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Chapter 11


Three ruffians seized me yester morn,
Alas! a maiden most forlorn;
They choked my cries with wicked might,
And bound me on a palfrey white:
As sure as Heaven shall pity me,
I cannot tell what men they be.--CHRISTABELLE.

The course of our story must here revert a little, to detail the
circumstances which had placed Miss Vere in the unpleasant situation
from which she was unexpectedly, and indeed unintentionally liberated,
by the appearance of Earnscliff and Elliot, with their friends and
followers, before the Tower of Westburnflat.

On the morning preceding the night in which Hobbie's house was plundered
and burnt, Miss Vere was requested by her father to accompany him in a
walk through a distant part of the romantic grounds which lay round
his castle of Ellieslaw. "To hear was to obey," in the true style of
Oriental despotism; but Isabella trembled in silence while she followed
her father through rough paths, now winding by the side of the river,
now ascending the cliffs which serve for its banks. A single servant,
selected perhaps for his stupidity, was the only person who attended
them. From her father's silence, Isabella little doubted that he had
chosen this distant and sequestered scene to resume the argument which
they had so frequently maintained upon the subject of Sir Frederick's
addresses, and that he was meditating in what manner he should most
effectually impress upon her the necessity of receiving him as her
suitor. But her fears seemed for some time to be unfounded. The only
sentences which her father from time to time addressed to her, respected
the beauties of the romantic landscape through which they strolled, and
which varied its features at every step. To these observations, although
they seemed to come from a heart occupied by more gloomy as well as more
important cares, Isabella endeavoured to answer in a manner as free and
unconstrained as it was possible for her to assume, amid the involuntary
apprehensions which crowded upon her imagination.

Sustaining with mutual difficulty a desultory conversation, they at
length gained the centre of a small wood, composed of large oaks,
intermingled with birches, mountain-ashes, hazel, holly, and a variety
of underwood. The boughs of the tall trees met closely above, and the
underwood filled up each interval between their trunks below. The spot
on which they stood was rather more open; still, however, embowered
under the natural arcade of tall trees, and darkened on the sides for a
space around by a great and lively growth of copse-wood and bushes.

"And here, Isabella," said Mr. Vere, as he pursued the conversation,
so often resumed, so often dropped, "here I would erect an altar to
Friendship."

"To Friendship, sir!" said Miss Vere; "and why on this gloomy and
sequestered spot, rather than elsewhere?"

"O, the propriety of the LOCALE is easily vindicated," replied her
father, with a sneer. "You know, Miss Vere (for you, I am well aware,
are a learned young lady), you know, that the Romans were not satisfied
with embodying, for the purpose of worship, each useful quality and
moral virtue to which they could give a name; but they, moreover,
worshipped the same under each variety of titles and attributes which
could give a distinct shade, or individual character, to the virtue in
question. Now, for example, the Friendship to whom a temple should be
here dedicated, is not Masculine Friendship, which abhors and despises
duplicity, art, and disguise; but Female Friendship, which consists in
little else than a mutual disposition on the part of the friends, as
they call themselves, to abet each other in obscure fraud and petty
intrigue."

"You are severe, sir," said Miss Vere.

"Only just," said her father; "a humble copier I am from nature, with
the advantage of contemplating two such excellent studies as Lucy
Ilderton and yourself."

"If I have been unfortunate enough to offend, sir, I can conscientiously
excuse Miss Ilderton from being either my counsellor or confidante."

"Indeed! how came you, then," said Mr. Vere, "by the flippancy of
speech, and pertness of argument, by which you have disgusted Sir
Frederick, and given me of late such deep offence?"

"If my manner has been so unfortunate as to displease you, sir, it
is impossible for me to apologize too deeply, or too sincerely; but I
cannot confess the same contrition for having answered Sir Frederick
flippantly when he pressed me rudely. Since he forgot I was a lady, it
was time to show him that I am at least a woman."

"Reserve, then, your pertness for those who press you on the topic,
Isabella," said her father coldly; "for my part, I am weary of the
subject, and will never speak upon it again."

"God bless you, my dear father," said Isabella, seizing his reluctant
hand "there is nothing you can impose on me, save the task of listening
to this man's persecution, that I will call, or think, a hardship."

"You are very obliging, Miss Vere, when it happens to suit you to be
dutiful," said her unrelenting father, forcing himself at the same time
from the affectionate grasp of her hand; "but henceforward, child, I
shall save myself the trouble of offering you unpleasant advice on any
topic. You must look to yourself."

At this moment four ruffians rushed upon them. Mr. Vere and his servant
drew their hangers, which it was the fashion of the time to wear, and
attempted to defend themselves and protect Isabella. But while each of
them was engaged by an antagonist, she was forced into the thicket by
the two remaining villains, who placed her and themselves on horses
which stood ready behind the copse-wood. They mounted at the same time,
and, placing her between them, set of at a round gallop, holding the
reins of her horse on each side. By many an obscure and winding path,
over dale and down, through moss and moor, she was conveyed to the tower
of Westburnflat, where she remained strictly watched, but not otherwise
ill-treated, under the guardianship of the old woman, to whose son that
retreat belonged. No entreaties could prevail upon the hag to give Miss
Vere any information on the object of her being carried forcibly off,
and confined in this secluded place. The arrival of Earnscliff, with a
strong party of horsemen, before the tower, alarmed the robber. As he
had already directed Grace Armstrong to be restored to her friends, it
did not occur to him that this unwelcome visit was on her account; and
seeing at the head of the party, Earnscliff, whose attachment to Miss
Vere was whispered in the country, he doubted not that her liberation
was the sole object of the attack upon his fastness. The dread of
personal consequences compelled him to deliver up his prisoner in the
manner we have already related.

At the moment the tramp of horses was heard which carried off the
daughter of Ellieslaw, her father fell to the earth, and his servant, a
stout young fellow, who was gaining ground on the ruffian with whom he
had been engaged, left the combat to come to his master's assistance,
little doubting that he had received a mortal wound, Both the villains
immediately desisted from farther combat, and, retreating into the
thicket, mounted their horses, and went off at full speed after their
companions. Meantime, Dixon had the satisfaction to find Mr. Vere not
only alive, but unwounded. He had overreached himself, and stumbled,
it seemed, over the root of a tree, in making too eager a blow at his
antagonist. The despair he felt at his daughter's disappearance, was, in
Dixon's phrase, such as would have melted the heart of a whin stane, and
he was so much exhausted by his feelings, and the vain researches which
he made to discover the track of the ravishers, that a considerable
time elapsed ere he reached home, and communicated the alarm to his
domestics.

All his conduct and gestures were those of a desperate man.

"Speak not to me, Sir Frederick," he said impatiently; "You are no
father--she was my child, an ungrateful one! I fear, but still my
child--my only child. Where is Miss Ilderton? she must know something of
this. It corresponds with what I was informed of her schemes. Go, Dixon,
call Ratcliffe here Let him come without a minute's delay." The person
he had named at this moment entered the room.

"I say, Dixon," continued Mr. Vere, in an altered tone, "let Mr.
Ratcliffe know, I beg the favour of his company on particular
business.--Ah! my dear sir," he proceeded, as if noticing him for the
first time, "you are the very man whose advice can be of the utmost
service to me in this cruel extremity."

"What has happened, Mr. Vere, to discompose you?" said Mr, Ratcliffe,
gravely; and while the Laird of Ellieslaw details to him, with the most
animated gestures of grief and indignation, the singular adventure of
the morning, we shall take the opportunity to inform our readers of the
relative circumstances in which these gentlemen stood to each other.

In early youth, Mr. Vere of Ellieslaw had been remarkable for a career
of dissipation, which, in advanced life, he had exchanged for the no
less destructive career of dark and turbulent ambition. In both
cases, he had gratified the predominant passion without respect to the
diminution of his private fortune, although, where such inducements
were wanting, he was deemed close, avaricious, and grasping. His affairs
being much embarrassed by his earlier extravagance, he went to England,
where he was understood to have formed a very advantageous matrimonial
connexion. He was many years absent from his family estate. Suddenly and
unexpectedly he returned a widower, bringing with him his daughter,
then a girl of about ten years old. From this moment his expense
seemed unbounded, in the eyes of the simple inhabitants of his native
mountains. It was supposed he must necessarily have plunged himself
deeply in debt. Yet he continued to live in the same lavish expense,
until some months before the commencement of our narrative, when the
public opinion of his embarrassed circumstances was confirmed, by
the residence of Mr. Ratcliffe at Ellieslaw Castle, who, by the tacit
consent, though obviously to the great displeasure, of the lord of the
mansion, seemed, from the moment of his arrival, to assume and exercise
a predominant and unaccountable influence in the management of his
private affairs.

Mr. Ratcliffe was a grave, steady, reserved man, in an advanced period
of life. To those with whom he had occasion to speak upon business, he
appeared uncommonly well versed in all its forms. With others he held
little communication; but in any casual intercourse, or conversation,
displayed the powers of an active and well-informed mind. For some
time before taking up his final residence at the castle, he had been
an occasional visitor there, and was at such times treated by Mr. Vere
(contrary to his general practice towards those who were inferior to
him in rank) with marked attention, and even deference. Yet his arrival
always appeared to be an embarrassment to his host, and his departure a
relief; so that, when he became a constant inmate of the family, it was
impossible not to observe indications of the displeasure with which Mr.
Vere regarded his presence. Indeed, their intercourse formed a singular
mixture of confidence and constraint. Mr. Vere's most important affairs
were regulated by Mr. Ratcliffe; and although he was none of those
indulgent men of fortune, who, too indolent to manage their own
business, are glad to devolve it upon another, yet, in many instances,
he was observed to give up his own judgment, and submit to the contrary
opinions which Mr. Ratcliffe did not hesitate distinctly to express.

Nothing seemed to vex Mr. Vere more than when strangers indicated any
observation of the state of tutelage under which he appeared to labour.
When it was noticed by Sir Frederick, or any of his intimates, he
sometimes repelled their remarks haughtily and indignantly, and
sometimes endeavoured to evade them, by saying, with a forced laugh,
"That Ratcliffe knew his own importance, but that he was the most honest
and skilful fellow in the world; and that it would be impossible for him
to manage his English affairs without his advice and assistance." Such
was the person who entered the room at the moment Mr. Vere was summoning
him to his presence, and who now heard with surprise, mingled with
obvious incredulity, the hasty narrative of what had befallen Isabella.

Her father concluded, addressing Sir Frederick and the other gentlemen,
who stood around in astonishment, "And now, my friends, you see the most
unhappy father in Scotland. Lend me your assistance, gentlemen--give me
your advice, Mr. Ratcliffe. I am incapable of acting, or thinking, under
the unexpected violence of such a blow."

"Let us take our horses, call our attendants, and scour the country in
pursuit of the villains," said Sir Frederick.

"Is there no one whom you can suspect," said Ratcliffe, gravely, "of
having some motive for this strange crime? These are not the days of
romance, when ladies are carried off merely for their beauty."

"I fear," said Mr. Vere, "I can too well account for this strange
incident. Read this letter, which Miss Lucy Ilderton thought fit to
address from my house of Ellieslaw to young Mr. Earnscliff; whom, of all
men, I have a hereditary right to call my enemy. You see she writes
to him as the confidant of a passion which he has the assurance to
entertain for my daughter; tells him she serves his cause with her
friend very ardently, but that he has a friend in the garrison who
serves him yet more effectually. Look particularly at the pencilled
passages, Mr. Ratcliffe, where this meddling girl recommends bold
measures, with an assurance that his suit would be successful anywhere
beyond the bounds of the barony of Ellieslaw."

"And you argue, from this romantic letter of a very romantic young lady,
Mr. Vere," said Ratcliffe, "that young Earnscliff has carried off your
daughter, and committed a very great and criminal act of violence, on no
better advice and assurance than that of Miss Lucy Ilderton?"

"What else can I think?" said Ellieslaw.

"What else CAN you think?" said Sir Frederick; "or who else could have
any motive for committing such a crime?"

"Were that the best mode of fixing the guilt," said Mr. Ratcliffe,
calmly, "there might easily be pointed out persons to whom such actions
are more congenial, and who have also sufficient motives of instigation.
Supposing it were judged advisable to remove Miss Vere to some place in
which constraint might be exercised upon her inclinations to a degree
which cannot at present be attempted under the roof of Ellieslaw
Castle--What says Sir Frederick Langley to that supposition?"

"I say," returned Sir Frederick, "that although Mr. Vere may choose to
endure in Mr. Ratcliffe freedoms totally inconsistent with his situation
in life, I will not permit such license of innuendo, by word or look, to
be extended to me, with impunity."

"And I say," said young Mareschal of Mareschal-Wells, who was also
a guest at the castle, "that you are all stark mad to be standing
wrangling here, instead of going in pursuit of the ruffians."

"I have ordered off the domestics already in the track most likely to
overtake them," said Mr. Vere "if you will favour me with your company,
we will follow them, and assist in the search."

The efforts of the party were totally unsuccessful, probably because
Ellieslaw directed the pursuit to proceed in the direction of Earnscliff
Tower, under the supposition that the owner would prove to be the
author of the violence, so that they followed a direction diametrically
opposite to that in which the ruffians had actually proceeded. In the
evening they returned, harassed and out of spirits. But other guests
had, in the meanwhile, arrived at the castle; and, after the recent loss
sustained by the owner had been related, wondered at, and lamented, the
recollection of it was, for the present, drowned in the discussion
of deep political intrigues, of which the crisis and explosion were
momentarily looked for.

Several of the gentlemen who took part in this divan were Catholics, and
all of them stanch Jacobites, whose hopes were at present at the highest
pitch, as an invasion, in favour of the Pretender, was daily expected
from France, which Scotland, between the defenceless state of its
garrisons and fortified places, and the general disaffection of the
inhabitants, was rather prepared to welcome than to resist. Ratcliffe,
who neither sought to assist at their consultations on this subject,
nor was invited to do so, had, in the meanwhile, retired to his own
apartment. Miss Ilderton was sequestered from society in a sort of
honourable confinement, "until," said Mr. Vere, "she should be safely
conveyed home to her father's house," an opportunity for which occurred
on the following day.

The domestics could not help thinking it remarkable how soon the loss of
Miss Vere, and the strange manner in which it had happened, seemed to be
forgotten by the other guests at the castle. They knew not, that those
the most interested in her fate were well acquainted with the cause
of her being carried off, and the place of her retreat; and that the
others, in the anxious and doubtful moments which preceded the breaking
forth of a conspiracy, were little accessible to any feelings but what
arose immediately out of their own machinations.

Sir Walter Scott

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