The evening of this eventful day found the Scottish earls seated together in a small apartment of one of the buildings adjoining the royal palace, which in the solemn seasons we have enumerated was always crowded with guests, who were there feasted and maintained at the king's expense during the whole of their stay. Inconveniences in their private quarters were little heeded by the nobles, who seldom found themselves there, save for the purpose of a few hours sleep, and served but to enhance by
ontrast the lavish richness and luxury which surrounded them in the palace and presence of their king; but to the Earls of Buchan and Fife the inconveniences of their quarters very materially increased the irritability and annoy[Pg 73]ance of their present situation. Fife had stretched himself on two chairs, and leaning his elbows on the broad shelf formed by the small casement, cast many wistful glances on the street below, through which richly-attired gallants, both on foot and horseback, were continually passing. He was one of those frivolous little minds with whom the present is all in all, caring little for the past, and still less for the future. It was no marvel, therefore, that he preferred the utter abandonment of his distracted country for the luxury and ease attending the court and camp of Edward, to the great dangers and little recompense attending the toils and struggles of a patriot. The only emotion of any weight with him was the remembrance of and desire of avenging petty injuries, fancying and aggravating them when, in fact, none was intended.
Very different was the character of the Earl of Buchan; morose, fierce, his natural hardness of disposition unsoftened by one whisper of chivalry, although educated in the best school of knighthood, and continually the follower of King Edward, he adhered to him first, simply because his estates in England were far more to his taste than those in Scotland, towards which he felt no filial tie; and soon after his marriage, repugnance to his high-minded and richly-gifted countess, which ever seemed a reproach and slur upon himself, kept him still more aloof, satisfied that the close retirement in which she lived, the desert and rugged situation of his castle, would effectually debar her from using that influence he knew she possessed, and keep her wholly and solely his own; a strange kind of feeling, when, in reality, the wide contrast between them made her an object of dislike, only to be accounted for by the fact that a dark, suspicious, jealous temper was ever at work within him.
"Now, do but look at that fellow's doublet, Comyn. Look, how gay they pass below, and here am I, with my new, richly-broidered suit, with which I thought to brave it with the best of them—here am I, I say, pent up in stone walls like a caged goldfinch, 'stead of the entertainment I had pictured; 'tis enough to chafe the spirit of a saint."
"And canst thou think of such things now, thou sorry fool?" demanded Buchan, sternly, pausing in his hurried stride up and down the narrow precincts of the chamber; "hast thou no worthier subject for contemplation?"
"None, save thy dutiful wife's most dutiful conduct, Comyn,[Pg 74] which, being the less agreeable of the two, I dismiss the first I owe her small thanks for playing the representative of my house; methinks, her imprisonment would better serve King Edward's cause and ours too."
"Aye, imprisonment—imprisonment for life," muttered the earl, slowly. "Let but King Edward restore me my good sword, and he may wreak his vengeance on her as he listeth. Not all the castles of Scotland, the arms of Scottish men, dare guard a wife against her husband; bitterly shall she rue this deed."
"And thy son, my gentle kinsman, what wilt thou do with him, bethink thee? Thou wilt find him as great a rebel as his mother; I have ever told thee thou wert a fool to leave him so long with his brainstruck mother."
"She hath not, she dared not bring him with her to the murderer of his kinsman—Duncan of Fife, I tell thee she dare not; but if she hath, why he is but a child, a mere boy, incapable of forming judgment one way or the other."
"Not so much a child as thou thinkest, my good lord; some sixteen years or so have made a stalwart warrior ere this. Be warned; send off a trusty messenger to the Tower of Buchan, and, without any time for warning, bring that boy as the hostage of thy good faith and loyalty to Edward; thou wilt thus cure him of his patriotic fancies, and render thine interest secure, and as thou desirest to reward thy dutiful partner, thou wilt do it effectually; for, trust me, that boy is the very apple of her eye, in her affections her very doting-place."
"Jest not, Duncan, or by all the saints, thou wilt drive me mad!" wrathfully exclaimed Buchan. "It shall be as thou sayest; and more, I will gain the royal warrant for the deed—permission to this effect may shorten this cursed confinement for us both. I have forgotten the boy's age; his mother's high-sounding patriotism may have tinctured him already. Thou smilest."
"At thy marvellous good faith in thy wife's patriotism, good kinsman—oh, well perchance, like charity, it covereth a multitude of sins."
"What meanest thou, my Lord of Fife?" demanded Buchan, shortly and abruptly, pausing in his walk to face his companion, his suspicious temper instantly aroused by Fife's peculiar tone. "What wouldst thou insinuate? Tamper not with me; thou knowest I am no subject for a jest."[Pg 75]
"I have but to look on thee to know that, my most solemn-visaged brother. I neither insinuate nor tamper with your lordship. Simply and heartily I do but give thee joy for thy faith in female patriotism," answered Fife, carelessly, but with an expression of countenance that did not accord with his tone.
"What, in the fiend's name, then, has urged her to this mad act, if it be not what she and others as mad as she call patriotism?"
"May not a lurking affection for the Bruce have given incentive to love of country? Buchan, of a truth, thou art dull as a sword-blade when plunged in muddy water."
"Affection for the Bruce? Thou art mad as she is, Duncan. What the foul fiend, knows she of the Bruce? No, no! 'tis too wild a tale—when have they ever met?"
"More often than thou listeth, gentle kinsman," returned Fife, with just sufficient show of mystery to lash his companion into fury. "I could tell thee of a time when Robert of Carrick was domesticated with my immaculate sister, hunting with her, hawking with her, reading with her, making favorable impressions on every heart in Fife Castle save mine own."
"And she loved him!—she was loved," muttered Buchan; "and she vowed her troth to me, the foul-mouthed traitress! She loved him, saidst thou?"
"On my faith, I know not, Comyn. Rumors, I know, went abroad that it would have been better for the Lady Isabella's peace and honor if this gallant, fair-spoken knight had kept aloof."
"And then, her brother, carest not to speak these things, and in that reckless tone? By St. Swithin, ye are well matched," returned Buchan, with a short and bitter laugh of scorn.
"Faith, Comyn, I love mine own life and comfort too well to stand up the champion of woman's honor; besides, I vouch not for the truth of floating rumors. I tell thee but what comes across my brain; for its worth thou art the best judge."
"I were a fool to mine own interest to doubt thee now, little worth as are thy words in common," again muttered the incensed earl, resuming his hasty strides. "Patriotism! loyalty! ha, ha! high-sounding words, forsooth. And have they not met since then until now?" he demanded, stopping suddenly before his companion.
"Even so, fair kinsman. Whilst thou wert doing such loyal[Pg 76] duty to Edward, after the battle of Falkirk, forgetting thou hadst a wife and castle to look after, Robert Earl of Carrick found a comfortable domicile within thy stone walls, and in the fair, sweet company of thine Isabella, my lord. No doubt, in all honorable and seemly intercourse; gallant devotion on the one side, and dignified courtesy on the other—nothing more, depend on't; still it seems but natural that the memory of a comely face and knightly form should prove incentives to loyalty and patriotism."
"The foul fiend take thy jesting!" exclaimed Buchan. "Natural, forsooth; aye, the same nature that bade me loathe the presence, aye, the very name of that deceiving traitress. And so that smooth-faced villain Carrick found welcome in the castle of a Comyn the months we missed him from the court. Ha, ha! thou hast done me good service, Lord of Fife. I had not enough of injuries before to demand at the hand of Robert Bruce. And for Dame Isabella, may the fury of every fiend follow me, if I place her not in the hands of Edward, alive or dead! his wrath will save me the trouble of seeking further vengeance."
"Nay, thou art a very fool to be so chafed," coolly observed Fife. "Thou hast taken no care of thy wife, and therefore hast no right to demand strict account of her amusements in thy absence; and how do we know she is not as virtuous as the rest of them? I do but tell thee of these things to pass away the time. Ha! there goes the prince's Gascon favorite, by mine honor. Gaveston sports it bravely; look at his crimson mantle wadded with sables. He hath changed his garb since morning. Faith, he is a lucky dog! the prince's love may be valued at some thousand marks a year—worth possessing, by St. Michael!"
A muttered oath was all the reply which his companion vouchsafed, nor did the thunder-cloud upon his brow disperse that evening.
The careless recklessness of Fife had no power to lessen in the earl's mind the weight of the shameful charge he had brought against the countess. Buchan's dark, suspicious mind not alone received it, but cherished it, revelled in it, as giving him that which he had long desired, a good foundation for dislike and jealousy, a well-founded pretence for every species of annoyance and revenge. The Earl of Fife, who had, in fact, merely[Pg 77] spoken, as he had said, to while away the time, and for the pleasure of seeing his brother-in-law enraged, thought as little of his words after as he had before they were uttered. A licentious follower of pleasure in every form himself, he imagined, as such thoughtless characters generally do, that everybody must be like him. From his weak and volatile mind, then, all remembrance of that evening's conversation faded as soon as it was spoken; but with the Earl of Buchan it remained brooding on itself, and filling his dark spirit with yet blacker fancies.
The confinement of the Scottish noblemen was not of long duration. Edward, whose temper, save when his ambition was concerned, was generally just and equitable, discovering, after an impartial examination, that they were in no ways connected with the affairs in the north, and feeling also it was his interest to conciliate the regard of all the Scottish nobles disaffected to Bruce, very soon restored them alike to their personal liberty and to his favor; his courteous apology for unjust suspicion, frankly acknowledging that the news from Scotland, combined with his irritating disease, had rendered him blind and suspicious, at once disarmed Fife of wrath. Buchan, perhaps, had not been so easily appeased had his mind been less darkly engrossed. His petition, that his son might be sent for, to be placed as a hostage in the hands of Edward, and thus saved from the authority of his mother, whom he represented as an artful, designing woman, possessed of dangerous influence, was acceded to on the instant, and the king's full confidence restored. It was easy to act upon Edward's mind, already incensed against Isabella of Buchan for her daring defiance of his power; and Buchan did work, till he felt perfectly satisfied that the wife he hated would be fully cared for without the very smallest trouble or interference on his part, save the obtaining possession of her person; that the vengeance he had vowed would be fully perfected, without any reproach or stigma cast upon his name.
Meantime the exertions of the King of England for the suppression of the rebels continued with unabated ardor. Orders were issued and proclaimed in every part of England for the gathering together one of the noblest and mightiest armies that had ever yet followed him to war. To render it still more splendidly impressive, and give fresh incentive to his subjects, whose warlike spirit he perhaps feared might be somewhat de[Pg 78]pressed by this constant call upon them for the reduction of a country ever rising in revolt, Edward caused proclamation to be severally made in every important town or county, "that all who were under the obligation to become knights, and possessed the necessary means, should appear at Westminster on the coming solemn season of Whitsuntide, where they should be furnished with every requisite, save and except the trappings for their horses, from the king's wardrobe, and be treated with all solemn honor and distinction as best befitted their rank, and the holy vows they took upon themselves."
A proclamation such as this, in the very heart of the chivalric era, was all-sufficient to engage every Englishman heart and soul in the service of his king; and ere the few weeks intervening between Easter and Whitsuntide were passed, Westminster and its environs presented a scene of martial magnificence and knightly splendor, which had never before been equalled. Three hundred noble youths, sons of earls, barons, and knights, speedily assembled at the place appointed, all attended according to their rank and pretensions; all hot and fiery spirits, eager to prove by their prompt attendance their desire to accept their sovereign's invitation. The splendor of their attire seemed to demand little increase from the bounty of the king, but nevertheless, fine linen garments, rich purple robes, and superb mantles woven with gold, were bestowed on each youthful candidate, thus strengthening the links which bound him to his chivalric sovereign, by the gratification of his vanity in addition to the envied honors of knighthood. As our tale relates more to Scottish than to English history, we may not linger longer on the affairs of South Britain than is absolutely necessary for the clear comprehension of the situation of her far less flourishing sister. Exciting therefore as was the scene enacted in Westminster, descriptive as it was of the spirit of the age, we are compelled to give it but a hasty glance, and pass on to events of greater moment.
Glorious, indeed, to an eyewitness, must have been the ceremony of admitting these noble and valiant youths into the solemn mysteries and chivalric honors of knighthood. On that day the Prince of Wales was first dubbed a knight, and made Duke of Aquitaine; and so great was the pressure of the crowd, in their eagerness to witness the ceremonial in the abbey, where the prince hastened to confer his newly-received dignity on his[Pg 79] companions, that three knights were killed, and several fainted from heat and exhaustion. Strong war-horses were compelled to drive back and divide the pressing crowds, ere the ceremony was allowed to proceed. A solemn banquet succeeded; and then it was that Edward, whose energy of mind appeared completely to have annihilated disease and weakness of frame, made that extraordinary vow, which it has puzzled both historian and antiquary satisfactorily to explain. The matter of the vow merely betrayed the indomitable spirit of the man, but the manner seemed strange even in that age. Two swans, decorated with golden nets and gilded reeds, were placed in solemn pomp before the king, and he, with imposing fervor, made a solemn vow to the Almighty and the swans, that he would go to Scotland, and, living or dead, avenge the murder of Comyn, and the broken faith of the traitorous Scots. Then, with that earnestness of voice and majesty of mien for which he was remarkable, he adjured his subjects, one and all, by the solemn fealty they had sworn to him, that if he should die on the journey, they would carry his body into Scotland, and never give it burial till the prince's dominion was established in that country. Eagerly and willingly the nobles gave the required pledge; and so much earnestness of purpose, so much martial spirit pervaded that gorgeous assembly, that once more did hope prevail in the monarch's breast, once more did he believe his ambitious yearnings would all be fulfilled, and Scotland, rebellious, haughty Scotland, lie crushed and broken at his feet. Once more his dark eye flashed, his proud lip curled with its wonted smiles; his warrior form, erect and firm as in former days, now spurned the couch of disease, and rode his war-horse with all the grace and ease of former years. A gallant army, under the command of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, had already been dispatched towards Scotland, bearing with it the messengers of the Earl of Buchan, armed both with their lord's commands and Edward's warrant for the detention of the young heir of Buchan, and to bring him with all honor to the head-quarters of the king. The name of Isabella of Buchan was subjoined to that of the Bruce, and together with all those concerned in his rising proclaimed as traitors and a price set upon their heads. This done, the king had been enabled to wait with greater tranquillity the assembling of his larger army, and after the ceremonials of Westminster, orders were issued for every[Pg 80] earl and baron to proceed with their followers to Carlisle, which was named the head-quarters of the army, there to join their sovereign with his own immediate troops. The Scottish nobles Edward's usual policy retained in honorable posts about his person, not choosing to trust their fidelity beyond the reach of his own eye.
Obedient to these commands, all England speedily appeared in motion, the troops of every county moving as by one impulse to Carlisle. Yet there were some of England's noblest barons in whose breasts a species of admiration, even affection, was at work towards the very man they were now marching to destroy, and this was frequently the case in the ages of chivalry. Fickle as the character of Robert Bruce had appeared to be, there was that in it which had ever attracted, riveted the regard of many of the noble spirits in King Edward's court. The rash daring of his enterprise, the dangers which encircled him, were such as dazzled and fascinated the imagination of those knights in whom the true spirit of chivalry found rest. Pre-eminent amongst these was the noble Earl of Gloucester. His duty to his sovereign urged him to take the field; his attachment for the Bruce would have held him neuter, for the ties that bound brothers in arms were of no common or wavering nature. Brothers in blood had frequently found themselves opposed horse to horse, and lance to lance, on the same field, and no scruples of conscience, no pleadings of affection, had power to avert the unnatural strife; but not such was it with brothers in arms—a link strong as adamant, pure as their own sword-steel, bound their hearts as one; and rather, much rather would Gloucester have laid down his own life, than expose himself to the fearful risk of staining his sword with the blood of his friend. The deepest dejection took possession of his soul, which not all the confidence of his sovereign, the gentle, affectionate pleadings of his wife, could in any way assuage.