The researches after Miss Vere were (for the sake of appearances, perhaps) resumed on the succeeding day, with similar bad success, and the party were returning towards Ellieslaw in the evening.
``It is singular,'' said Mareschal to Ratcliffe, ``that four horsemen and a female prisoner should have passed through the country without leaving the slightest trace of their passage. One would think they had traversed the air, or sunk through the ground.''
``Men may often,'' answered Ratcliffe, ``arrive at the knowledge of that which is, from discovering that which is not. We have now scoured every road, path, and track leading from the castle, in all the various points of the compass, saving only that intricate and difficult pass which leads southward down the Westburn, and through the morasses.''
``And why have we not examined that?'' said Mareschal.
``Oh, Mr. Vere can best answer that question,'' replied his companion drily.
``Then I will ask it instantly,'' said Mareschal; and, addressing Mr. Vere, ``I am informed, sir,'' said he, ``there is a path we have not examined, leading by Westburnflat.''
``Oh,'' said Sir Frederick, laughing, ``we know the owner of Westburnflat well---a wild lad, that knows little difference between his neighbour's goods and his own; but, withal, very honest to his principles: He would disturb nothing belonging to Ellieslaw.''
``Besides,'' said Mr. Vere, smiling mysteriously, ``he had other tow on his distaff last night. Have you not heard young Elliot of the Heugh-foot has had his house burnt, and his cattle driven away, because he refused to give up his arms to some honest men that think of starting for the king?''
The company smiled upon each other, as at hearing of an exploit which favoured their own views.
``Yet, nevertheless,'' resumed Mareschal, ``I think we ought to ride in this direction also, otherwise we shall certainly be blamed for our negligence.''
No reasonable objection could be offered to this proposal, and the party turned their horses' heads towards Westburnflat.
They had not proceeded very far in that direction when the trampling of horses was heard, and a small body of riders were perceived advancing to meet them.
``There comes Earnscliff,'' said Mareschal; ``I know his bright bay with the star in his front.''
``And there is my daughter along with him,'' exclaimed Vere, furiously. ``Who shall call my suspicions false or injurious now? Gentlemen---friends---lend me the assistance of your swords for the recovery of my child.''
He unsheathed his weapon, and was imitated by Sir Frederick and several of the party, who prepared to charge those that were advancing towards them. But the greater part hesitated.
``They come to us in all peace and security,'' said Mareschal Wells; ``let us first hear what account they give us of this mysterious affair. If Miss Vere has sustained the slightest insult or injury from Earnscliff, I will be the first to revenge her; but let us hear what they say.''
``You do me wrong by your suspicions, Mareschal,'' continued Vere; ``you are the last I would have expected to hear express them.''
``You injure yourself, Ellieslaw, by your violence, though the cause may excuse it.''
He then advanced a little before the rest, and called out, with a loud voice---``Stand, Mr. Earnscliff; or do you and Miss Vere advance alone to meet us. You are charged with having carried that lady off from her father's house; and we are here in arms to shed our best blood for her recovery, and for bringing to justice those who have injured her.''
``And who would do that more willingly than I, Mr. Mareschal?'' said Earnscliff, haughtily,---``than I, who had the satisfaction this morning to liberate her from the dungeon in which I found her confined, and who am now escorting her back to the castle of Ellieslaw?''
``Is this so, Miss Vere?'' said Mareschal.
``It is,'' answered Isabella, eagerly,---``it is so; for Heaven's sake, sheathe your swords. I will swear by all that is sacred, that I was carried off by ruffians, whose persons and object were alike unknown to me, and am now restored to freedom by means of this gentleman's gallant interference.''
``By whom, and wherefore, could this have been done?'' pursued Mareschal.---``Had you no knowledge of the place to which you were conveyed?---Earnscliff, where did you find this lady?''
But ere either question could be answered, Ellieslaw advanced, and, returning his sword to the scabbard, cut short the conference.
``When I know,'' he said, ``exactly how much I owe to Mr. Earnscliff, he may rely on suitable acknowledgments; meantime,'' taking the bridle of Miss Vere's horse, ``thus far I thank him for replacing my daughter in the power of her natural guardian.''
A sullen bend of the head was returned by Earnscliff with equal haughtiness; and Ellieslaw, turning back with his daughter upon the road to his own house, appeared engaged with her in a conference so earnest, that the rest of the company judged it improper to intrude by approaching them too nearly. In the meantime, Earnscliff, as he took leave of the other gentlemen belonging to Ellieslaw's party, said aloud,---``Although I am unconscious of any circumstance in my conduct that can authorise such a suspicion, I cannot but observe, that Mr. Vere seems to believe that I have had some hand in the atrocious violence which has been offered to his daughter. I request you, gentlemen, to take notice of my explicit denial of a charge so dishonourable; and that, although I can pardon the bewildering feelings of a father in such a moment, yet, if any other gentleman'' (he looked hard at Sir Frederick Langley) ``thinks my word and that of Miss Vere, with the evidence of my friends who accompany me, too slight for my exculpation, I will be happy---most happy---to repel the charge as becomes a man who counts his honour dearer than his life.''
``And I'll be his second,'' said Simon of Hackburn, ``and take up ony twa o' ye, gentle or semple, laird or loon; it's a' ane to Simon.''
``Who is that rough-looking fellow?'' said Sir Frederick Langley, ``and what has he to do with the quarrels of gentlemen?''
``I'se be a lad frae the Hie Te'iot,'' said Simon, ``and I'se quarrel wi' ony body I like, except the king, or the laird I live under.''
``Come,'' said Mareschal, ``let us have no brawls---Mr. Earnscliff, although we do not think alike in some things, I trust we may be opponents, even enemies, if fortune will have it so, without losing our respect for birth, fair play, and each other. I believe you as innocent of this matter as I am myself; and I will pledge myself that my cousin Ellieslaw, as soon as the perplexity attending these sudden events has left his judgment to its free exercise, shall handsomely acknowledge the very important service you have this day rendered him.''
``To have served your cousin is a sufficient reward in itself.--- Good evening, gentlemen,'' continued Earnscliff, ``I see most of your party are already on their way to Ellieslaw.''
Then saluting Mareschal with courtesy, and the rest of the party with indifference, Earnscliff turned his horse and rode towards the Heugh-foot, to concert measures with Hobbie Elliot for farther researches after his bride, of whose restoration to her friends he was still ignorant.
``There he goes,'' said Mareschal; ``he is a fine, gallant young fellow, upon my soul; and yet I should like well to have a thrust with him on the green turf. I was reckoned at college nearly his equal with the foils, and I should like to try him at sharps.''
``In my opinion,'' answered Sir Frederick Langley, ``we have done very ill in having suffered him, and those men who are with him, to go off without taking away their arms; for the whigs are very likely to draw to a head under such a sprightly young fellow as that.''
``For shame, Sir Frederick!'' exclaimed Mareschal; ``do you think that Ellieslaw could, in honour, consent to any violence being offered to Earnscliff, when he entered his bounds only to bring back his daughter? or, if he were to be of your opinion, do you think that I, and the rest of these gentlemen, would disgrace ourselves by assisting in such a transaction? No, no, fair play and auld Scotland for ever! When the sword is drawn, I will be as ready to use it as any man; but while it is in the sheath, let us behave like gentlemen and neighbours.''
Soon after this colloquy they reached the castle, when Ellieslaw, who had been arrived a few minutes before, met them in the courtyard.
``How is Miss Vere? and have you learned the cause of her being carried off?'' asked Mareschal hastily.
``She is retired to her apartment greatly fatigued; and I cannot expect much light upon her adventure till her spirits are somewhat recruited,'' replied her father. ``She and I were not the less obliged to you, Mareschal, and to my other friends, for their kind inquiries. But I must suppress the father's feelings for a while, to give myself up to those of the patriot. You know this is the day fixed for our final decision---time presses--- our friends are arriving, and I have opened house, not only for the gentry, but for the under spur-leathers whom we must necessarily employ. We have, therefore, little time to prepare to meet them---Look over these lists, Marchie (an abbreviation by which Mareschal Wells was known among his friends). Do you, Sir Frederick, read these letters from Lothian and the west---all is ripe for the sickle, and we have but to summon out the reapers.''
``With all my heart,'' said Mareschal; ``the more mischief the better sport.''
Sir Frederick looked grave and disconcerted.
``Walk aside with me, my good friend,'' said Ellieslaw to the sombre baronet; ``I have something for your private ear, with which I know you will be gratified.''
They walked into the house, leaving Ratcliffe and Mareschal standing together in the court.
``And so,'' said Ratcliffe, ``the gentlemen of your political persuasion think the downfall of this government so certain, that they disdain even to throw a decent disguise over the machinations of their party?''
`Faith, Mr. Ratcliffe,'' answered Mareschal, ``the actions and sentiments of your friends may require to be veiled, but I am better pleased that ours can go barefaced.''
``And is it possible,'' continued Ratcliffe, ``that you, who, notwithstanding your thoughtlessness and heat of temper (I beg pardon, Mr. Mareschal, I am a plain man)---that you, who, notwithstanding these constitutional defects, possess natural good sense and acquired information, should be infatuated enough to embroil yourself in such desperate proceedings? How does your head feel when you are engaged in these dangerous conferences?''
``Not quite so secure on my shoulders,'' answered Mareschal, ``as if I were talking of hunting and hawking. I am not of so indifferent a mould as my cousin Ellieslaw, who speaks treason as if it were a child's nursery rhymes, and loses and recovers that sweet girl, his daughter, with a good deal less emotion on both occasions, than would have affected me had I lost and recovered a greyhound puppy. My temper is not quite so inflexible, nor my hate against government so inveterate, as to blind me to the full danger of the attempt.''
``Then why involve yourself in it?'' said Ratcliffe.
``Why, I love this poor exiled king with all my heart; and my father was an old Killiecrankie man, and I long to see some amends on the Unionist courtiers, that have bought and sold old Scotland, whose crown has been so long independent.''
``And for the sake of these shadows,'' said his monitor, ``you are going to involve your country in war, and yourself in trouble?''
``I involve? No!---but, trouble for trouble, I had rather it came to-morrow than a month hence. Come, I know it will; and, as your country folks say, better soon than syne---it will never find me younger---and as for hanging, as Sir John Falstaff says, I can become a gallows as well as another. You know the end of the old ballad:
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly, Sae dauntonly gaed he, He played a spring, and danced a round Beneath the gallows tree.''<*>
* [The old ballad of ``Macpherson's Rant,'' composed at the time of his execution
* is printed in Herd's _Scottish Songs and Ballads,_ vol. i. p. 99; but the lines here
* quoted are from Burns's version, beginning---
* ``Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,'']
``Mr. Mareschal, I am sorry for you,'' said his grave adviser.
``I am obliged to you, Mr. Ratcliffe; but I would not have you judge of our enterprise by my way of vindicating it; there are wiser heads than mine at the work.''
``Wiser heads than yours may lie as low,'' said Ratcliffe, in a warning tone.
``Perhaps so; but no lighter heart shall; and, to prevent it being made heavier by your remonstrances, I will bid you adieu, Mr. Ratcliffe, till dinner-time, when you shall see that my apprehensions have not spoiled my appetite.''
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