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THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH

or

ST. VALENTINE'S DAY

By Sir Walter Scott 

INTRODUCTORY.

The ashes here of murder'd kings Beneath my footsteps sleep; And yonder lies the scene of death, Where Mary learn'd to weep. CAPTAIN MARJORIBANKS.

Every quarter of Edinburgh has its own peculiar boast, so that the city together combines within its precincts, if you take the word of the inhabitants on the subject, as much of historical interest as of natural beauty. Our claims in behalf of the Canongate are not the slightest. The Castle may excel us in extent of prospect and sublimity of site; the Calton had always the superiority of its unrivalled panorama, and has of late added that of its towers, and triumphal arches, and the pillars of its Parthenon. The High Street, we acknowledge, had the distinguished honour of being defended by fortifications, of which we can show no vestiges. We will not descend to notice the claims of more upstart districts, called Old New Town and New New Town, not to mention the favourite Moray Place, which is the Newest New Town of all. We will not match ourselves except with our equals, and with our equals in age only, for in dignity we admit of one. We boast being the court end of the town, possessing the Palace and the sepulchral remains of monarchs, and that we have the power to excite, in a degree unknown to the less honoured quarters of the city, the dark and solemn recollections of ancient grandeur, which occupied the precincts of our venerable Abbey from the time of St. David till her deserted halls were once more made glad, and her long silent echoes awakened, by the visit of our present gracious sovereign.

My long habitation in the neighbourhood, and the quiet respectability of my habits, have given me a sort of intimacy with good Mrs. Policy, the housekeeper in that most interesting part of the old building called Queen Mary's Apartments. But a circumstance which lately happened has conferred upon me greater privileges; so that, indeed, I might, I believe, venture on the exploit of Chatelet, who was executed for being found secreted at midnight in the very bedchamber of Scotland's mistress.

It chanced that the good lady I have mentioned was, in the discharge of her function, showing the apartments to a cockney from London—not one of your quiet, dull, commonplace visitors, who gape, yawn, and listen with an acquiescent 'umph' to the information doled out by the provincial cicerone. No such thing: this was the brisk, alert agent of a great house in the city, who missed no opportunity of doing business, as he termed it— that is, of putting off the goods of his employers, and improving his own account of commission. He had fidgeted through the suite of apartments, without finding the least opportunity to touch upon that which he considered as the principal end of his existence. Even the story of Rizzio's assassination presented no ideas to this emissary of commerce, until the housekeeper appealed, in support of her narrative, to the dusky stains of blood upon the floor.

'These are the stains,' she said; 'nothing will remove them from the place: there they have been for two hundred and fifty years, and there they will remain while the floor is left standing—neither water nor anything else will ever remove them from that spot.'

Now our cockney, amongst other articles, sold Scouring Drops, as they are called, and a stain of two hundred and fifty years' standing was interesting to him, not because it had been caused by the blood of a queen's favourite, slain in her apartment, but because it offered so admirable an opportunity to prove the efficacy of his unequalled Detergent Elixir. Down on his knees went our friend, but neither in horror nor devotion.

'Two hundred and fifty years, ma'am, and nothing take it away? Why, if it had been five hundred, I have something in my pocket will fetch it out in five minutes. D'ye see this elixir, ma'am? I will show you the stain vanish in a moment.'

Accordingly, wetting one end of his handkerchief with the all deterging specific, he began to rub away on the planks, without heeding the remonstrances of Mrs. Policy. She, good soul, stood at first in astonishment, like the abbess of St. Bridget's, when a profane visitant drank up the vial of brandy which had long passed muster among the relics of the cloister for the tears of the blessed saint. The venerable guardian of St. Bridget probably expected the interference of her patroness—she of Holyrood might, perhaps, hope that David Ruzzio's spectre would arise to prevent the profanation. But Mrs. Policy stood not long in the silence of horror. She uplifted her voice, and screamed as loudly as Queen Mary herself when the dreadful deed was in the act of perpetration—

'Harrow, now out, and walawa!' she cried.

I happened to be taking my morning walk in the adjoining gallery, pondering in my mind why the kings of Scotland, who hung around me, should be each and every one painted with a nose like the knocker of a door, when lo! the walls once more re-echoed with such shrieks as formerly were as often heard in the Scottish palaces as were sounds of revelry and music. Somewhat surprised at such an alarm in a place so solitary, I hastened to the spot, and found the well meaning traveller scrubbing the floor like a housemaid, while Mrs. Policy, dragging him by the skirts of the coat, in vain endeavoured to divert him from his sacrilegious purpose. It cost me some trouble to explain to the zealous purifier of silk stockings, embroidered waistcoats, broadcloth, and deal planks that there were such things in the world as stains which ought to remain indelible, on account of the associations with which they are connected. Our good friend viewed everything of the kind only as the means of displaying the virtue of his vaunted commodity. He comprehended, however, that he would not be permitted to proceed to exemplify its powers on the present occasion, as two or three inhabitants appeared, who, like me, threatened to maintain the housekeeper's side of the question. He therefore took his leave, muttering that he had always heard the Scots were a nasty people, but had no idea they carried it so far as to choose to have the floors of their palaces blood boltered, like Banquo's ghost, when to remove them would have cost but a hundred drops of the Infallible Detergent Elixir, prepared and sold by Messrs. Scrub and Rub, in five shilling and ten shilling bottles, each bottle being marked with the initials of the inventor, to counterfeit which would be to incur the pains of forgery.

Freed from the odious presence of this lover of cleanliness, my good friend Mrs. Policy was profuse in her expressions of thanks; and yet her gratitude, instead of exhausting itself in these declarations, according to the way of the world, continues as lively at this moment as if she had never thanked me at all. It is owing to her recollection of this piece of good service that I have the permission of wandering, like the ghost of some departed gentleman usher, through these deserted halls, sometimes, as the old Irish ditty expresses it—

Thinking upon things that are long enough ago;—and sometimes wishing I could, with the good luck of most editors of romantic narrative, light upon some hidden crypt or massive antique cabinet, which should yield to my researches an almost illegible manuscript, containing the authentic particulars of some of the strange deeds of those wild days of the unhappy Mary.

My dear Mrs. Baliol used to sympathise with me when I regretted that all godsends of this nature had ceased to occur, and that an author might chatter his teeth to pieces by the seaside without a wave ever wafting to him a casket containing such a history as that of Automates; that he might break his shins in stumbling through a hundred vaults without finding anything but rats and mice; and become the tenant of a dozen sets of shabby tenements without finding that they contained any manuscript but the weekly bill for board and lodging. A dairymaid of these degenerate days might as well wash and deck her dairy in hopes of finding the fairy tester in her shoe.

'It is a sad and too true a tale, cousin,' said Mrs. Baliol, 'I am sure we all have occasion to regret the want of

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