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Robert Naylor.

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allowed to repeat in Latin the "Miserere mei," at the beginning of the
51st Psalm, before they were executed, this becoming known as the
"neck-verse."

William of Deloraine was one of the most desperate Moss-troopers ever
engaged in Border warfare, but he, according to Sir Walter Scott:

By wily turns, by desperate bounds,
Had baffled Percy's best blood-hounds;
In Eske or Liddel, fords were none,
But he would ride them, one by one;

* * * * *

Steady of heart, and stout of hand.
As ever drove prey from Cumberland;
Five times outlawed had he been,
By England's King, and Scotland's Queen.

When Sir Michael Scott was buried in Melrose Abbey his Mystic
Book - which no one was ever to see except the Chief of Branxholm, and
then only in the time of need - was buried with him. Branxholm Tower was
about eighteen miles from Melrose and situated in the vale of Cheviot.
After the death of Lord Walter (who had been killed in the Border
warfare), a gathering of the kinsmen of the great Buccleuch was held
there, and the "Ladye Margaret" left the company, retiring laden with
sorrow and her impending troubles to her bower. It was a fine moonlight
night when -

From amid the arméd train
She called to her, William of Deloraine.

and sent him for the mighty book to Melrose Abbey which was to relieve
her of all her troubles.

"Sir William of Deloraine, good at need,
Mount thee on the wightest steed;
Spare not to spur, nor stint to ride.
Until thou come to fair Tweedside;
And in Melrose's holy pile
Seek thou the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.
Greet the Father well from me;
Say that the fated hour is come,
And to-night he shall watch with thee,
To win the treasure of the tomb:
For this will be St. Michael's night,
And, though stars be dim, the moon is bright;
And the Cross, of bloody red,
Will point to the grave of the mighty dead.

* * * * *

"What he gives thee, see thou keep;
Stay not thou for food or sleep:
Be it scroll, or be it book,
Into it, Knight, thou must not look;
If thou readest, thou art lorn!
Better had'st thou ne'er been born." -

* * * * *

"O swiftly can speed my dapple-grey steed,
Which drinks of the Teviot clear;
Ere break of day," the Warrior 'gan say,
"Again will I be here:
And safer by none may thy errand be done,
Than, noble dame, by me;
Letter nor line know I never a one,
Wer't my neck-verse at Hairibee."

Deloraine lost no time in carrying out his Ladye's wishes, and rode
furiously on his horse to Melrose Abbey in order to be there by
midnight, and as described in Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last
Minstrel":

Short halt did Deloraine make there;
Little reck'd he of the scene so fair
With dagger's hilt, on the wicket strong,
He struck full loud, and struck full long.
The porter hurried to the gate -
"Who knocks so loud, and knocks so late?"
"From Branksome I," the warrior cried;
And straight the wicket open'd wide
For Branksome's Chiefs had in battle stood,
To fence the rights of fair Melrose;
And lands and livings, many a rood,
Had gifted the Shrine for their souls' repose.

* * * * *

Bold Deloraine his errand said;
The porter bent his humble head;
With torch in hand, and feet unshod.
And noiseless step, the path he trod.
The archèd cloister, far and wide,
Rang to the warrior's clanking stride,
Till, stooping low his lofty crest,
He enter'd the cell of the ancient priest,
And lifted his barred aventayle,
To hail the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.

* * * * *

"The Ladye of Branksome greets thee by me,
Says, that the fated hour is come,
And that to-night I shall watch with thee,
To win the treasure of the tomb."
From sackcloth couch the Monk arose,
With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd;
A hundred years had flung their snows
On his thin locks and floating beard.

And strangely on the Knight look'd he,
And his blue eyes gleam'd wild and wide;
"And, darest thou, Warrior! seek to see
What heaven and hell alike would hide?
My breast, in belt of iron pent,
With shirt of hair and scourge of thorn;
For threescore years, in penance spent.
My knees those flinty stones have worn;
Yet all too little to atone
For knowing what should ne'er be known.
Would'st thou thy every future year
In ceaseless prayer and penance drie,
Yet wait thy latter end with fear
Then, daring Warrior, follow me!"

* * * * *

"Penance, father, will I none;
Prayer know I hardly one;
For mass or prayer can I rarely tarry,
Save to patter an Ave Mary,
When I ride on a Border foray.
Other prayer can I none;
So speed me my errand, and let me be gone."

* * * * *

Again on the Knight look'd the Churchman old,
And again he sighed heavily;
For he had himself been a warrior bold.
And fought in Spain and Italy.
And he thought on the days that were long since by,
When his limbs were strong, and his courage was high -
Now, slow and faint, he led the way,
Where, cloister'd round, the garden lay;
The pillar'd arches were over their head,
And beneath their feet were the bones of the dead.

* * * * *

The moon on the east oriel shone
Through slender shafts of shapely stone,

* * * * *

The silver light, so pale and faint,
Shew'd many a prophet, and many a saint,
Whose image on the glass was dyed;
Full in the midst, his Cross of Red
Triumphal Michael brandished,
And trampled the Apostate's pride.
The moon beam kiss'd the holy pane,
And threw on the pavement a bloody stain.

* * * * *

They sate them down on a marble stone, -
(A Scottish monarch slept below;)
Thus spoke the Monk, in solemn tone -
"I was not always a man of woe;
For Paynim countries I have trod,
And fought beneath the Cross of God:
Now, strange to my eyes thine arms appear.
And their iron clang sounds strange to my ear.

* * * * *

"In these far climes it was my lot
To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;

* * * * *

Some of his skill he taught to me;
And, Warrior, I could say to thee
The words that cleft Eildon hills in three,
And bridled the Tweed with a curb of stone:
But to speak them were a deadly sin;
And for having but thought them my heart within,
A treble penance must be done.

* * * * *

"When Michael lay on his dying bed,
His conscience was awakened
He bethought him of his sinful deed,
And he gave me a sign to come with speed.
I was in Spain when the morning rose,
But I stood by his bed ere evening close.
The words may not again be said
That he spoke to me, on death-bed laid;
They would rend this Abbaye's massy nave,
And pile it in heaps above his grave.

* * * * *

"I swore to bury his Mighty Book,
That never mortal might therein look;
And never to tell where it was hid,
Save at his Chief of Branksome's need:
And when that need was past and o'er,
Again the volume to restore.
I buried him on St. Michael's night,
When the bell toll'd one, and the moon was bright,
And I dug his chamber among the dead,
When the floor of the chancel was stained red,
That his patron's cross might over him wave,
And scare the fiends from the Wizard's grave.

* * * * *

"It was a night of woe and dread,
When Michael in the tomb I laid!
Strange sounds along the chancel pass'd,
The banners waved without a blast" -
Still spoke the Monk, when the bell toll'd one! -
I tell you, that a braver man
Than William of Deloraine, good at need,
Against a foe ne'er spurr'd a steed;
Yet somewhat was he chill'd with dread,
And his hair did bristle upon his head.

* * * * *

"Lo, Warrior! now, the Cross of Red
Points to the grave of the mighty dead;
Within it burns a wondrous light,
To chase the spirits that love the night:
That lamp shall burn unquenchably,
Until the eternal doom shall be." -
Slow moved the Monk to the broad flag-stone,
Which the bloody Cross was traced upon:

He pointed to a secret nook;
An iron bar the Warrior took;
And the Monk made a sign with his wither'd hand,
The grave's huge portal to expand.

* * * * *

With beating heart to the task he went;
His sinewy frame o'er the grave-stone bent;
With bar of iron heaved amain,
Till the toil-drops fell from his brows, like rain.
It was by dint of passing strength,
That he moved the massy stone at length.
I would you had been there, to see
How the light broke forth so gloriously,
Stream'd upward to the chancel roof,
And through the galleries far aloof!
No earthly flame blazed e'er so bright:
It shone like heaven's own blessed light,
And, issuing from the tomb,
Show'd the Monk's cowl, and visage pale,
Danced on the dark-brow'd Warrior's mail,
And kiss'd his waving plume.

* * * * *

Before their eyes the Wizard lay,
As if he had not been dead a day.
His hoary beard in silver roll'd.
He seem'd some seventy winters old;
A palmer's amice wrapp'd him round,
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea:
His left hand held his Book of Might;
A silver cross was in his right;
The lamp was placed beside his knee:
High and majestic was his look,
At which the fellest fiends had shook.
And all unruffled was his face:
They trusted his soul had gotten grace.

* * * * *

Often had William of Deloraine
Rode through the battle's bloody plain,
And trampled down the warriors slain,
And neither known remorse nor awe;
Yet now remorse and awe he own'd;
His breath came thick, his head swam round.
When this strange scene of death he saw.
Bewilder'd and unnerved he stood.
And the priest pray'd fervently and loud:
With eyes averted prayed he;
He might not endure the sight to see.
Of the man he had loved so brotherly.

* * * * *

And when the priest his death-prayer had pray'd,
Thus unto Deloraine he said: -
"Now, speed thee what thou hast to do,
Or, Warrior, we may dearly rue;

For those, thou may'st not look upon,
Are gathering fast round the yawning stone!" -
Then Deloraine, in terror, took
From the cold hand the Mighty Book,
With iron clasp'd, and with iron bound:
He thought, as he took it, the dead man frown'd;
But the glare of the sepulchral light,
Perchance, had dazzled the Warrior's sight.

* * * * *

When the huge stone sunk o'er the tomb.
The night return'd in double gloom;
For the moon had gone down, and the stars were few;
And, as the Knight and Priest withdrew.
With wavering steps and dizzy brain,
They hardly might the postern gain.
'Tis said, as through the aisles they pass'd,
They heard strange noises on the blast;
And through the cloister-galleries small,
Which at mid-height thread the chancel wall,
Loud sobs, and laughter louder, ran,
And voices unlike the voices of man;
As if the fiends kept holiday,
Because these spells were brought to day.
I cannot tell how the truth may be;
I say the tale as 'twas said to me.

* * * * *

"Now, hie thee hence," the Father said,
"And when we are on death-bed laid,
O may our dear Ladye, and sweet St. John,
Forgive our souls for the deed we have done!" -
The Monk return'd him to his cell,
And many a prayer and penance sped;
When the convent met at the noontide bell -
The Monk of St. Mary's aisle was dead!
Before the cross was the body laid,
With hands clasp'd fast, as if still he pray'd.

What became of Sir William Deloraine and the wonderful book on his
return journey we had no time to read that evening, but we afterwards
learned he fell into the hands of the terrible Black Dwarf. We had
decided to walk to Hawick if possible, although we were rather reluctant
to leave Melrose. We had had one good tea on entering the town, and my
brother suggested having another before leaving it, so after visiting
the graveyard of the abbey, where the following curious epitaph appeared
on one of the stones, we returned to the inn, where the people were
highly amused at seeing us return so soon and for such a purpose:

The earth goeth to the earth
Glist'ring like gold;
The earth goeth to the earth
Sooner than it wold;
The earth builds on the earth
Castles and Towers;
The earth says to the earth,
All shall be ours.

Still, we were quite ready for our second tea, and wondered whether
there was any exercise that gave people a better appetite and a greater
joy in appeasing it than walking, especially in the clear and sharp air
of Scotland, for we were nearly always extremely hungry after an hour or
two's walk. When the tea was served, I noticed that my brother lingered
over it longer than usual, and when I reminded him that the night would
soon be on us, he said he did not want to leave before dark, as he
wanted to see how the old abbey appeared at night, quoting Sir Walter
Scott as the reason why:

If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins grey.
When the broken arches are black in night,
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower
Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately,
Seem framed of ebon and ivory;
When silver edges the imagery.
And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave,
Then go - but go alone the while -
Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear.
Was ever scene so sad and fair?

I reminded my brother that there would be no moon visible that night,
and that it would therefore be impossible to see the old abbey "by the
pale moonlight"; but he said the starlight would do just as well for
him, so we had to wait until one or two stars made their appearance, and
then departed, calling at a shop to make a few small purchases as we
passed on our way. The path alongside the abbey was entirely deserted.
Though so near the town there was scarcely a sound to be heard, not even
"the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave." Although we had no
moonlight, the stars were shining brightly through the ruined arches
which had once been filled with stained glass, representing the figures
"of many a prophet and many a saint." It was a beautiful sight that
remained in our memories long after other scenes had been forgotten.

According to the Koran there were four archangels: Azrael, the angel of
death; Azrafil, who was to sound the trumpet at the resurrection;
Gabriel, the angel of revelations, who wrote down the divine decrees;
and Michael, the champion, who fought the battles of faith, - and it was
this Michael whose figure Sir Walter Scott described as appearing full
in the midst of the east oriel window "with his Cross of bloody red,"
which in the light of the moon shone on the floor of the abbey and
"pointed to the grave of the mighty dead" into which the Monk and
William of Deloraine had to descend to secure possession of the "Mighty
Book."

After passing the old abbey and the shade of the walls and trees to find
our way to the narrow and rough road along which we had to travel
towards Hawick, we halted for a few moments at the side of the road to
arrange the contents of our bags, in order to make room for the small
purchases we had made in the town. We had almost completed the
readjustment when we heard the heavy footsteps of a man approaching, who
passed us walking along the road we were about to follow. My brother
asked him if he was going far that way, to which he replied, "A goodish
bit," so we said we should be glad of his company; but he walked on
without speaking to us further. We pushed the remaining things in our
bags as quickly as possible, and hurried on after him. As we did not
overtake him, we stood still and listened attentively, though
fruitlessly, for not a footstep could we hear. We then accelerated our
pace to what was known as the "Irishman's Trig" - a peculiar step,
quicker than a walk, but slower than a run - and after going some
distance we stopped again to listen; but the only sound we could hear
was the barking of a solitary dog a long distance away. This was very
provoking, as we wanted to get some information about our road, which,
besides being rough, was both hilly and very lonely, and more in the
nature of a track than a road. Where the man could have disappeared to
was a mystery on a road apparently without any offshoots, so we
concluded he must have thought we contemplated doing him some bodily
harm, and had either "bolted" or "clapp'd," as my brother described it,
behind some rock or bush, in which case he must have felt relieved and
perhaps amused when he heard us "trigging" past him on the road.

[Illustration: LILLIESLEAF AND THE EILDON HILLS.]

We continued along the lonely road without his company, with the ghostly
Eildon Hills on one side and the moors on the other, until after walking
steadily onwards for a few miles, we heard the roar of a mountain stream
in the distance. When we reached it we were horrified to find it running
right across our road. It looked awful in the dark, as it was quite
deep, and although we could just see where our road emerged from the
stream on the other side, it was quite impossible for us to cross in the
dark. We could see a few lights some distance beyond the stream, but it
was useless to attempt to call for help, since our voices could not be
heard above the noise of the torrent. Our position seemed almost
hopeless, until my brother said he thought he had seen a shed or a small
house behind a gate some distance before coming to the stream. We
resolved to turn back, and luckily we discovered it to be a small lodge
guarding the entrance to a private road. We knocked at the door of the
house, which was in darkness, the people having evidently gone to bed.
Presently a woman asked what was wanted, and when we told her we could
not get across the stream, she said there was a footbridge near by,
which we had not seen in the dark, and told us how to find it a little
higher up the stream. Needless to relate, we were very pleased when we
got across the bridge, and we measured the distance across that
turbulent stream in fifteen long strides.

We soon reached the lights we had seen, and found a small village, where
at the inn we got some strange lodgings, and slept that night in a bed
of a most curious construction, as it was in a dark place under the
stairs, entered by a door from the parlour. But it was clean and
comfortable, and we were delighted to make use of it after our long
walk.

(_Distance walked thirty miles_.)


_Wednesday, October 11th._

We had been warned when we retired to rest that it was most likely we
should be wakened early in the morning by people coming down the stairs,
and advised to take no notice of them, as no one would interfere with us
or our belongings. We were not surprised, therefore, when we were
aroused early by heavy footsteps immediately over our heads, which we
supposed were those of the landlord as he came down the stairs. We had
slept soundly, and, since there was little chance of any further
slumber, we decided to get up and look round, the village before
breakfast. We had to use the parlour as a dressing-room, and not knowing
who might be coming down the stairs next, we dressed ourselves as
quickly as possible. We found that the village was called Lilliesleaf,
which we thought a pretty name, though we were informed it had been
spelt in twenty-seven different ways, while the stream we came to in the
night was known by the incongruous name of Ale Water. The lodge we had
gone back to for information as to the means of crossing was the East
Gate guarding one of the entrances to Riddell, a very ancient place
where Sir Walter Scott had recorded the unearthing of two graves of
special interest, one containing an earthen pot filled with ashes and
arms, and bearing the legible date of 729, and the other dated 936,
filled with the bones of a man of gigantic size.

A local historian wrote of the Ale Water that "it is one thing to see it
on a summer day when it can be crossed by the stepping-stones, and
another when heavy rains have fallen in the autumn - then it is a
strong, deep current and carries branches and even trees on its surface,
the ford at Riddell East Gate being impassable, and it is only then that
we can appreciate the scene." It seemed a strange coincidence that we
should be travelling on the same track but in the opposite direction as
that pursued by William Deloraine, and that we should have crossed the
Ale Water about a fortnight later in the year, as Sir Walter described
him in his "Lay" as riding along the wooded path when "green hazels o'er
his basnet nod," which indicated the month of September.

Unchallenged, thence pass'd Deloraine,
To ancient Riddell's fair domain,
Where Aill, from mountain freed,
Down from the lakes did raving come;
Each wave was crested with tawny foam,
Like the mane of a chestnut steed.
In vain! no torrent, deep or broad.
Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road.

* * * * *

At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddlebow;
Above the foaming tide, I ween,
Scarce half the charger's neck was seen;
For he was barded from counter to tail,
And the rider was armed complete in mail;
Never heavier man and horse
Stemm'd a midnight torrent's force.
The warrior's very plume, I say
Was daggled by the dashing spray;
Yet, through good heart, and Our Ladye's grace,
At length he gain'd the landing place.

What would have become of ourselves if we had attempted to cross the
treacherous stream in the dark of the previous night we did not know,
but we were sure we should have risked our lives had we made the
attempt.

We were only able to explore the churchyard at Lilliesleaf, as the
church was not open at that early hour in the morning. We copied a
curious inscription from one of the old stones there:

Near this stone we lifeless lie
No more the things of earth to spy,
But we shall leave this dusty bed
When Christ appears to judge the dead.
For He shall come in glory great
And in the air shall have His seat
And call all men before His throne.
Rewarding all as they have done.

We were served with a prodigious breakfast at the inn to match, as we
supposed, the big appetites prevailing in the North, and then we resumed
our walk towards Hawick, meeting on our way the children coming to the
school at Lilliesleaf, some indeed quite a long way from their
destination. In about four miles we reached Hassendean and the River
Teviot, for we were now in Teviot Dale, along which we were to walk,
following the river nearly to its source in the hills above. The old
kirk of Hassendean had been dismantled in 1693, but its burial-ground
continued to be used until 1795, when an ice-flood swept away all
vestiges both of the old kirk and the churchyard. It was of this
disaster that Leyden, the poet and orientalist, who was born in 1775 at
the pretty village of Denholm close by, wrote the following lines:

By fancy wrapt, where tombs are crusted grey,
I seem by moon-illumined graves to stray,
Where now a mouldering pile is faintly seen -
The old deserted church of Hassendean,
Where slept my fathers in their natal clay
Till Teviot waters rolled their bones away.

[Illustration: LEYDEN'S COTTAGE.]

Leyden was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott, whom he helped to gather
materials for his "Border Minstrelsie," and was referred to in his novel
of _St. Ronan's Well_ as "a lamp too early quenched." In 1811 he went to



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 20 of 66)