Walter Scott.

The lady of the lake. A poem, in six cantos online

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In peace ; but when I come again,

I come with banner, brand, and bow,

As leader seeks his mortal foe.

For love-lorn swain, in lady's bower.

Ne'er panted for the appointed hour.

As I, until before me stand

This rebel Chieftain and his band."



IX.

" Have, then, thy wish ! " — He whistled .shrill.

And he was answer'd 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 plaidod warrior arm'd for strife.

That whistle garrison'd 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 stiU,

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 fix'd his eye and sable brow
FuU 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 thrill'd with sudden start.
He mann'd himself with dauntless air,
Return'd the Chief his haughty stare.
His back against a rock he bore.
And firmly placed liis foot before : —
" Come one, come all ! this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I."
Sir Roderick mark'd — and in his eyes
Respect was mingled w^ith surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel.



THE COMBAT.



68



Short space he stood — then waved his hand :

Dowu sunk the disappearing baud ;

Each warrior vauish'd where he stood,

In broom or bracken, heath or wood ;

Sunk brand and spear and bended bow,

In osiers pale and copses low ;

It seem'd as if their mother Earth

Had swallow'd up her warlike birth.

The wind's last breath had toss'd in air

Pennon, and plaid, and plumage fair, —

The next but swept a lone hill-side,

WTiere 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 imreflected, shone

On bracken green, and cold gray stone.

XI.

Fitz-James look'd round — yet scarce believed

The witness that his sight received;

Such apparition well might seem

Delusion of a dreadfid dream.

Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,

And to his look the Chief replied,

" Fear nought — 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

Eent 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 temper'd 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 di.shonour'd and dehed.

Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round

The vanish'd guardians of the ground.



And still, 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,
Wliere 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 reach'd 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 unfurl'd.

And here his course the Chieftain stay'd.

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,
Arm'd, like thyself, with single brand ;
For this is Coilantogle ford.
And thou must keep thee with thy sword."



The Saxon paused: — "I ne'er delay'd.
When foeman bade me draw my blade ;
Nay more, brave Chief, I vow'd thy death:
Yet sure thy fair and generous faith,
And my deep debt for Ufe preserved,
A better meed have well deserved :
Can nought but blood our feud atone?
Ai'e there no means 1 " — " No, Stranger, none ;
And hear, — to fire thy flagging zeal,— -
The Saxon cause rests on thy steel;



64



THE LADY OP THE LAKE.



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 cliif, —
There lies Eed Murdoch, stark and stiff.
Thus Fate has solved her prophecy,
Then yield to Fate, and not to me.
To James, at Stirling, let us go,
"When, if thou wUt be still his foe.
Or if the King shall not agree
To grant thee grace and favour free,
I plight mine honour, oath, and word
That, to thy native strength restored,
With each advantage shalt thou stand,
That aids thee now to guard thy land."



Dark lightning flash VI from Roderick's eye —
" Soars tliy presumption then so liigh.
Because a wretched kern ye slew,
Homage to name to Eoderick Dhu?
He yields not, he, to man or Fate !
Thou add'st hut 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 liis fair lady's hair."
— " I thank thee, Eoderick, 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 ruth, 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 faulchion drew,
Eacli on the ground his scabbard threw,



Each look'd 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 Eoderick Dhu,
That on the field his targe he threw.
Whose brazen studs and tough bull-hide
Had death so often dash'd aside ;
For, train'd 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 maintain'd 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 tartans dyed.
Fierce Eoderick felt the fatal drain,
And shower'd his blows like wintry rain;
And, as firm rock, or castle roof,
Against the winter shower is proof.
The foe, invulnerable still,
Foil'd his wUd rage by steady skill ;
Till, at advantage ta'en, his brand
Forced Eoderick'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;
Eeceived, but reck'd not of a wound,
And lock'd his arms his foeman round. —
Now, gallant Saxon, hold tliine 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 COMBAT.



65



The Chieftain's gripe his throat compress'd,
His kuee was planted in his breast •
His clotted locks he backward threw,
Across his brow his hand he drew,
From blood and mist to clear liis sight.
Then gleam'd 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 gleam'd on liigh, ■
Eeel'd soul and sense, reel'd 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 falter'd thanks to Heaven for life,
Eedeem'd, unhoped, from desperate strife;
Next on his foe his look he cast.
Whose every gasp appear'd his last;
In Roderick's gore he dipp'd the braid, —
" Poor Blanche ! thy wrongs are dearly

paid !
Yet with thy foe must die, or live.
The praise that Faith and Valour give."
With that he blew a bugle note,
Undid the collar from his throat,
Unbonneted, and by the wave
Sate down his brow and hands to lave.
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 loosen'd rein, a saddled steed ;
Each onward held his headlong course,
And by Fitz-James rein'd up his horse, —
With wonder view'd 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 bo boune
To see the archer-game at noon ;
But lightly Bayard clears the lea. —
De Vaux and Herries, follow me.

XVIII.

"Stand, Bayard, stand ! "—The steed obey'd,
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 stay'd.
No grasp upon the saddle laid.
But wreathed his left hand in the mane.
And lightly bounded from the plain,
Turn'd on the horse his armi^d heel.
And stirr'd his courage with the steel.
Bounded the fiery steed in air,
The rider sate, erect and fair.
Then, like a bolt from steel crossbow
Forth launch'd, along the plain they go.
They dash'd that rapid torrent through,
And up Carhonie's hiU they flew ;
Still at the gallop prick'd the Knight;
His merry-men follow'd 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 banner'd 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 to'wn,
Upon their fleet career look'd down.

XIX.

As up the flinty path they strain'd,
Sudden his steed the leader rein'd ;



66



THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



A signal to his squire he flung,

Who instant to his stirrup sprung :

" Seest thou, De Vaux, yon woodsman

gray,
Who to'^vnward holds the rocky way,
Of stature taU 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 hiU 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 banish'd 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 wheel'd 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 climb'd the rooky shelf.

Held sad communion with liimself.

" Yes ! all is true my fears could frame ;

A prisoner lies the noble Graeme,

And fiery Eoderick 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 liath her promise given.

My child shall be the bride of Heaven ; —

— Be pardon'd 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, sad and fatal mound ! *

That oft hast heard the death-axe sound.

As on the noblest of the land

Fell the stern headsman'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-danoers come.

I guess, by aU this quaint array,

The burghers hold their sports to-day.

James wUl be there ; — he loves such show,

^liere the good yeoman bends his bow.

And the tough wrestler foils his foe,

As well as where, in proud career.

The high-born tilter 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 rock'd and nmg.

And echo'd loud the flinty street

Beneath the coursers' clattering feet.

As slowly down the deep descent

Fair Scotland's King and nobles went,

"VATiile 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,

Wl\o smiled and blush'd 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!"

* An eminence on the aortlieast of the castle, where stati' ciiminals
were executed.



THE COMBAT.



67



Behind the Kuig throngVl peer and knight,
And noble dame and damsel bright,
Whose fiery steeds ill brook'd the stay
Of the steep street and crowded way.
— But in the train you might discern
Dark lowering brow and visage stern ;
There nobles mourn'd their pride restrain'd,
And the mean burgher's joys disdain 'd ;
And chiefs, who, hostage for their clan.
Were each from home a banish'd man,
There thought upon their own gray tower,
Their waving woods, their feudal power,
And deem'd themselves a shameful part
Of pageant which they cursed in heart.



Now, in the Castle-park, drew out
Their chequer'd 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 aU liis band, —
Friar Tuck with quarter-staff 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 center'd 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 watch'd, with watery eye,
Some answering glance of sympathy, —
No kind emotion made reply !
Inditferent as to archer wight.
The Monarch gave the arrow bright.

XXIII.

Now, clear the Ring ! for, hand to hand.
The manly %vrestlers take their stand.
Two o'er the rest superior rose.
And proud demanded mightier foes.
Nor call'd in vain ; for Douglas came.
— For life is Hugh of Larbert lame;



Scarce better John of Alloa's fare,

'Whom senseless home his conu'ades bear.

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 woidd speak, but in his breast

His struggling soul his words suppress'd :

Indignant then he turn'd him wliere

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 de.ep bed, then heaved it high.

And sent the fragment thi'ough the sky,

A rood beyond the farthest mark ; —

And still in Stirling's royal park.

The gray-hair'd sires who know the past.

To strangers point the Douglas-cast,

And moralize on the decay

Of Scottish strength in modern day.

XXIV.

The vale with loud applauses rang.
The Ladies' Rock sent back the clang ;
The King, witli look unmoved, bestow'd
A purse well fiU'd \nth. 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 mark'd and shook the head
To see his hair with silver spread.
And wink'd aside, and told each son
Of feats upon the English done.
Ere Douglas of the stalwart hand
Was exiled from his native laud.
The women praised his stately form,
Though wTcck'd by many a winter's stonn ;
The youth with awe and wonder saw
His strength surpassing Nature's law.
Thus judged, as is their wont, the crowd.
Till murmur rose to clamours loud.
But not a glance from that proud ring
Of peers who firc'ed round the King,



68



THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



With Douglas held communion kind,
Or call'd the banish'd man to mind ;
No, not from those, who, at the chase,
Once held his side the honour'd place,
Begirt his board, and, in the field,
Found safety underneath his shield ;
For he, whom royal eyes diso\vn.
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 favourite greyhounds should pull

down.
That ven'son free, and Bordeaux 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 antler'd 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 darken'd brow and flashing eye ;
As waves before the bark divide,
The crowd gave way before his stride ;
Needs but a builet and no more,
The groom lies senseless in his gore.
Such blow no other hand could deal.
Though gauntleted in glove of steel.



Then clamour'd loud the royal train,
And brandish'd 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, doom'd 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 mis-proud 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 ? —
Wliat ho ! the Captain of our Guard !
Give the ofl^ender fitting ward. —
Break otf the sports ! " — for tumult rose.
And yeomen 'gan to bend their bows ! —
" Break off the sports ! " — he said, and frown'd,
"And bid our horsemen clear the ground."

XXVII.

Then uproar wild and misarray

Marr'd the fair form of festal day.

The horsemen prick 'd among the crowd,

Kepell'd 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 tunudtuous 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 raljble with disorder'd 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.



THE COMBAT.



69



XXVIII.

" Hear, gentle friends ! ere yet, for me,

Ye break the bauds of fealty.

My life, my honour, and my cause,

I tender free to Scotland's laws.

Are these so weak as must rec^uire

The 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,

Wliich knit my country and my kind!

Oh no ! Believe, in yonder tower.

It yn]l 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.

let your patience ward such ill,

And keep your right to love me still ! "

XXIX.

The crowd's wild fury sunk again

In tears, as tempests melt in rain.

With lifted hands and eyes, they pray'd

For blessings on his generous head,

Who for his country felt alone,

And prized her blood 'beyond his o\ni.

Old men, upon the verge of life,

Bless'd him who stay'd the civil strife ;

And mothers held their babes on high,

The self-devoted Chief to spy.

Triumphant over wrong 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 be led.

And at the Castle's battled verge.

With sighs, resign'd his honour'd 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
Strain'd for King James their morning note ;
With like acclaim they hail'd the day


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