The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 17.

The Hermit’s Cell.

“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 alighted 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 hermit’s fare.

“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 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 honor, 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 judgement 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 whole 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), was 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 Ormsby, two noted plunderers, who command northward, from Stirling to the shores of Sutherland.

“With these 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 be 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 been always 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 the hermit, “I would say that noble brow was formed to some day wear a crown.”

“What!” cried 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 toward his country, when he speaks of it, that — 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 twenty-five.”

“True,” answered 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 St. Louis. This 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, 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 III., 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.

“Meanwhile 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 favorite to our favorite prince were soon discountenanced; but by covert ways, with bribes and promises, the King of England raised such a opposition on the side of Baliol, as threatened a civil war. Secure in his right, and averse to plunging 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 honor 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 so 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 the monarch’s court. This forgetfulness of his royal blood, and of the independence 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 fervors of his royal 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 upward, 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!’”

“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 b which Providence decrees the ultimate happiness of men. Happiness can only be found in virtue; virtue cannot exit 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 labor, 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?”

“Forgive me, father,” cried Helen, overcome with shame at having questioned him.

“Forgive you 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 God.”

Helen 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 I 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 dishonor.”

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 on 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, succors 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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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24