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 3

Over Gods forebode, then said the King,
That thou shouldst shoot at me.

William Bell, Clim 'o the Cleugh, etc.

On the morning after the funeral, the legal officer whose authority
had been found insufficient to effect an interruption of the funeral
solemnities of the late Lord Ravenswood, hastened to state before the
Keeper the resistance which he had met with in the execution of his
office.

The statesman was seated in a spacious library, once a banqueting-room
in the old Castle of Ravenswood, as was evident from the armorial
insignia still displayed on the carved roof, which was vaulted with
Spanish chestnut, and on the stained glass of the casement, through
which gleamed a dim yet rich light on the long rows of shelves, bending
under the weight of legal commentators and monkish historians, whose
ponderous volumes formed the chief and most valued contents of a
Scottish historian [library] of the period. On the massive oaken
table and reading-desk lay a confused mass of letters, petitions, and
parchments; to toil amongst which was the pleasure at once and the
plague of Sir William Ashton's life. His appearance was grave and even
noble, well becoming one who held an high office in the state; and it
was not save after long and intimate conversation with him upon topics
of pressing and personal interest, that a stranger could have discovered
something vacillating and uncertain in his resolutions; an infirmity of
purpose, arising from a cautious and timid disposition, which, as he was
conscious of its internal influence on his mind, he was, from pride as
well as policy, most anxious to conceal from others. He listened with
great apparent composure to an exaggerated account of the tumult which
had taken place at the funeral, of the contempt thrown on his own
authority and that of the church and state; nor did he seem moved even
by the faithful report of the insulting and threatening language which
had been uttered by young Ravenswood and others, and obviously directed
against himself. He heard, also, what the man had been able to collect,
in a very distorted and aggravated shape, of the toasts which had been
drunk, and the menaces uttered, at the subsequent entertainment. In fine,
he made careful notes of all these particulars, and of the names of
the persons by whom, in case of need, an accusation, founded upon these
violent proceedings, could be witnessed and made good, and dismissed his
informer, secure that he was now master of the remaining fortune, and
even of the personal liberty, of young Ravenswood.

When the door had closed upon the officer of the law, the Lord Keeper
remained for a moment in deep meditation; then, starting from his
seat, paced the apartment as one about to take a sudden and energetic
resolution. "Young Ravenswood," he muttered, "is now mine--he is my own;
he has placed himself in my hand, and he shall bend or break. I have not
forgot the determined and dogged obstinacy with which his father fought
every point to the last, resisted every effort at compromise, embroiled
me in lawsuits, and attempted to assail my character when he could
not otherwise impugn my rights. This boy he has left behind him--this
Edgar--this hot-headed, hare-brained fool, has wrecked his vessel before
she has cleared the harbor. I must see that he gains no advantage
of some turning tide which may again float him off. These memoranda,
properly stated to the privy council, cannot but be construed into
an aggravated riot, in which the dignity both of the civil and
ecclesiastical authorities stands committed. A heavy fine might be
imposed; an order for committing him to Edinburgh or Blackness Castle
seems not improper; even a charge of treason might be laid on many of
these words and expressions, though God forbid I should prosecute the
matter to that extent. No, I will not; I will not touch his life, even
if it should be in my power; and yet, if he lives till a change of
times, what follows? Restitution--perhaps revenge. I know Athole
promised his interest to old Ravenswood, and here is his son already
bandying and making a faction by his own contemptible influence. What
a ready tool he would be for the use of those who are watching the
downfall of our administration!"

While these thoughts were agitating the mind of the wily statesman, and
while he was persuading himself that his own interest and safety, as
well as those of his friends and party, depended on using the present
advantage to the uttermost against young Ravenswood, the Lord Keeper
sate down to his desk, and proceeded to draw up, for the information of
the privy council, an account of the disorderly proceedings which,
in contempt of his warrant, had taken place at the funeral of Lord
Ravenswood. The names of most of the parties concerned, as well as the
fact itself, would, he was well aware, sound odiously in the ears of his
colleagues in administration, and most likely instigate them to make an
example of young Ravenswood, at least, in terrorem.

It was a point of delicacy, however, to select such expressions as might
infer the young man's culpability, without seeming directly to urge
it, which, on the part of Sir William Ashton, his father's ancient
antagonist, could not but appear odious and invidious. While he was in
the act of composition, labouring to find words which might indicate
Edgar Ravenswood to be the cause of the uproar, without specifically
making such a charge, Sir William, in a pause of his task, chanced, in
looking upward, to see the crest of the family for whose heir he was
whetting the arrows and disposing the toils of the law carved upon one
of the corbeilles from which the vaulted roof of the apartment sprung.
It was a black bull's head, with the legend, "I bide my time"; and
the occasion upon which it was adopted mingled itself singularly and
impressively with the subject of his present reflections.

It was said by a constant tradition that a Malisius de Ravenswood had,
in the 13th century, been deprived of his castle and lands by a powerful
usurper, who had for a while enjoyed his spoils in quiet. At length,
on the eve of a costly banquet, Ravenswood, who had watched his
opportunity, introduced himself into the castle with a small band of
faithful retainers. The serving of the expected feast was impatiently
looked for by the guests, and clamorously demanded by the temporary
master of the castle. Ravenswood, who had assumed the disguise of a
sewer upon the occasion, answered, in a stern voice, "I bide my time";
and at the same moment a bull's head, the ancient symbol of death, was
placed upon the table. The explosion of the conspiracy took place upon
the signal, and the usurper and his followers were put to death. Perhaps
there was something in this still known and often repeated story which
came immediately home to the breast and conscience of the Lord Keeper;
for, putting from him the paper on which he had begun his report, and
carefully locking the memoranda which he had prepared into a cabinet
which stood beside him, he proceeded to walk abroad, as if for
the purpose of collecting his ideas, and reflecting farther on the
consequences of the step which he was about to take, ere yet they became
inevitable.

In passing through a large Gothic ante-room, Sir William Ashton heard
the sound of his daughter's lute. Music, when the performers are
concealed, affects us with a pleasure mingled with surprise, and
reminds us of the natural concert of birds among the leafy bowers. The
statesman, though little accustomed to give way to emotions of this
natural and simple class, was still a man and a father. He stopped,
therefore, and listened, while the silver tones of Lucy Ashton's voice
mingled with the accompaniment in an ancient air, to which soem one had
adapted the following words:

"Look not thou on beauty's charming,
Sit thou still when kings are arming,
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens,
Speak not when the people listens,
Stop thine ear against the singer,
From the red gold keep they finger,
Vacant heart, and hand, and eye,
Easy live and quiet die."

The sounds ceased, and the Keeper entered his daughter's apartment.

The words she had chosen seemed particularly adapted to her character;
for Lucy Ashton's exquisitely beautiful, yet somewhat girlish features
were formed to express peace of mind, serenity, and indifference to
the tinsel of wordly pleasure. Her locks, which were of shadowy gold,
divided on a brow of exquisite whiteness, like a gleam of broken and
pallid sunshine upon a hill of snow. The expression of the countenance
was in the last degree gentle, soft, timid, and feminine, and seemed
rather to shrink from the most casual look of a stranger than to court
his admiration. Something there was of a Madonna cast, perhaps the
result of delicate health, and of residence in a family where the
dispositions of the inmates were fiercer, more active, and energetic
than her own.

Yet her passiveness of disposition was by no means owing to an
indifferent or unfeeling mind. Left to the impulse of her own taste and
feelings, Lucy Ashton was peculiarly accessible to those of a romantic
cast. Her secret delight was in the old legendary tales of ardent
devotion and unalterable affection, chequered as they so often are with
strange adventures and supernatural horrors. This was her favoured
fairy realm, and here she erected her aerial palaces. But it was only
in secret that she laboured at this delusive though delightful
architecture. In her retired chamber, or in the woodland bower which
she had chosen for her own, and called after her name, she was in fancy
distributing the prizes at the tournament, or raining down influence
from her eyes on the valiant combatants: or she was wandering in the
wilderness with Una, under escort of the generous lion; or she was
identifying herself with the simple yet noble-minded Miranda in the isle
of wonder and enchantment.

But in her exterior relations to things of this world, Lucy willingly
received the ruling impulse from those around her. The alternative was,
in general, too indifferent to her to render resistance desirable, and
she willingly found a motive for decision in the opinion of her friends
which perhaps she might have sought for in vain in her own choice.
Every reader must have observed in some family of his acquaintance some
individual of a temper soft and yielding, who, mixed with stronger and
more ardent minds, is borne along by the will of others, with as little
power of opposition as the flower which is flung into a running stream.
It usually happens that such a compliant and easy disposition, which
resigns itself without murmur to the guidance of others, becomes the
darling of those to whose inclinations its own seem to be offered, in
ungrudging and ready sacrifice. This was eminently the case with Lucy
Ashton. Her politic, wary, and wordly father felt for her an affection
the strength of which sometimes surprised him into an unusual emotion.
Her elder brother, who trode the path of ambition with a haughtier step
than his father, had also more of human affection. A soldier, and in
a dissolute age, he preferred his sister Lucy even to pleasure and to
military preferment and distinction. Her younger brother, at an age when
trifles chiefly occupied his mind, made her the confidante of all his
pleasures and anxieties, his success in field-sports, and his quarrels
with his tutor and instructors. To these details, however trivial, Lucy
lent patient and not indifferent attention. They moved and interested
Henry, and that was enough to secure her ear.

Her mother alone did not feel that distinguished and predominating
affection with which the rest of the family cherished Lucy. She regarded
what she termed her daughter's want of spirit as a decided mark that the
more plebeian blood of her father predominated in Lucy's veins, and used
to call her in derision her Lammermoor Shepherdess. To dislike so gentle
and inoffensive a being was impossible; but Lady Ashton preferred her
eldest son, on whom had descended a large portion of her own ambitious
and undaunted disposition, to a daughter whose softness of temper seemed
allied to feebleness of mind. Her eldest son was the more partially
beloved by his mother because, contrary to the usual custom of Scottish
families of distinction, he had been named after the head of the house.

"My Sholto," she said, "will support the untarnished honour of his
maternal house, and elevate and support that of his father. Poor Lucy
is unfit for courts or crowded halls. Some country laird must be her
husband, rich enough to supply her with every comfort, without an effort
on her own part, so that she may have nothing to shed a tear for but the
tender apprehension lest he may break his neck in a foxchase. It was
not so, however, that our house was raised, nor is it so that it can be
fortified and augmented. The Lord Keeper's dignity is yet new; it must
be borne as if we were used to its weight, worthy of it, and prompt
to assert and maintain it. Before ancient authorities men bend from
customary and hereditary deference; in our presence they will stand
erect, unless they are compelled to prostrate themselves. A daughter
fit for the sheepfold or the cloister is ill qualified to exact respect
where it is yielded with reluctance; and since Heaven refused us a third
boy, Lucy should have held a character fit to supply his place. The
hour will be a happy one which disposes her hand in marriage to some one
whose energy is greater than her own, or whose ambition is of as low an
order."

So meditated a mother to whom the qualities of her children's hearts,
as well as the prospect of their domestic happiness, seemed light in
comparison to their rank and temporal greatness. But, like many a parent
of hot and impatient character, she was mistaken in estimating
the feelings of her daughter, who, under a semblance of extreme
indifference, nourished the germ of those passions which sometimes
spring up in one night, like the gourd of the prophet, and astonish
the observer by their unexpected ardour and intensity. In fact, Lucy's
sentiments seemed chill because nothing had occurred to interest or
awaken them. Her life had hitherto flowed on in a uniform and gentle
tenor, and happy for her had not its present smoothness of current
resembled that of the stream as it glides downwards to the waterfall!

"So, Lucy," said her father, entering as her song was ended, "does your
musical philosopher teach you to contemn the world before you know it?
That is surely something premature. Or did you but speak according to
the fashion of fair maidens, who are always to hold the pleasures of
life in contempt till they are pressed upon them by the address of some
gentle knight?"

Lucy blushed, disclaimed any inference respecting her own choice
being drawn from her selection of a song, and readily laid aside her
instrument at her father's request that she would attend him in his
walk.

A large and well-wooded park, or rather chase, stretched along the
hill behind the castle, which, occupying, as we have noticed, a pass
ascending from the plain, seemed built in its very gorge to defend
the forest ground which arose behind it in shaggy majesty. Into this
romantic region the father and daughter proceeded, arm in arm, by a
noble avenue overarched by embowering elms, beneath which groups of the
fallow-deer were seen to stray in distant perspective. As they paced
slowly on, admiring the different points of view, for which Sir
William Ashton, notwithstanding the nature of his usual avocations, had
considerable taste and feeling, they were overtaken by the forester,
or park-keeper, who, intent on silvan sport, was proceeding with his
cross-bow over his arm, and a hound led in leash by his boy, into the
interior of the wood.

"Going to shoot us a piece of venison, Norman?" said his master, as he
returned the woodsman's salutation.

"Saul, your honour, and that I am. Will it please you to see the sport?"

"Oh no," said his lordship, after looking at his daughter, whose colour
fled at the idea of seeing the deer shot, although, had her father
expressed his wish that they should accompany Norman, it was probable
she would not even have hinted her reluctance.

The forester shrugged his shoulders. "It was a disheartening thing,"
he said, "when none of the gentles came down to see the sport. He
hoped Captain Sholto would be soon hame, or he might shut up his shop
entirely; for Mr. Harry was kept sae close wi' his Latin nonsense that,
though his will was very gude to be in the wood from morning till night,
there would be a hopeful lad lost, and no making a man of him. It was
not so, he had heard, in Lord Ravenswood's time: when a buck was to be
killed, man and mother's son ran to see; and when the deer fell, the
knife was always presented to the knight, and he never gave less than
a dollar for the compliment. And there was Edgar Ravenswood--Master of
Ravenswood that is now--when he goes up to the wood--there hasna been a
better hunter since Tristrem's time--when Sir Edgar hauds out, down goes
the deer, faith. But we hae lost a' sense of woodcraft on this side of
the hill."

There was much in this harangue highly displeasing to the Lord Keeper's
feelings; he could not help observing that his menial despised him
almost avowedly for not possessing that taste for sport which in those
times was deemed the natural and indispensable attribute of a real
gentleman. But the master of the game is, in all country houses, a man
of great importance, and entitled to use considerable freedom of speech.
Sir William, therefore, only smiled and replied, "He had something else
to think upon to-day than killing deer"; meantime, taking out his purse,
he gave the ranger a dollar for his encouragement. The fellow received
it as the waiter of a fashionable hotel receives double his proper fee
from the hands of a country gentleman--that is, with a smile, in which
pleasure at the gift is mingled with contempt for the ignorance of the
donor. "Your honour is the bad paymaster," he said, "who pays before it
is done. What would you do were I to miss the buck after you have paid
me my wood-fee?"

"I suppose," said the Keeper, smiling, "you would hardly guess what I
mean were I to tell you of a condictio indebiti?"

"Not I, on my saul. I guess it is some law phrase; but sue a beggar,
and--your honour knows what follows. Well, but I will be just with
you, and if bow and brach fail not, you shall have a piece of game two
fingers fat on the brisket."

As he was about to go off, his master again called him, and asked, as
if by accident, whether the Master of Ravenswood was actually so brave a
man and so good a shooter as the world spoke him.

"Brave!--brave enough, I warrant you," answered Norman. "I was in the
wood at Tyninghame when there was a sort of gallants hunting with my
lord; on my saul, there was a buck turned to bay made us all stand
back--a stout old Trojan of the first head, ten-tyned branches, and a
brow as broad as e'er a bullock's. Egad, he dashed at the old lord, and
there would have been inlake among the perrage, if the Master had not
whipt roundly in, and hamstrung him with his cutlass. He was but sixteen
then, bless his heart!"

"And is he as ready with the gun as with the couteau?" said Sir William.

"He'll strike this silver dollar out from between my finger and thumb at
fourscore yards, and I'll hold it out for a gold merk; what more would
ye have of eye, hand, lead, and gunpowder?" "Oh, no more to be wished,
certainly," said the Lord Keeper; "but we keep you from your sport,
Norman. Good morrow, good Norman."

And, humming his rustic roundelay, the yeoman went on his road, the
sound of his rough voice gradually dying away as the distance betwixt
them increased:

"The monk must arise when the matins ring,
The abbot may sleep to their chime;
But the yeoman must start when the bugles sing
'Tis time, my hearts, 'tis time.

There's bucks and raes on Bilhope braes,
There's a herd on Shortwood Shaw;
But a lily-white doe in the garden goes,
She's fairly worth them a'."

"Has this fellow," said the Lord Keeper, when the yeoman's song had died
on the wind, "ever served the Ravenswood people, that he seems so much
interested in them? I suppose you know, Lucy, for you make it a point
of conscience to record the special history of every boor about the
castle."

"I am not quite so faithful a chronicler, my dear father; but I
believe that Norman once served here while a boy, and before he ewnt to
Ledington, whence you hired him. But if you want to know anything of the
former family, Old Alice is the best authority."

"And what should I have to do with them, pray, Lucy," said her father,
"or with their history or accomplishments?"

"Nay, I do not know, sir; only that you were asking questions of Norman
about young Ravenswood."

"Pshaw, child!" replied her father, yet immediately added: "And who is
Old Alice? I think you know all the old women in the country."

"To be sure I do, or how could I help the old creatures when they are
in hard times? And as to Old Alice, she is the very empress of old women
and queen of gossips, so far as legendary lore is concerned. She is
blind, poor old soul, but when she speaks to you, you would think she
has some way of looking into your very heart. I am sure I often cover
my face, or turn it away, for it seems as if she saw one change colour,
though she has been blind these twenty years. She is worth visiting,
were it but to say you have seen a blind and paralytic old woman have so
much acuteness of perception and dignity of manners. I assure you, she
might be a countess from her language and behaviour. Come, you must go
to see Alice; we are not a quarter of a mile from her cottage."

"All this, my dear," said the Lord Keeper, "is no answer to my
question, who this woman is, and what is her connexion with the former
proprietor's family?"

"Oh, it was somethign of a nouriceship, I believe; and she remained
here, because her two grandsons were engaged in your service. But it
was against her will, I fancy; for the poor old creature is always
regretting the change of times and of property."

"I am much obliged to her," answered the Lord Keeper. "She and her folk
eat my bread and drink my cup, and are lamenting all the while that
they are not still under a family which never could do good, either to
themselves or any one else!"

"Indeed," replied Lucy, "I am certain you do Old Alice injustice.
She has nothing mercenary about her, and would not accept a penny
in charity, if it were to save her from being starved. She is only
talkative, like all old folk when you put them upon stories of their
youth; and she speaks about the Ravenswood people, because she lived
under them so many years. But I am sure she is grateful to you, sir,
for your protection, and that she would rather speak to you than to
any other person in the whole world beside. Do, sir, come and see Old
Alice."

And with the freedom of an indulged daughter she dragged the Lord Keeper
in the direction she desired.

Sir Walter Scott