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Wilson's Border Tales
The Lord of Hermitage

Great was the surprise of the peaceful Congregation assembled in the little church of Ettleton, in Liddisdale, on a Sunday forenoon, somewhere about one hundred and fifty years since, to see the Lord of Hermitage come in amongst them, just as the service of the day had begun. A surprise, this, not without good and sufficient cause; for, although the patron of the parish, and living in the immediate neighbourhood of the church just named, the Lord of Hermitage had not entered it for many a long year. Some of those present thought it not unlikely, that he had begun to repent of his ways which were indeed evil—for a vicious, dissolute and tyrannical man was he—dreaded and detested by all who knew him; and that his coming to church, on this occasion, was not improbably meant as a public intimation of his having commenced the work of reformation and that it might, therefore, be looked upon as the first overt act of contrition. Others, incredulous of so sudden a conversion in a man so notorious for his wickedness, dreaded that his appearance, on this occasion, boded no good; although they could not conjecture either, how any evil should arise from it.

In the meantime, while all eyes were fixed on him, the dreadful Lord of Hermitage, slightly bowing to the officiating clergyman, took a seat and seemed to listen for some time, with decent attention, to his discourse. But it was only, for a short time that he continued to exhibit this becoming respect for the devotiuonal proceedings that were going forward. His eye was soon observed wandering over the assembly, as if in search of some object, and was at length seen fixed, with a steady and insolent gaze, on the beautiful countenance of Isabella Foster, the daughter of a respectable farmer, and one of his own tenants, who resided in the lower part of Liddisdale. In this circumstance, simple as it was, or rather would have been, but for the well-known character of the Lord of Hermitage, some of the congregation felt assured that they had discovered the secret of his appearance amongst them on this occasion, while all considered it matter for strong suspicion of evil intentions.

Isabella Foster, was, on this occasion, accompanied by her father and her acknowledged lover—a young man of considerable property, but who was, nevetheless, much better known in the country by the familiar, Border-like soubriquet of, "Jock o’ the Syde," than by his real name, which was Armstrong. Isabella herself marked, and she did so with fear and trembling, the ominous gaze of the unprincipled Lord of Hermitage; and she clung closer and closer to her father and her lover, both of whom were also aware of the circumstance at which she was so much alarmed. Her father saw it with a feeling of dread and horror; for he knew well the infamous character of the man, and he knew, too, that he would perpetrate any villany, and have recourse, without the smallest hesitation or compunction, to any measures, however violent or atrocious, to accomplish the gratification of his passions, and he felt how vain would be all his precautions, how unavailing all the means he could employ, to defeat the designs of a man at once so determined so unprincipled, and so powerful.

On her lover, however, the discovery that his Isabella had attracted the special notice of the Lord of Hermitage had a different effect. It roused his young blood; and in the look with which he contemplated him, as he gazed upon her, there was plainly to be read a proud defiance at once of his personal prowess and his power. Armstrong felt, at that moment, that his single arm, furnished with his own good sword, was alone sufficient to protect his lover from all the Lords of Hermitage that ever existed although they all came upon him in a bundle.

With more experience of the world, Isabella’s father, as we have shown, thought and reasoned differently. He feared the worst; and these fears were much increased when, on the dismissal of the congregation, the Lord of Hermitage rode up to him, complimented him on the beauty of his daughter, and informed him that he meant to do himself the pleasure of paying him a visit soon, when he hoped, he said—at the same time turning towards and bowing to Isabella—that the fair lily of Liddisdale would not be absent.

Isabella’s father made no farther reply to this remark, than by bowing politely, and saying, with equivocal hospitality, that his house should always be open to the Lord of Hermitage.

Isabella’s lover, who was also of the party on this occasion, mechanically felt for the hilt of his sword, while this conversation was passing—a motion which did not escape the notice of him who had excited such an evidence of hostile feeling: neither did the stern look, with which he contemplated the speaker, pass unobserved.

"What chafes thee so mnch, young man?" said the Lord of Hermitage, turning to the person whom he addressed with a contemptuous smile. "Is yon fair maiden your sweetheart, my flint-spark; and are you afraid I shall run away with her?"

"No names, if you please, my Lord Hermitage," replied Armstrong; "I take no by-names but one—that by which everybody knows me. All others I am apt to acknowledge in a way that is pretty generally allowed to be disagreeable. And as to this lady being my sweetheart," he went on— "perhaps she is, and perhaps not; but whether she be or no, should you entertain any thoughts of running away with her, take my word for it—take the word of ‘Jock o the Syde’—that you’ll run pretty fast, and pretty far, too, if I don’t overtake you."

To this blunt language, the Lord of Hermitage merely replied, evidently desirous of giving the whole matter the turn of a joke, "that he was glad to find the young lady had such a redoubtable guardian." Having said this, and made his obeisance to Isabella, bowed to her father, and waved his hand slightly and. coldly to Armstrong, the Lord of Hermitage rode off towards his own residence, whither we shall take the liberty of accompanying him.

On entering the gate of his castle, the Lord of Hermitage was met by a person who seemed to be a retainer—for such his dress bespoke him; but there was a familiarity in his manner, mingled with a sort of careless respect, that at once showed that his lord and he were upon a much more intimate footing than is usually displayed between master and servant.

"Well, my lord," said this person, as he assisted his master to dismount, "have you seen her?"

"I have, Maxwell," replied the Lord of Hermitage: "and on my soul, a most lovely creature it is. Strange that I should not have heard of her before. Thou hast an admirable taste, Maxwell," he went on; "and I owe thee something for this scent, which thou shalt forthwith have. ‘Tis a rare prize, Maxwell, I assure thee, and does thy diligence infinite credit."

"I guessed as much," replied the person addressed, and who was, if such an official can be recognised, the confidential villain of the Lord of Hermitage, in the shape of a domestic servant or personal attendant,—"I guessed as much, my lord," he said, with a fiendish smile; "I felt assured that I had at last caught something worth looking at."

Here the conversation dropped for a time. The Lord of Hermitage being now dismounted from his horse, proceeded into the castle, whither he was followed by Maxwell; when the two having shut themselves up in a small retired apartment, resumed the discourse which the movement just spoken of had interrupted; and proceeded to discuss the question as to which was the best method of getting Isabella Foster into their power.

"Carry her off, to be sure—carry her off bodily," was the reply of Maxwell to this query—"why should there be any hesitation?"

"Why, I don’t know, Maxwell," replied the Lord of Hermitage, musingly. "It would make a stir in the country, and set the fools a-talking. I’d rather it were quietly done, if at all possible. I have told Foster," he added, after a pause of some minutes, "that I would pay him a visit one of these days."

"Then, my Lord, excuse me, you were wrong," said Maxwell, interrupting him—"you were wrong. He’ll bundle the girl out of the way directly; and, if he does, we may look long enough ere we find her again."

"Faith! I dare say, thou’rt right, Maxwell," replied the Lord of Hermitage; "although I scarcely think the scoundrel would dare to do that either. I should have a right to consider such a proceeding as a personal insult, and feel myself warranted in resenting it accordingly."

"No doubt, no doubt, my Lord," said Maxwell: "but, in the meantime, observe you, the girl may be gone—a loss this, for which the satisfaction of running her father through the body would be but an indifferent compensation."

"Right again, Maxwell, right again," replied his master, "why, then, suppose, after all, we do the thing boldly and at once."

A proposition, this, which ended in an arrangement that the Lord of Hermitage, accompanied by Maxwell and other three or four trusty knaves, well armed with concealed weapons, should, on the following day, set out for Foster’s residence, and, seizing a fit opportunity, carry off his daughter.

On the day following, accordingly, a party of five horsemen were seen, towards evening, riding up the avenue, at the head of which Foster’s house was situated; when the latter, having observed them approaching, and recognising the Lord of Hermitage amongst them, hastened out to receiye them. On their coming up—

"I promised you a visit, Foster," said the leader of the party, at the same time flinging himself from his horse; "and I am now come to redeem my promise."

Foster made no reply, but bowed and requested his visitor to walk in, an invitation with which he immediately complied; but when a similar one was extended to his followers, they, one and all, declined, saying that their master intended staying so short a time, that it was not worth their while dismounting—an apology with which Foster was, at the time, satisfied, although some circumstances soon afterwards occurred that made him doubt its sincerity. One of them was, his observing two of the horsemen who had dismounted, notwithstanding what they had said just a moment before, skulking about the door of the apartment in which he and his guest were.

After the latter had sat for some time, and had partaken of some refreshment that had been introduced, he inquired of his entertainer, with an affected carelessness, what had become of his "fair daughter." Foster replied, that she was unwell, and confined to her own apartment; which was, indeed, true.

"Unwell!" exclaimed his guest, starting to his feet; "you do not say so! Ha! unwell!—I must see her then. Perhaps I may be able to restore her to health. I have some skill in the healing art. Come, Foster," he added, with a sudden ferocity and determination of manner, which contrasted strongly with the benevolent purpose he affected, "conduct me to her this instant—this instant, I say, Foster." And he drew a sword from beneath the cloak in which he was enveloped.

"What means this conduct my Lord?" inquired his amazed and alarmed host.

"Mean, sirrah! mean!" replied the Lord of Hermitage—"why, it means, that I am about to do your daughter an honour." And, without waiting for the guidance he had demanded, he rushed out of the apartment—when he was instantly joined by two of his followers, with drawn swords in their hands—and proceeded to search for the chamber in which the object of his villany was confined. Having quickly found the apartment, the ruffians, after in vain soliciting admittance from its inmate, whom the previous noise had alarmed, began to force the doors. While they were thus employed, Foster, who had, in the meantime, armed himself, and brought two or three of his men to his assistance, suddenly rushed in amongst the assailants, and a close and sanguinary contest immediately ensued.

At this moment, the unfortunate young lady, hearing her father’s voice raised in anger, and the clashing of swords in the passage which led to her apartment, undid the door, and frantically rushed into the midst of the conflict. Fatal indiscretion! She had scarcely stepped from her room, when the thrust of a sword (not, however, meant for her), reached her heart, and she fell, lifeless, amongst the feet of the combatants.

In a few seconds afterwards, her unhappy father also fell, mortally wounded; when the fiends, perceiving the purposes of their villany thus fearfully frustrated, instantly quitted the house, mounted their horses, and fled.

This new atrocity of the Lord of Hermitage’s—for he had been guilty of many, although, perhaps, this was the most hideous of all—excited, when it became known, such a universal feeling of horror throughout the country, that the miscreant, powerful as he was, was obliged to fly the kingdom and betake himself to a foreign land, to avoid the popular vengeance with which he was threatened. But his crime was of too deep a die to escape due punishment, even on earth. There was one whose fierce and enduring thirst for revenge he could not evade—one to escape whom all his windings and doublings were in vain, and from whose arm neither distance of place or time could ultimately protect him.

On hearing of the dreadful catastrophe, Isabella’s lover, Armstrong, vowed he would have a deadly revenge, and, that he would never cease from the pursuit of the Lord of Hermitage, while both remained in life, till he had accomplished his destruction; and, in pursuance of this oaths (which he swore on the grave of his lover), he abandoned home and friends, assumed the habit of a palmer, and set out in quest of the murderer of Isabella Foster and her father.

On leaving the country, the infamous Lord of Hermitage directed his steps to London, where he remained for some time in concealment; for the singular atrocity of his crime, which he had no doubt would soon be known far and wide, made him consider himself unsafe, even in the heart of the English capital; and unsafe, even here, he certainly was, although unaware of the particular character of the danger that threatened him; for Armstrong had traced him, and he only escaped him by the chance circumstance of his leaving London for the continent, one single day before his pursuer had discovered his retreat. Similar fortuitous circumstances saved him, at various subsequent turns in the chase; but the bloodhound that tracked him, though often thrown out, kept steathly to his purpose, and as often regained as he lost the scent of his victim.

For two full years, the lover of Isabella Foster pursued her murderer with unabated eagerness and unflagging zeal; and, for two full years, the former, from various accidental circumstances, escaped the vengeance that was thus, although unknown to him, so closely pursuing him.

At the expiry of these two years, however, the Lord of Hermitage, guided, in some measure, we suppose, by a similar instinct with that which directs the hare back to her form, however wide and numerous may have been the evolutions of her intermediate career, sought his own castle again, entertaining also, doubtless, a hope that his atrocious crime, though it could not possibly be forgotten, would now be contemplated with less intensity of feeling than on its first occurrence.

It was on a dark and stormy night in November, that he arrived at his own gate on horseback, and alone. Their Lord’s return being wholly unexpected by his domestics, he had some difficulty in gaining admittance; but having at length satisfied the porter, who kept the gate, that he was indeed his master, the former was thrown open; and, all dripping with wet, and perishing with cold, the Lord of Hermitage once more entered his own castle, where, in the enjoyment of the luxuries of a blazing fire and an ample repast, he quickly forgot the sufferings to which, for the last ten or twelve hours, he had been exposed.

In little more than an hour afterwards, however, the Lord of Hermitage’s arrival was followed by that of another person, who rode furiously up to the gate, and inquired, in an eager and anxious tone, if he had yet appeared. Being answered in the affirmative, the stranger called on the porter to open the gate, saying that he was an attendant of his master’s, whom the latter had hired some days previously, and that he had lost both him and his way in the dark, being a stranger in that part of the country. The man’s story was plausible, and he was instantly admitted. On entering the courtyard, and seeing some lights in the windows that overlooked it, the stranger inquired of the person who admitted him, whether any one, and which of these windows belonged to his master’s sleeping apartment. The porter, naturally thinking that the question was put by the stranger with the view of affording his master his services, pointed out the apartment he inquired after, and gave him particular directions how to find it. Desiring his informant now to hold his horse for a few minutes, till he should have informed his master of his arrival, when he would return, he said, to take charge of the animal himself, the stranger disappeared. In an instant after, the door of the Lord of Hermitage’s apartment was suddenly opened, and "Jock o’ the Syde" stood before its horror-struck inmate, who at once guessed the intentions of the intruder. What followed was the work of a moment. Armstrong—his eyes dilated with a fearful joy, and with a deadly smile playing on his haggard countenance—seized the unhappy Lord of Hermitage by the throat; and, as he struck a dagger to his heart, exclaimed—"Villain! most atrocious of villains!—the hour of vengeance is come. I have caught thee at last. This, and this, and this," he said, as he repeated his stabs, "is for Isabella Foster, and her murdered father!"

Elated beyond bounds at this successful termination to all his weary toils and watchings, and gratified to think that his vengeance had been, after all, consummated in the very stronghold of the murderer—Armstrong flew to the court-yard, leaped on his horse, and having called to the porter, in a voice of fierce exultation, to open the gate, as his master had ordered him on a pressing and important mission, "Jock o’ the Syde" galloped out of the castle; and his loud and triumphant, but most appalling laugh, as he cleared the gate-way, rang wildly through the darkness and solitude of the night, and struck those who heard it with awe and dismay, for it was indeed unearthly.

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