Chapter 17 - The
"I know not,"
returned the hermit; "I never saw your gallant deliverer before
yesterday morning. Broken from my matins by a sudden noise, I beheld a
deer rush down the precipice, and fall headlong. As he lay struggling
amongst the stones at the entrance of my cave, I had just observed an
arrow in his side, when a shout issued from the rocks above, and looking
up, I beheld a young chieftain, with a bow in his hand, leaping from cliff
to cliff, till springing from a high projection on the right, he lit at
once at the head of the wounded deer.
"I emerged from the
recess that concealed me, and addressed him with the benediction of the
morning. His plaided followers immediately appeared, and with a stroke of
their ready weapons slew the animal. The chief left them to dress it for
their own refreshment; and, on my invitation, entered the cell to share a
"I told him who I was,
and what had driven me to this seclusion. In return, he informed me of a
design he had conceived, to stimulate the surrounding chiefs to some
exertions for their country; but as he never mentioned his name, I
concluded he wished it to remain unrevealed, and therefore I forbore to
inquire it. I imparted to him my doubts of the possibility of any single
individual being able to arouse the slumbering courage of our country; but
his language soon filled me with other thoughts. The arguments he means to
use are few and conclusive. They are these: the perfidy of King Edward;
who, deemed a prince of high honour, had been chosen umpire in the cause
of Bruce and Baliol. He accepted the task, in the character of a friend to
Scotland; but no sooner was he advanced
into the heart of our kingdom, and at the head of the large army he had
treacherously introduced as a mere appendage of state, than he declared
the act of judgment, was his right as liege lord of the realm! This
falsehood, which our records disproved at the outset, was not his only
baseness: he bought the conscience of Baliol, and adjudged to him the
throne. The recreant prince acknowledged him his master; and in that
degrading ceremony of homage, he was followed by almost all the lowland
Scottish lords. But this vile yielding, did not purchase them peace:
Edward demanded oppressive services from the King, and the castles of the
nobility to be resigned to English governors. These requisitions being
remonstrated against by a few of our boldest chiefs, (amongst whom, your
illustrious father, gentle lady, stood the most conspicuous,) the tyrant
repeated them with additional demands; and prepared to resent the appeal,
on the whale nation.
"Three months have
hardly elapsed, since the fatal battle of Dunbar; where, indignant at the
accumulated outrages committed on their passive monarch, our irritated
nobles at last rose, but too late, to assert their rights: alas! one
defeat drove them to despair. Baliol was taken, and themselves obliged to
again swear fealty to their enemy. Then came the seizure of the treasures
of our monasteries, the burning of the national records, the sequestration
of our property, the banishment of our chiefs, the violation of our women,
and the slavery or murder of the poor people yoked to the land. The storm
of desolation, thus raging over our country; how: cried the young warrior
to me, ‘can any of her sons shrink from the glory of again attempting
her restoration!’ He then informed me, that Earl de Warenne (whom Edward
had left Lord Warden of Scotland) is taken ill, and retired to London,
leaving Aymer de Valence to be his deputy. To this new tyrant, De Warenne
has lately sent a host
of mercenaries, to hold the south of Scotland in subjection; and to
reinforce Cressingham and Ornsby, two noted plunderers, who command
northwards, from Stirling to the shores of Sutherland.
representations of the conduct of our oppressors, the brave knight
demonstrated the facility with which invaders, drunk with power, and
gorged with rapine, could be vanquished by a resolute and hardy people.
The absence of Edward, who is now abroad, increases the probability of
success. The knight’s design is to infuse his own spirit into the bosoms
of the chiefs in this part of the kingdom. By their assistance, to seize
the fortresses in the Lowlands, and so form a chain of repulsion against
the admission of fresh troops from England. Then, while other chiefs (to
whom he means to apply) rise in the Highlands, the Southron garrisons
there, being unsupported by supplies, must become an easy prey; and would
yield men of consequence, to be exchanged for our countrymen, now
prisoners in England. For the present, he wishes to be furnished with
troops merely enough to take some castle, of power sufficient to give
confidence to his friends. On his becoming master of such a place, it
should he the signal for all to declare themselves; and, rising at once,
overwhelm Edward’s garrisons in every part of Scotland.
"This is the knight’s
plan; and for your sake, as well as for the cause, I hope the first
fortress he gains, may be that of Dumbarton: it has always been considered
the key of the country."
"May Heaven grant it,
holy father," returned Helen; "and, whoever this knight may be,
I pray the blessed St. Andrew to guide his arms!"
"If I may venture to
guess who he is," replied thehermit, "I would say, that
noble brow was formed to some day wear a crown."
Helen, starting, "you think this knight is the royal Bruce?"
"I am at a loss what
to think," replied the hermit; "he has a most princely air; and
there is such an overflowing of soul towards his country, when he speaks
of it, tbat such love can spring from no other than the royal heart,
created to foster and to bless it."
"But is he not too
young ?" inquired Helen. "I have heard my father say, that
Bruce, Lord of Annandale, the opponent of Baliol for the crown, was much
his senior; and that his son, the Earl of Carrick, must be now fifty years
of age. This knight, if I am any judge of looks, cannot be
the hermit; "and yet he may be a Bruce. For it is neither of the two
you have mentioned, that I mean; but the grandson of the one, and the son
of the other. You may see by this silver beard, lady, that the winter of
my life is far spent. The elder Bruce, Robert, Lord of Annandale, was my
contemporary; we were boys together, and educated at the same college in
Icolmkill. He was brave, and passed his manhood in visiting different
courts; at last, marrying a lady of the princely house of Clare, he took
her to France, and confided his only son to be brought up under the
renowned Saint Lewis. Which young Robert took the cross while quite a
youth; and carrying the banner of the holy King of France to the plains of
Palestine, covered himself with glory. In storming a Saracen fortress,
[St. Jean d’Acre, the Ekron of the Old Testament, where the idol flagon
fell before the ark of Israel; and where in subsequent times St. Paul
preached.]he rescued the person of Prince Edward of England. The
horrible tyrant, who now tramples on all laws human and divine, was then
in the bloom of youth, defending the cause of Christianity! Think on that,
sweet lady, and marvel at the changing power of ambition!
"From that hour, a
strict friendship subsisted between the two young crusaders: and when
Edward mounted the throne of England, it being then the ally of Scotland,
the old Earl of Annandale, to please his brave son, took up his residence
at the English court. When the male issue of our King David failed in the
untimely death of Alexander Ill., then came the contention between Bruce
and Baliol for the vacant crown. Our most venerable chiefs, the guardians
of our laws, and the witnesses of the parliamentary settlement made on the
house of Bruce during the reign of the late King, all declared for Lord
Annandale. He was not only the male heir in propinquity of blood, but his
experienced years, and known virtues, excited all true Scots to place him
on the throne.
Edward, forgetting friendship to his friend, and fidelity to a faithful
ally, was undermining the interest of Bruce, and the peace of the kingdom.
Inferior rivals to our favourite prince, were soon discountenanced; but by
covert ways, with bribes and promises, the King of England raised such an
opposition on the side of Baliol, as threatened a civil war. Secure in his
right, and averse to plunge his country in blood, Bruce easily fell in
with a proposal insidiously hinted to him by one of Edward’s creatures,—’to
require that monarch to be umpire between him and Baliol.’ Then it was
that Edward, after soliciting the requisition as an honour to be conferred
on him, declared it was his right as supreme Lord of Scotland. The Earl of
Annandale refused to acknowledge this assumption. Baliol bowed to it; and
for such obedience, the unrighteous judge gave him the crown. Bruce
absolutely refused to acknowledge the justice of this decision; and to
avoid the power of the King who had betrayed his rights, and the jealousy
of the other who had usurped them, he immediately left the scene of
action; going over seas to join his son, who had been cajoled away to
Paris. But, alas! he died on the road of a broken heart.
"When his son Robert
(who was Earl of Carrick in right of his wife) returned to Britain, he,
like his father, disdained to acknowledge Baliol as king. But being more
incensed at his successful rival, than at the treachery of his false
friend Edward, he believed his glossing speeches; and—by what
infatuation I cannot tell—established his residence at that monarch’s
court. This forgetfulness of his royal blood, and of the independency of
Scotland, has nearly obliterated him from every Scottish heart; for, when
we look at Bruce the courtier, we cease to remember Bruce the descendant
of St. David—Bruce the valiant knight of the Cross, who bled for true
liberty before the walls of Jerusalem.
"His eldest son may be
now about the age of the young knight who has just left us; and when I
look on his royal port, and listen to the patriotic fervours of his soul,
I cannot but think that the spirit of his noble grandsire has revived in
his breast; and that, leaving his indolent father to the vassal luxuries
of Edward’s palace, he is come hither in secret, to arouse Scotland, and
to assert his claim."
"It is very
likely;" rejoined Helen, deeply sighing; "and may Heaven reward
his virtue with the crown of his ancestors!"
"To that end;"
replied the hermit, "shall my hands be lifted up in prayer day and
night. May I, O gracious Power !" cried he, looking upwards, and
pressing the cross to his breast, "live but to see that hero
victorious, and Scotland free; and then ‘let thy servant depart in
peace, since mine eyes will have seen her salvation!’"
father?" said Helen, timidly. "Is not that too sacred a word to
apply to anything, however dear, that relates to earth ?"
She blushed as she spoke;
and fearful of having too daringly objected, looked down as she awaited
his answer. The hermit observed her attentively; and, with a benign smile,
replied, "Earth and heaven are the work of the Creator. He careth
alike for angel and for man; and therefore nothing that he has made is too
mean to be the object of his salvation. The word is comprehensive:
in one sense it may signify our redemption from sin and death by the
coming of the Lord of life into this world; and in another, it intimates
the different means by which Providence decrees the ultimate happiness of
men. Happiness can only be found in virtue; virtue cannot exist without
liberty; and the seat of liberty is good laws! Hence when Scotland is
again made free, the bonds of the tyrant who corrupts her principles with
temptations, or compels her to iniquity by threats, are broken. Again the
honest peasant may cultivate his lands in security, the liberal hand feed
the hungry, and industry spread smiling plenty through all ranks: every
man to whom his Maker hath given talents, let them be one or five, may
apply them to their use; and, by eating the bread of peaceful labour, rear
families to virtuous action, and the worship of God. The nobles,
meanwhile, looking alone to the legislation of Heaven, and to the laws of
Scotland, which alike demand justice and mercy from all, will live the
fathers of their country, teaching her brave sons that the only homage
which does not debase a man, is that which he pays to virtue and to God.
"This it is to be
free; this it is to be virtuous; this it is to be happy ; this it
is to live the life of righteousness, and to die in the hope of immortal
glory. Say then, dear daughter, if, in praying for the liberty of
Scotland, I said too much in calling it her salvation?"
father," cried Helen, overcome with shame at having questioned him.
what?" returned he. "I love the holy zeal which is jealous of
allowing objects, dear even to your wishes, to encroach on the sanctuary
of heaven. Be ever thus, meek child of the church, and no human idol will
be able to usurp that part of your virgin heart which belongs to
blushed. "My heart, reverend father:" returned she, "has
but one wish—the liberty of Scotland; and, with that, the safety of my
father and his brave deliverers."
"Sir William Wallace l
never have seen:" rejoined the hermit; "but, when he was quite a
youth, I heard of his graceful victories in the mimic war of the jousts at
Berwick, when Edward first marched into this country under the mask of
friendship. From what you have said, I do not doubt his being a worthy
supporter of Bruce. However, dear daughter, as it is only a suspicion of
mine that this knight is that young prince; for his safety, and for the
sake of the cause, we must not let that name escape our lips; no, not even
to your relations when you rejoin them, nor to the youth whom his humanity
put under my protection. Till he reveals his own secret, for us to divulge
it, would be folly and dishonour."
Helen bowed acquiescence;
and the hermit proceeded to inform her who the youth was, whom the
stranger had left to be her page.
In addition to what the
knight had himself told her of Walter Hay, the unfortunate shepherd boy of
the ruined hut, her venerable host narrated that the young warrior having
quitted the holy cell after his first appearance there, soon returned with
the wounded youth, whom he had found. He committed him to the care of the
hermit, promising to revisit him in his way from the south, and take the
recovered Walter under his own protection. "He then left us,"
continued the- old man, "but soon reappeared with you; showing, in
the strongest language, that he who in spite of every danger, succours the
sons and daughters of violated Scotland, is proclaimed by the Spirit of
Heaven to be her future deliverer and king.
As he ended speaking, he rose; and
taking Helen by the hand, led her into an inner excavation of the rock,
where a bed of dried leaves lay on the ground. "Here, gentle
lady," said he, "I leave you to repose. In the evening I expect
a lay brother from St. Oran’s monastery, and he will be your messenger
to the friends you may wish to rejoin. At present may gentlest seraphs
guard your slumbers !"
Helen, fatigued in spirit
and in body, thanked the good hermit for his care; and bowing to his
blessing, he left her to repose.
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