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   Chapter 19 XIX THE LION’S WRATH

The Caged Lion By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 29071

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


It was the 24th of May, 1425, when in the vaulted hall of the Castle of Stirling the nobles of Scotland were convened to try, as the peers of the realm, men of rank-no less than Murdoch, Duke of Albany, his sons Walter and Alexander, the Earl of Lennox, and twenty-two other nobles, most of whom had been arraigned in the Parliament of Perth two months previously, and had been shut up in different castles. Robert Stewart had escaped to the Highlands; and Walter-who had neither been at the Coronation of Scone, nor at the Parliament of Perth, nor indeed had ever bowed his pride so as to present himself to the King at all-had been separately arrested, and shut up for two months in the strong castle on the Bass Rock.

The charge was termed treason and violence; and assuredly there had been perpetual acts of spoil and barbarous infractions of the law by men who deemed themselves above all law. The only curiosity was, for which of these acts they were to be tried, and this affected many of their judges likewise; for there was hardly a man in that court who was not conscious of some deed that would not exactly bear to be set beside the code of Scotland, and who had not been in the habit of regarding those laws as all very well for burghers, but not meant for gentlemen.

There, on seats behind the throne, sat the twenty-one jurors, Earl Douglas among them-a new earl, for the grim old Archibald had died in the battle of Verneuil some months before. Angus, March, and Mar, and all the most powerful names in Scotland, were there; and upon his throne, in regal robes of crimson and ermine, the crown upon his brow, the sceptre in his hand, the sword of state held before him, sat King James, the most magnificent-looking king then reigning in Europe, but with the sternest, saddest, most resolute of countenances, as one unalterably fixed upon the terrible duty of not bearing the sword in vain. Something of Henry's avenging-angel look seemed to have passed into his face, but with far more of melancholy weight.

Walter Stewart was led into the court. He too was a man of lofty stature and princely bearing, and his grand Stewart features were set in an expression of easy nonchalance and scorn; aware as he was that of whatever he might be accused, there were few of his judges that did not share the guilt, and moreover persuaded that this was a mere ceremony, and that the King would never dare to go beyond this futile attempt to overawe him. He stood alone-his father and the others were reserved for another trial; and as, richly arrayed, he stood opposite to the jury, gazing fixedly first at one, then at the other, as though challenging their right to sit in judgment on him, one eye after another fell beneath his gaze.

'Walter Stewart of Albany, Earl of Fife,' proclaimed the crier's voice. 'You stand here arraigned of murder and of robbery.'

'At whose suit?' demanded Walter, undaunted.

'At the suit of Malcolm and Lilias Stewart of Glenuskie; and of Patrick Drummond of the Braes,' returned the crier, an ecclesiastic, as were all lawyers; and at the same moment three figures came forward, namely, a tall knightly gentleman with gold chain and spurs, a lady whose veil disclosed a blushing dark-eyed face, and a slender youth of deep and earnest countenance. 'At the suit of these here present you stand arraigned, Sir Walter Stewart of Albany, for having feloniously, and of malice aforethought, on the Eve of the Annunciation of our Lady, of the year of grace 1421, set upon the said Malcolm and Lilias Stewart, Sir David Drummond of the Braes, Tutor of Glenuskie, and divers other persons, on the muir of Hetherfield; and having there cruelly and maliciously wounded the said David of the Braes to the death; and of having forcibly stolen and abducted the person of the said Lilias Stewart-'

The crier was not permitted to proceed, for Walter Stewart broke forth, passionately addressing the jurors. 'So this is all that can be found to be laid against me. This is the way that matters of five years back are raked up to vex the princes and nobles of Scotland. I am sorry for you, lords and gentlemen, if this is the way that vexatious are to be stirred up against those who have defended their country so long.'

'This is no answer to the accusation, Sir Walter,' said the Earl of Mar.

'Accusation, forsooth!' said Walter Stewart scornfully. 'Who dares to bear witness, if I did maintain my father's lawful authority over peevish runaway wards of the Crown?'

'Sir Walter,' said the King, 'you would have done better to have waited and heard the whole indictment ere answering one charge. But since you demand who will dare to bear witness in this matter of the murder of Sir David Drummond of the Braes, and of the seizure of the Lady Lilias, here is one.'

So saying, and rising as he spoke, he held forth the reliquary that hung from a chain round his neck, keeping his gleaming tawny eyes fixed steadily straight upon Walter Stewart's face.

That face, as he first had stood up, expressed the utmost amazement, and this gradually, under the lion glance, became more and more of dismay, quailing, collapsing visibly under the passionless gravity of that look. Even the tall form seemed to shrink, the eyes dilated, the brows drew closer together, and the chest seemed to pant, as the relic was held forth. There was a dead silence throughout the court as the King ceased to speak; only he continued to bend that searching gaze upon his prisoner.

'Was it you?-was it your own self, my lord?' he stammered forth at last, in the tone of one stricken.

'Yea, Walter Stewart. To me it was, and on this holy relic, that you made oath to abstain from all further spoil and violence until the King should come again in peace. How that oath has been kept the further indictments will show.'

'I deemed it was St. Andrew,' faltered the prisoner.

'And therefore that the oath to a heavenly saint would better bear breaking than one to an earthly sinner,' replied James gravely. 'Read on, Clerk of the Court.'

The roll continued-a long and terrible record of violence and cruelty; the private warfare of the lawless young prince, the crimes of reckless barbarity and of savage passion-a deadly roll, in which indeed even the second abduction of Lilias was one of the least acts laid to his charge.

No lack of witnesses were there to prove deeds that had been done in the open face of day, in utter fearlessness of earthly justice, and defiance of Heaven. The defence that the prisoner seemed to have been prepared to us?-that those who sat to judge him had shared in his offences, and his daring power of brow-beating them, as he had so often done before, as son of the man who sat in the King's seat-had utterly failed him now. He was mute; and the forms of the trial were gone through as of one whose doom was already sealed, but who must receive his sentence according to the strictest form of law, lest the just reward of his deeds should partake of their own violence. By the end of the day the jurors had found Walter Stewart guilty; and the doomster, a black-robed clerk, rising up, pronounced the sentence that condemned Walter Stewart of Albany to suffer death by beheading.

Even then no one believed that the doom would be inflicted. Royal blood had never flowed beneath the headsman's axe; and it would have been infinitely more congenial to Scottish feelings if the King had sent a party of men-at-arms to fall on the Master in the high road, and cut him off, or had burnt him alive in his castle. The verdict 'served him right' would have been universally returned, and rejoiced in; but a regular trial of a man of such birth was unheard of, and shocking to the feelings even of those whom that irresistible force of the King's had compelled to sit in judgment upon him. No one could avow it face to face with the King; but every one felt it an outrage to find that no rank was exempt from law.

Duke Murdoch, his son Alexander, and his father-in-law Lennox, were tried the next day, and many a deed of dark treason was laid to their charge. The Earl of Lennox had been the scourge of Scotland for more than half the eighty years of his life, but his extreme age might have excited some pity; Murdoch had erred rather negatively than positively; and Alexander, ruffian as he was, had been bred to nothing better. Each had deserved the utmost penalty of the law again and again, and yet there did seem more scope for mercy in their case than in that of Walter.

But the King was inexorable. He set Malcolm aside as he had set others.

'I know what you would say, lad. Lennox is old, and Alexander is young, and Albany is a fool; and Walter has injured you, so you are bound to speak for him. Take it all as said. But these are the men who have been foremost in making our country a desert! Did I pardon them, with what face could I ever make any man suffer for crime? And, in the state of this land, ruth to the guilty high would be treason to the sackless low.'

So Stirling saw the unprecedented sight of three generations suffering for their crimes upon the same scaffold-the white-haired Lennox, the Duke of Albany in the prime of life, Walter in the flush and strength of early manhood, Alexander in the bloom of youth. They all met their fate undauntedly; for if Murdoch's heart in any measure failed him, he was afraid to give way in presence of the proud bold Walter, who maintained an iron rigidity of demeanour with the wild fortitude of a Red Indian at the stake, and in like manner could by no means comprehend that King James acted from any motive save malice, for having been so long kept out of his kingdom. 'It was his turn now,' said poor Murdoch, even when most desirous of bringing himself to die in a state of Christian forgiveness; nor could any power on earth show any of the criminals that the King acted in the eternal interests of right and justice.

Thus it was with the whole country; and when the four majestic-looking men stood bare-headed on the scaffold, in view even of their own fair towers of Doune, and one by one bowed their heads on the block, perverse Scottish nature broke out into pity for their fate, and wrath against the King, who could thus turn against his own blood, and disgrace the royal lineage.

On that same day Malcolm received Esclairmonde's token, there being at present full peace with England, and set forth on her summons. He met her at Pontefract, where she was residing with the Dowager Queen Joan of Navarre, Alice of Salisbury having been summoned to return to her husband in France.

There then it was that Malcolm and Esclairmonde, in presence of the chaplain, gave each other back the rings, and therewith their troth to wed none other, and were once more declared free.

Esclairmonde held out her hand to Malcolm, saying, 'The thanks I owe you, Sir, are beyond what tongue can tell. May He to Whom my first vows were due requite it to you.'

And Malcolm, with his knee to the ground, pressing for the last time that fair hand, said, 'The thanks, lady, are mine. Had you been one whit lower in aims or in constancy, what had I been? You were my light of the world, but to light me to seek that higher Light that shone forth in you, and which may I show truly to the darkened spirits of my countrymen! Lady, you will permit me to take to myself the ring you have worn so long. It will be my token of my betrothal to that true Light.'

Such was their parting, when the one went forth to her tasks of charity among the poor in London, the other to divest himself of land and lordship on behalf of his sister and her husband, and then to begin his task in the priesthood, of trying to hold up the true Light to hearts darkened by many an age of crime and ignorance.

Lived very happy ever after! Yes, we would fain always leave the creatures with whom our thoughts have been busy in such felicity; but when we have linked them with real events, the sense of the veritable course of history reminds us that we cannot even suppose beings possible in real life without endowing them with the common lot of humanity; and the personages of our tale lived in a time of more than ordinary reverse and trouble.

Yet Sir Patrick Drummond and Lilias his wife, the Lord and Lady of Glenuskie, nearly did fulfil these conditions. They had not feelings beyond their age, but they were good specimens of that age, and they did their duty in it; he as a trustworthy noble, ready to aid in council or war, and she as the beneficent dame, bringing piety and charity to heal the sufferings of her vassals and serfs. His hand was strong enough to repel the attacks of his foes; her intelligence, backed by Malcolm's counsel, introduced improvements; and the little ravine of Glenuskie was a happy valley of peace and prosperity for many years among the convulsions of Scotland.

Nor was Esclairmonde de Luxemburg's life in the Hospital of St. Katharine otherwise than the holy and beneficent career that she had always longed for-worshipping in the fair church, and going forth from thence 'into the streets and lanes of the city,' to fulfil Queen Philippa's pious behest, to seek out the suffering and the ignorant, and to tend and instruct them. The tall form and beautiful countenance of Sister Clare were loved and reverenced as those of an angel messenger among the high houses and courts that closed in on the banks of the Thames; and while Luxemburgs in France and Flanders intrigued and fought, plotted and fell, their kinswoman's days passed by in busy alms-deeds and ever loftier devotion, till those who watched her steps felt that she was verily a light of the world, manifesting forth the true Light in many a dark place.

And her light of sympathy shone upon many an old friend both in joy and in grief. When the dissensions of Gloucester and Beaufort had summoned Bedford to England to endeavour to appease their strife, his Burgundian Duchess sought out her early friend, and Esclairmonde saw her gentle companion, the Lady Anne, fulfilling her daily task of mediation, and living a life, not indeed very sunshiny, but full of all that esteem and respect could give her, and of calm gratitude and affection, although Anne, like all others, believed that John of Bedford's heart had been buried in his brother's grave, and that of youthful love he had none to give. His whole soul was absorbed in his care for the welfare of the pale, gentle, dreamy, inanimate boy, who

, from his very meekness and docility, gave so little promise of representing the father whose name he bore.

The loving Alice of Montagu, though the mother of many a bold boy and girl, and busy with all the cares of the great Nevil household, regarded as the chief delight in a journey to court the sight of her dear Sister Clare. It was to Sister Clare that Alice turned for comfort when her brave old father died at the siege of Orleans; and it was while daily soothing and ministering to her sorrow that Esclairmonde heard the strange wild tales of the terrible witch maiden who had appeared on behalf of the French, and turned whole English armies to flight, by power that the French declared to come from the saints, but which the English never doubted to be infernal. Maimed and wounded soldiers, whom Esclairmonde relieved and tended as they returned from lost battles, gave her fearful accounts of the panic that La Pucelle inspired. Even the hardy veteran, Sir John Fastolfe, had not been able to withstand her spells, but had fled from the field of Jergeau, where gallant Sir Ralf Percy had died, in a vain attempt to gather the men to resist the irresistible maiden. His groom, who had succumbed for a time to wounds and weakness on his way home to Alnwick, was touched by the warmth and emotion with which the kind bedeswoman listened to his lamentation over the good and loyal knight, whom she pictured to herself resisting the enchantress's dread power as dauntlessly as he had defied the phantoms of the Dance of Death.

No whisper ever reached Esclairmonde that the terrible Pucelle was a maiden as pure and high-souled as herself. All that she heard more was that this terror of the English and Burgundians was taken, imprisoned for a time by her own Luxemburg kindred, and then carried to Rouen, where the kind Duchess Anne of Bedford did her best to persuade her to overcome the superstition that kept her in male garments, thus greatly tending to increase the belief in her connection with the powers of evil. French and Burgundian bishops, and even the University of Paris, were the judges of the maiden; and the dastard prince she had crowned never stirred a finger nor uttered a protest in her behalf. Bedford, always disposed to belief in witchcraft, acquiesced in the decision of Churchmen, which was therefore called the judgment of the Church; but when he removed himself and his duchess from Rouen, and left the conduct of the matter to the sterner and harder Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, it was with little thought that after-generations would load his memory with the fate of Jeanne d'Arc, as though her sufferings had proceeded from his individual malice.

Esclairmonde never saw Bedford again, and only heard through Alice, now Countess of Salisbury, how when good Duchess Anne was dead, and her gentle influence removed, Burgundy's disinclination to the English cause was no longer balanced; and how Bedford, perplexed, disheartened, broken in health, but still earnest to propitiate friends for his helpless nephew, had listened to the wily whisper of the Bishop of Thérouenne, that his niece, Jaquette, would secure the devotion of the Count de St. Pol, and that she was moreover like unto another Demoiselle de Luxemburg.

How like, Esclairmonde could judge, when her kinswoman, widowed in her eighteenth year, at six months' end, came to London to claim her dower. Never, since her days of wandering and anxiety, had Esclairmonde felt such pain as when she perceived how little store the thoughtless girl had set by the great and noble spirit that had been quenched under the load of toil and care with which it had battled for thirteen long years. Faithful, great-hearted Bedford, striving to uphold a losing cause, to reconcile selfish contentions, to retain conquests that, though unjustly made, he had no power to relinquish; and all without one trustworthy relation, with friends and fellow-warriors dying, disputing, betraying, or deserting, his was as self-devoted and as mournful a career as ever was run by any prince at any age of the world; and while he slept in his grave at Rouen, that grave which even Louis XI. respected, Esclairmonde, as, like a true bedeswoman of St. Katharine, she joined in the orisons for the repose of the souls of the royal kindred, never heard the name of the Lord John without a throb of prayer, and a throb too that warmed her heart with tenderness.

It was some four years later, and the even tenor of Sister Clare's course had only been interrupted by her kinswoman, Jaquette, making her way to her to confess her marriage with Richard Wydville, and to entreat her intercession with the Luxemburg family; when one summer night she was called on to attend a pilgrim priest from the Holy Land, who had been landed from a Flemish vessel, and lay dangerously sick at the 'God's house,' or hospital, by the river side. He was thought by his accent to be foreign, and Sister Clare was always called on to wait upon the stranger.

As she stood by his bedside, she beheld a man of middle age, but wasted with sickness, and with a certain strange look of horror so imprinted on his brow, that even as he lay asleep, though his mouth was grave and peaceful, the lines were still there, and the locks that hung from around his tonsure were of a whiteness that scarce accorded with the features. It was a face that Esclairmonde could not look at without waking strange memories; but it was not till the sleeper awakened, opened two dark eyes, gazed on her with dreamy doubtful wonder, and then clasped his hands with the murmured thanksgiving, 'My God, hast Thou granted me this? Light of my life!' that she was assured to whom she was speaking.

Malcolm Stewart it verily was. Canon Malcolm Stewart of Dunkeld was his proper title, for he had, as she knew, long ceased to be Lord of Glenuskie. It was not at first that she knew how he had been brought where she now saw him; but after some few days of her tender care and skilful leechcraft, he somewhat rallied, and she gathered his history from his conversation when he was able to speak.

He had had a time of happy labour in Scotland, fully carrying out the designs with which he and his cousin James Kennedy had taken upon them the ministry. Their own birth, and the appointments their King gave them, so soon as their age permitted, made them able to exert an influence that told upon the rude and unenlightened clergy around. It had been almost a mission of conversion, to awaken a spirit of Christianity in the country, that had so long been a prey to anarchy. The King's declaration, 'I will make the key keep the castle, and the bracken-bush keep the cow, though I live the life of a dog to bring it about,' had been the moving spring of their lives. James had fought hour by hour with the foul habits of lawlessness, savagery, and violence, that had hitherto been absolutely unchecked; and while he strove with the sword of justice, the two young priests worked within the Word of truth, to implant some sense of conscience in the neglected people.

It had been a life of constant exertion, but full of hope and cheerfulness. Amid that rude country, James's own home was always a bright spot of peace, sunshine, and refinement. With his beloved queen, and their fair little brood of children, the King cast aside his cares, and was all, and more than all, he had been as the ornament of Henry's Court. There all that was sweet, innocent, and beautiful was to be found; and there Malcolm, his royal kinsman's confidant, counsellor, and chaplain, was always welcome as one of the home circle and family, till he broke away from such delights to labour in his task of reviving religion in the land. A little band of men were gathering round, clergy awakening from their sloth or worldliness, young nobles who began to see what chivalry meant, burghers who rejoiced in order; and hope and encouragement strengthened the hands of the three kinsmen.

But, alas! there were those who deemed James's justice on the savage prince and noble mere sacrilege on high blood, and who absolutely hated and loathed peace and order. Those thirteen years of cheerful progress ended in that murder so unspeakably horrible in all its circumstances, which almost merits the name of a martyrdom to right and justice. Malcolm so shuddered when he did but touch on it, and was so rent with agitation, that Esclairmonde perceived that when his beloved King had perished, he had indeed received the death-wound to his own fragile nature.

He had been actually in the Abbey of Perth; and had been one of those who lifted the mangled corpse from the vault, and sought in vain for a remnant of life, if but to grant the absolution, for which the victim had so piteously besought his murderers. No wonder that Fastern's E'en had whitened Malcolm's hair!

But when the assassins were captured, and Joan of Beaufort was resolved that their death should be as atrocious as their crime, it was Malcolm who strove to bend her to forgiveness. He bade her recollect King Henry, and how, when dealing with that cruel monster, the Castellane of Meaux, he had merely required death, without enhancing the agony; but Joan, in her rage and misery, had left the Englishwoman behind her, and was implacable. All that human cruelty could invent was to be the lot of Robert Graham and his associates; and whereas they had granted no priest to their victim, none should be granted to them.

And then it was that all Malcolm had learnt of the true spirit of the Christian triumphed-not only over the dark Keltic spirit of revenge, but over the shuddering of a tender and pitiful nature. Where no other priest durst venture, he went. Through all the frightful and protracted sufferings of Athol, Graham, Hall, and the rest, it was Malcolm Stewart who, never flinching, prayed with and for them; gathered their agonized sobs of confession, or strove to soften their hardness; spoke the words of absolution, and commended their departing souls.

When he awoke from the long unconsciousness and delirium that ensued upon the force he had put on himself, he found himself tended by his sister at Glenuskie. Patrick Drummond had transported him thither; finding that the angry Queen, in the madness of her vindictiveness, was well-nigh disposed to connect him with the treasonable designs of Athol and Graham. He slowly and partially recovered, but his influence was gone; the Queen would not brook the sound of his name, the little king was beyond his reach, James Kennedy was biding his time, and the country was returned to its state of misrule and violence, wherein an individual priest could do little: yet Malcolm would have held by his post, had not his health been so utterly shattered that he was incapable of the work he had hitherto done, as a confessor and a preacher. And therefore, as the state of his beloved King, 'sent to his account unhouselled, disappointed, unannealed,' hung heavy on his mind, he determined, so soon as he was in any degree convalescent, to set forth on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the object of so many dreams of King Henry; there to offer masses and prayers for the welfare of his departed prince, as well as of the unhappy murderers, and for the country in its distracted condition.

And there, at the Holy Sepulchre, had Malcolm, in the fervour of his heart, offered the greatest treasure he possessed-nay, the only one that he still really cared for-namely his betrothal ring, which Esclairmonde had worn for so long and had returned to him. As a priest, he had deemed that it was not unlawful for him to retain the memorial of the link that had bound him to her who had been the light that led him to the true Light beyond; but as youth passed away, as devotion burned brighter, as the experiences of those years became more dream-like, and the horror, grief, and misery of his King's death had been assuaged only by the steadier contemplation of the Light of Eternity, he had felt that this last pledge of his once lower aims and hopes ought to be resigned; and that if it cost him a pang, it was well that it should be so, to render the offering a sacrifice. So the ring that had once been Esclairmonde's protection was laid on the altar of the Holy Tomb.

There Malcolm had well-nigh died, under the influences of agitation, fatigue, and climate; but he had revived enough to set out on his return from his pilgrimage, and had made his way tardily and wearily, losing his attendants through death and desertion on the road; and passing from one religious house to another, as his strength and nearly exhausted means served him. Unable to find any vessel bound for Leith, he had taken ship for London; concealing his quality, lest, in the always probable contingency of a war, it might lead to his being made prisoner; and thus he had arrived, sick indeed unto death, but peaceful, rejoicing, and hopeful.

'Sister,' he said, 'the morn that I had offered my ring, I was feeble and faint; and when I knelt on before the altar in continued prayer-I know not whether I slept or whether it were a vision, but it was to me as though I were again on the river, and again the hymn of Bernard of Morlaix was sung around and above me, by the voice I never thought to hear again. I looked up, and behold it was I that was in the boat-my King was there no more. Nay, he stood on the shore, and his eyes beamed on me; while the ghastly wounds that I once strove in anguish to staunch shone out like a ruby cross on his breast-the hands, that were so sorely gashed, were to me as though marked by the impress of the Sacred Wounds. He spake not; but by his side stood King Henry, beautiful and spirit-like, and smiled on me, and seemed as though he pointed to the wounds, as he said, "Blessed is the king who died by his people's hand, for withstanding his people's sin! Blessed is every faint image of the true King!"

'Then methought they held out their arms to me; and I would have come to them on their shore of rest, but the river bore me away-and I looked up, to find I was as yet only in the earthly Jerusalem; but I watch for them every hour, to call me once and for ever.'

FOOTNOTES

{1} 'Hail, reverend brother. I come from Paris.'

{2} Student of the first year.

{3} Manners are lacking to the Northerners.

{4} Wretches.

{5} For supper.

{6} Telephus and Peleus, when both are poor and exiled, dismiss boasting and six-foot words.

{7} It is dispersed in a cloud.

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