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Byways of Scottish Story
The Three Tales of Lindores


HEMMED round by the little amphitheatre of hills that look down upon the sedgy Tay, the ruined abbey of the north of Fife keeps safe among its mouldering arches three secrets that the world would give much to know. Few travellers go there now, though many are carried past by the railway that runs away along the hills. The quiet of the spot, indeed, has been increased by the passing of that railway half a mile away, for the iron road has tapped the trade that used to come down to the little town of Newburgh close by, and the place, with its quaint, clean streets, is left in a sunny stillness, unbroken most of the year. Forty years ago as many as two hundred carts might be counted in a morning making their way down to the quay-side with the wealth of the interior of Fife coal and lime-for shipment by the sloops and schooners that took the trade of the Tay. Fife was still at that time what one of the Stuart kings picturesquely called it-a woollen blanket with a fringe of gold. Now, however, the coal and lime are carried off through other channels; only occasionally a little trading steamer hauls in to the quay for a cargo of linoleum, which remains the solitary production of the spot; and the quay-face grows green, undisturbed, with the wash of the river tides. For a month or two in summer Newburgh lightens up with the gay dresses of visitors from Edinburgh and Dundee, but for the rest of the year it lies asleep, and Lindores Abbey, half a mile away, with the dust of old tragedy within its walls, remains forsaken and forgotten by the world.

All that remains of the abbey is a broken line of wall here and there, here and there the carved base of a pillar, and at one or two spots the remains of a broken archway or a vault. The most perfect parts of the building which exist are a single vault of the entrance to the cloisters, and the arch of the entrance gate on the roadside. Man has been ruthless with the ruin, using its stones to build a modern wall about it and a farm-steading close by; but Nature has been kind, and the broken walls are green with ivy, and the aisles are carpeted with deep, soft turf. Through the door in the wall from the farm-steading the wanderer passes at once into the abbey. There in the green and sunny spaces the silence is broken only at intervals by the note of blackbird and shilfa, and the drowsy distant whirr of a mowing machine at work in the fields down by the river. The breath of clover and meadowsweet drifts, full of suggestion, from the field corners at hand. And between the branches of the beeches and poplars which surround the spot a glimpse is caught here and there of, on one side, the silver Tay and the rich carse beyond, and on the other side, the steep hills shutting out the world, save only at one place, where the road comes through from the south. It is the scene which the monks of old saw and enjoyed as they watched their lay brethren and tenants reaping the fields around, or gathering the fruit in the abbey orchards, of which fragments still remain. For they were great farmers and planters, these monks of old, and the soil round this Abbey of Lindores bears witness yet to the skill and knowledge that they brought to work upon it.

But while much of their life was spent in such peaceful pursuits as the study of agriculture and books, and the offices of religion, there were hearts among them in which smouldered wild memories of the world outside. Some of the men within these walls had taken part in deeds not yet forgotten, and locked up in the souls of some were fierce secrets to be kept in silence till the judgment day. Three times at least was Lindores itself invaded by the high drama of the outer world, and three times was it made the shrine, willing or unwilling, of tragedies of strange and far-reaching effect.

Of the three strange tales connected with- Lindores the latest belongs to the days of James II. of Scotland. In the preceding chapter has been told the story of the origin and the end of the Douglas wars. There was the element of high tragedy about the final conflict on the Carron. The royal army and the army of the Douglases were about equal in numbers, only a small stream divided them, and had Earl James immediately joined battle it is possible that that night would have seen a new name reigning in Scotland. But Douglas paused, and that slight hesitation proved the ruin of him and of his house. During the night great numbers of his army deserted to the king. Others went home, and in the morning he earl found his camp deserted. Nothing was left to him but flight, and with a heavy heart, regretting bitterly the opportunity he had lost, he left the field, and made his way to England.

The earl had still the heart of a Douglas, however; his spirit chafed under the long years of exile and inaction, and at last, wearying to see again the hills and glens that had once been his own, and without the means to make a great invasion, he joined a lesser foray which was made across the Border. Here misfortune again awaited the unlucky man. His force was met and repulsed before it had made its way far into Scotland, and among the prisoners whom the Scots counted after the fight was found the once great and terrible Earl of Douglas. King James was lenient with him, perhaps because it seemed wiser to keep a powerless earl alive than by his death to allow the chiefship of that warlike house to pass into fiercer hands. Douglas was sent therefore to end his life as a monk in this Abbey of Lindores.

It would be idle to speculate on the thoughts and regrets of the monk who had once been the dread Black Douglas. At first, no doubt, his spirit chafed at the stirless life and the eventless days within these abbey walls, but as the years went on there is reason to believe that his thoughts changed, and that he trod the cloisters here with feet humble and reverent in the offices of religion. Yet another scene, however, was to be enacted in his life ; the light of the Douglas name was not even yet to go out without a last opportunity to flash into brilliance and splendour.

In the year 1488 the lords had risen against James III., setting up his son, James IV., in his stead, and the insurrection had assumed alarming size. The king, dismayed, made hasty levies of those still loyal to himself. Fife, in particular, remained well affected, and James rode through it, gathering what forces he could. Among other possibilities he bethought him of the monk of Lindores. Accordingly he came to the abbey, and offered to restore to the earl all his ancient honours and estates if he would lay aside the monkish habit, resume his knightly mail, and once more bring the great name of Douglas to battle for the king. It was a great offer, putting all the glory of life once again within the power of the earl, and had he accepted it the House of Douglas might have risen then to even greater splendour than before. But there was fire yet slumbering in the heart under the monkish habit. It was the supreme moment in the life of the earl, and he seized it to return upon the head of James a whole long lifetime of ignominy and neglect. "Your Grace," he said, "has kepi the Douglas, like your treasure, too long under lock and key to be of service to you now."

So King James rode away to his fate at Sauchieburn, and the old monk, who had once been earl, remained at Lindores to die. Somewhere under the sod of these green aisles, among these mouldering and ivy-covered walls, rest the ashes of that sad, ill-fortuned heart. If by some magic these ashes could revive, could reveal the feelings of the long, patient rears, and could describe the scene when at last the opportunity had come, the tables were turned, and the earl could speak the sentence of the king, a drama would be revealed as superb, probably, as anything in our literature.

These are not, however, the only storied ashes resting at Lindores. When the monk, Tames of Douglas, kept his vigils in the abbey church, his eye must have lighted often with curious musing on the tomb of the prince, luckless like himself, who, a generation earlier, had married a daughter of the House of Douglas. Had the Duke of Rothesay lived to leave children for the crown they must have been of the Douglas blood, and, among other issues, it seems likely that there would have been no banished earl at Lindores. But the duke was gallant and debonair, and promised to be overpopular for the taste of his uncle, the crafty and ambitious Robert of Albany. His father, moreover, King Robert the Third, baptismally named John, was without the spirit that the later Stewarts possessed, and proved an easy dupe for Albany's designs. So the gallant Rothesay met his fate, and of the manner of that, (lark and terrible enough, the ruin of Lindores keeps the secret.

What is known is that Albany represented to the king, Robert III., that the heir-apparent, Prince David, Duke of Rothesay, led a life dissolute and disastrous to body and soul and to the prospects of the kingdom. Upon these representations he obtained a royal warrant for the duke's detention until such time as his character should seem to be reformed. Rothesay accordingly was seized -when travelling with few attendants, carried to Falkland Castle, at the back of the Lomond Hills in Fife, and there closely shut up at the discretion of his uncle Albany. Before long he died-of dysentery, Albany said and was hastily buried at Lindores.

But soon a different story began to be whispered about. Suspicions were strong against Albany. The latter had urgent motives to wish his nephew away. By the tragic occurrence he was brought one step nearer to the throne, Prince James alone, the young Earl of Carrich, now coming before him. What the king himself thought of Rothesay's death may be judged from the fact that lie at once sent his remaining son, Prince James, for safe keeping to France. Twice the Young prince was attacked on the way: once before lie set sail, when several of his guards were slain, and again at sea by the English, probably by connivance of Albany, when he was carried into the long captivity, which probably saved his life, in England. Meanwhile Robert III. died, and Albany became Regent of Scotland, and so no inquiry was ever made into the true circumstances of the Duke of Rothesay's death. It was upon Albany's son and grandsons that, twenty years later, when James I. at last returned, the swift and sharp and terrible retribution fell. Before that day Rothesay was dust, his ashes could fell no tale, and doubtless Albany had taken care to remove any of his instruments who might know too much.

The story, as the people believed it, is told by Sir Walter Scott in "The Fair Maid of Perth"; and at Falkland Castle the scene of the tragedy, with all its dramatic details, is still pointed out. When arrested, it appears, the duke was carried to the castle, then little more than a rude round tower, at the back of the Lomonds. There he was thrust into a gloomy dungeon, and left, without food or drink, to starve slowly to his end. He had been a favourite in the eyes of R-omen, and for a time one poor girl of the village contrived to pass him thin oatmeal cakes through a crevice in the wall. But she was discovered in her errand of mercy, and put to death. Then another woman managed to give him nourishment from her own breast by means of a hollow reed. But she, too, by and by, was found out, and met the same fate. And at last, with horrible agonies, gnawing even his own flesh in his hunger, it is said, the gar young Rothesay died. Whether the manner of his death was known to the brethren at Lindores tradition does not say It seems likely, however, that some rumour should have reached them, and that, as they saw the procession coming down through the opening in the hills, they had at least some suspicion of the dreadful secret that it bore. Doubtless in the church of the abbey, as the watchers through the night prayed by the bier, due care was taken that no eye might seek to read the secret in the dead man's face; and very soon the grave hid all that might be known.

Still another strange old story, strangest of the three perhaps, had its ending here. At the east end of the abbey church, in front of the spot where the high altar once stood, are to be seen two small stone coffins. They are of different sizes, but the larger is little more than two feet long, and neither can have held the body of other than a very young child. They are empty now, of course, and though sunk in the turf, lie open to the sky; but even if they had still been sealed, their contents must long ago have been dust. According to tradition, these coffins contained the bodies of the infant children of David I., Earl of Huntingdon, Prince of Cumbria, and King of Scotland, who died in 1153. It is an old story now, but had these children lived the inheritance of the Scottish crown would have descended through their line, the whore later history of the country would have been different, there would have been no disastrous Wars of Succession, no necessity for Battles of Stirling Bridge and Falkirk and Bannockburn. And to the death of one of them a history dark and terrible belongs.

Andro of Wyntoun, the old Scottish chronicler, tells the tale.

David I., it will be remembered, with his brothers Edgar and Alexander I., who had in succession held the throne of Scotland, were sons of Malcolm Canmore, who, on the killing of the usurper Macbeth, had assumed the crown as son of the former king, Duncan. But Malcolm had the misfortune of the bar sinister on his shield, and though during his life his right was not disputed, at his death the throne was seized by Donald, his legitimate brother. Five years in all Donald reigned. Once he was driven from authority, only to be reseated by the powerful Earl of Mearns; but a second time he was overcome, and then, to prevent his ever again making himself dangerous, lie was thrown into prison, his eyes were put out, and he was otherwise brutally mutilated.

Several generations later Donald's claim was to be revived. Through his daughter Bethok he became ancestor of the great House of Comyn, and it was as Donald's heirs that in the days of Wallace and Bruce the Comyns laid claim to the crown. The line of Donald is represented at this hour by Sir William Gordon Cumming of Altyre, in the North.

Meanwhile the dethroned monarch waited his own opportunity of revenge. When that opportunity came he almost succeeded in putting an end to the whole line of Malcolm, which had supplanted him.

In his old age, it appears, the rigour of Donald's imprisonment had been relaxed. He was looked upon as harmless, and allowed to take the air and sun in the courtyard of the royal castle. There he was sitting, blind and maimed, on a certain day, when he heard the infant son of David, "a gangand bairn," or toddling child, go past. As he heard the child playing at hand, says Wyntoun, he called him as if to seek a kiss. Then the little one, thinking no ill, came and took Donald about the neck. Whereupon the old prisoner, with irons which he had made to fit his nails, thrust so into the child's body that it expired on the spot. This was not all. Hearing the agonised scream of her child, the mother ran to the place, only to see her infant dead, and to perceive the cruel manner of its death; and there straightway, says the chronicler, "for sorrow she gave up the ghost," the succession of David's line to the throne of Scotland being only saved by the Caesarean operation.

Donald was cast forthwith. into a dungeon, one of those bottle-pits apparently from which there was no escape, and kept there without meat or drink till death put an end to his agonies. Meanwhile it seems, according to the tradition of Lindores, the body of the little murdered child was carried to the quiet abbey by the Tay, and buried in one of these little coffins of stone before the high altar.

To look at the quiet abbey ruin mouldering peacefully among its trees, with the twitter of birds about it, and the murmur of the silver Tay below, few would imagine that the dust of three such tragedies slept its last sleep there.


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