The Fair Maid of Perth; Or, St. Valentine's Day eBook: Page1
Walter Scott (2005)
Produced by Martin Robb
THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH
ST. VALENTINE'S DAY
By Sir Walter Scott
The ashes here of murder'd kings Beneath my footsteps sleep; And yonderlies the scene of death, Where Mary learn'd to weep.
Every quarter of Edinburgh has its own peculiar boast, so that the citytogether combines within its precincts, if you take the word of theinhabitants on the subject, as much of historical interest as of naturalbeauty. Our claims in behalf of the Canongate are not the slightest.The Castle may excel us in extent of prospect and sublimity of site; theCalton had always the superiority of its unrivalled panorama, and has oflate added that of its towers, and triumphal arches, and the pillars ofits Parthenon. The High Street, we acknowledge, had the distinguishedhonour of being defended by fortifications, of which we can show novestiges. We will not descend to notice the claims of more upstartdistricts, called Old New Town and New New Town, not to mention thefavourite Moray Place, which is the Newest New Town of all. We will notmatch ourselves except with our equals, and with our equals in age only,for in dignity we admit of one. We boast being the court end of thetown, possessing the Palace and the sepulchral remains of monarchs,and that we have the power to excite, in a degree unknown to the lesshonoured quarters of the city, the dark and solemn recollections ofancient grandeur, which occupied the precincts of our venerable Abbeyfrom the time of St. David till her deserted halls were once more madeglad, and her long silent echoes awakened, by the visit of our presentgracious sovereign.
My long habitation in the neighbourhood, and the quiet respectability ofmy habits, have given me a sort of intimacy with good Mrs. Policy, thehousekeeper in that most interesting part of the old building calledQueen Mary's Apartments. But a circumstance which lately happenedhas conferred upon me greater privileges; so that, indeed, I might, Ibelieve, venture on the exploit of Chatelet, who was executed forbeing found secreted at midnight in the very bedchamber of Scotland'smistress.
It chanced that the good lady I have mentioned was, in the discharge ofher function, showing the apartments to a cockney from London--not oneof your quiet, dull, commonplace visitors, who gape, yawn, andlisten with an acquiescent "umph" to the information doled out by theprovincial cicerone. No such thing: this was the brisk, alert agent of agreat house in the city, who missed no opportunity of doing business,as he termed it--that is, of putting off the goods of his employers,and improving his own account of commission. He had fidgeted through thesuite of apartments, without finding the least opportunity to touch uponthat which he considered as the principal end of his existence. Even thestory of Rizzio's assassination presented no ideas to this emissary ofcommerce, until the housekeeper appealed, in support of her narrative,to the dusky stains of blood upon the floor.
"These are the stains," she said; "nothing will remove them from theplace: there they have been for two hundred and fifty years, and therethey will remain while the floor is left standing--neither water noranything else will ever remove them from that spot."
Now our cockney, amongst other articles, sold Scouring Drops, as theyare called, and a stain of two hundred and fifty years' standing wasinteresting to him, not because it had been caused by the blood of aqueen's favourite, slain in her apartment, but because it offeredso admirable an opportunity to prove the efficacy of his unequalledDetergent Elixir. Down on his knees went our friend, but neither inhorror nor devotion.
"Two hundred and fifty years, ma'am, and nothing take it away? Why, ifit had been five hundred, I have something in my pocket will fetch itout in five minutes. D'ye see this elixir, ma'am? I will show you thestain vanish in a moment."
Accordingly, wetting one end of his handkerchief with the all detergingspecific, he began to rub away on the planks, without heeding theremonstrances of Mrs. Policy. She, good soul, stood at first inastonishment, like the abbess of St. Bridget's, when a profane visitantdrank up the vial of brandy which had long passed muster among therelics of the cloister for the tears of the blessed saint. The venerableguardian of St. Bridget probably expected the interference of herpatroness--she of Holyrood might, perhaps, hope that David Ruzzio'sspectre would arise to prevent the profanation. But Mrs. Policy stoodnot long in the silence of horror. She uplifted her voice, and screamedas loudly as Queen Mary herself when the dreadful deed was in the act ofperpetration--
"Harrow, now out, and walawa!" she cried.
I happened to be taking my morning walk in the adjoining gallery,pondering in my mind why the kings of Scotland, who hung around me,should be each and every one painted with a nose like the knocker ofa door, when lo! the walls once more re-echoed with such shrieks asformerly were as often heard in the Scottish palaces as were sounds ofrevelry and music. Somewhat surprised at such an alarm in a place sosolitary, I hastened to the spot, and found the well meaning travellerscrubbing the floor like a housemaid, while Mrs. Policy, dragging himby the skirts of the coat, in vain endeavoured to divert him from hissacrilegious purpose. It cost me some trouble to explain to the zealouspurifier of silk stockings, embroidered waistcoats, broadcloth, and dealplanks that there were such things in the world as stains which oughtto remain indelible, on account of the associations with which they areconnected. Our good friend viewed everything of the kind only asthe means of displaying the virtue of his vaunted commodity. Hecomprehended, however, that he would not be permitted to proceedto exemplify its powers on the present occasion, as two or threeinhabitants appeared, who, like me, threatened to maintain thehousekeeper's side of the question. He therefore took his leave,muttering that he had always heard the Scots were a nasty people, buthad no idea they carried it so far as to choose to have the floors oftheir palaces blood boltered, like Banquo's ghost, when to remove themwould have cost but a hundred drops of the Infallible Detergent Elixir,prepared and sold by Messrs. Scrub and Rub, in five shilling and tenshilling bottles, each bottle being marked with the initials of theinventor, to counterfeit which would be to incur the pains of forgery.
Freed from the odious presence of this lover of cleanliness, my goodfriend Mrs. Policy was profuse in her expressions of thanks; and yet hergratitude, instead of exhausting itself in these declarations, accordingto the way of the world, continues as lively at this moment as if shehad never thanked me at all. It is owing to her recollection of thispiece of good service that I have the permission of wandering, like theghost of some departed gentleman usher, through these deserted halls,sometimes, as the old Irish ditty expresses it--
Thinking upon things that are long enough ago;--and sometimes wishingI could, with the good luck of most editors of romantic narrative, lightupon some hidden crypt or massive antique cabinet, which should yield tomy researches an almost illegible manuscript, containing the authenticparticulars of some of the strange deeds of those wild days of theunhappy Mary.
My dear Mrs. Baliol used to sympathise with me when I regretted that allgodsends of this nature had ceased to occur, and that an author mightchatter his teeth to pieces by the seaside without a wave ever waftingto him a casket containing such a history as that of Automates; thathe might break his shins in stumbling through a hundred vaults withoutfinding anything but rats and mice; and become the tenant of a dozensets of shabby tenements without finding that they contained anymanuscript but the weekly bill for board and lodging. A dairymaid ofthese degenerate days might as well wash and deck her dairy in hopes offinding the fairy tester in her shoe.
"It is a sad and too true a tale, cousin," said Mrs. Baliol, "I am surewe all have occasion to regret the want of these ready supplements to afai
"Why, as to the age at which a fair dame loses the benefit of chivalry,and is no longer entitled to crave boon of brave knight, that I leaveto the statutes of the Order of Errantry; but for the blood of RizzioI take up the gauntlet, and maintain against all and sundry that Ihold the stains to be of no modern date, but to have been actually theconsequence and the record of that terrible assassination."
"As I cannot accept the challenge to the field, fair cousin, I amcontented to require proof."
"The unaltered tradition of the Palace, and the correspondence of theexisting state of things with that tradition."
"Explain, if you please."
"I will. The universal tradition bears that, when Rizzio was draggedout of the chamber of the Queen, the heat and fury of the assassins, whostruggled which should deal him most wounds, despatched him at the doorof the anteroom. At the door of the apartment, therefore, the greaterquantity of the ill fated minion's blood was spilled, and there themarks of it are still shown. It is reported further by historians, thatMary continued her entreaties for his life, mingling her prayers withscreams and exclamations, until she knew that he was assuredly slain; onwhich she wiped her eyes and said, 'I will now study revenge.'"
"All this is granted. But the blood--would it not wash out, or wasteout, think you, in so many years?"
"I am coming to that presently. The constant tradition of the Palacesays, that Mary discharged any measures to be taken to remove the marksof slaughter, which she had resolved should remain as a memorial toquicken and confirm her purposed vengeance. But it is added that,satisfied with the knowledge that it existed, and not desirous to havethe ghastly evidence always under her eye, she caused a traverse, as itis called (that is, a temporary screen of boards), to be drawn along theunder part of the anteroom, a few feet from the door, so as to separatethe place stained with the blood from the rest of the apartment, andinvolve it in considerable obscurity. Now this temporary partition stillexists, and, by running across and interrupting the plan of the roofand cornices, plainly intimates that it has been intended to serve sometemporary purpose, since it disfigures the proportions of the room,interferes with the ornaments of the ceiling, and could only have beenput there for some such purpose as hiding an object too disagreeableto be looked upon. As to the objection that the bloodstains would havedisappeared in course of time, I apprehend that, if measures to effacethem were not taken immediately after the affair happened--if the blood,in other words, were allowed to sink into the wood, the stain wouldbecome almost indelible. Now, not to mention that our Scottish palaceswere not particularly well washed in those days, and that there were noPatent Drops to assist the labours of the mop, I think it very probablethat these dark relics might subsist for a long course of time, evenif Mary had not desired or directed that they should be preserved, butscreened by the traverse from public sight. I know several instancesof similar bloodstains remaining for a great many years, and I doubtwhether, after a certain time, anything can remove them save thecarpenter's plane. If any seneschal, by way of increasing the interestof the apartments, had, by means of paint, or any other mode ofimitation, endeavoured to palm upon posterity supposititious stigmata, Iconceive that the impostor would have chosen the Queen's cabinet and thebedroom for the scene of his trick, placing his bloody tracery where itcould be distinctly seen by visitors, instead of hiding it behindthe traverse in this manner. The existence of the said traverse, ortemporary partition, is also extremely difficult to be accounted for, ifthe common and ordinary tradition be rejected. In short, all the rest ofthis striking locality is so true to the historical fact, that I thinkit may well bear out the additional circumstance of the blood on thefloor."
"I profess to you," answered Mrs. Baliol, "that I am very willing to beconverted to your faith. We talk of a credulous vulgar, without alwaysrecollecting that there is a vulgar incredulity, which, in historicalmatters as well as in those of religion, finds it easier to doubt thanto examine, and endeavours to assume the credit of an esprit fort,by denying whatever happens to be a little beyond the very limitedcomprehension of the sceptic. And so, that point being settled, andyou possessing, as we understand, the open sesamum into these secretapartments, how, if we may ask, do you intend to avail yourself of yourprivilege? Do you propose to pass the night in the royal bedchamber?"
"For what purpose, my dear lady? If to improve the rheumatism, this eastwind may serve the purpose."
"Improve the rheumatism! Heaven forbid! that would be worse than addingcolours to the violet. No, I mean to recommend a night on the couch ofthe nose of Scotland, merely to improve the imagination. Who knowswhat dreams might be produced by a night spent in a mansion of so manymemories! For aught I know, the iron door of the postern stairmight open at the dead hour of midnight, and, as at the time of theconspiracy, forth might sally the phantom assassins, with stealthy stepand ghastly look, to renew the semblance of the deed. There comes thefierce fanatic Ruthven, party hatred enabling him to bear the armourwhich would otherwise weigh down a form extenuated by wasting disease.See how his writhen features show under the hollow helmet, like those ofa corpse tenanted by a demon, whose vindictive purpose looks out atthe flashing eyes, while the visage has the stillness of death. Yonderappears the tall form of the boy Darnley, as goodly in person asvacillating in resolution; yonder he advances with hesitating step, andyet more hesitating purpose, his childish fear having already overcomehis childish passion. He is in the plight of a mischievous lad whohas fired a mine, and who now, expecting the explosion in remorse andterror, would give his life to quench the train which his own handlighted. Yonder--yonder--But I forget the rest of the worthy cutthroats.Help me if you can."
"Summon up," said I, "the postulate, George Douglas, the most active ofthe gang. Let him arise at your call--the claimant of wealth which hedoes not possess, the partaker of the illustrious blood of Douglas, butwhich in his veins is sullied with illegitimacy. Paint him the ruthless,the daring, the ambitious--so nigh greatness, yet debarred from it; sonear to wealth, yet excluded from possessing it; a political Tantalus,ready to do or dare anything to terminate his necessities and assert hisimperfect claims."
"Admirable, my dear Croftangry! But what is a postulate?"
"Pooh, my dear madam, you disturb the current of my ideas. The postulatewas, in Scottish phrase, the candidate for some benefice which he hadnot yet attained. George Douglas, who stabbed Rizzio, was the postulatefor the temporal possessions of the rich abbey of Arbroath."
"I stand informed. Come, proceed; who comes next?" continued Mrs.Baliol.
"Who comes next? Yon tall, thin made, savage looking man, with thepetronel in his hand, must be Andrew Ker of Faldonside, a brother's son,I believe, of the celebrated Sir David Ker of Cessford; his look andbearing those of a Border freebooter, his disposition so savage that,during the fray in the cabinet, he presented his loaded piece at thebosom of the young and beautiful Queen, that queen also being within afew weeks of becoming a mother."
"Brave, beau cousin! Well, having raised your bevy of phantoms, I hopeyou do not intend to send them back to their cold beds to warm them? Youwill put them to some action, and since you do threaten the Canongatewith your desperate quill, you surely mean to novelise, or to dramatise,if you will, this most singular of all tragedies?"
"Worse--that is less interesting--periods of history have been, indeed,shown up, for furnishing amusement to the peaceable ages which, havesucceeded but, dear lady, the events are too well known in Mary's daysto be used as vehicles of romantic fiction.
"This will never do, cousin," answered Mrs. Baliol; "you must get overall these scruples, if you would thrive in the character of a romantichistorian, which you have determined to embrace. What is the classicRobertson to you? The light which he carried was that of a lamp toilluminate the dark events of antiquity; yours is a magic lantern toraise up wonders which never existed. No reader of sense wonders at yourhistorical inaccuracies, any more than he does to see Punch in the showbox seated on the same throne with King Solomon in his glory, or tohear him hallooing out to the patriarch, amid the deluge, 'Mighty hazyweather, Master Noah.'"
"Do not mistake me, my dear madam," said I; "I am quite conscious ofmy own immunities as a tale teller. But even the mendacious Mr. Fag, inSheridan's Rivals, assures us that, though he never scruples to tella lie at his master's command, yet it hurts his conscience to be foundout. Now, this is the reason why I avoid in prudence all well knownpaths of history, where every one can read the finger posts carefullyset up to advise them of the right turning; and the very boys and girls,who learn the history of Britain by way of question and answer, hoot ata poor author if he abandons the highway."
"Do not be discouraged, however, cousin Chrystal. There are plenty ofwildernesses in Scottish history, through which, unless I am greatlymisinformed, no certain paths have been laid down from actual survey,but which are only described by imperfect tradition, which fills upwith wonders and with legends the periods in which no real events arerecognised to have taken place. Even thus, as Mat Prior says:
"Geographers on pathless downs Place elephants instead of towns."
"If such be your advice, my dear lady," said I, "the course of my storyshall take its rise upon this occasion at a remote period of history,and in a province removed from my natural sphere of the Canongate."
It was under the influence of those feelings that I undertook thefollowing historical romance, which, often suspended and flung aside,is now arrived at a size too important to be altogether thrown away,although there may be little prudence in sending it to the press.
I have not placed in the mouth of the characters the Lowland Scotchdialect now spoken, because unquestionably the Scottish of that dayresembled very closely the Anglo Saxon, with a sprinkling of Frenchor Norman to enrich it. Those who wish to investigate the subject mayconsult the Chronicles of Winton and the History of Bruce by ArchdeaconBarbour. But supposing my own skill in the ancient Scottish weresufficient to invest the dialogue with its peculiarities, a translationmust have been necessary for the benefit of the general reader. TheScottish dialect may be therefore considered as laid aside, unlesswhere the use of peculiar words may add emphasis or vivacity to thecomposition.