Page images

the leaves that were on that auld ash-tree at Martinmas ! the west wind has made it bare—and I'm stripped too.—Do you see that saugh-tree ?—it's but a blackened rotten stump now I've sate under it mony a bonnie summer afternoon, when it hung its gay garlands ower the poppling water. I've sat there, and,” elevating her voice, “I've held you on my knee, Henry Bertram, and sung ye sangs of the auld barons and their bloody wars—It will ne'er be green again, and Meg Merrilies will never sing sangs mair, be they blithe or sad. But ye'll no forget her, and ye'll gar big up the auld wa's for her sake and let somebody live there that's ower gude to fear them of another warld-For if ever the dead came back amang the living, I'll be seen in this glen mony a night after these crazed banes are in the mould.”

The mixture of insanity and wild pathos with which she spoke these last words, with her right arm bare and extended, her left bent and shrouded beneath the dark red drapery of her mantle, might have been a study worthy of our Siddons herself. “And now," she said, resuming at once the short, stern, and hasty tone which was most ordinary to her—"let us to the wark—let us to the wark.”

She then led the way to the promontory on which the Kaim of Derncleugh was situated, produced a large key from her pocket, and unlocked the door. The interior of this place was in better order than formerly. “I have made things decent," she said; “I may be streekit here or night. There will be few, few at Meg's lykewake, for mony of our folk will blame what I hae done, and am to do!”

She then pointed to a table, upon which was some cold meat, arranged with more attention to neatness than could have been expected from Meg's habits. “Eat,” she said, “ eat; ye'll need it this night yet.”

Bertram, in complaisance, ate a morsel or two; and Dinmont, whose appetite was unabated either by wonder, apprehension, or the meal of the morning, made his usual figure as a trencher-man. She then offered each a single glass of spirits, which Bertram drank diluted, and his companion plain.

“Will ye taste naething yoursell, Luckie?” said Dinmont.

"I shall not need it,” replied their mysterious hostess. “And now,” she said, "ye maun hae arms—ye maunna gang on dry-handed—but use them not rashly—take captive, but save life— let the law hae its ain—he maun speak ere he


“Who is to be taken ?—who is to speak ?” said Bertram in astonishment, receiving a pair of pistols which she offered him, and which, upon examining, he found loaded and locked.

"The flints are gude," she said, “and the powder dry-I ken this wark weel."

Then, without answering his questions, she armed Dinmont also with a large pistol, and desired them to choose sticks for themselves out of a parcel of very suspicious-looking bludgeons, which she brought from a corner. Bertram took a stout sapling, and Dandie selected a club which might have served Hercules himself. They then left the hut together, and, in doing so, Bertram took an opportunity to whisper to Dinmont, “There's something inexplicable in all this—But we need not use these arms unless we see necessity and lawful occasion-take care to do as you see me do.”

Dinmont gave a sagacious nod; and they continued to follow, over wet and over dry, through bog and through fallow, the footsteps of their conductress. She guided them to the wood of Warroch by the same track which the late Ellangowan had used when riding to Derncleugh in quest of his child, on the miserable evening of Kennedy's murder.

When Meg Merrilies had attained these groves, through which the wintry sea-wind was now whistling hoarse and shrill, she seemed to pause a moment as if to recollect the way. “We maun go the precise track,” she said, and continued to go forward, but rather in a zigzag and involved course than according to her former steady and direct line of motion. At length she guided them through the mazes of the wood to a little open glade of about a quarter of an acre, surrounded by trees and bushes, which made a wild and irregular boundary. Even in winter it was a sheltered and snugly sequestered spot; but when arrayed in the verdure of spring, the earth sending forth all its wild flowers, the shrubs spreading their waste of blossom around it, and the weeping birches, which towered over the underwood, drooping their long and leafy fibres to intercept the sun, it must have seemed a place for a youthful poet to study his earliest sonnet, or a pair of lovers to exchange their first mutual avowal of affection. Apparently it now awakened very different recollections. Bertram's brow, when he had looked round the spot, became gloomy and embarrassed. Meg, after uttering to herself, “This is the very spot !” looked at him with a ghastly side-glance, -"D'ye mind it?”

“Yes !" answered Bertram, "imperfectly I do."

“Ay!” pursued his guide, "on this very spot the man fell from his horse-I was behind that bourtree-bush at the very moment. Sair, sair he strove, and sair he cried for mercy, but he was in the hands of them that never kenn'd the word ! -Now will I show you the further track—the last time ye travelled it was in these arms."

She led them accordingly by a long and winding passage almost overgrown with brushwood, until, without any very perceptible descent, they suddenly found themselves by the seaside. Meg then walked very fast on between the surf and the rocks, until she came to a remarkable fragment of rock detached from the rest. “Here," she said in a low and scarcely audible whisper, “here the corpse was found."

And the cave," said Bertram, in the same tone, “is close beside it-are you guiding us there?".

“Yes," said the gipsy in a decided tone. “Bend up both your hearts—follow me as I creep in--I have placed the firewood so as to screen you. Bide behind it for a gliff till I say,

The hour and the man are baith come; then rin in on him, take his arms, and bind him till the blood burst frae his finger nails.”

“I will, by my soul," said Henry—“if he is the man I suppose-- Jansen "

Ay, Jansen, Hatteraick, and twenty mair names are his."

“Dinmont, you must stand by me now,” said Bertram, “ for this fellow is a devil.”

“Ye needna doubt that,” said the stout yeoman-"but I wish I could mind a bit prayer or I creep after the witch into that hole that she's opening-It wad be a sair thing to leave the blessed sun, and the free air, and gang and be killed, like a tod that's run to earth, in a dungeon like that. But, my sooth, they will be hard-bitten terriers will worry Dandie; so, as I said, deil hae me if I baulk you." This was uttered in the lowest tone of voice possible. The entrance was now open. Meg crept in upon her hands and knees, Bertram followed, and Dinmont, after giving a rueful glance toward the daylight, whose blessings he was abandoning, brought up the rear.


---Die, prophet! in thy speech;
For this, among the rest, was I ordained.

Henry VI. Part III.

THE progress of the Borderer, who, as we have said, was the last of the party, was fearfully arrested by a hand, which caught hold of his leg as he dragged his long limbs after him in silence and perturbation through the low and narrow entrance of the subterranean passage. The steel heart of the bold yeoman had well-nigh given way, and he suppressed with difficulty a shout, which, in the defenceless posture and situation which they then occupied, might have cost all their lives. He contented himself, however, with extricating his foot from the grasp of this unexpected follower. “Be still,” said a voice behind him, releasing him; "I am a friend-Charles Hazlewood.”

These words were uttered in a very low voice, but they produced sound enough to startle Meg Merrilies, who led the van, and who, having already gained the place where the cavern expanded, had risen upon her feet. She began, as if to confound any listening ear, to growl, to mutter, and to sing aloud, and at the same time to make a bustle among some brushwood which was now heaped in the cave.

“Here--beldam-Deyvil's kind," growled the harsh voice of Dirk Hatteraick from the inside of his den, “what makest thou there?

“Laying the roughies’ to keep the cauld wind frae you, ye desperate do-nae-good-Ye're e'en ower weel off, and wots na; it will be otherwise soon.”

“Have you brought me the brandy, and any news of my people ?” said Dirk Hatteraick.

There's the flask for ye. Your people-dispersed-broken -gone-or cut to ribbands by the red-coats.” “Der Deyvil this coast is fatal to me.” “Ye may hae mair reason to say sae.”

While this dialogue went forward, Bertram and Dinmont had both gained the interior of the cave, and assumed an erect position. The only light which illuminated its rugged and sable precincts was a quantity of wood burnt to charcoal

1 Withered boughs.

in an iron grate, such as they use in spearing salmon by night. On these red embers Hatteraick from time to time threw a handful of twigs or splintered wood; but these, even when they blazed up, afforded a light much disproportioned to the extent of the cavern; and, as its principal inhabitant lay upon the side of the grate most remote from the entrance, it was not easy for him to discover distinctly objects which lay in that direction. The intruders, therefore, whose number was now augmented unexpectedly to three, stood behind the loosely-piled branches with little risk of discovery. Dinmont had the sense to keep back Hazlewood with one hand till he whispered to Bertram, " A friend-young Hazlewood.”

It was no time for following up the introduction, and they all stood as still as the rocks around them, obscured behind the pile of brushwood, which had been probably placed there to break the cold wind from the sea, without totally intercepting the supply of air. The branches were laid so loosely above each other, that, looking through them towards the light of the fire-grate, they could easily discover what passed in its vicinity, although a much stronger degree of illumination than it afforded, would not have enabled the persons placed near the bottom of the cave to have descried them in the position which they occupied.

The scene, independent of the peculiar moral interest and personal danger which attended it, had, from the effect of the light and shade on the uncommon objects which it exhibited, an appearance emphatically dismal. The light in the firegrate was the dark-red glare of charcoal in a state of ignition, relieved from time to time by a transient flame of a more vivid or duskier light, as the fuel with which Dirk Hatteraick fed his fire was better or worse fitted for his purpose. Now a dark cloud of stifling smoke rose up to the roof of the cavern, and then lighted into a reluctant and sullen blaze, which flashed wavering up the pillar of smoke, and was suddenly rendered brighter and more lively by some drier fuel, or perhaps some splintered fir-timber, which at once converted the smoke into flame. By such fitful irradiation, they could see, more or less distinctly, the form of Hatteraick, whose savage and rugged cast of features, now rendered yet more ferocious by the circumstances of his situation, and the deep gloom of his mind, assorted well with the rugged and broken vault, which rose in a rude arch over and around him. The form of Meg Merrilies, which stalked about him, sometimes in the

« PreviousContinue »