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What, then, was his astonishment, when, on passing the door—that door which was supposed to have been placed there by one of the latter Lairds of Ellangowan to prevent presumptuous strangers from incurring the dangers of the haunted vault—that door, supposed to be always locked, and the key of which was popularly said to be deposited with the presbytery—that door, that very door, opened suddenly, and the figure of Meg Merrilies, well known, though not seen for many a revolving year, was placed at once before the eyes of the startled Dominie! She stood immediately before him in the foot-path, confronting him so absolutely, that he could not avoid her except by fairly turning back, which his manhood prevented him from thinking of.
“I kenn'd ye wad be here,” she said with her harsh and hollow voice: “I ken wha
seek ; but ye maun do my bidding.”
“Get thee behind me!” said the alarmed Dominie -“Avoid ye !--Conjuro te, scelestissima—nequissima --Spurcissima-iniquissima-atque miserrima --conjuro te !!!"
Meg stood her ground against this tremendous volley of superlatives, which Sampson hawked up from the pit of his stomach, and hurled at her in thunder. “ Is the carl daft,” she said, “wi' his glamour ?"
“Conjuro," continued the Dominie, “ abjuro, contestor, atque viriliter impero tibi !"
'What, in the name of Sathan, are ye feared for, wi' your French gibberish, that would make a dog sick? Listen, ye stickit stibbler, to what I tell ye, or ye sall
rue it while there's a limb o' ye hings to anither! Tell Colonel Mannering that I ken he's seeking me. He kens, and I ken, that the blood will be wiped out, and the lost will be found,
And Bertram's right and Bertram's might
Shall meet on Ellangowan height. Hae, there's a letter to him; I was gaun to send it in another way.—I canna write mysell ; but I hae them that will baith write and read, and ride and rin for me. Tell him the time’s coming now, and the weird's dreed, and the wheel's turning. Bid him look at the stars as he has looked at them before.-Will ye mind a' this ?”
“Assuredly," said the Dominie, “I am dubious-for, woman, I am perturbed at thy words, and my flesh quakes to hear thee.”
“They'll do you nae ill though, and maybe muckle gude."
“ Avoid ye! I desire no good that comes by unlawful means.”
“Fule-body that thou art,” said Meg, stepping up to him with a frown of indignation that made her dark eyes flash like lamps from under her bent brows,
Fule-body! if I meant ye wrang, couldna I clod ye ower that craig, and wad man ken how ye cam by your end mair than Frank Kennedy? Hear ye that, ye worricow ?"
“In the name of all that is good,” said the Dominie, recoiling, and pointing his long pewter-headed walking cane like a javelin at the supposed sorceress,—“in the
name of all that is good, bide off hands! I will not be handled-woman, stand off, upon thine own proper pe il !—desist, I say—I am strong-lo, I will resist !” Here his speech was cut short ; for Meg, armed with supernatural strength (as the Dominie asserted), broke in upon his guard, put by a thrust which he made at her with his cane, and lifted him into the vault,“ easily,” said he, “as I could sway a Kitchen's Atlas.”
“Sit down there,” she said, pushing the half-throttled preacher with some violence against a broken chair,“ sit down there, and gather your wind and your senses, ye black barrow-tram o' the kirk that ye are !-Are ye fou or fasting ?"
“Fasting—from all but sin," answered the Dominie, who, recovering his voice, and finding his exorcisms only served to exasperate the intractable sorceress, thought it best to affect complaisance and submission, inwardly conning over, however, the wholesome conjurations which he durst no longer utter aloud. But as the Dominie's brain was by no means equal to carry on two trains of ideas at the same time, a word or two of his mental exercise sometimes escaped, and mingled with his uttered speech in a manner ludicrous enough, especially as the poor man shrunk himself together after every escape of the kind, from terror of the effect it might produce upon the irritable feelings of the witch.
Meg, in the meanwhile, went to a great black cauldron that was boiling on a fire on the floor, and, lifting the lid, an odour was diffused through the vault,
which, if the vapours of a witch's cauldron could in aught be trusted, promised better things than the hellbroth which such vessels are usually supposed to contain. It was in fact the savour of a goodly stew, composed of fowls, hares, partridges, and moorgame, boiled in a large mess with potatoes, onions, and leeks, and from the size of the cauldron, appeared to be prepared for half a dozen of people at least. “So ye hae eat naething a' day?" said Meg, heaving a large portion of this mess into a brown dish, and strewing it savourily with salt
“Nothing,” answered the Dominie—“scelestissima ! —that is-gudewife."
“Hae then,” said she, placing the dish before him, “there's what will warm your heart.”
"I do not hunger-malefica—that is to say,Mrs. Merrilies !” for he said unto himself, “the savour is sweet, but it hath been cooked by a Canidia or an Ericthoe.”
* We must again have recourse to the contribution to Blackwood's Magazine, April 1817 :
" To the admirers of good eating, gipsy cookery seems to have little to recommend it. I can assure you, however, that the cook of a nobleman of high distinction, a person who never reads even a novel without an eye to the enlargement of the culinary science, has added to the Almanach des Gourmands, a certain Potage à la Meg Merrilies de Derncleugh, consisting of game and poultry, of all kinds, stewed with vegetables into a soup, which rivals in savour and richness the gallant messes of Camacho's wedding ; and which the Baron of Bradwardine would certainly have reckoned among the Epulo lautiores."
The artist alluded to in this passage is Mons. Florence, cook to Henry and Charles, late Dukes of Buccleuch, and of high distinction in his profession.
“ If ye dinna eat instantly, and put some saul in ye, by the bread and the salt, I'll put it down your throat wi' the cutty spoon, scaulding as it is, and whether ye will or no. Gape, sinner, and swallow !"
Sampson, afraid of eye of newt, and toe of frog, tigers' chaudrons, and so forth, had determined not to venture; but the smell of the stew was fast melting his obstinacy, which flowed from his chops as it were in