This was the day of the Great Peebles Fair, and everybody was awake early, including ourselves. We left the "Cross Keys" hotel at six o'clock in the morning, and a very cold one it was, for there had been a sharp frost during the night. The famous old Cross formerly stood near our inn, and the Cross Church close at hand, or rather all that remained of them after the wars. In spite of the somewhat modern appearance of the town, which was probably the result of the business element introduced by the establishment of the woollen factories, Peebles was in reality one of the ancient royal burghs, and formerly an ecclesiastical centre of considerable importance, for in the reign of Alexander III several very old relics were said to have been found, including what was supposed to be a fragment of the true Cross, and with it the calcined bones of St. Nicholas, who suffered in the Roman persecution, A.D. 294. On the strength of these discoveries the king ordered a magnificent church to be erected, which caused Peebles to be a Mecca for pilgrims, who came there from all parts to venerate the relics. The building was known as the Cross Church, where a monastery was founded at the desire of James III in 1473 and attached to the church, in truly Christian spirit, one-third of its revenues being devoted to the redemption of Christian captives who remained in the hands of the Turks after the Crusades.
If we had visited the town in past ages, there would not have been any fair on October 10th, since the Great Fair, called the Beltane Festival, was then held on May Day; but after the finding of the relics it was made the occasion on which to celebrate the "Finding of the Cross," pilgrims and merchants coming from all parts to join the festivities and attend the special celebrations at the Cross Church. On the occasion of a Beltane Fair it was the custom to light a fire on the hill, round which the young people danced and feasted on cakes made of milk and eggs. We thought Beltane was the name of a Sun-god, but it appeared that it was a Gaelic word meaning Bel, or Beal's-fire, and probably originated from the Baal mentioned in Holy Writ.
As our next great object of interest was Abbotsford, the last house inhabited by Sir Walter Scott, our course lay alongside the River Tweed. We were fortunate in seeing the stream at Peebles, which stood at the entrance to one of the most beautiful stretches in the whole of its length of 103 miles, 41 of which lay in Peeblesshire. The twenty miles along which we walked was magnificent river scenery.
We passed many castles and towers and other ancient fortifications along its banks, the first being at Horsburgh, where the castle looked down upon a grass field called the Chapelyards, on which formerly stood the chapel and hospice of the two saints, Leonard and Lawrence. At this hospice pilgrims from England were lodged when on their way to Peebles to attend the feasts of the "Finding of the Cross" and the "Exaltation of the Cross," which were celebrated at Beltane and Roodmass respectively, in the ancient church and monastery of the Holy Cross. It was said that King James I of England on his visits to Peebles was also lodged here, and it is almost certain the Beltane Sports suggested to him his famous poem, "Peebles to the Play," one of its lines being:
Hope Kailzie, and Cardrona, gathered out
Singing "Hey ho, rumbelow, the young folks were full bold."
both of which places could be seen from Horsburgh Castle looking across the river.
We saw the Tower of Cardrona, just before entering the considerable village, or town, of Innerleithen at six miles from Peebles, and although the time was so early, we met many people on their way to the fair. Just before reaching Innerleithen we came to a sharp deep bend in the river, which we were informed was known as the "Dirt Pot" owing to its black appearance. At the bottom of this dark depth the silver bells of Peebles were supposed to be lying. We also saw Glennormiston House, the residence of William Chambers, who, with his brother, Robert, founded Chambers's Journal of wide-world fame, and authors, singly and conjointly, of many other volumes. The two brothers were both benefactors to their native town of Peebles, and William became Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and the restorer of its ancient Cathedral of St. Giles's.
His brother Robert died earlier in that very year in which we were walking. We reached Innerleithen just as the factory operatives were returning from breakfast to their work at the woollen factories, and they seemed quite a respectable class of people. Here we called at the principal inn for our own breakfast, for which we were quite ready, but we did not know then that Rabbie Burns had been to Innerleithen, where, as he wrote, he had from a jug "a dribble o' drink," or we should have done ourselves the honour of calling at the same place. At Innerleithen we came to another "Bell-tree Field," where the bell hung on the branch of a tree to summon worshippers to church, and there were also some mineral springs which became famous after the publication of Sir Walter Scott's novel, St. Ronan's Well.
Soon after leaving Innerleithen we could see Traquair House towering above the trees by which it was surrounded. Traquair was said to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. Sir Walter Scott knew it well, it being quite near to Ashiestiel, where he wrote "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," "Marmion," and "The Lady of the Lake." It was one of the prototypes of "Tully Veolan" in his Waverley. There was no abode in Scotland more quaint and curious than Traquair House, for it was turreted, walled, buttressed, windowed, and loopholed, all as in the days of old. Within were preserved many relics of the storied past and also of royalty. Here was the bed on which Queen Mary slept in 1566; here also the oaken cradle of the infant King James VI. The library was rich in valuable and rare books and MSS. and service books of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries in beautiful penmanship upon fine vellum. The magnificent avenue was grass-grown, the gates had not been opened for many years, while the pillars of the gateway were adorned with two huge bears standing erect and bearing the motto: "Judge Nocht." Magnificent woods adorned the grounds, remains of the once-famous forest of Ettrick, said to be the old classical forest of Caledon of the days of King Arthur.
Here was also Flora Hill, with its beautiful woods, where Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, lays the scene of his exquisite poem "Kilmeny" in the Queen's Wake, where -
Bonnie Kilmeny gae'd up the Glen,
But it wisna to meet Duneira's men, etc.
Through beautiful scenery we continued alongside the Tweed, and noticed that even the rooks could not do without breakfast, for they were busy in a potato field. We were amused to see them fly away on our approach, some of them with potatoes in their mouths, and, like other thieves, looking quite guilty.
Presently we came to a solitary fisherman standing knee-deep in the river, with whom we had a short conversation. He said he was fishing for salmon, which ascended the river from Berwick about that time of the year and returned in May. We were rather amused at his mentioning the return journey, as from the frantic efforts he was making to catch the fish he was doing his best to prevent them from coming back again. He told us he had been fishing there since daylight that morning, and had caught nothing. By way of sympathy my brother told him a story of two young men who walked sixteen miles over the hills to fish in a stream. They stayed that night at the nearest inn, and started out very early the next morning. When they got back to the hotel at night they wrote the following verse in the visitors' book:
Hickory dickory dock!
We began at six o'clock,
We fished till night without a bite.
Hickory dickory dock!
This was a description, he said, of real fishermen's luck, but whether the absence of the "bite" referred to the fishermen or to the fish was not quite clear. It had been known to apply to both.
Proceeding further we met a gentleman walking along the road, of whom we made inquiries about the country we were passing through. He told us that the castle we could see across the river was named "Muckle Mouthed Meg." A certain man in ancient times, having offended against the laws, was given a choice for a sentence by the King of Scotland - -either he must marry Muckle Mouthed Meg, a woman with a very large mouth, or suffer death. He chose the first, and the pair lived together in the old castle for some years. We told him we were walking from John o' Groat's to Land's End, but when he said he had passed John o' Groat's in the train, we had considerable doubts as to the accuracy of his statements, for there was no railway at all in the County of Caithness in which John o' Groat's was situated. We therefore made further inquiries about the old castle, and were informed that the proper name of it was Elibank Castle, and that it once belonged to Sir Gideon Murray, who one night caught young Willie Scott of Oakwood Tower trying to "lift the kye." The lowing of the cattle roused him up, and with his retainers he drove off the marauders, while his lady watched the fight from the battlement of the Tower.
Willie, or, to be more correct, Sir William Scott, Junr., was caught and put in the dungeon. Sir Gideon Murray decided to hang him, but his lady interposed: "Would ye hang the winsome Laird o' Harden," she said, "when ye hae three ill-favoured daughters to marry?" Sir Willie was one of the handsomest men of his time, and when the men brought the rope to hang him he was given the option of marrying Muckle Mou'd Meg or of being hanged with a "hempen halter." It was said that when he first saw Meg he said he preferred to be hanged, but he found she improved on closer acquaintance, and so in three days' time a clergyman said, "Wilt thou take this woman here present to be thy lawful wife?" knowing full well what the answer must be. Short of other materials, the marriage contract was written with a goose quill on the parchment head of a drum. Sir William found that Meg made him a very good wife in spite of her wide mouth, and they lived happily together, the moral being, we supposed, that it is not always the prettiest girl that makes the best wife.
Shortly afterwards we left the River Tweed for a time while we walked across the hills to Galashiels, and on our way to that town we came to a railway station near which were some large vineries. A carriage was standing at the entrance to the gardens, where two gentlemen were buying some fine bunches of grapes which we could easily have disposed of, for we were getting rather hungry, but as they did not give us the chance, we walked on. Galashiels was formerly only a village, the "shiels" meaning shelters for sheep, but it had risen to importance owing to its woollen factories. It was now a burgh, boasting a coat-of-arms on which was represented a plum-tree with a fox on either side, and the motto, "Sour plums of Galashiels."
The origin of this was an incident that occurred in 1337, in the time of Edward III, when some Englishmen who were retreating stopped here to eat some wild plums. While they were so engaged they were attacked by a party of Scots with swords, who killed every one of them, throwing their bodies into a trench afterwards known as the "Englishman's Syke." We passed a road leading off to the left to Stow, where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were said to have defeated the Heathens. We left Galashiels by the Melrose Road, and, after walking about a mile and a half, we turned aside to cross the River Tweed, not by a ferry, as that was against our rule, but by a railway bridge. No doubt this was against the railway company's by-laws and regulations, but it served our purpose, and we soon reached Abbotsford, that fine mansion, once the residence of the great Sir Walter Scott, the king of novelists, on the building of which he had spent a great amount of money, and the place of his death September 21st, 1832.
Abbotsford, including the gardens, park, walks and woods, was all his own creation, and was so named by him because the River Tweed was crossed at that point by the monks on their way to and from Melrose Abbey in the olden times.
We found the house in splendid condition and the garden just as Sir Walter had left it. We were shown through the hall, study, library, and drawing-room, and even his last suit of clothes, with his white beaver hat, was carefully preserved under a glass case. We saw much armour, the largest suit belonging formerly to Sir John Cheney, the biggest man who fought at the battle of Bosworth Field. The collection of arms gathered out of all ages and countries was said to be the finest in the world, including Rob Roy Macgregor's gun, sword, and dirk, the Marquis of Montrose's sword, and the rifle of Andreas Hofer the Tyrolese patriot.
Amongst these great curios was the small pocket-knife used by Sir Walter when he was a boy. We were shown the presents given to him from all parts of the kingdom, and from abroad, including an ebony suite of furniture presented to him by King George IV. There were many portraits and busts of himself, and his wife and children, including a marble bust of himself by Chantrey, the great sculptor, carved in the year 1820. The other portraits included one of Queen Elizabeth, another of Rob Roy; a painting of Queen Mary's head, after it had been cut off at Fotheringay, and a print of Stothard's Canterbury Pilgrims. We also saw an iron box in which Queen Mary kept her money for the poor, and near this was her crucifix. In fact, the place reminded us of some great museum, for there were numberless relics of antiquity stored in every nook and corner, and in the most unlikely places. We were sorry we had not time to stay and take a longer survey, for the mansion and its surroundings form one of the great sights of Scotland, whose people revere the memory of the great man who lived there.
The declining days of Sir Walter were not without sickness and sorrow, for he had spent all the money obtained by the sale of his books on this palatial mansion. After a long illness, and as a last resource, he was taken to Italy; but while there he had another apoplectic attack, and was brought home again, only just in time to die. He expressed a wish that Lockhart, his son-in-law, should read to him, and when asked from what book, he answered, "Need you ask? There is but one." He chose the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel, and when it was ended, he said, "Well, this is a great comfort: I have followed you distinctly, and I feel as if I were yet to be myself again." In an interval of consciousness he said, "Lockhart! I may have but a minute to speak to you, my dear; be a good man, be virtuous, be religious, be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here."
A friend who was present at the death of Sir Walter wrote: "It was a beautiful day - so warm that every window was wide open, and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible - as we kneeled around his bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes." We could imagine the wish that would echo in more than one mind as Sir Walter's soul departed, perhaps through one of the open windows, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
We start, for soul is wanting there;
It is the loneliness in death
That parts not quite with parting breath,
But beauty with that fearful bloom,
The hue which haunts it to the tomb,
Expression's last receding ray;
A gilded halo hov'ring round decay.
We passed slowly through the garden and grounds, and when we reached the road along which Sir Walter Scott had so often walked, we hurried on to see the old abbey of Melrose, which was founded by King David I. On our way we passed a large hydropathic establishment and an asylum not quite completed, and on reaching Melrose we called at one of the inns for tea, where we read a description by Sir Walter of his "flitting" from Ashiestiel, his former residence, to his grand house at Abbotsford. The flitting took place at Whitsuntide in 1812, so, as he died in 1832, he must have lived at Abbotsford about twenty years. He was a great collector of curios, and wrote a letter describing the comical scene which took place on that occasion. "The neighbours," he wrote, "have been very much delighted with the procession of furniture, in which old swords, bows, targets, and lances made a very conspicuous show. A family of turkeys was accommodated within the helmet of some preux chevalier of ancient Border fame, and the very cows, for aught I know, were bearing banners and muskets. I assure you that this caravan, attended by a dozen ragged, rosy, peasant children carrying fishing-rods and spears, and leading ponies, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as it crossed the Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for the pencil."
Melrose Abbey was said to afford the finest specimen of Gothic architecture and Gothic sculpture of which Scotland could boast, and the stone of which it had been built, though it had resisted the weather for many ages, retained perfect sharpness, so that even the most minute ornaments seemed as entire as when they had been newly wrought. In some of the cloisters there were representations of flowers, leaves, and vegetables carved in stone with "accuracy and precision so delicate that it almost made visitors distrust their senses when they considered the difficulty of subjecting so hard a substance to such intricate and exquisite modulation." This superb convent was dedicated to St. Mary, and the monks were of the Cistercian Order, of whom the poet wrote:
Oh, the monks of
Melrose made gude kail (broth)
On Fridays when they fasted;
Nor wanted they gude beef and ale,
So lang's their neighbours' lasted.
There were one hundred monks at Melrose in the year 1542, and it was supposed that in earlier times much of the carving had been done by monks under strong religious influences. The rose predominated amongst the carved flowers, as it was the abbot's favourite flower, emblematic of the locality from which the abbey took its name. The curly green, or kale, which grew in nearly every garden in Scotland, was a very difficult plant to sculpture, but was so delicately executed here as to resemble exactly the natural leaf; and there was a curious gargoyle representing a pig playing on the bagpipes, so this instrument must have been of far more ancient origin than we had supposed when we noticed its absence from the instruments recorded as having been played when Mary Queen of Scots was serenaded in Edinburgh on her arrival in Scotland.
Under the high altar were buried the remains of Alexander II, the dust of Douglas the hero of Otterburn, and others of his illustrious and heroic race, as well as the remains of Sir Michael Scott. Here too was buried the heart of King Robert the Bruce. It appeared that Bruce told his son that he wished to have his heart buried at Melrose; but when he was ready to die and his friends were assembled round his bedside, he confessed to them that in his passion he had killed Comyn with his own hand, before the altar, and had intended, had he lived, to make war on the Saracens, who held the Holy Land, for the evil deeds he had done. He requested his dearest friend, Lord James Douglas, to carry his heart to Jerusalem and bury it there. Douglas wept bitterly, but as soon as the king was dead he had his heart taken from his body, embalmed, and enclosed in a silver case which he had made for it, and wore it suspended from his neck by a string of silk and gold.
With some of the bravest men in Scotland he set out for Jerusalem, but, landing in Spain, they were persuaded to take part in a battle there against the Saracens. Douglas, seeing one of his friends being hard pressed by the enemy, went to his assistance and became surrounded by the Moors himself. Seeing no chance of escape, he took from his neck the heart of Bruce, and speaking to it as he would have done to Bruce if alive, said, "Pass first in the fight as thou wert wont to do, and Douglas will follow thee or die." With these words he threw the king's heart among the enemy, and rushing forward to the place where it fell, was there slain, and his body was found lying on the silver case. Most of the Scots were slain in this battle with the Moors, and they that remained alive returned to Scotland, the charge of Bruce's heart being entrusted to Sir Simon Lockhard of Lee, who afterwards for his device bore on his shield a man's heart with a padlock upon it, in memory of Bruce's heart which was padlocked in the silver case. For this reason, also, Sir Simon's name was changed from Lockhard to Lockheart, and Bruce's heart was buried in accordance with his original desire at Melrose.
Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie, who also lies buried in the abbey, flourished in the thirteenth century. His great learning, chiefly acquired in foreign countries, together with an identity in name, had given rise to a certain confusion, among the earlier historians, between him and Michael Scott the "wondrous wizard and magician" referred to by Dante in Canto xxmo of the "Inferno." Michael Scott studied such abstruse subjects as judicial astrology, alchemy, physiognomy, and chiromancy, and his commentary on Aristotle was considered to be of such a high order that it was printed in Venice in 1496. Sir Walter Scott referred to Michael Scott:
The wondrous Michael Scott
A wizard, of such dreaded fame,
That when in Salamanca's Cave
Him listed his magic wand to wave
The bells would ring in Notre Dame,
and he explained the origin of this by relating the story that Michael on one occasion when in Spain was sent as an Ambassador to the King of France to obtain some concessions, but instead of going in great state, as usual on those occasions, he evoked the services of a demon in the shape of a huge black horse, forcing it to fly through the air to Paris. The king was rather offended at his coming in such an unceremonious manner, and was about to give him a contemptuous refusal when Scott asked him to defer his decision until his horse had stamped its foot three times. The first stamp shook every church in Paris, causing all the bells to ring; the second threw down three of the towers of the palace; and when the infernal steed had lifted up his hoof for the third time, the king stopped him by promising Michael the most ample concessions.
A modern writer, commenting upon this story, says, "There is something uncanny about the Celts which makes them love a Trinity of ideas, and the old stories of the Welsh collected in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries include a story very similar about Kilhwch, cousin to Arthur, who threatens if he cannot have what he wants that he will set up three shouts than which none were ever heard more deadly and which will be heard from Pengwaed in Cornwall to Dinsol in the North and Ergair Oerful in Ireland. The Triads show the method best and furnish many examples, quoting the following:
Three things are best when hung - salt fish, a wet hat, and an Englishman.
Three things are difficult to get - gold from the miser, love from the devil, and courtesy from the Englishman.
The three hardest things - a granite block, a miser's barley loaf, and an Englishman's heart.
But perhaps the best known is one translated long ago from the Welsh:
A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree,
The more they are beaten, the better they be.
But to return to Michael Scott. Another strange story about Michael was his adventure with the witch of Falschope. To avenge himself upon her for striking him suddenly with his own wand whereby he was transformed for a time and assumed the appearance of a hare, Michael sent his man with two greyhounds to the house where the witch lived, to ask the old lady to give him a bit of bread for the greyhounds; if she refused he was to place a piece of paper, which he handed to him, over the top of the house door. The witch gave the man a curt refusal, and so he fastened the paper, on which were some words, including, "Michael Scott's man sought meat and gat nane," as directed. This acted as a spell, and the old witch, who was making cakes for the reapers then at work in the corn, now began to dance round the fire (which, as usual in those days, was burning in the middle of the room) and to sing the words:
"Maister Michael Scott's man
Sought meat and gat nane."
and she had to continue thus until the spell was broken. Meantime, her husband and the reapers who were with him were wondering why the cakes had not reached them, so the old man sent one of the reapers to inquire the reason. As soon as he went through the door he was caught by the spell and so had to perform the same antics as his mistress. As he did not return, the husband sent man after man until he was alone, and then went himself. But, knowing all about the quarrel between Michael and his wife, and having seen the wizard on the hill, he was rather more cautious than his men, so, instead of going through the door, he looked through the window. There he saw the reapers dragging his wife, who had become quite exhausted, sometimes round, and sometimes through the fire, singing the chorus as they did so. He at once saddled his horse and rode as fast as he could to find Michael, who good-naturedly granted his request, and directed him to enter his house backwards, removing the paper from above the door with his left hand as he went in. The old man lost no time in returning home, where he found them all still dancing furiously and singing the same rhyme; but immediately he entered, the supernatural performance ended, very much, we imagine, to the relief of all concerned.
Michael Scott was at one time, it was said, much embarrassed by a spirit for whom he had to find constant employment, and amongst other work he commanded him to build a dam or other weir across the River Tweed at Kelso. He completed that in a single night. Michael next ordered him to divide the summit of the Eildon Hill in three parts; but as this stupendous work was also completed in one night, he was at his wits' end what work to find him to do next. At last he bethought himself of a job that would find him constant employment. He sent him to the seashore and employed him at the hopeless and endless task of making ropes of sand there, which as fast as he made them were washed away by the tides. The three peaks of Eildon Hill, of nearly equal height, are still to be seen. Magnificent views are to be obtained from their tops, which Sir Walter Scott often frequented and of which he wrote, "I can stand on the Eildon and point out forty-three places famous in war and in verse."
Another legend connected with these hills was that in the "Eildon caverns vast" a cave existed where the British King Arthur and his famous Knights of the Round Table lie asleep waiting the blast of the bugle which will recall them from Fairyland to lead the British on to a victory that will ensure a united and glorious Empire. King Arthur has a number of burial-places of the same character, according to local stories both in England and Wales, and even one in Cheshire at Alderley Edge, close By the "Wizard Inn," which title refers to the story.
Melrose and district has been hallowed by the influence and memory of Sir Walter Scott, who was to Melrose what Shakespeare was to Stratford-on-Avon, and he has invested the old abbey with an additional halo of interest by his "Lay of the Last Minstrel," a copy of which we saw for the first time at the inn where we called for tea. We were greatly interested, as it related to the neighbourhood we were about to pass through in particular, and we were quite captivated with its opening lines, which appealed so strongly to wayfarers like ourselves:
The way was long, the wind was cold.
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem'd to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry.
We were now nearing the Borders of Scotland and England, where this Border warfare formerly raged for centuries. The desperadoes engaged in it on the Scottish side were known as Moss-troopers, any of whom when caught by the English were taken to Carlisle and hanged near there at a place called Hairibee. Those who claimed the "benefit of clergy" were allowed to repeat in Latin the "Miserere mei," at the beginning of the 51st Psalm, before they were executed, this becoming known as the "neck-verse."
William of Deloraine was one of the most desperate Moss-troopers ever engaged in Border warfare, but he, according to Sir Walter Scott:
By wily turns, by desperate bounds,
Had baffled Percy's best blood-hounds;
In Eske or Liddel, fords were none,
But he would ride them, one by one;
Steady of heart, and stout of hand.
As ever drove prey from Cumberland;
Five times outlawed had he been,
By England's King, and Scotland's Queen.
When Sir Michael Scott was buried in Melrose Abbey his Mystic Book - which no one was ever to see except the Chief of Branxholm, and then only in the time of need - was buried with him. Branxholm Tower was about eighteen miles from Melrose and situated in the vale of Cheviot. After the death of Lord Walter (who had been killed in the Border warfare), a gathering of the kinsmen of the great Buccleuch was held there, and the "Ladye Margaret" left the company, retiring laden with sorrow and her impending troubles to her bower. It was a fine moonlight night when -
From amid the arméd train
She called to her, William of Deloraine.
and sent him for the mighty book to Melrose Abbey which was to relieve her of all her troubles.
"Sir William of Deloraine, good at
Mount thee on the wightest steed;
Spare not to spur, nor stint to ride.
Until thou come to fair Tweedside;
And in Melrose's holy pile
Seek thou the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.
Greet the Father well from me;
Say that the fated hour is come,
And to-night he shall watch with thee,
To win the treasure of the tomb:
For this will be St. Michael's night,
And, though stars be dim, the moon is bright;
And the Cross, of bloody red,
Will point to the grave of the mighty dead.
"What he gives thee, see thou keep;
Stay not thou for food or sleep:
Be it scroll, or be it book,
Into it, Knight, thou must not look;
If thou readest, thou art lorn!
Better had'st thou ne'er been born." -
"O swiftly can speed my dapple-grey steed,
Which drinks of the Teviot clear;
Ere break of day," the Warrior 'gan say,
"Again will I be here:
And safer by none may thy errand be done,
Than, noble dame, by me;
Letter nor line know I never a one,
Wer't my neck-verse at Hairibee."
Deloraine lost no time in carrying out his Ladye's wishes, and rode furiously on his horse to Melrose Abbey in order to be there by midnight, and as described in Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel":
Short halt did Deloraine make there;
Little reck'd he of the scene so fair
With dagger's hilt, on the wicket strong,
He struck full loud, and struck full long.
The porter hurried to the gate -
"Who knocks so loud, and knocks so late?"
"From Branksome I," the warrior cried;
And straight the wicket open'd wide
For Branksome's Chiefs had in battle stood,
To fence the rights of fair Melrose;
And lands and livings, many a rood,
Had gifted the Shrine for their souls' repose.
Bold Deloraine his errand said;
The porter bent his humble head;
With torch in hand, and feet unshod.
And noiseless step, the path he trod.
The archèd cloister, far and wide,
Rang to the warrior's clanking stride,
Till, stooping low his lofty crest,
He enter'd the cell of the ancient priest,
And lifted his barred aventayle,
To hail the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.
"The Ladye of Branksome greets thee by me,
Says, that the fated hour is come,
And that to-night I shall watch with thee,
To win the treasure of the tomb."
From sackcloth couch the Monk arose,
With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd;
A hundred years had flung their snows
On his thin locks and floating beard.
And strangely on the Knight look'd he,
And his blue eyes gleam'd wild and wide;
"And, darest thou, Warrior! seek to see
What heaven and hell alike would hide?
My breast, in belt of iron pent,
With shirt of hair and scourge of thorn;
For threescore years, in penance spent.
My knees those flinty stones have worn;
Yet all too little to atone
For knowing what should ne'er be known.
Would'st thou thy every future year
In ceaseless prayer and penance drie,
Yet wait thy latter end with fear
Then, daring Warrior, follow me!"
"Penance, father, will I none;
Prayer know I hardly one;
For mass or prayer can I rarely tarry,
Save to patter an Ave Mary,
When I ride on a Border foray.
Other prayer can I none;
So speed me my errand, and let me be gone."
Again on the Knight look'd the Churchman old,
And again he sighed heavily;
For he had himself been a warrior bold.
And fought in Spain and Italy.
And he thought on the days that were long since by,
When his limbs were strong, and his courage was high -
Now, slow and faint, he led the way,
Where, cloister'd round, the garden lay;
The pillar'd arches were over their head,
And beneath their feet were the bones of the dead.
The moon on the east oriel shone
Through slender shafts of shapely stone,
The silver light, so pale and faint,
Shew'd many a prophet, and many a saint,
Whose image on the glass was dyed;
Full in the midst, his Cross of Red
Triumphal Michael brandished,
And trampled the Apostate's pride.
The moon beam kiss'd the holy pane,
And threw on the pavement a bloody stain.
They sate them down on a marble stone, -
(A Scottish monarch slept below;)
Thus spoke the Monk, in solemn tone -
"I was not always a man of woe;
For Paynim countries I have trod,
And fought beneath the Cross of God:
Now, strange to my eyes thine arms appear.
And their iron clang sounds strange to my ear.
"In these far climes it was my lot
To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;
Some of his skill he taught to me;
And, Warrior, I could say to thee
The words that cleft Eildon hills in three,
And bridled the Tweed with a curb of stone:
But to speak them were a deadly sin;
And for having but thought them my heart within,
A treble penance must be done.
"When Michael lay on his dying bed,
His conscience was awakened
He bethought him of his sinful deed,
And he gave me a sign to come with speed.
I was in Spain when the morning rose,
But I stood by his bed ere evening close.
The words may not again be said
That he spoke to me, on death-bed laid;
They would rend this Abbaye's massy nave,
And pile it in heaps above his grave.
"I swore to bury his Mighty Book,
That never mortal might therein look;
And never to tell where it was hid,
Save at his Chief of Branksome's need:
And when that need was past and o'er,
Again the volume to restore.
I buried him on St. Michael's night,
When the bell toll'd one, and the moon was bright,
And I dug his chamber among the dead,
When the floor of the chancel was stained red,
That his patron's cross might over him wave,
And scare the fiends from the Wizard's grave.
"It was a night of woe and dread,
When Michael in the tomb I laid!
Strange sounds along the chancel pass'd,
The banners waved without a blast" -
Still spoke the Monk, when the bell toll'd one! -
I tell you, that a braver man
Than William of Deloraine, good at need,
Against a foe ne'er spurr'd a steed;
Yet somewhat was he chill'd with dread,
And his hair did bristle upon his head.
"Lo, Warrior! now, the Cross of Red
Points to the grave of the mighty dead;
Within it burns a wondrous light,
To chase the spirits that love the night:
That lamp shall burn unquenchably,
Until the eternal doom shall be." -
Slow moved the Monk to the broad flag-stone,
Which the bloody Cross was traced upon:
He pointed to a secret nook;
An iron bar the Warrior took;
And the Monk made a sign with his wither'd hand,
The grave's huge portal to expand.
With beating heart to the task he went;
His sinewy frame o'er the grave-stone bent;
With bar of iron heaved amain,
Till the toil-drops fell from his brows, like rain.
It was by dint of passing strength,
That he moved the massy stone at length.
I would you had been there, to see
How the light broke forth so gloriously,
Stream'd upward to the chancel roof,
And through the galleries far aloof!
No earthly flame blazed e'er so bright:
It shone like heaven's own blessed light,
And, issuing from the tomb,
Show'd the Monk's cowl, and visage pale,
Danced on the dark-brow'd Warrior's mail,
And kiss'd his waving plume.
Before their eyes the Wizard lay,
As if he had not been dead a day.
His hoary beard in silver roll'd.
He seem'd some seventy winters old;
A palmer's amice wrapp'd him round,
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea:
His left hand held his Book of Might;
A silver cross was in his right;
The lamp was placed beside his knee:
High and majestic was his look,
At which the fellest fiends had shook.
And all unruffled was his face:
They trusted his soul had gotten grace.
Often had William of Deloraine
Rode through the battle's bloody plain,
And trampled down the warriors slain,
And neither known remorse nor awe;
Yet now remorse and awe he own'd;
His breath came thick, his head swam round.
When this strange scene of death he saw.
Bewilder'd and unnerved he stood.
And the priest pray'd fervently and loud:
With eyes averted prayed he;
He might not endure the sight to see.
Of the man he had loved so brotherly.
And when the priest his death-prayer had pray'd,
Thus unto Deloraine he said: -
"Now, speed thee what thou hast to do,
Or, Warrior, we may dearly rue;
For those, thou may'st not look upon,
Are gathering fast round the yawning stone!" -
Then Deloraine, in terror, took
From the cold hand the Mighty Book,
With iron clasp'd, and with iron bound:
He thought, as he took it, the dead man frown'd;
But the glare of the sepulchral light,
Perchance, had dazzled the Warrior's sight.
When the huge stone sunk o'er the tomb.
The night return'd in double gloom;
For the moon had gone down, and the stars were few;
And, as the Knight and Priest withdrew.
With wavering steps and dizzy brain,
They hardly might the postern gain.
'Tis said, as through the aisles they pass'd,
They heard strange noises on the blast;
And through the cloister-galleries small,
Which at mid-height thread the chancel wall,
Loud sobs, and laughter louder, ran,
And voices unlike the voices of man;
As if the fiends kept holiday,
Because these spells were brought to day.
I cannot tell how the truth may be;
I say the tale as 'twas said to me.
"Now, hie thee hence," the Father said,
"And when we are on death-bed laid,
O may our dear Ladye, and sweet St. John,
Forgive our souls for the deed we have done!" -
The Monk return'd him to his cell,
And many a prayer and penance sped;
When the convent met at the noontide bell -
The Monk of St. Mary's aisle was dead!
Before the cross was the body laid,
With hands clasp'd fast, as if still he pray'd.
What became of Sir William Deloraine and the wonderful book on his return journey we had no time to read that evening, but we afterwards learned he fell into the hands of the terrible Black Dwarf. We had decided to walk to Hawick if possible, although we were rather reluctant to leave Melrose. We had had one good tea on entering the town, and my brother suggested having another before leaving it, so after visiting the graveyard of the abbey, where the following curious epitaph appeared on one of the stones, we returned to the inn, where the people were highly amused at seeing us return so soon and for such a purpose:
The earth goeth to the earth
Glist'ring like gold;
The earth goeth to the earth
Sooner than it wold;
The earth builds on the earth
Castles and Towers;
The earth says to the earth,
All shall be ours.
Still, we were quite ready for our second tea, and wondered whether there was any exercise that gave people a better appetite and a greater joy in appeasing it than walking, especially in the clear and sharp air of Scotland, for we were nearly always extremely hungry after an hour or two's walk. When the tea was served, I noticed that my brother lingered over it longer than usual, and when I reminded him that the night would soon be on us, he said he did not want to leave before dark, as he wanted to see how the old abbey appeared at night, quoting Sir Walter Scott as the reason why:
If thou would'st view fair
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins grey.
When the broken arches are black in night,
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower
Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately,
Seem framed of ebon and ivory;
When silver edges the imagery.
And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave,
Then go - but go alone the while -
Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear.
Was ever scene so sad and fair?
I reminded my brother that there would be no moon visible that night, and that it would therefore be impossible to see the old abbey "by the pale moonlight"; but he said the starlight would do just as well for him, so we had to wait until one or two stars made their appearance, and then departed, calling at a shop to make a few small purchases as we passed on our way. The path alongside the abbey was entirely deserted. Though so near the town there was scarcely a sound to be heard, not even "the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave." Although we had no moonlight, the stars were shining brightly through the ruined arches which had once been filled with stained glass, representing the figures "of many a prophet and many a saint." It was a beautiful sight that remained in our memories long after other scenes had been forgotten.
According to the Koran there were four archangels: Azrael, the angel of death; Azrafil, who was to sound the trumpet at the resurrection; Gabriel, the angel of revelations, who wrote down the divine decrees; and Michael, the champion, who fought the battles of faith, - and it was this Michael whose figure Sir Walter Scott described as appearing full in the midst of the east oriel window "with his Cross of bloody red," which in the light of the moon shone on the floor of the abbey and "pointed to the grave of the mighty dead" into which the Monk and William of Deloraine had to descend to secure possession of the "Mighty Book."
After passing the old abbey and the shade of the walls and trees to find our way to the narrow and rough road along which we had to travel towards Hawick, we halted for a few moments at the side of the road to arrange the contents of our bags, in order to make room for the small purchases we had made in the town. We had almost completed the readjustment when we heard the heavy footsteps of a man approaching, who passed us walking along the road we were about to follow. My brother asked him if he was going far that way, to which he replied, "A goodish bit," so we said we should be glad of his company; but he walked on without speaking to us further. We pushed the remaining things in our bags as quickly as possible, and hurried on after him.
As we did not overtake him, we stood still and listened attentively, though fruitlessly, for not a footstep could we hear. We then accelerated our pace to what was known as the "Irishman's Trig" - a peculiar step, quicker than a walk, but slower than a run - and after going some distance we stopped again to listen; but the only sound we could hear was the barking of a solitary dog a long distance away. This was very provoking, as we wanted to get some information about our road, which, besides being rough, was both hilly and very lonely, and more in the nature of a track than a road. Where the man could have disappeared to was a mystery on a road apparently without any offshoots, so we concluded he must have thought we contemplated doing him some bodily harm, and had either "bolted" or "clapp'd," as my brother described it, behind some rock or bush, in which case he must have felt relieved and perhaps amused when he heard us "trigging" past him on the road.
We continued along the lonely road without his company, with the ghostly Eildon Hills on one side and the moors on the other, until after walking steadily onwards for a few miles, we heard the roar of a mountain stream in the distance. When we reached it we were horrified to find it running right across our road. It looked awful in the dark, as it was quite deep, and although we could just see where our road emerged from the stream on the other side, it was quite impossible for us to cross in the dark. We could see a few lights some distance beyond the stream, but it was useless to attempt to call for help, since our voices could not be heard above the noise of the torrent. Our position seemed almost hopeless, until my brother said he thought he had seen a shed or a small house behind a gate some distance before coming to the stream. We resolved to turn back, and luckily we discovered it to be a small lodge guarding the entrance to a private road. We knocked at the door of the house, which was in darkness, the people having evidently gone to bed. Presently a woman asked what was wanted, and when we told her we could not get across the stream, she said there was a footbridge near by, which we had not seen in the dark, and told us how to find it a little higher up the stream. Needless to relate, we were very pleased when we got across the bridge, and we measured the distance across that turbulent stream in fifteen long strides.
We soon reached the lights we had seen, and found a small village, where at the inn we got some strange lodgings, and slept that night in a bed of a most curious construction, as it was in a dark place under the stairs, entered by a door from the parlour. But it was clean and comfortable, and we were delighted to make use of it after our long walk.
(Distance walked thirty miles.)
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