WITH a view of multiplying the chances which might still remain of effecting the anxious object of his expedition, Patrick Stewart had no sooner started again from the heather where they had been seated, than he subdivided his party into several sections, under certain intelligent leaders, and having given to each of them such instructions as he deemed necessary for their guidance, he sent them off in different directions, with orders to meet together again, by nightfall, at the ravine of Cuachan-Seirceag. There they were all to wait till he should join them, unless in the event of the Lady Catherine being recovered by any of them, in which case they were to proceed in a body, without tarrying, to carry her straight to Curgarf, leaving one of their number behind them to certify him of the agreeable intelligence. For his own part, he took with him a single attendant only, one of the Curgarf retainers, called Michael Forbes, with whose superior sagacity and activity, some former circumstances had led him to be more particularly acquainted.
After all the others had left them, Patrick and his companion began a most particular and persevering search through the forest, and among the mountains, of that part of the country which he had especially marked out and reserved for himself, leaving no spot unexplored that had anything the least suspicious connected with it. But the wilderness through which they wandered was so wide, and, in many places, so very thickly wooded, that they might have been employed for days in the same way, without his being one whit nearer his object. It is not wonderful, then, that the evening began to manifest its approach, whilst he was yet actively engaged in laborious travel, yet still he bore on with unremitting exertion, altogether unconscious of the wane of day.
The wild scenery by which he was surrounded was beginning to grow dim in the increasing obscurity, when he arrived at the edge of a deep corry or ravine, in the steeply inclined side of a mountain. It was a place, of the existence of which, neither he nor his companion had ever been aware, well as they were both acquainted with the mountains. The precise position of it has been long ago forgotten; and indeed, if it could be guessed at, it is probably now so altered, and blocked up, by the fall of the mountain masses from time to time, as to be no longer in such a state as might admit of its being identified. But it was one of those rugged places of which there are plenty of examples among these mountains. The elevation on the mountain side was not greater than to have allowed Nature, at that time, to have carried the forest partially up around it, and the wood, that in a great measure concealed it, was chiefly composed of the mountain pine. The trees, which were seen struggling against the wintry tempests that prevailed around the summits of the cliffs above, appeared twisted and stunted, yet they grew thickly and sturdily together, as if resolved, like bold Highlanders in possession of a dangerous post, to put shoulder to shoulder for the determined purpose of maintaining their position, in defiance of the raging elements. Their foliage was shorn. not thinned by the blast. On the contrary, it was thickened by it, from that very clipping to which the storms so continually subjected it, so that the shade which was formed by their tops overhead, was thereby rendered just so much the more dense and impenetrable. The narrow and inclined bottom of the immense gully below, was composed of enormous fragments, which had been wedged out by time and frosts from the faces of the overhanging crags, and piled one over the other to an unknown depth, whilst the ground, that sloped rapidly down into it, from the lower part of the abrupt faces of the precipices on either side, was covered with small and lighter materials of the same sort, mingled with a certain proportion of soil. There some scattered trees had been enabled to grow to a huge size, from the uninterrupted shelter which the place afforded; but whilst few of these had altogether escaped injury and mutilation from the frequent descent of the stony masses, many of them had been entirely uprooted and overturned, by the immense magnitude of some of those falling rocks which had swept down upon them, and there lay their enormous trunks, resting upon their larger limbs, or upon one another, the whole being tossed and tumbled together in most intricate confusion, so as to cover the rocky fragments beneath them, with one continued and almost impervious natural chevaux-de-frize.
Patrick Stewart halted behind the bole of a tree, and, resting against it, so as to enable him to lean forward over the precipice, he surveyed the gulf below, as accurately as the evening twilight, and the intervening obstacles permitted him to do. He and Michael Forbes then stole slowly and silently along the very very of it, in that direction that lay down the mountain side, using their eyes sharply and earnestly as they went, and peering anxiously everywhere, with the hope of discovering some track which might tend downwards into the ravine. While so occupied, Patrick became suddenly sensible of the fresh smell of wood smoke. From the manner in which it was necessarily diffused, by the multiplied network of boughs through which it had to ascend, he looked for it in vain for some time, till he accidentally observed one or two bright fiery sparks mount upwards from below, such as may be often seen to arise from a cottage chimney top, when new fuel has been thrown upon the fire by the people within. Marking, with great attention, the spot whence these had proceeded, he commenced a more narrow examination of the edge of the ravine, until he at length discovered a perforation in the brushwood, so small, that it might have been easily mistaken for the avenue leading to the den of some wild beast, but which, a closer inspection persuaded him, might have been used by human creatures, there being quite enough of room for one man at a time to creep through it in a stooping posture. At all events he was resolved to explore it, and accordingly, having first stationed his attendant, Michael Forbes, in a concealed place, near to its entrance, that he might watch and give him warning if any one approached from without, he bent himself down, and began his strange and hazardous enterprise.
Creeping along, with his bonnet off, and almost on his hands and knees, he found that the track, which inclined gently at first over the rounded edge of the ravine, became, as he proceeded, nearly as steep as an upright ladder, but it was less encumbered with branches than the first part of the way had been, though there was still enough of growth to aid him in his descent, and to take away all appearance of danger. It went diagonally down the face of the cliff, dropping from one narrow ledge of footing in the rock, to that beneath it, with considerable intervals between each. But to one accustomed, as Patrick Stewart was, to scramble like a goat, the difficulties it presented were as nothing. All his anxiety and care was exerted to guard, if possible, against surprise, as well as against making any noise that might betray his approach, to any one who might be harboured in the ravine below.
Having at last got to the foot of the precipice, he found it somewhat easier to descend the rugged slope that inclined downwards from its base, and, upon reaching the bottom, he discovered that the track continued to lead onwards under the arched limbs of an overthrown pine, the smaller branches and spray of which, appeared, on a minute examination, to have been evidently broken away by frequent passage through underneath it. This circumstance he had some difficulty in discovering, as the increasing darkness was rendered deeper here, by the overhanging shade of the rocks and trees high above him. Bending beneath the boughs of the fir, he advanced with yet greater caution, and with some difficulty, over the rugged and angular fragments, until he suddenly observed something that made it prudent for him to halt for a moment, that he might well consider his position. This abrupt stop was occasioned by his observing a faint gleam of light, that partially illumined the broad side, and moss-grown edge, of a large mass of stone, a little way in advance of the place where he then was. He hardly breathed, and he tried to listen – and, for a moment, he fancied he heard a murmur like that of human voices. Again he stretched his ear, and again he felt persuaded that he heard the sound of the voices coming hollow on his ear, as if from some cavity, somewhere below the surface, at a little distance beyond him. Resolving at last to proceed, he moved on gently, and upon a nearer approach to the great stone, on the broad edge of which the light fell, he found that it formed one side of a natural entrance to a passage, that led upwards under the enormous superincumbent masses, that had been piled up over it, in their fall from the shattered crags above. Pausing again for a moment, he drew himself up behind a projecting part of another huge stone, that formed the dark side of the entrance, that he might again listen. He was now certain that he distinctly heard voices proceeding from within, though he was not yet near enough to the speakers to be able to make out their words. The smell f the wood smoke was exceedingly powerful, and his heart began to beat high, for he was now convinced that his adventure was drawing to a crisis.
He plucked forth his dirk, and stooped to enter the place. He found the passage to eb low, narrow, gently ascending, and running somewhat in an oblique direction, from the illuminated stone at the mouth, for a few paces inwards, till it met with another block of great size. The edges of this block glowed with a brighter light, that seemed to come directly upon it, at a right angle, from some fire, not then visible, but which was evidently blazing within, and which was again reflected from the side of this stone towards that of the stone at the entrance.
Having crept onwards to this second fragment of rock, where the passage took its new direction, he discovered that it led into a large, and very irregularly-shaped chamber, which was within a few feet only of the spot which he had now reached, but he had no accurate means of judging of the full extent of the cavern. He could now see the rousing fire that was burning in a recess in the side of the rocky wall of the place, the smoke from which seemed to find its way upwards, through some natural crevice immediately over it, for the interior of this subterranean den was by no means obscured by any great accumulation of it. By the light of the fire, one or two dark holes were seen, apparently forming low passages of connection with other chambers. How many living beings the place might then contain, he had no means of knowing or guessing. All that came within the field of his vision, were two persons, which he supposed were those whose voices he had heard. One of these was a slim youth, who was employed in feeding the fire from time to time with pieces of rotten wood and branches, and in attending to a large pot, that hung over it by an iron chain, depending from a strong hook fastened in the rock above. But the youth and his occupations were altogether disregarded by Patrick Stewart, in the intense interest and delight which he experienced in beholding the Lady Catherine Forbes, the fair object of his toilsome search, who sat pensively and in tears, on a bundle of heather on the farther side of the fire.
You will easily believe, gentlemen, that it was difficult for him to subdue his impatient feelings, so far as to restrain himself from at once rushing forward to snatch her to his arms. But prudence whispered him that her safety might depend on the caution he should use. Ignorant as he was of the extent of the subterranean den, or how it might be tenanted, he felt the necessity of exerting his self-command, and to remain quietly where he was for a little time, until he might be enabled to form some judgment, from what he should see and hear, as to the probable force he should have to contend with, as well as to determine what might be his best plan of action.
“If thou wouldst but listen to my entreaty,” said Catherine Forbes, addressing the youth in an earnest tone of supplication, whilst the tears that ran down her cheeks roused Patrick’s feelings to an agonising pitch of intensity – “If thou wouldst but fly with me, and take me to Curgarf, my father would give thee gold enough to enrich thee and thine for all thy life.”
“I tell thee again that it is useless to talk of it, lady,” replied the youth. “I have already told thee that I pity thee, but it were more than my life were worth to do as thou wouldst have me. And what is gold, I pray thee, compared to such a risk?”
“Methinks that, once out amidst these wide hills and forests, the risk would be but small indeed,” said Catherine.
“That is all true,” replied the youth. “The hills and forests are wide; but the men of the band well know every nook and turn of them. Nay, they are everywhere, and come pop upon one at the very time when they are least looked for. Holy Virgin, an’ we were to meet any of them as we fled! – My head sits uneasily on my neck at the very thought! – By the Rood, but there would be a speedy divorce between them! and where would your gold be then, lady?”
“Then let me go try to explore mine own way without thee,” said the Lady Catherine.
“Talk not of it, lady,” replied the youth, impatiently. “My head would go for it, I tell thee. It would go the moment they should return and find that thou hadst escaped. They may be already near at hand, too, if I mistake not the time of evening. Therefore, tease me no more, I pray thee.”
“Spirits of mine ancestors, give me strength and boldness!” cried the Lady Catherine, starting up energetically, after a moment’s pause, during which she seemed to have taken her resolution, and assuming a commanding attitude and air as she spoke. Let me pass, young man! – give me way, I say! – or I will struggle with thee to the death, but I will force a passage!”
“I have a sharp argument against that,” said the youth, drawing his dirk, and planting himself in the gap before her. “Stand back! – or thou shalt have every inch of its blade.”
“Out of the way, vermin!” cried Patrick Stewart, no longer able to contain his rage, and dashing down the youth before him as he entered.
“Patrick! – my dear Patrick!” cried the Lady Catherine, flying into his arms with a scream of joy.
“My dearest, dearest Catherine!” said Patrick, fondly – “this is indeed to be rewarded! – Wretch!” cried he, grappling the youth by the throat, and putting the point of his dirk to his breast, as he was in the act of rising from the ground, apparently with the intention of making his escape – “Wretch! our safety requires thy death.”
“Oh, do not kill me, good Sir Knight!” cried the terrified you piteously, and with a countenance as pale as a corpse.
“Spare him!- spare him!” cried Catherine, – “his worthless like is unworthy of thy blade.”
“Oh, mercy, mercy!” cried the youth again. “Spare me! – oh, do not kill me!”
“If I did kill thee, it would be no more than what thou hast well merited,” said Patrick. “But as thou sayest, Catherine, my love, such worthless blood should never wantonly soil the steel of a brave man; and if I could but make him secure by any other means, I should be better contented.”
“Bind me, if thou wilt, Sir Knight; but, oh, do not! – do not kill me!” cried the youth.
“Well then, I will spare thy life, though I half question the wisdom of so doing,” said Patrick.
Casting his eyes around the cave, he espied some ropes lying in a dark corner. Catherine flew and brought them to him. He seized them, and quickly bound the youth neck and heel, in such a manner as to make it quite impossible for him to move body or limb, and then, lifting him in his arms, he groped his way with him into the farther end of one of those dark recesses that branched off from the main cavern, and there he deposited him.
“Now, let us fly, my love!” cried he, hastily returning to the Lady Catherine. “Every moment we tarry here is fraught with danger. Follow me quickly! – I grieve to think of the fatigue you must undergo. But cheer up, and trust for your defence, from all danger, to this good arm of mine. Above all things, be silent.”
“With thee as my protector I am strong and bold,” said Catherine. “Thanks be to the Virgin for this deliverance!”
Patrick now led the Lady Catherine forth into the open air. But before he ventured to proceed, he listened for a moment to ascertain that there was no one near. To his great horror, and to the lady’s death-like alarm, they distinctly heard a footstep slowly and cautiously approaching. Pushing Catherine gently behind the dark mass of stone at the entrance, he placed himself before her in the shadow, that, whilst concealed by it himself, he might have a perfect view of whosoever came, the moment the person should advance into the light, that was reflected on the wall-like side of the rocky mass opposite to him, and fell on the ground for a little space beyond it. He listened, with attention so breathless, that he seemed to hear every beat of his own heart, as well as of that of his trembling companion. The footstep was that of one person only, and he felt as if his resolution was quite equal to an encounter with a dozen; but he knew not how many might be following, and he was fully conscious of the importance, as regarded the lady, of avoiding a conflict, unless rendered indispensable by circumstances. The step came on, falling gently, at intervals of several moments, as if the individual who approached was unwilling to make the least unnecessary noise. The dim figure of a man at length appeared, under the arched boughs of the fallen pine tree. He advanced, step by step, with increased caution. A dirk blade, which he held forward in his outstretched hand, first caught the stream of reflected light that came from the mouth of the cavern. The next step that the figure took brought his face under its influence; and, to the great relief of Patrick Stewart, displayed the features of Michael Forbes. Patrick gave a low whistle. Michael had at that moment stopped to listen, with a strange expression of dread and horror, to the complaints of the youth who was bound in the innermost recesses of the cavern, whence they came, reduced by its sinuosities, into a low wild moaning sound, that had something supernatural in it, so as to be quite enough to appall any superstitious mind. The whistle startled him.
“Michael!” said Patrick in a low tone of voice, “why did’st thou desert thy post?”
“Holy virgin, is that you, Sir Knight?” said Michael, in a voice which seemed to convey a doubt whether he was not holding converse with a spirit.
“What could make you desert your post?” demanded Patrick, angrily, and at the same time showing himself.
“Holy saints, I am glad that it is really you, Sir Knight,” replied Michael. “I crave your pardon, but your long delay led me to fear that something had befallen you, and that you might lack mine aid.”
“Had an accident befallen me, Michael,” said Patrick, “thine aid, I fear, would have been of little avail. But we have lost much time by this thy neglect of mine orders. Quick! let us lose no more, and give me thy best help to aid thy mistress, the Lady Catherine.”
“The Virgin be praised!” exclaimed Michael, as Catherine appeared; “then the lady is safe!”
“But so far only,” replied Patrick Stewart. “We have yet much peril to encounter; but our perils are increased every precious moment that we loiter here. Get thee on quickly before us to the top of the path where it quits the ravine, – the spot, I mean, where I left thee, and see that you be sure to give me good warning, shouldst thou see or hear anything to cause alarm.”
Michael obeyed; and Patrick, having led Catherine out from under the boughs of the fallen pine, began to assist her in ascending the path. He had some difficulty in dragging her up the wild-cat’s ladder that scaled the side of the cliff; but, by the assistance of his strongly nerved arm, she reached the summit without danger. She then forced her way through the narrow passage in the brushwood that grew over the top of the crags, until she had at length the satisfaction of being able to stand erect, to receive the cooling mountain breeze on her flushed cheek and throbbing temples. But this was no place for them to rest. Patrick whistled softly, and Michael appeared.
“Catherine, my love,” said he, “this is no time for ceremony. Give one arm to Michael, and put the other firmly into mine – so. Now take the best care you can of your footing, and lean well upon me as we go down the mountain side. Oh, how I long to talk to thee! But, dearest, we must be silent as death, for we know not whom we may meet.”
After a long, rough, and slippery descent, they came at length into a narrow glen, where the trees grew taller and farther apart from each other. This was so far fortunate for them; for as the shadows of night became deeper here than they had been on the mountain side, they were compelled to move slower; and it required all the care of the Lady Catherine’s supporters, to save her from the injuries she might have sustained from the numerous fallen branches, and other obstacles lying in their way.
They had nearly reached the lower extremity of this lesser tributary glen, where it discharged a small rill into the wider glen and stream of the Aven, when Patrick Stewart suddenly halted.
“Stop!” cried he; “I hear voices on the breeze, and they come this way too. We must up the bank, Michael. Courage, my dearest Catherine! let me help thee to climb. Trust me love, thou hast nothing to fear.”
“I fear nothing whilst thou art by my side,” replied Catherine, exerting herself to the utmost.
“Now,” said Patrick, after they had half carried her some thirty or forty paces up the steep slope; “we have time to go no farther. Hark! they come! Stretch thyself at length among this long heather, Catherine, and let me throw my plaid over thee. Nay, now I think on’t, Michael’s green one is better, the red of mine might be more visible. There; that will do. Now, Michael, draw thy good claymore, as I do mine. Here are two thick trunks which stand well placed in front of us. Do thou take thy stand behind that one, whilst I post myself behind this, so that both of us may be between the lady and danger. They cannot come at her but by passing between us. And if they do! But see that thou dost not strike till I give thee the word. Hush! they come!”
They had hardly thus disposed of themselves, when the voices drew nearer, and the dusky figures were obscurely seen moving up the bottom of the little glen. They came loitering on, one after another, in what we of the army used to call Indian files, – man following man along the track, where they knew that the footing was likely to be the best. This plan of march necessarily made them longer of passing by, but it relieved those who were lurking in the bank above from any great fear of being discovered by any stray straggler. Two individuals of the party, who had probably some sort of command over the rest, were considerably in advance. These lingered on their way, and halted more than once to give time for those that followed to come up, so that Patrick Stewart caught a sentence or two of the conversation that fell from them.
“He must be as cunning as the devil,” said one of them to the other, in Gaelic.
“Thou knowest that she has not yet seen his face,” replied the other; “so that, when he comes to act the part of her deliverer, she will never suspect that it was to him she was indebted for her unwilling travel last night, and her present confinement. And then, you see, he thinks, in this way, to make his own, both of her and her old father, by his pretended gallantry in rescuing her from -“
Patrick Stewart in vain stretched his ears to catch more, for on came the rest in closer lines, gabbling together so loudly about trifles, and with voices so commingled, that it was not possible to gather the least sense out of their talk. These all passed onwards; and, a little way behind them, came four other men, who walked very slowly, and stopped occasionally to converse in Gaelic, like people who were so travel-worn, that they were not sorry to halt now and then, and to rest against a tree for a few moments.
“What made Grigor Beg stop behind Allister?” demanded one.
“Hoo! you may well guess it was nothing but his old trick,” replied the other. “The boddoch would have fain had me to tarry for him, that I might help him, by carrying a part of what load he might get. But I was no such fool. My shoulders ache enough already with carrying the rough rungs of that accursed litter last night, to let me wish for any new burden.”
“If thou hadst not been carrying the bonny lassie for another’s pleasure, methinks you would maybe have thought less of it,” said a third man.
Whilst attentively listening to this dialogue, Patrick Stewart observed some ill-defined object, coming stealing up the slope of the bank, in a diagonal line, from the place a little way down the glen, where the four men had halted. It came on noiselessly, but steadily pointing towards the spot where Catherine lay. It stopped, and uttered a short bark, and Patrick now saw that it was a large, rough, Highland wolf-dog. Again, with its long snout directed towards the plaid that covered Catherine, it barked and snarled.
“Dermot, boy! – Dermot!” – cried one of the men from the hollow below. “What hast thou got there?”
As if encouraged by its master’s voice, the animal barked and snarled again yet more eagerly, and seemed to be on the very eve of springing upon the plaid. The blade of Patrick Stewart’s claymore made one swift circuit in the air, and descending like a flash of lightning on the neck of the creature, his head and his body rolled asunder into different parts of the heather, and again Patrick took his silent but determined stand behind the tree.
“Dermot! – Dermot boy!” – cried the man again from below. – “What think ye is the beast at, lads?”
“Some foulmart or badger it may be,” replied another.
“Can’st thou not go up and see, man?” said a third.
“Go thyself, my good man,” said the dog’s master. “I am fond enough of the dog – aye, and, for that part, I am fond enough of travel too, but I am content with my share of fagg for this day without going up the brae there to seek for more. A man may e’en have his serving of the best haggis that ever came out of a pot. trust me, I am for going no foot to-night beyond what I can help. – Dermot – Dermot, boy! – See ye any thing of him at all, lads?”
“The last sight I had of him at all, was near yon dark looking hillock, a good way up the bank yonder,” said another man.
“I’m thinking that the brute has winded a passing roebuck,” said the fourth man, “I thought I saw something like a glimmer just against the light cloud yonder above, as if it had been the dog darting over the height, the very moment after the last bark he gave.”
“Dermot! whif-hoo-if!” cried the dog’s master, and, at the same time, whistling shrilly upon his fingers. “Tut! the fiend catch him for me! let him go! I’ll be bound that he’ll be home before us.”
“Come, then, let’s on!” said another. “I wonder much that Grigor Beg hath not come up with us ere this.”
“Hulloah, Grigor!” shouted one of them. “No, no, we’ll not see him so soon, I’ll warrant ye.”
“Come! come away, lads!” said another, moving on with the rest following him. “I’ll be bound that the boddoch hath got a swingeing load upon his back.”
“Awell!” said one of the first speakers, “rather him than me. But we shan’t be the worse of it when it’s well broiled, for all that. I’m sure I wish I had a bit of it at this moment, for I’m famishing, I’m dead tired to-night; I hope that we may have some rest to-morrow. Know ye ought that is to do?”
“I heard the Captain say that” – but the rest of the dialogue was cut off by the distance which the men had by this time reached.
“Thanks be to St. Peter, they are gone at last!” said Patrick Stewart. “How my fingers itched to have a cut at the villains. – Catherine,” continued he, lifting the plaid, and assisting her to rise, “art thou not half dead with terror? But courage, my love. There lies the murderous four-footed savage, whose fell fangs had so nearly been busied with the plaid that covered thee. If we may trust to what we have jsut heard, there is but one man to come; and, judging by the name of Beg1 which they gave him, he ought to be no very formidable person. Michael, get thee on a few steps in front, and keep a good look out for him. Were we but out of this narrow place, and fairly into the wider glen of the Aven, we should have less to fear, and then we shall find means to carry thee.”
“Thanks to the Virgin, I am yet strong,” said Catherine. “Let us fly, then, with all speed.”
A farther walk, of a few minutes only, brought them into Glen Aven, and they pursued its downward course, for a considerable length of way, until Patrick Stewart began to perceive something like fatigue in the Lady Catherine’s step. He therefore halted, and made her sit down to rest a while. In the mean time, he and Michael Forbes contrived to hew down two small sapling fir trees, by the aid of their good claymores, and having tied their plaids between them, they, in this manner, very speedily constructed a tolerably easy litter for the lady to recline at length in. This they carried between them, by resting the ends of the poles upon their shoulders, Patrick making Michael Forbes go foremost, and reserving the place behind for himself. I need hardly tell you that the Stewart especially selected that position, for the obvious reason that he might be thereby enabled to cheer the Lady Catherine’s spirits, and to lighten her fatigues, by now and then addressing a word or two of comfort to her as they went. In this manner they pursued their way down the glen, until the loud roar of many waters informed them that they were approaching the grand waterfall, called the Lynn of Aven. You will have ample opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with all the details of this fine scene, gentlemen, as you go up the glen to-morrow. But in the meanwhile, I may tell you generally, that the whole of this large river, there precipitates itself headlong, through a comparatively narrow chasm in the rocks, into a long, wide, and extremely deep pool below.
The sound increased as the bearers of the litter drew nearer to the waterfall, and the rocky and confined passage, over which they had to make their way, compelled them to walk at greater leisure, and to select their footing with more caution. Fortunately they had now the advantage of the moon, which had been for some time shining favourably upon them, and they were already within a very few steps of coming immediately over the waterfall, when they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful and most unearthly shriek. It came apparently from the very midst of the descending column of water below them.
“Holy Virgin Mother!” Cried Michael Forbes, halting, and backing like a restive horse, so unexpectedly, that the ends of the poles were nearly jerked from Patrick Stewart’s shoulders, by the shock which was thus communicated to them. “Holy Mother, didst thou not hear that, Sir Knight?”
“I did hear something,” said Stewart, not quite willing to increase that dread which he perceived was already quite sufficiently excited in his companion, and of which he could not altogether divest himself. “I did fancy that I heard something. But for the love of the Virgin take care what thou dost. Thou hadst almost shaken the poles from my shoulders by thy sudden start. Come! proceed, man!”
Again, a louder, and more appalling shriek arose from the midst of the cataract, piercing their ears above all the roaring of its thunder.
“For the love of all the saints, let us turn back, Sir Knight!” cried Michael. “It is the water-kelpie himself!”
“Nay,” said Patrick Stewart; “back we may not go, without the risk of falling again into the very jaws of the Catteranes. They are no doubt hard on foot after us by this time. Forward then, and fear not!”
Again came the wild shriek, if possible louder and more terrible than before.
“For the love of God, Sir Knight, back!” cried Michael, now losing all command of himself, and forcing the litter so backwards upon Patrick Stewart, as to compel him, from the narrowness of the rocky shelf where they then stood, to retreat in a corresponding degree, to avoid the certain alternative of being precipitated over the giddy ledge into the boiling stream of the Aven. “For the love of God, back, I say! were it but for a few paces, till we have leisure to lay down our burden, and cross ourselves.”
“Merciful saints! what will become of us?” cried the Lady Catherine, in great alarm.
“Now,” said Patrick Stewart, after yielding a few steps, “now, we may surely halt here till thy courage return to thee, Michael. What a fiend hath so unmanned thee to-night? I thought thou hadst been brave as a lion.”
“A fiend indeed, Sir Knight, ” replied Michael, as they were laying down the litter; “I trust that I lack not courage, at any time, to face any mortal foe that ever came before me. But,” added he, eagerly crossing himself, “to meet with the devil thus in one’s very path” Good angels be about us, heard ye not that scream again? Have mercy upon us all!”
“There is something very strange in this,” said Patrick Stewart. “But this will never do. We cannot tarry here long without the certainty of being overtaken by the whole body of the Catteranes. By this time they must be well on their way in pursuit of us.”
“Holy Virgin! what will become of us if we should fall into their hands?” cried Lady Catherine, in an agony of distress.
“Fear not, my love!” said Patrick Stewart; “I will forthwith fathom this mystery. I will see whence these horrible screams proceed.”
“Nay, Sir Patrick, tempt not thy fate,” cried Michael. “If thou dost thou goest to thy certain destruction.”
“Oh stir not, dear Patrick!” cried the Lady Catherine, starting up from the litter, and endeavouring to detain him. “Do not attempt so great, so dreadful a danger.”
“Catherine, my dearest!” said Patrick, fondly taking her hands in his; “listen to reason, I entreat thee. The danger that presses on us from behind is imminent, and more than what two swords, good as they may be, could by any means save thee from. And since God hath given us strength to flee from it, he will not forsake me in a conflict with the powers of hell, should they stand in my way. I go forward in his holy name, then; have no fear for me therefore. Rest thine arm upon Michael, dearest – tell thy beads, and may the blessed Virgin hover over thee to protect thee! As for you, Michael, draw your claymore, and stir not a step from the lady till I call thee.”
Patrick Stewart now crossed himself, and then strode slowly and resolutely along the narrow ledge of rock towards the roaring lynn, repeating a paternoster as he went. The moon was by this time high in the heavens, and its beams produced a faint tinge of the rainbow’s hues, as they played among the mists that arose from the waterfall. The shrieks that came from below were now loud and incessant, and might have quailed the stoutest heart. But still Patrick advanced firmly, till he stood upon a shelving rock, forming the very verge of the roaring cataract, whence he could throw his eyes directly downwards, through the shooting foam, into the abyss below. Far down, in the midst of the rising vapour, and apparently suspended in it, close by the edge of the descending column of water; he could distinguish a dark object. New and more piercing screams arose from it. He bent forward, and looked yet more intently. To his no inconsiderable dismay, he beheld a fearful head rear itself, as it were from out of it; the long hair by which it was covered, and the immense beard that flowed from the chin, hanging down, drenched by the surrounding moisture, and the eyes glaring fearfully in the moonlight, whilst the terrific screams were inconceivably augmented. Appalled as he was by this most unaccountable apparition, Patrick was shifting his position, in order to lean yet more forward, that he might the better contemplate it, when the toe of his sandal grazed against something that had nearly destroyed his equilibrium, and sent him headlong over the rock. Having with some difficulty recovered himself, he stopped down to ascertain what had tripped him, when he found to his surprise that it was a rope. He now remembered that the feudal tenant of the neighbouring ground, who owed service to his father, Sir Allan, was accustomed to hang a conical creel, or large rude basket, by the edge of the fall, for the purpose of catching the salmon that fell into it after failing in their vain attempts to leap up.
“Ho, there!” cried Patrick Stewart, in that voice of thunder, which he required to exert in order to overcome the continuous roar of the cataract.
“Oh, help! help! help!” cried the fearful head from below.
“Man or demon, I will see what thou art!” cried Patrick, stooping down to lay hold of the rope, with the intention of making an attempt to pull up the creel.
“For the love of Saint Andrew, lay not a hand on the rope, Sir Knight, as thou may’st value thy life!” said Michael Forbes, who, having heard Patrick’s loud shout, had been hurried off to his aid by the fears and the commands of the Lady Catherine.
“Why hast thou left the lady, caitiff?” demanded Patrick Stewart, angrily. “Did I not tell thee to stay with her till I should call thee?”
“We heard thee call loudly, Sir Knight,” replied Michael, trembling more from his proximity to the place whence the screams had issued than from anything that Patrick had said.
“True, I had forgotten,” replied Patrick; ” I did call, though not on thee. But since thou art here, come lend me thy hand to pull up the basket.”
“Nay, Sir Knight; surely thou art demented by devilish influence. For the love of all the saints!” cried Michael, quaking from head to foot; ” for the love of -“
“Dastard, obey my command, or I will hurl thee over the rock!” cried Patrick, furiously, and with a manner that showed Michael that it was time to obey. “Now, pull – pull steadily and firmly; pull away, I say!”
“Have mercy on us! have mercy on our souls!” cried Michael, pulling most unwillingly.
“What a fiend are you afraid of? Why don’t you pull, I say?” cried the Knight again.
“Jesu Maria, protect me! that I should have a hand in any such work!” muttered Michael. “Oh, holy Virgin! to have thus to deal with the Devil himself!”
“Come! pull! – pull away, I tell ye – pull! aye, there!” cried Patrick Stewart, as the basket at last came to the top of the rock.
“Preserve us all!” cried Michael; “the water-kelpie, sure enough! Mercy on us, what a fearful red beard! what terrible fiery eyes! For the love of heaven, Sir Knight, let him down again!”
“Coward!” cried Patrick, “if you let go the rope, I’ll massacre thee! Now, do you hear? pull the creel well out this way. Ha, that will do! Now I think it is safe.”
“Oh, may the blessed saints reward thee!” said a little shred of a man, who now arose, shaking in a palsy of cold and wet, from the midst of at least a dozen large salmon, with which the creel was heaped up; “thou hast saved me from the most dreadful of deaths.”
“How camest thou there?” demanded Patrick Stewart; “answer quickly, for we are in haste.”
“Oh, I know not well how I got there,” said the little man, shivering so that he could hardly speak. “I stepped aside from the path, just to take a look down to see if there were any salmon in the creel, when something took my foot, and over I went. Oh, what a providence it was that ye came by! Another hour and I must have been dead from cold and wet, and buried in salmon, foe they were flying in upon me like so many swallows. I thought they would have choked me.”
“Here,” said Patrick Stewart, taking out a flask, “take a sup of this cordial; it will speedily restore thee.”
“Oh, blessings on thee, Sir Knight!” said the little man; “I will drink thy health with good will. But tell me thy name, I pray thee, that I may know, and never forget, who it was that saved my life.”
“I am Patrick Stewart of Clan-Allan,” replied the knight carelessly. “Come now, Michael, we must tarry here no longer.”
“Sure I am that I shall never forget the name of Sir Patrick Stewart,” said the little man, whilst he was following them along the narrow path, as they retraced it towards the place where they had left the Lady Catherine; “and if ever I can do thee a good turn I shall do it, though it were by the sacrifice of my life.”
Catherine’s fear were soon allayed by the explanation that was given her. She was again put into the litter, which was quickly shouldered by her protectors, the little man lending them a willing helping hand; and Patrick and Michael proceeded on their way, whilst the half-drowned wretch went up the glen, pouring out blessings upon them. Without fear or interruption they now passed by the spot which had occasioned them so much dread and delay, and they soon left the roar of the lynn behind them, and at length reached the ravine of Cuachan Searceag, where, much to their relief, they found the whole of the party anxiously waiting for them. When the Forbeses beheld Patrick Stewart, and, above all, when they beheld their young mistress, the daughter of their chief, safe and well among them, they rent the air with shouts of joy that made the whole glen ring again.
“Aye,” said Patrick Stewart, as they sat down to rest a little while, and to take some hasty refreshment, “we may now make what noise we list, for, if the whole gang of these accursed Catteranes should come upon us, we have brave hearts and keen claymores enow to meet them. But, for all that, we have too precious a charge with us to tarry for the mere pleasure of a conflict’ so be stirring, my men, and let us breast the hill as fast as may be.”
You may all well enough guess, gentlemen, how Patrick Stewart was received by the old Lord of Curgarf when he entered his hall, leading in his fair daughter safe and sound. The joy of the father was not the less, that his son, Arthur, the Master of Forbes, had returned but a brief space of time before, jaded, dispirited, and sorrowful, from his long, tiresome, and fruitless expedition. Worn with anxiety, the old man had counted watch after watch of the night, and the day and the night again, until his son’s arrival, and then he had sunk into the most overwhelming despair. After pouring forth thanks to Heaven, and to all the saints, he now gave way to his joy. The midnight feast was spread, and all was revelry and gladness in the castle, Patrick Stewart was now viewed by him as his guardian angel. Seeing this, Arthur Forbes took an opportunity of advising his friend to profit by the happy circumstance which had now placed him so high in his father’s good opinion. He did so – and the result was, that he obtained the willing consent of the old Lord of Curgarf to his union with his daughter, the Lady Catherine, with the promise of a tocher which should be worthy of her.
The happiness of the lovers was now complete, and the next day was spent in open and unrestrained converse between them. The time was fixed for the wedding, and then it was, after all these arrangements had been made, that Patrick Stewart first had leisure fully to recall to mind, all those afflicting circumstances which had taken place when he last saw his brother Walter. He thought of his father – he felt the necessity of going immediately home, to relieve any anxiety which his father, Sir Allan, might have, in consequence of his unexplained absence, as well as to make him acquainted with his approaching marriage. He accordingly took a tender leave of his fair bride that evening, and, starting next morning, he made his way over the hills to Drummin.
Patrick Stewart was already within sight of home, when his attention was arrested by the blast of a bugle, which rang shrilly from the hill above him. It conveyed to him that private signal which was always used between hsi brother Walter and himself. For the first time in his life it grated harshly in his ear, for it immediately brought back to his recollection those oppressively painful circumstances which had occurred at Dalestie, which he had so studiously endeavoured to banish from his memory. But the strong tide of brotherly affection within him was too resistless not to sweep away every feeling connected with the past. He applied his bugle to his lips, and returned the call; and, looking up the side of the hill, he beheld Walter, and a party of the Clan-Allan, hastening down through the scattered greenwood to meet him.
“Thanks be to Heaven and good Saint Hubert that I see thee safe, my dearest Patrick,” said Sir Walter, hurrying towards him, and warmly embracing him. “Hast thou forgiven a brother’s anger and unkindness?”
“Could’st thou believe that I could for a moment remember it, my dear Walter?” replied Patrick, returning his embrace.
“Where in the name of wonder hast thou been wandering?” demanded Sir Walter. “Where hast thou been since that night – that night of justice, yet of horror – when you disappeared so mysteriously? Since that moment, when I returned home and found thee not, I have done little else, night or day, but travel about hither and thither, anxiously seeking for tidings of thee.”
“Let us walk apart,” said Patrick in his ear, “and I will tell thee all that has befallen me.”
“Willingly,” said Sir Walter in the same tone; “for, in exculpation of myself, I would now fain pour into thy private ear all those circumstances which secretly urged me to execute that stern act of justice and necessity, which then thou could’st not comprehend, and against which thy recoiling humanity did naturally enough compel thee so urgently to protest.”
Arm in arm the two brothers then walked on alone, at such a distance before their clansmen as might insure the perfect privacy of their talk, and long ere they reached Drummin, they had fully communicated to each other all that they had mutually to impart. Old Sir Allan had been querulous and impatient about Patrick’s absence, and he had been every now and then peevishly inquiring about him. But now that his son appeared, he seemed to have forgotten that he had not been always with him. He was so pleased and proud when the contemplated marriage was communicated to him, and he enjoined Sir Walter to see to it, that everything handsome should be done on the occasion. In this respect, Sir Walter’s generosity required no stimulus; and if Patrick was dissatisfied at all, it was with the over liberality which his brother manifested, which, in some particulars, he felt inclined to resist.
“Patrick,” said Sir Walter aside to his brother, with a more than ordinarily serious air, “I give thee but thine own in advance. One day or other it will be all thine own. There is something within me that tells me that I am not long for this world. The last words of the wretch, delivered to me, as I told thee, from the midst of those flames that consumed him, were prophetic. But, be that as it may, I have never had thoughts of marrying, and now I am firmly resolved that I never shall marry, so that thou art the sole prop of our house.”
The entrance of the retainers, and the spreading of the evening meal, put a stop to all farther conversation between the brothers. Patrick had not yet seen either the Lady Stradawn, or her son Murdoch. On inquiry, he was told that Murdoch had gone on some unknown expedition on the previous day, and that he had not yet returned. A circumstance, so common with him, excited no surprise. As for the Lady Stradawn, she now came swimming into the hall, with her countenance clothed in all its usual smiles. Her salutation to her stepsons was full of well-dissembled warmth and affection. She hastened, with her wonted affectation of fondness, to bustle about Sir Allan, with the well-feigned pretence of anxiety to attend to his wants, after which she took her place at the head of the board. It was then that Patrick’s eyes became suddenly fixed upon her with a degree of astonishment, which, fortunately for him, the busy occupation of every one else at the table left them no leisure to observe. To his utter amazement, he beheld in her bosom that very garnet brooch which he had given to Catherine Forbes! His first impulse was to demand from her an explanation of the circumstances by which she had become possessed of it; but a little reflection soon enabled him to control his feelings, though he continued to sit gazing at the well-known jewel, altogether forgetful of the feast, until the lady arose to retire to her chamber.
“My dearest Sir Allan,” said she, going up to the old knight’s chair to bestow her caresses on him ere she went; “My dearest Sir Allan, thou hast eaten nothing for these two days. What can I get for thee that may tickle thy palate into thy wonted appetite? Said’st thou not something of a deer’s heart, for which thou hadst a longing? ‘Tis a strange fancy, I’m sure.”
“Oh, aye! very true, a deer’s heart!” said the doting old man. “Very true, indeed, my love. I did dream – oh, aye – I dreamed, I say, Bella, that I was eating the rosten heart of a stag – of a great hart of sixteen,2 killed by my boys on the hill of Dalestie – aye, aye – and with arrows feathered from an eagle’s wing. As I ate, and better ate, I always grew stronger and stronger, till at length I was able to rise from my chair as stoutly as ever I did in my life – och, aye! that day is gone! Yet much would I like to eat the rosten heart of a deer; but it would need to be that of a great hart of sixteen.”
“My dear father, thou shalt not want that,” said Sir Walter; “thou shalt have it ere I am a day older, if a hart of sixteen be to be found between this and Loch Aven.”
“Aye, aye, Walter boy, as thou sayest,” said the old man; “a great hart of sixteen – else hath the heart of the beast no potency in’t – aye, and killed with an arrow feathered from an eagle’s wing – och, aye – hoch-hey!”
Though the two brothers were satisfied that this was nothing but the drivelling of age, they were not the less anxiously desirous to gratify their father’s wish to the very letter. Accordingly, the necessary orders were given, and the trusty Dugald Roy3 was forthwith summoned to prepare six arrows, which would have been easily supplied, with the small portions of feather which were necessary for them, from the eagle wing in Sir Walter’s bonnet. But Sir Allan stopped him as he was about to tear it off.
“What, Sir!” exclaimed the old man testily, and in a state of agitation that shook every fibre of his frame like a palsy;- “What! wouldst thou shear the eagle plume of my boy Walter, thou ill-omened bird that thou art? Yonder hangs mine; it can never more appear bearing proudly forward in the foremost shock of the battle-field. Och, hey, that is true! Take that, thou raven! Thou may’st rend it as ye list. But, my boy’s! – the proud plume of mine eldest born boy! – thou shalt never take that!”
“I crave your pardon, Sir Knight,” replied Dugald Roy; “and now I think on’t, I need not take either, for I have some spare wing feathers in my store that will do all the turn.”
The next morning saw Sir Walter and his brother Patrick early on foot, dressed in their plainest hunting attire, stretching up the valley at the head of their attendants. Each of the brothers had three of the eagle-winged arrows stuck into his belt; for, as both were dexterous marksmen, and as they had resolved to use their shafts against nothing else but a great hart of sixteen, they felt themselves to be thus most amply provided to insure success. Fortune was somewhat adverse to them, however; for although they saw deer in abundance, they found themselves in this very part of the valley, when the day was already far spent, without having once had a chance of effecting their object.
“Look ye there, brother Walter!” at length cried Patrick Stewart suddenly, as he pointed to a hart with a magnificent head, which was crossing to this side of the river, at the ford you see above yonder. “Look ye there, brother! there he goes at last!”
“By the rood, but that is the very fellow we want,” replied Sir Walter. “Watch him! See! – he takes the hill aslant. He will not go far, if we may judge from his present pace.”
“I saw him walk over that open knoll in the wood high up yonder,” said Patrick, after some minutes of pause. “He has no mind to go farther than the dip of the hill above. I think that we are sure of finding him there. What say you, brother?”
“Thou art right, Patrick,” said Walter. “Then do thou run on, and take the long hollow in the hill-side, beyond the big pine tree yonder. I will follow up the slack behind us here. Let your sweep be wide, that we may be sure of stalking well in beyond him, so that, if we fail of getting proper vantage of him, we may be sure that we drive him not farther a-field. Let us take no sleuth-hound, nor bratchet neither, lest, perchance, we cause him alarm. You, my merry men, will tarry here for us with the dogs.”
Off went the two brothers, each in his own direction, and each with his bow in his hand, and his three arrows in his belt. In obedience to Sir Walter’s directions, Patrick hurried away to the great pine tree, and then began his ascent through the long hollow in the woody mountain’s side with all manner of expedition. After a long and fatiguing climb, he began to use less speed and more caution, as he approached nearer to the somewhat less steep ground, where his hopes lay. Then it was that he commenced making a long sweep around, stealing silently from tree to tree, and concealing himself, as much as he could, by keeping their thick trunks before him, and creeping along among the heather, where such a precaution was necessary. Having completed his sweep to such an extent as led him to believe that he had certainly got beyond the hart, he was about to creep down the hill, in the hope of soon coming upon him, when he chanced to observe a great uprooted pine, which lay prostrated a little way farther on, and somewhat above the spot where he then was, its head rising above the heather like a great green hillock. Thinking that he might as well have one peep beyond it before he turned downwards, and wishing to avail himself of its shade to mask his motions, he took a direct course towards it. But it so happened, that the hart had found it equally convenient for the same purpose, as well as for a place of outlook, for it had taken post close to it, on the farther side. Descrying Patrick Stewart through an accidental opening in the foliage, and having no fancy to hold nearer converse with him, the creature moved slowly away. His quick and practised eye caught a view of it through the opening, as it was going away up the hill, as it happened in a direct line. Well experienced in wood-craft, he, in a loud voice, called out “hah!” As is common with red deer when in the woods, the hart made a sudden halt, and wheeled half round to listen, and in this way he placed his broadside to the hunter’s eye. This was but for an instant, to be sure; but in that instant Patrick Stewart’s arrow, passing through the break in the foliage of the pine, fixed itself deep into the shoulder of the hart.
Clumsily done!” exclaimed Patrick Stewart from very vexation as he saw the hart bound off. “I’ll warrant me the arrow-head is deep into his shoulder blade. One single finger’s breadth more behind it would have made him mine own, and with all the cleverness of perfect wood-craft.”
Patrick, baulked and disappointed, now extended his sweep, and crossed and re-crossed the ground, with the hope of meeting his brother Sir Walter; but as he did not succeed in falling in with him, he followed the track of the hart for some distance up the hill, until he lost every trace of his slot upon the dry summit, after which he returned with all manner of haste to make his way downwards to the party in the valley below. This he did, partly with the expectation of meeting his brother Sir Walter there, and partly with the intention of getting the dogs, that he might make an attempt to recover his wounded hart. There he found – not his brother Sir Walter – but his brother Murdoch – who stood exulting over a dead stag. He was a great hart of sixteen, just such an one as he himself had been after.
“Thou see’st that I have the luck,” said Murdoch Stewart, triumphantly.
“Whence camest thou, Murdoch? and how comes this?” demanded Patrick.
“All naturally enough, brother,” replied Murdoch Stewart, carelessly. “As I was wandering idly on the hill-side above there, I espied the people here below, so I came sauntering down to see what they were about, and to hear news of ye all. But, as my luck would have it, I had hardly been with them the pattering of a paternoster, when the very hart that thou wentest after came bang down upon me – my shaft fled – and there he lies. Mark now, brother, is he not well and cleanly killed? Observe – right through the neck you see. But, ha! – it would seem that thou hast spent an arrow too – for these fellows tell me that thou tookest three with thee, and methinks thou hast but twain left in thy belt.”
“I used one against the hart I went after,” said Patrick, coldly.
“And missed him, brother – is’t not so?” said Murdoch, laughing. “Well, I never hoped that I should live to wipe thine eye in any such fashion; for these varlets all say that this is the very hart that thou went’st after.”
“Nay, then,” replied Patrick with an air of indifference; “if this be the hart I went after, I must have found another great hart of sixteen the very marrow of him; and him I have so marked, that I’ll be sworn he will be known again; for I promise you that at this moment he beareth wood on his shoulder as well as on his head.”
“The hart thou sayest that thou sawest may be like Saint Hubert’s stag for ought I know,” said Murdoch; “but it is clear, from all that these fellows say, that there lies the very hart that thou went’st forth to kill, and that is no arrow of thine that hath fixed itself in his gullet.”
“I did see a hart – draw my bow at a hart – and sorely wound a hart,” said Patrick, rather testily: and were it not that the scent is cold, and the hour so late, I think that the sleuth-hounds there, would soon help me to prove to thee that he is as fine a hart of sixteen as this which thou hast slain.”
“Cry your mercy, brother,” said Murdoch; “I knew not that such great harts of sixteen had been so rife hereabouts, as that one should start up as a butt for thine arrow the moment that the other had been lost to thee. Yet it is clear that thou has spent an arrow upon something. Ha! – by the way – where is our brother Walter? They tell me that he went up the hill-side with thee.”
“After seeking for him on the hill-side in vain, I reckoned on finding him here,” replied Patrick. “But is he be within a mile of us I’ll make him answer.”
He put his bugle to his lips, and awakened the echoes, with such sounds as were understood between Sir Walter and himself; but the echoes alone replied to him.
“He may have met with a deer which may have led him off in pursuit over the hill,” said Patrick.
“Aye,” said Murdoch; “he may have fallen in with your hart of sixteen – yea, or another, for aught I know, seeing that harts of sixteen are now so rife on these hills.”
“Fall in with what he might, he is not the man to give up his game easily,” said Patrick, somewhat keenly.
“Whatever may have befallen him,” said Murdoch, “we can hardly hope to see him hereabouts to-night.”
“I hope we may see him at Drummin,” said Patrick; “for as the night is now drooping down so fast, he will most readily seek the straightest way thither. So, as thou hast now made sure of a great hart of sixteen for Sir Allan, we may as well turn our steps thitherward without more delay.”
On reaching Drummin, Patrick Stewart’s first inquiry was for his brother Sir Walter. He had not returned home; but it was yet early in the night, and he might have been led away to such a distance as to require the greater part of the night to bring him home. The hart was borne up to the hall in triumph, and exhibited before Sir Allan, with the arrow still sticking in his neck. The old man’s countenance was filled with joy and exultation when he beheld it. The Lady Stradawn could not contain her triumph.
“So, Murdoch,” said she, “thou art the lucky man who hath killed the much longed for venison! Thou are the lucky man who hath brought thy father the food for which his soul so yearneth! There is something of good omen for thee in this, my boy!”
“A noble head! – a great hart of sixteen, indeed,” said Sir Allan. “Aye, aye, that is a head, that is a head indeed! Yet have I slain many as fine in my time. Aye, aye, – but those days are gone; och, hey! gone indeed. See what a cuach his horn hath. Yet that which I slew up at Loch Aven had a bigger cuach that this one by a great deal. As I live, you might have slaked your thirst from the hollow of it the drowthiest day you ever saw. Yet this is a good hart – a noble hart of sixteen, – aye, aye! hoch-hey! But, hey! what’s this? A goose-winged shaft? Did I not tell ye that my dream spake of an eagle’s wing? His heart will be naught after all – naught, naught – och, hey! och, hey!”
“Nay, we shall soon convince thee to the contrary, father,” said Murdoch, motioning to the attendants to lay the deer down upon the hearth. “I will forthwith break him under thine own eye, and thou shalt see, and judge for thyself.”
Murdoch then drawing forth his knife, began to open up the animal according to the strictest rules laid down for breaking a deer, as this operation was called, and on proceeding to slit up the slough, to the great wonder of every one, it was discovered that the old man was right. The heart was indeed so very small that it might very well have been said to have been naught. Murdoch was dismayed for a moment at an omen so very inauspicious, which, in his own mind, he felt was more than enough to overthrow all the fair prognostics which his mother had so evidently drawn from his success. The Lady herself was equally disconcerted.
“Naught, naught!” whimpered Sir Allan. “‘Tis an ill omen for thee, boy. Thou shalt ne’er fly with an eagle’s wing – nay, nay! Aye, aye! Thou art ever doomed to gobble i’ the muddy stagnant waters like a midden-gander. Uch, aye! och, hey!”
“The fiend take the old carl for his saying!” whispered Murdoch angrily aside to his mother.
“Amen!” replied the Lady Stradawn bitterly, in the same under tone. “But fear ye not, boy, thou shalt wear his eagle wing, aye, and sit in his chair to boot, ere long.”
This dialogue apart was unobserved by any one, and both son and mother speedily recovered their self-possession. The lady very cunningly set herself, straightaway, to turn the weak and dribbling stream of Sir Allan’s thought from the subject which then occupied them, to some other, which was to her less disagreeable at the moment, and she easily succeeded.
Patrick Stewart’s attention was attracted from all this superstitious trifling, as well as from what followed it, by again observing the garnet brooch, which appeared in the bosom of the Lady Stradawn. His thoughts were entirely occupied with it, and his eyes were from time to time riveted on it. At length it seemed as if Murdoch had somehow remarked his fixed gaze, for a private sign appeared to pass from him to his mother, after which she pleaded sudden faintness, and left the hall, to return no more that night, and her son soon afterwards followed her. Patrick Stewart’s mind remained filled with strange speculations regarding the jewel, until the night wore late, and he began to think anxiously about his brother Sir Walter. Having done the last offices of attention to his father for the evening, he secretly desired Dugald Roy to follow him.
“Dugald,” said he, “I am, most unaccountably, unhappy about thy master. Surely, if all had been well with him he should have been here ere this? I cannot rid my mind of the idea that there is something amiss with him. He rested not, as thou knowest, when I was missing, and it would ill become me to sleep when he is absent. Let us go seek for him, then, without delay.”
Dugald Roy readily assented; and both of them having dighted themselves well up for turmoil, as well as for toil, they secretly left the tower of Drummin. All that night they travelled, and by daylight they had got into the range of mountains, and of forests, where they had reason to hope for tidings of Sir Walter. They searched through every part of the wooded side of that hill where he had last disappeared, and they visited every human dwelling within a great range around it, but all without obtaining the slightest intelligence regarding him. Disappointed, and disheartened, they had returned nearly as far as where the village of Tomantoul now stands, on their way home in the evening, when they met with Dugald Roy’s brother Neil.
“What brought thee here, man?” demanded Dugald; “and what a fiend gives thee that anxious face?”
“Holy Saint Michael, but it is well that I have foregathered with you both!” replied Neil. “You must take some other road than that which leads to Drummin, Sir Patrick. Believe me, it is no place for you at this present time.”
“What, in the name of all the saints, hath happened to make it otherwise?” demanded Patrick Stewart.
“Cannot ye speak out at once, ye Amadan* ye, and not hammer like a fool that gate?” cried Dugald, impatiently.
“Patience! patience!” said Neil; “patience! and ye shall know all presently. In the first place, then, Master Murdoch says that Sir Walter is murdered.”
“murdered!” cried Patrick, in an agony of anxiety; “My brother Walter murdered? Where? – when? – how? – by whom? Oh, speak, that I may hasten to avenge him! But, no! – ’tis impossible! – speak! – I have mistaken thee – surely it cannot be!”
“Master Murdoch says that it is true,” replied Neil. “But the worst of all is, that he hath accused thee, Sir Patrick, of having done the deed, with an arrow, somewhere in the wood on the hill of Dalestie.”
“Merciful Saints!” exclaimed Patrick; “can he indeed be such a villain? But who will believe so foul and unnatural a calumny? Oh, Walter, my brother, my brother! Heaven above knows that thy life was ten thousand times dearer to than mine own!”
“Nay,” replied Neil, “he hath called all the clansmen who were there to witness and to support the strong suspicions which he hath industriously raised against thee.”
“What argument hath he against me?” cried Patrick Stewart impatiently.
“He says that the men who were present can testify that you and your brother, Sir Walter, went into the wood together,” replied Neil; “and that Sir Walter hath not been seen since; and then, he contends, that the sudden flight which you made from Drummin, under the cloud of night, is enough to show that you have taken guilt home to your conscience.”
“And this is all?” demanded Patrick Stewart.
“Nay,” replied Neil, “there was more stuff of the same kind, by the use of which he hath contrived so to persuade them with his wily tongue, that they are all clamorous against thee. Nay, he hath even warped the feeble judgment of Sir Allan himself to the same belief.”
“Serpent that he is!” cried Patrick Stewart. “But let me hasten home to confront this vile traducer. My brother! – my brother Walter!” continued he, bursting into tears. “My brother Walter gone! – and I accused of his murder! Oh, my brother! – my dear brother! heaven above knows how willingly I would have laid down my life to have saved thine! Nay, how willingly would I now lay it down at this moment, were it only to secure to me the certainty that thou art yet alive! The very thought that it may be otherwise is agony and desolation to me. But let us hasten to confront this villany. Let us hasten to revenge! For the love of Heaven, let us hasten home, Dugald!”
“Nay, my good master,” said Dugald, weeping, “for if this sad tale be true as to Sir Walter’s death, other master than thee, I fear me, that I now have none. Neil says well that Drummin is no place for thee to-night, with so sudden and tumultuous a clamour excited against thee. Thine innocence will avail thee nothing. Even the innocence of an angel would naught avail against the diseased judgments of men, with minds so poisoned and so possessed. Be persuaded to go elsewhere, until the false and weak foundations of this most traitorous accusation fail beneath it, and the mists drop from men’s eyes. Who can say for certain that my beloved master, Sir Walter, is dead? I cannot believe in so great a calamity. what proof is there that he is dead? There is no news that his body hath been found.”
“Nay,” replied Neil, “he is only amissing as I said.”
“Thou dost well advise me, Dugald,” said Patrick Stewart after a moment’s thought. “There is, as thou say’st, no proof that my brother, Sir Walter, is dead. It is most reasonable to believe that this may, after all, be nothing but a foolish or malicious surmise. My best hope, nay, my belief is, that it is founded on naught else; and may Heaven in its mercy grant that it may prove so. I will take thine advice. I will not go to Drummin at present, but I shall straightaway bend my steps towards the Castle of Curgarf.”
“Then shall I and Neil attend thee thither, Sir Knight,” said Dugald; “for the next to Sir Walter Stewart do I assuredly owe thee fealty and service.”
Sir Patrick and his two attendants now turned off in the direction of Curgarf, and the day was so far spent that the sun was setting, as they were passing over the ridge of the country lying between the Aven and the Don. The trees of the forest there grew thinly scattered in little stunted patches. Sir Patrick was walking a few paces in front of the two brothers, musing as he went, when he was suddenly surprised by a shower of arrows falling thickly on and around him. One stuck in his bonnet, another buried itself harmlessly in the folds of his plaid, a third pierced his sandal and slightly wounded his foot; and, whilst a fourth struck fire out of a large stone close to him, two more fell short of him among the heather near him. In an instant his bow and those of his attendants were bent, and their eyes being turned towards the place whence the shafts had flown, they descried some men lurking beneath one of the straggling patches of dwarf pine trees. To have stood aloof with the hope of shooting at them successfully would have been fatal, for the archery of Sir Patrick and his attendants could have done nothing against men so ambushed, whilst the Knight and his people would have been a sure mark for their traitorous foes.
“On them, my brave Dugald!” cried Sir Patrick Stewart, drawing his sword, and rushing towards the enemy.
Dugald Roy, and his brother, Neil, were at his back in a moment. Before they could reach the point against which their assault was directed, several arrows were discharged at them. But so resolute, and so spirited an attack had been so little looked for by those who shot them, that they were too much appalled to take any very steady aim, so that all of them fell innocuous. Seeing Sir Patrick and his two attendants so rapidly nearing their place of concealment, the villains thought it better to turn out, that they might receive their onset on ground where they could all act at once. Six men accordingly appeared claymore in hand, and as Sir Patrick continued to hurry forward, he now took the opportunity of speaking hastily to Dugald and Neil, who were advancing to right and left of him.
“Draw and arrow each,” said he, “and when I give you the word, stop suddenly, and each of you pick off the man opposite to you, and leave me to take my choice of the rest. – Now!”
The unlooked for halt was made just as the assassins were preparing to receive the on-comers on the points of their swords. The aim was sure and fatal. Three men fell – and on rushed Sir Patrick and his two people with a loud shout. The three, who yet stood against them, were panic-struck, and, ere they could well offer defence, they were also extended writhing among the heather, in the agonies of death; and the whole matter was over in less time than it has taken for me to tell of it. But, uncertain whether the partial covert of the pine-patch might not still shelter some more enemies, they rushed in among the trees, brandishing their reeking blades. Up started a youth from among some low brushwood, and ran off like a hare. Neil was after him in a moment, and up to him ere he had fled twenty paces. Already he had him by the hair of the head, and his claymore was raised to smite him, when Patrick Stewart called to his follower to stay his hand. Neil obeyed, an granted the youth his life; but when he brought him in as a prisoner, what was the Stewart’s surprise when he discovered that he was the same individual whose life he had spared in the Catterane’s den.
“Ha!” exclaimed Sir Patrick; “said I not well that I questioned the wisdom of sparing thy life when we last met, thou vermin? What hast thou to urge that I should show mercy to thee now, Sir Caitiff?”
“Oh, mercy, mercy, Sir Knight!” exclaimed the youth, piteously. “Trust me, I came not hither willingly. I had no hand in this treacherous ambush against thy life.”
“Appearances are woefully against thee,” said Patrick Stewart; “yet would I not willingly do thee hurt, if thou be’st innocent. But this is no convenient time nor place to tarry for thy trial. So bring him along with thee, Dugald. We shall take our own leisure to examine him afterwards; meanwhile, take especial care that he escape not.”
Sir Patrick Stewart’s reception at Curgarf may be easily guessed at. He told of the providential escape he had made from assassination by the way; but he thought it better, as yet, to say nothing of the mysterious disappearance of his brother, Sir Walter, or of the traitorous accusations against himself, to which it had given rise. His resolve to be silent as to this matter was formed, because he had by this time reasoned himself into the firm persuasion that his brother’s reappearance would speedily make his own innocence as clear as noonday.
He was next morning happily seated in the hall, now talking with the old Lord of Curgarf on one subject and again taking his opportunity of whispering to the Lady Catherine on another, when he suddenly recollected the brooch he had given her. It was not in her bosom.
“Where are the two twined hearts?” said he to her, smiling. “Fear not, dearest – I am not jealous.”
“Thou hast no cause for jealousy, dear Patrick,” replied the lady; “and yet, I grieve to say, that I have not the jewel. When the Catteranes hurried me off from here, and just as they stopped for a little time to make up a litter, that they might the more easily carry me, one who appeared to have a certain command over them, but whose face or person I could not see in the obscurity which then prevailed, snatched it from my bosom whilst affecting to fasten my arryssade more firmly around me. Nay, look not so serious, dearest Patrick! surely thou dost not doubt me in this matter?”
“Doubt thee, my Catherine!” said Sir Patrick, kissing her hand with fervour; “sooner would I doubt mine own existence; thou art pure virgin truth itself! Think no more of it. Thou shalt have another and a richer one anon. But say, dearest! why should we longer delay to set our own very two hearts in that indissoluble golden knot, with which the sacrament of our holy church may bind them together, so as to form a jewel, of which neither robber nor Catterane can rifle us, and which cannot be rent asunder save by the iron hand of death? I have thy father’s permission to move thee to shorten that cruel interval which thou hast placed between me and happiness.”
In such a strain as this did he continue to urge his suit, until it was at last successful; and, to his great joy, it was ultimately arranged, with the consent of all parties, that the marriage should take place on the second day from the time I am now speaking of. The bustle of preparation began in the Castle the moment the circumstance was announced; and it immediately spread far and wide everywhere around it, and went on incessantly day and night. Joy was everywhere as universal among the clansmen as their devotion to the Lady Catherine, the bride, and their admiration of the merits of the bridegroom, could make it. The day at length arrived. The Castle was crowded with all the friends and retainers of the family, who came pouring in to witness a ceremonial so interesting to them all. The Priest had arrived; the Castle chapel had been set in order; the bridal-chamber had been dight up; and the feast prepared; and every soul was astir to contribute, so far as in them lay, to the general felicity, as well as to share in it. The old Lord of Curgarf seemed to have grown young again. Arthur, the Master of Forbes, was all life and raillery. Already had the whole company been assembled within the hall. All the men-at-arms within the Castle had crowded in thither. Even the old warden at the gate had lowered his portcullis, and made everything secure with bolt, bar, and chain, so that he might safely leave his post to the charge of their stubborn defences. The blushing bride, arrayed in the richest attire, had been led in, attended by her blooming maidens; and the movement towards the chapel was about to be made, so that the ceremony might go on, when suddenly a shrill bugle blast from without the gate made the very Castle walls resound again.
“Go some of ye, and see who that may be who summons us so rudely,” said the Lord Curgarf.
“Murdoch Stewart and a party of the Clan-Allan are at the gate craving admittance,” said the messenger, on his return.
“Son Arthur,” said the old Lord of Curgarf, “get thee down quickly, and give Murdoch Stewart of Clan-Allan, the brother of this our son-in-law to be, instant entry. Let the gate be opened to him, aye, and to all his people, dost thou hear? It was kind in him thus to come, on the spur of the occasion,” continued the old Lord, addressing Patrick, after his son had gone with his attendants to obey his will – “It was kind in thy brother to come thus unasked on the spur of the moment. Would that Sir Allan, thy father himself, could have been here.”
The courtyard and the stair now rang with the clink of armed men, and Arthur, the Master of Forbes, entered ushering in Murdoch Stewart, proudly attired, and followed by a formidable band of the Clan-Allan, whose flaring red tartans were strongly contrasted against the more modest green of those of the Clan-Forbes. To the no small surprise of his brother Patrick, he no longer wore that appearance of youthful carelessness and indifference, under the mask of which he had hitherto disguised his true character. His bearing was now manly and lofty, suited to the command of the Clan-Allan, which he now seemed to have assumed. His salutation to the Lord of Curgarf was grave, dignified, and courteous; and, as way was made for him, he advanced, with the utmost self-possession, into the middle of the hall.
“I rejoice that I have arrived thus, as it seems, in the nick of time,” said he, looking around him, and bowing as he did so, but without once allowing his eyes to rest on his brother, who stood fixed in silent astonishment at what he beheld.
“So do we all rejoice,” replied the old Lord of Curgarf. “Had we but known that our bridal might have been thus honoured by the house of Clan-Allan, on so short a warning, trust me thou shouldst not have lacked our warmest bidding, as thou hast now our warmest welcome.”
“Welcome or not, my Lord,” replied Murdoch Stewart, with a respectful reverence, “thou wilt surely thank me for this most unceremonious visit, when thou shalt know the object of it. I come to save the honour of thy house from foul disgrace: would, that in so doing, I could likewise save the honour of that which gave me birth! But although, in saving thee and thy house from dishonour, the good name of that of Clan-Allan must assuredly be tarnished, it shall never be said of me, that I preserved it by falsehood or infamous concealment.”
“Of what wouldst thou speak?” demanded the Lord of Curgarf. “I do beseech them keep me, and keep this good company, no longer in suspense.”
“Then, my good Lord,” replied Murdoch, solemnly, “much as it pains me to utter it, and much as it must pain thee, and all present, to hear it, I must tell thee, that strong suspicions are abroad that mine eldest brother, Sir Walter Stewart, hath been most foully murdered, and that he on whom thou wert now on the very eve of bestowing thine only daughter, is the foul murderer, who took an elder brother’s life to make way for the gratification of his own ambitious and avaricious desires. The circumstances are so strong against my unfortunate brother Patrick that all agree that no one else could have been the murderer,”
“All! – all! – all! – all!” was echoed from the stern Clan-Allans, at the lower end of the hall.
“Holy saints defend us!” exclaimed the Lord of Curgarf, sinking into a chair.
“‘Tis false! oh, ’tis all false, father!” cried the trembling Catherine Forbes, rushing forward to assist her father.
“Infamous traitor!” cried Patrick Stewart; “lying and infamous traitor! Where are the proofs on which you found so foul and false an accusation?”
“Would, for the credit of our poor house, that it were false!” said Murdoch, mildly. “But it is impossible to conceal that thou wert the last person seen in our poor brother Walter’s company. Thou wentest up the wood with him, with three arrows in thy belt. Thou camest back shortly afterwards without him. One of thine arrows was gone. Thou gavest reasons for the want of it which proved to be false; and our dear brother Walter hath never been since seen.”
“He is guilty! He, and no one else, is the murderer!” cried the men of Clan-Allan, hoarsely.
“Woe is me!” said the distracted Lord of Curgarf, springing from his chair with nervous agitation; “the circumstances are indeed too suspicious!”
“Father! – father! – father, he is innocent!” cried the frantic Lady Catherine Forbes, holding the old lord’s arm.
“Sister,” cried the Master of Forbes, taking the Lady Catherine affectionately by the hand, and speaking to her with great feeling – “Dearest sister, this is indeed an afflicting trial for thee; yet, be of good courage – I have no fears of the result. Patrick Stewart cannot be guilty of the foul and cruel deed of which he hath been accused. We must have the matter sifted to the bottom; the truth must be brought out; and, as his innocence must be thereby established, all the evil that can happen will be but the short delay of your nuptials till he be fairly and fully cleansed from these wicked charges.”
“I am sent by my father,” said Murdoch Stewart – “I am sent by my father, and that most unwillingly, to demand his son Patrick as a prisoner. Forgive me, my good Lord of Curgarf, for thus daring to execute his paternal order under your roof. – Men of Clan-Allan, seize and bind Patrick Stewart!”
“Hold!” cried Dugald Roy, in a voice like thunder – “Hold men of Clan-Allan! Lay not a hand upon him, to whom, if my dear master Sir Walter be indeed gone, ye must all soon, in the course of nature, swear fealty as your chieftain. He is guiltless of my beloved master’s murder, though murdered, I fear, he hath most foully been. But here is one who can tell more of this cruel and wicked deed. Come hither boy, and tell us what thou may’st know of this mysterious matter.”
Dugald Roy then led forward the youth whom he had brought prisoner to Curgarf, of whose very existence Sir Patrick Stewart had lost all recollection, amidst the tumult of joy in which he had been so continually kept by his approaching nuptials. The Lady Catherine Forbes started with surprise when she beheld him; but the countenance of Murdoch Stewart turned as pale as a linen sheet at the sight of him.
“What hast thou to say, young man, to the clearing up of this dark and cruel mystery?” demanded the Lord of Curgarf.
“My Lord, I saw Sir Walter Stewart of Clan-Allan murdered,” said the youth in a tremulous voice. “I saw him shot to death by the arrow of Ewan Cameron, one of the band of Catteranes.”
“How camest thou to have been in any such evil company?” demanded the Lord of Curgarf.
“Trusting to have mercy at your hands, my Lord, I will tell my whole story as shortly as I can, if thou wilt but listen to me,” replied the youth. “I was prentice to a craftsman in the town of Banff, a man who wrought in gold and silver. Being one day severely chidden by my master for some unlucky fault, the devil entered into me, and I resolved to be revenged of him. Having become known to the captain of a certain band of Catteranes, I stole my master’s keys, and gave them to him, so that he and his gang were enabled to rifle the goldsmith’s stores of all his valuables. In dread of punishment I fled with them to their den in the hills, where they afterwards kept me in thrall to do their service. The Lady, thy daughter, can tell thee that I was there when she was brought in by them, and had not Sir Patrick Stewart left me bound when he spared my life, they would have certainly taken it on their return, in their rage and fury at her escape; but, fortunately, I was lying quite out of their way at the moment, and was not discovered till they had somewhat cooled. Finding that their retreat had been found out, they hastily abandoned it, and dispersed themselves through the hills. On the day that followed after that we were all collected together to meet our captain, and after two days more a breathless messenger came early in the morning to tell him something which was kept secret from all else. There were but few of the band with him at the time, but these were ordered to arm on the sudden, and even I, who had never been called out on any expedition until that day, was commanded to arm like the rest.
“Our small party marched off in all haste, and about midday we were planted in ambush on the side of a hill above the Aven. Our captain seemed to be restless and anxious. He moved about from place to place, stretching on tiptoe from the top of every knoll, and sometimes climbing the tallest pine trees, in order to scan the valley below more narrowly. At length, as it grew late in the afternoon, he took a long look from one point, and then, as if he had at last made some discovery of importance, he suddenly moved us off into a thicket, which grew on the edge of a considerable opening in the wood on the hill-side; and I would know that opening again, for it had the green quaking bog of a well-head in the very midst of it.
“We had not stood long there, till a man in very plain attire, with a bow in his hand, came up from the thick wood below, and began to pass aslant the open space. ‘There goes a good mark for an arrow,’ said the captain of the band. ‘Shoot at him, my men.’ – ‘He is a poor fellow who hath nothing in his sporran to pay for the killing of him.’ – ‘No matter,’ said Ewan Cameron, ‘he hath a good pair of sandals on him; and my brogues are worn to shreds – so, here goes at him.’ And just as the man was passing along the bank close above the well-eye, the arrow fled, and pierced him to the heart. ‘Well shot, Ewan!’ cried the captain, in a strange ecstasy of joy; ‘thou shalt have gold for that shot of thine.’ So instant was his death, that he sprang high into the air, and his body fell headlong and without life into the very middle of the bog, with a force that buried it in its yielding mass, so high, that nothing was seen of him but his legs. Ewan hastened to the place, quietly took off the sandals from the dead man, threw off his own brogues, and put on the sandals in place of them, and then the captain himself ran eagerly to help him to force the corpse downwards into the bog; and this they did till the green moss closed over the soles of his feet. I then knew not who the murdered man might be, – and the deed was no sooner done, than our captain ordered us to make our way back, as fast as we could travel, over the hills, whilst he left us to go directly down into the glen.
“Early next morning, a messenger again came to us; and five picked archers were sent out under the orders of Ewan Cameron. I was directed to accompany them; and I marvelled much why I, who was so inexperienced, should be required to go on an expedition where they seemed to be so very particular in choosing their men. But Ewan Cameron soon let me into the secret. ‘Thou knowest the person of Patrick Stewart of Clan-Allan, dost thou not?’ said he to me. – ‘If that was he who took the lady from the cave, and left me bound,’ replied I, ‘then have I reason to remember him right well.’ – ‘Then must I tell thee, that we are now sent forth expressly to hunt for him, and to take his life,’ replied Ewan; ‘and if thou would’st fain preserve thine own, thou wilt need to look sharply about thee, that thou mayest tell me when thou seest him.’ – ‘Who covets to have his life?’ demanded I. – ‘He who made me take the life of his brother Walter, for those sandals which I now wear,’ said Ewan – ‘What! our captain?’ exclaimed I; ‘that must be in revenge, because Sir Patrick Stewart took the lady from him.’ – ‘Partly so, perhaps,’ replied Ewan; ‘but I am rather jealous that our captain’s greatest fault to Sir Patrick Stewart is, that he, like his brother, Sir Walter Stewart, was born before him. Knowest thou not, that our captain is no other than Murdoch Stewart, the third son of old Sir Allan of Stradawn?’ I was no sooner made aware of this, than -“
The youth would have proceeded, but the loud murmur of astonishment and horror that arose everywhere throughout the hall, so drowned his voice, that he was compelled to stop.
“Holy Saint Michael, what a perfect villain thou art!” exclaimed the old Lord of Curgarf, darting a look of indignant detestation at Murdoch Stewart.
“Thou wouldst not condemn a stranger un heard,” said Murdoch, calmly.
“Nay,” replied the Lord of Curgarf, “thou shalt have full justice. We shall hear thee anon. But let this youth finish his narrative, which would seem to be pregnant with strange and horrible things.”
“I have but little more to say,” continued the youth. “gratitude to Sir Patrick Stewart, for having spared my life, when his own security might have required the taking of it, at once resolved me against betraying him to slaughter. Ewan Cameron marched us straight away to the hill, which rises above the track that leads from the little place of Tomantoul to the river Don, and there he kept us sitting, for some time, watching, till we espied three men coming along the way. Whilst they were yet afar off I knew one of them to be the very person whom the murderers were in search of. ‘Is that Sir Patrick Stewart that comes first yonder?’ demanded Ewan. – ‘I cannot tell at this distance,’ said I; ‘but I think the man I saw in the cave was much taller than that man.’ – ‘That is a tall man,’ said Ewan; ‘take care what thou sayest, or thou mayest chance to have thy stature curtailed by the whole head.’ – ‘I say what is true,’ said I; ‘no man could know his own father at that distance.’ – ‘Then will I assert that thou sayest that which is a lie,’ said one of the party; ‘for great as the distance may be, I know that to be Sir Patrick Stewart. I mean that man who comes first of the tree.’ – ‘Let us down upon him without loss of time then,’ cried Ewan; ‘and do you come along, sirrah! Thou shalt along with us; and, when our work is done, we shall see whether we cannot find the means of refreshing thy memory.’ Having uttered these words, Ewan hurried us all down to the covert of a small patch of stunted pines, that grew on the flat ground below. There we lay in ambush till Sir Patrick Stewart, and his two attendants, came within bowshot, and there, as is already known to most here, the six assassins were speedily punished for their wicked attempt, and I became Sir Patrick Stewart’s prisoner.”
“Now,” said the Lord of Curgarf, addressing himself to Murdoch, “what hast thou to say in answer to all this? What hast thou to answer for thyself?”
“I say that the young caitiff is a foul liar!” cried Murdoch, violently. “He is a foul liar, who hath been taught a false tale, to bear me down.”
“He may be a liar,” said the Lord of Curgarf; “but his story hangs marvellously well together.”
“Who would dare to condemn me on his unsupported testimony?” demanded Murdoch, boldly.
“Here is one who is ready to support his tale,” said Michael Forbes, pressing forward, and pushing before him a strange looking little man, with a long red beard, and a head of hair so untamed, that it hung over his sharp sallow features in such a manner, as, for some moments, to render it difficult for Sir Patrick Stewart to recognise in him, the man whom he had saved from his perilous position in the salmon creel, at the Lynn of Aven.
“Ha! – Grigor Beg!” cried Murdoch Stewart, betrayed by his surprise, at beholding him; “what a fiend hath brought thee hither? But thou – thou can’st say nothing against me.”
“I fear I can say nothing for thee, Murdoch Stewart,” said the little man, darting a pair of piercing eyes towards him, from amidst the tangled thickets of his hair. “Nor is it needful for me now to say all I might against thee. But here, as I understand, thou hast basely and falsely accused thy brother Sir Patrick Stewart of murdering his elder brother Sir Walter. Now, I saw Ewan Cameron shoot down Sir Walter Stewart with an arrow; and it was done at thy bidding too, for I was by, on the hill-side, when thou didst give to Ewan Cameron his secret order to slay thy brother, and when thou didst teach him to do the deed, as if it were an idle act, done against a stranger.”
“Lies! – lies! – a very net-work of lies, in which to ensnare me!” cried Murdoch. “But who can condemn me for another’s death, who, for aught that we know truly, may yet appear alive and well?”
“Thou hadst no such scruple in condemning thine innocent brother, Sir Patrick,” said the Lord of Curgarf; “yet shall no guilt be fixed upon thee, till thy brother’s death be established beyond question. Meanwhile thou must be a bounden prisoner, till the truth be clearly brought to light.”
“Men of Clan-Allan! will ye allow him who must be your chieftain to be laid hands on in the house of a stranger?” cried Murdoch Stewart aloud. “You are armed; use your weapons then, and leave not a man alive!”
A thrill of horror ran through every bosom. There were brave men enough of the Clan-Forbes there, to have made head against three times the number of Clan-Allans that now stood, armed to the teeth, and in a firm body, at the lower end of the hall; but there was not a man of the Forbeses, who, if not altogether unarmed, had any weapon at all to defend himself with but his dirk. Those who had such instruments were drawing them, whilst others were rushing to the walls, to arm themselves with whatsoever weapons they could most easily reach, and pluck down thence. The noise and bustle of the moment was great, when, all at once, there fell a hush over the turbulence of the scene.
“Stir not a man of Clan-Allan!” cried Sir Patrick to the Stewarts, who stood in their array, like a heavy and portentous thunder-cloud. “Stir no, men of Clan-Allan! – Stir not a finger, I command you!”
“Sir Patrick Stewart is our young chieftain!” broke like a roll of Heaven’s artillery from the Clan-Allans. “Sir Patrick Stewart is our young chieftain! Murdoch is a foul traitor and murderer! Bind him, bind him! Let him be the prisoner, and let us have him forthwith justified!”
“Nay, nay,” cried Sir Patrick; “bind him if you will, but lay not your hands upon his life. This day, my Catherine,” said he, turning to the lady, and addressing her tenderly and sorrowfully; “this day, that was to have been to me so full of joy, must now, alas! be the first of that doleful time, which, in the bereavement of my heart, I must devote to mourning for my beloved brother Walter. My first duty is to go and seek for his remains; and in following out this most sad and anxious search, I must crave thy presence, my Lord of Curgarf, and thine, too, Arthur, with that of such of our friends as may be disposed to go forth with us, to aid us in so painful a quest.”
The wishes of Sir Patrick Stewart were readily agreed to. The nuptials were for the present postponed; and instead of the marriage-feast, some hasty refreshment was taken, preparatory to their immediate departure on their melancholy search. The treacherous Murdoch Stewart was now given in charge, as a manacled prisoner, to those very Clan-Allans, at the head of whom he had come, so triumphantly, to fix a false accusation on his brother Sir Patrick. With them too went the youth, and the little man, Grigor Beg, who had given their evidence against Murdoch. The old Lord of Curgarf’s quiet palfrey was led forth; and he set forward, attended by Arthur the Master of Forbes, Sir Patrick Stewart, and a considerable following of those who were led to accompany him by duty, or from curiosity.
They first visited the scene of the attempted assassination of Sir Patrick Stewart. The spot where the six catteranes were slain, was easily discovered, by the flock of birds of prey that sat perched upon the tops of the dwarf pines, or that wheeled over them in whistling circles; whilst every now and then, some individual, bolder than the rest, would swoop down on the heath, to partake of the banquet which had been spread upon it for them. That some considerable share of courage was required to enable these creatures to do this, was proved to the party, who, on their nearer approach, scared away a brace of hungry, gaunt-looking wolves, who had been employed in ravenously tearing at the bodies, and dragging them hither and thither with bloody jaws; as well as an eagle, who had dared to sit a little way apart, to feed upon one of the carcases, in defiance of his ferocious four-footed fellow-guests. The spectacle was shocking to all who beheld it. But one object of their search was gained; for, on examination, Patrick recognised his brother Walter’s sandals, which were removed from the feet of the corpse of Ewan Cameron, and taken care of – thus so far corroborating the testimony of the youth. Having completed their investigations in this place, they piles heaps of stones over the bodies on the spot where they lay, and the party then pursued their way, over the mountain, towards the alleged scene of Sir Walter Stewart’s murder.
Providence seemed to guide their steps;- for, as they passed over the brow of the wooded hill that dropped down towards the Aven, they scared away two ravens from a hollow place in the heath; and, on approaching the spot, they discovered the well-picked bones of a deer. His head showed him to have been an unusually fine great hart of sixteen. An arrow was sticking so deeply fixed through the shoulder-blade, as to satisfy all present, that its point must have produced death, very soon after the animal had received it.
“As I hope for mercy, there is the very arrow that was lacking of Sir Patrick’s three!” cried Dugald Roy, triumphantly. “See – there is the very eagle’s feather which I put on it, with mine own hand! And, look – there is the cross, which I always cut on the shaft, to give them good luck. No shaft of mine, so armed, ever misses, when righteously discharged. But for foul or treacherous murther, I’ll warrant me, that the most practised eye could never bring it to a true aim. But,” added he, as he very adroitly dislocated out the shoulder-bone, as Highlanders are wont, and then possessed himself of the shoulder-blade, arrow and all – “I’ll e’en take this arrow with me, with the bone just as it is, as a dumb but true witness in a righteous cause.”
Led by the directions which they received from Grigor Beg, they now descended through the forest, till they came to that very well-eye you see yonder – for that was the very individual place, that both the old man and the youth had described as the scene of Sir Walter’s murder. They had used the precaution to bring with them implements for digging; and, by means of these, a few sturdy fellows were soon enabled to make an opening into the lower end of the quaking bog, so as very quickly to discharge the pent-up water within it. The green surface then gradually subsided, and the legs of a human being, with hose on, but without sandals, began to appear, sticking out, with the feet upwards; and, by digging a little around it, they soon succeeded in bringing the body of Sir Walter Stewart fully to light. It was in all respects unchanged. The fatal arrow was deeply buried in his left breast; his bow was firmly grasped in his hand; and his three eagle-winged shafts were in his belt. The small unplumed bonnet which he usually wore, when dressed for following the deer, was fast squeezed down on his head, by the pressure which had been exerted to sink him. How differently were the two brothers, Patrick and Murdoch Stewart, affected by the harrowing spectacle which was now brought before their eyes! Murdoch shed no tear – yet his features were strongly agitated. He looked at the corpse with averted eyes, and shuddered as he looked; while his face became black, and again deadly pale, twenty times alternately. Sir Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, threw himself, in an agony of tears, on the cold and dripping body of his murdered brother, as it lay exposed on the bank; and, unable to give utterance to his grief, he clasped it to his bosom, and lavished fond, though unavailing caresses on it. In vain he essayed, with as much tenderness as if his brother could have still felt the pain he might thereby have given him, to pluck forth the arrow, deeply buried in the fatal wound. All present were overcome by this sad scene;- but poor Dugald Roy hung over them, and sobbed aloud, till the violence of his grief recalled Sir Patrick Stewart to himself again.
“Aye!” said Dugald Roy; “that is a murderous shaft indeed! A good cloth-yard in length, I’ll warrant me; and feathered, too, from the wing of some ill-omened grey goose, that was hatched in some western sea-loch. This is no arrow of the make of Aven-side, else am I no judge of the tool. No cross upon this, I’ll be sworn. No, no. By St. Peter, but it hath murther in the very look of it! Aye, and there are the true arrows of the cross in his belt! These are of my winging every one of them. Little did I think, when I stuck them into my poor master’s girdle, that this was to be the way in which I was to find them! Would that he had but gotten fair play! Would that he had but got his eye on the villains ere they slew him! If he had but gotten one glimpse of them, by the Rood, but every cross of these shafts would have been eager to have dyed itself red in the blood of their cowardly hearts!”
The body of Sir Walter Stewart was now wrapped up in a plaid, and fastened lengthwise upon two parallel boughs, and it was borne towards Drummin. Their movements were so slow, and so often interrupted, that it was dark night long ere they came to the place of their destination. Sir Patrick Stewart felt the necessity of preparing his father, Sir Allan, for the coming scene, as well as for the reception of the Lord of Curgarf, and his son, the Master of Forbes. He therefore resolved to hurry on before the party, that he might have a private meeting with the old Knight, before their arrival. But being fully aware that Sir Allan’s mind had been already filled with those iniquitous falsehoods, which is wicked brother, Murdoch Stewart, had engendered against him, he thought it prudent to take with him Dugald Roy, and two other men of the Clan-Allans, that they might be prepared, if necessary, to support his justification of himself.
As Sir Patrick Stewart, and his small escort, approached the outer gate of the Castle of Drummin, they perceived that it was shut. Dugald had no sooner observed this circumstance, than he made a signal to the Knight to remain silent, and then he advanced quietly to the little wicket in the middle of the gate, and knocked gently.
“Who is there?” demanded the Warder, from within.
“Open the wicket, man, without a moment’s tarrying,” replied Dugald.
“Is that thee, Dugald Roy?” demanded the Warder.
“Who else could it be?” replied Dugald.
“It may be that any other might have done as well,” replied the Warder, gruffly. “Thou wentest not forth with Murdoch Stewart;- Art thou of his company at the present time!”
“What matter though I went not forth with him, if I come home in his company?” replied Dugald, readily.
“Is he with thee, then?” demanded the Warder.
“To be sure he is,” cried Dugald impatiently. “Come, man! he is close at hand, I tell thee. Come! art thou to keep us standing here all night? By all that’s good, he is coming upon us; – and, if he be detained but the veriest fraction of a prod-flight, thou shalt surely have a cudgelling for thy supper. Come man! – open I tell thee.”
The huge iron bolts were now withdrawn from their fastenings, the key grated among the rough wards of the lock, and the wicket was thrown back, whilst the Warder, peering through the opening, seemed as if he were inclined to know something more of those without, before he removed his own bulky person, that still blocked the passage. But Dugald, stooping his head, sprang through the low aperture, and throwing his skull right into the poor fellow’s stomach, with the force of a battering-ram, he laid him sprawling on his back.
“Hech!” cried the Warder as he fell. “Hech me!”
“Old fool that thou art!” cried Dugald, taking up the first word of quarrel with him; “who was to think that thou wert to be standing in the very midst of the way? Yet I hope I have not hurt thee, for all that. Thou knowest, Rory, that I had rather hurt myself than thee.”
“Nay, nay,” said the old man, with a surly sort of acquiescence, as he was slowly raising himself from the ground by means of Dugald’s assistance, during which operation Patrick Stewart, wrapped up in his plaid, and followed by the other two men, had made good his entrance into the courtyard. “Nay, nay, I am not hurt. I’m no such eggshells, i’faith. Yet what a fiend made thee so impatient? I behooved to be careful who I let in, seeing that I was strictly charged to open to none but Murdoch Stewart himself there,” pointing to Sir Patrick, who was standing a few paces aloof. “More nu token, I required to be all the warier, seeing that there was none living within the walls, besides myself, save the old Knight Sir Allan, and the Lady Stradawn.”
“How comes that?” demanded Dugald; “though so many went to Curgarf, there were still some left behind, surely.”
“True enough, true enough,” replied the Warder. “But I know not what hath possessed the lady. They have been all sent hither and thither, on some errand or another; – even the very women folk have all gone forth.”
Sir Patrick Stewart stood to hear no more, but making a signal to Dugald and the others to follow him, he crossed the court-yard towards the door of the keep tower, where they stood aside, whilst he knocked gently, yet loud enough to be heard in the hall above. Soon afterwards, a timid and unsteady footstep was heard descending the stair.
“Open, good mother,” said Sir Patrick.
“Oh, how thankful I am that thou art come!” said the Lady Stradawn, mistaking him for her son Murdoch, their voices being a good deal like to each other, and opening the door, pale and trembling, with a lamp in her hand, which the gust immediately extinguished. “A plague on the wind, my lamp is out! But oh, I am thankful that thou art come! ‘Tis fearful to be left alone in the house with a dead man, and one too – Oh, ’twas fearful!”
“Dead!” cried Sir Patrick, with an accent of horror, which might have betrayed him, but for the agitation which then possessed her whom he addressed. “A dead man, saidst thou?”
“Aye!” replied the lady, in a hollow tone, “aye! I saw that thou hadst yearnings. Yet, after all, it was but giving him ease, by ridding him of a lingering life of pain. It was kindness, in truth, to help him away from such misery. Yet, ’tis no marvel that thou, who art his very blood, should have some compunction. But thou mayst be at rest now, for he is gone beyond thy help, or that of any one else.”
“Gone!” exclaimed Sir Patrick again – “Gone! how did he die?”
“Horribly! most horribly!” replied the lady, shuddering. “It was fearful to behold him in his agonies! Knowing, as I did, the potency of the poison, I could hardly have believed that the old man would have taken so long to die.”
“Horrible!” exclaimed Sir Patrick, involuntarily.
“Aye, it was horrible!” replied the lady; “horrible indeed, as thou wouldst have said if thou hadst seen it. For a moment the poison seemed to have given him new strength, and he rose from his chair as if he would have done vengeance on me. ‘Twas fearful to behold him!”
“Art sure he is quite dead?” said Sir Patrick again.
“Aye,” replied the lady, “as dead as his son Walter; so dead, as to make thee surely the Laird of Stradawn, the moment thou shalt have made as siccar of Patrick, as we may now soon hope thou wilt be able to do. I did but help him, as I was saying, out of the pains and wretchedness of old age and dotage. Yet it was an awful work for me. And oh, his last look was fearful! I wish I may ever be able to get rid of it! Would that thou couldst have steeled thyself up to have done it thyself, Murdoch! But come in – come in quickly! Hast thou secured the prisoner?”
“I have,” replied Sir Patrick, now exerting a certain degree of command over his feelings; “he will be here anon.”
“That is well,” replied the Lady Stradawn; “then all is thine own. His trial must be short, and his execution speedy. But come, we have much to do to make things seemly ere they arrive. He must appear to have died of a broken heart caused by the wickedness of his son. Everything suspicious must be removed from about him. I could not dare to touch him. Why stand ye so long hesitating? But ’tis no wonder, for I could not look upon him myself without fancying that the devil was grinning over my shoulder. ‘Tis horrible to think on’t! But come,” continued she, as she at last seemed to summon up resolution to climb the stair; “lock the door, Murdoch, and follow me up quickly, for we have no time to lose.”
Sir Patrick Stewart made a signal to Dugald and the others, and then ascended to the hall after the Lady Stradawn. A deathlike silence prevailed within it. A single lamp was glimmering feebly pm a sconce at the upper end of it; and there stood the lady, pale and trembling, at that side of the chimney which was farthest from Sir Allan’s chair. Sir Patrick, in his agitation, moved hurriedly forward, and the moment the light of the lamp fell upon his features, the lady uttered a loud scream, and swooned away upon the floor.
The spectacle that now met his eyes harrowed up his very soul. His father lay dead in his chair, with his features and his limbs fixed in the last frightful convulsion, by which the racking poison had terminated his existence. His mouth was twisted, his tongue thrust out, and his eyeballs so fearfully staring, that even his tenderly affectionate son felt it a dreadful effort to look upon that which used to be to him an object of the deepest veneration and love. Beside his chair was a small table, on which he was usually served with his food. There stood a silver porringer containing the minced meat, which his extreme age required; and notwithstanding all that the Lady Stradawn had said to the contrary, the operation of the poison seemed to have been so quick, as to have mortally affected him, ere he had taken the fourth part of the mess that had been provided for him. Sir Patrick was overpowered by his feelings. He sank into a chair, and covering his face with his hands, he gave way to his grief, in which he remained so entirely absorbed, that neither the entrance of Dugald, nor the thundering which some time afterwards took place at the outer gate, nor the noise of the many voices of those who came pouring in, were sufficient to arouse him.
Dugald Roy had the presence of mind to hurry down to the court-yard, to prepare the Lord of Curgarf, and those who came with him, for the dreadful spectacle they were to witness. Thunderstruck and shocked by his intelligence, they crowded up to the hall, where the general horror was for some time so great, as to render everyone incapable of acting; but at length they gathered sufficient recollection to bestir themselves. The poisoned porringer was first carefully preserved; the Lady Stradawn was carried off in strong fits to her apartment; the body of Sir Walter Stewart was borne up into the hall; and there, after undergoing the necessary preparations used on such occasions, the father and son were laid out in state together, and the couches on which the bodies rested were surrounded by so great a multitude of wax tapers, as to exchange the melancholy gloom of the place into a blaze of light, which, reflected as it was from the various pieces of armour that glittered in vain pomp upon the walls, shone but to produce a greater intensity of sadness. The good priest of Dounan was sent for; and the appalling news having spread quickly around, the retainers began to swarm into the Castle, from all quarters, in sorrowful groups, full of lamentation. Meanwhile the Lord of Curgarf and his son, the Master of Forbes, occupied themselves in soothing the afflicted Sir Patrick Stewart, and in aiding and encouraging him to go through with those trying and painful duties which this most afflicting occasion demanded of him.
Food and wine had been carried to the Lady Stradawn, where she sat alone in her bower, so deeply sunk in remorse, and dejection, and dread, as to be quite unconscious of the entrance or departure of those who brought here these comforts. Those who were compelled to be the bearers of them, gazed on her with fear, and hastened from her with expedition, and no one else could be persuaded to go near her, even her woman refused to remain with her, as something accursed, so that she was left abandoned by all, as a prey to her evil thoughts. Had any one ventured to look in upon her, as she sat motionless in her great chair, with a lamp flickering on a table beside her, and throwing an uncertain light by fits and snatches on her face, now pale and fixed as marble, – and on her glazed and tearless eyes, and her dry and withered lips, he might have fancied that she was already a corpse; yet deep, deep was the mental agony that she felt.
The midnight watch had been set, and all had been for some time silent within the walls at Drummin, save the distant hum of the subdued voices of those who, according to custom, sat waking the corpses in the hall, when the door of the Lady Stradawn’s bower opened, and her son Murdoch appeared. If the spirit of her murdered husband had arisen before her eyes, she could not have started with more astonishment, or recoiled with greater apparent horror.
“Murdoch!” cried she, in a loud and agitated voice, “Is it thee, Murdoch?” And then, sinking back into the same fixed and motionless attitude, whence she had been thus momentarily aroused, she added, in a faint, low, and feeble tone, “Murdoch! – would that thou hadst never been born!”
“Mother,” said Murdoch, calmly shutting the door behind him, and taking a seat beside her chair. “I have heard all from Nicol, the playfellow of my boyhood, who chanced to be set to guard me, in the apartment below. I wished to see thee ere we die; and I purchased from the sordid wretch this midnight hour – this last hour of privacy with thee.”
“Ha!” cried the Lady Stradawn, with a strange and sudden transition from the apathy and torpor of despair, to the most energetic anxiety of hope; “If Nicol did that for thee, why may we not bribe him to open a way for us through those who guard the gate? Quick! – quick! – quick! – oh, let us quickly escape! – oh, let us not tarry one moment longer! There are my keys; we have treasure in that cabinet, which may well bribe him, and yet leave us rich!”
“Be composed, my most worthy mother,” said Murdoch Stewart; “there is not the shadow of a chance for us in that way. The door of the keep is doubly barred, and doubly guarded, and no one leaves it unexamined beneath the light of a blazing torch. The whole men-at-arms and clansmen within the walls, infuriated against us, are of their own free will engaged in vigilant watching. The portcullis is down, the gate barricaded, the barbican manned, and the walls surrounded by patroles. Mother, cast aside all such hopes as useless, for as the guilt of both of us must soon appear as clear as to-morrow’s noonday, so that sun, which shall certainly arise to-morrow morning, shall as surely look upon our graves ere he sets.”
The Lady Stradawn sank again into the chair, from which the sudden impulse of hope had so energetically raised her, and, groaning deeply, she relapsed into her former state of deathlike stillness, broken only by the long drawn sob that at certain intervals convulsed her whole frame.
“Mother!” said Murdoch Stewart, after a pause; “where are all the fruits of that career of crime for which thou nursed me as an infant, tutored me as a boy, and prompted me as a man? Have I not followed thy bidding through deceit, robbery, and murder, and where is now my reward? Thine is locked up there in that secret cabinet of glittering toys, which to-morrow thou must leave, to go out to be hanged by the neck on the gallows-tree, with the son, whom thou wouldst have had Lord of the Aven, grinning at thee like a caitiff cur from the farther end of its beam.”
“Oh! – oh ho?” cried the agonised woman, shaken through every limb by the palsy of her fears; “is there no – no deliverance for us?”
“Yes,” said Murdoch Stewart, calmly; “yes, there is a deliverance, and a speedy one too.”
“Oh, name it!” cried the frantic woman; “oh, name it! and quickly let us avail ourselves of it!”
“Here it is,” said Murdoch Stewart, quietly taking a small paper packet from his bosom; “here it is, mother. A few small pinches of this powder, mingled in a cup of that wine, will snatch us both from the torture of being made a disgraceful public spectacle to-morrow – of being gazed at by the vulgar eyes, and pointed at by the vile fingers of those wretched serfs, and their grovelling mates and spawn, whom, a little better luck and better fortune for us, had by that time made the abject slaves of our will. See! here it is mingled, already it is dissolved, and now the draught is potent. Good mother, I pledge thee,” said he, drinking down half of what the goblet contained; “and now here is thy share.”
“No, – no, – no! – I cannot! – no, I cannot!” cried the Lady Stradawn, with frantic horror in her averted eyes.
“Then do I tell thee, mother mine,” said Murdoch Stewart sternly; “thou hast not trained me up to deal in deeds of blood and death for naught. I shall never suffer thy womanish fears to bring the disgrace of the gallows upon thee. I love thee too much for that. See here, good mother! ’tis but a choice of deaths. Here is a concealed dagger, look you. Say! wouldst thou bring one more murder – the murder of a mother – on my already over-burdened soul, to sink it deeper in that sea of torment to which these priests would fain have us believe that those who, like us, have used the wit and the strength with which they have been gifted, for bettering their own condition in this world, must hasten from hence? Drink! or by every fiend that suffers there, thou diest in the instant!”
The Lady Stradawn glared at her son with a vacant stare, as if all reason had fled from her. She took the cup mechanically from his hand, and drained it to the bottom.
“What hast thou done?” cried the man-at-arms, who had been brought to the door by the violent tone of some of Murdoch Stewart’s last words, and who rushed in just as the Lady Stradawn had swallowed the poison.
“Do what thou wilt now, Nicol,” said Murdoch Stewart, with perfect composure; “we are beyond thy power or that of anyone else with in the castle of Drummin.”
Nicol at once guessed at what had happened, and ran instantly for the Priest. The good Father of Dounan was deeply skilled in medicine as well as in divinity. He called for assistance, and antidotes were forcibly given to Murdoch Stewart, and passively received by his mother the Lady Stradawn. Their wretched existence was thus prolonged, though death could not be altogether averted. They lingered on in great pain for many days, during which all judicial proceedings were suspended. The pious priest lost not one moment of this precious time. By exerting al;l his religious learning and all his eloquence he at length succeeded in bringing both of them to a full sense of the enormity of their guilt, as well as to an ample confession of all their crimes. It is not for us to interpret the decrees of the Almighty in such a case as theirs; but if the apparent deep contrition that followed was real and heartfelt, we may trust that the mercy as well as the benefit of the merits of that blessed Saviour, who died for us all upon the cross, even for the thief that was crucified with Him, was extended to them, dreadful as their crimes had been.
My legend now draws to a hasty conclusion. The days of mourning were fully numbered by Sir Patrick Stewart for his murdered father and brother. The kindness of the old Lord of Curgarf and his son Arthur Master of Forbes towards him was unwearied and most consolatory. Nor were the delicate affections of the Lady Catherine Forbes less tenderly or unremittingly displayed, so that, in due time, by becoming her husband, he bound himself to both his friends by the closest and dearest ties. In pious remembrance of his brother Sir Walter’s murder, he erected the pillar of stone I spoke of as that which stood so long by the side of the well-eye where he was slain; but he refrained from inscribing anything upon it, lest his doing so might have revived the recollection of Murdoch Stewart’s atrocity. He likewise ordered a stone to be set up where the proud Priest of Dalestie was burned, rather as a sort of expiation of the stern act of justice, which his brother Sir Walter had inflicted upon him than to perpetuate the detested memory of the depraved wretch who suffered there.