It is reported that, on one
occasion, the following conversation took place between these dissimilar
yet well-mated companions.
"Wert thou not so simple,
fair Margaret," said the Earl, "I would suspect thou hadst no great
affection for him whom King Henry calleth the ‘Crooked Comyn.’ Men may
love me for my subtlety and power, from interest; my brothers, because I
am their brother, from instinct; and my wolf-dog, Grim, because I join him
in the chase. Now, to gratify my humour for frolic, on this night, when I
think I have overturned the power of the English regent, tell me what thou
lovest me for, good simpleton; for I cannot doubt that simpletons have
their fancies like other folks; and if thou dost not love me, why hast
thou prepared for me, even now, on this night of my triumph, that cup of
warm milk, curdled with sack, which thou callest a posset? I asked it not
of thee, and love must have suggested it."
"What should I love my
Walter for," replied Countess Margaret, "but his noble qualities, placed
in a person, the defects of which, as he states them, I cannot see? Custom
hath made thee straight, and love hath embellished both thy mind and body;
but, above all, I love thee because thou lovest me; for it is an old
saying in our cottages, that love begets love, and"—patting him playfully
on the cheek—" my heart must have been barren indeed if, after ten
years of thy wooing, it produced no more affection than was able to
prepare for thee a posset of milk and sack on the evening of the day of
"Thou hast made a good turn
of the subject, simpleton," said Comyn. "If I beat my political opponents
during the day, thou worstest me at night by thy ingenious pleasantry.
Thou conquerest even nature’s twists and torsels, for my crooked mind and
deformed body become straight under the soft ministration of thy simple
manners. I cannot help sometimes thinking that, if it had been thy fate to
be wedded to such a fair piece of nature’s handiwork as the English baron,
John Russel, who banqueted with us yesterday—a thing of red and white
pigment—an automaton mannerist, without a mind—every woman’s slave, and
never his own master—thy simplicity would have lost its power, for, having
no foil, it would have merged into the idiocy of thy husband, and you
would have become a pair of quarrelsome simpletons."
"And if thou hadst got a
wife," answered Countess Margaret, smiling, "as deep and subtle as
thyself, the charm thou hast for me—thy mental superiority—would have been
lost for want of a foil; but thou wert too clever to fall into that snare,
and didst avoid artful and knowing women, though beautiful, as anxiously
as I, if I were still unmarried, would avoid that fair painted Jackalent
thou hast mentioned, the English baron, John Russel. Sheep, thou knowest,
often fight, and get entangled in each other’s horns. They are then an
easy prey to the wolves. I would not give my ‘Crooked Comyn’ for all the
Russels of England."
"Thy rattle pleaseth me,
sweet Margaret," said Comyn. "But how is this? I feel ill. What
can ail Comyn on the night of his day of triumph? These pains rack me. So
sudden an attack! These are not usual feelings that now assail me."
"Ill in the midst of
health?" cried Countess Margaret. "What meaneth this?—where is the
complaint? Speak, dear husband! tell thy devoted wife what may enable her
to yield thee relief."
"A burning pain wringeth my
viscera," replied Comyn, with an expression of agony, "and unmanneth a
soul that never knew subjugation; that is to me the only symptom of
danger. When Comyn trembleth death cannot be far distant."
"Thou alarmest me, dear
husband," cried Countess Margaret; speak not in such ominous terms of what
I could not survive one solitary moon. What can I minister to thee?"
"Water, water, from the icy
springs of Lapland!" cried the frantic Earl; "yet the frozen sea will not
quench this burning fire! What availeth now the wiles, the subtlety, the
courage of Scotland’s proudest Earl? I never was master or director of
such pains as these. Death! how successfully dost thou earn thy reputation
of being the grim king! Water, beloved Margaret, for this miniature hell!"
"It is here, good heart,"
cried Countess Margaret. "God bless its efficacy!—drink."
"It is as nothing," cried
Comyn, after swallowing the contents of the cup. "It is as nothing—these
tormina laugh at the puny quencher of fires fiercer than those of
Gehenna. I must submit. Thou wilt have no terce from my earldom,
wherein I am not yet feudally seised. Alas! shall my innocent be left
terceless—a beggar—the dependant of my brothers? ‘Sdeath, this is worse
than these scorching fires! Call the clerk of St John’s—quick."
The Countess flew out of
the room, and in a short time returned with the clerical lawyer.
"Attend, sir," cried Comyn.
"Thou seest one in the hands of death; prepare, with the greatest speed of
thy quill a liferent disposition of my whole earldom in favour of Countess
Margaret, my wife. I shall then confess to thee and thou shalt pray for
"The liferent disposition I
shall make out," replied the clerk of St John’s; for Comyn’s commands must
be obeyed. "But I, in behalf of the holy brethren of our order, must tell
thee, noble Earl, that our prayers can be of little avail if they are
limited in point of time, to the period of the sojourn on earth. Thy
mausoleum must be lighted for ten years with wax tapers, a thousand masses
must be said for thy soul, and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land must be
performed, ere we can hope to bring thee out of purgatory. If thou leavest
the liferent of thy Earldom to Countess Margaret—the fee going to thy
eldest brother as heir—what is to pay the monks of St John for all their
labours in thus endeavouring to free thee from the pains of that temporary
place of punishment?"
"No purgatory can equal
these pains, man," cried the Earl, "Thou shalt have my earldom this
instant for one hour’s relief from this hell fire."
"Why, good priest," said
the lady, "canst thou thus talk of worldly possessions to one in such
agony? While I am thus ministering to the body, it would better become
thee to minister to the soul, while it is still in its earthly tabernacle.
I, his dear wife, ask for no liferent! and yet thou requirest a
"It is for his own sake,"
said the priest, "that I have recommended the provision of the means for
saving his soul. We are not bees, to produce wax for tapers; nor birds of
Paradise to fly from hence to Jerusalem, and sit on the holy shrine,
without being fed as other birds; nor are we canonized saints, requiring
no meat nor drink. We must live or we cannot pray. Wilt thou,
madam, give up a half of thy liferent to aid in the redemption of the soul
thou lovest so ardently?"
"Thou hast heard my lord’s
commands," rejoined the lady. "I cannot allow my mind to be occupied at
present with thoughts of that contemptible trash thou callest gold. What
is all the earldom of the Comyns to the preservation of the life of my
dear husband?—Walter, dear Walter what can be done for thee?"
"The priest hath already my
commands," answered the Earl. "The parchment!—the parchment!—and —and
"Hie thee away to thy work
good monk," cried the lady. "There’s no time for parley. Away! Thou seest
that I deny him not his request."
"Water costeth little,"
said the priest, with a smile of suspicion, "and availeth little either to
assuage these pains or those of purgatory."
The priest retired, and in
the course of an hour, returned with the deed extended, and two witnesses
at his back. The paper was read. Comyn was still able to sign it. He
attached his name, and in a few minutes expired.
Thus died that remarkable
man. A dark story now arose in Scotland: Countess Margaret had encouraged
a criminal passion for the English Baron, John Russel, and was openly
accused of having poisoned her husband, by means of a posset of milk and
sack, to make way for her paramour whom she married with indecent haste.
Insulted and disgraced, she and her husband were thrown into prison,
despoiled of their estate, and compelled to leave the kingdom. It was
afterwards rumoured in Scotland that she quarreled with Russel—who
ill-used her, and stood in continual fear of being treated in the same way
as Comyn—and, finally, drowned herself in the river Thames.