Sir, stay at home and take an old man's counsel; Seek not to bask you by a stranger's hearth; Our own blue smoke is warmer than their fire. Domestic food is wholesome, though 'tis homely, And foreign dainties poisonous, though tasteful.
The French Courtezan.
THE Master of Ravenswood took an opportunity to leave his guests to prepare for their departure, while he himself made the brief arrangements necessary previous to his absence from Wolf's Crag for a day or two. It was necessary to communicate with Caleb on this occasion, and he found that faithful servitor in his sooty and ruinous den, greatly delighted with the departure of their visitors, and computing how long, with good management, the provisions which had been unexpended might furnish the Master's table. "He's nae belly god, that's ae blessing; and Bucklaw's gane, that could have eaten a horse behind the saddle. Cresses or water-purpie, and a bit ait-cake, can serve the Master for breakfast as weel as Caleb. Then for dinner——there's no muckle left on the spule-bane; it will brander, though——it will brander very weel."
His triumphant calculations were interrupted by the Master, who communicated to him, not without some hesitation, his purpose to ride with the Lord Keeper as far as Ravenswood Castle, and to remain there for a day or two.
"The mercy of Heaven forbid!" said the old serving-man, turning as pal as the table-cloth which he was folding up.
"And why, Caleb?" said his master——"why should the mercy of Heaven forbid my returning the Lord Keeper's visit?"
"Oh, sir!" replied Caleb——"oh, Mr. Edgar! I am your servant, and it ill becomes me to speak; but I am an auld servant——have served baith your father and gudesire, and mind to have seen Lord Randal, your great-grandfather, but that was when I was a bairn."
"And what of all this, Balderstone?" said the Master; "what can it possibly have to do with my paying some ordinary civility to a neighbour."
"Oh, Mr. Edgar,——that is, my lord!" answered the butler, "your ain conscience tells you it isna for your father's son to be neighbouring wi' the like o' him; it isna for the credit of the family. An he were ance come to terms, and to gie ye back your ain, e'en though ye suld honour his house wi' your alliance, I suldna say na; for the young leddy is a winsome sweet creature. But keep your ain state wi' them——I ken the race o' them weel—— they will think the mair o' ye."
"Why, now, you go father than I do, Caleb," said the Master, drowning a certain degree of consciousness in a forced laugh; "you are for marrying me into a family that you will nto allow me to visit, how this? and you look as pale as death besides."
"Oh, sir," repeated Caleb again, "you would but laugh if I tauld it; but Thomas the Rhymer, whose tongue couldna be fause, spoke the word of your house that will e'en prove ower true if you go to Ravenswood this day. Oh, that it should e'er have been fulfilled in my time!"
"And what is it, Caleb?" said Ravenswood, wishing to soothe the fears of his old servant.
Caleb replied: "He had never repeated the lines to living mortal; they were told to him by an auld priest that had been confessor to Lord Allan's father when the family were Catholic. But mony a time," he said, "I hae soughed thae dark words ower to myself, and, well-a-day! little did I think of their coming round this day."
"Truce with your nonsense, and let me hear the doggerel which has put it into your head," said the Master, impatiently.
With a quivering voice, and a cheek pale with apprehension, Caleb faltered out the following lines:
"When the last Laird of Ravenswood to Ravenswood shall ride, And woo a dead maiden to be his bride, He shall stable his steed in the Kelpie's flow, And his name shall be lost for evermoe!"
"I know the Kelpie's flow well enough," said the Master; "I suppose, at least, you mean the quicksand betwixt this tower and Wolf's Hope; but why any man in his senses should stable a steed there——"
"Oh, ever speer ony thing about that, sir——God forbid we should ken what the prophecy means——but just bide you at hame, and let the strangers ride to Ravenswood by themselves. We have done eneugh for them; and to do mair would be mair against the credit of the family than in its favour."
"Well, Caleb," said the Master, "I give you the best possible credit for your good advice on this occasion; but as I do not go to Ravenswood to seek a bride, dead or alive, I hope I shall choose a better stable for my horse than the Kelpie's quicksand, and especially as I have always had a particular dread of it since the patrol of dragoons were lost there ten years since. My father and I saw them from the tower struggling against the advancing tide, and they were lost long before any help could reach them."
"And they deserved it weel, the southern loons!" said Caleb; "what had they ado capering on our sands, and hindering a wheen honest folk frae bringing on shore a drap brandy? I hae seen them that busy, that I wad hae fired the auld culverin or the demi-saker that's on the south bartizan at them, only I was feared they might burst in the ganging aff."
Caleb's brain was now fully engaged with abuse of the English soldiery and excisemen, so that his master found no great difficulty in escaping from him and rejoining his guests. All was now ready for their departure; and one of the Lord Keeper's grooms having saddled the Master's steed, they mounted in the courtyard.
Caleb had, with much toil, opened the double doors of the outward gate, and thereat stationed himself, endeavouring, by the reverential, and at the same time consequential, air which he assumed, to supply, by his own gaunt, wasted, and thin person, the absence of a whole baronial establishment of porters, warders, and liveried menials.
The Keeper returned his deep reverence with a cordial farewell, stooping at the same time from his horse, and sliding into the butler's hand the remuneration which in those days was always given by a departing guest to the domestics of the family where he had been entertained. Lucy smiled on the old man with her usual sweetness, bade him adieu, and deposited her guerdon with a grace of action and a gentleness of accent which could not have failed to have won the faithful retainer's heart, but for Thomas the Rhymer, and the successful lawsuit against his master. As it was, he might have adopted the language of the Duke in As You Like It:
Thou wouldst have better pleased me with this deed, If thou hadst told me of another father.
Ravenswood was at the lady's bridle-rein, encouraging her timidity, and guiding her horse carefully down the rocky path which led to the moor, when one of the servants announed from the rear that Caleb was calling loudly after them, desiring to speak with his master. Ravenswood felt it would look singular to neglect this summons, although inwardly cursing Caleb for his impertinent officiousness; therefore he was compelled to relinquish to Mr. Lockhard the aggreeable duty in which he was engaged, and to ride back to the gate of the courtyard. Here he was beginning, somewhat peevishly, to ask Caleb the cause of his clamour, when the good old man exclaimed: "Whisht, sir!——whisht, and let me speak just ae word that I couldna say afore folk; there (putting into his lord's hand the money he had just received)——there's three gowd pieces; and ye'll want siller up- bye yonder. But stay, whisht, now!" for the Master was beginning to exclaim against this transference, "never say a word, but just see to get them changed in the first town ye ride through, for they are bran new frae the mint, and ken-speckle a wee bit."
"You forget, Caleb," said his master, striving to force back the money on his servant, and extricate the bridle from his hold—— "you forget that I have some gold pieces left of my own. Keep these to yourself, my old friend; and, once more, good day to you. I assure you, I have plenty. You know you have managed that our living should cost us little or nothing."
"Aweel," said Caleb, "these will serve for you another time; but see ye hae eneugh, for, doubtless, for the credit of the family, there maun be some civility to the servants, and ye maun hae something to mak a show with when they say, 'Master, will you bet a broad piece?' Then ye maun tak out your purse, and say, 'I carena if I do'; and tak care no to agree on the articles of the wager, and just put up your purse again, and——"
"This is intolerable, Caleb; I really must be gone."
"And you will go, then?" said Caleb, loosening his hold upon the Master's cloak, and changing his didactics into a pathetic and mournful tone——"and you WILL go, for a' I have told you about the prophecy, and the dead bride, and the Kelpie's quicksand? Aweel! a wilful man maun hae his way: he that will to Cupar maun to Cupar. But pity of your life, sir, if ye be fowling or shooting in the Park, beware of drinking at the Mermaiden's Well—— He's gane! he's down the path arrow-flight after her! The head is as clean taen aff the Ravenswood family this day as I wad chap the head aff a sybo!"
The old butler looked long after his master, often clearing away the dew as it rose to his eyes, that he might, as long as possible, distinguish his stately form from those of the other horsemen. "Close to her bridle-rein——ay, close to her bridle- rein! Wisely saith the holy man, 'By this also you may know that woman hath dominion over all men'; and without this lass would not our ruin have been a'thegither fulfilled."
With a heart fraught with such sad auguries did Caleb return to his necessary duties at Wofl's Crag, as soon as he could no longer distinguish the object of his anxiety among the group fo riders, which diminished in the distance.
In the mean time the party pursued their route joyfully. Having once taken his resolution, the Master of Ravenswood was not of a character to hesitate or pause upon it. He abandoned himself to the pleasure he felt in Miss Ashton's company, and displayed an assiduous gallantry which approached as nearly to gaiety as the temper of his mind and state of his family permitted. The Lord Keeper was much struck with his depth of observation, and the unusual improvement which he had derived from his studies. Of these accomplishments Sir William Ashton's profession and habits of society rendered him an excellent judge; and he well knew how to appreciate a quality to which he himself was a total stranger——the brief and decided dauntlessness of the Master of Ravenswood's fear. In his heart the Lord Keeper rejoiced at having conciliated an adversary so formidable, while, with a mixture of pleasure and anxiety, he anticipated the great things his young companion might achieve, were the breath of court-favour to fill his sails.
"What could she desire," he thought, his mind always conjuring up opporition in the person of Lady Ashton to his new prevailing wish——"what could a woman desire in a match more than the sopiting of a very dangerous claim, and the alliance of a son-in-law, noble, brave, well-gifted, and highly connected; sure to float whenever the tide sets his way; strong, exactly where we are weak, in pedigree and in the temper of a swordsman? Sure, no reasonable woman would hesitate. But alas——!" Here his argument was stopped by the consciousness that Lady Ashton was not always reasonable, in his sense of the word. "To prefer some clownish Merse laird to the gallant young nobleman, and to the secure possession of Ravenswood upon terms of easy compromise——it would be the act of a madwoman!"
Thus pondered the veteran politician, until they reached Bittlebrains House, where it had been previously settled they were to dine and repose themselves, and prosecute their journey in the afternoon.
They were received with an excess of hospitality; and the most marked attention was offered to the Master of Ravenswood, in particular, by their noble entertainers. The truth was, that Lord Bittlebrains had obtained his peerage by a good deal of plausibility, an art of building up a character for wisdom upon a very trite style of commonplace eloquence, a steady observation of the changes of the times, and the power of rendering certain political services to those who could best reward them. His lady and he, not feeling quite easy under their new honours, to which use had not adapted their feelings, were very desirous to procure the fraternal countenance of those who were born denizens of the regions into which they had been exalted from a lower sphere. The extreme attention which they paid to the Master of Ravenswood had its usual effect in exalting his importance in the eyes of the Lord Keeper, who, although he had a reasonable degree of contempt for Lord Bittlebrains's general parts, entertained a high opinion of the acuteness of his judgment in all matters of self-interest.
"I wish Lady Ashton had seen this," was his internal reflection; "no man knows so well as Bittlebrains on which side his bread is buttered; and he fawns on the Master like a beggar's messan on a cook. And my lady, too, bringing forward her beetle- browed misses to skirl and play upon the virginals, as if she said, 'Pick and choose.' They are no more comparable to Lucy than an owl is to a cygnet, and so they may carry their black brows to a farther market."
The entertainment being ended, our travellers, who had still to measure the longest part of their journey, resumed their horses; and after the Lord Keeper, the Master, and the domestics had drunk doch-an-dorroch, or the stirrup-cup, in the liquors adapted to their various ranks, the cavalcade resumed its progress.
It was dark by the time they entered the avenue of Ravenswood Castle, a long straight line leading directly to the front of the house, flanked with huge elm-trees, which sighed to the night-wind, as if they compassionated the heir of their ancient proprietors, who now returned to their shades in the society, and almost in the retinue, of their new master. Some feelings of the same kind oppressed the mind of the Master himself. He gradually became silent, adn dropped a little behind the lady, at whose bridle-rein he had hitherto waited with such devotion. He well recollected the period when, at the same hour in the evening, he had accompanied his father, as that nobleman left, never again to return to it, the mansion from which he derived his name and title. The extensive front of the old castle, on which he remembered having often looked back, was then "as black as mourning weed." The same front now glanced with many lights, some throwing far forward into the night a fixed and stationary blaze, and others hurrying from one window to another, intimating the bustle and busy preparation preceding their arrival, which had been intimated by an avant-courier. The contrast pressed so strongly upon the Master's heart as to awaken some of the sterner feelings with which he had been accustomed to regard the new lord of his paternal domain, and to impress his countenance with an air of servere gravity, when, alighted from his horse, he stood in the hall no longer his own, surrounded by the numerous menials of its present owner.
The Lord Keeper, when about to welcome him with the cordiality which their late intercourse seemed to render proper, became aware of the change, refrained from his purpose, and only intimated the ceremony of reception by a deep reverence to his guest, seeming thus delicately to share the feelings which predominated on his brow.
Two upper domestics, bearing each a huge pair of silver candlesticks, now marshalled the company into a large saloon, or withdrawing-room, where new alterations impressed upon Ravenswood the superior wealth of the present inhabitants of the castle. The mouldering tapestry, which, in his father's time, had half covered the walls of this stately apartment, and half streamed from them in tatters, had given place to a complete finishing of wainscot, the cornice of which, as well as the frames of the various compartments, were ornamented with festoons of flowers and with birds, which, though carved in oak, seemed, such was the art of the chisel, actually to swell their throats and flutter their wings. Several old family portraits of armed heroes of the house of Ravenswood, together with a suit or two of old armour and some military weapons, had given place to those of King William and Queen Mary, or Sir Thomas Hope and Lord Stair, two distinguished Scottish lawyers. The pictures of the Lord Keeper's father and mother were also to be seen; the latter, sour, shrewish, and solemn, in her black hood and close pinners, with a book of devotion in her hand; the former, exhibiting beneath a black silk Geneva cowl, or skull-cap, which sate as close to the head as if it had been shaven, a pinched, peevish, Puritanical set of features, terminating in a hungry, reddish, peaked beard, forming on the whole a countenance in the expression of which the hypocrite seemed to contend with the miser and the knave. "And it is to make room for such scarecrows as these," thought Ravenswood, "that my ancestors have been torn down from the walls which they erected!" he looked at them again, and, as he looked, the recollection of Lucy Ashton, for she had not entered the apartment with them, seemed less lively in his imagination. There were also two or three Dutch drolleries, as the pictures of Ostade and Teniers were then termed, with one good painting of the Italian school. There was, besides, a noble full-length of the Lord Keeper in his robes of office, placed beside his lady in silk and ermine, a haughty beauty, bearing in her looks all the pride of the house of Douglas, from which she was descended. The painter, notwithstanding his skill, overcome by the reality, or, perhaps, from a suppressed sense of humour, had not been able to give the husband on the canvas that air of awful rule and right supremacy which indicates the full possession of domestic authority. It was obvious at the first glance that, despite mace and gold frogs, the Lord Keeper was somewhat henpecked. The floor of this fine saloon was laid with rich carpets, huge fires blazed in the double chimneys, and ten silver sconces, reflecting with their bright plates the lights which they supported, made the whole seem as brilliant as day.
"Would you choose any refreshment, Master?" said Sir William Ashton, not unwilling to break the awkward silence.
He received no answer, the Master being so busily engaged in marking the various changes which had taken place in the apartment, that he hardly heard the Lord Keeper address him. A repetition of the offer of refreshment, with the addition, that the family meal would be presently ready, compelled his attention, and reminded him that he acted a weak, perhaps even a ridiculous, part in suffering himself to be overcome by the circumstances in which he found himself. He compelled himself, therefore, to enter into conversation with Sir William Ashton, with as much appearance of indifference as he could well command.
"You will not be surprised, Sir William, that I am interested in the changes you have made for the better in this apartment. In my father's time, after our misfortunes compelled him to live in retirement, it was little used, except by me as a play-room, when the weather would not permit me to go abroad. In that recess was my little workshop, where I treasured the few carpenters' tools which old Caleb procured for me, and taught me how to use; there, in yonder corner, under that handsome silver sconce, I kept my fishing-rods and hunting poles, bows and arrows."
"I have a young birkie," said the Lord Keeper, willing to change the tone of the conversation, "of much the same turn. He is never happy save when he is in the field. I wonder he is not here. Here, Lockhard; send William Shaw for Mr. Henry. I suppose he is, as usual, tied to Lucy's apron-string; that foolish girl, Master, draws the whole family after her at her pleasure."
Even this allusion to his daughter, though artfully thrown out, did not recall Ravenswood from his own topic. "We were obliged to leave," he said, "some armour and portraits in this apartment; may I ask where they have been removed to?"
"Why," answered the Keeper, with some hesitation, "the room was fitted up in our absence, and cedant arma togae is the maxim of lawyers, you know: I am afraid it has been here somewhat too literally complied with. I hope——I believe they are safe, I am sure I gave orders; may I hope that when they are recovered, and put in proper order, you will do me the honour to accept them at my hand, as an atonement for their accidental derangement?"
The Master of Ravenswood bowed stiffly, and, with folded arms, again resumed his survey of the room.
Henry, a spoilt boy of fifteen, burst into the room, and ran up to his father. "Think of Lucy, papa; she has come home so cross and so fractious, that she will not go down to the stable to see my new pony, that Bob Wilson brought from the Mull of Galloway."
"I think you were very unreasonable to ask her," said the Keeper.
"Then you are as cross as she is," answered the boy; "but when mamma comes home, she'll claw up both your mittens."
"Hush your impertinence, you little forward imp!" said his father; "where is your tutor?"
"Gone to a wedding at Dunbar; I hope he'll get a haggis to his dinner"; and he began to sing the old Scottish song:
"There was a haggis in Dunbar, Fal de ral, etc. Mony better and few waur, Fal de ral," etc.
"I am much obliged to Mr. Cordery for his attentions," said the Lord Keeper; "and pray who has had the charge of you while I was away, Mr. Henry?"
"Norman and Bob Wilson, forbye my own self."
"A groom and a gamekeeper, and your own silly self——proper guardians for a young advocate! Why, you will never know any statutes but those against shooting red-deer, killing salmon, and——"
"And speaking of red-game," said the young scapegrace, interrupting his father without scruple or hesitation, "Norman has shot a buck, and I showed the branches to Lucy, and she says they have but eight tynes; and she says that you killed a deer with Lord Bittlebrains's hounds, when you were west away, and, do you know, she says it had ten tynes; is it true?"
"It may have had twenty, Henry, for what I know; but if you go to that gentleman, he can tell you all about it. Go speak to him, Henry; it is the Master of Ravenswood."
While they conversed thus, the father and son were standing by the fire; and the Master, having walked towards the upper end of the apartment, stood with his back towards them, apparently engaged in examining one of the paintings. The boy ran up to him, and pulled him by the skirt of the coat with the freedom of a spoilt child, saying, "I say, sir, if you please to tell me—— " but when the Master turned round, and Henry saw his face, he became suddenly and totally disconcerted; walked two or three steps backward, and still gazed on Ravenswood with an air of fear and wonder, which had totally banished from his features their usual expression of pert vivacity.
"Come to me, young gentleman," said the Master, "and I will tell you all I know about the hunt."
"Go to the gentleman, Henry," said his father; "you are not used to be so shy."
But neither invitation nor exhortation had any effect on the boy. On the contrary, he turned round as soon as he had completed his survey of the Master, and walking as cautiously as if he had been treading upon eggs, he glided back to his father, and pressed as close to him as possible. Ravenswood, to avoid hearing the dispute betwixt the father and the overindulged boy, thought it most polite to turn his face once more towards the pictures, and pay no attention to what they said.
"Why do you not speak to the Master, you little fool?" said the Lord Keeper.
"I am afraid," said Henry, in a very low tone of voice.
"Afraid, you goose!" said his father, giving him a slight shake by the collar. "What makes you afraid?"
"What makes him to like the picture of Sir Malise Ravenswood then?" said the boy, whispering.
"What picture, you natural?" said his father. "I used to think you only a scapegrace, but I believe you will turn out a born idiot."
"I tell you, it is the picture of old Malise of Ravenswood, and he is as like it as if he had loupen out of the canvas; and it is up in the old baron's hall that the maids launder the clothes in; and it has armour, and not a coat like the gentleman; and he has not a beard and whiskers like the picture; and it has another kind of thing about the throat, and no band-strings as he has; and——"
"And why should not the gentleman be like his ancestor, you silly boy?" said the Lord Keeper.
"Ay; but if he is come to chase us all out of the castle," said the boy, "and has twenty men at his back in disguise; and is come to say, with a hollow voice, 'I bide my time'; and is to kill you on the hearth as Malise did the other man, and whose blood is still to be seen!"
"Hush! nonsense!" said the Lord Keeper, not himself much pleased to hear these disagreeable coicidences forced on his notice. "Master, here comes Lockhard to say supper is served."
And, at the same instant, Lucy entered at another door, having changed her dress since her return. The exquisite feminine beauty of her countenance, now shaded only by a profusion of sunny tresses; the sylph-like form, disencumbered of her heavy riding-skirt and mantled in azure silk; the grace of her manner and of her smile, cleared, with a celerity which surprised the Master himself, all the gloomy and unfavourable thoughts which had for some time overclouded his fancy. In those features, so simply sweet, he could trace no alliance with the pinched visage of the peak-bearded, black-capped Puritan, or his starched, withered spouse, with the craft expressed in the Lord Keeper's countenance, or the haughtiness which predominated in that of his lady; and, while he gazed on Lucy Ashton, she seemed to be an angel descended on earth, unallied to the coarses mortals among whom she deigned to dwell for a season. Such is the power of beauty over a youthful and enthusiastic fancy.