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Chapter 22

And soon they spied the merry-men green,
And eke the coach and four.

Duke upon Duke.

CRAIGENGELT set forth on his mission so soon as his equipage was
complete, prosecuted his journey with all diligence, and accomplished
his commission with all the dexterity for which bucklaw had given him
credit. As he arrived with credentials from Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw, he
was extremely welcome to both ladies; and those who are prejudiced
in favour of a new acquaintance can, for a time at least, discover
excellencies in his very faults and perfections in his deficiencies.
Although both ladies were accustomed to good society, yet, being
pre-determined to find out an agreeable and well-behaved gentleman
in Mr. Hayston's friend, they succeeded wonderfully in imposing on
themselves. It is true that Craigengelt was now handsomely dressed, and
that was a point of no small consequence. But, independent of outward
show, his blackguard impudence of address was construed into honourable
bluntness becoming his supposed military profession; his hectoring
passed for courage, and his sauciness for wit. Lest, however, any one
should think this a violation of probability, we must add, in fairness
to the two ladies, that their discernment was greatly blinded, and their
favour propitiated, by the opportune arrival of Captain Craigengelt in
the moment when they were longing for a third hand to make a party at
tredrille, in which, as in all games, whether of chance or skill, that
worthy person was a great proficient.

When he found himself established in favour, his next point was how
best to use it for the furtherance of his patron's views. He found
Lady Ashton prepossessed strongly in favour of the motion which Lady
Blenkensop, partly from regard to her kinswoman, partly from the spirit
of match-making, had not hesitated to propose to her; so that his task
was an easy one. Bucklaw, reformed from his prodigality, was just
the sort of husband which she desired to have for her Shepherdess of
Lammermoor; and while the marriage gave her an easy fortune, and a
respectable country gentleman for her husband, Lady Ashton was
of opinion that her destinies would be fully and most favourably
accomplished. It so chanced, also, that Bucklaw, among his new
acquisitions, had gained the management of a little political interest
in a neighbouring county where the Douglas family originally held large
possessions. It was one of the bosom-hopes of Lady Ashton that her
eldest son, Sholto, should represent this county in the British
Parliament, and she saw this alliance with Bucklaw as a circumstance
which might be highly favourable to her wishes.

Craigengelt, who, in his way, by no means wanted sagacity, no sooner
discovered in what quarter the wind of Lady Ashton's wishes sate, than
he trimmed his course accordingly. "There was little to prevent Bucklaw
himself from sitting for the county; he must carry the heat--must walk
the course. Two cousins-german, six more distant kinsmen, his factor and
his chamberlain, were all hollow votes; and the Girnington interest had
always carried, betwixt love and fear, about as many more. But Bucklaw
cared no more about riding the first horse, and that sort of thing, than
he, Craigengelt, did about a game at birkie: it was a pity his interest
was not in good guidance."

All this Lady Ashton drank in with willing and attentive ears, resolving
internally to be herself the person who should take the management of
the political influence of her destined son-in-law, for the benefit of
her eldest-born, Sholto, and all other parties concerned.

When he found her ladyship thus favourably disposed, the Captain
proceeded, to use his employer's phrase, to set spurs to her resolution,
by hinting at the situation of matters at Ravenswood Castle, the long
residence which the heir of that family had made with the Lord Keeper,
and the reports which--though he would be d--d ere he gave credit to any
of them--had been idly circulated in the neighbourhood. It was not the
Captain's cue to appear himself to be uneasy on the subject of these
rumours; but he easily saw from Lady Ashton's flushed cheek, hesitating
voice, and flashing eye, that she had caught the alarm which he intended
to communicate. She had not heard from her husband so often or so
regularly as she though him bound in duty to have written, and of this
very interesting intelligence concerning his visit to the Tower of
Wolf's Crag, and the guest whom, with such cordiality, he had received
at Ravenswsood Castle, he had suffered his lady to remain altogether
ignorant, until she now learned it by the chance information of a
stranger. Such concealment approached, in her apprehension, to a
misprision, at last, of treason, if not to actual rebellion against
her matrimonial authority; and in her inward soul she did vow to take
vengeance on the Lord Keeper, as on a subject detected in meditating
revolt. Her indignation burned the more fiercely as she found herself
obliged to suppress it in presence of Lady Blenkensop, the kinswoman,
and of Craigengelt, the confidential friend, of Bucklaw, of whose
alliance she now became trebly desirous, since it occurred to her
alarmed imagination that her husband might, in his policy or timidity,
prefer that of Ravenswood.

The Captain was engineer enough to discover that the train was fired;
and therefore heard, in the course of the same day, without the least
surprise, that Lady Ashton had resolved to abridge her visit to Lady
Blenkensop, and set forth with the peep of morning on her return to
Scotland, using all the despatch which the state of the roads and the
mode of travelling would possibly permit.

Unhappy Lord Keeper! little was he aware what a storm was travelling
towards him in all the speed with which an old-fashioned coach and six
could possibly achieve its journey. He, like Don Gayferos, "forgot his
lady fair and true," and was only anxious about the expected visit
of the Marquis of A----. Soothfast tidings had assured him that this
nobleman was at length, and without fail, to honour his castle at one
in the afternoon, being a late dinner-hour; and much was the bustle in
consequence of the annunciation. The Lord Keeper traversed the chambers,
held consultation with the butler in the cellars, and even ventured, at
the risk of a demele with a cook of a spirit lofty enough to scorn the
admonitions of Lady Ashton herself, to peep into the kitchen. Satisfied,
at length, that everything was in as active a train of preparation as
was possible, he summoned Ravenswood and his daughter to walk upon the
terrace, for the purpose of watching, from that commanding position,
the earliest symptoms of his lordship's approach. For this purpose, with
slow and idle step, he paraded the terrace, which, flanked with a heavy
stone battlement, stretched in front of the castle upon a level with the
first story; while visitors found access to the court by a projecting
gateway, the bartizan or flat-leaded roof of which was accessible from
the terrace by an easy flight of low and broad steps. The whole bore a
resemblance partly to a castle, partly to a nobleman's seat; and though
calculated, in some respects, for defence, evinced that it had been
constructed under a sense of the power and security of the ancient Lords
of Ravenswood.

This pleasant walk commanded a beautiful and extensive view. But what
was most to our present purpose, there were seen from the terrace two
roads, one leading from the east, and one from the westward, which,
crossing a ridge opposed to the eminence on which the castle stood, at
different angles, gradually approached each other, until they joined not
far from the gate of the avenue. It was to the westward approach that
the Lord Keeper, from a sort of fidgeting anxiety, his daughter, from
complaisance to him, and Ravenswood, though feeling some symptoms of
internal impatience, out of complaisance to his daughter, directed their
eyes to see the precursors of the Marquis's approach.

These were not long of presenting themselves. Two running footmen,
dressed in white, with black jockey-caps, and long staffs in their
hands, headed the train; and such was their agility, that they found
no difficulty in keeping the necessary advance, which the etiquette of
their station required, before the carriage and horsemen. Onward
they came at a long swinging trot, arguing unwearied speed in their
long-breathed calling. Such running footmen are often alluded to in old
plays (I would particularly instance Middleton's Mad World, my Masters),
and perhaps may be still remembered by some old persons in Scotland,
as part of the retinue of the ancient nobility when travelling in full
ceremony. Behind these glancing meteors, who footed it as if the Avenger
of Blood had been behind them, came a cloud of dust, raised by riders
who preceded, attended, or followed the state-carriage of the Marquis.

The privilege of nobility, in those days, had something in it impressive
on the imagination. The dresses and liveries and number of their
attendants, their style of travelling, the imposing, and almost warlike,
air of the armed men who surrounded them, place them far above the
laird, who travelled with his brace of footmen; and as to rivalry from
the mercantile part of the community, these would as soon have thought
of imitating the state equipage of the Sovereign. At present it
is different; and I myself, Peter Pattieson, in a late journey to
Edinburgh, had the honour, in the mail-coach phrase to "change a leg"
with a peer of the realm. It was not so in the days of which I write;
and the Marquis's approach, so long expected in vain, now took place
in the full pomp of ancient aristocracy. Sir William Ashton was so
much interested in what he beheld, and in considering the ceremonial
of reception, in case any circumstance had been omitted, that he scarce
heard his son Henry exclaim: "There is another coach and six coming down
the east road, papa; can they both belong to the Marquis of A----?"

At length, when the youngster had fairly compelled his attention by
pulling his sleeve,

He turned his eyes, and, as he turned, survey'd
An awful vision.

Sure enough, another coach and six, with four servants or outriders in
attendance, was descending the hill from the eastward, at such a pace as
made it doubtful which of the carriages thus approaching from different
quarters would first reach the gate at the extremity of the avenue. The
one coach was green, the other blue; and not the green and blue chariots
in the circus of Rome or Constantinople excited more turmoil among the
citizens than the double apparition occasioned in the mind of the Lord
Keeper.

We all remember the terrible exclamation of the dying profligate, when a
friend, to destroy what he supposed the hypochondriac idea of a spectre
appearing in a certain shape at a given hour, placed before him a person
dressed up in the manner he described. "Mon Dieu!" said the expiring
sinner, who, it seems, saw both the real and polygraphic apparition,
"il y en a deux!" The surprise of the Lord Keeper was scarcely less
unpleasing at the duplication of the expected arrival; his mind misgave
him strangely. There was no neighbour who would have approached so
unceremoniously, at a time when ceremony was held in such respect. It
must be Lady Ashton, said his conscience, and followed up the hint with
an anxious anticipation of the purpose of her sudden and unannounced
return. He felt that he was caught "in the manner." That the company
in which she had so unluckily surprised him was likely to be highly
distasteful to her, there was no question; and the only hope which
remained for him was her high sense of dignified propriety, which, he
trusted, might prevent a public explosion. But so active were his doubts
and fears as altogether to derange his purposed ceremonial for the
reception of the Marquis.

These feelings of apprehension were not confined to Sir William Ashton.
"It is my mother--it is my mother!" said Lucy, turning as pale as ashes,
and clasping her hands together as she looked at Ravenswood.

"And if it be Lady Ashton," said her lover to her in a low tone, "what
can be the occasion of such alarm? Surely the return of a lady to
the family from which she has been so long absent should excite other
sensations than those of fear and dismay."

"You do not know my mother," said Miss Ashton, in a tone almost
breathless with terror; "what will she say when she sees you in this
place!"

"My stay has been too long," said Ravenswood, somewhat haughtily, "if
her displeasure at my presence is likely to be so formidable. My dear
Lucy," he resumed, in a tone of soothing encouragement, "you are too
childishly afraid of Lady Ashton; she is a woman of family--a lady
of fashion--a person who must know the world, and what is due to her
husband and her husband's guests." Lucy shook her head; and, as if
her mother, still at the distance of half a mile, could have seen and
scrutinised her deportment, she withdrew herself from beside Ravenswood,
and, taking her brother Henry's arm, led him to a different part of the
terrace. The Keeper also shuffled down towards the portal of the great
gate, without inviting Ravenswood to accompany him; and thus he remained
standing alone on the terrace, deserted and shunned, as it were, by
the inhabitants of the mansion. This suited not the mood of one who was
proud in proportion to his poverty, and who thought that, in sacrificing
his deep-rooted resentments so far as to become Sir William Ashton's
guest, he conferred a favour, and received none. "I can forgive Lucy,"
he said to himself; "she is young, timid, and conscious of an important
engagement assumed without her mother's sanction; yet she should
remember with whom it has been assumed, and leave me no reason to
suspect that she is ashamed of her choice. For the Keeper, sense,
spirit, and expression seem to have left his face and manner since he
had the first glimpse of Lady Ashton's carriage. I must watch how this
is to end; and, if they give me reason to think myself an unwelcome
guest, my visit is soon abridged."

With these suspicions floating on his mind, he left the terrace, and
walking towards the stables of the castle, gave directions that his
horse should be kept in readiness, in case he should have occasion to
ride abroad.

In the mean while, the drivers of the two carriages, the approach of
which had occasioned so much dismay at the castle, had become aware of
each other's presence, as they approached upon different lines to
the head of the avenue, as a ocmmon centre. Lady Ashton's driver and
postilions instantly received orders to get foremost, if possible, her
ladyship being desirous of despatching her first interview with her
husband before the arrival of these guests, whoever they might happen to
be. On the other hand, the coachman of the Marquis, conscious of his own
dignity and that of his master, and observing the rival charioteer was
mending his pace, resolved, like a true brother of the whip, whether
ancient or modern, to vindicate his right of precedence. So that, to
increase the confusion of the Lord Keeper's understanding, he saw the
short time which remained for consideration abridged by the haste of the
contending coachmen, who, fixing their eyes sternly on each other, and
applying the lash smartly to their horses, began to thunder down the
descent with emulous rapidity, while the horsemen who attended them were
forced to put on to a hand-gallop.

Sir William's only chance now remaining was the possibility of an
overturn, and that his lady or visitor might break their necks. I am
not aware that he formed any distinct wish on the subject, but I have no
reason to think that his grief in either case would have been altogether
inconsolable. This chance, however, also disappeared; for Lady Ashton,
though insensible to fear, began to see the ridicule of running a race
with a visitor of distinction, the goal being the portal of her own
castle, and commanded her coachman, as they approached the avenue, to
slacken his pace, and allow precedence to the stranger's equipage; a
command which he gladly obeyed, as coming in time to save his honour,
the horses of the Marquis's carriage being better, or, at least, fresher
than his own. He restrained his pace, therefore, and suffered the green
coach to enter the avenue, with all its retinue, which pass it occupied
with the speed of a whirlwind. The Marquis's laced charioteer no
sooner found the pas d'avance was granted to him than he resumed a more
deliberate pace, at which he advanced under the embowering shade of the
lofty elms, surrounded by all the attendants; while the carriage of Lady
Ashton followed, still more slowly, at some distance.

In the front of the castle, and beneath the portal which admitted guests
into the inner court, stood Sir William Ashton, much perplexed in mind,
his younger son and daughter beside him, and in their rear a train of
attendants of various ranks, in and out of livery. The nobility and
gentry of Scotland, at this period, were remarkable even to extravagance
for the number of their servants, whose services were easily purchased
in a country where men were numerous beyond proportion to the means of
employing them.

The manners of a man trained like Sir William Ashton are too much at his
command to remain long disconcerted with the most adverse concurrence
of circumstances. He received the Marquis, as he alighted from his
equipage, with the usual compliments of welcome; and, as he ushered
him into the great hall, expressed his hope that his journey had been
pleasant. The Marquis was a tall, well-made man, with a thoughtful and
intelligent countenance, and an eye in which the fire of ambition had
for some years replaced the vivacity of youth; a bold, proud expression
of countenance, yet chastened by habitual caution, and the desire
which, as the head of a party, he necessarily entertained of acquiring
popularity. He answered with courtesy the courteous inquiries of the
Lord Keeper, and was formally presented to Miss Ashton, in the course
of which ceremony the Lord Keeper gave the first symptom of what was
chiefly occupying his mind, by introducing his daughter as "his wife,
Lady Ashton."

Lucy blushed; the Marquis looked surprised at the extremely juvenile
appearance of his hostess, and the Lord Keeper with difficulty rallied
himself so far as to explain. "I should have said my daughter, my lord;
but the truth is, that I saw Lady Ashton's carriage enter the avenue
shortly after your lordship's, and----"

"Make no apology, my lord," replied his noble guest; "let me entreat
you will wait on your lady, and leave me to cultivate Miss Ashton's
acquaintance. I am shocked my people should have taken precedence of our
hostess at her own gate; but your lordship is aware that I supposed
Lady Ashton was still in the south. Permit me to beseech you will waive
ceremony, and hasten to welcome her."

This was precisely what the Lord Keeper longed to do; and he instantly
profited by his lordship's obliging permission. To see Lady Ashton, and
encounter the first burst of her displeasure in private, might prepare
her, in some degree, to receive her unwelcome guests with due decorum.
As her carriage, therefore, stopped, the arm of the attentive husband
was ready to assist Lady Ashton in dismounting. Looking as if she
saw him not, she put his arm aside, and requested that of Captain
Craigengelt, who stood by the coach with his laced hat under his arm,
having acted as cavaliere servente, or squire in attendance, during the
journey. Taking hold of this respectable person's arm as if to support
her, Lady Ashton traversed the court, uttering a word or two by way
of direction to the servants, but not one to Sir William, who in
vain endeavoured to attract her attention, as he rather followed than
accompanied her into the hall, in which they found the Marquis in close
conversation with the Master of Ravenswood. Lucy had taken the first
opportunity of escaping. There was embarrassment on every countenance
except that of the Marquis of A----; for even Craigengelt's impudence
was hardly able to veil his fear of Ravenswood, an the rest felt the
awkwardness of the position in which they were thus unexpectedly placed.

After waiting a moment to be presented by Sir William Ashton, the
Marquis resolved to introduce himself. "The Lord Keeper," he said,
bowing to Lady Ashton, "has just introduced to me his daughter as his
wife; he might very easily present Lady Ashton as his daughter, so
little does she differ from what I remember her some years since. Will
she permit an old acquaintance the privilege of a guest?"

He saluted the lady with too good a grace to apprehend a repulse,
and then proceeded: "This, Lady Ashton, is a peacemaking visit,
and therefore I presume to introduce my cousin, the young Master of
Ravenswood, to your favourable notice."

Lady Ashton could not choose but courtesy; but there was in her
obeisance an air of haughtiness approaching to contemptuous repulse.
Ravenswood could not choose but bow; but his manner returned the scorn
with which he had been greeted.

"Allow me," she said, "to present to your lordship MY friend."
Craigengelt, with the forward impudence which men of his cast mistake
for ease, made a sliding bow to the Marquis, which he graced by a
flourish of his gold-laced hat. The lady turned to her husband. "You
and I, Sir William," she said, and these were the first words she had
addressed to him, "have acquired new acquaintances since we parted; let
me introduce the acquisition I have made to mine--Captain Craigengelt."

Another bow, and another flourish of the gold-laced hat, which was
returned by the Lord Keeper without intimation of former recognition,
and with that sort of anxious readiness which intimated his wish that
peace and amnesty should take place betwixt the contending parties,
including the auxiliaries on both sides. "Let me introduce you to the
Master of Ravenswood," said he to Captain Craigengelt, following up the
same amicable system.

But the Master drew up his tall form to the full extent of his height,
and without so much as looking towards the person thus introduced to
him, he said, in a marked tone: "Captain Craigengelt and I are already
perfectly well acquainted with each other."

"Perfectly--perfectly," replied the Captain, in a mumbling tone, like
that of a double echo, and with a flourish of his hat, the circumference
of which was greatly abridged, compared with those which had so
cordially graced his introduction to the Marquis and the Lord Keeper.

Lockhard, followed by three menials, now entered with wine and
refreshments, which it was the fashion to offer as a whet before dinner;
and when they were placed before the guests, Lady Ashton made an apology
for withdrawing her husband from them for some minutes upon business of
special import. The Marquis, of course, requested her ladyship would lay
herself under no restraint; and Craigengelt, bolting with speed a second
glass of racy canary, hastened to leave the room, feeling no great
pleasure in the prospect of being left alone with the Marquis of A----
and the Master of Ravenswood; the presence of the former holding him in
awe, and that of the latter in bodily terror.

Some arrangements about his horse and baggage formed the pretext for
his sudden retreat, in which he persevered, although Lady Ashton gave
Lockhard orders to be careful most particularly to accommodate Captain
Craigengelt with all the attendance which he could possibly require. The
Marquis and the Master of Ravenswood were thus left to communicate to
each other their remarks upon the reception which they had met with,
while Lady Ashton led the way, and her lord followed somewhat like a
condemned criminal, to her ladyship's dressing-room.

So soon as the spouses had both entered, her ladyship gave way to that
fierce audacity of temper which she had with difficulty suppressed, out
of respect to appearances. She shut the door behind the alarmed Lord
Keeper, took the key out of the spring-lock, and with a countenance
which years had not bereft of its haughty charms, and eyes which spoke
at once resolution and resentment, she addressed her astounded husband
in these words: "My lord, I am not greatly surprised at the connexions
you have been pleased to form during my absence, they are entirely in
conformity with your birth and breeding; and if I did expect anything
else, I heartily own my error, and that I merit, by having done so, the
disappointment you had prepared for me."

"My dear Lady Ashton--my dear Eleanor [Margaret]," said the Lord Keeper,
"listen to reason for a moment, and I will convince you I have acted
with all the regard due to the dignity, as well as the interest, of my
family."

"To the interest of YOUR family I conceive you perfectly capable of
attending," returned the indignant lady, "and even to the dignity of
your own family also, as far as it requires any looking after. But as
mine happens to be inextricably involved with it, you will excuse me if
I choose to give my own attention so far as that is concerned."

"What would you have, Lady Ashton?" said the husband. "What is it that
displeases you? Why is it that, on your return after so long an absence,
I am arraigned in this manner?" "Ask your own conscience, Sir William,
what has prompted you to become a renegade to your political party and
opinions, and led you, for what I know, to be on the point of marrying
your only daughter to a beggarly Jacobite bankrupt, the inveterate enemy
of your family to the boot."

"Why, what, in the name of common sense and common civility, would you
have me do, madam?" answered her husband. "Is it possible for me, with
ordinary decency, to turn a young gentleman out of my house, who saved
my daughter's life and my own, but the other morning, as it were?"

"Saved your life! I have heard of that story," said the lady. "The Lord
Keeper was scared by a dun cow, and he takes the young fellow who killed
her for Guy of Warwick: any butcher from Haddington may soon have an
equal claim on your hospitality."

"Lady Ashton," stammered the Keeper, "this is intolerable; and when I am
desirous, too, to make you easy by any sacrifice, if you would but tell
me what you would be at."

"Go down to your guests," said the imperious dame, "and make your
apology to Ravenswood, that the arrival of Captain Craigengelt and some
other friends renders it impossible for you to offer him lodgings at the
castle. I expect young Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw."

"Good heavens, madam!" ejaculated her husband. "Ravenswood to give place
to Craigengelt, a common gambler and an informer! It was all I could do
to forbear desiring the fellow to get out of my house, and I was much
surprised to see him in your ladyship's train."

"Since you saw him there, you might be well assured," answered this meek
helpmate, "that he was proper society. As to this Ravenswood, he only
meets with the treatment which, to my certain knowledge, he gave to a
much-valued friend of mine, who had the misfortune to be his guest some
time since. But take your resolution; for, if Ravenswood does not quit
the house, I will."

Sir William Ashton paced up and down the apartment in the most
distressing agitation; fear, and shame, and anger contending against the
habitual deference he was in the use of rendering to his lady. At length
it ended, as is usual with timid minds placed in such circumstances, in
his adopting a mezzo termine--a middle measure.

"I tell you frankly, madam, I neither can nor will be guilty of the
incivility you propose to the Master of Ravenswood; he has not deserved
it at my hand. If you will be so unreasonable as to insult a man of
quality under your own roof, I cannot prevent you; but I will not at
least be the agent in such a preposterous proceeding."

"You will not?" asked the lady.

"No, by heavens, madam!" her husband replied; "ask me anything congruent
with common decency, as to drop his acquaintance by degrees, or the
like; but to bid him leave my house is what I will nto and cannot
consent to."

"Then the task of supporting the honour of the family will fall on me,
as it has often done before," said the lady.

She sat down, and hastily wrote a few lines. The Lord Keeper made
another effort to prevent her taking a step so decisive, just as she
opened the door to call her female attendant from the ante-room. "Think
what you are doing, Lady Ashton: you are making a mortal enemy of a
young man who is like to have the means of harming us----"

"Did you ever know a Douglas who feared an enemy?" answered the lady,
contemptuously.

"Ay, but he is as proud and vindictive as an hundred Douglasses, and an
hundred devils to boot. Think of it for a night only."

"Not for another moment," answered the lady. "Here, Mrs. Patullo, give
this billet to young Ravenswood."

"To the Master, madam!" said Mrs. Patullo.

"Ay, to the Master, if you call him so."

"I wash my hands of it entirely," said the Keeper; "and I shall go down
into the garden, and see that Jardine gathers the winter fruit for the
dessert."

"Do so," said the lady, looking after him with glances of infinite
contempt; "and thank God that you leave one behind you as fit to protect
the honour of the family as you are to look after pippins and pears."

The Lord Keeper remained long enough in the garden to give her
ladyship's mind time to explode, and to let, as he thought, at least the
first violence of Ravenswood's displeasure blow over. When he entered
the hall, he found the Marquis of A---- giving orders to some of his
attendants. He seemed in high displeasure, and interrupted an apology
which Sir William had commenced for having left his lordship alone.

"I presume, Sir William, you are no stranger to this singular billet
with which MY kinsman of Ravenswood (an emphasis on the word 'my') has
been favoured by your lady; and, of course, that you are prepared
to receive my adieus. My kinsman is already gone, having thought it
unnecessary to offer any on his part, since all former civilities had
been cancelled by this singular insult."

"I protest, my lord," said Sir William, holding the billet in his hand,
"I am not privy to the contents of this letter. I know Lady Ashton is
a warm-tempered and prejudiced woman, and I am sincerely sorry for any
offence that has been given or taken; but I hope your lordship will
consider that a lady----"

"Should bear herself towards persons of a certain rank with the breeding
of one," said the Marquis, completing the half-uttered sentence.

"True, my lord," said the unfortunate Keeper; "but Lady Ashton is still
a woman----"

"And, as such, methinks," said the Marquis, again interrupting him,
"should be taught the duties which correspond to her station. But
here she comes, and I will learn from her own mouth the reason of this
extraordinary and unexpected affront offered to my near relation, while
both he and I were her ladyship's guests."

Lady Ashton accordingly entered the apartment at this moment. Her
dispute with Sir William, and a subsequent interview with her daughter,
had not prevented her from attending to the duties of her toilette. She
appeared in full dress; and, from the character of her countenance and
manner, well became the splendour with which ladies of quality then
appeared on such occasions.

The Marquis of A---- bowed haughtily, and she returned the salute with
equal pride and distance of demeanour. He then took from the passive
hand of Sir William Ashton the billet he had given him the moment before
he approached the lady, and was about to speak, when she interrupted
him. "I perceive, my lord, you are about to enter upon an unpleasant
subject. I am sorry any such should have occurred at this time, to
interrupt in the slightest degree the respectful reception due to your
lordship; but so it is. Mr. Edgar Ravenswood, for whom I have addressed
the billet in your lordship's hand, has abused the hospitality of this
family, and Sir William Ashton's softness of temper, in order to seduce
a young person into engagements without her parents' consent, and of
which they never can approve."

Both gentlemen answered at once. "My kinsman is incapable----" said the
Lord Marquis.

"I am confident that my daughter Lucy is still more incapable----" said
the Lord Keeper.

Lady Ashton at once interrupted and replied to them both: "My Lord
Marquis, your kinsman, if Mr. Ravenswood has the honour to be so, has
made the attempt privately to secure the affections of this young and
inexperienced girl. Sir William Ashton, your daughter has been simple
enough to give more encouragement than she ought to have done to so very
improper a suitor."

"And I think, madam," said the Lord Keeper, losing his accustomed temper
and patience, "that if you had nothing better to tell us, you had better
have kept this family secret to yourself also."

"You will pardon me, Sir William," said the lady, calmly; "the noble
Marquis has a right to know the cause of the treatment I have found it
necessary to use to a gentleman whom he calls his blood-relation."

"It is a cause," muttered the Lord Keeper, "which has emerged since the
effect has taken place; for, if it exists at all, I am sure she knew
nothing of it when her letter to Ravenswood was written."

"It is the first time that I have heard of this," said the Marquis;
"but, since your ladyship has tabled a subject so delicate, permit me
to say, that my kinsman's birth and connexions entitled him to a patient
hearing, and at least a civil refusal, even in case of his being so
ambitious as to raise his eyes to the daughter of Sir William Ashton."

"You will recollect, my lord, of what blood Miss Lucy Ashton is come by
the mother's side," said the lady.

"I do remember your descent--from a younger branch of the house of
Angus," said the Marquis; "and your ladyship--forgive me, lady--ought
not to forget that the Ravenswoods have thrice intermarried with the
main stem. Come, madam, I know how matters stand--old and long-fostered
prejudices are difficult to get over, I make every allowance for them; I
ought not, and I would not, otherwise have suffered my kinsman to depart
alone, expelled, in a manner, from this house, but I had hopes of being
a mediator. I am still unwilling to leave you in anger, and shall not
set forward till after noon, as I rejoin the Master of Ravenswood upon
the road a few miles from hence. Let us talk over this matter more
coolly."

"It is what I anxiously desire, my lord," said Sir William Ashton,
eagerly. "Lady Ashton, we will not permit my Lord of A---- to leave us
in displeasure. We must compel him to tarry dinner at the castle."

"The castle," said the lady, "and all that it contains, are at the
command of the Marquis, so long as he chooses to honour it with his
residence; but touching the farther discussion of this disagreeable
topic----"

"Pardon me, good madam," said the Marquis; "but I cannot allow you to
express any hasty resolution on a subject so important. I see that more
company is arriving; and, since I have the good fortune to renew my
former acquaintance with Lady Ashton, I hope she will give me leave to
avoid perilling what I prize so highly upon any disagreeable subject of
discussion--at least till we have talked over more pleasant topics."

The lady smiled, courtesied, and gave her hand to the Marquis, by whom,
with all the formal gallantry of the time, which did not permit the
guest to tuck the lady of the house under the arm, as a rustic does his
sweetheart at a wake, she was ushered to the eating-room.

Here they were joined by Bucklaw, Craigengelt, and other neighbours,
whom the Lord Keeper had previously invited to meet the Marquis of
A----. An apology, founded upon a slight indisposition, was alleged
as an excuse for the absence of Miss Ashton, whose seat appeared
unoccupied. The entertainment was splendid to profusion, and was
protracted till a late hour.

Sir Walter Scott