The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne HTML version

Chapter VIII
HE had now opened the partition, and was entering the room, when by the faint
gleam which the fire threw across the apartment, he perceived indistinctly the
figure of a man, and in the same instant heard the sound of approaching armour.
Surprize and horror thrilled through every nerve; he remained fixed to the spot,
and for some moments hesitated whether to retire. A fearful silence ensued; the
person whom he thought he had seen, disappeared in the darkness of the room;
the noise of armour was heard no more; and he began to think that the figure he
had seen, and the sound he had heard were the phantoms of a sick imagination,
which the agitation of his spirits, the solemnity of the hour, and the wide
desolation of the place, had conjured up. The low sounds of an unknown voice
now started upon his ear; it seemed to be almost close beside him; he sprung
onward, and his hand grasped the steely coldness of armour, while the arm it
enclosed struggled to get free. "Speak! what wretch art thou?" cried Osbert,
when a sudden blaze of light from the fire discovered to him a soldier of the
Baron. His agitation for some time prevented his observing that there was more
of alarm than of design expressed in the countenance of the man; but the
apprehension of the Earl was quickly lost in astonishment, when he beheld the
guard at his feet. It was Edmund who had entered the prison under pretense of
carrying fuel to the fire, but secretly for the purpose of conferring with Osbert.
When the Earl understood he came from Alleyn, his bosom glowed with gratitude
towards that generous youth, whose steady and active zeal had never relaxed
since the hour in which he first engaged in his cause. The transport of his heart
may be easily imagined, when he learned the schemes that were planning for his
deliverance. The circumstance which had nearly defeated the warm hopes of his
friends, was by him disregarded, since the knowledge of the secret door opened
to him, with the assistance of a guide through the intricacies of the castle, a
certain means of escape. Edmund was well acquainted with all these. The Earl
told him of the discovery of the false panel; bade him return to Alleyn with the
joyful intelligence, and on his next night of watch prepare to aid him in escape.
Edmund knew well the apartments which Osbert described, and the great
staircase which led into a part of the castle that had long been totally forsaken,
and from whence it was easy to pass unobserved into the vaults which
communicated with the subterraneous passages in the rock.
Alleyn heard the report of James with a warm and generous joy, which
impelled him to hasten immediately to the castle of Athlin, and dispel the sorrows
that inhabited there; but the consideration that his sudden absence from the
camp might create suspicion, and invite discovery, checked the impulse; and he
yielded with reluctance to the necessity which condemned the Countess and
Mary to the horrors of a lengthened suspense.
The Countess, meanwhile, whose designs, strengthened by the steady
determination of Mary, were unshaken by the message of the Earl, which she
considered as only the effect of a momentary impulse, watched the gradual
departure of those days which led to that which enveloped the fate of her