“He shall, he will escape thee, proud earl,” undauntedly returned Alan. “The savior of his wretched country will not be forced to bow before such as thee; he will be saved out of the net prepared—harassed, chased, encompassed as he is. I tell thee, Earl of Buchan, he will escape thee yet.”
“Then, by heaven, thy head shall fall for his!” fiercely replied the earl. “If he return not, he has been forewarned, prepared, and I, fool as I was, have thought not of this danger. Look to it, proud boy, if the Bruce return not forty-eight hours hence, and thou art still silent, thou diest.”
He held up his clenched hand in a threatening attitude, but Alan neither moved nor spoke, firmly returning the earl’s infuriated gaze till the door closed on his father’s retreating form. He heard the bolts drawn, the heavy tramp of the guard, and then he threw himself on the couch, and buried his face in his hands.
While these fearful scenes were passing in the hunting-lodge, Malcolm, the young page already mentioned, had contrived to elude the vigilance of the earl’s numerous followers, and reach the brow of the hollow in perfect safety. Endowed with a sense and spirit above his years, and inspired by his devoted attachment to the countess and Sir Alan, the boy did not merely think of his own personal security, and of the simple act of warning the king against the treachery which awaited his return, but, with an eye and mind well practised in intelligent observation, he scanned the numbers, character, and peculiar situation of the foes which had so unexpectedly come upon them. Being peculiarly small and light in figure, and completely clothed in a dark green tunic and hose, which was scarcely discernible from the trees and shrubs around, he stole, in and out every brake and hollow, clambering lightly and noiselessly over crags, hanging like a broken branch from stunted trees, leaping with the elasticity of a youthful fawn over stream and shrub, and thus obtained a true and exact idea of the matter he desired. The boy’s heart did indeed sink as he felt rescue would be utterly impossible; that in one direction the English force extended nearly a mile, guarding every avenue, every hollow in the forest, till it seemed next to impossible King Robert could escape, even if forewarned. Wherever he turned his steps the enemy appeared to lurk, but he wavered not in his purpose. Aware of the direction which the king would take in returning, Malcolm slackened not his speed until some three hours after he had quitted the hollow, and he stood before his sovereign well-nigh too exhausted for the utterance of his tale.