Infomotions, Inc.The Days of Bruce Vol 1 A Story from Scottish History / Aguilar, Grace, 1816-1847



Author: Aguilar, Grace, 1816-1847
Title: The Days of Bruce Vol 1 A Story from Scottish History
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): nigel; buchan; bruce; agnes; nigel bruce; earl; alan; countess; scotland; edward; aye; king; sovereign
Contributor(s): Aatto S., 1855-1898 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 147,956 words (average) Grade range: 12-15 (college) Readability score: 55 (average)
Identifier: etext18387
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Title: The Days of Bruce  Vol 1
       A Story from Scottish History

Author: Grace Aguilar

Release Date: May 14, 2006 [EBook #18387]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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[Illustration: p. 148.]

The

DAYS OF BRUCE

BY

GRACE AGUILAR

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.

THE

DAYS OF BRUCE;

A Story

FROM


SCOTTISH HISTORY.

BY

GRACE AGUILAR,

  AUTHOR OF "HOME INFLUENCE," "THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE,"
  "WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP," "THE VALE OF CEDARS"
  ETC. ETC.

IN TWO VOLUMES.

VOL. I.


  NEW YORK:
  D. APPLETON & CO., 90, 92 & 94 GRAND ST.
  1871.




PREFACE.


As these pages have passed through the press, mingled feelings of pain
and pleasure have actuated my heart. Who shall speak the regret that
she, to whom its composition was a work of love, cannot participate in
the joy which its publication would have occasioned--who shall tell of
that anxious pleasure which I feel in witnessing the success of each and
all the efforts of her pen?

THE DAYS OF BRUCE must be considered as an endeavor to place
before the reader an interesting narrative of a period of history, in
itself a romance, and one perhaps as delightful as could well have been
selected. In combination with the story of Scotland's brave deliverer,
it must be viewed as an illustration of female character, and
descriptive of much that its Author considered excellent in woman. In
the high minded Isabella of Buchan is traced the resignation of a heart
wounded in its best affections, yet trustful midst accumulated misery.
In Isoline may be seen the self-inflicted unhappiness of a too
confident and self reliant nature; while in Agnes is delineated the
overwhelming of a mind too much akin to heaven in purity and innocence
to battle with the stern and bitter sorrows with which her life is
strewn.

How far the merits of this work may be perceived becomes not me to
judge; I only know and _feel_ that on me has devolved the endearing task
of publishing the writings of my lamented child--that I am fulfilling
the desire of her life.

SARAH AGUILAR.

_May_, 1852.




THE DAYS OF BRUCE.

CHAPTER I.


The month of March, rough and stormy as it is in England, would perhaps
be deemed mild and beautiful as May by those accustomed to meet and
brave its fury in the eastern Highlands, nor would the evening on which
our tale commences bely its wild and fitful character.

The wind howled round the ancient Tower of Buchan, in alternate gusts of
wailing and of fury, so mingled with the deep, heavy roll of the lashing
waves, that it was impossible to distinguish the roar of the one element
from the howl of the other. Neither tree, hill, nor wood intercepted the
rushing gale, to change the dull monotony of its gloomy tone. The Ythan,
indeed, darted by, swollen and turbid from continued storms, threatening
to overflow the barren plain it watered, but its voice was
undistinguishable amidst the louder wail of wind and ocean. Pine-trees,
dark, ragged, and stunted, and scattered so widely apart that each one
seemed monarch of some thirty acres, were the only traces of vegetation
for miles round. Nor were human habitations more abundant; indeed, few
dwellings, save those of such solid masonry as the Tower of Buchan,
could hope to stand scathless amidst the storms that in winter ever
swept along the moor.

No architectural beauty distinguished the residence of the Earls of
Buchan; none of that tasteful decoration peculiar to the Saxon, nor of
the more sombre yet more imposing style introduced by the Norman, and
known as the Gothic architecture.

Originally a hunting-lodge, it had been continually enlarged by
succeeding lords, without any regard either to symmetry or proportion,
elegance or convenience; and now, early in the year 1306, appeared
within its outer walls as a most heterogeneous mass of ill-shaped
turrets, courts, offices, and galleries, huddled together in ill-sorted
confusion, though presenting to the distant view a massive square
building, remarkable only for a strength and solidity capable of
resisting alike the war of elements and of man.

Without all seemed a dreary wilderness, but within existed indisputable
signs of active life. The warlike inhabitants of the tower, though
comparatively few in number, were continually passing to and fro in the
courts and galleries, or congregating in little knots, in eager
converse. Some cleansing their armor or arranging banners; others, young
and active, practising the various manoeuvres of mimic war; each and
all bearing on their brow that indescribable expression of anticipation
and excitement which seems ever on the expectant of it knows not what.
The condition of Scotland was indeed such as to keep her sons constantly
on the alert, preparing for defence or attack, as the insurging efforts
of the English or the commands of their lords should determine. From the
richest noble to the veriest serf, the aged man to the little child,
however contrary their politics and feelings, one spirit actuated all,
and that spirit was war--war in all its deadliest evils, its unmitigated
horrors, for it was native blood which deluged the rich plains, the
smiling vales, and fertile hills of Scotland.

Although the castle of Buchan resembled more a citadel intended for the
accommodation of armed vassals than the commodious dwelling of feudal
lords, one turret gave evidence, by its internal arrangement, of a
degree of refinement and a nearer approach to comfort than its fellows,
and seeming to proclaim that within its massive walls the lords of the
castle were accustomed to reside. The apartments were either hung with
heavy tapestry, which displayed, in gigantic proportions, the combats of
the Scots and Danes, or panelled with polished oak, rivalling ebony in
its glossy blackness, inlaid with solid silver. Heavy draperies of
damask fell from the ceiling to the floor at every window, a pleasant
guard, indeed, from the constant winds which found entrance through many
creaks and corners of the Gothic casements, but imparting a dingy aspect
to apartments lordly in their dimensions, and somewhat rich in
decoration.

The deep embrasures of the casements were thus in a manner severed from
the main apartment, for even when the curtains were completely lowered
there was space enough to contain a chair or two and a table. The
furniture corresponded in solidity and proportion to the panelling or
tapestry of the walls; nor was there any approach even at those doubtful
comforts already introduced in the more luxurious Norman castles of
South Britain.

The group, however, assembled in one of these ancient rooms needed not
the aid of adventitious ornament to betray the nobility of birth, and
those exalted and chivalric feelings inherent to their rank. The sun,
whose stormy radiance during the day had alternately deluged earth and
sky with fitful yet glorious brilliance, and then, burying itself in the
dark masses of overhanging clouds, robed every object in deepest gloom,
now seemed to concentrate his departing rays in one living flood of
splendor, and darting within the chamber, lingered in crimson glory
around the youthful form of a gentle girl, dyeing her long and
clustering curls with gold. Slightly bending over a large and cumbrous
frame which supported her embroidery, her attitude could no more conceal
the grace and lightness of her childlike form, than the glossy ringlets
the soft and radiant features which they shaded. There was archness
lurking in those dark blue eyes, to which tears seemed yet a stranger;
the clear and snowy forehead, the full red lip, and health-bespeaking
cheek had surely seen but smiles, and mirrored but the joyous light
which filled her gentle heart. Her figure seemed to speak a child, but
there was a something in that face, bright, glowing as it was, which yet
would tell of somewhat more than childhood--that seventeen summers had
done their work, and taught that guileless heart a sterner tale than
gladness.

A young man, but three or four years her senior, occupied an embroidered
settle at her feet. In complexion, as in the color of his hair and eyes,
there was similarity between them, but the likeness went no further, nor
would the most casual observer have looked on them as kindred. Fair and
lovely as the maiden would even have been pronounced, it was perhaps
more the expression, the sweet innocence that characterized her features
which gave to them their charm; but in the young man there was
infinitely more than this, though effeminate as was his complexion, and
the bright sunny curls which floated over his throat, he was eminently
and indescribably beautiful, for it was the mind, the glorious mind, the
kindling spirit which threw their radiance over his perfect features;
the spirit and mind which that noble form enshrined stood apart, and
though he knew it not himself, found not their equal in that dark period
of warfare and of woe. The sword and lance were the only instruments of
the feudal aristocracy; ambition, power, warlike fame, the principal
occupants of their thoughts; the chase, the tourney, or the foray, the
relaxation of their spirits. But unless that face deceived, there was
more, much more, which charactered the elder youth within that chamber.

A large and antique volume of Norse legends rested on his knee, which,
in a rich, manly voice, he was reading aloud to his companion,
diversifying his lecture with remarks and explanations, which, from the
happy smiles and earnest attention of the maiden, appeared to impart the
pleasure intended by the speaker. The other visible inhabitant of the
apartment was a noble-looking boy of about fifteen, far less steadily
employed than his companions, for at one time he was poising a heavy
lance, and throwing himself into the various attitudes of a finished
warrior; at others, brandished a two-handed sword, somewhat taller than
himself; then glancing over the shoulder of his sister--for so nearly
was he connected with the maiden, though the raven curls, the bright
flashing eye of jet, and darker skin, appeared to forswear such near
relationship--criticising her embroidery, and then transferring his
scrutiny to the strange figures on the gorgeously-illuminated
manuscript, and then for a longer period listening, as it were,
irresistibly to the wild legends which that deep voice was so
melodiously pouring forth.

"It will never do, Agnes. You cannot embroider the coronation of Kenneth
MacAlpine and listen to these wild tales at one and the same time. Look
at your clever pupil, Sir Nigel; she is placing a heavy iron buckler on
the poor king's head instead of his golden crown." The boy laughed long
and merrily as he spoke, and even Sir Nigel smiled; while Agnes,
blushing and confused, replied, half jestingly and half earnestly, "And
why not tell me of it before, Alan? you must have seen it long ago."

"And so I did, sweet sister mine; but I wished to see the effect of such
marvellous abstraction, and whether, in case of necessity, an iron
shield would serve our purpose as well as a jewelled diadem."

"Never fear, my boy. Let but the king stand forth, and there will be
Scottish men enow and willing to convert an iron buckler into a goodly
crown;" and as Sir Nigel spoke his eyes flashed, and his whole
countenance irradiated with a spirit that might not have been suspected
when in the act of reading, but which evidently only slept till awakened
by an all-sufficient call. "Let the tyrant Edward exult in the
possession of our country's crown and sceptre--he may find we need not
them to make a king; aye, and a king to snatch the regal diadem from the
proud usurper's brow--the Scottish sceptre from his blood-stained
hands!"

"Thou talkest wildly, Nigel," answered the lad, sorrowfully, his
features assuming an expression of judgment and feeling beyond his
years. "Who is there in Scotland will do this thing? who will dare again
the tyrant's rage? Is not this unhappy country divided within itself,
and how may it resist the foreign foe?"

"Wallace! think of Wallace! Did he not well-nigh wrest our country from
the tyrant's hands? And is there not one to follow in the path he
trod--no noble heart to do what he hath done?"

"Nigel, yes. Let but the rightful king stand forth, and were there none
other, I--even I, stripling as I am, with my good sword and single arm,
even with the dark blood of Comyn in my veins, Alan of Buchan, would
join him, aye, and die for him!"

"There spoke the blood of Duff, and not of Comyn!" burst impetuously
from the lips of Nigel, as he grasped the stripling's ready hand; "and
doubt not, noble boy, there are other hearts in Scotland bold and true
as thine; and even as Wallace, one will yet arise to wake them from
their stagnant sleep, and give them freedom."

"Wallace," said the maiden, fearfully; "ye talk of Wallace, of his bold
deeds and bolder heart, but bethink ye of his _fate_. Oh, were it not
better to be still than follow in his steps unto the scaffold?"

"Dearest, no; better the scaffold and the axe, aye, even the iron
chains and hangman's cord, than the gilded fetters of a tyrant's yoke.
Shame on thee, sweet Agnes, to counsel thoughts as these, and thou a
Scottish maiden." Yet even as he spoke chidingly, the voice of Nigel
became soft and thrilling, even as it had before been bold and daring.

"I fear me, Nigel, I have but little of my mother's blood within my
veins. I cannot bid them throb and bound as hers with patriotic love and
warrior fire. A lowly cot with him I loved were happiness for me."

"But that cot must rest upon a soil unchained, sweet Agnes, or joy could
have no resting there. Wherefore did Scotland rise against her
tyrant--why struggle as she hath to fling aside her chains? Was it her
noble sons? Alas, alas! degenerate and base, they sought chivalric fame;
forgetful of their country, they asked for knighthood from proud
Edward's hand, regardless that that hand had crowded fetters on their
fatherland, and would enslave their sons. Not to them did Scotland owe
the transient gleam of glorious light which, though extinguished in the
patriot's blood, hath left its trace behind. With the bold, the hardy,
lowly Scot that gleam had birth; they would be free to them. What
mattered that their tyrant was a valiant knight, a worthy son of
chivalry: they saw but an usurper, an enslaver, and they rose and
spurned his smiles--aye, and they _will_ rise again. And wert thou one
of them, sweet girl; a cotter's wife, thou too wouldst pine for freedom.
Yes; Scotland will bethink her of her warrior's fate, and shout aloud
revenge for Wallace!"

Either his argument was unanswerable, or the energy of his voice and
manner carried conviction with them, but a brighter glow mantled the
maiden's cheek, and with it stole the momentary shame--the wish, the
simple words that she had spoken could be recalled.

"Give us but a king for whom to fight--a king to love, revere, obey--a
king from whose hand knighthood were an honor, precious as life itself,
and there are noble hearts enough to swear fealty to him, and bright
swords ready to defend his throne," said the young heir of Buchan, as he
brandished his own weapon above his head, and then rested his arms upon
its broad hilt, despondingly. "But where is that king? Men speak of my
most gentle kinsman Sir John Comyn, called the Red--bah! The sceptre
were the same jewelled bauble in his impotent hand as in his sapient
uncle's; a gem, a toy, forsooth, the loan of crafty Edward. No! the Red
Comyn is no king for Scotland; and who is there besides? The rightful
heir--a cold, dull-blooded neutral--a wild and wavering changeling. I
pray thee be not angered, Nigel; it cannot be gainsaid, e'en though he
is thy brother."

"I know it Alan; know it but too well," answered Nigel, sadly, though
the dark glow rushed up to cheek and brow. "Yet Robert's blood is hot
enough. His deeds are plunged in mystery--his words not less so; yet I
cannot look on him as thou dost, as, alas! too many do. It may be that I
love him all too well; that dearer even than Edward, than all the rest,
has Robert ever been to me. He knows it not; for, sixteen years my
senior, he has ever held me as a child taking little heed of his wayward
course; and yet my heart has throbbed beneath his word, his look, as if
he were not what he seemed, but would--but must be something more."

"I ever thought thee but a wild enthusiast, gentle Nigel, and this
confirms it. Mystery, aye, such mystery as ever springs from actions at
variance with reason, judgment, valor--with all that frames the patriot.
Would that thou wert the representative of thy royal line; wert thou in
Earl Robert's place, thus, thus would Alan kneel to thee and hail thee
king!"

"Peace, peace, thou foolish boy, the crown and sceptre have no charm for
me; let me but see my country free, the tyrant humbled, my brother as my
trusting spirit whispers he _shall_ be, and Nigel asks no more."

"Art thou indeed so modest, gentle Nigel--is thy happiness so distinct
from self? thine eyes tell other tales sometimes, and speak they false,
fair sir?"

Timidly, yet irresistibly, the maiden glanced up from her embroidery,
but the gaze that met hers caused those bright eyes to fall more quickly
than they were raised, and vainly for a few seconds did she endeavor so
to steady her hand as to resume her task. Nigel was, however, spared
reply, for a sharp and sudden bugle-blast reverberated through the
tower, and with an exclamation of wondering inquiry Alan bounded from
the chamber. There was one other inmate of that apartment, whose
presence, although known and felt, had, as was evident, been no
restraint either to the employments or the sentiments of the two youths
and their companion. Their conversation had not passed unheeded,
although it had elicited no comment or rejoinder. The Countess of Buchan
stood within one of those deep embrasures we have noticed, at times
glancing towards the youthful group with an earnestness of sorrowing
affection that seemed to have no measure in its depth, no shrinking in
its might; at others, fixing a long, unmeaning, yet somewhat anxious
gaze on the wide plain and distant ocean, which the casement overlooked.

It was impossible to look once on the countenance of Isabella of Buchan,
and yet forbear to look again, The calm dignity, the graceful majesty of
her figure seemed to mark her as one born to command, to hold in willing
homage the minds and inclinations of men; her pure, pale brow and marble
cheek--for the rich rose seemed a stranger there--the long silky lash of
jet, the large, full, black eye, in its repose so soft that few would
guess how it could flash fire, and light up those classic features with
power to stir the stagnant souls of thousands and guide them with a
word. She looked in feature as in form a queen; fitted to be beloved,
formed to be obeyed. Her heavy robe of dark brocade, wrought with thick
threads of gold, seemed well suited to her majestic form; its long,
loose folds detracting naught from the graceful ease of her carriage.
Her thick, glossy hair, vying in its rich blackness with the raven's
wing, was laid in smooth bands upon her stately brow, and gathered up
behind in a careless knot, confined with a bodkin of massive gold. The
hood or coif, formed of curiously twisted black and golden threads,
which she wore in compliance with the Scottish custom, that thus made
the distinction between the matron and the maiden, took not from the
peculiarly graceful form of the head, nor in any part concealed the
richness of the hair. Calm and pensive as was the general expression of
her countenance, few could look upon it without that peculiar sensation
of respect, approaching to awe, which restrained and conquered sorrow
ever calls for. Perchance the cause of such emotion was all too
delicate, too deeply veiled to be defined by those rude hearts who were
yet conscious of its existence; and for them it was enough to own her
power, bow before it, and fear her as a being set apart.

Musingly she had stood looking forth on the wide waste; the distant
ocean, whose tumbling waves one moment gleamed in living light, at
others immersed in inky blackness, were barely distinguished from the
lowering sky. The moaning winds swept by, bearing the storm-cloud on
their wings; patches of blue gleamed strangely and brightly forth; and,
far in the west, crimson and amber, and pink and green, inlaid in
beautiful mosaic the departing luminary's place of rest.

"Alas, my gentle one," she had internally responded to her daughter's
words, "if thy mother's patriot heart could find no shield for woe, nor
her warrior fire, as thou deemest it, guard her from woman's trials,
what will be thy fate? This is no time for happy love, for peaceful
joys, returned as it may be; for--may I doubt that truthful brow, that
knightly soul (her glance was fixed on Nigel)--yet not now may the
Scottish knight find rest and peace in woman's love. And better is it
thus--the land of the slave is no home for love."

A faint yet a beautiful smile, dispersing as a momentary beam the
anxiety stamped on her features, awoke at the enthusiastic reply of
Nigel. Then she turned again to the casement, for her quick eye had
discerned a party of about ten horsemen approaching in the direction of
the tower, and on the summons of the bugle she advanced from her retreat
to the centre of the apartment.

"Why, surely thou art but a degenerate descendant of the brave Macduff,
mine Agnes, that a bugle blast should thus send back every drop of blood
to thy little heart," she said, playfully. "For shame, for shame! how
art thou fitted to be a warrior's bride? They are but Scottish men, and
true, methinks, if I recognize their leader rightly. And it is even so."

"Sir Robert Keith, right welcome," she added, as, marshalled by young
Alan, the knight appeared, bearing his plumed helmet in his hand, and
displaying haste and eagerness alike in his flushed features and soiled
armor.

"Ye have ridden long and hastily. Bid them hasten our evening meal, my
son; or stay, perchance Sir Robert needs thine aid to rid him of this
garb of war. Thou canst not serve one nobler."

"Nay, noble lady, knights must don, not doff their armor now. I bring ye
news, great, glorious news, which will not brook delay. A royal
messenger I come, charged by his grace my king--my country's king--with
missives to his friends, calling on all who spurn a tyrant's yoke--who
love their land, their homes, their freedom--on all who wish for
Wallace--to awake, arise, and join their patriot king!"

"Of whom speakest thou, Sir Robert Keith? I charge thee, speak!"
exclaimed Nigel, starting from the posture of dignified reserve with
which he had welcomed the knight, and springing towards him.

"The patriot and the king!--of whom canst thou speak?" said Alan, at the
same instant. "Thine are, in very truth, marvellous tidings, Sir Knight;
an' thou canst call up one to unite such names, and worthy of them, he
shall not call on me in vain."

"Is he not worthy, Alan of Buchan, who thus flings down the gauntlet,
who thus dares the fury of a mighty sovereign, and with a handful of
brave men prepares to follow in the steps of Wallace, to the throne or
to the scaffold?"

"Heed not my reckless boy, Sir Robert," said the countess, earnestly, as
the eyes of her son fell beneath the knight's glance of fiery reproach;
"no heart is truer to his country, no arm more eager to rise in her
defence."

"The king! the king!" gasped Nigel, some strange over-mastering emotion
checking his utterance. "Who is it that has thus dared, thus--"

"And canst thou too ask, young sir?" returned the knight, with a smile
of peculiar meaning. "Is thy sovereign's name unknown to thee? Is Robert
Bruce a name unknown, unheard, unloved, that thou, too, breathest it
not?"

"My brother, my brave, my noble brother!--I saw it, I knew it! Thou wert
no changeling, no slavish neutral; but even as I felt, thou art, thou
wilt be! My brother, my brother, I may live and die for thee!" and the
young enthusiast raised his clasped hands above his head, as in
speechless thanksgiving for these strange, exciting news; his flushed
cheek, his quivering lip, his moistened eye betraying an emotion which
seemed for the space of a moment to sink on the hearts of all who
witnessed it, and hush each feeling into silence. A shout from the court
below broke that momentary pause.

"God save King Robert! then, say I," vociferated Alan, eagerly grasping
the knight's hand. "Sit, sit, Sir Knight; and for the love of heaven,
speak more of this most wondrous tale. Erewhile, we hear of this goodly
Earl of Carrick at Edward's court, doing him homage, serving him as his
own English knight, and now in Scotland--aye, and Scotland's king. How
may we reconcile these contradictions?"

"Rather how did he vanish from the tyrant's hundred eyes, and leave the
court of England?" inquired Nigel, at the same instant as the Countess
of Buchan demanded, somewhat anxiously--

"And Sir John Comyn, recognizes he our sovereign's claim? Is he amongst
the Bruce's slender train?"

A dark cloud gathered on the noble brow of the knight, replacing the
chivalric courtesy with which he had hitherto responded to his
interrogators. He paused ere he answered, in a stern, deep voice--

"Sir John Comyn lived and died a traitor, lady. He hath received the
meed of his base treachery; his traitorous design for the renewed
slavery of his country--the imprisonment and death of the only one that
stood forth in her need."

"And by whom did the traitor die?" fiercely demanded the young heir of
Buchan. "Mother, thy cheek is blanched; yet wherefore? Comyn as I am,
shall we claim kindred with a traitor, and turn away from the good
cause, because, forsooth, a traitorous Comyn dies? No; were the Bruce's
own right hand red with the recreant's blood--he only is the Comyn's
king."

"Thou hast said it, youthful lord," said the knight, impressively. "Alan
of Buchan, bear that bold heart and patriot sword unto the Bruce's
throne, and Comyn's traitorous name shall be forgotten in the scion of
Macduff. Thy mother's loyal blood runs reddest in thy veins, young sir;
too pure for Comyn's base alloy. Know, then, the Bruce's hand is red
with the traitor's blood, and yet, fearless and firm in the holy justice
of his cause, he calls on his nobles and their vassals for their homage
and their aid--he calls on them to awake from their long sleep, and
shake off the iron yoke from their necks; to prove that Scotland--the
free, the dauntless, the unconquered soil, which once spurned the Roman
power, to which all other kingdoms bowed--is free, undaunted, and
unconquered still. He calls aloud, aye, even on ye, wife and son of
Comyn of Buchan, to snap the link that binds ye to a traitor's house,
and prove--though darkly, basely flows the blood of Macduff in one
descendant's veins, that the Earl of Fife refuses homage and allegiance
to his sovereign--in ye it rushes free, and bold, and loyal still."

"And he shall find it so. Mother, why do ye not speak? You, from whose
lips my heart first learnt to beat for Scotland my lips to pray that one
might come to save her from the yoke of tyranny. You, who taught me to
forget all private feud, to merge all feeling, every claim, in the one
great hope of Scotland's freedom. Now that the time is come, wherefore
art thou thus? Mother, my own noble mother, let me go forth with thy
blessing on my path, and ill and woe can come not near me. Speak to thy
son!" The undaunted boy flung himself on his knee before the countess as
he spoke. There was a dark and fearfully troubled expression on her
noble features. She had clasped her hands together, as if to still or
hide their unwonted trembling; but when she looked on those bright and
glowing features, there came a dark, dread vision of blood, and the axe
and cord, and she folded her arms around his neck, and sobbed in all a
mother's irrepressible agony.

"My own, my beautiful, to what have I doomed thee!" she cried. "To
death, to woe! aye, perchance, to that heaviest woe--a father's curse!
exposing thee to death, to the ills of all who dare to strike for
freedom. Alan, Alan, how can I bid thee forth to death? and yet it is I
have taught thee to love it better than the safety of a slave; longed,
prayed for this moment--deemed that for my country I could even give my
child--and now, now--oh God of mercy, give me strength!"

She bent down her head on his, clasping him to her heart, as thus to
still the tempest which had whelmed it. There is something terrible in
that strong emotion which sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly overpowers
the calmest and most controlled natures. It speaks of an agony so
measureless, so beyond the relief of sympathy, that it falls like an
electric spell on the hearts of all witnesses, sweeping all minor
passions into dust before it. Little accustomed as was Sir Robert Keith
to sympathize in such emotions, he now turned hastily aside, and, as if
fearing to trust himself in silence, commenced a hurried detail to Nigel
Bruce of the Earl of Carrick's escape from London, and his present
position. The young nobleman endeavored to confine his attention to the
subject, but his eyes would wander in the direction of Agnes, who,
terrified at emotions which in her mother she had never witnessed
before, was kneeling in tears beside her brother.

A strong convulsive shuddering passed over the bowed frame of Isabella
of Buchan; then she lifted up her head, and all traces of emotion had
passed from her features. Silently she pressed her lips on the fair
brows of her children alternately, and her voice faltered not as she
bade them rise and heed her not.

"We will speak further of this anon, Sir Robert," she said, so calmly
that the knight started. "Hurried and important as I deem your mission,
the day is too far spent to permit of your departure until the morrow;
you will honor our evening meal, and this true Scottish tower for a
night's lodging, and then we can have leisure for discourse on the
weighty matters you have touched upon."

She bowed courteously, as she turned with a slow, unfaltering step to
leave the room. Her resumed dignity recalled the bewildered senses of
her son, and, with graceful courtesy, he invited the knight to follow
him, and choose his lodging for the night.

"Agnes, mine own Agnes, now, indeed, may I win thee," whispered Nigel,
as tenderly he folded his arm round her, and looked fondly in her face.
"Scotland shall be free! her tyrants banished by her patriot king; and
then, then may not Nigel Bruce look to this little hand as his reward?
Shall not, may not the thought of thy pure, gentle love be mine, in the
tented field and battle's roar, urging me on, even should all other
voice be hushed?"

"Forgettest thou I am a Comyn, Nigel? That the dark stain of traitor, of
disloyalty is withering on our line, and wider and wider grows the
barrier between us and the Bruce?" The voice of the maiden was choked,
her bright eyes dim with tears.

"All, all I do forget, save that thou art mine own sweet love; and
though thy name is Comyn, thy heart is all Macduff. Weep not, my Agnes;
thine eyes were never framed for tears. Bright times for us and Scotland
are yet in store!"




CHAPTER II.


For the better comprehension of the events related in the preceding
chapter, it will be necessary to cast a summary glance on matters of
historical and domestic import no way irrelevant to our subject, save
and except their having taken place some few years previous to the
commencement of our tale.

The early years of Isabella of Buchan had been passed in happiness. The
only daughter, indeed for seven years the only child, of Malcolm, Earl
of Fife, deprived of her mother on the birth of her brother, her youth
had been nursed in a tenderness and care uncommon in those rude ages;
and yet, from being constantly with her father, she imbibed those higher
qualities of mind which so ably fitted her for the part which in after
years it was her lot to play. The last words of his devoted wife,
imploring him to educate her child himself, and not to sever the tie
between them, by following the example of his compeers, and sending her
either to England, France, or Norway, had been zealously observed by the
earl; the prosperous calm, which was the happy portion of Scotland
during the latter years of Alexander III., whose favorite minister he
was, enabled him to adhere to her wishes far more successfully than
could have been the case had he been called forth to war.

In her father's castle, then, were the first thirteen years of the Lady
Isabella spent, varied only by occasional visits to the court of
Alexander, where her beauty and vivacity rendered her a universal
favorite. Descended from one of the most ancient Scottish families,
whose race it was their boast had never been adulterated by the blood of
a foreigner, no Norman prejudice intermingled with the education of
Isabella, to tarnish in any degree those principles of loyalty and
patriotism which her father, the Earl of Fife, so zealously inculcated.
She was a more true, devoted Scottish woman at fourteen, than many of
her own rank whose years might double hers; ready even then to sacrifice
even life itself, were it called for in defence of her sovereign, or the
freedom of her country; and when, on the death of Alexander, clouds
began to darken the horizon of Scotland, her father scrupled not to
impart to her, child though she seemed, those fears and anxieties which
clouded his brow, and filled his spirit with foreboding gloom. It was
then that in her flashing eye and lofty soul, in the undaunted spirit,
which bore a while even his colder and more foreseeing mood along with
it, that he traced the fruit whose seed he had so carefully sown.

"Why should you fear for Scotland, my father?" she would urge; "is it
because her queen is but a child and now far distant, that anarchy and
gloom shall enfold our land? Is it not shame in ye thus craven to deem
her sons, when in thy own breast so much devotion and loyalty have rest?
why not judge others by yourself, my father, and know the dark things of
which ye dream can never be?"

"Thou speakest as the enthusiast thou art, my child. Yet it is not the
rule of our maiden queen my foreboding spirit dreads; 'tis that on such
a slender thread as her young life suspends the well-doing or the ruin
of her kingdom. If she be permitted to live and reign over us, all may
be well; 'tis on the event of her death for which I tremble."

"Wait till the evil day cometh then, my father; bring it not nearer by
anticipation; and should indeed such be, thinkest thou not there are
bold hearts and loyal souls to guard our land from foreign foe, and give
the rightful heir his due?"

"I know not, Isabella. There remain but few with the pure Scottish blood
within their veins, and it is but to them our land is so dear: they
would peril life and limb in her defence. It is not to the proud baron
descended from the intruding Norman, and thinking only of his knightly
sports and increase of wealth, by it matters not what war. Nor dare we
look with confidence to the wild chiefs of the north and the Lords of
the Isles; eager to enlarge their own dominions, to extend the terrors
of their name, they will gladly welcome the horrors and confusion that
may arise; and have we true Scottish blood enough to weigh against
these, my child? Alas! Isabella, our only hope is in the health and
well-doing of our queen, precarious as that is; but if she fail us, woe
to Scotland!"

The young Isabella could not bring forward any solid arguments in answer
to this reasoning, and therefore she was silent; but she felt her
Scottish blood throb quicker in her veins, as he spoke of the few pure
Scottish men remaining, and inwardly vowed, woman as she was, to devote
both energy and life to her country and its sovereign.

Unhappily for his children, though perhaps fortunately for himself, the
Earl of Fife was spared the witnessing in the miseries of his country
how true had been his forebodings. Two years after the death of his
king, he was found dead in his bed, not without strong suspicion of
poison. Public rumor pointed to his uncle, Macduff of Glamis, as the
instigator, if not the actual perpetrator of the deed; but as no decided
proof could be alleged against him, and the High Courts of Scotland not
seeming inclined to pursue the investigation, the rumor ceased, and
Macduff assumed, with great appearance of zeal, the guardianship of the
young Earl of Fife and his sister, an office bequeathed to him under the
hand and seal of the earl, his nephew.

The character of the Lady Isabella was formed; that of her brother, a
child of eight, of course was not; and the deep, voiceless suffering her
father's loss occasioned her individually was painfully heightened by
the idea that to her young brother his death was an infinitely greater
misfortune than to herself. He indeed knew not, felt not the agony which
bound her; he knew not the void which was on her soul; how utterly,
unspeakably lonely that heart had become, accustomed as it had been to
repose its every thought, and hope, and wish, and feeling on a parent's
love; yet notwithstanding this, her clear mind felt and saw that while
for herself there was little fear that she should waver in those
principles so carefully instilled, for her brother there was much, very
much to dread. She did not and could not repose confidence in her
kinsman; for her parent's sake she struggled to prevent dislike, to
compel belief that the suavity, even kindness of his manner, the
sentiments which he expressed, had their foundation in sincerity; but
when her young brother became solely and entirely subject to his
influence, she could no longer resist the conviction that their guardian
was not the fittest person for the formation of a patriot. She could
not, she would not believe the rumor which had once, but once, reached
her ears, uniting the hitherto pure line of Macduff with midnight
murder; her own noble mind rejected the idea as a thing utterly and
wholly impossible, the more so perhaps, as she knew her father had been
latterly subject to an insidious disease, baffling all the leech's art,
and which he himself had often warned her would terminate suddenly; yet
still an inward shuddering would cross her heart at times, when in his
presence; she could not define the cause, or why she felt it sometimes
and not always, and so she sought to subdue it, but she sought in vain.

Meanwhile an event approached materially connected with the Lady
Isabella, and whose consummation the late Thane of Fife had earnestly
prayed he might have been permitted to hallow with his blessing.
Alexander Comyn, Earl of Buchan and High Constable of Scotland, had been
from early youth the brother in arms and dearest friend of the Earl of
Fife, and in the romantic enthusiasm which ever characterized the
companionship of chivalry, they had exchanged a mutual vow that in after
years, should heaven grant them children, a yet nearer and dearer tie
should unite their houses. The birth of Isabella, two years after that
of an heir to Buchan, was hailed with increased delight by both fathers,
and from her earliest years she was accustomed to look to the Lord John
as her future husband. Perhaps had they been much thrown together,
Isabella's high and independent spirit would have rebelled against this
wish of her father, and preferred the choosing for herself; but from the
ages of eleven and nine they had been separated, the Earl of Buchan
sending his son, much against the advice of his friend, to England,
imagining that there, and under such a knight as Prince Edward, he would
better learn the noble art of war and all chivalric duties, than in the
more barbarous realm of Scotland. To Isabella, then, her destined
husband was a stranger; yet with a heart too young and unsophisticated
to combat her parent's wishes, by any idea of its affections becoming
otherwise engaged, and judging of the son by the father, to whom she was
ever a welcome guest, and who in himself was indeed a noble example of
chivalry and honor, Isabella neither felt nor expressed any repugnance
to her father's wish, that she should sign her name to a contract of
betrothal, drawn up by the venerable abbot of Buchan, and to which the
name of Lord John had been already appended; it was the lingering echoes
of that deep, yet gentle voice, blessing her compliance to his wishes,
which thrilled again and again to her heart, softening her grief, even
when that beloved voice was hushed forever, and she had no thought, no
wish to recall that promise, nay, even looked to its consummation with
joy, as a release from the companionship, nay, as at times she felt, the
wardance of her kinsman.

But this calm and happy frame of mind was not permitted to be of long
continuance. In one of the brief intervals of Macduff's absence from the
castle, about eighteen months after her father's death, the young earl
prevailed on the aged retainer in whose charge he had been left, to
consent to his going forth to hunt the red deer, a sport of which, boy
as he was, he was passionately fond. In joyous spirits, and attended by
a gallant train, he set out, calling for and receiving the ready
sympathy of his sister, who rejoiced as himself in his emancipation from
restraint, which either was, or seemed to be, adverse to the usual
treatment of noble youths.

Somewhat sooner than Isabella anticipated, they returned. Earl Duncan,
with a wilfulness which already characterized him, weary of the extreme
watchfulness of his attendants, who, in their anxiety to keep him from
danger, checked and interfered with his boyish wish to signalize himself
by some daring deed of agility and skill, at length separated himself,
except from one or two as wilful, and but little older than himself. The
young lord possessed all the daring of his race, but skill and foresight
he needed greatly, and dearly would he have paid for his rashness. A
young and fiery bull had chanced to cross his path, and disregarding the
entreaties of his followers, he taunted them with cowardice, and goaded
the furious animal to the encounter; too late he discovered that he had
neither skill nor strength for the combat he had provoked, and had it
not been for the strenuous exertions of a stranger youth, who diverted
aside the fury of the beast, he must have fallen a victim to his
thoughtless daring. Curiously, and almost enviously, he watched the
combat between the stranger and the bull, nor did any emotion of
gratitude rise in the boy's breast to soften the bitterness with which
he regarded the victory of the former, which the reproaches of his
retainers, who at that instant came up, and their condemnation of his
folly, did not tend to diminish; and almost sullenly he passed to the
rear, on their return, leaving Sir Malise Duff to make the
acknowledgments, which should have come from him, and courteously invite
the young stranger to accompany them home, an invitation which, somewhat
to the discomposure of Earl Duncan, was accepted.

If the stranger had experienced any emotion of anger from the boy's
slight of his services, the gratitude of the Lady Isabella would have
banished it on the instant, and amply repaid them; with cheeks glowing,
eyes glistening, and a voice quivering with suppressed emotion, she had
spoken her brief yet eloquent thanks; and had he needed further proof,
the embrace she lavished on her young brother, as reluctantly, and after
a long interval, he entered the hall, said yet more than her broken
words.

"Thou art but a fool, Isabella, craving thy pardon," was his ungracious
address, as he sullenly freed himself from her. "Had I brought thee the
bull's horns, there might have been some cause for this marvellously
warm welcome; but as it is--"

"I joy thou wert not punished for thy rashness, Duncan. Yet 'twas not in
such mood I hoped to find thee; knowest thou that 'tis to yon brave
stranger thou owest thy life?"

"Better it had been forfeited, than that he should stand between me and
mine honor. I thank him not for it, nor owe him aught like gratitude."

"Peace, ungrateful boy, an thou knowest not thy station better," was his
sister's calm, yet dignified reply; and the stranger smiled, and by his
courteous manner, speedily dismissed her fears as to the impression of
her brother's words, regarding them as the mere petulance of a child.

Days passed, and still the stranger lingered; eminently handsome, his
carriage peculiarly graceful, and even dignified, although it was
evident, from the slight, and as it were, unfinished roundness of his
figure, that he was but in the first stage of youth, yet his discourse
and manner were of a kind that would bespeak him noble, even had his
appearance been less convincing. According to the custom of the time,
which would have deemed the questioning a guest as to his name and
family a breach of all the rules of chivalry and hospitality, he
remained unknown.

"Men call me Sir Robert, though I have still my spurs to win," he had
once said, laughingly, to Lady Isabella and her kinsman, Sir Malise
Duff, "but I would not proclaim my birth till I may bring it honor."

A month passed ere their guest took his departure, leaving regard and
regret behind him, in all, perhaps, save in the childish breast of Earl
Duncan, whose sullen manner had never changed. There was a freshness and
light-heartedness, and a wild spirit of daring gallantry about the
stranger that fascinated, men scarce knew wherefore; a reckless
independence of sentiment which charmed, from the utter absence of all
affectation which it comprised. To all, save to the Lady Isabella, he
was a mere boy, younger even than his years; but in conversation with
her his superior mind shone forth, proving he could in truth appreciate
hers, and give back intellect for intellect, feeling for feeling;
perhaps her beauty and unusual endowments had left their impression upon
him. However it may be, one day, one little day after the departure of
Sir Robert, Isabella woke to the consciousness that the calm which had
so long rested on her spirit bad departed, and forever; and to what had
it given place? Had she dared to love, she, the betrothed, the promised
bride of another? No; she could not have sunk thus low, her heart had
been too long controlled to rebel now. She might not, she would not
listen to its voice, to its wild, impassioned throbs. Alas! she
miscalculated her own power; the fastnesses she had deemed secure were
forced; they closed upon their subtle foe, and held their conqueror
prisoner.

But Isabella was not one to waver in a determination when once formed;
how might she break asunder links which the dead had hallowed? She
became the bride of Lord John; she sought with her whole soul to forget
the past, and love him according to her bridal vow, and as time passed
she ceased to think of that beautiful vision of her early youth, save as
a dream that had had no resting; and a mother's fond yearnings sent
their deep delicious sweetness as oil on the troubled waters of her
heart. She might have done this, but unhappily she too soon discovered
her husband was not one to aid her in her unsuspected task, to soothe
and guide, and by his affection demand her gratitude and reverence.
Enwrapped in selfishness or haughty indifference, his manner towards her
ever harsh, unbending, and suspicious, Isabella's pride would have
sustained her, had not her previous trial lowered her in self-esteem;
but as it was, meekly and silently she bore with the continued outbreak
of unrestrained passion, and never wavered from the path of duty her
clear mind had laid down.

On the birth of a son, however, her mind regained its tone, and inwardly
yet solemnly she vowed that no mistaken sense of duty to her husband
should interfere with the education of her son. As widely opposed as
were their individual characters, so were the politics of the now Earl
and Countess of Buchan. Educated in England, on friendly terms with her
king, he had, as the Earl of Fife anticipated, lost all nationality, all
interest in Scotland, and as willingly and unconcernedly taken the vows
of homage to John Baliol, as the mere representative and lieutenant of
Edward, as he would have done to a free and unlimited king. He had been
among the very first to vote for calling in the King of England as
umpire; the most eager to second and carry out all Edward's views, and
consequently high in that monarch's favor, a reputation which his enmity
to the house of Bruce, one of the most troublesome competitors of the
crown, did not tend to diminish. Fortunately perhaps for Isabella, the
bustling politics of her husband constantly divided them. The births of
a daughter and son had no effect in softening his hard and selfish
temper; he looked on them more as incumbrances than pleasures, and
leaving the countess in the strong Tower of Buchan, he himself, with a
troop of armed and mounted Comyns, attached himself to the court and
interests of Edward, seeming to forget that such beings as a wife and
children had existence. Months, often years, would stretch between the
earl's visits to his mountain home, and then a week was the longest
period of his lingering; but no evidence of a gentler spirit or of less
indifference to his children was apparent, and years seemed to have
turned to positive evil, qualities which in youth had merely seemed
unamiable.

Desolate as the situation of the countess might perhaps appear, she
found solace and delight in moulding the young minds of her children
according to the pure and elevated cast of her own. All the
long-suppressed tenderness of her nature was lavished upon them, and on
their innocent love she sought to rest the passionate yearnings of her
own. She taught them to be patriots, in the purest, most beautiful
appropriation of the term,--to spurn the yoke of the foreigner, and the
oppressor, however light and flowery the links of that yoke might seem.
She could not bid them love and revere their father as she longed to do,
but she taught them that where their duty to their country and their
free and unchained king interfered not, in all things they must obey and
serve their father, and seek to win his love.

Once only had the Countess of Buchan beheld the vision which had crossed
her youth. He had come, it seemed unconscious of his track, and asked
hospitality for a night, evidently without knowing who was the owner of
the castle; perhaps his thoughts were preoccupied, for a deep gloom was
on his brow, and though he had started with evident pleasure when
recognizing his beautiful hostess, the gloom speedily resumed
ascendency. It was but a few weeks after the fatal battle of Falkirk,
and therefore Isabella felt there was cause enough for depression and
uneasiness. The graces of boyhood had given place to a finished
manliness of deportment, a calmer expression of feature, denoting that
years had changed and steadied the character, even as the form. He then
seemed as one laboring under painful and heavy thought, as one brooding
over some mighty change within, as if some question of weighty import
were struggling with recollections and visions of the past. He had
spoken little, evidently shrinking in pain from all reference to or
information on the late engagement. He tarried not long, departing with
dawn next day, and they did not meet again.

And what had been the emotions of the countess? perhaps her heart had
throbbed, and her cheek paled and flushed, at this unexpected meeting
with one she had fervently prayed never to see again; but not one
feeling obtained ascendency in that heart which she would have dreaded
to unveil to the eye of her husband. She did indeed feel that had her
lot been cast otherwise, it must have been a happy one, but the thought
was transient. She was a wife, a mother, and in the happiness of her
children, her youth, and all its joys and pangs, and dreams and hopes,
were merged, to be recalled no more.

The task of instilling patriotic sentiments in the breast of her son had
been insensibly aided by the countess's independent position amid the
retainers of Buchan. This earldom had only been possessed by the family
of Comyn since the latter years of the reign of William the Lion,
passing into their family by the marriage of Margaret Countess of Buchan
with Sir William Comyn, a knight of goodly favor and repute. This
interpolation and ascendency of strangers was a continual source of
jealousy and ire to the ancient retainers of the olden heritage, and
continually threatened to break out into open feud, had not the soothing
policy of the Countess Margaret and her descendants, by continually
employing them together in subjecting other petty clans, contrived to
keep them in good humor. As long as their lords were loyal to Scotland
and her king, and behaved so as to occasion no unpleasant comparison
between them and former superiors, all went on smoothly; but the haughty
and often outrageous conduct of the present earl, his utter neglect of
their interests, his treasonous politics, speedily roused the slumbering
fire into flame. A secret yet solemn oath went round the clan, by which
every fighting man bound himself to rebel against their master, rather
than betray their country by siding with a foreign tyrant; to desert
their homes, their all, and disperse singly midst the fastnesses and
rocks of Scotland, than lift up a sword against her freedom. The
sentiments of the countess were very soon discovered; and even yet
stronger than the contempt and loathing with which they looked upon the
earl was the love, the veneration they bore to her and to her children.
If his mother's lips had been silent, the youthful heir would have
learned loyalty and patriotism from his brave though unlettered
retainers, as it was to them he owed the skin and grace with which he
sate his fiery steed, and poised his heavy lance, and wielded his
stainless brand--to them he owed all the chivalric accomplishments of
the day; and though he had never quitted the territories of Buchan, he
would have found few to compete with him in his high and gallant spirit.

Dark and troubled was the political aspect of unhappy Scotland, at the
eventful period at which our tale commences. The barbarous and most
unjust execution of Sir William Wallace had struck the whole country as
with a deadly panic, from which it seemed there was not one to rise to
cast aside the heavy chains, whose weight it seemed had crushed the
whole kingdom, and taken from it the last gleams of patriotism and of
hope. Every fortress of strength and consequence was in possession of
the English. English soldiers, English commissioners, English judges,
laws, and regulations now filled and governed Scotland. The abrogation
of all those ancient customs, which had descended from the Celts and
Picts, and Scots, fell upon the hearts of all true Scottish men as the
tearing asunder the last links of freedom, and branding them as slaves.
Her principal nobles, strangely and traitorously, preferred safety and
wealth, in the acknowledgment and servitude of Edward, to glory and
honor in the service of their country; and the spirits of the middle
ranks yet spurned the inglorious yoke, and throbbed but for one to lead
them on, if not to victory, at least to an honorable death. That one
seemed not to rise; it was as if the mighty soul of Scotland had
departed, when Wallace slept in death.




CHAPTER III.


A bustling and joyous aspect did the ancient town of Scone present near
the end of March, 1306. Subdued indeed, and evidently under some
restraint and mystery, which might be accounted for by the near vicinity
of the English, who were quartered in large numbers over almost the
whole of Perthshire; some, however, appeared exempt from these most
unwelcome guests. The nobles, esquires, yeomen, and peasants--all, by
their national garb and eager yet suppressed voices, might be known at
once as Scotsmen right and true.

It had been long, very long since the old quiet town had witnessed such
busy groups and such eager tongues as on all sides thronged it now; the
very burghers and men of handicraft wore on their countenances tokens of
something momentous. There were smiths' shops opening on every side,
armorers at work, anvils clanging, spears sharpening, shields
burnishing, bits and steel saddles and sharp spurs meeting the eye at
every turn. Ever and anon, came a burst of enlivening music, and well
mounted and gallantly attired, attended by some twenty or fifty
followers, as may be, would gallop down some knight or noble, his armor
flashing back a hundred fold the rays of the setting sun; his silken
pennon displayed, the device of which seldom failed to excite a hearty
cheer from the excited crowds; his stainless shield and heavy spear
borne by his attendant esquires; his vizor up, as if he courted and
dared recognition; his surcoat, curiously and tastefully embroidered;
his gold or silver-sheathed and hilted sword suspended by the silken
sash of many folds and brilliant coloring. On foot or on horseback,
these noble cavaliers were continually passing and repassing the ancient
streets, singly or in groups; then there were their followers, all
carefully and strictly armed, in the buff coat plaited with steel, the
well-quilted bonnet, the huge broadsword; Highlanders in their peculiar
and graceful costume; even the stout farmers, who might also be found
amongst this motley assemblage, wearing the iron hauberk and sharp sword
beneath their apparently peaceful garb. Friars in their gray frocks and
black cowls, and stately burghers and magistrates, in their velvet
cloaks and gold chains, continually mingled their peaceful forms with
their more warlike brethren, and lent a yet more varied character to the
stirring picture.

Varied as were the features of this moving multitude, the expression on
every countenance, noble and follower, yeoman and peasant, burgher and
even monk, was invariably the same--a species of strong yet suppressed
excitement, sometimes shaded by anxiety, sometimes lighted by hope,
almost amounting to triumph; sometimes the dark frown of scorn and hate
would pass like a thunder-cloud over noble brows, and the mailed hand
unconsciously clutched the sword; and then the low thrilling laugh of
derisive contempt would disperse the shade, and the muttered oath of
vengeance drown the voice of execration. It would have been a strange
yet mighty study, the face of man in that old town; but men were all too
much excited to observe their fellows, to them it was enough--unspoken,
unimparted wisdom as it was--to know, to feel, one common feeling bound
that varied mass of men, one mighty interest made them brothers.

The ancient Palace of Scone, so long unused, was now evidently the
head-quarters of the noblemen hovering about the town, for whatever
purpose they were there assembled. The heavy flag of Scotland, in all
its massive quarterings, as the symbol of a free unfettered kingdom,
waved from the centre tower; archers and spearmen lined the courts,
sentinels were at their posts, giving and receiving the watchword from
all who passed and repassed the heavy gates, which from dawn till
nightfall were flung wide open, as if the inmates of that regal dwelling
were ever ready to receive their friends, and feared not the approach of
foes.

The sun, though sinking, was still bright, when the slow and dignified
approach of the venerable abbot of Scone occasioned some stir and bustle
amidst the joyous occupants of the palace yard; the wild joke was
hushed, the noisy brawl subsided, the games of quoit and hurling the bar
a while suspended, and the silence of unaffected reverence awaited the
good old man's approach and kindly-given benediction. Leaving his
attendants in one of the lower rooms, the abbot proceeded up the massive
stone staircase, and along a broad and lengthy passage, darkly panelled
with thick oak, then pushing aside some heavy arras, stood within one of
the state chambers, and gave his fervent benison on one within. This was
a man in the earliest and freshest prime of life, that period uniting
all the grace and beauty of youth with the mature thought, and steady
wisdom, and calmer views of manhood. That he was of noble birth and
blood and training one glance sufficed; peculiarly and gloriously
distinguished in the quiet majesty of his figure, in the mild attempered
gravity of his commanding features. Nature herself seemed to have marked
him out for the distinguished part it was his to play. Already there
were lines of thought upon the clear and open brow, and round the mouth;
and the blue eye shone with that calm, steady lustre, which seldom comes
till the changeful fire and wild visions of dreamy youth have departed.
His hair, of rich and glossy brown, fell in loose natural curls on
either side his face, somewhat lower than his throat, shading his
cheeks, which, rather pale than otherwise, added to the somewhat grave
aspect of his countenance; his armor of steel, richly and curiously
inlaid with burnished gold, sat lightly and easily upon his peculiarly
tall and manly figure; a sash, of azure silk and gold, suspended his
sword, whose sheath was in unison with the rest of his armor, though the
hilt was studded with gems. His collar was also of gold, as were his
gauntlets, which with his helmet rested on a table near him; a coronet
of plain gold surmounted his helmet, and on his surcoat, which lay on a
seat at the further end of the room, might be discerned the rampant lion
of Scotland, surmounted by a crown.

The apartment in which he stood, though shorn of much of that splendor
which, ere the usurping invasion of Edward of England, had distinguished
it, still bore evidence of being a chamber of some state. The hangings
were of dark-green velvet embroidered, and with a very broad fringe of
gold; drapery of the same costly material adorned the broad casements,
which stood in heavy frames of oak, black as ebony. Large folding-doors,
with panels of the same beautiful material, richly carved, opened into
an ante-chamber, and thence to the grand staircase and more public parts
of the building. In this ante-chamber were now assembled pages,
esquires, and other officers bespeaking a royal household, though much
less numerous than is generally the case.

"Sir Edward and the young Lord of Douglas have not returned, sayest
thou, good Athelbert? Knowest thou when and for what went they forth?"
were the words which were spoken by the noble we have described, as the
abbot entered, unperceived at first, from his having avoided the public
entrance to the state rooms; they were addressed to an esquire, who,
with cap in hand and head somewhat lowered, respectfully awaited the
commands of his master.

"They said not the direction of their course, my liege; 'tis thought to
reconnoitre either the movements of the English, or to ascertain the
cause of the delay of the Lord of Fife. They departed at sunrise, with
but few followers."

"On but a useless errand, good Athelbert, methinks, an they hope to
greet Earl Duncan, save with a host of English at his back. Bid Sir
Edward hither, should he return ere nightfall, and see to the instant
delivery of those papers; I fear me, the good lord bishop has waited for
them; and stay--Sir Robert Keith, hath he not yet returned?"

"No, good my lord."

"Ha! he tarrieth long," answered the noble, musingly. "Now heaven
forefend no evil hath befallen him; but to thy mission, Athelbert, I
must not detain thee with doubts and cavil. Ha! reverend father, right
welcome," he added, perceiving him as he turned again to the table, on
the esquire reverentially withdrawing from his presence, and bending his
head humbly in acknowledgment of the abbot's benediction. "Thou findest
me busied as usual. Seest thou," he pointed to a rough map of Scotland
lying before him, curiously intersected with mystic lines and crosses,
"Edinburgh, Berwick, Roxburgh, Lanark, Stirling, Dumbarton, in the power
of, nay peopled, by English. Argyle on the west, Elgin, Aberdeen, with
Banff eastward, teeming with proud, false Scots, hereditary foes to the
Bruce, false traitors to their land; the north--why, 'tis the same foul
tale; and yet I dare to raise my banner, dare to wear the crown, and
fling defiance in the teeth of all. What sayest thou, father--is't not a
madman's deed?"

All appearance of gravity vanished from his features as he spoke. His
eye, seemingly so mild, flashed till its very color could not have been
distinguished, his cheek glowed, his lip curled, and his voice, ever
peculiarly rich and sonorous, deepened with the excitement of soul.

"Were the fate of man in his own hands, were it his and his alone to
make or mar his destiny, I should e'en proclaim thee mad, my son, and
seek to turn thee from thy desperate purpose; but it is not so. Man is
but an instrument, and He who urged thee to this deed, who wills not
this poor land to rest enslaved, will give thee strength and wisdom for
its freedom. His ways are not as man's; and circled as thou seemest with
foes, His strength shall bring thee forth and gird thee with His glory.
Thou wouldst not turn aside, my son--thou fearest not thy foes?"

"Fear! holy father: it is a word unknown to the children of the Bruce! I
do but smile at mine extensive kingdom--of some hundred acres square;
smile at the eagerness with which they greet me liege and king, as if
the words, so long unused, should now do double duty for long absence."

"And better so, my son," answered the old man, cheerfully. "Devotion to
her destined savior argues well for bonny Scotland; better do homage
unto thee as liege and king, though usurpation hath abridged thy
kingdom, than to the hireling of England's Edward, all Scotland at his
feet. Men will not kneel to sceptred slaves, nor freemen fight for
tyrants' tools. Sovereign of Scotland thou art, thou shalt be, Robert
the Bruce! Too long hast thou kept back; but now, if arms can fight and
hearts can pray, thou shalt be king of Scotland."

The abbot spoke with a fervor, a spirit which, though perhaps little
accordant with his clerical character, thrilled to the Bruce's heart. He
grasped the old man's hand.

"Holy father," he said, "thou wouldst inspire hearts with ardor needing
inspiration more than mine; and to me thou givest hope, and confidence,
and strength. Too long have I slept and dreamed," his countenance
darkened, and his voice was sadder; "fickle in purpose, uncertain in
accomplishment; permitting my youth to moulder 'neath the blasting
atmosphere of tyranny. Yet will I now atone for the neglected past.
Atone! aye, banish it from the minds of men. My country hath a claim, a
double claim upon me; she calls upon me, trumpet-tongued, to arise,
avenge her, and redeem my misspent youth. Nor shall she call on me in
vain, so help me, gracious heaven!"

"Amen," fervently responded the abbot; and the king continued more
hurriedly--

"And that stain, that blot, father? Is there mercy in heaven to wash its
darkness from my soul, or must it linger there forever preying on my
spirit, dashing e'en its highest hopes and noblest dreams with poison,
whispering its still voice of accusation, even when loudest rings the
praise and love of men? Is there no rest for this, no silence for that
whisper? Penitence, atonement, any thing thou wilt, let but my soul be
free!" Hastily, and with step and countenance disordered, he traversed
the chamber, his expressive countenance denoting the strife within.

"It was, in truth, a rash and guilty deed, my son," answered the abbot,
gravely, yet mildly, "and one that heaven in its justice will scarce
pass unavenged. Man hath given thee the absolution accorded to the true
and faithful penitent, for such thou art; yet scarcely dare we hope
offended heaven is appeased. Justice will visit thee with trouble--sore,
oppressing, grievous trouble. Yet despair not: thou wilt come forth the
purer, nobler, brighter, from the fire; despair not, but as a child
receive a father's chastening; lean upon that love, which wills not
death, but penitence and life; that love, which yet will bring thee
forth and bless this land in thee. My son, be comforted; His mercy is
yet greater than thy sin."

"And blest art thou, my father, for these _blessed_ words; a messenger
in truth thou art of peace and love; and oh, if prayers and penitence
avail, if sore temptation may be pleaded, I shall, I shall be pardoned.
Yet would I give my dearest hopes of life, of fame, of all--save
Scotland's freedom--that this evil had not chanced; that blood, his
blood--base traitor as he was--was not upon my hand."

"And can it be thou art such craven, Robert, as to repent a Comyn's
death--a Comyn, and a traitor--e'en though his dastard blood be on thy
hand?--bah! An' such deeds weigh heavy on thy mind, a friar's cowl were
better suited to thy brow than Scotland's diadem."

The speaker was a tall, powerful man, somewhat younger in appearance
than the king, but with an expression of fierceness and haughty pride,
contrasting powerfully with the benevolent and native dignity which so
characterized the Bruce. His voice was as harsh as his manner was
abrupt; yet that he was brave, nay, rash in his unthinking daring, a
very transient glance would suffice to discover.

"I forgive thee thine undeserved taunt, Edward," answered the king,
calmly, though the hot blood rushed up to his cheek and brow. "I trust,
ere long, to prove thy words are as idle as the mood which prompted
them. I feel not that repentance cools the patriot fire which urges me
to strike for Scotland's weal--that sorrow for a hated crime unfits me
for a warrior. I would not Comyn lived, but that he had met a traitor's
fate by other hands than mine; been judged--condemned, as his black
treachery called for; even for our country's sake, it had been better
thus."

"Thou art over-scrupulous, my liege and brother, and I too hasty,"
replied Sir Edward Bruce, in the same bold, careless tone. "Yet beshrew
me, but I think that in these times a sudden blow and hasty fate the
only judgment for a traitor. The miscreant were too richly honored, that
by thy royal hand he fell."

"My son, my son, I pray thee, peace," urged the abbot, in accents of
calm, yet grave authority. "As minister of heaven, I may not list such
words. Bend not thy brow in wrath, clad as thou art in mail, in youthful
might; yet in my Maker's cause this withered frame is stronger yet than
thou art. Enough of that which hath been. Thy sovereign spoke in lowly
penitence to me--to me, who frail and lowly unto thee, am yet the
minister of Him whom sin offends. To thee he stands a warrior and a
king, who rude irreverence may brook not, even from his brother. Be
peace between us, then, my son; an old man's blessing on thy fierce yet
knightly spirit rest."

With a muttered oath Sir Edward had strode away at the abbot's first
words, but the cloud passed from his brow as he concluded, and slightly,
yet with something of reverence, he bowed his head.

"And whither didst thou wend thy way, my fiery brother?" demanded
Robert. "Bringest thou aught of news, or didst thou and Douglas but set
foot in stirrup and hand on rein simply from weariness of quiet?"

"In sober truth, 'twas even so; partly to mark the movements of the
English, an they make a movement, which, till Pembroke come, they are
all too much amazed to do; partly to see if in truth that poltroon
Duncan of Fife yet hangs back and still persists in forswearing the
loyalty of his ancestors, and leaving to better hands the proud task of
placing the crown of Scotland on thy head."

"And thou art convinced at last that such and such only is his
intention?" The knight nodded assent, and Bruce continued, jestingly,
"And so thou mightst have been long ago, my sage brother, hadst thou
listened to me. I tell thee Earl Duncan hath a spite against me, not for
daring to raise the standard of freedom and proclaim myself a king, but
for very hatred of myself. Nay, hast thou not seen it thyself, when,
fellow-soldiers, fellow-seekers of the banquet, tournay, or ball, he
hath avoided, shunned me? and why should he seek me now?"

"Why? does not Scotland call him, Scotland bid him gird his sword and
don his mail? Will not the dim spectres of his loyal line start from
their very tombs to call him to thy side, or brand him traitor and
poltroon, with naught of Duff about him but the name? Thou smilest."

"At thy violence, good brother. Duncan of Fife loves better the silken
cords of peace and pleasure, e'en though those silken threads hide
chains, than the trumpet's voice and weight of mail. In England bred,
courted, flattered by her king, 'twere much too sore a trouble to excite
his anger and lose his favor; and for whom, for what?--to crown the man
he hateth from his soul?"

"And knowest thou wherefore, good my son, in what thou hast offended?"

"Offended, holy father? Nay, in naught unless perchance a service
rendered when a boy--a simple service, merely that of saving life--hath
rendered him the touchy fool he is. But hark! who comes?"

The tramping of many horses, mingled with the eager voices of men,
resounded from the courtyard as he spoke, and Sir Edward strode hastily
to the casement. "Sir Robert Keith returned!" he exclaimed, joyfully;
"and seemingly right well attended. Litters too--bah! we want no more
women. 'Tis somewhat new for Keith to be a squire of dames. Why, what
banner is this? The black bear of Buchan--impossible! the earl is a foul
Comyn. I'll to the court, for this passes my poor wits." He turned
hastily to quit the chamber, as a youth entered, not without some
opposition, it appeared, from the attendants without, but eagerly he had
burst through them, and flung his plumed helmet from his beautiful brow,
and, after glancing hastily round the room, bounded to the side of
Robert, knelt at his feet, and clasped his knees without uttering a
syllable, voiceless from an emotion whose index was stamped upon his
glowing features.

"Nigel, by all that's marvellous, and as moon-stricken as his wont! Why,
where the foul fiend hast thou sprung from? Art dumb, thou foolish boy?
By St. Andrew, these are times to act and speak, not think and feel!
Whence comest thou?"

So spoke the impatient Edward, to whom the character of his youngest
brother had ever been a riddle, which it had been too much trouble to
expound, and that which it _seemed_ to his too careless thought he ever
looked upon with scorn and contempt. Not so, King Robert; he raised him
affectionately in his arms, and pressed him to his heart.

"Thou'rt welcome, most, most welcome, Nigel; as welcome as unlooked for.
But why this quick return from scenes and studies more congenial to thy
gentle nature, my young brother? this fettered land is scarce a home for
thee; thy free, thy fond imaginings can scarce have resting here." He
spoke sadly, and his smile unwittingly was sorrowful.

"And thinkest thou, Robert--nay, forgive me, good my liege--thinkest
thou, because I loved the poet's dream, because I turned, in sad and
lonely musing, from King Edward's court, I loved the cloister better
than the camp? Oh, do me not such wrong! thou knowest not the guidings
of my heart; nor needs it now, my sword shall better plead my cause than
can my tongue." He turned away deeply and evidently pained, and a half
laugh from Sir Edward prevented the king's reply.

"Well crowed, my pretty fledgling," he said, half jesting, half in
scorn. "But knowest thou, to fight in very earnest is something
different than to read and chant it in a minstrel's lay? Better hie thee
back to Florence, boy; the mail suit and crested helm are not for such
as thee--better shun them now, than after they are donned."

"How! darest thou, Edward? Edward, tempt me not too far," exclaimed
Nigel, his cheek flushing, and springing towards him, his hand upon his
half-drawn sword. "By heaven, wert thou not my mother's son, I would
compel thee to retract these words, injurious, unjust! How darest thou
judge me coward, till my cowardice is proved? Thy blood is not more red
than mine."

"Peace, peace! what meaneth this unseemly broil?" said Robert, hastily
advancing between them, for the dark features of Edward were lowering in
wrath, and Nigel was excited to unwonted fierceness. "Edward, begone!
and as thou saidst, see to Sir Robert Keith--what news he brings. Nigel,
on thy love, thy allegiance so lately proffered, if I read thy greeting
right, I pray thee heed not his taunting words. I do not doubt thee;
'twas for thy happiness, not for thy gallantry, I trembled. Look not
thus dejected;" he held out his hand, which his brother knelt to salute.
"Nay, nay, thou foolish boy, forget my new dignity a while, and now that
rude brawler has departed, tell me in sober wisdom, how camest thou
here? How didst thou know I might have need of thee?" A quick blush
suffused the cheek of the young man; he hesitated, evidently confused.
"Why, what ails thee, boy? By St. Andrew, Nigel, I do believe thou hast
never quitted Scotland."

"And if I have not, my lord, what wilt thou deem me?"

"A very strangely wayward boy, not knowing his own mind," replied the
king, smiling. "Yet why should I say so? I never asked thy confidence,
never sought it, or in any way returned or appreciated thy boyish love,
and why should I deem thee wayward, never inquiring into thy
projects--passing thee by, perchance, as a wild visionary, much happier
than myself?"

"And thou wilt think me yet more a visionary, I fear me, Robert; yet
thine interest is too dear to pass unanswered," rejoined Nigel, after
glancing round and perceiving they were alone, for the abbot had
departed with Sir Edward, seeking to tame his reckless spirit.

"Know, then, to aid me in keeping aloof from the tyrant of my country,
whom instinctively I hated, I confined myself to books and such lore yet
more than my natural inclination prompted, though that was strong
enough--I had made a solemn vow, rather to take the monk's cowl and
frock, than receive knighthood from the hand of Edward of England, or
raise my sword at his bidding. My whole soul yearned towards the country
of my fathers, that country which was theirs by royal right; and when
the renown of Wallace reached my ears, when, in my waking and sleeping
dreams, I beheld the patriot struggling for freedom, peace, the only one
whose arm had struck for Scotland, whose tongue had dared to speak
resistance, I longed wildly, intensely, vainly, to burst the thraldom
which held my race, and seek for death beneath the patriot banner. I
longed, yet dared not. My own death were welcome; but mother, father,
brothers, sisters, all were perilled, had I done so. I stood, I deemed,
alone in my enthusiast dreams; those I loved best, acknowledged, bowed
before the man my very spirit loathed; and how dared I, a boy, a child,
stand forth arraigning and condemning? But wherefore art thou thus,
Robert? oh, what has thus moved thee?"

Wrapped in his own earnest words and thoughts, Nigel had failed until
that moment to perceive the effect of his words upon his brother.
Robert's head had sunk upon his hand, and his whole frame shook beneath
some strong emotion; evidently striving to subdue it, some moments
elapsed ere he could reply, and then only in accents of bitter
self-reproach. "Why, why did not such thoughts come to me, instead of
thee?" he said. "My youth had not wasted then in idle folly--worse, oh,
worse--in slavish homage, coward indecision, flitting like the moth
around the destructive flame; and while I deemed thee buried in romantic
dreams, all a patriot's blood was rushing in thy veins, while mine was
dull and stagnant."

"But to flow forth the brighter, my own brother," interrupted Nigel,
earnestly. "Oh, I have watched thee, studied thee, even as I loved thee,
long; and I have hoped, felt, _known_ that this day would dawn; that
thou _wouldst_ rise for Scotland, and she would rise for thee. Ah, now
thou smilest as thyself, and I will to my tale. The patriot died--let me
not utter how; no Scottish tongue should speak those words, save with
the upraised arm and trumpet shout of vengeance! I could not rest in
England then; I could not face the tyrant who dared proclaim and execute
as traitor the noblest hero, purest patriot, that ever walked this
earth. But men said I sought the lyric schools, the poet's haunts in
Provence, and I welcomed the delusion; but it was to Scotland that I
came, unknown, and silently, to mark if with her Wallace all life and
soul had fled. I saw enough to know that were there but a fitting head,
her hardy sons would struggle yet for freedom--but not yet; that chief
art thou, and at the close of the last year I took passage to Denmark,
intending to rest there till Scotland called me."

"And 'tis thence thou comest, Nigel? Can it be, intelligence of my
movements hath reached so far north already?" inquired the king,
somewhat surprised at the abruptness of his brother's pause.

"Not so, my liege. The vessel which bore me was wrecked off the breakers
of Buchan, and cast me back again to the arms of Scotland. I found
hospitality, shelter, kindness; nay more, were this a time and place to
speak of happy, trusting love--" he added, turning away from the Bruce's
penetrating eye, "and week after week passed, and found me still an
inmate of the Tower of Buchan."

"Buchan!" interrupted the king, hastily; "the castle of a Comyn, and
thou speakest of love!"

"Of as true, as firm-hearted a Scottish patriot, my liege, as ever lived
in the heart of woman--one that has naught of Comyn about her or her
fair children but the name, as speedily thou wilt have proof. But in
good time is my tale come to a close, for hither comes good Sir Robert,
and other noble knights, who, by their eager brows, methinks, have
matters of graver import for thy grace's ear."

They entered as he spoke. The patriot nobles who, at the first call of
their rightful king, had gathered round his person, few in number, yet
firm in heart, ready to lay down fame, fortune, life, beside his
standard, rather than acknowledge the foreign foe, who, setting aside
all principles of knightly honor, knightly faith, sought to claim their
country as his own, their persons as his slaves. Eager was the greeting
of each and all to the youthful Nigel, mingled with some surprise. Their
conference with the king was but brief, and as it comprised matters more
of speculation than of decided import, we will pass on to a later period
of the same evening.




CHAPTER IV.


"Buchan! the Countess of Buchan, sayest thou, Athelbert? nay, 'tis
scarce possible," said a fair and noble-looking woman, still in the
bloom of life, though early youth had passed, pausing on her way to the
queen's apartment, to answer some information given by the senior page.

"Indeed, madam, 'tis even so; she arrived but now, escorted by Sir
Robert Keith and his followers, in addition to some fifty of the
retainers of Buchan."

"And hath she lodging within the palace?"

"Yes, madam; an it please you, I will conduct you to her, 'tis but a
step beyond the royal suite."

She made him a sign of assent, and followed him slowly, as if musingly.

"It is strange, it is very strange," she thought, "yet scarcely so; she
was ever in heart and soul a patriot, nor has she seen enough of her
husband to change such sentiments. Yet, for her own sake, perchance it
had been better had she not taken this rash step; 'tis a desperate game
we play, and the fewer lives and fortunes wrecked the better."

Her cogitations were interrupted by hearing her name announced in a loud
voice by the page, and finding herself in presence of the object of her
thoughts.

"Isabella, dearest Isabella, 'tis even thine own dear self. I deemed the
boy's tale well-nigh impossible," was her hasty exclamation, as with a
much quicker step she advanced towards the countess, who met her
half-way, and warmly returned her embrace, saying as she did so--

"This is kind, indeed, dearest Mary, to welcome me so soon; 'tis long,
long years since we have met; but they have left as faint a shadow on
thy affections as on mine."

"Indeed, thou judgest me truly, Isabella. Sorrow, methinks, doth but
soften the heart and render the memory of young affections, youthful
pleasures, the more vivid, the more lasting: we think of what we have
been, or what we are, and the contrast heightens into perfect bliss that
which at the time, perchance, we deemed but perishable joy."

"Hast thou too learnt such lesson, Mary? I hoped its lore was all
unknown to thee."

"It was, indeed, deferred so long, so blessedly, I dared to picture
perfect happiness on earth; but since my husband's hateful captivity,
Isabella, there can be little for his wife but anxiety and dread. But
these--are these thine?" she added, gazing admiringly and tearfully on
Agnes and Alan, who had at their mother's sign advanced from the
embrasure, where they had held low yet earnest converse, and gracefully
acknowledged the stranger's notice. "Oh, wherefore bring them here, my
friend?"

"Wherefore, lady?" readily and impetuously answered Alan; "art thou a
friend of Isabella of Buchan, and asketh wherefore? Where our sovereign
is, should not his subjects be?"

"Thy mother's friend and sovereign's sister, noble boy, and yet I grieve
to see thee here. The Bruce is but in name a king, uncrowned as yet and
unanointed. His kingdom bounded by the confines of this one fair county,
struggling for every acre at the bright sword's point."

"The greater glory for his subjects, lady," answered the youth. "The
very act of proclaiming himself king removes the chains of Scotland, and
flings down her gage. Fear not, he shall be king ere long in something
more than name."

"And is it thus a Comyn speaks?" said the Lady Campbell. "Ah, were the
idle feuds of petty minds thus laid at rest, bold boy, thy dreams might
e'en be truth; but knowest thou, young man--knowest thou, Isabella, the
breach between the Comyn and the Bruce is widened, and, alas! by blood?"

"Aye, lady; but what boots it? A traitor should have no name, no kin, or
those who bear that name should wash away their race's stain by nobler
deeds of loyalty and valor."

"It would be well did others think with thee," replied Lady Campbell;
"yet I fear me in such sentiments the grandson of the loyal Fife will
stand alone. Isabella, dearest Isabella," she added, laying her hand on
the arm of the countess, and drawing her away from her children, "hast
thou done well in this decision? hast thou listened to the calmer voice
of prudence as was thy wont? hast thou thought on all the evils thou
mayest draw upon thy head, and upon these, so lovely and so dear?"

"Mary, I have thought, weighed, pondered, and yet I am here," answered
the countess, firmly, yet in an accent that still bespoke some inward
struggle. "I know, I feel all, all that thou wouldst urge; that I am
exposing my brave boy to death, perchance, by a father's hand, bringing
him hither to swear fealty, to raise his sword for the Bruce, in direct
opposition to my husband's politics, still more to his will; yet, Mary,
there are mutual duties between a parent and a child. My poor boy has
ever from his birth been fatherless. No kindly word, no glowing smile
has ever met his infancy, his boyhood. He scarce can know his
father--the love, the reverence of a son it would have been such joy to
teach. Left to my sole care, could I instil sentiments other than those
a father's lips bestowed on me? Could I instruct him in aught save
love, devotion to his country, to her rights, her king? I have done this
so gradually, my friend, that for the burst of loyalty, of impetuous
gallantry, which answered Sir Robert Keith's appeal, I was well nigh
unprepared. My father, my noble father breathes in my boy; and oh, Mary,
better, better far lose him on the battle-field, struggling for
Scotland's freedom, glorying in his fate, rejoicing, blessing me for
lessons I have taught, than see him as my husband, as my brother--alas!
alas! that I should live to say it--cringing as slaves before the
footstool of a tyrant and oppressor. Had he sought it, had he
loved--treated me as a wife, Mary, I would have given my husband
all--all a woman's duty--all, save the dictates of my soul, but even
this he trampled on, despised, rejected; and shall I, dare I then
forget, oppose the precepts of that noble heart, that patriot spirit
which breathed into mine the faint reflection of itself?--offend the
dead, the hallowed dead, my father--the heart that loved me?"

She paused, in strong, and for the moment overpowering, emotion. The
clear, rich tones had never faltered till she spoke of him beloved even
in death--faltered not, even when she spoke of death as the portion of
her child; it was but the quivering of lip and eye by which the anguish
of that thought could have been ascertained. Lady Campbell clasped her
hand.

"Thou hast in very truth silenced me, my Isabella," she said; "there is
no combating with thoughts as these. Thine is still the same noble soul,
exalted mind that I knew in youth: sorrow and time have had no power on
these."

"Save to chasten and to purify, I trust," rejoined the countess, in her
own calm tone. "Thrown back upon my own strength, it must have gathered
force, dear Mary, or have perished altogether. But thou speakest,
methinks, but too despondingly of our sovereign's prospects--are they
indeed so desperate?"

"Desperate, indeed, Isabella. Even his own family, with the sole
exception of that rash madman, Edward, must look upon it thus. How
thinkest thou Edward of England will brook this daring act of defiance,
of what he will deem rank apostasy and traitorous rebellion? Aged,
infirm as he is now, he will not permit this bold attempt to pass
unpunished. The whole strength of England will be gathered together,
and pour its devastating fury on this devoted land. And what to this has
Robert to oppose? Were he undisputed sovereign of Scotland, we might,
without cowardice, be permitted to tremble, threatened as he is; but
confined, surrounded by English, with scarce a town or fort to call his
own, his enterprise is madness, Isabella, patriotic as it may be."

"Oh, do not say so, Mary. Has he not some noble barons already by his
side? will not, nay, is not Scotland rising to support him? hath he not
the hearts, the prayers, the swords of all whose mountain homes and
freeborn rights are dearer than the yoke of Edward? and hath he not, if
rumor speaks aright, within himself a host--not mere valor alone, but
prudence, foresight, military skill--all, all that marks a general?"

"As rumor speaks. Thou dost not know him then?" inquired Lady Campbell.

"How could I, dearest? Hast thou forgotten thy anxiety that we should
meet, when we were last together, holding at naught, in thy merry mood,
my betrothment to Lord John--that I should turn him from his wandering
ways, and make him patriotic as myself? Thou seest, Mary, thy brother
needed not such influence."

"Of a truth, no," answered her friend; "for his present partner is a
very contrast to thyself, and would rather, by her weak and trembling
fears, dissuade him from his purpose than inspire and encourage it. Well
do I remember that fancy of my happy childhood, and still I wish it had
been so, all idle as it seems--strange that ye never met."

"Nay, save thyself, Mary, thy family resided more in England than in
Scotland, and for the last seventeen years the territory of Buchan has
been my only home, with little interruption to my solitude; yet I have
heard much of late of the Earl of Carrick, and from whom thinkest
thou?--thou canst not guess--even from thy noble brother Nigel."

"Nigel!" repeated Lady Mary, much surprised.

"Even so, sweet sister, learning dearer lore and lovelier tales than
even Provence could instil; 'tis not the land, it is the _heart_ where
poesie dwells," rejoined Nigel Bruce, gayly, advancing from the side of
Agnes, where he had been lingering the greater part of the dialogue
between his sister and the countess, and now joined them. "Aye, Mary,"
he continued, tenderly, "my own land is dearer than the land of song."

"And dear art thou to Scotland, Nigel; but I knew not thy fond dreams
and wild visions could find resting amid the desert crags and barren
plains of Buchan."

"Yet have we not been idle. Dearest Agnes, wilt thou not speak for me?
the viol hath not been mute, nor the fond harp unstrung; and deeper,
dearer lessons have thy lips instilled, than could have flowed from
fairest lips and sweetest songs of Provence. Nay, blush not, dearest.
Mary, thou must love this gentle girl," he added, as he led her forward,
and laid the hand of Agnes in his sister's.

"Is it so? then may we indeed be united, though not as I in my girlhood
dreamed, my Isabella," said Lady Campbell, kindly parting the clustering
curls, and looking fondly on the maiden's blushing face. She was about
to speak again, when steps were heard along the corridor, and
unannounced, unattended, save by the single page who drew aside the
hangings, King Robert entered. He had doffed the armor in which we saw
him first, for a plain yet rich suit of dark green velvet, cut and
slashed with cloth of gold, and a long mantle of the richest crimson,
secured at his throat by a massive golden clasp, from which gleamed the
glistening rays of a large emerald; a brooch of precious stones,
surrounded by diamonds, clasped the white ostrich feather in his cup,
and the shade of the drooping plume, heightened perhaps by the advance
of evening, somewhat obscured his features, but there was that in his
majestic mien, in the noble yet dignified bearing, which could not for
one moment be mistaken; and it needed not the word of Nigel to cause the
youthful Alan to spring from the couch where he had listlessly thrown
himself, and stand, suddenly silenced and abashed.

"My liege and brother," exclaimed Lady Campbell, eagerly, as she hastily
led forward the Countess of Buchan, who sunk at once on her knee,
overpowered by the emotion of a patriot, thinking only of her country,
only of her sovereign, as one inspired by heaven to attempt her rescue,
and give her freedom. "How glad am I that it has fallen on me to present
to your grace, in the noble Countess of Buchan, the chosen friend of my
girlhood, the only descendant of the line of Macduff worthy to bear that
name. Allied as unhappily she is to the family of Comyn, yet still,
still most truly, gloriously, a patriot and loyal subject of your grace,
as her being here, with all she holds most dear, most precious upon
earth, will prove far better than her friend's poor words."

"Were they most rich in eloquence, Mary, believe me, we yet should need
them not, in confirmation of this most noble lady's faithfulness and
worth," answered the king, with ready courtesy, and in accents that were
only too familiar to the ear of Isabella. She started, and gazed up for
the first time, seeing fully the countenance of the sovereign. "Rise,
lady, we do beseech you, rise; we are not yet so familiar with the forms
of royalty as to behold without some shame a noble lady at our feet.
Nay, thou art pale, very pale; thy coming hither hath been too rapid,
too hurried for thy strength, methinks; I do beseech you, sit." Gently
he raised her, and leading her gallantly to one of the cumbrous couches
near them, placed her upon it, and sat down beside her. "Ha! that is
well; thou art better now. Knowest thou, Mary, thine office would have
been more wisely performed, hadst thou presented _me_ to the Countess of
Buchan, not her to me."

"Thou speakest darkly, good my liege, yet I joy to see thee thus
jestingly inclined."

"Nay, 'tis no jest, fair sister; the Countess of Buchan and I have met
before, though she knew me but as a wild, heedless stripling first, and
a moody, discontented soldier afterwards. I owe thee much, gentle lady;
much for the night's lodging thy hospitality bestowed, though at the
time my mood was such it had no words of courtesy, no softening fancy,
even to thyself; much for the kindness thou didst bestow, not only then,
but when fate first threw us together; and therefore do I seek thee,
lady--therefore would I speak to thee, as the friend of former years,
not as the sovereign of Scotland, and as such received by thee." He
spoke gravely, with somewhat of sadness in his rich voice. Perhaps it
was well for the countess no other answer than a grateful bow was
needed, for the sudden faintness which had withdrawn the color from her
cheek yet lingered, sufficient to render the exertion of speaking
painful.

"Yet pause one moment, my liege," said Nigel, playfully leading Alan
forward; "give me one moment, ere you fling aside your kingly state.
Here is a young soldier, longing to rush into the very thickest of a
fight that may win a golden spur and receive knighthood at your grace's
hand; a doughty spokesman, who was to say a marvellously long speech of
duty, homage, and such like, but whose tongue at sight of thee has
turned traitor to its cause. Have mercy on him, good my liege; I'll
answer that his arm is less a traitor than his tongue."

"We do not doubt it, Nigel, and will accept thy words for his. Be
satisfied, young sir, the willing homage of all true men is precious to
King Robert. And thou, fair maiden, wilt thou, too, follow thy monarch's
fortunes, cloudy though they seem? we read thine answer in thy blushing
cheek, and thus we thank thee, maiden."

He threw aside his plumed cap, and gallantly yet respectfully saluted
the fair, soft cheek; confused yet pleased, Agnes looked doubtingly
towards Nigel, who, smiling a happy, trusting, joyous smile, led her a
few minutes apart, whispered some fond words, raised her hand to his
lips, and summoning Alan, they left the room together.

"Sir Robert Keith informs me, noble lady," said the king, again
addressing Isabella, "that it is your determination to represent, in
your own proper person, the ancient line of Duff at the approaching
ceremony, and demand from our hands, as such representative, the
privilege granted by King Malcolm to your noble ancestor and his
descendants, of placing on the sovereign's brow the coronet of Scotland.
Is it not so?"

"I do indeed most earnestly demand this privilege, my gracious liege,"
answered the countess, firmly; "demand it as a right, a glorious right,
made mine by the weak and fickle conduct of my brother. Alas! the only
male descendant of that line which until now hath never known a
traitor."

"But hast thou well considered, lady? There is danger in this act,
danger even to thyself."

"My liege, that there is danger threatening all the patriots of
Scotland, monarch or serf, male or female, I well know; yet in what does
it threaten me more in this act, than in the mere acknowledgment of the
Earl of Carrick as my sovereign?"

"It will excite the rage of Edward of England against thyself
individually, lady; I know him well, only too well. All who join in
giving countenance and aid to my inauguration will be proclaimed,
hunted, placed under the ban of traitors, and, if unfortunately taken,
will in all probability share the fate of Wallace." His voice became
husky with strong emotion. "There is no exception in his sweeping
tyranny; youth and age, noble and serf, of either sex, of either land,
if they raise the sword for Bruce and freedom, will fall by the
hangman's cord or headsman's axe; and I, alas! must look on and bear,
for I have neither men nor power to avert such fate; and that hand which
places on my head the crown, death, death, a cruel death, will be the
doom of its patriot owner. Think, think on this, and oh, retract thy
noble resolution, ere it be too late."

"Is she who gives the crown in greater danger, good my liege, than he
who wears it?" demanded the countess, with a calm and quiet smile.

"Nay," he answered, smiling likewise for the moment, "but I were worse
than traitor, did I shrink from Scotland in her need, and refuse her
diadem, in fear, forsooth, of death at Edward's hands. No! I have held
back too long, and now will I not turn back till Scotland's freedom is
achieved, or Robert Bruce lies with the slain. Repentance for the past,
hope, ambition for the future; a firm heart and iron frame, a steady arm
and sober mood, to meet the present--I have these, sweet lady, to fit
and nerve me for the task, but not such hast thou. I doubt not thy
patriot soul; perchance 'twas thy lip that first awoke the slumbering
fire within my own breast, and though a while forgotten, recalled, when
again I looked on thee, after Falkirk's fatal battle, with the charge,
the solemn charge of Wallace yet ringing in mine ears. Yet, lady, noble
lady, tempt not the fearful fate which, shouldst thou fall into Edward's
hands, I know too well will be thine own. I dare not promise sure
defence from his o'erwhelming hosts: on every side they compass me. I
see sorrow and death for all I love, all who swear fealty to me. I shall
succeed in the end, for heaven, just heaven will favor the righteous
cause; but trouble and anguish must be my lot ere then, and I would save
those I can. Remain with us an thou wilt, gratefully I accept the homage
so nobly and unhesitatingly tendered; but still I beseech thee, lady,
expose not thy noble self to the blind wrath of Edward, as thou surely
wilt, if from thy hand I receive my country's crown."

"My liege," answered the countess, in that same calm, quiet tone, "I
have heard thee with a deep grateful sense of the noble feeling, the
kindly care which dictates thy words; yet pardon me, if they fail to
shake my resolution--a resolution not lightly formed, not the mere
excitement of a patriotic moment, but one based on the principles of
years, on the firm, solemn conviction, that in taking this sacred office
on myself, the voice of the dead is obeyed, the memory of the dead, the
noble dead, preserved from stain, inviolate and pure. Would my father
have kept aloof in such an hour--refused to place on the brow of
Scotland's patriot king the diadem of his forefathers--held back in fear
of Edward? Oh! would that his iron hand and loyal heart were here
instead of mine; gladly would I lay me down in his cold home and place
him at thy side, might such things be: but as it is, my liege, I do
beseech thee, cease to urge me. I have but a woman's frame, a woman's
heart, and yet death hath no fear for me. Let Edward work his will, if
heaven ordain I fall into his ruthless hands; death comes but once, 'tis
but a momentary pang, and rest and bliss shall follow. My father's
spirit breathes within me, and as he would, so let his daughter do. 'Tis
not now a time to depart from ancient forms, my gracious sovereign, and
there are those in Scotland who scarce would deem thee crowned, did not
the blood of Fife perform that holy office."

"And this, then, noble lady, is thy firm resolve--I may not hope to
change it?"

"'Tis firm as the ocean rock, my liege. I do not sue thee to permit my
will; the blood of Macduff, which rushes in my veins, doth mark it as my
right, and as my right I do demand it." She stood in her majestic
beauty, proudly and firmly before him, and unconsciously the king
acknowledged and revered the dauntless spirit that lovely form
enshrined.

"Lady," he said, raising her hand with reverence to his lips, "do as
thou wilt: a weaker spirit would have shrunk at once in terror from the
very thought of such open defiance to King Edward. I should have known
the mind that framed such daring purpose would never shrink from its
fulfilment, however danger threatened; enough, we know thy faithfulness
and worth, and where to seek for brave and noble counsel in the hour of
need. And now, may it be our privilege to present thee to our queen,
sweet lady? We shall rejoice to see thee ever near her person."

"I pray your grace excuse me for this night," answered the countess; "we
have made some length of way to-day, and, if it please you, I would
seek rest. Agnes shall supply my place; Mary, thou wilt guard her, wilt
thou not?"

"Nay, be mine the grateful task," said the king, gayly taking the
maiden's hand, and, after a few words of courtesy, he quitted the
chamber, followed by his sister.

There were sounds of mirth and revelry that night in the ancient halls
of Scone, for King Robert, having taken upon himself the state and
consequence of sovereignty, determined on encouraging the high spirits
and excited joyousness of his gallant followers by all the amusements of
chivalry which his confined and precarious situation permitted, and
seldom was it that the dance and minstrelsy did not echo blithely in the
royal suite for many hours of the evening, even when the day had brought
with it anxiety and fatigue, and even intervals of despondency. There
were many noble dames and some few youthful maidens in King Robert's
court, animated by the same patriotic spirit which led their husbands
and brothers to risk fortune and life in the service of their country:
they preferred sharing and alleviating their dangers and anxieties, by
thronging round the Bruce's wife, to the precarious calm and safety of
their feudal castles; and light-heartedness and glee shed their bright
gleams on these social hours, never clouded by the gloomy shades that
darkened the political horizon of the Bruce's fortunes. Perchance this
night there was a yet brighter radiance cast over the royal halls, there
was a spirit of light and glory in every word and action of the youthful
enthusiast, Nigel Bruce, that acted as with magic power on all around;
known in the court of England but as a moody visionary boy, whose dreams
were all too ethereal to guide him in this nether world, whose hand,
however fitted to guide a pen, was all too weak to wield a sword; the
change, or we should rather say the apparent change, perceived in him
occasioned many an eye to gaze in silent wonderment, and, in the
superstition of the time, argue well for the fortunes of one brother
from the marvellous effect observable in the countenance and mood of the
other.

The hopefulness of youth, its rosy visions, its smiling dreams, all
sparkled in his blight blue eye, in the glad, free, ringing joyance of
his deep rich voice, his cloudless smiles. And oh, who is there can
resist the witchery of life's young hopes, who does not feel the warm
blood run quicker through his veins, and bid his heart throb even as it
hath throbbed in former days, and the gray hues of life melt away before
the rosy glow of youth, even as the calm cold aspect of waning night is
lost in the warmth and loveliness of the infant morn? And what was the
magic acting on the enthusiast himself, that all traces of gloom and
pensive thought were banished from his brow, that the full tide of
poetry within his soul seemed thrilling on his lip, breathing in his
simplest word, entrancing his whole being in joy? Scarce could he
himself have defined its cause, such a multitude of strong emotions were
busy at his heart. He saw not the dangers overhanging the path of the
Bruce, he only saw and only felt him as his sovereign, as his brother,
his friend, destined to be all that he had hoped, prayed, and believed
he would be; willing to accept and return the affection he had so long
felt, and give him that friendship and confidence for which he had
yearned in vain so long. He saw his country free, independent,
unshackled, glorious as of old; and there was a light and lovely being
mingling in these stirring visions--when Scotland was free, what
happiness would not be his own! Agnes, who flitted before him in that
gay scene, the loveliest, dearest object there, clinging to him in her
timidity, shrinking from the gaze of the warriors around, respectful as
it was, feeling that all was strange, all save him to whom her young
heart was vowed--if such exclusiveness was dear to him, if it were bliss
to him to feel that, save her young brother, he alone had claim upon her
notice and her smile, oh! what would it be when she indeed was all, all
indivisibly his own? Was it marvel, then, his soul was full of the joy
that beamed forth from his eye, and lip, and brow--that his faintest
tone breathed gladness?

There was music and mirth in the royal halls: the shadow of care had
passed before the full sunshine of hope; but within that palace wall,
not many roods removed from the royal suite, was one heart struggling
with its lone agony, striving for calm, for peace, for rest, to escape
from the deep waters threatening to overwhelm it. Hour after hour beheld
the Countess of Buchan in the same spot, well-nigh in the same attitude;
the agonized dream of her youth had come upon her yet once again, the
voice whose musical echoes had never faded from her ear, once more had
sounded in its own deep thrilling tones, his hand had pressed her own,
his eye had met hers, aye, and dwelt upon her with the unfeigned
reverence and admiration which had marked its expression years before;
and it was to him her soul had yearned in all the fervidness of loyalty,
not to a stranger, as she had deemed him. Loyalty, patriotism, reverence
her sovereign claimed, aye, and had received; but now how dare she
encourage such emotions towards one it had been, aye, it was her duty to
forget, to think of no more? Had her husband been fond, sought the noble
heart which felt so bitterly his neglect, the gulf which now divided
them might never have existed; and could she still the voice of that
patriotism, that loyalty towards a free just monarch, which the dying
words of a parent had so deeply inculcated, and which the sentiments of
her own heart had increased in steadiness and strength? On what had that
lone heart to rest, to subdue its tempest, to give it nerve and force,
to rise pure in thought as in deed, unstained, unshaded in its
nobleness, what but its own innate purity? Yet fearful was the storm
that passed over, terrible the struggle which shook that bent form, as
in lowliness and contrition, and agony of spirit, she knelt before the
silver crucifix, and called upon heaven in its mercy to give peace and
strength--fierce, fierce and terrible; but the agonized cry was heard,
the stormy waves were stilled.




CHAPTER V.


Brightly and blithely dawned the 26th of March, 1306, for the loyal
inhabitants of Scone. Few who might gaze on the olden city, and marked
the flags and pennons waving gayly and proudly on every side; the rich
tapestry flung over balconies or hung from the massive windows, in every
street; the large branches of oak and laurel, festooned with gay
ribands, that stood beside the entrance of every house which boasted any
consequence; the busy citizens in goodly array, with their wives and
families, bedecked to the best of their ability, all, as inspired by one
spirit, hurrying in the direction of the abbey yard, joining the merry
clamor of eager voices to the continued peal of every bell of which the
old town could boast, sounding loud and joyously even above the roll of
the drum or the shrill trumpet call;--those who marked these things
might well believe Scotland was once again the same free land, which
had hailed in the same town the coronation of Alexander the Third, some
years before. Little would they deem that the foreign foeman still
thronged her feudal holds and cottage homes, that they waited but the
commands of their monarch, to pour down on all sides upon the daring
individual who thus boldly assumed the state and solemn honor of a king,
and, armed but by his own high heart and a handful of loyal followers,
prepared to resist, defend, and _free_, or _die_ for Scotland.

There was silence--deep, solemn, yet most eloquent silence, reigning in
the abbey church of Scone. The sun shining in that full flood of glory
we sometimes find in the infant spring, illumined as with golden lustre
the long, narrow casements, falling thence in flickering brilliance on
the pavement floor, its rays sometimes arrested, to revolve in
heightened lustre from the glittering sword or the suit of half-mail of
one or other of the noble knights assembled there. The rich plate of the
abbey, all at least which had escaped the cupidity of Edward, was
arranged with care upon the various altars; in the centre of the church
was placed the abbot's oaken throne, which was to supply the place of
the ancient stone, the coronation seat of the Scottish kings--no longer
there, its absence felt by one and all within that church as the closing
seal to Edward's infamy--the damning proof that as his slave, not as his
sister kingdom, he sought to render Scotland. From the throne to the
high altar, where the king was to receive the eucharist, a carpet of
richly-brocaded Genoa velvet was laid down; a cushion of the same
elegantly-wrought material marked the place beside the spot where he was
to kneel. Priests, in their richest vestments, officiated at the high
altar; six beautiful boys, bearing alternately a large waxen candle, and
the golden censers filled with the richest incense, stood beside them,
while opposite the altar and behind the throne, in an elevated gallery,
were ranged the seventy choristers of the abbey, thirty of whom were
youthful novices; behind them a massive screen or curtain of tapestry
concealed the organ, and gave a yet more startling and thrilling effect
to its rich deep tones, thus bursting, as it were, from spheres unseen.

The throne was already occupied by the patriot king, clothed in his
robes of state; his inner dress was a doublet and vest of white velvet,
slashed with cloth of silver; his stockings, fitting tight to the knee,
were of the finest woven white silk, confined where they met the doublet
with a broad band of silver; his shoes of white velvet, broidered with
silver, in unison with his dress; a scarf of cloth of silver passed over
his right shoulder, fastened there by a jewelled clasp, and, crossing
his breast, secured his trusty sword to his left side; his head, of
course, was bare, and his fair hair, parted carefully on his arched and
noble brow, descended gracefully on either side; his countenance was
perfectly calm, unexpressive of aught save of a deep sense of the solemn
service in which he was engaged. There was not the faintest trace of
either anxiety or exultation--naught that could shadow the brows of his
followers, or diminish by one particle the love and veneration which in
every heart were rapidly gaining absolute dominion.

On the right of the king stood the Abbot of Scone, the Archbishop of St.
Andrew's, and Bishop of Glasgow, all of which venerable prelates had
instantaneously and unhesitatingly declared for the Bruce; ranged on
either side of the throne, according more to seniority than rank, were
seated the brothers of the Bruce and the loyal barons who had joined his
standard. Names there were already famous in the annals of
patriotism--Fraser, Lennox, Athol, Hay--whose stalwart arms had so nobly
struck for Wallace, whose steady minds had risen superior to the petty
emotions of jealousy and envy which had actuated so many of similar
rank. These were true patriots, and gladly and freely they once more
rose for Scotland. Sir Christopher Seaton, brother-in-law to the Bruce,
Somerville, Keith, St. Clair, the young Lord Douglas, and Thomas
Randolph, the king's nephew, were the most noted of those now around the
Bruce; yet on that eventful day not more than fourteen barons were
mustered round their sovereign, exclusive of his four gallant brothers,
who were in themselves a host. All these were attired with the care and
gallantry their precarious situation permitted; half armor, concealed by
flowing scarfs and graceful mantles, or suits of gayer seeming among the
younger knights, for those of the barons' followers of gentle blood and
chivalric training were also admitted within the church, forming a
goodly show of gallant men. Behind them, on raised seats, which were
divided from the body of the church by an open railing of ebony, sate
the ladies of the court, the seat of the queen distinguished from the
rest by its canopy and cushion of embroidered taffeta, and amongst
those gentle beings fairest and loveliest shone the maiden of Buchan, as
she sate in smiling happiness between the youthful daughter of the
Bruce, the Princess Margory, and his niece, the Lady Isoline, children
of ten and fourteen, who already claimed her as their companion and
friend.

The color was bright on the soft cheek of Agnes, the smile laughed alike
in her lip and eye; for ever and anon, from amidst the courtly crowd
beneath, the deep blue orb of Nigel Bruce met hers, speaking in its
passioned yet respectful gaze, all that could whisper joy and peace unto
a heart, young, loving, and confiding, as that of Agnes. The evening
previous he had detached the blue riband which confined her flowing
curls, and it was with a feeling of pardonable pride she beheld it
suspended from his neck, even in that hour, when his rich habiliments
and the imposing ceremony of the day marked him the brother of a king.
Her brother, too, was at his side, gazing upon his sovereign with
feelings, whose index, marked as it was on his brow, gave him the
appearance of being older than he was. It was scarcely the excitement of
a mere boy, who rejoiced in the state and dignity around him; the
emotion of his mother had sunk upon his very soul, subduing the wild
buoyancy of his spirit, and bidding him feel deeply and sadly the
situation in which he stood. It seemed to him as if he had never thought
before, and now that reflection had come upon him, it was fraught with a
weight and gloom he could not remove and scarcely comprehend. He felt no
power on earth could prevent his taking the only path which was open to
the true patriot of Scotland, and in following that path he raised the
standard of revolt, and enlisted his own followers against his father.
Till the moment of action he had dreamed not of these things; but the
deep anxieties, the contending feelings of his mother, which, despite
her controlled demeanor, his heart perceived, could not but have their
effect; and premature manhood was stealing fast upon his heart.

Upon the left of the king, and close beside his throne, stood the
Countess of Buchan, attired in robes of the darkest crimson velvet, with
a deep border of gold, which swept the ground, and long falling sleeves
with a broad fringe; a thick cord of gold and tassels confined the robe
around the waist, and thence fell reaching to her feet, and well-nigh
concealing the inner dress of white silk, which was worn to permit the
robes falling easily on either side, and thus forming a long train
behind. Neither gem nor gold adorned her beautiful hair; a veil was
twisted in its luxuriant tresses, and served the purpose of the matron's
coif. She was pale and calm, but such was the usual expression of her
countenance, and perhaps accorded better with the dignified majesty of
her commanding figure than a greater play of feature. It was not the
calmness of insensibility, of vacancy, it was the still reflection of a
controlled and chastened soul, of one whose depth and might was known
but to-herself.

The pealing anthem for a while had ceased, and it was as if that church
was desolate, as if the very hearts that throbbed so quickly for their
country and their king were hushed a while and stilled, that every word
which passed between the sovereign and the primate should be heard.
Kneeling before him, his hands placed between those of the archbishop,
the king, in a clear and manly voice, received, as it were, the kingdom
from his hands, and swore to govern according to the laws of his
ancestors; to defend the liberties of his people alike from the foreign
and the civil foe; to dispense justice; to devote life itself to
restoring Scotland to her former station in the scale of kingdoms.
Solemnly, energetically, he took the required vows; his cheek flushed,
his eye glistened, and ere he rose he bent his brow upon his spread
hands, as if his spirit supplicated strength, and the primate, standing
over him, blessed him, in a loud voice, in the name of Him whose lowly
minister he was.

A few minutes, and the king was again seated on his throne, and from the
hands of the Bishop of Glasgow, the Countess of Buchan received the
simple coronet of gold, which had been hastily made to supply the place
of that which Edward had removed. It was a moment of intense interest:
every eye was directed towards the king and the dauntless woman by his
side, who, rather than the descendant of Malcolm Cean Mohr should demand
in vain the service from the descendants of the brave Macduff, exposed
herself to all the wrath of a fierce and cruel king, the fury of an
incensed husband and brother, and in her own noble person represented
that ancient and most loyal line. Were any other circumstance needed to
enhance the excitement of the patriots of Scotland, they would have
found it in this. As it was, a sudden, irrepressible burst of applause
broke from many eager voices as the bishop placed the coronet in her
hands, but one glance from those dark, eloquent eyes sufficed to hush
it on the instant into stillness.

Simultaneously all within the church stood up, and gracefully and
steadily, with a hand which trembled not, even to the observant and
anxious eyes of her son, Isabella of Buchan placed the sacred symbol of
royalty on the head of Scotland's king; and then arose, as with one
voice, the wild enthusiastic shout of loyalty, which, bursting from all
within the church, was echoed again and again from without, almost
drowning the triumphant anthem which at the same moment sent its rich,
hallowed tones through the building, and proclaimed Robert Bruce indeed
a king.

Again and yet again the voice of triumph and of loyalty arose
hundred-tongued, and sent its echo even to the English camp; and when it
ceased, when slowly, and as it were reluctantly, it died away, it was a
grand and glorious sight to see those stern and noble barons one by one
approach their sovereign's throne and do him homage.

It was not always customary for the monarchs of those days to receive
the feudal homage of their vassals the same hour of their coronation, it
was in general a distinct and almost equally gorgeous ceremony; but in
this case both the king and barons felt it better policy to unite them;
the excitement attendant on the one ceremonial they felt would prevent
the deficiency of numbers in the other being observed, and they acted
wisely.

There was a dauntless firmness in each baron's look, in his manly
carriage and unwavering step, as one by one he traversed the space
between him and the throne, seeming to proclaim that in himself he held
indeed a host. To adhere to the usual custom of paying homage to the
suzerain bareheaded, barefooted, and unarmed, the embroidered slipper
had been adopted by all instead of the iron boot; and as he knelt before
the throne, the Earl of Lennox, for, first in rank, he first approached
his sovereign, unbuckling his trusty sword, laid it, together with his
dagger, at Robert's feet, and placing his clasped hands between those of
the king, repeated, in a deep sonorous voice, the solemn vow--to live
and die with him against all manner of men. Athol, Fraser, Seaton,
Douglas, Hay, gladly and willingly followed his example; and it was
curious to mark the character of each man, proclaimed in his mien and
hurried step.

The calm, controlled, and somewhat thoughtful manner of those grown wise
in war, their bold spirits feeling to the inmost soul the whole extent
of the risk they run, scarcely daring to anticipate the freedom of their
country, the emancipation of their king from the heavy yoke that
threatened him, and yet so firm in the oath they pledged, that had
destruction yawned before them ere they reached the throne, they would
have dared it rather than turned back--and then again those hot and
eager youths, feeling, knowing but the excitement of the hour, believing
but as they hoped, seeing but a king, a free and independent king,
bounding from their seats to the monarch's feet, regardless of the
solemn ceremonial in which they took a part, desirous only, in the words
of their oath, to live and die for him--caused a brighter flush to
mantle on King Robert's cheek, and his eyes to shine with new and
radiant light. None knew better than himself the perils that encircled
him, yet there was a momentary glow of exultation in his heart as he
looked on the noble warriors, the faithful friends around him, and felt
that they, even they, representatives of the oldest, the noblest houses
in Scotland--men famed not alone for their gallant bearing in war, but
their fidelity and wisdom, and unstained honor and virtue in peace--even
they acknowledged him their king, and vowed him that allegiance which
was never known to fail.

Alan of Buchan was the last of that small yet noble train who approached
his sovereign. There was a hot flush of impetuous feeling on the boy's
cheek, an indignant tear trembled in his dark flashing eye, and his
voice, sweet, thrilling as it was, quivered with the vain effort to
restrain his emotion.

"Sovereign of Scotland," he exclaimed, "descendant of that glorious line
of kings to whom my ancestors have until this dark day vowed homage and
allegiance; sovereign of all good and faithful men, on whose inmost
souls the name of Scotland is so indelibly writ, that even in death it
may there be found, refuse not thou my homage. I have but my sword, not
e'en a name of which to boast, yet hear me swear," he raised his clasped
hands towards heaven, "swear that for thee, for my country, for thee
alone, will I draw it, alone shall my life be spent, my blood be shed.
Reject me not because my name is Comyn, because I alone am here of that
once loyal house. Oh! condemn me not; reject not untried a loyal heart
and trusty sword."

"Reject thee," said King Robert, laying his hand kindly on the boy's
shoulder; "reject thee, young soldier," he said, cheeringly: "in Alan of
Buchan we see but the noble son of our right noble countrywoman, the
Lady Isabella; we see in him but a worthy descendant of Macduff, the
noble scion, though but by the mother's side, of the loyal house of
Fife. Young as thou art, we ask of thee but the heart and sword which
thou hast so earnestly proffered, nor can we, son of Isabella of Fife,
doubt their honesty and truth; thou shalt earn a loyal name for thyself,
and till then, as the brother in arms, the chosen friend of Nigel Bruce,
all shall respect and trust thee. We confer knighthood on twenty of our
youthful warriors seven days hence; prepare thyself to receive it with
our brother: enough for us to know thou hast learned the art of chivalry
at thy mother's hand."

Dazzled, bewildered by the benign manner, and yet more gracious words of
his sovereign, the young heir of Buchan remained kneeling for a brief
space, as if rooted to the ground, but the deep earnest voice of his
mother, the kind greeting of Nigel Bruce, as he grasped his arm, and
hailed him companion in arms, roused him at once, and he sprung to his
feet; the despondency, shame, doubt, anxiety which like lead had weighed
down his heart before, dissolved before the glad, buoyant spirit, the
bright, free, glorious hopes, and dreams, and visions which are known to
youth alone.

Stentorian and simultaneous was the eager shout that hailed the
appearance of the newly-anointed king, as he paused a moment on the
great stone staircase, leading from the principal doors of the abbey to
the abbey yard. For miles round, particularly from those counties which
were but thinly garrisoned by the English, the loyal Scots had poured at
the first rumor of the Bruce's rising, and now a rejoicing multitude
welcomed him with one voice, the execrations against their foes
forgotten in this outpouring of the heart towards their native prince.

Inspired by this heartfelt greeting, the king advanced a few paces on
the stone terrace, and raised his right hand, as if about to speak; on
the instant every shout was hushed, and silence fell upon that eager
multitude, as deep and voiceless as if some mighty magic chained them
spell-bound where they stood, their very breathing hushed, fearful to
lose one word.

Many an aged eye grew dim with tears, as it rested on the fair and
graceful form, the beautifully expressive face of him, who, with
eloquent fervor, referred to the ancient glory of their country; tears
of joy, for they felt they looked upon the good genius of their land,
that she was raised from her dejected stupor, to sleep a slave no more;
and the middle-aged and the young, with deafening shouts and eager
gestures, swore to give him the crown, the kingdom he demanded, free,
unshackled as his ancestors had borne them, or die around him to a man;
and blessings and prayers in woman's gentler voice mingled with the
swelling cry, and little children caught the Bruce's name and bade "God
bless him," and others, equally impetuous shouted "Bruce and freedom!"

"Love, obey, follow me, for Scotland's sake; noble or gentle, let all
private feud be forgotten in this one great struggle for liberty or
death. Thus," he concluded, "united and faithful, the name of Wallace on
each lip, the weal of Scotland in each heart, her mountains our shield,
her freedom our sword, shall we, can we fail? No! no! Scotland shall be
free, or her green sod and mountain flowers shall bloom upon our graves.
I have no crown save that which Scotland gives, no kingdom save what
your swords shall conquer, and your hearts bestow; with you I live and
die."

In the midst of the shouts and unrestrained clamor succeeding this
eloquent address, the fiery chargers of the king and his attendant
barons and esquires were led to the foot of the staircase. And a fair
and noble sight was the royal _cortege_ as slowly it passed through the
old town, with banners flying, lances gleaming, and the rich swell of
triumphant music echoing on the air. Nobles and dames mingled
indiscriminately together. Beautiful palfreys or well-trained glossy
mules, richly caparisoned, gracefully guided by the dames and maidens,
bore their part well amid the more fiery chargers of their companions.
The queen rode at King Robert's left hand, the primate of Scotland at
his right, Lennox, Seaton, and Hay thronged around the Countess of
Buchan, eager to pay her that courteous homage which she now no longer
refused, and willingly joined in their animated converse. The Lady Mary
Campbell and her sister Lady Seaton found an equally gallant and willing
escort, as did the other noble dames; but none ventured to dispute the
possession of the maiden of Buchan with the gallant Nigel, who, riding
close at her bridle rein, ever and anon whispered some magic words that
called a blush to her cheek and a smile on her lip, their attention
called off now and then by some wild jest or courteous word from the
young Lord Douglas, whose post seemed in every part of the royal train;
now galloping to the front, to caracole by the side of the queen, to
accustom her, he said, to the sight of good horsemanship, then lingering
beside the Countess of Buchan, to give some unexpected rejoinder to the
graver maxims of Lennox. The Princess Margory, her cousins, the Lady
Isoline Campbell and Alice and Christina Seaton, escorted by Alan of
Buchan, Walter Fitz-Alan, Alexander Fraser, and many other young
esquires, rejoicing in the task assigned them.

It was a gay and gorgeous sight, and beautiful the ringing laugh and
silvery voice of youth. No dream of desponding dread shadowed their
hearts, though danger and suffering, and defeat and death, were darkly
gathering round them. Who, as he treads the elastic earth, fresh with
the breeze of day, as he gazes on the cloudless blue of the circling
sky, or the dazzling rays of the morning sun, as the hum of happy life
is round him--who is there thinks of the silence, and darkness, and
tempest that come in a few brief hours, on the shadowy pinions of night?




CHAPTER VI.


Some ten or twelve days after the momentous event recorded in our last
chapter, King Edward's royal palace, at Winchester, was thronged at an
unusually early hour by many noble knights and barons, bearing on their
countenances symptoms of some new and unexpected excitement; and there
was a dark boding gloom on the now contracted brow and altered features
of England's king, as, weakened and well-nigh worn out by a lingering
disease, he reclined on a well-cushioned couch, to receive the
eagerly-offered homage of his loyal barons. He, who had been from
earliest youth a warrior, with whose might and dauntless prowess there
was not one, or prince, or noble, or English, or foreigner, could
compete, whose strength of frame and energy of mind had ever borne him
scathless and uninjured through scenes of fatigue, and danger, and
blood, and death; whose sword had restored a kingdom to his father--had
struggled for Palestine and her holy pilgrims--had given Wales to
England, and again and again prostrated the hopes and energies of
Scotland into the dust; even he, this mighty prince, lay prostrate now,
unable to conquer or to struggle with disease--disease that attacked the
slave, the lowest serf or yeoman of his land, and thus made manifest,
how in the sight of that King of kings, from whom both might and
weakness come, the prince and peasant are alike--the monarch and the
slave!

The disease had been indeed in part subdued, but Edward could not close
his eyes to the fact that he should never again be what he had been;
that the strength which had enabled him to do and endure so much, the
energy which had ever led him on to victory, the fire which had so often
inspired his own heart, and urged on, as by magic power, his
followers--that all these were gone from him, and forever. Ambition,
indeed, yet burned within, strong, undying, mighty; aye, perhaps
mightier than ever, as the power of satisfying that ambition glided from
his grasp. He had rested, indeed, a brief while, secure in the
fulfilment of his darling wish, that every rood of land composing the
British Isles should be united under him as sole sovereign; he believed,
and rejoiced in the belief, that with Wallace all hope or desire of
resistance had departed. His disease had been at its height when Bruce
departed from his court, and disabled him a while from composedly
considering how that event would affect his interest in Scotland. As the
violence of the disease subsided, however, he had leisure to contemplate
and become anxious. Rumors, some extravagant, some probable, now floated
about; and the sovereign looked anxiously to the high festival of Easter
to bring all his barons around him, and by the absence or presence of
the suspected, discover at once how far his suspicions and the floating
rumors were correct.

Although the indisposition of the sovereign prevented the feasting,
merry-making, and other customary marks of royal munificence, which ever
attended the solemnization of Easter, yet it did not in any way
interfere with the bounden duty of every earl and baron, knight and
liegeman, and high ecclesiastics of the realm to present themselves
before the monarch at such a time; Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas,
being the seasons when every loyal subject of fit degree appeared
attendant on his sovereign, without any summons so to do.

They had been seasons of peculiar interest since the dismemberment of
Scotland, for Edward's power was such, that seldom had the peers and
other great officers of that land refused the tacit acknowledgment of
England's supremacy by their non-appearance. Even in that which was
deemed the rebellion of Wallace, the highest families, even the
competitors for the crown, and all the knights and vassals in their
interest, had swelled the train of the conqueror; but this Easter ten or
twelve great barons and their followers were missing. The nobles had
eagerly and anxiously scanned the countenances of each, and whispered
suspicions and rumors, which one glance on their monarch's ruffled brow
confirmed.

"So ho! my faithful lords and gallant knights," he exclaimed, after the
preliminaries of courtesy between each noble and his sovereign had been
more hastily than usual performed, speaking in a tone so unusually harsh
and sarcastic, that the terms "faithful and gallant" seemed used but in
mockery; "so ho! these are strange news we hear. Where be my lords of
Carrick, Athol, Lennox, Hay? Where be the knights of Seaton, Somerville,
Keith, and very many others we could name? Where be these proud lords, I
say? Are none of ye well informed on these things? I ask ye where be
they? Why are they not here?"

There was a pause, for none dared risk reply. Edward's voice had waxed
louder and louder, his sallow cheek flushed with wrath, and he raised
himself from his couch, as if irritability of thought had imparted
strength to his frame.

"I ask ye, where be these truant lords? There be some of ye who _can_
reply; aye, and by good St. Edward, reply ye shall. Gloucester, my lord
of Gloucester, stand forth, I say," he continued, the thunderstorm
drawing to that climax which made many tremble, lest its bolt should
fall on the daring baron who rumor said was implicated in the flight of
the Bruce, and who now stood, his perfect self-possession and calmness
of mien and feature contrasting well with the fury of his sovereign.

"And darest thou front me with that bold, shameless brow, false traitor
as thou art?" continued the king, as, with head erect and arms proudly
folded in his mantle, Gloucester obeyed the king's impatient summons.
"Traitor! I call thee traitor! aye, in the presence of thy country's
noblest peers, I charge thee with a traitor's deed; deny it, if thou
darest."

"Tis my sovereign speaks the word, else had it not been spoken with
impunity," returned the noble, proudly and composedly, though his cheek
burned and his eye flashed. "Yes, monarch of England, I dare deny the
charge! Gloucester is no traitor!"

"How! dost thou brave me, minion? Darest thou deny the fact, that from
thee, from thy traitorous hand, thy base connivance, Robert of Carrick,
warned that we knew his treachery, fled from our power--that 'tis to
thee, we owe the pleasant news we have but now received? Hast thou not
given that rebel Scotland a head, a chief, in this fell traitor, and art
thou not part and parcel of his guilt? Darest thou deny that from thee
he received intelligence and means of flight? Baron of Gloucester, thou
darest not add the stigma of falsity to thy already dishonored name!"

"Sovereign of England, my gracious liege and honored king," answered
Gloucester, still apparently unmoved, and utterly regardless of the
danger in which he stood, "dishonor is not further removed from thy
royal name than it is from Gloucester's. I bear no stain of either
falsity or treachery; that which thou hast laid to my charge regarding
the Earl of Carrick, I shrink not, care not to acknowledge; yet, Edward
of England, I am no traitor!"

"Ha! thou specious orator, reconcile the two an thou canst! Thou art a
scholar of deep research and eloquence profound we have heard. Speak on,
then, in heaven's name!" He flung himself back on his cushions as he
spoke, for, despite his wrath, his suspicions, there was that in the
calm, chivalric bearing of the earl that appealed not in vain to one who
had so long been the soul of chivalry himself.

The tone in which his sovereign spoke was softened, though his words
were bitter, and Gloucester at once relaxed from his proud and cold
reserve; kneeling before him, he spoke with fervor and impassioned
truth--

"Condemn me not unheard, my gracious sovereign," he said. "I speak not
to a harsh and despotic king, who brings his faithful subjects to the
block at the first whisper of evil or misguided conduct cast to their
charge; were Edward such Gloucester would speak not, hope not for
justice at his hands; but to thee, my liege, to thee, to whom all true
knights may look up as to the minor of all that knight should be--the
life and soul of chivalry--to thee, the noblest warrior, the truest
knight that ever put lance in rest--to thee, I say, I am no traitor; and
appeal but to the spirit of chivalry actuating thine own heart to acquit
or condemn me, as it listeth. Hear me, my liege. Robert of Carrick and
myself were sworn brothers from the first hour of our entrance together
upon life, as pages, esquires, and finally, as knights, made such by
thine own royal hand; brothers in arms, in dangers, in victories, in
defeat; aye, and brothers--more than brothers--in mutual fidelity and
love; to receive life, to be rescued from captivity at each other's
hand, to become equal sharers of whatever honors might be granted to the
one and not the other. Need my sovereign be reminded that such
constitutes the ties of brothers in arms, and such brothers were Robert
of Carrick and Gilbert of Gloucester. There came a rumor that the
instigations of a base traitor had poisoned your grace's ear against one
of these sworn brothers, threatening his liberty, if not his life; that
which was revealed, its exact truth or falsehood, might Gloucester pause
to list or weigh? My liege, thou knowest it could not be. A piece of
money and a pair of spurs was all the hint, the warning, that he dared
to give, and it was given, and its warning taken; and the imperative
duty the laws of chivalry, of honor, friendship, all alike demanded
done. The brother by the brother saved! Was Gloucester, then, a traitor
to his sovereign, good my liege?"

"Say first, my lord, how Gloucester now will reconcile these widely
adverse duties, how comport himself, if duty to his liege and sovereign
call on him to lift his sword against his brother?" demanded Edward,
raising himself on his elbow, and looking on the kneeling nobleman with
eyes which seemed to have recovered their flashing light to penetrate
his soul. Wrath itself appeared to have subsided before this calm yet
eloquent appeal, which in that age could scarcely have been resisted
without affecting the honor of the knight to whom it was addressed.

An expression of suffering, amounting almost to anguish, took the place
of energy and fervor on the noble countenance of Gloucester, and his
voice, which had never once quivered or failed him in the height of
Edward's wrath, now absolutely shook with the effort to master his
emotion. Twice he essayed to speak ere words came; at length--

"With Robert of Carrick Gilbert of Gloucester was allied as brother, my
liege," he said. "With Robert the rebel, Robert the would-be king, the
daring opposer of my sovereign, Gloucester can have naught in common. My
liege, as a knight and gentleman, I have done my duty fearlessly,
openly; as fearlessly, as openly, as your grace's loyal liegeman, fief,
and subject, in the camp and in the court, in victory or defeat, against
all manner or ranks of men, be they friends or foes; to my secret heart
I am thine, and thine alone. In proof of which submission, my royal
liege, lest still in your grace's judgment Gloucester be not cleared
from treachery, behold I resign alike my sword and coronet to your royal
hands, never again to be resumed, save at my sovereign's bidding."

His voice became again firm ere he concluded, and with the same
respectful deference yet manly pride which had marked his bearing
throughout, he laid his sheathed sword and golden coronet at his
sovereign's feet, and then rising steadily and unflinchingly, returned
Edward's searching glance, and calmly awaited his decision.

"By St. Edward! Baron of Gloucester," he exclaimed, in his own tone of
kingly courtesy, mingled with a species of admiration he cared not to
conceal, "thou hast fairly challenged us to run a tilt with thee, not of
sword and lance, but of all knightly and generous courtesy. I were no
true knight to condemn, nor king to mistrust thee; yet, of a truth, the
fruit of thy rash act might chafe a cooler mood than ours. Knowest thou
Sir John Comyn is murdered--murdered by the arch traitor thou hast saved
from our wrath?"

"I heard it, good my liege," calmly returned Gloucester. "Robert of
Carrick was no temper to pass by injuries, aggravated, traitorous
injuries, unavenged."

"And this is all thou sayest!" exclaimed Edward, his wrath once again
gaining dominion. "Wouldst thou defend this base deed on plea, forsooth,
that Comyn was a traitor? Traitor--and to whom?"

"To the man that trusted him, my liege; to him he falsely swore to
second and to aid. To every law of knighthood and of honor I say he was
a traitor, and deserved his fate."

"And this to thy sovereign, madman? To us, whose dignity and person
have been insulted, lowered, trampled on! By all the saints, thou hast
tempted us too far! What ho, there, guards! Am I indeed so old and
witless," he muttered, sinking back again upon the couch from which he
had started in the moment of excitement, "as so soon to forget a
knightly nobleness, which in former days would have knitted my very soul
to his? Bah! 'tis this fell disease that spoke, not Edward. Away with
ye, sir guards, we want ye not," he added, imperatively, as they
approached at his summons. "And thou, sir earl, take up thy sword, and
hence from my sight a while;--answer not, but obey. I fear more for mine
own honor than thou dost for thy head. We neither disarm nor restrain
thee, for we trust thee still; but away with thee, for on our kingly
faith, thou hast tried us sorely."

Gloucester flung himself on his knee beside his sovereign, his lips upon
the royal hand, which, though scarcely yielded to him, was not withheld,
and hastily resuming his sword and coronet, with a deep reverence,
silently withdrew.

The king looked after him, admiration and fierce anger struggling for
dominion alike on his countenance as in his heart, and then sternly and
piercingly he scanned the noble crowd, who, hushed into a silence of
terror as well as of extreme interest during the scene they had beheld,
now seemed absolutely to shrink from the dark, flashing orbs of the
king, as they rested on each successively, as if the accusation of _lip_
would follow that of eye, and the charge of treason fall
indiscriminately on all; but, exhausted from the passion to which he had
given vent, Edward once more stretched himself on his cushions, and
merely muttered--

"Deserved his fate--a traitor. Is Gloucester mad--or worse, disloyal?
No; that open brow and fearless eye are truth and faithfulness alone. I
will _not_ doubt him; 'tis but his lingering love for that foul traitor,
Bruce, which I were no true knight to hold in blame. But that murder,
that base murder--insult alike to our authority, our realm--by every
saint in heaven, it shall be fearfully avenged, and that madman rue the
day he dared fling down the gauntlet of rebellion!" and as he spoke, his
right hand instinctively grasped the hilt of his sword, and half drew it
from its sheath.

"Madman, in very truth, my liege," said Aymer de Valence, Earl of
Pembroke, who, high in favor with his sovereign, alone ventured to
address him; "as your grace will believe, when I say not only hath he
dared defy thee by the murder of Comyn, but has had the presumptuous
folly to enact the farce of coronation, taking upon himself all the
insignia of a king."

"How! what sayst thou, De Valence," returned Edward, again starting up,
"coronation--king? By St. Edward! this passeth all credence. Whence
hadst thou this witless news?"

"From sure authority, my liege, marvellous as they seem. These papers,
if it please your grace to peruse, contain matters of import which
demand most serious attention."

"Anon, anon, sir earl!" answered Edward, impatiently, as Pembroke,
kneeling, laid the papers on a small table of ivory which stood at the
monarch's side. "Tell me more of this strange farce; a king, ha! ha!
Does the rebel think 'tis but to put a crown upon his head and a sceptre
in his hand that makes the monarch--a king, forsooth. And who officiated
at this right solemn mockery? 'Twas, doubtless, a goodly sight!"

"On my knightly faith, my liege, strangely, yet truly, 'twas a ceremony
regally performed, and, save for numbers, regally attended."

"Thou darest not tell me so!" exclaimed the king, striking his clenched
hand fiercely on the table. "I tell thee thou darest not; 'tis a false
tale, a lie thrust upon thee to rouse thy spirit but to laugh at. De
Valence, I tell thee 'tis a thing that cannot be! Scotland is laid too
low, her energies are crushed; her best and bravest lying in no
bloodless graves. Who is there to attend this puppet king, save the few
we miss? who dared provoke our wrath by the countenance of such a deed?
Who would dare tempt our fury by placing a crown on the rebel's head?
I tell thee they have played thee false--it cannot be!"

"Thy valor hath done much, my gracious liege," returned Pembroke, "far
more than ever king hath done before; but pardon me, your grace, the
_people_ of Scotland are not yet crushed, they lie apparently in peace,
till a chief capable of guiding, lordly in rank and knightly in war,
ariseth, and then they too stand forth. Yet what are they? they do but
nominally swell the rebel's court: they do but _seem_ a multitude, which
needs but thy presence to disperse. He cannot, if he dare, resist thee."

"And wherefore should these tidings so disturb you grace?" interposed
the Earl of Hereford, a brave, blunt soldier, like his own charger,
snuffing the scent of war far off. "We have but to bridle on our
harness, and we shall hear no more of solemn farces like to this. Give
but the word, my sovereign, and these ignoble rebels shall be cut off to
a man, by an army as numerous and well appointed as any that have yet
followed your grace to victory; 'tis a pity they have but to encounter
traitors and rebels, instead of knightly foes," continued the High
Constable of England.

"Perchance Robert of Carrick deems the assumption of king will provoke
your grace to combat even more than his traitorous rebellion, imagining,
in his madness, the title of king may make ye equals," laughingly
observed the Earl of Arundel; and remarks and opinions of similar import
passed round, but Edward, who had snatched the papers as he ceased to
speak, and was now deeply engrossed in their contents, neither replied
to nor heeded them. Darker and darker grew the frown upon his brow; his
tightly compressed lip, his heaving chest betraying the fearful passion
that agitated him; but when he spoke, there was evidently a struggle for
that dignified calmness which in general distinguished him, though ever
and anon burst forth the undisguised voice of wrath.

"'Tis well, 'tis very well," he said. "These wild Scots would tempt us to
the utmost, and they shall be satisfied. Ah! my lords of Buchan and
Fife, give ye good morrow. What think ye of these doings amidst your
countrymen, bethink ye they have done well?"

"Well, as relates to their own ruin, aye, very well, my liege; they act
but as would every follower of the murderer Bruce," replied Buchan,
harshly and sullenly.

"They are mad, stark mad, your highness; the loss of a little blood may
bring them to their senses," rejoined the more volatile Fife.

"And is it thus ye think, base, villainous traitors as ye are, leagued
with the rebel band in his coronation? My Lord of Chester, attach them
of high treason."

"What means your grace?" exclaimed both noblemen at once, but in very
different accents, "Of what are we charged, and who dare make this lying
accusation?"

"Are ye indeed so ignorant?" replied the king, jibingly. "Know ye not
that Isabella, Countess of Buchan, and representative, in the absence
of her brother, of the earldom of Fife, hath so dared our displeasure as
to place the crown on the rebel's head, and vow him homage?"

"Hath she indeed dared so to do? By heaven, she shall rue this!" burst
wrathfully from Buchan, his swarthy countenance assuming a yet swarthier
aspect. "My liege, I swear to thee, by the Holy Cross, I knew no more of
this than did your grace. Thinkest thou I would aid and abet the cause
of one not merely a rebel and a traitor, but the foul murderer of a
Comyn--one at whose hands, by the sword's point, have I sworn to demand
my kinsman, and avenge him?"

"And wherefore did Isabella of Buchan take upon herself this deed, my
liege, but because the only male descendant of her house refused to give
his countenance or aid to this false earl? Because Duncan of Fife was
neither a rebel himself nor gave his aid to rebels, On the honor of a
knight, my liege, I know naught of this foul deed."

"It may be, it may be," answered Edward, impatiently. "We will see to
it, and condemn ye not unheard; but in times like these, when traitors
and rebels walk abroad and insult us to our very teeth, by St. Edward,
our honor, our safety demands the committal of the suspected till they
be cleared. Resign your swords to my Lord of Chester, and confine
yourselves to your apartments. If ye be innocent, we will find means to
repay you for the injustice we have done; if not, the axe and the block
shall make short work. Begone!"

Black as a thunderbolt was the scowl that lowered over the brow of
Buchan, as he sullenly unclasped his sword and gave it into the Lord
Constable's hand; while with an action of careless recklessness the Earl
of Fife followed his example, and they retired together, the one
scowling defiance on all who crossed his path, the other jesting and
laughing with each and all.

"I would not give my best falcon as pledge for the Countess of Buchan's
well-doing, an she hath done this without her lord's connivance,"
whispered the Prince of Wales to one of his favorites, with many of whom
he had been conversing, in a low voice, as if his father's wrathful
accents were not particularly grateful to his ear.

"Nor would I pledge a hawk for her safety, if she fall into his grace's
hands, whether with her lord's consent or no," replied the young
nobleman, laughing. "Your royal father is fearfully incensed."

"Better destroy them root and branch at once," said the prince, who,
like all weak minds, loved any extremity better than a protracted
struggle. "Exterminate with fire and sword; ravage the land till there
be neither food for man nor beast; let neither noble nor serf remain,
and then, perchance, we shall hear no more of Scotland. On my faith, I
am sick of the word."

"Not so the king, my royal lord," returned his companion. "See how
eagerly he talks to my lords of Pembroke and Hereford. We shall have our
sovereign yet again at our head."

And it was even as he said. The king, with that strong self-command
which disease alone could in any way cause to fail, now conquering alike
his bitter disappointment and the fury it engendered, turned his whole
thought and energy towards obtaining the downfall of his insolent
opponents at one stroke; and for that purpose, summoning around him the
brave companions of former campaigns, and other officers of state, he
retired with them to his private closet to deliberate more at length on
the extraordinary news they had received, and the best means of nipping
the rebellion in the bud.




CHAPTER VII.


The evening of this eventful day found the Scottish earls seated
together in a small apartment of one of the buildings adjoining the
royal palace, which in the solemn seasons we have enumerated was always
crowded with guests, who were there feasted and maintained at the king's
expense during the whole of their stay. Inconveniences in their private
quarters were little heeded by the nobles, who seldom found themselves
there, save for the purpose of a few hours sleep, and served but to
enhance by contrast the lavish richness and luxury which surrounded them
in the palace and presence of their king; but to the Earls of Buchan and
Fife the inconveniences of their quarters very materially increased the
irritability and annoyance of their present situation. Fife had
stretched himself on two chairs, and leaning his elbows on the broad
shelf formed by the small casement, cast many wistful glances on the
street below, through which richly-attired gallants, both on foot and
horseback, were continually passing. He was one of those frivolous
little minds with whom the present is all in all, caring little for the
past, and still less for the future. It was no marvel, therefore, that
he preferred the utter abandonment of his distracted country for the
luxury and ease attending the court and camp of Edward, to the great
dangers and little recompense attending the toils and struggles of a
patriot. The only emotion of any weight with him was the remembrance of
and desire of avenging petty injuries, fancying and aggravating them
when, in fact, none was intended.

Very different was the character of the Earl of Buchan; morose, fierce,
his natural hardness of disposition unsoftened by one whisper of
chivalry, although educated in the best school of knighthood, and
continually the follower of King Edward, he adhered to him first, simply
because his estates in England were far more to his taste than those in
Scotland, towards which he felt no filial tie; and soon after his
marriage, repugnance to his high-minded and richly-gifted countess,
which ever seemed a reproach and slur upon himself, kept him still more
aloof, satisfied that the close retirement in which she lived, the
desert and rugged situation of his castle, would effectually debar her
from using that influence he knew she possessed, and keep her wholly and
solely his own; a strange kind of feeling, when, in reality, the wide
contrast between them made her an object of dislike, only to be
accounted for by the fact that a dark, suspicious, jealous temper was
ever at work within him.

"Now, do but look at that fellow's doublet, Comyn. Look, how gay they
pass below, and here am I, with my new, richly-broidered suit, with
which I thought to brave it with the best of them--here am I, I say,
pent up in stone walls like a caged goldfinch, 'stead of the
entertainment I had pictured; 'tis enough to chafe the spirit of a
saint."

"And canst thou think of such things now, thou sorry fool?" demanded
Buchan, sternly, pausing in his hurried stride up and down the narrow
precincts of the chamber; "hast thou no worthier subject for
contemplation?"

"None, save thy dutiful wife's most dutiful conduct, Comyn, which,
being the less agreeable of the two, I dismiss the first I owe her small
thanks for playing the representative of my house; methinks, her
imprisonment would better serve King Edward's cause and ours too."

"Aye, imprisonment--imprisonment for life," muttered the earl, slowly.
"Let but King Edward restore me my good sword, and he may wreak his
vengeance on her as he listeth. Not all the castles of Scotland, the
arms of Scottish men, dare guard a wife against her husband; bitterly
shall she rue this deed."

"And thy son, my gentle kinsman, what wilt thou do with him, bethink
thee? Thou wilt find him as great a rebel as his mother; I have ever
told thee thou wert a fool to leave him so long with his brainstruck
mother."

"She hath not, she dared not bring him with her to the murderer of his
kinsman--Duncan of Fife, I tell thee she dare not; but if she hath, why
he is but a child, a mere boy, incapable of forming judgment one way or
the other."

"Not so much a child as thou thinkest, my good lord; some sixteen years
or so have made a stalwart warrior ere this. Be warned; send off a
trusty messenger to the Tower of Buchan, and, without any time for
warning, bring that boy as the hostage of thy good faith and loyalty to
Edward; thou wilt thus cure him of his patriotic fancies, and render
thine interest secure, and as thou desirest to reward thy dutiful
partner, thou wilt do it effectually; for, trust me, that boy is the
very apple of her eye, in her affections her very doting-place."

"Jest not, Duncan, or by all the saints, thou wilt drive me mad!"
wrathfully exclaimed Buchan. "It shall be as thou sayest; and more, I
will gain the royal warrant for the deed--permission to this effect may
shorten this cursed confinement for us both. I have forgotten the boy's
age; his mother's high-sounding patriotism may have tinctured him
already. Thou smilest."

"At thy marvellous good faith in thy wife's _patriotism_, good
kinsman--oh, well perchance, like charity, it covereth a multitude of
sins."

"What meanest thou, my Lord of Fife?" demanded Buchan, shortly and
abruptly, pausing in his walk to face his companion, his suspicious
temper instantly aroused by Fife's peculiar tone. "What wouldst thou
insinuate? Tamper not with me; thou knowest I am no subject for a
jest."

"I have but to look on thee to know that, my most solemn-visaged
brother. I neither insinuate nor tamper with your lordship. Simply and
heartily I do but give thee joy for thy faith in female patriotism,"
answered Fife, carelessly, but with an expression of countenance that
did not accord with his tone.

"What, in the fiend's name, then, has urged her to this mad act, if it
be not what she and others as mad as she call patriotism?"

"May not a lurking affection for the Bruce have given incentive to love
of country? Buchan, of a truth, thou art dull as a sword-blade when
plunged in muddy water."

"Affection for the Bruce? Thou art mad as she is, Duncan. What the foul
fiend, knows she of the Bruce? No, no! 'tis too wild a tale--when have
they ever met?"

"More often than thou listeth, gentle kinsman," returned Fife, with just
sufficient show of mystery to lash his companion into fury. "I could
tell thee of a time when Robert of Carrick was domesticated with my
immaculate sister, hunting with her, hawking with her, reading with her,
making favorable impressions on every heart in Fife Castle save mine
own."

"And she loved him!--she was loved," muttered Buchan; "and she vowed her
troth to me, the foul-mouthed traitress! She loved him, saidst thou?"

"On my faith, I know not, Comyn. Rumors, I know, went abroad that it
would have been better for the Lady Isabella's peace and honor if this
gallant, fair-spoken knight had kept aloof."

"And then, her brother, carest not to speak these things, and in that
reckless tone? By St. Swithin, ye are well matched," returned Buchan,
with a short and bitter laugh of scorn.

"Faith, Comyn, I love mine own life and comfort too well to stand up the
champion of woman's honor; besides, I vouch not for the truth of
floating rumors. I tell thee but what comes across my brain; for its
worth thou art the best judge."

"I were a fool to mine own interest to doubt thee now, little worth as
are thy words in common," again muttered the incensed earl, resuming his
hasty strides. "Patriotism! loyalty! ha, ha! high-sounding words,
forsooth. And have they not met since then until now?" he demanded,
stopping suddenly before his companion.

"Even so, fair kinsman. Whilst thou wert doing such loyal duty to
Edward, after the battle of Falkirk, forgetting thou hadst a wife and
castle to look after, Robert Earl of Carrick found a comfortable
domicile within thy stone walls, and in the fair, sweet company of thine
Isabella, my lord. No doubt, in all honorable and seemly intercourse;
gallant devotion on the one side, and dignified courtesy on the
other--nothing more, depend on't; still it seems but natural that the
memory of a comely face and knightly form should prove incentives to
loyalty and patriotism."

"The foul fiend take thy jesting!" exclaimed Buchan. "Natural, forsooth;
aye, the same nature that bade me loathe the presence, aye, the very
name of that deceiving traitress. And so that smooth-faced villain
Carrick found welcome in the castle of a Comyn the months we missed him
from the court. Ha, ha! thou hast done me good service, Lord of Fife. I
had not enough of injuries before to demand at the hand of Robert Bruce.
And for Dame Isabella, may the fury of every fiend follow me, if I place
her not in the hands of Edward, alive or dead! his wrath will save me
the trouble of seeking further vengeance."

"Nay, thou art a very fool to be so chafed," coolly observed Fife. "Thou
hast taken no care of thy wife, and therefore hast no right to demand
strict account of her amusements in thy absence; and how do we know she
is not as virtuous as the rest of them? I do but tell thee of these
things to pass away the time. Ha! there goes the prince's Gascon
favorite, by mine honor. Gaveston sports it bravely; look at his crimson
mantle wadded with sables. He hath changed his garb since morning.
Faith, he is a lucky dog! the prince's love may be valued at some
thousand marks a year--worth possessing, by St. Michael!"

A muttered oath was all the reply which his companion vouchsafed, nor
did the thunder-cloud upon his brow disperse that evening.

The careless recklessness of Fife had no power to lessen in the earl's
mind the weight of the shameful charge he had brought against the
countess. Buchan's dark, suspicious mind not alone received it, but
cherished it, revelled in it, as giving him that which he had long
desired, a good foundation for dislike and jealousy, a well-founded
pretence for every species of annoyance and revenge. The Earl of Fife,
who had, in fact, merely spoken, as he had said, to while away the
time, and for the pleasure of seeing his brother-in-law enraged, thought
as little of his words _after_ as he had _before_ they were uttered. A
licentious follower of pleasure in every form himself, he imagined, as
such thoughtless characters generally do, that everybody must be like
him. From his weak and volatile mind, then, all remembrance of that
evening's conversation faded as soon as it was spoken; but with the Earl
of Buchan it remained brooding on itself, and filling his dark spirit
with yet blacker fancies.

The confinement of the Scottish noblemen was not of long duration.
Edward, whose temper, save when his ambition was concerned, was
generally just and equitable, discovering, after an impartial
examination, that they were in no ways connected with the affairs in the
north, and feeling also it was his interest to conciliate the regard of
all the Scottish nobles disaffected to Bruce, very soon restored them
alike to their personal liberty and to his favor; his courteous apology
for unjust suspicion, frankly acknowledging that the news from Scotland,
combined with his irritating disease, had rendered him blind and
suspicious, at once disarmed Fife of wrath. Buchan, perhaps, had not
been so easily appeased had his mind been less darkly engrossed. His
petition, that his son might be sent for, to be placed as a hostage in
the hands of Edward, and thus saved from the authority of his mother,
whom he represented as an artful, designing woman, possessed of
dangerous influence, was acceded to on the instant, and the king's full
confidence restored. It was easy to act upon Edward's mind, already
incensed against Isabella of Buchan for her daring defiance of his
power; and Buchan did work, till he felt perfectly satisfied that the
wife he hated would be fully cared for without the very smallest trouble
or interference on his part, save the obtaining possession of her
person; that the vengeance he had vowed would be fully perfected,
without any reproach or stigma cast upon his name.

Meantime the exertions of the King of England for the suppression of the
rebels continued with unabated ardor. Orders were issued and proclaimed
in every part of England for the gathering together one of the noblest
and mightiest armies that had ever yet followed him to war. To render it
still more splendidly impressive, and give fresh incentive to his
subjects, whose warlike spirit he perhaps feared might be somewhat
depressed by this constant call upon them for the reduction of a
country ever rising in revolt, Edward caused proclamation to be
severally made in every important town or county, "that all who were
under the obligation to become knights, and possessed the necessary
means, should appear at Westminster on the coming solemn season of
Whitsuntide, where they should be furnished with every requisite, save
and except the trappings for their horses, from the king's wardrobe, and
be treated with all solemn honor and distinction as best befitted their
rank, and the holy vows they took upon themselves."

A proclamation such as this, in the very heart of the chivalric era, was
all-sufficient to engage every Englishman heart and soul in the service
of his king; and ere the few weeks intervening between Easter and
Whitsuntide were passed, Westminster and its environs presented a scene
of martial magnificence and knightly splendor, which had never before
been equalled. Three hundred noble youths, sons of earls, barons, and
knights, speedily assembled at the place appointed, all attended
according to their rank and pretensions; all hot and fiery spirits,
eager to prove by their prompt attendance their desire to accept their
sovereign's invitation. The splendor of their attire seemed to demand
little increase from the bounty of the king, but nevertheless, fine
linen garments, rich purple robes, and superb mantles woven with gold,
were bestowed on each youthful candidate, thus strengthening the links
which bound him to his chivalric sovereign, by the gratification of his
vanity in addition to the envied honors of knighthood. As our tale
relates more to Scottish than to English history, we may not linger
longer on the affairs of South Britain than is absolutely necessary for
the clear comprehension of the situation of her far less flourishing
sister. Exciting therefore as was the scene enacted in Westminster,
descriptive as it was of the spirit of the age, we are compelled to give
it but a hasty glance, and pass on to events of greater moment.

Glorious, indeed, to an eyewitness, must have been the ceremony of
admitting these noble and valiant youths into the solemn mysteries and
chivalric honors of knighthood. On that day the Prince of Wales was
first dubbed a knight, and made Duke of Aquitaine; and so great was the
pressure of the crowd, in their eagerness to witness the ceremonial in
the abbey, where the prince hastened to confer his newly-received
dignity on his companions, that three knights were killed, and several
fainted from heat and exhaustion. Strong war-horses were compelled to
drive back and divide the pressing crowds, ere the ceremony was allowed
to proceed. A solemn banquet succeeded; and then it was that Edward,
whose energy of mind appeared completely to have annihilated disease and
weakness of frame, made that extraordinary vow, which it has puzzled
both historian and antiquary satisfactorily to explain. The matter of
the vow merely betrayed the indomitable spirit of the man, but the
manner seemed strange even in that age. Two swans, decorated with golden
nets and gilded reeds, were placed in solemn pomp before the king, and
he, with imposing fervor, made a solemn vow to the Almighty and the
swans, that he would go to Scotland, and, living or dead, avenge the
murder of Comyn, and the broken faith of the traitorous Scots. Then,
with that earnestness of voice and majesty of mien for which he was
remarkable, he adjured his subjects, one and all, by the solemn fealty
they had sworn to him, that if he should die on the journey, they would
carry his body into Scotland, and never give it burial till the prince's
dominion was established in that country. Eagerly and willingly the
nobles gave the required pledge; and so much earnestness of purpose, so
much martial spirit pervaded that gorgeous assembly, that once more did
hope prevail in the monarch's breast, once more did he believe his
ambitious yearnings would all be fulfilled, and Scotland, rebellious,
haughty Scotland, lie crushed and broken at his feet. Once more his dark
eye flashed, his proud lip curled with its wonted smiles; his warrior
form, erect and firm as in former days, now spurned the couch of
disease, and rode his war-horse with all the grace and ease of former
years. A gallant army, under the command of Aymer de Valence, Earl of
Pembroke, had already been dispatched towards Scotland, bearing with it
the messengers of the Earl of Buchan, armed both with their lord's
commands and Edward's warrant for the detention of the young heir of
Buchan, and to bring him with all honor to the head-quarters of the
king. The name of Isabella of Buchan was subjoined to that of the Bruce,
and together with all those concerned in his rising proclaimed as
traitors and a price set upon their heads. This done, the king had been
enabled to wait with greater tranquillity the assembling of his larger
army, and after the ceremonials of Westminster, orders were issued for
every earl and baron to proceed with their followers to Carlisle, which
was named the head-quarters of the army, there to join their sovereign
with his own immediate troops. The Scottish nobles Edward's usual policy
retained in honorable posts about his person, not choosing to trust
their fidelity beyond the reach of his own eye.

Obedient to these commands, all England speedily appeared in motion, the
troops of every county moving as by one impulse to Carlisle. Yet there
were some of England's noblest barons in whose breasts a species of
admiration, even affection, was at work towards the very man they were
now marching to destroy, and this was frequently the case in the ages of
chivalry. Fickle as the character of Robert Bruce had appeared to be,
there was that in it which had ever attracted, riveted the regard of
many of the noble spirits in King Edward's court. The rash daring of his
enterprise, the dangers which encircled him, were such as dazzled and
fascinated the imagination of those knights in whom the true spirit of
chivalry found rest. Pre-eminent amongst these was the noble Earl of
Gloucester. His duty to his sovereign urged him to take the field; his
attachment for the Bruce would have held him neuter, for the ties that
bound brothers in arms were of no common or wavering nature. Brothers in
blood had frequently found themselves opposed horse to horse, and lance
to lance, on the same field, and no scruples of conscience, no pleadings
of affection, had power to avert the unnatural strife; but not such was
it with brothers in arms--a link strong as adamant, pure as their own
sword-steel, bound their hearts as one; and rather, much rather would
Gloucester have laid down his own life, than expose himself to the
fearful risk of staining his sword with the blood of his friend. The
deepest dejection took possession of his soul, which not all the
confidence of his sovereign, the gentle, affectionate pleadings of his
wife, could in any way assuage.




CHAPTER VIII.


It was the month of June, and the beautiful county of Perth smiled in
all the richness and loveliness of early summer. Not yet had the signal
of war floated on the pure springy breeze, not yet had the stains of
blood desecrated the gladsome earth, although the army of De Valence was
now within very few miles of Scone, which was still the head-quarters of
the Scottish king. Aware of the very great disparity of numbers between
his gallant followers and those of Pembroke, King Robert preferred
entrenching himself in his present guarded situation, to meeting De
Valence in the open field, although, more than once tempted to do so,
and finding extreme difficulty in so curbing the dauntless spirit of his
followers as to incline them more towards the defensive than the attack.
Already had the fierce thunders of the Church been launched against him
for the sin of murder committed in consecrated ground. Excommunication
in all its horrors exposed him to death from any hand, that on any
pretence of private hate or public weal might choose to strike; but
already had there arisen spirits bold enough to dispute the awful
mandates of the Pope, and the patriotic prelates who had before
acknowledged and done homage to their sovereign, now neither wavered in
their allegiance nor in any way sought to promulgate the sentence
thundered against him. A calm smile had passed over the Bruce's noble
features as the intelligence of the wrath of Rome was communicated to
him.

"The judge and the avenger is in heaven, holy father," he said; "to His
hands I commit my cause, conscious of deserving, as humbly awaiting,
chastisement for that sin which none can reprobate and abhor more
strongly than myself; if blood must flow for blood, His will be done. I
ask but to free my country, to leave her in powerful yet righteous
hands, and willingly I will depart, confident of mercy for my soul."

Fearful, however, that this sentence might dispirit his subjects, King
Robert watched his opportunity of assembling and addressing them. In a
brief, yet eloquent speech, he narrated the base, cold-blooded system of
treachery of Comyn; how, when travelling to Scotland, firmly trusting
in, and depending on, the good faith the traitor had so solemnly
pledged, a brawl had arisen between his (Bruce's) followers and some men
in the garb of Borderers, who were discovered to be emissaries of the
Red Comyn, and how papers had been found on them, in which all that
could expose the Bruce to the deadly wrath of Edward was revealed, and
his very death advised as the only effectual means of quelling his
efforts for the freedom of Scotland, and crushing the last hopes of her
still remaining patriots. He told them how, on the natural indignation
excited by this black treachery subsiding, he had met Sir John Comyn at
Dumfries--how, knowing the fierce irascibility of his natural temper, he
had willingly agreed that the interview Comyn demanded should take place
in the church of the Minorite Friars, trusting that the sanctity of the
place would be sufficient to restrain him.

"But who may answer for himself, my friends?" he continued, mournfully;
"it needs not to dilate on that dark and stormy interview, suffice it
that the traitor sought still to deceive, still to win me by his
specious sophistry to reveal my plans, again to be betrayed, and that
when I taunted him with his base, cowardly treachery, his black
dishonor, words of wrath and hate, and blind deluded passion arose
between us, and the spirit of evil at work within me urged my rash sword
to strike. Subjects and friends, I plead no temptation as excuse, I make
no defence; I deplore, I contemn the deed. If ye deem me worthy of
death, if ye believe the sentence of our holy father in God, his
holiness the Pope, be just, that it is wholly free from the machinations
of England, who, deeming force of arms not sufficient, would hurl the
wrath of heaven's viceregent on my devoted head, go, leave me to the
fate it brings; your oath of allegiance is dissolved. I have yet
faithful followers, to make one bold stand against the tyrant, and die
for Scotland; but if ye absolve me, if ye will yet give me your hearts
and swords, oh, fear me not, my countrymen, we may yet be free!"

Cries, tears, and blessings followed this wisely-spoken appeal, one
universal shout reiterated their vows of allegiance; those who had felt
terrified at the mandate of their spiritual father, now traced it not to
his impartial judgment, but to the schemes of Edward, and instantly felt
its weight and magnitude had faded into air. The unwavering loyalty of
the Primate of Scotland, the Bishop of Glasgow, and the Abbot of Scone
strengthened them alike in their belief and allegiance, and a band of
young citizens were instantly provided with arms at the expense of the
town, and the king entreated by a deputation of the principal
magistrates to accept their services as a guard extraordinary, lest his
life should be yet more endangered from private individuals, by the
sentence under which he labored; and gratified by their devotedness,
though his bold spirit spurned all Fear of secret assassination, their
request was graciously accepted.

The ceremony of knighthood which the king had promised to confer on
several of his young followers had been deferred until the present time,
to admit of their preparing for their inauguration with all the solemn
services of religion which the rites enjoined.

The 15th day of June was the time appointed, and Nigel Bruce and Alan of
Buchan were to pass the night previous, in solemn prayer and vigil, in
the abbey church of Scone. That the rules of chivalry should not be
transgressed by his desire to confer some honor on the son of the
Countess of Buchan, which would demonstrate the high esteem in which she
was held by her sovereign, Alan had served the king, first as page and
then as esquire, in the interval that had elapsed since his coronation,
and now he beheld with ardor the near completion of the honor for which
he pined. His spirit had been wrung well-nigh to agony, when amidst the
list of the proscribed as traitors he beheld his mother's name; not so
much at the dangers that would encircle her--for from those he might
defend her--but that his father was still a follower of the unmanly
tyrant, who would even war against a woman--his father should still
calmly assist and serve the man who set a price upon his mother's head.
Alas! poor boy, he little knew that father's heart.

It was evening, a still, oppressive evening, for though the sun yet
shone brightly as he sunk in the west, a succession of black
thunder-clouds, gradually rising higher and higher athwart the intense
blue of the firmament, seemed to threaten that the wings of the tempest
were already brooding on the dark bosom of night. The very flowers
appeared to droop beneath the weight of the atmosphere; the trees moved
not, the birds were silent, save when now and then a solitary note was
heard, and then hushed, as if the little warbler shrunk back in his
leafy nest, frightened at his own voice. Perchance it was the stillness
of nature which had likewise affected the inmates of a retired chamber
in the palace, for though they sate side by side, and their looks
betrayed that the full communion of soul was not denied, few words were
spoken. The maiden of Buchan bent over the frame which contained the
blue satin scarf she was embroidering with the device of Bruce, in gold
and gems, and it was Nigel Bruce who sate beside her, his deep,
expressive eyes fixed upon her in such fervid, such eloquent love, that
seldom was it she ventured to raise her glance to his. A slight shadow
was on those sweet and gentle features, perceptible, perchance, to the
eye of love alone; and it was this that, after enjoying that silent
communion of the spirit, so dear to those who love, which bade Nigel
fling his arm around that slender form, and ask--

"What is it, sweet one? why art thou sad?"

"Do not ask me, Nigel, for indeed I know not," she answered, simply,
looking up a moment in his face, in that sweet touching confidence,
which made him draw her closer to his protecting heart; "save that,
perchance, the oppression of nature has extended to me, and filled my
soul with unfounded fancies of evil. I ought to be very happy, Nigel,
loved thus by _thee_," she hid her eyes upon his bosom; "received as thy
promised bride, not alone by thy kind sisters, thy noble brothers,
but--simple-hearted maiden as I am--deemed worthy of thee by good King
Robert's self. Nigel, dearest Nigel, why, in an hour of joy like this,
should dreams of evil come?"

"To whisper, my beloved, that not on earth may we look for the
perfection of joy, the fulness of bliss; that while the mortal shell is
round us joy is chained to pain, and granted us but to lift up the
spirit to that heaven where pain is banished, bliss made perfect;
dearest, 'tis but for this!" answered the young enthusiast, and the rich
yet somewhat mournful tones of his voice thrilled to his listener's
heart.

"Thou speakest as if thou, too, hadst experienced forebodings like to
these, my Nigel," said Agnes, thoughtfully. "I deemed them but the
foolishness of my weaker mind."

"Deem them not foolishness, beloved. There are minds, indeed, that know
them not, but they are of that rude, coarse material which owns no
thought, hath no hopes but those of earth and earthly things, insensible
to that profundity of joy which makes us _feel_ its _chain_: 'tis not to
the lightly feeling such forebodings come."

"But thou--hast thou felt them, Nigel, dearest? hast thou listened to,
_believed_ their voice?

"I have felt, I feel when I gaze on thee, sweet one, a joy so deep, so
full, that I scarce dare trace it to an earthly cause," he said,
slightly evading a direct answer. "I cannot look forward and, as it
were, extend that deep joy to the future; but the fetter binding it to
pain reminds me I am mortal, that not an earth may I demand find seek
and hope to find its fulfilment."

She looked up in his face, with an expression both of bewilderment and
fear, and her hand unconsciously closed on his arm, as thus to detain
him to her side.

"Yes, my beloved," he added, with more animation, "it is not because I
put not my trust in earth for unfading joy that we shall find not its
sweet flowers below; that our paths on earth may be darkened, because
the fulness of bliss is alone to be found in heaven. Mine own sweet
Agnes, while darkness and strife, and blood and death, are thus at work
around us, is it marvel we should sometimes dream of sorrow? Yet, oh
yet, have we not both the same hope, the same God, the same home in
heaven; and if our doom be to part on earth, shall we not, oh, shall we
not meet in bliss? I say not such things will be, my best beloved; but
better look thus upon the dim shadow sometimes resting on the rosy wings
of joy, than ever dismiss it as the vain folly of a weakened mind."

He pressed his lips, which quivered, on the fair, beautiful brow then
resting in irresistible sorrow on his bosom; but he did not attempt by
words to check that maiden's sudden burst of tears. After a while, when
he found his own emotion sufficiently restrained, soothingly and fondly
he cheered her to composure, and drew from her the thoughts which had
disturbed her when he first spoke.

"'Twas of my mother, Nigel, of my beloved, my noble mother that I
thought; proscribed, hunted, set a price upon as a traitor. Can her
children think on such indignity without emotion--and when I remember
the great power of King Edward, who has done this--without fear for her
fate?"

"Sweetest, fear not for her; her noble deed, her dauntless heroism has
circled her with such a guard of gallant knights and warriors, that, in
the hands of Edward, trust me, dearest, she shall never fall; and even
if such should be, still, I say, fear not. Unpitying and cruel as Edward
is, where his ambition is concerned, he is too true a knight, too noble
in spirit to take a woman's blood; he is now fearfully enraged, and
therefore has he done this. And as to indignity, 'tis shame to the
proscriber not to the proscribed, my love!"

"There is one I fear yet more than Edward," continued the maiden,
fearfully; "one that I should love more. Oh, Nigel, my very spirit
shrinks from the image of my father. I have sought to love him, to
dismiss the dark haunting visions which his name has ever brought before
me. I saw him once, but once, and his stern terrible features and harsh
voice so terrified my childish fancies, that I hid myself till he had
departed, and I have never seen him since, and yet, oh yet, I fear him!"

"What is it that thou fearest, love?"

"I know not," she answered; "but if evil approach my mother, it will
come from him, and so silently, so unsuspectedly, that none may avoid
it. Nigel, he cannot love my mother! he is a foe to Bruce, a friend of
the slaughtered Comyn, and will he not demand a stern account of the
deed that she hath done? will he not seek vengeance? and oh, will he
not, may he not in wrath part thee and me, and thus thy bodings be
fulfilled?"

"Agnes, never! The mandate of man shall never part us; the power of man,
unless my limbs be chained, shall never sever thee and me. He that hath
never acted a father's part, can have no power on his child. Thou art
mine, my beloved!--mine with thy mother's blessing; and mine thou shalt
be--no earthly power shall part us. Death, death alone can break the
links that bind us, and must be of God, though man may seem the cause.
Be comforted, sweet love. Hark! they are chiming vespers; I must be gone
for the solemn vigil of to-night, and to-morrow thou shalt arm thine own
true knight, mine Agnes, and deck me with that blue scarf, more precious
even than the jewelled sword my sovereign brother gives. Farewell, for a
brief, brief while; I go to watch and pray. Oh, let thy orisons attend
me, and surely then my vigil shall be blest."

"Pray thou for me, my Nigel," whispered the trembling girl, as he
clasped her in his arms, "that true as I may be, strength befitting thy
promised bride may be mine own. Nigel, my beloved, indeed I need such
prayer."

He whispered hope and comfort, and departed by the stone stairs which
led from the gothic casement where they had been sitting, into the
garden; he lingered to gather some delicate blue-bells which had just
blown, and turned back to place them in the lap of Agnes. She eagerly
raised them and pressed them to her lips, but either their fragile
blossoms could not bear even her soft touch, or the heavy air had
inwardly withered their bloom, for the blossoms fell from their stalks,
and scattered their beautiful petals at her feet.




CHAPTER IX.


The hour of vespers had come and passed; the organ and choir had hushed
their solemn sounds. The abbot and his attendant monks, the king who,
with his train, had that evening joined the solemn service, all had
departed, and but two inmates were left within the abbey church of
Scone. Darkness and silence had assumed their undisturbed dominion, for
the waxen tapers left burning on the altar lighted but a few yards
round, leaving the nave and cloisters in impenetrable gloom. Some twenty
or thirty yards east of the altar, elevated some paces from the ground,
in its light and graceful shrine, stood an elegantly sculptured figure
of the Virgin and Child. A silver lamp, whose pure flame was fed with
aromatic incense, burned within the shrine and shed its soft light on a
suit of glittering armor which was hanging on the shaft of a pillar
close beside it. Directly behind the altar was a large oriel window of
stained glass, representing subjects from Scripture. The window, with
its various mullions and lights, formed one high pointed arch, marked by
solid stone pillars on each side, the capitals of which traced the
commencement of the arch. Another window, similar in character, though
somewhat smaller in dimensions, lighted the west end of the church; and
near it stood another shrine containing a figure of St. Stephen, lighted
as was that of the Virgin and Child, and, like that, gleaming on a suit
of armor, and on the figure of the youthful candidate for knighthood,
whose task was to pass that night in prayer and vigil beside his armor,
unarmed, saved by that panoply of proof which is the Christian's
portion--faith, lowliness, and prayer.

No word passed between these pledged brothers in arms. Their watch was
in opposite ends of the church, and save the dim, solemn light of the
altar, darkness and immeasurable space appeared to stretch between them.
Faintly and fitfully the moon had shone through one of the long, narrow
windows of the aisles, shedding its cold spectral light for a brief
space, then passing into darkness. Heavy masses of clouds sailed slowly
in the heavens, dimly discernible through the unpainted panes; the
oppression of the atmosphere increasing as the night approached her
zenith, and ever and anon a low, long peal of distant thunder, each
succeeding one becoming longer and louder than the last, and heralded by
the blue flash of vivid lightning, announced the fury of the coming
tempest.

The imaginations even as the feelings of the young men were already
strongly excited, although their thoughts, perchance, were less akin
than might have been expected. The form of his mother passed not from
the mental vision of the young heir of Buchan: the tone of her voice,
the unwonted tear which had fallen on his cheek when he had knelt before
her that evening, ere he had departed to his post, craving her blessing
on his vigil, her prayers for him--that tone, that tear, lingered on his
memory, hallowing every dream of glory, every warrior hope that entered
in his soul. Internally he vowed he would raise the banner of his race,
and prove the loyalty, the patriotism, the glowing love of liberty which
her counsels, her example had planted in his breast; and if the
recollection of his mother's precarious situation as a proscribed
traitor to Edward, and of his father's desertion of his country and her
patriot king in his adherence to a tyrant--if these reflections came to
damp the bright glowing views of others, they did but call the indignant
blood to his cheek, and add greater firmness to his impatient step, for
yet more powerfully did they awake his indignation against Edward. Till
now he had looked upon him exclusively in the light of Scotland's
foe--one against whom he with all true Scottish men must raise their
swords, or live forever 'neath the brand of slaves and cowards; but now
a personal cause of anger added fuel to the fire already burning in his
breast. His mother was proscribed--a price set upon her head; and as if
to fill the measure of his cup of bitterness to overflowing, his own
father, he who should have been her protector, aided and abetted the
cruel, pitiless Edward. Traitress! Isabella of Buchan a traitress! the
noblest, purest, bravest amid Scotland's children. She who to him had
ever seemed all that was pure and good, and noblest in woman; and most
noble and patriot-hearted now, in the fulfilment of an office inherent
in the House of Fife. Agitated beyond expression, quicker and quicker he
strode up and down the precincts marked for his watch, the increasing
tempest without seeming to assimilate strangely with the storm within.
Silence would have irritated, would have chafed those restless smartings
into very agony, but the wild war of the elements, while they roused
his young spirit into yet stronger energy, removed its pain.

"It matters not," his train of thought continued, "while this brain can
think, this heart can feel, this arm retain its strength, Isabella of
Buchan needs no other guardian but her son. It is as if years had left
their impress on my heart, as if I had grown in very truth to man,
thinking with man's wisdom, fighting with man's strength. He that hath
never given a father's love, hath never done a father's duty, hath no
claim upon his child; but she, whose untiring devotion, whose faithful
love hath watched over me, guarded, blessed from the first hour of my
life, instilled within me the principles of life on earth and
immortality in heaven--mother! mother! will not thy gentle virtues cling
around thy boy, and save him even from a father's curse? Can I do else
than devote the life thou gavest, to thee, and render back with my
stronger arm, but not less firm soul, the care, protection, love thou
hast bestowed on me? Mother, Virgin saint," he continued aloud, flinging
himself before the shrine to which we have alluded, "hear, oh hear my
prayer! Intercede for me above, that strength, prudence, wisdom may be
granted me in the accomplishment of my knightly vows; that my mother, my
own mother may be the first and dearest object of my heart: life, fame,
and honor I dedicate to her. Spare me, bless me but for her; if danger,
imprisonment be unavailingly her doom, let not my spirit waver, nor my
strength flag, nor courage nor foresight fail, till she is rescued to
liberty and life."

Wrapt in the deep earnest might of prayer, the boy remained kneeling,
with clasped hands, and eyes fixed on the Virgin's sculptured face, his
spirit inwardly communing, long, long after his impassioned vows had
sunk in silence; the thunder yet rolled fearfully, and the blue
lightning flashed and played around him with scarce a minute's
intermission, but no emotion save that of a son and warrior took
possession of his soul. He knew a terrific storm was raging round him,
but it drew him not from earthly thoughts and earthly feelings, even
while it raised his soul in prayer. Very different was the effect of
this lonely vigil and awful night on the imaginative spirit of his
companion.

It was not alone the spirit of chivalry which now burned in the noble
heart of Nigel Bruce. He was a poet, and the glowing hues of poesie
invested every emotion of his mind. He loved deeply, devotedly; and
love, pure, faithful, hopeful love, appeared to have increased every
feeling, whether of grief of joy, in intensity and depth. He felt too
deeply to be free from that peculiar whispering within, known by the
world as presentiment, and as such so often scorned and contemned as the
mere offspring of weak, superstitious minds, when it is in reality one
of those distinguishing marks of the higher, more ethereal temperament
of genius.

Perchance it is the lively imagination of such minds, which in the very
midst of joy can so vividly portray and realize pain, or it may be,
indeed, the mysterious voice which links gifted man with a higher class
of beings to whom futurity is revealed. Be this as it may, even while
the youthful patriot beheld with, a visioned eye the liberty of his
country, and rejoiced in thus beholding, there ever came a dim and
silent shadowing, a whispering voice, that he should indeed behold it,
but not from earth. When the devoted brother and loyal subject pictured
his sovereign in very truth a free and honored King, his throne
surrounded by nobles and knights of his own free land, and many others,
the enthusiast saw not himself amongst them, and yet he rejoiced in the
faith such things would be. When the young and ardent lover sate by the
side of his betrothed, gazing on her sweet face, and drinking in deeply
the gushing tide of joy; when his spirit pictured yet dearer, lovelier,
more assured bliss, when Agnes would be in very truth his own, still did
that strange thrilling whisper come, and promise he should indeed
experience such bliss, but not on earth; and yet he loved, aye, and
rejoiced, and there came not one shadow on his bright, beautiful face,
not one sad echo in the rich, deep tones of his melodious voice to
betray such dim forebodings had found resting in his soul.

Already excited by his conversation with Agnes, the service in which he
found himself engaged was not such as to tranquillize his spirit, or
still his full heart's quivering throb. His imaginative soul had already
flung its halo over the solemn rites which attended his inauguration as
a knight. Even to less enthusiastic spirits there was a glow, a glory in
this ceremony which seldom failed to awake the soul, and inspire it with
high and noble sentiments. It was not therefore strange that these
emotions should in the heart of Nigel Bruce obtain that ascendency,
which to sensitive minds must become pain. Had it been a night of calm
and holy stillness, he would in all probability have felt its soothing
effect; but as it was, every pulse throbbed and every nerve was strained
'neath his strong sense of the sublime. He could not be said to think,
although he had struggled long and fiercely to compose his mind for
those devotional exercises he deemed most fitted for the hour. Feeling
alone possessed him, overwhelming, indefinable; he deemed it admiration,
awe, adoration of Him at whose nod the mighty thunders rolled and the
destructive lightnings flashed, but he could not define it such. He did
not dream of earth, not even the form of Agnes flashed, as was its wont,
before him; no, it was of scenes and sounds undreamed of in earth's
philosophy he thought; and as he gazed on the impenetrable darkness, and
then beheld it dispersed by the repeated lightning, his excited fancy
almost believed that he should see it peopled by the spirits of the
mighty dead which slept within those walls, and no particle of terror
attended this belief. In the weak superstition of his age, Nigel Bruce
had never shared, but firmly and steadfastly he believed, even in his
calm and unexcited moments, that there was a link between the living and
the dead; that the freed spirits of the one were permitted to hold
commune with the other, not in visible shape, but in those thrilling
whispers which the spirit knows, while yet it would deny them even to
itself. It was the very age of superstition; religion itself was clothed
in a veil of solemn mystery, which to minds constituted as Nigel's gave
it a deeper, more impressive tone. Its ceremonies, its shrines, its
fictions, all gave fresh zest to the imagination, and filled the heart
of its votary with a species of devotion and excitement, which would now
be considered as mere visionary madness, little in accordance with the
true spirit of piety or acceptable to the Most High, but which was then
regarded as meritorious; and even as we look back upon the saints and
heroes of the past, even now should not be condemned; for, according to
the light bestowed, so is devotion demanded and accepted by the God of
all.

Nigel Bruce had paused in his hasty walk, and leaning against the pillar
round which his armor hung, fixed his eyes for a space on the large
oriel window we have named, whose outline was but faintly discernible,
save on the left side, which was dimly illumined by the silver lamp
burning in the shrine of St. Stephen, close beside which the youthful
warrior stood. The storm had suddenly sunk into an awful and almost
portentous silence; and in that brief interval of stillness and gloom,
Nigel felt his blood flow more calmly in his veins, his pulses stilled
their starting throbs, and the young soldier crossed his arms on his
breast, and bent his uncovered head upon them in silent yet earnest
prayer.

The deep, solemn chime of the abbey-bell, echoing like a spirit-voice
through the arched and silent church, roused him, and he looked up. At
the same moment a strong and awfully brilliant flash of lightning darted
through the window on which his eyes were fixed, followed by a mighty
peal of thunder, longer and louder than any that had come before. For
above a minute that blue flash lingered playing, it seemed, on steel,
and a cold shuddering thrill crept through the frame of Nigel Bruce,
sending the life-blood from his cheek back to his very heart, for either
fancy had again assumed her sway, and more vividly than before, or his
wild thoughts had found a shape and semblance. Within the arch formed by
the high window stood or seemed to stand a tall and knightly form, clad
from the gorget to the heel in polished steel; his head was bare, and
long, dark hair shaded a face pale and shadowy indeed, but strikingly
and eminently noble; there was a scarf across his breast, and on it
Nigel recognized the cognizance of his own line, the crest and motto of
the Bruce. It could not have been more than a minute that the blue
lightning lingered there, yet to his excited spirit it was long enough
to impress indelibly and startlingly every trace of that strange vision
upon his heart. The face was turned to his, with a solemn yet sorrowful
earnestness of expression, and the mailed hand raised on high, seemed
pointing unto heaven. The flash passed and all was darkness, the more
dense and impenetrable, from the vivid light which had preceded it; but
Nigel stirred not, moved not, his every sense absorbed, not in the
weakness of mortal terror, but in one overwhelming sensation of awe,
which, while it oppressed the spirit well-nigh to pain, caused it to
long with an almost sickening intensity for a longer and clearer view of
that which had come and passed with the lightning flash. Again the vivid
blaze dispersed the gloom, but no shadow met his fixed impassioned gaze.
Vision or reality, the form was gone; there was no trace, no sign of
that which had been. For several successive flashes Nigel remained
gazing on the spot where the mailed form had stood, as if he felt it
would, it must again appear; but as time sped, and he saw but space, the
soul relaxed from its high-wrought mood, the blood, which had seemed
stagnant in his veins, rushed back tumultuously through its varied
channels, and Nigel Bruce prostrated himself before the altar, to
wrestle with his perturbed spirit till it found calm in prayer.

A right noble and glorious scene did the great hall of the palace
present the morning which followed this eventful night. The king,
surrounded by his highest prelates and nobles, mingling indiscriminately
with the high-born dames and maidens of his court, all splendidly
attired, occupied the upper part of the hall, the rest of which was
crowded both by his military followers and many of the good citizens of
Scone, who flocked in great numbers to behold the august ceremony of the
day. Two immense oaken doors at the south side of the hall were flung
open, and through them was discerned the large space forming the palace
yard, prepared as a tilting-ground, where the new-made knights were to
prove their skill. The storm had given place to a soft breezy morning,
the cool freshness of which appearing peculiarly grateful from the
oppressiveness of the night; light downy clouds sailed over the blue
expanse of heaven, tempering without clouding the brilliant rays of the
sun. Every face was clothed with smiles, and the loud shouts which
hailed the youthful candidates for knighthood, as they severally
entered, told well the feeling with which the patriots of Scotland were
regarded.

Some twenty youths received the envied honor at the hand of their
sovereign this day, but our limits forbid a minute scrutiny of the
bearing of any, however well deserving, save of the two whose vigils
have already detained us so long. A yet longer and louder shout
proclaimed the appearance of the youngest scion of the house of Bruce,
and his companion. The daring patriotism of Isabella of Buchan had
enshrined her in every heart, and so disposed all men towards her
children, that the name of their traitorous father was forgotten.

Led by their godfathers, Nigel by his brother-in-law, Sir Christopher
Seaton, and Alan by the Earl of Lennox, their swords, which had been
blessed by the abbot at the altar, slung round their necks, they
advanced up the hall. There was a glow on the cheek of the young Alan,
in which pride and modesty were mingled; his step at first was
unsteady, and his lip was seen to quiver from very bashfulness, as he
first glanced round the hall and felt that every eye was turned towards
him; but when that glance met his mother's fixed on him, and breathing
that might of love which filled her heart, all boyish tremors fled, the
calm, staid resolve of manhood took the place of the varying glow upon
his cheek, the quivering lip became compressed and firm, and his step
faltered not again.

The cheek of Nigel Bruce was pale, but there was firmness in the glance
of his bright eye, and a smile unclouded in its joyance on his lip. The
frivolous lightness of the courtier, the mad bravado of knight-errantry,
which was not uncommon to the times, indeed, were not there. It was the
quiet courage of the resolved warrior, the calm of a spirit at peace
with itself, shedding its own high feeling and poetic glory over all
around him.

On reaching the foot of King Robert's throne, both youths knelt and laid
their sheathed swords at his feet. Their armor-bearers then approached,
and the ceremony of clothing the candidates in steel commenced; the
golden spur was fastened on the left foot of each by his respective
godfather, while Athol, Hay, and other nobles advanced to do honor to
the youths, by aiding in the ceremony. Nor was it warriors alone.

"Is this permitted, lady?" demanded the king, smiling, as the Countess
of Buchan approached the martial group, and, aided by Lennox, fastened
the polished cuirass on the form of her son. "Is it permitted for a
matron to arm a youthful knight? Is there no maiden to do such inspiring
office?"

"Yes, when the knight be one as this, my liege," she answered, in the
same tone; "let a matron arm him, good my liege," she added, sadly--"let
a mother's hand enwrap his boyish limbs in steel, a mother's blessing
mark him thine and Scotland's, that those who watch his bearing in the
battle-field may know who sent him there, may thrill his heart with
memories of her who stands alone of her ancestral line, that though he
bears the name of Comyn, the blood of Fife flows reddest in his veins."

"Arm him and welcome, noble lady," answered the king, and a buzz of
approbation ran through the hall; "and may thy noble spirit and
dauntless loyalty inspire him; we shall not need a trusty follower while
such as he are round us. Yet, in very deed, my youthful knight must
have a lady fair for whom he tilts to-day. Come hither, Isoline; thou
lookest verily inclined to envy thy sweet friend her office, and nothing
loth to have a loyal knight thyself. Come, come, my pretty one, no
blushing now. Lennox, guide those tiny hands aright."

Laughing and blushing, Isoline, the daughter of Lady Campbell, a sister
of the Bruce, a graceful child of some thirteen summers, advanced,
nothing loth, to obey her royal uncle's summons, and an arch smile of
real enjoyment irresistibly stole over the countenance of Alan,
dispersing the emotion his mother's words produced.

"Nay, tremble not, sweet one," the king continued, in a lower and yet
kinder tone, as he turned from the one youth to the other, and observed
that Agnes, overpowered by emotion, had scarcely power to perform her
part, despite the whispered words of encouraging affection Nigel
murmured in her ear. Imaginative to a degree, which, by her quiet,
subdued manners, was never suspected, the simple act of those early
flowers withering in her grasp, fresh as they were from the hand of her
betrothed, had weighed down her spirits as with an indefinable sense of
pain, which she could not combat. The war of the elements, attending as
it did the vigil of her lover, had not decreased these feelings, and the
morning found her dispirited and shrinking in sensitiveness from the
very scene she had anticipated with joy.

"It must not be with a trembling hand the betrothed of a Bruce arms her
chosen knight, fair Agnes," continued the king, cheeringly. "She must
inspire him with valor and confidence. Smile, then, gentlest and
loveliest; we would have all smiles to-day."

And she did smile, but it was a smile of tears, gleaming on her
beautiful face as a sunny beam through a glistening spray. One by one
the cuirass and shoulder-pieces, the greaves and gauntlets, the gorget
and brassards, the joints of which were so beautifully burnished that
they shone as mirrors, and so flexible every limb had its free use,
enveloped those manly forms. Their swords once again girt to their
sides, and once more keeling, the king descended from his throne, and
alternately dubbed them knight in the name of God, St. Michael, and St.
George.

"Be faithful, brave, and hardy, youthful cavaliers," he said; "true to
the country which claims ye, to the monarch ye have sworn to serve, to
the knight from whose sword ye have received the honor ye have craved.
Remember, 'tis not the tournay nor the tilted field in which ye will
gain renown. For your country let your swords be drawn; against her foes
reap laurels. Sir Nigel, 'tis thine to retain unsullied the name thou
bearest, to let the Bruce be glorified in thee. And thou, Sir Alan, 'tis
thine to _earn_ a name--in very truth, to win thy golden spurs; to prove
we do no unwise deed, forgetting thy early years, to do honor to thy
mother's son."

Lightly and eagerly the new-made knights sprung to their feet, the very
clang of their glittering armor ringing gratefully and rejoicingly in
their ears. Their gallant steeds, barded and richly caparisoned, held by
their esquires, stood neighing and pawing at the foot of the steps
leading from the oaken doors.

Without touching the stirrup, both sprung at the same instant in their
saddles; the helmet, with its long graceful plume, was quickly donned;
the lance and shield received; the pennon adorning the iron head of each
lowered a moment in honor to their sovereign, then waved gayly in air,
and then each lance was laid in rest; a trumpet sounded, and onward
darted the fiery youths thrice round the lists, displaying a skill and
courage in horsemanship which was hailed with repeated shouts of
applause. But on the tournay and the banquet which succeeded the
ceremony we have described we may not linger, but pass rapidly on to a
later period of the same evening.

Sir Nigel and his beautiful betrothed had withdrawn a while from the
glittering scene around them; they had done their part in the graceful
dance, and now they sought the comparative solitude and stillness of the
flower-gemmed terrace, on which the ball-room opened, to speak
unreservedly the thoughts which had filled each heart; perchance there
were some yet veiled, for the vision of the preceding night, the
strange, incongruous fancies it had engendered in the youthful warrior,
a solemn vow had buried deep in his own soul, and not even to Agnes, to
whom his heart was wont to be revealed, might such thoughts find words;
and she shrunk in timidity from avowing the inquietude of her own simple
heart, and thus it was that each, for the sake of the other, spoke
hopefully and cheeringly, and gayly, until at length they were but
conscious of mutual and devoted love--the darkening mists of the future
lost in the radiance of the present sun.

A sudden pause in the inspiring music, the quick advance of all the
different groups towards one particular spot, had failed perchance to
interrupt the happy converse of the lovers, had not Sir Alan hastily
approached them, exclaiming, as he did so--

"For the love of heaven! Nigel, forget Agnes for one moment, and come
along with me. A messenger from Pembroke has just arrived, bearing a
challenge, or something very like it, to his grace the king; and it may
be we shall win our spurs sooner than we looked for this morning. The
sight of Sir Henry Seymour makes the war trumpet sound in mine ears.
Come, for truly there is something astir."

With Agnes still leaning on his arm, Nigel obeyed the summons of his
impatient friend, and joined the group around the king. There was a
quiet dignity in the attitude and aspect of Robert Bruce, or it might be
the daring patriotism of his enterprise was appreciated by the gallant
English knight; certain it was that, though Sir Henry's bearing had been
somewhat haughty, his brow knit, and his head still covered, as he
passed up the hall, by an irresistible impulse he doffed his helmet as
he met the eagle glance of the Bruce, and bowed his head respectfully
before him, an example instantly followed by his attendants.

"Sir Henry Seymour is welcome to our court," said the king, courteously;
"welcome, whatever message he may bear. How fares it with the chivalric
knight and worthy gentleman, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke? Ye
bring us a message from him, 'tis said. Needs it a private hearing, sir
knight? if so, we are at your service; yet little is it Aymer de Valence
can say to Scotland's king which Scotland may not hear."

"Pembroke is well, an please you, and sendeth greeting," replied the
knight. "His message, sent as it is to the Bruce, is well fitted for the
ears of his followers, therefore may it be spoken here. He sendeth all
loving and knightly greeting unto him known until now as Robert Earl of
Carrick, and bids him, an he would proclaim and prove the rights he hath
assumed, come forth from the narrow precincts of a palace and town,
which ill befit a warrior of such high renown, and give him battle in
the Park of Methven, near at hand. He challenges him to meet him there,
with nobles, knights, and yeomen, who proclaiming Robert Bruce their
sovereign, cast down the gauntlet of defiance and rebellion against
their rightful king and mine, his grace of England; he challenges thee,
sir knight, or earl, or king, whichever name thou bearest, and dares
thee to the field."

"And what if we accept not his daring challenge?" demanded King Robert,
sternly, without permitting the expression of his countenance to satisfy
in any way the many anxious glances fixed upon it.

"He will proclaim thee coward knight and traitor slave," boldly answered
Sir Henry. "In camp or in hall, in lady's bower or tented field, he will
proclaim thee recreant; one that took upon himself the state and pomp of
royalty without the spirit to defend and prove it."

"Had he done so by our predecessor, Baliol, he had done well," returned
the king, calmly. "Nobles, and knights, and gentlemen," he added, the
lion spirit of his race kindling in his eye and cheek, "what say ye in
accepting the bold challenge of this courtly earl? Do we not read your
hearts as well as our own? Ye have chafed and fretted that we have
retained ye so long inactive: in very truth your monarch's spirit chafed
and fretted too. We will do battle with this knightly foe, and give him,
in all chivalric and honorable courtesy, the meeting he desires."

One startling and energetic shout burst simultaneously from the warriors
around, forming a wild and thrilling response to their sovereign's
words. In vain they sought to restrain that outbreak of rejoicing, in
respect to the royal presence; they had pined, they had yearned for
action, and Sir Henry was too good a knight himself not to understand to
the full the patriotic fervor and chivalrous spirit from which that
shout had sprung. Proudly and joyfully the Bruce looked on his devoted
adherents, and then addressed the English knight.

"Thou hast our answer, good Sir Henry," he said; "more thou couldst
scarcely need. Commend us to your master, and take heed thou sayest all
that thou hast heard and seen in answer to his challenge. In the Park of
Methven, three days hence, he may expect the King of Scotland and his
patriot troops with him, to do battle unto death. Edward, good brother,
thou, Seaton, and the Lord of Douglas, conduct this worthy knight in all
honor from the hall. Thou hast our answer."

The knight bowed low, but ere he retreated he spoke again. "I am charged
with yet another matter, an it so please you," he said, evidently
studying to avoid all royal titles, although the bearing of the king
rendered his task rather more difficult than he could have imagined; "a
matter of small import, truly, yet must it be spoken. 'Tis rumored that
you have amid your household a child, a boy, whose father was a favored
servant of my gracious liege and yours, King Edward. The Earl of
Pembroke, in the name of his sovereign and of the child's father, bids
me demand him of thee, as having, from his tender years and
inexperience, no will nor voice in this matter, he having been brought
here by his mother, who, saving your presence, had done better to have
remembered her duty to her husband than encourage rebellion against her
king."

"Keep to the import of thy message, nor give thy tongue such license,
sir," interrupted the Bruce, sternly; and many an eye flashed, and many
a hand sought his sword. "Sir Alan of Buchan, stand forth and give thine
own answer to this imperative demand; 'tis to thee, methinks, its import
would refer. Thou hast wisdom and experience, if not years enough, to
answer for thyself.

"Tell Aymer de Valence, would he seek me, he will find me by the side of
my sovereign King Robert, in Methven Park, three days hence," boldly and
quickly answered the young soldier, stepping forward from his post in
the circle, and fronting the knight. "Tell him I am here of my own free
will, to acknowledge Robert the Bruce as mine and Scotland's king; to
defy the tyrant Edward, even to the death; tell him 'tis no child he
seeks, but a knight and soldier, who will meet him on the field."

"It would seem we are under some mistake, young sir," replied Sir Henry,
gazing with unfeigned admiration on the well-knit frame and glowing
features of the youthful knight. "I speak of and demand the surrender of
the son and heir of John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, who was represented to
me as a child of some ten or thirteen summers; 'tis with him, not with
thee, my business treats."

"And 'tis the son--I know not how long _heir_--of John Comyn, Earl of
Buchan, who speaks with thee, sir knight. It may well be, my very age,
my very existence hath been forgotten by my father," he added, with a
fierceness and bitterness little in accordance with his years, "aye,
and would have been remembered no more, had not the late events recalled
them; yet 'tis even so--and that thy memory prove not treacherous, there
lies my gage. Foully and falsely hast thou spoken of Isabella of Buchan,
and her honor is dear to her son as is his own. In Methven Park we _two_
shall meet, sir knight, and the child, the puny stripling, who hath of
his own nor voice nor will, will not fail thee, be thou sure."

Proudly, almost sternly, the boy fixed his flashing orbs on the English
knight, and without removing his glance, strode to the side of his
mother and drew her arm within his own. There was something in the
accent, in the saddened yet resolute expression of his countenance,
which forbade all rejoinder, not from Sir Henry alone, but even from his
own friends. Seymour raised the gage, and with a meaning smile secured
it in his helmet; then respectfully saluting the group around him,
withdrew, attended as desired by the Bruce.

"Heed it not, my boy, my own noble boy!" said the Countess of Buchan, in
those low, earnest, musical tones peculiarly her own; for she saw that
there was a quivering in the lip, a sudden paleness in the cheek of her
son, as he gazed up in her lace, when he thought they stood alone, which
denoted internal emotion yet stronger than that which had inspired his
previous words. "Their scorn, their contumely, I heed as little as the
mountain rock the hailstones which fall upon its sides, in vain seeking
to penetrate or wound. Nay, I could smile at them in very truth, were it
not that compelled as I am to act alone, to throw aside as worthless and
rejected those natural ties I had so joyed to wear, my heart seems
closed to smiles; but for words as those, or yet harsher scorn, grieve
not, my noble boy, they have no power to fret or hurt me."

"Yet to hear them speak in such tone of thee--thee, whose high soul and
noble courage would shame a score of some who write themselves
men!--thee, who with all a woman's loving heart, and guileless,
unselfish, honorable mind, hath all a warrior's stern resolve, a
patriot's noble purpose! Mother, mother, how may thy son brook scorn and
falsity, and foul calumny cast upon thee?" and there was a choking
suffocation in his throat, filling his eyes perforce with tears; and had
it not been that manhood struggled for dominion, he would have flung
himself upon his mother's breast and wept.

"As a soldier and a man, my son," she drew him closer to her as she
spoke; "as one who, knowing and feeling the worth of the contemned one,
is conscious that the foul tongues of evil men can do no ill, but fling
back the shame upon themselves. Arouse thee, my beloved son. Alas! when
I look on thee, on thy bright face, on those graceful limbs, so supple
now in health and life, and feel to what my deed may have devoted thee,
my child, my child, I need not slanderous tongues to grieve me!"

"And doth the Countess of Buchan repent that deed?" asked the rich
sonorous voice of the Bruce, who, unobserved, had heard their converse.
"Would she recall that which she hath done?"

"Sire, not so," she answered; "precious as is my child to this lone
heart--inexpressibly dear and precious--yet if the liberty of his
country demand me to resign him, the call shall be obeyed."

"Speak not thus, noble lady," returned the king, cheerily. "He is but
_lent_, Scotland asks no more; and when heaven smiles on this poor
country, smiles in liberty and peace, trust me, such devotedness will
not have been in vain. Our youthful knight will lay many a wreath of
laurel at his mother's feet, nor will there then be need to guard her
name from scorn. See what new zest and spirit have irradiated the brows
of our warlike guests; we had scarce deemed more needed than was there
before, yet the visit of Sir Henry Seymour, bearing as it did a
challenge to strife and blood, hath given fresh lightness to every step,
new joyousness to every tone. Is not this as it should be?"

"Aye, as it _must_ be, sire, while loyal hearts and patriot spirits form
thy court. Nobly and gallantly was the answer given to Pembroke's
challenge. Yet pardon me, sire, was it wise--was it well?"

"Its wisdom, lady, rests with its success in the hands of a higher
power," answered the king, gravely, yet kindly. "Other than we did we
could not do; rashly and presumptuously we would not have left our
quarters. Not for the mere chase of, mad wish for glory would we have
risked the precious lives of our few devoted friends, but challenged as
we were, the soul of Bruce could not have spoken other than he did; nor
do we repent, nay, we rejoice that the stern duty of inaction is over.
Thine eye tells me thou canst understand this, lady, therefore we say no
more, save to beseech thee to inspire our consort with the necessity of
this deed; she trembles for the issue of our daring. See how grave and
sad she looks, so lately as she was all smiles."

The countess did not reply, but hastened to the side of the amiable, but
yet too womanly Queen Margaret, and gently, but invisibly sought to
soothe her fears; and she partially succeeded, for the queen ever seemed
to feel herself a bolder and firmer character when in the presence and
under the influence of Isabella of Buchan.




CHAPTER X.


It was a gallant, though, alas! but too small a force which, richly and
bravely accoutred, with banners proudly flying, music sounding, superb
chargers caparisoned for war, lances in rest, and spear and bill, sword
and battle-axe, marched through the olden gates of Scone in a
south-westward direction, early on the morning of the 25th of June,
1306. Many were the admiring eyes and yearning hearts which followed
them, and if doubt and dread did mingle in the fervid aspirations raised
for their welfare and success, they were not permitted to gain
ascendency so long as the cheering tones and happy smiles of every one
of that patriot band lingered on the ear and sight. As yet there were
but few of the nobles and knights with their men. The troops had been
commanded to march leisurely forward, under charge of the esquires and
gentlemen, who were mostly lieutenants or cornets to their leaders'
respective bands of followers; and, if not overtaken before, to halt in
a large meadow to the north of Perth, which lay in their way.

The knots of citizens, however, who had accompanied the army to the
farthest environs of the town, had not dispersed to their several homes
ere the quick, noisy clattering of a gallant troop of horse echoed along
the street, and the king, surrounded by his highest nobles and bravest
knights, galloped by, courteously returning the shouts and acclamations
of delight which hailed him on every side. His vizor was purposely left
up, and his noble countenance, beaming with animation and hope, seemed
to inspire fresh hope and confidence in all that gazed. A white ostrich
plume, secured to his helmet by a rich clasp of pearls and diamonds,
fell over his left shoulder till it well-nigh mingled with the flowing
mane of his charger, whose coal-black glossy hide was almost concealed
beneath the armor which enveloped him, and the saddle-cloth of crimson
velvet, whose golden fringe nearly swept the ground. King Robert was
clothed in the same superb suit of polished steel armor, inlaid and
curiously wrought with ingrained silver, in which we saw him at first; a
crimson scarf secured his trusty sword to his side, and a short mantle
of azure velvet, embroidered with the golden thistle of Scotland, and
lined with the richest sable, was secured at his throat by a splendid
collaret of gems. The costly materials of his dress, and, yet more, the
easy and graceful seat upon his charger, his chivalric bearing, and the
frank, noble expression of his countenance, made him, indeed, "look
every inch a king," and might well of themselves have inspired and
retained the devoted loyalty of his subjects, even had there been less
of chivalry in his daring rising.

Edward Bruce was close beside his brother. With a figure and appearance
equally martial and equally prepossessing, he wanted the quiet dignity,
the self-possession of voice and feature which characterized the king.
He had not the mind of Robert, and consequently the uppermost passion of
the spirit was ever the one marked on his brow. On this morning he was
all animated smiles, for war was alike his vocation and his pastime.

Thomas and Alexander Bruce were also there, both gallant men and
well-tried warriors, and eager as Edward for close encounter with the
foe. The Earls of Lennox and Athol, although perhaps in their secret
souls they felt that the enterprise was rash, gave no evidence of
reluctance in their noble bearing; indeed, had they been certain of
marching to their death, they would not have turned from the side of
Bruce. The broad banner of Scotland, whose ample folds waved in the
morning breeze, had been intrusted to the young heir of Buchan, who,
with the other young and new-made knights, eager and zealous to win
their spurs, had formed a body guard around the banner, swearing to
defend it to the last moment of their lives. Nigel Bruce was one of
these; he rode close beside his brother in arms, and midst that animated
group, those eager spirits throbbing for action, no heart beat quicker
than his own. All was animated life, anticipated victory; the very
heavens smiled as if they would shed no shadow on this patriot band.

It was scarcely two hours after noon when King Robert and his troops
arrived at the post assigned--the park or wood of Methven; and believing
that it was not till the succeeding day to which the challenge of
Pembroke referred, he commanded his men to make every preparation for a
night encampment. The English troops lay at about a quarter of a mile
distant, on the side of a hill, which, as well as tree and furze would
permit, commanded a view of the Bruce's movements. There were tents
erected, horses picketed, and every appearance of quiet, confirming the
Scotch in their idea of no engagement taking place till the morrow.

Aware of the great disparity of numbers, King Robert eagerly and
anxiously examined his ground as to the best spot for awaiting the
attack of the English. He fixed on a level green about half a mile
square, guarded on two sides by a thick wood of trees, on the third and
left by a deep running rivulet, and open on the fourth, encumbered only
by short, thick bushes and little knots of thorn, which the king
welcomed, as impeding the progress and obstructing the evolutions of
Pembroke's horse. The bushes which were scattered about on the ground he
had chosen, he desired his men to clear away, and ere the sun neared his
setting, all he wished was accomplished, and his plan of battle
arranged. He well remembered the impenetrable phalanx of the unfortunate
Wallace at the battle of Falkirk, and determined on exposing a steady
front of spears in the same manner. Not having above thirty horse on
whom he could depend, and well aware they would be but a handful against
Pembroke's two hundred, he placed them in the rear as a reserve, in the
centre of which waved the banner of Scotland. The remainder of his
troops he determined on arranging in a compact crescent, the bow exposed
to the English, the line stretching out against the wood. This was his
intended line of battle, but, either from mistake or purposed treachery
on the part of Pembroke, his plan was frustrated, and in addition to the
great disparity of numbers he had to struggle with surprise.

The day had been extremely sultry, and trusting in full confidence to
the honor of his opponent, and willing to give his men all needful rest,
the king dismissed them from their ranks to refreshment and repose,
leaving but very few to guard, himself retiring with his older officers
to a tent prepared for his reception.

Arm in arm, and deep in converse, Nigel Bruce and Alan of Buchan
wandered a little apart from their companions, preferring a hasty meal
and the calm beauty of a lovely summer evening, accompanied by a
refreshing breeze, to remaining beside the rude but welcome meal, and
sharing the festivity which enlivened it.

"Thinkest thou not, Nigel, his grace trusts but too fully to the honor
of these Englishmen?" asked Alan, somewhat abruptly, turning the
conversation from the dearer topics of Agnes and her mother, which had
before engrossed them.

"On my faith, if he judge of them by his own true, noble spirit, he
judges them too well."

"Nay, thou art over-suspicious, friend Alan," answered Nigel, smiling.
"What fearest thou?"

"I like not the absence of all guards, not so much for the safety of our
own camp, but to keep sharp watch on the movements of our friends
yonder. Nigel, there is some movement; they look not as they did an hour
ago."

"Impossible, quite impossible, Alan; the English knights are too
chivalric, too honorable, to advance on us to-night. If they have made a
movement, 'tis but to repose."

"Nigel, if Pembroke feel inclined to take advantage of our unguarded
situation, he will swear, as many have done before him, that a new day
began with the twelve-chime bell of this morning, and be upon us ere we
are aware; and I say again, there is movement, and warlike movement,
too, in yonder army. Are tents deserted, and horses and men collected,
for the simple purpose of retiring to rest? Come with me to yon mound,
and see if I be not correct in my surmise."

Startled by Alan's earnest manner, despite his firm reliance on
Pembroke's honor, Nigel made no further objection, but hastened with him
to the eminence he named. It was only too true. Silently and guardedly
the whole English army, extending much further towards Perth than was
visible to the Scotch, had been formed in battle array, line after line
stretching forth its glittering files, in too compact and animated array
to admit of a doubt as to their intentions. The sun had completely sunk,
and dim mists were spreading up higher and higher from the horizon,
greatly aiding the treacherous movements of the English.

"By heavens, 'tis but too true!" burst impetuously from Nigel's lips,
indignation expressed in every feature. "Base, treacherous cowards! Hie
thee to the king--fly for thy life--give him warning, while I endeavor
to form the lines. In vain, utterly in vain!" he muttered, as Alan with
the speed of lightning darted down the slope. "They are formed--fresh,
both man and horse--double, aye, more than treble our numbers; they will
be upon us ere the order of battle can be formed, and defeat _now_--"

He would not give utterance to the dispiriting truth which closed that
thought, but springing forward, dashed through fern and brake, and
halted not till he stood in the centre of his companions, who, scattered
in various attitudes on the grass, were giving vent, in snatches of song
and joyous laughter, to the glee which filled their souls.

"Up! up!--the foe!" shouted Nigel, in tones so unlike the silvery
accents which in general characterized him, that his companions
started to their feet and grasped their swords, as roused by the
sound of trumpet, "Pembroke is false: to arms--to your posts!
Fitz-Alan--Douglas--sound an alarm, and, in heaven's name, aid me in
getting the men under arms! Be calm, be steady; display no alarm, no
confusion, and all may yet be well."

He was obeyed. The quick roll of the drum, the sharp, quick blast of the
trumpet echoed and re-echoed at different sides of the encampment; the
call to arms, in various stentorian tones, rung through the woodland
glades, quickly banishing all other sounds. Every man sprung at once
from his posture of repose, and gathered round their respective leaders;
startled, confused, yet still in order, still animated, still confident,
and yet more exasperated against their foe.

The appearance of their sovereign, unchanged in his composed and warlike
mien, evincing perhaps yet more animation in his darkly flushing cheek,
compressed lip, and sparkling eye; his voice still calm, though his
commands were more than usually hurried; his appearance on every side,
forming, arranging, encouraging, almost at the same instant--at one
moment exciting their indignation against the treachery of the foe, at
others appealing to their love for their country, their homes, their
wives, to their sworn loyalty to himself--inspired courage and
confidence at the same instant as he allayed confusion; but despite
every effort both of leader and men, it needed time to form in the
compact order which the king had planned, and ere it was accomplished,
nearer and nearer came the English, increasing their pace to a run as
they approached, and finally charging in full and overwhelming career
against the unprepared but gallant Scots. Still there was no wavering
amid the Scottish troops; still they stood their ground, and forming,
almost as they fought, in closer and firmer order, exposing the might
and unflinching steadiness of desperate men, determined on liberty or
death, to the greater number and better discipline of their foe. It
mattered not that the fading light of day had given place to the darker
shades of night, but dimly illumined by the rising moon--they struggled
on, knowing as if by instinct friend from foe. And fearful was it to
watch the mighty struggles from figures gleaming as gigantic shadows in
the darkness; now and then came a deep smothered cry or bursting groan,
wrung from the throes of death, or the wild, piercing scream from a
slaughtered horse, but the tongues of life were silent; the clang of
armor, the clash of steel, the heavy fall of man and horse, indeed came
fitfully and fearfully on the night breeze, and even as the blue
spectral flash of summer lightning did the bright swords rise and fall
in the thick gloom.

"Back, back, dishonored knight! back, recreant traitor!" shouted James
of Douglas; and his voice was heard above the roar of battle, and those
near him saw him at the same instant spring from his charger, thrust
back Pembroke and other knights who were thronging round him, and with
unrivalled skill and swiftness aid a tall and well-known form to rise
and spring on the horse he held for him. "Thinkest thou the sacred
person of the King of Scotland is for such as thee? back, I say!" And he
did force him, armed and on horseback as he was, many paces back, and
Robert Bruce again galloped over the field, bareheaded indeed, for his
helmet had fallen off in the strife, urging, inciting, leading on yet
again to the charge. And it was in truth as if a superhuman strength and
presence had been granted the patriot king that night, for there were
veteran warriors there, alike English and Scotch, who paused even in the
work of strife to gaze and tremble.

Again was he unhorsed, crushed by numbers--one moment more and he had
fallen into the hands of his foes, and Scotland had lain a slave forever
at the feet of England; but again was relief at hand, and the young Earl
of Mar, dashing his horse between the prostrate monarch and his
thronging enemies, laid the foremost, who was his own countryman, dead
on the field, and remained fighting alone; his single arm dealing deadly
blows on every side at the same moment until Robert had regained his
feet, and, though wounded and well-nigh exhausted, turned in fury to the
rescue of his preserver. It was too late; in an agony of spirit no pen
can describe, he beheld his faithful and gallant nephew overpowered by
numbers and led off a captive, and he stood by, fighting indeed like a
lion, dealing death wherever his sword fell, but utterly unable to
rescue or defend him. Again his men thronged round him, their rallying
point, their inspiring hope, their guardian spirit; again he was on
horseback, and still, still that fearful strife continued. Aided by the
darkness, the Bruce in his secret soul yet encouraged one gleam of hope,
yet dreamed of partial success, at least of avoiding that almost worse
than death, a total and irremediable defeat. Alas, had the daylight
suddenly illumined that scene, he would have felt, have seen that hope
was void.

Gallantly, meanwhile, gallantly even as a warrior of a hundred fields,
had the young heir of Buchan redeemed his pledge to his sovereign, and
devoted sword and exposed life in his cause. The standard of Scotland
had never touched the ground. Planting it firmly in the earth, he had
for a while defended it nobly where he stood, curbing alike the high
spirit of his prancing horse and his own intense longing to dash forward
in the thickest of the fight. He saw his companions fall one by one,
till he was well-nigh left alone. He heard confused cries, as of
triumph; he beheld above twenty Englishmen dashing towards him, and he
felt a few brief minutes and his precious charge might be waved in scorn
as a trophy by the victors; the tide of battle had left him for an
instant comparatively alone, and in that instant his plan was formed.

"Strike hard, and fear not!" he cried to an old retainer, who stirred
not from his side; "divide this heavy staff, and I will yet protect my
charge, and thou and I, Donald, will to King Robert's side; he needs all
true men about him now."

Even as he spoke his command was understood and obeyed. One sweep of the
stout Highlander's battle-axe severed full four feet of the heavy lance
to which the standard was attached and enabled Alan without any
inconvenience to grasp in his left hand the remainder, from which the
folds still waved: grasping his sword firmly in his right, and giving
his horse the rein, shouting, "Comyn, to the rescue!" he darted towards
the side where the strife waxed hottest.

It was a cry which alike startled friends and foes, for that name was
known to one party as so connected with devotee adherence to Edward, to
the other so synonymous with treachery, that united as it was with "to
the rescue," some there were who paused to see whence and from whom it
came. The banner of Scotland quickly banished doubt as to which part;
that youthful warrior belonged; knights and yeomen alike threw
themselves in his path to obtain possession of so dear a prize. Followed
by about ten stalwart men of his clan, the young knight gallantly cut
his way through the greater number of his opponents, but a sudden gleam
on the helmet of one of them caused him to halt suddenly.

"Ha! Sir Henry Seymour, we have met at length!" he shouted. "Thou
bearest yet my gage--'tis well. I am here to redeem it."

"Give up that banner to a follower, then," returned Sir Henry,
courteously, checking his horse in its full career, "for otherwise we
meet at odds. Thou canst not redeem thy gage, and defend thy charge at
the same moment."

"Give up my charge! Never, so help me heaven! Friend or foe shall claim
it but with my life," returned Alan, proudly. "Come on, sir knight; I am
here to defend the honor thou hast injured--the honor of one dearer than
my own."

"Have then thy will, proud boy: thy blood be on thine own head," replied
Seymour; but ere he spurred on to the charge, he called aloud, "let none
come between us, none dare to interfere--'tis a quarrel touching none
save ourselves," and Alan bowed his head, in courteous recognition of
the strict observance of the rules of chivalry in his adversary, at the
very moment that he closed with him in deadly strife; and such was war
in the age of chivalry, and so strict were its rules, that even with the
standard of Scotland in his hand, the person of the heir of Buchan was
sacred to all save to his particular opponent.

It was a brief yet determined struggle. Their swords crossed and
recrossed with such force and rapidity, that sparks of fire flashed from
the blades; the aim of both appeared rather to unhorse and disarm than
slay: Seymour, perhaps, from admiration of the boy's extraordinary
bravery and daring, and Alan from a feeling of respect for the true
chivalry of the English knight. The rush of battle for a minute
unavoidably separated them. About four feet of the banner-staff yet
remained uninjured, both in its stout wood and sharp iron head; with
unparalleled swiftness, Alan partly furled the banner round the pike,
and transferred it to his right hand, then grasping it firmly, and
aiming full at Sir Henry's helm, backed his horse several paces to allow
of a wider field, gave his steed the spur, and dashed forward quick as
the wind. The manoeuvre succeeded. Completely unprepared for this
change alike in weapon and attack, still dazzled and slightly confused
by the rush which had divided them, Sir Henry scarcely saw the youthful
knight, till he felt his helmet transfixed by the lance, and the blow
guided so well and true, that irresistibly it bore him from his horse,
and he lay stunned and helpless, but not otherwise hurt, at the mercy of
his foe. Recovering his weapon, Alan, aware that the great disparity of
numbers rendered the securing English prisoners but a mere waste of
time, contented himself by waving the standard high in air, and again
shouting his war-cry, galloped impetuously on. Wounded he was, but he
knew it not; the excitement, the inspiration of the moment was all he
felt.

"To the king--to the king!" shouted Nigel Bruce, urging his horse to the
side of Alan, and ably aiding him to strike down their rapidly
increasing foes. "Hemmed in on all sides, he will fall beneath their
thirsting swords. To the king--to the king! Yield he never will; and
better he should not. On, on, for the love of life, of liberty, of
Scotland!--on to the king!"

His impassioned words reached even hearts fainting 'neath exhaustion,
failing in hope, for they knew they strove in vain; yet did that tone,
those words rouse even them, and their flagging limbs grew strong for
Robert's sake, and some yet reached the spot to fight and die around
him; others--alas! the greater number--fell ere the envied goal was
gained.

The sight of the royal standard drew, as Alan had hoped, the attention
of some from the king, and gave him a few moments to rally. Again there
was a moment of diversion in favor of the Scotch. The brothers of the
Bruce and some others of his bravest knights were yet around him,
seemingly uninjured, and each and all appeared endowed with the strength
of two. The gigantic form of Edward Bruce, the whelming sweep of his
enormous battle-axe, had cleared a partial space around the king, but
still the foes hemmed in, reinforced even as they fell. About this time
the moon, riding high in the heavens, had banished the mists which had
enveloped her rising, and flung down a clear, silvery radiance over the
whole field, disclosing for the first time to King Robert the exact
situation in which he stood. Any further struggle, and defeat,
imprisonment, death, all stared him in the face, and Scotland's liberty
was lost, and forever. The agony of this conviction was known to none
save to the sovereign's own heart, and to that Searcher of all, by whom
its every throb was felt.

The wood behind him was still plunged in deep shadows, and he knew the
Grampian Hills, with all their inaccessible paths and mountain
fastnesses--known only to the true children of Scotland--could easily be
reached, were the pursuit of the English eluded, which he believed could
be easily accomplished, were they once enabled to retreat into the wood.

The consummate skill and prudence of the Bruce characterizing him as a
general, even as his extraordinary daring and exhaustless courage marked
the warrior, enabled him to effect this precarious and delicate
movement, in the very sight of and almost surrounded by foes. Covering
his troops, or rather the scattered remnant of troops, by exposing his
own person to the enemy, the king was still the first object of attack,
the desire of securing his person, or, at least, obtaining possession of
his head, becoming more and more intense. But it seemed as though a
protecting angel hovered round him: for he had been seen in every part
of the field; wherever the struggle had been fiercest, he had been the
centre; twice he had been unhorsed, and bareheaded almost from the
commencement of the strife, yet there he was still, seemingly as firm in
his saddle, as strong in frame, as unscathed in limb, as determined in
purpose, as when he sent back his acceptance of Pembroke's challenge.
Douglas, Fitz-Alan, Alexander and Nigel Bruce, and Alan of Buchan, still
bearing the standard, were close around the king, and it was in this
time of precaution, of less inspiriting service, that the young Alan
became conscious that he was either severely wounded, or that the
strength he had taxed far beyond its natural powers was beginning to
fail. Still mechanically he grasped the precious banner, and still he
crossed his sword with every foe that came; but the quick eye of Nigel
discerned there was a flagging of strength, and he kept close beside him
to aid and defend. The desired goal was just attained, the foes were
decreasing in numbers, for they were scattered some distance from each
other, determined on scouring the woods in search of fugitives, the
horses of the king and his immediate followers were urged to quicken
their pace, when an iron-headed quarrel, discharged from an arbalist,
struck the royal charger, which, with a shrill cry of death, dropped
instantly, and again was the king unhorsed. The delay occasioned in
extricating him from the fallen animal was dangerous in the extreme; the
greater part of his men were at some distance, for the king had ordered
them, as soon as the unfrequented hollows of the wood were reached, to
disperse, the better to elude their pursuers. Douglas, Alexander Bruce,
and Fitz-Alan had galloped on, unconscious of the accident, and Nigel
and Alan were alone near him. A minute sufficed for the latter to spring
from his horse and aid the king to mount, and both entreated, conjured
him to follow their companions, and leave them to cover his retreat. A
while he refused, declaring he would abide with them: he would not so
cowardly desert them.

"Leave you to death!" he cried; "my friends, my children; no, no! Urge
me no more. If I may not save my country, I may _die_ for her."

"Thou shalt not, so help me heaven!" answered Nigel, impetuously. "King,
friend, brother, there is yet time. Hence, I do beseech thee, hence.
Nay, an thou wilt not, I will e'en forget thou art my king, and force
thee from this spot."

He snatched the reins of his brother's horse, and urging it with his own
to their fullest speed, took the most unfrequented path, and dashing
over every obstacle, through brake and briar, and over hedge and ditch,
placed him in comparative safety.

And was Alan deserted? Did his brother in arms, in his anxiety to save
the precious person of his royal brother, forget the tie that bound
them, and leave him to die alone? A sickening sense of inability, of
utter exhaustion, crept over the boy's sinking frame, inability even to
drag his limbs towards the wood and conceal himself from his foes.
Mechanically he at first stood grasping the now-tattered colors, as if
his hand were nailed unto the staff, his foot rooted to the ground.
There were many mingled cries, sending their shrill echoes on the night
breeze; there were chargers scouring the plain; bodies of men passing
and repassing within twenty yards of the spot where he stood, yet half
hidden by the deep shadow of a large tree, for some minutes he was
unobserved. An armed knight, with about twenty followers, were rushing
by; they stopped, they recognized the banner; they saw the bowed and
drooping figure who supported it, they dashed towards him. With a strong
effort Alan roused himself from that lethargy of faintness. Nearer and
nearer they came.

"Yield, or you die!" were the words borne to his ear, shrill, loud,
fraught with death, and his spirit sprang up with the sound. He waved
his sword above his head, and threw himself into a posture of defence;
but ere they reached him, there was a sudden and rapid tramp of horse,
and the voice of Nigel Bruce shouted--

"Mount, mount! God in heaven be thanked, I am here in time!"

Alan sprung into the saddle; he thought not to inquire how that charger
had been found, nor knew he till some weeks after that Nigel had exposed
his own person to imminent danger, to secure one of the many steeds
flying masterless over the plain. On, on they went, and frequently the
head of Alan drooped from very faintness to his saddle-bow, and Nigel
feared to see him fall exhausted to the earth, but still they pursued
their headlong way. Death was behind them, and the lives of all true and
loyal Scotsmen were too precious to admit a pause.

The sun had risen when King Robert gazed round him on the remnant of his
troops. It was a wild brake, amid surrounding rocks and mountains where
they stood; a torrent threw itself headlong from a craggy steep, and
made its way to the glen, tumbling and roaring and dashing over the
black stones that opposed its way. The dark pine, the stunted fir, the
weeping birch, and many another mountain tree, marked the natural
fertility of the soil, although its aspect seemed wild and rude. It was
to this spot the king had desired the fugitives to direct their several
ways, and now he gazed upon all, all that were spared to him and
Scotland from that disastrous night. In scattered groups they stood or
sate; their swords fallen from their hands, their heads drooping on
their breasts, with the mien of men whose last hope had been cast on a
single die, and wrecked forever. And when King Robert thought of the
faithful men who, when the sun had set the previous evening, had
gathered round him in such devoted patriotism, such faithful love, and
now beheld the few there were to meet his glance, to give him the
sympathy, the hope he needed, scarcely could he summon energy sufficient
to speak against hope, to rally the failing spirits of his remaining
followers. Mar, Athol, Hay, Fraser, he knew were prisoners, and he knew,
too, that in their cases that word was but synonymous with death.
Lennox, his chosen friend, individually the dearest of all his
followers, he too was not there, though none remembered his being taken;
Randolph, his nephew, and about half of those gallant youths who not ten
days previous had received and welcomed the honor of knighthood, in all
the high hopes and buoyancy of youth and healthful life; more, many more
than half the number of the stout yeomen, who had risen at his call to
rescue their land from chains--where now were these? Was it wonder that
the king had sunk upon a stone, and bent his head upon his hands? But
speedily he rallied; he addressed each man by name; he spoke comfort,
hope, not lessening the magnitude of his defeat, but still promising
them liberty--still promising that yet would their homes be redeemed,
their country free; aye, even were he compelled to wander months, nay,
years in those mountain paths, with naught about him but the title of a
king; still, while he had life, would he struggle on for Scotland; still
did he feel, despite of blighted hope, of bitter disappointment, that to
him was intrusted the sacred task of her deliverance. Would he, might he
sink and relax in his efforts and resign his purpose, because his first
engagement was attended by defeat? had he done so, it was easy to have
found death on the field. Had he listened to the voice of despair, he
confessed, he would not have left that field alive.

"But I lived for my country, for ye, her children," he continued, his
voice becoming impassioned in its fervor; "lived to redeem this night,
to suffer on a while, to be your savior still. Will ye then desert me?
will ye despond, because of one defeat--yield to despair, when Scotland
yet calls aloud? No, no, it cannot be!" and roused by his earnest, his
eloquent appeal, that devoted band sprung from their drooping posture,
and kneeling at his feet, renewed their oaths of allegiance to him; the
oath that bound them to seek liberty for Scotland. It was then, as one
by one advanced, the king for the first time missed his brother Nigel
and the heir of Buchan; amidst the overwhelming bitterness of thought
which had engrossed him, he had for a brief while forgotten the
precarious situation of Alan, and the determination of Nigel to seek and
save, or die with him; but now the recollection of both rushed upon him,
and the flush which his eloquence had summoned faded at once, and the
sudden expression of anguish passing over his features roused the
attention of all who stood near him.

"They must have fallen," he murmured, and for the first time, in a
changed and hollow voice. "My brother, my brother, dearest, best! can it
be that, in thy young beauty, thou, too, art taken from me?--and Alan,
how can I tell his mother--how face her sorrow for her son?"

Time passed, and there was no sound; the visible anxiety of the king
hushed into yet deeper stillness the voices hushed before. His meaning
was speedily gathered from his broken words, and many mounted the craggy
heights to mark if there might not yet be some signs of the missing
ones. Time seemed to linger on his flight. The intervening rocks and
bushes confined all sounds within a very narrow space; but at length a
faint unintelligible noise broke on the stillness, it came nearer,
nearer still, a moment more and the tread of horses' hoofs echoed
amongst the rocks--a shout, a joyful shout proclaimed them friends. The
king sprung to his feet. Another minute Nigel and Alan pressed around
him; with the banner still in his hand, Alan knelt and laid it at his
sovereign's feet.

"From thy hand I received it, to thee I restore it," he said, but his
voice was scarcely articulate; he bowed his head to press Robert's
extended hand to his lips, and sunk senseless at his feet.




CHAPTER XI.


Rumors of the fatal issue of the engagement at Methven speedily reached
Scone, laden, of course, with, yet more disastrous tidings than had
foundation in reality. King Robert, it was said, and all his nobles and
knights--nay, his whole army--were cut off to a man; the king, if not
taken prisoner, was left dead on the field, and all Scotland lay again
crushed and enslaved at the feet of Edward. For four-and-twenty hours
did the fair inhabitants of the palace labor under this belief,
well-nigh stunned beneath the accumulation of misfortune. It was curious
to remark the different forms in which affliction appeared in different
characters, The queen, in loud sobs and repeated wailing, at one time
deplored her own misery; at others, accused her husband of rashness and
madness. Why had he not taken her advice and remained quiet? Why could
he not have been contented with the favor of Edward and a proud, fair
heritage? What good did he hope to get for himself by assuming the crown
of so rude and barren a land as Scotland? Had she not told him he was
but a summer king, that the winter would soon blight his prospects and
nip his budding hopes; and had she not proved herself wiser even than he
was himself? and then she would suddenly break off in these reproaches
to declare that, if he were a prisoner, she would go to him; she would
remain with him to the last; she would prove how much she idolized
him--her own, her brave, her noble Robert. And vain was every effort on
the part of her sisters-in-law and the Countess of Buchan, and other of
her friends, to mitigate these successive bursts of sorrow. The Lady
Seaton, of a stronger mind, yet struggled with despondency, yet strove
to hope, to believe all was not as overwhelming as had been described;
although, if rumor were indeed true, she had lost a husband and a son,
the gallant young Earl of Mar, whom she had trained to all noble deeds
and honorable thoughts, for he had been fatherless from infancy. Lady
Mary could forget her own deep anxieties, her own fearful forebodings,
silently and unobservedly to watch, to follow, to tend the Countess of
Buchan, whose marble cheek and lip, and somewhat sterner expression of
countenance than usual, alone betrayed the anxiety passing within, for
words it found not. She could share with her the task of soothing, of
cheering Agnes, whose young spirit lay crushed beneath this heavy blow.
She did not complain, she did not murmur, but evidently struggled to
emulate her mother's calmness, for she would bend over her frame and
endeavor to continue her embroidery. But those who watched her, marked
her frequent shudder, the convulsive sob, the tiny hands pressed closely
together, and then upon her eyes, as if to still their smarting throbs;
and Isoline, who sat in silence on a cushion at her feet, could catch
such low whispered words as these--

"Nigel, Nigel, could I but know thy fate! Dead, dead!--could I not die
with thee? Imprisoned, have I not a right to follow thee; to tend, to
soothe thee? Any thing, oh, any thing, but this horrible suspense! Alan,
my brother, thou too, so young, to die."

The morning of the second day brought other and less distressing rumors;
all had not fallen, all were not taken. There were tales of courage, of
daring gallantry, of mighty struggles almost past belief; but what were
they, even in that era of chivalry, to the heart sinking under
apprehensions, the hopes just springing up amidst the wild chaos of
thoughts to smile a moment, to be crushed 'neath suspense, uncertainty,
the next? Still the eager tones of conjecture, the faintest-spoken
whispers of renewed hope, were better than the dead stillness, the heavy
hush of despair.

And the queen's apartments, in which at sunset all her friends had
assembled, presented less decided sounds of mourning and of wail, than
the previous day. Margaret was indeed still one minute plunged in tears
and sobs, and the next hoping more, believing more than any one around
her. Agnes had tacitly accompanied her mother and Lady Mary to the royal
boudoir, but she had turned in very sickness of heart from all her
companions, and remained standing in a deep recess formed by the high
and narrow casement, alone, save Isoline, who still clung to her side,
pale, motionless as the marble statue near her, whose unconscious repose
she envied.

"Speak, Isabella, why will you not speak to me?" said the queen,
fretfully. "My husband bade me look to thee for strength, for support
under care and affliction like to this, yet thou keepest aloof from me;
thou hast words of comfort, of cheering for all save me."

"Not so, royal lady, not so," she answered, as with a faint, scarcely
perceptible smile, she advanced to the side of her royal mistress, and
took her hand in hers. "I have spoken, I have urged, entreated, conjured
thee to droop not; for thy husband's sake, to hope on, despite the
terrible rumors abroad. I have besought thee to seek firmness for his
sake; but thou didst but tell me, Isabella, Isabella, thou canst not
feel as I do, he is naught to thee but thy king; to me, what is he not?
king, hero, husband--all, my only all; and I have desisted, lady, for I
deemed my words offended, my counsel unadvised, and looked on but as
cold and foolish."

"Nay, did I say all this to thee? Isabella, forgive me, for indeed,
indeed, I knew it not," replied Margaret, her previous fretfulness
subsiding into a softened and less painful burst of weeping. "He is in
truth, my all, my heart's dearest, best, and without him, oh! what am I?
even a cipher, a reed, useless to myself, to my child, as to all others.
I am not like thee, Isabella--would, would I were; I should be more
worthy of my Robert's love, and consequently dearer to his heart. I can
be but a burden to him now."

"Hush, hush! would he not chide thee for such words, my Margaret?"
returned the countess, soothingly, and in a much lower voice, speaking
as she would to a younger sister. "Had he not deemed thee worthy, would
he have made thee his? oh, no, believe it not; he is too true, too
honorable for such thought."

"He loved me, because he saw I loved," whispered the queen, perceiving
that her companions had left her well-nigh alone with the countess, and
following, as was her custom, every impulse of her fond but
ill-regulated heart. "I had not even strength to conceal that--that
truth which any other would have died rather than reveal. He saw it and
his noble spirit was touched; and he has been all, all, aye, more than I
could have dreamed, to me--so loving and so true."

"Then why fancy thyself a burden, not a joy to him, sweet friend?"
demanded Isabella of Buchan, the rich accents of her voice even softer
and sweeter than usual, for there was something in the clinging
confidence of the queen it was impossible not to love.

"I did not, I could not, for he cherished me so fondly till this sudden
rising--this time, when his desperate enterprise demands energy and
firmness, even from the humblest female, how much more from the Bruce's
wife! and his manner is not changed towards me, nor his love. I know he
loves me, cherishes me, as he ever did; but he must pity my weakness, my
want of nerve; when he compares me to himself, he must look on me with
almost contempt. For now it is, now that clearer than ever his character
stands forth in such glorious majesty, such moderation, such a daring
yet self-governed spirit, that I feel how utterly unworthy I am of him,
how little capable to give that spirit, that mind the reflection it must
demand; and when my weak fears prevail, my weak fancies speak only of
danger and defeat, how can he bear with me? Must I not become, if I am
not now, a burden?"

"No, dearest Margaret," replied the countess, instantly. "The mind that
can so well _appreciate_ the virtues of her husband will never permit
herself, through weakness and want of nerve, to become a burden to him.
Thou hast but to struggle with these imaginary terrors, to endeavor to
encourage, instead of to dispirit, and he will love and cherish thee
even more than hadst thou never been unnerved."

"Let him but be restored to me, and I will do all this. I will make
myself more worthy of his love; but, oh, Isabella, while I speak this,
perhaps he is lost to me forever; I may never see his face, never hear
that tone of love again!" and a fresh flood of weeping concluded her
words.

"Nay, but thou wilt--I know thou wilt," answered the countess,
cheeringly. "Trust me, sweet friend, though defeat may attend him a
while, though he may pass through trial and suffering ere the goal be
gained, Robert Bruce will eventually deliver his country--will be her
king, her savior--will raise her in the scale of nations, to a level
even with the highest, noblest, most deserving. He is not lost to thee;
trial will but prove his worth unto his countrymen even more than would
success."

"And how knowest thou these things, my Isabella?" demanded Margaret,
looking up in her face, with a half-playful, half-sorrowful smile. "Hast
thou the gift of prophecy?"

"Prophecy!" repeated the countess, sadly. "Alas! 'tis but the character
of Robert which hath inspired my brighter vision. Had I the gift of
prophecy, my fond heart would not start and quiver thus, when it vainly
strives to know the fate of my only son. I, too, have anxiety, lady,
though it find not words."

"Thou hast, thou hast, indeed; and yet I, weak, selfish as I am, think
only of myself. Stay by me, Isabella; oh, do not leave me, I am stronger
by thy side."

It was growing darker and darker, and the hopes that, ere night fell,
new and more trustworthy intelligence of the movements of the fugitives
would be received were becoming fainter and fainter on every heart.
Voices were hushed to silence, or spoke only in whispers. Half an hour
passed thus, when the listless suffering on the lovely face of Agnes was
observed by Isoline to change to an expression of intense attention.

"Hearest thou no step?" she said, in a low, piercing whisper, and laying
a cold and trembling hand on Isoline's arm. "It is, it is his--it is
Nigel's; he has not fallen--he is spared!" and she started up, a bright
flush on her cheek, her hands pressed convulsively on her heart.

"Nay, Agnes, there is no sound, 'tis but a fancy," but even while she
spoke, a rapid step was heard along the corridor, and a shadow darkened
the doorway--but was that Nigel? There was no plume, no proud crest on
his helmet; its vizor was still closely barred, and a surcoat of coarse
black stuff was thrown over his armor, without any decoration to display
or betray the rank of the wearer. A faint cry of alarm broke from the
queen and many of her friends, but with one bound Agnes sprang to the
intruder, whose arms were open to receive her, and wildly uttering
"Nigel!" fainted on his bosom.

"And didst thou know me even thus, beloved?" he murmured, rapidly
unclasping his helmet and dashing it from him, to imprint repeated
kisses on her cheek. "Wake, Agnes, best beloved, my own sweet love; what
hadst thou heard that thou art thus? Oh, wake, smile, speak to me: 'tis
thine own Nigel calls."

And vainly, till that face smiled again on him in consciousness, would
the anxious inmates of that room have sought and received intelligence,
had he not been followed by Lord Douglas, Fitz-Alan, and others, their
armor and rank concealed as was Nigel's, who gave the required
information as eagerly as it was desired.

"Robert--my king, my husband--where is he--why is he not here?"
reiterated Margaret, vainly seeking to distinguish his figure amid the
others, obscured as they were by the rapidly-increasing darkness. "Why
is he not with ye--why is he not here?"

"And he is here, Meg; here to chide thy love as less penetrating, less
able to read disguise or concealment than our gentle Agnes there. Nay,
weep not, dearest; my hopes are as strong, my purpose as unchanged, my
trust in heaven as fervent as it was when I went forth to battle. Trial
and suffering must be mine a while, I have called it on my own head; but
still, oh, still thy Robert shall deliver Scotland--shall cast aside her
chains."

The deep, manly voice of the king acted like magic on the depressed
spirits of those around him; and though there was grief, bitter, bitter
grief to tell, though many a heart's last lingering hopes were crushed
'neath that fell certainty, which they thought to have pictured during
the hours of suspense, and deemed themselves strengthened to endure, yet
still 'twas a grief that found vent in tears--grief that admitted of
soothing, of sympathy--grief time might heal, not the harrowing agony of
grief half told--hopes rising to be crushed.

Still did the Countess of Buchan cling to the massive arm of the chair
which Margaret had left, utterly powerless, wholly incapacitated from
asking the question on which her very life seemed to depend. Not even
the insensibility of her Agnes had had the power to rouse her from the
stupor of anxiety which had spread over her, sharpening every faculty
and feeling indeed, but rooting her to the spot. Her boy, her Alan, he
was not amongst those warriors; she heard not the beloved accents of his
voice; she saw not his boyish form--darkness could not deceive her.
Disguise would not prevent him, were he amongst his companions, from
seeking her embrace. One word would end that anguish, would speak the
worst, end it--had he fallen!

The king looked round the group anxiously and inquiringly.

"The Countess of Buchan?" he said; "where is our noble friend? she
surely hath a voice to welcome her king, even though he return to her
defeated."

"Sire, I am here," she said, but with difficulty; and Robert, as if he
understood it, could read all she was enduring, hastened towards her,
and took both her cold hands in his.

"I give thee joy," he said, in accents that reassured her on the
instant. "Nobly, gallantly, hath thy patriot boy proved himself thy son;
well and faithfully hath he won his spurs, and raised the honor of his
mother's olden line. He bade me greet thee with all loving duty, and say
he did but regret his wounds that they prevented his attending me, and
throwing himself at his mother's feet."

"He is wounded, then, my liege?" Robert felt her hands tremble in his
hold.

"It were cruel to deceive thee, lady--desperately but not dangerously
wounded. On the honor of a true knight, there is naught to alarm, though
something, perchance, to regret; for he pines and grieves that it may be
yet a while ere he recover sufficient strength to don his armor. It is
not loss of blood, but far more exhaustion, from the superhuman
exertions that he made. Edward and Alexander are with him; the one a
faithful guard, in himself a host, the other no unskilful leech: trust
me, noble lady, there is naught to fear."

He spoke, evidently to give her time to recover the sudden revulsion of
feeling which his penetrating eye discovered had nearly overpowered her,
and he succeeded; ere he ceased, that quivering of frame and lip had
passed, and Isabella of Buchan again stood calm and firm, enabled to
inquire all particulars of her child, and then join in the council held
as to the best plan to be adopted with regard to the safety of the queen
and her companions.

In Scone, it was evident, they could not remain, for already the towns
and villages around, which had all declared for the Bruce, were hurrying
in the greatest terror to humble themselves before Pembroke, and entreat
his interference in their favor with his sovereign. There was little
hope, even if Scone remained faithful to his interests, that she would
be enabled to defend herself from the attacks of the English; and it
would be equally certain, that if the wife of Bruce, and the wives and
daughters of so many of his loyal followers remained within her walls,
to obtain possession of their persons would become Pembroke's first
object. It remained to decide whether they would accompany their
sovereign to his mountain fastnesses and expose themselves to all the
privations and hardships which would inevitably attend a wandering
life, or that they should depart under a safe escort to Norway, whose
monarch was friendly to the interests of Scotland. This latter scheme
the king very strongly advised, representing in vivid colors the misery
they might have to endure if they adhered to him; the continual danger
of their falling into the hands of Edward, and even could they elude
this, how was it possible their delicate frames, accustomed as they were
to luxury and repose, could sustain the rude fare, the roofless homes,
the continued wandering amid the crags and floods and deserts of the
mountains. He spoke eloquently and feelingly, and there was a brief
silence when he concluded. Margaret had thrown her arms round her
husband, and buried her face on his bosom; her child clung to her
father's knee, and laid her soft cheek caressingly by his. Isabella of
Buchan, standing a little aloof, remained silent indeed, but no one who
gazed on her could doubt her determination or believe she wavered. Agnes
was standing in the same recess she had formerly occupied, but how
different was the expression of her features. The arm of Nigel was
twined round her, his head bent down to hers in deep and earnest
commune; he was pleading against his own will and feelings it seemed,
and though he strove to answer every argument, to persuade her it was
far better she should seek safety in a foreign land, her determination
more firmly expressed than could have been supposed from her yielding
disposition, to abide with him, in weal or in woe, to share his
wanderings, his home, be it roofless on the mountain, or within palace
walls; that she was a Highland girl, accustomed to mountain paths and
woody glens, nerved to hardship and toil--this determination, we say,
contrary as it was to his eloquent pleadings, certainly afforded Nigel
no pain, and might his beaming features be taken as reply, it was
fraught with unmingled pleasure. In a much shorter time than we have
taken to describe this, however, the queen had raised her head, and
looking up in her husband's face with an expression of devotedness,
which gave her countenance a charm it had never had before, fervently
exclaimed--

"Robert, come woe or weal, I will abide with thee; her husband's side is
the best protection for a wife; and if wandering and suffering be his
portion, who will soothe and cheer as the wife of his love? My spirit is
but cowardly, my will but weak; but by thee I may gain the strength
which in foreign lands could never be my own. Imaginary terrors, fancied
horrors would be worse, oh, how much worse than reality! and when we met
again I should be still less worthy of thy love. No, Robert, no! urge me
not, plead to me no more. My friends may do as they will, but Margaret
abides with thee."

"And who is there will pause, will hesitate, when their queen hath
spoken thus?" continued the Countess of Buchan in a tone that to
Margaret's ear whispered approval and encouragement. "Surely, there is
none here whose love for their country is so weak, their loyalty to
their sovereign of such little worth, that at the first defeat, the
first disappointment, they would fly over seas for safety, and
contentedly leave the graves of their fathers, the hearths of their
ancestors, the homes of their childhood to be desecrated by the chains
of a foreign tyrant, by the footsteps of his hirelings? Oh, do not let
us waver! Let us prove that though the arm of woman is weaker than that
of man, her spirit is as firm, her heart as true; and that privation,
and suffering, and hardship encountered amid the mountains of our land,
the natural fastnesses of Scotland, in company with our rightful king,
our husbands, our children--all, all, aye, death itself, were preferable
to exile and separation. 'Tis woman's part to gild, to bless, and make a
home, and still, still we may do this, though our ancestral homes be in
the hands of Edward. Scotland has still her sheltering breast for all
her children; and shall we desert her now?"

"No, no, no!" echoed from every side, enthusiasm kindling with her
words. "Better privation and danger in Scotland, than safety and comfort
elsewhere."

Nor was this the mere decision of the moment, founded on its enthusiasm.
The next morning found them equally firm, equally determined; even the
weak and timid Margaret rose in that hour of trial superior to herself,
and preparations were rapidly made for their departure. Nor were the
prelates of Scotland, who had remained at Scone during the king's
engagement, backward in encouraging and blessing their decision. His
duties prevented the Abbot of Scone accompanying them; but it was with
deep regret he remained behind, not from any fear of the English, for a
warrior spirit lurked beneath those episcopal robes, but from his deep
reverence for the enterprise, and love for the person of King Robert. He
acceded to the necessity of remaining in his abbey with the better
grace, as he fondly hoped to preserve the citizens in the good faith and
loyalty they had so nobly demonstrated. The Archbishop of St. Andrew's
and the Bishop of Glasgow determined on following their sovereign to the
death; and the spirit of Robert, wounded as it had been, felt healed and
soothed, and inspired afresh, as the consciousness of his power over
some true and faithful hearts, of every grade and rank of either sex,
became yet more strongly proved in this hour of depression. He ceased to
speak of seeking refuge for his fair companions in another land, their
determination to abide with him, and their husbands and sons, was too
heartfelt, too unwavering, to allow of a hope to change it; and he well
knew that their presence, instead of increasing the cares and anxieties
of his followers, would rather lessen, them, by shedding a spirit of
chivalry even over the weary wanderings he knew must be their portion
for a while, by gilding with the light of happier days the hours of
darkness that might surround them.




CHAPTER XII.


The queen and her companions were conveyed in detachments from the
palace and town of Scone, the Bruce believing, with justice, they would
thus attract less notice, and be better able to reach the mountains in
safety. The Countess of Buchan, her friend Lady Mary, Agnes, and
Isoline, attended by Sir Nigel, were the first to depart, for though she
spoke it not, deep anxiety was on the mother's heart for the fate of her
boy. They mostly left Scone at different hours of the night; and the
second day from the king's arrival, the palace was untenanted, all signs
of the gallant court, which for a brief space had shed such lustre, such
rays of hope on the old town, were gone, and sorrowfully and
dispiritedly the burghers and citizens went about their several
occupations, for their hearts yet throbbed in loyalty and patriotism,
though hope they deemed was wholly at an end. Still they burned with
indignation at every intelligence of new desertions to Edward, and
though the power of Pembroke compelled them to bend unwillingly to the
yoke, it was as a bow too tightly strung, which would snap rather than
use its strength in the cause of Edward.

A few weeks' good nursing from his mother and sister, attended as it was
by the kindness and warm friendship of the sovereign he adored, and the
constant care of Nigel, speedily restored the heir of Buchan, if not
entirely to his usual strength, at least with sufficient to enable him
to accompany the royal wanderers wherever they pitched their tent, and
by degrees join in the adventurous excursions of his young companions to
supply them with provender, for on success in hunting entirely depended
their subsistence.

It was in itself a strange romance, the life they led. Frequently the
blue sky was their only covering, the purple heath their only bed; nor
would the king fare better than his followers. Eagerly, indeed, the
young men ever exerted themselves to form tents or booths of brushwood,
branches of trees, curiously and tastefully interwoven with the wild
flowers that so luxuriantly adorned the rocks, for the accommodation of
the faithful companions who preferred this precarious existence with
them, to comfort, safety, and luxury in a foreign land. Nature, indeed,
lavishly supplied them with beautiful materials, and where the will was
good, exertion proved but a new enjoyment. Couches and cushions of the
softest moss formed alike seats and places of repose; by degrees almost
a village of these primitive dwellings would start into being, in the
centre of some wild rocks, which formed natural barriers around them,
watered, perhaps, by some pleasant brook rippling and gushing by in
wild, yet soothing music, gemmed by its varied flowers.

Here would be the rendezvous for some few weeks; here would Margaret and
her companions rest a while from their fatiguing wanderings; and could
they have thought but of the present, they would have been completely
happy. Here would their faithful knights return laden with the spoils of
the chase, or with some gay tale of danger dared, encountered, and
conquered; here would the song send its full tone amid the responding
echoes. The harp and muse of Nigel gave a refinement and delicacy to
these meetings, marking them, indeed, the days of chivalry and poetry.
Even Edward Bruce, the stern, harsh, dark, passioned warrior, even he
felt the magic of the hour, and now that the courage of Nigel had been
proved, gave willing ear, and would be among the first to bid him wake
his harp, and soothe the troubled visions of the hour; and Robert, who
saw so much of his own soul reflected in his young brother, mingled as
it was with yet more impassioned fervor, more beautiful, more endearing
qualities, for Nigel had needed not trial to purify his soul, and mark
him out a patriot. Robert, in very truth, loved him, and often would
share with him his midnight couch, his nightly watchings, that he might
confide to that young heart the despondency, the hopelessness, that to
none other might be spoken, none other might suspect--the secret fear
that his crime would be visited on his unhappy country, and he forbidden
to secure her freedom even by the sacrifice of his life.

"If it be so, it must be so; then be thou her savior, her deliverer, my
Nigel," he would often urge; "droop not because I may have departed;
struggle on, do as thy soul prompts, and success will, nay, must attend
thee; for thou art pure and spotless, and well deserving of all the
glory, the blessedness, that will attend the sovereign of our country
freed from chains; thou art, in truth, deserving of all this, but I--"

"Peace, peace, my brother!" would be Nigel's answer; "thou, only thou
shalt deliver our country, shall be her free, her patriot king! Have we
not often marked the glorious sun struggling with the black masses of
clouds which surround and obscure his rising, struggling, and in vain,
to penetrate their murky folds, and deluge the world with light, shining
a brief moment, and then immersed in darkness, until, as he nears the
western horizon, the heaviest clouds flee before him, the spotless azure
spreadeth its beautiful expanse, the brilliant rays dart on every side,
warming and cheering the whole earth with reviving beams, and finally
sinking to his rest in a flood of splendor, more dazzling, more imposing
than ever attends his departure when his dawn hath been one of joy. Such
is thy career, my brother; such will be thy glorious fate. Oh, droop not
even to me--to thyself! Hope on, strive on, and thou shalt succeed!"

"Would I had thy hopeful spirit, my Nigel, an it pictured and believed
things as these!" mournfully would the Bruce reply, and clasp the young
warrior to his heart; but it was only Nigel's ear that heard these
whispers of despondency, only Nigel's eye which could penetrate the
inmost folds of that royal heart. Not even to his wife--his Margaret,
whose faithfulness in these hours of adversity had drawn her yet closer
to her husband--did he breathe aught save encouragement and hope; and to
his followers he was the same as he had been from the first, resolute,
unwavering; triumphing over every obstacle; cheering the faint-hearted;
encouraging the desponding; smiling with his young followers, ever on
the alert to provide amusement for them, to approve, guide, instruct;
gallantly and kindly to smooth the path for his female companions,
joining in every accommodation for them, even giving his manual labor
with the lowest of his followers, if his aid would lessen fatigue, or
more quickly enhance comfort. And often and often in the little
encampment we have described, when night fell, and warrior and dame
would assemble, in various picturesque groups, on the grassy mound, the
king, seated in the midst of them, would read aloud, and divert even the
most wearied frame and careworn mind by the stirring scenes and
chivalric feelings his MSS. recorded. The talent of deciphering
manuscripts, indeed of reading any thing, was one seldom attained or
even sought for in the age of which we treat; the sword and spear were
alike the recreation and the business of the nobles. Reading and writing
were in general confined to monks, and the other clergy; but Robert,
even as his brother Nigel, possessed both these accomplishments,
although to the former their value never seemed so fully known as in his
wanderings. His readings were diversified by rude narratives or tales,
which he demanded in return from his companions, and many a hearty laugh
would resound from the woodland glades, at the characteristic humor with
which these demands were complied with: the dance, too, would diversify
these meetings. A night of repose might perhaps succeed, to be disturbed
at its close by a cause for alarm, and those pleasant resting-places
must be abandoned, the happy party be divided, and scattered far and
wide, to encounter fatigue, danger, perchance even death, ere they met
again.

Yet still they drooped not, murmured not. No voice was ever heard to
wish the king's advice had been taken, and they had sought refuge in
Norway. Not even Margaret breathed one sigh, dropped one tear, in her
husband's presence, although many were the times that she would have
sunk from exhaustion, had not Isabella of Buchan been near as her
guardian angel to revive, encourage, infuse a portion of her own spirit
in the weaker heart, which so confidingly clung to her. The youngest
and most timid maiden, the oldest and most ailing man, still maintained
the same patriotic spirit and resolute devotion which had upheld them at
first. "The Bruce and Scotland" were the words imprinted on their souls,
endowed with a power to awake the sinking heart, and rouse the fainting
frame.

To Agnes and Nigel, it was shrewdly suspected, these wanderings in the
centre of magnificent nature, their hearts open to each other, revelling
in the scenes around them, were seasons of unalloyed enjoyment,
happiness more perfect than the state and restraint of a court.
Precarious, indeed, it was, but even in moments of danger they were not
parted; for Nigel was ever the escort of the Countess of Buchan, and
danger by his side lost half its terror to Agnes. He left her side but
to return to it covered with laurels, unharmed, uninjured, even in the
midst of foes; and so frequently did this occur, that the fond,
confiding spirit of the young Agnes folded itself around the belief that
he bore a charmed life; that evil and death could not injure one so
faultless and beloved. Their love grew stronger with each passing week;
for nature, beautiful nature, is surely the field of that interchange of
thought, for that silent commune of soul so dear to those that love. The
simplest flower, the gushing brooks, the frowning hills, the varied hues
attending the rising and the setting of the sun, all were turned to
poetry when the lips of Nigel spoke to the ears of love. The mind of
Agnes expanded before these rich communings. She was so young, so
guileless, her character moulded itself on his. She learned yet more to
comprehend, to appreciate the nobility of his soul, to cling yet closer
to him, as the consciousness of the rich treasure she possessed in his
love became more and more unfolded to her view. The natural fearfulness
of her disposition gave way, and the firmness, the enthusiasm of
purpose, took possession of her heart, secretly and silently, indeed;
for to all, save to herself, she was the same gentle, timid, clinging
girl that she had ever been.

So passed the summer months; but as winter approached, and the prospects
of the king remained as apparently hopeless and gloomy as they were on
his first taking refuge in the mountains, it was soon pretty evident
that some other plan must be resorted to; for strong as the resolution
might be, the delicate frames of his female companions, already
suffering from the privations to which they had been exposed, could not
sustain the intense cold and heavy snows peculiar to the mountain
region. Gallantly as the king had borne himself in every encounter with
the English and Anglo-Scots, sustaining with unexampled heroism repeated
defeats and blighted hopes, driven from one mountainous district by the
fierce opposition of its inhabitants, from another by a cessation of
supplies, till famine absolutely threatened, closely followed by its
grim attendant, disease, all his efforts to collect and inspire his
countrymen with his own spirit, his own hope, were utterly and entirely
fruitless, for his enemies appeared to increase around him, the autumn
found him as far, if not further, from the successful termination of his
desires than he had been at first.

All Scotland lay at the feet of his foe. John of Lorn, maternally
related to the slain Red Comyn, had collected his forces to the number
of a thousand, and effectually blockaded his progress through the
district of Breadalbane, to which he had retreated from a superior body
of English, driving him to a narrow pass in the mountains, where the
Bruce's cavalry had no power to be of service; and had it not been for
the king's extraordinary exertions in guarding the rear, and there
checking the desperate fury of the assailants, and interrupting their
headlong pursuit of the fugitives, by a strength, activity, and
prudence, that in these days would seem incredible, the patriots must
have been cut off to a man. Here it was that the family of Lorn obtained
possession of that brooch of Bruce, which even to this day is preserved
as a relic, and lauded as a triumph, proving how nearly their redoubted
enemy had fallen into their hands. Similar struggles had marked his
progress through the mountains ever since the defeat of Methven; but
vain was every effort of his foes to obtain possession of his person,
destroy his energy, and thus frustrate his purpose. Perth, Inverness,
Argyle, and Aberdeen had alternately been the scene of his wanderings.
The middle of autumn found him with about a hundred followers, amongst
whom were the Countess of Buchan and her son, amid the mountains which
divide Kincardine from the southwest boundary of Aberdeen. The remainder
of his officers and men, divided into small bands, each with some of
their female companions under their especial charge, were scattered over
the different districts, as better adapted to concealment and rest.

It was that part of the year when day gives place to night so suddenly,
that the sober calm of twilight even appears denied to us. The streams
rushed by, turbid and swollen from the heavy autumnal rains. A rude wind
had robbed most of the trees of their foliage; the sere and withered
leaves, indeed, yet remained on the boughs, beautiful even in, their
decay, but the slightest breath would carry them away from their
resting-places, and the mountain passes were incumbered, and often
slippery from the fallen leaves. The mountains looked frowning and bare,
the pine and fir bent and rocked in their craggy cradles, and the wind
moaned through their dark branches sadly and painfully. The sun had,
indeed, shone fitfully through the day, but still the scene was one of
melancholy desolation, and the heart of the Countess of Buchan, bold and
firm in general, could not successfully resist the influence of Nature's
sadness. She sat comparatively alone; a covering had, indeed, been
thrown over some thick poles, which interwove with brushwood, and with a
seat and couch of heather, which was still in flower, formed a rude
tent, and was destined for her repose; but until night's dark mantle was
fully unfurled, she had preferred the natural seat of a jutting crag,
sheltered from the wind by an overhanging rock and some spreading firs.
Her companions were scattered in different directions in search of food,
as was their wont. Some ten or fifteen men had been left with her, and
they were dispersed about the mountain collecting firewood, and a supply
of heath and moss for the night encampment; within hail, indeed, but
scarcely within sight, for the space where the countess sate commanded
little more than protruding crags and stunted trees, and mountains
lifting their dark, bare brows to the starless sky.

It was not fear which had usurped dominion in the Lady Isabella's heart,
it was that heavy, sluggish, indefinable weight which sometimes clogs
the spirit we know not wherefore, until some event following quick upon
it forces us, even against our will, to believe it the overhanging
shadow of the future which had darkened the present. She was sad, very
sad, yet she could not, as was ever her custom, bring that sadness to
judgment, and impartially examining and determining its cause, remove it
if possible, or banish it resolutely from her thoughts.

An impulse indefinable, yet impossible to be resisted, had caused her to
intrust her Agnes to the care of Lady Mary and Nigel, and compelled her
to follow her son, who had been the chosen companion of the king.
Rigidly, sternly, she had questioned her own heart as to the motives of
this decision. It was nothing new her accompanying her son, for she had
invariably done so; but it was something unusual her being separated
from the queen, and though her heart told her that her motives were so
upright, so pure, they could have borne the sternest scrutiny, there was
naught which the most rigid mentor could condemn, yet a feeling that
evil would come of this was amongst the many others which weighed on her
heart. She could not tell wherefore, yet she wished it had been
otherwise, wished the honor of being selected as the king's companion
had fallen on other than her son, for separate herself from him she
could not. One cause of this despondency might have been traced to the
natural sinking of the spirit when it finds itself alone, with time for
its own fancies, after a long period of exertion, and that mental
excitement which, unseen to all outward observers, preys upon itself.
Memory had awakened dreams and visions she had long looked upon as dead;
it did but picture brightly, beautifully, joyously what might have been,
and disturbed the tranquil sadness which was usual to her now; disturb
it as with phantasmagoria dancing on the brain, yet it was a struggle
hard and fierce to banish them again. As one sweet fancy sunk another
rose, even as gleams of moonlight on the waves which rise and fall with
every breeze. Fancy and reason strove for dominion, but the latter
conquered. What could be now the past, save as a vision of the night;
the present, a stern reality with all its duties--duties not alone to
others, but to herself. These were the things on which her thoughts must
dwell; these must banish all which might have been and they did; and
Isabella of Buchan came through that fiery ordeal unscathed, uninjured
in her self-esteem, conscious that not in one thought did she wrong her
husband, in not one dream did she wrong the gentle heart of the queen
which so clung to her; in not the wildest flight of fancy did she look
on Robert as aught save as the deliverer of his country, the king of all
true Scottish men.

She rose up from that weakness of suffering, strengthened in her resolve
to use every energy in the queen's service in supporting, encouraging,
endeavoring so to work on her appreciation of her husband's character,
as to render her yet more worthy of his love. She had ever sought to
remain beside the queen, ever contrived they should be of the same
party; that her mind was ever on the stretch, on the excitement, could
not be denied, but she knew not how great its extent till the call for
exertion was comparatively over, and she found herself, she scarcely
understood how, the only female companion of her sovereign, the
situation she had most dreaded, most determined to avoid. While engaged
in the performance of her arduous task, the schooling her own heart and
devoting herself to Robert's wife, virtue seemed to have had its own
reward, for a new spirit had entwined her whole being--excitement,
internal as it was, had given a glow to thought and action; but in her
present solitude the reaction of spirit fell upon her as a dull,
sluggish weight of lead. She had suffered, too, from both privation and
fatigue, and she was aware her strength was failing, and this perhaps
was another cause of her depression; but be that as it may, darkness
closed round her unobserved, and when startled by some sudden sound, she
raised her head from her hands, she could scarcely discern one object
from another in the density of gloom. "Surely night has come suddenly
upon us," she said, half aloud; "it is strange they have not yet
returned," and rising, she was about seeking the tent prepared for her,
when a rude grasp was laid on her arm, and a harsh, unknown voice
uttered, in suppressed accents--

"Not so fast, fair mistress, not so fast! My way does not lie in that
direction, and, with your leave, my way is yours."

"How, man! fellow, detain me at your peril!" answered the countess,
sternly, permitting no trace of terror to falter in her voice, although
a drawn sword gleamed by her side, and a gigantic form fully armed had
grasped her arm. "Unhand me, or I will summon those that will force
thee. I am not alone, and bethink thee, insult to me will pass not with
impunity."

The man laughed scornfully. "Boldly answered, fair one," he said; "of a
truth thou art a brave one. I grieve such an office should descend upon
me as the detention of so stout a heart; yet even so. In King Edward's
name, you are my prisoner."

"Your prisoner, and wherefore?" demanded the countess believing that
calmness would be a better protection than any symptoms of fear. "You
are mistaken, good friend, I knew not Edward warred with women."

"Prove my mistake, fair mistress, and I will crave your pardon," replied
the man, "We have certain intelligence that a party of Scottish rebels,
their quondam king perhaps among them, are hidden in these mountains.
Give us trusty news of their movements, show us their track, and Edward
will hold you in high favor, and grant liberty and rich presents in
excuse of his servant's too great vigilance. Hearest thou, what is the
track of these rebels--what their movements?"

"Thou art a sorry fool, Murdock," retorted another voice, ere the
countess could reply, and hastily glancing around, she beheld herself
surrounded by armed men; "a sorry fool, an thou wastest the precious
darkness thus. Is not one rank rebel sufficient, think you, to satisfy
our lord? he will get intelligence enough out of her, be sure. Isabella
of Buchan is not fool enough to hold parley with such as we, rely on't."

A suppressed exclamation of exultation answered the utterance of that
name, and without further parley the arms of the countess were strongly
pinioned, and with the quickness of thought the man who had first spoken
raised her in his arms, and bore her through the thickest brushwood and
wildest crags in quite the contrary direction to the encampment; their
movements accelerated by the fact that, ere her arms were confined, the
countess, with admirable presence of mind, had raised to her lips a
silver whistle attached to her girdle, and blown a shrill, distinct
blast. A moment sufficed to rudely tear it from her hand, and hurry her
off as we have said; and when that call was answered, which it was as
soon as the men scattered on the mountain sufficiently recognized the
sound, they flung down their tools and sprung to the side whence it
came, but there was no sign, no trace of her they sought; they scoured
with lighted torches every mossy path or craggy slope, but in vain;
places of concealment were too numerous, the darkness too intense, save
just the space illumined by the torch, to permit success. The trampling
of horses announced the return of the king and his companions, ere their
search was concluded; his bugle summoned the stragglers, and speedily
the loss of the countess was ascertained, their fruitless search
narrated, and anxiety and alarm spread over the minds of all. The agony
of the youthful Alan surpassed description, even the efforts of his
sovereign failed to calm him. Nor was the Bruce himself much less
agitated.

"She did wrong, she did wrong," he said, "to leave herself so long
unguarded; yet who was there to commit this outrage? There is some
treachery here, which we must sift; we must not leave our noble
countrywoman in the hands of these marauders. Trust me, Alan, we shall
recover her yet."

But the night promised ill for the fulfilment of this trust. Many hours
passed in an utterly fruitless search, and about one hour before
midnight a thick fog increased the dense gloom, and even prevented all
assistance from the torches, for not ten yards before them was
distinguishable. Dispirited and disappointed, the king and his
companions threw themselves around the watchfires, in gloomy meditation,
starting at the smallest sound, and determined to renew their search
with the first gleam of dawn; the hurried pace of Alan, as he strode up
and down, for he could not rest, alone disturbing the stillness all
around.




CHAPTER XIII.


It was already two hours after midnight when a hurried tread, distinct
from Alan's restless pacing, disturbed the watchers, and occasioned many
to raise themselves on their elbows and listen.

It came nearer and nearer, and very soon a young lad, recognized as Sir
Alan's page, was discerned, springing from crag to crag in breathless
haste, and finally threw himself at his sovereign's feet.

"It is not too late--up, up, and save her!" were the only words he had
power to gasp, panting painfully for the breath of which speed had
deprived him. His hair and dress were heavy with the damp occasioned by
the fog, and his whole appearance denoting no common agitation.

"Where?" "How?" "What knowest thou?" "Speak out." "What ailest thee,
boy?" were the eager words uttered at once by all, and the king and
others sprung to their feet, while Alan laid a heavy hand on the boy's
shoulder, and glared on him in silence; the lad's glance fell beneath
his, and he sobbed forth--

"Mercy, mercy! my thoughtlessness has done this, yet I guessed not,
dreamed not this ill would follow. But oh, do not wait for my tale now;
up, up, and save her ere it be too late!"

"And how may we trust thee now, an this is the effect of former
treachery?" demanded Robert, with a sternness that seemed to awe the
terrified boy into composure.

"I am not treacherous, sire. No, no! I would have exposed my throat to
your grace's sword rather than do a traitor's deed: trust me, oh, trust
me, and follow without delay!"

"Speak first, and clearly," answered Alan, fiercely; "even for my
mother's sake the sacred person of the King of Scotland shall not be
risked by a craven's word. Speak, an thou wouldst bid me trust
thee--speak, I charge thee."

"He is right--he is right; let him explain this mystery ere we follow,"
echoed round; and thus urged, the boy's tale was hurriedly told.

It was simply this. Some days previous, when wandering alone about the
rocks, he had met a woodman, whom he recognized as one of the retainers
of Buchan, and, as such, believed him as loyal and faithful to King
Robert's interest as himself and others in the countess's train. The man
had artfully evaded all young Malcolm's expression of astonishment and
inquiries as to why Donald MacAlpine, whom he well knew to be one of the
stoutest and most sturdy men-at-arms which the clan possessed, should
have taken to so peaceful an employment as cutting wood, and skilfully
drew from the boy much information concerning the movements of the party
to whom he belonged. Malcolm freely spoke of Sir Alan and the Countess
of Buchan, dilating with no little pleasure on his young master having
received knighthood at the hand of his king, and all the honors and
delights which accompanied it. Aware, however, of the dangers which
environed the Bruce, he spoke of him more cautiously, and the more
Donald sought to discover if the king were near at hand, the more
carefully did Malcolm conceal that he was, telling the woodman if he
wished to know all particulars, he had better turn his sickle into a
spear, his cap into a helmet, and strike a good blow for Scotland and
King Robert. This the man refused to do, alleging he loved his own
sturdy person and independent freedom too well to run his neck into such
a noose; that King Robert might do very well for a while, but eventually
he must fall into King Edward's hands. Malcolm angrily denied this, and
they parted, not the best friends imaginable. On reviewing all that had
passed, the boy reproached himself incessantly for having said too much,
and was continually tormented by an indefinable fear that some evil
would follow. This fear kept him by the side of the countess, instead
of, as was his wont, following Sir Alan to the chase. The increasing
darkness had concealed her from him, but he was the first to distinguish
her whistle. He had reached the spot time enough to recognize the
supposed woodman in the second speaker, and to feel with painful
acuteness his boyish thoughtlessness had brought this evil on a
mistress, to serve whom he would willingly have laid down his life.
Resistance he knew, on his part, was utterly useless, and therefore he
determined to follow their track, and thus bring accurate intelligence
to the king. The minds of the men preoccupied by the thought of their
distinguished prisoner, and the thickening gloom, aided his resolution.
Happening to have a quantity of thick flax in his pocket, the boy, with
admirable foresight, fastened it to different shrubs and stones as he
passed, and thus secured his safe return; a precaution very necessary,
as from the windings and declivities, and in parts well-nigh impregnable
hollows, into which he followed the men, his return in time would have
been utterly frustrated.

The gathering mist had occasioned a halt, and a consultation as to
whether they could reach the encampment to which they belonged, or
whether it would not be better to halt till dawn. They had decided in
favor of the latter, fearing, did they continue marching, they might
lose their track, and perhaps fall in with the foe. He had waited, he
said, till he saw them making such evident preparations for a halt of
some hours, that he felt certain they would not remove till daylight. It
was a difficult and precarious path, he said, yet he was quite sure he
could lead fifteen or twenty men easily to the spot, and, taken by
surprise, nothing would prevent the recovery of the countess: less than
two hours would take them there.

This tale was told in less time than we have taken to transcribe it, and
not twenty minutes after Malcolm's first appearance, the king and Sir
Alan, with fifteen tried followers, departed on their expedition. There
had been some attempt to dissuade the king from venturing his own person
where further treachery might yet lurk, but the attempt was vain.

"She has perilled her life for me," was his sole answer, "and were there
any real peril, mine would be hazarded for her; but there is none--'tis
but a child's work we are about to do, not even glory enough to call for
envy."

The fog had sufficiently cleared to permit of their distinguishing the
route marked out by Malcolm, but not enough to betray their advance,
even had there been scouts set to watch the pass. Not a word passed
between them. Rapidly, stealthily they advanced, and about three in the
morning stood within sight of their foes, though still unseen
themselves. There was little appearance of caution: two large fires had
been kindled, round one of which ten or twelve men were stretched their
full length, still armed indeed, and their hands clasping their
unsheathed swords, but their senses fast locked in slumber. Near the
other, her arms and feet pinioned, Alan, with a heart beating almost
audibly with indignation, recognized his mother. Two men, armed with
clubs, walked up and down beside her, and seven others were grouped in
various attitudes at her feet, most of them fast asleep. It was evident
that they had no idea of surprise, and that their only fear was
associated with the escape of their prisoner.

"They are little more than man to man," said the Bruce; "therefore is
there no need for further surprise than will attend the blast of your
bugle, Sir Alan. Sound the reveille, and on to the rescue."

He was obeyed, and the slumberers, with suppressed oaths, started to
their feet, glancing around them a brief minute in inquiring
astonishment as to whence the sound came. It was speedily explained: man
after man sprang through the thicket, and rushed upon the foes, several
of whom, gathering themselves around their prisoner, seemed determined
that her liberty should not be attained with her life, more than once
causing the swords of the Bruce's followers to turn aside in their rapid
descent, less they should injure her they sought to save. Like a young
lion Alan fought, ably seconded by the king, whose gigantic efforts
clearing his path, at length enabled himself and Alan to stand uninjured
beside the countess, and thus obtain possession of her person, and guard
her from the injury to which her captors voluntarily exposed her. There
was at first no attempt at flight, although the Bruce's men carried all
before them; the men fell where they stood, till only five remained,
and these, after a moment's hesitation, turned and fled. A shrill cry
from Malcolm had turned the king's and Alan's attention in another
direction, and it was well they did so. Determined on foiling the
efforts of his foes, Donald MacAlpine, who was supposed to be among the
fallen, had stealthily approached the spot where the countess, overcome
with excessive faintness, still reclined, then noiselessly rising, his
sword was descending on her unguarded head, when Alan, aroused by
Malcolm's voice, turned upon him and dashed his weapon from his grasp,
at the same minute that the Bruce's sword pierced the traitor's heart:
he sprung in the air with a loud yell of agony, and fell, nearly
crushing the countess with his weight.

It was the voice of Alan which aroused that fainting heart. It was in
the bosom of her son those tearful eyes were hid, after one startled and
bewildered gaze on the countenance of her sovereign, who had been
leaning over her in unfeigned anxiety. A thicket of thorn, mingled with
crags, divided her from the unseemly signs of the late affray; but
though there was naught to renew alarm, it was with a cold shudder she
had clung to her son, as if even her firm, bold spirit had given way.
Gently, cheeringly the king addressed her, and she evidently struggled
to regain composure; but her powers of body were evidently so
prostrated, that her friends felt rest of some kind she must have, ere
she could regain sufficient strength to accompany them on their
wanderings. She had received three or four wounds in the melee, which
though slight, the loss of blood that had followed materially increased
her weakness, and the king anxiously summoned his friends around him to
deliberate on the best measures to pursue.

Amongst them were two of Sir Alan's retainers, old and faithful Scottish
men, coeval with his grandfather, the late Earl of Buchan. Devoted alike
to the countess, the king, and their country, they eagerly listened to
all that was passing, declaring that rather than leave the Lady Isabella
in a situation of such danger as the present, they would take it by
turns to carry her in their arms to the encampment. The king listened
with a benevolent smile.

"Is there no hut or house, or hunting-lodge to which we could convey
your lady," he asked, "where she might find quieter shelter and greater
rest than hitherto? An ye knew of such, it would be the wiser plan to
seek it at break of day."

A hunting-lodge, belonging to the Earls of Buchan, there was, or ought
to be, the old men said, near the head of the Tay, just at the entrance
of Athol Forest. It had not been used since their old master's days; he
had been very partial to it when a boy, and was continually there; it
had most likely fallen into decay from disuse, as they believed the
present earl did not even know of its existence, but that was all the
better, as it would be a still more safe and secure retreat for the
countess, and they were sure, when once out of the hollows and
intricacies of their present halting-place, they could easily discover
the path to it.

And how long did they think it would be, the king inquired, before their
lady could be taken to it? the sooner, they must perceive as well as
himself, the better for her comfort. He was relieved when they declared
that two days, or at the very utmost three, would bring them there, if,
as the old men earnestly entreated he would, they retraced their steps
to the encampment as soon as daylight was sufficiently strong for them
clearly to distinguish their path. This was unanimously resolved on, and
the few intervening hours were spent by the countess in calm repose.

Conscious that filial affection watched over her, the sleep of the
countess tranquillized her sufficiently to commence the return to the
encampment with less painful evidences of exhaustion. A rude litter
waited for her, in which she could recline when the pass allowed its
safe passage, and which could be easily borne by the bearers when the
intricacies of the path prevented all egress save by pedestrianism. It
had been hurriedly made by her devoted adherents, and soothed and
gratified, her usual energy seemed for the moment to return. By nine
o'clock forenoon all traces of the Bruce and his party had departed from
the glen, the last gleam of their armor was lost in the winding path,
and then it was that a man, who had lain concealed in a thicket from the
moment of the affray, hearing all that had passed, unseen himself, now
slowly, cautiously raised himself on his knees, gazed carefully round
him, then with a quicker but as silent motion sprung to his feet, and
raised his hands in an action of triumph.

"_He is_ amongst them, then," he muttered, "the traitor Bruce himself.
This is well. The countess, her son, find the would-be king--ha! ha! My
fortune's made!" and he bounded away in quite a contrary direction to
that taken by the Bruce.

The old retainers of Buchan were correct in their surmises. The evening
of the second day succeeding the event we have narrated brought them to
the hunting-lodge. It was indeed very old, and parts had fallen almost
to ruins, but there were still three or four rooms remaining, whose
compact walls and well-closed roofs rendered them a warm and welcome
refuge for the Countess of Buchan, whose strenuous exertions the two
preceding days had ended, as was expected, by exhaustion more painful
and overpowering than before.

The exertions of her friends--for the Bruce and his followers with one
consent had permitted their wanderings to be guided by the old
men--speedily rendered the apartments habitable. Large fires were soon
blazing on the spacious hearths, and ere night fell, all appearance of
damp and discomfort had vanished. The frugal supper was that night a
jovial meal; the very look of a cheerful blaze beneath a walled roof was
reviving to the wanderers; the jest passed round, the wine-cup sparkled
to the health of the countess, and many a fervent aspiration echoed
round for the speedy restoration of her strength; for truly she was the
beloved, the venerated of all, alike from her sovereign to his lowest
follower.

"Trust my experience, my young knight," had been the Bruce's address to
Alan ere they parted for the night. "A few days' complete repose will
quite restore your valued parent and my most honored friend. This
hunting-lodge shall be our place of rendezvous for a time, till she is
sufficiently restored to accompany us southward. You are satisfied, are
you not, with the diligence of our scouts?"

"Perfectly, your highness," was Alan's reply; for well-tried and
intelligent men had been sent in every direction to discover, if
possible, to what party of the enemy the captors of the Lady Isabella
belonged, and to note well the movements and appearance, not only of any
martial force, but of the country people themselves. They had executed
their mission as well as the intricate passes and concealed hollows of
the mountains permitted, and brought back the welcome intelligence, that
for miles round the country was perfectly clear, and to all appearance
peaceful. The hunting-lodge, too, was so completely hidden by dark woods
of pine and overhanging crags, that even had there been foes prowling
about the mountains, they might pass within twenty yards of its vicinity
and yet fail to discover it. The very path leading to the bottom of the
hollow in which it stood was concealed at the entrance by thick shrubs
and an arch of rock, which had either fallen naturally into that shape,
or been formed by the architects of the lodge. It seemed barely possible
that the retreat could be discovered, except by the basest treachery,
and therefore the king and Sir Alan felt perfectly at rest regarding the
safety of the countess, even though they could only leave with her a
guard of some twenty or thirty men.

So much was she refreshed the following morning, that the hopes of her
son brightened, and with that filial devotion so peculiarly his
characteristic, he easily obtained leave of absence from his sovereign,
to remain by the couch of his mother for at least that day, instead of
accompanying him, as was his wont, in the expeditions of the day. The
countess combated this decision, but in vain. Alan was resolved. He was
convinced, he said, her former capture, and all its ill consequences,
would not have taken place had he been by her side; and even were she
not now exposed to such indignity, she would be lonely and sad without
him, and stay, in consequence, he would. The king and his officers
approved of the youth's resolution, and reluctantly Isabella yielded.

About two hours before noon the Bruce and his companions departed,
desiring Sir Alan not to expect their return till near midnight, as they
intended penetrating a part of the country which had not yet been
explored; they might be a few hours sooner, but they scarcely expected
it. It was afterwards remembered that a peculiar expression of sadness
overclouded the countenance of the countess, as for a moment she fixed
her speaking eyes on the king's face when he cheerfully bade her
farewell, and said, in a low emphatic voice--

"Farewell, sire! It may be the hour of meeting is longer deferred than
we either of us now believe. Fain would I beseech your grace to grant me
one boon, make me but one promise ere you depart."

"Any boon, any promise that our faithful friend and subject can demand,
is granted ere 'tis asked," answered the king, without a moment's pause,
though startled alike at the expression of her features and the sadness
of her voice. "Gladly would we give any pledge that could in any way
bespeak our warm sense of thy true merit, lady, therefore speak, and
fear not."

"'Tis simply this, sire," she said, and her voice was still mournful,
despite her every effort to prevent its being so. "Should unforeseen
evil befall me, captivity, danger of death, or aught undreamed of now,
give me your royal word as a knight and king, that you will not peril
your sacred person, and with it the weal and liberty of our unhappy
country, for my sake, but leave me to my fate; 'tis a strange and
fanciful boon, yet, gracious sovereign, refuse it not. I mean not
treachery such as we have encountered, where your grace's noble
gallantry rescued me with little peril to yourself. No; I mean other and
greater danger; where I well know that rather than leave me exposed to
the wrath of my husband and Edward of England, you would risk your own
precious life, and with it the liberty of Scotland. Grant me this boon,
my liege, and perchance this heavy weight upon my spirit will pass and
leave me free."

"Nay, 'tis such a strange and unknightly promise, lady, how may I pledge
my word to its fulfilment?" answered Robert, gravely and sadly. "You bid
me pledge mine honor to a deed that will stain my name with an
everlasting infamy, that even the liberty of Scotland will not wash
away. How may I do this thing? You press me sorely, lady. Even for thee,
good and faithful as thou art, how may I hurt my knightly fame?"

"Sire, thou wilt not," she returned, still more entreatingly; "thy
brilliant fame, thy noble name, will never--can never, receive a stain.
I do but ask a promise whose fulfilment may never be demanded. I do but
bid thee remember thou art not only a knight, a noble, a king, but one
by whom the preservation, the independence of our country can alone be
achieved--one on whose safety and freedom depends the welfare of a
nation, the unchained glory of her sons. Were death thy portion,
Scotland lies a slave forever at the feet of England, and therefore is
it I do beseech thee, King of Scotland, make me this pledge. I know thy
noble spirit well, and I know thy too chivalric honor would blind thee
to a sense of danger, to a sense of country, duty, glory, of all save
the rescue of one who, though she be faithful to thee and to her
country, is but as a drop of water in the ocean, compared to other
claims. My liege, thy word is already in part pledged," she continued,
more proudly. "Any pledge or promise I might demand is granted ere it is
asked, your highness deigned to say; thou canst not retract it now."

"And wherefore shouldst thou, royal brother?" cheeringly interrupted
Alexander Bruce. "The Lady Isahella asks not unreasonably; she does but
suggest _what may be_, although that may be is, as we all know, next to
impossible, particularly now when nature has fortified this pleasant
lodge even as would a garrison of some hundred men. Come, be not so
churlish in thy favors, good my liege; give her the pledge she demands,
and be sure its fulfilment will never be required."

"Could I but think so," he replied, still gravely. "Lady, I do entreat
thee, tell me wherefore thou demandest this strange boon; fearest thou
evil--dreamest thou aught of danger hovering near? If so, as there is a
God in heaven, I will not go forth to-day!"

"Pardon me, gracious sovereign," answered Isabella, evasively; "I ask
it, because since the late adventure there has been a weight upon my
spirit as if I, impotent, of little consequence as I am, yet even I
might be the means of hurling down evil on thy head, and through thee on
Scotland; and, therefore, until thy promise to the effect I have
specified is given, I cannot, I will not rest--even though, as Lord
Alexander justly believes, its fulfilment will never be required. Evil
here, my liege, trust me, cannot be; therefore go forth in confidence. I
fear not to await your return, e'en should I linger here alone. Grant
but my boon."

"Nay, an it must be, lady, I promise all thou demandest," answered
Bruce, more cheerfully, for her words reassured him; "but, by mine
honor, thou hast asked neither well nor kindly. Remember, my pledge is
passed but for real danger, and that only for Scotland's sake, not for
mine own; and now farewell, lady. I trust, ere we meet again, these
depressing fancies will have left thee."

"They have well-nigh departed now, my liege; 'twas simply for thee and
Scotland these heavy bodings oppressed me. My son," she added, after a
brief pause, "I would your highness could prevail on him to accompany
you to-day. Wherefore should he stay with me?"

"Wherefore not rather, lady?" replied the king, smiling. "I may not
leave thee to thine own thoughts to weave fresh boons like to the last.
No, no! our young knight must guard thee till we meet again," and with
these words he departed. They did not, however, deter the countess from
resuming her persuasions to Alan to accompany his sovereign, but without
success. Isabella of Buchan had, however, in this instance departed from
her usual strict adherence to the truth, she did not feel so secure that
no evil would befall her in the absence of the Bruce, as she had
endeavored to make him believe.

Some words she had caught during her brief captivity caused her, she
scarcely knew why, to believe that the Earl of Buchan himself was in the
neighborhood; nay, that the very party which had captured her were
members of the army under his command. She had gathered, too, that it
was a very much larger force than the king's, and therefore it was that
she had made no objection to Robert's wish that she should rest some few
days in the hunting-lodge. She knew that, however her failing strength
might detain and harass their movements, Bruce and his followers would
never consent to leave her, unless, as in the present case, under a
comparatively comfortable roof and well-concealed shelter; and she knew,
too, that however she might struggle to accompany them in their
wanderings, the struggle in her present exhausted state would be utterly
in vain, and lingering for her might expose her sovereign to a renewal
of the ills with which he had already striven so nobly, and perchance to
yet more irreparable misfortune. The information of the scouts had
partially reassured her, at least to the fact that no immediate danger
was to be apprehended, and for a while she indulged the hope that safety
might be found in this hidden spot until the peril passed. She had full
confidence in the fidelity of the old retainers who had guided them to
the spot, and sought to feel satisfied that its vicinity was unknown to
the earl, her husband; but, whether from the restlessness of a slight
degree of fever, or from that nervous state of mind attendant on
worn-out strength, ere the Bruce departed the same foreboding came on
her again, and all her desire was the absence of her sovereign and his
followers, to have some hold upon his almost too exalted sense of
chivalry, which would prevent any rash act of daring on his part; and
this, as we have seen, she obtained.

Could she but have prevailed on her son to accompany them, she would
calmly and resignedly have awaited her fate, whatever it might be; but
the horror of beholding him a prisoner in the hands of his father--that
father perhaps so enraged at the boy's daring opposition to his will and
political opinions, that he would give him up at once to the wrath of
Edward--was a picture of anguish from which her mind revolted in such
intense suffering, she could not rest. She strove with the fancy; she
sought to rouse every energy, to feel secure in her present
resting-place. But who can resist the influence of feelings such as
these? What mother's heart cannot enter into the emotions of Isabella of
Buchan, as she gazed on her noble boy, improved as he was in manliness
and beauty, and with the dread anticipation of evil, believing only
absence could protect him; that perchance the very love which kept him
by her side would expose him to danger, imprisonment, and death? She did
not speak her fears, but Alan vainly sought to soothe that unwonted
restlessness. She had endeavored to secure the Bruce's safety by the aid
of Malcolm, the young page, by whose instrumentality she had been both
captured and released. Taking advantage of Sir Alan's absence, she had
called the boy to her side, and made him promise that, at the first
manifest sign of danger, he would make his escape, which, by his extreme
agility and address, would easily be achieved, seek the king, and give
him exact information of the numbers, strength, and situation of the
foes, reminding him, at the same time, of his solemn pledge. She made
him promise the profoundest secrecy, and adjured him at all hazards to
save the king.

The boy, affected by the solemnity of her manner, promised faithfully to
observe her minutest sign, and on the re-entrance of Sir Alan departed,
to marvel wherefore his lady should so have spoken, and examine the
localities around, as to the best means of concealment and escape.

The hours waned, and night fell, as is usual in October, some five hours
after noon, the gloom perhaps greatly increased by the deep shades in
which their place of concealment lay. Sir Alan roused the fire to a
cheerful blaze, and lighting a torch of pine-wood, placed it in an iron
bracket projecting from the wall, and amused himself by polishing his
arms, and talking in that joyous tone his mother so loved, on every
subject that his affection fancied might interest and amuse her. He was
wholly unarmed, except his sword, which, secured to his waist by a
crimson sash, he never laid aside; and fair and graceful to his mother's
eye did he look in his simple doublet of Lincoln-green, cut and slashed
with ruby velvet, his dark curls clustering round his bare throat, and
his bright face beaming in all the animation of youth and health,
spiritualized by the deeper feelings of his soul; and she, too, was
still beautiful, though her frame was slighter, her features more
attenuated than when we first beheld her. He had insisted on her
reclining on the couch, and drawn from her otherwise painful thoughts by
his animated sallies, smiles circled her pale lip, and her sorrows were
a while forgotten.

An hour, perhaps rather more, elapsed, and found the mother and son
still as we have described, There had been no sound without, but about
that period many heavy footsteps might have been distinguished,
cautiously, it seemed, advancing. Alan started up and listened; the
impatient neigh of a charger was heard, and then voices suppressed, yet,
as he fancied, familiar.

"King Robert returned already!" he exclaimed; "they must have had an
unusually successful chase. I must e'en seek them and inquire."

"Alan! my child!" He started at the voice, it was so unlike his
mother's. She had risen and flung her arm around him with a pressure so
convulsive, he looked at her with terror. There was no time to answer; a
sudden noise usurped the place of the previous stillness--a struggle--a
heavy fall; the door was flung rudely open, and an armed man stood upon
the threshold, his vizor up, but even had it not been, the heart of the
countess too truly told her she gazed upon her husband!




CHAPTER XIV.


A brief pause followed the entrance of this unexpected visitor. Standing
upon the threshold, his dark brow knit, his eyes fixed on his prisoners,
the Earl of Buchan stood a few minutes immovable. Alan saw but a
mail-clad warrior, more fierce and brutal in appearance than the
generality of their foes, and felt, with all that heart-sinking
despondency natural to youth, that they were betrayed, that resistance
was in vain, for heavier and louder grew the tramp of horse and man, and
the narrow passage, discernible through the open door, was filled with
steel-clad forms, their drawn swords glancing in the torchlight, their
dark brows gleaming in ill-concealed triumph. Alan was still a boy in
years, despite his experience as a warrior, and in the first agony of
this discovery, the first dream of chains and captivity, when his young
spirit revelled in the thought of freedom, and joyed as a bird in the
fresh air of mount and stream, weaving bright hopes, not exile or
wandering could remove, his impulse had been to dash his useless sword
in anguish to the earth, and weep; but the sight of his mother checked
that internal weakness. He felt her convulsive clasp; he beheld the
expression on her features,--how unlike their wont--terror, suffering,
whose _entire_ cause he vainly endeavored to define, and he roused
himself for her. And she, did she see more than her son? She _knew_ that
face, and as she gazed, she felt hope had departed; she beheld naught
but a long, endless vista of anguish; yet she felt not for herself, she
thought but of her child. And the earl, can we define his exulting
mood?--it was the malice, the triumph of a fiend.

"Who and what art thou?" demanded Alan, fiercely, laying his right hand
on his sword, and with the left firmly clasping his mother's waist.
"What bold knight and honorable chevalier art thou, thus seeking by
stealth the retreat of a wanderer, and overpowering by numbers and
treachery men, who on the field thou and such as thou had never dared to
meet?"

The earl laughed; that bitter, biting laugh of contempt and triumph so
difficult to bear.

"Thou hast a worthy tongue, my pretty springald," said he; "canst thou
use thy sword as bravely? Who and what am I? ask of the lady thou hast
so caressingly encircled with thine arm, perchance she can give thee
information."

Alan started, a cold thrill passed through his frame, as the real cause
of his mother's terror flashed on his mind; her lips, parched and
quivering, parted as to speak, but there was no sound.

"Mother," he said, "mother, speak to thy son. Why, why art thou thus?
it is not the dread of imprisonment, of death. No, no; they have no
terrors for such as thee. Who is this man?"

Engrossed in his own agitation, Alan had not heard the muttered
exclamation which burst from Buchan's lips with his first words, for
great was the earl's surprise as he looked on his son; the impression he
was still a child had remained on his mind despite all reports to the
contrary, but no softer feeling obtained dominion.

"Who and what am I?" he continued, after a brief pause. "Wouldst thou
know, Alan of Buchan? Even a faithful knight, soldier, and subject of
his Royal Highness Edward, king of England and Scotland, and
consequently thy foe; the insulted and dishonored husband of the woman
thou callest mother, and consequently thy father, young man. Ha! have I
spoken home? Thy sword, thy sword; acknowledge thy disloyalty to thy
father and king, and for thee all may yet be well."

"Never!" answered Alan, proudly, the earl's concluding words rousing the
spirit which the knowledge of beholding his father and the emotion of
his mother seemed to have crushed. "Never, Lord of Buchan! for father I
cannot call thee. Thou mayest force me to resign my sword, thou mayest
bring me to the block, but acknowledge allegiance to a foreign tyrant,
who hath no claims on Scotland or her sons, save those of hate and
detestation, that thou canst never do, even if thy sword be pointed at
my heart."

"Boy!" burst from the earl's lips, in accents of irrepressible rage, but
he checked himself; "thou hast learned a goodly lesson of disobedience
and daring, of a truth, and I should tender grateful thanks to thy most
worthy, most efficient and virtuous teacher," he added, in his own
bitterly sarcastic tone. "The Lady Isabella deems, perchance, she has
done her duty to her husband in placing a crown on the head of his
hereditary and hated foe, and leading his son in the same path of
rebellion and disloyalty, and giving his service to the murderer of his
kinsman."

"Earl of Buchan, I have done my duty alike to my country and my son,"
replied the countess, her high spirit roused by the taunts of her
husband. "According to the dictates of my conscience, mine honor as a
Scottish woman, the mother of a Scottish warrior, I have done my duty,
and neither imprisonment, nor torture, nor death will bid me retract
those principles, or waver in my acknowledgment of Scotland and her
king. Pardon me, my lord; but there is no rebellion in resisting the
infringement of a tyrant, no disloyalty in raising the standard against
Edward, for there is no treason when there is no lawful authority; and
by what right is Edward of England king of Scotland? Lord of Buchan, I
have done my duty. As my father taught _me_ I have taught my child!"

"Regarding, of course, madam, all which that child's father would have
taught him, particularly that most Christian virtue returning good for
evil, as in the fact of revenging the death of a kinsman with the gift
of a crown. Oh! thou hast done well, most intrinsically well."

"I own no relationship with a traitor," burst impetuously from Alan.
"Sir John Comyn was honored in his death, for the sword of the Bruce was
too worthy a weapon for the black heart of a traitor. Lord of Buchan, we
are in thy power, it is enough. Hadst thou wished thy son to imbibe thy
peculiar principles, to forget his country and her lights, it had been
better perchance hadst thou remembered thou hadst a child--a son. Had
the duty of a father been performed, perchance I had not now forgotten
mine as a son! As it is, we stand as strangers and as foes. Against thee
in truth I will not raise my sword; but further, we are severed and
forever!" He crossed his arms proudly on his bosom, and returned the
dark, scowling glance of his father with a flashing eye, and a mien as
firm and nobler than his own.

"It is well, young man; I thank you for my freedom," returned the earl,
between his teeth. "As my son, I might stand between thee and Edward's
wrath; as a stranger and my foe, why, whatever his sentence be--the axe
and block without doubt--let it work, it will move me little."

"Heed not his rash words, in mercy, heed them not!" exclaimed the
countess, her voice of agony contrasting strangely with its former proud
reserve. "Neglected, forgotten him as thou hast, yet, Lord of Buchan, he
is still thy son. Oh, in mercy, expose him not to the deadly wrath of
Edward! thou canst save him, thou canst give him freedom. It is I--I who
am the attainted traitor, not my child. Give me up to Edward, and he
will heed not, ask not for thy son. It is I who have offended him and
thee, not my child. Art thou not a Scottish noble, descendant of a
house as purely loyal and devoted to their country as mine own--art thou
not indeed this man, and yet hath Edward, the deadly foe of thy race,
thy land, thy countrymen, more exalted claims than thine own blood? No,
no, it cannot be! thou wilt relent, thou wilt have mercy; let him be but
free, and do with me even what thou wilt!"

"Free! go free!" repeated the earl, with a hoarse laugh, ere Alan could
interfere. "Let him go free, forsooth, when he tells me he is my foe,
and will go hence and join my bitterest enemies the moment he is free.
Go free! and who art thou who askest this boon? Hast thou such claims
upon me, that for thy pleasure I should give freedom to thy son?"

"My lord, my lord, 'tis for thine own sake, for his, thy child as well
as mine, I do beseech, implore thy mercy? draw not the curse of heaven
on thy heart by exposing him to death. Thou wilt know and feel him as
indeed thy child when he lies bleeding before thee, when thine own hand
hath forged the death-bolt, and then, then it will be too late; thou
wilt yearn for his voice in vain. Oh! is it not sufficient triumph to
have in thy power the wife who hath dared thy authority, who hath joined
the patriot band, and so drawn down on her the vengeance of Edward? The
price of a traitor is set upon her head. My lord, my lord, is not one
victim enough--will not my capture insure thee reward and honor in the
court of Edward? Then do with me what thou wilt--chains, torture, death;
but my child, my brave boy--oh, if thou hast one spark of mercy in thy
heart, let him go!"

"Mother," hoarsely murmured Alan, as he strove to raise her from her
suppliant posture, "mother, this shall not be! look upon that face and
know thou pleadest in vain. I will not accept my freedom at such a
price; thy knee, thy supplications unto a heart of stone, for me! No,
no; mother, dear mother, we will die together!"

"Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, my beloved, my beautiful! thy death
will be on my head, though it come from a father's hand. I will plead, I
will be heard! My lord, my lord," she continued, wrought to a pitch of
agonized feeling, no heart save that to which she pleaded could have
heard unmoved, "I ask but his freedom, the freedom of a boy, a
child--and of whom do I ask it?--of his father, his own father! Speak to
me, answer me; thou canst not be so lost to the voice, the feelings of
nature. For the sake of the mother who loved, the father who blessed
_thee_, whose blessing hallowed our union and smiled on our infant boy,
have mercy on me, on thyself--let him, oh, let him be free!"

"Mercy on thee, thou false and perjured woman!" the earl burst forth,
the cold sarcastic expression with which he had at first listened to her
impassioned entreaties giving way to the fearful index of ungoverned
rage; "on thee, thou false traitress, not alone to thy husband's
principles but to his honor! Do I not know thee, minion--do I not know
the motives of thy conduct in leaving thy husband's castle for the court
of Bruce? Patriotism, forsooth--patriotism, ha! the patriotism that had
vent in giving and receiving love from him; it was so easy to do homage
to him in public as thy king. Oh, most rare and immaculate specimen of
female loyalty and virtue, I know thee well!"

"Man!" answered the countess, springing from her knee, and standing
before him with a mien and countenance of such majestic dignity, that
for a brief moment it awed even him, and her bewildered son gazed at her
with emotions of awe, struggling with surprise.

"Ha! faithless minion, thou bravest it well," continued Buchan,
determined on evincing no faltering in his purpose, "but thou bravest it
in vain; dishonored thou art, and hast been, aye, from the time thy
minion Robert visited thee in Buchan Tower, and lingered with thee the
months he had disappeared from Edward's court. Would Isabella of Buchan
have rendered homage to any other bold usurper, save her minion Robert?
Would the murder of a Comyn have passed unavenged by her had the
murderer been other than her gallant Bruce? Would Isabella of Buchan be
here, the only female in the Bruce's train--for I know that he is with
thee--were loyalty and patriotism her only motive? Woman, I know thee! I
know that thou didst love him, ere that false hand and falser heart were
given to me; thy lips spoke perfidy when they vowed allegiance at the
altar; and shall I have mercy on thy son, for such as thee? Mercy! ha,
have I silenced thy eloquence now?"

"Silenced, false, blasphemous villain!" vociferated Alan, every other
feeling lost in the whirlwind of passion, and springing on the earl,
with his drawn sword. "'Tis thou who art the false and faithless--thou
who art lost to every feeling of honor and of truth. Thy words are false
as hell, from whence they spring!"

"Alan, by the love thou bearest me, I charge thee put up thy sword--it
is thy father!" exclaimed, the countess, commandingly, and speaking the
last word in a tone that thrilled to the boy's heart. He checked himself
in his full career; he snapped his drawn sword in twain, he cast it
passionately from him, and uttering, convulsively, "Oh God, oh God, my
father!" flung himself in agony on the ground. With arms folded and the
smile of a demon on his lip the earl had awaited his attack, but there
was disappointment within, for his foul charge had failed in its
intended effect. Prouder, colder, more commandingly erect had become the
mein of the countess as he spoke, till she even appeared to increase in
stature; her flashing eyes had never moved from his face, till his fell
beneath them; her lip had curled, his cheek had flushed: powerful indeed
became the contrast between the accused and the accuser.

"Arise, my son," she said, "arise and look upon thy mother; her brow
even as her heart is unstained with shame; she fears not to meet the
glance of her child. Look up, my boy; I speak these words to _thee_, not
to that bold, bad man, who hath dared unite the name of a daughter of
Fife with shame. He hath no word either of exculpation, denial, or
assent from me. But to thee, my child, my young, my innocent child,
thee, whose ear, when removed from me, they may strive to poison with
false tales, woven with such skill that hadst thou not thy mother's
word, should win thee to belief--to thee I say, look on me, Alan--is
this a brow of guilt?"

"No, no, no, I will not look on thee, my mother! I need not to gaze on
thee to know the horrid falsity of the charge," answered Alan, flinging
his arms passionately around his mother. "Did I never see thee more,
never list that voice again, and did all the fiends of hell come around
me with their lies, I would not hear, much less believe such charge. No,
no! oh God, 'tis my father, speaks it! Father--and my hand is powerless
to avenge."

"I need not vengeance, my beloved; grieve not, weep not that thy hand is
chained, and may not defend thy mother's stainless name; I need it not.
My heart is known unto my God, my innocence to thee; his blessing rest
with thee, my beautiful, and give thee strength for all thou mayest
endure."

She bent down to kiss his brow, which was damp with the dew of intense
anguish. He started up, he gave one long look on her calm and noble
face, and then he flung himself in her arms, and sobbed like a child on
her bosom. It was a fearful moment for that woman heart; had she been
alone with her child, both nerve and spirit must have given way, but
fortunately, perhaps, for the preservation of her fortitude, the Earl of
Buchan was still the witness of that scene, triumphing in the sufferings
he had caused. The countess did indeed fold her boy convulsively to her
breast, but she did not bend her head on his, as Nature prompted; it was
still erect; her mien majestic still, and but a slight quivering in her
beautiful lip betrayed emotion.

"Be firm; be thy noble self," she said. "Forget not thou art a knight
and soldier amid the patriots of Scotland. And now a while, farewell."

She extricated herself with some difficulty from his embrace; she paused
not to gaze again upon the posture of overwhelming despondency in which
he had sunk, but with a step quick and firm advanced to the door.

"Whither goest thou, madam?" demanded the earl fiercely. "Bold as thou
art, it is well to know thou art a prisoner, accused of high treason
against King Edward."

"I need not your lordship's voice to give me such information," she
answered, proudly. "Methinks these armed followers are all-sufficient
evidence. Guard me, aye, confine me with fetters an thou wilt, but in
thy presence thou canst not force me to abide."

"Bid a last farewell to thy son, then, proud minion," he replied, with
fiendish malignity; "for an ye part now, it is forever. Ye see him not
again."

"Then be it so," she rejoined; "we shall meet where falsehood and
malignant hate can never harm us more," and with a gesture of dignity,
more irritating to the earl than the fiercest demonstration of passion,
she passed the threshold. A sign from Buchan surrounded her with guards,
and by them she was conducted to a smaller apartment, which was first
carefully examined as to any concealed means of escape, and then she was
left alone, a strong guard stationed at the door.

The first few minutes after the disappearance of the countess were
passed by her husband in rapidly striding up and down the room, by her
son, in the same posture of mute and motionless anguish in which she had
left him. There is no need to define that suffering, his peculiar
situation is all-sufficient to explain it. Hurriedly securing the door
from all intruders, the earl at length approached his son.

"Wouldst thou be free?" he said, abruptly. "Methinks thou art young
enough still to love liberty better than chains, and perchance death.
Speak, I tell thee; wouldst thou be free?"

"Free!" answered Alan, raising his head, with flashing eye and burning
cheek; "would I be free? Ask of the chained lion, the caged bird, and
they will tell thee the greenwood and forest glade are better, dearer,
even though the chain were gemmed, the prison gilded. Would I be free?
Thou knowest that I would."

"Swear, then, that thou wilt quit Scotland, and vow fealty to Edward;
that never more will thy sword be raised save against the contemned and
hated Bruce. Be faithful but to me and to King Edward, and thou shalt be
free."

"Never!" answered Alan, proudly. "Earl of Buchan, I accept no conditions
with my freedom; I will not be free, if only on this base condition.
Turn recreant and traitor to my country and my king! resign the precious
privilege of _dying_, if I may not _live_, for Scotland--I tell thee,
never! Urge me no more."

"Nay, thou art but a boy, a foolish boy," continued the earl, struggling
to speak persuadingly, "incapable of judging that which is right and
best. I tell thee, I will give thee not freedom alone, but honor,
station, wealth; I will acknowledge thee as my well-beloved son and
heir; I will forget all that is past; nay, not e'en thy will or actions
will I restrain; I will bind thee by no vow; thou shalt take no part
with Edward; I will interfere not with thy peculiar politics; e'en what
thou wilt thou shalt do, aye, and have--and all this but on one
condition, so slight and simple that thou art worse than fool an thou
refusest."

"Speak on," muttered Alan, without raising his head. "I hear."

"Give me but information of the movements of him thou callest king,"
replied Buchan, in a low yet emphatically distinct voice; "give me but a
hint as to where we may meet him in combat--in all honorable and
knightly combat, thou knowest that I mean--give me but information such
as this, and thou art free, unshackled, in condition as in limb."

"In other words, _betray him,_" replied Alan, starting up. "Purchase my
freedom with the price of his! mine, of nothing worth, aye, less than
nothing, redeemed by his! Oh, shame, shame on thee, my lord! Well mayest
thou offer me freedom of action as in will on such condition. Of little
heed to Edward were the resistance of all Scotland, were Robert in his
power. Honor, station, wealth!--oh, knowest thou the human heart so
little as to believe these can exist with black treachery and fell
remorse? Once and forever, I tell thee thine offers are in vain. Were
death in one scale, and free, unshackled liberty in the other, and thou
badest me choose between, I would not so stain my soul. Death, death
itself were welcome, aye, worse than death--confinement, chains. I would
hug them to my heart as precious boons, rather than live and walk the
earth a traitor."

"Beware!" muttered the earl; "tempt me not too far, rash boy. I would
not do thee ill; I would have pity on thy erring youth, remembering the
evil counsels, the base heart which hath guided thee."

"Do thou beware!" retorted Alan, fiercely. "Speak not such foul words to
me. Father, as I know thou art in blood, there are ties far stronger
which bind me to my mother--ties, neglect, forgetfulness, indifference
as thine can never know. Pity, aye, mercy's self, I scorn them, for I
need them not."

"Ha! sayest thou so; then I swear thou shalt not have them!" exclaimed
the earl, rage again obtaining the ascendant. "I would have saved thee;
I would have given thee freedom, though I needed not the condition that
I offered. Thinkest thou I do not know that the traitor Bruce and his
followers will return hither, and fall into the net prepared? thinkest
thou I know not he is with thee, aye, that he would not have left his
patriot countess thus slightly guarded, an he hoped not to return
himself? He cannot escape me--the murder of Sir John Comyn will be
avenged."

"He shall, he will escape thee, proud earl," undauntedly returned Alan.
"The savior of his wretched country will not be forced to bow before
such as thee; he will be saved out of the net prepared--harassed,
chased, encompassed as he is. I tell thee, Earl of Buchan, he will
escape thee yet."

"Then, by heaven, thy head shall fall for his!" fiercely replied the
earl. "If he return not, he has been forewarned, prepared, and I, fool
as I was, have thought not of this danger. Look to it, proud boy, if the
Bruce return not forty-eight hours hence, and thou art still silent,
thou diest."

He held up his clenched hand in a threatening attitude, but Alan neither
moved nor spoke, firmly returning the earl's infuriated gaze till the
door closed on his father's retreating form. He heard the bolts drawn,
the heavy tramp of the guard, and then he threw himself on the couch,
and buried his face in his hands.




CHAPTER XV.


While these fearful scenes were passing in the hunting-lodge, Malcolm,
the young page already mentioned, had contrived to elude the vigilance
of the earl's numerous followers, and reach the brow of the hollow in
perfect safety. Endowed with a sense and spirit above his years, and
inspired by his devoted attachment to the countess and Sir Alan, the boy
did not merely think of his own personal security, and of the simple act
of warning the king against the treachery which awaited his return, but,
with an eye and mind well practised in intelligent observation, he
scanned the numbers, character, and peculiar situation of the foes which
had so unexpectedly come upon them. Being peculiarly small and light in
figure, and completely clothed in a dark green tunic and hose, which was
scarcely discernible from the trees and shrubs around, he stole, in and
out every brake and hollow, clambering lightly and noiselessly over
crags, hanging like a broken branch from stunted trees, leaping with the
elasticity of a youthful fawn over stream and shrub, and thus obtained a
true and exact idea of the matter he desired. The boy's heart did indeed
sink as he felt rescue would be utterly impossible; that in one
direction the English force extended nearly a mile, guarding every
avenue, every hollow in the forest, till it seemed next to impossible
King Robert could escape, even if forewarned. Wherever he turned his
steps the enemy appeared to lurk, but he wavered not in his purpose.
Aware of the direction which the king would take in returning, Malcolm
slackened not his speed until some three hours after he had quitted the
hollow, and he stood before his sovereign well-nigh too exhausted for
the utterance of his tale.

The first impulse of the king and his true-hearted followers was to dare
all danger, and rescue the countess and her brave son at the expense of
their lives; but Malcolm, flinging himself at the feet of Robert,
adjured him, in the name of the countess, to remember and act upon the
vow he had so solemnly pledged at parting. He earnestly and emphatically
repeated the last injunctions of his lady, her deep anguish that the
king, the savior of Scotland, should hazard all for her and her
child--better they should die than Robert; but these entreaties were but
anguish to the noble spirit who heard, aye, and felt their truth, though
abide by them he could not. Again and again he questioned and
cross-questioned as to their numbers and their strength, but Malcolm
never wavered from his first account; clearly and concisely he gave
every required information, and with bleeding hearts that little band of
patriots felt they dared not hope to rescue and to conquer. Yet tacitly
to assent to necessity, to retreat without one blow, to leave their
faithful companions to death, without one stroke for vengeance at least,
if not for relief, this should not be.

"We will see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears, at least, my
friends," King Robert said. "Is there one among ye would retreat, from,
the narrative of a child, true as it may be? Remember the pass in
Argyle; if necessary, your sovereign can protect your retreat now as
then, and we shall at least feel we have struggled to rescue, striven
for the mastery, even if it be in vain. Were my death, aye, the death of
Scotland the forfeit, I could not so stain my knightly fame by such
retreat. Let but the morning dawn, and we will ourselves mark the
strength of our foes."

There was not one dissenting voice, rash as his determination might
appear. The extraordinary skill and courage of their sovereign,
displayed in so many instances during their perilous wanderings, were
too fresh in their memories to permit of one doubt, one fear, even had
he led them on to certain death. To throw themselves from their tired
chargers, to give them food, to lie down themselves for a brief repose
on the turf, that they might be strengthened and cheered for the work of
the morning, all this did not occupy much time; and if their slumbers
were brief and troubled, it did not prevent their rising with, alacrity
at the first peep of day to polish their arms, look to the sharpening of
their swords and spears, share the rude huntsman's meal, and mount and
ride with the first signal of their king.

But bold and brave as were these true-hearted men, successful as,
comparatively speaking, they were in the numberless skirmishes which
took place that day, darkness overtook them, with increase of glory
indeed, but no nearer the accomplishment of their object than they had
been in the morning.

With bitter sorrow King Robert had perceived the full confirmation of
the page's words. The early close of the night attendant on the autumn
season was also unfavorable to his views; the events of the day had
fully convinced him that many an ambush was set in his path, that his
personal safety was wholly incompatible with a night attack, and
therefore he was compelled to remain on the defensive in one spot, which
was fortunately barricaded and concealed by Nature, during the many long
and weary hours forming an October night. Yet still the following day
beheld him struggling on, in the face alike of disappointment, defeat,
and danger the most imminent; still seeking the same object, still
hoping against hope, and retreating only because the welfare of his
country, of her unfortunate children, depended upon him; bands more and
more numerous pressed upon him, coming from every side, that scarcely
was one skilfully eluded ere he had to struggle against another. Nothing
but the most consummate skill, the most patient courage, and coolest
address could have extricated him from the fearful dangers which
encompassed him. Again did his followers believe he bore a charmed life,
for not only did he deal destruction, unhurt himself, but after three
days almost incessant fighting and fatigue, he had brought them to a
place of safety, with but the loss of five-and-twenty men.

But though painfully conscious that further efforts for the rescue of
his friends were completely useless, King Robert could not rest
satisfied without some more accurate knowledge of their fate, and after
some hurried yet anxious consultation. Sir James Douglas, with that
daring which so marked his simplest action, declared that at all risks
he would seek some tidings that would end their anxiety. In the disguise
of a peasant he would be secure from all discovery, he said; and he had
not the slightest fear as to the success of the adventure. Five others
started up as he spoke entreating permission to take the same disguise
and accompany him. It was granted; King Robert advising them, however,
to adopt a diversity of costume, and keep each one apart as they
approached inhabited districts, as their numbers might excite suspicion,
even though the actual disguise was complete. With arms concealed
beneath their various disguises, they departed that same evening,
engaging to meet the king at the base of Ben-Cruchan, some miles more
south than their present trysting. It was an anxious parting, and yet
more when they were actually gone; for the high spirit and vein of humor
which characterized the young Lord Douglas had power to cheer his
friends even in the most painful moments. King Robert, indeed, exerted
himself, but this last stroke had been a heavy one; knowing so well the
character of Edward, he trembled both for the countess and her noble
son, perhaps less for the latter than the former, for he hoped and
believed the Earl of Buchan, if indeed he were their captor, would at
least have some mercy on his son, but for the countess he knew that
there was no hope. The character, the sentiments of the earl had been
noticed by the Bruce when both were at the court of Edward, and he felt
and knew that any excuse to rid him of a wife whose virtues were
obnoxious to him would be acted on with joy. And here, perhaps, it may
be well to say a few words as to the real nature of King Robert's
sentiments towards Isabella of Buchan, as from the anxiety her detention
occasioned they may be so easily misunderstood.

We have performed our task but ill if our readers have imagined aught
but the most purely noble, most chivalric sentiments actuated the heart
of the king. Whatever might have been the nature of those sentiments in
earlier days, since his marriage with the daughter of the Earl of Mar
they had never entered his soul.

He had always believed the Lady Isabella's union with Lord John Comyn
was one of choice, not of necessity, nor did his visit to her after the
battle of Falkirk recall any former feeling. His mind had been under the
heavy pressure of that self-reproach which the impressive words of
Wallace had first awakened; the wretched state of his country, the
tyranny of Edward, occupied the mind of the man in which the emotions of
the boy had merged. He was, too, a husband and a father; and he was, as
his fond wife so trustingly believed, too nobly honorable to entertain
one thought to her dishonor. He looked on Isabella of Buchan as one
indeed demanding his utmost esteem and gratitude, his most faithful
friendship, and he secretly vowed that she should have it; but these
emotions took not their coloring from the past, they were excited simply
by her high-minded devotion to the cause of her country, her unshrinking
patriotism, her noble qualities, alike as a mother, subject, friend. He
felt but as one noble spirit ever feels for a kindred essence,
heightened perhaps by the dissimilarity of sex, but aught of love, even
in its faintest shadow, aught of dishonorable feelings towards her or
his own wife never entered his wildest dream. It was the recollection of
her unwavering loyalty, of the supporting kindness she had ever shown
his queen, which occasioned his bitter sorrow at her detention by the
foe; it was the dread that the cruel wrath of Edward would indeed
condemn her to death for the active part she had taken in his
coronation; the conviction, so agonizing to a mind like his, that he had
no power to rescue and avenge; the fearful foreboding that thus would
all his faithful friends fall from him--this, only this, would be the
reward of all who served and loved him; and even while still, with
undaunted firmness, cheering the spirits of his adherents, speaking hope
to them, his own inward soul was tortured with doubts as to the wisdom
of his resistance, lingering regrets for the fate of those of his
friends already lost to him, and painful fears for the final doom of
those who yet remained.

It was in such moments of despondency that remorse, too, ever gained
dominion, and heightened his inward struggles. Robert's hand was not
framed for blood; his whole soul revolted from the bitter remembrance of
that fatal act of passion which had stained his first rising. He would
have given worlds, if he had had them, to have recalled that deed. Busy
fancy represented a hundred ways of punishing treachery other than that
which his fury had adopted; and this remembrance ever increased the
anguish with which he regarded the fate of his friends. His lot was
indeed as yet one of unexampled suffering, borne by heroism as great as
unequalled but the lustre of the latter too frequently dazzles the mind,
and prevents the full meed of glory being obtained. His heroism is known
to all, his sufferings to but a few; but perhaps it was the latter yet
more than the former which gave to Scotland the glory and honor she
acquired in his reign. Heroism is scarce separable from ambition, but to
mere ambition, the voice of suffering is seldom heard. Heroism dazzles
the crowd, suffering purifies the man. If Robert the Bruce were
ambitious, the passion in him assumed a nobler and better form; yet we
can scarcely call that ambition which sought but the delivery of
Scotland from chains, but the regaining an ancient heritage, and sought
no more. It was patriotism hallowed by suffering, purified by adversity;
patriotism the noblest, purest which ever entered the heart of man.

King Robert and his handful of followers not only reached their
trysting-place themselves, but were joined by the queen, and many of her
female companions and their attendant warriors, ere Lord James of
Douglas returned; three of his companions had straggled in, one by one,
with various accounts, but none so satisfactory as the king desired, and
he believed with justice, that Douglas lingered to bring, if not
satisfactory (for that, alas! could not be) yet accurate intelligence.
If aught could have comforted Agnes in these moments of agonized
suspense, it would have been not alone the redoubled affection of her
Nigel, but the soothing kindness, the love and sympathy of a father,
which was lavished on her by King Robert; nay, each of those rude
warriors softened in address and tone, as they looked on and spoke to
that fair, fragile being, whom they feared now stood alone. She did not
weep when other eyes than those of Nigel, or the Lady Campbell, or the
gentle Isoline were on her, but that deadly pallor, that quivering lip,
and heavy eye spoke all that she endured.

A large cavern, divided by Nature into many compartments, was now the
temporary shelter of the king and his friends. It was situated at the
base of Ben-Cruchan, which, though at the entrance of the territories of
Lorn, was now comparatively secure, the foe imagining the Bruce still
amidst the mountains of Aberdeenshire.

The evening meal was spread; a huge fire blazing in the stony cavity
removed all appearance of damp or discomfort, and shed a warm, ruddy
light on the groups within. It was a rude home for the King of Scotland
and his court, yet neither murmuring nor despondency was marked on the
bold brows of the warriors, or the gentler and paler features of their
faithful companions; their frames, indeed, showed the effect of
wandering and anxiety; many an eye which had been bright was sunken,
many a blooming cheek was paled; but the lip yet smiled, the voice had
yet its gleesome tones to soothe and cheer their warrior friends; the
eager wish to prepare the couch and dress the simple meal, to perform
those many little offices of love and kindness so peculiarly a woman's,
and engaged in with a zest, a skill which was intuitive, for there had
been a time, and one not far distant, when those high-born females
little dreamed such household deeds would be their occupation.

Brightly and beautifully shone forth conjugal and filial love in those
wandering hours; the wife, the child, the sister bound themselves yet
closer to the warrior husband, father, brother, which claimed them his.
Yet sweet, most sweet as were those acts of love, there were anxious and
loving hearts which felt that soon, too soon, they must part from them,
they must persuade those gentle ones to accede to a temporary
separation--they could not, they would not expose them to the snows and
killing frosts of a Scottish winter.

Anxiety, deep anxiety was on the heart of King Robert, becoming more
painful with each glance he fixed on Agnes, who was sitting apart with
Nigel, her aching head resting on his shoulder, but he strove to return
the caresses of his daughter, to repay with fond smiles the exertions of
his wife. Sir Niel Campbell (who, after many painful trials, had
rejoined the king) and others strove to disperse the silently gathering
gloom by jest and song, till the cavern walls re-echoed with their
soldier mirth. Harshly and mournfully it fell on the ear and heart of
the maiden of Buchan, but she would not have it stilled.

"No, no; do thou speak to me, Nigel, and I shall only list to thee. Why
should the noble efforts of these brave men--for I know even to them
mirth is now an effort--be chilled and checked, because my sick heart
beats not in unison? Oh, when will Lord James return?"

Nigel sought to soothe, to speak hope, but though his words fell like
balm on the bleeding heart he held to his, it was the rich melody of
their voice, not the matter of their meaning.

The hour of rest was fast approaching, when the well-known signal was
heard without, and the young Lord Douglas, with his two companions, were
hastily and eagerly admitted within the cave. Their looks denoted great
fatigue, and the eager eyes which scanned their countenances read little
to hope, yet much, much, alas! to fear.

"Thou hast so far succeeded as to obtain the intelligence we need," was
the king's instant greeting, as he released his favorite young follower
from his embrace; "that I can read, but further, I fear me, thou hast
little to communicate which we shall love to hear."

"My tidings are ill indeed, your highness; aggravated and most
undreamed-of ill. But, perchance," and the young man hesitated, for his
eye caught the pallid face of Agnes, who had irresistibly drawn closer
to the circle about the king, and fixed her eyes on him with an
expression almost wild in its agony, "perchance they had better first
meet your grace's private ear."

"No, no!" reiterated Agnes, springing forward, and clinging convulsively
to his arm. "It is only me thou fearest, I know; I know thou wouldst
spare me, but do not, do not. I can bear all, every thing, save this
horrible suspense; speak out, let me but know all, and then I can teach
my soul to bear it. Oh, do not hesitate, do not pause; in mercy, tell
me--oh, tell me all!"

Thus adjured, but feeling most painfully the suffering his tale would
produce, Douglas struggled with his own emotion, and repeated all the
information he had obtained. Guardedly as he spoke, evidently as he
endeavored to prepare the mind of Agnes, and thus soften its woe, his
tale was yet such as to harrow up the hearts of all his hearers, how
much more the frail and gentle being to whom it more immediately
related; yet she stood calm, pale, indeed, and quivering, but with a
desperate effort conquering the weakness of her nature, and bearing that
deep woe as the daughter of her mother, the betrothed of Nigel Bruce.

The young lord's information was simply this. On nearing the
hunting-lodge, which was his first object, he found it very nearly
deserted, but a few stragglers, amounting perhaps to fifty in number of
the followers of Buchan, remaining behind, with orders to follow their
master to Dunkeld without delay. Mingling with these as a countryman of
the more northern counties, eager to obtain every species of
intelligence respecting the movements of the English and the hunted
Bruce, whom he pretended to condemn and vilify after the fashion of the
Anglo-Scots, and feeling perfectly secure not only in the disguise he
had assumed, but in the peculiar accent and intonation of the
north-country peasant, which he could assume at pleasure, he made
himself a welcome guest, and with scarcely any trouble received much of
the information he desired. He was told of the first capture and rescue
of the Countess of Buchan; that it was through one of the men left for
dead on the scene of the skirmish the earl had received such exact
information concerning the movements and intended destination of the
Bruce; that immediately on receiving this intelligence he had gathered
all his force, amounting to five hundred men, and dividing them into
different bands, sent skilful guides with each, and was thus enabled to
surround the lodge, and command five different avenues of the forest,
without interruption or discovery. He learned, too, that a stormy
interview had taken place between the earl, his wife, and son, the
particulars of which, however, had not transpired; that the earl's rage
had been terrific when he found the night passed, and the Bruce had not
fallen into the snare laid for him; and he had sworn a fearful oath,
that if the countess would not betray him into his power, her son should
die; that both mother and son had stood this awful trial without
shrinking; that no word either to betray their king or implore life and
mercy had been wrung from them. Incensed beyond all measure, Buchan had
sent on the countess with a numerous guard, his men believed, either to
Dunkeld or Perth, in both of which towns there was a strong garrison of
English, and lingered yet another day and night in the hope of dragging
some intelligence from the lips of Alan, or persuading him into acting
the spy upon the actions and movements of the Bruce. He succeeded in
neither; and the men continued to state, with shuddering horror, which
even their rude natures could not suppress, that they believed the son
had actually fallen a victim to his father's rage--that he had actually
been murdered. Numerous reports to that effect had been circulated on
all sides, and though they had watched narrowly, they had seen nothing
to contradict it. The body of the unfortunate boy had been cast into a
deep well, heaps of rubbish flung over it, and the well built up. This
they knew as a positive certainty, for they had seen it.

Douglas heard this tale with an intensity of horror, of loathing, which
at first deprived him almost of every other feeling; but when he could
withdraw himself from the horrible idea, a species of disbelief took
possession of him. It was impossible such utter depravity, such fearful
insensibility to the claims of nature could exist in the breast of any
man; it was a tale forged to inflict fresh agony on the mother's heart,
and he determined on discovering, if possible, the truth. He pretended
entirely to disbelieve it; declared it was not possible; that the earl
had practised on their credulity, and would laugh at them afterwards;
and contrived so well, that three or four declared he should be
convinced with his own eyes, and set about pulling down the slight
brickwork which covered the well. This was what Douglas wanted, and he
eagerly lent them a helping hand.

A body there was indeed, in form and in clothing so exactly that of the
unhappy Alan, that, even though the face was so marred it could not be
recognized, the young earl could doubt no longer; the young, the brave,
the beautiful, and true, had fallen a victim to his own patriot loyalty,
and by a father's hand. The deep suffering this certainly occasioned was
regarded by his companions as sulkiness for having been proved wrong in
his judgment; they jeered and laughed at him accordingly, and harshly as
these sounds reverberated in his heart, they were welcome, as enabling
him still more easily to continue his disguise.

He accompanied them to Dunkeld, and found the earl had proceeded with
his wife as prisoner to the castle of Stirling, there to deliver her
over to the Earl of Hereford, through whom to be sent on to Edward.
Determined on seeing her, if possible, Douglas resolved on daring the
danger, and venturing even to the very stronghold of his foes. The
horror which this unnatural act of the earl had excited in the minds of
his men, he found had extended even over those in Dunkeld, and through
them he learned that, directly on reaching the town, the earl had sought
the countess, brutally communicated the death of her son, and placed in
her hands the raven curls as all which remained of him, some of which
were dabbled in blood; that she had remained apparently unmoved while in
his presence, but the moment he left her had sunk into a succession of
the most fearful fainting fits, in one of which she had been removed to
Stirling.

Withdrawing himself from his companions, under pretence of returning to
his home in the north, having, he said, loitered too long, Douglas
concealed himself for some days in the abbey of Scone, the holy inmates
of which still retained their loyalty and patriotism, notwithstanding
their revered abbot, unable to remain longer inactive, had donned the
warrior's dress, and departed to join and fight with his king. Assuming
the cowl and robes of one of the lay brothers, and removing the red wig
and beard he had adopted with his former costume, the young lord took
the staff in his hand, and with difficulty bringing his hasty pace to a
level with the sober step and grave demeanor of a reverend monk, reached
Stirling just as the cavalcade, with the litter intended for the captive
countess, had assembled before the castle gate. Agitated almost beyond
the power of control, Douglas made his way through the gathering crowds,
and stood unquestioned close beside the litter. He did not wait long.
Respectfully supported by the Earl of Hereford himself, the Countess of
Buchan, with a firm, unfaltering step, approached the litter. The hood
was thrown back, and Douglas could read the effects of withering agony
on the marble stillness of those beautiful features, though to all else
they spoke but firm and calm resolve; there was not a vestige of color
on cheek or lip or brow; and though her figure was as commanding, as
majestic as heretofore, there was a fearful attenuation about it,
speaking volumes to Lord James's heart. Hereford placed her in the
litter, and with a respectful salutation turned away to give some
necessary orders to his men. Bold in his disguise, Douglas bent over the
countess, and spoke in a low, feigned voice those words of comfort and
of peace suited to his assumed character; but feigned as it was, the
countess recognized him on that instant; a convulsive shudder passed
through her every limb, contracting her features with very agony.

"My child--my Alan!" she whispered, harrowing his very soul beneath that
voice's thrilling woe. "Douglas, hast thou heard?--yes, yes; I can read
it in thine awe-struck face. This, this is all I have left of him," and
she partly drew from her bosom the clustering ringlets he recognized at
once; "yet, wherefore should I mourn him: he is happy. Bid his memory be
honored among ye; and oh, tell the sovereign for whom he fell, better a
death like this than treachery and shame."

She had paused as fearing observation, but perceiving the attention of
all more fixed on the glittering cavalcade than on herself, she placed
one of those glossy curls in the young earl's hand, and continued--

"Give this to my poor Agnes, with her mother's blessing, and bid her
take comfort, bid her not weep and mourn for me. A prison, even death is
preferable now to life, for she is cared for. I trust her to Sir Nigel's
love; I know that he will tend her as a brother till a happier hour
makes her all his own. Commend me to my sovereign, and tell him, might I
choose my path again, despite its anguish, 'twould be that which I have
trod. And now farewell, young lord, I bless thee for this meeting."

"Dominus vobiscum mea filia, et vale," responded the supposed monk, in a
loud voice, for he had only time to assure the countess by a look of
deep sympathy of his willingness to execute her simplest wish, and hide
the ringlet in his bosom, ere Hereford turned towards him, with a gaze
of stern inquiry. Ably concealing alike his emotion and the expression
of his countenance, Douglas evaded discovery, and even obtained
permission to follow the litter to the environs of the town. He did so,
but the countess addressed him not again; and it was with a
heart-sinking despondency he had turned to the mountains, when the
cavalcade disappeared from his view. He retained his monkish garb till
he entered the mountain district, where he fell in with his two
companions, and they proceeded, as we have seen, to the quarters of
their king.

A pause of horror followed his narrative, told more forcibly and briefly
by the lips of Douglas than through the cooler medium of the historian's
pen. Stunned, overwhelmed, as if incapable of movement or speech, though
sense remained, Agnes stood insensible, even to the voice of Nigel,
whose soothing accents strove to whisper peace; but when Douglas placed
in her cold hand the raven curls she knew so well, when tenderly yet
earnestly he repeated her mother's words, the poor girl repeatedly
pressed the hair to her parched lips, and laid it in her bosom; and then
perceiving the sad and anxious face of her beloved, she passed her hand
hurriedly over her brow, and burying her head on his breast, sense was
preserved by an agony of tears.

It was long, long ere this aggravated wretchedness was calmed, though
the love of many, the devotion of one were ever round her to strengthen
and console. Sympathy, the most heartfelt, reigned in every bosom. Of
the many misfortunes which had befallen this patriot band, this seemed,
if not really the severest, more fraught with horror than any which had
come before; the youth, the gallant bearing, the endearing qualities of
the heir of Buchan stood forth with vivid clearness in the memories of
all, and there were times when they felt it could not be, it was too
fearful; and then again, the too certain evidence of the fact, witnessed
as it had been by one of such tried truth as James of Douglas, brought
conviction too clearly home, and the sternest warrior, who would have
faced his own captivity and death unmoved, felt no shame in the dimness
which gathered in his eye for the fearful fate of the murdered boy.

In King Robert's breast these emotions obtained yet more powerful
dominion; again did remorse distract him, and there were moments of
darkness, when his spirit questioned the justice of the Creator. Why was
not his crime visited on his own head? Why did the guiltless and
unstained fall thus around him, and he remain unharmed? and it needed
all the eloquence of Nigel, the pious reasonings of the Abbot of Scone,
to convince him that, dark and inscrutable as the decrees of Omnipotence
sometimes seemed, in his case they were as clear as the wisdom from
which they sprung. By chastisement he was purified; he was not yet fit
to receive the reward of the righteous waiting on death. Destined to be
the savior of his unhappy country, the remorse which bowed down his
naturally haughty spirit was more acceptable in the sight of his God,
more beneficial to his own soul, than the one act of devotedness
included in a brave man's death. Robert struggled with his despondency,
with his soul's deep grief, known as it was but to himself, his
confessor, and his young brother; he felt its encouragement would
unnerve him for his destined task. Other imperative matters now pressed
round him, and by presenting fresh and increased danger, roused his
energies once more to their wonted action.

The winter had set in with unexampled severity, overwhelming snow-storms
filled up the rude paths of the mountains, till egress and ingress
appeared impossible. The Earl of Athol himself, who had been the
inseparable companion of the Bruce in all his wanderings, now spoke of
retiring, and passing the winter within stone walls, urging his
sovereign with earnest eloquence to take refuge in Ireland till the
spring, when they would reassemble under arms, and perhaps take the
tyrant Edward once more by surprise.

Bruce knew the veteran nobleman too well to attribute this advice to any
motive save deep interest in his safety. He saw, too, that it was
utterly impossible for them to remain as they then were, without serious
evils alike to his female and male companions; the common soldiers,
steady and firm as they still continued in loyalty, yet were continually
dispersing, promising to reassemble in the spring, but declaring that it
was useless to think of struggling against the English, when the very
elements were at war against them. With a sad foreboding, Robert saw,
and communicated to his devoted wife the necessity of their separation.
He felt that it was right and best, and therefore he resisted all her
tearful entreaties still to linger by his side; her child was suffering,
for her tender years could not bear up against the cold and the want of
proper nourishment, and yet even that claim seemed less to the mother's
heart than the vision of her husband enduring increase of hardship
alone. Her acquiescence was indeed at length obtained, but dimmed by
many very bitter tears.

A hasty consultation with his few remaining friends speedily decided the
Bruce's plans. The castle of Kildrummie, a strong fortress situated at
the head of the Don, in Aberdeenshire, yet remained to him, and thither,
under the escort of his brother Nigel and three hundred men, the king
determined to send his wife and child, and the other ladies of his
court. Himself, his three brothers, Edward, Alexander, and Thomas,
Douglas, Sir Niel Campbell, and his remaining two hundred followers,
resolved on cautiously making their way southward across Loch Lomond,
and proceed thence to the coast of Ireland, there to await the spring.
In pursuance of this plan, Sir Niel Campbell was dispatched without
delay to conciliate Angus, Lord of the Isles, to whom Cantire then
belonged. Knowing he was unfriendly to his near neighbors, the Lords of
Lorn, the king trusted he should find in him a powerful ally. To appeal
yet more strongly to the chivalric hospitality which characterized the
chieftain, Sir Niel consented that his wife and daughter Isoline should
accompany him. Lady Campbell had too lately undergone the grief and
anxiety attendant on the supposed loss of her husband to consent to
another parting. Even the king, her brother, sought not to dissuade her;
but all persuasions to induce Agnes to accompany them were vain; bitter
as the pang of separation was to her already aching heart--for Lady
Campbell and Isoline were both most dear to her--she steadily resolved
to remain with the queen and her attendants, and thus share the fate of
her betrothed.

"Did not my mother commend me to thy care? Did she not bid thee tend me
as a brother until happier hours, and shall I seek other guardianship
than thine, my Nigel?" were her whispered words, and Nigel could not
answer them. So pure, so unselfish was her love, that though he felt his
happiness would have departed with her presence, could he have commanded
words he would have implored her to seek the hospitality of the Lord of
the Isles as a securer home than Kildrummie. Those forebodings already
alluded to had returned with darker weight from the hour his separation
from his brother was resolved on. He evinced no sign of his inward
thoughts, he uttered no word of dissent, for the trust reposed in him by
his sovereign was indeed as precious as it was honorable; but there was
a mournful expression on his beautiful countenance--when unobserved, it
would rest upon his brother--that Agnes could not define, although it
filled her spirit with incomprehensible alarm, and urged her yet more to
abide by his side.

The dreaded day arrived at length, and agonized was indeed that parting.
Cheerfully the king looked, and hopefully he spoke, but it had no power
to calm the whelming tide of sorrow in which his wife clung to his
embrace. Again and again she returned to that faithful heart which bore
so fondly, so forbearingly, with all her faults and weaknesses; and
Margory, although she could not comprehend the extent of sorrow
experienced by her mother, wept bitterly at her side. Nor were they the
only sufferers. Some indeed were fortunate enough to have relatives amid
the band which accompanied them to Kildrummie, but by far the greater
number clung to the necks of brothers, fathers, husbands, whose faithful
and loving companions they had been so long--clung to them and wept, as
if a long dim vista of sorrow and separation stretched before them.
Danger, indeed, was around them, and the very fact of their being thus
compelled to divide, appeared to heighten the perils, and tacitly
acknowledge them as too great to be endured.

With pain and difficulty the iron-souled warriors at length tore
themselves from the embrace of those they held most dear. The knights
and their followers had closed round the litters, and commenced their
march. No clarion sent its shrill blast on the mountain echoes, no
inspiring drum reverberated through the glens--all was mournfully still;
as the rudest soldier revered the grief he beheld, and shrunk from
disturbing it by a sound.

King Robert stood alone, on the spot where Sir Christopher Seaton had
borne from him his wife and child. His eyes still watched their litter;
his thoughts still lingered with them alone; full of affection, anxiety,
sadness, they were engrossed, but not defined. He was aroused by the
sudden appearance of his younger brother, who, bareheaded, threw himself
at his feet, and, in a voice strangely husky, murmured--

"My sovereign, my brother, bless me, oh, bless me, ere we part!"

"My blessing--the blessing of one they deem accursed; and to thee, good,
noble, stainless as thou art! Nigel, Nigel, do not mock me thus,"
answered the king, bitterness struggling with the deepest melancholy, as
he laid his hand, which strangely trembled, on the young man's lowered
head. "Alas! bring I not evil and misery and death on all who love me?
What, what may my blessing bring to thee?"

"Joy, bright joy in the hour of mirth and comfort; oh, untold-of comfort
in the time of sorrow, imprisonment, death! My brother, my brother, oh,
refuse it not; thou knowest not, thou canst not know how Nigel loves
thee!"

Robert gazed at him till every thought, every feeling was lost in the
sudden sensation of dread lest ill should come to him; it had overtaken
one as fair in promise, as beloved, and yet younger; and oh, if death
selected the best, the loveliest, the dearest, would it next fall on
him? The thought was such absolute agony, that the previous suffering
of that hour was lost before it.

"Bless thee--oh, may God in heaven bless thee, my brave, my noble
Nigel!" he exclaimed, with a burst of emotion, perfectly appalling in
one generally so controlled, and raising him, he strained him
convulsively to his heart. "Yet why should we part?" he added, after a
long pause; "why did I fix on thee for this office--are there not
others? Nigel, Nigel, say but the word, and thou shalt rest with me:
danger, privation, exile we have borne, and may still share together.
Why should I send thee from me, dearest, most beloved of all who call me
brother?"

"Why?" answered Nigel, raising his glistening eyes from his brother's
shoulder, "why, dear Robert? because thine eye could read my heart and
trust it; because thou knewest I would watch over those who bear thy
name, who are dear to thee, even as thy noble self. Oh, do not repent
thee of thy choice; 'tis hard to bear alone danger, so long encountered
hand in hand, yet as thou hast decided let it be. Thy words have soothed
my yearning heart, which craved to list thy voice once more; and now
then, my noble liege and brother, farewell. Think on thy Nigel's words;
even when misery is round thee thou shalt, thou shalt be blessed. Think
on them, my Robert, and then when joy and liberty and conquest crown
thee, oh, forget not Nigel."

He threw his arms around him, imprinted a fervent kiss on his cheek, and
was out of sight ere the king by sign or word could arrest his progress.
One hasty bound forward Robert indeed made, but a dimness stole over his
sight, and for one brief minute he sunk down on the grass, and when he
lifted his head again, there were burning tears upon his cheek.




CHAPTER XVI.


The hardships and dangers attendant on King Robert's progress southward,
mingled as they were with the very spirit of romance, are so well known
to every reader of Scottish history that they must be excluded from our
pages, although a tale of chivalry would seem the very place for their
insertion.

The life of no hero, no sovereign, no general, presents us with a
parallel to the lone and dreary passage of Loch Lomond. We hear of an
ancient and a modern Hannibal crossing the snowy Alps, but it was at the
head of triumphant armies; it was carrying war and victory into an
enemy's land, and there was glory in the danger--the glory and pride of
successful ambition. But there was greater and truer heroism in the
spirit which struggled on when the broad, deep waters of Loch Lomond lay
between them and comparative safety; when 'mid falling snow and howling
winds he cheered his drooping and exhausted followers by reading aloud a
spirit-stirring romance, to which they listened enwrapt and charmed,
little imagining their own situation was one of far greater peril, of
more exciting romance than any which the volume so vividly described. A
leaky boat, which scarcely allowed three men to cross in safety, was
their only means of conveyance, and a day and night passed ere the two
hundred followers of the Bruce assembled on the opposite side. The
cheerful blast of his bugle, which sounded to form them in bands before
him on the beach, was answered by one whose unexpected appearance
occasioned such joy to the heart of the king, that the exertions both of
body and mind of the last few hours were forgotten. It was the Earl of
Lennox, who since the fatal battle of Methven had been numbered amongst
the dead, and lamented by his royal master with grief as deep as the joy
was exceeding which greeted him again. Mutual was the tale of suffering
each had to relate, few and faint the hopes and prospects to
communicate, but so many were the friends the patriots had lost, that
the reappearance of the venerable nobleman infused a new and brighter
spirit amid the almost despairing men.

That the Earl of Lennox had found a kind and hospitable home in the
dominions of the Lord of the Isles, and received welcome and favor from
the chieftain himself, was justly a subject of rejoicing to the fugitive
king. Guided by him, the intricacies of their path were smoothed, and
they reached their destination in a much shorter time than would
otherwise have been the case. Sir Niel Campbell had performed his
mission well, and kindness and truth so long unknown, now eagerly
opened their hearths and hearts to the patriot king. Scorning alike the
Scottish and English authority, Angus, Lord of the Isles, had formed an
independent sovereignty, and now felt pride in receiving in his
territories the only sovereign he had felt inclination to revere. The
daring heroism, the unshaken spirit of the Bruce, were akin to his own
wild, and reckless courage, and had there been no actual claim and right
in Robert's pretensions to the crown, Angus would still have declared
that he, and he alone, was the sovereign worthy to assume it. All, then,
of state and dignity which he could assemble round him were proffered to
the king, and had there been less generosity, less chivalric honor in
his character King Robert might have passed the winter months in
comparative security and comfort.

Angus indeed spoke daringly and slightly of the English force, and had
his inmost soul been read, would have joyed had they ventured to attack
him, that he might show his skill and bravery in resisting and defending
against their united force the sovereign who had confided in his
gallantry and honor; but Robert knew better than the rude chieftain the
devastating warfare which characterized Edward's efforts at subjection,
and his whole soul shrunk from exposing Angus and his true-hearted
followers to the utter ruin which, if he were once known to be amongst
them, would inevitably ensue. At once to secure his personal
concealment, and yet to withdraw from Cantire without in any way
offending the high spirit of the island chieftain, Bruce resolved on
making the little island of Rathlin the winter refuge of himself and his
two hundred followers.

Inhabited by the MacDonalds, who were of course subject to their general
chief, though divided from him by the channel, Bruce was still under the
generous protection of his friend, and therefore Angus could bring
forward no objection to the proposal, save the miserable poverty, the
many discomforts of the barren islet, and entreat with all his natural
eloquence that King Robert would still remain in the peninsula. The
arguments of the king, however, prevailed. A small fleet, better manned
than built, was instantly made ready for his service, and Angus himself
conveyed the king in his own galley to his destined residence. The
aspect of the island, the savage appearance and manner of its
inhabitants were indeed such as to strike despondingly and painfully on
the hearts of any less inured to suffering than King Robert and his
devoted adherents. To them it was welcome, for they justly felt the eye
of Edward could scarcely reach them there. It was a painful alternative
to warrior spirits such as theirs that the safety of their country
depended on their inaction and concealment; yet as their king, their
patriot king, was still amongst them, there was much, much to hope and
cherish still. That their gentler friends and relatives were, they hoped
and believed, in a place of safety, was a matter of rejoicing, though
neither entreaty nor command could persuade the Lady Campbell and her
daughter Isoline to accept the proffered hospitality of the island
chieftain. It was nothing to them that they were the only females 'mid
that warrior train, that many hardships were around them still. Neither
Sir Kiel nor the king could resist their pleadings, and ere the sun of
spring had shed its influence on the heart of man as well as the
hardened earth, there were many who mourned that a separation had taken
place, who wished that fatigue and anxiety had still been met together.

Many weeks before King Robert retreated to the island of Rathlin, Sir
Nigel Bruce had conducted his precious charge in safety to the castle of
Kildrummie, whose feeble garrison gladly flung open their gates to
receive them.

It was a strong fortress situated on a circular mount, overhanging the
river Don, which at that point ever rushed darkly and stormily along;
the mount, though not steep, was full two miles in circumference, from
base to brow occupied by the castle, which was erected in that massive
yet irregular form peculiar to the architecture of the middle ages. A
deep, broad moat or fosse, constantly supplied by the river, defended
the castle wall, which ran round the mound, irregularly indeed, for
there were indentations and sharp angles, occasioned by the uneven
ground, each of which was guarded by a strong turret or tower, rising
from the wall. The wall itself was some four-and-twenty feet in height,
and nine in thickness, consequently the spaces between the turrets on
the top of the wall formed broad level platforms, which in case of a
siege were generally kept strongly guarded. Facing the east, and
commanding a view of the river and adjacent country, stood the barbacan
gate and drawbridge, which latter was further defended by strong oaken
doors and an iron portcullis, forming the great gate of the castle
wall, and the principal entrance into the fortress. Two towers of
immense strength, united by a narrow, dimly-lighted passage, guarded
this gate, and on these depended the grate or portcullis, which was
lowered or raised by internal machinery. Within the castle wall was the
outer ballium or court, containing some small, low-roofed dwellings, the
residence of many feudal retainers of the baron. A rude church or chapel
was also within this court, holding a communication with the keep or
principal part of the castle by means of a passage in the third wall,
which divided the ballium from the inner court. In very large castles
there were in general a second fosse, wall, gate, and towers guarding
the keep, and thus making a complete division between it and the
ballium; but the original owners of Kildrummie, less rich and powerful
suzerains than their equals in South Britain, were probably contented
with merely a stout wall to divide their own sovereign residence from
their more plebeian followers. The keep itself, constructed like all
other similar buildings of the age, was a massive tower, covering but a
small square, and four or five stories high. There were attempts at
luxury in the chambers within, but to modern taste the Norman luxury was
little better than rudeness; and certainly though the cushions were soft
and richly embroidered, the arras in some of the apartments splendid
specimens of needlework, and the beautifully carved and often inlaid
oaken walls of others, gave evidence of both taste and talent, yet the
dim light seemed to shed a gloom and heaviness over the whole range of
rooms and passages, which no skill of workmanship or richness of
material could remove. The windows were invariably small, and very long
and narrow, and set in walls of such huge thickness, that the sun had
barely power even in his summer splendor, to penetrate the dusky panes.
In this keep was the great hall of audience, and for the banquet, at the
upper end of which the dais was invariably found, and dark and loathsome
dungeons formed its basement.

The roof of Kildrummie keep was flatter than the generality of Norman
castles, its four angles being surmounted more by the appearance than
the reality of turrets; but one rose from the centre, round, and pierced
by loopholes, turreted at the top, and commanding an extensive view of
the adjoining country: from this tower the banner of the baron always
waved, and its non-appearance excited some indignation in the breast of
Nigel Bruce, for his warrior spirit had no sympathy with that timorous
excuse, that did it wave at such a time it might excite the attention of
the English, whereas did it elevate no symbol of defiance its garrison
might pass unquestioned.

"Up with the banner of Scotland and the Bruce!" were the first commands
of Sir Nigel, as he stood within the ballium, surrounded by his charge
and followers. "Shall we, pledged as we are to our country and king,
even seem to stand neutral and conceal our colors, as ashamed of them?
Shall this be?"

He was answered by a simultaneous rush towards the keep, and at his word
the folds of the broad banner waved exultingly from the tower, its
appearance hailed by a loud shout from those beneath, and by a bright
and momentary gleam of sunshine flashing through the heavy clouds.

"Ha! see ye, my friends, even heaven smiles on us," exclaimed the young
knight triumphantly, and smiling cheerily on his fair friends, as with
gay words and graceful action he marshalled them into the keep. It was
while doing so, that Agnes marked the figure of an old yet
majestic-looking man, whose eyes, still bright and flashing, though his
white hair denoted extreme old age, were fixed immovably on the face and
form of Nigel. It was a peculiar glance, strained, eager, and yet
mournful, holding her attention so fascinated that she paused in her
onward way, and pointed him out to Nigel.

"I know him not, love," he said, in, answer to her inquiry. "I should
deem him minstrel by his garb, or seer, or both perchance, as is
sometimes the case, conjoined. I will speak with him when my present
grateful task is done."

But it was the next morning ere he had the opportunity of doing so, for
much devolved on the young seneschal. He had to visit the outworks, the
stores, the offices, to give multitudinous orders, and receive various
intelligences, to review the present garrison and his own followers, and
assign to each his post; and though ably aided by Sir Christopher Seaton
and other of his officers, all this occupied much time. The outworks he
found in excellent condition; the barbacan, of massive stone, seemed
well enabled to resist attack, should it be made; the machinery of the
drawbridge was in good order, and enabled to be drawn up or let down at
a moment's warning. The stores and granaries, which were contained in
the towers on the castle wall, were very amply provided, though Nigel,
taking advantage of the present peaceful temper of the country,
dispatched trusty messengers without delay for further supplies. That
this fortress, almost the only one remaining to his brother, would
remain unmolested, Nigel did not for one moment believe, but he did hope
that, in case of a siege, if amply provided with stores, it might hold
out till the intense cold of the season and climate would turn the
besiegers from their purpose; at all events, the advancing winter would
be more favorable to the besieged than the besiegers, and though the
garrison was comparatively small, the place itself was of such great
strength as to guarantee the indulgence of his hopes. That the original
garrison were too timorous and wavering for him to place much dependence
on them he readily perceived, but he trusted much to the beneficial
influence which his own steady, true-hearted followers might be enabled
to infuse.

Nigel was young, brave, and animated by every feeling which inspires
courage and hope in the buoyant heart of youth. The gloom which had
oppressed him in parting with his brother, and indeed had partially
clouded his spirit during their rapid journey, vanished before the
duties and responsibilities which thronged round him, now that he felt
himself the guard and seneschal of the castle intrusted to his charge;
now that new duties devolved on him, duties particularly dear to a young
and gallant spirit like his own; duties, too, that bound him closer and
closer with the gentle being in whose welfare and happiness his own were
shrined. It was with a bright smile, then, and animated brow he joined
his Agnes early the following morning, in a stroll through a small woody
inclosure dignified by the name of garden, which occupied part of the
inner court. The old minstrel who had so attracted the attention of
Agnes was there before them. He stood against a projecting buttress, his
arms folded, his eyes fixed, it seemed on vacancy, and evidently not
aware he was approached till Nigel spoke.

"Good morrow, father. I thought we had been the earliest to greet this
fresh and frosty air, save those on guard, yet you are before us. Nay,
wherefore doff thy cap, good father? The air is somewhat too frosty for
thy silvered head."

"I cannot doff it to a nobler, gentle youth," answered the old man,
courteously, "save to my sovereign's self; and as his representative, I
pay willing homage to his brother."

"Ha! dost thou know me, father? And was it because I am King Robert's
brother thine eyes so rested on me yester morn, mournfully, methought,
as if the joy with which I hailed the gleam of sunshine smiling on our
banner had little echo in thy breast?"

"Not that, not that," answered the old man, tremulous; "I scarce
remarked it, for my thoughts were in that future which is sometimes
given me to read. I saw thee, noble youth, but 'twas not here. Dim
visions come across my waking hours; it is not well to note them," and
he turned away as if he might not meet those eager eyes.

"Not here! yet I was at his side, good father," and Agnes laid her fair
hand on the old man's arm.

"Thou wert, thou wert, my child. Beautiful, beautiful!" he half
whispered, as he laid his hand dreamily on those golden curls, and
looked on her face; "yet hath sorrow touched thee, maiden. Thy morn of
life hath been o'erclouded; its shadow lingers yet."

"Too truly speakest thou, father," replied Nigel, drawing Agnes closer
to his heart, for tears were starting in her eyes; "yet will not love
soon chase that sorrow? Thou who canst penetrate the future, seer of the
Bruce's line, tell me, shall she not be mine?"

The old man looked on them both, and then his eyes became fixed on
vacancy; long and painfully once or twice he passed his hand across his
high, pale brow.

"Vain, vain," he said, sadly; "but one vision comes to mine aching
sight, and there she seems thine own. She is thine own--but I know not
how that will be. Ask me no more; the dream is passing. 'Tis a sad and
fearful gift. Others may triumph in the power, but for me 'tis sad, 'tis
very sad."

"Sad! nay, is it not joy, the anticipating joy," answered Nigel, with
animation, "to look on a beloved one, and mark, amid the clouds of
distance, glory, and honor, and love entwining on, his path? to look
through shades of present sorrow, and discern the sunbeam afar off--is
there not joy in this?"

"Aye, gentle youth; but now, oh, now is there aught in Scotland to
whisper these bright things? There was rejoicing, find glory, and
triumph around the patriot Wallace. Scotland sprung from her sluggish
sleep, and gave back her echo to his inspiring call. I looked upon the
hero's beaming brow, I met the sparkle of his brilliant eye, I bowed
before the native majesty of his god-like form, but there was no joy
for me. Dark masses of clouds closed round the present sunshine; the
present fled like a mist before them, and they oped, and then--there was
still Wallace; but oh! how did I see him? the scaffold, the cord, the
mocking crowds, the steel-clad guards--all, all, even as he fell. My
children! my children! was there joy in this?"

There was a thrilling pathos in the old man's voice that touched the
very heart of his listeners. Agnes clung closer to the arm of her
betrothed, and looked up tearfully in his face; his cheek was very pale,
and his lip slightly quivered. There was evidently a desire to speak, to
utter some inquiry, but he looked on that sweet face upturned to his,
and the unspoken words died in an inarticulate murmur on his lips.

"My brother," he said, at length, and with some difficulty, though it
was evident from the expression of his countenance this was not the
question he had meant to ask, "my noble brother, will thy glorious
struggles, thy persevering valor, end in this? No, no, it cannot be.
Prophet and seer, hast thou e'er gazed on him--him, the hope, the joy,
the glory of the line of Bruce? Hast thou gazed on him, and was there no
joy there?"

"Yes!" answered the old man, starting from his posture of despondency,
and raising his hands with animated fervor, while his cheek flushed, and
his eyes, fixed on distance, sparkled with all the fire of youth. "Yes!
I have gazed upon that face, and in present and in future it is glorious
still. Thick mists have risen round him, well-nigh concealing him within
their murky folds, but still, still as a star penetrating through cloud,
and mist, and space, till it sees its own bright semblance in the ocean
depths, so has that brow, circled by its diadem of freedom, gleamed back
upon mine aching sight, and I have seen and known there is joy for Bruce
and Scotland yet!"

"Then is there joy for all true Scottish men, good father, and so will
we chase all sadness from our brows and hearts," replied Nigel, lightly.
"Come, tell us of the past, and not the future, while we stroll; thou
hast traditions, hast thou not, to while away an hour?"

"Nay, my young lord," replied the seer, "hast thou not enough in the
present, embodied as it is in this fair maiden's dreaming eye and loving
heart? The minstrel's harp and ancient lore are for the evening hour,
not for a time and companion such as this," and with an audible blessing
he turned away, leaving them to their stroll together.

It was not, however, without an effort Nigel could take advantage of his
absence, and make good use of moments so blissful to hearts that love.
There was something in the old man's mournful tone and glance when it
rested upon him, that answered strangely and sadly to the spirit-voice
breathing in his own bold breast. It seemed to touch that chord
indefinably, yet felt by the vibration of every nerve which followed. He
roused himself, however, and ere they joined the morning meal, there was
a brighter smile on the lip and heart of Agnes than had rested there for
many a long day.

For a few weeks there was peace both within and without the castle of
Kildrummie. The relief, the shelter which its walls afforded to the
wearied and exhausted wanderers was at first felt and enjoyed alone.
Many of the frailer sex were far too exhausted and disabled by a variety
of sufferings, to be sensible of any thing but that greater comforts
than had been theirs for many painful months were now possessed; but
when their strength became partially restored, when these comforts
became sufficiently familiar to admit of other thoughts, the queen's
fortitude began to waver. It was not the mere impulse of the moment
which caused her to urge her accompanying her husband, on the plea of
becoming more and more unworthy of his love if separated from him.
Margaret of Mar was not born for a heroine; more especially to act on
such a stormy stage as Scotland. Full of kindly feeling, of affection,
confidence, gentleness, one that would have drooped and died had her
doom been to pass through life unloved, her yielding mind took its tone
and coloring from those with whom she most intimately associated; not
indeed from the rude and evil, for from those she intuitively shrunk.
Beneath her husband's influence, cradled in his love, her spirit
received and cherished the _reflection_ of his strength; of itself, she
too truly felt it had none; and consequently when that beloved one was
far away, the reflection passed from her mind even as the gleam of his
armor from the mirror on which it glanced, and Margaret was weak and
timorous again. She had thought, and hoped, and prayed, her unfeigned
admiration of Isabella of Buchan, her meek and beautiful appreciation of
those qualities and candid acknowledgment that such was the character
most adapted to her warrior husband, would bring more steadiness and
courage to her own woman breast. Alas! the fearful fate which had
overtaken the heroic countess came with such a shock to the weaker soul
of Margaret, that if she had obtained any increase of courage, it was at
once annihilated, and the desponding fancy entered her mind that if evil
reached one so noble, so steadfast in thought and in action, how might
she hope to escape; and now, when weakened and depressed alike by bodily
and mental suffering, such fancies obtained so much possession of her
that she became more and more restless. The exertions of Sir Nigel and
his companions, even of her own friends, failed in rousing or infusing
strength. Sometimes it was vague conjectures as to the fate of her
husband, the dread that he had fallen into the hands of his foes--a
catastrophe which not only herself but many stronger minds imagined
could scarcely be avoided. She would dwell on these fancies till
suspense became intolerable; and then, if these were partially calmed,
came personal fears: the belief that if attacked the castle could not
muster force enough for defence; suspicions of treachery in the
garrison, and other symptoms of the wavering nature of her mind, till
Sir Nigel felt too truly that if danger did come she would not stay to
meet it. Her wishes ever turned to the sanctuary of St. Duthac in the
domains of the Earl of Ross, believing the sanctity of the place would
be more effectual protection than the strongest castle and bravest
force. In vain Sir Nigel remonstrated, nay, assured her that the
fidelity of the Lord of Ross was impugned; that he doubted his
flattering overtures; that he was known to be in correspondence with
England. But he spoke in vain--the queen persisted in trusting him; that
he had ever been a friend of her father and brother the Earls of Mar,
and he would be faithful to her interests now. Her opinion weighed with
many of the ladies of her court, even amongst those who were not
affected with her fears. At such times Agnes never spoke, but there was
a calm, quiet determination in her expression that convinced the Lady
Seaton, who alone had leisure to observe her, that her resolution was
already taken and unalterable.

All that could be done to calm, the queen's perturbed spirits by way of
amusement Sir Nigel did; but his task was not an easy one, and the rumor
which about this time reached him that the Earls of Hereford and
Lancaster, with a very large force, were rapidly advancing towards
Aberdeenshire, did not lessen its difficulties. He sought to keep the
information as long as possible from all his female charge, although the
appearance of many terrified villagers flying from their homes to the
protection of the castle hardly enabled him to do so, and confirmed
without doubt the truth of what he had heard. Nigel felt the moment of
peril was approaching, and he nerved both mind and frame to meet it. The
weak terrors of the queen and some of her train increased with every
rumor, and, despite every persuasion of Sir Nigel, Seaton, and other
brave and well-tried warriors, she rested not till a negotiation was
entered into with the Earl of Ross to grant them a safe conduct through
his lands, and permission to enter the sanctuary of St. Duthac.

Perplexed with many sad thoughts, Nigel Bruce was one day slowly
traversing a long gallery leading to some uninhabited chambers in the
west wing of the building; it was of different architecture, and ruder,
heavier aspect than the remainder of the castle. Tradition said that
those rooms had been the original building inhabited by an ancestor of
the line of Bruce, and the remainder had been gradually added to them;
that some dark deed of blood had been there committed, and consequently
they were generally kept locked, none of the vassals in the castle
choosing to run the risk of meeting the spirits which they declared
abode there. We have before said that Nigel was not superstitious,
though his mind being of a cast which, adopting and embodying the ideal,
he was likely to be supposed such. The particulars of the tradition he
had never heard, and consequently it was always with a smile of
disbelief he listened to the oft-repeated injunction not to walk at dusk
in the western turret. This warning came across him now, but his mind
was far otherwise engrossed, too much so indeed for him even to give
more than a casual glance to the rude portraits which hung on either
side the gallery.

He mistrusted the Earl of Ross, and there came a fear upon his noble
spirit that, in permitting the departure of the queen and her
attendants, he might be liable to the censure of his sovereign, that he
was failing in his trust; yet how was he to act, how put a restraint
upon his charge? Had he indeed believed that the defence of the castle
would be successful, that he should be enabled to force the besiegers
to raise the siege, he might perhaps have felt justified in restraining
the queen--but he did not feel this. He had observed there were many
discontented and seditious spirits in the castle, not indeed in the
three hundred of his immediate followers; but what were they compared to
the immense force now pouring over the country, and whose goal he knew
was Kildrummie? The increase of inmates also, from the number of small
villages which had emptied their inhabitants into his walls till he was
compelled to prevent further ingress, must inevitably diminish his
stores, and when once blockaded, to replenish them would be impossible.
No personal fears, no weakness of purpose entered the high soul of Nigel
Bruce amid these painful cogitations. He well knew no shade of dishonor
_could_ fall on him; he thought not one moment of his own fate, although
if the castle were taken he knew death awaited him, either by the
besieger's sword or the hangman's cord, for he would make no condition;
he thought only that this was well-nigh the last castle in his brother's
keeping, which, if lost, would in the present depressed state of his
affairs be indeed a fatal blow, and a still greater triumph to England.

These thoughts naturally engrossed his mind to the exclusion of all
imaginative whisperings, and therefore was it that he drew back the bolt
of a door which closed the passage, without any of those peculiar
feelings that at a less anxious time might have possessed him; for souls
less gifted than that of Nigel Bruce can seldom enter a spot hallowed by
tradition without the electric thrill which so strangely unites the
present with the past.

It was a chamber of moderate dimensions to which the oaken door admitted
him, hung with coarse and faded tapestry, which, disturbed by the wind,
disclosed an opening into another passage, through which he pursued his
way. In the apartment on which the dark and narrow passage ended,
however, his steps were irresistibly arrested. It was panelled with
black-oak, of which the floor also was composed, giving the whole an
aspect calculated to infect the most thoughtless spirit with gloom. Two
high and very narrow windows, the small panes of which were quite
incrusted with dust, were the only conductors of light, with the
exception of a loophole--for it could scarcely be dignified by the name
of casement--on the western side. Through this loophole the red light
of a declining winter sun sent its rays, which were caught and stayed on
what seemed at the distance an antique picture-frame. Wondering to
perceive a picture out of its place in the gallery, Nigel hastily
advanced towards it, pausing, however, on his way to examine, with some
surprise, one of the planks in the floor, which, instead of the
beautiful black polish which age had rather heightened than marred in
the rest, was rough and white, with all the appearance of having been
hewn and scraped by some sharp instrument.

It is curious to mark how trifling a thing will sometimes connect,
arrange, and render clear as day to the mind all that has before been
vague, imperfect, and indistinct. It is like the touch of lightning on
an electric chain, link after link starts up till we see the illumined
whole. We have said Nigel had never heard the particulars of the
tradition; but he looked on that misshapen plank, and in an instant a
tale of blood and terror weaved itself in his mind; in that room the
deed, whatever it was, had been done, and from that plank the sanguine
evidence of murder had been with difficulty erased. A cold shuddering
passed over him, and he turned instinctively away, and strode hastily to
examine the frame which had attracted him. It did contain a picture--we
should rather say a portrait--for it comprised but one figure, the
half-length of a youthful warrior, clad in steel, save the
beautifully-formed head, which was covered only by his own luxuriant
raven curls. In a better light it could not have been placed,
particularly in the evening; the rays, condensed and softened, seemed to
gather up their power into one focus, and throw such an almost
supernatural glow on the half face, give such an extraordinary
appearance of life to the whole figure, that a casual visitant to that
chamber might well fancy it was no picture but reality on which he
gazed. But no such emotion was at work in the bosom of Nigel Bruce,
though his first glance upon that face occasioned an almost convulsive
start, and then a gaze of such intense, such almost fearful interest,
that he stood as if fascinated by some overpowering spell. His features,
worked with internal emotions, flushed and paled alternately. It was no
weak-minded terror which bound him there, no mood in which a step or
sound could chill and startle, for so wrapt was he in his own strange
dreams that he heard not a slow and measured step approach him; he did
not even start when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and the melodious
voice of the seer caused him to turn slowly around.

"The warnings thou hast heard have no power on thee, young lord," he
said, slightly smiling, "or I should not see thee here at this hour
alone. Yet thou wert strangely wrapt."

"Knowest thou aught of _him_, good father?" answered Nigel, in a voice
that to his own ears sounded hoarse and unnatural, and turning his
glance once again to the portrait. "My thoughts are busy with that face
and yon tale-telling plank; there are wild, feverish, incongruous dreams
within me, and I would have them solved. Thou of all others art best
fitted to the task, for amid the records of the past, where thou hast
loved to linger, thou hast surely found the tradition of this tower. I
shame not to confess there is in my heart a deep yearning to learn the
truth. Wherefore, when thy harp and song have so pleasantly whiled the
evening hours, did not this tale find voice, good father?"

"Alas! my son, 'tis too fraught with horror, too sad for gentle ears. A
few stern, rugged words will best repeat it. I love not to linger on the
theme; listen then now, and it shall be told thee."

"In the reign of Malcolm the Second, the districts now called Aberdeen
and Forfar were possessed, and had been so, so tradition saith, since
Kenneth MacAlpine, by the Lords of Brus or Bris, a family originally
from the North. They were largely and nobly connected, particularly with
Norway and Gaul. It is generally supposed the first possessions in
Scotland held in fief by the line of Bruce can be traced back only to
the time of David I., in the person of Robert de Bruce, an Anglo-Norman
baron, whose father came over to England with the Conqueror. The cause
of this supposition my tale will presently explain.

"Haco Brus or Bris was the Lord of Aberdeen in the reign of Malcolm the
Second. He spent many years abroad; indeed, was supposed to have married
and settled there, when, to the surprise of his vassals, he suddenly
returned unmarried, and soon after uniting himself with a beautiful and
accomplished girl, nearly related to the blood-royal of Scotland,
settled quietly in this tower, which was the stronghold of his
possessions. Years passed; the only child of the baron, a son, born in
the first year of his marriage, grew up in strength and beauty, the idol
not only of his mother, but of his father, a man stern and cold in
seeming, even morose, but with passions fearful alike in their influence
and extent. Your eye glances to that pictured face, he was not the
baron's son of whom I speak. The affections, nay, the very passions of
the baron were centered in this boy. It is supposed pride and ambition
were their origin, for he looked, through his near connection with the
sovereign, for further aggrandizement for himself. There were some who
declared ambition was not the master-passion, that a deeper, sterner,
fiercer emotion dwelt within. Whether they spoke thus from the sequel, I
know not, but that sequel proved their truth.

"There was a gathering of all the knightly and noble in King Malcolm's
court, not perchance for trials at arms resembling the tournays of the
present day, but very similar in their motive and bearing, though ruder
and more dangerous. Tho wreath of glory and victory was ever given by
the gentle hand of beauty. Bright eyes and lovely forms presided at the
sports even as now, and the king and his highest nobles joined in the
revels.

"The wife of the Baron of Brus and his son, now a fine boy of thirteen,
were of course amongst the royal guests. Though matron grace and
dignified demeanor had taken the place of the blushing charms of early
girlhood, the Lady Helen Brus was still very beautiful, and as the niece
of the king and wife of such a distinguished baron, commanded and
received universal homage. Among the combatants was a youthful knight,
of an exterior and bearing so much more polished and graceful than the
sons of the soil or their more northern visitors, that he was instantly
recognized as coming from Gaul, then as now the most polished kingdom of
the south. Delighted with his bravery, his modesty, and most chivalric
bearing, the king treated him with most distinguished honor, invited him
to his palace, spoke with him as friend with friend on the kingdoms of
Normandy and France, to the former of which he was subject. There was a
mystery, too, about the young knight, which heightened the interest he
excited; he bore no device on his shield, no cognizance whatever to mark
his name and birth and his countenance, beautiful as it was, often when
in repose expressed sadness and care unusual to his years, for he was
still very young, though in reply to the king's solicitations that he
would choose one of Scotland's fairest maidens (her dower should be
princely), and make the Scottish court his home, he had smilingly avowed
that he was already a husband and father.

"The notice of the king, of course, inspired the nobles with similar
feelings of hospitality. Attention and kindness were lavished on the
stranger from all, and nothing was talked of but the nameless knight.
The Lord of Brus, who had been absent on a mission to a distant court
during the continuance of the martial games, was on his return presented
by the king himself to the young warrior. It is said that both were so
much moved by this meeting, that all present were mystified still more.
The baron, with that deep subtlety for which he was remarkable,
recovered himself the first, and accounted for his emotion to the
satisfaction of his hearers, though not apparently to that of the
stranger, who, though his cheek was blanched, still kept his bright
searching eyes upon him, till the baron's quailed 'neath his gaze. The
hundred tongues of rumor chose to speak of relationship, that there was
a likeness between them, yet I know not how that could be. There is no
impress of the fiendish passion at work in the baron's soul on those
bright, beautiful features."

"Ha! Is it of him you speak?" involuntarily escaped from Nigel, as the
old man for a moment paused; "of him? Methought yon portrait was of an
ancestor of Bruce, or wherefore is it here?"

"Be patient, good my son. My narrative wanders, for my lips shrink from
its tale. That the baron and the knight met, not in warlike joust but in
peaceful converse, and at the request of the latter, is known, but on
what passed in that interview even tradition is silent, it can only be
imagined by the sequel; they appeared, however, less reserved than at
first. The baron treated him with the same distinction as his
fellow-nobles, and the stranger's manner towards him was even more
respectful than the mere difference of age appeared to demand. Important
business with the Lord of Brus was alleged as the cause of his accepting
that nobleman's invitation to the tower of Kildrummie, in preference to
others earlier given and more eagerly enforced. They departed together,
the knight accompanied but by two of his followers, and the baron
leaving the greater number of his in attendance on his wife and child,
who, for some frivolous reason, he left with the court. It was a strange
thing for him to do, men said, as he had never before been known to lose
sight of his boy even for a day. For some days all seemed peace and
hospitality within the tower. The stranger was too noble himself, and
too kindly disposed towards all his fellow-creatures, to suspect aught
of treachery, or he might have remarked the retainers of the baron were
changed; that ruder forms and darker visages than at first were
gathering around him. How the baron might have intended to make use of
them--almost all robbers and murderers by trade--cannot be known, though
it may be suspected. In this room the last interview between them took
place, and here, on this silent witness of the deed, the hand of the
father was bathed in the blood of the son!"

"God in heaven!" burst from Nigel's parched lips, as he sprang up. "The
son--how could that be? how known?"

"Fearfully, most fearfully!" shudderingly answered the old man; "through
the dying ravings of the maniac Lord of Brus himself. Had not heaven, in
its all-seeing justice, thus revealed it, the crime would ever have
remained concealed. His bandit hirelings were at hand to remove and
bury, many fathoms deep in moat and earth, all traces of the deed. One
of the unfortunate knight's followers was supposed to have shared the
fate of his master, and to the other, who escaped almost miraculously,
you owe the preservation of your royal line.

"But there was one witness of the deed neither time nor the most cunning
art could efface. The blood lay in a pool on the oaken floor, and the
voice of tradition whispers that day after day it was supernaturally
renewed; that vain were the efforts to absorb it, it ever seemed moist
and red; and that to remove the plank and re-floor the apartment was
attempted again and again in vain. However this may be, it is evident
that _erasing it_ was attended with extreme difficulty; that the blood
had penetrated well-nigh through the immense thickness of the wood."

Nigel stooped down over the crumbling fragment; years, aye, centuries
had rolled away, yet there it still stood, arrested it seemed even in
its decay, not permitted to crumble into dust, but to remain an
everlasting monument of crime and its retribution. After a brief pause
Nigel resumed his seat, and pushing the hair from his brow, which was
damp with some untold emotion, signed to the old man to proceed.

"That the stranger warrior returned not to Malcolm's court, and had
failed in his promises to various friends, was a matter of
disappointment, and for a time, of conjecture to the king and his court.
That his followers, in obedience, it was said, to their master's signet,
set off instantly to join him either in England or Normandy, for both of
which places they had received directions, satisfied the greater number.
If others suspected foul play, it was speedily hushed up; for the baron
was too powerful, too closely related to the throne, and justice then
too weak in Scotland to permit accusation or hope for conviction. Time
passed, and the only change observable in the baron was, that he became
more gloomy, more abstracted, wrapt up, as it were, in one dark
remembrance, one all-engrossing thought. Towards his wife he was
changed--harsh, cold, bitterly sarcastic; as if her caresses had turned
to gall. Her gentle spirit sunk beneath the withering blight, and he was
heard to laugh, the mocking laugh of a fiend, as he followed her to the
grave; her child, indeed, he still idolized, but it was a fearful
affection, and a just heaven permitted not its continuance. The child,
to whom many had looked as likely to ascend the Scottish throne, from
the failure of all direct heirs, the beautiful and innocent child of a
most guilty father, faded like a lovely flower before him, so softly, so
gradually, that there came no suspicion of death till the cold hand was
on his heart, and he lay lifeless before him who had plunged his soul in
deadliest crime through that child to aggrandize himself. Then was it
that remorse, torturing before, took the form of partial madness, and
there was not one who had power to restrain, or guide, or soothe.

"Then it was the fearful tale was told, freezing the blood, not so much
with the wild madness of the tone, but that the words were too
collected, too stamped with truth, to admit of aught like doubt. The
couch of the baron was, at his own command, placed here, where we now
stand, covering the spot where his first-born fell, and that portrait,
obtained from Normandy, hung where it now is, ever in his sight. The
dark tale which those wild ravings revealed was simply this:

"He had married, as was suspected, during his wanderings, but soon tired
of the yoke, more particularly as his wife possessed a spirit proud and
haughty as his own, and all efforts to mould her to his will were
useless, he plunged anew into his reckless career. He had never loved
his wife, marrying her simply because it suited his convenience, and
brought him increase of wealth and station; and her ill-disguised
abhorrence of many of his actions, her beautiful adherence to virtue,
however tempted, occasioned all former feelings to concentrate in hatred
the most deadly. More than one attempt to rid himself of her by poison
she had discovered and frustrated, and at last removed herself and her
child, under a feigned name, to Normandy, and ably eluded all pursuit
and inquiry.

"The baron's search continued some time, in the hope of silencing her
forever, as he feared she might prove a dangerous enemy, but failing in
his wishes, he travelled some time over different countries, returned at
length to Scotland, and acted as we have seen. The young knight had been
informed of his birthright by his mother, at her death, which took place
two years before he made his appearance in Scotland; that she had
concealed from him the fearful character of his father, being unable so
completely to divest herself of all feeling towards the father of her
child, as to make him an object of aversion to his son. She had long
told him his real name, and urged him to demand from his father an
acknowledgment of his being heir to the proud barony of the Bruce. His
likeness to herself was so strong, that she knew it must carry
conviction to his father; but to make his identity still more certain,
she furnished him with certain jewels and papers, none but herself could
produce. She had done this in the presence of two faithful witnesses,
the father and brother of her son's betrothed bride, high lords of
Normandy, the former of which made it a condition annexed to his consent
to the marriage, that as soon as possible afterwards he should urge and
claim his rights. Sir Walter, of course, willingly complied; they were
married by the name of Brus, and their child so baptized. A war, which
retained Sir Walter in arms with his sovereign, prevented his seeking
Scotland till his boy was a year old, and then for his sake, far more
than for his own, the young father determined on asserting his
birthright, his child should not be nameless, as he had been; but to
spare his unknown parent all public mortification, he joined the martial
games without any cognizance or bearing on his shield.

"Terrible were the ravings in which the baron alluded to the interview
he had had with his murdered child; the angelic mildness and generosity
of the youthful warrior; that, amid all his firmness never to depart
from his claim--as it was not alone himself but his child he would
irreparably injure--he never wavered in his respectful deference to his
parent. He quitted the court in the belief that the baron sought
Kildrummie to collect the necessary papers for substantiating his claim;
but ere he died, it appeared his eyes were opened. The fierce passions
of the baron had been too long restrained in the last interview; they
burst even his politic control, and he had flung the papers received
from, the hand of his too-confiding son on the blazing hearth, and with
dreadful oaths swore that if he would not instantly retract his claim,
and bind himself by the most sacred promise never to breathe the foul
tale again, death should be its silent keeper. He would not bring his
own head low, and avow that he had dishonored a scion of the
blood-royal.

"Appalled far more at the dark, fiendish passions he beheld than the
threat held out to himself, Sir Walter stood silent a while, and then
mildly demanded to be heard; that if so much public mortification to his
parent would attend the pursuance of his claims at the present time, he
would consent to forego them, on condition of his father's solemnly
promising on his deathbed to reveal the truth, and do him tardy justice
then, but forego them altogether he would not, were his life the
forfeit. The calm firmness of his tone, it is supposed, lashed his
father into greater madness, and thus the dark deed was done.

"That the baron several times endeavored to possess himself of the
infant child of Sir Walter, also came to light in his dying moments;
that he had determined to exterminate root and branch, fearful he should
still possess some clue to his birth; he had frantically avowed, but in
his last hour, he would have given all his amassed treasure, his
greatness, his power, but for one little moment of assurance that his
grandson lived. He left him all his possessions, his lordship, his name,
but as there were none came forth to claim, they of necessity passed to
the crown."

"But the child, the son of Sir Walter--if from him our line descends, he
must have lived to manhood--why did not he demand his rights?"

"He lived, aye, and had a goodly progeny; but the fearful tale of his
father's fate related to him again and again by the faithful Edric, who
had fled from his master's murdered corse to watch over the safety of
that master's child, and warn all who had the charge of him of the fiend
in human shape who would probably seek the boy's life as he had his
father's, caused him to shun the idea of his Scottish possessions with a
loathing horror which he could not conquer; they were associated with
the loss of both his parents, for his father's murder killed his devoted
mother. He was contented to feel himself Norman in possessions as well
as in name. He received lands and honors from the Dukes of Normandy, and
at the advanced age of seventy and five, accompanied Duke William to
England. The third generation from him obtained anew Scottish
possessions, and gradually Kildrummie and its feudal tenures returned to
its original lords; but the tower had been altered and enlarged, and
except the tradition of these chambers, the fearful fate of the second
of the line has faded from the minds of his descendants, unless casually
or supernaturally recalled."

"Ha! supernaturally, sayest thou?" interrupted Nigel, in a tone so
peculiar it almost startled his companion. "Are there those who assert
they have seen his semblance--good, gifted, beautiful as thou hast
described him? why not at once deem him the guardian spirit of our
house?"

"And there are those who deem him so, young lord," answered the seer.
"It is said that until the Lords of Bruce again obtained possession of
these lands, in the visions of the night the form of the murdered
warrior, clad as in yon portrait, save with the addition of a scarf
across his breast bearing the crest and cognizance of the Bruce,
appeared once in his lifetime to each lineal descendant. Such
visitations are said to have ceased, and he is now only seen by those
destined like himself to an early and bloody death, cut off in the prime
of manhood, nobleness, and joy."

"And where--sleeping or waking?" demanded the young nobleman, in a low,
deep tone, laying his hand on the minstrel's arm, and looking fixedly on
his now strangely agitated face.

"Sleeping or waking? it hath been both," he answered, and his voice
faltered. "If it be in the front of the war, amid the press, the crush,
the glory of the battle, he hath come, circled with bright forms and
brighter dreams, to the sleeping warrior on the eve of his last fight;
if"--and his voice grew lower and huskier yet--"if by the red hand of
the foe, by the captive's chain and headsman's axe, as the noble
Wallace, there have been those who say--I vouch not for its truth--he
hath been seen in the vigils of the night on the eve of knighthood, when
the young, aspiring warrior hath watched and prayed beside his arms.
Boy! boy! why dost thou look upon me thus?"

"Because thine eye hath read my doom," he said, in a firm, sweet tone;
"and if there be aught of truth in thy tale, thou knowest, feelest I
have seen him. God of mercy, the captive's chain, the headsman's axe!
Yet 'tis Thy will, and for my country--let it come."




CHAPTER XVII.


"Thou art idle, maiden; wherefore not gather thy robes and other gear
together, as thy companions? Knowest thou not in twenty-four hours we
shall be, heaven willing, safely sheltered under the holy wing of St.
Duthac?" was Queen Margaret's address to Agnes, about a week after the
conversation we have recorded. There were many signs of confusion and
tokens of removal in her scanty train, but the maiden of Buchan stood
apart, offering assistance when needed, but making no arrangements for
herself.

"I seek not such holy keeping, may it please you, madam," she replied.
"I do not quit this castle."

"How!" exclaimed Margaret. "Art thou mad?"

"In what, royal madam?"

"Or hath love blinded thee, girl? Knowest thou not Hereford and
Lancaster are advancing as rapidly as their iron-clad force permits, and
in less than seven days the castle must be besieged in form?"

"I know it, madam."

"And thou wilt brave it, maiden?--dare a danger that may be avoided? Is
thy life of so little worth, or if not thy life, thy liberty?"

"When a life is wrapt up in one--when there is none on earth save that
one to whom that life is of any worth, wherefore should I seek safety
save by his side? Royal madam, I am not mad nor blind; but desolate as
I am,--nay, were I not 'twould be the same--I covet to share Sir Nigel's
fate; the blow that strikes him shall lay me at his side, be it in
prison or in death. My safety is with him; and were the danger ten times
as great as that which threatens now, I'd share it with him still."

"Nay, thou art but a loving fool, Agnes. Be advised, seek safety in the
sanctuary; peril cannot reach us there."

"Save by the treachery of the dark-browed earl who grants that shelter.
Nay, pardon me, madam; thou lovest not to list that theme, believing him
as honorable and faithful as thyself. God grant he prove so! If," she
added, with a faint smile, "if it be such mad folly to cling to a
beloved one in danger as in joy, in adversity as in triumph, forgive me,
royal lady, but thy maidens have learned that tale of thee."

"And would to God I could teach them thus again!" exclaimed the queen,
tears coursing down her cheeks. "Oh, Agnes, Agnes, were Robert here, not
death itself should part us. For my child's sake, for his, I go hence
for safety. Could my resting, nay, my death benefit him, Agnes, I would
meet it, weak as thou deemest me."

"Nay, nay, I doubt it not, my queen," answered Agnes, soothingly, "It is
best thou shouldst find some place of repose till this struggle be past.
If it end in victory, it will be joy to hail thee once again within its
walls; if otherwise, better thy safety should be cared for."

"But for thee, my child, is it not unmaidenly for thee to linger here?"

"It would be, royal madam," and a bright vivid flush glowed on her pale
cheeks, "but for the protection of the Lady Seaton, who will not leave
her husband."

"I may not blame her, after mine own words," said the queen,
sorrowfully; "yet she is one I could have wished beside me. Ha! that
trumpet. Merciful heaven! is it the foe?" and trembling with alarm, she
dispatched attendant after attendant to know the cause.

The English force was known to be so near that many a warrior-heart beat
quicker at any unusual blast, and it was not marvel the queen's terrors
should very often affect her attendants. Agnes alone, amid the maiden
train, ever retained a calm self-possession; strange in one who, till
the last eventful year, had seemed such a very child. Her mother
trembled lest the turmoils and confusion of her country should ever
approach her or those she loved; how might she, timid, nay; often
fearful, weak, and yielding, as the flower on the heath, how might she
encounter storm, and grief, and care? Had her mother's eye been on her
now, and could have followed her in yet deeper trials, that mother
scarce had known her child.

She it was whose coolness enabled her easily to recognize and explain
the trumpet's blast. It was an officer with an escort from the Lord of
Ross, informing the queen that, from late intelligence respecting the
movements of the English, he deemed it better they should not defer
their departure from the castle another night.

On the receipt of this message all was increased hurry and confusion in
the apartments of the queen. The advice was to be followed on the
instant, and ere sunset the litters and mules, and other accommodation
for the travellers, waited their pleasure in the outer court.

It was with a mien of princely dignity, a countenance grave and
thoughtful, with which the youthful seneschal attended the travellers to
the great gate of the castle. In after years the expression of his
features flashed again and again upon those who looked upon him them.
Calmly he bade his sister-in-law farewell, and bade her, should she be
the first to see his brother, tell him that it was at her own free will
and pleasure she thus departed; that neither advice nor persuasion on
his part had been used; she had of her own will released him from his
sacred charge; and if ill came of it, to free his memory from blame.

"Trust me, Nigel; oh, surely you may trust me! You will not part from me
in anger at my wilfulness?" entreated Margaret, as clinging to his arm,
she retained him a few minutes ere he placed her in the litter.

"In anger, my sweet sister, nay, thou wrongest me!" he said, a bright
smile dispersing a moment the pensive cast of his features. "In sorrow,
perchance, for I love not him to whose care thou hast committed thyself;
yet if ill await this castle, and thou wert with me, 'twould enhance its
bitterness. No, tis better thou shouldst go; though I would it were not
to the Lord of Ross."

"And wherefore?" demanded the deep stern voice of the officer beside
him.

"Because I doubt him, Archibald Macfarlane," sternly replied the young
nobleman, fixing his flashing eyes upon him; "and thou mayst so inform
him an thou wilt. An I do him wrong, let him deliver the Queen of
Scotland and her attendants in safety to King Robert, in the forthcoming
spring, and Nigel Bruce will crave forgiveness for the wrong that he
hath done him; nay, let his conduct give my doubts the lie, and I will
even thank him, sir."

Turning on his heel, he conducted the queen to her litter, and bade a
graceful farewell to all her fair companions, bidding good angels speed
them on their way. The heavy gates were thrown back, the portcullis
raised and the drawbridge lowered, and amid a parting cheer from the
men-at-arms drawn up in the court in military homage to their queen, the
cavalcade departed, attended only by the men of Ross, for the number of
the garrison was too limited to admit of their attendance anywhere, save
within and on the walls.

With folded arms and an anxious brow, Sir Nigel stood beside the gate,
marking the progress of the train; a gentle voice aroused him. It
playfully said, "Come to the highest turret, Nigel, there thou wilt
trace their path as long as light remains." He started, for Agnes was at
his side. He drew her arm within his own, briefly gave the command to
close the gate and make all secure, and turned with her in the direction
of the keep.

"Have I done right," he said, as, when they had reached a more retired
path, he folded his arm caressingly around her, and drew her closer to
him, "to list thy pleadings, dearest, to grant thy boon? oh, if _they_
go to safety, why did I listen to thee and permit thee to remain?"

"Nay, there is equal safety within these walls, Nigel. Be assured, thine
Agnes hath neither regret nor doubt when thou art by her side," she
answered, still playfully. "I love not the sanctuaries they go to seek;
the stout hearts and trusty blades of warriors like thee and thine, my
Nigel, are better and truer safeguards."

"Alas! Agnes, I fear me not in cases such as these. I am not wont to be
desponding, but from the small number of true men which garrison this
castle, I care not to acknowledge I had loved better to meet my foe on
open ground. Here I can scarce know friend from foe; traitors may be
around me, nay, in my very confidence, and I know it not."

"Art thou not infected with Queen Margaret's suspicions, Nigel? Why
ponder on such uneasy dreams?"

"Because, my best love, I am a better adept in the perusal of men's
countenances and manners than many, and there are signs of lowering
discontent and gloomy cowardice, arguing ill for unity of measures, on
which our safety greatly rests. Yet my fancies may be wrong, and at all
hazards my duty shall be done. The issue is in the hands of a higher
power; we cannot do wrong in committing ourselves to Him, for thou
knowest He giveth not the battle to the strong, and right and justice we
have on Scotland's side."

Agnes looked on his face, and she saw, though he spoke cheerfully, his
thoughts echoed not his words. She would not express her own anxiety,
but led him gently to explain to her his plan of defence, and prepare
her for all she might have to encounter.

Five days passed, and all within and without the walls remained the
same; the sixth was the Sabbath, and the greater part of the officers
and garrison were assembled in the chapel, where divine service was
regularly read by the Abbot of Scone, whom we should perhaps before have
mentioned as having, at the king's especial request, accompanied the
queen and her attendants to Kildrummie. It was a solemn yet stirring
sight, that little edifice, filled as it was with steel-clad warriors
and rude and dusky forms, now bending in one prayer before their God.
The proud, the lowly, the faithless, and the true, the honorable and the
base, the warrior, whose whole soul burned and throbbed but for his
country and his king, the coward, whose only thought was how he could
obtain life for himself and save the dread of war by the surrender of
the castle--one and all knelt there, the workings of those diverse
hearts known but to Him before whom they bent. Strangely and mournfully
did that little group of delicate females gleam forth amidst the darker
and harsher forms around, as a knot of fragile flowers blooming alone,
and unsheltered amidst some rude old forest trees, safe in their own
lowliness from the approaching tempest, but liable to be overwhelmed in
the fall of their companions, whom yet they would not leave. As calmly
as in his own abbey the venerable abbot read the holy service, and
administered the rites of religion to all who sought. It was in the deep
silence of individual prayer which preceded the chanting of the
conclusion of the service that a shrill, peculiar blast of a trumpet was
heard. On the instant it was recognized as the bugle of the warder
stationed on the centre turret of the keep, as the blast which told the
foe was at length in sight. Once, twice, thrice it sounded, at irregular
intervals, even as Nigel had commanded; the notes were caught up by the
warders on the walls, and repeated again and again. A sudden cry of "The
foe!" broke from the soldiers scattered round, and again all was
silence. There had been a movement, almost a confusion in some parts of
the church, but the officers and those who had followed them from the
mountains neither looted up nor stirred. The imperative gesture of the
abbot commanded and retained order and silence, the service proceeded;
there might have been some faltering in the tones of the choir, but the
swelling notes of the organ concealed the deficiency.

The eye of Agnes voluntarily sought her betrothed. His head was still
bent down in earnest prayer, but she had not looked long before she saw
him raise it, and lift up his clasped hands in the evident passionate
fervor of his prayer. So beautiful, so gloriously beautiful was that
countenance thus breathing prayer, so little seemed that soul of earth,
that tears started to the eyes of Agnes, and the paleness of strong
emotion over-spread the cheek, aye, and the quivering lip, which the war
and death-speaking trumpet had had no power to disturb.

"Let me abide by him, merciful Father, in weal or in woe; oh, part us
not!" she prayed again and yet again, and the bright smile which now
encircled his lips--for he had caught her glance--seemed an answer to
her prayer.

It was a beautiful, though perhaps to many of the inmates of Kildrummie
a terrible sight, which from the roof of the turret now presented itself
to their view. The English force lay before them, presenting many a
solid phalanx of steel, many a glancing wood of spears. Nor were these
all; the various engines used in sieges at this time, battering-rams,
and others, whose technical names are unfortunately lost to us, but used
to fling stones of immense weight to an almost incredible distance;
arbalists, and the incomparable archer, who carried as many lives as
arrows in his belt; wagons, heavily laden, with all things necessary
for a close and numerous encampment--all these could be plainly
distinguished in rapid advance towards the castle, marking their path
through the country by the smoke of the hamlets they had burned. Many
and eager voices resounded in various parts of the castle; numbers had
thronged to the tower, with their own eyes to mark the approach of the
enemy, and to report all they had seen to their companions below,
triumphantly or despondingly, according to the temper of their minds.
Sir Nigel Bruce and Sir Christopher Seaton, with others of the superior
officers, stood a little apart, conversing eagerly and animatedly, and
finally separating, with an eager grasp of the hand, to perform the
duties intrusted to each.

"Ha! Christine, and thou, fair maiden," exclaimed Sir Christopher,
gayly, as on turning he encountered his wife and Agnes arm-in-arm. "By
mine honor, this is bravely done; ye will not wait in your tiring-bower
till your knights seek ye, but come for information yourselves. Well,
'tis a goodly company, is't not? as gallant a show as ever mustered, by
my troth. Those English warriors tacitly do us honor, and proclaim our
worth by the numbers of gallant men they bring against us. We shall
return the compliment some day, and pay them similar homage."

His wife smiled at his jest, and even felt reassured, for it was not the
jest of a mind ill at ease, it was the same bluff, soldier spirit she
had always loved.

"And, Nigel, what thinkest thou?"

"Think, dearest?" he said, answering far more the appealing look of
Agnes than her words; "think? that we shall do well, aye, nobly well;
they muster not half the force they led me to expect. The very sight of
them has braced me with new spirit, and put to ignominious flight the
doubts and dreams I told thee had tormented me."

Movement and bustle now pervaded every part of the castle, but all was
conducted with an order and military skill that spoke well for the
officers to whom it was intrusted. The walls were manned; pickaxes and
levers, for the purposes of hurling down stones on the besiegers,
collected and arranged on the walls; arms polished, and so arranged that
the hand might grasp them at a minute's warning, were brought from the
armory to every court and tower; the granaries and storehouses were
visited, and placed under trustworthy guards. A band of picked men,
under an experienced officer, threw themselves into the barbacan,
determined to defend it to the last. Sir Nigel and Sir Christopher
visited every part of the outworks, displaying the most unceasing care,
encouraged the doubting, roused the timid, and cheered and inspired the
boldest with new confidence, new hope; but one feeling appeared to
predominate--liberty and Scotland seemed the watchword of one and all.

Onward, like a mighty river, rolled the English force; nearer and
nearer, till the middle of the second day saw them encamped within a
quarter of a mile from the palisades and outworks raised on either side
of the barbacan. Obtaining easy possession of the river--for Sir Nigel,
aware of the great disparity of numbers, had not even attempted its
defence--they formed three distinct bodies round the walls, the
strongest and noblest setting down before the barbacan, as the principal
point of attack. Numerous as they had appeared in the distance, well
provided with all that could forward their success, it was not till
closer seen all their strength could be discovered; but there was no
change in the hopes and gallant feelings of the Scottish officers and
their men-at-arms, though, could hearts have been read, the timidity,
the doubts, the anxious wishes to make favorable peace with the English
had in some of the original garrison alarmingly increased.

Before, however, any recourse was made to arms, an English herald,
properly supported, demanded and obtained admission within the gates, on
a mission from the Earls of Hereford and Lancaster, to Sir Christopher
Seaton, Sir Nigel Bruce, and others of command. They were summoned to
deliver up the castle and themselves to their liege lord and sovereign,
King Edward; to submit to his mercy, and grace should be shown to them,
and safe conduct granted to all those who, taking refuge within the
walls and adopting a position of defence, proclaimed themselves rebels
and abettors of rebellion; that they should have freedom to return to
their homes uninjured, not only in their persons but in their
belongings; and this should be on the instant the gates were thrown
open, and the banner of England had taken the place of that of Scotland
now floating from their keep.

"Tell thy master, thou smooth-tongued knave," burst angrily from the
lips of Sir Christopher Seaton, as he half rose from his seat and
clenched his mailed hand at the speaker, and then hastily checking
himself, added, in a lower tone, "Answer him, Nigel; thou hast eloquence
at thy command, I have none, save at my sword's point, and my temper is
somewhat too hot to list such words, courteous though they may be."

"Tell your master, sir herald," continued Nigel, rising as his colleague
flung himself back on his seat, and though his voice was sternly calm,
his manner was still courteous, "tell them they may spare themselves the
trouble, and their followers the danger, of all further negotiation. We
are Scottish men and Scottish subjects, and consequently to all the
offers of England we are as if we heard not. Neither rebels nor abettors
of rebels, we neither acknowledge the necessity of submitting ourselves
to a tyrant's mercy, nor desire the advantage of his offered grace.
Return, sir herald; we scorn the conditions proposed. We are here for
Scotland and for Scotland's king, and for them we know both how to live
and how to die."

His words were echoed by all around him, and there was a sharp clang of
steel, as if each man half drew his eager sword, which spoke yet truer
than mere words. Dark brows and features stern were bent upon the herald
as he left their presence, and animated council followed his departure.

No new movement followed the return of the herald. For some days no
decisive operation was observable in the English force; and when they
did attack the outworks, it was as if more to pass the time than with
any serious intent. It was a period of fearful suspense to the besieged.
Their storehouses were scarcely sufficiently provided to hold out for
any great length of time, and they almost imagined that to reduce them
to extremities by famine was the intention of the besiegers. The
greatest danger, if encountered hand to hand in the _melee_, was
welcome, but the very idea of a slow, lingering fate, with the enemy
before them, mocking their misery, was terrible to the bravest. A daring
sally into the very thickest of the enemy's camp, headed by Nigel and
his own immediate followers, carrying all before them, and when by
numbers compelled to retreat, bearing both booty and prisoners with
them, roused the English from their confident supposition that the
besieged would soon be obliged to capitulate, and urged them into
action. The ire of the haughty English blazed up at what seemed such
daring insolence in their petty foe. Decisive measures were resorted to
on the instant, and increased bustle appeared to pervade both besiegers
and besieged.

"Pity thou art already a knight, Nigel!" bluffly exclaimed Seaton,
springing into his saddle by torchlight the following morning, as with a
gallant band he was about dashing over the drawbridge, to second the
defenders of the barbacan and palisades. "How shall we reward thee, my
boy? Thou hast brought the foe to bay. Hark! they are there before me,"
and he spurred on to the very centre of the _melee_.

Sir Nigel was not long after him. The enemy was driven back with fearful
loss. Scaling-ladders were thrown down; the archers on the walls, better
accustomed to their ground, marking their foes by the torches they
carried, but concealed themselves by the darkness, dealt destruction
with as unerring hand as their more famous English brethren. Shouts and
cries rose on either side; the English bore back before the sweeping
stroke of Nigel Bruce as before the scythe of death. For the brief space
of an hour the strife lasted, and still victory was on the side of the
Scots--glorious victory, purchased with scarce the loss of ten men. The
English fled back to their camp, leaving many wounded and dead on the
field, and some prisoners in the hands of the Scots. Ineffectual efforts
were made to harass the Scots, as with a daring coolness seldom
equalled, they repaired the outworks, and planted fresh palisades to
supply those which had fallen in the strife, in the very face of the
English, many of them coolly detaching the arrows which, shot at too
great distance, could not penetrate the thick lining of their buff
coats, and scornfully flinging them back. Several sharp skirmishes took
place that day, both under the walls and at a little distance from them;
but in all the Scots were victorious, and when night fell all was joy
and triumph in the castle; shame, confusion, and fury in the English
camp.

For several days this continued. If at any time the English, by
superiority of numbers, were victorious, they were sure to be taken by
surprise by an impetuous sally from the besieged, and beaten back with
loss, and so sudden and concealed were the movements of Nigel and
Seaton, that though the besiegers lay closer and closer round the
castle, the moment of their setting forth on their daring expeditions
could never be discovered.

"Said I not we should do well, right well, sweet Agnes," exclaimed
Nigel, one night, on his return from an unusually successful sally, "and
are not my words true? Hast thou looked forth on the field to-day, and
seen how gloriously it went? Oh, to resign this castle to my brother's
hands unscathed, even as he intrusted it; to hold it for him, threatened
as it is!"

He smiled gayly as he spoke, for the consciousness of power was upon
him--power to _will_ and _do_, to win and to retain--that most blessed
consciousness, whether it bless a hero's breast or poet's soul, a
maiden's heart or scholar's dream, this checkered world can know.

"I did look forth, my Nigel, for I could not rest; yet ask me not to
tell thee how the battle went," she added, with a faint flush, as she
looked up in his noble face, beaming as it was with every feeling dear
to the heart that loved, "for I traced but the course of one charger,
saw but the waving of one plume."

"And thou didst not fear the besiegers' arrows, my beloved? Didst stand
in the shelter I contrived? Thou must not risk danger, dearest; better
not list the urgings of thy noble spirit than be aught exposed."

"There was no danger, Nigel, at least there seemed none," she said. "I
felt no fear, for I looked on thee."




CHAPTER XVIII.


Had the gallant defenders of Kildrummie Castle been conscious that the
at first dilatory and then uncertain measures of their foes originated
in the fact that the Earls of Hereford and Lancaster were not themselves
yet on the field, and that they had with them a vast addition to their
forces, they would not perhaps have rested so securely on the hopes
which their unexpected success very naturally engendered. Attack on one
side they knew they could resist; their only dread had been that, from
the numbers of the English, the angle towers, each of which covered a
postern, might be attacked at once, and thus discover the real weakness
of their forces. The obstinate struggle for the barbacan, the strongest
point of the castle, had been welcomed with joy by the Scotch, for there
they could overlook every movement of the besiegers. Some wonder it did
cause that such renowned knights as the earls were known to be, should
not endeavor to throw them off their guard by a division of attack; but
this wonder could not take from the triumph of success.

It was from no want of observation the absence of the two earls remained
undiscovered by the besieged. Engaged on a secret expedition, whose
object will be seen in the sequel, they had commanded the message
demanding surrender to be given in their names, their pavilions to be
pitched in sight of the castle as if they were already there, their
banners to wave above them, esquires and pages to be in attendance, and
their war-cries to be shouted, as was the custom when they led on in
person. The numerous knights, clothed in bright armor from head to heel
ever traversing the field, assisted the illusion, and the Scotch never
once suspected the truth.

Imagining a very brief struggle would deliver the castle into their
hands, even if its garrison were mad enough to refuse compliance with
King Edward's terms, the earls had not hurried themselves on their
expedition, and a fortnight after the siege had begun, were reposing
themselves very cavalierly in the stronghold of an Anglo-Scottish baron,
some thirty miles southward of the scene of action.

It was the hour of supper, a rude repast of venison, interspersed with
horn and silver flagons filled with the strong liquors of the day, and
served up in a rude hall, of which the low round arches in the roof, the
massive walls without buttresses, and windows running small outside, but
spreading as to become much larger within, all denoted the Saxon
architecture unsoftened by any of the Norman improvements.

The earls and their host, with some attendant knights, sat as usual
round the dais or raised part of the hall, their table distinguished it
may be by some gold as well as silver vessels, and a greater variety of
liquor, particularly hypocras and claret of the day, the one formed of
wine and honey, the other of wine and spices; by the sinnel and wastel
cakes, but certainly not by the superior refinement of the more solid
food. The huge silver saltcellar alone divided the table of the baron
from that of his dependants, yet the distinction of sitting above and
below the salt was as great as the division between the master and
servant of the present day; the jest, the loud laugh seasoned the
viands placed before them, and the hearty draught from the welcome
flagon. Nor was the baron's own table much quieter; remarks on the state
of the country, speculations as to the hiding-place of King Robert, and
when they should receive tidings of the surrender of Kildrummie, formed
topics of conversation alternately with discussions on the excellence of
the wines, the flavor of the venison, the difference between English and
Scottish cookery, and such like matters, important in the days of our
ancestors as in our own.

"You have ridden long enough to-day, good my lords, to make a hearty
charge on your suppers; a long journey and a tough battle, commend me to
them for helps to the appetite," said the Scottish baron, joyously
inviting them by his own example to eat on and spare not.

"Commend me to the latter, an ye will," answered Hereford, on whose brow
a cloud of something like distaste had spread; "but by mine honor, I
love not the business of the last week. I have brought it to a close,
however, and praise the saints for it."

"Bah! thou art over-squeamish, Hereford. Edward would give us the second
best jewel in his chaplet for the rich prize we have sent him," resumed
Lancaster.

"Reserving the first, of course, for the traitor Bruce himself,"
interposed their host. "Ah! such a captive were in truth worth an
earldom."

"Then, by my troth, the traitor's wife is worth a barony," returned
Lancaster, laughing; "and her fair bevy of attendants, amongst whom are
the wives, daughters, and sisters of many a rebel, thinkest thou not we
shall be high in Edward's favor for them, too? I tell thee we might have
fought many a good fight, and not have done him such good service."

"It may be, it may be," answered Hereford, impatiently, "had it been at
the sword's point, had they been prisoners by force of arms, I would
have joyed too, and felt it was good service; but such rank treachery,
decoyed, entrapped by that foul prince of lies, the Lord of Ross--faugh!
I could have rammed his treachery back into his throat."

"And done the king, perchance, good service too," rejoined Lancaster,
still excessively amused, "for I have no faith in a traitor, however he
may serve us a while; yet thou art not over-wise, good friend, to let
such trifles chafe thee thus. Trust me, Edward will think more of the
captives than the capture."

"There was a time he would not," answered the earl, mournfully; "a time,
when Edward would have held it foul scorn to war with women, and worse
than scorn to obtain their persons by treachery, as now."

"Aye, but he has changed, and we must change too, would we please him,"
said the baron; "such notions might have done in former days, but they
are too high-flown for the present time, my good lord. I marvel they
should have lingered so long with thee."

A frown gathered on Hereford's broad and noble brow, but remembering the
forbearance due to his host, he checked an angry reply. "The king _has_
changed," he said, "darkly and painfully changed; ambition has warped
the noblest, knightliest heart which ever beat for chivalry."

"Hush, ere thou speakest treason, Sir Earl; give me not the pain of
draining another flagon of this sparkling hypocras to gain strength for
thine arrest, good friend," exclaimed Lancaster, laying the flat of his
sword on the earl's shoulder.

Hereford half smiled. "Thou art too happy in thy light-hearted mirth for
me to say aught that would so disturb it," he said; "yet I say, and will
say again, would to heaven, I had been before the gates of Kildrummie,
and left to thee all the honor and glory, an thou wilt, of this
capture."

"Honor and glory, thou bitter piece of satire!" rejoined Lancaster,
holding up a large golden flagon, to hide his face from the earl.
"Unhappy me, were this all the glory I could win. I will wipe away the
stain, if stain there be, at Kildrummie, an it be not surrendered ere we
reach it."

"The stain is with the base traitor Ross, not with thee or me," answered
Hereford; "'tis that I abhor the nature of such expeditions, that I
loathe, aye, loathe communication with such as he, and that--if it can
be--that worse traitor Buchan, that makes me rejoice I have naught
before me now but as fair a field as a siege may be. Would to God, this
devastating and most cruel war were over, I do say! on a fair field it
may be borne, but not to war with women and children, as has been my
fate."

"Aye, by the way, this is not the first fair prize thou hast sent to
Edward; the Countess of Buchan was a rare jewel for our coveting
monarch--somewhat more than possession, there was room for vengeance
there. Bore she her captivity more queenly than the sobbing and weeping
Margaret?"

The question was reiterated by most of the knights around the dais, but
Hereford evidently shrunk from the inquiry.

"Speak not of it, I charge ye," he said. "There is no room for jesting
on grief as hers; majestic and glorious she was, but if the reported
tale be true, her every thought, her every feeling was, as I even then
imagined, swallowed up in one tearless and stern but all-engrossing
anguish."

"The reported tale! meanest thou the fate of her son?" asked one of the
knights.

"If it be true!" resumed another; "believest thou, my lord, there is
aught of hope to prove it false?"

"More likely to be true than false," added Lancaster; "I can believe any
thing of that dark scowling villain Buchan--even the murder of his
child."

"I believe it _not_," answered Hereford; "bad as that man is, hard in
heart as in temper, he has too much policy to act thus, even if he had
no feelings of nature rising to prevent it. No, no; I would wager the
ruby brooch in my helmet that boy lives, and his father will make use of
him to forward his own interests yet."

"But why then forge this tale?" demanded their host; "how may that serve
his purpose?"

"Easily enough, with regard to the vengeance we all know he vowed to
wreak on his unhappy wife. What deeper misery could he inflict upon her
than the belief her boy was murdered? and as for its effect on Edward,
trust a Comyn to make his own way clear."

"But what do with the boy meanwhile?"

"Keep him under lock and key; chained up, may be, as a dog in a kennel,
till he has broken his high spirit, and moulds him to the tool he
wills," answered Hereford, "or at least till his mother is out of his
path."

"Ha! thinkest thou the king will demand such sweeping vengeance? He
surely will not sentence a woman to death."

"Had I thought so, had I only dreamed so," replied Hereford, with almost
startling sternness, "as there is a God above us, I would have risked
the charge of treason and refused to give her up! But no, my lords, no;
changed as Edward is, he would not, he dared not use his power thus. I
meant but imprisonment, when I said out of the boy's path--more he will
not do; but even such I love not. Bold as it was to crown the rebel
Bruce, the deed sprung from a noble heart, and noble deeds should meet
with noble judgment."

A bugle sounded twice or thrice sharply without, and occasioning some
bustle at the lower part of the ball, interrupted for a brief space the
converse of the lords. A few minutes after, the seneschal, attended by
two or three higher servants, returned, marshalling in due form two
young men in the garb of esquires, followed by some fifteen or twenty
men-at-arms.

"Ha! Fitz-Ernest and Hugo; well met, and ye bring us good tidings from
Kildrummie," exclaimed both the English earls at once, as cap in hand
the esquires slowly walked up the hall, and did obeisance to their
masters.

"Yet your steps are somewhat laggard, as they bring us news of victory.
By my troth, were it not utterly impossible, I could deem ye had been
worsted in the strife," continued the impatient Lancaster, while the
cooler and more sagacious Hereford scanned the countenances of the
esquires in silence. "Yet and ye come not to tell of victory, why have
ye come at all?"

"To beseech your lordship's speedy return, to the camp," replied
Fitz-Ernest, after a moment's hesitation, his cheek still flushed from
his master's words. "There is division of purpose and action in the
camp, and an ye not return and head the attack your noble selves, I fear
me there is little hope of victory."

"Peace, fool! is there such skill and wisdom needed? Division in purpose
and action! Quarrelling, methinks, had better be turned against the
enemy than against yourselves. Hugo, do thou speak; in plain terms,
wherefore come ye?"

"In plain terms, then, good my lord, as yet we have had the worst of
it," answered the esquire, bluntly. "The Scotch fight like very devils,
attacking us instead of waiting for our attack, penetrating into the
very centre of our camp, one knows not how or whence, bearing off
prisoners and booty in our very teeth."

"Prisoners--booty--worsted! Thou durst not tell me so!" exclaimed
Lancaster, furiously, as he started up and half drew his sword.

"Peace, peace, I pray thee, good friend, peace," continued Hereford,
laying his hand on Lancaster's shoulder, with a force which compelled
him to resume his seat. "Let us at least hear and understand their
mission. Speak out, Hugo, and briefly--what has befallen?"

In a few straightforward words his esquire gave all the information
which was needed, interrupted only now and then by a brief interrogation
from Hereford, and some impatient starts and muttering from his
colleague. The success of the Scots, described in a former page, had
continued, despite the action of the mangonels and other engines which
the massive walls appeared to hold in defiance. So watchful and skilful
were the besieged, that the greatest havoc had been made amongst the men
employed in working the engines, and not yet had even the palisades and
barbacan been successfully stormed.

"Have they tried any weaker point?" Hereford asked, and the answer was,
that it was on this very matter division had spread amongst the knights,
some insisting on carrying the barbacan as the most important point, and
others advising and declaring their only hope of success lay in a
divided attack on two of the weaker sides at once.

"The fools, the sorry fools!" burst again from Lancaster. "They deserve
to be worsted for their inordinate pride and folly; all wanted to lead,
and none would follow. Give you good e'en, my lord," he added, turning
hastily to his host; "I'll to the courtyard and muster forth my men.
Fitz-Ernest, thou shalt speak on as we go," and drawing his furred
mantle around him, he strode rapidly yet haughtily from the hall.
Hereford only waited to learn all from Hugo, to hold a brief
consultation with some of his attendant knights, and he too, despite the
entreaties of his host to tarry with him at least till morning, left the
banquet to don his armor.

"Silence and speed carry all before them, my good lord," he said,
courteously. "In such a case, though I fear no eventual evil, they must
not be neglected. I would change the mode of attack on these Scotch, ere
they are even aware their foes are reinforced."

"Eventual evil, of a truth, there need not be, my lord," interposed his
esquire, "even should no force of arms prevail. I have heard there are
some within the walls who need but a golden bribe to do the work for
us."

"Peace!" said the nobleman, sternly. "I loathe the very word
betray--spoken or intended. Shame, shame on thee to speak it, and yet
more shame to imagine it needed! Art thou of Norman birth, and deemest a
handful of Scotch like these will bid us raise the siege and tamely
depart?--yet better so than gained by treachery."

Hugo and the Scottish baron alike shrunk back from the reproving look of
Hereford, and both silently followed him to the courtyard. Already it
was a scene of bustling animation: trumpets were sounding and drums
rolling; torches flashing through the darkness on the mailed coats of
the knights and on gleaming weapons; and the heavy tramp of near two
hundred horse, hastily accoutred and led from the stable, mingled with
the hoarse winds of winter, howling tempestuously around. The reserve
which Hereford had retained to guard the prisoners so treacherously
delivered over to him, was composed of the noblest amidst his army,
almost all mounted chevaliers; and, therefore, though he might not add
much actual force to the besiegers, the military skill and experience
which that little troop included argued ill for the besieged. Some of
the heaviest engines he had kept back also, particularly a tower some
four or five stories high, so constructed that it could be rolled to the
walls, and its inmates ascend unscathed by the weapons of their
defenders. Not imagining it would be needed, he had not sent it on with
the main body, but now he commanded twelve of the strongest horses to be
yoked to it, and on went the unwieldy engine, rumbling and staggering on
its ill-formed wheels. Lancaster, whose impatience no advice could ever
control, dashed on with the first troop, leaving his cooler comrade to
look to the yoking of the engines and the marshalling the men, and with
his own immediate attendants bringing up the rear, a task for which
Hereford's self-command as well fitted him as his daring gallantry to
head the foremost charge.

"Ye will have a rough journey, my good lord; yet an ye deem it best,
farewell and heaven speed ye," was the parting greeting of the baron, as
he stood beside the impatient charger of the earl.

"The rougher the better," was that nobleman's reply; "the noise of the
wind will conceal our movements better than a calmer night. Farewell,
and thanks--a soldier's thanks, my lord, poor yet honest--for thy right
noble welcome."

He bent his head courteously, set spurs to his steed, and dashed over
the drawbridge as the last of his men disappeared through the outer
gate. The Scottish nobleman looked after him with many mingled feelings.

"As noble a warrior as ever breathed," he muttered; "it were honor to
serve under him, yet an he wants me not I will not join him. I love not
the Bruce, yet uncalled, unneeded, I will not raise sword against my
countrymen," and with slow, and equal steps he returned to the hall.

Hereford was correct in his surmises. The pitchy darkness of a winter
night would scarcely have sufficed to hide the movements attendant on
the sudden arrival of a large body of men in the English camp, had not
the hoarse artillery of the wind, moaning, sweeping, and then rushing
o'er the hills with a crashing sound like thunder, completely smothered
every other sound, and if at intervals of quiet unusual sounds did
attract the ears of those eager watchers on the Scottish walls, the
utter impossibility of kindling torches or fires in either camp
frustrated every effort of discovery. Hoarser and wilder grew the
whirlwind with the waning hours, till even the steel-clad men-at-arms
stationed on the walls moved before it, and were compelled to crouch
down till its violence had passed. Favored by the elements, Hereford
proceeded to execute his measures, heedless alike of the joyful surprise
his sudden appearance occasioned, and of the tale of division and
discord which Hugo and Fitz-Ernest had reported as destroying the unity
of the camp. Briefly and sternly refusing audience to each who pressed
forward, eager to exculpate himself at the expense of his companions, he
desired his esquire to proclaim a general amnesty to all who allowed
themselves to have been in error, and would henceforth implicitly obey
his commands; he returned to his pavilion, with the Earl of Lancaster,
summoning around him the veterans of the army, and a brief consultation
was held. They informed him the greatest mischief had been occasioned by
the injuries done to the engines, which had been brought to play against
the walls. Stones of immense weight had been hurled upon them,
materially injuring their works, and attended with such fatal slaughter
to the men who worked them, that even the bravest shrunk back appalled;
that the advice of the senior officers had been to hold back until these
engines were repaired, merely keeping strict guard against unexpected
sallies on the part of the Scotch, as this would not only give them time
to recruit their strength, but in all probability throw the besieged off
their guard. Not above half of the army, however, agreed with this
counsel; the younger and less wary spurned it as cowardice and folly,
and rushing on to the attack, ill-formed and ill-conducted, had ever
been beaten back with immense loss; defeat, however, instead of teaching
prudence, lashed them into greater fury, which sometimes turned upon
each other.

Hereford listened calmly, yet with deep attention, now and then indeed
turning his expressive eyes towards his colleague, as if entreating him
to observe that the mischief which had befallen them proceeded greatly
from impetuosity and imprudence, and beseeching his forbearance. Nor was
Lancaster regardless of this silent appeal; conscious of his equality
with Hereford in bravery and nobleness, he disdained not to acknowledge
his inferiority to him in that greater coolness, which in a siege is so
much needed, and grasping his hand with generous fervor, bade him speak,
advise, command, and he would find no one in the camp more ready to be
counselled and to obey than Lancaster. To tear down those rebel colors
and raise those of England in their stead, was all he asked.

"And fear not that task shall be other than thine own, my gallant
friend," was Hereford's instant reply, his features kindling at
Lancaster's words more than they had done yet; and then again quickly
resuming his calm unimpassioned exterior, he inquired if the mangonels
and other engines were again fit for use. There were several that could
instantly be put in action was the reply. Had the numbers of fighting
men within the castle been ascertained? They had, a veteran answered,
from a prisoner, who had appeared so willing to give information, that
his captors imagined there were very many malcontents within the walls.
Of stalwart fighting men there were scarcely more than three hundred;
others there were, of whose number was the prisoner, who fought because
their companions' swords would else have been at their throats, but that
they would be glad enough to be made prisoners, to escape the horrors of
the siege.

"I am sorry for it," was the earl's sole rejoinder, "there will be less
glory in the conquest."

"And this Sir Nigel Bruce, whoe'er he be, hath to combat against
fearful odds," remarked Lancaster; "and these Scotch-men, by my troth,
seem touched by the hoof of the arch-deceiver--treachery from the earl
to the peasant. Hast noticed how this scion of the Bruce bears
himself?--right gallantly, 'tis said."

"As a very devil, my lord," impetuously answered a knight; "in the walls
or out of them, there's no standing before him. He sweeps down his foes,
line after line, as cards blown before the wind; he is at the head of
every charge, the last of each retreat. But yesternight there were those
who marked him covering the retreat of his men absolutely alone; his
sword struck down two at every sweep, till his passage was cleared; he
darted on--the drawbridge trembled in its grooves--for he had given the
command to raise it, despite his own danger--his charger, mad as
himself, sprang forward, and like a lightning flash, both disappeared
within the portcullis as the bridge uprose."

"Gallantly done!" exclaimed Lancaster, who had listened to this recital
almost breathlessly. "By St. George, a foe worthy to meet and struggle
with! But who is he--what is he?"

"Knowest thou not?" said Hereford, surprised; "the brother, youngest
brother I have heard, of this same daring Earl of Carrick who has so
troubled our sovereign."

"Nigel, the brother of Robert! What, the scribe, the poet, the dreamer
of Edward's court? a poor youth, with naught but his beauty to recommend
him. By all good angels, this metamorphosis soundeth strangely! art sure
'tis the same, the very same?"

"I have heard so," was Hereford's quiet reply, and continuing his more
important queries with the veterans around, while Lancaster, his gayer
spirit roused by this account of Nigel, demanded every minute particular
concerning him, that he might seek him hand to hand.

"Steel armor inlaid with silver--blue scarf across his breast,
embroidered with his cognizance in gold--blue plume, which no English
sword hath ever soiled--humph! that's reserved for me--charger white as
the snow on the ground--sits his steed as man and horse were one. Well,
gloriously well, there will be no lack of glory here!" he said,
joyously, as one by one he slowly enumerated the symbols by which he
might recognize his foe. So expeditiously had Hereford conducted his
well-arranged plans, that when his council was over, it still wanted two
hours to dawn, and these Hereford commanded the men who had accompanied
him to pass in repose.

But he himself partook not of this repose, passing the remainder of the
darkness in carefully reviewing the forces which were still fresh and
prepared for the onset, in examining the nature of the engines, and
finally, still aided by the noise of the howling winds, marshalled them
in formidable array in very front of the barbacan, the heavy mist thrown
onward by the blasts effectually concealing their near approach. To
Lancaster the command of this party was intrusted; Hereford reserving to
himself the desirable yet delicate task of surveying the ground,
confident that the attack on the barbacan would demand the whole
strength and attention of the besieged, and thus effectually cover his
movements.

His plan succeeded. A fearful shout, seconded by a tremendous discharge
of huge stones, some of which rattled against the massive walls in vain,
others flying across the moat and crushing some of the men on the inner
wall, were the first terrific sounds which unexpectedly greeted the
aroused attention of the Scotch. The armor of their foes flashing
through the mist, the furious charge of the knights up to the very gates
of the barbacan, seemingly in sterner and more compact array than of
late had been their wont, the immense body which followed them,
appearing in that dim light more numerous than reality, struck a
momentary chill on the Scottish garrison; but the unwonted emotion was
speedily dissipated by the instant and unhesitating sally of Sir
Christopher Seaton and his brave companions. The impetuosity of their
charge, the suddenness of their appearance, despite their great
disparity of numbers, caused the English a moment to bear back, and kept
them in full play until Nigel and his men-at-arms, rushing over the
lowered drawbridge, joined in the strife. A brief, very brief interval
of fighting convinced both the Scottish leaders that a master-spirit now
headed their foes; that they were struggling at infinitely greater odds
than before; that unity of purpose, greater sagacity, and military skill
were now at work against them, they scarce knew wherefore, for they
recognized the same war-cry, the same banners; there were the same
gallant show of knights, for in the desperate _melee_ it was scarcely
possible to distinguish the noble form of Lancaster from his fellows,
although marking the azure plume, which even then waved high above all
others, though round it the work of death ever waxed hottest; the
efforts of the English earl were all bent to meet its gallant wearer
hand to hand, but the press of war still held them apart, though both
seemed in every part of the field. It was a desperate struggle man to
man; the clash of swords became one strange continuous mass of sound,
instead of the fearful distinctness which had marked their work before.
Shouts and cries mingled fearfully with the sharper clang, the heavy
fall of man and horse, the creaking of the engines, the wild shrieks of
the victims within the walls mangled by the stones, or from the
survivors who witnessed their fall--all formed a din as terrific to
hear, as dreadful to behold. With even more than their wonted bravery
the Scotch fought, but with less success. The charge of the English was
no longer the impetuous fury of a few hot-headed young men, more eager
to _despite_ their cooler advisers, than gain any permanent good for
themselves. Now, as one man fell another stepped forward in his place,
and though the slaughter might have been equal, nay, greater on the side
of the besiegers than the besieged, by one it was scarcely felt, by the
other the death of each man was even as the loss of a host. Still, still
they struggled on, the English obtaining possession of the palisades,
though the immense strength of the barbacan itself, defended as it was
by the strenuous efforts of the Scotch, still resisted all attack:
bravely, nobly, the besieged retreated within their walls, pellmell
their foes dashed after them, and terrific was the combat on the
drawbridge, which groaned and creaked beneath the heavy tramp of man and
horse. Many, wrestling in the fierceness of mortal strife, fell together
in the moat, and encumbered with heavy armor, sunk in each other's arms,
in the grim clasp of death.

Then it was Lancaster met hand to hand the gallant foe he sought,
covering the retreat of his men, who were bearing Sir Christopher
Seaton, desperately wounded, to the castle. Sir Nigel stood well-nigh
alone on the bridge; his bright armor, his foaming charger bore evident
marks of the fray, but still he rode his steed firmly and unbent, his
plume yet waved untouched by the foeman's sword. Nearer and nearer
pressed forward the English earl, signing to his men to secure without
wounding his gallant foe; round him they closely gathered, but Nigel
evinced no sign either of trepidation or anger, fearlessly, gallantly,
he returned the earl's impetuous charge, backing his steed slowly as he
did so, and keeping his full front to his foe. On, on pressed Lancaster,
even to the postern; a bound, a shout, and scarcely was he aware that
his sword had ceased to cross with Nigel's, before he was startled by
the heavy fall of the portcullis, effectually dividing them, and utterly
frustrating further pursuit. A cry of rage, of disappointment broke from
the English, as they were compelled to turn and rejoin their friends.

The strife still continued within and without the barbacan, and ended
without much advantage on either side. The palisades and outward
barriers had indeed fallen into the hands of the English, which was the
first serious loss yet sustained by the besieged; from the barbacan they
had gallantly and successfully driven their foe, but that trifling
success was so counterbalanced by the serious loss of life amid the
garrison which it included, that both Nigel and Sir Christopher felt the
next attack must deliver it into the hands of the besiegers. Their loss
of men was in reality scarcely a third of the number which had fallen
among the English, yet to them that loss was of infinitely more
consequence than to the foe. Bitter and painful emotions filled the
noble spirit of Nigel, as he gazed on the diminished number of his men,
and met the ill-suppressed groans and lamentations of those who had, at
the first alarm of the English, sought shelter and protection in the
castle; their ill-suppressed entreaties that he would struggle no longer
against such odds grated harshly and ominously on his ear; but sternly
he turned from them to the men-at-arms, and in their steadfast bravery
and joyous acclamations found some degree of hope.

Yet ere the day closed the besieged felt too truly their dreams of
triumph, of final success, little short of a miracle would realize.
Their fancy that some new and mightier spirit of generalship was at work
within the English camp was confirmed. Two distinct bodies were observed
at work on the eastern and southern sides of the mount, the one
evidently employed in turning aside the bed of the river, which on that
side flowed instead of the moat beneath the wall, the other in
endeavoring to fill up the moat by a causeway, so as to admit of an
easy access to the outer wall. The progress they had made in their work
the first day, while the attention of the Scotch had been confined to
the attack on the barbacan, was all-sufficient evidence of their intent;
and with bitter sorrow Sir Nigel and his brother-in-law felt that their
only means of any efficient defence lay in resigning the long-contested
barbacan to the besiegers. An important point it certainly was, but
still to retain it the walls overlooking the more silent efforts of the
English must be left comparatively unguarded, and they might obtain an
almost uninterrupted and scarce-contested passage within the walls,
while the whole strength and attention of the besieged were employed, as
had already been the case, on a point that they had scarce a hope
eventually to retain. With deep and bitter sorrow the alternative was
proposed and carried in a hurried council of war, and so well acted
upon, that, despite the extreme watchfulness of the English, men,
treasure, arms, and artillery, all that the strong towers contained,
were conveyed at dead of night over the drawbridge into the castle, and
the following morning, Lancaster, in utter astonishment, took possession
of the deserted fort.

Perhaps to both parties this resolution was alike a disappointment and
restraint. The English felt there was no glory in their prize, they had
not obtained possession through their own prowess and skill; and now
that the siege had become so much closer, and this point of
communication was entirely stopped, the hand-to-hand combat, the
glorious _melee_, the press of war, which to both parties had been an
excitement, and little more than warlike recreation, had of course
entirely ceased, but Hereford heeded not the disappointment of his men;
his plans were progressing as he had desired, even though his workmen
were greatly harassed by the continued discharge of arrows and immense
stones from the walls.

The desertion of the barbacan was an all-convincing proof of the very
small number of the garrison; and though the immense thickness and
solidity of the walls bespoke time, patience, and control, the English
earl never wavered from his purpose, and by his firmness, his personal
gallantry, his readily-bestowed approbation on all who demanded it, he
contrived to keep his more impatient followers steadily to their task;
while Nigel, to prevent the spirits of his men from sinking, would
frequently lead them forth at night, and by a sudden attack annoy and
often cut off many of the men stationed within the barbacan. The
drawbridge was the precarious ground of many a midnight strife, till the
daring gallantry of Nigel Bruce became the theme of every tongue; a
gallantry equalled only by the consummate skill which he displayed, in
retreating within his entrenchments frequently without the loss of a
single man either as killed or wounded. Often would Sir Christopher
Seaton, whose wounds still bound him a most unwilling prisoner to his
couch, entreat him to avoid such rash exposures of his life, but Nigel
only answered him with a smile and an assurance he bore a charmed life,
which the sword of the foe could not touch.

The siege had now lasted six weeks, and the position of both parties
continued much as we have seen, save that the bed of the river had now
begun to appear, promising a free passage to the English on the eastern
side, and on the south a broad causeway had stretched itself over the
moat, on which the towers for defending the ascent of the walls,
mangonels and other engines, were already safely bestowed, and all
promised fair to the besiegers, whose numerous forces scarcely appeared
to have suffered any diminution, although in reality some hundreds had
fallen; while on the side of the besieged, although the walls were still
most gallantly manned, and the first efforts of the English to scale the
walls had been rendered ineffectual by huge stones hurled down upon
them, still a look of greater care was observable on the brows of both
officers and men; and provisions had now begun to be doled out by weight
and measure, for though the granaries still possessed stores sufficient
for some weeks longer, the apparent determination of the English to
permit no relaxation in their close attack, demanded increase of caution
on the part of the besieged.

About this time an event occurred, which, though comparatively trifling
in itself, when the lives of so many were concerned, was fraught in
effect with fatal consequences to all the inmates of Kildrummie. The
conversation of the next chapter, however, will better explain it, and
to it we refer our readers.




CHAPTER XIX


In a circular apartment of the lower floor in Kildrummie keep, its stone
floor but ill covered with rushes, and the walls hung with the darkest
and rudest arras, Sir Christopher Seaton reclined on a rough couch, in
earnest converse with his brother-in-law, Nigel. Lady Seaton was also
within the chamber, at some little distance from the knights, engaged in
preparing lint and healing ointments, with the aid of an attendant, for
the wounded, and ready at the first call to rise and attend them, as she
had done unremittingly during the continuance of the siege. The
countenances of both warriors were slightly changed from the last time
we beheld them. The severity of his wounds had shed a cast almost of age
on the noble features of Seaton, but care and deep regret had mingled
with that pallor; and perhaps on the face of Nigel, which three short
weeks before had beamed forth such radiant hope, the change was more
painful. He had escaped with but slight flesh wounds, but disappointment
and anxiety were now vividly impressed on his features; the smooth brow
would unconsciously wrinkle in deep and unexpressed thought; the lip, to
which love, joy, and hope alone had once seemed natural, now often
compressed, and his eye flashed, till his whole countenance seemed
stern, not with the sternness of a tyrannical, changed and chafing
mood--no, 'twas the sternness most fearful to behold in youth, of
thought, deep, bitter, whelming thought; and sterner even than it had
been yet was the expression on his features as he spoke this day with
Seaton.

"He must die," were the words which broke a long and anxious pause, and
fell in deep yet emphatic tones from the lips of Seaton; "yes, die!
Perchance the example may best arrest the spreading contagion of
treachery around us."

"I know not, I fear not; yet as thou sayest he must die," replied Nigel,
speaking as in deep thought; "would that the noble enemy, who thus
scorned to benefit by the offered treason, had done on him the work of
death himself. I love not the necessity nor the deed."

"Yet it must be, Nigel. Is there aught else save death, the death of a
traitor, which can sufficiently chastise a crime like this? Well was it
the knave craved speech of Hereford himself. I marvel whether the
majesty of England had resisted a like temptation."

"Seaton, he would not," answered the young man. "I knew him, aye,
studied him in his own court, and though I doubt not there was a time
when chivalry was strongest in the breast of Edward, it was before
ambition's fatal poison had corroded his heart. Now he would deem all
things honorable in the art of war, aye, even the delivery of a castle
through the treachery of a knave."

"And he hath more in yon host to think with him than with the noble
Hereford," resumed Sir Christopher; "yet this is but idle parley, and
concerneth but little our present task. In what temper do our men
receive the tidings of this foul treason?"

"Our own brave fellows call aloud for vengeance on the traitor; nay, had
I not rescued him from their hands, they would have torn him limb from
limb in their rage. But there are others, Seaton--alas! the more
numerous body now--and they speak not, but with moody brows and gloomy
mutterings prowl up and down the courts."

"Aye, the coward hearts," answered Seaton, "their good wishes went with
him, and but low-breathed curses follow our efforts for their freedom.
Yes, it must be, if it be but as a warning unto others. See to it,
Nigel; an hour before the set of sun he dies."

A brief pause followed his words, whose low sternness of tone betrayed
far more than the syllables themselves. Both warriors remained a while
plunged in moody thought, which Seaton was the first to break.

"And how went the last attack and defence?" he asked; "they told me,
bravely."

"Aye, so bravely, that could we but reinforce our fighting men, aided as
we are by impenetrable walls, we might dream still of conquest; they
have gained little as yet, despite their nearer approach. Hand to hand
we have indeed struggled on the walls, and hurled back our foremost foes
in their own intrenchments. Our huge fragments of rocks have dealt
destruction on one of their towers, crushing all who manned it beneath
the ruins."

"And I lie here when such brave work is going on beside me, even as a
bedridden monk or coward layman, when my whole soul is in the fight,"
said the knight, bitterly, and half springing from his couch. "When will
these open wounds--to the foul fiend with them and those who gave
them!--when will they let me mount and ride again as best befits a
warrior? Better slain at once than lie here a burden, not a help--taking
from those whose gallant efforts need it more the food we may not have
for long. I will not thus be chained; I'll to the action, be my life the
forfeit!"

He sprung up, and for a moment stood upon his feet, but with a low groan
of pain instantly fell back, the dew of weakness gathering on his brow.
Lady Seaton was at his side on the instant to bathe his temples and his
hands, yet without one reproachful word, for she knew the anguish it was
to his brave heart to lie thus disabled, when every loyal hand was
needed for his country.

"Nigel, I would that I might join thee. Remember, 'tis no mean game we
play; we hold not out as marauding chieftains against a lawful king; we
struggle not in defence of petty rights, of doubtful privileges. 'Tis
for Scotland, for King Robert still we strive. Did this castle hold out,
aye, compel the foe to raise the siege, much, much would be done for
Scotland. Others would do as we have done; many, whose strongholds rest
in English hands, would rise and expel the foe. Had we but
reinforcements of men and stores, all might still be well."

"Aye," answered Nigel, bitterly, "but with all Scotland crushed 'neath
English chains, her king and his bold patriots fugitives and exiles,
ourselves the only Scottish force in arms, the only Scottish castle
which resists the tyrant, how may this be, whence may come increase of
force, of store? Seaton Seaton, thine are bright dreams--would that they
were real."

"Wouldst thou then give up at once, and strive no more? It cannot be."

"Never!" answered his companion, passionately. "Ere English feet shall
cross these courts and English colors wave above these towers, the blood
of the defenders must flow beneath their steps. They gain not a yard of
earth save at the bright sword's point; not a rood of grass unstained by
Scottish blood. Give up! not till my arm can wield no sword, my voice no
more shout 'Forward for the Bruce!'"

"Then we will hope on, dream on, Nigel, and despair not," replied
Seaton, in the same earnest tone. "We know not yet what may be, and,
improbable as it seems now, succors may yet arrive. How long doth last
the truce?"

"For eighteen hours, two of which have passed."

"Didst thou demand it?"

"No," replied Nigel. "It was proffered by the earl, as needed for a
strict examination of the traitor Evan Roy, and accepted in the spirit
with which it was offered."

"Thou didst well; and the foul traitor--where hast thou lodged him?"

"In the western turret, strongly guarded. I would not seek thy counsel
until I had examined and knew the truth."

"And thine own judgment?"

"Was as thine. It is an ill necessity, yet it must be."

"Didst pronounce his sentence?"

Nigel answered in the affirmative.

"And how was it received?"

"In the same sullen silence on the part of the criminal as he had borne
during his examination. Methought a low murmur of discontent escaped
from some within the hall, but it was drowned in the shout of
approbation from the men-at-arms, and the execrations they lavished on
the traitor as they bore him away, so I heeded it not."

"But thou wilt heed it," said a sweet voice beside him, and Agnes, who
had just entered the chamber, laid her hand on his arm and looked
beseechingly in his face. "Dearest Nigel, I come a pleader."

"And for whom, my beloved?" he asked, his countenance changing into its
own soft beautiful expression as he gazed on her, "What can mine Agnes
ask that Nigel may not grant?"

"Nay, I am no pleader for myself," she said; "I come on the part of a
wretched wife and aged mother, beseeching the gift of life."

"And for a traitor, Agnes?"

"I think of him but as a husband and son, dearest Nigel," she said, more
timidly, for his voice was stern. "They tell me he is condemned to
death, and his wretched wife and mother besought my influence with thee;
and indeed it needed little entreaty, for when death is so busy around
us, when in this fearful war we see the best and bravest of our friends
fall victims every day, oh, I would beseech you to spare life when it
may be. Dearest, dearest Nigel, have mercy on this wretched man; traitor
as he is, oh, do not take his life--do not let thy lips sentence him to
death. Wilt thou not be merciful?"

"If the death of one man will preserve the lives of many, how may that
one be spared?" said Sir Nigel, folding the sweet pleader closer to him,
though his features spoke no relaxation of his purpose. "Sweet Agnes, do
not ask this, give me not the bitter pain of refusing aught to thee.
Thou knowest not all the mischief and misery which pardon to a traitor
such as this will do; thou listenest only to thy kind heart and the sad
pleadings of those who love this man. Now listen to me, beloved, and
judge thyself. Did I believe a pardon would bring back the traitor to a
sense of duty, to a consciousness of his great crime--did I believe
giving life to him would deter others from the same guilt, I should
scarce wait even for thy sweet pleading to give him both liberty and
life; but I know him better than thou, mine Agnes. He is one of those
dark, discontented, rebellious spirits, that never rest in stirring up
others to be like them; who would employ even the life I gave him to my
own destruction, and that of the brave and faithful soldiers with me."

"But send him hence, dearest Nigel," still entreated Agnes. "Give him
life, but send him from the castle; will not this remove the danger of
his influence with others?"

"And give him field and scope to betray us yet again, sweet one. It were
indeed scorning the honorable counsel of Hereford to act thus; for trust
me, Agnes, there are not many amid our foes would resist temptation as
he hath done."

"Yet would not keeping him close prisoner serve thee as well as death,
Nigel? Bethink thee, would it not spare the ill of taking life?"

"Dearest, no," he answered. "There are many, alas! too many within these
walls who need an example of terror to keep them to their duty. They
will see that treachery avails not with the noble Hereford, and that,
discovered by me, it hath no escape from death. If this man be, as I
imagine, in league with other contentious spirits--for he could scarce
hope to betray the castle into the hands of the English without some aid
within--his fate may strike such terror into other traitor hearts that
their designs will be abandoned. Trust me, dearest, I do not do this
deed of justice without deep regret; I grieve for the necessity even as
the deed, and yet it must be; and bitter as it is to refuse thee aught,
indeed I cannot grant thy boon."

"Yet hear me once more, Nigel. Simple and ignorant as I am, I cannot
answer such arguments as thine; yet may it not be that this deed of
justice, even while it strikes terror, may also excite the desire for
revenge, and situated as we are were it not better to avoid all such
bitterness, such heart-burnings amongst the people?"

"We must brave it, dearest," answered Nigel, firmly, "The direct line of
justice and of duty may not be turned aside for such fears as these."

"Nor do I think they have foundation," continued Sir Christopher Seaton.
"Thou hast pleaded well and kindly, gentle maiden, yet gladly as we
would do aught to pleasure thee, this that thou hast asked, alas! must
not be. The crime itself demands punishment, and even could we pardon
that, duty to our country, our king, ourselves, calls loudly for his
death, lest his foul treachery should spread."

The eyes of the maiden filled with tears.

"Then my last hope is over," she said, sadly. "I looked to thy
influence, Sir Christopher, to plead for me, even if mine own
supplications should fail; and thou judgest even as Nigel, not as my
heart could wish."

"We judge as men and soldiers, gentle maiden; as men who, charged with a
most solemn responsibility, dare listen to naught save the voice of
justice, however loudly mercy pleads."

"And didst thou think, mine Agnes, if thy pleading was of no avail, the
entreaty of others could move me?" whispered Nigel, in a voice which,
though tender, was reproachful. "Dearest and best, oh, thou knowest not
the pang it is to refuse thee even this, and to feel my words have
filled those eyes with tears. Say thou wilt not deem me cruel, abiding
by justice when there is room for mercy?"

"I know thee better than to judge thee thus," answered Agnes, tearfully;
"the voice of duty must have spoken loudly to urge thee to this
decision, and I may not dispute it; yet would that death could be
averted. There was madness in that woman's eyes," and she shuddered as
she spoke.

"Of whom speakest thou, love?" Nigel asked, and Seaton looked the
question.

"Of his wife," she replied. "She came to me distracted, and used such
dreadful words, menaces and threats they seemed; but his mother, more
composed, assured me they meant nothing, they were but the ravings of
distress, and yet I fear to look on her again without his pardon."

"And thou shalt not, my beloved; these are not scenes and words for such
as thee. Rest here with Christine and good Sir Christopher; to tend and
cheer a wounded knight is a fitter task for thee, sweet one, than thus
to plead a traitor's cause."

Pressing his lips upon her brow as he spoke, he placed her gently on a
settle by Sir Christopher; then crossing the apartment, he paused a
moment to whisper to Lady Seaton.

"Look to her, my dear sister; she has been terrified, though she would
conceal it. Let her not leave thee till this fatal duty is
accomplished."

Lady Seaton assured him of her compliance, and he left the apartment.

He had scarcely quitted the postern before he himself encountered Jean
Roy, a woman who, even in her mildest moments, evinced very little
appearance of sanity, and who now, from her furious and distracting
gestures, seemed wrought up to no ordinary pitch of madness. She kept
hovering round him, uttering menaces and entreaties in one and the same
breath, declaring one moment that her husband was no traitor, and had
only done what every true-hearted Scotsman ought to do, if he would save
himself and those he loved from destruction; the next, piteously
acknowledging his crime, and wildly beseeching mercy. For a while Nigel
endeavored, calmly and soothingly, to reason with her, but it was of no
avail: louder and fiercer became her curses and imprecations; beseeching
heaven to hurl down all its maledictions upon him and the woman he
loved, and refuse him mercy when he most needed it. Perceiving her
violence becoming more and more outrageous, Nigel placed her in charge
of two of his men-at-arms, desiring them to treat her kindly, but not to
lose sight of her, and keep her as far as possible from the scene about
to be enacted. She was dragged away, struggling furiously, and Nigel
felt his heart sink heavier within him. It was not that he wavered in
his opinion, that he believed, situated as he was, it was better to
spare the traitor's life than excite to a flame the already aroused and
angered populace. He thought indeed terror might do much; but whether it
was the entreating words of Agnes, or the state of the unhappy Jean,
there had come upon him a dim sense of impending ill; an impression that
the act of justice about to be performed would bring matters to a
crisis, and the ruin of the garrison be consummated, ere he was aware it
had begun. The shadow of the future appeared to have enfolded him, but
still he wavered not. The hours sped: his preparations were completed,
and at the time appointed by Seaton, with as much of awful solemnity as
circumstances would admit, the soul of the traitor was launched into
eternity. Men, women, and children had gathered round the temporary
scaffold; every one within the castle, save the maimed and wounded,
thronged to that centre court, and cheers and shouts, and groans and
curses, mingled strangely on the air.

Clad in complete steel, but bareheaded, Sir Nigel Bruce had witnessed
the act of justice his voice had pronounced, and, after a brief pause,
he stood forward on the scaffold, and in a deep, rich voice addressed
the multitude ere they separated. Eloquently, forcibly, he spoke of the
guilt, the foul guilt of treachery, now when Scotland demanded all men
to join together hand and heart as one--now when the foe was at their
gates; when, if united, they might yet bid defiance to the tyrant, who,
if they were defeated, would hold them slaves. He addressed them as
Scottish men and freemen, as soldiers, husbands, and fathers, as
children of the brave, who welcomed death with joy, rather than life in
slavery and degradation; and when his words elicited a shout of
exultation and applause from the greater number, he turned his eye on
the group of malcontents, and sternly and terribly bade them beware of a
fate similar to that which they had just witnessed; for the gallant Earl
of Hereford, he said, would deal with all Scottish traitors as with Evan
Roy, and once known as traitors within the castle walls, he need not
speak their doom, for they had witnessed it; and then changing his tone,
frankly and beseechingly he conjured them to awake from the dull,
sluggish sleep of indifference and fear, to put forth their energies as
men, as warriors; their country, their king, their families, called on
them, and would they not hear? He bade them arise, awake to their duty,
and all that had been should never be recalled. He spoke with a brief
yet mighty eloquence that seemed to carry conviction with it. Many a
stern face and darkened brow relaxed, and there was hope in many a
patriot breast as that group dispersed, and all was once more martial
bustle on the walls.

"Well and wisely hast thou spoken, my son," said the aged Abbot of
Scone, who had attended the criminal's last moments, and now, with
Nigel, sought the keep. "Thy words have moved those rebellious spirits,
have calmed the rising tempest even as oil flung on the troubled waves;
thine eloquence was even as an angel voice 'mid muttering fiends. Yet
thou art still sad, still anxious. My son, this should not be."

"It _must_ be, father," answered the young man. "I have looked beyond
that oily surface and see naught save darker storms and fiercer
tempests; those spirits need somewhat more than a mere voice. Father,
reproach me not as mistrusting the gracious heaven in whose keeping lie
our earthly fates. I know the battle is not to the strong, 'tis with the
united, the faithful, and those men are neither. My words have stirred
them for the moment, as a pebble flung 'mid the troubled waters--a few
brief instants and all trace is passed, we see naught but the blackened
wave. But speak not of these things; my trust is higher than earth, and
let man work his will."

Another week passed, and the fierce struggle continued, alternating
success, one day with the besiegers, the next with the besieged. The
scene of action was now principally on the walls--a fearful field, for
there was no retreat--and often the combatants, entwined in a deadly
struggle, fell together into the moat. Still there were no signs of
wavering on either side, still did the massive walls give no sign of
yielding to the tremendous and continued discharge of heavy stones, that
against battlements less strongly constructed must long ere this have
dealt destruction and inevitable mischief to the besieged. One tower,
commanding the causeway across the moat and its adjoining platform on
the wall, had indeed been taken by the English, and was to them a
decided advantage, but still their further progress even to the next
tower was lingering and dubious, and it appeared evident to both parties
that, from the utter impossibility of the Scotch obtaining supplies of
provision and men, success must finally attend the English; they would
succeed more by the effects of famine than by their swords.

It was, as we have said, seven days after the execution of the traitor
Roy. A truce for twelve hours had been concluded with the English, at
the request of Sir Nigel Bruce, and safe conduct granted by the Earl of
Hereford to those men, women, and children of the adjoining villages who
chose even at this hour to leave the castle, but few, a very few took
advantage of this permission, and these were mostly the widows and
children of those who had fallen in the siege; a fact which caused some
surprise, as the officers and men-at-arms imagined it would have been
eagerly seized upon by all those contentious spirits who had appeared so
desirous of a league with England. A quiet smile slightly curled the
lips of Nigel as this information was reported to him--a smile as of a
mind prepared for and not surprised at what he heard; but when left
alone, the smile was gone, he folded his arms on his breast, his head
was slightly bent forward, but had there been any present to have
remarked him, they would have seen his features move and work with the
intensity of internal emotion. Some mighty struggle he was enduring;
something there was passing at his very heart, for when recalled from
that trance by the heavy bell of the adjoining church chiming the hour
of five, and he looked up, there were large drops of moisture on his
brow, and his beautiful eye seemed for the moment strained and
blood-shot. He paced the chamber slowly and pensively till there was no
outward mark of agitation, and then he sought for Agnes.

She was alone in an upper chamber of the keep, looking out from the
narrow casement on a scene of hill and vale, and water, which, though
still wintry from the total absence of leaf and flower, was yet calm and
beautiful in the declining sun, and undisturbed by the fearful scenes
and sounds which met the glance and ear on every other side, seemed even
as a paradise of peace. It had been one of those mild, soft days of
February, still more rare in Scotland than in England, and on the heart
and sinking frame of Agnes its influence had fallen, till, almost
unconsciously, she wept. The step of Nigel caused her hastily to dash
these tears aside, and as he stood by her and silently folded his arm
around her, she looked up in his face with a smile. He sought to return
it, but the sight of such emotion, trifling as it was, caused his heart
to sink with indescribable fear; his lip quivered, as utterly to prevent
the words he sought to speak, and as he clasped her to his bosom and
bent his head on hers, a low yet instantly suppressed moan burst from
him.

"Nigel, dearest Nigel, what has chanced? Oh, speak to me!" she
exclaimed, clasping his hand in both hers, and gazing wildly in his
face. "Thou art wounded or ill, or wearied unto death. Oh, let me undo
this heavy armor, dearest; seek but a brief interval of rest. Speak to
me, I know thou art not well."

"It is but folly, my beloved, a momentary pang that weakness caused.
Indeed, thy fears are causeless; I am well, quite well," he answered,
struggling with himself, and subduing with an effort his emotion. "Mine
own Agnes, thou wilt not doubt me; look not upon me so tearfully, 'tis
passed, 'tis over now."

"And thou wilt not tell me that which caused it, Nigel? Hast thou aught
of suffering which thou fearest to tell thine Agnes? Oh! do not fear it;
weak, childlike as I am, my soul will find strength for it."

"And thou shalt know all, all in a brief while," he said, her sweet
pleading voice rendering the task of calmness more difficult. "Yet tell
me first thy thoughts, my love. Methought thy gaze was on yon peaceful
landscape as I entered, and yet thine eyes were dimmed with tears."

"And yet I know not wherefore," she replied, "save the yearnings for
peace were stronger, deeper than they should be, and I pictured a cot
where love might dwell in yon calm valley, and wished that this fierce
strife was o'er."

"'Tis in truth no scene for thee, mine own. I know, I feel thou pinest
for freedom, for the fresh, pure, stainless air of the mountain, the
valley's holy calm; thine ear is sick with the fell sounds that burst
upon it; thine eye must turn in loathing from this fierce strife. Agnes,
mine own Agnes, is it not so? would it not be happiness, aye, heaven's
own bliss, to seek some peaceful home far, far away from this?"

He spoke hurriedly and more passionately than was his wont, but Agnes
only answered--

"With thee, Nigel, it were bliss indeed."

"With me," he said; "and couldst thou not be happy were I not at thy
side? Listen to me, beloved," and his voice became as solemnly earnest
as it had previously been hurried. "I sought thee, armed I thought with
fortitude sufficient for the task; sought thee, to beseech, implore thee
to seek safety and peace for a brief while apart from me, till these
fearful scenes are passed. Start not, and oh, do not look upon me thus.
I know all that strength of nerve, of soul, which bids thee care not for
the dangers round thee. I know that where I am thy loving spirit feels
no fear; but oh, Agnes, for my sake, if not for thine own, consent to
fly ere it be too late; consent to seek safety far from this fatal
tower. Let me not feel that on thee, on thee, far dearer than my life,
destruction, and misery, and suffering in a thousand fearful shapes may
fall. Let me but feel thee safe, far from this terrible scene, and then,
come what will, it can have no pang."

"And thee," murmured the startled girl, on whose ear the words of Nigel
had fallen as with scarce half their meaning, "thee, wouldst thou bid me
leave thee, to strive on, suffer on, and oh, merciful heaven! perchance
fall _alone_? Nigel, Nigel, how may this be? are we not one, only one,
and how may I dwell in safety without thee--how mayest thou suffer
without me?"

"Dearest and best!" he answered, passionately, "oh, that we were indeed
one; that the voice of heaven had bound us one, long, long ere this! and
yet--no, no, 'tis better thus," and again he struggled with emotion, and
spoke calmly. "Agnes, beloved, precious as thou art in these hours of
anxiety, dear, dearer than ever, in thy clinging, changeless love, yet
tempt me not selfishly to retain thee by my side, when liberty, and
life, and joy await thee beyond these fated walls. Thy path is secured;
all that can assist, can accelerate thy flight waits but thy approval.
The dress of a minstrel boy is procured, and will completely conceal and
guard thee through the English camp. Our faithful friend, the minstrel
seer, will be thy guide, and lead thee to a home of peace and safety,
until my brother's happier fortune dawns; he will guard and love thee
for thine own and for my sake. Speak to me, beloved; thou knowest this
good old man, and I so trust him that I have no fear for thee. Oh, do
not pause, and ere this truce be over let me, let me feel that thou art
safe and free, and may in time be happy."

"In time," she repeated slowly, as if to herself, and then, rousing
herself from that stupor of emotion, looked up with a countenance on
which a sudden glow had spread. "And why hast thou so suddenly resolved
on this?" she asked, calmly; "why shouldst thou fear for me more now
than hitherto, dearest Nigel? Hath not the danger always been the same,
and yet thou ne'er hast breathed of parting? are not thy hopes the
same--what hath chanced unknown to me, that thou speakest and lookest
thus? tell me, ere thou urgest more."

"I will tell thee what I fear, my love," he answered, reassured by her
firmness; "much that is seen not, guessed not by my comrades. They were
satisfied that my appeal had had its effect, and the execution of Evan
Roy was attended with no disturbance, no ill will amongst those supposed
to be of his party--nay, that terror did its work, and all ideas of
treachery which might have been before encouraged were dismissed. I,
too, believed this, Agnes, for a while; but a few brief hours were
sufficient to prove the utter fallacy of the dream. Some secret
conspiracy is, I am convinced, carrying on within these very walls. I
know and feel this, and yet so cautious, so secret are their movements,
whatever they may be, that I cannot guard against them. There are, as
thou knowest, fewer true fighting men amongst us than any other class,
and these are needed to man the walls and guard against the foe without;
they may not be spared to watch as spies their comrades--nay, I dare not
even breathe such thoughts, lest their bold hearts should faint and
fail, and they too demand surrender ere evil come upon us from within.
What will be that evil I know not, and therefore cannot guard against
it. I dare not employ these men upon the walls, I dare not bring them
out against the foe, for so bitterly do I mistrust them, I should fear
even then they would betray us. I only know that evil awaits us, and
therefore, my beloved, I do beseech thee, tarry not till it be upon us;
depart while thy path is free."

"Yet if they sought safety and peace, if they tire of this warfare," she
replied, disregarding his last words, "wherefore not depart to-day, when
egress was permitted; bethink thee, dearest Nigel, is not this proof thy
fears are ill founded, and that no further ill hangs over us than that
which threatens from without?"

"Alas! no," he said, "it but confirms my suspicions; I obtained this
safe conduct expressly to nullify or confirm them. Had they departed as
I wished, all would have been well; but they linger, and I can feel
their plans are maturing, and therefore they will not depart. Oh,
Agnes," he continued, bitterly, "my very soul is crushed beneath this
weight of unexpressed anxiety and care. Had I but to contend with our
English foe, but to fight a good and honorable fight, to struggle on,
conscious that to the last gasp the brave inmates of this fortress would
follow me, and Edward would find naught on which to wreak his vengeance
but the dead bodies of his foes, my task were easy as 'twere glorious;
but to be conscious of secret brooding evil each morn that rises, each
night that falls, to dread what yet I know not, to see, perchance, my
brave fellows whelmed, chained, through a base treachery impossible to
guard against--oh! Agnes, 'tis this I fear."

"Yet have they not seemed more willing, more active in their assigned
tasks since the execution of their comrade," continued Agnes, with all a
woman's gentle artifice, still seeking to impart hope, even when she
felt that none remained; "may it not be that, in reality, they repent
them of former traitorous designs, and remain behind to aid thee to the
last? Thou sayest that palpable proof of this brooding evil thou canst
not find, then do not heed its voice. Let no fear of me, of my safety,
add its pang; mine own Nigel, indeed I fear them not."

"I know that all I urge will naught avail with thee, beloved," he
answered, somewhat less agitated. "I know thy gentle love is all too
deep, too pure, too strong, to share my fears for thee, and oh, I bless
thee, bless thee for the sweet solace of that faithful love! yet, yet, I
may not listen to thy wishes. All that thou sayest is but confirmation
of the brooding evil; they are active, willing, but to hide their dark
designs. Yet even were there not this evil to dread, no dream of
treachery, still, still, I would send thee hence, sweet one. Famine and
blood, and chains, and death--oh, no, no! thou must not stay for these."

"And whither wouldst thou send me, Nigel, and for what?" she asked,
still calmly, though her quivering lip denoted that self-possession was
fast failing. "Why?"

"Whither? to safety, freedom, peace, my best beloved!" he answered,
fervently; "for what? that happier, brighter days may beam for thee,
that thou mayest live to bless and be a blessing; dearest, best, cling
not to a withered stem, thou mayest be happy yet."

"And wilt thou join me, if I seek this home of safety, Nigel?" she laid
her hand on his arm, and fixed her eyes unflinchingly upon his face. He
could not meet that glance, a cold shudder passed over his frame ere he
could reply.

"Mine own Agnes," and even then he paused, for his quivering lip could
not give utterance to his thoughts, and a minute rolled in that deep
stillness, and still those anxious eyes moved not from his face. At
length voice returned, and it was sad yet deeply solemn, "Our lives rest
not in our own hands," he said; "and who when they part may look to meet
again? Beloved, if life be spared, canst doubt that I will join thee?
yet, situated as I am, governor of a castle about to fall, a patriot,
and a Bruce, brother to the noble spirit who wears our country's crown,
and has dared to fling down defiance to a tyrant, Agnes, mine own Agnes,
how may I dream of life? I would send thee hence ere that fatal moment
come; I would spare thee this deep woe. I would bid thee live, beloved,
live till years had shed sweet peace upon thy heart, and thou wert happy
once again."

There was a moment's pause; the features of Agnes had become convulsed
with agony as Nigel spoke, and her hands had closed with fearful
pressure on his arm, but his last words, spoken in his own rich,
thrilling voice, called back the stagnant blood.

"No, no; I will not leave thee!" she sobbed forth, as from the sudden
failing of strength in every limb she sunk kneeling at his feet. "Nigel,
Nigel, I will not leave thee; in life or in death I will abide by thee.
Force me not from thee; seek not to tempt me by the tale of safety,
freedom, peace; thou knowest not the depth, the might of woman's love,
if thou thinkest things like these can weigh aught with her, even if
chains and death stood frowningly beside. I will not leave thee; whom
have I beside thee, for whom else wouldst thou call on me to live?
Alone, alone, utterly alone, save _thee_! Wilt thou bid me hence, and
leave thee to meet thy fate alone--thee, to whom my mother gave
me--thee, without whom my very life is naught? Nigel, oh, despise me not
for these wild words, unmaidenly as they sound; oh, let me speak them,
or my heart will break!"

"Despise thee for these blessed words!" Nigel answered, passionately, as
he raised her from the ground, and clasped her to his heart. "Oh, thou
knowest not the bliss they give; yet, yet would I speak of parting,
implore thee still to leave me, aye, though in that parting my very
heart-strings snap. Agnes, how may I bear to see thee in the power of
the foe, perchance insulted, persecuted, tortured with the ribald
admiration of the rude crowd, and feel I have no power to save thee, no
claim to bind thee to my side. What are the mere chains of love in such
an hour, abiding by me, as thou mightst, till our last hope is over, and
English colors wave above this fortress--then, dearest, oh, must we not,
shall we not be rudely parted?"

"No, no! Who shall dare to part us?" she said, as she clung sobbing to
his breast. "Who shall dare to do this thing, and say I may not tend
thee, follow thee, even until death?"

"Who? our captors, dearest. Thinkest thou they will heed thy tender
love, thine anguish? will they have hearts for aught save for thy
loveliness, sweet one? Think, think of terrors like to this, and oh,
still wilt thou refuse to fly?"

"But thy sister, the Lady Seaton, Nigel, doth she not stay, doth she not
brave these perils?" asked Agnes, shuddering at her lover's words, yet
clinging to him still. "If she escapes such evil, why, oh, why may not
I?"

"She is Seaton's wife, sweet one, bound to him by the voice of heaven,
by the holiest of ties; the noble knights who head our foes will protect
her in all honorable keeping; but for thee, Agnes, even if the ills I
dread be as naught, there is yet one I have dared not name, lest it
should pain thee, yet one that is most probable as 'tis most fearful;
thou canst not hide thy name, and as a daughter of Buchan, oh, will they
not give thee to a father's keeping?"

"The murderer of my brother--my mother's jailer! Oh, Nigel, Nigel, to
look on him were more than death!" she wildly exclaimed. "Yet, yet once
known as Agnes of Buchan, this will, this must be; but leave thee now,
leave thee to a tyrant's doom, if indeed, indeed thou fallest in his
hands--leave thee, when faithful love and woman's tenderness are more
than ever needed--leave thee for a fear like this, no, no, I will not.
Nigel, I will rest with thee. Speak not, answer not; give us one short
moment, and then--oh, all the ills may be averted by one brief word--and
I, oh, can I speak it?" She paused in fearful agitation, and every limb
shook as if she must have fallen; the blood rushed up to cheek, and
brow, and neck, as, fixing her beautiful eyes on Nigel's face, she said,
in a low yet thrilling voice, "Let the voice of heaven hallow the vows
we have so often spoken, Nigel. Give me a right, a sacred right to bear
thy name, to be thine own, at the altar's foot, by the holy abbot's
blessing. Let us pledge our troth, and then let what will come, no man
can part us. I am thine, only thine!"

Without waiting for a reply, she buried her face in his bosom, and Nigel
could feel her heart throb as if 'twould burst its bounds, her frame
quiver as if the torrent of blood, checked and stayed to give strength
for the effort, now rushed back with such overwhelming force through its
varied channels as to threaten life itself.

"Agnes, my own noble, self-devoted love! oh, how may I answer thee?" he
cried, tears of strong emotion coursing down his cheek--tears, and the
warrior felt no shame. "How have I been deserving of love like this--how
may I repay it? how bless thee for such words? Mine own, mine own! this
would indeed guard thee from the most dreaded ills; yet how may I link
that self-devoted heart to one whose thread of life is well-nigh spun?
how may I make thee mine, when a few brief weeks of misery and horror
must part us, and on earth, forever?"

"No, no; thou knowest not all a wife may do, my Nigel," she said, as she
raised her head from his bosom, and faintly smiled, though her frame
still shook; "how she may plead even with a tyrant, and find mercy; or
if this fail, how she may open iron gates and break through bonds, till
freedom may be found. Oh, no, we shall not wed to part, beloved; but
live and yet be happy, doubt it not; and then, oh, then forget the words
that joined us, made us one, had birth from other lips than thine;--thou
wilt forget, forgive this, Nigel?"

"Forget--forgive! that to thy pure, unselfish soul I owe the bliss which
e'en at this hour I feel," he answered, passionately kissing the
beautiful brow upturned to his; "forget words that have proved--had I
needed proof--how purely, nobly, faithfully I am beloved; how utterly,
how wholly thou hast forgotten all of self for me! No, no! were thy
words proved true, might I indeed live blessed with thee the life
allotted man, each year, each month I would recall this hour, and bless
thee for its love. But oh, it may not be!" and his voice so suddenly
lost its impassioned fervor, that the breast of Agnes filled with new
alarm. "Dearest, best! thou must not dream of life, of happiness with
me. I may not mock thee with such blessed, but, alas! delusive hopes; my
doom hath gone forth, revealed when I knew it not, confirmed by that
visioned seer but few short weeks ago. Agnes, my noble Agnes, wherefore
shouldst thou wed with death? I know that I must die!"

The solemn earnestness of his words chased the still lingering glow from
the lips and cheek of the maiden, and a cold shiver passed through her
frame, but still she clung to him, and said--

"It matters not; my maiden love, my maiden troth is pledged to thee--in
life or in death I am thine alone. I will not leave thee," she said,
firmly and calmly. "Nigel, if it be indeed as thou sayest, that
affliction, and--and all thou hast spoken, must befall thee, the more
need is there for the sustaining and the soothing comfort of a woman's
love. Fear not for me, weak as I may have seemed, there is yet a spirit
in me worthy of thy love. I will not unman thee for all thou mayest
encounter. No, even if I follow thee to--to death, it shall be as a
Bruce's wife. Ask not how I will contrive to abide by thee undiscovered,
when, if it must be, the foe is triumphant; it will take time, and we
have none to lose. Thou hast promised to forget all I have urged, all,
save my love for thee; then, oh, fear me not, doubt me not, thine Agnes
will not fail thee!"

Nigel gazed at her almost with surprise; she was no longer the gentle
timid being who but a few minutes since had clung weeping to his bosom
as a child. She was indeed very pale, and on her features was the
stillness of marble; but she stood erect and unfaltering in her innocent
loveliness, sustained by that mighty spirit which dwelt within. An
emotion of deep reverence took possession of that warrior heart, and
unable to resist the impulse, he bent his knee before her.

"Then let it be so," he said, solemnly, but oh, how fervently. "I will
not torture mine own heart and thine by conjuring thee to fly; and now,
here, at thy feet, Agnes, noble, generous being, let me swear solemnly,
sacredly swear, that should life be preserved to me longer than I now
dream of, should I indeed be spared to lavish on thee all a husband's
love and care, never, never shalt thou have cause to regret this day! to
mourn thy faithful love was shown as it hath been--to weep the hour
that, in the midst of danger, and darkness, and woe, hath joined our
earthly fates, and made us one. And now," he continued, rising and
folding her once more in his arms, "wilt thou meet me at the altar ere
the truce concludes? 'tis but a brief while, a very brief while, my
love; yet if it can be, I know thou wilt not shrink."

"I will not," she answered. "The hour thou namest I will meet thee. Lady
Seaton," she added, slightly faltering, and the vivid blush rose to her
temples, "I would see her, speak with her; yet--"

"She shall come to thee, mine own, prepared to love and hail thee
sister, as she hath long done. She will not blame thee dearest; she
loves, hath loved too faithfully herself. Fear not, I will leave naught
for thee to tell that can bid that cheek glow as it doth now. She, too,
will bless thee for thy love."

He imprinted a fervent kiss on her cheek, and hastily left her. Agnes
remained standing as he had left her for several minutes, her hands
tightly clasped, her whole soul speaking in her beautiful features, and
then she sunk on her knees before a rudely-carved image of the Virgin
and child, and prayed long and fervently. She did not weep, her spirit
had been too painfully excited for such relief, but so wrapt was she in
devotion, she knew not that Lady Seaton, with a countenance beaming in
admiration and love, stood beside her, till she spoke.

"Rouse thee, my gentle one," she said, tenderly, as she twined her arm
caressingly around her; "I may not let thee linger longer even here, for
time passes only too quickly, and I shall have but little time to attire
my beautiful bride for the altar. Nigel hath been telling such a tale of
woman's love, that my good lord hath vowed, despite his weakness and his
wounds, none else shall lead thee to the altar, and give thee to my
brother, save himself. I knew that not even Nigel's influence would bid
thee leave us, dearest," she continued, as Agnes hid her face in her
bosom, "but I dreamed not such a spirit dwelt within this childlike
heart, sweet one; thy lot must surely be for joy!"




CHAPTER XX.


It was something past the hour of nine, when Agnes, leaning on the arm
of Sir Christopher Seaton, and followed by Lady Seaton and two young
girls, their attendants, entered the church, and walked, with an
unfaltering step and firm though modest mien, up to the altar, beside
which Nigel already stood. She was robed entirely in white, without the
smallest ornament save the emerald clasp which secured, and the
beautiful pearl embroidery which adorned her girdle. Her mantle was of
white silk, its little hood thrown back, disclosing a rich lining of the
white fox fur. Lady Seaton had simply arranged her hair in its own
beautiful curls, and not a flower or gem peeped through them; a silver
bodkin secured the veil, which was just sufficiently transparent to
permit her betrothed to look upon her features, and feel that, pale and
still as they were, they evinced no change in her generous purpose. He,
too, was pale, for he felt those rites yet more impressively holy than
he had deemed them, even when his dreams had pictured them peculiarly
and solemnly holy; for he looked not to a continuance of life and
happiness, he felt not that ceremony set its seal upon joy, and bound
it, as far as mortality might hope, forever on their hearts. He was
conscious only of the deep unutterable fulness of that gentle being's
love, of the bright, beautiful lustre with which it shone upon his path.
The emotion of his young and ardent breast was perhaps almost too holy,
too condensed, to be termed joy; but it was one so powerful, so blessed,
that all of earth and earthly care was lost before it. The fears and
doubts which he had so lately felt, for the time completely faded from
his memory. That there were foes without and yet darker foes within he
might have known perhaps, but at that moment they did not occupy a
fleeting thought. He had changed his dress for one of richness suited to
his rank, and though at the advice of his friends he still retained the
breastplate and some other parts of his armor, his doublet of azure
velvet, cut and slashed with white satin, and his long, flowing mantle
lined with sable, and so richly decorated with silver stars that its
color could scarcely be distinguished, removed all appearance of a
martial costume, and well became the graceful figure they adorned; two
of the oldest knights and four other officers, all gayly attired as the
hurry of the moment would permit, had at his own request attended him to
the altar.

Much surprise this sudden intention had indeed caused, but it was an
excitement, a change from the dull routine of the siege, and
consequently welcomed with joy, many indeed believing Sir Nigel had
requested the truce for the purpose. Sir Christopher, too, though pale
and gaunt, and compelled to use the support of a cane in walking, was
observed to look upon his youthful charge with all his former hilarity
of mien, chastened by a kindly tenderness, which seemed indeed that of
the father whom he personated; and Lady Seaton had donned a richer garb
than was her wont, and stood encouragingly beside the bride. About
twenty men-at-arms, their armor and weapons hastily burnished, that no
unseemly soil should mar the peaceful nature of the ceremony by
recalling thoughts of war, were ranged on either side. The church was
lighted, dimly in the nave and aisles, but softly and somewhat with a
holy radiance where the youthful couple knelt, from the large waxen
tapers burning in their silver stands upon the altar.

The Abbot of Scone was at his post, attended by the domestic chaplain of
Kildrummie; there was a strange mixture of admiration and anxiety on the
old man's face, but Agnes saw it not; she saw nothing save him at whose
side she knelt.

Nigel, even in the agitation of mind in which he had quitted Agnes--an
agitation scarcely conquered in hastily informing his sister and her
husband of all that had passed between them, and imploring their
countenance and aid--yet made it his first care strictly to make the
round of the walls, to notice all that might be passing within the
courts, and see that the men-at-arms were at their posts. In consequence
of the truce, for the conclusion of which it still wanted some little
time, there were fewer men on the walls than usual, their commanders
having desired them to take advantage of this brief cessation of
hostilities and seek refreshment and rest. A trumpet was to sound at the
hour of ten, half an hour before the truce concluded, to summon them
again to their posts. The men most acute in penetration, most firm and
steady in purpose, Nigel selected as sentries along the walls; the post
of each being one of the round towers we have mentioned, the remaining
spaces were consequently clear. Night had already fallen, and anxiously
observing the movements on the walls; endeavoring to discover whether
the various little groups of men and women in the ballium meant any
thing more than usual, Sir Nigel did not notice various piles or stacks
of straw and wood which were raised against the wall in many parts where
the shadows lay darkest, and some also against the other granaries which
were contained in low, wooden buildings projecting from the wall.
Neither he nor his friends, nor even the men-at-arms, noticed them, or
if they did, imagined them in the darkness to be but the stones and
other weights generally collected there, and used to supply the engines
on the wails.

With the exception of the sentries and the men employed by Nigel, all
the garrison had assembled in the hall of the keep for their evening
meal, the recollection of whose frugality they determined to banish by
the jest and song; there were in consequence none about the courts, and
therefore that dark forms were continually hovering about beneath the
deep shadows of the walls, increasing the size of the stacks, remained
wholly undiscovered.

Agnes had entered the church by a covered passage, which united the keep
to its inner wall, and thence by a gallery through the wall itself,
dimly lighted by loopholes, to the edifice, whose southern side was
formed by this same wall. It was therefore, though in reality situated
within the ballium or outer court, nearer by many hundred yards to the
dwelling of the baron than to the castle walls, its granaries, towers,
etc. This outward ballium indeed was a very large space, giving the
appearance of a closely-built village or town, from the number of low
wooden and thatched-roofed dwellings, which on either side of the large
open space before the great gate were congregated together. This account
may, we fear at such a moment, seem somewhat out of place, but events in
the sequel compel us to be thus particular. A space about half a mile
square surrounded the church, and this position, when visited, by Sir
Nigel at nine o'clock, was quiet and deserted; indeed there was very
much less confusion and other evidences of disquiet within the dwellings
than was now usual, and this circumstance perhaps heightened the calm
which, as we have said, had settled on Sir Nigel's mind.

There was silence within that little sacred edifice, the silence of
emotion; for not one could gaze upon that young fair girl, could think
of that devoted spirit, which at such a time preferred to unite her fate
with a beloved one than seek safety and freedom in flight, without being
conscious of a strange swelling of the heart and unwonted moisture in
the eye; and there was that in the expression of the beautiful features
of Nigel Bruce none could remark unmoved. He was so young, so gifted, so
strangely uniting the gift of the sage, the poet, with the glorious
achievements of the most perfect knight, that he had bound himself alike
to every heart, however varied their dispositions, however opposite
their tastes; and there was not one, from the holy Abbot of Scone to the
lowest and rudest of the men-at-arms, who would not willingly, aye,
joyfully have laid down life for his, have gladly accepted chains to
give him freedom.

The deep, sonorous voice of the abbot audibly faltered as he commenced
the sacred service, and looked on the fair beings kneeling, in the
beauty and freshness of their youth, before him. Accustomed, however, to
control every human emotion, he speedily recovered himself, and
uninterruptedly the ceremony continued. Modestly, yet with a voice that
never faltered, Agnes made the required responses; and so deep was the
stillness that reigned around not a word was lost, but, sweetly and
clearly as a silver clarion, it sunk on every ear and thrilled to every
heart; to his who knelt beside her, as if each tone revealed yet more
the devoted love which led her there. Towards the conclusion of the
service, and just as every one within the church knelt in general
prayer, a faint, yet suffocating odor, borne on what appeared a light
mist, was distinguished, and occasioned some slight surprise; by the
group around the altar, however, it was unnoticed; and the men-at-arms,
on looking towards the narrow windows and perceiving nothing but the
intense darkness of the night, hushed the rising exclamation, and
continued in devotion. Two of the knights, too, were observed to glance
somewhat uneasily around, still nothing was perceivable but the light
wreaths of vapor penetrating through the northern aisle, and dissolving
ere long the arches of the roof. Almost unconsciously they listened, and
became aware of some sounds in the distance, but so faint and
indefinable as to permit them to rest in the belief that it must be the
men-at-arms hurrying from the keep to the walls, although they were
certain the trumpet had not yet sounded. Determined not to heed such
vague sounds, they looked again to the altar. The abbot had laid a
trembling hand on either low-bent head, and was emphatically pronouncing
his blessing on their vows, calling on heaven in its mercy to bless and
keep them, and spare them to each other for a long and happy life; or if
it must be that a union commenced in danger should end in sorrow, to
keep them still, and fit them for a union in eternity. His words were
few but earnest, and for the first time the lip of Agnes was observed to
quiver--they were ONE. Agnes was clasped to the heart of her
husband; she heard him call her his own--his wife--that man should never
part them more. The voice of congratulation woke around her, but ere
either could gaze around to look their thanks, or clasp the eagerly
proffered hand, a cry of alarm, of horror, ran though the building. A
red, lurid light, impossible to be mistaken, illumined every window, as
from a fearful conflagration without; darkness had fled before it. On
all sides it was light--light the most horrible, the most awful, though
perchance the most fascinating the eye can behold; fearful shouts and
cries, and the rush of many feet, mingled with the now easily
distinguished roar of the devouring element, burst confusedly on the
ear. A minute sufficed to fling open the door of the church for knights
and men-at-arms to rush forth in one indiscriminate mass. Sir
Christopher would have followed them, utterly regardless of his
inability, had not his wife clung to him imploringly, and effectually
restrained him. The abbot, grasping the silver crosier by his side, with
a swift, yet still majestic stride, made his way through the church, and
vanished by the widely opened door. Agnes and Sir Nigel stood
comparatively alone; not a cry, not a word passed her lips; every
feature was wrapped in one absorbing look upon her husband. He had
clasped his hands convulsively together, his brow was knit, his lip
compressed, his eye fixed and rigid, though it gazed on vacancy.

"It hath fallen, it hath fallen!" he muttered. "Fool, fool that I was
never to dream of this! Friends, followers, all I hold most dear,
swallowed up in this fell swoop! God of mercy, how may it be born! And
thou, thou," he added, in increased agony, roused from that stupor by
the wild shouts of "Sir Nigel, Sir Nigel! where is he? why does he tarry
in such an hour?" that rung shrilly on the air. "Agnes, mine own, it is
not too late even now to fly. Ha! son of Dermid, in good tune thou art
here; save her, in mercy save her! I know not when, or how, or where we
may meet again; I may not tarry here." He clasped her in his arms,
imprinted an impassioned kiss on her now death-like cheek, placed her at
once in the arms of the seer (who, robed as a minstrel, had stood
concealed behind a projecting pillar during the ceremony, and now
approached), and darted wildly from the church. What a scene met his
gaze! All the buildings within the ballium, with the sole exception of
the church, were in one vivid blaze of fire; the old dry wood and thatch
of which they were composed, kindling with a mere spark. The wind blew
the flames in the direction of the principal wall, which was already
ignited from the heaps of combustibles that had been raised within for
the purpose; although it was likely that, from its extreme thickness and
strength, the fire had there done but partial evil, had not the
conflagration within the court spread faster and nearer every moment,
and from the blazing rafters and large masses of thatch caught by the
wind and hurled on the very wall, done greater and more irreparable
mischief than the combustibles themselves. Up, up, seeming to the very
heavens, the lurid flames ascended, blazing and roaring, and lighting
the whole scene as with the glare of day. Fantastic wreaths of red fire
danced in the air against the pitchy blackness of the heavens, rising
and falling in such graceful, yet terrible shapes, that the very eye
felt riveted in admiration, while the heart quailed with horror.
Backwards and forwards gleamed the forms of men in the dusky glare; and
oaths and cries, and the clang of swords, and the shrieks of women,
terrified by the destruction they had not a little assisted to
ignite--the sudden rush of horses bursting from their stables, and
flying here and there, scared by the unusual sight and horrid
sounds--the hissing streams of water which, thrown from huge buckets on
the flames, seemed but to excite them to greater fury instead of
lessening their devouring way--the crackling of straw and wood, as of
the roar of a hundred furnaces--these were the varied sounds and sights
that burst upon the eye and ear of Nigel, as, richly attired as he was,
his drawn sword in his hand, his fair hair thrown back from his
uncovered brow and head, he stood in the very centre of the scene. One
glance sufficed to perceive that the rage of the men-at-arms was turned
on their treacherous countrymen; that the work of war raged even
then--the swords of Scotsmen were raised against each other. Even women
fell in that fierce slaughter, for the demon of revenge was at work, and
sought but blood. In vain the holy abbot, heedless that one sudden gust
and his flowing garments must inevitably catch fire, uplifted his
crosier, and called on them to forbear. In vain the officers rushed
amidst the infuriated men, bidding them keep their weapons and their
lives for the foe, who in such a moment would assuredly be upon them; in
vain they commanded, exhorted, implored; but on a sudden, the voice of
Sir Nigel Bruce was heard above the tumult, loud, stern, commanding. His
form was seen hurrying from group to group, turning back with his own
sword the weapons of his men, giving life even to those who had wrought
this woe; and there was a sudden hush, a sudden pause.

"Peace, peace!" he cried. "Would ye all share the madness of these men?
They have hurled down destruction, let them reap it; let them live to
thrive and fatten in their chains; let them feel the yoke they pine for.
For us, my friends and fellow-soldiers, let us not meet our glorious
fate with the blood of Scotsmen on our swords. We have striven for our
country; we have striven gloriously, faithfully, and now we have but to
die for her. Ha! do I speak in vain? Again--back, coward! wouldst thou
slay a woman?" and, with a sudden bound, he stood beside one of the
soldiers, who was in the act of plunging his dagger in the breast of a
kneeling and struggling female. One moment sufficed to wrench the dagger
from his grasp, and release the woman from his hold.

"It is ill done, your lordship; it is the fiend, the arch-fiend that has
planned it all," loudly exclaimed the man. "She has been heard to mutter
threats of vengeance, and blood and fire against thee, and all belonging
to thee. Let her not go free, my lord; thou mayest repent it still."

"Repent giving a woman life?--bah! Thou art a fool, though a faithful
one," answered Sir Nigel; but even he started as he recognized the
features of Jean Roy. She gave him no time to restrain her, however;
for, sliding from his hold, she bounded several paces from him, singing,
as she did so, "Repent, ye shall repent! Where is thy buxom bride? Jean
Roy will see to her safety. A bonny courtship ye shall have!" Tossing up
her arms wildly, she vanished as she spoke; seeming in that light in
very truth more like a fiend than woman. A chill sunk on the heart of
Nigel, but, "No, no," he said, internally, as again he sought the spot
where confusion and horror waxed thickest; "Dermid will care for Agnes,
and guard her. I will not think of that mad woman's words." Yet even as
he rushed onwards, giving directions, commands, lending his aid to every
effort made for extinguishing the fire, a prayer for his wife was
uttered in his heart.

The fire continued its rapid progress, buttress after buttress, tower
after tower caught on the walls, causing the conflagration to continue,
even when, by the most strenuous efforts, it had been partially
extinguished amongst the dwellings of the court. The wind blowing from
the north fortunately preserved the keep, inner wall, and even the
church, uninjured, save that the scorched and blackened sides of the
latter gave evidence of the close vicinity of the flames, and how
narrowly it had escaped. With saddened hearts, the noble defenders of
Scotland's last remaining bulwark, beheld their impregnable wall, the
scene of such dauntless valor, such unconquered struggles, against which
the whole force of their mighty foes had been of no avail--that wall
crumbling into dust and ashes in their very sight, opening a broad
passage to the English foe. Yet still there was no evidence that to
yield were preferable than to die; still, though well-nigh exhausted
with their herculean efforts to quench the flames, there was no
cessation, no pause, although the very height of the wall prevented
success, for they had not the facilities afforded by the engines of the
present day. Sir Nigel, his knights, nay, the venerable abbot himself,
seconded every effort of the men. It seemed as if little more could add
to the horror of the scene, and yet the shouts of "The granaries, the
granaries--merciful heaven, all is consumed!" came with such appalling
consciousness on every ear, that for a brief while, the stoutest arm
hung powerless, the firmest spirit quailed. Famine stood suddenly before
them as a gaunt, terrific spectre, whose cold hand it seemed had grasped
their very hearts. Nobles and men, knights and soldiers, alike stood
paralyzed, gazing at each other with a blank, dim, unutterable despair.
The shrill blast of many trumpets, the roll of heavy drums, broke that
deep stillness. "The foe! the foe!" was echoed round, fiercely, yet
rejoicingly. "They are upon us--they brave the flames--well done! Now
firm and steady; to your arms--stand close. Sound trumpets--the
defiance, the Bruce and Scotland!" and sharply and clearly, as if but
just arrayed for battle, as if naught had chanced to bend those gallant
spirits to the earth, the Scottish clarions sent back their answering
blast, and the men gathered in compact array around their gallant
leader.

"My horse--my horse!" shouted Nigel Bruce, as he sprung from rank to
rank of the little phalanx, urging, commanding, entreating them to make
one last stand, and fall as befitted Scottish patriots. The keep and
inner ballium was still their own as a place of retreat, however short a
period it might remain so. A brave defence, a glorious death would still
do much for Scotland.

Shouts, cheers, blessings on his name awoke in answer, as unfalteringly,
as bravely as those of the advancing foes. Prancing, neighing, rearing,
the superb charger was at length brought to the dauntless leader.

"Not thus, my lord; in heaven's name, do not mount thus, unarmed,
bareheaded as thou art!" exclaimed several voices, and two or three of
his esquires crowded round him. "Retire but for a brief space within the
church."

"And turn my back upon my foes, Hubert; not for worlds! No, no; bring me
the greaves, gauntlets, and helmet here, if thou wilt, and an they give
me time, I will arm me in their very teeth. Haste ye, my friends, if ye
will have it so; for myself these garments would serve me well enough;"
but ere he ceased to speak they had flown to obey, and returned ere a
dozen more of the English had made their way across the crumbling wall.
Coolly, composedly, Nigel threw aside his mantle and doublet, and
permitted his esquires to assist in arming him, speaking at the same
time in a tone so utterly unconcerned, that ere their task was finished,
his coolness had extended unto them. He had allowed some few of the
English to make an unmolested way; his own men were drawn up in close
lines against the inner wall, so deep in shadow that they were at first
unobserved by the English. He could perceive by the still, clear light
of the flames, troop after troop of the besiegers were marching forward
in the direction both of the causeway and the river; several were
plunging in the moat, sword in hand, and attack threatened on every
side. He waited no longer; springing on his charger, with a movement so
sudden and unexpected, the helmet fell from his esquire's hand, and
waving his sword above his undefended head, he shouted aloud his
war-cry, and dashed on, followed by his men, to the spot where a large
body of his foes already stood.

Desperately they struggled, most gallantly they fought; man after man of
the English fell before them. On, on they struggled; a path seemed
cleared before them; the English were bearing back, despite their
continued reinforcements from the troops, that so thronged the causeway
it appeared but one mass of men. But other shouts rent the air. The
besiegers now poured in on every side; wherever that gallant body turned
they were met by English. On, on they came, fresh from some hours of
repose, buoyed up by the certainty of conquest; unnumbered swords and
spears, and coats of mail, gleaming in that lurid light; on came the
fiery steeds, urged by the spur and rein, till through the very flames
they bore their masters; on through the waters of the moat, up the
scorching ruins, and with a sound as of thunder, clearing with a single
bound all obstacles into the very court. It was a fearful sight; that
little patriot band, hemmed in on every side, yet struggling to the
last, clearing a free passage through men and horse, and glancing swords
and closing multitudes, nearing the church, slowly, yet surely, forming
in yet closer order as they advanced; there, there they stood, as a
single bark amid the troubled waves, cleaving them asunder, but to close
again in fatal fury on her track.

In vain, amid that furious strife, did the Earl of Lancaster seek out
the azure plume and golden helmet that marked the foe he still desired
to meet; there was indeed a face, beautiful and glorious even in that
moment, ever in the very thickest of the fight, alike the front, the
centre, the rear-guard of his men; there was indeed that stately form,
sitting his noble charger as if horse and man were one; and that
unhelmed brow, that beautifully formed head, with its long curls
streaming in the night wind, which towered unharmed, unbent, above his
foes; and where that was, the last hope of his country had gathered. The
open door of the church was gained, and there the Scottish patriots made
a stand, defended in their rear by the building. A brief and desperate
struggle partially cleared their foes, and ere those in the rear could
press forward, the besieged had disappeared, and the heavy doors were
closed. The sudden pause of astonishment amidst the assailants was
speedily dispelled by the heavy blows of axes and hatchets, the sudden
shout "To the wall! to the wall!" while several ran to plant
scaling-ladders and mount the inner barrier, left unhappily unguarded
from the diminished numbers of the Scotch; there, however, their
progress was impeded, for the space which that wall inclosed being
scarce half the size of the ballium, and the barrier itself uninjured,
they were repulsed with loss from within. The church-doors meanwhile had
given way, and permitted ingress to the assailants, but the door leading
to the passage through the inner wall, and by which in reality the
Scotch had effected their retreat, was carefully closed and barred
within, and had so completely the same appearance as the wall of the
church in which it stood, that the English gazed round them fairly
puzzled and amazed.

This movement, however, on the part of the besieged occasioned a brief
cessation of hostilities on both sides. The flames had subsided, except
here and there, where the passing wind fanned the red-hot embers anew
into life, and caused a flickering radiance to pass athwart the pitchy
darkness of the night, and over the bustling scene on either side the
ruins.

There was no moon, and Hereford imagined the hours of darkness might be
better employed in active measures for resuming the attack by dawn than
continuing it then. Much, very much had been gained: a very brief
struggle more he knew must now decide it, and he hoped, though against
his better judgment, that the garrison, would surrender without further
loss of blood. Terms he could not propose, none at least that could
prevail on the brave commanders to give up with life, and so great was
the admiration Nigel's conduct had occasioned, that this true son of
chivalry ardently wished he would eventually fall in combat rather than
be consigned to the fearful fate which he knew would be inflicted on him
by the commands of Edward. Commands to the troops without were forwarded
by trusty esquires; the wounded conveyed to the camp, and their places
supplied by fresh forces, who, with the joyous sound of trumpet and
drum, marched over by torchlight into the ballium, so long the coveted
object of their attack.

Sir Nigel meanwhile had desired his exhausted men to lie down in their
arms, ready to start up at the faintest appearance of renewed
hostility, and utterly worn out, they most willingly obeyed. But the
young knight himself neither shared nor sought for that repose; he stood
against a buttress on the walls, leaning on a tall spear, and gazing at
once upon his wearied followers, and keeping a strict watch on the
movements of his foes. A tall form, clothed in complete armor, suddenly
stood beside him; he started.

"Seaton!" he said; "thou here, and in armor?"

"Aye," answered the knight, his voice from very weakness sounding hollow
in his helmet. "Aye, to make one last stand, and, if it may be, die as I
have lived for Scotland. I have strength to strike one last blow, for
last it will be--all is lost!"

A low groan broke from Nigel's lips, but he made no further answer than
the utterance of one word--"Agnes!"

"Is safe, I trust," rejoined the knight. "The son of Dermid, in whose
arms I last saw her, knoweth many a secret path and hidden passage, and
can make his way wherever his will may lead."

"How! thinkest thou he will preserve her, save her even now from the
foe?"

"Aye, perchance conceal her till the castle be dismantled. But what do
they now? See, a herald and white flag," he added, abruptly, as by the
light of several torches a trumpeter, banner-bearer, herald, and five
men-at-arms were discerned approaching the walls.

"What would ye? Halt, and answer," demanded Sir Nigel, recalled on the
instant to his sterner duties, and advancing, spear in hand, to the
utmost verge of the wall.

"We demand speech of Sir Nigel Bruce and Sir Christopher Seaton,
governors of this castle," was the brief reply.

"Speak on, then, we are before ye, ready to list your say. What would
your lords?"

"Give ye not admittance within the wall?" inquired the herald; "'tis
somewhat strange parleying without."

"No!" answered Nigel, briefly and sternly; "speak on, and quickly. We
doubt not the honor of the noble Earl of Hereford--it hath been too
gloriously proved; but we are here to list your mission. What would ye?"

"That ye surrender this fortress by to-morrow's dawn, and strive no
longer with the destiny against you. Ye have neither men nor stores, and
in all good and chivalric feeling, the noble Earls of Hereford and
Lancaster call on ye to surrender without further loss of blood."

"And if we do this?" demanded Nigel.

"They promise all honorable treatment and lenient captivity to the
leaders of the rebels, until the pleasure of his grace the king be
known; protection to all females; liberty to those whose rank demands
not their detention; and for the common soldiers, on the delivery of
their arms and upper garments, and their taking a solemn oath that
within seven days they will leave Scotland never to return, liberty and
life shall be mercifully extended unto one and all."

"And if we do _not_ this?"

"Your blood be upon your own rebellious heads! Sacking and pillage must
take their course."

"Ye have heard," were the sole words that passed the lips of Nigel,
turning to his men, who, roused by the first sound of the trumpet, had
started from their slumbers, and falling in a semicircle round him and
Sir Christopher, listened with intense eagerness to the herald's words.
"Ye have heard. Speak, then--your answer; yours shall be ours."

"Death! death! death!" was the universally reiterated shout. "We will
struggle to the death. Our king and country shall not say we deserted
them because we feared to die; or surrendered on terms of shame as
these! No; let the foe come on! we will die, if we may not live, still
patriots of Scotland! King Robert will avenge us! God save the Bruce!"

Again, and yet again they bade God bless him; and startlingly and
thrillingly was the united voice of that desperate, devoted band borne
on the wings of night to the very furthest tents of their foes. Calmly
Sir Nigel turned again to the herald.

"Thou hast Scotland's answer," he said; "'tis in such men as these her
glorious spirit lives! they will fall not unavenged. Commend us to your
masters; we await them with the dawn," and, turning on his heel, he
reassumed the posture of thought as if he had never been aroused.

The dawn uprose, the attack was renewed with increased vigor, and
defended with the same calm, determined spirit which had been ever
shown; the patriots fell where they fought, leaving fearful traces of
their desperate courage in the numbers of English that surrounded each.
It was now before the principal entrance to the keep they made their
final stand, and horrible was the loss of life, fierce and deadly the
strife, ere that entrance was forced, and the shrieks of women and
children within proclaimed the triumph of the foe. Then came a shout,
loud ringing, joyous, echoed and re-echoed by the blast of the trumpets
both within and without, and the proud banner of Scotland was hurled
contemptuously to the earth, and the flag of England floated in its
place. Many a dying eye, unclosed by those sudden sounds, looked on that
emblem of defeat and moved not in life again; others sprung up to their
feet with wild shrieks of defiance, and fell back, powerless, in death.

Sir Christopher Seaton, whose exhausted frame could barely sustain the
weight of his armor, had been taken in the first charge, fighting
bravely, but falling from exhaustion to the earth. And where was
Nigel?--hemmed in on all sides, yet seemingly unwounded, unconquered
still, his face indeed was deadly pale, and there were moments when his
strokes flagged as from an utter failing of strength; but if, on
observing this, his foes pressed closer, strength appeared to return,
and still, still he struggled on. He sought for death; he felt that he
dared his destiny, but death shunned him; he strove with his destiny in
vain. Not thus might he fall, the young, the generous, the gifted. On
foot, his armor hacked and stained with blood, not yet had the word
"yield" been shouted in his ear.

"Back, back! leave me this glorious prize!" shouted Lancaster, spurring
on his charger through the crowd, and leaping from him the instant he
neared the spot where Nigel stood. "Take heed of my gallant horse, I
need him not--I shall not need him now. Ha! bareheaded too; well, so
shall it be with me--hand to hand, foot to foot. Turn, noble Nigel, we
are well-nigh equals now, and none shall come between us." He hastily
unclasped his helmet, threw it from his brow, and stood in the attitude
of defence.

One moment Sir Nigel paused; his closing foes had fallen from him at the
words of their leader; he hesitated one brief instant as to whether
indeed he should struggle more, or deliver up his sword to the generous
earl, when the shout of triumph from the topmost turret, proclaiming the
raising of the banner, fell upon his ear, and nerved him to the onset.

"Noble and generous!" he exclaimed, as their swords crossed. "Might I
choose my fate, I would fall by thy knightly sword."

As stupefied with wonder at the skill, the extraordinary velocity and
power of the combatants, the men-at-arms stood round, without making one
movement to leave the spot; and fearful indeed was that deadly strife;
equal they seemed in stature, in the use of their weapons, in every
mystery of the sword; the eye ached with the rapid flashing of the
blades, the ear tired of the sharp, unwavering clash, but still they
quailed not, moved not from the spot where the combat had commenced.

How long this fearful struggle would have continued, or who would
finally be victor, was undecided still, when suddenly the wild mocking
laugh of madness sounded in the very ear of Nigel, and a voice shouted
aloud, "Fight on, my bonny lord; see, see, how I care for your winsome
bride," and the maniac form of Jean Roy rushed by through the thickest
ranks of the men, swift, swift as the lightning track. A veil of silver
tissue floated from her shoulder, and she seemed to be bearing something
in her arms, but what, the rapidity of her way precluded all discovery.
The fierce soldiers shrunk away from her, as if appalled by her gaunt,
spectral look, or too much scared by her sudden appearance to attempt
detaining her. The eye of Nigel involuntarily turned from his foe to
follow her; he recognized the veil, and fancy did the rest. He saw her
near a part of the wall which was tottering beneath the engines of the
English; there was a wild shriek in other tones than hers, the wall
fell, burying the maniac in its ruins. A mist came over the senses of
the young knight, strength suddenly fled his arm, he stepped back as to
recover himself, but slipped and fell, the violence of the fall dashing
his sword many yards in air. "I yield me true prisoner, rescue or no
rescue," he said, in a tone so startling in its agony that the rudest
heart beside him shrunk within itself appalled, and for a minute
Lancaster checked the words upon his lips.

"Nay, nay, yield not in such tone, my gallant foe!" he said, with eager
courtesy, and with his own hand aiding him to rise. "Would that I were
the majesty of England, I should deem myself debased did I hold such
gallantry in durance. Of a truth, thou hast robbed me of my conquest,
fair sir, for it was no skill of mine which brought thee to the ground.
I may thank that shrieking mad woman, perchance, for the preservation
of my laurels."

"I give you thanks for your courtesy, my lord," replied Sir Nigel,
striving to recover himself; "but I pray you pardon me, if I beseech you
let that falling mass be cleared at once, and note if that unhappy woman
breathes. Methought," he added, in stronger agitation, "she carried
something in her arms."

"She did," answered many voices; "some child or girl, who was
struggling, though the head was muffled up as if to prevent all sounds."

"See to it, and bring us news of what you find," said Lancaster,
hastily, for the same ghastly expression passed over the countenance of
his prisoner as had startled him at first. "Thou art not well, my good
lord?" he continued kindly.

"Nay, I am well, my lord; but I will go with you," replied the young
knight, slowly, as if collecting strength ere he could speak. "I am
wearied with the turmoil of the last twelve hours' fighting against fire
and sword at once; I would fain see the noble Hereford, and with his
permission rest me a brief while."

Lancaster made no further comment, and the two knights, who but a few
minutes before had been engaged in deadly strife, now made their way
together through the heaps of the dying and the dead, through many a
group of rude soldiery, who scowled on Nigel with no friendly eye, for
they only recognized him as the destroyer of hundreds of their
countrymen, not the chivalric champion who had won the enthusiastic
admiration of their leaders, and soon found themselves in the
castle-hall, in the presence of the Earl of Hereford, who was surrounded
by his noblest officers, Sir Christopher and Lady Seaton, and some few
other Scottish prisoners, most of whom were badly wounded. He advanced
to meet Sir Nigel, courteously, though gravely.

"It grieves me," he said, "to receive as a prisoner a knight of such
high renown and such chivalric bearing as Sir Nigel Bruce; I would he
had kept those rare qualities for the sovereign to whom they were
naturally due, and who would have known how to have appreciated and
honor them, rather than shed such lustre on so weak a cause."

"Does your lordship regard the freedom of an oppressed country so weak
a cause?" replied Nigel, the hot blood mounting to his cheek; "the
rising in defence of a rightful king, in lieu of slavishly adhering to
one, who, though so powerful, all good men, aye, even all good
Englishmen, must look on, in his claims to Scotland, as an ambitious
usurper. My lord, my lord, the spirit of Hereford spoke not in those
words; but I forgive them, for I have much for which to proffer thanks
unto the noble Hereford, much, that his knightly soul scorned treachery
and gave us a fair field. Durance is but a melancholy prospect, yet an
it must be I would not nobler captors."

"Nor would I forfeit the esteem in which you hold me, gallant sir,"
replied the earl, "and therefore do I pray you, command my services in
aught that can pleasure you, and an it interfere not with my duty to my
sovereign, I shall be proud to give them. Speak, I pray you."

"Nay, I can ask naught which the Earl of Hereford hath not granted of
himself," said Sir Nigel. "I would beseech you to extend protection to
all the females of this unhappy castle; to part not my sister from her
lord, for, as you see, his wounds and weakness call for woman's care; to
grant the leech's aid to those who need it; and if there be some unhappy
men of my faithful troop remaining, I would beseech you show mercy unto
them, and let them go free--they can work no further ill to Edward; they
can fight no more for Scotland, for she lieth chained; they have no head
and therefore no means of resistance--I beseech you give them freedom
unshackled by conditions."

"It shall be, it shall be," replied Hereford, hastily, and evidently
moved; "but for thyself, young sir, thyself, can we do naught for thee?"

"Nothing," answered the young man, calmly. "I need little more on earth,
for neither my youth, my birth, nor what it pleaseth thee to term my
gallantry, will save me from the sweeping axe of Edward. I would beseech
thee to let my death atone for all, and redeem my noble friends; but I
ask it not, for I know in this thou hast no power; and yet, though I ask
nothing now," he added, after a brief pause, and in a lower voice, as to
be heard only by Hereford, "ere we march to England I may have a boon to
crave--protection, liberty for a beloved one, whose fate as yet I know
not." He spoke almost inarticulately, for again it seemed the horrid
words and maniac laugh of Jean Roy resounded in his ears. There was
that in the look and manner of the English earl inviting confidence: a
moment the tortured young man longed to pour all into his ear, to
conjure him to find Agnes, and give her to his arms; the next he
refrained, for her words, "Ask not how I will contrive to abide by thee
undiscovered by the foe," suddenly flashed on his memory, with the
conviction that if she were indeed still in life, and he acknowledged
her his wife, Hereford would feel himself compelled to keep her under
restraint, as he did Lady Seaton and the wives of other noble Scotsmen.
His lip trembled, but fortunately for the preservation of his composure,
Hereford's attention was called from him by the eager entrance of
several other officers, who all crowded round him, alike in
congratulation, and waiting his commands, and perceiving he was
agitated, the earl turned from him with a courteous bow. Eagerly he
seized that moment to spring to the side of his sister, to whisper the
impatient inquiry, "Agnes, where is Agnes?" To feel his heart a moment
throb high, and then sink again by her reply, that she had not seen her
since he had placed her in the arms of the seer; that in the fearful
confusion which followed, she had looked for her in vain, examined all
her accustomed haunts, but discovered no traces of her, save the silver
tissue veil. There was, however, some hope in that; Jean Roy, misled by
the glittering article, and seeing it perchance in the hands of another,
might have been deceived in her prey. Nay, he welcomed the uncertainty
of suspense; there was something so fearful, so horrible in the idea
that his own faithful Agnes was among those blackened and mangled
bodies, which Lancaster informed him had been discovered beneath the
ruins, something so sickening, so revolting, he could not take advantage
of the earl's offer to examine them himself, though, Lancaster added, it
would not be of much use, for he challenged their dearest friends to
recognize them. He could not believe such was her fate. Dermid had not
been seen since the fatal conclusion of their marriage; he knew his
fidelity, his interest in both Agnes and himself, and he could not, he
would not believe the maniac had decoyed her from his care. But where
was she?--where, in such a moment, could he have conveyed her?--what
would be her final fate?--how would she rejoin him? were questions ever
thronging on his heart and brain, struggling with doubts, with the
horrible suspicion still clinging to that shriek which had sounded as
the ruins fell. Darker and more forebodingly oppressive grew these
conflicting thoughts, as day after day passed, and still she came not,
nor were there any tidings of the seer.

A very brief interval sufficed for the English earls to conclude their
arrangements at Kildrummie, and prepare to march southward, Berwick
being the frontier town to which the Scottish prisoners were usually
conveyed. Their loss had been greater than at any other similar siege;
more than a third of their large army had fallen, several others were
wounded, and not much above a third remained who were fitted to continue
in arms. It was a fearful proof of the desperate valor of the besieged,
but both earls felt it would so exasperate their sovereign against the
Scottish commanders, as to remove the slightest hope of mercy. The ruins
were with some labor cleared away, the remains of the outer wall
levelled with the earth, except the tower communicating with the
drawbridge and barbacan, which could be easily repaired. The inner wall
Hereford likewise commanded to be restored; the keep he turned into a
hospital for the wounded, leaving with them a sufficient garrison to
defend the castle, in case of renewed incursions of the Scottish
patriots, a case, in the present state of the country, not very
probable. True to his promise, these men-at-arms who survived, and whose
wounds permitted their removal, Hereford set at liberty, not above ten
in number; dispirited, heart-broken, he felt indeed there was no need to
impose conditions on them. Those of the traitors who remained,
endeavored by cringing humility, to gain the favor of the English; but
finding themselves shunned and despised, for the commonest English
soldier was of a nature too noble to bear with aught of treachery, they
dispersed over the country, finding little in its miserable condition to
impart enjoyment to the lives they had enacted so base a part to
preserve. It may be well to state, ere we entirely leave the subject,
that the execution of Evan Roy exciting every evil passion in their
already rebellious hearts, had determined them to conspire for a signal
revenge, the ravings of Jean Roy and the desperate counsels of her
mother-in-law urging them to the catastrophe we have related; the murder
of Nigel had been first planned, but dismissed as likely to be
discovered and thwarted, and bring vengeance on their own heads instead
of his. Before the execution of their comrade and head of the
conspiracy, they had only been desirous of shunning the horrors of a
prolonged siege; but afterwards, revenge became stronger than mere
personal safety, and therefore was it they refused to take advantage of
the safe conduct demanded by Nigel, and granted, as we have said.

The Scottish prisoners were removed from the castle a few hours after
its capitulation, and placed in honorable restraint, in separate
pavilions. Lancaster, whose romantic admiration for his antagonist had
not been in the least diminished by Sir Nigel's bearing in captivity and
the lofty tone of the young knight's society and conversation, which he
frequently courted, absolutely made him shrink from heading the force
which was to conduct him a prisoner to England, for he well knew those
very qualities, calling forth every spark of chivalry in his own bosom,
would be only so many incitements to Edward for his instant execution.
He therefore demanded that the superintending the works of the garrison
and keeping a strict watch upon the movements of the adjoining country
should devolve on him, and Hereford, as the older and wiser, should
conduct his prisoners to the border, and report the events of the siege
to his sovereign. His colleague acceded, and the eighth day from the
triumph of the besiegers was fixed on to commence their march.

It was on the evening of the seventh day that the Earl of Hereford, then
engaged in earnest council with Lancaster, on subjects relating to their
military charge, was informed that an old man and a boy so earnestly
entreated speech with him, that they had even moved the iron heart of
Hugo de l'Orme, the earl's esquire, who himself craved audience for
them.

"They must bear some marvellous charm about them, an they have worked
upon thee, De l'Orme," said his master, smiling. "In good sooth, let
them enter."

Yet there was nothing very striking in their appearance when they came.
The old man indeed was of a tall, almost majestic figure, and it was
only the snowy whiteness of his hair and flowing beard that betrayed his
age, for his eye was still bright, his form unbent. He was attired as a
minstrel, his viol slung across his breast, a garb which obtained for
its possessor free entrance alike into camp and castle, hall and bower,
to all parties, to all lands, friendly or hostile, as it might be. His
companion was a slight boy, seemingly little more than thirteen or
fourteen, with small, exquisitely delicate features; his complexion
either dark or sunburnt; his eyes were bent down, and their long, very
dark lashes rested on his cheek, but when raised, their beautiful blue
seemed so little in accordance with the brunette skin, that the sun
might be deemed more at fault than Nature; his hair, of the darkest
brown, clustered closely round his throat in short thick curls; his garb
was that of a page, but more rude than the general habiliments of those
usually petted members of noble establishments, and favored both
Hereford and Lancaster's belief that he was either the son or grandson
of his companion.

"Ye are welcome, fair sirs," was the elder earl's kindly salutation,
when his esquire had retired. "Who and what are ye, and what crave ye
with me?"

"We are Scotsmen, an it so please you, noble lords," replied the old
man; "followers and retainers of the house of Bruce, more particularly
of him so lately fallen into your power."

"Then, by mine honor, my good friends, ye had done wiser to benefit by
the liberty I promised and gave to those of his followers who escaped
this devastating siege. Wherefore are ye here?"

"In the name of this poor child, to beseech a boon, my noble lord; for
me, my calling permitteth my going where I list, unquestioned,
unrestrained, and if I ask permission to abide with ye, Scotsman and
follower of the Bruce as I am, I know ye will not say me nay."

"I would not, an ye besought such a boon, old man," answered the earl;
"yet I would advise thee to tempt not thy fate, for even thy minstrel
garb, an thou braggest of thy service to the Bruce, I cannot promise to
be thy safeguard in Edward's court, whither I give ye notice I wend my
way to-morrow's dawn. For this child, what wouldst thou--hath he no
voice, no power of his own to speak?"

The aged minstrel looked at his charge, whose eyes were still bent on
the floor; the heaving of his doublet denoted some internal emotion, but
ere the old man could answer for him, he had made a few hasty steps
forward, and bent his knee before Hereford.

"'Tis a simple boon I crave, my lord," he said, in a voice so peculiarly
sweet, that it seemed to impart new beauty to his features; "a very
simple boon, yet my lips tremble to ask it, for thou mayest deem it more
weighty than it seemeth to me, and thou alone canst grant it."

"Speak it, fair child, whate'er it be," replied the earl, reassuringly,
and laying his hand caressingly on the boy's head. "Thou art, methinks,
over young to crave a boon we may not grant; too young, although a
Scotsman, for Hereford to treat thee aught but kindly. What wouldst
thou?"

"Permission to tend on my young lord, Sir Nigel Bruce," answered the
boy, more firmly, and for the first time fixing the full gaze of his
beautiful eyes on the earl's face. "Oh, my lord, what is there in that
simple boon to bid thee knit thy brow as if it must not be?" he added,
more agitated. "The noble Hereford cannot fear a child; or, if he
doubted me, he cannot doubt the honor of his prisoner, an honor pure,
unsullied as his own."

"Thou speakest not as the child thou seemest," replied Hereford,
musingly; "and yet I know not, misery makes sager of us long ere the
rose of youth hath faded. For this, thy boon, I know not how it may be
granted; it is not usual to permit other than English attendants on our
Scottish prisoners. Since Sir Niel Campbell's escape through the agency
of his Scottish attendant, it hath been most strictly prohibited."

"Oh, do not, do not say me nay!" entreated the boy; "I ask but to share
his imprisonment, to be with him, serve him, tend him. I ask no more
liberty than is granted unto him; the rudest, coarsest fare, a little
straw, or the bare ground beside his couch. I can do naught to give him
freedom, and if I could, were there an open path before him--did I
beseech him on my knees to fly--if he hath surrendered, as I have heard,
to thee, rescue or no rescue, he would scorn my counsel, and abide thy
prisoner still. Oh, no, no! I swear to thee I will do naught that can
make thee regret thou hast granted an orphan's prayer."

"And who art thou that pleadeth thus?" inquired the earl, moved alike by
the thrilling sweetness of his voice and the earnestness of his manner.
"Thou must have some wondrous interest in him to prefer imprisonment
with him to all the joys which liberty can give."

"And I have interest," answered the boy, fervently; "the interest of
gratitude, and faithfulness, and love. An orphan, miserably an
orphan--alone upon the wide earth--he hath protected, cherished, aye,
and honored me with his confidence and love. He tended me in sorrow, and
I would pour back into his noble heart all the love, the devotion he
hath excited in mine. Little can I do, alas! naught but love and serve;
yet, yet, I know he would not reject even this--he would let me love him
still!"

"Grant the poor boy his boon," whispered Lancaster, hurriedly; "of a
truth he moveth even me."

"Thine heart is of right true mettle, my child," said his colleague,
even tenderly. "Yet bethink thee all thou must endure if I grant thy
boon; not while with me, for there would be a foul blot upon my
escutcheon did so noble a knight as Sir Nigel Bruce receive aught save
respect and honor at my hands. But in this business I am but a tool, an
agent; when once within the boundaries of Edward's court, Sir Nigel is
no longer my prisoner; I must resign him to my sovereign; and then, I
dare not give thee hope of gentle treatment either for thyself or him."

"I will brave it," answered the boy, calmly; "danger, aye, death in his
service, were preferable to my personal liberty, with the torture of the
thought upon me, that I shrunk from his side when fidelity and love were
most needed."

"But that very faithfulness, that very love, my child, will make thy
fate the harder; the scaffold and the axe, if not the cord," he added,
in a low, stifled tone, "I fear me, will be his doom, despite his youth,
his gallantry--all that would make _me_ save him. Thou turnest pale at
the bare mention of such things, how couldst thou bear to witness them?"

"Better than to think of them; to sit me down in idle safety and feel
that he hath gone forth to this horrible doom, and I have done naught to
soothe and tend him on his way," replied the boy, firmly, though his
very lip blanched at Hereford's words. "But must these things be? Is
Edward so inexorable?"

"Aye, unto all who thwart him now," said the earl; "there is no hope for
any of the race of Bruce. Be advised, then, gentle boy, retain thy
freedom while thou mayest."

"No, no!" he answered, passionately, "Oh, do not seek to fright me from
my purpose; do not think aught of me, save but to grant my boon, and oh,
I will bless thee, pray for thee to my dying hour! thou wilt, I know
thou wilt."

"I were no father could I refuse thee, my poor child," he replied, with
earnest tenderness. "Alas! I fear me thou hast asked but increase of
misery, yet be it as thou list. And yet," he added, after a brief pause,
during which the boy had sprung from his knee, with an inarticulate cry
of joy, and flung himself into the minstrel's arms, "Sir Nigel hath
resolutely refused the attendance of any of his former followers, who
would willingly have attended him to England. Hast thou so much
influence, thinkest thou, to change his purpose in thy favor?"

"I know not," answered the boy, timidly; "yet an it please your noble
lordship to permit my pleading mine own cause without witness, I may
prevail, as I have done before."

"Be it so, then," replied the earl. "And now, ere we part, I would bid
thee remember I have trusted thee; I have granted that to thee, without
_condition_, with perfect liberty of action, which to others could only
have been granted on their surrendering themselves, rescue or no rescue,
even as thy master. I have done this, trusting to that noble
faithfulness, the candor and honesty of youth, which hath breathed forth
in all that thou hast said. Let me not repent it. And now, Hugo de
l'Orme," he called aloud, but Lancaster himself declared his intention
of conducting the boy to Sir Nigel's tent, and the esquire was
consequently dismissed; but ere they departed, the boy turned once more
to the aged minstrel.

"And thou--whither goest thou?" he said, in low yet thrilling tones. "My
more than father, thou hast seen thy child's earnest wish fulfilled;
that for which thou didst conduct me hither is accomplished; yet ere I
say farewell, tell me--oh, tell me, whither goest thou?"

"I know not," answered the old man, struggling with unexpressed emotion;
"yet think not of me, my child, I shall be free, be safe, untouched by
aught of personal ill, while young and lovely ones, for whom it would be
bliss to die, are crushed and bleeding in their spring; the mountains,
and rocks, and woods, yet unstained with blood, call on me to return,
and be at rest within their caves. The love I bear to thee and him thou
seekest hath yet a louder voice to bid me follow ye. I know not whither
I shall go, yet an my vision telleth that thou needst my aid, I shall
not be far from thee. Farewell, my child; and ye, true-hearted lords,
the blessing of an aged man repay ye for the kindly deed this day that
ye have done." He pressed the boy in his arms, reverentially saluted the
earls, and passed from the tent as he spoke.

A few words passed between the warriors, and then Lancaster desired the
page to follow him. In silence they proceeded through the camp, avoiding
the more bustling parts, where the soldiery were evidently busied in
preparing for the morrow's march, and inclining towards the wooded bank
of the river. The eye of the Earl of Lancaster had scarcely moved from
the page during his interview with Hereford, though the boy, engrossed
in his own feelings, had failed to remark it. He now glanced rapidly and
searchingly round him, and perceiving the ground perfectly clear, not a
soldier visible, he suddenly paused in his hasty stride, and laying his
hand heavily on the boy's shoulder, said, in a deep, impressive voice,
"I know not who or what thou art, but I love thy master, and know that
he is ill at ease, not from captivity, but from uncertainty as to the
fate of one beloved. If it be, as I suspect, in thy power entirely to
remove this uneasiness, be cautioned, and whoever thou mayest be, let
not one in this camp, from the noble Earl of Hereford himself to the
lowest soldier, suspect thou art other than thou seemest--a faithful
page. The rage of Edward is deadly, and all who bear the name of Bruce,
be it male or female, will suffer from that wrath. Tell this to thy
lord. I ask not his confidence nor thine, nay, I would refuse it were it
offered--I would know no more than my own thoughts, but I honor him,
aye, and from my very heart I honor thee! Hush! not a word in answer; my
speech is rude, but my heart is true; and now a few steps more and we
are there," and without waiting for reply he turned suddenly, and the
page found himself in the very centre of the camp, near the entrance of
a small pavilion, before which two sentinels were stationed, fully
armed, and pacing up and down their stated posts; the pennon of Hereford
floated from the centre staff, above the drapery, marking the tent and
all its appurtenances peculiarly the earl's. The watchword was
exchanged, and the sentinels lowered their arms on recognizing one of
their leaders.

"Let this boy have egress and ingress from and to this tent,
unquestioned and unmolested," he said; "he has the Earl of Hereford's
permission, nay, commands, to wait on Sir Nigel Bruce. His business
lieth principally with him; but if he hath need to quit his side, he is
to pass free. Report this to your comrades." The soldiers bowed in
respectful acquiescence. "For thee, young man, this toy will give thee
free passage where thou listeth, none shall molest thee; and now,
farewell--God speed thee." He unclasped a ruby brooch, curiously set in
antique gold, from his collar, and placed it in the boy's hand.

"Dost thou not enter?" asked the page, in a voice that quivered, and the
light of the torches falling full on his face disclosed to Lancaster a
look of such voiceless gratitude, it haunted him for many a long day.

"No," he said, half smiling, and in a lower voice; "hast thou forgotten
thy cause was to be pleaded without witness? I have not, if thou hast. I
will see thy noble master ere he depart, not now; thou wilt, I trust me,
take him better comfort than I could."

He lifted the hangings as he spoke, and the boy passed in, his heart
beating well-nigh to suffocation as he did so. It was in a small
compartment leading to the principal chamber of the tent he found
himself at first, and Sir Nigel was not there. With a fleet, yet
noiseless movement, he drew aside the massive curtain, let it fall again
behind him, and stood unperceived in the presence of him he sought.

The brow of Sir Nigel rested on his hand, his attitude was as one bowed
and drooping 'neath despondency; the light of the taper fell full upon
his head, bringing it out in beautiful profile. It was not his capture
alone which had made him thus, the boy felt and knew; the complicated
evils which attended his king and country in his imprisonment were yet
not sufficient to crush that spirit to the earth. It was some other
anxiety, some yet nearer woe; there had been many strange rumors afloat,
both of Sir Nigel's bridal and the supposed fate of that bride, and the
boy, though he knew them false, aye, and that the victim of Jean Roy was
a young attendant of Agnes, who had been collecting together the
trinkets of her mistress, to save them from the pillage which would
attend the conquest of the English, and had been thus mistaken by the
maniac--the boy, we say, though he knew this, had, instead of denying
it, encouraged the report, and therefore was at no loss to discover his
master's woe. He advanced, knelt down, and in a trembling, husky voice,
addressed him. "My lord--Sir Nigel."

The young knight started, and looked at the intruder, evidently without
recognizing him. "What wouldst thou?" he said, in a tone somewhat stern.
"Who art thou, thus boldly intruding on my privacy? Begone, I need thee
not!"

"The Earl of Hereford hath permitted me to tend thee, follow thee,"
answered the page in the same subdued voice. "My gracious lord, do not
thou refuse me."

"Tend me--follow me! whither--to the scaffold? Seek some other master,
my good boy. I know thee not, and can serve thee little, and need no
earthly aid. An thou seekest noble service, go follow Hereford; he is a
generous and knightly lord."

"But I am Scotch, my lord, and would rather follow thee to death than
Hereford to victory."

"Poor child, poor child!" repeated Nigel, sadly. "I should know thee,
methinks, an thou wouldst follow me so faithfully, and yet I do not.
What claim have I upon thy love?"

"Dost thou _not_ know me, Nigel?" The boy spoke in his own peculiarly
sweet and most thrilling voice, and raising his head, fixed his full
glance upon the knight.

A wild cry burst from Nigel's lips, he sprang up, gazed once again, and
in another moment the page and knight had sprung into each other's arms;
the arms of the former were twined round the warrior's neck, and Sir
Nigel had bent down his lordly head; burning tears and impassioned
kisses were mingled on the soft cheek that leaned against his breast.




CHAPTER XXI.


The ancient town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, associated as it is with
Scottish and English history from the time these two kingdoms had a
name, presented a somewhat different aspect in the year 1307 to that of
the present day. The key to both countries, it was ever a scene of
struggle, unless the sister kingdoms chanced to be at peace, an event in
the middle ages of rare occurrence, and whoever was its fortunate
possessor was undeniably considered as the greater power. Since the
death of Alexander it had been captured no less than three times by
Edward in 1296, by Wallace the succeeding year, and recaptured by the
English the following spring. To Edward, consequently, it now belonged,
and many and fearful had been the sanguinary executions its walls had
beheld. Its streets had been deluged with noble Scottish blood; its
prisons filled with the nobles of Scotland; even high-minded women, who
by their countenance and faithfulness had given a yet higher tone to
patriotism and valor, were said to be there immured. It might have been
termed not alone the key, but the dungeon and grave of Scotland; and
many a noble spirit which had never quailed in the battle's front,
shrunk back appalled as it neared those dismal walls.

In the time of Edward, the fortifications, though merely consisting of a
deep moat and wooden palisades, instead of the stone wall still
remaining, inclosed a much larger space than the modern town. A
magnificent castle, with its "mounts, rampiers, and flankers," its
towers, walls, and courts, crowned an easy ascent overhanging the Tweed,
and was at this period peopled by a powerful garrison, filled with
immense stores, both of arms, artillery, and provisions, and many
unhappy prisoners, who from their lonely turrets could look beyond the
silver Tweed on their own beautiful land, their hearts burning with the
vain desire to free her from her chains. Both square and round towers
guarded the palisades and moat surrounding the town, which presented a
goodly collection of churches, hospitals, dwelling-houses, stores, and
monastic buildings; from all of which crowds were continually passing
and repassing on their several ways, and forming altogether a motley
assemblage of knights, nobles, men-at-arms, archers, the various orders
of monks, the busy leech from the hospital, the peaceful burgher, the
bustling storekeeper, and artisan, noble dames and pretty maidens--all
in the picturesque costumes of the day, jostling one another,
unconscious of the curious effect they each assisted to produce, and
ever and anon came the trampling of fiery steeds. It was a rich,
thriving, bustling town, always presenting curious scenes of activity,
at present apparently under some excitement, which the gay knights and
their followers tended not a little to increase.

The popular excitement had, strange to say, been confined for an
unusually long time to one subject. Orders had been received from King
Edward for the erection of an extraordinary cage or tower, curiously
worked in stone and iron, on the very highest turret of the castle,
visible to every eye, of a circular form, with pyramidal points,
supporting gilded balls, giving it the appearance, when completed, of a
huge coronet or crown. It was barred and cross-barred with iron on all
sides, effectually preventing egress from within, but exposing its
inmate, whoever that might be, to every passer-by. The impatient king
had commanded several of the artisans employed in its erection to be
thrown into prison, because it was not completed fast enough to please
him; but, despite his wrath and impatience, the work of fashioning the
iron, wood, and stone, as he required, occasioned them to proceed but
slowly, and it was now, three months after the royal order had been
given, only just completed, and firmly fixed on the principal turret of
the castle. Day after day the people flocked to gaze and marvel for whom
it could be intended, and when it would be occupied; their thoughts only
turned from it by the intelligence that the Earl of Hereford, with some
Scottish prisoners of high rank, was within four-and-twenty hours' march
of the town, and was there to deliver up his captives to the seneschal
of the castle, the Earl of Berwick. At the same time rumors were afloat,
that the prisoner for whom that cage had been erected was, under a
strong guard, advancing from Carlisle, and likely to encounter Hereford
at the castle gates.

The popular excitement increased threefold; the whole town seemed under
the influence of a restless fever, utterly preventing the continuance of
their usual avocations, or permitting them to rest quiet in their
houses. Crowds filled the streets, and pressed and fumed to obtain
places by the great gates and open squares of the castle, through which
both parties must pass. That wind, rain, and sunshine alternately ruled
the day, was a matter of small importance; nor did it signify that
English soldiers were returning victorious, with Scottish prisoners,
being a thing now of most common occurrence. Before the day was over,
however, they found anticipation for once had been less marvellous than
reality, and stranger things were seen and heard than they had dreamed
of.

From sunrise till noon they waited and watched, and waxed impatient in
vain. About that time trumpets and drums were heard from the south, and
there was a general rush towards the bridge, and hearts beat high in
expectancy of they knew not what, as a gallant band of English archers
and men-at-arms, headed by some few knights, were discovered slowly and
solemnly advancing from the Carlisle road. Where, and who was the
prisoner? A person of some consequence, of dangerous influence it must
be, else why had the king made such extraordinary provision for
confinement? There were not wanting suggestions and guesses, and
wondrous fancies; for as yet there was such a close guard in the centre
of the cavalcade, that the very person of the prisoner could not be
distinguished. Nay, there were some who ventured to hint and believe it
might be the excommunicated Earl of Carrick himself. It was most likely,
for whom else could the cage, so exactly like a crown, be intended? and
there were many who vaunted the wise policy of Edward, at having hit on
such an expedient for lowering his rival's pride. Others, indeed,
declared the idea was all nonsense; it was not likely he would incur
such expense, king as he was, merely to mortify a traitor he had sworn
to put to death. The argument waxed loud and warm. Meanwhile the
cavalcade had crossed the bridge, been received through the south gate,
and in the same slow and solemn pomp proceeded through the town.

"By all the saints, it is only a woman!" was the information shouted by
an eager spectator, who had clambered above the heads of his fellows to
obtain the first and most coveted view. His words were echoed in blank
amazement.

"Aye, clothed in white like a penitent, with her black hair streaming
all over her shoulders, without any covering on her head at all, and
nothing but a thin, torn sandal on her bare feet; and the knights look
black as thunder, as if they like not the business they are engaged in."

It was even so. There was an expression on the face of the officers
impossible to be misunderstood; frowningly, darkly, they obeyed their
sovereign's mandate, simply because they dared not disobey; but there
was not one among them who would not rather have sought the most deadly
front of battle than thus conduct a woman, aye, and a most noble one,
unto her prison. The very men, rude, stern, as they mostly were, shared
this feeling; they guarded her with lowered heads and knitted brows; and
if either officer or man-at-arms had to address her, it was with an
involuntary yet genuine movement and manner of respect that little
accorded with their present relative position. The crowds looked first
at the cavalcade and marvelled, then at the prisoner, and they did not
marvel more.

Clad as she was, in white, flowing garments, very similar to those worn
by penitents, her head wholly undefended from cold or rain even by a
veil; her long, luxuriant, jet-black hair, in which as yet, despite of
care and woe, no silver thread had mingled, falling round her from her
noble brow, which shone forth from its shade white as snow, and
displaying that most perfect face, which anguish had only chiselled into
paler, purer marble; it could not rob it of its beauty, that beauty
which is the holy emanation of the soul, _that_ lingered still with
power to awe the rudest heart, to bow the proudest in voluntary respect.

The sovereign of England had commanded this solemn procession and its
degrading accompaniments to humble, to crush to dust, the woman who had
dared defy his power, but it was himself alone he humbled. As she walked
there, surrounded by guards, by gazing hundreds, on foot, and but
protected from the flinty ground by a thin sandal, her step was as firm
and unfaltering, her attitude, her bearing as dignified, as calmly,
imposingly majestic as when, in the midst of Scotland's patriots, she
had placed the crown on the Bruce's head. Edward sought to debase her,
but she was not debased; to compel her to regret the part that she had
acted, but she gloried in it still; to acknowledge his power--but in all
he failed.

Calmly and majestically the Countess of Buchan proceeded on her way,
neither looking to the right or left, nor evincing by the slightest
variation of countenance her consciousness of the many hundreds gazing
on, or that they annoyed or disturbed her; her spirit was wrapt in
itself. We should assert falsehood did we say she did not suffer; she
did, but it was a mother's agony heightened by a patriot's grief. She
believed her son, who had been in truth the idol of her mourning heart,
had indeed fallen. Her Agnes was not amongst the queen's train, of whose
captivity she had been made aware, though not allowed speech with them.
Where was _she_--what would be her fate? She only knew her as a lovely,
fragile flower, liable to be crushed under the first storm; and pictured
her, rudely severed from Nigel, perchance in the hands of some lawless
spoiler, and heart-broken, dying. Shuddering with anguish, she thought
not of her own fate--she thought but of her children, of her country;
and if King Robert did enter these visions, it was simply as her
sovereign, as one whose patriotism would yet achieve the liberty of
Scotland; but there was a dimness even o'er that dream, for the figure
of her noble boy was gone, naught but a blank--dull, shapeless--occupied
that spot in the vision of the future, which once his light had filled.

The castle-yard was at length gained, and a half and some change in the
line of march ensued; the officers and men formed in a compact crescent,
leaving the countess, a herald, trumpeters, and some of the highest
knights, in front. So intense was the interest of the crowd at this
moment, that they did not heed the rapid advance of a gallant body of
horse and foot from the north, except to rail at the pressure they
occasioned in forcing their way through. They gained the castle-yard at
length, and there halted, and fell back in utter astonishment at the
scene they witnessed.

The herald had drawn a parchment from his belt, and made a step forward
as if to speak. The knights, in sullen silence, leant upon their
sheathed swords, without even glancing at their prisoner, who appeared
far the most composed and dignified of all present, and, after a brief
pause, words to this effect were distinguished by the crowd.

"To our loyal and loving subjects of both North and South Britain,
Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Wales, France, and
Scotland, greeting. Whereas Isabella, born of Fife, and late of Buchan,
which latter she hath, by foul dishonor and utter disregard of marriage
vows, now forfeited, hath done traitorously and disloyally alike to her
sovereign lord the king, and to her gracious lord and husband, John,
Earl of Buchan, whom, for his fidelity, we hold in good favor. As she
hath not struck by the sword, so she shall not perish by the sword; but
for her lawless conspiracy, she shall be shut up in a stone and iron
chamber, circular as the crown she gave, in this proclaiming to both
countries her everlasting infamy. And this we do in mercy; for, whereas
she deserveth death, we do remit the same, and give her time to repent
her of her heinous crime.

"Given at our palace of Carlisle, this twenty-third day of February, in
the year of our Lord and Saviour, one thousand three hundred and seven.
God save the King!"

But the loyal ejaculation was not echoed, nay, the herald himself had
read the proclamation, as if every word had been forced from him, and
the eyes of every knight and soldier had been fixed upon the ground, as
if shame rested on them rather than on their prisoner. A dead silence
for a few minutes followed, broken only by some faint cries of "God save
King Edward, and down with all traitors!" which seemed raised more to
drown the groans which involuntarily burst forth, than as the echo of
the heart. They dared not evince the faintest sign of disapproval, for
they stood on precarious ground; a groan even might be punished by their
irritable king as treachery; but there was one present who cared little
for this charge. Scarcely had the words passed the herald's lips, before
a young man, whose bare head and lack of all weapons would have
proclaimed him one of the Earl of Hereford's prisoners, had not the
attention of all been turned from him by the one engrossing object, now
snatching a sword from a soldier near him, sprung from his horse, and
violently attacking the herald, exclaimed, in a voice of thunder--

"Liar and slave! thinkest thou there is none near to give the lie to thy
foul slanders--none to defend the fair fame, the stainless honor of this
much-abused lady? Dastard and coward, fit mouthpiece of a dishonored and
blasphemous tyrant! go tell him, his prisoner--aye, Nigel Bruce--thrusts
back his foul lies into his very teeth. Ha! coward and slave, wouldst
thou shun me?"

A scene of indescribable confusion now ensued. The herald, a man not
much in love with war, stood cowering and trembling before his
adversary, seeking to cover himself with his weapon, but, from his
trembling hold, ineffectually. The stature of the youthful Scotsman
appeared towering, as he stood over him with his uplifted sword,
refusing to strike a defenceless man, but holding him with a gripe of
iron; his cheek flushed crimson, his nostrils distended, for his soul
was moved with a mightier, darker passion than had ever stirred its
depths before. The soldiers of both parties, joined, too, by some from
the castle--for a party headed by the Earl of Berwick himself had
attended to give countenance to the proclamation--rushed forward, but
involuntarily fell back, awed for the moment by the mighty spirit of one
man; the knights, roused from their sullen posture, looked much as if
they would, if they dared, have left the herald to his fate. Hereford
and Berwick at the same instant spurred forward their steeds, the one
exclaiming, "Madman, let go your hold--you are tempting your own fate!
Nigel, for the love of heaven! for the sake of those that love you, be
not so rash!" the other thundering forth, "Cut down the traitor, an he
will not loose his hold. Forward, cowardly knaves! will ye hear your
king insulted, and not revenge it?--forward, I say! fear ye a single
man?"

And numbers, spurred on by his words, dashed forward to obey him, but
fearlessly Sir Nigel Bruce retained his hold with his left hand, and
with his right grasped tighter his sword, and stood, with the fierce
undaunted port of a lion lashed into fury, gazing on his foes; but ere
he had crossed with the foremost weapons, a slight lad burst through the
gathering crowd, and with a piercing shriek threw himself at his
master's feet, and grasping his knees, seemed by his pleading looks, for
his words were inaudible, imploring him to desist from his rashness. At
the same moment another form pressed through the soldiers, her look, her
mien compelling them involuntarily to open their ranks and give her
passage. The sword of Nigel was in the act of falling on a second foe,
the first lay at his feet, when his arm was caught in its descent, and
Isabella of Buchan stood at his side.

"Forbear!" she said, in those rich impressive tones that ever forced
obedience. "Nigel Bruce, brother of my sovereign, friend of my son,
forbear! strike not one blow for me. Mine honor needs no defence by
those that love me; my country will acquit me; the words of England's
monarch, angered at a woman's defiance of his power, affect me not!
Noble Nigel, excite not further wrath against thyself by this vain
struggle for my sake; put up thy sword, ere it is forced from thee. Let
go thy hold; this man is but an instrument, why wreak thy wrath on him?
Must I speak, implore in vain? Nay, then, I do command thee!"

And those who gazed on her, as she drew that stately form to its full
height, as they heard those accents of imperative command, scarce
marvelled that Edward should dread her influence, woman as she was.
Despite the increasing wrath on the Earl of Berwick's brow, the men
waited to see the effect of these words. There was still an expression
of ill-controlled passion on Nigel's features. He waited one moment when
she ceased to speak, then slowly and deliberately shook the herald by
the collar, and hurled him from his hold; snapped his sword in twain,
and flinging it from him, folded his arms on his breast, and calmly
uttering, "Pardon me, noble lady, mine honor were impugned had I
suffered that dastardly villain to pass hence unpunished--let Edward act
as he lists, it matters little now," waited with impenetrable resolve
the rage he had provoked.

"Nigel, Nigel, rash, impetuous boy, what hast thou done?" exclaimed the
countess, losing all mien and accent of command in the terror with which
she clung round him, as if to protect him from all ill, in the tone and
look of maternal tenderness with which she addressed him. "Why, why must
it be my ill fate to hurl down increase of misery and danger on all whom
I love?"

"Speak not so, noble lady, in mercy do not!" he whispered in reply;
"keep that undaunted spirit shown but now, I can better bear it than
this voice of anguish. And thou," he added, laying his hand on the
shoulder of the boy, who still clung to his knees, as if fascinated
there by speechless terror, and gazed alternately on him and the
countess with eyes glazed almost in madness, "up, up; this is no place
for thee. What can they do with me but slay--let them come on--better,
far better than a scaffold!" but the boy moved not, Nigel spoke in vain.

The fate he dared seemed indeed threatening. Wrought well-nigh to
phrensy at this daring insult to his sovereign, in whose acts of cruelty
and oppression he could far better sympathize than in his more knightly
qualities, the Earl of Berwick loudly and fiercely called on his
soldiers to advance and cut down the traitor, to bring the heaviest
fetters and bear him to the lowest dungeon. The men, roused from their
stupor of amaze, rushed on impetuously to obey him; their naked swords
already gleamed round Nigel; the Countess of Buchan was torn from his
side, her own especial guards closing darkly around her; but vainly did
they seek to unclasp the convulsive grasp of the boy from Nigel, he
neither shrieked nor spake, but he remained in that one posture, rigid
as stone.

"Fiends! monsters! would ye, dare ye touch a boy, a child as this!"
shouted Nigel, struggling with herculean strength to free himself from
the rude grasp of the soldiers, as he beheld the sharp steel pointed at
the breast of the boy, to compel him to unloose his hold. "Villains,
cowards! bear back and let me speak with him," and nerved to madness by
the violence of his emotions, he suddenly wrenched himself away, the
rapidity of the movement throwing one of the men to the earth, and bent
over the boy; again they rushed forward, they closed upon him, they tore
away the lad by force of numbers, and flung him senseless on the earth;
they sought to bear away their prisoner, but at that moment Hereford,
who had been parleying loudly and wrathfully with Berwick, spurred his
charger in the very midst of them, and compelled them to bear back.

"Back, back!" he exclaimed, making a path for himself with his drawn
sword; "how dare ye thrust yourselves betwixt me and my lawful prisoner,
captive of my sword and power? what right have ye to dare detain him?
Let go your hold, none but the men whose prowess gained this gallant
prize shall guard him till my sovereign's will be known. Back, back, I
say!"

"Traitor!" retorted Berwick, "he is no longer your prisoner. An insult
offered to King Edward, in the loyal citadel of Berwick, in my very
presence, his representative as I stand, shall meet with fit
retribution. He hath insulted his sovereign by act and word, and I
attach him of high treason and will enforce my charge. Forward, I say!"

"And I say back!" shouted the Earl of Hereford; "I tell thee, proud
earl, he is my prisoner, and mine alone. Thou mayest vaunt thy loyalty,
thy representation of majesty, as thou listeth, mine hath been proved at
the good sword's point, and Edward will deem me no traitor because I
protect a captive, who hath surrendered himself a knight to a knight,
rescue or no rescue, from this unseemly violence. I bandy no more words
with such as thee; back! the first man that dares lay hold on him I
chastise with my sword."

"Thou shalt repent this!" muttered Berwick, with a suppressed yet
terrible oath, but he dared proceed no further.

A signal from their leader brought up all Hereford's men, who, in
compact order and perfect silence, surrounded their prisoner. Sternly
the earl called for a pair of handcuffs, and with his own hands fastened
them on his captive. "It grieves me," he said, "to see a brave man thus
manacled, but thine own mad act hath brought it on thyself. And now, my
Lord of Berwick, an it please thee to proceed, we demand admission to
thy citadel in King Edward's name. Bring up the other prisoners."

Concealing his wrath with difficulty, the Earl of Berwick and his
attendants dashed forward over the drawbridge into the castle at full
speed, closing the gates and lowering the portcullis after them. After a
brief space, the portcullis was again raised, the gates flung wide
apart, and the men-at-arms were discerned lining either side, in all due
form and homage to the officers of their sovereign. During the wrathful
words passing between the two earls, the attention of the crowd had been
given alternately to them and to the Countess of Buchan, who had utterly
forgotten her own precarious situation in anxiety for Nigel, and in pity
for the unfortunate child, who had been hurled by the soldiers close to
the spot where she stood.

"Do not leave him there, he will be trampled on," she said, imploringly,
to the officers beside her. "He can do no harm, poor child, Scotch
though he be. A little water, only bring me a little water, and he will
speedily recover."

All she desired was done, the boy was tenderly raised and brought within
the circle of her guards, and laid on the ground at her feet. She knelt
down beside him, chafed his cold hands within her own, and moistened his
lips and brow with water. After a while his scattered senses returned,
he started up in a sitting posture, and gazed in wild inquiry around
him, uttering a few inarticulate words, and then saying aloud, "Sir
Nigel, my lord, my--my--master, where is he? oh! let me go to him; why
am I here?"

"Thou shalt go to him, poor boy, as soon as thy strength returns; an
they have let thee follow him from Scotland, surely they will not part
ye now," said the countess soothingly, and her voice seemed to rouse the
lad into more consciousness. He gazed long in her face, with an
expression which at that time she could not define, but which startled
and affected her, and she put her arm round him and kissed his brow. A
convulsive almost agonized sob broke from the boy's breast, and caused
his slight frame to shake as with an ague, then suddenly he knelt before
her, and, in accents barely articulate, murmured--

"Bless me, oh bless me!" while another word seemed struggling for
utterance, but checked with an effort which caused it to die on his lips
in indistinct murmurs.

"Bless thee, poor child! from my very heart I do, if the blessing of one
sorrowing and afflicted as myself can in aught avail thee. For thy
faithfulness to thy master, I bless thee, for it speaketh well for thee,
and that face would bid me love and bless thee for thyself, I know not
wherefore. Good angels keep and bless thee, gentle boy, thou hast
Isabella's prayers, and may they give thee peace."

"Pray for me, aye, pray for me," repeated the boy, in the same murmured
tones. He clasped her hands in both his, he pressed them again and again
to his lips, repeated sobs burst from his laboring breast, and then he
sprung up, darted away, and stood at Sir Nigel's side, just as the Earl
of Hereford had commanded his men to wheel a little to the right, to
permit the Countess of Buchan, her guards and officers, free passage
over the drawbridge, and first entrance within the fortress.

The brow of this noble son of chivalry darkened as, sitting motionless
on his tall steed, his gaze rested on the noble woman whom it had
originally been his painful charge to deliver over to his sovereign. He
had not dreamed of a vengeance such as this. He could not have believed
a change so dark as this had fallen on the character of a sovereign whom
he still loved, still sought to admire and revere, and his spirit sunk
'neath the sorrow this conviction caused. Almost involuntarily, as the
procession slowly proceeded, and the countess passed within three paces
of his horse's head, he bent his lordly brow in silent homage; she saw
it and returned it, more effected by the unfeigned commiseration on that
warrior's face, than at aught which had occurred to shame and humble her
that morning.

A brief pause took place in the movements of the officers and their
prisoners, when they reached the great hall of the castle. For a brief
minute Lady Seaton and the Countess of Buchan had met, had clasped
hands, in sad, yet eager greeting. "My child, mine Agnes?" had been by
the latter hurriedly whispered, and the answer, "Safe, I trust, safe,"
just permitted to reach her ear, when roughly and fiercely the Earl of
Berwick summoned the Lady of Buchan to proceed to the chamber appointed
for her use. Those simple words had, however, removed a load of anxiety
from her mind, for they appeared to confirm what she had sometimes
permitted herself to hope, that Agnes had shared King Robert's exile,
under the care of Lady Campbell; prevailed on to do so, perchance, by
the entreaties of Nigel, who in all probability had deemed that course,
though one of hardship, less perilous than remaining with him. She hoped
indeed against her better judgment, for though she knew not the depth,
the might of her daughter's feelings, she knew it must have been a
terrible trial so to part, and she absolutely shuddered when she thought
of the whelming blow it would be to that young heart when the fate of
her betrothed was ascertained.

Lady Seaton had spoken as she believed. No communication had been
permitted between the prisoners on their way to England; indeed, from
Sir Christopher's wounded and exhausted state, he had travelled more
leisurely in a litter, always in the rear of the earl's detachment, and
occupied by her close attendance upon him, his wife had scarcely been
aware of the young page ever in attendance on her brother, or deemed
him, if she did observe him, a retainer of Hereford's own. There was so
much of fearful peril and misery hovering over her in her husband's
fate, that it was not much wonder her thoughts lingered there more than
on Agnes, and that she was contented to believe as she had spoken, that
she at least was safe.

Night fell on the town of Berwick. Silence and darkness had come on her
brooding wings; the varied excitement of the day was now but a matter of
wondering commune round the many blazing hearths, where the busy crowds
of the morning had now gathered. Night came, with her closing pall, her
softened memories, her sleeping visions, and sad waking dreams. She had
come, alike to the mourned and mourner, the conqueror and his captive,
the happy and the wretched. She had found the Earl of Berwick pacing up
and down his stately chamber, his curtained couch unsought, devising
schemes to lower the haughty pride of the gallant warrior whom he yet
feared. She had looked softly within the room where that warrior lay,
and found him, too, sleepless, but not from the same dark dreams. He
grieved for his sovereign, for the fate of one noble spirit shrined in a
woman's form, and restless and fevered, turned again and again within
his mind how he might save from a yet darker doom the gallant youth his
arms had conquered. And not alone on them did night look down. She sent
her sweet, reviving influence, on the rays of a bright liquid star,
through the narrow casement which gave light to the rude unfurnished
chamber where Sir Nigel Bruce and his attendant lay. They had not torn
that poor faithful child from his side. Hereford's last commands had
been that they should not part them, and there they now lay; and sleep,
balmy sleep had for them descended on the wings of night, hovering over
that humble pallet of straw, when from the curtained couch of power, the
downy bed of luxury, she fled. There they lay; but it was the boy who
lay on the pallet of straw, his head pillowed by the arm of the knight,
who sat on a wooden settle at his side. He had watched for a brief space
those troubled slumbers, but as they grew calmer and calmer, he had
pressed one light kiss on the soft yielding cheek, and then leant his
head on his breast, and he too slept--even in sleep tending one beloved.

And in the dark, close sleeping-chamber within the prison cage of the
noble Countess of Buchan, night too looked pityingly. Sleep indeed was
not there; it had come and gone, for in a troubled slumber a dream had
come of Agnes, and she had woke to think upon her child, and pray for
her; and as she prayed, she thought of her promise to the poor boy who
had so strangely moved her. She could not trace how one thought had
sprung from the other, nor why in the darkness his features so suddenly
flashed before her; but so it was. His face seemed to gleam upon her
with the same strange, indefinable expression which, even at the time,
had startled her; and then a sudden flash appeared to illumine that
darkness of bewilderment. She started up from her reclining posture; she
pressed both hands on her throbbing eyeballs; a wild, sickening yearning
took possession of her whole soul; and then she felt, in its full
bitterness, she was a chained and guarded prisoner and the deep anguish
of her spirit found vent in the convulsive cry--

"Fool, fool that I was--my child! my child!"




CHAPTER XXII.


Leaving the goodly town of Berwick and its busy citizens, its castle and
its prisoners, for a brief space, we must now transport our readers to
a pleasant chamber overlooking the Eden, in the castle of Carlisle, now
a royal residence; a fact which, from its numerous noble inmates, its
concourse of pages, esquires, guards, and various other retainers of a
royal establishment, the constant ingress and egress of richly-attired
courtiers, the somewhat bustling, yet deferential aspect of the scene, a
very cursory glance would have been all-sufficient to prove.

It had been with a full determination to set all obstacles, even disease
itself, at defiance, King Edward, some months before, had quitted
Winchester, and directed his march towards the North, vowing vengeance
on the rebellious and disaffected Scots, and swearing death alone should
prevent the complete and terrible extermination of the traitors. He had
proceeded in this spirit to Carlisle, disregarding the threatening
violence of disease, so sustained by the spirit of disappointed ambition
within as scarcely to be conscious of an almost prostrating increase of
weakness and exhaustion. He had determined to make a halt of some weeks
at Carlisle, to wait the effect of the large armies he had sent forward
to overrun Scotland, and to receive intelligence of the measures they
had already taken. Here, then, disease, as if enraged that he should
have borne up so long, that his spirit had mastered even her, convened
the whole powers of suffering, and compelled him not alone to
acknowledge, but to writhe beneath her sway. His whole frame was shaken;
intolerable pains took possession of him, and though the virulence of
the complaint was at length so far abated as to permit him a short
continuance of life, he could never sit his horse again, or even hope to
carry on in his own person his plans for the total reduction of
Scotland. But as his frame weakened, as he became the victim of almost
continual pain, all the darker and fiercer passions of his nature gained
yet more fearful ascendency. The change had been some time gathering,
but within the last twelve months its effects were such, that his
noblest, most devoted knights, blind as their affection for his person
rendered them, could scarce recognize in the bloodthirsty, ambitious
tyrant they now beheld their gallant, generous, humane, and most
chivalric sovereign, who had won golden opinions from all sorts and
conditions of men; who had performed the duties of a son and husband so
as to fix the eyes of all Europe on him in admiration; who had swayed
the sceptre of his mighty kingdom with such a powerful and fearless
hand, it had been long since England had acquired such weight in the
scale of kingdoms. Wise, moderate, merciful even in strict justice as he
had been, could it be that ambition had wrought such change; that
disease had banished every feeling from his breast, save this one dark,
fiend-like passion, for the furtherance of which, or in revenge of its
disappointment, noble blood flowed like water--the brave, the good, the
young, the old, the noble and his follower, alike fell before the axe or
the cord of the executioner? Could it indeed be that Edward, once such a
perfect, glorious scion of chivalry, had now shut up his heart against
its every whisper, lest it should interfere with his brooding visions of
revenge; forgot each feeling, lest he should involuntarily sympathize
with the noble and knightly spirit of the patriots of Scotland, whom he
had sworn to crush? Alas! it was even so; ruthless and tyrannical, the
nobles he had once favored, once loved, now became odious to him, for
their presence made him painfully conscious of the change within
himself; and he now associated but with spirits dark, fierce, cruel as
his own--men he would once have shunned, have banished from his court,
as utterly unworthy of his favor.

It was, then, in a royally-furnished chamber, pleasantly overlooking the
river Eden and the adjoining country, that about a week after the events
narrated in the preceding chapter, King Edward reclined. His couch was
softly and luxuriously cushioned, and not a little art had been expended
in the endeavor to lighten his sufferings, and enable him to rest at
ease. The repeated contraction of his countenance, however, betrayed how
impotent was even luxury when brought in contact with disease. The
richly-furred and wadded crimson velvet robe could not conceal the
attenuation of his once peculiarly fine and noble form; his great length
of limb, which had gained him, and handed down to posterity, the
inelegant surname of Longshanks, rendered his appearance yet more gaunt
and meagre; while his features, which once, from the benignity and
nobleness of his character, had been eminently handsome, now pale, thin,
and pointed, seemed to express but the one passion of his soul--its
gratification of revenge. His expansive brow was now contracted and
stern, rendered more so perhaps by the lack of hair about the temples;
he wore a black velvet cap, circled coronet-wise with large diamonds
from which a white feather drooped to his shoulder. There was a slight,
scarcely visible, sneer resting on his features that morning, called
forth perhaps by his internal scorn of the noble with whom he had
deigned a secret conference; but the Earl of Buchan had done him good
service, had ably forwarded his revenge, and he would not therefore
listen to that still voice of scorn.

"Soh! she is secure, and your desires on that head accomplished, sir
earl," he said, in continuance of some subject they had been discussing.
"Thou hast done us good service, and by mine honor, it would seem we
have done your lordship the same."

"Aye," muttered the earl, whose dark features had not grown a whit more
amiable since we last beheld him; "aye, we are both avenged."

"How, sir I darest thou place thyself on a par with me?" angrily
retorted Edward; "thinkest thou the sovereign of England can have aught
in common with such as thee? Isabella of Buchan, or of Fife, an thou
likest that better, is debased, imprisoned, because she hath dared
insult our person, defy our authority, to act treasonably and
mischievously, and sow dissension and rebellion amid our Scottish
subjects--for this she is chastised; an it gratify your matrimonial
revenge, I am glad on't; but Edward of England brooks no equality with
Comyn of Buchan, though it be but equality in revenge."

Buchan bent his knee, and humbly apologized.

"Well, well, let it be; thou hast served us too faithfully to be
quarrelled with, for perchance unintentional irreverence. The imposition
of her child's murder, when he lives and is well, is the coinage of
thine own brain, sir earl, and thou must reconcile it to thine own
conscience. We hold ourselves exempt from all such peculiar mercy, for
we scarce see its wisdom." There was a slight bitterness in Edward's
tone.

"Wisdom, my sovereign liege, deemest thou there is no wisdom in
revenge?" and the brow of the earl grew dark with passion, as he spoke.
"Have I naught to punish, naught to avenge in this foul
traitress--naught, that her black treachery has extended to my son, my
heir, even to his tender years? I would not have her death; no, let her
live and feed on the belief that her example, her counsels have killed
her own child; that had it not been for her, he might have lived, been
prosperous, aye, and happy now. Is there no wisdom in such revenge? and
if there be none, save that which my own heart feels, I could give your
grace another and a better reason for this proceeding."

"Speak it, in St. George's name," replied the king; "of a truth thou art
of most clear conception in all schemes of vengeance. I might have
thought long enough, ere I could have lighted on such as this. What
more?"

"Simply, your grace, that by encouraging a little while the report of
his death, his friends in Scotland will forget that he ever existed, and
make no effort for his rescue; which belief, wild and unfounded as it
is, I imagine supports him in his strenuous determination to live and
die a traitor to your highness. I have no hatred to the boy; nay, an he
would let me, could love and be proud of him, now his mother cannot
cross my path, and would gladly see him devoted, as myself, to the
interests of your grace. Nor do I despair of this; he is very young, and
his character cannot be entirely formed. He will tire in time of dark
and solitary confinement, and gladly accept any conditions I may offer."

"Gives he any proof as yet of this yielding mood?"

"By mine honor, no, your highness; he is firm and steadfast as the ocean
rock."

"Then wherefore thinkest thou he will change in time?"

"Because as yet, my gracious liege, the foul, treacherous principles of
his mother have not ceased to work. An entire cessation of intercourse
between them will show him his mistake at last, and this could never be,
did she know he lived. Imprisoned, guarded as she is, she would yet find
some means of communication with him, and all my efforts would be of no
avail. Let a year roll by, and I will stake my right hand that Alan of
Buchan becomes as firm a supporter and follower of King Edward as ever
his father was. Is the boy more than mortal, and does your grace think
life, liberty, riches, honors, will not weigh against perpetual
imprisonment and daily thoughts of death?"

So spoke the Earl of Buchan, judging, as most men, others by himself,
utterly unable to comprehend the high, glorious, self-devoted, patriotic
spirit of his noble son. He persevered in his course of fiend-like
cruelty, excusing it to his own conscience, if he had any, by the
belief it would end but in his son's good--an end, indeed, he seldom
thought of attaining; but there was something in the idea of a son, an
heir, and one so prepossessing in appearance as Alan of Buchan, that
touched his pride, the only point on which his flinty heart was
vulnerable.

"So thou thinkest, sir earl?" resumed the king, who perhaps in his own
secret soul did not entirely think with him. "Meanwhile the stripling
may laugh thy parental care to scorn, by escaping from iron chains and
stone walls, and seeking out the arch rebel Bruce, make up at the
sword's point for lost time. Beware, sir earl, an he be taken again thus
in arms against us, even thy loyal services will not save his head!"

"I should not even ask your grace's clemency," replied the earl, his
features assuming a fearful expression as he spoke. "An he thus turned
traitor again to his father's house, spurning mine and your grace's
favor, to join the base murderer of his kinsman, he shall be no more to
me than others, whose treason hath cost their heads; but I have no fear
of this. He cannot escape, guarded as he is, by alike the most ruthless
and the most faithful of my followers; and while there, if all else
fail, I will publish that he lives, but so poison the ears of his rebel
Scottish friends against him, he will not, dare not join them, and in
his own despite, will be compelled to act as befitting his father's son.
Trust me, my liege. To thy royal clemency I owe his life; be it my duty,
then, to instil into him other principles than those which actuated him
before."

"But your own character, my lord, meanwhile, care ye naught for the
stain supposed to rest upon it? Thy plans sound wise, and we thank thee
for thy loyalty; but we would not ye burdened your name with a deed not
its own, an ye cared for the world's applause."

"Not a whit, not a whit, your highness; countenanced by your grace's
favor, absolved in your opinion from the barbarity others charge me
with, I care not for them, I have been too long mine own
conscience-keeper to heed the whispers of the world," he added, his dark
brows knitting closer as he spoke.

Edward smiled grimly. "Be it so, then," he said; "my Lord of Buchan, we
understand each other. An that boy escapes and rejoins the traitors, and
is taken, his head answers for it. An ye succeed in making him loyal as
yourself, as eager a pursuer of the murderous traitor, Bruce, we will
give thee the palm for policy and wisdom in our court, ourself not
excepted. And now another question; it was reported Isabella of Buchan
joined the rebel's court with her _two_ children. Who and where is the
second? we have heard but of one."

"A puny, spiritless wench, as I have heard, my liege; one little likely
to affect your highness, and not worth the seeking."

"Nay, an she hath her mother's influence, we differ from thee, sir earl,
and would rather see her within the walls of our court than in the
traitor's train. I remember not her name amid those taken with the
Bruce's wife. Hast inquired aught concerning her?"

"Not I, your grace," carelessly replied the earl; "of a truth, I had
weightier thoughts than the detention or interest of a simple wench,
who, if her mother has taught to forget me as her father, is not worth
my remembering as a child."

"I give you joy of your most fatherly indifference, sir earl," answered
the king, with an ill-suppressed sneer. "It would concern you little if
she takes unto herself a husband midst your foes; the rebel Robert hath
goodly brothers, and the feud between thy house and theirs may but
impart a double enjoyment to the union."

The earl started, as if an adder had stung him. "She dare not do this
thing," he said, fiercely; "she will not--she dare not. A thousand
curses light upon her head even if she dreams it!"

"Nay, waste not thy breath in curses, good my lord, but up an prevent
the very possibility of such a thing, an it move thee so deeply. I say
not it is, but some such floating rumor has reached my ears, I can
scarce trace how, save through the medium of our numerous prisoners."

"But how obtain information--where seek her? I pray you pardon me, your
grace, but there are a thousand furies in the thought!" and scarcely
could the consciousness of the royal presence restrain the rage which
gathered on the swarthy features of the earl from finding vent in words.

"Nay, nay, my lord, let not your marvellous wisdom and sage indifference
be so speedily at fault. An she be not in Margaret Bruce's train, that
goodly dame may give thee some information. Seek her, and may be thou
wilt learn more of this wench than thou hast since her birth. In pity to
this sudden interest, we grant thee permission to visit these partners
of treason in their respective convents, and learn what thou canst; an
she be within thy reach, be advised, and find her a husband thyself, the
best find most speedy means of eradicating her mother's counsels."

Buchan's reply was arrested on his lips by the entrance of the royal
chamberlain, announcing that the Earl of Berwick had arrived in all
haste from Berwick, and earnestly besought a few minutes' audience with
his sovereign.

"Berwick!" repeated Edward, half raising himself in his surprise from
his reclining posture. "Berwick! what the foul fiend brings him from his
post at such a time? Bid him enter; haste, I charge thee."

His impatient command was speedily obeyed, The Earl of Berwick was close
on the heels of the chamberlain, and now appeared, his lowly obeisance
not concealing from the quick eye of his master that wrath, black as a
thunder-cloud, was resting on his brow.

"How now," said the king, "what means this unseemly gear, sir earl? thou
must have neither rested spur nor slackened rein, methinks, an thy garb
tell truth; and wherefore seekest thou our presence in such fiery haste?
Wouldst thou be private? My Lord of Buchan, thou hadst best follow our
counsel ere thy interest cools."

"Nay, your grace, bid not yon noble earl depart to grant me hearing; I
would speak before him, aye, and the whole court, were it needed. 'Tis
but to lay the sword and mantle, with which your highness invested me as
governor of the citadel of Berwick, at your grace's feet, and beseech
you to accept my resignation of the same." With well-affected humility
the Earl of Berwick unclasped his jewelled mantle, and kneeling down,
laid it with his sheathed sword at King Edward's feet, remaining on his
knee.

"Art craven, fool, or traitor?" demanded Edward, when his astonishment
permitted words. "What means this? Speak out, and instantly; we are not
wont to be thus trifled with. My Lord of Berwick, wherefore dost thou do
this?"

"Not because I am a craven, good my liege," replied the nobleman, still
on his knee, "for had I been so, King Edward's penetration would have
discovered it ere he intrusted me with so great a charge--nor because I
am a witless fool, unconscious of the high honor I thus tamely
resign--and not because I am a traitor, gracious sovereign, for 'tis
from insult and interruption in the arrest of a blasphemous traitor I am
here."

"Insult--interruption!" fiercely exclaimed the king, starting up. "Who
has dared--who loves his life so little as to do this? But speak on,
speak on, we listen."

"Pardon me, your highness, I came to tender my resignation, not an
accusation," resumed the wily earl, cautiously lashing his sovereign
into fury, aware that it was much easier to gain what he wished in such
moods than as he found him now. "I came but to beseech your highness to
resume that which your own royal hands had given me. My authority
trampled upon, my loyalty insulted, my zeal in your grace's service
derided, my very men compelled, perforce of arms, to disobey me, and
this by one high in your grace's estimation, nay, connected with your
royal self. Surely, my gracious liege, I do but right in resigning the
high honor your highness bestowed. I can have little merit to retain it,
and such things be."

"But they shall not be, sir. As there is a God above us, they shall not
be!" exclaimed the king, in towering wrath, and striking his hand on a
small table of crystal near him with such violence as to shiver it to
pieces. "By heaven and hell! they shall repent this, be it mine own son
who hath been thus insolent. Speak out, I tell thee, as thou lovest thy
life, speak out; drive me not mad by this cautiously-worded tale. Who
hath dared trample on authority mine own hand and seal hath given--who
is the traitor? Speak out, I charge thee!" and strengthened by his own
passion, the king sate upright on his couch, clenching his hand till the
blood sprung, and fixing his dark, fiery eyes on the earl. It was the
mood he had tried for, and now artfully and speciously, with many
additions, he narrated all that had passed the preceding day in the
castle-yard of Berwick. Fiercer and fiercer waxed the wrath of the king.

"Fling him in the lowest dungeon, load him with the heaviest fetters
hands can forge!" were the words first distinguished, when passion
permitted articulation. "The villain, the black-faced traitor! it is not
enough he hath dared raise arms against me, but he must beard me to the
very teeth, defy me in my very palace, throw scorn upon me, maltreat an
officer of mine own person! Is there no punishment but death for this
foul insolence! As there is a God in heaven, he shall feel my vengeance
ere he reach the scaffold--feel it, aye, till death be but too welcome!"
He sunk back, exhausted by his own violence; but not a minute passed ere
again he burst forth. "And Hereford, the traitor Hereford, he dared
defend him! dared assault thee in the pursuance of thy duty, the
audacious insolent! Doth he think, forsooth, his work in Scotland will
exempt him from the punishment of insolence, of treason? as an aider and
abettor of treachery he shares its guilt, and shall know whom he hath
insulted. Back to thy citadel, my Lord of Berwick, see to the strict
incarceration of this foul branch of treachery, aye, and look well about
ye, lest any seditious citizen or soldier hath, by look or word, given
aught of encouragement, or failed in due respect to our proclamation. An
Hereford abet the traitor, others may be but too willing to do the like.
By heaven, they shall share his fate! Bid Hereford hither on the
instant, say naught of having been beforehand with him; I would list the
insolent's own tale. Rest thee a brief while, my lord, and our great
seal shall insure thee prompt obedience. Bid Sir Edmund Stanley attend
us, my Lord of Buchan. I need scarce warn a Comyn to be secret on what
has passed; I would not have the foul insolence cast into our teeth as
yet proclaimed. Begone, both of ye; we would be a brief space alone."

The deadly pallor which had usurped the flush of fury on the monarch's
cheek afforded such strong evidence of a sharp renewal of his internal
pains, that both noblemen hesitated to obey. The damp of agony stood
upon his forehead a moment in large drops, then absolutely poured down
his cheeks, while his gaunt frame shook with the effort to suppress the
groan which his throes wrung from him. Seizing a cordial near him,
Buchan presented it on his knee, but Edward only waved them both away,
angrily and impatiently pointing to the door. He loved not the weakness
of an appalling disease to be witnessed by his courtiers. When utterly
incapacitated from either the appearance or functions of the sovereign,
he chose to be alone, his pride scarcely brooking even the cares of his
young and beautiful wife, or the yet wiser and truer affection of his
daughters. The effects of this interview will be seen in a future
chapter.




CHAPTER XXIII.


There was an expression of both sorrow and care on the fine and winning
features of the Princess Joan, Countess of Gloucester, as she sat busied
in embroidery in an apartment of Carlisle Castle, often pausing to rest
her head upon her hand, and glance out of the broad casement near which
she sat, not in admiration of the placid scene which stretched beyond,
but in the mere forgetfulness of uneasy thought. Long the favorite
daughter of King Edward, perchance because her character more resembled
that of her mother, Queen Eleanor, than did either of her sisters, she
had till lately possessed unbounded influence over him. Not only his
affection but his pride was gratified in her, for he saw much of his own
wisdom, penetration, and high sense of honor reflected upon her, far
more forcibly than in his weak and yielding son. But lately, the change
which had so painfully darkened the character and actions of her father
had extended even to her. Her affection for a long time blinded her to
this painful truth, but by slow degrees it became too evident to be
mistaken, and she had wept many bitter tears, less perhaps for herself
than for her father, whom she had almost idolized. His knightly
qualities, his wisdom, the good he had done his country, all were
treasured up by her and rejoiced in with never-failing delight. His
reputation, his popularity, were dear to her, even as her noble
husband's. She had not only loved, she had reverenced him as some
superior being who had come but to do good, to leave behind him through
succeeding ages an untarnished name, enshrined in such love, England
would be long ere she spoke it without tears. And now, alas! she had
outlived such dreams; her reverence, lingering still, had been impaired
by deeds of blood her pride in him crushed; naught but a daughter's love
remaining, which did but more strongly impress upon her heart the fatal
change. And now the last blow was given; he shunned her, scarcely ever
summoned her to his presence, permitted the wife of a day to tend him in
his sufferings, rather than the daughter of his former love, one
hallowed by the memories of her mother, the beloved and faithful partner
of his youth.

It was not, however, these thoughts which entirely engrossed her now
not undivided sorrows. Her sister Elizabeth, the Countess of Hereford,
had just left her, plunged in the deepest distress, from the
extraordinary fact that her husband, summoned seemingly in all amity by
the king, had been arrested by the Lord Marshal of England as an aider
and abettor of treason, and was now in strict confinement within the
castle; not permitted to embrace his wife and children, whom he had not
seen since his arrival from Scotland, where he had so gallantly assisted
the cause of Edward, and whence he had but just returned in triumph. No
other cause was assigned saving having given countenance to treason and
_leze majeste_, but that the irritation of the king had prohibited all
hope of present pardon;--she, Lady Hereford, though his own daughter,
having been refused admission to his presence. Both the Earl and
Countess of Gloucester had anxiously striven to comfort the anxious
wife, conquering their own fears to assure her that hers were
groundless; that though from some mysterious cause at present irritated,
as they knew too well a trifle made him now, Hereford was too good and
loyal a subject for the king to proceed to extremities, whatever might
have been his fault. Rumors of the confusion at Berwick had indeed
reached Carlisle, and it was to have them confirmed or denied, or
connected with some appearance of veracity, the Earl of Gloucester had
quitted the royal sisters, determining to use his influence with his
sovereign, even to dare his wrath, for the release of Hereford, whose
good services in Scotland deserved a somewhat different recompense. Lady
Hereford, too anxious and dispirited to remain long in one place, soon
departed to seek the youthful Margaret of France, her father's beautiful
wife, and beseech her influence with him, either for the pardon of her
husband, or at least communication with him.

It was these sad thoughts which engrossed the Princess Joan, and they
lingered too on Hereford's prisoner, the brave, and noble Nigel, for
both to her husband and herself he had been in his boyhood an object not
only of interest but of love. His beauty, his extraordinary talents, had
irresistibly attracted them; and yet scarcely could they now believe the
youthful knight, with whose extraordinary valor not only Scotland but
England rung, could be that same enthusiast boy. That he had been taken,
was now a prisoner in Berwick Castle, on whom sentence of death sooner
or later would be passed, brought conviction but too sadly to their
hearts, and made them feel yet more bitterly their influence with Edward
was of no account.

"Hast thou succeeded, Gilbert? Oh, say that poor Elizabeth may at least
be permitted access to her husband," was the countess's eager salutation
to her husband, as he silently approached her. He shook his head
sorrowfully.

"Alas! not even this. Edward is inexorable, possessed by I know not what
spirit of opposition and wrath, furiously angered against Hereford, to
the utter forgetfulness of all his gallant deeds in Scotland."

"But wherefore? What can have chanced in this brief period to occasion
this? but a few days since he spoke of Hereford as most loyal and
deserving."

"Aye, that was on the news of Kildrummie's surrender; now forgotten,
from anger at a deed which but a few years back he would have been the
first to have admired. That rash madman, Nigel Bruce, hath not only
trebly sealed his own fate, but hurled down this mishap on his captor,"
and briefly he narrated all he had learned.

"It was, indeed, a rash action, Gilbert; yet was it altogether
unnatural? Alas, no! the boy had had no spark of chivalry or patriotism
about him, had he stood tamely by; and Gloucester," she added, with
bitter tears, "years back would my father have given cause for
this--would he thus have treated an unhappy woman, thus have added
insult to misery, for an act which, shown to other than his rival, he
would have honored, aye, not alone the deed, but the doer of it? If we,
his own children, feel shamed and indignant at this cruelty, oh, what
must be the feelings of her countrymen, her friends?"

"Then thou believest not the foul slander attached to the Countess of
Buchan, my Joan?"

"Believe it!" she answered, indignantly; "who that has looked on that
noble woman's face can give it the smallest credence? No, Gilbert, no.
'Tis published by those base spirits so utterly incapable of honor,
knighthood, and patriotism themselves, that they cannot conceive these
qualities in others, particularly in a female breast, and therefore
assign it to motives black as the hearts which thought them; and even if
it were true, is a kingly conqueror inflicting justice for treason
against himself, to assign other motives for that justice? Doth he not
lower himself--his own cause?"

"Alas, yes!" replied her husband, sorrowfully; "he hath done his
character more injury by this last act than any which preceded. Though
men might wish less blood were shed, yet still, traitors taken in arms
against his person justice must condemn; but a woman, a sad and grieving
woman--but do not weep thus, my gentle wife," he added, tenderly.

"Can a daughter of Edward do other than weep, my husband? Oh, if I loved
him not, if my very spirit did not cling round him so closely that the
fibres of both seem entwined, and his deeds of wrath, of exacting
justice, fall on me as if I had done them, and overwhelm me with their
shame, their remorse, then indeed I might not weep; but as it is, do not
chide me, Gilbert, for weep I must."

"Thou art too noble-hearted, Joan," he said, kindly, as he circled her
waist with his arm, "only too noble-hearted for these fearful times.
'Tis but too sad a proof of the change in thy royal father, that he
shuns thy presence now even as he once loved it."

A confusion in the passage and ante-room disturbed their converse, and
Gloucester turned towards the door to inquire the cause.

"Tis but a troublesome boy, demanding access to her highness the
countess, my lord," was the reply. "I have asked his name and business,
questions he deigns not, forsooth, to answer, and looks so wild and
distracted, that I scarce think it accords with my duty to afford him
admittance. He is no fit recipient of my lady's bounty, good my lord;
trust me, he will but fright her."

"I have no such fear, my good Baldwin," said the princess, as, on
hearing her name, she came forward to the centre of the chamber; "thou
knowest my presence is granted to all who seek it, an this poor child
seems so wild, he is the fitter object of my care. They are using
violence methinks; give him entrance instantly."

The attendant departed, and returned in a very brief space, followed by
a lad, whose torn and muddy garments, haggard features, and dishevelled
hair indeed verified the description given. He glanced wildly round him
a moment, and then flinging himself at the feet of the princess, clasped
her robe and struggled to say something, of which the words "mercy,
protection," were alone audible.

"Mercy, my poor child! what mercy dost thou crave? Protection I may give
thee, but how may I show thee mercy?"

"Grant me but a few moments, lady, let me but speak with thee alone. I
bear a message which I may not deliver to other ears save thine," said
or rather gasped the boy, for he breathed with difficulty, either from
exhaustion or emotion.

"Alone!" replied the countess, somewhat surprised. "Leave us, Baldwin,"
she added, after a moment's pause. "I am privately engaged for the next
hour, denied to all, save his grace the king." He withdrew, with a
respectful bow. "And now, speak, poor child, what wouldst thou? Nay, I
hear nothing which my husband may not hear," she said, as the eyes of
her visitor gazed fearfully on the earl, who was looking at him with
surprise.

"Thy husband, lady--the Earl of Gloucester? oh, it was to him too I
came; the brother-in-arms of my sovereign, one that showed kindness
to--to Sir Nigel in his youth, ye will not, ye will not forsake him
now?"

Few and well-nigh inarticulate as were those broken words, they betrayed
much which at once excited interest in both the earl and countess, and
told the reason of the lad's earnest entreaty to see them alone.

"Forsake him!" exclaimed the earl, after carefully examining that the
door was closed; "would to heaven I could serve him, free him! that
there was but one slender link to lay hold of, to prove him innocent and
give him life, I would do it, did it put my own head in jeopardy."

"And is there none, none?" burst wildly from the boy's lips, as he
sprung from his knees, and grasped convulsively the earl's arm. "Oh,
what has he done that they should slay him? why do they call him guilty?
He was not Edward's subject, he owed him no homage, no service, he has
but fought to free his country, and is there guilt in this? oh, no, no,
save him, in mercy save him!"

"Thou knowest not what thou askest, boy, how wholly, utterly impossible
it is to save him. He hath hurled down increase of anger on his own head
by his daring insult of King Edward's herald; had there been hope before
there is none now."

A piercing cry escaped the boy, and he would have fallen had he not been
supported by the countess; he looked at her pitying face, and again
threw himself at her feet.

"Canst _thou_ not, wilt _thou_ not save him?" he cried; "art thou not
the daughter of Edward, his favorite, his dearly beloved, and will he
not list to thee--will he not hear thy pleadings? Oh, seek him, kneel to
him as I to thee, implore his mercy--life, life, only the gift of life;
sentence him to exile, perpetual exile, what he will, only let him live:
he is too young, too good, too beautiful to die. Oh! do not look as if
this could not be. He has told me how you both loved him, not that I
should seek ye. It is not at his request I come; no, no, no, he spurns
life, if it be granted on conditions. But they have torn me from him,
they have borne him to the lowest dungeon, they have loaded him with
fetters, put him to the torture. I would have clung to him still, but
they spurned me, trampled on me, cast me forth--to die, if I may not
save him! Wilt thou not have mercy, princess? daughter of Edward, oh,
save him, save him!"

It is impossible in the above incoherent words to convey to the reader
even a faint idea of the agonized wildness with which they were spoken;
the impression of unutterable misery they gave to those who listened to
them, and marked their reflection in the face of the speaker.

"Fetters--the lowest dungeon--torture," repeated Gloucester, pacing up
and down with disordered steps. "Can these things be? merciful heaven,
how low hath England fallen! Boy, boy, can it be thou speakest truth?"

"As there is a God above, it is truth!" he answered, passionately. "Oh,
canst thou not save him from this? is there no justice, no mercy?
Rise--no, no; wherefore should I rise?" he continued, clinging
convulsively to the knees of the princess, as she soothingly sought to
raise him. "I will kneel here till thou hast promised to plead for him
with thy royal father, promised to use thine influence for his life. Oh,
canst thou once have loved him and yet hesitate for this?"

"I do not, I would not hesitate, unhappy boy," replied the princess,
tenderly. "God in heaven knows, were there the slenderest chance of
saving him, I would kneel at my father's feet till pardon was obtained,
but angered as he is now it would irritate him yet more. Alas! alas!
poor child, they told thee wrong who bade thee come to Joan for
influence with Edward; I have none now, less than any of his court," and
the large tears fell from the eyes of the princess on the boy's upturned
face.

"Then let me plead for him; give me access to Edward. Oh, I will so
beseech, conjure him, he cannot, he will not say me nay. Oh, if his
heart be not of steel, he will have mercy on our wretchedness; he will
pardon, he will spare my husband!"

The sob with which that last word was spoken shook that slight frame,
till it bowed to the very ground, and the supporting arm of the countess
alone preserved her from falling.

"Thy husband!--Gracious heaven! who and what art thou?" exclaimed the
earl, springing towards her, at the same instant that his wife raised
her in her arras, and laid her on a couch beside them, watching with the
soothing tenderness of a sister, till voice and strength returned.

"Alas! I feared there was more in this deep agony than we might see,"
she said; "but I imagined not, dared not imagine aught like this. Poor
unhappy sufferer, the saints be praised thou hast come to me! thy
husband's life I may not save, but I can give protection, tenderness to
thee--aye weep, weep, there is life, reason in those tears."

The gentle voice of sympathy, of kindness, had come upon that
overcharged heart, and broke the icy agony which had closed it to the
relief of tears. Mind and frame were utterly exhausted, and Agnes buried
her face in the hands of the princess, which she had clasped
convulsively within both hers, and wept, till the wildness of agony
indeed departed, but not the horrible consciousness of the anguish yet
to come. Gradually her whole tale was imparted: from the resolution to
follow her betrothed even to England, and cling to him to the last; the
fatal conclusion of that rite which had made them one; the anxiety and
suffering which had marked the days spent in effecting a complete
disguise, ere she could venture near him and obtain Hereford's consent
to her attending him as a page; the risks and hardships which had
attended their journey to Berwick, till even a prison seemed a relief
and rest; and then the sudden change, that a few days previous, the Earl
of Berwick had entered Sir Nigel's prison, at the head of five or ten
ruffians, had loaded him with fetters, conveyed him to the lowest and
filthiest dungeon, and there had administered the torture, she knew not
wherefore. Her shriek of agony had betrayed that she had followed them,
and she was rudely and forcibly dragged from him, and thrust from the
fortress. Her brain had reeled, her senses a brief while forsaken her,
and when she recovered, her only distinct thought was to find her way to
Carlisle, and there obtain access to the Earl and Countess of
Gloucester, of whom her husband had spoken much during their journey to
England, not with any wish or hope of obtaining mercy through their
influence, but simply as the friends of former years; he had spoken of
them to while away the tedious hours of their journey, and besought her,
if she should be parted from him on their arrival at Berwick, to seek
them, and implore their protection till her strength was restored. Of
herself, however, in thus seeking them, she had thought not; the only
idea, the only thought clearly connected in her mind was to beseech
their influence with Edward in obtaining her husband's pardon. Misery
and anxiety, in a hundred unlooked-for shapes, had already shown the
fallacy of those dreams which in the hour of peril had strengthened her,
and caused her to fancy that when once his wife she not only might abide
by him, but that she might in some manner obtain his liberation. She did
not, indeed, lament her fate was joined to his--lament! she could not
picture herself other than she was, by her husband's side, but she felt,
how bitterly felt, she had no power to avert his fate. Despair was upon
her, cold, black, clinging despair, and she clung to the vain dream of
imploring Edward's mercy, feeling at the same moment it was but the
_ignis fatui_ to her heart--urging lighting, impelling her on, but to
sink in pitchy darkness when approached.

Gradually and painfully this narrative of anguish was drawn from her
lips, often unconnectedly, often incoherently, but the earl and countess
heard enough, to fill their hearts alike with pity and respect for the
deep, unselfish love unconsciously revealed. She had told, too, her
maiden name, had conjured them to conceal her from the power of her
father, at whose very name she shuddered; and both those noble hearts
shared her anxiety, sympathized in her anguish; and speedily she felt,
if there could be comfort in such deep wretchedness, she had told her
tale to those ready and willing, and able to bestow it.

The following day the barons sat in judgment on Sir Nigel Bruce, and
Gloucester was obliged to join them. It was useless, both he and the
princess felt, to implore the king's mercy till sentence was passed;
alas! it was useless at any time, but it must have been a colder and
harder heart than the Princess Joan's to look upon the face of Agnes,
and yet determine on not even making one effort in his favor. At first
the unhappy girl besought the earl to permit her accompanying him back
to Berwick, to attend her husband on his trial; but on his proving it
would but be uselessly harrowing the feelings of both, for it would not
enable her to go back with him to prison, that it would be better for
her to remain under the protection of the countess, endeavoring to
regain strength for whatever she might have to encounter, either to
accompany him to exile, if grace were indeed granted, or to return to
her friends in Scotland, she yielded mournfully, deriving some faint
degree of comfort in the earl's assurance that she should rejoin her
husband as soon as possible, and the countess's promise that if she
wished it, she should herself be witness of her interview with Edward.
It was indeed poor comfort, but her mind was well-nigh wearied out with
sorrow, as if incapable of bearing more, and she acquiesced from very
exhaustion.

The desire that she herself should conjure the mercy of Edward had been
negatived even to her anxious heart by the assurance of both the earl
and the princess, that instead of doing good to her husband's cause she
would but sign her own doom, perchance be consigned to the power of her
father, and be compelled to relinquish the poor consolation of being
with her husband to the last. It was better she should retain the
disguise she had assumed, adopting merely in addition the dress of one
of the princess's own pages, a measure which would save her from all
observation in the palace, and give her admittance to Sir Nigel,
perchance, when as his own attendant it would be denied.

The idea of rejoining her husband would have reconciled Agnes to any
thing that might have been proposed, and kneeling at the feet of her
protectress, she struggled to speak her willingness and blessing on her
goodness, but her tongue was parched, her lips were mute, and the
princess turned away, for her gentle spirit could not read unmoved the
silent thankfulness of that young and breaking heart.




CHAPTER XXIV.


It would be useless to linger on the trial of Nigel Bruce, in itself a
mockery of justice, as were all those which had proceeded, and all that
followed it. The native nobility of Scotland were no subjects of the
King of England; they owed him homage, perchance, for lands held in
England, but on flocking to the standard of the Bruce these had at once
been voluntarily forfeited, and they fought but as Scottish men
determined to throw off the yoke of a tyrant whose arms had overrun a
land to which he had no claim. They fought for the freedom of a country,
for their own liberty, and therefore were no traitors; but these facts
availed not with the ruthless sovereign, to whom opposition was treason.
The mockery of justice proceeded, it gave a deeper impression, a graver
solemnity to their execution, and therefore for not one of his prisoners
was the ceremony dispensed with. Sir Christopher Seaton had been
conveyed to the Tower, with his wife, under pretence of there waiting
till his wounds were cured, to abide his trial, and in that awful hour
Sir Nigel stood alone. Yet he was undaunted, for he feared not death
even at the hangman's hand; his spirit was at peace, for he was innocent
of sin; unbowed, for he was no traitor--he was a patriot warrior still.
Pale he was, indeed, ashy pale, but it told a tale of intense bodily
anguish. They had put him to the torture, to force from his lips the
place of his brother's retreat, that being the only pretence on which
the rage of Edward and the malice of Berwick could rest for the
infliction of their cruelty. They could drag naught from his lips; they
could not crush that exalted soul, or compel it to utter more than a
faint, scarcely articulate groan, as proof that he suffered, that the
beautiful frame was well-nigh shattered unto death. And now he stood
upright, unshrinking; and there were hearts amid those peers inwardly
grieving at their fell task, gazing on him with unfeigned admiration;
while others gloried that another obstacle to their sovereign's schemes
of ambition would be removed, finding, perchance, in his youth, beauty,
and noble bearing, from their contrast with themselves, but fresh
incentives to the doom of death, and determining, even as they sate and
scowled on him, to aggravate the bitterness of that doom with all the
ignominy that cruelty could devise.

He had listened in stern silence to the indictment, and evinced no sign
of emotion even when, in the virulence of some witnesses against him,
the most degrading epithets were lavished on himself, his family, and
friends. Only once had his eye flashed fire and his cheek burned, and
his right hand unconsciously sought where his weapon should have hung,
when his noble brother was termed a ribald assassin, an excommunicated
murderer; but quickly he checked that natural emotion, and remained
collected as before. He was silent till the usual question was asked,
"If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be
pronounced upon him?" and then he made a step forward, looked boldly and
sternly around him, and spoke, in a rich, musical voice, the following
brief, though emphatic words:

"Ye ask me if I could say aught why sentence of death should not be
pronounced. Nobles of England, in denying the charge of treason with
which ye have indicted me, I have said enough. Before ye, aye, before
your sovereign, I have done nothing to merit death, save that death
which a conqueror bestows on his captive, when he deems him too powerful
to live. The death of a traitor I protest against; for to the King of
England I am no subject, and in consequence no traitor! I have but done
that which every true and honorable man must justify, and in justifying
respect. I have sought with my whole heart the liberty of my country,
the interest of my lawful sovereign, and will die asserting the honor
and justice of my cause, even as I have lived. I plead not for mercy,
for were it offered, on condition of doing homage unto Edward, I would
refuse it, and choose death; protesting to the last that Robert Bruce,
and he alone, is rightful king of Scotland. My lords, in condemning me
to death as a captive taken in war, ye may be justified by the law of
battles, I dispute not the justice of your doom; but an ye sentence me
as traitor, I do deny the charge, and say my condemnation is unjust and
foul, and ye are perjured in its utterance. I have said. Now let your
work proceed."

He folded his arms on his breast, and awaited in unbroken silence his
doom. A brief pause had followed his words. The Earl of Gloucester, who,
from his rank and near connection with the king, occupied one of the
seats of honor at the upper end of the large hall, and had, during the
trial, vainly sought to catch the prisoner's eye, now reclined back on
his seat, his brow resting on his hand, his features completely
concealed by the dark drapery of his cloak. In that position he
remained, not only during the pause, but while the fatal sentence was
pronounced.

"By the laws of your country, and the sentence of your peers," so it
ran, "you, Nigel Bruce, by manifold acts of rebellion, disaffection, and
raising up arms against your lawful king, Edward, the sovereign of
England and Scotland, and all the realms, castles, and lordships thereto
pertaining, are proved guilty of high treason and _lese majeste_, and
are thereby condemned to be divested of all symbols of nobility and
knighthood, which you have disgraced; to be dragged on a hurdle to the
common gibbet, and there hung by the neck till you are dead; your head
to be cut off; your body quartered and exposed at the principal towns as
a warning to the disaffected and the traitorous of all ranks in either
nation, and this is to be done at whatsoever time the good pleasure of
our sovereign lord the king may please to appoint. God save King Edward,
and so perish all his foes!"

Not a muscle of the prisoner's face had moved during the utterance of
this awful sentence. He had glanced fearlessly around him to the last,
his eye resting on the figure of the Earl of Gloucester with an
expression of pitying commiseration for a moment, as if he felt for him,
for his deep regret in his country's shame, infinitely more than for
himself. Proudly erect he held himself, as they led him in solemn pomp
from the great hall of the castle, across the court to the dungeons of
the condemned, gazing calmly and unflinchingly on the axe, which carried
with its edge towards him proclaimed him condemned, though his doom was
more ignominious than the axe bestowed. There was a time when he had
shrunk from the anticipated agony of a degradation so complete as
this--but not now; his spirit was already lifted up above the honors and
humiliations of earth. But one dream of this world remained--one sad,
sweet dream clung to his heart, and bound it with silver chains below.
Where was that gentle being? He fondly hoped she had sought the friends
of his boyhood, as he had implored her, should they be parted; he strove
to realize comfort in the thought they would protect and save her the
agony of a final parting; but he strove in vain. One wild yearning
possessed him, to gaze upon her face, to fold her to his heart once, but
once again: it was the last lingering remnant of mortality; he had not
another thought of life but this, and this grew stronger as its hope
seemed vain. But there was one near to give him comfort, when he
expected it not.

Wrapped so closely in his dark, shrouding mantle that naught but the
drooping feather of his cap could be distinguished, the Earl of
Gloucester drew near the prisoner, and as he paused, ere the gates and
bars of the prison entrance could be drawn back, whispered hurriedly yet
emphatically--

"A loved one is safe and shall be so. Would to God I could do more!"

Suppressing with extreme difficulty a start of relief and surprise, the
young nobleman glanced once on Gloucester's face, pressed his hands
together, and answered, in the same tone--

"God in heaven bless thee! I would see her once, only once more, if it
can be without danger to her; it is life's last link, I cannot snap
it--parted thus." They hurried him through the entrance with the last
word lingering on his lips, and before Gloucester could make even a sign
of reply.

Early in the evening of the same day, King Edward was reclining on his
couch, in the chamber we have before described, and, surrounded by some
few of his favorite noblemen, appeared so animated by a new cause of
excitement as to be almost unconscious of the internal pains which even
at that moment were more than usually intense. His courtiers looked on
unconcernedly while, literally shaking with disease and weakness, he
coolly and deliberately traced those letters which gave a base and
ignominious death to one of the best, the noblest, loveliest spirits
that ever walked the earth, and signed the doom of misery and madness to
another; and yet no avenging hand stretched forth between him and his
victim, no pang was on his heart to bid him pause, be merciful, and
spare. Oh, what would this earth be were it all in all, and what were
life if ending in the grave? Faith, thou art the crystal key opening to
the spirit the glorious vision of immortality, bidding the trusting
heart, when sick and weary of the dark deeds and ruthless spoilers of
this lovely earth, rest on thy downy wings, and seek for peace and
comfort there.

"Who waits?" demanded the king, as his pen ceased in its task.

"Sir Stephen Fitzjohn, my liege, sent by the Earl of Berwick with the
warrant, for which he waits."

"He need wait no longer then, for it is there. Two hours before noon the
traitor dies; we give him grace till then, that our good subjects of
Berwick may take warning by his fate, and our bird in the cage witness
the end of the gallant so devoted to her cause. Bid the knight begone,
my Lord of Arundel; he hath too long waited our pleasure. Ha! whom have
we here? who craves admittance thus loudly?" he added, observing, as the
earl lifted the hangings to depart, some bustle in the ante-room. "Who
is it so boldly demanding speech with us?"

"Her Highness the Princess Joan, Countess of Gloucester, please you, my
liege," replied the chamberlain; "she will not take denial."

"Is it so hard a thing for a daughter to gain admittance to a father,
even though he be a sovereign?" interrupted the princess, who, attended
only by a single page bearing her train, advanced within the chamber,
her firm and graceful deportment causing the lords to fall back on
either side, and give her passage, though the expression of their
monarch's countenance denoted the visit was unwelcome.

"Humbly and earnestly I do beseech your grace's pardon for this
over-bold intrusion," she said, bending one knee before him; "but indeed
my business could not be delayed. My liege and father, grant me but a
few brief minutes. Oh, for the sake of one that loved us both, the
sainted one now gone to heaven, for the memory of whom thou didst once
bless me with fonder love than thou gavest to my sisters, because my
features bore her stamp, my king, my father, pardon me and let me
speak!"

"Speak on," muttered the king, passing his hand over his features, and
turning slightly from her, if there were emotion, to conceal it. "Thou
hast, in truth, been over-bold, yet as thou art here, speak on. What
wouldst thou?"

"A boon, a mighty boon, most gracious father; one only thou canst grant,
one that in former years thou wouldst have loved me for the asking, and
blessed me by fulfilment," she said, as she continued to kneel; and by
her beseeching voice and visible emotion effectually confining the
attention of the courtiers, now assembled in a knot at the farther end
of the apartment, and preventing their noticing the deportment of the
page who had accompanied her; he was leaning against a marble pillar
which supported the canopy raised over the king's couch, his head bent
on his breast, the short, thick curls which fell over his forehead
concealing his features; his hands, too, crossed on his breast,
convulsively clenched the sleeves of his doublet, as if to restrain the
trembling which, had any one been sufficiently near, or even imagined
him worthy of a distant glance, must have been observable pervading his
whole frame.

"A boon," repeated the king, as the princess paused, almost breathless
with her own emotion; "a mighty boon! What can the Countess of
Gloucester have to ask of me, that it moves her thus? Are we grown so
terrible that even our own children tremble ere they speak? What is this
mighty boon? we grant not without hearing."

"'Tis the boon of life, my liege, of life thou canst bestow. Oh, while
in this world thou rulest, viceregent of the King of kings on high,
combining like Him justice and mercy, in the government of his
creatures, oh! like, Him, let mercy predominate over justice; deprive
not of life, in the bloom, the loveliness of youth! Be merciful, my
father, oh, be merciful! forgive as thou wouldst be forgiven--grant me
the life I crave!"

Urged on by emotion, the princess had scarcely heard the suppressed
interjection of the king which her first words had occasioned, and she
scarcely saw the withering sternness which gathered on his brow.

"Thou hast in truth learnt oratory, most sapient daughter," he said,
bitterly; "thou pleadest well and flowingly, yet thou hast said not for
whom thou bearest this marvellous interest--it can scarce be for a
traitor? Methinks the enemies of Edward should be even such unto his
children."

"Yet 'tis for one of these mistaken men I plead, most gracious
sovereign," resumed Joan, intimidated not by his sarcasm. "Oh, my
father, the conqueror's triumph consists not in the number of rebellious
heads that fall before him--not in the blood that overflows his way;
magnanimity, mercy, will conquer yet more than his victorious sword.
Traitor as he seem, have mercy on Nigel Bruce; oh, give--"

"Mercy on a Bruce! May the thunder of heaven blast me when I show it!"
burst furiously from Edward's lips, as he started upon his couch and
gazed on his suppliant child with eyes that seemed absolutely to blaze
in wrath. "Mercy on a branch of that house which has dared defy me,
dared to insult my power, trample on my authority, upraised the standard
of rebellion, and cost me the lives of thousands of my faithful
subjects! Mercy on him, the daring traitor, who, even in his chains, has
flung redoubled insult and treason into our very teeth! Mercy--may the
God of heaven deny me all mercy when I show it unto him!"

"Oh, no, no, my father! My father, in mercy speak not such terrible
words!" implored the princess, clinging to his robe. "Call not the wrath
of heaven on thy head; think of his youth, the temptations that have
beset him, the difficult task to remain faithful when all other of his
house turned astray. Mistaken as he hath been, as he is, have mercy.
Compel him to prove, to feel, to acknowledge thou art not the tyrant he
hath been taught to deem thee; exile, imprisonment, all--any thing, but
death. Oh, do not turn from me; be thyself, the good, the magnanimous
Edward of former days, have mercy on thy foe!"

"I tell thee, never! by every saint in heaven, I tell thee, never!"
shouted the king. "I will hear no more; begone, lest I deem my own child
part and parcel of the treasons formed against me. Trouble me not with
these vain prayers. I will not pardon, I have sworn it; begone, and
learn thy station better than to plead for traitors. Thy husband braved
me once; beware, lest in these pleadings I hear _his_ voice again. I
tell him and thee that ere to-morrow's noon be passed the soul of Nigel
Bruce shall stand in judgment; not another day, not another hour he
lives to blast me with the memory of his treason. The warrant hath been
signed, and is on its way to Berwick, to give his body to the hangman
and his soul to Satan--his death is sealed."

"Oh, no, no, no!" shrieked a voice of sudden anguish, startling all who
heard, and even Edward, by its piteous tones, and the form of a page
suddenly fell prostrate before the monarch. "Mercy, mercy! for the love
of God, have mercy!" he struggled to articulate, but there was no sound
save a long and piercing shriek, and the boy lay senseless on the
ground.

"Ha! by St. George, beardest thou me with traitors in my very palace,
before my very eyes?" exclaimed the angry monarch, as his astonished
courtiers gathered round. "Put him in ward; away with him, I say!"

"Pardon me, your highness, but this is needless," interposed the
princess, with a calm majesty, that subdued even the irritation of her
father, and undauntedly waving back the courtiers, although perfectly
sensible of the imminent danger in which she was placed. "If there be
blame, let it be visited on me; this poor child has been ill and weakly
from many causes, terrified, almost maddened, by sounds, and sights of
blood. I deemed him perfectly recovered, or he had not attended me here.
I pray your grace permit his removal to my apartments."

The king laid a heavy hand on his daughter's arm as she stood beside
him, and fixed a gaze on her face that would have terrified any less
noble spirit into a betrayal of the truth; but firm in her own
integrity, in her own generous purpose, she calmly and inquiringly
returned his gaze.

"Go to, thou art a noble wench, though an over-bold and presuming one,"
he said, in a much mollified tone, for there was that in the dauntless
behavior of his daughter which found an echo in his heart even now,
deadened as it was to aught of gentle feeling, and he was glad of this
interruption to entreaties which, resolved not to grant, had lashed him
into fury, while her presence made him feel strangely ashamed. "Do as
thou wilt with thine own attendants; but be advised, tempt not thine own
safety again; thou hast tried us sore with thy ill-advised entreaties,
but we forgive thee, on condition they are never again renewed. Speak
not, we charge thee. What ho! Sir Edmund Stanley," he called aloud, and
the chamberlain appeared at the summons. "Here, let this boy be
carefully raised and borne according to the pleasure of his mistress.
See, too, that the Countess of Gloucester be conducted with due respect
to her apartments. Begone!" he added, sternly, as the eyes of Joan still
seemed to beseech mercy; "I will hear no more--the traitor dies!"




CHAPTER XXV.


The shades of advancing night had already appeared to have enwrapped the
earth some hours, when Nigel Bruce was startled from an uneasy slumber
by the creaking sounds of bolts and bars announcing the entrance of some
one within the dungeon. The name of his beloved, his devoted Agnes,
trembled on his lips, but fearful of betraying her to unfriendly ears,
ho checked himself, and started up, exclaiming, "Who comes?" No answer
was vouchsafed, but the dim light of a lamp, placed by the intruder on
the floor, disclosed a figure wrapped from head to foot in the shrouding
mantle of the time, not tall, but appearing a stout muscular person,
banishing on the instant Nigel's scarcely-formed hope that it was the
only one he longed to see.

"What wouldst thou?" he said, after a brief pause. "Doth Edward practise
midnight murder? Speak, who art thou?"

"Midnight murder, thou boasting fool; I love thee not well enough to
cheat the hangman of his prey," replied a harsh and grating voice,
which, even without the removal of the cloak, would have revealed to
Nigel's astonished ears the Earl of Buchan. "Ha! I have startled
thee--thou didst not know the deadly enemy of thy accursed race!"

"I know thee now, my Lord of Buchan," replied the young man, calmly;
"yet know I not wherefore thou art here, save to triumph over the fallen
fortunes of thy foe; if so, scorn on--I care not. A few brief hours, and
all of earth and earthly feeling is at rest."

"To triumph--scorn! I had scarce travelled for petty satisfaction such
as that, when to-morrow sees thee in the hangman's hands, the scorn of
thousands! Hath Buchan no other work with thee, thinkest thou? dost thou
affirm thou knowest naught for which he hath good cause to seek thee?"

"Earl of Buchan, I dare affirm it," answered Nigel, proudly; "I know of
naught to call for words or tones as these, save, perchance, that the
love and deep respect in which I hold thine injured countess, my
friendship for thy murdered son, hath widened yet more the breach
between thy house and mine--it may be so; yet deem not, cruel as thou
art, I will deny feelings in which I glory, at thy bidding. An thou
comest to reproach me with these things, rail on, they affect me as
little as thy scorn."

"Hadst thou said love for her they call my daughter, thou hadst been
nearer the mark," retorted the earl, fury rapidly gaining possession of
heart and voice; "but thou art too wise, too politic for that."

"Aye," retorted Nigel, after a fearful struggle with himself, "aye, thou
mayest well add love for Agnes of Buchan, as well as friendship for her
brother. Thinkest thou I would deny it--hide it? little dost thou know
its thrilling, its inspiring power; little canst thou know how I glory
in it, cherish, linger on it still. But wherefore speak thus to thee,
thou man of wickedness and blood. I love thy pure and spotless child,
rejoice that thou didst so desert, so utterly neglect her, that thou
couldst no more leave a shadow on her innocent heart than a cloud upon
her way. I love her, glory in that love, and what is it to thee?"

"What is it to me? that a child of the house of Comyn dare hold commune
with a Bruce; that thou hast dared to love a daughter of my house, aye,
to retain her by thy side a willing mistress, when all others of her sex
forsook thee--what is it to me? Did not to-morrow give thee to a
traitor's doom, thy blood should answer thee; but as it is, villain and
slave, give her to me--where is her hiding-place? speak, or the torture
shall wring it from thee."

"Thinkest thou such threats will in aught avail thee?" calmly replied
Nigel. "Thou knowest not the Bruce. Agnes is no longer a Comyn, no
longer a subject to thy guardianship. The voice of God, the rites at the
altar's foot, have broken every link, save that which binds her to her
husband. She is mine, before God and man is mine--mine own faithful and
lawful wife!"

"Thou liest, false villain!" furiously retorted Buchan. "The church
shall undo these bonds, shall give her back to the father she has thus
insulted. She shall repent, repent with tears of blood, her desertion of
her race. Canst thou protect her in death, thou fool--canst thou still
cherish and save her, thinkest thou, when the hangman hath done his
work?"

"Aye, even then she will be cherished, loved for Nigel's sake, and for
her own; there will be faithful friends around her to protect her from
thee still, tyrant! Thou canst not break the bonds that bind us; thou
hast done no father's part. Forsaken and forgotten, thy children owe
thee no duty, no obedience; thou canst bring forward no plea to
persecute thy child. In life and in death she is mine, mine alone; the
power and authority thou hast spurned so long can no longer be assumed;
the love, the obedience thou didst never heed, nay, trampled on, hath
been transferred to one who glories in them both. She is in
safety--slay, torture as thou wilt, I tell thee no more." Fettered,
unarmed, firm, undauntedly erect, stood Nigel Bruce, gazing with curling
lip and flashing eyes upon his foe. The foam had gathered on the earl's
lip, his hand, clenching his sword, had trembled with passion as Nigel
spoke, He sought to suppress that rage, to remember a public execution
would revenge him infinitely more than a blow of his sword, but he had
been too long unused to control; lashed into ungovernable fury by the
demeanor of Nigel, even more than by his words, the sword flashed from
its scabbard, was raised, and fell--but not upon his foe, for the Earl
of Gloucester suddenly stood between them.

"Art thou mad, or tired of life, my Lord of Buchan?" he said. "Knowest
thou not thou art amenable to the law, an thou thus deprivest justice of
her victim? Shame, shame, my lord; I deemed thee not a midnight
murderer."

"Darest thou so speak to me?" replied Buchan, fiercely; "by every fiend
in hell, thou shalt answer this! Begone, and meddle not with that which
concerneth thee nothing."

"It doth concern me, proud earl," replied Gloucester, standing
immediately before Nigel, whose emotion at observing the page by whom he
was accompanied, though momentary, must otherwise have been observed.
"The person of the prisoner is sacred to the laws of his country, the
mandate of his sovereign; on thy life thou darest not injure him--thou
knowest that thou darest not. Do thou begone, ere I summon those who, at
the mere mention of assault on one condemned, will keep thee in ward
till thou canst wreak thy vengeance on naught but clay; begone, I say!"

"I will not," sullenly answered the earl, unwillingly conscious of the
truth of his words; "I will not, till he hath answered me. Once more,"
he added, turning to Nigel with a demoniac scowl, "where is she whom
thou hast dared to call thy wife? answer me, or as there is a hell
beneath us, the torture shall wring it from thee!"

"In safety, where thine arm shall never reach her," haughtily answered
the young nobleman. "Torture! what wilt thou torture--the senseless
clay? Hence--I defy thee! Death will protect me from thy lawless power;
death will set his seal upon me ere we meet again."

The earl muttered a deep and terrible oath, and then he strode away,
coming in such violent contact against the slight and almost paralyzed
form of Gloucester's page as he stood in the doorway, as nearly to throw
him to the ground. Nigel sprung forward, but was held back with a grasp
of iron by the Earl of Gloucester, nor did he relinquish his hold till
Buchan had passed through the doorway, till the heavy hinges had firmly
closed again, and the step of the departing earl had entirely faded in
distance.

"Now, then, we are safe," he said; "thank heaven!" but his words were
scarcely heard, for the page had bounded within the extended arms of
Nigel, had clung so closely to his heart, he could feel nothing, see
nothing, save that slender form; could hear nothing but those deep,
agonized sobs, which are so terrible when unaccompanied by the relief of
tears. For a while Nigel could not speak--he could not utter aught of
comfort, for he felt it not; that moment was the bitterness of death.

"Torture! did he not speak of torture? will he not come again?" were the
words that at length fell, shudderingly, from the lips of Agnes. "Nigel,
Nigel, if it must be, give me up; he cannot inflict aught more of misery
now."

"Fear not, lady; he dare not," hastily rejoined Gloucester. "The torture
dare not be administered without consent of Edward, and that now cannot
be obtained; he will not have sufficient--" time, he was going to say,
but checked himself; for the agonized look of Agnes told him his meaning
was more than sufficiently understood. "Nigel," he added, laying his
hand on the young man's shoulder, "Nigel, my noble, gallant friend--for
so I will call thee, though I sat in judgment on thee, aye, and tacitly
acquiesced in thy sentence--shrink not, oh, shrink not now! I saw not a
quiver on thy lip, a pallor on thy cheek, nay, nor faltering in thy
step, when they read a doom at which I have marked the bravest blench;
oh, let not, that noble spirit fail thee now!"

"Gloucester, it shall not!" he said, with suddenly regained firmness, as
supporting Agnes with his right arm he convulsively wrung the hand of
his friend with the other. "It was but the sight of this beloved one,
the thought--no matter, it is over. Agnes, my beloved, my own, oh, look
on me; speak, tell me all that hath befallen thee since they tore thee
from me, and filled my soul with darker dread for thee than for myself.
To see thee with this noble earl is enough to know how heavy a burden of
gratitude I owe him, which thou, sweetest, must discharge. Yet speak to
me, beloved; tell me all, all."

Emulating his calmness, remembering even at that moment her promise not
to unman him in the moment of trial by vain repinings, Agnes complied
with his request. Her tale was frequently interrupted by those terrible
sobs, which seemed to threaten annihilation; but Nigel could gather from
it so much of tenderness and care on the part of the princess, that the
deepest gratitude filled his heart, and spoke in his impassioned words.

"Tell her, oh, tell her, if the prayers of the dying can in aught avail
her, the blessedness of heaven shall be hers even upon earth!" he
exclaimed, gazing up in the earl's face with eyes that spoke his soul.
"Oh, I knew her not, when in former years I did but return her kindness
with silence and reserve; I saw in her little more than the daughter of
Edward. Tell her, on my knees I beseech her pardon for that wrong; in my
last prayers I shall breathe her name."

"And wherefore didst thou go with her?" he continued, on Agnes narrating
the scene between the princess and the king. "Alas! my gentle one, hadst
thou not endured enough, that thou wouldst harrow up thy soul by hearing
the confirmation of my doom from the tyrant's own ruthless lips--didst
dream of pardon? dearest, no, thou couldst not."

"Nigel, Nigel, I did, even at that moment, though they told me thou wert
condemned, that nothing could save thee; though the princess besought me
almost on her knees to spare myself this useless trial, I would not
listen to her. I would not believe that all was hopeless; I dreamed
still, still of pardon, that Edward would listen to his noble child,
would forgive, and I thought, even if she failed, I would so plead he
must have mercy, he would listen to me and grant my prayer. I did dream
of pardon, but it was vain, vain! Nigel, Nigel, why did my voice fail,
my eye grow dim? I might have won thy pardon yet."

"Beloved, thou couldst not," he answered, mournfully. "Mine own sweet
Agnes, take comfort, 'tis but a brief farewell; we shall meet where war
and blood and death can never enter more."

"I know it, Oh, I know it," she sobbed; "but to part thus, to lose thee,
and by such a death, oh, it is horrible, most horrible!"

"Nay, look not on it thus, beloved; there is no shame even in this
death, if there be no shame in him who dies."

"Shame!" she repeated; "couldst think I could couple aught of shame with
thee, my own? even this dark fate is noble when borne by such as thee."

Nigel held her closer to his heart, and for his sole answer pressed a
quivering kiss upon her cheek. Gloucester, who had been in earnest
commune with the sentinel without the door, now returned, and informed
him that the soldier, who was well known to him and who much disliked
his present watch, had willingly consented that the page (whom
Gloucester had represented as a former attendant of Sir Nigel's, though
now transferred to his service) should remain with his former master, on
condition that the earl would come for him before the priests and others
who were to attend him to the scaffold entered the dungeon, as this
departure from the regular prison discipline, shown as it was to one
against whom the king was unusually irritated, might cost him his head.
Gloucester had promised faithfully, and he offered them the melancholy
option of parting now, or a few sad hours hence.

"Let me, do let me stay; Nigel, my husband, send me not from thee now!"
exclaimed Agnes, sinking at his feet and clasping his knees. "I will not
weep, nor moan, nor in aught afflict thee. Nigel, dearest Nigel, I will
not leave thee now."

"But is it wise, is it well, my best beloved? think, if in the deep
anguish of to-morrow thy disguise be penetrated, thy sex discovered, and
thy cruel father claim thee, dragging thee even from the protection of
the princess--oh, the bitterness of death were doubled then! Thou
thinkest but of me, mine own, but thy safety, thy future peace is all
now left for me."

"Safety, peace--oh, do not, do not mock me, Nigel--where are they for
poor Agnes, save in her husband's grave? What is life now, that thou
shouldst seek to guard it? no, no, I will abide by thee, thou shalt not
send me hence."

"But to-morrow, lady, to-morrow," interposed Gloucester, with deep
commiseration. "I would not, from any selfish fear, shorten by one
minute the few sad hours ye may yet pass together, but bethink ye, I
dare not promise to shield thee from the horrors of to-morrow, for I
cannot. Fearful scenes and sounds may pass before thee; thou mayest come
in contact with men from whom thou wilt shrink in horror, and though
thine own safety be of little worth, remember the betrayal of thy sex
and rank may hurl down the royal vengeance on the head of thy
protectress, daughter of Edward though she be. Canst thou be firm--wilt
thou, canst thou await the morrow?"

"Yes," answered Agnes, the wildness of her former accents subsiding into
almost solemnity; "the safety of thy noble countess shall not be
hazarded through me. Leave me with my husband, add but this last mercy
to the many thou hast showered on me, and the blessing of God will rest
on thee and thy noble wife forever."

She raised his hand to her lips, and Gloucester, much affected, placed
hers in her husband's, and wrung them convulsively together. "We shall
meet again," was all he trusted his voice to utter, and departed.

The hours waned, each one finding no change in the position of those
loving ones. The arm of Agnes twined around the neck of her beloved, her
brow leaned against his bosom, her left hand clasped his right, and his
left arm, though fettered, could yet fold that slender waist, could yet
draw her closer to him, with an almost unconscious pressure; his lips
repeatedly pressed that pale brow, which only moved from its position to
lift up her eyes at his entreaty in his face, and he would look on those
features, lovely still, despite their attenuation and deep sorrow, gaze
at them with an expression that, spite of his words of consoling love,
betrayed that the dream of earth yet lingered; he could not close his
eyes on her without a thrill of agony, sharper than the pang of death.
But the enthusiast and the patriot spoke not at that hour only of
himself, or that dearer self, the only being he had loved. He spoke of
his country, aye, and less deplored the chains which bound her then,
than with that prophetic spirit sometimes granted to the departing,
dilated on her future glory. He conjured Agnes, for his sake, to
struggle on and live; to seek his brother and tell him that, save
herself, Nigel's last thought, last prayer was his; that standing on the
brink of eternity, the mists of the present had rolled away, he saw but
the future--Scotland free, and Robert her beloved and mighty king.

"Bid him not mourn for Nigel," he said; "bid him not waver from his
glorious purpose, because so many of his loved and noble friends must
fall--their blood is their country's ransom; tell him, had I a hundred
lives, I would have laid them down for him and for my country as gladly,
as unhesitatingly as the one I now resign; and tell him, dearest, how I
loved him to the last, how the recollection of his last farewell, his
fervent blessing lingered with me to the end, giving me strength to
strive for him and die, as becomes his brother; tell him I glory in my
death--it has no shame, no terror, for it is for him and Scotland. Wilt
thou remember all this, sweet love? wilt thou speak to him these words?"

"Trust me I will, all, all that thou hast said; they are written here,"
placing her hand on her heart, "here, and they will not leave me, even
if all else fail."

"And thou wilt say to him, mine own, that Nigel besought his love, his
tenderness for thee," he continued, losing the enthusiasm of the patriot
in the tenderness of the husband; "tell him I look to him in part to
discharge the debt of love, of gratitude I owe to thee; to guard thee,
cherish thee as his own child. Alas! alas! I speak as if thou must reach
him, and yet, beset with danger, misery, as thou art, how may this be?"

"Fear not for me; it shall be, my husband. I will do thy bidding, I will
seek my king," she said, for when comfort failed for him, she sought to
give it. "Hast forgotten Dermid's words? He would be near me when I
needed him, and he will be, my beloved, I doubt him not."

"Could I but think so, could I but know that he would be near to shield
thee, oh, life's last care would be at an end, said Nigel, earnestly;
and then for some time that silence, more eloquent, more fraught with
feeling in such an hour than the most impassioned words, fell on them
both. When again he spoke, it was on a yet more holy theme; the
thoughts, the dreams of heaven, which from boyhood had been his, now
found vent in words and tones, which thrilled to the inmost spirit of
his listener, and lingered there, when all other sense had fled. He had
lived in an era of darkness. Revelation in its doctrines belonged to the
priests alone; faith and obedience demanded by the voice of man alone,
were all permitted to the laity, and spirits like Nigel's consequently
formed a natural religion, in which they lived and breathed, hallowing
the rites which they practised, giving scope and glory to their faith.
He pictured the world, on whose threshold he now stood, pictured it, not
with a bold unhallowed hand, but as the completion, the consummation of
all those dim whisperings of joy, and hope, and wisdom, which had
engrossed him below--the perfection of that beauty, that loveliness, in
the material and immaterial, he had yearned for in vain on earth.

"And this world of incomparable unshadowed loveliness awaits me," he
said, the superstition of the age mingling for the moment with thoughts
which seemed to mark him a century beyond his compeers; "purchased by
that single moment of suffering called death. It is mine, my beloved,
and shall be thine; and oh, when we meet there, how trivial will seem
the dark woes and boding cares of earth! I have told thee the vision of
my vigil, Agnes, my beloved; again I have seen that blessed spirit, aye,
and there was no more sadness on his pale brow, naught, naught of
earth--spiritualized, etherealized. He hovered over my sleep, and with a
smile beckoned me to the glorious world he inhabits; he seemed to call
me, to await me, and then the shrouding clouds on which he lay closed
thicker and thicker round him, till naught but his celestial features
beamed on me. Agnes, dearest, best, think of me thus, as blessed
eternally, unchangeably, as awaiting thee to share that blessedness, not
as one lost to thee, beloved; and peace, aye, joy e'en yet shall smile
for thee."

"Nigel, Nigel, are there such things for the desolate, the lone?"
murmured Agnes, raising her pale brow and looking despairingly in his
face. "Oh, I will think on thee, picture thee in thy thrice-glorified
home, but it will be with all of mortal clinging to me still, and the
wild yearnings to come to thee will banish all of peace. Speak not such
words to thy poor weak Agnes, my beloved. I will struggle on to bear thy
message to my sovereign; there lies my path when thou art gone, darkness
envelops it when that goal is gained--I have no future now, save that
which gives me back to thee."

He could not answer, and then again there was silence, broken only by
the low voice of prayer. They knelt together on the cold stones, he
raised her cold hands with his in supplication; he prayed for mercy,
pardon for himself, for comfort, strength for her; he prayed for his
country and her king, her chained and sorrowing sons, and the soft,
liquid star of morning, gloaming forth through heavy masses of murky
clouds directly on them as they knelt, appeared an angel's answer. The
dawn broke; bluer and bluer became the small and heavily-barred
casement, clearer and clearer grew the damp walls of the dungeons, and
morning, in its sunshine and gladness, laughed along the earth. Closer
and closer did Agnes cling to that noble heart, but she spoke no word.
"He tarries long--merciful heaven, grant he be not detained too late!"
she heard her husband murmur, as to himself, as time waned and
Gloucester came not, and she guessed his thoughts.

"I care not," she answered, in a voice so hollow he shuddered; "I will
go with thee, even to the scaffold."

But Gloucester, true to his promise, came at length; he was evidently
anxious and disturbed, and a few hurried words told how the Earl of
Berwick had detained him in idle converse, as if determined to prevent
any private interview with the prisoner; even now the officers and
priests were advancing to the dungeons, their steps already reverberated
through the passages, and struck on the heart of Agnes as a bolt of ice.
"I had much, much I wished to say, but even had I time, what boots it
now? Nigel, worthy brother of him I so dearly loved, aye, even now would
die to serve, fear not for the treasure thou leavest to my care; as
there is a God above us, I will guard her as my sister! They
come--farewell, thou noble heart, thou wilt leave many a foe to mourn
thee!" The voice of the earl quivered with emotion. Nigel convulsively
pressed his extended hand, and then he folded Agnes in his arms; he
kissed her lips, her brow, her cheek, he parted those clustering curls
to look again and yet again upon her face--pale, rigid as sculptured
marble. She uttered no sound, she made no movement, but consciousness
had not departed; the words of Gloucester on the previous night rung in
her ears, demanding control, and mechanically she let her arms unloose
their convulsive grasp of Nigel, and permitted the earl gently to lead
her to the door, but ere it opened, she turned again to look on Nigel.
He stood, his hands clasped in that convulsive pressure of agony, his
every feature working with the mighty effort at control with the last
struggle of the mortal shell. With one faint yet thrilling cry she
bounded back, she threw herself upon his swelling bosom, her lips met
his in one last lingering kiss, and Gloucester tore her from his arms.
They passed the threshold, another minute and the officers, and guard,
and priest stood within the dungeon, and a harsh, rude voice bade the
confessor haste to shrive the prisoner, for the hour of execution was at
hand.

Bearing the slight form of the supposed page in his arms, Gloucester
hastily threaded the passages leading from the dungeon to the postern by
which he had intended to depart. His plan had been to rejoin his
attendants and turn his back upon the city of Berwick ere the execution
could take place; a plan which, from his detention, he already found was
futile. The postern was closed and secured, and he was compelled to
retrace his steps to a gate he had wished most particularly to avoid,
knowing that it opened on a part of the court which, from its commanding
a view of the scaffold, he justly feared would be crowded. He had paused
but to speak one word of encouragement to Agnes, who, with a calmness
appalling from the rigidity of feature which accompanied it, now stood
at his side; he bade her only hold by his cloak, and he hoped speedily
to lead her to a place of safety. She heard him and made a sign of
obedience. They passed the gate unquestioned, traversed an inner court,
and made for the great entrance of the castle; there, unhappily, their
progress was impeded. The scaffold, by order of Edward, had been erected
on the summit of a small green ascent exactly opposite the prison of the
Countess of Buchan, and extending in a direct line about half a quarter
of a mile to the right of the castle gates, which had been flung wide
open, that all the inhabitants of Berwick might witness the death of a
traitor. Already the courts and every vacant space was crowded. A sea of
human heads was alone visible, nay, the very buttresses and some
pinnacles of the castle, which admitted any footing, although of the
most precarious kind, had been appropriated. The youth, the
extraordinary beauty, and daring conduct of the prisoner had excited an
unusual sensation in the town, and the desire to mark how such a spirit
would meet his fate became irresistibly intense. Already it seemed as if
there could be no space for more, yet numbers were still pouring in, not
only most completely frustrating the intentions of the Earl of
Gloucester, but forcing him, by the pressure of multitudes, with them
towards the scaffold. In vain he struggled to free himself a passage;
in vain he haughtily declared his rank and bade the presumptuous serfs
give way. Some, indeed, fell back, but uselessly, for the crowds behind
pushed on those before, and there was no retreating, no possible means
of escaping from that sight of horror which Gloucester had designed so
completely to avoid. In the agony of disappointment, not a little mixed
with terror as to its effects, he looked on his companion. There was not
a particle of change upon her countenance; lips, cheek, brow, were
indeed bloodless as marble, and as coldly still; her eyes were
fascinated on the scaffold, and they moved not, quivered not. Even when
the figure of an aged minstrel, in the garb of Scotland, suddenly stood
between them and the dread object of their gaze, their expression
changed not; she placed her hand in his, she spoke his name to her
conductor, but it was as if a statue was suddenly endowed with voice and
motion, so cold was the touch of that hand, so sepulchral was that
voice; she motioned him aside with a gesture that compelled obedience,
and again she looked upon the scaffold. The earl welcomed the old man
gladly, for the tale of Agnes had already prepared him to receive him,
and to rely on his care to convey her back to Scotland. Engrossed with
his anxiety for her, and whenever that permitted him, speaking earnestly
to the old man, Gloucester remained wholly unconscious of the close
vicinity of one he was at that moment most desirous to avoid.

The Earl of Buchan, in the moment of ungovernable rage, had indeed flung
himself on horseback and galloped from the castle the preceding night,
intending to seek the king, and petition that the execution might be
deferred till the torture had dragged the retreat of Agnes from Nigel's
lips. The cool air of night, however, had had the effect of so far
dissipating the fumes of passion, as to convince him that it would be
well-nigh impossible to reach Carlisle, obtain an interview with Edward
at such an unseasonable hour, and return to Berwick in sufficient time
for the execution of his diabolical scheme. He let the reins fall on his
horse's neck, to ponder, and finally made up his mind it was better to
let things take their course, and the sentence of the prisoner proceed
without interruption; a determination hastened by the thought that
should he die under the torture, all the ignominy and misery of a public
execution would be eluded. The night was very dark and misty, the road
in some parts passing through, woods and morasses, and the earl, too
much engrossed with his own dark thoughts to attend to his path, lost
the track and wandered round and round, instead of going forward. This
heightened not the amiability of his previous mood; but until dawn his
efforts to retrace his steps or even discover where he was were useless.
The morning, however, enabled him to reach Berwick, which he did just as
the crowds were pouring into the castle-yard, and the heavy toll of the
bell announced the commencement of that fatal tragedy. He hastily
dismounted and mingled with the populace, they bore him onward through
another postern to that by which the other crowds had impelled
Gloucester. Finding the space before them already occupied, these two
human streams, of course, met and conjoined in the centre; and the two
earls stood side by side. Gloucester, as we have said, wholly
unconscious of Buchan's vicinity, and Buchan watching his anxious and
sorrowful looks with the satisfaction of a fiend, revelling in his being
thus hemmed in on all sides, and compelled to witness the execution of
his friend. He watched him closely as he spoke with the minstrel, but
tried in vain to distinguish what they said. He looked on the page too,
and with some degree of wonder, though he believed it only mortal terror
which made him look thus, natural in so young a child; but afterwards
that look was only too fatally recalled.

Sleepless and sad had been that long night to another inmate of Berwick
Castle, as well as to Nigel and his Agnes. It was not till the dawn had
broken that the Countess of Buchan had sunk into a deep though troubled
slumber, for it was not till then the confused sounds of the workmen
employed in erecting the scaffold had ceased. She knew not for whom it
was upraised, what noble friend and gallant patriot would there be
sacrificed. She would not, could not believe it was for Nigel; for when
his name arose in her thoughts, it was shudderingly repelled, and with
him came the thought of her child--where, oh, where was she?--what would
be her fate? The tolling of the bell awoke her from the brief trance of
utter unconsciousness into which, from exhaustion, she had fallen. She
glanced once beneath her. The crowds, the executioner at his post, the
guard already round the scaffold, too truly told the hour was at hand,
and though her heart turned sick with apprehension, and she felt as if
to know the worst were preferable to the hour of suspense, she could not
look again, and she would have sought the inner chamber, and endeavor to
close both ears and eyes to all that was passing without, when the Earl
of Berwick suddenly entered, and harshly commanded her to stir not from
the cage.

"It is your sovereign's will, madam, that you witness the fate of the
traitor so daring in your cause," he said, as with a stern grasp he
forced her to the grating and retained his hold upon her arm; "that you
may behold in his deserved fate the type of that which will at length
befall the yet blacker traitor of his name. It is fitting so loyal a
patriot as thyself should look on a patriot's fate, and profit thereby."

"Aye, learn how a patriot can die--how, when his life may no more
benefit his country and his kin, he may serve them in his death," calmly
and proudly she answered. "It is well; perchance, when my turn cometh, I
may thank thy master for the lesson now rudely forced upon me. The hour
will come when the blood that he now so unjustly sheds shall shriek
aloud for vengeance. On me let him work his will--I fear him not."

"Be silent, minion! I listen not to thy foul treason," said the earl,
hoarse with suppressed passion at the little effect his sovereign's
mandate produced, when he had hoped to have enforced it midst sobs and
tears; and she was silent, for her eye had caught one face amidst the
crowd that fascinated its gaze, and sent back the blood, which had
seemed to stagnate when the idea that it was indeed Nigel now about to
suffer had been thus rudely thrust upon her--sent it with such sudden
revulsion through its varied channels, that it was only with a desperate
struggle she retained her outward calmness, and then she stood, to the
eye of Berwick, proud, dignified, collected, seemingly so cold, that he
doubted whether aught of feeling could remain, or marvelled if the
mandate of Edward had indeed power to inflict aught of pain. But
within--oh, the veriest tyrant must have shuddered, could he have known
the torture there; she saw, she recognized her child; she read naught
but madness in that chiselled gaze; she saw at a glance there was no
escaping from beholding, to the dreadful end, the fate of her beloved;
before, behind, on every side, the crowds pressed round, yet from the
slightly elevated position of the scaffold, failing to conceal it from
her gaze. The Earl of Gloucester she perceived close at her side, as if
protecting her; but if indeed she was under his care, how came she on
such a spot, at such a time?--did he know her sex, or only looked on her
as a favored page of Nigel's, and as such protected? Yet would not the
anguish of that hour betray her not alone to him, but to that dark and
cruel man whom she also marked beside her, and who, did he once know
her, would demand the right of a father, to give her to his care? and
oh, how would that right be exercised! would the murderer of his son,
his heir, have pity on a daughter? But it would be a vain effort to
picture the deep anguish of that mother's heart, as in that dread moment
she looked upon her child, knowing, feeling _her_ might of grief, as if
it had been her own; well-nigh suffocated with the wild yearning to fold
her to her maternal bosom, to bid her weep there, to seek to comfort, to
soothe, by mingling her tears with hers, to protect, to hide her misery
from all save her mother's eye--to feel this till every pulse throbbed
as to threaten her with death, and yet to breathe no word, to give no
sign that such things were, lest she should endanger that precious one
yet more. She dared not breathe one question of the many crowding on her
heart, she could but gaze and feel. She had thought, when, they told her
that her boy was dead, that she had caused his death, there was little
more of misery fate could weave, but at that moment even Alan was
forgotten. It was her own wretchedness she had had then to bear, for he
was at rest; but now it was the anguish of that dearer self, her sole
remaining child--and oh, a mother's heart can better bear its individual
woes than those that crash a daughter to the earth.

A sudden rush amidst the crowd, where a movement could take place, the
heavy roll of muffled drums, and the yet deeper, more wailing toll of
the funeral bell, announced that the prisoner had left the dungeon, and
irresistibly the gaze of the countess turned from her child to seek him;
perchance it was well, for the preservation of her composure, that the
intervening crowd prevented her beholding him till he stood upon the
scaffold, for hardly could she have borne unmoved the sight of that
noble and gallant form--beloved alike as the friend of her son, the
betrothed of her daughter, the brother of her king--degraded of all
insignia of rank, chained to the hurdle, and dragged as the commonest,
the vilest criminal, exposed to the mocking gaze of thousands, to the
place of execution. She saw him not thus, and therefore she knew not
wherefore the features of Agnes had become yet more rigid, bore yet more
the semblance of chiselled marble. He stood at length upon the scaffold,
as calmly majestic in his bearing as if he had borne no insult, suffered
no indignity. His beautiful hair had been arranged with care on either
side his face, and still fell in its long, rich curls, about his throat;
and so beautiful, so holy was the expression of his perfect features,
that the assembled crowds hushed their very breath in admiration and in
awe; it seemed as if the heaven, on whose threshold he stood, had
already fixed its impress on his brow. Every eye was upon him, and all
perceived that holy calmness was for one brief minute disturbed; but
none, save three of those who marked it, knew or even guessed the cause.
The countess had watched his glance, as at first composedly it had
wandered over the multitude beneath and around him, and she saw it rest
on that one face, which, in its sculptured misery, stood alone amidst
thousands, and she alone perceived the start of agony that sight
occasioned, but speedily even that emotion passed; he looked from that
loved face up to the heaven on which his hopes were fixed, in whose care
for her he trusted--and that look was prayer. She saw him as he knelt in
prayer, undisturbed by the clang of instruments still kept up around
him; she saw him rise, and then a deadly sickness crept over her every
limb, a thick mist obscured her sight, sense seemed on the point of
deserting her, when it was recalled by a sound of horror--a shriek so
wild, so long, so thrilling, the rudest spirit midst those multitudes
shrunk back appalled, and crossed themselves in terror. On one ear it
fell with a sense of agony almost equal to that from whence it came; the
mother recognized the voice, and feeling, sight, hearing, as by an
electric spell, returned. She looked forth again, and though her eye
caught the noble form of Nigel Bruce yet quivering in the air, she
shrunk not, she sickened not, for its gaze sought her child; she had
disappeared from the place she had occupied. She saw the Earl of
Gloucester making a rapid way through the dispersing crowds, a sudden
gust blew aside his wrapping-cloak, the face of her child was exposed to
her view, there was a look of death upon her brow; and if the Earl of
Berwick had lingered to note whether indeed this scene of horror would
pass unnoticed, unfelt by his prisoner, he was gratified at length, for
Isabella of Buchan lay senseless on her prison floor.




CHAPTER XXVI.


"And she is in safety, Gilbert?" inquired the Princess Joan, the evening
of the day following the execution, lifting her eyes, swimming in tears,
to her husband's face. They were sitting alone in their private
apartments, secured from all intruders by a page stationed in the
ante-room; and the earl had been relating some important particulars of
the preceding day.

"I trust in heaven she is, and some miles ere now on her road to
Scotland," was his answer. "I fear for nothing save for the beautiful
mind that fragile shell contains; alas! my Joan, I fear me that has gone
forever!"

"Better, oh better, then, that fainting-fit had indeed been death," she
said, "that the thread of life had snapped than twisted thus in madness.
Yet thou sayest her purpose seemed firm, her intellect clear, in her
intense desire to reach Scotland. Would this be, thinkest thou, were
they disordered?"

"I think yes; for hadst thou seen, as I, the expression of countenance,
the unearthly calmness with which this desire was enforced, the
constant, though unconscious, repetition of words as these, 'to the
king, to the king, my path lies there, he bade me seek him; perchance he
will be there to meet me,' thou too wouldst feel that, when that goal is
gained, her husband's message given, sense must fail or life itself
depart. But once for a few brief minutes I saw that calmness partly
fail, and I indulged in one faint hope she would be relieved by tears.
She saw old Dermid gaze on her and weep; she clung to his neck, her
features worked convulsively, and her voice was choked and broken, as
she said, We must not tarry, Dermid, we must not wait to weep and moan;
I must seek King Robert while I can. There is a fire on my brain and
heart, which will soon scorch up all memory but one; I must not wait
till it has reached _his_ words, and burned them up too--oh, let us on
at once;' but the old man's kindly words had not the effect I hoped, she
only shook her head, and then, as if the horrible recollection of the
past flashed back, a convulsive shuddering passed through her frame, and
when she raised her face from her hand its marble rigidity had
returned."

"Alas! alas! poor sufferer," exclaimed the princess, in heartfelt
sorrow; "I fear indeed, if such things be, there is little hope of
reason. I would thou hadst conveyed her here, perchance the soothing and
sympathy of one of her own sex had averted this evil."

"T doubt, my kind Joan," replied her husband; "thy words had such
beneficial power before, because hope had still possession of her
breast, she hoped to the very last, aye, even when she so madly went
with thee to Edward; now that is over; hope is crushed, when despair has
risen. Thou couldst not have soothed; it would have been but wringing
thy too kind heart, and exposing her to other and heightened evils." The
princess looked up inquiringly. "Knowest thou not Buchan hath discovered
that his daughter remained with Nigel Bruce, as his engaged bride, at
Kildrummie, and is even now seeking her retreat, vowing she shall repent
with tears of blood her connection with a Bruce?"

"I did not indeed; how came this?"

"How, I know not, save that it was reported Buchan had left the court,
on a mission to the convent where the Countess of Carrick and her
attendants are immured, and in all probability learnt this important
fact from them. I only know that at the instant I entered the prisoner's
dungeon, Buchan was demanding, at the sword's point, the place of her
retreat, incited to the deadliest fury at Nigel's daring avowal that
Agnes was his wife."

"Merciful heaven! and Agnes, what did she?"

"I know not, for I dared not, absolutely dared not look upon her face.
Her husband's self-control saved her, for he stood and answered as
calmly and collectedly as if indeed she were in the safety he declared;
her father brushed by, nay, well-nigh stumbled over her, as he furiously
quitted the dungeon, glared full at her, but knew her not. But I dared
not again bring her here, it was in too close vicinity with the king and
her cruel father, for her present state of mind must have betrayed every
disguise."

"And thinkest thou he could have the heart to injure her, separated as
she is by death from the husband of her love?"

"Aye, persecute her as he hath his wife and son. Joan, I would rather
lose my own right hand than that unhappy girl should fall into her
father's power. Confinement, indeed, though it would add but little real
misery to her present lot, yet I feel that with her present wild
yearnings to rejoin the Bruce, to fulfil to the very utmost her
husband's will, it would increase tenfold the darkness round her; the
very dread of her father would unhinge the last remaining link of
intellect."

Joan shuddered. "God in mercy forefend such ill!" she said, fervently;
"I would I could have seen her once again, for she has strangely twined
herself about my heart; but thou hast judged wisely, my Gilbert, her
safety is too precious to be thus idly risked; and this old man, canst
thou so trust him--will he guide her tenderly and well?"

"Aye, I would stake my life upon his truth; he is the seer and minstrel
of the house of Bruce, and that would be all-sufficient to guarantee his
unwavering fidelity and skill. He has wandered on foot from Scotland, to
look on his beloved master once again; to watch over, as a guardian
spirit, the fate of that master's devoted wife, and he will do this, I
doubt not, and discover Carrick's place of retreat, were it at the
utmost boundaries of the earth. I only dread pursuit."

"Pursuit! and by whom?"

"By her father. Men said he was close beside me during that horrible
hour, though I saw him not; if he observed her, traced to her lips that
maddening shriek, it would excite his curiosity quite sufficiently for
him to trace my steps, and discovery were then inevitable."

"But did he do this--hast seen him since?"

"No, he has avoided me; but still, for her sake, I fear him. I know not
how or when, but there are boding whispers within me that all will not
be well. Now I would have news from thee. Is Hereford released?"

"Yes; coupled with the condition that he enters not my father's presence
until Easter. He is deeply and justly hurt; but more grieved at the
change in his sovereign than angered at the treatment of himself."

"No marvel; for if ever there were a perfect son of chivalry, one most
feelingly alive to its smallest point of honor, it is Humphrey Bohun."

So spoke Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, unconscious that he
himself had equal right to a character so exalted; that both Scottish
and English historians would emulate each other in handing his name down
to posterity, surrounded by that lucid halo of real worth, on which the
eye turns again and again to rest for relief from the darker minds and
ruder hearts which formed the multitude of the age in which he lived.
The duties of friendship were performed in his preservation of the
person, and constant and bold defence of the character of the Bruce; the
duties of a subject, in dying on the battle-field in service for his
king.

The boding prognostics of the Earl of Gloucester were verified ere that
day closed. While still in earnest converse with his countess, a
messenger came from the king, demanding their instant presence in his
closet. The summons was so unusual, that in itself it was alarming, nor
did the sight of the Earl of Buchan in close conference with the monarch
decrease their fears. As soon as a cessation of his pains permitted the
exertion, Buchan had been sent for by the king; the issue of his
inquiries after his daughter demanded, and all narrated; his interview
with Sir Nigel dwelt upon with all the rancor of hate. Edward had
listened without making any observation; a twinkle of his still bright
eye, an expression about the lips alone betraying that he not only heard
but was forming his own conclusions from the tale.

"And you have no clue, no thought of her retreat?" he asked, at length,
abruptly, when the earl ceased.

"Not the very faintest, your grace. Had not that interfering Gloucester
come between me and my foe, I had forced it from him at the sharp
sword's point."

"Gloucester--humph!" muttered the king. "Yet an so bloody was thy
purpose, my good lord, his interference did thee no ill. How was the
earl accompanied--was he alone?"

"If I remember rightly, alone, your grace. No, by my faith, there was a
page with him!"

"A page--ha! and what manner of man was he?"

"Man! your highness, say rather a puny stripling, with far more of the
woman about him than the man."

"Ha!" again uttered the king; "looked he so weakly--did thy fury permit
such keen remark?"

"Not at that time, your highness; but he was, with Gloucester, compelled
to witness the execution of this black traitor, and he looked white,
statue-like, and uttered a shriek, forsooth, likely to scare back the
villain's soul even as it took flight. Gloucester cared for the dainty
brat, as if he had been a son of your highness, not a page in his
household, for he lifted him up in his arms, and bore him out of the
crowd."

"Humph!" said Edward again, in a tone likely to have excited curiosity
in any mind less obtuse on such matters than that of the Scottish earl.
"And thou sayest," he added, after some few minutes pause, "this daring
traitor, so lately a man, would tell thee no more than that thy daughter
was his wife, and in safety--out of thy reach?"

Buchan answered in the affirmative.

"And thou hast not the most distant idea where he hath concealed her?"

"None, your highness."

"Then I will tell thee, sir earl; and if thou dost not feel inclined to
dash out thine own brains with vexation at letting thy prey so slip out
of thy grasp, thou art not the man I took thee for," and Edward fixed
his eyes on his startled companion with a glance at once keen and
malicious.

"The white and statue-looking page, with more of woman about him than
the man, was the _wife_ of this rank villain, Sir Nigel Bruce, and thy
daughter, my Lord of Buchan. The Earl of Gloucester may, perchance, tell
thee more."

The earl started from his seat with an oath, which the presence of
majesty itself could not restrain. The dulness of his brain was
dissolved as by a flash of lightning; the ghastly appearance, the
maddening shriek, the death-like faint, all of which he had witnessed in
Gloucester's supposed page, nay, the very disturbed and anxious look of
the earl himself, gave truth and life to Edward's words, and he struck
his clenched fist against his brow, and strode up and down the royal
closet, in a condition as frantically disturbed as the monarch could
possibly have desired; and then, hastily and almost incoherently,
besought the king's aid in sifting the matter to the very bottom, and
obtaining repossession of his daughter, entreating leave of absence to
seek out Gloucester and tax him with the fact.

Edward, whose fury against the house of Bruce--whether man, woman, or
child, noble or serf, belonging to them--had been somewhat soothed by
the ignominious execution of Nigel, had felt almost as much amused as
angered at the earl's tale, and enjoyed the idea of a man, whom in his
inmost heart he most thoroughly despised, having been so completely
outwitted, and for the time so foiled. The feud between the Comyn and
the Bruce was nothing to him, except where it forwarded his own
interests. He had incited Buchan to inquire about his daughter, simply
because the occupation would remove that earl out of his way for a short
time, and perhaps, if the rumor of her engagement with one of the
brothers of the Bruce were true, set another engine at work to discover
the place of their concealment. The moment Buchan informed him it was to
Nigel she had been engaged, with Nigel last seen, his acute penetration
recalled the page who had accompanied the princess when she supplicated
mercy, and had he heard no more, would have pointed there for the
solution of the mystery. Incensed he was and deeply, at the fraud
practised upon him at the Karl and Countess of Gloucester daring to
harbor, nay, protect and conceal the wife of a traitor; but his anger
was subdued in part by the belief that now it was almost impossible she
could escape the wardance of her father, and _his_ vengeance would be
more than sufficient to satisfy him; nay, when he recalled the face and
the voice, it was so like madness and death, and he was, moreover, so
convinced that now her husband was dead she could do him no manner of
harm, that he inwardly and almost unconsciously hoped she might
eventually escape her father's power, although he composedly promised
the earl to exercise his authority, and give him the royal warrant for
the search and committal of her person wherever she might be. Anger,
that Gloucester and his wife should so have dared his sovereign power,
was now the prevailing feeling, and therefore was it he commanded their
presence, determined to question them himself, rather than through the
still enraged Buchan.

Calmly and collectedly the noble pair received alike the displeasure of
their sovereign and the ill-concealed fury of Buchan. They neither
denied the charge against them nor equivocated in their motives for
their conduct; alarmed they were, indeed, for the unhappy Agnes; but as
denial and concealment were now alike impossible, and could avail her
nothing, they boldly, nay, proudly acknowledged that which they had
done, and openly rejoiced it had been theirs to give one gleam of
comfort to the dying Nigel, by extending protection to his wife.

"And are ye not traitors--bold, presuming traitors--deserving the
chastisement of such, bearding me thus in my very palace?" wrathfully
exclaimed Edward. "Know ye not both are liable to the charge of treason,
aye, treason--and fear ye to brave us thus?"

"My liege, we are no traitors, amenable to no such charge," calmly
answered Gloucester; "far, far more truly, faithfully, devotedly your
grace's subjects than many of those who had shrunk from an act as this.
That in so doing we were likely to incur your royal displeasure, we
acknowledge with deep regret and sorrow, and I take it no shame thus on
my knee to beseech your highness's indulgence for the fault; but if you
deem it worthy of chastisement, we are ready to submit to it, denying,
however, all graver charge, than that of failing in proper deference to
your grace."

"All other charge! By St. Edward, is not that enough?" answered the
king, but in a mollified tone. "And thou, minion, thou whom we deemed
the very paragon of integrity and honor, hast thou aught to say? Did not
thy lips frame falsehood, and thy bold looks confirm it?"

"My father, my noble father, pardon me that in this I erred," answered
Joan, kneeling by his side, and, despite his efforts to prevent it,
clasping his hand and covering it with kisses; "yet I spoke no
falsehood, uttered naught which was not truth. She _was_ ill and weakly;
she was well-nigh maddened from scenes and sounds of blood. I had
besought her not to attend me, but a wife's agony could not be
restrained, and if we had refused her the protection she so wildly
craved, had discovered her person to your highness, would it have
availed thee aught? a being young, scarce past her childhood--miserable,
maddened well-nigh to death, her life wrapt up in her husband's, which
was forfeited to thee."

"The wife of a traitor, the offspring of a traitress, connected on every
side with treason, and canst ask if her detention would have availed us
aught? Joan, Joan, thy defence is but a weak one," answered the king,
sternly, but he called her "Joan," and that simple word thrilled to her
heart as the voice of former years, and her father felt a sudden gush
of tears fall on the hand he had not withdrawn, and vainly he struggled
against the softening feelings those tears had brought. It was strange
that, angered as he really was, the better feelings of Edward should in
such a moment have so completely gained the ascendency. Perhaps he was
not proof against the contrast before him, presented in the persons of
Buchan and Gloucester; the base villainy of the one, the exalted
nobility of the other, alike shone forth the clearer from their
unusually close contact. In general, Edward was wont to deem these
softening emotions foolish weaknesses, which he would banish by shunning
the society of all those who could call them forth. Their candid
acknowledgment of having deserved his displeasure, and submission to his
will, however, so soothed his self-love, his fondness for absolute
power, that he permitted them to have vent with but little restraint.
Agnes might have been the wife of a traitor, but he was out of Edward's
way; the daughter of a traitress, but she was equally powerless; linked
with treason, but too much crashed by her own misery to be sensible of
aught else. Surely she was too insignificant for him to persevere in
wrath, and alienate by unmerited severity yet more the hearts which at
such moments he felt he valued, despite his every effort to the
contrary.

So powerfully was he worked upon, that had it not been for the
ill-restrained fury of Buchan, it was possible the subject would have
been in the end peaceably dismissed; but on that earl's reminding him of
his royal word, the king commanded Gloucester to deliver up his charge
to her rightful guardian, and all the past should be forgiven. The earl
quietly and respectfully replied he could not, for he knew not where she
was. Wrath gathered on Edward's brow, and Buchan laid his hand on his
sword; but neither the royal commands nor Buchan's muttered threats and
oaths of vengeance could elicit from Gloucester more than that she had
set off to return to Scotland with an aged man, not three hours after
the execution had taken place. He had purposely avoided all inquiries as
to their intended route, and therefore not any cross-questioning on the
part of the king caused him to waver in the smallest point from his
original tale, or afforded any evidence that he knew more than he said.

"Get thee to Sir Edward Cunningham, my Lord of Buchan, and bid him draw
up a warrant for the detention and committal of these two persons
wherever they may be," the king said, "and away with thee, and a trusty
troop, with all speed to Berwick. Make inquiries of all who at that
particular hour passed the gates, and be assured thou wilt find some
clue. Take men enough to scour the country in all directions; provide
them with an exact description of the prisoners they seek, and tarry
not, and thou wilt yet gain thy prize; living or dead, we resign all our
right over her person to thee, and give thee power, as her father, to do
with her what may please thee best. Away with thee, my lord, and heaven
speed thee!"

"My liege and father, oh, why hast thou done this?" exclaimed the
princess, imploringly, as, with a low obeisance to the king and a
gesture of triumph at the Earl of Gloucester, Buchan departed. "Hath she
not borne misery enough!"

"Nay, we do but our duty to our subjects in aiding fathers to repress
rebellious children," replied the king. "Of a truth, fair dame of
Gloucester, thy principles of filial duty seem somewhat as loose and
light as those which counselled abetting, protecting, and concealing the
partner of a traitor. Wouldst have us refuse Buchan's most fatherly
desire? Surely thou wouldst not part him from his child?"

"Forever and forever!" exclaimed the princess, fervently. "Great God in
heaven, that such a being should call that monster father, and owe him
the duty of a child! But, oh, thou dost but jest, my father; in mercy
recall that warrant--expose her not to wretchedness as this!"

"Peace," replied the king, sternly. "As thou valuest thine own and thy
husband's liberty and life, breathe not another syllable, speak not
another word for her, or double misery shall be her portion. We have
shown enough of mercy in demanding no further punishment for that which
ye have done, than that for ten days ye remain prisoners in your own
apartments. Answer not; we will have no more of this."

The Earl of Buchan, meanwhile, had made no delay in gaining the
necessary aids to his plan. Ere two hours passed, he was on his road to
Berwick, backed with a stout body of his own retainers, and bearing a
commission to the Earl of Berwick to provide him with as many more as he
desired. He went first to the hostelry near the outskirts of the town,
where he remembered Gloucester had borne the supposed page. There he
obtained much desirable information, an exact description of the dress,
features, and appearance of both the page and his companion; of the
former, indeed, he recollected all-sufficient, even had the description
been less exact. The old minstrel had attracted the attention of many
within the hostel, and consequently enabled Buchan to obtain information
from various sources, all of which agreed so well that he felt sure of
success.

Backed by the warrant of Edward, he went to the civil authorities of the
town, obtained four or five technically drawn-up descriptions of the
prisoners, and intrusted them to the different officers, who, with bands
of fifty men, he commanded to search every nook and corner of the
country round Berwick, in various directions. He himself discovering
they had passed through the Scotch gate and appeared directing their
course in a westerly direction, took with him one hundred men, and
followed that track, buoyed up by the hope not only of gaining
possession of his daughter, but perhaps of falling in with the retreat
even of the detested Bruce, against whom he had solemnly recorded a vow
never to let the sword rest in the scabbard till he had revenged the
murder of his kinsman, the Red Comyn. Some words caught by a curious
listener, passing between the page and minstrel, and eagerly reported to
him, convinced him it was Robert Bruce they sought, and urged him to
continue the search with threefold vigor.

Slowly and sadly meanwhile had the hours of their weary pilgrimage
passed for the poor wanderers, and little did they imagine, as they
threaded the most intricate paths of the borders of Scotland, that they
were objects of persecution and pursuit. Though the bodily strength of
Agnes had well-nigh waned, though the burning cheek and wandering, too
brightly flashing eye denoted how fearfully did fever rage internally,
she would not pause save when absolutely compelled. She could neither
sleep nor eat: her only cry was, "To the king--bring me but to King
Robert while I may yet speak!" her only consciousness, that she had a
mission to perform, that she was intrusted with a message from the dead;
all else was a void, dark, shapeless, in which thought framed no image;
mind, not a wish. Insensibility it was not, alas! no, that void was woe,
all woe, which folded up heart and brain as with a cloak of fire,
scorching up thought, memory, hope--all that could recall the past,
vivify the present, or vision forth the future. She breathed indeed and
spoke, and clung to that aged man with all the clinging helplessness of
her sex, but scarce could she be said to live; all that was real of life
had twined round her husband's soul, and with it fled.

The old man felt not his advanced age, the consciousness of the many
dangers hovering on their way; his whole thought was for her, to bring
her to the soothing care and protection of the king, and then he cared
not how soon his sand run out. When wandering in the districts of
Annandale and Carrick, before he had arrived at Berwick, he had learned
the secret but most important intelligence that King Robert had passed
the winter off the coast of Ireland, and was supposed to be only waiting
a favorable opportunity to return to Scotland, and once more upraise his
standard. This news had been most religiously and strictly preserved a
secret amid the few faithful adherents of the Bruce, who perhaps spoke
yet more as they hoped than as a fact well founded.

For some days their way had been more fatiguing than dangerous, for
though the country was overrun with English, a minstrel and a page were
objects far too insignificant, in the present state of excitement, to
meet with either detention or notice. Not a week had passed, however,
before rumors of Buchan's parties reached the old man's ears, and filled
him with anxiety and dread. The feverish restlessness of Agnes to
advance yet quicker on their way, precluded all idea of halting, save in
woods and caverns, till the danger had passed. Without informing her of
all he had heard, and the danger he apprehended, he endeavored to avoid
all towns and villages; but the heavy rains which had set in rendered
their path through the country yet more precarious and uncertain, and
often compelled him most unwillingly to seek other and better shelter.
At Strathaven he became conscious that their dress and appearance were
strictly scrutinized, and some remarks that he distinguished convinced
him that Buchan had either passed through that town, or was lingering in
its neighborhood still. Turning sick with apprehension, the old man
hastily retraced his steps to the hostel, where he had left Agnes, and
found her, for the first time since their departure, sunk into a kind of
sleep or stupor from exhaustion, from which he could not bear to arouse
her. Watching her for some little time in silence, his attention was
attracted by whispering voices, only separated from him by a thin
partition. They recounted and compared one by one the dress and peculiar
characteristics of himself and his companion, seeming to compare it with
a written list. Then followed an argument as to whether it would not be
better to arrest their progress at once, or send on to the Earl of
Buchan, who was at a castle only five miles distant. How it was
determined Dermid knew not, for the voices faded in the distance; but he
had heard enough, and it seemed indeed as if detention and restraint
were at length at hand. What to do he knew not. Night had now some hours
advanced, and to attempt leaving the hostel at such an unseasonable hour
would be of itself sufficient to confirm suspicion. All seemed at rest
within the establishment; there was no sound to announce that a
messenger had been dispatched to the earl, and he determined to await as
calmly as might be the dawn.

The first streak of light, however, was scarce visible in the east
before, openly and loudly, so as to elude all appearance of flight, he
declared his intention of pursuing his journey, as the weather had
already detained them too long. He called on the hostess to receive her
reckoning, commanded the mules to be saddled, all of which was done, to
his surprise, without comment or question, and they departed
unrestrained; the old man too much overjoyed at this unexpected escape
to note that they were followed by two Englishmen, the one on horseback,
the other on foot. Anxiety indeed had still possession of him, for he
could not reconcile the words he had overheard with their quiet
departure; but as the day passed, and they plunged thicker and thicker
in the woods of Carrick, and there was no sign of pursuit, or even of a
human form, he hailed with joy a solitary house, and believed the danger
passed.

The inmates received them with the utmost hospitality; the order for
their detention had evidently not reached them, and Dermid determined on
waiting quietly there till the exhausted strength of his companion
should be recruited, and permit them to proceed. An hour and more passed
in cheerful converse with the aged couple who owned the house, and who,
with the exception of one or two servants, were its sole inhabitants.
The tales of the minstrel were called for and received with a glee which
seemed to make all his listeners feel young again. Agnes alone sate
apart; her delicate frame and evident exhaustion concealing deeper
sufferings from her hosts, who vied with each other in seeking to
alleviate her fatigue and give bodily comfort, if they could offer no
other consolation. Leaning back in a large settle in the chimney corner,
she had seemed unconscious of the cheerful sociability around her, when
suddenly she arose, and advancing to Dermid, laid a trembling hand on
his arm. He looked up surprised.

"Hist!" she murmured, throwing back the hair from her damp brow. "Hear
ye no sound?"

All listened for a time in vain.

"Again," she said; "'tis nearer, more distinct. Who comes with a troop
of soldiers here?"

It was indeed the heavy trampling of many horse, at first so distant as
scarcely to be distinguished, save by ears anxious and startled as old
Dermid's; but nearer and nearer they came, till even the inmates of the
house all huddled, together in alarm. Agnes remained standing, her hand
on Dermid's arm, her head thrown back, her features bearing an
expression scarce to be defined. The horses' hoofs, mingled with the
clang of armor, rung sharp and clear on the stones of the courtyard.
They halted: the pommel of a sword was struck against the oaken door,
and a night's lodging courteously demanded. The terror of the owners of
the house subsided, for the voice they heard was Scotch.

The door was thrown open, the request granted, with the same hospitality
as had been extended to the minstrel and the page. On the instant there
was a confused sound of warriors dismounting, of horses eager for
stabling and forage; and one tall and stately figure, clad from head to
foot in mail, entered the house, and removing his helmet, addressed some
words of courteous greeting and acknowledgment to its inmates. A loud
exclamation burst from the minstrel's lips; but Agnes uttered no sound,
she made one bound forward, and dropped senseless at the warrior's feet.




CHAPTER XXVII.


It was on a cool evening, near the end of September, 1311, that a troop,
consisting of about thirty horse, and as many on foot, were leisurely
traversing the mountain passes between the counties of Dumfries and
Lanark. Their arms were well burnished; their buff coats and half-armor
in good trim; their banner waved proudly from its staff, as bright and
gay as if it had not even neared a scene of strife; and there was an air
of hilarity and gallantry about them that argued well for success, if
about to commence an expedition, or if returning, told with equal
emphasis they had been successful. That the latter was the case was
speedily evident, from the gay converse passing between them; their
allusions to some late gallant achievement of their patriot sovereign;
their joyous comparisons between good King Robert and his weak opponent,
Edward II. of England, marvelling how so wavering and indolent a son
could have sprung from so brave and determined a sire; for, Scotsmen as
they were, they were now FREE, and could thus afford to allow
the "hammer" of their country some knightly qualities, despite the stern
and cruel tyranny which to them had ever marked his conduct. They spoke
in laughing scorn of the second Edward's efforts to lay his father's
yoke anew upon their necks; they said a just heaven had interfered and
urged him to waste the decisive moment of action in indolence and folly,
in the flatteries of his favorite, to the utter exclusion of those wiser
lords, whose counsels, if followed on the instant, might have shaken
even the wise and patriot Bruce. Yet they were so devoted to their
sovereign, they idolized him alike as a warrior and a man too deeply, to
allow that to the weak and vacillating conduct of Edward they owed the
preservation of their country. It was easy to perceive by the springy
step, the flashing eye, the ringing, tone with which that magic name,
the Bruce, was spoken, how deeply it was written on the heart; the joy
it was to recall his deeds, and feel it was through him that they were
free! Their converse easily betrayed them to be one of those
well-ordered though straggling parties into which King Robert's invading
armies generally dispersed at his command, when returning to their own
fastnesses, after a successful expedition to the English border.

The laugh and jest resounded, as we have said, amongst both officers and
men; but their leader, who was riding about a stone's throw ahead, gave
no evidence of sharing their mirth. He was clad from head to foot in
chain armor, of a hue so dark as to be mistaken for black, and from his
wearing a surcoat of the same color, unenlivened by any device, gave him
altogether a somewhat sombre appearance, although it could not detract
in the smallest degree from the peculiar gracefulness and easy dignity
of his form, which was remarkable both on horseback and on foot. He was
evidently very tall, and by his firm seat in the saddle, had been early
accustomed to equestrian exercises; but his limbs were slight almost to
delicacy, and though completely ensheathed in mail, there was an
appearance of extreme youth about him, that perhaps rendered the absence
of all gayety the more striking. Yet on the battle-field he gave no
evidence of inexperience as a warrior, no sign that he was merely a
scholar in the art of war; there only did men believe he must be older
than he seemed; there only his wonted depression gave place to an
energy, a fire, second to none amongst the Scottish patriots, not even
to the Bruce himself; then only was the naturally melancholy music of
his voice lost in accents of thrilling power, of imperative command, and
the oldest warriors followed him as if under the influence of some
spell. But of his appearance on the field we must elsewhere speak. He
now led his men through the mountain defiles mechanically, as if buried
in meditation, and that meditation not of the most pleasing nature. His
vizor was closed, but short clustering curls, of a raven blackness,
escaped beneath the helmet, and almost concealed the white linen and
finely embroidered collar which lay over his gorget, and was secured in
front by a ruby clasp; a thick plume of black feathers floated from his
helmet, rivalling in color the mane of his gallant charger, which pawed
the ground, and held his head aloft as if proud of the charge he bore. A
shield was slung round the warrior's neck, and its device and motto
seemed in melancholy accordance with the rest of his attire. On a field
argent lay the branch of a tree proper, blasted and jagged, with the
words "_Ni nom ni paren, je suis seul_," rudely engraved in Norman
French beneath; his helmet bore no crest, nor did his war-cry on the
field, "Amiot for the Bruce and freedom," offer any clue to the curious
as to his history, for that there was some history attached to him all
chose to believe, though the age was too full of excitement to allow
much of wonderment or curiosity to be expended upon him. His golden
spurs gave sufficient evidence that he was a knight; his prowess on the
field proclaimed whoever had given him that honor had not bestowed it on
the undeserving. His deeds of daring, unequalled even in that age,
obtained him favor in the eyes of every soldier; and if there were some
in the court and camp of Bruce who were not quite satisfied, and loved
not the mystery which surrounded him, it mattered not, Sir Amiot of the
Branch, or the Lonely Chevalier, as he was generally called, went on his
way unquestioned.

"Said not Sir Edward Bruce he would meet us hereabouts at set of sun?"
were the first words spoken by the knight, as, on issuing from the
mountains, they found themselves on a broad plain to the east of Lanark,
bearing sad tokens of a devastating war, in the ruined and blackened
huts which were the only vestiges of human habitations near. The answer
was in the affirmative; and the knight, after glancing in the direction
of the sun, which wanted about an hour to its setting, commanded a halt,
and desired that, while waiting the arrival of their comrades, they
should take their evening meal.

On the instant the joyous sounds of dismounting, leading horses to
picquet, unclasping helmets, throwing aside the more easily displaced
portions of their armor, shields, and spears, took the place of the
steady tramp and well-ordered march. Flinging themselves in various
attitudes on the greensward, provender was speedily laid before them,
and rare wines and other choice liquors, fruits of their late campaign,
passed gayly round. An esquire had, at the knight's sign, assisted him
to remove his helmet, shield, and gauntlets; but though this removal
displayed a beautifully formed head, thickly covered with dark hair, his
features were still concealed by a species of black mask, the mouth,
chin, and eyes being alone visible, and therefore his identity was
effectually hidden. The mouth and chin were both small and delicately
formed; the slight appearance of beard and moustache seeming to denote
his age as some one-and-twenty years. His eyes, glancing through the
opening in the mask, were large and very dark, often flashing brightly,
when his outward bearing was so calm and quiet as to afford little
evidence of emotion. Some there were, indeed, who believed the eye the
truer index of the man than aught else about him, and to fancy there was
far more in that sad and lonely knight than was revealed.

It was evident, however, that to the men now with him his remaining so
closely masked was no subject of surprise, that they regarded it as an
ordinary thing, which in consequence had lost its strangeness. They were
eager and respectful in their manner towards him, offering to raise him
a seat of turf at some little distance from their noisy comrades; but
acknowledging their attention with kindness and courtesy, he refused it,
and rousing himself with some difficulty from his desponding thoughts,
threw himself on the sward beside his men, and joined in their mirth and
jest.

"Hast thou naught to tell to while away this tedious hour, good
Murdoch?" he asked, after a while, addressing a gray-headed veteran.

"Aye, aye, a tale, a tale; thou hast seen more of the Bruce than all of
us together," repeated many eager voices, "and knowest yet more of his
deeds than we do; a tale an thou wilt, but of no other hero than the
Bruce."

"The Bruce!" echoed the veteran; "see ye not his deeds yourselves, need
ye more of them?" but there was a sly twinkle in his eye that betrayed
his love to speak was as great as his comrades to hear him. "Have ye not
heard, aye, and many of you seen his adventures and escapes in Carrick,
hunted even as he was by bloodhounds; his guarding that mountain pass,
one man against sixty, aye, absolutely alone against the Galwegian host
of men and bloodhounds; Glen Fruin, Loudun Hill, Aberdeen; the harrying
of Buchan; charging the treacherous foe, when they had to bear him from
his litter to his horse, aye, and support him there; springing up from
his couch of pain, and suffering, and depression, agonizing to witness,
to hurl vengeance on the fell traitors; aye, and he did it, and brought
back health to his own heart and frame; and Forfar, Lorn,
Dunstaffnage--know ye not all these things? Nay, have ye not seen,
shared in them all--what would ye more?"

"The harrying of Buchan, tell us of that," loudly exclaimed many voices;
while some others shouted, "the landing of the Bruce--tell us of his
landing, and the spirit fire at Turnberry Head; the strange woman that
addressed him."

"Now which am I to tell, good my masters?" laughingly answered the old
man, when the tumult in a degree subsided. "A part of one, and part of
the other, and leave ye to work out the rest yourselves; truly, a
pleasant occupation. Say, shall it be thus? yet stay, what says Sir
Amiot?"

"As you will, my friends," answered the knight, cheerily; "but decide
quickly, or we shall hear neither. I am for the tale of Buchan," there
was a peculiarly thrilling emphasis in his tone as he pronounced the
word, "for I was not in Scotland at the time, and have heard but
disjointed rumors of the expedition."

The veteran looked round on his eager comrades with an air of
satisfaction, then clearing his voice, and drawing more to the centre of
the group; "Your worship knows," he began, addressing Sir Amiot, who,
stretched at full length on the sward, had fixed his eyes upon him,
though their eagle glance was partly shaded by his hand, "that our good
King Robert the Bruce, determined on the reduction of the north of his
kingdom, advanced thereto in the spring of 1308, accompanied by his
brother, Lord Edward, that right noble gentleman the Earl of Lennox, Sir
Gilbert Hay, Sir Robert Boyd, and others, with a goodly show of men and
arms, for his successes at Glen Fruin and Loudun Hill had brought him a
vast accession of loyal subjects. And they were needed, your worship, of
a truth, for the traitorous Comyns had almost entire possession of the
castles and forts of the north, and thence were wont to pour down their
ravaging hordes upon the true Scotsmen, and menace the king, till he
scarcely knew which side to turn to first. Your worship coming, I have
heard, from the low country, can scarcely know all the haunts and
lurking-places for treason the highlands of our country present; how
hordes of traitors may be trained and armed in these remote districts,
without the smallest suspicion being attached to them till it is
well-nigh too late, and the mischief is done. Well, to drive out these
black villains, to free his kingdom, not alone from the yoke of an
English Edward, but a Scottish Comyn, good King Robert was resolved--and
even as he resolved he did. Inverness, the citadel of treason and
disloyalty, fell before him; her defences, and walls, and turrets, and
towers, all dismantled and levelled, so as to prevent all further
harborage of treason; her garrison marched out, the ringleaders sent
into secure quarters, and all who hastened to offer homage and swear
fidelity, received with a courtesy and majesty which I dare to say did
more for the cause of our true king than a Comyn could ever do against
it. Other castles followed the fate of Inverness, till at length the
north, even as the south, acknowledged the Bruce, not alone as their
king, but as their deliverer and savior.

"It was while rejoicing over these glorious successes, the lords and
knights about the person of their sovereign began to note with great
alarm that his strength seemed waning, his brow often knit as with
inward pain, his eye would grow dim, and his limbs fail him, without a
moment's warning; and that extreme depression would steal over his manly
spirit even in the very moment of success. They watched in alarm, but
silently; and when they saw the renewed earnestness and activity with
which, on hearing of the approach of Comyn of Buchan, Sir John de
Mowbray, and that worst of traitors, his own nephew, Sir David of
Brechin, he rallied his forces, advanced to meet them, and compelled
them to retreat confusedly to Aberdeen, they hoped they had been
deceived, and all was well.

"But the fell disease gained ground; at first he could not guide his
charger's reins, and then he could not mount at all; his voice failed,
his sight passed; they were compelled to lay him in a litter, and bear
him in the midst of them, and they felt as if the void left by their
sovereign's absence from their head was filled with the dim shadow of
death. Nobly and gallantly did Lord Edward endeavor to remedy this fatal
evil; Lennox, Hay, even the two Frasers, who had so lately joined the
king, seemed as if paralyzed by this new grief, and hung over the
Bruce's litter as if their strength waned with his. Sternly, nay, at
such a moment it seemed almost harshly, Lord Edward rebuked this
weakness, and, conducting them to Slenath, formed some strong
entrenchments, of which the Bruce's pavilion was the centre, intending
there to wait his brother's recovery. Ah, my masters, if ye were not
with good King Robert then, ye have escaped the bitterest trial. Ye know
not what it was to behold him--the savior of his country, the darling of
his people, the noblest knight and bravest warrior who ever girded on a
sword--lie there, so pale, so faint, with scarce a voice or passing sigh
to say he breathed. The hand which grasped the weal of Scotland, the arm
that held her shield, lay nerveless as the dead; the brain which thought
so well and wisely for his fettered land, lay powerless and still; the
thrilling voice was hushed, the flashing eye was closed. The foes were
close around him, and true friends in tears and woe beside his couch,
were all alike unknown. Ah! then was the time for warrior's tears, for
men of iron frame and rugged mood to soften into woman's woe, and weep.
Men term Lord Edward Bruce so harsh and stern, one whom naught of grief
for others or himself can move; they saw him not as I have. It was mine
to watch my sovereign, when others sought their rest; and I have seen
that rugged chieftain stand beside his brother's couch alone, unmarked,
and struggle with his spirit till his brow hath knit, his lip become
convulsed, and then as if 'twere vain, all vain, sink on his knee, clasp
his sovereign's hand, and bow his head and weep. 'Tis passed and over
now, kind heaven be praised! yet I cannot recall that scene, unbind the
folds of memory, unmoved."

The old man passed his rough hand across his eyes, and for a brief
moment paused; his comrades, themselves affected, sought not to disturb
him, and quickly he resumed.

"Days passed, and still King Robert gave no sign of amendment, except,
indeed, there were intervals when his eyes wandered to the countenances
of his leaders, as if he knew them, and would fain have addressed them
as his wont. Then it was our men were annoyed by an incessant discharge
from Buchan's archers, which, though they could do perhaps no great
evil, yet wounded many of our men, and roused Lord Edward's spirit to
resent the insult. His determination to leave the entrenchments and
retreat to Strathbogie, appeared at first an act of such unparalleled
daring as to startle all his brother leaders, and they hesitated; but
there never was any long resisting Sir Edward's plans; he bears a spell
no spirit with a spark of gallantry about him can resist. The retreat
was in consequence determined on, to the great glee of our men, who were
tired of inaction, and imagined they should feel their sovereign's
sufferings less if engaged hand to hand with, the foe, in his service,
than watching him as they had lately done, and dreading yet greater
evils.

"Ye have heard of this daring retreat, my friends; it was in the mouth
of every Scotsman, aye, and of Englishman too, for King Robert himself
never accomplished a deed of greater skill. The king's litter was placed
in the centre of a square, which presented on either side such an
impenetrable fence of spears and shields, that though Buchan and De
Mowbray mustered more than double our number, they never ventured an
attack, and a retreat, apparently threatening total destruction, from
its varied dangers, was accomplished without the loss of a single man.
At Strathbogie we halted but a short space, for finding no obstruction
in our path, we hastened southward, in the direction of Inverury; there
we pitched the tent for the king, and, taking advantage of a natural
fortification, dispersed our men around it, still in a compact square.
Soon after this had been accomplished, news was received that our foes
were concentrating their numerous forces at Old Meldrum, scarcely two
miles from us, and consequently we must hold ourselves in constant
readiness to receive their attack.

"Well, the news that the enemy was so near us might not perhaps have
been particularly pleasing, had they not been more than balanced by the
conviction--far more precious than a large reinforcement, for in itself
it was a host--the king was recovering. Yes, scarcely as we dared hope,
much less believe it, the disease, which had fairly baffled all the
leech's art, which had hung over our idolized monarch so long, at length
showed symptoms of giving way, and there was as great rejoicing in the
camp as if neither danger nor misfortune could assail us more; a new
spirit sparkled in every eye, as if the awakening lustre in the Bruce's
glance, the still faint, yet thrilling accents of a voice we had feared
was hushed forever, had lighted on every heart, and kindled anew their
slumbering fire. One day, Lord Edward, the Earl of Lennox, and a gallant
party, were absent scouring the country about half a mile round our
entrenchments, and in consequence, one side of our square was more than
usually open, but we did not think it signified, for there wore no
tidings of the enemy; well, this day the king had called me to him, and
bade me relate the particulars of the retreat, which I was proud enough
to do, my masters, and which of you would not be, speaking as I did with
our gallant sovereign as friend with friend?"

"Aye, and does he not make us all feel this?" burst simultaneously from
many voices; "does he not speak, and treat us all as if we were his
friends, and not his subjects only? Thine was a proud task, good
Murdoch, but which of us has good King Robert not addressed with kindly
words and proffered hand?"

"Right! right!" joyously responded the old man; "still I say that hour
was one of the proudest in my life, and an eventful one too for Scotland
ere it closed. King Robert heard me with flashing eye and kindling
cheek, and his voice, as he burst forth in high praise and love for his
daring brother, sounded almost as strong and thrilling as was its wont
in health; just then a struggle was heard without the tent, a scuffle,
as of a skirmish, confused voices, clashing of weapons, and war-cries.
Up started the king, with eagle glance and eager tone. 'My arms,' he
cried, 'bring me my arms! Ha hear ye that?' and sure enough, 'St. David
for De Brechin, and down with the Bruce!' resounded so close, that it
seemed as if but the curtain separated the traitor from his kinsman and
his king. Never saw I the Bruce so fearfully aroused, the rage of the
lion was upon him. 'Hear ye that?' he repeated, as, despite my
remonstrances, and these of the officers who rushed into the tent, he
sprang from the couch, and, with the rapidity of light, assumed his
long-neglected armor. 'The traitorous villain! would he beard me to my
teeth? By the heaven above us, he shall rue this insolence! Bring me my
charger. Beaten off, say ye? I doubt it not, my gallant friends; but it
is now the Bruce's turn, his kindred traitors are not far off, and we
would try their mettle now. Nay, restrain me not, these folk will work a
cure for me--there, I am a man again!' and as he stood upright, sheathed
in his glittering mail, his drawn sword in his gauntleted hand, a wild
shout of irrepressible joy burst from us all, and, caught up by the
soldiers without the tent, echoed and re-echoed through the camp. The
sudden appearance of the Bruce's charger, caparisoned for battle,
standing before his master's tent, the drums rolling for the muster, the
lightning speed with which Sir Edward Bruce, Lennox, and Hay, after
dispersing De Brechin's troop, as dust on the plain, galloped to the
royal pavilion, themselves equally at a loss to understand the bustle
there, all prepared the men-at-arms for what was to come. Eagerly did
the gallant knights remonstrate with their sovereign, conjure him to
follow the battle in his litter, rather than attempt to mount his
charger; they besought him to think what his life, his safety was to
them, and not so rashly risk it. Lord Edward did entreat him to reserve
his strength till there was more need; the field was then clear, the
foes had not appeared; but all in vain their eloquence, the king
combated it all. 'We will go seek them, brother,' cheerily answered the
king; 'we will go tell them insult to the Bruce passes not unanswered.
On, on, gallant knights, our men wax impatient.' Hastening from the
tent, he stood one moment in the sight of all his men: removing his
helmet, he smiled a gladsome greeting. Oh, what a shout rung forth from
those iron ranks! There was that noble face, pale, attenuated indeed,
but beaming on them in all its wonted animation, confidence, and love;
there was that majestic form towering again in its princely dignity,
seeming the nobler from being so long unseen. Again and again that shout
arose, till the wild birds rose screaming over our heads, in untuned,
yet exciting chorus. Nor did the fact that the king, strengthened as he
was by his own glorious soul, had in reality not bodily force enough to
mount his horse without support, take from the enthusiasm of his men,
nay, it was heightened and excited to the wildest pitch. 'For Scotland
and freedom!' shouted the king, as for one moment he rose in his
stirrups and waved his bright blade above his head. 'For Bruce and
Scotland!' swelled the answering shout. We formed, we gathered in
compact array around our leaders, loudly clashed our swords against our
shields; we marched a brief while slowly and majestically along the
plain; we neared the foe, who, with its multitude in terrible array,
awaited our coming; we saw, we hurled defiance in a shout which rent the
very air. Quicker and yet quicker we advanced; on, on--we scoured the
dusty plain, we pressed, we flew, we rushed upon the foe; the Bruce was
at our head, and with him victory. We burst through their ranks; we
compelled them, at the sword's point, to turn and fight even to the
death; we followed them foot to foot, and hand to hand, disputing every
inch of ground; they sought to retreat, to fly--but no! Five miles of
Scottish ground, five good broad miles, was that battle-field; the enemy
lay dead in heaps upon the field, the remainder fled."

"And the king!" exclaimed the knight of the mask, half springing up in
the excitement the old man's tale had aroused. "How bore he this day's
wondrous deed--was not his strength exhausted anew?"

"Aye, what of the king?" repeated many of the soldiers, who had held
their very breath while the veteran spoke, and clenched their swords, as
if they were joining in the strife he so energetically described.

"The king, my masters," replied Murdoch, "why, if it could be, he looked
yet more the mighty warrior at the close than at the commencement of the
work. We had seen him the first in the charge, in the pursuit; we had
marked his white plume waving above all others, where the strife waxed
hottest; and when we gathered round him, when the fight was done, he
was seated on the ground in truth, and there was the dew of extreme
fatigue on his brow--he had flung aside his helmet--and his cheek was
hotly flushed, and his voice, as he thanked us for our gallant conduct,
and bade us return thanks to heaven for this great victory, was somewhat
quivering; but for all that, my masters, he looked still the warrior and
the king, and his voice grew firmer and louder as he bade us have no
fears for him. He dismissed us with our hearts as full of joy and love
for him as of triumph on our humbled foes."

"No doubt," responded many voices; "but Buchan, Mowbray, De
Brechin--what came of them--were they left on the field?"

"They fled, loving their lives better than their honor; they fled, like
cowards as they were. The two first slackened not their speed till they
stood on English ground. De Brechin, ye know, held out Angus as long as
he could, and was finally made captive."

"Aye, and treated with far greater lenity than the villain deserved. He
will never be a Randolph."

"A Randolph! Not a footboy in Randolph's train but is more Randolph than
he. But thou sayest Buchan slackened not rein till he reached English
ground; he lingered long enough for yet blacker treachery, if rumor
speaks aright. Was it not said the king's life was attempted by his
orders, and by one of the Comyn's own followers?"

"Ha!" escaped Sir Amiot's lips. "Say they this?" but he evidently had
spoken involuntarily, for the momentary agitation which had accompanied
the words was instantly and forcibly suppressed.

"Aye, your worship, and it is true," replied the veteran "It was two
nights after the battle. All the camp was at rest; I was occupied as
usual, by my honored watch in my sovereign's tent. The king was sleeping
soundly, and a strange drowsiness appeared creeping over me too,
confusing all my thoughts. At first I imagined the wind was agitating a
certain corner of the tent, and my eyes, half asleep and half wakeful,
became fascinated upon it; presently, what seemed a bale of carpets,
only doubled up in an extraordinary small space, appeared within the
drapery. It moved; my senses were instantly aroused. Slowly and
cautiously the bale grew taller, then the unfolding carpet fell, and a
short, well-knit, muscular form appeared. He was clothed in those
padded jerkins and hose, plaited with steel, which are usual to those of
his rank; the steel, however, this night was covered with thin, black
stuff, evidently to assist concealment. He looked cautiously around him.
I had creeped noiselessly, and on all fours, within the shadow of the
king's couch, where I could observe the villain's movements myself
unseen. I saw a gleam of triumph twinkle in his eye, so sure he seemed
of his intended victim. He advanced; his dagger flashed above the Bruce.
With one bound, one shout, I sprang on the murderous wretch, wrenched
the dagger from his grasp, and dashed him to the earth. He struggled,
but in vain; the king started from that deep slumber, one moment gazed
around him bewildered, the next was on his feet, and by my side. The
soldiers rushed into the tent, and confusion for the moment waxed loud
and warm; but the king quelled it with a word. The villain was raised,
pinioned, brought before the Bruce, who sternly demanded what was his
intent, and who was his employer. Awhile the miscreant paused, but then,
as if spell-bound by the flashing orb upon him, confessed the whole,
aye, and more; that his master, the Earl of Buchan, had sworn a deep and
deadly oath to relax not in his hot pursuit till the life-blood of the
Bruce had avenged the death of the Red Comyn, and that, though he had
escaped now, he must fall at length, for the whole race of Comyn had
joined hands upon their chieftain's oath. The brow of the king grew
dark, terrible wrath beamed from his eyes, and it seemed for the moment
as if he would deliver up the murderous villain into the hands that
yearned to tear him piecemeal. There was a struggle, brief yet terrible,
then he spoke, and calmly, yet with a bitter stinging scorn.

"'And this is Buchan's oath,' he said. 'Ha! doth he not bravely, my
friends, to fly the battle-field, to shun us there, that hireling hands
may do a deed he dares not? For this poor fool, what shall we do with
him?'

"'Death, death--torture and death! what else befits the sacrilegious
traitor?' burst from many voices, pressing forward to seize and bear him
from the tent; but the king signed them to forbear, and oh, what a smile
took the place of his previous scorn!

"'And I say neither torture nor death, my friends,' he tried. 'What, are
we sunk so low, as to revenge this insult on a mere tool, the
instrument of a villainous master? No, no! let him go free, and tell his
lord how little the Bruce heeds him; that guarded as he is by a free
people's love, were the race of Comyn as powerful and numerous as
England's self, their oath would avail them nothing. Let the poor fool
go free!'

"A deep wild murmur ran through the now crowded tent, and so mingled
were the tones of applause and execration, we knew not which the most
prevailed.

"'And shall there be no vengeance for this dastard deed?' at length the
deep, full voice of Lord Edward Bruce arose, distinct above the rest.
'Shall the Bruce sit tamely down to await the working of the villain
oath, and bid its tools go free, filling the whole land with
well-trained murderers? Shall Buchan pass scathless, to weave yet
darker, more atrocious schemes?'

"'Brother, no,' frankly rejoined the king. 'We will make free to go and
visit our friends in Buchan, and there, an thou wilt, thou shalt pay
them in coin for their kindly intents and deeds towards us; but for this
poor fool, again I say, let him go free. Misery and death, God wot, we
are compelled to for our country's sake, let us spare where but our own
person is endangered.'

"And they let him free, my masters, unwise as it seemed to us; none
could gainsay our sovereign's words. Sullen to the last, the only
symptom of gratitude he vouchsafed was to mutter forth, in, answer to
the Bruce's warning words to hie him to his comrades in Buchan, and bid
them, an they feared fire and devastation, to fly without delay, 'Aye,
only thus mayest thou hope to exterminate the traitors; pity none, spare
none. The whole district of Buchan is peopled by the Comyn, bound by
this oath of blood,' and thus he departed."

"And spoke he truth?" demanded Sir Amiot, hoarsely, and with an
agitation that, had others more suspicious been with him, must have been
remarked, although forcibly and painfully suppressed; "spoke he truth?
Methought the district of Buchan had only within the last century
belonged to the Comyn, and that the descendants of the Countess
Margaret's vassals still kept apart, loving not the intermixture of
another clan. Said they not it was on this account the Countess of
Buchan had exercised such influence, and herself beaded a gallant troop
at the first rising of the Bruce? an the villain spoke truth, whence
came this change?"

"Why, for that matter, your worship, it is easy enough explained,"
answered Murdoch, "and, trust me, King Robert set inquiries enough
afloat ere he commenced his scheme of retaliation. Had there been one of
the Lady Isabella's own followers there, one who, in her name, claimed
his protection, he would have given it; not a hair of their heads would
have been injured; but there were none of these, your worship. The few
of the original clan which had not joined him were scattered all over
the country, mingling with other loyal clans; their own master had
hunted them away, when he came down to his own districts, just before
the capture of his wife and son. He filled the Tower of Buchan with his
own creatures, scattered the Comyns all over the land, with express
commands to attack, hunt, or resist all of the name of Bruce to the last
ebb of their existence. He left amongst them officers and knights as
traitorous, and spirits well-nigh as evil as his own, and they obeyed
him to the letter, for amongst the most inveterate, the most
treacherous, and most dishonorable persecutors of the Bruce stood first
and foremost the Comyns of Buchan. Ah! the land was changed from the
time when the noble countess held sway there, and so they felt to their
cost.

"It was a grand yet fearful sight, those low hanging woods and glens all
in one flame; the spring had been particularly dry and windy, and the
branches caught almost with a spark, and crackled and sparkled, and
blazed, and roared, till for miles round we could see and hear the work
of devastation. Aye, the coward earl little knew what was passing in his
territories, while he congratulated himself on his safe flight into
England. It was a just vengeance, a deserved though terrible
retaliation, and the king felt it as such, my masters. He had borne with
the villains as long as he could, and would have borne with them still,
had he not truly felt nothing would quench their enmity, and in
consequence secure Scotland's peace and safety, but their utter
extermination, and all the time he regretted it, I know, for there was a
terrible look of sternness and determination about him while the work
lasted; he never relaxed into a smile, he never uttered a jovial word,
and we followed him, our own wild spirits awed into unwonted silence.
There was not a vestige of natural or human life in the district--all
was one mass of black, discolored ashes, utter ruin and appalling
devastation. Not a tower of Buchan remains."

"All--sayest thou all?" said Sir Amiot, suddenly, yet slowly, and with
difficulty. "Left not the Bruce one to bear his standard, and thus mark
his power?"

"Has not your worship remarked that such is never the Bruce's policy?
Three years ago, he had not force enough to fortify the castles he took
from the English, and leaving them standing did but offer safe harbors
for the foe, so it was ever his custom to dismantle, as utterly to
prevent their reestablishment; and if he did this with the castles of
his own friends, who all, as the Douglas saith, 'love better to hear the
lark sing than the mouse squeak,' it was not likely he would spare
Buchan's. But there was one castle, I remember, cost him a bitter
struggle to demolish. It was the central fortress of the district,
distinguished, I believe, by the name of 'the Tower of Buchan,' and had
been the residence of that right noble lady, the Countess Isabella and
her children. Nay, from what I overheard his grace say to Lord Edward,
it had formerly given him shelter and right noble hospitality, and a
dearer, more precious remembrance still to his noble heart--it had been
for many months the happy home of his brother, Sir Nigel, and we know
what magic power all associated with _him_ has upon the king; and had it
not been for the expostulations of Lord Edward, his rough yet earnest
entreaty, methinks that fortress had been standing yet. That sternness,
terrible to behold, for it ever tells of some mighty inward passions
conquered, again gathered on our sovereign's brow, but he turned his
charger's head, and left to Lord Edward the destruction of the fortress,
and he made quick work of it; you will scarce find two stones together
of its walls."

"He counselled right," echoed many voices, the eagerness with which they
had listened, and now spoke, effectually turning their attention from
their mysterious leader, who at old Murdoch's last words had with
difficulty prevented the utterance of a deep groan, and then, as if
startled at his own emotion, sprung up from his reclining posture, and
joined his voice to those of his men. "He counselled, and did rightly,"
they repeated; "it would have been an ill deed to spare a traitor's den
for such softening thoughts. Could we but free the Countess Isabella,
she would not want a home in Buchan--nay, the further from her cruel
husband's territories the better and for her children--the one, poor
innocent, is cared for, and the other--"

"Aye, my masters, and trust me, that other was in our sovereign's heart
as forcibly as the memories he spoke. That which we know now concerning
him was then undreamed of; it was only faintly rumored that Lord Douglas
had been deceived, and Alan of Buchan had not fallen by a father's hand,
or at least by his orders; that he was in life, in close confinement; my
old ears did catch something of this import from the king, as he spoke
with his brother."

"What import?" asked Sir Amiot, hoarsely.

"Only, your worship, that, for the sake of the young heir of Buchan, he
wished that such total devastation could have been spared; if he were
really in life, as rumor said, it was hard to act as if he were
forgotten by his friends."

"And what was Sir Edward's reply?"

"First, that he doubted the rumor altogether; secondly, that if he did
return to the king, his loss might be more than made up; and thirdly,
that it was more than probable that, young as he was, if he really did
live, the arts of his father would prevail, and he would purchase his
freedom by homage and fidelity to England."

"Ha! said he so--and the king?"

"Did not then think with him, nay, declared he would stake his right
hand that the boy, young as he was, had too much of his mother's noble
spirit for such a deed. It was well the stake was not accepted, for, by
St. Andrew, as the tale now goes, King Robert would have lost."

"As the tale now goes, thou unbelieving skeptic," replied one of his
comrades, laughing; "has not the gallant been seen, recognized--is he
not known as one of King Edward's minions, and lords it bravely? But
hark! there are chargers pricking over the plain. Hurrah! Sir Edward and
Lord James," and on came a large body of troopers and infantry even as
he spoke.

Up started Sir Amiot's men in eager readiness to greet and join; their
armor and weapons they had laid aside were resumed, and ere their
comrades reached them all were in readiness. Sir Amiot, attended by his
esquires and a page, galloped forward, and the two knights, perceiving
his advance, spurred on before their men, and hasty and cordial
greetings were exchanged. We should perhaps note that Sir Amiot's manner
slightly differed in his salutation of the two knights. To Lord Edward
Bruce he was eager, frank, cordial, as that knight himself; to the
other, whom one glance proclaimed as the renowned James Lord Douglas,
there was an appearance of pride or reserve, and it seemed an effort to
speak with him at all. Douglas perhaps did not perceive this, or was
accustomed to it, for it seemed to affect him little; and Lord Edward's
bluff address prevented all manifestation of difference between his
colleagues, even if there existed any.

"Ready to mount and ride; why that's well," he cried. "We are beyond our
time, but it is little reck, we need but spur the faster, which our men
seem all inclined to do. What news? why, none since we parted, save that
his grace has resolved on the siege of Perth without further delay."

"Nay, but that is news, so please you," replied Sir Amiot. "When I
parted from his grace, there was no talk of it."

"There was talk of it, but no certainty; for our royal brother kept his
own counsel, and spoke not of this much-desired event till his way lay
clear before him. There have been some turbulent spirits in the
camp--your humble servant, this black lord, and Randolph amongst
them--who in truth conspired to let his grace know no peace by night or
day till this object was attained; but our prudent monarch gave us
little heed till his wiser brain arranged the matters we but burned to
execute."

"And what, think you, fixed this resolve?"

"Simply that for a time we are clear of English thieves and Norman
rogues, and can march northward, and sit down before Perth without fear
of being called southward again. Edward will have enow on his hands to
keep his own frontiers from invasion; 'twill be some time ere he see the
extent of our vengeance, and meanwhile our drift is gained."

"Aye, it were a sin and crying shame to let Perth remain longer in
English hands," rejoined Douglas; "strongly garrisoned it may be; but
what matter?"

"What matter! why, 'tis great matter," replied Sir Edward, joyously.
"What glory were it to sit down before a place and take it at first
charge? No, give me good fighting, tough assault, and brave defence.
Think you I would have so urged the king, did I not scent a glorious
struggle before the walls? Strongly garrisoned! I would not give one
link of this gold chain for it, were it not. But a truce to this idle
parley; we must make some miles ere nightfall. Sir Knight of the Branch,
do your men need further rest? if not, give the word, and let them fall
in with their comrades, and on."

"Whither?" demanded Sir Amiot, as he gave the required orders. "Where
meet we the king?"

"In the Glen of Auchterader, south of the Erne. Lady Campbell and
Isoline await us there, with the troops left as their guard at
Dumbarton. So you perceive our friend Lord Douglas here hath double
cause to use the spur; times like these afford little leisure for
wooing, and such love-stricken gallants as himself must e'en make the
most of them."

"And trust me for doing so," laughingly rejoined Douglas. "Scoff' at me
as you will, Edward, your time will come."

"Not it," answered the warrior; "glory is my mistress. I love better to
clasp my true steel than the softest and fairest hand in Christendom; to
caress my noble steed and twine my hand thus in his flowing mane, and
feel that he bears me gallantly and proudly wherever my spirit lists,
than to press sweet kisses on a rosy lip, imprisoned by a woman's
smile."

"Nay, shame on thee!" replied Douglas, still jestingly. "Thou a true
knight, and speak thus; were there not other work to do, I would e'en
run a tilt with thee, to compel thee to forswear thy foul treason
against the fair."

"Better spend thy leisure in wooing Isoline; trust me, she will not be
won ere wooed. How now, Sir Knight of the Branch, has the fiend
melancholy taken possession of thee again? give her a thrust with thy
lance, good friend, and unseat her. Come, soul of fire as thou art in
battle, why dost thou mope in ashes in peace? Thou speakest neither for
nor against these matters of love; wilt woo or scorn the little god?"

"Perchance both, perchance neither," replied the knight, and his voice
sounded sadly, though he evidently sought to speak in jest. He had
fallen back from the side of Douglas during the previous conversation,
but the flashing eye denoted that it had passed not unremarked. He now
rode up to the side of Lord Edward, keeping a good spear's length from
Lord James, and their converse turning on martial subjects, became more
general. Their march being performed without any incident of note, we
will, instead of following them, take a brief retrospective glance on
those historical events which had so completely and gloriously turned
the fate of Scotland and her patriots, in those five years which the
thread of our narrative compels us to leave a blank.


END OF VOL. I.


       *       *       *       *       *




GRACE AGUILAR'S WORKS.


HOME INFLUENCE.
MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE.
VALE OF CEDARS.
WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP.
DAYS OF BRUCE.
WOMEN OF ISRAEL.
HOME SCENES AND HEART STUDIES.

_1 vol., 12mo, Illustrated, price $1, with a Memoir of the Author,_

HOME INFLUENCE,

A TALE FOR MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS.

By GRACE AGUILAR.

"Grace Aguilar wrote and spoke as one inspired; she condensed and
spiritualized, and all her thoughts and feelings were steeped in the
essence of celestial love and truth. To those who really knew Grace
Aguilar, all eulogium falls short of her deserts, and she has left a
blank in her particular walk of literature, which we never expect to see
filled up."--_Pilgrimages to English Shrines, by Mrs. Hall._

"A clever and interesting tale, corresponding well to its name,
illustrating the silent, constant influence of a wise and affectionate
parent over characters the most diverse."--_Christian Lady's Magazine._

"This interesting volume unquestionably contains many valuable hints on
domestic education, much powerful writing, and a _moral_ of vast
importance."--_Englishwoman's Magazine._

"It is very pleasant, after reading a book, to speak of it in terms of
high commendation. The tale before us is an admirable one, and is
executed with taste and ability. The language is beautiful and
appropriate; the analysis of character is skilful and varied. The work
ought to be in the hands of all who are interested in the proper
training of the youthful mind."--_Palladium._

"In reviewing this work, we hardly know what words in the English
language are strong enough to express the admiration we have felt in its
perusal."--_Bucks Chronicle._

"The object and end of the writings of Grace Aguilar were to improve the
heart, and to lead her readers to the consideration of higher motives
and objects than this world can ever afford."--_Bell's Weekly
Messenger._

"'Home Influence' will not be forgotten by any who have perused
it."--_Critic._

"A well-known and valuable tale."--_Gentleman's Magazine._

"A work which, possesses an extraordinary amount of influence to elevate
the mind and educate the heart, by showing that rectitude and virtue
conduce no less to material prosperity, and worldly comfort and
happiness, than to the satisfaction of the conscience, the approval of
the good, and the hope and certainty of bliss hereafter."--_Herts County
Press._


       *       *       *       *       *


THE SEQUEL TO HOME INFLUENCE.


THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE.

A SEQUEL TO

_"Home Influence, a Tale for Mothers and Daughters."_

By GRACE AGUILAR.

1 VOL., 12MO. CLOTH. $1. WITH ILLUSTRATIONS.


"Grace Aguilar belonged to the school of which Maria Edgeworth was the
foundress. The design of the book is carried out forcibly and
constantly, 'The Home Influence' exercised in earlier years being shown
in its active germination."--_Atlas._

"The writings of Grace Aguilar have a charm inseparable from productions
in which feeling is combined with intellect; they go directly to the
heart. 'Home Influence,' the deservedly popular story to which this is a
sequel, admirably teaches the lesson implied in its name. In the present
tale we have the same freshness, earnestness, and zeal--the same spirit
of devotion, and love of virtue--the same enthusiasm and sincere
religion which characterized that earlier work. We behold the mother now
blessed in the love of good and affectionate offspring, who, parents
themselves, are, after her example, training _their_ children in the way
of rectitude and piety."--_Morning Chronicle._

"This beautiful story was completed when the authoress was little above
the age of nineteen, yet it has the sober sense of middle age. There is
no age nor sex that will not profit by its perusal, and it will afford
as much pleasure as profit to the reader."--_Critic._

"The same kindly spirit, the same warm charity and fervor of devotion
which breathes in every line of that admirable book, 'Home Influence,'
will be found adorning and inspiring 'The Mother's Recompense.'"--_Morning
Advertiser._

"The good which, she (Grace Aguilar) has effected is acknowledged on all
hands, and it cannot be doubted but that the appearance of this volume
will increase the usefulness of one who may yet be said to be still
speaking to the heart and to the affections of human nature."--_Bell's
Messenger._

"It will be found an interesting supplement, not only to the book to
which it specially relates, but to all the writer's other
works."--_Gentleman's Magazine._

"'The Mother's Recompense' forms a fitting close to its predecessor,
'Home Influence.' The results of maternal care are fully developed, its
rich rewards are set forth, and its lesson and its moral are powerfully
enforced."--_Morning Post._

"We heartily commend this volume; a better or more useful present to a
youthful friend or a young wife could not well be selected."--_Herts
County Press._

"We look upon 'The Days of Bruce' as an elegantly-written and
interesting romance, and place it by the side of Miss Porter's 'Scottish
Chiefs.'"--_Gentleman's Magazine._

"A very pleasing and successful attempt to combine ideal delineation of
character with the records of history. Very beautiful and very true are
the portraits of the female mind and heart which Grace Aguilar knew how
to draw. This is the chief charm of all her writings, and in 'The Days
of Bruce' the reader will have the pleasure of viewing this skillful
portraiture in the characters of Isoline and Agnes, and Isabella of
Buchan."--_Literary Gazette._

"What a fertile mind was that of Grace Aguilar! What an early
development of reflection, of feeling, of taste, of power of invention,
or true and earnest eloquence! 'The Days of Bruce' is a composition of
her early youth, but full of beauty. Grace Aguilar knew the female heart
better than any writer of our day, and in every fiction from her pen we
trace the same masterly analysis and development of the motives and
feelings of woman's nature. 'The Days of Bruce' possesses also the
attractions of an extremely interesting story, that absorbs the
attention, and never suffers it to flag till the last page is closed,
and then the reader will lay down the volume with regret."--_Critic._


       *       *       *       *       *


HOME SCENES AND HEART STUDIES,

By GRACE AGUILAR.

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS.

One volume, 12mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

The Perez Family. The Stone-Cutter's Boy of Possagno. Amete and
Yafeh. The Fugitive. The Edict; A Tale of 1492. The Escape; A Tale of
1755. Red Rose Villa. Gonzalvo's Daughter. The Authoress.

Helon.
Lucy.
The Spirit's Entreaty.
Idalie.
Lady Gresham's Fete.
The Group of Sculpture.
The Spirit of Night.
Recollections of a Rambler.
Cast thy Bread upon the Waters.
The Triumph of Love.


       *       *       *       *       *


THE WOMEN OF ISRAEL;

Or, Characters and Sketches from the Holy Scriptures, illustrative
of the past History, present Duties, and future Destiny of Hebrew
Females, as based on the Word of God.

By GRACE AGUILAR.

Two volumes, 12mo. Price $2.00.


PRINCIPAL CONTENTS.

FIRST PERIOD--WIVES OF THE PATRIARCHS.
Eve.--Sarah.--Rebekah.--Leah and Rachel.

SECOND PERIOD--THE EXODUS AND THE LAW.
Egyptian Captivity, and Jochebed.--The Exodus--Mothers of Israel.--Laws
for Wives in Israel.--Laws for Widows and Daughters In
Israel.--Maid-servants in Israel, and other Laws.

THIRD PERIOD--BETWEEN THIS DELIVERY OF THE LAW AND THE MONARCHY.
Miriam.--Tabernacle Workers--Caleb's Daughter.--Deborah.--Wife of
Manoah.--Naomi.--Hannah.

FOURTH PERIOD--THE MONARCHY.
Michal.--Abigail.--Wise Women of Tekoah.--Woman of
Abel.--Rispah.--Prophet's Widow.--The Shunamite.--Little Israelitish
Maid.--Huldah.

FIFTH PERIOD--BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY.
The Captivity.--Review of Book of Ezra.--Suggestions as to the identity
of the Ahasuerus of Scripture.--Esther.--Review of Events narrated in Ezra
and Nehemiah.

SIXTH PERIOD--CONTINUANCE OF THE SECOND TEMPLE.
Review of Jewish History, from the Return from Babylon to the Appeal of
Hycanus and Aristobulus to Pompey.--Jewish History from the Appeal to
Pompey to the Death of Herod.--Jewish History from the Death of Herod to
the War.--The Martyr Mother.--Alexandra.--Mariamne.--Salome.--Helena.
--Berenice.


SEVENTH PERIOD--WOMEN OF ISRAEL IN THE PRESENT AS INFLUENCED BY THE PAST.
The War and Dispersion.--Thoughts on the Talmud.--Talmudic Ordinances
and Tales.--Effects of Dispersion and Persecution.--General Remarks.


"A work that is sufficient of itself to create and crown a
reputation."--_Pilgrimages to English Shrines, by Mrs. S. C. Hall._


       *       *       *       *       *


WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP.

A STORY OF DOMESTIC LIFE.

By GRACE AGUILAR.

_With Illustrations. One volume, 12mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00._

  "To show us how divine a thing
   A woman may be made."--Wordsworth.

"This story illustrates, with feeling and power, that beneficial
influence which women exercise, in their own quiet way, over characters
and events in our every-day life."--_Britannia._

"The book is one of more than ordinary interest in various ways, and
presents an admirable conception of the depths and sincerity of female
friendship, as exhibited in England by English women."--_Weekly
Chronicle._

"We began to read the volume late in the evening; and, although it
consists of about 400 pages, our eyes could not close in sleep until we
had read the whole. This excellent book should find a place on every
drawing-room table--nay, in every library in the kingdom."--_Bucks
Chronicle._

"We congratulate Miss Aguilar on the spirit, motive, and composition of
this story. Her aims are eminently moral, and her cause comes
recommended by the most beautiful associations. These, connected with
the skill here evinced in their development, insure the success of her
labors."--_Illustrated News._

"As a writer of remarkable grace and delicacy, she devoted herself to
the inculcation of the virtues, more especially those which are the
peculiar charm of women."--_Critic._

"It is a book for all classes of readers; and we have no hesitation in
saying, that it only requires to be generally known to become
exceedingly popular. In our estimation it has far more attractions
than Miss Burney's celebrated, but overestimated, novel of
'Cecilia.'"--_Herts County Press._

"This very interesting and agreeable tale has remained longer without
notice on our part than we could have desired; but we would now endeavor
to make amends for the delay, by assuring our readers that it is a most
ably-written publication, full of the nicest points of information and
utility that could have been by any possibility constructed; and, as a
proof of its value, it may suffice to say, that it has been taken from
our table again and again by several individuals, from the
recommendation of those who had already perused it, and be prevented our
giving an earlier attention to its manifold claims for the favorable
criticism. It is peculiarly adapted for the young, and wherever it goes
will be received with gratification, and command very extensive
approbation."--_Bell's Weekly Messenger._

"This is a handsome volume: just such a book as we would expect to find
among the volumes composing a lady's library. Its interior corresponds
with its exterior; it is a most fascinating tale, full of noble and just
sentiments."--_Palladium._


       *       *       *       *       *


THE VALE OF CEDARS

or,

THE MARTYR.

A STORY OF SPAIN IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.

By GRACE AGUILAR.

_With Illustrations. 1 vol., 12mo. Cloth, $1.00._

"The authoress of this most fascinating volume has selected for her field
one of the most remarkable eras in modern history--the reigns of Ferdinand
and Isabella. The tale turns on the extraordinary extent to which concealed
Judaism had gained footing at that period in Spain. It is marked by much
power of description, and by a woman's delicacy of touch, and it will add
to its writer's well-earned reputation."--_Eclectic Review._

"The scene of this interesting tale is laid during the reign of
Ferdinand and Isabella. The Vale of Cedars is the retreat of a Jewish
family, compelled by persecution to perform their religions rites with
the utmost secrecy. On the singular position of this fated race in the
most Catholic land of Europe, the interest of the tale mainly
depends; whilst a few glimpses of the horrors of the terrible
Inquisition are afforded the reader, and heighten the interest
of the narrative."--_Sharpe's Magazine._

"Any thing which proceeds from the pen of the authoress of this volume
is sure to command attention and appreciation. There is so much of
delicacy and refinement about her style, and each a faithful delineation
of nature in all she attempts, that she has taken her place amongst the
highest class of modern writers of fiction. We consider this to be one
of Miss Aguilar's best efforts."--_Bell's Weekly Messenger._

"We heartily commend the work to our readers as one exhibiting, not
merely talent, but genius, and a degree of earnestness, fidelity to
Nature, and artistic grace, rarely found."--_Herts County Press._

"The 'Vale of Cedars' is indeed one of the most touching and interesting
stories that have ever issued from the press. There is a life-like
reality about it which is not often observed in works of this nature;
while we read it we felt as if we were witnesses of the various scenes
it depicts."--_Bucks Chronicle._

"It is a tale of deep and pure devotion, very touchingly
narrated."--_Atlas._

"The authoress has already received our commendation; her present work
is calculated to sustain, her reputation."--_Illustrated News._

"It is indeed a historical romance of a high class. Seeing how steady
and yet rapid was her improvement--how rich the promise of her
genius--it is impossible to close this notice of her last and best work,
without lamenting that the authoress was so untimely snatched from a
world she appeared destined, as certainly she was singularly qualified,
to adorn and to improve."--_Critic._


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