Lindigo, the White Woman/Chapter 12
A TURKEY COCK MISTAKEN FOR A COLONEL.
After the foregoing melancholy occurrence Charlie and Bella did not meet, as Mr. McKay kept strict watch upon them. The term of the lease, or Martinmas, was drawing nigh, when he would be obliged to give up his ancestral home, and relinquish for ever his claims to Kinlochlinn, where he had spent so many happy days, and first breathed his mountain air. His source of recreation was now limited to his boat, and visiting the Islets of Lochlinn to shoot sea-fowl. On one of these trips, attended by Donald, they sailed close by McKay's side of the estuary, and to their great joy beheld Bella McKay and Mary Grant on one of their charitable excursions, going to visit a lonely woman, who lived in a small boothie by the sea-side, whose name was Ni Ruari (or Rodrick's Daughter).
This poor creature had never extended her acquaintance further than the immediate neighbourhood of Lochlinn, and was therefore ignorant of many habits, customs, and other modern subjects; as an illustration of her want of knowledge, we will give one instance of her peculiarities.
One shooting season, in the absence of the laird, a Colonel Robertson took up his quarters at the Castle. Being a Lowlander, and partial to the good things of this life, he invariably replenished his table with many delicacies which were procured in those parts at a very moderate rate, such as fowls, eggs, &c. Ni Ruari, having heard from a neighbour the excellent market which presented itself at the Castle for their surplus fowls and eggs, resolved to benefit by the opportunity, and started to the Castle with a pair of fowls and a dozen eggs, with the proceeds of which she intended to procure some tea, to which she was extremely partial.
On approaching the Castle she was encountered by an enormous turkey cock, which was the terror of all females, particularly those wearing any article of red, and as Ni Ruari had unfortunately enveloped herself in her long laid-up red tartan cloak, she became an object for the bird's wrath.
He accordingly arrested her progress by strutting before her on the path with his bristling plumage, large scarlet appendages of comb over his beak and breast, giving utterance to that gobbling sound peculiar to them. Turkeys being very scarce in those parts, except about gentlemen's houses, and as Ni Ruari had never in her life seen or heard of the like, concluded at once it must be the Corineal (Colonel) of whose person she was as ignorant as the bird before her, his strange gobbling or language she believed to be broad Scotch.
Making a low curtsey, she exhibited her fowls and eggs, remarking with great humility,in Gaelic, "Coilleach as ceare ler cead a Choirneil." "Dusan ubh ler cead a Choirneil." ("A cock and hen, with your leave, Colonel." "A dozen eggs, with your leave, Colonel.")
A servant, who had observed the attack of the turkey, ran to Ni Ruari's rescue, overheard these amusing remarks, and just as the thankless bird was on the point of making an assault, the maid interposed and explained the mistake. She then conducted Ni Ruari to the real Coirneil, who, as may be expected greatly enjoyed the affair, paid handsomely for the goods, and treated the old woman to a glass of whisky, and her favourite strong cup of tea.
It may seem strange that although Ni Ruari was so ignorant in most things, she had a wonderful gift for reading people's fortunes in cups, and she had attained such proficiency in that art, that her prophecies, according to accounts, proved, in most instances correct, and frequently shook the incredulity of some of the non-believers in her art.
It was towards Ni Ruari's boothy that Bella McKay was going on her benevolent excursion, her object being to relieve the old woman's wants, and not for the purpose, as some might suppose, of having her fortune told, as she had no faith in such practices. Not so her maid; she hailed with joy the benevolent intentions which led her young mistress to the mysterious habitation, and often wished to have the opportunity of removing the veil which concealed her own futurity.
The young boatmen were no less overjoyed at the unlooked-for prospect of holding an interesting and uninterrupted téte-a-téte with their fair ones, steered their light bark towards the beach under Ni Ruari's boothy, then furled their sail, sprung lightly on shore, and were soon in the arms of those they loved.
On the happy couples' entrance under the low roof, its strange occupant hailed the visit of such a rare company with a sort of hospitable greeting which more resembled a grin than a smile, and which had been a stranger to the shrivelled physiognomy for many years. As the reader may be anxious to be introduced to this strange being, we will endeavour to describe her looks. It was impossible to ascertain her age, as she had arrived at that period when it is difficult to judge with any accuracy, no register being kept of such events at that time. Indeed it was believed by the majority of her acquaintances that she lived at the time of the flood, and would be likely to live until the end of time, as the oldest among them knew her as Old Ni Ruari. Her skin was parched and wrinkled, and had become of a yellowish tint which more resembled vellum than human skin.
Her black locks were (strange to say, without any symptom of changing its colour) gathered up under a close cap called Subag. Her eyes were small and black, shaded by a fold of skin in place of brows. Her nose and chin were sharp, and threatened an immediate collision whenever she closed her thin colourless lips. Her voice had a strange unearthly tone whenever she spoke, owing to the want of teeth and the rolling of her tongue whenever she articulated any difficult word, which rendered it impossible for anyone to understand except those who were well acquainted with her. When engaged in cup-reading, it took the tone of the terrible, and her words conveyed depth of meaning sufficient to electrify her hearers, and kept them under the spell which it was impossible to shake of for some time; nor dared any of them question or interrupt her while occupied in her great art, however terrible or unpalatable her prophecies might be to them.
As soon as Mary Grant had unburthened herself of her mistress's bounties to Ni Ruari, she bustled about the small apartment to prepare, from her supply of tea, a warm cup to refresh (as she professed) the mariners, but rather to gain her own favourite ends.
When the beverage was prepared, each of the company was served with a cup, and Mary finishing her cup first, handed it to the old woman to read her fortune.
As some may be ignorant of the art, we will follow Ni Ruari in the performance.
Mary Grant having taken the cup in her left hand, drained off the dregs, turning the cup while doing so against the course of the sun, thus leaving the final leaves scattered promiscuously round the inside of the cup, and then placed it bottom upwards on the table.
At the expiration of about a minute, Ni Ruari took it up in her right hand, drawing the back of her left hand across her eyes and lips, then giving a preliminary grunt, peered into the cup for another minute, and then proceeded to read as follows,—
"Young maid, you are now very happy, and imagine that no obstacle exists between you and the idol of your heart, but he will soon be torn from you, and sent across a great sea! However, you will follow him with good tidings, when you will be restored to each other, and live happily."
After thus breaking the ice (as Mary termed it), Donald Munro followed her example, when the following was read to him:—"Young man, you will suffer great hardships through malicious enemies, and also cross a great sea, towards the south; but your misfortunes will not be of long duration; the bearer of joyful news will seek you out, will make you happy, and you will become the father of many children."
Bella was now entreated to hand her cup in; and, in order to placate the company, consented; when the following terrible revelation was made by the prophetess—"Young lady, a bright cloud hangs around you at present, but a terrible dark storm threatens in the distance, which will envelop you for a time in its dark folds, not only in these parts, but in a wild and far distant country! You will be surrounded for a long time with misery and despair, but your true love will dispel them all, and rescue you from the powers of wild men."
Charlie's fortune did not threaten so many calamities, but was rather discouraging, and read thus:—"Young gentleman, you will also meet with reverses, and visit other lands. Your only happiness, and the object of your love will be lost to you for years; however, better days are in store for you; you will get possession of your jewel at great risk, through the assistance of a faithful dog."
A smile of incredulity passed between Charlie and Bella at the termination of these strange and terrible prophecies; and, although they gave no credence to a single word of it, still a strange idea took possession of their minds caused by the tone and solemn fascination of Ni Ruari's words; but with regard to their servants, each sentence was believed and stored up in their minds, feeling fully confident that all would come to pass.
The cloud which these revelations left on their minds was soon dispelled by a long and confidential chat between the lovers, until the shades of evening warned them to proceed towards their home by their separate routes, promising to meet each other soon at the same rendezvous.
This wish was, however, not granted them; for on their arrival at home they heard the unpleasant intelligence that Lord Lundy had arrived at the castle, and that he was accompanied by Bella's uncle, who had come to plead his cause, and to prevail on Mr. McKay to bestow the hand of his daughter on his Lordship. Many a highly-born lady in England would have been flattered by his addresses, although none of them as yet were able to banish from his heart the impression left there on first beholding Bella McKay.
Finding her still obdurate and invulnerable to the great prospects, the exalted position, and fascinating accomplishments he offered, he had again to relinquish for a time his proposals. His Lordship, however, prevailed on them to take her once more to London, thinking that time and company would change her resolves, and also to separate her and Charlie Stuart.
Martinmas soon arrived, and Charlie had to part with the extensive farm and stock, and relinquish all other ties which bound him to his native Highland home, Without any bright star to cheer him in his future pilgrimage through life. The only prize he valued upon earth was again (and like for ever) snatched from his grasp.
However, he had one consolation this time; if Bella was to become another's, it would be through coercion, and entirely against her will, after the vows which they made with such solemn obsequies at his father's death bed.
Having only himself now to provide for, he made up his mind to retire from the bar, never having a great liking for it, and regretting the unintentional mistake he made regarding Catherine Forbes, with whose family he had always been on such intimate terms, fearing they might interpret his partiality to her in the same light as herself. He accordingly gave up all connexion with the legal profession, and took his journey to London with Donald Munro, who would not, on any consideration, have parted with his young master. Charlie's intention was to take passage to some foreign land, or British colony, there to better their circumstances, and to enable Charlie to banish his grief and disappointment among strange scenes and people. But we question whether some other motive did not attract them to London, or whether there was not some one there from whom they wished to have one fond kiss before they parted.