"Am not I a Plantagenet?"
she exclaimed—"flows not the blood of England in my veins?—and shall I
tamely behold our enemies parade the spoils of my country before mine
eyes? Ho! warden!" she continued in a louder tone, "send hither Sir
Sir William was the brother
of her husband, and the governor of the castle.
"Behold!" said she,
sternly, as the governor approached, and pointing towards the Scottish
army. "It is well that we should look like imprisoned doves upon yon rebel
host? Or shall ye, Sir Governor, discharge your duty to your sovereign, if
ye strike not one blow for England and revenge?"
"Fair sister," returned the
knight, "ere an hour after nightfall, and the cry—‘For England and the
Rose of Wark!’ shall burst as the shout of death upon the ears of our
enemies. A troop of forty horsemen wait but my word to become the
messengers of vengeance."
"Good, my brother," she
replied, while her former frown relaxed into a smile; "and each man who
hath done his duty, shall, on his return, drink a cup of wine from the
hands of Joan Plantagenet."
Darkness began to gather
round the turrets of the castle and on the highest the gentle figure of
the Countess was still indistinctly visible; now walking round it with
impatient steps, and again gazing eagerly to obtain another glance of the
Scottish army, or counting the fires which sprang up along the lines where
it had encamped for the night, when Sir William and forty of the garrison
mounted on fleet steeds, sallied from the gate of the outer wall.
ladye speed ye, gallant hearts!" said the fair Joan, as she beheld
them sweep past like a dark cloud on their work of blood.
The Scottish army were
encamped a little beyond Carham, carousing around their fires from flagons
filled with the best wine they had found in the cellars of the
Northumbrian nobility, over the fires, suspended from poles, were skins of
sheep and of bullocks, rudely sewed into the form of bags, and filled with
water—these served them as pots, and the flesh of the animals was boiled
in their own skin. Amongst the revellers were veterans who had fought by
the side of Wallace and Bruce; and, while some recounted the deeds of the
patriot, and inspired their comrades with accounts of his lion-like
courage and prodigious strength, others, with goblet in hand, fought
Bannockburn again. Thus the song, the jest, the laugh, the tale of war,
and the wine cup went round amidst the bustle of culinary preparations,
and each man laid his arms aside and gave himself up to enjoyment and
Suddenly their arose upon
their mirth the trampling and the neighing of war-steeds, the clang of
shields, and the shouts of armed men, and naked swords gleamed through the
fire-light. "For England and the Rose of Wark!" exclaimed Sir William
Montague—"For England and our ladye!" echoed his followers. They rushed
through the Scottish lines like a whirlwind, trampling the late revellers
beneath their horses’ feet, and flashing their swords in the bodies of
unarmed men. For a time they left carnage behind them, and spread
consternation before them.
The surprise and panic of
the Scottish army, however, were of short duration. "To horse!—to horse!"
rang through the camp, and they began to enclose the small but desperate
band of assailants on every side.
"England is revenged!—to
the Castle with our spoils!" cried Sir William; and they retreated towards
Wark, carrying with them a hundred and sixty horses laden with plunder,
while the Scots pursued them to the very gates. The Countess hastened to
the outer gate to meet them; and as, by the torches borne by her
attendants, she surveyed the number of horses they had taken, and the rich
booty which they bore—"Thanks, Sir William!" cried she—"thanks, my
gallant countrymen—ye have done bravely; merry England hath still its
chivalrous and stout hearts upon the Borders—to-night shall each man
pledge his ladye love in the ruddy wine."
But there was one who
welcomed Sir William Montague’s return with silent tears—the gentle
Madeline Aubrey, the companion of Joan Plantagenet, and the orphan
daughter of a valiant knight, who had won his golden spurs by the side of
the first Edward, and laid down his life in defence of his imbecile son.
Madeline was, perhaps, less beautiful than the Countess; but her very
looks spoke love—love, ardent, tender, and sincere. Hers was the beauty of
the summer moon kissing the quiet lake, when the nightingale offers up its
song—lovely and serene; Joan’s was as the sun flashing upon the gilded
sea—receiving the morning worship of the lark, and demanding admiration.
"Wherefore are ye sad, my
sweet Madeline?" said Sir William, tenderly, as he drew off his gauntlet,
and took her fair hand in his. "Joy ye not that I have returned sound in
life and limb?"
"Yes, I joy that my William
is safe," answered Madeline; "but will our safety last? Think ye not that
ye have done desperately, and that the Scottish king, with to-morrow’s
sun, will avenge the attack ye have made on his camp to-night?"
"St. George! and I pray he
may!" added Sir William. "I am the dependant of my brother, with no
fortune but my sword; and I should glory, beneath the eyes of my Madeline,
to win such renown as would gain a dowry worthy of her hand."
"When that hand is given,"
added she, "your Madeline will seek no honour but her William’s heart."
"Well, sweetest," rejoined
he, "I know that ye rejoice not in the tournament, nor delight in the
battle-field; yet would ye mourn to see your own true knight vanquished in
the one, or turn craven on the other. Let Scotland’s king besiege us if he
will, and then with this good sword shall I prove my love for Madeline."
"Madeline is an orphan,"
added she, "and the sword hath made her such. She knows your courage as
she knows your love, and she asks no farther proofs. The deed of chivalry
may make the ladye proud of her knight, but it cannot win her affection."
"Well, sweet one," said he,
playfully, "I should love to see thy pretty face in a monk’s cowl, for
thou dost preach of peace right potently. But come, love, wherefore are ye
so sad—what troubles thee?"
"Tis for you, I fear," she
replied. "I know your daring, and I know that danger threatens us; and,
oh! Madeline’s hands could not deck your bosom for the battle; though in
her own breast, she would receive the stroke of death to shield it. For my
sake be not too rash; for, oh! in the silent hours of midnight—when the
spirits of the dead visit the earth, and the souls of the living mingle
with them in dreams—I have seen my father and my mother, and they have
seemed to weep over their orphan—they have called on me to follow them;
and I have thought of you, and the shout of the battle, and the clash of
swords have mingled in my ears; and when I would have clasped your hands,
the shroud has appeared my bridal garment.
"Come, love, ‘tis an idle
fancy," said he, tenderly; "dream no more. But that they have mewed me up
in this dull castle, where honour seeks me not, and reward awaits not, and
ere now my Madeline had worn her wedding-garment. But cheer up; for your
sake, I will not be rash, though, for that fair brow, I would win a
"Tis an honour that I covet
not," said she; "nor would I risk thy safety for a moment to wear a
Madeline was right in her
apprehension that King David would revenge the attack that had been made
upon the rear of his army. When, with the morning sun he beheld two
hundred of his soldiers lying dead upon the ground—"Now, by my halidame,"
said he, "for this outrage, I will not leave one stone of Wark Castle upon
another, but its ruins shall rise as a cairn over the graves of these
Before noon, the entire
Scottish host were encamped around the Castle; and the young King sent a
messenger to the gates, demanding the Countess and Sir William to
"Surrender! boasting Scot!"
said the chivalrous Joan; "doth your boy king think that a Plantagenet
will yield to a Bruce? Back and tell him that, ere a Scot among ye enter
these gates, ye shall tread Joan Plantagenet in the dust; and the bodies
of the bravest of your army shall fill the ditches of the Castle, that
their comrades may pass over."
"I take not my answer from
a woman’s tongue," replied the herald; "what say ye, Sir Governor? Do ye
surrender in peace, or choose ye that we raze Wark Castle with the
"If King David can, he
may," was the brief and bold reply of Sir William Montague; "yet it were
better for him that he should have tarried in Scotland until his beard be
grown, than that he should attempt it."
"Ye speak boldly," answered
the herald; "but ye shall not fare the worse, by reason of your free
speech, when a passage shall be made through these walls for the Scottish
army to enter."
The messenger having
intimated the refusal of the governor to surrender to his prince,
preparations were instantly made to commence the siege. The
besieged, however, did not behold the preparations of the enemies
and remain inactive. Every means of defence was got in readiness. The
Countess hastened from post to post, inspiring the garrison with words of
heroism, and stimulating them with rewards. Even the gentle Madeline
showed that her soul could rise with the occasion worthy of a soldier’s
love; and she, too, went from man to man, cheering them on, and, with her
sweet and silver tones, seemed to rob even death of half its terror. Sir
William’s heart swelled with delight as he beheld her mild eye lighted up
with enthusiasm, and heard her voice, which was as music to his ear,
giving courage to the faint-hearted, and heroism to the brave.
"Heaven bless my Madeline!"
said he, taking her hand; "ye have taught me to know what true courage is,
and our besiegers shall feel it. They may raze the walls of the castle
with the ground, as they have threatened; but it shall be at a price that
Scotland can never forget; and even then, my Madeline shall be safe.
Farewell now, love; but as night gathers round, we must again prepare to
assume the part of assailants."
"You must!—I know you
must!" replied she; "yet be not too rash—attempt not more than a brave man
ought— or all may be lost; you, too, may perish, and who, then, would
protect your Madeline?"
He pressed her hand to his
breast—again he cried, "Farewell!" and, hastening to a troop of horsemen
who only waited his commands to sally from the gate upon the camp of their
besiegers, the drawbridge was let down, and, at the head of his followers,
he dashed upon the nearest point of the Scottish army. Deadly was the
carnage which, for a time, they spread around; and, as they were again
driven back and pursued to the gate, their own dead and their wounded were
left behind. Frequently and suddenly were such sallies made, as the falcon
watcheth its opportunity and darteth on its prey, and as frequently were
they driven back, but never without leaving proof to the Scottish monarch,
at what a desperate price Wark Castle was to be purchased. Frequently,
too, as they rushed forth, the Countess eagerly and impatiently beheld
them from the turrets; and, as the harvest-moon broke upon their armour,
she seemed to watch every flash of their swords, waving her hand with
exultation, or raising her voice in a strain of triumph. But by her side,
stood Madeline, gazing not less eagerly, but not less interested in the
work of danger and despair; but her eyes were fixed upon one only—the
young leader of the chivalrous band who braved death for England and their
ladye’s sake. She also watched the flashing of their swords; but her eyes
sought those only which glanced where the brightest helmet gleamed and the
proudest plume waved. Often the contest was beneath the very walls of the
castle, and she could hear her lover’s voice, and behold him dashing as a
thunderbolt into the midst of his enemies.
Obstinate, however, as the
resistance of the garrison was, and bloody as the price, indeed, seemed at
which the castle was to be purchased, David had too much of the Bruce in
his blood to abandon the siege. He began to fill the ditches, and he
ordered engines to be prepared to batter down the walls. The ditches were
filled, and, before the heavy and ponderous blows of the engines, a breach
was made in the outer wall, and with a wild shout a thousand of the
Scottish troops rushed into the outer court.
"Joan Plantagenet disdains
ye still!" cried the dauntless Countess. "Quail not, brave hearts," she
exclaimed, addressing the garrison, who, with deadly aim, continued
showering their arrows upon the besiegers; "before I yield, Wark Castle
shall be my funeral pile!"
"And mine!" cried Sir
William, as an arrow glanced from his hand, and became transfixed in the
visor of one of the Scottish leaders.
Madeline glanced towards
him, and her eyes, yet beaming with courage, seemed to say, "And mine!"
"And ours!" exclaimed the
garrison—"and ours!" they repeated more vehemently; and, waving their
swords, "Hurra !" cried they, "for our ladye, St. George, and merry
It was the shout of valiant
but despairing men. Yet, as the danger rose, and as hope became less and
less, so rose the determination of the Countess. She was present to
animate at every place of assault. She distributed gold amongst them; her
very jewels she gave in presents to the bravest; but, though they had shed
much of the best blood in the Scottish army, their defence was hopeless,
and their courage could not save them. Almost their last arrow was
expended, and they were repelling their assailants from the inner wall
with their spears, when Want, the most formidable enemy of the
besieged, began to assail them from within.
It was now that the gentle
Madeline, when Sir William endeavoured to inspire her with hope,
replied—"I fear not to die—to die with you!—but tell me not of hope—it is
not to be found in the courage of the brave garrison whom famine is
depriving of their strength. There is one hope for us—only one; but it is
a desperate hope, and I would rather die than risk the life of another."
"Nay, name it, dearest,"
said Sir William, eagerly; "and if the heart or hand of man can accomplish
it, it shall be attempted."
"Speak, silly one," said
the Countess, who had overheard them—"where lies your hope? Could true
knight die in nobler cause? Name it; for I wot ye have a wiser head than a
"Name it, do, dear
Madeline," entreated Sir William.
"King Edward is now in
Yorkshire," she replied; "could a messenger be despatched to him, the
castle might hold out until he hastened to our assistance."
"Sir George! and ‘tis a
happy thought!" replied the Countess. "I have not seen my cousin Edward
since we were children together; but how know ye that he is in Yorkshire?
I expected that, ere now, he was conquering the hearts of the dark-eyed
dames of Brittany, while his arms conquered the Country."
"In dressing the wounds of
the aged Scottish nobleman," answered Madeline, "who was yesterday brought
into the castle, he informed me."
"What think ye of
your fair ladye’s plan for our deliverance, good brother?" inquired
the Countess, addressing the governor.
"Madeline said it would be
a desperate attempt," replied he, thoughtfully—"and it would, indeed, be
desperate—it is impossible."
"Out on thy knighthood,
man!" rejoined the Countess— "is this the far-famed chivalry of Sir
William Montague?—why, it is the proposition of your own fair ladye, whom,
verily, ye cannot believe chivalrous to a fault. But is it to Joan
Plantagenet that ye talk of impossibilities? I will stake thee my dowry
against fair Madeline’s, I find a hundred men in this poor garrison ready
to dare and do what you declare impossible!"
"You find not two,
fair sister," said Sir William, proudly.
"Oh, say not one—not one
!" whispered Madelin earnestly.
Upon every man in the
castle did the Countess urge the dangerous mission—she entreated, she
threatened, she offered the most liberal, the most tempting rewards; but
the boldest rejected them with dismay.
The Scottish army lay
encompassing them around—their sentinels were upon the watch almost at
every step, and to venture beyond the gate of the castle seemed but to
meet death and to seek it.
"At midnight have my
fleetest horse in readiness," said Sir William, addressing his
attendant—"what no man dare, I will!"
brother!—thanks!—thanks!"—exclaimed the Countess, in a tone of joy.
Madeline clasped her hands
together—her cheeks became pale—her voice faltered—she burst into tears.
"Weep not, loved one," said
Sir William; "the heavens favour the enterprise which my Madeline
conceived. Should the storm increase, there is hope—it is possible—it will
be accomplished." And, while he yet spoke, the lightning glared along the
walls of the castle, and the loud thunder pealed over the battlements. Yet
Madeline wept, and repented that she had spoken of the possibility of
As it drew towards
midnight, the terrors of the storm increased, and the fierce hail poured
down in sheets and rattled upon the earth; the thunder almost incessantly
roared louder and more loud; or, when it ceased, the angry wind moaned
through the woods, like a chained giant in the grasp of an enemy; and the
impenetrable darkness was rendered more dismal by the blue glare of the
lightning flashing to and fro.
Silently the castle gate
was unbarred; and Sir William, throwing himself into the saddle, dashed
his spurs into the sides of his courser, which bounded off at its utmost
speed, followed by the adieus of his countrymen and the prayers and the
tears of Madeline. The gate was scarce barred behind him ere he was
dashing through the midst of the Scottish host. But the noise of the
warring elements drowned the trampling of his horse’s feet, or, where they
were indistinctly heard for a few moments, the sound had ceased, and the
horse and its rider were invisible, ere the sentinels, who had sought
refuge from the fury of the storm in the tents, could perceive them.
He passed through the
Scottish lines in safety; and, proceeding by way of Morpeth and Newcastle,
on the third day he reached the camp of King Edward, near Knaresborough.
The gay and chivalrous monarch, at the head of a portion of his army, like
a true knight, hastened the relief of his distressed cousin.
David, however, having
heard of the approach of Edward at the head of an army more numerous than
his own, and his nobles representing to him that the rich and weighty
booty which they had taken in their inroad into England, together with the
oxen and the horses, would be awkward incumbrances in a battle, he
reluctantly abandoned the siege of the castle, and commenced his march
toward Jed Forest, about six hours before the arrival of Edward and Sir
Madeline took the hand of
her lover as he entered, and tears of silent joy fell down her cheeks; but
the Countess forgot to thank him, in her eagerness to display her beauty
and her gratitude in the eyes of her sovereign and kinsman. The young
monarch gazed, enraptured, on the fair face of his lovely cousin; and it
was evident, while he gazed in her eyes, he thought not of gentle Philippa,
the wife of his boyhood; nor was it less evident that she, flattered by
the gallantry of her princely relative, forgot her absent hushand, though
in the presence of his brother. Edward, finding that it would be imprudent
to follow the Scottish army into the forest, addressing the Countess,
said—"Our knights expected, fair coz, to have tried the temper of their
lances on the Scottish shields, but as it may not be, in honour of your
deliverance, to-morrow we proclaim a tournament to be held in the
castle-yard, when each true knight shall prove, on the morion of his
antagonist, whose ladye-love is the fairest."
The eyes of the Countess
flashed joy; and she smiled, well pleased at the proposal of the
sovereign; but Madeline trembled as she heard it.
Early on the following
morning, the castle yard was fitted up for the tournament. The monarch and
the Countess were seated on a dias covered with a purple canopy, and the
latter held in her hand a ring which gleamed as a morning star, and which
the monarch had taken from his finger, that she might bestow it upon the
victor. Near their feet, sat Madeline, an unwilling spectator of the
conflict. The names of the combatants were known to the pursuivants only,
and each entered the lists armed with lance and spear, with their visors
down, and having for defence, a shield, a sort of cuirass, the helmet,
gauntlet, and gorget. Several knights had been wounded, and many
dismounted; but the interest of the day turned upon the combat of two who
already had each discomfited three. They contended long and keenly; their
strength, their skill, their activity seemed equal. Victory hung suspended
"Our ladye!" exclaimed the
monarch, rising with delight; "but they fight bravely? Who may they be?
Were it not that he cannot yet be in England, I should say the knight in
dark armour is Sir John Aubrey.
Madeline uttered a
suppressed scream, and cast round a look of mingled agony and surprise at
the monarch; but the half stifled cry was drowned by the spectators, who,
at that moment burst into a shout; the knight in the dark armour was
unhorsed—his conqueror suddenly placed his lance to his breast, but as
suddenly withdrew it; and, stretching out his mailed hand to the other,
said—"Rise, mine equal! ‘twas thy horse’s fault, and none of thine, that
chance gave me the victory, though I wished it much." The conqueror of the
day approached the canopy beneath which the monarch and the Countess sat,
and, kneeling before the dias, received the ring from her hands. While she
had held the splendid bauble in her hands during the contest, conscious of
her own beauty, of which Border minstrel and foreign troubadour had sung,
she expected, on placing it in the hand of the victor, to behold it in
homage laid again at her feet. But it was not so. The knight, on receiving
it, bowed his head, and, stepping back again, knelt before the more lowly
seat of Madeline.
"Accept this, dear
Madeline," whispered he; and she blushed and started at the voice which
she knew and loved. The Countess cast a glance of envy on her companion as
she beheld the victor at her feet; yet it was but one, which passed away
as the young monarch poured his practised flatteries in her ear.
The king commanded that the
two last combatants should raise their visors. The victor, still standing
by the side of Madeline, obeyed. It was Sir William Montague.
"Ha! Montague!" said the
monarch, "is it you! Well, for your gallant bearing to-day, you shall
accompany us to France—we shall need such hands as thine to secure the
sceptre of our lawful kingdom. But what modest flower is this that ye deck
with your hard-won diamond?" added he, glancing towards Madeline; and,
without waiting a reply, he turned to the Countess, saying, "Is she of thy
suite, dear coz? She hath a fair face, worthy the handmaiden of Beauty’s
The Countess liked not his
inquiries; but, nevertheless, was flattered by the compliment with which
he concluded; and she replied, that she was the orphan daughter of her
father’s friend, and the worshipful divinity of Sir William. The other
combatant now approached also, and, kneeling in front of the dias, raised
"Aubrey!" exclaimed the
"My brother!" cried
Madeline, starting to his side.
"Your brother?" responded
"What! my little Madeline,
a woman!" replied the stranger. "Bless thee, my own sister!"
"What!" exclaimed the
monarch, "the paragon of our tournament, the sister of bold Aubrey!—and
you, too, the combatant against her chosen champion! Had ye spilled blood
on either side, this day’s sport might have spoiled a bridal. But whence
come ye, Aubrey, and when?"
"My liege," replied the
other, "having arrived at Knaresborough on the day after the departure of
your Majesty, I hastened hither to inform your Grace that France lies open
to our arms, and our troops are eager to embark."
In a few days, Edward left
Wark, leaving behind him a powerful garrison for the defence of the
Castle, but he had left it desolate to poor Madeline, for he had taken to
accompany him, on his invasion of France, her betrothed husband and her
brother. That brother whom she had met but three days before, she had not
seen from childhood—nor was she certain that he lived—for he had been a
soldier from his boyhood, and his life had been spent in the camp and in
foreign wars, while she had been nurtured under the protection of the
Countess of Salisbury.
It was about seven years
after the events we have alluded to had occurred, that Edward, covered
with all the fame of a conqueror, if not the advantages of a conquest,
returned to England. During his victories and the din of war, however, he
had not forgotten the beauty of his fair cousin, whose glances had
bewildered him at Wark Castle; and now, when he returned, his admiration
was renewed, and she appeared as the first favourite of his court. He had
provided a royal banquet for the nobles and the knights who had
distinguished themselves during the French wars. A thousand lights blazed
in the noble hall—martial music peeled around—and hundreds of the
brightest eyes in England looked love and delight. The fairest and the
noblest in the land thronged the assembly. Jewels sparkled, and studded
the gorgeous apparel of the crowd. In the midst of the hall, walked the
gay and courtly monarch, with the fair Joan of Salisbury resting on his
arm. They spoke of their first meeting at Wark, of the siege and the
tournament, and again they whispered, and hands were pressed, and looks
exchanged; and, while they walked together a blue garter, decked with
gold, pearls, and precious stones, and which, with a golden buckle, had
fastened the sandal of the fair Joan round the best turned ankle in the
hall, became loose and entangled about her feet. The countess blushed; and
the monarch, with the easy unembarrassment and politeness of a practised
gallant, stooped to fasten the unfortunate ribbon. As the nobles beheld
the sovereign kneel with the foot of the fair Countess on his knee, a
hardly suppressed smile ran through the assembly. But, observing the smile
upon the face of his nobles, the monarch rose proudly, and, with the
garter in his hand, exclaimed, "Honi soit qui mal y pense?"—"Shame
be to him who thinks ill of it!" and buckling the garter round his left
knee, he added—"Be this the order of St. George!—and the proudest monarchs
and most valiant knights in Christendom shall be proud to be honoured with
the emblem of thy garter, fair coz."
Scarce, however, was the
royal banquet closed, when the voice of lamentation was heard in every
house, though the mourners were not about the streets; for the living
feared to follow their dead to the sepulchre. The angel of death breathed
upon the land—he stretched out his wings and covered it—at his breath the
land sickened—beneath the shadow of his wings the people perished. The
green fields became as a wilderness, and death and desolation reigned in
the market places. Along the streets moved cavalcades of the dead—the
hearse of the noble and the car of the citizen; and the dead bodies of the
poor were picked up upon the streets! The churchyards rose as hills, and
fields were turned up for the dead! The husband fled from his dying wife;
the mother feared to kiss her own child; and the bridegroom turned in
terror from her who was to have been his bride upon the morn. There was no
cry heard but—"The Dead!—the Dead!" The plague walked in silence, sweeping
its millions from the earth, laughing at the noisy slaughter of the sword,
making kings to tremble, and trampling upon conquerors as dust.
Such was the state of
London when Sir William Montague and Sir John Aubrey arrived from France.
In every street, they met the long trains of the dead being borne to their
grave; but the living had deserted them; and, if they met an occasional
passenger, fear and paleness were upon his face. They hurried along the
streets in silence—for each would have concealed his thoughts from the
other—but the thoughts of both were of Madeline; and the one trembled lest
he should find his betrothed, the other his sister, with the dead! They
proceeded to the house of the Duchess of Salisbury; but they were told
that she had fled to seek a place of refuge from the destroying glance of
the pestilence. From the domestics, however, they learned that Madeline
had ceased to be the companion of the Duchess; but they were also directed
where they would find her with a friend in the city—if she yet lived! But,
added their informants, they had heard that, in the street which they
named, the inhabitants died faster than the living could bury them. When
the haughty Joan became the acknowledged favourite of the King, she was no
longer a meet friend or protector to the gentle Madeline; and the latter
had taken up her residence in the house of a merchant, who, in his youth,
had fought by her father’s side; and where, if she enjoyed not the
splendour and the luxuries of wealth, neither was she clothed with the
trappings of shame.
With anxious steps the
betrothed husband and the brother hastened to the dwelling of the
merchant. They reached it.
"Doth Madeline Aubrey
reside here?" inquired they in the same breath. "Does she live?—Does she
"She doth reside here,"
answered the citizen, "and—the saints be praised!—good Madeline hath
escaped, with my whole house; and I believe it is for her sake, though she
feareth no more the breath of the pestilence, than though it were
healthsome as the summer breeze bearing the fragrance of the May-thorn
But, belike, ye would speak with her, gentlemen—ye may step in, good
sirs, and wait till she return."
Her brother started back.
"Gracious Heaven! can my
Madeline be abroad at a time like this!" exclaimed Sir William, "when men
tremble to meet each other, and the hands of friends convey contagion! Can
ye inform us, good man, where we shall find her?"
"Nay, that I cannot,"
answered he; "for, as I have told ye, sweet Madeline feareth not the
plague, but walketh abroad as though it existed not; and now, doubtless,
she is soothing the afflicted, or handing a cup of water to the dying
stranger, whom his own kindred have fled from and forsaken when the evil
came upon him. But, as ye seem acquainted with her, will not ye tarry till
They gazed towards each
other with horror and with fear; yet, in the midst of their apprehensions
and dismay, each admired the more than courage of her of whom Joam
Plantagenet had said that she had more wisdom of head than boldness of
heart. They entered the house, and they sat down together in silence.
Slowly, wearily the moments passed on, each strengthening anxiety, each
pregnant with agony.
"She may never return!"
groaned Sir William; "for the healthy have been smitten down upon the
streets; and the wretched hirelings, who make a harvest of death, have
borne to the same grave the dying with the dead!"
At length, a light footstep
was heard upon the stairs. They started to their feet. The door opened,
and Madeline, more beautiful than ever they had beheld her, stood before
"My own!—my Madeline!"
cried Sir William, hastening to meet her.
"My sister!" exclaimed her
Her head rested on the
bosom of those she loved; and, in the rapture of the moment, the
pestilence and the desolation that reigned around were forgotten. At
length, the danger to which she had exposed herself recurring to his mind—
"Let us flee from this horrid charnel-house, dearest," said Sir William,
"to where our bridal may not be mingled with sights of woe, and where the
pestilence pursueth not its victims. Come, my own—my betrothed—my
Madeline—let us haste away."
"Wherefore would my William
fly?" said she—and a smile of joy and of confidence played upon her lips;
"have ye not defied death from the sword and the spear, and braved it as
it sped with the swift flying arrow, and would ye turn and flee from the
pestilence which worketh only what the sword performs, and what chivalry
requires as a sacrifice to the madness of woman’s folly? But whither would
you flee to escape it? Be it south or north, it is there; and east or
west, it is there also. If ye flee from the pestilence, would ye flee also
from the eye of Him who sends it?"
Again they urged her to
leave the city; and again she endeavoured to smile; but it died languidly
on her lip—the rose on her cheek vanished, and her mild eyes in a moment
became dim. She sank her head upon the bosom of her lover, and her hand
rested on the shoulder of her brother. The contagion had entered her
heart. A darkening spot gathered upon her fair cheek—it was the shadow of
the finger of death—the seal of eternity!
"My Madeline!" cried Sir
William—"merciful Heaven!—spare her! spare her!"
"Oh, my sister!" exclaimed
her brother, "have I hastened to my native land, but to behold thee die?"
She feebly pressed their
hands in hers—"Leave me— leave me, loved ones!—my William!—my
brother!—flee from me!—there is death in the touch of your Madeline!— We
shall meet again!"