"Merciful heaven! and Agnes, what did she?"
"I know not, for I dared not, absolutely dared not look upon her face. Her husband's self-control saved her, for he stood and answered as calmly and collectedly as if indeed she were in the safety he declared; her father brushed by, nay, well-nigh stumbled over her, as he furiously quitted the dungeon, glared full at her, but knew her not. But I dared not again bring her here, it was in too close vicinity with the king and her cruel father, for her present state of mind must have betrayed every disguise."
"And thinkest thou he could have the heart to injure her, separated as she is by death from the husband of her love?"
"Aye, persecute her as he hath his wife and son. Joan, I would rather lose my own right hand than that unhappy girl should fall into her father's power. Confinement, indeed, though it would add but little real misery to her present lot, yet I feel that with her present wild yearnings to rejoin the Bruce, to fulfil to the very utmost her husband's will, it would increase tenfold the darkness round her; the very dread of her father would unhinge the last remaining link of intellect."
Joan shuddered. "God in mercy forefend such ill!" she said, fervently; "I would I could have seen her once again, for she has strangely twined herself about my heart; but thou hast judged wisely, my Gilbert, her safety is too precious to be thus idly risked; and this old man, canst thou so trust him—will he guide her tenderly and well?"
"Aye, I would stake my life upon his truth; he is the seer and minstrel of the house of Bruce, and that would be all-sufficient to guarantee his unwavering fidelity and skill. He has wandered on foot from Scotland, to look on his beloved master once again; to watch over, as a guardian spirit, the fate of that master's devoted wife, and he will do this, I doubt not, and discover Carrick's place of retreat, were it at the utmost boundaries of the earth. I only dread pursuit."
"Pursuit! and by whom?"
"By her father. Men said he was close beside me during that horrible hour, though I saw him not; if he observed her, traced to her lips that maddening shriek, it would excite his curiosity quite sufficiently for him to trace my steps, and discovery were then inevitable."
"But did he do this—hast seen him since?"
"No, he has avoided me; but still, for her sake, I fear him. I know not how or when, but there are boding whispers within me that all will not be well. Now I would have news from thee. Is Hereford released?"
"Yes; coupled with the condition that he enters not my father's presence until Easter. He is deeply and justly hurt; but more grieved at the change in his sovereign than angered at the treatment of himself."
"No marvel; for if ever there were a perfect son of chivalry, one most feelingly alive to its smallest point of honor, it is Humphrey Bohun."
So spoke Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, unconscious that he himself had equal right to a character so exalted; that both Scottish and English historians would emulate each other in handing his name down to posterity, surrounded by that lucid halo of real worth, on which the eye turns again and again to rest for relief from the darker minds and ruder hearts which formed the multitude of the age in which he lived. The duties of friendship were performed in his preservation of the person, and constant and bold defence of the character of the Bruce; the duties of a subject, in dying on the battle-field in service for his king.
The boding prognostics of the Earl of Gloucester were verified ere that day closed. While still in earnest converse with his countess, a messenger came from the king, demanding their instant presence in his closet. The summons was so unusual, that in itself it was alarming, nor did the sight of the Earl of Buchan in close conference with the monarch decrease their fears. As soon as a cessation of his pains permitted the exertion, Buchan had been sent for by the king; the issue of his inquiries after his daughter demanded, and all narrated; his interview with Sir Nigel dwelt upon with all the rancor of hate. Edward had listened without making any observation; a twinkle of his still bright eye, an expression about the lips alone betraying that he not only heard but was forming his own conclusions from the tale.
"And you have no clue, no thought of her retreat?" he asked, at length, abruptly, when the earl ceased.
"Not the very faintest, your grace. Had not that interfering Gloucester come between me and my foe, I had forced it from him at the sharp sword's point."
"Gloucester—humph!" muttered the king. "Yet an so bloody was thy purpose, my good lord, his interference did thee no ill. How was the earl accompanied—was he alone?"
"If I remember rightly, alone, your grace. No, by my faith, there was a page with him!"
"A page—ha! and what manner of man was he?"
"Man! your highness, say rather a puny stripling, with far more of the woman about him than the man."
"Ha!" again uttered the king; "looked he so weakly—did thy fury permit such keen remark?"
"Not at that time, your highness; but he was, with Gloucester, compelled to witness the execution of this black traitor, and he looked white, statue-like, and uttered a shriek, forsooth, likely to scare back the villain's soul even as it took flight. Gloucester cared for the dainty brat, as if he had been a son of your highness, not a page in his household, for he lifted him up in his arms, and bore him out of the crowd."
"Humph!" said Edward again, in a tone likely to have excited curiosity in any mind less obtuse on such matters than that of the Scottish earl. "And thou sayest," he added, after some few minutes pause, "this daring traitor, so lately a man, would tell thee no more than that thy daughter was his wife, and in safety—out of thy reach?"
Buchan answered in the affirmative.
"And thou hast not the most distant idea where he hath concealed her?"
"None, your highness."
"Then I will tell thee, sir earl; and if thou dost not feel inclined to dash out thine own brains with vexation at letting thy prey so slip out of thy grasp, thou art not the man I took thee for," and Edward fixed his eyes on his startled companion with a glance at once keen and malicious.
"The white and statue-looking page, with more of woman about him than the man, was the wife of this rank villain, Sir Nigel Bruce, and thy daughter, my Lord of Buchan. The Earl of Gloucester may, perchance, tell thee more."
The earl started from his seat with an oath, which the presence of majesty itself could not restrain. The dulness of his brain was dissolved as by a flash of lightning; the ghastly appearance, the maddening shriek, the death-like faint, all of which he had witnessed in Gloucester's supposed page, nay, the very disturbed and anxious look of the earl himself, gave truth and life to Edward's words, and he struck his clenched fist against his brow, and strode up and down the royal closet, in a condition as frantically disturbed as the monarch could possibly have desired; and then, hastily and almost incoherently, besought the king's aid in sifting the matter to the very bottom, and obtaining repossession of his daughter, entreating leave of absence to seek out Gloucester and tax him with the fact.
Edward, whose fury against the house of Bruce—whether man, woman, or child, noble or serf, belonging to them—had been somewhat soothed by the ignominious execution of Nigel, had felt almost as much amused as angered at the earl's tale, and enjoyed the idea of a man, whom in his inmost heart he most thoroughly despised, having been so completely outwitted, and for the time so foiled. The feud between the Comyn and the Bruce was nothing to him, except where it forwarded his own interests. He had incited Buchan to inquire about his daughter, simply because the occupation would remove that earl out of his way for a short time, and perhaps, if the rumor of her engagement with one of the brothers of the Bruce were true, set another engine at work to discover the place of their concealment. The moment Buchan informed him it was to Nigel she had been engaged, with Nigel last seen, his acute penetration recalled the page who had accompanied the princess when she supplicated mercy, and had he heard no more, would have pointed there for the solution of the mystery. Incensed he was and deeply, at the fraud practised upon him at the Karl and Countess of Gloucester daring to harbor, nay, protect and conceal the wife of a traitor; but his anger was subdued in part by the belief that now it was almost impossible she could escape the wardance of her father, and his vengeance would be more than sufficient to satisfy him; nay, when he recalled the face and the voice, it was so like madness and death, and he was, moreover, so convinced that now her husband was dead she could do him no manner of harm, that he inwardly and almost unconsciously hoped she might eventually escape her father's power, although he composedly promised the earl to exercise his authority, and give him the royal warrant for the search and committal of her person wherever she might be. Anger, that Gloucester and his wife should so have dared his sovereign power, was now the prevailing feeling, and therefore was it he commanded their presence, determined to question them himself, rather than through the still enraged Buchan.
Calmly and collectedly the noble pair received alike the displeasure of their sovereign and the ill-concealed fury of Buchan. They neither denied the charge against them nor equivocated in their motives for their conduct; alarmed they were, indeed, for the unhappy Agnes; but as denial and concealment were now alike impossible, and could avail her nothing, they boldly, nay, proudly acknowledged that which they had done, and openly rejoiced it had been theirs to give one gleam of comfort to the dying Nigel, by extending protection to his wife.
"And are ye not traitors—bold, presuming traitors—deserving the chastisement of such, bearding me thus in my very palace?" wrathfully exclaimed Edward. "Know ye not both are liable to the charge of treason, aye, treason—and fear ye to brave us thus?"
"My liege, we are no traitors, amenable to no such charge," calmly answered Gloucester; "far, far more truly, faithfully, devotedly your grace's subjects than many of those who had shrunk from an act as this. That in so doing we were likely to incur your royal displeasure, we acknowledge with deep regret and sorrow, and I take it no shame thus on my knee to beseech your highness's indulgence for the fault; but if you deem it worthy of chastisement, we are ready to submit to it, denying, however, all graver charge, than that of failing in proper deference to your grace."
"All other charge! By St. Edward, is not that enough?" answered the king, but in a mollified tone. "And thou, minion, thou whom we deemed the very paragon of integrity and honor, hast thou aught to say? Did not thy lips frame falsehood, and thy bold looks confirm it?"
"My father, my noble father, pardon me that in this I erred," answered Joan, kneeling by his side, and, despite his efforts to prevent it, clasping his hand and covering it with kisses; "yet I spoke no falsehood, uttered naught which was not truth. She was ill and weakly; she was well-nigh maddened from scenes and sounds of blood. I had besought her not to attend me, but a wife's agony could not be restrained, and if we had refused her the protection she so wildly craved, had discovered her person to your highness, would it have availed thee aught? a being young, scarce past her childhood—miserable, maddened well-nigh to death, her life wrapt up in her husband's, which was forfeited to thee."
"The wife of a traitor, the offspring of a traitress, connected on every side with treason, and canst ask if her detention would have availed us aught? Joan, Joan, thy defence is but a weak one," answered the king, sternly, but he called her "Joan," and that simple word thrilled to her heart as the voice of former years, and her father felt a sudden gush of tears fall on the hand he had not withdrawn, and vainly he struggled against the softening feelings those tears had brought. It was strange that, angered as he really was, the better feelings of Edward should in such a moment have so completely gained the ascendency. Perhaps he was not proof against the contrast before him, presented in the persons of Buchan and Gloucester; the base villainy of the one, the exalted nobility of the other, alike shone forth the clearer from their unusually close contact. In general, Edward was wont to deem these softening emotions foolish weaknesses, which he would banish by shunning the society of all those who could call them forth. Their candid acknowledgment of having deserved his displeasure, and submission to his will, however, so soothed his self-love, his fondness for absolute power, that he permitted them to have vent with but little restraint. Agnes might have been the wife of a traitor, but he was out of Edward's way; the daughter of a traitress, but she was equally powerless; linked with treason, but too much crashed by her own misery to be sensible of aught else. Surely she was too insignificant for him to persevere in wrath, and alienate by unmerited severity yet more the hearts which at such moments he felt he valued, despite his every effort to the contrary.
So powerfully was he worked upon, that had it not been for the ill-restrained fury of Buchan, it was possible the subject would have been in the end peaceably dismissed; but on that earl's reminding him of his royal word, the king commanded Gloucester to deliver up his charge to her rightful guardian, and all the past should be forgiven. The earl quietly and respectfully replied he could not, for he knew not where she was. Wrath gathered on Edward's brow, and Buchan laid his hand on his sword; but neither the royal commands nor Buchan's muttered threats and oaths of vengeance could elicit from Gloucester more than that she had set off to return to Scotland with an aged man, not three hours after the execution had taken place. He had purposely avoided all inquiries as to their intended route, and therefore not any cross-questioning on the part of the king caused him to waver in the smallest point from his original tale, or afforded any evidence that he knew more than he said.
"Get thee to Sir Edward Cunningham, my Lord of Buchan, and bid him draw up a warrant for the detention and committal of these two persons wherever they may be," the king said, "and away with thee, and a trusty troop, with all speed to Berwick. Make inquiries of all who at that particular hour passed the gates, and be assured thou wilt find some clue. Take men enough to scour the country in all directions; provide them with an exact description of the prisoners they seek, and tarry not, and thou wilt yet gain thy prize; living or dead, we resign all our right over her person to thee, and give thee power, as her father, to do with her what may please thee best. Away with thee, my lord, and heaven speed thee!"
"My liege and father, oh, why hast thou done this?" exclaimed the princess, imploringly, as, with a low obeisance to the king and a gesture of triumph at the Earl of Gloucester, Buchan departed. "Hath she not borne misery enough!"
"Nay, we do but our duty to our subjects in aiding fathers to repress rebellious children," replied the king. "Of a truth, fair dame of Gloucester, thy principles of filial duty seem somewhat as loose and light as those which counselled abetting, protecting, and concealing the partner of a traitor. Wouldst have us refuse Buchan's most fatherly desire? Surely thou wouldst not part him from his child?"
"Forever and forever!" exclaimed the princess, fervently. "Great God in heaven, that such a being should call that monster father, and owe him the duty of a child! But, oh, thou dost but jest, my father; in mercy recall that warrant—expose her not to wretchedness as this!"
"Peace," replied the king, sternly. "As thou valuest thine own and thy husband's liberty and life, breathe not another syllable, speak not another word for her, or double misery shall be her portion. We have shown enough of mercy in demanding no further punishment for that which ye have done, than that for ten days ye remain prisoners in your own apartments. Answer not; we will have no more of this."
The Earl of Buchan, meanwhile, had made no delay in gaining the necessary aids to his plan. Ere two hours passed, he was on his road to Berwick, backed with a stout body of his own retainers, and bearing a commission to the Earl of Berwick to provide him with as many more as he desired. He went first to the hostelry near the outskirts of the town, where he remembered Gloucester had borne the supposed page. There he obtained much desirable information, an exact description of the dress, features, and appearance of both the page and his companion; of the former, indeed, he recollected all-sufficient, even had the description been less exact. The old minstrel had attracted the attention of many within the hostel, and consequently enabled Buchan to obtain information from various sources, all of which agreed so well that he felt sure of success.
Backed by the warrant of Edward, he went to the civil authorities of the town, obtained four or five technically drawn-up descriptions of the prisoners, and intrusted them to the different officers, who, with bands of fifty men, he commanded to search every nook and corner of the country round Berwick, in various directions. He himself discovering they had passed through the Scotch gate and appeared directing their course in a westerly direction, took with him one hundred men, and followed that track, buoyed up by the hope not only of gaining possession of his daughter, but perhaps of falling in with the retreat even of the detested Bruce, against whom he had solemnly recorded a vow never to let the sword rest in the scabbard till he had revenged the murder of his kinsman, the Red Comyn. Some words caught by a curious listener, passing between the page and minstrel, and eagerly reported to him, convinced him it was Robert Bruce they sought, and urged him to continue the search with threefold vigor.
Slowly and sadly meanwhile had the hours of their weary pilgrimage passed for the poor wanderers, and little did they imagine, as they threaded the most intricate paths of the borders of Scotland, that they were objects of persecution and pursuit. Though the bodily strength of Agnes had well-nigh waned, though the burning cheek and wandering, too brightly flashing eye denoted how fearfully did fever rage internally, she would not pause save when absolutely compelled. She could neither sleep nor eat: her only cry was, "To the king—bring me but to King Robert while I may yet speak!" her only consciousness, that she had a mission to perform, that she was intrusted with a message from the dead; all else was a void, dark, shapeless, in which thought framed no image; mind, not a wish. Insensibility it was not, alas! no, that void was woe, all woe, which folded up heart and brain as with a cloak of fire, scorching up thought, memory, hope—all that could recall the past, vivify the present, or vision forth the future. She breathed indeed and spoke, and clung to that aged man with all the clinging helplessness of her sex, but scarce could she be said to live; all that was real of life had twined round her husband's soul, and with it fled.
The old man felt not his advanced age, the consciousness of the many dangers hovering on their way; his whole thought was for her, to bring her to the soothing care and protection of the king, and then he cared not how soon his sand run out. When wandering in the districts of Annandale and Carrick, before he had arrived at Berwick, he had learned the secret but most important intelligence that King Robert had passed the winter off the coast of Ireland, and was supposed to be only waiting a favorable opportunity to return to Scotland, and once more upraise his standard. This news had been most religiously and strictly preserved a secret amid the few faithful adherents of the Bruce, who perhaps spoke yet more as they hoped than as a fact well founded.
For some days their way had been more fatiguing than dangerous, for though the country was overrun with English, a minstrel and a page were objects far too insignificant, in the present state of excitement, to meet with either detention or notice. Not a week had passed, however, before rumors of Buchan's parties reached the old man's ears, and filled him with anxiety and dread. The feverish restlessness of Agnes to advance yet quicker on their way, precluded all idea of halting, save in woods and caverns, till the danger had passed. Without informing her of all he had heard, and the danger he apprehended, he endeavored to avoid all towns and villages; but the heavy rains which had set in rendered their path through the country yet more precarious and uncertain, and often compelled him most unwillingly to seek other and better shelter. At Strathaven he became conscious that their dress and appearance were strictly scrutinized, and some remarks that he distinguished convinced him that Buchan had either passed through that town, or was lingering in its neighborhood still. Turning sick with apprehension, the old man hastily retraced his steps to the hostel, where he had left Agnes, and found her, for the first time since their departure, sunk into a kind of sleep or stupor from exhaustion, from which he could not bear to arouse her. Watching her for some little time in silence, his attention was attracted by whispering voices, only separated from him by a thin partition. They recounted and compared one by one the dress and peculiar characteristics of himself and his companion, seeming to compare it with a written list. Then followed an argument as to whether it would not be better to arrest their progress at once, or send on to the Earl of Buchan, who was at a castle only five miles distant. How it was determined Dermid knew not, for the voices faded in the distance; but he had heard enough, and it seemed indeed as if detention and restraint were at length at hand. What to do he knew not. Night had now some hours advanced, and to attempt leaving the hostel at such an unseasonable hour would be of itself sufficient to confirm suspicion. All seemed at rest within the establishment; there was no sound to announce that a messenger had been dispatched to the earl, and he determined to await as calmly as might be the dawn.
The first streak of light, however, was scarce visible in the east before, openly and loudly, so as to elude all appearance of flight, he declared his intention of pursuing his journey, as the weather had already detained them too long. He called on the hostess to receive her reckoning, commanded the mules to be saddled, all of which was done, to his surprise, without comment or question, and they departed unrestrained; the old man too much overjoyed at this unexpected escape to note that they were followed by two Englishmen, the one on horseback, the other on foot. Anxiety indeed had still possession of him, for he could not reconcile the words he had overheard with their quiet departure; but as the day passed, and they plunged thicker and thicker in the woods of Carrick, and there was no sign of pursuit, or even of a human form, he hailed with joy a solitary house, and believed the danger passed.
The inmates received them with the utmost hospitality; the order for their detention had evidently not reached them, and Dermid determined on waiting quietly there till the exhausted strength of his companion should be recruited, and permit them to proceed. An hour and more passed in cheerful converse with the aged couple who owned the house, and who, with the exception of one or two servants, were its sole inhabitants. The tales of the minstrel were called for and received with a glee which seemed to make all his listeners feel young again. Agnes alone sate apart; her delicate frame and evident exhaustion concealing deeper sufferings from her hosts, who vied with each other in seeking to alleviate her fatigue and give bodily comfort, if they could offer no other consolation. Leaning back in a large settle in the chimney corner, she had seemed unconscious of the cheerful sociability around her, when suddenly she arose, and advancing to Dermid, laid a trembling hand on his arm. He looked up surprised.
"Hist!" she murmured, throwing back the hair from her damp brow. "Hear ye no sound?"
All listened for a time in vain.
"Again," she said; "'tis nearer, more distinct. Who comes with a troop of soldiers here?"
It was indeed the heavy trampling of many horse, at first so distant as scarcely to be distinguished, save by ears anxious and startled as old Dermid's; but nearer and nearer they came, till even the inmates of the house all huddled, together in alarm. Agnes remained standing, her hand on Dermid's arm, her head thrown back, her features bearing an expression scarce to be defined. The horses' hoofs, mingled with the clang of armor, rung sharp and clear on the stones of the courtyard. They halted: the pommel of a sword was struck against the oaken door, and a night's lodging courteously demanded. The terror of the owners of the house subsided, for the voice they heard was Scotch.
The door was thrown open, the request granted, with the same hospitality as had been extended to the minstrel and the page. On the instant there was a confused sound of warriors dismounting, of horses eager for stabling and forage; and one tall and stately figure, clad from head to foot in mail, entered the house, and removing his helmet, addressed some words of courteous greeting and acknowledgment to its inmates. A loud exclamation burst from the minstrel's lips; but Agnes uttered no sound, she made one bound forward, and dropped senseless at the warrior's feet.
It was on a cool evening, near the end of September, 1311, that a troop, consisting of about thirty horse, and as many on foot, were leisurely traversing the mountain passes between the counties of Dumfries and Lanark. Their arms were well burnished; their buff coats and half-armor in good trim; their banner waved proudly from its staff, as bright and gay as if it had not even neared a scene of strife; and there was an air of hilarity and gallantry about them that argued well for success, if about to commence an expedition, or if returning, told with equal emphasis they had been successful. That the latter was the case was speedily evident, from the gay converse passing between them; their allusions to some late gallant achievement of their patriot sovereign; their joyous comparisons between good King Robert and his weak opponent, Edward II. of England, marvelling how so wavering and indolent a son could have sprung from so brave and determined a sire; for, Scotsmen as they were, they were now FREE, and could thus afford to allow the "hammer" of their country some knightly qualities, despite the stern and cruel tyranny which to them had ever marked his conduct. They spoke in laughing scorn of the second Edward's efforts to lay his father's yoke anew upon their necks; they said a just heaven had interfered and urged him to waste the decisive moment of action in indolence and folly, in the flatteries of his favorite, to the utter exclusion of those wiser lords, whose counsels, if followed on the instant, might have shaken even the wise and patriot Bruce. Yet they were so devoted to their sovereign, they idolized him alike as a warrior and a man too deeply, to allow that to the weak and vacillating conduct of Edward they owed the preservation of their country. It was easy to perceive by the springy step, the flashing eye, the ringing, tone with which that magic name, the Bruce, was spoken, how deeply it was written on the heart; the joy it was to recall his deeds, and feel it was through him that they were free! Their converse easily betrayed them to be one of those well-ordered though straggling parties into which King Robert's invading armies generally dispersed at his command, when returning to their own fastnesses, after a successful expedition to the English border.
The laugh and jest resounded, as we have said, amongst both officers and men; but their leader, who was riding about a stone's throw ahead, gave no evidence of sharing their mirth. He was clad from head to foot in chain armor, of a hue so dark as to be mistaken for black, and from his wearing a surcoat of the same color, unenlivened by any device, gave him altogether a somewhat sombre appearance, although it could not detract in the smallest degree from the peculiar gracefulness and easy dignity of his form, which was remarkable both on horseback and on foot. He was evidently very tall, and by his firm seat in the saddle, had been early accustomed to equestrian exercises; but his limbs were slight almost to delicacy, and though completely ensheathed in mail, there was an appearance of extreme youth about him, that perhaps rendered the absence of all gayety the more striking. Yet on the battle-field he gave no evidence of inexperience as a warrior, no sign that he was merely a scholar in the art of war; there only did men believe he must be older than he seemed; there only his wonted depression gave place to an energy, a fire, second to none amongst the Scottish patriots, not even to the Bruce himself; then only was the naturally melancholy music of his voice lost in accents of thrilling power, of imperative command, and the oldest warriors followed him as if under the influence of some spell. But of his appearance on the field we must elsewhere speak. He now led his men through the mountain defiles mechanically, as if buried in meditation, and that meditation not of the most pleasing nature. His vizor was closed, but short clustering curls, of a raven blackness, escaped beneath the helmet, and almost concealed the white linen and finely embroidered collar which lay over his gorget, and was secured in front by a ruby clasp; a thick plume of black feathers floated from his helmet, rivalling in color the mane of his gallant charger, which pawed the ground, and held his head aloft as if proud of the charge he bore. A shield was slung round the warrior's neck, and its device and motto seemed in melancholy accordance with the rest of his attire. On a field argent lay the branch of a tree proper, blasted and jagged, with the words "Ni nom ni paren, je suis seul," rudely engraved in Norman French beneath; his helmet bore no crest, nor did his war-cry on the field, "Amiot for the Bruce and freedom," offer any clue to the curious as to his history, for that there was some history attached to him all chose to believe, though the age was too full of excitement to allow much of wonderment or curiosity to be expended upon him. His golden spurs gave sufficient evidence that he was a knight; his prowess on the field proclaimed whoever had given him that honor had not bestowed it on the undeserving. His deeds of daring, unequalled even in that age, obtained him favor in the eyes of every soldier; and if there were some in the court and camp of Bruce who were not quite satisfied, and loved not the mystery which surrounded him, it mattered not, Sir Amiot of the Branch, or the Lonely Chevalier, as he was generally called, went on his way unquestioned.
"Said not Sir Edward Bruce he would meet us hereabouts at set of sun?" were the first words spoken by the knight, as, on issuing from the mountains, they found themselves on a broad plain to the east of Lanark, bearing sad tokens of a devastating war, in the ruined and blackened huts which were the only vestiges of human habitations near. The answer was in the affirmative; and the knight, after glancing in the direction of the sun, which wanted about an hour to its setting, commanded a halt, and desired that, while waiting the arrival of their comrades, they should take their evening meal.
On the instant the joyous sounds of dismounting, leading horses to picquet, unclasping helmets, throwing aside the more easily displaced portions of their armor, shields, and spears, took the place of the steady tramp and well-ordered march. Flinging themselves in various attitudes on the greensward, provender was speedily laid before them, and rare wines and other choice liquors, fruits of their late campaign, passed gayly round. An esquire had, at the knight's sign, assisted him to remove his helmet, shield, and gauntlets; but though this removal displayed a beautifully formed head, thickly covered with dark hair, his features were still concealed by a species of black mask, the mouth, chin, and eyes being alone visible, and therefore his identity was effectually hidden. The mouth and chin were both small and delicately formed; the slight appearance of beard and moustache seeming to denote his age as some one-and-twenty years. His eyes, glancing through the opening in the mask, were large and very dark, often flashing brightly, when his outward bearing was so calm and quiet as to afford little evidence of emotion. Some there were, indeed, who believed the eye the truer index of the man than aught else about him, and to fancy there was far more in that sad and lonely knight than was revealed.
It was evident, however, that to the men now with him his remaining so closely masked was no subject of surprise, that they regarded it as an ordinary thing, which in consequence had lost its strangeness. They were eager and respectful in their manner towards him, offering to raise him a seat of turf at some little distance from their noisy comrades; but acknowledging their attention with kindness and courtesy, he refused it, and rousing himself with some difficulty from his desponding thoughts, threw himself on the sward beside his men, and joined in their mirth and jest.
"Hast thou naught to tell to while away this tedious hour, good Murdoch?" he asked, after a while, addressing a gray-headed veteran.
"Aye, aye, a tale, a tale; thou hast seen more of the Bruce than all of us together," repeated many eager voices, "and knowest yet more of his deeds than we do; a tale an thou wilt, but of no other hero than the Bruce."
"The Bruce!" echoed the veteran; "see ye not his deeds yourselves, need ye more of them?" but there was a sly twinkle in his eye that betrayed his love to speak was as great as his comrades to hear him. "Have ye not heard, aye, and many of you seen his adventures and escapes in Carrick, hunted even as he was by bloodhounds; his guarding that mountain pass, one man against sixty, aye, absolutely alone against the Galwegian host of men and bloodhounds; Glen Fruin, Loudun Hill, Aberdeen; the harrying of Buchan; charging the treacherous foe, when they had to bear him from his litter to his horse, aye, and support him there; springing up from his couch of pain, and suffering, and depression, agonizing to witness, to hurl vengeance on the fell traitors; aye, and he did it, and brought back health to his own heart and frame; and Forfar, Lorn, Dunstaffnage—know ye not all these things? Nay, have ye not seen, shared in them all—what would ye more?"
"The harrying of Buchan, tell us of that," loudly exclaimed many voices; while some others shouted, "the landing of the Bruce—tell us of his landing, and the spirit fire at Turnberry Head; the strange woman that addressed him."
"Now which am I to tell, good my masters?" laughingly answered the old man, when the tumult in a degree subsided. "A part of one, and part of the other, and leave ye to work out the rest yourselves; truly, a pleasant occupation. Say, shall it be thus? yet stay, what says Sir Amiot?"
"As you will, my friends," answered the knight, cheerily; "but decide quickly, or we shall hear neither. I am for the tale of Buchan," there was a peculiarly thrilling emphasis in his tone as he pronounced the word, "for I was not in Scotland at the time, and have heard but disjointed rumors of the expedition."
The veteran looked round on his eager comrades with an air of satisfaction, then clearing his voice, and drawing more to the centre of the group; "Your worship knows," he began, addressing Sir Amiot, who, stretched at full length on the sward, had fixed his eyes upon him, though their eagle glance was partly shaded by his hand, "that our good King Robert the Bruce, determined on the reduction of the north of his kingdom, advanced thereto in the spring of 1308, accompanied by his brother, Lord Edward, that right noble gentleman the Earl of Lennox, Sir Gilbert Hay, Sir Robert Boyd, and others, with a goodly show of men and arms, for his successes at Glen Fruin and Loudun Hill had brought him a vast accession of loyal subjects. And they were needed, your worship, of a truth, for the traitorous Comyns had almost entire possession of the castles and forts of the north, and thence were wont to pour down their ravaging hordes upon the true Scotsmen, and menace the king, till he scarcely knew which side to turn to first. Your worship coming, I have heard, from the low country, can scarcely know all the haunts and lurking-places for treason the highlands of our country present; how hordes of traitors may be trained and armed in these remote districts, without the smallest suspicion being attached to them till it is well-nigh too late, and the mischief is done. Well, to drive out these black villains, to free his kingdom, not alone from the yoke of an English Edward, but a Scottish Comyn, good King Robert was resolved—and even as he resolved he did. Inverness, the citadel of treason and disloyalty, fell before him; her defences, and walls, and turrets, and towers, all dismantled and levelled, so as to prevent all further harborage of treason; her garrison marched out, the ringleaders sent into secure quarters, and all who hastened to offer homage and swear fidelity, received with a courtesy and majesty which I dare to say did more for the cause of our true king than a Comyn could ever do against it. Other castles followed the fate of Inverness, till at length the north, even as the south, acknowledged the Bruce, not alone as their king, but as their deliverer and savior.
"It was while rejoicing over these glorious successes, the lords and knights about the person of their sovereign began to note with great alarm that his strength seemed waning, his brow often knit as with inward pain, his eye would grow dim, and his limbs fail him, without a moment's warning; and that extreme depression would steal over his manly spirit even in the very moment of success. They watched in alarm, but silently; and when they saw the renewed earnestness and activity with which, on hearing of the approach of Comyn of Buchan, Sir John de Mowbray, and that worst of traitors, his own nephew, Sir David of Brechin, he rallied his forces, advanced to meet them, and compelled them to retreat confusedly to Aberdeen, they hoped they had been deceived, and all was well.
"But the fell disease gained ground; at first he could not guide his charger's reins, and then he could not mount at all; his voice failed, his sight passed; they were compelled to lay him in a litter, and bear him in the midst of them, and they felt as if the void left by their sovereign's absence from their head was filled with the dim shadow of death. Nobly and gallantly did Lord Edward endeavor to remedy this fatal evil; Lennox, Hay, even the two Frasers, who had so lately joined the king, seemed as if paralyzed by this new grief, and hung over the Bruce's litter as if their strength waned with his. Sternly, nay, at such a moment it seemed almost harshly, Lord Edward rebuked this weakness, and, conducting them to Slenath, formed some strong entrenchments, of which the Bruce's pavilion was the centre, intending there to wait his brother's recovery. Ah, my masters, if ye were not with good King Robert then, ye have escaped the bitterest trial. Ye know not what it was to behold him—the savior of his country, the darling of his people, the noblest knight and bravest warrior who ever girded on a sword—lie there, so pale, so faint, with scarce a voice or passing sigh to say he breathed. The hand which grasped the weal of Scotland, the arm that held her shield, lay nerveless as the dead; the brain which thought so well and wisely for his fettered land, lay powerless and still; the thrilling voice was hushed, the flashing eye was closed. The foes were close around him, and true friends in tears and woe beside his couch, were all alike unknown. Ah! then was the time for warrior's tears, for men of iron frame and rugged mood to soften into woman's woe, and weep. Men term Lord Edward Bruce so harsh and stern, one whom naught of grief for others or himself can move; they saw him not as I have. It was mine to watch my sovereign, when others sought their rest; and I have seen that rugged chieftain stand beside his brother's couch alone, unmarked, and struggle with his spirit till his brow hath knit, his lip become convulsed, and then as if 'twere vain, all vain, sink on his knee, clasp his sovereign's hand, and bow his head and weep. 'Tis passed and over now, kind heaven be praised! yet I cannot recall that scene, unbind the folds of memory, unmoved."
The old man passed his rough hand across his eyes, and for a brief moment paused; his comrades, themselves affected, sought not to disturb him, and quickly he resumed.
"Days passed, and still King Robert gave no sign of amendment, except, indeed, there were intervals when his eyes wandered to the countenances of his leaders, as if he knew them, and would fain have addressed them as his wont. Then it was our men were annoyed by an incessant discharge from Buchan's archers, which, though they could do perhaps no great evil, yet wounded many of our men, and roused Lord Edward's spirit to resent the insult. His determination to leave the entrenchments and retreat to Strathbogie, appeared at first an act of such unparalleled daring as to startle all his brother leaders, and they hesitated; but there never was any long resisting Sir Edward's plans; he bears a spell no spirit with a spark of gallantry about him can resist. The retreat was in consequence determined on, to the great glee of our men, who were tired of inaction, and imagined they should feel their sovereign's sufferings less if engaged hand to hand with, the foe, in his service, than watching him as they had lately done, and dreading yet greater evils.
"Ye have heard of this daring retreat, my friends; it was in the mouth of every Scotsman, aye, and of Englishman too, for King Robert himself never accomplished a deed of greater skill. The king's litter was placed in the centre of a square, which presented on either side such an impenetrable fence of spears and shields, that though Buchan and De Mowbray mustered more than double our number, they never ventured an attack, and a retreat, apparently threatening total destruction, from its varied dangers, was accomplished without the loss of a single man. At Strathbogie we halted but a short space, for finding no obstruction in our path, we hastened southward, in the direction of Inverury; there we pitched the tent for the king, and, taking advantage of a natural fortification, dispersed our men around it, still in a compact square. Soon after this had been accomplished, news was received that our foes were concentrating their numerous forces at Old Meldrum, scarcely two miles from us, and consequently we must hold ourselves in constant readiness to receive their attack.
"Well, the news that the enemy was so near us might not perhaps have been particularly pleasing, had they not been more than balanced by the conviction—far more precious than a large reinforcement, for in itself it was a host—the king was recovering. Yes, scarcely as we dared hope, much less believe it, the disease, which had fairly baffled all the leech's art, which had hung over our idolized monarch so long, at length showed symptoms of giving way, and there was as great rejoicing in the camp as if neither danger nor misfortune could assail us more; a new spirit sparkled in every eye, as if the awakening lustre in the Bruce's glance, the still faint, yet thrilling accents of a voice we had feared was hushed forever, had lighted on every heart, and kindled anew their slumbering fire. One day, Lord Edward, the Earl of Lennox, and a gallant party, were absent scouring the country about half a mile round our entrenchments, and in consequence, one side of our square was more than usually open, but we did not think it signified, for there wore no tidings of the enemy; well, this day the king had called me to him, and bade me relate the particulars of the retreat, which I was proud enough to do, my masters, and which of you would not be, speaking as I did with our gallant sovereign as friend with friend?"
"Aye, and does he not make us all feel this?" burst simultaneously from many voices; "does he not speak, and treat us all as if we were his friends, and not his subjects only? Thine was a proud task, good Murdoch, but which of us has good King Robert not addressed with kindly words and proffered hand?"
"Right! right!" joyously responded the old man; "still I say that hour was one of the proudest in my life, and an eventful one too for Scotland ere it closed. King Robert heard me with flashing eye and kindling cheek, and his voice, as he burst forth in high praise and love for his daring brother, sounded almost as strong and thrilling as was its wont in health; just then a struggle was heard without the tent, a scuffle, as of a skirmish, confused voices, clashing of weapons, and war-cries. Up started the king, with eagle glance and eager tone. 'My arms,' he cried, 'bring me my arms! Ha hear ye that?' and sure enough, 'St. David for De Brechin, and down with the Bruce!' resounded so close, that it seemed as if but the curtain separated the traitor from his kinsman and his king. Never saw I the Bruce so fearfully aroused, the rage of the lion was upon him. 'Hear ye that?' he repeated, as, despite my remonstrances, and these of the officers who rushed into the tent, he sprang from the couch, and, with the rapidity of light, assumed his long-neglected armor. 'The traitorous villain! would he beard me to my teeth? By the heaven above us, he shall rue this insolence! Bring me my charger. Beaten off, say ye? I doubt it not, my gallant friends; but it is now the Bruce's turn, his kindred traitors are not far off, and we would try their mettle now. Nay, restrain me not, these folk will work a cure for me—there, I am a man again!' and as he stood upright, sheathed in his glittering mail, his drawn sword in his gauntleted hand, a wild shout of irrepressible joy burst from us all, and, caught up by the soldiers without the tent, echoed and re-echoed through the camp. The sudden appearance of the Bruce's charger, caparisoned for battle, standing before his master's tent, the drums rolling for the muster, the lightning speed with which Sir Edward Bruce, Lennox, and Hay, after dispersing De Brechin's troop, as dust on the plain, galloped to the royal pavilion, themselves equally at a loss to understand the bustle there, all prepared the men-at-arms for what was to come. Eagerly did the gallant knights remonstrate with their sovereign, conjure him to follow the battle in his litter, rather than attempt to mount his charger; they besought him to think what his life, his safety was to them, and not so rashly risk it. Lord Edward did entreat him to reserve his strength till there was more need; the field was then clear, the foes had not appeared; but all in vain their eloquence, the king combated it all. 'We will go seek them, brother,' cheerily answered the king; 'we will go tell them insult to the Bruce passes not unanswered. On, on, gallant knights, our men wax impatient.' Hastening from the tent, he stood one moment in the sight of all his men: removing his helmet, he smiled a gladsome greeting. Oh, what a shout rung forth from those iron ranks! There was that noble face, pale, attenuated indeed, but beaming on them in all its wonted animation, confidence, and love; there was that majestic form towering again in its princely dignity, seeming the nobler from being so long unseen. Again and again that shout arose, till the wild birds rose screaming over our heads, in untuned, yet exciting chorus. Nor did the fact that the king, strengthened as he was by his own glorious soul, had in reality not bodily force enough to mount his horse without support, take from the enthusiasm of his men, nay, it was heightened and excited to the wildest pitch. 'For Scotland and freedom!' shouted the king, as for one moment he rose in his stirrups and waved his bright blade above his head. 'For Bruce and Scotland!' swelled the answering shout. We formed, we gathered in compact array around our leaders, loudly clashed our swords against our shields; we marched a brief while slowly and majestically along the plain; we neared the foe, who, with its multitude in terrible array, awaited our coming; we saw, we hurled defiance in a shout which rent the very air. Quicker and yet quicker we advanced; on, on—we scoured the dusty plain, we pressed, we flew, we rushed upon the foe; the Bruce was at our head, and with him victory. We burst through their ranks; we compelled them, at the sword's point, to turn and fight even to the death; we followed them foot to foot, and hand to hand, disputing every inch of ground; they sought to retreat, to fly—but no! Five miles of Scottish ground, five good broad miles, was that battle-field; the enemy lay dead in heaps upon the field, the remainder fled."
"And the king!" exclaimed the knight of the mask, half springing up in the excitement the old man's tale had aroused. "How bore he this day's wondrous deed—was not his strength exhausted anew?"
"Aye, what of the king?" repeated many of the soldiers, who had held their very breath while the veteran spoke, and clenched their swords, as if they were joining in the strife he so energetically described.
"The king, my masters," replied Murdoch, "why, if it could be, he looked yet more the mighty warrior at the close than at the commencement of the work. We had seen him the first in the charge, in the pursuit; we had marked his white plume waving above all others, where the strife waxed hottest; and when we gathered round him, when the fight was done, he was seated on the ground in truth, and there was the dew of extreme fatigue on his brow—he had flung aside his helmet—and his cheek was hotly flushed, and his voice, as he thanked us for our gallant conduct, and bade us return thanks to heaven for this great victory, was somewhat quivering; but for all that, my masters, he looked still the warrior and the king, and his voice grew firmer and louder as he bade us have no fears for him. He dismissed us with our hearts as full of joy and love for him as of triumph on our humbled foes."
"No doubt," responded many voices; "but Buchan, Mowbray, De Brechin—what came of them—were they left on the field?"
"They fled, loving their lives better than their honor; they fled, like cowards as they were. The two first slackened not their speed till they stood on English ground. De Brechin, ye know, held out Angus as long as he could, and was finally made captive."
"Aye, and treated with far greater lenity than the villain deserved. He will never be a Randolph."
"A Randolph! Not a footboy in Randolph's train but is more Randolph than he. But thou sayest Buchan slackened not rein till he reached English ground; he lingered long enough for yet blacker treachery, if rumor speaks aright. Was it not said the king's life was attempted by his orders, and by one of the Comyn's own followers?"
"Ha!" escaped Sir Amiot's lips. "Say they this?" but he evidently had spoken involuntarily, for the momentary agitation which had accompanied the words was instantly and forcibly suppressed.
"Aye, your worship, and it is true," replied the veteran "It was two nights after the battle. All the camp was at rest; I was occupied as usual, by my honored watch in my sovereign's tent. The king was sleeping soundly, and a strange drowsiness appeared creeping over me too, confusing all my thoughts. At first I imagined the wind was agitating a certain corner of the tent, and my eyes, half asleep and half wakeful, became fascinated upon it; presently, what seemed a bale of carpets, only doubled up in an extraordinary small space, appeared within the drapery. It moved; my senses were instantly aroused. Slowly and cautiously the bale grew taller, then the unfolding carpet fell, and a short, well-knit, muscular form appeared. He was clothed in those padded jerkins and hose, plaited with steel, which are usual to those of his rank; the steel, however, this night was covered with thin, black stuff, evidently to assist concealment. He looked cautiously around him. I had creeped noiselessly, and on all fours, within the shadow of the king's couch, where I could observe the villain's movements myself unseen. I saw a gleam of triumph twinkle in his eye, so sure he seemed of his intended victim. He advanced; his dagger flashed above the Bruce. With one bound, one shout, I sprang on the murderous wretch, wrenched the dagger from his grasp, and dashed him to the earth. He struggled, but in vain; the king started from that deep slumber, one moment gazed around him bewildered, the next was on his feet, and by my side. The soldiers rushed into the tent, and confusion for the moment waxed loud and warm; but the king quelled it with a word. The villain was raised, pinioned, brought before the Bruce, who sternly demanded what was his intent, and who was his employer. Awhile the miscreant paused, but then, as if spell-bound by the flashing orb upon him, confessed the whole, aye, and more; that his master, the Earl of Buchan, had sworn a deep and deadly oath to relax not in his hot pursuit till the life-blood of the Bruce had avenged the death of the Red Comyn, and that, though he had escaped now, he must fall at length, for the whole race of Comyn had joined hands upon their chieftain's oath. The brow of the king grew dark, terrible wrath beamed from his eyes, and it seemed for the moment as if he would deliver up the murderous villain into the hands that yearned to tear him piecemeal. There was a struggle, brief yet terrible, then he spoke, and calmly, yet with a bitter stinging scorn.
"'And this is Buchan's oath,' he said. 'Ha! doth he not bravely, my friends, to fly the battle-field, to shun us there, that hireling hands may do a deed he dares not? For this poor fool, what shall we do with him?'
"'Death, death—torture and death! what else befits the sacrilegious traitor?' burst from many voices, pressing forward to seize and bear him from the tent; but the king signed them to forbear, and oh, what a smile took the place of his previous scorn!
"'And I say neither torture nor death, my friends,' he tried. 'What, are we sunk so low, as to revenge this insult on a mere tool, the instrument of a villainous master? No, no! let him go free, and tell his lord how little the Bruce heeds him; that guarded as he is by a free people's love, were the race of Comyn as powerful and numerous as England's self, their oath would avail them nothing. Let the poor fool go free!'
"A deep wild murmur ran through the now crowded tent, and so mingled were the tones of applause and execration, we knew not which the most prevailed.
"'And shall there be no vengeance for this dastard deed?' at length the deep, full voice of Lord Edward Bruce arose, distinct above the rest. 'Shall the Bruce sit tamely down to await the working of the villain oath, and bid its tools go free, filling the whole land with well-trained murderers? Shall Buchan pass scathless, to weave yet darker, more atrocious schemes?'
"'Brother, no,' frankly rejoined the king. 'We will make free to go and visit our friends in Buchan, and there, an thou wilt, thou shalt pay them in coin for their kindly intents and deeds towards us; but for this poor fool, again I say, let him go free. Misery and death, God wot, we are compelled to for our country's sake, let us spare where but our own person is endangered.'
"And they let him free, my masters, unwise as it seemed to us; none could gainsay our sovereign's words. Sullen to the last, the only symptom of gratitude he vouchsafed was to mutter forth, in, answer to the Bruce's warning words to hie him to his comrades in Buchan, and bid them, an they feared fire and devastation, to fly without delay, 'Aye, only thus mayest thou hope to exterminate the traitors; pity none, spare none. The whole district of Buchan is peopled by the Comyn, bound by this oath of blood,' and thus he departed."
"And spoke he truth?" demanded Sir Amiot, hoarsely, and with an agitation that, had others more suspicious been with him, must have been remarked, although forcibly and painfully suppressed; "spoke he truth? Methought the district of Buchan had only within the last century belonged to the Comyn, and that the descendants of the Countess Margaret's vassals still kept apart, loving not the intermixture of another clan. Said they not it was on this account the Countess of Buchan had exercised such influence, and herself beaded a gallant troop at the first rising of the Bruce? an the villain spoke truth, whence came this change?"
"Why, for that matter, your worship, it is easy enough explained," answered Murdoch, "and, trust me, King Robert set inquiries enough afloat ere he commenced his scheme of retaliation. Had there been one of the Lady Isabella's own followers there, one who, in her name, claimed his protection, he would have given it; not a hair of their heads would have been injured; but there were none of these, your worship. The few of the original clan which had not joined him were scattered all over the country, mingling with other loyal clans; their own master had hunted them away, when he came down to his own districts, just before the capture of his wife and son. He filled the Tower of Buchan with his own creatures, scattered the Comyns all over the land, with express commands to attack, hunt, or resist all of the name of Bruce to the last ebb of their existence. He left amongst them officers and knights as traitorous, and spirits well-nigh as evil as his own, and they obeyed him to the letter, for amongst the most inveterate, the most treacherous, and most dishonorable persecutors of the Bruce stood first and foremost the Comyns of Buchan. Ah! the land was changed from the time when the noble countess held sway there, and so they felt to their cost.
"It was a grand yet fearful sight, those low hanging woods and glens all in one flame; the spring had been particularly dry and windy, and the branches caught almost with a spark, and crackled and sparkled, and blazed, and roared, till for miles round we could see and hear the work of devastation. Aye, the coward earl little knew what was passing in his territories, while he congratulated himself on his safe flight into England. It was a just vengeance, a deserved though terrible retaliation, and the king felt it as such, my masters. He had borne with the villains as long as he could, and would have borne with them still, had he not truly felt nothing would quench their enmity, and in consequence secure Scotland's peace and safety, but their utter extermination, and all the time he regretted it, I know, for there was a terrible look of sternness and determination about him while the work lasted; he never relaxed into a smile, he never uttered a jovial word, and we followed him, our own wild spirits awed into unwonted silence. There was not a vestige of natural or human life in the district—all was one mass of black, discolored ashes, utter ruin and appalling devastation. Not a tower of Buchan remains."
"All—sayest thou all?" said Sir Amiot, suddenly, yet slowly, and with difficulty. "Left not the Bruce one to bear his standard, and thus mark his power?"
"Has not your worship remarked that such is never the Bruce's policy? Three years ago, he had not force enough to fortify the castles he took from the English, and leaving them standing did but offer safe harbors for the foe, so it was ever his custom to dismantle, as utterly to prevent their reestablishment; and if he did this with the castles of his own friends, who all, as the Douglas saith, 'love better to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak,' it was not likely he would spare Buchan's. But there was one castle, I remember, cost him a bitter struggle to demolish. It was the central fortress of the district, distinguished, I believe, by the name of 'the Tower of Buchan,' and had been the residence of that right noble lady, the Countess Isabella and her children. Nay, from what I overheard his grace say to Lord Edward, it had formerly given him shelter and right noble hospitality, and a dearer, more precious remembrance still to his noble heart—it had been for many months the happy home of his brother, Sir Nigel, and we know what magic power all associated with him has upon the king; and had it not been for the expostulations of Lord Edward, his rough yet earnest entreaty, methinks that fortress had been standing yet. That sternness, terrible to behold, for it ever tells of some mighty inward passions conquered, again gathered on our sovereign's brow, but he turned his charger's head, and left to Lord Edward the destruction of the fortress, and he made quick work of it; you will scarce find two stones together of its walls."
"He counselled right," echoed many voices, the eagerness with which they had listened, and now spoke, effectually turning their attention from their mysterious leader, who at old Murdoch's last words had with difficulty prevented the utterance of a deep groan, and then, as if startled at his own emotion, sprung up from his reclining posture, and joined his voice to those of his men. "He counselled, and did rightly," they repeated; "it would have been an ill deed to spare a traitor's den for such softening thoughts. Could we but free the Countess Isabella, she would not want a home in Buchan—nay, the further from her cruel husband's territories the better and for her children—the one, poor innocent, is cared for, and the other—"
"Aye, my masters, and trust me, that other was in our sovereign's heart as forcibly as the memories he spoke. That which we know now concerning him was then undreamed of; it was only faintly rumored that Lord Douglas had been deceived, and Alan of Buchan had not fallen by a father's hand, or at least by his orders; that he was in life, in close confinement; my old ears did catch something of this import from the king, as he spoke with his brother."
"What import?" asked Sir Amiot, hoarsely.
"Only, your worship, that, for the sake of the young heir of Buchan, he wished that such total devastation could have been spared; if he were really in life, as rumor said, it was hard to act as if he were forgotten by his friends."
"And what was Sir Edward's reply?"
"First, that he doubted the rumor altogether; secondly, that if he did return to the king, his loss might be more than made up; and thirdly, that it was more than probable that, young as he was, if he really did live, the arts of his father would prevail, and he would purchase his freedom by homage and fidelity to England."
"Ha! said he so—and the king?"
"Did not then think with him, nay, declared he would stake his right hand that the boy, young as he was, had too much of his mother's noble spirit for such a deed. It was well the stake was not accepted, for, by St. Andrew, as the tale now goes, King Robert would have lost."
"As the tale now goes, thou unbelieving skeptic," replied one of his comrades, laughing; "has not the gallant been seen, recognized—is he not known as one of King Edward's minions, and lords it bravely? But hark! there are chargers pricking over the plain. Hurrah! Sir Edward and Lord James," and on came a large body of troopers and infantry even as he spoke.
Up started Sir Amiot's men in eager readiness to greet and join; their armor and weapons they had laid aside were resumed, and ere their comrades reached them all were in readiness. Sir Amiot, attended by his esquires and a page, galloped forward, and the two knights, perceiving his advance, spurred on before their men, and hasty and cordial greetings were exchanged. We should perhaps note that Sir Amiot's manner slightly differed in his salutation of the two knights. To Lord Edward Bruce he was eager, frank, cordial, as that knight himself; to the other, whom one glance proclaimed as the renowned James Lord Douglas, there was an appearance of pride or reserve, and it seemed an effort to speak with him at all. Douglas perhaps did not perceive this, or was accustomed to it, for it seemed to affect him little; and Lord Edward's bluff address prevented all manifestation of difference between his colleagues, even if there existed any.
"Ready to mount and ride; why that's well," he cried. "We are beyond our time, but it is little reck, we need but spur the faster, which our men seem all inclined to do. What news? why, none since we parted, save that his grace has resolved on the siege of Perth without further delay."
"Nay, but that is news, so please you," replied Sir Amiot. "When I parted from his grace, there was no talk of it."
"There was talk of it, but no certainty; for our royal brother kept his own counsel, and spoke not of this much-desired event till his way lay clear before him. There have been some turbulent spirits in the camp—your humble servant, this black lord, and Randolph amongst them—who in truth conspired to let his grace know no peace by night or day till this object was attained; but our prudent monarch gave us little heed till his wiser brain arranged the matters we but burned to execute."
"And what, think you, fixed this resolve?"
"Simply that for a time we are clear of English thieves and Norman rogues, and can march northward, and sit down before Perth without fear of being called southward again. Edward will have enow on his hands to keep his own frontiers from invasion; 'twill be some time ere he see the extent of our vengeance, and meanwhile our drift is gained."
"Aye, it were a sin and crying shame to let Perth remain longer in English hands," rejoined Douglas; "strongly garrisoned it may be; but what matter?"
"What matter! why, 'tis great matter," replied Sir Edward, joyously. "What glory were it to sit down before a place and take it at first charge? No, give me good fighting, tough assault, and brave defence. Think you I would have so urged the king, did I not scent a glorious struggle before the walls? Strongly garrisoned! I would not give one link of this gold chain for it, were it not. But a truce to this idle parley; we must make some miles ere nightfall. Sir Knight of the Branch, do your men need further rest? if not, give the word, and let them fall in with their comrades, and on."
"Whither?" demanded Sir Amiot, as he gave the required orders. "Where meet we the king?"
"In the Glen of Auchterader, south of the Erne. Lady Campbell and Isoline await us there, with the troops left as their guard at Dumbarton. So you perceive our friend Lord Douglas here hath double cause to use the spur; times like these afford little leisure for wooing, and such love-stricken gallants as himself must e'en make the most of them."
"And trust me for doing so," laughingly rejoined Douglas. "Scoff' at me as you will, Edward, your time will come."
"Not it," answered the warrior; "glory is my mistress. I love better to clasp my true steel than the softest and fairest hand in Christendom; to caress my noble steed and twine my hand thus in his flowing mane, and feel that he bears me gallantly and proudly wherever my spirit lists, than to press sweet kisses on a rosy lip, imprisoned by a woman's smile."
"Nay, shame on thee!" replied Douglas, still jestingly. "Thou a true knight, and speak thus; were there not other work to do, I would e'en run a tilt with thee, to compel thee to forswear thy foul treason against the fair."
"Better spend thy leisure in wooing Isoline; trust me, she will not be won ere wooed. How now, Sir Knight of the Branch, has the fiend melancholy taken possession of thee again? give her a thrust with thy lance, good friend, and unseat her. Come, soul of fire as thou art in battle, why dost thou mope in ashes in peace? Thou speakest neither for nor against these matters of love; wilt woo or scorn the little god?"
"Perchance both, perchance neither," replied the knight, and his voice sounded sadly, though he evidently sought to speak in jest. He had fallen back from the side of Douglas during the previous conversation, but the flashing eye denoted that it had passed not unremarked. He now rode up to the side of Lord Edward, keeping a good spear's length from Lord James, and their converse turning on martial subjects, became more general. Their march being performed without any incident of note, we will, instead of following them, take a brief retrospective glance on those historical events which had so completely and gloriously turned the fate of Scotland and her patriots, in those five years which the thread of our narrative compels us to leave a blank.
END OF VOL. I.
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GRACE AGUILAR'S WORKS.
HOME INFLUENCE. MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE. VALE OF CEDARS. WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP. DAYS OF BRUCE. WOMEN OF ISRAEL. HOME SCENES AND HEART STUDIES.
1 vol., 12mo, Illustrated, price $1, with a Memoir of the Author,
A TALE FOR MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS.
By GRACE AGUILAR.
"Grace Aguilar wrote and spoke as one inspired; she condensed and spiritualized, and all her thoughts and feelings were steeped in the essence of celestial love and truth. To those who really knew Grace Aguilar, all eulogium falls short of her deserts, and she has left a blank in her particular walk of literature, which we never expect to see filled up."—Pilgrimages to English Shrines, by Mrs. Hall.
"A clever and interesting tale, corresponding well to its name, illustrating the silent, constant influence of a wise and affectionate parent over characters the most diverse."—Christian Lady's Magazine.
"This interesting volume unquestionably contains many valuable hints on domestic education, much powerful writing, and a moral of vast importance."—Englishwoman's Magazine.
"It is very pleasant, after reading a book, to speak of it in terms of high commendation. The tale before us is an admirable one, and is executed with taste and ability. The language is beautiful and appropriate; the analysis of character is skilful and varied. The work ought to be in the hands of all who are interested in the proper training of the youthful mind."—Palladium.
"In reviewing this work, we hardly know what words in the English language are strong enough to express the admiration we have felt in its perusal."—Bucks Chronicle.
"The object and end of the writings of Grace Aguilar were to improve the heart, and to lead her readers to the consideration of higher motives and objects than this world can ever afford."—Bell's Weekly Messenger.
"'Home Influence' will not be forgotten by any who have perused it."—Critic.
"A well-known and valuable tale."—Gentleman's Magazine.
"A work which, possesses an extraordinary amount of influence to elevate the mind and educate the heart, by showing that rectitude and virtue conduce no less to material prosperity, and worldly comfort and happiness, than to the satisfaction of the conscience, the approval of the good, and the hope and certainty of bliss hereafter."—Herts County Press.
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THE SEQUEL TO HOME INFLUENCE.
THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE.
A SEQUEL TO
"Home Influence, a Tale for Mothers and Daughters."
By GRACE AGUILAR.
1 VOL., 12MO. CLOTH. $1. WITH ILLUSTRATIONS.
"Grace Aguilar belonged to the school of which Maria Edgeworth was the foundress. The design of the book is carried out forcibly and constantly, 'The Home Influence' exercised in earlier years being shown in its active germination."—Atlas.
"The writings of Grace Aguilar have a charm inseparable from productions in which feeling is combined with intellect; they go directly to the heart. 'Home Influence,' the deservedly popular story to which this is a sequel, admirably teaches the lesson implied in its name. In the present tale we have the same freshness, earnestness, and zeal—the same spirit of devotion, and love of virtue—the same enthusiasm and sincere religion which characterized that earlier work. We behold the mother now blessed in the love of good and affectionate offspring, who, parents themselves, are, after her example, training their children in the way of rectitude and piety."—Morning Chronicle.
"This beautiful story was completed when the authoress was little above the age of nineteen, yet it has the sober sense of middle age. There is no age nor sex that will not profit by its perusal, and it will afford as much pleasure as profit to the reader."—Critic.
"The same kindly spirit, the same warm charity and fervor of devotion which breathes in every line of that admirable book, 'Home Influence,' will be found adorning and inspiring 'The Mother's Recompense.'"—Morning Advertiser.
"The good which, she (Grace Aguilar) has effected is acknowledged on all hands, and it cannot be doubted but that the appearance of this volume will increase the usefulness of one who may yet be said to be still speaking to the heart and to the affections of human nature."—Bell's Messenger.
"It will be found an interesting supplement, not only to the book to which it specially relates, but to all the writer's other works."—Gentleman's Magazine.
"'The Mother's Recompense' forms a fitting close to its predecessor, 'Home Influence.' The results of maternal care are fully developed, its rich rewards are set forth, and its lesson and its moral are powerfully enforced."—Morning Post.
"We heartily commend this volume; a better or more useful present to a youthful friend or a young wife could not well be selected."—Herts County Press.
"We look upon 'The Days of Bruce' as an elegantly-written and interesting romance, and place it by the side of Miss Porter's 'Scottish Chiefs.'"—Gentleman's Magazine.
"A very pleasing and successful attempt to combine ideal delineation of character with the records of history. Very beautiful and very true are the portraits of the female mind and heart which Grace Aguilar knew how to draw. This is the chief charm of all her writings, and in 'The Days of Bruce' the reader will have the pleasure of viewing this skillful portraiture in the characters of Isoline and Agnes, and Isabella of Buchan."—Literary Gazette.
"What a fertile mind was that of Grace Aguilar! What an early development of reflection, of feeling, of taste, of power of invention, or true and earnest eloquence! 'The Days of Bruce' is a composition of her early youth, but full of beauty. Grace Aguilar knew the female heart better than any writer of our day, and in every fiction from her pen we trace the same masterly analysis and development of the motives and feelings of woman's nature. 'The Days of Bruce' possesses also the attractions of an extremely interesting story, that absorbs the attention, and never suffers it to flag till the last page is closed, and then the reader will lay down the volume with regret."—Critic.
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HOME SCENES AND HEART STUDIES,
By GRACE AGUILAR.
One volume, 12mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.
The Perez Family. The Stone-Cutter's Boy of Possagno. Amete and Yafeh. The Fugitive. The Edict; A Tale of 1492. The Escape; A Tale of 1755. Red Rose Villa. Gonzalvo's Daughter. The Authoress.
Helon. Lucy. The Spirit's Entreaty. Idalie. Lady Gresham's Fete. The Group of Sculpture. The Spirit of Night. Recollections of a Rambler. Cast thy Bread upon the Waters. The Triumph of Love.
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THE WOMEN OF ISRAEL;
Or, Characters and Sketches from the Holy Scriptures, illustrative of the past History, present Duties, and future Destiny of Hebrew Females, as based on the Word of God.
By GRACE AGUILAR.
Two volumes, 12mo. Price $2.00.
FIRST PERIOD—WIVES OF THE PATRIARCHS. Eve.—Sarah.—Rebekah.—Leah and Rachel.
SECOND PERIOD—THE EXODUS AND THE LAW. Egyptian Captivity, and Jochebed.—The Exodus—Mothers of Israel.—Laws for Wives in Israel.—Laws for Widows and Daughters In Israel.—Maid-servants in Israel, and other Laws.
THIRD PERIOD—BETWEEN THIS DELIVERY OF THE LAW AND THE MONARCHY. Miriam.—Tabernacle Workers—Caleb's Daughter.—Deborah.—Wife of Manoah.—Naomi.—Hannah.
FOURTH PERIOD—THE MONARCHY. Michal.—Abigail.—Wise Women of Tekoah.—Woman of Abel.—Rispah.—Prophet's Widow.—The Shunamite.—Little Israelitish Maid.—Huldah.
FIFTH PERIOD—BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY. The Captivity.—Review of Book of Ezra.—Suggestions as to the identity of the Ahasuerus of Scripture.—Esther.—Review of Events narrated in Ezra and Nehemiah.
SIXTH PERIOD—CONTINUANCE OF THE SECOND TEMPLE. Review of Jewish History, from the Return from Babylon to the Appeal of Hycanus and Aristobulus to Pompey.—Jewish History from the Appeal to Pompey to the Death of Herod.—Jewish History from the Death of Herod to the War.—The Martyr Mother.—Alexandra.—Mariamne.—Salome.—Helena. —Berenice.
SEVENTH PERIOD—WOMEN OF ISRAEL IN THE PRESENT AS INFLUENCED BY THE PAST. The War and Dispersion.—Thoughts on the Talmud.—Talmudic Ordinances and Tales.—Effects of Dispersion and Persecution.—General Remarks.
"A work that is sufficient of itself to create and crown a reputation."—Pilgrimages to English Shrines, by Mrs. S. C. Hall.
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A STORY OF DOMESTIC LIFE.
By GRACE AGUILAR.
With Illustrations. One volume, 12mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.
"To show us how divine a thing A woman may be made."—Wordsworth.
"This story illustrates, with feeling and power, that beneficial influence which women exercise, in their own quiet way, over characters and events in our every-day life."—Britannia.
"The book is one of more than ordinary interest in various ways, and presents an admirable conception of the depths and sincerity of female friendship, as exhibited in England by English women."—Weekly Chronicle.
"We began to read the volume late in the evening; and, although it consists of about 400 pages, our eyes could not close in sleep until we had read the whole. This excellent book should find a place on every drawing-room table—nay, in every library in the kingdom."—Bucks Chronicle.
"We congratulate Miss Aguilar on the spirit, motive, and composition of this story. Her aims are eminently moral, and her cause comes recommended by the most beautiful associations. These, connected with the skill here evinced in their development, insure the success of her labors."—Illustrated News.
"As a writer of remarkable grace and delicacy, she devoted herself to the inculcation of the virtues, more especially those which are the peculiar charm of women."—Critic.
"It is a book for all classes of readers; and we have no hesitation in saying, that it only requires to be generally known to become exceedingly popular. In our estimation it has far more attractions than Miss Burney's celebrated, but overestimated, novel of 'Cecilia.'"—Herts County Press.
"This very interesting and agreeable tale has remained longer without notice on our part than we could have desired; but we would now endeavor to make amends for the delay, by assuring our readers that it is a most ably-written publication, full of the nicest points of information and utility that could have been by any possibility constructed; and, as a proof of its value, it may suffice to say, that it has been taken from our table again and again by several individuals, from the recommendation of those who had already perused it, and be prevented our giving an earlier attention to its manifold claims for the favorable criticism. It is peculiarly adapted for the young, and wherever it goes will be received with gratification, and command very extensive approbation."—Bell's Weekly Messenger.
"This is a handsome volume: just such a book as we would expect to find among the volumes composing a lady's library. Its interior corresponds with its exterior; it is a most fascinating tale, full of noble and just sentiments."—Palladium.
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THE VALE OF CEDARS
A STORY OF SPAIN IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.
By GRACE AGUILAR.
With Illustrations. 1 vol., 12mo. Cloth, $1.00.
"The authoress of this most fascinating volume has selected for her field one of the most remarkable eras in modern history—the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. The tale turns on the extraordinary extent to which concealed Judaism had gained footing at that period in Spain. It is marked by much power of description, and by a woman's delicacy of touch, and it will add to its writer's well-earned reputation."—Eclectic Review.
"The scene of this interesting tale is laid during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Vale of Cedars is the retreat of a Jewish family, compelled by persecution to perform their religions rites with the utmost secrecy. On the singular position of this fated race in the most Catholic land of Europe, the interest of the tale mainly depends; whilst a few glimpses of the horrors of the terrible Inquisition are afforded the reader, and heighten the interest of the narrative."—Sharpe's Magazine.
"Any thing which proceeds from the pen of the authoress of this volume is sure to command attention and appreciation. There is so much of delicacy and refinement about her style, and each a faithful delineation of nature in all she attempts, that she has taken her place amongst the highest class of modern writers of fiction. We consider this to be one of Miss Aguilar's best efforts."—Bell's Weekly Messenger.
"We heartily commend the work to our readers as one exhibiting, not merely talent, but genius, and a degree of earnestness, fidelity to Nature, and artistic grace, rarely found."—Herts County Press.
"The 'Vale of Cedars' is indeed one of the most touching and interesting stories that have ever issued from the press. There is a life-like reality about it which is not often observed in works of this nature; while we read it we felt as if we were witnesses of the various scenes it depicts."—Bucks Chronicle.
"It is a tale of deep and pure devotion, very touchingly narrated."—Atlas.
"The authoress has already received our commendation; her present work is calculated to sustain, her reputation."—Illustrated News.
"It is indeed a historical romance of a high class. Seeing how steady and yet rapid was her improvement—how rich the promise of her genius—it is impossible to close this notice of her last and best work, without lamenting that the authoress was so untimely snatched from a world she appeared destined, as certainly she was singularly qualified, to adorn and to improve."—Critic.
New York: D. APPLETON & CO.