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Book of Scottish Story
Alemoor: a Tale of the Fifteenth Century


‘Sad is the wail that floats o’er Alemoor’s lake,
And nightly bids her gulfs unbottomed quake,
While moonbeams, sailing o’er her waters blue,
Reveal the frequent tinge of blood-red hue.
The water-birds, with shrill discordant scream,
Oft rouse the peasant from his tranquil dream;
He dreads to raise his slow unclosing eye,
And thinks he hears an infant’s feeble cry.’——Leyden.

Chapter One

In one of those frequent incursions which the Scottish Borderers used to make into the sister territory, it was the misfortune of Sir John Douglas, a gallant and distinguished warrior, to be taken prisoner by Richard de Mowbray, who, to a naturally proud and vindictive temper, added a bitter and irreconcilable hatred to that branch of the house of Douglas to which his prisoner belonged. Instead of treating the brave and noble youth with that courtesy which the law of arms and the manners of the times authorised, he loaded his limbs with fetters, and threw him into one of the deepest dungeons of his baronial castle of Holme Cultrum. Earl de Mowbray, his father, was then at the English court, in attendance on his sovereign, so that he had none to gain-say his authority, but yielded, without hesitation or restraint, to every impulse of his passions. To what lengths the savage cruelty of his temper might have led him in practising against the life of his youthful prisoner is not known, for he was also summoned to London to assist in the stormy councils of that distracted period.

Meanwhile, Douglas lay on the floor of his dungeon, loaded with fetters, and expecting every hour to be led out to die. No murmur escaped his lips. He waited patiently till the fatal message arrived, only regretting that it had not pleased Heaven to suffer him to die sword in hand, like his brave ancestors. "Yes!" he exclaimed, as he raised his stately and warlike form from the ground, and clashing his fettered hands together, while his dark eye shot fire; "yes! let false tyrannical Mowbray come with all his ruffian band—let them give me death by sword or by cord—my cheek shall not blanch, nor my look quail before them. As a Douglas I have lived, as a Douglas I shall die!”

But the expected summons came not. Day after day passed on in sullen monotony, more trying to a brave mind than even the prospect of suffering. No sound broke in on the silence around him, but the daily visit of a veteran man-at-arms, who brought him his scanty meal. No entreaties could induce this man to speak, so that the unfortunate prisoner could only guess at his probable fate. Sometimes despondency, in spite of his better reason, would steal over his mind. "Shall I never again see my noble, my widowed mother? my innocent, playful sister?—never again wander through the green woods of Drumlanrig, or hunt the deer on its lordly domain? Shall my sight never again be greeted by the green earth or cheerful sun? Will these hateful walls enclose me till damp and famine destroy me, and my withered limbs be left in this charnel-house, a monument of the cruelty and unceasing hatred of De Mowbray?”

Seven long weeks had rolled tediously along when the prisoner was surprised by his allowance being brought by a stranger in the dress of a Cumbrian peasant. Eagerly, rapidly he questioned the man respecting Mowbray, his intentions, and why he had been so long left without being allowed to name a ransom. The peasant told him of De Mowbray’s absence, and added that, as there was to be a general invasion of Scotland, all the men-at-arms had been marched away that morning to join their companions, except the warders, by whom he had been ordered to bring food to the prisoner. Joy now thrilled through the heart and frame of the youthful warrior, but he had still enough of caution left to make no further inquiries, but allow his new jailer to depart without exciting his suspicions too early.

It is well known to those who are conversant with the history of that period, that, however bitter the animosities of the two nations were while engaged in actual warfare, yet in times of peace, or even of truce, the commons lived on friendly terms, and carried on even a sort of trade in cattle. All this was known to Sir John, who hoped, through the means of his new attendant, to open a communication with his retainers, if he could not engage him to let him free, and become a follower of the Douglas, whose name was alike dreaded in both nations. But events over which he had no control were even then working for him, and his deliverance was to come from a quarter he thought not of.

At the date of this tale, the ladies of rank had few amusements when compared to those of modern times. Books, even if they could have been procured, would sometimes not have been valued or understood from the very limited education which, in those days, was allowed to females. Guarded in their inaccessible towers or castles, their only amusement was listening to the tales of pilgrims, or the songs of wandering minstrels, both of whom were always made welcome to the halls of nobles, and whose persons, like those of heralds, were deemed sacred even among contending parties. To be present at a tournament was considered as an event of the first importance, and looked forward to with the highest expectation, and afterwards formed an era in their lives. When such amusements were not to be had, a walk on the ramparts, attended by their trusty maid, was the next resource against the tedium of time. It was during such a walk as this that Emma, only daughter of Earl Mowbray, addressed her attendant as follows:—

"Do you think it possible, Edith, that the prisoner, whom my brother is so solicitous to conceal, can be that noble Douglas of whom we have heard so much, and about whom Graham, the old blind minstrel, sung such gallant verses?”

"Indeed, my sweet lady," replied her attendant, "the prisoner in yonder dungeon is certainly of the house of Douglas, and, as I think, the very Sir John of whom we have heard so much."

"How knowest thou that ?” inquired her lady, eagerly.

"I had always my own thoughts of it," whispered Edith cautiously, and drawing nearer her mistress; " but since Ralph of Teesdale succeeded grim old Norman as his keeper, I am almost certain of it. He knows every Douglas of them, and, from his account, though the dungeon was dark, he believes it was Sir John who performed such prodigies of valour at the taking of Alnwick.”

"May Heaven, then, preserve and succour him!" sighed the Lady Emma as she clasped her hands together.

Emma De Mowbray, the only daughter of the most powerful and warlike of the northern earls, was dazzlingly fair, and her very beautiful features were only relieved from the charge of insipidity on the first look, by the lustre of her dark blue eyes, which were shaded by long and beautiful eye-lashes. Her stature was scarcely above the middle size, but so finely proportioned, that the eye of the beholder never tired gazing on it. She was only seventeen, and had not yet been allowed to grace a tournament, her ambitious father having determined to seclude his northern flower till he could astonish the Court of England with her charms, and secure for her such an advantageous settlement as would increase his own power and resources. Thus had Emma grown up the very child of nature and tenderness. Shut out from society of every kind, her imagination had run riot, and her most pleasing hours, when not occupied by devotional duties, were spent in musing over the romantic legends which she had heard either from minstrels, or those adventurers who oft times found a home in the castle of a powerful chief, and which were circulated among the domestics till they reached the ear of their youthful lady. These feelings had been unconsciously fostered by her spiritual director, Father Anselm, who, of noble birth himself, had once been a soldier, and delighted, in the long winter evenings, to recount the prowess of his youth ; and in the tale of other years, often and often was the noble name of Douglas introduced and dwelt upon with enthusiastic rapture, as he narrated the chief’s bravery in the Holy Land. In short, every circumstance combined to feed and excite the feverish exalted imagination of this untutored child. Had her mother lived, the sensibilities of her nature had been cherished and rehned, and taught to keep within the bounds of their proper channel. As it was, they were allowed to run riot, and almost led her to overstep the limits of that retiring modesty which is so beautiful in the sex. No sooner, then, had she learnt that Douglas was the captive of her haughty brother, and perhaps doomed to a. lingering or ignominious death, than she resolved to attempt his escape, be the consequences what they would. A wild tumultuary feeling took possession of her mind as she came to this resolution. What would the liberated object say to her, or how look his thanks? and, oh! if indeed he proved to be the hero of her day-dreams, how blessed would she be to have it in her power to be his guardian angel! The tear of delight trembled in her eye, as she turned from the bartisan of the castle, and sought the solitude of her chamber.

It was midnight—the last stroke of the deep-toned castle bell had been answered by the echoes from the neighbouring hills, when two shrouded figures stood by the couch of the prisoner. The glare of a small lantern, carried by one of them, awoke Douglas. He sprang to his feet as lightly as if the heavy fetters he was loaded with had been of silk, and in a stern voice told them he was ready. "Be silent and follow us," was the reply of one of the muffled visitors. He bowed in silence, and prepared to leave his dungeon,—not an easy undertaking, when it is remembered that he was so heavily ironed; but the care and ingenuity of his conductors obviated as much as possible even this difficulty; one came on each side, and prevented as much as possible the fetters from clashing on each other. In this manner they hurried him on through a long subterraneous passage, then crossed some courts which seemed overgrown with weeds, and then entered a chapel, where Douglas could perceive a noble tomb surrounded by burning tapers. "You must allow yourself to be blindfolded,” said one of them in a sweet, musical, but suppressed voice; he did so, and no sooner was the bandage made fast, than he heard the snap as of a spring, and was immediately led forward. In a few minutes more he felt he had left the rough stones of the church, and its chill sepulchral air, for a matted floor and a warmer atmosphere; the bandage dropped from his eyes, and he found himself in a small square room, comfortably furnished, with a fire blazing in the chimney; a second look convinced him he was in the private room of an ecclesiastic, and that he was alone.

It need not be told the sagacious reader that this escape was the work of Lady Emma, aided by Father Anselm, and Ralph Teesdale, who was her foster-brother, and therefore bound to serve her almost at the risk of his life—so very strong were such ties then considered. No sooner did Douglas learn from the venerable ecclesiastic to whom he owed his life and liberty, than he pleaded for an interview with all the warmth of gratitude which such a boon could inspire.

Recruited by a night of comfortable repose, and refreshed by wholesome food, our youthful warrior looked more like those of his name than when stretched on the floor of the dungeon. It was the evening of the second day after his liberation, while Douglas was listening to his kind and venerable host’s account of the daring deeds by which his ancestor, the good Lord James, had been distinguished, when the door opened, and Lady Emma and her attendant entered. Instantly sinking on one knee, Sir John poured forth his thanks in language so courtly, so refined, yet so earnest and heartfelt, that Lady Emma’s heart beat tumultuously, and her eyes became suffused with tears.

"Suffer me," continued Douglas, "to behold the features of her who has indeed been a guardian angel to the descendant of that house who never forgave an injury, nor ever, while breath animated them, forgot a favour."

Lady Emma slowly raised her veil, and the eyes of the youthful pair met, and dwelt on each other with mutual admiration. Again the knight knelt, and, pressing her hand to his lips, vowed that he would ever approve himself her faithful and devoted champion. The conversation then took a less agitating turn, and, in another hour, Lady Emma took her leave of the good father and his interesting companion, in whose favour she could not conceal that she was already inspired with the most fervent feelings. Nor did she chide Edith, who, while she braided the beautiful locks of her mistress, expatiated on the fine form and manly features of Douglas, and rejoiced in his escape.

It was now time for Sir John to make some inquiries of Father Anselm about the state of the country, and if the Scotch had beat back their assailants in the attack made upon them, and learned, to his pleasure and surprise, that the enemy were then too much divided among themselves to think of making reprisals, the whole force of the kingdom being then gathered together to decide the claims of York and Lancaster to the crown of England; that Earl Mowbray and his son, adherents of the queen, were then lying at York with their retainers, ready to close in battle with the adverse party It might be supposed that this intelligence would inspire the captive with the wish to complete his escape, and return to Scotland. But no. A secret influence —a sort of charm—bound him to the spot; he was fascinated; he had no power to fly, even if the massy gates of the castle had unfolded themselves before him.

Bred up in the camp, Douglas was unused to the small sweet courtesies of life; his hours, when in his paternal towers of Drumlanrig, were chiefly spent in the chase, or in warlike exercises with his brothers, and the vassals of their house. His mother, a lady of noble birth, descended from the bold Seatons, encouraged such feelings, and kept up that state in her castle and retinue which befitted her high rank. His sister Bertha was a mere child, whom he used to fondle and caress in his moments of relaxation. But now a new world broke upon his astonished senses. He had seen a young, a beautiful lady, to whom he owed life and liberty, who, unsought, had generously come forward to his relief. Of the female character he knew nothing; if he did think of them, it was either invested with the matronly air of his mother, or the playful fondness of his sister. His emotions were new and delightful, and he longed to tell his fair deliverer all he felt; and he did tell her, and—she listened.

But why prolong the tale? Interview succeeded interview, till even Father Anselm became aware of their growing attachment. Alas ! the good priest saw his error too late; and although, even then, he attempted to reason with both on the consequences of their passion, yet his arguments made no impression.

"You will turn war into peace,” whispered Lady Emma, as she listened to her spiritual director, "by healing the feud between the families.”

"And you will, by uniting us," boldly exclaimed the youthful lover, " give to the Mowbrays a friend who will never fail in council or in field."

Overcome by these and similar arguments, the tender-hearted Anselm at last consented to join their hands. At the solemn hour of midnight, when the menials and retainers were bound in sleep, an agitated yet happy group stood by the altar of the castle chapel. There might be seen the noble form of Douglas, with a rich mantle wrapped round him, and the fair and beautiful figure of his bride, as she blushingly left the arm of her attendant to bestow her hand where her heart was already given. The light of the sacred tapers fell full upon the reverend form of Father Anselm, and the chapel reverberated the solemn words he uttered as he invoked Heaven to bless their union. The athletic figure of Ralph Teesdale was seen near the door to guard against surprise.


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