archaeologist James Grant
The Captain of the Guard
Many of the scenes and episodes which are delineated in the following story are taken from the annals of Scotland.
Those which belong to romance I leave the reader to discover.
My wish has been to portray the state of the nation and its people during the reign of the second James, without afflicting the reader by obsolete words and obscure dialects, which few now care about, and still fewer would comprehend, but following history as closely as the network of my own narrative would permit.
In some of the proceedings of the Douglas family, and minor details, it has suited my purpose to adhere to other sources of information, rather than the "Peerage," or the folio of Master David Hume, of Godscroft, the quaint old historian of the House of Douglas.
THE FOUR COFFINS
God save the king, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
And grant henceforth that foul debate
'Twixt noblemen may cease. —
On the evening of the 22nd November, 1440, the report of a brass carthoun, or cannon-royale, as it pealed from the castle of Edinburgh, made all who were in the thoroughfares below raise their eyes to the grey ramparts, where the white smoke was seen floating away from the summit of King David's Tower, and then people were seen hastening towards the southern side of the city, where the quaint old streets and narrow alleys opened into the fields, or the oakwoods of Bristo and Drumsheugh.
Crowds from all quarters pressed towards the Pleasance, the route by which the great earl of Douglas (duke of Touraine and lord of Longoville), who had been invited to visit the young king, was expected to enter the city. Curiosity was excited, as it was anticipated that his train would be a brilliant one. All in the secluded metropolis of the north were on tiptoe to behold a sight such as they had not been gratified with since the ambassadors of Amadeus VIII., duke of Savoy, had come to ask the hand of the king's little sister, Annabella, for his son, the valiant Louis Count de Maurienne, to whom, however, she preferred a Scottish earl, with a Scottish home, on the bonnie banks of the Clyde.
The boom of the same cannon brought to the bartizan of the great tower whereon it stood four armed men, who immediately turned their eyes towards the south.
Two of these were men well up in years. They wore furred caps of maintenance, denoting their high rank or position, and had long crimson robes, with capes of ermine that fell to their elbows. Beneath these flowing garments there glittered at times their steel habergeons, and the embroidered belts which sustained their swords.
One was a man of a tall figure and noble presence, with a long, grave, and pleasing face.
The other was equally noble in bearing, but his face was less pleasing in expression, for his temples were hollow, his eyes keen, his brows knit, and there played about his thin, cruel lips a crafty but courtly smile.
"Summon Romanno, the constable; bid him display the king's standard – call the garrison to their arms – shut gates and barriers," were the orders given rapidly by both at the same moment.
The first was Sir Alexander Livingstone, of Callendar, Regent of Scotland, and governor of the young king, James II., then in his eleventh year.
The second was Sir William Crichton of that ilk, the Lord Chancellor, appointed by the Parliament, after the murder of the late King James I., in the Black Friary, at Perth.
"Red-haired Achanna, with his Judas-coloured red beard, has played his cards well for us and for the king," said the Chancellor, with a crafty smile.
"Achanna," replied the Regent, grimly; "yes, a wretch born with the stamp of hell on his forehead – a hireling clerk, as well as swashbuckler."
"But a useful man withal, and said to be a go-between of Douglas and Duke Robert of Albany."
James Achanna, the person to whom they referred, was a red-haired and red-bearded gentleman, of Galloway, outwardly a stanch adherent of Douglas, but in the secret pay of his enemies, the Regent and Chancellor. Thus he had conveyed the artful message by which the hostile earl, and the chief members of his family, were lured to visit the court of the young king.
"So he is in sight at last," said the Regent through his clenched teeth; "do you see his train, my lord?"
"Aye; on the road by Kirk-liberton. He is coming down the brae in his bravery, with banner and spear, but that pride shall have a fall, for he comes to his doom."
"But, Chancellor, his countess and her sister," whispered the Regent; "they – they – "
"Well; what of them?"
"Must they too perish?"
"Let the whole brood perish at one fell swoop," was the fierce response, in a husky whisper. "Had they but one neck, I tell thee, Livingstone, it should be laid on the block that awaits the Douglas in the hall below us."
"And wherefore hush?" continued the elder statesman, fiercely.
"Know ye not that Sir Patrick Gray loves the earl's cousin?" said the Regent, glancing hastily at their two companions, who stood a little way from them.
"Murielle Douglas," replied Crichton, grinding his sharp teeth; "well, be it so; but I shall give her a colder gudeman than the king's liege subject, and the Captain of his Guard – will God I shall!"
The Regent waved his gloved hand to impress the caution he wished his colleague to observe, and, as if afraid to trust his discretion further, withdrew to a corner of the rampart enclosing the summit of the great tower, which then formed the donjon or keep of the castle of Edinburgh; but ever and anon, as the gleam of arms flashed in the sunlight, on the green pastoral slopes of Liberton, they exchanged a deep and bitter smile.
Two handsome young men, who had not yet spoken, but who attended them and stood apart, were sheathed in complete armour, and wore the beautiful bascinets of that reign; these had a tube for the plume, and were encircled by a camaile like the old caps of the Templars. They had gorgeous military girdles and long swords, globular corslets, and wide hanging sleeves of scarlet cloth lined with yellow silk (the royal colours), depending from their shoulders; this was a very anomalous fashion with armour, but formed a portion of the military foppery of that day.
He with the short beard and black moustache, in the prime of strength and manhood, is Sir Patrick Gray, a younger son of the lord of Foulis, and Captain of the King's Guard; and he, the less in stature, the junior in years, with fair hair and merry eyes, is Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie, his cousin and friend, and lieutenant of the same guard, which the Regent had embodied to protect the person of the young king from the perils amid which his father had perished – perils which the house of Douglas seemed about to revive.
"Do you see, gentlemen, how the lances in his train glitter, as they come rank on rank over yonder long green brae?" said the Regent, turning round; "by my soul, Lord Chancellor, he has an escort that might befit a king!"
"A train of cut-throats, swashbucklers, and scrape-trenchers; MacDouals, MacGhies, Achannas, and MacCombies – "
"Chancellor, do not add MacLellans, I pray you," interrupted the lieutenant of the guard.
"The broken men of Galloway," continued the Chancellor, wrathfully; "the bullyrooks of Thrave – outlaws, whose unchristian acts would put to shame the pagans of Argier or Cathay – of the Soldan or Prester John! and I say so, under favour, Sir Thomas," he added, turning with a sudden smile to the lieutenant, who was chief of the MacLellans of Bombie, a powerful family, whose lands were surrounded by those of the Douglases and their adherents.
"Do you include the Lord Abbot of Tongland among those rare fellows?" asked Sir Thomas, who was piqued for the honour of his native province.
"An abbot who acts as the earl's beadsman can be little better," was the sour reply.
The young man bit his moustache impatiently, but the more politic Regent, to soothe the irritation which his colleague's words were inspiring, said hastily to one who had hitherto been silent, "Sir Patrick Gray, how many followers think you, by your soldier's eye, the earl hath under his banner yonder?"
"At least two thousand men, with horse and spear, if I may judge by the breadth of the road, and the cloud of dust they raise," replied the captain of the guard, with soldier-like brevity and confidence.