The Lady of the Lake – Canto V – Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

 The Combat.

     Fair as the earliest beam of eastern light,
                When first, by the bewildered pilgrim spied,
     It smiles upon the dreary brow of night
                And silvers o’er the torrent’s foaming tide
     And lights the fearful path on mountain-side,–
                Fair as that beam, although the fairest far,
     Giving to horror grace, to danger pride,
                Shine martial Faith, and Courtesy’s bright star
     Through all the wreckful storms that cloud the brow of War.

     That early beam, so fair and sheen,
     Was twinkling through the hazel screen
     When, rousing at its glimmer red,
     The warriors left their lowly bed,
     Looked out upon the dappled sky,
     Muttered their soldier matins try,
     And then awaked their fire, to steal,
     As short and rude, their soldier meal.
     That o’er, the Gael around him threw
     His graceful plaid of varied hue,
     And, true to promise, led the way,
     By thicket green and mountain gray.
     A wildering path!–they winded now
     Along the precipice’s brow,
     Commanding the rich scenes beneath,
     The windings of the Forth and Teith,
     And all the vales between that lie.
     Till Stirling’s turrets melt in sky;
     Then, sunk in copse, their farthest glance
     Gained not the length of horseman’s lance.
     ‘Twas oft so steep, the foot was as fain
     Assistance from the hand to gain;
     So tangled oft that, bursting through,
     Each hawthorn shed her showers of dew,–
     That diamond dew, so pure and clear,
     It rivals all but Beauty’s tear!

     At length they came where, stern and steep,
     The hill sinks down upon the deep.
     Here Vennachar in silver flows,
     There, ridge on ridge, Benledi rose;
     Ever the hollow path twined on,
     Beneath steep hank and threatening stone;
     A hundred men might hold the post
     With hardihood against a host.
     The rugged mountain’s scanty cloak
     Was dwarfish shrubs of birch and oak
     With shingles bare, and cliffs between
     And patches bright of bracken green,
     And heather black, that waved so high,
     It held the copse in rivalry.
     But where the lake slept deep and still
     Dank osiers fringed the swamp and hill;
     And oft both path and hill were torn
     Where wintry torrent down had borne
     And heaped upon the cumbered land
     Its wreck of gravel, rocks, and sand.
     So toilsome was the road to trace
     The guide, abating of his pace,
     Led slowly through the pass’s jaws
     And asked Fitz-James by what strange cause
     He sought these wilds, traversed by few
     Without a pass from Roderick Dhu.

     ‘Brave Gael, my pass, in danger tried
     Hangs in my belt and by my side
     Yet, sooth to tell,’ the Saxon said,
     ‘I dreamt not now to claim its aid.
     When here, but three days since,
     I came Bewildered in pursuit of game,
     All seemed as peaceful and as still
     As the mist slumbering on yon hill;
     Thy dangerous Chief was then afar,
     Nor soon expected back from war.
     Thus said, at least, my mountain-guide,
     Though deep perchance the villain lied.’
     ‘Yet why a second venture try?’
     ‘A warrior thou, and ask me why!–
     Moves our free course by such fixed cause
     As gives the poor mechanic laws?
     Enough, I sought to drive away
     The lazy hours of peaceful day;
     Slight cause will then suffice to guide
     A Knight’s free footsteps far and wide,–
     A falcon flown, a greyhound strayed,
     The merry glance of mountain maid;
     Or, if a path be dangerous known,
     The danger’s self is lure alone.’

     ‘Thy secret keep, I urge thee not;–
     Yet, ere again ye sought this spot,
     Say, heard ye naught of Lowland war,
     Against Clan-Alpine, raised by Mar?’
     ‘No, by my word;–of bands prepared
     To guard King James’s sports I heard;
     Nor doubt I aught, but, when they hear
     This muster of the mountaineer,
     Their pennons will abroad be flung,
     Which else in Doune had peaceful hung.’
     ‘Free be they flung! for we were loath
     Their silken folds should feast the moth.
     Free be they flung!–as free shall wave
     Clan-Alpine’s pine in banner brave.
     But, stranger, peaceful since you came,
     Bewildered in the mountain-game,
     Whence the bold boast by which you show
     Vich-Alpine’s vowed and mortal foe?’
     ‘Warrior, but yester-morn I knew
     Naught of thy Chieftain, Roderick Dhu,
     Save as an outlawed desperate man,
     The chief of a rebellious clan,
     Who, in the Regent’s court and sight,
     With ruffian dagger stabbed a knight;
     Yet this alone might from his part
     Sever each true and loyal heart.’

     Wrathful at such arraignment foul,
     Dark lowered the clansman’s sable scowl.
     A space he paused, then sternly said,
     ‘And heardst thou why he drew his blade?
     Heardst thou that shameful word and blow
     Brought Roderick’s vengeance on his foe?
     What recked the Chieftain if he stood
     On Highland heath or Holy-Rood?
     He rights such wrong where it is given,
     If it were in the court of heaven.’
     ‘Still was it outrage;–yet, ’tis true,
     Not then claimed sovereignty his due;
     While Albany with feeble hand
     Held borrowed truncheon of command,
     The young King, mewed in Stirling tower,
     Was stranger to respect and power.
     But then, thy Chieftain’s robber life!–
     Winning mean prey by causeless strife,
     Wrenching from ruined Lowland swain
     His herds and harvest reared in vain,–
     Methinks a soul like thine should scorn
     The spoils from such foul foray borne.’

     The Gael beheld him grim the while,
     And answered with disdainful smile:
     ‘Saxon, from yonder mountain high,
     I marked thee send delighted eye
     Far to the south and east, where lay,
     Extended in succession gay,
     Deep waving fields and pastures green,
     With gentle slopes and groves between:–
     These fertile plains, that softened vale,
     Were once the birthright of the Gael;
     The stranger came with iron hand,
     And from our fathers reft the land.
     Where dwell we now?    See, rudely swell
     Crag over crag, and fell o’er fell.
     Ask we this savage hill we tread
     For fattened steer or household bread,
     Ask we for flocks these shingles dry,
     And well the mountain might reply,–
     “To you, as to your sires of yore,
     Belong the target and claymore!
     I give you shelter in my breast,
     Your own good blades must win the rest.”
     Pent in this fortress of the North,
     Think’st thou we will not sally forth,
     To spoil the spoiler as we may,
     And from the robber rend the prey?
     Ay, by my soul!–While on yon plain
     The Saxon rears one shock of grain,
     While of ten thousand herds there strays
     But one along yon river’s maze,–
     The Gael, of plain and river heir,
     Shall with strong hand redeem his share.
     Where live the mountain Chiefs who hold
     That plundering Lowland field and fold
     Is aught but retribution true?
     Seek other cause ‘gainst Roderick Dhu.’

     Answered Fitz-James: ‘And, if I sought,
     Think’st thou no other could be brought?
     What deem ye of my path waylaid?
     My life given o’er to ambuscade?’
     ‘As of a meed to rashness due:
     Hadst thou sent warning fair and true,–
     I seek my hound or falcon strayed,
     I seek, good faith, a Highland maid,–
     Free hadst thou been to come and go;
     But secret path marks secret foe.
     Nor yet for this, even as a spy,
     Hadst thou, unheard, been doomed to die,
     Save to fulfil an augury.’
     ‘Well, let it pass; nor will I now
     Fresh cause of enmity avow
     To chafe thy mood and cloud thy brow.
     Enough, I am by promise tied
     To match me with this man of pride:
     Twice have I sought Clan-Alpine’s glen
     In peace; but when I come again,
     I come with banner, brand, and bow,
     As leader seeks his mortal foe.
     For love-lore swain in lady’s bower
     Ne’er panted for the appointed hour
     As I, until before me stand
     This rebel Chieftain and his band!’

     ‘Have then thy wish!’–He whistled shrill
     And he was answered from the hill;
     Wild as the scream of the curlew,
     From crag to crag the signal flew.
     Instant, through copse and heath, arose
     Bonnets and spears and bended bows
     On right, on left, above, below,
     Sprung up at once the lurking foe;
     From shingles gray their lances start,
     The bracken bush sends forth the dart,
     The rushes and the willow-wand
     Are bristling into axe and brand,
     And every tuft of broom gives life
     ‘To plaided warrior armed for strife.
     That whistle garrisoned the glen
     At once with full five hundred men,
     As if the yawning hill to heaven
     A subterranean host had given.
     Watching their leader’s beck and will,
     All silent there they stood and still.
     Like the loose crags whose threatening mass
     Lay tottering o’er the hollow pass,
     As if an infant’s touch could urge
     Their headlong passage down the verge,
     With step and weapon forward flung,
     Upon the mountain-side they hung.
     The Mountaineer cast glance of pride
     Along Benledi’s living side,
     Then fixed his eye and sable brow
     Full on Fitz-James: ‘How say’st thou now?
     These are Clan-Alpine’s warriors true;
     And, Saxon,–I am Roderick Dhu!’

     Fitz-James was brave:–though to his heart
     The life-blood thrilled with sudden start,
     He manned himself with dauntless air,
     Returned the Chief his haughty stare,
     His back against a rock he bore,
     And firmly placed his foot before:–
     ‘Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
     From its firm base as soon as I.’
     Sir Roderick marked,–and in his eyes
     Respect was mingled with surprise,
     And the stern joy which warriors feel
     In foeman worthy of their steel.
     Short space he stood–then waved his hand:
     Down sunk the disappearing band;
     Each warrior vanished where he stood,
     In broom or bracken, heath or wood;
     Sunk brand and spear and bended bow,
     In osiers pale and copses low;
     It seemed as if their mother Earth
     Had swallowed up her warlike birth.
     The wind’s last breath had tossed in air
     Pennon and plaid and plumage fair,–
     The next but swept a lone hill-side
     Where heath and fern were waving wide:
     The sun’s last glance was glinted back
     From spear and glaive, from targe and jack,–
     The next, all unreflected, shone
     On bracken green and cold gray stone.

     Fitz-James looked round,–yet scarce believed
     The witness that his sight received;
     Such apparition well might seem
     Delusion of a dreadful dream.
     Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,
     And to his look the Chief replied:
     ‘Fear naught–nay, that I need not say
     But–doubt not aught from mine array.
     Thou art my guest;–I pledged my word
     As far as Coilantogle ford:
     Nor would I call a clansman’s brand
     For aid against one valiant hand,
     Though on our strife lay every vale
     Rent by the Saxon from the Gael.
     So move we on;–I only meant
     To show the reed on which you leant,
     Deeming this path you might pursue
     Without a pass from Roderick Dhu.’
     They moved;–I said Fitz-James was brave
     As ever knight that belted glaive,
     Yet dare not say that now his blood
     Kept on its wont and tempered flood,
     As, following Roderick’s stride, he drew
     That seeming lonesome pathway through,
     Which yet by fearful proof was rife
     With lances, that, to take his life,
     Waited but signal from a guide,
     So late dishonored and defied.
     Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round
     The vanished guardians of the ground,
     And stir’d from copse and heather deep
     Fancy saw spear and broadsword peep,
     And in the plover’s shrilly strain
     The signal whistle heard again.
     Nor breathed he free till far behind
     The pass was left; for then they wind
     Along a wide and level green,
     Where neither tree nor tuft was seen,
     Nor rush nor bush of broom was near,
     To hide a bonnet or a spear.

     The Chief in silence strode before,
     And reached that torrent’s sounding shore,
     Which, daughter of three mighty lakes,
     From Vennachar in silver breaks,
     Sweeps through the plain, and ceaseless mines
     On Bochastle the mouldering lines,
     Where Rome, the Empress of the world,
     Of yore her eagle wings unfurled.
     And here his course the Chieftain stayed,
     Threw down his target and his plaid,
     And to the Lowland warrior said:
     ‘Bold Saxon! to his promise just,
     Vich-Alpine has discharged his trust.
     This murderous Chief, this ruthless man,
     This head of a rebellious clan,
     Hath led thee safe, through watch and ward,
     Far past Clan-Alpine’s outmost guard.
     Now, man to man, and steel to steel,
     A Chieftain’s vengeance thou shalt feel.
     See, here all vantageless I stand,
     Armed like thyself with single brand;
     For this is Coilantogle ford,
     And thou must keep thee with thy sword.’

     The Saxon paused: ‘I ne’er delayed,
     When foeman bade me draw my blade;
     Nay more, brave Chief, I vowed thy death;
     Yet sure thy fair and generous faith,
     And my deep debt for life preserved,
     A better meed have well deserved:
     Can naught but blood our feud atone?
     Are there no means?’–‘ No, stranger, none!
     And hear,–to fire thy flagging zeal,–
     The Saxon cause rests on thy steel;
     For thus spoke Fate by prophet bred
     Between the living and the dead:”
     Who spills the foremost foeman’s life,
     His party conquers in the strife.”‘
     ‘Then, by my word,’ the Saxon said,
     “The riddle is already read.
     Seek yonder brake beneath the cliff,–
     There lies Red Murdoch, stark and stiff.
     Thus Fate hath solved her prophecy;
     Then yield to Fate, and not to me.
     To James at Stirling let us go,
     When, if thou wilt be still his foe,
     Or if the King shall not agree
     To grant thee grace and favor free,
     I plight mine honor, oath, and word
     That, to thy native strengths restored,
     With each advantage shalt thou stand
     That aids thee now to guard thy land.’

     Dark lightning flashed from Roderick’s eye:
     ‘Soars thy presumption, then, so high,
     Because a wretched kern ye slew,
     Homage to name to Roderick Dhu?
     He yields not, he, to man nor Fate!
     Thou add’st but fuel to my hate;–
     My clansman’s blood demands revenge.
     Not yet prepared?–By heaven, I change
     My thought, and hold thy valor light
     As that of some vain carpet knight,
     Who ill deserved my courteous care,
     And whose best boast is but to wear
     A braid of his fair lady’s hair.’ ‘I thank thee,
     Roderick, for the word!
     It nerves my heart, it steels my sword;
     For I have sworn this braid to stain
     In the best blood that warms thy vein.
     Now, truce, farewell! and, rush, begone!–
     Yet think not that by thee alone,
     Proud Chief! can courtesy be shown;
     Though not from copse, or heath, or cairn,
     Start at my whistle clansmen stern,
     Of this small horn one feeble blast
     Would fearful odds against thee cast.
     But fear not–doubt not–which thou wilt–
     We try this quarrel hilt to hilt.’
     Then each at once his falchion drew,
     Each on the ground his scabbard threw
     Each looked to sun and stream and plain
     As what they ne’er might see again;
     Then foot and point and eye opposed,
     In dubious strife they darkly closed.

     Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,
     That on the field his targe he threw,
     Whose brazen studs and tough bull-hide
     Had death so often dashed aside;
     For, trained abroad his arms to wield
     Fitz-James’s blade was sword and shield.
     He practised every pass and ward,
     To thrust, to strike, to feint, to guard;
     While less expert, though stronger far,
     The Gael maintained unequal war.
     Three times in closing strife they stood
     And thrice the Saxon blade drank blood;
     No stinted draught, no scanty tide,
     The gushing flood the tartars dyed.
     Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,
     And showered his blows like wintry rain;
     And, as firm rock or castle-roof
     Against the winter shower is proof,
     The foe, invulnerable still,
     Foiled his wild rage by steady skill;
     Till, at advantage ta’en, his brand
     Forced Roderick’s weapon from his hand,
     And backward borne upon the lea,
     Brought the proud Chieftain to his knee.

     Now yield thee, or by Him who made
     The world, thy heart’s blood dyes my blade!;
     ‘Thy threats, thy mercy, I defy!
     Let recreant yield, who fears to die.’
     Like adder darting from his coil,
     Like wolf that dashes through the toil,
     Like mountain-cat who guards her young,
     Full at Fitz-James’s throat he sprung;
     Received, but recked not of a wound,
     And locked his arms his foeman round.
     Now, gallant Saxon, hold thine own!
     No maiden’s hand is round thee thrown!
     That desperate grasp thy frame might feel
     Through bars of brass and triple steel!
     They tug, they strain! down, down they go,
     The Gael above, Fitz-James below.
     The Chieftain’s gripe his throat compressed,
     His knee was planted on his breast;
     His clotted locks he backward threw,
     Across his brow his hand he drew,
     From blood and mist to clear his sight,
     Then gleamed aloft his dagger bright!
     But hate and fury ill supplied
     The stream of life’s exhausted tide,
     And all too late the advantage came,
     To turn the odds of deadly game;
     For, while the dagger gleamed on high,
     Reeled soul and sense, reeled brain and eye.
     Down came the blow! but in the heath
     The erring blade found bloodless sheath.
     The struggling foe may now unclasp
     The fainting Chief’s relaxing grasp;
     Unwounded from the dreadful close,
     But breathless all, Fitz-James arose.

     He faltered thanks to Heaven for life,
     Redeemed, unhoped, from desperate strife;
     Next on his foe his look he cast,
     Whose every gasp appeared his last
     In Roderick’s gore he dipped the braid,–
     ‘Poor Blanche! thy wrongs are dearly paid;
     Yet with thy foe must die, or live,
     The praise that faith and valor give.’
     With that he blew a bugle note,
     Undid the collar from his throat,
     Unbonneted, and by the wave
     Sat down his brow and hands to rave.
     Then faint afar are heard the feet
     Of rushing steeds in gallop fleet;
     The sounds increase, and now are seen
     Four mounted squires in Lincoln green;
     Two who bear lance, and two who lead
     By loosened rein a saddled steed;
     Each onward held his headlong course,
     And by Fitz-James reined up his horse,–
     With wonder viewed the bloody spot,–
     ‘Exclaim not, gallants’ question not.–
     You, Herbert and Luffness, alight
     And bind the wounds of yonder knight;
     Let the gray palfrey bear his weight,
     We destined for a fairer freight,
     And bring him on to Stirling straight;
     I will before at better speed,
     To seek fresh horse and fitting weed.
     The sun rides high;–I must be boune
     To see the archer-game at noon;
     But lightly Bayard clears the lea.–
     De Vaux and Herries, follow me.

     ‘Stand, Bayard, stand!’–the steed obeyed,
     With arching neck and bended head,
     And glancing eye and quivering ear,
     As if he loved his lord to hear.
     No foot Fitz-James in stirrup stayed,
     No grasp upon the saddle laid,
     But wreathed his left hand in the mane,
     And lightly bounded from the plain,
     Turned on the horse his armed heel,
     And stirred his courage with the steel.
     Bounded the fiery steed in air,
     The rider sat erect and fair,
     Then like a bolt from steel crossbow
     Forth launched, along the plain they go.
     They dashed that rapid torrent through,
     And up Carhonie’s hill they flew;
     Still at the gallop pricked the Knight,
     His merrymen followed as they might.
     Along thy banks, swift Teith! they ride,
     And in the race they mock thy tide;
     Torry and Lendrick now are past,
     And Deanstown lies behind them cast;
     They rise, the bannered towers of Doune,
     They sink in distant woodland soon;
     Blair-Drummond sees the hoofs strike fire,
     They sweep like breeze through Ochtertyre;
     They mark just glance and disappear
     The lofty brow of ancient Kier;
     They bathe their coursers’ sweltering sides
     Dark Forth! amid thy sluggish tides,
     And on the opposing shore take ground
     With plash, with scramble, and with bound.
     Right-hand they leave thy cliffs, Craig-Forth!
     And soon the bulwark of the North,
     Gray Stirling, with her towers and town,
     Upon their fleet career looked clown.

     As up the flinty path they strained,
     Sudden his steed the leader reined;
     A signal to his squire he flung,
     Who instant to his stirrup sprung:–
     ‘Seest thou, De Vaux, yon woodsman gray,
     Who townward holds the rocky way,
     Of stature tall and poor array?
     Mark’st thou the firm, yet active stride,
     With which he scales the mountain-side?
     Know’st thou from whence he comes, or whom?’
     ‘No, by my word;–a burly groom
     He seems, who in the field or chase
     A baron’s train would nobly grace–‘
     ‘Out, out, De Vaux! can fear supply,
     And jealousy, no sharper eye?
     Afar, ere to the hill he drew,
     That stately form and step I knew;
     Like form in Scotland is not seen,
     Treads not such step on Scottish green.
     ‘Tis James of Douglas, by Saint Serle!
     The uncle of the banished Earl.
     Away, away, to court, to show
     The near approach of dreaded foe:
     The King must stand upon his guard;
     Douglas and he must meet prepared.’
     Then right-hand wheeled their steeds, and straight
     They won the Castle’s postern gate.

     The Douglas, who had bent his way
     From Cambus-kenneth’s abbey gray,
     Now, as he climbed the rocky shelf,
     Held sad communion with himself:–
     ‘Yes! all is true my fears could frame;
     A prisoner lies the noble Graeme,
     And fiery Roderick soon will feel
     The vengeance of the royal steel.
     I, only I, can ward their fate,–
     God grant the ransom come not late!
     The Abbess hath her promise given,
     My child shall be the bride of Heaven;–
     Be pardoned one repining tear!
     For He who gave her knows how dear,
     How excellent!–but that is by,
     And now my business is–to die.–
     Ye towers! within whose circuit dread
     A Douglas by his sovereign bled;
     And thou, O sad and fatal mound!
     That oft hast heard the death-axe sound.
     As on the noblest of the land
     Fell the stern headsmen’s bloody hand,–
     The dungeon, block, and nameless tomb
     Prepare–for Douglas seeks his doom!
     But hark! what blithe and jolly peal
     Makes the Franciscan steeple reel?
     And see! upon the crowded street,
     In motley groups what masquers meet!
     Banner and pageant, pipe and drum,
     And merry morrice-dancers come.
     I guess, by all this quaint array,
     The burghers hold their sports to-day.
     James will be there; he loves such show,
     Where the good yeoman bends his bow,
     And the tough wrestler foils his foe,
     As well as where, in proud career,
     The high-born filter shivers spear.
     I’ll follow to the Castle-park,
     And play my prize;–King James shall mark
     If age has tamed these sinews stark,
     Whose force so oft in happier days
     His boyish wonder loved to praise.’

     The Castle gates were open flung,
     The quivering drawbridge rocked and rung,
     And echoed loud the flinty street
     Beneath the coursers’ clattering feet,
     As slowly down the steep descent
     Fair Scotland’s King and nobles went,
     While all along the crowded way
     Was jubilee and loud huzza.
     And ever James was bending low
     To his white jennet’s saddle-bow,
     Doffing his cap to city dame,
     Who smiled and blushed for pride and shame.
     And well the simperer might be vain,–
     He chose the fairest of the train.
     Gravely he greets each city sire,
     Commends each pageant’s quaint attire,
     Gives to the dancers thanks aloud,
     And smiles and nods upon the crowd,
     Who rend the heavens with their acclaims,–
     ‘Long live the Commons’ King, King James!’
     Behind the King thronged peer and knight,
     And noble dame and damsel bright,
     Whose fiery steeds ill brooked the stay
     Of the steep street and crowded way.
     But in the train you might discern
     Dark lowering brow and visage stern;
     There nobles mourned their pride restrained,
     And the mean burgher’s joys disdained;
     And chiefs, who, hostage for their clan,
     Were each from home a banished man,
     There thought upon their own gray tower,
     Their waving woods, their feudal power,
     And deemed themselves a shameful part
     Of pageant which they cursed in heart.

     Now, in the Castle-park, drew out
     Their checkered bands the joyous rout.
     There morricers, with bell at heel
     And blade in hand, their mazes wheel;
     But chief, beside the butts, there stand
     Bold Robin Hood and all his band,–
     Friar Tuck with quarterstaff and cowl,
     Old Scathelocke with his surly scowl,
     Maid Marian, fair as ivory bone,
     Scarlet, and Mutch, and Little John;
     Their bugles challenge all that will,
     In archery to prove their skill.
     The Douglas bent a bow of might,–
     His first shaft centred in the white,
     And when in turn he shot again,
     His second split the first in twain.
     From the King’s hand must Douglas take
     A silver dart, the archers’ stake;
     Fondly he watched, with watery eye,
     Some answering glance of sympathy,–
     No kind emotion made reply!
     Indifferent as to archer wight,
     The monarch gave the arrow bright.

     Now, clear the ring! for, hand to hand,
     The manly wrestlers take their stand.
     Two o’er the rest superior rose,
     And proud demanded mightier foes,–
     Nor called in vain, for Douglas came.–
     For life is Hugh of Larbert lame;
     Scarce better John of Alloa’s fare,
     Whom senseless home his comrades bare.
     Prize of the wrestling match, the King
     To Douglas gave a golden ring,
     While coldly glanced his eye of blue,
     As frozen drop of wintry dew.
     Douglas would speak, but in his breast
     His struggling soul his words suppressed;
     Indignant then he turned him where
     Their arms the brawny yeomen bare,
     To hurl the massive bar in air.
     When each his utmost strength had shown,
     The Douglas rent an earth-fast stone
     From its deep bed, then heaved it high,
     And sent the fragment through the sky
     A rood beyond the farthest mark;
     And still in Stirling’s royal park,
     The gray-haired sires, who know the past,
     To strangers point the Douglas cast,
     And moralize on the decay
     Of Scottish strength in modern day.

     The vale with loud applauses rang,
     The Ladies’ Rock sent back the clang.
     The King, with look unmoved, bestowed
     A purse well filled with pieces broad.
     Indignant smiled the Douglas proud,
     And threw the gold among the crowd,
     Who now with anxious wonder scan,
     And sharper glance, the dark gray man;
     Till whispers rose among the throng,
     That heart so free, and hand so strong,
     Must to the Douglas blood belong.
     The old men marked and shook the head,
     To see his hair with silver spread,
     And winked aside, and told each son
     Of feats upon the English done,
     Ere Douglas of the stalwart hand
     Was exiled from his native land.
     The women praised his stately form,
     Though wrecked by many a winter’s storm;
     The youth with awe and wonder saw
     His strength surpassing Nature’s law.
     Thus judged, as is their wont, the crowd
     Till murmurs rose to clamours loud.
     But not a glance from that proud ring
     Of peers who circled round the King
     With Douglas held communion kind,
     Or called the banished man to mind;
     No, not from those who at the chase
     Once held his side the honoured place,
     Begirt his board, and in the field
     Found safety underneath his shield;
     For he whom royal eyes disown,
     When was his form to courtiers known!

     The Monarch saw the gambols flag
     And bade let loose a gallant stag,
     Whose pride, the holiday to crown,
     Two favorite greyhounds should pull down,
     That venison free and Bourdeaux wine
     Might serve the archery to dine.
     But Lufra,–whom from Douglas’ side
     Nor bribe nor threat could e’er divide,
     The fleetest hound in all the North,–
     Brave Lufra saw, and darted forth.
     She left the royal hounds midway,
     And dashing on the antlered prey,
     Sunk her sharp muzzle in his flank,
     And deep the flowing life-blood drank.
     The King’s stout huntsman saw the sport
     By strange intruder broken short,
     Came up, and with his leash unbound
     In anger struck the noble hound.
     The Douglas had endured, that morn,
     The King’s cold look, the nobles’ scorn,
     And last, and worst to spirit proud,
     Had borne the pity of the crowd;
     But Lufra had been fondly bred,
     To share his board, to watch his bed,
     And oft would Ellen Lufra’s neck
     In maiden glee with garlands deck;
     They were such playmates that with name
     Of Lufra Ellen’s image came.
     His stifled wrath is brimming high,
     In darkened brow and flashing eye;
     As waves before the bark divide,
     The crowd gave way before his stride;
     Needs but a buffet and no more,
     The groom lies senseless in his gore.
     Such blow no other hand could deal,
     Though gauntleted in glove of steel.

     Then clamored loud the royal train,
     And brandished swords and staves amain,
     But stern the Baron’s warning:
     ‘Back! Back, on your lives, ye menial pack!
     Beware the Douglas.–Yes! behold,
     King James! The Douglas, doomed of old,
     And vainly sought for near and far,
     A victim to atone the war,
     A willing victim, now attends,
     Nor craves thy grace but for his friends.–‘
     ‘Thus is my clemency repaid?
     Presumptuous Lord!’ the Monarch said:
     ‘Of thy misproud ambitious clan,
     Thou, James of Bothwell, wert the man,
     The only man, in whom a foe
     My woman-mercy would not know;
     But shall a Monarch’s presence brook
     Injurious blow and haughty look?–
     What ho! the Captain of our Guard!
     Give the offender fitting ward.–
     Break off the sports!’–for tumult rose,
     And yeomen ‘gan to bend their bows,
     ‘Break off the sports!’ he said and frowned,
     ‘And bid our horsemen clear the ground.’

     Then uproar wild and misarray
     Marred the fair form of festal day.
     The horsemen pricked among the crowd,
     Repelled by threats and insult loud;
     To earth are borne the old and weak,
     The timorous fly, the women shriek;
     With flint, with shaft, with staff, with bar,
     The hardier urge tumultuous war.
     At once round Douglas darkly sweep
     The royal spears in circle deep,
     And slowly scale the pathway steep,
     While on the rear in thunder pour
     The rabble with disordered roar
     With grief the noble Douglas saw
     The Commons rise against the law,
     And to the leading soldier said:
     ‘Sir John of Hyndford, ’twas my blade
     That knighthood on thy shoulder laid;
     For that good deed permit me then
     A word with these misguided men.–

     ‘Hear, gentle friends, ere yet for me
     Ye break the bands of fealty.
     My life, my honour, and my cause,
     I tender free to Scotland’s laws.
     Are these so weak as must require
     ‘Fine aid of your misguided ire?
     Or if I suffer causeless wrong,
     Is then my selfish rage so strong,
     My sense of public weal so low,
     That, for mean vengeance on a foe,
     Those cords of love I should unbind
     Which knit my country and my kind?
     O no! Believe, in yonder tower
     It will not soothe my captive hour,
     To know those spears our foes should dread
     For me in kindred gore are red:
     ‘To know, in fruitless brawl begun,
     For me that mother wails her son,
     For me that widow’s mate expires,
     For me that orphans weep their sires,
     That patriots mourn insulted laws,
     And curse the Douglas for the cause.
     O let your patience ward such ill,
     And keep your right to love me still I’

     The crowd’s wild fury sunk again
     In tears, as tempests melt in rain.
     With lifted hands and eyes, they prayed
     For blessings on his generous head
     Who for his country felt alone,
     And prized her blood beyond his own.
     Old men upon the verge of life
     Blessed him who stayed the civil strife;
     And mothers held their babes on high,
     The self-devoted Chief to spy,
     Triumphant over wrongs and ire,
     To whom the prattlers owed a sire.
     Even the rough soldier’s heart was moved;
     As if behind some bier beloved,
     With trailing arms and drooping head,
     The Douglas up the hill he led,
     And at the Castle’s battled verge,
     With sighs resigned his honoured charge.

     The offended Monarch rode apart,
     With bitter thought and swelling heart,
     And would not now vouchsafe again
     Through Stirling streets to lead his train.
     ‘O Lennox, who would wish to rule
     This changeling crowd, this common fool?
     Hear’st thou,’ he said, ‘the loud acclaim
     With which they shout the Douglas name?
     With like acclaim the vulgar throat
     Strained for King James their morning note;
     With like acclaim they hailed the day
     When first I broke the Douglas sway;
     And like acclaim would Douglas greet
     If he could hurl me from my seat.
     Who o’er the herd would wish to reign,
     Fantastic, fickle, fierce, and vain?
     Vain as the leaf upon the stream,
     And fickle as a changeful dream;
     Fantastic as a woman’s mood,
     And fierce as Frenzy’s fevered blood.
     Thou many-headed monster-thing,
     O who would wish to be thy king?–

     ‘But soft! what messenger of speed
     Spurs hitherward his panting steed?
     I guess his cognizance afar–
     What from our cousin, John of Mar?’
     ‘He prays, my liege, your sports keep bound
     Within the safe and guarded ground;
     For some foul purpose yet unknown,–
     Most sure for evil to the throne,–
     The outlawed Chieftain, Roderick Dhu,
     Has summoned his rebellious crew;
     ‘Tis said, in James of Bothwell’s aid
     These loose banditti stand arrayed.
     The Earl of Mar this morn from Doune
     To break their muster marched, and soon
     Your Grace will hear of battle fought;
     But earnestly the Earl besought,
     Till for such danger he provide,
     With scanty train you will not ride.’

     ‘Thou warn’st me I have done amiss,–
     I should have earlier looked to this;
     I lost it in this bustling day.–
     Retrace with speed thy former way;
     Spare not for spoiling of thy steed,
     The best of mine shall be thy meed.
     Say to our faithful Lord of Mar,
     We do forbid the intended war;
     Roderick this morn in single fight
     Was made our prisoner by a knight,
     And Douglas hath himself and cause
     Submitted to our kingdom’s laws.
     The tidings of their leaders lost
     Will soon dissolve the mountain host,
     Nor would we that the vulgar feel,
     For their Chief’s crimes, avenging steel.
     Bear Mar our message, Braco, fly!’
     He turned his steed,–‘My liege, I hie,
     Yet ere I cross this lily lawn
     I fear the broadswords will be drawn.’
     The turf the flying courser spurned,
     And to his towers the King returned.

     Ill with King James’s mood that day
     Suited gay feast and minstrel lay;
     Soon were dismissed the courtly throng,
     And soon cut short the festal song.
     Nor less upon the saddened town
     The evening sunk in sorrow down.
     The burghers spoke of civil jar,
     Of rumoured feuds and mountain war,
     Of Moray, Mar, and Roderick Dhu,
     All up in arms;–the Douglas too,
     They mourned him pent within the hold,
     ‘Where stout Earl William was of old.’–
     And there his word the speaker stayed,
     And finger on his lip he laid,
     Or pointed to his dagger blade.
     But jaded horsemen from the west
     At evening to the Castle pressed,
     And busy talkers said they bore
     Tidings of fight on Katrine’s shore;
     At noon the deadly fray begun,
     And lasted till the set of sun.
     Thus giddy rumor shook the town,
     Till closed the Night her pennons brown.