|Author||Sir Walter Scott|
|Language||English, Lowland Scots|
|Series||Tales of My Landlord (4th series)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The story is set in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire around 1306, shortly after the death of William Wallace during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Lady Augusta has promised to marry Sir John de Walton provided that he can maintain possession of the castle he has captured for a year and a day. Regretting her promise, she resolves to travel in disguise to the castle to find some method of subversion.
The story had already been told in brief in his Essay on Chivalry, and in spite his failing health and a recent decline in popularity due to his politics, Scott made an effort to visit the area to collect information and adjust descriptions. Pained by James Ballantyne's criticisms of Count Robert of Paris, and by Ballantyne's unexpected disagreement on the subject of the recent Reform Bill, Scott did not discuss the book with him.
During the struggle for the Scottish crown between Edward I and Robert Bruce, the stronghold of his adherent Sir James Douglas, known as Castle Dangerous, has been taken by the English, and Lady Augusta has promised her hand and fortune to its new governor, Sir John de Walton, on condition that he holds it for a year and a day.
Anxious to curtail this period, she determines to make her way thither, accompanied by her father's minstrel, Bertram, disguised as his son, and they are within three miles of their destination, when fatigue compels them to seek shelter at Tom Dickson's farm. Two English archers, who are quartered there, insist that the youth (Lady Augusta in disguise) should be left at the neighbouring convent of St Bride's, until Bertram satisfies Sir John as to the object of their journey, and this arrangement is approved of by Sir Aymer de Valance, the deputy governor, who arrives to visit the outpost. As they proceed together towards the castle, the minstrel entertains the young knight with some curious legends respecting it, including the supernatural preservation of an ancient lay relating to the house of Douglas, and the future fate of the British kingdom generally. De Valance would pass the stranger into the stronghold as a visitor at once; but the old archer Gilbert Greenleaf detains him in the guard room until the arrival of the governor, who, in the hearing of Fabian, Sir Aymer's squire, expresses his disapproval of his deputy's imprudence, and thus the seeds of disagreement are sown between them.
Sir John, however, wishes to be indulgent to his young officers, and accordingly arranges a hunting party, in which the Scottish vassals in the neighbourhood are invited to join; but, at the mid-day repast, a forester named Turnbull behaves so rudely to the governor that he orders him to be secured, when he suddenly plunges into a ravine and disappears. The young knight takes fresh offence at being ordered to withdraw the archers from the sport to reinforce the garrison, and appeals to his uncle, the Earl of Pembroke, who, instead of taking his part, writes him a sharp reproof. He then opposes the governor's wish that the minstrel should terminate his visit, which induces Sir John to threaten Bertram with torture unless he instantly reveals his purpose in coming to the castle. The minstrel declines to do so without his son's permission; and, the Abbot having pleaded for delay on account of the boy's delicate health, Sir Aymer is ordered to meet a detachment at an outpost, and then to bring him to the castle to be examined. As he passes through the town he encounters a mounted warrior in full armour, whom neither the inhabitants nor his followers will admit to having seen. The old sexton, however, declares that the spirits of the deceased knights of Douglas cannot rest in their graves while the English are at enmity with their descendants. On reaching the convent, De Valence rouses Father Jerome, and insists that the youth (Lady Augusta) should at once accompany him. He is, however, allowed to return to his bed till daybreak, and upon the door of his room being then forced open, it is empty. During the night, Sister Ursula, who has hidden in the room, elicits Lady Augusta's secret, which she has already guessed, and, having narrated the circumstances under which she had entered the convent without taking the vows, they escape through a concealed postern and find a guide waiting for them with horses. A scroll which his lady-love had left behind her explains matters to Sir John, who, in his despair, is comforted by the sympathy of his lieutenant; and the faithful minstrel, having been admitted to their confidence, steps are at once taken to track the fugitives.
Having reached a thicket, Sister Ursula (whose original name is Lady Margaret) disappears to join her friends, and Lady Augusta is escorted, first by the celebrated Douglas, and then by Turnbull, to a spot where they meet Sir John, to whom the forester delivers a message with which he refuses to comply, and mortally wounds the man when he attempts to lead the lady away. But Sir James is at hand, and the two knights fight until summoned by the church bells to Palm Sunday service, at which the old bishop officiates in the presence of an excited assemblage of armed English and Scotch warriors eager to attack each other. Bertram meets Lady Augusta in the churchyard, and is arranging for her safety, when De Walton and The Douglas renew their combat, and an encounter also takes place between De Valence and Sir Malcolm Fleming, Lady Margaret's lover. The life of Sir Malcolm is saved by the intercession of Lady Margaret, and Sir John surrenders his sword and governorship on the arrival of a messenger with the intelligence that an English force, commanded by the Earl of Pembroke, which was advancing to prevent an anticipated attack on the castle, has been utterly defeated by Bruce and his followers. He and his troops, however, are allowed to retire with their arms, Sir James Douglas having chivalrously transferred his claim upon her lover to the Lady Augusta of Berkeley, who, in return for his courtesy, decorates the brave Scotchman with a chain of brilliants which were won in battle by her ancestor.
- Bertram, an English minstrel
- "Augustine", his son, actually Lady Augusta of Berkeley
- Tom Dickson of Hazelwood, a vassal of the Douglas estate
- Charles Dickson, his son
- Sir John de Walton, Governor of Castle Dangerous
- Sir Aymer de Valence, deputy Governor
- Fabian Harbothel, his squire
- Gilbert Greenleaf, an old archer
- Abbot Jerome, of St Bride's convent
- Sister Ursula, afterwards Lady Margaret de Hautville
- Sir Malcolm Fleming, her lover
- Michael Turnbull, a border forester
- Lazarus Powheid, sexton of Douglas Kirk
- The Knight of the Tombs, Sir James Douglas
- The Bishop of Glasgow
- The Earl of Pembroke
This article incorporates text from the revised 1898 edition of Henry Grey's A Key to the Waverley Novels (1880), now in the public domain.