EDITH OF SCOTLAND.: THE GIRL OF THE NORMAN ABBEY.
(Afterward known as the "Good Queen Maud" of England.) A.D. 1093.
On a broad and deep window-seat in the old Abbey guest-house at Gloucester, sat two young girls of thirteen and ten; before them, brave-looking enough in his old-time costume, stood a manly young fellow of sixteen. The three were in earnest conversation, all unmindful of the noise about them—the romp and riot of a throng of young folk, attendants, or followers of the knights and barons of King William's court.
For William Rufus, son of the Conqueror and second Norman king of England, held his Whitsuntide gemot, or summer council of his lords and lieges, in the curious old Roman-Saxon-Norman town of Gloucester, in the fair vale through which flows the noble Severn. The city is known to the young folk of to-day as the one in which good Robert Raikes started the first Sunday-school more than a hundred years ago. But the gemot of King William the Red, which was a far different gathering from good Mr. Raikes' Sunday-school, was held in the great chapter-house of the old Benedictine Abbey, while the court was lodged in the Abbey guest-houses, in the grim and fortress-like Gloucester Castle, and in the houses of the quaint old town itself.
The boy was shaking his head rather doubtfully as he stood, looking down upon the two girls on the broad window-seat.
"Nay, nay, beausire(1); shake not your head like that," exclaimed the younger of the girls. "We did escape that way, trust me we did; Edith here can tell you I do speak the truth—for sure, 't was her device."
(1) "Fair sir": an ancient style of address, used especially toward those high in rank in Norman times.
Thirteen-year-old Edith laughed merrily enough at her sister's perplexity, and said gayly as the lad turned questioningly to her:
"Sure, then, beausire, 't is plain to see that you are Southron-born and know not the complexion of a Scottish mist. Yet 't is even as Mary said. For, as we have told you, the Maiden's Castle standeth high-placed on the crag in Edwin's Burgh, and hath many and devious pathways to the lower gate, So when the Red Donald's men were swarming up the steep, my uncle, the Atheling, did guide us, by ways we knew well, and by twists and turnings that none knew better, straight through Red Donald's array, and all unseen and unnoted of them, because of the blessed thickness of the gathering mist."
"And this was YOUR device?" asked the boy, admiringly.
"Ay, but any one might have devised it too," replied young Edith, modestly. "Sure, 't was no great device to use a Scotch mist for our safety, and 't were wiser to chance it than stay and be stupidly murdered by Red Donald's men. And so it was, good Robert, even as Mary did say, that we came forth unharmed, from amidst them and fled here to King William's court, where we at last are safe."
"Safe, say you, safe?" exclaimed the lad, impulsively. "Ay, as safe as is a mouse's nest in a cat's ear—as safe as is a rabbit in a ferret's hutch. But that I know you to be a brave and dauntless maid, I should say to you——"
But, ere Edith could know what he would say, their conference was rudely broken in upon. For a royal page, dashing up to the three, with scant courtesy seized the arm of the elder girl, and said hurriedly:
"Haste ye, haste ye, my lady! Our lord king is even now calling for you to come before him in the banquet-hall."
Edith knew too well the rough manners of those dangerous days. She freed herself from the grasp of the page, and said:
"Nay, that may I not, master page. 'T is neither safe nor seemly for a maid to show herself in baron's hall or in king's banquet-room."
"Safe and seemly it may not be, but come you must," said the page, rudely. "The king demands it, and your nay is naught."
And so, hurried along whether she would or no, while her friend, Robert Fitz Godwine, accompanied her as far as he dared, the young Princess Edith was speedily brought into the presence of the king of England, William H., called, from the color of his hair and from his fiery temper, Rufus, or "the Red."
For Edith and Mary were both princesses of Scotland, with a history, even before they had reached their teens, as romantic as it was exciting. Their mother, an exiled Saxon princess, had, after the conquest of Saxon England by the stern Duke William the Norman, found refuge in Scotland, and had there married King Malcolm Canmore, the son of that King Duncan whom Macbeth had slain. But when King Malcolm had fallen beneath the walls of Alnwick Castle, a victim to English treachery, and when his fierce brother Donald Bane, or Donald the Red, had usurped the throne of Scotland, then the good Queen Margaret died in the gray castle on the rock of Edinburgh, and the five orphaned children were only saved from the vengeance of their bad uncle Donald by the shrewd and daring device of the young Princess Edith, who bade their good uncle Edgar, the Atheling, guide them, under cover of the mist, straight through the Red Donald's knights and spearmen to England and safety.