Joanna Baillie Poems >>
Mac Duff's Cross


NAY , smile not, lady, when I speak of witchcraft,
And say that still there lurks amongst our glens
Some touch of strange enchantment.—Mark that fragment,
I mean that rough-hewn block of massive stone,
Placed on the summit of this mountain pass,
Commanding prospect wide o'er field and fell,
And peopled village, and extended moorland,
And the wide ocean and majestic Tay,
And the far distant Grampians.—Do not deem it
A loosened portion of the neighbouring rock,
Detach'd by storm and thunder,—'twas the pedestal
On which, in ancient times, a cross was rear'd,
Carv'd o'er with words which foil'd philologists;
And the events it did commemorate
Were dark, remote, and undistinguishable,
As were the mystic characters it bore.
But, mark,—a wizard by a southern stream,
Tuned but his magic harp to this wild theme,
And, lo! the scene is hallow'd.—None shall pass,
Now or in after days, beside that stone,
But he shall have strange visions;—thoughts and words,
That shake, or rouse, or thrill the human heart,
Shall rush upon his memory when he hears
The spirit-stirring name of this rude symbol,—
Oblivious ages, at that simple spell,
Shall render back their terrors with their woes,
Alas! and with their crimes,—and the proud phantoms
Shall move with step familiar to his eye,
And accents which, once heard, the ear forgets not,
Though ne'er again to list them.—Siddons, thine,
Thou matchless Siddons! thrills upon our ear;
And on our eye thy lofty brother's form
Rises as Scotland's monarch.—But, to thee,
Joanna, why to thee speak of such visions?
Thine own wild wand can raise them.—
  Yet since thou wilt an idle tale of mine,
Take one which scarcely is of worth enough
To give or to withhold.—But time creeps on,
Fancy grows colder as the silvery hair
Tells the advancing winter of our life.
But if it be of worth enough to please,
That worth it owes to her who set the task,
If otherwise, the fault rest with the author.

  SCENE.—The summit of a Rocky Pass, about two miles from the ancient Abbey of Lindores in Fife. In the centre is Mac Duff's Cross, an antique Monument; and at a small distance, on one side, a Chapel, with a lamp burning.
  Enter NINIAN and WALDHAVES, Monks of Lindores. —NINIAN crosses himself, and seems to recite his devotions. —WALDHAVES stands gazing on the prospect, as if in deep contemplation.
HERE stands the cross, good brother, consecrated
By the bold thane unto his patron saint
Magridius, once a brother of our house.
Canst thou not spare an ave or a creed?
Or hath the steep ascent exhausted you?
You trode it stoutly, though 'twas rough and toilsome.—
I have trode a rougher—
On the highland hills,
Scarcely within our sea-girt province here,
Unless upon the Lomonds or Bennarty.
  I spoke not of the literal path, good father,
But of the road of life which I had travell'd,
Ere I assumed this habit;—it was bounded,
Hedged in, and limited by earthly prospects,
As ours beneath was closed by dell and thicket.
Here we see wide and far, and the broad sky,
With wide horizon, opens full around,
While earthly objects dwindle.—Brother Ninian,
Fain would I hope that mental elevation
Could raise me equally o'er worldly thoughts,
And place me by so much the nearer heaven.—
  'Tis good morality.—But yet forget not,
That though we look on heaven from this high eminence,
Yet doth the Prince of all the airy space,
Arch foe of man, possess the realms between.
  Most true, good brother; and men may be farther
From the fair haven they aim at, even because
They deem themselves secure on't.
  NINIAN (after a pause ).
You do gaze,
Strangers are wont to do so—on the prospect.
Yon is the Tay rolled down from highland hills,
That rests his waves after so rude a race
In the fair plains of Gowrie—westward yonder,
Proud Stirling rises—yonder to the east,
Dundee, the gift of God, and fair Montrose,
And still more northward lie the hills—
Of Edzell.
How know you the towers of Edzell?
I've heard of them.
Then have you heard a tale,
Which, when he tells, the peasant shakes his head,
And shuns the mouldering and deserted walls.
Why, and by whom deserted?
Long the tale—
Enough to say, that the last lord of Edzell,
Bold Reynold Lindesay, had a wife, and found—
  Enough is said, indeed—for a weak woman;
Aye, and a tempting fiend, lost paradise,
When man was innocent.
  They fell at strife,
Men say, on slight occasion that fierce Lindesay
Did bend his sword against De Berkeley's breast,
And that the lady threw herself between:
That then De Berkeley dealt the Baron's death-wound.
Enough, that from that time De Berkeley bore
A spear in foreign wars;—and, it is said,
He hath returned of late; and therefore, brother,
The prior hath ordain'd our vigil here,
To watch the privilege of the sanctuary,
And, rights of Clan Mac Duff.—
What rights are these?
  Most true! You are but newly come from Rome,
And do not know our ancient usages.
Know then, when fell Mac Beth beneath the arm
Of the predestined knight, unborn of woman,
A triple boon he ask'd, and thrice did Malcolm,
Stooping the sceptre, which the thane restored,
Assent to his request. And hence the rule,
That first when Scotland's king assumes the crown,
Mac Duff's descendant rings his brow with it:
And hence, when Scotland's king calls forth his host,
Mac Duff's descendant leads the van in battle;
And last, in guerdon of the crown restored,
Red with the blood of the usurping tyrant,
The right was granted in succeeding time,
That, if a kinsman of the thane of Fife
Commit a slaughter on a sudden impulse,
And fly for refuge to this Cross Mac Duff;
He for his sake shall find it sanctuary;
For here must the avenger's step be staid,
And here the panting homicide find safety.
  And here a brother of your order watches,
To see the custom of the place observed?—
  Even so;—such is our convent's holy right,
Since Saint Magridius, blessed be his memory!
Did by a vision warn the abbot Eadmer,—
And chief we watch, when there is bickering
Among the neighbouring nobles, as most likely
From this return of Berkeley from abroad,
Having the Lindesay's blood upon his hand.—
  The Lindesay then was loved among his friends?
  Honour'd and fear'd he was—but little loved:
For even his bounty bore a show of sternness,
And when his passions waked, he was a Sathan,
For wrath and injury.
  How now, sir Priest—forgive me—I was dreaming
Of an old baron, who did bear about him
Some touch of your lord Louis.
  Lindesay's name, my brother,
Indeed was Louis; and methinks beside
That, as you spoke even now, he would have spoken.
I brought him a petition from our convent:
He granted straight, but in such tone and manner,
By my good saint! I thought myself scarce safe
Till Tay roll'd broad between us. I must now
Unto the chapel—meanwhile the vigil's thine;
And, at thy word, the hurrying fugitive,
Should such arrive, must here find sanctuary;
And, at thy word, the fury-paced avenger
Must stop his bloody course—e'en as swoln Jordan
Controll'd his waves, soon as they touch'd the feet
Of those who bore the ark.
Is this my charge?
  Even so;—and I am near, should chance require me.
At midnight I relieve you on your watch,
When we may taste together some refreshment.
I have cared for 't, and for a flask of wine,
There is no sin, so that we drink it not
Until the midnight hour, when lauds have toll'd.
Farewell awhile, and store of peace be with you.
  [Exit towards the Chapel.
  It is not with me, and alas! alas!
I know not where to seek it. This monk's mind
Is with his cloister mark'd, nor lacks more room.
Its petty duties, formal ritual,
Its humble pleasures, and its paltry troubles,
Fill up his round of life. Even as some reptiles,
They say, are moulded to the very shape,
And all the angles of the rocky crevice,
In which they live and die. But for myself,
Hunted by passion to the narrow cell,
Couching my tired limbs in its recesses,
So ill-adapted am I to its limits,
That every attitude is agony.
How now! what brings him back?
  Re-enter NINIAN.
  Look to your watch, my brother;—horsemen come:
I heard the tread when kneeling in the chapel.
  My thoughts have rapt me more than thy devotions.
Else had I heard the tread of rushing horses
Farther than thou could'st hear the sacring bell;
But now in truth they come:—flight and pursuit
Are sights I've been long strange to.—
  See how they strain adown the opposing hill;
Yon grey steed bounding on the headlong path
As on the level meadow; and the black,
Urged by the rider with his naked sword,
Stoops on his prey, as I have seen the falcon
Dashing upon the heron.—Thou dost frown
And clench thy hand, as if it grasp'd a weapon.
  'Tis but for shame to see one man fly thus
While only one pursues him.—Coward, turn!—
Turn thee, I say! thou art as stout as he,
And well may'st match thy single sword with his.
Shame, that a man should rein a steed like thee,
Yet fear to turn his front against a foe:—
I am ashamed to look on them.
  Yet look again,—they quit their horses now,
Unfit for the rough path:—the fugitive
Keeps the advantage still.
  I'll not believe that ever the bold thane
Rear'd up his cross to be a sanctuary
To the base coward, who shunn'd an equal combat.—
How's this?—that look—that mien—my eyes grow dizzy.—
  He comes:—thou art a novice on this watch:—
Brother, I'll take the word and speak to him.
Let down thy cowl;—know that we spiritual champions
Have honor to maintain, and must not seem
To quail before the laity.
  [WALDHAVES lets down his cowl, and steps back.
Who art thou, stranger? speak thy name and purpose.
  I claim the privilege of Clan Mac Duff.
My name is Maurice Berkeley, and my lineage
Allies me nearly with the thane of Fife.
Give us to know the cause of sanctuary?
Let him shew it,
Against whose violence I claim the privilege.
  Enter LINDESAY with his Sword drawn; he rushes at
BERKELEY; NINIAN interposes.
  Peace in the name of Saint Magridius!
Peace in our prior's name, and in the name
Of that dear symbol which did purchase peace
And good-will towards man! I do command thee
To sheathe thy sword and stir no contest here.
  One charm I'll try first,
To lure this craven from the enchanted circle
Which he hath harbour'd in.—Hear you, De Berkeley,
This is my brother's sword,—the hand it arms
Is weapon'd to avenge a brother's death:—
If thou had heart to step a furlong off
And change three blows,—and for so short a space
As these good men may say an avemary,
So, heaven be good to me! I would forgive thee
Thy deed and all its consequences.
  Were not my right hand fetter'd by the thought
That slaying thee were but a double guilt
In which to steep my soul, no bridegroom ever
Stepp'd forth to trip a measure with his bride
More joyfully than I, young man, would wait
Upon your challenge.
  He quails and shuns to look upon my weapon,
Yet boasts himself a Berkeley.
  Lindesay; and if there were no deeper cause
For shunning thee than terror of thy weapon,
That rock-hewn cross as soon should start and stir,
Because a hunter-boy blew horn beneath it,
As I for brag of thine.
  I charge you both, and in the name of heaven,
Breathe no defiance on this sacred spot,
Where christian men must bear them peacefully,
On pain of the church-thunders.—Calmly tell
Your cause of difference;—and lord Lindesay then
Be first to speak them.
  Ask the blue welkin—ask the silver Tay,
The northern Grampians—all know my wrongs;
But ask not me to tell them while a villain,
Who wrought them, stands and listens with a smile.—
  It is said——
Since you refer us thus to general fame,
That Berkeley slew thy brother, the lord Louis,
In his own halls at Edzell—
  Aye, in his halls—
In his own halls, good father, that's the word
In his own halls he slew him, while the wine
Pass'd on the board between!—The gallant thane,
Who wreaked Mac Beth's inhospitable murder,
Built not his cross to sanction deeds like these.
  Thou say'st I came a guest;—I came a victim—
A destined victim, train'd on to the doom
His frantic jealousy prepar'd for me:
He fix'd a quarrel on me, and we fought.
Can I forget the form that came between us,
And perish'd by his sword?—'Twas then I fought
For vengeance—until then I guarded life,
But then I sought to take it, and prevail'd.
  Wretch! thou didst dishonor,
And then didst slay him.
  There is a busy fiend tugs at my heart,
But I will struggle with it.—Youthful knight,
My heart is sick of war, my hand of slaughter;
I come not to my lordships or my land,
But seek just so much earth in some cold cloister
As I may kneel on living, and when dead
Which may suffice to cover me.—
Forgive me that I caus'd your brother's death;
And I forgive thee the injurious terms
With which thou taxest me.——
  Take worse and blacker;—murderer—adulterer—
Art thou not moved yet?—
Do not press me further;
The hunted stag, even when he seeks the thicket,
If forc'd to stand at bay, grow dangerous!—
Most true, thy brother perish'd by my hand,
And if you term it murther, I will bear it.
Thus far my patience can—but if thou brand
The purity of yonder martyr'd saint,
Whom thus my sword but poorly did avenge,
With one injurious word, come to the valley,
And I will show thee how it shall be answer'd.—
  This heat, lord Berkeley, doth but ill accord
With thy late pious patience.—
  Father, forgive, and let me stand excused
To Heaven and thee, if patience brooks no more.—
I loved this lady fondly—truly loved;
Loved her, and was beloved, ere yet her father
Conferr'd her on another.—While she lived,
Each thought of her was to my soul as hallowed
As those I send to Heaven; and on her grave,
Her bloody, early grave, while this poor hand
Can hold a sword, shall no one cast a scorn.—
  Follow me:—I am glad there is one spur
Can rouze thy sluggard metal.—
  Make then obeisance to the blessed cross,
For it shall be on earth thy last devotion.—
  (They are going off .)
  WALDHAVES. (Rushing forward. )
  Madman, stand—
Stay but one second,—answer but one question.
There, Maurice Berkeley, can'st thou look upon
That blessed sign, and swear thou'st spoken truth?—
  I swear by Heaven,
And by the memory of that murder'd innocent,
Each seeming charge against her was as false
As Ermengarde was spotless.—Hear, each saint!
Hear me, thou holy rood!—hear me from Heaven,
Thou martyr'd excellence!—Hear me from penal fire,
(For sure not yet thy guilt is expiated?)
Stern ghost of her destroyer!——
  WALDHAVES. (Throws back his cowl. )
  He hears! he hears!—thy spell hath rais'd the dead.
  My brother!—and alive!—
  Alive, but yet, my Richard, dead to thee.—
No tie of kindred binds me to the world:
All were renounc'd, when with reviving life
Came the desire to seek the sacred cloister.—
Alas, in vain! for to that last retreat,
Like to a pack of blood-hounds in full chace,
My passions and my wrongs have followed me,
Wrath and remorse—and to fill up the cry,
Thou hast brought vengeance hither.—
I but sought
To do the act and duty of a brother
  I ceased to be so when I left the world.—
But if he can forgive, as I forgive,
God sends me here a brother in mine enemy,
To pray for me, and with me.—If thou can'st,
De Berkeley, give thy hand.—
  BERKELEY. (Gives his hand. )
It is the will
Of Heaven made manifest, in thy preservation,
To save from further bloodshed; for, De Berkeley,
The votary, Maurice, lays the title down.—
Go to his halls, lord Richard, where a maiden,
Kin to his blood, and daughter in affection,
Heirs his broad lands.—If thou can'st love her, Lindesay,
Woo her and be a speeder.