Page:Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II Dec 1859 to June 1860.pdf/60

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January 14, 1860.]



gather the blossom dank and heavy with precious dew: if that failed, procure by gold or the sword the mystic chalcedony, the onyx, the blood-stone. Tempestuous as were Sir Raoul’s thoughts, he was little used to the inaction of this hot, glaring noon, and so he soon sank down drowsily, his long limbs among the dragon-flies, the flags, and the yellow irises, his fretting cares resolving themselves into troublous dreams.

Suddenly Sir Raoul’s slumber was broken by a sound such as he had never heard in this lower world. Was is flitting fancy still? or could it have been Dovach’s voice, not formally—not in tones sharp as steel—but beseeching, confiding, in their agony,—“O! Raoul, Raoul! where are you?” They wailed “Raoul!” they cried, “Come!”

Sir Raoul started up with his eyes straining from their sockets, his brown cheeks blistering, not so much. with the beating sun, as with the boiling passion of that mania. Peaceful stood the red walls of Baikie, no foe apprised of its desertion clamouring at its gate, Sir Raoul’s banner planted on the topmost pinnacle hanging motionless. It must have been a delusion. But hark! again “Raoul, Raoul!” close at hand, right across the river from the turret window—his lady’s window. And wist you what Sir Raoul felt? Let who will talk of horrors! when Mahound’s black, foul face, which he had left caged in darkness, appeared at the open casement, thrust out, leering round, then withdrawn for a second, to return in company with a white burden struggling with him, which he pushed through the aperture and poised high in dizzy air over the castle moat.

Sir Raoul had stood dumb, but he broke the spell with a wrench such as a man employs to tear himself from the night-hag, Mara. “Monster! Fiend!” he shrieked, “hold back!”

Mahound was arrested in his aim; he recognised his master’s presence, but it was only to fling back his head with a bitter laugh and shout in reply: “I thought to have given you a surprise, Sir Raoul; I did not hope to have you for a witness. Ho! ho! Now was not I as canny as any of your favourites, to discern that the loss of ring, or beaker, or bird, would plague you less than the want of your blooming lady, whom you banned out of your sight yestreen? One heave, and she goes. Sir Raoul! Who is the dog—the worm—the accursed, beastly Moor, to-day?”

Sir Raoul was down on his knees. “Mahound, what will it profit you? I will set you free, make you rich, to the half of my land, knave. I swear it by the Rood.”

“What! share alike with you. Sir Raoul? But your heartstrings saved! No, my fine lord; find another price for my withdrawal!”

“The whole lands, then, Mahound, villain, or my life! my life! I will pluck out my heart, if you will not avenge yourself on her who took your part, you venomous asp, nay, Mahound, Mahound!”

“You spare the ill names, now Sir Raoul! Nothing but Mahound, Mahound. You might have been a siccarer man this day, if you had given me a more Christian-like title. They told me it was your devil, and your devil I’ll be, my master. Her mercy, quotha! I know what it came to, I know and you know, how madam bridled and drew in her skirts; it was but to thwart her master, Sir Raoul. Ha, ha! she and I are not so far apart. Bid your blythe lady farewell, Sir Raoul.”

“Oh! man, mortal, if you be not the arch-fiend I mocked, is there no ransom? Can I pay none that will abet your own love of life; for you know, Mahound, you will die within twelve hours for this deed; it is hopeless to think of escape, you will die inch by inch, as surely as you will burn in hell.”

“What care I for the life that you rendered worse than the cat’s, that, poor beast! has nine lives, or yon corbie’s, which, unhappy bird! outlasts a hundred years. Your hell is not my hell. Bid your bonny wife farewell, Sir Raoul; they do say she was laith to come, but, by my word, she is laith, too, to go.”

“Is there nothing in the wide universe you will take—heavens fall and cover her! Christ come down and sain her!” groans Sir Raoul, with the big sweat-drops hailing from his brow.

“Stay,” cries Mahound, mowing and capering. “You said my skin was black, Sir Raoul, as if your boot had stamped the dye, and my nose flat, as if your sword had pommeled it, and my mouth slit and laid over, as if your dagger had cut and spread it. Make me a gift of your red and brown skin, master, your high nose, your arched mouth—fling them to me across the water, Sir Raoul, and your pinging dame may remain scatheless for me.”

Sir Raoul had gripped his hanger all these terrible moments—he did not hesitate a second, he lifted his hand against himself, and the blow came down shearing to the bone.

Oh! mighty love which many waters could not quench, stronger than death, deeper than the grave, refusing not that pain, indignity, and shame. Blinded and faint in his agony, Sir Raoul heard again that voice which had hailed him thus once before, and once only, it penetrated his throbbing brain, it dulled the torment, the rage, the humiliation, it thrilled him with delight and bliss. She saw his hand raised with her dying eyes, she knew what he, the man of blood, would do for her—that which paled death itself. She awoke to one of these great hidden truths near every one of us, she cried piteously with her last breath:

“Raoul, my Raoul, let me go, spare yourself.”

“Oh! that strange sweet rapture filled his veins, it shivered through him, it affected him like witchcraft, it raised the very hairs of his head like inspiration.

“Well done!” jeers Mahound, “but I’ve thought better of my bargain.”

“My Raoul,” the knight hears alone, sinking down on the grass.

A scream, a rush, a splash, the bubble of foam bells on the dull, slimy moat, and the white waif is gone for ever!

“My Raoul!” is whispered in the ringing ears of the Laird of Baikie, as he closes his eyes by the bright sparkling stream.

But Sir Raoul recovers, stiff, sore, and strange: sunshine and silence, the firm castle walls, the restless Isla water, an open empty window, before him. He comprehends with an awful shock; he waits a moment; he crawls along,