My Aunt Margaret's Mirror
by Sir Walter Scott
The species of publication which has come to be generally known by
the title of ANNUAL, being a miscellany of prose and verse, equipped
with numerous engravings, and put forth every year about Christmas,
had flourished for a long while in Germany before it was imitated in
this country by an enterprising bookseller, a German by birth, Mr.
Ackermann. The rapid success of his work, as is the custom of the
time, gave birth to a host of rivals, and, among others, to an Annual
styled The Keepsake, the first volume of which appeared in 1828, and
attracted much notice, chiefly in consequence of the very uncommon
splendour of its illustrative accompaniments. The expenditure which
the spirited proprietors lavished on this magnificent volume is
understood to have been not less than from ten to twelve thousand
Various gentlemen of such literary reputation that any one might
think it an honour to be associated with them had been announced as
contributors to this Annual, before application was made to me to
assist in it; and I accordingly placed with much pleasure at the
Editor's disposal a few fragments, originally designed to have been
worked into the Chronicles of the Canongate, besides a manuscript
drama, the long-neglected performance of my youthful days—"The House
The Keepsake for 1828 included, however, only three of these
little prose tales, of which the first in order was that entitled "My
Aunt Margaret's Mirror." By way of INTRODUCTION to this, when now
included in a general collection of my lucubrations, I have only to
say that it is a mere transcript, or at least with very little
embellishment, of a story that I remembered being struck with in my
childhood, when told at the fireside by a lady of eminent virtues and
no inconsiderable share of talent, one of the ancient and honourable
house of Swinton. She was a kind of relation of my own, and met her
death in a manner so shocking— being killed, in a fit of insanity, by
a female attendant who had been attached to her person for half a
lifetime—that I cannot now recall her memory, child as I was when the
catastrophe occurred, without a painful reawakening of perhaps the
first images of horror that the scenes of real life stamped on my
This good spinster had in her composition a strong vein of the
superstitious, and was pleased, among other fancies, to read alone in
her chamber by a taper fixed in a candlestick which she had had formed
out of a human skull. One night this strange piece of furniture
acquired suddenly the power of locomotion, and, after performing some
odd circles on her chimney-piece, fairly leaped on the floor, and
continued to roll about the apartment. Mrs. Swinton calmly proceeded
to the adjoining room for another light, and had the satisfaction to
penetrate the mystery on the spot. Rats abounded in the ancient
building she inhabited, and one of these had managed to ensconce
itself within her favourite MEMENTO MORI. Though thus endowed with a
more than feminine share of nerve, she entertained largely that belief
in supernaturals which in those times was not considered as sitting
ungracefully on the grave and aged of her condition; and the story of
the Magic Mirror was one for which she vouched with particular
confidence, alleging indeed that one of her own family had been an
eye-witness of the incidents recorded in it.
"I tell the tale as it was told to me."
Stories enow of much the same cast will present themselves to the
recollection of such of my readers as have ever dabbled in a species
of lore to which I certainly gave more hours, at one period of my
life, than I should gain any credit by confessing.
AUNT MARGARET'S MIRROR.
"There are times
When Fancy plays her gambols, in despite
Even of our watchful senses—when in sooth
Substance seems shadow, shadow substance seems—
When the broad, palpable, and mark'd partition
'Twixt that which is and is not seems dissolved,
As if the mental eye gain'd power to gaze
Beyond the limits of the existing world.
Such hours of shadowy dreams I better love
Than all the gross realities of life." ANONYMOUS.
My Aunt Margaret was one of that respected sisterhood upon whom
devolve all the trouble and solicitude incidental to the possession
of children, excepting only that which attends their entrance into the
world. We were a large family, of very different dispositions and
constitutions. Some were dull and peevish—they were sent to Aunt
Margaret to be amused; some were rude, romping, and boisterous—they
were sent to Aunt Margaret to be kept quiet, or rather that their
noise might be removed out of hearing; those who were indisposed were
sent with the prospect of being nursed; those who were stubborn, with
the hope of their being subdued by the kindness of Aunt Margaret's
discipline;—in short, she had all the various duties of a mother,
without the credit and dignity of the maternal character. The busy
scene of her various cares is now over. Of the invalids and the
robust, the kind and the rough, the peevish and pleased children, who
thronged her little parlour from morning to night, not one now
remains alive but myself, who, afflicted by early infirmity, was one
of the most delicate of her nurslings, yet, nevertheless, have
outlived them all.
It is still my custom, and shall be so while I have the use of my
limbs, to visit my respected relation at least three times a week.
Her abode is about half a mile from the suburbs of the town in which
I reside, and is accessible, not only by the highroad, from which it
stands at some distance, but by means of a greensward footpath leading
through some pretty meadows. I have so little left to torment me in
life, that it is one of my greatest vexations to know that several of
these sequestered fields have been devoted as sites for building. In
that which is nearest the town, wheelbarrows have been at work for
several weeks in such numbers, that, I verily believe, its whole
surface, to the depth of at least eighteen inches, was mounted in
these monotrochs at the same moment, and in the act of being
transported from one place to another. Huge triangular piles of
planks are also reared in different parts of the devoted messuage;
and a little group of trees that still grace the eastern end, which
rises in a gentle ascent, have just received warning to quit,
expressed by a daub of white paint, and are to give place to a curious
grove of chimneys.
It would, perhaps, hurt others in my situation to reflect that
this little range of pasturage once belonged to my father (whose
family was of some consideration in the world), and was sold by
patches to remedy distresses in which he involved himself in an
attempt by commercial adventure to redeem his diminished fortune.
While the building scheme was in full operation, this circumstance
was often pointed out to me by the class of friends who are anxious
that no part of your misfortunes should escape your observation.
"Such pasture-ground!—lying at the very town's end—in turnips and
potatoes, the parks would bring L20 per acre; and if leased for
building—oh, it was a gold mine! And all sold for an old song out of
the ancient possessor's hands!" My comforters cannot bring me to
repine much on this subject. If I could be allowed to look back on
the past without interruption, I could willingly give up the enjoyment
of present income and the hope of future profit to those who have
purchased what my father sold. I regret the alteration of the ground
only because it destroys associations, and I would more willingly (I
think) see the Earl's Closes in the hands of strangers, retaining
their silvan appearance, than know them for my own, if torn up by
agriculture, or covered with buildings. Mine are the sensations of
"The horrid plough has rased the green
Where yet a child I strayed;
The axe has fell'd the hawthorn screen,
The schoolboy's summer shade."
I hope, however, the threatened devastation will not be
consummated in my day. Although the adventurous spirit of times
short while since passed gave rise to the undertaking, I have been
encouraged to think that the subsequent changes have so far damped the
spirit of speculation that the rest of the woodland footpath leading
to Aunt Margaret's retreat will be left undisturbed for her time and
mine. I am interested in this, for every step of the way, after I
have passed through the green already mentioned, has for me something
of early remembrance:— There is the stile at which I can recollect a
cross child's-maid upbraiding me with my infirmity as she lifted me
coarsely and carelessly over the flinty steps, which my brothers
traversed with shout and bound. I remember the suppressed bitterness
of the moment, and, conscious of my own inferiority, the feeling of
envy with which I regarded the easy movements and elastic steps of my
more happily formed brethren. Alas! these goodly barks have all
perished on life's wide ocean, and only that which seemed so little
seaworthy, as the naval phrase goes, has reached the port when the
tempest is over. Then there is the pool, where, manoeuvring our
little navy, constructed out of the broad water-flags, my elder
brother fell in, and was scarce saved from the watery element to die
under Nelson's banner. There is the hazel copse also, in which my
brother Henry used to gather nuts, thinking little that he was to die
in an Indian jungle in quest of rupees.
There is so much more of remembrance about the little walk, that
—as I stop, rest on my crutch-headed cane, and look round with that
species of comparison between the thing I was and that which I now
am—it almost induces me to doubt my own identity; until I find myself
in face of the honeysuckle porch of Aunt Margaret's dwelling, with its
irregularity of front, and its odd, projecting latticed windows, where
the workmen seem to have made it a study that no one of them should
resemble another in form, size, or in the old-fashioned stone
entablature and labels which adorn them. This tenement, once the manor
house of the Earl's Closes, we still retain a slight hold upon; for,
in some family arrangements, it had been settled upon Aunt Margaret
during the term of her life. Upon this frail tenure depends, in a
great measure, the last shadow of the family of Bothwell of Earl's
Closes, and their last slight connection with their paternal
inheritance. The only representative will then be an infirm old man,
moving not unwillingly to the grave, which has devoured all that were
dear to his affections.
When I have indulged such thoughts for a minute or two, I enter
the mansion, which is said to have been the gate-house only of the
original building, and find one being on whom time seems to have made
little impression; for the Aunt Margaret of to-day bears the same
proportional age to the Aunt Margaret of my early youth that the boy
of ten years old does to the man of (by'r Lady!) some fifty-six years.
The old lady's invariable costume has doubtless some share in
confirming one in the opinion that time has stood still with Aunt
The brown or chocolate-coloured silk gown, with ruffles of the
same stuff at the elbow, within which are others of Mechlin lace; the
black silk gloves, or mitts; the white hair combed back upon a roll;
and the cap of spotless cambric, which closes around the venerable
countenance—as they were not the costume of 1780, so neither were
they that of 1826; they are altogether a style peculiar to the
individual Aunt Margaret. There she still sits, as she sat thirty
years since, with her wheel or the stocking, which she works by the
fire in winter and by the window in summer; or, perhaps, venturing as
far as the porch in an unusually fine summer evening. Her frame, like
some well- constructed piece of mechanics, still performs the
operations for which it had seemed destined—going its round with an
activity which is gradually diminished, yet indicating no probability
that it will soon come to a period.
The solicitude and affection which had made Aunt Margaret the
willing slave to the inflictions of a whole nursery, have now for
their object the health and comfort of one old and infirm man— the
last remaining relative of her family, and the only one who can still
find interest in the traditional stores which she hoards, as some
miser hides the gold which he desires that no one should enjoy after
My conversation with Aunt Margaret generally relates little either
to the present or to the future. For the passing day we possess as
much as we require, and we neither of us wish for more; and for that
which is to follow, we have, on this side of the grave, neither hopes,
nor fears, nor anxiety. We therefore naturally look back to the past,
and forget the present fallen fortunes and declined importance of our
family in recalling the hours when it was wealthy and prosperous.
With this slight introduction, the reader will know as much of
Aunt Margaret and her nephew as is necessary to comprehend the
following conversation and narrative.
Last week, when, late in a summer evening, I went to call on the
old lady to whom my reader is now introduced, I was received by her
with all her usual affection and benignity, while, at the same time,
she seemed abstracted and disposed to silence. I asked her the
reason. "They have been clearing out the old chapel," she said; "John
Clayhudgeons having, it seems, discovered that the stuff
within—being, I suppose, the remains of our ancestors—was excellent
for top-dressing the meadows."
Here I started up with more alacrity than I have displayed for
some years; but sat down while my aunt added, laying her hand upon my
sleeve, "The chapel has been long considered as common ground, my
dear, and used for a pinfold, and what objection can we have to the
man for employing what is his own to his own profit? Besides, I did
speak to him, and he very readily and civilly promised that if he
found bones or monuments, they should be carefully respected and
reinstated; and what more could I ask? So, the first stone they found
bore the name of Margaret Bothwell, 1585, and I have caused it to be
laid carefully aside, as I think it betokens death, and having served
my namesake two hundred years, it has just been cast up in time to do
me the same good turn. My house has been long put in order, as far as
the small earthly concerns require it; but who shall say that their
account with, Heaven is sufficiently revised?"
"After what you have said, aunt," I replied, "perhaps I ought to
take my hat and go away; and so I should, but that there is on this
occasion a little alloy mingled with your devotion. To think of death
at all times is a duty—to suppose it nearer from the finding an old
gravestone is superstition; and you, with your strong, useful common
sense, which was so long the prop of a fallen family, are the last
person whom I should have suspected of such weakness."
"Neither would I deserve your suspicions, kinsman," answered Aunt
Margaret, "if we were speaking of any incident occurring in the
actual business of human life. But for all this, I have a sense of
superstition about me, which I do not wish to part with. It is a
feeling which separates me from this age, and links me with that to
which I am hastening; and even when it seems, as now, to lead me to
the brink of the grave, and bid me gaze on it, I do not love that it
should be dispelled. It soothes my imagination, without influencing
my reason or conduct."
"I profess, my good lady," replied I, "that had any one but you
made such a declaration, I should have thought it as capricious as
that of the clergyman, who, without vindicating his false reading,
preferred, from habit's sake, his old Mumpsimus to the modern
"Well," answered my aunt, "I must explain my inconsistency in this
particular by comparing it to another. I am, as you know, a piece of
that old-fashioned thing called a Jacobite; but I am so in sentiment
and feeling only, for a more loyal subject never joined in prayers for
the health and wealth of George the Fourth, whom God long preserve!
But I dare say that kind-hearted sovereign would not deem that an old
woman did him much injury if she leaned back in her arm-chair, just in
such a twilight as this, and thought of the high-mettled men whose
sense of duty called them to arms against his grandfather; and how, in
a cause which they deemed that of their rightful prince and country,
'They fought till their hand to the broadsword was glued,
They fought against fortune with hearts unsubdued.'
Do not come at such a moment, when my head is full of plaids,
pibrochs, and claymores, and ask my reason to admit what, I am
afraid, it cannot deny—I mean, that the public advantage
peremptorily demanded that these things should cease to exist. I
cannot, indeed, refuse to allow the justice of your reasoning; but
yet, being convinced against my will, you will gain little by your
motion. You might as well read to an infatuated lover the catalogue
of his mistress's imperfections; for when he has been compelled to
listen to the summary, you will only get for answer that 'he lo'es her
a' the better.'"
I was not sorry to have changed the gloomy train of Aunt
Margaret's thoughts, and replied in the same tone, "Well, I can't
help being persuaded that our good King is the more sure of Mrs.
Bothwell's loyal affection, that he has the Stewart right of birth as
well as the Act of Succession in his favour."
"Perhaps my attachment, were its source of consequence, might be
found warmer for the union of the rights you mention," said Aunt
Margaret; "but, upon my word, it would be as sincere if the King's
right were founded only on the will of the nation, as declared at the
Revolution. I am none of your JURE DIVINO folks."
"And a Jacobite notwithstanding."
"And a Jacobite notwithstanding—or rather, I will give you leave
to call me one of the party which, in Queen Anne's time, were called,
WHIMSICALS, because they were sometimes operated upon by feelings,
sometimes by principle. After all, it is very hard that you will not
allow an old woman to be as inconsistent in her political sentiments
as mankind in general show themselves in all the various courses of
life; since you cannot point out one of them in which the passions and
prejudices of those who pursue it are not perpetually carrying us away
from the path which our reason points out."
"True, aunt; but you are a wilful wanderer, who should be forced
back into the right path."
"Spare me, I entreat you," replied Aunt Margaret. "You remember
the Gaelic song, though I dare say I mispronounce the words—
'Hatil mohatil, na dowski mi.'
(I am asleep, do not waken me.)
I tell you, kinsman, that the sort of waking dreams which my
imagination spins out, in what your favourite Wordsworth calls 'moods
of my own mind,' are worth all the rest of my more active days. Then,
instead of looking forwards, as I did in youth, and forming for myself
fairy palaces, upon the verge of the grave I turn my eyes backward
upon the days and manners of my better time; and the sad, yet soothing
recollections come so close and interesting, that I almost think it
sacrilege to be wiser or more rational or less prejudiced than those
to whom I looked up in my younger years."
"I think I now understand what you mean," I answered, "and can
comprehend why you should occasionally prefer the twilight of
illusion to the steady light of reason."
"Where there is no task," she rejoined, "to be performed, we may
sit in the dark if we like it; if we go to work, we must ring for
"And amidst such shadowy and doubtful light," continued I,
"imagination frames her enchanted and enchanting visions, and
sometimes passes them upon the senses for reality."
"Yes," said Aunt Margaret, who is a well-read woman, "to those who
resemble the translator of Tasso,—
'Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind
Believed the magic wonders which he sung.
It is not required for this purpose that you should be sensible of
the painful horrors which an actual belief in such prodigies inflicts.
Such a belief nowadays belongs only to fools and children. It is not
necessary that your ears should tingle and your complexion change,
like that of Theodore at the approach of the spectral huntsman. All
that is indispensable for the enjoyment of the milder feeling of
supernatural awe is, that you should be susceptible of the slight
shuddering which creeps over you when you hear a tale of terror—that
well-vouched tale which the narrator, having first expressed his
general disbelief of all such legendary lore, selects and produces, as
having something in it which he has been always obliged to give up as
inexplicable. Another symptom is a momentary hesitation to look round
you, when the interest of the narrative is at the highest; and the
third, a desire to avoid looking into a mirror when you are alone in
your chamber for the evening. I mean such are signs which indicate
the crisis, when a female imagination is in due temperature to enjoy
a ghost story. I do not pretend to describe those which express the
same disposition in a gentleman."
"That last symptom, dear aunt, of shunning the mirror seems likely
to be a rare occurrence amongst the fair sex."
"You are a novice in toilet fashions, my dear cousin. All women
consult the looking-glass with anxiety before they go into company;
but when they return home, the mirror has not the same charm. The die
has been cast—the party has been successful or unsuccessful in the
impression which she desired to make. But, without going deeper into
the mysteries of the dressing-table, I will tell you that I myself,
like many other honest folks, do not like to see the blank, black
front of a large mirror in a room dimly lighted, and where the
reflection of the candle seems rather to lose itself in the deep
obscurity of the glass than to be reflected back again into the
apartment, That space of inky darkness seems to be a field for Fancy
to play her revels in. She may call up other features to meet us,
instead of the reflection of our own; or, as in the spells of
Hallowe'en, which we learned in childhood, some unknown form may be
seen peeping over our shoulder. In short, when I am in a ghost-seeing
humour, I make my handmaiden draw the green curtains over the mirror
before I go into the room, so that she may have the first shock of
the apparition, if there be any to be seen, But, to tell you the
truth, this dislike to look into a mirror in particular times and
places has, I believe, its original foundation in a story which came
to me by tradition from my grandmother, who was a party concerned in
the scene of which I will now tell you."
You are fond (said my aunt) of sketches of the society which has
passed away. I wish I could describe to you Sir Philip Forester, the
"chartered libertine" of Scottish good company, about the end of the
last century. I never saw him indeed; but my mother's traditions were
full of his wit, gallantry, and dissipation. This gay knight
flourished about the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the
eighteenth century. He was the Sir Charles Easy and the Lovelace of
his day and country—renowned for the number of duels he had fought,
and the successful intrigues which he had carried on. The supremacy
which he had attained in the fashionable world was absolute; and when
we combine it with one or two anecdotes, for which, "if laws were made
for every degree," he ought certainly to have been hanged, the
popularity of such a person really serves to show, either that the
present times are much more decent, if not more virtuous, than they
formerly were, or that high-breeding then was of more difficult
attainment than that which is now so called, and consequently
entitled the successful professor to a proportional degree of plenary
indulgences and privileges. No beau of this day could have borne out
so ugly a story as that of Pretty Peggy Grindstone, the miller's
daughter at Sillermills—it had well- nigh made work for the Lord
Advocate. But it hurt Sir Philip Forester no more than the hail hurts
the hearthstone. He was as well received in society as ever, and
dined with the Duke of A—- the day the poor girl was buried. She
died of heartbreak. But that has nothing to do with my story.
Now, you must listen to a single word upon kith, kin, and ally; I
promise you I will not be prolix. But it is necessary to the
authenticity of my legend that you should know that Sir Philip
Forester, with his handsome person, elegant accomplishments, and
fashionable manners, married the younger Miss Falconer of King's
Copland. The elder sister of this lady had previously become the
wife of my grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Bothwell, and brought into our
family a good fortune. Miss Jemima, or Miss Jemmie Falconer, as she
was usually called, had also about ten thousand pounds sterling—then
thought a very handsome portion indeed.
The two sisters were extremely different, though each had their
admirers while they remained single. Lady Bothwell had some touch of
the old King's Copland blood about her. She was bold, though not to
the degree of audacity, ambitious, and desirous to raise her house and
family; and was, as has been said, a considerable spur to my
grandfather, who was otherwise an indolent man, but whom, unless he
has been slandered, his lady's influence involved in some political
matters which had been more wisely let alone. She was a woman of high
principle, however, and masculine good sense, as some of her letters
testify, which are still in my wainscot cabinet.
Jemmie Falconer was the reverse of her sister in every respect.
Her understanding did not reach above the ordinary pitch, if, indeed,
she could be said to have attained it. Her beauty, while it lasted,
consisted, in a great measure, of delicacy of complexion and
regularity of features, without any peculiar force of expression.
Even these charms faded under the sufferings attendant on an
ill-assorted match. She was passionately attached to her husband, by
whom she was treated with a callous yet polite indifference, which, to
one whose heart was as tender as her judgment was weak, was more
painful perhaps than absolute ill-usage. Sir Philip was a
voluptuary—that is, a completely selfish egotist—whose disposition
and character resembled the rapier he wore, polished, keen, and
brilliant, but inflexible and unpitying. As he observed carefully all
the usual forms towards his lady, he had the art to deprive her even
of the compassion of the world; and useless and unavailing as that may
be while actually possessed by the sufferer, it is, to a mind like
Lady Forester's, most painful to know she has it not.
The tattle of society did its best to place the peccant husband
above the suffering wife. Some called her a poor, spiritless thing,
and declared that, with a little of her sister's spirit, she might
have brought to reason any Sir Philip whatsoever, were it the
termagant Falconbridge himself. But the greater part of their
acquaintance affected candour, and saw faults on both sides—though,
in fact, there only existed the oppressor and the oppressed. The tone
of such critics was, "To be sure, no one will justify Sir Philip
Forester, but then we all know Sir Philip, and Jemmie Falconer might
have known what she had to expect from the beginning. What made her
set her cap at Sir Philip? He would never have looked at her if she
had not thrown herself at his head, with her poor ten thousand pounds.
I am sure, if it is money he wanted, she spoiled his market. I know
where Sir Philip could have done much better. And then, if she WOULD
have the man, could not she try to make him more comfortable at home,
and have his friends oftener, and not plague him with the squalling
children, and take care all was handsome and in good style about the
house? I declare I think Sir Philip would have made a very domestic
man, with a woman who knew how to manage him."
Now these fair critics, in raising their profound edifice of
domestic felicity, did not recollect that the corner-stone was
wanting, and that to receive good company with good cheer, the means
of the banquet ought to have been furnished by Sir Philip, whose
income (dilapidated as it was) was not equal to the display of the
hospitality required, and at the same time to the supply of the good
knight's MENUS PLAISIRS. So, in spite of all that was so sagely
suggested by female friends, Sir Philip carried his good-humour
everywhere abroad, and left at home a solitary mansion and a pining
At length, inconvenienced in his money affairs, and tired even of
the short time which he spent in his own dull house, Sir Philip
Forester determined to take a trip to the Continent, in the capacity
of a volunteer. It was then common for men of fashion to do so; and
our knight perhaps was of opinion that a touch of the military
character, just enough to exalt, but not render pedantic, his
qualities as a BEAU GARCON, was necessary to maintain possession of
the elevated situation which he held in the ranks of fashion.
Sir Philip's resolution threw his wife into agonies of terror; by
which the worthy baronet was so much annoyed, that, contrary to his
wont, he took some trouble to soothe her apprehensions, and once more
brought her to shed tears, in which sorrow was not altogether
unmingled with pleasure. Lady Bothwell asked, as a favour, Sir
Philip's permission to receive her sister and her family into her own
house during his absence on the Continent. Sir Philip readily assented
to a proposition which saved expense, silenced the foolish people who
might have talked of a deserted wife and family, and gratified Lady
Bothwell, for whom he felt some respect, as for one who often spoke to
him, always with freedom and sometimes with severity, without being
deterred either by his raillery or the PRESTIGE of his reputation.
A day or two before Sir Philip's departure, Lady Bothwell took the
liberty of asking him, in her sister's presence, the direct question,
which his timid wife had often desired, but never ventured, to put to
"Pray, Sir Philip, what route do you take when you reach the
"I go from Leith to Helvoet by a packet with advices."
"That I comprehend perfectly," said Lady Bothwell dryly; "but you
do not mean to remain long at Helvoet, I presume, and I should like
to know what is your next object."
"You ask me, my dear lady," answered Sir Philip, "a question which
I have not dared to ask myself. The answer depends on the fate of
war. I shall, of course, go to headquarters, wherever they may happen
to be for the time; deliver my letters of introduction; learn as much
of the noble art of war as may suffice a poor interloping amateur; and
then take a glance at the sort of thing of which we read so much in
"And I trust, Sir Philip," said Lady Bothwell, "that you will
remember that you are a husband and a father; and that, though you
think fit to indulge this military fancy, you will not let it hurry
you into dangers which it is certainly unnecessary for any save
professional persons to encounter."
"Lady Bothwell does me too much honour," replied the adventurous
knight, "in regarding such a circumstance with the slightest
interest. But to soothe your flattering anxiety, I trust your
ladyship will recollect that I cannot expose to hazard the venerable
and paternal character which you so obligingly recommend to my
protection, without putting in some peril an honest fellow, called
Philip Forester, with whom I have kept company for thirty years, and
with whom, though some folks consider him a coxcomb, I have not the
least desire to part."
"Well, Sir Philip, you are the best judge of your own affairs. I
have little right to interfere—you are not my husband."
"God forbid!" said Sir Philip hastily; instantly adding, however,
"God forbid that I should deprive my friend Sir Geoffrey of so
inestimable a treasure."
"But you are my sister's husband," replied the lady; "and I
suppose you are aware of her present distress of mind—"
"If hearing of nothing else from morning to night can make me
aware of it," said Sir Philip, "I should know something of the
"I do not pretend to reply to your wit, Sir Philip," answered Lady
Bothwell; "but you must be sensible that all this distress is on
account of apprehensions for your personal safety. "
"In that case, I am surprised that Lady Bothwell, at least, should
give herself so much trouble upon so insignificant a subject."
"My sister's interest may account for my being anxious to learn
something of Sir Philip Forester's motions; about which, otherwise, I
know he would not wish me to concern myself. I have a brother's
safety too to be anxious for."
"You mean Major Falconer, your brother by the mother's side? What
can he possibly have to do with our present agreeable conversation?"
"You have had words together, Sir Philip," said Lady Bothwell.
"Naturally; we are connections," replied Sir Philip, "and as such
have always had the usual intercourse."
"That is an evasion of the subject," answered the lady. "By
words, I mean angry words, on the subject of your usage of your
"If," replied Sir Philip Forester, "you suppose Major Falconer
simple enough to intrude his advice upon me, Lady Bothwell, in my
domestic matters, you are indeed warranted in believing that I might
possibly be so far displeased with the interference as to request him
to reserve his advice till it was asked."
"And being on these terms, you are going to join the very army in
which my brother Falconer is now serving?"
"No man knows the path of honour better than Major Falconer," said
Sir Philip. "An aspirant after fame, like me, cannot choose a better
guide than his footsteps."
Lady Bothwell rose and went to the window, the tears gushing from
"And this heartless raillery," she said, "is all the consideration
that is to be given to our apprehensions of a quarrel which may bring
on the most terrible consequences? Good God! of what can men's
hearts be made, who can thus dally with the agony of others?"
Sir Philip Forester was moved; he laid aside the mocking tone in
which he had hitherto spoken.
"Dear Lady Bothwell," he said, taking her reluctant hand, "we are
both wrong. You are too deeply serious; I, perhaps, too little so.
The dispute I had with Major Falconer was of no earthly consequence.
Had anything occurred betwixt us that ought to have been settled PAR
VOIE DU FAIT, as we say in France, neither of us are persons that are
likely to postpone such a meeting. Permit me to say, that were it
generally known that you or my Lady Forester are apprehensive of such
a catastrophe, it might be the very means of bringing about what would
not otherwise be likely to happen. I know your good sense, Lady
Bothwell, and that you will understand me when I say that really my
affairs require my absence for some months. This Jemima cannot
understand. It is a perpetual recurrence of questions, why can you
not do this, or that, or the third thing? and, when you have proved
to her that her expedients are totally ineffectual, you have just to
begin the whole round again. Now, do you tell her, dear Lady
Bothwell, that YOU are satisfied. She is, you must confess, one of
those persons with whom authority goes farther than reasoning. Do but
repose a little confidence in me, and you shall see how amply I will
Lady Bothwell shook her head, as one but half satisfied. "How
difficult it is to extend confidence, when the basis on which it
ought to rest has been so much shaken! But I will do my best to make
Jemima easy; and further, I can only say that for keeping your present
purpose I hold you responsible both to God and man,"
"Do not fear that I will deceive you," said Sir Philip. "The
safest conveyance to me will be through the general post-office,
Helvoetsluys, where I will take care to leave orders for forwarding
my letters. As for Falconer, our only encounter will be over a bottle
of Burgundy; so make yourself perfectly easy on his score."
Lady Bothwell could NOT make herself easy; yet she was sensible
that her sister hurt her own cause by TAKING ON, as the maidservants
call it, too vehemently, and by showing before every stranger, by
manner, and sometimes by words also, a dissatisfaction with her
husband's journey that was sure to come to his ears, and equally
certain to displease him. But there was no help for this domestic
dissension, which ended only with the day of separation.
I am sorry I cannot tell, with precision, the year in which Sir
Philip Forester went over to Flanders; but it was one of those in
which the campaign opened with extraordinary fury, and many bloody,
though indecisive, skirmishes were fought between the French on the
one side and the Allies on the other. In all our modern improvements,
there are none, perhaps, greater than in the accuracy and speed with
which intelligence is transmitted from any scene of action to those in
this country whom it may concern. During Marlborough's campaigns, the
sufferings of the many who had relations in, or along with, the army
were greatly augmented by the suspense in which they were detained for
weeks after they had heard of bloody battles, in which, in all
probability, those for whom their bosoms throbbed with anxiety had
been personally engaged. Amongst those who were most agonized by this
state of uncertainty was the—I had almost said deserted—wife of the
gay Sir Philip Forester. A single letter had informed her of his
arrival on the Continent; no others were received. One notice
occurred in the newspapers, in which Volunteer Sir Philip Forester
was mentioned as having been entrusted with a dangerous
reconnaissance, which he had executed with the greatest courage,
dexterity, and intelligence, and received the thanks of the
commanding officer. The sense of his having acquired distinction
brought a momentary glow into the lady's pale cheek; but it was
instantly lost in ashen whiteness at the recollection of his danger.
After this, they had no news whatever, neither from Sir Philip, nor
even from their brother Falconer. The case of Lady Forester was not
indeed different from that of hundreds in the same situation; but a
feeble mind is necessarily an irritable one, and the suspense which
some bear with constitutional indifference or philosophical
resignation, and some with a disposition to believe and hope the best,
was intolerable to Lady Forester, at once solitary and sensitive,
low-spirited, and devoid of strength of mind, whether natural or
As she received no further news of Sir Philip, whether directly or
indirectly, his unfortunate lady began now to feel a sort of
consolation even in those careless habits which had so often given
her pain. "He is so thoughtless," she repeated a hundred times a day
to her sister, "he never writes when things are going on smoothly. It
is his way. Had anything happened, he would have informed us."
Lady Bothwell listened to her sister without attempting to console
her. Probably she might be of opinion that even the worst
intelligence which could be received from Flanders might not be
without some touch of consolation; and that the Dowager Lady Forester,
if so she was doomed to be called, might have a source of happiness
unknown to the wife of the gayest and finest gentleman in Scotland.
This conviction became stronger as they learned from inquiries made
at headquarters that Sir Philip was no longer with the army—though
whether he had been taken or slain in some of those skirmishes which
were perpetually occurring, and in which he loved to distinguish
himself, or whether he had, for some unknown reason or capricious
change of mind, voluntarily left the service, none of his countrymen
in the camp of the Allies could form even a conjecture. Meantime his
creditors at home became clamorous, entered into possession of his
property, and threatened his person, should he be rash enough to
return to Scotland. These additional disadvantages aggravated Lady
Bothwell's displeasure against the fugitive husband; while her sister
saw nothing in any of them, save what tended to increase her grief for
the absence of him whom her imagination now represented—as it had
before marriage—gallant, gay, and affectionate.
About this period there appeared in Edinburgh a man of singular
appearance and pretensions. He was commonly called the Paduan
Doctor, from having received his education at that famous university.
He was supposed to possess some rare receipts in medicine, with
which, it was affirmed, he had wrought remarkable cures. But though,
on the one hand, the physicians of Edinburgh termed him an empiric,
there were many persons, and among them some of the clergy, who, while
they admitted the truth of the cures and the force of his remedies,
alleged that Doctor Baptista Damiotti made use of charms and unlawful
arts in order to obtain success in his practice. The resorting to him
was even solemnly preached against, as a seeking of health from idols,
and a trusting to the help which was to come from Egypt. But the
protection which the Paduan Doctor received from some friends of
interest and consequence enabled him to set these imputations at
defiance, and to assume, even in the city of Edinburgh, famed as it
was for abhorrence of witches and necromancers, the dangerous
character of an expounder of futurity. It was at length rumoured
that, for a certain gratification, which of course was not an
inconsiderable one, Doctor Baptista Damiotti could tell the fate of
the absent, and even show his visitors the personal form of their
absent friends, and the action in which they were engaged at the
moment. This rumour came to the ears of Lady Forester, who had
reached that pitch of mental agony in which the sufferer will do
anything, or endure anything, that suspense may be converted into
Gentle and timid in most cases, her state of mind made her equally
obstinate and reckless, and it was with no small surprise and alarm
that her sister, Lady Bothwell, heard her express a resolution to
visit this man of art, and learn from him the fate of her husband.
Lady Bothwell remonstrated on the improbability that such pretensions
as those of this foreigner could be founded in anything but imposture.
"I care not," said the deserted wife, "what degree of ridicule I
may incur; if there be any one chance out of a hundred that I may
obtain some certainty of my husband's fate, I would not miss that
chance for whatever else the world can offer me."
Lady Bothwell next urged the unlawfulness of resorting to such
sources of forbidden knowledge.
"Sister," replied the sufferer, "he who is dying of thirst cannot
refrain from drinking even poisoned water. She who suffers under
suspense must seek information, even were the powers which offer it
unhallowed and infernal. I go to learn my fate alone, and this very
evening will I know it; the sun that rises to-morrow shall find me, if
not more happy, at least more resigned."
"Sister," said Lady Bothwell, "if you are determined upon this
wild step, you shall not go alone. If this man be an impostor, you
may be too much agitated by your feelings to detect his villainy. If,
which I cannot believe, there be any truth in what he pretends, you
shall not be exposed alone to a communication of so extraordinary a
nature. I will go with you, if indeed you determine to go. But yet
reconsider your project, and renounce inquiries which cannot be
prosecuted without guilt, and perhaps without danger."
Lady Forester threw herself into her sister's arms, and, clasping
her to her bosom, thanked her a hundred times for the offer of her
company, while she declined with a melancholy gesture the friendly
advice with which it was accompanied.
When the hour of twilight arrived—which was the period when the
Paduan Doctor was understood to receive the visits of those who came
to consult with him—the two ladies left their apartments in the
Canongate of Edinburgh, having their dress arranged like that of women
of an inferior description, and their plaids disposed around their
faces as they were worn by the same class; for in those days of
aristocracy the quality of the wearer was generally indicated by the
manner in which her plaid was disposed, as well as by the fineness of
its texture. It was Lady Bothwell who had suggested this species of
disguise, partly to avoid observation as they should go to the
conjurer's house, and partly in order to make trial of his
penetration, by appearing before him in a feigned character. Lady
Forester's servant, of tried fidelity, had been employed by her to
propitiate the Doctor by a suitable fee, and a story intimating that a
soldier's wife desired to know the fate of her husband—a subject upon
which, in all probability, the sage was very frequently consulted,
To the last moment, when the palace clock struck eight, Lady
Bothwell earnestly watched her sister, in hopes that she might
retreat from her rash undertaking; but as mildness, and even
timidity, is capable at times of vehement and fixed purposes, she
found Lady Forester resolutely unmoved and determined when the moment
of departure arrived. Ill satisfied with the expedition, but
determined not to leave her sister at such a crisis, Lady Bothwell
accompanied Lady Forester through more than one obscure street and
lane, the servant walking before, and acting as their guide. At
length he suddenly turned into a narrow court, and knocked at an
arched door which seemed to belong to a building of some antiquity.
It opened, though no one appeared to act as porter; and the servant,
stepping aside from the entrance, motioned the ladies to enter. They
had no sooner done so than it shut, and excluded their guide. The two
ladies found themselves in a small vestibule, illuminated by a dim
lamp, and having, when the door was closed, no communication with the
external light or air. The door of an inner apartment, partly open,
was at the farther side of the vestibule.
"We must not hesitate now, Jemima," said Lady Bothwell, and walked
forwards into the inner room, where, surrounded by books, maps,
philosophical utensils, and other implements of peculiar shape and
appearance, they found the man of art.
There was nothing very peculiar in the Italian's appearance. He
had the dark complexion and marked features of his country, seemed
about fifty years old, and was handsomely but plainly dressed in a
full suit of black clothes, which was then the universal costume of
the medical profession. Large wax-lights, in silver sconces,
illuminated the apartment, which was reasonably furnished. He rose as
the ladies entered, and, notwithstanding the inferiority of their
dress, received them with the marked respect due to their quality, and
which foreigners are usually punctilious in rendering to those to whom
such honours are due.
Lady Bothwell endeavoured to maintain her proposed incognito, and,
as the Doctor ushered them to the upper end of the room, made a motion
declining his courtesy, as unfitted for their condition. "We are poor
people, sir," she said; "only my sister's distress has brought us to
consult your worship whether —"
He smiled as he interrupted her—"I am aware, madam, of your
sister's distress, and its cause; I am aware, also, that I am
honoured with a visit from two ladies of the highest
consideration—Lady Bothwell and Lady Forester. If I could not
distinguish them from the class of society which their present dress
would indicate, there would be small possibility of my being able to
gratify them by giving the information which they come to seek."
"I can easily understand—" said Lady Bothwell.
"Pardon my boldness to interrupt you, milady," cried the Italian;
"your ladyship was about to say that you could easily understand that
I had got possession of your names by means of your domestic. But in
thinking so, you do injustice to the fidelity of your servant, and, I
may add, to the skill of one who is also not less your humble
"I have no intention to do either, sir," said Lady Bothwell,
maintaining a tone of composure, though somewhat surprised; "but the
situation is something new to me. If you know who we are, you also
know, sir, what brought us here."
"Curiosity to know the fate of a Scottish gentleman of rank, now,
or lately, upon the Continent," answered the seer. "His name is Il
Cavaliero Philippo Forester, a gentleman who has the honour to be
husband to this lady, and, with your ladyship's permission for using
plain language, the misfortune not to value as it deserves that
Lady Forester sighed deeply, and Lady Bothwell replied,—
"Since you know our object without our telling it, the only
question that remains is, whether you have the power to relieve my
"I have, madam," answered the Paduan scholar; "but there is still
a previous inquiry. Have you the courage to behold with your own
eyes what the Cavaliero Philippo Forester is now doing? or will you
take it on my report?"
"That question my sister must answer for herself," said Lady
"With my own eyes will I endure to see whatever you have power to
show me," said Lady Forester, with the same determined spirit which
had stimulated her since her resolution was taken upon this subject.
"There may be danger in it."
"If gold can compensate the risk," said Lady Forester, taking out
"I do not such things for the purpose of gain," answered the
foreigner; "I dare not turn my art to such a purpose. If I take the
gold of the wealthy, it is but to bestow it on the poor; nor do I ever
accept more than the sum I have already received from your servant.
Put up your purse, madam; an adept needs not your gold,"
Lady Bothwell, considering this rejection of her sister's offer as
a mere trick of an empiric, to induce her to press a larger sum upon
him, and willing that the scene should be commenced and ended, offered
some gold in turn, observing that it was only to enlarge the sphere of
"Let Lady Bothwell enlarge the sphere of her own charity," said
the Paduan, "not merely in giving of alms, in which I know she is not
deficient, but in judging the character of others; and let her oblige
Baptista Damiotti by believing him honest, till she shall discover him
to be a knave. Do not be surprised, madam, if I speak in answer to
your thoughts rather than your expressions; and tell me once more
whether you have courage to look on what I am prepared to show?"
"I own, sir," said Lady Bothwell, "that your words strike me with
some sense of fear; but whatever my sister desires to witness, I will
not shrink from witnessing along with her."
"Nay, the danger only consists in the risk of your resolution
failing you. The sight can only last for the space of seven minutes;
and should you interrupt the vision by speaking a single word, not
only would the charm be broken, but some danger might result to the
spectators. But if you can remain steadily silent for the seven
minutes, your curiosity will be gratified without the slightest risk;
and for this I will engage my honour."
Internally Lady Bothwell thought the security was but an
indifferent one; but she suppressed the suspicion, as if she had
believed that the adept, whose dark features wore a half-formed
smile, could in reality read even her most secret reflections. A
solemn pause then ensued, until Lady Forester gathered courage enough
to reply to the physician, as he termed himself, that she would abide
with firmness and silence the sight which he had promised to exhibit
to them. Upon this, he made them a low obeisance, and saying he went
to prepare matters to meet their wish, left the apartment. The two
sisters, hand in hand, as if seeking by that close union to divert any
danger which might threaten them, sat down on two seats in immediate
contact with each other—Jemima seeking support in the manly and
habitual courage of Lady Bothwell; and she, on the other hand, more
agitated than she had expected, endeavouring to fortify herself by
the desperate resolution which circumstances had forced her sister to
assume. The one perhaps said to herself that her sister never feared
anything; and the other might reflect that what so feeble-minded a
woman as Jemima did not fear, could not properly be a subject of
apprehension to a person of firmness and resolution like her own.
In a few moments the thoughts of both were diverted from their own
situation by a strain of music so singularly sweet and solemn that,
while it seemed calculated to avert or dispel any feeling unconnected
with its harmony, increased, at the same time, the solemn excitation
which the preceding interview was calculated to produce. The music
was that of some instrument with which they were unacquainted; but
circumstances afterwards led my ancestress to believe that it was that
of the harmonica, which she heard at a much later period in life.
When these heaven-born sounds had ceased, a door opened in the
upper end of the apartment, and they saw Damiotti, standing at the
head of two or three steps, sign to them to advance. His dress was so
different from that which he had worn a few minutes before, that they
could hardly recognize him; and the deadly paleness of his
countenance, and a certain stern rigidity of muscles, like that of one
whose mind is made up to some strange and daring action, had totally
changed the somewhat sarcastic expression with which he had previously
regarded them both, and particularly Lady Bothwell. He was
barefooted, excepting a species of sandals in the antique fashion; his
legs were naked beneath the knees; above them he wore hose, and a
doublet of dark crimson silk close to his body; and over that a
flowing loose robe, something resembling a surplice, of snow-white
linen. His throat and neck were uncovered, and his long, straight,
black hair was carefully combed down at full length.
As the ladies approached at his bidding, he showed no gesture of
that ceremonious courtesy of which he had been formerly lavish. On
the contrary, he made the signal of advance with an air of command;
and when, arm in arm, and with insecure steps, the sisters approached
the spot where he stood, it was with a warning frown that he pressed
his finger to his lips, as if reiterating his condition of absolute
silence, while, stalking before them, he led the way into the next
This was a large room, hung with black, as if for a funeral. At
the upper end was a table, or rather a species of altar, covered with
the same lugubrious colour, on which lay divers objects resembling the
usual implements of sorcery. These objects were not indeed visible as
they advanced into the apartment; for the light which displayed them,
being only that of two expiring lamps, was extremely faint. The
master—to use the Italian phrase for persons of this
description—approached the upper end of the room, with a genuflection
like that of a Catholic to the crucifix, and at the same time crossed
himself. The ladies followed in silence, and arm in arm. Two or
three low broad steps led to a platform in front of the altar, or what
resembled such. Here the sage took his stand, and placed the ladies
beside him, once more earnestly repeating by signs his injunctions of
silence. The Italian then, extending his bare arm from under his
linen vestment, pointed with his forefinger to five large flambeaux,
or torches, placed on each side of the altar. They took fire
successively at the approach of his hand, or rather of his finger, and
spread a strong light through the room. By this the visitors could
discern that, on the seeming altar, were disposed two naked swords
laid crosswise; a large open book, which they conceived to be a copy
of the Holy Scriptures, but in a language to them unknown; and beside
this mysterious volume was placed a human skull. But what struck the
sisters most was a very tall and broad mirror, which occupied all the
space behind the altar, and, illumined by the lighted torches,
reflected the mysterious articles which were laid upon it.
The master then placed himself between the two ladies, and,
pointing to the mirror, took each by the hand, but without speaking a
syllable. They gazed intently on the polished and sable space to
which he had directed their attention. Suddenly the surface assumed a
new and singular appearance. It no longer simply reflected the
objects placed before it, but, as if it had self-contained scenery of
its own, objects began to appear within it, at first in a disorderly,
indistinct, and miscellaneous manner, like form arranging itself out
of chaos; at length, in distinct and defined shape and symmetry. It
was thus that, after some shifting of light and darkness over the face
of the wonderful glass, a long perspective of arches and columns began
to arrange itself on its sides, and a vaulted roof on the upper part
of it, till, after many oscillations, the whole vision gained a fixed
and stationary appearance, representing the interior of a foreign
church. The pillars were stately, and hung with scutcheons; the
arches were lofty and magnificent; the floor was lettered with funeral
inscriptions. But there were no separate shrines, no images, no
display of chalice or crucifix on the altar. It was, therefore, a
Protestant church upon the Continent. A clergyman dressed in the
Geneva gown and band stood by the communion table, and, with the Bible
opened before him, and his clerk awaiting in the background, seemed
prepared to perform some service of the church to which he belonged.
At length, there entered the middle aisle of the building a
numerous party, which appeared to be a bridal one, as a lady and
gentleman walked first, hand in hand, followed by a large concourse
of persons of both sexes, gaily, nay richly, attired. The bride, whose
features they could distinctly see, seemed not more than sixteen years
old, and extremely beautiful. The bridegroom, for some seconds, moved
rather with his shoulder towards them, and his face averted; but his
elegance of form and step struck the sisters at once with the same
apprehension. As he turned his face suddenly, it was frightfully
realized, and they saw, in the gay bridegroom before them, Sir Philip
Forester. His wife uttered an imperfect exclamation, at the sound of
which the whole scene stirred and seemed to separate.
"I could compare it to nothing," said Lady Bothwell, while
recounting the wonderful tale, "but to the dispersion of the
reflection offered by a deep and calm pool, when a stone is suddenly
cast into it, and the shadows become dissipated and broken." The
master pressed both the ladies' hands severely, as if to remind them
of their promise, and of the danger which they incurred. The
exclamation died away on Lady Forester's tongue, without attaining
perfect utterance, and the scene in the glass, after the fluctuation
of a minute, again resumed to the eye its former appearance of a real
scene, existing within the mirror, as if represented in a picture,
save that the figures were movable instead of being stationary.
The representation of Sir Philip Forester, now distinctly visible
in form and feature, was seen to lead on towards the clergyman that
beautiful girl, who advanced at once with diffidence and with a
species of affectionate pride. In the meantime, and just as the
clergyman had arranged the bridal company before him, and seemed about
to commence the service, another group of persons, of whom two or
three were officers, entered the church. They moved, at first,
forward, as though they came to witness the bridal ceremony; but
suddenly one of the officers, whose back was towards the spectators,
detached himself from his companions, and rushed hastily towards the
marriage party, when the whole of them turned towards him, as if
attracted by some exclamation which had accompanied his advance.
Suddenly the intruder drew his sword; the bridegroom unsheathed his
own, and made towards him; swords were also drawn by other
individuals, both of the marriage party and of those who had last
entered. They fell into a sort of confusion, the clergyman, and some
elder and graver persons, labouring apparently to keep the peace,
while the hotter spirits on both sides brandished their weapons. But
now, the period of the brief space during which the soothsayer, as he
pretended, was permitted to exhibit his art, was arrived. The fumes
again mixed together, and dissolved gradually from observation; the
vaults and columns of the church rolled asunder, and disappeared; and
the front of the mirror reflected nothing save the blazing torches
and the melancholy apparatus placed on the altar or table before it.
The doctor led the ladies, who greatly required his support, into
the apartment from whence they came, where wine, essences, and other
means of restoring suspended animation, had been provided during his
absence. He motioned them to chairs, which they occupied in
silence—Lady Forester, in particular, wringing her hands, and casting
her eyes up to heaven, but without speaking a word, as if the spell
had been still before her eyes.
"And what we have seen is even now acting?" said Lady Bothwell,
collecting herself with difficulty.
"That," answered Baptista Damiotti, "I cannot justly, or with
certainty, say. But it is either now acting, or has been acted
during a short space before this. It is the last remarkable
transaction in which the Cavalier Forester has been engaged."
Lady Bothwell then expressed anxiety concerning her sister, whose
altered countenance and apparent unconsciousness of what passed
around her excited her apprehensions how it might be possible to
convey her home.
"I have prepared for that," answered the adept. "I have directed
the servant to bring your equipage as near to this place as the
narrowness of the street will permit. Fear not for your sister, but
give her, when you return home, this composing draught, and she will
be better to-morrow morning. Few," he added in a melancholy tone,
"leave this house as well in health as they entered it. Such being
the consequence of seeking knowledge by mysterious means, I leave you
to judge the condition of those who have the power of gratifying such
irregular curiosity. Farewell, and forget not the potion."
"I will give her nothing that comes from you," said Lady Bothwell;
"I have seen enough of your art already. Perhaps you would poison us
both to conceal your own necromancy. But we are persons who want
neither the means of making our wrongs known, nor the assistance of
friends to right them."
"You have had no wrongs from me, madam," said the adept. "You
sought one who is little grateful for such honour. He seeks no one,
and only gives responses to those who invite and call upon him. After
all, you have but learned a little sooner the evil which you must
still be doomed to endure. I hear your servant's step at the door,
and will detain your ladyship and Lady Forester no longer. The next
packet from the Continent will explain what you have already partly
witnessed. Let it not, if I may advise, pass too suddenly into your
So saying, he bid Lady Bothwell good-night. She went, lighted by
the adept, to the vestibule, where he hastily threw a black cloak
over his singular dress, and opening the door, entrusted his visitors
to the care of the servant. It was with difficulty that Lady Bothwell
sustained her sister to the carriage, though it was only twenty steps
distant. When they arrived at home, Lady Forester required medical
assistance. The physician of the family attended, and shook his head
on feeling her pulse.
"Here has been," he said, "a violent and sudden shock on the
nerves. I must know how it has happened."
Lady Bothwell admitted they had visited the conjurer, and that
Lady Forester had received some bad news respecting her husband, Sir
"That rascally quack would make my fortune, were he to stay in
Edinburgh," said the graduate; "this is the seventh nervous case I
have heard of his making for me, and all by effect of terror." He next
examined the composing draught which Lady Bothwell had unconsciously
brought in her hand, tasted it, and pronounced it very germain to the
matter, and what would save an application to the apothecary. He then
paused, and looking at Lady Bothwell very significantly, at length
added, "I suppose I must not ask your ladyship anything about this
Italian warlock's proceedings?"
"Indeed, doctor," answered Lady Bothwell, "I consider what passed
as confidential; and though the man may be a rogue, yet, as we were
fools enough to consult him, we should, I think, be honest enough to
keep his counsel."
"MAY be a knave! Come," said the doctor, "I am glad to hear your
ladyship allows such a possibility in anything that comes from
"What comes from Italy may be as good as what comes from Hanover,
doctor. But you and I will remain good friends; and that it may be
so, we will say nothing of Whig and Tory."
"Not I," said the doctor, receiving his fee, and taking his hat;
"a Carolus serves my purpose as well as a Willielmus. But I should
like to know why old Lady Saint Ringan, and all that set, go about
wasting their decayed lungs in puffing this foreign fellow."
"Ay—you had best set him down a Jesuit, as Scrub says." On these
terms they parted.
The poor patient—whose nerves, from an extraordinary state of
tension, had at length become relaxed in as extraordinary a
degree—continued to struggle with a sort of imbecility, the growth
of superstitious terror, when the shocking tidings were brought from
Holland which fulfilled even her worst expectations.
They were sent by the celebrated Earl of Stair, and contained the
melancholy event of a duel betwixt Sir Philip Forester and his wife's
half-brother, Captain Falconer, of the Scotch-Dutch, as they were then
called, in which the latter had been killed. The cause of quarrel
rendered the incident still more shocking. It seemed that Sir Philip
had left the army suddenly, in consequence of being unable to pay a
very considerable sum which he had lost to another volunteer at play.
He had changed his name, and taken up his residence at Rotterdam,
where he had insinuated himself into the good graces of an ancient and
rich burgomaster, and, by his handsome person and graceful manners,
captivated the affections of his only child, a very young person, of
great beauty, and the heiress of much wealth. Delighted with the
specious attractions of his proposed son-in-law, the wealthy
merchant—whose idea of the British character was too high to admit
of his taking any precaution to acquire evidence of his condition and
circumstances—gave his consent to the marriage. It was about to be
celebrated in the principal church of the city, when it was
interrupted by a singular occurrence.
Captain Falconer having been detached to Rotterdam to bring up a
part of the brigade of Scottish auxiliaries, who were in quarters
there, a person of consideration in the town, to whom he had been
formerly known, proposed to him for amusement to go to the high
church to see a countryman of his own married to the daughter of a
wealthy burgomaster. Captain Falconer went accordingly, accompanied
by his Dutch acquaintance, with a party of his friends, and two or
three officers of the Scotch brigade. His astonishment may be
conceived when he saw his own brother-in-law, a married man, on the
point of leading to the altar the innocent and beautiful creature upon
whom he was about to practise a base and unmanly deceit. He
proclaimed his villainy on the spot, and the marriage was interrupted,
of course. But against the opinion of more thinking men, who
considered Sir Philip Forester as having thrown himself out of the
rank of men of honour, Captain Falconer admitted him to the privilege
of such, accepted a challenge from him, and in the rencounter received
a mortal wound. Such are the ways of Heaven, mysterious in our eyes.
Lady Forester never recovered the shock of this dismal intelligence.
"And did this tragedy," said I, "take place exactly at the time
when the scene in the mirror was exhibited?"
"It is hard to be obliged to maim one's story," answered my aunt,
"but to speak the truth, it happened some days sooner than the
apparition was exhibited."
"And so there remained a possibility," said I, "that by some
secret and speedy communication the artist might have received early
intelligence of that incident."
"The incredulous pretended so," replied my aunt.
"What became of the adept?" demanded I.
"Why, a warrant came down shortly afterwards to arrest him for
high treason, as an agent of the Chevalier St. George; and Lady
Bothwell, recollecting the hints which had escaped the doctor, an
ardent friend of the Protestant succession, did then call to
remembrance that this man was chiefly PRONE among the ancient matrons
of her own political persuasion. It certainly seemed probable that
intelligence from the Continent, which could easily have been
transmitted by an active and powerful agent, might have enabled him to
prepare such a scene of phantasmagoria as she had herself witnessed.
Yet there were so many difficulties in assigning a natural
explanation, that, to the day of her death, she remained in great
doubt on the subject, and much disposed to cut the Gordian knot by
admitting the existence of supernatural agency."
"But, my dear aunt," said I, "what became of the man of skill?"
"Oh, he was too good a fortune-teller not to be able to foresee
that his own destiny would be tragical if he waited the arrival of
the man with the silver greyhound upon his sleeve. He made, as we
say, a moonlight flitting, and was nowhere to be seen or heard of.
Some noise there was about papers or letters found in the house; but
it died away, and Doctor Baptista Damiotti was soon as little talked
of as Galen or Hippocrates."
"And Sir Philip Forester," said I, "did he too vanish for ever
from the public scene?"
"No," replied my kind informer. "He was heard of once more, and
it was upon a remarkable occasion. It is said that we Scots, when
there was such a nation in existence, have, among our full peck of
virtues, one or two little barley-corns of vice. In particular, it is
alleged that we rarely forgive, and never forget, any injuries
received—that we make an idol of our resentment, as poor Lady
Constance did of her grief, and are addicted, as Burns says, to
'nursing our wrath to keep it warm.' Lady Bothwell was not without
this feeling; and, I believe, nothing whatever, scarce the restoration
of the Stewart line, could have happened so delicious to her feelings
as an opportunity of being revenged on Sir Philip Forester for the
deep and double injury which had deprived her of a sister and of a
brother. But nothing of him was heard or known till many a year had
"At length—it was on a Fastern's E'en (Shrovetide) assembly, at
which the whole fashion of Edinburgh attended, full and frequent, and
when Lady Bothwell had a seat amongst the lady patronesses, that one
of the attendants on the company whispered into her ear that a
gentleman wished to speak with her in private.
"'In private? and in an assembly room?—he must be mad. Tell him
to call upon me to-morrow morning.'
"'I said so, my lady,' answered the man, 'but he desired me to
give you this paper.'
"She undid the billet, which was curiously folded and sealed. It
only bore the words, 'ON BUSINESS OF LIFE AND DEATH,' written in a
hand which she had never seen before. Suddenly it occurred to her
that it might concern the safety of some of her political friends.
She therefore followed the messenger to a small apartment where the
refreshments were prepared, and from which the general company was
excluded. She found an old man, who, at her approach, rose up and
bowed profoundly. His appearance indicated a broken constitution, and
his dress, though sedulously rendered conforming to the etiquette of a
ballroom, was worn and tarnished, and hung in folds about his
emaciated person. Lady Bothwell was about to feel for her purse,
expecting to get rid of the supplicant at the expense of a little
money, but some fear of a mistake arrested her purpose. She therefore
gave the man leisure to explain himself.
"'I have the honour to speak with the Lady Bothwell?'
"'I am Lady Bothwell; allow me to say that this is no time or
place for long explanations. What are your commands with me?'
"'Your ladyship,' said the old man, 'had once a sister.'
"'True; whom I loved as my own soul.'
"'And a brother.'
"'The bravest, the kindest, the most affectionate!' said Lady
"'Both these beloved relatives you lost by the fault of an
unfortunate man,' continued the stranger.
"'By the crime of an unnatural, bloody-minded murderer,' said the
"'I am answered,' replied the old man, bowing, as if to withdraw.
"'Stop, sir, I command you,' said Lady Bothwell. 'Who are you
that, at such a place and time, come to recall these horrible
recollections? I insist upon knowing.'
"'I am one who intends Lady Bothwell no injury, but, on the
contrary, to offer her the means of doing a deed of Christian
charity, which the world would wonder at, and which Heaven would
reward; but I find her in no temper for such a sacrifice as I was
prepared to ask.'
"'Speak out, sir; what is your meaning?' said Lady Bothwell.
"'The wretch that has wronged you so deeply,' rejoined the
stranger, 'is now on his death-bed. His days have been days of
misery, his nights have been sleepless hours of anguish—yet he
cannot die without your forgiveness. His life has been an
unremitting penance—yet he dares not part from his burden while your
curses load his soul.'
"'Tell him,' said Lady Bothwell sternly, 'to ask pardon of that
Being whom he has so greatly offended, not of an erring mortal like
himself. What could my forgiveness avail him?'
"'Much,' answered the old man. 'It will be an earnest of that
which he may then venture to ask from his Creator, lady, and from
yours. Remember, Lady Bothwell, you too have a death-bed to look
forward to; Your soul may—all human souls must—feel the awe of
facing the judgment-seat, with the wounds of an untented conscience,
raw, and rankling—what thought would it be then that should whisper,
"I have given no mercy, how then shall I ask it?"'
"'Man, whosoever thou mayest be,' replied Lady Bothwell, 'urge me
not so cruelly. It would be but blasphemous hypocrisy to utter with
my lips the words which every throb of my heart protests against.
They would open the earth and give to light the wasted form of my
sister, the bloody form of my murdered brother. Forgive him?—never,
"'Great God!' cried the old man, holding up his hands, 'is it thus
the worms which Thou hast called out of dust obey the commands of
their Maker? Farewell, proud and unforgiving woman. Exult that thou
hast added to a death in want and pain the agonies of religious
despair; but never again mock Heaven by petitioning for the pardon
which thou hast refused to grant.'
"He was turning from her.
"'Stop,' she exclaimed; 'I will try—yes, I will try to pardon
"'Gracious lady,' said the old man, 'you will relieve the over-
burdened soul which dare not sever itself from its sinful companion
of earth without being at peace with you. What do I know—your
forgiveness may perhaps preserve for penitence the dregs of a wretched
"'Ha!' said the lady, as a sudden light broke on her, 'it is the
villain himself!' And grasping Sir Philip Forester—for it was he,
and no other—by the collar, she raised a cry of 'Murder, murder!
seize the murderer!'
"At an exclamation so singular, in such a place, the company
thronged into the apartment; but Sir Philip Forester was no longer
there. He had forcibly extricated himself from Lady Bothwell's hold,
and had run out of the apartment, which opened on the landing-place of
the stair. There seemed no escape in that direction, for there were
several persons coming up the steps, and others descending. But the
unfortunate man was desperate. He threw himself over the balustrade,
and alighted safely in the lobby, though a leap of fifteen feet at
least, then dashed into the street, and was lost in darkness. Some of
the Bothwell family made pursuit, and had they come up with the
fugitive they might perhaps have slain him; for in those days men's
blood ran warm in their veins. But the police did not interfere, the
matter most criminal having happened long since, and in a foreign
land. Indeed it was always thought that this extraordinary scene
originated in a hypocritical experiment, by which Sir Philip desired
to ascertain whether he might return to his native country in safety
from the resentment of a family which he had injured so deeply. As
the result fell out so contrary to his wishes, he is believed to have
returned to the Continent, and there died in exile."
So closed the tale of the MYSTERIOUS MIRROR.