Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 9

The Meeting.

We meet as shadows in the land of dreams,

Which speak not but in signs.


Behind one of the old oaks which we have described in the preceding chapter, shrouding himself from observation like a hunter watching for his game, or an Indian for his enemy, but with different, very different purpose, Tyrrel lay on his breast near the Buck-stane, his eye on the horse-road which winded down the valley, and his ear alertly awake to every sound which mingled with the passing breeze, or with the ripple of the brook.

“To have met her in yonder congregated assembly of brutes and fools”— such was a part of his internal reflections — “had been little less than an act of madness — madness almost equal in its degree to that cowardice which has hitherto prevented my approaching her, when our eventful meeting might have taken place unobserved. — But now — now — my resolution is as fixed as the place is itself favourable. I will not wait till some chance again shall throw us together, with an hundred malignant eyes to watch, and wonder, and stare, and try in vain to account for the expression of feelings which I might find it impossible to suppress. — Hark — hark! — I hear the tread of a horse — No — it was the changeful sound of the water rushing over the pebbles. Surely she cannot have taken the other road to Shaws-Castle! — No — the sounds become distinct — her figure is visible on the path, coming swiftly forward. — Have I the courage to show myself? — I have — the hour is come, and what must be shall be.”

Yet this resolution was scarcely formed ere it began to fluctuate, when he reflected upon the fittest manner of carrying it into execution. To show himself at a distance, might give the lady an opportunity of turning back and avoiding the interview which he had determined upon — to hide himself till the moment when her horse, in rapid motion, should pass his lurking-place, might be attended with danger to the rider — and while he hesitated which course to pursue, there was some chance of his missing the opportunity of presenting himself to Miss Mowbray at all. He was himself sensible of this, formed a hasty and desperate resolution not to suffer the present moment to escape, and, just as the ascent induced the pony to slacken its pace, Tyrrel stood in the middle of the defile, about six yards distant from the young lady.

The Meeting in the Wood
The Meeting in the Wood

She pulled up the reins, and stopped as if arrested by a thunderbolt. —“Clara!”—“Tyrrel!” These were the only words which were exchanged between them, until Tyrrel, moving his feet as slowly as if they had been of lead, began gradually to diminish the distance which lay betwixt them. It was then that, observing his closer approach, Miss Mowbray called out with great eagerness — “No nearer — no nearer! — So long have I endured your presence, but if you approach me more closely, I shall be mad indeed!”

“What do you fear?” said Tyrrel, in a hollow voice —“What can you fear?” and he continued to draw nearer, until they were within a pace of each other.

Clara, meanwhile, dropping her bridle, clasped her hands together, and held them up towards Heaven, muttering, in a voice scarcely audible, “Great God! — If this apparition be formed by my heated fancy, let it pass away; if it be real, enable me to bear its presence! — Tell me, I conjure you, are you Francis Tyrrel in blood and body, or is this but one of those wandering visions, that have crossed my path and glared on me, but without daring to abide my steadfast glance?”

“I am Francis Tyrrel,” answered he, “in blood and body, as much as she to whom I speak is Clara Mowbray.”

“Then God have mercy on us both!” said Clara, in a tone of deep feeling.

“Amen!” said Tyrrel. —“But what avails this excess of agitation? — You saw me but now, Miss Mowbray — Your voice still rings in my ears — You saw me but now — you spoke to me — and that when I was among strangers — Why not preserve your composure, when we are where no human eye can see — no human ear can hear?”

“Is it so?” said Clara; “and was it indeed yourself whom I saw even now? — I thought so, and something I said at the time — but my brain has been but ill settled since we last met — But I am well now — quite well — I have invited all the people yonder to come to Shaws-Castle — my brother desired me to do it — I hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Tyrrel there — though I think there is some old grudge between my brother and you.”

“Alas! Clara, you mistake. Your brother I have scarcely seen,” replied Tyrrel, much distressed, and apparently uncertain in what tone to address her, which might soothe, and not irritate her mental malady, of which he could now entertain no doubt.

“True — true,” she said, after a moment’s reflection, “my brother was then at college. It was my father, my poor father, whom you had some quarrel with. — But you will come to Shaws-Castle on Thursday, at two o’clock? — John will be glad to see you — he can be kind when he pleases — and then we will talk of old times — I must get on, to have things ready — Good evening.”

She would have passed him, but he took gently hold of the rein of her bridle. —“I will walk with you, Clara,” he said; “the road is rough and dangerous — you ought not to ride fast. — I will walk along with you, and we will talk of former times now, more conveniently than in company.”

“True — true — very true, Mr. Tyrrel — it shall be as you say. My brother obliges me sometimes to go into company at that hateful place down yonder; and I do so because he likes it, and because the folks let me have my own way, and come and go as I list. Do you know, Tyrrel, that very often when I am there, and John has his eye on me, I can carry it on as gaily as if you and I had never met?”

“I would to God we never had,” said Tyrrel, in a trembling voice, “since this is to be the end of all!”

“And wherefore should not sorrow be the end of sin and of folly? And when did happiness come of disobedience? — And when did sound sleep visit a bloody pillow? That is what I say to myself, Tyrrel, and that is what you must learn to say too, and then you will bear your burden as cheerfully as I endure mine. If we have no more than our deserts, why should we complain? — You are shedding tears, I think — Is not that childish? — They say it is a relief — if so, weep on, and I will look another way.”

Tyrrel walked on by the pony’s side, in vain endeavouring to compose himself so as to reply.

“Poor Tyrrel,” said Clara, after she had remained silent for some time —“Poor Frank Tyrrel! — Perhaps you will say in your turn, Poor Clara — but I am not so poor in spirit as you — the blast may bend, but it shall never break me.”

There was another long pause; for Tyrrel was unable to determine with himself in what strain he could address the unfortunate young lady, without awakening recollections equally painful to her feelings, and dangerous, when her precarious state of health was considered. At length she herself proceeded:—

“What needs all this, Tyrrel? — and indeed, why came you here? — Why did I find you but now brawling and quarrelling among the loudest of the brawlers and quarrellers of yonder idle and dissipated debauchees? — You were used to have more temper — more sense. Another person — ay, another that you and I once knew — he might have committed such a folly, and he would have acted perhaps in character. — But you, who pretend to wisdom — for shame, for shame! — And indeed, when we talk of that, what wisdom was there in coming hither at all? — or what good purpose can your remaining here serve? — Surely you need not come, either to renew your own unhappiness or to augment mine?”

“To augment yours — God forbid!” answered Tyrrel. “No — I came hither only because, after so many years of wandering, I longed to revisit the spot where all my hopes lay buried.”

“Ay — buried is the word,” she replied, “crushed down and buried when they budded fairest. I often think of it, Tyrrel; and there are times when, Heaven help me! I can think of little else. — Look at me — you remember what I was — see what grief and solitude have made me.”

She flung back the veil which surrounded her riding-hat, and which had hitherto hid her face. It was the same countenance which he had formerly known in all the bloom of early beauty; but though the beauty remained, the bloom was fled for ever. Not the agitation of exercise — not that which arose from the pain and confusion of this unexpected interview, had called to poor Clara’s cheek even the momentary semblance of colour. Her complexion was marble-white, like that of the finest piece of statuary.

“Is it possible?” said Tyrrel; “can grief have made such ravages?”

“Grief,” replied Clara, “is the sickness of the mind, and its sister is the sickness of the body — they are twin-sisters, Tyrrel, and are seldom long separate. Sometimes the body’s disease comes first, and dims our eyes and palsies our hands, before the fire of our mind and of our intellect is quenched. But mark me — soon after comes her cruel sister with her urn, and sprinkles cold dew on our hopes and on our loves, our memory, our recollections, and our feelings, and shows us that they cannot survive the decay of our bodily powers.”

“Alas!” said Tyrrel, “is it come to this?”

“To this,” she replied, speaking from the rapid and irregular train of her own ideas, rather than comprehending the purport of his sorrowful exclamation — “to this it must ever come, while immortal souls are wedded to the perishable substance of which our bodies are composed. There is another state, Tyrrel, in which it will be otherwise — God grant our time of enjoying it were come!”

She fell into a melancholy pause, which Tyrrel was afraid to disturb. The quickness with which she spoke, marked but too plainly the irregular succession of thought, and he was obliged to restrain the agony of his own feelings, rendered more acute by a thousand painful recollections, lest, by giving way to his expressions of grief, he should throw her into a still more disturbed state of mind.

“I did not think,” she proceeded, “that after so horrible a separation, and so many years, I could have met you thus calmly and reasonably. But although what we were formerly to each other can never be forgotten, it is now all over, and we are only friends — Is it not so?”

Tyrrel was unable to reply.

“But I must not remain here,” she said, “till the evening grows darker on me. — We shall meet again, Tyrrel — meet as friends — nothing more — You will come up to Shaws-Castle and see me? — no need of secrecy now — my poor father is in his grave, and his prejudices sleep with him — my brother John is kind, though he is stern and severe sometimes — Indeed, Tyrrel, I believe he loves me, though he has taught me to tremble at his frown when I am in spirits, and talk too much — But he loves me, at least I think so, for I am sure I love him; and I try to go down amongst them yonder, and to endure their folly, and, all things considered, I do carry on the farce of life wonderfully well — We are but actors, you know, and the world but a stage.”

“And ours has been a sad and tragic scene,” said Tyrrel, in the bitterness of his heart, unable any longer to refrain from speech.

“It has indeed — but, Tyrrel, when was it otherwise with engagements formed in youth and in folly? You and I would, you know, become men and women, while we were yet scarcely more than children — We have run, while yet in our nonage, through the passions and adventures of youth, and therefore we are now old before our day, and the winter of our life has come on ere its summer was well begun. — O Tyrrel! often and often have I thought of this! — Thought of it often? Alas, when will the time come that I shall be able to think of any thing else!”

The poor young woman sobbed bitterly, and her tears began to flow with a freedom which they had not probably enjoyed for a length of time. Tyrrel walked on by the side of her horse, which now prosecuted its road homewards, unable to devise a proper mode of addressing the unfortunate young lady, and fearing alike to awaken her passions and his own. Whatever he might have proposed to say, was disconcerted by the plain indications that her mind was clouded, more or less slightly, with a shade of insanity, which deranged, though it had not destroyed, her powers of judgment.

At length he asked her, with as much calmness as he could assume — if she was contented — if aught could be done to render her situation more easy — if there was aught of which she could complain which he might be able to remedy? She answered gently, that she was calm and resigned, when her brother would permit her to stay at home; but that when she was brought into society, she experienced such a change as that which the water of the brook that slumbers in a crystalline pool of the rock may be supposed to feel, when, gliding from its quiet bed, it becomes involved in the hurry of the cataract.

“But my brother Mowbray,” she said, “thinks he is right — and perhaps he is so. There are things on which we may ponder too long; — and were he mistaken, why should I not constrain myself in order to please him — there are so few left to whom I can now give either pleasure or pain? — I am a gay girl, too, in conversation, Tyrrel — still as gay for a moment, as when you used to chide me for my folly. So, now I have told you all — I have one question to ask on my part — one question — if I had but breath to ask it — Is he still alive?”

“He lives,” answered Tyrrel, but in a tone so low, that nought but the eager attention which Miss Mowbray paid could possibly have caught such feeble sounds.

“Lives!” she exclaimed — “lives! — he lives, and the blood on your hand is not then indelibly imprinted — O Tyrrel, did you but know the joy which this assurance gives to me!”

“Joy!” replied Tyrrel —“joy, that the wretch lives who has poisoned our happiness for ever? — lives, perhaps, to claim you for his own?”

“Never, never shall he — dare he do so,” replied Clara, wildly, “while water can drown, while cords can strangle, steel pierce — while there is a precipice on the hill, a pool in the river — never — never!”

“Be not thus agitated, my dearest Clara,” said Tyrrel; “I spoke I know not what — he lives indeed — but far distant, and, I trust, never again to revisit Scotland.”

He would have said more, but that, agitated with fear or passion, she struck her horse impatiently with her riding-whip. The spirited animal, thus stimulated and at the same time restrained, became intractable, and reared so much, that Tyrrel, fearful of the consequences, and trusting to Clara’s skill as a horsewoman, thought he best consulted her safety in letting go the rein. The animal instantly sprung forward on the broken and hilly path at a very rapid pace, and was soon lost to Tyrrel’s anxious eyes.

As he stood pondering whether he ought not to follow Miss Mowbray towards Shaws-Castle, in order to be satisfied that no accident had befallen her on the road, he heard the tread of a horse’s feet advancing hastily in the same direction, leading from the hotel. Unwilling to be observed at this moment, he stepped aside under shelter of the underwood, and presently afterwards saw Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s, followed by a groom, ride hastily past his lurking-place, and pursue the same road which had been just taken by his sister. The presence of her brother seemed to assure Miss Mowbray’s safety, and so removed Tyrrel’s chief reason for following her. Involved in deep and melancholy reflection upon what had passed, nearly satisfied that his longer residence in Clara’s vicinity could only add to her unhappiness and his own, yet unable to tear himself from that neighbourhood, or to relinquish feelings which had become entwined with his heart-strings, he returned to his lodgings in the Aultoun, in a state of mind very little to be envied.

Tyrrel, on entering his apartment, found that it was not lighted, nor were the Abigails of Mrs. Dods quite so alert as a waiter at Long’s might have been, to supply him with candles. Unapt at any time to exact much personal attendance, and desirous to shun at that moment the necessity of speaking to any person whatever, even on the most trifling subject, he walked down into the kitchen to supply himself with what he wanted. He did not at first observe that Mrs. Dods herself was present in this the very centre of her empire, far less that a lofty air of indignation was seated on the worthy matron’s brow. At first it only vented itself in broken soliloquy and interjections; as, for example, “Vera bonny wark this! — vera creditable wark, indeed! — a decent house to be disturbed at these hours — Keep a public — as weel keep a bedlam!”

Finding these murmurs attracted no attention, the dame placed herself betwixt her guest and the door, to which he was now retiring with his lighted candle, and demanded of him what was the meaning of such behaviour.

“Of what behaviour, madam?” said her guest, repeating her question in a tone of sternness and impatience so unusual with him, that perhaps she was sorry at the moment that she had provoked him out of his usual patient indifference; nay, she might even feel intimidated at the altercation she had provoked, for the resentment of a quiet and patient person has always in it something formidable to the professed and habitual grumbler. But her pride was too great to think of a retreat, after having sounded the signal for contest, and so she continued, though in a tone somewhat lowered.

“Maister Tirl, I wad but just ask you, that are a man of sense, whether I hae ony right to take your behaviour weel? Here have you been these ten days and mair, eating the best, and drinking the best, and taking up the best room in my house; and now to think of your gaun doun and taking up with yon idle harebrained cattle at the Waal — I maun e’en be plain wi’ ye — I like nane of the fair-fashioned folk that can say My Jo and think it no; and therefore”——

“Mrs. Dods,” said Tyrrel, interrupting her, “I have no time at present for trifles. I am obliged to you for your attention while I have been in your house; but the disposal of my time, here or elsewhere, must be according to my own ideas of pleasure or business — If you are tired of me as a guest, send in your bill tomorrow.”

“My bill!” said Mrs. Dods; “my bill tomorrow! And what for no wait till Saturday, when it may be cleared atween us, plack and bawbee, as it was on Saturday last?”

“Well — we will talk of it tomorrow, Mrs. Dods — Good-night.” And he withdrew accordingly.

Luckie Dods stood ruminating for a moment. “The deil’s in him,” she said, “for he winna bide being thrawn. And I think the deil’s in me too for thrawing him, sic a canny lad, and sae gude a customer; — and I am judging he has something on his mind — want of siller it canna be — I am sure if I thought that, I wadna care about my small thing. — But want o’ siller it canna be — he pays ower the shillings as if they were sclate stanes, and that’s no the way that folk part with their siller when there’s but little on’t — I ken weel eneugh how a customer looks that’s near the grund of the purse. — Weel! I hope he winna mind ony thing of this nonsense the morn, and I’ll try to guide my tongue something better. — Hegh, sirs! but, as the minister says, it’s an unruly member — troth, I am whiles ashamed o’t mysell.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00