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Chapter 2


Well, lord, we have not got that which we have;
'Tis not enough our foes are this time fled,
Being opposites of such repairing nature.

Henry VI. Part II.

IN the gorge of a pass or mountain glen, ascending from the fertile
plains of East Lothian, there stood in former times an extensive castle,
of which only the ruins are now visible. Its ancient proprietors were
a race of powerful and warlike carons, who bore the same name with the
castle itself, which was Ravenswood. Their line extended to a remote
period of antiquity, and they had intermarried with the Douglasses,
Humes, Swintons, Hays, and other families of power and distinction
in the same country. Their history was frequently involved in that of
Scotland itself, in whose annals their feats are recorded. The Castle of
Ravenswood, occupying, and in some measure commanding, a pass betweixt
Berwickshire, or the Merse, as the southeastern province of Scotland is
termed, and the Lothians, was of importance both in times of foreign
war and domestic discord. It was frequently beseiged with ardour, and
defended with obstinacy, and, of course, its owners played a conspicuous
part in story. But their house had its revolutions, like all sublunary
things: it became greatly declined from its splendour about the middle
of the 17th century; and towards the period of the Revolution, the last
proprietor of Ravenswood Castle saw himself compelled to part with the
ancient family seat, and to remove himself to a lonely and sea-beaten
tower, which, situated on the bleak shores between St. Abb's Head and
the village of Eyemouth, looked out on the lonely and boisterous
German Ocean. A black domain of wild pasture-land surrounded their new
residence, and formed the remains of their property.

Lord Ravenswood, the heir of this ruined family, was far from bending
his mind to his new condition of life. In the civil war of 1689 he
had espoused the sinking side, and although he had escaped without the
forfeiture of life or land, his blood had been attainted, and his title
abolished. He was now called Lord Ravenswood only in courtesy.

This forfeited nobleman inherited the pride and turbulence, though not
the forture, of his house, and, as he imputed the final declension of
his family to a particular individual, he honoured that person with his
full portion of hatred. This was the very man who had now become, by
purchase, proprietor of Ravenswood, and the domains of which the heir of
the house now stood dispossessed. He was descended of a family much less
ancient than that of Lord Ravenswood, and which had only risen to wealth
and political importance during the great civil wars. He himself
had been bred to the bar, and had held high offices in the state,
maintaining through life the character of a skilful fisher in the
troubled waters of a state divided by factions, and governed by
delegated authority; and of one who contrived to amass considerable sums
of money in a country where there was but little to be gathered, and who
equally knew the value of wealth and the various means of augmenting it
and using it as an engine of increasing his power and influence.

Thus qualified and gifted, he was a dangerous antagonist to the fierce
and imprudent Ravenswood. Whether he had given him good cause for the
enmity with which the Baron regarded him, was a point on which men spoke
differently. Some said the quarrel arose merely from the vindictive
spirit and envy of Lord Ravenswood, who could not patiently behold
another, though by just and fair purchase, become the proprietor of
the estate and castle of his forefathers. But the greater part of the
public, prone to slander the wealthy in their absence as to flatter them
in their presence, held a less charitable opinion. They said that the
Lord Keeper (for to this height Sir William Ashton had ascended)
had, previous to the final purchase of the estate of Ravenswood,
been concerned in extensive pecuniary transactions with the former
proprietor; and, rather intimating what was probable than affirming
anything positively, they asked which party was likely to have the
advantage in stating and enforcing the claims arising out of these
complicated affairs, and more than hinted the advantages which the cool
lawyer and able politician must necessarily possess over the hot,
fiery, and imprudent character whom he had involved in legal toils and
pecuniary snares.

The character of the times aggravated these suspicions. "In those days
there was no king in Israel." Since the departure of James VI. to assume
the richer and more powerful crown of England, there had existed in
Scotland contending parties, formed among the aristocracy, by whom,
as their intrigues at the court of St. James's chanced to prevail,
the delegated powers of sovereignty were alternately swayed. The evils
attending upon this system of government resembled those which afflict
the tenants of an Irish estate, the property of an absentee. There was
no supreme power, claiming and possessing a general interest with the
community at large, to whom the oppressed might appeal from subordinate
tyranny, either for justice or for mercy. Let a monarch be as indolent,
as selfish, as much disposed to arbitrary power as he will, still, in a
free country, his own interests are so clearly connected with those of
the public at large, and the evil consequences to his own authority are
so obvious and imminent when a different course is pursued, that common
policy, as well as ocmmon feeling, point to the equal distribution of
justice, and to the establishment of the throne in righteousness. Thus,
even sovereigns remarkable for usurpation and tyranny have been found
rigorous in the administration of justice among their subjects, in cases
where their own power and passions were not compromised.

It is very different when the powers of sovereignty are delegated to
the head of an aristocratic faction, rivalled and pressed closely in
the race of ambition by an adverse leader. His brief and precarious
enjoyment of power must be employed in rewarding his partizans, in
extending his influence, in oppressing and crushing his adversaries.
Even Abou Hassan, the most disinterested of all viceroys, forgot not,
during his caliphate of one day, to send a douceur of one thousand
pieces of gold to his own household; and the Scottish vicegerents,
raised to power by the strength of their faction, failed not to embrace
the same means of rewarding them.

The administration of justice, in particular, was infected by the most
gross partiality. A case of importance scarcely occurred in which there
was not some ground for bias or partiality on the part of the judges,
who were so little able to withstand the temptation that the adage,
"Show me the man, and I will show you the law," became as prevalent as
it was scandalous. One corruption led the way to others still mroe gross
and profligate. The judge who lent his sacred authority in one case to
support a friend, and in another to crush an enemy, and who decisions
were founded on family connexions or political relations, could not be
supposed inaccessible to direct personal motives; and the purse of the
wealthy was too often believed to be thrown into the scale to weigh
down the cause of the poor litigant. The subordinate officers of the law
affected little scruple concerning bribery. Pieces of plate and bags of
money were sent in presents to the king's counsel, to influence their
conduct, and poured forth, says a contemporary writer, like billets of
wood upon their floors, without even the decency of concealment.

In such times, it was not over uncharitable to suppose that the
statesman, practised in courts of law, and a powerful member of a
triumphant cabal, might find and use means of advantage over his less
skilful and less favoured adversary; and if it had been supposed that
Sir William Ashton's conscience had been too delicate to profit by these
advantages, it was believed that his ambition and desire of extending
his wealth and consequence found as strong a stimulus in the
exhortations of his lady as the daring aim of Macbeth in the days of
yore.

Lady Ashton was of a family more distinguished than that of her lord, an
advantage which she did not fail to use to the uttermost, in maintaining
and extending her husband's influence over others, and, unless she
was greatly belied, her own over him. She had been beautiful, and was
stately and majestic in her appearance. Endowed by nature with strong
powers and violent passions, experience had taught her to employ the
one, and to conceal, if not to moderate, the other. She was a severe
adn strict observer of the external forms, at least, of devotion; her
hospitality was splendid, even to ostentation; her address and manners,
agreeable to the pattern most valued in Scotland at the period, were
grave, dignified, and severely regulated by the rules of etiquette. Her
character had always been beyond the breath of slander. And yet, with
all these qualities to excite respect, Lady Ashton was seldom mentioned
in the terms of love or affection. Interest--the interest of her family,
if not her own--seemed too obviously the motive of her actions; and
where this is the case, the sharp-judging and malignant public are not
easily imposed upon by outward show. It was seen and ascertained that,
in her most graceful courtesies and compliments, Lady Ashton no more
lost sight of her object than the falcon in his airy wheel turns his
quick eyes from his destined quarry; and hence, somethign of doubt and
suspicion qualified the feelings with which her equals received her
attentions. With her inferiors these feelings were mingled with fear;
an impression useful to her purposes, so far as it enforced ready
compliance with her requests and implicit obedience to her commands, but
detrimental, because it cannot exist with affection or regard.

Even her husband, it is said, upon whose fortunes her talents and
address had produced such emphatic influence, regarded her with
respectful awe rather than confiding attachment; and report said, there
were times when he considered his grandeur as dearly purchased at the
expense of domestic thraldom. Of this, however, much might be suspected,
but little could be accurately known: Lady Ashton regarded the honour of
her husband as her own, and was well aware how much that would suffer
in the public eye should he appear a vassal to his wife. In all her
arguments his opinion was quoted as infallible; his taste was appealed
to, and his sentiments received, with the air of deference which a
dutiful wife might seem to owe to a husband of Sir William Ashton's rank
adn character. But there was something under all this which rung false
and hollow; and to those who watched this couple with close, and perhaps
malicious, scrutiny it seemed evident that, in the haughtiness of
a firmer character, higher birth, and more decided views of
aggrandisement, the lady looked with some contempt on her husband,
and that he regarded her with jealous fear, rather than with love or
admiration.

Still, however, the leading and favourite interests of Sir William
Ashton and his lady were the same, and they failed not to work in
concert, although without cordiality, and to testify, in all exterior
circumstances, that respect for each other which they were aware was
necessary to secure that of the public.

Their union was crowned with several children, of whom three survived.
One, the eldest son, was absent on his travels; the second, a girl of
seventeen, adn the third, a boy about three years younger, resided
with their parents in Edinburgh during the sessions of the Scottish
Parliament and Privy Council, at other times in the old Gothic castle
of Ravenswood, to which the Lord Keeper had made large additions in the
style of the 17th century.

Allan Lord Ravenswood, the late proprietor of that ancient mansion
adn the large estate annexed to it, continued for some time to wage
ineffectual war with his successor concerning various points to which
their former transactions had given rise, and which were successively
determined in favour of the wealthy and powerful competitor, until death
closed the litigation, by summoning Ravenswood to a higher bar. The
thread of life, which had been long wasting, gave way during a fit of
violent and impotent fury with which he was assailed on receiving the
news of the loss of a cause, founded, perhaps, rather in equity than in
law, the last which he had maintained against his powerful antagonist.
His son witnessed his dying agonies, and heard the curses which he
breathed against his adversary, as if they had conveyed to him a legacy
of vengeance. Other circumstances happened to exasperate a passion which
was, and had long been, a prevalent vice in the Scottish disposition.

It was a November morning, and the cliffs which overlooked the ocean
were hung with thick and heavy mist, when the portals of the ancient
and half-ruinous tower, in which Lord Ravenswood had spent the last and
troubled years of his life, opened, that his mortal remains might pass
forward to an abode yet more dreary and lonely. The pomp of attendance,
to which the deceased had, in his latter years, been a stranger, was
revived as he was about to be consigned to the realms of forgetfulness.

Banner after banner, with the various devices and coats of this ancient
family and its connexions, followed each other in mournful procession
from under the low-browed archway of the courtyard. The principal gentry
of the country attended in the deepest mourning, and tempered the
pace of their long train of horses to the solemn march befitting the
occasion. Trumpets, with banners of crape attached to them, sent
forth their long and melancholy notes to regulate the movements of the
procession. An immense train of inferior mourners and menials closed
the rear, which had not yet issued from the castle gate when the van had
reached the chapel where the body was to be deposited.

Contrary to the custom, and even to the law, of the time, the body was
met by a priest of the Scottish Episcopal communion, arrayed in his
surplice, and prepared to read over the coffin of the deceased the
funeral service of the church. Such had been the desire of Lord
Ravenswood in his last illness, and it was readily complied with by the
Tory gentlemen, or Cavaliers, as they affected to style themselves, in
which faction most of his kinsmen were enrolled. The Presbyterian Church
judicatory of the bounds, considering the ceremony as a bravading insult
upon their authority, had applied to the Lord Keeper, as the nearest
privy councillor, for a warrant to prevent its being carried into
effect; so that, when the clergyman had opened his prayer-book, an
officer of the law, supported by some armed men, commanded him to be
silent. An insult which fired the whol assembly with indignation was
particularly and instantly resented by the only son of the deceased,
Edgar, popularly called the Master of Ravenswood, a youth of about
twenty years of age. He clapped his hand on his sword, and bidding
the official person to desist at his peril from farther interruption,
commanded the clergyman to proceed. The man attempted to enforce his
commission; but as an hundred swords at once glittered in the air, he
contented himself with protesting against the violence which had been
offered to him in the execution of his duty, and stood aloof, a sullen
adn moody spectator of the ceremonial, muttering as one who should say:
"You'll rue the day that clogs me with this answer."

The scene was worthy of an artist's pencil. Under the very arch of the
house of death, the clergyman, affrighted at the scene, and trembling
for his own safety, hastily and unwillingly rehearsed the solemn service
of the church, and spoke "dust to dust and ashes to ashes," over
ruined pride and decayed prosperity. Around stood the relations of the
deceased, their countenances more in anger than in sorrow, and the drawn
swords which they brandished forming a violent contrast with their deep
mourning habits. In the countenance of the young man alone, resentment
seemed for the moment overpowered by the deep agony with which he beheld
his nearest, and almost his only, friend consigned to the tomb of his
ancestry. A relative observed him turn deadly pale, when, all rites
being now duly observed, it became the duty of the chief mourner to
lower down into the charnel vault, where mouldering coffins showed their
tattered velvet and decayed plating, the head of the corpse which was
to be their partner in corruption. He stept to the youth and offered his
assistance, which, by a mute motion, Edgar Ravenswood rejected. Firmly,
and without a tear, he performed that last duty. The stone was laid
on the sepulchre, the door of the aisle was locked, and the youth took
possession of its massive key.

As the crowd left the chapel, he paused on the steps which led to its
Gothic chancel. "Gentlemen and friends," he said, "you have this day
done no common duty to the body of your deceased kinsman. The rites of
due observance, which, in other countries, are allowed as the due of the
meanest Christian, would this day have been denied to the body of your
relative--not certainly sprung of the meanest house in Scotland--had
it not been assured to him by your courage. Others bury their dead in
sorrow and tears, in silence and in reverence; our funeral rites are
marred by the intrusion of bailiffs and ruffians, and our grief--the
grief due to our departed friend--is chased from our cheeks by the glow
of just indignation. But it is well that I know from what quiver this
arrow has come forth. It was only he that dug the drave who could have
the mean cruelty to disturb the obsequies; and Heaven do as much to
me and more, if I requite not to this man and his house the ruin and
disgrace he has brought on me and mine!"

A numerous part of the assembly applauded this speech, as the spirited
expression of just resentment; but the more cool and judicious regretted
that it had been uttered. The fortunes of the heir of Ravenswood were
too low to brave the farther hostility which they imagined these open
expressions of resentment must necessarily provoke. Their apprehensions,
however, proved groundless, at least in the immediate consequences of
this affair.

The mourners returned to the tower, there, according to a custom but
recently abolished in Scotland, to carouse deep healths to the memory of
the deceased, to make the house of sorrow ring with sounds of joviality
and debauch, and to diminish, by the expense of a large and profuse
entertainment, the limited revenues of the heir of him whose funeral
they thus strangely honoured. It was the custom, however, and on the
present occasion it was fully observed. The tables swam in wine,
the populace feasted in the courtyard, the yeomen in the kitchen and
buttery; and two years' rent of Ravenswood's remaining property hardly
defrayed the charge of the funeral revel. The wine did its office on all
but the Master of Ravenswood, a title which he still retained, though
forfeiture had attached to that of his father. He, while passing around
the cup which he himself did not taste, soon listened to a thousand
exclamations against the Lord Keeper, and passionate protestations of
attachment to himself, and to the honour of his house. He listened
with dark and sullen brow to ebullitions which he considered justly as
equally evanescent with the crimson bubbles on the brink of the goblet,
or at least with the vapours which its contents excited in the brains of
the revellers around him.

When the last flask was emptied, they took their leave with deep
protestations--to be forgotten on the morrow, if, indeed, those who
made them should not think it necessary for their safety to make a more
solemn retractation.

Accepting their adieus with an air of contempt which he could scarce
conceal, Ravenswood at length beheld his ruinous habitation cleared of
their confluence of riotous guests, and returned to the deserted hall,
which now appeared doubly lonely from the cessation of that clamour to
which it had so lately echoed. But its space was peopled by phantoms
which the imagination of the young heir conjured up before him--the
tarnished honour and degraded fortunes of his house, the destruction
of his own hopes, and the triumph of that family by whom they had been
ruined. To a mind naturally of a gloomy cast here was ample room
for meditation, and the musings of young Ravenswood were deep and
unwitnessed.

The peasant who shows the ruins of the tower, which still crown the
beetling cliff and behold the war of the waves, though no mroe tenanted
saved by the sea-mew and cormorant, even yet affirms that on this
fatal night the Master of Ravenswood, by the bitter exclamations of his
despair, evoked some evil fiend, under whose malignant influence the
future tissue of incidents was woven. Alas! what fiend can suggest more
desperate counsels than those adopted under the guidance of our own
violent and unresisted passions?

Sir Walter Scott