"Now dame," quoth he, "Je vous dis sans doute, Had I nought of a capon but the liver, And of your white bread nought but a shiver, And after that a roasted pigge's head (But I ne wold for me no beast were dead), Then had I with you homely sufferaunce."
CHAUCER, Sumner's Tale.
IT was not without some secret misgivings that Caleb set out upon his exploratory expedition. In fact, it was attended with a treble difficulty. He dared not tell his mast the offence which he had that morning given to Bucklaw, just for the honour of the family; he dared not acknowledge he had been too hasty in refusing the purse; and, thirdly, he was somewhat apprehensive of unpleasant consequences upon his meeting Hayston under the impression of an affront, and probably by this time under the influence also of no small quantity of brandy.
Caleb, to do him justice, was as bold as any lion where the honour of the family of Ravenswood was concerned; but his was that considerate valour which does not delight in unnecessary risks. This, however, was a secondary consideration; the main point was to veil the indigence of the housekeeping at the castle, and to make good his vaunt of the cheer which his resources could procure, without Lockhard's assistance, and without supplies from his master. This was as prime a point of honour with him as with the generous elephant with whom we have already compared him, who, being overtasked, broke his skull through the desperate exertions which he made to discharge his duty, when he perceived they were bringing up another to his assistance.
The village which they now approached had frequently afforded the distressed butler resources upon similar emergencies; but his relations with it had been of late much altered.
It was a little hamlet which straggled along the side of a creek formed by the discharge of a small brook into the sea, and was hidden from the castle, to which it had been in former times an appendage, by the entervention of the shoulder of a hill forming a projecting headland. It was called Wolf's Hope (i.e. Wolf's Haven), and the few inhabitants gained a precarious subsistence by manning two or three fishing-boats in the herring season, and smuggling gin and brandy during the winter months. They paid a kind of hereditary respect to the Lords of Ravenswood; but, in the difficulties of the family, most of the inhabitants of Wolf's Hope had contrived to get feu-rights to their little possessions, their huts, kail-yards, and rights of commonty, so that they were emancipated from the chains of feudal dependence, and free from the various exactions with which, under every possible pretext, or without any pretext at all, the Scottish landlords of the period, themselves in great poverty, were wont to harass their still poorer tenants at will. They might be, on the whole, termed independent, a circumstance peculiarly galling to Caleb, who had been wont to exercise over them the same sweeping authority in levying contributions which was exercised in former times in England, when "the royal purveyors, sallying forth from under the Gothic portcullis to purchase provisions with power and prerogative, instead of money, brought home the plunder of an hundred markets, and all that could be seized from a flying and hiding country, and deposited their spoil in an hundred caverns."
Caleb loved the memory and resented the downfall of that authority, which mimicked, on a petty scale, the grand contributions exacted by the feudal sovereigns. And as he fondly flattered himself that the awful rule and right supremacy, which assigned to the Barons of Ravenswood the first and most effective interest in all productions of nature within five miles of their castle, only slumbered, and was not departed for ever, he used every now and then to give the recollection of the inhabitants a little jog by some petty exaction. These were at first submitted to, with more or less readiness, by the inhabitants of the hamlet; for they had been so long used to consider the wants of the Baron and his family as having a title to be preferred to their own, that their actual independence did not convey to them an immediate sense of freedom. They resembled a man that has been long fettered, who, even at liberty, feels in imagination the grasp of the handcuffs still binding his wrists. But the exercise of freedom is quickly followed with the natural consciousness of its immunities, as the enlarged prisoner, by the free use of his limbs, soon dispels the cramped feeling they had acquired when bound.
The inhabitants of Wolf's Hope began to grumble, to resist, and at length positively to refuse compliance with the exactions of Caleb Balderstone. It was in vain he reminded them, that when the eleventh Lord Ravenswood, called the Skipper, from his delight in naval matters, had encouraged the trade of their port by building the pier (a bulwark of stones rudely piled together), which protected the fishing-boats from the weather, it had been mattter of understanding that he was to have the first stone of butter after the calving of every cow within the barony, and the first egg, thence called the Monday's egg, laid by every hen on every Monday in the year.
The feuars heard and scratched their heads, coughed, sneezed, and being pressed for answer, rejoined with one voice, "They could not say"——the universal refuge of a Scottish peasant when pressed to admit a claim which his conscience owns, or perhaps his feelings, and his interest inclines him to deny.
Caleb, however, furnished the notables of Wolf's Hope with a note of the requisition of butter and eggs, which he claimed as arrears of the aforesaid subsidy, or kindly aid, payable as above mentioned; and having intimated that he would not be averse to compound the same for goods or money, if it was inconvenient to them to pay in kind, left them, as he hoped, to debate the mode of assessing themselves for that purpose. On the contrary, they met with a determined purpose of resisting the exaction, and were only undecided as to the mode of grounding their opposition, when the cooper, a very important person on a fishing-station, and one of the conscript fathers of the village, observed, "That their hens had caickled mony a day for the Lords of Ravenswood, and it was time they suld caickle for those that gave them roosts and barley." An unanimous grin intimated the assent of the assembly. "And," continued the orator, "if it's your wull, I'll just tak a step as far as Dunse for Davie Dingwall, the writer, that's come frae the North to settle amang us, and he'll pit this job to rights, I'se warrant him."
A day was accordingly fixed for holding a grand palaver at Wolf's Hope on the subject of Caleb's requisitions, and he was invited to attend at the hamlet for that purpose.
He went with open hands and empty stomach, trusting to fill the one on his master's account and the other on his own score, at the expense of the feuars of Wolf's Hope. But, death to his hopes! as he entered the eastern end of the straggling village, the awful form of Davie Dingwall, a sly, dry, hard-fisted, shrewd country attorney, who had already acted against the family of Ravenswood, and was a principal agent of Sir William Ashton, trotted in at the western extremity, bestriding a leathern portmanteau stuffed with the feu-charters of the hamlet, and hoping he had not kept Mr. Balderstone waiting, "as he was instructed and fully empowered to pay or receive, compound or compensat, and, in fine, to age as accords respecting all mutual and unsettled claims whatsoever, belonging or competent to the Honourable Edgar Ravenswood, commonly called the Master of Ravenswood——"
"The RIGHT Honourable Edgar LORD RAVENSWOOD," said Caleb, with great emphasis; for, though conscious he had little chance of advantage in the conflict to ensue, he was resolved not to sacrifice one jot of honour.
"Lord Ravenswood, then," said the man of business——"we shall not quarrel with you about titles of courtesy——commonly called Lord Ravenswood, or Master of Ravenswood, heritable proprietor of the lands and barony of Wolf's Crag, on othe ne part, and to John Whitefish and others, feuars in the town of Wolf's Hope, within the barony aforesaid, on the other part."
Caleb was conscious, from sad experience, that he would wage a very different strife with this mercenary champion than with the individual feuars themselves, upon whose old recollections, predilections, and habits of thinking he might have wrought by an hundred indirect arguments, to which their deputy-representative was totally insensible. The issue of the debate proved the reality of his apprehensions. It was in vain he strained his eloquence and ingenuity, and collected into one mass all arguments arising from antique custom and hereditary respect, from the good deeds done by the Lords of Ravenswood to the community of Wolf's Hope in former days, and from what might be expected from them in future. The writer stuck to the contents of his feu-charters; he could not see it: 'twas not in the bond. And when Caleb, determined to try what a little spirit would do, deprecated the consequences of Lord Ravenswood's withdrawing his protection from the burgh, and even hinted in his using active measures of resentment, the man of law sneered in his face.
"His clients," he said, "had determined to do the best they could for their own town, and he thought Lord Ravenwood, since he was a lord, might have enough to do to look after his own castle. As to any threats of stouthrief oppression, by rule of thumb, or via facti, as the law termed it, he would have Mr. Balderstone recollect, that new times were not as old times; that they lived on the south of the Forth, and far from the Highlands; that his clients thought they were able to protect themselves; but should they find themselves mistaken, they would apply to the government for the protection of a corporal and four red-coats, who," said Mr. Dingwall, with a grin, "would be perfectly able to secure them against Lord Ravenswood, and all that he or his followers could do by the strong hand."
If Caleb could have concentrated all the lightnings of aristocracy in his eye, to have struck dead this contemner of allegiance and privilege, he would have launched them at his head, without respect to the consequences. As it was, he was compelled to turn his course backward to the castle; and there he remained for full half a day invisible and inaccessible even to Mysie, sequestered in his own peculiar dungeon, where he sat burnishing a single pewter plate and whistling "Maggie Lauder" six hours without intermission.
The issue of this unfortunate requisition had shut against Caleb all resources which could be derived from Wolf's Hope and its purlieus, the El Dorado, or Peru, from which, in all former cases of exigence, he had been able to extract some assistance. He had, indeed, in a manner vowed that the deil should have him, if ever he put the print of his foot within its causeway again. He had hitherto kept his word; and, strange to tell, this secession had, as he intended, in some degree, the effect of a punishment upon the refractory feuars. Mr. Balderstone had been a person in their eyes connected with a superior order of beings, whose presence used to grace their little festivities, whose advice they found useful on many ocassions, and whose communications gave a sort of credit to their village. The place, they ackowledged, "didna look as it used to do, and should do, since Mr. Caleb keepit the castle sae closely; but doubtless, touching the eggs and butter, it was a most unreasonable demand, as Mr. Dingwall had justly made manifest."
Thus stood matters betwixt the parties, when the old butler, though it was gall and wormwood to him, found himself obliged either to ackowledge before a strange man of quality, and, what was much worse, before that stranger's servant, the total inability of Wolf's Crag to produce a dinner, or he must trust to the compassion of the feuars of Wofl's Hope. It was a dreadful degradation; but necessity was equally imperious and lawless. With these feelings he entered the street of the village.
Willing to shake himself from his companion as soon as possible, he directed Mr. Lockhard to Luckie Sma-trash's change-house, where a din, proceeding from the revels of Bucklaw, Craigengelt, and their party, sounded half-way down the street, while the red glare from the window overpowered the grey twilight which was now settling down, and glimmered against a parcel of old tubs, kegs, and barrels, piled up in the cooper's yard, on the other side of the way.
"If you, Mr. Lockhard," said the old butler to his companion, "will be pleased to step to the change-house where that light comes from, and where, as I judge, they are now singing 'Cauld Kail in Aberdeen,' ye may do your master's errand about the venison, and I will do mine about Bucklaw's bed, as I return frae getting the rest of the vivers. It's no that the venison is actually needfu'," he added, detaining his colleague by the button, "to make up the dinner; but as a compliment to the hunters, ye ken; and, Mr. Lockhard, if they offer ye a drink o' yill, or a cup o' wine, or a glass o' brandy, ye'll be a wise man to take it, in case the thunner should hae soured ours at the castle, whilk is ower muckle to be dreaded."
He then permitted Lockhard to depart; and with foot heavy as lead, and yet far lighter than his heart, stepped on through the unequal street of the straggling village, meditating on whom he ought to make his first attack. It was necessary he should find some one with whom old acknowledged greatness should weigh more than recent independence, and to whom his application might appear an act of high dignity, relenting at once and soothing. But he could not recollect an inhabitant of a mind so constructed. "Our kail is like to be cauld eneugh too," he reflected, as the chorus of "Cauld Kail in Aberdeen" again reached his ears. The minister——he had got his presentation from the late lord, but they had quarrelled about teinds; the brewster's wife——she had trusted long, and the bill was aye scored up, and unless the dignity of the family should actually require it, it would be a sin to distress a widow woman. None was so able——but, on the other hand, none was likely to be less willing——to stand his friend upon the present occasion, than Gibbie Girder, the man of tubs and barrels already mentioned, who had headed the insurrection in the matter of the egg and butter subsidy. "But a' comes o' taking folk on the right side, I trow," quoted Caleb to himself; "and I had ance the ill hap to say he was but a Johnny New-come in our town, and the carle bore the family an ill-will ever since. But he married a bonny young quean, Jean Lightbody, auld Lightbody's daughter, him that was in the steading of Loup-the-Dyke; and auld Lightbody was married himsell to Marion, that was about my lady in the family forty years syne. I hae had mony a day's daffing wi' Jean's mither, and they say she bides on wi' them. The carle has Jacobuses and Georgiuses baith, an ane could get at them; and sure I am, it's doing him an honour him or his never deserved at our hand, the ungracious sumph; and if he loses by us a'thegither, he is e'en cheap o't: he can spare it brawly." Shaking off irresolution, therefore, and turning at once upon his heel, Caleb walked hastily back to the cooper's house, lifted the latch withotu ceremony, and, in a moment, found himself behind the "hallan," or partition, from which position he could, himself unseen, reconnoitre the interior of the "but," or kitchen apartment, of the mansion.
Reverse of the sad menage at the Castle of Wolf's Crag, a bickering fire roared up the cooper's chimney. His wife, on the one side, in her pearlings and pudding-sleeves, put the last finishing touch to her holiday's apparel, while she contemplated a very handsome and good-humoured face in a broken mirror, raised upon the "bink" (the shelves on which the plates are disposed) for her special accommodation. Her mother, old Luckie Loup-the- Dyke, "a canty carline" as was within twenty miles of her, according to the unanimous report of the "cummers," or gossips, sat by the fire in the full glory of a grogram gown, lammer beads, and a clean cockernony, whiffing a snug pipe of tobacco, and superintending the affairs of the kitchen; for——sight more interesting to the anxious heart and craving entrails of the desponding seneschal than either buxom dame or canty cummer—— there bubbled on the aforesaid bickering fire a huge pot, or rather cauldron, steaming with beef and brewis; while before it revolved two spits, turned each by one of the cooper's apprentices, seated in the opposite corners of the chimney, the one loaded with a quarter of mutton, while the other was graced with a fat goose and a brace of wild ducks. The sight and scent of such a land of plenty almost wholly overcame the drooping spirits of Caleb. He turned, for a moment's space to reconnoitre the "ben," or parlour end of the house, and there saw a sight scarce less affecting to his feelings——a large round table, covered for ten or twelve persons, decored (according to his own favourite terms) with napery as white as snow, grand flagons of pewter, intermixed with one or two silver cups, containing, as was probable, something worthy the brilliancy of their outward appearance, clean trenchers, cutty spoons, knives and forks, sharp, burnished, and prompt for action, which lay all displayed as for an especial festival.
"The devil's in the peddling tub-coopering carl!" muttered Caleb, in all the envy of astonishment; "it's a shame to see the like o' them gusting their gabs at sic a rate. But if some o' that gude cheer does not find its way to Wolf's Crag this night, my name is not Caleb Balderstone."
So resolving, he entered the apartment, and, in all courteous greeting, saluted both the mother and the daughter. Wolf's Crag was the court of the barony, Caleb prime minister at Wolf's Crag; and it has ever been remarked that, though the masculine subject who pays the taxes sometimes growls at the courtiers by whom they are imposed, the said courtiers continue, nevertheless, welcome to the fair sex, to whom they furnish the newest small-talk and the earliest fashions. Both the dames were, therefore, at once about old Caleb's neck, setting up their throats together by way of welcome.
"Ay, sirs, Mr. Balderstone, and is this you? A sight of you is gude for sair een. Sit down——sit down; the gudeman will be blythe to see you——ye nar saw him sae cadgy in your life; but we are to christen our bit wean the night, as ye will hae heard, and doubtless ye will stay and see the ordinance. We hae killed a wether, and ane o' our lads has been out wi' his gun at the moss; ye used to like wild-fowl."
"Na, na, gudewife," said Caleb; "I just keekit in to wish ye joy, and I wad be glad to hae spoken wi' the gudeman, but——" moving, as if to go away.
"The ne'er a fit ye's gang," said the elder dame, laughing and holding him fast, with a freedom which belonged to their old acquaintance; "wha kens what ill it may bring to the bairn, if ye owerlook it in that gate?"
"But I'm in a preceese hurry, gudewife," said the butler, suffering himself to be dragged to a seat without much resistance; "and as to eating," for he observed the mistress of the dwelling bustling about to place a trencher for him—— "as for eating——lack-a-day, we are just killed up yonder wi' eating frae morning to night! It's shamefu' epicurism; but that's what we hae gotten frae the English pock-puddings." "Hout, never mind the English pock-puddings," said Luckie Lightbody; "try our puddings, Mr. Balderstone; there is black pudding and white-hass; try whilk ye like best."
"Baith gude——baith excellent——canna be better; but the very smell is eneugh for me that hae dined sae lately (the faithful wretch had fasted since daybreak). But I wadna affront your housewifeskep, gudewife; and, with your permission, I'se e'en pit them in my napkin, and eat them to my supper at e'en, for I am wearied of Mysie's pastry and nonsense; ye ken landward dainties aye pleased me best, Marion, and landward lasses too (looking at the cooper's wife). Ne'er a bit but she looks far better than when she married Gilbert, and then she was the bonniest lass in our parochine and the neist till't. But gawsie cow, goodly calf."
The women smiled at the compliment each to herself, and they smiled again to each other as Caleb wrapt up the puddings in a towel which he had brought with him, as a dragoon carries his foraging bag to receive what my fall in his way.
"And what news at the castle?" quo' the gudewife.
"News! The bravest news ye ever heard——the Lord Keeper's up yonder wi' his fair daughter, just ready to fling her at my lord's head, if he winna tak her out o' his arms; and I'se warrant he'll stitch our auld lands of Ravenswood to her petticoat tail."
"Eh! sirs——ay!——and will hae her? and is she weel-favoured? and what's the colour o' her hair? and does she wear a habit or a railly?" were the questions which the females showered upon the butler.
"Hout tout! it wad tak a man a day to answer a' your questions, and I hae hardly a minute. Where's the gudeman?"
"Awa' to fetch the minister," said Mrs. Girder, "precious Mr. Peter Bide-the-Bent, frae the Mosshead; the honest man has the rheumatism wi' lying in the hills in the persecution."
"Ay! Whig and a mountain-man, nae less!" said Caleb, with a peevishness he could not suppress. "I hae seen the day, Luckie, when worthy Mr. Cuffcushion and the service-book would hae served your turn (to the elder dame), or ony honest woman in like circumstances."
"And that's true too," said Mrs. Lightbody, "but what can a body do? Jean maun baith sing her psalms and busk her cockernony the gate the gudeman likes, and nae ither gate; for he's maister and mair at hame, I can tell ye, Mr. Balderstone."
"Ay, ay, and does he guide the gear too?" said Caleb, to whose projects masculine rule boded little good. "Ilka penny on't; but he'll dress her as dink as a daisy, as ye see; sae she has little reason to complain: where there's ane better aff there's ten waur."
"Aweel, gudewife," said Caleb, crestfallen, but not beaten off, "that wasna the way ye guided your gudeman; bt ilka land has its ain lauch. I maun be ganging. I just wanted to round in the gudeman's lug, that I heard them say up-bye yonder that Peter Puncheon, that was cooper to the Queen's stores at the Timmer Burse at Leith, is dead; sae I though that maybe a word frae my lord to the Lord Keeper might hae served Gilbert; but since he's frae hame——"
"O, but ye maun stay his hame-coming," said the dame. "I aye telled the gudeman ye meant weel to him; but he taks the tout at every bit lippening word."
"Aweel, I'll stay the last minute I can."
"And so," said the handsome young spouse of Mr. Girder, "ye think this Miss Ashton is weel-favoured? Troth, and sae should she, to set up for our young lord, with a face and a hand, and a seat on his horse, that might become a king's son. D'ye ken that he aye glowers up at my window, Mr. Balderstone, when he chaunces to ride thro' the town? Sae I hae a right to ken what like he is, as weel as ony body."
"I ken that brawly," said Caleb, "for I hae heard his lordship say the cooper's wife had the blackest ee in the barony; and I said, 'Weel may that be, my lord, for it was her mither's afore her, as I ken to my cost.' Eh, Marion? Ha, ha, ha! Ah! these were merry days!"
"Hout awa', auld carle," said the old dame, "to speak sic daffing to young folk. But, Jean——fie, woman, dinna ye hear the bairn greet? I'se warrant it's that dreary weid has come ower't again."
Up got mother and grandmother, and scoured away, jostling each other as they ran, into some remote corner of the tenement, where the young hero of the evening was deposited. When Caleb saw the coast fairly clear, he took an invigorating pinch of snuff, to sharpen and confirm his resolution.
"Cauld be my cast," thought he, "if either Bide-the-Bent or Girder taste that broach of wild-fowl this evening"; and then addressing the eldest turnspit, a boy of about eleven years old, and putting a penny into his hand, he said, "Here is twal pennies, my man; carry that ower to Mrs. Sma'trash, and bid her fill my mill wi' snishing, and I'll turn the broche for ye in the mean time; and she will gie ye a ginge-bread snap for your pains."
No sooner was the elder boy departed on this mission than Caleb, looking the remaining turnspit gravely and steadily in the face, removed from the fire the spit bearing the wild-fowl of which he had undertaken the charge, clapped his hat on his head, and fairly marched off with it. he stopped at the door of the change-house only to say, in a few brief words, that Mr. Hayston of Bucklaw was not to expect a bed that evening in the castle.
If this message was too briefly delivered by Caleb, it became absolute rudeness when convenyed through the medium of a suburb landlady; and Bucklaw was, as a more calm and temperate man might have been, highly incensed. Captain Craigengelt proposed, with the unanimous applause of all present, that they should course the old fox (meaning Caleb) ere he got to cover, and toss him in a blanket. But Lockhard intimated to his master's servants and those of Lord Bittlebrains, in a tone of authority, that the slightest impertinence to the Master of Ravenswood's domestic would give Sir William Ashton the highest offence. And having so said, in a manner sufficient to prevent any aggression on their part, he left the public-house, taking along with him two servants loaded with such provisions as he had been able to procure, and overtook Caleb just when he had cleared the village.