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

Illustrated by Edward Henry Corbould

Part 1



The Tragedy of Baikie (2).png

Many an old Scottish house has its lingering myth of its Brownie or shape of “ill” haunting the home of some wretched wizard laird like hapless Sir Thomas or great Michael Scott, and after the example of the rough hairy dog treading on the footsteps of Major Weir, or of the great grey-eyed cat eating bodily the Aberdonian Master. Wise folks pretend to discover in these figments the rough descriptions of highly educated native, or curious foreign animals which astonished the faculties and imposed upon the credulity of the vulgar. They may be right; Brownies may be monkeys after all, and bristling accomplished dogs and vicious cats early Sir Isaacs and special modifications of the tiger; because in sooth the demon of Baikie was nothing worse than Sir Raoul’s Moorish boy, trophy of his passage of arras against the infidel, named Mahound, kicked and cuffed to atone for the unrighteous mercy which had spared the one life and brought the lad to the north country for a jest, and a horror to Sir Raoul’s obtuse, superstitious neighbours.

All the little world of Baikie certainly believed Mahound no better than he should be, though freely allowing for the extremely low standard of slave, black-a-moor, paynim. Possibly Sir Raoul was not without a shade of the same appalling faith, and buffeted Mahound on principle—since he had his principles—those of his age, class, and character. Mahound’s tribulations, though they were legion and hideous to chronicle, were by no means undeserved. This lad growing to man’s estate was neither noble, chivalrous Saracen, nor brutish, fatuous negro: he sprung from some tribe in the interior, and he was malignant, cunning, base, and revengeful to excess. His tawny skin, blue-white eyeballs, broad, distended nose, wide mouth, spiteful snarl and sneer, his very outlandish turban, to his compulsory acquaintances most expressly typified wickedness. He was incessantly in mischief and strife, from which he would have barely escaped even under the powerful protection of Sir Raoul, who did not choose that any other than himself should dispose of his varlet, but for the chill inaction imposed upon Mahound’s comrades by his doubtful origin. What if the Devil were his progenitor? Then no advantage could follow the use of earthly weapons; nay, the fellow who took the initiative might have the awful prospect of a combat with Satan superadded to the aggravations of Mahound.

One would think Sir Raoul had discord enough in his hall, without maintaining this full-grown imp among his men-at-arms; but Sir Raoul was perverse and dogged, even supposing the question did not resolve itself, like that of modern slaves, into the complete and ominous obscurity veiling the future position of Mahound, if his unfortunate master did consent to let him go. Sir Raoul punished himself: his instinctive truth and downright fire revolted at the vileness of Mahound’s frauds and atrocities. There was no love lost between master and man. Mahound did his duty by Raoul, but he did it sullenly; and Sir Raoul maltreated him in a long course of reckless outrages, deepening in affront and barbarity as his Lady Dovach testified some pity for the abhorred and shunned wretch.

This pity of Dovach’s was the most transparent thing in the world, scarcely hiding her own aversion to the victim. Both Sir Raoul and Mahound knew its extent; but in the knight’s resentment that she, who would not deign to extend to him the faintest hope of relenting, or better far—oblivion, should show the least charity to another, he persecuted his black slave more intentionally and more hatefully; and Dovach, perceiving his vexation, was more distinctly and deliberately humane to the inhuman object of contention. Oh, miserable pair! rushing away from the one star in their darkness.

The abbot at Brechin feasted his lay-brethren and entertained his children with a miracle play. The diversion was welcomed with gaping relish, and the half-starved bondsmen, uncertain of their lives an hour beyond their chief’s pleasure, flocked in masses to be fed like hogs, and laugh as donkeys bray, for one blessed day’s intermission in the toils and cares and monotony of their lives.

For some reason of policy, or pride or good humour, Sir Raoul vouchsafed to his whole household generous leave of absence for the entire summer’s day, and dispatched them betimes, under the guidance of his younger brother, to bear bulk in the festivities. Sir Raoul himself chose to tarry at home, as the Lady Dovach, weak and spiritless, kept her chamber; and at the last moment, for some shadow of an excuse, he remanded Mahound, scourging him like a dog, and confining him in a den. But all the others, of every degree—seneschal, chaplain, bower-women, cook, scullion, groom—departed joyfully, facing round in the rosy morning to do low obeisance to the last glimpse of Sir Raoul in his supreme pomp and dignity, none divining that they could behold him otherwise than with honour and envy.

Sir Raoul fed his horses, dogs, and falcons with his own hands; stalked about among his armour and antlers until he found a fishing-rod, crossed the low bridge, and proceeded to wile away his lazy leisure by fishing in the Isla opposite his house of Baikie.

The day was cloudless and brilliant, so that one could watch the sparrow-hawk a black mote to the verge of the horizon, unlike that lowering, electric atmosphere of flashing torrents and brief sunshine when he brought home Dovach. Brought her home! nay, committed his prisoner to gyves and chains and sure ward. The sand-martins were twittering and fluttering from bank to bank; shoals of minnows rendered the waters alive; plumes of tufted, almond-scented meadow queen nodded in the breeze, the white water-ranunculus floated dreamily, like miniature water-lilies, in broad patches on the stream; and the long green fleshy ribs of the river-grass barred it from side to side. But that great, powerful, passionate Sir Raoul, in doublet and sword-belt, with hunting-knife and bugle-horn, heeded the soft beauty of the little spot of earth as little as the kine that dropped down to drink of the water of the Isla. He felt the unusual silence and idleness: no mower whetting his scythe, no herdsman whistling in his dog, no straying children: it oppressed him, though it did not cross his imagination that these brooding pauses in ordinary life (so wholesome are stir and labour) have been now and again seized upon for the accomplishment of ghastly visions, the perpetration of horrid crimes.

Sir Raoul tired of his sport, and sat among the rushes, crushing the brittle reeds in his fervent grasp,—crushing a little, light, shyest of the shy, sky-blue butterfly among them. He pondered on the bitterness of his lot, the lovelessness where he sought love, the parched dryness of that fountain. Oh, for one drop of nectar for him from this pale, protesting girl, an avenging spirit in his arms! Madness! Seek ruddy, buxom, reasonable, earthly women, and expect returning regard from them: leave this captious, intolerant being to mope away in her unity and defiance. But he could not give her up: he raged, and fumed, and sickened desperately at the idea. No, though he recollected with a double pang a little rosy girl he had loved long, long ago,—loved in utter carelessness,—who had fluttered joyously at his approach, and lamented drearily at his departure. O Dovach, unwomanly woman, never to be consoled, won truly, but unwooed, unwooed! What had become of the silly little girl? He had not stayed to ask before; some other occupation had intervened; a report of found treasure; the first enlistment in the raid against the Crescent for the good of his soul; a quarrel with Sir Niel, or Ramsay, or Wedderburn: and her father had removed her, he knew not where; he never asked. She had ceased to hold him, and what did it matter now? O Dovach, Dovach! surely she traded upon his fears, surely she made much of her drooping and decline! She would not waste away, she would not die. Dying, would she relent at last,—pity him, be friends with him in the hour of release? Dying! folly! He would ride and run, send the priests and the wise woman to hunt out witch-hazel, hart’s tongue, ground ivy, pluck the blade under the propitious planet, 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, as other poor victims have done after him; he sees the weeds on the moat broken and streaked as the Northern lights in a winter sky; and down in the thick obscurity something white—dimly discernible. He stays another dreary interval, summoning back his ebbed strength, and plunges in and drags out, he knows not how, a dripping, disordered woman’s figure, dead—dead! the pale-face marble verily now, the deep eyes glassy and glazed. He lies down beside her on the turf where he is lord, and has not prevented her cruel murder; but in his despair an angel looks down on him, and murmurs again, weakly and fondly, “My Raoul, spare yourself!”

Yea, Sir Raoul never ceases to hear these words during the whole of his future pilgrimage and warfare: he never loses them in the utmost temptation and trial. He listens to them even when the demon Mahound is dragged before him; and amidst the furious clamour he bids them have “a life for life,” without pincers, or red-hot irons, or flaying knives. He seems to be answering them when he rides abroad once more, and his wistful eyes look over his mask and appeal to those who were wont to gaze upon him in admiration and covetousness,—who stare stealthily in wonder and vague regret now,—appeal half haughtily and fierily, half eagerly and tenderly, “You see me disfigured and mutilated in vain, for her who in life could not forgive me, but who in death declared herself mine. I do not grudge it for Dovach.”

Sir Raoul might be less dreaded, bearing the sad marks of his love, but more clave unto him; for, inexplicable as it was to many, he was a more sober-minded and merciful man after his misfortune than before it. Heaven grant that we too, like this wild, lawless Sir Raoul, may show ourselves purged and purified by adversity; that our chronicler may have reason to quote of us what was indited of Job: “The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning.”