Page images
PDF
EPUB

the place where the stream had its junction with the ocean. The vales seemed well cultivated, the little inclosures into which they were divided skirting the bottom of the hills, and sometimes carrying their lines of straggling hedgerows a little way up the ascent. Above these were green pastures, tenanted chiefly by herds of black cattle, then the staple commodity of the country, whose distant low gave no unpleasing animation to the landscape. The remoter hills were of a sterner character, and, at still greater distance, swelled into mountains of dark heath, bordering the horizon with a screen which gave a defined and limited boundary to the cultivated country, and added at the same time the pleasing idea that it was sequestered and solitary. The seacoast, which Mannering now saw in its extent, corresponded in variety and beauty with the inland view. In some places it rose into tall rocks, frequently crowned with the ruins of old buildings, towers, or beacons, which, according to tradition, were placed within sight of each other, that, in times of invasion or civil war, they might communicate by signal for mutual defence and protection. Ellangowan Castle was by far the most extensive and important of these ruins, and asserted from size and situation the superiority which its founders were said once to have possessed among the chiefs and nobles of the district. In other places the shore was of a more gentle description, indented with small bays, where the land sloped smoothly down, or sent into the sea promontories covered with wood.

A scene so different from what last night's journey had presaged produced a proportional effect upon Mannering. Beneath his eye lay the modern house—an awkward mansion, indeed, in point of architecture, but well situated, and with a warm, pleasant exposure. How happily,' thought our hero,

would life glide on in such a retirement ! On the one hand, the striking remnants of ancient grandeur, with the secret consciousness of family pride which they inspire; on the other, enough of modern elegance and comfort to satisfy every moderate wish. Here then, and with thee, Sophia !

We shall not pursue a lover's day-dream any farther. Mannering stood a minute with his arms folded, and then turned to the ruined castle.

On entering the gateway, he found that the rude magnificence of the inner court amply corresponded with the grandeur of the exterior. On the one side ran a range of windows lofty and large, divided by carved mullions of stone, which had once lighted the great hall of the castle; on the other were various buildings of different heights and dates, yet so united as to present to the eye a certain general effect of uniformity of front. The doors and windows were ornamented with projections exhibiting rude specimens of sculpture and tracery, partly entire and partly broken down, partly covered by ivy and trailing plants, which grew luxuriantly among the ruins. That end of the court which faced the entrance had also been formerly closed by a range of buildings; but owing, it was said, to its having been battered by the ships of the Parliament under Deane, during the long civil war, this part of the castle was much more ruinous than the rest, and exhibited a great chasm, through which Mannering could observe the sea, and the little vessel (an armed lugger), which retained her station in the centre of the bay.* While Mannering was gazing round the ruins, he heard from the interior of an apartment on the left hand the voice of the gipsy he had seen on the preceding evening. He soon found an aperture through which he could observe her without being himself visible; and could not help feeling that her figure, her employment, and her situation conveyed the exact impression of an ancient sibyl.

She sate upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her spindle. A strong sunbeam through a lofty and narrow window fell upon her wild dress and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. Equipt in a habit which mingled the national dress of the Scottish common people with something of an Eastern costume, she spun a thread drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white, and grey, by assistance of those ancient implements of housewifery now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle. As she spun, she sung what seemed to be a charm. Mannering, after in vain attempting to make himself master of the exact words of her song, afterwards attempted the following paraphrase of what, from a few intelligible phrases, he concluded to be its purport :

Twist ye, twine ye ! even so
Mingle shades of joy and woe,
Hope, and fear, and peace, and strife,
In the thread of human life.

* The outline of the above description, as far as the supposed ruins are concerned, will be found somewhat to resemble the noble remains of Carlaverock Castle, six or seven miles from Dumfries, and near to Lochar Moss.

While the mystic twist is spinning,
And the infant's life beginning,
Dimly seen through twilight bending,
Lo, what varied shapes attending !
Passions wild, and Follies vain,
Pleasures soon exchanged for pain,
Doubt, and Jealousy, and Fear
In the magic dance appear.
Now they wax, and now they dwindle,
Whirling with the whirling spindle.
Twist ye, twine ye ! even so
Mingle human bliss and woe.

Ere our translator, or rather our free imitator, had arranged these stanzas in his head, and while he was yet hammering out a rhyme for dwindle, the task of the sibyl was accomplished, or her wool was expended. She took the spindle, now charged with her labours, and, undoing the thread gradually, measured it by casting it over her elbow and bringing each loop round between her forefinger and thumb. When she had measured it out, she muttered to herself —“A hank, but not a haill anethe full years o'three score and ten, but thrice broken, and thrice to oop (i.e. to unite); he'll be a lucky lad an he win through wi't.'

Our hero was about to speak to the prophetess, when a voice, hoarse as the waves with which it mingled, hallooed twice, and with increasing impatience—Meg, Meg Merrilies ! Gipsyhag—tausend deyvils !

'I am coming, I am coming, Captain,' answered Meg; and in a moment or two the impatient commander whom she addressed made his appearance from the broken part of the ruins.

He was apparently a seafaring man, rather under the middle size, and with a countenance bronzed by a thousand conflicts with the north-east wind. His frame was prodigiously muscular, strong, and thick-set; so that it seemed as if a man of much greater height would have been an inadequate match in any close personal conflict. He was hard-favoured, and, which was worse, his face bore nothing of the insouciance, the careless, frolicsome jollity and vacant curiosity, of a sailor on shore. These qualities, perhaps, as much as any others, contribute to the high popularity of our seamen, and the general good inclination which our society expresses towards them. Their gallantry, courage, and hardihood are qualities which excite reverence, and perhaps rather humble pacific landsmen in their presence; and neither respect nor a sense of humiliation are feelings easily combined with a familiar fondness towards those who inspire them. But the boyish frolics, the exulting high spirits, the unreflecting mirth of a sailor when enjoying himself on shore, temper the more formidable points of his character. There was nothing like these in this man's face; on the contrary, a surly and even savage scowl appeared to darken features which would have been harsh and unpleasant under any expression or modification. Where are you, Mother Deyvilson ?' he said, with somewhat of a foreign accent, though speaking perfectly good English. ‘Donner and blitzen! we have been staying this half-hour. Come, bless the good ship and the voyage, and be cursed to ye for a hag of Satan !'

At this moment he noticed Mannering, who, from the position which he had taken to watch Meg Merrilies's incantations, had the appearance of some one who was concealing himself, being half hidden by the buttress behind which he stood. The Captain, for such he styled himself, made a sudden and startled pause, and thrust his right hand into his bosom between his jacket and waistcoat as if to draw some weapon. What cheer, brother? you seem on the outlook, eh?'

Ere Mannering, somewhat struck by the man's gesture and insolent tone of voice, had made any answer, the gipsy emerged from her vault and joined the stranger. He questioned her in an undertone, looking at Mannering—A shark alongside, eh ?'

She answered in the same tone of under-dialogue, using the cant language of her tribe—'Cut ben whids, and stow them; a gentry cove of the ken.'*

The fellow's cloudy visage cleared up. The top of the morning to you, sir; I find you are a visitor of my friend Mr. Bertram. I beg pardon, but I took you for another sort of a person.'

Mannering replied, “And you, sir, I presume, are the master of that vessel in the bay ?'

'Ay, ay, sir; I am Captain Dirk Hatteraick, of the “Yungfrauw Hagenslaapen,” well known on this coast; I am not ashamed of my name, nor of my vessel —no, nor of my cargo neither for that matter.

'I daresay you have no reason, sir.'

* Tausend donner, no; I'm all in the way of fair trade. Just * Meaning-Stop your uncivil language; that is a gentleman from the house below.

loaded yonder at Douglas, in the Isle of Man—neat cogniacreal hyson and souchong-Mechlin lace, if you want anyright cogniac—we bumped ashore a hundred kegs last night.'

Really, sir, I am only a traveller, and have no sort of occasion for anything of the kind at present.'

“Why, then, good-morning to you, for business must be minded-unless ye'll go aboard and take schnaps; you shall have a pouch-full of tea ashore. Dirk Hatteraick knows how to be civil.'

There was a mixture of impudence, hardihood, and suspicious fear about this man which was inexpressibly disgusting. His manners were those of a ruffian, conscious of the suspicion attending his character, yet aiming to bear it down by the affectation of a careless and hardy familiarity. Mannering briefly rejected his proffered civilities; and, after a surly good-morning, Hatteraick retired with the gipsy to that part of the ruins from which he had first made his appearance. A very narrow staircase here went down to the beach, intended probably for the convenience of the garrison during a siege. By this stair the couple, equally amiable in appearance and respectable by profession, descended to the sea-side. The soi-disant captain embarked in a small boat with two men, who appeared to wait for him, and the gipsy remained on the shore, reciting or singing, and gesticulating with great vehemence.

« PreviousContinue »