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 8

The hearth in hall was black and dead,
No board was dight in bower within,
Nor merry bowl nor welcome bed;
"Here's sorry cheer," quoth the Heir of Linne.

Old Ballad

THE feelings of the prodigal Heir of Linne, as expressed in that
excellent old song, when, after dissipating his whole fortune, he found
himself the deserted inhabitant of "the lonely lodge," might perhaps
have some resemblance to those of the Master of Ravenswood in his
deserted mansion of Wolf's Crag. The Master, however, had this advantage
over the spendthrift in the legend, that, if he was in similar distress,
he could not impute it to his own imprudence. His misery had been
bequeathed to him by his father, and, joined to his high blood, and to
a title which the courteous might give or the churlish withhold at their
pleasure, it was the whole inheritance he had derived from his ancestry.
Perhaps this melancholy yet consolatory reflection crossed the mind of
the unfortunate young nobleman with a breathing of comfort. Favourable
to calm reflection, as well as to the Muses, the morning, while it
dispelled the shades of night, had a composing and sedative effect upon
the stormy passions by which the Master of Ravenswood had been agitated
on the preceding day. He now felt himself able to analyse the different
feelings by which he was agitated, and much resolved to combat and
to subdue them. The morning, which had arisen calm and bright, gave a
pleasant effect even to the waste moorland view which was seen from the
castle on looking to the landward; and the glorious ocean, crisped with
a thousand rippling waves of silver, extended on the other side, in
awful yet complacent majesty, to the verge of the horizon. With such
scenes of calm sublimity the human heart sympathises even in its most
disturbed moods, and deeds of honour and virtue are inspired by their
majestic influence. To seek out Bucklaw in the retreat which he had
afforded him, was the first occupation of the Master, after he had
performed, with a scrutiny unusually severe, the important task of
self-examination. "How now, Bucklaw?" was his morning's salutation--"how
like you the couch in which the exiled Earl of Angus once slept
in security, when he was pursued by the full energy of a king's
resentment?"

"Umph!" returned the sleeper awakened; "I have little to complain of
where so great a man was quartered before me, only the mattress was of
the hardest, the vault somewhat damp, the rats rather more mutinous than
I would have expected from the state of Caleb's larder; and if there had
been shutters to that grated window, or a curtain to the bed, I should
think it, upon the whole, an improvement in your accommodations."

"It is, to be sure, forlorn enough," said the Master, looking around the
small vault; "but if you will rise and leave it, Caleb will endeavour to
find you a better breakfast than your supper of last night."

"Pray, let it be no better," said Bucklaw, getting up, and endeavouring
to dress himself as well as the obscurity of the place would
permit--"let it, I say, be no better, if you mean me to preserve in my
proposed reformation. The very recollection of Caleb's beverage has done
more to suppress my longing to open the day with a morning draught than
twenty sermons would have done. And you, master, have you been able to
give battle valiantly to your bosom-snake? You see I am in the way of
smothering my vipers one by one."

"I have commenced the battle, at least, Bucklaw, adn I have had a fair
vision of an angel who descended to my assistance," replied the Master.

"Woe's me!" said his guest, "no vision can I expect, unless my aunt,
Lady Grinington, should betake herself to the tomb; and then it would be
the substance of her heritage rather than the appearance of her phantom
that I should consider as the support of my good resolutions. But this
same breakfast, Master--does the deer that is to make the pasty run yet
on foot, as the ballad has it?"

"I will inquire into that matter," said his entertainer; and, leaving
the apartment, he went in search of Caleb, whom, after some difficulty,
he found in an obscure sort of dungeon, which had been in former times
the buttery of the castle. Here the old man was employed busily in the
doubtful task of burnishing a pewter flagon until it should take the
hue and semblance of silver-plate. "I think it may do--I think it might
pass, if they winna bring it ower muckle in the light o' the window!"
were the ejaculations which he muttered from time to time, as if to
encourage himself in his undertaking, when he was interrupted by the
voice of his master.

"Take this," said the Master of Ravenswood, "and get what is necessary
for the family." And with these words he gave to the old butler the
purse which had on the preceding evening so narrowly escaped the fangs
of Craigengelt.

The old man shook his silvery and thin locks, and looked with an
expression of the most heartfelt anguish at his master as he weighed in
his hand the slender treasure, and said in a sorrowful voice, "And is
this a' that's left?"

"All that is left at present," said the Master, affecting more
cheerfulness than perhaps he really felt, "is just the green purse and
the wee pickle gowd, as the old song says; but we shall do better one
day, Caleb."

"Before that day domes," said Caleb, "I doubt there will be an end of
an auld sang, and an auld serving-man to boot. But it disna become me to
speak that gate to your honour, adn you looking sae pale. Tak back
the purse, and keep it to be making a show before company; for if your
honour would just take a bidding, adn be whiles taking it out afore folk
and putting it up again, there's naebody would refuse us trust, for a'
that's come and gane yet."

"But, Caleb," said the Master, "I still intend to leave this country
very soon, and desire to do so with the reputation of an honest man,
leaving no debty behind me, at last of my own contracting."

"And gude right ye suld gang away as a true man, and so ye shall; for
auld Caleb can tak the wyte of whatever is taen on for the house, and
then it will be a' just ae man's burden; and I will live just as weel in
the tolbooth as out of it, and the credit of the family will be a' safe
and sound."

The Master endeavoured, in vain, to make Caleb comprehend that the
butler's incurring the responsibility of debts in his own person would
rather add to than remove the objections which he had to their being
contracted. He spoke to a premier too busy in devising ways and means to
puzzle himself with refuting the arguments offered against their justice
or expediency.

"There's Eppie Sma'trash will trust us for ale," said Caleb to
himself--"she has lived a' her life under the family--and maybe wi' a
soup brandy; I canna say for wine--she is but a lone woman, and gets
her claret by a runlet at a time; but I'll work a wee drap out o' her by
fair means or foul. For doos, there's the doocot; there will be poultry
amang the tenants, though Luckie Chirnside says she has paid the kain
twice ower. We'll mak shift, an it like your honour--we'll mak shift;
keep your heart abune, for the house sall haud its credit as lang as
auld Caleb is to the fore."

The entertainment which the old man's exertions of various kinds
enabled him to present to the young gentlemen for three or four days was
certainly of no splendid description, but it may readily be believed
it was set before no critical guests; and even the distresses, excuses,
evasions, and shifts of Caleb afforded amusement to the young men, and
added a sort fo interest to the scrambling and irregular style of their
table. They had indeed occasion to seize on every circumstance that
might serve to diversify or enliven time, which otherwise passed away so
heavily.

Bucklaw, shut out from his usual field-sports and joyous carouses by the
necessity of remaining concealed within the walls of the castle, became
a joyless and uninteresting companion. When the Master of Ravenswood
would no longer fence or play at shovel-board; when he himself had
polished to the extremity the coat of his palfrey with brush, curry
comb, and hair-cloth; when he had seen him eat his provender, and
gently lie down in his stall, he could hardly help envying the animal's
apparent acquiescence in a life so monotonous. "The stupid brute," he
said, "thinks neither of the race-ground or the hunting-field, or
his green paddock at Bucklaw, but enjoys himself as comfortably when
haltered to the rack in this ruinous vault, as if he had been foaled
in it; and, I who have the freedom of a prisoner at large, to range
through the dungeons of this wretched old tower, can hardly,
betwixt whistling and sleeping, contrive to pass away the hour till
dinner-time."

And with this disconsolate reflection, he wended his way to the bartizan
or battlements of the tower, to watch what objects might appear on the
distant moor, or to pelt, with pebbles and pieces of lime, the sea-mews
and cormorants which established themselves incautiously within the
reach of an idle young man.

Ravenswood, with a mind incalculably deeper and more powerful than that
of his companion, had his own anxious subjects of reflection, which
wrought for him the same unhappiness that sheer enui and want of
occupation inflicted on his companion. The first sight of Lucy Ashton
had been less impressive than her image proved to be upon reflection. As
the depth and violence of that revengeful passion by which he had been
actuated in seeking an interview with the father began to abate by
degrees, he looked back on his conduct towards the daughter as harsh
and unworthy towards a female of rank and beauty. Her looks of grateful
acknowledgment, her words of affectionate courtesy, had been repelled
with something which approached to disdain; and if the Master of
Ravenswood had sustained wrongs at the hand of Sir William Ashton, his
conscience told him they had been unhandsomely resented towards his
daughter. When his thoughts took this turn of self-reproach, the
recollection of Lucy Ashton's beautiful features, rendered yet more
interesting by the circumstances in which their meeting had taken place,
made an impression upon his mind at once soothing and painful. The
sweetness of her voice, the delicacy of her expressions, the vivid glow
of her filial affection, embittered his regret at having repulsed her
gratitude with rudeness, while, at the same time, they placed before his
imagination a picture of the most seducing sweetness.

Even young Ravenswood's strength of moral feeling and rectitude of
purpose at once increased the danger of cherishing these recollections,
and the propensity to entertain them. Firmly resolved as he was to
subdue, if possible, the predominating vice in his character, he
admitted with willingness--nay, he summoned up in his imagination--the
ideas by which it could be most powerfully counteracted; and, while he
did so, a sense of his own harsh conduct towards the daughter of his
enemy naturally induced him, as if by way of recompense, to invest her
with more of grace and beauty than perhaps she could actually claim.

Had any one at this period told the Master of Ravenswood that he had
so lately vowed vengeance against the whole lineage of him whom he
considered, not unjustly, as author of his father's ruin and death, he
might at first have repelled the charge as a foul calumny; yet, upon
serious self-examination, he would have been compelled to admit that it
had, at one period, some foundation in truth, though, according to the
present tone of his sentiments, it was difficult to believe that this
had really been the case.

There already existed in his bosom two contradictory passions--a desire
to revenge the death of his father, strangely qualified by admiration of
his enemy's daughter. Against the former feeling he had struggled, until
it seemed to him upon the wane; against the latter he used no means of
resistance, for he did not suspect its existence. That this was actually
the case was chiefly evinced by his resuming his resolution to leave
Scotland. Yet, though such was his purpose, he remained day after day at
Wolf's Crag, without taking measures for carrying it into execution.
It is true, that he had written to one or two kinsmen who resided in a
distant quarter of Scotland, and particularly to the Marquis of A----,
intimating his purpose; and when pressed upon the subject by Bucklaw, he
was wont to allege the necessity of waiting for their reply, especially
that of the Marquis, before taking so decisive a measure.

The Marquis was rich and powerful; and although he was suspected to
entertain sentiments unfavourable to the government established at the
Revolution, he had nevertheless address enough to head a party in
the Scottish privy council, connected with the High Church faction in
England, and powerful enough to menace those to whom the Lord Keeper
adhered with a probable subversion of their power. The consulting with
a personage of such importance was a plausible excise, which Ravenswood
used to Bucklaw, and probably to himself, for continuing his residence
at Wolf's Crag; and it was rendered yet more so by a general report
which began to be current of a probable change of ministers and measures
in the Scottish administration. The rumours, strongly asserted by
some, and as resolutely denied by others, as their wishes or interest
dictated, found their way even to the ruinous Tower of Wolf's Crag,
chiefly through the medium of Caleb, the butler, who, among his other
excellences, was an ardent politician, and seldom made an excursion
from the old fortress to the neighbouring village of Wolf's Hope without
bringing back what tidings were current in the vicinity.

But if Bucklaw could not offer any satisfactory objections to the delay
of the Master in leaving Scotland, he did not the less suffer with
impatience the state of inaction to which it confined him; and it was
only the ascendency which his new companion had acquired over him that
induced him to submit to a course of life so alien to his habits and
inclinations.

"You were wont to be thought a stirring active young fellow, Master,"
was his frequent remonstrance; "yet here you seem determined to live
on and on like a rat in a hole, with this trifling difference, that the
wiser vermin chooses a hermitage where he can find food at least; but as
for us, Caleb's excuses become longer as his diet turns more spare, and
I fear we shall realise the stories they tell of the slother: we have
almost eat up the last green leaf on the plant, and have nothing left
for it but to drop from the tree and break our necks."

"Do not fear it," said Ravenswood; "there is a fate watches for us, and
we too have a stake in the revolution that is now impending, and which
already has alarmed many a bosom."

"What fate--what revolution?" inquired his companion. "We have had one
revolution too much already, I think."

Ravenswood interrupted him by putting into his hands a letter.

"Oh," answered Bucklaw, "my dream's out. I thought I heard Caleb this
morning pressing some unfortunate fellow to a drink of cold water, and
assuring him it was better for his stomach in the morning than ale or
brandy."

"It was my Lord of A----'s courier," said Ravenswood, "who was doomed to
experience his ostentatious hospitality, which I believe ended in sour
beer and herrings. Read, and you will see the news he has brought us."
"I will as fast as I can," said Bucklaw; "but I am no great clerk, nor
does his lordship seem to be the first of scribes."

The reader will peruse in, a few seconds, by the aid our friend
Ballantyne's types, what took Bucklaw a good half hour in perusal,
though assisted by the Master of Ravenswood. The tenor was as follows:


"RIGHT HONOURABLE OUR COUSIN:

"Our hearty commendations premised, these come to assure you of the
interest which we take in your welfare, and in your purpose towards its
augmentation. If we have been less active in showing forth our effective
good-will towards you than, as a loving kinsman and blood-relative, we
would willingly have desired, we request that you will impute it to lack
fo opportunity to show our good-liking, not to any coldness of our will.
Touching your resolution to travel in foreign parts, as at this time we
hold the same little advisable, in respect that your ill-willers may,
according to the custom of such persons, impute motives for your
journey, whereof, although we know and believe you to be as clear as
ourselves, yet natheless their words may find credence in places where
the belief in them may much prejudice you, and which we should see with
more unwillingness and displeasure than with means of remedy.

"Having thus, as becometh our kindred, given you our poor mind on the
subject of your journeying forth of Scotland, we would willingly
add reasons of weight, which might materially advantage you and your
father's house, thereby to determine you to abide at Wolf's Crag, until
this harvest season shall be passed over. But what sayeth the proverb,
verbum sapienti--a word is more to him that hath wisdom than a sermon to
a fool. And albeit we have written this poor scroll with our own hand,
and are well assured of the fidelity of our messenger, as him that is
many ways bounden to us, yet so it is, that sliddery ways crave wary
walking, and that we may not peril upon paper matters which we would
gladly impart to you by word of mouth. Wherefore, it was our purpose to
have prayed you heartily to come to this our barren Highland country to
kill a stag, and to treat of the matters which we are now more painfully
inditing to you anent. But commodity does not serve at present for such
our meeting, which, therefore, shall be deferred until sic time as we
may in all mirth rehearse those things whereof we now keep silence.
Meantime, we pray you to think that we are, and will still be, your good
kinsman and well-wisher, waiting but for times of whilk we do, as it
were, entertain a twilight prospect, and appear and hope to be also your
effectual well-doer. And in which hope we heartily write ourself,

"Right Honourable,

"Your loving cousin,

"A----.
"Given from our poor house of B----," etc.


Superscribed--"For the right honourable, and our honoured kinsman, the
Master of Ravenswood--These, with haste, haste, post haste--ride and run
until these be delivered."

"What think you of this epistle, Bucklaw?" said the Master, when his
companion had hammered out all the sense, and almost all the words of
which it consisted.

"Truly, that the Marquis's meaning is as great a riddle as his
manuscript. He is really in much need of _Wit's Interpreter_, or the
_Complete Letter-Writer_, and were I you, I would send him a copy by the
bearer. He writes you very kindly to remain wasting your time and
your money in this vile, stupid, oppressed country, without so much as
offering you the countenance and shelter of his house. In my opinion, he
has some scheme in view in which he supposes you can be useful, and he
wishes to keep you at hand, to make use of you when it ripens,
reserving the power of turning you adrift, should his plot fail in the
concoction."

"His plot! Then you suppose it is a treasonable business," answered
Ravenswood.

"What else can it be?" replied Bucklaw; "the Marquis has been long
suspected to have an eye to Saint Germains."

"He should not engage me rashly in such an adventure," said Ravenswood;
"when I recollect the times of the first and second Charles, and of the
last James, truly I see little reason that, as a man or a patriot, I
should draw my sword for their descendants."

"Humph!" replied Bucklaw; "so you have set yourself down to mourn over
the crop-eared dogs whom honest Claver'se treated as they deserved?"

"They first gave the dogs an ill name, and then hanged them," replied
Ravenswood. "I hope to see the day when justice shall be open to Whig
and Tory, and when these nicknames shall only be used among coffee-house
politicians, as 'slut' and 'jade' are among apple-women, as cant terms
of idle spite and rancour."

"That will nto be in our days, Master: the iron has entered too deeply
into our sides and our souls."

"It will be, however, one day," replied the Master; "men will not always
start at these nicknames as at a trumpet-sound. As social life is better
protected, its comforts will become too dear to be hazarded without some
better reasons than speculative politics."

"It is fine talking," answered Bucklaw; "but my heart is with the old
song--

To see good corn upon the rigs,
And a gallow built to hang the Whigs,
And the right restored where the right should be.
Oh, that is the thing that would wanton me."

"You may sing as loudly as you will, cantabit vacuus----," answered the
Master; "but I believe the Marquis is too wise, at least too wary, to
join you in such a burden. I suspect he alludes to a revolution in the
Scottish privy council, rather than in the British kingdoms."

"Oh, confusion to your state tricks!" exclaimed Bucklaw--"your cold
calculating manoeuvres, which old gentlemen in wrought nightcaps
and furred gowns execute like so many games at chess, and displace a
treasurer or lord commissioner as they would take a rook or a pawn.
Tennis for my sport, and battle for my earnest! And you, Master, so dep
and considerate as you would seem, you have that within you makes
the blood boil faster than suits your present humour of moralising on
political truths. You are one of those wise men who see everything with
great composure till their blood is up, and then--woe to any one who
should put them in mind of their own prudential maxims!" "Perhaps," said
Ravenswood, "you read me more rightly than I can myself. But to think
justly will certainly go some length in helping me to act so. But hark!
I hear Caleb tolling the dinner-bell."

"Which he always does with the more sonorous grace in proportion to the
meagreness of the cheer which he has provided," said Bucklaw; "as if
that infernal clang and jangle, which will one day bring the belfry
down the cliff, could convert a starved hen into a fat capon, and a
blade-bone of mutton into a haunch of venison."

"I wish we may be so well off as your worst conjectures surmise,
Bucklaw, from the extreme solemnity and ceremony with which Caleb seems
to place on the table that solitary covered dish."

"Uncover, Caleb! uncover, for Heaven's sake!" said Bucklaw; "let us have
what you can give us without preface. Why, it stands well enough, man,"
he continued, addressing impatiently the ancient butler, who, without
reply, kept shifting the dish, until he had at length placed it with
mathematical precision in the very midst of the table.

"What have we got here, Caleb?" inquired the Master in his turn.

"Ahem! sir, ye suld have known before; but his honour the Laird of
Bucklaw is so impatient," answered Caleb, still holding the dish with
one hand and the cover with the other, with evident reluctance to
disclose the contents.

"But what is it, a God's name--not a pair of clean spurs, I hope, in the
Border fashion of old times?"

"Ahem! ahem!" reiterated Caleb, "your honour is pleased to be facetious;
natheless, I might presume to say it was a convenient fashion, and used,
as I have heard, in an honourable and thriving family. But touching your
present dinner, I judged that this being St. Magdalen's [Margaret's]
Eve, who was a worthy queen of Scotland in her day, your honours might
judge it decorous, if not altogether to fast, yet only to sustain nature
with some slight refection, as ane saulted herring or the like." And,
uncovering the dish, he displayed four of the savoury fishes which he
mentioned, adding, in a subdued tone, "that they were no just common
herring neither, being every ane melters, and sauted with uncommon care
by the housekeeper (poor Mysie) for his honour's especial use."

"Out upon all apologies!" said the Master, "let us eat the herrings,
since there is nothing better to be had; but I begin to think with you,
Bucklaw, that we are consuming the last green leaf, and that, in spite
of the Marquis's political machinations, we must positively shift camp
for want of forage, without waiting the issue of them."

Sir Walter Scott