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Chapter 14

As, to the Autumn breeze's bugle sound,
Various and vague the dry leaves dance their round;
Or, from the garner-door, on ether borne,
The chaff flies devious from the winnow'd corn;
So vague, so devious, at the breath of heaven,
From their fix'd aim are mortal counsels driv'n.

Anonymous.

WE left Caleb Balderstone in the extremity of triumph at the success of
his various achievements for the honour of the house of Ravenswood. When
he had mustered and marshalled his dishes of divers kinds, a more royal
provision had not been seen in Wolf's Crag since the funeral feast
of its deceased lord. Great was the glory of the serving-man, as he
"decored" the old oaken table with a clean cloth, and arranged upon it
carbonaded venison and roasted wild-fowl, with a glance, every now and
then, as if to upbraid the incredulity of his master and his guests; and
with many a story, more or less true, was Lockhard that evening regaled
concerning the ancient grandeur of Wolf's Crag, and the sway of its
barons over the country in their neighbourhood.

"A vassal scarce held a calf or a lamb his ain, till he had first
asked if the Lord of Ravenswood was pleased to accept it; and they were
obliged to ask the lord's consent before they married in these days,
and mony a merry tale they tell about that right as weel as others. And
although," said Caleb, "these times are not like the gude auld times,
when authority had its right, yet true it is, Mr. Lockhard, and you
yoursell may partly have remarked, that we of the house of Ravenswood
do our endeavour in keeping up, by all just and lawful exertion of our
baronial authority, that due and fitting connexion betwixt superior and
vassal, whilk is in some danger of falling into desuetude, owing to the
general license and misrule of these present unhappy times."

"Umph!" said Mr. Lockhard; "and if I may inquire, Mr. Balderstone, pray
do you find your people at the village yonder amenable? for I must needs
say, that at Ravenswood Castle, now pertaining to my master the Lord
Keeper, ye have not left behind ye the most compliant set of tenantry."

"Ah! but Mr. Lockhard," replied Caleb, "ye must consider there has been
a change of hands, and the auld lord might expect twa turns frae them,
when the new-comer canna get ane. A dour and fractious set they were,
thae tenants of Ravenswood, and ill to live wi' when they dinna ken
their master; and if your master put them mad ance, the whole country
will not put them down."

"Troth," said Mr. Lockhard, "an such be the case, I think the wisest
thing for us a' wad be to hammer up a match between your young lord and
our winsome young leddy up-bye there; and Sir William might just stitch
your auld barony to her gown-sleeve, and he wad sune cuitle another out
o' somebody else, sic a lang head as he has."

Caleb shook his head. "I wish," he said--"I wish that may answer, Mr.
Lockhard. There are auld prophecies about this house I wad like ill to
see fulfilled wi' my auld een, that has seen evil eneugh already."

"Pshaw! never mind freits," said his brother butler; "if the young folk
liked ane anither, they wad make a winsome couple. But, to say truth,
there is a leddy sits in our hall-neuk, maun have her hand in that as
weel as in every other job. But there's no harm in drinking to their
healths, and I will fill Mrs. Mysie a cup of Mr. Girder's canary."


While they thus enjoyed themselves in the kitchen, the company in
the hall were not less pleasantly engaged. So soon as Ravenswood had
determined upon giving the Lord Keeper such hospitality as he had to
offer, he deemed it incumbent on him to assume the open and courteous
brow of a well-pleased host. It has been often remarked, that when a man
commences by acting a character, he frequently ends by adopting it in
good earnest. In the course of an hour or two, Ravenswood, to his own
surprise, found himself in the situation of one who frankly does his
best to entertain welcome and honoured guests. How much of this change
in his disposition was to be ascribed to the beauty and simplicity of
Miss Ashton, to the readiness with which she accommodated herself to the
inconveniences of her situation; how much to the smooth and plausible
conversation of the Lord Keeper, remarkably gifted with those words
which win the ear, must be left to the reader's ingenuity to conjecture.
But Ravenswood was insensible to neither.

The Lord Keeper was a veteran statesman, well acquainted with courts
and cabinets, and intimate with all the various turns of public affairs
during the last eventful years of the 17th century. He could talk, from
his own knowledge, of men and events, in a way which failed not to win
attention, and had the peculiar art, while he never said a word which
committed himself, at the same time to persuade the hearer that he was
speaking without the least shadow of scrupulous caution or reserve.
Ravenswood, in spite of his prejudices and real grounds of resentment,
felt himself at once amused and instructed in listening to him, while
the statesman, whose inward feelings had at first so much impeded his
efforts to make himself known, had now regained all the ease and fluency
of a silver-tongued lawyer of the very highest order.

His daughter did not speak much, but she smiled; and what she did say
argued a submissive gentleness, and a desire to give pleasure, which,
to a proud man like Ravenswood, was more fascinating than the most
brilliant wit. Above all, he could not be observe that, whether from
gratitude or from some other motive, he himself, in his deserted and
unprovided hall, was as much the object of respectful attention to his
guests as he would have been when surrounded by all the appliances and
means of hospitality proper to his high birth. All deficiencies passed
unobserved, or, if they did not escape notice, it was to praise the
substitutes which Caleb had contrived to supply the want of the
usual accommodations. Where a smile was unavoidable, it was a very
good-humoured one, and often coupled with some well-turned compliment,
to show how much the guests esteemed the merits of their noble host,
how little they thought of the inconveniences with which they
were surrounded. I am not sure whether the pride of being found to
outbalance, in virtue of his own personal merit, all the disadvantages
of fortune, did not make as favourable an impression upon the haughty
heart of the Master of Ravenswood as the conversation of the father and
the beauty of Lucy Ashton.

The hour of repose arrived. The Keeper and his daughter retired to their
apartments, which were "decored" more properly than could have been
anticipated. In making the necessary arrangements, Mysie had indeed
enjoyed the assistance of a gossip who had arrived from the village upon
an exploratory expedition, but had been arrested by Caleb, and impressed
into the domestic drudgery of the evening; so that, instead of returning
home to describe the dress and person of the grand young lady, she found
herself compelled to be active in the domestic economy of Wolf's Crag.

According to the custom of the time, the Master of Ravenswood attended
the Lord Keeper to his apartment, followed by Caleb, who placed on the
table, with all the ceremonials due to torches of wax, two rudely-framed
tallow-candles, such as in those days were only used by the peasantry,
hooped in paltry clasps of wire, which served for candlesticks. He then
disappeared, and presently entered with two earthen flagons (the china,
he said, had been little used since my lady's time), one filled with
canary wine, the other with brandy. The canary sack, unheeding all
probabilities of detection, he declared had been twenty years in the
cellars of Wolf's Crag, "though it was not for him to speak before their
honours; the brandy--it was weel-kenn'd liquor, as mild as mead and as
strong as Sampson; it had been in the house ever since the memorable
revel, in which auld Micklestob had been slain at the head of the stair
by Jamie of Jenklebrae, on account of the honour of the worshipful Lady
Muirend, wha was in some sort an ally of the family; natheless----"

"But to cut that matter short, Mr. Caleb," said the Keeper, "perhaps you
will favour me with a ewer of water."

"God forbid your lordship should drink water in this family," replied
Caleb, "to the disgrace of so honourable an house!"

"Nevertheless, if his lordship have a fancy," said the Master, smiling,
"I think you might indulge him; for, if I mistake not, there has been
water drank here at no distant date, and with good relish too."

"To be sure, if his lordship has a fancy," said Caleb; and re-entering
with a jug of pure element--"He will scarce find such water onywhere as
is drawn frae the well at Wolf's Crag; nevertheless----"

"Nevertheless, we must leave the Lord Keeper to his repose in this
poor chamber of ours," said the Master of Ravenswood, interrupting
his talkative domestic, who immediately turning to the doorway, with
a profound reverence, prepared to usher his master from the secret
chamber.

But the Lord Keeper prevented his host's departure.--"I have but one
word to say to the Master of Ravenswood, Mr. Caleb, and I fancy he will
excuse your waiting."

With a second reverence, lower than the former, Caleb withdrew; and his
master stood motionless, expecting, with considerable embarrassment,
what was to close the events of a day fraught with unexpected incidents.

"Master of Ravenswood," said Sir William Ashton, with some
embarrassment, "I hope you understand the Christian law too well to
suffer the sun to set upon your anger."

The Master blushed and replied, "He had no occasion that evening to
exercise the duty enjoined upon him by his Christian faith."

"I should have thought otherwise," said his guest, "considering the
various subjects of dispute and litigation which have unhappily occurred
more frequently than was desirable or necessary betwixt the late
honourable lord, your father, and myself."

"I could wish, my lord," said Ravenswood, agitated by suppressed
emotion, "that reference to these circumstances should be made anywhere
rather than under my father's roof."

"I should have felt the delicacy of this appeal at another time," said
Sir William Ashton, "but now I must proceed with what I mean to say.
I have suffered too much in my own mind, from the false delicacy which
prevented my soliciting with earnestness, what indeed I frequently
requested, a personal communing with your father: much distress of mind
to him and to me might have been prevented."

"It is true," said Ravenswood, after a moment's reflection, "I have
heard my father say your lordship had proposed a personal interview."

"Proposed, my dear Master? I did indeed propose it; but I ought to have
begged, entreated, beseeched it. I ought to have torn away the veil,
which interested persons had stretched betwixt us, and shown myself as
I was, willing to sacrifice a considerable part even of my legal rights,
in order to conciliate feelings so natural as his must be allowed to
have been. Let me say for myself, my young friend, for so I will call
you, that had your father and I spent the same time together which
my good fortune has allowed me to-day to pass in your company, it is
possible the land might yet have enjoyed one of the most respectable of
its ancient nobility, and I should have been spared the pain of parting
in enmity from a person whose general character I so much admired and
honoured."

He put his handkerchief to his eyes. Ravenswood also was moved, but
awaited in silence the progress of this extraordinary communication.

"It is necessary," continued the Lord Keeper, "and proper that you
should understand, that there have been many points betwixt us, in
which, although I judged it proper that there should be an exact
ascertainment of my legal rights by the decree of a court of justice,
yet it was never my intention to press them beyond the verge of equity."

"My lord," said the Master of Ravenswood, "it is unnecessary to pursue
this topic farther. What the law will give you, or has given you, you
enjoy--or you shall enjoy; neither my father nor I myself would have
received anything on the footing of favour."

"Favour! No, you misunderstand me," resumed the Keeper; "or rather you
are no lawyer. A right may be good in law, and ascertained to be so,
which yet a man of honour may not in every case care to avail himself
of."

"I am sorry for it, my lord," said the Master.

"Nay, nay," retorted his guest, "you speak like a young counsellor;
your spirit goes before your wit. There are many things still open for
decision betwixt us. Can you blame me, an old man desirous of peace, and
in the castle of a young nobleman who has saved my daughter's life and
my own, that I am desirous, anxiously desirous, that these should be
settled on the most liberal principles?" The old man kept fast hold of
the Master's passive hand as he spoke, and made it impossible for him,
be his predetermination what it would, to return any other than an
acquiescent reply; and wishing his guest good-night, he postponed
farther conference until the next morning.

Ravenswood hurried into the hall, where he was to spend the night, and
for a time traversed its pavement with a disordered and rapid pace.
His mortal foe was under his roof, yet his sentiments towards him were
neither those of a feudal enemy nor of a true Christian. He felt as if
he could neither forgive him in the one character, nor follow forth his
vengeance in the other, but that he was making a base and dishonourable
composition betwixt his resentment against the father and his affection
for his daughter. He cursed himself, as he hurried to and fro in the
pale moonlight, and more ruddy gleams of the expiring wood-fire. He
threw open and shut the latticed windows with violence, as if alike
impatient of the admission and exclusion of free air. At length,
however, the torrent of passion foamed off its madness, and he flung
himself into the chair which he proposed as his place of repose for the
night.

"If, in reality," such were the calmer thoughts that followed the first
tempest of his passion--"if, in reality, this man desires no more than
the law allows him--if he is willing to adjust even his acknowledged
rights upon an equitable footing, what could be my father's cause of
complaint?--what is mine? Those from who we won our ancient possessions
fell under the sword of my ancestors, and left lands and livings to the
conquerors; we sink under the force of the law, now too powerful for the
Scottish cavalry. Let us parley with the victors of the day, as if we
had been besieged in our fortress, and without hope of relief. This
man may be other than I have thought him; and his daughter--but I have
resolved not to think of her."

He wrapt his cloak around him, fell asleep, and dreamed of Lucy Ashton
till daylight gleamed through the lattices.

Sir Walter Scott