Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The tragedy of Baikie - Part 1

Illustrated by Edward Henry Corbould

Part 2



The Tragedy of Baikie (1).jpg

The time was dim and dark in the distance when Christianity was in its tender youth and indulged in the gallant romance of the Crusades. The place is one rich now in history and tradition, rich in legends as the broad dim strath is bountiful in woods and corn, and wild and strange in story as its dens are dreary in their heathy solitudes, and its linns black cauldrons of horror.

But the time was not come: the Laird of Craig had not murdered his man and seen the Evil One leaping and grinning from his lurking-place in the cave by the Reeky Linn. The brave, bold matron had not stood faithful to her trust on “the hie castle wa’,” and, in the name of her absent husband, defied “Argyle and a’ his men,” and his cannon planted on the brae across the water, and made to play on her fortress till it was a shattered shell, and afterwards lain down “to dee” at the Kames of Airlie, where the smoke of the burning of hearth and roof-tree was carried to her by the cruel wind. Even Lady Dorothy had not loaded and fired the arquebuss, through the loophole in the gateway meeting the portcullis, at the wild Highland caterans. The lament had not been uttered over “the gracious gude Lord Ogilvie,” fallen at Harlaw; nor the great sword of Deuchar of Deuchar carried back, but not loosed from his grasp, by the squire who hacked off his strong right hand as it lay clenching the hilt by his side in the ranks of Saxon and Celtic dead, and brought it home as a token to his lady, sitting watching in her chamber. Only the ambitious learned Knights Templars held the lands of Templeton, and men already muttered darkly, and women whispered with white lips, how Gilchrist Lord of Angus had stabbed to the heart his false wife, the sister of a king, and her blood was washed out by the pure water trickling from the cold well, where the sun’s rays never fell beneath the rocks and ashes and elms of the Castle of Mains.

The land was lonely hill-side or thicket, with patches of coarse grain and pastures for beeves round the baronial or knightly tower, the sacred abbey or the little hamlet cowering meekly in the shadow of its great neighbours, the powers temporal and spiritual. The wild beasts—boar and wolf, hart and coney—abounded in a state of nature, or exceeded nature; for, down by the Nine-stane-rig, the huge green dragon, spewing smoke and spitting fire, devoured at one fell meal the nine fair daughters of the hynd of Durward of the Catscleugh.

On a bend of the Isla, where the silver water ran round a fringed promontory and productive haughs stretched right and left, rose the turrets of Baikie. The house was strong in site and strong in architecture—a battlemented, rugged, red sandstone building, with gateway and watch-tower, court and causeway, and moat filled with oozing mud, clayey stagnant water and dank plants, and fed by springs from the clear flowing river. And Baikie was trebled in strength by the character of its master. No feudal chief far or near was feared and followed like Sir Raoul. Bold, daring, fierce; lord of these acres, lord of his vassals, unaccountable save to God and his patron saint; engaged once in his life in a crusade against the infidel, buying immunity for all crime, for sacrilege itself, by mowing down the turbaned heads, as title reaper cuts the bearded ears in the golden September; losing every grain of scruple and every note of softness in the fulfilment of the vow—the performance of the sacrifice. It is a strain to a poor, modest, disciplined, modern mind to measure Sir Raoul in the plenitude of his might and the boundlessness of his will, to balance the mountain of his temptations, the meagreness of his lessons, the guilt of his soul.

In his own day, Sir Raoul was hated, feared, and half-worshipped with a dread admiration; rude in health, in the prime of his age, no belted earl or crowned prince ventured to control him on his own ground. There he ruled paramount: there he dispensed justice; there he took a life or a score of lives—or restored a stolen quey-calf or a silver-hooped quaich. Where his own passions were not concerned, he must have evinced a stem sort of truthfulness as well as an unflinching determination, for no man despised him, though many cursed his name, and if you search into antiquity, and trace cause and effect, you will find that the liar on the throne does not need to be a coward in order to be withered by the breath of men’s scorn. Sir Raoul’s own people, his soldiers in battle, his yeomen in peace, his servants—if you except the black boy Mahound—cherished a certain pride in Sir Raoul. They were proud of his invincibleness; they were proud of his prowess; they were, in their own humble submission, quite capable of crowing over the abject quailing of their enemies—the bands of feudal rivals, the grim, ragged robbers descending from the snowy Grampians, the black Danes still landing on the coast, the presumptuous priest who questioned whether service against the Moor should continually atone for neglected shrine, invaded sanctuary, and plundered treasure. His people had a grisly glory in Sir Raoul’s feats with the cross-bow and the broad-sword, in his fencing and wrestling, his hunting and fowling, in the fleetness of his foot, “the prance of his proud steed,” “the stroke of his oar,” even in his cursing over the spiced cup in the morning, and his trolling over the wassail-bowl at night. They had a trembling pleasure in his big, fair, formidable, stately, splendid person, where, when he was in full armour, barbaric steel and gold and pearls and rubies met. The morion and the breast-plate, the thigh-pieces and the armlets flashed white or glowed in ruddy light. There was a string of fairer beads than ever father told around his brawny throat, and hanging down on his breast, and on his signet-ring and the scabbard of his sword and the clasp of his bonnet, when he laid aside his helmet and sat in his hall, jewels, crimson as drops of Cyprus wine, flickered and gleamed. An open, imperious, dauntless face was Sir Raoul’s, with the sanguine yellow beard, the eagle nose, the eagle eye, and (Heaven help them!) some fancied that the strong mouth—which had a trick of opening to grind the white sharp teeth—was not without a semblance of the eagle’s beak. But the brave bold face was worn with passion, and the grey eyes were hollow with unsatisfied desire. It was inevitable with the man, a hero in his instincts and a tyrant in his practices, and circumstances brought it cunningly home. Sir Raoul of Baikie, unchallenged and unopposed as far as the eye could travel, over wood and water, moor and mountain, was thwarted at his heart’s core, and pining with singular unrest. There was one soul within the land, the barony, the tower, the marriage chamber, that owned no allegiance to Sir Raoul: despot over all besides, he had craved favour in that quarter, and craved in vain.

The Lord his Maker, and Sir Raoul knew how he had won Lady Dovach—won! how he had stormed, seized, bound, but not bent her, though she was the palest, most fragile thing of earth, air, or water; the lily in the shaded, gloomy, built-in garden, looked more erect, more stubborn, more staunch.

Dovach had been the sole child of a laird, whose lands marched with Baikie—a moderate man, who had said neither yea nor nay to the blustering of Sir Raoul. Dovach had grown up in those primitive days, in a rough, motherless solitude, a white, quiet, still girl with features like chiselled marble and eyes, also, like the deep, cool, fathomless, but intent eyes of a saint in a picture from beyond the seas; like those of the figures in the altar-piece of the little kirk of Foulis, yonder, where a sinful man might contemplate the Crucifixion, the dying Saviour, the thieves, Herod with his crown and sceptre, the high-priest in his mitre and bearing the roll of the law, the Roman centurion brandishing his sword, the Apostles and the women, all the persons, great and small—the very devils and angels waiting on the dead. Ninety-nine impetuous, arrogant men of war would have recoiled from Dovach, or brushed by her as if she had indeed been a sculptured or limned image; the hundredth might have run mad for her unearthly, spiritual charms, as Sir Raoul did, after he had once beheld her walking in the gloomy fir-wood, and singing and smiling to herself as she passed by.

To give the devil and Sir Raoul their due, he sought her first peacefully of her father, and it was only when die was civilly denied him, having been contracted in her cradle to an orphan cousin, reared with her in her father’s house, that Sir Raoul brought his peculiar forces to the charge, summoned horse, and sounded trumpet, and as the Wolf of Badenoch sat down with his clan, and starved and scared out the Countess of Mar in Kildrummie, so Sir Raoul without the smallest ceremony, invested his future father-in-law in his hold, and in coat of mail, and with gauntleted hand and spear in rest, bade him deliver up his young daughter, or perish in the adverse contest. It was no jesting matter, when lion-like, Sir Raouls inclined to roe-like Dovachs grazing on adjoining pastures.

Dovach’s father, a taciturn, gentle man of his era, was, nevertheless, resolute in bearing the brunt of his contumacy, and with moral courage defended himself as stoutly as the hottest and most brutal, and was slain at last leading a desperate sally through the sheds and outhouses with his daughter behind him, on his white horse. Some said it was Sir Raoul’s lance that pierced the harness somewhat rusty and disused, but it were hard to tell who dealt the fatal blows in the mêlée, though without doubt it was Sir Raoul’s gripe that arrested the flight of the old white horse, stiff as its master, but good blood in case of need, and pulled down the fainting girl, and carried her, lying so still, on his panting breast, of all places, into the small chapel, which his simple engines had half unroofed. Two days before, the cousin had been struck below the arm by an arrow on the wall. He was a still lad, like all Dovach’s race—the word went that she was indifferent to his unobtrusive regard, slighted his patient devotion; but she laboured all the same to pluck the arrow from his wound—that night, when the summer thunder and lightning were rolling and flashing over the host at the gate, and the sore-pressed company within—she held her hand on his heart long after it had ceased to beat; then she washed the body fair and clean, and smoothed the hair, soft and silken as her own, and commanded the priest, praying for the beleaguered family in their extremity, to forbear, and leaving the living to care for themselves, go sing masses for one departed soul, all through the night watches to the pearly dawn rising over the crumbling ruin and the blood-stains. That young body was not placed, like the laird’s, in honourable state before the altar in the chapel, it was thrown with the herd to choke up the draw-well ere the conquerors quitted the dismantled building, but Dovach saw it as plain as the sun above her, lying beside the corpse of her gray-headed father, and close to the bier where she stood, while the faltering priest hastily blessed her and her true bridegroom.

There was frozen, unheeding death present at these nuptials. There was a splash of blood upon the shaken wall, a pool of blood on the floor, where the wounded men had lain to confess and be assoilzied, blood half-dried on the bridegroom’s mailed feet, and half-wiped from his sword, blood on which she was fain to look with a fascinated gaze, on the very kirtle of the bride; but lightly would Sir Raoul have recked of these mischances had Dovach’s eyes been less stony, or her hand less cold. Dovach knelt of her own will, and spoke the responses with a free tongue, as her dead father would have had her, lest a worse thing should befall her. Sir Raoul carried her away that very night, his wedded wife, in triumph to his strong tower of Baikie, rising secure and prosperous by the glittering Isla water—lit up by the last sun-rays come out after the storm of yesterday, and gladdening a refreshed and blooming world—a wide contrast to the devastation and the silence, the degradation and decay they had left behind them.

Now, Sir Raoul said, she was all his own; soon would he teach her to forget her father’s desolate house, soon she would turn to him for companionship and caresses. Sir Raoul of Baikie had wooed as became him, he might not “sue with the deer.” If he had rendered her fatherless, he could swear like Richard Crookback, in generations to come, “’twas thy heavenly face that set me on,” and Dovach like poor, smitten, unstable Anne, would cry, and cover that face, and geck, and blush, and credit, and forgive him, because, you know, it was her face that was to blame, after all. But still remained Dovach, as when she lay like lead on his heaving corslet, and she foiled him by her very frailty. Yet she was not really frail—there is a mock, bullying courage, and there is true valour, let it vaunt with the dark Gascon, or rest mute and phlegmatic with the sandy-haired German; and there is veritable weakness in flippant forwardness, brazen audacity, raging fury, while there may be no feebleness in the slight woman who holds down the convulsed child—her heart’s darling, or tends the agonised man—the desire of her eyes, or stands on the deck of the wrecked ship, or once walked upon the scaffold with trembling limbs and quivering voice indeed, but as resolute to die for the truth, as any bull-necked, broad-fisted champion of error. Sir Raoul swore in wrath and mortification that these timid, undemonstrative tempers have no marrow for dourness; that he could have tamed a vixen, and silenced a shrew, and taught her to come to his hand in a week, or a month, but this fine, shy, subtle nature baffled him. Perhaps he was right; these frank, outspoken, coarser constitutions receive at the best caricatured, loose impressions, and give and take them perpetually. They express their very essence, and have done with it, borrowing the style and character of the next scene, circumstances, individuals, with whom they come in contact. Once the wrong is played out, these boisterous, fresh, not untrue for the time frames, bound as readily to the inflicter of the injury, as to any other. A lively, brawling woman, tearing her hair, and kept by force from laying violent hands on Sir Raoul, might have accepted her spouse in room of father and kinsman, and kissed him heartily, before the year was out—blotting out all his cruelties, identifying herself with his pettiest interests, serving him, cherishing him, perhaps taming him in the end, with a simplicity and a submission that God forbid any man should scorn.

But Dovach’s was a shrinking, intact, adhesive spirit, difficult as a wild bird to catch; once arrested and fixed, faithful to immortality. Think of such a fine, delicate, yet enduring thing, like the nervous tissue resisting to the point of dissolution, unstrengthened, unhardened by early training, accustomed always to feed upon itself as she sat at her loom, or strayed across the wilds, thus snatched and wrung, filled with sights of horror, sounds of anguish, and then in the madness of ignorance, expected and required to be charmed (half-coaxed, half-cowed), into speedy inconstancy, contentment, cheer.

And like the nervous tissue Dovach was goaded into false activity; the quiet, pale girl learnt to oppose and disobey the conqueror; the cool, deep eyes flamed, the mild tongue bit and stung until the white child seemed fiend-possessed.

It was only to Sir Raoul that the unhappy lady thus broke forth; to the followers over whom her evil fortune had made her mistress she was passive and gentle; and of her own accord she would have woven and read her missal, and paced the battlements, pondering morbidly her misery and sin as mechanically as any nun within her cloisters.

But Sir Raoul could not let Lady Dovach alone. Sometimes he abased himself, and prayed and vowed at her feet; sometimes he raged, and threatened, and oppressed, and abused her; but surely it was grievous retribution to him to love her as he continued to do, for different as light and darkness, the iron was to the full indestructible as the gossamer—loving her, devoured with love for her, grasping her, he could no more possess her spirit, subdue her will, receive one fond look, thrill to one kind touch, hearken to one gracious word, drink and have his thirst slaked, eat and find his hunger appeased, than if she were a saint enthroned in the unattainable skies, or a demon plunged into the fathomless deeps. Baikie with its high turrets, its vigilantly guarded haughs, its store-houses, its droves of cattle, its merry men, its Isla gliding gaily to its own sweet song, its bower in the centre of the castle where pale Dovach sat undreaming of escape save by slow death, was a place of torment to Sir Raoul.