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Wilson's Border Tales
Order of the Garter


Order of the GarterA STORY OF WARK CASTLE.

A little above Coldstream, on the south side of the Tweed, stands the village of Wark, where a walled mound is all that remains to point out where its proud Castle once stood. "We know that," some dweller on the Borders may exclaim; "but what has Wark Castle to do with the Order of the Garter?" Our answer to this question simply is, that, if tradition may be trusted, or the historian Froissard believed, but for Wark Castle there would have been no Order of the Garter. But this the following story will show. It was early in the autumn of 1342, that David Bruce, King of Scotland, led an army across the Borders, and laid waste the towns and villages of Northumberland, as far as Newcastle. The invading army seized upon the cattle, the flocks, the goods, and the gold of the Northumbrians; and they were returning, overladen with spoils, when they passed within two miles of Wark Castle, which was then the property of the Earl of Salisbury. The Earl was absent; but, on the highest turret of the Castle, stood his Countess, the peerless Joan Plantagenet, daughter of the Earl of Kent, and cousin of King Edward. Her fair cheeks glowed, and her bright eyes flashed indignation, as she beheld the long line of the Scottish army pass by, laden with the plunder of her countrymen.

"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 William Montague."

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.

"Our 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 security.

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 coronet."

"Tis an honour that I covet not," said she; "nor would I risk thy safety for a moment to wear a crown."

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 men."

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.

"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 ground?"

"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 England!"

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."

Madeline hesitated.

"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 bold heart."

"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!"

"My 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 deliverance.

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 William Montague.

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 between them.

"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 Queen."

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 his visor.

"Aubrey!" exclaimed the monarch.

"My brother!" cried Madeline, starting to his side.

"Your brother?" responded Sir William.

"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 live?"

"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 she come?"

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 them.

"My own!—my Madeline!" cried Sir William, hastening to meet her.

"My sister!" exclaimed her brother.

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!"

The plague-spot darkened on her cheek; and, in a few hours, Madeline Aubrey was numbered with its victims.


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