Notwithstanding her apparent anger with Adam Home for marrying Elsie Purves without permission, Lady Dunbar was really highly pleased with the spirited conduct of the young man in volunteering for the dangerous service of assisting in the defence of the sore beset stronghold, and no sooner had she dismissed him to the battlements than she repented of her harshness.
“Go to your husband, Elsie,” she said, “and tell him I forgive him freely, in consideration of his bravery in coming to my aid. Poor lad, he has not slept all last night, and the walls are no place for one who has just come off such a long and tollsome journey; so bid him rest till evening. Then he shall take the place of Hepburn, the absent warder and relieve Maxwell in the guardroom at the Castle gate.”
So it was arranged, and at curfew Home took up his station in the warder’s lodge, with little expectation that he would be called on to execute his functions during the long, dark hours of the winter’s night. But he was not to be permitted to dream away the silent hours in peace, for scarcely had he settled himself for a nap, when the sentinel summoned him to the gate with the information that a woman was standing on the opposite side of the moat, and requesting admission to the Castle.
“Who are you, and what do you want here at this time of night?” asked the Merseman, opening the wicket in the gate and crying to his untimely visitor across the moat. “Unless your business is more than ordinarily pressing you must now return from whence you came, and come back here at a reasonable hour in the morning. Say quickly what your errand is or go. It is for no light matter that I will lower the drawbridge after curfew when an enemy is prowling around the walls.”
“Dae ye no ken me, Adam?” inquired the applicant for admission. “I didna think I wad be sae sune forgotten by an auld freend. But it looks as if some folk had gey short memories.”
“Losh preserve us, is that you, Betsy?” exclaimed Home when he recognised the well-known voice of the young woman. “Bide a minute, and ye shall get as warm a welcome as I can gie ye. Ho, guard turn out; lower the drawbridge; raise the portcullis. Ten of you keep the bridge. This inner gate shall remain shut until the bridge is raised again and the portcullis lowered into its place. Haste you,” as the men hurried through the wicket, “and bring the wench before me with all convenient speed.”
In a few minutes his orders were obeyed. The outworks were once more secure, and Betsy Hepburn was standing safe and sound in the gate guardroom of Dunbar Castle.
“Weel, lass, hoo’s a’ wi’ ye, and what ha’e ye made o’ yer man?” inquired Home as he cordially greeted the young woman.
“I’ve come through a lot syne the mornin’, Adam, lad,” replied Betsy, “and Robbie, puir fallow’s, lying in the Town House Jail in peril o’ his life. But I canna tell ye how I got away, and why I’ve come here. My story maun be told tae the Countess hersel’.”
“Gin that be the wey o’t, lass,” replied the warder, “I’ll send word up tae Elsie wi’ ane o’ the men, for I daurna leave the gate, and she’ll tak ye tae the Countess when her Ladyship’s ready tae receive ye. As for me, I’ll no press ye tae tell me secrets which are only meant for oor Lady’s ear. Hie, there, Andrew (to one of the soldiers), tell Elsie I want tae see her in the guardroom immediately and without fail.”
“Elsie soon pu tin an appearance, and was overjoyed to meet her old friend Betsy.
“Eh, woman,” said she, “but I’m real glad tae see ye here sae hale and hearty, though it’s a bad job aboot yer man. Yet dinna tak’ on ower muckle, for the Leddy will save her tried and faithful servant if it be in her power. Come awa, noo, tae my Leddy’s chamber, and tell her yer story. Ye needna be feared at her. Jist think yer speaking tae Adam or me, and lay yer screed aff as clearly and fearlessly as ye can.”
When Betsy was admitted to the presence of Black Agnes, and mentioned to the lady that she had a secret of importance to communicate, the Countess dismissed all her attendants, and then requested the visitor to tell her tale. As the young girl went on with her story – narrating how cruelly she and her husband had been treated by the English, graphically, because naturally, and in tones faltering with the painful remembrance, relating the terrible interview with Salisbury, in which that nobleman had offered Hepburn the choice of betraying his trust or suffering instant death, with the assurance that his newly-made wife would be bestowed upon one of the Southern soldiers – the Countess showed by her knit brows and flashing eyes how greatly she was moved by the recital of such base temptation and signal faithfulness.
“You did well, girl, you and your husband,” she said when Betsy had finished, “to appear to acquiesce in his unworthy demands. It seems that with you originated the idea of fighting the false Montague with his own weapons. It was a wise and prudent resolve, and I pray that we may be enabled to carry it to a successful issue. ‘Black Agnes,’ as they call me, likes not such treacherous dealings, but, as in love, so in war all is fair, and we must meet craft with craft, and, if possible, capture Salisbury by means of the cunning trap which he has so skilfully baited for the discomfiture of me and mine. At any rate, he shall find to his cost that it is impossible, either by fear of death or through the insidious lure of his English gold, to make the clansmen of Dunbar falter even for an instant in their allegiance. Methinks, wench, our ingenuity will devise a plan to trap the wary old fox, or, at least, to preserve this old Castle from his treachery or assaults until my Lord returns, and drives the besieger and his men across the Borders. Fear not for your husband. No doubt he is in great peril, but we will save him at all hazards and at any cost. A man so brave and faithful must not die.”