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- OF THE CAGED LION - 50/59 -
a grave thoughtful earnestness about his face, as though all that once was timid and wandering was now fixed and steadfast.
Father Akefield could tell nothing of Lilias since his own expulsion, but as the Prioress of St. Abbs was herself a Drummond, and no one durst interfere with her, he had no alarms for her safety. But he advised the two gentlemen to go straight to St. Abbs, without showing themselves at Coldingham, lest Prior Drax, being in the Albany interest, should make any demur at giving her up to the care of the brother, who still wanted some months of his twenty-first year.
Accordingly they pushed on, and in due time slept at Berwick, receiving civilities from the English governor that chafed Patrick's blood, which became inflammable as soon as he neared the Border; and rising early the next morning, they passed the gates, and were on Scottish ground once more, their hearts bounding at the sense that it was their own land, and would soon be no more a land of misrule. With their knowledge of King James and his intentions, well might they have unlimited hopes for the country over which he was about to reign.
They turned aside from Coldingham, and made for the sea, and at length the promontory of St. Abbs Head rose before them; they passed through the outer buildings intended as shelter for the attendants of ladies coming to the nunnery, and knocked at the gateway.
A wicket in the door was opened, and the portress looked out through a grating.
'Benedicite, good Sister,' said Malcolm. 'Prithee tell the Mother Abbess that Malcolm Stewart of Glenuskie is here from the King, and craves to speak with her and the Lady Lilias.'
'Lord Malcolm! Lady Lilias! St. Ebba's good mercy!' shrieked the affrighted portress. They heard her rushing headlong across the court, and looked on one another in consternation.
Patrick betook himself to knocking as if he would beat down the door, and Malcolm leant against it with a foreboding that took away his breath--dreading the moment when it should be opened.
The portress and her keys returned again, and parleyed a moment. 'You are the Lord Malcolm in very deed--in the flesh?'
'Wherefore not?' demanded Malcolm.
'Nay, but we heard ye were slain, my lord,' explained the portress-- letting him in, however, and leading them across the court, to where the Mother Abbess, Annabel Drummond, awaited them in the parlour.
'Alas, Sirs, what grievous error has this been?' was her exclamation; while Malcolm, scarcely waiting for salutation, demanded, 'Where is my sister?'
'How? In St. Hilda's keeping at Whitby, whither the King sent for her,' said the Abbess.
'The King!' cried Malcolm, 'we come from the King! Oh, what treachery has been here?'
'And you, Lord Malcolm--and you, my kinsman, Sir Patrick of the Braes, how do I see you here? We had heard you both were dead.'
'You heard a lying tale then, good Mother,' said Patrick, gruffly, 'no doubt devised for the misery of the--of my--' He could not finish the sentence, and Malcolm entreated the Abbess to tell the whole.
It appeared that about a year previously the chaplain of the monastery had learnt at Coldingham that Sir John Swinton of Swinton had sent home tidings that Patrick Drummond had been thrown from his horse and left behind in a village which the English had harried, and as he could not move, he was sure to have been either burnt or hung. This conclusion was natural, and argued no malice in the reporter; and while poor Lilias was still in her first agony of grief, Prior Drax sent over intelligence derived from the Duke of Albany himself that Malcolm Stewart of Glenuskie had been stabbed in the forest of Vincennes. This report Malcolm himself accounted for. He had heard a Scots tongue among his foes, though national feeling had made him utterly silent on that head to the Duke of Bedford, and he guessed it to belong to a certain M'Kay, whose clan regarded themselves as at feud with the Stewarts, and of whom he had heard as living a wild routier life. He had probably been hired by Ghisbert for the attack, and had returned home and spread the report of its success.
Some few weeks later, the Abbess Annabel continued, there had arrived two monks from Coldingham, with an escort, declaring themselves to have received orders from King James to transport the Lady Lilias to the nunnery at Whitby, where the Abbess had promised to receive her, till he could determine her fate.
The forlorn and desolate Lilias, believing herself to stand alone in the world, was very loth to quit her shelter and her friends at St. Abbs; but the Abbess, doubting her own ability to protect her from the rapacious grasp of Walter Stewart, now that she had, as she believed, become an heiress, and glad to avert from her house the persecution that such protection would bring upon it, had gratefully heard of this act of consideration on the King's part, and expedited her departure. The two monks, Simon Bell and Ringan Johnstone, had not returned to the monastery, but had been thought to be in the parent house at Durham; but Malcolm, who knew Brother Simon by sight, was clear that he had not seen him there.
All this had taken place a year ago, and there could be no doubt that some treachery had been exercised. Nothing had since been heard of Lilias; none of Malcolm's letters had reached St. Abbs, having doubtless been suppressed by the Prior of Coldingham; and all that was certain was that Walter Stewart, to whom their first suspicions directed themselves, had not publicly avouched any marriage with Lilias or claimed the Glenuskie estates, or the King, who had of late been in close correspondence with Scotland, must have heard of it. And it was also hardly possible that the Regent Murdoch and his sons, though they might for a few weeks have been misled by M'Kay's report, should not have soon become aware of Malcolm's existence.
Unless, then, Walter had married her 'on the first brash,' as Patrick called it, he might not have thought her a prize worth the winning; but the whole aspect of affairs had become most alarming, and Malcolm turned pale as death at the thought that his sister might be suffering retribution for the sin he had contemplated.
The danger was terrible! He could not imagine Lilias to have the moral grandeur and force of Esclairmonde. Moreover, she supposed her lover dead, and had not the same motive for guarding her troth. Forlorn and despairing, she might have yielded, and Walter Stewart was, Malcolm verily believed, worse to deal with than even Boemond. As the whole danger and uncertainty came over him, his senses seemed to reel; he leant back in his seat, and heard as in the midst of a dream his sister's sobs and groans, Patrick's fierce and furious exclamations, and the Abbess's attempts at consoling him. Dizzy with horror at the scene he realized, Lilias's cries and shrieks of entreaty were ringing in his ear, when suddenly a sweet full low voice seemed to come through them, 'I am bound ever to pray for you and your sister.' Mingled with the cry came ever the sweet soft Litany cadences--'For all that are desolate and oppressed: we beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord.' Gradually the cries seemed to be swallowed up, both voices blended in Kyrie eleison and then in the Gloria, and at that moment he became aware of Patrick crying, 'I will seek her in every castle in Scotland.'
'Stay, Patrick,' he said, rising, though forced to hold by his chair; 'that must be my part.'
'You--why, the laddie is white as a sheet! He well-nigh swooned at the tidings. You seek her, forsooth!' and Patrick laughed bitterly.
'Yes, Patie,' said Malcolm, 'for this I am strong. It is my duty and not yours, and God will strengthen me for it.'
Patrick burst out at this: 'Neither man nor devil shall tell me it is not mine!'
'You are the King's prisoner still,' said Malcolm, rising to energy; 'you are bound to return to him. The tidings must be taken to him at once.'
'A groom could do that.'
'Neither so swiftly nor surely as you. Moreover, your word of honour binds you not to wander at your own pleasure.'
'My honour binds me not to trust you--wee Malcolm--to wander into the wolf's cage alone.'
'I am not the silly feckless callant I once was, Patie,' answered Malcolm. 'There are many places where my student's serge gown will take me safely, where your corslet and lance would never find entrance. No one will know me again as I am now: will they, holy Mother?'
'Assuredly not,' said the Abbess.
'A student is too mean a prey to be meddled with,' proceeded Malcolm, 'and is sure of hospitality in castle or convent. I can try at Coldingham to find out whither the two monks are gone, and then follow up the track.'
Patrick stormed at the plan, and was most unwilling it should be adopted. He at least must follow, and keep watch over his young cousin, or it would be a mere throwing the helve after the hatchet--a betrayal of his trust.
But a little reflection convinced him that thus to follow would only bring suspicion on Malcolm and defeat his plans; and that it were better to obtain some certain information ere the King should come home, and have to interfere with a high hand; and Malcolm's arguments about his obligations as a captive, too, had their effect. He perceived his own incapacity to act; and in his despair at nothing being done consented to risk Malcolm in the search, while he himself should proceed to the King, only ascertaining on the way that Lilias was not at Whitby. And so, in grief and anxiety, the cousins parted, and Malcolm alone durst speak a word of hope.
CHAPTER XVII: THE BEGGING SCHOLAR
'The poor scholar,' now only existing in Ireland and Brittany--nay,
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