The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 17

This looks not like a nuptial.

Much Ado About Nothing.

The chapel in the castle of Ellieslaw, destined to be the scene of this ill-omened union, was a building of much older date than the castle itself, though that claimed considerable antiquity. Before the wars between England and Scotland had become so common and of such long duration, that the buildings along both sides of the Border were chiefly dedicated to warlike purposes, there had been a small settlement of monks at Ellieslaw, a dependency, it is believed by antiquaries, on the rich Abbey of Jedburgh. Their possessions had long passed away under the changes introduced by war and mutual ravage. A feudal castle had arisen on the ruin of their cells, and their chapel was included in its precincts.

The edifice, in its round arches and massive pillars, the simplicity of which referred their date to what has been called the Saxon architecture, presented at all times a dark and sombre appearance, and had been frequently used as the cemetery of the family of the feudal lords, as well as formerly of the monastic brethren. But it looked doubly gloomy by the effect of the few and smoky torches which were used to enlighten it on the present occasion, and which, spreading a glare of yellow light in their immediate vicinity, were surrounded beyond by a red and purple halo reflected from their own smoke, and beyond that again by a zone of darkness which magnified the extent of the chapel, while it rendered it impossible for the eye to ascertain its limits. Some injudicious ornaments, adopted in haste for the occasion, rather added to the dreariness of the scene. Old fragments of tapestry, torn from the walls of other apartments, had been hastily and partially disposed around those of the chapel, and mingled inconsistently with scutcheons and funeral emblems of the dead, which they elsewhere exhibited. On each side of the stone altar was a monument, the appearance of which formed an equally strange contrast. On the one was the figure, in stone, of some grim hermit, or monk, who had died in the odour of sanctity; he was represented as recumbent, in his cowl and scapulaire, with his face turned upward as in the act of devotion, and his hands folded, from which his string of beads was dependent. On the other side was a tomb, in the Italian taste, composed of the most beautiful statuary marble, and accounted a model of modern art. It was erected to the memory of Isabella’s mother, the late Mrs. Vere of Ellieslaw, who was represented as in a dying posture, while a weeping cherub, with eyes averted, seemed in the act of extinguishing a dying lamp as emblematic of her speedy dissolution. It was, indeed, a masterpiece of art, but misplaced in the rude vault to which it had been consigned. Many were surprised, and even scandalized, that Ellieslaw, not remarkable for attention to his lady while alive, should erect after her death such a costly mausoleum in affected sorrow; others cleared him from the imputation of hypocrisy, and averred that the monument had been constructed under the direction and at the sole expense of Mr. Ratcliffe.

Before these monuments the wedding guests were assembled. They were few in number; for many had left the castle to prepare for the ensuing political explosion, and Ellieslaw was, in the circumstances of the case, far from being desirous to extend invitations farther than to those near relations whose presence the custom of the country rendered indispensable. Next to the altar stood Sir Frederick Langley, dark, moody, and thoughtful, even beyond his wont, and near him, Mareschal, who was to play the part of bridesman, as it was called. The thoughtless humour of this young gentleman, on which he never deigned to place the least restraint, added to the cloud which overhung the brow of the bridegroom

“The bride is not yet come out of her chamber,” he whispered to Sir Frederick; “I trust that we must not have recourse to the violent expedients of the Romans which I read of at College. It would be hard upon my pretty cousin to be run away with twice in two days, though I know none better worth such a violent compliment.”

Sir Frederick attempted to turn a deaf ear to this discourse, humming a tune, and looking another may, but Mareschal proceeded in the same wild manner.

“This delay is hard upon Dr. Hobbler, who was disturbed to accelerate preparations for this joyful event when he had successfully extracted the cork of his third bottle. I hope you will keep him free of the censure of his superiors, for I take it this is beyond canonical hours. — But here come Ellieslaw and my pretty cousin — prettier than ever, I think, were it not she seems so faint and so deadly pale — Hark ye, Sir Knight, if she says not yes with right good-will, it shall be no wedding, for all that has come and gone yet.”

“No wedding, sir?” returned Sir Frederick, in a loud whisper, the tone of which indicated that his angry feelings were suppressed with difficulty.

“No — no marriage,” replied Mareschal, “there’s my hand and glove on’t.”

Sir Frederick Langley took his hand, and as he wrung it hard, said in a lower whisper, “Mareschal, you shall answer this,” and then flung his hand from him.

“That I will readily do,” said Mareschal, “for never word escaped my lips that my hand was not ready to guarantee. — So, speak up, my pretty cousin, and tell me if it be your free will and unbiassed resolution to accept of this gallant knight for your lord and husband; for if you have the tenth part of a scruple upon the subject, fall back, fall edge, he shall not have you.”

“Are you mad, Mr. Mareschal?” said Ellieslaw, who, having been this young man’s guardian during his minority, often employed a tone of authority to him. “Do you suppose I would drag my daughter to the foot of the altar, were it not her own choice?”

“Tut, Ellieslaw,” retorted the young gentleman, “never tell me of the contrary; her eyes are full of tears, and her cheeks are whiter than her white dress. I must insist, in the name of common humanity, that the ceremony be adjourned till tomorrow.”

“She shall tell you herself, thou incorrigible intermeddler in what concerns thee not, that it is her wish the ceremony should go on — Is it not, Isabella, my dear?”

“It is,” said Isabella, half fainting —“since there is no help, either in God or man.”

The first word alone was distinctly audible. Mareschal shrugged up his shoulders and stepped back. Ellieslaw led, or rather supported, his daughter to the altar. Sir Frederick moved forward and placed himself by her side. The clergyman opened his prayer-book, and looked to Mr. Vere for the signal to commence the service.

“Proceed,” said the latter.

But a voice, as if issuing from the tomb of his deceased wife, called, in such loud and harsh accents as awakened every echo in the vaulted chapel, “Forbear!”

All were mute and motionless, till a distant rustle, and the clash of swords, or something resembling it, was heard from the remote apartments. It ceased almost instantly.

“What new device is this?” said Sir Frederick, fiercely, eyeing Ellieslaw and Mareschal with a glance of malignant suspicion.

“It can be but the frolic of some intemperate guest,” said Ellieslaw, though greatly confounded; “we must make large allowances for the excess of this evening’s festivity. Proceed with the service.”

Before the clergyman could obey, the same prohibition which they had before heard, was repeated from the same spot. The female attendants screamed, and fled from the chapel; the gentlemen laid their hands on their swords. Ere the first moment of surprise had passed by, the Dwarf stepped from behind the monument, and placed himself full in front of Mr. Vere. The effect of so strange and hideous an apparition in such a place and in such circumstances, appalled all present, but seemed to annihilate the Laird of Ellieslaw, who, dropping his daughter’s arm, staggered against the nearest pillar, and, clasping it with his hands as if for support, laid his brow against the column.

“Who is this fellow?” said Sir Frederick; “and what does he mean by this intrusion?”

“It is one who comes to tell you,” said the Dwarf, with the peculiar acrimony which usually marked his manner, “that, in marrying that young lady, you wed neither the heiress of Ellieslaw, nor of Mauley Hall, nor of Polverton, nor of one furrow of land, unless she marries with my consent; and to thee that consent shall never be given. Down — down on thy knees, and thank Heaven that thou art prevented from wedding qualities with which thou hast no concern — portionless truth, virtue, and innocence — thou, base ingrate,” he continued, addressing himself to Ellieslaw, “what is thy wretched subterfuge now? Thou, who wouldst sell thy daughter to relieve thee from danger, as in famine thou wouldst have slain and devoured her to preserve thy own vile life! — Ay, hide thy face with thy hands; well mayst thou blush to look on him whose body thou didst consign to chains, his hand to guilt, and his soul to misery. Saved once more by the virtue of her who calls thee father, go hence, and may the pardon and benefits I confer on thee prove literal coals of fire, till thy brain is seared and scorched like mine!”

Ellieslaw left the chapel with a gesture of mute despair.

“Follow him, Hubert Ratcliffe,” said the Dwarf, “and inform him of his destiny. He will rejoice — for to breathe air and to handle gold is to him happiness,”

“I understand nothing of all this,” said Sir Frederick Langley; “but we are here a body of gentlemen in arms and authority for King James; and whether you really, sir, be that Sir Edward Mauley, who has been so long supposed dead in confinement, or whether you be an impostor assuming his name and title, we will use the freedom of detaining you, till your appearance here, at this moment, is better accounted for; we will have no spies among us — Seize on him, my friends.”

But the domestics shrunk back in doubt and alarm. Sir Frederick himself stepped forward towards the Recluse, as if to lay hands on his person, when his progress was suddenly stopped by the glittering point of a partisan, which the sturdy hand of Hobbie Elliot presented against his bosom.

“I’ll gar daylight shine through ye, if ye offer to steer him!” said the stout Borderer; “stand back, or I’ll strike ye through! Naebody shall lay a finger on Elshie; he’s a canny neighbourly man, aye ready to make a friend help; and, though ye may think him a lamiter, yet, grippie for grippie, friend, I’ll wad a wether he’ll make the bluid spin frae under your nails. He’s a teugh carle Elshie! he grips like a smith’s vice.”

“What has brought you here, Elliot?” said Mareschal; “who called on you for interference?”

“Troth, Mareschal-Wells,” answered Hobbie, “I am just come here, wi’ twenty or thretty mair o’ us, in my ain name and the King’s — or Queen’s, ca’ they her? and Canny Elshie’s into the bargain, to keep the peace, and pay back some ill usage Ellieslaw has gien me. A bonny breakfast the loons gae me the ither morning, and him at the bottom on’t; and trow ye I wasna ready to supper him up? — Ye needna lay your hands on your swords, gentlemen, the house is ours wi’ little din; for the doors were open, and there had been ower muckle punch amang your folk; we took their swords and pistols as easily as ye wad shiel pea-cods.”

Mareschal rushed out, and immediately re-entered the chapel.

“By Heaven! it is true, Sir Frederick; the house is filled with armed men, and our drunken beasts are all disarmed. Draw, and let us fight our way.”

“Binna rash — binna rash,” exclaimed Hobbie; “hear me a bit, hear me a bit. We mean ye nae harm; but, as ye are in arms for King James, as ye ca’ him, and the prelates, we thought it right to keep up the auld neighbour war, and stand up for the t’other ane and the Kirk; but we’ll no hurt a hair o’ your heads, if ye like to gang hame quietly. And it will be your best way, for there’s sure news come frae Loudoun, that him they ca’ Bang, or Byng, or what is’t, has bang’d the French ships and the new king aff the coast however; sae ye had best bide content wi’ auld Nanse for want of a better Queen.”

Ratcliffe, who at this moment entered, confirmed these accounts so unfavourable to the Jacobite interest. Sir Frederick, almost instantly, and without taking leave of any one, left the castle, with such of his attendants as were able to follow him.

“And what will you do, Mr. Mareschal?” said Ratcliffe.

“Why, faith,” answered he, smiling, “I hardly know; my spirit is too great, and my fortune too small, for me to follow the example of the doughty bridegroom. It is not in my nature, and it is hardly worth my while.”

“Well, then, disperse your men, and remain quiet, and this will be overlooked, as there has been no overt act.”

“Hout, ay,” said Elliot, “just let byganes be byganes, and a’ friends again; deil ane I bear malice at but Westburnflat, and I hae gien him baith a het skin and a cauld ane. I hadna changed three blows of the broadsword wi’ him before he lap the window into the castle-moat, and swattered through it like a wild-duck. He’s a clever fallow, indeed! maun kilt awa wi’ ae bonny lass in the morning, and another at night, less wadna serve him! but if he disna kilt himsell out o’ the country, I’se kilt him wi’ a tow, for the Castleton meeting’s clean blawn ower; his friends will no countenance him.”

During the general confusion, Isabella had thrown herself at the feet of her kinsman, Sir Edward Mauley, for so we must now call the Solitary, to express at once her gratitude, and to beseech forgiveness for her father. The eyes of all began to be fixed on them, as soon as their own agitation and the bustle of the attendants had somewhat abated. Miss Vere kneeled beside the tomb of her mother, to whose statue her features exhibited a marked resemblance. She held the hand of the Dwarf, which she kissed repeatedly and bathed with tears. He stood fixed and motionless, excepting that his eyes glanced alternately on the marble figure and the living suppliant. At length, the large drops which gathered on his eye-lashes compelled him to draw his hand across them.

“I thought,” he said, “that tears and I had done; but we shed them at our birth, and their spring dries not until we are in our graves. But no melting of the heart shall dissolve my resolution. I part here, at once, and for ever, with all of which the memory” (looking to the tomb), “or the presence” (he pressed Isabella’s hand), “is dear to me. — Speak not to me! attempt not to thwart my determination! it will avail nothing; you will hear of and see this lump of deformity no more. To you I shall be dead ere I am actually in my grave, and you will think of me as of a friend disencumbered from the toils and crimes of existence.”

He kissed Isabella on the forehead, impressed another kiss on the brow of the statue by which she knelt, and left the chapel followed by Ratcliffe. Isabella, almost exhausted by the emotions of the day, was carried to her apartment by her women. Most of the other guests dispersed, after having separately endeavoured to impress on all who would listen to them their disapprobation of the plots formed against the government, or their regret for having engaged in them. Hobbie Elliot assumed the command of the castle for the night, and mounted a regular guard. He boasted not a little of the alacrity with which his friends and he had obeyed a hasty summons received from Elshie through the faithful Ratcliffe. And it was a lucky chance, he said, that on that very day they had got notice that Westburnflat did not intend to keep his tryste at Castleton, but to hold them at defiance; so that a considerable party had assembled at the Heugh-foot, with the intention of paying a visit to the robber’s tower on the ensuing morning, and their course was easily directed to Ellieslaw Castle.

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