Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

James V.—The Goodman of Ballengiech

Like his father, James iv. , James v. was fond of travelling about in disguise among his people. Dressed very plainly, and calling himself the Goodman of Ballengiech, he used to wander about quite alone, often having strange adventures.

One day while walking alone, he was attacked by four or five men near Cramond Bridge. James at once drew his sword, and defended himself, but although he was a splendid swordsman, one against five was a very unequal fight. Fortunately, however, a farm labourer was threshing corn in a barn near. Hearing the noise, he ran out with his flail in his hand. A flail is a tool with which people used to thresh corn before ways of doing it by steam were invented. Seeing one man fighting against five, the labourer ran to his help, and so well did he lay about him with his flail, that the five very soon ran away.

The labourer then took the King into the barn to rest. James was hot and dusty, and he asked the man for a basin of water and a towel, so that he might wash his hands. This the man brought, and while the King washed and rested, he talked to the man, asking him questions about himself.

The man told James that his name was Jock Howieson, and that he was a labourer on the farm of Braehead which belonged to the King.

"Well, Jock," said James, "if you could have a wish, what would you like best in all the world?"

"I would like to have the farm on which I work, for my very own," said Jock. "And who may you be?" he added.

"I am the Goodman of Ballengiech," said James. "I have a small post at the palace of Holyrood. If you would like to see some of the fine rooms, come next Sunday and I will show them to you. You have saved my life this day, and I will willingly do what I can to give you pleasure."

Jock was delighted at the idea of seeing the palace, and said good-bye to his new friend, assuring him that he would come on Sunday.

When the day came, Jock dressed himself in his best, and set out for the palace. Arriving at the gate, he asked for the Goodman of Ballengiech, as he had been told to do. The King had given orders that any one asking for the Goodman should at once be brought to him. Jock, who was feeling rather shy at the great house, and all the finely dressed people he saw, was very glad when he met his friend.

James led Jock through all the grandest rooms of the palace. He was very much astonished at all he saw, and he amused the King by some of his remarks.

"Now," said James, after Jock had seen everything there was to see, "would you like to see the King?"

"That would I," replied Jock, "if he would not be angry."

"Oh, you need have no fear. I can assure you he will not be angry," replied James.

"But how shall I know which is the King?" asked Jock. "There will be so many grand nobles around him."

"Easily enough," said James. "All the others will take off their hats, only the King will wear his."

The King then led Jock into a great hall where many of the knights and nobles of the court were gathered together. He was rather frightened at so many grand people, but still he looked eagerly round for the King. "I cannot see the King," he whispered at last to James.

"I told you that you would know him by his wearing his hat," replied James, smiling.

Again Jock looked all round. At last his eyes came back to his friend. He was wearing his hat! So was Jock, for with his country manners he had forgotten to take it off. Jock stared at the Goodman for a minute, then slowly he said, "It must be either you or I that is the King then, for we are the only two that are wearing hats."

The King and the courtiers laughed at Jock's funny way of putting it, and Jock was very much astonished to find that the man he had been talking with in such an easy, friendly manner, was the great King of whom he had heard so much.

James gave Jock the farm of Braehead as a reward for his bravery. In return, James asked that Jock, and his sons after him, should always be ready to present the King with a basin of water and a towel, whenever he passed by Cramond Bridge, in memory of the day on which Jock had fought so bravely. This Jock readily promised, and went home feeling very happy.

Ever since then, Braehead has belonged to the Howiesons, and nearly three hundred years after, when George iv. came to Edinburgh, Jock Howieson's descendant appeared before the King, carrying a silver basin and ewer and a beautiful towel, that he might perform the ceremony by right of which he held his lands.

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