It was something past the hour of nine, when Agnes, leaning on the arm of Sir Christopher Seaton, and followed by Lady Seaton and two young girls, their attendants, entered the church, and walked, with an unfaltering step and firm though modest mien, up to the altar, beside which Nigel already stood. She was robed entirely in white, without the smallest ornament save the emerald clasp which secured, and the beautiful pearl embroidery which adorned her girdle. Her mantle was of white silk, its li
tle hood thrown back, disclosing a rich lining of the white fox fur. Lady Seaton had simply arranged her hair in its own beautiful curls, and not a flower or gem peeped through them; a silver bodkin secured the veil, which was just sufficiently transparent to permit her betrothed to look upon her features, and feel that, pale and still as they were, they evinced no change in her generous purpose. He, too, was pale, for he felt those rites yet more impressively holy than he had deemed them, even when his dreams had pictured them peculiarly and solemnly holy; for he looked not to a continuance of life and happiness, he felt not that ceremony set its seal upon joy, and bound it, as far as mortality might hope, forever on their hearts. He was conscious only of the deep unutterable fulness of that gentle being's love, of the bright, beautiful lustre with which it shone upon his path. The emotion of his young and ardent breast was perhaps almost too holy, too condensed, to be termed joy; but it was one so powerful, so blessed, that all of earth and earthly care was lost before it. The fears and doubts which he had so lately felt, for the time completely faded from his memory. That there were foes without and yet darker foes within he might have known perhaps, but at that moment they did not occupy a fleeting thought. He had changed his dress for one of richness suited to his rank, and though at the advice of his friends he still retained the breastplate and some other parts of his armor, his doublet of azure velvet, cut and slashed with white satin, and his long, flowing mantle lined with sable, and so richly decorated with silver stars that its color could scarcely be distinguished, removed all appearance of a martial costume, and well[Pg 241] became the graceful figure they adorned; two of the oldest knights and four other officers, all gayly attired as the hurry of the moment would permit, had at his own request attended him to the altar.

Much surprise this sudden intention had indeed caused, but it was an excitement, a change from the dull routine of the siege, and consequently welcomed with joy, many indeed believing Sir Nigel had requested the truce for the purpose. Sir Christopher, too, though pale and gaunt, and compelled to use the support of a cane in walking, was observed to look upon his youthful charge with all his former hilarity of mien, chastened by a kindly tenderness, which seemed indeed that of the father whom he personated; and Lady Seaton had donned a richer garb than was her wont, and stood encouragingly beside the bride. About twenty men-at-arms, their armor and weapons hastily burnished, that no unseemly soil should mar the peaceful nature of the ceremony by recalling thoughts of war, were ranged on either side. The church was lighted, dimly in the nave and aisles, but softly and somewhat with a holy radiance where the youthful couple knelt, from the large waxen tapers burning in their silver stands upon the altar.

The Abbot of Scone was at his post, attended by the domestic chaplain of Kildrummie; there was a strange mixture of admiration and anxiety on the old man's face, but Agnes saw it not; she saw nothing save him at whose side she knelt.

Nigel, even in the agitation of mind in which he had quitted Agnes—an agitation scarcely conquered in hastily informing his sister and her husband of all that had passed between them, and imploring their countenance and aid—yet made it his first care strictly to make the round of the walls, to notice all that might be passing within the courts, and see that the men-at-arms were at their posts. In consequence of the truce, for the conclusion of which it still wanted some little time, there were fewer men on the walls than usual, their commanders having desired them to take advantage of this brief cessation of hostilities and seek refreshment and rest. A trumpet was to sound at the hour of ten, half an hour before the truce concluded, to summon them again to their posts. The men most acute in penetration, most firm and steady in purpose, Nigel selected as sentries along the walls; the post of each being one of the round towers we have mentioned, the remaining spaces were[Pg 242] consequently clear. Night had already fallen, and anxiously observing the movements on the walls; endeavoring to discover whether the various little groups of men and women in the ballium meant any thing more than usual, Sir Nigel did not notice various piles or stacks of straw and wood which were raised against the wall in many parts where the shadows lay darkest, and some also against the other granaries which were contained in low, wooden buildings projecting from the wall. Neither he nor his friends, nor even the men-at-arms, noticed them, or if they did, imagined them in the darkness to be but the stones and other weights generally collected there, and used to supply the engines on the wails.

With the exception of the sentries and the men employed by Nigel, all the garrison had assembled in the hall of the keep for their evening meal, the recollection of whose frugality they determined to banish by the jest and song; there were in consequence none about the courts, and therefore that dark forms were continually hovering about beneath the deep shadows of the walls, increasing the size of the stacks, remained wholly undiscovered.

Agnes had entered the church by a covered passage, which united the keep to its inner wall, and thence by a gallery through the wall itself, dimly lighted by loopholes, to the edifice, whose southern side was formed by this same wall. It was therefore, though in reality situated within the ballium or outer court, nearer by many hundred yards to the dwelling of the baron than to the castle walls, its granaries, towers, etc. This outward ballium indeed was a very large space, giving the appearance of a closely-built village or town, from the number of low wooden and thatched-roofed dwellings, which on either side of the large open space before the great gate were congregated together. This account may, we fear at such a moment, seem somewhat out of place, but events in the sequel compel us to be thus particular. A space about half a mile square surrounded the church, and this position, when visited, by Sir Nigel at nine o'clock, was quiet and deserted; indeed there was very much less confusion and other evidences of disquiet within the dwellings than was now usual, and this circumstance perhaps heightened the calm which, as we have said, had settled on Sir Nigel's mind.

There was silence within that little sacred edifice, the silence[Pg 243] of emotion; for not one could gaze upon that young fair girl, could think of that devoted spirit, which at such a time preferred to unite her fate with a beloved one than seek safety and freedom in flight, without being conscious of a strange swelling of the heart and unwonted moisture in the eye; and there was that in the expression of the beautiful features of Nigel Bruce none could remark unmoved. He was so young, so gifted, so strangely uniting the gift of the sage, the poet, with the glorious achievements of the most perfect knight, that he had bound himself alike to every heart, however varied their dispositions, however opposite their tastes; and there was not one, from the holy Abbot of Scone to the lowest and rudest of the men-at-arms, who would not willingly, aye, joyfully have laid down life for his, have gladly accepted chains to give him freedom.

The deep, sonorous voice of the abbot audibly faltered as he commenced the sacred service, and looked on the fair beings kneeling, in the beauty and freshness of their youth, before him. Accustomed, however, to control every human emotion, he speedily recovered himself, and uninterruptedly the ceremony continued. Modestly, yet with a voice that never faltered, Agnes made the required responses; and so deep was the stillness that reigned around not a word was lost, but, sweetly and clearly as a silver clarion, it sunk on every ear and thrilled to every heart; to his who knelt beside her, as if each tone revealed yet more the devoted love which led her there. Towards the conclusion of the service, and just as every one within the church knelt in general prayer, a faint, yet suffocating odor, borne on what appeared a light mist, was distinguished, and occasioned some slight surprise; by the group around the altar, however, it was unnoticed; and the men-at-arms, on looking towards the narrow windows and perceiving nothing but the intense darkness of the night, hushed the rising exclamation, and continued in devotion. Two of the knights, too, were observed to glance somewhat uneasily around, still nothing was perceivable but the light wreaths of vapor penetrating through the northern aisle, and dissolving ere long the arches of the roof. Almost unconsciously they listened, and became aware of some sounds in the distance, but so faint and indefinable as to permit them to rest in the belief that it must be the men-at-arms hurrying from the keep to the walls, although they were[Pg 244] certain the trumpet had not yet sounded. Determined not to heed such vague sounds, they looked again to the altar. The abbot had laid a trembling hand on either low-bent head, and was emphatically pronouncing his blessing on their vows, calling on heaven in its mercy to bless and keep them, and spare them to each other for a long and happy life; or if it must be that a union commenced in danger should end in sorrow, to keep them still, and fit them for a union in eternity. His words were few but earnest, and for the first time the lip of Agnes was observed to quiver—they were one. Agnes was clasped to the heart of her husband; she heard him call her his own—his wife—that man should never part them more. The voice of congratulation woke around her, but ere either could gaze around to look their thanks, or clasp the eagerly proffered hand, a cry of alarm, of horror, ran though the building. A red, lurid light, impossible to be mistaken, illumined every window, as from a fearful conflagration without; darkness had fled before it. On all sides it was light—light the most horrible, the most awful, though perchance the most fascinating the eye can behold; fearful shouts and cries, and the rush of many feet, mingled with the now easily distinguished roar of the devouring element, burst confusedly on the ear. A minute sufficed to fling open the door of the church for knights and men-at-arms to rush forth in one indiscriminate mass. Sir Christopher would have followed them, utterly regardless of his inability, had not his wife clung to him imploringly, and effectually restrained him. The abbot, grasping the silver crosier by his side, with a swift, yet still majestic stride, made his way through the church, and vanished by the widely opened door. Agnes and Sir Nigel stood comparatively alone; not a cry, not a word passed her lips; every feature was wrapped in one absorbing look upon her husband. He had clasped his hands convulsively together, his brow was knit, his lip compressed, his eye fixed and rigid, though it gazed on vacancy.

"It hath fallen, it hath fallen!" he muttered. "Fool, fool that I was never to dream of this! Friends, followers, all I hold most dear, swallowed up in this fell swoop! God of mercy, how may it be born! And thou, thou," he added, in increased agony, roused from that stupor by the wild shouts of "Sir Nigel, Sir Nigel! where is he? why does he tarry in such an hour?" that rung shrilly on the air. "Agnes, mine own,[Pg 245] it is not too late even now to fly. Ha! son of Dermid, in good tune thou art here; save her, in mercy save her! I know not when, or how, or where we may meet again; I may not tarry here." He clasped her in his arms, imprinted an impassioned kiss on her now death-like cheek, placed her at once in the arms of the seer (who, robed as a minstrel, had stood concealed behind a projecting pillar during the ceremony, and now approached), and darted wildly from the church. What a scene met his gaze! All the buildings within the ballium, with the sole exception of the church, were in one vivid blaze of fire; the old dry wood and thatch of which they were composed, kindling with a mere spark. The wind blew the flames in the direction of the principal wall, which was already ignited from the heaps of combustibles that had been raised within for the purpose; although it was likely that, from its extreme thickness and strength, the fire had there done but partial evil, had not the conflagration within the court spread faster and nearer every moment, and from the blazing rafters and large masses of thatch caught by the wind and hurled on the very wall, done greater and more irreparable mischief than the combustibles themselves. Up, up, seeming to the very heavens, the lurid flames ascended, blazing and roaring, and lighting the whole scene as with the glare of day. Fantastic wreaths of red fire danced in the air against the pitchy blackness of the heavens, rising and falling in such graceful, yet terrible shapes, that the very eye felt riveted in admiration, while the heart quailed with horror. Backwards and forwards gleamed the forms of men in the dusky glare; and oaths and cries, and the clang of swords, and the shrieks of women, terrified by the destruction they had not a little assisted to ignite—the sudden rush of horses bursting from their stables, and flying here and there, scared by the unusual sight and horrid sounds—the hissing streams of water which, thrown from huge buckets on the flames, seemed but to excite them to greater fury instead of lessening their devouring way—the crackling of straw and wood, as of the roar of a hundred furnaces—these were the varied sounds and sights that burst upon the eye and ear of Nigel, as, richly attired as he was, his drawn sword in his hand, his fair hair thrown back from his uncovered brow and head, he stood in the very centre of the scene. One glance sufficed to perceive that the rage of the men-at-arms was turned on their[Pg 246] treacherous countrymen; that the work of war raged even then—the swords of Scotsmen were raised against each other. Even women fell in that fierce slaughter, for the demon of revenge was at work, and sought but blood. In vain the holy abbot, heedless that one sudden gust and his flowing garments must inevitably catch fire, uplifted his crosier, and called on them to forbear. In vain the officers rushed amidst the infuriated men, bidding them keep their weapons and their lives for the foe, who in such a moment would assuredly be upon them; in vain they commanded, exhorted, implored; but on a sudden, the voice of Sir Nigel Bruce was heard above the tumult, loud, stern, commanding. His form was seen hurrying from group to group, turning back with his own sword the weapons of his men, giving life even to those who had wrought this woe; and there was a sudden hush, a sudden pause.

"Peace, peace!" he cried. "Would ye all share the madness of these men? They have hurled down destruction, let them reap it; let them live to thrive and fatten in their chains; let them feel the yoke they pine for. For us, my friends and fellow-soldiers, let us not meet our glorious fate with the blood of Scotsmen on our swords. We have striven for our country; we have striven gloriously, faithfully, and now we have but to die for her. Ha! do I speak in vain? Again—back, coward! wouldst thou slay a woman?" and, with a sudden bound, he stood beside one of the soldiers, who was in the act of plunging his dagger in the breast of a kneeling and struggling female. One moment sufficed to wrench the dagger from his grasp, and release the woman from his hold.

"It is ill done, your lordship; it is the fiend, the arch-fiend that has planned it all," loudly exclaimed the man. "She has been heard to mutter threats of vengeance, and blood and fire against thee, and all belonging to thee. Let her not go free, my lord; thou mayest repent it still."

"Repent giving a woman life?—bah! Thou art a fool, though a faithful one," answered Sir Nigel; but even he started as he recognized the features of Jean Roy. She gave him no time to restrain her, however; for, sliding from his hold, she bounded several paces from him, singing, as she did so, "Repent, ye shall repent! Where is thy buxom bride? Jean Roy will see to her safety. A bonny courtship ye shall have!" Tossing up her arms wildly, she vanished as she[Pg 247] spoke; seeming in that light in very truth more like a fiend than woman. A chill sunk on the heart of Nigel, but, "No, no," he said, internally, as again he sought the spot where confusion and horror waxed thickest; "Dermid will care for Agnes, and guard her. I will not think of that mad woman's words." Yet even as he rushed onwards, giving directions, commands, lending his aid to every effort made for extinguishing the fire, a prayer for his wife was uttered in his heart.

The fire continued its rapid progress, buttress after buttress, tower after tower caught on the walls, causing the conflagration to continue, even when, by the most strenuous efforts, it had been partially extinguished amongst the dwellings of the court. The wind blowing from the north fortunately preserved the keep, inner wall, and even the church, uninjured, save that the scorched and blackened sides of the latter gave evidence of the close vicinity of the flames, and how narrowly it had escaped. With saddened hearts, the noble defenders of Scotland's last remaining bulwark, beheld their impregnable wall, the scene of such dauntless valor, such unconquered struggles, against which the whole force of their mighty foes had been of no avail—that wall crumbling into dust and ashes in their very sight, opening a broad passage to the English foe. Yet still there was no evidence that to yield were preferable than to die; still, though well-nigh exhausted with their herculean efforts to quench the flames, there was no cessation, no pause, although the very height of the wall prevented success, for they had not the facilities afforded by the engines of the present day. Sir Nigel, his knights, nay, the venerable abbot himself, seconded every effort of the men. It seemed as if little more could add to the horror of the scene, and yet the shouts of "The granaries, the granaries—merciful heaven, all is consumed!" came with such appalling consciousness on every ear, that for a brief while, the stoutest arm hung powerless, the firmest spirit quailed. Famine stood suddenly before them as a gaunt, terrific spectre, whose cold hand it seemed had grasped their very hearts. Nobles and men, knights and soldiers, alike stood paralyzed, gazing at each other with a blank, dim, unutterable despair. The shrill blast of many trumpets, the roll of heavy drums, broke that deep stillness. "The foe! the foe!" was echoed round, fiercely, yet rejoicingly. "They are upon us—they brave the flames—well done! Now firm and steady;[Pg 248] to your arms—stand close. Sound trumpets—the defiance, the Bruce and Scotland!" and sharply and clearly, as if but just arrayed for battle, as if naught had chanced to bend those gallant spirits to the earth, the Scottish clarions sent back their answering blast, and the men gathered in compact array around their gallant leader.

"My horse—my horse!" shouted Nigel Bruce, as he sprung from rank to rank of the little phalanx, urging, commanding, entreating them to make one last stand, and fall as befitted Scottish patriots. The keep and inner ballium was still their own as a place of retreat, however short a period it might remain so. A brave defence, a glorious death would still do much for Scotland.

Shouts, cheers, blessings on his name awoke in answer, as unfalteringly, as bravely as those of the advancing foes. Prancing, neighing, rearing, the superb charger was at length brought to the dauntless leader.

"Not thus, my lord; in heaven's name, do not mount thus, unarmed, bareheaded as thou art!" exclaimed several voices, and two or three of his esquires crowded round him. "Retire but for a brief space within the church."

"And turn my back upon my foes, Hubert; not for worlds! No, no; bring me the greaves, gauntlets, and helmet here, if thou wilt, and an they give me time, I will arm me in their very teeth. Haste ye, my friends, if ye will have it so; for myself these garments would serve me well enough;" but ere he ceased to speak they had flown to obey, and returned ere a dozen more of the English had made their way across the crumbling wall. Coolly, composedly, Nigel threw aside his mantle and doublet, and permitted his esquires to assist in arming him, speaking at the same time in a tone so utterly unconcerned, that ere their task was finished, his coolness had extended unto them. He had allowed some few of the English to make an unmolested way; his own men were drawn up in close lines against the inner wall, so deep in shadow that they were at first unobserved by the English. He could perceive by the still, clear light of the flames, troop after troop of the besiegers were marching forward in the direction both of the causeway and the river; several were plunging in the moat, sword in hand, and attack threatened on every side. He waited no longer; springing on his charger, with a movement so sudden and[Pg 249] unexpected, the helmet fell from his esquire's hand, and waving his sword above his undefended head, he shouted aloud his war-cry, and dashed on, followed by his men, to the spot where a large body of his foes already stood.

Desperately they struggled, most gallantly they fought; man after man of the English fell before them. On, on they struggled; a path seemed cleared before them; the English were bearing back, despite their continued reinforcements from the troops, that so thronged the causeway it appeared but one mass of men. But other shouts rent the air. The besiegers now poured in on every side; wherever that gallant body turned they were met by English. On, on they came, fresh from some hours of repose, buoyed up by the certainty of conquest; unnumbered swords and spears, and coats of mail, gleaming in that lurid light; on came the fiery steeds, urged by the spur and rein, till through the very flames they bore their masters; on through the waters of the moat, up the scorching ruins, and with a sound as of thunder, clearing with a single bound all obstacles into the very court. It was a fearful sight; that little patriot band, hemmed in on every side, yet struggling to the last, clearing a free passage through men and horse, and glancing swords and closing multitudes, nearing the church, slowly, yet surely, forming in yet closer order as they advanced; there, there they stood, as a single bark amid the troubled waves, cleaving them asunder, but to close again in fatal fury on her track.

In vain, amid that furious strife, did the Earl of Lancaster seek out the azure plume and golden helmet that marked the foe he still desired to meet; there was indeed a face, beautiful and glorious even in that moment, ever in the very thickest of the fight, alike the front, the centre, the rear-guard of his men; there was indeed that stately form, sitting his noble charger as if horse and man were one; and that unhelmed brow, that beautifully formed head, with its long curls streaming in the night wind, which towered unharmed, unbent, above his foes; and where that was, the last hope of his country had gathered. The open door of the church was gained, and there the Scottish patriots made a stand, defended in their rear by the building. A brief and desperate struggle partially cleared their foes, and ere those in the rear could press forward, the besieged had disappeared, and the heavy doors were closed. The[Pg 250] sudden pause of astonishment amidst the assailants was speedily dispelled by the heavy blows of axes and hatchets, the sudden shout "To the wall! to the wall!" while several ran to plant scaling-ladders and mount the inner barrier, left unhappily unguarded from the diminished numbers of the Scotch; there, however, their progress was impeded, for the space which that wall inclosed being scarce half the size of the ballium, and the barrier itself uninjured, they were repulsed with loss from within. The church-doors meanwhile had given way, and permitted ingress to the assailants, but the door leading to the passage through the inner wall, and by which in reality the Scotch had effected their retreat, was carefully closed and barred within, and had so completely the same appearance as the wall of the church in which it stood, that the English gazed round them fairly puzzled and amazed.

This movement, however, on the part of the besieged occasioned a brief cessation of hostilities on both sides. The flames had subsided, except here and there, where the passing wind fanned the red-hot embers anew into life, and caused a flickering radiance to pass athwart the pitchy darkness of the night, and over the bustling scene on either side the ruins.

There was no moon, and Hereford imagined the hours of darkness might be better employed in active measures for resuming the attack by dawn than continuing it then. Much, very much had been gained: a very brief struggle more he knew must now decide it, and he hoped, though against his better judgment, that the garrison, would surrender without further loss of blood. Terms he could not propose, none at least that could prevail on the brave commanders to give up with life, and so great was the admiration Nigel's conduct had occasioned, that this true son of chivalry ardently wished he would eventually fall in combat rather than be consigned to the fearful fate which he knew would be inflicted on him by the commands of Edward. Commands to the troops without were forwarded by trusty esquires; the wounded conveyed to the camp, and their places supplied by fresh forces, who, with the joyous sound of trumpet and drum, marched over by torchlight into the ballium, so long the coveted object of their attack.

Sir Nigel meanwhile had desired his exhausted men to lie down in their arms, ready to start up at the faintest appearance[Pg 251] of renewed hostility, and utterly worn out, they most willingly obeyed. But the young knight himself neither shared nor sought for that repose; he stood against a buttress on the walls, leaning on a tall spear, and gazing at once upon his wearied followers, and keeping a strict watch on the movements of his foes. A tall form, clothed in complete armor, suddenly stood beside him; he started.

"Seaton!" he said; "thou here, and in armor?"

"Aye," answered the knight, his voice from very weakness sounding hollow in his helmet. "Aye, to make one last stand, and, if it may be, die as I have lived for Scotland. I have strength to strike one last blow, for last it will be—all is lost!"

A low groan broke from Nigel's lips, but he made no further answer than the utterance of one word—"Agnes!"

"Is safe, I trust," rejoined the knight. "The son of Dermid, in whose arms I last saw her, knoweth many a secret path and hidden passage, and can make his way wherever his will may lead."

"How! thinkest thou he will preserve her, save her even now from the foe?"

"Aye, perchance conceal her till the castle be dismantled. But what do they now? See, a herald and white flag," he added, abruptly, as by the light of several torches a trumpeter, banner-bearer, herald, and five men-at-arms were discerned approaching the walls.

"What would ye? Halt, and answer," demanded Sir Nigel, recalled on the instant to his sterner duties, and advancing, spear in hand, to the utmost verge of the wall.

"We demand speech of Sir Nigel Bruce and Sir Christopher Seaton, governors of this castle," was the brief reply.

"Speak on, then, we are before ye, ready to list your say. What would your lords?"

"Give ye not admittance within the wall?" inquired the herald; "'tis somewhat strange parleying without."

"No!" answered Nigel, briefly and sternly; "speak on, and quickly. We doubt not the honor of the noble Earl of Hereford—it hath been too gloriously proved; but we are here to list your mission. What would ye?"

"That ye surrender this fortress by to-morrow's dawn, and strive no longer with the destiny against you. Ye have neither men nor stores, and in all good and chivalric feeling, the noble[Pg 252] Earls of Hereford and Lancaster call on ye to surrender without further loss of blood."

"And if we do this?" demanded Nigel.

"They promise all honorable treatment and lenient captivity to the leaders of the rebels, until the pleasure of his grace the king be known; protection to all females; liberty to those whose rank demands not their detention; and for the common soldiers, on the delivery of their arms and upper garments, and their taking a solemn oath that within seven days they will leave Scotland never to return, liberty and life shall be mercifully extended unto one and all."

"And if we do not this?"

"Your blood be upon your own rebellious heads! Sacking and pillage must take their course."

"Ye have heard," were the sole words that passed the lips of Nigel, turning to his men, who, roused by the first sound of the trumpet, had started from their slumbers, and falling in a semicircle round him and Sir Christopher, listened with intense eagerness to the herald's words. "Ye have heard. Speak, then—your answer; yours shall be ours."

"Death! death! death!" was the universally reiterated shout. "We will struggle to the death. Our king and country shall not say we deserted them because we feared to die; or surrendered on terms of shame as these! No; let the foe come on! we will die, if we may not live, still patriots of Scotland! King Robert will avenge us! God save the Bruce!"

Again, and yet again they bade God bless him; and startlingly and thrillingly was the united voice of that desperate, devoted band borne on the wings of night to the very furthest tents of their foes. Calmly Sir Nigel turned again to the herald.

"Thou hast Scotland's answer," he said; "'tis in such men as these her glorious spirit lives! they will fall not unavenged. Commend us to your masters; we await them with the dawn," and, turning on his heel, he reassumed the posture of thought as if he had never been aroused.

The dawn uprose, the attack was renewed with increased vigor, and defended with the same calm, determined spirit which had been ever shown; the patriots fell where they fought, leaving fearful traces of their desperate courage in the numbers of English that surrounded each. It was now before[Pg 253] the principal entrance to the keep they made their final stand, and horrible was the loss of life, fierce and deadly the strife, ere that entrance was forced, and the shrieks of women and children within proclaimed the triumph of the foe. Then came a shout, loud ringing, joyous, echoed and re-echoed by the blast of the trumpets both within and without, and the proud banner of Scotland was hurled contemptuously to the earth, and the flag of England floated in its place. Many a dying eye, unclosed by those sudden sounds, looked on that emblem of defeat and moved not in life again; others sprung up to their feet with wild shrieks of defiance, and fell back, powerless, in death.

Sir Christopher Seaton, whose exhausted frame could barely sustain the weight of his armor, had been taken in the first charge, fighting bravely, but falling from exhaustion to the earth. And where was Nigel?—hemmed in on all sides, yet seemingly unwounded, unconquered still, his face indeed was deadly pale, and there were moments when his strokes flagged as from an utter failing of strength; but if, on observing this, his foes pressed closer, strength appeared to return, and still, still he struggled on. He sought for death; he felt that he dared his destiny, but death shunned him; he strove with his destiny in vain. Not thus might he fall, the young, the generous, the gifted. On foot, his armor hacked and stained with blood, not yet had the word "yield" been shouted in his ear.

"Back, back! leave me this glorious prize!" shouted Lancaster, spurring on his charger through the crowd, and leaping from him the instant he neared the spot where Nigel stood. "Take heed of my gallant horse, I need him not—I shall not need him now. Ha! bareheaded too; well, so shall it be with me—hand to hand, foot to foot. Turn, noble Nigel, we are well-nigh equals now, and none shall come between us." He hastily unclasped his helmet, threw it from his brow, and stood in the attitude of defence.

One moment Sir Nigel paused; his closing foes had fallen from him at the words of their leader; he hesitated one brief instant as to whether indeed he should struggle more, or deliver up his sword to the generous earl, when the shout of triumph from the topmost turret, proclaiming the raising of the banner, fell upon his ear, and nerved him to the onset.

"Noble and generous!" he exclaimed, as their swords[Pg 254] crossed. "Might I choose my fate, I would fall by thy knightly sword."

As stupefied with wonder at the skill, the extraordinary velocity and power of the combatants, the men-at-arms stood round, without making one movement to leave the spot; and fearful indeed was that deadly strife; equal they seemed in stature, in the use of their weapons, in every mystery of the sword; the eye ached with the rapid flashing of the blades, the ear tired of the sharp, unwavering clash, but still they quailed not, moved not from the spot where the combat had commenced.

How long this fearful struggle would have continued, or who would finally be victor, was undecided still, when suddenly the wild mocking laugh of madness sounded in the very ear of Nigel, and a voice shouted aloud, "Fight on, my bonny lord; see, see, how I care for your winsome bride," and the maniac form of Jean Roy rushed by through the thickest ranks of the men, swift, swift as the lightning track. A veil of silver tissue floated from her shoulder, and she seemed to be bearing something in her arms, but what, the rapidity of her way precluded all discovery. The fierce soldiers shrunk away from her, as if appalled by her gaunt, spectral look, or too much scared by her sudden appearance to attempt detaining her. The eye of Nigel involuntarily turned from his foe to follow her; he recognized the veil, and fancy did the rest. He saw her near a part of the wall which was tottering beneath the engines of the English; there was a wild shriek in other tones than hers, the wall fell, burying the maniac in its ruins. A mist came over the senses of the young knight, strength suddenly fled his arm, he stepped back as to recover himself, but slipped and fell, the violence of the fall dashing his sword many yards in air. "I yield me true prisoner, rescue or no rescue," he said, in a tone so startling in its agony that the rudest heart beside him shrunk within itself appalled, and for a minute Lancaster checked the words upon his lips.

"Nay, nay, yield not in such tone, my gallant foe!" he said, with eager courtesy, and with his own hand aiding him to rise. "Would that I were the majesty of England, I should deem myself debased did I hold such gallantry in durance. Of a truth, thou hast robbed me of my conquest, fair sir, for it was no skill of mine which brought thee to the ground. I may[Pg 255] thank that shrieking mad woman, perchance, for the preservation of my laurels."

"I give you thanks for your courtesy, my lord," replied Sir Nigel, striving to recover himself; "but I pray you pardon me, if I beseech you let that falling mass be cleared at once, and note if that unhappy woman breathes. Methought," he added, in stronger agitation, "she carried something in her arms."

"She did," answered many voices; "some child or girl, who was struggling, though the head was muffled up as if to prevent all sounds."

"See to it, and bring us news of what you find," said Lancaster, hastily, for the same ghastly expression passed over the countenance of his prisoner as had startled him at first. "Thou art not well, my good lord?" he continued kindly.

"Nay, I am well, my lord; but I will go with you," replied the young knight, slowly, as if collecting strength ere he could speak. "I am wearied with the turmoil of the last twelve hours' fighting against fire and sword at once; I would fain see the noble Hereford, and with his permission rest me a brief while."

Lancaster made no further comment, and the two knights, who but a few minutes before had been engaged in deadly strife, now made their way together through the heaps of the dying and the dead, through many a group of rude soldiery, who scowled on Nigel with no friendly eye, for they only recognized him as the destroyer of hundreds of their countrymen, not the chivalric champion who had won the enthusiastic admiration of their leaders, and soon found themselves in the castle-hall, in the presence of the Earl of Hereford, who was surrounded by his noblest officers, Sir Christopher and Lady Seaton, and some few other Scottish prisoners, most of whom were badly wounded. He advanced to meet Sir Nigel, courteously, though gravely.

"It grieves me," he said, "to receive as a prisoner a knight of such high renown and such chivalric bearing as Sir Nigel Bruce; I would he had kept those rare qualities for the sovereign to whom they were naturally due, and who would have known how to have appreciated and honor them, rather than shed such lustre on so weak a cause."

"Does your lordship regard the freedom of an oppressed[Pg 256] country so weak a cause?" replied Nigel, the hot blood mounting to his cheek; "the rising in defence of a rightful king, in lieu of slavishly adhering to one, who, though so powerful, all good men, aye, even all good Englishmen, must look on, in his claims to Scotland, as an ambitious usurper. My lord, my lord, the spirit of Hereford spoke not in those words; but I forgive them, for I have much for which to proffer thanks unto the noble Hereford, much, that his knightly soul scorned treachery and gave us a fair field. Durance is but a melancholy prospect, yet an it must be I would not nobler captors."

"Nor would I forfeit the esteem in which you hold me, gallant sir," replied the earl, "and therefore do I pray you, command my services in aught that can pleasure you, and an it interfere not with my duty to my sovereign, I shall be proud to give them. Speak, I pray you."

"Nay, I can ask naught which the Earl of Hereford hath not granted of himself," said Sir Nigel. "I would beseech you to extend protection to all the females of this unhappy castle; to part not my sister from her lord, for, as you see, his wounds and weakness call for woman's care; to grant the leech's aid to those who need it; and if there be some unhappy men of my faithful troop remaining, I would beseech you show mercy unto them, and let them go free—they can work no further ill to Edward; they can fight no more for Scotland, for she lieth chained; they have no head and therefore no means of resistance—I beseech you give them freedom unshackled by conditions."

"It shall be, it shall be," replied Hereford, hastily, and evidently moved; "but for thyself, young sir, thyself, can we do naught for thee?"

"Nothing," answered the young man, calmly. "I need little more on earth, for neither my youth, my birth, nor what it pleaseth thee to term my gallantry, will save me from the sweeping axe of Edward. I would beseech thee to let my death atone for all, and redeem my noble friends; but I ask it not, for I know in this thou hast no power; and yet, though I ask nothing now," he added, after a brief pause, and in a lower voice, as to be heard only by Hereford, "ere we march to England I may have a boon to crave—protection, liberty for a beloved one, whose fate as yet I know not." He spoke almost inarticulately, for again it seemed the horrid words and maniac[Pg 257] laugh of Jean Roy resounded in his ears. There was that in the look and manner of the English earl inviting confidence: a moment the tortured young man longed to pour all into his ear, to conjure him to find Agnes, and give her to his arms; the next he refrained, for her words, "Ask not how I will contrive to abide by thee undiscovered by the foe," suddenly flashed on his memory, with the conviction that if she were indeed still in life, and he acknowledged her his wife, Hereford would feel himself compelled to keep her under restraint, as he did Lady Seaton and the wives of other noble Scotsmen. His lip trembled, but fortunately for the preservation of his composure, Hereford's attention was called from him by the eager entrance of several other officers, who all crowded round him, alike in congratulation, and waiting his commands, and perceiving he was agitated, the earl turned from him with a courteous bow. Eagerly he seized that moment to spring to the side of his sister, to whisper the impatient inquiry, "Agnes, where is Agnes?" To feel his heart a moment throb high, and then sink again by her reply, that she had not seen her since he had placed her in the arms of the seer; that in the fearful confusion which followed, she had looked for her in vain, examined all her accustomed haunts, but discovered no traces of her, save the silver tissue veil. There was, however, some hope in that; Jean Roy, misled by the glittering article, and seeing it perchance in the hands of another, might have been deceived in her prey. Nay, he welcomed the uncertainty of suspense; there was something so fearful, so horrible in the idea that his own faithful Agnes was among those blackened and mangled bodies, which Lancaster informed him had been discovered beneath the ruins, something so sickening, so revolting, he could not take advantage of the earl's offer to examine them himself, though, Lancaster added, it would not be of much use, for he challenged their dearest friends to recognize them. He could not believe such was her fate. Dermid had not been seen since the fatal conclusion of their marriage; he knew his fidelity, his interest in both Agnes and himself, and he could not, he would not believe the maniac had decoyed her from his care. But where was she?—where, in such a moment, could he have conveyed her?—what would be her final fate?—how would she rejoin him? were questions ever thronging on his heart and brain, struggling with[Pg 258] doubts, with the horrible suspicion still clinging to that shriek which had sounded as the ruins fell. Darker and more forebodingly oppressive grew these conflicting thoughts, as day after day passed, and still she came not, nor were there any tidings of the seer.

A very brief interval sufficed for the English earls to conclude their arrangements at Kildrummie, and prepare to march southward, Berwick being the frontier town to which the Scottish prisoners were usually conveyed. Their loss had been greater than at any other similar siege; more than a third of their large army had fallen, several others were wounded, and not much above a third remained who were fitted to continue in arms. It was a fearful proof of the desperate valor of the besieged, but both earls felt it would so exasperate their sovereign against the Scottish commanders, as to remove the slightest hope of mercy. The ruins were with some labor cleared away, the remains of the outer wall levelled with the earth, except the tower communicating with the drawbridge and barbacan, which could be easily repaired. The inner wall Hereford likewise commanded to be restored; the keep he turned into a hospital for the wounded, leaving with them a sufficient garrison to defend the castle, in case of renewed incursions of the Scottish patriots, a case, in the present state of the country, not very probable. True to his promise, these men-at-arms who survived, and whose wounds permitted their removal, Hereford set at liberty, not above ten in number; dispirited, heart-broken, he felt indeed there was no need to impose conditions on them. Those of the traitors who remained, endeavored by cringing humility, to gain the favor of the English; but finding themselves shunned and despised, for the commonest English soldier was of a nature too noble to bear with aught of treachery, they dispersed over the country, finding little in its miserable condition to impart enjoyment to the lives they had enacted so base a part to preserve. It may be well to state, ere we entirely leave the subject, that the execution of Evan Roy exciting every evil passion in their already rebellious hearts, had determined them to conspire for a signal revenge, the ravings of Jean Roy and the desperate counsels of her mother-in-law urging them to the catastrophe we have related; the murder of Nigel had been first planned, but dismissed as likely to be discovered and thwarted, and bring vengeance on[Pg 259] their own heads instead of his. Before the execution of their comrade and head of the conspiracy, they had only been desirous of shunning the horrors of a prolonged siege; but afterwards, revenge became stronger than mere personal safety, and therefore was it they refused to take advantage of the safe conduct demanded by Nigel, and granted, as we have said.

The Scottish prisoners were removed from the castle a few hours after its capitulation, and placed in honorable restraint, in separate pavilions. Lancaster, whose romantic admiration for his antagonist had not been in the least diminished by Sir Nigel's bearing in captivity and the lofty tone of the young knight's society and conversation, which he frequently courted, absolutely made him shrink from heading the force which was to conduct him a prisoner to England, for he well knew those very qualities, calling forth every spark of chivalry in his own bosom, would be only so many incitements to Edward for his instant execution. He therefore demanded that the superintending the works of the garrison and keeping a strict watch upon the movements of the adjoining country should devolve on him, and Hereford, as the older and wiser, should conduct his prisoners to the border, and report the events of the siege to his sovereign. His colleague acceded, and the eighth day from the triumph of the besiegers was fixed on to commence their march.

It was on the evening of the seventh day that the Earl of Hereford, then engaged in earnest council with Lancaster, on subjects relating to their military charge, was informed that an old man and a boy so earnestly entreated speech with him, that they had even moved the iron heart of Hugo de l'Orme, the earl's esquire, who himself craved audience for them.

"They must bear some marvellous charm about them, an they have worked upon thee, De l'Orme," said his master, smiling. "In good sooth, let them enter."

Yet there was nothing very striking in their appearance when they came. The old man indeed was of a tall, almost majestic figure, and it was only the snowy whiteness of his hair and flowing beard that betrayed his age, for his eye was still bright, his form unbent. He was attired as a minstrel, his viol slung across his breast, a garb which obtained for its possessor free entrance alike into camp and castle, hall and bower, to all parties, to all lands, friendly or hostile, as it might be. His com[Pg 260]panion was a slight boy, seemingly little more than thirteen or fourteen, with small, exquisitely delicate features; his complexion either dark or sunburnt; his eyes were bent down, and their long, very dark lashes rested on his cheek, but when raised, their beautiful blue seemed so little in accordance with the brunette skin, that the sun might be deemed more at fault than Nature; his hair, of the darkest brown, clustered closely round his throat in short thick curls; his garb was that of a page, but more rude than the general habiliments of those usually petted members of noble establishments, and favored both Hereford and Lancaster's belief that he was either the son or grandson of his companion.

"Ye are welcome, fair sirs," was the elder earl's kindly salutation, when his esquire had retired. "Who and what are ye, and what crave ye with me?"

"We are Scotsmen, an it so please you, noble lords," replied the old man; "followers and retainers of the house of Bruce, more particularly of him so lately fallen into your power."

"Then, by mine honor, my good friends, ye had done wiser to benefit by the liberty I promised and gave to those of his followers who escaped this devastating siege. Wherefore are ye here?"

"In the name of this poor child, to beseech a boon, my noble lord; for me, my calling permitteth my going where I list, unquestioned, unrestrained, and if I ask permission to abide with ye, Scotsman and follower of the Bruce as I am, I know ye will not say me nay."

"I would not, an ye besought such a boon, old man," answered the earl; "yet I would advise thee to tempt not thy fate, for even thy minstrel garb, an thou braggest of thy service to the Bruce, I cannot promise to be thy safeguard in Edward's court, whither I give ye notice I wend my way to-morrow's dawn. For this child, what wouldst thou—hath he no voice, no power of his own to speak?"

The aged minstrel looked at his charge, whose eyes were still bent on the floor; the heaving of his doublet denoted some internal emotion, but ere the old man could answer for him, he had made a few hasty steps forward, and bent his knee before Hereford.

"'Tis a simple boon I crave, my lord," he said, in a voice so peculiarly sweet, that it seemed to impart new beauty to his[Pg 261] features; "a very simple boon, yet my lips tremble to ask it, for thou mayest deem it more weighty than it seemeth to me, and thou alone canst grant it."

"Speak it, fair child, whate'er it be," replied the earl, reassuringly, and laying his hand caressingly on the boy's head. "Thou art, methinks, over young to crave a boon we may not grant; too young, although a Scotsman, for Hereford to treat thee aught but kindly. What wouldst thou?"

"Permission to tend on my young lord, Sir Nigel Bruce," answered the boy, more firmly, and for the first time fixing the full gaze of his beautiful eyes on the earl's face. "Oh, my lord, what is there in that simple boon to bid thee knit thy brow as if it must not be?" he added, more agitated. "The noble Hereford cannot fear a child; or, if he doubted me, he cannot doubt the honor of his prisoner, an honor pure, unsullied as his own."

"Thou speakest not as the child thou seemest," replied Hereford, musingly; "and yet I know not, misery makes sager of us long ere the rose of youth hath faded. For this, thy boon, I know not how it may be granted; it is not usual to permit other than English attendants on our Scottish prisoners. Since Sir Niel Campbell's escape through the agency of his Scottish attendant, it hath been most strictly prohibited."

"Oh, do not, do not say me nay!" entreated the boy; "I ask but to share his imprisonment, to be with him, serve him, tend him. I ask no more liberty than is granted unto him; the rudest, coarsest fare, a little straw, or the bare ground beside his couch. I can do naught to give him freedom, and if I could, were there an open path before him—did I beseech him on my knees to fly—if he hath surrendered, as I have heard, to thee, rescue or no rescue, he would scorn my counsel, and abide thy prisoner still. Oh, no, no! I swear to thee I will do naught that can make thee regret thou hast granted an orphan's prayer."

"And who art thou that pleadeth thus?" inquired the earl, moved alike by the thrilling sweetness of his voice and the earnestness of his manner. "Thou must have some wondrous interest in him to prefer imprisonment with him to all the joys which liberty can give."

"And I have interest," answered the boy, fervently; "the interest of gratitude, and faithfulness, and love. An orphan,[Pg 262] miserably an orphan—alone upon the wide earth—he hath protected, cherished, aye, and honored me with his confidence and love. He tended me in sorrow, and I would pour back into his noble heart all the love, the devotion he hath excited in mine. Little can I do, alas! naught but love and serve; yet, yet, I know he would not reject even this—he would let me love him still!"

"Grant the poor boy his boon," whispered Lancaster, hurriedly; "of a truth he moveth even me."

"Thine heart is of right true mettle, my child," said his colleague, even tenderly. "Yet bethink thee all thou must endure if I grant thy boon; not while with me, for there would be a foul blot upon my escutcheon did so noble a knight as Sir Nigel Bruce receive aught save respect and honor at my hands. But in this business I am but a tool, an agent; when once within the boundaries of Edward's court, Sir Nigel is no longer my prisoner; I must resign him to my sovereign; and then, I dare not give thee hope of gentle treatment either for thyself or him."

"I will brave it," answered the boy, calmly; "danger, aye, death in his service, were preferable to my personal liberty, with the torture of the thought upon me, that I shrunk from his side when fidelity and love were most needed."

"But that very faithfulness, that very love, my child, will make thy fate the harder; the scaffold and the axe, if not the cord," he added, in a low, stifled tone, "I fear me, will be his doom, despite his youth, his gallantry—all that would make me save him. Thou turnest pale at the bare mention of such things, how couldst thou bear to witness them?"

"Better than to think of them; to sit me down in idle safety and feel that he hath gone forth to this horrible doom, and I have done naught to soothe and tend him on his way," replied the boy, firmly, though his very lip blanched at Hereford's words. "But must these things be? Is Edward so inexorable?"

"Aye, unto all who thwart him now," said the earl; "there is no hope for any of the race of Bruce. Be advised, then, gentle boy, retain thy freedom while thou mayest."

"No, no!" he answered, passionately, "Oh, do not seek to fright me from my purpose; do not think aught of me, save but to grant my boon, and oh, I will bless thee, pray for thee to my dying hour! thou wilt, I know thou wilt."[Pg 263]

"I were no father could I refuse thee, my poor child," he replied, with earnest tenderness. "Alas! I fear me thou hast asked but increase of misery, yet be it as thou list. And yet," he added, after a brief pause, during which the boy had sprung from his knee, with an inarticulate cry of joy, and flung himself into the minstrel's arms, "Sir Nigel hath resolutely refused the attendance of any of his former followers, who would willingly have attended him to England. Hast thou so much influence, thinkest thou, to change his purpose in thy favor?"

"I know not," answered the boy, timidly; "yet an it please your noble lordship to permit my pleading mine own cause without witness, I may prevail, as I have done before."

"Be it so, then," replied the earl. "And now, ere we part, I would bid thee remember I have trusted thee; I have granted that to thee, without condition, with perfect liberty of action, which to others could only have been granted on their surrendering themselves, rescue or no rescue, even as thy master. I have done this, trusting to that noble faithfulness, the candor and honesty of youth, which hath breathed forth in all that thou hast said. Let me not repent it. And now, Hugo de l'Orme," he called aloud, but Lancaster himself declared his intention of conducting the boy to Sir Nigel's tent, and the esquire was consequently dismissed; but ere they departed, the boy turned once more to the aged minstrel.

"And thou—whither goest thou?" he said, in low yet thrilling tones. "My more than father, thou hast seen thy child's earnest wish fulfilled; that for which thou didst conduct me hither is accomplished; yet ere I say farewell, tell me—oh, tell me, whither goest thou?"

"I know not," answered the old man, struggling with unexpressed emotion; "yet think not of me, my child, I shall be free, be safe, untouched by aught of personal ill, while young and lovely ones, for whom it would be bliss to die, are crushed and bleeding in their spring; the mountains, and rocks, and woods, yet unstained with blood, call on me to return, and be at rest within their caves. The love I bear to thee and him thou seekest hath yet a louder voice to bid me follow ye. I know not whither I shall go, yet an my vision telleth that thou needst my aid, I shall not be far from thee. Farewell, my child; and ye, true-hearted lords, the blessing of an aged man[Pg 264] repay ye for the kindly deed this day that ye have done." He pressed the boy in his arms, reverentially saluted the earls, and passed from the tent as he spoke.

A few words passed between the warriors, and then Lancaster desired the page to follow him. In silence they proceeded through the camp, avoiding the more bustling parts, where the soldiery were evidently busied in preparing for the morrow's march, and inclining towards the wooded bank of the river. The eye of the Earl of Lancaster had scarcely moved from the page during his interview with Hereford, though the boy, engrossed in his own feelings, had failed to remark it. He now glanced rapidly and searchingly round him, and perceiving the ground perfectly clear, not a soldier visible, he suddenly paused in his hasty stride, and laying his hand heavily on the boy's shoulder, said, in a deep, impressive voice, "I know not who or what thou art, but I love thy master, and know that he is ill at ease, not from captivity, but from uncertainty as to the fate of one beloved. If it be, as I suspect, in thy power entirely to remove this uneasiness, be cautioned, and whoever thou mayest be, let not one in this camp, from the noble Earl of Hereford himself to the lowest soldier, suspect thou art other than thou seemest—a faithful page. The rage of Edward is deadly, and all who bear the name of Bruce, be it male or female, will suffer from that wrath. Tell this to thy lord. I ask not his confidence nor thine, nay, I would refuse it were it offered—I would know no more than my own thoughts, but I honor him, aye, and from my very heart I honor thee! Hush! not a word in answer; my speech is rude, but my heart is true; and now a few steps more and we are there," and without waiting for reply he turned suddenly, and the page found himself in the very centre of the camp, near the entrance of a small pavilion, before which two sentinels were stationed, fully armed, and pacing up and down their stated posts; the pennon of Hereford floated from the centre staff, above the drapery, marking the tent and all its appurtenances peculiarly the earl's. The watchword was exchanged, and the sentinels lowered their arms on recognizing one of their leaders.

"Let this boy have egress and ingress from and to this tent, unquestioned and unmolested," he said; "he has the Earl of Hereford's permission, nay, commands, to wait on Sir Nigel Bruce. His business lieth principally with him; but if he hath[Pg 265] need to quit his side, he is to pass free. Report this to your comrades." The soldiers bowed in respectful acquiescence. "For thee, young man, this toy will give thee free passage where thou listeth, none shall molest thee; and now, farewell—God speed thee." He unclasped a ruby brooch, curiously set in antique gold, from his collar, and placed it in the boy's hand.

"Dost thou not enter?" asked the page, in a voice that quivered, and the light of the torches falling full on his face disclosed to Lancaster a look of such voiceless gratitude, it haunted him for many a long day.

"No," he said, half smiling, and in a lower voice; "hast thou forgotten thy cause was to be pleaded without witness? I have not, if thou hast. I will see thy noble master ere he depart, not now; thou wilt, I trust me, take him better comfort than I could."

He lifted the hangings as he spoke, and the boy passed in, his heart beating well-nigh to suffocation as he did so. It was in a small compartment leading to the principal chamber of the tent he found himself at first, and Sir Nigel was not there. With a fleet, yet noiseless movement, he drew aside the massive curtain, let it fall again behind him, and stood unperceived in the presence of him he sought.

The brow of Sir Nigel rested on his hand, his attitude was as one bowed and drooping 'neath despondency; the light of the taper fell full upon his head, bringing it out in beautiful profile. It was not his capture alone which had made him thus, the boy felt and knew; the complicated evils which attended his king and country in his imprisonment were yet not sufficient to crush that spirit to the earth. It was some other anxiety, some yet nearer woe; there had been many strange rumors afloat, both of Sir Nigel's bridal and the supposed fate of that bride, and the boy, though he knew them false, aye, and that the victim of Jean Roy was a young attendant of Agnes, who had been collecting together the trinkets of her mistress, to save them from the pillage which would attend the conquest of the English, and had been thus mistaken by the maniac—the boy, we say, though he knew this, had, instead of denying it, encouraged the report, and therefore was at no loss to discover his master's woe. He advanced, knelt down, and in a trembling, husky voice, addressed him. "My lord—Sir Nigel."

The young knight started, and looked at the intruder, evi[Pg 266]dently without recognizing him. "What wouldst thou?" he said, in a tone somewhat stern. "Who art thou, thus boldly intruding on my privacy? Begone, I need thee not!"

"The Earl of Hereford hath permitted me to tend thee, follow thee," answered the page in the same subdued voice. "My gracious lord, do not thou refuse me."

"Tend me—follow me! whither—to the scaffold? Seek some other master, my good boy. I know thee not, and can serve thee little, and need no earthly aid. An thou seekest noble service, go follow Hereford; he is a generous and knightly lord."

"But I am Scotch, my lord, and would rather follow thee to death than Hereford to victory."

"Poor child, poor child!" repeated Nigel, sadly. "I should know thee, methinks, an thou wouldst follow me so faithfully, and yet I do not. What claim have I upon thy love?"

"Dost thou not know me, Nigel?" The boy spoke in his own peculiarly sweet and most thrilling voice, and raising his head, fixed his full glance upon the knight.

A wild cry burst from Nigel's lips, he sprang up, gazed once again, and in another moment the page and knight had sprung into each other's arms; the arms of the former were twined round the warrior's neck, and Sir Nigel had bent down his lordly head; burning tears and impassioned kisses were mingled on the soft cheek that leaned against his breast.