The Avenger; or, The Legend of Mary Lee

by Alexander Leighton  

An old legend describeth to us “The Castle,” a large residence, which, some centuries ago, graced, with its high towers, the banks of the river Annan, perhaps one of the finest of the Scotch rivers if all the elements of beauty are taken into account. “The Castle” stood towards the Solway, and was the seat of a family that had risen to some distinction as commoners, from the possession of considerable wealth, acquired by an ancestor, who had got possession of some lucrative monopolies from the first of the Jameses. The family name was Ashley, of English origin, but the more early members having intermarried with daughters of Scotland, and their fortunes having flourished, for the first time, on her then poor uncultivated soil, they gradually came to lose every quality and mark of the country from which they originated except the name.

Robert Ashley, the proprietor of this residence at the time our story commences, was a widower, having an only son alive, the heir-expectant of his father, and the proprietor, in anticipation, of all the rights of the property. The young man, whose name was also Robert, was possessed of high feelings of love and poetry; but, as is often the case, he allowed these to outstep the bounds of morals—living a luxurious life of pleasure, suited to his strong susceptibilities, but altogether unsanctified by a single restraint, which the greatest libertines often offer, as a sacrifice to offended virtue. He had been a follower of gipsies, and got from them the gipsy name of Robin Ary, pronounced Robin-a-Ree. The only palliation his most partial friend could offer for his extravagant conduct, was, that his amours, of which he had many, were not the result of a grovelling propensity of lust, cultivated for its own sake, and unredeemed by any concomitant affections of the heart. His intrigues, though all ending in gratifications of gross passion, began in the excitement of love; not that love, the influence of which tends to elevate and refine the other sentiments; but still a love which, in the world, very often passes for its more pure ally—using the same language, exhibiting the same external marks, and, unfortunately, so completely personating it, as to deceive the confiding hearts of the objects to whom it is directed. The easily lighted, fickle, heartless, and seducing passion, was the bane of the young man—springing up, with sudden violence, on the first contemplation of beauty—rendering him uneasy till it was communicated and miserable till it was gratified—too often by the ruin of his victim. A fine form and expressive countenance, a command of the language of the heart, and riches, rendered him one of the most dangerous companions of the fair sex of his time; yet paradoxical as it may be, his character for success in rendering miserable that sex whose happiness ought to be the pride and satisfaction of him who has arrogated to himself the title of lord of the creation, instead of keeping victims out of his way, seemed to lure them into his power; at least, there could be no doubt that the gentleman gipsy Robin-a-Ree had always more admirers than any other young man on the north of the Solway. So it seems to be, that vice is sometimes ordained to be fed to repletion, producing in the end the ruin of its powers and properties, which, otherwise, might be exercised for greater evil.

On the lands pertaining to “The Castle,” there was the little port, which we must disguise under the name of Fairhaven, where resided Gilbert Lee, a fisherman, whose boat was often required by Robin for pleasure excursions on the Solway. Gilbert had a daughter, Mary, whose youth, being eight years younger than Ashley, had, for a time, protected her from the dangerous attention of the young laird. This Mary Lee was a peculiar girl; she was accounted the handsomest in Fairhaven; and her father had only one fault to impute to her—a most unforgiving spirit. Kind and affectionate to all who exhibited those qualities to her, Mary seldom forgot or forgave an injury or an insult; and so strongly marked was her character in this respect, that her school antipathies remained with her, and increased as she grew up—no kindness or conciliation having the effect of modifying or mollifying the determination and bitterness of her hatreds. So says our chronicle, and so is it often in the world, that the most opposite feelings and passions—like the nerves of the human system, which, operating equally on the gall-bladder and the heart, are bound up in the same sheath—may be found in the same individual, acting with equal and antagonist forces, and realizing a species of manichæism which has perplexed optimist moralists from the beginning of the world. As the good is strong, so often is the evil, in the same individual; and it would have been hard to say whether Mary Lee’s loves were stronger or weaker than her hatreds.

“O Mary,” her father would say, “he will be a happy or a miserable man wha gets ye for his lot on earth; he will get either the sweet honey o’ yer young and loving heart, or the sting which, as in the bee, receives its poison from that very honey itsel’: so do we see a’ sweet things mair productive o’ sourness than the bitters which we avoid, and darkness is ne’er so visible as when licht is its nearest neibor, and hauds the candle to its ill favoured face.”

Now, Mary understood, perhaps, but little of her father’s quaint remarks, and little did she know of the possession of qualities which were destined to stand out in such prominent and startling relief from the mellowed hues of our Christian faith. Has God, for his own purposes, hid us from ourselves, that our sense of free agency should remain unimpaired by the knowledge of the connate bent of our apparently fated inclinations? Poor Mary Lee acted from her impulses; nor did she see danger. There is the “mid-deep,” which the sailors of the Solway point out to the passenger who looks on the fallacious calm, as it hovers o’er the graves of many a drowned mariner. There is a moral mid-deep in the paths of most of us, but which we never see till we are engulphed.

As Mary Lee grew up, she came necessarily under the view of young Ashley, who, as he called for the boat, noticed the young maiden sitting on the beach, throwing the glances of her blue eye on the mirror of the silvery Solway; a fair type of her own nature, though she was unconscious of the similitude—beautiful in its soft and playful undulations, but terrible in its rage.

“Have we got a mermaid sitting here?” said Robin, on a day, to a companion. “How like she is to the pictured fancy of that creature of imagination! She has only to let her hair fall over her shoulders, and send forth one of those plaintive; seductive cries which, like the singing of the Sicilian virgins mentioned by Ovid, tempt poor passengers ashore to their destruction, to realize the type in its greatest perfection. Well, by the way, I think I would have risked myself in the arms of those famous sirens, who are represented to have been so cruel as to kill their lovers—at least I would trust myself with that fair one. What thinkest thou of my courage?”

“Indeed, Robin,” replied his friend, George Henley, a neighbouring laird’s son, “I fear the danger which Ovid represents as being all on the side of the sailors, who listened to these virgins, would, in your case, be transferred to the charmer; and yet they say that Mary Lee, with all her beauty and apparent mildness, has all the siren about her but the fledged tail; and, if the feathers are there awanting, I fear the deficiency is supplied by a sting.”

The hint thrown out by Henley increased the desire of Robin to get acquainted with Mary; for such is the fate of those who are consigned to the intoxications of vice, that they indulge in morbid desires, which, as in the case of the gourmand, produce in their gratifications all the effects of poison. “A fury for a lover!” he ejaculated. “Good! I have had too many soft, breaking hearts. Their very softness has palled upon my appetite; and, as the lover of gourmandize requires stimulants to whip up the jaded powers of his overwrought stomach, my wearied heart longs for a spice of piquant amativeness, to resuscitate its flagging energies.”

Such reflections are but too common with the young rakes of all times; Robin-a-Ree acted upon them, and he was not long in producing an effect upon Mary Lee. He spoke to her at first merely as the daughter of the fisherman; putting questions to her, which he could himself have answered—but, while he was apparently a careless interrogator, he did all in his power, by the shew of his properties, to become a querist of a heart which had hitherto been left to question itself, and to answer its own questions. How few young women can withstand the graces of a handsome youth—and how often is the poison drunk by the heart, before the mind is conscious of the draught! Mary Lee thought, as she looked upon the youthful Ashley, that the young fishermen of Fairhaven were surely not made of the same flesh and blood. Ashley knew the force of his natural endowments, and he brought in aid of those the flatteries of the deceiver. What more is required to complete the work of love? A good regard of the flatterer, followed by a good regard of the flattered, is, alas! often all that is necessary in the composition of female devotion.

The frequent meetings which Robin had with Mary produced the usual effects. Her heart was what every woman’s ought to be—that is, if there were no bad men in the world—it loved at once and for ever. Every pulse of life acknowledged the power which had come like a spirit and thrown a charm over her existence; the world was now centred in one object; her father and her home lost their magic influences of early associations; even the shade of her mother, which was enshrined in her imagination as a part of the mind itself, faded into a thinner existence than even that of a vision, as she revelled in the first enthusiastic enjoyment of maiden affection. Ashley saw with delight, mixed with some misgivings as to the responsibility of such a devotion, the absolute resignation of a full and bursting heart to the dissembled schemes of a professed libertine. Proud of his victory, he paused, like the cruel lord of the jungle, to play with the victim destined to a protracted immolation; and she, deluded creature! received, with panting eagerness, the caresses which she considered the fruit of a love equal to her own. As she hung upon his bosom and fed his eyes with the soft beams of a first love, shining through tears of kindness and devotion, who could have observed, in that light, more danger than belongs to so innocent a thing as a woman’s smile? Robert Ashley had known by experience, that a woman’s eye that does not shine on her seducer, generally shines not at all, unless it be in the phosphorescent brightness of the corruption of the grave. Mary Lee was, like other women, an object to be possessed, not feared; Ashley enjoyed her present devotion in the exultation of pride, and her subsequent ruin in a certain hope of reality.

Wandering through the thick woods of “The Castle,” Mary Lee drank deeper of the intoxicating draught, as her appetite was increased by the inspiring influences of romantic scenes.

“How is it, Robin,” she said, with the familiarity which love begets on innocence—“how is it that now the woods of the Castle are to me so dear, and I ever think that every mavis and blackbird in the thick groves are to me little messengers o’ guid news. Before you spoke to me, I was fond o’ the rippling waves that come as if they were sent by the corpses in the ‘dead deep,’ to tell their griefs to us on land. But now my thoughts are aff the sea, and the Castle, wi’ a’ its braw trees and flowers, is aye present to me, as used to be the shade o’ my mither.”

“Thou art fond of reasons, my gentle Mary,” replied Robin, “and perhaps canst say why thou wast formerly so fond of the sea. Perhaps some young fisherman had then a part of the heart which now I hope is all my own.”

“An’ weel, Robin, may ye say its a’ yer ain,” said Mary; “for, sleepin’ or waukin’, I think only o’ you, an’ the foes that wad tak you an’ mak you the lover o’ anither. Catherine Hamilton o’ Castlegreen kenned naething o’ my heart yesterday, when, as ye left the village, she saw me looking at her as she looked at you. The lady ca’ed the fisherman’s dochter ‘wretch,’ but she heard no answer fra me. At that time you looked back to her and smiled, and she forgot me, but I will mind her to the day I dee. I could have forgiven her if she hadna been so bonny, and if ye hadna given her the glance that should have come to me. But it’s only in the thick woods that Robin-a-Ree kens the fisherman’s dochter o’ Fairhaven.”

“Come, now, my Mary, none of thy reproofs. Thou knowest that I was a favourite of Catherine Hamilton’s before I knew thee, and it would not have been courteous to shake off an old acquaintance because my Mary was present and requested all my attention.”

“Weel, weel, ye ken I forgive ye,” answered Mary, “and my forgiveness is as real as my love, but I have ae request to mak, and that is—that, if ye dinna choose to ken me in Fairhaven when Catherine is in the village, ye will keep within the bounds o’ the Castle lands. That leddie lies far out o’ my way, if she crossna your path when I am near; but the blasts that blew owre the Mull o’ Galloway are nae sterner to the boatmen o’ the Solway than will be my scorn if she come atween me and my love.”

And, as she concluded, she evinced a degree of determination in her voice and manner, which caught the attention of Ashley. But he saw nothing in it, except a little jealousy, which only measured by its intensity the strength of her love; and his pride was inflamed by the demonstration, while the ardour of his purpose was increased. Throwing his arms around the waist of the still somewhat excited maiden, he removed her jealousy by blandishments, and vowed that he had no affection for Catherine Hamilton, who could never stand in a nearer or dearer relation to him than that of acquaintanceship.

Thereafter for a long period the groves of “The Castle,” were frequented by the lovers. The affection of Mary engrossed all her thoughts and feelings, and lent an eloquence to her words and looks, which, to Robin, seemed different from any demonstrations of affection he had yet witnessed. His feelings became interested to a degree beyond what he could have expected as the result of a few meetings with a fisherman’s daughter; and he felt it as a reproach to his true and genuine character of libertinism, that he was in this instance more in earnest, and more sincere in his love, than he had been in any former instance. The feeling was increased by the apparent determination of Mary to defend the fortress of her virtue. The gipsy fancier had been so fortunate in his former amours, that success had made him domineering and impatient of restraint, while a firm opposition hurt his pride, and increased his desire of victory. In this instance, his love—bastard in its nature as it still was—became increased by Mary’s firmness, and he was compelled to have recourse to expedients which implicated his honour in a greater degree than the ordinary schemes of the seducer, bad as they are, generally do. Finding all his endeavours to overcome her virtue unavailing, he had recourse to promises of honourable intentions—those fatal sappers of female innocence, which, directed only where there is strength, are relied upon as the last resources of insidious assailants.

The heart of Mary, occupied as it was with one of the strongest affections of human nature—in her instance, all-engrossing and resistless—did not so far act the traitress to her understanding, as to induce her to resign her honour, without a condition. Her youth and innocence, rendering her unacquainted with the arts of the world and its vices, suggested, as the only result of a mutual attachment, a union of the parties in holy wedlock; and, when Ashley spoke of marriage, as a thing to take place between them, after the death of his father, she only felt surprised at the ceremony being postponed. That these expectations of Mary did not please Ashley, is not unlikely; but the only other effect produced by them, was to make him promise more fervently, and with stronger protestations, that he would abide by his word, as he was a gentleman and a man of honour. Alas! the love of woman is credulous, as well as blind; and if we did not believe those who are dearest to us of all the world, who is there in it to whom faith should be given? Mary believed; and, like millions who have had the same faith, and the same apparently irrefragable grounds whereon to build it, she was undone. He who takes the honey sometimes gets the sting; the little insect which supplies the figure of speech fulfils a purpose in nature, when, after its support, during the period when no flowers exist, from which to get a supply, has been taken from it, and it is consigned to want and death, it throws away in its vengeance on the spoiler, the life which is only of use to dart the sting, and leave its spark of vitality along with the poison in the wound.

As time waned, the ruined Mary felt her passion increase and saw her lover’s decay. He came now no longer to the grove where the sweet dalliance of a new passion ruffled the silence with the music of muffled sighs. She went at the accustomed hour, and at the hour not accustomed, and she returned without bringing with her a token that the hope of the morning had found a resting-place at even. The willow where they had met retained its charm, and, long after she had given up hopes of his coming, she sat under it, and wept bitterly for a loss which no power on earth could make up to her. But her tears flowed in vain—for Robin-a-Ree came not; and her groans only awakened the dull and drowsy ear of the hind, who, driving his cattle from the field, thought it strange that a woman should weep, and whistled his tune, which her sobbing had interrupted for a moment. The breaking heart of love has no consolation, unless when its sorrowful indications imitate the vulgar hues of bodily disease, and then it can command a prescription; yet sometimes it finds for itself, and in its own recesses, a poison, which has more virtue in it than all the simples of the leech.

Now a considerable time had passed without any intelligence of Ashley, when, one day, as Mary sat under the tree, she saw a gentleman approach, whom she recognised as Ashley’s friend, George Henley. He accosted her in a bold and familiar style; and told her that her friend and lover had gone to Edinburgh, in the company of Miss Catherine Hamilton, and had commissioned him to yield her what consolation was in his power, in the shape of supplying his place as a new and fresh lover—a commission which he could have no inclination to disobey, when he contemplated her beauty, and recollected the favours she had bestowed on his fortunate friend. The salutation struck the unhappy girl dumb, and Henley mistook the benumbing effects of incipient despair as a passive acquiescence in his ribald sentiments—a consent to his unhallowed purposes. Under this impression, he was about to clasp his arms round her waist, when the enraged and frantic girl struck him a blow, concentrating in its force the collected strength of her frenzied energies, and stunned him beyond what could have been conceived to be the effect of a woman’s uplifted arm. But injured virtue—and poor Mary Lee’s feelings had still a virtue in them—has a power which proud man has been often brought to acknowledge and to feel. The cowardly braggart, only brave in pseudo love, was so tamed by the blow, and so humiliated by the noble attitude of the asserter of her dearest rights, that he slunk away as if he had been caught in an act of larceny, or stung by a serpent.

“Go,” cried she, “an’ tell him wha commissioned ye, how weel ye have done your duty, an’ how I have performed mine. Think, as ye look on the earth—for ye canna face heaven—that there is the connach worm crawlin’ amang yer feet, claimin’ the kindred o’ ane wha wasna formed to look in the face o’ a woman! Shun, as the screech-owl does, the licht o’ day, yon eagle that perches on the trystin’ oak, for the gleam o’ its bright e’e will, as the sun puts out the humble peat-moss ingle, blind the dastardly wretch, wha canna abide the look o’ the woman he has insulted. If Robin-a-Ree sent ye to me, tell him that I have sent ye to him, to say that Mary Lee has, in the wreck o’ her feelin’s, enough left to fire the house an’ hearth o’ his new affections.”

A strange speech, and delivered with the impassioned mien and voice of the Pythoness. A new and hitherto unfelt power and energy had seized the frame of this strange girl, the instinctive enthusiasm of a deep revenge had come upon her like an inspiration. She turned her eyes from the direction in which Henley had gone, and, with downcast look and a brooding melancholy, sought her home.

Thereafter, it was currently reported in the village that Robert Ashley was about to be married to Catherine Hamilton. From that period, the whole character of Mary underwent a change: she was never seen to smile, yet she never wept. Her griefs had left the heart, where they operate to soften or to break, and seized the brain, where they generate dreams of revenge, and frenzied illusions of the fancy. Her blue eye now burnt with a sterner fire than even in her former fits of anger she had ever exhibited; her demeanour, shewing fits and starts, and a general disturbance of all her feelings, told, to the most careless observer, that the change which had come over her extended to the fountain of her feelings, and the springs of her hope. Her usual sympathies seemed to be dried up, and nothing was left but the simoom of a stern and deadly hatred, which shewed itself in sudden exclamations, clenching of the hands, and wild looks. The report was soon circulated, that Mary Lee was mad; but those who knew her better, saw, in her strange conduct and demeanour, only the workings, on a larger scale, of the same spirit which had been noticed by her father at a very early period.

The rumours as to the intended marriage of Ashley were indeed true; and they were soon followed by an announcement of a more certain nature, that the marriage was to take place at “The Castle” within a month. The intelligence reached the ears of Mary; but its effect was only to add to the gloom which had apparently taken its eternal seat in her countenance. She spoke to no one of the marriage, and gave no answer when any question regarding it was proposed by the neighbours. Her father, who had watched her conduct, and suspected an undue intimacy between her and Ashley, conjectured the cause of the change that had taken place on his child; but from his knowledge of her peculiar temper, which had uniformly resisted every attempt to draw from her her secrets, or to change the character and hue of her feelings, he despaired of being able to acquire any proof of the reality of his conjecture: so he followed the course suggested by his paternal feelings, and endeavoured to soothe his daughter under her affliction, and soften the obduracy of her apparent misanthropy. His efforts were vain—the change on his daughter’s heart was as complete and lasting as if it had been effected by an organic mal-disposition of its functions; her looks, and short ejaculations of bitter scorn of the higher sanctions of love or marriage, evinced a settled spirit of demoniac frenzy; every indication proved the existence of that extraordinary state of the female mind, produced by a deluded or scorned affection, when the heart, instead of giving way to the revulsion of rejected feeling, and breaking, secretes and nourishes a poison—like the saliva of the serpent which has bit itself—destructive to the destroyer and the victim.

On the day fixed for the marriage of Ashley, there were great preparations made for rejoicings at “The Castle.” A dinner was prepared for the tenents on the lawn, and all males and females residing on the estate were invited to attend, to partake of the liberality of the young laird, and wish him and his lady joy. An immense number of people were collected, and the dinner was pronounced worthy of the spirit of the young bridegroom. The repast being finished, the party were regaled with drinks of various sorts; and Ashley and his bride came down from “The Castle” to witness the gay scene. Then it was resolved that the whole guests should rise with queghs in their hands, and drink to the health and happiness of the young and handsome pair. This was accordingly done; and the shouts of the boisterous labourers of the land rent the welkin in honour of the toast. Ashley rose, as his guests resumed their seats, and returned thanks for the kindness which had been exhibited to him. He made large promises of reductions of rent, when fate should be so unkind as to remove his father from this earthly scene; and told them that the man who had never broken his pledge, had that day a right to demand their faith and trust in a profession which filled the hearts of the poor farmers with joy. These sentiments were responded to by louder shouts, and a scene of joyous uproar was exhibited which had never before been witnessed from the windows of “The Castle.” Ashley sat down; and, nearly opposite to the place he occupied, there was seen to rise a figure wrapped up in a cloak, as if in the attitude of one intending to address the assembly. This person was no other than Mary Lee. Pointing her finger over to Ashley, and fixing her eye with the sternness of one determined not to be shaken from a desperate purpose, she said, in a tone of voice which suited itself with wonderful pathos to the style of her speech—

“I have waited for this, day, Robin-a-Ree, as I would have waited for my ain wedding—and it has come. Ye are richt to believe this man, whom ye have come to meet, and whase bread ye have broken, that he will reduce your rents; for he never broke his word.”

Then there was a cry to put her down, accompanied by shouts—“We do believe our excellent landlord.”

“So did I believe him,” continued she, “when I put my faith and troth in his hands, and yielded to his desires, on condition o’ his promise that I should stand in the place o’ this braw bride. That promise he falsely broke; and will he keep that which he has this day made to ye?”

“Yes, yes!” they shouted again.

“Never!” she screamed. “Believe me, wha stand here a wretched victim o’ his falsehood, whase love he sought and won, whase peace he has destroyed, whase heart he tried to break—tried—ay, but only tried; for he has changed it to the tongue o’ the harry adder that basks i’ the moss on the swamps o’ the Ken. I have hated the yellow-wamed ask that sleeps i’ the mud o’ the lazy Nith, the moon-baying tyke, the charking whutthroat, and the taed that carries its poison on its back amang the seggs o’ the Solway. Ay, sair, sair, have I hated them, wi’ a’ the hate o’ a heart that had only twa pairts—ane for lovin’ and ane for hatin’; but waur—ten thousand times waur, and tens o’ tens, do I hate the vile and loathsome reptile, wha, puttin’ on the appearance o’ man, and coverin’ his lyin’ tongue wi’ the Almighty’s words o’ promised faith, wiles frae the trustin’, lovin’, defenceless woman a’ that she has to care for on earth, and wha yet hasna courage enough to stab her to the heart, and end her misery and her life thegither. But, thanks to the power wha befriends the miserable, and brings oot o’ the destroyed a spirit a thousand times stronger, to feed the heart which love has betrayed!—sweeter to me—ay, hear me, hear the victim o your worshipped idol—sweeter to me is that poison than would be to me his kisses, now sour as the green bullister. But the day lengthens frae the shortest to the longest, and, as the earth turns, they wha, but some hours syne, stood upon oor heads, shall as mony hours after, lie under our feet. So may the day o’ Mary Lee’s joy follow the nicht o’ her grief—and that joy will be revenge!”

As the last word, “revenge,” (says our legend) rang round the silent scene, the excited damsel waved her hand and disappeared. The effect of her speech was electric. Every one looked at his neighbour, mutterings and whisperings ran round the company, and glances of a suspicious nature were thrown upon Ashley. Some of his friends, for the sake of saving him, suggested that the woman was insane; and the company, glad to find a pretext for disbelieving the charge brought in so extraordinary a manner against their landlord, adopted the suggestion. Ashley, however, was struck deeper than he would avow, or than might have been expected, in the case of a man dead to ordinary pity, and to the moral sense. Rising from his seat, he again thanked the company for their attention, and retired.

Next day a messenger called at the house of Mary’s father, and requested to see her. He was commissioned, he said, to give her—provided she would receive it with grace and favour—renouncing the ill-will she bore to Ashley—a considerable sum of money, amounting to two hundred merks. Contrary to the man’s own expectation, the girl seized the money with the greatest avidity; but without uttering a syllable wherefrom he might draw an inference that she was placated in any degree by the gift. As soon as he retired, she locked the money in her trunk, apostrophising the despised and worshipped dust, with the spirit of an enraptured Mammon—“Lie there till vengeance needs ye.”

Time rolled on without producing any change on Mary Lee. At “The Castle,” things were different. The old man died, and Robert succeeded to the estates. He gradually softened down to the condition of a sober-minded husband, and experienced the ordinary effects of early ribaldry and dissipation, in a deep, heart-felt regret, and a wish to make amends to heaven and earth for an abuse of the gifts of both. He had one son, whose name was Hector, whom he loved with all the devotion of a father. Being an only son, the boy was, as usual, spoiled, both by his father and mother; having concentrated on himself affections which, in other circumstances, might have been, with advantage to parents and child, spread over a family of sons and daughters. To such an extent was affection carried, in the case of this spoiled child, that the mother would scarcely let him out of her sight. With his heart also garnered up in his son, and happy in the possession of a kind, gentle, though constitutionally weak wife, Robert Ashley might have been pronounced as happy as the regret produced by the loss of the best part of his life would permit him to be.

Meanwhile, as regarded the victim of his seduction, Ashley conceived he had now little to fear, seeing she had received his peace-offering, and had, it was reported, contracted an intimacy with Hans Gerstendorf, a German smuggler, who had been in the practice of running his good frau, Unsere Mutter, an old lugger, into the port of Fairhaven, with contraband goods. The report was, to a certain extent, true. Hans had conceived an affection for the still beautiful Mary, and it was certain that she had, in some degree, unbent her stern misanthropy in favour of the German, though with what aim, or for what object, the gossips of Fairhaven knew not. It was not without credence among some, that Hans, whose appearance justified the suspicion, had used some unlawful means—and fancy supplied German charms—to open the heart which all supposed shut against human efforts. Speculation, however, might rack itself with curiosity—Mary’s attentions to the foreigner remained unaccounted for. She often visited his craft, and this supplied others, less indulgent, with the idea that the German charm was nothing else than good Hollands; yet those who knew Mary Lee better ridiculed the suspicion as unworthy of her character; for her sobriety, in the midst of her unearthly feelings, was never questioned. One thing, amidst all this doubt, remained certain, and that was that, whatever favour Hans Gerstendorf had in the eyes of the relentless fair one, no other person ever saw her smile, and few heard her speak. The same gloomy melancholy haunted her, the same bitterness of scorn of all social relations, was observable in her eye, and trembled on her lip.

On a day, a horseman, well-mounted, arrived in Fairhaven, in a state of breathless anxiety and haste. He called for a number of the fishermen of the village, and requested them to fly with him to the Fisher’s Cairn, a mile beyond the village, to give them assistance in searching for the body of Hector Ashley, who, he said, had fallen into the Solway, and was supposed to have perished. Then the fishermen seized their dead drags, and ran with their greatest speed to the place pointed out. On arriving there, they found a number of persons collected, among whom was Robert Ashley, apparently occupied in searching for the body of the drowned youth. The clothes of the boy lay on the top of the cairn, from whence it was supposed and reported that he had been bathing, at that part of the Solway which was full of dangerous eddies, and had perished. The father stood in a state bordering on despair, witnessing the unavailable efforts, on the part of the people, to recover his son. Every exertion was used—the dead drags applied in every direction—and the fatal announcement made, that the body was irrecoverable. The tide was receding, and it was the opinion of the fishermen, that the body must have been carried, by the eddies, into some of the deep clefts of the rock, from which it was, in all likelihood, impossible to extricate it. The people gradually disappeared, with the exception of one or two, who undertook to wait the receding of the tide; and Robert Ashley, the disconsolate parent, was conveyed home, in a state of insensibility, to witness the second grief of a mother wailing for the loss of her only child. As the carriage which conveyed Ashley home passed through the village, Mary Lee was sitting, in her usual melancholy mood, at her father’s door. On observing the crowd, she suddenly started up, and, with a loud laugh, pointed to Ashley, and retreated into the house. The circumstance caught the attention of the crowd, and formed a part of the melancholy theme which fate had supplied to the evening gossips of Fairhaven. Some hours afterwards, it was reported that the tide had receded to its utmost extent, and no trace could be found of the lost heir of “The Castle.”

The conduct of Mary Lee had given rise to suspicions of her being in some way, connected with the death of Hector Ashley; and an investigation was, by the orders of the father, set about, with the view of ascertaining what grounds there existed for these suspicions. It was, however, clearly ascertained that Mary Lee had not been out of her father’s house for hours preceding the disappearance of the unfortunate boy, and the inquiry was relinquished. No hope was now entertained that any less disastrous fate had befallen him than being drowned, while in the act of bathing, a recreation he had been in the habit of indulging in unknown to his mother, who had enjoined the strictest prohibition against it.

The effect of this calamity, on the mind of Mrs Ashley, was such as to produce strong apprehensions of the most dangerous consequences. No consolation could be administered to her with the slightest chance of abating a grief which had sunk too deep for human aid to relieve. After some months, it was discovered that a hereditary tendency to consumption had received a fatal increase of strength, from the decayed state of her constitution; and the disease having progressed with that rapidity so often observed to be one of its most appalling symptoms, the bereaved mother breathed her last in the arms of the fate-stricken and inconsolable husband.

It was on a rainy day, in December, that the remains of Mrs Ashley were to be conveyed to her father’s vault, a few miles distant from “The Castle;” a large cavalcade of mourners attended; the funeral was conducted with a state and pomposity suited to the rank of the deceased; the procession glided silently along, by a road passing through the dark forests of “The Castle,” and by that spot where the unhappy victim of Ashley’s perfidy resigned her honour and her peace for ever. The trysting-tree was still there, with its branches bending under a load of December snows, which the thaw had not yet been able to dissolve. There Mary Lee took her station; and, as the mournful procession passed, the woods resounded with the same wild laugh that had met the ear of Ashley, on the disappearance of his son.

Years rolled on, but the bereaved husband and father finds little assuasive power in the effects of time. Robert Ashley experienced this melancholy truth, and sought assistance from a fountain, the perennial consolations of which flow over the hearts of the rich and the poor. The extraordinary manner in which the early victim of his heartless seduction had triumphed over his misfortunes, appeared to him as the supernatural effect of Divine retribution. The idea haunted him like the invertible companions of Orestes. A deep melancholy took possession of his spirits, and made its usual inroads upon a constitution which early vices and unprecedented bereavements had made susceptible of the despoiling ravages of disease. His mind became occupied with a presentiment that the death of every member of his family would alone atone for the ruin he had brought on that individual, whose fate seemed to have constituted her an avenger of wrongs, only to be expiated by the greatest of misfortunes, visited on the head of him who had blasted the prospects of one of God’s creatures, and expelled his victim from the sanctuary of grace.

It was in these states of bodily disease and mental dejection, that the proud lord of “The Castle” was brought to feel not only what it is to be a man, but a sinner. He felt how vain were all the advantages of fortune when they are not accompanied by peace of mind. The woods around the Castle used to afford him a retreat from the fevered excitements of gay life. The song of the blackbird, full, mellow, and sorrowful, soothed the ear which had been poisoned by the flatteries incident to favoured sons of fortune. The merry reveillé of the lark banished unpleasant recollections; many a sigh was drowned in the rich flow of the music of the thrush. All these things were experienced with joy and satisfaction, when the silent energies of health and youth made his muscular limbs jump with the exuberance of animal spirits. They were welcomed as good tidings when no pang of aroused conscience stung him with its peculiar pain, and no morbid fancy made to dance in the green woods the images of misery he had brought on the hearts of unsuspecting victims.

Now, all was changed when he rode out in those beautiful retreats—the pleasure he formerly derived from them was the parent of the evil he now felt. The contrast was itself a grievous pain; he would have been happier in the abodes of sorrow. Pleasure is not the soother of griefs, that ask the nourishment of a morbid appetite for an accession of woe. It is a cataplasm applied to a sore, under the mistaken idea that its softness will atone for the pungency produced, not from its own asperity, but the tenderness of the part diseased. The joys of “The Castle” were now dead to its lord. If the soothing influences of rural scenery, with its rough hills and soft valleys; its trees, plants, flowers, and tuneful birds, could not assuage the pangs of a diseased body, a bereaved heart, and an awakened conscience—what could be expected from the entertainments of the Castle? Ashley knew too well the vanity of these, even in the heyday of youth, health, and pleasure, to have recourse to them when his views were blasted, and his hopes had fallen. All company he avoided; and no attempt, on the part of the surrounding gentry, or his old friends, was available in getting him to relax the rigid discipline of sorrow which he had, in his despair, imposed on himself.

As he rode out, for the benefit of the air, he was always under an apprehension. Vague fears, the result of an evil conscience, haunted him. The rustle of a leaf disturbed him, and the slouching, fearful look he threw on intruders on his solitary walk, were in sad contrast with the proud bearing of the once eagle-eyed lord of the proudest castle on the western marches. His timidity rendered him incapable of managing his horse—a proud creature, which vindicated the untainted character of its stock, under the crestfallen demeanour of its once haughty master. In going over a small fence, he one day fell into an old ditch, and the weakness to which he was reduced prevented him from rising. In this condition, Mary Lee, in one of her wandering fits, came upon him.

“I wish ye joy,” she commenced, “o’ the elevated position ye occupy in the heart o’ yer ain wuds.”

“Away, woman!” cried Ashley, “art thou not already avenged?” and, trying to raise himself, he fell back with his eye still fixed on the fury.

“No,” she replied; “he who exalteth himself shall be debased, and he who humbleth himself shall be raised. Ye have lang inhabited a proud castle; but fate, wha richts the oppressed, can mak the craven-hearted, dastardly betrayer o’ woman’s troth, lie whar the meg-o’-mony-feet crawls, and the green and yellow carrion courts the slimy mouth o’ the adder. A short distance frae this, ye lay wi’ me on a green bank, whar roses encircled us wi’ their sweet-scented flavours, and poured into my credulous ear the poison o’ your love. A stagnant ditch now contains your diseased body, and the hisses o’ the vengeance o’ a ruined woman pierce and wound the ear that was ance charmed wi’ her honied love.”

She paused, as if to gloat her eyes with the writhings of her victim—then resumed:

“Twice have I lauched o’er your misfortunes; a third opportunity has gratified a heart only prevented frae breaking by the wish I hae lang nourished, to see the auld taff o’ the kirkyard cover the moil that will keep ye frae the sicht o’ her ye hae ruined. Mary Lee has naething now but the wishes o’ a revengeful heart, and this spittle she throws on the reptile that stung her honour, and made her fame bleed and perish, to show that a woman is no without a part o’ that power that is vouchsafed to the trampled worm.”

As the infuriated creature finished these words, she spat on the poor victim of her hatred, now unable even to reply to her dreadful expressions of a morbid thirst for revenge. Having thus gratified her passion, she disappeared among the woods. Ashley lay for a considerable time, before assistance came to him. His feelings may be conceived—they cannot be expressed. His conscience was enough for him, without the exhibition of so deadly a hatred in her whom he now pitied. The reaction of injured virtue overcame him. He groaned in the depth of his agony; burning tears of remorse flowed down his cheeks; the pains and penalties of vice stung him in mind and body, with the malignity of demons; he would have given the proud domains of his forefathers, for one drop of mercy to his burning soul. He tried to pray; he was unable. The fiends still clung to him. The Almighty did not think it time to pluck them away. In his struggles, he fainted, and lay on the cold earth for several hours.

The servants of the Castle came out to seek their master. They searched the woods, and found the horse which had strayed away from him. His groans attracted their notice; and, in the plight we have described, they found their unhappy lord. When taken home, he was put to bed, where he lay for some months. The aids of ministers of religion afforded him consolation, but were ineffectual in banishing the presentiment which had taken so firm a hold of his imagination. They recommended to him travel; and he consented to remove to France, where the change of scene might produce its accustomed effects, in withdrawing his mind from the contemplation of a subject which preyed on his vitals. Arrangements were made for the journey, and everything was ready for his departure; but the journey which was destined for the unhappy victim of his own crimes, was of a different kind from that he had in view. On the day on which he was to depart, he was seized with a hæmorrhage from the lungs, and died before any medical advice could be afforded him.

In a moonlight night, some weeks after the interment, Mary Lee stood upon the grave of Robert Ashley.

“The proud Eagle,” she soliloquized, “wha condescended to come to earth only for garbage, now lies whar I have lang wished him to be. Robert Ashley has met his deserts, an’ nae tear has wet the cheek o’ Mary Lee. Na—that tear shall only be the clammy rheum that oozes frae the closing ee o’ death, and only maks the cheek o’ the heart-broken mair dry. Did I no say, that I hated the connach worm? Ay, but I, wha have nae love for mortal on earth, could love that creature now, for it will nestle in the heart o’ my destroyer e’en whar I have nestled. Fear nae guile now, ye brawnet reptile—that was a’ wasted in my ruin; an’ bluid will be your repast as it has been my vengeance. Thrice have I lauched in triumph; an’ I would lauch my loud lauch again, if Robin’s ears war open to hear’t; but I have yet anither victim, and my last shout shall be o’er the fate o’ the remainin’ rafter o’ the ruif tree o’ the auld Castle. Then shall be the weird o’ my hatred fulfilled, and the staff o’ the stern wizard, wha guides me on through the dark ways o’ revenge, be broken an’ cast on the waters of the Solway.”

As Mary was in the act of pronouncing the last words of her speech, she was interrupted by a voice, apparently that of a man. It was Gerstendorf, who had not been in these parts for many years. He seemed in great agitation, and spoke confusedly, and as if in fear of being overheard.

“What brings ye here, man, wi’ that craven look, and these broken sounds?” inquired Mary.

“What may that be to you, mein gut child? Donner! have I no power left to look after mein safety, and by returning the knabe, Hector Ashley, to the house of his vater, get a riddence of the outlawry against me and mein crew?”

“Hans Gerstendorf,” replied Mary, “is this the faith pledged to me langsyne, when I put into your hand twa hunder siller merks, as the apprentice fee o’ Hector Ashley, and the reward o’ eternal silence as to his birth and lineage? This may be German troth, but it belangs na to the honour o’ Galloway.”

“The faith, and the promise, and the covenant,” replied the German, “belong to the men who live under the laws—Teufel! are not the sharks and the hounds, by the sea and by the land, smelling for us and baying for us?—and doesna the hang-tief stand on the lang sands o’ Leith to mak langer, by twa inches, the craigs o’ the pirate and his gang? Ha! mein gut Maria, what is the troth to the life, the breath, and the soul that kensna repentance for ten thousand crimes?—One chance is left, and that is, to tell Peter Fleming the secret o’ his parentage, and his history, from that day when I kidnapped him at the Fisherman’s Cairn, and left his cla’es on the stones to beguile his father. Once in the Castle and we are safe.”

The resolution, intention, or wish, thus expressed by the German, deeply affected Mary. For some time she replied not—her hand was on her forehead, and she was apparently musing in deep thought; at last she started.

“Weel, weel,” she said, in a choked voice—“weel, since it is as ye say, that your lives are in danger, let your way be as ye wish. But whar are ye concealed?”

And, as she put the question, her eye watched the looks of the German.

“My men are amang the high bent that grows on the drifted sand, twa miles doun the coast. But wha is now the proprietor o’ ‘The Castle?’ for I maun tell Peter the name of the man wha is to be his enemy; and we may hae to fecht our way to head-quarters.”

“There is naebody in the House,” answered Mary.

“Blut! that is the good tidings,” ejaculated Hans, in joy. “Hurra, then, for the Castle!” And he dashed through the willows that overhung the burial-ground, where they stood.

On that night, three hours after, intelligence was said to have been given by Mary Lee to the procurator-fiscal of the stewartry, that the outlawed pirates lay in the sea bent at the banks of the Solway. A band of armed men repaired to the place, and Hans Gerstendorf and his men, among whom was Peter Fleming, no other than Hector Ashley, were seized and put in irons, and carried to the jail of Dumfries. The unhappy men were afterwards removed to the jail of Edinburgh, tried, and four of them, including Fleming, condemned to be executed on the sands of Leith, for the crime of piracy on the high seas. They were executed accordingly.

A new family came to occupy “The Castle”—far removed in relationship to the Ashleys. Mary Lee continued to live on, for many years, exhibiting the same peculiarities of character—the same silence—the same scorn of social relations. Her desire of revenge was satisfied—but that satisfaction was no more effectual, in its assuaging consequences, than revenge is generally found to be. It even added to her moroseness; for the evil which she had removed, had been the only good she ever enjoyed, and the thirst for revenge which she had indulged, when slaked by the blood of all her enemies, left her nothing to wish for in the world. She took no interest in passing events, and as she increased in years, her faculties decayed. Latterly, and towards the termination of her life, she fell into temporary fits of insanity—which, however, did not conceal from her all her sorrows, for her lucid intervals were periods of misery; all her recollections seemed painful as the searing-iron of a roused conscience; she never displayed a symptom of remorse for the dreadful vengeance she had taken on the head and house of her seducer; but the wild laugh would break out only to settle again in the stare of idiotcy. So much for our legend.