The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Fifteenth.

I see a hand you cannot see,

Which beckons me away;

I hear a voice you cannot hear,

Which says I must not stay.

MALLET.

When Eveline first opened her eyes, it seemed to be without any recollection of what had passed on the night preceding. She looked round the apartment, which was coarsely and scantily furnished, as one destined for the use of domestics and menials, and said to Rose, with a smile, “Our good kinswoman maintains the ancient Saxon hospitality at a homely rate, so far as lodging is concerned. I could have willingly parted with last night’s profuse supper, to have obtained a bed of a softer texture. Methinks my limbs feel as if I had been under all the flails of a Franklin’s barn-yard.”

“I am glad to see you so pleasant, madam,” answered Rose, discreetly avoiding any reference to the events of the night before.

Dame Gillian was not so scrupulous. “Your ladyship last night lay down on a better bed than this,” she said, “unless I am much mistaken; and Rose Flammock and yourself know best why you left it.”

If a look could have killed, Dame Gillian would have been in deadly peril from that which Rose shot at her, by way of rebuke for this ill-advised communication. It had instantly the effect which was to be apprehended, for Lady Eveline seemed at first surprised and confused; then, as recollections of the past arranged themselves in her memory, she folded her hands, looked on the ground, and wept bitterly, with much agitation.

Rose entreated her to be comforted, and offered to fetch the old Saxon chaplain of the house to administer spiritual consolation, if her grief rejected temporal comfort.

“No — call him not,” said Eveline, raising her head and drying her eyes —“I have had enough of Saxon kindness. What a fool was I to expect, in that hard and unfeeling woman, any commiseration for my youth — my late sufferings — my orphan condition! I will not permit her a poor triumph over the Norman blood of Berenger, by letting her see how much I have suffered under her inhuman infliction. But first, Rose, answer me truly, was any inmate of Baldringham witness to my distress last night?”

Rose assured her that she had been tended exclusively by her own retinue, herself and Gillian, Blanche and Ternotte. She seemed to receive satisfaction from this assurance. “Hear me, both of you,” she said, “and observe my words, as you love and as you fear me. Let no syllable be breathed from your lips of what has happened this night. Carry the same charge to my maidens. Lend me thine instant aid, Gillian, and thine, my dearest Rose, to change these disordered garments, and arrange this dishevelled hair. It was a poor vengeance she sought, and all because of my country. I am resolved she shall not see the slightest trace of the sufferings she has inflicted.”

As she spoke thus, her eyes flashed with indignation, which seemed to dry up the tears that had before filled them. Rose saw the change of her manner with a mixture of pleasure and concern, being aware that her mistress’s predominant failing was incident to her, as a spoiled child, who, accustomed to be treated with kindness, deference, and indulgence, by all around her, was apt to resent warmly whatever resembled neglect or contradiction.

“God knows,” said the faithful bower-maiden, “I would hold my hand out to catch drops of molten lead, rather than endure your tears; and yet, my sweet mistress, I would rather at present see you grieved than angry. This ancient lady hath, it would seem, but acted according to some old superstitious rite of her family, which is in part yours. Her name is respectable, both from her conduct and possessions; and hard pressed as you are by the Normans, with whom your kinswoman, the Prioress, is sure to take part. I was in hope you might have had some shelter and countenance from the Lady of Baldringham.”

“Never, Rose, never,” answered Eveline; “you know not — you cannot fuess what she has made me suffer — exposing me to witchcraft and fiends. Thyself said it, and said it truly — the Saxons are still half Pagans, void of Christianity, as of nurture and kindliness.”

“Ay, but,” replied Rose, “I spoke then to dissuade you from a danger now that the danger is passed and over, I may judge of it otherwise.”

“Speak not for them, Rose,” replied Eveline, angrily; “no innocent victim was ever offered up at the altar of a fiend with more indifference than my father’s kinswoman delivered up me — me, an orphan, bereaved of my natural and powerful support. I hate her cruelty — I hate her house — I hate the thought of all that has happened here — of all, Rose, except thy matchless faith and fearless attachment. Go, bid our train saddle directly — I will be gone instantly — I will not attire myself” she added, rejecting the assistance she had at first required —“I will have no ceremony — tarry for no leave-taking.”

In the hurried and agitated manner of her mistress, Rose recognized with anxiety another mood of the same irritable and excited temperament, which had before discharged itself in tears and fits. But perceiving, at the same time, that remonstrance was in vain, she gave the necessary orders for collecting their company, saddling, and preparing for departure; hoping, that as her mistress removed to a farther distance from the scene where her mind had received so severe a shock, her equanimity might, by degrees, be restored.

Dame Gillian, accordingly, was busied with arranging the packages of her lady, and all the rest of Lady Eveline’s retinue in preparing for instant departure, when, preceded by her steward, who acted also as a sort of gentleman-usher, leaning upon her confidential Berwine, and followed by two or three more of the most distinguished of her household, with looks of displeasure on her ancient yet lofty brow, the Lady Ermengarde entered the apartment.

Eveline, with a trembling and hurried hand, a burning cheek, and other signs of agitation, was herself busied about the arrangement of some baggage, when her relation made her appearance. At once, to Rose’s great surprise, she exerted a strong command over herself, and, repressing every external appearance of disorder, she advanced to meet her relation, with a calm and haughty stateliness equal to her own.

“I come to give you good morning, our niece,” said Ermengarde, haughtily indeed, yet with more deference than she seemed at first to have intended, so much did the bearing of Eveline impose respect upon her; —“I find that you have been pleased to shift that chamber which was assigned you, in conformity with the ancient custom of this household, and betake yourself to the apartment of a menial.”

“Are you surprised at that, lady?” demanded Eveline in her turn; “or are you disappointed that you find me not a corpse, within the limits of the chamber which your hospitality and affection allotted to me?”

“Your sleep, then, has been broken?” said Ermengarde, looking fixedly at the Lady Eveline, as she spoke.

“If I complain not, madam, the evil must be deemed of little consequence. What has happened is over and passed, and it is not my intention to trouble you with the recital.”

“She of the ruddy finger,” replied Ermengarde, triumphantly, “loves not the blood of the stranger.”

“She had less reason, while she walked the earth, to love that of the Saxon,” said Eveline, “unless her legend speaks false in that matter; and unless, as I well suspect, your house is haunted, not by the soul of the dead who suffered within its walls, but by evil spirits, such as the descendants of Hengist and Horsa are said still in secret to worship.”

“You are pleasant, maiden,” replied the old lady, scornfully, “or, if your words are meant in earnest, the shaft of your censure has glanced aside. A house, blessed by the holy Saint Dunstan, and by the royal and holy Confessor, is no abode for evil spirits.”

“The house of Baldringham,” replied Eveline, “is no abode for those who fear such spirits; and as I will, with all humility, avow myself of the number, I shall presently leave it to the custody of Saint Dunstan.”

“Not till you have broken your fast, I trust?” said the Lady of Baldringham; “you will not, I hope, do my years and our relationship such foul disgrace?”

“Pardon me, madam,” replied the Lady Eveline; “those who have experienced your hospitality at night, have little occasion for breakfast in the morning. — Rose, are not those loitering knaves assembled in the court-yard, or are they yet on their couches, making up for the slumber they have lost by midnight disturbances?”

Rose announced that her train was in the court, and mounted; when, with a low reverence, Eveline endeavoured to pass her relation, and leave the apartment without farther ceremony. Ermengarde at first confronted her with a grim and furious glance, which seemed to show a soul fraught with more rage than the thin blood and rigid features of extreme old age had the power of expressing, and raised her ebony staff as if about even to proceed to some act of personal violence. But she changed her purpose, and suddenly made way for Eveline, who passed without farther parley; and as she descended the staircase, which conducted from the apartment to the gateway, she heard the voice of her aunt behind her, like that of an aged and offended sibyl, denouncing wrath and wo upon her insolence and presumption.

“Pride,” she exclaimed, “goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. She who scorneth the house of her forefathers, a stone from its battlements shall crush her! She who mocks the gray hairs of a parent, never shall one of her own locks be silvered with age! She who weds with a man of war and of blood, her end shall neither be peaceful nor bloodless!”

Hurrying to escape from these and other ominous denunciations, Eveline rushed from the house, mounted her palfrey with the precipitation of a fugitive, and, surrounded by her attendants, who had caught a part of her alarm, though without conjecturing the cause, rode hastily into the forest; old Raoul, who was well acquainted with the country, acting as their guide.

Agitated more than she was willing to confess to herself, by thus leaving the habitation of so near a relation, loaded with maledictions, instead of the blessings which are usually bestowed on a departing kinswoman, Eveline hastened forward, until the huge oak-trees with intervening arms had hidden from her view the fatal mansion.

The trampling and galloping of horse was soon after heard, announcing the approach of the patrol left by the Constable for the protection of the mansion, and who now, collecting from their different stations, came prepared to attend the Lady Eveline on her farther road to Gloucester, great part of which lay through the extensive forest of Deane, then a silvan region of large extent, though now much denuded of trees for the service of the iron mines. The Cavaliers came up to join the retinue of Lady Eveline, with armour glittering in the morning rays, trumpets sounding, horses prancing, neighing, and thrown, each by his chivalrous rider, into the attitude best qualified to exhibit the beauty of the steed and dexterity of the horseman; while their lances, streaming with long penoncelles, were brandished in every manner which could display elation of heart and readiness of hand. The sense of the military character of her countrymen of Normandy gave to Eveline a feeling at once of security and of triumph, which operated towards the dispelling of her gloomy thoughts, and of the feverish disorder which affected her nerves. The rising sun also — the song of the birds among the bowers — the lowing of the cattle as they were driven to pasture — the sight of the hind, who, with her fawn trotting by her side, often crossed some forest glade within view of the travellers — all contributed to dispel the terror of Eveline’s nocturnal visions, and soothe to rest the more angry passions which had agitated her bosom at her departure from Baldringham. She suffered her palfrey to slacken his pace, and, with female attention to propriety, began to adjust her riding robes, and compose her head-dress, disordered in her hasty departure. Rose saw her cheek assume a paler but more settled hue, instead of the angry hectic which had coloured it — saw her eye become more steady as she looked with a sort of triumph upon her military attendants, and pardoned (what on other occasions she would probably have made some reply to) her enthusiastic exclamations in praise of her countrymen.

“We journey safe,” said Eveline, “under the care of the princely and victorious Normans. Theirs is the noble wrath of the lion, which destroys or is appeased at once — there is no guile in their romantic affection, no sullenness mixed with their generous indignation — they know the duties of the hall as well as those of battle; and were they to be surpassed in the arts of war, (which will only be when Plinlimmon is removed from its base,) they would still remain superior to every other people in generosity and courtesy.”

“If I do not feel all their merits so strongly as if I shared their blood.” said Rose, “I am at least glad to see them around us, in woods which are said to abound with dangers of various kinds. And I confess, my heart is the lighter, that I can now no longer observe the least vestige of that ancient mansion, in which we passed so unpleasant a night, and the recollection of which will always be odious to me.”

Eveline looked sharply at her. “Confess the truth, Rose; thou wouldst give thy best kirtle to know all of my horrible adventure.”

“It is but confessing that I am a woman,” answered Rose; “and did I say a man, I dare say the difference of sex would imply but a small abatement of curiosity.”

“Thou makest no parade of other feelings, which prompt thee to inquire into my fortunes,” said Eveline; “but, sweet Rose, I give thee not the less credit for them. Believe me, thou shalt know all — but, I think, not now.”

“At your pleasure,” said Rose; “and yet, methinks, the bearing in your solitary bosom such a fearful secret will only render the weight more intolerable. On my silence you may rely as on that of the Holy Image, which hears us confess what it never reveals. Besides, such things become familiar to the imagination when they have been spoken of, and that which is familiar gradually becomes stripped of its terrors.”

“Thou speakest with reason, my prudent Rose; and surely in this gallant troop, borne like a flower on a bush by my good palfrey Yseulte — fresh gales blowing round us, flowers opening and birds singing, and having thee by my bridle-rein, I ought to feel this a fitting time to communicate what thou hast so good a title to know. And — yes! — thou shalt know all! — Thou art not, I presume, ignorant of the qualities of what the Saxons of this land call a Bahrgeist?”

“Pardon me, lady,” answered Rose, “my father discouraged my listening to such discourses. I might see evil spirits enough, he said, without my imagination being taught to form, such as were fantastical. The word Bahr-geist, I have heard used by Gillian and other Saxons; but to me it only conveys some idea of indefinite terror, of which I never asked nor received an explanation.”

“Know then,” said Eveline, “it is a spectre, usually the image of a departed person, who, either for wrong sustained in some particular place during life, or through treasure hidden there, or from some such other cause, haunts the spot from time to time, becomes familiar to those who dwell there, takes an interest in their fate, occasionally for good, in other instances or times for evil. The Bahr-geist is, therefore, sometimes regarded as the good genius, sometimes as the avenging fiend, attached to particular families and classes of men. It is the lot of the family of Baldringham (of no mean note in other respects) to be subject to the visits of such a being.”

“May I ask the cause (if it be known) of such visitation?” said Rose, desirous to avail herself to the uttermost of the communicative mood of her young lady, which might not perhaps last very long.

“I know the legend but imperfectly,” replied Eveline, proceeding with a degree of calmness, the result of strong exertion over her mental anxiety, “but in general it runs thus:— Baldrick, the Saxon hero who first possessed yonder dwelling, became enamoured of a fair Briton, said to have been descended from those Druids of whom the Welsh speak so much, and deemed not unacquainted with the arts of sorcery which they practised, when they offered up human sacrifices amid those circles of unhewn and living rock, of which thou hast seen so many. After more than two years’ wedlock, Baldrick became weary of his wife to such a point, that he formed the cruel resolution of putting her to death. Some say he doubted her fidelity — some that the matter was pressed on him by the church, as she was suspected of heresy — some that he removed her to make way for a more wealthy marriage — but all agree in the result. He sent two of his Cnichts to the house of Baldringham, to put to death the unfortunate Vanda, and commanded them to bring him the ring which had circled her finger on the day of wedlock, in token that his orders were accomplished. The men were ruthless in their office; they strangled Vanda in yonder apartment, and as the hand was so swollen that no effort could draw off the ring, they obtained possession of it by severing the finger. But long before the return of those cruel perpetrators of her death, the shadow of Vanda had appeared before her appalled husband, and holding up to him her bloody hand, made him fearfully sensible how well his savage commands had been obeyed. After haunting him in peace and war, in desert, court, and camp, until he died despairingly on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Bahr-geist, or ghost of the murdered Vanda, became so terrible in the House of Baldringham, that the succour of Saint Dunstan was itself scarcely sufficient to put bounds to her visitation. Yea, the blessed saint, when he had succeeded in his exorcism, did, in requital of Baldrick’s crime, impose a strong and enduring penalty upon every female descendant of the house in the third degree; namely, that once in their lives, and before their twenty-first year, they should each spend a solitary night in the chamber of the murdered Vanda, saying therein certain prayers, as well for her repose, as for the suffering soul of her murderer. During that awful space, it is generally believed that the spirit of the murdered person appears to the female who observes the vigil, and shows some sign of her future good or bad fortune. If favourable, she appears with a smiling aspect, and crosses them with her unbloodied hand; but she announces evil fortune by showing the hand from which the finger was severed, with a stern countenance, as if resenting upon the descendant of her husband his inhuman cruelty. Sometimes she is said to speak. These particulars I learned long since from an old Saxon dame, the mother of our Margery, who had been an attendant on my grandmother, and left the House of Baldringham when she made her escape from it with my father’s father.”

“Did your grandmother ever render this homage,” said Rose, “which seems to me — under favour of St. Dunstan — to bring humanity into too close intercourse with a being of a doubtful nature?”

“My grandfather thought so, and never permitted my grandmother to revisit the house of Baldringham after her marriage; hence disunion betwixt him and his son on the one part, and the members of that family on the other. They laid sundry misfortunes, and particularly the loss of male heirs which at that time befell them, to my parent’s not having done the hereditary homage to the bloody-fingered Bahr-geist.”

“And how could you, my dearest lady,” said Rose, “knowing that they held among them a usage so hideous, think of accepting the invitation of Lady Ermengarde?”

“I can hardly answer you the question,” answered Eveline. “Partly I feared my father’s recent calamity, to be slain (as I have heard him say his aunt once prophesied of him) by the enemy he most despised, might be the result of this rite having been neglected; and partly I hoped, that if my mind should be appalled at the danger, when it presented itself closer to my eye, it could not be urged on me in courtesy and humanity. You saw how soon my cruel-hearted relative pounced upon the opportunity, and how impossible it became for me, bearing the name, and, I trust, the spirit of Berenger, to escape from the net in which I had involved myself.”

“No regard for name or rank should have engaged me,” replied Rose, “to place myself where apprehension alone, even without the terrors of a real visitation, might have punished my presumption with insanity. But what, in the name of Heaven, did you see at this horrible rendezvous?”

“Ay, there is the question,” said Eveline, raising her hand to her brow —“how I could witness that which I distinctly saw, yet be able to retain command of thought and intellect! — I had recited the prescribed devotions for the murderer and his victim, and sitting down on the couch which was assigned me, had laid aside such of my clothes as might impede my rest — I had surmounted, in short, the first shock which I experienced in committing myself to this mysterious chamber, and I hoped to pass the night in slumber as sound as my thoughts were innocent. But I was fearfully disappointed. I cannot judge how long I had slept, when my bosom was oppressed by an unusual weight, which seemed at once to stifle my voice, stop the beating of my heart, and prevent me from drawing my breath; and when I looked up to discover the cause of this horrible suffocation, the form of the murdered British matron stood over my couch taller than life, shadowy, and with a countenance where traits of dignity and beauty were mingled with a fierce expression of vengeful exultation. She held over me the hand which bore the bloody marks of her husband’s cruelty, and seemed as if she signed the cross, devoting me to destruction; while, with an unearthly tone, she uttered these words:—

‘Widow’d wife, and married maid,

Betrothed, betrayer, and betray’d!’

The phantom stooped over me as she spoke, and lowered her gory fingers, as if to touch my face, when, terror giving me the power of which it at first deprived me, I screamed aloud — the casement of the apartment was thrown open with a loud noise — and — But what signifies my telling all this to thee, Rose, who show so plainly, by the movement of eye and lip, that you consider me as a silly and childish dreamer?”

“Be not angry, my dear lady,” said Rose; “I do indeed believe that the witch we call Mara [Footnote: Ephialtes, or Nightmare] has been dealing with you; but she, you know, is by leeches considered as no real phantom, but solely the creation of our own imagination, disordered by causes which arise from bodily indisposition.”

“Thou art learned, maiden,” said Eveline, rather peevishly; “but when I assure thee that my better angel came to my assistance in a human form. — that at his appearance the fiend vanished — and that he transported me in his arms out of the chamber of terror, I think thou wilt, as a good Christian, put more faith in that which I tell you.”

“Indeed, indeed, my sweetest mistress, I cannot,” replied Rose. “It is even that circumstance of the guardian angel which makes me consider the whole as a dream. A Norman sentinel, whom I myself called from his post on purpose, did indeed come to your assistance, and, breaking into your apartment, transported you to that where I myself received you from his arms in a lifeless condition.”

“A Norman soldier, ha!” said Eveline, colouring extremely; “and to whom, maiden, did you dare give commission to break into my sleeping chamber?”

“Your eyes flash anger, madam, but is it reasonable they should? — Did I not hear your screams of agony, and was I to stand fettered by ceremony at such a moment? — no more than if the castle had been on fire.”

“I ask you again, Rose,” said her mistress, still with discomposure, though less angrily than at first, “whom you directed to break into my apartment?”

“Indeed, I know not, lady,” said Rose; “for beside that he was muffled in his mantle, little chance was there of my knowing his features, even had I seen them fully. But I can soon discover the cavalier; and I will set about it, that I may give him the reward I promised, and warn him to be silent and discreet in this matter.”

“Do so,” said Eveline; “and if you find him among those soldiers who attend us, I will indeed lean to thine opinion, and think that fantasy had the chief share in the evils I have endured the last night.”

Rose struck her palfrey with the rod, and, accompanied by her mistress, rode up to Philip Guarine, the Constable’s squire, who for the present commanded their little escort. “Good Guarine,” she said, “I had talk with one of these sentinels last night from my window, and he did me some service, for which I promised him recompense — Will you inquire for the man, that I may pay him his guerdon?”

“Truly, I will owe him a guerdon, also, pretty maiden,” answered the squire; “for if a lance of them approached near enough the house to hold speech from the windows, he transgressed the precise orders of his watch.”

“Tush! you must forgive that for my sake,” said Rose. “I warrant, had I called on yourself, stout Guarine, I should have had influence to bring you under my chamber window.”

Guarine laughed, and shrugged his shoulders. “True it is,” he said, “when women are in place, discipline is in danger.”

He then went to make the necessary inquiries among his band, and returned with the assurance, that his soldiers, generally and severally, denied having approached the mansion of the Lady Ermengarde on the preceding night.

“Thou seest, Rose,” said Eveline, with a significant look to her attendant.

“The poor rogues are afraid of Guarine’s severity,” said Rose, “and dare not tell the truth — I shall have some one in private claiming the reward of me.”

“I would I had the privilege myself, damsel,” said Guarine; “but for these fellows, they are not so timorous as you suppose them, being even too ready to avouch their roguery when it hath less excuse — Besides, I promised them impunity. — Have you any thing farther to order?”

“Nothing, good Guarine,” said Eveline; “only this small donative to procure wine for thy soldiers, that they may spend the next night more merrily than the last. — And now he is gone — Maiden, thou must, I think, be now well aware, that what thou sawest was no earthly being?”

“I must believe mine own ears and eyes, madam,” replied Rose.

“Do — but allow me the same privilege,” answered Eveline. “Believe me that my deliverer (for so I must call him) bore the features of one who neither was, nor could be, in the neighbourhood of Baldringham. Tell me but one thing — What dost thou think of this extraordinary prediction —

‘Widow’d wife, and wedded maid,

Betrothed, betrayer, and betray’d’

Thou wilt say it is an idle invention of my brain — but think it for a moment the speech of a true diviner, and what wouldst thou say of it?”

“That you may be betrayed, my dearest lady, but never can be a betrayer,” answered Rose, with animation.

Eveline reached her hand out to her friend, and as she pressed affectionately that which Rose gave in return, she whispered to her with energy, “I thank thee for the judgment, which my own heart confirms.”

A cloud of dust now announced the approach of the Constable of Chester and his retinue, augmented by the attendance of his host Sir William Herbert, and some of his neighbours and kinsmen, who came to pay their respects to the orphan of the Garde Doloureuse, by which appellation Eveline was known upon her passage through their territory.

Eveline remarked, that, at their greeting, De Lacy looked with displeased surprise at the disarrangement of her dress and equipage, which her hasty departure from Baldringham had necessarily occasioned; and she was, on her part, struck with an expression of countenance which seemed to say, “I am not to be treated as an ordinary person, who may be received with negligence, and treated slightly with impunity.” For the first time, she thought that, though always deficient in grace and beauty, the Constable’s countenance was formed to express the more angry passions with force and vivacity, and that she who shared his rank and name must lay her account with the implicit surrender of her will and wishes to those of an arbitrary lord and master.

But the cloud soon passed from the Constable’s brow; and in the conversation which he afterwards maintained with Herbert and the other knights and gentlemen, who from time to time came to greet and accompany them for a little way on their journey, Eveline had occasion to admire his superiority, both of sense and expression, and to remark the attention and deference with which his words were listened to by men too high in rank, and too proud, readily to admit any pre-eminence that was not founded on acknowledged merit. The regard of women is generally much influenced by the estimation which an individual maintains in the opinion of men; and Eveline, when she concluded her journey in the Benedictine nunnery in Gloucester, could not think without respect upon the renowned warrior, and celebrated politician, whose acknowledged abilities appeared to place him above every one whom she had seen approach him. His wife, Eveline thought, (and she was not without ambition,) if relinquishing some of those qualities in a husband which are in youth most captivating to the female imagination, must be still generally honoured and respected, and have contentment, if not romantic felicity, within her reach.

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