As, to the Autumn breeze’s bugle sound,
Various and vague the dry leaves dance their round;
Or, from the garner-door, on ether borne,
The chaff flies devious from the winnow’d corn;
So vague, so devious, at the breath of heaven,
From their fix’d aim are mortal counsels driv’n.
WE left Caleb Balderstone in the extremity of triumph at the success of his various achievements for the honour of the house of Ravenswood. When he had mustered and marshalled his dishes of divers kinds, a more royal provision had not been seen in Wolf’s Crag since the funeral feast of its deceased lord. Great was the glory of the serving-man, as he “decored” the old oaken table with a clean cloth, and arranged upon it carbonaded venison and roasted wild-fowl, with a glance, every now and then, as if to upbraid the incredulity of his master and his guests; and with many a story, more or less true, was Lockhard that evening regaled concerning the ancient grandeur of Wolf’s Crag, and the sway of its barons over the country in their neighbourhood.
“A vassal scarce held a calf or a lamb his ain, till he had first asked if the Lord of Ravenswood was pleased to accept it; and they were obliged to ask the lord’s consent before they married in these days, and mony a merry tale they tell about that right as weel as others. And although,” said Caleb, “these times are not like the gude auld times, when authority had its right, yet true it is, Mr. Lockhard, and you yoursell may partly have remarked, that we of the house of Ravenswood do our endeavour in keeping up, by all just and lawful exertion of our baronial authority, that due and fitting connexion betwixt superior and vassal, whilk is in some danger of falling into desuetude, owing to the general license and misrule of these present unhappy times.”
“Umph!” said Mr. Lockhard; “and if I may inquire, Mr. Balderstone, pray do you find your people at the village yonder amenable? for I must needs say, that at Ravenswood Castle, now pertaining to my master the Lord Keeper, ye have not left behind ye the most compliant set of tenantry.”
“Ah! but Mr. Lockhard,” replied Caleb, “ye must consider there has been a change of hands, and the auld lord might expect twa turns frae them, when the new-comer canna get ane. A dour and fractious set they were, thae tenants of Ravenswood, and ill to live wi’ when they dinna ken their master; and if your master put them mad ance, the whole country will not put them down.”
“Troth,” said Mr. Lockhard, “an such be the case, I think the wisest thing for us a’ wad be to hammer up a match between your young lord and our winsome young leddy up-bye there; and Sir William might just stitch your auld barony to her gown-sleeve, and he wad sune cuitle another out o’ somebody else, sic a lang head as he has.”
Caleb shook his head. “I wish,” he said —“I wish that may answer, Mr. Lockhard. There are auld prophecies about this house I wad like ill to see fulfilled wi’ my auld een, that has seen evil eneugh already.”
“Pshaw! never mind freits,” said his brother butler; “if the young folk liked ane anither, they wad make a winsome couple. But, to say truth, there is a leddy sits in our hall-neuk, maun have her hand in that as weel as in every other job. But there’s no harm in drinking to their healths, and I will fill Mrs. Mysie a cup of Mr. Girder’s canary.”
While they thus enjoyed themselves in the kitchen, the company in the hall were not less pleasantly engaged. So soon as Ravenswood had determined upon giving the Lord Keeper such hospitality as he had to offer, he deemed it incumbent on him to assume the open and courteous brow of a well-pleased host. It has been often remarked, that when a man commences by acting a character, he frequently ends by adopting it in good earnest. In the course of an hour or two, Ravenswood, to his own surprise, found himself in the situation of one who frankly does his best to entertain welcome and honoured guests. How much of this change in his disposition was to be ascribed to the beauty and simplicity of Miss Ashton, to the readiness with which she accommodated herself to the inconveniences of her situation; how much to the smooth and plausible conversation of the Lord Keeper, remarkably gifted with those words which win the ear, must be left to the reader’s ingenuity to conjecture. But Ravenswood was insensible to neither.
The Lord Keeper was a veteran statesman, well acquainted with courts and cabinets, and intimate with all the various turns of public affairs during the last eventful years of the 17th century. He could talk, from his own knowledge, of men and events, in a way which failed not to win attention, and had the peculiar art, while he never said a word which committed himself, at the same time to persuade the hearer that he was speaking without the least shadow of scrupulous caution or reserve. Ravenswood, in spite of his prejudices and real grounds of resentment, felt himself at once amused and instructed in listening to him, while the statesman, whose inward feelings had at first so much impeded his efforts to make himself known, had now regained all the ease and fluency of a silver-tongued lawyer of the very highest order.
His daughter did not speak much, but she smiled; and what she did say argued a submissive gentleness, and a desire to give pleasure, which, to a proud man like Ravenswood, was more fascinating than the most brilliant wit. Above all, he could not be observe that, whether from gratitude or from some other motive, he himself, in his deserted and unprovided hall, was as much the object of respectful attention to his guests as he would have been when surrounded by all the appliances and means of hospitality proper to his high birth. All deficiencies passed unobserved, or, if they did not escape notice, it was to praise the substitutes which Caleb had contrived to supply the want of the usual accommodations. Where a smile was unavoidable, it was a very good-humoured one, and often coupled with some well-turned compliment, to show how much the guests esteemed the merits of their noble host, how little they thought of the inconveniences with which they were surrounded. I am not sure whether the pride of being found to outbalance, in virtue of his own personal merit, all the disadvantages of fortune, did not make as favourable an impression upon the haughty heart of the Master of Ravenswood as the conversation of the father and the beauty of Lucy Ashton.
The hour of repose arrived. The Keeper and his daughter retired to their apartments, which were “decored” more properly than could have been anticipated. In making the necessary arrangements, Mysie had indeed enjoyed the assistance of a gossip who had arrived from the village upon an exploratory expedition, but had been arrested by Caleb, and impressed into the domestic drudgery of the evening; so that, instead of returning home to describe the dress and person of the grand young lady, she found herself compelled to be active in the domestic economy of Wolf’s Crag.
According to the custom of the time, the Master of Ravenswood attended the Lord Keeper to his apartment, followed by Caleb, who placed on the table, with all the ceremonials due to torches of wax, two rudely-framed tallow-candles, such as in those days were only used by the peasantry, hooped in paltry clasps of wire, which served for candlesticks. He then disappeared, and presently entered with two earthen flagons (the china, he said, had been little used since my lady’s time), one filled with canary wine, the other with brandy. The canary sack, unheeding all probabilities of detection, he declared had been twenty years in the cellars of Wolf’s Crag, “though it was not for him to speak before their honours; the brandy — it was weel-kenn’d liquor, as mild as mead and as strong as Sampson; it had been in the house ever since the memorable revel, in which auld Micklestob had been slain at the head of the stair by Jamie of Jenklebrae, on account of the honour of the worshipful Lady Muirend, wha was in some sort an ally of the family; natheless ——”
“But to cut that matter short, Mr. Caleb,” said the Keeper, “perhaps you will favour me with a ewer of water.”
“God forbid your lordship should drink water in this family,” replied Caleb, “to the disgrace of so honourable an house!”
“Nevertheless, if his lordship have a fancy,” said the Master, smiling, “I think you might indulge him; for, if I mistake not, there has been water drank here at no distant date, and with good relish too.”
“To be sure, if his lordship has a fancy,” said Caleb; and re-entering with a jug of pure element —“He will scarce find such water onywhere as is drawn frae the well at Wolf’s Crag; nevertheless ——”
“Nevertheless, we must leave the Lord Keeper to his repose in this poor chamber of ours,” said the Master of Ravenswood, interrupting his talkative domestic, who immediately turning to the doorway, with a profound reverence, prepared to usher his master from the secret chamber.
But the Lord Keeper prevented his host’s departure. —“I have but one word to say to the Master of Ravenswood, Mr. Caleb, and I fancy he will excuse your waiting.”
With a second reverence, lower than the former, Caleb withdrew; and his master stood motionless, expecting, with considerable embarrassment, what was to close the events of a day fraught with unexpected incidents.
“Master of Ravenswood,” said Sir William Ashton, with some embarrassment, “I hope you understand the Christian law too well to suffer the sun to set upon your anger.”
The Master blushed and replied, “He had no occasion that evening to exercise the duty enjoined upon him by his Christian faith.”
“I should have thought otherwise,” said his guest, “considering the various subjects of dispute and litigation which have unhappily occurred more frequently than was desirable or necessary betwixt the late honourable lord, your father, and myself.”
“I could wish, my lord,” said Ravenswood, agitated by suppressed emotion, “that reference to these circumstances should be made anywhere rather than under my father’s roof.”
“I should have felt the delicacy of this appeal at another time,” said Sir William Ashton, “but now I must proceed with what I mean to say. I have suffered too much in my own mind, from the false delicacy which prevented my soliciting with earnestness, what indeed I frequently requested, a personal communing with your father: much distress of mind to him and to me might have been prevented.”
“It is true,” said Ravenswood, after a moment’s reflection, “I have heard my father say your lordship had proposed a personal interview.”
“Proposed, my dear Master? I did indeed propose it; but I ought to have begged, entreated, beseeched it. I ought to have torn away the veil, which interested persons had stretched betwixt us, and shown myself as I was, willing to sacrifice a considerable part even of my legal rights, in order to conciliate feelings so natural as his must be allowed to have been. Let me say for myself, my young friend, for so I will call you, that had your father and I spent the same time together which my good fortune has allowed me today to pass in your company, it is possible the land might yet have enjoyed one of the most respectable of its ancient nobility, and I should have been spared the pain of parting in enmity from a person whose general character I so much admired and honoured.”
He put his handkerchief to his eyes. Ravenswood also was moved, but awaited in silence the progress of this extraordinary communication.
“It is necessary,” continued the Lord Keeper, “and proper that you should understand, that there have been many points betwixt us, in which, although I judged it proper that there should be an exact ascertainment of my legal rights by the decree of a court of justice, yet it was never my intention to press them beyond the verge of equity.”
“My lord,” said the Master of Ravenswood, “it is unnecessary to pursue this topic farther. What the law will give you, or has given you, you enjoy — or you shall enjoy; neither my father nor I myself would have received anything on the footing of favour.”
“Favour! No, you misunderstand me,” resumed the Keeper; “or rather you are no lawyer. A right may be good in law, and ascertained to be so, which yet a man of honour may not in every case care to avail himself of.”
“I am sorry for it, my lord,” said the Master.
“Nay, nay,” retorted his guest, “you speak like a young counsellor; your spirit goes before your wit. There are many things still open for decision betwixt us. Can you blame me, an old man desirous of peace, and in the castle of a young nobleman who has saved my daughter’s life and my own, that I am desirous, anxiously desirous, that these should be settled on the most liberal principles?” The old man kept fast hold of the Master’s passive hand as he spoke, and made it impossible for him, be his predetermination what it would, to return any other than an acquiescent reply; and wishing his guest good-night, he postponed farther conference until the next morning.
Ravenswood hurried into the hall, where he was to spend the night, and for a time traversed its pavement with a disordered and rapid pace. His mortal foe was under his roof, yet his sentiments towards him were neither those of a feudal enemy nor of a true Christian. He felt as if he could neither forgive him in the one character, nor follow forth his vengeance in the other, but that he was making a base and dishonourable composition betwixt his resentment against the father and his affection for his daughter. He cursed himself, as he hurried to and fro in the pale moonlight, and more ruddy gleams of the expiring wood-fire. He threw open and shut the latticed windows with violence, as if alike impatient of the admission and exclusion of free air. At length, however, the torrent of passion foamed off its madness, and he flung himself into the chair which he proposed as his place of repose for the night.
“If, in reality,” such were the calmer thoughts that followed the first tempest of his passion —“if, in reality, this man desires no more than the law allows him — if he is willing to adjust even his acknowledged rights upon an equitable footing, what could be my father’s cause of complaint? — what is mine? Those from who we won our ancient possessions fell under the sword of my ancestors, and left lands and livings to the conquerors; we sink under the force of the law, now too powerful for the Scottish cavalry. Let us parley with the victors of the day, as if we had been besieged in our fortress, and without hope of relief. This man may be other than I have thought him; and his daughter — but I have resolved not to think of her.”
He wrapt his cloak around him, fell asleep, and dreamed of Lucy Ashton till daylight gleamed through the lattices.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00