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- OF THE CAGED LION - 6/59 -
undoing a chain, held up a jewel shaped like a St. Andrew's cross, with a diamond in the midst, covering a fragmentary relic. At the sight Walter Stewart's eyes, large pale ones, dilated as if with increased consternation, the sweat started on his forehead, and his breath came in shorter gasps. Malcolm and Lilias, standing near, likewise felt a sense of strange awe, for they too had heard of this relic, a supposed fragment of St. Andrew's own instrument of martyrdom, which had belonged to St. Margaret, and had been thought a palladium to the royal family and House of Stewart.
'Rise on thy knees,' said Sir James, now taking away his foot, 'and swear upon this.'
Walter, completely cowed and overawed, rose to his knees at his victor's command, laid his hand on the relic, and in a shaken, almost tremulous voice, repeated the words of the oath after his dictation: 'I, Walter Stewart, Master of Albany, hereby swear to God and St. Andrew, to fight in no private brawl, to spoil no man nor woman, to oppress no poor man, clerk, widow, maid, or orphan, to abstain from all wrong or spulzie from this hour until the King shall come again in peace.'
He uttered the words, and kissed the jewel that was tendered to him; and then Sir James said, in the same cold and dignified tone, 'Let thine oath be sacred, or beware. Now, mount and go thy way, but take heed HOW I meet thee again.'
Sir Walter's horse was held for him by Brewster, the knight's English attendant, and without another word he flung himself into the saddle, and rode away to join such of his followers as were waiting dispersed at a safe distance to mark his fate, but without attempting anything for his assistance.
'Oh, Sir!' burst forth Malcolm; but then, even as he was about to utter his thanks, his eye sought for the guardian who had ever been his mouthpiece, and, with a sudden shriek of dismay, he cried, 'My uncle! where is he? where is Sir David?'
'Alack! alack!' cried Lilias. 'Oh, brother, I saw him on the ground; he fell before my horse. I saw no more, for the Master held me, and muffled my face. Oh, let us back, he may yet live.'
'Yea, let us back,' said Sir James, 'if we may yet save the good old man. Those villains will not dare to follow; or if they do, Nigel-- Brewster, you understand guarding the rear.'
'Sir,' began Lilias, 'how can we thank--'
'Not at all, lady,' replied Sir James, smiling; 'you will do better to take your seat; I fear it must be en croupe, for we can scarce dismount one of your guards.'
'She shall ride behind me,' said Malcolm, in a more alert and confident voice than had ever been heard from him before.
'Ay, right,' said Sir James, placing a kind hand on his shoulder; 'thou hast won her back by thine own exploit, and mayst well have the keeping of her. That rush on the caitiff groom was well and shrewdly done.'
And for all Malcolm's anxiety for his uncle, his heart had never given such a leap as at finding himself suddenly raised from the depressed down-trodden coward into something like manhood and self- respect.
Lilias, who, like most damsels of her time, was hardy and active, saw no difficulties in the mode of conveyance, and, so soon as Malcolm had seated himself on horseback, she placed one foot upon his toe, and with a spring of her own, assisted by Sir James's well-practised hand, was instantly perched on the crupper, clasping her brother round the waist with her arms, and laying her head on his shoulder in loving pride at his exploit, while for her further security Sir James threw round them both the long plaid that had so lately bound her.
'Dear Malcolm'--and her whisper fell sweetly on his ear--'it will be bonnie tidings for Patie that thou didst loose me all thyself. The false tyrant, to fall on us the very hour Patie was on the salt sea.'
But they were riding so fast that there was scant possibility for words; and, besides, Sir James kept too close to them for private whispers. In about an hour's time they had crossed the bit of table- land that formed the moor, and descended into another little gorge, which was the place where the attack had been made upon the travellers.
This was where it was possible that they might find Sir David; but no trace was to be seen, except that the grass was trampled and stained with blood. Perhaps, both Lilias and old Halbert suggested, some of their people had returned and taken him to the Abbey of Coldingham, and as this was by far the safest lodging and refuge for her and her brother, the horses' heads were at once turned thitherwards.
The grand old Priory of Coldingham, founded by King Edgar, son of Margaret the Saint, and of Malcolm Ceanmohr, in testimony of his gratitude for his recovery of his father's throne from the usurper Donaldbane, was a Benedictine monastery under the dominion of the great central Abbey of Durham.
It had been a great favourite with the Scottish kings of that glorious dynasty which sprung from Margaret of Wessex, and had ample estates, which, when it was in good hands, enabled it to supply the manifold purposes of an ecclesiastical school, a model farm, a harbour for travellers, and a fortified castle. At this period, the Prior, John de Akecliff, or Oakcliff, was an excellent man, a great friend of Sir David Drummond, and much disliked and persecuted by the House of Albany, so that there was little doubt that this would be the first refuge thought of by Sir David's followers.
Accordingly Malcolm and his companions rode up to the chief gateway, a grand circular archway, with all the noble though grotesque mouldings, zigzag and cable, dog-tooth and parrot-beak, visages human and diabolic, wherewith the Norman builders loved to surround their doorways. The doors were of solid oak, heavily guarded with iron, and from a little wicket in the midst peered out a cowled head, and instantly ensued the exclamation -
'Benedicite! Welcome, my Lord Malcolm! Ah! but this will ease the heart of the Tutor of Glenuskie!'
'Ah! then he is here?' cried Malcolm.
'Here, Sir, but in woful plight; borne in an hour syne by four carles who said you had been set upon by the Master of Albany, and sair harried, and they say the Tutor doth nought but wail for his bairns. How won ye out of his hands, my Lord?'
'Thanks to this good knight,' said Malcolm; and the gate was opened, and the new-comers dismounted to pass under the archway, which taught humility. A number of the brethren met them as they came forth into the first quadrangle, surrounded by a beautiful cloister, and containing what was called Edgar's Walls, a house raised by the good founder, for his own lodging and that of visitors, within the monastery. It was a narrow building, about thirty feet from the church, was perfectly familiar to Malcolm, who bent his steps at once thither, among the congratulations of the monks; and Lilias was not prevented from accompanying him thus far within the convent, but all beyond the nave of the church was forbidden ground to her sex, though the original monastery destroyed by the Danes had been one of the double foundations for monks and nuns.
Entering the building, the brother and sister hastily crossed a sort of outer hall to a chamber where Sir David lay on his bed, attended by the Prior Akecliff and the Infirmarer. The glad tidings had already reached him, and he held out his hands, kissed and blessed his restored charges, and gave thanks with all his heart; but there was a strange wanness upon his face, and a spasm of severe pain crossed him more than once, though, as Lilias eagerly asked after his hurts, he called them nothing, since he had her safe again, and then bade Malcolm summon the captive knight that he might thank him.
Sir James Stewart had been left in the hall without, to the hospitality of the monks; he had laid aside his helmet, washed his face, and arranged his bright locks, and as he rose to follow Malcolm, his majestic stature and bearing seemed to befit the home of the old Scottish King.
As he entered the chamber, Sir David slightly raised himself on the pillow, and, with his eyes dilating into a bewildered gaze, exclaimed, 'My liege, my dear master!'
'He raves,' sighed Lilias, clasping Malcolm's hand in dire distress.
'No,' muttered the sick man, sinking back. 'Good King Robert has been in his grave many a day; his sons, woe is me!--Sir,' recovering himself, 'pardon the error of an old dying man, who owes you more than he can express.'
'Then, Sir,' said James Stewart, 'grant me the favour of a few moments' private speech with you. I will not keep you long from him,' he added to Malcolm and Lilias.
His manner was never one to be disputed, there was an atmosphere of obedience about the whole monastery, and the Prior added -
'Yes, my children, it is but fitting that you should give thanks in the church for your unlooked-for deliverance.'
Malcolm was forced to lead Lilias away into the exquisite cross church, built in the loveliest Early English style, of which a few graceful remnants still exist. The two young things knelt together hand in hand in the lornness of their approaching desolation, neither of them having dared to utter the foreboding upon their hearts, but feeling it all the more surely; and while the sister's spirit longed fervently after him whose protection had been only just removed, the brother looked up to the sheltering vaults, lost in the tranquil twilight, and felt that here alone was his haven of peace, the refuge for the feeble and the fatherless.
Their devotions performed, they ventured back to the outer hall, and on their return being notified, they were again admitted. Sir James, who had been seated on a stool by the sick man's head, immediately rose and resigned his place to Lilias, but did not leave the room and Sir David thus spoke: 'Bairns, God in His mercy hath raised you up the best of guardians in the stead of your ain poor Tutor. Malcolm, laddie, you will ride the morn with this gentleman to the true head of your name, your ain King, whom God for ever bless!' His voice quivered. 'And be it your study so to profit by his example and nurture, as to do your devoir by him for ever.'
'Nay, father,' cried Malcolm, 'I cannot leave you and Lily.'
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