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Chapter 30

What doth ensue
But moody and dull melancholy,
Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair,
And at her heel, a huge infectious troop
Of pale distemperatures, and foes to life?

Comedy of Errors.

AS some vindication of the ease with which Bucklaw (who otherwise, as
he termed himself, was really a very good-humoured fellow) resigned his
judgment to the management of Lady Ashton, while paying his addresses
to her daughter, the reader must call to mind the strict domestic
discipline which, at this period, was exercised over the females of a
Scottish family.

The manners of the country in this, as in many other respects, coincided
with those of France before the Revolution. Young women of the higher
rank seldom mingled in society until after marriage, and, both in law
and fact, were held to be under the strict tutelage of their parents,
who were too apt to enforce the views for their settlement in life
without paying any regard to the inclination of the parties chiefly
interested. On such occasions, the suitor expected little more from his
bride than a silent acquiescence in the will of her parents; and as few
opportunities of acquaintance, far less of intimacy, occurred, he made
his choice by the outside, as the lovers in the Merchant of Venice
select the casket, contented to trust to chance the issue of the lottery
in which he had hazarded a venture.

It was not therefore surprising, such being the general manners of the
age, that Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw, whom dissipated habits had detached
in some degree from the best society, should not attend particularly to
those feelings in his elected bride to which many men of more sentiment,
experience, and reflection would, in all probability, have been equally
indifferent. He knew what all accounted the principal point, that her
parents and friends, namely, were decidedly in his favour, and that
there existed most powerful reasons for their predilection.

In truth, the conduct of the Marquis of A----, since Ravenswood's
departure, had been such as almost to bar the possibility of his
kinsman's union with Lucy Ashton. The Marquis was Ravenswood's sincere
but misjudging friend; or rather, like many friends and patrons,
he consulted what he considered to be his relation's true interest,
although he knew that in doing so he run counter to his inclinations.

The Marquis drove on, therefore, with the plentitude of ministerial
authority, an appeal to the British House of Peers against those
judgments of the courts of law by which Sir William became possessed of
Ravenswood's hereditary property. As this measure, enforced with all the
authority of power, was new in Scottish judicial proceedings, though now
so frequently resorted to, it was exclaimed against by the lawyers
on the opposite side of politics, as an interference with the civil
judicature of the country, equally new, arbitrary, and tyrannical. And
if it thus affected even strangers connected with them only by political
party, it may be guessed what the Ashton family themselves said
and thought under so gross a dispensation. Sir William, still more
worldly-minded than he was timid, was reduced to despair by the loss
by which he was threatened. His son's haughtier spirit was exalted into
rage at the idea of being deprived of his expected patrimony. But to
Lady Ashton's yet more vindictive temper the conduct of Ravenswood, or
rather of his patron, appeared to be an offence challenging the deepest
and most immortal revenge. Even the quiet and confiding temper of Lucy
herself, swayed by the opinions expressed by all around her, could not
but consider the conduct of Ravenswood as precipitate, and even unkind.
"It was my father," she repeated with a sigh, "who welcomed him to this
place, and encouraged, or at least allowed, the intimacy between us.
Should he not have remembered this, and requited it with at least some
moderate degree of procrastination in the assertion of his own alleged
rights? I would have forfeited for him double the value of these lands,
which he pursues with an ardour that shows he has forgotten how much I
am implicated in the matter."

Lucy, however, could only murmur these things to herself, unwilling to
increase the prejudices against her lover entertained by all around
her, who exclaimed against the steps pursued on his account as illegal,
vexatious, and tyrannical, resembling the worst measures in the worst
times of the worst Stuarts, and a degradation of Scotland, the decisions
of whose learned judges were thus subjected to the review of a court
composed indeed of men of the highest rank, and who were not trained to
the study of any municipal law, and might be supposed specially to hold
in contempt that of Scotland. As a natural consequence of the alleged
injustice meditated towards her father, every means was restored to, and
every argument urged to induce Miss Ashton to break off her engagement
with Ravenswood, as being scandalous, shameful, and sinful, formed with
the mortal enemy of her family, and calculated to add bitterness to the
distress of her parents.

Lucy's spirit, however, was high, and, although unaided and alone,
she could have borne much: she could have endured the repinings of her
father; his murmurs against what he called the tyrannical usage of the
ruling party; his ceaseless charges of ingratitude against Ravenswood;
his endless lectures on the various means by which contracts may be
voided an annulled; his quotations from the civil, municipal, and the
canon law; and his prelections upon the patria potestas.

She might have borne also in patience, or repelled with scorn, the
bitter taunts and occasional violence of her brother, Colonel Douglas
Ashton, and the impertinent and intrusive interference of other friends
and relations. But it was beyond her power effectually to withstand or
elude the constant and unceasing persecution of Lady Ashton, who, laying
every other wish aside, had bent the whol efforts of her powerful
mind to break her daughter's contract with Ravenswood, and to place
a perpetual bar between the lovers, by effecting Lucy's union with
Bucklaw. Far more deeply skilled than her husband in the recesses of the
human heart, she was aware that in this way she might strike a blow of
deep and decisive vengeance upon one whom she esteemed as her mortal
enemy; nor did she hesitate at raising her arm, although she knew that
the wound must be dealt through the bosom of her daughter. With this
stern and fixed purpose, she sounded every deep and shallow of her
daughter's soul, assumed alternately every disguise of manner which
could serve her object, and prepared at leisure every species of dire
machinery by which the human mind can be wrenched from its settled
determination. Some of these were of an obvious description, and require
only to be cursorily mentioned; others were characteristic of the time,
the country, and the persons engaged in this singular drama.

It was of the last consequence that all intercourse betwixt the lovers
should be stopped, and, by dint of gold and authority, Lady Ashton
contrived to possess herself of such a complete command of all who were
placed around her daughter, that, if fact, no leaguered fortress was
ever more completely blockaded; while, at the same time, to all outward
appearance Miss Ashton lay under no restriction. The verge of her
parents' domains became, in respect to her, like the viewless and
enchanted line drawn around a fairy castle, where nothing unpermitted
can either enter from without or escape from within. Thus every letter,
in which Ravenswood conveyed to Lucy Ashton the indispensable reasons
which detained him abroad, and more than one note which poor Lucy had
addressed to him through what she thought a secure channel, fell into
the hands of her mother. It could not be but that the tenor of these
intercepted letters, especially those of Ravenswood, should contain
something to irritate the passions and fortify the obstinacy of her into
whose hands they fell; but Lady Ashton's passions were too deep-rooted
to require this fresh food. She burnt the papers as regularly as she
perused them; and as they consumed into vapour and tinder, regarded them
with a smile upon her compressed lips, and an exultation in her steady
eye, which showed her confidence that the hopes of the writers should
soon be rendered equally unsubstantial.

It usually happens that fortune aids the machinations of those who are
prompt to avail themselves of every chance that offers. A report was
wafted from the continent, founded, like others of the same sort, upon
many plausible circumstances, but without any real basis, stating the
Master of Ravenswood to be on the eve of marriage with a foreign lady
of fortune and distinction. This was greedily caught up by both the
political parties, who were at once struggling for power and for popular
favour, and who seized, as usual, upon the most private circumstances
in the lives of each other's partisans t convert them into subjects of
political discussion.

The Marquis of A---- gave his opinion aloud and publicly, not indeed in
the coarse terms ascribed to him by Captain Craigengelt, but in a manner
sufficiently offensive to the Ashtons. "He thought the report," he said,
"highly probably, and heartily wished it might be true. Such a match
was fitter and far more creditable for a spirited young fellow than a
marriage with the daughter of an old Whig lawyer, whose chicanery had so
nearly ruined his father."

The other party, of course, laying out of view the opposition which the
Master of Ravenswood received from Miss Ashton's family, cried shame
upon his fickleness and perfidy, as if he had seduced the young lady
into an engagement, and wilfully and causelessly abandoned her for
another.

Sufficient care was taken that this report should find its way to
Ravenswood Castle through every various channel, Lady Ashton being
well aware that the very reiteration of the same rumour, from so many
quarters, could not but give it a semblance of truth. By some it was
told as a piece of ordinary news, by some communicated as serious
intelligence; now it was whispered to Lucy Ashton's ear in the tone of
malignant pleasantry, and now transmitted to her as a matter of grave
and serious warning.

Even the boy henry was made the instrument of adding to his sister's
torments. One morning he rushed into the room with a willow branch in
his hand, which he told her had arrived that instant from Germany for
her special wearing. Lucy, as we have seen, was remarkably fond of
her younger brother, and at that moment his wanton and thoughtless
unkindness seemed more keenly injurious than even the studied insults of
her elder brother. Her grief, however, had no shade of resentment; she
folded her arms about the boy's neck, and saying faintly, "Poor Henry!
you speak but what they tell you" she burst into a flood of unrestrained
tears. The boy was moved, notwithstanding the thoughtlessness of his age
and character. "The devil take me," said he, "Lucy, if I fetch you any
more of these tormenting messages again; for I like you better," said
he, kissing away the tears, "than the whole pack of them; and you shall
have my grey pony to ride on, and you shall canter him if you like--ay,
and ride beyond the village, too, if you have a mind."

"Who told you," said Lucy, "that I am not permitted to ride where I
please?"

"That's a secret," said the boy; "but you will find you can never ride
beyond the village but your horse will cast a she, or fall lame, or the
cattle bell will ring, or something will happen to bring you back. But
if I tell you more of these things, Douglas will nto get me the pair of
colours they have promised me, and so good-morrow to you."

This dialogue plunged Lucy in still deeper dejection, as it tended to
show her plainly what she had for some time suspected, that she was
little better than a prisoner at large in her father's house. We have
described her in the outset of our story as of a romantic disposition,
delighting in tales of love and wonder, and readily identifying herself
with the situation of those legendary heroines with whose adventures,
for want of better reading, her memory had become stocked. The fairy
wand, with which in her solitude she had delighted to raise visions of
enchantment, became now the rod of a magician, the bond slave of evil
genii, serving only to invoke spectres at which the exorcist trembled.
She felt herself the object of suspicion, of scorn, of dislike at least,
if not of hatred, to her own family; and it seemed to her that she was
abandoned by the very person on whose account she was exposed to
the enmity of all around her. Indeed, the evidence of Ravenswood's
infidelity began to assume every day a more determined character.
A soldier of fortune, of the name of Westenho, an old familiar of
Craigengelt's, chanced to arrive from abroad about this time. The worthy
Captain, though without any precise communication with Lady Ashton,
always acted most regularly and sedulously in support of her plans,
and easily prevailed upon his friend, by dint of exaggeration of real
circumstances and coming of others, to give explicit testimony to the
truth of Ravenswood's approaching marriage.

Thus beset on all hands, and in a manner reduced to despair, Lucy's
temper gave way under the pressure of constant affliction and
persecution. She became gloomy and abstracted, and, contrary to her
natural and ordinary habit of mind, sometimes turned with spirit, and
even fierceness, on those by whom she was long and closely annoyed. Her
health also began to be shaken, and her hectic cheek and wandering
eye gave symptoms of what is called a fever upon the spirits. In most
mothers this would have moved compassion; but Lady Ashton, compact and
firm of purpose, saw these waverings of health and intellect with no
greater sympathy than that with which the hostile engineer regards the
towers of a beleaguered city as they reel under the discharge of his
artillery; or rather, she considered these starts and inequalities of
temper as symptoms of Lucy's expiring resolution; as the angler, by the
throes and convulsive exertions of the fish which he has hooked,
becomes aware that he soon will be able to land him. To accelerate
the catastrophe in the present case, Lady Ashton had recourse to an
expedient very consistent with the temper and credulity of those times,
but which the reader will probably pronounce truly detestable and
diabolical.

Sir Walter Scott