The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Fourteenth

Sometimes, methinks, I hear the groans of ghosts,

Then hollow sounds and lamentable screams;

Then, like a dying echo from afar,

My mother’s voice, that cries, “Wed not, Almeyda —

Forewanvd, Almeyda, marriage is thy crime.”

DON SEBASTIAN.

The evening at Baldringham would have seemed of portentous and unendurable length, had it not been that apprehended danger makes times pass quickly betwixt us and the dreaded hour, and that if Eveline felt little interested or amused by the conversation of her aunt and Berwine, which turned upon the long deduction of their ancestors from the warlike Horsa, and the feats of Saxon champions, and the miracles of Saxon monks, she was still better pleased to listen to these legends, than to anticipate her retreat to the destined and dreaded apartment where she was to pass the night. There lacked not, however, such amusement as the house of Baldringham could afford, to pass away the evening. Blessed by a grave old Saxon monk, the chaplain of the house, a sumptuous entertainment, which might have sufficed twenty hungry men, was served up before Ermengarde and her niece, whose sole assistants, beside the reverend man, were Berwine and Rose Flammock. Eveline was the less inclined to do justice to this excess of hospitality, that the dishes were all of the gross and substantial nature which the Saxons admired, but which contrasted disadvantageously with the refined and delicate cookery of the Normans, as did the moderate cup of light and high-flavoured Gascon wine, tempered with more than half its quantity of the purest water, with the mighty ale, the high-spiced pigment and hippocras, and the other potent liquors, which, one after another, were in vain proffered for her acceptance by the steward Hundwolf, in honour of the hospitality of Baldringham.

Neither were the stated amusements of evening more congenial to Eveline’s taste, than the profusion of her aunt’s solid refection. When the boards and tresses, on which the viands had been served, were withdrawn from the apartment, the menials, under direction of the steward, proceeded to light several long waxen torches, one of which was graduated for the purpose of marking the passing time, and dividing it into portions. These were announced by means of brazen balls, suspended by threads from the torch, the spaces betwixt them being calculated to occupy a certain time in burning; so that, when the flame reached the thread, and the balls fell, each in succession, into a brazen basin placed for its reception, the office of a modern clock was in some degree discharged. By this light the party was arranged for the evening.

The ancient Ermengarde’s lofty and ample chair was removed, according to ancient custom, from the middle of the apartment to the warmest side of a large grate, filled with charcoal, and her guest was placed on her right, as the seat of honour. Berwine then arranged in due order the females of the household, and, having seen that each was engaged with her own proper task, sat herself down to ply the spindle and distaff. The men, in a more remote circle, betook themselves to the repairing of their implements of husbandry, or new furbishing weapons of the chase, under the direction of the steward Hundwolf. For the amusement of the family thus assembled, an old glee-man sung to a harp, which had but four strings, a long and apparently interminable legend, upon some religious subject, which was rendered almost unintelligible to Eveline, by the extreme and complicated affectation of the poet, who, in order to indulge in the alliteration which was accounted one great ornament of Saxon poetry, had sacrificed sense to sound, and used words in the most forced and remote sense, provided they could be compelled into his service. There was also all the obscurity arising from elision, and from the most extravagant and hyperbolical epithets.

Eveline, though well acquainted with the Saxon language, soon left off listening to the singer, to reflect for a moment on the gay fabliaux and imaginative lais of the Norman minstrels, and then to anticipate, with anxious apprehension, what nature of visitation she might be exposed to in the mysterious chamber in which she was doomed to pass the night.

The hour of parting at length approached. At half an hour before mid-night, a period ascertained by the consumption of the huge waxen torch, the ball which was secured to it fell clanging into the brazen basin placed beneath, and announced to all the hour of rest. The old glee-man paused in his song, instantaneously, and in the middle of a stanza, and the household were all on foot at the signal, some retiring to their own apartments, others lighting torches or bearing lamps to conduct the visitors to their places of repose. Among these last was a bevy of bower-women, to whom the duty was assigned of conveying the Lady Eveline to her chamber for the night. Her aunt took a solemn leave of her, crossed her forehead, kissed it, and whispered in her ear, “Be courageous, and be fortunate.”

“May not my bower-maiden, Rose Flammock, or my tire-woman, Dame Gillian, Raoul’s wife, remain in the apartment with me for this night?” said Eveline.

“Flammock-Raoul!” repeated Ermengarde, angrily; “is thy household thus made up? The Flemings are the cold palsy to Britain, the Normans the burning fever.”

“And the poor Welsh will add,” said Rose, whose resentment began to surpass her awe for the ancient Saxon dame, “that the Anglo-Saxons were the original disease, and resemble a wasting pestilence.”

“Thou art too bold, sweetheart,” said the Lady Ermengarde, looking at the Flemish maiden from under her dark brows; “and yet there is wit in thy words. Saxon, Dane, and Norman, have rolled like successive billows over the land, each having strength to subdue what they lacked wisdom to keep. When shall it be otherwise?”

“When, Saxon, and Briton, and Norman, and Fleming,” answered Rose, boldly, “shall learn to call themselves by one name, and think themselves alike children of the land they were born in.”

“Ha!” exclaimed the Lady of Baldringham, in the tone of one half surprised, half-pleased. Then turning to her relation, she said, “There are words and wit in this maiden; see that she use but do not abuse them.”

“She is as kind and faithful, as she is prompt and ready-witted.” said Eveline. “I pray you, dearest aunt, let me use her company for this night.”

“It may not be — it were dangerous to both. Alone you must learn your destiny, as have all the females of our race, excepting your grandmother, and what have been the consequences of her neglecting the rules of our house? Lo! her descendant stands before me an orphan in the very bloom of youth.”

“I will go, then,” said Eveline with a sigh of resignation; “and it shall never be said I incurred future wo, to shun present terror.”

“Your attendants,” said the Lady Ermengarde, “may occupy the anteroom, and be almost within your call. Berwine will show you the apartment — I cannot; for we, thou knowest, who have once entered it, return not thither again. Farewell, my child, and may heaven bless thee!”

With more of human emotion and sympathy than she had yet shown, the Lady again saluted Eveline, and signed to her to follow Berwine, who, attended by two damsels bearing torches, waited to conduct her to the dreaded apartment.

Their torches glared along the rudely built walls and dark arched roofs of one or two long winding passages; these by their light enabled them to descend the steps of a winding stair, whose inequality and ruggedness showed its antiquity; and finally led into a tolerably large chamber on the lower story of the edifice, to which some old hangings, a lively fire on the hearth, the moonbeams stealing through a latticed window, and the boughs of a myrtle plant which grew around the casement, gave no uncomfortable appearance. “This,” said Berwine, “is the resting-place of your attendants,” and she pointed to the couches which had been prepared for Rose and Dame Gillian; “we,” she added, “proceed farther.”

She then took a torch from the attendant maidens, both of whom seemed to shrink back with fear, which was readily caught by Dame Gillian, although she was not probably aware of the cause. But Rose Flammock, unbidden, followed her mistress without hesitation, as Berwine conducted her through a small wicket at the upper end of the apartment, clenched with many an iron nail, into a second but smaller anteroom or wardrobe, at the end of which was a similar door. This wardrobe had also its casement mantled with evergreens, and, like the former, it was faintly enlightened by the moonbeams.

Berwine paused here, and, pointing to Rose, demanded of Eveline, “Why does she follow?”

“To share my mistress’s danger, be it what it may,” answered Rose, with her characteristic readiness of speech and resolution.

“Speak,” she said, “my dearest lady,” grasping Eveline’s hand, while she addressed her; “you will not drive your Rose from you? If I am less high-minded than one of your boasted race, I am bold and quick-witted in all honest service. — You tremble like the aspen! Do not go into this apartment — do not be gulled by all this pomp and mystery of terrible preparation; bid defiance to this antiquated, and, I think, half-pagan superstition.”

“The Lady Eveline must go, minion,” replied Berwine, sternly; “and she must go without any malapert adviser or companion.”

“Must go —— must go!” repeated Rose. “Is this language to a free and noble maiden? — Sweet lady, give me once but the least hint that you wish it, and their ‘must go’ shall be put to the trial. I will call from the casement on the Norman cavaliers, and tell them we have fallen, into a den of witches, instead of a house of hospitality.”

“Silence, madwoman,” said Berwine, her voice quivering with anger and fear; “you know not who dwells in the next chamber.”

“I will call those who will soon see to that,” said Rose, flying to the casement, when Eveline, seizing her arm in her turn, compelled her to stop.

“I thank thy kindness, Rose,” she said, “but it cannot help me in this matter. She who enters yonder door, must do so alone.”

“Then I will enter it in your stead, my dearest lady,” said Rose. “You are pale — you are cold — you will die with terror if you go on. There may be as much of trick as of supernatural agency in this matter — me they shall not deceive — or if some stern spirit craves a victim — better Rose than her lady.”

“Forbear, forbear,” said Eveline, rousing up her own spirits; “you make me ashamed of myself. This is an ancient ordeal, which regards the females descended from the house of Baldringham as far as in the third degree, and them only. I did not indeed expect, in my present circumstances, to have been called upon to undergo it; but, since the hour summons me, I will meet it as freely as any of my ancestors.”

So saying, she took the torch from the hand of Berwine, and wishing good-night to her and Rose, gently disengaged herself from the hold of the latter, and advanced into the mysterious chamber. Rose pressed after her so far as to see that it was an apartment of moderate dimensions, resembling that through which they had last passed, and lighted by the moonbeams, which came through a window lying on the same range with those of the anterooms. More she could not see, for Eveline turned on the threshold, and kissing her at the same time, thrust her gently back into the smaller apartment which she had just left, shut the door of communication, and barred and bolted it, as if in security against her well-meant intrusion.

Berwine now exhorted Rose, as she valued her life, to retire into the first anteroom, where the beds were prepared, and betake herself, if not to rest, at least to silence and devotion; but the faithful Flemish girl stoutly refused her entreaties, and resisted her commands.

“Talk not to me of danger,” she said; “here I remain, that I may be at least within hearing of my mistress’s danger, and wo betide those who shall offer her injury! — Take notice, that twenty Norman spears surround this inhospitable dwelling, prompt to avenge whatsoever injury shall be offered to the daughter of Raymond Berenger.”

“Reserve your threats for those who are mortal,” said Berwine, in a low, but piercing whisper; “the owner of yonder chamber fears them not. Farewell — thy danger be on thine own head!”

She departed, leaving Rose strangely agitated by what had passed, and somewhat appalled at her last words. “These Saxons,” said the maiden, within herself, “are but half converted after all, and hold many of their old hellish rites in the worship of elementary spirits. Their very saints are unlike to the saints of any Christian country, and have, as it were, a look of something savage and fiendish — their very names sound pagan and diabolical. It is fearful being alone here — and all is silent as death in the apartment into which my lady has been thus strangely compelled. Shall I call up Gillian? — but no — she has neither sense, nor courage, nor principle, to aid me on such an occasion — better alone than have a false friend for company. I will see if the Normans are on their post, since it is to them I must trust, if a moment of need should arrive.”

Thus reflecting, Rose Flammock went to the window of the little apartment, in order to satisfy herself of the vigilance of the sentinels, and to ascertain the exact situation of the corps de garde. The moon was at the full, and enabled her to see with accuracy the nature of the ground without. In the first place, she was rather disappointed to find, that instead of being so near the earth as she supposed, the range of windows which gave light as well to the two anterooms as to the mysterious chamber itself, looked down upon an ancient moat, by which they were divided from the level ground on the farther side. The defence which this fosse afforded seemed to have been long neglected, and the bottom, entirely dry, was choked in many places with bushes and low trees, which rose up against the wall of the castle, and by means of which it seemed to Rose the windows might be easily scaled, and the mansion entered. From the level plain beyond, the space adjoining to the castle was in a considerable degree clear, and the moonbeams slumbered on its close and beautiful turf, mixed with long shadows of the towers and trees. Beyond this esplanade lay the forest ground, with a few gigantic oaks scattered individually along the skirt of its dark and ample domain, like champions, who take their ground of defiance in front of a line of arrayed battle.

The calm beauty and repose of a scene so lovely, the stillness of all around, and the more matured reflections which the whole suggested, quieted, in some measure, the apprehensions which the events of the evening had inspired. “After all,” she reflected, “why should I be so anxious on account of the Lady Eveline? There is among the proud Normans and the dogged Saxons scarce a single family of note, but must needs be held distinguished from others by some superstitious observance peculiar to their race, as if they thought it scorn to go to Heaven like a poor simple Fleming, such as I am. — Could I but see the Norman sentinel, I would hold myself satisfied with my mistress’s security. — And yonder one stalks along the gloom, wrapt in his long white mantle, and the moon tipping the point of his lance with silver. — What ho, Sir Cavalier!”

The Norman turned his steps, and approached the ditch as she spoke. “What is your pleasure, damsel?” he demanded.

“The window next to mine is that of the Lady Eveline Berenger, whom you are appointed to guard. Please to give heedful watch upon this side of the castle.”

“Doubt it not, lady,” answered the cavalier; and enveloping himself in his long chappe, or military watch-cloak, he withdrew to a large oak tree at some distance, and stood there with folded arms, and leaning on his lance, more like a trophy of armour than a living warrior.

Imboldened by the consciousness, that in case of need succour was close at hand, Rose drew back into her little chamber, and having ascertained, by listening, that there was no noise or stirring in that of Eveline, she began to make some preparations for her own repose. For this purpose she went into the outward ante-room, where Dame Gillian, whose fears had given way to the soporiferous effects of a copious draught of lithe-alos, (mild ale, of the first strength and quality,) slept as sound a sleep as that generous Saxon beverage could procure.

Muttering an indignant censure on her sloth and indifference, Rose caught, from the empty couch which had been destined for her own use, the upper covering, and dragging it with her into the inner ante-room, disposed it so as, with the assistance of the rushes which strewed that apartment, to form a sort of couch, upon which, half seated, half reclined, she resolved to pass the night in as close attendance upon her mistress as circumstances permitted. Thus seated, her eye on the pale planet which sailed in full glory through the blue sky of midnight, she proposed to herself that sleep should not visit her eyelids till the dawn of morning should assure her of Eveline’s safety.

Her thoughts, meanwhile, rested on the boundless and shadowy world beyond the grave, and on the great and perhaps yet undecided question, whether the separation of its inhabitants from those of this temporal sphere is absolute and decided, or whether, influenced by motives which we cannot appreciate, they continue to hold shadowy communication with those yet existing in earthly reality of flesh and blood? To have denied this, would, in the age of crusades and of miracles, have incurred the guilt of heresy; but Rose’s firm good sense led her to doubt at least the frequency of supernatural interference, and she comforted herself with an opinion, contradicted, however, by her own involuntary starts and shudderings at every leaf which moved, that, in submitting to the performance of the rite imposed on her, Eveline incurred no real danger, and only sacrificed to an obsolete family superstition.

As this conviction strengthened on Rose’s mind, her purpose of vigilance began to decline — her thoughts wandered to objects towards which they were not directed, like sheep which stray beyond the charge of their shepherd — her eyes no longer brought back to her a distinct apprehension of the broad, round, silvery orb on which they continued to gaze. At length they closed, and seated on the folded mantle, her back resting against the wall of the apartment, and her white arms folded on her bosom, Rose Flammock fell fast asleep.

Her repose was fearfully broken by a shrill and piercing shriek from the apartment where her lady reposed. To start up and fly to the door was the work of a moment with the generous girl, who never permitted fear to struggle with love or duty. The door was secured with both bar and bolt; and another fainter scream, or rather groan, seemed to say, aid must be instant, or in vain. Rose next rushed to the window, and screamed rather than called to the Norman soldier, who, distinguished by the white folds of his watch-cloak, still retained his position under the old oak-tree.

At the cry of “Help, help! — the Lady Eveline is murdered!” the seeming statue, starting at once into active exertion, sped with the swiftness of a race-horse to the brink of the moat, and was about to cross it, opposite to the spot where Rose stood at the open casement, urging him to speed by voice and gesture.

“Not here — not here!” she exclaimed, with breathless precipitation, as she saw him make towards her —“the window to the right — scale it, for God’s sake, and undo the door of communication.”

The soldier seemed to comprehend her — he dashed into the moat without hesitation, securing himself by catching at the boughs of trees as he descended. In one moment he vanished among the underwood; and in another, availing himself of the branches of a dwarf oak, Rose saw him upon her right, and close to the window of the fatal apartment. One fear remained — the casement might be secured against entrance from without — but no! at the thrust of the Norman it yielded, and its clasps or fastenings being worn with time, fell inward with a crash which even Dame Gillian’s slumbers were unable to resist.

Echoing scream upon scream, in the usual fashion of fools and cowards, she entered the cabinet from the ante-room, just as the door of Eveline’s chamber opened, and the soldier appeared, bearing in his arms the half-undressed and lifeless form of the Norman maiden herself. Without speaking a word, he placed her in Rose’s arms, and with the same precipitation with which he had entered, threw himself out of the opened window from which Rose had summoned him.

Gillian, half distracted with fear and wonder, heaped exclamations on questions, and mingled questions with cries for help, till Rose sternly rebuked her in a tone which seemed to recall her scattered senses. She became then composed enough to fetch a lamp which remained lighted in the room she had left, and to render herself at least partly useful in suggesting and applying the usual modes for recalling the suspended sense. In this they at length succeeded, for Eveline fetched a fuller sigh, and opened her eyes; but presently shut them again, and letting her head drop on Rose’s bosom, fell into a strong shuddering fit; while her faithful damsel, chafing her hands and her temples alternately with affectionate assiduity, and mingling caresses with these efforts, exclaimed aloud, “She lives! — She is recovering! — Praised be God!”

“Praised be God!” was echoed in a solemn tone from the window of the apartment; and turning towards it in terror, Rose beheld the armed and plumed head of the soldier who had come so opportunely to their assistance, and who, supported by his arms, had raised himself so high as to be able to look into the interior of the cabinet.

Rose immediately ran towards him. “Go — go — good friend,” she said; “the lady recovers — your reward shall await you another time. Go — begone! — yet stay — keep on your post, and I will call you if there is farther need. Begone — be faithful, and be secret.”

The soldier obeyed without answering a word, and she presently saw him descend into the moat. Rose then returned back to her mistress, whom she found supported by Gillian, moaning feebly, and muttering hurried and unintelligible ejaculations, all intimating that she had laboured under a violent shock sustained from some alarming cause.

Dame Gillian had no sooner recovered some degree of self-possession, than her curiosity became active in proportion. “What means all this?” she said to Rose; “what has been doing among you?”

“I do not know,” replied Rose.

“If you do not,” said Gillian, “who should? — Shall I call the other women, and raise the house?”

“Not for your life,” said Rose, “till my lady is able to give her own orders; and for this apartment, so help me Heaven, as I will do my best to discover the secrets it contains! — Support my mistress the whilst.”

So saying, she took the lamp in her hand, and, crossing her brow, stepped boldly across the mysterious threshold, and, holding up the light, surveyed the apartment.

It was merely an old vaulted chamber, of very moderate dimensions. In one corner was an image of the Virgin, rudely cut, and placed above a Saxon font of curious workmanship. There were two seats and a couch, covered with coarse tapestry, on which it seemed that Eveline had been reposing. The fragments of the shattered casement lay on the floor; but that opening had been only made when the soldier forced it in, and she saw no other access by which a stranger could have entered an apartment, the ordinary access to which was barred and bolted.

Rose felt the influence of those terrors which she had hitherto surmounted; she cast her mantle hastily around her head, as if to shroud her sight from some blighting vision, and tripping back to the cabinet, with more speed and a less firm step than when she left it, she directed Gillian to lend her assistance in conveying Eveline to the next room; and having done so, carefully secured the door of communication, as if to put a barrier betwixt them, and the suspected danger.

The Lady Eveline was now so far recovered that she could sit up, and was trying to speak, though but faintly. “Rose,” she said at length, “I have seen her — my doom is sealed.”

Rose immediately recollected the imprudence of suffering Gillian to hear what her mistress might say at such an awful moment, and hastily adopting the proposal she had before declined, desired her to go and call other two maidens of their mistress’s household.

“And where am I to find them in this house,” said Dame Gillian, “where strange men run about one chamber at midnight, and devils, for aught I know, frequent the rest of the habitation?”

“Find them where you can,” said Rose, sharply; “but begone presently.”

Gillian withdrew lingeringly, and muttering at the same time something which could not distinctly be understood. No sooner was she gone, than Rose, giving way to the enthusiastic affection which she felt for her mistress, implored her, in the most tender terms, to open her eyes, (for she had again closed them,) and speak to Rose, her own Rose, who was ready, if necessary, to die by her mistress’s side.

“To-morrow — tomorrow, Rose,” murmured Eveline —“I cannot speak at present.”

“Only disburden your mind with one word — tell what has thus alarmed you — what danger you apprehend.”

“I have seen her,” answered Eveline —“I have seen the tenant of yonder chamber — the vision fatal to my race! — Urge me no more — tomorrow you shall know all.” [Footnote: The idea of the Bahr-Geist was taken from a passage in the Memoirs of Lady Fanshaw, which have since been given to the public, and received with deserved approbation.

The original runs as follows. Lady Fanshaw, shifting among her friends in Ireland, like other sound loyalists of the period, tells her story thus:—

“From thence we went to the Lady Honor O’Brien’s, a lady that went for a maid, but few believed it. She was the youngest daughter of the Earl of Thomond. There we staid three nights — the first of which I was surprised at being laid in a chamber, where, when about one o’clock, I heard a voice that awakened me. I drew the curtain, and in the casement of the window I saw, by the light of the moon, a woman leaning through the casement into the room, in white, with red hair and pale and ghastly complexion. She spoke loud, and in a tone I had never heard, thrice. “A horse;” and then, with a sigh more like the wind than breath, she vanished, and to me her body looked more like a thick cloud than substance. I was so much frightened, that my hair stood on end, and my night-clothes fell off. I pulled and pinched your father, who never awoke during the disorder I was in, but at last was much surprised to see me in this fright, and more so when I related the story and showed him the window opened. Neither of us slept any more that night; but he entertained me by telling me how much more these apparitions were common in this country than in England; and we concluded the cause to be the great superstition of the Irish, and the want of that knowing faith which should defend them from the power of the devil, which he exercises among them very much. About five o’clock the lady of the house came to see us, saying, she had not been in bed all night, because a cousin O’Brien of hers, whose ancestors had owned that house, had desired her to stay with him in his chamber, and that he died at two o’clock; and she said, I wish you to have had no disturbance, for ’tis the custom of the place, that when any of the family are dying, the shape of a woman appears every night in the window until they be dead. This woman was many ages ago got with child by the owner of this place, who murdered her in his garden, and flung her into the river under the window; but truly I thought not of it when I lodged you here, it being the best room in the house! We made little reply to her speech, but disposed ourselves to be gone suddenly.”]

As Gillian entered with two of the maidens of her mistress’s household, they removed the Lady Eveline, by Rose’s directions, into a chamber at some distance which the latter had occupied, and placed her in one of their beds, where Rose, dismissing the others (Gillian excepted) to seek repose where they could find it, continued to watch her mistress. For some time she continued very much disturbed, but, gradually, fatigue, and the influence of some narcotic which Gillian had sense enough to recommend and prepare, seemed to compose her spirits. She fell into a deep slumber, from which she did not awaken until the sun was high over the distant hills.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/betrothed/chapter14.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29