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   Chapter 3 III HAL

The Caged Lion By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 28944

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The sun had not long been shining on the dark walls of St. Ebba's monastery, before the low-browed gate of Coldingham Priory opened to let pass the guests of the previous night. Malcolm had been kissed and blessed by his guardian, and bidden to transfer his dutiful obedience to his new protector; and somewhat comforted by believing Sir David to be mending since last night, he had rent himself away, and was riding in the frosty morning air beside the kinsman who had so strangely taken charge of him, and accompanied by Sir James's tall old Scottish squire, by the English groom, and by Malcolm's own servant, Halbert.

For a long space there was perfect silence: and as Malcolm began to detach his thoughts from all that he had left behind, he could not help being struck with the expressions that flitted over his companion's countenance. For a time he would seem lost in some deep mournful reverie, and his head drooped as if in sadness or perplexity; then a sudden gleam would light up his face, as if a brilliant project had occurred to him, his lips would part, his eyes flash, he would impel his horse forward as though leading a charge, or lift up his head with kindling looks, like one rehearsing a speech; but ever a check would come on him in the midst, his mouth closed in dejection, his brow drew together in an anguish of impatience, his eyelids drooped in weariness, and he would ride on in deep reflection, till roused perhaps by the flight of a moor-fowl, or the rush of a startled roe, he would hum some gay French hunting-song or plaintive Scottish ballad.

Scarcely a word had been uttered, until towards noon, on the borders of a little narrow valley, the merry sound of bells clashed up to their ears, and therewith sounds of music. ''Tis the toon of Christ's Kirk on the Green,' said the squire, as Sir James looked at him for information, 'where we were to bait. Methought in Lent we had been spared this gallimawfrey.'

''Tis Midlent week, you pagan,' replied Sir James. 'These good folk have come a-mothering, and a share of their simnels we'll have.'

'Sir,' entreated the squire, 'were it not more prudent of you to tarry without, and let me fetch provisions?'

'Hoot, man, a throng is our best friend! Besides, the horses must rest.'

So saying, Sir James rode eagerly forward; Malcolm following, not without wonder at not having been consulted, for though kept in strict discipline by his uncle, it had always been with every courtesy due to his rank as a king's grandson; and the cousins, from whom he had suffered, were of the same rank with himself. Did this wandering landless knight, now he had him in his power, mean to disregard all that was his due? But when Sir James turned round his face sparkling with good-humour and amusement, and laughed as he said, 'Now then for the humours of a Scottish fair!' all his offended dignity was forgotten.

The greensward was surrounded by small huts and hovels; a little old stone church on one side, and a hostel near it, shadowed by a single tall elm, beneath which was the very centre of the village wake. Not only was it Midlent, but the day was the feast of a local saint, in whose honour Lenten requirements were relaxed. Monks and priests were there in plenty, and so were jugglers and maskers, Robin Hood and Marion, glee-men and harpers, merchants and hucksters, masterful beggars and sorners, shepherds in gray mauds with wise collies at their feet, shrewd old carlines with their winter's spinning of yarn, lean wolf-like borderers peaceable for the nonce, merry lasses with tow-like locks floating from their snoods, all seen by the intensely glittering sun of a clear March day, dry and not too cold for these hardy northern folk.

Nigel, the squire, sighed in despondency; and Malcolm, who hated crowds, and knew himself a mark for the rude observations of a free-spoken populace, shrank up to him, when Sir James, nodding in time to the tones of a bagpipe that was playing at the hostel door, flung his bridle to Brewster the groom, laughed at his glum and contemptuous looks, merrily hailed the gudewife with her brown face and big silver ear-rings, seated himself on the bench at the long wooden table under the great garland of fir-boughs, willow catkins, and primroses, hung over the boughs of the tree, crossed himself, murmured his Benedictus benedicat, drew his dagger, carved a slice of the haunch of ox on the table, offered it to the reluctant Malcolm, then helping himself, entered into conversation with the lean friar on one side of him, and the stalwart man-at-arms opposite, apparently as indifferent as the rest of the company to the fact that the uncovered boards of the table were the only trenchers, and the salt and mustard were taken by the point of each man's dagger from common receptacles dispersed along the board. Probably the only person really disgusted or amazed was the English Brewster, who, though too cautious to express a word of his feelings, preserved the most complete silence, and could scarcely persuade himself to taste the rude fare.

Nor when the meal was over was Sir James disposed to heed the wistful looks of his attendants, but wandered off to watch the contest in archery at the butts, where arrow after arrow flew wide of the clout, for the strength of Scotland did not lie in the long-bow, and Albany's edict that shooting should be practised on Sundays and holidays had not produced as yet any great dexterity.

Sir James at first laughed merrily at the extraordinary screwings of visage and contortions of attitude, and the useless demonstration of effort with which the clowns aimed their shafts and drew their bow, sometimes to find the arrow on the grass at their feet, sometimes to see it producing consternation among the bystanders; but when he saw Brewster standing silently apart, viewing their efforts with a scorn visible enough in the dead stolidity of his countenance, he murmured a bitter interjection, and turned away with folded arms and frowning brow.

Nigel again urged their departure, but at that moment the sweet notes of a long narrative ballad began to sound to the accompaniment of a harp, and he stood motionless while the wild mournful ditty told of the cruelty of the Lady of Frendraught, and how

'Morning sun ne'er shone upon

Lord John and Rothiemay.

Large tears were dropping from under the hand with he veiled his emotion; and when Nigel touched his cloak to remind him that the horses were ready, he pressed the old man's hand, saying, with a sigh, 'I heard that last at my father's knee! It rung in my ears for many a year! Here, lad!' and dropping a gold coin into the wooden bowl carried round by the blind minstrel's attendant, he was turning away, when the glee-man, detecting perhaps the ring of the coin, broke forth in stirring tones-

"It fell about the Lammas tide,

When moormen win their hay,

The doughty Earl of Douglas rode

Into England to catch a prey."

Again he stood transfixed, beating time with his hand, his eyes beaming, his hips moving as he followed the spirit-stirring ballad; and then, as Douglas falls, and is laid beneath the bracken bush, unseen by his men, and Montgomery forces Hotspur to yield, not to him, but

'to the bracken bush

That grows upon the lily lea,'

he sobbed without disguise; and no sooner was the ballad ended than he sprang forward to the harper, crying, 'Again, again; another gold crown to hear it again!'

'Sir,' entreated Nigel, 'remember how much hangs on your speed.'

'The ballad I must have,' exclaimed Sir James, trying to shake him off. 'It moves the heart more than aught I ever heard! How runs it?'

'I know the ballad,' said Malcolm, half in impatience, half in contempt. 'I could sing every word of it. Every glee-man has it.'

'Nay-hear you, Sir-the lad can sing it,' reiterated Nigel; and Sir James, throwing the promised guerdon to the minstrel, let himself be led away to the front of the inn; but there was a piper, playing to a group of dancers, and as if his feet could not resist the fascination, Sir James held out his hand to the first comely lass he saw disengaged, and in spite of the steel-guarded boots that he wore, answered foot for foot, spring for spring, to the deft manoeuvres of her shoeless feet, with equal agility and greater grace. Nigel frowned more than ever at this exhibition, and when the knight had led his panting partner to a seat, and called for a tankard of ale for her refreshment, he remonstrated more seriously still. 'Sir, the gates of Berwick will be shut.'

'The days lengthen, man.'

'And who knows if some of yon land-loupers be not of Walter Stewart's meiné? Granted that they ken not yourself, that lad is only too ken-speckle. Moreover, you ye made free enough with your siller to set the haill crew of moss-troopers on our track.'

'Twenty mile to Berwick-gate,' said Sir James, carelessly; 'nor need you ever look behind you at jades like theirs. Nay, friend, I come, since you grudge me for once the sight of a little wholesome glee among my own people. My holiday is dropping from me like sands in an hour-glass!'

He mounted, however, and put his horse to as round a pace as could be maintained by the whole party with out distress; nor did he again break silence for many miles.

At the gates of Berwick, then in English hands, be gave a pass-word, and was admitted, he bade Nigel conduct Lord Malcolm to an inn, explaining that it was his duty to present himself to the governor; and, being detained to sup with him, was seen no more till they started the next morning. The governor rode out with them some ten miles, with a strong guard of spearmen; and after parting with him they pushed on to the south.

After the first day's journey, Malcolm was amazed to see Sir James mount without any of his defensive armour, which was piled on the spare horse; his head was covered by a chaperon, or flat cap with a short curtain to it, and his sword was the only weapon he retained. Nigel was also nearly unarmed, and Sir James advised Malcolm himself to lay aside the light hawberk he wore; then, at his amazed look, said, 'Poor lad! he never saw the day when he could ride abroad scathless. When will the breadth of Scotland be as safe as these English hills?'

He was very kind to his young companion, treating him in all things like a guest, pointing out what was worthy of note, and explaining what was new and surprising. Malcolm would have asked much concerning the King, to whom he was bound, but these questions were the only ones Sir James put aside, saying that his kinsman would one day learn that it ill beseemed those who were about a king's person to speak of him freely.

One night was spent at Durham, the parent of Coldingham, and here Malcolm felt at home, far more grand as was that mighty cathedral institution. There it stood, with the Weir encircling it, on its own fair though mighty hill, with all the glory of its Norman mister and lovely Lady-chapel; yet it seemed to the boy more like a glorified Coldingham than like a strange region.

'The peace of God rests on the place,' he said, when Sir James asked his thoughts as he looked back at the grand mass of buildings. 'These are the only spots where the holy and tender can grow, like the Palestine lilies sheltered from the blast in the Abbot's garden at Coldingham.'

'Nay, lad, it were an ill world did lilies only grow in abbots' gardens.'

'It is an ill world,' said Malcolm.

'Let us hear what you say in a month's time,' replied the knight, lightly: then dreaming over the words.

A few days more, and they were riding among the lovely rock and woodland scenery of Yorkshire, when suddenly there leaped from behind a bush three or four young men, with a loud shout of 'Stand.'

'Reivers!' thought Malcolm, sick with dismay, as the foremost grasped Sir James's bridle; but the latter merely laughed, saying, 'How now, Hal! be these your old tricks?'

'Ay, when such prizes are errant,' said the assailant and Sir James, springing from his horse, embraced him and his companion with a cordiality that made Malcolm not a little uneasy. Could he have been kidnapped by a false Englishman into a den of robbers for the sake of his ransom?

'You are strict to your time,' said the chief robber. 'I knew you would be. So, when Ned Marmion came to Beverley, and would have us to see his hunting at Tanfield, we came on thinking to meet you. Marmion here has a nooning spread in the forest; ere we go on to Thirsk, where I have a matter to settle between two wrong-headed churls. How has it been with you, Jamie? you have added to your meiné.'

'Ah, Hal! never in all your cut-purse days did you fall on such an emprise as I have achieved.'

'Let us hear,' said Hal, linking his arm in Sir James's, who turned for a moment to say, 'Take care of the lad, John; he is a young kinsman of mine.'

'Kinsman!' thought Malcolm; 'do all wandering Stewarts claim kin to the blood royal?' but then, as he looked at Sir James's stately head, he felt that no assumption could be unbecoming in one of such a presence, and so kind to himself; and, ashamed of the moment's petulance, dismounted, and, as John said, 'This is the way to our noon meat,' he let himself be conducted through the trees to a glade, sheltered from the wind, where a Lenten though not unsavoury meal of bread, dried fish, and eggs was laid out on the grass, in a bright warm sunshine; and Hal, declaring himself to have a hunter's appetite, and that he knew Jamie had been starved in Scotland, and was as lean as a greyhound, seated himself on the grass, and to Malcolm's extreme surprise, not to say disgust, was served by Lord Marmion on the knee and with doffed cap.

While the meal was being eaten, Malcolm studied the strangers. Lord Marmion was a good-humoured, hearty-looking young Yorkshireman, but the other two attracted his attention far more. They were evidently brothers, one perhaps just above, the other just below, thirty; both of the most perfect mould of symmetry, activity, and strength, though perhaps more inclining to agility than robustness. Both were fair-complexioned, and wore no beard; but John was the paler, graver, and more sedate, and his aquiline profile had an older look than that borne by Hal's perfectly regular features. It would have been hard to define what instantly showed the seniority of his brother, for

the clearness of his colouring-bright red and white like a lady's-his short, well-moulded chin, and the fresh earnestness and animation of his countenance, gave an air of perpetual youth in spite of the scar of an arrow on the cheek which told of at least one battle; but there were those manifestations of being used to be the first which are the evident tokens of elder sonship, and the lordly manner more and more impressed Malcolm. He was glad that his own Sir James was equal in dignity, as well as superior in height, and he thought the terrible red lightning of those auburn eyes would be impossible to the sparkling azure eyes of the Englishman, steadfast, keen, and brilliant unspeakably though they were; but so soon as Sir James seemed to have made his explanation, the look was most winningly turned on him, a hand held out, and he was thus greeted: 'Welcome, my young Prince Malcolm; I am happy that your cousin thinks so well of our cheer, that he has brought you to partake it.'

'His keeper, Somerset,' thought Malcolm, as he bowed stiffly; 'he seems to treat me coolly enough. I come to serve my King,' he said, but he was scarcely heard; for as Hal unbuckled his sword before sitting down on the grass, he thrust into his bosom a small black volume, with which he seemed to have been beguiling the time; and John exclaimed-

'There goes Godfrey de Bulloin. I tell you, Jamie, 'tis well you are come! Now have I some one to speak with. Ever since Harry borrowed my Lady of Westmoreland's book of the Holy War, he has not had a word to fling at me.'

'Ah!' said Sir James, 'I saw a book, indeed, of the Holy Land! It would tempt him too much to hear how near the Border it dwells! What was it named, Malcolm?'

'The "Itinerarium of Adamnanus,"' replied Malcolm, blushing at the sudden appeal.

'Ha! I've heard of it,' cried the English knight. 'I sent to half the convent libraries to beg the loan when Gilbert de Lannoy set forth for the survey of Palestine. Does the Monk of Iona tell what commodity of landing there may be on the coast?'

Malcolm had the sea-port towns at his fingers' ends, and having in the hard process of translation, and reading and re-reading one of the few books that came into his hands, nearly mastered the contents, he was able to reply with promptness and precision, although with much amazement, for

'Much he marvelled a knight of pride

Like book-bosomed priest should ride;'

nor had he ever before found his accomplishments treated as aught but matters of scorn among the princes and nobles with whom he had occasionally been thrown.

'Good! good!' said Sir Harry at last. 'Well read, and clearly called to mind. The stripling will do you credit, James. Where have you studied, fair cousin?'

Cousin! was it English fashion to make a cousin of everybody? But gentle, humble Malcolm had no resentment in him, and felt gratified at the friendly tone of so grand and manly-looking a knight. 'At home,' he answered, 'with a travelling scholar who had studied at Padua and Paris.'

'That is where you Scots love to haunt! But know you how they are served there? I have seen the gibbet where the Mayor of Paris hung two clerks' sons for loving his daughters over well!'

'The clerks' twa sons of Owsenford that were foully slain!' cried Malcolm, his face lighting up. 'Oh, Sir, have you seen their gibbet?'

'What? were they friends of yours?' asked Hal, much amused, and shaking his head merrily at Sir James. 'Ill company, I fear-'

'Only in a ballad,' said Malcolm, colouring, 'that tells how at Yuletide the ghosts came to their mother with their hats made of the birk that grew at the gates of Paradise.'

'A rare ballad must that be!' exclaimed Hal. 'Canst sing it? Or are you weary?-Marmion, prithee tell some of the fellows to bring my harp from the baggage.'

'His own harp is with ours,' said Sir James; 'he will make a better figure therewith.'

At his sign, the attendant, Nigel, the only person besides Lord Marmion of Tanfield who had been present at the meal, besides the two Stewarts and the English brothers, rose and disappeared between the trees, beyond which a hum of voices, an occasional laugh, and the stamping of horses and jingling of bridles, betokened that a good many followers were in waiting. Malcolm's harp was quickly brought, having been slung in its case to the saddle of Halbert's horse; and as he had used it to beguile the last evening's halt, it did not need much tuning. Surprised as his princely notions were at being commanded rather than requested to sing, the sweet encouraging smile and tone of kind authority banished all hesitation in complying, and he gave the ballad of the Clerks' Twa Sons of Owsenford with much grace and sweetness, while the weakness of his voice was compensated by the manlier strains with which Sir James occasionally chimed in. Then, as Harry gave full meed of appreciative praise and thanks, Sir James said, 'Lend me thine harp, Malcolm; I have learnt thy song now; and thou, Harry, must hear and own how far our Scottish minstrelsy exceeds thy boasted Chevy Chase.'

And forth rang in all the mellow beauty of his voice that most glorious of ballads, the Battle of Otterburn, as much more grand than it had been when he heard it from the glee-man or from Malcolm, as a magnificent voice, patriotic enthusiasm, and cultivation and refinement, could make it. He had lost himself and all around in the passion of the victory, the pathos of the death. But no such bright look of thanks recompensed him. Harry's face grew dark, and he growled, 'Douglas dead? Ay, he wins more fields so than alive! I wish you would keep my old Shrewsbury friend, Earl Tyneman, as you call him, at home.'

''Tis ill keeping the scholars in bounds when the master is away,' returned Sir James.

'Well, by this time Tom has taught them how to transgress-sent them home with the long scourge from robbing orchards in Anjou. He writes to me almost with his foot in the stirrup, about to give Douglas and Buchan a lesson. I shall make short halts and long stages south. This is too far off for tidings.'

'True,' said Sir John, with a satirical curl of the lip; 'above all, when fair ladies brook not to ink their ivory fingers.'

'There spake the envious fiend,' laughed the elder brother. 'John bears not the sight of what he will not or cannot get.'

'I'll never be chained to a lady's litter, nor be forced to loiter till her wimple is pinned,' retorted John. 'Nor do I like dames with two husbands besides.'

'One would have cancelled the other, as grammarians tell us,' said Harry, 'if thy charms, John, had cancelled thine hook nose! I would they had, ere her first marriage. Humfrey will burn his fingers there, and we must hasten back to look after that among other things.-My Lord Marmion,' he added, starting hastily up, and calling to him as he stood at some distance conversing with the Scottish Nigel, 'so please you, let us have the horses;' and as the gentleman hastened to give the summons, he said, 'We shall make good way now. We shall come on Watling Street. Ha, Jamie, when shall we prove ourselves better men than a pack of Pagan Romans, by having a set of roads fit for man or beast, of our own making instead of theirs half decayed? Look where I will, in England or France, their roads are the same in build-firm as the world itself, straight as arrows. An army is off one's mind when once one gets on a Roman way. I'll learn the trick, and have them from Edinburgh to Bordeaux ere ten years are out; and then, what with traffic and converse with the world, and ready justice, neither Highland men minor Gascons will have leisure or taste for robbery.'

'Perhaps Gascons and Scots will have a voice in the matter,' said James, a little stiffly; and the horses being by this time brought, Sir Harry mounted, and keeping his horse near that of young Malcolm, to whom he had evidently taken a fancy, he began to talk to him in so friendly and winning a manner, that he easily drew from the youth the whole history of his acquaintance with Sir James Stewart, of the rescue of his sister, and the promise to conduct him to the captive King of Scots, as the only means of saving him from his rapacious kindred.

'Poor lad!' said Harry, gravely.

'Do you know King James, Sir?' asked Malcolm, timidly.

'Know him?' said Harry, turning round to scan the boy with his merry blue eye. 'I know him-yes; that as far as a poor Welsh knight can know his Grace of Scotland.'

'And, Sir, will he be good lord to me?'

'Eh! that's as you may take him. I would not be one of yonder Scots under his hands!'

'Has he learned to hate his own countrymen?' asked Malcolm, in an awe-stricken voice.

'Hate? I trow he has little to love them for. He is a good fellow enough, my young lord, when left to himself; but best beware. Lions in a cage have strange tempers.'

A courier rode up at the moment, and presented some letters, which Sir Harry at once opened and read, beckoning his brother and Sir James to his side, while Malcolm rode on in their wake, in a state of dismay and bewilderment. Nigel and Lord Marmion were together at so great an interval that he could not fall back on them, nor learn from them who these brothers were. And there was something in the ironical suppressed pity with which Harry had spoken of his prospects with the King of Scots, that terrified him all the more, because he knew that Sir James and Nigel would both hold it unworthy of him to have spoken freely of his own sovereign with an Englishman. Would James be another Walter? and, if so, would Sir James Stewart protect him? He had acquired much affection for, and strong reliance on, the knight; but there was something unexplained, and his heart sank.

The smooth line of Watling Street at length opened into the old town of Thirsk, and here bells were ringing, flags flying from the steeple, music sounded, a mayor and his corporation in their robes rode slowly forth, crowds lined the road-side, caps were flung up, and a tremendous shout arose, 'God save King Harry!'

Malcolm gazed about more utterly discomfited. There was 'Harry,' upright on his horse, listening with a gracious smile, while the mayor rehearsed a speech about welcome and victories, and the hopeful queen, and, what was still more to the purpose, tendered a huge pair of gauntlets, each filled to the brim, one with gold, and the other with silver pieces.

'Eh! Thanks, Master Mayor, but these gloves must be cleared, ere there is room for me to use them in battle!'

And handing the gold glove to his brother, he scattered the contents of the silver one far and wide among the populace, who shouted their blessings louder than ever, and thus he reached the market-place. There all was set forth as for the lists, a horseman in armour on either side.

'Heigh now, Sirs,' said Harry, 'have we not wars enough toward without these mummings of vanity?'

'This is no show, my Lord King,' returned the mayor, abashed. 'This is deadly earnest. These are two honourable gentlemen of Yorkshire, who are come hither to fight out their quarrel before your Grace.'

'Two honourable foolsheads!' muttered Harry; then, raising his voice, 'Come hither, gentlemen, let us hear your quarrel.'

The two gentlemen were big Yorkshiremen, heavy-browed, and their native shrewdness packed far away behind a bumpkin stolidity and surliness that barely allowed them to show respect to the King.

'So please you, Sir,' growled the first in his throat, 'here stands Christopher Kitson of Barrowbridge, ready to avouch himself a true man, and prove in yonder fellow's teeth that it was not a broken-kneed beast that I sent up for a heriard to my Lord Archbishop when my father died; but that he of Easingwold is a black slanderer and backbiter.'

'And here,' shouted the other, 'stands honest William Trenton of Easingwold, ready to thrust his lies down his throat, and prove on his body that the heriard he sent to my Lord Archbishop was a sorry jade.'

'That were best proved by the beast's body,' interposed time King.

'And,' proceeded the doughty Kitson, as though repeating a lesson, 'having vainly pleaded the matter these nine years, we are come to demand licence to fight it out, with lance, sword, and dagger, in your royal presence, to set the matter at rest for ever.'

'Breaking a man's head to prove the soundness of a horse!' ejaculated Harry.

'Your licence is given, Sir King?' demanded Kitson.

'My licence is given for a combat à l'outrance,' said Henry; but, as they were about to flounder back on their big farm-horses, he raised his voice to a thundering sound: 'Solely on this condition, that he who slays his neighbour, be he Trenton or Kitson, shall hang for the murder ere I leave Thirsk.'

There was a recoil, and the mayor himself ventured to observe something about the judgment of God, and 'never so seen.'

'And I say,' thundered Henry, and his blue eyes seemed to flame with vehement indignation, 'I say that the ordeal of battle is shamefully abused, and that it is a taking of God's name-ay, and man's life-in vain, to appeal thereto on every coxcomb's quarrel, risking the life that was given him to serve God's ends, not his own sullen fancy. I will have an end of such things!-And you, gentlemen, since the heriard is dead, or too old to settle the question, shake hands, and if you must let blood, come to France with me next month, and flesh your knives on French and Scots.'

'So please you, Sir,' grumbled Kitson, 'there's Mistress Agnes of Mineshull; she's been in doubt between the two of us these five years, and she'd promised to wed whichever of us got the better.'

'I'll settle her mind for her! Whichever I find foremost among the French, I'll send home to her a knight, and with better sense to boot than to squabble for nine years as to an old horse.'

He then dismounted, and was conducted into the town-hall, where a banquet was prepared, taking by the hand Sir James Stewart, and followed by his brother John, and by Malcolm, who felt as though his brain were turning, partly with amazement, partly with confusion at his own dulness, as he perceived that not only was the free-spoken Hal, Henry of Monmouth, King of England, but that his wandering benefactor, the captive knight, whose claim of kindred he had almost spurned, was his native sovereign, James the First of Scotland.

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