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Wilson's Border Tales
The Breaking up of the Forest of Plater

The breaking up of the old forests of Scotland was, perhaps, the first important step that was made towards its civilization. Prior to the reign of David II.—and, indeed, long after that period—the whole face of the country presented an appearance not much different from that, at this day, exhibited by the wooded parts of America. The number of extensive forests then existing has been given by historians; and, though many of them extended over whole counties, their names are not now to be traced in the local designations which point out the praedial divisions of the space they once occupied

Amongst the most extensive of these forests, and, perhaps, the first that was broken up, was the forest of Plater, in the county of Angus. Its extent was so great that a very large proportion of that county was covered by it; and, bordering as it did upon the lower end of the Grampians, it was much infested by the wolves of those heights, which came down to commit ravages on its inhabitants, whether wild or domestic. As the first of the forests that resounded to the sound of the axe, and, by its destruction leading the way to others, opened up Scotland to the ameliorating and civilizing effects of the plough, its limits have been attempted to be traced by antiquaries; but with no great success. The circumstances, however, which led to the first grant of its cleared soil are known, and, being curious, deserve notice, as well from their own nature as the fact of their signalizing the dawn of Scottish civilization.

David II. was, for a considerable period, a captive in England—a circumstance adequately impressed on the memories of the already oppressed inhabitants, by the immense sum of ransom they had to pay for the liberation of a king who rewarded his faithful country by afterwards endeavouring to betray it—by attempting to alter the order of succession of its kings in favour of an English prince. He also resided for a time in France, where he, in all likelihood, acquired that effeminacy of character and love of unlawful pleasures which unfitted him both in a physical and moral point of view, for being the king of a barbarous, though true-hearted people.

After the death of his Queen Joanna, David began his intercourse with the famous beauty, Margaret Logy, supposed to be the daughter of Sir John de Logy, who resided, at that period, in Angus, and close by the Forest of Plater. In addition to the other circumstances which render this forest memorable, its umbrageous retreat was selected by the royal lover as the place of his interviews with his fair mistress. Coming from Scone or Falkland, by short journeys, he continued to feed his passion by frequent interviews with the fair Margaret, at a part of the forest called, as many other wild places were then denominated, the Wolf’s Glen. Having met her first when he wore, as he often did, the dress of a French knight, he, for a long time, kept up that character in the estimation of his mistress, whose vanity was fed by the fulsome style of gallantry which her lover had imported from that country, and applied to her in its most inflated form. The King’s imitation of French customs and dress was, indeed, carried much farther than suited the national prejudices of his people, however much it may have been relished by Margaret Logy. The broad silk sash which occupied the place of the leather belt, and white kid gloves superseding, with strange contrast, the buckram glaives of the hardy warriors of Scotland, had peculiar charms for the eye of a female, which a kilted katheran might not have been able to discover.

Not far distant from the glen where David was in the habit of meeting and wooing his mistress, there was a small forest hut, occupied by a hind, of the name of Murdoch Rhind, who had a wife and a large family of children. Rhind, in consequence of having previously seen King David on some public occasion, knew who the French knight was, that so often met Sir John Logy’s daughter in the forest, and was not without an expectation that he might in some way benefit himself and his family, by the knowledge he had thus, by mere chance, come to be possessed of. After revolving in his mind various schemes, comprehending a projected discovery to the damsel’s father, a secret intimation to the King, accompanied by a hint to be paid for his secresy, and others equally feasible and equally fruitless, he resolved upon trusting to chance, to present to him an occasion for making his knowledge available, which he would not fail to take advantage of, and turn to the best account. This occasion was afforded him sooner than he expected.

One night, when Rhind was passing the Wolf’s Glen, with the view of bringing home some wood, which he had, for the use of his cottage, cut in the fore part of the day, he heard the sound of voices in the lovers’ favourite retreat, and did not doubt that they were those of the King and his mistress. Curiosity to hear a royal courtship was stronger than the wish to obey the command of his wife, who wanted the faggots for the purpose of preparing their supper; and, stealing behind a bracken bush, which concealed him from the lovers, he sat down very much at his ease, though in the presence of royalty, to hear a courtship which he shrewdly suspected must differ considerably from the mode of wooing he had adopted, in winning the heart and hand of Peggy Hamilton, who was now waiting for the faggots, unconscious that her husband, Murdoch, was in the presence of King David of Scotland.

"And is France so very different," said the fair damsel, in continuation, no doubt, of the prior discourse, "from our own country? Such is the effect of habit, that I could not form an idea of a country, the greater part of which is without trees. Neither hunting nor wooing can thrive in a bare land; and what is any country without these? I love the French gallantry and their exquisite fabrics—their taffeta, and brocades, and soft gloves, which last, of all the parts of a knight’s apparel, indicate, with greatest certainty, the gentleman. But where does gallantry shew so well, and where do these articles of dress so nobly embellish beauty and grace, as in the still umbrageous wood, with the green leaves as your canopy, and the tuneful inhabitants your companions? Believe me, Sir Knight, I would have the men, and the manners, and the fabrics of France imported into Scotland."

"Thou hast said nothing of the ladies of France," said David, with his accustomed gallantry. "Wouldst thou leave them in the mateless condition of the ancient Amazons, without a single lover to console them for the loss of their silks?"

"The exception, good Sir Knight," replied Margaret, blushing, "is a woman’s who could not bear competition for the heart of her lover. Thou knowest that, among French beauties, poor Margaret Logy would have small chance of retaining thy affections."

"Humble wood-nymph," said David, clasping her hand, "I would not exchange thee, in thy dress of linsey-woolsey, for all the fair damsels of Paris, dressed in silk and sey. But, in thy sweet prattle, thou hast approached a subject which our King, who loves the French and their subtle inventions, would do well to consider. We can enjoy none of the envied productions of the useful arts which thou hast been so much applauding, at the same time that we retain these mighty drawing-rooms of nemoral gallantry thou wert now describing with the fervour which our presence in one of them at this moment has produced. The one might be made the cause of the production of the other. Were I King David, as I am only Sir Philip Nemours of Lorraine, I would portion out a great part of the forests of Scotland, beginning with Plater, to feuars taking them bound to deliver to me yearly, as the condition of their grant, a piece of silk, or a pair of gloves, or some other article of manufacture, which might be introduce into Scotland; and thus at once bribe and oblige the inhabitants to become manufacturers, at the same time that they were learning the art of husbandry."

"Thy gloves would be better covering thy mouth, Sir Knight, than thy hand," said Margaret "if thou art to fill a maiden’s ears with a discourse on manufactures, in place of the soft accents of love. What careth a damsel for the loom or the loom-weaver that produces her silks, or the skin of the goat that furnishes her with soft hand-shoes, as they call gloves in the Pictish counties of Scotland? What hath become of my knight’s gallantry, now that he is, in imagination, a manufacturing king?"

"The mercy of a beautiful woman comes quick upon the repentance of her lover," said David, smiling—"especially when his error is a mere continuation of one committed by the lady herself. Thou forgettest, fair Margaret, that thou didst originate this discussion, by expressing a wish to get the French gentlemen, manners, and fabrics, imported into Scotland, while I only suggested a mode of doing without them; and, upon my honour, were I King David, I would put it into execution."

The lovers were surprised by the sudden appearance of Murdoch Rhind, who stood before them.

"Your Majesty," said he, stepping up and whispering these two words, which contained the whole secret, into the King’s ear, and then continuing the rest of his speech in an audible tone—"the King" (pausing and eyeing David with a sly Scotch eye) "couldna do better than begin with the Forest o’ Plater; and wha has a better right to the first grant than Murdoch Rhind, wha has wrought his bairns’ mittens an’ his wife’s Sabbath glaives sin’ the Eve o’ St. John, fifteen years back. I cam to warn ye that there’s a wolf at the back o’ yon bracken bush."

"Thanks to thee, sir," replied David, eyeing Murdoch. carefully, and seeing at once where the game lay. "Thou art a very discreet fellow; and the discretion of the tongue, which is of more service than that of the hand, deserves its reward. Where is thy cottage?"

"In the mud there," replied Murdoch—"twa casts east frae the Glen. I will be at hame the morn frae matins to vespers, waitin for a visit frae"—(a pause)—"Sir Philip Nemours."

"I will call for thee, Murdoch," said David, "and reward thee for thy timeous intimation—Let us go, dear Margaret! I hope that next time we meet, there may be no wolves in the Glen."

"Murdoch Rhind will tak guid care o’ that, your Honour," cried Murdoch after the lovers, as they departed.

Murdoch went leisurely and tied up his faggots. When he got home, the poor husband received for his pains the customary tribute due to disobedient consorts, who choose, foolishly and rebelliously, to act upon the verdicts of their own wittol judgments, when they should quietly follow the course pointed out by their wives. The time necessary for going, and tying up the faggots, and returning, was calculated to a minute; and all that was beyond that was to be accounted for with the fidelity of a treasurer. It did not, however, at that time, suit the husband’s notions of marital obedience, to render this strict accounting. Unwilling to tell a lie—for, though poor, he was honest and true—he contented himself with evasive answers, adroitly turning the tables on his wife, and alleging that the last time she went to the fair of Forfar she staid three hours beyond her time, a period which had not been accounted for to that day, The effect of carrying the war into the enemy’s country was soon apparent. Peggy became silent: but managed, according to the tact of her sex, to cover her retreat, by keeping her mouth in such continual occupation with the affair of the supper, that she had, apparently, neither time nor room for farther words of objurgation.

Next morning Murdoch told Peggy that a gentleman was to call upon him during the day, requesting her not to be alarmed at his silken sash, or his other insignia of knighthood. The good woman inquired the object of the visit, and was surprised that her husband observed the same silence on that subject as he had so unaccountably exhibited on the previous night. Fear took possession of her, and she pictured to herself an officer of the law coming to apprehend her husband for some misdemeanor committed in the forest. This feeling was not much assuaged by the appearance of the stranger himself, who called faithfully about the hour of twelve, and had an interview with Murdoch.

"How many ox-gangs wouldst thou require of the Forest of Plater?" inquired David.

"Four, an’ please your Majesty," replied Murdoch.

"And wilt thou undertake," added the King, "to render to me yearly, in name of feu-duty, a pair of white kid gloves of thy own manufacture?"

"I will work my way to France," replied Murdoch, "for the very purpose o’ learning the secret o’ this trade, and will undertake to perform the service yearly, on pain o’ losing my grant, wi’ a’ meliorations."

"Thou shalt have thy grant," said David; "but upon this other condition—which, however," (he added, smiling,) "doth not enter the writ—that thou keepest the secret of my personality. Thou understandest me?’

"Brawly, your Majesty," answered Murdoch. "There will be nae mair wolves i’ the Wolf’s Glen; whilk, indeed, craving your Majesty’s pardon, is mair fitted, fra its great beauty, for makin a pairt o’ my four ox-gangs—that is, after your Majesty nae mair requires it for wooing—than for a lair to wild beasts."

"The place shall be added to thy ox-gangs," said the Monarch, laughing; "but always with my right of servitude of making love among its birken bushes."

The grant was afterwards made out, of four ox-gangs of Plater Forest, in favour of Murdoch Rhind, for the strange reddendo of a pair of white kid gloves yearly. This was the first breaking up of the ancient forests of Scotland, and the fact, which is historical, of the yearly rendering of the gloves, forms a curious contrast with the act of which it was made a condition. David, as is well known, afterwards married Margaret Logy. Her subsequent divorce, and application to the Pope, are matters of history.

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