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Chapter 24

Four ruffians seized me yester morn--
Alas! a maiden most forlorn!
They choked my cries with wicked might,
And bound me on a palfrey white. COLERIDGE.


Such adventures as are now only recorded in works of mere fiction,
were not uncommon in the feudal ages, when might was so
universally superior to right; and it followed that those whose
conditions exposed them to frequent violence, were more prompt in
repelling, and more patient in enduring it, than could otherwise
have been expected from their sex and age.

The Lady Eveline felt that she was a prisoner, nor was she devoid
of fears concerning the purposes of this assault; but she suffered
neither her alarm, nor the violence with which she was hurried
along, to deprive her of the power of observing and reflecting.
From the noise of hoofs which now increased around, she concluded
that the greater part of the ruffians by whom she had been seized
had betaken themselves to their horses. This she knew was
consonant to the practice of the Welsh marauders, who, although
the small size and slightness of their nags made them totally
unfit for service in battle, availed themselves of their activity
and sureness of foot to transport them with the necessary celerity
to and from the scenes of their rapine; ensuring thus a rapid and
unperceived approach, and a secure and speedy retreat. These
animals traversed without difficulty, and beneath the load of a
heavy soldier, the wild mountain paths by which the country was
intersected, and in one of which Lady Eveline Berenger concluded
she was now engaged, from the manner in which her own palfrey,
supported by a man on foot at either rein, seemed now to labour up
some precipice, and anon to descend with still greater risk on the
other side.

At one of those moments, a voice which she had not yet
distinguished addressed her in the Anglo-Norman language, and
asked, with apparent interest, if she sat safely on her saddle,
offering at the same time to have her accoutrements altered at her
pleasure and convenience.

"Insult not my condition with the mention of safety," said
Eveline; "you may well believe that I hold my safety altogether
irreconcilable with these deeds of violence. If I or my vassals
have done injury to any of the _Gymry_, [Footnote: Cymbri, or
Welsh.] let me know, and it shall be amended--If it is ransom
which you desire, name the sum, and I will send an order to treat
for it; but detain me not prisoner, for that can but injure me,
and will avail you nothing."

"The Lady Eveline," answered the voice, still in a tone of
courtesy inconsistent with the violence which she sustained, "will
speedily find that our actions are more rough than purposes."

"If you know who I am," said Eveline, "you cannot doubt that this
atrocity will be avenged--you must know by whose banner my lands
are at present protected."

"Under De Lacy's," answered the voice, with a tone of indifference
"Be it so--falcons fear not falcons."

At this moment there was a halt, and a confused murmur arose
amongst those around her, who had hitherto been silent, unless
when muttering to each other in Welsh, and as briefly as possible,
directions which way to hold, or encouragement to use haste.

These murmurs ceased, and there was a pause of several minutes; at
length Eveline again heard the voice which formerly addressed her,
giving directions which she could not understand. He then spoke to
herself, "You will presently see," he said, "whether I have spoken
truly, when I said I scorned the ties by which you are fettered.
But you are at once the cause of strife and the reward of victory--
your safety must be cared for as time will admit; and, strange as
the mode of protection is to which we are to intrust you, I trust
the victor in the approaching struggle will find you uninjured."

"Do not, for the sake of the blessed Virgin, let there be strife
and bloodshed!" said Eveline; "rather unbind my eyes, and let me
speak to those whose approach you dread. If friends, as it would
seem to me, I will be the means of peace between you."

"I despise peace," replied the speaker. "I have not undertaken a
resolute and daring adventure, to resign it as a child doth his
plaything, at the first frown of fortune. Please to alight, noble
lady; or rather be not offended that I thus lift you from thy
seat, and place you on the greensward."

As he spoke, Eveline felt herself lifted from her palfrey, and
placed carefully and safely on the ground, in a sitting posture. A
moment after, the same peremptory valet who had aided her to
dismount, disrobed her of her cap, the masterpiece of Dame
Gillian, and of her upper mantle. "I must yet farther require
you," said the bandit leader, "to creep on hands and knees into
this narrow aperture. Believe me, I regret the nature of the
singular fortification to which I commit your person for safety."

Eveline crept forwards as directed, conceiving resistance to be of
no avail, and thinking that compliance with the request of one who
spoke like a person of consequence, might find her protection
against the unbridled fury of the Welsh, to whom she was
obnoxious, as being the cause of Gwenwyn's death, and the defeat
of the Britons under the walls of the Garde Doloureuse.

She crept then forwards through a narrow and damp passage, built
on either side with rough stones, and so low that she could not
have entered it in any other posture. When she had proceeded about
two or three yards, the passage opened into a concavity or
apartment, high enough to permit her to sit at her ease, and of
irregular, but narrow, dimensions. At the same time she became
sensible, from the noise which she heard behind her, that the
ruffians were stopping up the passage by which she had been thus
introduced into the bowels of the earth. She could distinctly hear
the clattering of stone with which they closed the entrance, and
she became sensible that the current of fresh air, which had
rushed through the opening, was gradually failing, and that the
atmosphere of the subterranean apartment became yet more damp,
earthy, and oppressive than at first.

At this moment came a distant sound from without, in which Eveline
thought she could distinguish cries, blows, the trampling of
horse, the oaths, shouts, and screams of the combatants, but all
deadened by the rude walls of her prison, into a confused hollow
murmur, conveying such intelligence to her ears as we may suppose
the dead to hear from the world they have quitted.

Influenced by desperation, under circumstances so dreadful,
Eveline struggled for liberty with such frantic energy, that she
partly effected her purpose by forcing her arms from the bonds
which confined them. But this only convinced her of the
impossibility to escape; for, rending off the veil which wrapped
her head, she found herself in total darkness, and flinging her
arms hastily around her, she discovered she was cooped up in a
subterranean cavern, of very narrow dimensions. Her hands, which
groped around, encountered only pieces of decayed metal, and a
substance which, at another moment, would have made her shudder,
being, in truth, the mouldering bones of the dead. At present, not
even this circumstance could add to her fears, immured as she
seemed to be, to perish by a strange and subterranean death, while
her friends and deliverers were probably within a few yards of
her. She flung her arms wildly around in search of some avenue of
escape, but every effort she made for liberating herself from the
ponderous circumvallation, was as ineffectual as if directed
against the dome of a cathedral.

The noise by which her ears were at first assailed increased
rapidly, and at one moment it seemed as if the covering of the
vault under which she lay sounded repeatedly to blows, or the
shock of substances which had fallen, or been thrown, against it.
It was impossible that a human brain could have withstood these
terrors, operating upon it so immediately; but happily this
extremity lasted not long. Sounds, more hollow, and dying away in
distance, argued that one or other of the parties had retreated;
and at length all was silent.

Eveline was now left to the undisturbed contemplation of her own
disastrous situation. The fight was over, and, as circumstances
led her to infer, her own friends were conquerors; for otherwise
the victor would have relieved her from her place of confinement,
and carried her away captive with him, as his words had menaced.
But what could the success of her faithful friends and followers
avail Eveline, who, pent up under a place of concealment which,
whatever was its character, must have escaped their observation,
was left on the field of battle, to become again the prize of the
enemy, should their band venture to return, or die in darkness and
privation, a death as horrid as ever tyrant invented, or martyr
underwent, and which the unfortunate young lady could not even
bear to think of without a prayer that her agony might at least be
shortened.

In this hour of dread she recollected the poniard which she wore,
and the dark thought crossed her mind, that, when life became
hopeless, a speedy death was at least within her reach. As her
soul shuddered at so dreadful an alternative, the question
suddenly occurred, might not this weapon be put to a more hallowed
use, and aid her emancipation, instead of abridging her
sufferings?

This hope once adopted, the daughter of Raymond Berenger hastened
to prove the experiment, and by repeated efforts succeeded, though
with difficulty, in changing her posture, so as to admit of her
inspecting her place of confinement all around, but particularly
the passage by which she had entered, and by which she now
attempted again to return to the light of day. She crept to the
extremity, and found it, as she expected, strongly blocked up with
large stones and earth, rammed together in such a manner as nearly
to extinguish all hope of escape. The work, however, had been
hastily performed, and life and liberty were prizes to stimulate
exertion. With her poniard she cleared away the earth and sods--
with her hands, little accustomed to such labour, she removed
several stones, and advanced in her task so far as to obtain a
glimmering of light, and, what was scarce less precious, a supply
of purer air. But, at the same time, she had the misfortune to
ascertain, that, from the size and massiveness of a huge stone
which closed the extremity of the passage, there was no hope that
her unassisted strength could effect her extrication. Yet her
condition was improved by the admission of air and light, as well
as by the opportunity afforded of calling out for assistance.

Such cries, indeed, were for some time uttered in vain--the field
had probably been left to the dead and the dying; for low and
indistinct groans were the only answer which she received for
several minutes. At length, as she repeated her exclamation, a
voice, faint as that of one just awakened from a swoon, pronounced
these words in answer:--"Edris of the Earthen House, dost thou
call from thy tomb to the wretch who just hastens to his own?--Are
the boundaries broken down which connect me with the living?--And
do I already hear, with fleshly ears, the faint and screaming
accents of the dead?"

"It is no spirit who speaks," replied Eveline, overjoyed at
finding she could at least communicate her existence to a living
person--"no spirit, but a most unhappy maiden, Eveline Berenger by
name, immured beneath this dark vault, and in danger to perish
horribly, unless God send me rescue!"

"Eveline Berenger!" exclaimed he whom she addressed, in the
accents of wonder. "It is impossible!--I watched her green mantle
--I watched her plumy bonnet as I saw her hurried from the field,
and felt my own inability to follow to the rescue; nor did force
or exertion altogether leave me till the waving of the robe and
the dancing of the feathers were lost to my eyes, and all hope of
rescuing her abandoned my heart."

"Faithful vassal, or right true friend, or courteous stranger,
whichsoever I may name thee," answered Eveline, "know thou hast
been abused by the artifices of these Welsh banditti--the mantle
and head-gear of Eveline Berenger they have indeed with them, and
may have used them to mislead those true friends, who, like thee,
are anxious for my fate. Wherefore, brave sir, devise some
succour, if thou canst, for thyself and me; since I dread that
these ruffians, when they shall have escaped immediate pursuit,
will return hither, like the robber to the hoard where he has
deposited his stolen booty."

"Now, the Holy Virgin be praised," said the wounded man, "that I
can spend the last breath of my life in thy just and honourable
service! I would not before blow my bugle, lest I recalled from
the pursuit to the aid of my worthless self some of those who
might be effectually engaged in thy rescue; may Heaven grant that
the recall may now be heard, that my eyes may yet see the Lady
Eveline in safety and liberty!"

The words, though spoken in a feeble tone, breathed a spirit of
enthusiasm, and were followed by the blast of a horn, faintly
winded, to which no answer was made save the echoing of the dell.
A sharper and louder blast was then sent forth, but sunk so
suddenly, that it seemed the breath of him who sounded the
instrument had failed in the effort.--A strange thought crossed
Eveline's mind even in that moment of uncertainty and terror.
"That," she said, "was the note of a De Lacy--surely you cannot
be my gentle kinsman, Sir Damian?"

"I am that unhappy wretch, deserving of death for the evil care
which I have taken of the treasure intrusted to me.--What was my
business to trust to reports and messengers? I should have
worshipped the saint who was committed to my keeping, with such
vigilance as avarice bestows on the dross which he calls treasure
--I should have rested no where, save at your gate; outwatched the
brightest stars in the horizon; unseen and unknown myself, I
should never have parted from your neighbourhood; then had you not
been in the present danger, and--much less important consequence--
thou, Damian de Lacy, had not filled the grave of a forsworn and
negligent caitiff!"

"Alas! noble Damian," said Eveline, "break not my heart by blaming
yourself for an imprudence which is altogether my own. Thy succour
was ever near when I intimated the least want of it; and it
imbitters my own misfortune to know that my rashness has been the
cause of your disaster. Answer me, gentle kinsman, and give me to
hope that the wounds you have suffered are such as may be cured.--
Alas! how much of your blood have I seen spilled, and what a fate
is mine, that I should ever bring distress on all for whom I would
most willingly sacrifice my own happiness!--But do not let us
imbitter the moments given us in mercy, by fruitless repinings--
Try what you can to stop thine ebbing blood, which is so dear to
England--to Eveline--and to thine uncle."

Damian groaned as she spoke, and was silent; while, maddened with
the idea that he might be perishing for want of aid, Eveline
repeated her efforts to extricate herself for her kinsman's
assistance as well as her own. It was all in vain, and she had
ceased the attempt in despair; and, passing from one hideous
subject of terror to another, she sat listening, with sharpened
ear, for the dying groan of Damian, when--feeling of ecstasy!--the
ground was shaken with horses' feet advancing rapidly. Yet this
joyful sound, if decisive of life, did not assure her of liberty--
It might be the banditti of the mountains returning to seek their
captive. Even then they would surely allow her leave to look upon
and bind up the wounds of Damian de Lacy; for to keep him as a
captive might vantage them more in many degrees, than could his
death. A horseman came up--Eveline invoked his assistance, and the
first word she heard was an exclamation in Flemish from the
faithful Wilkin Flammock, which nothing save some spectacle of the
most unusual kind was ever known to compel from that phlegmatic
person.

His presence, indeed, was particularly useful on this occasion;
for, being informed by the Lady Eveline in what condition she was
placed, and implored at the same time to look to the situation of
Sir Damian de Lacy, he began, with admirable composure and some
skill, to stop the wounds of the one, while his attendants
collected levers, left by the Welsh as they retreated, and were
soon ready to attempt the liberation of Eveline. With much
caution, and under the experienced direction of Flammock, the
stone was at length so much raised, that the Lady Eveline was
visible, to the delight of all, and especially of the faithful
Rose, who, regardless of the risk of personal harm, fluttered
around her mistress's place of confinement, like a bird robbed of
her nestlings around the cage in which the truant urchin has
imprisoned them. Precaution was necessary to remove the stone,
lest falling inwards it might do the lady injury.

At length the rocky fragment was so much displaced that she could
issue forth; while her people, as in hatred of the coercion which
she had sustained, ceased not to heave, with bar and lever, till,
totally destroying the balance of the heavy mass, it turned over
from the little flat on which it had been placed at the mouth of
the subterranean entrance, and, acquiring force as it revolved
down a steep declivity, was at length put into rapid motion, and
rolled, crashed, and thundered, down the hill, amid flashes of
fire which it forced from the rocks, and clouds of smoke and dust,
until it alighted in the channel of a brook, where it broke into
several massive fragments, with a noise that might have been heard
some miles off.

With garments rent and soiled through the violence which she had
sustained; with dishevelled hair, and disordered dress; faint from
the stifling effect of her confinement, and exhausted by the
efforts she had made to relieve herself, Eveline did not,
nevertheless, waste a single minute in considering her own
condition; but with the eagerness of a sister hastening to the
assistance of her only brother, betook herself to examine the
several severe wounds of Damian de Lacy, and to use proper means
to stanch the blood and recall him from his swoon. We have said
elsewhere, that, like other ladies of the time, Eveline was not
altogether unacquainted with the surgical art, and she now
displayed a greater share of knowledge than she had been thought
capable of exerting. There was prudence, foresight, and
tenderness, in every direction which she gave, and the softness of
the female sex, with their officious humanity, ever ready to
assist in alleviating human misery, seemed in her enhanced, and
rendered dignified, by the sagacity of a strong and powerful
understanding. After hearing with wonder for a minute or two the
prudent and ready-witted directions of her mistress, Rose seemed
at once to recollect that the patient should not be left to the
exclusive care of the Lady Eveline, and joining, therefore, in the
task, she rendered what assistance she could, while the attendants
were employed in forming a litter, on which the wounded knight was
to be conveyed to the castle of the Garde Doloureuse.

Sir Walter Scott