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Book of Scottish Story
Basil Rolland - Chapter 1

In May, quhen men yied everichone
With Robene Hoid and Littil John.
To bring in bowis and birken bobynis,
Now all sic game is fastlings gone,
Bot gif if be amangs clowin Robbynis.—A. Scott.

THE period at which the circumstances recorded in the following narrative happened was in the troubled year of 1639. At that time the points in dispute Dispute betwixt Charles and his subjects were most violently contested, and the partizans, of each were in arms all over the country, endeavouring, by partial and solitary operations, to gain the ascendancy for their faction. The first cause of these disturbances was the attempt of the monarch to establish Episcopacy over Scotland--a form of worship which had always been disliked by the Scotch, as they considered it but a single step removed front Popery. The intemperate zeal with which Charles prosecuted his views (occasioned by a misconception of the national character of his subjects), and his averseness to compromise or conciliation, first gave rise to the combination called the Covenanters ; weak at first, but in a short time too powerful to be shaken by the exertions of the High Churchmen.

One of the first and most politic steps taken by the Council of the Covenant, denominated "the Tables," was the framing of the celebrated Bond or Covenant ; the subscribers of winch bound themselves to resist the introduction of Popery and Prelacy, and to stand by each other in case of innovations on tire established worship. Charles seeing, at last, the strength of this association, uttered, in his turn, a covenant renouncing Popery; also dispensed with the use of the Prayer Book, the Five Articles of Perth, and other things connected with public worship which were obnoxious to the Covenanters.

During this contention, the citizens of Aberdeen remained firmly attached to the royal interest, and appear to have come in with every resolution that was adopted by the government. In 1638, a deputation from "the Tables," among whom was the celebrated Andrew Cant (from whom the mission was denominated "Cant's Visitation"), arrived in the town, for the purpose of inducing the inhabitants to subscribe the Covenant; but as their representations entirely failed of success, they Were obliged to desist. The Earl of Montrose arrived in Aberdeen Aberdeen in the spring of 1639, and, partly by the terror of his arms, partly by the representations of the clergy that accompanied bin,. succeeded in imposing the Covenant on the townsmen- After his departure, a body of the royalists, commanded by the Laird of Banff, having routed the forces of Eraser and Forbes, took possession of the town, and wreaked their vengeance on all who had subscribed the Covenant. They only remained Eve days in the town, and, on their departure, it was occupied by the Earl of Marischal, who in turn harassed the royalists. As soon as Montrose heard of these occurrences, being doubtful of the fidelity of the inhabitants. He marched to Aberdeen again, again, disarmed the citizens, and imposed a heavy fine upon them. The citizens, who had been impoverished by these unjust exactions, were somewhat relieved, when Montrose, their greatest scourge, after another short visit, marched into Angus and disbanded his army.

It was in the month of June that the citizens began to feel themselves elated by the prospect, if not of peace, of the seat of the war being removed from their dwellings, on the disbanding of Montrose's forces, and at liberty to say anything about the Covenant that might seem good unto them. Those who had subscribed it under the influence of fear (and they were not a small number) veered round to the king's party, anti sounded the praises of the Viscount of Aboyne, who had landed at Aberdeen on the part of his Majesty. Their former losses and sufferings were all forgotten, and a general disposition for rejoicing was to be seen among them. Provost Leslie and his colleagues were inclined to encourage this, as it might lead those who had a hankering after the Covenant to turn to the Royal side, which allowed them greater latitude in their games and plays. It was therefore announced that, in the ensuing week, the pastime of Robin Hood and Little John (which had not been celebrated in the beginning of May, the usual time, on account of the disturbances) should be practised on the playfield, along wills the usual helps to merriment.

Of all the crowds that poured out from the town on that day to see the spectacle, it is our business only to lake notice of a young man and maiden that tripped along just as it was commencing. They appeared to be of the first order of the citizens. The maiden was a lively, interesting little girl, with blue eyes and a fine complexion; her limbs moulded into the most exact symmetry, and her whole appearance in the utmost degree fascinating. Her dress was white, with a sort of scarf or plaid wound round her person, and fastened by a loop and silver button on the left shoulder. Her flaxen hair. except a few ringlets which strayed down her neck, was confined by a silken snood, which, even at that period, was the badge of Scottish maidens. Her companion was above the middle size, of rather a slender make and ruddy complexion, with expressive dark eyes, and coal black hair flowing down, according to the fashion of the royalists, in large and glossy curb. He was about twenty years of age, and though his figure was somewhat boyish. —or feminine if you will,—yet the fire of his eye, the intelligence of his countenance, and the activity of his frame, confirmed his claims to manhood. Although the young man intended only to be a spectator of the revels, he was dressed in green, with bow and arrows, which was the dress of the actors of the play.

As they approached the playfield, now called Gilcomston, the shouts of the delighted populace were heard, mingled with the sounds of the pipe, fiddle, and trumpet, the songs of the minstrels, and the cries of the jugglers. The Abbot and Prior of Bon-Accord (or, as they were called after the Reformation, Robin Hood and Little John) had just arrived and having been greeted by the populace, were forming a ring for the celebration of the sports, which was guarded by a body of their archers. We have no need to detail the performance; suffice it to say, that the piece was intended for a satire on the Covenantees, they being shown to the lieges under the semblance of evil spirits, and the royalists of angels of light. Towards the close of it, the young man whom we have mentioned felt his sleeve pulled by a person behind him.

"Thou art he whom I seek," said the person who thus forced himself on his notice; "and thy name is Basil Rolland."

"It is," returned he; "declare your business."

"Not here. Thou seest we are surrounded by the multitude. Remove with me to a little distance, for I would hold some secret converse with thee."

That may not be. I came to squire this maiden to the revels, and may not leave her alone."

"Suffer the damsel to tarry here for a short space, and follow me to a little distance."

"Go with the stranger, Basil," said she, ''and I will remain in the same spot till you return."

"Do so then. Mary." said Basil; "I'll return anon."

As they retired to some distance from the crowd, Basil had leisure to note the appearance of the stranger. From his dress little could be learned; it was in the extremity of plainness. He had been a man of uncommon muscular strength, but it seemed much decayed, perhaps from the struggles of an active life. His eyes were sunk, but retained their lustre; and premature furrows were on his brow. When he halted, Basil addressed him:

"Will it please you then, sir, to communicate your tidings?"

"Then I ask thee, Basil Rolland, what dost thou here?"

"Why, grave sir, I'll answer thy question with another," said Basil, laughing at this solemn opening of the conference: "what dost thou here?"

"My gray hairs, young man, are a testimony unto thee that I come not here on any light matter."

"Why then, my foolish face may be a testimony to thee of the lightness of the cause that brought me hither. Marry! we have at last got rid of Montrose and his prickeared gang, wherefore we may be allowed to enjoy ourselves on the prospect of peace,'

"Enjoy thyself!" said he. "And what enjoyment canst thou gain from these absurd and impious mummeries? They are a sacrifice to the evil one; a bloody engine of Prelacy to betray the unthinking soul. Peace! What have ye to do with peace? Have not thy friends been treacherous as a snare, and unstable as water? Hath not the finger of Heaven written bitter things against them for their guile and deceit? Have not their enemies trampled them under foot, and they in whom they trusted been as a scourge and as a snare unto them? have they not been lukewarm in the good cause, regarding the favour of more than the will of. God? Are they not even now triumphing as the butt of Israel, and rejoicing that the pure evangel has been withdrawn from them? Let them lean on those whom they have chosen, and well shall it be for them if they can protect them against the just wrath of the godly."

"Your words are dark and threatening, old man, but to me they appear as the ravings of a feverish dreamer. You seem to tell me of some danger hanging over us; but our enemy's forces are disbanded, and in my judgment there is nothing to fear. The town is fortified: Aboyne, with a strong army, possess it. So assay with these fancies; and if you have aught to say that concerns me particularly, say on, for I must return to my sister."

"Thy sister? Well, Mary Leslie may deserve the name. I and thy friend, wherefore I am so thou shalt quickly know. Ponder well what I have said, Remember that the calm often precedes the storm, and that it is better to take part with the faithful, even in adversity, than to be the friend of covenant-breaking, soul-seducing prelatists. I will see thee to-morrow at the booth of Samuel Fairtext at eventide. Meet me there, and it shall be for thy good. Farewell, mayst thou be partaker of all covenant blessings."

So saying, he walked off, and in a short time was lost among the crowd, leaving Basil at a loss what to make of his insinutations. When he came up with Mary Leslie, the Skinners, who represented the royalists, had succeeded in driving the Litsters, who represented the Covenanters, into a smoky den or booth, which, in a moment after, took fire, while the whole angelic train joined in a song to the praise of the Viscount of Aboyne.

He remarked, however, that the spectators were now very inattentive to the sports. They were drawn together into small knots, all over the field, in earnest conversation, which, as it became more general, entirely drowned the iron voices f the performing cherubs. The spectators began to leave the field in great numbers. Robin Hood's body-guard even followed their example, and Little John, by the same inexplicable spirit of discontent, deserted his friend and leader. The whisper (as it was at first) was not long in extending to the spot where Basil and Mary were standing. The cause of the disturbance nay be gathered from the following conversation:

'Now, the like o' this I never saw," said Thomas Chalmers, deacon of the fleshers. "That deil's buckie Montrose is to the road again, an commin' wi' thousands upon thousands to the town. Fient a hoof mair will I get killed till we be clear o' him."

"Weel, weel," said Jamie Jingle, the bellman, "it's a gude thing It's nae waur. Come wha hike, they'll aye need bellman'

"Nae waur, ye clappertongue!" said another. "I wad like to ken what waur could come? Willna a' thing we hae be spulzied by thae rascals,—black be their cast!—an' wunna there be anither speel at the Covenant, whitk we hae a' tarn an' unta'en about halfa' dozen o' times already?"

"Ye're vera right, Saunders," said the chief of the tanners; "but for a' that, Aboyne may gie him his kail through the reek; and, if the news be true, there will be a great demand for shoon and belts, whilk sad be a source o' comfort, ye ken."

What hae I to do wi' your belts an' your brogues, Benje Barkhide? What hae I to do wi' them, I say? A murrain on the Covenanters, say I, and a' that pertains to them."

"A curse on the Covenanters an' prelatemongers baith, conjunctly and severally!" said another citizen, "I wish the deil would suite his nose with the hale clanjamphr', though he sud get me to the bet o the bargain, for wishing them sae."

"Wha would hae thought o' this in the morning?" said Barkhide. "Weel, lads, I think we sud a' gae hame, an' put as mony o' our bits o' things out o' the way as we can."

They departed, and this sentiment becoming general, in a short time the playfield was emptied of the revellers,

As Mary and Basil moved homewards with the rest, the latter evaded the questions put to him concerning the stranger. He saw, however, a coincidence between his darkly expressed hints and the events of the day; and while he resolved for the present to keep this secret, he anxiously wished for the promised interview.

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