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 19

I do too ill in this,
And must not think but that a parent's plaint
Will move the heavens to pour forth misery
Upon the head of disobediency.
Yet reason tells us, parents are o'erseen,
When with too strict a rein they do hold in
Their child's affection, and control that love,
Which the high powers divine inspire them with.

The Hog hath lost his Pearl.


THE feast of Ravenswood Castle was as remarkable for its profusion as
that of Wolf's Crag had been for its ill-veiled penury. The Lord Keeper
might feel internal pride at the contrast, but he had too much tact
to suffer it to appear. On the contrary, he seemed to remember with
pleasure what he called Mr. Balderstone's bachelor's meal, and to be
rather disgusted than pleaseed with the display upon his own groaning
board.

"We do these things," he said, "because others do them; but I was bred
a plain man at my father's frugal table, and I should like well would
my wife and family permit me to return to my sowens and my
poor-man-of-mutton."

This was a little overstretched. The Master only answered, "That
different ranks--I mean," said he, correcting himself, "different
degrees of wealth require a different style of housekeeping."

This dry remark put a stop to further conversation on the subject, nor
is it necessary to record that which was substituted in its place. The
evening was spent with freedom, and even cordiality; and Henry had so
far overcome his first apprehensions, that he had settled a party for
coursing a stag with the representative and living resemblance of grim
Sir Malise of Ravenswood, called the Revenger. The next morning was the
appointed time. It rose upon active sportsmen and successful sport. The
banquet came in course; and a pressing invitation to tarry yet another
day was given and accepted. This Ravenswood had resolved should be the
last of his stay; but he recollected he had not yet visited the ancient
and devoted servant of his house, Old Alice, and it was but kind to
dedicate one morning to the gratification of so ancient an adherent.

To visit Alice, therefore, a day was devoted, and Lucy was the Master's
guide upon the way. Henry, it is true, accompanied them, and took from
their walk the air of a tete-a-tete, while, in reality, it was little
else, considering the variety of circumstances which occurred to prevent
the boy from giving the least attention to what passed between his
companions. Now a rook settled on a branch within shot; anon a hare
crossed their path, and Henry and his greyhound went astray in pursuit
of it; then he had to hold a long conversation with the forester, which
detained him a while behind his companions; and again he went to examine
the earth of a badger, which carried him on a good way before them.

The conversation betwixt the Master and his sister, meanwhile, took
an interesting, and almost a confidential, turn. She could not help
mentioning her sense of the pain he must feel in visiting scenes so well
known to him, bearing now an aspect so different; and so gently was
her sympathy expressed, that Ravenswood felt it for a moment as a full
requital of all his misfortunes. Some such sentiment escaped him, which
Lucy heard with more of confusion than displeasure; and she may be
forgiven the imprudence of listening to such language, considering that
the situation in which she was placed by her father seemed to authorise
Ravenswood to use it. Yet she made an effort to turn the conversation,
and she succeeded; for the Master also had advanced farther than he
intended, and his conscience had instantly checked him when he found
himself on the verge of speaking of love to the daughter of Sir William
Ashton.

They now approached the hut of Old Alice, which had of late been
rendered more comfortable, and presented an appearance less picturesque,
perhaps, but far neater than before. The old woman was on her accustomed
seat beneath the weeping birch, basking, with the listless enjoyment of
age and infirmity, in the beams of the autumn sun. At the arrival of
her visitors she turned her head towards them. "I hear your step, Miss
Ashton," she said, "but the gentleman who attends you is not my lord,
your father."

"And why should you think so, Alice?" said Lucy; "or how is it possible
for you to judge so accurately by the sound of a step, on this firm
earth, and in the open air?"

"My hearing, my child, has been sharpened by my blindness, and I can now
draw conclusions from the slightest sounds, which formerly reached my
ears as unheeded as they now approach yours. Necessity is a stern but an
excellent schoolmistress, and she that has lost her sight must collect
her information from other sources."

"Well, you hear a man's step, I grant it," said Lucy; "but why, Alice,
may it not be my father's?"

"The pace of age, my love, is timid and cautious: the foot takes leave
of the earth slowly, and is planted down upon it with hesitation; it
is the hasty and determined step of youth that I now hear, and--could I
give credit to so strange a thought--I should say is was the step of a
Ravenswood."

"This is indeed," said Ravenswood, "an acuteness of organ which I could
not have credited had I not witnessed it. I am indeed the Master of
Ravenswood, Alice,--the son of your old master."

"You!" said the old woman, with almost a scream of surprise--"you the
Master of Ravenswood--here--in this place, and thus accompanied! I
cannot believe it. Let me pass my old hand over your face, that my touch
may bear witness to my ears."

The Master sate down beside her on the earthen bank, and permitted her
to touch his features with her trembling hand.

"It is indeed!" she said--"it is the features as well as the voice of
Ravenswood--the high lines of pride, as well as the bold and haughty
tone. But what do you here, Master of Ravenswood?--what do you in your
enemy's domain, and in company with his child?" As Old Alice spoke, her
face kindled, as probably that of an ancient feudal vassal might have
done in whose presence his youthful liege-lord had showed some symptom
of degenerating from the spirit of his ancestors.

"The Master of Ravenswood," said Lucy, who liked not the tone of this
expostulation, and was desirous to abridge it, "is upon a visit to my
father."

"Indeed!" said the old blind woman, in an accent of surprise.

"I knew," continued Lucy, "I should do him a pleasure by conducting him
to your cottage."

"Where, to say the truth, Alice," said Ravenswood, "I expected a more
cordial reception."

"It is most wonderful!" said the old woman, muttering to herself; "but
the ways of Heaven are not like our ways, and its judgments are brought
about by means far beyond our fathoming. Hearken, young man," she said;
"your fathers were implacable, but they were honourable, foes; they
sought not to ruin their enemies under the mask of hospitality. What
have you to do with Lucy Ashton? why should your steps move in the same
footpath with hers? why should your voice sound in the same chord and
time with those of Sir William Ashton's daughter? Young man, he who aims
at revenge by dishonourable means----"

"Be silent, woman!" said Ravenswood, sternly; "it is the devil that
prompts your voice? Know that this young lady has not on earth a friend
who would venture farther to save her from injury or from insult."

"And is it even so?" said the old woman, in an altered but melancholy
tone, "then God help you both!"

"Amen! Alice," said Lucy, who had not comprehended the import of what
the blind woman had hinted, "and send you your senses, Alice, and your
good humour. If you hold this mysterious language, instead of welcoming
your friends, they will think of you as other people do."

"And how do other people think?" said Ravenswood, for he also began to
believe the old woman spoke with incoherence.

"They think," said Henry Ashton, who came up at that moment, and
whispered into Ravenswood's ear, "that she is a witch, that should have
been burned with them that suffered at Haddington."

"What is it you say?" said Alice, turning towards the boy, her sightless
visage inflamed with passion; "that I am a witch, and ought to
have suffered with the helpless old wretches who were murdered at
Haddington?"

"Hear to that now," again whispered Henry, "and me whispering lower than
a wren cheeps!"

"If the usurer, and the oppressor, and the grinder of the poor man's
face, and the remover of ancient landmarks, and the subverter of ancient
houses, were at the same stake with me, I could say, 'Light the fire, in
God's name!'"

"This is dreadful," said Lucy; "I have never seen the poor deserted
woman in this state of mind; but age and poverty can ill bear reproach.
Come, Henry, we will leave her for the present; she wishes to speak
with the Master alone. We will walk homeward, and rest us," she added,
looking at Ravenswood, "by the Mermaiden's Well." "And Alice," said the
boy, "if you know of any hare that comes through among the deer, and
makes them drop their calves out of season, you may tell her, with my
compliments to command, that if Norman has not got a silver bullet ready
for her, I'll lend him one of my doublet-buttons on purpose."

Alice made no answer till she was aware that the sister and brother were
out of hearing. She then said to Ravenswood: "And you, too, are angry
with me for my love? It is just that strangers should be offended, but
you, too, are angry!"

"I am not angry, Alice," said the Master, "only surprised that you,
whose good sense I have heard so often praised, should give way to
offensive and unfounded suspicions."

"Offensive!" said Alice. "Ay, trust is ever offensive; but, surely, not
unfounded."

"I tell you, dame, most groundless," replied Ravenswood.

"Then the world has changed its wont, and the Ravenswoods their
hereditary temper, and the eyes of Old Alice's understanding are yet
more blind than those of her countenance. When did a Ravenswood seek the
house of his enemy but with the purpose of revenge? and hither are you
come, Edgar Ravenswood, either in fatal anger or in still more fatal
love."

"In neither," said Ravenswood, "I give you mine honour--I mean, I assure
you."

Alice could not see his blushing cheek, but she noticed his hesitation,
and that he retracted the pledge which he seemed at first disposed to
attach to his denial.

"It is so, then," she said, "and therefore she is to tarry by the
Mermaiden's Well! Often has it been called a place fatal to the race of
Ravenswood--often has it proved so; but never was it likely to verify
old sayings as much as on this day."

"You drive me to madness, Alice," said Ravenswood; "you are more silly
and more superstitious than old Balderstone. Are you such a wretched
Christian as to suppose I would in the present day levy war against the
Ashton family, as was the sanguinary custom in elder times? or do you
suppose me so foolish, that I cannot walk by a young lady's side without
plunging headlong in love with her?"

"My thoughts," replied Alice, "are my own; and if my mortal sight
is closed to objects present with me, it may be I can look with more
steadiness into future events. Are you prepared to sit lowest at the
board which was once your father's own, unwillingly, as a connexion and
ally of his proud successor? Are you ready to live on his bounty; to
follow him in the bye-paths of intrigue and chicane, which none can
better point out to you; to gnaw the bones of his prey when he has
devoured the substance? Can you say as Sir William Ashton says, think
as he thinks, vote as he votes, and call your father's murderer your
worshipful father-in-law and revered patron? Master of Ravenswood, I am
the eldest servant of your house, and I would rather see you shrouded
and coffined!"

The tumult in Ravenswood's mind was uncommonly great; she struck upon
and awakened a chord which he had for some time successfully silenced.
He strode backwards and forwards through the little garden with a hasty
pace; and at length checking himself, and stopping right opposite to
Alice, he exclaimed: "Woman! on the verge of the grave, dare you urge
the son of your master to blood and to revenge?"

"God forbid!" said Alice, solemnly; "and therefore I would have you
depart these fatal bounds, where your love, as well as your hatred,
threatens sure mischief, or at least disgrace, both to yourself and
others. I would shield, were it in the power of this withered hand, the
Ashtons from you, and you from them, and both from their own passions.
You can have nothing--ought to have nothing, in common with them. Begone
from among them; and if God has destined vengeance on the oppressor's
house, do not you be the instrument."

"I will think on what you have said, Alice," said Ravenswood, more
composedly. "I believe you mean truly and faithfully by me, but you urge
the freedom of an ancient domestic somewhat too far. But farewell; and
if Heaven afford me better means, I will not fail to contribute to your
comfort."

He attempted to put a piece of gold into her hand, which she refused to
receive; and, in the slight struggle attending his wish to force it upon
her, it dropped to the earth.

"Let it remain an instant on the ground," said Alice, as the Master
stooped to raise it; "and believe me, that piece of gold is an emblem of
her whom you love; she is as precious, I grant, but you must stoop even
to abasement before you can win her. For me, I have as little to do with
gold as with earthly passions; and the best news that the world has in
store for me is, that Edgar Ravenswood is an hundred miles distant from
the seat of his ancestors, with the determination never again to behold
it."

"Alice," said the Master, who began to think this earnestness had some
more secret cause than arose from anything that the blind woman could
have gathered from this casual visit, "I have heard you praised by my
mother for your sense, acuteness, and fidelity; you are no fool to start
at shadows, or to dread old superstitious saws, like Caleb Balderstone;
tell me distinctly where my danger lies, if you are aware of any which
is tending towards me. If I know myself, I am free from all such views
respecting Miss Ashton as you impute to me. I have necessary business
to settle with Sir William; that arranged, I shall depart, and with as
little wish, as you may easily believe, to return to a place full of
melancholy subjects of reflection, as you have to see me here." Alice
bent her sightless eyes on the ground, and was for some time plunged in
deep meditation. "I will speak the truth," she said at length, raising
up her head--"I will tell you the source of my apprehensions, whether
my candour be for good or for evil. Lucy Ashton loves you, Lord of
Ravenswood!"

"It is impossible," said the Master.

"A thousand circumstances have proved it to me," replied the blind
woman. "Her thoughts have turned on no one else since you saved her
from death, and that my experienced judgment has won from her own
conversation. Having told you this--if you are indeed a gentleman
and your father's son--you will make it a motive for flying from her
presence. Her passion will die like a lamp for want of that the flame
should feed upon; but, if you remain here, her destruction, or yours,
or that of both, will be the inevitable consequence of her misplaced
attachment. I tell you this secret unwillingly, but it could not have
been hid long from your own observation, and it is better you learn
it from mine. Depart, Master of Ravenswood; you have my secret. If you
remain an hour under Sir William Ashton's roof without the resolution
to marry his daughter, you are a villain; if with the purpose of allying
yourself with kin, you are an infatuated and predestined fool."

So saying, the old blind woman arose, assumed her staff, and, tottering
to her hut, entered it and closed the door, leaving Ravenswood to his
own reflections.

Sir Walter Scott