The Bride of Lammermoor, by Walter Scott

Chapter 26

Why flames yon far summit — why shoot to the blast

Those embers, like stars from the firmament cast?

’Tis the fire-shower of ruin, all dreadfully driven

From thine eyrie, that beacons the darkness of Heaven.

CAMPBELL.

THE circumstances announced in the conclusion of the last chapter will account for the ready and cheerful reception of the Marquis of A—— and the Master of Ravenswood in the village of Wolf’s Hope. In fact, Caleb had no sooner announced the conflagration of the tower than the whole hamlet were upon foot to hasten to extinguish the flames. And although that zealous adherent diverted their zeal by intimating the formidable contents of the subterranean apartments, yet the check only turned their assiduity into another direction. Never had there been such slaughtering of capons, and fat geese, and barndoor fowls; never such boiling of “reested” hams; never such making of car-cakes and sweet scones, Selkirk bannocks, cookies, and petticoat-tails — delicacies little known to the present generation. Never had there been such a tapping of barrels, and such uncorking of greybeards, in the village of Wolf’s Hope. All the inferior houses were thrown open for the reception of the Marquis’s dependants, who came, it was thought, as precursors of the shower of preferment which hereafter was to leave the rest of Scotland dry, in order to distil its rich dews on the village of Wolf’s Hope under Lammermoor. The minister put in his claim to have the guests of distinction lodged at the manse, having his eye, it was thought, upon a neighbouring preferment, where the incumbent was sickly; but Mr. Balderstone destined that honour to the cooper, his wife, and wife’s mother, who danced for joy at the preferences thus assigned them.

Many a beck and many a bow welcomed these noble guests to as good entertainment as persons of such rank could set before such visitors; and the old dame, who had formerly lived in Ravenswood Castle, and knew, as she said, the ways of the nobility, was in no whit wanting in arranging matters, as well as circumstances permitted, according to the etiquette of the times. The cooper’s house was so roomy that each guest had his separate retiring-room, to which they were ushered with all due ceremony, while the plentiful supper was in the act of being placed upon the table.

Ravenswood no sooner found himself alone than, impelled by a thousand feelings, he left the apartment, the house, and the village, and hastily retraced his steps to the brow of the hill, which rose betwixt the village and screened it from the tower, in order to view the final fall of the house of his fathers. Some idle boys from the hamlet had taken the same direction out of curiosity, having first witnessed the arrival of the coach and six and its attendants. As they ran one by one past the Master, calling to each other to “Come and see the auld tower blaw up in the lift like the peelings of an ingan,” he could not but feel himself moved with indignation. “And these are the sons of my father’s vassals,” he said —“of men bound, both by law and gratitude, to follow our steps through battle, and fire, and flood; and now the destruction of their liege lord’s house is but a holiday’s sight to them.”

These exasperating reflections were partly expresssed in the acrimony with which he exclaimed, on feeling himself pulled by the cloak: “What do you want, you dog?”

“I am a dog, and an auld dog too,” answered Caleb, for it was he who had taken the freedom, “and I am like to get a dog’s wages; but it does not signification a pinch of sneesing, for I am ower auld a dog to learn new tricks, or to follow a new master.”

As he spoke, Ravenswood attained the ridge of the hill from which Wolf’s Crag was visible; the flames had entirely sunk down, and, to his great surprise, there was only a dusky reddening upon the clouds immediately over the castle, which seemed the reflection of the embers of the sunken fire.

“The place cannot have blown up,” said the Master; “we must have heard the report: if a quarter of the gunpowder was there you tell me of, it would have been heard twenty miles off.”

“It’ve very like it wad,” said Balderstone, composedly.

“Then the fire cannot have reached the vaults?”

“It’s like no,” answered Caleb, with the same impenetrable gravity.

“Hark ye, Caleb,” said his master, “this grows a little too much for my patience. I must go and examine how matters stand at Wolf’s Crag myself.”

“Your honour is ganging to gang nae sic gate,” said Caleb, firmly.

“And why not?” said Ravenswood, sharply; “who or what shall prevent me?”

“Even I mysell,” said Caleb, with the same determination.

“You, Balderstone!” replied the Master; “you are forgetting yourself, I think.”

“But I think no,” said Balderstone; “for I can just tell ye a’ about the castle on this knowe-head as weel as if ye were at it. Only dinna pit yoursell into a kippage, and expose yoursell before the weans, or before the Marquis, when ye gang down-bye.”

“Speak out, you old fool,” replied his master, “and let me know the best and the worst at once.”

“Ou, the best and the warst is, just that the tower is standing hail and feir, as safe and as empty as when ye left it.”

“Indeed! and the fire?” said Ravenswood. “Not a gleed of fire, then, except the bit kindling peat, and maybe a spunk in Mysie’s cutty-pipe,” replied Caleb.

“But the flame?” demanded Ravenswood —“the broad blaze which might have been seen ten miles off — what occasioned that?”

“Hout awa’! it’s an auld saying and a true —

Little’s the light Will be seen far in a mirk night.

A wheen fern and horse little that I fired in the courtyard, after sending back the loon of a footman; and, to speak Heaven’s truth, the next time that ye send or bring ony body here, let them ge gentles allenarly, without ony fremd servants, like that chield Lockhard, to be gledging and gleeing about, and looking upon the wrang side of ane’s housekeeping, to the discredit of the family, and forcing ane to damn their souls wi’ telling ae lee after another faster than I can count them: I wad rather set fire to the tower in gude earnest, and burn it ower my ain head into the bargain, or I see the family dishonoured in the sort.”

“Upon my word, I am infinitely obliged by the proposal, Caleb,” said his master, scarce able to to restrain his laughter, though rather angry at the same time. “But the gunpowder — is there such a thing in the tower? The Marquis seemed to know of it.” “The pouther, ha! ha! ha! — the Marquis, ha! ha! ha!” replied Caleb — “if your honour were to brain me, I behooved to laugh — the Marquis — the pouther! Was it there? Ay, it was there. Did he ken o’t? My certie! the Marquis kenn’d o’t, and it was the best o’ the game; for, when I couldna pacify your honour wi’ a’ that I could say, I aye threw out a word mair about the gunpouther, and garr’d the Marquis tak the job in his ain hand.”

“But you have not answered my question,” said the Master, impatiently; “how came the powder there, and where is it now?”

“Ou, it came there, an ye maun needs ken,” said Caleb, looking mysteriously, and whispering, “when there was like to be a wee bit rising here; and the Marquis, and a’ the great lords of the north, were a’ in it, and mony a gudely gun and broadsword were ferried ower frae Dunkirk forbye the pouther. Awfu’ work we had getting them into the tower under cloud o’ night, for ye maun think it wasna everybody could be trusted wi’ sic kittle jobs. But if ye will gae hame to your supper, I will tell you a’ about it as ye gang down.”

“And these wretched boys,” said Ravenswood, “is it your pleasure they are to sit there all night, to wait for the blowing up of a tower that is not even on fire?”

“Surely not, if it is your honour’s pleasure that they suld gang hame; although,” added Caleb, “it wadna do them a grain’s damage: they wad screigh less the next day, and sleep the sounder at e’en. But just as your honour likes.”

Stepping accordingly towards the urchins who manned the knolls near which they stood, Caleb informed them, in an authoritative tone, that their honours Lord Ravenswood and the Marquis of A—— had given orders that the tower was not to be blow up till next day at noon. The boys dispersed upon this comfortable assurance. One or two, however, followed Caleb for more information, particularly the urchin whom he had cheated while officiating as turnspit, who screamed, “Mr. Balderstone! — Mr. Balderstone! then the castle’s gane out like an auld wife’s spunk?”

“To be sure it is, callant,” said the butler; “do ye think the castle of as great a lord as Lord Ravenswood wad continue in a bleeze, and him standing looking on wi’ his ain very een? It’s aye right,” continued Caleb, shaking off his ragged page, and closing in to his Master, “to train up weans, as the wise man says, in the way they should go, and, aboon a’, to teach them respect to their superiors.”

“But all this while, Caleb, you have never told me what became of the arms and powder,” said Ravenswood.

“Why, as for the arms,” said Caleb, “it was just like the bairn’s rhyme —

Some gaed east and some gaed west,

And some gaed to the craw’s nest.

And for the pouther, I e’en changed it, as occasion served, with the skippers o’ Dutch luggers and French vessels, for gin and brandy, and is served the house mony a year — a gude swap too, between what cheereth the soul of man and that which hingeth it clean out of his body; forbye, I keepit a wheen pounds of it for yoursell when ye wanted to take the pleasure o’ shooting: whiles, in these latter days, I wad hardly hae kenn’d else whar to get pouther for your pleasure. And now that your anger is ower, sir, wasna that weel managed o’ me, and arena ye far better sorted doun yonder than ye could hae been in your ain auld ruins up-bye yonder, as the case stands wi’ us now? the mair’s the pity!”

“I believe you may be right, Caleb; but, before burning down my castle, either in jest or in earnest,” said Ravenswood, “I think I had a right to be in the secret.”

“Fie for shame, your honour!” replied Caleb; “it fits an auld carle like me weel eneugh to tell lees for the credit of the family, but it wadna beseem the like o’ your honour’s sell; besides, young folk are no judicious: they cannot make the maist of a bit figment. Now this fire — for a fire it sall be, if I suld burn the auld stable to make it mair feasible — this fire, besides that it will be an excuse for asking ony thing we want through the country, or doun at the haven — this fire will settle mony things on an honourable footing for the family’s credit, that cost me telling twenty daily lees to a wheen idle chaps and queans, and, what’s waur, without gaining credence.” “That was hard indeed, Caleb; but I do not see how this fire should help your veracity or your credit.”

“There it is now?” said Caleb; “wasna I saying that young folk had a green judgment? How suld it help me, quotha? It will be a creditable apology for the honour of the family for this score of years to come, if it is weel guided. ‘Where’s the family pictures?’ says ae meddling body. ‘The great fire at Wolf’s Crag,’ answers I. ‘Where’s the family plate?’ says another. ‘The great fire,’ says I; ‘wha was to think of plate, when life and limb were in danger?’ ‘Where’s the wardrobe and the linens? — where’s the tapestries and the decorements? — beds of state, twilts, pands and testors, napery and broidered wark?’ ‘The fire — the fire — the fire.’ Guide the fire weel, and it will serve ye for a’ that ye suld have and have not; and, in some sort, a gude excuse is better than the things themselves; for they maun crack and wear out, and be consumed by time, whereas a gude offcome, prudently and creditably handled, may serve a nobleman and his family, Lord kens how lang!”

Ravenswood was too well acquainted with his butler’s pertinacity and self-opinion to dispute the point with him any farther. Leaving Caleb, therefore, to the enjoyment of his own successful ingenuity, he returned to the hamlet, where he found the Marquis and the good women of the mansion under some anxiety — the former on account of his absence, the others for the discredit their cookery might sustain by the delay of the supper. All were now at ease, and heard with pleasure that the fire at the castle had burned out of itself without reaching the vaults, which was the only information that Ravenswood thought it proper to give in public concerning the event of his butler’s strategem.

They sat down to an excellent supper. No invitation could prevail on Mr. and Mrs. Girder, even in their own house, to sit down at table with guests of such high quality. They remained standing in the apartment, and acted the part of respectful and careful attendants on the company. Such were the manners of the time. The elder dame, confident through her age and connexion with the Ravenswood family, was less scrupulously ceremonious. She played a mixed part betwixt that of the hostess of an inn and the mistress of a private house, who receives guests above her own degree. She recommended, and even pressed, what she thought best, and was herself easily entreated to take a moderate share of the good cheer, in order to encourage her guests by her own example. Often she interrupted herself, to express her regret that “my lord did not eat; that the Master was pyking a bare bane; that, to be sure, there was naething there fit to set before their honours; that Lord Allan, rest his saul, used to like a pouthered guse, and said it was Latin for a tass o’ brandy; that the brandy came frae France direct; for, for a’ the English laws and gaugers, the Wolf’s Hope brigs hadna forgotten the gate to Dunkirk.”

Here the cooper admonished his mother-inlaw with his elbow, which procured him the following special notice in the progress of her speech:

“Ye needna be dunshin that gate, John [Gibbie],” continued the old lady; “naebody says that YE ken whar the brandy comes frae; and it wadna be fitting ye should, and you the Queen’s cooper; and what signifies’t,” continued she, addressing Lord Ravenswood, “to king, queen, or kaiser whar an auld wife like me buys her pickle sneeshin, or her drap brandy-wine, to haud her heart up?”

Having thus extricated herself from her supposed false step, Dame Loup-the-Dyke proceeded, during the rest of the evening, to supply, with great animation, and very little assistance from her guests, the funds necessary for the support of the conversation, until, declining any further circulation of their glass, her guests requested her permission to retire to their apartments.

The Marquis occupied the chamber of dais, which, in every house above the rank of a mere cottage, was kept sacred for such high occasions as the present. The modern finishing with plaster was then unknown, and tapestry was confined to the houses of the nobility and superior gentry. The cooper, therefore, who was a man of some vanity, as well as some wealth, had imitated the fashion observed by the inferior landholders and clergy, who usually ornamented their state apartments with hangings of a sort of stamped leather, manufactured in the Netherlands, garnished with trees and aminals executed in copper foil, and with many a pithy sentence of morality, which, although couched in Low Dutch, were perhaps as much attended to in practice as if written in broad Scotch. The whole had somewhat of a gloomy aspect; but the fire, composed of old pitch-barrel staves, blazed merrily up the chimney; the bed was decorated with linen of most fresh and dazzling whiteness, which had never before been used, and might, perhaps, have never been used at all, but for this high occasion. On the toilette beside, stood an old-fashioned mirror, in a fillagree frame, part of the dispersed finery of the neighbouring castle. It was flanked by a long-necked bottle of Florence wine, by which stood a glass enarly as tall, resembling in shape that which Teniers usually places in the hands of his own portrait, when he paints himself as mingling in the revels of a country village. To counterbalance those foreign sentinels, there mounted guard on the other side of the mirror two stout warders of Scottish lineage; a jug, namely, of double ale, which held a Scotch pint, and a quaigh, or bicker, of ivory and ebony, hooped with silver, the work of John Girder’s own hands, and the pride of his heart. Besides these preparations against thirst, there was a goodly diet-loaf, or sweet cake; so that, with such auxiliaries, the apartment seemed victualled against a siege of two or three days.

It only remains to say, that the Marquis’s valet was in attendance, displaying his master’s brocaded nightgown, and richly embroidered velvet cap, lined and faced with Brussels lace, upon a huge leathern easy-chair, wheeled round so as to have the full advantage of the comfortable fire which we have already mentioned. We therefore commit that eminent person to his night’s repose, trusting he profited by the ample preparations made for his accommodation — preparations which we have mentioned in detail, as illustrative of ancient Scottish manners.

It is not necessary we should be equally minute in describing the sleeping apartment of the Master of Ravenswood, which was that usually occupied by the goodman and goodwife themselves. It was comfortably hung with a sort of warm-coloured worsted, manufactured in Scotland, approaching in trexture to what is now called shalloon. A staring picture of John [Gibbie] Girder himself ornamented this dormiory, painted by a starving Frenchman, who had, God knows how or why, strolled over from Flushing or Dunkirk to Wolf’s Hope in a smuggling dogger. The features were, indeed, those of the stubborn, opinionative, yet sensible artisan, but Monsieur had contrived to throw a French grace into the look and manner, so utterly inconsistent with the dogged gravity of the original, that it was impossible to look at it without laughing. John and his family, however, piqued themselves not a little upon this picture, and were proportionably censured by the neighbourhood, who pronounced that the cooper, in sitting for the same, and yet more in presuming to hang it up in his bedchamber, had exceeded his privilege as the richest man of the village; at once stept beyond the bounds of his own rank, and encroached upon those of the superior orders; and, in fine, had been guilty of a very overweening act of vanity and presumption. Respect for the memory of my deceased friend, Mr. Richard Tinto, has obliged me to treat this matter at some length; but I spare the reader his prolix though curious observations, as well upon the character of the French school as upon the state of painting in Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century.

The other preparations of the Master’s sleeping apartment were similar to those in the chamber of dais.

At the usual early hour of that period, the Marquis of A—— and his kinsman prepared to resume their journey. This could not be done without an ample breakfast, in which cold meat and hot meat, and oatmeal flummery, wine and spirits, and milk varied by every possible mode of preparation, evinced the same desire to do honour to their guests which had been shown by the hospitable owners of the mansion upon the evening before. All the bustle of preparation for departure now resounded through Wolf’s Hope. There was paying of bills and shaking of hands, and saddling of horses, and harnessing of carriages, and distributing of drink-money. The Marquis left a broad piece for the gratification of John Girder’s household, which he, the said John, was for some time disposed to convert to his own use; Dingwall, the writer, assuring him he was justified in so doing, seeing he was the disburser of those expenses which were the occasion of the gratification. But, notwithstanding this legal authority, John could not find in his heart to dim the splendour of his late hospitality by picketing anything in the nature of a gratuity. He only assured his menials he would consider them as a damned ungrateful pack if they bought a gill of brandy elsewhere than out of his own stores; and as the drink-money was likely to go to its legitimate use, he comforted himself that, in this manner, the Marquis’s donative would, without any impeachment of credit and character, come ultimately into his own exclusive possession.

While arrangements were making for departure, Ravenswood made blythe the heart of his ancient butler by informing him, cautiously however (for he knew Caleb’s warmth of imagination), of the probably change which was about to take place in his fortunes. He deposited with Balderstone, at the same time, the greater part of his slender funds, with an assurance, which he was obliged to reiterate more than once, that he himself had sufficient supplies in certain prospect. He therefore enjoined Caleb, as he valued his favour, to desist from all farther maneouvres against the inhabitants of Wolf’s Hope, their cellars, poultry-yards, and substance whatsoever. In this prohibition, the old domestic acquiesced more readily than his master expected.

“It was doubtless,” he said, “a shame, a discredit, and a sin to harry the puir creatures, when the family were in circumstances to live honourably on their ain means; and there might be wisdom,” he added, “in giving them a while’s breathing-time at any rate, that they might be the more readily brougth forward upon his honour’s future occasions.”

This matter being settled, and having taken an affectionate farewell of his old domestic, the Master rejoined his noble relative, who was now ready to enter his carriage. The two landladies, old and young, having received in all kindly greeting a kiss from each of their noble guests, stood simpering at the door of their house, as the coach and six, followed by its train of clattering horsemen, thundered out of the village. John Girder also stood upon his threshold, now looking at his honoured right hand, which had been so lately shaken by a marquis and a lord, and now giving a glance into the interior of his mansion, which manifested all the disarray of the late revel, as if balancing the distinction which he had attained with the expenses of the entertainment.

At length he opened his oracular jaws. “Let every man and woman here set about their ain business, as if there was nae sic thing as marquis or master, duke or drake, laird or lord, in this world. Let the house be redd up, the broken meat set bye, and if there is ony thing totally uneatable, let it be gien to the puir folk; and, gude mother and wife, I hae just ae thing to entreat ye, that ye will never speak to me a single word, good or bad, anent a’ this nonsense wark, but keep a’ your cracks about it to yoursells and your kimmers, for my head is weel-nigh dung donnart wi’ it already.”

As John’s authority was tolerably absolute, all departed to their usual occupations, leaving him to build castles in the air, if he had a mind, upon the court favour which he had acquired by the expenditure of his worldly substance.

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