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Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

The Lady of the Lake: Canto 5

(excerpt)


[FITZ-JAMES AND RODERICK DHU]

IX
          196"Have, then, thy wish!"--he whistled shrill,
          197And he was answer'd from the hill;
          198Wild as the scream of the curlew,
          199From crag to crag the signal flew.
          200Instant, through copse and heath,
          201Bonnets and spears and bended bows;
          202On right, on left, above, below,
          203Sprung up at once the lurking foe;
          204From shingles gray their lances start,
          205The bracken bush sends forth the dart,
          206The rushes and the willow-wand
          207Are bristling into axe and brand,
          208And every tuft of broom gives life
          209To plaided warrior arm'd for strife.
          210That whistle garrison'd the glen
          211At once with full five hundred men,
          212As if the yawning hill to heaven
          213A subterranean host had given.
          214Watching their leader's beck and will,
          215All silent there they stood, and still.
          216Like the loose crags whose threatening mass
          217Lay tottering o'er the hollow pass,
          218As if an infant's touch could urge
          219Their headlong passage down the verge,
          220With step and weapon forward flung,
          221Upon the mountain-side they hung.
          222The Mountaineer cast glance of pride
          223Along Benledi's living side,
          224Then fix'd his eye and sable brow
          225Full on Fitz-James--"How say'st thou now?
          226These are Clan-Alpine's warriors true;
          227And, Saxon,--I am Roderick Dhu!"

X
          228Fitz-James was brave:--Though to his heart
          229The life-blood thrill'd with sudden start,
          230He mann'd himself with dauntless air,
          231Return'd the Chief his haughty stare,
          232His back against a rock he bore,
          233And firmly placed his foot before:--
          234"Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
          235From its firm base as soon as I."
          236Sir Roderick mark'd--and in his eyes
          237Respect was mingled with surprise,
          238And the stern joy which warriors feel
          239In foemen worthy of their steel.
          240Short space he stood, then waved his hand:
          241Down sunk the disappearing band;
          242Each warrior vanish'd where he stood,
          243In broom or bracken, heath or wood;
          244Sunk brand and spear and bended bow,
          245In osiers pale and copses low;
          246It seem'd as if their mother Earth
          247Had swallow'd up her warlike birth.
          248The wind's last breath had toss'd in air,
          249Pennon, and plaid, and plumage fair,--
          250The next but swept a lone hill-side,
          251Where heath and fern were waving wide:
          252The sun's last glance was glinted back,
          253From spear and glaive, from targe and jack,--
          254The next, all unreflected, shone
          255On bracken green, and cold grey stone.

XI
          256Fitz-James look'd round--yet scarce believed
          257The witness that his sight received;
          258Such apparition well might seem
          259Delusion of a dreadful dream.
          260Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,
          261And to his look the Chief replied,
          262"Fear nought--nay, that I need not say--
          263But--doubt not aught from mine array.
          264Thou art my guest;--I pledged my word
          265As far as Coilantogle ford:
          266Nor would I call a clansman's brand
          267For aid against one valiant hand,
          268Though on our strife lay every vale
          269Rent by the Saxon from the Gael.
          270So move we on;--I only meant
          271To show the reed on which you leant,
          272Deeming this path you might pursue
          273Without a pass from Roderick Dhu."
          274They moved:--I said Fitz-James was brave,
          275As ever knight that belted glaive;
          276Yet dare not say, that now his blood
          277Kept on its wont and temper'd flood,
          278As, following Roderick's stride, he drew
          279That seeming lonesome pathway through,
          280Which yet, by fearful proof, was rife
          281With lances, that, to take his life,
          282Waited but signal from a guide,
          283So late dishonour'd and defied.
          284Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round
          285The vanish'd guardians of the ground,
          286And still, from copse and heather deep,
          287Fancy saw spear and broadsword peep,
          288And in the plover's shrilly strain,
          289The signal-whistle heard again.
          290Nor breathed he free till far behind
          291The pass was left; for then they wind
          292Along a wide and level green,
          293Where neither tree nor tuft was seen,
          294Nor rush nor bush of broom was near,
          295To hide a bonnet or a spear.

XII
          296The Chief in silence strode before,
          297And reach'd that torrent's sounding shore
          298Which, daughter of three mighty lakes,
          299From Vennachar in silver breaks,
          300Sweeps through the plain, and ceaseless mines
          301On Bochastle the mouldering lines,
          302Where Rome, the Empress of the world,
          303Of yore her eagle wings unfurl'd.
          304And here his course the Chieftain staid,
          305Threw down his target and his plaid,
          306And to the Lowland warrior said:--
          307"Bold Saxon! to his promise just,
          308Vich-Alpine has discharged his trust.
          309This murderous Chief, this ruthless man,
          310This head of a rebellious clan,
          311Hath led thee safe, through watch and ward,
          312Far past Clan-Alpine's outmost guard.
          313Now man to man, and steel to steel,
          314A Chieftain's vengeance thou shalt feel.
          315See here, all vantageless I stand,
          316Arm'd, like thyself, with single brand:
          317For this is Coilantogle ford,
          318And thou must keep thee with thy sword."--

XIII
          319The Saxon paused:--"I ne'er delay'd,
          320When foeman bade me draw my blade;
          321Nay more, brave Chief, I vow'd thy death:
          322Yet sure thy fair and generous faith,
          323And my deep debt for life preserved,
          324A better meed have well deserved:
          325Can nought but blood our feud atone?
          326Are there no means?"--"No, Stranger, none!
          327And hear,--to fire thy flagging zeal,--
          328The Saxon cause rests on thy steel;
          329For thus spoke Fate, by prophet bred
          330Between the living and the dead:
          331'Who spills the foremost foeman's life,
          332His party conquers in the strife.' "--
          333"Then, by my word," the Saxon said,
          334"The riddle is already read.
          335Seek yonder brake beneath the cliff,--
          336There lies Red Murdoch, stark and stiff.
          337Thus Fate has solved her prophecy,
          338Then yield to Fate, and not to me.
          339To James, at Stirling, let us go,
          340When, if thou wilt be still his foe,
          341Or if the King shall not agree
          342To grant thee grace and favour free,
          343I plight mine honour, oath, and word,
          344That, to thy native strengths restored,
          345With each advantage shalt thou stand,
          346That aids thee now to guard thy land."

XIV
          347Dark lightning flash'd from Roderick's eye
          348"Soars thy presumption, then, so high,
          349Because a wretched kern ye slew,
          350Homage to name to Roderick Dhu?
          351He yields not, he, to man nor Fate!
          352Thou add'st but fuel to my hate:--
          353My clansman's blood demands revenge.
          354Not yet prepared?--By heaven, I change
          355My thought, and hold thy valour light
          356As that of some vain carpet knight,
          357Who ill deserved my courteous care,
          358And whose best boast is but to wear
          359A braid of his fair lady's hair."--
          360--"I thank thee, Roderick, for the word!
          361It nerves my heart, it steels my sword;
          362For I have sworn this braid to stain
          363In the best blood that warms thy vein.
          364Now, truce, farewell! and, ruth, begone!--
          365Yet think not that by thee alone,
          366Proud Chief! can courtesy be shown;
          367Though not from copse, or heath, or cairn,
          368Start at my whistle clansmen stern,
          369On this small horn one feeble blast
          370Would fearful odds against thee cast.
          371But fear not--doubt not--which thou wilt--
          372We try this quarrel hilt to hilt."
          373Then each at once his falchion drew,
          374Each on the ground his scabbard threw,
          375Each look'd to sun, and stream, and plain,
          376As what they ne'er might see again;
          377Then foot, and point, and eye opposed,
          378In dubious strife they darkly closed.

XV
          379Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,
          380That on the field his targe he threw,
          381Whose brazen studs and tough bull-hide
          382Had death so often dash'd aside;
          383For, train'd abroad his arms to wield,
          384Fitz-James's blade was sword and shield.
          385He practised every pass and ward,
          386To thrust, to strike, to feint, to guard;
          387While less expert, though stronger far,
          388The Gael maintain'd unequal war.
          389Three times in closing strife they stood,
          390And thrice the Saxon blade drank blood;
          391No stinted draught, no scanty tide,
          392The gushing flood the tartans dyed.
          393Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,
          394And shower'd his blows like wintry rain;
          395And, as firm rock, or castle-roof,
          396Against the winter shower is proof,
          397The foe, invulnerable still,
          398Foil'd his wild rage by steady skill;
          399Till, at advantage ta'en, his brand
          400Forced Roderick's weapon from his hand,
          401And backward borne upon the lea,
          402Brought the proud Chieftain to his knee.

XVI
          403"Now, yield thee, or by Him who made
          404The world, thy heart's blood dyes my blade!"--
          405"Thy threats, thy mercy, I defy!
          406Let recreant yield, who fears to die."
          407--Like adder darting from his coil,
          408Like wolf that dashes through the toil,
          409Like mountain-cat who guards her young,
          410Full at Fitz-James's throat he sprung;
          411Received, but reck'd not of a wound,
          412And lock'd his arms his foeman round.--
          413Now, gallant Saxon, hold thine own!
          414No maiden's hand is round thee thrown!
          415That desperate grasp thy frame might feel,
          416Through bars of brass and triple steel!--
          417They tug, they strain! down, down they go,
          418The Gael above, Fitz-James below.
          419The Chieftain's gripe his throat compress'd,
          420His knee was planted in his breast;
          421His clotted locks he backward threw,
          422Across his brow his hand he drew,
          423From blood and mist to clear his sight,
          424Then gleam'd aloft his dagger bright!--
          425--But hate and fury ill supplied
          426The stream of life's exhausted tide,
          427And all too late the advantage came,
          428To turn the odds of deadly game;
          429For, while the dagger gleam'd on high,
          430Reel'd soul and sense, reel'd brain and eye.
          431Down came the blow! but in the heath
          432The erring blade found bloodless sheath.
          433The struggling foe may now unclasp
          434The fainting Chief's relaxing grasp;
          435Unwounded from the dreadful close,
          436But breathless all, Fitz-James arose.

Notes

196] King James V, in the guise of a single knight, Fitz-James, has penetrated into the country of the redoubtable Highland chief, Roderick Dhu, whom he has sworn to meet in combat. He meets Roderick, but without knowing him. He expresses a desire to see Roderick and his followers, and his companion replies with the sentence which opens our extract.

253] glaive: sword.
targe: another word for shield.
jack: coat reinforced for protection.

283] James had called Roderick an outlaw and his enemy.

303] "The torrent which discharges itself from Loch Vennachar, the lowest and eastmost of the three lakes which form the scenery adjoining to the Trossachs, sweeps through a flat and extensive moor, called Bochastle .... on the plain [there] are some entrenchments, which have been thought Roman" (Scott).

332] Battle was impending between the English and Roderick's clan.

349] kern: Highland foot-soldier.

380] targe. Such a shield "was a necessary part of a Highlander's equipment" (Scott).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake (Edinburgh: J. Ballantyne, 1810). LE S431ka Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1810
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 2.419.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/3

Form: couplets


Other poems by Sir Walter Scott