The Murder Of King Kenneth

One fine summer's eve, whilst wand'ring alone,
I came to a sweet bubbling well,
Where sat an old man, in a deep pensive mood,
'Neath the wide spreading trees of a dell.

I softly stept forward, and greeted the sage,
Who gave me a kind look and smile —
" What a nice lonely spot thou hast chosen to rest,
And the long summer eve to beguile. "

" 'Tis a sweet spot, indeed! " he frankly replied,
" And hath beauties that's known but to few;
Of this well and dell, and the hills that's around,
We have many a legend, I trew.

" But pray thee, " he said, " taste the water: thou'lt find,
It is wond'rously pleasing and cool. "
I knelt by the side of the worthy old man,
And drank from the time-honour'd pool.

" But, stay, stay, my friend! " he cried in much haste,
" Of its virtues, I fear, thou can'st tell:
For unless thou believ'st in our great Mother Church
No charm hath this little well. "

" The water's as sweet to my taste, worthy sire,
As tho' I to thy Church did'st belong. "
" Aye! — but never a blessing thou ask'd from Above.
So to God, and our Saint, thou'st done wrong. "

" And what is the name of thy Saint? " I enquired,
" For a stranger I am to this place. "
He cross'd his old breast, and with rev'rence replied,
" P ALLADIUS — whose Soul is in Peace! "

" Oh, tell me, I pray, what Palladius did here,
For he flourish'd in ages bygone; "
In silence again he sought aid from Above,
Then spake in a grave hollow tone —

" Palladius, " he said, " came here from afar —
From the Great Holy City of Rome;
And crush'd on his way the Pelagians' creed,
And near to this well was his home.

" 'Twas here he proclaimed the glad tidings of Life,
And first gave us Bishops, they say;
But after a long and a holy career,
He sank to his cold bed of clay.

" And within yonder chapel, just over our heads,
We are told that his relics do lie;
And that the poor pilgrims with long staves and gowns,
Came here from all airts of the sky;

" There knelt they and worshipp'd for days upon end,
And fared from but barely stored scrips;
Nor had they a measure of wine — but alone
This water to moisten their lips.

" And this crystal stream — thou may'st smile, but it's true —
Was long thought so wondrous pure,
That the deadliest wounds of body or soul,
From its virtues received a cure!

" But the mightiest pilgrim that ever came here,
Was a monarch both famous and wise;
But, alas for his fate! " the sage bent his head,
And tears gather'd fast in his eyes.

" Why griev'st thou, my friend? " I enquir'd from my heart,
" Was the stranger of thy kin or race? "
" Ah, no! but I grieve as all Christians should do,
When Religion cloaks deeds of disgrace,

" When teachers and patterns of Virtue are first
To stain their own creeds by a crime,
They stagger weak minds, and enforce a belief
That Faith's but a creature of Time.

" The beggar that does as he would be done to,
Is a gem for the Crown that's on high;
But those who do not — whether king, peer, or priest —
Have minds that I dare not envy!

" But within yon old chapel, if with me thou'll go,
I'll show thee a trophy most fine. "
He rose slowly up, and with help climb'd the brae,
For his age it was four score and nine.

" I thank thee, " he smilingly said as he leant
'Gainst the trunk of a shadowy tree —
" If thou livest as long in the world as I,
Thou'll be glad of assistance, like me! "

We enter'd the building — a small dingy place,
With an arch in the eastermost end —
" 'Tis there, " he said gravely, " Palladius was laid,
And on him may Our Lady attend!

" But here is the relic, " he softly observ'd,
As he touched a rudely carv'd stone.
" To what, " I enquir'd, " do those horsemen refer,
For they seem as of ages bygone? "

" So truly they do, my young friend, " he said,
" And none their real meaning doth know;
Some say they relate to a treacherous deed
Which threw the whole nation in woe! "

" And what was the nature of that woeful deed?
For in tales of the past I delight. "
" I'll tell it, " he said, " tho' the story be long!
If thou'st got the patience to wait. "

I gladly consented, and thus he began —
" When Kenneth the bold ruled our isle,
When his wars with the Danes were almost forgot,
And the pleasures of peace 'gan to smile.

" 'Twas then that young Malcolm, a good holy prince,
And Kenneth's successor in sway,
Fell dang'rously ill, and suddenly died,
To Scotia's great grief and dismay.

" 'Twas certain he died from a poisonous draught,
But given by whom was unknown,
Till suspicion arose from Kenneth's great zeal
For his son to succeed to the throne.

" And the more to disguise his great sin and shame,
Sly Kenneth assumed meikle grief;
And so craftily played he the wolf and the lamb,
That his falsity gained belief.

" But with all the cunning and skill he possess'd,
Wild visions he could not allay;
And the form of Malcolm, the young and the good,
It met him by night and by day.

" Did he sit on the throne, or mix in the dance,
Or join in the sports of the chase,
The sweet guileless form of Malcolm aye rose
And constantly harrow'd his peace.

" And once as he lay on his tapestried couch,
He was roused by this dire warning call —
" O Kenneth, prepare; for the vengeance of God
On thee and thy kinsmen shall fall!"

" He hastily sprang from his soft downy bed,
And called on the Church for his sake,
To pray for his soul — but good fathers deem'd
That Kenneth some penance should make —

" That to the lov'd relics of saints and of priests,
He humbly and quickly should go;
There kneel and confess, and crave strength to withstand
The power of his deadliest foe.

" In those pious wand'rings King Kenneth came here,
And knelt at Palladius' shrine;
And crav'd him to plead for his pardon and peace,
That he 'mongst the holy might shine.

" But as he repair'd with his suite by yon hill,
Greencairn's proud turrets were seen;
And their high-born Lady perceiving the train,
Came forth with the grace of a queen.

" " O mightiest monarch!" she said, as she knelt,
" Pray honour this dwelling of mine;
I am fain that your Highness and courtiers so loyal
Should partake of a goblet of wine!"

" They enter'd the hall, and quaft'd off the wine —
Such splendour was ne'er before shown —
The walls gleam'd with em'ralds, and under their feet
Choice grasses and rashes were strewn.

" Finella beholding the courtiers' surprise,
As well as the King's wistful gaze,
Said cunningly and sweetly — " My sire, take thy choice
Of aught, from the casket to vase!

" " But here, if your Highness will step to this room,
I'll show thee an object more rare."
The King and Finella pass'd out from the hall,
And enter'd a grand spiral stair;

" And there to the monarch she showed a great tower,
With curtains from roof to the floor,
All finely embroider'd with costlier gems
Than royalty had e'er seen before.

" And there he beheld a Knight made of brass,
Of form both handsome and bold;
One hand held a sword of the richest device —
The other an apple of gold.

" " Where got you this figure, my Lady?" he said,
" For its beauty outvies all I've seen,"
" O take thou the apple, my Sire," she replied,
" A present from me to thy queen!"

" Suspecting no harm, the King seized the prize,
Which he straight from the effigy bore;
But, alas! 'twas the charm to some hidden spring,
For the figure ope'd wide like a door,
And from its false body wild poisoned darts flew,
Which pierced the king to the core!

" So 'mongst those grand trophies he weltered in blood,
And powerless had felt the just sting.
For Finella's own son and kinsmen were slain
By order of this very king!

" Such, then, was the wonderful way she reveng'd
The wounds her proud heart had sustained;
And won for her friend, Constantinus, the throne,
Altho' but a short time he reign'd.

" But some say the King mix'd in a great hunt,
That Finella had thrown in his way;
And two of these horsemen are thought to be those
That murder'd the King on that day.
While the one in the middle, as I have been told,
Is the King in his princely array.

" And that pointed weapon just over those spheres,
Which are joined by a crown, some aver,
Show the sceptre, the crown, and shields that were used
In Scotland when Kenneth rul'd there.

" Tho' all this, no doubt, is mere matter of guess,
'Tis certain, ere letters were known,
Our fathers recorded great deeds in the way
Which we see upon this very stone. "

" But how died Finella? " I ask'd of the sage,
He answer'd — " Real records are lost;
But tradition hath told that she took her own life
In a deep rocky den near the coast —
That she leapt from the cliffs to a wild boiling pool,
Where her body was torn and toss'd!

" And 'tis written, " he added, " that proofs were beheld
Of Heaven's dread vengeance and ire;
That it rained mighty showers, and blew mighty winds,
And the sun and the moon were like fire!

" That Finella's fine castle was razed to the ground,
And left, as is yet to be seen,
A mass of extensive, but unshapely ruins,
On the top of a hillock so green.

" But this tragic story thou surely had'st known,
And of our Apostle heard tell;
For many more tales, unsung and unwrote,
Could be told of P ALLADIUS' Well ! "
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