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Book of Scottish Story
The Court Cave

Part 1

A few years before the pride of Scotland had been prostrated by English bows and bills, on the disastrous day of Flodden, the holding of Balmeny, in the county of Fife, was possessed by Walter Colville, then considerably advanced in years. Walter Colville had acquired this small estate by the usual title to possession in the days in which he lived. When a mere stripling, he had followed the latest Earl of Douglas, when the banner of the bloody heart floated defiance to the Royal Stuart. But the wavering conduct of Earl James lost him at Abercorn the bravest of his adherents, and Walter Colville did not disdain to follow the example of the Knight of Cadzow. He was rewarded with the hand of the heiress of Balmeny, then a ward of Colville of East Wemyss. That baron could not of course hesitate to bestow her on one who brought the king’s command to that effect; and in the brief wooing space of a summer day, Walter saw and loved the lands which were to reward his loyal valour, and wooed and wedded the maiden by law appended to the enjoyment of them. The marriage proved fruitful; for six bold sons sprung up in rapid succession around his table, and one "fair May ” being added at a considerable interval after, Walter felt, so far as his iron nature could feel, the pure and holy joys of parental love, as his eye lighted on the stalwart frames and glowing aspects of his boys, and on the mild blue eyes and blooming features of the young Edith, who, like a fair pearl set in a carcanet of jaspers, received an added lustre from her singleness. But alas for the stability of human happiness! The truth of the deep-seated belief that the instrument of our prosperity shall also be that of our decay, was mournfully displayed in the house of Walter Colville. By the sword had he cut his way to the station and wealth he now enjoyed ; by the sword was his habitation rendered desolate, and his gray hairs whitened even before their time. On the field of Bannockburn—once the scene of a more glorious combat—three of his sons paid with their lives for their adherence to the royal cause. Two more perished with Sir Andrew Wood, when Steven Bull was forced to strike to the "Floure and Yellow Carvell." The last, regardless of entreaties and commands, followed the fortunes of the "White Rose of York," when Perkin Warbeck, as history malignantly continues to style the last Plantagenet, carried his fair wire and luckless cause to Ireland; and there young Colville found an untimely fate and bloody grave near Dublin.

Thus bereft of so many goodly objects of his secret pride, the heart of Walter Colville naturally sought to compensate the losses which it had sustained in an increased exercise of affection towards his daughter. The beauties of infancy had now been succeeded by those of ripening maidenhood. The exuberant laugh, which had so often cheered his hours of care or toil, while she was yet a child, had given place to a smile still more endearing to his time-stricken feelings; face and form had been matured into their most captivating proportions, and nothing remained of the blue-eyed, fair-haired child, that had once clung round his knee, save the artless openness of her disposition, and the unsullied purity of her heart. Yet, strange to tell, the very intensity of his affection was the source of bitter sorrow to her who was its object, and his misdirected desire to secure her happiness, threatened to blench, with the paleness of secret sorrow, the cheek it was his dearest wish to deck with an ever-during smile of happiness.

Edith Colville was but an infant when her three brothers fell at Sauchie, and had scarcely completed her eighteenth year, when the death of her youngest brother made her at once the object of her father’s undivided regard, and of pursuit to many who saw and were smitten with charms in the heiress of Balmeny, which had failed to attract their attention while her brother yet stood between the maiden and that heritage. But the heart they now deemed worth the winning was no longer hers to give. The death of her mother while she was yet a child, had left her her own mistress long before the period when maternal care is most essential; and Edith’s love was sought and won by one who had little but youth and a warm heart to recommend him.

Arthur Winton was the orphan son of a small proprietor in the neighbourhood, who, having been deprived of the best part of his property by what he conceived the injustice of King James III., and the rapacity of his favourite Cochrane, was easily induced to join the insurgent nobles who wrought the destruction of that monarch. He was, however, disappointed in his expectations of personal reward, having fallen in the conflict; and his son was too young to vindicate his claim in an age so rude as that of which we write.

Walter Colville, whose family had been so sadly thinned in the battle we have mentioned, though they had fought on the other side, naturally bore no good-will to the boy; but his younger son, who was nearly of the same age, viewed him with different feelings. He was much about the house of Balmeny ; and, to be brief, he won the affections of the young Edith long before she knew either their nature or their value. Until the departure of young Walter Colville, Arthur’s visits were attributed by the old man to his friendship for his son, but when Edith had unhappily become his heiress, he at once attributed them to their proper cause. A stern prohibition of their repetition was the consequence, and the lovers were henceforth reduced to hurried and sorrowful meetings in secret.

On the morning wherein we have chosen to begin the following veritable narrative, the youthful pair had met un-observed, as they imagined, in a shady corner of Balmeny wood, and had begun, the one to lament, and the other to listen, when the sudden apparition of the angry father checked the pleasing current of their imaginings.

He drew his sword as he approached, but the recollection of his seventy years, and his now enfeebled arm, crossing his mind, he replaced the useless weapon, and contented himself with demanding how the youth had dared thus clandestinely to meet his daughter.

Arthur attempted to allay his anger, and to plead his passion as he best could; but the grim and angry frown that sat on Walter Colville’s brow, as he listened to him, soon showed how vainly he was speaking, and he ceased in confusion.

"Have you finished, young master?” said Colville, with a sneer. "Then listen: you are not the wooer I look for to Edith. I should prefer him something richer, something wiser, and something truer to the king, than any son of your father is likely ever to prove; so set your heart at rest on that matter. And you giglot, sooth! to your rock and your chisart. But stay ; before you go, tell this gallant gay to prowl no longer about my dwelling. By St Bride, an he does, he may chance to meet a fox’s fate!"

"Dear father,” said the weeping girl, "upbraid us not. Never will disobey you, never be his, without your own consent."

"Hold there, " replied Colville, smiling grimly, "I ask no more.” And he led away the maiden, who dared not so much as steal a parting look.

Arthur Winton bore this fiat of the old man, and the dutiful acquiescence of his daughter (though he doubtless thought the latter pushed to the very extreme of filial obedience), if not with equanimity, at least with so much of it as enabled him to leave the presence of his mistress and her father with something like composure. He wandered slowly to the beach, which lay at no great distance, as if he had hoped to inhale with the cool breeze that floated from off the waters, some portion of the calmness in which they then lay bound, his mind occupied in turning over ill-assorted plans for the future, ever broken in upon by some intruding recollection of the past. The place where he now walked was one well calculated, according to the creed of those who believe in the power exercised over the mind by the face of external nature, to instil soothing and tranquillizing feelings. It was a smooth grassy lawn, forming the bottom of a gentle eminence, undulating and stretching downwards to the pebbly beach, among whose round white stones the quiet waters of the Firth fell kissingly. The view was bounded to the north by the rising eminences we have mentioned, and shut in on the west by the woody promontory which is still crowned by Wemyss Castle. To the eastward several rocky eminences stretch into the Firth, the more distant still increasing their seaward march until the bay is closed by the distant point of Kincraig. Before him lay the silver Firth, and, half-veiled in distance, the green fields and hills of Lothian, terminated by the picturesque Law of North Berwick, and the great Bass, frowning like some vast leviathan awakening from his sleep. One or two white-sailed barks lay motionless upon the water. The effect of the whole was so stilling and sedative, that Arthur, half forgetting his recent disappointment, stretched himself upon the sward, abandoned himself to contemplation.

While he lay thus chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, the sounds of distant song and merriment occasionally broke upon his ear. He at first regarded them as the mere offspring of imagination, but at length the choral swell of a seemingly joyous ballad, followed by a hearty, far-reverberated shout, convinced him that the merry-making was real, and at no great distance. He started to his feet in some alarm, for his first impression was that the Good Neighbours were holding their revels near him, and he well knew the danger of being detected as a prying overlooker of their mystic merriment. A moment served to dissipate this fear. The voices which he had listened to were too rough and boisterous ever to be mistaken for the singing of those tiny minstrels, whose loudest notes never exceeded in sound the trumpet of the bee. There was no fairy ring round the spot on which he had lain, nor was the hour either the " eye of day ” or that of midnight, at which, as is well known, the elfin power was most formidable. After looking and listening for some time, he ascertained that the sounds proceeded from a cave, which we have not yet mentioned, but which forms a striking ornament to the beach, and an object of considerable interest to the geologist, having been doubtless formed long before the Forth had found its present modest limits. Being anxious to dispel the feelings that now preyed on his peace, by a diversion of whatever kind, he walked towards the place. As he approached, the mirth was renewed with increased vehemence, and he perceived, at the western entrance of the cave, a female, from whose swarthy hue and singular habiliments he at once divined the nature of its present inmates. The woman, whose features were stern and somewhat repulsive, wore a long gown, of some coarse dark-coloured material, which fell almost to her feet, having short wide sleeves, which left the arms at perfect liberty, and coming up to the neck, was there fastened with a golden brooch. Her head-dress consisted of a red and yellow coloured shawl, twisted fantastically into a conical shape. Pendants of gold hung from her ears, and rings of the same metal, in many of which were set rubies and other sparkling gems, garnished her tawny fingers. Arthur at once recognised an Egyptian or gipsy in the dark-featured damsel who stood before him, and hesitated a moment whether he should pursue the determination of mixing with the revellers within, to which his eager desire of escaping from his present unhappy feelings had prompted him. The Egyptians were in those days of a much darker character than the remnants of their descendants, which, in spite of press-gangs and justice-warrants, still linger amongst us. Murder among themselves was a thing of everyday occurrence, and desperate robberies, committed upon the king’s lieges, by no means rare. The present gang, from their vociferation, seemed in a state of excitement likely to remove any little restraints which the fear of the law’s vengeance might at another time have imposed on them, and the features of the woman, contrary to their custom, wore no look of invitation, but rather seemed to deepen into a warning frown the nearer he approached the door at which she was posted. On the other hand, the honour of the race, to such as trusted them, was proverbial. His curiosity to know more intimately the manners of a people so remarkable as the Egyptians then were, and still are—perhaps a latent wish of being able to extract from their prophetic powers some favourable auspice to his almost expiring hopes, or that nameless something which at times impels us to court the danger we at other times shun with care, all conspired to induce him to enter the cave, and he accordingly attempted to do so. In this, however, he was opposed by the gipsy, who, stepping exactly in his way, waved her arm in a repelling attitude; and, seeing him disinclined to obey this silent injunction, coming still closer to him, whispered, "Get you gone; your life will be endangered if you enter here." Before Arthur could reply to this injunction, she who gave it was suddenly attacked by a man, who, issuing from the entrance, struck her a smart blow across the shoulders with a staff which he carried, and then, with a scowling look and angry accent, spoke a few words to her in a language which Arthur understood not. She muttered something in reply, and proceeded towards the beach. "The woman is mad at times, young sir," said the man, now addressing Arthur. "Heed her not, I beseech you. We are only a few wandering puir folks, making merry, and if you wish to share our revelry, enter, and welcome. Some of our women may be able to read your weird, should you so incline; you have nothing to fear. "

Arthur was by no means satisfied either that the woman was mad, or that the man meant him fairly; but as he could not now retreat without betraying his fear to the dark searching eye which the gipsy bent on him, and was besides conscious that he possessed a well-proved sword, and considerable skill and strength in the handling of it, he signified his wish to join the merry-making, and followed the gipsy into the cave.

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