A brief pause followed the entrance of this unexpected visitor. Standing upon the threshold, his dark brow knit, his eyes fixed on his prisoners, the Earl of Buchan stood a few minutes immovable. Alan saw but a mail-clad warrior, more fierce and brutal in appearance than the generality of their foes, and felt, with all that heart-sinking despondency natural to youth, that they were betrayed, that resistance was in vain, for heavier and louder grew the tramp of horse and man, and the narrow passage, discernible through the open door, was filled with steel-clad forms, their drawn swords glancing in the torchlight, their dark brows gleaming in ill-concealed triumph. Alan was still a boy in years, despite his experience as a warrior, and in the first agony of this discovery, the first dream of chains and captivity, when his young spirit revelled in the thought of freedom, and joyed as a bird in the fresh air of mount and stream, weaving bright hopes, not exile or wandering could remove, his impulse had been to dash his useless sword in anguish to the earth, and weep; but the sight of his mother checked that internal weakness. He felt her convulsive clasp; he beheld the expression on her features,—how unlike their wont—terror, suffering, whose entire cause he vainly endeavored to define, and he roused himself for her. And she, did she see more than her son? She knew that face, and as she gazed, she felt hope had departed; she beheld naught but a long, endless vista of anguish; yet she felt not for herself, she thought but of her child. And the earl, can we define his exulting mood?—it was the malice, the triumph of a fiend.
“Who and what art thou?” demanded Alan, fiercely, laying his right hand on his sword, and with the left firmly clasping his mother’s waist. “What bold knight and honorable chevalier art thou, thus seeking by stealth the retreat of a wanderer, and overpowering by numbers and treachery men, who on the field thou and such as thou had never dared to meet?”
The earl laughed; that bitter, biting laugh of contempt and triumph so difficult to bear.
“Thou hast a worthy tongue, my pretty springald,” said he; “canst thou use thy sword as bravely? Who and what am I? ask of the lady thou hast so caressingly encircled with thine arm, perchance she can give thee information.”
Alan started, a cold thrill passed through his frame, as the real cause of his mother’s terror flashed on his mind; her lips, parched and quivering, parted as to speak, but there was no sound.
“Mother,” he said, “mother, speak to thy son. Why, why art thou thus? it is not the dread of imprisonment, of death. No, no; they have no terrors for such as thee. Who is this man?”
Engrossed in his own agitation, Alan had not heard the muttered exclamation which burst from Buchan’s lips with his first words, for great was the earl’s surprise as he looked on his son; the impression he was still a child had remained on his mind despite all reports to the contrary, but no softer feeling obtained dominion.