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wife of a peasant, the son of a church-vassal raised up to mushroom eminence by the capricious favour of Murray.
The pride of ancestry, which rankled in the bosom of the more ancient gentry, was more openly expressed by their ladies, and was, moreover, embittered not a little by the political feuds of the time, for most of the Southron chiefs were friends to the authority of the Queen, and very jealous of the power of Murray. The Castle of Avenel was, therefore, on all these accounts, as melancholy and solitary a residence for its lady as could well be imagined. Still it had the essential recommendation of great security. The reader knows that the fortress was built upon an islet in a small lake, and was only accessible by a causeway, intersected by a double ditch defended by two draw bridges, so that without artillery, it might in these days be considered as impregnable. It was only necessary, therefore, to secure against surprise, and the service of six able men within the castle was sufficient for that purpose. If more serious danger threatened, an ample garrison was supplied by the male inhabitants of a little Hamlet, which under the auspices of Halbert Glendinning, had arisen on a small piece of level ground, betwixt the lake and the hill, nearly adjoining to the spot where the causeway joined the main land. The Lord of Avenel had found it an easy
matter to get inhabitants, as he was not only a kind and beneficent over-lord, į but well qualified both by his experience in arms, his high character for wis
dom and integrity, and his favour with the powerful Earl of Murray, to protect and defend those who dwelt under his banner. In leaving his castle for any length of time, he had, therefore, the consolation to reflect, that this village afforded, on the slightest notice, a band of thirty stout men, which was more than sufficient for its defence; while the families of the villagers, as was usual on such occasions, fled to the recesses of the mountains, drove their cattle to the same places for shelter, and left the enemy to work their will on their miserable cottages.
One guest only resided generally, if not constantly, at the castle of Avenel. This was Henry Warden, who now felt himself less able to the stormy task imposed on the reforming clergy; and having by his zeal given personal offence to many of the leading nobles and chiefs, did not consider himself as perfectly safe, uuless when within the walls of the strong mansion of some assured friend. He ceased not, however, to serve his cause as eagerly with his pen, as he had formerly done with his tongue, and had engaged in a furious and acrimonious contest, concerning the sacrifice of the mass, as it was termed, with the Abbot Eustatius, formerly the SubPrior of Kennaquhair. Answers, replies, duplies, triplies, quadruplies, followed thick upon each other, and displayed, as is not unusual in controversy, full as much zeal as Christian charity. The disputation very soon became as celebrated as that of John Knox and the Abbot of Corseraguel, raged nearly as fiercely, and, for aught I know, the pieces to which it gave rise may be as precious in the eyes of bibliographers. But the engrossing nature of his occupation rendered the theologian not the most interesting companion for a solitary female; and his grave, stern, and absorbed deportment, which seldom she wed any interest except in that which concerned his religious profession, made his presence rather add to than diminish the gloom which kung over the Castle of Avenel. To superintend the tasks of her numerous female domestics, was the principal part of the Lady's daily employment ; her spindle and distaff, her Bible and a solitary walk upon the battlements of the castle, or upon the causeway, or occasionally, but more seldon, upon the banks of the little lake, consumed the rest of the day. But so great was the insecurity of the period, that when she ventured to extend
her walk beyond the hamlet, the warder on the watch-tower was directed to keep a sharp out-look in every direction, and four or five men held themselves in readiness to mount and sally forth from the village at the slightest appearance of alarm.
Thus stood affairs at the Castle, when, after an absence of several weeks, the Knight of Avenel, which was now the title most frequently given to Sir Halbert Glendinding, was daily expected to return home. Day after day, however, passed away, and he returned not. Letters in those days were rarely written, and the knight must have resorted to a secretary to express his intentions in that manner; besides, intercourse of all kinds was precarious and unsafe, and no man cared to give any public intimation of the time and direction of a journey, since it was always likely he might in that case meet with more enemies than friends upon the road. The precise day, therefore, of Sir Halbert's return was not fixed, but that which his lady's fond expectation had calculated upon in her own mind was long since passed, and hope delayed began to make the heart sick.
It was upon the evening of a sultry summer's day, when the sun was balf sunk behind the distant western mountains of Liddesdale, that the Lady took her solitary walk on the battlements of a range of buildings, which formed the front of the Castle, where a flat roof of flag-stones presented a broad and convenient promenade. The level surface of the lake undisturbed except by the occasional dipping of a teal-duck, or cool, was gilded with the beams of the setting luminary, and reflected, as if in a goldon mirror, the hills amongst which it lay embosomed. The scene, otherwise so lonely, was occasionally enlivened by the voices of the children in the village, which, softened by distance, reached the ear of the Lady in her solitary walk, or by the distant call of the herdsmen, as he guided his cattle from the glen in which they had pastured all day, to place them in greater security for the night, in the immediate vicinity of the village. The deep lowing of the cows seemed to demand the attendance of the milkmaidens, who, singing shrilly and merrily, strolled forth each with her pail on her head, to attend to the duty of evening. The Lady of the Avenel looked and listened ; the sounds which she heard reminded her of former days, when her most important employment, as well as her greatest delight, was to assist Dame Glendinning and Tibb Tacket in milking the cows at Glendearg. The thought was fraught with melancholy.
Why was I not,' she said, the peasant girl which in all men's eyes I seemed to be! Halbert and I had then spent our life peacefully in his na. live glen, undisturbed by the phantoms either of fear or of ambition. His greatest pride had then been to shew the fairest herd in the Halidome; his greatest danger to repel some pilfering snatcher from the Border ; and the ut. most distance which would have divided us, would have been the chase of some out-lying deer. But alas! what avails the blood which Halbert has shed, and the dangers which he encounters, to support a name and rank, dear to him because he has it from me, but which we shall never transmit to our posterity! With me the name of Avenel must expire.?
She sighed as these reflections arose, and, looking towards the shore of the lake, her eye was attracted by a group of children of various ages, assembled to see a little ship, constructed by some village artist, perform its first voyage on the water. It was launched amid the shouts of tiny voices and the clapping of little hands, and shot bravely forth on its voyage with a lavouring wind, which promised to carry it to the other side of the lake. Some of the bigger boys ran round to receive and to secure it on the farther Shore, trying their speed against each other as they sprung like young fawns
along the shingly verge of the lake. The rest, for whom such a journey seemed too arduous, remained watching the motions of the fairy vessel from the spot where it had been launched. The sight of their sports pressed on the mind of the childless Lady of Avenel.
• Why are none of these prattlers mine !' she continued, pursuing the tenor of her melancholy reflections. Their parents can scarce find them in the coarsest food-and I, who could nurse them in plenty, I am doomed never to hear a child call me mother !
The thought sunk on her heart with a bitterness which resembled envy, so deeply is the desire of offspring implanted in the female breast. She pressed her hands together as if she was wringing them in the extremity of her desolate feeling, as one whom heaven had written childless. A large stag-hound of the greyhound species, approached at this moment, and, attracted perhaps by the gesture, licked her hands and pressed his large head against them. He obtained the desired caress in return, but still the sad impression remained.
Wolf,' she said, as if the animal could have understood her complaints, thou art a noble and beautiful animal ; but alas! the love and affection that I long to bestow, is of a quality higher than can fall to thy share, though I love thee much.'
And as if she were apologizing to Wolf for withholding from him any part of her regard, she caressed his proud head and crest, while, looking in her eyes, he seemed to ask her what she wanted, or what he could do to sliew his attachment. At this moment a shriek of distress was heard on the shore, from the playful group which had been lately so jovial. The Lady looked, and saw the cause with great agony.
The little ship, the object of the children's delighted attention, had struck among some tufts of the plant which bears the water-lily, that marked a little shoal in the lake about an arrow flight from the shore. A hardy little boy, who had taken the lead in the race round the margin of the lake, did not hesitate a moment to strip of his wylie-coat, plunge into the water, and swim towards the object of their common solicitude. The first movement of the Lady was to call for help; but she observed that the boy swam strongly and fearlessly, and as she saw that one or two villagers, who were distant spectators of the incident, seemed to give themselves no uneasiness on his account, she supposed that he was accustomed to the exercise, and that there was no danger. But whether, in swimming, the boy had struck his breast against a sunken rock, or whether he was suddenly taken with the cramp, or whether he had over-calculated his own strength, it so happened, that when he had disembarrased the little plaything from the flags in which it was entangled, and sent it forward on its course, he had scarce swam a few yards in his way to the shore, than he raised himself suddenly from the water and screamed aloud, clapping his hands at the same time with an expression of fear and pain.
The Lady of Avenel instantly taking the alarm, called hastily to the attendants to get the boat ready. But this was an affair of some time. · The only boat permitted to be ased on the lake was moored within the second cut which intersected the canal, and it was several minutes ere it could be unmoored and got under way. Meantime, the Lady of Avenel, with ago nizing anxiety, saw the efforts which the poor boy made to keep himself afloat, were now exchanged for a faint struggling, which would soon have been over, but for aid equally pronipt and unhoped for. Wolf, who, like some of that large species of grey-hound, was a practised water-dog, had marked the object of her anxiety, and quitting his mistress' side, had sought
the nearest point from which he could with safety plunge into the lake. With the wonderful instinct which these noble animals have so often displayed in the like circumstances, he swam straight to the spot where his assistance was so much wanted, and seizing the child's under-dress in his mouth, he not only kept him afloat, but towed him toward the causeway. The boat having put off with a couple of men, met the dog half-way and relieved him of his burthen. They landed on the causeway, close by the entrance to the castle, with their yet lifeless burthen, and were met at the entrance of the gate by the Lady of Avenel, attended by one or two of her maidens, eagerly waiting to administer assistance to the sufferer.
He was borne into the castle, deposited upon a bed, and every mode of recovery resorted to, which the knowledge of the times, and the skill of Henry Warden, who professed some medical knowledge, could dictate. For some time it was all in vain, and the Lady watched with unspeakable earnestness the pallid countenance of the beautiful child. He seemed about ten years old. His dress was of the meanest sort, but his long curled hair, and the noble cast of his features, partook not of that poverty of appearance. The proudest noble in Scotland might have been yet prouder could he have. called that child his heir. While, with breathless anxiety, the Lady of Avenel gazed on his well-formed and expressive features, a slight shade of colour returned gradually to the cheek; suspended animation became restored by degrees, the child sighed deeply, opened his eyes, which to the human countenance produces the effect of light upon the natural landscape, stretched his arms towards the Lady, and muttered the word • Mother,' that epithet, of all others, which is dearest to the female ear.
• God, madam,' said the preacher,'has restored the child to your wishes; it must be yours to bring him up, that he may not one day wish that he had perished in his innocence.'
It shall be my charge,' said the Lady; and again throwing her arms around the boy, she overwhelmed him with kisses and caresses, so much was she agitated by the terror arising from the danger in which he had been just placed, and by joy at his unexpected deliverance.
But you are not my mother,' said the boy, collecting his recollection, and endeavouring, though faintly, to escape from the caresses of the Lady of Arenel ; ' you are not my mother-alas! I have no mother-only I have dreamt that I had one.'
I will read the dream for you, my love,' answered the Lady of Avenel ; and I will be myself your mother. Surely God has heard my wishes, and, in his own marvellous manner, hath sent me an object on which my affections may expand themselves !” She looked towards Warden as she spoke. The preacher hesitated what he should reply to a burst of passionate feeling, which, perhaps, seemed to him more enthusiastic than the occasion demanded. In the meanwhile, the large stag-hound, Wolf, which, dropping wet as he was, had followed his mistress into the apartment, and had sate by the bed-side a patient and quiet spectator of all the means used for resuscitation of the being whom he had preserved, now became impatient of remaining any long unnoticed, and began to whine and fawn upon the Lady with his great rough paws.
"Yes, she said, good Wolf, and you shall be remembered also for your day's work; and I will think the more of you for having preserved the life of a creature so beautiful.'
But Wolf was not quite satisfied with the share of attention which he thus attracted; he persisted in whining and pawing upon his mistress, his caresses being rendered still more troublesome by his long shaggy hair being so
much and thoroughly wetted, till she desired one of the domestics, with whom he was familiar, to call the animal out of the apartinent. Wolf resisted every invitation to this purpose, until his mistress positively commanded him to begone, in an angry tone; when, turning towards the bed on which the boy still lay, halfawake to sensation, half drowned in the meanders of a fluctuating deliriurn, he uttered a deep and savage growl, curled up his nose and lips, shewing his full range of white and sharpened teeth, which might have matched those of an actual wolf, and then, turning round, sullenly followed the domestic out of the apartment.
It is singular,' said the Lady, addressing Warden; the animal is not only so good-natured to all, but so particularly fond of children. What can ail him at the little fellow whose life he has saved ?'
Dogs,' replied the preacher, 6 are but too like the human race in their foibles, though their instinct be less erring than the reason of poor mortal man when relying upon his own unassisted powers. Jealousy, my good lady, is a passion not unknown to them, and they often evince it, not only with respect to the preferences which they see given by their masters to individuals of their own species, but even when their rivals are children. You have caressed that child much and eagerly, and the dog considers himself as a discarded favourite.' a "It is a strange instinct; said the Lady, and from the gravity with which you mention it, my reverend friend, I would almost say that you supposed this singular jealousy of my favourite Wolf, was not only well-founded, but justifiable. But perhaps you speak in jest.'
I seldom jest,' answered the preacher; ' life was not lent to us to be expended in that idle mirth which resembles the crackling of thorns under the pot. I would only have you derive, if it so please you, this lesson from what I have said, that the best of our feelings, when indulged to excess, may gia pain to others. There is but one in which we may indulge to the utmost limit of vehemence of which our bosom is capable, secure that excess cannot exist in the greatest intensity to which it can be excited—I mean the love of our Maker.'
. Surely,' said the Lady of Avenei, ' we are commanded by the same authority to love our neighbour
“Ay, madam,' said Warden, "but our love to God is to be unboundedwe are to love him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole strength. The love which the precept commands us to bear to our neighbour, has affixed to it a direct limit and qualification-we are to love our neighbour as ourself; as it is elsewhere explained by the great commandment, that we do unto him as we would that he did unto us. Here there is a limit, and a bound, even to the most praiseworthy of our affections, so far as they are turned upon sublunary and terrestrial objects. We are to render to our neighbour, whatever be his rank or degree, that corresponding portion of our affection with which we could rationally expect we should ourselves be regarded by those standing in the same degree of relation to us. Hence, neither husband nor wife, neither son nor daughter, neither friend nor relation, are lawfully to be made the objects of our idolatry. The Lord our God is a jealous God, and will not endure that we bestow on the creature that extremity of devotion which He who made us demands as his own share. I say to you, lady, that even in the fairest and purest, and most honourable feelings of our nature, there is that original taint of sin which ought to make us pause and hesitate ere we indulge them to excess.'