The hearth in hall was black and dead,
No board was dight in bower within,
Nor merry bowl nor welcome bed;
“Here’s sorry cheer,” quoth the Heir of Linne.
THE feelings of the prodigal Heir of Linne, as expressed in that excellent old song, when, after dissipating his whole fortune, he found himself the deserted inhabitant of “the lonely lodge,” might perhaps have some resemblance to those of the Master of Ravenswood in his deserted mansion of Wolf’s Crag. The Master, however, had this advantage over the spendthrift in the legend, that, if he was in similar distress, he could not impute it to his own imprudence. His misery had been bequeathed to him by his father, and, joined to his high blood, and to a title which the courteous might give or the churlish withhold at their pleasure, it was the whole inheritance he had derived from his ancestry. Perhaps this melancholy yet consolatory reflection crossed the mind of the unfortunate young nobleman with a breathing of comfort. Favourable to calm reflection, as well as to the Muses, the morning, while it dispelled the shades of night, had a composing and sedative effect upon the stormy passions by which the Master of Ravenswood had been agitated on the preceding day. He now felt himself able to analyse the different feelings by which he was agitated, and much resolved to combat and to subdue them. The morning, which had arisen calm and bright, gave a pleasant effect even to the waste moorland view which was seen from the castle on looking to the landward; and the glorious ocean, crisped with a thousand rippling waves of silver, extended on the other side, in awful yet complacent majesty, to the verge of the horizon. With such scenes of calm sublimity the human heart sympathises even in its most disturbed moods, and deeds of honour and virtue are inspired by their majestic influence. To seek out Bucklaw in the retreat which he had afforded him, was the first occupation of the Master, after he had performed, with a scrutiny unusually severe, the important task of self-examination. “How now, Bucklaw?” was his morning’s salutation —“how like you the couch in which the exiled Earl of Angus once slept in security, when he was pursued by the full energy of a king’s resentment?”
“Umph!” returned the sleeper awakened; “I have little to complain of where so great a man was quartered before me, only the mattress was of the hardest, the vault somewhat damp, the rats rather more mutinous than I would have expected from the state of Caleb’s larder; and if there had been shutters to that grated window, or a curtain to the bed, I should think it, upon the whole, an improvement in your accommodations.”
“It is, to be sure, forlorn enough,” said the Master, looking around the small vault; “but if you will rise and leave it, Caleb will endeavour to find you a better breakfast than your supper of last night.”
“Pray, let it be no better,” said Bucklaw, getting up, and endeavouring to dress himself as well as the obscurity of the place would permit —“let it, I say, be no better, if you mean me to preserve in my proposed reformation. The very recollection of Caleb’s beverage has done more to suppress my longing to open the day with a morning draught than twenty sermons would have done. And you, master, have you been able to give battle valiantly to your bosom-snake? You see I am in the way of smothering my vipers one by one.”
“I have commenced the battle, at least, Bucklaw, adn I have had a fair vision of an angel who descended to my assistance,” replied the Master.
“Woe’s me!” said his guest, “no vision can I expect, unless my aunt, Lady Grinington, should betake herself to the tomb; and then it would be the substance of her heritage rather than the appearance of her phantom that I should consider as the support of my good resolutions. But this same breakfast, Master — does the deer that is to make the pasty run yet on foot, as the ballad has it?”
“I will inquire into that matter,” said his entertainer; and, leaving the apartment, he went in search of Caleb, whom, after some difficulty, he found in an obscure sort of dungeon, which had been in former times the buttery of the castle. Here the old man was employed busily in the doubtful task of burnishing a pewter flagon until it should take the hue and semblance of silver-plate. “I think it may do — I think it might pass, if they winna bring it ower muckle in the light o’ the window!” were the ejaculations which he muttered from time to time, as if to encourage himself in his undertaking, when he was interrupted by the voice of his master.
“Take this,” said the Master of Ravenswood, “and get what is necessary for the family.” And with these words he gave to the old butler the purse which had on the preceding evening so narrowly escaped the fangs of Craigengelt.
The old man shook his silvery and thin locks, and looked with an expression of the most heartfelt anguish at his master as he weighed in his hand the slender treasure, and said in a sorrowful voice, “And is this a’ that’s left?”
“All that is left at present,” said the Master, affecting more cheerfulness than perhaps he really felt, “is just the green purse and the wee pickle gowd, as the old song says; but we shall do better one day, Caleb.”
“Before that day domes,” said Caleb, “I doubt there will be an end of an auld sang, and an auld serving-man to boot. But it disna become me to speak that gate to your honour, adn you looking sae pale. Tak back the purse, and keep it to be making a show before company; for if your honour would just take a bidding, adn be whiles taking it out afore folk and putting it up again, there’s naebody would refuse us trust, for a’ that’s come and gane yet.”
“But, Caleb,” said the Master, “I still intend to leave this country very soon, and desire to do so with the reputation of an honest man, leaving no debty behind me, at last of my own contracting.”
“And gude right ye suld gang away as a true man, and so ye shall; for auld Caleb can tak the wyte of whatever is taen on for the house, and then it will be a’ just ae man’s burden; and I will live just as weel in the tolbooth as out of it, and the credit of the family will be a’ safe and sound.”
The Master endeavoured, in vain, to make Caleb comprehend that the butler’s incurring the responsibility of debts in his own person would rather add to than remove the objections which he had to their being contracted. He spoke to a premier too busy in devising ways and means to puzzle himself with refuting the arguments offered against their justice or expediency.
“There’s Eppie Sma’trash will trust us for ale,” said Caleb to himself —“she has lived a’ her life under the family — and maybe wi’ a soup brandy; I canna say for wine — she is but a lone woman, and gets her claret by a runlet at a time; but I’ll work a wee drap out o’ her by fair means or foul. For doos, there’s the doocot; there will be poultry amang the tenants, though Luckie Chirnside says she has paid the kain twice ower. We’ll mak shift, an it like your honour — we’ll mak shift; keep your heart abune, for the house sall haud its credit as lang as auld Caleb is to the fore.”
The entertainment which the old man’s exertions of various kinds enabled him to present to the young gentlemen for three or four days was certainly of no splendid description, but it may readily be believed it was set before no critical guests; and even the distresses, excuses, evasions, and shifts of Caleb afforded amusement to the young men, and added a sort fo interest to the scrambling and irregular style of their table. They had indeed occasion to seize on every circumstance that might serve to diversify or enliven time, which otherwise passed away so heavily.
Bucklaw, shut out from his usual field-sports and joyous carouses by the necessity of remaining concealed within the walls of the castle, became a joyless and uninteresting companion. When the Master of Ravenswood would no longer fence or play at shovel-board; when he himself had polished to the extremity the coat of his palfrey with brush, curry comb, and hair-cloth; when he had seen him eat his provender, and gently lie down in his stall, he could hardly help envying the animal’s apparent acquiescence in a life so monotonous. “The stupid brute,” he said, “thinks neither of the race-ground or the hunting-field, or his green paddock at Bucklaw, but enjoys himself as comfortably when haltered to the rack in this ruinous vault, as if he had been foaled in it; and, I who have the freedom of a prisoner at large, to range through the dungeons of this wretched old tower, can hardly, betwixt whistling and sleeping, contrive to pass away the hour till dinner-time.”
And with this disconsolate reflection, he wended his way to the bartizan or battlements of the tower, to watch what objects might appear on the distant moor, or to pelt, with pebbles and pieces of lime, the sea-mews and cormorants which established themselves incautiously within the reach of an idle young man.
Ravenswood, with a mind incalculably deeper and more powerful than that of his companion, had his own anxious subjects of reflection, which wrought for him the same unhappiness that sheer enui and want of occupation inflicted on his companion. The first sight of Lucy Ashton had been less impressive than her image proved to be upon reflection. As the depth and violence of that revengeful passion by which he had been actuated in seeking an interview with the father began to abate by degrees, he looked back on his conduct towards the daughter as harsh and unworthy towards a female of rank and beauty. Her looks of grateful acknowledgment, her words of affectionate courtesy, had been repelled with something which approached to disdain; and if the Master of Ravenswood had sustained wrongs at the hand of Sir William Ashton, his conscience told him they had been unhandsomely resented towards his daughter. When his thoughts took this turn of self-reproach, the recollection of Lucy Ashton’s beautiful features, rendered yet more interesting by the circumstances in which their meeting had taken place, made an impression upon his mind at once soothing and painful. The sweetness of her voice, the delicacy of her expressions, the vivid glow of her filial affection, embittered his regret at having repulsed her gratitude with rudeness, while, at the same time, they placed before his imagination a picture of the most seducing sweetness.
Even young Ravenswood’s strength of moral feeling and rectitude of purpose at once increased the danger of cherishing these recollections, and the propensity to entertain them. Firmly resolved as he was to subdue, if possible, the predominating vice in his character, he admitted with willingness — nay, he summoned up in his imagination — the ideas by which it could be most powerfully counteracted; and, while he did so, a sense of his own harsh conduct towards the daughter of his enemy naturally induced him, as if by way of recompense, to invest her with more of grace and beauty than perhaps she could actually claim.
Had any one at this period told the Master of Ravenswood that he had so lately vowed vengeance against the whole lineage of him whom he considered, not unjustly, as author of his father’s ruin and death, he might at first have repelled the charge as a foul calumny; yet, upon serious self-examination, he would have been compelled to admit that it had, at one period, some foundation in truth, though, according to the present tone of his sentiments, it was difficult to believe that this had really been the case.
There already existed in his bosom two contradictory passions — a desire to revenge the death of his father, strangely qualified by admiration of his enemy’s daughter. Against the former feeling he had struggled, until it seemed to him upon the wane; against the latter he used no means of resistance, for he did not suspect its existence. That this was actually the case was chiefly evinced by his resuming his resolution to leave Scotland. Yet, though such was his purpose, he remained day after day at Wolf’s Crag, without taking measures for carrying it into execution. It is true, that he had written to one or two kinsmen who resided in a distant quarter of Scotland, and particularly to the Marquis of A— — intimating his purpose; and when pressed upon the subject by Bucklaw, he was wont to allege the necessity of waiting for their reply, especially that of the Marquis, before taking so decisive a measure.
The Marquis was rich and powerful; and although he was suspected to entertain sentiments unfavourable to the government established at the Revolution, he had nevertheless address enough to head a party in the Scottish privy council, connected with the High Church faction in England, and powerful enough to menace those to whom the Lord Keeper adhered with a probable subversion of their power. The consulting with a personage of such importance was a plausible excise, which Ravenswood used to Bucklaw, and probably to himself, for continuing his residence at Wolf’s Crag; and it was rendered yet more so by a general report which began to be current of a probable change of ministers and measures in the Scottish administration. The rumours, strongly asserted by some, and as resolutely denied by others, as their wishes or interest dictated, found their way even to the ruinous Tower of Wolf’s Crag, chiefly through the medium of Caleb, the butler, who, among his other excellences, was an ardent politician, and seldom made an excursion from the old fortress to the neighbouring village of Wolf’s Hope without bringing back what tidings were current in the vicinity.
But if Bucklaw could not offer any satisfactory objections to the delay of the Master in leaving Scotland, he did not the less suffer with impatience the state of inaction to which it confined him; and it was only the ascendency which his new companion had acquired over him that induced him to submit to a course of life so alien to his habits and inclinations.
“You were wont to be thought a stirring active young fellow, Master,” was his frequent remonstrance; “yet here you seem determined to live on and on like a rat in a hole, with this trifling difference, that the wiser vermin chooses a hermitage where he can find food at least; but as for us, Caleb’s excuses become longer as his diet turns more spare, and I fear we shall realise the stories they tell of the slother: we have almost eat up the last green leaf on the plant, and have nothing left for it but to drop from the tree and break our necks.”
“Do not fear it,” said Ravenswood; “there is a fate watches for us, and we too have a stake in the revolution that is now impending, and which already has alarmed many a bosom.”
“What fate — what revolution?” inquired his companion. “We have had one revolution too much already, I think.”
Ravenswood interrupted him by putting into his hands a letter.
“Oh,” answered Bucklaw, “my dream’s out. I thought I heard Caleb this morning pressing some unfortunate fellow to a drink of cold water, and assuring him it was better for his stomach in the morning than ale or brandy.”
“It was my Lord of A——‘s courier,” said Ravenswood, “who was doomed to experience his ostentatious hospitality, which I believe ended in sour beer and herrings. Read, and you will see the news he has brought us.” “I will as fast as I can,” said Bucklaw; “but I am no great clerk, nor does his lordship seem to be the first of scribes.”
The reader will peruse in, a few seconds, by the aid our friend Ballantyne’s types, what took Bucklaw a good half hour in perusal, though assisted by the Master of Ravenswood. The tenor was as follows:
“RIGHT HONOURABLE OUR COUSIN:
“Our hearty commendations premised, these come to assure you of the interest which we take in your welfare, and in your purpose towards its augmentation. If we have been less active in showing forth our effective good-will towards you than, as a loving kinsman and blood-relative, we would willingly have desired, we request that you will impute it to lack fo opportunity to show our good-liking, not to any coldness of our will. Touching your resolution to travel in foreign parts, as at this time we hold the same little advisable, in respect that your ill-willers may, according to the custom of such persons, impute motives for your journey, whereof, although we know and believe you to be as clear as ourselves, yet natheless their words may find credence in places where the belief in them may much prejudice you, and which we should see with more unwillingness and displeasure than with means of remedy.
“Having thus, as becometh our kindred, given you our poor mind on the subject of your journeying forth of Scotland, we would willingly add reasons of weight, which might materially advantage you and your father’s house, thereby to determine you to abide at Wolf’s Crag, until this harvest season shall be passed over. But what sayeth the proverb, verbum sapienti — a word is more to him that hath wisdom than a sermon to a fool. And albeit we have written this poor scroll with our own hand, and are well assured of the fidelity of our messenger, as him that is many ways bounden to us, yet so it is, that sliddery ways crave wary walking, and that we may not peril upon paper matters which we would gladly impart to you by word of mouth. Wherefore, it was our purpose to have prayed you heartily to come to this our barren Highland country to kill a stag, and to treat of the matters which we are now more painfully inditing to you anent. But commodity does not serve at present for such our meeting, which, therefore, shall be deferred until sic time as we may in all mirth rehearse those things whereof we now keep silence. Meantime, we pray you to think that we are, and will still be, your good kinsman and well-wisher, waiting but for times of whilk we do, as it were, entertain a twilight prospect, and appear and hope to be also your effectual well-doer. And in which hope we heartily write ourself,
“Your loving cousin,
“A——. “Given from our poor house of B— — ” etc.
Superscribed —“For the right honourable, and our honoured kinsman, the Master of Ravenswood — These, with haste, haste, post haste — ride and run until these be delivered.”
“What think you of this epistle, Bucklaw?” said the Master, when his companion had hammered out all the sense, and almost all the words of which it consisted.
“Truly, that the Marquis’s meaning is as great a riddle as his manuscript. He is really in much need of Wit’s Interpreter, or the Complete Letter-Writer, and were I you, I would send him a copy by the bearer. He writes you very kindly to remain wasting your time and your money in this vile, stupid, oppressed country, without so much as offering you the countenance and shelter of his house. In my opinion, he has some scheme in view in which he supposes you can be useful, and he wishes to keep you at hand, to make use of you when it ripens, reserving the power of turning you adrift, should his plot fail in the concoction.”
“His plot! Then you suppose it is a treasonable business,” answered Ravenswood.
“What else can it be?” replied Bucklaw; “the Marquis has been long suspected to have an eye to Saint Germains.”
“He should not engage me rashly in such an adventure,” said Ravenswood; “when I recollect the times of the first and second Charles, and of the last James, truly I see little reason that, as a man or a patriot, I should draw my sword for their descendants.”
“Humph!” replied Bucklaw; “so you have set yourself down to mourn over the crop-eared dogs whom honest Claver’se treated as they deserved?”
“They first gave the dogs an ill name, and then hanged them,” replied Ravenswood. “I hope to see the day when justice shall be open to Whig and Tory, and when these nicknames shall only be used among coffee-house politicians, as ‘slut’ and ‘jade’ are among apple-women, as cant terms of idle spite and rancour.”
“That will nto be in our days, Master: the iron has entered too deeply into our sides and our souls.”
“It will be, however, one day,” replied the Master; “men will not always start at these nicknames as at a trumpet-sound. As social life is better protected, its comforts will become too dear to be hazarded without some better reasons than speculative politics.”
“It is fine talking,” answered Bucklaw; “but my heart is with the old song —
To see good corn upon the rigs,
And a gallow built to hang the Whigs,
And the right restored where the right should be.
Oh, that is the thing that would wanton me.”
“You may sing as loudly as you will, cantabit vacuus — — ” answered the Master; “but I believe the Marquis is too wise, at least too wary, to join you in such a burden. I suspect he alludes to a revolution in the Scottish privy council, rather than in the British kingdoms.”
“Oh, confusion to your state tricks!” exclaimed Bucklaw —“your cold calculating manoeuvres, which old gentlemen in wrought nightcaps and furred gowns execute like so many games at chess, and displace a treasurer or lord commissioner as they would take a rook or a pawn. Tennis for my sport, and battle for my earnest! And you, Master, so dep and considerate as you would seem, you have that within you makes the blood boil faster than suits your present humour of moralising on political truths. You are one of those wise men who see everything with great composure till their blood is up, and then — woe to any one who should put them in mind of their own prudential maxims!” “Perhaps,” said Ravenswood, “you read me more rightly than I can myself. But to think justly will certainly go some length in helping me to act so. But hark! I hear Caleb tolling the dinner-bell.”
“Which he always does with the more sonorous grace in proportion to the meagreness of the cheer which he has provided,” said Bucklaw; “as if that infernal clang and jangle, which will one day bring the belfry down the cliff, could convert a starved hen into a fat capon, and a blade-bone of mutton into a haunch of venison.”
“I wish we may be so well off as your worst conjectures surmise, Bucklaw, from the extreme solemnity and ceremony with which Caleb seems to place on the table that solitary covered dish.”
“Uncover, Caleb! uncover, for Heaven’s sake!” said Bucklaw; “let us have what you can give us without preface. Why, it stands well enough, man,” he continued, addressing impatiently the ancient butler, who, without reply, kept shifting the dish, until he had at length placed it with mathematical precision in the very midst of the table.
“What have we got here, Caleb?” inquired the Master in his turn.
“Ahem! sir, ye suld have known before; but his honour the Laird of Bucklaw is so impatient,” answered Caleb, still holding the dish with one hand and the cover with the other, with evident reluctance to disclose the contents.
“But what is it, a God’s name — not a pair of clean spurs, I hope, in the Border fashion of old times?”
“Ahem! ahem!” reiterated Caleb, “your honour is pleased to be facetious; natheless, I might presume to say it was a convenient fashion, and used, as I have heard, in an honourable and thriving family. But touching your present dinner, I judged that this being St. Magdalen’s [Margaret’s] Eve, who was a worthy queen of Scotland in her day, your honours might judge it decorous, if not altogether to fast, yet only to sustain nature with some slight refection, as ane saulted herring or the like.” And, uncovering the dish, he displayed four of the savoury fishes which he mentioned, adding, in a subdued tone, “that they were no just common herring neither, being every ane melters, and sauted with uncommon care by the housekeeper (poor Mysie) for his honour’s especial use.”
“Out upon all apologies!” said the Master, “let us eat the herrings, since there is nothing better to be had; but I begin to think with you, Bucklaw, that we are consuming the last green leaf, and that, in spite of the Marquis’s political machinations, we must positively shift camp for want of forage, without waiting the issue of them.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00