FROM the important correction which your honour has made upon my genealogy, I think I may now venture to say, with some confidence, that the time of my legend must be somewhere about the fifteenth century – how early in it I cannot say; but it is pretty clear that my ancestor, Sir Allan Stewart, must have lived about that period. As I have already told you, the whole of this country, hill and glen, was then covered with forests, except in such spots as were kept open by the art of man for pasture or for tillage, but of the latter, even of the rudest kind, I suspect there was but little hereaway in those days. I take it for granted that the chief of the Clan-Allan must have had his stronghold at the old tower of Drummin, though I do not mean to say that it was identically the same building that now exists there. It stands, as some of you perhaps know, gentlemen, a good way down the country from where we now are, on a point of table land considerably elevated above the valley, which is there rendered wider by the junction of the river Livat with the river Aven, and just in the angle between these two streams. When the noble old forests waved over the surrounding hills, leaving the quiet meadows below open in rich pasture, it must have been even yet a more beautiful place for man to dwell in than it is now; and, let me tell you, that is saying a great deal.
My history begins towards the end of the life of Sir Allan Stewart, whose term of existence had been long, and no doubt boisterous enough, as you may very well guess. He was by this time so old as to be confined to his big oak chair, which was generally placed for him under the projection of the huge chimney of the ancient fire-place, or lumm, as we call it in Scotland; and there he sat, propped up with pillows, crooning over old ballads, and muttering old saws from morn till night, as if he now cared for nothing in this life but to drone away the last dull measure of his time, like the end of some drowsy ill-composed pibroch, if such a thing there can be. But the lively interest which he took when any stirring event occurred, which in any degree affected the honour or welfare of himself, his family or clan, sufficiently showed that all his martial fire was not extinguished; for then would it flash out from beneath his heavy eyelids – his bulky form would move impatiently on his seat, and he would turn his eyes restlessly towards his broadsword and targe, that hung conspicuously among the deers’ heads, wolfs’ skins, and the numerous warlike weapons that covered the walls, with an expression so animated, as very plainly to speak the ardour of his decaying spirit, which still, like that of the old war-horse, seemed thus to snuff up the battle from afar.
Sir Allan had two tall strapping sons by his first marriage – Walter and Patrick, both of them pretty men. To Walter, as the elder of the two, he looked as his successor, and, accordingly, he already acted in all things, and on all occasions, as his father’s representative. After the death of their mother, Sir Allan had married a woman of lower degree, by whom he had a third son, called Murdoch, whose naturally bad dispositions had been fostered by the doting fondness of his old father. Murdoch’s mother, at the time we are speaking of, was what we would call in our country phrase a handsome boardly-looking dame, of some forty years of age or so, whose smooth tongue and deceitful smile covered the blackest and most depraved heart.
“See, father!” said Walter Stewart to old Sir Allan, as he and his brother Patrick entered the hall one evening, followed by some of their people, with whom they had been all day engaged in the pursuit of a wolf, whose grinning countenance, attached to his shaggy skin, was born triumphantly on the point of a hunting spear. “See here, father! we have got him at last. We have at last taken vengeance on the villain for his cruel slaughter of poor Isabel’s child. Look at the spoils of the murdering caitiff who devoured the little innocent.”
“Hath he not been aq feel beast, father?” said Patrick, holding up the hunting spear before Sir Allan, and shaking the trophy.
“Ah!” said Sir Allan, rousing himself up, “a fell beast indeed! – aye, aye – poor child, poor child! – bring his head nearer to me, boy! Would I could have been with you! Aye, aye – dear me – age will come upon us. But I have seen the day, boys – aye, aye – och, hey!”
“Ho, there!” cried Walter Stewart, “what means it that there are no signs of supper? By St. Hubert, but we have toiled long enough and hard enough to-day with legs, arms, spears, spades, and mattocks to have well earned our meal! Where is brother Murdoch? – where is the Lady Stradawn?”
“Aye, aye,” said the querulous old Sir Allan, “it is ever thus now-a-days. I am always left to myself – weary, weary is my life I am sure – and I am hungry – very hungry. Aye, aye.”
“Thou shalt have thy supper very soon, father,” said Patrick, kindly taking his hand; “and Walter and I will leave you but for a brief space, to rid us of these wet and soiled garments.”
The two brothers then hastened from the hall to go to their respective chambers.
“Whose draggle-tailed beast was that I saw tied up under the tree beyond the outer gateway as we came in?” demanded Walter of his attendant, Dugald Roy.
“I have seen the beast before,” replied Dugald. “If I am not far mista’en, it is the garron the proud Priest of Dalestie rides, – and a clever beast it would need to be, I am sure, for many a long, and late, and queer gate does it carry him, I trow.”
“How came the animal there, Dugald?” demanded Walter quickly.
“If by your question, how the animal came there, you would ask what road he took Sir Knight,” replied Dugald, “I must tell you that the man that could answer you would need to deal with the devil, for no one but the foul fiend himself could follow the Priest of Dalestie; for, unless he be most wickedly belied, his ways follow those of the Evil One, as much as our good father, Peter of Dounan, is known to travel in the path of his blessed Master.”
“Nay, but I would know from thee, in plain terms, where thou judgest that the rider of the horse may be?” said Sir Walter, impatiently.
“With your lady mother, the Lady Stradawn, I reckon,” said Dugald, sinking his voice to a half whisper.
“Call her not my lady mother!” said Sir Walter, angrily, “my lady step-mother, if thou wilt, or my step-mother without the lady, for that, in truth, would better befit her, disgrace as she hath been and still is to us all. – Here, undo this buckle! – But what, I pr’ythee, hath she to do with the proud Priest of Dalestie, as thou hast so well named him?”
“Nay, nothing that I know of, Sir Walter, unless it be to confess her,” replied Dugald.
“Why, the good old father, Peter of Dounan, was here but yesterday, was he not?” exclaimed Sir Walter, “might he not have shriven her?”
“Father Peter was here sure enough,” replied Dugald, “but it would seem that he is not to the lady’s fancy.”
“Beshrew her fancy!” cried Sir Walter, bitterly, – “Where could she, or anyone, find a worthier confessor than Father Peter of Dounan? He is, indeed, a good and godly man, and, frail as he is in body, we know that he is always ready to run, as fast as his feeble limbs can carry him, wherever his pious duties or his charities may call him. – Moreover, he is at all times within reach, what need, then, hath she to send so far a-field for one whose character is, by everyone’s report, so very questionable – give me my hose and sandals, Donald. – Now thou may’st go. – By the Rood, I like not that pestilent and ill-famed fellow coming about our house! He hath more character for arrogance, and self-indulgence as a glutton and a toss-pot, than for sanctity. – It was an ill day for this country side when it was disgraced by his coming into it.”
After muttering this last sentence to himself, Walter quickly descended the narrow stair, and approached the door of the lady’s bower in another part of the building. – It was partially open. – He tapped gently, and, no answer being returned, he pushed it up, and great were his surprise and disgust at the scene which he beheld. The Lady Stradawn was sitting, or rather reclining, in her arm-chair, with a pretty large round table before her, covered with good things. – A huge venison pasty occupied the centre of it, and around it stood several dishes, in no very regular order, containing different dainties. Two well-used trenchers, showed that someone else had assisted her in producing the havoc that appeared to have been wrought in the pie, and among the other viands – and a black-jack half full of ale – and a tall silver stoup, which, though now empty, still gave forth a potent odour of the spice wine which it had contained – together with two mazers of the same metal, which bore the marks of having been used in the drinking of it, proved that the guest, who had just left the lady, must have been a noble auxiliary in this revel, which, judging from the fact of an over-turned drinking horn that lay on the floor, and one or two other circumstances that appeared, must have been a merry one. The deep sleep in which the lady lay, and her flushed countenance, left no doubt in Sir Walter’s mind that she had enjoyed a full share of this private banquet. By the time he had leisure to make himself fully aware of all these particulars, the lady’s bower-woman appeared at the chamber door. She started, and would have retreated – but Sir Walter seized her by the wrist, and adroitly put a question to her before she had time to recover from her confusion.
“When did the Priest of Dalestie go forth from hence, Jessy?” demanded he.
“I have just come from seeing him to horse, Sir Knight,” said the woman, trembling.
“Well, Jessy, thou mayest go; I would speak with thy mistress in private,” said Sir Walter, seeing her out, and shutting the chamber door; and then turning to the Lady Stradawn, and shaking her arm till he had awakened her. “Madam,” said he, “what unseemly sight is this?”
“Sis-sis-sis-sight, Sir Priest?” replied the lady, with her eyes goggling; “sis-sight! What mean ye, Sir Priest? he! he! he!”
“Holy Saint Andrew grant me temper!” said Sir Walter. “Madam, Sir Allan, waits for thee to give him his evening meal: he is impatient. Sir Allan, I say!”
“Tut! hang Sir Allan,” cried the lady, still unconscious as to whom she was addressing, and taking him by the arm; “hang Sir Allan, as thou thyself said’st but now, thou most merry conditioned mettlesome, Sir Priest. He! he! he! Hang the old stobber-chops, and let’s be jolly while we can. Come; sit down – sit down, I say. You need not go yet. Did I not tell thee that Jessy keeps the door?”
“I am not the priest, vile woman!” cried Sir Walter, with indignation, whilst, at the same time, he shook her off with a force and rudeness that seemed almost to bring her back to her senses. “Did’st thou not now, alas?! alas! to our shame, most unworthily fill that place once occupied by my sainted mother, and that thine exposure would prove but the greater dishonour to our house, by the holy Rood, I would call up everything that hath life within these walls, down to the very cat, that all eyes might behold thy disgrace, and then should’st thou be trundled forth, and rolled into the river, that the fishes might gorge themselves on thine obscene carcase!”
Bursting from the apartment, Walter hastily sought the hall; and the evening meal having been by this time spread, he called to the retainers to be seated, and hastened to busy himself in attending to his father, in supplying him with the food prepared for him, and with such little matters as he knew the old man most liked – feeding him from time to time like a child.
“Aye, aye, that’s good,” said old Sir Walter. “Thanks, thanks, my boy; you are a good boy. But where is Bella? where is the Lady Stradawn? Och hey, that’s good, – but she is often away now; seldom it is, I am sure, that I see her. Aye, aye, Walter, boy, that is good – that is very good.”
When his father was satisfied, Walter seated himself at the board, and ate and drank largely, from very vexation and ire, and in order to keep down the storm of rage which was secretly working within him. This, as well as the cause of it, he privately determined to conceal, even from his brother Patrick, with whom he had been, upon all other occasions, accustomed to share his inmost thoughts. For the rest of the night he sat gloomy and abstracted, and at an earlier hour than usual he hurried off to his chamber. There, having summoned his attendant, Dugald Roy, he questioned him more particularly as to all he knew regarding the visits of the Priest of Dalestie to Drummin, and having then dismissed him, with strict injunctions to maintain a prudent silence, he threw himself into bed, to pass a restless and perturbed night.
The next morning saw the Lady Stradawn glide into the hall, to preside over the morning meal, gaily dressed, and covered as usual with chains, brooches, and rings of massive worth, which she procured no one knew how. Her countenance beamed with her wonted smiles, as if nothing wrong had happened, or could have happened on her part. Walter and Patrick saluted her with that cold yet civil deference, which they had always been in the habit of using towards her, as the wife of their father, and in which Walter took care that neither his brother, nor anyone else, should perceive any shadow of change upon the present occasion. The manner of her salutation was as blythe, kind, free, and unconcerned as it ever was before.
“Wicked rogue, Walter, that thou art!” said she in a tone of merry raillery, “fie for shame on thee! to steal into thy lady mother’s bower to catch her asleep in her arm-chair! In sooth I was not altogether well last night, else had I joined thee at the festive board, to rejoice with thee over the spoils of that grim gaffer wolf, whom they tell me thou hast so nobly slain.”
“Thou did’st indeed seem somewhat indisposed, madam,” said Sir Walter with a peculiarly significant emphasis, and with a penetrating look which she alone could understand.
“I was very much indisposed as you say, Walter,” replied she, as if quite unconscious that he had intended to convey to her any covered meaning; “that foolish old woman, Nancy, the miller’s wife, took it into her wise head to come a plaguing me, to reckon with her about the kain fowls she had paid into the castle since last quarter-day; and she talks – Holy Virgin, how the woman does talk!”
“Truly the woman does talk marvellously,” replied Walter, biting his nether lip to keep down his vexation.
“As thou say’st, son Walter, she does e’en talk most marvellously. Her tongue seems to have learned the art of wagging from the clapper of old John’s mill. I protest I would as lieve sit listening to the one as to the other. My head aches still with the noise of her clatter.”
“I wonder not indeed that thy head should ache,” replied Sir Walter.
“And then, forsooth, I behoved to call up meat for the greedy cummer,” continued the lady, – “Holy Mother, how the woman did swallow the eatables and drinkables!”
“She must have swallowed enough of both sorts,” said Sir Walter, with a meaning in his mode of speaking, that he began to suspect he might have made almost too plainly marked; and, hastening to change the subject, “Madam,” continued he, “I fear you have forgotten Sir Allan this morning.”
“Holy Saints, but so I have!” cried she, starting up from her seat, – “what have I been thinking of? My poor Sir Allan!” continued she, as she hastened to him with a covered silver dish, that contained the minced food the old man was wont to take; and, after making of him, with all the fuss and phrase she would have used to an infant, she put a napkin around his neck, and proceeded to feed him.
“Where is Murdoch this morning?” demanded Patrick of his brother.
“I know not,” replied Walter, as he sat musing with a clouded brow.
“He was not at supper last night,” observed Patrick again; “nay, I know not that I have seen him for these three days bypast.”
“He was not at supper,” said Sir Walter, still absorbed by his own thoughts.
“Murdoch is an idle good-for-nothing,” said the Lady Stradawn, joining in the conversation, from the place where she stood by the side of Sir Allan’s chair. “Though he be mine own, I will say that for him, that it would be well for him to take a pattern by his elder brothers, and be killing wolves, or doing some such useful work, and not be staying out whole days and nights this way, at weddings and merry-makings, without ever showing us his face. I wish you would give him a good word of your brotherly advice, my dear son Walter.”
“Chut! – tut!” cried old Sir Allan, – “let the boy alone! – aye, aye – let the boy alone. The lad is young. – I was a wild slip myself once in a day – that I was. But old age will creep on – hech, sirs! – aye, aye – what days I have seen! – Och, hey!”
“Here, take this, my dear Sir Allan,” said the lady, – “take this, dearest – ’tis the last spoonful.”
“Where are thou going, brother?” said Patrick, rising to follow his brother Sir Walter, who had left the table and was moving towards the door.
“Up the glen to look for a deer,” replied Walter.
“Then have with thee brother,” said Patrick.
Sir Walter would have fain shaken himself free from his brother, for that morning at least; but he felt that he could not do so without a certain appearance of unkindness, which the warm affection that subsisted between them could not allow him to use, to that otherwise he must have given him an explanation, which he was conscious that he could not have given him consistently with those designs which he then privately cherished in his bosom. He was therefore compelled silently to assent to his accompanying him. They both accordingly assumed that humble garb, which they usually wore when bent upon the pursuit of the deer, – in which, but for their carriage and bearing, they might easily have been mistaken for the humblest of their party, and, after such preparation, they sallied forth.
They were hardly gone when the Lady Stradawn, leaving the old Sir Allan to entertain himself with his own dreamy musings and vacant thoughts, climbed to the bartizan of the tower to look out for her son, Murdoch. It was yet early in the morning – but as her two step-sons had a walk of a good many miles before them ere they could reach the place where they proposed hunting, they and their people were seen toiling up the valley, at a pace which corresponded with the violence of those feelings which then possessed Sir Walter, who was stretching away at the head of the party.
“Curses on ye both!” cried the lady, with intense bitterness, after having followed them with her malignant eyes till they had wound out of sight behind a projecting spur of a wooded mountain that flanked the valley. – “Curses! – black and withering curses on ye both, vile spawn that ye are, that stand between my boy and his prospects! – O fear that Walter – my especial curse upon him! – for, with all his fair words, he is stern and ferocious as a wild cat when he is roused. – But, wild cat though he be, the wily viper may yet wind its folds silently around him, and sting him to the death ere he may have time to unglove his claws. – What can make my darling boy tarry so long. – He has now been absent for more than three days. – Much as he hath enriched me with money and jewels, I like not the risk he runs. – But he will not be forbidden. – Nature works in him, and perhaps it is as well that he should thus render himself hardy, seeing that he must one day – aye, and that soon too, if I have any cunning left in me – command the proud Clan-Allan. Stay, did I not see tartans yonder, and arms glittering in yon farther lawnde, in the vale below, beyond those nearer woods? That must surely be Murdoch and his men. The foolish boy will not surely bring them within nearer ken of the Castle? Ha! – I see one figure separate from the rest, whilst the main body seems to take to the woods on the hill-side. In sooth, there is no prudence lacking in the youth, nay, nor any cunning neither, as I well know, from the trouble it hath cost me to lull his suspicions regarding the Priest of Dalestie. But if Murdoch hath cunning, he hath it from me, his mother; and it will be hard indeed is mine cannot match it. Ah! – there he already bursts from the wood – I must hasten to meet him in my bower, that I may learn what luck he hath had.”
The lady hurried down to her bower – quickly found some errand on which to despatch her woman – and then she sat waiting impatiently, turning over the bunch of antique keys which hung at her girdle, until she heard her son’s step in the passage, and his gentle tap at her door.
“Come in!” said the Lady Stradawn in a subdued voice – “come in, my son!”
“Ha! – I am glad that thou art here and alone, mother,” said Murdoch, a slim, handsome, dark-eyed youth, who, after cautiously entering, shut the door behind him, and carefully turned the huge key that locked it. “I am glad that you are here alone, for I have such treasure for you.”
“Hush, hush, my darling,” said the lady, almost in a whisper – “speak lower, I entreat you, lest any eaves-dropper should hear you. – Quick! – how sped ye? – and what have you got?”
“We have been all the way to Banff again this time,” replied Murdoch. “Seeing that we sped so well the last time we made thither, as thou well knowest we did, we thought we should try our luck there once more. We heard that there was a market in the Brugh, and we sent a clever-witted spy among the packmen, to gather who among them might be best worth holding talk with. Two of them we learned were to travel together for company’s sake – fellows who dealt in goldsmith’s work. But, marry! they travelled not far from the town-end till we met them, when, like good-natured civil fellows, we eased them of their heavy loads, under which they seemed to sweat so grievously; and that they might not trouble us here, and at the same time being loth to part two such friends, we set them both a travelling together on a journey to the next world.”
“Speak not of the next world, Murdoch!” said the lady, shuddering. “But they were sickerly sent thither, said’st thou?”
“As surely as we shall one day go there ourselves, good mother,” replied Murdoch.
“Speak not of our going there, boy,” said the lady. “‘Tis time enough yet. But there is little crime I wot, after all, in ridding this world of such cheating gangerels as those you tell me of.”
“Crime!” replied Murdoch. “Why, mother, there is an absolute virtue in such a deed. Have we not put an end to their rapacity and knavery? And have we not thereby saved many a foolish maiden from being cheated by them! By Saint Nicholas, but the doer of so good a deed deserves to be canonised!”
“But come, boy, thy treasure,” said the greedy and impatient dame. “Quick, – what hast thou got to show me? Haste thee to feast mine eyes with the spoil of these miscreants.”
“In the first place, then,” said Murdoch, “as at a feast we should always begin with the solids, – here is a small bag of broad pieces, which might well satisfy many a hungry man. Secondly, here are your curious cates and delicacies, enow to bedizen out a dozen of lordlings’ daughters! – See what a chain! – how exquisite the workmanship! – Behold these rings, – see what sparkling gems! Every one of them set, too, most rarely in a different fashion! Here is one, for example, which would seem to have a curious posey in it; some ready-made love verse, I suppose. Let me see, – ‘Feare God and doe no evyle,’ – eh! ha – that – that is a good advice, which the last owner, as I take it, was too great a knave to profit by; but you and I, mother dear -“
“Have done with thy foolery, Murdoch,” said the lady, impatiently; “have done with thy foolery, and give me thy booty, without farther nonsense. Now, leave me for a while, and go talk with the old man, whilst I bestow the treasure in a place of safety. Thou knowest it will all go to deck thy bride, when thou canst find one.”
“Leave me alone for that, mother,” said Murdoch significantly. “I promise thee, I have mine eye on a good man’s daughter, whom I shall have by foul or by fair means ere I die. But that is a secret I shall keep to myself till the time comes; so good day, good mother.”
“What can he mean?” said the Lady Stradawn, after he was gone. “But ’tis nothing, after all, but his wild talk. No, no; I must have my say with him when it comes to that!”
Now that the lady found herself alone, she doubly locked and bolted the door. She then spread the gold and the jewels on the table before her, and glutted her eyes for a time with the glittering sight. Applying her keys to a cabinet which stood against the wall, she opened the leaves of it, and so exposed the front of a set of secret drawers, one by one, from above downwards – her eyes successively surveying the riches they contained, whilst, with scrupulous attention, she from time to time selected articles from among the spoils on the table, and deposited them among the rest, as fancy led her to sort and arrange them, carefully locking each drawer ere she proceeded to open the next; and thus she went on until she found that she had disposed of the whole of the trinkets.
“‘Twas no great things, after all,” said she, musing; “I wonder when they will go forth again? But let me count the money. – Aye, that is pretty well; and yet it might have been more for the death of two men. But there are other two men I know of, whose lives would be worth more! – Hush! – did I not hear a noise? – Quick – let me huddle the gold into this drawer in the cabinet, where I bestowed the broad pieces in the hurry I was taken with when the Priest cane in last night. What! – nothing there! – Ha! – can the man who – can the villain have robbed me? – Yes; it could have been no one else. – I see clearly how it was. He asked me for money – I gave him two pieces from that very drawer. His greedy eyes saw what it contained, and, whilst my back was turned, he must have cleverly helped himself to the whole. It could have been nobody else, because I well remember that I carefully closed the leaves of the cabinet, locked them, and put the keys into my iron strong-box, before I called Jessy to bring the refreshments. – What a consummate knave! – But what could I expect better of such a reprobate – a priest who glories as he does in his wickedness? It would have been well perhaps for me that I had never seen him. – And yet – but his share of his crime is his own. – Wretch that he is, he might have had it all for the asking. – Weak woman that I am, I could have refused him nothing. – Well, I must e’en let it pass, and be more careful again. – But I shall look better after this bag of broad pieces. It shall be added to the heap I have here,” continued she, unlocking a drawer of deeper and larger dimensions. “Aye!” said she, eyeing the treasure it contained with avaricious delight, – “that is all safe; go thou, then, to increase the store, and may my darling boy soon fetch me other bags to bear these company in this their prison-house.”
I must now return to the two brothers. Walter, who usually directed everything in all their expeditions, never halted until he found himself far up on these very mountains now before us. He sought for deer, it is true; but, whilst he did so, or rather, whilst he allowed his brother and his people to do so, his mind seemed to be occupied with something else than hunting. It was towards evening, when he and the rest of the party were still tracking their way through the forest without success, when they at last found themselves in that part of it which then covered the hill that hangs over the haugh of Dalestie, some miles above this. Partial breaks among the trees there gave Sir Walter, now and then, a view downwards into the valley below; and, as he walked and ruminated within himself, as if oppressed with some weighty matter, his secret musings were suddenly broken by the distant toll of the bell of a small chapel, which, if I am rightly informed, then stood near the bottom of the hill. The sound came mellowed over the intervening woods, and Sir Walter started as it reached his ear. He became deeply moved; but his emotion was not like that movement of piety which the note of the church-going bell should awaken. It more resembled that which, when the hoarse trumpet has sounded, or the shrill pipes have struck up, I have myself seen convert the godlike countenance of man into that of a demon. Sir Walter Stewart stamped upon the ground.
“Dugald!” cried he aloud; “what ho, Dugald Roy, I say. Does that bell call to evening mass?”
“It does, Sir Knight,” replied Dugald.
“Then get thee down through the wood,” said Sir Walter; “get thee down through the wood ere it hath ceased to sound, and tell the proud priest of Dalestie, that I, Walter Stewart of Clan-Allan, am upon the hill, and that, if he dares to mumble a word, yea, or a syllable, before I come, his life shall pay for it.”
“Stay, stay,” cried Patrick Stewart, eagerly; “stay him, dear brother! What a sudden fit is this that hath seized thee? A priest! – how canst thou think of sending such a message as this to a priest?”
“Dugald Roy, begone, and obey thy master’s bidding!” cried Sir Walter, sternly. “Brother, I forgive thee this thine interference, though I cannot allow myself to be swayed by it. Trust me, I have mine own good reasons for so acting, though this be no fitting time for making thee aware of them.”
Patrick, whom affection, as well as habit had long disposed to show implicit deference and obedience to his brother Walter’s will, said no more, but followed his solemn footsteps down the mountain path that led to the chapel. They had not gone half the way till the bell had ceased to toll. And they had not gone two-thirds of the way till Dugald Roy met them.
“Thou hast not sped on thine errand, then?” said Sir Walter, with an expression in which more of satisfaction than of disappointment might have been read. “Speak, Dugald; how did the arrogant caitiff receive my message?”
“Since I must say it, Sir Knight,” replied Dugald, with some hesitation, – “he received it very scurvily. – ‘Tell the proud Stewart,’ said he, ‘that though he may be lord of the land, I am the king as well as the priest in mine own chapel.’ – And so he straightaway began the holy service, but rather, methought, as if he had been dighting himself for single combat, than for prayer, and in a manner altogether so irreverent, that the few people who were there, with faces full of dismay, quietly arose and left the chapel, as if some wicked thing had ta’en up the priest’s surplice in mockery.”
“By the Rood, but they were right if they so thought!” cried Sir Walter, quickening his pace – “He is a vile obscene wolf that hath crept like a thief into the fold. – But I’ll speak to him anon.”
The rate at which Sir Walter now strode down the hill, kept his astonished brother Patrick and the whole party at their full bent. The trees grew thinner as they came nearer the level valley, and by and bye they ceased altogether, so that a full view was obtained of the haugh at the bottom. There the Priest of Dalestie was seen leaving the chapel to go homewards.
“There he goes!” cried Sir Walter – “there he goes stalking along with an air and a gait, that might better befit a proud prince of the earth than Heaven’s humble messenger of peace, as his profession ought to have made him. – What, ho, Sir Priest! – I would speak with thee.”
The Priest started – looked suddenly back – halted, and drew himself up – then turned again, and moved a few paces slowly onwards, as if irresolute what he should do. Again he halted, and again he moved on, whilst Sir Walter’s footsteps were hurrying fast up to him. – At length, he seemed to have made up his mind to abide that parley which he now saw he could not escape, and, turning sharp round to face the Stewart, he planted himself firmly in the way before him.
“What would’st thou with me, Sir Knight?” demanded he, in a haughty and determined tone. – “After the rude and unwonted message which thou hast just dared to send me, a holy minister of the Church, methinks that thou canst dare to approach me now, for no other purpose than to sue penitently for pardon and absolution at my hands.”
“A holy minister of the Church!” exclaimed Sir Walter. – “A minister of the holy Church, if thou wilt – but thyself most unholy. – My sins, God pardon me! – are many. – But albeit that I am at all times ready to kneel in confession, and in humble penitence, before that true and godly servant of Christ, the good and pious father, Peter of Dounan, or any other such as he, I will never bend the knee before one whose wickedness had been the dishonour and reproach of the district, ever since it hath been cursed with his presence, and who yet profanely dares most impiously to approach the holy altar.”
“Brother! brother Walter!” cried Patrick Stewart, endeavouring to moderate Sir Walter’s growing ire; “what madness is this! Think of the sacred character he wears, however little common fame may give him credit for supporting it. Think how -“
“Silence, I say, Patrick!” cried Sir Walter, in an authoritative tone, which he had never before assumed to his brother. “Again I say, thou knowest not the secret reasons which move me at this moment. That foul swine, whose sensual snout hath been in every man’s dish, and who hath uprooted that very vineyard which hath been confided to his care, must be forthwith cast out. He must be no longer permitted to live. Seize him and bind him!”
“Lay not a hand on me, good sirs, if you would avoid the thunders and excommunications of the Church,” cried the priest, now no longer proud, but trembling, and in an humble tone.
“Seize him and bind him, I say,” cried Sir Walter. “If there be any one man among the Clan-Allan here – if there be one Clan-Allan Stewart, I say, who in his conscience believes that he doth not deserve to die by fire, that man hath my leave to sit apart, and bear no faggot to the pile that is to consume him. Who among you is there that doth not know his misdeeds? Not a man answers. Then is he condemned by all. Let each man, then, get him to the wood, and bring a faggot of the driest fuel, and let him forthwith be brent, and his ashes scattered to the winds, so that the earth may be no longer polluted with his carcase, and that even the very memory of him may perish!”
“Brother, brother!” cried Patrick Stewart, in a tone of entreaty; “do not bring upon yourself the terrors of the Church. His fame, indeed, is none of the best; but, whatever be his sins, bethink thee that ’twere better to let him be tried by that sacred tribunal to which he is naturally amenable.”
“By the holy Rood, which this traitor to his crucified Master has so wickedly profaned, he shall not live an hour,” cried Sir Walter, rising in his rage. “I am but the executioner of God’s justice on him; and he shall die, be the consequences what they may. See! – see how busily the fellows toil! Their hearts are in the work. The labour is a pleasure to them. Not a man hath stood aloof from it, far less hath any one dared to speak in his cause. Why, then, shouldst thou speak, brother Patrick? Though thou knowest not all, thou knowest quite enough to know that he hath well earned the fate I have awarded him. But though thou art ignorant of all that now impelleth me, I tell thee that I have enough to satisfy bishop or pope, if need were, that I am now doing the Church good service. But, be that as it may, I trust the time will never some when the chieftain of Clan-Allan shall not dare to deal with all within the bounds of Stradawn, whether churchman or layman, as his pleasure may dictate. Ha! see, the pile is already heaped high, and now they are preparing to set fire to it; that shows no want of good will; and see, of their own accord, they prepare to drag him to it!”
“Then, brother, though I am the younger, I must needs interfere,” cried Patrick Stewart, rushing forward to throw himself between the men of the clan and their terrified victim; “such a deed as this must never be done by thee, my brother.”
“Patrick, dispute not mine authority,” cried Sir Walter, his rage now beginning to get the better of him; “my father’s weakness hath made me thy chieftain. Stand back, I tell thee! Stand back! place thyself not between me and my just vengeance, or even the name of brother shall not hinder me from dashing thee to the ground.”
“Nay, stand you back!” cried Patrick, covering the priest with his body, whilst the clansmen retreated from the prisoner at his word. “Walter, I would save this wretched man for another and a calmer tribunal; and, in thus saving him, I would save thee, my brother, from -“
“Stand from before his polluted carcase!” cried Sir Walter. collaring Patrick, and casting him from him with a force that threw him several yards away from the spot where they were contending, and prostrated him headlong on the ground. “Now, Clan-Allan” now do your duty to your chieftain! I’ll see that my sentence – aye, and your sentence, is duly carried through!”
“Mercy, most noble knight!” cried the wretched man, as they dragged him along to the pile, deadly pale, and quailing with fear – his pride all gone, and the terrors of a horrible death upon him. “Mercy” O spare me! spare me, most noble Sir Walter Stewart! I confess that I have deeply sinned against you and yours; I confess that -“
“Silence caitiff!” cried the stern Sir Walter, loudly and hastily interrupting him; “I am no priest – I want none of thy confessions. Confess thyself inwardly to thine outraged Maker. Thou shalt have time for that. Down on thy knees! confess thy sins in secret to Him, and pray to Him for mercy in the next world, for here all laws, human and divine, tell me that thou shouldst have none; and thou shalt have none from me.”
The miserable wretch, trembling, haggard, and conscience-stricken, knelt down at a short distance from the great heap of dry and decayed timber which they had prepared. By this time it was lighted, and it soon began to blaze up so high as widely to illuminate the broad faces of the wooded hills on both sides of the valley, arousing them from that gloom which had been already gradually deepening over them into a shadow, since the sinking of the sun. Neither his countenance nor his eyes were directed heavenwards; yet his lips moved, more like those of some one uttering an incantation, than of a penitent seeking of Heaven to be shriven of his sins. Full time was allowed him. But the stern Sir Walter Stewart stood over him, as if jealous lest his fears or his agony of mind, might goad him on to utter some secret aloud before the clansmen, which he wished to see consumed, and for ever annihilated with all that was mortal of him who held it. And when he thought that he had given the wretched man enough of licence, he waved his hand – turned himself aside for a moment – heard one piercing shriek – and when he looked again the myriads of brilliant sparks that were rising into the air from the fall of a heavy body among the fuel, sufficiently proved to him, that the miserable object of his wrath had been thrown into the very midst of the burning heap. Another, and a fainter cry, made Sir Walter again turn involuntarily towards the pile. There the head appeared, with the face contorted with torment, and fearfully illuminated. The body reared itself up for a moment, as if by one last struggling effort of life, and these half-stifled words were dolefully heard. –
“WALTER STEWART! THY GRAVE IS NEAR!”
The Clan-Allan men stood appalled. Again the figure sank. More broken and decayed wood was thrown on the pile, and they continued to heap it up until all signs of a human form were obliterated. Then it was that Sir Walter, calling his followers into a ring around him, swore them solemnly, on their chieftain’s sword, to eternal secrecy; and then, sick at the thought of the work they had done, chieftain and clansmen slowly, and silently, left the place, and began to wend their way down the glen. Sir Walter thought of his brother Patrick as he went – he halted, and blew that bugle sound, which was well known as a private signal between them. But there was no note of reply. Taking it for granted, therefore, that the stern act of justice, which circumstances had compelled him to see done on the Priest, had been too much for the sensitive mind of Patrick even to contemplate, and that, therefore, he had hurried away to avoid witnessing the horrible spectacle, Sir Walter pensively and moodily moved homewards.
But the cause of the muteness of Patrick Stewart’s bugle was very different from that which his brother believed it to be. At the time that he had been dragged from before the Priest, and thrown so violently to a distance, Sir Walter had been too much excited by rage to notice how he fell, or indeed whether he fell at all. Nor in the fearful work in which they were all so intently, and with so much good will engaged, did any of the Stewarts of Clan-Allan once think of him more. Had Sir Walter known that his beloved brother had been stretched bleeding, and senseless, on the ground, by his rash hand, and that he was now leaving him to perish without help, his mind, during his homeward journey, would have been even less tranquil than his reflections on the past event permitted it to be. The truth was, that Patrick Stewart’s bonnet, having been driven off by the furious force with which Sir Walter had hurled him from him, his unprotected head came into contact with a large stone, that projected out of the surface of the meadow-sward, with a sharp point, from which he received so severe a cut, and so rude a shock, that he never moved after it, but lay there as if he had been dead, in the midst of a pool of blood that flowed from the wound. How long he had remained in this situation, he had no means of guessing, but when his senses returned to him, he found himself seated, with his back leaning against the trunk of a great tree, near a fountain that welled out from the side of the hill. By the blaze of a bit of moss fir that a man held in his hand, he perceived that there were several people around him, who seemed busied in administering to him. One especially was anxiously supporting his head, staunching the blood that was still discharging itself from the cut in his temple, and holding a cup to his lips.
“How fares it with thee now?” enquired this person eagerly; “how fares it with thee, my dear friend?”
“Arthur Forbes of Curgarf!” said Patrick faintly.
“Holy St. Machar be praised that thine eyes are opened, and that I once more hear thy voice!” cried Arthur Forbes, “I had mine own fears that thou wert done for. What, in the name of all that is marvellous, hath befallen thee? Hast thou chanced to come into the hands of the Catteranes, who are said to harbour sometimes among these mountains?”
“Where a, I?” said Patrick, turning his eyes around him, his brain still swimming in confusion. “Ah! that fire yonder!”
“Aye, that fire!” said Arthur Forbes eagerly, “what knowest thou of that fire?”
“Nay nothing,” replied Patrick shuddering.
“By the Rood, but it brent boldly when we first saw it from that far hill-side yonder,” said Arthur, “though it hath now fallen somewhat lower. Knowest thou at all who kindled it? We heard a bugle blast come faintly up from the bottom of the valley, as we came first within sight of it.”
“It was not burning when I fell,” replied Patrick guardedly.
“How did you fall, I pray you?” demanded Arthur Forbes.
“As I was hurrying through the haugh,” replied Patrick, “my foot tripped in the twilight against something in the grass, and I was thrown forward, with so much force, that it is no wonder I was stunned.”
“Your head must have struck upon some sharp stone,” said Arthur Forbes, “that gash in your temple is a very ugly one, and it still bleeds considerably. Let me bathe it for you.”
“The ice-cold water is most reviving to me,” said Patrick, sitting up; “I am much better now. I think I am almost strong enough to walk.”
“Shall we help thee down to the Priest’s house?” demanded Arthur; “that, as thou knowest, is the nearest dwelling.”
“The Priest’s house!” said Patrick, with an expression of horror which he could not restrain.
“Nay, ’tis no wonder that thou should’st shudder at the very mention of that reprobate,” said Arthur Forbes; “he is a scandal to the very name of priest.”
“I would rather go anywhere than to the Priest’s house,” said Patrick Stewart.
“Nay,” said Arthur Forbes, “it is a thousand to one that we should find him abroad on some of his unseemly nocturnal pranks; but you might at least repose thee for a time in his dwelling.”
“I should find no repose under the Priest’s roof,” said Patrick Stewart quickly. “I would rather try to make the best of my way to Drummin.”
“Thou shalt never essay to go to Drummin to-night,” said Arthur Forbes. “And, now I think on’t, why should you not go over the hill with me to Curgarf? My sturdy fellows there shall carry you. And then, when you are there you know,” continued he, sinking his voice to a whisper into Patrick’s ear, “my sister Kate shall nurse thee.”
“Your proposal is life to me,” replied Patrick, in the same tone. “I gladly accept your kind offer. But as to loading your poor men with the weight of my carcase, there will be no occasion for that. Now that my head is bound up, I feel quite strong, and I know I shall get better every step of the hill I travel.”
“I thought that Kate’s very name would be a potent balsam for thy wound,” whispered Arthur Forbes again. “Thou wilt be better in the hands of Kate, my friend, than in those of the Catteranes. Lucky was it for thee, truly, that those knaves did not find thee in thy swoon. They were the people, no doubt, who kindled yon rousing fire, from which they were probably driven away by our first appearance on the hill. Thou were lying scarcely half a cross-bow shot from the very spot where they must have been making merry, and if they had but stumbled on thee by accident, their cure for thy wound would have been a dirk-point. Holy Saint Michael, what an escape thou hast made!”
The way to Curgarf was long and tiresome enough, for they had to cross over the very summit of the mountain-ridge – that, I mean, which now divides us from the water of Don. But Patrick Stewart bore the fatigue of the walk better than any one could have expected, and there was no doubt that the prospect of seeing Catherine Forbes very much improved his animal powers. He was already known to his friend’s father, who received him hospitably, though rather haughtily. The old Lord of Curgarf’s coldness of carriage towards him was to be attributed to the suspicion he entertained of that which was in reality true, that a secret attachment existed between Patrick Stewart and his only daughter Catherine. This he did not wish to encourage for many reasons. The Clan-Allan Stewarts – to say nothing of what he considered their questionable origin – were a new race in the neighbouring strath; and although he had never been actually at war with them, there had yet been many petty grievances and heart-burnings between them and his people. These had not in the least shaken the friendship that had accidentally arisen, during their boyhood, between Patrick Stewart and Arthur Forbes; and you all know, gentlemen, that the affections of a woman’s heart are but little swayed by any such circumstances. The bonny blue eyes of Catherine Forbes sparkled, and her bosom heaved with delight, when she saw Patrick Stewart enter the hall of Curgarf, though she was compelled to keep down her emotions, and receive him as a mere acquaintance. Certain stolen glances did, however, pass between them; and when Arthur mentioned the accident which had led to his bringing his friend to the castle, and made him exhibit his wound, Catherine had an opportunity of giving way, in some degree, to her feelings, without the risk of being chargeable with anything more than that compassion naturally to be expected from a lady, even towards a perfect stranger, who came under such circumstances. Patrick was by this time satisfied that the wound was of no great moment. But his love for Catherine, and the opportunity which it thus happily afforded him of being under the same roof with her, made him very cautious in contending that it was not severe, and he had no objection to admit, when he was much pressed, that the pain he suffered from the contusion which his head had received, was very considerable.
Patrick retired to his chamber that night, his mind filled with the lovely image of Catherine Forbes, his eyes having done little else, during the evening meal, than carefully to collect and treasure every minute beauty of her fair countenance, and graveful person, so as to deepen the lines of that portrait of her which had been for some time engraven on his heart. But fond as he was of dwelling upon so much loved an object, he felt it difficult to keep possession of her image, or to prevent it from being driven from his memory, by the frequent recurrence of that horrible scene, of which he had witnessed so much, previous to his being rendered unconscious, as well as to overcome the distressing recollection of his brother Walter’s violence towards himself, and he found it a very difficult matter to control his mind so far as to prevent his imagination from sketching out the revolting circumstances of the catastrophe that followed, with a degree of detail, and in colours, scarcely less appalling than those of the dreadful reality.
Patrick was next morning blessed with a short private interview with Catherine Forbes. It was short indeed, but it was long enough to give time for the ingenuity of lovers to arrange a plan for a more satisfactory meeting. It was agreed between them, that they should separately steal out in the evening, to a grove of ancient pine trees near the Castle, where, if I mistake not, they had met with one another before, with the sanction of Arthur Forbes. There they hoped for leisure and privacy enough to enable them more fully to open their hearts to each other, and to talk of their future hopes and fears. Contented with this arrangement, Patrick submitted to the confinement which was imposed upon him in his character of an invalid, and spent the day in basking silently in the sunshine of his lady’s eyes, in conversing with his friend Arthur as the confidant of their loves, and in doing all that in him lay to thaw the icy politeness of the old Lord of Curgarf. An earnest desire to make one’s self agreeable to another, will generally succeed, in some degree, in the long run; but Patrick’s success with the old Lord was much beyond what he could have believed or expected.
“Truly thou art a pretty fellow, Patrick!” said Arthur Forbes jocularly to him, at the first private moment which he chanced to catch. “Judging by the proximity of the place where you were found lying last night, to the fire which had been kindled by the Catteranes, there can be no doubt that you must have fallen among thieves. This being the case, I, like the good Samaritan, pick thee up by the wayside, bring thee here in thy wretchedness, pour wine and oil into thy wounds, and see thee well fed and lodged; and how dost thou repay me, I prythee? Why, not contented with carrying off my poor love-sick sister’s heart, thou art likely to run away with the old man’s too.”
“I rejoice to hear that I have any such chance,” replied Patrick; “I had feared that thy father’s coldness towards me was invincible.”
“Nay, promise me not to interfere with my birthright, by taking away half my father’s lands with Kate, and I will tell thee what he said of thee but half an hour ago.”
“I should be too happy to have thy treasure of a sister, with nothing but the sandals her fair feet tread on,” said Patrick, with enthusiasm.
“Tush, man!” replied Arthur Forbes, ” assured thou shalt have her some day or other; aye, and a bit of land, and some good purses of broad pieces with her to boot. But hear what the Lord of Curgarf said, – ‘Arthur, do you know that friend of thine hath a mighty pleasant manner with him; yea, and his discourse is more worth listening to than a young man’s talk usually is: moreover, he hath a certain noble air withal. I remember that, when I was a child, I was once taken to visit the old Earl of Athol. His appearance made so strong an impression on me, that I think I see him yet, and that Patrick Stewart is the very image of his progenitor.’ There is for you, my gallant friend! As to finding thee agreeable, I marvel not much at that; for other people, both men and women too, have been before him in making that wonderful discovery; and then, seeing that thou didst listen so well to his talk, and agree with him in everything he propounded, his finding that your conversation was good was all natural enough. But to discover that you bore so strong a resemblance to the old Earl of Athol – a person whom he is ever ready to cite as the pattern of everything that was graceful and pleasing in days long gone by, and now never to be matched again – ha! that was something indeed to give thee a great stride into the citadel of his affection.”
“Be the breach through which I may be allowed to march in thither, produced how it may,” said Patrick Stewart, “I am not sorry at thine intelligence. But, much as I love the good Lord of Curgarf’s converse, I must freely tell thee that I would fain slip away from it, for some half hour or so, before supper to-night, unperceived by him, to exchange it for that of thy sweet sister. We have not had above five words of private conference together since I entered the Castle. So pray have the charity to keep thy worthy father in talk, while the Lady Catherine and I are out, for a brief space, on an evening walk.”
“A pretty use thou wouldst put me to, truly!” said Arthur Forbes, laughing. “But to pleasure thee, thou shalt be obeyed.”
The lovers waited with no little impatience for the hour which was to yield them the desired meeting. When it at length arrived, they stole out at different moments, and went by different ways to the trysting spot. No one but a lover can fully estimate the delight of such a stolen interview as this was. They felt it deeply; and the only difficulty they had was in estimating the lapse of time. The surly-toned bell, that pealed from the tower of the Castle at some distance, warned them to separate, ere by their calculation, they had been more than a few short minutes together.
“Must we then part so soon?” said Patrick, fondly. “How swiftly the moments have flown!”
“I dare not tarry one instant longer,” said the Lady Catherine; “my father, you well know, -“
“Alas! I do know,” interrupted Patrick; “yet have I now some hopes of working my way into his good favour. But I shall tell you more of this anon. We shall meet again to-morrow night, shall we not?”
“Yes, yes!” replied Catherine, hurriedly.
“At the same hour and place?” said Patrick. “Alas! till then I must be contented with such converse with thee as our eyes may yield us: and blessings on thine for the intelligence they convey to me.”
“I hope my father may not be able to read them so readily,” replied Catherine. “But I must go now.”
“Stay for one moment, my sweetest heart,” said Patrick. “Ere you go, let me fix thine arryssade more firmly over thy bosom.” And, as he said so, he took from his sporran a golden brooch, formed of two entwined hearts, set with garnets. “Wear this trifle for my sake over thy heart. And now may I say, what I dare not utter in thy father’s hall – Farewell, my love – my dearest Catherine!”
“Farewell! farewell! my dearest Patrick!” replied she, with a throbbing heart. “I shall never part with this thy gift whilst life or sense endures; and I shall wear it ever thus, as thou sayest, over this heart, which beats but for thee alone.”
Thus they at last parted, with lingering reluctance; and each took a different and circuitous way to return to the Castle.
As Patrick entered the hall, a significant nod passed between him and Arthur Forbes. Soon afterwards, the retainers came crowding in, and the evening meal was placed on the board by the serving men. The piper had played his accustomed number of turns upon his walk, in the open gallery over the court-yard. All were ready to sit down. But there was one most important personage wanting; I mean the fair Lady Catherine Forbes. The fashion of the house, as well as of all well fashioned houses of the time, forbade their sitting down till the lady appeared. The Lord of Curgarf grew impatient.
“Go!” said he at length to one of the attendants; “go, and send some of the women to knock at the Lady Catherine’s chamber door, to tell her that supper is served, and that we wait for her presence.”
Again the company remained standing for some time. The old Lord of Curgarf arose from his arm chair, and took two or three turns on the large hearth before the fire place. Meanwhile, Arthur Forbes stole an enquiring glance at Patrick Stewart, but could gather nothing in reply. At length the Lady Catherine’s bower woman entered the hall, pale and trembling.
“What wouldst thou say, girl?” cried the Lord of Curgarf. “What of my daughter? Thy looks are ominous! She is not ill?”
“No, my Lord,” replied the girl, “my Lady is not ill; that is, she was quite well little more than an hour ago – but – but -“
“But what?” cried Arthur Forbes, anxiously; “cannot the girl speak out?”
“Tempted by the balmy evening,” replied the girl, “my Lady threw her arryssade about her, and walked forth beyond the castle walls, as her custom sometimes is, to breathe the air a little while.”
“Run! – fly all of you! – take lights, and search for her everywhere!” cried the Lord of Curgarf. “How provoking this is! How often have I tried in vain to cure her of this most foolish and pernicious custom! And then to go without an attendant too! and beyond the walls! – how very imprudent!”
The two friends were among the first to hurry out, in obedience to these orders from the old man. Both were extremely agitated; and, so far as this example went, it would have been difficult to have, from it, determined the question whether the affection of a loving brother or a tender lover, should be accounted the greater. Arthur Forbes was eager for some explanation from Patrick Stewart as to what he knew of the Lady Catherine. But, alas! Patrick could give him no information beyond that which I have already detailed to you. Leaving the crowd of the retainers to examine every hole and corner, bush and brake, immediately around the castle walls, Arthur and Patrick, from their knowledge of circumstances, pushed their search farther; and as they secretly knew the way that Catherine had taken from the pine grove homewards, they looked diligently for her all along the path. Of her, or anything belonging to her, they discovered nothing. But at last, in one place, where the path ran through a thicket, where the ground was soft, they were struck with the appearance of numerous newly impressed prints of footsteps. On examining these more closely by means of a torch, they observed, among those of many a rude brogue and sandal, mixed and mingled together, and pointing in all directions, as if those who wore them had been engaged in hurried action – among all these, I say, they observed one tiny and delicate footprint, which was here and there perceptible, and which Patrick Stewart at once declared, could have belonged to no one but to the Lady Catherine Forbes. Wild with dread and alarm, they returned to the castle. On questioning the warder, he admitted that he did remember having heard something like a woman’s shriek, that came faintly from some distance in the direction of the thicket, but as it was immediately drowned by the first drone of the piper’s warning, and had been heard by him no more, it had passed away altogether from his thoughts. Not a doubt now remained in their minds, that the Lady Catherine had been carried off by some villains, who had been lurking about the castle. The old Lord of Curgarf was inconsolable. He was quite unmanned, and unable to give an order as to what should be done. His son Arthur, the Master of Forbes, lost no time in acting for him. The retainers were hastily armed, and commanded to prepare for instant pursuit; and, being divided, at Patrick Stewart’s request, into two bands, the friends determined each to take the command of one of them, – and accordingly, with such hasty refreshments as the men could snatch, and carry with them, they took leave of one another, and started off, each upon such a line of country as he, in his quickly summoned forethought, judged to be the most likely to bring his expedition to a successful termination.
As we have already learned from the conversation of the Master of Forbes, when he first met Patrick Stewart after the accident which befell him near Dalestie, it was pretty generally known in the country, at this time, that a gang of Catteranes, or free-booters, from the west, were occasionally harboured somewhere among the neighbouring mountains, but no one could precisely tell whereabouts they most commonly secreted themselves. On this point, however, Patrick Stewart had some general suspicions, though he knew nothing that could lead him to guess – even within miles – as to the exact spot where their lurking place might be. He took his way directly over the mountain that separates the upper part of the river Don from the Aven, and he descended towards the valley of the latter stream, through that precipitous ravine, that affords a course for the little tributary burn of Cruachan-Seirceag, down the face of the white cliffs that almost overhang the small house of Inchvory, which, if we be all spared gentlemen, we shall see this night before we sleep. There is not a tree there now; but, at that period, the ravine was thickly shaded by such timber as could find footing or nourishment among the rocks, and it therefore formed a good and well-known place of shelter. Having fixed on it as the point of rendezvous, Patrick took his way up the valley of the Aven for some little distance, and then, dividing his people into two parties, he sent one of them off by the pass leading in the direction of Loch Builg, whilst he continued to lead the other up that which is more properly called Glen Aven, by the Lynn of Aven, where the river throws itself over the rocks in a fine wild fall. Having then ascended the mountains, he began, by break of day, to march, and countermarch, over and across them, visiting, and carefully examining every retired nook or corner that he thought might be the least likely to be chosen, by such villains, as a hiding-place, until mid-day came without bringing him the least clue to the object of his search. Then it was that he unwillingly halted his party in a hollow by the side of a spring, that the poor fellows might refresh themselves with food, and rest for a time.