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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
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 seem'd as if their mother Earth
Had swallowed up her warlike birth
The wind's last breath had toss'd in air,
Pennon, and plaid, and plumage fair,-
The next but swept a lone hill-side,
Where heath and fern were waving wide ;
The sun's last glance was glinted back,
From lance 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,
And to his look the chief replied,
* Fear nought-nay, that I need not say-
But-doubt not aught from mine array.
Thou art my guest ; I pledg'd 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 meant
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 temper'd flood,
As, following Roderick's strides, he drew
That seeming lonesome pathway through,
Which yet, by fearful proof, was rife
With lances, that to take his life
Waited but signal from a guide,
So late dishonor'd and defied.
Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round
The vanish'd guardians of the ground,
And still 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 behind
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 reach'd that torrent's sounding shore Which, daughter of three mighty lakes, From Vennachar in silver breaks, Sweeps through the plain, and ceaseless mines On Bochastle the mouldering lines, Where Rome, the Empress of the world, Of yore her eagle wings unfurl'd And here his course the Chieftain staid, 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, 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;
Nay more, brave Chief, I vow'd thy death:
Yet sure thy fair and generous faith,
And my deep debt for life preserved,
A better meed have well deservd:
Can nought 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;
“ 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
See 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,
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 strength 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! 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 ! 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 ruth, 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 clansrnen stern, Of this small horn one feeble blast Would fearful odds against thee cast 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 look'd 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, Whose brazen studs and tough bull-hide Had death so often dash'd aside ; For, train'd 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 maintain’d unequal war Three times in closing strife they stood, And thrice the Saxon sword drank blood; No stinted draught, no scanty tide, The gushing flood the tartans dyed Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain, And shower'd 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, And, backwards borne upon the lee, Brought the proud Chieftain to his knee. “Now yield thee, or, by Him who made The world, thy heart's blood dies 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, Received, but reck'd 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 compress'd, His knee was planted in his breast; His clotted locks he backward threw Across his brow his hand he drew,
From blood and mist to clear his sight,
Then gleam'd 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 gleam'd on high,
Reeld soul and sense, reel'd brain and eye
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 falter'd thanks to Heaven for life
Redeem'd, unhoped, from desperate strife;
Next on his foe his look he cast,
Whose every gasp appeared his last;
In Roderick’s gore he dipp'd the braid.
“ Poor Blanche! thy wrongs are dearly paid ;
Yet with thy foe must die or live,
The praise that Faith and Valor give.” .