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Chapter 8

There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully on the confined deep;
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear.
King Lear.


The shout of human voices from above was soon augmented, and the gleam of
torches mingled with those lights of evening which still remained amidst
the darkness of the storm. Some attempt was made to hold communication
between the assistants above and the sufferers beneath, who were still
clinging to their precarious place of safety; but the howling of the
tempest limited their intercourse to cries as inarticulate as those of
the winged denizens of the crag, which shrieked in chorus, alarmed by the
reiterated sound of human voices, where they had seldom been heard.

On the verge of the precipice an anxious group had now assembled. Oldbuck
was the foremost and most earnest, pressing forward with unwonted
desperation to the very brink of the crag, and extending his head (his
hat and wig secured by a handkerchief under his chin) over the dizzy
height, with an air of determination which made his more timorous
assistants tremble.

"Haud a care, haud a care, Monkbarns!" cried Caxon, clinging to the
skirts of his patron, and withholding him from danger as far as his
strength permitted--"God's sake, haud a care!--Sir Arthur's drowned
already, and an ye fa' over the cleugh too, there will be but ae wig left
in the parish, and that's the minister's."

"Mind the peak there," cried Mucklebackit, an old fisherman and smuggler
--"mind the peak--Steenie, Steenie Wilks, bring up the tackle--I'se
warrant we'll sune heave them on board, Monkbarns, wad ye but stand out
o' the gate."

"I see them," said Oldbuck--"I see them low down on that flat stone
--Hilli-hilloa, hilli-ho-a!"

"I see them mysell weel eneugh," said Mucklebackit; "they are sitting
down yonder like hoodie-craws in a mist; but d'yo think ye'll help them
wi' skirling that gate like an auld skart before a flaw o' weather?
--Steenie, lad, bring up the mast--Od, I'se hae them up as we used to
bouse up the kegs o' gin and brandy lang syne--Get up the pickaxe, make
a step for the mast--make the chair fast with the rattlin--haul taught
and belay!"

The fishers had brought with them the mast of a boat, and as half of the
country fellows about had now appeared, either out of zeal or curiosity,
it was soon sunk in the ground, and sufficiently secured. A yard across
the upright mast, and a rope stretched along it, and reeved through a
block at each end, formed an extempore crane, which afforded the means of
lowering an arm-chair, well secured and fastened, down to the flat shelf
on which the sufferers had roosted. Their joy at hearing the preparations
going on for their deliverance was considerably qualified when they
beheld the precarious vehicle by means of which they were to be conveyed
to upper air. It swung about a yard free of the spot which they occupied,
obeying each impulse of the tempest, the empty air all around it, and
depending upon the security of a rope, which, in the increasing darkness,
had dwindled to an almost imperceptible thread. Besides the hazard of
committing a human being to the vacant atmosphere in such a slight means
of conveyance, there was the fearful danger of the chair and its occupant
being dashed, either by the wind or the vibrations of the cord, against
the rugged face of the precipice. But to diminish the risk as much as
possible, the experienced seaman had let down with the chair another
line, which, being attached to it, and held by the persons beneath, might
serve by way of _gy,_ as Mucklebackit expressed it, to render its descent
in some measure steady and regular. Still, to commit one's self in such a
vehicle, through a howling tempest of wind and rain, with a beetling
precipice above and a raging abyss below, required that courage which
despair alone can inspire. Yet, wild as the sounds and sights of danger
were, both above, beneath, and around, and doubtful and dangerous as the
mode of escaping appeared to be, Lovel and the old mendicant agreed,
after a moment's consultation, and after the former, by a sudden strong
pull, had, at his own imminent risk, ascertained the security of the
rope, that it would be best to secure Miss Wardour in the chair, and
trust to the tenderness and care of those above for her being safely
craned up to the top of the crag.

"Let my father go first," exclaimed Isabella; "for God's sake, my
friends, place him first in safety!"

"It cannot be, Miss Wardour," said Lovel;--"your life must be first
secured--the rope which bears your weight may"--

"I will not listen to a reason so selfish!"

"But ye maun listen to it, my bonnie lassie," said Ochiltree, "for a' our
lives depend on it--besides, when ye get on the tap o' the heugh yonder,
ye can gie them a round guess o' what's ganging on in this Patmos o'
ours--and Sir Arthur's far by that, as I'm thinking."

Struck with the truth of this reasoning, she exclaimed, "True, most true;
I am ready and willing to undertake the first risk--What shall I say to
our friends above?"

"Just to look that their tackle does not graze on the face o' the crag,
and to let the chair down and draw it up hooly and fairly;--we will
halloo when we are ready."

With the sedulous attention of a parent to a child, Lovel bound Miss
Wardour with his handkerchief, neckcloth, and the mendicant's leathern
belt, to the back and arms of the chair, ascertaining accurately the
security of each knot, while Ochiltree kept Sir Arthur quiet. "What are
ye doing wi' my bairn?--what are ye doing?--She shall not be separated
from me--Isabel, stay with me, I command you!"

"Lordsake, Sir Arthur, haud your tongue, and be thankful to God that
there's wiser folk than you to manage this job," cried the beggar, worn
out by the unreasonable exclamations of the poor Baronet.

"Farewell, my father!" murmured Isabella--"farewell, my--my friends!" and
shutting her eyes, as Edie's experience recommended, she gave the signal
to Lovel, and he to those who were above. She rose, while the chair in
which she sate was kept steady by the line which Lovel managed beneath.
With a beating heart he watched the flutter of her white dress, until the
vehicle was on a level with the brink of the precipice.

"Canny now, lads, canny now!" exclaimed old Mucklebackit, who acted as
commodore; "swerve the yard a bit--Now--there! there she sits safe on dry
land."

A loud shout announced the successful experiment to her fellow-sufferers
beneath, who replied with a ready and cheerful halloo. Monkbarns, in his
ecstasy of joy, stripped his great-coat to wrap up the young lady, and
would have pulled off his coat and waistcoat for the same purpose, had he
not been withheld by the cautious Caxon. "Haud a care o' us! your honour
will be killed wi' the hoast--ye'll no get out o'your night-cowl this
fortnight--and that will suit us unco ill.--Na, na--there's the chariot
down by; let twa o' the folk carry the young leddy there."

"You're right," said the Antiquary, readjusting the sleeves and collar of
his coat, "you're right, Caxon; this is a naughty night to swim in.--Miss
Wardour, let me convey you to the chariot."

"Not for worlds till I see my father safe."

In a few distinct words, evincing how much her resolution had surmounted
even the mortal fear of so agitating a hazard, she explained the nature
of the situation beneath, and the wishes of Lovel and Ochiltree.

"Right, right, that's right too--I should like to see the son of Sir
Gamelyn de Guardover on dry land myself--I have a notion he would sign
the abjuration oath, and the Ragman-roll to boot, and acknowledge Queen
Mary to be nothing better than she should be, to get alongside my bottle
of old port that he ran away from, and left scarce begun. But he's safe
now, and here a' comes"--(for the chair was again lowered, and Sir Arthur
made fast in it, without much consciousness on his own part)--"here a'
comes--Bowse away, my boys! canny wi' him--a pedigree of a hundred links
is hanging on a tenpenny tow--the whole barony of Knockwinnock depends on
three plies of hemp--_respice finem, respice funem_--look to your end
--look to a rope's end.--Welcome, welcome, my good old friend, to firm
land, though I cannot say to warm land or to dry land. A cord for ever
against fifty fathom of water, though not in the sense of the base
proverb--a fico for the phrase,--better _sus. per funem,_ than _sus. per
coll._"

While Oldbuck ran on in this way, Sir Arthur was safely wrapped in the
close embraces of his daughter, who, assuming that authority which the
circumstances demanded, ordered some of the assistants to convey him to
the chariot, promising to follow in a few minutes, She lingered on the
cliff, holding an old countryman's arm, to witness probably the safety of
those whose dangers she had shared.

"What have we here?" said Oldbuck, as the vehicle once more ascended
--"what patched and weather-beaten matter is this?" Then as the torches
illumed the rough face and grey hairs of old Ochiltree,--"What! is it
thou?--Come, old Mocker, I must needs be friends with thee--but who the
devil makes up your party besides?"

"Ane that's weel worth ony twa o' us, Monkbarns;--it's the young stranger
lad they ca' Lovel--and he's behaved this blessed night as if he had
three lives to rely on, and was willing to waste them a' rather than
endanger ither folk's. Ca' hooly, sirs, as ye, wad win an auld man's
blessing!--mind there's naebody below now to haud the gy--Hae a care o'
the Cat's-lug corner--bide weel aff Crummie's-horn!"

"Have a care indeed," echoed Oldbuck. "What! is it my _rara avis_--my
black swan--my phoenix of companions in a post-chaise?--take care of
him, Mucklebackit."

"As muckle care as if he were a graybeard o' brandy; and I canna take
mair if his hair were like John Harlowe's.--Yo ho, my hearts! bowse away
with him!"

Lovel did, in fact, run a much greater risk than any of his precursors.
His weight was not sufficient to render his ascent steady amid such a
storm of wind, and he swung like an agitated pendulum at the mortal risk
of being dashed against the rocks. But he was young, bold, and active,
and, with the assistance of the beggar's stout piked staff, which he had
retained by advice of the proprietor, contrived to bear himself from the
face of the precipice, and the yet more hazardous projecting cliffs which
varied its surface. Tossed in empty space, like an idle and unsubstantial
feather, with a motion that agitated the brain at once with fear and with
dizziness, he retained his alertness of exertion and presence of mind;
and it was not until he was safely grounded upon the summit of the cliff,

that he felt temporary and giddy sickness. As he recovered from a sort of
half swoon, he cast his eyes eagerly around. The object which they would
most willingly have sought, was already in the act of vanishing. Her
white garment was just discernible as she followed on the path which her
father had taken. She had lingered till she saw the last of their company
rescued from danger, and until she had been assured by the hoarse voice
of Mucklebackit, that "the callant had come off wi' unbrizzed banes, and
that he was but in a kind of dwam." But Lovel was not aware that she had
expressed in his fate even this degree of interest,--which, though
nothing more than was due to a stranger who had assisted her in such an
hour of peril, he would have gladly purchased by braving even more
imminent danger than he had that evening been exposed to. The beggar she
had already commanded to come to Knockwinnock that night. He made an
excuse.--"Then to-morrow let me see you."

The old man promised to obey. Oldbuck thrust something into his hand
--Ochiltree looked at it by the torchlight, and returned it--"Na, na! I
never tak gowd--besides, Monkbarns, ye wad maybe be rueing it the morn."
Then turning to the group of fishermen and peasants--"Now, sirs, wha will
gie me a supper and some clean pease-strae?"

"I," "and I," "and I," answered many a ready voice.

"Aweel, since sae it is, and I can only sleep in ae barn at ance, I'll
gae down with Saunders Mucklebackit--he has aye a soup o' something
comfortable about his begging--and, bairns, I'll maybe live to put ilka
ane o' ye in mind some ither night that ye hae promised me quarters and
my awmous;" and away he went with the fisherman.

Oldbuck laid the band of strong possession on Lovel--"Deil a stride ye's
go to Fairport this night, young man--you must go home with me to
Monkbarns. Why, man, you have been a hero--a perfect Sir William Wallace,
by all accounts. Come, my good lad, take hold of my arm;--I am not a
prime support in such a wind--but Caxon shall help us out--Here, you old
idiot, come on the other side of me.--And how the deil got you down to
that infernal Bessy's-apron, as they call it? Bess, said they? Why, curse
her, she has spread out that vile pennon or banner of womankind, like all
the rest of her sex, to allure her votaries to death and headlong ruin."

"I have been pretty well accustomed to climbing, and I have long observed
fowlers practise that pass down the cliff."

"But how, in the name of all that is wonderful, came you to discover the
danger of the pettish Baronet and his far more deserving daughter?"

"I saw them from the verge of the precipice."

"From the verge!--umph--And what possessed you _dumosa pendere procul de
rupe?_--though _dumosa_ is not the appropriate epithet--what the deil,
man, tempted ye to the verge of the craig?"

"Why--I like to see the gathering and growling of a coming storm--or, in
your own classical language, Mr. Oldbuck, _suave est mari magno_--and so
forth--but here we reach the turn to Fairport. I must wish you
good-night."

"Not a step, not a pace, not an inch, not a shathmont, as I may say,--the
meaning of which word has puzzled many that think themselves antiquaries.
I am clear we should read _salmon-length_ for _shathmont's-length._ You
are aware that the space allotted for the passage of a salmon through a
dam, dike, or weir, by statute, is the length within which a full-grown
pig can turn himself round. Now I have a scheme to prove, that, as
terrestrial objects were thus appealed to for ascertaining submarine
measurement, so it must be supposed that the productions of the water
were established as gauges of the extent of land.--Shathmont--salmont
--you see the close alliance of the sounds; dropping out two _h_'s, and a
_t,_ and assuming an _l,_ makes the whole difference--I wish to heaven no
antiquarian derivation had demanded heavier concessions."

"But, my dear sir, I really must go home--I am wet to the skin."

"Shalt have my night-gown, man, and slippers, and catch the antiquarian
fever as men do the plague, by wearing infected garments. Nay, I know
what you would be at--you are afraid to put the old bachelor to charges.
But is there not the remains of that glorious chicken-pie--which, _meo
arbitrio,_ is better cold than hot--and that bottle of my oldest port,
out of which the silly brain-sick Baronet (whom I cannot pardon, since he
has escaped breaking his neck) had just taken one glass, when his infirm
noddle went a wool-gathering after Gamelyn de Guardover?"

So saying he dragged Lovel forward, till the Palmer's-port of Monkbarns
received them. Never, perhaps, had it admitted two pedestrians more
needing rest for Monkbarns's fatigue had been in a degree very contrary
to his usual habits, and his more young and robust companion had that
evening undergone agitation of mind which had harassed and wearied him
even more than his extraordinary exertions of body.

Sir Walter Scott

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