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Hililebrand took the liand of the boy, and pressed it, but one portentous look, at the recognition of some sinister purpose, passed between Michael and the old man, unobserved by his colleague. Hildebrand raised his hand above his mouth, and slowly whispered— 'Remember!—the gulf uuderneath the waterfall!'
The horsemen departed. Passing the bridge, they were just rising over the green slope, when the children recognized Alice upon her late mistress's little palfrey. They screamed after her; but she was riding in a contrary direction, and was soon out of their sight.
The narrow glades of the forest suddenly encompassed them. The morning was pretty far advanced. The joyous birds twittered in their dun covert, brushing the dew-drops from the brows with their restless wings. The thrush and blackbird from afar poured forth a more melancholy note; whilst the timid rabbit, scared from his morning's meal, rushed by, and sought his burrow. The wood grew thicker, and the sunbeams, which had previously shot in broad slopes across their path, soon became but as liDes of intensely chequered light piercing the grim shadows beneath. The trees, too, put on a more sombre form and character; and the swaid appeared choked with rank and noxious weeds. It seemed a path rarely trodden, and only to be recognized by occasional openings through the underwood.
They travelled for some hours. Michael had taken the lead, and Anthony, with his prattling charge, rode carelessly on. Looking round, the latter- suddenly checked his horse: a momentary alarm overspread his features as he cried—
'Michael, you have surely mistaken the path An hour's ride should have brought us to the end of onr journey, and our beasts have been footing it here these three hours.'
Michael's reply was brief: he knew his road, and they were now drawing near to the end of their journey, Anthony, though not of the most unsullied reputation, and probably habituated to crimes at which humanity might shudder, pressed the little victim closer to his breast. The prattle of the habe had won his heart; and the morning scene with Alice had so softened his spirit, that he could have wept when he thought of the remorseless nature of his comrade, to whose care they had been entrusted.
The roar of a torrent was now heard. Suddenly they entered upon a sort of irregular amphitheatre—woods rising above each other to the very summit of the hills by which they were surrounded.. A swollen waterfall was now visible, below which one single hare and flattened trunk, whose boughs had apparently been but just lopped, was thrown across the torrent. A ruined keep, or donjon, was seen rising above a line of dark firs, crowning the summit of a steep crag rising abruptly from the river.
* This is our half-way house,' said Michael, pointing' to the grim fortress. 'The children are tired, and have need of refreshment. Tarry here with the horses, whilst I carry them over the bridge.'
'We have refreshments in the wallet: what need we to loiter yonder,' replied Anthony, eyeing the other with an evident expression of distrust.
* The children want rest,' said Michael, ' and we shall there find shelter from the heat.'
* If rest be needful,' was the reply, ' surely this dry sward, and these overhanging leaves, will afford both rest and shelter.'
'The children are in my keeping,' said Michael, fiercely, * and I am not to account with thee for my proceedings. Alight, and give me the child.'
'I will not. Michael, I have watched thee, and I know that thou art a villain! Aye, draw, and I have weapons too, comrade.'
Fast and furious grew the comhat, whilst the terrified children made the woods resound with their shrieks. The result did not long seem doubtful. Michael soon proved himself the better swordsman; and his antagonist stumbling from fatigue, broke his own weapon in the fall. Defenceless and exposed, the uplifted sword of his adversary was raised for his destruction—when
Vol. ir. Aus>. 1829. o
suddenly the arm of the ruffian was arrested, the sword snatched from his grasp, and a female figure, habited in a dark and coarse vestment, stood between the comhatants. Her brow was hare, and her dark full eye beamed on them with a look of pity and of anger. Her naturally pale cheek was flashed, but it betrayed not the agitation she endured. Erect, and unbending, she stood before them, and the quailing miscreant crouched at her feet,
'Away!—To thy master! Thy blood, too worthless even for thine own steel!'—She hurled away the weapon as she spoke.
Burning with revenge at his late defeat, Anthony flew after the falling brand: seizing it, he renewed the attack. Michael fled toward the bridge. With the bound of a bereaved tiger, Anthony sprung upon his prey. Just where the root of the trunk rested on the bank, they closed, and but one agonizing yell escaped Michael as he hung quivering over the yawning portal to eternity; in an instant the insatiate gulf swallowed him up for ever. Anthony cast one look after his victim, and then turned his eyes toward the spot where he had left the children, but the habes and his mysterious deliverer had departed.
A few mornings after this Hildebrand Wentworth was aroused by the entrance of a stranger: he had just arrived from the continent with authority to demand some papers of Sir Henry Fairfax, who was not, as had been supposed, dead. His wounds did not prove mortal, and he now only required the amount of his ransom to return to his native home. Hildebrand Wentworth was filled with dismay. Sir Henry, previous to his expedition to France, had, in the event of his death, made him sole guardian of his lady and children; and having obtained possession of the property, he thought the only impediment to his retaining it, now that Lady Fairfax was no more, was the existence of the children. This he thought had been effectually removed, but he could not help wondering that neither Michael nor Anthony had returned to claim his reward.