Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 15

The darksome cave they enter, where they found
The woful man, low sitting on the ground,
Musing full sadly in his sullen mind.--FAERY QUEEN.

The intruder on Miss Vere's sorrows was Ratcliffe. Ellieslaw had, in the
agitation of his mind, forgotten to countermand the order he had given
to call him thither, so that he opened the door with the words, "You
sent for me, Mr. Vere." Then looking around--"Miss Vere, alone! on the
ground! and in tears!"

"Leave me--leave me, Mr. Ratcliffe," said the unhappy young lady.

"I must not leave you," said Ratcliffe; "I have been repeatedly
requesting admittance to take my leave of you, and have been refused,
until your father himself sent for me. Blame me not, if I am bold and
intrusive; I have a duty to discharge which makes me so."

"I cannot listen to you--I cannot speak to you, Mr. Ratcliffe; take my
best wishes, and for God's sake leave me."

"Tell me only," said Ratcliffe, "is it true that this monstrous match is
to go forward, and this very night? I heard the servants proclaim it as
I was on the great staircase--I heard the directions given to clear out
the chapel."

"Spare me, Mr. Ratcliffe," replied the luckless bride; "and from the
state in which you see me, judge of the cruelty of these questions."

"Married? to Sir Frederick Langley? and this night? It must not
cannot--shall not be."

"It MUST be, Mr. Ratcliff, or my father is ruined."

"Ah! I understand," answered Ratcliffe; "and you have sacrificed
yourself to save him who--But let the virtue of the child atone for the
faults of the father it is no time to rake them up.--What CAN be done?
Time presses--I know but one remedy--with four-and-twenty hours I might
find many--Miss Vere, you must implore the protection of the only human
being who has it in his power to control the course of events which
threatens to hurry you before it."

"And what human being," answered Miss Vere, "has such power?"

"Start not when I name him," said Ratcliffe, coming near her, and
speaking in a low but distinct voice. "It is he who is called Elshender
the Recluse of Mucklestane-Moor."

"You are mad, Mr. Ratcliffe, or you mean to insult my misery by an
ill-timed jest!"

"I am as much in my senses, young lady," answered her adviser, "as you
are; and I am no idle jester, far less with misery, least of all with
your misery. I swear to you that this being (who is other far than
what he seems) actually possesses the means of redeeming you from this
hateful union."

"And of insuring my father's safety?"

"Yes! even that," said Ratcliffe, "if you plead his cause with him--yet
how to obtain admittance to the Recluse!"

"Fear not that," said Miss Vere, suddenly recollecting the incident
of the rose; "I remember he desired me to call upon him for aid in
my extremity, and gave me this flower as a token. Ere it faded away
entirely, I would need, he said, his assistance: is it possible his
words can have been aught but the ravings of insanity?"

"Doubt it not fear it not--but above all," said Ratcliffe, "let us lose
no time--are you at liberty, and unwatched?"

"I believe so," said Isabella: "but what would you have me to do?"

"Leave the castle instantly," said Ratcliffe, "and throw yourself at the
feet of this extraordinary man, who in circumstances that seem to argue
the extremity of the most contemptible poverty, possesses yet an almost
absolute influence over your fate.--Guests and servants are deep in
their carouse--the leaders sitting in conclave on their treasonable
schemes--my horse stands ready in the stable--I will saddle one for you,
and meet you at the little garden-gate--O, let no doubt of my prudence
or fidelity prevent your taking the only step in your power to escape
the dreadful fate which must attend the wife of Sir Frederick Langley!"

"Mr. Ratcliffe," said Miss Vere, "you have always been esteemed a man
of honour and probity, and a drowning wretch will always catch at the
feeblest twig,--I will trust you--I will follow your advice--I will meet
you at the garden-gate."

She bolted the outer-door of her apartment as soon as Mr. Ratcliffe left
her, and descended to the garden by a separate stair of communication
which opened to her dressing-room. On the way she felt inclined to
retract the consent she had so hastily given to a plan so hopeless
and extravagant. But as she passed in her descent a private door which
entered into the chapel from the back-stair, she heard the voice of the
female-servants as they were employed in the task of cleaning it.

"Married! and to sae bad a man--Ewhow, sirs! onything rather than that."

"They are right--they are right," said Miss Vere, "anything rather than
that!"

She hurried to the garden. Mr. Ratcliffe was true to his
appointment--the horses stood saddled at the garden-gate, and in a few
minutes they were advancing rapidly towards the hut of the Solitary.

While the ground was favourable, the speed of their journey was such as
to prevent much communication; but when a steep ascent compelled them to
slacken their pace, a new cause of apprehension occurred to Miss Vere's
mind.

"Mr. Ratcliffe," she said, pulling up her horse's bridle, "let us
prosecute no farther a journey, which nothing but the extreme agitation
of my mind can vindicate my having undertaken--I am well aware that this
man passes among the vulgar as being possessed of supernatural powers,
and carrying on an intercourse with beings of another world; but I would
have you aware I am neither to be imposed on by such follies, nor, were
I to believe in their existence, durst I, with my feelings of religion,
apply to this being in my distress."

"I should have thought, Miss Vere," replied Ratcliffe, "my character and
habits of thinking were so well known to you, that you might have held
me exculpated from crediting in such absurdity."

"But in what other mode," said Isabella, "can a being, so miserable
himself in appearance, possess the power of assisting me?"

"Miss Vere." said Ratcliffe, after a momentary pause, "I am bound by
a solemn oath of secrecy--You must, without farther explanation, be
satisfied with my pledged assurance, that he does possess the power, if
you can inspire him with the will; and that, I doubt not, you will be
able to do."

"Mr. Ratcliffe," said Miss Vere, "you may yourself be mistaken; you ask
an unlimited degree of confidence from me."

"Recollect, Miss Vere," he replied, "that when, in your humanity, you
asked me to interfere with your father in favour of Haswell and his
ruined family--when you requested me to prevail on him to do a
thing most abhorrent to his nature--to forgive an injury and remit a
penalty--I stipulated that you should ask me no questions concerning the
sources of my influence--You found no reason to distrust me then, do not
distrust me now."

"But the extraordinary mode of life of this man," said Miss Vere; "his
seclusion--his figure--the deepness of mis-anthropy which he is said to
express in his language--Mr. Ratcliffe, what can I think of him if he
really possesses the powers you ascribe to him?"

"This man, young lady, was bred a Catholic, a sect which affords a
thousand instances of those who have retired from power and affluence to
voluntary privations more strict even than his."

"But he avows no religious motive," replied Miss Vere.

"No," replied Ratcliffe; "disgust with the world has operated his
retreat from it without assuming the veil of superstition. Thus far I
may tell you--he was born to great wealth, which his parents designed
should become greater by his union with a kinswoman, whom for that
purpose they bred up in their own house. You have seen his figure;
judge what the young lady must have thought of the lot to which she was
destined--Yet, habituated to his appearance, she showed no reluctance,
and the friends of--of the person whom I speak of, doubted not that the
excess of his attachment, the various acquisitions of his mind, his
many and amiable qualities, had overcome the natural horror which
his destined bride must have entertained at an exterior so dreadfully
inauspicious."

"And did they judge truly?" said Isabella.

"You shall hear. He, at least, was fully aware of his own deficiency;
the sense of it haunted him like a phantom. 'I am,' was his own
expression to me,--I mean to a man whom he trusted,--'I am, in spite
of what you would say, a poor miserable outcast, fitter to have been
smothered in the cradle than to have been brought up to scare the world
in which I crawl.' The person whom he addressed in vain endeavoured to
impress him with the indifference to external form which is the natural
result of philosophy, or entreat him to recall the superiority of mental
talents to the more attractive attributes that are merely personal.
'I hear you,' he would reply; 'but you speak the voice of cold-blooded
stoicism, or, at least, of friendly partiality. But look at every book
which we have read, those excepted of that abstract philosophy which
feels no responsive voice in our natural feelings. Is not personal form,
such as at least can be tolerated without horror and disgust, always
represented as essential to our ideas of a friend, far more a lover?
Is not such a mis-shapen monster as I am, excluded, by the very fiat
of Nature, from her fairest enjoyments? What but my wealth prevents
all--perhaps even Letitia, or you--from shunning me as something foreign
to your nature, and more odious, by bearing that distorted resemblance
to humanity which we observe in the animal tribes that are more hateful
to man because they seem his caricature?'"

"You repeat the sentiments of a madman," said Miss Vere.

"No," replied her conductor, "unless a morbid and excessive sensibility
on such a subject can be termed insanity. Yet I will not deny that this
governing feeling and apprehension carried the person who entertained
it, to lengths which indicated a deranged imagination. He appeared
to think that it was necessary for him, by exuberant, and not always
well-chosen instances of liberality, and even profusion, to unite
himself to the human race, from which he conceived himself naturally
dissevered. The benefits which he bestowed, from a disposition naturally
philanthropical in an uncommon degree, were exaggerated by the influence
of the goading reflection, that more was necessary from him than from
others,--lavishing his treasures as if to bribe mankind to receive him
into their class. It is scarcely necessary to say, that the bounty which
flowed from a source so capricious was often abused, and his confidence
frequently betrayed. These disappointments, which occur to all, more or
less, and most to such as confer benefits without just discrimination,
his diseased fancy set down to the hatred and contempt excited by his
personal deformity.--But I fatigue you, Miss Vere?"

"No, by no means; I--I could not prevent my attention from wandering an
instant; pray proceed."

"He became at length," continued Ratcliffe, "the most ingenious
self-tormentor of whom I have ever heard; the scoff of the rabble, and
the sneer of the yet more brutal vulgar of his own rank, was to him
agony and breaking on the wheel. He regarded the laugh of the common
people whom he passed on the street, and the suppressed titter, or yet
more offensive terror, of the young girls to whom he was introduced in
company, as proofs of the true sense which the world entertained of
him, as a prodigy unfit to be received among them on the usual terms
of society, and as vindicating the wisdom of his purpose in withdrawing
himself from among them. On the faith and sincerity of two persons
alone, he seemed to rely implicitly--on that of his betrothed bride, and
of a friend eminently gifted in personal accomplishments, who seemed,
and indeed probably was, sincerely attached to him. He ought to have
been so at least, for he was literally loaded with benefits by him whom
you are now about to see. The parents of the subject of my story died
within a short space of each other. Their death postponed the marriage,
for which the day had been fixed. The lady did not seem greatly to
mourn this delay,--perhaps that was not to have been expected; but
she intimated no change of intention, when, after a decent interval,
a second day was named for their union. The friend of whom I spoke was
then a constant resident at the Hall. In an evil hour, at the earnest
request and entreaty of this friend, they joined a general party, where
men of different political opinions were mingled, and where they drank
deep. A quarrel ensued; the friend of the Recluse drew his sword with
others, and was thrown down and disarmed by a more powerful antagonist.
They fell in the struggle at the feet of the Recluse, who, maimed and
truncated as his form appears, possesses, nevertheless, great strength,
as well as violent passions. He caught up a sword, pierced the heart
of his friend's antagonist, was tried, and his life, with difficulty,
redeemed from justice at the expense of a year's close imprisonment, the
punishment of manslaughter. The incident affected him most deeply,
the more that the deceased was a man of excellent character, and had
sustained gross insult and injury ere he drew his sword. I think, from
that moment, I observed--I beg pardon--The fits of morbid sensibility
which had tormented this unfortunate gentleman, were rendered henceforth
more acute by remorse, which he, of all men, was least capable of having
incurred, or of sustaining when it became his unhappy lot. His paroxysms
of agony could not be concealed from the lady to whom he was betrothed;
and it must be confessed they were of an alarming and fearful nature.
He comforted himself, that, at the expiry of his imprisonment, he could
form with his wife and friend a society, encircled by which he might
dispense with more extensive communication with the world. He was
deceived; before that term elapsed, his friend and his betrothed bride
were man and wife. The effects of a shock so dreadful on an ardent
temperament, a disposition already soured by bitter remorse, and
loosened by the indulgence of a gloomy imagination from the rest of
mankind, I cannot describe to you; it was as if the last cable at which
the vessel rode had suddenly parted, and left her abandoned to all the
wild fury of the tempest. He was placed under medical restraint. As a
temporary measure this might have been justifiable; but his hard-hearted
friend, who, in consequence of his marriage, was now his nearest ally,
prolonged his confinement, in order to enjoy the management of his
immense estates. There was one who owed his all to the sufferer, an
humble friend, but grateful and faithful. By unceasing exertion, and
repeated invocation of justice, he at length succeeded in obtaining
his patron's freedom, and reinstatement in the management of his own
property, to which was soon added that of his intended bride, who having
died without male issue, her estates reverted to him, as heir of entail.
But freedom and wealth were unable to restore the equipoise of his mind;
to the former his grief made him indifferent--the latter only served him
as far as it afforded him the means of indulging his strange and wayward
fancy. He had renounced the Catholic religion, but perhaps some of
its doctrines continued to influence a mind, over which remorse and
misanthropy now assumed, in appearance, an unbounded authority. His life
has since been that alternately of a pilgrim and a hermit, suffering
the most severe privations, not indeed in ascetic devotion, but in
abhorrence of mankind. Yet no man's words and actions have been at
such a wide difference, nor has any hypocritical wretch ever been more
ingenious in assigning good motives for his vile actions, than this
unfortunate in reconciling to his abstract principles of misanthropy,
a conduct which flows from his natural generosity and kindness of
feeling."

"Still, Mr. Ratcliffe--still you describe the inconsistencies of a
madman."

"By no means," replied Ratcliffe. "That the imagination of this
gentleman is disordered, I will not pretend to dispute; I have already
told you that it has sometimes broken out into paroxysms approaching
to real mental alienation. But it is of his common state of mind that I
speak; it is irregular, but not deranged; the shades are as gradual as
those that divide the light of noonday from midnight. The courtier who
ruins his fortune for the attainment of a title which can do him no
good, or power of which he can make no suitable or creditable use, the
miser who hoards his useless wealth, and the prodigal who squanders it,
are all marked with a certain shade of insanity. To criminals who are
guilty of enormities, when the temptation, to a sober mind, bears no
proportion to the horror of the act, or the probability of detection and
punishment, the same observation applies; and every violent passion, as
well as anger, may be termed a short madness."

"This may be all good philosophy, Mr. Ratcliffe," answered Miss Vere;
"but, excuse me, it by no means emboldens me to visit, at this late
hour, a person whose extravagance of imagination you yourself can only
palliate."

"Rather, then," said Ratcliffe, "receive my solemn assurances, that you
do not incur the slightest danger. But what I have been hitherto afraid
to mention for fear of alarming you is, that now when we are within
sight of his retreat, for I can discover it through the twilight, I must
go no farther with you; you must proceed alone."

"Alone?--I dare not."

"You must," continued Ratcliffe; "I will remain here and wait for you."

"You will not, then, stir from this place," said Miss Vere "yet
the distance is so great, you could not hear me were I to cry for
assistance."

"Fear nothing," said her guide; "or observe, at least, the utmost
caution in stifling every expression of timidity. Remember that his
predominant and most harassing apprehension arises from a consciousness
of the hideousness of his appearance. Your path lies straight beside
yon half-fallen willow; keep the left side of it; the marsh lies on the
right. Farewell for a time. Remember the evil you are threatened with,
and let it overcome at once your fears and scruples."

"Mr. Ratcliffe," said Isabella, "farewell; if you have deceived one so
unfortunate as myself, you have for ever forfeited the fair character
for probity and honour to which I have trusted."

"On my life--on my soul," continued Ratcliffe, raising his voice as the
distance between them increased, "you are safe--perfectly safe."


Sir Walter Scott

Sorry, no summary available yet.