In The Scott Country
( Originally Published 1912 )
"I DON'T see the battlement where Lady Clare was walking the night she found the armor and met Ralph de Wilton. There don't seem to be any battlements any more ! " Betty spoke regretfully, standing on the lawn in front of old Tantallon Castle and gazing up at its battered walls.
" No, Betty, the battlements certainly seem to have fallen," was Mrs. Pitt's reply. " These old walls, extending like wings from either side of the twelfth-century keep, are only half of the original castle. Here, where we are standing near the deep well, was the courtyard; the walls once surrounded it, stretching as far as the cliffs, the battlements overhanging the sea. You can still find ancient foundations."
I forget just who that fellow, Marmion. was," put in John, strolling up, open kodak in hand. " Tell us about him, Betty."
Do you mean you've forgotten the whole story? Oh, John! It's too long to tell it all now," his sister replied, always amazed and grieved at John's lapses of memory.
" Marmion was an English knight, John, who had been sent by his king, Henry VIII, on an errand to King James IV of Scotland. You surely remember the great poem's telling of his travels north, how he stopped one night at Gorham Castle and another at the inn at Gifford; it was there that he fought the phantom knight by moonlight."
" It was only De Wilton pretending he was the phantom knight," corrected the accurate Barbara.
Yes, De Wilton was acting as Marmion's guide, a Holy Palmer, you know; but in reality he was Marmion's enemy, for the latter had succeeded in dishonoring De Wilton's knighthood, and was even then pursuing his sweet-heart, Lady Clare, who had been told that her lover was dead. It was after he had been to Edinburgh, where he saw the ghostly messenger appear at the Mercat Cross,—when the names were read of those who would be killed at Flodden, you remember,—that Marmion came here to Tantallon Castle, which belonged to the Douglas family. Lady Clare and a party of Whitby nuns were traveling with Marmion, who had been ordered to escort them back to their cloister; but the ladies stayed behind in a nunnery at the town of North Berwick, while the Lady Clare was brought on to this castle with Marmion and the faithful De Wilton, who still wore the Palmer's cloak. As Betty was saying, Lady Clare came face to face with him on the battlements here; that very night De Wilton was re-knighted by the Douglas, an old friend to De Wilton's family, who understood well Marmion's treachery, and, as that false knight was killed at Flodden Field, all ended happily for the Lady Clare."
" Oh ! " sighed Betty rapturously ; " how could Scott have thought up such perfectly adorable stories ! "
" He must have been to Tantallon Castle, Mother," said Barbara, taking a copy of " Marmion " from her mother's handbag, the wonderful bag, which, like that of the mother in " Swiss Family Robinson," seemed always to contain anything which the occasion might demand. "
" That is a lovely description of the Lady Clare's battlement ! " approved Betty, as Barbara closed the book.
" What does that mean about the ` Bloody Heart in the Field '?" demanded John of his sister.
" The Douglas shield had a bloody heart," was her reply, " because it was a Douglas that the Bruce asked to carry his heart to the Holy Land, after he was dead, you know."
They then carefully explored the ruins of Tantallon Castle, interesting enough in itself, even were it to be deprived of its associations with that favorite poem, " Marmion." There are keep and dungeon, watch-tower and guard-room, with enchanting views of the deep blue water of the German Ocean, of high cliffs covered with fields of waving yellow grain, and of the steep, abrupt sides of celebrated Bass Rock, white with great sea-birds.
At last they regretfully left by the entrance built by James V in front of the original drawbridge gate, over which Marmion galloped to escape being made prisoner of the Douglas. It was the drawbridge referred to in the lines which follow those describing the quarrel between Marmion and the Douglas, the proud Scotchman having drawn his cloak around him,
"Folded his arms, and thus he spoke:
My castles are my King's alone, From turret to foundation-stone—The hand of Douglas is his own; And never shall in friendly grasp The hand of such as Marmon clasp.
Lord Marmion turn'd,—well was his need, And dash'd the rowels in his steed, Like arrow through the archway sprung, The ponderous grate behind him rung : To pass there was such scanty room, The bars descending, razed his plume."
The little girl with the long flaxen pigtails waited soberly to unlock the gate for them, and soberly she stood by while they climbed into the waiting motor car, scarcely even murmuring her thanks when a bright new sixpence dropped into her hand. Back they whirled to the town, passing North Berwick Law, a pointed hill rising from the fields like a giant ant-hill, and following the road along the cliffs, dotted by villas and small hotels. North Berwick is a charming place with attractive shops, many villas, hotels, and an excellent golf course close by the sea, like that of St. Andrews. After luncheon, a porter piled the suitcases brought from Edinburgh in the center of a compartment, they all got in, filling the seats by the windows, and were soon off for Melrose.
All the way their teeth crunched long sticks of candy in different colors, from a gay box marked " North Berwick Rock." This had been John's purchase. For many weeks he had been noticing that apparently every Scotch town, from Edinburgh down to a tiny place like Kirriemuir, manufactures " rock."
"Seems to be the only candy they have over here," thought John. " ` Rock ' must be what's the matter with their teeth ! Mrs. Pitt's been telling us to notice what awful teeth they all have. I'm going to try it. It can't kill a fellow to eat it once ! "
To his surprise, John found the candy soft and rather good. The others all accepted when he offered the box to them, and he was much gratified. " Edinburgh Rock," " Dundee Rock," " Oban Rock," they are all alike; the only difference is one of name.
Such a long trip as it was! Over and over Mrs. Pitt told herself how very much wiser it would have been to have hired a motor car which could have quickly deposited them in Melrose; but, as it was, in order not to double on their tracks by returning to Edinburgh, they took a trainwhich slowly made its way down the coast to Berwick-on-Tweed, carrying them through Dunbar, scene of a famous battle at which Cromwell defeated the Covenanters in 1649. Here, also, Edward I conquered John Baliol, many years before. Having changed trains at Berwick-on-Tweed, they passed near old Nor-ham Castle which Marmion knew, and the battle-field at Flodden, the station for which is Cold-stream.
" Are the Coldstream Guards named from this place? " asked Philip.
" Yes, because here those famous Guards were organized by General Monk in 1660," his mother assented.
Then they entered the Scott country. The fields were flooded with the late afternoon sunshine.
" Here's Kelso," said Mrs. Pitt by and by. " There's a very nice old abbey there. Close by is magnificent Floors Castle, belonging to the Duke of Roxburghe; he married an American, you know, Mary Goelet. Only a little south from here is Yetholm, where there is a quaint gypsy settlement; and a bit west again is Jed-burgh, a very fine old border town which has its associations with Mary Stuart, Prince Charlie, Burns, Scott, and even Wordsworth. But I al-ways associate Jedburgh with my dear old poet, Walter Laidlaw, who for years was caretaker at the beautiful old abbey, founded in the twelfth century. I used to go there, wander in his rose-garden behind the abbey, and hear the old man talk by the hour. Such a Scotch tongue, such humor, such charm as he had ! He died last winter, they tell me, and I never want to see Jedburgh without him ! "
" Where's Branxholme Towers? " inquired Betty presently. " It comes in ` The Lay of the Last Minstrel,' you know. Isn't it near here somewhere'? "
Yes, I've been there," Mrs. Pitt replied; it's near Hawick, a pretty old place which still belongs to the Buccleugh family as it did in the days of the poem. But, somehow, I was a bit disappointed in it, Betty; it's not a real castle now, more like a delightful old manor house."
All this time they had been drawing nearer to Melrose, and suddenly Betty joyfully sighted the three Eildon Hills.
There they are ! " she cried. " Once they were just one hill, you know, but Michael Scott, the wizard, made them into three."
" And the Queen of the Fairies carried him away," put in Barbara, " to her kingdom in-side those hills,—oh, no ! that was Thomas the Rhymer ! "
" Who knew that King Arthur and his knights are supposed to be buried underneath the Eildon Hills? " asked Mrs. Pitt; but no one answered, for just then they pulled into Mel-rose. Leaving their suitcases with the hotel porter, they walked through the village square with its ancient cross, and along the narrow little streets until they reached the Abbey Hotel, close up against the abbey walls.
Mrs. Pitt knew the delightful landlady, with her rustling black silk, and very rosy cheeks beneath her crisp white cap;—" just like a book," as Betty said,—and she induced her to have their tea prepared immediately. This meal being finished, they bought tickets of ad-mission at the thatched house opposite the hotel, the gates were opened for them, and they saw Melrose Abbey, by twilight, if not by moon-light.
Widely known as the most beautiful of Scottish ruins, it must, indeed, be seldom that there comes a visitor who fails to fall under the spell of this beauty,-beauty expressed in every smallest detail of roof, of window tracery, of pillar, and of elaborate carving. One marvels at it; one wanders about inside the choir which is practically all that now remains, discerning possibly an exquisite bit of carving one has never seen before. Referring to the flowers which grew in the monks' garden, Scott wrote,
" Nor herb nor floweret glisten'd there,
But was carved in the cloister-arches as fair."
One never tires of loitering outside, among the graves, gazing up at the marvelous grace of the window in the south transept. Surely the people of olden times knew well how to build ! Some one has said of Melrose, architecturally it is perfect."
Meanwhile John had found the tombs of Alexander II and of Michael Scott, and a stone marking the spot where was buried the heart of the Bruce.
" This is where Deloraine, in ' The Lay of the Last Minstrel,' came when he opened Michael Scott's grave and took out—what was it called, Mrs. Pitt—that book of his "
" His `Spaebook,' Betty. It was full of the magic which Sir Michael had learned from the Moors in Spain. It was also called the ` Book of Might,' and one thing it taught was how to make ropes of sand. Thomas of Ercildoune, or Thomas the Rhymer,—the same who was carried off by the Queen of the Fairies and had the gift of prophecy,—also took this book from Michael Scott's grave, and, with it in his possession, went to Hermitage Castle in company with Bold Walter of Buccleugh, who was trying to rescue his brother from the cruel Lord Soulis. They made a rope of sifted sand, ac-cording to directions given in the ` Book of Might,' but this did not overcome Lord Soulis, who finally had to be wrapped in lead and boiled in a great caldron. That's the correct treatment for a wizard; remember that, John, in case you some day come across one ! By the way, the caldron still stands on the Skeif-hill as a warning to evildoers.
" You must know," Mrs. Pitt presently continued, " that Michael Scott's fame was, and still is, as great in the Highlands as here in the Lowlands. Sir Michael could make the devil obey him. The people of a certain district were once much confused as to the day on which Shrovetide was to be celebrated, and every year they had to send to the Pope to find out. Finally they decided to ask Michael to get word without a second telling.' Accordingly Michael called the devil to him, converted him into a black horse, and forced him to carry him all the way. They traveled at such a height that there was snow on Michael's hat when he called upon the Pope. Still unwillingly, the devil carried Michael home with the desired answer,—that Shrovetide was ` the first Tuesday of the spring light,' or the first Tuesday of the new spring moon. Splendid adventures did Michael have with the devil, but in the end he almost fell his prey,—and you'll do well to remember that, all of you ! laughed Mrs. Pitt, as she rose to go in. " Michael, when on his deathbed, told his friends to put his body on a hillock towards which three doves and three ravens would be seen to fly. If the ravens reached the body first, it was to be burned; if the doves were first, it was to be given Christian burial. The ravens were ahead, but they flew beyond the mark, so Michael was decently buried."
Mrs. Pitt went to order a motor car for the morning, and the others soon followed, as closing time at the abbey had come. Betty's bed-room window overlooked the ruin, and by it she lingered some minutes before getting into bed. There was no moon, but the stars were bright, and now and then the flicker from a lantern or from a candle in some room of the hotel fell upon a bit of the old abbey, making that particular carved face or flower stand out for a second against the darkness,