Brightly and blithely dawned the 26th of March, 1306, for the loyal inhabitants of Scone. Few who might gaze on the olden city, and marked the flags and pennons waving gayly and proudly on every side; the rich tapestry flung over balconies or hung from the massive windows, in every street; the large branches of oak and laurel, festooned with gay ribands, that stood beside the entrance of every house which boasted any consequence; the busy citizens in goodly array, with their wives and families,
edecked to the best of their ability, all, as inspired by one spirit, hurrying in the direction of the abbey yard, joining the merry clamor of eager voices to the continued peal of every bell of which the old town could boast, sounding loud and joyously even above the roll of the drum or the shrill trumpet call;—those who marked these things might well be[Pg 54]lieve Scotland was once again the same free land, which had hailed in the same town the coronation of Alexander the Third, some years before. Little would they deem that the foreign foeman still thronged her feudal holds and cottage homes, that they waited but the commands of their monarch, to pour down on all sides upon the daring individual who thus boldly assumed the state and solemn honor of a king, and, armed but by his own high heart and a handful of loyal followers, prepared to resist, defend, and free, or die for Scotland.

There was silence—deep, solemn, yet most eloquent silence, reigning in the abbey church of Scone. The sun shining in that full flood of glory we sometimes find in the infant spring, illumined as with golden lustre the long, narrow casements, falling thence in flickering brilliance on the pavement floor, its rays sometimes arrested, to revolve in heightened lustre from the glittering sword or the suit of half-mail of one or other of the noble knights assembled there. The rich plate of the abbey, all at least which had escaped the cupidity of Edward, was arranged with care upon the various altars; in the centre of the church was placed the abbot's oaken throne, which was to supply the place of the ancient stone, the coronation seat of the Scottish kings—no longer there, its absence felt by one and all within that church as the closing seal to Edward's infamy—the damning proof that as his slave, not as his sister kingdom, he sought to render Scotland. From the throne to the high altar, where the king was to receive the eucharist, a carpet of richly-brocaded Genoa velvet was laid down; a cushion of the same elegantly-wrought material marked the place beside the spot where he was to kneel. Priests, in their richest vestments, officiated at the high altar; six beautiful boys, bearing alternately a large waxen candle, and the golden censers filled with the richest incense, stood beside them, while opposite the altar and behind the throne, in an elevated gallery, were ranged the seventy choristers of the abbey, thirty of whom were youthful novices; behind them a massive screen or curtain of tapestry concealed the organ, and gave a yet more startling and thrilling effect to its rich deep tones, thus bursting, as it were, from spheres unseen.

The throne was already occupied by the patriot king, clothed in his robes of state; his inner dress was a doublet and vest of white velvet, slashed with cloth of silver; his stockings, fitting[Pg 55] tight to the knee, were of the finest woven white silk, confined where they met the doublet with a broad band of silver; his shoes of white velvet, broidered with silver, in unison with his dress; a scarf of cloth of silver passed over his right shoulder, fastened there by a jewelled clasp, and, crossing his breast, secured his trusty sword to his left side; his head, of course, was bare, and his fair hair, parted carefully on his arched and noble brow, descended gracefully on either side; his countenance was perfectly calm, unexpressive of aught save of a deep sense of the solemn service in which he was engaged. There was not the faintest trace of either anxiety or exultation—naught that could shadow the brows of his followers, or diminish by one particle the love and veneration which in every heart were rapidly gaining absolute dominion.

On the right of the king stood the Abbot of Scone, the Archbishop of St. Andrew's, and Bishop of Glasgow, all of which venerable prelates had instantaneously and unhesitatingly declared for the Bruce; ranged on either side of the throne, according more to seniority than rank, were seated the brothers of the Bruce and the loyal barons who had joined his standard. Names there were already famous in the annals of patriotism—Fraser, Lennox, Athol, Hay—whose stalwart arms had so nobly struck for Wallace, whose steady minds had risen superior to the petty emotions of jealousy and envy which had actuated so many of similar rank. These were true patriots, and gladly and freely they once more rose for Scotland. Sir Christopher Seaton, brother-in-law to the Bruce, Somerville, Keith, St. Clair, the young Lord Douglas, and Thomas Randolph, the king's nephew, were the most noted of those now around the Bruce; yet on that eventful day not more than fourteen barons were mustered round their sovereign, exclusive of his four gallant brothers, who were in themselves a host. All these were attired with the care and gallantry their precarious situation permitted; half armor, concealed by flowing scarfs and graceful mantles, or suits of gayer seeming among the younger knights, for those of the barons' followers of gentle blood and chivalric training were also admitted within the church, forming a goodly show of gallant men. Behind them, on raised seats, which were divided from the body of the church by an open railing of ebony, sate the ladies of the court, the seat of the queen distinguished from the rest by its canopy[Pg 56] and cushion of embroidered taffeta, and amongst those gentle beings fairest and loveliest shone the maiden of Buchan, as she sate in smiling happiness between the youthful daughter of the Bruce, the Princess Margory, and his niece, the Lady Isoline, children of ten and fourteen, who already claimed her as their companion and friend.

The color was bright on the soft cheek of Agnes, the smile laughed alike in her lip and eye; for ever and anon, from amidst the courtly crowd beneath, the deep blue orb of Nigel Bruce met hers, speaking in its passioned yet respectful gaze, all that could whisper joy and peace unto a heart, young, loving, and confiding, as that of Agnes. The evening previous he had detached the blue riband which confined her flowing curls, and it was with a feeling of pardonable pride she beheld it suspended from his neck, even in that hour, when his rich habiliments and the imposing ceremony of the day marked him the brother of a king. Her brother, too, was at his side, gazing upon his sovereign with feelings, whose index, marked as it was on his brow, gave him the appearance of being older than he was. It was scarcely the excitement of a mere boy, who rejoiced in the state and dignity around him; the emotion of his mother had sunk upon his very soul, subduing the wild buoyancy of his spirit, and bidding him feel deeply and sadly the situation in which he stood. It seemed to him as if he had never thought before, and now that reflection had come upon him, it was fraught with a weight and gloom he could not remove and scarcely comprehend. He felt no power on earth could prevent his taking the only path which was open to the true patriot of Scotland, and in following that path he raised the standard of revolt, and enlisted his own followers against his father. Till the moment of action he had dreamed not of these things; but the deep anxieties, the contending feelings of his mother, which, despite her controlled demeanor, his heart perceived, could not but have their effect; and premature manhood was stealing fast upon his heart.

Upon the left of the king, and close beside his throne, stood the Countess of Buchan, attired in robes of the darkest crimson velvet, with a deep border of gold, which swept the ground, and long falling sleeves with a broad fringe; a thick cord of gold and tassels confined the robe around the waist, and thence fell reaching to her feet, and well-nigh concealing the inner dress[Pg 57] of white silk, which was worn to permit the robes falling easily on either side, and thus forming a long train behind. Neither gem nor gold adorned her beautiful hair; a veil was twisted in its luxuriant tresses, and served the purpose of the matron's coif. She was pale and calm, but such was the usual expression of her countenance, and perhaps accorded better with the dignified majesty of her commanding figure than a greater play of feature. It was not the calmness of insensibility, of vacancy, it was the still reflection of a controlled and chastened soul, of one whose depth and might was known but to-herself.

The pealing anthem for a while had ceased, and it was as if that church was desolate, as if the very hearts that throbbed so quickly for their country and their king were hushed a while and stilled, that every word which passed between the sovereign and the primate should be heard. Kneeling before him, his hands placed between those of the archbishop, the king, in a clear and manly voice, received, as it were, the kingdom from his hands, and swore to govern according to the laws of his ancestors; to defend the liberties of his people alike from the foreign and the civil foe; to dispense justice; to devote life itself to restoring Scotland to her former station in the scale of kingdoms. Solemnly, energetically, he took the required vows; his cheek flushed, his eye glistened, and ere he rose he bent his brow upon his spread hands, as if his spirit supplicated strength, and the primate, standing over him, blessed him, in a loud voice, in the name of Him whose lowly minister he was.

A few minutes, and the king was again seated on his throne, and from the hands of the Bishop of Glasgow, the Countess of Buchan received the simple coronet of gold, which had been hastily made to supply the place of that which Edward had removed. It was a moment of intense interest: every eye was directed towards the king and the dauntless woman by his side, who, rather than the descendant of Malcolm Cean Mohr should demand in vain the service from the descendants of the brave Macduff, exposed herself to all the wrath of a fierce and cruel king, the fury of an incensed husband and brother, and in her own noble person represented that ancient and most loyal line. Were any other circumstance needed to enhance the excitement of the patriots of Scotland, they would have found it in this. As it was, a sudden, irrepressible burst of applause broke from many eager voices as the bishop placed the coronet in her hands,[Pg 58] but one glance from those dark, eloquent eyes sufficed to hush it on the instant into stillness.

Simultaneously all within the church stood up, and gracefully and steadily, with a hand which trembled not, even to the observant and anxious eyes of her son, Isabella of Buchan placed the sacred symbol of royalty on the head of Scotland's king; and then arose, as with one voice, the wild enthusiastic shout of loyalty, which, bursting from all within the church, was echoed again and again from without, almost drowning the triumphant anthem which at the same moment sent its rich, hallowed tones through the building, and proclaimed Robert Bruce indeed a king.

Again and yet again the voice of triumph and of loyalty arose hundred-tongued, and sent its echo even to the English camp; and when it ceased, when slowly, and as it were reluctantly, it died away, it was a grand and glorious sight to see those stern and noble barons one by one approach their sovereign's throne and do him homage.

It was not always customary for the monarchs of those days to receive the feudal homage of their vassals the same hour of their coronation, it was in general a distinct and almost equally gorgeous ceremony; but in this case both the king and barons felt it better policy to unite them; the excitement attendant on the one ceremonial they felt would prevent the deficiency of numbers in the other being observed, and they acted wisely.

There was a dauntless firmness in each baron's look, in his manly carriage and unwavering step, as one by one he traversed the space between him and the throne, seeming to proclaim that in himself he held indeed a host. To adhere to the usual custom of paying homage to the suzerain bareheaded, barefooted, and unarmed, the embroidered slipper had been adopted by all instead of the iron boot; and as he knelt before the throne, the Earl of Lennox, for, first in rank, he first approached his sovereign, unbuckling his trusty sword, laid it, together with his dagger, at Robert's feet, and placing his clasped hands between those of the king, repeated, in a deep sonorous voice, the solemn vow—to live and die with him against all manner of men. Athol, Fraser, Seaton, Douglas, Hay, gladly and willingly followed his example; and it was curious to mark the character of each man, proclaimed in his mien and hurried step.[Pg 59]

The calm, controlled, and somewhat thoughtful manner of those grown wise in war, their bold spirits feeling to the inmost soul the whole extent of the risk they run, scarcely daring to anticipate the freedom of their country, the emancipation of their king from the heavy yoke that threatened him, and yet so firm in the oath they pledged, that had destruction yawned before them ere they reached the throne, they would have dared it rather than turned back—and then again those hot and eager youths, feeling, knowing but the excitement of the hour, believing but as they hoped, seeing but a king, a free and independent king, bounding from their seats to the monarch's feet, regardless of the solemn ceremonial in which they took a part, desirous only, in the words of their oath, to live and die for him—caused a brighter flush to mantle on King Robert's cheek, and his eyes to shine with new and radiant light. None knew better than himself the perils that encircled him, yet there was a momentary glow of exultation in his heart as he looked on the noble warriors, the faithful friends around him, and felt that they, even they, representatives of the oldest, the noblest houses in Scotland—men famed not alone for their gallant bearing in war, but their fidelity and wisdom, and unstained honor and virtue in peace—even they acknowledged him their king, and vowed him that allegiance which was never known to fail.

Alan of Buchan was the last of that small yet noble train who approached his sovereign. There was a hot flush of impetuous feeling on the boy's cheek, an indignant tear trembled in his dark flashing eye, and his voice, sweet, thrilling as it was, quivered with the vain effort to restrain his emotion.

"Sovereign of Scotland," he exclaimed, "descendant of that glorious line of kings to whom my ancestors have until this dark day vowed homage and allegiance; sovereign of all good and faithful men, on whose inmost souls the name of Scotland is so indelibly writ, that even in death it may there be found, refuse not thou my homage. I have but my sword, not e'en a name of which to boast, yet hear me swear," he raised his clasped hands towards heaven, "swear that for thee, for my country, for thee alone, will I draw it, alone shall my life be spent, my blood be shed. Reject me not because my name is Comyn, because I alone am here of that once loyal house. Oh! condemn me not; reject not untried a loyal heart and trusty sword."[Pg 60]

"Reject thee," said King Robert, laying his hand kindly on the boy's shoulder; "reject thee, young soldier," he said, cheeringly: "in Alan of Buchan we see but the noble son of our right noble countrywoman, the Lady Isabella; we see in him but a worthy descendant of Macduff, the noble scion, though but by the mother's side, of the loyal house of Fife. Young as thou art, we ask of thee but the heart and sword which thou hast so earnestly proffered, nor can we, son of Isabella of Fife, doubt their honesty and truth; thou shalt earn a loyal name for thyself, and till then, as the brother in arms, the chosen friend of Nigel Bruce, all shall respect and trust thee. We confer knighthood on twenty of our youthful warriors seven days hence; prepare thyself to receive it with our brother: enough for us to know thou hast learned the art of chivalry at thy mother's hand."

Dazzled, bewildered by the benign manner, and yet more gracious words of his sovereign, the young heir of Buchan remained kneeling for a brief space, as if rooted to the ground, but the deep earnest voice of his mother, the kind greeting of Nigel Bruce, as he grasped his arm, and hailed him companion in arms, roused him at once, and he sprung to his feet; the despondency, shame, doubt, anxiety which like lead had weighed down his heart before, dissolved before the glad, buoyant spirit, the bright, free, glorious hopes, and dreams, and visions which are known to youth alone.

Stentorian and simultaneous was the eager shout that hailed the appearance of the newly-anointed king, as he paused a moment on the great stone staircase, leading from the principal doors of the abbey to the abbey yard. For miles round, particularly from those counties which were but thinly garrisoned by the English, the loyal Scots had poured at the first rumor of the Bruce's rising, and now a rejoicing multitude welcomed him with one voice, the execrations against their foes forgotten in this outpouring of the heart towards their native prince.

Inspired by this heartfelt greeting, the king advanced a few paces on the stone terrace, and raised his right hand, as if about to speak; on the instant every shout was hushed, and silence fell upon that eager multitude, as deep and voiceless as if some mighty magic chained them spell-bound where they stood, their very breathing hushed, fearful to lose one word.

Many an aged eye grew dim with tears, as it rested on the[Pg 61] fair and graceful form, the beautifully expressive face of him, who, with eloquent fervor, referred to the ancient glory of their country; tears of joy, for they felt they looked upon the good genius of their land, that she was raised from her dejected stupor, to sleep a slave no more; and the middle-aged and the young, with deafening shouts and eager gestures, swore to give him the crown, the kingdom he demanded, free, unshackled as his ancestors had borne them, or die around him to a man; and blessings and prayers in woman's gentler voice mingled with the swelling cry, and little children caught the Bruce's name and bade "God bless him," and others, equally impetuous shouted "Bruce and freedom!"

"Love, obey, follow me, for Scotland's sake; noble or gentle, let all private feud be forgotten in this one great struggle for liberty or death. Thus," he concluded, "united and faithful, the name of Wallace on each lip, the weal of Scotland in each heart, her mountains our shield, her freedom our sword, shall we, can we fail? No! no! Scotland shall be free, or her green sod and mountain flowers shall bloom upon our graves. I have no crown save that which Scotland gives, no kingdom save what your swords shall conquer, and your hearts bestow; with you I live and die."

In the midst of the shouts and unrestrained clamor succeeding this eloquent address, the fiery chargers of the king and his attendant barons and esquires were led to the foot of the staircase. And a fair and noble sight was the royal cortège as slowly it passed through the old town, with banners flying, lances gleaming, and the rich swell of triumphant music echoing on the air. Nobles and dames mingled indiscriminately together. Beautiful palfreys or well-trained glossy mules, richly caparisoned, gracefully guided by the dames and maidens, bore their part well amid the more fiery chargers of their companions. The queen rode at King Robert's left hand, the primate of Scotland at his right, Lennox, Seaton, and Hay thronged around the Countess of Buchan, eager to pay her that courteous homage which she now no longer refused, and willingly joined in their animated converse. The Lady Mary Campbell and her sister Lady Seaton found an equally gallant and willing escort, as did the other noble dames; but none ventured to dispute the possession of the maiden of Buchan with the gallant Nigel, who, riding close at her bridle rein, ever and anon whispered[Pg 62] some magic words that called a blush to her cheek and a smile on her lip, their attention called off now and then by some wild jest or courteous word from the young Lord Douglas, whose post seemed in every part of the royal train; now galloping to the front, to caracole by the side of the queen, to accustom her, he said, to the sight of good horsemanship, then lingering beside the Countess of Buchan, to give some unexpected rejoinder to the graver maxims of Lennox. The Princess Margory, her cousins, the Lady Isoline Campbell and Alice and Christina Seaton, escorted by Alan of Buchan, Walter Fitz-Alan, Alexander Fraser, and many other young esquires, rejoicing in the task assigned them.

It was a gay and gorgeous sight, and beautiful the ringing laugh and silvery voice of youth. No dream of desponding dread shadowed their hearts, though danger and suffering, and defeat and death, were darkly gathering round them. Who, as he treads the elastic earth, fresh with the breeze of day, as he gazes on the cloudless blue of the circling sky, or the dazzling rays of the morning sun, as the hum of happy life is round him—who is there thinks of the silence, and darkness, and tempest that come in a few brief hours, on the shadowy pinions of night?