DAYS OF BRUCE
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
DAYS OF BRUCE;
AUTHOR OF "HOME INFLUENCE," "THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE," "WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP," "THE VALE OF CEDARS" ETC. ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
NEW YORK: D. APPLETON & CO., 90, 92 & 94 GRAND ST. 1871.
As these pages have passed through the press, mingled feelings of pain and pleasure have actuated my heart. Who shall speak the regret that she, to whom its composition was a work of love, cannot participate in the joy which its publication would have occasioned—who shall tell of that anxious pleasure which I feel in witnessing the success of each and all the efforts of her pen?
THE DAYS OF BRUCE must be considered as an endeavor to place before the reader an interesting narrative of a period of history, in itself a romance, and one perhaps as delightful as could well have been selected. In combination with the story of Scotland's brave deliverer, it must be viewed as an illustration of female character, and descriptive of much that its Author considered excellent in woman. In the high minded Isabella of Buchan is traced the resignation of a heart wounded in its best affections, yet trustful midst accumulated misery. In Isoline may be seen the self-inflicted unhappiness of a too confident and self reliant nature; while in Agnes is delineated the overwhelming of a mind too much akin to heaven in purity and innocence to battle with the stern and bitter sorrows with which her life is strewn.
How far the merits of this work may be perceived becomes not me to judge; I only know and feel that on me has devolved the endearing task of publishing the writings of my lamented child—that I am fulfilling the desire of her life.
THE DAYS OF BRUCE.
The month of March, rough and stormy as it is in England, would perhaps be deemed mild and beautiful as May by those accustomed to meet and brave its fury in the eastern Highlands, nor would the evening on which our tale commences bely its wild and fitful character.
The wind howled round the ancient Tower of Buchan, in alternate gusts of wailing and of fury, so mingled with the deep, heavy roll of the lashing waves, that it was impossible to distinguish the roar of the one element from the howl of the other. Neither tree, hill, nor wood intercepted the rushing gale, to change the dull monotony of its gloomy tone. The Ythan, indeed, darted by, swollen and turbid from continued storms, threatening to overflow the barren plain it watered, but its voice was undistinguishable amidst the louder wail of wind and ocean. Pine-trees, dark, ragged, and stunted, and scattered so widely apart that each one seemed monarch of some thirty acres, were the only traces of vegetation for miles round. Nor were human habitations more abundant; indeed, few dwellings, save those of such solid masonry as the Tower of Buchan, could hope to stand scathless amidst the storms that in winter ever swept along the moor.
No architectural beauty distinguished the residence of the Earls of Buchan; none of that tasteful decoration peculiar to the Saxon, nor of the more sombre yet more imposing style introduced by the Norman, and known as the Gothic architecture.
Originally a hunting-lodge, it had been continually enlarged by succeeding lords, without any regard either to symmetry or proportion, elegance or convenience; and now, early in the year 1306, appeared within its outer walls as a most heterogeneous mass of ill-shaped turrets, courts, offices, and galleries, huddled together in ill-sorted confusion, though presenting to the distant view a massive square building, remarkable only for a strength and solidity capable of resisting alike the war of elements and of man.
Without all seemed a dreary wilderness, but within existed indisputable signs of active life. The warlike inhabitants of the tower, though comparatively few in number, were continually passing to and fro in the courts and galleries, or congregating in little knots, in eager converse. Some cleansing their armor or arranging banners; others, young and active, practising the various manoeuvres of mimic war; each and all bearing on their brow that indescribable expression of anticipation and excitement which seems ever on the expectant of it knows not what. The condition of Scotland was indeed such as to keep her sons constantly on the alert, preparing for defence or attack, as the insurging efforts of the English or the commands of their lords should determine. From the richest noble to the veriest serf, the aged man to the little child, however contrary their politics and feelings, one spirit actuated all, and that spirit was war—war in all its deadliest evils, its unmitigated horrors, for it was native blood which deluged the rich plains, the smiling vales, and fertile hills of Scotland.
Although the castle of Buchan resembled more a citadel intended for the accommodation of armed vassals than the commodious dwelling of feudal lords, one turret gave evidence, by its internal arrangement, of a degree of refinement and a nearer approach to comfort than its fellows, and seeming to proclaim that within its massive walls the lords of the castle were accustomed to reside. The apartments were either hung with heavy tapestry, which displayed, in gigantic proportions, the combats of the Scots and Danes, or panelled with polished oak, rivalling ebony in its glossy blackness, inlaid with solid silver. Heavy draperies of damask fell from the ceiling to the floor at every window, a pleasant guard, indeed, from the constant winds which found entrance through many creaks and corners of the Gothic casements, but imparting a dingy aspect to apartments lordly in their dimensions, and somewhat rich in decoration.
The deep embrasures of the casements were thus in a manner severed from the main apartment, for even when the curtains were completely lowered there was space enough to contain a chair or two and a table. The furniture corresponded in solidity and proportion to the panelling or tapestry of the walls; nor was there any approach even at those doubtful comforts already introduced in the more luxurious Norman castles of South Britain.
The group, however, assembled in one of these ancient rooms needed not the aid of adventitious ornament to betray the nobility of birth, and those exalted and chivalric feelings inherent to their rank. The sun, whose stormy radiance during the day had alternately deluged earth and sky with fitful yet glorious brilliance, and then, burying itself in the dark masses of overhanging clouds, robed every object in deepest gloom, now seemed to concentrate his departing rays in one living flood of splendor, and darting within the chamber, lingered in crimson glory around the youthful form of a gentle girl, dyeing her long and clustering curls with gold. Slightly bending over a large and cumbrous frame which supported her embroidery, her attitude could no more conceal the grace and lightness of her childlike form, than the glossy ringlets the soft and radiant features which they shaded. There was archness lurking in those dark blue eyes, to which tears seemed yet a stranger; the clear and snowy forehead, the full red lip, and health-bespeaking cheek had surely seen but smiles, and mirrored but the joyous light which filled her gentle heart. Her figure seemed to speak a child, but there was a something in that face, bright, glowing as it was, which yet would tell of somewhat more than childhood—that seventeen summers had done their work, and taught that guileless heart a sterner tale than gladness.
A young man, but three or four years her senior, occupied an embroidered settle at her feet. In complexion, as in the color of his hair and eyes, there was similarity between them, but the likeness went no further, nor would the most casual observer have looked on them as kindred. Fair and lovely as the maiden would even have been pronounced, it was perhaps more the expression, the sweet innocence that characterized her features which gave to them their charm; but in the young man there was infinitely more than this, though effeminate as was his complexion, and the bright sunny curls which floated over his throat, he was eminently and indescribably beautiful, for it was the mind, the glorious mind, the kindling spirit which threw their radiance over his perfect features; the spirit and mind which that noble form enshrined stood apart, and though he knew it not himself, found not their equal in that dark period of warfare and of woe. The sword and lance were the only instruments of the feudal aristocracy; ambition, power, warlike fame, the principal occupants of their thoughts; the chase, the tourney, or the foray, the relaxation of their spirits. But unless that face deceived, there was more, much more, which charactered the elder youth within that chamber.
A large and antique volume of Norse legends rested on his knee, which, in a rich, manly voice, he was reading aloud to his companion, diversifying his lecture with remarks and explanations, which, from the happy smiles and earnest attention of the maiden, appeared to impart the pleasure intended by the speaker. The other visible inhabitant of the apartment was a noble-looking boy of about fifteen, far less steadily employed than his companions, for at one time he was poising a heavy lance, and throwing himself into the various attitudes of a finished warrior; at others, brandished a two-handed sword, somewhat taller than himself; then glancing over the shoulder of his sister—for so nearly was he connected with the maiden, though the raven curls, the bright flashing eye of jet, and darker skin, appeared to forswear such near relationship—criticising her embroidery, and then transferring his scrutiny to the strange figures on the gorgeously-illuminated manuscript, and then for a longer period listening, as it were, irresistibly to the wild legends which that deep voice was so melodiously pouring forth.
"It will never do, Agnes. You cannot embroider the coronation of Kenneth MacAlpine and listen to these wild tales at one and the same time. Look at your clever pupil, Sir Nigel; she is placing a heavy iron buckler on the poor king's head instead of his golden crown." The boy laughed long and merrily as he spoke, and even Sir Nigel smiled; while Agnes, blushing and confused, replied, half jestingly and half earnestly, "And why not tell me of it before, Alan? you must have seen it long ago."
"And so I did, sweet sister mine; but I wished to see the effect of such marvellous abstraction, and whether, in case of necessity, an iron shield would serve our purpose as well as a jewelled diadem."
"Never fear, my boy. Let but the king stand forth, and there will be Scottish men enow and willing to convert an iron buckler into a goodly crown;" and as Sir Nigel spoke his eyes flashed, and his whole countenance irradiated with a spirit that might not have been suspected when in the act of reading, but which evidently only slept till awakened by an all-sufficient call. "Let the tyrant Edward exult in the possession of our country's crown and sceptre—he may find we need not them to make a king; aye, and a king to snatch the regal diadem from the proud usurper's brow—the Scottish sceptre from his blood-stained hands!"
"Thou talkest wildly, Nigel," answered the lad, sorrowfully, his features assuming an expression of judgment and feeling beyond his years. "Who is there in Scotland will do this thing? who will dare again the tyrant's rage? Is not this unhappy country divided within itself, and how may it resist the foreign foe?"
"Wallace! think of Wallace! Did he not well-nigh wrest our country from the tyrant's hands? And is there not one to follow in the path he trod—no noble heart to do what he hath done?"
"Nigel, yes. Let but the rightful king stand forth, and were there none other, I—even I, stripling as I am, with my good sword and single arm, even with the dark blood of Comyn in my veins, Alan of Buchan, would join him, aye, and die for him!"
"There spoke the blood of Duff, and not of Comyn!" burst impetuously from the lips of Nigel, as he grasped the stripling's ready hand; "and doubt not, noble boy, there are other hearts in Scotland bold and true as thine; and even as Wallace, one will yet arise to wake them from their stagnant sleep, and give them freedom."
"Wallace," said the maiden, fearfully; "ye talk of Wallace, of his bold deeds and bolder heart, but bethink ye of his fate. Oh, were it not better to be still than follow in his steps unto the scaffold?"
"Dearest, no; better the scaffold and the axe, aye, even the iron chains and hangman's cord, than the gilded fetters of a tyrant's yoke. Shame on thee, sweet Agnes, to counsel thoughts as these, and thou a Scottish maiden." Yet even as he spoke chidingly, the voice of Nigel became soft and thrilling, even as it had before been bold and daring.
"I fear me, Nigel, I have but little of my mother's blood within my veins. I cannot bid them throb and bound as hers with patriotic love and warrior fire. A lowly cot with him I loved were happiness for me."
"But that cot must rest upon a soil unchained, sweet Agnes, or joy could have no resting there. Wherefore did Scotland rise against her tyrant—why struggle as she hath to fling aside her chains? Was it her noble sons? Alas, alas! degenerate and base, they sought chivalric fame; forgetful of their country, they asked for knighthood from proud Edward's hand, regardless that that hand had crowded fetters on their fatherland, and would enslave their sons. Not to them did Scotland owe the transient gleam of glorious light which, though extinguished in the patriot's blood, hath left its trace behind. With the bold, the hardy, lowly Scot that gleam had birth; they would be free to them. What mattered that their tyrant was a valiant knight, a worthy son of chivalry: they saw but an usurper, an enslaver, and they rose and spurned his smiles—aye, and they will rise again. And wert thou one of them, sweet girl; a cotter's wife, thou too wouldst pine for freedom. Yes; Scotland will bethink her of her warrior's fate, and shout aloud revenge for Wallace!"
Either his argument was unanswerable, or the energy of his voice and manner carried conviction with them, but a brighter glow mantled the maiden's cheek, and with it stole the momentary shame—the wish, the simple words that she had spoken could be recalled.
"Give us but a king for whom to fight—a king to love, revere, obey—a king from whose hand knighthood were an honor, precious as life itself, and there are noble hearts enough to swear fealty to him, and bright swords ready to defend his throne," said the young heir of Buchan, as he brandished his own weapon above his head, and then rested his arms upon its broad hilt, despondingly. "But where is that king? Men speak of my most gentle kinsman Sir John Comyn, called the Red—bah! The sceptre were the same jewelled bauble in his impotent hand as in his sapient uncle's; a gem, a toy, forsooth, the loan of crafty Edward. No! the Red Comyn is no king for Scotland; and who is there besides? The rightful heir—a cold, dull-blooded neutral—a wild and wavering changeling. I pray thee be not angered, Nigel; it cannot be gainsaid, e'en though he is thy brother."
"I know it Alan; know it but too well," answered Nigel, sadly, though the dark glow rushed up to cheek and brow. "Yet Robert's blood is hot enough. His deeds are plunged in mystery—his words not less so; yet I cannot look on him as thou dost, as, alas! too many do. It may be that I love him all too well; that dearer even than Edward, than all the rest, has Robert ever been to me. He knows it not; for, sixteen years my senior, he has ever held me as a child taking little heed of his wayward course; and yet my heart has throbbed beneath his word, his look, as if he were not what he seemed, but would—but must be something more."
"I ever thought thee but a wild enthusiast, gentle Nigel, and this confirms it. Mystery, aye, such mystery as ever springs from actions at variance with reason, judgment, valor—with all that frames the patriot. Would that thou wert the representative of thy royal line; wert thou in Earl Robert's place, thus, thus would Alan kneel to thee and hail thee king!"
"Peace, peace, thou foolish boy, the crown and sceptre have no charm for me; let me but see my country free, the tyrant humbled, my brother as my trusting spirit whispers he shall be, and Nigel asks no more."
"Art thou indeed so modest, gentle Nigel—is thy happiness so distinct from self? thine eyes tell other tales sometimes, and speak they false, fair sir?"
Timidly, yet irresistibly, the maiden glanced up from her embroidery, but the gaze that met hers caused those bright eyes to fall more quickly than they were raised, and vainly for a few seconds did she endeavor so to steady her hand as to resume her task. Nigel was, however, spared reply, for a sharp and sudden bugle-blast reverberated through the tower, and with an exclamation of wondering inquiry Alan bounded from the chamber. There was one other inmate of that apartment, whose presence, although known and felt, had, as was evident, been no restraint either to the employments or the sentiments of the two youths and their companion. Their conversation had not passed unheeded, although it had elicited no comment or rejoinder. The Countess of Buchan stood within one of those deep embrasures we have noticed, at times glancing towards the youthful group with an earnestness of sorrowing affection that seemed to have no measure in its depth, no shrinking in its might; at others, fixing a long, unmeaning, yet somewhat anxious gaze on the wide plain and distant ocean, which the casement overlooked.
It was impossible to look once on the countenance of Isabella of Buchan, and yet forbear to look again, The calm dignity, the graceful majesty of her figure seemed to mark her as one born to command, to hold in willing homage the minds and inclinations of men; her pure, pale brow and marble cheek—for the rich rose seemed a stranger there—the long silky lash of jet, the large, full, black eye, in its repose so soft that few would guess how it could flash fire, and light up those classic features with power to stir the stagnant souls of thousands and guide them with a word. She looked in feature as in form a queen; fitted to be beloved, formed to be obeyed. Her heavy robe of dark brocade, wrought with thick threads of gold, seemed well suited to her majestic form; its long, loose folds detracting naught from the graceful ease of her carriage. Her thick, glossy hair, vying in its rich blackness with the raven's wing, was laid in smooth bands upon her stately brow, and gathered up behind in a careless knot, confined with a bodkin of massive gold. The hood or coif, formed of curiously twisted black and golden threads, which she wore in compliance with the Scottish custom, that thus made the distinction between the matron and the maiden, took not from the peculiarly graceful form of the head, nor in any part concealed the richness of the hair. Calm and pensive as was the general expression of her countenance, few could look upon it without that peculiar sensation of respect, approaching to awe, which restrained and conquered sorrow ever calls for. Perchance the cause of such emotion was all too delicate, too deeply veiled to be defined by those rude hearts who were yet conscious of its existence; and for them it was enough to own her power, bow before it, and fear her as a being set apart.
Musingly she had stood looking forth on the wide waste; the distant ocean, whose tumbling waves one moment gleamed in living light, at others immersed in inky blackness, were barely distinguished from the lowering sky. The moaning winds swept by, bearing the storm-cloud on their wings; patches of blue gleamed strangely and brightly forth; and, far in the west, crimson and amber, and pink and green, inlaid in beautiful mosaic the departing luminary's place of rest.
"Alas, my gentle one," she had internally responded to her daughter's words, "if thy mother's patriot heart could find no shield for woe, nor her warrior fire, as thou deemest it, guard her from woman's trials, what will be thy fate? This is no time for happy love, for peaceful joys, returned as it may be; for—may I doubt that truthful brow, that knightly soul (her glance was fixed on Nigel)—yet not now may the Scottish knight find rest and peace in woman's love. And better is it thus—the land of the slave is no home for love."
A faint yet a beautiful smile, dispersing as a momentary beam the anxiety stamped on her features, awoke at the enthusiastic reply of Nigel. Then she turned again to the casement, for her quick eye had discerned a party of about ten horsemen approaching in the direction of the tower, and on the summons of the bugle she advanced from her retreat to the centre of the apartment.
"Why, surely thou art but a degenerate descendant of the brave Macduff, mine Agnes, that a bugle blast should thus send back every drop of blood to thy little heart," she said, playfully. "For shame, for shame! how art thou fitted to be a warrior's bride? They are but Scottish men, and true, methinks, if I recognize their leader rightly. And it is even so."
"Sir Robert Keith, right welcome," she added, as, marshalled by young Alan, the knight appeared, bearing his plumed helmet in his hand, and displaying haste and eagerness alike in his flushed features and soiled armor.
"Ye have ridden long and hastily. Bid them hasten our evening meal, my son; or stay, perchance Sir Robert needs thine aid to rid him of this garb of war. Thou canst not serve one nobler."
"Nay, noble lady, knights must don, not doff their armor now. I bring ye news, great, glorious news, which will not brook delay. A royal messenger I come, charged by his grace my king—my country's king—with missives to his friends, calling on all who spurn a tyrant's yoke—who love their land, their homes, their freedom—on all who wish for Wallace—to awake, arise, and join their patriot king!"
"Of whom speakest thou, Sir Robert Keith? I charge thee, speak!" exclaimed Nigel, starting from the posture of dignified reserve with which he had welcomed the knight, and springing towards him.
"The patriot and the king!—of whom canst thou speak?" said Alan, at the same instant. "Thine are, in very truth, marvellous tidings, Sir Knight; an' thou canst call up one to unite such names, and worthy of them, he shall not call on me in vain."
"Is he not worthy, Alan of Buchan, who thus flings down the gauntlet, who thus dares the fury of a mighty sovereign, and with a handful of brave men prepares to follow in the steps of Wallace, to the throne or to the scaffold?"
"Heed not my reckless boy, Sir Robert," said the countess, earnestly, as the eyes of her son fell beneath the knight's glance of fiery reproach; "no heart is truer to his country, no arm more eager to rise in her defence."
"The king! the king!" gasped Nigel, some strange over-mastering emotion checking his utterance. "Who is it that has thus dared, thus—"
"And canst thou too ask, young sir?" returned the knight, with a smile of peculiar meaning. "Is thy sovereign's name unknown to thee? Is Robert Bruce a name unknown, unheard, unloved, that thou, too, breathest it not?"
"My brother, my brave, my noble brother!—I saw it, I knew it! Thou wert no changeling, no slavish neutral; but even as I felt, thou art, thou wilt be! My brother, my brother, I may live and die for thee!" and the young enthusiast raised his clasped hands above his head, as in speechless thanksgiving for these strange, exciting news; his flushed cheek, his quivering lip, his moistened eye betraying an emotion which seemed for the space of a moment to sink on the hearts of all who witnessed it, and hush each feeling into silence. A shout from the court below broke that momentary pause.
"God save King Robert! then, say I," vociferated Alan, eagerly grasping the knight's hand. "Sit, sit, Sir Knight; and for the love of heaven, speak more of this most wondrous tale. Erewhile, we hear of this goodly Earl of Carrick at Edward's court, doing him homage, serving him as his own English knight, and now in Scotland—aye, and Scotland's king. How may we reconcile these contradictions?"
"Rather how did he vanish from the tyrant's hundred eyes, and leave the court of England?" inquired Nigel, at the same instant as the Countess of Buchan demanded, somewhat anxiously—
"And Sir John Comyn, recognizes he our sovereign's claim? Is he amongst the Bruce's slender train?"
A dark cloud gathered on the noble brow of the knight, replacing the chivalric courtesy with which he had hitherto responded to his interrogators. He paused ere he answered, in a stern, deep voice—
"Sir John Comyn lived and died a traitor, lady. He hath received the meed of his base treachery; his traitorous design for the renewed slavery of his country—the imprisonment and death of the only one that stood forth in her need."
"And by whom did the traitor die?" fiercely demanded the young heir of Buchan. "Mother, thy cheek is blanched; yet wherefore? Comyn as I am, shall we claim kindred with a traitor, and turn away from the good cause, because, forsooth, a traitorous Comyn dies? No; were the Bruce's own right hand red with the recreant's blood—he only is the Comyn's king."
"Thou hast said it, youthful lord," said the knight, impressively. "Alan of Buchan, bear that bold heart and patriot sword unto the Bruce's throne, and Comyn's traitorous name shall be forgotten in the scion of Macduff. Thy mother's loyal blood runs reddest in thy veins, young sir; too pure for Comyn's base alloy. Know, then, the Bruce's hand is red with the traitor's blood, and yet, fearless and firm in the holy justice of his cause, he calls on his nobles and their vassals for their homage and their aid—he calls on them to awake from their long sleep, and shake off the iron yoke from their necks; to prove that Scotland—the free, the dauntless, the unconquered soil, which once spurned the Roman power, to which all other kingdoms bowed—is free, undaunted, and unconquered still. He calls aloud, aye, even on ye, wife and son of Comyn of Buchan, to snap the link that binds ye to a traitor's house, and prove—though darkly, basely flows the blood of Macduff in one descendant's veins, that the Earl of Fife refuses homage and allegiance to his sovereign—in ye it rushes free, and bold, and loyal still."
"And he shall find it so. Mother, why do ye not speak? You, from whose lips my heart first learnt to beat for Scotland my lips to pray that one might come to save her from the yoke of tyranny. You, who taught me to forget all private feud, to merge all feeling, every claim, in the one great hope of Scotland's freedom. Now that the time is come, wherefore art thou thus? Mother, my own noble mother, let me go forth with thy blessing on my path, and ill and woe can come not near me. Speak to thy son!" The undaunted boy flung himself on his knee before the countess as he spoke. There was a dark and fearfully troubled expression on her noble features. She had clasped her hands together, as if to still or hide their unwonted trembling; but when she looked on those bright and glowing features, there came a dark, dread vision of blood, and the axe and cord, and she folded her arms around his neck, and sobbed in all a mother's irrepressible agony.
"My own, my beautiful, to what have I doomed thee!" she cried. "To death, to woe! aye, perchance, to that heaviest woe—a father's curse! exposing thee to death, to the ills of all who dare to strike for freedom. Alan, Alan, how can I bid thee forth to death? and yet it is I have taught thee to love it better than the safety of a slave; longed, prayed for this moment—deemed that for my country I could even give my child—and now, now—oh God of mercy, give me strength!"
She bent down her head on his, clasping him to her heart, as thus to still the tempest which had whelmed it. There is something terrible in that strong emotion which sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly overpowers the calmest and most controlled natures. It speaks of an agony so measureless, so beyond the relief of sympathy, that it falls like an electric spell on the hearts of all witnesses, sweeping all minor passions into dust before it. Little accustomed as was Sir Robert Keith to sympathize in such emotions, he now turned hastily aside, and, as if fearing to trust himself in silence, commenced a hurried detail to Nigel Bruce of the Earl of Carrick's escape from London, and his present position. The young nobleman endeavored to confine his attention to the subject, but his eyes would wander in the direction of Agnes, who, terrified at emotions which in her mother she had never witnessed before, was kneeling in tears beside her brother.
A strong convulsive shuddering passed over the bowed frame of Isabella of Buchan; then she lifted up her head, and all traces of emotion had passed from her features. Silently she pressed her lips on the fair brows of her children alternately, and her voice faltered not as she bade them rise and heed her not.
"We will speak further of this anon, Sir Robert," she said, so calmly that the knight started. "Hurried and important as I deem your mission, the day is too far spent to permit of your departure until the morrow; you will honor our evening meal, and this true Scottish tower for a night's lodging, and then we can have leisure for discourse on the weighty matters you have touched upon."
She bowed courteously, as she turned with a slow, unfaltering step to leave the room. Her resumed dignity recalled the bewildered senses of her son, and, with graceful courtesy, he invited the knight to follow him, and choose his lodging for the night.
"Agnes, mine own Agnes, now, indeed, may I win thee," whispered Nigel, as tenderly he folded his arm round her, and looked fondly in her face. "Scotland shall be free! her tyrants banished by her patriot king; and then, then may not Nigel Bruce look to this little hand as his reward? Shall not, may not the thought of thy pure, gentle love be mine, in the tented field and battle's roar, urging me on, even should all other voice be hushed?"
"Forgettest thou I am a Comyn, Nigel? That the dark stain of traitor, of disloyalty is withering on our line, and wider and wider grows the barrier between us and the Bruce?" The voice of the maiden was choked, her bright eyes dim with tears.
"All, all I do forget, save that thou art mine own sweet love; and though thy name is Comyn, thy heart is all Macduff. Weep not, my Agnes; thine eyes were never framed for tears. Bright times for us and Scotland are yet in store!"
For the better comprehension of the events related in the preceding chapter, it will be necessary to cast a summary glance on matters of historical and domestic import no way irrelevant to our subject, save and except their having taken place some few years previous to the commencement of our tale.
The early years of Isabella of Buchan had been passed in happiness. The only daughter, indeed for seven years the only child, of Malcolm, Earl of Fife, deprived of her mother on the birth of her brother, her youth had been nursed in a tenderness and care uncommon in those rude ages; and yet, from being constantly with her father, she imbibed those higher qualities of mind which so ably fitted her for the part which in after years it was her lot to play. The last words of his devoted wife, imploring him to educate her child himself, and not to sever the tie between them, by following the example of his compeers, and sending her either to England, France, or Norway, had been zealously observed by the earl; the prosperous calm, which was the happy portion of Scotland during the latter years of Alexander III., whose favorite minister he was, enabled him to adhere to her wishes far more successfully than could have been the case had he been called forth to war.
In her father's castle, then, were the first thirteen years of the Lady Isabella spent, varied only by occasional visits to the court of Alexander, where her beauty and vivacity rendered her a universal favorite. Descended from one of the most ancient Scottish families, whose race it was their boast had never been adulterated by the blood of a foreigner, no Norman prejudice intermingled with the education of Isabella, to tarnish in any degree those principles of loyalty and patriotism which her father, the Earl of Fife, so zealously inculcated. She was a more true, devoted Scottish woman at fourteen, than many of her own rank whose years might double hers; ready even then to sacrifice even life itself, were it called for in defence of her sovereign, or the freedom of her country; and when, on the death of Alexander, clouds began to darken the horizon of Scotland, her father scrupled not to impart to her, child though she seemed, those fears and anxieties which clouded his brow, and filled his spirit with foreboding gloom. It was then that in her flashing eye and lofty soul, in the undaunted spirit, which bore a while even his colder and more foreseeing mood along with it, that he traced the fruit whose seed he had so carefully sown.
"Why should you fear for Scotland, my father?" she would urge; "is it because her queen is but a child and now far distant, that anarchy and gloom shall enfold our land? Is it not shame in ye thus craven to deem her sons, when in thy own breast so much devotion and loyalty have rest? why not judge others by yourself, my father, and know the dark things of which ye dream can never be?"
"Thou speakest as the enthusiast thou art, my child. Yet it is not the rule of our maiden queen my foreboding spirit dreads; 'tis that on such a slender thread as her young life suspends the well-doing or the ruin of her kingdom. If she be permitted to live and reign over us, all may be well; 'tis on the event of her death for which I tremble."
"Wait till the evil day cometh then, my father; bring it not nearer by anticipation; and should indeed such be, thinkest thou not there are bold hearts and loyal souls to guard our land from foreign foe, and give the rightful heir his due?"
"I know not, Isabella. There remain but few with the pure Scottish blood within their veins, and it is but to them our land is so dear: they would peril life and limb in her defence. It is not to the proud baron descended from the intruding Norman, and thinking only of his knightly sports and increase of wealth, by it matters not what war. Nor dare we look with confidence to the wild chiefs of the north and the Lords of the Isles; eager to enlarge their own dominions, to extend the terrors of their name, they will gladly welcome the horrors and confusion that may arise; and have we true Scottish blood enough to weigh against these, my child? Alas! Isabella, our only hope is in the health and well-doing of our queen, precarious as that is; but if she fail us, woe to Scotland!"
The young Isabella could not bring forward any solid arguments in answer to this reasoning, and therefore she was silent; but she felt her Scottish blood throb quicker in her veins, as he spoke of the few pure Scottish men remaining, and inwardly vowed, woman as she was, to devote both energy and life to her country and its sovereign.
Unhappily for his children, though perhaps fortunately for himself, the Earl of Fife was spared the witnessing in the miseries of his country how true had been his forebodings. Two years after the death of his king, he was found dead in his bed, not without strong suspicion of poison. Public rumor pointed to his uncle, Macduff of Glamis, as the instigator, if not the actual perpetrator of the deed; but as no decided proof could be alleged against him, and the High Courts of Scotland not seeming inclined to pursue the investigation, the rumor ceased, and Macduff assumed, with great appearance of zeal, the guardianship of the young Earl of Fife and his sister, an office bequeathed to him under the hand and seal of the earl, his nephew.
The character of the Lady Isabella was formed; that of her brother, a child of eight, of course was not; and the deep, voiceless suffering her father's loss occasioned her individually was painfully heightened by the idea that to her young brother his death was an infinitely greater misfortune than to herself. He indeed knew not, felt not the agony which bound her; he knew not the void which was on her soul; how utterly, unspeakably lonely that heart had become, accustomed as it had been to repose its every thought, and hope, and wish, and feeling on a parent's love; yet notwithstanding this, her clear mind felt and saw that while for herself there was little fear that she should waver in those principles so carefully instilled, for her brother there was much, very much to dread. She did not and could not repose confidence in her kinsman; for her parent's sake she struggled to prevent dislike, to compel belief that the suavity, even kindness of his manner, the sentiments which he expressed, had their foundation in sincerity; but when her young brother became solely and entirely subject to his influence, she could no longer resist the conviction that their guardian was not the fittest person for the formation of a patriot. She could not, she would not believe the rumor which had once, but once, reached her ears, uniting the hitherto pure line of Macduff with midnight murder; her own noble mind rejected the idea as a thing utterly and wholly impossible, the more so perhaps, as she knew her father had been latterly subject to an insidious disease, baffling all the leech's art, and which he himself had often warned her would terminate suddenly; yet still an inward shuddering would cross her heart at times, when in his presence; she could not define the cause, or why she felt it sometimes and not always, and so she sought to subdue it, but she sought in vain.
Meanwhile an event approached materially connected with the Lady Isabella, and whose consummation the late Thane of Fife had earnestly prayed he might have been permitted to hallow with his blessing. Alexander Comyn, Earl of Buchan and High Constable of Scotland, had been from early youth the brother in arms and dearest friend of the Earl of Fife, and in the romantic enthusiasm which ever characterized the companionship of chivalry, they had exchanged a mutual vow that in after years, should heaven grant them children, a yet nearer and dearer tie should unite their houses. The birth of Isabella, two years after that of an heir to Buchan, was hailed with increased delight by both fathers, and from her earliest years she was accustomed to look to the Lord John as her future husband. Perhaps had they been much thrown together, Isabella's high and independent spirit would have rebelled against this wish of her father, and preferred the choosing for herself; but from the ages of eleven and nine they had been separated, the Earl of Buchan sending his son, much against the advice of his friend, to England, imagining that there, and under such a knight as Prince Edward, he would better learn the noble art of war and all chivalric duties, than in the more barbarous realm of Scotland. To Isabella, then, her destined husband was a stranger; yet with a heart too young and unsophisticated to combat her parent's wishes, by any idea of its affections becoming otherwise engaged, and judging of the son by the father, to whom she was ever a welcome guest, and who in himself was indeed a noble example of chivalry and honor, Isabella neither felt nor expressed any repugnance to her father's wish, that she should sign her name to a contract of betrothal, drawn up by the venerable abbot of Buchan, and to which the name of Lord John had been already appended; it was the lingering echoes of that deep, yet gentle voice, blessing her compliance to his wishes, which thrilled again and again to her heart, softening her grief, even when that beloved voice was hushed forever, and she had no thought, no wish to recall that promise, nay, even looked to its consummation with joy, as a release from the companionship, nay, as at times she felt, the wardance of her kinsman.
But this calm and happy frame of mind was not permitted to be of long continuance. In one of the brief intervals of Macduff's absence from the castle, about eighteen months after her father's death, the young earl prevailed on the aged retainer in whose charge he had been left, to consent to his going forth to hunt the red deer, a sport of which, boy as he was, he was passionately fond. In joyous spirits, and attended by a gallant train, he set out, calling for and receiving the ready sympathy of his sister, who rejoiced as himself in his emancipation from restraint, which either was, or seemed to be, adverse to the usual treatment of noble youths.
Somewhat sooner than Isabella anticipated, they returned. Earl Duncan, with a wilfulness which already characterized him, weary of the extreme watchfulness of his attendants, who, in their anxiety to keep him from danger, checked and interfered with his boyish wish to signalize himself by some daring deed of agility and skill, at length separated himself, except from one or two as wilful, and but little older than himself. The young lord possessed all the daring of his race, but skill and foresight he needed greatly, and dearly would he have paid for his rashness. A young and fiery bull had chanced to cross his path, and disregarding the entreaties of his followers, he taunted them with cowardice, and goaded the furious animal to the encounter; too late he discovered that he had neither skill nor strength for the combat he had provoked, and had it not been for the strenuous exertions of a stranger youth, who diverted aside the fury of the beast, he must have fallen a victim to his thoughtless daring. Curiously, and almost enviously, he watched the combat between the stranger and the bull, nor did any emotion of gratitude rise in the boy's breast to soften the bitterness with which he regarded the victory of the former, which the reproaches of his retainers, who at that instant came up, and their condemnation of his folly, did not tend to diminish; and almost sullenly he passed to the rear, on their return, leaving Sir Malise Duff to make the acknowledgments, which should have come from him, and courteously invite the young stranger to accompany them home, an invitation which, somewhat to the discomposure of Earl Duncan, was accepted.
If the stranger had experienced any emotion of anger from the boy's slight of his services, the gratitude of the Lady Isabella would have banished it on the instant, and amply repaid them; with cheeks glowing, eyes glistening, and a voice quivering with suppressed emotion, she had spoken her brief yet eloquent thanks; and had he needed further proof, the embrace she lavished on her young brother, as reluctantly, and after a long interval, he entered the hall, said yet more than her broken words.
"Thou art but a fool, Isabella, craving thy pardon," was his ungracious address, as he sullenly freed himself from her. "Had I brought thee the bull's horns, there might have been some cause for this marvellously warm welcome; but as it is—"
"I joy thou wert not punished for thy rashness, Duncan. Yet 'twas not in such mood I hoped to find thee; knowest thou that 'tis to yon brave stranger thou owest thy life?"
"Better it had been forfeited, than that he should stand between me and mine honor. I thank him not for it, nor owe him aught like gratitude."
"Peace, ungrateful boy, an thou knowest not thy station better," was his sister's calm, yet dignified reply; and the stranger smiled, and by his courteous manner, speedily dismissed her fears as to the impression of her brother's words, regarding them as the mere petulance of a child.
Days passed, and still the stranger lingered; eminently handsome, his carriage peculiarly graceful, and even dignified, although it was evident, from the slight, and as it were, unfinished roundness of his figure, that he was but in the first stage of youth, yet his discourse and manner were of a kind that would bespeak him noble, even had his appearance been less convincing. According to the custom of the time, which would have deemed the questioning a guest as to his name and family a breach of all the rules of chivalry and hospitality, he remained unknown.
"Men call me Sir Robert, though I have still my spurs to win," he had once said, laughingly, to Lady Isabella and her kinsman, Sir Malise Duff, "but I would not proclaim my birth till I may bring it honor."
A month passed ere their guest took his departure, leaving regard and regret behind him, in all, perhaps, save in the childish breast of Earl Duncan, whose sullen manner had never changed. There was a freshness and light-heartedness, and a wild spirit of daring gallantry about the stranger that fascinated, men scarce knew wherefore; a reckless independence of sentiment which charmed, from the utter absence of all affectation which it comprised. To all, save to the Lady Isabella, he was a mere boy, younger even than his years; but in conversation with her his superior mind shone forth, proving he could in truth appreciate hers, and give back intellect for intellect, feeling for feeling; perhaps her beauty and unusual endowments had left their impression upon him. However it may be, one day, one little day after the departure of Sir Robert, Isabella woke to the consciousness that the calm which had so long rested on her spirit bad departed, and forever; and to what had it given place? Had she dared to love, she, the betrothed, the promised bride of another? No; she could not have sunk thus low, her heart had been too long controlled to rebel now. She might not, she would not listen to its voice, to its wild, impassioned throbs. Alas! she miscalculated her own power; the fastnesses she had deemed secure were forced; they closed upon their subtle foe, and held their conqueror prisoner.
But Isabella was not one to waver in a determination when once formed; how might she break asunder links which the dead had hallowed? She became the bride of Lord John; she sought with her whole soul to forget the past, and love him according to her bridal vow, and as time passed she ceased to think of that beautiful vision of her early youth, save as a dream that had had no resting; and a mother's fond yearnings sent their deep delicious sweetness as oil on the troubled waters of her heart. She might have done this, but unhappily she too soon discovered her husband was not one to aid her in her unsuspected task, to soothe and guide, and by his affection demand her gratitude and reverence. Enwrapped in selfishness or haughty indifference, his manner towards her ever harsh, unbending, and suspicious, Isabella's pride would have sustained her, had not her previous trial lowered her in self-esteem; but as it was, meekly and silently she bore with the continued outbreak of unrestrained passion, and never wavered from the path of duty her clear mind had laid down.
On the birth of a son, however, her mind regained its tone, and inwardly yet solemnly she vowed that no mistaken sense of duty to her husband should interfere with the education of her son. As widely opposed as were their individual characters, so were the politics of the now Earl and Countess of Buchan. Educated in England, on friendly terms with her king, he had, as the Earl of Fife anticipated, lost all nationality, all interest in Scotland, and as willingly and unconcernedly taken the vows of homage to John Baliol, as the mere representative and lieutenant of Edward, as he would have done to a free and unlimited king. He had been among the very first to vote for calling in the King of England as umpire; the most eager to second and carry out all Edward's views, and consequently high in that monarch's favor, a reputation which his enmity to the house of Bruce, one of the most troublesome competitors of the crown, did not tend to diminish. Fortunately perhaps for Isabella, the bustling politics of her husband constantly divided them. The births of a daughter and son had no effect in softening his hard and selfish temper; he looked on them more as incumbrances than pleasures, and leaving the countess in the strong Tower of Buchan, he himself, with a troop of armed and mounted Comyns, attached himself to the court and interests of Edward, seeming to forget that such beings as a wife and children had existence. Months, often years, would stretch between the earl's visits to his mountain home, and then a week was the longest period of his lingering; but no evidence of a gentler spirit or of less indifference to his children was apparent, and years seemed to have turned to positive evil, qualities which in youth had merely seemed unamiable.
Desolate as the situation of the countess might perhaps appear, she found solace and delight in moulding the young minds of her children according to the pure and elevated cast of her own. All the long-suppressed tenderness of her nature was lavished upon them, and on their innocent love she sought to rest the passionate yearnings of her own. She taught them to be patriots, in the purest, most beautiful appropriation of the term,—to spurn the yoke of the foreigner, and the oppressor, however light and flowery the links of that yoke might seem. She could not bid them love and revere their father as she longed to do, but she taught them that where their duty to their country and their free and unchained king interfered not, in all things they must obey and serve their father, and seek to win his love.
Once only had the Countess of Buchan beheld the vision which had crossed her youth. He had come, it seemed unconscious of his track, and asked hospitality for a night, evidently without knowing who was the owner of the castle; perhaps his thoughts were preoccupied, for a deep gloom was on his brow, and though he had started with evident pleasure when recognizing his beautiful hostess, the gloom speedily resumed ascendency. It was but a few weeks after the fatal battle of Falkirk, and therefore Isabella felt there was cause enough for depression and uneasiness. The graces of boyhood had given place to a finished manliness of deportment, a calmer expression of feature, denoting that years had changed and steadied the character, even as the form. He then seemed as one laboring under painful and heavy thought, as one brooding over some mighty change within, as if some question of weighty import were struggling with recollections and visions of the past. He had spoken little, evidently shrinking in pain from all reference to or information on the late engagement. He tarried not long, departing with dawn next day, and they did not meet again.
And what had been the emotions of the countess? perhaps her heart had throbbed, and her cheek paled and flushed, at this unexpected meeting with one she had fervently prayed never to see again; but not one feeling obtained ascendency in that heart which she would have dreaded to unveil to the eye of her husband. She did indeed feel that had her lot been cast otherwise, it must have been a happy one, but the thought was transient. She was a wife, a mother, and in the happiness of her children, her youth, and all its joys and pangs, and dreams and hopes, were merged, to be recalled no more.
The task of instilling patriotic sentiments in the breast of her son had been insensibly aided by the countess's independent position amid the retainers of Buchan. This earldom had only been possessed by the family of Comyn since the latter years of the reign of William the Lion, passing into their family by the marriage of Margaret Countess of Buchan with Sir William Comyn, a knight of goodly favor and repute. This interpolation and ascendency of strangers was a continual source of jealousy and ire to the ancient retainers of the olden heritage, and continually threatened to break out into open feud, had not the soothing policy of the Countess Margaret and her descendants, by continually employing them together in subjecting other petty clans, contrived to keep them in good humor. As long as their lords were loyal to Scotland and her king, and behaved so as to occasion no unpleasant comparison between them and former superiors, all went on smoothly; but the haughty and often outrageous conduct of the present earl, his utter neglect of their interests, his treasonous politics, speedily roused the slumbering fire into flame. A secret yet solemn oath went round the clan, by which every fighting man bound himself to rebel against their master, rather than betray their country by siding with a foreign tyrant; to desert their homes, their all, and disperse singly midst the fastnesses and rocks of Scotland, than lift up a sword against her freedom. The sentiments of the countess were very soon discovered; and even yet stronger than the contempt and loathing with which they looked upon the earl was the love, the veneration they bore to her and to her children. If his mother's lips had been silent, the youthful heir would have learned loyalty and patriotism from his brave though unlettered retainers, as it was to them he owed the skin and grace with which he sate his fiery steed, and poised his heavy lance, and wielded his stainless brand—to them he owed all the chivalric accomplishments of the day; and though he had never quitted the territories of Buchan, he would have found few to compete with him in his high and gallant spirit.
Dark and troubled was the political aspect of unhappy Scotland, at the eventful period at which our tale commences. The barbarous and most unjust execution of Sir William Wallace had struck the whole country as with a deadly panic, from which it seemed there was not one to rise to cast aside the heavy chains, whose weight it seemed had crushed the whole kingdom, and taken from it the last gleams of patriotism and of hope. Every fortress of strength and consequence was in possession of the English. English soldiers, English commissioners, English judges, laws, and regulations now filled and governed Scotland. The abrogation of all those ancient customs, which had descended from the Celts and Picts, and Scots, fell upon the hearts of all true Scottish men as the tearing asunder the last links of freedom, and branding them as slaves. Her principal nobles, strangely and traitorously, preferred safety and wealth, in the acknowledgment and servitude of Edward, to glory and honor in the service of their country; and the spirits of the middle ranks yet spurned the inglorious yoke, and throbbed but for one to lead them on, if not to victory, at least to an honorable death. That one seemed not to rise; it was as if the mighty soul of Scotland had departed, when Wallace slept in death.
A bustling and joyous aspect did the ancient town of Scone present near the end of March, 1306. Subdued indeed, and evidently under some restraint and mystery, which might be accounted for by the near vicinity of the English, who were quartered in large numbers over almost the whole of Perthshire; some, however, appeared exempt from these most unwelcome guests. The nobles, esquires, yeomen, and peasants—all, by their national garb and eager yet suppressed voices, might be known at once as Scotsmen right and true.
It had been long, very long since the old quiet town had witnessed such busy groups and such eager tongues as on all sides thronged it now; the very burghers and men of handicraft wore on their countenances tokens of something momentous. There were smiths' shops opening on every side, armorers at work, anvils clanging, spears sharpening, shields burnishing, bits and steel saddles and sharp spurs meeting the eye at every turn. Ever and anon, came a burst of enlivening music, and well mounted and gallantly attired, attended by some twenty or fifty followers, as may be, would gallop down some knight or noble, his armor flashing back a hundred fold the rays of the setting sun; his silken pennon displayed, the device of which seldom failed to excite a hearty cheer from the excited crowds; his stainless shield and heavy spear borne by his attendant esquires; his vizor up, as if he courted and dared recognition; his surcoat, curiously and tastefully embroidered; his gold or silver-sheathed and hilted sword suspended by the silken sash of many folds and brilliant coloring. On foot or on horseback, these noble cavaliers were continually passing and repassing the ancient streets, singly or in groups; then there were their followers, all carefully and strictly armed, in the buff coat plaited with steel, the well-quilted bonnet, the huge broadsword; Highlanders in their peculiar and graceful costume; even the stout farmers, who might also be found amongst this motley assemblage, wearing the iron hauberk and sharp sword beneath their apparently peaceful garb. Friars in their gray frocks and black cowls, and stately burghers and magistrates, in their velvet cloaks and gold chains, continually mingled their peaceful forms with their more warlike brethren, and lent a yet more varied character to the stirring picture.
Varied as were the features of this moving multitude, the expression on every countenance, noble and follower, yeoman and peasant, burgher and even monk, was invariably the same—a species of strong yet suppressed excitement, sometimes shaded by anxiety, sometimes lighted by hope, almost amounting to triumph; sometimes the dark frown of scorn and hate would pass like a thunder-cloud over noble brows, and the mailed hand unconsciously clutched the sword; and then the low thrilling laugh of derisive contempt would disperse the shade, and the muttered oath of vengeance drown the voice of execration. It would have been a strange yet mighty study, the face of man in that old town; but men were all too much excited to observe their fellows, to them it was enough—unspoken, unimparted wisdom as it was—to know, to feel, one common feeling bound that varied mass of men, one mighty interest made them brothers.
The ancient Palace of Scone, so long unused, was now evidently the head-quarters of the noblemen hovering about the town, for whatever purpose they were there assembled. The heavy flag of Scotland, in all its massive quarterings, as the symbol of a free unfettered kingdom, waved from the centre tower; archers and spearmen lined the courts, sentinels were at their posts, giving and receiving the watchword from all who passed and repassed the heavy gates, which from dawn till nightfall were flung wide open, as if the inmates of that regal dwelling were ever ready to receive their friends, and feared not the approach of foes.
The sun, though sinking, was still bright, when the slow and dignified approach of the venerable abbot of Scone occasioned some stir and bustle amidst the joyous occupants of the palace yard; the wild joke was hushed, the noisy brawl subsided, the games of quoit and hurling the bar a while suspended, and the silence of unaffected reverence awaited the good old man's approach and kindly-given benediction. Leaving his attendants in one of the lower rooms, the abbot proceeded up the massive stone staircase, and along a broad and lengthy passage, darkly panelled with thick oak, then pushing aside some heavy arras, stood within one of the state chambers, and gave his fervent benison on one within. This was a man in the earliest and freshest prime of life, that period uniting all the grace and beauty of youth with the mature thought, and steady wisdom, and calmer views of manhood. That he was of noble birth and blood and training one glance sufficed; peculiarly and gloriously distinguished in the quiet majesty of his figure, in the mild attempered gravity of his commanding features. Nature herself seemed to have marked him out for the distinguished part it was his to play. Already there were lines of thought upon the clear and open brow, and round the mouth; and the blue eye shone with that calm, steady lustre, which seldom comes till the changeful fire and wild visions of dreamy youth have departed. His hair, of rich and glossy brown, fell in loose natural curls on either side his face, somewhat lower than his throat, shading his cheeks, which, rather pale than otherwise, added to the somewhat grave aspect of his countenance; his armor of steel, richly and curiously inlaid with burnished gold, sat lightly and easily upon his peculiarly tall and manly figure; a sash, of azure silk and gold, suspended his sword, whose sheath was in unison with the rest of his armor, though the hilt was studded with gems. His collar was also of gold, as were his gauntlets, which with his helmet rested on a table near him; a coronet of plain gold surmounted his helmet, and on his surcoat, which lay on a seat at the further end of the room, might be discerned the rampant lion of Scotland, surmounted by a crown.
The apartment in which he stood, though shorn of much of that splendor which, ere the usurping invasion of Edward of England, had distinguished it, still bore evidence of being a chamber of some state. The hangings were of dark-green velvet embroidered, and with a very broad fringe of gold; drapery of the same costly material adorned the broad casements, which stood in heavy frames of oak, black as ebony. Large folding-doors, with panels of the same beautiful material, richly carved, opened into an ante-chamber, and thence to the grand staircase and more public parts of the building. In this ante-chamber were now assembled pages, esquires, and other officers bespeaking a royal household, though much less numerous than is generally the case.
"Sir Edward and the young Lord of Douglas have not returned, sayest thou, good Athelbert? Knowest thou when and for what went they forth?" were the words which were spoken by the noble we have described, as the abbot entered, unperceived at first, from his having avoided the public entrance to the state rooms; they were addressed to an esquire, who, with cap in hand and head somewhat lowered, respectfully awaited the commands of his master.
"They said not the direction of their course, my liege; 'tis thought to reconnoitre either the movements of the English, or to ascertain the cause of the delay of the Lord of Fife. They departed at sunrise, with but few followers."
"On but a useless errand, good Athelbert, methinks, an they hope to greet Earl Duncan, save with a host of English at his back. Bid Sir Edward hither, should he return ere nightfall, and see to the instant delivery of those papers; I fear me, the good lord bishop has waited for them; and stay—Sir Robert Keith, hath he not yet returned?"
"No, good my lord."
"Ha! he tarrieth long," answered the noble, musingly. "Now heaven forefend no evil hath befallen him; but to thy mission, Athelbert, I must not detain thee with doubts and cavil. Ha! reverend father, right welcome," he added, perceiving him as he turned again to the table, on the esquire reverentially withdrawing from his presence, and bending his head humbly in acknowledgment of the abbot's benediction. "Thou findest me busied as usual. Seest thou," he pointed to a rough map of Scotland lying before him, curiously intersected with mystic lines and crosses, "Edinburgh, Berwick, Roxburgh, Lanark, Stirling, Dumbarton, in the power of, nay peopled, by English. Argyle on the west, Elgin, Aberdeen, with Banff eastward, teeming with proud, false Scots, hereditary foes to the Bruce, false traitors to their land; the north—why, 'tis the same foul tale; and yet I dare to raise my banner, dare to wear the crown, and fling defiance in the teeth of all. What sayest thou, father—is't not a madman's deed?"
All appearance of gravity vanished from his features as he spoke. His eye, seemingly so mild, flashed till its very color could not have been distinguished, his cheek glowed, his lip curled, and his voice, ever peculiarly rich and sonorous, deepened with the excitement of soul.
"Were the fate of man in his own hands, were it his and his alone to make or mar his destiny, I should e'en proclaim thee mad, my son, and seek to turn thee from thy desperate purpose; but it is not so. Man is but an instrument, and He who urged thee to this deed, who wills not this poor land to rest enslaved, will give thee strength and wisdom for its freedom. His ways are not as man's; and circled as thou seemest with foes, His strength shall bring thee forth and gird thee with His glory. Thou wouldst not turn aside, my son—thou fearest not thy foes?"
"Fear! holy father: it is a word unknown to the children of the Bruce! I do but smile at mine extensive kingdom—of some hundred acres square; smile at the eagerness with which they greet me liege and king, as if the words, so long unused, should now do double duty for long absence."
"And better so, my son," answered the old man, cheerfully. "Devotion to her destined savior argues well for bonny Scotland; better do homage unto thee as liege and king, though usurpation hath abridged thy kingdom, than to the hireling of England's Edward, all Scotland at his feet. Men will not kneel to sceptred slaves, nor freemen fight for tyrants' tools. Sovereign of Scotland thou art, thou shalt be, Robert the Bruce! Too long hast thou kept back; but now, if arms can fight and hearts can pray, thou shalt be king of Scotland."
The abbot spoke with a fervor, a spirit which, though perhaps little accordant with his clerical character, thrilled to the Bruce's heart. He grasped the old man's hand.
"Holy father," he said, "thou wouldst inspire hearts with ardor needing inspiration more than mine; and to me thou givest hope, and confidence, and strength. Too long have I slept and dreamed," his countenance darkened, and his voice was sadder; "fickle in purpose, uncertain in accomplishment; permitting my youth to moulder 'neath the blasting atmosphere of tyranny. Yet will I now atone for the neglected past. Atone! aye, banish it from the minds of men. My country hath a claim, a double claim upon me; she calls upon me, trumpet-tongued, to arise, avenge her, and redeem my misspent youth. Nor shall she call on me in vain, so help me, gracious heaven!"
"Amen," fervently responded the abbot; and the king continued more hurriedly—
"And that stain, that blot, father? Is there mercy in heaven to wash its darkness from my soul, or must it linger there forever preying on my spirit, dashing e'en its highest hopes and noblest dreams with poison, whispering its still voice of accusation, even when loudest rings the praise and love of men? Is there no rest for this, no silence for that whisper? Penitence, atonement, any thing thou wilt, let but my soul be free!" Hastily, and with step and countenance disordered, he traversed the chamber, his expressive countenance denoting the strife within.
"It was, in truth, a rash and guilty deed, my son," answered the abbot, gravely, yet mildly, "and one that heaven in its justice will scarce pass unavenged. Man hath given thee the absolution accorded to the true and faithful penitent, for such thou art; yet scarcely dare we hope offended heaven is appeased. Justice will visit thee with trouble—sore, oppressing, grievous trouble. Yet despair not: thou wilt come forth the purer, nobler, brighter, from the fire; despair not, but as a child receive a father's chastening; lean upon that love, which wills not death, but penitence and life; that love, which yet will bring thee forth and bless this land in thee. My son, be comforted; His mercy is yet greater than thy sin."
"And blest art thou, my father, for these blessed words; a messenger in truth thou art of peace and love; and oh, if prayers and penitence avail, if sore temptation may be pleaded, I shall, I shall be pardoned. Yet would I give my dearest hopes of life, of fame, of all—save Scotland's freedom—that this evil had not chanced; that blood, his blood—base traitor as he was—was not upon my hand."
"And can it be thou art such craven, Robert, as to repent a Comyn's death—a Comyn, and a traitor—e'en though his dastard blood be on thy hand?—bah! An' such deeds weigh heavy on thy mind, a friar's cowl were better suited to thy brow than Scotland's diadem."
The speaker was a tall, powerful man, somewhat younger in appearance than the king, but with an expression of fierceness and haughty pride, contrasting powerfully with the benevolent and native dignity which so characterized the Bruce. His voice was as harsh as his manner was abrupt; yet that he was brave, nay, rash in his unthinking daring, a very transient glance would suffice to discover.
"I forgive thee thine undeserved taunt, Edward," answered the king, calmly, though the hot blood rushed up to his cheek and brow. "I trust, ere long, to prove thy words are as idle as the mood which prompted them. I feel not that repentance cools the patriot fire which urges me to strike for Scotland's weal—that sorrow for a hated crime unfits me for a warrior. I would not Comyn lived, but that he had met a traitor's fate by other hands than mine; been judged—condemned, as his black treachery called for; even for our country's sake, it had been better thus."
"Thou art over-scrupulous, my liege and brother, and I too hasty," replied Sir Edward Bruce, in the same bold, careless tone. "Yet beshrew me, but I think that in these times a sudden blow and hasty fate the only judgment for a traitor. The miscreant were too richly honored, that by thy royal hand he fell."
"My son, my son, I pray thee, peace," urged the abbot, in accents of calm, yet grave authority. "As minister of heaven, I may not list such words. Bend not thy brow in wrath, clad as thou art in mail, in youthful might; yet in my Maker's cause this withered frame is stronger yet than thou art. Enough of that which hath been. Thy sovereign spoke in lowly penitence to me—to me, who frail and lowly unto thee, am yet the minister of Him whom sin offends. To thee he stands a warrior and a king, who rude irreverence may brook not, even from his brother. Be peace between us, then, my son; an old man's blessing on thy fierce yet knightly spirit rest."
With a muttered oath Sir Edward had strode away at the abbot's first words, but the cloud passed from his brow as he concluded, and slightly, yet with something of reverence, he bowed his head.
"And whither didst thou wend thy way, my fiery brother?" demanded Robert. "Bringest thou aught of news, or didst thou and Douglas but set foot in stirrup and hand on rein simply from weariness of quiet?"
"In sober truth, 'twas even so; partly to mark the movements of the English, an they make a movement, which, till Pembroke come, they are all too much amazed to do; partly to see if in truth that poltroon Duncan of Fife yet hangs back and still persists in forswearing the loyalty of his ancestors, and leaving to better hands the proud task of placing the crown of Scotland on thy head."
"And thou art convinced at last that such and such only is his intention?" The knight nodded assent, and Bruce continued, jestingly, "And so thou mightst have been long ago, my sage brother, hadst thou listened to me. I tell thee Earl Duncan hath a spite against me, not for daring to raise the standard of freedom and proclaim myself a king, but for very hatred of myself. Nay, hast thou not seen it thyself, when, fellow-soldiers, fellow-seekers of the banquet, tournay, or ball, he hath avoided, shunned me? and why should he seek me now?"
"Why? does not Scotland call him, Scotland bid him gird his sword and don his mail? Will not the dim spectres of his loyal line start from their very tombs to call him to thy side, or brand him traitor and poltroon, with naught of Duff about him but the name? Thou smilest."
"At thy violence, good brother. Duncan of Fife loves better the silken cords of peace and pleasure, e'en though those silken threads hide chains, than the trumpet's voice and weight of mail. In England bred, courted, flattered by her king, 'twere much too sore a trouble to excite his anger and lose his favor; and for whom, for what?—to crown the man he hateth from his soul?"
"And knowest thou wherefore, good my son, in what thou hast offended?"
"Offended, holy father? Nay, in naught unless perchance a service rendered when a boy—a simple service, merely that of saving life—hath rendered him the touchy fool he is. But hark! who comes?"
The tramping of many horses, mingled with the eager voices of men, resounded from the courtyard as he spoke, and Sir Edward strode hastily to the casement. "Sir Robert Keith returned!" he exclaimed, joyfully; "and seemingly right well attended. Litters too—bah! we want no more women. 'Tis somewhat new for Keith to be a squire of dames. Why, what banner is this? The black bear of Buchan—impossible! the earl is a foul Comyn. I'll to the court, for this passes my poor wits." He turned hastily to quit the chamber, as a youth entered, not without some opposition, it appeared, from the attendants without, but eagerly he had burst through them, and flung his plumed helmet from his beautiful brow, and, after glancing hastily round the room, bounded to the side of Robert, knelt at his feet, and clasped his knees without uttering a syllable, voiceless from an emotion whose index was stamped upon his glowing features.
"Nigel, by all that's marvellous, and as moon-stricken as his wont! Why, where the foul fiend hast thou sprung from? Art dumb, thou foolish boy? By St. Andrew, these are times to act and speak, not think and feel! Whence comest thou?"
So spoke the impatient Edward, to whom the character of his youngest brother had ever been a riddle, which it had been too much trouble to expound, and that which it seemed to his too careless thought he ever looked upon with scorn and contempt. Not so, King Robert; he raised him affectionately in his arms, and pressed him to his heart.
"Thou'rt welcome, most, most welcome, Nigel; as welcome as unlooked for. But why this quick return from scenes and studies more congenial to thy gentle nature, my young brother? this fettered land is scarce a home for thee; thy free, thy fond imaginings can scarce have resting here." He spoke sadly, and his smile unwittingly was sorrowful.
"And thinkest thou, Robert—nay, forgive me, good my liege—thinkest thou, because I loved the poet's dream, because I turned, in sad and lonely musing, from King Edward's court, I loved the cloister better than the camp? Oh, do me not such wrong! thou knowest not the guidings of my heart; nor needs it now, my sword shall better plead my cause than can my tongue." He turned away deeply and evidently pained, and a half laugh from Sir Edward prevented the king's reply.
"Well crowed, my pretty fledgling," he said, half jesting, half in scorn. "But knowest thou, to fight in very earnest is something different than to read and chant it in a minstrel's lay? Better hie thee back to Florence, boy; the mail suit and crested helm are not for such as thee—better shun them now, than after they are donned."
"How! darest thou, Edward? Edward, tempt me not too far," exclaimed Nigel, his cheek flushing, and springing towards him, his hand upon his half-drawn sword. "By heaven, wert thou not my mother's son, I would compel thee to retract these words, injurious, unjust! How darest thou judge me coward, till my cowardice is proved? Thy blood is not more red than mine."
"Peace, peace! what meaneth this unseemly broil?" said Robert, hastily advancing between them, for the dark features of Edward were lowering in wrath, and Nigel was excited to unwonted fierceness. "Edward, begone! and as thou saidst, see to Sir Robert Keith—what news he brings. Nigel, on thy love, thy allegiance so lately proffered, if I read thy greeting right, I pray thee heed not his taunting words. I do not doubt thee; 'twas for thy happiness, not for thy gallantry, I trembled. Look not thus dejected;" he held out his hand, which his brother knelt to salute. "Nay, nay, thou foolish boy, forget my new dignity a while, and now that rude brawler has departed, tell me in sober wisdom, how camest thou here? How didst thou know I might have need of thee?" A quick blush suffused the cheek of the young man; he hesitated, evidently confused. "Why, what ails thee, boy? By St. Andrew, Nigel, I do believe thou hast never quitted Scotland."
"And if I have not, my lord, what wilt thou deem me?"
"A very strangely wayward boy, not knowing his own mind," replied the king, smiling. "Yet why should I say so? I never asked thy confidence, never sought it, or in any way returned or appreciated thy boyish love, and why should I deem thee wayward, never inquiring into thy projects—passing thee by, perchance, as a wild visionary, much happier than myself?"
"And thou wilt think me yet more a visionary, I fear me, Robert; yet thine interest is too dear to pass unanswered," rejoined Nigel, after glancing round and perceiving they were alone, for the abbot had departed with Sir Edward, seeking to tame his reckless spirit.
"Know, then, to aid me in keeping aloof from the tyrant of my country, whom instinctively I hated, I confined myself to books and such lore yet more than my natural inclination prompted, though that was strong enough—I had made a solemn vow, rather to take the monk's cowl and frock, than receive knighthood from the hand of Edward of England, or raise my sword at his bidding. My whole soul yearned towards the country of my fathers, that country which was theirs by royal right; and when the renown of Wallace reached my ears, when, in my waking and sleeping dreams, I beheld the patriot struggling for freedom, peace, the only one whose arm had struck for Scotland, whose tongue had dared to speak resistance, I longed wildly, intensely, vainly, to burst the thraldom which held my race, and seek for death beneath the patriot banner. I longed, yet dared not. My own death were welcome; but mother, father, brothers, sisters, all were perilled, had I done so. I stood, I deemed, alone in my enthusiast dreams; those I loved best, acknowledged, bowed before the man my very spirit loathed; and how dared I, a boy, a child, stand forth arraigning and condemning? But wherefore art thou thus, Robert? oh, what has thus moved thee?"
Wrapped in his own earnest words and thoughts, Nigel had failed until that moment to perceive the effect of his words upon his brother. Robert's head had sunk upon his hand, and his whole frame shook beneath some strong emotion; evidently striving to subdue it, some moments elapsed ere he could reply, and then only in accents of bitter self-reproach. "Why, why did not such thoughts come to me, instead of thee?" he said. "My youth had not wasted then in idle folly—worse, oh, worse—in slavish homage, coward indecision, flitting like the moth around the destructive flame; and while I deemed thee buried in romantic dreams, all a patriot's blood was rushing in thy veins, while mine was dull and stagnant."
"But to flow forth the brighter, my own brother," interrupted Nigel, earnestly. "Oh, I have watched thee, studied thee, even as I loved thee, long; and I have hoped, felt, known that this day would dawn; that thou wouldst rise for Scotland, and she would rise for thee. Ah, now thou smilest as thyself, and I will to my tale. The patriot died—let me not utter how; no Scottish tongue should speak those words, save with the upraised arm and trumpet shout of vengeance! I could not rest in England then; I could not face the tyrant who dared proclaim and execute as traitor the noblest hero, purest patriot, that ever walked this earth. But men said I sought the lyric schools, the poet's haunts in Provence, and I welcomed the delusion; but it was to Scotland that I came, unknown, and silently, to mark if with her Wallace all life and soul had fled. I saw enough to know that were there but a fitting head, her hardy sons would struggle yet for freedom—but not yet; that chief art thou, and at the close of the last year I took passage to Denmark, intending to rest there till Scotland called me."
"And 'tis thence thou comest, Nigel? Can it be, intelligence of my movements hath reached so far north already?" inquired the king, somewhat surprised at the abruptness of his brother's pause.
"Not so, my liege. The vessel which bore me was wrecked off the breakers of Buchan, and cast me back again to the arms of Scotland. I found hospitality, shelter, kindness; nay more, were this a time and place to speak of happy, trusting love—" he added, turning away from the Bruce's penetrating eye, "and week after week passed, and found me still an inmate of the Tower of Buchan."
"Buchan!" interrupted the king, hastily; "the castle of a Comyn, and thou speakest of love!"
"Of as true, as firm-hearted a Scottish patriot, my liege, as ever lived in the heart of woman—one that has naught of Comyn about her or her fair children but the name, as speedily thou wilt have proof. But in good time is my tale come to a close, for hither comes good Sir Robert, and other noble knights, who, by their eager brows, methinks, have matters of graver import for thy grace's ear."
They entered as he spoke. The patriot nobles who, at the first call of their rightful king, had gathered round his person, few in number, yet firm in heart, ready to lay down fame, fortune, life, beside his standard, rather than acknowledge the foreign foe, who, setting aside all principles of knightly honor, knightly faith, sought to claim their country as his own, their persons as his slaves. Eager was the greeting of each and all to the youthful Nigel, mingled with some surprise. Their conference with the king was but brief, and as it comprised matters more of speculation than of decided import, we will pass on to a later period of the same evening.
"Buchan! the Countess of Buchan, sayest thou, Athelbert? nay, 'tis scarce possible," said a fair and noble-looking woman, still in the bloom of life, though early youth had passed, pausing on her way to the queen's apartment, to answer some information given by the senior page.
"Indeed, madam, 'tis even so; she arrived but now, escorted by Sir Robert Keith and his followers, in addition to some fifty of the retainers of Buchan."
"And hath she lodging within the palace?"
"Yes, madam; an it please you, I will conduct you to her, 'tis but a step beyond the royal suite."
She made him a sign of assent, and followed him slowly, as if musingly.
"It is strange, it is very strange," she thought, "yet scarcely so; she was ever in heart and soul a patriot, nor has she seen enough of her husband to change such sentiments. Yet, for her own sake, perchance it had been better had she not taken this rash step; 'tis a desperate game we play, and the fewer lives and fortunes wrecked the better."
Her cogitations were interrupted by hearing her name announced in a loud voice by the page, and finding herself in presence of the object of her thoughts.
"Isabella, dearest Isabella, 'tis even thine own dear self. I deemed the boy's tale well-nigh impossible," was her hasty exclamation, as with a much quicker step she advanced towards the countess, who met her half-way, and warmly returned her embrace, saying as she did so—
"This is kind, indeed, dearest Mary, to welcome me so soon; 'tis long, long years since we have met; but they have left as faint a shadow on thy affections as on mine."
"Indeed, thou judgest me truly, Isabella. Sorrow, methinks, doth but soften the heart and render the memory of young affections, youthful pleasures, the more vivid, the more lasting: we think of what we have been, or what we are, and the contrast heightens into perfect bliss that which at the time, perchance, we deemed but perishable joy."
"Hast thou too learnt such lesson, Mary? I hoped its lore was all unknown to thee."
"It was, indeed, deferred so long, so blessedly, I dared to picture perfect happiness on earth; but since my husband's hateful captivity, Isabella, there can be little for his wife but anxiety and dread. But these—are these thine?" she added, gazing admiringly and tearfully on Agnes and Alan, who had at their mother's sign advanced from the embrasure, where they had held low yet earnest converse, and gracefully acknowledged the stranger's notice. "Oh, wherefore bring them here, my friend?"
"Wherefore, lady?" readily and impetuously answered Alan; "art thou a friend of Isabella of Buchan, and asketh wherefore? Where our sovereign is, should not his subjects be?"
"Thy mother's friend and sovereign's sister, noble boy, and yet I grieve to see thee here. The Bruce is but in name a king, uncrowned as yet and unanointed. His kingdom bounded by the confines of this one fair county, struggling for every acre at the bright sword's point."
"The greater glory for his subjects, lady," answered the youth. "The very act of proclaiming himself king removes the chains of Scotland, and flings down her gage. Fear not, he shall be king ere long in something more than name."
"And is it thus a Comyn speaks?" said the Lady Campbell. "Ah, were the idle feuds of petty minds thus laid at rest, bold boy, thy dreams might e'en be truth; but knowest thou, young man—knowest thou, Isabella, the breach between the Comyn and the Bruce is widened, and, alas! by blood?"
"Aye, lady; but what boots it? A traitor should have no name, no kin, or those who bear that name should wash away their race's stain by nobler deeds of loyalty and valor."
"It would be well did others think with thee," replied Lady Campbell; "yet I fear me in such sentiments the grandson of the loyal Fife will stand alone. Isabella, dearest Isabella," she added, laying her hand on the arm of the countess, and drawing her away from her children, "hast thou done well in this decision? hast thou listened to the calmer voice of prudence as was thy wont? hast thou thought on all the evils thou mayest draw upon thy head, and upon these, so lovely and so dear?"
"Mary, I have thought, weighed, pondered, and yet I am here," answered the countess, firmly, yet in an accent that still bespoke some inward struggle. "I know, I feel all, all that thou wouldst urge; that I am exposing my brave boy to death, perchance, by a father's hand, bringing him hither to swear fealty, to raise his sword for the Bruce, in direct opposition to my husband's politics, still more to his will; yet, Mary, there are mutual duties between a parent and a child. My poor boy has ever from his birth been fatherless. No kindly word, no glowing smile has ever met his infancy, his boyhood. He scarce can know his father—the love, the reverence of a son it would have been such joy to teach. Left to my sole care, could I instil sentiments other than those a father's lips bestowed on me? Could I instruct him in aught save love, devotion to his country, to her rights, her king? I have done this so gradually, my friend, that for the burst of loyalty, of impetuous gallantry, which answered Sir Robert Keith's appeal, I was well nigh unprepared. My father, my noble father breathes in my boy; and oh, Mary, better, better far lose him on the battle-field, struggling for Scotland's freedom, glorying in his fate, rejoicing, blessing me for lessons I have taught, than see him as my husband, as my brother—alas! alas! that I should live to say it—cringing as slaves before the footstool of a tyrant and oppressor. Had he sought it, had he loved—treated me as a wife, Mary, I would have given my husband all—all a woman's duty—all, save the dictates of my soul, but even this he trampled on, despised, rejected; and shall I, dare I then forget, oppose the precepts of that noble heart, that patriot spirit which breathed into mine the faint reflection of itself?—offend the dead, the hallowed dead, my father—the heart that loved me?"
She paused, in strong, and for the moment overpowering, emotion. The clear, rich tones had never faltered till she spoke of him beloved even in death—faltered not, even when she spoke of death as the portion of her child; it was but the quivering of lip and eye by which the anguish of that thought could have been ascertained. Lady Campbell clasped her hand.
"Thou hast in very truth silenced me, my Isabella," she said; "there is no combating with thoughts as these. Thine is still the same noble soul, exalted mind that I knew in youth: sorrow and time have had no power on these."
"Save to chasten and to purify, I trust," rejoined the countess, in her own calm tone. "Thrown back upon my own strength, it must have gathered force, dear Mary, or have perished altogether. But thou speakest, methinks, but too despondingly of our sovereign's prospects—are they indeed so desperate?"
"Desperate, indeed, Isabella. Even his own family, with the sole exception of that rash madman, Edward, must look upon it thus. How thinkest thou Edward of England will brook this daring act of defiance, of what he will deem rank apostasy and traitorous rebellion? Aged, infirm as he is now, he will not permit this bold attempt to pass unpunished. The whole strength of England will be gathered together, and pour its devastating fury on this devoted land. And what to this has Robert to oppose? Were he undisputed sovereign of Scotland, we might, without cowardice, be permitted to tremble, threatened as he is; but confined, surrounded by English, with scarce a town or fort to call his own, his enterprise is madness, Isabella, patriotic as it may be."
"Oh, do not say so, Mary. Has he not some noble barons already by his side? will not, nay, is not Scotland rising to support him? hath he not the hearts, the prayers, the swords of all whose mountain homes and freeborn rights are dearer than the yoke of Edward? and hath he not, if rumor speaks aright, within himself a host—not mere valor alone, but prudence, foresight, military skill—all, all that marks a general?"
"As rumor speaks. Thou dost not know him then?" inquired Lady Campbell.
"How could I, dearest? Hast thou forgotten thy anxiety that we should meet, when we were last together, holding at naught, in thy merry mood, my betrothment to Lord John—that I should turn him from his wandering ways, and make him patriotic as myself? Thou seest, Mary, thy brother needed not such influence."
"Of a truth, no," answered her friend; "for his present partner is a very contrast to thyself, and would rather, by her weak and trembling fears, dissuade him from his purpose than inspire and encourage it. Well do I remember that fancy of my happy childhood, and still I wish it had been so, all idle as it seems—strange that ye never met."
"Nay, save thyself, Mary, thy family resided more in England than in Scotland, and for the last seventeen years the territory of Buchan has been my only home, with little interruption to my solitude; yet I have heard much of late of the Earl of Carrick, and from whom thinkest thou?—thou canst not guess—even from thy noble brother Nigel."
"Nigel!" repeated Lady Mary, much surprised.
"Even so, sweet sister, learning dearer lore and lovelier tales than even Provence could instil; 'tis not the land, it is the heart where poesie dwells," rejoined Nigel Bruce, gayly, advancing from the side of Agnes, where he had been lingering the greater part of the dialogue between his sister and the countess, and now joined them. "Aye, Mary," he continued, tenderly, "my own land is dearer than the land of song."
"And dear art thou to Scotland, Nigel; but I knew not thy fond dreams and wild visions could find resting amid the desert crags and barren plains of Buchan."
"Yet have we not been idle. Dearest Agnes, wilt thou not speak for me? the viol hath not been mute, nor the fond harp unstrung; and deeper, dearer lessons have thy lips instilled, than could have flowed from fairest lips and sweetest songs of Provence. Nay, blush not, dearest. Mary, thou must love this gentle girl," he added, as he led her forward, and laid the hand of Agnes in his sister's.
"Is it so? then may we indeed be united, though not as I in my girlhood dreamed, my Isabella," said Lady Campbell, kindly parting the clustering curls, and looking fondly on the maiden's blushing face. She was about to speak again, when steps were heard along the corridor, and unannounced, unattended, save by the single page who drew aside the hangings, King Robert entered. He had doffed the armor in which we saw him first, for a plain yet rich suit of dark green velvet, cut and slashed with cloth of gold, and a long mantle of the richest crimson, secured at his throat by a massive golden clasp, from which gleamed the glistening rays of a large emerald; a brooch of precious stones, surrounded by diamonds, clasped the white ostrich feather in his cup, and the shade of the drooping plume, heightened perhaps by the advance of evening, somewhat obscured his features, but there was that in his majestic mien, in the noble yet dignified bearing, which could not for one moment be mistaken; and it needed not the word of Nigel to cause the youthful Alan to spring from the couch where he had listlessly thrown himself, and stand, suddenly silenced and abashed.