But the night promised ill for the fulfilment of this trust. Many hours passed in an utterly fruitless search, and about one hour before midnight a thick fog increased the dense gloom, and even prevented all assistance from the torches, for not ten yards before them was distinguishable. Dispirited and disappointed, the king and his companions threw themselves around the watchfires, in gloomy meditation, starting at the smallest sound, and determined to renew their search with the first gleam of dawn; the hurried pace of Alan, as he strode up and down, for he could not rest, alone disturbing the stillness all around.
It was already two hours after midnight when a hurried tread, distinct from Alan’s restless pacing, disturbed the watchers, and occasioned many to raise themselves on their elbows and listen.
It came nearer and nearer, and very soon a young lad, recognized as Sir Alan’s page, was discerned, springing from crag to crag in breathless haste, and finally threw himself at his sovereign’s feet.
“It is not too late—up, up, and save her!” were the only words he had power to gasp, panting painfully for the breath of which speed had deprived him. His hair and dress were heavy with the damp occasioned by the fog, and his whole appearance denoting no common agitation.
“Where?” “How?” “What knowest thou?” “Speak out.” “What ailest thee, boy?” were the eager words uttered at once by all, and the king and others sprung to their feet, while Alan laid a heavy hand on the boy’s shoulder, and glared on him in silence; the lad’s glance fell beneath his, and he sobbed forth—
“Mercy, mercy! my thoughtlessness has done this, yet I guessed not, dreamed not this ill would follow. But oh, do not wait for my tale now; up, up, and save her ere it be too late!”
“And how may we trust thee now, an this is the effect of former treachery?” demanded Robert, with a sternness that seemed to awe the terrified boy into composure.
“I am not treacherous, sire. No, no! I would have exposed my throat to your grace’s sword rather than do a traitor’s deed: trust me, oh, trust me, and follow without delay!”
“Speak first, and clearly,” answered Alan, fiercely; “even for my mother’s sake the sacred person of the King of Scotland shall not be risked by a craven’s word. Speak, an thou wouldst bid me trust thee—speak, I charge thee.”
“He is right—he is right; let him explain this mystery ere we follow,” echoed round; and thus urged, the boy’s tale was hurriedly told.