THE BLACK DOUGLAS RIDES HOME
Merry fell the eve of Whitsunday of the year 1439, in the fairest and heartsomest spot in all the Scottish southland. The twined May-pole had not yet been taken down from the house of Brawny Kim, master armourer and foster father to William, sixth Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway.
Malise Kim, who by the common voice was well named “The Brawny,” sat in his wicker chair before his door, overlooking the island-studded, fairy-like loch of Carlinwark. In the smithy across the green bare-trodden road, two of his elder sons were still hammering at some armour of choice. But it was a ploy of their own, which they desired to finish that they might go trig and point-device to the Earl’s weapon-showing to-morrow on the braes of Balmaghie. Sholto and Laurence were the names of the two who clanged the ringing steel and blew the smooth-handled bellows of tough tanned hide, that wheezed and puffed as the fire roared up deep and red before sinking to the right welding-heat in a little flame round the buckle-tache of the girdle brace they were working on.
And as they hammered they talked together in alternate snatches and silences?—Sholto, the elder, meanwhile keeping an eye on his father. For their converse was not meant to reach the ear of the grave, strong man who sat so still in the wicker chair with the afternoon sun shining in his face.
“Hark ye, Laurence,” said Sholto, returning from a visit to the door of the smithy, the upper part of which was open. “No longer will I be a hammerer of iron and a blower of fires for my father. I am going to be a soldier of fortune, and so I will tell him—”
“When wilt thou tell him?” laughed his brother, tauntingly. “I wager my purple velvet doublet slashed with gold which I bought with mine own money last Rood Fair that you will not go across and tell him now. Will you take the dare?”
“The purple velvet—you mean it?” said Sholto, eagerly. “Mind, if you refuse, and will not give it up after promising, I will nick that lying throat of yours with my gullie knife!”
And with that Sholto threw down his pincers and hammer, and valorously pushed open the lower door of the smithy. He looked with bold, dark blue eye at his father, and strode slowly across the grimy door-step. Brawny Kim had not moved for an hour. His great hands lay in his lap, and his eyes looked at the purple ridges of Screel, across the beautiful loch of Carlinwark, which sparkled and dimpled restlessly among its isles like a wilful beauty bridling under the gaze of a score of gallants.
But, even as he went, Sholto’s step slowed, and lost its braggart strut and confidence. Behind him Laurence chuckled and laughed, smiting his thigh in his mocking glee.
“The purple velvet, mind you, Sholto! How well it will become you, coft from Rob Halliburton, our mother’s own brother, seamed with red gold and lined with yellow satin and cramosie. Well indeed will it set you when Maud Lindesay, the maid who came from the north for company to the Earl’s sister, looks forth from the canopy upon you as you stand in the archers’ rank on the morrow’s morn.”