Old Robert of Albany had been King Stork, his son Murdoch was King Log; and the misery was infinitely increased by the violence and lawlessness of Murdoch’s sons. King Robert II. had left Scotland the fearful legacy of, as Froissart says, ‘eleven sons who loved arms.’ Of these, Robert III. was the eldest, the Duke of Albany the second. These were both dead, and were represented, the one by the captive young King James, the other by the Regent, Duke Murdoch of Albany, and his brother John, Earl of Buchan, now about to head a Scottish force, among whom Patrick Drummond intended to sail, to assist the French.
Others of the eleven, Earls of Athol, Menteith, &c., survived; but the youngest of the brotherhood, by name Malcolm, who had married the heiress of Glenuskie, had been killed at Homildon Hill, when he had solemnly charged his Stewart nephews and brothers to leave his two orphan children to the sole charge of their mother’s cousin, Sir David Drummond, a good old man, who had been the best supporter and confidant of poor Robert III. in his unhappy reign, and in embassies to France had lost much of the rugged barbarism to which Scotland had retrograded during the wars with England.
It was a lonely tract of road, marked only by the bare space trodden by feet of man and horse, and yet, in truth, the highway between Berwick and Edinburgh, which descended from a heathery moorland into a somewhat spacious valley, with copsewood clothing one side, in the midst of which rose a high mound or knoll, probably once the site of a camp, for it still bore lines of circumvallation, although it was entirely deserted, except by the wandering shepherds of the neighbourhood, or occasionally by outlaws, who found an admirable ambush in the rear.
The spring had hung the hazels with tassels, bedecked the willows with golden downy tufts, and opened the primroses and celandines beneath them, when the solitary dale was disturbed by the hasty clatter of horses’ feet, and hard, heavy breathing as of those who had galloped headlong beyond their strength. Here, however, the foremost of the party, an old esquire, who grasped the bridle-rein of youth by his side, drew up his own horse, and that which he was dragging on with him, saying—
’We may breathe here a moment; there is shelter in the wood. And you, Rab, get ye up to the top of Jill’s Knowe, and keep a good look-out.’
‘Let me go back, you false villain!’ sobbed the boy, with the first use of his recovered breath.
‘Do not be so daft, Lord Malcolm,’ replied the Squire, retaining his hold on the boy’s bridle; ’what, rin your head into the wolf’s mouth again, when we’ve barely brought you off haill and sain?’
‘Haill and sain? Dastard and forlorn,’ cried Malcolm, with passionate weeping. ’I—I to flee and leave my sister—my uncle! Oh, where are they? Halbert, let me go; I’ll never pardon thee.’