For the Soul of a Witch 2
John William Brodie-Innes
VI – FATHER AMBROSE OF KINLOSS
The rule of a Cistercian monastery enjoined labour as well as prayer. After the long religious services, and when they had made their beds, changed their cowls and scapulars, and had a wash in the lavatory, the manual work of the day began, varied according to the duties and capacity of each brother. The officiating priest might take off his vestments and grasp the stilts of the plough or wield the sickle, the monks who sang the service might go to work hi the carpenter’s shop, or some might write, or paint, or teach the choir to sing the chants, but all must work and work hard, till the bell summons them to Vespers. And thus it chanced, when the afternoon sua was pouring full on the western front of the Abbey church, that Master Simon Tulloch was watching Father Ambrose training a young horse for use in the grange fields. Not much of an agricultural labourer was the Father, but his skill with horses was beyond all question, and the Abbot wisely put him to the work that he could do better than any other in the community.
Simon, not being a monk, and having been a soldier too in his day, could take a spell of idleness when he listed, and amuse himself with watching the training process, which he himself had often carried through in the days of his youth, and before he had lost his foot. He was somewhat sarcastic of the Father’s skill and patience with his pupil.
“Give him the whip, Father, give him the whip. Ye’ll never make aught of a horse till he learns who is master.”
“He knows that already, Master Simon; but he is like many another good Christian, he knows not what his master wants. There’s many a one would do right if they did but understand. I am trying to teach him my language—so, boy!”
He walked up to the horse, which tied by a long rope had been galloping round in a ring; the animal with a vicious gleam in its eye put its head down, and half turning on all four feet, lunged a fierce kick at the monk. Father Ambrose dexterously slipped past the flying heels, and before the horse could raise his head again had caught the bridle and held the head down, grasping the ear with his other hand. In utter amazement at this sudden reversal of the situation the animal stood stock still, sweating and trembling. The Father held the ear and gradually drew it through his hand again and again, till the fiery gleam died out of the eye, and the savage teeth were no longer shown by the upcurled lip. Very gently he allowed the head to be raised a few inches, and began to stroke the other ear and to allow a still further slight raising of the head, as he let his stroking hand pass a little downwards over the horse’s face and under his chin and soon Simon was astounded to see the proud black head rubbing caressingly against the Father’s breast.
“’Tis but a question of language,” said he. “This fellow thought I meant him ill, and he was for protecting himself, as I think we should all be. I have explained to him now that we are friends.”
As he spoke he was by gradual and gentle degrees stroking all the front of the horse, and over his back and sides, returning over and over again to pull the silky ears that seemed to quiver with pride at his caressing touch, till at last he arrived at the dangerous hind hoofs, and Simon stood in amazement as he saw the fierce creature that none dared approach allow his hind feet to be lifted and placed wherever the Father wished.
“You see he wants to be good, he only didn’t know how, or what was require4 of him. There’s many a man like that. Now that is lesson enough for to-day.”
He gathered up the rope round his arm to lead his pupil back to the stable. “I ween that’s like to witchcraft,” said Simon in great wonderment. “Only the witchcraft of love and sympathy—perhaps the most powerful of all. I look on the creatures as friends, not as servants. We give them food and shelter in exchange for their work and that’s fair, but I never could see by what right we should want them to conform to every whim of ours, and become just our puppets. A horse, to my thinking, has as much right to his individuality as a man. And because I understand this they will do almost anything for me when once we understand each other.”
Simon and the monk were passing in front of the great west door of the Abbey church, and round to the south side where were the guests’ quarters; for the Abbey still exercised a princely hospitality, notwithstanding that it had really never recovered the enormous drain on its resources when Edward I. of England and all the English army lived there at free rack and manger for a fortnight, when they came North to punish the Cummings.
“Ye have guests,” said Master Tulloch, seeing signs of activity about the wing devoted to entertainment.
“They arrived but last evening,” replied the monk, “and truth to tell I like not much the appearance of any of them, but they claim our hospitality as going to punish the authors of the recent raid that sent so many hopeless and helpless fugitives seeking shelter with us—I mean the MacIntoshes.”
Simon pricked up his ears. “In that case your guests will be Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen and his serving-men.” “Ay, in good sooth so they are, and I think that however cruel and rough the MacIntoshes may be, they are angels of light compared with that Leslie.” “I hold the same opinion, yet I trust it may be ill-founded, for he is the precontracted spouse of my Lady Beatrix Dunbar.” The monk started and looked keenly at his companion.
“Is this really true?” he said. “God pity the poor lady if it be.”
“The matter is true enough, yet I doubt it cannot stand. Surely, Father, no Church would fetter a lady of gentleness and nurture to a brute like that, whom at the time she had never seen, by virtue of this proxy ceremony.”
“I know not—I know not,” said Father Ambrose, and hi~ voice had a curious strain in it. “I have heard of such marriages, yet never have I met with any, and indeed I know not the law. Come in to the library, Master Simon. Father Ferrerius, or Father John Smyth, or one of our learned brethren, will resolve this point for us.”
The library of Kinloss was a noble vaulted apartment, lying on the south side of the cloisters, between the Chapter-house and the refectory. It was already well stored with books; for Robert Reid, the Sub-Dean of Moray, had been most enthusiastic in collecting all the most precious works of the day in his extensive travels. Father Ferrerius, the librarian, was busily engaged as they entered in affixing the seal of the monastery to a beautifully illuminated Book of Hours. He looked up with something of wonder; for the gardener, though a privileged person and a universal favourite, rarely entered the monastic buildings.
“Reverend Father,” said Father Ambrose, “our good friend Simon Tulloch desires to ask a question concerning the marriage per proeuratores as it is termed, and how far it is binding on the parties thereto.”
“That is soon resolved,” quoth Father Ferrerius, a gaunt-looking monk with a skin yellow and dried like a herring, who appeared, what indeed he was, a scholar and a bookworm, in whom all humanity had long been crushed out by gigantic learning. “Father Smyth,” he called to a young dreamy-eyed monk who was writing diligently in the Scriptorium that opened out of the library, “bring me hither the Corpus Juris Canonici”
A ponderous volume bound in vellum was laid on the table in front of him, and John Smyth retired as silently as he had emerged from his den.
“Ye see here,” said Father Ferrerius, rapidly turning over the pages till he found the reference he sought, “there is no doubt that a marriage per procuratores is valid if the proxy be specially commissioned for the purpose of contracting marriage with a particular person. Look now at the first book of the Decretals of Sextus, the nineteenth title and the ninth chapter, ye shall see there, and also at the place I first pointed out, and also in the comment which hath been written thereon, that the proxy cannot commission another person to act for him. Also that the party may revoke the mandate before the actual contract. And this even although the revocation is unknown to the proxy or to the other party, and from this have very cruel wrongs to innocent persons arisen. For a marriage may be celebrated in all good faith both by the proxy and by the lady and may be consummated on the faith thereof, and yet be void. Consent is carefully guarded. Thus ye will see here a case where a man took an oath that he would not revoke his mandate or commission to his proxy, and yet he did revoke it, and the marriage though celebrated with all formalities was null and void. The man in that instance was proceeded against for perjury, but being high placed (in fact he was a cousin of the Emperor) he escaped the punishment he richly deserved.”
This discourse was delivered in a dry, unemotional voice, as was habitual to Father Ferrerius, in whom the acquirement of knowledge had dried up and atrophied all other faculties.
Simon looked and felt seriously disturbed. “So, then, the Church will enforce this infamous bargain, and the only means of escape are if the man should have recalled his mandate, and this I am sure he hath not done. Yet she never saw him or knew of his vile repute, and never have they come together.”
“It matters not, my son,” replied Father Ferrerius, still in the same dry, hard voice, as though he were lecturing to students on some ordinary historical or theological topic. “Consensus non concubitus, fctcit matrimonium. I know not of whom ye speak, and indeed it skills not. For if the man giveth his consent by his proxy, and the woman giveth her consent by going through the ceremony of marriage, which it is clear she could not have gone through without consenting, and the Church hath blessed their union by the solemn ceremony of matrimony, then there can be no doubt that a valid marriage hath been constituted, and it remaineth only for the bridegroom to come and claim the bride, and if she marry any other it shall be a bigamy, and also an adultery of the foulest type; and thereon are the laws of God and of man agreed. I see not where any doubt can arise. If the lady hath made a bad bargain, let her understand that very many have done likewise; and if the Church were to allow all who have made bad bargains to be off with them, then is the sanctity of the matrimonial tie in danger of being wholly destroyed, and we shall be like brute beasts; though Christ Himself hath told us that same tie hath been from the beginning when God made them male and female. But if indeed the man be so evil as you, Master Simon, would hint, let her seek the shelter of Holy Church. In the good town of Elgin there is a nunnery where the Sisters will gladly receive her, and whence no power on earth can drag her.”
He ceased abruptly and waved his hand in token of dismissal, returning at once to his task among the books.
“Ay,” said Simon Tulloch, as they passed out, “my lady said that a nunnery were preferable, and I deem she was right. Give you good day, Father. I must to my plantation at Burgie—there is still much work there.”
So he stumped away, graver than was his wont, and noting with something of a frown the blare of a trumpet and clatter of horses’ hoofs as Sir Norman Leslie, followed by his men-at-arms, galloped in from the direction of Forres towards the guest wing of the Abbey.
“He asked me concerning Elspet Simpson,” said Simon to himself. “Something may lie therein, for if he have commerce with notorious witches, surely Mother Church must take notice thereof and free her faithful child, that is to say my Lady Beatrice, from a notorious evil-doer. Nay! I see not why he should not be burned, or at the least worried at the stake, as one having dealings with the Devil. This shall be looked to.”
Father Ambrose stood long on the road between the great western gate of the Abbey and the grange or farmsteading, watching the retreating figure of Master Simon Tulloch as he stumped up the hill road leading to Burgie. Sir Norman Leslie and his men clattered past him, dismounting at the stables, where they separated to attend to the care and grooming of their horses for the night. The monk’s face was unmoved, but wild and troubled thoughts surged through his brain. The adventurous life of his youth, when often he had only his own wits to depend on for daily food and shelter, had made him acutely observant of trifles and quick to draw inferences, and besides this he had a strange intuitional faculty that might almost have passed for second sight, a curious sensitiveness enabling him to feel the approach of danger. The image of Lady Beatrix Dunbar haunted him, and over her he seemed to see two dark shadows impending. One whereof he had but just now heard, namely, the precontract of marriage with Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, from whence, knowing somewhat of the character of the man, he felt assured nothing but misery could result, unless it could be prevented, and this from the sentence of Father Ferrerius seemed beyond hope. The other was far more undefined and vague, but perhaps for that very reason even more terrible—it was the influence of Elspet Simpson.
Yet why, he asked himself, should he connect that evil witch, of whom he had known far away on the English Border, with the Lady of Blervie Tower, especially seeing that he had no cause to suspect her of being anywhere in the neighbourhood of Morayshire? There was but one rational solution, and he eagerly caught at it; her bosom friend Cecily Ross was by her own confession obsessed, or overshadowed, by this Elspet Simpson—how that occurred the monk did not stay to inquire, but so it evidently was. He had thought of the obsession of Cecily as a physician might think of a strange and interesting case to the cure of which he had given the best of his care and attention; he had thought deeply, be had prayed earnestly, he had sent a message by Simon Tulloch embodying the best advice his experience and skill could suggest, but when the thought was born in his brain that the Lady Beatrix also was threatened, then the vision of that eager, lovely face as he had seen it last in the Chanter’s garden rose before him vivid as a picture—the green kirtle, the bright auburn hair slightly disarranged by the light wind and the speed of their riding, the eyes gleaming with lambent green lights, and the lightly parted red lips, and the dark cloud of witchcraft and evil magic hanging over her.
There was no doubt that it was merely the association of ideas. Cecily Ross was obsessed by the influence of Elspet Simpson, and Cecily was the bosom friend of Beatrix, his imagination had supplied all the rest. Nevertheless, it was dominant, insistent, and in spite of himself he said to himself, “It must not be—it shall not be! Nay, though I give my own body to be burned, and my soul to be eternally damned, it shall not be.”
Startled by the vehemence of his own thoughts, he walked rapidly up and down for some minutes to compose himself.
It was no sudden impulse that had driven Father Ambrose to take the vows of religion; he had arrived at the conviction that for him the world was dead and his work in the world was over, and much earnest prayer had convinced him of his vocation, and of the entire change of outlook that had converted the dashing, reckless soldier into the fervent ascetic whose devotion to all the duties of his Order was somewhat remarkable in those days when religious discipline was growing very lax. In these circumstances the insistent suggestion of a woman’s face was disconcerting, and Father Ambrose was far too honest with himself to plead that it was merely the concern for an immortal soul, such as ought to actuate every true priest, that moved him to such intense anxiety on her behalf.
He glanced at the sun and the length of the shadows; it was just about the hour at which Father Adam Elder, the Confessor of the monks, would be finishing hearing the confessions of those who came to him—he would not yet have left the church. Moved by a sudden intuition, he turned in to the great west door of the Abbey church and walked up the nave between the beautiful carved pillars, hardly noticing their light and graceful spring, or the soaring magnificence of the vaulted roof, and the gorgeous colours as the setting sun shone through the blazoned windows of the clerestory. On the south side, in a familiar little chapel, still sat the venerable Father, whose Chapter discourses have lived to be read with interest and appreciation nearly four hundred years after they were composed for the edification of his brethren. A ray from the low sun striking through a coloured window to the north-west fell on his beautiful and saintly old face, and formed almost the image of a halo round his bead.
The monk knelt by the grill at the side of the confessional, his keen handsome face strangely tense as the words poured forth in a rapid stream very unlike his usual calm and balanced utterances, as though it were the natural man escaping for the moment from the stern restraints he had laid upon himself. Into the privacy of that confessional no stranger may intrude, nor may we disclose the purport of the grave and solemn yet kindly words of the Confessor; but his last words may be set down, seeing that they formed the basis of his next Chapter discourse.
“Brother,” he said, “it hath been truly said by a great saint, when the Devil assails thee, ofttimes the truest wisdom and the greatest courage is in flight. I counsel thee that thou retire for a season. In our house of Strathisla there is much that needs attention, and thy time may be profitably occupied; for much hath been neglected there since the death of our late Abbot. Or if that also be too nigh, then thou nmayest even go to Orkney. On this I will see the Father Abbot. Fare thee well, brother! May all the Saints have thee in their holy keeping!”
Father Ambrose left the church calmer and more tranquil in mind than he had been for some days past. He now saw the line of duty clear before him, and the protection of the Lady Beatrix must be left to higher hands than his.
Meantime in the Chapter-house also the affairs of Blervie Castle were the subject of an anxious conference. The Chapter-house was a noble and beautiful building, square in shape, supported by four slender carved pillars, from which pointed arches sprang to each other, and to pilasters on the walls, between which spread delicate fan tracery, and the walls were decorated with fresco paintings by Master Andrew Bairholm, the painter who was now at work on the great altar’piece, which was to be the supreme effort of his life.
The Father Abbot sat in his carved chair at the head of the oaken table. On one side of him was Father Ferrerius, on the other Father John Smyth, the dreamy-eyed monk; and several other monks were grouped on either side.
“This is a difficult task that our worthy Chanter hath devised,” quoth the Abbot, “and it is rendered none the easier by the resolve of the Bishop to hold a high ceremonial of exorcism. There be none who know how such a ceremony should be ordered, and our Sub-Dean, who might have given us good counsel herein, is away.”
“Why not leave it, my Lord Abbot?” said Ferrerius. “There can be no obligation on your Lordship to perform so unusual an act.”
“True! there is no obligation,” retorted the Abbot, “but if we do not concur herein, the Bishop of Moray will perform it alone, and you know, Fathers, that his Lordship of Moray is something perhaps over-anxious to assume to himself every office and every function in this province; he and his predecessors have but scantly regarded the rights of Kinloss Abbey, which was here before ever there was an efficient Bishop. Yet it will not be easy to arrange the ceremony. Father Ferrerius, where do we find the office of exorcism? Never in my life have I had occasion to pronounce such.”
It is in the Rituale,” replied the monk addressed. “Father John Smyth, you will find it on the second shelf on the right hand; bring it for the Lord Abbot.”
“This,” he said, as he laid the book before the Abbot, “is the most recent recension as set forth by the authority of our Holy Father in God, Leo the Tenth.”
“Yes, I see,” said the Abbot, rapidly turning the pages over; “yet this provides but for an exorcism or casting out of the Devil by a single priest, or not even a priest; for any faithful layman may, as it seems, use the office. Moreover, the person possessed must be there in propriâ persona, and the end of the violet stole must be laid over his shoulders, but here we have no such thing. As I gather, the body of Sir Wilfred Dunbar has been secretly, and by the device of Satan, carried away no man knoweth where. How then may we cast out the Devil, if we know not from whence to cast him? Yet will I not on any account leave this matter wholly to the discretion of the Bishop of Moray; for, as I say he takes too much upon himself.”
“Give me leave, my Lord Abbot,” said Father Ferrerius, “and I will compose a ritual appropriate to the occasion, designed after the model here laid down, and I make no doubt but that the Bishop of Moray will accept it, and also shall all your Lordship’s rights and privileges be preserved.”
“Do so, good Father, and take my blessing; you have relieved my mind of a great anxiety. And now, Fathers, as touching the action still pending between ourselves and the little Earl of Moray, regarding our fishings in the river Findhorn—” he broke off suddenly as the venerable and saintly Father Adam Elder entered the Chapter-house, and coming up to the Abbot’s chair, spoke a few words to him in a low tone. After a brief conversation, unheard by the rest of the Fathers, the Abbot said aloud, “It is quite true, as you say, Father Elder. Our house of Strathisla needs personal supervision very sorely. Truly I am loth to lose our Father Ambrose from his work here, for none hath such skill of horses as he, yet there is none other that I can spare. Father Ambrose is ordered for duty at Strathisla, and will proceed thither at once. To-morrow, immediately after the first offices in the church, our Father shall set forth. It were better that he go on foot—we have no plenitude of horses here. There be many along the road who will give him hospitality.”
Here we may leave the conclave to their deliberations, which do not any further concern the course of this history.
Simon Tulloch, examining and tending the trees in Burgie Orchard, was seriously perturbed; dangers and difficulties were threatening his favourite, the Lady Beatrix. The mysterious attack on her father, and his still more mysterious disappearance, was bad enough, but now this further question of her pro-contract with Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen was a cause of almost worse anxiety, and his interview with Father Ferrerius that afternoon had set it in a still graver aspect. Seemingly the Church could not, or would not, afford any help—rather would enforce the contract. Simon longed earnestly for some one who would help, or in any case offer some counsel in this emergency. And as if in answer to his desire he saw descending the hill from Callifer the tall, stately figure of Eochain Beag.
“I give you greeting, Master Simon Tulloch,” he said as he drew near and leaned over the low wall of the orchard.
“And greeting to you, Master Eochain. I was hoping I might meet your worship again, for indeed my mind is sore disturbed for my dear lady.”
“You mean the chatelaine of Blervie? Already I have told her that if she will come to me on the night of the full moon I will bring her face to face with her father, whereby she may be assured of his safety.”
“I know, and she will be there, though indeed there be but few maids in this realm of Scotland who would dare to keep such a tryst; but my lady knows no fear. Yet it is not of that I would speak, but rather of her precontract or proxy marriage with Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, whom perhaps ye may know as the greatest brute and blackguard in all Scotland. Yet doth it seem that unless she should immure herself for ever in a nunnery, there is no other means of escape.”
“In truth, as ye well know, Master Simon, I have but little to do with the Church, or with Church marriages, and it is but little that I can help herein. My nephew might advise in such matters far better than I, but I have been long estranged from my family, as ye know well, and I think they look not with very friendly eyes on ‘the Apostate.
Simon had but little knowledge of the Cummings of Altyre, whom he looked on as a wild brood, scarcely if at all better than the Highland clans who ravaged the lands of Moray at frequent intervals. But he knew of the family by repute, and rapidly ran over them in his mind in search of Eochain’s nephew Sir Alexander of Altyre, now an old man, had two sons, Thomas and Ferquhand; but neither of these were likely to be chosen as the squire of a lady in distress;— but by his second wife, the widow of Urquhart of Burdsyards, there were three sons—Robert and Alasdair and James—and of these rumour said that Alasdair was destined for the Church. This, then, was the champion proposed.
“You mean Alasdair Cumming of Altyre?” he said.
“Ay! Alasdair Cumming of Altyre, I suppose he should be. Well, Master Tulloch, I believe he is the man who will serve your lady. I like not that he should serve the Church, yet my brother would have it so. God keep you, Master Tulloch! I would there were more as loyal as you to your lady.”
So saying, he passed into the wood and was gone, leaving Simon considerably mystified, yet withal relieved. It was hard to credit that Eochain “the Apostate,” of whom so many evil tales were told, and who was supposed to have utterly vanished, and probably died in far countries, should be able to influence his powerful kin of Altyre on behalf of the Lady Beatrix; yet if it were so—well, so much the better. And Simon went on with his tree-tending in better spirits than he had been for some time.
VII – A SOLEMN EXORCISM
The Chanter of Moray had succeeded beyond his utmost hopes in the arrangements for the great ceremony of exorcism on which he had set his heart. It was not merely that he was anxious for the fate of his kinsman, Sir Wilfred Dunbar of Blervie. His pride was touched at the idea that a Dunbar could be spirited away in this mysterious fashion, leaving none who could be called to account for the deed; moreover, he sincerely believed that black magic had been at work with which only the powers of the Church could deal. And beyond all this he thoroughly appreciated the prospect of a gorgeous and solemn function inaugurated by himself, and of which he might justly claim the credit. Like the skilful diplomatist that he was, he had craftily played on the rivalry and mutual jealousy of the Bishop of Moray and the Abbot of Kinloss, until, because each feared that the other would alone direct and perform what was likely to be a unique ceremony, they had both agreed to be present and officiate—Father Ferrerius having cleverly designed a ritual which should give neither of them the precedence over the other.
Beatrix Dunbar had good cause to pray earnestly for the success of the powers of Holy Church, for not only was her anxiety as to her father’s fate increasing day by day as time passed and no word came as to what had chanced to him, and the mystery grew continually more dark and insoluble, but there had come a disquieting message from Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, to the effect that he deemed it undesirable that his wife should longer remain alone and unprotected, and since her father had thus mysteriously disappeared he purposed within a few days to carry her away with him to his fortress in the east. In fact, he only delayed until he had punished the MacIntoshes for their raid, in ‘which some Leslies of his kin had been killed.
Master Simon Tulloch had told her of his interview with the Fathers of Kinloss and the opinion of Father Ferrerius, from which but scant comfort could be derived. Of little use was it to say No. Leslie of the Glen was powerful and unscrupulous, and said to be in high favour With the Pope. Her own serving-men were but a handful compared with his troop, and though the old Tower of Blervie would stand a tough siege, and would have to be battered piecemeal before they could win an entrance, yet hunger would force them to capitulate at last; and none others would take her part, for the Church held her lawfully wedded to Leslie, and fear of the Church’s ban would restrain many a good man who would fain have fought for her. It was but too evident that in the event of her resistance he would carry her off by force. True, there was the convent in Elgin, but the convent life did not appeal to her, though she frankly admitted it was preferable to a union with the chief of the Glen. Moreover, even the convent might be barred to her if the Church insisted on the consummation of her marriage, as seemed only too likely. Small wonder that she earnestly prayed for the success of the ceremony of exorcism! If but it might dissolve the powers of evil and restore her father to her, he at all events could contrive to postpone this dreaded union, and in postponement might be some hope.
Simon Tulloch told her nothing of his meeting with Eochain Beag, yet he did venture to hint that in Alasdair Cumming there might be some help. Beatrix remembered the second son of Sir Alexander’s second marriage, a brave handsome boy, but she failed to see how help could come from that quarter, especially since James Stuart, the little Earl of Moray, natural son of James Iv., was her friend and protector, and there was small love lost between the Cummings and the Earls of Moray. Altogether, in spite of a few gleams, the future looked very black and threatening, and her usually brave and confident spirit was sorely tried.
Cecily Ross had fallen into a morbid dread of the approaching ceremony. An evil dream growing to a nightmare stirred all her imagination, and haunted her waking hours in spite of all she could do to banish it. She had seen in vision the Bishop and the Abbot performing the impressive formulas of the sacred office, and she had seen or fancied legions of devils, expelled by that powerful incantation, cast out homeless and seeking where to go, and with one consent the whole evil swarm swept round herself, seeking to enter in as they did to the Gadarean swine. In her dream she cried aloud, calling on Christ and His Virgin Mother and on all the Saints, calling on Father Ambrose, and on Beatrix. Then it seemed her dreaming self arose and went to Beatrix’s chamber for protection, and over the door hung the rowan branch, and it seemed to her to be a holy guardian holding back the evil swarm that assailed her; but before the door on the floor was cut the five-pointed star, the device of the Inneses, and all her old shuddering horror revived at the sight of this, utterly unreasonable, as she knew even in her dream, yet it affected her with wild terror. Beatrix was within, and peace, comfort, and safety, the swarm of devils and the dark, lonely night were without, yet not for all this could she pass that sign on the floor. Often, as she tried and tried again, it seemed to rise against her, and every nerve in her body became as water, and wild and causeless physical fear seized her brain till she shrieked for aid, so woke trembling in every limb and bathed in perspiration in her own chamber.
Here she paced uneasily up and down in the moonlight—up and down, and up and down— with long ceaseless padding, like a wild animal caught, her brain all in a whirl, longing now for the quiet and safety of Beatrix’s chamber, and the solace of those loving arms, and that gentle sympathetic voice, but ever conscious of that awesome sign that barred her omit, and which even now, awake and able to think, she quailed before, and shivered in mortal dread, yet again longing to be out there in the moonlight, for her nerves were strained almost to breaking, and the physical restlessness of the body could be combated only by physical fatigue. If but she could get out there, where the moon shone so white and still, and run and run till exhausted nature must needs yield the sweet boon of sleep!
She threw herself on the bed and dozed fitfully for a short while, then tossed restlessly and grew wide awake again; she got up and sat by the window, weary and despondent. In spite of herself she could not help recalling the wild exultation of the dreams she had had of Elspet Simpson, when she and Elspet, playfellows of the wind and the storm, had rushed madly along in a glorious race, joying in their strength, their pulses leaping with the mad excitement of the gallop, and all their blood surging in bounding time to the glorious rhythm of life.
Ày! that was it, blood in their veins, then in those wild dreams they lived, but now—how cold and bloodless it all was! In her lassitude and weariness she longed for the excitement, the bounding pulses, the blood of life. If only blood could be poured into her! She felt the fires of life dying down in sick, weary depression. Those dreams would give her life and force again.
In the cold grey light of the morning a figure passed below the Tower, taking the road towards Callifer past the haunted wood. It was a tall, stately-looking monk; his cowl was drawn over his head, yet she recognised Father Ambrose. He made the sign of the cross as he passed the Tower, and she watched his long soldierly stride as he turned the corner and disappeared. She curiously and unreasoningly resented the sacred sign, feeling a wholly illogical conviction that he had made it against herself. Then she recalled his words and all he had counselled her to do. “Yet,” she said to herself, “he could not know of this ghastly weakness—of the nightmare of last night. To do what he advised takes strength—I must have some fresh strength somehow, and from my dreams I can get strength. Oh, I know he would say so himself, if he were here and knew it all. Only once more—oh, Father, only once! Let me dream just this once, and have the excitement and the rush and the glory and the lust of blood. Let me know all once more, and I will come back refreshed, and do all that he wishes. He thought so much of my visions of Angels and Spirits. I wonder does he know how they drain all my strength? It is only by my dreams of Elspet that I can get strength for the visions he loves. But Beatrix—no! no! I dare not dream here. All the devils that come round would attack her too. I can deal with them. Oh! I shall be strong— they cannot harm me, but they will attack her. Oh! I know the malice of them—I must get away and dream my dreams alone. My God! forgive me; but if I be damned for it, I must—I must!”
Thus it chanced that Beatrix rising early found Cecily’s room empty, and a tiny note saying that she had been suddenly and unexpectedly called away.
“That good Cecily!” said Beatriz. “Some errand of mercy; she never spares herself. There are few like her in this world.”
Cecily’s horse was still in the stables, and her serving-man reported that he had had no instructions, but presumed he must wait for Mistress Ross.
“Oh, she will not be long away; she has clearly gone on foot,” said Beatrix. “You will just wait here; she has gone to some place quite near.”
The serving-man made no reply—unless a half-inarticulate grunt be counted as such—but he doffed his bonnet in a low obeisance to the Lady of Blervie.
Master Simon Tulloch came up that afternoon to Blervie Tower to warn the Lady Beatrix that on the following day the Abbot of Kinloss and the Lord Bishop of Moray, with their trains, and the Chanter of Moray would come to the Tower and perform the solemn rite of exorcism. In this way they hoped to break the power of the Devil, by which Sir Wilfred Dunbar had been by evil magic foully attacked and carried away. Also they doubted not that by virtue of the ceremony and the efficacy of their prayers Sir Wilfred would be released and restored to his daughter and to his friends. Even while he was speaking the lad Hubert came up to say that a boy craved speech of the Lady of the Tower.
Following almost at his heels came the boy who had delivered Eochain Beag Cumming’s first note to Simon Tulloch. With a scared white face he peered round from behind the shelter of Hubert’s arm.
“Come hither, boy! What is it?” said Beatrix; and Simon gripped him by the arm, not unkindly, and drew him forward.
“I’ve seen Sir Wilfred’s ghost!” he gasped, after a moment.
“Sir Wilfred’s ghost? Nonsense, boy! you are dreaming,” quoth Master Simon, wondering nevertheless whether in fact the Lord of Blervie had not actually passed away, and at the instant of his death appeared to the boy, as is well known to be the custom of spirits of the dead.
“Nay, wide awake,” gasped the boy,—“down in the thicket yonder.” He pointed to the haunted wood. “Sure I saw him there, looking out from the bushes, and his jaw was bound up with a napkin as they bound up nay father’s when he was dead, and his face was as white as time cloth that bound it. Ay me! but I’m feared to go back there. And sure, as I came away, I saw the track of a wolf in the soft ground.”
“Nonsense!” said Simon again; “there hath no wolf been seen hereabouts for many a long day. It was some big dog running about, a shepherd’s dog belike—no wolf, trust me. And for the napkin, I myself bound his head where it was scratched.”
He spoke confidently, but his mind was working rapidly all the same.
“Nay, master, not so long since,” said the boy, “Robin Thomson saw a big white wolf slink past his smithy, and the track of the paws was all round the ground about his cottage next morning. Indeed, Master Tulloch, ’tis true—I saw it myself.”
“I think he speaks truth,” said Beatrix. “Yet I cannot think my father to be dead; I believe this boy hath seen himself. Oh, Master Simon, think you he can be so near and we not know it?”
“Nay, that I think not—saving your presence, Lady Beatrix; whatever have chanced to Sir Wilfred, he hath not tarried near here. Yet indeed why do I say tarried? God help the poor gentleman, he was in no case to tarry or to travel when I saw him last, but just to lie wherever man should place him, and sooth I think not that his recovery can have progressed far enough yet to enable him to move of himself. Yet do I think for certain that if he were anywhere near to this we should have had word of it, All the same, I hold with you that he is yet alive; indeed, I have information to that effect, though but from a crazy loon. Now, boy, run away; and hark ye, no word to any mortal man of Sir Wilfred’s ghost. If ye would keep your head from a skelping ye will mention this to none.
“Indeed and I will not, Master Tulloch”; and with that the boy, released from Simon’s grip, sped swiftly down the road.
The next day was that appointed for the solemn ceremony, and precisely at an hour before noon, when the morning services at the Abbey church were over, a procession with all the pomp of ecclesiastical ritual might be seen wending its way up the hill from Kinloss to Blervie Tower. The Bishop of Moray for convenience sake had lain the previous night at Kinloss Abbey, not without certain covert sneers at the poor accommodation as compared with his own Castle of Spynie, or even his manse in Elgin. For though the Abbey was the older establishment, and had acquired ecclesiastical rule over the district, which indeed owed its civilisation and its Christianity to the monks of Kinloss, yet the Bishop, deemed that he should hate all the dominion over the province of Moray, and he resented the privileges wherewith David the royal Saint had endowed the Abbey he founded in the fertile lowlands. Hence were Abbot and Bishop continually inclined to belittle each other. But now their mingled pomp made a brave show on the country roads.
A band of choristers went first, followed by two thurifers swinging censers, and after these came the banner of St. Jerome from Kinloss, and the banner of Our Lady from Elgin. Then followed the Chanter, as the representative of both the great religious foundations. He wore the simple habit of a Cistercian monk, for he was taking no part in the actual ceremony of the day, though in fact the whole of it originated from his subtle brain. Behind him came acolytes from the Cathedral, in scarlet cassocks and lace cottas and scarlet skull-caps, sprinkling holy water as they walked. Behind them came the Bishop of Moray and the Abbot of Kinloss, both in episcopal robes; for the latter was a mitred Abbot and was also Bishop of Orkney. Their jewelled mitres flashed in the sunshine. The Bishop of Moray wore a cope of cloth of gold, embroidered with a picture of Our Lady, among curious devices of scroll-work. The Abbot’s cope was a rich dark violet, with ecclesiastical symbols wrought in gold. Both wore violet stoles as befitting the occasion. Behind each his chaplain bore his pastoral staff thickly crusted with gems. Father Ferrerius, as the Ceremonarius or master of ceremonies, followed alone, in the plain Cistercian habit. The monks of Kinloss and the Cathedral staff from Elgin brought up the rear.
The sweet voices of the choristers rose in the hot summer air as they chanted the 54th Psalm. Deus in nomine tuo salvum me fac—the notes rang thrilling over the fields, and many of the country folk came out to see, and knelt in the road as the train passed. As they came to the boundary that divided the lands of Blervie from those of the Abbey the procession halted, the two Bishops took their staffs from their chaplains, and the choristers grouped round them, holy water was sprinkled, and incense waved. The Bishop of Moray intoned the word “Oremus,” and the Abbot prayed that those lands and their inhabitants might be released from the chain wherewith, by evil-doing, the Devil had been permitted to bind them. Then the Bishop, invoking all the Divine names, and calling for help on all Saints, “O Lord,” he chanted, “who hast sent Thy Son into the world to destroy the malice of the Devil, come swiftly and save this land and them that dwell therein from the terror that walketh in darkness, and from the Demons that lay waste in the noonday.” Then both raised their pastoral staffs and traced the sign of the cross in the air, after which the procession reformed and wound slowly up the hill to Blervie Tower.
At the foot of the Tower stood Beatrix, stately now and self-composed. Her hood, slightly thrown back with its dark green lining, threw up the red golden tints of her hair; her face was flushed, and the lambent green lights in her eyes gleamed strangely; her red lips were lightly parted, and her wimple rose and fell as her breath came quick and short, the only sign about her of mental perturbation. Behind her stood the boy Hubert and Master Simon Tulloch, and behind these again a group of the serving-men of Blervie Tower, all keenly interested in what was doing. The choristers’ song came sweetly borne from the lower ground as the head of the train wound into sight, and the Bishop and Abbot advancing together, and carrying their pastoral staffs, mounted the stairs leading to the door of the Tower, and thence, raising their stain, they blessed all the lands.
Then there was a great silence, and the Bishop of Moray handing his staff again to his chaplain and raising aloft a small reliquary wherein was a fragment of the consecrated Host, faced slowly to the four quarters, and at each one the chime of a silver bell sounded from the foot of the stair, and then he spoke solemnly.
“I command thee, whosoever thou art, O impure and foul spirit, and all thy fellows who oppress and hurt this land of Blervie and those who dwell thereon, and who hast even ventured to attack, wound, and carry off the body of a christened man, even our brother Wilfred Dunbar, and I adjure thee by the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord, and by His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, by the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, and by the coming of Our Lord to Judgment, that thou disclose to me thy name, and the day and hour of thy going forth, and that thou refrain henceforth and for ever from any attack upon these lands, or this Castle, or any that are therein.”
As he spoke the concluding words the long wild howl of a wolf came from the haunted wood, instantly drowned by the chant of the choristers, “Gloria Patri,” and the voice of the Abbot of Kinloss intoning the lesson taken from the concluding words of St. Mark’s Gospel, and containing Christ’s promises as to the casting out of devils. The Bishop then read a portion from St. Luke, and the Chanter followed with another selection from the same Gospel narrating the Master’s miracles of this nature. Then, after giving to the assembled people the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Bishop and Abbot, preceded by the acolytes bearing incense and holy water and by the great golden cross, and followed by their chaplains with the pastoral staffs, and by Beatrix, the boy Hubert, and Master Simon Tulloch only, entered the Castle. The Chanter meanwhile, with the monks and the Cathedral staff, under the direction of Father Ferrerius, solemnly circumambulated all the space around the Castle and its offices three times, chanting psalms and attended by the Chanter’s own acolytes with holy water and incense.
Meantime those within the Castle proceeded systematically from room to room, chanting psalms and pausing in each room while the Bishop and the Abbot alternately recited the solemn and impressive formulæ of exorcism.
When they came to the chamber in which Sir Wilfred had been found grievously wounded and from which he had so strangely disappeared, Beatrix gripped Simon Tulloch by the arm, saying in an agitated whisper in his ear, “Look there!”
To the eyes of those two there seemed slowly forming the bloodstains they had seen on that day when Sir Wilfred was attacked, even to the two marks of great paws against the wall, and even as they watched, the singing of the acolytes and the voices of the prelates grew faint and distant, and they seemed to see dim and shadowy the form of a huge gaunt white wolf crouching against the wall; and creeping up to it and threatening it was an enormous serpent. At last the wolf made a great spring, and seemed to vanish into or through the wall, and that instant the whole scene disappeared—the voices of the chanting choristers came clear and distinct, as the procession turned to leave the room. So up the winding stair they passed, going through the room where Cecily had lately lodged; and here the Bishop of Moray, who had somewhat of the second sight, declared afterwards that he had been dimly conscious of a great Angel with a rose robe and pale green shadowing wings. Up and up, till they came out on to the roof. Here the two prelates, facing the one to the east, the other to the west, solemnly adjured the foul spirit in the name of the Ever Blessed Trinity to depart and trouble no more the inhabitants of those lands. Each raised the consecrated Host in his right hand, while grasping his staff with the left, and thus made a circuit of the lands, pointing the reliquaries at the marches as they paced round the battlements. Beatrix distinctly saw the dim spectral form of the wolf racing at full speed round the Castle, as though it were pursued by the influences radiating from the Bishop’s hands or from the Host, and finally, just before the circuit was closed, making a sudden bolt for either Callifer or the haunted wood, none could tell which. Simon Tulloch saw only a grey shadow, like the shadow of a cloud flitting over the fields.
So, with a great burst of jubilant psalm-singing and thanksgiving, ended the ceremony of exorcism, and a feeling of peace restored settled on all present, and a general expectation that Sir Wilfred Dunbar, released from the power of the Evil One, might walk in and take his place among them hale and whole as though nothing had happened. This expectation, however, was not realised. The assembly on emerging from the Tower broke up into small groups, talking over the scene they had been through; the emotional tension of the last hour was relaxed for the moment, and even the Cistercian monks were freed of their discipline to allow of the necessary reaction.
The Bishop of Moray approached the Lady Beatrix, taking from the hand of his chaplain a large and important-looking missive. “The Cardinal Legate, my daughter, has addressed a communication to the Lord Bishop of Aberdeen and myself touching your marriage. He has received letters from Rome whereby it appears that the Holy Father is anxious that the consummation thereof should be no longer delayed. And he hath so written to the Cardinal. I will leave with you, my dear child, this copy of the letter addressed to us by the Legate, counting on your prompt acquiescence therein, as indeed is your bounden duty, and I trust your pleasure also. I hope and believe that many happy years of wedlock lie before you with our dear son Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, who I may tell you, being in special favour at the Court of the Vatican, may confidently reckon on the highest advancement in this realm of Scotland.
You know that until by God’s mercy your father is restored to his home and kin I am by settlement the guardian of your fortune, even as the Lord Bishop of Aberdeen is by right of kinship the guardian of your person, and we have both decided to take prompt measures in obedience to the Holy Father to hand over your possessions and yourself to the safe keeping of your lawful spouse, deeming, as in conference it appeared to us, that it was not meet that you should remain longer alone and unprotected.”
He spoke gravely and solemnly, as befitted a prelate of the Church, handing to Beatrix as he did so the massive packet sealed with the arms of Elgin Cathedral, and counter-sealed with the arms of the Diocese of Aberdeen quartered with the three cushions of Dunbar.
“God pity me!” murmured Beatrix—“a nunnery were preferable.”
VIII – THE HEART OF A MONK
The town of Forres slopes away rapidly towards the north, the main street running east and west along the ridge of a bill, and the side streets branching off on either side at an angle, so that seen from above, as from the summit of the Cluny Hill, it has something the appearance of the bones of a herring. The houses down these side streets are set with their gables to the road, and at the time of our story many of them were houses of some pretension.
In an upper room of one of these houses two men were sitting with a stoup of Spanish wine between them. One of them we may at once recognise as Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen. His coarse face and a certain thickness of speech showed that he had already paid some devotion to the flagon. He lay back in his chair with his leathern jerkin unloosened, his legs stretched out in front of him, in lazy and somewhat insolent abandon. His companion was a spare, active-looking man with a face like a ferret, a straggling red beard, and a suit of faded and frayed velvet that had once been a smoke-grey, but now bore many stains of divers colours, the memorials of various drinking bouts.
“My word! Urquhart,” said Leslie,” but indeed I am weary of biding still here, no disrespect to your town, but in sooth it is damned dull, and that you must know. Yesterday there was not even a monk to talk to; the whole lot were off to transact some mummery of exorcism over the house and lands of my beloved wife—the Devil fly away with her!”
“But why tarry, then, Sir Norman? If, as I understand, you ride to punish the MacIntoshes, why not ride into their country and do it without more ado?”
“And bring the whole of Clan Chattan about my ears, most sapient counsellor? It is but one family of MacIntosh that I design to punish, and them, the Lord helping me, I will exterminate. I mean that old fox Farquhar, not the chief’s son and heir though he is ruffian enough for anything, but the outlaw, robber, cateran, he with the seven Sons who has taken to the hills. Of late they raided down the Spey and carried off women and cattle of the Leshies, and a cousin of mine was killed. So I ride for vengeance. And I look for the guide you promised me, friend Urquhart, that I may come upon them, and leave no man, woman, or child of that cursed family alive, and be away before ever any others of the Clan are aware.”
“Ày! I have a trusty man who will take ye there, Sir Norman, a kinsman of my own indeed; and we have no goodwill to Farquhar MacIntosh, for he was in the raid when my cousin and chief of Cromarty was attacked, and many killed, and great booty taken—my kinsman lost his wife and his only son in that raid. This man knows every inch of the MacIntosh country, and will bring ye with dispatch and secretly to the Dune where .Farquhar and his seven sons dwell. But hark ye, Sir Norman, ‘tis not only the Clan Chattan ye have to fear. There hath been some sort of a truce patched up between the MacIntoshes and the Cummings, and through the Cummings’ lands of Altyre ye needs must pass to win to Farquhar’s Dune, and mind ye Sir Alexander of Altyre hath five sons, all stalwart men and good fighters; though indeed here I might help you, for the three youngest are in a sort cousins of mine, being born from his second wife, who was the widow of my own kinsman, Urquhart of Burdsyards.”
“Friend Urquhart, I think you trace cousinship farther than your kinsmen would acknowledge, and this seems to me distant enough.”
“Well, well! I know the young men, and may be they would listen to me. Alasdair, they say, will be a Churchman; he is called of St. Germaine du Pré, I know not why. Well, Sir Norman, when want you this guide?”
“As soon as may be. Stay, though, there is another matter. I must have Elspet Simpson with me. Luck was ever with me when I rode with her, but curse the wench! she hath such moods. At one time there is naught too much that she can do for me. Then again will she leave me, but always on some pretext or another; either the climate doth not suit her, or she hath promised some one something. The Devil catch her, and he will, for she is a very witch; but she hath bewitched me till I cannot do without her. Faith! Urquhart, I talk to you. You are a faithful dog, I think. Damn it! drink, man, empty out that stoup, and we’ll crack another. The Spanish wine is good, though I have no great liking for the Dons. Well, well! this Elspet Simpson I must find. Or you must find her for me.”
“Nay, Sir Norman, I am no witch-finder. How should I know of her whereabouts?”
“She’s here or here by. Mark you! she was with me on the Border—warned me not to ride to Flodden, and I rode not, and so escaped getting a cracked skull; and she cursed Jock Elliot who had sworn to slay me for some talk about his wife forsooth; made a wax image of him, I think; anyway, he was torn by a wolf and died. Then must she needs say she was ever ill on the Border lands, and in sooth the wench was ill, but she made herself so with brooding and fretting, got to talking of her soul, too, though the Devil hath that safe enough. In any case, she left me, and never could I find her or hear any tidings of her, till one day at the Abbey there I heard a monk mention her name. It was a tall monk who should have been a soldier, and was once—fought at Flodden, they told me. He spoke of Elspet to the game-legged gardener so when I found him out horse-breaking I asked what he knew of Elspet. ‘She hath obsessed a sweet and pious lady,’ he said. ‘How know you Elspet?’ I asked. ‘I saw her deviltries down on the Border,’ he said, and with that he would say no word more.
“Now who might that be?” said the man addressed as Urquhart. “I did hear something of a lady who they say was bewitched, one who was biding with the Lady Beatrix Dunbar.”
“With Dame Leslie, you mean? Speak respectfully of my wife, confound you! So ho sits the wind that way? Elspet hath overlooked my wife’s intimate friend! Well, ’twere like her. A jealous little beast she always was, and mighty angry that I was married—not more angry than I was myself. But, look you, I need the revenues of Blervie. There be over many harpies round me, and besides I must needs have an heir to the Glen. Well, here’s the wine—fill up, Urquhart. Gad! a man must talk sometimes.”
They drank for some minutes in silence, then Urquhart said, “And what shall I say to this Elspet Simpson, if I should succeed in finding her?”
“Tell her that Norman Leslie needs her at once. Though she left me so cavalierly, truth, I think the wench will come anywhere if she deems I need her. Stay! show her this buckle, ’tis a pledge betwixt us, and bid her by the word ‘Grip fast’ that she delay not, but come to me with all speed. Lord! but that wench’s black eyes have clean bewitched me—I cannot get them out of my mind. Ah, Urquhart! if you must be damned for a woman, get a woman worth being damned for. What was she doing working her witchcraft on my wife’s friend, I wonder? Gad! I pity her if Elspet gets a hold of her. Her victims have a bad time, I warrant you. She’ll be burnt one of these days. By the way, what the Devil were the monks and the Bishop and all the psalm-singing lot of them doing, exorcising on my wife’s lands yesterday? They should have asked my leave, confound them!”
“I heard all about that in the town this morning. It was about the affair of Sir Wilfred Dunbar.” “What affair?” “Well, you know, Sir Wilfred, the father of the Lady Be—I mean of Dame Leslie,” this in response to a dangerous look from his companion,—“Sir Wilfred, I say, was found insensible, torn and mangled they say by a wolf, and thereafter he mysteriously disappeared from out his chamber, whereto none could have access, and no wolf could possibly have come there.”
“Ho, ho! a wolf, say you? That smacks devilishly of Elspet’s work; ’twas ever a wolf that tore those whom she cursed. So she hath been busy here overlooking my wife’s friend and cursing my wife’s father, and sending her wolf to savage him? I never heard that any were carried off, though; that is a new game of my black-a-vised gipsy sweetheart. She mustn’t play those pranks, though, till I get my wife safe in my own keeping, and the good lands of iBlervie are mine and an heir to the Glen, then she may do what she will and welcome; and if a legion of devils should fly away with my wife and leave the lands and gear—gad! I’d drink their health. Eh! but this Spanish wine is good. Friend Urquhart, you have an excellent house here, yet must I bid you good day. It grows late, and I must even ride to mine Abbey. I deem the pious monks would count it all joy if I were to ride away; they love not one who keepeth seasons of the Church, and hath not been within their sacred walls once yet either to mass or matins or vespers or any of their functions; sooth I love better to fly a hawk at a heron, or to crush a cup with a friend, than listen to their droning chants and their dull sermons. Fare you well, friend!—give me leave.”
Here be threw open the window and blew a blast of a hunting horn out into the street, whereat half a score of men-at-arms came clattering up, leading in their midst a great warhorse, while the burgesses fled to right and left, and some were hurt; but little reeked the Leslie I or this, for never in his life had he heeded any other where his own pleasure or convenience were concerned. He stretched his great limbs, turned the flagon upside down to be sure that the last drop had been drained, and strode heavily down the stair, till he reached the street, and mounted on his big horse and trotted away with much noise and jangling and clattering through the quiet streets. Urquhart stood long at the window looking after him. The jackal to a most ignoble lion, so he apostrophised himself, having so much grace left in him that he was somewhat ashamed of his position. @#$ &# ~
“One were a fool to trust to the Lightsome Leslie,” he muttered to himself. “Yet better have him as a friend than an enemy, since it must be one or the other. And he shall avenge us on the MacIntoshes. Also with an empty pouch, no employment, and no credit, and only this poor house to call my own, one must needs serve whatsoever master Heaven or the Devil may send. What sees he in Elspet Simpson, I wonder? Either he is in love with her or her witchcraft aids him; may be ‘tis both. Well, around Blervie Tower is the place to whistle for that hen falcon. She will harry the Leslie’s bride, I doubt me.”
He stood long looking out from his window, that commanded a magnificent view over the Moray Firth to the hills of Ross, where the afternoon sun now showed the masses of Wyvis in the daintiest tints of cerulean blues and pearl greys.
That sun bathing in his radiant light all the low lands of Moray glinted on the rich accoutrements of Sir Norman of the Glen, as his troop went jangling along the carse road towards the Abbey of Kinloss, where he had temporary lodgement. The road to Elgin, though little more than a rough track trodden by men and horses through the level lands, could be clearly made out in the bright sunlight, and beyond the parish church of Alves it entered a dense wood of oak and beech.
On a large flat stone under a great spreading tree was seated a tall, stately monk; no second glance was needed to see that it was Father Ambrose pursuing his way to Strathisla. His Breviary was open in his hand, but he was not reading; he was lost in meditation, and at intervals talking to himself, after the manner of solitary men.
“A curious case of conscience,” he mused. “On the one hand is Father Adam Elder’s injunction as Confessor, and the Father Abbot’s distinct commands to go to Strathisla; on the other is that strange wild soul Eochain Beag. He made shipwreck of the faith through foolish handling in his youth, yet now hath he almost won his way back, and I deem he is a Christian in all but the name. A few more talks such as we had last night and a soul would be saved. But dare I go back into temptation? Dare I fly in the face of my confessor’s injunction and the Abbot’s commands even to save a soul? Am I strong enough, anyhow, to say farewell absolutely and for ever to the love that tugs my heart? Oh, how bewitchingly she glides before me! Vade retro Sathanas.”
Long he sat meditating, then he took out his writing tablets and began to scribble a Latin poem.
Two hundred years later that poem was found, its paper discoloured and frayed with age, between the pages of the monk’s Breviary, which had passed into a private collection, and was roughly Englished thus:—
“I mourn for a love of the past, A love that for ever will last, Fast in my memory, fast,
Fast as the tooth of care. As the gold round the Virgin’s head When the light through the window is shed, A bright auriferous red,
Such is my darling’s hair. O loving lips to me denied, O cloven cherries, laughter-tied, The great heart of the world is wide—
A full white heart of misery. As I stand before the altar,
As I say the Holy Mass, My love-led lips will falter,
Her image still ill pass, Smiling sweetly, smiling sadly,
On my hurtful, guilty love; On my passion cherished madly,
Like an angel from above. I have striven, I have striven,
With this hurtful, guilty thing, Still forth it is not driven,—
Ah, God! it hath a sting. O Heaven, in mercy send me
An end to all my woe! O Virgin Queen, defend me
From love, my direst foe!”
The monk placed the paper between the pages of his breviary. “Now I am strong,” he said to himself; “I have said farewell. I am dead to the world and the world to me. All the same, to help Beatrix I would give my body to be burned and my soul to be damned, if need were. And still the case of conscience remains. Should I obey my confessor and the Lord Abbot, or should I go to the rescue of a living soul gone wrong through no fault as I deem? Would that I could refer this to some other—I am unable to determine what is right to do.”
As if in answer to his thought there came a sound of horses’ hoofs trotting at a decorous pace along the road, and presently entering the beech wood appeared the train of the Lord Bishop of Moray returning from Kinloss.
“Good!” said Father Ambrose to himself. “I will place the question before his Lordship, and whatsoever he shall say that will I do, and I pray that Heaven in its mercy will inspire and illuminate him that he may rightly resolve my difficulties.”
He stood up as the train approached. The Bishop was riding an ambling pad that went softly, as befitted a dignified Churchman; he drew rein on seeing the monk.
“Father Ambrose of Kinloss, is it not?” he inquired. The monk bowed gravely. “I heard much of you from the Father Abbot. I understand you fought at the disastrous battle of
Flodden, when so many of our best and noblest were killed?” Father Ambrose bowed again. “And you are on your way to Strathisla, by the Father Abbot’s orders—is it not so? “That is as your Lordship may decide. A case of a divided duty has arisen where conscience sees not which way to turn. On the one hand is my confessor’s advice, backed by the Lord Abbot’s commands, to go to Strathisla on the business of the monastery; on the other, a soul in great difficulty has most unexpectedly been thrown in my way, a soul that has wandered far from the fold of the Church, but which I think may now be led back into the faith of Our Lord. By a chance I can reach him, to no other Christian would he hearken at all on the subject of faith. It seems to me that he hath been specially led to me. Tell me, my lord—and may the grace of the Holy Spirit guide you, as it always does, to counsel truly in this—am I justified in refusing this, which seems verily a call of the Spirit? or am I justified in disobeying the advice of my confessor and the commands of my superior the Lord Abbot?”
The Bishop sat for some moments in deep thought. At length he said— “Father Ambrose, the question is weighty and puzzling, but on the whole I think that a real call has been vouchsafed to you, and you would be seriously to blame if you should neglect it. I give my word, therefore, that you should go where you are called, and should do your best to bring this soul back into the true fold. Thinking this, by the authority committed unto me as Bishop of this diocese, I absolve you pro hac vice et tempore from your obligation to obey the Lord Abbot in this particular, and I recall the counsel given by your confessor, and I impose this new duty on you that, in expiation for the sins which you have committed and which you have confessed, you do bring back into the fold of the true Church this wandering sheep. And may God bless you in your endeavours!”
The Bishop raised his hand in benediction, and Father Ambrose knelt by the wayside to receive his blessing, and the train passed on and were lost to sight at a turn of the road.
The Bishop was a good and pious man though slightly pompous, and after he had parted from Father Ambrose his mind was haunted by uncomfortable doubts whether he had counselled aright. The instinctive desire born of the long rivalry between the two foundations might, he thought, have clouded his judgment and inclined him to decide against the ruling of the Abbot. He endeavoured to review the question as though it had been put by a perfect stranger. Yet still he thought he must have given the same answer.
“As God wills,” said Father Ambrose, as he replaced his breviary in his girdle and turned his face towards the setting sun, taking the path that struck off to the left hand up the hill towards Callifer, leading to a point away on the wild waste moors of Dallas where he knew he might expect to meet with Eochain Beag.
Meanwhile a messenger sped from Forres up into the Altyre woods charged with a letter from Urquhart to the Dame Cumming of Altyre, recalling the writer’s kinship with her first husband, Urquhart of Burdsyards, and requesting that she would use her influence with her stalwart sons Robert, Alasdair, and James to allow free passage through the Cummings’ country for Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, who rode to take vengeance on one family of the MacIntoshes who had done grievous wrong to the family of Urquhart, to which her Ladyship owed some affectionate remembrance, and who were in no way connected with those MacIntoshes who had recently concluded a truce with the house of the Cummings, but were outlaws and freebooters, against whom should be the hand of every honest man.
Dame Cumming was walking in the woods with her second son Alasdair when the messenger met her. She was at first greatly puzzled, for she failed to recall this alleged kinsman of her late husband; but Alasdair, reading the letter over her shoulder, said—
“Never heed who the rascal is, mother—in truth it matters not. I know this Farquhar MacIntosh, a thief and a cateran, and Leslie is one of the biggest blackguards in Scotland. If they should exterminate each other the world will be all the cleaner, and if by chance Leslie is victorious we will call him to account as he comes back for molesting one who is at peace with the Cummings;—so the land will be quit of a pair of rascals anyway.”
He called up the messenger.
“Say to Master Urquhart that the permission is granted. I, Alasdair Cumming, make myself responsible that his friends shall pass in safety through the Cummings’ country.”
The messenger bowed low and withdrew, and the Dame and her son continued their walk.
Up in Blervie Tower Beatrix Dunbar was sorely ill at ease. Over and over again she had read the missive which the Bishop had handed to her without any ray of comfort coming to her. It was curt and concise almost to baldness; to the scholastic Latin in which it was written the Bishop had appended a translation, hardly indeed required; for Beatrix, educated by her scholar father, could read the ancient classic tongue almost as easily as modern Scots.
It set forth that the Cardinal Legate had received instructions from the Vatican that the Holy Father hearing that the marriage celebrated per procuratores between his well-beloved son Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen, and his beloved daughter Beatrix, only child of Sir Wilfred Dunbar of Blervie Tower in the county of Moray, had not yet been consummated, and that the parties were still living apart in disregard of the said marriage ceremony; therefore the Holy Father did command that the said Norman Leslie should with all convenient speed take unto him his said wife Beatrix, and should live with her according to the due intention of Christian marriage, and he ordained that the Bishop of Moray should exhort both parties thereto that they conform presently to this decree, and that the Bishop of Aberdeen, as being, in her father’s absence, by reason of kinship, guardian of her person, should exercise his power to hand her over to her lawful spouse as aforesaid, and that failing their doing so he should take such means as he should think most advisable to ensure their obedience thereto. To which missive the Cardinal Legate had added a note of his own to the effect that, owing to the strange and unexplained disappearance of Sir Wilfred Dunbar, the said Beatrix being left without any lawful guardian, it was the more essential that the decree of the Holy Father should be carried into effect with no delay whatsoever, for that the same was a position most undesirable for any Christian young woman, and he accordingly called on the Bishop of Aberdeen as the interim guardian of the said Beatrix to enforce the same immediately.
To this there was appended a postscript by both Bishops setting forth that the decree had been served upon Sir Norman Leslie, who had promised compliance therewith when he should return from the present expedition on which he was bound, and wherein not merely his interest but his honour and the honour of his house were involved.
In these clear-cut sentences lay no hope. Beatrix perceived a web woven around her from which no escape was possible, except on the remote chance of her father being restored to her; even the refuge of a convent seemed out of the question in view of the Pope’s letter and the Cardinal’s addendum. She was a married woman, she could only be treated as a fugitive from her husband, and she knew well that in those days but small grace was extended to such, especially when the husband was a man of importance as was Sir Norman Leslie. Even if the convent at Elgin would receive her for a few days, she would soon be sent back to him. In her father, however, she had supreme confidence.
Then she recurred to the other missive in her hand, as often and as eagerly conned as the one from the Bishop. At the Dune on Callifer she was to hear tidings of her father, to be convinced that he was alive and on the road to recovery.
Hardly any of the country folk even by day would venture to pass the Dune at Callifer; it was scarcely less dreaded than the haunted wood at night, and on the night of the full moon it needed more than ever an undaunted courage, yet this did Beatrix propose to herself. Even at first she had not shrunk from the adventure. Now, since the Pope’s letter, it seemed the only possible thing to do, if the future were to hold any hope for her. She recalled also Master Simon Tulloch’s suggestion that a champion for her might be found in Alasdair Cumming. Why had he said that? It was a curious thing to say, but Master Simon was not wont to say things at random, and sometimes he was very slow to give his reasons. Well, if Alasdair would befriend her, she was willing to welcome any champion. Simon had once spoken of Father Ambrose, but what could a monk do? She blushed hotly as she caught herself thinking of him, and after all she had never seen his face, only she had felt those keen eyes burning on her in the Chanter’s garden.
She looked at the sky; the sun was setting fast, midnight was but a few hours off, and she must start fully an hour before to be on Callifer at the stroke of twelve. She hurried within to dismiss her bower maiden to bed, and see that all was well in the Tower, and make a few simple preparations for her midnight expedition.
Unknown to her, Master Simon Tulloch walked up to the base of the Tower, and passed round out of sight behind the flanking walls. He knew she would indignantly refuse his aid or his company, nevertheless he was resolved that his dear lady should run no risk unattended by him, however much he had to keep out of her sight and hearing.
IX – MIDNIGHT ON CALLIFER
Blervie Tower in the early sixteenth century stood as it were on the boundary line between civilisation and the wild country. From the shoulder of the hill on which it stood the ground sloped rapidly down towards the fertile lowlands of Moray, dotted over with smiling farms and the rich Abbey lands, interspersed with magnificent beech woods. But looking in the other direction was a No Man’s Land, hated and shunned by all the peasantry, a district of extremely ill repute. A short distance to the south-west of the Castle was a stone circle, said to have been in ancient days a Druidic temple, where, so it was reported, the vilest of heathen rites had been continually practised and the stones were bloodstained with human sacrifices. It was firmly be- lieved among the people that demons haunted the old stones, and that any one who incautiously ventured therein at certain times was carried away and kept in endless torment, and never seen again. Moreover, other legends had it that under the stones there was a hidden treasure, and whoever could get into the circle on a certain night when the demons were away at the sea, might seize the treasure and keep it, if only he could get away before the rightful guardians could return. Notwithstanding this tempting tradition, the sinister stories obtained such a hold that the place was universally shunned, and a thick wood had grown up around the stones whose whereabouts and indeed their very existence became almost a matter of myth and legend. Eastward from the haunted wood and behind the Castle but only some half-mile from the cluster of small cottages around its base was the margin of a desolate peat bog, on which grew here and there clumps of dreary, wind-distorted trees, and beyond the bog the shoulder of the hill rose again towards Callifer, which was another reputed Druid centre. This high ground, the highest for a circuit of some ten or a dozen miles, was covered with a wood of very old oak trees, vast and gnarled and twisted, so old that some of them might well have sheltered the white-robed Druids in the days when their faith was the living religion of these islands. On the very top of the hill was a high cairn of rough stones, surrounded by a turf rampart, known as the Dune of Callifer.
On the southern side the hill sloped down again to the lands of Dallas, and beyond and to the right of these were the woods of Cumming of Altyre, and farther on might be seen in the dim distance the bare hilltops of the MacIntosh country. The feuds of these two great families, their mutual raids and slaughters would fill many volumes, though here and there in history there occurs some isolated and ephemeral alliance between cadet branches; but on the lands of Moy no Cumming might ever set foot, not even as gillie or gamekeeper or crofter. Yet there is little record that either family interfered with the other in their raids on the fertile pastures of the land of Moray, where, as it was once said by a Highland cateran, “every man taketh his prey.” So the civilised lands where the Church influences prevailed and peaceful occupations were followed in the main were separated almost by a sharp line from the hill country of the wild Scots. But to both that hilltop whose highest point was marked by the Dune of Callifer was a spot of dread, a sinister district haunted by wild beasts, and still worse by evil spirits, the false gods of the old heathen to whom human sacrifices were offered and all manner of cruel and wicked rites were performed. Ill luck ever brooded over this desolate tract. If an old woman should gather dry and rotten wood there to kindle her fire, be sure the hut would be burnt down, or her cow refuse her milk, or her lambs would die, or some mischance or other would surely befalL Nay, if a man did but enter the accursed place be would be dogged by ill luck, and his neighbours would avoid him as one forbid.
When Sir Wilfred Dunbar had ordered that hunt for the wolf whose tracks had been seen the day before the mysterious attack upon himself, the serving-men with one consent, notwithstanding their master’s imperative orders, had refused to enter the evil land. Not only their own superstitious dread of what might happen to themselves, but their fear of their neighbours, and of what might be said of them, or indeed done to them, held them in strong leash; for it was on record that one man who had stumbled in there when blind drunk, and emerged seemingly unharmed, had been deemed a wizard on account of his immunity, and because he had sold his soul to the Devil was beaten to death with pitchforks.
Simon Tulloch had determined without any hesitation in the light of day that nothing would deter him—come what might, he would not suffer his dear lady to brave the dangers of the haunted land alone. But now in sooth, as he stood near the margin of that sinister tract, as the full moon rose slowly over the crest of Callifer, things wore a different aspect. He was a man of good pluck and resource, strong and sturdy and little burdened with superstition. Still, if there were really uncanny things, could he help her? Might he not indeed hinder and endanger her? She was a very saint of God; he was, he admitted to himself with shame, anything but a saint. In view of anything pertaining to the Devil, such as was only too likely to be stirring within those evil precincts, she would be safe from her holiness, but what about him? Could her saintliness save him? And even if so, it would be she who would help him, not he her—was this fair? Again, should they both come out safe and the thing should ever be known, most assuredly both of them would be burnt or drowned by the infuriated populace, as having unlawful dealings with the Evil One. Now, in such case, if it chanced to Beatrix alone, he Simon Tulloch had some influence with the Abbot, and even perhaps with the Bishop; but if he were in the same condemnation he could be of no assistance to her.
Specious reasoning was this, yet it served its purpose under the moonlight; for in good sooth Master Simon Tulloch was afraid, and was also mortally ashamed of being so, and would not for worlds acknowledge the fact even to himself. He had no fear for his own skin, he had been in the wars, and had met blows and wounds and even imminent death with cheery and imperturbable good humour; but these strange things that strike unseen, horrible formless evils that threaten not the body only but the soul, that daze a man’s brain and turn his blood to water, that was a different matter. And so as he walked along, keeping the Lady Beatrix in sight, as he had vowed to do, he yet kept carefully along the lower path, as far as reasonably he could get from the margin of the forbidden tract. Yet all the while he tried in the brain of him to reconcile his loyalty and his physical pluck with his fear of the uncanny and the supernatural. Much also he wondered at the courage of the Lady Beatrix, as closely wrapped in black hood and mantle and indistinguishable save for her gracious carriage of body from any ordinary peasant woman, she walked calmly and steadily along the path leading into the great woods around Callifer.
Steadily she walked, it is true, yet her mind was far from steady. Beatrix was a very woman, though all the courage of her race was in brain and nerve. Belief in supernatural forces and in the physical powers of the Prince of Evil were universal at the time of our story, and there was no doubt in her mind as to the terrible risks she was running. To physical dangers she could brace herself, but at any moment some unseen, unknown power of ill might enter into and obsess her, paralysing will and thought. Possession of the Devil was a real and horrible thing, yet on the other hand was this terrible alternative of the marriage with Leslie of the Glen. This seemed unavoidable, unless her father could save her, and there was no other way of seeing him except by means of this strange summons to the Dune of Callifer. Everything else had been tried and failed, and now the Leslie claimed his bride, and the Church backed his claim, and she felt utterly helpless. The thought of all this and of the one ray of hope held out to her as it were from an unknown hand in the mysterious epistle that had brought her here this night seemed to give her courage to face anything, and instinctively she dwelt on these thoughts to banish the cold chill fear that, spite of herself, would creep over her. Her whole soul shuddered with sick dread of Leslie, as if from contact with some unclean animal. She had appealed to the Church, and the Church had responded that she was married to him, and demanded from her the performance of her duty as a wife. The law was powerless, no convent would receive a runaway wife. Her father, it is true, was a scholar and a student; he held Churches and Church law in no very high esteem. He had great powers, she knew, uncanny and unlawful powers the country people believed, perhaps he might be able even to defy this Leslie. But he was gone, spirited away, overcome possibly by spells stronger than his own. Then out of all this darkness and confusion a friendly hand had been held out to her, from what was deemed the most evil and sinister quarter in the whole of the land of Moray. No matter, the message was friendly, and the only friendly one she had received, the only gleam of hope. She felt at the moment that she would have grasped the hand of the Devil himself if he only offered to free her from this loathsome marriage.
Timidly she looked up to the great dark forest whose gaunt twisted trees that looked like tortured souls writhing in agony rose close to her on her right hand, and which she must enter in a hundred paces more. Simon Tulloch watching from below saw what was unseen to her, a tall figure standing on a knoll silhouetted against the sky. The moon, still low in the east, was large and red, and the figure seemed to be wrapt in a sort of fiery halo. Simon, if he had thought calmly and collectedly, would have known that it was only the red moon shining through a light vapour condensed from the chill night air. But in his state of brain excitement it seemed the Prince of Evil himself in a garment of flame. Or was it Eochain Beag? If it were the former, he Simon could but pray to be delivered from the malice of the Devil;—if it were the latter, then he who had summoned her was waiting to receive her, and he could do nothing, and salving his conscience with these thoughts he fell down on his knees and began to pray lustily.
Meanwhile Beatrix, holding on her way, pursued the path that turned now under a giant oak tree of many hundred years’ growth and then lost itself in the thick moss and fern that carpeted the ground. Very dark and forbidding looked the wood. Vivid gleams of brilliant moonlight alternated with the densest black shadows, striking now on some fallen tree whose barkless twisted boughs looked like tangled white serpents, now on some small stagnant pool that looked even more gruesome.
The tension of nerve and will that enabled her to go on alone wrought up her imagination to fever point. Evil things were all round her, fiery eyes gleamed among the mosses on the dank ground, imps horrible in their grotesquerie grinned at her from among the branches. One she seemed to see more clearly than the others bore a fantastic resemblance to the Leslie’s griffin crest. Next moment she saw it was but a twisted oak branch, but it started a new horror. What if this summons on which she had built so much were but a trap of Leslie himself to draw her into these lonely woods, where he might seize and carry her off unmolested, and there would be none then who would ever dare to rescue her. Her brain was whirling—would she faint? or would she go mad? Either was equally horrible here, in these ghastly shades, demon-haunted. Then on her came the thought of the power of the Church. If only she could invoke that mighty force! Not the Abbot or the Bishop—their solemn exorcism had passed off without effect so far as she could see—but some real saint, some strong Churchman—Ah! what was that? A long grey shape i~hat slid past at a swinging trot, or was it only a gleam of moonlight—a delusion? She could no longer distinguish. There it was again, a little farther in the wood—a wolf—it must be! And now her need shaped itself—If only Father Ambrose were here! And with the thought there came a wild longing for that tall, stately figure; she could feel the keen eyes that burned upon her from behind the folds of his hood;—with him she would feel safe, but with no other. Truly her brain played her strange tricks! Almost out loud she called for the monk, feeling that if she did not fall on the ground, there to lie and die, she must shriek aloud and rush into the depths of the wood, to throw herself before the great grey wolf, a self-immolated victim.
But as she called in thought her brain grew calmer, as though the very mention of the Father’s name brought back strength and sanity. Why was it that she began to feel as though she could imagine him walking there beside her, supporting and comforting her? Willingly, gladly, she let her fancy play upon this thought. Among all these shapes and thoughts of evil this must be good. And if the bare thought of the Father could bring such peace, surely he must be a great saint~; hence to dwell on his image was the truest and best protection she could have.
Fired by this thought, she concentrated all her imagination, stimulated as it was to the highest pitch, to formulate his appearance by her side. In fancy she could see the very texture of his black robe and his white hood and scapular; the wonderful eyes burned on her. She could not see the face distinctly, and memory gave her no aid, but she seemed to see the glint of a crisp chestnut curl under the white hood. Timidly she put out her hand, and almost thought she felt the harsh contact of the monk’s coarse habit—almost felt through it the warm clasp of a strong hand. Then, with a reaction, she knew it was all delusion and that she was alone; yet so powerful and consoling was the fancy that she strove hard to recapture it. In vain at first. The world of imagination took control of her, refused to be manipulated by her will. The evil things were all round her, only loathsome now rather than terrible, they were shapes of death or of a hideous life in death, dank and decaying vegetation, slimy and decaying flesh rotting away in silent, stagnant pools. The wholesome moonlight was quenched, but a ghastly bluish phosphorescent light played over the ground and among the trunks of the dead and rotten trees. #$%@#$ r 4255 rw;l%@E$% sdkj4234 fdjw 4454r $% 42! sre
Suddenly, from far away down towards the low grounds, came the distant sound of a trumpet; her quick ear caught the notes of Leslie’s call. Almost immediately it was answered by the wild howl of a wolf from the deep shadows of the wood, but near at hand. Absolute human terror now assailed Beatrix, almost displacing the supernatural awe of the uncanny wood. Her premonition, then, was true; it was a subtle scheme of Leslie’s that had lured her here at the midnight hour, and the only alternative to yielding herself to him was to fall a prey to the wolf. The events of the last few days had greatly clarified her ideas of her own position. She knew now that she was in fact a married woman seeking to avoid her lawful husband, of that there was no doubt,—the Church was certain on the point, and moreover prepared to enforce his claim,—not for her, then, could be even the satisfaction of the wronged maiden resisting a lawless ravisher; as such she would have both right and human sympathy on her side, and congratulations on her triumph if she resisted successfully. No, in any event whatever, she was wicked, she would be reprobated; and if she died, Church and laity alike would pronounce it to be a righteous doom. ~#@ and [email protected] %[email protected]@,
Again sounded that challenging howl of the wolf, and the spectre-haunted deadness of the putrid marsh struck with a mortal chill on her soul. If she died here, none would ever know. Once more she called for Father Ambrose, but aloud this time, as she felt her strength failing, her knees giving way beneath her, and her sight growing dim. SDGertj3456
As she called, she felt almost immediately a strong hand grasp hers, and a tall black-robed figure was walking at her side—not, however, with the familiar white hood and scapular. A black cowl was drawn over his head, his face was invisible, but the hand that held hers was, she saw, lean and strong, tanned by sun and wind, yet delicately formed and finely shaped—a hand of race. She wondered afterwards how she had come to notice such a detail so minutely. What she was most conscious of, however, at the time was that from that hand there came to her a feeling of strength, of courage and sanity. All imaginary terrors fled, delusions vanished; the moonlight among the twisted stems was just ordinary moonlight and no more, and therewith came also a strong sense of human protection. Wolves might howl through the wood, Leslie of the Glen and his troop might range through the fertile lowlands in search of her, the Church might thunder, and judges might pronounce what sentence they would, here was a firm rock at last to which she could cling fast, and that would never fail her, come what might. She missed, however, the sensation of the burning eyes devouring her from under his cowl, and when he had seemed to walk beside her before it was in the white hood and scapular that she knew so well.
For half a moment her delusions returned. Father Ambrose was dead—she was dead—all were dead—in a dead world. At that instant they emerged from the shadow of the last great oak tree into an open patch of full clear moonlight, and there before them rose the great Dune of Callifer.
Just at the edge of the wood, near to the spot where they had left it, was a little wattled shelter, hardly more than a circle of poles with withy boughs intertwisted, and a beehive roof, open at one side towards the Dune, and inside of it lay a heap of soft, dry moss. To this she was led, yielding herself to every motion of her guide with a delicious sense of confidence and security, and sank down on the moss feeling as though after all the toils of earth she had at length reached the heavenly rest. Then clouds and oblivion swept down, and she slept.
And first confused lights and colours of rare beauty passed before her eyes, and faded into a warm, velvety dark, then sweet, faint strains of far-away music murmured plaintively and sank to silence, and deliciously she lost consciousness, but soon waking again with a sensation as though the brain were washed and thoroughly refreshed. A cool hand was on her brow, and a feeling of well-being was over her.
As she opened her eyes the hand was removed. A tall man, very spare, and erect as a lance, stood by the opening of the hut, clad in a dark hued robe somewhat like a cassock and bordered with brown fur, a black skull-cap on his head, and a long grey beard that fell almost to his girdle. He was leaning on a great staff of nearly his own height, and as she looked at him with wondering curiosity but no fear in her eyes, he raised the staff and pointed to the dune.
She saw then that at its base and fronting the shelter where she lay on the moss-heap was a door, standing wide open, disclosing a cell within, brightly lighted now with large lamps that shed their rays on a couch whereon lay her father.
Beatrix would have started up to run to him, but the tall bearded man motioned her back with a simple gesture of his left hand, and a feeling of powerlessness surged over her whole body, as though vitality were withdrawn from every muscle, and only eyes and ears remained fully alive.
On the other side of the entrance there stood another figure, tall almost as the bearded man, robed all in black, and with his head covered entirely with a black cowl. It was he who had walked beside her in her utmost need in the wood, and had brought her to this haven of rest. Somehow she felt an increased sense of safety and protection in seeing him.
And so for a measurable space of time these three—Beatrix between the two tall strangely robed men—remained motionless as statues gazing at the recumbent figure of Sir Wilfred Dunbar.
Meanwhile, Master Simon Tulloch, whom we left praying vigorously by the roadside as he saw his dear lady entering the evil wood, and passing into the very power of the Devil, was roused from his devotions by the sound of that same trumpet which she had heard, and he too recognised Sir Norman Leslie’s call, and the wild howl of the wolf came in weird answer.
“God save us!” he cried, “what ill deeds are in the wind now? It must be some unusual deviltry that brings the Leslie out at such an hour.”
Down on the low ground, in the clear moonlight, could be plainly seen a troop of spearmen winding up the hill from the Abbey. Once again the trumpets rang out the Leslie’s call, and again came the wolf-howl in answer. It was strange and uncanny. Simon, puzzled beyond measure, sat down on the ground and scratched his head. Norman Leslie was riding out for no good, and if he should meet the Lady Beatrix Heaven alone knew what evil schemes might enter into his head. Simon prayed earnestly that she might not return from Callifer till the peril had passed. On the other hand, there was not only the danger of the Devil within the wood, and of the evil spirits of the old heathen who still haunted it, but there was the obvious and manifest danger of the wolf. There could be no manner of doubt that the wolf so often heard of during the last few days was there still, loose and raging—the same, beyond question, that had torn and mangled Sir Wilfred Dunbar—the same whose tracks bad been seen by Robin Thomson the smith, and for which Sir Wilfred’s serving-men had been sent to hunt the day that he had been so fearfully attacked.
Simon shuddered as he thought of the Lady Beatrix in the wood exposed to this beast that had well-nigh slain her father. But what could he do? Then his superstitious terrors revived again at the apparent uncanny understanding between the Leslie and the wolf.
On the road below the orchards of Burgie, Leslie of the Glen rode easily along, his trumpeter beside him.
“Heard ye that?” he said, calling up an esquire from behind. “Was it not the note of a wolf? By the Mass but I thought I recognised it. Sound again! Devil take ye, man!—not afraid of a wolf, are ye? Sound, confound you! By the living Lord I believe it was Elspet Simpson’s cry! You remember, boy, that wench could mock the cry of a wolf so that its own dam might well be deceived.”
Again the trumpet sounded, and again came the long low howl in response.
“There it is!” cried Leslie in great delight. “I swear ’twas Elspet’s call. Say, boy, you were with me on the Border, and you remember, was that not the call of Elspet Simpson when she mimicked a wolf?”
“Nay, master,” said the young esquire, his voice quavering. “I pray you ask me not. ‘Twas witchcraft, and it frights me, for I was christened man, and I fear no mortal danger, but ‘tis no part of a man’s duties to place his soul in peril to the Devil.”
“Tut, tut, boy I art a fool. Elspet Simpson was just a gipsy lass, born and bred in the free, open air, and she could mimic any bird or beast in broad Scotland. Witchcraft, indeed! Ày! the fools would have it that she had a wolf for her familiar. But you who have ridden with me for a year and a half now, and looking forward to the gilt spurs I warrant, should know better. Besides, Elspet was my sweetheart, as well ye know, and Devil a hit am I ashamed to own it, and he who calls my sweetheart a witch shall feel if the Leslie’s arm hath lost its pith. Nonsense! nonsense! Anyhow, know this, and don’t forget it, we need Elspet when we ride to punish the MacIntoshes. No one else can guide us through that~ God-forsaken country, and if she has come back to me now, when all these days I have been seeking for her—well, then, I’ll give thanks to God, or Devil, or whoever hath brought her in my way again. Now, then, forward! and no more nonsense, as you value your skins.”
The young esquire fell behind as they rode forward silently; but Master Urquhart, who rode beside the boy, chuckled grimly, and muttered to his companion—“Gad! it’s not wholesome for a man to have a wife and a sweetheart at the same time, especially if his sweetheart be a black-a- vised gipsy that can cry like a wolf, and his wife be a Dunbar with all the pride and the fight of all the Dunbars in her blood. Deuce take me, my Lord of the Glen, if I want to be in your shoes.
X – MONK AND DRUID
For a few minutes, that seemed like ages to Beatrix, the little group of four remained motionless. Then the tall bearded man spoke, and his voice was low and musical, like the tones of the great hell at the Abbey.
“My child, I have kept my word. I promised to you and to him that this night you should see your father and should be certified yourself that he was alive and recovering. Much depended on your own courage and fortitude, but on these I knew I could rely, and my confidence was not in vain. You have tonight shown yourself worthy of your great race.”
“Let me go to him!” cried Beatrix. “Let me nurse him and take care of him, now that I have found him again! Oh! may I not take him back tonight to his own home, where he will be safe?”
“Peace, child!” said the old man. “See you not at present he sleeps? When he wakes you shall go to him and hear his story from his own lips. But as for safety—was he safe before in Blervie Tower? And it was far safer then than now. There are deadly foes; there are those who seek to possess his lands, and they think because he is a scholar he has hoarded treasure; there are those who seek to possess yourself—to force you to an evil union. See you now—all the powers of your kin, all the powers of the law, in the person of the Sheriff and the Earl of Moray, all the powers of the Church, wielded by the Abbot and the Bishop, were in vain to discover whither Sir Wilfred Dunbar had been taken, or his assailant. Yet there he lies, rapidly recovering, and his assailant is in my power. Leslie of the Glen would harry the whole land of Moray—ay! and of broad Scotland—to find you and coerce you to marry him, and the Church would aid him, and the law dare not say nay, yet here you are safe as in an impregnable fortress. You have dared to pass through the defences, but none less brave and true, none less innocent than yourself, could do so.”
Beatrix shuddered at the memory of the terror she had passed through.
“I was helped,” she murmured; “a monk with a black robe and white scapular, a Cintercian monk, walked beside me. Where is he? I would fain thank him.”
Her companion once more laid a cool hand on her forehead as he stood beside her. “Look up,” he said. Over her father’s couch was bending the familiar figure in the black robe and white scapular that she had learned mentally to call Father Ambrose. Still his face was hidden in his hood, but that tiny crisp curl she had noticed before was visible beneath it. In wonder she turned to look at the black shrouded figure at her left hand, the man who had guided her to this wattled hut. He still stood motionless as before—the weird, mysterious protector whom she had thought to be Father Ambrose. A hundred questions rose in her mind. What was real and what was delusion in this strange region? Was she awake, or still dreaming?
As though anticipating and replying to her unuttered thoughts, the musical, melancholy voice spoke again in answer.
“No, my child, it is not delusion; it is the power of seeing somewhat more than the mere material envelope of things. In this region to which you have penetrated, and to which I bid you welcome, the dread it causes, its sinister history, and the superstition of the people, all help to guard and protect a spot sacred far beyond the ordinary.
“Sacred?” said Beatrix. “I thought it was accursed.”
She marvelled at herself, resting here on the moss-heap in perfect ease of body and rest of mind, almost forgetting that she was absolutely within the sinister, forbidden district, and conversing with no sense of constraint or of strangeness with this man who seemed like a being from another world. Her brain was active and all her senses vividly alive, her limbs were as though paralysed and her muscles refused their office, yet she felt absolutely safe. She felt towards this bearded stranger as a good Catholic might feel on beholding his patron saint in vivid dream.
“This ground,” he continued, “was sacred thousands of years ago. On the top of this hill the powers of good—all they who bring peace and blessing on the earth—concentrated their beneficent influences, and here the true doctrines of the faith of wisdom and love were taught and practised long before the Eastern teaching filtered through Rome to this land. Be that as it may, the angels still keep the spot pure from profanation, and they have fenced it with a wall of terror. Yet they who believe shall not be afraid for the terror that walketh ty night. You were called, and you believed and came, and because you believed the terror had no power to hurt. You called on my dear friend Father Ambrose, and instantly his thought was round you to protect you. It was not himself you saw in the black robe and the white scapular, but it was the guarding and guiding of his thought that you felt, and the terrors fled away. So it is here; for those who enter this holy spot see that which is. And so they who enter to profane the sanctuary with evil and hatred in their hearts may well be slain by the terrors they so rashly dare.”
“Who, then, are you?” said Beatrix almost in a whisper, awed by the solemn tones of the old man’s voice and his mysterious harangue. “Are you a saint or angel? Or one of the mighty dead come back to earth?”
“Nay, child; I am none of these. I am the last priest of the old faith, the true religion of our race, wherein is embraced all the faith of Christ and all the faith of every other great religion of the world; older than them all, it will outlast them all. Even as the Celt will be here always, whatever other races may come and go, so will his religion lie at the base of whatever other faith may prevail for the time being.”
She listened as in a dream, feeling that the supernatural was all round her. The powers that are now more or less familiarly know as hypnotism were then unexplored, and where exercised were ascribed either to the direct agency of the Devil or to the interposition of some saint or angel, according to whether it were practised by an outsider or by the hands of Holy Church herself.
All who have given even a slight degree of attention to the subject will understand how very light hypnosis would be necessary to account for the calm peace and trust in the stranger that came over Beatrix, and for the materialisation of natural and almost inevitable fancies.
“Is that really Father Ambrose attending on my father?” she said. “Or,” as a new thought crossed her mind, “is it really my father, or is he too a delusion? Do tell me plainly what is real and what is not.”
“That is in very deed your father, and as soon as he wakes you shall go to him, talk to him, and satisfy yourself that it is his very self. Father Ambrose has nursed and tended him, and will do so again. I merely caused you to see his wraith there that you might understand how you saw him in the wood when yet his body though not far away was not actually beside you.”
“But this is a miracle!”
“Nay, it is no miracle—a simple knowledge commonly taught by the priesthood of the old faith, whereby also they were able to cast out devils and heal diseases, even as your own priests could do if only they had faith as a gram of mustard seed. But they are corrupt! Even for their prayers they demand money; falsely they think that the gift of God can be purchased f or money.”
The long, dreary howl of a wolf rang through the wood close to them as it seemed. Eochain Beag half turned in the direction from which it came, and raising his staff be pointed it steadily towards the sound.
“Peace, peace, perturbed spirit!” he said solemnly and impressively. “Yea! I know thy lover calls, yet will I not let thee go. Ere yen silver shield of the moon hath become her sacred sickle thou shalt thank me for restraining thee.”
An angry snarl ending in a low, wailing cry answered him.
As if roused by the sound, Sir Wilfred Dunbar opened his eyes and looked round a little vaguely at first, afterwards gradually recognising and assimilating the persons and circumstances.
At the same moment the strange powerlessness which had come upon Beatrix seemed to give way. The two men who stood by the entrance of the wattled hut extended each a hand, and between the two she advanced to the door in the Dune within which lay her father. The form of Father Ambrose had vanished. Eochain Beag looked strangely picturesque, with his white hair and his long snowy beard. He wore, as she could now clearly perceive, a robe down to his feet, but of what colour she could not tell in the moonlight, save that it was dark; it was clasped on the breast with a golden brooch shaped like two rings joined by a rigid bar, each ring being filled with filigree devices wrought in fine gold wire. On his shoulder was a badge, also in gold, shaped like a fish. The other man, who was as tall as Eochain, was closely muffled from head to foot in a black robe whose hood completely veiled his face.
Sir Wilfred looked somewhat emaciated and pale from his illness, but the appearance of returning health and strength was about him; his velvet skull-cap rested on his close grey curls, and his curly beard and moustache was trimmed and neat. His grey eyes twinkled as he saw his daughter advancing between her two conductors.
“My dear child,” he said, “welcome! I knew you would come tonight; my good friend here promised me I should see you, and he never breaks his word.”
“Father,” said Beatrix, “I have come to take you home—back to the Tower and your own old rooms and your books—and nurse you till you are well and strong again.”
Sir Wilfred smiled and shook his head, and signed towards Eochain Beag.
“Ask him—nothing can be done without his consent. You know not what a Supreme Lord he is over all that are here.”
Eochain shook his head gravely.
“My patient is in no condition to be moved at present. Yet you shall nurse him, Lady Beatrix; but you must be content to be our guest for a short time, at all events. Blervie Tower would be no safe place for you tonight; indeed, it was for this among other and more vital reasons that I desired you to come here to us at this time rather than any other.”
“The Tower not safe!” cried Beatrix. “What can you mean? It has sheltered the Dunbars for two hundred years.”
“Nevertheless, tonight it will be in the hands of Sir Norman Leslie of the Glen. Seeking in your father’s absence to possess himself of you, and to compel you to join him as his wife before he rides on into the MacIntosh country, he expects to have an easy enterprise; he knows not that you have powerful friends, able and willing to protect you against any of his evil house. And I think, moreover, that Blervie Tower will give him such a scare that it will be many a Long day before he or any of his following will venture to set foot within it.”
“How can I thank you?” said Beatrix. “When all the world seemed to be turned against me, and there was no help or hope anywhere, you—a total stranger—stretched a hand to me in my extremest need.”
“Nay, not quite a total stranger,” said Eochain. “Your father and I have been fellow-students of the mysteries of Nature, though we have met less often than I could have wished, and I have seen yourself many times when you thought you were unobserved. It was my watching of you that convinced me you would have the courage to pass through the terrors of the haunted wood, which are really no terrors to those who come in faith and with a clear conscience. But see now—”
Leaving her side for a moment, he passed round behind Sir Wilfred’s couch, and drew aside a heavy curtain of skins that hung there, disclosing a small room beyond, wherein was a couch, a prie-dieu placed in front of a crucifix on the wall, and other furniture very like Beatrix’s own room in Blervie Tower.
“Here you shall stay tonight, my child; and to you I commit the trust to watch over your father and take care of him—not that he will want for anything till the time for his morning draught at dawn. But you will be there, in case he should call for anything. I think, however, that he will not waken, nor will you. My good friend here and I have a serious and urgent task to accomplish before the dawn breaks.”
“The wolf?” said Beatrix.
“The wolf,” replied Eochain, “is safely under my control. These howlings mean nothing. But even though it were loose and ranging the forest, nothing living can enter into the Dune of Callifer when once the entrance is closed. Outwardly, as you see, it seems but a cairn of rough stones, but within and around these two chambers it is a solid core bound together by a cement whereof the priest-builders of old had the secret, which will turn the edge of a pick and resist the stoutest crowbar—nay, even this modern gunpowder that so much is told of would fail to move it.”
“I have much to say to you, dear Beatrix,” said Sir Wilfred. “Fain would I crave your forgiveness for the cruel injury I did you unthinking when I wedded you to that evil ruffian, Leslie of the Glen. I knew not his character, I thought only of obtaining a strong man’s protection for you when I should be here no longer; and indeed at the time I thought my span was very short, and the Inneses were threatening all of our house and name.”
“All this may well wait, Sir Wilfred,” said Eochain; now you must sleep. Already you have had somewhat overmuch excitement.” His voice changed to something like a chant. “Fair are the fields of scarlet poppies, and drowsy is the scent that you inhale. Languorously the warmth creeps over all your limbs, and more heavily you nestle down among the cushions. A weight is on your eyeballs—you can even now scarce keep your eyes open; the heavy scent of the poppy steals through all your senses—my voice sounds to you faint and far away. Scarlet and green arc the poppies, and heavy and hot is their scent. You cannot resist that soft influence, soothing the weary brain.”
He spoke in a slow, rhythmic cadence, growing slower and letting his voice almost die away in a musical murmur. Faintly Sir Wilfred muttered, “Fair are the scarlet poppies—I see them.”
Then suddenly Eochain stretched his hand over his patient’s head, the fingers quivering with intense concentration.
“Sleep!” he commanded.
A moment later, the regular soft breathing, the calm look on the kindly old face of the scholar, showed that he had passed into a deep, restful slumber.
Beatrix watched in silent amazement. “’Tis miracle!” she said. “Nay, no miracle; a very simple and ordinary power. He will not, I think, waken until the dawn. Give him his drink then—it stands by his couch. Meantime, pass within and repose yourself. By my advice, you will not undress, but lie down as you are—calm and peaceful sleep will be yours also; to-morrow you shall hear much that it concerns you to know. And now God be with you. He whom they call ‘the Apostate’ has provided for your evening devotions; but be speedy, for in ten minutes’ time from now you will be fast asleep.”
Beatrix passed within the skin curtain, finding herself in a vaulted room not unlike a convent cell such as she had seen when she had visited the nuns in Elgin. A single lamp hung from the ceiling illuminated it faintly, showing the couch, the chair, the prie-dieu, and other simple furniture. Through a row of narrow slits high up the gleam of the moonlight could be seen.
Hastily she cast herself upon her knees, rendering to her Creator heartfelt thanks for her safety and for the recovery of her father. Then, after a rapidly muttered Ave Maria, she went on: “O Mary Mother, thou who hast held in thine arms the Incarnate Love of the Father, bless him— guard and keep him, O Mother! I know not if it be a sin in me to think of him so much, yet if it be, thou, O Mother, hast a woman’s heart—thou wilt understand. I ask not for his love, Mother, for that were a sin in him, and I would keep him from all evil; if suffering there must be, let me suffer! O Mother, take thou my sacrifice, and let my love wrap him round as a garment! And if he has sins, let me bear them, and let him pass on and stand ever in the light of thy glory and in the grace of thy dear Son. So shall I chant thy praise ever, though it be from the depths of the pit itself.”
Intolerable sleep was oppressing her; scarce could she stagger to the couch and throw herself thereon before she fell into a sound and dreamless slumber.
Eochain Beag dropped his arms, which up to this moment he had held outstretched, pointing steadily at the closed curtain, and turning to his companion he said—“Now, my brother, you may drop that masking robe; we have much to do. Both our patients are wrapt in that wonderful healing mystery of sleep. In the long ago days, when our holy faith was still a vital power in the land, the sick came from all quarters that they might sleep within the holy Dune of Callifer, and they that slept here woke healed. Yea! I see that in days yet to come this dune shall be thrown down, and no trace of its place shall be found, and the protection of the guardian spirits shall be withdrawn, yet shall the place remain holy for ever, and the wandering shepherd shall see strange lights and spirit forms, until the day when the old faith shall come back, and the old race shall find their hearts again.”
His companion had thrown off the voluminous black robe that hid his face and figure, and stood revealed in the black habit and white scapular of Father Ambrose.
“Thank God she is safe!” he said; “my prayers are round her always. Oh, master, I love her!— can you not give me some hope that at least I may be of a little service to her? I ask no more.
“Nay, my son, I have answered already. What has a monk to do with love? I know you would teach me your faith, so be it; but first you must learn mine, and by the power of my priesthood I can pierce somewhat the lists of the future. It cannot be Father Ambrose who shall bring joy and help and peace to Beatrix Dunbar—yea, joy such as few have known. It is shown to me that it is Alasdair Cumming who shall give her this, and in giving shall be blest. Yet he shall suffer in the end as few have suffered, and all his sins shall be expiated at last.”
“Peace, my son! I know. Take my advice, for indeed to me has been given a certain power of sight and of knowledge. A monk has left all the world behind—he is dead to the world and to love. Father Ambrose can but pray. We have an urgent duty now to do—a duty that concerns the happiness and the very safety of Beatrix Dunbar. I will not speak of her as Dame Leslie—that is the sentence of your Church, but not of my faith. And this done, get you hence—go to Strathisla if you will, or go where you will—and pray.”
“But, master, what shall I—nay, what can I—pray for her?”
“Pray, my son, that she may meet with Alasdair Cumming. Pray that Alasdair Cumming may take her to his heart, may cherish her, love her, and protect her for evermore, and that Father Ambrose may pass away again into the silence from whence he emerged. See you, my son, you came here to reason with me—is it not so? And now, behold, it is I, even he whom they call ‘the Apostate,’ who teaches you the law and the faith of your own Church.”
“Master,” said Father Ambrose,—“for such you have taught me to call you, and such indeed I think you are to me,—believe me, in sooth, I realise to the full your wisdom and deep learning. I know that your goodness and piety, and your real religion in all that is most vital, is far before my own. I am but a simple soldier trained in the faith of Christ, and late in life driven to convictions that have forced me into the religious life. I am a very child beside you, yet to me does it humbly seem that you have made shipwreck of the faith, and I would fain that words of mine might bring you to a truer understanding of what I think my Master taught, and which I would humbly follow. Yet your teaching is grievous indeed to accept. I am a monk to-day, but only a short while back I was a man and a soldier. The man has risen within me, and with all my heart and soul I love this woman. You speak to me as a monk, and you say, ‘Give her to another, renounce yourself altogether.’ You tell me this is the voice of the Church, and I know you are right. But is it the voice of God? You tell me that it is for her good and for her happiness that I give her up to Alasdair Cumming. Were I convinced of this, I would go into a solitary cell and there pray that what you say might come to pass; but, forgive me, I am not. Master, give me your credentials, convince me that what you say is true, and I will obey, though it cost my life or my reason; but I warn you I shall be hard to persuade. As you know, there were two Alasdairs. One would have loved her as few men could—he is dead—must I sacrifice my whole self and yield her to the other?”
“My son,” said Eochain, “unwittingly you have answered me as I knew you would. Father Ambrose is vowed to the Church, the voice of the Church bids him renounce love. So far we are agreed. You love this woman, and you desire her happiness above all. I tell you that her happiness is with Alasdair Cumming, but this at present I do not ask you to believe. Hereafter I will undertake to convince you. Nay more, she shall herself assure you of it. That Alasdair Cuxnming of whom you speak is not dead—it is to him that Father Ambrose shall resign her. But all I ask you now is that you will pray for her happiness and welfare whatever it may be, and that you will leave the means in the hands of the All Father, whom we both revere and worship though it may be under different names. Needs must I speak in parables who would fain speak plainly, but according to my faith your real and immortal part only is you: the young Chief—the soldier—the monk—are but costumes that you wear for a time and put off again. Furthermore, know you not how often what looks like a cataclysm that shakes the very foundation of things, at a very short distance of time or space seems but one essential link in the infinite chain of the scheme of the Divine Artificer?”
“Ay! that I can well realise. But a short while ago I fought at Flodden—wounded and a fugitive I lay in hiding on a desolate moor, and deemed that ruin had fallen on this whole realm of Scotland. I passed through Edinburgh, and I heard nothing but lamentation and despair. I come up into the land of Moray, and save fur the mourning over our gallant soldiers killed, I find life goes on as usual, Though an army has been wrecked and a King slain, and a foreign foe has entered our land, yet none despair. The mighty storm is felt but in small waves.”
“So will it ever be, brother. Rash and faithless are they who despair. A great and beneficent Power rules all, and they who can see the end know the good. One thing only I would suggest for your meditation. When King James lay dying on Flodden field, he called with his last breath for Alasdair Cumming. Where was Alasdair?”
Before Father Ambrose could reply, a vehement trumpet peal sounded near at hand.
“Come, brother,” said Eochain; “that which we have to do must be done at once. Later I will tell you something of my own story, and how I found my faith, and you shall judge for yourself; but now Leslie and his men surround Blervie Tower. Our friends within the Dune will sleep till dawn, and there is no power in Scotland that can enter there, even though they knew there were any living within; nor is there a man in Scotland save you and myself who knows even that much. We have about a mile to walk, but it will be an hour yet before the Leslie can gain an entrance to the Tower.”
Thus saying, he pulled a chain, and a huge slab of concrete hung on compensating weights slid down into position, completely closing the entrance. The outer face of this was set with rough boulder stones exactly like the rest of the Dune, so that no human eye could ever see that there was anything save a continuous heap of stones, whose circuit was some twenty or thirty yards. So the two men strode off side by side westwards, descending the hill slightly to the south, till they saw Blervie Tower rising clear against the star-spangled sky, the bright moonlight throwing it into strong relief, and plainly silhouetted against the pale silver light the crowding forms of men and the gleam of spears.
Behind them the great Dune stood calm and placid, like a solitary vestige of immemorial antiquity.