During our first day's journey, the road lay through a country so rich and so level that, but for the deep indenting of the horizon, I could have fancied myself in England.
"That would be thought a fine park even in my country," said I, as we were passing a princely place.
"Ah, stay till you see the parks of Eredine!" said Charlotte.
It is not to be told what superb conceptions I formed of these same parks of Eredine; for my companion did not enter on the description. I thought Blenheim was to be a paddock compared with them!
Towards evening, the mountains, which had once seemed as soft in the distance as the clouds which rested on them, began to be marked by the gray lights on the rock, and the deep shadows of the ravine. The morning brought a complete change of scene. Corn fields and massive foliage had given place to dull heath, varied only by streaks of verdure, which betrayed a sheep-track or the path of a nameless rill; while here and there a solitary birch "shivered in silvery brightness." The hill, climbed long and painfully, rewarded us with no change of prospect; and the short descent was immediately succeeded by a more tedious climb.
At last, in a narrow valley, which, by contrast, looked rich and inviting, we beheld traces of human habitation; and the change of garb, of countenance, and of accommodation, announced that we were now, as Charlotte said, in her "unconquered country." "The Roman," said she, "when he had bowed 'the sons of little men' to the dust, was forced to shrink behind his ramparts from the valour of our fathers."
I own that I was somewhat confused between my own perceptions and the enthusiasm of my companion. Her eyes flashing through tears of joy, she shook me triumphantly by the hand. "You are welcome to the Highlands!" cried she, "to the land where never friend found a traitor, nor enemy a coward!"
In spite of this burst of amor patriae, we were still almost a day's journey from Charlotte's native place. The mountains had become more precipitous, and the valleys more clothed, when my companion pointed out the spot where we were to dine; and intimated that we must there exchange our carriage for a mode of conveyance better suited to the way which lay before us.
The exterior of our inn was certainly none of the most inviting. The walls, composed of turf and loose stones, were too low to prevent me from plucking the hare-bells which grew on the top of them; and the thatch, varied with every hue of moss and lichen, was more to be admired for picturesque effect than for any more useful quality of a roof. The chimney-crag seemed composed of the wreck of what had once been a tub; the hoops of which, having yielded to the influence of time and the seasons, were rather imperfectly supplied by bands of twisted heath. The hut was, however, distinguished from its fellow hovels by a sashed window on one side of the door, a most incondite picture of a bottle and glass on the other, and a stone lintel, bearing, in characters of no modern shape, the following inscription:--
16 .. W. M. T. Pilgrims we be ilk ane, M. M. B. .. 07. That passen and are gane; Then here sall pilgrim be Welcom'd wi' courtesie.
Before we could draw up to the door of this superb hotel, it poured forth a swarm of children, more numerous than I could have thought it possible for such a place to contain. I was prepared to expect the savage nakedness of legs and feet, which was universal among these little barbarians. For the rest, their attire was rather ludicrous than mean. The boys, even though still in their infancy, were helmed in the martial bonnet of their countrymen; and their short tartan petticoats were appended to a certain scarlet or blue juste au corps, laced up the back, as if to prevent these children of nature from asserting a primeval contempt of clothing. With the girls, however, this point seemed intrusted to feminine sense of propriety; for their upper garment consisted either of a loose jacket or a square piece of woollen cloth thrown round the shoulders, and fastened under the chin only by a huge brass pin or a wooden skewer. The absurdity of their appearance was heightened by the premature gravity of their countenances; which were more like the grim-visaged babes in an old family picture than the animation of youthful life. In profound silence they stood courtesying as we passed; while the boys remained cap in hand till we entered the hut.
It consisted of two apartments, one of which I dimly discerned through the smoke to be occupied by a group of peasants, collected round some embers which lay in the middle of the floor. Into the other, which was the state-chamber, Miss Graham and I made our way. It appeared to have been hastily cleared for our reception, for the earthen floor, as well as an oaken table, which stood in the middle of it, was covered with debris of cheese, oat-cakes, and raw onions, intermixed with slops of whisky. The good woman, however, who was doing the honours, rectified the disorder seemingly to her own satisfaction, by taking up the corner of her apron and sweeping the rubbish from the table to the floor. Meanwhile she entered into a conversation with Miss Graham, in which every possible question was directly or indirectly asked, except the only one which on such occasions I was accustomed to hear, namely, what we chose to have for dinner. But, as it proved, this question would have been the most unnecessary of all, for, upon inquiry, we learnt that our choice was limited to a fowl, or, as the landlady termed it, "a hen."
While this point was settling, the head waiter and chambermaid appeared in the person of a square-built wench, naked up to the middle of a scarlet leg, and without any head-dress except a bandeau of blue worsted tape. Having tossed a lapful of brushwood into the chimney (for the state chamber had a chimney), she next brought, upon a piece of slate, some embers which she added to the heap; then, squatting herself upon the hearth, she took hold of her petticoat with both hands at the hem, tightening it by her elbows, and moving her arms quickly up and down, she soon fanned the fire into a blaze.
Next came our landlord in the full garb of his country, and great was my astonishment to see him hold out his hand to Miss Graham as to a familiar acquaintance. Nor was my surprise at all lessened when he coolly took his seat between us, and began to favour us with his opinions upon continental politics. Provoked by this impertinence, and by the courtesy with which Miss Graham received it, I interrupted his remarks by desiring he would get me a glass of water. Without moving from his position, he communicated my demand to the maid, and went on with his conversation. I took the first opportunity of reproving Charlotte's tame endurance of all this. "What would you have had me do?" said she: "he is a discreet, sensible man, and a gentleman."
"A gentleman!" repeated I,
"Yes," returned Charlotte, "I assure you he is my father's third cousin, and can count kindred, besides, with the best in Perthshire."
It was plain that Miss Graham and I affixed somewhat different ideas to the word "gentleman;" however, upon the claims of his ancestors, I was obliged to admit this gentleman, to our dinner-table; when, after a violent commotion among the poultry had announced mortal preparation for our repast, it at last appeared. Our unhappy "hen," whose dying limbs no civilized hand had composed, was reinforced by a dish of salmon (large enough to satisfy ten dragoons), which Miss Graham, with some difficulty, persuaded the landlady that the stranger might condescend to taste.
Towards the close of our meal our attendant pushed aside the panel of a large wooden bed, which occupied one side of our apartment, and from a shelf within, produced a large cheese, and an earthen pitcher full of butter, which she placed upon the table. Then, from the coverlet, where they had been arranged to cool, she brought us a large supply of oat-cakes. I fear I was not polite enough to suppress some natural signs of loathing, for the girl, with the quick observation of her countrymen, instantly apologized for the cause of my disgust. "It is just for sake of keeping them clean, with your leave," said she: "there's so many soot-drops fall through this house." In spite of this apology, however, I was so thoroughly disgusted, that I heard with great joy the trampling of our horses at the door, and immediately ran out to survey the cavalcade which had been despatched from Castle Eredine for our accommodation.
It consisted of three horses of very diminutive size; two of which were intended to carry Miss Graham and myself, and the third to transport our baggage. This last was caparisoned somewhat like a gipsy's ass, with two panniers slung across his back by means of a rope that seemed composed of his own hair. Into one of these panniers the gille trushannich pushed Miss Graham's portmanteau, and finding that mine was too light to balance it on the other side, he added a few turfs to make up the difference. Besides this domestic we were each provided with a sort of running footman, whose office it was to keep pace with our horses, and to lead them at any difficult or dangerous step, and our equipage was completed by six or seven sturdy Highlanders, who, in mere courtesy to their chieftain's daughter, had walked fifteen or twenty miles to escort her home.
Thus guarded, we set out, our attendants, seemingly without effort, keeping pace with the horses. With all of them Miss Graham occasionally conversed in their native tongue, and I could perceive that they answered her with perfect readiness and self-possession; but none of them ever accosted her until he was addressed, nor could she prevail with any of them to wear his bonnet while she spoke.
Henry's name was so often repeated by them all, that I felt no small curiosity to learn more minutely the subject of their conversation. But though I had resumed my Gaelic studies under Charlotte's tuition, I was not yet sufficiently initiated to follow the utterance of a native; and my friend had already begun to smile so slily at my questions concerning her brother, that the very circumstance which awakened my curiosity, made me half afraid to gratify it. At last, looking as unconscious as I could, I asked Charlotte on what subject her servant was speaking with such ardour? "My friend Kenneth," answered she, emphatically, "is reminding me of an expedition of Henry's to extricate his nurse's sheep from the snow. But talk to him yourself; he speaks English. Kenneth, poor Miss Percy cannot speak Gaelic; so tell her that story in English. I know you like to speak a good word for your friend Henry."--" If he were here," said Kenneth, making a gesture of courtesy, which did not absolutely amount to a bow, "he would need nobody to speak a good word for him to a pretty lady." He then related very minutely how Henry and he had climbed the rocky side of Benarde; and from a crag midway in the precipice, had rescued the whole wealth of a Highland cottager.
"And do you in the Highlands think nothing of risking your lives for a few sheep?" said I.
"Do you not think, lady," said Kenneth, "that I had a good right to risk my life for my own mother's beasts? And you know the young gentleman was not to be forbidden by the like of me. His life! I would not have ventured a hair of his head for all the sheep in Argyll." Then speaking to my special attendant, he uttered, with great emphasis, a Gaelic phrase, which I obliged him to translate, signifying that "a man's friend may be dear, but his foster-brother is a piece of his heart."
"My mother," continued Kenneth, "would have lost the best beloved lamb of her fold, if Mr. Henry had not followed me that day, for the frost had seized me; and I would have laid me down to sleep for a far-off waking, but Mr. Henry drew me, and carried me, and I do not know what he made of me, but the first sound I heard was my mother crying, 'Och chone a rie, mo cuillean ghaolach.' Blessings on his face for her sake! for had it not been for him, she would have had none but a fremd hand to lay the sod on her." Kenneth had obeyed his lady's command, and he now modestly fell back, as if disclaiming further right to attention.
"Surely, Charlotte," cried I, "you are the happiest sister in the world. How deep, how indelible, are the attachments which your brother seems to awaken! Though he has been so long a stranger among them, these people are absolutely enthusiastic in his praise. It is strange! I never saw anything like affection in servants, except in a novel."
Charlotte looked at me with an aspect of amazement, but she was too polite either to charge me with the true cause of my ill fortune, or to acquit me at the expense of my countrymen. "Henry will not let his friends here forget him," said she; "for, however engaged, he never forgets them. He sends them advice, encouragement, reproof, and whatever else they most need. Poor Henry! I remember a letter which he wrote to acquaint me with one of the severest disappointments of his life--a letter written in the midst of toil and bustle. It contained an order for comfortable bedding for his bed-ridden nurse."
"But how could your brother--how could your parents allow a mere prejudice to banish him from such strong attachments? Surely he could have felt no self-reproach for giving evidence against a common thief--a miscreant who attempted his life!"
"I don't know," said Charlotte, doubtingly. "Neil Roy was a well-born gentleman; and in many respects a very honest man. Besides, where the punishment is so unjustly disproportioned to the offence, it is not very pleasant to be concerned in inflicting it. However, it was not that affair alone which first drove my brother from home. Cecil was partly right, and partly wrong, in the account she gave you. My mother, you know, was a stranger; and though she was one of the best and most respectable of women, yet it was natural that she should retain some of the prejudices of her country. My father intended settling Henry in a farm, or educating him for the church; but my mother, I believe, would have thought either little less than burying him alive. However, she must have submitted to necessity if the affair of Neil Roy had not assisted her in persuading my father to send Henry away. Her health, too, was so fast declining, that my father could refuse her nothing. So poor Henry was made a peace-offering to my mother's relations, who would never have any connexion with her after her marriage with a Highland rebel--as they were pleased to call the best born and the most loyal in the land! Oh, Ellen! it sometimes goes to my heart to think he should owe so much as a shoe-latchet to those who dared to look down upon his father. But whatever may happen, Henry can never regret having obeyed a parent."
This little narrative was given with as much freedom as if Charlotte and I had been alone; for our attendants no sooner observed us inclined to talk apart, than they retreated to such a distance as left us at perfect liberty. At last, however, they advanced, and the two gillen comsrian took our horses by the bridles, while the rest began to clear away the loose stones from the track which was leading us round the brow of an abrupt mountain. My eyes were involuntarily fixed upon a dell which had no interest except what it gained from the certainty that a single false step would bring me a hundred fathoms nearer to it. The golden clouds that linger after sunset were still throwing strong light upon our path, while the dell lay in deep shade. I was so new to Highland travelling, that, in some alarm, I was consulting my attendant upon the expediency of dismounting, when my attention was diverted by Charlotte. "Benarde!" cried she, with such a voice as, had my mother been on earth, I could have cried, "My mother!" I looked up; and saw between me and the glowing west only a naked crag, towering above the vapour which was floating in the vale.
Presently our path wound round the brow of the mountain which we were descending; and, gorgeous in all the tints of autumn, harmonized by the sober shades of evening, Eredine burst on our sight. Charlotte uttered not a sound. She uncovered her head as if she had entered a temple; and raised her eyes as if in thanksgiving which words could not speak.
I myself was little more inclined to break the silence imposed by the scene. Far below our feet lay a lake, motionless, as if never breeze had ruffled its calm. All there was still as the yet unpeopled earth, except the gliding shadow of a solitary eagle sailing down the vale. A faint flush still tinged the silver towards the east; to the west, the huge Benarde threw upon the waters his own sober majesty of hue. But where the shade would have been the deepest, it was softened by the long lines of grey light that imaged the walls of Castle Eredine. Beyond, in a sheltered valley, the evening smokes floating among the copse-wood alone betrayed the hamlets, concealed by their own unobtrusive chastity of colouring.
We continued to descend; and the woods gradually closed the scene from our view. First, the birch dropped here and there its light sprays from the crag; then, gigantic roots of oak, grappling with the rock, sent forth their dwarf stems in unprofitable abundance; lower, the vigorous beech and massy plane threw their strong shadows, and, by degrees, arranged themselves into a noble avenue. Yet this approach did not peculiarly belong to Castle Eredine; it led equally to many a more humble abode. Several of these were scattered by the way-side; and each, as we passed, poured forth a swarm to welcome Charlotte's return. Every eye shone with pleasure; yet all was calm and silence. No shouting, no tumult; none of the sounds which, in my native country, announce vulgar gladness, disturbed the quiet of the scene. The very children hung down their smiling sun-burnt faces, and waited with sidelong looks for the expected notice.
Issuing from the wood the path now became a well-beaten road, led us through a few small half-enclosed fields of corn and pasture to a sort of natural bridge, or rather isthmus; the only access to the rock upon which Castle Eredine projected into the lake. I must own, that its lofty title, and Cecil's romantic tales of its ancient possessors, had ill prepared me for the edifice which I now beheld. A square tower, with its narrow arched doorway, was the only trace which remained of warlike array; and a range of more modern building, with its steep roof, into which the walls rose in awkward triangles, and its clumsy windows, through which cross lights streamed from behind, gave me no exalted idea of the accommodations of Castle Eredine. It seemed, however, that others found no want of space within its walls; for at least thirty persons, of different ranks and ages, came forth to receive us.
The foremost of these must have attracted my attention and respect, even though Charlotte's gesture and joyful exclamation had not announced her father. Age had not impaired the firmness of his step, nor the erect majesty of a figure Herculean in all its proportions. His eye retained its fire; his cheek its ruddy brown; the snowy locks which waved from beneath his bonnet alone betokened that he had already passed the common age of man. The plumes by which these locks were shaded chiefly distinguished his attire; for the rest of his dress was entirely composed of the scarlet and blue tartan of his clan. Saluting me first on one cheek, and then on the other, he welcomed me to Eredine, with little more ceremony, and little less kindness than he received his own Charlotte; then giving an arm to each he led us into the sitting-room.
It was a large apartment, panelled all round. Each panel seemed to open into either a cupboard or a closet--the walls being thick enough to admit of either; while each side was a little enlivened by a row of windows sunk in recesses, every one of which might have contained a dozen persons. But the gloom of this apartment was completely dispelled by the blazing of a wood fire, proportioned in size to what more resembled an alcove than a chimney, and by the cordial looks and kind attentions which every one seemed disposed to exchange.
So little restraint did my presence occasion,--so easily and naturally did Eredine, Charlotte, and even the servants, admit me to the interchange of cordial courtesy, which seemed the established habit of the family, that, before our substantial supper was ended, I had almost forgotten that I was a stranger. Indeed, so well did they all understand and practise the delicacies of hospitality, that, in less than a week I was as much at home as if I had been born in Glen Eredine.
In the spirit with which she constantly sought to impress me with feelings of equality and sisterhood, Charlotte offered to share her apartment with me, on pretence of its being the most modern in the Castle.
"Since I have dragged you to the land of ghosts," said she, "I am bound in honour to protect you as well as I can; and Henry has so modernized my room that no true Highland ghost would condescend to show his face in it."
This room was indeed furnished very differently from the rest, yet still so that nothing incongruous struck the eye. Many of the elegant conveniences of modern life found a place there; book-shelves, drawing-cases, cabinets, all that can be imagined necessary to the light employments of a gentlewoman, were supplied in abundance; but all were of such substantial form and materials, that they seemed no intruders among the more venerable heirlooms of Castle Eredine. A closet, opening from our bedchamber, and stored with a small but select collection of books, was appropriated solely to me.
When we had retired for the night, Charlotte, after a thoughtful silence, laid her arm on my shoulder, and said, "Ellen, there is a caution I would give you; I should rather say a favour which I am going to ask."
"A favour, dearest Charlotte! I thought it had been decreed that all the favours were to come from one side! Well! how can you hesitate so?"
"There is a gentleman whom you once mentioned to me, a--a mutual acquaintance."
Charlotte's complexion explained her meaning. "Mr. Maitland?" said I.
"Oblige me so far, my dear "Ellen, as never to mention his name to my father."
"Certainly, since you desire it, I promise you that I never will. I am persuaded that the reasons must be strong and well weighed which induce you to use caution with a parent."
"Yes, they are strong," said Charlotte, thoughtfully; "and one day, perhaps, you may be satisfied that they are so. It grieves me, my dear Ellen, to have even the appearance of a secret with you, but I am satisfied that I am acting as I ought--that the happiness of--of my life--that even your happiness--"
"Stop, dear Charlotte!" interrupted I; "believe me, I have no wish to listen to any subject which can give you pain. Continue to do what you think right. Only let me once more assure you that I have no interest whatever in Mr. Maitland, except as in the best of men,--the most disinterested of friends,--a friend whose kindness withstood all my unworthiness. Oh, Charlotte, if Mr. Graham knew him as I do, he would let no prejudice of birth, or of country, deprive his daughter of the happiness,--the honour--"
I was obliged to stop; for I had talked myself into a fit of enthusiasm, and tears filled my eyes. A pleased smile played round Charlotte's beautiful mouth; but she turned away without reply, as if unwilling to cherish a hope which might prove fallacious.
I had some curiosity to know whether the only obstacle to her wishes lay with her father; but I was deterred from asking questions, by recollecting her language on a former occasion. Besides, I was afraid that she might fancy I felt some interest in the disposal of Maitland's affections.
This presentation of Discipline: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.