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Chapter 29

It was the copy of our conference.
In bed she slept not, for my urging it;
At board she fed not, for my urging it;
Alone, it was the subject of my theme;
In company I often glanced at it.

Comedy of Errors.

THE next morning saw Bucklaw and his faithful Achates, Craigengelt, at
Ravenswood Castle. They were most courteously received by the knight
and his lady, as well, as by their son and heir, Colonel Ashton. After
a good deal of stammering and blushing--for Bucklaw, notwithstanding his
audacity in other matters, had all the sheepish bashfulness common to
those who have lived little in respectable society--he contrived at
length to explain his wish to be admitted to a conference with Miss
Ashton upon the subject of their approaching union. Sir William and
his son looked at Lady Ashton, who replied with the greatest composure,
"That Lucy would wait upon Mr. Hayston directly. I hope," she added with
a smile, "that as Lucy is very young, and has been lately trepanned into
an engagement of which she is now heartily ashamed, our dear Bucklaw
will excuse her wish that I should be present at their interview?"

"In truth, my dear lady," said Bucklaw, "it is the very thing that
I would have desired on my own account; for I have been so little
accustomed to what is called gallantry, that I shall certainly fall into
some cursed mistake unless I have the advantage of your ladyship as an
interpreter."

It was thus that Bucklaw, in the perturbation of his embarrassment upon
this critical occasion, forgot the just apprehensions he had entertained
of Lady Ashton's overbearing ascendency over her daughter's mind, and
lost an opportunity of ascertaining, by his own investigation, the real
state of Lucy's feelings.

The other gentlemen left the room, and in a shrot time Lady Ashton,
followed by her daughter, entered the apartment. She appeared, as he had
seen her on former occasions, rather composed than agitated; but a nicer
judge than he could scarce have determined whether her calmness was that
of despair or of indifference. Bucklaw was too much agitated by his own
feelings minutely to scrutinise those of the lady. He stammered out an
unconnected address, confounding together the two or three topics to
which it related, and stopt short before he brought it to any regular
conclusion. Miss Ashton listened, or looked as if she listened, but
returned not a single word in answer, continuing to fix her eyes on
a small piece of embroidery on which, as if by instinct or habit, her
fingers were busily employed. Lady Ashton sat at some distance, almost
screened from notice by the deep embrasure of the window in which she
had placed her chair. From this she whispered, in a tone of voice
which, though soft and sweet, had something in it of admonition, if not
command: "Lucy, my dear, remember--have you heard what Bucklaw has been
saying?"

The idea of her mother's presence seemed to have slipped from the
unhappy girl's recollection. She started, dropped her needle, and
repeated hastily, and almost in the same breath, the contradictory
answers: "Yes, madam--no, my lady--I beg pardon, I did not hear."

"You need not blush, my love, and still less need you look so pale and
frightened," said Lady Ashton, coming forward; "we know that maiden's
ears must be slow in receiving a gentleman's language; but you must
remember Mr. Hayston speaks on a subject on which you have long since
agreed to give him a favourable hearing. You know how much your father
and I have our hearts set upon an event so extremely desirable."

In Lady Ashton's voice, a tone of impressive, and even stern, innuendo
was sedulously and skilfully concealed under an appearance of the most
affectionate maternal tenderness. The manner was for Bucklaw, who was
easily enough imposed upon; the matter of the exhortation was for the
terrified Lucy, who well knew how to interpret her mother's hints,
however skilfully their real purport might be veiled from general
observation.

Miss Ashton sat upright in her chair, cast round her a glance in which
fear was mingled with a still wilder expression, but remained perfectly
silent. Bucklaw, who had in the mean time paced the room to and fro,
until he had recovered his composure, now stopped within two or three
yards of her chair, and broke out as follows: "I believe I have been a
d--d fool, Miss Ashton; I have tried to speak to you as people tell me
young ladies like to be talked to, and I don't think you comprehend
what I have been saying; and no wonder, for d--n me if I understand it
myself! But, however, once for all, and in broad Scotch, your father and
mother like what is proposed, and if you can take a plain young fellow
for your husband, who will never cross you in anything you have a mind
to, I will place you at the head of the best establishment in the three
Lothians; you shall have Lady Girnington's lodging in the Canongate of
Edinburgh, go where you please, do what you please, and see what you
please--and that's fair. Only I must have a corner at the board-end for
a worthless old playfellow of mine, whose company I would rather want
than have, if it were not that the d--d fellow has persuaded me that I
can't do without him; and so I hope you won't except against Craigie,
although it might be easy to find much better company."

"Now, out upon you, Bucklaw," said Lady Ashton, again interposing;
"how can you think Lucy can have any objection to that blunt, honest,
good-natured creature, Captain Craigengelt?"

"Why, madam," replied Bucklaw, "as to Craigie's sincerity, honesty, and
good-nature, they are, I believe, pretty much upon a par; but that's
neither here nor there--the fellow knows my ways, and has got useful to
me, and I cannot well do without him, as I said before. But all this is
nothing to the purpose; for since I have mustered up courage to make a
plain proposal, I would fain hear Miss Ashton, from her own lips, give
me a plain answer."

"My dear Bucklaw," said Lady Ashton, "let me spare Lucy's bashfulness.
I tell you, in her presence, that she has already consented to be guided
by her father and me in this matter. Lucy, my love," she added, with
that singular combination of suavity of tone and pointed energy which we
have already noticed--"Lucy, my dearest love! speak for yourself, is it
not as I say?"

Her victim answered in a tremulous and hollow voice: "I HAVE promised to
obey you--but upon one condition."

"She means," said Lady Ashton, turning to Bucklaw, "she expects an
answer to the demand which she has made upon the man at Vienna, or
Ratisbon, or Paris--or where is he?--for restitution of the engagement
in which he had the art to involve her. You will not, I am sure, my dear
friend, think it is wrong that she should feel much delicacy upon this
head; indeed, it concerns us all."

"Perfectly right--quite fair," said Bucklaw, half humming, half speaking
the end of the old song--

"It is best to be off wi' the old love
Before you be on wi' the new.

But I thought," said he, pausing, "you might have had an answer six
times told from Ravenswood. D--n me, if I have not a mind to go fetch
one myself, if Miss Ashton will honour me with the commission."

"By no means," said Lady Ashton; "we have had the utmost difficulty of
preventing Douglas, for whom it would be more proper, from taking so
rash a step; and do you think we could permit you, my good friend,
almost equally dear to us, to go to a desperate man upon an errand so
desperate? In fact, all the friends of the family are of opinion, and my
dear Lucy herself ought so to think, that, as this unworthy person has
returned no answer to her letter, silence must on this, as in other
cases, be held to give consent, and a contract must be supposed to be
given up, when the party waives insisting upon it. Sir William, who
should know best, is clear upon this subject; and therefore, my dear
Lucy----"

"Madam," said Lucy, with unwonted energy, "urge me no farther; if this
unhappy engagement be restored, I have already said you shall dispose
of me as you will; till then I should commit a heavy sin in the sight
of God and man in doing what you require." "But, my love, if this man
remains obstinately silent----"

"He will NOT be silent," answered Lucy; "it is six weeks since I sent
him a double of my former letter by a sure hand."

"You have not--you could not--you durst not," said Lady Ashton, with
violence inconsistent with the tone she had intended to assume; but
instantly correcting herself, "My dearest Lucy," said she, in her
sweetest tone of expostulation, "how could you think of such a thing?"

"No matter," said Bucklaw; "I respect Miss Ashton for her sentiments,
and I only wish I had been her messenger myself."

"And pray how long, Miss Ashton," said her mother, ironically, "are
we to wait the return of your Pacolet--your fairy messenger--since our
humble couriers of flesh and blood could not be trusted in this matter?"

"I have numbered weeks, days, hours, and minutes," said Miss Ashton;
"within another week I shall have an answer, unless he is dead. Till
that time, sir," she said, addressing Bucklaw, "let me be thus far
beholden to you, that you will beg my mother to forbear me upon this
subject."

"I will make it my particular entreaty to Lady Ashton," said Bucklaw.
"By my honour, madam, I respect your feelings; and, although the
prosecution of this affair be rendered dearer to me than ever, yet, as
I am a gentleman, I would renounce it, were it so urged as to give you a
moment's pain."

"Mr. Hayston, I think, cannot comprehend that," said Lady Ashton,
looking pale with anger, "when the daughter's happiness lies in the
bosom of the mother. Let me ask you, Miss Ashton, in what terms your
last letter was couched?"

"Exactly in the same, madam," answered Lucy, "which you dictated on a
former occasion."

"When eight days have elapsed, then," said her mother, resuming her tone
of tenderness, "we shall hope, my dearest love, that you will end this
suspense."

"Miss Ashton must not be hurried, madam," said Bucklaw, whose bluntness
of feeling did not by any means arise from want of good-nature;
"messengers may be stopped or delayed. I have known a day's journey
broke by the casting of a foreshoe. Stay, let me see my calendar: the
twentieth day from this is St. Jude's, and the day before I must be at
Caverton Edge, to see the match between the Laird of Kittlegirth's black
mare and Johnston the meal-monger's four-year-old-colt; but I can ride
all night, or Craigie can bring me word how the match goes; and I hope,
in the mean time, as I shall not myself distress Miss Ashton with any
further importunity, that your ladyship yourself, and Sir William, and
Colonel Douglas will have the goodness to allow her uninterrupted time
for making up her mind."

"Sir," said Miss Ashton, "you are generous."

"As for that, madam," answered Bucklaw, "I only pretend to be a plain,
good-humoured young fellow, as I said before, who will willingly make you
happy if you will permit him, and show him how to do so." Having said
this, he saluted her with more emotion than was consistent with
his usual train of feeling, and took his leave; Lady Ashton, as she
accompanied him out of the apartment, assuring him that her daughter did
full justice to the sincerity of his attachment, and requesting him to
see Sir William before his departure, "since," as she said, with a keen
glance reverting towards Lucy, "against St. Jude's day, we must all be
ready to SIGN AND SEAL."

"To sign and seal!" echoed Lucy, in a muttering tone, as the door of the
apartment closed--"to sign and seal--to do and die!" and, clasping her
extenuated hands together, she sunk back on the easy-chair she occupied,
in a state resembling stupor.

From this she was shortly after awakened by the boisterous entry of her
brother Henry, who clamorously reminded her of a promise to give him
two yards of carnation ribbon to make knots to his new garters. With the
most patient composure Lucy arose, and opening a little ivory cabinet,
sought out the ribbon the lad waned, measured it accurately, cut it off
into proper lengths, and knotted it into the fashion his boyish whim
required.

"Dinna shut the cabinet yet," said Henry, "for I must have some of your
silver wire to fasten the bells to my hawk's jesses,--and yet the new
falcon's not worth them neither; for do you know, after all the plague
we had to get her from an eyrie, all the way at Posso, in Mannor Water,
she's going to prove, after all, nothing better than a rifler: she just
wets her singles in the blood of the partridge, and then breaks away,
and lets her fly; and what good can the poor bird do after that, you
know, except pine and die in the first heather-cow or whin-bush she can
crawl into?"

"Right, Henry--right--very right," said Luch, mournfully, holding the
boy fast by the hand, after she had given him the wire he wanted; "but
there are more riflers in the world than your falcon, and more wounded
birds that seek but to die in quiet, that can find neither brake nor
whin-bush to hide their head in."

"Ah! that's some speech out of your romances," said the boy; "and Sholto
says they have turned your head. But I hear Norman whistling to the
hawk; I must go fasten on the jesses."

And he scampered away with the thoughtless gaiety of boyhood, leaving
his sister to the bitterness of her own reflections.

"It is decreed," she said, "that every living creature, even those who
owe me most kindness, are to shun me, and leave me to those by whom I am
beset. It is just it should be thus. Alone and uncounselled, I involved
myself in these perils; alone and uncounselled, I must extricate myself
or die."


Sir Walter Scott