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Chapter XX The Heiress of the Kerrs
 While Archie was speaking Marjory had sat down on a fallen tree. She had not slept the night before, and had been anxious and agitated the whole day. The excitement had kept her up; but she now felt completely worn out, and accepted without protest Archie's decision that a halt must be made.  
The men were already gathering sticks, and a bright fire soon blazed near the spot where she had seated herself. Ere long some venison steaks were broiled in the flames. At Archie's earnest request Marjory tried to eat, but could with difficulty swallow a few morsels. A bower of green boughs was quickly made for her, and the ground thickly piled with fresh bracken, and Marjory was in a very few minutes sound asleep after the fatigue and excitement of the day.
With the first dawn of morning the men were on their feet. Fresh sticks were thrown on the fire and breakfast prepared, for the march would be a long and wearisome one.
"Breakfast is ready, Mistress Marjory," Archie said, approaching the bower.
"And I am ready too," the girl said blithely as she appeared at the entrance. "The sleep has done wonders for me, and I feel brave and fresh again. I fear you must have thought me a terrible coward yesterday; but it all seemed so dreadful, such a wild and wicked thing to do, that I felt quite overwhelmed. Today you will find me ready for anything."
"I could never think you a coward," Archie said, "after you faced the anger of that terrible uncle of yours for my sake; or rather," he added, "for the sake of your word. And now I hope you will eat something, for we have a long march through the forest and hills before us."
"Don't fear that I shall tire," she said. "I am half a mountaineer myself, and, methinks, can keep on my feet as long as any man."
The meal was hastily eaten, and then the party started on their way.
"I have been wondering," the girl said, as with light steps she kept pace with Archie's longer strides, "how you came to know that I was in the convent."
Archie looked surprised.
"How should I know, Mistress Marjory, but through your own messenger?"
"My own messenger!" Marjory exclaimed. "You are jesting, Sir Archie."
"I am not so, fair lady," he said. "Surely you must remember that you sent a messenger to me, with word that you were captive at St. Kenneth and needed my aid?"
The girl stopped for a moment in her walk and gazed at her companion as if to assure herself that he was in earnest. "You must be surely dreaming, Sir Archie," she said, as she continued the walk, "for assuredly I sent you no such message."
"But, lady," Archie said, holding out his hand, "the messenger brought me as token that he had come from you this ring which I had given you, vowing that should you call me to your aid I would come immediately, even from a stricken field."
The blood had rushed into the girl's face as she saw the ring. Then she turned very pale. "Sir Archibald Forbes," she said in a low tone, after walking for a minute or two in silence, "I feel disgraced in your eyes. How forward and unmaidenly must you have thought me thus to take advantage of a vow made from the impulse of sudden gratitude."
"No, indeed, lady," Archie said hotly. "No such thought ever entered my mind. I should as soon doubt the holy Virgin herself as to deem you capable of aught but what was sweet and womanly. The matter seemed to me simple enough. You had saved my life at great peril to yourself, and it seemed but natural to me that in your trouble, having none others to befriend you, your thoughts should turn to one who had sworn to be to the end of his life your faithful knight and servant. But," he went on more lightly, "since you yourself did not send me the ring and message, what good fairy can have brought them to me?"
"The good fairy was a very bad one," the girl said shortly, "and I will rate him soundly when I see him for thus adventuring without my consent. It is none other than Father Anselm; and yet," she added, "he has suffered so much on my behalf that I shall have to forgive him. After your escape my uncle in his passion was well nigh hanging the good priest in spite of his holy office, and drove him from the castle. He kept me shut up in my room for many weeks, and then urged upon me the marriage with his son. When he found that I would not listen to it he sent me to St. Kenneth, and there I have remained ever since. Three weeks ago Father Anselm came to see me. He had been sent for by Alexander of Lorne, who, knowing the influence he had with me, begged him to undertake the mission of inducing me to bend to his will. As he knew how much I hated John of Lorne, the good priest wasted not much time in entreaties; but he warned me that it had been resolved that unless I gave way my captivity, which had hitherto been easy and pleasant, would be made hard and rigorous, and that I would be forced into accepting John of Lorne as a husband. When he saw that I was determined not to give in, the good priest certainly hinted" (and here she coloured again hotly) "that you would, if sent for, do your best to carry me off. Of course I refused to listen to the idea, and chided him for suggesting so unmaidenly a course. He urged it no further, and I thought no more of the matter. The next day I missed my ring, which, to avoid notice, I had worn on a little ribbon round my neck. I thought at the time the ribbon must have broken and the ring been lost, and for a time I made diligent search in the garden for it; but I doubt not now that the traitor priest, as I knelt before him to receive his blessing on parting, must have severed the ribbon and stolen it."
"God bless him!" Archie said fervently. "Should he ever come to Aberfilly the warmest corner by the fire, the fattest capon, and the best stoop of wine from the cellar shall be his so long as he lives. Why, but for him, Lady Marjory, you might have worn out months of your life in prison, and have been compelled at last to wed your cousin. I should have been a miserable man for life."
The girl laughed.
"I would have given you a week, Sir Archie, and no more; that is the extreme time which a knight in our days can be expected to mourn for the fairest lady; and now," she went on, changing the subject, "think you we shall reach the pass across the Grampians before night?"
"If all goes well, lady, and your feet will carry you so far, we shall be there by eventide. Unless by some chance encounter we need have no fear whatever of pursuit. It will have been daylight before the news of your flight fairly spread through the country, though, doubtless, messengers were sent off at once in all directions; but it would need an army to scour these woods, and as they know not whether we have gone east, west, north, or south, the chance is faint indeed of any party meeting us, especially as we have taken so straight a line that they must march without a pause in exactly the right direction to come up with us."
At nightfall the party camped again on the slope of the Grampians, and the following morning crossed by the pass of Killiecrankie and made toward Perth.
The next night Marjory slept in a peasant's cottage, Archie and his companions lying down without. Wishing to avoid attention, Archie purchased from the peasant the Sunday clothes of his daughter, who was about the same age and size as Marjory.
When they reached Perth he bought a strong horse, with saddle and pillion; and with Marjory behind him, and his band accompanying him on foot, he rode for Stirling. When he neared the town he heard that the king was in the forest of Falkirk, and having consulted Marjory as to her wishes rode directly thither.
Bruce, with his followers, had arrived but the day before, and had taken up his abode at the principal house of a village in the forest. He came to the door when he heard the trampling of a horse.
"Ah! Sir Archie, is it you safely returned, and, as I half expected, a lady?"
"This, sire," Archie said, dismounting, "is Mistress Marjory MacDougall, of whom, as you have heard me say, I am the devoted knight and servant. She has been put in duress by Alexander of Lorne because in the first place she was a true Scots woman and favoured your cause, and because in the second place she refused to espouse his son John. I have borne her away from the convent of St. Kenneth, and as I used no force in doing so no sacrilege has been committed. I have brought her to you in all honour and courtesy, as I might a dear sister, and I now pray you to place her under the protection of the wife of one of your knights, seeing that she has no friends and natural protectors here. Then, when she has time to think, she must herself decide upon her future."
The king assisted Marjory to dismount.
"Fair mistress," he said, "Sir Archibald Forbes is one of the bravest and truest of my knights, and in the hands of none might you more confidently place your honour. Assuredly I will do as he asks me, and will place you under the protection of Dame Elizabeth Graham, who is now within, having ridden hither to see her husband but this morning. But I trust," he added, with a meaning smile, "that you will not long require her protection."
The king entered the house with Marjory, while Archie, with his band, rejoined the rest of his party, who were still with the king. After having seen that the wants of those who had accompanied him had been supplied he returned to the royal quarters. The king met him at the door, and said, with a merry smile on his face:
"I fear me, Sir Archie, that all my good advice with regard to Mistress Mary Kerr has been wasted, and that you are resolved to make this Highland damsel, the niece of my arch enemy Alexander of Lorne, your wife."
"If she will have me," Archie said stoutly, "such assuredly, is my intent; but of that I know nothing, seeing that, while she was under my protection, it would have been dishonourable to have spoken of love; and I know nought of her sentiments toward me, especially seeing that she herself did not, as I had hoped, send for me to come to her aid, and was indeed mightily indignant that another should have done so in her name."
"Poor Sir Archie!" the king laughed. "Though a man, and a valorous one in stature and in years, you are truly but a boy yet in these matters. It needed but half an eye to see by the way she turned pale and red when you spoke to her that she loves you. Now look you, Sir Archie,............
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