The Lady of the Lake, by Walter Scott

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.


That early beam, so fair and sheen,10

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 try,

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,20

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.

’Twas oft so steep, the foot was as fain30

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!


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,40

Beneath steep hank 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 still50

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

He sought these wilds, traversed by few60

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,

‘I 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,70

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 guide80

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 prepared90

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.’

‘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,100

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 this alone might from his part110

Sever each true and loyal heart.’


Wrathful at such arraignment foul,

Dark lowered the clansman’s sable scowl.

A space he paused, then sternly said,

‘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,120

If it were in the court of heaven.’

‘Still was it outrage — yet, ’tis 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 swain130

His herds and harvest reared in vain —

Methinks a soul like thine should scorn

The spoils from such foul foray borne.’


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,140

With gentle slopes and groves between:—

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,150

And well the mountain might reply —

“To you, as to your sires of yore,

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 plain160

The 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.’


Answered Fitz-James: ‘And, if I sought,170

Think’st thou no other could be brought?

What deem ye of my path waylaid?

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,180

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,190

As leader seeks his mortal foe.

For love-lore swain in lady’s bower

Ne’er panted for the appointed hour

As I, until before me stand

This rebel Chieftain and his band!’


‘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, arose200

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 glen210

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

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,220

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!’


Fitz-James was brave:— though to his heart

The life-blood thrilled with sudden start,

He manned himself with dauntless air,230

Returned the Chief his haughty stare,

His back against a rock he bore,

And firmly placed his foot before:—

‘Come one, come all! this rock shall fly

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:240

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-side250

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.


Fitz-James looked round — yet scarce believed

The witness that his sight received;

Such apparition well might seem

Delusion of a dreadful dream.

Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,260

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 meant270

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 rife280

With lances, that, to take his life,

Waited but signal from a guide,

So late dishonored and defied.

Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round

The vanished guardians of the ground,

And stir’d 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 behind290

The pass was left; for then they wind

Along a wide and level green,

Where 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 reached that torrent’s sounding shore,

Which, daughter of three mighty lakes,

From Vennachar in silver breaks,

Sweeps through the plain, and ceaseless mines300

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,

This head of a rebellious clan,310

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.’


The Saxon paused: ‘I ne’er delayed,

When foeman bade me draw my blade;320

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:”330

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.

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,340

Or if the King shall not agree

To grant thee grace and favor free,

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.’


Dark lightning flashed from Roderick’s eye:

‘Soars thy presumption, then, so high,

Because a wretched kern ye slew,

Homage to name to Roderick Dhu?350

He yields not, he, to man nor Fate!

Thou add’st but 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 his fair lady’s hair.’ ‘I thank thee,

Roderick, for the word!360

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, rush, 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.370

But fear not — doubt not — which thou wilt —

We try this quarrel hilt to hilt.’

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.


Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,

That on the field his targe he threw,380

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;390

No stinted draught, no scanty tide,

The gushing flood the tartars dyed.

Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,

And showered his blows like wintry rain;

And, as firm rock or castle-roof

Against the winter shower is proof,

The foe, invulnerable still,

Foiled his wild rage by steady skill;

Till, at advantage ta’en, his brand

Forced Roderick’s weapon from his hand,400

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;410

Received, but recked not of a wound,

And locked his arms his foeman round.

Now, gallant Saxon, hold thine 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 Chieftain’s gripe his throat compressed,

His knee was planted on his breast;420

His clotted locks he backward threw,

Across his brow his hand he drew,

From blood and mist to clear his sight,

Then gleamed 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 gleamed on high,

Reeled soul and sense, reeled brain and eye.430

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 faltered thanks to Heaven for life,

Redeemed, unhoped, from desperate strife;

Next on his foe his look he cast,

Whose every gasp appeared his last440

In Roderick’s gore he dipped the braid —

‘Poor Blanche! thy wrongs are dearly paid;

Yet with thy foe must die, or live,

The praise that faith and valor give.’

With that he blew a bugle note,

Undid the collar from his throat,

Unbonneted, and by the wave

Sat down his brow and hands to rave.

Then faint afar are heard the feet

Of rushing steeds in gallop fleet;450

The sounds increase, and now are seen

Four mounted squires in Lincoln green;

Two who bear lance, and two who lead

By loosened rein a saddled steed;

Each onward held his headlong course,

And by Fitz-James reined up his horse —

With wonder viewed the bloody spot —

‘Exclaim not, gallants ‘ question not. —

You, Herbert and Luffness, alight

And bind the wounds of yonder knight;460

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 be boune

To see the archer-game at noon;

But lightly Bayard clears the lea. —

De Vaux and Herries. follow me.


‘Stand, Bayard, stand!’— the steed obeyed,470

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 stayed,

No grasp upon the saddle laid,

But wreathed his left hand in the mane,

And lightly bounded from the plain,

Turned on the horse his armed heel,

And stirred his courage with the steel.

Bounded the fiery steed in air,480

The rider sat erect and fair,

Then like a bolt from steel crossbow

Forth launched, along the plain they go.

They dashed that rapid torrent through,

And up Carhonie’s hill they flew;

Still at the gallop pricked the Knight,

His merrymen followed as they might.

Along thy banks, swift Teith! they ride,

And in the race they mock thy tide;

Torry and Lendrick now are past,490

And Deanstown lies behind them cast;

They rise, the bannered 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 ground500

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 town,

Upon their fleet career looked clown.


As up the flinty path they strained,

Sudden his steed the leader reined;

A signal to his squire he flung,

Who instant to his stirrup sprung:—

‘Seest thou, De Vaux, yon woodsman gray,510

Who townward holds the rocky way,

Of stature tall 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?520

Afar, ere to the hill 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 banished 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.’530

Then right-hand wheeled 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 climbed the rocky shelf,

Held sad communion with himself:—

‘Yes! all is true my fears could frame;

A prisoner lies the noble Graeme,

And fiery Roderick soon will feel

The vengeance of the royal steel.540

I, only I, can ward their fate —

God grant the ransom come not late!

The Abbess hath her promise given,

My child shall be the bride of Heaven —

Be pardoned 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;550

And thou, O sad and fatal mound!

That oft hast heard the death-axe sound.

As on the noblest of the land

Fell the stern headsmen’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!560

Banner and pageant, pipe and drum,

And merry morrice-dancers come.

I guess, by all this quaint array,

The burghers hold their sports today.

James will be there; he loves such show,

Where the good yeoman bends his bow,

And the tough wrestler foils his foe,

As well as where, in proud career,

The high-born filter shivers spear.

I’ll follow to the Castle-park,570

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 rocked and rung,

And echoed loud the flinty street

Beneath the coursers’ clattering feet,

As slowly down the steep descent

Fair Scotland’s King and nobles went,580

While 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,

Who smiled and blushed 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,590

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!’

Behind the King thronged peer and knight,

And noble dame and damsel bright,

Whose fiery steeds ill brooked the stay

Of the steep street and crowded way.

But in the train you might discern

Dark lowering brow and visage stern;600

There nobles mourned their pride restrained,

And the mean burgher’s joys disdained;

And chiefs, who, hostage for the clan,

Were each from home a banished man,

There thought upon their own gray tower,

Their waving woods, their feudal power,

And deemed themselves a shameful part

Of pageant which they cursed in heart.


Now, in the Castle-park, drew out

Their checkered bands the joyous rout.610

There morricers, with bell at heel

And blade in hand, their mazes wheel;

But chief, beside the butts, there stand

Bold Robin Hood and all his band —

Friar Tuck with quarterstaff 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.620

The Douglas bent a bow of might —

His first shaft centred 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 watched, with watery eye,

Some answering glance of sympathy —

No kind emotion made reply!

Indifferent as to archer wight,630

The monarch gave the arrow bright.


Now, clear the ring! for, hand to hand,

The manly wrestlers take their stand.

Two o’er the rest superior rose,

And proud demanded mightier foes —

Nor called in vain, for Douglas came. —

For life is Hugh of Larbert lame;

Scarce better John of Alloa’s fare,

Whom senseless home his comrades bare.

Prize of the wrestling match, the King640

To Douglas gave a golden ring,

While coldly glanced his eye of blue,

As frozen drop of wintry dew.

Douglas would speak, but in his breast

His struggling soul his words suppressed;

Indignant then he turned him where

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 stone650

From its deep bed, then heaved it high,

And sent the fragment through the sky

A rood beyond the farthest mark;

And still in Stirling’s royal park,

The gray-haired sires, who know the past,

To strangers point the Douglas cast,

And moralize on the decay

Of Scottish strength in modern day.


The vale with loud applauses rang,

The Ladies’ Rock sent back the clang.660

The King, with look unmoved, bestowed

A purse well filled with 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 marked and shook the head,670

To see his hair with silver spread,

And winked aside, and told each son

Of feats upon the English done,

Ere Douglas of the stalwart hand

Was exiled from his native land.

The women praised his stately form,

Though wrecked by many a winter’s storm;

The youth with awe and wonder saw

His strength surpassing Nature’s law.

Thus judged, as is their wont, the crowd680

Till murmurs rose to clamours loud.

But not a glance from that proud ring

Of peers who circled round the King

With Douglas held communion kind,

Or called the banished man to mind;

No, not from those who at the chase

Once held his side the honoured place,

Begirt his board, and in the field

Found safety underneath his shield;

For he whom royal eyes disown,690

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 favorite greyhounds should pull down,

That venison free and Bourdeaux 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  —700

Brave Lufra saw, and darted forth.

She left the royal hounds midway,

And dashing on the antlered 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,710

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,720

In darkened brow and flashing eye;

As waves before the bark divide,

The crowd gave way before his stride;

Needs but a buffet and no more,

The groom lies senseless in his gore.

Such blow no other hand could deal,

Though gauntleted in glove of steel.


Then clamored loud the royal train,

And brandished swords and staves amain,

But stern the Baron’s warning:730

‘Back! Back, on your lives, ye menial pack!

Beware the Douglas. — Yes! behold,

King James! The Douglas, doomed 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 misproud ambitious clan,740

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? —

What ho! the Captain of our Guard!

Give the offender fitting ward. —

Break off the sports!’— for tumult rose,

And yeomen ’gan to bend their bows,

‘Break off the sports!’ he said and frowned,750

‘And bid our horsemen clear the ground.’


Then uproar wild and misarray

Marred the fair form of festal day.

The horsemen pricked among the crowd,

Repelled 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 tumultuous war.

At once round Douglas darkly sweep760

The royal spears in circle deep,

And slowly scale the pathway steep,

While on the rear in thunder pour

The rabble with disordered 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 then770

A word with these misguided men. —


‘Hear, gentle friends, ere yet for me

Ye break the bands of fealty.

My life, my honour, and my cause,

I tender free to Scotland’s laws.

Are these so weak as must require

‘Fine 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,780

That, for mean vengeance on a foe,

Those cords of love I should unbind

Which knit my country and my kind?

O no! Believe, in yonder tower

It will 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,790

For me that orphans weep their sires,

That patriots mourn insulted laws,

And curse the Douglas for the cause.

O let your patience ward such ill,

And keep your right to love me still I’


The crowd’s wild fury sunk again

In tears, as tempests melt in rain.

With lifted hands and eyes, they prayed

For blessings on his generous head

Who for his country felt alone,800

And prized her blood beyond his own.

Old men upon the verge of life

Blessed him who stayed the civil strife;

And mothers held their babes on high,

The self-devoted Chief to spy,

Triumphant over wrongs 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,810

The Douglas up the hill he led,

And at the Castle’s battled verge,

With sighs resigned his honoured 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 acclaim820

With which they shout the Douglas name?

With like acclaim the vulgar throat

Strained for King James their morning note;

With like acclaim they hailed the day

When first I broke the Douglas sway;

And like acclaim would Douglas greet

If he could hurl me from my seat.

Who o’er the herd would wish to reign,

Fantastic, fickle, fierce, and vain?

Vain as the leaf upon the stream,830

And fickle as a changeful dream;

Fantastic as a woman’s mood,

And fierce as Frenzy’s fevered blood.

Thou many-headed monster-thing,

O who would wish to be thy king? —


‘But soft! what messenger of speed

Spurs hitherward his panting steed?

I guess his cognizance afar —

What from our cousin, John of Mar?’

‘He prays, my liege, your sports keep bound840

Within the safe and guarded ground;

For some foul purpose yet unknown —

Most sure for evil to the throne —

The outlawed Chieftain, Roderick Dhu,

Has summoned his rebellious crew;

’Tis said, in James of Bothwell’s aid

These loose banditti stand arrayed.

The Earl of Mar this morn from Doune

To break their muster marched, and soon

Your Grace will hear of battle fought;850

But earnestly the Earl besought,

Till for such danger he provide,

With scanty train you will not ride.’


‘Thou warn’st me I have done amiss —

I should have earlier looked to this;

I lost it in this bustling day. —

Retrace with speed thy former way;

Spare not for spoiling of thy steed,

The best of mine shall be thy meed.

Say to our faithful Lord of Mar,860

We do forbid the intended war;

Roderick this morn in single fight

Was made our prisoner by a knight,

And Douglas hath himself and cause

Submitted to our kingdom’s laws.

The tidings of their leaders lost

Will soon dissolve the mountain host,

Nor would we that the vulgar feel,

For their Chief’s crimes, avenging steel.

Bear Mar our message, Braco, fly!’870

He turned his steed — ‘My liege, I hie,

Yet ere I cross this lily lawn

I fear the broadswords will be drawn.’

The turf the flying courser spurned,

And to his towers the King returned.


Ill with King James’s mood that day

Suited gay feast and minstrel lay;

Soon were dismissed the courtly throng,

And soon cut short the festal song.

Nor less upon the saddened town880

The evening sunk in sorrow down.

The burghers spoke of civil jar,

Of rumoured feuds and mountain war,

Of Moray, Mar, and Roderick Dhu,

All up in arms — the Douglas too,

They mourned him pent within the hold,

‘Where stout Earl William was of old.’—

And there his word the speaker stayed,

And finger on his lip he laid,

Or pointed to his dagger blade.890

But jaded horsemen from the west

At evening to the Castle pressed,

And busy talkers said they bore

Tidings of fight on Katrine’s shore;

At noon the deadly fray begun,

And lasted till the set of sun.

Thus giddy rumor shook the town,

Till closed the Night her pennons brown.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00