The Bride of Lammermoor, by Walter Scott

Chapter 17

Here is a father now,

Will truck his daughter for a foreign venture,

Make her the stop-gap to some canker’d feud,

Or fling her o’er, like Jonah, to the fishes,

To appease the sea at highest.

Anonymous.

THE Lord Keeper opened his discourse with an appearance of unconcern, marking, however, very carefully, the effect of his communication upon young Ravenswood.

“You are aware,” he said, “my young friend, that suspicion is the natural vice of our unsettled times, and exposes the best and wisest of us to the imposition of artful rascals. If I had been disposed to listen to such the other day, or even if I had been the wily politicians which you have been taught to believe me, you, Master of Ravenswood, instead of being at freedom, and with fully liberty to solicit and act against me as you please, in defence of what you suppose to be your rights, would have been in the Castle of Edinburgh, or some other state prison; or, if you had escaped that destiny, it must have been by flight to a foreign country, and at the risk of a sentence of fugitation.”

“My Lord Keeper,” said the Master, “I think you would not jest on such a subject; yet it seems impossible you can be in earnest.”

“Innocence,” said the Lord Keeper, “is also confident, and sometimes, though very excusably, presumptuously so.”

“I do not understand,” said Ravenswood, “how a consciousess of innocence can be, in any case, accounted presumptuous.”

“Imprudent, at least, it may be called,” said Sir William Ashton, “since it is apt to lead us into the mistake of supposing that sufficiently evident to others of which, in fact, we are only conscious ourselves. I have known a rogue, for this very reason, make a better defence than an innocent man could have done in the same circumstances of suspicion. Having no consciousness of innocence to support him, such a fellow applies himself to all the advantages which the law will afford him, and sometimes — if his counsel be men of talent — succeeds in compelling his judges to receive him as innocent. I remember the celebrated case of Sir Coolie Condiddle of Condiddle, who was tried for theft under trust, of which all the world knew him guilty, and yet was not only acquitted, but lived to sit in judgment on honester folk.”

“Allow me to beg you will return to the point,” said the Master; “you seemed to say that I had suffered under some suspicion.”

“Suspicion, Master! Ay, truly, and I can show you the proofs of it; if I happen only to have them with me. Here, Lockhard.” His attendant came. “Fetch me the little private mail with the padlocks, that I recommended to your particular charge, d’ye hear?”

“Yes, my lord.” Lockhard vanished; and the Keeper continued, as if half speaking to himself.

“I think the papers are with me — I think so, for, as I was to be in this country, it was natural for me to bring them with me. I have them, however, at Ravenswood Castle, that I am sure; so perhaps you might condescend ——”

Here Lockhard entered, and put the leathern scrutoire, or mail-box, into his hands. The Keeper produced one or two papers, respecting the information laid before the privy council concerning the riot, as it was termed, at the funeral of Allan Lord Ravenswood, and the active share he had himself taken in quashing the proceedings against the Master. These documents had been selected with care, so as to irritate the natural curiosity of Ravenswood upon such a subject, without gratifying it, yet to show that Sir William Ashton had acted upon that trying occasion the part of an advocate and peacemaker betwixt him and the jealous authorities of the day. Having furnished his host with such subjects for examination, the Lord Keeper went to the breakfast-table, and entered into light conversation, addressed partly to old Caleb, whose resentment against the usurper of the Castle of Ravenswood began to be softened by his familiarity, and partly to his daughter.

After perusing these papers, the Master of Ravenswood remained for a minute or two with his hand pressed against his brow, in deep and profound meditation. He then again ran his eye hastily over the papers, as if desirous of discovering in them some deep purpose, or some mark of fabrication, which had escaped him at first perusal. Apparently the second reading confirmed the opinion which had pressed upon him at the first, for he started from the stone bench on which he was sitting, and, going to the Lord Keeper, took his hand, and, strongly pressing it, asked his pardon repeatedly for the injustice he had done him, when it appeared he was experiencing, at his hands, the benefit of protection to his person and vindication to his character.

The statesman received these acknowledgments at first with well-feigned surprise, and then with an affectation of frank cordiality. The tears began already to start from Lucy’s blue eyes at viewing this unexpected and moving scene. To see the Master, late so haughty and reserved, and whom she had always supposed the injured person, supplicating her father for forgiveness, was a change at once surprising, flattering, and affecting.

“Dry your eyes, Lucy,” said her father; “why should you weep, because your father, though a lawyer, is discovered to be a fair and honourable man? What have you to thank me for, my dear Master,” he continued, addressing Ravenswood, “that you would not have done in my case? ‘Suum cuique tribuito,’ was the Roman justice, and I learned it when I studied Justinian. Besides, have you not overpaid me a thousand times, in saving the life of this dear child?”

“Yes,” answered the Master, in all the remorse of self-accusation; “but the little service I did was an act of mere brutal instinct; YOUR defence of my cause, when you knew how ill I thought of you, and how much I was disposed to be your enemy, was an act of generous, manly, and considerate wisdom.”

“Pshaw!” said the Lord Keeper, “each of us acted in his own way; you as a gallant soldier, I as an upright judge and privy-councillor. We could not, perhaps, have changed parts; at least I should have made a very sorry tauridor, and you, my good Master, though your cause is so excellent, might have pleaded it perhaps worse yourself than I who acted for you before the council.”

“My generous friend!” said Ravenswood; and with that brief word, which the Keeper had often lavished upon him, but which he himself now pronounced for the first time, he gave to his feudal enemy the full confidence of an haughty but honourable heart. The Master had been remarked among his contemporaries for sense and acuteness, as well as for his reserved, pertinacious, and irascible character. His prepossessions accordingly, however obstinate, were of a nature to give way before love and gratitude; and the real charms of the daughter, joined to the supposed services of the father, cancelled in his memory the vows of vengeance which he had taken so deeply on the eve of his father’s funeral. But they had been heard and registered in the book of fate.

Caleb was present at this extraordinary scene, and he could conceive no other reason for a proceeding so extraordinary than an alliance betwixt the houses, and Ravenswood Castle assigned for the young lady’s dowry. As for Lucy, when Ravenswood uttered the most passionate excuses for his ungrateful negligence, she could but smile through her tears, and, as she abandoned her hand to him, assure him, in broken accents, of the delight with which she beheld the complete reconciliation between her father and her deliverer. Even the statesman was moved and affected by the fiery, unreserved, and generous self-abandonment with which the Master of Ravenswood renounced his feudal enmity, and threw himself without hesitation upon his forgiveness. His eyes glistened as he looked upon a couple who were obviously becoming attached, and who seemed made for each other. He thought how high the proud and chivalrous character of Ravenswood might rise under many circumstances in which HE found himself “overcrowed,” to use a phrase of Spenser, and kept under, by his brief pedigree, and timidity of disposition. Then his daughter — his favorite child — his constant playmate — seemed formed to live happy in a union with such a commanding spirit as Ravenswood; and even the fine, delicate, fragile form of Lucy Ashton seemed to require the support of the Master’s muscular strength and masculine character. And it was not merely during a few minutes that Sir William Ashton looked upon their marriage as a probable and even desirable event, for a full hour intervened ere his imagination was crossed by recollection of the Master’s poverty, and the sure displeasure of Lady Ashton. It is certain, that the very unusual flow of kindly feeling with which the Lord Keeper had been thus surprised, was one of the circumstances which gave much tacit encouragement to the attachment between the Master and his daughter, and led both the lovers distinctly to believe that it was a connexion which would be most agreeable to him. He himself was supposed to have admitted this in effect, when, long after the catastrophe of their love, he used to warn his hearers against permitting their feelings to obtain an ascendency over their judgment, and affirm, that the greatest misfortune of his life was owing to a very temporary predominance of sensibility over self-interest. It must be owned, if such was the case, he was long and severely punished for an offence of very brief duration.

After some pause, the Lord Keeper resumed the conversation. —

“In your surprise at finding me an honester man than you expected, you have lost your curiosity about this Craigengelt, my good Master; and yet your name was brought in, in the course of that matter too.”

“The scoundrel!” said Ravenswood. “My connexion with him was of the most temporary nature possible; and yet I was very foolish to hold any communication with him at all. What did he say of me?”

“Enough,” said the Keeper, “to excite the very loyal terrors of some of our sages, who are for proceeding against men on the mere grounds of suspicion or mercenary information. Some nonsense about your proposing to enter into the service of France, or of the Pretender, I don’t recollect which, but which the Marquis of A— — one of your best friends, and another person, whom some call one of your worst and most interested enemies, could not, somehow, be brought to listen to.”

“I am obliged to my honourable friend; and yet,” shaking the Lord Keeper’s hand —“and yet I am still more obliged to my honourable enemy.”

“Inimicus amicissimus,” said the Lord Keeper, returning the pressure; “but this gentleman — this Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw — I am afraid the poor young man — I heard the fellow mention his name — is under very bad guidance.”

“He is old enough to govern himself,” answered the Master.

“Old enough, perhaps, but scarce wise enough, if he has chosen this fellow for his fidus Achates. Why, he lodged an information against him — that is, such a consequence might have ensued from his examination, had we not looked rather at the character of the witness than the tenor of his evidence.”

“Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw,” said the master, “is, I believe, a most honourable man, and capable of nothing that is mean or disgraceful.”

“Capable of much that is unreasonable, though; that you must needs allow, master. Death will soon put him in possession of a fair estate, if he hath it not already; old Lady Girnington — an excellent person, excepting that her inveterate ill-nature rendered her intolerable to the whole world — is probably dead by this time. Six heirs portioners have successively died to make her wealthy. I know the estates well; they march with my own — a noble property.”

“I am glad of it,” said Ravenswood, “and should be more so, were I confident that Bucklaw would change his company and habits with his fortunes. This appearance of Craigengelt, acting in the capacity of his friend, is a most vile augury for his future respectability.”

“He is a bird of evil omen, to be sure,” said the Keeper, “and croaks of jail and gallows-tree. But I see Mr. Caleb grows impatient for our return to breakfast.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/bride/chapter17.html

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