John Roby.

Traditions of Lancashire (Volume 2) online

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entered upon a sort of irregular amphitheatre — woods
rising above each other to the very summit of the hills


by which they were surrounded. A swollen waterfall was
visible, below which a bare and flattened trunk, whose
boughs had apparently been but just lopped, was thrown
across the torrent. A ruined keep, or donjon, was seen
above a line of dark firs, crowning the summit of a steep
crag, that rose abruptly from the river.

" This is our halfway-house," said Michael, pointing to
the grim fortress : — " the children are tired, and have need
of refreshment. Tarry here with the horses, whilst I carry
them over the bridge."

" We have refreshments in the wallet — what need we
to loiter yonder ?" — replied Anthony, eyeing the other
with an expression of distrust.

" The children want rest," said Michael, " and we shall
there find shelter from the heat."

" If rest be needful," was the reply, " surely this dry
sward, and these overhanging leaves, will afford both rest
and shelter."

" The children are in my keeping," said Michael fiercely,
" and I am not to account with thee for my proceedings.
Alight, and give me the child."

" I will not ! — Michael, I have watched thee, and I
know that thou art a villain. Ay, draw — I have weapons
too, comrade."

Fast and furious grew the combat, during which the
terrified children made the woods echo with their shrieks.
The result was not long doubtful. Michael soon proved
himself the better swordsman ; and his antagonist, stum-
bling from fatigue, broke his own weapon in the fall. De-
fenceless, and exposed, the uplifted sword of his adversary
was raised for his destruction — when, suddenly, the arm
of the ruffian was arrested, the weapon snatched from his
R 4-


grasp, and a female figure, habited in a dark and coarse
vestment, stood between the combatants. Her brow was
bare, and her dark full eye beamed on them with a look of
pity and of anger. Her naturally pale cheek was flushed ;
but it betrayed not the agitation she endured. Erect and
unbending, she stood before them, and the quailing mis-
creant crouched at her feet.

" Away to thy master ! — thy blood, too worthless even
for thine own steel."

She hurled away the weapon as she spoke.

Burning with revenge at his late defeat, Anthony flew
after the falling brand : seizing it, he renewed the attack.
Michael fled towards the bridge. With the bound of a
bereaved tiger, Anthony sprung upon his prey. Just where
the root of the trunk rested on the bank, they closed, after
a desperate lunge, parried by the unprotected arm of
Michael. It was disabled — but he still clung to his
enemy. Anthony strove to disengage himself; but the
other, aware that life or death depended on the issue of
that struggle, hung on him with a convulsive tightness,
that rendered the advantage he had gained of no avail.
The sword was useless. Anthony threw it into the boiling
gulf at his feet. Both hands being now free, whilst one
arm of his opponent hung powerless and bleeding at his
side, he had greatly the advantage. He wrenched the
other arm of Michael from its hold, lifted him from his
narrow footing-place, and with a malignant shout of tri-
umph shook him over the abyss. One startling plunge,
and the wretch sank in the rolling waters. An agonizing
yell, and but one, escaped him, as he hung quivering over
that yawning portal to eternity : the next cry was choked
by the seethe of the boiling foam. The waves whirled him


round for a moment, like some huge leviathan tossing its
prey. He sank into its gorge, and the insatiate gulf swal-
lowed him up for ever. Anthony drew back. He turned
from the horrid scene, with some yet lingering tokens of
compunction, in the expectation of rejoining his compa-
nions — but in vain — the babes and his deliverer had dis-
appeared !

Hildebrand Wentworth had passed the remainder of that
day in his own chamber. It was a dark lone room, leading
out of the turret we have before described. Often had he
ascended the narrow stair communicating with the para-
pet, and often had he watched the dark woods beneath the
distant mountain. It was the road taken by his guilty
emissaries ; and, whether on the look out for signals or for
their return, he repeated his visits until the blue mists
were gathering on the horizon, and day — - another day ! —
had passed into the bosom of eternity. It was an hour of
holiness and peace, — but heavy and disturbed was the
current of his thoughts. He sat near a projecting angle
of the turret, his head bent over the parapet. A female
voice was heard beneath, chanting monotonously a low
and melancholy psalm. Soon the following words were
distinguished : —

" Dark as the bounding waters,

When storm-clouds o'er them roll.
The face of Zion's daughters
Reveals the troubled soul."

Hildebrand drew his breath, as if labouring under some
violent emotion. His whole frame was agitated. His lip
grew pale as she went on with a voice of exultation —


" But joy is sown in sadness,

And hope with anxious fears ;

Yon clouds shall break in gladness,

And doubts dissolve in tears."

Fiends increase their torments at the sight of heaven !
Hildebrand threw back his cloak, — with one clenched
hand he struck his forehead, and with a loud groan he
rushed from the spot. He sought rest in the gloom and
solitude of his chamber ; but hours passed on, during
which the conscience-stricken culprit endured the horrors
of accumulated guilt. Sometimes he opened the casement,
gazing on the dark heavens, until he thought they were
peopled, and he held converse with unseen and terrible

things. Inarticulate murmurs broke from his lips A

few words might occasionally be distinguished. — " Mur-
der ! — An old man too — The children — they are at
rest!" A gleam of pleasure passed over his haggard fea-

" I am now," — looking round, — " now master — of
all." _

" All ?" — breathed a low voice in the chamber.

The cringing wretch was speechless. — Sense almost
forsook him : — horror fastened on his spirit, while he
turned his eyes, as if by some resistless constraint, towards
the place from whence the voice had issued. Near his
couch was a curiously-wrought cabinet inlaid with ivory and
gems of the most costly workmanship. An heir-loom of the
house, it was highly valued, and tradition reports that it
was one of those spoils, on which our forefathers cast a
longing glance in the wars of the Holy Sepulchre. Be
this as it may, every document of value connected with the
family was here deposited. By virtue of the power


given to him from the dying Sir Henry, though ostensibly
for the benefit of his lady and her infant offspring, Hilde-
brand guarded the trust with a jealous eye. No one had
access to it but himself, nor did he permit any other per-
son than old Geoffery, the house steward, to visit his

Before this cabinet stood a figure enveloped in a dark
robe. Pale, deadly pale, were the features, though scarcely
discernible in their form and outline. The lamp burnt
dimly ; but with the quickened apprehension of guilt he
recognized the wan resemblance of Lady Fairfax !

A cry of exhausted anguish escaped him, and he fell
senseless on the floor.

Morning had risen, casting its bright and cheerful rays,
into the chamber, ere Hildebrand Wentworth awoke.
Consciousness but slowly returned, and the events of the
preceding hours came like shadows upon his soul. He
stamped thrice, and immediately the vapid countenance of
Geoffery Hardpiece was before him.

" Come hither, Hardpiece. — I am wondrous heavy and
ill at ease."

" Wliy, master, your bed has not been disturbed these
two nights. — How should there be any thing but an

aching head, and complaining bones, when "

Hildebrand cast a hasty and confused glance towards
the couch, as he replied,

" I have matters of moment just now that weigh heavily

on my spirit. — I cannot "

Here was a short pause — he continued, with a slow
and tremulous accent —

" I hope the children are safe."

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Online LibraryJohn RobyTraditions of Lancashire (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 20)