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Chapter 27

Why, now I have Dame Fortune by the Forelock,
And if she escapes my grasp, the fault is mine;
He that hath buffeted with stern adversity
Best knows the shape his course to favouring breezes.

Old Play.

OUR travellers reach Edinburgh without any farther adventure, and the
Master of Ravenswood, as had been previously settled, took up his abode
with his noble friend.

In the mean time, the political crisis which had been expected took
place, and the Tory party obtained in the Scottish, as in the English,
councils of Queen Anne a short-lived ascendency, of which it is not our
business to trace either the cause or consequences. Suffice it to say,
that it affected the different political parties according to the nature
of their principles. In England, many of the High Church party, with
Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, at their head, affected to separate
their principles from those of the Jacobites, and, on that account,
obtained the denomination of Whimsicals. The Scottish High Church party,
on the contrary, or, as they termed themselves, the Cavaliers, were more
consistent, if not so prudent, in their politics, and viewed all the
changes now made as preparatory to calling to the throne, upon the
queen's demise, her brother the Chevalier de St. George. Those who had
suffered in his service now entertained the most unreasonable hopes,
not only of indemnification, but of vengeance upon their political
adversaries; while families attached to the Whig interest saw nothing
before them but a renewal of the hardships they had undergone during the
reigns of Charles the Second and his brother, and a retaliation of the
confiscation which had been inflicted upon the Jacobites during that of
King William.

But the most alarmed at the change of system was that prudential set of
persons, some of whom are found in all governments, but who abound in a
provincial administration like that of Scotland during the period,
and who are what Cromwell called waiters upon Providence, or, in other
words, uniform adherents to the party who are uppermost. Many of these
hastened to read their recantation to the Marquis of A----; and, as
it was easily seen that he took a deep interest in the affairs of
his kinsman, the Master of Ravenswood, they were the first to suggest
measures for retrieving at least a part of his property, and for
restoring him in blood against his father's attainder.

Old Lord Turntippet professed to be one of the most anxious for the
success of these measures; for "it grieved him to the very saul," he
said, "to see so brave a young gentleman, of sic auld and undoubted
nobility, and, what was mair than a' that, a bluid relation of the
Marquis of A----, the man whom," he swore, "he honoured most upon
the face of the earth, brougth to so severe a pass. For his ain
puir peculiar," as he said, "and to contribute something to the
rehabilitation of sae auld ane house," the said Turntippet sent in three
family pictures lacking the frames, and six high-backed chairs, with
worked Turkey cushions, having the crest of Ravenswood broidered
thereon, without charging a penny either of the principal or interest
they had cost him, when he bought them, sixteen years before, at a roup
of the furniture of Lord Ravenswood's lodgings in the Canongate.

Much more to Lord Turntippet's dismay than to his surprise, although
he affected to feel more of the latter than the former, the Marquis
received his gift very drily, and observed, that his lordship's
restitution, if he expected it to be received by the Master of
Ravenswood and his friends, must comprehend a pretty large farm, which,
having been mortgaged to Turntippet for a very inadequate sum, he had
contrived, during the confusion of the family affairs, and by means
well understood by the lawyers of that period, to acquire to himself in
absolute property.

The old time-serving lord winced excessively under the requisition,
protesting to God, that he saw no occasion the lad could have for the
instant possession of the land, seeing he would doubtless now recover
the bulk of his estate from Sir William Ashton, to which he was ready to
contribute by every means in his power, as was just and reasonable; and
finally declaring, that he was willing to settle the land on the young
gentleman after his own natural demise.

But all these excuses availed nothing, and he was compelled to disgorge
the property, on receiving back the sum for which it had been mortgaged.
Having no other means of making peace with the higher powers, he
returned home sorrowful and malcontent, complaining to his confidants,
"That every mutation or change in the state had hitherto been productive
of some sma' advantage to him in his ain quiet affairs; but that the
present had--pize upon it!--cost him one of the best penfeathers o' his
wing."

Similar measures were threatened against others who had profited by
the wreck of the fortune of Ravenswood; and Sir William Ashton, in
particular, was menaced with an appeal to the House of Peers, a court
of equity, against the judicial sentences, proceeding upon a strict and
severe construction of the letter of the law, under which he held the
castle and barony of Ravenswood. With him, however, the Master, as well
for Lucy's sake as on account of the hospitality he had received from
him, felt himself under the necessity of proceeding with great candor.
He wrote to the late Lord Keeper, for he no longer held that office,
stating frankly the engagement which existed between him and Miss
Ashton, requesting his permission for their union, and assuring him of
his willingness to put the settlement of all matters between them upon
such a footing as Sir William himself should think favourable.

The same messenger was charged with a letter to Lady Ashton, deprecating
any cause of displeasure which the Master might unintentionally have
given her, enlarging upon his attachment to Miss Ashton, and the length
to which it had proceeded, and conjuring the lady, as a Douglas in
nature as well as in name, generously to forget ancient prejudices and
misunderstandings, and to believe that the family had acquired a friend,
and she herself a respectful and attached humble servant, in him who
subscribed himself, "Edgar, Master of Ravenswood." A third letter
Ravenswood addressed to Lucy, and the messenger was instructed to find
some secret and secure means of delivering it into her own hands. It
contained the strongest protestations of continued affection, and
dwelt upon the approaching change of the writer's fortunes, as chiefly
valuable by tending to remove the impediments to their union. He related
the steps he had taken to overcome the prejudices of her parents,
and especially of her mother, and expressed his hope they might prove
effectual. If not, he still trusted that his absence from Scotland upon
an important and honourable mission might give time for prejudices to
die away; while he hoped and trusted Miss Ashton's constancy, on which
he had the most implicit reliance, would baffle any effort that might
be used to divert her attachment. Much more there was, which, however
interesting to the lovers themselves, would afford the reader neither
interest nor information. To each of these three letters the Master of
Ravenswood received an answer, but by different means of conveyance, and
certainly couched in very different styles.

Lady Ashton answered his letter by his own messenger, who was not
allowed to remain at Ravenswood a moment longer than she was engaged
in penning these lines.

"For the hand of Mr. Ravenswood of Wolf's Crag--These:

"SIR, UNKNOWN:

"I have received a letter, signed 'Edgar, Master of Ravenswood,'
concerning the writer whereof I am uncertain, seeing that the honours of
such a family were forfeited for high reason in the person of Allan,
late Lord Ravenswood. Sir, if you shall happen to be the person so
subscribing yourself, you will please to know, that I claim the full
interest of a parent in Miss Lucy Ashton, which I have disposed of
irrevocably in behalf of a worthy person. And, sir, were this otherwise,
I would not listen to a proposal from you, or any of your house, seeing
their hand has been uniformly held up against the freedom of the subject
and the immunities of God's kirk. Sir, it is not a flightering blink of
prosperity which can change my constant opinion in this regard, seeing
it has been my lot before now, like holy David, to see the wicked great
in power and flourishing like a green bay-tree; nevertheless I passed,
and they were not, and the place thereof knew them no more. Wishing you
to lay these things to your heart for your own sake, so far as they may
concern you, I pray you to take no farther notice of her who desires to
remain your unknown servant,

"MARGARET DOUGLAS,

"otherwise ASHTON."


About two days after he had received this very unsatisfactory epistle,
the Master of Ravenswood, while walking up the High Street of Edinburgh,
was jostled by a person, in whom, as the man pulled off his hat to make
an apology, he recognized Lockhard, the confidential domestic of
Sir William Ashton. The man bowed, slipt a letter into his hand, and
disappeared. The packet contained four close-written folios, from which,
however, as is sometimes incident to the compositions of great lawyers,
little could be extracted, excepting that the writer felt himself in a
very puzzling predicament.

Sir William spoke at length of his high value and regard for his dear
young friend, the Master of Ravenswood, and of his very extreme high
value and regard for the Marquis of A----, his very dear old friend;
he trusted that any measures that they might adopt, in which he was
concerned, would be carred on with due regard to the sanctity of
decreets and judgments obtained in foro contentioso; protesting, before
men and angels, that if the law of Scotland, as declared in her supreme
courts, were to undergo a reversal in the English House of Lords, the
evils which would thence arise to the public would inflict a greater
wound upon his heart than any loss he might himself sustain by such
irregular proceedings. He flourished much on generosity and forgiveness
of mutual injuries, and hinted at the mutability of human affairs,
always favourite topics with the weaker party in politics. He
pathetically lamented, and gently censured, the haste which had been
used in depriving him of his situation of Lord Keeper, which his
experience had enabled him to fill with some advantage to the public,
without so much as giving him an opportunity of explaining how far his
own views of general politics might essentially differ from those now in
power. He was convinced the Marquis of A---- had as sincere intentions
towards the public as himself or any man; and if, upon a conference,
they could have agreed upon the measures by which it was to be pursued,
his experience and his interest should have gone to support the present
administration. Upon the engagement betwixt Ravenswood and his daughter,
he spoke in a dry and confused manner. He regretted so premature a
step as the engagement of the young people should have been taken, and
conjured the Master to remember he had never given any encouragement
thereunto; and observed that, as a transaction inter minores, and
without concurrence of his daughter's natural curators, the engagement
was inept, and void in law. This precipitate measure, he added, had
produced a very bad effect upon Lady Ashton's mind, which it was
impossible at present to remove. Her son, Colonel Douglas Ashton, had
embraced her prejudices in the fullest extent, and it was impossible for
Sir William to adopt a course disagreeable to them without a fatal and
irreconcilable breach in his family; which was not at present to be
thought of. Time, the great physician, he hoped, would mend all.

In a postscript, Sir William said something more explicitly, which
seemed to intimate that, rather than the law of Scotland should sustain
a severe wound through his sides, by a reversal of the judgment of her
supreme courts, in the case of the barony of Ravenswood, through the
intervention of what, with all submission, he must term a foreign court
of appeal, he himself would extrajudically consent to considerable
sacrifices.

From Lucy Ashton, by some unknown conveyance, the Master received the
following lines: "I received yours, but it was at the utmost risk; do
not attempt to write again till better times. I am sore beset, but I
will be true to my word, while the exercise of my reason is vouchsafed
to me. That you are happy and prosperous is some consolation, and my
situation requires it all." The note was signed "L.A."

This letter filled Ravenswood with the most lively alarm. He made many
attempts, notwithstanding her prohibition, to convey letters to Miss
Ashton, and even to obtain an interview; but his plans were frustrated,
and he had only the mortification to learn that anxious and effectual
precautions had been taken to prevent the possibility of their
correspondence. The Master was the more distressed by these
circumstances, as it became impossible to delay his departure from
Scotland, upon the important mission which had been confided to him.
Before his departure, he put Sir William Ashton's letter into the hands
of the Marquis of A----, who observed with a smile, that Sir William's
day of grace was past, and that he had now to learn which side of the
hedge the sun had got to. It was with the greatest difficulty that
Ravenswood extorted from the Marquis a promise that he would compromise
the proceedings in Parliament, providing Sir William should be disposed
to acquiesce in a union between him and Lucy Ashton.

"I would hardly," said the Marquis, "consent to your throwing away your
birthright in this manner, were I not perfectly confident that Lady
Ashton, or Lady Douglas, or whatever she calls herself, will, as
Scotchmen say, keep her threep; and that her husband dares not
contradict her."

"But yet," said the Master, "I trust your lordship will consider my
engagement as sacred."

"Believe my word of honour," said the Marquis, "I would be a friend even
to your follies; and having thus told you MY opinion, I will endeavour,
as occasion offers, to serve you according to your own."

The master of Ravenswood could but thank his generous kinsman and
patron, and leave him full power to act in all his affairs. He departed
from Scotland upon his mission, which, it was supposed, might detain him
upon the continent for some months.

Sir Walter Scott