ON the evening of the day when the Lord Keeper and his daughter were saved from such imminent peril, two strangers were seated in the most private apartment of a small obscure inn, or rather alehouse, called the Tod's Den [Hole], about three or four [five or six] miles from the Castle of Ravenswood and as far from the ruinous tower of Wolf's Crag, betwixt which two places it was situated.
One of these strangers was about forty years of age, tall, and thin in the flanks, with an aquiline nose, dark penetrating eyes, and a shrewd but sinister cast of countenance. The other was about fifteen years younger, short, stout, ruddy-faced, and red-haired, with an open, resolute, and cheerful eye, to which careless and fearless freedom and inward daring gave fire and expression, notwithstanding its light grey colour. A stoup of wine (for in those days it was erved out from the cask in pewter flagons) was placed on the table, and each had his quaigh or bicker before him. But there was little appearance of conviviality. With folded arms, and looks of anxious expectation, they eyed each other in silence, each wrapt in his own thoughts, and holding no communication with his neighbour. At length the younger broke silence by exclaiming: "What the foul fiend can detain the Master so long? He must have miscarried in his enterprise. Why did you dissuade me from going with him?"
"One man is enough to right his own wrong," said the taller and older personage; "we venture our lives for him in coming thus far on such an errand."
"Yopu are but a craven after all, Craigengelt," answered the younger, "and that's what many folk have thought you before now." "But what none has dared to tell me," said Craigengelt, laying his hand on the hilt of his sword; "and, but that I hold a hasty man no better than a fool, I would----" he paused for his companion's answer.
"WOULD you?" said the other, coolly; "and why do you not then?"
Craigengelt drew his cutlass an inch or two, and then returned it with violence into the scabbard--"Because there is a deeper stake to be played for than the lives of twenty harebrained gowks like you."
"You are right there," said his companion, "for it if were not that these forfeitures, and that last fine that the old driveller Turntippet is gaping for, and which, I dare say, is laid on by this time, have fairly driven me out of house and home, I were a coxcomb and a cuckoo to boot to trust your fair promises of getting me a commission in the Irish brigade. What have I to do with the Irish brigade? I am a plain Scotchman, as my father was before me; and my grand-aunt, Lady Girnington, cannot live for ever."
"Ay, Bucklaw," observed Craigengelt, "but she may live for many a long day; and for your father, he had land and living, kept himself close from wadsetters and money-lenders, paid each man his due, and lived on his own."
"And whose fault it it that I have not done so too?" said Bucklaw--"whose but the devil's and yours, and such-like as you, that have led me to the far end of a fair estate? And now I shall be obliged, I suppose, to shelter and shift about like yourself: live one week upon a line of secret intelligence from Saint Germains; another upon a report of a rising in the Highlands; get my breakfast and morning draught of sack from old Jacobite ladies, and give them locks of my old wig for the Chevalier's hair; second my friend in his quarrel till he comes to the field, and then flinch from him lest so important a political agent should perish from the way. All this I must do for bread, besides calling myself a captain!"
"You think you are making a fine speech now," said Craigengelt, "and showing much wit at my expense. Is starving or hanging better than the life I am obliged to lead, because the present fortunes of the king cannot sufficiently support his envoys?" "Starving is honester, Craigengelt, and hanging is like to be the end on't. But what you mean to make of this poor fellow Ravenswood, I know not. He has no money left, any more than I; his lands are all pawned and pledged, and the interest eats up the rents, and is not satisfied, and what do you hope to make by meddling in his affairs?"
"Content yourself, Bucklaw; I know my business," replied Craigengelt. "Besides that his name, and his father's services in 1689, will make such an acquisition sound well both at Versailles and Saint Germains, you will also please be informed that the Master of Ravenswood is a very different kind of a young fellow from you. He has parts and address, as well as courage and talents, and will present himself abroad like a young man of head as well as heart, who knows something more than the speed of a horse or the flight of a hawk. I have lost credit of late, by bringing over no one that had sense to know more than how to unharbour a stag, or take and reclaim an eyas. The Master has education, sense, and penetration."
"And yet is not wise enough to escape the tricks of a kidnapper, Craigengelt?" replied the younger man. "But don't be angry; you know you will nto fight, and so it is as well to leave your hilt in peace andquiet, and tell me in sober guise how you drew the Master into your confidence?"
"By flattering his love of vengeance, Bucklaw," answered Craigengelt. "He has always distrusted me; but I watched my time, and struck while his temper was red-hot with the sense of insult and of wrong. He goes now to expostulate, as he says, and perhaps thinks, with Sir William Ashton. I say, that if they meet, and the lawyer puts him to his defence, the Master will kill him; for he had that sparkle in his eye which never deceives you when you would read a man's purpose. At any rate, he will give him such a bullying as will be construed into an assault on a privy councillor; so there will be a total breach betwixt him and government. Scotland will be too hot for him; France will gain him; and we will all set sail together in the French brig 'L'Espoir,' which is hovering for us off Eyemouth."
"Content am I," said Bucklaw; "Scotland has little left that I care about; and if carrying the Master with us will get us a better reception in France, why, so be it, a God's name. I doubt our own merits will procure us slender preferment; and I trust he will send a ball through the Keeper's head before he joins us. One or two of these scoundrel statesmen should be shot once a year, just to keep the others on their good behaviour."
"That is very true," replied Craigengelt; "and it reminds me that I must go and see that our horses have been fed and are in readiness; for, should such deed be done, it will be no time for grass to grow beneath their heels." He proceeded as far as the door, then turned back with a look of earnestness, and said to Bucklaw: "Whatever should come of this business, I am sure you will do me the justice to remember that I said nothing to the Master which could imply my accession to any act of violence which he may take it into his head to commit."
"No, no, not a single word like accession," replied Bucklaw; "you know too well the risk belonging to these two terrible words, 'art and part.'" Then, as if to himself, he recited the following lines:
"The dial spoke not, but it made shrewd signs, And pointed full upon the stroke of murder.
"What is that you are talking to yourself?" said Craigengelt, turning back with some anxiety.
"Nothing, only two lines I have heard upon the stage," replied his companion.
"Bucklaw," said Craigengelt, "I sometimes think you should have been a stage-player yourself; all is fancy and frolic with you."
"I have often thought so myself," said Bucklaw. "I believe it would be safer than acting with you in the Fatal Conspiracy. But away, play your own part, and look after the horses like a groom as you are. A play-actor--a stage-player!" he repeated to himself; "that would have deserved a stab, but that Craigengelt's a coward. And yet I should like the profession well enough. Stay, let me see; ay, I would come out in Alexander:
Thus from the grave I rise to save my love, Draw all your swords, and quick as lightning move. When I rush on, sure none will dare to stay: 'Tis love commands, and glory leads the way."
As with a voice of thunder, and his hand upon his sword, Bucklaw repeated the ranting couplets of poor Lee, Craigengelt re-entered with a face of alarm.
"We are undone, Bucklaw! The Master's led horse has cast himself over his halter in the stable, and is dead lame. His hackney will be set up with the day's work, and now he has no fresh horse; he will never get off."
"Egad, there will be no moving with the speed of lightning this bout," said Bucklaw, drily. "But stay, you can give him yours."
"What! and be taken myself? I thank you for the proposal," said Craigengelt.
"Why," replied Bucklaw, "if the Lord Keeper should have met with a mischance, which for my part I cannot suppose, for the Master is not the lad to shoot an old and unarmed man--but IF there should have been a fray at the Castle, you are neither art not part in it, you know, so have nothing to fear."
"True, true," answered the other, with embarrassment; "but consider my commission from Saint Germains."
"Which many men think is a commission of your own making, noble Captain. Well, if you will not give him your horse, why, d----n it, he must have mine."
"Yours?" said Craigengelt.
"Ay, mine," repeated Bucklaw; "it shall never be said that I agreed to back a gentleman in a little affair of honour, and neither helped him on with it nor off from it."
"You will give him your horse? and have you considered the loss?"
"Loss! why, Grey Gilbert cost me twenty Jacobuses, that's true; but then his hackney is worth something, and his Black Moor is worth twice as much were he sound, and I know how to handle him. Take a fat sucking mastiff whelp, flay and bowel him, stuff the body full of black and grey snails, roast a reasonable time, and baste with oil of spikenard, saffron, cinnamon, and honey, anoint with the dripping, working it in----"
"Yes, Bucklaw; but in the mean while, before the sprain is cured, nay, before the whelp is roasted, you will be caught and hung. Depend on it, the chase will be hard after Ravenswood. I wish we had made our place of rendezvous nearer to the coast."
"On my faith, then," said Bucklaw, "I had best go off just now, and leave my horse for him. Stay--stay, he comes: I hear a horse's feet."
"Are you sure there is only one?" said Craigengelt. "I fear there is a chase; I think I hear three or four galloping together. I am sure I hear more horses than one."
"Pooh, pooh, it is the wench of the house clattering to the well in her pattens. By my faith, Captain, you should give up both your captainship and your secret service, for you are as easily scared as a wild goose. But here comes the Master alone, and looking as gloomy as a night in November."
The Master of Ravenswood entered the room accordingly, his cloak muffled around him, his arms folded, his looks stern, and at the same time dejected. He flung his cloak from him as he entered, threw himself upon a chair, and appeared sunk in a profound reverie.
"What has happened? What have you done?" was hastily demanded by Craigengelt and Bucklaw in the same moment.
"Nothing!" was the short and sullen answer.
"Nothing! and left us, determined to call the old villain to account for all the injuries that you, we, and the country have received at his hand? Have you seen him?" "I have," replied the Master of Ravenswood.
"Seen him--and come away without settling scores which have been so long due?" said Bucklaw; "I would not have expected that at the hand of the Master of Ravenswood."
"No matter what you expected," replied Ravenswood; "it is not to you, sir, that I shall be disposed to render any reason for my conduct."
"Patience, Bucklaw," said Craigengelt, interrupting his companion, who seemed about to make an angry reply. "The Master has been interrupted in his purpose by some accident; but he must excuse the anxious curiosity of friends who are devoted to his cause like you and me."
"Friends, Captain Craigengelt!" retorted Ravenswood, haughtily; "I am ignorant what familiarity passed betwixt us to entitle you to use that expression. I think our friendship amounts to this, that we agreed to leave Scotland together so soon as I should have visited the alienated mansion of my fathers, and had an interview with its present possessor--I will not call him proprietor."
"Very true, Master," answered Bucklaw; "and as we thought you had in mind to do something to put your neck in jeopardy, Craigie and I very courteously agreed to tarry for you, although ours might run some risk in consequence. As to Craigie, indeed, it does not very much signify: he had gallows written on his brow in the hour of his birth; but I should not like to discredit my parentage by coming to such an end in another man's cause."
"Gentlemen," said the Master of Ravenswood, "I am sorry if I have occasioned you any inconvenience, but I must claim the right of judging what is best for my own affairs, without rendering explanations to any one. I have altered my mind, and do not design to leave the country this season."
"Not to leave the country, Master!" exclaimed Craigengelt. "Not to go over, after all the trouble and expense I have incurred--after all the risk of discovery, and the expense of freight and demurrage!"
"Sir," replied the Master of Ravenswood, "when I designed to leave this country in this haste, I made use of your obliging offer to procure me means of conveyance; but I do not recollect that I pledged myself to go off, if I found occasion to alter my mind. For your trouble on my account, I am sorry, and I thank you; your expense," he added, putting his hand into his pocket, "admits a more solid compensation: freight and demurrage are matters with which I am unacquainted, Captain Craigengelt, but take my purse and pay yourself according to your own conscience." And accordingly he tendered a purse with some gold in it to the soi-disant captain.
But here Bucklaw interposed in his turn. "Your fingers, Craigie, seem to itch for that same piece of green network," said he; "but I make my vow to God, that if they offer to close upon it, I will chop them off with my whinger. Since the Master has changed his mind, I suppose we need stay here no longer; but in the first place I beg leave to tell him----"
"Tell him anything you will," said Craigengelt, "if you will first allow me to state the inconveniences to which he will expose himself by quitting our society, to remind him of the obstacles to his remaining here, and of the difficulties attending his proper introduction at Versailles and Saint Germains without the countenance of those who have established useful connexions."
"Besides forfeiting the friendship," said Bucklaw, "of at least one man of spirit and honour."
"Gentlemen," said Ravenswood, "permit me once more to assure you that you have been pleased to attach to our temporary connexion more importance than I ever meant that it should have. When I repair to foreign courts, I shall not need the introduction of an intriguing adventurer, nor is it necessary for me to set value on the friendship of a hot-headed bully." With these words, and without waiting for an answer, he left the apartment, remounted his horse, and was heard to ride off.
"Mortbleu!" said Captain Craigengelt, "my recruit is lost!"
"Ay, Captain," said Bucklaw, "the salmon is off with hook and all. But I will after him, for I have had more of his insolence than I can well digest."
Craigengelt offered to accompany him; but Bucklaw replied: "No, no, Captain, keep you the check of the chimney-nook till I come back; it's good sleeping in a haill skin.
Little kens the auld wife that sits by the fire, How cauld the wind blaws in hurle-burle swire."
And singing as he went, he left the apartment.
For this are all these warriors come,
To hear an idle tale;
And o'er our death-accustom'd arms
Shall silly tears prevail?