The door was thrown open, the request granted, with the same hospitality as had been extended to the minstrel and the page. On the instant there was a confused sound of warriors dismounting, of horses eager for stabling and forage; and one tall and stately figure, clad from head to foot in mail, entered the house, and removing his helmet, addressed some words of courteous greeting and acknowledgment to its inmates. A loud exclamation burst from the minstrel’s lips; but Agnes uttered no sound, she made one bound forward, and dropped senseless at the warrior’s feet.
It was on a cool evening, near the end of September, 1311, that a troop, consisting of about thirty horse, and as many on foot, were leisurely traversing the mountain passes between the counties of Dumfries and Lanark. Their arms were well burnished; their buff coats and half-armor in good trim; their banner waved proudly from its staff, as bright and gay as if it had not even neared a scene of strife; and there was an air of hilarity and gallantry about them that argued well for success, if about to commence an expedition, or if returning, told with equal emphasis they had been successful. That the latter was the case was speedily evident, from the gay converse passing between them; their allusions to some late gallant achievement of their patriot sovereign; their joyous comparisons between good King Robert and his weak opponent, Edward II. of England, marvelling how so wavering and indolent a son could have sprung from so brave and determined a sire; for, Scotsmen as they were, they were now FREE, and could thus afford to allow the “hammer” of their country some knightly qualities, despite the stern and cruel tyranny which to them had ever marked his conduct. They spoke in laughing scorn of the second Edward’s efforts to lay his father’s yoke anew upon their necks; they said a just heaven had interfered and urged him to waste the decisive moment of action in indolence and folly, in the flatteries of his favorite, to the utter exclusion of those wiser lords, whose counsels, if followed on the instant, might have shaken even the wise and patriot Bruce. Yet they were so devoted to their sovereign, they idolized him alike as a warrior and a man too deeply, to allow that to the weak and vacillating conduct of Edward they owed the preservation of their country. It was easy to perceive by the springy step, the flashing eye, the ringing, tone with which that magic name, the Bruce, was spoken, how deeply it was written on the heart; the joy it was to recall his deeds, and feel it was through him that they were free! Their converse easily betrayed them to be one of those well-ordered though straggling parties into which King Robert’s invading armies generally dispersed at his command, when returning to their own fastnesses, after a successful expedition to the English border.