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I must open the door;" and, rising, she faced towards the door of the apartment, observing heedfully not to turn back her head, and, withdrawing a bolt or two, (for, notwithstanding the miserable appearance of the place, the door was cautiously secured,) she lifted the latch, saying,
“Open lock - end strife,
Come death, and pass lise." Brown, who had by this time moved from his post, stood before her as she opened the door. She stepped back a pace, and he entered, instantly recognizing, but with no comfortable sensation, the same gipsy woman whom he had met in Bewcastle. She also knew him at once, and her attitude, figure, and the anxiety of her countenance, assumed the appearance of the welldisposed ogress of a fairy tale, warning a stranger not to enter the dangerous castle of her husband. The first words she spoke (holding up her hands in a reproving manner) were, “Said I not to ye, Make not, meddle not? Beware of the redding straik!* you are come to no house o' fair-strae death.” So saying, she raised the lamp, and turned its light on the dying man, whose rude and harsh features were now convulsed with the last agony. A roll of linen about his head was stained with blood, which had soaked also through the blankets and the straw. It was, indeed, under no natural disease that the wretch was suffering. Brown started back from this horrible object, and, turning to the gipsy, exclaimed, “ Wretched woman,
who has done this?” “They that were permitted," answered Meg Merrilies, while she scanned with a close and keen glance the features of the expiring man. “ He has had a sair struggle – but it's passing – I kenn'd he would pass when you came in – That was the deathruckle he's dead.”
Sounds were now heard at a distance, as of voices. “They are coming," said she to Brown; "you are a dead man if ye had as mony lives as hairs.” Brown eagerly looked round for some weapon of defence. There was none near. He then rushed to
The redding straik, namely, a blow received by a peace-maker who interferes betwixt two combatants, to red or separate them, is proverbially said to be the most dangerous blow a man can receive.
the door, with the intention of plunging among the trees, and making his escape by flight, from what he now esteemed a den of murderers, but Merrilies held him with a masculine grasp. “Here,” she said, “here · be still and you are safe - stir not, whatever you see or hear, and nothing shall befall you.”
Brown, in these desperate circumstances, remembered this woman's intimation formerly, and thought he had no chance of safety but in obeying her. She caused him to couch down among a parcel of straw on the opposite side of the apartment from the corpse, covered him carefully, and flung over him two or three old sacks which lay about the place. Anxious to observe what was to happen, Brown arranged, as softly as he could, the means of peeping from under the coverings by which he was hidden, and awaited with a throbbing heart the issue of this strange and most unpleasant adventure. The old gipsy, in the meantime, set about arranging the dead body, composing its limbs, and straighting the arms by its side. “Best to do this,” she muttered, “ere he stiffen.” She placed on the dead man's breast a trencher, with salt sprinkled upon it, set one candle at the head, and another at the feet of the body, and lighted both. Then she resumed her song, and awaited the approach of those whose voices had been heard without.
Brown was a soldier, and a brave one; but he was also a man, and at this moment his fears mastered his courage so completely, that the cold drops burst out from every pore. The idea of being dragged out of his miserable concealment by wretches, whose trade was that of midnight murder, without weapons or the slightest means of defence, except entreaties, which would be only their sport, and cries for help, which could never reach other ear than their own, his safety intrusted to the precarious compassion of a being associated with these felons, and whose trade of rapine and imposture must have hardened her against every human feeling the bitterness of his emotions almost choked him. He endeavoured to read in her withered and dark countenance, as the lamp threw its light upon her features, something that promised those feelings of compassion, which females, even in their most degraded state, can seldom altogether smother, Guy Mannering.
There was no such touch of humanity about this woman. The interest, whatever it was, that determined her in his favour, arose not from the impulse of compassion, but from some internal, and probably capricious, association of feelings, to which he had no clew. It rested, perhaps, on a fancied likeness, such as Lady Macbeth found to her father in the sleeping monarch. Such were the reflections that passed in rapid succession through Brown's mind, as he gazed from his hiding-place upon this extraordinary personage. Meantime the gang did not yet approach, and he was almost prompted to resume his original intention of attempting an escape from the hut, and cursed internally his own irresolution, which had consented to his being cooped up where he had neither room for resistance nor flight.
Meg Merrilies seemed equally on the watch. She bent her ear to every sound that whistled round the old walls. Then she turned again to the dead body, and found something new to arrange or alter in its position. “He's a bonny corpse,” she muttered to herself, “and weel worth the streaking." And in this dismal occupation she appeared to feel a sort of professional pleasure, entering slowly into all the minutiæ, as if with the skill and feelings of a connoisseur. A long dark coloured sea-cloak, which she dragged out of a corner, was disposed for a pall. The face she left bare, after closing the mouth and eyes, and arranged the capes of the cloak so as to hide the bloody bandages, and give the body, as she muttered, “a mair decent appearance."
At once three or four men, equally ruffians in appearance and dress, rushed into the hut. “Meg, ye limb of Satan, how dare you leave the door open?" was the first salutation of the party.
“And wha ever heard of a door being barred when a man was in the dead-thraw? how d'ye think the spirit was to get awa through bolts and bars like thae ?”
“Is he dead then?” said one who went to the side of the couch to look at the body. “Ay, ay
dead enough,” said another -“but here's what shall give him a rousing lykewake.” So saying, he fetched a keg of spirits from a corner, while Meg hastened to display pipes and tobacco. From the activity with which she undertook the task, Brown conceived good hope of her fidelity towards her guest. It was obvious that she wished to engage the ruffians in their debauch, to prevent the discovery which might take place, if, by accident, any of them should approach too nearly the place of Brown's concealment.
Nor roof nor latched door,
To bless a good man's store.
And night is grown our day;
JOANNA BAILLIR. Brown could now reckon his foes - they were five in number; two of them were very powerful men, who appeared to be either real seamen, or strollers who assumed that character; the other three, an old man and two lads, were slighter made, and, from their black hair and dark complexion, seemed to belong to Meg's tribe. They passed from one to another the cup out of which they drank their spirits. “Here's to his good voyage!” said one of the seamen, drinking; "a squally night he's got, however, to drift through the sky in."
We omit here various execrations with which these honest gentlemen garnished their discourse, retaining only such of their expletives as are least offensive.
“'A does not mind wind and weather - 'A has had many a north-easter in his day.”
“He had his last yesterday,” said another gruf@y; "and now old Meg may pray for his last fair wind, as she's often done before.”
“I'll pray for pane o' him," said Meg, “por for you neither, you randy dog. The times are sair altered since I was a kinchenmort.* Men were men then, and fought other in the open field, and there was nae milling in the darkmans. ** And the gentry
** Murder by night.
* A girl.
had kind hearts, and would have given baith lap and pannels to ony puir gipsy; and there was not one from Johnny Faa, the upright man,to little Christie that was in the panniers, would cloyed a dud tt from them. But ye are a’ altered from the gude auld rules, and no wonder that you scour the cramp-ring, and trine to the cheatttt sae often. Yes, ye are a’ altered - you ’ll eat the goodman's meat, drink his drink, sleep on the strammel* in his barn, and break his house and cut his throat for his paips! There's blood on your hands, too, ye dogs-mair than ever came there by fair fighting. See how ye 'll die then – lang it was ere he died - he strove, and strove sair, and could neither die nor live; but you half the country will see how ye
The party set up a hoarse laugh at Meg's prophecy.
“What made you come back here, ye auld beldame?” said one of the gipsies; "could ye not have staid where you were, and spaed fortunes to the Cumberland flats? Bing out and tour,
il, and see that nobody has scented; that 's a' you 're good for now.”
“Is that a' I am good for now?" said the indignant matron. “I was good for mair than that in the great fight between our folk and Patrico Salmon's; if I had not helped you with these very fambles, (holding up her hands,) Jean Baillie would have frummagem'd you,
ye feckless do-little!” There was here another laugh at the expense of the hero who had received this amazon's assistance.
“Here, mother,” said one of the sailors, “here's a cup of the right for you, and never mind that bully-huff.”
Meg drank the spirits, and, withdrawing herself from farther conversation, sat down before the spot where Brown lay hid, in such a posture that it would have been difficult for any one to have approached it without her rising. The men, however, showed no disposition to disturb her.
s Liquor and food.
+++ Get imprisoned and banged. # Straw. ** Go out and watch.
*** Throttled you.