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I marvel she is now at large,

But oft she 'scapes from Maudlin's

charge. —
Hence, brain-sick fool ! ' — He raised his

bow : —
1 Now, if thou strik'st her but one blow,



XXIV.

1 Hush thee, poor maiden, and be still ! '
' O ! thou look'st kindly, and I will.
Mine eve has dried and wasted been,
But still it loves the Lincoln green ;
And, though mine ear is all unstrung.
Still, still it loves the Lowland tongue.

' For O my sweet William was forester true,
He stole poor Blanche's heart away !

His coat it was all of the greenwood hue,
And so blithely he trilled the Lowland lay !

' It was not that I meant to tell . . .
But thou art wise and guessest well.'
Then, in a low and broken tone, ,

And hurried note, the song went on.
Still on the Clansman fearfully



THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



213




She fixed her apprehensive eye,

Then turned it on the Knight, and then

Her look glanced wildly o'er the glen.



xxv.

4 The toils are pitched, and the stakes are
set, —
Ever sing merrily, merrily ;
The bows they bend, and the knives they
whet,
Hunters live so cheerily.

• It was a stag, a stag of ten,

Bearing its branches sturdily ;
He came stately down the glen, —

Ever sing hardily, hardily.

' It was there he met with a wounded doe.

She was bleeding deathfully ;
She warned him of the toils below.

O, so faithfully, faithfully !

1 He had an eye, and he could heed, —

Ever sing warily, warily ;
He had a foot, and he could speed, —

Hunters watch so narrowly.'



Fitz-James's mind was passion-tossed,
When Ellen's hints and fears were lost ;
But Murdoch's shout suspicion wrought,
And Blanche's song conviction brought.
Not like a stag that spies the snare.
But lion of the hunt aware,
He waved at once his blade on high,
4 Disclose thy treachery, or die ! '
Forth at full speed the Clansman flew.
But in his race his bow he drew.
The shaft just grazed Fitz-James's crest,
And thrilled in Blanche's faded breast. —
Murdoch of Alpine ! prove thy speed,
For ne'er had Alpine's son such need ;
With heart of fire, and foot of wind,
The fierce avenger is behind !
Fate judges of the rapid strife —
The forfeit death — the prize is life ;
Thy kindred ambush lies before,
Close couched upon the heathery moor;
Them couldst thou reach ! — it may not be —
Thine ambushed kin thou ne'er shalt see,
The fiery Saxon gains on thee ! —
Resistless speeds the deadly thrust,



214



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.



As lightning strikes the pine to dust ;
With foot and hand Fitz-James must strain
Ere he can win his blade again.
Bent o'er the fallen with falcon eye,
He grimly smiled to see him die,
Then slower wended back his way,
Where the poor maiden bleeding lay.

XXVII.

She sat beneath the birchen tree,
Her elbow resting on her knee :
She had withdrawn the fatal shaft,
And gazed on it, and feebly laughed ;
Her wreath of broom and feathers gray,
Daggled with blood, beside her lay.
The Knight to stanch the life-stream tried, —
4 Stranger, it is in vain ! ' she cried.
1 This hour of death has given me more
Of reason's power than years before ;
For, as these ebbing veins decay,
My frenzied visions fade away.
A helpless injured wretch I die,
And something tells me in thine eye
That thou wert mine avenger born.
Seest thou this tress ? — O, still I 've worn
This little tress of yellow hair,
Through danger, frenzy, and despair !
It once was bright and clear as thine,
But blood and tears have dimmed its shine.
I will not tell thee when 't was shred,
Nor from what guiltless victim's head, —
My brain would turn ! — but it shall wave
Like plumage on thy helmet brave,
Till sun and wind shall bleach the stain,
And thou wilt bring it me again.
I waver still. — O God ! more bright
Let reason beam her parting light ! —
O, by thy knighthood's honored sign,
And for thy life preserved by mine,



When thou shalt see a darksome man,
Who boasts him Chief of Alpine's Clan,
With tartans broad and shadowy plume.
And hand of blood, and brow of gloom,
Be thy heart bold, thy weapon strong,
And wreak poor Blanche of Devan's

wrong ! —
They watch for thee by pass and fell . . .
Avoid the path . . . O God ! . . . farewell! 7

XXVIII.

A kindly heart had brave Fitz-James ;
Fast poured his eyes at pity's claims ;
And now, with mingled grief and ire,
He saw the murdered maid expire.
' God, in my need, be my relief,
As I wreak this on yonder Chief ! '
A lock from Blanche's tresses fair
i He blended with her bridegroom's hair ;
! The mingled braid in blood he dyed,
; And placed it on his bonnet-side :
| ' By Him whose word is truth, I swear,
! No other favor will I wear,
! Till this sad token I imbrue
! In the best blood of Roderick Dhu ! —
| But hark ! what means yon faint halloo ?
I The chase is up, — but they shall know,
i The stag at bay 's a dangerous foe.'
I Barred from the known but guarded way,
I Through copse and cliffs Fitz-James must
stray,
And oft must change his desperate track,
By stream and precipice turned back.
Heartless, fatigued, and faint, at length,
From lack of food and loss of strength.
He couched him in a thicket hoar,
And thought his toils and perils o'er : —
' Of all my rash adventures past,
This frantic feat must prove the last !




THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



215




Who e'er so mad but might have guessed
That all this Highland hornet's nest
Would muster up in swarms so soon
As e'er they heard of bands at Doune ? —
Like bloodhounds now they search me

out, —
Hark, to the whistle and the shout ! —
If farther through the wilds I go,
I only fall upon the foe :
I '11 couch me here till evening gray,
Then darkling try my dangerous way.'

XXIX.

The shades of eve come slowly down,
The woods are wrapt in deeper brown,
The owl awakens from her dell,
The fox is heard upon the fell ;
Enough remains of glimmering light
To guide the wanderer's steps aright,
Yet not enough from far to show
His figure to the watchful foe.
With cautious step and ear awake,
He climbs the crag and threads the brake ;
And not the summer solstice there
Tempered the midnight mountain air,
But every breeze that swept the wold
Benumbed his drenched limbs with cold.
In dread, in danger, and alone,



Famished and chilled, through ways un-
known,
Tangled and steep, he journeyed on ;
Till, as a rock's huge point he turned,
A watch-fire close before him burned.

XXX.

Beside its embers red and clear,
Basked in his plaid a mountaineer ;
And up he sprung with sword in hand, —
' Thy name and purpose ! Saxon, stand ! '
' A stranger.' ' What dost thou require ? '
' Rest and a guide, and food and fire.
My life's beset, my path is lost,
The gale has chilled my limbs with frost.'
' Art thou a friend to Roderick ? ' * No.'

I Thou dar'st not call thyself a foe ? '

I I dare ! to him and all the band

He brings to aid his murderous hand.'

' Bold words ! — but, though the beast of

game
The privilege of chase may claim,
Though space and law the stag we lend, «
Ere hound we slip or bow we bend,
Who ever recked, where, how, or when,
The prowling fox was trapped or slain ?
Thus treacherous scouts, — yet sure they

lie,



2l6



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.



Who, say thou cam'st a secret spy ! ' —
4 They do, by heaven ! — come Roderick

Dhu,
And of his clan the boldest two,
And let me but till morning rest,
I write the falsehood on their crest.'
1 If by the blaze I mark aright,
Thou bear'st the belt and spur of Knight.'
1 Then by these tokens mayst thou know
Each proud oppressor's mortal foe.'
1 Enough, enough ; sit down and share
A soldier's couch, a soldier's fare.'



He gave him of his Highland cheer,
The hardened flesh of mountain deer ;
Dry fuel on the fire he laid,
And bade the Saxon share his plaid.
He tended him like welcome guest,
Then thus his further speech addressed
' Stranger, I am to Roderick Dhu
A clansman born, a kinsman true :
Each word against his honor spoke
Demands of me avenging stroke ;
Yet more, — upon thy fate, 't is said,
A mighty augury is laid.



It rests with me to wind my horn, —
Thou art with numbers overborne ;
It rests with me, here, brand to brand,
Worn as thou art, to bid thee stand :
But, not for clan, nor kindred's cause.
Will I depart from honor's laws ;
To assail a wearied man were shame.
And stranger is a holy name ;
Guidance ^nd rest, and food and fire,
In vain he never must require.
Then rest thee here till dawn of day ;
Myself will guide thee on the way,
O'er stock and stone, through watch and

ward,
Till past Clan-Alpine's outmost guard,
As far as Coilantogle's ford ;
From thence thy warrant is thy sword.'
' I take thy courtesy, by heaven,
As freely as 't is nobly given ! '
'Well, rest thee; for the bittern's cry
Sings us the lake's wild lullaby.'
With that he shook the gathered heath,
And spread his plaid upon the wreath ;
And the brave ioemen, side by side,
Lay peaceful down like brothers tried,
And slept until the dawning beam
Purpled the mountain and the stream.




THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



217




&fje ILaog of tfje ILafa.



CANTO FIFTH.



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.

11.
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 by,
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.
'T was oft so steep, the foot was 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 !

in.

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 bank 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



218



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.



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,
1 1 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.'
1 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 ihis alone might from his part
Sever each true and loyal heart.'




THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



2I 9



VI.

Wrathful at such arraignment foul,
Dark lowered the clansman's sable scowl.
A space he paused, then sternly said,
4 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.'



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,




* Still was it outrage ; — yet, 't is 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.'

VII.

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 : —



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

Tne 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.'

VIII.

Answered Fitz-James : ' And, if I sought,
Think'st thou no other could be brought ?
What deem ye of my path waylaid ?



220



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.




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-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 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



THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



221



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 ! '

x.

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_Lr=^— ^

' Come one, come all ! this rock shall flyy

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.

XI.

Fitz-James looked round, — yet scarce Re-
lieved
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,




222



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.



So late dishonored and defied^
Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round
The vanished 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,



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.'




Where neither tree nor tuft was seen,
Nor rush nor bush of broom was near,
To hide a bonnet or a spear.

XII.

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,



XIII.

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.



THE LADY OF THE LAKE.



223



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.



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 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.'



XIV.

Dark lightning flashed from Roderick's eye
4 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.



' 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, 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.'



2 24



SCOTT'S POETICAL WORKS.




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.

XV.

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 tartans dyed.



Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,

And showered his blows like wintry rain ;



Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 21 of 78)