Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > In Freedom's Cause > Chapter XIX The Convent of St. Kenneth
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
Chapter XIX The Convent of St. Kenneth
 Bruce, as the result of his successes, was now able to leave his fastnesses and establish himself in the districts of Carrick, Kyle, and Cunningham. Pembroke had established himself at Bothwell Castle, and sent a challenge to Bruce to meet him with his force at Loudon Hill. Although his previous experience of such challenges was unfortunate, Bruce accepted the offer. He had learned much since the battle of Methven, and was not likely again to be caught asleep; on the 9th of May he assembled his forces at Loudon Hill.  
It was but a small following. Douglas had brought 100 men from Douglasdale, and Archie Forbes had as many under his banner. Bruce's own vassals had gathered 200 strong, and as many more of the country people had joined; but in all, the Scotch force did not exceed 600 men, almost entirely on foot and armed with spears. Bruce at once reconnoitred the ground to discover a spot where his little force might best withstand the shock of Pembroke's chivalry. He found that at one place near the hill the road crossed a level meadow with deep morasses on either side. He strengthened the position with trenches, and calmly awaited the approach of his enemy. Upon the following day Pembroke's army was seen approaching, numbering 3000 knights and mounted men-at-arms, all in complete armour. They were formed in two divisions. The battle was almost a repetition of that which had been fought by Wallace near the same spot. The English chivalry levelled their spears and charged with proud confidence of their ability to sweep away the rabble of spearmen in front of them. Their flanks became entangled in the morasses; their centre tried in vain to break through the hedge of Scottish spears, and when they were in confusion, the king, his brother Edward, Douglas, Archie Forbes, and some twenty other mounted men dashed through a gap in the spearmen and fell upon them. The second division, seeing the first broken and in confusion, turned and took to flight at once, and Pembroke and his attendants rode, without drawing rein, to Bothwell Castle.
A few days later Bruce encountered and defeated Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Gloucester, and compelled him to shut himself up in the Castle of Ayr.
Archie Forbes was not present at the second battle, for upon the morning after the fight at Loudon Hill he was aroused by his servant entering his tent.
"A messenger has just brought this," he said, handing him a small packet. "He bids me tell you that the sender is a prisoner in the convent of St. Kenneth, on Loch Leven, and prays your aid."
Archie opened the packet and found within it the ring he had given to Marjory at Dunstaffnage. Without a moment's delay he hurried to the king and begged permission to leave him for a short time on urgent business, taking with him twenty of his retainers.
"What is your urgent business, Sir Archie?" the king asked. "A lady is in the case, I warrant me. Whenever a young knight has urgent business, be sure that a lady is in question. Now mind, Sir Archie, I have, as I have told you, set my heart upon marrying you to Mistress Mary Kerr, and so at once putting an end to a long feud and doubling your possessions. Her retainers fought well yesterday, and the least I can do to reward so splendid a damsel is to bestow upon her the hand of my bravest knight."
"I fear, sire," Archie said laughing, "that she must be content with another. There are plenty who will deem themselves well paid for their services in your cause by the gift of the hand of so rich an heiress. But I must fain be excused; for as I told you, sire, when we were together in Rathlin Island, my heart was otherwise bestowed."
"What! to the niece of that malignant enemy of mine, Alexander of Lorne?" the king said laughing. "Her friends would rather see you on the gibbet than at the altar."
"I care nought for her friends," Archie said, "if I can get herself. My own lands are wide enough, and I need no dowry with my wife."
"I see you are hopeless," the king replied. "Well, go, Archie; but whatever be your errand, beware of the Lornes. Remember I have scarce begun to win Scotland yet, and cannot spare you."
A quarter of an hour later Archie, with twenty picked men, took his way northward. Avoiding all towns and frequented roads, Archie marched rapidly north to the point of Renfrew and crossed the Firth of Clyde by boat; then he kept north round the head of Loch Fyne, and avoiding Dalmally skirted the head of Loch Etive and the slopes of Ben Nevis, and so came down on Loch Leven.
The convent stood at the extremity of a promontory jutting into the lake. The neck was very narrow, and across it were strong walls, with a gate and flanking towers. Between this wall and the convent was the garden where the inmates walked and enjoyed the air free from the sight of men, save, indeed, of fishers who might be passing in their boats.
Outside the wall, on the shore of the lake, stood a large village; and here a strong body of the retainers of the convent were always on guard, for at St. Kenneth were many of the daughters of Scotch nobles, sent there either to be out of the way during the troubles or to be educated by the nuns. Although the terrors of sacrilege and the ban of the church might well deter any from laying hands upon the convent, yet even in those days of superstition some were found so fierce and irreverent as to dare even the anger of the church to carry out their wishes; and the possession of some of these heiresses might well enable them to make good terms for themselves both with the church and the relations of their captives. Therefore a number of the retainers were always under arms, a guard was placed on the gate, and lookouts on the flanking towers—their duty being not only to watch the land side, but to shout orders to keep at a distance to any fisherman who might approach too closely to the promontory.
Archie left his party in the forest under the command of William Orr. He dressed himself as a mountaineer, and, accompanied by Cluny Campbell, and carrying a buck which they had shot in the forest, went boldly down into the village. He soon got into conversation with an old fisherman, and offered to exchange the deer for dried fish. The bargain was quickly struck, and then Archie said:
"I have never been out on the lake, and would fain have a view of the convent from the water. Will you take me and my brother out for a row?"
The fisherman, who had made a good bargain, at once assented, and rowed Archie and Cluny far out into the lake.
As they passed along at some distance Archie saw that the shore was in several places smooth and shelving, and that there would be no difficulty in effecting a landing. He saw also that there were many clumps of trees and shrubs in the garden.
"And do the nuns and the ladies at the convent often walk there?" he asked the fisherman.
"Oh yes," he answered; "of an evening as I come back from fishing I can see numbers of them walking there. When the vesper bell rings they all go in. That is the chapel adjoining the convent on this side."
"It is a strong building," Archie said as when past the end of the promontory they obtained a full view of it. "It is more like a castle than a convent."
"It had need be strong," the old man said; "for some of the richest heiresses in Scotland are shut up there. On the land side I believe there are no windows on the lower storey, and the door is said to be of solid iron. The windows on that side are all strongly barred; and he would have hard work, indeed, who wanted by force or stratagem to steal one of the pretty birds out of that cage."
Archie had no idea of using force; and although he had been to some extent concerned in the breach of sanctuary at Dumfries, he would have shrunk from the idea of violating the sanctuary of St. Kenneth. But to his mind there was no breach whatever of that sanctuary in aiding one kept there against her will to make her escape. Having ascertained all that he wished to know, he bade the boatman return to shore.
"Keep a lookout for me," he said, "for I may return in a few days with another buck, and may bring a comrade or two with me who would like an afternoon's fishing on the lake. I suppose you could lend me your boat and nets?"
"Assuredly," the fisherman replied. "You will not mind taking into consideration the hire of the boat in agreeing for the weight of fish to be given for the stag?"
Archie nodded, secretly amused at the old man's covetousness, for he knew that the weight of fish he had given him for the stag which he had brought down was not one fourth the value of the meat.
He then returned with Cluny to the band. Some time before daybreak he came down to the place again, and, entering the water quietly, at a distance from the promontory, swam noiselessly out, and landed at the garden, and there concealed himself in a clump of bushes. Daylight came. An hour later some of the nuns of the second order, who belonged to poor families and acted as servants in the convent, came out into the garden, and busied themselves with the cultivation of the flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Not till the afternoon did any of the other inmates appear; but at about four o'clock the great door of the convent opened, and a number of women and girls streamed out. The former were all in nuns' attire, as were a few of the latter, but their garb was somewhat different from that of the elder sisters; these were the novices. The greater number, however, of the girls were dressed in ordinary attire, and were the pupils of the convent. While the nuns walked quietly up and down or sat on benches and read, the pupils scattered in groups laughing and talking merrily together. Among these Archie looked eagerly for Marjory. He felt sure that her imprisonment could be detention only, and not rigorous seclusion. Presently he espied her. She was walking with two of the nuns and three or four of the elder residents at the convent, for many of these were past the age of pupildom; and were there simply as a safe place of refuge during troublous times. The conversation appeared to be an animated one. It was not for some time that the group passed within hearing of Archie's place of concealment. Then Archie heard the voice of one of the nuns raised in anger:
"It is monstrous what you say, and it is presumptuous and wicked for a young girl of eighteen to form opinions for herself. What should we come to if every young woman were to venture to think and judge for herself? Discord and disorder would be wrought in every family. All your relations and friends are opposed to this sacrilegious murderer, Robert Bruce. The ............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved