That early beam, so fair and sheen,
Was twinkling through the hazel screen
When, rousing at its glimmer red,
The warriors left their lowly bed,
Looked out upon the dappled sky,
Muttered their soldier matins try,
And then awaked their fire, to steal,
As short and rude, their soldier meal.
That o’er, the Gael around him threw
His graceful plaid of varied hue,
And, true to promise, led the way,
By thicket green and mountain gray.
A wildering path!—they winded now
Along the precipice’s brow,
Commanding the rich scenes beneath,
The windings of the Forth and Teith,
And all the vales between that lie.
Till Stirling’s turrets melt in sky;
Then, sunk in copse, their farthest glance
Gained not the length of horseman’s lance.
’Twas oft so steep, the foot was as fain
Assistance from the hand to gain;
So tangled oft that, bursting through,
Each hawthorn shed her showers of dew,—
That diamond dew, so pure and clear,
It rivals all but Beauty’s tear!
At length they came where, stern and steep,
The hill sinks down upon the deep.
Here Vennachar in silver flows,
There, ridge on ridge, Benledi rose;
Ever the hollow path twined on,
Beneath steep hank and threatening stone;
A hundred men might hold the post
With hardihood against a host.
The rugged mountain’s scanty cloak
Was dwarfish shrubs of birch and oak
With shingles bare, and cliffs between
And patches bright of bracken green,
And heather black, that waved so high,
It held the copse in rivalry.
But where the lake slept deep and still
Dank osiers fringed the swamp and hill;
And oft both path and hill were torn
Where wintry torrent down had borne
And heaped upon the cumbered land
Its wreck of gravel, rocks, and sand.
So toilsome was the road to trace
The guide, abating of his pace,
Led slowly through the pass’s jaws
And asked Fitz-James by what strange cause
He sought these wilds, traversed by few
Without a pass from Roderick Dhu.
’Brave Gael, my pass, in danger tried
Hangs in my belt and by my side
Yet, sooth to tell,’ the Saxon said,
’I dreamt not now to claim its aid.
When here, but three days since,
I came Bewildered in pursuit of game,
All seemed as peaceful and as still
As the mist slumbering on yon hill;
Thy dangerous Chief was then afar,
Nor soon expected back from war.
Thus said, at least, my mountain-guide,
Though deep perchance the villain lied.’
‘Yet why a second venture try?’
’A warrior thou, and ask me why!—
Moves our free course by such fixed cause
As gives the poor mechanic laws?
Enough, I sought to drive away
The lazy hours of peaceful day;
Slight cause will then suffice to guide
A Knight’s free footsteps far and wide,—
A falcon flown, a greyhound strayed,
The merry glance of mountain maid;
Or, if a path be dangerous known,
The danger’s self is lure alone.’