The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne HTML version

Chapter II
THE following day was appointed for the celebration of an annual festival given
by the Earl to his people, and he would not suffer Alleyn to depart. The hall was
spread with tables; and dance and merriment resounded through the castle. It
was usual on that day for the clan to assemble in arms, on account of an attempt,
the memory of which it was meant to perpetuate, made, two centuries before, by
an hostile clan to surprize them in their festivity.
In the morning were performed the martial exercises, in which emulation was
excited by the honorary rewards bestowed on excellence. The Countess and her
lovely daughter beheld, from the ramparts of the castle, the feats performed on
the plains below. Their attention was engaged, and their curiosity excited, by the
appearance of a stranger who managed the lance and the bow with such
exquisite dexterity, as to bear off each prize of chivalry. It was Alleyn. He
received the palm of victory, as was usual, from the hands of the Earl; and the
modest dignity with which he accepted it, charmed the beholders.
The Earl honoured the feast with his presence, at the conclusion of which,
each guest arose, and seizing his goblet with his left hand, and with his right
striking his sword, drank to the memory of their departed Lord. The hall echoed
with the general voice. Osbert felt it strike upon his heart the alarum of war. The
people then joined hands, and drank to the honour of the son of their late master.
Osbert understood the signal, and overcome with emotion, every consideration
yielded to that of avenging his father. He arose, and harangued the clan with all
the fire of youth and indignant virtue. As he spoke, the countenance of his people
flashed with impatient joy; a deep murmur of applause ran through the assembly:
and when he was silent each man, crossing his sword with that of his neighbour,
swore that sacred pledge of union, never to quit the cause in which they now
engaged, till the life of their enemy had paid the debt of justice and of revenge.
In the evening, the wives and daughters of the peasantry came to the castle,
and joined in the festivity. It was usual for the Countess and her ladies to observe
from a gallery of the hall, the various performances of dance and song; and it had
been a custom of old for the daughter of the castle to grace the occasion by
performing a Scotch dance with the victor of the morning. This victor now was
Alleyn, who beheld the lovely Mary led by the Earl into the hall, and presented to
him as his partner in the dance. She received his homage with a sweet grace.
She was dressed in the habit of a Highland lass, and her fine auburn tresses,
which waved in her neck, were ornamented only with a wreath of roses. She
moved in the dance with the light steps of the Graces. Profound silence reigned
through the hall during the performance, and a soft murmur of applause arose on
its conclusion. The admiration of the spectators was divided between Mary and
the victorious stranger. She retired to the gallery, and the night concluded in joy
to all but the Earl, and to Alleyn; but very different was the source and the
complexion of their inquietude. The mind of Osbert revolved the chief
occurrences of the day, and his soul burned with impatience to accomplish the
purposes of filial piety; yet he dreaded the effect which the communication of his