THE HAUNTED CAVERN (1796)

JOHN PALMER (1742?–1798)


Eldred crossed the draw-bridge without the least suspicion, and had scarce entered the court-yard, when his ear was saluted by the jocund sound of festivity. He entered the building, and making his way to that part whence the noise proceeded, he came to a hall which was decorated by the arms and banners of its various possessors. Here he found a goodly company sacrificing largely to Bacchus: swiftly was the mantling goblet passed around, while the warlike deeds of the Scottish Chieftains rung through the stately edifice!
          Eldred, darting a look around, saw at the farther end his rival, and Jane seated by him, over whose spirits, neither the juice of the grape, nor the voice of the bard, had the least influence. Pale melancholy was pictured in her features; her face was averted from the hated society wherein she was compelled to mix, while the briny moisture from her eye fell in the sparkling cup, and diluted the potent beverage.
          The sight of his mistress fired the soul of Glencairn [i.e. Eldred]: hardly could he restrain from sacrificing the ravisher in the midst of his adherents; but policy prevented him, and he determined to counteract the villainy of Donald by stratagem.
          Long did he continue at the castle, without the happiness of communicating a word to the loved object who had brought him thither; when, as he stood reclining against his beachen spear in painful rumination, the Highland Chief passed near him, and fixed his eyes steadfastly on him; then, suddenly withdrawing them, left the court-yard. Our hero was in amazement, he naturally conjectured he was known; still he determined not to abandon the place without making Jane his companion.
          His suspicions, however, were soon evaporated, by the Baron taking no farther notice of him, and fortune soon after favored his wishes. As his mistress was enjoying the cool evening breeze upon the terrace, he found means to convey a letter, unperceived, into her hand, imparting the danger he encountered for her sake, and with every tender argument, soliciting an interview that night, near the western tower, as his friend Edric would have charge of the draw-bridge, who would enable him to snatch her from the captivity in which she languished.
          Eldred waited with anxiety the inseparable companion of love, till he thought the inhabitants of the castle buried in sleep, then flew upon the wings of impatience to the appointed spot. Long did he tarry, but no Jane appeared. Furious at his disappointment, he was about to retire, when the distant view of a female, again rekindled his hopes, and in a minute he held the daughter of Wallace in his arms. Fain would he have chid, but joy restrained his tongue from any language, save what love inspired. With rapture he strained her to his breast, apprehensive he should be once more deprived of her.
          Thus does the shipwrecked mariner – when wan despair forbids the thought of ever regaining land, by chance some friendly billow wafts him towards a rock, where close he clings, and fears the impetuous surge will tear him from his only hope!
          With eagerness did Glencairn hurry cross the draw-bridge, where he was joined by his Squire, who had received from Edric intimation of his master’s design.
          ‘These excursions,’ said Andrew, ‘may be vastly entertaining to you, my Lord and Lady, who are lovers, who can banquet on each other’s words and warm yourselves with the breath of mutual protestations. But, for my part, I would rather have been employed in feasting on a well-fed capon, and a flaggon of wine. Here have I tarried, till I am perfectly a walking piece of ice; my body is now in as cold a state as the summit of Arthur’s seat [the large hill in Edinburgh] on a winter’s night. Our horses too are stolen, and by the beard of St. Andrew, which way they went, I know not: however ’tis for your service I suffer this inconvenience, and that thought softens my sufferings.’
          Already they were at a distance from the hostile place, and safe, they thought, from the persecution of their enemies. The transition from a situation so deplorable, to one directly opposite, produced such a revolution in their tender minds, as lovers only can imagine.
          They were fondly entertaining each other with mutual protestations, when the harsh din of footsteps fast advancing, caused them to mend their pace. Taking Jane’s trembling hand, Eldred hurried on, but their pursuers gained upon them, and he distinguished the voice of Donald.
          ‘Stop, villain!’ he cried, ‘yield up your prize, or this moment you breathe your last.’
          They were now so close, that all escape was hopeless. Eldred, therefore, like to the forest lion when at bay, placed himself before his fair companion, and drawing his sword, prepared to meet his foes. Andrew followed his example; exclaiming, ‘It’s a hard battle where none escape!
          The Lord of the Isles, whose impatience quickened his steps, first came up and attacked his rival. They fought with valor, and Glencairn was on the point of gaining the victory, when he received a wound in the back, that brought him drowned in gore upon the earth, at which Jane uttered a piercing cry, and sunk lifeless on his body, while the follower of our unfortunate hero being disarmed, was fast bound and gagged, and with the lady, whom they forced from her lover, conveyed to the Castle.
          Eldred recovering from the swoon, wherein loss of blood had cast him, found himself deprived of his adored Jane, and manacled in chains; at which rage and indignation renewed his strength.
          ‘Cowardly assassin!’ he cried, ‘thou disgrace to knighthood, who canst not rely on the strength of thine own arm, but causest these, thy myrmidonian crew, basely to lend thee aid! Free me from this hated bondage, restore my arms, renew the combat, and let the victor be rewarded with the charms of Jane.’
          ‘Fool!’ retorted Donald, ‘thinkest thou I will play for that, which is my own already? No! the female thou dost mention is within my power, even now she enters my mansion, never to retrace her steps, till by the holy forge of matrimony she is linked to me. For thee, rash stripling, in a deep dungeon shalt thou expiate thy audacity. Could thy presumption prompt thee to imagine thy shallow brain could defeat the schemes of Donald?’


[SOURCE: John Palmer, Jun., The Haunted Cavern: A Caledonian Tale (London: B. Crosby, 1796), pp. 115–25]


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