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


Chapter Two

Nothing occurred for some time to mar the harmony and peace of the married lovers. At length their tranquillity was broken by accounts of the fatal and bloody battle of Towton, which gave a death-blow to the interests of the Lancastrians; This news spread consternation among the small party at Holme Cultrum. The question was, whether to remain and boldly confront the Mowbrays, or fly towards Scotland and endeavour to reach Drumlanrig; but the distracted state of the country forbade this plan, and the arrival of some fugitives from the field of battle having brought the intelligence that both Earl Mowbray and his son were unwounded, and had fled to France, determined the party to remain where they were. This, however, they soon repented of when they understood that a large body of Yorkists were in full march northwards to demolish all the castles held by the insurgent noblemen. This trumpet-note roused the warlike spirit of Douglas. He boldly showed himself to the soldiers, and swore to defend the castle to the last, or be buried in its ruins, if they would stand by him. But the men-at-arms, either unwilling to fight under a stranger, or panic-struck at their late defeat, coldly met this proposal ; and while Father Anselm and Douglas were examining the outward works, they made their escape by a postern, leaving only two or three infirm old men, besides the menials, to resist the conquering army. Sir John, undaunted by the dastardly behaviour of the men, still continued his preparations, and inspired such courage into the hearts of his little garrison, that they vowed to stand by him to the last. But these preparations proved needless: Edward, either allured by the prospect of greater booty in some richer castle, or afraid of harassing his troops, turned aside into the midland counties, and left the bold-hearted Douglas to the enjoyment of his wife’s society.

Months of unalloyed felicity were theirs ; and while England was torn by civil dissensions,—when the father pursued the son, and the son the father, and the most sacred bonds of nature were rent asunder at the shrine of party, and while the unburied dead gave the fields of merry England the appearance of a charnel-house,—all was peace, love, and joy within the walls of Holme Cultrum. Seated in the lofty halls of her fathers, Lady Emma appeared the personification of content; hers was indeed that felicity she had not dared to hope for even in her wildest day-dreams. It was indeed a lovely sight to behold her leaning on the arm of her noble husband, listening to his details of well-fought fields; her eye now sparkling with hope, and her cheek now blanched with terror, as they paced in the twilight the ample battlements of the castle : it was like the ivy clinging and clasping round the stately oak. If at such moments Douglas wearied of the monotony of existence, and half-wished he was once more in the front of battle, he had only to look in the soft blue eye of his Emma, press her to his heart, and everything else was forgot.

Summer had passed away, and the fields wore the golden livery of autumn. It was on a beautiful evening, while Douglas, Lady Emma, and Father Anselm, were enjoying the soothing breeze, when Ralph Teesdale rushed before them, his face pale and his trembling accents proclaiming his terror.

"Fly, my lord!” addressing Douglas; "fly, for you are betrayed; the earl is come, at the head of a band of mercenaries, and vows to have your head stuck on the battlements before tomorrow’s sun rise.”

"I will not fly," said Douglas; "boldly will I confront the earl, and claim my wife. ”

"My father is good, is kind ; he will yield to the prayers and tears of his Emma.”

"Alas, alas! my dearest and honoured lady," rejoined her foster-brother, "your noble father is no more, and ’tis your brother who now seeks the life of Douglas.”

The first part of the sentence was only heard by Lady Emma, who fell senseless into the arms of her husband, and was immediately conveyed to her chamber by her ever-ready attendant. A hasty council was then held between Father Anselm and Douglas.

" You had better take the advice of that faithful fellow, and give way. You know,” continued the priest, "the dreadful temper and baleful passions of Richard de Mowbray. Not only your own life, but that of your wife, may fall a sacrifice to his fury, were he to find you. I am well aware that he has long considered his sister as an encumbrance on his succession, and will either cause her to be shut up in a convent, or secretly destroyed. ”

Douglas shuddered at the picture, and asked the holy father what he should do.

"Retreat to my secret chamber, in the first instance; it were madness, and worse. to attempt to exclude the Earl de Mowbray from his castle, even if we had sufficient strength within, which you know we have not. I shall cause Lady Emma to be conveyed there also when she recovers; we must resolve on some scheme instantly; the secret of the spring is unknown to all but your faithful friends.”

Sir John at length complied, and was shortly afterwards joined in his retreat by Lady Emma and Edith. Flight—instant flight—was resolved on; and the timid and gentle Emma, who had hardly ever ventured beyond the walls of the castle, declared she was ready to dare everything rather than be torn from her husband, or be the means of his being consigned to endless captivity, or, it might be, a cruel and lingering death. Father Anselm set off again in search of Ralph, and soon returned with the joyful intelligence that De Mowbray was still at a castle a few miles distant ; that those of his followers who had already arrived were then carousing deeply; and as soon as the first watch was set, a pair of fleet horses would be waiting at the small postern, to which Douglas and his lady could steal unobserved, wrapt in horsemerfs cloaks. The short interval which intervened was spent by Edith in making such preparations as were required for the travellers, and by the churchman in fervent petitions to Heaven for their safety. At length the expected signal was given from the chapel, and the agitated party stood at the low postern, where Ralph waited with the horses. It was some moments before the lady could disengage herself from the arms of her weeping attendant; but the father hurried them away, and soon their figures were lost in the gloom, and their horses’ tread became faint in the distance.

Well it was for the fugitives that their plans had been so quickly executed, for ere midnight the trumpets of De Mowbray sounded before the castle gate. There all was uproar and confusion. The means of refreshment had been given with unsparing hand, and the wild-spirits of the mercenaries whom he commanded were then in a state bordering on stupefaction from their lengthened debauch. The few who accompanied him were not much better, and he himself had all his evil passions inflamed by the wine he had quaffed with the Lord of Barnard Castle; Hastily throwing himself from his reeking charger, he entered his castle sword in hand, and ordered his sister to be brought before him, and the castle to be searched, from turret to foundation stone, for the presumptuous Douglas. Pale, trembling, and in tears, Edith threw herself at his feet.

"O. my good lord, my lady, my dear lady is ill, very ill, ever since she heard of the death of her honoured father. Tomorrow she will endeavour to see you."

"Off woman!” he exclaimed. "This night I must and shall see my sister, dead or alive," and he arose with fury in his looks.

But Wolfstone, his lieutenant, a brave young man, stepped before him, and, drawing his sword, exclaimed—"You must pass over my dead body ere you break in upon the sacred sorrows of Lady Emma."

There was something in the brave bearing of the gallant foreigner which even De Mowbray respected, for he lowered his voice, and stealing his hand from his dagger, said, "And where is Father Anselm, that he comes not to welcome me to the halls of my fathers?”

"He is gone," returned Edith, "to the neighbouring monastery, to say a mass for the honoured dead,” and she devoutly crossed herself, turning her tearful eye on Wolfstone, who, with the most respectful tone, added— "Go, faithful maiden! say to your lady that Conrad Wolfstone guards her chamber till her pleasure is known."

"Now lead in our prisoner there;” but a dozen of voices exclaimed against further duty that night.

"He sleeps sound in his dungeon,” said De Mowbray’s squire; "and tomorrow you may make him sleep sounder, if you will. A cup of wine would be more to the purpose, methinks, after our long and toilsome march.”

A hundred voices joined in the request. The wine was brought, and the tyrant soon forgot his projects of vengeance in a prolonged debauch. He slept too—that unnatural monster slept—and dreamt of his victims, and the sweet revenge that was awaiting him. It was owing to the presence of mind of Ralph that the flight of Douglas was not discovered. He had the address to persuade the half-inebriated soldiers that the prisoner was actually securely fettered in the dungeon which he had all along occupied. No sooner did he see them engaged in the new carousal than he hastened to join Edith in the secret chamber, where they united with Father Anselm in his devotions, and prayed for blessings on the head of their noble lord and lady.

Meanwhile the fugitives had reached Scotland, and were now leisurely pursuing their way, thinking themselves far beyond the reach of pursuit. On their first crossing the border, a shepherd’s hut afforded the agitated Lady Emma an hour’s repose and a draught of milk. The morning air revived her spirits, and once more she smiled sweetly as her husband bade her welcome to his native soil. From the fear of pursuit, they durst not take the most direct road to Drumlanrig, but continued to follow the narrow tracks among the hills, known only to huntsrnen and shepherds.

It was now evening; the sun was sinking among a lofty range of mountains, tinging their heathy summits with a purple hue, as his broad disc seemed to touch their tops. The travellers were entering a narrow defile, at the end of which a small but beautiful mountain lake or loch burst upon their sight; its waters lay delightfully still and placid, reflecting aslant a few alder bushes which grew on its banks, while the canna, or wild cotton grass, reared its white head here and there among the bushes of wild thyme which sent their perfume far on the air. The wild and melancholy note of the curlew, as she was roused from her nest by the travellers, or the occasional bleat of a lamb, was all that broke the universal stillness.

"Ah, my love," said Lady Emma, riding up close to her husband, "what a scene of peace and tranquillity! Why could we not live here, far from courts and camps, from battle and bloodshed ? But," she continued, looking fondly and fixedly at her husband, "this displeases you,—think of it only as a fond dream, and pardon me.”

"True, my Emma,” returned Douglas, "these are but fond dreams; the state of our poor country commands every man to do his duty, and how could the followers of the Bloody Heart sheath their swords, and live like bondsmen? Never—never! But let us ride on now; the smoke from yonder cabin on the brow of the hill promises shelter for the night, and, ere to-morrow’s sun go down, you shall be welcomed as the daughter of one of the noblest dames of Scotland. Ride on—the night wears apace.”

Scarcely had the words passed his lips, when the quick tramp of a steed behind caused him to turn round. It was Mowbray, his eyes glaring with fury, and his frame trembling with rage and excitement.

"Turn, traitor! coward! robber! turn, and meet your just punishment!”

"Coward was never heard by a Douglas unrevenged,” was the haughty answer to this defiance, as he wheeled round to meet the challenger, at the same time waving to Lady Emma to ride on; but she became paralysed with fear and surprise, and sat on her palfrey motionless. Both drew their swords, and the combat began. lt was furious but short: Douglas unhorsed his antagonist, and then, leaping from his own steed, went to assist in raising him, unwilling farther to harm the brother of his wife. But oh, the treachery and cruelty of the wicked! No sooner did the tender-hearted Douglas kneel down beside him to ascertain the nature of his wounds, than Mowbray drew his secret dagger, and stabbed him to the heart.

The moon rose pale and cold on the waters of this inland lake, and showed distinctly the body of a female lying near its shore, while a dark heap, resembling men asleep, was seen at a little distance on a rising ground, —the mournful howl of a large dog only broke the death-like stillness. Soon, however, a horseman was seen descending the pass; he was directed by the dog to the female, who still lay as if life indeed had fled. He sprang from his horse, and brought water from the lake, which he sprinkled on her face and hands. Long his efforts were unavailing, but at last the pulse of life began once more to beat, the eye opened, and she wildly exclaimed—"O do not kill him!"

"He is safe for me, lady," said the well-known voice of Ralph Teesdale.

"Thou here, my trusty friend!" murmured Lady Emma; " bear me to Douglas, and all may yet be well."

She could utter no more; insensibility again seized her, and Ralph, lifting her up, bore her in his arms to
what he supposed to be a shepherd’s cottage, but found it only a deserted summer shelling. He was almost distracted, and, laying down his precious burden, wrapped in his horse-man’s cloak, he ran out again in search of assistance, though hardly hoping to find it in such a wild district, still closely followed by the dog, which continued at intervals the same dismal howl which had attracted the notice of Ralph as they ascended the hill. The sad note of the hound was answered by a loud barking, and never fell sounds more welcome on the ear of the faithful vassal. He followed the sounds, and they led him to a hut tenanted by a shepherd and his wife. His tale was soon told. They hastened with him to the deserted sheiling, where they found the object of their solicitude in a situation to demand instant and female assistance. There, amid the wilds of Scotland, in a comfortless cabin, the heir of the warlike and noble Sir John Douglas first saw the light. Long ere perfect consciousness returned, Lady Emma was removed to the more comfortable home of the shepherd, and there his wife paid her every possible attention.

The care of Ralph consigned the remains of the rival chiefs to one grave. It was supposed that De Mowbray had expired soon after giving Douglas the fatal stroke, as his fingers still firmly grasped the hilt of his dagger. Their horses and accoutrements were disposed of by the shepherd, and thus furnished a fund for the maintenance of the noble lady, who was so strangely cast upon their care. Many weeks elapsed ere she was aware she had neither husband nor brother.

Time, which calms or extinguishes every passion of the human heart, had exerted its healing influence over the mind of Lady Emma. She sat watching the gambols of her son on the banks of the peaceful lake, whose waters had first recalled her to life on the disastrous evening of his birth. There was even a smile on her pale thin lip, as he tottered to her knee, and laid there a handful of yellow wild-flowers. She clasped the blooming boy to her heart, murmuring, " My Douglas ! ” On her first awakening to a full sense of her loss and forlorn condition, it was only by presenting her son to her that she could be persuaded to live; and when her strength returned, she determined to go to Drumlanrig, and claim protection for herself and child. But the prudence of Ralph suggested the propriety of his first going to ascertain the state of the family; and recommending his lady to the care of Gilbert Scott and his kindhearted wife, he set out on his embassy. But sad was his welcome: the noble pile was a heap of blackened and smoking ruins, and the lady fled no one knew whither. Sad and sorrowful he returned to the mountain retreat, and was surprised at the calmness with which his honoured mistress heard his tale. Alas! he knew not that the pang she had already suffered made every other loss appear trivial!

The lonely sheiling was repaired and furnished. Here Lady Emma, in placid content, nursed her child, attended by her faithful foster-brother, who made occasional excursions to the neighbouring town to supply her with any necessary she required. On an occasion of this kind, when the lovely boy was nearly two years old, she sat at the door of her humble dwelling, listening to his sweet prattle. It was the first time he had attempted to say the most endearing of all words. She forgot her sorrows, and was almost happy. Her attention was soon called to some domestic concern within the cottage. The boy was on his accustomed seat at the door, when a shrill and piercing scream caused her to run out. Need her anguish and despair be painted, when she saw her lovely boy borne aloft in the air in the talons of an eagle? To run, to scream, to shout, was the first movement of the frenzied mother; but vain had been her efforts, had she not been almost immediately joined by some of her neighbours, whose united efforts made the fatigued bird quit its prey and drop it into the loch. Many a willing heart, many an active hand, was ready to save the boy. He was delivered to his mother, but, alas! only as a drenched and nerveless corse. Human nature could endure no more. Her brain reeled, and reason fled for ever. Her faithful and attached follower returned to find his lady a wandering maniac. Year after year did he follow her footsteps, nor, till death put a period to her sufferings, did his care slacken for one instant. After he had seen her laid by her husband and brother, he bade adieu to the simple inhabitants, and it is supposed he fell in some of the border raids of the period, as he was never more heard of.

Reader, this tale is no idle fiction. On the borders of Alemoor Loch, in Selkirkshire, may still be seen a small clump of moss-grown trees, among which were one or two of the crab-apple kind, which showed that here the hand of cultivation had once been. Within this enclosure was a small green mound, to which tradition, in reference to the above story, gave the name of the Lady’s Seat; and about half a mile to the south-west of the lonely loch is an oblong bench, with a rising ground above, still called the Chieftain’s Grave.— “Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal.”


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