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Title: Atholbane: A Romance of Kenmore Castle
Author: Sylvanus Cobb
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100191.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Atholbane: A Romance of Kenmore Castle
Author: Sylvanus Cobb

*

Published in The Brisbane Courier, Saturday, 8 January, 1870.
(Originally published in the New York Ledger, 22 September, 1866)

*

CHAPTER I.--THE KNIGHT OF LANARK.


JUNE 20, A.D. 1098. Towards the close of the day a man stood upon the
shore of Loch Tay, one of the most beautiful and picturesque sheets of
water in Scotland, gazing at times over the towering summit of Ben
Lawers, where the clouds were rolling up in great black masses, and anon
upon a small boat that was struggling with the rising wind near the
middle of the lake. The man was young--not more than five-and-twenty--of
medium height, and finely proportioned; possessing a face of rare
beauty; a rich profusion of light brown curls escaping from beneath the
rim of his cap; while his eyes, though of the softest and warmest shade
of blue, betrayed a capacity of quick fire and earnest determination, as
well as of deep feeling and sympathetic emotion. He was dressed in the
ordinary garb of a gentleman of that period, though the short cloak of
fine black cloth, secured at the throat by a jewelled brooch, and the
blue velvet cap, with its white ostrich feather, were not exactly after
the pattern of those usually worn by the gentry of the Scottish court.
The pommel of the sword which hung at his side--a globe of burnished
steel surmounted by a cross of gold--and the peculiar fashion of the
spurs which graced the heels of his russet boots, told very plainly that
he had been admitted to the order of knighthood which William the
Conqueror had instituted in England, and which Malcolm Canmore had
received and introduced into Scotland. Close by his side, with the loose
rein drawn over his arm, stood a richly caparisoned Norman charger,
while at no great distance was a second horse, bearing a broad
pack-saddle, upon which was strapped a large leathern sack that
evidently contained the knight's luggage; and that our knight had
travelled a goodly distance on that day might be safely judged from the
dust upon his garments, and from the sweat that lay in white ridges and
flakes upon the sides and limbs of his beasts.

The scenery from this point was grand and imposing, and the traveller
had probably at first dismounted to enjoy the view while his horses had
been slaking their thirst. Just over the water, upon the opposite shore
of the lake, arose, from wild and ragged masses, the dizzy height of Ben
Lawers; to the southward, beyond the grim forest of Finglen, other
mountains reared their summits; to the northward, and not far distant,
upon a beautiful islet, arose the ivy-clad walls of the Priory of St.
Agatha; while to the eastward of that, lifting its grey towers above the
intervening wood, were to be seen the battlements of Kenmore Castle.

The day had been remarkably pleasant; but as the afternoon wore away a
high wind arose, and dark clouds gathered over the mountains; and the
knight, after his horses had drank their fill, had been upon the point
of remounting, evidently desirous to escape the threatened storm, when
his attention had been arrested by the boat before referred to. It was a
small, light skiff, with a single sail, and contained only one inmate.
The prow was pointed towards the shore upon which our traveller stood,
and was plunging through the water at a rapid rate.

"The man is crazy!" muttered the knight, throwing the rein from his arm
and taking a step nearer to the water's edge. "He should take in that
sail. Mercy! his boat will be run completely under! He must be a boy to
keep that sheet fast! And the wind is rising, too! Don't he see it!
Ha!----"

This last exclamation had been called forth by observing that the inmate
of the boat had left the helm and gone to bailing water with his cap.
The light bark was sinking lower and lower, and very soon the gunwales
were completely under water. The short mast swayed to and fro as the
prow was driven under; the boatman started to his feet and raised his
arms aloft; and in a few moments more the skiff was completely swallowed
up. There was not a moment to be lost. The boat, even should it float
upon its side, could afford no safe resting place for the unfortunate
adventurer, as it would be swept by the furious waves; and if he was not
a strong man he could not swim to the shore. The knight moved very
quickly, but yet calmly and methodically. First he threw the saddle from
his charger, and then removed the burden from his pack; having done
which he vaulted to the back of the former, and with the rein of the
latter in his hand, he urged them into the water. For a moment the
beasts hesitated; but the cheering voice of their master finally
prevailed, and when they had once started to obey there was no more
hesitation. It was hard work, for the horses were swimming against the
wind, and the waves broke over them at every stroke; but the knight held
them in the right direction, and inspired them with something of his own
zeal. The boatman had seen the horses as they entered the water, and
when he found that they were coming towards him he struck out to meet
them. The knight observed the movement, and with all his energy of force
and persuasion he urged his beasts onward. They struggled nobly against
the furious wind and waves--struggled as though they knew there was a
life to be saved--and ere long they were close upon the unfortunate.

"Hillo! Hillo-o-o-o! Take this horse. Can you grasp the rein?"

The adventurer made no reply, but he struggled on, and soon had the rein
in his hand. He clung there a moment to regain his breath, and then
climbed upon the animal's back.

"Are you strong enough to hold your seat?"

"Yes, good sir." The voice was very weak, and the reins had dropped from
his nerveless grasp.

"Fear not," added the knight. "Keep your balance, and the horse will
bear you safely."

Once headed towards the shore, with the wind and the waves behind them,
the horses sped steadily and surely on, until at length they stood upon
the dry land. The knight slipped quickly from his seat, and assisted his
companion to dismount, having done which he allowed the tired animals to
move up to the greensward, where they might rest, and then he turned to
take a look at the individual whom he had saved.

He was a youth, not more than twenty years of age, slight and fragile of
frame, with pale, thin cheeks, large, dark brown eyes, and the long,
wavy hair, now that it was wet, having the hue of a raven's back. The
face, entirely free from any sign of beard, was one of peculiar boyish
beauty, the hands were as small and delicate as a girl's, and the
dripping garments, both in fabric and fashion, bespoke the child of
wealth and station.

"Well, well," said the knight, lightly and cheerily, "you have had quite
an adventure. I doubt if many men have enjoyed what you have enjoyed
this day--a boat-ride and a horseback ride, at the same bout, upon Loch
Tay."

The youth tried to smile, but the effort was fruitless.

"Not much enjoyment," he returned, with a sober shake of the head. "The
boat-ride came near costing me my life, and if the horseback ride yields
pleasure, it must be in the boundless gratitude I shall ever owe to
thee, my preserver."

"I think my good pack-horse did afford thee a saving help, young sir,
and for what part I bore in the business I accept thy thanks, but talk
not of too much gratitude. I should be but a poor knight if I could not
save a suffering fellow's life, when all the cost to me was but a little
determined exertion."

"Ah, you are a knight, then?" And as the youth spoke, a slight flush
appeared upon his pale cheek, and he gazed upon the stalwart, vigorous
form before him with a longing, envying look.

"By the grace of our good king Edgar, I am," replied the traveller. "But
before we talk more, you had better find a seat, for it strikes me that
you are not feeling very strong just at this time. We will wait here for
a few moments--just long enough to allow my horses to breathe--and then
we will be moving."

The youth took a seat a little higher up on the bank, when the knight
proceeded:

"You are not much used to handling a boat alone?"

"You are mistaken, sir knight. For several years that has been my chief
delight. I am not strong enough to join in the chase, nor can I do much
with heavy arms, but I can handle the light oars with skill, and I can
guide my boat well enough. Perhaps you think I was careless to carry my
sail with so much wind, but when I tell you that my boat was leaking
badly, and that the leak was where I could not stop it, you may
understand why I left my sail up."

"Ah," said the knight. "I see it now. I did think it strange that you
should carry such sail, but if your boat was leaking, perhaps you did
wisely. A leaky boat is not a very safe thing."

"That boat was almost a new one, sir, and how it could have sprung a
leak where it did is beyond my comprehension. I do not like to believe
that any one could have wilfully injured my boat, and yet I am forced to
that conclusion. I may be wrong. I hope I am."

"Mercy!" cried the knight, "you do not think it could have been the work
of an enemy?"

"No, no--I certainly have no enemies." But the tone and manner expressed
the hope rather than the assurance.

"Your home is not far away?"

"No. We can see the turrets of the castle from here."

"Then you reside at Kenmore?"

"Yes."

"You are the son of Atholbane?"

"Yes. My name is Edwin."

"Then, fair sir, we are well met, for my destination is Kenmore Castle.
My name is Aldred."

"And art thou he whom men call the Knight of Lanark?"

The knight signified by an inclination of the head that he was.

"I have heard of you," exclaimed Edwin, with enthusiasm. "You rode the
tilt at Scone against Northumberland."

Another inclination of the head gave answer to this.

"And you have come to attend the tournament that is to be holden at
Kenmore?"

Another silent affirmative.

"O, I am glad of that. I wish you----"

"What do you wish?" asked Aldred, after waiting some moments to see if
the youth would finish the sentence.

Presently Edwin looked up, and after a little further thought he
answered:

"I was thinking that it would be grand if you could bear a lance against
Thorwald; but perhaps I ought not to say so."

"Thorwald is your brother?"

"No, no," cried the boy, his pale face flushing once more. "He is not
wholly my brother. His mother was my mother; but the blood of my father
runs not in his veins. I am the only son of the Earl of Kenmore. But--if
you are the Knight of Lanark, you know Earl Douglas."

"I was reared within the walls of his castle, and I think I know him
very well."

There was no touch of pride in the knight's tone as he spoke these
words; but there was a perceptible tinge of bitterness; and presently he
sought to turn the conversation by asking his companion if he did not
think they had better start on their way to the castle. But Edwin took
no notice of this divergence.

"My mother, you know, is the Lady Margaret," he said; "and she is sister
to Earl Douglas. Thorwald was son of her first husband, Eric of St.
Philips, a Norman noble of the household of William the Conqueror.
Though Thorwald's mother is my mother, yet he is neither Scot nor Saxon.
He is tall, and dark, and proud, like the Normans, and he loves to
boast. None of the knights of Edgar's household have yet been able to
keep their saddles against him. O, if you could only ride him down!" And
Edwin clapped his hands like an eager, excited boy.

"We will see about that in due time," returned Aldred, with a smile. And
then he added, somewhat seriously: "But suppose your half-brother should
ride me down?"

The boy did not for a moment admit the necessity of any such
supposition.

"I don't know why it is," he said, looking boldly and frankly up into
the knight's face; "but I like you."

"You jump at conclusions quickly," laughed Aldred.

"Because I read them in your face, Sir Aldred. I never yet knew a face
that lied to me. I have seen faces that I could not read; but I do not
believe I ever read one falsely. I should not fear to trust you as a
brother. You are brave and true. I never saw you before; but I know you
well enough to know just how you will be received at the cattle. My half
brother will not like you."

"Why think ye that?"

"Because braggarts never like those who are better than themselves. My
mother will not be apt to love you, because you are----"

"Never mind your mother," interrupted Aldred. "How do you think your
father will receive me?"

"He will love you," answered Edwin, quickly and warmly. "He is a good
man. But perhaps you know him?"

"I saw him at Lanark some years ago; but he would not remember me. I was
only a page then, in attendance upon Earl Douglas. But come. My horses
have regained their breath, and we had better be on our way, for the
storm is close at hand. If your father gives me welcome, I care little
for Thorwald."

Thus speaking the knight arose, and having saddled his Norman horse, he
proceeded to replace the heavy pack upon the back of the other.

"I would leave this back behind, and come for it in the morning," he
said, after he had strapped it in its place; "but it contains my armor,
and my heavy sword, and I care not to have it lay in the rain all night.
However, the horse is strong, and you are not heavy; so, if you will
allow me to help you up, we will be off."

The knight lifted the youth to the elevated seat as he would have lifted
a little child, so light and frail was the burden; and when he had
assured himself that his charge would ride safely, he mounted his own
beast, and started on.

"There is my father!" cried Edwin, as they emerged from a wood and came
in full sight of the castle. "He is coming in search of me."

Aldred recognised the earl the moment he saw him--a man of powerful
frame and stately mein, a little past the middle age, with a face noble
and frank, and sitting in his saddle with the ease and grace of an
accomplished knight. Atholbane drew up his horse as he recognised his
son, but before he could speak Edwin had slipped down from his high
perch and ran to his father's side.

"My dear boy," said the earl, placing his hand affectionately upon his
son's head; "I am glad to see you safe. I had become a little uneasy."

"I am safe and sound," cried the youth, cheerily; "but before I tell you
what an adventure I have had, I must make you acquainted with Sir Aldred
of Lanark. He was on his way to our castle when he met me, and you must
welcome him and love him for my sake."

The earl turned to our hero and extended his hand.

"Sir Aldred," he said, "you are welcome to Kenmore; and as I know you to
be a brave knight, I doubt not that we shall find it a pleasure as well
as a duty to make your stay with us agreeable to yourself." He spoke
with honest feeling, and the generous flush upon his face showed that
the words came from the heart.

Aldred made response gratefully and modestly, and Edwin, who had been
watching their countenances very narrowly, seemed well pleased with the
result, for he had read in the face of his father the love he had
desired, and in the face of the youthful knight he had seen plainly the
signs of reverence and respect.

But that was not the time nor the place for extended conversation. The
storm was already upon the mountains, and Atholbane proposed that they
should make the best of their way to the castle; and having lifted his
son to his own saddle-bow, he started homeward. On the way Edwin told
the story of his adventure--of his great danger--and of the manner in
which Aldred had saved him; so that before they reached their
destination, the father's heart had warmed towards his guest with a love
that was not to be weakened.

Kenmore Castle was an elaborate structure for the times. It was upon a
gentle eminence near to the lake, with a moat and bridge; a barbican,
well advanced and strongly fortified; a gate-house; thick, high walls,
with proper bastions; a capacious court, with outer and inner balliums,
in the latter of which was a strong donjon, with a well and a chapel.
The drawbridge was down and the gates open as the party advanced, and
they did not pull up until they had reached the landing-steps of the
inner ballium, where grooms were quickly at hand to care for the horses.
And they had not reached the castle a moment too soon, for just as they
stepped within the vestibule the wind came with a wild rush, end great
drops of rain beat down upon the pavement.

In one of the drawing-rooms a bright fire was burning upon the broad
hearth, and thither the earl conducted his guest, where they were soon
joined by the countess.

Lady Margaret, Countess of Kenmore, was a tall, stately woman, some four
or five years older than her husband, her hair thickly sprinkled with
silver, and her angular features betraying the workings of a disposition
not always of the most pleasant kind; but she could be polite and
agreeable when she chose, and on the present occasion, she welcomed the
Knight of Lanark with much apparent warmth. She had known him when a
boy, and she told him she was glad he had come to Kenmore.

"How is the earl, my brother?" she asked, after they had taken seats.

"I left him well," replied Aldred--"he and all his household."

"And the Lady Clara," pursued the countess; "what of her?"

"She is well." There was a change in the knight's tone, and a momentary
deepening of the color of his cheeks as he answered this question, and
the countess seemed to notice it, as she was evidently watching his face
very narrowly.

"Oh, I forgot?" cried Edwin, who had taken a seat by Aldred's side. "You
know my cousin Clara, don't you?"

For an instant the color deepened again on the knight's cheeks, and
there was a perceptible quivering of the delicate muscles that
controlled the movements of the eye; but the emotion was quickly
controlled, and with a pleasant smile he answered:

"Yes, Edwin, I know her very well. We have lived under the same roof
from childhood."

"And is she as pretty as they say?"

"She is very pretty."

"And is she good?"

"In my poor judgment," said Aldred, with calm sincerity, "she is
goodness personified."

Edwin was upon the point of making some further remark upon the same
subject, when his mother interrupted him by a commanding look and
gesture, upon which he shrank back and held his peace.

Shortly afterwards a page entered and announced that supper was ready,
and the countess, with stately grace, conducted the guest from the
drawing-room.




CHAPTER II.--ATHOLBANE'S STORY.


AFTER supper, as the Knight of Lanark walked out into the hall in
company with the earl and Edwin, a middle-aged man, whose garments were
dripping with wet, came in from the vestibule.

"Ah, Walter, is this you?" demanded Atholbane,

"It is I, my lord," replied the man, bowing as he spoke.

"And what brings you across the water in this storm?"

"Ah, good faith, my lord, the sight of your son, alive and on his legs,
gives answer to my chief inquiry. Some of our nuns saw his danger from
the upper windows of the priory, and Lady Helena would have sent me to
the rescue had we not seen the gallant horseman give the needed relief.
It was a bold and timely act."

The man gazed inquiringly at our hero as he spoke the last words, seeing
which, the earl added:

"You speak truly, good Walter; and I have the pleasure of introducing to
you Sir Aldred, of Lanark, the man who saved my son."

"Sir Knight," the host continued, turning to his guest, "this is Walter,
the steward of St. Agatha--a good man and true. His is a peaceful
calling, but you will find his friendship worth possessing and
preserving."

The steward first bowed his acknowledgment to the earl, and then grasped
the extended hand of the knight.

"I like a brave man," he said, with blunt frankness, "and I know I shall
like you. And the Lady Helena sends you her greeting of thanks, and she
will remember both you and Master Edwin in her prayers."

"Lady Helena," explained the earl, "is the Prioress of St. Agatha."

"I have heard of her," said Aldred, "as a most kind and exemplary woman;
and even to the borders of Scotland the Christian charities of the
Sisters of St. Agatha are known. You will return to her my thanks, and
give her assurance that the humble Knight of Lanark, while his reason
remains, will not forget the duty he owes to those who suffer."

As the old steward turned away Edwin followed him into the vestibule,
where he told over again the story of his rescue.

"O, Walter," he cried, with childish enthusiasm, "I know Lady Helena
would love the noble knight; and I wish he could visit the priory with
me. Do you think the good lady would object?"

"I don't know," replied Walter, with a shake of the head. "The prioress
does not often admit strangers within the walls of St. Agatha."

"I know she does not admit them into the cloister; but perhaps she would
let us come into your apartment. There are rooms for guests, you know."

"Yes--there are rooms for guests; but since Lady Helena has been
prioress very few guests have been there. Still, she may wish to see
your friend. I will ask her."

After Walter had gone Edwin went up into the highest apartment of the
donjon, where he stood within one of the bartizans looking out upon the
storm until night had fairly shut in.

In the meantime the earl and his guest had seated themselves in the
drawing-room, where they conversed until a late hour upon such subjects
as would naturally suggest themselves to two men who were warmly
attached to the interest of the Scottish crown.

Finally Atholbane, with a few words of excuse, arose and left the room;
and after an absence of half an hour or more, he returned with something
of a cloud upon his brow.

"Sir Aldred," he said, trying to hide his trouble beneath a smile, "I
had thought that I would allow you to occupy Thorwald's apartments. He
has gone to Perth; but his groom informs me that he may return
to-night."

"My lord," cried the guest, "I beseech that you will borrow no trouble
on my account. Give me a pallet of straw anywhere beyond the reach of
the rain, and I shall be content."

"But that would hardly content me," added the earl. "I should rest but
very little if I thought Kenmore could furnish no better keeping for an
honored guest. But the fact is, my dear Sir Aldred, most of the
bed-chambers of the castle are just at this time in the hands of the
workmen. They have never been properly finished since the keep was
erected, and in view of the tournament which is soon to come off here, I
have concluded to make them comfortable at once. I have just been
through them with my steward, and I find them all in a state of unseemly
confusion. Still, we have sleeping apartments to spare, such as they
are."

"Indeed, my lord, you do me injustice if you worry thus on my account. I
am used to harder fare than any apartment in your castle could possibly
impose. If the spare apartments to which you refer are in the quarters
of your retainers, it is all the same to me. You must remember that
though our good king has seen fit to adorn me with the cross of the
Norman Conqueror, yet I am by birth only the son of a forester."

"If I am not mistaken," said the earl, with much earnestness, "good old
Walthorf of Lanark, though only a forester, has done much service for
Scotland, and Douglas might have found himself ere this without a
castle, but for the faith and prowess of this same forester. But, Sir
Aldred, though you be not of gentle birth, as our laws go, yet you have
claim upon our most exalted consideration. And here, once for all, let
me give you assurance that even the royal Edgar himself shall never be
more honored as a guest within these walls, than shall be the brave and
true knight whom I love."

Aldred spoke his thanks in modest, grateful words, and after a short
silence Atholbane resumed:

"The apartments to which I have referred are not in the outer ballium,
but in some respects they are the finest in the castle. They are in that
wing of the keep that overlooks the lake, and were originally furnished
for the master's own use."

Aldred gazed upon his host with surprise. He saw that a cloud was upon
the earl's brow, and that there was trouble in his mind, and presently
it occurred to him that he had heard something of unearthly spirits that
had appeared in Kenmore Castle.

"My lord," he said, in a hushed tone, "perhaps I have heard of the
things that give you trouble."

The earl raised his head, and replied, with solemn earnestness:

"You must not think me foolish, Sir Aldred. I am not of those who give
credence to every tale of ghost and goblin that old men and women tell,
but there is something connected with those apartments of my castle
which has given me sore trouble. My father reared this structure, and
those rooms were his own, and during the brief period of the existence
of my first wife I used them for mine; but since that time--since----"

"My lord, if the subject gives you pain, you need not----"

Atholbane raised his hand as a signal for his friend to be silent, and
shortly afterwards he resumed:

"You are young, and comparatively a stranger beneath my roof, but yet I
feel like trusting you as I have trusted no one else for years. There is
something in your face that invites my confidence and my love. Perhaps
you may be induced to spend much time here. You are calm, cool and
brave, and it may be that you can help me to solve the mystery that now
imparts so much terror to those chambers beneath the Ghost's Tower."

"Then the western tower already bears that ghostly name?"

"Yes."

"My lord," said the knight of Lanark, "you can tell me what you please,
and you can trust me as you may deem proper. I seek not your confidence,
but if you give it to me, I will not betray it. Touching this matter of
ghosts, I cannot say what I believe; but if such spirits have the power
to make themselves visible to mortals, I know not why I should fear
them. In fact, I think I should like to try the experiment of an
interview, for certainly I never heard of ghosts doing bodily harm to
innocent people. If there be such spirits, they seem only to have the
power to prey upon guilty consciences."

"Yet," remarked Atholbane, with a shudder, "the innocent as well as the
guilty must suffer."

"I grant you that," returned Aldred, "but the innocent have no occasion
for bodily fear. Nameless, mystic terror is always the most oppressive,
and we are more frightened by those things which we cannot grasp than by
such as come within the scope of our ken. But, my lord, I will
cheerfully take up my quarters in the Ghost's Tower, and if, upon trial,
I find them untenable, I can quit them."

The earl grasped the young man's hand, and thanked him, and then he
arose and walked several times across the apartment, his head bowed, and
his step slow and solemn. At length he stopped and resumed his seat.

"Sir Aldred, you shall go to the western tower, as you have proposed;
but first I feel it my duty to tell you what I know; and when I assure
you that you are the first man beyond the limits of my own household
whom I have so trusted, you will understand that I rely most confidently
upon your silence and circumspection."

"And, my lord, allow me in turn to give you my assurance, upon the honor
of a true knight, that your confidence is not misplaced."

"I believe you, Aldred; and now listen to me: Many years ago, when
Christianity was first introduced into Scotland, there stood an old
monastery upon the sight of this castle. It was demolished by the Danes,
and in time my father selected the spot, and cleared away the ruins, and
erected his dwelling. I ought to inform you, perhaps, that the Priory of
St. Agatha was erected before my father took up his land, and as it was
to be a house for the home of females, the island was selected, as it
would be more quiet and retired than would be the old spot where the
monastery had stood. There are stories afloat that the grim old ruins of
the holy house were haunted by ghosts; and some say, too, that this
castle was haunted in my father's time; but I have no faith in that. At
all events, I am very sure that my father believed no such thing. Some
of the old servants have sworn that they saw, with their own eyes,
ghosts in the western tower during that period; but as my father
inhabited those very apartments, and as he gave me the assurance that
there was no such thing, I can only believe that the servants were
mistaken. Their imaginations were probably wrought upon by the fearful
stories they had heard of the wandering spirits of those monks who had
been so cruelly butchered by the infidel Danes.

"My first wife was the Lady Maud, sister of our present king, and
daughter of Malcolm Canmore. She was beautiful as the first fresh rose
of summer, and she was as pure and good as she was beautiful."

At this point the earl's voice faltered, and for a time he bowed his
head upon his hand and was silent; but finally he resumed:

"A few blissful months--months of joy and blessedness such as I shall
never know again--I passed with Maud. I was too happy--too happy; and
she was too good and pure for earth. We lived in the apartments of the
western tower, and we were not disturbed. No vision, no sound, ever came
to mar the brightness of those ecstatic hours. If there were ghosts in
the deep vaults, or in the chambers of the turrets, they came not to
trouble us. At length King Malcolm called upon his warriors to accompany
him into Northumberland, whither he was going to punish the proud and
defiant earl. I went, and my wife insisted upon bearing me company. At
first I objected; but she said her husband and her father were both
going, and she would not remain behind; and when I remembered that my
stoutest men-at-arms were going with me, and that the castle would be
left almost defenceless, I concluded to grant her prayer. She went with
me towards the southern border as far as Dumfries, and there, being much
worn with fatigue, I prevailed upon her to stop and rest while I went
forward with Malcolm into Northumberland. I was gone nearly three
months, during which time we were almost continually fighting; and as
the king was twice wounded, so much of the duty of command devolved upon
me that I had no opportunity to look after my wife. At Cheviot I was
myself wounded, and the trampling of a horse upon my head so stunned me
that I was given over as dead for awhile by my own men; but I recovered,
and was not confined more than a week.

"When we returned into Scotland I hastened to Dumfries, where I learned
that my wife had gone towards her home. News had been brought to her
that I was dead--that I had been killed in battle. I traced her as far
as Thornhill, where, at a poor wayside inn, they told me she had
sickened and died! They showed me her grave in the court of the
Monastery of St. Michael, and there I rested I know not how long. The
good monks told me how calmly she had died, and how many masses had been
said for her soul; but their words gave me no consolation. It seemed to
me then that I should never be happy again in this life and--and--I
think I have not known true happiness since!"

The earl paused awhile and then said, with a movement as though he would
shake off the deep melancholy that had possessed him:

"I fear I tire you with this recital of my private history."

"No, no," quickly responded Aldred. "It interests me more than I can
tell. You cannot speak more than I would hear upon that subject."

"Time," pursued Atholbane, "though it could not restore me to joy,
served nevertheless to heal the wound so that life was endurable; but I
found no comfort at Kenmore. Everything here spoke to me too forcibly
and too painfully of my lost Maud. I went to England, and spent some
months at the court of William Rufus, and on my return I stopped at
Lanark and rested with Earl Douglas. His sister Margaret, widow of Eric
of St Philips, had found a home with him. She was older than
myself--five years,--and her son was a smart, active lad, in his sixth
year. She was very kind to me--very kind indeed,--and her brother was
anxious that I should take her for wife. I will not tell you how much
love had to do with that marriage. At first I did not think I could do
such a thing. The vacant place seemed a sacred shrine for the memory of
Maud. But my castle would be very drear and lonesome if I came back all
alone, and finally I asked Lady Margaret to be my wife. I told her the
truth. I told her that I had no fresh, first love to give her; and I
know she had none to give me; but she could come and be Countess of
Kenmore, and be mistress of my house. We were married at Lanark, and
shortly afterwards we came hither, and took possession of the
apartments, which I had occupied with Maud. For awhile all went well;
but finally came the alarm. Lady Margaret was the first to be troubled,
and when she told me that there were ghosts in the old tower I laughed
at her. But, in turn, the restless spirits crossed my own path. I heard
sighings and moanings in those chambers, and I saw more than one
dark-robed presence that could not have been anything human. When Earl
Douglas came here we gave those chambers to him. He was brave at first,
and declared that if ghosts gave him trouble he would drive them off at
the point of his sword. They did come; but the result was not as he had
promised. In place of banishing the ghosts he was himself driven from
the tower. Others have tried it since that time, and the result has in
every case been the same."

"May I ask," said Aldred, "how long it has been since you first observed
these things?"

"It has been now almost twenty years," replied the earl. "It was shortly
before Edwin was born that I determined to leave those apartments; and I
have thought that it was the pressure of terror which Lady Margaret
sustained at that time that resulted in the constitutional weakness of
my boy. You have noticed how weak and frail he is?"

"In body--yes," replied Aldred. "But he seems to possess a grand and
noble spirit."

"He is true and loving," said Atholbane; "and his perceptions are keen
and reliable. I think his judgment of men, from first impressions, is
almost infallible."

"But of these ghosts, my lord,--in what shape have they been wont to
appear?"

"Sometimes," answered the earl, with a slight quiver in his tone, "it
has been a man, like unto one of the old monks; and at others it has
been a woman."

"And you have never been able to get your hands upon them?"

Atholbane shook his head.

"Well, my lord, I will try the old tower, at all events; and if I am
driven out I shall suffer no more than brave men have suffered before
me. The hour is late, and I am ready to follow you when you please to
lead the way."

"You will take your sword, Sir Aldred."

"Yes,--it will serve me for a companion, if for nothing more."

The earl arose and took up the lamp, and at the same time the young
knight took his sword which had stood in the corner of the room. Then
the host led the way out into the hall, and up the broad stone stairway
to the hall above. Thence, through a narrow, vaulted passage, to a wide
corridor, upon one side of which were the entrances to a row of
bartizans, and here the earl had to stoop low, and carry the lamp near
to the floor to keep it from the wind that found entrance through the
loopholes. Beyond this they came to an angle of the keep, where there
was a heavy closed door, with a key in the lock, having passed which
they found themselves in a winding corridor, with doors upon one hand
and bartizans upon the other.

"We have reached the tower," said Atholbane, "and these doors upon the
left hand open to the chambers. What think! will you remain here?"

"Of course I will. It is a ghostly place, with this storm beating down,
but I have been in worse ones. You had better enter at once, or you may
lose your light."

A few steps further and the earl came to a door, which he opened, and
which gave entrance to a small ante-chamber furnished with chairs, a
dressing-table and a mirror. The mirror, however, was rusted and covered
thickly with dust. Another door opened to a second chamber, broad and
high, where the furniture was in better shape.

"This," said the host, "is the best apartment of them all. It is the one
which I once occupied, and I think you will find things properly
arranged. If you will remain here I shall bid you good-night."

"I will remain, my lord."

"There is oil enough in your lamp to burn during the night if you put
down a part of the wick."

Thus speaking, the earl placed the lamp upon a table, and having taken a
small horn lantern from his pocket, he lighted the waxen taper within.

"There are other apartments upon this floor, opening into each other,"
he said, "and you can explore them at your leisure; but this I think you
will find the most comfortable. Can I do anything more for you?"

"I think of nothing, my lord."

"Then I bid you good-night; and may your rest be peaceful."




CHAPTER III.--THE GHOST TOWER.


AFTER the earl had gone, the Knight of Lanark sat down and thought upon
the story he had heard. He wondered much that his host should have so
trusted him; but the manner in which the information had been
communicated to him, especially that part relating to the marriage with
the second wife, convinced him that the earl had been so deeply moved
that he had not reflected much upon the form of his speech. The more he
pondered, the more amazed was he that the nobleman should have opened to
him so much of his private history. Atholbane had certainly confessed
that true love had never had anything to do with his union with Lady
Margaret, and he had given his hearer strongly to infer that that union
had been productive of very little happiness.

"No, no," the knight murmured to himself, "I am sure that the earl is
far from being a happy man. His old love is buried, and no new love has
ever come to fill up the void. But why should he have told this to me?
if he seeks my sympathy, he has it already, and if I can be of service
to him he may command me."

It was in the story of Lady Maud, however, that our knight had been most
deeply interested. By one of those mysterious attractions which are
beyond the reach of analysis, he had been drawn to a love for this lady
as deep and abiding as he could have felt for one whom he had known for
years; and he fancied that, in the mind of the earl, one, at least, of
the ghostly visitants of the tower had some connection with the dead
countess. It is true words had not been spoken to that effect, but
nevertheless Atholbane had been affected, when speaking of the mysteries
of the tower, very much as he had been when telling of the wife whom he
had lost. There had been a tenderness of tone, a moistening of the eyes,
and a tremulousness of frame at certain points of the ghostly narrative,
which would seem to force this conviction upon Aldred's mind.

"Poor Lady Maud!" sighed the knight, folding his hands reverently, and
raising his eyes heavenward, "if nothing else comes to haunt me, I am
sure thy sweet spirit will visit me in my dreams!"

After this he arose and looked about him. The chamber was large, with a
high, vaulted roof, and the small, square windows which, by the sound of
the breaking waves, the knight knew must overlook the lake, were some of
them closed with thick oaken shutters, while a few, from which the
shutters were opened inward, contained sashes in which were set thin,
lozengeshape sheets of semi-transparent horn. The wall pierced by the
windows was of massive masonry, and relieved by tapestry, while the
other walls, which served as partitions, were of oak, and quaintly
ornamented with panels and carving. The chairs were of oak, most of them
cushioned, and all large and high-backed, while the table and sideboard,
of the same material, were elaborately ornamented. The bed, which stood
against the middle of the inner wall, with its foot towards the windows,
was broad and high, with a canopy and curtains of faded damask, the
woodwork being carved after the pattern of the other heavy furniture. It
was certainly a gloomy looking chamber, and the howling of the tempest,
which gave yet no sign of abating, was not calculated to add cheer to
the place. The wind fairly screeched as it whirled around the bartizans
and angles of the tower, and the rain beat furiously against the exposed
casements. But Aldred had no thought of fear or unrest on this account.
In fact, under ordinary circumstances, the deep music of the tempest
would have been a grateful accompaniment, and would have given zest to
his slumbers; but he could not, in view of the story he had heard, shut
out a certain weird wildness in the voice of the storm that detracted
somewhat from its somnolent tendency. He was very tired, and felt the
need of rest, but he concluded that he would not retire without
examining the adjacent apartments. So he took up the lamp, and turned
first towards the outer face of the tower, where he found two rooms. The
first was somewhat smaller than that which he had concluded to occupy,
the walls being hung with blue tapestry, and the chairs covered with
material of the same color. The windows were larger, and protected from
driving storms by projections upon the outside, and the whole
arrangement of the furniture indicated that this had been used, in
former times, as a private drawing-room. It was here, probably, that the
beautiful Lady Maud had spent most of her time after she became mistress
of the castle. Beyond this was a still smaller apartment, containing a
cistern and a font, a handsome dressing table, several large oaken
chairs, and a large metallic mirror. This had been a bathing and
dressing-room.

As the knight came back into the blue chamber, he observed a carved
altar in one corner upon which stood a cross.

"How many times," he murmured to himself, "has the sweet lady knelt at
this shrine?" And as the words dropped from his lips, he set the lamp
upon a ledge of the altar, and sank down upon his knees, intending to
offer up the devotion due from a Christian knight to his God.

He had folded his hands, and the name of his Maker had been reverently
pronounced, when a slight rustling behind him, as of a silken garment,
caused him to turn his head, and he beheld, standing near the inner
wall, a female figure robed in black. He caught a glimpse of her face,
pale and beautiful, and saw her white hands folded upon her bosom. He
did not move, he did not speak, but inspired with holy awe, he stood and
gazed. He had no thought of fear--no thought of terror--no thought but
of sympathy with the earnest, prayerful look of that heavenly face. A
moment he saw it--saw it as plainly as ever he saw mortal being--and
then it disappeared, seeming to fade away into the rich blue tapestry
that hung against the wall.

"Lady! Lady!" he cried, advancing towards the spot where the vision had
appeared, "I am a true knight, and you have nothing to fear."

He raised the tapestry, but only a smooth, solid wall was visible behind
it. It had seemed so real, and the beautiful face had been turned upon
him so beseechingly, and so prayerfully, that until now he had not
really thought of an incorporeal spirit. But when the bare wall met his
gaze, with no door nor aperture to be seen, he moved back with the firm
impression that the strange presence had not been a dweller in the
flesh. He took up the lamp, and examined the inner wall more thoroughly,
but he could find no way by which a human body could possibly have
gained egress. Slowly and thoughtfully he returned to the large chamber,
and after a little reflection he moved on to examine the apartments on
the other hand. There was the small dressing-room which he had first
entered from the corridor, and adjoining that, towards the outer wall,
was a small bed-chamber. Beyond these were two more chambers, with beds
in them, which had evidently been used by servants. Saving a few small
closets, these were all the apartments of the western tower, and when
the knight had satisfied himself upon this point, be retraced his steps
once more to his own chamber, where he very soon sought his pillow.

Touching the ghostly vision which had appeared to him in the blue
chamber, Aldred had no very unpleasant thoughts. Of fear he felt not a
particle. So deeply had that sweet face been impressed upon his heart,
and so strongly had the prayerful, longing look attracted him, that he
felt drawn towards the spirit rather than repelled. In fact, he was
determined, if possible, to see it again.

"I am forced to the conviction," he said to himself, after he had laid
his head upon his pillow, "that the earl has not been mistaken, and that
the old servants may have good grounds for their wild stories. I have
certainly seen what I never saw before. It is surely some troubled
spirit that haunts this tower--some woman that cannot find rest in the
world--perhaps shut out from the abode of angels, and compelled to
inhabit earth, though freed from her tabernacle of clay. By my faith, it
is most strange how this marvellous presence affects me. I had thought
that the sight of a ghost, at such an hour and in such a place, and with
such surroundings, would have chilled my heart, but I feel nothing of
the kind. Is there not the finger of Providence in this? Does not the
immaterial wanderer seek my aid? If she does, she shall have it. If I,
in my will of physical strength, can give peace and rest to this
unfortunate, then I pray that God may lead me in the right direction."

"GOD LEAD AND GUIDE HIM!"

The words were softly, yet earnestly, spoken--clear and distinct--and
seemed to come from behind the curtains at the head of the bed. Aldred
raised himself upon his elbow and listened, and he plainly heard that
same rustling sound that had first attracted his attention in the blue
chamber--heard it for a moment, and then all was still save the beating
of the storm without. Without terror, without trepidation of any kind,
save that feeling of awe which had once before possessed him, the knight
arose and elevated the wick of his lamp, and then examined the wall at
the head of his bed; but he could find nothing that could help to solve
the mystery. Again he sought his pillow, and while meditating upon the
strange events his fatigue overcame him, and he fell asleep; and so
profound was his slumber that not even the sweet, pale face of the
ghostly wanderer came to visit him in dreams.

When he awoke the light of day was struggling in through the lozenges of
horn; and when he had started from his bed, and thrown open one of the
casements, he found that the sun was well up. The storm had passed, and
the only clouds to be seen were those that hung, light and fleecy, over
the summit of Ben Lawers.

"I' faith!" he cried, as he turned from the casement, "they'll think I
am a sluggard. Verily," he continued, as he drew on his hose, "they are
all moving save myself. Ha--the horses are already out. The earl cannot
be off upon a hunt without me."

He went back to the open casement, but from that point he could not look
down into the part of the court whence loud sounds proceeded. As he
stood there, however, the din sounded louder, and presently he heard a
rumbling noise, followed by a heavy crash. He had left the window,
intending to throw on his doublet and hasten down, when the door of his
chamber was unceremoniously opened, and Edwin came hurrying in, pale and
trembling.

"Sir Knight," he cried, "I tremble because I am tired; not because I am
afraid. But, for all that, there is enough to be fearful of; and my
father has sent me to give you notice that we are attacked by a band of
marauders. They have gained entrance to the outer ballium, and are now
battering away at the doors of the keep."

"Have you men enough with which to meet them?"

"My father fears not."

Aldred stopped to ask no more; but hurrying on before the boy, he made
his way as quickly as possible to the ground floor of the donjon, where
he found the earl, already in harness, surrounded by a dozen
men-at-arms.

"Ah, Sir Aldred," exclaimed Atholbane, "a strange welcome we give you to
Kenmore."

"Let me harness first," replied our hero, "and then I will listen to
you. My armor is near at hand."

"Your heavy pack is where you left it last night."

"Then, if some one will come and give me assistance, I will very soon be
ready for work."

"I can help you," said Edwin, who had just arrived.

Back into the hall, and across into a small ante-room, Aldred hurried
with the youth, and there he found his arms and his armor, and in an
incredibly short space of time he was clad in tempered steel from top to
toe, with a heavy broadsword at his side, and his axe in his hand.

"Now, my lord," he cried, as he rejoined his host, "I am ready to
listen."

"Do you hear that thumping, Sir Aldred?"

"Aye--as plainly as I heard the thunder last night."

"Never, in the whole course of my life, was I driven into such a pitiful
trap before," said the earl, writhing with impatience. "Thorwald is away
with most of my men-at-arms, and I have been caught like a fox in his
den. A score of the daring marauders of Inverness, who have their haunts
about the dark passes of Ben Nevis, led by a powerful villain in full
armor, have attacked us. They found the draw-bridge down, and the gate
open; and in the outer ballium, to which they gained access without
trouble, they found only a few grooms, and some half-a-dozen masons. The
gates had been opened by the masons for the purpose of bringing in some
of their material, which had been left without the walls, and the
marauders, who must have been upon the watch, seized that opportunity to
enter. They have obtained a heavy piece of timber, and are now trying to
force the gates of the inner ballium. Our upper bartizans are useless,
for every projectile that could be thrown from them is in the outer
magazine."

"But where are your crossbows and bolts?" asked Aldred.

"All in the outer ballium--every one of them!" groaned the earl. "The
most we can do is to stand our ground, and be ready to defend ourselves
when the villains gain entrance to the keep. But come with me, and you
shall see the situation for yourself."

Atholbane led the way to the second floor of the donjon, where Aldred
followed him into a bartizan that overlooked the space in front of the
main gate of the keep. The scene that presented itself to the knight's
view, considering the force that could be held for resistance, was
certainly a startling one. He counted twenty of the marauders--all
stout, powerful, savage looking men, clad in tough armor of prepared ox
hide, and otherwise armed with spears and javelins. The leader was a
tall, athletic fellow, clad like his followers, save that he wore an
iron breastplate and a leathern helmet, the visor of which hid the whole
upper part of his face. He was armed with a heavy battle-axe, which he
carried with ease and grace, and his bearing was entirely superior to
that of his companions. Aldred, who judged of men somewhat by their
voices, especially when he could not see their faces, listened
attentively to catch the tones of this stalwart chieftain; but he
listened in vain. The freebooter's orders were given entirely by signs,
and if he spoke, it was in a voice so low as not to be heard beyond the
ears of those for whom the words were intended.

The wretches had brought a large beam from the outer court--a beam which
some of the workmen had used in constructing a platform--and were using
it as a battering-ram against the heavy doors of the keep. The barrier
was solid and massive; but it had already begun to tremble beneath the
repeated blows of the ram.

"My lord," asked Aldred, when he had fully comprehended the situation,
"who and what are those men?"

"They are from the bleak highlands of Inverness, and are followers of
the cruel Dane, Olaf. They live by plunder, and so impregnable are their
fastnesses that no force sent against them has yet been able to capture
them."

"And is that Olaf who leads these men?"

"I think it must be, but I do not know. Ha! see how the stout door
quivers! By St. Michael! if they gain entrance to the keep, we are lost!
We can count but fourteen against their twenty, and of our number not
one-half are fit to bear arms, while of their's, every man is a 'host in
himself.'"

The Knight of Lanark took one more look out into the court, and then
turning to the earl he said, calmly and firmly:

"My lord, you speak truly. If they gain entrance to the keep we are
lost; or, at any rate, the chances will be most decidedly against us. We
must prevent it."

"Prevent it, Aldred?"

"Yes. What virtue there is in being the attacking party, where it must
be blow for blow, let us claim for ourselves. At the end of this
corridor there is a door opening upon the crest of a terrace?"

"Yes."

"And that terrace faces the court?"

"Yes."

"Then let us move quickly to that point, and dash down upon the enemy
before they succeed in forcing these doors. We shall not only take them
by surprise, but as fully two-thirds of their number have hold of the
beam, we shall take them at a decided disadvantage. By the holy rood, I
have no fear of the result. My arm is strong, and my axe is heavy, sharp
and sure."

"Sir Knight," cried the earl, grasping our hero by the hand, "you have
offered the very thing I would have asked. If I hesitated in making the
proposition, it was not because I doubted your bravery and your good
will, but because I thought it presuming somewhat thus to invite an
honored guest to such a work; but it is all understood now. Let us down
and call our men at-arms, and then for the attack. By the crown of
David! but they shall find that true knights of Scotland, though but a
pair in number, are not to be troubled with impunity!"

"Quick, my lord! I will on to the door and have the bolts removed. Hurry
up our men--moments are precious! If they beat down that barrier they
will strike us in the rear. Hear it jar! It cannot withstand many more
blows like that!"




Chapter IV.--A COMPACT.


Of the retainers who had been collected in the lower hall only eight of
them were really fit for service. Three were too old to stand up against
fierce blows, while one was suffering with sickness. But the eight who
were able betrayed no disposition to shrink from the proposed attack.
They saw very plainly that if they remained where they were they must
soon be exposed to attack from the enemy, and they preferred to take the
open court for the conflict.

"It seems a little hard that Thorwald should be away with our best men
at just this time," said the earl, as he and Aldred moved along the
corridor together.

"Why did he take them?" asked our hero. "What use could he have for such
company on a mere business trip?"

"O, the men were anxious to visit the capital, and Thorwald seemed full
as anxious to gratify them."

Atholbane appeared for the moment to have forgotten the present danger
to himself and his castle. His head was bowed, his step slackened; and
the pole of his axe dragged upon the pavement.

"We had better make haste, my lord."

The earl started, as though from a dream, and in his blind haste he ran
against his companion with a force sufficient to crowd him against the
wall.

"Bless me!" he cried, as he gained full control over himself, "I am
dreaming. I was for the moment thinking more of the danger that----"

He stopped suddenly, as though he had commenced to say something that
had better remain unsaid, and presently added:

"We have work enough before us to engage our attention for the present."

As he spoke they reached the door at the end of the corridor. Aldred had
been there before, and removed all the bolts save one; so all that now
remained was to draw the single bolt near the knob and swing the door
open.

"I think we are ready," said Atholbane, with his hand upon the knob.

The only response was a fierce clutching of their weapons by his
followers, and in a moment more the way was opened.

The Knight of Lanark was the first to reach the parapet. An angle of the
keep shut most of the marauders from his view; but he could hear the
crashing of the heavy beam, and he could see, by the positions of a few
of the rascals, that they were anticipating a speedy entrance to the
stronghold of the castle. The earl was quickly by his side, and when
they saw that their followers had emerged from the corridor they closed
their vizors, and leaped down the terrace.

"God and Saint Michael!" shouted Aldred.

"God and Kenmore!" answered the men-at-arms, as they rushed on after the
two knights.

Those of the marauding Danes who were battering at the gate dropped the
beam and grasped their spears; but before they could make the change
three of their number had fallen. Two had gone down beneath the axe of
Aldred, and one had sank beneath a blow from the earl. Our hero's object
was to reach the robber chieftain, but that individual had crouched away
behind his followers, where he stood as though stunned and perplexed by
this unlooked for movement. Both the knights seemed bent upon the same
object; but they found themselves surrounded by the marauders, who had
by this time recovered from the surprise, and they found plenty of work
nearer at hand. The men-at-arms did well; but Atholbane and Aldred dealt
death at every stroke. Their own bodies were protected by their armor,
and so swiftly and surely did they ply their ponderous battle-axes that
the enemy had no chance before them. Two of the earl's retainers were
slain, and when the Lord of Kenmore saw them fall he sprang to the
deadly work with redoubled fury, and even the youth and vigor of Aldred
could not overmatch him. The points of the highland spears, and the
sharp heads of the javelins, were turned harmlessly aside by their steel
harness, while the leathern doublets of their opponents, which might
have turned off an arrow, offered no resistance to the keen edges of
those two battle-axes.

In a little while those of the marauders who remained alive showed a
disposition to retreat, and at this point Aldred looked once more for
the stout chieftain.

"Ha! See there!" cried the earl.

The Knight of Lanark looked, and beheld the man whom he sought in the
act of mounting a horse in the outer ballium; and at the same moment the
rest of the marauders threw down their arms and ran. Of course neither
of the knights, hampered as they were, could give pursuit on foot; but
Atholbane called to his retainers and bade them stop the fugitives if
they could.

One poor fellow who had been slightly wounded in the knee, was caught
and brought back, but the rest succeeded in reaching the shore of the
lake, and making off with the only boat there was at hand, their
chieftain having dashed off to the southward upon the only horse they
had brought with them.

There were thirteen dead bodies in the court, eleven of the enemy and
two of the men-at-arms--and when the earl had given directions for
having them taken care of, he conducted his prisoner into the dungeon,
where he found the countess waiting for him. She was very pale, and had
evidently been suffering much, but she seemed greatly relieved when she
saw her husband safe. She had witnessed most of the conflict from an
upper bartizan, where she had kept Edwin for company. Several times the
lad urged her to let him go down and take a spear, but she had wisely
restrained him. After she had told her own experience, she asked the
earl if he knew who it was that had attacked him.

"No," he replied. "At first I thought it might be Olaf, the Dane, but I
was quickly forced to give up that idea. Whoever he was he was a coward
and a craven. Olaf would not have sneaked away from danger as did this
man. He did not even show his face, and when I moved towards him for the
purpose of inviting him to battle, he crouched behind his followers, and
kept them between himself and us. And when he found that the day was
going against him, he glided away, while yet some of his men were
engaged, and mounted a horse that he had brought with him into the outer
court. But we may learn something from this prisoner."

The prisoner was a burly, brutish looking fellow, not particularly ugly
nor particularly amiable. He sat with both his hands pressed upon his
wounded knee, muttering curses, not loud but deep, over the misfortune
which had brought him to his present situation. He was a Scott, of some
northern tribe, as was evident from his wild garb and wilder manner.

"Look ye, sirrah," said the earl, "if you answer me straightly, all may
be well with you. Give me such information as I seek, and I shall not
seek revenge upon you for what you have done. What was the object of
your attack upon my castle?"

"My object was to obey the orders of my leader," replied the man,
doggedly.

"And what was your leader's object?"

"I did not ask him."

"But you have some idea, nevertheless. Was it for plunder?"

"Perhaps so."

"Who was that leader?"

"I don't know."

"Was it Olaf?"

The man's eyes flashed fire.

"Is Olaf a coward and a dog?" he fiercely demanded. "It was not Olaf."

"But you must have known who led you if you were so willing to obey
him."

"I know nothing," persisted the prisoner. "I only know that Olaf sent us
out under this man, and we were forced to obey him, because in doing so
we obeyed our own chieftain; but what was his name, or whence he came, I
know not.

"You had promise of booty?"

"No."

"But you had hopes of obtaining booty?"

"No--it had been denied us."

"In mercy's name!" cried the earl, "you must know something more: You
know something of your leader's purpose. What was it? Tell me what you
think."

"I can only judge," answered the prisoner, "that he meant to capture
you, and claim a heavy ransom."

Atholbane questioned the fellow some further, but he gained no more
information, and at length he gave the prisoner in charge to his warden,
and directed that he should be closely and safely imprisoned, after
which he went out into the court, where he found the workmen just coming
in, and before noon matters were moving on within and about the castle
as though nothing unusual had happened.

Several times during the forenoon, Aldred fancied that the countess was
seeking an opportunity to speak to him privately, but he purposely
avoided her. If he had been asked why he avoided her, he might have been
unable to give an answer that would have satisfied one who sought
information, and even to himself he could only make the excuse that he
did not like the woman. He was naturally gallant and deferential to the
gentle sex, and the light of woman's smile was like sunshine to his
soul, but he found no sunshine in the smiles of the Lady Margaret. He
felt uneasy when her gaze was fixed upon him, as though her dark eyes
shot forth some baleful influence, and she gazed upon him as no woman
had ever gazed upon him before. Once, when he caught her gaze thus
fixed, and met her look with his own, she started and trembled as though
with guilty emotion, but presently afterwards, as he could tell by the
shudder that crept to his heart, she was watching him again, and this
time he was forced to leave the room.

Why was it? For the life of him he could not tell. When she addressed
him she did so most kindly, and in gentle tones, and yet even her speech
grated harshly upon his ear.

At length, however, while the earl was busy with the masons, the
countess gained a place for her hand upon the young knight's arm, and
led him to a seat.

"Sir Aldred," she said, with a smile, "you must not shun me as though
you feared me."

"Indeed, lady----"

"Oh, I understand. You fancy that I should stand upon the dignity of my
rank, but that is not the way I treat my husband's honored guests. And,
moreover, if I were even so inclined, the services which you have
rendered would remove all such barriers."

The voice was kindly and persuasively pitched, and there was a smile
upon the woman's face, but the eyes were fixed upon him with a
searching, piercing glance that troubled him. With an effort, however,
he so far overcame the strange feeling as to be able to meet her gaze
without flinching.

"Lady, I am grateful for your kind consideration, and I hope I may
continue to merit it. At all events, it shall be my earnest endeavor so
to do."

"I can assure you of one thing," pursued the countess, still smiling,
but with a smile that did not reach her eyes; "if you do not continue to
receive my kindest regards, it shall be no fault of mine. But, my brave
knight, I have a strong desire to know how you passed last night. Do not
accuse me of curiosity. I think you spent the knight in the--the----"

"In the Ghost's Tower," said Aldred, finishing the sentence for her.

"And as I find you alive and well to-day, I judge that you were not
harmed."

"I assure you, lady, I suffered no harm whatever."

"You are, perhaps, aware," continued Lady Margaret, without seeming to
notice the evasiveness of the last answer, "that those apartments are
the best in the castle, and that they rightfully belong to me; and hence
I am very anxious to know why I cannot occupy them."

"I thought you knew, lady, that they had been reported as haunted."

"Oh, certainly, I knew all that; but is it so? Did you see anything? did
you hear anything?"

"I heard the voice of the storm, and it sounded dismal enough in that
old tower."

"And what did you see?"

"I saw nothing calculated to excite either fear or terror; and my
dreams, if I had dreamed at all, would, I am sure, have been very
pleasant ones."

"Then your sleep was not disturbed?"

"Not in the least, lady. After my eyes were closed in slumber, I knew no
more until the morning's sun was well up."

"You mean to sleep there again, Sir Aldred?"

"If it is agreeable to you and the earl."

"I, for one, should like to have you," said the countess, quite eagerly.
"It is not impossible that the ghostly visitants have departed. I hope
it may prove so."

"Have you ever seen them, lady?"

Lady Margaret answered, with a shudder, and with a strange fluttering of
tone:

"Yes, I was the first--the first of the present family--to be visited.
Oh! I can see her now as I saw her then--so pale! so deathly!"

"It was the ghost of a woman, then?"

"Yes; she stood by my bedside gazing down upon me. I saw her as plainly
as I see you at this moment, for I had left my lamp burning. I cried out
in terror and she disappeared--melted away into thin air."

"Was she clad in white?"

"No--in deepest black. She came again and again, and finally I had to
abandon the apartments. Others have tried to sleep there since, but none
have succeeded. Only the spirit of the woman appeared to me, but to
others the ghosts of men have presented themselves--the ghosts of one or
two of those monks who were murdered here long, long years ago."

At this point Edwin entered the apartment, and our hero was glad enough
to have the conversation broken in upon, for he had borne the gaze of
those two eyes until he felt that he could bear it calmly no longer.
During all the time that she had been talking the countess had not once
removed it from him, but had seemed bent upon analyzing each particular
lineament of his features. In fact, the knight thought it not impossible
that she had kept up the conversation more for the purpose of studying
his face than of gaining intelligence of the ghosts.

What could it mean?

Towards the middle of the afternoon the earl drew Aldred's arm through
his own and walked out upon the parapet. When they had reached the
bastion nearest the western tower they stopped, and the host let fall
his arm, and grasped his companion by the hand.

"Aldred," he said, with deep fervor, "yesterday you saved the life of
the only child I have to love--the only stay and hope of my declining
years--and to-day you have saved my all; for without your assistance
those villains could not have been overcome. In return, you must allow
me to take you thus by the hand and pledge you the love and faith of a
brother. In sunshine and in storm, through good report and through evil
report, I will stand by you and cleave unto you. My house is yours for a
home always, and no breath of calumny shall ever move me from the
friendship thus plighted. What more can I do?"

The Knight of Lanark wiped a tear from his eye as he replied:

"You can accept my pledge of brotherhood in return, and with it my faith
and love."

"I am the elder brother," said the earl.

"And I the younger," added Aldred.

"And," pursued Atholbane, solemnly, "if the time shall ever come when
fate bids me draw my sword against thee, I will break the blade in twain
and cast the fragments from me ere my hand shall guide the fated blow!
It is a heavy compact, but I fear not to make it."

"It must be the hand of fate that hath led me thus far," responded
Aldred; "and I recognize it as the will of Heaven. I have given up one
home to find another. My lord, henceforth, while we both live, I devote
myself to thy service."

"AMEN!"

It was a deep and solemn voice, yet soft and melodious, and seemed to
come from one of the bartizans above them. The earl started and grasped
his companion by the arm.

"Aldred, did you hear?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Ah--you do not comprehend. You are calm and unmoved because you think
some human voice bore that solemn utterance to our ears. We are directly
beneath the eastern wall of the Ghost's Tower."

"I was aware of it, my lord."

"And you heard that voice?"

"Yes."

"And did you think it came from human lips?"

Aldred had once made up his mind that he would not tell to the earl what
he had seen and heard in the chambers of the tower--that he would not
tell him until he had made some further discovery; but his relations
towards his host had changed since then, and he now felt that the faith
of the new-pledged brotherhood required that he should keep nothing
back.

"My lord," he said, after a little reflection, "before we speak further
upon this subject I must caution against betraying me to the countess.
She has questioned me touching what I saw and heard in this tower; and
though I told her no untruth, yet I purposely led her to believe that I
had met with nothing unusual; and I would not like that she should know
I had kept any intelligence from her."

"Trust me, Aldred. You did perfectly right,--you did as I should have
asked you to do had I been consulted before the countess spoke with you.
But--you did see something?"

"I did, my lord; and the voice that has just spoken 'amen' spoke more
plainly still to me last night."

And thereupon the Knight of Lanark went on to tell to his host just what
he had seen in the blue chamber, and what he had heard after he had
retired.

"And you were not afraid?" said Atholbane.

"No," replied Aldred, "I had no thought of fear. There is an old legend
that tells us how a certain youth, of exceeding beauty, fell in love
with the reflection of his own face which he saw in the clear water. If
there was any one emotion in my soul more persuasive than another, it
was of love for that pale, sweet face. Not such love as warms the heart
of the true knight towards his mistress, but that other love which
inspires the heart with awe and holy reverence--a love all pure and
spiritual, with nothing sensual in its nature, and which gives forth no
fire that can kindle the flame of jealousy. If the poor soul is in
suffering, God grant that I may be the humble instrument of her
redemption. No, no, my lord, I have no fear of such a ghost."

Atholbane walked to the extreme verge of the bastion, and when he came
back he was pale and agitated.

"Aldred, you and I will watch together tonight. I must see for myself."

"Have you never seen it, my lord?"

"I have never seen the woman's face. I have seen the dim, dusky form
flitting away in the gloom; and I have heard sobs and moans. O, my God!
What can it be!"

"Have you never formed any opinion upon the subject?"

The earl's whole frame shook as he replied:

"I dare not think upon it. Let us say no more now. I am glad you did not
tell the countess. And, my brother, for the present let this matter rest
between thee and me."




CHAPTER V.--THORWALD.

When night came, according to arrangement, the earl accompanied Aldred
to the ghost's tower, where he meant to keep watch until morning.
Towards midnight our hero awoke his host, who had fallen asleep in his
chair, and asked him if he would watch.

"What have you seen?" asked Atholbane.

"I have seen nothing, and I have heard nothing. You told me to awaken
you if you fell asleep, and I have done so; but you can sleep on if you
wish."

"No, no,--I prefer to watch. Go you to your bed, and I will take your
place. I will call you if anything occurs."

Aldred did not believe that the pale presence would manifest itself. He
did not express the opinion to the earl, but he felt in his soul as
though it were unkind for two stout knights thus to hang upon the haunt
of the beautiful spirit. He almost felt ashamed of the lack of gallantry
displayed by such conduct, and he fancied that he could see that pale,
sweet face turned reproachfully upon him. However, he left his host in
the blue chamber, and sought his pillow, where he very soon fell asleep.

Meantime Atholbane sat close by the shrine which supported the cross,
and upon which, also, the lamp stood. He had brought with him an old
Saxon book of chronicles, the vellum leaves of which had grown yellow
with age; and as he sat there poring over the quaintly illuminated pages
his attention was attracted by a slight, shuffling sound at the opposite
side of the room, and upon looking in that direction he saw, standing
within the folds of the heavy tapestry, the figure of a man, clad in a
monkish habit of grey cloth, with a rope girded about his loins. The
upper part of the face was covered by the overhanging of a black cowl,
while the lower part was enveloped in a beard of snowy whiteness that
reached almost to the waist.

"Atholbane," spoke the presence, in grave, measured tones, "you have
need to watch, but not here. The Knight of Lanark may be trusted with
your very life!"

The tapestry fell back to its place, and the figure disappeared.

The earl, as soon as he could collect his startled senses, arose from
his chair and hurried to the place where he had seen the strange
presence. He lifted the tapestry, thinking that he might see it again,
but only the bare wall, smooth and solid, met his gaze. He had turned to
call Aldred, when he beheld the youthful knight approaching him.

"Ah, my lord, have you soon her?"

"I have seen something, Aldred. Take you the lamp, and let us search."

They searched every nook and corner of the chamber, and then went into
the bathing room beyond, but nowhere could they find any clue to what
they sought.

"Aldred, it was not a woman I saw. It was a man--a monk--clothed in
grey, with a silvery beard that reached to his waist. His look was grave
and solemn, and his voice was in keeping therewith."

"Then he spoke to you?"

"Yes." And the earl repeated the words he had heard.

"Indeed, my lord, I know not what may be the meaning of this, but I do
know that the mysterious presence spoke the truth so far as I am
concerned."

Atholbane walked slowly and thoughtfully to the bed, and sat down upon a
chair by its side.

"Aldred," he said, removing his hand from his brow, and looking up into
his companion's face, "what think you of this?"

"Perhaps I do not understand the object of your question," returned our
hero.

"I mean, what think you of the character of those mystic visitants? Are
they really spirits that have passed from the body--that have met with
the transition which we call death?"

"By my faith," answered Aldred, promptly and frankly, "I am forced to
the belief that they are. I have reflected much upon the subject within
the last four-and-twenty hours, and can see nothing impossible nor
improbable in such a thing. Wise men, in all ages, have held the belief
that the spirits of the departed, could, under certain circumstances,
revisit the scenes of their earthly life, and, if I am not mistaken, the
sacred traditions of all religious sects make record of such
visitations. And, above all else, I cannot flatly dispute the evidence
of my own senses. What's your opinion, my lord?"

"I am of your opinion, Aldred, If you please to call such things ghosts,
then we have seen them, and I am not inclined to disobey the injunction
which I have this night received. Without stopping to inquire into the
justice or reasonableness of such a demand, I am willing to leave you to
do the watching in this tower. I have need to watch, but not here! Where
am I to watch, and what? My brother, can you tell me?"

The Knight of Lanark shook his head.

"I wish I could answer you to some purpose, my lord, but I am as yet in
almost total ignorance of your private and public affairs. The warning
may have had reference to something connected with the attack of the
marauders, and it----"

"Never mind, Aldred," interrupted the earl, with a wave of the hand. "I
cannot say that at the present time I have even a suspicion of any
threatened danger, though God knows I have trouble enough. But I shall
watch--I shall watch elsewhere, and to you I give the mystery of this
tower, to solve it if you can."

Atholbane offered to remain where he was until morning, but his
companion urged that he should seek his own apartment, and find rest.

Our hero thought to himself, after the earl was gone, that the plot was
thickening. If he had ever doubted the existence of ghosts, he doubted
not now, and he certainly had reason to believe that there was something
more in these ghostly visitations than a simple desire on the part of
the ghosts to wander about their old haunts. Touching the connection of
those mysterious events with the affairs of his host, he could as yet
form no opinion, though he felt sure that their connection was all in
that direction.

"I will watch and wait," he said to himself, "and if there be danger
hanging over this house may the fates in mercy avert it."

Having spoken thus he arose, and drew back the curtains of the bed, and
smoothed down the pillow, but before retiring, he concluded to take a
look into the blue chamber, the door of which had been closed when he
and the earl came out. He did not take the lamp, and he was not a little
surprised, upon pushing open the door, to find a dim ghostly glare
pervading the apartment. There was no lamp or torch to be seen, but from
the sombre tapestry issued a grave-like glimmer, just rendering visible
the furniture of the place. As he stepped over the threshold, he saw a
dark figure arise from the mat before the shrine, where it had been upon
its knees. It was the figure of the female he had seen before, and he
caught just one glance at the pale, beautiful face, as it passed on
towards the inner wall. He spoke, but received no answer. He took
another step forward, and the ghostly glimmer went out, and with it
disappeared the mystic presence from his view. He followed it no
further. He waited until he was sure it had gone, and then he returned
to his chamber, and threw himself upon the bed. The few hours' sleep
which he obtained was sweet and refreshing, and he dreamed no unpleasant
dream.

In the morning he found the earl in the court, and Edwin was with him.

"Dear father," cried the boy, as the three mounted the parapet, "when is
the tournament to be?"

"In two weeks, my boy."

"O, I wish it would come sooner; I am so anxious to see brave deeds
done. I think our good Aldred will bear away the prize. Don't you think
he will, father?"

The earl smiled at his son's earnestness.

"I think he deserves to win it, at all events," he replied.

"You forget," said Aldred, laying his hand upon the youth's head, "that
the best knights of Scotland will be there, and some stout English
knights to boot."

"And who is better than you?" demanded Edwin, seriously.

Aldred's answer was a faint smile and a shake of the head.

"I don't believe there are any," pursued the lad. "My brother Thorwald
thinks he is the best knight of the realm, but I don't believe it. When
you and he meet, I shall look to see him go down. O, I hope you will
unhorse him!"

"Edwin!"

The boy did not heed the interruption, nor did he observe the sudden
quiver of the lips as his father spoke his name.

"As I live, father, I do not believe that Thorwald is a truly brave man.
Brave men do not boast so much."

"Thorwald is not very boastful, my boy."

"But, when he does boast, he does so in a way which is not very pleasant
to me," asserted the lad, in a determined manner; "and I am very sure it
would do me good to see him----"

"Hush, my son. Here comes your brother now."

At that moment a proudly-sitting gentleman, followed by a score of stout
men-at-arms, rode into the court, and the earl and his companions went
down from the parapet to meet him.

"Thorwald," said the Lord of Kenmore, after he had greeted his step-son,
"let me present to you Sir Aldred, the Knight of Lanark, who has come to
pay us a visit."

"I bid the gallant knight a welcome to Kenmore with all my heart,"
responded Thorwald. And as he spoke he gave his hand to the visitor.

"I have heard of you, Sir Aldred," he continued; "and I have often
thought that I should like to meet you. Will you remain long with us?"

"I cannot tell how long," answered our hero.

"You are at liberty to remain as long as you wish?"

"Yes."

"Then never fear but that we shall detain you a long time. I think we
can make your stay agreeable."

Aldred bowed his acknowledgment of the implied kindness, and then the
party turned towards the keep.

"Have you been to breakfast?" Thorwald inquired.

"No," replied the earl. "It is early yet."

"Nevertheless," cried the step-son, "I have ridden from Scone since I
came from my bed, and you may safely believe I am hungry."

"I looked for you yesterday, Thorwald."

"And I intended to return yesterday; but I accompanied some of my
friends upon a hunting excursion, and we did not get back in season."

Thorwald was thirty years of age, tall and muscular, with a low brow, a
broad, compact, heavy face, the eyes deep-set and piercing--the nose and
chin in perfect keeping with the high and prominent cheek-bones. His
hair was black and long, but his beard, of the same raven hue, was
closely and evenly cut. Take him all in all, Thorwald was a gallant
looking knight; and there were many noble dames in Scotland who would
have called him handsome, and with them his superciliousness would have
passed for proper pride and brave bearing. Though he may have taken some
of his mental characteristics from his mother, yet, physically, he had
inherited from his father so clear a Norman estate that no one,
unacquainted with his parentage, could have supposed that he had Saxon
blood in his veins.

When the party had entered the keep Aldred saw Lady Margaret as he had
not seen her before. As she embraced her dark-faced son all the pride
and love of the mother was manifest, and she showed that, for him, at
least, her heart could grow warm and sympathetic.

After breakfast, while the countess had drawn Thorwald away, and while
the earl was busy with the returned men-at-arms, Edwin approached our
hero's side and took his hand.

"Good Aldred," he said, in a low, earnest tone, "did you observe how my
mother met Thorwald?"

"I saw it," replied Aldred.

"Don't you think she loves him?"

"I think she does."

"Should you think, from what you have seen, that she loves me as well?"

"You have not been away from home as Thorwald has," answered the knight,
evasively.

Edwin shook his head.

"Ah," he said, significantly, "you don't wish to tell me what you think.
Where has Thorwald been? What danger has he met?--None. He has simply
been on a visit to the capital, and he has had a score of stout knaves
to keep him company, and give him protection in case of need. How was it
with me when I came home from the lake? She knew, when she met me, that
I had come from the very verge of watery grave."

"Hush, Edwin. You do wrong to speak thus to me."

"No, no," cried the boy, grasping the knight's hand more tightly. "Do
not tell me that. I love you, and I want you to love me; and I want you
to sympathise with me."

"My dear boy, you know I love you; and it is because I love you that I
would not have you dwell upon such a subject."

The pale youth shook his head solemnly and sadly.

"I am a poor, sickly boy," he said, "and my mother is not proud of me,
as she is of he elder son. But,"--and his eye brightened as he
spoke,--"my father loves me; and with his love, and with your love, I
suppose I ought to be content. But tell me, Aldred, how do you like my
brother?"

"I cannot tell yet," replied the knight. "I have hardly seen him."

"But you have looked into his face, and you have heard his voice."

"Ah, Edwin, we should not pass too hasty judgment upon our fellow."

"You mean," said the lad, with an expression that might have become an
experienced preacher, "that we ought not to speak our hasty judgment too
freely. I know that you have formed a judgment. You have read Thorwald's
face as you would have read the character of the weather in the dark
cloud-signs that sometimes gather about the summit of Ben Lawers. You
might not feel authorised, from those signs, to declare that a storm
would come; and yet you could not drive from your mind the conviction
that a storm was imminent."

"You reason well," returned Aldred, with a smile; "and I certainly shall
not contradict you. Still, I hope that my relations with Thorwald will
be of a pleasant character--and it shall not be my fault if they are
not."

While this conversation had been going on between Aldred and Edwin, the
earl had been conferring with Siward, who was one of the number that had
accompanied Thorwald. This Siward was a stout, fair-faced, resolute
looking man, of middle age, and was the armorer of the castle. He was
not only a most excellent craftsman, but one of the best and bravest of
soldiers. He could use arms as well as fabricate them, and was
thoroughly attached to the interests of Kenmore.

"Do you tell me," said the earl, "that you have not been with Thorwald?"

"I tell you," replied Siward, "that he left us at Scone, when we reached
that place a week ago, and we saw him not again until last night."

"He had been hunting, I suppose?" pursued Atholbane.

"So he told us, my lord."

"But he did not invite you to join in the sport?"

"He did not."

"Surely, Thorwald might have been more thoughtful of your comfort; but
you must not blame him."

"I have no thought of blame, my lord. For my own comfort, if left to my
choice, I should not seek the companionship of those who were inclined
to avoid me; so I have no discomfort to lay at Thorwald's door."

Before the main gate of the keep the earl met his step-son. The latter
had been informed by his mother of the attack of the marauders, and he
now sought further particulars, which Atholbane gave him in full.
Thorwald expressed horror and surprise and indignation, at the same time
expressing the firm conviction that if he had been at home he would have
either captured or killed the robber chief; and he furthermore declared
that he believed that chieftain to have been none other than Olaf
himself.

"You say you have one of the rascals in safe confinement?"

"Yes," replied the earl. "He is locked up in one of the cells beneath
the eastern tower."

"We will see him in the morning, and find if we cannot get some
information from him. I think a proper application of the thumb-screws
will open his mouth to some purpose."

"Why not bring him up to-day?" suggested Atholbane.

Thorwald said he had not time to see him. He had got to ride down to
Claggan to attend to some business of his own, and he might not be back
until night. So the matter must rest until the morrow.

At night, just as the stars were beginning their watch, Thorwald
returned, and as he was much fatigued he sought his rest at an early
hour.

Aldred again retired to the old chamber in the Ghost's Tower; but
neither the pale-faced woman nor the white-haired monk came to visit
him; but he dreamed of them both.

Old Finlan, the warder, however, had something more than dreams to tell
of when he saw his lord in the morning. He had seen a veritable ghost
during the night. He had seen it in the corridor leading to the eastern
tower. It was black as night, and as big as a tree.

The earl suggested that the corridor was not high enough in the arch to
accommodate a very large tree.

Whereupon the warder replied that ghosts could accommodate themselves to
any space. They could fill a chamber, or they could pass through a
key-hole.

Did Finlan follow the ghost?

No. There had been no need of it,--in fact, no opportunity; for it had
disappeared--resolved itself into thin air--the moment it became aware
that human eyes were watching it.

Atholbane did not laugh at his faithful old warder, as he might have
done a few days before; nor did he acknowledge a faith in the appearance
of a ghost. He thought to himself, as he turned away, that some one of
the mysterious habitants of the western tower might have paid a visit to
the apartments of the opposite angle of the keep.

After breakfast Thorwald came and proposed that they should go down and
see the prisoner. He had brought two stout servants with him who would
apply the instruments of torture, if such a course should be found
necessary; and he expressed himself as very confident that they should
learn all they desired to know. The warder went with them, carrying the
keys and bearing a torch. The door of the cell was reached, deep down
beneath the tower, and Finlan applied his key and threw it open.

The prisoner lay prone upon the cold, hard flagging, and when the earl
spoke to him he made no reply. Thorwald touched him with his foot, and
told him to get up; but he did not move.

"The man is dead!" said Finlan.

Had he died from his wound?

No. As they turned the body over upon its back they found the eyes
pressed out from their sockets, and the tongue protruding from the
mouth. It was a ghastly looking face, bearing, in its purple lines and
horrible corrugations, traces of agony most intense.

"See!" cried Aldred, stooping down and lifting the long hair from the
shoulder.

A leathern thong, half buried in the swollen flesh, was revealed around
the neck. It had been drawn tight enough to break the scarf-skin in
places, showing plainly that a strong hand had applied it.

No amount of discussion could solve the mystery. Old Finlan was strongly
inclined to the belief that the ghost had had something to do with it.

And so thought Atholbane; but his thoughts went farther than did those
of his warder. Who, or what, had been that ghost? When he was alone in
his closet he sank into a chair, and bowed his head upon his hand; and
the words which had been spoken by the mysterious presence in the Blue
Chamber came painfully to his mind:

"Atholbane, you have need to watch; but not here!"




CHAPTER VI.--A SECRET.


FOR the first two or three days there seemed to exist a sort of mutual
distrust between Thorwald and the Knight of Lanark. True, the latter had
not formed a very exalted opinion of his host's step-son, nor would he,
under ordinary circumstances, have sought the friendship of such a man;
but, situated as he was, a guest at Kenmore, he felt it his duty, so
long as he accepted its hospitalities, to treat its inmates with
respect. But the exhibit of distrust had not commenced with Aldred. From
the very first Thorwald had looked upon his father's guest with no very
favorable expression; and during the day following the discovery in the
prisoner's cell he had been unable to conceal symptoms that might be
taken, without much stretch of imagination, for signs of enmity.

But in time Thorwald's face grew less dark; the cloud disappeared from
his brow; and he became cheerful and gay. This gave Aldred an
opportunity to be cheerful in turn, but it did not lead him to change
the opinion he had first formed of the son of Eric.

One of the first subjects broached by Thorwald, after he had come to
terms of freedom and intimacy with the guest, was of the mysterious
habitants of the Ghost's Tower; and it was very easy to be seen, from
the manner in which he spoke, that he was possessed of a superstitious
dread of those ghostly visitants. Aldred told him what he had seen; but
he did not enter into particulars. He simply assured his interlocutor
that he had seen things for which he could account in no possible way
without admitting the presence of immaterial spirits in the chambers of
the old tower.

"And are you not afraid to sleep there?" asked Thorwald.

"Why should I fear?" replied our hero, with a smile. "The spirits, if
spirits they be, show no disposition to trouble me; and so long as they
content themselves with coming and going, like the moon beams and the
sighing winds, I am not horrified. It may be that these poor spirits
seek rest; and I hope that I may be the means of helping them. At all
events, I will gain their secret, if they have one to communicate, and I
can possibly receive it."

Thorwald bowed his head, and walked silently away. He was troubled in
mind, and cared not to show it.

One afternoon, as the earl and Aldred were conversing in the hall, Edwin
joined them and shortly asked his father if the picture gallery was
open.

"No, my boy," was the reply.

"Then why cannot you open it? I want good Aldred to see the pictures. He
has never been in there yet."

"Perhaps he would not care to go in."

"I would not care," said our hero, "to tax you beyond your inclinations;
but, if there are no objections, I should certainly like to see the
pictures."

The earl smiled, as though with an effort, and as he led the way towards
the stair-case he said:

"I have not kept you from the gallery, Sir Aldred, because I had any
objections to your going there; but simply because I have not been in
the mood for visiting it myself. It is a foolish whim on my part that
has kept me out, and perhaps the sooner I overcome it the better. If you
will wait here a moment I will get the key." When he returned he added:

"You will not behold a very extensive array of pictures; and most of
them are but homely things at best. Some of them were painted for my
father; some I have had painted; a few were presents from Malcolm
Canmore; and a few have been given me by our present king."

As they approached the door of the gallery Thorwald came out from his
chamber and joined them; and when he learned where they were going he
proposed to bear them company.

The gallery was a long, narrow apartment, lighted from the roof by means
of sashes, in the small, lozenge-shaped interstices of which were set
thin lamina of mica. There were a few landscapes, among which was a fine
view of the castle; a view of the Priory; and a view of Ben Lawers.

"This is a portrait of my father," said the earl, pointing up at the
picture of a stout, good looking man, clad in a hunting costume, with a
dead stag at his side.

But Aldred did not hear what he said. He had observed another picture,
and was gazing upon it with breathless eagerness. It was the portrait of
a woman, young and beautiful, with golden hair and heavenly blue eyes,
and with a form of perfect symmetry and grace.

"What is this?" he asked in a whisper, as the earl approached him.

"Why do you ask?" returned Atholbane, himself visibly affected.

"It is the woman of the Blue Chamber!" answered Aldred, without removing
his gaze from the picture. "It is her very face--the same--yes, the same
sweet mouth--the same celestial beauty. My lord----"

The knight stopped in his speech, for the earl had turned pale as death,
and was trembling fearfully.

"Ah, good Aldred!" cried Edwin, who had, until now, been engaged in
viewing the landscapes, "are you looking at that picture? Is it not
beautiful? Oh! how I wish I could have seen her before she died! I know
I should have loved her. That is my dead mother."

"Your mother, Edwin?"

"I call her my mother because she was the wife of my father before I was
born. She is not my mother--she cannot be--because she died long before
I had life; but I call her mother just the same as Thorwald calls my
father his father. He has a dead father, and I love to think that the
spirit of the sweet lady looks down from heaven and smiles upon me,
because I am the child of her husband. I know I have my own mother
living, and I love her; but Lady Maud----"

"Hush, my boy!"

"Lady Maud!" repeated Aldred, with a start.

"My dead wife!" said the earl. And he covered his face with his hands
and turned away.

Not another word was spoken until they had left the gallery, and when
they reached the hall, Thorwald retired to his own chamber with an
expression upon his dark features which could not well be analysed. In
the court, when Edwin had been left behind, the earl placed his hand
upon Aldred's arm.

"Aldred, you do not think you can have been mistaken?"

"In what, my lord?"

"In the face of that presence you have seen in the Blue Chamber."

"I am not mistaken," replied our hero, slowly and solemnly. "I never saw
but one such face, and the picture in your gallery is its counterpart."

"Oh, my brother, this is dreadful!" groaned Atholbane, again covering
his face with his hands. "I am satisfied that it is the spirit of my
Maud that haunts that tower. But why should it be? She was good and
pure--as pure as the very angels that keep watch around the throne of
Heaven! Why should she suffer this unrest? Aldred, what can it mean?"

"Indeed, my lord, it is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps she will, at
some time, answer me."

"Oh, if she would but appear to me! She never did but once, and then her
face was turned away, and I thought she sobbed and moaned. My God! can
it possible that my second marriage----"

"Hush, my lord! you do but worry yourself needlessly. It could not have
been that. Surely you did only your duty when you married the Lady
Margaret. Kenmore should not be without an heir."

"And yet the spirit never came until after Lady Margaret took possession
of the Blue Chamber. Aldred, I would give all I am worth to know why
this is so!"

"Wait, my lord; we may solve the mystery in time. I have now a clue
which I have not possessed before, and if I can gain an answer from the
mystic presence, I will do so."

With this they separated, and shortly afterwards Aldred went down to the
shore of the lake with Edwin. It was almost dark when they returned, and
just outside the gate they met a man riding away on horseback.

"That is not one of our people," said the lad. "Do you know him,
Aldred?"

"I did not recognise the features," returned the knight, "but I should
judge, from the garb, that he was one of the followers of Earl Douglas."

"Very likely," said Edwin. "Earl Douglas is coming here."

"Coming here!" repeated Aldred, with a start.

"Certainly; did you not expect him at the tournament?"

"Yes," answered the knight, vacantly.

"And," pursued the lad, seeming not to have noticed the peculiarity of
his companion's manner, "where else should he find shelter? You forget
that my mother is his sister."

"I remember it very well."

"And I suppose Clara will come, too. You know Clara?"

"Yes."

"She is my cousin, and she is just my age. Only think of it--we were
born in the same month; but Clara is a lady now, while I am but a boy.
If I had not been weak and sick I should have been a strong man. Were
you not strong when you were twenty years old?"

"Twenty!" uttered Aldred, gazing down upon the frail form at his side.
"Is it possible? But--I remember--yes--you are twenty."

"But you have not answered my question, sir knight."

"Excuse me, Edwin. I am only five-and-twenty now. When I was of your
age, I was able to bear the heaviest armor and wield the axe which I now
bear."

"You were never sick, Aldred?"

"Never, in body."

"Oh, I wish I had been well. If I had been well and strong as you have
been, I might have looked forward to the coming of my bride with joyful
expectation."

"Your bride!" repeated Aldred, in a startled whisper.

"I call her my bride," pursued the lad, in an easy, confidential manner,
watching the grass at his feet as he spoke, and thus failing to see how
strangely his companion was moved. "I call her so, though we are not yet
married. Didn't you ever hear of our betrothment?"

"I have heard something of it."

Edwin looked up, fancying that the knight's voice was tremulous, but the
gathering gloom prevented him from seeing the troubled expression, and
he presently went on:

"We were betrothed when we were mere children. I don't think we were old
enough to know anything about it at the time. My mother was very
anxious, and I think my father liked the idea. If I had been strong and
well, and Clara Douglas were to become my wife, considering that I am an
only child, and that she is an only child, I might live to become lord
both of Kenmore and Douglas. But--I don't know--I fear me I should make
but a sorry husband. I am more like a child than like a man. Do you
think the lady would love me? You know her. Is she kind and gentle?"

"As kind as Mercy's sweetest angel--as gentle as the zephyr that fans
the brow of evening when the stars can see their faces clearly in the
bosom of the lake!"

Edwin raised his hand to his companion's arm, and looked up again.

"Aldred," he said, "your voice sounded strangely low and sweet when you
spoke those words. Have you ever loved Clara Douglas?"

There was no touch of jealousy in the question--only the simple
curiosity of a child--but the effect was startling upon the Knight of
Lanark. He shook the boy's hand from his arm and started back, but with
a mighty effort he calmed himself, hiding his emotion behind the
intervening gloom, and when he answered, his voice was steady, though
not natural.

"As a true knight may love that which is far above him, I may have loved
Earl Douglas' daughter. But come, the darkness is gathering, and your
father may be anxious, and further, the porter may be closing the
gates."

They were upon the bridge as the words were spoken, and just within the
court they met the earl.

"Sir Aldred," said the host, as they walked together, "a courier has
been here from Scone since you have been away, and he brings word that
Earl Douglas will arrive to-morrow. The workmen have finished, and the
apartments are ready."

The ordeal through which our hero had just passed had given him a degree
of self-control sufficient to enable him to meet the remarks of his host
upon the same subject without flinching, though stern effort was
necessary to that end.

"My brother," pursued Atholbane, in a tone which showed that he spoke
unwillingly, "you and I are bound to each other by a strong compact, and
while I exercise a brother's privilege of speaking plainly, let me trust
that you will repose in me a brother's confidence. Earl Douglas is
coming here--he and his daughter--and they may remain some weeks. I know
that you have recently come from Lanark, and that I may know how to
govern myself, I ask you, plainly, is there any ill feeling between you
and Douglas?"

"On the contrary, my lord, there is the best of feeling; that is, so far
as friendship and faith can go between man and man."

"I am glad to hear that," cried the earl, joyfully. "I had feared that
it might be otherwise. Earl Douglas has reared you as a son?"

"He has been very kind to me."

"And yet, if I have been rightly informed, you are in no way related to
him."

"Not in the least, my lord. I thought you knew the story of my life."

"I heard it, I think, some years ago; but I thought little of it at the
time. I saw you, as a child, at Lanark, and you were so bright, and
buoyant, and happy, that I cared not whose offspring you were. You were
to me as one of God's own beautiful creations, and I remember that you
took to me, even then. Since you have reached the age of manhood your
deeds of valor have marked you out for a true and gallant knight, and
your parentage became to me, more than ever, a matter of little
consequence."

"My lord," said Aldred, struggling against an emotion that came nigh
betraying him, "my father is still living; and you must remember him
well. He is Walthorf, the old forester of Lanark. He was forester in the
service of the old earl before the present Douglas was born. As the lord
of Lanark had no son of his own he took a strong liking for me, and
suffered me to make the inner apartments of his castle my home; and if I
had been his own son he could not have taken more pains with my
education."

"Then," cried Atholbane, cheeringly, "who can hold his head above you?
In all that makes the immortal man, you rank with the best in Scotland."

"Hush!" groaned Aldred, putting out his hand imploringly. He could
sustain himself no longer. "I rank with nothing!" he added, seeking no
more to hide his emotions. "I am like a poor hare that has been borne
aloft by an eagle. The wings that have raised me are not mine by birth,
and when they fail me I must fall. I know that what God has made of
me--the man of me that is immortal--ranks with the best; but kings and
nobles, in dealing out their favors, take small account of what a man
may have in his head and heart."

"Aldred, has Douglas--has the king----"

"My lord, I pray you cease. No more of this, if you love me. On the
morrow I will be calm and composed."

And thus speaking, the youth turned away.

Atholbane watched him until his receding form was lost in the gloom, and
when left entirely to his own thoughts, a glimmer of the truth broke
upon him.

"Poor Aldred!" he murmured to himself, as he started slowly toward the
inner court. "I had not thought of this. But how is it with Clara
Douglas?"

He stopped, and pressed his hand upon his brow in the old, painful
manner--a manner that had become habitual with him of late--and thus he
stood for some moments. At length he started on again, his hands
clasped, and his lips giving words to his thoughts:

"I see trouble in this. O, poor human heart! No armor fashioned by the
hand of man can shield thee from the pangs and sorrows of painful
circumstance!"




CHAPTER VII.--CLARA DOUGLAS.


THERE was great stir and bustle at Kenmore Castle when Earl Douglas
arrived. He came just after noon, and a score of stout men-at-arms bore
him company. Atholbane and Lady Margaret and Thorwald were at the gate
of the keep ready to welcome the earl and his daughter, and surely no
welcome could have been warmer. While the host took Douglas by the hand
to conduct him into the hall, Thorwald moved forward as though he would
perform the same office for Lady Clara; but his mother put him gently
aside, whispering a few words into his ear as she did so, and herself
conducted in the maiden.

Earl Douglas was a fine looking man, in the prime and vigor of life; and
the smoothness of his open brow and the clear light of his dark blue
eyes betokened that he had as yet seen but little of sorrow. His wife
was an invalid, scarcely ever going beyond the walls of Lanark, but she
was resigned and happy, suffering but little pain; and her husband, in
the goodness of his heart, found much real comfort of soul in caring
tenderly for her. He was a kind man, and a brave, true knight; but he
was proud of his position, firmly believing in the nobility of birth,
and in the divine right of kings.

Clara Douglas, the only living child of the earl, was twenty years of
age, of medium height, and of exquisite proportions; her movements all
grace, and her bearing gentle and kind. Her face was not only the seat
of one of the purest types of beauty that is vouchsafed to woman, but it
was also the mirror of an inner being all lovely and harmonious. And yet
she was not without those signs of spirit and zeal that give fire to the
eyes, and lend a changeful radiance to the checks. She possessed enough
of her father's proud spirit to make her brave and true, and keenly
sensitive; while enough of her mother's meekness had entered into the
composition of her character to give her a sympathising depth of
feeling, and to render her peculiarly sweet and loveable.

As the company entered the large drawing room Thorwald contrived to
obtain a seat near to Clara, and a close observer might have seen that
he gazed upon her with an earnest, greedy eye. Her beauty was indeed
dazzling, and he was not the first knight who had dwelt in rapture upon
it; but his gaze was not entirely one of admiration. He knew that the
lady was affianced to his half-brother, and that he had no right to love
her. He gazed upon her as the brigand, from his ambush, might gaze upon
the unsuspecting traveller. He gazed as the coiled serpent might have
gazed upon the bird of beautiful plumage.

He spoke to her, and his voice was unnatural--breathless-like and
hushed--as though there was some part of himself which he wished to
hide, and which his voice might reveal; but by and bye he spoke more
freely, and finally ventured to smile. Clara treated him politely; but
she had not failed to notice those signs which he could not conceal, and
she hesitated not to decide in her own mind that he was a dangerous man.
Had she lucked courage, she might have shrunk from him with fear, and
exposed the emotions that stirred her soul; but she had confidence in
her own strength; confidence in the sheltering roof of Kenmore; and
mayhap she fancied that Thorwald's vows of knighthood might have some
healthful restraining influence upon him.

"I have not seen Edwin yet," said Douglas, as the conversation lagged.

"The youth is shy," returned Atholbane, with a smile. "I will go and
find him."

The host arose and left the room, and when he returned his son bore him
company. Douglas could not repress the feeling of disappointment that
was manifest in the shadow that flitted across his face as he beheld the
pale, thin features and the slender frame of the youth to whom his
daughter was affianced. He had hoped to see him looking stouter and
stronger; but he had too much good breeding to make further
manifestation of his disappointment, and he greeted the lad with
cheerful good will.

Edwin had not feared to meet Earl Douglas--he feared to meet no man, for
his heart was in the right place, and in his bosom there was no guile;
but he had dreaded to meet Clara, and when he saw her now, radiant in
her healthful beauty, he would have shrunk away abashed, had she not
taken his hand with a sweet, sisterly smile, and spoken to him kindly
and lovingly.

By and bye Lady Margaret took Clara away to dress for dinner, and the
two earls, arm in arm, went out into the court.

"My brother," said he of Kenmore, when they were where their voices
could reach no other ears, "you have seen my son, and you have seen that
he has not improved much in health and strength, but still I have
hopes."

"I noticed it," returned Douglas.

"And I saw that you were disappointed," pursued Atholbane.

"Yes, I was disappointed, but I meant not to show it."

After a pause, during which the earl ascended to the parapet, Atholbane
said:

"Listen to me, Douglas: I would not have our old compact become an
uncomfortable burden upon you. My son is frail and weak, and he may
never be strong and well. Yet he is a good boy, true-hearted, just and
honorable, and as frank and generous as man can be. I love him, and I
know that you would love him; but while you loved him you might also
pity him, and surely the husband of your daughter should not be such as
to call for pity."

"Go on," said Douglas, as his companion came to a stop.

"You know what I would say," Atholbane continued. "If you would find
another husband for your daughter, I am willing that the compact should
be annulled."

"Do you wish it annulled?" asked Douglas.

"No," replied the host; "it is no wish of mine I am simply anxious----"

"That I should be called to bear no unpleasant burden from the
fulfilment of our compact," finished the guest. "But you need have no
such fear. So far as I am concerned, I hold to the original agreement.
It was to unite the interests of Kenmore and Lanark. I do not believe
that Edwin will ever grow to be a warrior, but by care and foresight he
may enjoy many years of life, and become the father of healthy children.
Let me hear no more of that, my brother, unless you have desires of your
own independent of considerations touching me, to set aside our old plan
of union."

"In truth, Douglas, I have no such desire."

"Then we must care for Edwin's health, and lay our plans for the final
consummation. As far as they are concerned, I am sure they will be happy
in the union. I watched them when they met this afternoon. The youth was
shy and backward--a sure sign of admiration and eager hope--while Clara
seemed really moved by the spirit of love and devotion. So we will
consider that point settled, and when we allude to it further it shall
be for the purpose of making arrangements for the nuptials. And,
moreover, I think those nuptials had better not be long delayed. What
think you?"

Atholbane expressed the same opinion. The parties were old enough to
marry, and perhaps it would be better that it should be done before the
summer was gone.

Upon the bastion directly beneath the western tower they stopped, and
after Douglas had viewed the landscape awhile, he asked his companion if
Sir Aldred was at the castle.

"He is my guest," replied Atholbane, "and I wonder that he has not yet
presented himself. I love him. I think he is true and honorable."

"He is more than that," added Douglas, warmly; "he is one of a thousand.
And yet," he continued, lowering his voice and bending his eyes to the
ground, "I sometimes think I did wrong in bringing him up from the
humble sphere in which he was born. Certain aspirations may lead to
legitimate results, but there may be aspirations that can never be
answered." Another pause, and then, looking up, Earl Douglas proceeded:

"I must be frank with you, Atholbane. Aldred left me of his own accord,
and yet I was glad when he told me he was going, for he did an honorable
thing therein. He could not have remained safely beneath my roof any
longer. His own peace of mind forbade it, and it may have been well for
my daughter. I think you understand me."

The Earl of Kenmore bowed a silent assent.

"And," pursued Douglas, "you can readily understand that Aldred and
Clara should not be needlessly thrown together while we remain here."

Atholbane understood perfectly well.

And there the matter was dropped for the present.

When dinner was ready, Sir Aldred entered the hall where the guests were
assembled, and Earl Douglas greeted him as he would have greeted a very
dear friend. Then our hero turned to lady Clara and extended his hand. A
close observer, who had been watching for slight tokens of feeling,
might have detected in the quivering of the lips, in the drooping of the
lids, and in the varying color of those two faces, that there were
emotions within which were purposely, and by strong effort, held in
control. And there were two persons gazing upon the scene who were
looking for such betrayal. Lady Margaret had watched her niece from the
first, and she knew well enough the meaning of those signs. And Thorwald
had watched--had watched both Aldred and Clara--and a fierce glitter
shone in his black eyes when he saw how much they were forced to
conceal.

Only a few brief moments of painful labor, and then both the knight and
the lady appeared like their genial, social selves; and when dinner was
done, and they had repaired to the drawing room, Douglas fancied that
there could be no danger.

On the following day the whole party took to horse, and rode into the
forest upon a hunting excursion. Edwin had a mountain pony, a small,
ambling animal, that bore a rider almost as in a cradle, and he enjoyed
himself very much as he rode by the side of his beautiful cousin. She
was kind and loving, and did all she could to make him happy, and ere
long he came to regard her as a blessed angel, upon whose sympathy he
could lean with confidence, and in whose truth he might repose every
trust of his soul. She exercised no sentimental reserve in his presence,
kept back no thoughts that she would have spoken, but was all frankness
and fervor, leading him to look up to her for guidance, even in his joy.

Earl Douglas watched the cousins, and fancied that the love which would
make marriage happy had already dawned. And even so thought Atholbane.
Thorwald gazed upon the scene, and his lowering brow showed that he was
jealous of the attentions which his half-brother received, though it is
doubtful if he shared the faith of the earls in the character of the
maiden's sentiments. He had seen enough to convince him that Clara
Douglas' heart was no longer hers to give, and he was inclined to the
opinion that this seeming fondness for the pale boy was but a veil hung
out to blind those who might have an interest in watching her.

Lady Margaret, however, with a woman's instinct, came nearer to the
truth. She saw no guile in Clara's treatment of her son--nothing but
what was natural and proper--and yet she did not believe that in her
smiles and kind words there was anything like the promptings of that
wondrous love which the heart of a maiden gives to its chosen possessor
and master. She had known the maiden from childhood she knew how kind
and gentle and loving she was--and in all this she saw but the love
which, a fond and sympathising sister might feel towards a patiently
suffering brother.

As for Aldred, there were no shadows of jealousy upon his face, nor
gleams of distrust in his eyes. He, too, loved the pale youth, and he
cared not how much Clara loved him; for he knew her heart well enough to
know that she could give him only a brother's place.

The path which the hunters pursued had led them round by the northern
shore of the lake, to the bleak crags back of Ben Lawers; and as they
approached a cliff, the top of which towered high above their heads, the
old forester, who rode in advance, waved his hand, and called attention
to something perched upon the topmost pinnacle of the perpendicular
height.

"It is a golden eagle!" cried Atholbane.

"Aye--and the largest I ever saw," added Donald.

"Such a bird, I should judge, might do much mischief," remarked Lady
Clara.

"You would hardly believe how savage and strong they are," said Edwin.
"I saw just such a bird us that carry off a lamb not more than two
months ago."

"Aye, my young master," echoed the forester, "and I believe that is the
very fellow."

"Can you reach him with an arrow?" asked Douglas.

"It is doubtful, my lord. It is a long distance to the top of that
cliff."

"Never mind," cried Atholbane. "You can bend your bow, good Donald."

"But only to master an arrow," responded the forester, as he selected a
shaft from his quiver.

The shot was made, but the arrow lacked many yards from reaching its
mark.

Atholbane then tried the bow himself. His arrow went higher than did the
forester's, but it failed to reach the point aimed at.

"The eagle does not stir," said Clara. "I thought they were shy and
timid when in the presence of man."

"Ah, my sweet lady," replied Donald, "that fellow has two reasons for
not troubling himself to get out of our way. In the first place, he
probably fancies that his high perch places him entirely beyond the
reach of harm at our hands; and, secondly, very likely his nest is in
some one of those broad fissures below him, with his mate in it, and he
is keeping watch while she cares for the fledglings."

"Cannot an arrow be made to reach that point?" cried Earl Douglas,
slipping down from his saddle. "By my faith! I think I have seen the
longbows of Lanark do as much as that. Donald, give me the bow."

"It is a long shot, my lord, and a hard one, for the arrow has its whole
weight to bear the entire distance."

"Is your bow a good one?"

"There is not a better in Scotland."

Douglas selected an arrow and set it in its place, and then advancing a
few steps, he drew it to its head, and let it fly. The shot had been an
excellent one, for the arrow had reached the top of the cliff, and
fallen so near where the eagle stood as to cause him to move; but its
force had been so far spent that it would have been harmless had it hit
him.

Upon this, Thorwald took the bow, and tried in turn. His arrow went as
high as the earl's had done, and perhaps higher, but it went wide of the
mark. With an exclamation of impatience, he took another arrow, and made
a second attempt. This time he drew the shaft full to the head, but the
effort required to do it destroyed his aim, and the shot was worse than
the other.

"Come, Aldred," said Atholbane; "Donald has more arrows. You must take
your turn."

"And you shall see a noble shot, too," cried Douglas. "I have seen the
lad handle the long-bow."

The Knight of Lanark got down from his saddle and took the bow. He had
seen where the others had failed, and he knew, if the shot could be
made, just what was necessary to do it. He selected an arrow a full span
longer than any that had been yet tried, and with a light step he took
his place a little further from the face of the cliff than that which
his companions had selected. The majestic bird, meanwhile, seemed deeply
interested in the movements which were going on below him, as was
evident from the manner in which he kept his dizzy perch, and gazed down
upon the interlopers.

With steady, confident strength, Aldred drew the feathered shaft against
the bow-string, raising it gradually as he did so, and when the line of
the mark was reached the head of the arrow touched the bow, straining
the tough wood as it had never been strained before, if the forester was
to be believed. With a sharp, ringing twang, the nicely-balanced missile
was shot upward, cleaving the air like a flash--up, up--for a single
instant distinguishable as its feather drew a thread-like line of white
against the dark face of the cliff, and then lost to sight. In another
moment a wild, piercing cry broke the distant air, and the eagle leaped
far out from his perch and made an effort to spread his wings; but with
his broad arms not half opened, he circled out and in, but downward all
the time, and at length fell to the ground not a dozen yards from where
the party stood, with the barbed head of the arrow buried deep in his
bosom.

"The hand that sent that arrow was trained at Lanark," cried Douglas,
good-naturedly, yet proudly. "By my faith! 'twas a noble shot!"

"Aye-a noble shot!" responded Atholbane, with a return of good nature;
"and the hand that drew the bow-string is a dweller at Kenmore!"

Thorwald, when he saw the Knight of Lanark about to draw the bow, looked
at Clara Douglas, and he saw that she was breathlessly anxious. And when
he saw that the mark had been surely hit, he looked again, and now he
found the beautiful face suddenly radiant with joy. The success of the
arrow had been as nothing compared to this. He might have felt a
rankling envy of the youthful knight who had so palpably beaten him in
archery, but it was a fire of malignant hatred that flashed from his
eyes when he saw where the maiden's sympathy lay.

And why was this? What had Thorwald to do with the affairs of Clara
Douglas? She was affianced to his half-brother. Did he regard Edwin as
too weak to maintain his own right, and so constitute himself a champion
to protect the honor of the heir of Kenmore?

We shall see.




CHAPTER VIII.--THE COMPACT IS SHATTERED.


EARLY in the evening, as Aldred walked alone upon the parapet, he heard
a light footfall behind him, and upon turning he beheld Edwin.

"I am glad to have found you alone," said the boy, glancing carefully
around.

"What is the matter now, brother?"

"O, nothing in particular, good Aldred; only I wanted to see you." They
walked along together a piece, and then the lad continued:

"Do you know what a grand shot you made to-day?"

"In Lanark," replied the knight, without any show of pride, "I was
accounted the best archer of all that professed to handle the longbow."

"It is a noble thing thus to excel in such manly sport," pursued Edwin;
"but still it has its draw backs."

"Ah?"

"Yes, Aldred. It isn't pleasant to have men envy you."

"We cannot prevent the envy of those below us."

"Yes,--but it is the envy of those who think themselves above us that I
speak of."

"Speak plainly, Edwin."

"Then," returned the lad, stopping, and laying his hand upon his
companion's arm, "I want to tell you to beware of Thorwald."

"Ah! Is there anything new?"

"I saw to-day what you may not have seen," continued the youth,
earnestly; "and had Thorwald spoken his feelings in words I could not
have gained them more surely then I did from the darkness of his face.
He is not only envious of you, but he hates you."

"I know that he does not like me."

"He has not liked you from the first; and now he dislikes you more than
ever."

"And has the simple circumstance of the shooting of the eagle worked so
upon him?"

"It was not entirely that," said Edwin, confidently. "He could have
borne all that with only envy; but when he saw that bright eyes gave
cheering light for you, and not even a kindly glance for him, his envy
became hatred."

"Edwin!"

"You know what I mean, Aldred."

"You mean that Thorwald is jealous of me?"

"Jealous of the love which Clara Douglas plainly shows for you,"
answered the boy, calmly and frankly.

The Knight of Lanark drew back a pace, and gazed into the face of the
young heir. If he had thought to find any trace of envy or jealousy
there, he was disappointed. The shades of evening had not gathered so
thickly but that the lines of the thin, pale face could be plainly seen,
and the boyish features wore the same expression of childlike trust and
confidence that had marked them on other occasions. Our hero laid his
hand upon the lad's shoulder, and there was a tremulous cadence in his
voice as he said:

"Edwin, you are the one who has the sole right to be jealous for such a
cause."

"I jealous?" cried the boy.

"Aye--you!"

Edwin of Kenmore took the hand of the knight from his shoulder and held
it within his own, and when he spoke his voice was low and earnest, and
tunefully sweet and pathetic:

"Aldred, I will tell to you a truth which I would not yet tell even to
my father. I love Clara Douglas; but not with a love that could beget
jealousy. Though our years are the same, I am a child and she is a
woman. I love her as though she were my sister--my kind, gentle,
affectionate sister. When I think of offering myself as the husband of
such a woman, I shrink as I would shrink from bearing upon my brow the
jewelled crown of an empire. I have no such love for my beautiful
cousin. Perhaps, had she so loved me--had she invited such love on my
part--had she shown to me that it was the desire of her heart that I
should be something nearer to her than a brother--I might have found an
answering love in my own heart, and, in time, with all distrust removed,
have joyfully taken the place to which my father would assign me. But it
is not so. Clara loves me; but not like that. She loves me with her
whole soul; but it is a sister's love for a poor, weak brother. There is
no flashing of the warm, rich blood to the face--no swelling of the
bosom--no drooping, sighing, molting glance of the eye--no quiver of the
white hand--and no passionate cadence of the voice, when she reveals her
love. No, no, Aldred, I have not stirred that deeper fountain in her
soul. Upon the mystic mirror of her maiden's heart Edwin of Kenmore has
not impressed the image of her future husband. So, my brother, I shall
never be jealous of you."

"Of me!" uttered Aldred, as though in a dream.

"I shall never be jealous of you," repeated Edwin, with strange
emphasis. And presently he went on,--"I am not blind. I think I have
told you that I read what is written upon the human face quite readily.
Shall I tell you what I have read in my cousin's face?"

The knight struggled with himself, but he did not speak.

"Shall I tell you, Aldred?"

Another struggle, and then our hero answered:

"You can tell me what you think it is proper I should know."

"By my soul!" cried the boy, vehemently, "I know not why I should fear
to speak. If there is right on earth, then you should have what God has
given to you! The right of heaven is above the right of human will. What
God has manifestly ordained, man has no right to annul."

Edwin ceased speaking, and walked slowly towards the edge of the
parapet. He stopped there a few moments, looking over into the moat
below, and when he came back he again took his companion's hand. His
voice, as he spoke, was lower than before, and slightly tremulous, but
there was no hesitation. He seemed to have made up his mind just how far
he would speak, and was prepared to assume the responsibility.

"Dear Aldred, you have been more than a brother to me. Only a few short
days have elapsed since first I knew you, and yet it seems as though you
had been with me for years. If you had not saved my life--if we had met
under ordinary circumstances--I am sure I should have loved you all the
same; and, feeling thus, I am led to give you my whole confidence--to
speak to you words that I would not dare speak to another. You do not
know--my father does not know--how much I suffer, nor do I tire my
mother with the story. My father talks to me hopefully, and tells me
that I shall be stronger and better. So I may be--so I must be--but not
here. Earthly vigor I shall never know. I shall not long remain here.
Stop! do not interrupt me. I know of what I speak. Day by day I feel the
current of my life failing, failing, failing, and I know that, ere long,
the tide will stop. Aldred, I shall never see the snows of another
winter. When they come, they will rest as a shroud upon my grave. And
yet the assurance does not give me pain, though all things are not as I
could wish."

The boy paused, and letting go the hand of the knight, he moved again
towards the parapet; but he did not stop to look over. He came back
presently, and resumed:

"When I am gone, what shall become of Clara Douglas? It seems strange
that I, a weak boy, should feel that charge upon me, yet so it is. By
the compact of our parents she is mine; and though the marriage union
can never be consummated between us, still I feel a yearning desire to
know that the future may be freighted with blessings for her. When I am
away from the scene, Thorwald will seek her hand, and I much fear that
Atholbane and Douglas will both favor his suit. But she does not love
Thorwald. Good Aldred, she loves you!"

"Edwin!"

"Hush! I know her secret. She loves you with a love that no power of
earth can overcome. Her whole heart is yours; and were this wide world
all in one vast empire, and you the master of its throne, she could not
feel more pride in her love, than she feels now. If she were my own
sister, I should not wish to see her become the wife of a man like
Thorwald, and can I rest content with the fear upon me that the dark son
of Eric may yet possess her? Oh, Aldred! he will work very hard, and he
is capable of working wickedly. Already, I am sure, he has discovered
her love for you, and he cannot help knowing that you love her. If it
were in my power, how gladly would I relinquish the fair charge to you.
My brother, I need counsel very much. What can I do?"

The stout knight drew the boy to his bosom, and held him there as he
would have held a child.

"Say no more now, Edwin. My heart is too full."

"But," urged the lad, looking up without unloosing the arms that
entwined him, "have I not spoken truly? Do you not love as I have said?"

"Yes, Edwin; and it was the love that had grown up between us that sent
me from Lanark. But, as God is my judge, I would not have interposed
between thee and thine affianced. I would not have done so willingly,
though I cannot tell what I might have done had circumstances too
strongly tempted my aching heart."

"Hush!" whispered Edwin, "someone is coming towards us."

As he spoke, he started back from the knight's embrace, and looked round
the angle of the tower near which they had been standing.

"Aldred, I must leave you here. Remember--the blessed prize rests
between you and Thorwald. I have spoken!"

And with these words the boy hurried away, and was quickly lost in the
gloom.

Before the knight had opportunity to reflect upon the strange scene
which had just passed, a female figure appeared to his view, approaching
from the direction of the keep. She stopped when she saw him, and made a
motion as though she would retire; but Aldred could not permit this. The
impulse was upon him to speak one word--to claim her ear for a brief
space--for he knew not when another chance would offer itself.

"Lady," he said, taking a step towards her.

"I thought Edwin was here," she responded.

"Edwin was here, but he left when he knew that you were coming. Clara,
he left me that you might find me alone."

The words were spoken softly, tenderly, and entreatingly, and without
further reserve the maiden advanced and extended her hand.

"Aldred," she cried, seeking no longer to hide the emotions that had
place in the depths of her beating heart, "before God I mean no wrong,
and I think I do none. If I thought it a sin I would sooner tear my
aching heart from my bosom than seek you thus."

"My life, my light, my only joy!" answered Aldred, drawing the beautiful
girl nearer to him, and pressing her hands to his lips. "There is no
wrong. Before high heaven I have the right to love you now."

Giving way to the gentle pressure that still drew her forward, Clara
Douglas leaned upon the knight's bosom, and, with his stout arms about
her, she rested with that outgushing of joy and thankfulness which can
only flow from a heart wholly warmed into the life of love.

"Aldred," she said, still resting within his embrace, but raising her
head and looking up as she spoke, "it is not wrong. You have seen
Edwin?"

"Yes, sweet love."

"And he has told you----"

"My life! he has told me all. Aye, and more, too; for he has led me to
hope what I never dared to entertain. He has told me that he should
never claim you for his wife."

"Generous boy!" murmured Clara, softly and sadly. "I love him dearly, he
is so good and true; but I never felt other than a sister's love; and
he, it seems, would claim no other love. I never saw him so entirely
happy and grateful as he was when I assured him that I should always
love him, and that, while we both lived, I would be a true and faithful
sister to him."

"Heaven bless him!" ejaculated Aldred, fervently.

A short season of silence, during which the maiden again laid her head
upon its blissful rest, and our hero said:

"Dear Clara, we must not remain long here together; but before we
separate there is one important thing which we should understand.
Without any cause given on our own part, Edwin of Kenmore has freely and
voluntarily relinquished all claim to your hand; and he has, moreover,
most emphatically declared it as his wish that you should be mine. At
any rate, I have so understood him."

"He has said the same to me," asserted Clara.

"And has he told you what might be the wish of your father in the event
of the failure of your marriage with him?"

"O, Aldred, there was no need that he should tell me that. Already does
Thorwald approach me with a lover's look, and more than once have I seen
him regard you with the fiery glance of jealous hatred."

"Let us understand each other," urged the knight, as though fearful of
losing precious time. "By Edwin's own act you are freed from those
bonds--bonds which your father placed upon you years ago. We will not
say that he had no right to do that; but has he a right to make another
barter now, and consign you to the keeping of a man whom you dread
and----"

"Whom I dread and loathe," finished the maiden, as her companion
hesitated. "No," she continued, vehemently, "he has no right to do it.
And yet I feel sure----"

"Go on, Clara."

"O, Aldred, it seems hard--it seems almost wicked--to speak of what may
be in the event of Edwin's death!"

"And yet," added the knight, "it is upon the probability of such an
event that we are to base the line of our future conduct. But let us say
no more of that now.--Generous, noble boy! May he live to enjoy much of
life! Let us understand only one thing: Let what will come, you cannot
be the wife of Thorwald."

"Never, Aldred!"

"And," pursued our hero, earnestly, "if the time comes when your father
and Atholbane would make you the wife of Thorwald, you will turn to me
for hope and succor?"

"Yes," answered Clara, eagerly.

"Then, sweet love, we have the end in view. We understand each other
perfectly, and from this hour the bright star of promise leads me on.
Without thought of wrong, I will cherish your fond image in my soul,
trusting that in the end all joy and blessedness shall be ours!"

"Heaven grant it may be so!" fervently prayed the maiden.

And when Aldred would have again raised her hand to his lips, she turned
her face towards him, and, with throbbing heart and gushing tenderness,
she gave him the first warm kiss of love that had ever set its holy seal
upon their unspoken vows.

A little while--a brief, sweet season of blissful rapture--and then
Clara gently withdrew from the knight's embrace.


"I must go now, Aldred. I may be missed."

"It is right, Clara. Go; and may the richest blessings of Heaven go with
you!"

She had turned to depart when a footfall close at hand caused them both
to start with alarm.

"We are betrayed!" cried the frightened maiden.

Aldred had put forth his arm to protect his love, when he recognised the
fragile form of Edwin.

"Don't be alarmed," spoke the boy, advancing towards them. "I meant not
to disturb you."

"You have not, dear cousin," replied Clara, "I was upon the point of
returning to the keep when I heard your step. I have not been here a
great while."

"Not long," answered the lad, with a slight touch of reticence in the
tone; "but I thought I would come and bear you company to the keep. I
have not been watching you."

"But you have been waiting for me?" said his cousin.

"No. I saw Thorwald by the wicket of the inner ballium; and as he seemed
to be watching for something I thought I had better come out and meet
you. He might suspect something if he saw you returning alone from the
direction of this tower."

"Good, kind Edwin!" murmured Clara, as she gave him her hand. "I am glad
you came."

The cousins walked away together, and in a very few moments after they
had disappeared towards the keep Aldred heard footsteps approaching from
the opposite direction. They were stealthy, creeping steps, and had he
not been listening attentively for another sound, he might not have
heard them. Not caring to meet any one at that time, and especially
unwilling to meet the person whom he believed was coming, he moved back
within the shadow of a tangled vine that crept up the wall of the tower,
and in a minute more Thorwald came up, and stopped directly where our
hero had been standing.

"By saint Michael!" muttered the dark son of Eric, after looking up and
down the parapet. "I think the lady came this way; and she must have
made a long stop of it. If I had taken the other course I might have met
her. Have a care, my pretty bird! If you make too free with the
base-born hireling of Lanark, it shall be the worse for him!"

Thorwald ground his heel into the turf as he spoke, and a fierce oath
made finish of his sentence. He looked carefully around once more, and
then moved on towards the keep.

"The course before me is very plain now," said Aldred to himself as he
stepped out from behind the vine. "Still," he added, as he turned down
into the court, "I had better keep my eyes open. I have too much at
stake to be careless after this. I thank thee, Thorwald, for the caution
thus unintentionally given; and if I do not profit by it, it shall be my
own fault."

When our hero reached the keep he found the two earls engaged in marking
out a programme for the approaching tournament.

"Good Aldred," said Atholbane, with a cheerful smile, "we shall have a
grand display of arms next week. You will have opportunity to measure
swords and try lances with the best knights of the two kingdoms."

"I shall try that my bearing may reflect credit upon him who educated
me," replied our hero, modestly.

"Well spoken," cried Douglas, approvingly. "I shall not fear for the
reputation of Lanark. Gomar, the stout earl of Northumberland, is to
oppose me, and I shall take you upon my side."

Aldred bowed in acquiescence.

"And now," said Atholbane, addressing the youth, "would it please you to
accompany good Douglas to Scone to-morrow? He goes to see the king, and
would like that you should go with him."

Aldred was both willing and anxious to go; and arrangements were made
accordingly.




CHAPTER IX.--THORWALD IN THE BLUE CHAMBER.


"MOTHER, do you believe in ghosts?"

Earl Douglas and Aldred had gone to Scone; Atholbane was on the plain
outside the castle, superintending the preparations for the tournament;
and Thorwald and his mother were alone in one of the small
drawing-rooms.

Lady Margaret looked up with a startled expression, but made no answer.

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

Thorwald repeated the question, not from curiosity, nor from a mere
whim, as his manner plainly testified. He was nervous and anxious and
seemed desirous of sharing his burden with another.

"Why do you ask that question, my son?"

"Because I want to know what you think about it."

The countess seated herself, and after regarding the questioner for some
moments, she said:

"You have some purpose in your mind, Thorwald. What is it? Has anything
new transpired?"

"Nothing new, mother. You know what Aldred professes to have seen,"

"I have heard," replied the lady with a shudder.

"He claims that he has seen a ghost in the Blue Chamber," pursued
Thorwald, taking a seat near to his mother; "and he also asserts that it
is the spirit of the woman who was countess of Kenmore before you."

"I have heard so," returned Lady Margaret, turning pale.

"Now," said the son, "I think there is room for doubt and suspicion
here."

The countess shook her head.

"I fear it is a vain hope, my son. With my own eyes I have seen sights
in that old tower which were not of human origin."

"But," urged Thorwald, "did you ever see the face which this knight of
Lanark professes to have seen?"

"No."

"Do you believe he has seen it?"

"Thorwald?"

"I ask you--Do you believe he has seen it?"

"Surely, my son, I cannot tell. It is not impossible."

"And yet you, to whom all the ghosts of the tower have had opportunity
to show themselves, have never seen it. Do you think the earl has seen
it?"

"I think he has," answered the countess, slowly and tremulously. The
quiver of her voice, however, was not indicative of quiet sorrow, but
rather of a jealous pang. "But," she added, in quicker tones, "he has
never directly told me so."

"Ah, mother," cried Thorwald, moving his chair nearer to her, "I know
your secret. You think the earl has seen the ghost of his first wife,
and that he has not loved you so well since."

A smile, faint and sinister, wreathed the compressed lips as Lady
Margaret replied:

"Atholbane had no love to lose. He never loved me as he loved Maud of
Perth. He made me his wife so that he might raise up an heir to
Kenmore."

"And a precious work he has made of it!" exclaimed the knight,
derisively. "A most marvellous heir is Edwin!"

"Hush, Thorwald. Edwin is my child."

"But he is not your only child, nor is he your first-born. And moreover,
he came of a father who never gave you a husband's love. Did the Norman
Eric love you?"

"Yes, passionately."

"Then," cried Thorwald, in vehement tones, at the same time leaning
forward and grasping his mother's arm, "I ask you plainly--Which of the
two sons do you love best?"

"I love Eric's son best," was the answer.

"And would you not prefer that Eric's son should be heir to Kenmore?"

"Yes."

"And would you not prefer that Eric's son should be the husband of Clara
Douglas?"

"I cannot deny it."

"Then, my mother, we understand each other. Of Edwin I have no fear.
Clara does not love him, and I doubt if he is at all anxious to possess
her hand. You have some penetration. You have seen the signs--what think
you? Am I not right?"

The countess bowed assent.

"And now," continued the knight, with a vengeful flashing of the eyes,
"we arrive at the point where we may look for real trouble. What think
you of this upstart of Lanark?"

Lady Margaret clutched her hands, and tightly closed her lips.

Thorwald observed and understood the sign, and in a lower and more
insinuating tone he went on:

"My fair cousin does not dislike this adventurer. In fact, I believe she
loves him. I think they were together last evening."

"Ha!" cried the countess, with a start. "Is that so?"

"I think it is. And now," added Thorwald, with flashing eye, and at the
same time smiting his fist upon his knee, "I'll tell you one thing more
that I think: I think your husband loves Aldred of Lanark better than he
loves me."

The countess, was silent only for a moment, and then she answered,
without the least effort to conceal her real feelings:

"Since you have discovered what has made itself most unwelcomely
apparent to me, there is no need that we should be silent." She paused
awhile, and said in a lower tone:

"I do not hope much from Edwin. The physician only shakes his head when
I ask him his opinion. If blood of mine is to be united with Douglas,
and inherit Kenmore, my only hope is in my first-born." Then, with
kindling eye and determinate emphasis:

"I cannot divest myself of the fear that Aldred stands in the way. I
like him not. I see danger in his shadow. If Edwin becomes not the
husband of my brother's daughter, it is not impossible that Atholbane
may favor the suit of this base-born waif."

"Enough!" cried Thorwald. "Leave the Knight of Lanark with me. Ere many
days I shall have opportunity to meet him fairly in the list. I shall be
opposed to him, and I will single him out for my own lance and
battle-axe."

"Beware, my son. Aldred is not a boy. A Douglas gave him training."

"Pshaw! he will be as a boy in my hands. 'Sdeath! do you imagine that he
can hold a lance against me? By Saint Michael, I am good for a score of
such opponents. But enough of him. I will care for him when the time
comes. And now to this ghost. Have the spirits of the old tower ever
done harm to mortal man?"

"Not that I know of," replied the countess.

"Then I shall keep watch in the blue chamber to-night. Aldred is away,
and I will have a look at the immaterial woman he prates of. If he is
designingly working upon the earl's fears and fancies, I will expose
him. At all events, I am determined to know what it means. If the spirit
or ghost of Maud of Perth appears to him it will appear to me. Bah! I
have no faith in it!"

Though Margaret's belief in the reality of the ghostly visitations had
been firm, and though nothing could have induced her to spend a night in
the haunted tower, yet she was well pleased that Thorwald had resolved
to try the experiment. During the time that she had occupied those
apartments, she had seen frightful ghosts, and heard horrible noises,
but she had never seen the face of Lady Maud. Still, she doubted not
that her husband had seen it, and that others had seen it, and she knew
that Atholbane had not been the same man since the spirit of his dead
wife appeared to him. She had known before that the deep place of love
in his heart, which Maud had occupied, had never been her's, but she had
not realised how little room in that heart was given up to her. From the
time of the appearance of that unresting spirit, however, she had known
it all. She had no hope that her son would make any discovery calculated
to upset the ghostly theory, but she did hope that he might see what the
earl and Aldred had seen, and bring her some reliable word.

"If your nerves are strong," she said, "and you are proof against the
effect of terror, I think there can be no danger."

"I have no fears," persisted Thorwald. "I shall spend the coming night
in the Ghost's Tower, and on the morrow I will tell you the result."

With this the knight arose and left the apartment, and shortly
afterwards joined the earl on the plain, where he rendered such
assistance as he could in directing the workmen, who were putting up the
pailing for the list.

The afternoon was warm and sultry, but towards night big clouds showed
themselves over the summit of Ben Lawers, and as the sun went down the
wind arose, and a storm of rain set in. As the evening advanced the
storm increased, until the mountains fairly cracked beneath the shock of
the heavy thunder, and when the lightning flashed both heaven and earth
seemed ablaze. Thorwald had planned that he would watch alone in the
Ghost's Tower, but when he went into the western corridor and heard the
rain beat against the wall, and the wind howl around the towers and
bartizans, he thought it would be more comfortable to have a companion,
and to this end he sought his esquire.

This esquire, or body servant, was a Saxon named Griffeth--a
broad-shouldered, thickheaded, pugnacious fellow, some forty years of
age--bold enough in a fight when his temper was aroused, and faithful to
his master while it was for his interest so to be. He had plenty of
brute strength, and in a rough way, he knew how to use it; but when that
failed him he had no reserve force to fall back upon. With his present
feelings, he liked what his master liked, and hated what his master
hated.

To this man Thorwald proposed the plan he had conceived since the storm
came on.

"Of course I have no fear," he explained; "but company would make it
more agreeable on such a night, and, moreover, two can watch better than
one."

Thorwald could not have found a more willing man. Griffeth was not only
willing, but he was anxious to go. He declared that he had long desired
an opportunity to spend a night in that tower. He had heard a great deal
about ghosts, and he had a strong wish to see one. He did not exactly
believe in ghosts, and he could not say that he disbelieved; but he
could say that he was ready to be convinced.

So, after the rest of the household had retired, Thorwald and his
esquire, the former carrying a lantern, and the latter an unlighted lamp
and a basket containing several bottles of wine, made their way towards
the western tower. They reached the large bed-chamber without trouble,
where they deposited the basket and lighted the large lamp, after which
they went into the Blue Chamber.

"This is the place where the ghosts generally congregate," said
Thorwald.

"It's a kind of ghostly looking place, any way," responded Griffeth,
looking round upon the sombre tapestry.

As he spoke, a vivid flash of lightning set the room ablaze, and in a
moment more the thunder fell with a clap that shook the walls of the old
tower till the stones seemed ready to tumble. The pugnacious esquire,
who was never afraid of lightning and thunder before, cringed and
trembled now.

"Gad sounds!" he gasped. "I never heard anything like that."

"That's nothing," said Thorwald. "The lightning is just as sharp, and
the thunder as loud, elsewhere as it is here."

"Of course it is," assented the Saxon, laughing a cadaverous laugh. And
he fancied that he had shaken off the momentary terror. "But it is a
gloomy old room, though, isn't it?"

"I call it a very pleasant room," replied the knight. "In fact, it is
one of the pleasantest apartments of the castle. The earl used it for
his own until this ghost came to haunt it."

"Isn't there but one ghost, my master?"

"I don't know how many there may be. There's only one that I am
particular about seeing."

"And what's that?"

"The ghost of a woman."

"But how is it about those old murdered monks?" demanded Griffeth. "I
suppose any of them will come that may happen to take a notion."

"Pshaw! That's all nonsense," asserted Thorwald. "What would those old
fellows be doing----"

"Ha!--What's that?"

It was the esquire who uttered the exclamation; and as he did so he
started back towards the door of the bed-chamber.

"That was only the moaning of the wind," said Thorwald.

"But I heard a footstep."

"It is nothing. Mercy! just think of the howl of the storm, and remember
how many sounds, in such a place as this, may arise from that cause. I
trust that your resolution is not deserting you so soon."

"No," returned the Saxon, shaking himself; "I am not
afraid.--Heavens!----"

A stream of lightning set the air on fire, and the bolt that exploded
shook the old walls till they quivered to their very foundations.

"I tell you, my master," howled the esquire, as soon as he could command
his speech, "this lightning and thunder is not the work of nature. Who
ever heard the like before?"

The timidity of his attendant served to give the knight control over
himself, and he laughed derisively.

"Griffeth, your senses are leaving you. What, do you suppose, have
ghosts to do with the lightning? Bah! Don't be a child! Courage, man!
Let us go into the other room and get the wine, and then we'll take our
places for the watch. If only the lightning and the thunder come to
disturb us, I shall make up my mind that there are no ghosts here."

They went into the bed-chamber, where the esquire almost emptied one
bottle at a single draught; and as the generous influence thereof
mounted to his brain, he became quite bold and defiant. He was not in
the habit of drinking wine of that quality, and perhaps he mistook a
part of its warmth for the influence of his own returning nerve and
resolution.

"Come, Griffeth,--bring along the basket, and we will find comfortable
places in the other room."

"All right," responded Griffeth, lifting the basket and moving forward.
"If there are any ghosts about to-night I hope they'll show themselves.
Of course, I couldn't fancy the idea of having those walls tumble about
our heads by the lightning; but I don't think I should be afraid of all
the ghosts in Scotland. Who ever heard of a ghost's hurting anybody?"

"The very question I have asked myself a thousand times," added
Thorwald. "Just think of it. That young braggadocio of Lanark occupies
those apartments night after night. Bah!--Shall we tremble where he
chooses to walk?"

"I don't think we shall, my master. But--has he soon any ghosts?"

"He says he has; but he may be lying. He may tell that story in order
that he may keep possession of the finest apartments of the castle.
We'll see whether he tells the truth or not."

"And," suggested Griffeth, "If you don't find them haunted, I should
advise you to take them for your own use."

"I shall most certainly do so.--There, Griffeth,--here we are. Suppose
we take our seats near this shrine. They say evil spirits are afraid of
the holy cross; and if they are, this crucifix may prove a protection to
us."

"And good spirits we are not afraid of," added the esquire, with a light
laugh at the wit of his application.

They took their seats close by the shrine, in the corner of the room
nearest to the door of the bed-chamber, and having taken one more
draught from the bottle they composed themselves for quiet rest.

"If you should feel very sleepy," said Thorwald, "you must let me know;
and I will do the same on my part; for we must not both sleep together."

The moments dragged heavily and wearily away. The storm raged without,
rattling the casements, and moaning and howling around the angles and
towers of the castle; while ever and anon the vivid lightning turned the
darkness into living fire, and the thunder came crashing down as though
the Cyclops were hurling the mountains from their beds.

"It must be near midnight," spoke Griffeth, who saw that his master had
a tendency to sleep.

"Eh!" cried Thorwald, with a start.

"I say it must be near midnight."

"Yes,--I think it must."

"If the ghosts are coming, they will be along very soon."

"I should think so. I believe they generally----"

Thorwald's speech was cut short by a stream of lightning that for the
moment completely blinded him; and the crash of thunder that followed
was terrific. As the last echo died away among the distant mountains the
light of the lamp, which stood upon a ledge of the altar, grew pale, and
presently a ghostly glare pervaded the apartment. Then a deep groan, as
of some one in torment, greeted the ears of the watchers; and directly
afterwards a wild peal of demoniac laughter broke upon the air.

With hair erect and eyes starting from their sockets, Griffeth raised
his trembling hand, and as Thorwald followed the direction indicated, he
beheld the figure of an old man, clad in a monkish costume, standing
near the centre of the apartment. The face was horrible to look upon,
and from a frightful gash in the forehead a stream of blood was
trickling down the sunken cheek. Slowly the awful presence raised its
bony hand, and, in hollow, sepulchral tones, pronounced:

"Son of Eric, what would'st thou?"

Thorwald had no power of speech; nor had he the power of motion; but,
fixed in his seat as though held there by a hand of iron, he could only
gaze upon the horrible spectre in silent terror. The Saxon had crouched
down behind the altar, and covered his eyes with his hands.

Another wild, screeching laugh broke the air--not from the lips of the
bleeding monk, but from a source unseen,--and then the presence spoke
again:

"You have sought me, and you have found me. Henceforth I will be with
you when ye wot not. Look to thyself, Son of Eric, and be sure there is
a just God in Heaven!"

As the voice ceased a howling wind filled the apartment; the lamp was
extinguished; the ghostly glare went out; another wild laugh, with which
were mingled groans and screeches most horrible, followed; the old oaken
chairs, as though gifted with the power of motion, rattled against each
other, until they were finally hurled upon the watchers, striking them
down, with their faces to the floor. Then all was hushed, save the
mournful howling of the storm, and the rushing of the cold, damp wind
that still filled the apartment.




CHAPTER X.--PASSING AWAY.


THE broad-shouldered Saxon endured the crushing, painful weight upon his
back--a weight that almost stopped his breath--until he could endure no
more, and then he strove to change his position by raising his body upon
his hands and knees. At the first movement, however, he felt a cold hand
upon his neck, and with a frightful howl he threw himself upon his side,
and stretched forth his arm. He had as lief be killed outright as to be
smothered to death.

"Griffeth!"

"Eh! Is that you, master?"

"Is this you, Griffeth?"

"Yes."

"And," added Thorwald, "this is I."

"Has it gone?" asked the esquire, slowly rising to a sitting posture.
"Was that your hand upon my neck?"

The watchers soon satisfied themselves that they were together, and when
they had removed the chairs that had been hurled upon them, they arose
to their feet. All was dark as Erebus, however, and for some time they
stood where they had risen without speaking. At length a vivid stream of
lightning illumined the place, and for an instant they were enabled to
see things very plainly about them. Nothing seemed out of the way, save
that the chairs had been tipped over and their lamp extinguished.

"Where does this wind come from?" queried the knight, as the darkness
once more closed in upon them.

Hardly had the words dropped from his lips, when a low, hollow groan
sounded through the apartment, followed by a sharp clanking of chains,
and in another instant the wind ceased--the air was still and close--and
the voice of the tempest without alone broke upon their ears.

"My soul!" gasped Griffeth, his knees shaking and his teeth chattering,
"let us get away from here! If we make haste we may come out alive."

"We can never find our way in such darkness," groaned Thorwald.

"Our lantern is in the next room," pursued the esquire, "and I have a
flint and steel in my pocket. If you wish to stay here, you must stay
alone. I have had enough of it."

And so had the Son of Eric had enough of it, as the audible quaking of
his limbs plainly testified. He did not claim that he was without fear,
and he had no further remarks to make touching the timidity of his
companion. Another flash of lightning showed them the open doorway to
the adjoining chamber, and Griffeth got through quickly enough to grasp
the lantern before the gleam had died away. He found his flint and steel
and tinder; and after much trouble, caused by the trembling of his
hands, as well as by the dense darkness, he managed to strike a light,
and thus to ignite the lantern lamp. The basket, with two or three full
bottles, had been left in the Blue Chamber; and though both the
adventurers, in their unnerved condition, felt sorely the need of the
generous stimulus, yet neither of them cared to go back after it; nor
did either ask the other to go; but as soon as the lantern had been
prepared they made the best of their way from the tower, and stopped not
until they had reached the knight's own apartment, where other full
bottles were found.

After lighting a lamp and taking generous draughts of wine, the two men
sat down and looked each into the other's face. Thorwald was the first
to speak, and the quivering of his voice showed that he had not wholly
recovered from his fright.

"Griffeth, I charge you that you never mention what we have this night
seen and heard."

"Must I never mention a word of it?" demanded the esquire.

The knight knew how prone such men were to relate the incidents of
startling adventure, especially when they had themselves borne prominent
part therein; and feeling that it might be impossible for his follower
to keep the entire thing a secret, he wisely changed the forms of the
injunction.

"You shall promise me this: If you mention the circumstance of your
being in the Ghost's Tower, you will not call my name. You will never
give even a hint that I have been there."

"I promise that; and may the ghost of the murdered monk come and carry
me off if I break the faith," replied Griffeth, solemnly. Then, after a
pause, he asked:

"Good master, what do you think of it?"

"What do you think of it?" returned Thorwald.

"I think I shall never dispute old Finlan again. I went to that old
tower to see a ghost, and I think I saw one."

"But," said the knight, tremulously, "did you hear it speak?"

"Aye--that I did, my master. My life! what a horrible voice! It makes me
cold like ice when I think of it!"

"Are you sure you heard it distinctly?"

"I heard it so distinctly that I never wish to hear the like again,"
answered the Saxon, emphatically.

"What did the words sound like to you?"

"Deathly enough."

"But I mean--what, to you, seemed their purport?"

The esquire gazed into his master's face with a vacant look, as though
he did not fully comprehend.

"I'm sure, Sir Thorwald," he finally said, a little reluctantly, "I can
hardly pretend to solve the riddle. Still, if you would know my thought,
I can give it."

The knight nodded, and Griffeth went on:

"If I had been in your place, and the horrible spectre had spoken to me
as it did to you, I should have thought it meant to frighten me."

"And perhaps it would have succeeded."

"I can't say as to that, my master; but I can assure you that I
shouldn't have thought of seeking another interview."

"Very well, Griffeth. I think you heard aright; but I would not have you
think that I attach much importance to the ghostly words. They were the
mere vaporings of an uneasy spirit. What have I to do with monks that
were butchered before my Norman ancestors landed on these shores? Bah!
That is the way ghosts make capital. Go to your bed, my man, and forget,
if you can, that you ever heard a ghost speak."

The esquire went to his bed; and what he forgot, or what he remembered,
matters not to us. No doubt the ghost of the bleeding brow haunted his
dreams that night, and for many nights succeeding.

Thorwald went to his bed, also; but not to forget. It was not so much
what he had seen that troubled him as what he had heard. "Look to
thyself, Son of Eric, and be sure there is a just God in Heaven!" What
did it mean? He tried to convince himself that he might have
misunderstood; but his esquire had heard the same words. Then he sought
to believe that some malevolent human agency had been employed to worry
him; but he could find no tenable proposition upon which to hang such a
conclusion. He had no doubt that he had seen a real ghost; and the only
relief he could gain from his reason was, that the spirits of those old
murdered monks thus sought to terrify and frighten away all who intruded
upon their haunts. But why had they not appeared to Aldred of Lanark?
Why was it that only the spirit of a beautiful woman appeared to him?

Directly a jealous hatred of Aldred possessed him, and as this was a
relief from the terror that had tortured him, he fell asleep, and so,
for a season, forgot his troubles.

When he woke the morning was well advanced, and the beams of the sun
were just struggling through the clouds which were sweeping away to the
eastward. When he met his mother, she was anxious to know if he had
spent the night in the Ghost's Tower. He replied that he had stopped
there as long as he had desired. At first he had thought that he would
tell his mother nothing at all of what he had seen, but her next
question called for a direct answer, and, after a little consideration,
he concluded to tell her the whole story, omitting only the words of ill
omen that had been spoken to him.

"Did you see that woman?" the countess asked in a tone of hushed
eagerness.

"No, mother."

"Did you see anything?"

And then Thorwald told his story, omitting nothing of what he had seen,
but rather aiming to give as much terror to the narrative as possible.

"We waited," he concluded, "until this horrible presence had
disappeared, which it did in a whirlwind of such power and fury, that
the heavy furniture was fairly driven around the room. Believing that
the ghost of the woman would not appear after that, I did not think it
worth while to stop; for, to tell you the truth, the prospect of a
longer abode in that place was not pleasant."

"But," queried Margaret, "how is it that Sir Aldred sleeps so quietly
there night after night? It puzzles me. Can it be that these horrible
spectres do not appear to him?"

The son of Eric ground his heel into the floor and gnashed his teeth.

"Don't mention that name to me," he cried. "There is some evil influence
at work in all this, and the sooner the interloper is out of our way,
the better. What called him here? Why did he seek Kenmore?"

"If accident brought him here," said the countess, "it was a most
untoward event, even though the life of my child was saved thereby.
But," she added, as though she felt it necessary to qualify such an
assertion somewhat, "I do not believe that any such event happened.
Edwin would have gained the shore without any of this man's assistance."

"That is my opinion," echoed Thorwald.

"But now," pursued his mother, "Aldred of Lanark is here, and it is very
evident that, if left to himself, he will remain for a long time. The
earl seems to have fallen in love with him."

"You've spoken the truth!" exclaimed the knight, with a fierce oath. "As
surely as I am at this moment speaking with you, Atholbane loves Aldred
of Lanark better than he does me. By the gods! do you think I shall
submit? Shall I see the base-born intruder bear off the love of the
earl, and the love of Clara Douglas at the same time? By the sacred rod
of Woden, I'll put my foot down somewhere, and the dastard had best
beware that his head does not fall beneath it."

Thorwald had turned away, and was upon the point of departing, when his
mother called him back.

"My son," she said, "I know your hot temper and your spirit of reckless
daring, but I also know that you have cause for deepest enmity here. Be
wise; be cautious. Clara Douglas is not for Edwin. If Aldred of Lanark
shall stand between my first-born and my fair niece, I will not hesitate
to lend my aid to overcome the obstacle. So, Thorwald, fear not to trust
me in all things. It may be better for you if you do."

The knight thanked his mother, and assured her that she should have his
confidence.

"But," he added, "we will take no further steps until after the
tournament. If Aldred comes forth from the list unscathed, we may have
need of conference."

"I hope he will not," exclaimed the countess, quickly and earnestly. "My
son," she continued, with an admonitary motion of the head, "I know that
you are brave and strong, and well skilled in the use of arms, and I
also know that Aldred of Lanark has not many superiors of his age. And
now let me tell you one more thing that I know. Clara Douglas has been
reared and educated to look upon brave and gallant men with something of
reverence, and her feelings may be much influenced by the result you
anticipate. I know you will seek to break a lance with Aldred----"

"Enough, mother; I can think all you would say. I will meet the Knight
of Lanark in the list, and Clara Douglas shall see him go down before
me. I have said it; wait you for the result."

When Thorwald descended to the court he sought Siward, the armorer, to
whom he proposed that they should repair to the armory, and try a bout
with the broadsword and the axe.

"Hold a moment, Sir Thorwald," cried the armorer, after they had taken
their positions with sword in hand. "You forget your left foot."

"Never mind my feet, Siward. It is my sword you are to look out for."

The weapons were crossed, and, in a very few moments, the knight was
driven back against the wall.

"You are over anxious, good master. What meant that out-of-the-way
thrust at my throat?"

"I was trying an experiment," replied Thorwald, recovering himself.

"Ay my soul, the experiment might have cost you dear. It was a dangerous
one."

The knight exhibited some slight signs of anger, but after a moment's
pause he laughed, and promised not to make any more such experiments.

They crossed their swords again, and this time Thorwald came off best.

"It's of no use," said the armorer, after the swords had been laid
aside, and the axes tried. "You are stronger than I, and your skill is
superior in every way. You must find some one nearer your equal if you
would test your arm."

Thorwald laid aside his axe, seemingly well pleased with the result of
the trial, after which, he expressed a desire that Siward would take his
armor and examine it in every part. He said he was soon to meet some of
the best knights of the two kingdoms, and he wished to be prepared. He
wanted every joint looked to, every rivet tested, and the whole put in
the best possible condition.

"Bah!" cried the armorer's boy, after Thorwald had gone, "why did you
let that man handle you so easily?"

"That man may be master of Kenmore one of these days," replied Siward,
with a significant nod.

"And what do you care for that?"

"Peace, boy. It doesn't cost much to give way to such a man. It makes
him feel better and surely it makes me feel no worse. It is well for
him, however," continued Siward, shaking his head as though half
speaking with himself, "that he did not make a second attempt at my
throat. If he had, I might have found it more difficult to control my
arm. What in the world did he mean? It was a clear death-stroke, and
never allowed at play."

"At any rate," urged the boy, who had a great reverence for his master's
skill at arms, "you don't think that Thorwald could overcome you in a
fair bout."

"I don't know, Bonney, how that might be."

"Do you think he is as good as Sir Aldred?"

"You ask too many questions, my lad."

"And I wish you'd answer some of them. Now I think that Sir Aldred is
the best man, and I know that you think so, too."

"Wait until the tournament, Bonney, and then we shall see. And in the
meantime you must keep yourself busy, for we shall have plenty to do.
Behave yourself, and you shall have a chance to see all that is to be
seen when the bold knights enter the list."

That evening, after the shadows had gathered thickly in, a servant came
to the earl, and informed him that Edwin wished to see him. He found his
son in his chamber, and in bed.

"Be not alarmed, dear father. I am not very sick. But I feel weak, and
my breath comes hard. Perhaps I had better see the physician."

Without stopping to make further inquiry, the earl sent for the
physician, and then took a seat by the bedside.

"Dear boy," he said, taking his child's thin hand, "you must not be sick
now. In a few days the tournament comes off, and----"

"I shall be there to see," cried Edwin, with animation. "It is only a
faintness for a short season. Some of good old Malbert's cordial will
quickly revive me."

In a little while Malbert came, and when he saw the sufferer his
countenance fell. He was an old man, of at least three-score years and
ten, and had been the physician of Kenmore since the earl's childhood.

"Good Malbert," pleaded the boy, "please tell my father that I am not
very sick. You can make me well enough to see the tournament."

The physician said he would do the best he could, and after this he sat
down and took the invalid's hand in his own. By and by he administered a
gentle cordial, after which the patient breathed more freely, and both
he and the earl sat there until the boy fell asleep.

"He will get over this," said Malbert, after they had left the patient
in charge of the nurse.

"But," urged Atholbane, "I wish you to tell me truly--can he fully
recover?"

The physician shook his head.

"Keep nothing from me, Malbert. I would know the worst."

"It is best you should, my lord. Therefore I tell you, it is my judgment
your son has not many weeks to live. The tide of his life is running
very low. There is no particular point to which remedy can be applied,
for the whole wondrous machinery of the body is worn out worn out before
its time. Be kind to him, my lord, for he will not tax your love much
longer."

Silently the earl turned to his own chamber, where he sat down and wept.
Not alone because his boy was dying did he weep, but because his heart
was lonely and sad from other blighting touches.

"Dark! dark! dark!" he groaned. "Life's flowers wither and fade in their
early blossom. No bud of promise has ever put forth its full bloom for
me!"

On the following morning Edwin was better, and with Clara he walked out
upon the parapet. The earl saw him, and saw that he had to lean heavily
upon his cousin's arm for support. The steps were weak and tottering,
and the thin, pale face had grown thinner and paler.




CHAPTER XI.--THE KING.


WHEN Earl Douglas and Aldred returned from Scone, the king came with
them, and in his train came many brave knights and fair ladies.
Atholbane, who had been duly informed by a special courier, rode out
with a goodly array of men-at-arms to meet his sovereign, and to conduct
him to his castle. It was a grand sight, as the noble cavalcade filed
over the draw bridge, and Edwin, who stood upon the parapet, felt his
heart bound with new strength.

Edgar, King of Scotland, was in the early bloom of manhood--not more
than five-and-thirty--of commanding presence, and possessing a face of
more than ordinary beauty. He was bold and frank, and having been
educated at the court of William the Conqueror, he had gained graces of
deportment and conversation that distinguished him above the majority of
the Scottish chiefs. Between him and Atholbane there had existed a warm,
enduring love, for it will be remembered that Maud of Perth, the earl's
first wife, was a sister of the king, and during Edgar's boyhood--for he
was but a mere child when his sister became Countess of Kenmore--the
castle had been like a home to him. But the troubles came which
culminated in the death of Malcolm Canmore, and the sons of that
ill-fated monarch were forced to flee from Scotland. When Edgar returned
to assume the crown, after the deposition and imprisonment of Donald
Bane, he found his sister gone, and a new countess in her place; and as
he did not conceive a warm liking for Lady Margaret, he seldom visited
the castle. In time, however, when he came to understand how deeply
Atholbane mourned the loss of the pure-minded, beautiful Maud, and how
his heart was buried with his first and only true love, his brotherly
affection warmed again into life, and though he could no longer make
Kenmore the home that it had been in other years, still he loved to sit
apart with the lord thereof, and talk of the bygone times.

After supper the king sat by himself, and watched the movements and
expressions of those about him, and there were two who seemed chiefly to
claim his attention. He gazed upon the beautiful face of Clara Douglas,
and then he turned towards Aldred of Lanark, and as he gazed, his face
gave token of deep and grave reflection, and more than once he shook his
head slowly from side to side, as though he found difficulty in
balancing his thoughts--as though some problem had presented itself
which he could not readily solve.

Late in the evening, when the air was soft and balmy, and when the stars
looked down with a peaceful radiance, Edgar and Atholbane walked out
upon the parapet towards the western tower. They had talked of the times
that were gone--of Maud, of her gentleness and grace, of her truth and
her love, and of her unhappy fate, until their spirits were weighed down
with sadness, when the king changed the theme.

"Atholbane," he said, breaking a silence that had extended to some
minutes, "I have taken a strange liking towards the young Knight of
Lanark, and if I have not read the signs greatly amiss your own heart
holds him warmly."

"You are right, sire," returned the earl, with palpable emotion. "There
is something noble in the youth, and I love him as I would love a
brother."

"He was brought up under the eye of our cousin Douglas?"

"Yes, sire."

"And if I mistake not, he is the son of the old forester of Lanark."

"You are right."

The king moved on a few paces in silence, and then said:

"I think Douglas had good cause for wishing the knight away from his
castle."

"I have made no inquiries in that direction," answered the earl,
evasively.

"I think," pursued Edgar, seeming not to notice his companion's
reticence, "that Aldred must have been in the way of the successful
accomplishment of some cherished plan, and it is not impossible that he
may be as much in the way here as he was at Lanark."

"Sire, I do not understand you."

"Ah, Atholbane, you understand me very well."

The earl's troubled silence showed that he could not dispute it,

"But," continued Edgar, "borrow no trouble on that score. Should the
time come when you deem that Aldred had best be away from here, just let
me know, and I will send for him to come to my court. I should consider
myself the gainer thereby."

"And I should be the loser," responded the earl. "Be sure I shall keep
him as long as I can."

"But, my brother----"

"Hush, sire. Say no more. When I think of the subject to which I know
you have reference, I am in sore distress, and I put it from me if I
can. If Edwin lives, all will be well."

"How so?" asked the king.

"Clara will continue to love him."

"To love him!" repeated Edgar.

"Aye--she loves him now."

The monarch gazed into his companion's face a moment, and though, by the
dim starlight, he could not observe the lineaments distinctly, yet he
saw enough to assure him that Atholbane was in earnest.

"Sire," spoke the earl, noting Edgar's manner, "have you thought that
Clara Douglas did not love my son?"

"Have you ever thought that she might love Aldred of Lanark?" demanded
the king, quietly.

"I have thought it very natural that she should," replied Atholbane,
honestly.

"And how can a heart like hers be divided?" queried the king.

"Perhaps," suggested the earl, "she may give Aldred a brother's place."

"Upon my life, Atholbane, you possess a wonderful power of perception. I
have no doubt that the fair lady, who has no brother of her own, has the
place in her heart of which you speak, filled by another. It is well,
and here we will let the matter drop."

They had turned to retrace their steps when the king, upon casting his
eye upwards, remarked:

"This is the haunted tower?"

"It is so called, sire."

"Strange things are seen here."

"It is so said."

"I have taken a curious fancy into my head, brother."

"Ah?"

"I am going to spend the night with Aldred."

"But, sire, your apartments are all prepared, and----"

"And what, good Atholbane?"

"It will be thought very strange, sir."

"No one, save you and Aldred, need to think anything about it. I will
retire to the apartment you have set apart for me, and when all is quiet
Alfred will come for me. He has told me some of the wonders of the Blue
Chamber, and I have conceived an irresistible desire to see them for
myself. I remember very well how many hours I spent there when I was a
boy, and how happy I was when my sister's sweet face was turned upon me.
Blessed Maud! God rest her soul!"

"Amen!" responded the earl, with deepest reverence.

"I must watch in that chamber to-night Atholbane."

"Do as you will, sire. I have watched, but I saw not what Aldred has
seen." The earl spoke regretfully, but presently he added, with marked
energy:

"Perhaps you may see what did not appear to me. Aldred, who never knew
Lady Maud, may be mistaken. Edgar, I cannot tell you what I have
suffered--how this marvel works upon me--how it bears down my heart by
day and by night--how it breaks my rest--how it embitters every cup. O,
if you can solve the mystery, I shall bless the hour that led you to the
Blue Chamber."

"Rest if you can brother, and leave me to the result of my watching. I
was but a boy when Maud died--only ten years old--but every lineament of
her angelic face is as fresh in my memory as though but a day had passed
since the blessed impress was made.--Ah, here come some of our friends.
Douglas and Northumberland are in advance, and if I mistake not, Sir
Walter of Haddington and our doughty cousin of Stirling bear them
company."

In the meantime Aldred of Lanark, who understood the plans of the king
for the night, had gone to the tower to make preparation. The first
object that attracted his attention upon entering the Blue Chamber was a
basket containing bottles. He next observed that the furniture had been
strangely disarranged. A nod of the head, a slight compression of the
lips, and a quiet smile, signified that our hero suspected the truth. He
examined the bottles, and a conclusion was arrived at without further
debate. That wine belonged to none of the servants.

"I am not disappointed," soliloquized the knight, as he proceeded to put
the chairs in their places. "I supposed Thorwald would embrace the first
opportunity to test the truth of what he heard me say in the picture
gallery, and I am sure he has been here, and if I can judge by what I
see, I should say that his experience was not a pleasant one."

When Aldred had brought things to order, and had time for serious
reflection, he found himself in trouble. The king was coming to spend
the night with him, in hope of seeing the bright spirit of the beautiful
woman, but would he be likely to see it? Thus far the lovely presence
had appeared only to himself, even the earl having been disappointed.
Still, let the result be what it might, Edgar could not blame him, only
he sincerely hoped that there might be no such demonstration as had
evidently been made for the entertainment of Thorwald.

And again the knight of Lanark was lost in a maze of wonder. If it was
the spirit of Lady Maud that had appeared to him, what could such a
sweet existence have had in common with those old monks of another age?
Why did the woman come to him, while the monk-robed spectres appeared to
others? Surely it was a mystery, and he prayed God that in the end he
might solve it.

Night wore on, and when the household had retired, Aldred repaired to
the king's apartment, and informed him that he was ready to conduct him
to the Ghost's Tower.

"It lacks not more than an hour of midnight, sire, and by the time we
get settled down in the Blue Chamber----"

"The ghost will be ready for us, eh?" broke in the king, with a light
laugh. But the laugh did not betray any lightness of feeling. It was
rather an effort to overcome mighty feelings which he did not care to
reveal.

"I cannot say as to that," returned Aldred, with a shake of the head. "I
tell you plainly, sire, that I have my doubts about the appearance of
the pale woman to-night. Remember, I have not urged you to go, and
remember further, that I did not willingly tell you the story of what I
had seen. Your own questions drew the confession from me."

"Borrow no trouble, good Aldred. I take the risk upon my own shoulders.
If what you have told me be true--I mean, if your impressions be not the
result of mistake--then you have seen the spirit of my dead sister, and
I will make the attempt to see the same, even though a legion of
dark-robed spectres come to greet me. So, my fair sir lead the way as
quickly and directly as you please, and leave me to shoulder the
result."

Without further remark Aldred took up the lantern which he had brought
with him, and passed out into the corridor. They had some distance to
traverse, but they reached the western tower without meeting any one,
and when they entered the large bed-chamber, the guide lighted the lamp
and put away the lantern.

"This is your bed, sire, if you please to occupy it."

"I shall not occupy it at present, Aldred. Let us go on to the Blue
Chamber."

Our hero took up the lamp and led the way.

"Ah," continued the king, "how natural everything looks, and how freshly
the old scenes come back to my memory. Here is the chair which my sister
used to occupy; and here I used to sit at her feet; and here Atholbane
was wont to recline and gaze fondly and lovingly into the face of his
beautiful wife. It seems but yesterday that----"

"What is it, sire? Why do you stop?"

"Did you not interrupt me?" asked the king.

"No."

"I heard something."

"So did I, sire."

"Are our ghostly visitants already upon us?"

"I cannot say. The most we can do is to sit and watch."

"Then let us do so."

"I would suggest, sire, that we remove the lamp to the other room."

"Are the ghosts afraid of light?"

"I have found it so."

"Very well. Do as you think proper."

Aldred carried the lamp into the bed-chamber, and when he returned he
took a seat near the shrine.

"It must be near midnight," said Edgar. He spoke very softly, and gazed
into the dim distance with an anxious look.

"It cannot be far from the hour," returned Aldred.

He would have spoken farther, but a sudden movement on the part of the
king arrested him, and upon looking towards the far corner of the
apartment he beheld a human form clearly revealed against the dark
tapestry. Gradually a pale, cold glare surrounded the presence, and the
long silvery beard and dark robe of a monk were visible. A few moments
the spectre stood there, and then it disappeared as noiselessly as it
had come, and the pale glare died away.

"Aldred, what is that?" There was a perceptible tremulousness in the
king's voice, and his hand quivered as he rested it upon his companion's
arm.

"I can only tell you, sire, that I have seen the same presence twice
before. It is the same too, that appeared to the earl."

Edgar was deeply moved; but he was not afraid; and yet, had he been
alone, he might have concluded that he had seen enough of the Ghost's
Tower, for one night, at least. But Aldred was calm and composed, and
this gave him confidence; and he resolved that he would keep the watch
awhile longer.

Half an hour passed, during which they held a conversation upon the
subject naturally suggested by the occasion, and at the end of that time
Aldred nodded in his chair. The king, finding his companion inclined to
doze, leaned his head against a projection of the altar, and suffered
his lids to droop; but presently he became aware that a change had taken
place, and he opened his eyes and raised his head, and as he did so he
noticed that Aldred was also awake.

It was not the pale, cold glare which had enveloped the monkish spectre.
A soft, warm glow pervaded the far corner of the room; and, as clearly
defined as though it had been a body of flesh, standing out from the
sombre tapestry, appeared the form of a woman. It was an angelic figure,
robed in pure and spotless white, with the hands folded upon its breast,
and the head slightly bent. The face, pale and beautiful, wore a
prayerful look; the eyes, large and soft, seemed melting into tears; and
the exquisitely moulded lips were half opened, as though the tongue were
ready for speech.

The king grasped his companion's arm, and when he could contain himself
no longer, he spoke; and as he spoke he started to his feet and
stretched forth his hands.

"Maud! My sister! Maud! Maud!"

He had reached the centre of the room, and there he stopped; for the
soft halo had faded away, and the beautiful presence had disappeared. It
had made no sound, but had gone as though melting into thin air.

"Aldred, it was my sister! My God! What can it mean?"

The king sank into a chair, and gazed upon his companion with a troubled
look.

Our hero could only shake his head in reply.

"There must be some cause for this," pursued Edgar. "The spirit of my
sister is not at rest. I have thought that the burial of her body so far
away from the scenes of her early joys might have given her this unrest;
but that cannot be. If such were the case she would have made it known
ere this. There may be danger to some one whom she loves. Can there be
danger to the earl? What think you, Aldred?"

Aldred dared not answer. He thought of the attack of the Inverness
marauders; he thought of the mysterious death of the prisoner in the
dungeon; he thought of dark looks which he had seen upon the brow of the
Son of Eric,--and he shrank from giving form to suspicions even in his
own mind.

Perhaps the king, also, had thoughts which he did not speak. At all
events, he was willing to seek his pillow without asking further
questions, and yet his face showed that his mind was deeply occupied.




CHAPTER XII.--THE TOURNAMENT.


THE evening of the sixth of July was calm and pleasant, and the moon,
almost at its full, shed a soft, gentle light over a busy scene. Within
the walls of Kenmore all was bustle and activity. Some fifty gallant
knights had arrived, and stout men at arms without number. And fair
ladies and gentle dames graced the hall, and made glad the hearts of
aspiring gallants. The song, the jest, and the story, mingled with peals
of merry laughter, awoke the air within the keep, while answering notes
came from the court of joy and mirth. Great butts of beer and mead had
been rolled out and set aflow, and the retainers of Kenmore gave grand
specimens of their hospitality. Outside the walls, upon the green
surface of the broad park, were pitched many tents, and from far and
near had gathered the people to behold the morrow's sports. Grooms were
busy looking to the horses of their masters; and the hammers of the
armorers were heard far into the night.

The night passed, and the morning broke fair and lovely. A gentle breeze
came down from the mountains, bringing upon its bosom coolness gathered
on its way from the lakes, and the few light clouds that hung around the
summit of Ben Lawers gave token, according to Finlan's declaration, that
the day would not be overwarm. At an early hour the grooms had the
horses out for exercise, and the esquires were overhauling their
masters' armor.

"Good Aldred, who acts as your esquire today?" asked Edwin. The lad was
feeling better than he had felt before for some days, and was really
looking quite fresh; though a close observer might have suspected that
the excitement of the occasion lent the color to his face.

"I have no esquire," replied our hero, with a smile. "I am my own
esquire, my own armorer, and my own groom; and thus I know when all is
in readiness. When I come to put on my armor, I can avouch for each
particular piece, and swear to the virtue of every hinge and rivet. As
for my horse, he knows my every wish. By caring for him myself, I really
make him so far a part of myself that he actually seems to feel what I
feel when the trial comes."

"Good!" cried the boy. "That is the spirit that wins the day. How many
other knights can say the same?"

"There are some of them," replied Aldred. "I saw Earl Douglas caring for
his own armor; though he has little to do with his horse; and there I
fear he is at fault. He will ride a restive, fierce-spirited beast
to-day, and if harm comes to him it will be from that source. But he is
an expert horseman, and Northumberland had best look out for him."

"Yet," pursued Edwin, "you must have some one to attend upon you in the
list. I wish I was strong enough."

"I am well provided for in that respect," said the knight. "The earl has
set Siward apart to that service."

"Then you have the best esquire in Christendom," cried the boy,
enthusiastically; "and Siward is to serve the best knight."

"Hush, Edwin. You know not what you say."

"Upon my life I speak the truth, Aldred. There is not a better esquire
in the realm than is my father's armorer."

"You trifle, brother. I spoke not of Siward."

"Oho--you like not that I should praise the knight, eh? Very well, I'll
reserve further remark on that score until evening. Ah--here comes
Siward now."

About an hour after breakfast a grand flourish of trumpets startled the
waiting throng, and presently the knights began to appear and select
their horses. The list had been prepared upon a capital site. A low,
level piece of firm-bottomed meadow, from two sides of which the ground
arose in gentle slopes, so that thousands might have easily and
comfortably viewed the scene. Upon one side of the list, just at the
edge of the enclosure, a broad dais had been erected, whereon were
seated the distinguished guests. Atholbane, who felt not in the mood for
the joust, was to act as master of ceremonies, and the king had
consented to act as judge and umpire, to settle all disputes and make
all decisions. Clara Douglas in vain sought to escape the performance of
the duty which had been assigned to her. Atholbane and the king had
selected her, and would listen to no refusal. She was queen of the
occasion, and was to bestow the prizes upon the victorious knights.

Early in the day the archers had the field, and many a rare shot was
made; and a stout son of Donald bore off the prize.

As the cavalcade, headed by the heralds, entered the list, the archers
withdrew, and, ere long, proclamation was made that the contending
knights might show themselves. A full score of iron-clad warriors
arranged themselves before the dais, to whom Atholbane made known the
rules that were to govern the jousts. After this, the king arose and
addressed them:

"For any injury that may this day happen to life or limb," he said, "no
man shall be held to account, providing it be done in fair and manly
fight. But I charge you against undue passion. Let no animosity make you
blind. Let no heat of madness lead you to strike an opponent when he is
defenceless, either from the loss of his weapons, or from being down
upon his knees or back. Yet if a man, even upon his back, shall use vile
and insulting language, he may be chastised."

The first joust was between a stout knight of Scone, attached to the
king's household, and a Norman follower of the Earl of Northumberland.
The Scot was a gallant knight, and most of those who witnessed the sport
were upon his side, but the Norman was a better horseman, and handled
the lance with the most skill. At the first bout the Norman shivered his
lance handsomely, at the same time turning away the lance of his
opponent so that it was not even cracked. At the second bout the Scot
was unhorsed, and hurled upon the ground with such force, that he was no
more fit for the saddle. Even the hardy Highlanders joined in the voice
of praise to the Norman knight, for he had gallantly won the prize.

"You must look to your laurels, sire," said Gomar, the stout Earl of
Northumberland, who was seated near to the king.

Edgar was slightly chafed, but he tried not to show it.

"We will show you rare sport, by and bye, good cousin."

"But call you not that rare sport, sire?"

"Yes, verily; but I look for heavier work when you and Douglas take the
field. By my faith, Gomar, you had best look to yourself."

"Let the best knights win," said Gomar, with a nod.

"So be it!" responded the king.

While fresh knights were preparing, the spectators were entertained with
a wrestling match. The next joust was between two Scotch knights, who
bore themselves right gallantly, and, after breaking three lances each,
retired from the list as good friends as when they entered.

By and bye, Atholbane arose in his place, and after a loud flourish of
trumpets, announced that Gomar of Northumberland, with four followers,
gave challenge to any five knights who dared touch their lances.

This was the event that had been anxiously looked for, and a thousand
hearts throbbed with eager expectation. This was to be the grand joust
of the occasion, and those who were fond of seeing heavy blows had no
fear of being disappointed. For a little time there were notes of busy
preparation, and anon the heralds at the end of the list which was upon
the king's left hand, blew a heavy blast, and forth rode the stout Earl
of Northumberland to the centre of the enclosure, where he plunged his
lance into the ground, leaving the shaft standing upright, and then drew
back a few paces. A right gallant and stalwart knight was Sir Gomar, and
the Englishmen were proud of him.

Directly the heralds at the other end of the list blew a loud blast, and
forth rode Earl Douglas, his beautiful horse proudly prancing, and
defiantly snuffing the air. Straight to the centre of the enclosure, and
with a graceful sweep of his lance, Douglas touched the upright shaft of
Northumberland. Then, when Gomar had taken his weapon, the two earls
rode back to their respective places.

Another flourish of trumpets on Gomar's side, and Thorwald advanced to
the line, and set up his lance. He was a doughty looking knight, and
bore himself proudly erect. His vizor was up, and his dark eyes flashed
as he gave his challenge. He chose to fight under Gomar's banner because
by birth he was English, and he was proud of his Norman blood; and
furthermore, he sought an opponent that was sure to appear on the other
side.

Aldred of Lanark, from motives of delicacy, would have chosen to answer
the summons of another knight, but Douglas had set him second on the
list, and he could not refuse; so, when the Scottish heralds blew their
blast, he rode forth, and touched the lance which Thorwald had set up.
His horse advanced at a gentle trot, in a quiet and subdued manner, and
some there were who fancied that the animal lacked spirit; but others
could have told them that the well-trained, wary beast was reserving his
strength for the time of need. And the rider himself exhibited none of
that pride and stateliness which had been exhibited by the Son of Eric.
He performed the movement with easy grace, and when he returned to the
paling, his horse came to a moderate walk.

Next, from the English side, came John of Alnwick, a Saxon knight of
much renown, and to answer his challenge appeared Kilburn of Kilburn, a
brave and gallant knight, attached to the household of Edgar.

Next Gomar sent forth a stout Norman, Orbec, Count of Bayeux, and to
touch his lance, Douglas had appointed Walter of Haddington.

The fifth knight who responded to the call of the English heralds was
Covil of St. Albans, and forth from Douglas' side rode the true and
trusty knight, Fitz Henry of Stirling.

After this the ten knights were called to the dais, where Atholbane read
to them the rules for the joust. First, they declared that they held no
animosity, and that they had no wish to take undue advantage. Second,
they were to observe the rules which had already been given for the
government of the previous jousts. They were to ride four tilts, and
then, such as were unhorsed might discard the lance, and fight on foot
with the sword or axe; but no knight in the saddle could ride at a
knight who was on foot. The joust was to continue so long as there was a
single knight who could find a just opponent. Should all the knights be
down on one side, and two left standing on the other, these latter might
decide between themselves by the sword, by casting lots, or they might
leave the decision to the king.

When all had been thus arranged, the knights took their places at their
respective starting points, and shortly afterwards the king's herald
sounded the charge. Forth sprang the horses with a rush like the
sweeping of mighty winds, and in the centre of the enclosure they met.
The shock was terrific, and, for a few moments, it was impossible to
tell who was up and who was down. First to shoot away from the mass of
confusion, with his lance shivered to atoms, was Aldred of Lanark. He
sat in his seat as firmly as ever, and his horse' quickly came to a
gentle trot, as though nothing unusual had happened.

"Was I not right?" cried Edwin. He looked up into the face of his fair
cousin as he spoke "I am glad for your sake."

Clara Douglas cast a quick glance towards her companion, and when she
saw how earnest he was, and when she remembered where his sympathies
lay, she sought not to hide her real feelings, and the gratitude of her
heart shone in her beaming eyes, and upon her flushed cheeks. Presently
afterwards, she saw her father ride forth and join Aldred, but his horse
was not under good control.

"Ha--see!" uttered Edwin. "There goes Thorwald. His shield is broken in,
and his lance shows no signs of having hit anything. My soul! it must
have been a heavy blow that Aldred gave him."

Aye--and so it had been; and, but for the accident of his bounding
against the shoulder of John of Alnwick, and thus being thrown back to
his place, he would have been unhorsed.

Gomar and Douglas had each broken a lance, and so had the knights of
Alnwick and Kilburn. The doughty Count of Bayeux had been unhorsed by
Walter of Haddington, and Covil of St. Albans had come very near
suffering the same disaster at the hands of the Knight of Stirling.

"My lord," said Aldred, as Douglas rode to his side near the paling, "I
would advise you to take another horse."

"No, no, Aldred. This beast is powerful and willing."

"But a little too excitable," suggested our hero. "Gomar rides a better,
and thus has great advantage."

But Douglas believed that his horse would calm down, so he determined to
keep him for the next tilt; for the beast possessed powers of endurance
not to be excelled.

As no one had been unhorsed upon Douglas' side the Count of Bayeux was
allowed to take a fresh horse; and as soon as fresh lances had been
given out in place of those that had been broken, the herald sounded the
second charge.

As before, Aldred of Lanark was the first to emerge from the scene of
the shock, his shattered lance showing that he had made a grand stroke,
while his steady mien gave token that he had not been even shaken in his
seat.

"He owes that to his horse," remarked a Norman courtier, who sat near to
the king.

"Owes what to his horse?" demanded Edwin of Kenmore.

"The ease with which he passed that heavy meeting," replied the Norman.

"And who, think you, trained the noble beast?" retorted Edwin, quite
warmly. "By my faith, I think a true knight may in a measure be known by
the manner in which he looks to his preparations. Sir Aldred cares for
his own horse; and the animal, in all that pertains to such feats as
these, is really a part of himself. The same master-mind gives direction
to both lance and steed. But wait till they come to the sword and axe.
By Saint Michael! I doubt if Northumberland has a follower that can
match him."

At this moment the lad's attention was arrested by a quick cry from
Clara, and upon looking towards the centre of the arena he saw that
Douglas had been unhorsed.

"All is right," announced the king, who had heard the maiden's
exclamation. "Your father is not hurt. His horse reared and threw him.
'Twas not the lance of Northumberland."

But Douglas was not the only one who had met with mishap. The Count of
Bayeux had gone down a second time beneath the heavy assault of
Haddington; Covil of St. Albans had been fairly lifted out of his seat
by the gallant Fitz Henry of Stirling; while the Saxon Knight of Alnwick
had succeeded in unhorsing Kilburn. Thorwald came forth, sitting firmly
enough in his seat, but his lance had as yet sustained no injury. Not a
stroke had he made with it; as, at each tilt, Aldred had turned it
adroitly aside upon the smooth surface of his buckler.

As there were two knights now afoot upon each side, it was decided that
they should stand back and let the other six ride the third tilt. In
place of Earl Douglas came Walter of Haddington to oppose Gomar, while
Fitz Henry of Sterling, who had disposed of St. Albans, took Kilburn's
place against John of Alnwick.

As the tilters took their places, after having obtained fresh lances,
Gomar said to Thorwald:

"Look ye, Sir Thorwald, know that both the king and Douglas look upon
Aldred of Lanark as their champion; and if I am not much mistaken,
Atholbane gives him his sympathy. Can you not ride him down?"

Thorwald declared that he would do it.

"And," pursued Gomar, as though he would give one last spur, "it may be
that the Lady Clara would like very well to bestow the prize upon her
father's protege."

It might have been better for the son of Eric if Gomar had not spoken
those last words; for the trumpet sounded just as they were concluded,
and Thorwald dashed to the charge with a fierce oath upon his lips, and
with such a vengeful clutch upon the shaft of his lance that half his
control over the weapon was gone. He aimed to strike his adversary in
the throat; but his point was turned aside, and in a moment more he was
rolling in the dust, both he and his horse.

It was a heavy onset, as the list of the fallen gave ample proof. Walter
of Haddington had gone down before Gomar; while Alnwick and Stirling,
who had met front to front, both went down, from the force of the shock.
In short, the Earl of Northumberland and the Knight of Lanark were the
only ones who remained in their saddles.

"Sir Aldred," cried Gomar, "if it pleases you, we will ride the fourth
tilt."

At this moment Thorwald came up, and claimed the privilege of a fresh
horse. He would ride against the Knight of Lanark.

"Nay," said the king, who had overheard the conversation, "that cannot
be. Thorwald has not yet broken a lance. Let him wait for the sword. If,
however, it pleaseth our good cousin of Northumberland to ride the
fourth tilt, the list is still open for him and the Knight of Lanark."

"So let it be," answered Gomar.

And as the two knights turned towards their places, Thorwald moved away
with bitter words upon his lips.

The trumpet sounded again, and the horses bounded forward, but not with
equal speed. When near the centre of the list the horse of
Northumberland stopped and staggered, while Aldred, with a movement that
called forth more applause than had greeted any other event of the day,
caused his own horse to rear straight up into the air, then whirl to the
right-about, as though upon a pivot, and then, lightly replacing his
fore-foot upon the ground, to trot quietly back to the point from which
he had started.

Gomar's horse had fallen, from exhaustion, and the master, with the
spirit of a true and loyal knight, announced that he would ride no more.

Aldred of Lanark still sat firmly in his seat; and when he knew that
Northumberland had left him master of the field, he raised his vizor and
acknowledged, by a graceful bow, the vociferous greetings that were
bestowed upon him from every hand.

But not yet had the prize been won. Swords were to come next, and who
should select the victor? No accident of horsemanship could give
advantage or disadvantage here. Cool heads, quick eyes, stout hearts and
strong arms were the requisites.

Thorwald had selected a sword which he did not believe could fail him,
and he swore that he would have revenge. He was all confidence now, for
he fully believed that Aldred of Lanark lacked the strength of arm to
contend with him.

And Clara Douglas, when she saw the lowering brow and evil-lighted eye
of the Son of Eric, and knew that he was to strike at Aldred, trembled
with fearful apprehension. But Edwin whispered into her ear words of
hope and promise. His faith in the Knight of Lanark was firm and
abiding.




CHAPTER XIII.--THE VICTOR.


THE contest now to take place was to be a general melee, and all blows
were to be fair save those given to a man upon his knees, or to a man
disarmed. The swords were heavy, with blunted points; the bucklers small
and round; and each knight was armed with a short dagger with which it
was his privilege to demand surrender of a vanquished opponent. At first
the two parties were to oppose each other as before; but in case all
upon one side should be down, and two, or more, remaining in arms upon
the other, the latter might fight it out between themselves if they
chose.

"But where are our axes?" demanded Thorwald, after he had heard the
rules laid down.

"The king and Atholbane have barred them out," answered Gomar.

"And why is that? By my life, that is an insult to knighthood!"

"Nay, nay, Thorwald," said Northumberland, who was too brave a knight to
allow defeat to unman him, however much he might chafe within. "Our
swords are heavy enough; and if we have the work I look for, there will
be no luck of opportunity for the expenditure of strength."

"But," urged the Son of Eric, "the plan was made in the first place that
swords and axes were both to be used. Who has the authority to bar them
out?"

"The master of ceremonies has, most assuredly," replied the English
earl.

"Not without cause."

"Perhaps he had cause sufficient."

"What cause could he have had?"

"He may have feared hot blood," answered Gomar. "The axe is a dangerous
thing in the hands of a strong man who is mad with passion."

"Pshaw! Atholbane is over-nice."

"Easy, good Thorwald. Douglas and myself were both consulted, and we
agreed with Atholbane and the king in that decision. So look to your
sword, and see that you handle it becomingly. You will be pitted against
the young Knight of Lanark at the start, and if he handles his sword as
he handles his horse and lance, you will have work enough before you
without thinking of your axe."

Thorwald was not at all pleased with this speech, and he turned abruptly
away to hide his ill-feeling, for he cared not to call down censure from
the powerful noble. And he had another reason for turning away so
abruptly. He went directly to his tent, where he found his esquire
engaged in rounding the dents out from his buckler.

"Griffeth, I'll have my other sword."

"How, my master?"

"The sword which I directed you to bring."

"But," said the esquire, in surprise, "that has a sharp point."

"Give yourself no trouble on that account. In all other respects it
resembles this blunt pointed weapon. By Saint Michael! I shall take it!"

The knight reflected a moment, and then continued, in a lower tone:

"The scabbards of both swords are alike. I take this off for the purpose
of arranging my cuisses. When I am ready to buckle it on again you hand
me the other by mistake. Can you remember that in case I am called to
account?"

"I can remember, my master."

"Then all is right. By heaven! Griffeth, I have cause for this!"

The esquire, who knew his master's temper, asked no questions, but
proceeded to bring forth the sharp-pointed sword.

In time the knights were ready; and, attended by their esquires, they
took their places near the centre of the arena. The note of battle was
sounded by the heralds, and on the next instant the sharp clang of
clashing steel broke the vibrating air.

"By my life!" cried the king, "our stout Earl of Northumberland has
found his match. Douglas is firm as a rock. I count him the best
swordsman in my realm."

"Not the best," said Edwin of Kenmore. "There stands another by his side
as good."

"Ha! see that!" broke forth Edgar, who had not noticed the words of the
boy. "Northumberland's point is stricken down."

"But he regains it, sire," said a Norman gentleman who sat near.

"Aye," cried the king, in ecstacy; "and he loses it again, too. By my
crown, but that was a noble stroke! See--Gomar falls back. Douglas'
point is at his throat. It is fixed beneath the seam of the garget.
Surrender--surrender, Northumberland!"

"Not yet, sire," shouted the Norman. "Gomar has freed himself, and now
plays more warily. I look to see your proud earl overcome."

But the Norman's prophecy was not fulfilled. The battle waxed hotter and
hotter, and finally Gomar's buckler was beat down, and his sword wrested
from his grasp.

"Surrender!" cried Douglas.

It was a bitter moment for the English earl, but he curbed his passion,
and acknowledged that he had been fairly overcome.

Gomar, as was the rule, withdrew from the scene, while Douglas, moving
to a place near the dais, held himself in readiness to give help to any
of his followers who might need it, such being his right.

Walter of Haddington, who had wielded the lance so ably, found the Count
of Bayeux too much for him with the sword. The Norman knight was far the
more skilful of the two, and ere long Haddington was conquered.

But the gallant Orbec was not to bear off the honor so cheaply, for
Douglas, who liked not to see his brother of Haddington thus dismissed,
advanced from his place of rest, and touched the count's buckler with
his sword.

At the end of the line Covil of St. Albans was pushing Fitz Henry of
Stirling right gallantly, and those who watched the battle saw that the
Scot must soon be vanquished.

But there was another point which had become the chief centre of
interest to the assembled multitude. For a time Thorwald had played with
extreme care, using his buckler with great dexterity, and seeming to
think but little of those cutting strokes which might loosen the plates
of his opponent's armor. Twice had he lunged with all his might at
Aldred's throat before the latter discovered that the point of his
adversary's sword was sharp.

"Thorwald, how is this?" he demanded.

"How is what?"

"Look at the point of your sword."

"A mistake of my esquire's. Are you afraid of it?"

"By heavens, no!" answered Aldred of Lanark, and from that moment his
arm was gifted with twofold strength, and the keenness of his vision was
trebly intensified. He knew that the craven meant him fatal harm, and he
resolved that that hour should tell which was the best knight. In the
temper of his sword he had the utmost confidence, having subjected it to
tests more trying than any that could come from the cutting of common
armor, and he bent himself to the work with a will and determination
born of calm and deliberate purpose.

Gradually other combatants were overlooked, and every eye was turned
upon the Knight of Lanark. His buckler met the sword of his antagonist
at every point, while the edge of his own weapon, flashing like
lightning, came surely down upon its mark. Thorwald struggled in vain.
Not alone was it his passion that placed him at disadvantage for in
every respect he had met his superior. From his left shoulder three of
the plates had been cut away, from the right arm a portion of the armor
was gone, while the gorget hung dangling upon the right breast, the
chain having been cut from the left side. Thus shorn and stripped, the
Son of Eric, with a hot, hissing oath, drew back for one more mighty
lunge, and it was his last. His opponent comprehended the movement at
its inception, and when Thorwald's sword approached him, he caught the
point upon his buckler, at the same time bringing down his own weapon
with a force that broke the opposing blade in twain--broke it close up
to the hilt.

"Surrender!" commanded Aldred.

"Never!" howled Thorwald, striking out with his mailed fist.

Then Aldred threw down his own sword, and seized his adversary by the
waist, lifted him from his feet, and hurled him flat upon his back, and
then, with his knee upon the breast of the fallen man, he again demanded
surrender. Thorwald did not speak--whether from inability or from
perverseness, it made no odds--and his esquire was directed to assist
him to his tent.

Aldred of Lanark stood alone in the arena. All the others had been
overcome save Earl Douglas, and he had withdrawn of his own accord. So
the heralds were directed to proclaim the Knight of Lanark the victor,
and while he advanced and knelt before the queen of ceremonies, the air
was rent with such shouts of applause as were never before heard at
Kenmore.

Clara Douglas did not tremble--there was no quivering of hand or
lip--but with a proud and happy light in her eyes, and with gratefully
swelling bosom, she advanced, and threw a scarf of crimson silk, richly
embroidered with golden thread, over the shoulder of the victorious
knight.

As Aldred arose to his feet he was caught from behind, and before he
could fully comprehend whether he was indebted to friend or to foe for
the unceremonious salutation, he was lifted to a broad litter made of
green boughs, interwoven with rare and fragrant flowers, and very soon a
score of stout Highlanders were bearing him towards the applauding
multitude.

The son of Eric stood at the entrance to his tent, and witnessed the
scene; and when he turned away he muttered to himself:

"Let him triumph now; for as sure as there is a God in Heaven, he has
gained his last victory of earth!"

Presently afterwards Thorwald walked forth, divested of his shattered
armor, and joined in praise of the victor.

"I acknowledge that my blood ran hotly," he said, to the king and
Atholbane; "and while I had a hope left I could not give up. I was
beside myself. But I am cool now, and I hail the victor as a true and
gallant knight. Ah, sire, it is not an easy thing to give up so rich a
prize. I would have given my blood for it."

"But, Sir Thorwald," said the king, with a slight touch of asperity in
his tone, "you fought with a sharp-pointed sword. Knew you not----"

"I cry your mercy, sire," interrupted the craven. "That was no fault of
mine, and no one can regret the circumstance more than myself. It was a
mistake of my esquire's. Send for him, and he will explain it."

It was a grave charge, and Griffeth was sent for, who, when questioned
concerning the matter, bluntly confessed that it was entirely through a
mistake of his own that his master went forth with a pointed sword; and
thereupon he went on to state just how it had been done.

"And furthermore, let me say," added Thorwald, "that I did not observe
the exchange of swords until I had crossed blades with my opponent, and
then it was too late to mend the matter."

"It is well," pronounced the king. "No harm came from it, so you have no
ill to answer for."

"Ah!" muttered Edwin, speaking so that only Clara could hear him,
"Thorwald may deceive others, but he cannot deceive me."

"Nor can he deceive me," said the maiden. "I like not his dark face."

"And," pursued the lad, "he lies when he says that he hails the victor
as a true and gallant knight. His heart is black with ill-will and
vengefulness. But, my soul! has it not been a grand occasion? Ha! see
those peasant girls heaping wreaths of roses upon Aldred."

Edwin started to his feet and clapped his hands, and presently he
tottered back, and would have sunk upon the platform, had not his fair
cousin guided him to his seat.

"Cousin, I am faint! where are you?"

"Here, Edwin; look up."

"Dark! dark!"

His father was by his side very soon, and took the boy in his stout
arms; but the power of speech was gone, and the eyes were closed.

As quickly as possible the stricken youth was conveyed to the castle,
whither his father and his cousin accompanied him, and the physician was
not far behind.

Aldred, as soon as he heard of Edwin's sudden prostration, persuaded the
good Highlanders to let him go, and he reached the castle shortly after
the physician; but when he found that he could do no good, and that the
sufferer had better not be disturbed, he started to return to the list,
where the sports of the day were to be concluded by the archers. He
cared not so much to witness the trial as he did to please the yeomen
and men-at-arms by his presence; for they might take it as a slight if
he absented himself. In the corridor leading from Edwin's chamber he met
Clara Douglas. She was the first to extend her hand, which she did with
a warm, beaming look, and her manner indicated that she was willing to
tarry awhile, else the knight would not have sought to detain her.

"You have seen Edwin," he said, still holding her hand, for she had
given it to him, and had not sought to withdraw it.

"Yes," she replied, "I have just left him. The physician shakes his
head, and says we must wait until to-morrow. I hope he will recover, but
I fear."

"Poor Edwin!" murmured our hero. "I love him very much."

"So do I," responded Clara. And then, having cast a hurried glance up
and down the corridor, she added: "But it is not of Edwin I would
speak." Her voice was low and eager, and an earnest light was in her
eye. "I would speak of Thorwald. Do you think he means well to you?"

"I do not, lady," replied Aldred, promptly.

"Still," pursued the maiden, "you may not know how false and treacherous
he can be. I have watched him narrowly through this day, and he has
glared upon you with eyes like a serpent. Aldred, for my sake, have a
care."

"Blessed lady--Clara--your words are as heavenly music to my soul; and
the care you manifest for me is a glorious addition to the prize I have
this day won. I know the Son of Eric right well, and I shall be on my
guard."

The lady had withdrawn her hand, and started to turn away, when she
stopped and looked up again.

"Aldred," she said, and a rich moisture gathering in her eyes, and her
voice sweetly tremulous, "I may never be more to you than I am now; but,
while I live, I will not be less. If danger threatens, I pray you save
yourself for my sake. God be with you!"

With these words she turned towards Edwin's chamber, while the knight
went down into the court, where one of the grooms still held his horse.

It was well into the evening when the sports were concluded; and the
king, who had stopped to the close to please his stout archers, returned
to the castle in company with Aldred; and, during the festive hours that
followed in the old hall, he kept the victor knight by his side, and
treated him as a brother.

It was as gall and wormwood to the Son of Eric, and he followed the
favored champion with glances of direst hatred; but he dared not speak
his feelings to others; for in all that assemblage of knights and
gentlemen he knew not one who did not exhibit feeling of admiration
toward Aldred of Lanark. Meekly and gently the hero bore his honors,
seeming rather to shrink from praise than to court it; and even this
added fuel to the fire of hate that rankled in the bosom of the enemy.

And that night, before Thorwald touched his pillow, he swore again that
he would sweep the interloper of Lanark from his path!




CHAPTER XIV.--A VACANT PLACE AT KENMORE.


ON the day following the tournament the peasantry had the field for such
sports as they saw fit to engage in, and after that the assemblage
dispersed. The king remained until the third day, when he returned to
Scone, most of the Scottish knights going with him. Before he left, he
gave promise of enduring friendship to Aldred of Lanark, and strongly
urged the young man to make his appearance at the capital very often.
The Earl of Northumberland, with his English followers, departed on the
fourth day, and thus Kenmore Castle was once more quiet. Some of these
knights would have remained longer, for the enjoyment of forest sports,
but the sickness of Edwin kept the earl from joining them, and they
thought best to withdraw. Douglas stopped as he felt in duty bound to
do.

On the evening of the sixth day of his prostration, Edwin of Kenmore lay
upon his bed, his head bolstered up against a pile of soft pillows, and
his face turned towards the window which overlooked the lake. The sun
was just touching the ragged crest of Ben Lawers, and a golden glory
suffused the balmy atmosphere. Atholbane sat near the foot of the bed,
the countess stood by his side, while Clara Douglas was seated by the
invalid's pillow.

"I think he sleeps," said Lady Margaret.

Clara made no reply, and presently the Countess left the chamber,
remarking, as she turned away:

"I shall return by the time he wakes up."

Hardly had his mother gone when Edwin opened his eyes. He had grown very
thin and white--so thin and so white that even the blue lines which had
marked the course of the veins had disappeared.

"Clara, is my father here?"

The earl arose and stood near his son.

"Father, where is Aldred? I have not seen him to-day."

"Would you see him now, my son?"

"Yes. I love Aldred."

Atholbane went to the door and called a servant, whom he sent upon the
errand.

Ere long the Knight of Lanark came, and the boy's eyes were lighted up
by a sudden flash of gratification as he felt the hand of his friend.

"Dear, good Aldred," spoke the invalid, "I wished to see you once more.
I wished to tell you how much I love you, and how like a very near
brother you have seemed to me, and I wished that you should know this,
in order that you might cherish my memory when I am gone."

The knight bent over and kissed the boy's white brow.

"Dear Edwin, it needed no such words from your lips to give me assurance
of your love, nor to fix your fond image in my memory of blessing. If I
have seemed like a brother to you, you have in turn bound yourself very
close to my heart."

A warm, happy smile overspread the face of the lad, and presently he
said:

"Once I thought it would be a very hard thing to die, but I think so no
more. I am sure there is a better world than this--a world where there
is no dark falsehood and no envious malice--where there is no
pain--where duty and happiness are united, and where the Lord of Glory
reigneth forever!"

"Hush, Edwin," spoke the earl in a tremulous voice. "You know the
physician told you that you must not talk too much."

"I know; but still, father, what I have to say I must say now, for I am
going away very soon. Come near to me. Clara, raise my head a little
higher."

The maiden placed another pillow beneath his head, and at the same time
the earl drew nearer to his side.

"The sun is going down--down--down. See how gloriously it sets. Clara
your hair looks like gold, and your cheeks like the blooming rose, but
the golden glory of earth can come to an end, and the roses can fade.
But you must not worry on that account. For such as you, dear cousin,
the immortal gates are open, and when these beauties fade, the beauties
beyond the grave shall be yours for evermore!"

A little while the invalid lay gazing out upon the grand sunset scene,
and then he turned to his father.

"Father, I owe it to Clara, and to yourself to set your mind right where
now I think it is wrong. When I am dead you must not look upon my fair
cousin as having lost her affianced husband, for such is not the case."

"Edwin, you wander----"

"Stop, father. I know what I am saying. Ask Clara."

The earl looked towards the maiden, and she said:

"He speaks truly, my lord."

"Aye," continued Edwin. "My cousin must be set right. If I had lived, we
should not have married. She loves me tenderly and truly, but I have
only a brother's place in her heart. She has been honorable and just.
She would have sacrificed herself if I had said so, and had lived to
accept, but I would not have it so. I never loved Clara as a strong man
should love the woman whom he would make his wife. My own weakness of
body caused me to shrink from claiming the holy relationship. What was
I, that I should assume to be the husband of such as Clara Douglas? So,
my father, we have been very dear to each other, loving as brother and
sister, and when I am gone Clara will have lost a brother--no more."

Atholbane looked from his son to Clara Douglas, and then from her back
to his son. The maiden saw that there was no sign of anger upon his
face, nor yet of disappointment--only an expression of surprise and
wonder, and she ventured to say:

"Blame me not, my lord. Had Edwin claimed my hand, I should not have
withheld it. He has told you the truth. Had I married him, he would have
had my hand without my heart."

"I should have lost more than I gained," interposed Edwin. "I should
have gained a cold and empty hand, and lost all the love of a fond
sister."

"Lady, you have been honorable and just. It is not your fault that your
heart had been given to another."

"My lord!"

"Hush. I ask no questions. If you cannot be Edwin's wife, then may God
bless your union with some brave and noble man. Be your choice what it
may, so that your happiness is to be promoted thereby, I will bid you
goodspeed."

Clara arose to her feet and moved to Atholbane's side, and without
speaking, she put her arms about his neck, and pillowed her head upon
his bosom.

"Lady--Clara--what is the matter? Why do you weep?"

"Bless you, my lord----"

She had spoken thus much in a sobbing tone when a strange sound from
Edwin's lips arrested her attention, and both she and the earl started
up. The boy was trying to speak, but his voice had failed him, and when
he saw that his father was looking he pointed to Aldred.

"What is it, my son?"

"Aldred--Clara--" It was a feeble whisper, and it was all he could say.

Atholbane understood him, however, and slowly shook his head. Then he
took his son's hand, and quietly said:

"I have no power to bestow, but I will not oppose."

A smile of gratitude lighted up the pale face of the dying boy, and
presently his gaze wandered off to the distant mountain, where the
horizon was all aglow with the purpling halo that dwelt above the
declining sun. Those who stood by the bedside waited for him to speak
again, but he did not. The hand that had rested upon his bosom slid down
by his side, a mystic shadow crept over his face, the warm light faded
from the eye, and the mortal had put on immortality!

"So fades my last hope of earth!" groaned Atholbane, sinking forward
upon the bed, with his face buried in his hands.

And Aldred, drawing him up and holding his hand in both his own, made
earnest speech:

"I cannot take the place of a son to thee Atholbane, but that other
place I will fill as God gives me strength and knowledge. I will be thy
brother, to do thee service with my life, if need be!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For a week or more after the funeral, a deep shadow rested upon Kenmore
Castle, and the inmates thereof walked to and fro as though all shared
in the heavy grief of the earl. Thorwald was away most of the time, but
when he was at home he professed to mourn with the rest. The countess
expressed much regret that she had not been with her son when he died,
and her regret was sincere. She had loved her pale boy, though from his
earliest childhood she had not placed much hope in the success of his
manhood. He had never received from her the love that warmed her heart
towards her firstborn, and who shall say that she was to blame? She had
loved Eric of St. Philips as she never had loved Atholbane, and the Son
of Eric had a place in her regard that could not be given to another.

One morning, about two weeks after Edwin's death, Lady Margaret spoke
with her husband upon a subject that occupied her thoughts continually.

"My lord, are you willing that I should speak with you upon a matter
which is to me of grave importance?"

"Certainly, Margaret. Speak on." The earl seemed to know what was
coming, for he sat down and prepared to listen, without any show of
surprise.

"I wish to ask you," pursued the countess, with a slight trepidation in
her manner, "whether you look upon my son as standing in the line of
heirship to Kenmore?"

"You speak of Thorwald?"

"Of whom else should I speak? He is the only son I have."

"Margaret, I cannot answer that question now." Atholbane spoke
moderately and kindly, but yet with decision. "By the right of blood
Thorwald has no more claim to the heirship than has my forester, or my
butler. Were I to die today he could not touch an acre of this land, nor
count a farthing of the revenue therefrom."

"What would become of Kenmore in such an event?" asked the lady.

"You would hold a living here while you lived a widow."

"And then?"

"Then, as I should leave no direct heir, the whole estate would revert
to the crown, as it was a gift in the first place from the crown to my
father for services rendered. But, Margaret, we will not pursue this
subject now."

"But," urged the lady, anxiously, "you have the right to appoint an
heir?"

"That right is not vested alone in me," replied the earl. "I can
nominate an heir, but the king must sanction it."

"And, my lord, if you were to nominate my son, would Edgar refuse to
confirm him?"

Atholbane shook his head with a dissatisfied air.

"Margaret, I am yet in the prime of life. I may outlive Thorwald many
years. What is hidden in the womb of time we cannot tell. Your son has a
home here, and holds honorable position, and while he chooses to remain
he shall have such regard as he merits. But I am not prepared to go
farther now. Mind you, my lady,--I do not speak with objection to
Thorwald, but with objection to the principle involved. Edwin's place
cannot be filled at present. Wait. I will be Earl of Kenmore while I
live, and if I live many years longer, coming time may work out a
solution to the problem of succession that shall save us all trouble of
perplexity. Wait, Margaret. We have no need of haste."

The countess turned away with an expression of disappointment which she
could not conceal.

"Upon my soul," muttered the earl to himself, after she had gone, "I
wonder much at her anxiety in this matter. What can be her object in
urging such a thing at this time?"

And it troubled him not a little, though not for a long while, for
within two hours after his wife had left him Earl Douglas sought him in
his chamber.

"Now, my good brother in-law," said Douglas, after he had seated
himself, "it is time that we had some understanding of the relations
between us as they have been left by the death of Edwin. I have not
spoken before because I would not break in upon your sorrow; but as the
matter is one of importance I have thought further delay unnecessary."

"You are right," replied Atholbane; "but still I cannot see that the
subject has the importance you would give it. In the death of my son our
compact fails; and there, it seems to me, is the end."

"Not necessarily," said Douglas "You will remember that our object in
the proposed marriage was a union of our houses. The time may come--in
fact, it is very likely to come--when the salvation of the realm may
depend upon the union of the Scottish chiefs and surely the need of that
union is as great now as it was when our children were affianced."

"I understand you," answered the Earl of Kenmore, "and I admit that your
proposition is just; but I fail to see what end you aim at. The only
bond of union we had is broken."

"But," suggested Douglas, "there may be found a new one."

"How so?" demanded Atholbane. "I have no living child."

"But your wife has."

In a moment the whole truth flashed upon Kenmore's mind; and he now knew
why the countess had been so anxious concerning her son.

"My brother," he said, after a moment's reflection, "I comprehend now.
If I will make Thorwald heir to this earldom you will bestow upon him
your daughter's hand?"

"Yes," answered Douglas, quickly. "You have it now."

"Ah," returned the other, with a solemn shake of the head. "I had not
thought of that."

"But what do you think of it now?"

Atholbane arose from his chair and walked several times across the room.
Finally he resumed his seat and looked his companion calmly in the face.

"Douglas, I have learned to love your sweet child, and I am ready to
make any reasonable sacrifice for her peace and happiness. If it would
give her joy to see Thorwald made heir of Kenmore----"

"Tush!" interrupted Douglas, with an impatient movement. "Why speak of
her? This is a matter of polity. I know what Clara's answer would be.
Unfortunately she loves my low-born protege."

"You mean Aldred?"

"Yes,"

"He is my protege now," said Atholbane; "and if you will give him the
hand of your child, I will promise that the king shall raise him----"

"Bah!" cried Douglas, stamping his foot upon the floor. "Talk not to me
of mating a Douglas with the son of a forester. Upon my soul, I am
surprised."

"You can be as surprised as you please," said Atholbane, mildly; "but
you cannot make me understand why Aldred of Lanark would not make a
better husband than Thorwald. And, more than that, the king loves the
youthful knight."

"By Saint Michael!" exclaimed proud Douglas, starting in turn from his
chair, "I love the Knight of Lanark as well as you or the king can love
him; but I cannot forget that Walthorf is his father, and that his
mother was a servant, and the child of a servant. The blood of Douglas
cannot mingle with such a current!"

The earl sat down, and presently added, in a lower tone:

"We need not speak of Aldred more. You cannot make him your heir."

"I wish I could," returned Atholbane; "but the thing is impossible."

"Then," said Douglas, "let us set him aside. I know that my daughter
loves him, and that he loves her; and it was for that that I sent him
away from Lanark. I wish it were otherwise; but as it is, we must make
the best of it. And now let us turn our attention elsewhere. Thorwald
come of noble stock on both sides; and you can make him your heir if you
choose."

"My lord," pronounced he of Kenmore, rising to his feet, "I have much to
think of before I give you a decisive answer to such a proposition. Let
this matter rest where it is at present. I will consider--I will
reflect."

"But," interrupted Douglas, "I must have your word that you will
not----"

"Hold!" broke in Atholbane, with an imperative motion of the hand. "I
must be placed under no restrictions. You do not know all that I know.
If you did--But never mind. I give you my promise that I will do all
that may become a true man. Rest you satisfied with that."

"But I am anxious."

"So am I, good Douglas--more anxious than you can know."

"Grant me one favor, Atholbane, and I will rest easy, and await your
pleasure."

"Anything in reason."

"Then make some errand for Aldred away from Kenmore."

"I will do so as soon as I can," said Atholbane. "By the day after
to-morrow I will send him to the king; and in a private missive to his
majesty I will ask that the knight be kept at court until he hears
further from me. Will that suit you?"

Douglas said that he was satisfied.




CHAPTER XV.--A NEW SPIRIT IN THE GHOST'S TOWER.


EARL DOUGLAS was not a man to betray a secret, nor to violate the
confidence of friendship. He was proud of his station, jealous of his
honor, and steadfast in his resolution. He had seen but little of his
sister since her first marriage; and that little had been upon the
bright side; so he regarded her now as a person whom he might trust
implicitly,--not that he would have placed any weighty business in her
hands, but he felt that she had equal inducement with him to maintain
the purity and honor of his house. If Margaret had ever conceived a
spirit of ill-feeling towards her husband, from any cause whatever, she
had been careful not to show it to her brother; but she gave him to
understand that all was peace and harmony at Kenmore.

And the earl's estimation of Thorwald had been formed much upon his
sister's representation. During his visits at Lanark, Margaret's son had
shown only the best side of his character, as there had been no occasion
for him to show any other; and, furthermore, he had contrived to so
entertain his host that his companionship had been agreeable. Douglas
knew that Thorwald was an accomplished knight, and he believed him to be
a true and honorable man. He could have wished that his sister's child
had inherited less of his Norman father's spirit--a spirit that tended
towards revenge and male violence. Douglas had seen this; but he had
never seen it in full play, and he did not know how much venom there was
in the blood of the son of Eric.

Under all these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that Earl
Douglas should turn his thoughts upon Thorwald as a husband for his
daughter after Edwin's death. He had a strong desire to see Lanark and
Kenmore united, and if Atholbane would but make Thorwald his heir, that
desire might be gratified. In fact, he considered that if Thorwald could
become the heir, his daughter would be the gainer by Edwin's death. He
thought not of love; in this estimate he made no account of those
blessings which spring from the union of pure hearts, but he thought of
a bold husband and a hardy progeny. This idea once entertained, took
firm possession of his mind; and as his sister was equally interested
with himself, he communicated freely with her.

And thus, without thought of harm, Douglas told Lady Margaret the result
of his interview with Atholbane, at the same time bidding her hope that
all would come out right. He did not caution her not to tell Thorwald
what he had said, because he fancied that she would be discreet without
any word from him.

Early in the evening, Thorwald sought his mother in her chamber, and
proceeded at once to inquire if she had spoken with her husband upon the
subject they had in hand.

"Yes," replied the countess, "I have spoken with him, and my brother has
spoken with him. To me he was somewhat reserved, but to Douglas he let
the whole truth slip. I do not think Atholbane regards you very
favorably, but yet, if there was nothing else in the way, he might be
brought over."

Margaret paused, and when she continued there was much bitter feeling in
her tone.

"It is much as I had thought. My brother has told me all that passed
between himself and Atholbane, and I find that Aldred of Lanark is the
stumbling-block."

"How!" cried Thorwald; "Aldred a stumbling-block in your husband's way?"

"In our way," responded Margaret, with closed teeth.

"I know," pursued the knight, "that Clara loves this fellow, and I know,
too, that he loves her; but she must obey her father. If he is right,
what shall hinder the consummation?"

"Ah, my son," said the countess, with a little reluctance in her tone,
"you must remember that my brother's aim is to make his daughter
mistress of Kenmore, and Atholbane does not seem inclined to give direct
promise that the end can be attained through you."

"Then he refuses to make me his heir?" exclaimed Thorwald, with darkling
brow and clutching fingers.

"No," replied Margaret, "he does not refuse, but he hesitates."

"And does he take thought of Aldred in this connexion?"

"I think he does, my son. At all events, it would please him to see
Clara's hand bestowed upon the youth."

"'Sdeath!" cried the knight, stamping his foot upon the floor, "would
Atholbane make Aldred his heir?"

"No, he cannot do that; but he promises my brother that the king will
raise the young knight to a post of honor."

"By the gods!" shouted Thorwald, starting to his feet, "this is past
endurance. But will the king do it?"

"Easy, my son," spoke the countess, persuasively. "If you are not
careful we may be overheard. Sit down and listen."

The excited man resumed his seat, and the lady continued:

"We must look at the truth boldly, and not try to wink it out of sight.
My husband has conceived a strong liking for Aldred of Lanark--so much
so that he seems to think of no one else. While Edwin was alive there
existed a slight bone of union between Atholbane and myself; but that is
gone, and I am well satisfied that I have no place in his heart. But it
is not Atholbane alone; the king, I am persuaded, has taken the
adventurer to his warmest regard. I like it not."

The countess clenched her hands and shut her teeth, and the cloud upon
her brow betokened that bitter feelings were in her heart.

"I like it not," she repeated spitefully. "What with the ghost of Lady
Maud, and the liking for this wanderer, and the unaccountable whim of
the king, I am driven entirely out from my lord's regard."

"Then," said the son of Eric, in a hot whisper, "Aldred of Lanark stands
between me and this earldom, and also between me and the hand of Clara
Douglas?"

"Hush! you must do nothing rash, my son."

"Will you answer me?" cried the knight, impetuously. "Is it not true
that Atholbane halts in this business because of Aldred of Lanark?"

"It is true," replied Margaret.

Thorwald walked several times across the room, and when he finally
stopped he had ceased to tremble, and his lips were compressed until
they were bloodless.

"Mother," he said, scarcely above a whisper, "I will do nothing rash; I
must think of this. Wait until I have reflected."

"Thorwald, your eye is too bright."

"Ha! ha! ha! it needs bright eyes in such times. Look you to the
daughter of Earl Douglas, and I will look to the son of Walthorf. But I
will do nothing rash. Fear not, mother."

The knight had turned towards the door, when the countess started to her
feet, and caught him by the arm.

"Thorwald," she cried, in accents of alarm, "you frighten me; what mean
you?"

"I did not know a Douglas could be a coward!" retorted the son.

"I am not a coward," returned his mother, quickly; "but I would be
careful not to make matters worse than they now are. Your blood is hot,
and you may do that which will set Atholbane forever against you.
Aye--and more still; my brother----"

"Tush! you worry yourself without cause, my dear mother."

Thorwald spoke very calmly, and even smiled as he spoke. "I have told
you that I will do nothing rash, and I will keep my word. But of this
you may rest assured: I will find some way to send Aldred of Lanark from
Kenmore, and I will do it so quietly that my hand shall not be
suspected. I have agents--I can find means. So rest you easy. Do not let
either of the earls see that you are anxious."

With those words Thorwald left his mother's chamber, and when he
appeared at the supper table, he was more agreeable than usual. And
after supper he walked with Atholbane and Douglas and Aldred in the
court, and talked of the result of the tournament as though no sting
were left in his bosom. The evening was calm and warm, and at a later
hour as he walked alone upon the parapet, he met his mother and Clara
directly beneath the old tower. He stopped and saluted the ladies, and
the three stood, for awhile, and conversed upon such topics as were
suggested by the hour and the scene. The knight assumed his gayest mood,
and once or twice he succeeded in bringing a smile to Clara's face. At
length Lady Margaret remarked that they were standing by the wall of the
Ghost's Tower.

"I have no particular fear," she said, "but I think we might find a more
agreeable place for conversation."

"My dear countess," asked Clara, "do you really think that there are
ghosts in this tower?"

Lady Margaret shook her head dubiously.

"Your question, my child, shows that you are not acquainted with the
affairs of Kenmore."

"But," urged the maiden, "the apartments of the tower are occupied."

"It is a foolish experiment," said Thorwald. "I do not think I am a
coward, and yet I would not like to occupy those chambers night after
night. We know, fair lady, that there are disembodied spirits in the
tower--that the old chambers above us have been, for long years, the
abode of spectres. And if we can credit the testimony of reliable
witnesses, some of those ghostly inhabitants like not to be troubled. A
man of flesh, clad in steel, and armed with spear and buckler, if he
attack me, I know how to defend myself; but we know not how these
spirits of another world may lay their evil power upon us. I have no
doubt that men have been stricken with death who have trespassed upon
them. At all events, if I were forced to make the apartments of this
tower my abiding place, I should consider my chances of long life
materially lessened."

Clara bowed her head, and both Thorwald and his mother could see that
she was troubled.

"However," added the knight, after they had started to walk away from
the tower, "we who have no cause to trouble the haunted chambers, need
not fear that their spectral occupants will trouble us. And surely we
should be very grateful that their ghostships do not lay claim to any
other portion of the castle."

At this juncture the two earls came up, and shortly afterwards the party
returned to the keep.

On the following morning, at an early hour, Thorwald called for his
horse, and as he prepared to mount he stated to Douglas, who chanced to
be in the court, that he was going to Finglen on business.

"But," said the earl, "we are to have our hunt to-day. Can you not
postpone your visit?"

"Not well," replied Thorwald; "but I can, perhaps, do what will answer
full as well for you, while it answers much better for me. I can make
all possible haste, and return by the middle of the forenoon. I know
Atholbane's hunting-ground, and if the ladies accompany you, and you are
gone before I get back, I shall find you somewhere on the bank of the
river, beyond Fortingal. At all events, you shall see me, and I shall be
much disappointed if I do not arrive in season to enjoy most of your
sport. I have a rare piece of horse-flesh here."

After breakfast Atholbane ordered the horses to be brought to the inner
court, and directed that the foresters should make ready all things for
a day's sport. Some surprise was expressed by the countess that Thorwald
was absent; but when her brother informed her that her son would
probably join them before noon, she seemed satisfied.

The party had been gone some two hours or more, when Thorwald returned;
but he made no haste to follow them. He dismounted at the entrance to
the stable yard, and directed Griffeth, who had been in waiting for him,
to see that his horse was properly cared for.

"But, my master," said the esquire, "the earl expects you in the forest.
He bade me tell you that you would find him by the river."

"We will be off before long," returned the knight; "but I must first go
to my chamber, where I have matters of my own to attend to. I will call
you when I am ready."

Thorwald went to his chamber, where he removed his riding boots and put
on a pair of light slippers in their place. Then he came forth, and took
his way along the corridor toward the Ghost's Tower.

He walked very carefully, making no noise, as his feet fell upon the
tiles, and ever and anon casting his eyes around, as though to be sure
that he was not observed. When he reached the large bed-chamber, which
Aldred still continued to occupy, he noiselessly closed the door behind
him, and then advanced to the side board, whereon stood two bottles, a
ewer, and two silver drinking-cups. The bottles had both been opened,
though only a slight portion of the contents had been used; one
contained a fine, aromatic cordial, and the other some choice old wine.

"Yes, yes, my Lady Clara," muttered the intruder, as he set the wine
bottle back, "there may be dangerous spirits in this chamber. Aye--and
deadly spirits too! The Knight of Lanark is not proof against the
spectre I shall bring up for him!"

As he spoke he drew a phial from his pocket, and removed the stopper.
His hands trembled a little, and he looked carefully around. The door of
the Blue Chamber was ajar, and he went and closed it; then he went to
the bed, and looked behind the curtains; and finally he returned to the
side-board, and poured half the contents of the phial into the bottle of
cordial and the other half he mixed with the wine.

"So, so," he said, after he had put the bottles as he had found them;
"if the ghosts don't drink this up before master Aldred returns, he will
find a resting-portion that will give him an eternal quiet!"

There were other bottles in a lower portion of the side-board, but as
they were all sealed, Thorwald judged that they would not be touched
until those already opened had been emptied; so he went away with a
strong faith that his rival would trouble him no more. If he held any
thought of what might be the danger to others through the deadly agent
he had left behind him, the thought did not give him trouble; for that
chamber was not a place frequented by other inmates of the castle. The
Knight of Lanark alone loved the solitude of the old tower; and if he
was fond of the company of ghosts, he might very soon put off this
mortal tenement, and so enjoy their society without restraint.

Shortly after noon Thorwald, accompanied by his esquire, joined the
hunting party in the forest, and though at times he seemed a little
absent in his thoughts, he still managed to bear himself cheerfully. And
especially did he take pains to treat Aldred with marked respect and
friendliness; but our hero was not deceived into the belief that his
enemy had changed; and, while he received the friendly attentions with
becoming grace, he could not fail to observe the snake-like fire of hate
that ever and anon lighted up the eyes of the speaker.

The sun was just sinking behind the hoary crest of Ben Lawers when the
hunting party emerged from the forest towards the castle; and Thorwald,
drawing his rein, and coming to a walk by where Atholbane and Douglas
rode, said to the former:

"My lord, ere I left for Finglen this morning I promised Douglas that I
would join you in the chase to-day. I kept my promise; but in doing so I
was forced to leave my business unfinished. I have friends there waiting
for me, and I must join them this evening. I shall return on the
morrow."

With this the Son of Eric took off his hat to the party, and having
spoken a word of adieu to his mother and Lady Clara, he rode away,
followed by his esquire.

Within the castle was a messenger, just arrived from Lanark, waiting
very impatiently to see Earl Douglas.

"Ah--Robert! What now?" Douglas was surprised and eager, for Robert was
his confidential agent and lieutenant, whom he had left to take care of
his castle.

"A message from the countess, my lord," replied the courier, extending a
packet as he spoke.

The earl took it, and cut the band with his dagger, and when he had read
the contents he turned to Aldred.

"Good Aldred, you and I must make all haste and eat our suppers, and
then away for Lanark."

"Now, father?" interrupted Clara, who had just been assisted from the
saddle by the youthful knight.

"You will remain here, my child; for Aldred and I must ride with a
will."

"Is there need of so such haste?" asked Atholbane.

"Yes," answered Douglas. "We will take fresh horses, and ride to
Stirling to-night. There we can rest a couple of hours with our good
Fitz Henry; and with horses fresh from there we may reach Lanark early
on the morrow."

"My lord!" spoke our hero, anxiously.

"Your father is ill, Aldred--perhaps dying. He would see us. He has
something to say to you--something to say to me. Let us make haste."

Douglas evidently had something more upon his mind--something which he
had gained from the missive the messenger had brought, but he chose to
reveal no more to his protege.




CHAPTER XVI.--THE SERPENT BITES!


ON the morning after the departure of Douglas and Aldred, Atholbane felt
sad and lonesome. Even Thorwald was gone, so he had none to converse
with save the servants; for he was not in the mood to seek his wife. Of
late she had seemed more distant from him than ever, and more than once
she had intimated that she could wish she might never see him again. It
was in those moods--when left alone by the departure of visitors--that
he had been wont to seek and enjoy the companionship of Edwin; but Edwin
was with him no more.

Towards the middle of the forenoon, as the earl was thinking of sending
for his horse, a gay cavalcade came dashing over the drawbridge, at the
head of which rode the king.

"By my faith, sire," cried the earl, as he grasped Edgar's hand after
the latter had dismounted, "your coming is most opportune. I am lonesome
and sad."

"Where is Douglas?" asked Edgar.

"Gone to Lanark."

"So soon? I thought he meant to tarry longer."

"An unexpected message called him, sire. He will return."

"And Aldred--where is he?"

"Gone with Douglas. Old Walthorf, the forester, is sick unto death, and
would see his son."

"And who sent for Douglas?" asked the king.

"The same--Walthorf--wished to see them both before he died."

"What was the nature of the message?"

"I know no more, sire."

"And you suspect nothing?"

"What could I suspect?"

Instead of making any rejoinder, the king bowed his head for a few
moments; and when he looked up again a strange light was just fading
from his eye.

"I cannot stop with you now, good brother," he said. "I am on my way to
Stirling, and I came hither to see if Aldred would not ride with me. I
will rest awhile, however."

Atholbane led the way to the keep, where the countess and Clara Douglas
joined them, and after partaking of refreshments, and chating awhile
with the ladies, his majesty arose to depart.

"You will stop on your return," urged the host.

"Yes," replied Edgar. "Such was my plan."

"Your apartments shall be ready for you."

"If Aldred has not returned when I come back," said the king, as they
passed through the hall, "I shall have a favor to ask of you."

"Anything, sire."

"It is not much. I wish to occupy the apartments in the Ghost's Tower."

The countess, who had been standing by an open door, heard thus much;
and she heard her husband make favorable reply; but she could hear no
more. She saw the king and his retinue ride away, and then she retired
to her own chamber, leaving Clara to entertain the earl. And a pleasant
entertainment the earl found it. Under the influence of the maiden's
genial smile and consoling words, he found his spirits revive; and by
and bye they walked away together down by the shore of the lake.

Meanwhile a new thought had entered the mind of the countess. She was
determined to pay a visit to the Ghost's Tower. Nothing on earth could
have induced her to spend a night in that ghostly place; but on this
bright, beautiful day, with the sun shining so warmly, there could be no
danger. Aldred slept there, and had no trouble. And now the king sought
the privilege of occupying those rooms. What did it mean? There must be
some reason for it? Edgar could not have expressed such a wish without
some object. She knew that Aldred professed to have seen bright spirits
there; and she knew that the king had stopped there one night with him.
She had learned the fact from one of the servants who was cognisant of
it. In short, her curiosity was aroused to such a pitch that she could
not resist the temptation; and while the fit was on her she called her
maid to accompany her, meaning to make the visit while her husband and
Clara were away.

"I have a curiosity to see the Blue Chamber once more," she said to her
attendant, "and we will go at once. I hope you are not afraid, Rebecca."

"Not at all, ma'am," returned the maid, who was a bright-faced girl of
some twenty years. "If you wish to go, I am ready to go with you."

"There can be no danger, Rebecca; for Aldred of Lanark has slept there
many nights."

The countess seemed to ask the question rather than make the assertion.
Rebecca might have felt some hesitation had she been asked to go alone
to the Ghost's Tower; but she had no fear of going with her mistress.
She knew that Aldred was away, and she felt a mighty curiosity to look
into the chambers where the ghosts were said to make their nocturnal
visits.

"What danger can there be in the daytime, ma'am?" she demanded, with
pert assurance. "Ghosts are like the stars--they can travel only in the
night. Who ever heard of a ghost being seen by daylight?"

"To be sure, Rebecca--who ever did? Let us go at once."

The countess led the way, and with a bold step she moved on until she
reached the corridor beyond the main keep; but here she faltered, and
finally came to a stop.

"What is the matter, my lady?"

"Nothing, Rebecca."

Margaret tried to speak bravely, but her voice was low, and when she
moved on again her step was slower than before, and she kept closer to
her maid. At the door which opened to the first ante-chamber of the
tower the countess stopped once more, and her hand trembled upon the
latch. If she had spoken her feelings at that moment she would have said
that her courage was failing her--that she wished she had not set out on
the expedition. A mystic voice seemed whispering to her that she was
treading upon dangerous ground.

"Surely, ma'am," suggested the maid, who could not fail to understand
somewhat of her mistress' feelings, "you and I, who have no thought of
harm to any living thing, and no enmity towards those that are dead, can
have nothing to fear?"

The words called new uneasiness to the soul of Lady Margaret. She
thought of the plot she had entered into against Aldred of Lanark; and
she thought of how she was aiding her dark-browed son against her
husband. But she could not expose those things to her attendant, and
with a powerful effort she calmed her outward emotion, and pushed open
the door. When she reached the large bed-chamber she stopped and sat
down.

How familiar everything looked. The hangings were the same, the
furniture the same, the trappings of the bed the same, and the ornaments
the same, that had been her silent companions in the years that were
gone.

"This used to be your sleeping apartment?" said Rebecca,
interrogatively.

"Yes," replied the countess.

"And that is the Blue Chamber beyond?"

"Yes."

"Shall we look into it?"

Margaret arose and moved towards the door. Her hand was upon the latch,
and she hesitated. At that moment a passing cloud obscured the sun, and
a deep shadow fell upon the scene.

"Shall I open the door, my lady? It would be a pity not to look into the
Blue Chamber after all this trouble."

The cloud seemed to grow thicker and darker over the face of the sun,
and as the countess, with a violent effort, tremblingly opened the door,
a shadow, as of approaching night, had fallen upon the quaint old
tapestry. But she did not stop. She pushed the door wide open, and
crossed the threshold. One more step, and she was for the moment rooted
to the spot whereon she stood by a scene that sent a thrill of horror to
every nerve.

At the alter, before the crucifix, knelt a female figure, clad in black,
with hands folded across the bosom, and head bowed. A low moan from the
lips of the dark presence trembled upon the air; and then, with a wild,
piercing shriek, the countess staggered back, and was caught in the arms
of her attendant; and at the same moment the door of the Blue Chamber
closed, seemingly of its own accord.

"What was it, my lady?" asked Rebecca, in quivering, frightened tones.

The countess started up, and looked around.

"Where am I?"

"Here you are, dear lady, in the bed-chamber. What did you see in the
other room?"

Margaret looked around again, with a wild, uncertain gaze, and finally
she seemed to comprehend what had transpired; and she also observed that
the door of the Blue Chamber was closed.

"I went in there?" she said, raising her trembling hand towards the
door.

"Yes, lady."

"And did you not see what I saw?"

"I saw nothing, lady. I did not enter the room. I was waiting for you to
pass on, when you cried out with a terrible cry, and fell back into my
arms."

"O, my soul! let us get away from here as soon as possible! I cannot
tell you now what I saw. I am weak, Rebecca. Is there not wine upon the
sideboard?"

"Yes, lady."

"Bring me some--anything to take this palsied quivering from my limbs."

"Here is wine and cordial both," said Rebecca, after she had examined
the bottles. She was somewhat nervous and uneasy, but the extreme
helplessness of her mistress gave her strength.

"Bring me the cordial."

The maid poured some of the cordial into the silver cup, and Lady
Margaret drank it at a draught.

"Will you have more?"

"No, Rebecca. That's enough. It warms me, and gives me strength. Let us
go now."

"And will you not tell me, as we go, what you saw?" asked the attendant.

When they reached the corridor the countess answered:

"I saw the dark spirit that haunts that chamber. It was a woman, clad in
black. Did you not hear her groan?"

"No, lady. I heard nothing of the kind. Could it have been something of
your own imagination?"

"Hush, Rebecca. I know what I saw. Let us hasten on. I would reach my
chamber before the earl returns."

Once more in her own apartment, the countess sank down faint and
shattered, and in a little while she complained of pain and dizziness.

"Rebecca," she moaned, "I feel sick almost unto death."

"I had better send for the doctor, lady."

"No, no--not yet. I may feel better by and by."

But instead of feeling better, Lady Margaret felt worse and worse, and
at length, with the terrible conviction upon her that she might die if
she did not obtain help, she suffered her maid to go for the physician.
Malbert chanced to be near at hand, and attended upon the countess
without delay.

"Good Malbert, do you think I shall die?"

The old man shook his head with a pained and puzzled look.

"I cannot conceive," he said, "what manner of disease is upon you."

"It is pain! pain! pain!" groaned the sufferer. "I am burning here," and
she pressed her hand over her stomach. "And I am dizzy, and my head
aches."

"You must have eaten something, lady, or drank something."

"The cordial!" cried Rebecca, whose thoughts flashed back to the scene
in the old tower.

"No, no, no!" uttered Margaret. "There was no cordial I have not had
any."

"But, my lady----"

"Hush, Rebecca. You know not what you say."

The physician saw that there was something shadowed in the maid's remark
which the mistress would conceal, and finally, after he had made the
countess understand that her life might depend upon his knowing the
truth, he gained the story. His first movement after this was based upon
the supposition that his patient had taken poison, and when he had
administered a powerful emetic, and given Rebecca directions for
watching until his return, he went to the bed chamber in the Ghost's
Tower, and brought away both the bottles that had stood unsealed upon
the sideboard. As he passed the head of the stairs on his return, he saw
the earl and Clara Douglas in the lower hall, and having sent the maiden
to see the countess, he drew Atholbane aside and told him what had
transpired. The countess, with her maid, had been to the haunted
chambers of the old tower, and there she had seen something which had
sorely frightened her, and to help her to overcome her weakness, she had
drank some cordial from a bottle that stood upon the sideboard.

"There were two bottles," the physician continued, "and I have them both
here."

"They are some that I gave to Aldred," said the earl.

"And you have more of the same kind?"

"Yes."

"Then send for some, and let us compare them."

Atholbane found his butler, and directed him to bring a bottle of wine
and a bottle of cordial like those which he held. Meanwhile clean cups
were procured, and when the butler returned the physician was ready for
his examination. And it did not take long to demonstrate that the wine
and the cordial which had been brought from the tower were very
different from the pure specimens which had been brought from the
cellar. The first mentioned had a paler hue, as though the organic
matter which gave color to the liquid had been eaten up by some powerful
agent, and they also gave forth an odor, when violently shaken, that was
particularly disagreeable.

"Malbert, what is it?" asked the earl, in a hushed voice.

"We must ascertain that, my lord, by experiment," replied the physician,
"and the sooner we do it the better, for I may then know how to treat
the countess. There are some young kids in the court. Let us bring one
in."

Unwilling to trust any of the servants with the secret, the earl went
himself to the court, and soon returned, bearing a kid in his arms, and
without much difficulty he and Malbert succeeded in forcing a goodly
quantity of the cordial down the animal's throat. They had not long to
wait for the result. Ere many minutes the poor creature staggered and
fell, a violent paroxysm ensued, there was frothing at the mouth, a
starting out of the eyes, and in a little while the kid was dead.

"There can be no question about this," said Atholbane.

"None, my lord. The countess is poisoned!"

"Then," cried the earl, starling to his feet, "let us hasten to her
assistance, and after that we will learn more, if we can. We may save
her yet."

They found Lady Margaret suffering intensely. The emetic had operated,
but it had not relieved her of pain. She saw her husband, and knew him.

"O, my lord, is there no help?" she groaned.

"Dear Margaret," replied Atholbane, advancing to the bed, and taking her
hand, "you are very sick."

"I want the truth," she said, clutching at the hand of her husband
spasmodically. "Have I been poisoned?"

"You have, my lady. Malbert has told me of your adventure, and we have
discovered that the cordial which you drank contained a poison most
deadly."

The countess uttered a loud cry, and started up from her pillow.

"Curses on the low-born wretch!" she exclaimed. "O, this is some of
Aldred's work!"

"No, no, no!" exclaimed Clara, impulsively. "He could not have done such
a thing."

"He did! he did!" shrieked the countess. "He left the poisoned cordial
there in order that we might drink and die."

"Say, rather," returned Clara, flushed with excitement, "that some enemy
left it there in order that Aldred might drink and die."

"Peace!" interposed the earl, speaking partly to his wife and in part to
Clara. "Who ever left it there has accomplished his work most terribly,
but I think he has missed his aim. The serpent has bitten where he least
expected."

"But I am not bitten. I shall not die. Save me! O, save me! I burn! I
burn!--Malbert, where are your potent drugs?--O!"

The suffering woman writhed and twisted, and directly she began to froth
at the mouth.

"Where is Thorwald?" she cried, again starting from her pillow, and
gazing wildly around. "Thorwald. My son!----Away, Earl of Kenmore. I
care not for you. I love you not. I love my son--my Thorwald--the son of
brave Eric!--O, Thorwald, thou shalt be Earl of Kenmore by and by!"

Thus gasping, the woman sank back, and when she tried to speak again she
could not. Her husband bent over her, but she tried to put him away, and
her lips moved as though she would still call her son. Even Clara
Douglas she noticed not.

It was painful to see the sufferer writhe in her agony, and Atholbane
asked if nothing could be done. The old physician shook his head.

"There is no help on earth," he said. "The end is near at hand."

In a little while Clara Douglas moved from the bedside, and grasped the
earl by the arm.

"My lord," she said, in an eager, quivering whisper, "do you believe
that Aldred of Lanark did that?"

Atholbane kissed the maiden upon the brow, and gently replied:

"Fear not, sweet child. The sin lies not at Aldred's door."

Then he turned and stood by the side of the dead countess, and he prayed
from the innermost depths of his heart that she might find blessing in
the other world!




CHAPTER XVII.--WALTHORF'S REVELATION.


ON the day following the death of the countess, towards the middle of
the afternoon, word was brought to the earl by Finlan that Thorwald was
approaching the castle.

"I would see him at once, good warder, before he can learn from other
lips what has happened during his absence. Conduct him hither as soon as
he dismounts."

Atholbane had been busy during the forenoon, and he had learned much
that gave confirmation to suspicions he had entertained touching the
poisoning of the cordial in the Ghost's Tower. He had not only
discovered that Thorwald had kept watch there once with his esquire, but
on the day of the chase, when the knight had returned from Finglen, old
Finlan had seen him passing through the western corridor, while his
esquire held his horse in the court. The earl easily remembered what had
followed. Thorwald had joined the hunting party, and at the conclusion
of the sport had ridden away again towards Finglen--had ridden away
without knowing that a messenger had arrived from Lanark, and thus in
ignorance of the departure of Douglas and Aldred. The coming of that
messenger had perhaps saved Aldred's life, and caused the poisonous fang
to strike the life of another. Atholbane had no desire to accuse the Son
of Eric at present, but he was anxious to satisfy himself, and he
believed he could do it if he could have the privilege of breaking to
the false knight the news of his mother's death.

Thorwald entered the earl's apartment with an expression of anxiety upon
his dark features, but it was an anxiety to gain intelligence rather
than from any intelligence already received.

"The warder informs me that you wish to speak with me, my lord."

"Yes, Thorwald." The earl spoke calmly, and at the same time motioned
the knight to a seat. "As I have no one else at hand to consult, I was
forced to ask your presence. Have you heard anything of Aldred?"

"How?--of Aldred?" repeated Thorwald, with sudden interest, and unable
to keep back a show of slight trepidation. "What of him? Is he not at
the castle?"

Atholbane had gained one point. Thorwald did not know of Aldred's
absence.

"Ah," said the master of Kenmore, with a sad shake of the head, "I have
melancholy news to break to you."

"Ha! has anything befallen the adventurer of Lanark?" cried Thorwald,
while a bright, fierce sparkle illumined his eye.

"I fear the spirits that claim the old tower for their abode have become
malevolent," pursued the earl, slowly and solemnly.

"But Aldred--what of him?" demanded the knight, impatiently.

"I have not been easy," continued Atholbane, seeming not to notice the
eagerness of his stepson. "I have dreaded the evil influence of those
gloomy chambers--I have dreaded for a long time--and now the stroke has
fallen! Tell me no more that there are no evil spirits within the walls
of Kenmore! Death has followed in their footsteps!"

"Ha! and has Aldred fallen at last?" uttered Thorwald. "I thought it
would be so. I warned him, but he would not listen. I told him he was
running into danger most recklessly. How did he die, my lord? How was he
found?"

"Of whom do you speak?"

"Of Aldred of Lanark."

"You misunderstand me, Thorwald; Aldred of Lanark has gone away with
Douglas. And furthermore, the evil spirits of which I speak were not the
ghosts which have frightened so many mortals. Poison was left in
Aldred's bedchamber--poisoned cordial--and of our household, who had
taken a strange fancy to pay a visit to the old tower during Aldred's
absence, drank of the cordial and died."

"Died? who--who, my lord?"

"Thorwald, IT WAS YOUR MOTHER!"

The wretch clutched his hands and gasped for breath, and sank back as
though stricken with mortal terror. He was pale as death, and for a
moment his eyes seemed starting from their sockets.

"My Mother!"

"Your mother, Thorwald."

By a powerful effort the base man shook off the outer terror, and,
remembering that he had a part to play, he assumed a semblance of grief
and indignation; but his grief was expressed in a very few words--words
badly chosen and lamely spoken.

"But, ye gods!" he exclaimed, "what shall we say of the base wretch who
could thus plant grim death in our very midst? My lord, that poison was
meant for either you or me--perhaps for both of us. Aldred of Lanark
hoped that one, or both of us, might go to his apartment during his
absence. He is a murderer!"

Not a movement of a feature betrayed the direction of the earl's
thoughts or suspicions. He simply said, as he arose from his seat:

"I hope that Aldred's skirts may be clear, but if he is guilty he must
suffer. Your mother's remains are in the chapel; you can see them if you
wish."

Thorwald turned away, but he did not go to the chapel. He had no desire
to gaze upon the face of his dead mother then. He went to his own
chamber, where he sat down and reflected upon the unfortunate result of
his evil plot. If he could fasten the deed upon Aldred, it might yet
work to his advantage, though he bitterly regretted that he had lost his
mother. He had loved her as well as he could love anything, and
moreover, in her death he had lost his best friend--the one friend upon
whose exertions and influence he mainly depended for the attainment of
his ambitious object.

When Thorwald appeared in the household, he wore a face of deep
mourning, and though he could plainly see that Clara Douglas avoided
him, he fancied that the earl was more disposed to be friendly than
usual.

Early in the evening of that day--the day following Margaret's
death--the king arrived, on his return from Stirling. He was deeply
shocked when he was informed of the tragic death of the countess, and as
soon as he had opportunity he drew apart with Atholbane, and listened to
a recital of the particulars.

"It is all very plain to me," he said, after he had heard the story.
"The poisoned shaft was aimed at Aldred, and we may piously conclude
that the finger of God worked his salvation."

"Oh, my soul!" cried the earl, "what mysteries are locked up in that old
tower? God only knows what pain and unrest I suffer."

The king arose from his seat, and placed his hand upon the shoulder of
his host. There was a deep, quivering flush upon his face, and his voice
was low and tremulous.

"Atholbane, to night I shall watch in the Blue Chamber. If I gain
nothing by that, I shall sleep my sleep in the hours of to-morrow, and
watch again on the succeeding night. Ask me not what I mean--ask me not
what I hope--ask me nothing until I choose to speak."

"As you will, sire," returned the earl. "I am as a little child in my
present trouble. To you I can speak as I would speak to no other living
creature. I mourn for Margaret because she was my wife, and yet I cannot
banish from me the feeling that she was plotting against me while she
lived. She and her son were a foreign element in the household, and, God
forgive me if I am wrong, had the poisoned fang pierced the life for
which it was intended, she would not have been sorry. And yet I have
only myself to blame, I sinned when I married with her. It is no excuse
for me that she persistently sought my hand, or that her noble brother
urged me to the step. My heart was not there, and when I stood at the
altar, and the words of union fell from the lips of the bishop, they
sounded to me like a knell. Even then I had a foreshadowing of the
mystic agony I was to suffer. Edgar, in the very first hour of my
marriage with the widow of Eric, the spirit of my sweet and sainted Maud
seemed crying to me for a place in my heart, and from that hour to the
present I cannot say that I have known an emotion of pure, unalloyed
joy. But when the spirit came to me in a more tangible shape--when to
material eyes appeared the form and face of my beloved--who can tell the
amount of anxiety that weighed me down?"

As the earl ceased speaking, he covered his face with his hands, and the
king bent over and spoke words of consolation.

"And now," concluded Edgar, "we will let the matter rest for the
present. Let us go forth and snuff the evening air."

At an early hour the king retired for the night to the apartments in the
Ghost's Tower.

He would have no one with him, not even Atholbane. The door opening from
the corridor into the outer ante-room he locked behind him, for he did
not choose that any curious servant should follow him, and then he went
on to the Blue Chamber, where, having set his lamp upon a table near the
centre of the apartment, he sat down and opened a quaint old volume of
Saxon legends which he had brought with him, and there he sat and read
till midnight; and to the traveller, who might have been wandering upon
the shore of the lake at that late hour, the windows of the high
chamber, illumined by the glare of the watcher-lamp, might have looked
like the fiery eyes of a giant spectre.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

In the morning the king came down, and announced his intention of
returning at once to his capital. When Atholbane asked him what he had
seen, he placed his finger upon his lips and shook his head.

"Ask me no questions, my brother, for I can answer none. If, in the time
to come, I should feel justified in speaking, I shall do so."

After Edgar's horse had been brought into the court, and while he stood
with the rein in his hand, the earl again betrayed his anxiety touching
the events of the past night.

"Pardon me," pleaded the king. "I would enlighten you if I dared. Wait a
little while, I shall come again by and by, and then you may ask me what
you will. In the meantime keep an eye upon Thorwald!"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The funeral of Margaret, Countess of Kenmore, took place, and on the day
following, Thorwald left the castle, having first informed the earl that
he was going to Finglen, where he might be found if he should be wanted.
He evidently felt ill at ease at Kenmore, just then. In the first place
he heard too much wonderment among the servants touching the strange
death of his mother, to please him, for he had conscience enough to give
him trouble beneath his burden of guilt. In the second place, Clara
Douglas persistently avoided him, and he dared not give her more
occasion to dislike him by pressing his attention upon her while he had
no one to back him. And furthermore, he thought he could discover signs
of dislike and distrust on the part of the older servants, and more than
once he had found the earl regarding him with an expression not the most
promising. He had made up his mind that he would go away until Douglas
returned, and then by proper management, he might come back and do the
work which he and his mother had laid out.

A week passed away after the funeral, and not a word from Douglas or
Aldred. Clara enjoyed herself very well with Atholbane, but still she
was anxious--anxious to know what detained her father, and anxious on
account of Aldred.

"Be patient," said the earl. "We shall hear from them before long."

"Ah, my lord, but you are anxious, too."

"A little, I grant; but my anxiety is not all on account of those two. I
should have heard from the king ere this."

"Be patient," retorted Clara, with a smile. "You may hear from him
before long."

And then they walked down by the lake, where they strayed upon the
pebbly shore until the shadows of evening began to fall.

On the very next day a courier arrived from Lanark with intelligence
that all was well, and he brought a packet from Earl Douglas, enclosing
a missive for Atholbane, and one for Clara.

"The king is here with me," wrote Douglas, "and says that I must go to
Dumfries with him. He is full of mystery which he will not speak. He
brings me intelligence of the death of my sister. God rest her soul!"

Further on he wrote:

"You will forget that I ever thought of bestowing the hand of my child
upon Thorwald. I will explain all when I see you. Clara will remain with
you until I come."

From this time Clara Douglas took hope. Her father had written nothing
in favor of Aldred, only to say that he was well; but he had written of
Thorwald in a manner that gave her courage; and, furthermore, it had
been plainly expressed that the brave young knight was a favorite of the
king. This was ground enough, and she stood upon it hopefully and
gladly. The heavens grew brighter above her, and the future grew radiant
with promise.

At the end of three weeks from the time of his departure Thorwald
returned to the castle; but he did not remain. He stopped only one
night, and then went to Scone.

Two weeks after that Earl Douglas and Aldred arrived at Kenmore, and
Clara rested once more upon the bosom of her father.

"I may see Aldred," she said, pleadingly, after waiting a long time in
vain for her father to pronounce his name.

The earl took both his daughter's hands in his own, and looked earnestly
into her face.

"My child," he replied, "I will be frank with you. I know full well that
you love the gallant knight, but I do not know that you can give him
your hand. I would not raise a hope in your bosom that might be blasted.
You had better, for your own peace, look upon him as beyond your reach.
Hush, Clara! You cannot persuade me. Aldred is not what we have thought
him, but what he is I know not. For the present it must be as I have
said. You may see him--you may speak with him,--but my purpose is not
altered."

So bright had been her hope, so powerful and enduring her ardent love,
that even now the maiden did not despair. The king and Atholbane were
Aldred's friends, and from the reserve of her father she felt that she
might turn to them. And then her father had not spoken severely of the
knight, he had rather shown a liking for him, and a desire that fortune
might smile upon him.

Not long afterwards, while Earl Douglas had gone to speak alone with
Atholbane, Clara and Aldred met in the hall. A trembling, fluttering
greeting passed between them, and as the hand of the maiden still
remained within our hero's grasp she asked, by her earnest, beseeching
gaze what she dared not ask in words. Aldred understood her, and he
answered her silent question:

"Clara, I know your thoughts, but I cannot give you light. You have
spoken with your father?"

"Yes; and he can tell me nothing. O, why this suspense? What is its
meaning, Aldred?"

"In truth, dear lady," replied the youth, "I am beside myself with doubt
and anxiety. Whether the future holds for me in store joy and peace, or
woe and wretchedness, I know not. Your father knows no more than I do.
The king alone seems to hold the secret in his keeping, and he will not
speak. But he will speak soon. He promised us that he would be here as
soon as we should arrive. He may come this evening. Ha! here comes a
courier now. It is Edgar's page. His majesty cannot be far behind.
Remain you here, and I will go and speak with him."

In the meantime the two earls had retired to a private closet, where
Douglas told to Atholbane the result of his interview with his forester.

"When Aldred and myself reached Lanark," he said, "we found old Walthorf
really at the point of death, though he still retained his senses, and
was able to converse. He asked us to sit down by his bedside, and then
he told us that he had deceived us both, though not willingly. Aldred
was not his child, as he had always represented; and he had felt anxious
to reveal the truth, because there had for a long time been an
impression upon his mind that it might somehow result to the youth's
advantage. And this was the story he told:

"About five-and-twenty years ago, while Malcolm Canmore was in
Northumberland--and while you and I were there, too--fighting the
Normans and the Saxons, a young woman, pale, weary, and weak, arrived
one evening at the door of his lodge, and begged for shelter. She bore
an infant in her arms--an infant only a few weeks old. Pale as she was,
and wan, Walthorf thought he had never seen a woman so beautiful, and
both he and his good wife cared for her most tenderly. One of the first
requests she made, after she had rested awhile, was that no one, save
themselves, should know that they had a stranger beneath their roof. In
a few days she had so far regained her strength that she expressed a
determination to continue on her journey, but she would not take the
child with her. She wished Walthorf and his wife to adopt it, and rear
it as their own, and if possible, to make even their lord, on his
return, think that they were its parents. They asked her name, but she
would only tell them that she was the true and lawful wife of a brave
soldier who had fallen beneath a Norman lance while fighting under the
banner of Malcolm Canmore. She begged them to rear the child in the way
of truth and honor; to educate him to the best of their ability, and to
be sure that evil was kept from his path. She seemed beside herself with
sorrow and suffering; but the good forester could not control her, and
finally he promised that he would keep the child as his own--that he
would present it to the world as his own; and then he suffered the woman
to depart.

"Walthorf never saw the woman again, nor did he ever hear from her. He
reared the child as he had given his word, and I had never been led to
suspect that he and his wife were not its own parents. In time I came to
like the bright and blithsome lad, and as I had no son I took this
boy--for a boy it was--to my home and to my heart.

"But you know all this. Walthorf had hardly finished his narrative when
his speech failed him, and shortly afterwards he died. That is the
story, my brother."

"And Aldred is the child of whom you have spoken?" said Atholbane,
strangely excited.

"He is."

"And have you gained nothing more? Do you not know--have you not some
clue?"

"Not a thread."

"But, Douglas, there must be some means of ascertaining who his parents
were. A soldier who fought under Malcolm--who fought with us! O, who
shall open this mystery to our understanding?"

"My only hope is in the king. He has intimated that he can furnish the
clue."

"The king!--By Saint Michael! here he comes!"




CHAPTER XVIII.--THE MYSTERY SOLVED.


"Sire," spoke Earl Douglas, after the first greetings had passed, and
the king had taken a seat, "you will pardon me if I ask when you propose
to enlighten us upon the subject that at present hangs with perplexing
gloom about us, I am anxious, and Atholbane is anxious."

"Aye," added he of Kenmore, "and much of weal or woe to two brave and
true young hearts depends upon the solving of the mystery. Sire, in
God's name I ask--can you clear away the gloom?"

"I think I can," replied Edgar.

"And the Blue Chamber--the ghostly visitant?" whispered Atholbane,
eagerly.

"Before this night is passed," answered Edgar, with solemn emphasis,
"you shall have the satisfaction of knowing why those spirits have
haunted the old tower, and the power shall be yours to give them rest if
you will. But first, I have another matter of which I would speak, and I
must crave your pardons both. Atholbane, Thorwald is your step-son----"

"No, no!" cried the earl. "I own him not. Call him the son of Eric, but
never a son of mine. He is a murderer!"

"Ah?"

"Yes. 'Twas he who set the poisonous snare. The death of his own mother
is upon his hands and upon his soul!"

"My cousin Douglas," pursued the king, turning to him of Lanark,
"Thorwald is your nephew."

"In the death of his mother," pronounced Douglas, "the link was broken
which connected him with my house. I own him not."

"Then," said Edgar, "I think I need not your pardon. Thorwald is in
prison."

"Ah?" uttered Atholbane, while Douglas asked:

"For what?"

"For treason."

"Treason!" repeated both the earls in a breath.

"I have ample proof, my lords," explained his majesty, "that Thorwald
has been in league with Olaf, the Inverness marauder."

The Earl of Kenmore started to his feet, and grasped the king by the
arm.

"Sire," he cried, trembling violently, "was it Thorwald who led Olaf's
villains against me?"

"Would he have been a gainer by your death?" returned Edgar, quietly.

"He might have hoped so."

"Then, my good Atholbane, you can judge for yourself the hand that
raised itself against Aldred of Lanark might not hesitate to strike at
higher game. But since neither of you claim a protecting friendship for
him, we will pass him by. He is in our prison at Perth, and Olaf himself
is with him. The evidence against him is complete, and I may as well
tell you now as at any other time that you will probably never be
troubled with him more. He will be banished from Scotland, with death at
the hands of the executioner to meet him if he ever sets foot upon the
soil of our realm again."

A dead silence followed this speech, but finally the king arose, and
with a warm smile, continued:

"And now let us turn to more hopeful work. But first, my brother of
Kenmore, I am hungered. Let us to supper, and then we will pay a visit
to the ghosts of the Blue Chamber."

"Sire!"

"It is as I have said, Atholbane. What revelation I have to make must be
made there. Within the walls of the old tower has dwelt the mystery, and
there must we seek for light. The Blue Chamber will be prepare for our
reception, fear not."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The shadows of evening had fallen upon Kenmore Castle, and the stars
were opening their twinkling eyes in the vault of heaven when the king,
bearing a torch in his hand, led the way to the Ghost's Tower. He was
followed by Atholbane and Aldred of Lanark, and by Douglas and Clara.
The gentle maiden had never yet visited those spectral chambers, but she
felt no fear now. She knew that her lover had occupied them, and she had
a strong faith that joy was to come of the expected revelation. At all
events, Edgar had smiled cheeringly upon her, and she did not believe
that he could deceive her. When they reached the large bed chamber, they
found the hanging lamp lighted, and a lamp also burning upon the
sideboard.

Presently the king threw open the door of the Blue Chamber, and
Atholbane, when he entered, clasped his hands upon his bosom, and a low,
wailing moan broke from his lips. The cluster of silver lamps that hung
from the vaulted ceiling glowed with a soft, radiant light, the brazen
lamps upon the quaintly carved brackets were also all aglow; the
pictures and the ornaments had been dusted and brightened; the furniture
had been tastefully arranged, and the heavy tapestry had been thoroughly
cleansed, and its plaits and folds and loops all fixed in proper shape.

Surely that chamber was anything but ghostly now. It was by far the most
cheerful looking apartment in the whole castle. It looked as it had
looked years before. Atholbane remembered a time when it had been even
brighter than now--the time when bright loving eyes lent their celestial
light to the scene. It was of this he thought when the moan escaped him.

"Sire!" he cried, trembling at every joint, "what means this?"

"Sit down! sit down!" ordered the king. "Ask no questions now, I am
master here, and I will proceed after my own mind. Be seated, all of
you, and prepare to listen to me. First," he went on, after his friends
had seated themselves, "lest you might, any of you, feel some tendency
to fear and trepidation, I must assure you that the only ghosts who have
ever presented themselves here have been substantial bodies of flesh and
blood."

Atholbane shook his head.

"You will believe me, my good brother, when I have given you
explanation," said Edgar; "and that I will proceed to do at once. I will
show to you that what has been such a perplexing and frightful mystery
is, after all, very simple."

The king saw that his hearers were prepared to listen, and he thus
proceeded:

"You are aware that, many years ago, a monastery stood upon the site now
occupied by this castle, and that said monastery was destroyed during
the ravages of the barbarians that desolated the land. One tower--a
massive old pile of huge rocks--was left standing, around which the ivy
clung, and in the gaping crevices of which the bats and owls built their
nests. In time, a priory was built upon the island in the lake, and
those craftsmen who raised the walls, took many stones for their work
from the old tower. At length, by accident, one of their number
discovered a subterranean passage leading towards the lake. It extended
some distance beyond the line of the water, and then stopped, as though
those who projected it had given up the work. The holy men who had
charge of building the priory, when informed of this discovery,
conceived the idea of running a subterranean passage from the island to
meet the one already commenced from the other side, thinking that, in
case of attack by infidel barbarians, such a passage might afford means
of escape to the inmates. The work was accordingly planned and
accomplished, and thus, when the priory was finished, and the nuns had
taken possession, they had means of egress and ingress by a passage,
leading under the lake, from the priory to the vaults beneath the old
tower.

"By and by, a Scottish knight formed the plan of erecting a dwelling
upon this spot, but he did not live to finish the work. Another
followed, and succeeded in erecting most of this part of the keep,
having selected the site of the old tower for that purpose, but he did
not live here long. At length the Earldom of Kenmore was created, and
the first earl, then a young man, went at the work of finishing the
castle, which he did as we now behold it. This earl was Atholbane's
father," nodded the king to Clara, whose look implied that she did not
fully comprehend. "He finished the castle, and in doing so, he
discovered the subterranean passage; but, by request of the lady of the
priory, he promised to keep the thing a secret, even from the members of
his own family, and he so managed that the workmen whom he employed
gained no knowledge of it. Of course the earl did not intend to carry
this secret to the grave with him, but his sudden death prevented him
from revealing it to any member of his family, and thus the only
knowledge of the existence of the secret way was held by the inmates of
the priory. All this I have learned, within a very short time, from old
Walter, the steward of St. Agatha, and from the Prioress."

"The Prioress!" uttered Atholbane, "have you seen her?"

"Yes."

"I thought no stranger was ever admitted to her presence," pursued the
earl, in much surprise. "I used to visit the priory when Lady Mary was
ruler there, but since the rule of Lady Helena, I have never been
admitted."

"You forget," said Edgar, with a smile, "that I am the king. Yes, yes--I
not only gained admission, but I learned all their secrets. And now," he
continued in a sober mood, "you can easily understand where the ghosts
have come from that have so long haunted this old tower. Sometimes the
nuns have had permission to pass out, by night, from the priory by this
way, and the male servants have found egress and ingress by the same.
Old Walter, when he has had occasion to leave his quarters, has
generally assumed a long white beard and a grey robe. He once appeared
to you, Atholbane, and he has appeared to others. Do you not begin to
comprehend?"

"But that other presence!" whispered the master of Kenmore, with
quivering eagerness.

"Before I go farther," said the king, "I must receive from each of you a
pledge of secrecy. You must promise me that you will not reveal the
secret I have disclosed. This I demand as a solemn compact between the
nuns of St. Agatha and the indwellers of this castle."

The promise was given, and the king then turned to Atholbane. There was
a softer light in his eye, and his lips trembled when he commenced to
speak:

"I am now going to tell to you a story--a story of a brave and gallant
knight and a fair lady. Five-and-twenty years ago this knight, then in
the bloom of young manhood, lived in his strong castle, and his wife was
the fairest lady in Scotland. Love was their life, and happiness their
portion. At length the king called his warriors together, and led them
into England to do battle against the stout Earl of Northumberland. Our
brave young knight was among the number called, and was one among the
leaders, for he was an earl, and held many stout men-at-arms in his
train. His beautiful countess, unwilling to bear more separation than
was absolutely necessary, accompanied him on his way as far as Dumfries.
She would have gone farther; but beyond there the enemy might be met at
any point, and the youthful earl would not listen. So at Dumfries she
remained, while her husband went on with the army into Northumberland.
For a number of weeks couriers came every few days to bring her tidings
of the safety of her lord, and also of the safety of her father; for you
must know that her father was also a soldier of exulted rank.

"While stopping at Dumfries the countess gave birth to a son, and as she
held the precious infant to her bosom she thought how proud and happy
her husband would be on his return; and so selfish was she in her joy,
and so anxious that her own lips should break to him the blessed truth,
that she allowed none of the couriers to carry back the news.

"At length a courier came with intelligence that her husband was
dead!--and that her father was dead!--that they had both been slain at
Cheviot. On the following day another courier arrived with confirmation
of the terrible message. From that hour the reason of the countess was
shattered, and she hardly knew what she did. Unmoved by the earnest
entreaty of friends, she resolved to set out for her northern home with
only her faithful maid for a companion. She went as far as Thornhill,
and there, at a little wayside inn, her maid sickened and died. At this
point a strange freak entered the lady's mind. Her husband and her
father both dead, what cared she for the world? And why should her child
be left to battle with the trials which might beset his path if he grew
to manhood in the rank of his birth. She resolved that she would enter a
convent, and that her child she would give to the first suitable person
she might meet. So she gave out that she was the maid, and that the
countess had died; and the kind monks of St. Michael, when they gave the
dead body sepulchre in the court of their monastery, fully believed that
they were saying masses for the departed soul of the brave earl's wife.

"After this the countess, with her child in her arms, set forth again,
and at length she reached the door of the cot of Walthorf, the Forester
of Lanark. She was fast breaking down in health and strength, and only
the insane desire to reach the cloister held her up. I call it an insane
desire, because her reason had fairly given way, and because she
followed that desire as the only one thing left to her in this life. She
could not take her child with her; and, moreover, the idea had possessed
her that the boy would be safer from harm to pass for the son of poor
parents than he could be if the plotting nobles at the capital were
aware of the source from whence flowed his blood. The quiet,
true-hearted, honest forester was the man she sought, and to him and his
good wife she gave the boy, pledging them that they would rear it as
their own.

"From this point the countess made her way to the Priory of St. Agatha;
and when once safely within its walls her strength failed, and she sank,
shattered and bruised, to the verge of the grave. None knew her for the
bright, beautiful woman who, a few short months before, had sat by the
window of her chamber and shuddered when she thought of the solitary
life led by the inmates of the cloister. She told them her name was
Helena, and that she was friendless and forsaken. For long and weary
months she lay upon her pallet, so weak that nurses had to lift her; but
finally the vital spark warmed and extended, and by and by she was able
to sit up. It had been a long, long time since she had fully known what
was transpiring around her, and she was much surprised when they told
her how many months she had been an inmate of the Priory. Slowly but
surely she recovered her strength, and finally she was permitted to sit
with Lady Mary, who was then prioress. From the window of the superior's
room she could gaze upon the walls of the castle that had once been her
home, and one day she asked Lady Mary who was lord of the castle now.
The prioress spoke the name of the lord, and it was the name of her
husband. And then it was told to her how the young earl had gone away to
fight, and how his wife had gone with him as far as Dumfries; and how
word was brought to her that he had been slain; and how she had wandered
back as far as Thornhill, and there sickened and died; and how the earl
had not been slain, but only wounded; and how he had come home almost
broken-hearted in his desolation, and how he had lived in sorrow and
sadness for long and lonesome months, and had then married a second
time, having brought home the sister of a powerful noble for his second
wife.

"Darkness and night came again, and once more the poor sufferer sickened
nigh unto death; but the Lord raised her up, and in time she gained a
new hold upon life--life sad and melancholy. Lady Mary grew old and
died, and our child of sorrow, under the name of Lady Helena, became
prioress of St. Agatha; and when she had been invested with the badge of
office the secret was entrusted to her of the existence of a
subterranean passage from her priory to the castle upon the opposite
shore--a passage from the vault beneath her own closet to the vaults
beneath the very apartments she had once occupied as a countess. And in
those same apartments now dwelt the husband whom she had so wildly, so
passionately, so fondly loved, and by his side was another wife!

"Can you wonder that the temptation was strong upon her to gaze once
more upon the face of her husband, and also to behold the face of this
second countess? She had gained knowledge of secret ways about an old
tower of the castle where to the uninitiated appeared only solid walls,
and in the solemn hours of night she sometimes came to look upon the
face of him who still held her heart. In time the earl and his second
wife were frightened away from the apartment they had
occupied--frightened away by what they supposed to be ghosts, and for
years the chambers of that tower were unused. If, by chance, any mortal
sought to occupy them, the steward of St. Agatha easily caused then
speedy evacuation.

"The years passed on, until at length there came to the castle a bold
and gallant knight, yet in the bloom of youth, and, by a strange fate,
necessity directed that he should lodge in the haunted tower. Word was
borne to Lady Helena of the arrival of the knight, of his name--and
whence he had come; and she knew that it was her son whom she had left
five-and-twenty years before with the forester of Lanark, for she had
kept herself informed of the progress of her child in life.

"Can you wonder that the mother came to gaze upon the face of her boy.
O! who shall tell the raptures of that blissful moment when she beheld
the noble form and the comely face of him to whom she had given birth!
Ah! and who shall tell the pang that pierced her heart when she thought
that she must behold him in silence for evermore!"

At this point Atholbane, entirely overcome by emotions that fairly rent
his heart, staggered to his feet, and extended his clasped hands towards
the king.

"Sire," he cried, trembling like one stricken with palsy, "I can hear no
more. Kill me outright, or give me life! O, my God! Does she yet
live?--my Life--my Love--my gentle Maud?"

"One moment, Atholbane," said Edgar, gently putting the earl back into
his seat. "If you are thus affected I will hurry on; and you shall hear
the rest in a very few words. The hand of God seemed leading the
beautiful sufferer up from the slough of despair by direct but
mysterious ways. By a strange dispensation the second wife was stricken
down, and thus the way was opened to the first wife to regain her lost
place of joy and blessing; for she had made herself sure that her
husband still loved her and still mourned for her as though she had been
but a few short hours snatched from him."

"Tell me--tell me," shrieked Atholbane, again giving way to the emotion
that tore his heart, "was it Maud? Was it Maud?"

"YES!" answered the king. "It was Maud!--my sister--your wife!"

And then, tottering like a weak child, the earl arose to his feet and
grasped Edgar's hand, and his voice was low and eager, and fearfully
tremulous, as though a word might kill him:

"Does she live?"

The king arose from his seat, and allowing the earl still to hold his
hand, he answered:

"Atholbane, on that night which I passed alone in this chamber, my
sister visited me, as I felt sure she would, for I had come to believe
that she still lived, and that it was her mortal body I had before seen.
Lady Margaret was dead, and when Maud had told me her long and painful
story, she asked me what she should do. I asked her, in turn, what she
wished to do. She had but one wish, and that was to rest once more upon
the bosom of her own dear husband, and hear again his sweet words of
love. I told her she should have the privilege, and I have kept my word.
I have seen the bishop, the necessary stops have been taken, and she is
not only relieved from her office of prioress, but she comes forth to
her old position as though she had never left it."

"Once more, Aldred, Atholbane--once more, and for the last time--behold
the spectre of this old tower, but a spectre no more from this moment."

Slowly the heavy tapestry that hung against the inner wall was raised
from the pavement to the ceiling, and the Knight of Lanark beheld the
beautiful woman that he had learned to love even while he thought her
but an immaterial spirit, but her face was no longer pale, nor was her
garb ghostly. Joy was in her eye and upon her flushed cheek, and robes
of finest silk draped her faultless form.

And Atholbane saw the lovely vision. He gazed for a moment spell-bound;
but presently the vision raised its hands towards him, and, in a voice
that sounded like heavenly music, pronounced his name. Then he sprang
forward, and his stout heart came well nigh breaking beneath its load of
wondrous joy.

And there they stood, cheek to cheek, heart to heart, held in each
other's embrace, while Aldred, with streaming eyes and quivering lips,
raised his folded hands on high and gave thanks to God.

Husband and Wife!--Father, Mother, and Son! Who shall say that God's
angels did not sing a brighter song when they saw that restored mother
clasp her long lost boy to her bosom? And who shall dare assert that
Atholbane did not experience, when he knew that the noble knight was his
own God-given son, a pride and gratitude as pure and deep as earth can
afford!

By and by Earl Douglas spoke:

"Atholbane," he said, "myself and mine have a right to share in this
joy; for the wondrous dispensation that hath given to thee a wife and a
child hath lifted from our hearts the cloud that gave token of darkness
and trouble." His voice trembled, and tears started to his eyes afresh,
as he took the hand of his daughter and led her forward. "Now," he
added,--"now, can the promise of other years be fulfilled. Let this fair
hand be the pledge of lasting union between us!"

"So let it be!" pronounced Atholbane.

And the king, when he saw the result, in a tone of deep solemnity
responded:

"AMEN!"

And this was what he saw:

Atholbane and Lady Maud once more folded in each other's arms, while
Clara Douglas had pillowed her head upon Aldred's bosom, there to find
love and duty united,--there to find rest and shelter while life should
last!


THE END


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