Imágenes de página

land but, in which we had passed the night so uncomfortably, for the refreshing fragrance of the morning air, and the glorious beams of the rising sun, which, from a tabernacle of purple and golden clouds, were darted full on such a scene of natural romance and beauty as had never before greeted my eyes. To the left lay the valley, down which the Forth wandered on its easterly course, surrounding the beautiful detached hill, with all its garland of woods. On the right, amid a profusion of thickets, knolls, and crags, lay the bed of a broad mountain lake, lightly curled into tiny waves by the breath of the morning breeze, each glittering in its course under the influence of the sunbeams. High hills, rocks, and banks, waving with natural forests of birch and oak, formed the borders of this enchanting sheet of water; and, as their leaves rustled to the wind and twinkled in the sun, gave to the depth of solitude a sort of life and vivacity. Man alone seemed to be placed in a state of inferiority, in a scene where all the ordinary features of nature were raised and exalted.

It was under the burning influence of revenge that the wife of MacGregor commanded that the hostage, exchanged for her husband's safety, should be brought into her presence. I believe her sons had kept this unfortunate wretch out of her sight, for fear of the consequences; but if it was so, their humane precaution only postponed his fate. They dragged forward, at her summons, a wretch, already half dead with terror, in whose agonized features I recognized, to my horror and astonishment, my old acquaintance Morris.

He fell prostrate before the female chief, with an effort to clasp her knees, from which she drew back, as if his touch had been pollution, so that all he could do, in token of the extremity of his humiliation, was to kiss the hem of her plaid. I never heard entreaties for life poured forth with such agony of spirit. The ecstasy of fear was such, that, instead of paralyzing his tongue, as on ordinary occasions, it even rendered him eloquent, and, with cheeks as pale as ashes, hands compressed in agony, eyes that seemed to be taking their last look of all mortal objects, he protested, with the deepest oaths, his total ignorance of any design on the life of Rob Roy, whom he swore he loved and honored as his own soul. In the inconsistency of his terror, he said he was but the agent of others, and he muttered the name of Rashleigh. He prayed but for life--for life he would give all he had in the world--it was but life he asked—life, if it were to be prolonged

which, being violated, excited the wrath so powerfully described in this extract.

under tortures and privations; he asked only breath, though it should be drawn in the damps of the lowest caverns of their hills.

It is impossible to describe the scorn, the loathing, and contempt with which the wife of MacGregor regarded this wretched petitioner for the poor boon of existence.

“I could have bid you live,” she said, “ had life been to you the same weary and wasting burden that it is to me—that it is to every noble and generous mind. But you—wretch! you could creep through the world unaffected by its various disgraces, its ineffable miseries, its constantly accumulating masses of crime and sorrow-you could live and enjoy yourself, while the noble-minded are betrayed—while nameless and birthless villains tread on the neck of the brave and long-descended-you could enjoy yourself, like a butcher's dog in the shambles, battening on garbage, while the slaughter of the brave went on around you! This enjoyment you shall not live to partake of; you shall die, base dog, and that before yon cloud has passed over the sun.”

She gave a brief command, in Gaelic, to her attendants, two of whom seized upon the prostrate suppliant, and hurried him to the brink of a cliff which overhung the flood. He set up the most piercing and dreadful cries that fear ever uttered—I may well term them dreadful, for they haunted my sleep for years afterwards. As the murderers, or executioners, call them as you will, dragged him along, he recognized me even in that moment of horror, and exclaimed, in the last articulate words I ever heard him utter, “O, Mr. Osbaldistone, save me !-save me !"

I was so much moved by this horrid spectacle, that, although in momentary expectation of sharing his fate, I did attempt to speak in his behalf, but, as might have been expected, my interference was sternly disregarded. The victim was held fast by some, while others, binding a large heavy stone in a plaid, tied it round his neck, and others again eagerly stripped him of some part of his dress. Half naked, and thus manacled, they hurried him into the lake, there about twelve feet deep, drowning his last death-shriek with a loud halloo of vindictive triumph, over which, however, the yell of mortal agony was distinctly heard. The heavy burden splashed in the dark-blue waters of the lake, and the Highlanders, with their poleaxes and swords, watched an instant, to guard, lest, extricating himself from the load to which he was attached, he might have struggled to regain the shore. But the knot had been securely bound; the victim sunk without effort; the waters, which his fall had disturbed, settled calmly over-bim, and the unit of that life for which he had pleaded so strongly was forever withdrawn from the sum of human existence.


It was in a hollow way, near the top of a steep ascent upon the verge of the Ellangowan estate, that Mr. Bertram met the

gypsy procession. Four or five men formed the advanced guard, wrapped in long, loose great coats, that hid their tall slender figures, as the large slouched bats, drawn over their brows, concealed their wild features, dark eyes, and swarthy faces. Two of them carried long fowling-pieces, one wore a broadsword without a sheath, and all had the Highland dirk, though they did not wear that weapon openly or ostentatiously.

Behind them followed the train of laden asses and small carts, or tumblers, as they were called in that country, on which were laid the decrepit and the helpless, the aged and infant part of the exiled community. The women in their red cloaks and straw hats, the elder children with bare heads and bare feet, and almost naked bodies, had the immediate care of the little caravan. The road was narrow, running between two broken banks of sand, and Mr. Bertram's servant rode forward, smacking his whip with an air of authority, and motioning to their drivers to allow free passage to their betters.

His signal was unattended to. He then called to the men who lounged idly on before, “Stand to your beasts' heads, and make room for the laird to pass.” “He shall have his share of the road,” answered a male gypsy from under his slouched and largebrimmed hat, and without raising his face, “and he shall have no more; the highway is as free to our cuddies as to his geldings.”

The tone of the man being sulky, and even menacing, Mr. Bertram thought it best to put his dignity into his pocket, and pass by the procession quietly, upon such space as they chose to leave for his accommodation, which was narrow enough. To cover with an appearance of indifference his feeling of the want of respect with which he was treated, he addressed one of the men as he passed him, without any show of greeting, salute, or recognition— Giles Baillie,” he said, you

heard that your son Gabriel is well ?" (the question respecting the young man who had been pressed.)

“If I had heard otherwise," said the old man, looking up with a stern and menacing countenance, “you should have heard it too." And he plodded his way, tarrying no further question. When the laird had pressed onward with difficulty among a crowd of familiar faces-in which he now only read hatred and contempt,

« have

but which had on all former occasions marked his approach with the reverence due to that of a superior being—and had got clear of the throng, he could not help turning his horse and looking back to mark the progress of the march. The group would have been an excellent subject for the pencil of Colotte. The van had already reached a small and stunted thicket, which was at the bottom of the hill, and which gradually hid the line of march until the last stragglers disappeared.

His sensations were bitter enough. The race, it is true, which he had thus summarily dismissed from their ancient place of refuge, was idle and vicious; but had he endeavored to render them otherwise? They were not more irregular characters now than they had been while they were admitted to consider themselves as a sort of subordinate dependents of his family, and ought the circumstance of his becoming a magistrate to have made at once such a change in his conduct towards them? Some means of reformation ought at least to have been tried, before sending seven families at once upon the wide world, and depriving them of a degree of countenance which withheld them at least from atrocious guilt.

There was also a natural yearning of heart upon parting with so many known and familiar faces; and to this feeling Godfrey Bertram was peculiarly accessible, from the limited qualities of his mind, which sought its principal amusements among the petty objects around him.

As he was about to turn his horse's head to pursue his journey, Meg Merrilies, who had lagged behind the troops, unexpectedly presented herself. She was standing upon one of those high banks, which, as we before noticed, overhung the road, so that she was placed considerably higher than Ellangowan, even though he was on horseback, and her tall figure, relieved against the clear blue sky, seemed almost of supernatural height. We have noticed that there was in her general attire, or rather in her mode of adjusting it, somewhat of a foreign costume, artfully adopted, perhaps, for the purpose of adding to the effect of her spells and predictions, or perhaps from some traditional notions respecting the dress of her ancestors. On this occasion, she had a large piece of red cotton cloth rolled about her head in the form of a turban, from beneath which her dark eyes flashed with uncommon lustre.

Her long and tangled black hair fell in elf locks from the folds of this singular head gear. Her attitude was that of a sibyl in frenzy, as she stretched out, in her right hand, a sapling bough which seemed just pulled. “I'll be sworn,” said the groom,

" she has been cutting the young ashes in the Dukit Park." The laird made no answer, but continued to look at the figure which was thus perched above his path.

“Ride your ways,” said the gypsy, "ride your ways, Laird of Ellangowan—ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram! This day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths; see if the fire in your ain parlor burn the blyther for that! Ye have riven the thack off seven cottar houses ; look if your ain roof-tree stand the faster! Ye may stable your stirks in the shealings at Dernclengh; see that the hare does not couch on the hearthstane at Ellangowan! Ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram ! what do ye glowr after our folk for? There's thirty hearts there that wad hae wanted bread ere ye had wanted sunkets, and spent their life-blood ere ye had scratched your finger; yes, there's thirty yonder, from the auld wife of an hundred to the babe that was born last week, that ye

hae turned out o' their bits o' bields to sleep with the toad and the blackcock in the muirs ! Ride your ways, Ellangowan! Our bairns are hinging at our weary backs; look that your braw cradle at hame be the fairer spread up! Not that I am wishing ill to little Harry, or to the babe that's yet to be born—God forbid, and make them kind to the poor, and better folk than their father ! And now, ride e'en your ways, for these are the last words ye'll ever hear Meg Merrilies speak, and this is the last reise that I'll ever cut in the bonny woods of Ellangowan.”

So saying, she broke the sapling she held in her hand, and flung it into the road. Margaret of Anjou, bestowing on her triumphant foes her keen-edged malediction, could not have turned from them with a gesture more proudly contemptuous. The laird was clearing his voice to speak, and thrusting his hand into his pocket to find half a crown; the gypsy waited neither for his reply nor his donation, but strode down the hill to overtake the

Ellangowan rode pensively home, and it was remarkable that he did not mention this interview to any of his family. The groom was not so reserved; he told the story at great length to a full audience in the kitchen, and concluded by swearing that “if ever the devil spoke by the mouth of a woman, he had spoken by that of Meg Merrilies that blessed day."


« AnteriorContinuar »