Part 7 out of 8
prove effectual. If not, he still trusted that his absence from
Scotland upon an important and honourable mission might give time
for prejudices to die away; while he hoped and trusted Miss
Ashton's constancy, on which he had the most implicit reliance,
would baffle any effort that might be used to divert her
attachment. Much more there was, which, however interesting to
the lovers themselves, would afford the reader neither interest
nor information. To each of these three letters the Master of
Ravenswood received an answer, but by different means of
conveyance, and certainly couched in very different styles.
Lady Ashton answered his leetter by his own messenger, who was
not allowed to remain at Ravenswood a moment longer than she was
engaged in penning these lines. "For the hand of Mr.
Ravenswood of Wolf's Crag--These:
"I have received a letter, signed 'Edgar, Master of
Ravenswood,' concerning the writer whereof I am uncertain, seeing
that the honours of such a family were forfeited for high reason
in the person of Allan, late Lord Ravenswood. Sir, if you shall
happen to be the person so subscribing yourself, you will please
to know, that I claim the full interest of a parent in Miss Lucy
Ashton, which I have disposed of irrevocably in behalf of a
worthy person. And, sir, were this otherwise, I would not listen
to a proposal from you, or any of your house, seeing their hand
has been uniformly held up against the freedom of the subject and
the immunities of God's kirk. Sir, it is not a flightering blink
of prosperity which can change my constant opinion in this
regard, seeing it has been my lot before now, like holy David, to
see the wicked great in power and flourishing like a green bay-
tree; nevertheless I passed, and they were not, and the place
thereof knew them no more. Wishing you to lay these things to
your heart for your own sake, so far as they may concern you, I
pray you to take no farther notice of her who desires to remain
your unknown servant,
About two days after he had received this very
unsatisfactory epistle, the Master of Ravenswood, while walking
up the High Street of Edinburgh, was jostled by a person, in
whom, as the man pulled off his hat to make an apology, he
recognized Lockhard, the confidential domestic of Sir William
Ashton. The man bowed, slipt a letter into his hand, and
disappeared. The packet contained four close-written folios,
from which, however, as is sometimes incident to the compositions
of great lawyers, little could be extracted, excepting that the
writer felt himself in a very puzzling predicament.
Sir William spoke at length of his high value and regard for his
dear young friend, the Master of Ravenswood, and of his very
extreme high value and regard for the Marquis of A----, his very
dear old friend; he trusted that any measures that they might
adopt, in which he was concerned, would be carred on with due
regard to the sanctity of decreets and judgments obtained in
foro contentioso; protesting, before men and angels, that if the
law of Scotland, as declared in her supreme courts, were to
undergo a reversal in the English House of Lords, the evils which
would thence arise to the public would inflict a greater wound
upon his heart than any loss he might himself sustain by such
irregular proceedings. He flourished much on generosity and
forgiveness of mutual injuries, and hinted at the mutability of
human affairs, always favourite topics with the weaker party in
politics. He pathetically lamented, and gently censured, the
haste which had been used in depriving him of his situation of
Lord Keeper, which his experience had enabled him to fill with
some advantage to the public, without so much as giving him an
opportunity of explaining how far his own views of general
politics might essentially differ from those now in power. He
was convinced the Marquis of A---- had as sincere intentions
towards the public as himself or any man; and if, upon a
conference, they could have agreed upon the measures by which it
was to be pursued, his experience and his interest should have
gone to support the present administration. Upon the engagement
betwixt Ravenswood and his daughter, he spoke in a dry and
confused manner. He regretted so premature a step as the
engagement of the young people should have been taken, and
conjured the Master to remember he had never given any
encouragement thereunto; and observed that, as a transaction
inter minores, and without concurrence of his daughter's
natural curators, the engagement was inept, and void in law.
This precipitate measure, he added, had produced a very bad
effect upon Lady Ashton's mind, which it was impossible at
present to remove. Her son, Colonel Douglas Ashton, had embraced
her prejudices in the fullest extent, and it was impossible for
Sir William to adopt a course disagreeable to them without a
fatal and irreconcilable breach in his family; which was not at
present to be thought of. Time, the great physician, he hoped,
would mend all.
In a postscript, Sir William said something more explicitly,
which seemed to intimate that, rather than the law of Scotland
should sustain a severe wound through his sides, by a reversal of
the judgment of her supreme courts, in the case of the barony of
Ravenswood, through the intervention of what, with all
submission, he must term a foreign court of appeal, he himself
would extrajudically consent to considerable sacrifices.
From Lucy Ashton, by some unknown conveyance, the Master
received the following lines: "I received yours, but it was at
the utmost risk; do not attempt to write again till better
times. I am sore beset, but I will be true to my word, while the
exercise of my reason is vouchsafed to me. That you are happy
and prosperous is some consolation, and my situation requires it
all." The note was signed "L.A."
This letter filled Ravenswood with the most lively alarm. He
made many attempts, notwithstanding her prohibition, to convey
letters to Miss Ashton, and even to obtain an interview; but his
plans were frustrated, and he had only the mortification to learn
that anxious and effectual precautions had been taken to prevent
the possibility of their correspondence. The Master was the
more distressed by these circumstances, as it became impossible
to delay his departure from Scotland, upon the important mission
which had been confided to him. Before his departure, he put Sir
William Ashton's letter into the hands of the Marquis of A----,
who observed with a smile, that Sir William's day of grace was
past, and that he had now to learn which side of the hedge the
sun had got to. It was with the greatest difficulty that
Ravenswood extorted from the Marquis a promise that he would
compromise the proceedings in Parliament, providing Sir William
should be disposed to acquiesce in a union between him and Lucy
"I would hardly," said the Marquis, "consent to your
throwing away your birthright in this manner, were I not
perfectly confident that Lady Ashton, or Lady Douglas, or
whatever she calls herself, will, as Scotchmen say, keep her
threep; and that her husband dares not contradict her."
"But yet," said the Master, "I trust your lordship will consider
my engagement as sacred."
"Believe my word of honour," said the Marquis, "I would be a
friend even to your follies; and having thus told you MY
opinion, I will endeavour, as occasion offers, to serve you
according to your own."
The master of Ravenswood could but thank his generous kinsman
and patron, and leave him full power to act in all his affairs.
He departed from Scotland upon his mission, which, it was
supposed, might detain him upon the continent for some months.
Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her.
TWELVE months had passed away since the Master of
Ravenswood's departure for the continent, and, although his
return to Scotland had been expected in a much shorter space, yet
the affairs of his mission, or, according to a prevailing report,
others of a nature personal to himself, still detained him
abroad. In the mean time, the altered state of affairs in Sir
William Ashton's family may be gathered from the following
conversation which took place betwixt Bucklaw and his
confidential bottle companion and dependant, the noted Captain
Craigengelt. They were seated on either side of the huge
sepulchral-looking freestone chimney in the low hall at
Girnington. A wood fire blazed merrily in the grate; a round
oaken table, placed between them, supported a stoup of excellent
claret, two rummer glasses, and other good cheer; and yet, with
all these appliances and means to boot, the countenance of the
patron was dubious, doubtful, and unsatisfied, while the
invention of his dependant was taxed to the utmost to parry what
he most dreaded, a fit, as he called it, of the sullens, on the
part of his protector. After a long pause, only interrupted by
the devil's tattoo, which Bucklaw kept beating against the hearth
with the toe of his boot, Craigengelt at last ventured to break
silence. "May I be double distanced," said he, "if ever I saw a
man in my life have less the air of a bridegroom! Cut me out of
feather, if you have not more the look of a man condemned to be
"My kind thanks for the compliment," replied Bucklaw; "but I
suppose you think upon the predicament in which you yourself are
most likely to be placed; and pray, Captain Craigengelt, if it
please your worship, why should I look merry, when I'm sad, and
devilish sad too?"
"And that's what vexes me," said Craigengelt. "Here is this
match, the best in the whole country, andwhich were so anxious
about, is on the point of being concluded, and you are as sulky
as a bear that has lost its whelps."
"I do not know," answered the Laird, doggedly, "whether I should
conclude or not, if it was not that I am too far forwards to leap
"Leap back!" exclaimed Craigengelt, with a well-assumed air of
astonishment, "that would be playing the back-game with a
witness! Leap back! Why, is not the girl's fortune----"
"The young lady's, if you please," said Hayston,
"Well--well, no disrespect meant. Will Miss Ashton's tocher not
weigh against any in Lothian?"
"Granted," answered Bucklaw; "but I care not a penny for her
tocher; I have enough of my own."
"And the mother, that loves you like her own child?"
"Better than some of her children, I believe," said Bucklaw, "or
there would be little love wared on the matter."
"And Colonel Sholto Douglas Ashton, who desires the marriage
above all earthly things?"
"Because," said Bucklaw, "he expects to carry the county of ----
through my interest."
"And the father, who is as keen to see the match concluded as
ever I have been to win a main?"
"Ay," said Bucklaw, in the same disparaging manner, "it lies
with Sir William's policy to secure the next best match, since he
cannot barter his child to save the great Ravenswood estate,
which the English House of Lords are about to wrench out of his
"What say you to the young lady herself?" said Craigengelt; "the
finest young woman in all Scotland, one that you used to be so
fond of when she was cross, and now she consents to have you,
and gives up her engagement with Ravenswood, you are for jibbing.
I must say, the devil's in ye, when ye neither know what you
would have nor what you would want."
"I'll tell you my meaning in a word," answered Bucklaw, getting
up and walking through the room; "I want to know what the devil
is the cause of Miss Ashton's changing her mind so
"And what need you care," said Craigengelt, "since the change is
in your favour?"
"I'll tell you what it is," returned his patron, "I never knew
much of that sort of fine ladies, and I believe they may be as
capricious as the devil; but there is something in Miss Ashton's
change a devilish deal too sudden and too serious for a mere
flisk of her own. I'll be bound, Lady Ashton understands every
machine for breaking in the human mind, and there are as many as
there are cannon-bit, martingales, and cavessons for young
"And if that were not the case," said Craigengelt, "how the
devil should we ever get them into training at all?"
"And that's true too," said Bucklaw, suspending his march
through the dining-room, and leaning upon the back of a chair.
"And besides, here's Ravenswood in the way still, do you think
he'll give up Lucy's engagement?"
"To be sure he will," answered Craigengelt; "what good can it do
him to refuse, since he wishes to marry another woman and she
"And you believe seriously," said Bucklaw, "that he is going to
marry the foreign lady we heard of?"
"You heard yourself," answered Craigengelt, "what Captain
Westenho said about it, and the great preparation made for their
"Captain Westenho," replied Bucklaw, "has rather too much of
your own cast about, Craigie, to make what Sir William would call
a 'famous witness.' He drinks deep, plays deep, swears deep, and
I suspect can lie and cheat a little into the bargain; useful
qualities, Craigie, if kept in their proper sphere, but which
have a little too much of the freebooter to make a figure in a
court of evidence."
"Well, then," said Craigengelt, "will you believe Colonel
Douglas Ashton, who heard the Marquis of A---- say in a public
circle, but not aware that he was within ear-shot, that his
kinsman had made a better arrangement for himself than to give
his father's land for the pale-cheeked daughter of a broken-down
fanatic, and that Bucklaw was welcome to the wearing of
Ravenswood's shaughled shoes."
"Did he say so, by heavens!" cried Bucklaw, breaking out into
one of those incontrollable fits of passion to which he was
constitutionally subject; "if I had heard him, I would have torn
the tongue out of his throat before all his peats and minions,
and Highland bullies into the bargain. Why did not Ashton run
him through the body?"
"Capot me if I know," said the Captain. "He deserved it sure
enough; but he is an old man, and a minister of state, and there
would be more risk than credit in meddling with him. You had
more need to think of making up to Miss Lucy Ashton the disgrace
that's like to fall upon her than of interfering with a man too
old to fight, and on too high a tool for your hand to reach him."
"It SHALL reach him, though, one day," said Bucklaw, "and his
kinsman Ravenswood to boot. In the mean time, I'll take care
Miss Ashton receives no discredit for the slight they have put
upon her. It's an awkward job, however, and I wish it were
ended; I scarce know how to talk to her,--but fill a bumper,
Craigie, and we'll drink her health. It grows late, and a night-
cowl of good claret is worth all the considering-caps in Europe."
It was the copy of our conference.
In bed she slept not, for my urging it;
At board she fed not, for my urging it;
Alone, it was the subject of my theme;
In company I often glanced at it.
Comedy of Errors.
THE next morning saw Bucklaw and his faithful Achates,
Craigengelt, at Ravenswood Castle. They were most courteously
received by the knight and his lady, as well, as by their son
and heir, Colonel Ashton. After a good deal of stammering and
blushing--for Bucklaw, notwithstanding his audacity in other
matters, had all the sheepish bashfulness common to those who
have lived little in respectable society--he contrived at length
to explain his wish to be admitted to a conference with Miss
Ashton upon the subject of their approaching union. Sir William
and his son looked at Lady Ashton, who replied with the greatest
composure, "That Lucy would wait upon Mr. Hayston directly. I
hope," she added with a smile, "that as Lucy is very young, and
has been lately trepanned into an engagement of which she is now
heartily ashamed, our dear Bucklaw will excuse her wish that I
should be present at their interview?"
"In truth, my dear lady," said Bucklaw, "it is the very thing
that I would have desired on my own account; for I have been so
little accustomed to what is called gallantry, that I shall
certainly fall into some cursed mistake unless I have the
advantage of your ladyship as an interpreter."
It was thus that Bucklaw, in the perturbation of his
embarrassment upon this critical occasion, forgot the just
apprehensions he had entertained of Lady Ashton's overbearing
ascendency over her daughter's mind, and lost an opportunity of
ascertaining, by his own investigation, the real state of Lucy's
The other gentlemen left the room, and in a shrot time Lady
Ashton, followed by her daughter, entered the apartment. She
appeared, as he had seen her on former occasions, rather
composed than agitated; but a nicer judge than he could scarce
have determined whether her calmness was that of despair or of
indifference. Bucklaw was too much agitated by his own feelings
minutely to scrutinise those of the lady. He stammered out an
unconnected address, confounding together the two or three topics
to which it related, and stopt short before he brought it to any
regular conclusion. Miss Ashton listened, or looked as if she
listened, but returned not a single word in answer, continuing to
fix her eyes on a small piece of embroidery on which, as if by
instinct or habit, her fingers were busily employed. Lady Ashton
sat at some distance, almost screened from notice by the deep
embrasure of the window in which she had placed her chair. From
this she whispered, in a tone of voice which, though soft and
sweet, had something in it of admonition, if not command: "Lucy,
my dear, remember--have you heard what Bucklaw has been saying?"
The idea of her mother's presence seemed to have slipped from
the unhappy girl's recollection. She started, dropped her
needle, and repeated hastily, and almost in the same breath, the
contradictory answers: "Yes, madam--no, my lady--I beg pardon, I
did not hear."
"You need not blush, my love, and still less need you look so
pale and frightened," said Lady Ashton, coming forward; "we know
that maiden's ears must be slow in receiving a gentleman's
language; but you must remember Mr. Hayston speaks on a subject
on which you have long since agreed to give him a favourable
hearing. You know how much your father and I have our hearts set
upon an event so extremely desirable."
In Lady Ashton's voice, a tone of impressive, and even stern,
innuendo was sedulously and skilfully concealed under an
appearance of the most affectionate maternal tenderness. The
manner was for Bucklaw, who was easily enough imposed upon; the
matter of the exhortation was for the terrified Lucy, who well
knew how to interpret her mother's hints, however skilfully their
real purport might be veiled from general observation.
Miss Ashton sat upright in her chair, cast round her a glance in
which fear was mingled with a still wilder expression, but
remained perfectly silent. Bucklaw, who had in the mean time
paced the room to and fro, until he had recovered his composure,
now stopped within two or three yards of her chair, and broke out
as follows: "I believe I have been a d--d fool, Miss Ashton; I
have tried to speak to you as people tell me young ladies like to
be talked to, and I don't think you comprehend what I have been
saying; and no wonder, for d--n me if I understand it myself!
But, however, once for all, and in broad Scotch, your father and
mother like what is proposed, and if you can take a plain young
fellow for your husband, who will never cross you in anything you
have a mind to, I will place you at the head of the best
establishment in the three Lothians; you shall have Lady
Girnington's lodging in the Canongate of Edinburgh, go where you
please, do what you please, and see what you please--and that's
fair. Only I must have a corner at the board-end for a worthless
old playfellow of mine, whose company I would rather want than
have, if it were not that the d--d fellow has persuaded me that I
can't do without him; and so I hope you won't except against
Craigie, although it might be easy to find much better company."
"Now, out upon you, Bucklaw," said Lady Ashton, again
interposing; "how can you think Lucy can have any objection to
that blunt, honest, good-natured creature, Captain Craigengelt?"
"Why, madam," replied Bucklaw, "as to Craigie's sincerity,
honesty, and good-nature, they are, I believe, pretty much upon a
par; but that's neither here nor there--the fellow knows my ways,
and has got useful to me, and I cannot well do without him, as I
said before. But all this is nothing to the purpose; for since I
have mustered up courage to make a plain proposal, I would fain
hear Miss Ashton, from her own lips, give me a plain answer."
"My dear Bucklaw," said Lady Ashton, "let me spare Lucy's
bashfulness. I tell you, in her presence, that she has already
consented to be guided by her father and me in this matter.
Lucy, my love," she added, with that singular combination of
suavity of tone and pointed energy which we have already noticed-
-"Lucy, my dearest love! speak for yourself, is it not as I say?"
Her victim answered in a tremulous and hollow voice: "I HAVE
promised to obey you--but upon one condition."
"She means," said Lady Ashton, turning to Bucklaw, "she expects
an answer to the demand which she has made upon the man at
Vienna, or Ratisbon, or Paris--or where is he?--for
restitution of the engagement in which he had the art to involve
her. You will not, I am sure, my dear friend, think it is wrong
that she should feel much delicacy upon this head; indeed, it
concerns us all."
"Perfetly right--quite fair," said Bucklaw, half humming, half
speaking the end of the old song--
"It is best to be off wi' the old love
Before you be on wi' the new.
But I thought," said he, pausing, "you might have had an answer
six times told from Ravenswood. D--n me, if I have not a mind to
go fetch one myself, if Miss Ashton will honour me with the
"By no means," said Lady Ashton; "we have had the utmost
difficulty of preventing Douglas, for whom it would be more
proper, from taking so rash a step; and do you think we could
permit you, my good friend, almost equally dear to us, to go to a
desperate man upon an errand so desperate? In fact, all the
friends of the family are of opinion, and my dear Lucy herself
ought so to think, that, as this unworthy person has returned no
answer to her letter, silence must on this, as in other cases,
be held to give consent, and a contract must be supposed to be
given up, when the party waives insisting upon it. Sir William,
who should know best, is clear upon this subject; and therefore,
my dear Lucy----"
"Madam," said Lucy, with unwonted energy, "urge me no farther;
if this unhappy engagement be restored, I have already said you
shall dispose of me as you will; till then I should commit a
heavy sin in the sight of God and man in doing what you
"But, my love, if this man remains obstinately silent----"
"He will NOT be silent," answered Lucy; "it is six weeks since
I sent him a double of my former letter by a sure hand."
"You have not--you could not--you durst not," said Lady Ashton,
with violence inconsistent with the tone she had intended to
assume; but instantly correcting herself, "My dearest Lucy,"
said she, in her sweetest tone of expostulation, "how could you
think of such a thing?"
"No matter," said Bucklaw; "I respect Miss Ashton for her
sentiments, and I only wish I had been her messenger myself."
"And pray how long, Miss Ashton," said her mother,
ironically, "are we to wait the return of your Pacolet--your
fairy messenger--since our humble couriers of flesh and blood
could not be trusted in this matter?"
"I have numbered weeks, days, hours, and minutes," said Miss
Ashton; "within another week I shall have an answer, unless he is
dead. Till that time, sir," she said, addressing Bucklaw, "let
me be thus far beholden to you, that you will beg my mother to
forbear me upon this subject."
"I will make it my particular entreaty to Lady Ashton," said
Bucklaw. "By my honour, madam, I respect your feelings; and,
although the prosecution of this affair be rendered dearer to me
than ever, yet, as I am a gentleman, I would renounce it, were it
so urged as to give you a moment's pain."
"Mr. Hayston, I think, cannot comprehend that," said Lady
Ashton, looking pale with anger, "when the daughter's happiness
lies in the bosom of the mother. Let me ask you, Miss Ashton, in
what terms your last letter was couched?"
"Exactly in the same, madam," answered Lucy, "which you dictated
on a former occasion."
"When eight days have elapsed, then," said her mother, resuming
her tone of tenderness, "we shall hope, my dearest love, that you
will end this suspense."
"Miss Ashton must not be hurried, madam," said Bucklaw, whose
bluntness of feeling did not by any means arise from want of
good-nature; "messengers may be stopped or delayed. I have
known a day's journey broke by the casting of a foreshoe. Stay,
let me see my calendar: the twentieth day from this is St.
Jude's, and the day before I must be at Caverton Edge, to see the
match between the Laird of Kittlegirth's black mare and Johnston
the meal-monger's four-year-old-colt; but I can ride all night,
or Craigie can bring me word how the match goes; and I hope, in
the mean time, as I shall not myself dstress Miss Ashton with any
further importunity, that your ladyship yourself, and Sir
William, and Colonel Douglas will have the goodness to allow her
uninterrupted time for making up her mind."
"Sir," said Miss Ashton, "you are generous."
"As for that, madam," answered Bucklaw, "I only pretend to be a
plain, good-humoured young fellw, as I said before, who will
willingly make you happy if you will permit him, and show him how
to do so."
Having said this, he saluted her with more emotion than was
consistent with his usual train of feeling, and took his leave;
Lady Ashton, as she accompanied him out of the apartment,
assuring him thta her daughter did full justice to the sincerity
of his attachment, and requesting him to see Sir William before
his departure, "since," as she said, with a keen glance reverting
towards Lucy, "against St. Jude's day, we must all be ready to
SIGN AND SEAL."
"To sign and seal!" echoed Lucy, in a muttering tone, as the
door of the apartment closed--"to sign and seal--to do and die!"
and, clasping her extenuated hands together, she sunk back on
the easy-chair she occupied, in a state resembling stupor.
From this she was shortly after awakened by the boisterous entry
of her brother Henry, who clamorously reminded her of a promise
to give him two yards of carnation ribbon to make knots to his
new garters. With the most patient composure Lucy arose, and
opening a little ivory cabinet, sought out the ribbon the lad
waned, measured it accurately, cut it off into proper lengths,
and knotted it into the fashion his boyish whim required.
"Dinna shut the cabinet yet," said Henry, "for I must have some
of your silver wire to fasten the bells to my hawk's
jesses,--and yet the new falcon's not worth them neither; for do
you know, after all the plague we had to get her frm an eyrie,
all the way at Posso, in Mannor Water, she's going to prove,
after all, nothing better than a rifler: she just wets her
singles in the blood of the partridge, and then breaks away, and
lets her fly; and what good can the poor bird do after that, you
know, except pine and die in the first heather-cow or whin-bush
she can crawl into?"
"Right, Henry--right--very right," said Luch, mournfully,
holding the boy fast by the hand, after she had given him the
wire he wanted; "but there are more riflers in the world than
your falcon, and more wounded birds that seek but to die in
quiet, that can find neither brake nor whin-bush to hide their
"Ah! that's some speech out of your romances," said the boy;
"and Sholto says they have turned your head. But I hear Norman
whistling to the hawk; I must go fasten on the jesses."
And he scampered away with the thoughtless gaiety of
boyhood, leaving his sister to the bitterness of her own
"It is decreed," she said, "that every living creature, even
those who owe me most kindness, are to shun me, and leave me to
those by whom I am beset. It is just it should be thus. Alone
and uncounselled, I involved myself in these perils; alone and
uncounselled, I must extricate myself or die."
What doth ensue
But moody and dull melancholy,
Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair,
And at her heel, a huge infectious troop
Of pale distemperatures, and foes to life?
Comedy of Errors.
AS some vindication of the ease with which Bucklaw (who
otherwise, as he termed himself, was really a very good-humoured
fellow) resigned his judgment to the management of Lady Ashton,
while paying his addresses to her daughter, the reader must call
to mind the strict domestic discipline which, at this period, was
exercised over the females of a Scottish family.
The manners of the country in this, as in many other
respects, coincided with those of France before the Revolution.
Young women of the higher rank seldom mingled in society until
after marriage, and, both in law and fact, were held to be under
the strict tutelage of their parents, who were too apt to enforce
the views for their settlement in life without paying any regard
to the inclination of the parties chiefly interested. On such
occasions, the suitor expected little more from his bride than a
silent acquiescence in the will of her parents; and as few
opportunities of acquaintance, far less of intimacy, occurred, he
made his choice by the outside, as the lovers in the Merchant of
Venice select the casket, contented to trust to chance the issue
of the lottery in which he had hazarded a venture.
It was not therefore surprising, such being the general manners
of the age, that Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw, whom dissipated habits
had detached in some degree from the best society, should not
attend particularly to those feelings in his elected bride to
which many men of more sentiment, experience, and reflection
would, in all probability, have been equally indifferent. He
knew what all accounted the principal point, that her parents and
friends, namely, were decidedly in his favour, and that there
existed most powerful reasons for their predilection.
In truth, the conduct of the Marquis of A----, since
Ravenswood's departure, had been such as almost to bar the
possibility of his kinsman's union with Lucy Ashton. The Marquis
was Ravenswood's sincere but misjudging friend; or rather, like
many friends and patrons, he consulted what he considered to be
his relation's true interest, although he knew that in doing so
he run counter to his inclinations.
The Marquis drove on, therefore, with the plentitude of
ministerial authority, an appeal to the British House of Peers
against those judgments of the courts of law by which Sir William
became possessed of Ravenswood's hereditary property. As this
measure, enforced with all the authority of power, was new in
Scottish judicial proceedings, though now so frequently resorted
to, it was exclaimed against by the lawyers on the opposite side
of politics, as an interference with the civil judicature of the
country, equally new, arbitrary, and tyrannical. And if it thus
affected even strangers connected with them only by political
party, it may be guessed what the Ashton family themselves said
and thought under so gross a dispensation. Sir William, still
more worldly-minded than he was timid, was reduced to despair by
the loss by which he was threatened. His son's haughtier spirit
was exalted into rage at the idea of being deprived of his
expected patrimony. But to Lady Ashton's yet more vindictive
temper the conduct of Ravenswood, or rather of his patron,
appeared to be an offence challenging the deepest and most
immortal revenge. Even the quiet and confiding temper of Lucy
herself, swayed by the opinions expressed by all around her,
could not but consider the conduct of Ravenswood as precipitate,
and even unkind. "It was my father," she repeated with a sigh,
"who welcomed him to this place, and encouraged, or at least
allowed, the intimacy between us. Should he not have remembered
this, and requited it with at least some moderate degree of
procrastination in the assertion of his own alleged rights? I
would have forfeited for him double the value of these lands,
which he pursues with an ardour that shows he has forgotten how
much I am implicated in the matter."
Lucy, however, could only murmur these things to herself,
unwilling to increase the prejudices against her lover
entertained by all around her, who exclaimed against the steps
pursued on his account as illegal, vexatious, and tyrannical,
resembling the worst measures in the worst times of the worst
Stuarts, and a degradation of Scotland, the decisions of whose
learned judges were thus subjected to the review of a court
composed indeed of men of the highest rank, and who were not
trained to the study of any municipal law, and might be supposed
specially to hold in contempt that of Scotland. As a natural
consequence of the alleged injustice meditated towards her
father, every means was restored to, and every argument urged to
induce Miss Ashton to break off her engagement with Ravenswood,
as being scandalous, shameful, and sinful, formed with the mortal
enemy of her family, and calculated to add bitterness to the
distress of her parents.
Lucy's spirit, however, was high, and, although unaided and
alone, she could have borne much: she could have endured the
repinings of her father; his murmurs against what he called the
tyrannical usage of the ruling party; his ceaseless charges of
ingratitude against Ravenswood; his endless lectures on the
various means by which contracts may be voided an annulled; his
quotations from the civil, municipal, and the canon law; and his
prelections upon the patria potestas.
She might have borne also in patience, or repelled with scorn,
the bitter taunts and occasional violence of her brother,
Colonel Douglas Ashton, and the impertinent and intrusive
interference of other friends and relations. But it was beyond
her power effectually to withstand or elude the constant and
unceasing persecution of Lady Ashton, who, laying every other
wish aside, had bent the whol efforts of her powerful mind to
break her daughter's contract with Ravenswood, and to place a
perpetual bar between the lovers, by effecting Lucy's union with
Bucklaw. Far more deeply skilled than her husband in the
recesses of the human heart, she was aware that in this way she
might strike a blow of deep and decisive vengeance upon one whom
she esteemed as her mortal enemy; nor did she hestitate at
raising her arm, although she knew that the wound must be dealt
through the bosom of her daughter. With this stern and fixed
purpose, she sounded every deep and shallow of her daughter's
soul, assumed alternately every disguise of manner which could
serve her object, and prepared at leisure every species of dire
machinery by which the human mind can be wrenched from its
settled determination. Some of these were of an obvious
description, and require only to be cursorily
mentioned; others were characteristic of the time, the country,
and the persons engaged in this singular drama.
It was of the last consequence that all intercourse betwixt the
lovers should be stopped, and, by dint of gold and authority,
Lady Ashton contrived to possess herself of such a complete
command of all who were placed around her daughter, that, if
fact, no leaguered fortress was ever more completely blockaded;
while, at the same time, to all outward appearance Miss Ashton
lay under no restriction. The verge of her parents' domains
became, in respect to her, like the viewless and enchanted line
drawn around a fairy castle, where nothing unpermitted can either
enter from without or escape from within. Thus every letter, in
which Ravenswood conveyed to Lucy Ashton the indispensable
reasons which detained him abroad, and more than one note which
poor Lucy had addressed to him through what she thought a secure
channel, fell into the hands of her mother. It could not be but
that the tenor of these intercepted letters, especially those of
Ravenswood, should contain something to irritate the passions and
fortify the obstinacy of her into whose hands they fell; but Lady
Ashton's passions were too deep-rooted to require this fresh
food. She burnt the papers as regularly as she perused them; and
as they consumed into vapour and tinder, regarded them with a
smile upon her compressed lips, and an exultation in her steady
eye, which showed her confidence that the hopes of the writers
should soon be rendered equally unsubstantial.
It usually happens that fortune aids the machinations of those
who are prompt to avail themselves of every chance that offers.
A report was wafted from the continent, founded, like others of
the same sort, upon many plausible circumstances, but without any
real basis, stating the Master of Ravenswood to be on the eve of
marriage with a foreign lady of fortune and
distinction. This was greedily caught up by both the political
parties, who were at once struggling for power and for popular
favour, and who seized, as usual, upon the most private
circumstances in the lives of each other's partisans t convert
them into subjects of political discussion.
The Marquis of A---- gave his opinion aloud and publicly, not
indeed in the coarse terms ascribed to him by Captain
Craigengelt, but in a manner sufficiently offensive to the
Ashtons. "He thought the report," he said, "highly probably, and
heartily wished it might be true. Such a match was fitter and
far more creditable for a spirited young fellow than a marriage
with the daughter of an old Whig lawyer, whose chicanery had so
nearly ruined his father."
The other party, of course, laying out of view the
opposition which the Master of Ravenswood received from Miss
Ashton's family, cried shame upon his fickleness and perfidy, as
if he had seduced the young lady into an engagement, and wilfully
and causelessly abandoned her for another.
Sufficient care was taken that this report should find its way
to Ravenswood Castle through every various channel, Lady Ashton
being well aware that the very reiteration of the same rumour,
from so many quarters, could not but give it a semblance of
truth. By some it was told as a piece of ordinary news, by some
communicated as serious intelligence; now it was whispered to
Lucy Ashton's ear in the tone of malignant pleasantry, and now
transmitted to her as a matter of grave and serious warning.
Even the boy henry was made the instrument of adding to his
sister's torments. One morning he rushed into the room with a
willow branch in his hand, which he told her had arrived that
instant from Germany for her special wearing. Lucy, as we have
seen, was remarkably fond of her younger brother, and at that
moment his wanton and thoughtless unkindness seemed more keenly
injurious than even the studied insults of her elder brother.
Her grief, however, had no shade of resentment; she folded her
arms about the boy's neck, and saying faintly, "Poor Henry! you
speak but what they tell you" she burst into a flood of
unrestrained tears. The boy was moved, notwithstanding the
thoughtlessness of his age and character. "The devil take me,"
said he, "Lucy, if I fetch you any more of these tormenting
messages again; for I like you better," said he, kissing away the
tears, "than the whole pack of them; and you shall have my grey
pony to ride on, and you shall canter him if you like--ay, and
ride beyond the village, too, if you have a mind."
"Who told you," said Lucy, "that I am not permitted to ride
where I please?"
"That's a secret," said the boy; "but you will find you can
never ride beyond the village but your horse will cast a she, or
fall lame, or the catle bell will ring, or something will happen
to bring you back. But if I tell you more of these things,
Douglas will nto get me the pair of colours they have promised
me, and so good-morrow to you."
This dialogue plunged Lucy in still deeper dejection, as it
tended to show her plainly what she had for some time suspected,
that she was little better than a prisoner at large in her
father's house. We have described her in the outsdet of our
story as of a romantic disposition, delighting in tales of love
and wonder, and readily identifying herself with the situation of
those legendary heroines with whose adventures, for want of
better reading, her memory had become stocked. The fairy wand,
with which in her solitude she had delighted to raise visions of
enchantment, became now the rod of a magician, the bond slave pof
evil genii, serving only to invoke spectres at which the exorcist
trembled. She felt herself the object of suspicion, of scorn, of
dislike at least, if not of hatred, to her own family; and it
seemed to her that she was abandoned by the very person on whose
account she was exposed to the enmity of all around her. Indeed,
the evidence of Ravenswood's infidelity began to assume every day
a more determined character. A soldier of fortune, of the name
of Westenho, an old familiar of Craigengelt's, chanced to arrive
from abroad about this time. The worthy Captian, though without
any precise communication with Lady Ashton, always acted most
regularly and sedulously in support of her plans, and easily
prevailed upon his friend, by dint of exaggeration of real
coining of others, to give explicit testimony to the truth of
Ravenswood's approaching marriage.
Thus beset on all hands, and in a manner reduced to despair,
Lucy's temper gave way under the pressure of constant affliction
and persecution. She became gloomy and abstracted, and,
contrary to her natural and ordinary habit of mind, sometimes
turned with spirit, and even fierceness, on those by whom she was
long and closely annoyed. Her health also began to be shaken,
and her hectic cheek and wandering eye gave symptoms of what is
called a fever upon the spirits. In most mothers this would have
moved compassion; but Lady Ashton, compact and firm of purpose,
saw these waverings of health and intellect with no greater
sympathy than that with which the hostile engineer regards the
towers of a beleaguered city as they reel under the discharge of
his artillery; or rather, she considered these starts and
inequalities of temper as symptoms of Lucy's expiring resolution;
as the angler, by the throes and convulsive exertions of the fish
which he has hooked, becomes aware that he soon will be able to
land him. To accelerate the catastrophe in the present case,
Lady Ashton had recourse to an expedient very consistent with the
temper and credulity of those times, but which the reader will
probably pronounce truly detestable and diabolical.
In which a witch did dwell, in loathly weeds,
And wilful want, all careless of her deeds;
So choosing solitary to abide,
Far from all neighbours, that her devilish deeds
And hellish arts from people she might hide,
And hurt far off, unknown, whome'er she envied.
THE health of Lucy Ashton soon required the assistance of a
person more skilful in the office of a sick-nurse than the female
domestics of the family. Ailsie Gourlay, sometimes called the
Wise Woman of Bowden, was the person whom, for her own strong
reasons, Lady Ashton selected as an attendant upon her daughter.
This woman had acquired a considerable reputation among the
ignorant by the pretended cures which she performed, especially
in "oncomes," as the Scotch call them, or mysterious diseases,
which baffle the regular physician. Her pharmacopoeia consisted
partly of herbs selected in planetary hours, partly of words,
signs, and charms, which sometimes, perhaps, produced a
favourable influence upon the imagination of her patients. Such
was the avowed profession of Luckie Gourlay, which, as may well
be supposed, was looked upon with a suspicious eye, not only by
her neighbours, but even by the clergy of the district. In
private, however, she traded more deeply in the occult sciences;
for, notwithstanding the dreadful punishments inflicted upon the
supposed crime of witchcraft, there wanted not those who, steeled
by want and bitterness of spirit, were willing to adopt the
hateful and dangerous character, for the sake of the influence
which its terrors enabled them to exercise in the vicinity, and
the wretched emolument which they could extract by the practice
of their supposed art.
Ailsie Gourlay was not indeed fool enough to acknowledge a
compact with the Evil One, which would have been a swift and
ready road to the stake and tar-barrel. Her fairy, she said,
like Caliban's, was a harmless fairy. Nevertheless, she "spaed
fortunes," read dreams, composed philtres, discovered stolen
goods, and made and dissolved matches as successfully as if,
according to the belief of the whole neighbourhood, she had been
aided in those arts by Beelzebub himself. The worst of the
pretenders to these sciences was, that they were generally
persons who, feeling themselves odious to humanity, were careless
of what they did to deserve the public hatred. Real crimes were
often committed under pretence of magical imposture; and it
somewhat relieves the disgust with which we read, in the criminal
records, the conviction of these wretches, to be aware that many
of them merited, as poisoners, suborners, and diabolical agents
in secret domestic crimes, the severe fate to which they were
condemned for the imaginary guilt of witchcraft.
Such was Aislie Gourlay, whom, in order to attain the absolute
subjugation of Lucy Ashton's mind, her mother thought it fitting
to place near her person. A woman of less consequence than Lady
Ashton had not dared to take such a step; but her high rank and
strength of character set her above the censure of the world, and
she was allowed to have seleced for her daughter's attendant the
best and most experienced sick-nurse and
"mediciner" in the neighbourhood, where an inferior person would
have fallen under the reproach of calling in the assistance of a
partner and ally of the great Enemy of mankind.
The beldam caught her cue readily and by innuendo, without
giving Lady Ashton the pain of distinct explanation. She was in
many respects qualified for the part she played, which indeed
could not be efficiently assumed without some knowledge of the
human heart and passions. Dame Gourlay perceived that Lucy
shuddered at her external appearance, which we have already
described when we found her in the death-chamber of blind Alice;
and while internally she hated the poor girl for the involuntary
horror with which she saw she was regarded, she commenced her
operations by endeavouring to efface or overcome those prejudices
which, in her heart, she resented as mortal offences. This was
easily done, for the hag's external ugliness was soon balanced by
a show of kindness and interest, to which Lucy had of late been
little accustomed; her attentive services and real skill gained
her the ear, if not the confidence, of her patient; and under
pretence of diverting the solitude of a sick-room, she soon led
her attention captive by the legends in which she was well
skilled, and to which Lucy's habit of reading and reflection
induced her to "lend an attentive ear." Dame Gourlay's tales
were at first of a mild and
Of fays that nightly dance upon the wold,
And lovers doom'd to wander and to weep,
And castles high, where wicked wizards keep
Their captive thralls.
Gradually, however, they assumed a darker and more
mysterious character, and became such as, told by the midnight
lamp, and enforced by the tremulous tone, the quivering and livid
lip, the uplifted skinny forefinger, and the shaking head of the
blue-eyed hag, might have appalled a less credulous imagination
in an age more hard of belief. The old Sycorax saw her
advantage, and gradually narrowed her magic circle around the
devoted victim on whose spirit she practised. Her legends began
to relate to the fortunes of the Ravenswood family, whose ancient
grandeur and portentous authority credulity had graced with so
many superstitious attributes. The story of the fatal fountain
was narrated at full length, and with formidable additions, by
the ancient sibyl. The prophecy, quoted by Caleb, concerning the
dead bride who was to be won by the last of the Ravenswoods, had
its own mysterious commentary; and the singular circumstance of
the apparition seen by the Master of Ravenswood in the forest,
having partly transpired through his hasty inquiries in the
cottage of Old Alice, formed a theme for many exaggerations.
Lucy might have despised these tales if they had been related
concerning another family, or if her own situation had been less
despondent. But circumstanced as she was, the idea that an evil
fate hung over her attachment became predominant over her other
feelings; and the gloom of superstition darkened a mind already
sufficiently weakned by sorrow, distress, uncertainty, and an
oppressive sense of desertion and desolation. Stories were told
by her attendant so closely resembling her own in their
circumstances, that she was gradually led to converse upon such
tragic and mystical subjects with the beldam, and to repose a
sort of confidence in the sibyl, whom she still regarded with
involuntary shuddering. Dame Gourlay knew how to avail herself
of this imperfect confidence. She directed Lucy's thoughts to
the means of inquiring into futurity--the surest mode perhaps, of
shaking the understanding and destroying the spirits. Omens were
expounded, dreams were interpreted, and other tricks of jugglery
perhaps resorted to, by which the pretended adepts of the period
deceived and fascinated their deluded followers. I find it
mentioned in the articles of dittay against Ailsie Gourlay--for
it is some comfort to know that the old hag was tried, condemned,
and burned on the top of North Berwick Law, by sentence of a
commission from the privy council--I find, I say, it was charged
against her, among other offences, that she had, by the aid and
delusions of Satan, shown to a young person of quality, in a
mirror glass, a gentleman then abroad, to whom the said young
person was betrothed, and who appeared in the vision to be in the
act of bestowing his hand upon another lady. But this and some
other parts of the record appear to have been studiously left
imperfect in names and dates, probably out of regard to the
honour of the families concerned. If Dame Gourlay was able
actually to play off such a piece of jugglery, it is clear she
must have had better assistance to practise the
deception than her own skill or funds could supply. Meanwhile,
this mysterious visionary traffic had its usual effect in
unsettling Miss Ashton's mind. Her temper became unequal, her
health decayed daily, her manners grew moping, melancholy, and
uncertain. her father, guessing partly at the cause of these
appearances, made a point of banishing Dame Gourlay from the
castle; but the arrow was shot, and was rankling barb-deep in the
side of the wounded deer.
It was shortly after the departure of this woman, that Lucy
Ashton, urged by her parents, announced to them, with a vivacity
by which they were startled, "That she was concious heaven and
earth and hell had set themselves against her union with
Ravenswood; still her contract," she said, "was a binding
contract, and she neither would nor could resign it without the
consent of Ravenswood. Let me be assured," she concluded, "that
he will free me from my engagement, and dispose of me as you
please, I care not how. When the diamonds are gone, what
signifies the casket?"
The tone of obstinacy with which this was said, her eyes
flashingt with unnatural light, and her hands firmly clenched,
precluded the possibility of dispute; and the utmost length which
Lady Ashton's art could attain, only got her the privilege of
dictating the letter, by which her daughter required to know of
Ravenswood whether he intended to abide by or to surrender what
she termed "their unfortuante engagement." Of this advantage
Lady Ashton so far and so ingeniously availed herself that,
according to the wording of the letter, the reader would have
supposed Lucy was calling upon her lover to renounce a contract
which was contrary to the interests and inclinations of both.
Not trusting even to this point of deception, Lady Ashton finally
determined to suppress the letter altogether, in hopes that
Lucy's impatience would induce her to condemn Ravenswood unheard
and in absence. In this she was disappointed. The time, indeed,
had long elapsed when an answer should have been received from
the continent. The faint ray of hope which still glimmered in
Lucy's mind was well nigh extinguished. But the idea never
forsook her that her letter might not have been duly forwarded.
One of her mother's new machinations unexpectedly furnished her
with the means of ascertaining what she most desired to know.
The female agent of hell having been dismissed from the castle,
Lady Ashton, who wrought by all variety of means,
resolved to employ, for working the same end on Lucy's mind, an
agent of a very different character. This was no other than the
Reverent Mr. Bide-the-Bent, a presbyterian clergyman, formerly
mentioned, of the very strictest order and the most rigid
orthodoxy, whose aid she called in, upon the principle of the
tyrant in the in the tragedy:
I'll have a priest shall preach her from her faith,
And make it sin not to renounce that vow
Which I'd have broken.
But Lady Ashton was mistaken in the agent she had selected. His
prejudices, indeed, were easily enlisted on her side, and it was
no difficult matter to make him regard with horror the prospect
of a union betwixt the daughter of a God-fearing, professing, and
Presbyterian family of distinction and the heir of a bloodthirsty
prelatist and persecutor, the hands of whose fathers had been
dyed to the wrists in the blood of God's saints. This resembled,
in the divine's opinion, the union of a Moabitish stranger with a
daughter of Zion. But with all the more severe prejudices and
principles of his sect, Bide-the-Bent possessed a sound judgment,
and had learnt sympathy even in that very school of presecution
where the heart is so frequently hardened. In a private
interview with Miss Ashton, he was deeply moved by her distress,
and could not but admit the justice of her request to be
permitted a direct communication with Ravenswood upon the subject
of their solemn contract. When she urged to him the great
uncertainty under which she laboured whether her letter had been
ever forwarded, the old man paced the room with long steps, shook
his grey head, rested repeatedly for a space on his ivory-headed
staff, and, after much hesitation, confessed that he thought her
doubts so reasonable that he would himself aid in the removal of
"I cannot but opine, Miss Lucy," he said, "that your
worshipful lady mother hath in this matter an eagerness whilk,
although it ariseth doubtless from love to your best interests
here and hereafter, for the man is of persecuting blood, and
himself a persecutor, a Cavalier or Malignant, and a scoffer, who
hath no inheritance in Jesse; nevertheless, we are commanded to
do justice unto all, and to fulfil our bond and covenant, as well
to the stranger as to him who is in brotherhood with us.
Wherefore myself, even I myself, will be aiding unto the delivery
of your letter to the man Edgar Ravenswood, trusting that the
issue therof may be your deliverance from the nets in which he
hath sinfully engaged you. And that I may do in this neither
more nor less than hath been warranted by your honourable
parents, I pray you to transcribe, without increment or
subtraction, the letter formerly expeded under the dictation of
your right honourable mother; and I shall put it into such sure
course of being delivered, that if, honourable young madam, you
shall receive no answer, it will be necessary that you conclude
that the man meaneth in silence to abandon that naughty
contract, which, peradventure, he may be unwilling directly to
Lucy eagerly embraced the expedient of the worthy divine. A new
letter was written in the precise terms of the former, and
consigned by Mr. Bide-the-Bent to the charge of Saunders
Moonshine, a zealous elder of the church when on shore, and when
on board his brig as bold a smuggler as ever ran out a sliding
bowsprit to the winds that blow betwixt Campvere and the east
coast of Scotland. At the recommendation of his pastor, Saunders
readily undertook that the letter should be securely conveyed to
the Master of Ravenswood at the court where he now resided.
This retrospect became necessary to explain the conference
betwixt Miss Ashton, her mother, and Bucklaw which we have
detailed in a preceding chapter.
Lucy was now like the sailor who, while drifting through a
tempestuous ocean, clings for safety to a single plank, his
powers of grasping it becoming every moment more feeble, and the
deep darkness of the night only checkered by the flashes of
lightning, hissing as they show the white tops of the billows, in
which he is soon to be engulfed.
Week crept away after week, and day after day. St. Jude's day
arrived, the last and protracted term to which Lucy had limited
herself, and there was neither letter nor news of
How fair these names, how much unlike they look
To all the blurr'd subscriptions in my book!
The bridegroom's letters stand in row above,
Tapering, yet straight, like pine-trees in his grove;
While free and fine the bride's appear below,
As light and slender as her jessamines grow.
ST. JUDE's day came, the term assigned by Lucy herself as the
furthest date of expectation, and, as we have already said,
there were neither letters from nor news of Ravenswood. But
there were news of Bucklaw, and of his trusty associate
Craigengelt, who arrived early in the morning for the completion
of the proposed espousals, and for signing the necessary deeds.
These had been carefully prepared under the revisal of Sir
William Ashton himself, it having been resolved, on account of
the state of Miss Ashton's health, as it was said, that none
save the parties immediately interested should be present when
the parchments were subscribed. It was further determined that
the marriage should be solemnised upon the fourth day after
signing the articles, a masure adopted by Lady Ashton, in order
that Lucy might have as little time as possible to recede or
relapse into intractability. There was no appearance, however,
of her doing either. She heard the proposed arrangement with the
calm indifference of despair, or rather with an apathy arising
from the oppressed and stupified state of her feelings. To an
eye so unobserving as that of Bucklaw, her demeanour had little
more of reluctance than might suit the character of a bashful
young lady, who, however, he could not disguise from himself, was
complying with the choice of her friends rather than exercising
any personal predilection in his favour.
When the morning compliment of the bridegroom had been paid,
Miss Ashton was left for some time to herself; her mother
remarking, that the deeds must be signed before the hour of noon,
in order that the marriage might be happy. Lucy suffered herself
to be attired for the occasion as the taste of her attendants
suggested, and was of course splendidly arrayed. Her dress was
composed of white satin and Brussels lace, and her hair arranged
with a profusion of jewels, whose lustre made a strange contrast
to the deadly paleness of her complexion, and to the trouble
which dwelt in her unsettled eye.
Her toilette was hardly finished ere Henry appeared, to conduct
the passive bride to the state apartment, where all was prepared
for signing the contract. "Do you know, sister," he said, "I am
glad you are to have Bucklaw after all, instead of Ravenswood,
who looked like a Spanish grandee come to cute our throats and
trample our bodies under foot. And I am glad the broad seas are
between us this day, for I shall never forget how frightened I
was when I took him for the picture of old Sir Malise walked out
of the canvas. Tell me true, are you not glad to be fairly shot
"Ask me no questions, dear Henry," said his unfortunate sister;
"there is little more can happen to make me either glad or sorry
in this world."
"And that's what all young brides say," said Henry; "and so do
not be cast down, Lucy, for you'll tell another tale a
twelvemonth hence; and I am to be bride's-man, and ride before
you to the kirk; and all our kith, kin, and allies, and all
Bucklaw's, are to be mounted and in order; and I am to have a
scarlet laced coat, and a feathered hat, and a swordbelt, double
bordered with gold, and point d'Espagne, and a dagger instead
of a sword; and I should like a sword much better, but my father
won't hear of it. All my things, and a hundred besides, are to
come out from Edinburgh to-night with old Gilbert and the sumpter
mules; and I will bring them and show them to you the instant
The boy's chatter was here interrupted by the arrival of Lady
Ashton, somewhat alarmed at her daughter's stay. With one of her
sweetest smiles, she took Lucy's arm under her own.
There were only present, Sir William Ashton and Colonel Douglas
Ashton, the last in full regimentals; Bucklaw, in bridegroom
trim; Craigengelt, freshly equipt from top to toe by the bounty
of his patron, and bedizened with as much lace as might have
become the dress of the Copper Captain; together with the Rev.
Mr. Bide-the-Bent; the presence of a minister being, in strict
Presbyterian families, an indispensable requisite upon all
occasions of unusual solemnity.
Wines and refreshments were placed on a table, on which the
writings were displayed, ready for signature.
But before proceeding either to business or refreshment, Mr.
Bide-the-Bent, at a signal from Sir William Ashton, invited the
company to join him in a short extemporary prayer, in which he
implored a blessing upon the contract now to be solemnised
between the honourable parties then present. With the simplicity
of his times and profession, which permitted strong personal
allusions, he petitioned that the wounded mind of one of these
noble parties might be healed, in reward of her compliance with
the advice of her right honourable parents; and that, as she had
proved herself a child after God's commandment, by honouring her
father and mother, she and hers might enjoy the promised
blessing--length of days in the land here, and a happy portion
hereafter in a better country. He prayed farther, that the
bridegroom might be weaned from those follies which seduced youth
from the path of knowledge; that he might cease to take delight
in vain and unprofitable company, scoffers, rioters, and those
who sit late at the wine (here Bucklaw winked at Craigengelt),
and cease from the society that causeth to err. A suitable
supplication in behalf of Sir William and Lady Ashton and their
family concluded this religious address, which thus embraced
every individual present excepting Craigengelt, whom the worthy
divine probably considered as past all hopes of grace.
The business of the day now went forward: Sir William Ashton
signed the contract with legal solemnity and precision; his son,
with military nonchalance; and Bucklaw, having
subscribed as rapidly as Craigengelt could manage to turn the
leaves, concluded by wiping his pen on that worthy's new laced
cravat. It was now Miss Ashton's turn to sign the writings, and
she was guided by her watchful mother to the table for that
purpose. At her first attempt, she began to write with a dry
pen, and when the circumstance was pointed out, seemed unable,
after several attempts, to dip it in the massive silver ink-
standish, which stood full before her. Lady Ashton's vigilance
hastened to supply the deficiency. I have myself seen the fatal
deed, and in the distinct characters in which the name of Lucy
Ashton is traced on each page there is only a very slight
irregularity, indicative of her state of mind at the time of the
subscription. But the last signature is incomplete, defaced, and
blotted; for, while her hand was employed in tracing it, the
hasty tramp of a horse was heard at the gate, succeeded by a step
in the outer gallery, and a voice which, in a commanding tone,
bore down the opposition of the menials. The pen dropped from
Lucy's fingers, as she exclaimed with a faint shriek: "He is
come--he is come!"
This by his tongue should be a Montague!
Fetch me my rapier, boy;
Now, by the faith and honour of my kin,
To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
Romeo and Juliet.
HARDLY had Miss Ashton dropped the pen, when the door of the
apartment flew open, and the Master of Ravenswood entered the
Lockhard and another domestic, who had in vain attempted to
oppose his passage through the gallery or antechamber, were seen
standing on the threshold transfixed with surprise, which was
instantly communicated to the whole party in the staterroom.
That of Colonel Douglas Ashton was mingled with resentment; that
of Bucklaw with haughty and affected indifference; the rest, even
Lady Ashton herself, showed signs of fear; and Lucy seemed
stiffened to stone by this unexpected apparition. Apparition it
might well be termed, for Ravenswood had more the appearance of
one returned from the dead than of a living visitor.
He planted himself full in the middle of the apartment, opposite
to the table at which Lucy was seated, on whom, as if she had
been alone in the chamber, he bent his eyes with a mingled
expression of deep grief and deliberate indignation. His dark-
coloured riding cloak, displaced from one shoulder, hung around
one side of his person in the ample folds of the Spanish mantle.
The rest of his rich dress was travel-soiled, and
deranged by hard riding. He had a sword by his side, and pistols
in his belt. His slouched hat, which he had not removed at
entrance, gave an additional gloom to his dark features, which,
wasted by sorrow and marked by the ghastly look communicated by
long illness, added to a countenance naturally somewhat stern and
wild a fierce and even savage expression. The matted and
dishevelled locks of hair which escaped from under his hat,
together with his fixed and unmoved posture, made his head more
resemble that of a marble bust than that of a living man. He
said not a single word, and there was a deep silence in the
company for more than two minutes.
It was broken by Lady Ashton, who in that space partly recovered
her natural audacity. She demanded to know the cause of this
"That is a question, madam," said her son, "which I have the
best right to ask; and I must request of the Master of Ravenswood
to follow me where he can answer it at leisure."
Bucklaw interposed, saying, "No man on earth should usurp his
previous right in demanding an explanation from the Master.
Craigengelt," he added, in an undertone, "d--n ye, why do you
stand staring as if you saw a ghost? fetch me my sword from the
"I will relinquish to none," said Colonel Ashton, "my right of
calling to account the man who has offered this unparalleled
affront to my family."
"Be patient, gentlemen," said Ravenswood, turning sternly
towards them, and waving his hand as if to impose silence on
their altercation. "If you are as weary of your lives as I am,
I will find time and place to pledge mine against one or both;
at present, I have no leisure for the disputes of triflers."
"Triflers!" echoed Colonel Ashton, half unsheathing his sword,
while Bucklaw laid his hand on the hilt of that which
Craigengelt had just reached him.
Sir William Ashton, alarmed for his son's safety, rushed between
the young men and Ravenswood, exclaiming: "My son, I command you-
-Bucklaw, I entreat you--keep the peace, in the name of the Queen
and of the law!"
"In the name of the law of God," said Bide-the-Bent,
advancing also with uplifted hands between Bucklaw, the Colonel,
and the object of their resentment--"in the name of Him who
brought peace on earth and good-will to mankind, I implore--I
beseech--I command you to forbear violence towards each other!
God hateth the bloodthirsty man; he who striketh with the sword
shall perish with the sword."
"Do you take me for a dog, sir" said Colonel Ashton, turning
fiercely upon him, "or something more brutally stupid, to endure
this insult in my father's house? Let me go, Bucklaw! He shall
account to me, or, by Heavens, I will stab him where he stands!"
"You shall not touch him here," said Bucklaw; "he once gave me
my life, and were he the devil come to fly away with the whole
house and generation, he shall have nothing but fair play."
The passions of the two young men thus counteracting each other
gave Ravenswood leisure to exclaim, in a stern and steady voice:
"Silence!--let him who really seeks danger take the fitting time
when it is to be found; my mission here will be shortly
accomplished. Is THAT your handwriting, madam?" he added in a
softer tone, extending towards Miss Ashton her last letter.
A faltering "Yes" seemed rather to escape from her lips than to
be uttered as a voluntary answer.
"And is THIS also your handwriting?" extending towards her the
Lucy remained silent. Terror, and a yet stronger and more
confused feeling, so utterly disturbed her understanding that she
probably scarcely comprehended the question that was put to her.
"If you design," said Sir William Ashton, "to found any legal
claim on that paper, sir, do not expect to receive any answer to
an extrajudicial question."
"Sir William Ashton," said Ravenswood, "I pray you, and all who
hear me, that you will not mistake my purpose. If this young
lady, of her own free will, desires the restoration of this
contract, as her letter would seem to imply, there is not a
withered leaf which this autumn wind strews on the heath that is
more valueless in my eyes. But I must and will hear the truth
from her own mouth; without this satisfaction I will not leave
this spot. Murder me by numbers you possibly may; but I am an
armed man--I am a desperate man, and I will nto die without ample
vengeance. This is my resolution, take it as you may. I WILL
hear her determination from her own mouth; from her own mouth,
alone, and without witnesses, will I hear it. Now, choose," he
said, drawing his sword with the right hand, and, with the left,
by the same motion taking a pistol from his belt and cocking it,
but turning the point of one weapon and the muzzle of the other
to the ground--"choose if you will have this hall floated with
blood, or if you will grant me the decisive interview with my
affianced bride which the laws of God and the country alike
entitle me to demand."
All recoiled at the sound of his voice and the determined action
by which it was accompanied; for the ecstasy of real desperation
seldom fails to overpower the less energetic
passions by which it may be opposed. The clergyman was the first
to speak. "In the name of God," he said, "receive an overture of
peace from the meanest of His servants. What this honourable
person demands, albeit it is urged with over violence, hath yet
in it something of reason. Let him hear from Miss Lucy's own
lips that she hath dutifully acceded to the will of her parents,
and repenteth her of her covenant with him; and when he is
assured of this he will depart in peace unto his own dwelling,
and cumber us no more. Alas! the workings of the ancient Adam
are strong even in the regenerate; surely we should have long-
suffering with those who, being yet in the gall of bitterness and
bond of iniquity, are swept forward by the uncontrollable current
of worldly passion. Let, then, the Master of Ravenswood have the
interview on which he insisteth; it can but be as a passing pang
to this honourable maiden, since her faith is now irrevocably
pledged to the choice of her parents. Let it, I say, be this: it
belongeth to my functions to entreat your honours' compliance
with this headling overture."
"Never!" answered Lady Ashton, whose rage had now overcome her
first surprise and terror--"never shall this man speak in
private with my daughter, the affianced bride of another! pass
from this room who will, I remain here. I fear neither his
violence nor his weapons, though some, " she said, glancing a
look towards Colonel Ashton, "who bear my name appear more moved
"For God's sake, madam," answered the worthy divine, "add not
fuel to firebrands. The Master of Ravenswood cannot, I am sure,
object to your presence, the young lady's state of health being
considered, and your maternal duty. I myself will also tarry;
peradventure my grey hairs may turn away wrath."
"You are welcome to do so, sir," said Ravenswood; "and Lady
Ashton is also welcome to remain, if she shall think proper; but
let all others depart."
"Ravenswood," said Colonel Ashton, crossing him as he went out,
"you shall account for this ere long."
"When you please," replied Ravenswood.
"But I," said Bucklaw, with a half smile, "have a prior demand
on your leisure, a claim of some standing."
"Arrange it as you will," said Ravenswood; "leave me but this
day in peace, and I will have no dearer employment on earth to-
morrow than to give you all the satisfaction you can desire."
The other gentlemen left the apartment; but Sir William Ashton
"Master of Ravenswood," he said, in a conciliating tone, "I
think I have not deserved that you should make this scandal and
outrage in my family. If you will sheathe your sword, and retire
with me into my study, I will prove to you, by the most
satisfactory arguments, the inutility of your present irregular
"To-morrow, sir--to-morrow--to-morrow, I will hear you at
length," reiterated Ravenswood, interrupting him; "this day hath
its own sacred and indispensable business."
He pointed to the door, and Sir William left the apartment.
Ravenswood sheathed his sword, uncocked and returned his pistol
to his belt; walked deliberately to the door of the apartment,
which he bolted; returned, raised his hat from his forehead, and
gazing upon Lucy with eyes in which an expression of sorrow
overcame their late fierceness, spread his dishevelled locks back
from his face, and said, "Do you know me, Miss
Ashton? I am still Edgar Ravenswood." She was silent, and he
went on with increasing vehemence: "I am still that Edgar
Ravenswood who, for your affection, renounced the dear ties by
which injured honour bound him to seek vengeance. I am that
Ravenswood who, for your sake, forgave, nay, clasped hands in
friendship with, the oppressor and pillager of his house, the
traducer and murderer of his father."
"My daughter," answered Lady Ashton, interrupting him, "has no
occasion to dispute the identity of your person; the venom of
your present language is sufficient to remind her that she
speaks with the moral enemy of her father."
"I pray you to be patient, madam," answered Ravenswood; "my
answer must come from her own lips. Once more, Miss Lucy Ashton,
I am that Ravenswood to whom you granted the solemn engagement
which you now desire to retract and cancel."
Lucy's bloodless lips could only falter out the words, "It was
"She speaks truly," said Lady Ashton, "it WAS I who,
authorised alike by the laws of God and man, advised her, and
concurred with her, to set aside an unhappy and precipitate
engagement, and to annul it by the authority of Scripture
"Scripture!" said Ravenswood, scornfully.
"Let him hear the text," said Lady Ashton, appealing to the
divine, "on which you yourself, with cautious reluctance,
declared the nullity of the pretended engagement insisted upon by
this violent man."
The clergyman took his clasped Bible from his pocket, and read
the following words: "If a woman vow a vow unto the Lord, and
bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her
youth, and her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she
hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her;
then all her vows shall stand, and every vow wherewith she hath
bound her soul shall stand."
"And was it not even so with us?" interrrupted Ravenswood.
"Control thy impatience, young man," answered the divine, "and
hear what follows in the sacred text: 'But if her father
disallow her in the day that he heareth, not any of her vows, or
of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand; and
the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her."
"And was not," said Lady Ashton, fiercely and triumphantly
breaking in--"was not ours the case stated in the Holy Writ?
Will this person deny, that the instant her parents heard of the
vow, or bond, by which our daughter had bound her soul, we
disallowed the same in the most express terms, and informed him
by writing of our determination?"
"And is this all?" said Ravenswood, looking at Lucy. "Are you
willing to barter sworn faith, the exercise of free will, and
the feelings of mutual affection to this wretched hypocritical
"Hear him!" said Lady Ashton, looking to the clergyman--"hear
"May God forgive him," said Bide-the-Bent, "and enlighten his
"Hear what I have sacrificed for you," said Ravenswood, still
addressing Lucy, "ere you sanction what has been done in your
name. The honour of an ancient family, the urgent advice of my
best friends, have been in vain used to sway my resolution;
neither the arguments of reason nor the portents of superstition
have shaken my fidelity. The very dead have arisen to warn me,
and their warning has been despised. Are you
prepared to pierce my heart for its fidelity with the very weapon
which my rash confidence entrusted to your grasp?"
"Master of Ravenswood," said Lady Ashton, "you have asked what
questions you thought fit. You see the total incapacity of my
daughter to answer you. But I will reply for her, and in a
manner which you cannot dispute. You desire to know whether Lucy
Ashton, of her own free will, desires to annual the engagement
into which she has been trepanned. You have her letter under her
own hand, demanding the surrender of it; and, in yet more full
evidence of her purpose, here is the contract which she has this
morning subscribed, in presence of this reverence gentleman, with
Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw."
Ravenswood gazed upon the deed as if petrified. "And it was
without fraud or compulsion," said he, looking towards the
clergyman, "that Miss Ashton subscribed this parchment?"
"I couch it upon my sacred character."
"This is indeed, madam, an undeniable piece of evidence," said
Ravenswood, sternly; "and it will be equally unnecessary and
dishonourable to waste another word in useless remonstrance or
reproach. There, madam," he said, laying down before Lucy the
signed paper and the broken piece of gold--"there are the
evidences of your first engagement; may you be more faithful to
that which you have just formed. I will trouble you to return
the corresponding tokens of my ill-placed confidence; I ought
rather to say, of my egregious folly."
Lucy returned the scornful glance of her lover with a gaze from
which perception seemed to have been banisshed; yet she seemed
partly to have understood his meaning, for she raised her hands
as if to undo a blue ribbon which she wore around her neck. She
was unable to accomplish her purpose, but Lady Ashton cut the
ribbon asunder, and detached the broken piece of gold, which Miss
Ashton had till then worn concealed in her bosom; the written
counterpart of the lovers' engagement she for some time had had
in her own possession. With a haughty courtesy, she delivered
both to Ravenswood, who was much
softened when he took the piece of gold.
"And she could wear it thus," he said, speaking to himself--
"could wear it in her very bosom--could wear it next to her
heart--even when---- But complain avails not," he said, dashing
from his eye the tear which had gathered in it, and resuming the
stern composure of his manner. He strode to the chimney, and
threw into the fire the paper and piece of gold, stamping upon
the coals with the heel of his boot, as if to ensure their
destruction. "I will be no longer," he then said, "an intruder
here. Your evil wishes, and your worse offices, Lady Ashton, I
will only return by hoping these will be your last machinations
against your daughter's honour and happiness. And to you,
madam," he said, addressing Lucy, "I have nothing farther to say,
except to pray to God that you may not become a world's wonder
for this act of wilful and deliberate perjury." Having uttered
these words, he turned on his heel and left the apartment.
Sir William Ashton, by entreaty and authority, had detained his
son and Bucklaw in a distant part of the castle, in order to
prevent their again meeting with Ravenswood; but as the Master
descended the great staircase, Lockhard delivered him a billet,
signed "Sholto Douglas Ashton," requesting to know where the
Master of Ravenswood would be heard of four or five days from
hence, as the writer had business of weight to settle with him,
so soon as an important family event had taken place.
"Tell Colonel Ashton," said Ravenswood, composedly, "I shall be
found at Wolf's Crag when his leisure serves him."
As he descended the outward stair which led from the
terrace, he was a second time interrupted by Craigengelt, who, on
the part of his principal, the Laird of Bucklaw, expressed a
hope that Ravenswood would not leave Scotland within ten days at
least, as he had both former and recent civilities for which to
express his gratitude.
"Tell your master," said Ravenswood, fiercely, "to choose his own
time. He will find me at Wolf's Crag, if his purpose is not
"MY master!" replied Craigengelt, encouraged by seeing Colonel
Ashton and Bucklaw at the bottom of the terrace. "Give me leave
to say I know of no such person upon earth, nor will I permit
such language to be used to me!"
"Seek your master, then, in hell!" exclaimed Ravenswood, giving
way to the passion he had hitherto restrained, and
throwing Craigengelt from him with such violence that he rolled
down the steps and lay senseless at the foot of them. "I am a
fool," he instantly added, "to vent my passion upon a caitiff so
He then mounted his horse, which at his arrival he had secured
to a balustrade in front of the castle, rode very slowly past
Bucklaw and Colonel Ashton, raising his hat as he passed each,
and looking in their faces steadily while he offered this mute
salutation, which was returned by both with the same stern
gravity. Ravenswood walked on with equal deliberation until he
reached the head of the avenue, as if to show that he rather
courted than avoided interruption. When he had passed the upper
gate, he turned his horse, and looked at the castle with a fixed
eye; then set spurs to his good steed, and departed with the
speed of a demon dismissed by the exorcist.
Who comes from the bridal chamber?
It is Azrael, the angel of death.
AFTER the dreadful scene that had taken place at the castle,
Lucy was transported to her own chamber, where she remained for
some time in a state of absolute stupor. Yet afterwards, in the
course of the ensuing day, she seemed to have recovered, not
merely her spirits and resolution, but a sort of flighty levity,
that was foreign to her character and situation, and which was at
times chequered by fits of deep silence and melancholy and of
capricious pettishness. Lady Ashton became much alarmed and
consulted the family physicians. But as her pulse indicated no
change, they could only say that the disease was on the spirits,
and recommended gentle exercise and
amusement. Miss Ashton never alluded to what had passed in the
state-room. It seemed doubtful even if she was conscious of it,
for she was often observed to raise her hands to her neck, as if
in search of the ribbon that had been taken from it, and mutter,
in surprise and discontent, when she could not find it, "It was
the link that bound me to life."
Notwithstanding all these remarkable symptoms, Lady Ashton was
too deeply pledged to delay her daughter's marriage even in her
present state of health. It cost her much trouble to keep up the
fair side of appearances towards Bucklaw. She was well aware,
that if he once saw any reluctance on her daughter's part, he
would break off the treaty, to her great personal shame and
dishonour. She therefore resolved that, if Lucy continued
passive, the marriage should take place upon the day that had
been previously fixed, trusting that a change of place, of
situation, and of character would operate a more speedy and
effectual cure upon the unsettled spirits of her daughter than
could be attained by the slow measures which the medical men
recommended. Sir William Ashton's views of family
aggrandisement, and his desire to strengthen himself against the
measures of the Marquis of A----, readily induced him to
acquiesce in what he could not have perhaps resisted if willing
to do so. As for the young men, Bucklaw and Colonel Ashton, they
protested that, after what had happened, it would be most
dishonourable to postpone for a single hour the time appointed
for the marriage, as it would be generally ascribed to their
being intimidated by the intrusive visit and threats of
Bucklaw would indeed have been incapable of such
precipitation, had he been aware of the state of Miss Ashton's
health, or rather of her mind. But custom, upon these occasions,
permitted only brief and sparing intercourse between the
bridegroom and the betrothed; a circumstance so well improved by
Lady Ashton, that Bucklaw neither saw nor suspected the real
state of the health and feelings of his unhappy bride.
On the eve of the bridal day, Lucy appeared to have one of her
fits of levity, and surveyed with a degree of girlish
interest the various preparations of dress, etc., etc., which the
different members of the family had prepared for the occasion.
The morning dawned bright and cheerily. The bridal guests
assembled in gallant troops from distant quarters. Not only the
relations of Sir William Ashton, and the still more dignified
connexions of his lady, together with the numerous kinsmen and
allies of the bridegroom, were present upon this joyful ceremony,
gallantly mounted, arrayed, and caparisoned, but almost every
Presbyterian family of distinction within fifty miles made a
point of attendance upon an occasion which was considered as
giving a sort of triumph over the Marquis of A----, in the person
of his kinsman. Splendid refreshments awaited the guests on
their arrival, and after these were finished, the cray was "To
horse." The bride was led forth betwixt her brother Henry and
her mother. Her gaiety of the preceding day had given rise
[place] to a deep shade of melancholy, which, however, did not
misbecome an occasion so momentous. There was a light in her
eyes and a colour in her cheek which had not been kindled for
many a day, and which, joined to her great beauty, and the
splendour of her dress, occasioned her entrance to be greeted
with an universal murmur of applause, in which even the ladies
could not refrain from joining. While the cavalcade were
getting to horse, Sir William Ashton, a man of peace and of form,
censured his son Henry for having begirt himself with a military
sword of preposterous length, belonging to his brother, Colonel
"If you must have a weapon," he said, "upon such a peaceful
occasion, why did you not use the short poniard sent from
Edinburgh on purpose?"
The boy vindicated himself by saying it was lost.
"You put it out of the way yourself, I suppose," said his
father, "out of ambition to wear that preposterous thing, which
might have served Sir William Wallace. But never mind, get to
horse now, and take care of your sister."
The boy did so, and was placed in the centre of the gallant
train. At the time, he was too full of his own appearance, his
sword, his laced cloak, his feathered hat, and his managed horse,
to pay much regard to anything else; but he afterwards remembered
to the hour of his death, that when the hand of his sister, by
which she supported hersel on the pillion behind him, touched his
own, it felt as wet and cold as sepulchral marble.
Glancing wide over hill and dale, the fair bridal procession at
last reached the parish church, which they nearly filled; for,
besides domestics, above a hundred gentlemen and ladies were
present upon the occasion. The marriage ceremony was performed
according to the rites of the Presbyterian persuasion, to which
Bucklaw of late had judged it proper to conform.
On the outside of the church, a liberal dole was distributed to
the poor of the neighbouring parishes, under the direction of
Johnie Mortheuch [Mortsheugh], who had lately been promoted from
his desolate quarters at the Hermitage to fill the more eligible
situation of sexton at the parish church of Ravenswood. Dame
Gourlay, with two of her contemporaries, the same who assisted at
Alice's late-wake, seated apart upon a flat monument, or
"through-stane," sate enviously comparing the shares which had
been allotted to them in dividing the dole.
"Johnie Mortheuch," said Annie Winnie, "might hae minded auld
lang syne, and thought of his auld kimmers, for as braw as he is
with his new black coat. I hae gotten but five herring instead
o' sax, and this disna look like a gude saxpennys, and I dare say
this bit morsel o' beef is an unce lighter than ony that's been
dealt round; and it's a bit o' the tenony hough, mair by token
that yours, Maggie, is out o' the back-sey."
"Mine, quo' she!" mumbled the paralytic hag--"mine is half
banes, I trow. If grit folk gie poor bodies ony thing for coming
to their weddings and burials, it suld be something that wad do
them gude, I think."
"Their gifts," said Ailsie Gourlay, "are dealt for nae love of
us, nor out of respect for whether we feed or starve. They wad
gie us whinstanes for loaves, if it would serve their ain vanity,
and yet they expect us to be as gratefu', as they ca' it, as if
they served us for true love and liking."
"And that's truly said," answered her companion.
"But, Aislie Gourlay, ye're the auldest o' us three--did ye ever
see a mair grand bridal?"
"I winna say that I have," answered the hag; "but I think soon
to see as braw a burial."
"And that wad please me as weel," said Annie Winnie; "for
there's as large a dole, and folk are no obliged to girn and
laugh, and mak murgeons, and wish joy to these hellicat quality,
that lord it ower us like brute beasts. I like to pack the dead-
dole in my lap and rin ower my auld rhyme--
My loaf in my lap, my penny in my purse,
Thou art ne'er the better, and I'm ne'er the worse."
"That's right, Annie," said the paralytic woman; "God send us a
green Yule and a fat kirkyard!"
"But I wad like to ken, Luckie Gourlay, for ye're the auldest
and wisest amang us, whilk o' these revellers' turn it will be to
be streikit first?"
"D'ye see yon dandilly maiden," said Dame Gourlay, "a'
glistenin' wi' gowd and jewels, that they are lifting up on the
white horse behind that hare-brained callant in scarlet, wi' the
lang sword at his side?"
"But that's the bride!" said her companion, her cold heart
touched with some sort of compassion--"that's the very bride
hersell! Eh, whow! sae young, sae braw, and sae bonny--and is
her time sae short?"
"I tell ye," said the sibyl, "her winding sheet is up as high as
her throat already, believe it wha list. Her sand has but few
grains to rin out; and nae wonder--they've been weel shaken. The
leaves are withering fast on the trees, but she'll never see the
Martinmas wind gar them dance in swirls like the fairy rings."
"Ye waited on her for a quarter," said the paralytic woman, "and
got twa red pieces, or I am far beguiled?"
"Ay, ay," answered Ailsie, with a bitter grin; "and Sir William
Ashton promised me a bonny red gown to the boot o' that--a stake,
and a chain, and a tar-barrel, lass! what think ye o' that for a
propine?--for being up early and doun late for
fourscore nights and mair wi' his dwining daughter. But he may
keep it for his ain leddy, cummers."
"I hae heard a sough," said Annie Winnie, "as if Leddy Ashton
was nae canny body."
"D'ye see her yonder," said Dame Gourlay, "as she prances on her
grey gelding out at the kirkyard? There's mair o' utter
deevilry in that woman, as brave and fair-fashioned as she rides
yonder, than in a' the Scotch withces that ever flew by moonlight
ower North Berwick Law."
"What's that ye say about witches, ye damned hags?" said Johnie
Mortheuch [Mortsheugh]; "are ye casting yer cantrips in the very
kirkyard, to mischieve the bride and bridegroom? Get awa' hame,
for if I tak my souple t'ye, I'll gar ye find the road faster
than ye wad like."
"Hegh, sirs!" answered Ailsie Gourlay; "how bra' are we wi' our
new black coat and our weel-pouthered head, as if we had never
kenn'd hunger nor thirst oursells! and we'll be screwing up our
bit fiddle, doubtless, in the ha' the night, amang a' the other
elbo'-jiggers for miles round. Let's see if the pins haud,
Johnie--that's a', lad."
"I take ye a' to witness, gude people," said Morheuch, "that she
threatens me wi' mischief, and forespeaks me. If ony thing but
gude happens to me or my fiddle this night, I'll make it the
blackest night's job she ever stirred in. I'll hae her before
presbytery and synod: I'm half a minister mysell, now that I'm a
bedral in an inhabited parish."
Although the mutual hatred betwixt these hags and the rest of
mankind had steeled their hearts against all impressions of
festivity, this was by no means the case with the multitude at
large. The splendour of the bridal retinue, the gay dresses, the
spirited horses, the blythesome appearance of the handsome women
and gallant gentlemen assembled upon the occasion, had the usual
effect upon the minds of the populace. The repeated shouts of
"Ashton and Bucklaw for ever!" the discharge of pistols, guns,
and musketoons, to give what was called the bridal shot, evinced
the interest the people took in the occasion of the cavalcade, as
they accompanied it upon their return to the castle. If there
was here and there an elder peasant or his wife who sneered at
the pomp of the upstart family, and remembered the days of the
long-descended Ravenswoods, even they, attracted by the plentiful
cheer which the castle that day afforded to rich and poor, held
their way thither, and acknowledged, notwithstanding their
prejudices, the influence of l'Amphitrion ou l'on dine.
Thus accompanied with the attendance both of rich and poor, Lucy
returned to her father's house. Bucklaw used his privilege of
riding next to the bride, but, new to such a situation, rather
endeavoured to attract attention by the display of his person and
horsemanship, than by any attempt to address her in private.
They reached the castle in safety, amid a thousand joyous
It is well known that the weddings of ancient days were
celebrated with a festive publicity rejected by the delicacy of
modern times. The marriage guests, on the present occasion, were
regaled with a banquet of unbounded profusion, the relics of
which, after the domestics had feasted in their turn, were
distributed among the shouting crowd, with as many barrels of ale
as made the hilarity without correspond to that within the
castle. The gentlemen, according to the fashion of the times,
indulged, for the most part, in deep draughts of the richest
wines, while the ladies, prepared for the ball which always
closed a bridal entertainment, impatiently expected their
arrival in the state gallery. At length the social party broke
up at a late hour, and the gentlemen crowded into the saloon,
where, enlivened by wine and the joyful occasion, they laid aside
their swords and handed their impatient partners to the floor.
The music already rung from the gallery, along the fretted roof
of the ancient state apartment. According to strict etiquette,
the bride ought to have opened the ball; but Lady Ashton, making
an apology on account of her daughter's health, offered her own
hand to Bucklaw as substitute for her daughter's.
But as Lady Ashton raised her head gracefully, expecting the
strain at which she was to begin the dance, she was so much
struck by an unexpected alteration in the ornaments of the
apartment that she was surprised into an exclamation, "Who has
dared to change the pictures?"
All looked up, and those who knew the usual state of the
apartment observed, with surprise, that the picture of Sir
William Ashton's father was removed from its place, and in its
stead that of old Sir Malise Ravenswood seemed to frown wrath and
vengeance upon the party assembled below. The exchange must have
been made while the apartments were empty, but had not been
observed until the torches and lights in the sconces were kindled
for the ball. The haughty and heated spirits of the gentlemen
led them to demand an immediate inquiry into the cause of what
they deemed an affront to their host and to themselves; but Lady
Ashton, recovering herself, passed it over as the freak of a
crazy wench who was maintained about the castle, and whose
susceptible imagination had been observed to be much affected by
the stories which Dame Gourlay delighted to tell concerning "the
former family," so Lady Ashton named the Ravenswoods. The
obnoxious picture was immediately removed, and the ball was
opened by Lady Ashton, with a grace and dignity which supplied
the charms of youth, and almost verified the extravagant
encomiums of the elder part of the company, who extolled her
performance as far exceeding the dancing of the rising
When Lady Ashton sat down, she was not surprised to find that
her daughter had left the apartment, and she herself
followed, eager to obviate any impression which might have been
made upon her nerves by an incident so likely to affect them as
the mysterious transposition of the portraits. Apparently she
found her apprehensions groundless, for she returned in about an
hour, and whispered the bridegroom, who extricated himself from
the dancers, and vanished from the apartment. The instrumets now
played their loudest strains; the dancers pursued their exercise
with all the enthusiasm inspired by youth, mirth, and high
spirits, when a cry was heard so shrill and piercing as at once
to arrest the dance and the music. All stood motionless; but
when the yell was again repeated, Colonel Ashton snatched a torch
from the sconce, and demanding the key of the bridal-chamber from
Henry, to whom, as bride's-man, it had been entrusted, rushed
thither, followed by Sir William Ashton and Lady Ashton, and one
or two others, near relations of the family. The bridal guests
waited their return in stupified amazement.
Arrived at the door of the apartment, Colonel Ashton knocked and
called, but received no answer except stifled groans. He
hesitated no longer to open the door of the apartment, in which
he found opposition from something which lay against it. When he
had succeeded in opening it, the body of the bridegroom was found
lying on the threshold of the bridal chamber, and all around was
flooded with blood. A cry of surprise and horror was raised by
all present; and the company, excited by this new alarm, began to
rush tumultuously towards the sleeping apartment. Colonel
Ashton, first whispering to his mother, "Search for her; she has
murdered him!" drew his sword, planted himself in the passage,
and declared he would suffer no man to pass excepting the
clergyman and a medical person present. By their assistance,
Bucklaw, who still breathed, was raised from the ground, and
transported to another apartment, where his friends, full of
suspicion and murmuring, assembled round him to learn the opinion
of the surgeon.
In the mean while, Lady Ashton, her husband, and their
assistants in vain sought Lucy in the bridal bed and in the
chamber. There was no private passage from the room, and they
began to think that she must have thrown herself from the window,
when one of the company, holding his torch lower than the rest,
discovered something white in the corner of the great old-
fashioned chimney of the apartment. Here they found the