you know, seldom choose the least valuable of our subjects’ chattels. "

"Your grace may command me,” said Colville, though somewhat hesitatingly, for he saw the turn which things were taking.

"And you too, sweet Edith?” said the king, again saluting the blushing girl; and then, without waiting for an answer, continued, "that you may all know, my lieges, that we accept your benevolences merely for your own bene{its, I give away this treasure, tempting as it is, to one who has well deserved the favour at our hand. Take her, Arthur, and confess that I have found a way to repay the debt I owed you. Receive his hand, fair maiden, and if it will add anything to its value in your eyes, know that it has this day saved a king’s life.”

The old man’s sentiments in regard to Arthur Winton had been undergoinga change imperceptible even to himself, from the moment he had perceived him the companion and probable favourite of the king ; but the revolution was completed when he was made acquainted with the particulars of his interference in the royal behalf,—a merit which in his eyes would have outweighed a thousand faults in his intended son-in-law.

King James shortly afterwards left the house of Balmeny amid the blessings of its inmates ; and to close our tale, we have only to add, that the gift of the monarch was shortly after confirmed at the altar, where Edith became the happy bride of Arthur Winton; and that the royal gratitude flowed freely on the wedded pair, as any who chooses to pursue the time-worn records of the Great Seal may satisfy himself.

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