"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.
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?
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.
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.
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."