To hail the king in seemly sort
The ladie was full fain,
But King Arthur, all sore amazed,
No answer made again
'What wight art thou,' the ladie said,
'That will not speak to me?
Sir, I may chance to ease thy pain,
Though I be foul to see'
The Marriage of Sir Gawaine.
The fairy bride of Sir Gawaine, while under the influence of the
spell of her wicked step-mother, was more decrepit probably, and
what is commonly called more ugly, than Meg Merrilies; but I doubt
if she possessed that wild sublimity which an excited imagination
communicated to features marked and expressive in their own
peculiar character, and to the gestures of a form which, her sex
considered, might be termed gigantic. Accordingly, the Knights of
the Round Table did not recoil with more terror from the
apparition of the loathly lady placed between 'an oak and a green
holly,' than Lucy Bertram and Julia Mannering did from the
appearance of this Galwegian sibyl upon the common of Ellangowan.
'For God's sake,' said Julia, pulling out her purse, 'give that
dreadful woman something and bid her go away.'
'I cannot,' said Bertram; 'I must not offend her.'
'What keeps you here?' said Meg, exalting the harsh and rough
tones of her hollow voice. 'Why do you not follow? Must your hour
call you twice? Do you remember your oath? "Were it at kirk or
market, wedding or burial,"'--and she held high her skinny
forefinger in a menacing attitude.
Bertram--turned round to his terrified companions. 'Excuse me for
a moment; I am engaged by a promise to follow this woman.'
'Good Heavens! engaged to a madwoman?' said Julia.
'Or to a gipsy, who has her band in the wood ready to murder you!'
'That was not spoken like a bairn of Ellangowan,' said Meg,
frowning upon Miss Bertram. 'It is the ill-doers are ill-
'In short, I must go,' said Bertram, 'it is absolutely necessary;
wait for me five minutes on this spot.'
'Five minutes?' said the gipsy, 'five hours may not bring you here
'Do you hear that?' said Julia; 'for Heaven's sake do not go!'
'I must, I must; Mr. Dinmont will protect you back to the house.'
'No,' said Meg, 'he must come with you; it is for that he is here.
He maun take part wi' hand and heart; and weel his part it is, for
redding his quarrel might have cost you dear.'
'Troth, Luckie, it's very true,' said the steady farmer; 'and ere
I turn back frae the Captain's side I'll show that I haena
'O yes,' exclaimed both the ladies at once, 'let Mr. Dinmont go
with you, if go you must, on this strange summons.'
'Indeed I must,' answered Bertram; 'but you see I am safely
guarded. Adieu for a short time; go home as fast as you can.'
He pressed his sister's hand, and took a yet more affectionate
farewell of Julia with his eyes. Almost stupefied with surprise
and fear, the young ladies watched with anxious looks the course
of Bertram, his companion, and their extraordinary guide. Her tall
figure moved across the wintry heath with steps so swift, so long,
and so steady that she appeared rather to glide than to walk.
Bertram and Dinmont, both tall men, apparently scarce equalled her
in height, owing to her longer dress and high head-gear. She
proceeded straight across the common, without turning aside to the
winding path by which passengers avoided the inequalities and
little rills that traversed it in different directions. Thus the
diminishing figures often disappeared from the eye, as they dived
into such broken ground, and again ascended to sight when they
were past the hollow. There was something frightful and unearthly,
as it were, in the rapid and undeviating course which she pursued,
undeterred by any of the impediments which usually incline a
traveller from the direct path. Her way was as straight, and
nearly as swift, as that of a bird through the air. At length they
reached those thickets of natural wood which extended from the
skirts of the common towards the glades and brook of Derncleugh,
and were there lost to the view.
'This is very extraordinary,' said Lucy after a pause, and turning
round to her companion; 'what can he have to do with that old
'It is very frightful,' answered Julia, 'and almost reminds me of
the tales of sorceresses, witches, and evil genii which I have
heard in India. They believe there in a fascination of the eye by
which those who possess it control the will and dictate the
motions of their victims. What can your brother have in common
with that fearful woman that he should leave us, obviously against
his will, to attend to her commands?'
'At least,' said Lucy, 'we may hold him safe from harm; for she
would never have summoned that faithful creature Dinmont, of whose
strength, courage, and steadiness Henry said so much, to attend
upon an expedition where she projected evil to the person of his
friend. And now let us go back to the house till the Colonel
returns. Perhaps Bertram may be back first; at any rate, the
Colonel will judge what is to be done.'
Leaning, then, upon each other's arm, but yet occasionally
stumbling, between fear and the disorder of their nerves, they at
length reached the head of the avenue, when they heard the tread
of a horse behind. They started, for their ears were awake to
every sound, and beheld to their great pleasure young Hazlewood.
'The Colonel will be here immediately,' he said; 'I galloped on
before to pay my respects to Miss Bertram, with the sincerest
congratulations upon the joyful event which has taken place in her
family. I long to be introduced to Captain Bertram, and to thank
him for the well-deserved lesson he gave to my rashness and
'He has left us just now,' said Lucy, 'and in a manner that has
frightened us very much.'
Just at that moment the Colonel's carriage drove up, and, on
observing the ladies, stopped, while Mannering and his learned
counsel alighted and joined them. They instantly communicated the
new cause of alarm.
'Meg Merrilies again!' said the Colonel. 'She certainly is a most
mysterious and unaccountable personage; but I think she must have
something to impart to Bertram to which she does not mean we
should be privy.'
'The devil take the bedlamite old woman,' said the Counsellor;
'will she not let things take their course, prout de lege, but
must always be putting in her oar in her own way? Then I fear from
the direction they took they are going upon the Ellangowan estate.
That rascal Glossin has shown us what ruffians he has at his
disposal; I wish honest Liddesdale maybe guard sufficient.'
'If you please,' said Hazlewood, 'I should be most happy to ride
in the direction which they have taken. I am so well known in the
country that I scarce think any outrage will be offered in my
presence, and I shall keep at such a cautious distance as not to
appear to watch Meg, or interrupt any communication which she may
'Upon my word,' said Pleydell (aside), 'to be a sprig whom I
remember with a whey face and a satchel not so very many years
ago, I think young Hazlewood grows a fine fellow. I am more afraid
of a new attempt at legal oppression than at open violence, and
from that this young man's presence would deter both Glossin and
his understrappers.--Hie away then, my boy; peer out--peer out,
you 'll find them somewhere about Derncleugh, or very probably in
Hazlewood turned his horse. 'Come back to us to dinner,
Hazlewood,' cried the Colonel. He bowed, spurred his horse, and
We now return to Bertram and Dinmont, who continued to follow
their mysterious guide through the woods and dingles between the
open common and the ruined hamlet of Derncleugh. As she led the
way she never looked back upon her followers, unless to chide them
for loitering, though the sweat, in spite of the season, poured
from their brows. At other times she spoke to herself in such
broken expressions as these: 'It is to rebuild the auld house, it
is to lay the corner-stone; and did I not warn him? I tell'd him I
was born to do it, if my father's head had been the stepping-
stane, let alane his. I was doomed--still I kept my purpose in the
cage and in the stocks; I was banished--I kept it in an unco land;
I was scourged, I was branded--my resolution lay deeper than
scourge or red iron could reach;--and now the hour is come.'
'Captain,' said Dinmont, in a half whisper, 'I wish she binna
uncanny! her words dinna seem to come in God's name, or like other
folks'. Od, they threep in our country that there ARE sic things.'
'Don't be afraid, my friend,' whispered Bertram in return.
'Fear'd! fient a haet care I,' said the dauntless farmer; 'be she
witch or deevil, it's a' ane to Dandie Dinmont.'
'Haud your peace, gudeman,' said Meg, looking sternly over her
shoulder; 'is this a time or place for you to speak, think ye?'
'But, my good friend,' said Bertram, 'as I have no doubt in your
good faith or kindness, which I have experienced, you should in
return have some confidence in me; I wish to know where you are
'There's but ae answer to that, Henry Bertram,' said the sibyl. 'I
swore my tongue should never tell, but I never said my finger
should never show. Go on and meet your fortune, or turn back and
lose it: that's a' I hae to say.'
'Go on then,' answered Bertram; 'I will ask no more questions.'
They descended into the glen about the same place where Meg had
formerly parted from Bertram. She paused an instant beneath the
tall rock where he had witnessed the burial of a dead body and
stamped upon the ground, which, notwithstanding all the care that
had been taken, showed vestiges of having been recently moved.
'Here rests ane,' she said; 'he'll maybe hae neibours sune.'
She then moved up the brook until she came to the ruined hamlet,
where, pausing with a look of peculiar and softened interest
before one of the gables which was still standing, she said in a
tone less abrupt, though as solemn as before, 'Do you see that
blackit and broken end of a sheeling? There my kettle boiled for
forty years; there I bore twelve buirdly sons and daughters. Where
are they now? where are the leaves that were on that auld ash tree
at Martinmas! The west wind has made it bare; and I'm stripped
too. Do you see that saugh tree? it's but a blackened rotten stump
now. I've sate under it mony a bonnie summer afternoon, when it
hung its gay garlands ower the poppling water. I've sat there,
and,' elevating her voice, 'I've held you on my knee, Henry
Bertram, and sung ye sangs of the auld barons and their bloody
wars. It will ne'er be green again, and Meg Merrilies will never
sing sangs mair, be they blythe or sad. But ye'll no forget her,
and ye'll gar big up the auld wa's for her sake? And let somebody
live there that's ower gude to fear them of another warld. For if
ever the dead came back amang the living, I'll be seen in this
glen mony a night after these crazed banes are in the mould.'
The mixture of insanity and wild pathos with which she spoke these
last words, with her right arm bare and extended, her left bent
and shrouded beneath the dark red drapery of her mantle, might
have been a study worthy of our Siddons herself. 'And now,' she
said, resuming at once the short, stern, and hasty tone which was
most ordinary to her, 'let us to the wark, let us to the wark.'
She then led the way to the promontory on which the Kaim of
Derncleugh was situated, produced a large key from her pocket, and
unlocked the door. The interior of this place was in better order
than formerly. 'I have made things decent,' she said; 'I may be
streekit here or night. There will be few, few at Meg's lykewake,
for mony of our folk will blame what I hae done, and am to do!'
She then pointed to a table, upon which was some cold meat,
arranged with more attention to neatness than could have been
expected from Meg's habits. 'Eat,' she said--'eat; ye'll need it
this night yet.'
Bertram, in complaisance, eat a morsel or two; and Dinmont, whose
appetite was unabated either by wonder, apprehension, or the meal
of the morning, made his usual figure as a trencherman. She then
offered each a single glass of spirits, which Bertram drank
diluted, and his companion plain.
'Will ye taste naething yoursell, Luckie?' said Dinmont.
'I shall not need it,' replied their mysterious hostess. 'And
now,' she said, 'ye maun hae arms: ye maunna gang on dry-handed;
but use them not rashly. Take captive, but save life; let the law
hae its ain. He maun speak ere he die.'
'Who is to be taken? who is to speak?' said Bertram, in
astonishment, receiving a pair of pistols which she offered him,
and which, upon examining, he found loaded and locked.
'The flints are gude,' she said, 'and the powder dry; I ken this
Then, without answering his questions, she armed Dinmont also with
a large pistol, and desired them to choose sticks for themselves
out of a parcel of very suspicious-looking bludgeons which she
brought from a corner. Bertram took a stout sapling, and Dandie
selected a club which might have served Hercules himself. They
then left the hut together, and in doing so Bertram took an
opportunity to whisper to Dinmont, 'There's something inexplicable
in all this. But we need not use these arms unless we see
necessity and lawful occasion; take care to do as you see me do.'
Dinmont gave a sagacious nod, and they continued to follow, over
wet and over dry, through bog and through fallow, the footsteps of
their conductress. She guided them to the wood of Warroch by the
same track which the late Ellangowan had used when riding to
Derncleugh in quest of his child on the miserable evening of
When Meg Merrilies had attained these groves, through which the
wintry sea-wind was now whistling hoarse and shrill, she seemed to
pause a moment as if to recollect the way. 'We maun go the precise
track,' she said, and continued to go forward, but rather in a
zigzag and involved course than according to her former steady and
direct line of motion. At length she guided them through the mazes
of the wood to a little open glade of about a quarter of an acre,
surrounded by trees and bushes, which made a wild and irregular
boundary. Even in winter it was a sheltered and snugly sequestered
spot; but when arrayed in the verdure of spring, the earth sending
forth all its wild flowers, the shrubs spreading their waste of
blossom around it, and the weeping birches, which towered over the
underwood, drooping their long and leafy fibres to intercept the
sun, it must have seemed a place for a youthful poet to study his
earliest sonnet, or a pair of lovers to exchange their first
mutual avowal of affection. Apparently it now awakened very
different recollections. Bertram's brow, when he had looked round
the spot, became gloomy and embarrassed. Meg, after uttering to
herself, 'This is the very spot!' looked at him with a ghastly
side-glance--'D'ye mind it?'
'Yes!' answered Bertram, 'imperfectly I do.'
'Ay!' pursued his guide, 'on this very spot the man fell from his
horse. I was behind that bourtree bush at the very moment. Sair,
sair he strove, and sair he cried for mercy; but he was in the
hands of them that never kenn'd the word! Now will I show you the
further track; the last time ye travelled it was in these arms.'
She led them accordingly by a long and winding passage, almost
overgrown with brushwood, until, without any very perceptible
descent, they suddenly found themselves by the seaside. Meg then
walked very fast on between the surf and the rocks, until she came
to a remarkable fragment of rock detached from the rest. 'Here,'
she said in a low and scarcely audible whisper--'here the corpse
'And the cave,' said Bertram, in the same tone, 'is close beside
it; are you guiding us there?'
'Yes,' said the gipsy in a decided tone. 'Bend up both your
hearts; follow me as I creep in; I have placed the fire-wood so as
to screen you. Bide behind it for a gliff till I say, "The hour
and the man are baith come"; then rin in on him, take his arms,
and bind him till the blood burst frae his finger nails.'
'I will, by my soul,' said Henry, 'if he is the man I suppose--
'Ay, Jansen, Hatteraick, and twenty mair names are his.'
'Dinmont, you must stand by me now,' said Bertram, 'for this
fellow is a devil.'
'Ye needna doubt that,' said the stout yeoman; 'but I wish I could
mind a bit prayer or I creep after the witch into that hole that
she's opening. It wad be a sair thing to leave the blessed sun and
the free air, and gang and be killed like a tod that's run to
earth, in a dungeon like that. But, my sooth, they will be hard-
bitten terriers will worry Dandie; so, as I said, deil hae me if I
baulk you.' This was uttered in the lowest tone of voice possible.
The entrance was now open. Meg crept in upon her hands and knees,
Bertram followed, and Dinmont, after giving a rueful glance toward
the daylight, whose blessings he was abandoning, brought up the