Charlotte M. Yonge
Two Penniless Princesses
CHAPTER 1. DUNBAR
‘’Twas on a night, an evening bright
When the dew began to fa’,
Lady Margaret was walking up and down,
Looking over her castle wa’.’
The battlements of a castle were, in disturbed times, the only recreation-ground of the ladies and play-place of the young people. Dunbar Castle, standing on steep rocks above the North Sea, was not only inaccessible on that side, but from its donjon tower commanded a magnificent view, both of the expanse of waves, taking purple tints from the shadows of the clouds, with here and there a sail fleeting before the wind, and of the rugged headlands of the coast, point beyond point, the nearer distinct, and showing the green summits, and below, the tossing waves breaking white against the dark rocks, and the distance becoming more and more hazy, in spite of the bright sun which made a broken path of glory along the tossing, white-crested waters.
The wind was a keen north-east breeze, and might have been thought too severe by any but the ‘hardy, bold, and wild’ children who were merrily playing on the top of the donjon tower, round the staff whence fluttered the double treasured banner with ‘the ruddy lion ramped in gold’ denoting the presence of the King.
Three little boys, almost babies, and a little girl not much older, were presided over by a small elder sister, who held the youngest in her lap, and tried to amuse him with caresses and rhymes, so as to prevent his interference with the castle-building of the others, with their small hoard of pebbles and mussel and cockle shells.
Another maiden, the wind tossing her long chestnut-locks, uncovered, but tied with the Scottish snood, sat on the battlement, gazing far out over the waters, with eyes of the same tint as the hair. Even the sea-breeze failed to give more than a slight touch of colour to her somewhat freckled complexion; and the limbs that rested in a careless attitude on the stone bench were long and languid, though with years and favourable circumstances there might be a development of beauty and dignity. Her lips were crooning at intervals a mournful old Scottish tune, sometimes only humming, sometimes uttering its melancholy burthen, and she now and then touched a small harp that stood by her side on the seat.
She did not turn round when a step approached, till a hand was laid on her shoulder, when she started, and looked up into the face of another girl, on a smaller scale, with a complexion of the lily-and-rose kind, fair hair under her hood, with a hawk upon her wrist, and blue eyes dancing at the surprise of her sister.
‘Eleanor in a creel, as usual!’ she cried.
‘I thought it was only one of the bairns,’ was the answer.
‘They might coup over the walls for aught thou seest,’ returned the new-comer. ‘If it were not for little Mary what would become of the poor weans?’
‘What will become of any of us?’ said Eleanor. ‘I was gazing out over the sea and wishing we could drift away upon it to some land of rest.’
‘The Glenuskie folk are going to try another land,’ said Jean. ‘I was in the bailey-court even now playing at ball with Jamie when in comes a lay-brother, with a letter from Sir Patrick to say that he is coming the night to crave permission from Jamie to go with his wife to France. Annis, as you know, is betrothed to the son of his French friends, Malcolm is to study at the Paris University, and Davie to be in the Scottish Guards to learn chivalry like his father. And the Leddy of Glenuskie—our Cousin Lilian—is going with them.’
‘And she will see Margaret,’ said Eleanor. ‘Meg the dearie! Dost remember Meg, Jeanie?’
‘Well, well do I remember her, and how she used to let us nestle in her lap and sing to us. She sang like thee, Elleen, and was as mother-like as Mary is to the weans, but she was much blithesomer—at least before our father was slain.’
‘Sweetest Meg! My whole heart leaps after her,’ cried Eleanor, with a fervent gesture.
‘I loved her better than Isabel, though she was not so bonnie,’ said Jean.
‘Jeanie, Jeanie,’ cried Eleanor, turning round with a vehemence strangely contrasting with her previous language, ‘wherefore should we not go with Glenuskie to be with Meg at Bourges?’
Jeanie opened her blue eyes wide.
‘Go to the French King’s Court?’ she said.
‘To the land of chivalry and song,’ exclaimed Eleanor, ‘where they have courts of love and poetry, and tilts and tourneys and minstrelsy, and the sun shines as it never does in this cold bleak north; and above all there is Margaret, dear tender Margaret, almost a queen, as a queen she will be one day. Oh! I almost feel her embrace.’
‘It might be well,’ said Jean, in the matter-of-fact tone of a practical young lady; ‘mewed up in these dismal castles, we shall never get princely husbands like our sisters. I might be Queen of Beauty, I doubt me whether you are fair enough, Eleanor.’
‘Oh, that is not what I think of,’ said Eleanor. ‘It is to see our own Margaret, and to see and hear the minstrel knights, instead of the rude savages here, scarce one of whom knows what knighthood means!’
‘Ay, and they will lay hands on us and wed us one of these days,’ returned Jean, ‘unless we vow ourselves as nuns, and I have no mind for that.’
‘Nor would a convent always guard us,’ said Eleanor; ‘these reivers do not stick at sanctuary. Now in that happy land ladies meet with courtesy, and there is a minstrel king like our father, Rene is his name, uncle to Margaret’s husband. Oh! it would be a very paradise.’
‘Let us go, let us go!’ exclaimed Jean.
‘Go!’ said Mary, who had drawn nearer to them while they spoke. ‘Whither did ye say?’
‘To France—to sister Margaret and peace and sunshine,’ said Eleanor.
‘Eh!’ said the girl, a pale fair child of twelve; ‘and what would poor Jamie and the weans do, wanting their titties?’
‘Ye are but a bairn, Mary,’ was Jean’s answer. ‘We shall do better for Jamie by wedding some great lords in the far country than by waiting here at home.’
‘And James will soon have a queen of his own to guide him,’ added Eleanor.
‘I’ll no quit Jamie or the weans,’ said little Mary resolutely, turning back as the three-year-old boy elicited a squall from the eighteen-months one.
‘Johnnie! Johnnie! what gars ye tak’ away wee Andie’s claw? Here, my mannie.’
And she was kneeling on the leads, making peace over the precious crab’s claw, which, with a few cockles and mussels, was the choicest toy of these forlorn young Stewarts; for Stewarts they all were, though the three youngest, the weans, as they were called, were only half-brothers to the rest.
Nothing, in point of fact, could have been much more forlorn than the condition of all. The father of the elder ones, James I., the flower of the whole Stewart race, had nine years before fallen a victim to the savage revenge and ferocity of the lawless men whom he had vainly endeavoured to restrain, leaving an only son of six years old and six young daughters. His wife, Joanna, once the Nightingale of Windsor, had wreaked vengeance in so barbarous a manner as to increase the dislike to her as an Englishwoman. Forlorn and in danger, she tried to secure a protector by a marriage with Sir James Stewart, called the Black Knight of Lorn; but he was unable to do much for her, and only added the feuds of his own family to increase the general danger. The two eldest daughters, Margaret and Isabel, were already contracted to the Dauphin and the Duke of Brittany, and were soon sent to their new homes. The little King, the one darling of his mother, was snatched from her, and violently transferred from one fierce guardian to another; each regarding the possession of his person as a sanction to tyranny. He had been introduced to the two winsome young Douglases only as a prelude to their murder, and every day brought tidings of some fresh violence; nay, for the second time, a murder was perpetrated in the Queen’s own chamber.
The poor woman had never been very tender or affectionate, and had the haughty demeanour with which the house of Somerset had thought fit to assert their claims to royalty. The cruel slaughter of her first husband, perhaps the only person for whom she had ever felt a softening love, had hardened and soured her. She despised and domineered over her second husband, and made no secret that the number of her daughters was oppressive, and that it was hard that while the royal branch had produced, with one exception, only useless pining maidens, her second marriage in too quick succession should bring her sons, who could only be a burthen. No one greatly marvelled when, a few weeks after the birth of little Andrew, his father disappeared, though whether he had perished in some brawl, been lost at sea, or sought foreign service as far as possible from his queenly wife and inconvenient family, no one knew.
Not long after, the Queen, with her four daughters and the infants, had been seized upon by a noted freebooter, Patrick Hepburn of Hailes, and carried to Dunbar Castle, probably to serve as hostages, for they were fairly well treated, though never allowed to go beyond the walls. The Queen’s health had, however, been greatly shaken, the cold blasts of the north wind withered her up, and she died in the beginning of the year 1445.
The desolateness of the poor girls had perhaps been greater than their grief. Poor Joanna had been exacting and tyrannical, and with no female attendants but the old, worn-out English nurse, had made them do her all sorts of services, which were requited with scoldings and grumblings instead of the loving thanks which ought to have made them offices of affection as well as duty; while the poor little boys would indeed have fared ill if their half-sister Mary, though only twelve years old, had not been one of those girls who are endowed from the first with tender, motherly instincts.
Beyond providing that there was a supply of some sort of food, and that they were confined within the walls of the Castle, Hepburn did not trouble his head about his prisoners, and for many weeks they had no intercourse with any one save Archie Scott, an old groom of their mother’s; Ankaret, nurse to baby Andrew; and the seneschal and his wife, both Hepburns.
Eleanor and Jean, who had been eight and seven years old at the time of the terrible catastrophe which had changed all their lives, had been well taught under their father’s influence; and the former, who had inherited much of his talent and poetical nature, had availed herself of every scanty opportunity of feeding her imagination by book or ballad, story-teller or minstrel; and the store of tales, songs, and fancies that she had accumulated were not only her own chief resource but that of her sisters, in the many long and dreary hours that they had to pass, unbrightened save by the inextinguishable buoyancy of young creatures together. When their mother was dying, Hepburn could not help for very shame admitting a priest to her bedside, and allowing the clergy to perform her obsequies in full form. This had led to a more complete perception of the condition of the poor Princesses, just at the time when the two worst tyrants over the young King, Crichton and Livingstone, had fallen out, and he had been able to put himself under the guidance of his first cousin, James Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews and now Chancellor of Scotland, one of the wisest, best, and truest-hearted men in Scotland, and imbued with the spirit of the late King.
By his management Hepburn was induced to make submission and deliver up Dunbar Castle to the King with all its captives, and the meeting between the brother and sisters was full of extreme delight on both sides. They had been together very little since their father’s death, only meeting enough to make them long for more opportunities; and the boy at fifteen years old was beginning to weary after the home feeling of rest among kindred, and was so happy amidst his sisters that no attempt at breaking up the party at Dunbar had yet been made, as its situation made it a convenient abode for the Court. Though he had never had such advantages of education as, strangely enough, captivity had afforded to his father, he had not been untaught, and his rapid, eager, intelligent mind had caught at all opportunities afforded by those palace monasteries of Scotland in which he had stayed for various periods of his vexed and stormy minority. Good Bishop Kennedy, with whom he had now spent many months, had studied at Paris and had passed four years at Rome, so as to be well able both to enlarge and stimulate his notions. In Eleanor he had found a companion delighted to share his studies, and full likewise of original fancy and of that vein of poetry almost peculiar to Scottish women; and Jean was equally charming for all the sports in which she could take part, while the little ones, whom, to his credit be it spoken, he always treated as brothers, were pleasant playthings.
His presence, with all that it involved, had made a most happy change in the maidens’ lives; and yet there was still great dreariness, much restraint in the presence of constant precaution against violence, much rudeness and barbarism in the surroundings, absolute poverty in the plenishing, a lack of all beauty save in the wild and rugged face of northern nature, and it was hardly to be wondered at that young people, inheritors of the cultivated instincts of James I. and of the Plantagenets, should yearn for something beyond, especially for that sunny southern land which report and youthful imagination made them believe an ideal world of peace, of poetry, and of chivalry, and the loving elder sister who seemed to them a part of that golden age when their noble and tender-hearted father was among them.
The boy’s foot was on the turret-stairs, and he was out on the battlements—a tall lad for his age, of the same colouring as Eleanor, and very handsome, except for the blemish of a dark-red mark upon one cheek.
‘How now, wee Andie?’ he exclaimed, tossing the baby boy up in his arms, and then on the cry of ‘Johnnie too!’ ‘Me too!’ performing the same feat with the other two, the last so boisterously that Mary screamed that ‘the bairnie would be coupit over the crag.’
‘What, looking out over the sea?’ he cried to his elder sisters. ‘That’s the wrang side! Ye should look out on the other, to see Glenuskie coming with Davie and Malcolm, so we’ll have no lack of minstrelsy and tales to-night, that is if the doited old council will let me alone. Here, come to the southern tower to watch for them.’
The sisters had worked themselves to the point of eagerness where propitious moments are disregarded, and both broke out—
‘Glenuskie is going to Margaret. We want to go with him!’
‘Go! Go to Margaret and leave me!’ cried James, the red spot on his face spreading.
‘Oh, Jamie, it is so dull and dreary, and folks are so fierce and rude.’
‘That might be when that loon Hepburn had you, but now you have me, who can take order with them.’
‘You cannot do all, Jamie,’ persisted Eleanor; ‘and we long after that fair smooth land of peace. Lady Glenuskie would take good care of us till we came to Margaret.’
‘Ay! And ‘tis little you heed how it is with me,’ exclaimed James, ‘when you are gone to your daffing and singing and dancing—with me that have saved you from that reiver Hepburn.’
‘Jamie, dear, I’ll never quit ye,’ said little Mary’s gentle voice.
‘You are a leal faithful little lady, Mary; but you are no good as yet, when Angus is speiring for my sister for his heir.’
‘And do you trow,’ said Jean hotly, ‘that when one sister is to be a queen, and the other is next thing to it, we are going to put up with a raw-boned, red-haired, unmannerly Scots earl?’
‘And do you forget who is King of Scotland, ye proud peat?’ her brother cried in return.
‘A braw sort of king,’ returned Jean, ‘who could not hinder his mother and sisters from being stolen by an outlaw.’
The pride and hot temper of the Beauforts had descended to both brother and sister, and James lifted his hand with ‘Dare to say that again’; and Jean was beginning ‘I dare,’ when little Annaple opportunely called, ‘There’s a plump of spears coming over the hill.’
There was an instant rush to watch them, James saying—
‘The Drummond banner! Ye shall see how Glenuskie mocks at this same fine fancy of yours’; and he ran downstairs at no kingly pace, letting the heavy nail-studded door bang after him.
‘He will never let us go,’ sighed Jean.
‘You worked him into one of his tempers,’ returned Eleanor. ‘You should have broached it to him more by degrees.’
‘And lost the chance of going with Sir Patie and his wife, and got plighted to the red-haired Master of Angus—never see sweet Meg and her braw court, and the tilts and tourneys, but live among murderous caitiffs and reivers all my days,’ sobbed Jean.
‘I would not be such a fule body as to give in for a hasty word or two, specially of Jamie’s,’ said Eleanor composedly.
‘And gin ye bide here,’ added gentle Mary, ‘we shall be all together, and you will have Jamie and the bairnies.’
‘Fine consolation,’ muttered Jean.
‘Eh well,’ said Eleanor, we must go down and meet them.’
‘This fashion!’ exclaimed Jean. ‘Look at your hair, Ellie—blown wild about your ears like a daft woman’s, and your kirtle all over mortar and smut. My certie, you would be a bonnie lady to be Queen of Love and Beauty at a jousting-match.’
‘You are no better, Jeanie,’ responded Eleanor.
‘That I ken full well, but I’d be shamed to show myself to knights and lairds that gate. And see Mary and all the lave have their hands as black as a caird’s.’