Page images
PDF
EPUB

Minstrel, when twenty thousand horsemen assembled at the light of the beacon-fires. * But the truth is undeniable; they like to be on horseback, and can be with difficulty convinced that any one chooses walking from other motives than those of convenience or necessity. Accordingly, Dinmont insisted upon mounting his guest, and accompanying him on horseback as far as the nearest town in Dumfries-shire, where he had directed his baggage to be sent, and from which he proposed to pursue his intended journey towards Woodbourne, the residence of Julia Mannering.

Upon the way he questioned his companion concerning the character of the fox-hunter; but gained little information, as he had been called to that office while Dinmont was making the round of the Highland fairs. “He was a shake-rag like fellow," he said, “and, he dared to say, had gipsy blood in his veins; but at ony rate he was nane o' the smaiks that had been on their quarters on the moss - he would ken them weel if he saw them again. There are some no bad folk amang the gipsies too, to be sic a gang,” added Dandie; “if ever I see that auld randle-tree of a wife again, I'll gie her something to buy tobacco I have a great notion she meant me very fair after a'.”

When they were about finally to part, the good farmer held Brown long by the hand, and at length said, “Captain, the woo's sae weel up the year that it 's paid a' the rent, and we have naething to do wi' the rest o'the siller when Ailie has had her new gown, and the bairns their bits o' duds — Now I was thinking of some safe hand to put it into, for it's ower muckle to ware on brandy and sugar now I have heard that you army gentlemen can sometimes buy yoursells up a step; and if a hundred or twa would help ye on such an occasion, the bit scrape o' your pen would be as good to me as the siller, and ye might just take yere ain time o' settling it - it wad be a great convenience to me. Brown, who felt the full delicacy that wished to disguise the conferring an obligation under the show of asking favour,

It would be affectation to alter this reference. But the reader will understand, that it was inserted to keep up the author's incognito, as he was not likely to be suspected of quoting his own works. This explanation is also applicable to one or two similar passages, in this and the other novels, introduced for the same reason.

thanked his grateful friend most heartily, and assured him he would have recourse to his purse, without scruple, should circumstances ever render it convenient for him. And thus they parted with many expressions of mutual regard.

CHAPTER XXVII.
If thou bast any love of mercy in thee,
Turn me upon my face that I may die.

JOANNA BAILLIR. Our traveller hired a post-chaise at the place where he separated from Dinmont, with the purpose of proceeding to Kippletringan, there to inquire into the state of the family at Woodbourne, before he should venture to make his presence in the country known to Miss Mannering. The stage was a long one of eighteen or twenty miles, and the road lay across the country. To add to the inconveniences of the journey, the snow began to fall pretty quickly. The postilion, however, proceeded on his journey for a good many miles, without expressing doubt or hesitation. It was not until the night was completely set in, that he intimated his apprehensions whether he was in the right road. The increasing snow rendered this intimation rather alarming, for as it drove full in the lad's face, and lay whitening all around bim, it served in two different ways to confuse his knowledge of the country, and to diminish the chance of his recovering the right track. Brown then himself got out and looked around, not, it may be well imagined, from any better hope than that of seeing some house at which he might make inquiry. But none appeared

he could therefore only tell the lad to drive steadily on. The road on which they were, ran through plantations of coosiderable extent and depth, and the traveller therefore conjectured that there must be a gentleman's house at no great distance. At length, after struggling wearily on for about a mile, the post-boy stopped, and protested his horses would not budge a foot farther; “but he saw,” he said, “a light among the trees, which must proceed from a house; the only way was to inquire the road there." Accordingly, he dismounted, heavily encumbered with a long great-coat, and a pair of boots which might have rivalled in thick

ness the seven-fold shield of Ajax. As in this guise he was plodding forth upon his voyage of discovery, Brown's impatience prevailed, and, jumping out of the carriage, he desired the lad to stop where he was, by the horses, and he would himself go to the house a command which the driver most joyfully obeyed.

Our traveller groped along the side of the enclosure from which the light glimmered, in order to find some mode of approaching in that direction, and after proceeding for some space, at length found a stile in the hedge, and a pathway leading into the plantation, which in that place was of great extent. This promised to lead to the light which was the object of his search, and accordingly Brown proceeded in that direction, but soon totally lost sight of it among the trees. The path, which at first seemed broad and well marked by the opening of the wood through which it winded, was now less easily distinguishable, although the whiteness of the snow afforded some reflected light to assist his search. Directing himself as much as possible through the more open parts of the wood, he proceeded almost a mile without either recovering a view of the light, or seeing any thing resembling a habitation. Still, however, he thought it best to persevere in that direction. It must surely have been a light in the hut of a forester, for it shone too steadily to be the glimmer of an ignis fatuus. The ground at length became broken, and declined rapidly, and although Brown conceived he still moved along what had once at least been a pathway, it was now very unequal, and the snow concealing those breaches and inequalities, the traveller had one or two falls in consequence. He began now to think of turning back, especially as the falling snow, which his impatience had hitherto prevented his attending to, was coming on thicker and faster.

Willing, however, to make a last effort, he still advanced a little way, when, to his great delight, he beheld the light opposite at no great distance, and apparently upon a level with him. He quickly found that this last appearance was deception, for the ground continued so rapidly to sink, as made it obvious there was a deep dell, or ravine of some kind, between him and the object of his search. Taking every precaution to preserve his

footing, he continued to descend until he reached the bottom of a very steep and narrow glen, through which winded a small rivulet, whose course was then almost choked with snow. He now found himself embarrassed among the ruins of cottages, whose black gables, rendered more distinguishable by the contrast with the whitened surface from which they rose, were still standing; the side-walls had long since given way to time, and, piled in shapeless heaps, and covered with snow, offered frequent and embarrassing obstacles to our traveller's progress. Still, however, he persevered, crossed the rivulet, not without some trouble, and at length, by exertions which became both painful and perilous, ascended its opposite and very rugged bank, until he came on a level with the building from which the gleam proceeded.

It was difficult, especially by so imperfect a light, to discover the nature of this edifice; but it seemed a square building of small size, the upper part of which was totally ruinous. It had, perhaps, been the abode, in former times, of some lesser proprietor, or a place of strength and concealment, in case of need, for one of greater importance. But only the lower vault remained, the arch of which formed the roof in the present state of the building. Brown first approached the place from whence the light proceeded, which was a long narrow slit or loophole such as usually are to be found in old castles. Impelled by curiosity to reconnoitre the interior of this strange place before he entered, Brown gazed in at this aperture. A scene of greater desolation could not well be imagined. There was a fire upon the floor, the smoke of which, after circling through the apartment, escaped by a hole broken in the arch above. The walls, seen by this smoky light, had the rude and waste appearance of a ruin of three centuries old at least. A cask or two, with some broken boxes and packages, lay about the place in confusion. But the inmates chiefly occupied Brown's attention. Upon a lair composed of straw, with a blanket stretched over it, lay a figure, so still, that, except that it was not dressed in the ordinary habiliments of the grave, Brown would have concluded it to be a corpse. On a steadier view be perceived it was only on the point

of becoming so, for he heard one or two of those low, deep, and hard-drawn sighs, that precede dissolution when the frame is tepacious of life. A female figure, dressed in a long cloak, sate on a stone by this miserable couch; her elbows rested upon her knees, and her face, averted from the light of an iron lamp beside her, was bent upon that of the dying person. She moistened his mouth from time to time with some liquid, and between whiles sung, in a low monotonous cadence, one of those prayers, or rather spells, which, in some parts of Scotland, and the north of England, are used by the vulgar and ignorant to speed the passage of a parting spirit, like the tolling of the bell in catholic days. She accompained this dismal sound with a slow rocking motion of her body to and fro, as if to keep time with her song. The words ran nearly thus:

Wasted, weary, wherefore stay,
Wrestling thus with earth and clay?
From the body pass away; -

Hark! the mass is singing.
From thee doff thy mortal weed,
Mary Mother be thy speed,
Saints to belp thee at thy need;

Hark! the knell is ringing.
Fear not snow-drist driving fast,
Sleet, or bail, or levin blast;
Soon the shroud shall lap thee fast,
And the sleep be on thee cast

That sball ne'er know waking.
Aaste thee, baste tbee, to be gone,
Earth flits fast, and time draws on,
Gasp thy gasp, and groan thy groan,

Day is near tbe breaking. The songstress pàused, and was answered by one or two deep and hollow groans, that seemed to proceed from the very agony of the mortal strife. “It will not be,” she muttered to herself; “He cannot pass away with that on his mind it tethers him here

Heaven cannot abide it,

Earth refuses to hide it.'.
See Note F. – Gipsy Superstitions.

« PreviousContinue »