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A Night At Cockhoolet Castle

I.

Cockhoolet was the name of the place: it was a farm of which the Ormistons were and had been tenants for several generations. A father, mother and five olive-branches made up the family. A healthy, happy, united, thriving family they were, and as such much respected. There were two sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom was Bessie, the "Rose of Cockhoolet," as she was called; for that she had all the beauty and sweetness of the rose was generally allowed, although there were people who could not be made to see this—people who were probably idiopts; not idiots—although they might have a streak of idiocy in them, too, perhaps—but idiopts, or persons who were color-blind. None of the young men of the district were color-blind.

The clergyman of the parish in which Cockhoolet was situated, and at whose church the Ormistons attended, was an old man comparatively, whose sermons were old-fashioned, and not given forth with the fire of youth: he was not one you would have expected to be very popular, especially with the young; yet various young men from considerable distances were attracted to his church, and, generally speaking, they settled themselves in pews opposite the gallery in front of which sat Mr. Ormiston and his family. Any person who chanced to be in the vicinity, if of discerning powers, might have been conscious of the electricity in the air. Dull people neither saw nor felt it.

Bessie Ormiston was not dull, but, being a modest girl, she would rather not have been stared at; and, being a good girl, she thought people might be better employed in church: still, she was only a girl, and it would not be the truth to say she was mortally offended. Did the person ever exist who was offended at an honest compliment? If he ever did, he ought to have been fed on sarcasm for the rest of his days.

Not only was Bessie pretty—she was also rich. A grand-uncle had left her five thousand pounds, her brothers and sisters getting only one thousand each. There is no use in asking reasons for this: simply, the Rose was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Perhaps, indeed, the old man did not know he had so much money, for it was as residuary legatee that Bessie got the five thousand pounds, and it was not thought she would get anything like that: people remarked, in the language of the district, which was apt occasionally to be strong and graphic rather than elegant,—people remarked that "old Ormiston had cut up well." Five thousand charms added to those Bessie already possessed—not to mention that her father was a rich man—made her most miraculously charming: like Tibby Fowler of the Glen, whose perplexities of this kind have been embalmed in song, she had wealth of wooers, and wealth, it is well known, makes wit waver.

It is a saying that an Englishman's house is his castle, but the phrase is understood to be figurative: Mr. Ormiston's house was his castle without a figure. Cockhoolet Castle is very old, at least one part of it is, having been built probably about the year 1400. A more modern part was built in 1527, while the most modern part of all was added in 1726: this last division of it is used as the farm-house. The rooms have been painted and papered in the present style of house decoration, and in the sitting-rooms, in addition to the little old windows, the thick walls have been pierced and a large bow-window put in with fine effect. There are three narrow stone staircases leading up the three divisions of the castle; there are long passages; there are sudden short flights of steps taking you up or down into all manner of cornered rooms; there is a hall which might hold the population of the county. Keeping up one of the spiral staircases, you come out on the roof, round which there is a walk guarded by a low stone coping: should you want to fling yourself over, you have ample opportunity. There are stone sentry-boxes where you can sit hidden from the wind and everything else, and look far and wide over the country, and down into the garden if you can do so without growing giddy. There is also a dungeon tenanted by nothing more subject to suffering than potatoes and other roots, for which it is a most favorable receptable, the walls being so thick and the roof so low that cold cannot get in in winter nor heat in summer: there is only a single narrow slit in the wall for the admission of light, but it is comforting to know that the doomed wretches who inhabited it in past ages had at least a temperate climate.

There is the room Queen Mary Stuart slept in when she occasionally visited in the vicinity. The reader is perhaps not familiar with Queen Mary's name in connection with Cockhoolet Castle, but there may be other facts about her of which he is also ignorant. Does he know, for instance, that she had a daughter by her third marriage, whom, as an infant, she despatched to France to be reared in a nunnery, "that she may not," said the unhappy queen, "run the risk of having such a lot as I have"? Does he know that John Knox was possessed by a mad passion of love for Mary Stuart? It has always been thought otherwise—that in point of fact he held her in contempt; but as it is proverbial that "nippin' and scartin' (figurative of course) is Scotch folks' wooin'," there may be truth in the new discovery. But true or not true, it is enough to make the bold Reformer blush standing on the top of his pillar in the necropolis of Glasgow: perhaps he is blushing, if he were near enough to see.

Be that as it may, there is no manner of doubt that Mary Stuart honored Cockhoolet Castle by abiding under its roof when it suited her to do so. Have not I, the present writer, stood in the room she slept in—looked from the small windows set in the ten-foot thick wall from which she looked? Have I not gazed over the same country, up to the same skies, into the same moon at which she gazed? Could her face be more fair than that of the present Rose of Cockhoolet, her thoughts more innocent, her reveries more sweet, than those of Bessie Ormiston, who in the course of time had succeeded to the room which had been consecrated by royal slumbers?

It is a matter of certainty that Mary Stuart planted a tree fast by Cockhoolet Castle—she would not have been herself if she had not done that—and a magnificent tree it is, very old and quite big enough for its age. The queen must have been fond of planting trees, and, considering the number she planted, it is astonishing how she found time for so many less innocent employments: she must have improved each shining hour, and, poor woman! she had not too many of these.

There is a walk also, called the Lady's Walk, leading away from the castle up a bosky dell, where a burn amuses itself playing at hide-and-seek, but, like a little child, betrays its hiding-places by its voice, and comes out into the light again and laughs at its own joke. Did the queen ever wander here? did she ever "paidle in the burn when summer days were fine"? did its murmur ever soothe her ear? did she ever see her fair face in its pools, or drop bitter tears to mingle and; flow on with its waters?

The burn has kept trotting through the dell for six thousand years, singing its song all the time, and its speed is as good and its voice as clear and musical as when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. Many a wild story it could tell if its murmur could be understood; but it is a murmur only—a murmur which crept into the ears of Cæsar's legions, of Queen Mary, of Bessie Ormiston, and will creep into yours, O reader! if you like to go and explore the Lady's Walk, when you can interpret the murmur for yourself, as all your predecessors no doubt did. In days of old it fed the moat, traces of which are to be seen round the castle still, although it has long since been filled up and covered, like the park of which it forms part, with rich natural pasture, soft, thick and velvety. In short, Cockhoolet had everything that a castle ought to have, and wanted nothing that a castle ought not to want, not even a ghost.

It was not the ghost of Mary Stuart: that would have been too shocking—a ghost without a head, or having a head and a broad vivid ray of red encircling its neck. Such a ghost would have made every one who saw it lose his senses. Cockhoolet Castle had a ghost: so much was certain, but hitherto no one had ever either seen or heard it. How, then, was it certain? Why ask a question like that? Is it reasonable to pin a human being down to prove a ghost? Will not presumptive evidence do? Strange things had happened, must have happened, at the castle: is it for a moment to be supposed that these things had happened and all gone scot free?—in other words, that not one of them had left a ghost? It is not to be supposed.

II.

It was Christmas Day. Christmas Day is not solemnized and festivalized in Scotland as it is in England; still, the observance of it in some shape is creeping in more and more. It was Christmas, and Mr. and Mrs. Ormiston had gone to be present at a feast from which they were not expected to return till the following day. There were left at home the Rose, as head of the family for the time being; her sisters, Bell and Jessie, supposed to be little girls still, although the supposition made them very indignant; and her two brothers, John and William. A guest aad two servants made up the known inhabitants of the house.

The guest was a young man who had arrived before the heads of the house left, and had been laughingly charged by them to see that the children did not work mischief. He was an old friend of the family; at least as old a friend as he was a man, and she had been in the world a quarter of a century. We shall call him Edwin: that name will do as well as another; indeed, better, for he might not like his own made public. It need hardly be said that among the rest young Edwin loved, and, like his namesake in the ballad, he never talked of love. This might be stupid, but the stupidity which springs from true modesty is not to be classed with the stupidity which springs from want of brains, even when, as is quite likely, the consequences are to the full as disastrous. Now, how is a young lady to understand or bring things to a bearing in a case like this? The Rose could not go up to Edwin and tell him she was not a goddess; neither could she say, "Although I have five thousand pounds—and you know it, and I know that you know it, and you know that I know that you know it—I am quite ready to believe that you love me, and would love me if I hadn't a farthing:" she could not say this, but she thought it, she worried herself thinking over it, and, being a sensible girl with a humble opinion of herself, she came to the conclusion that she had been altogether mistaken—that Edwin did not care for her, at least not as she cared for him, otherwise why should he not say so? "If," she thought—"if I were in his place and he in mine, neither money nor pride, nor anything else, would keep me silent." And the roses in her face deepened in color as she thought of her own silly folly in allowing her feelings to be drawn in, and she determined her folly should cease from that hour; which determination had the effect of bringing sharp, short speeches about Edwin's ears tinged with sarcasm that were meant to convey to him the conviction that she did not care a pin about him; and they answered the purpose admirably.

Love is a fickle game, which they

Whose stakes are deepest worst can play,

Edwin was at Cockhoolet that Christmas Day by the same fatality that causes a moth to hover round a brilliant light; and when her sister told Bessie that Edwin had come and was putting his horse into the stable, she said, "Is Mr. Forrester here again? He must surely be dull at home." But of course she received him with friendly civility.

Edwin employed the forenoon out of doors with the boys and two other visitors. A Mr. and Mrs. Parker arriving unexpectedly, who were anxious to see the castle, the afternoon was spent in going through every part of it from dungeon to roof.

Bessie carried the keys: she was châtelaine, seneschal and cicerone, all rolled in one.

Going up the narrow stairs, the party had to climb Indian file: in the passages they could spread out a little, and in some of the rooms in the uninhabited portion they had to walk circumspectly, as if they were crossing water on stepping-stones, for the flooring was wanting in some places, leaving a stretch of bare rafters. Bessie tripped lightly over them, and then turned to wait for the others. "Don't be frightened," she said: "these rafters are as sound as the day they were laid down. The flooring has not rotted: it must have been taken up for some purpose. They did not know how to scamp work in those days."

"If we fall through, where shall we go?" inquired Mrs. Parker, looking down into what seemed deep mysterious darkness.

"Oh, not very far; but don't fall: it won't be pleasant," said Bessie: "you would alight on very hard stones."

Mr. Forrester got on the roof first, and handed up the ladies; and they all stood looking out over the country. It was not a cold, bleak, snowy day, as Christmas in northern latitudes has a right to be. The winter had been mild—one of a series of mild winters, overturning the old traditions of frosts and snow-storms that lasted for months, and to a great extent stopped traffic and labor, and made traveling difficult and wearisome. This Christmas was different. The year was dying with calmness and dignity, and with a smile on its face, as you might take the pale gleam of sunshine to be; and if you were a little sad in mood you could suppose there was a wistfulness in the smile that was spread over the still, soft face of Nature. Cockhoolet stood high, and the country immediately round it was flat, and much of it moorland.

If you climb to our castle's top,

I don't see where your eye can stop;

For when you've passed the corn-field country,

Where vineyards leave off flocks are packed,

And sheep-range leads to cattle-tract,

And cattle-tract to open chase,

And open chase to the very base

O' the mountain.

Strike out the vineyards and that description will apply very well to Cockhoolet; and in addition you ought to have seen from its roof Edinburgh and the sea; but on this day the sea wore a garment of mist, and had wrapped the metropolis in it also, as it not unfrequently does. You ought to have seen more than one range of hills too, yet except by eyes well acquainted with them their outlines could hardly be distinguished from the leaden gray clouds lying in bands along the horizon.

But as the party stood on the roof the clouds began to rise, tower upon tower, against the sky, and the sun, who retires early at this season, went behind them, when, instead of the pale, wistful gleam he had been keeping up all day, he suddenly threw a deep bright golden border on all the edges of the dark misty battlements which had piled themselves like castles of the Titans: a big rift appearing at their base, there poured through it, filling up the space, a great belt of crimson rays streaked with gray, as if from burning ashes falling into it, and like the dense glow from a furnace, giving the idea that the cloud-building was on fire, and that the flames from below, shooting up inside the dark walls, were the cause of the brilliant illumination that shone round every pinnacle and coign of vantage. It was a grand and a curious sight. You could fancy the sun looking across to the old Castle of Edinburgh standing on its rock, and saying, "Can you do anything like this with all the gas and paddelle you can lay your hands on?" Precisely this idea struck Mrs. Parker, for she said, "I think that is as good a sight as the castle the night the prince was married."

"That was a very good sight in its way," said Mr. Parker, "but we can hardly hope to compete with the sun, my dear: he has all his materials within himself, and we have to pay for them."

"Do you know, Miss Ormiston," said Mrs. Parker, "one of the buildings they said had such a fine effect put me in mind of a trunk studded with brass nails—the initials of the happy pair in gas-jets looked like the name of the owner of the trunk. All the time I was on the street I could not get that notion out of my head; and I was sorry, for I am sure it cost a great deal of money to light it up, and I really wished to think it grand."

"We were all in town that night," said John Ormiston—"papa and mamma, and the whole of us, and Mr. Forrester, who made eight."

"I thought it a beautiful sight," said Bessie.

"I never enjoyed anything more in my life," said Mr. Forrester, who on that occasion had been Miss Ormiston's escort through the streets, in which they lost their party, and had the supreme bliss of wandering together in the crowd, when Mr. Forrester almost forgot that Miss Ormiston was a goddess with five thousand earthly charms, and Miss Ormiston had compared his merits as a guide and protector with those of her brothers, and found he was much more considerate, and made her wish law, which they were often far from doing. In point of fact, a thaw had been very imminent, but, alas! since then a sharp frost had set in between them, as unaccountably as frosts frequently do set in.

"I think, now," said Mrs. Parker, "a fine old castle like this ought to have had a grander name: don't you think so, Miss Ormiston?"

"Yes, I do, and it had, originally. There was a monastery here at one time, over in that field with the trees in the corner of it: it was called the abbey of Cakeholy, and when the castle was built it got the name of Cakeholy Castle, after the abbey. The name Cakeholy, tradition says, arose from the fact that an extraordinary saint, whose wants had been relieved at the monastery, blessed all the bread that should ever be baked there, and the bread ever after had a great sustaining power in it; so that pilgrims from Edinburgh and the North, going to the southern shrines, all passed this way to get themselves supplied with the holy cakes. At the Reformation the abbey was destroyed, and became a ruin haunted by owls, so that, partly in derision and partly as suiting the altered circumstances, the common people corrupted the name into Cockhoolet; and in process of time it was given to the castle also, and stuck to it. That is the history of a name which is certainly neither romantic, nor high-sounding."

"How interesting!" said Mrs. Parker. "If I were you, I would go back to the old name: there is a reverence about it there is not about the other. Only think of bands of pilgrims coming across the moor there!"

"Yes, in their gowns and rope girdles, with wallets and scallop-shells," said Bessie. "It must have been a curious old world then: one could sit here and muse by the hour on all that has come and gone. I often bring up my work or my book here in summer and think of it."

"I do like old things," said Mrs. Parker, "and old families and old names. Our name, for instance, has no smack of age about it, and it is so short and perky: it must have been given to some one who had to do with parks."

"But parks may be a very old institution," said Bessie, "if we looked into the thing, though not so old as Forrester: that is an ancient name," glancing at Edwin, who was leaning against a sentry-box listening and watching the sun putting out the lights in his bed-chamber; "yet not nearly so ancient as Ormiston. I always feel it is fitting we should live in an old castle, we are so ancient ourselves."

"Are we?" said John: "I never knew that before."

"Ormiston," she said, "is perhaps as pure a Saxon word as now exists. It was during the Roman invasion our ancestor led an army through a dense mist against the invaders: just as he came up with them the sun shone out and the mist. The legions were taken by surprise, for the advancing enemy had been hidden by the mist, and they were utterly routed. The Saxon king—"

"What was his name?" asked John.

"John," she said, "don't seek to be wise above what is revealed. The king called our ancestor to the front and made him earl of Ormiston on the spot—'Gold-Mist-on;' that is, 'Be ever in the van;' and a proud race were the earls of Ormiston, and well they answered to the name. But their fortunes waned when the modern upstart, the Norman William, laid his greedy hands on everything for himself and his mob of pirates, and at present we are only middle-class people, but our blood must be the bluest of the blue."

"Mine must be as blue," said Edwin, "for the Forresters came in with the trees, and the trees were early settlers."

"But the mists were first by a very long time," answered Bessie.

"I don't believe that story," said John. "I have read about the Cakeholy business somewhere, but you have made that Or-Mist-on affair out of your own head: isn't that true, Bessie?"

"I am not bound to answer unbelievers, John."

"Besides," said John, "Ormiston is far; liker French than Saxon."

"Mr. Parker," said Bessie, "there was an abbot John of Cakeholy who flourished in the thirteenth century: his ghost is said to revisit its old habitation, or rather the place where it stood. I should like to meet it and have a talk over things; it would be very interesting."

"Would you not be terrified?" asked Mrs. Parker.

"If I saw what I believed to be a ghost, I should die of terror," said Bessie; "especially if I was alone and it was the dead of night; but I have no faith whatever in ghosts."

"It is getting rather chilly," said Mrs. Parker.

"Perhaps we had better go down now, then," Miss Ormiston said. "Mr. Forrester, would you come out of your brown study and let us pass?"

"Certainly. I'll see you all safe off the battlements. I wasn't in a brown study: I was in a mist."

"Then take care: people in a mist always think they are going the right way when they are going directly wrong."

"If I only knew the right way!" he said.

"That's true, Mr. Forrester," said Mrs. Parker. "If we only knew the right way; and people tell you to be guided by Providence, but I say I never know when it is Providence and when it is myself;" and she threaded her way down the narrow stairs, followed by the rest of the party.

III.

The dining-room, with its low roof, its crimson walls, dark furniture and handsome fire (the fires at Cockhoolet were always handsome: Bessie was the architect and superintended the building herself; they never looked harum-scarum nor meaningless nor thoughtless, nor as if they were not meant to burn; they combined taste, comfort, and, as a consequence, economy; everything tasteful and comfortable is in the long run economical), its table-cloth, glistening like the summit of the Alps and laden with good things, looked a place where people even not in love with each other might, unless naturally perverse, be very happy.

Mrs. Parker, being from town, was in raptures with every country eatable, especially the scones, which she found were manufactured by Miss Ormiston herself.

"And have they," asked Mr. Parker, "the sustaining power that the cakes made here of old had?"

"If you eat enough of them you may get to Edinburgh to-night before you are very hungry," said John.

"The abbey cakes were unleavened," Bessie explained, "which these are not, so that they are less substantial fare."

"What do you raise them with?" asked Mrs. Parker.

"Butter, milk and carbonate of soda," said Miss Ormiston.

"We call Bessie a doctor of the Carbon," said John: "she makes very good scones, although you would hardly go from here to Canterbury on the strength of one of them."

"Mr. Forrester, are you dull?" asked Jessie: "you are not saying anything."

"I am too busy eating the holy cakes, Jessie," said Edwin: "your sister is a master in her art."

"I say," Jessie went on, "are you ever dull at home? When I told Bessie that you had come she was surprised, and said that you must surely be dull at home. I am sorry for you if you are: you should come here oftener—we are never dull here."

"Perhaps," said Edwin, "your sister thinks I come too often, as it is."

Bessie was so deeply engaged pressing Mr. Parker to eat strawberry jam, with cheeks the color of the fruit, that of course she could not have heard what her sister had been saying.

"Oh no, I don't think she thinks that at all," Jessie said: "we never think any one can come too often. Bessie, can Mr. Forrester come too often?"

But still Miss Ormiston was so occupied with Mr. Parker that she did not hear.

And Mrs. Parker said, "It is a most intensely interesting old place, this: do not people come to look at it?"

"Oh yes," replied Bessie, "especially in summer: we generally have several parties every week. One of the servants takes them over the castle—grand people often, with carriages and livery servants."

"Do you not keep a book for them to write their names in?"

"No, we have never done that."

"I would do it if I were you: it would be interesting to know who comes and how many. Why, very remarkable people may have been here without your knowing."

"I doubt we are not sufficiently alive to our privileges," Bessie said.

"It's fine moonlight," said the boys, who, seeing that they and every one had ceased eating, were impatient to be out again. "Come, Mr. Parker, we'll show you the echo: Mr. Forrester, come."

"I'll go too," said Mrs. Parker; and they all went but the Rose, who stayed behind for a little to direct about household matters.

The echo was a favorite with the boys, it gave such unlimited scope to their powers of shouting: it was the sight they most enjoyed exhibiting to strangers. And it was an echo that could repeat every word of a sentence with such perfection that it was difficult to believe that it was not a human being shouting back from the other side of the park, where stood some houses inhabited by the farm-servants and their families.

"Hallo, Abbot John! is that you?" shouted one of the boys, and the other cried, "Yes, I'm taking a walk," so quickly that the one sentence seemed the answer to the other, and both came back loud and distinct on the still night-air.

"Are the Ormistons ancient? It's all fudge," shouted John.

"Well," said Mr. Parker, "that's the most perfect echo I ever heard. I've no doubt the holy fathers of the Middle Ages knew of it, and used it in some shape to keep the superstitious people in awe."

"It is awesome," said his wife, "here in the moonlight, with the old castle so near: if I were alone, positively I should feel eerie."

"Are you dull at home, Mr. Forrester?" was sent out from the depths of Will's chest, and sent back again just as Bessie came out and joined the party.

"Boys! boys!" she said, "don't be foolish."

"Why, it was what you said yourself," her sister remarked.

"Are you ever dull?" the lad shouted again.

"Often," answered Edwin, and "Often" came back instantly.

"In that case, Mr. Forrester," said Mrs. Parker, "why don't you get a wife? There's no company for a young man like a good wife. Here's Miss Ormiston; I don't think you could do better."

Think of the delicate wound of these young people being thus openly probed in broad moonlight in the presence of so many people! What could Mrs. Parker be thinking of? Not of her own love-passages surely, or, if she was, they must have been of a blunter order than those of the Rose and her lover.

"Oh no," said Bessie in cool, indifferent tones: "Mr. Forrester knows better than that."

"There!" said Edwin, "you see, Mrs. Parker, I have been refused."

"'Faint heart never won fair lady,'" said Mrs. Parker.

The boys hallooed this sentiment to the echo, and the echo took it up and sent it back so vigorously that even a timid man might have been inspired. "Mary Stuart," "Henry Darnley," "James Bothwell," the lads went on calling to the echo alternately—names which are not mere echoes even after three hundred years, but live on by sheer force of tragic romance. And it was possible that here, on this very spot, that historical trio had stood and laughed and talked and amused themselves as the young Ormistons and their visitors were doing. What words had they used to rouse the echo? If only it could be made to give them back now, what a wonderful echo it would be! The world would come to listen to it. Would it tell of the passions of love and ambition, grief and hatred, all hurrying their victims to their doom? or was the place sacred only to gentler memories and softer moods—the scene of enjoyment and freedom from care for however short a time? Who can tell?

There was a woman in the village of Cockhoolet who was ninety-eight years old, having all her faculties not perhaps quite so fresh as when she was nineteen, but in wonderful preservation after having been in daily use for little short of a century. She was one of a long-lived race: her father had been eighty-nine when he died, and her grandfather ninety-nine. Now, it is perfectly possible—and, as the family had been on the spot for centuries, it is even probable—that her great-grandfather might have dug the hole in which Mary planted her tree, or he may have saddled the queen's horse when she went hunting, or stood by the roadside and lifted his bonnet as she and her gay train swept by. Or he may have been despatched upon royal errands through the subterranean passage which is said to exist all the way between Cockhoolet Castle and Edinburgh—the private telegraph of those days, when wires in the air or under the sea by which to send messages would have cost the inventors their lives as guilty of witchcraft. While shaking hands with this old woman and speaking to her, you lost sight of her and the present time and felt the air of the sixteenth century blow in your face. Mary came up before you in moving habit as she lived—the young Mary who caught all hearts, not heartless herself, and laid hold of mere straws to save herself as she drifted desperately with circumstances; not the woman who has been painted as an actor from first to last, as coming forth draped for effect at the very closing scene,—not that woman, but the girlish queen who laughed and called to the echo, and forgot the cares of a kingdom while she could.

IV.

"They are a nice family, those Ormistons," said Mr. Parker to his wife as they drove to the railway-station in the moonlight.

"Very," said Mrs. Parker; "and Mr. Forrester is a nice lad. I hope he and Miss Ormiston will make it out: I did my best for them."

"They'll be quite able to do the best for themselves: it is always better to let things of that kind alone."

"I don't know that," said Mrs. Parker: "if a little shove is all that is needed, it is a pity not to give it."

"But what if your shove sends people separate? That's not what you intended, I fancy?"

"No fear: people are not so easily separated as all that."

"Well, we have had an uncommonly pleasant visit: I only wish the heads of the house had been at home."

Either the attachment of this pair must have been pretty evident to ordinary capacities, or Mrs. Parker must have been of a matchmaking turn of mind; probably the latter, for Bessie at least was sure that no mortal guessed her secret; which was a great comfort to her, seeing that Edwin was so indifferent. Alas! there is no rose without a thorn, or if there is it is a scentless, useless thing, most likely incapable of giving either pleasure or pain.

The Parkers had left early. When the young people went in-doors again it was only seven o'clock: the girls proposed a game at hide-and-seek, and Bessie seconded the proposal; for you see it would have been rather a formidable business to sit down and entertain Mr. Forrester all the evening with conversation, rational or otherwise; and although at the moment she was in the dignified position of lady of the castle, she could not the less enjoy a game amazingly.

The theatre of operations was wisely restricted, because if they had gone all over the castle they might have hidden themselves so that the game would have been endless; therefore they kept to the under part of the inhabited region. At length, tiring of this, they changed their game to blindman's buff, and went to the kitchen to play it, there being more room and fewer obstacles there; besides that, it was empty of tenants at the time, the servants having gone to see some of the neighbors.

It was a curious old kitchen, with a very low roof, and having a fireplace in a big semicircular stone recess. Many a boar's head had revolved there, and many a venison pasty had sent forth its fragrance to greet the tired hunters returning from the chase. The fire glowed in its deep recess like the eye of an old-world monster in a cavern, till one of the boys seized the poker and made it flame up, throwing its blaze out as far as it could for its walls, and making the kitchen and the group standing in it like a picture by Rembrandt.

"Who's to be blind man first?" cried the girls.

"Edwin: that will be the best fun," the boys said.

"Very well, I sha'n't be long blind," said Edwin: "I shall soon catch some of you. Who'll tie the handkerchief?"

"Bessie: she always ties it. Go and kneel to her, and she'll tie it so that you won't see."

What must Mr. Forrester have felt while being blinded by the Rose? Only, he had long been accustomed to be if not blinded, at least dazed, by her. The boys led him into the middle of the floor and dispersed themselves into corners. While he stood in the attitude of listening intently, he was conscious of a very gentle movement near him, and instantly closed his arms round it, as he thought, and encountered empty air, while with a shout of laughter the children cried, "Bessie was too quick for you. There, quick! quick! Edwin!" He sprang to the corner the voices came from, and the boys rushed along the wall to avoid his arms spread out to catch them, when suddenly the doorbell rang.

At the sound Edwin put up his hand to take off the handkerchief, but the boys cried, "Don't take it off: if it's any one, Bessie can speak to them in the dining-room: we don't need to stop our game."

They were not aware that to Mr. Forrester the game without Bessie was like Hamlet with the part of Hamlet left out.

"Yes," said Bessie, "just go on, and I'll see who is at the door." As she left the kitchen she honored Mr. Forrester with a good long look: people can feel so much at ease looking at a blind person.

The door was chained for greater security, and Bessie did not take off the chain: she merely opened the door as far as it would open, but seeing no one, she opened it fully and went out on the steps; still she saw no person, although she thought whoever rang the bell had not had time to get out of sight. Waiting a little without result, she went back to the kitchen.

"Who was it?" cried the children.

"No one," she said.

"But the bell rang," said John.

"Of course it did," Will corroborated.

"And somebody must have rung it," John said.

"Some one for a trick, I suppose," Bessie said, "although I don't know how he disappeared so fast."

Without further remark the game was resumed. Edwin had caught John, and John had caught Bessie, and when he was putting the handkerchief round her eyes Mr. Forrester said, "You are making it far too tight, John: you are hurting your sister."

"No fear," said John: "none of us have soft heads here. Is it too tight, Bessie?"

"Rather, but I can bear it: go on."

"I'll slacken it first," Edwin said.

"Thank you, that will do. Now move off or I'll catch you." She went very vigorously to work, and sent them all flying round the kitchen, when the bell rang, and rang loudly, again.

John darted to the door and flung it wide, sure that he would see the person who rang it, whether running away or not; but there was no one, and the whole party followed him out, and they surveyed round and round, but all was still and quiet and vacant, the moonlight making it impossible that any figure should be there without being seen.

Now, if you lived in an ordinary house in an ordinary street in an ordinary town, an incident like this would create no surprise. It happens often: true, it is not a very new or bright joke, still it is a joke that boys and girls enjoy, and will continue to enjoy. But away in the country, at an old castle, with no house within a quarter of a mile of it, the case is very different. How was it to be accounted for?

The Ormistons came in, the girls looking scared, and the boys laughing and saying that Mary Stuart or Darnley or Bothwell, whose names they had made so free with shouting to the echo, must have heard themselves called and were ringing the bell, although not allowed to show themselves; but even as they said it the boys would fain have whistled to keep their courage up.

"I wish papa and mamma had been at home," said Bell.

"Or if only the Parkers could have been persuaded to stay all night," suggested Jessie.

"Nonsense!" Bessie said. "Some one is playing us a trick, but we don't need to let it spoil our game;" and she put the handkerchief over her eyes. "Look here, Edwin: will you tie this? You do it better than John."

"He doesn't," said John. "I believe he leaves it so that you can see. I'll do it. No, I won't make it too tight."

"Don't you think, Jessie," Edwin asked, "that I could protect you, in case of danger, as well as the Parkers?"

"I don't know. Perhaps if you were like yourself, but you're not like yourself."

"He's as dull as ditch-water," said John.

"But," said Jessie, taking his hand with a feeling of security, "you're better than nothing—a great deal better than nothing."

"Thank you, Jessie, thank you! A man is the better for a little encouragement, you know;" and he looked at the Rose, but she was blind; which made her easier looked at, to be sure, but there was less chance of an answer, encouraging or otherwise.

They had got up the spirit of the game again, and were going on briskly, when they were all brought to a stand by the bell ringing for the third time.

"Don't stop," cried Bessie: "go on with the game and take no notice unless it rings again;" and as a leader who must show no fear she chased her sisters round the kitchen, making them flee to avoid being caught, when, as if in answer to her remark, the bell did ring again.

This was too much. They all ran to the door, but neither human being nor ghost was to be seen.

"I say," said John to his brother, "you and I will go out and watch. Edwin, you'll stay with the girls—they are frightened—and if the bell rings again we'll see who does it."

"You have more need of Edwin than we have, John," Bessie said: "it will take you all to catch a ghost."

"Come away, then," cried John; and he posted his sentinels at different angles, where each could have his eye on the door. The girls shut themselves in the house, and outside and in they awaited the result.

There was no result.

Ordinary sentinels can pace to and fro to make the moments go more quickly, but Edwin and John and William were compelled to stand without speech or motion, as to betray their presence would have been to defeat their purpose. At the end of half an hour their patience was worn out, and they came to the conclusion that whoever was playing the trick knew that they were watching; so they went in, and hardly were they in and the door shut when the bell rang again.

John rushed from the kitchen, whither he had gone for something, but the others, being in the dining-room and nearer the door, reached it before him; and again nothing was to be seen but the still calm night, in which hung the moon with all her accustomed unimpassioned serenity. What cared she for ghosts? Perhaps she is only a ghost herself, else why, with all her pale quiet ways, does she never turn round and show herself thoroughly? No doubt she has reasons of her own, whether they are good or not: her sex is apt to be both capricious and persistent—two qualities which she possesses in perfection.

The Ormistons and Edwin stood out on the broad walk before the door, none of them feeling very comfortable, if the truth must be told, but none of them showing their feelings except Bell and Jessie, who openly declared that they were very much frightened.

"Nonsense!" said Bessie. "Who is going to be frightened at a silly trick?"

"But it may be somebody wanting to get in to do us harm—kill us perhaps," suggested Bell.

"People who want to get into a house for bad ends don't ring the front doorbell, or any bell," said Bessie.

At this junction two figures appeared in the distance advancing along the road to the castle—soon made out to be the servants, so that they at least were guiltless in the affair.

"It has not been them, you see," cried John.

"No," Bessie said, "and you are not to say anything about it to them when they come: if they know anything of it, it will soon leak out; and if they don't tell, they will be quite frightened: they are as easily frightened as Bell or Jessie here."

V.

All this time Mr. Forrester was feeling—not frightened certainly, but—perplexed; and while he could not but admire Miss Ormiston's coolness and courage, he could not help wishing that she had been just a little bit chicken-hearted: it would have been so delightful to have to act as protector and supporter. But there was no opening whatever for such a position: she took the mysterious affair into her own hands and pooh-poohed it entirely.

They were accustomed to early hours at Cockhoolet, but when the time came for going to bed the girls declared they were too frightened to go up stairs alone. "It would be far better," they both said, "for us to stay here all together in this room till morning: we could sit up quite well."

"Absurd!" said Bessie.

"Well, we could not sleep even if we were in bed," they protested.

"No fear," said the châtelaine. "If you were to sit up all night you would be like ghosts yourselves to-morrow morning. Come, I'll go with you and sit beside you till you sleep. But wait a minute till I come back."

When they were bidding Mr. Forrester good-night he said to the girls, "If anything happens let me know."

"Nothing will happen," said Bessie: "the bell is quiet now and the servants are sound asleep. I have just been looking at them, and the sooner we follow their example the better."

"What are we to do if we hear the bell ring again?" John asked.

"Nothing. Keep below the blankets, John," his sister said. "It will ring a loud peal indeed if you hear it: I think a cannon might be fired at your ear without disturbing you."

"That's a mistake," said John, "I am a remarkably light sleeper: a fly on my nose will make me turn round any time."

"I believe that, but it won't waken you. Good-night;" and she took a hand of each of her sisters and went off with all the dignity beseeming her position as head of the family and governor of the castle. Her presence being withdrawn, Edwin felt much as you do on a March day when the sun goes under a cloud, although he had not enjoyed the sun either, owing to the undercurrent of east wind that continually chilled him. He almost determined to give it up. Of what use was it? Evidently she did not care for him, and the words, "Mr. Forrester here again! he must surely be dull at home," sounded in his ears. Very east-windy they were; still, he loved her with a great love, and he could not give her up: he was in a mist, and could see neither to go back nor forward.

"I say, Edwin," said John confidentially, "what do you think about this bell business? Of course one couldn't speak of it before the girls, they are frightened enough already—Bessie too, although she pretends not. What's your own private opinion about it?"

"Oh, it must be a ghost," said Edwin: "they do things of that kind, you know—turn tables and rap and so on. I've been thinking I must be an unconscious medium."

"Well," said John, "I, for one, don't believe in that kind of thing: if the spirits ever told anything worth hearing, or did anything worth doing, it might be different; but would Darnley or Bothwell or the abbot, or even any of the smaller fry of monks, come back here to ring a bell? I know in their place it's what I wouldn't do myself."

"It would depend on where they are and how employed," said Edwin: "like some other people, they may be dull at home."

"Ah, that's what Bessie said that's sticking in your throat. Man, it's no use minding what girls say: I never do.

"The spirits must be deplorably dull if ringing a bell is a diversion to them."

"They may enjoy mystifying us," said Edwin. "Who knows but they are listening just now, and laughing in whatever they may have instead of sleeves?"

"I'm not frightened," said Will, "but I don't like subjects of this kind at bedtime, so I wish you wouldn't say any more about it."

"It seems, however, that the bell was rung by invisible agency," said John.

"Come, come, we'll stop talking and go to bed," Edwin said.

"But, Edwin," said Will with big eyes, out of which he could not keep a frightened look, "do you think a spirit did it?"

"No: it is a trick, and you'll find out who did it before long."

"Well," said John, "it was a stupid trick, but cleverly done—very cleverly done, or whoever did it would not have escaped me."

"I should not like to sleep alone to-night," Will said to his brother in confidence when they were in their own room, "and I don't believe you would either, although you don't say so. I wonder if Edwin likes it, away from every one too, in that room with the hole in its roof? I wonder papa does not get that hole mended?"

"He has often spoken about it," said John, "but if I slept in that room I should rather like the hole. It's uncommon: every room hasn't a hole in its roof. If you couldn't sleep, for instance, you'd have only to stare at the hole, and you would doze off before you knew."

"Staring at it would only keep me from sleeping," Will said: "I should always think something was looking at me through it."

"What could look at you but light—moonlight or daylight from the room above? In the dark you would the hole."

"Let's sleep," said Will; and, forgetting ghosts and bells and all influences, the two boys were soon asleep.

It is to be hoped the girls were asleep also; indeed, there is little doubt the younger ones were. But Bessie, with the cares of a castle on her head, the mysteries of the evening to perplex her, and an unfortunate love-affair going more and more awry, how was it with her?

And Edwin, in his remote room with its hole in the roof, how did he fare? He had gone up a stone staircase, through a long passage and down a short flight of steps, into a room large, somewhat low in ceiling, and, with the exception of the hole, most comfortably appointed. It felt warm, rather too warm, and he did not replenish the fire, preferring to let it go out. The room and the way to it were both very familiar to him, and, like John, he enjoyed the hole: staring at it made you sleep, and when not sleeping your fancy could play round it to any extent. On this night the light of the moon, shining in at the shutterless windows of the empty room above, fell across its floor, and gleamed down through the opening.

A superstitious person with a talent for being eerie would have had nice scope for being frightened out of his senses in a situation like this—alone in a distant room of an old castle where bells rang mysteriously, and with borrowed moonlight peering down from above like a ghost looking for ghosts. But Mr. Forrester was not superstitious—not in the least. He feared nothing material or immaterial except—and it was a curious exception—except Bessie Ormiston; yet it is true he loved her, perfectly as he thought, but there was a flaw somewhere: it was not the perfect love that casteth out fear. The turning of a straw, however, might make it that, but who was to turn the straw? He feared to do it, and she would not. Notwithstanding these perturbed and cantankerous circumstances, these two people, being young and naturally sleepy, slept.

How long he had been sleeping Edwin did not know, when he awoke suddenly, as if he had been startled by some noise. However, he might have been dreaming: he did not know. The fire was thoroughly out and black, there was no ray of light from the roof, and the window-curtains being closely drawn, if there was any light outside it was effectually shut out: the room was as dark as midnight.

He rose, and finding his way to the table groped for a box of matches that he had noticed lying there, and lighted his lamp, when, looking at his watch, he found the hour to be half-past three. Before going to bed again he thought he would see what night it was. Accordingly, he opened the curtains and shutters and gazed forth. The moon had disappeared—which was not remarkable, as it was past her hour for retiring—and the night was very dark and hazy. But a remarkable object met his eye. But from an angle of the house, and toward the corner of the field which had been the site of the ancient monastery, there stood a column five or six feet in height of what through the haze appeared luminous vapor. It seemed such an altogether unaccountable thing, standing there, that Edwin pushed the window open and rubbed his eyes to get a better sight of it. He expected it would disappear in some way almost immediately, but it did not: there it stood, perfectly still and perfectly distinct, at the corner of the field, where there was absolutely nothing to cause it. He watched it for a considerable time, and as his eye got accustomed to peering into the darkness, he could see there was nothing near it, and not a sound disturbed the stillness of the night.

"That's not a trick," he thought: "no one would think it worth while to play a trick, certain of being without an audience either to see or hear it. I question even if it is the abbot himself; or if he likes to air himself there in the middle of a winter night, he must be too hot at home, if not too dull."

A filmy mantle of pale white vapor is surely a more likely garment for a spirit to snatch up and wrap round him when about to indulge in an earthly tour than the conventional and traditionary white sheet: in point of fact, for the sheet he must wait till he arrives in our world, and when he does arrive he must of necessity help himself to it; which I, for one, should be sorry to think any well-conditioned ghost would do; but light, pale shadowy light, lying about everywhere for the picking up, what so suitable as raiment for a being who has nothing to wear?

It could not but occur to Edwin, Had the abbot come back to his old haunt on some errand? Had he a benevolent ghostly interest in its present inhabitants? Here was a work in which even a spirit of mark might engage without loss of dignity and with perfect propriety. He might turn tables on the perverse circumstances that kept two young people separate; and if marriages are made in heaven, an angel need not despise such a mission as making two lovers happy.

"Well" thought Edwin, "if you are Abbot John, how do you like to see the dear old stones of your monastery built into dykes? or would you have preferred seeing them applied to villa purposes?" If it were the abbot, Edwin felt he would like to have that familiar kind of intercourse with him which in our country is known as twa-handed crack; and if it were not the abbot, he had a wonderful curiosity to know what it was—to have it accounted for. There it stood, apparently as firm and sure as the first moment he had seen it; and a cause it must have.

Accordingly, he dressed himself with the intention of proceeding to the spot to interview the abbot and see what kind of stuff he was made of. Mr. Forrester took the lamp in his hand and opened the room-door softly: not that he thought any one would hear him, but soft sounds best become the stillness of the night. As he went down the stairs he became conscious of a cold air playing about, as if from an open door or window. He set his lamp on the stone sill of the passage-window, and had his hand on the key of the outer door to unlock it, when he heard a quick, sudden scream, apparently from the oldest part of the building. He listened intently for a second, but there was no repetition of it, and everything was perfectly quiet.

"That was human," he said to himself; and seizing his lamp he ran along till he came to the door of the ancient keep, which was standing open: he took the way he and the rest of the party had gone the previous afternoon, and found the doors that were usually kept locked all open. Going on very hurriedly, he came to the room where the bare rafters were the only flooring, and at the other end of it he saw something like a white heap gleaming. He strode across instantly, and stooping with the light in hand discovered Bessie Ormiston lying in a dead faint just at the edge of one of the rafters: the least movement would have sent her down on the hard pavement below. He did not stop to think how she came to be there: setting his lamp where it would light him across the dangerous flooring, he lifted her up and threaded the passages and stairs in the darkness till he laid her safe on the dining-room sofa, still unconscious.

Kneeling beside her in the darkness, he felt that her face and hands were very cold. He did not know what to do. If she had been any other person, he would have had his senses about him, but, being who she was, they had scattered themselves, and he felt dazed. The fire was not quite out, and he thought of smashing up a chair to make it burn, but searching in the coal-scuttle at the side, of the fireplace, he found both sticks and coals, and heaped them on: then he lighted the lamp that was still standing on the table. All this was the work of a minute or two. A fainting-fit was quite beyond the range of his experience, but he had some vague idea that in cases of the kind water should be dashed in the face or a smelling-bottle held to the nostrils or brandy poured down the throat; but none of these things were at hand, and as he looked at Bessie, hesitating what to do, he saw the color steal back to her face, and she opened her eyes and suddenly shut them. When she opened them again she took his presence as a matter of course, and said, "I sometimes walk in my sleep, I know, but I am not in the habit of fainting;" and she smiled, looking much more like the lily than the rose.

"I hope not," he said.

"It was the fright I got when I woke and saw where I was. I shouldn't have been frightened, for I knew the place as well as I know this room, and could have found my way back in the dark."

"What can I get for you?—you must have something." It is an awkward thing when a nurse has to seek directions from a patient.

"Nothing," she said: "I can take nothing, and I am quite well. I can't think how I was so foolish as to scream, and I am sorry for disturbing you."

"You did not disturb me: if I had been asleep I should never have heard you."

"I wish you had been asleep."

"You might have fallen through the rafters and been hurt or perished of cold."

"I shouldn't have fallen through the rafters: I should have come to myself and have walked back quite well alone; but I am not the less obliged to you."

"I should say not," he said with a curl of sarcasm. "Then is there nothing I can do for you?"

"Nothing, unless, indeed, you could get hot water for me to wash my feet in. Sleeping as I was, I had the good sense to put on a thick shawl, but I made my excursion barefoot: they say walking barefoot improves one's carriage."

"Bessie, I never know what to make of you."

"If you know what to make of yourself it's a great matter: sometimes people don't know that," she said, rather wearily.

"I had better make myself scarce at present, probably?" he said.

"I think so."

"Then good-night. You won't faint again?"

"No: good-night."

He left the room and shut the door gently, but when a few paces away some impulse moved him to go back: she might faint again, and he would ask if he should send one of the servants to her.

When he opened the door she was sitting with her face hidden in her hands. At the sound of the door opening she glanced up, and Edwin saw tears.

She turned away instantly. He went up to her and said, "I did not mean to intrude. I forgot to ask if I should tell one of the servants to come."

"No, you needn't."

"Bessie," he said, "you are not well, and something is vexing you. Could you not tell me about it. I mean nothing but kindness."

"I know you don't," she said almost fiercely, "and I hate kindness: it's an insult."

He stood in blank astonishment, "An insult?" he said.

"Yes, an insult; and if you were not obtuse you would see it. But you don't see and you don't feel, or you would never have tried to make any one care for you for whom you did not care a bit. But I won't care for you, and I don't."

Off her guard, she had been stung into this. She was standing away from him, her head erect and her eyes gleaming through tears: Mary Stuart herself could not have been more effective.

"Care for you! not care for you!" he said in a voice he could hardly control. "I have cared for you as I never cared for a thing on earth: I have loved and shall love you as I have never loved a human being."

"How am I to believe it? Why did you not say it? Why did you not say it without making me ashamed of myself?"

"Ashamed! Oh, Bessie, I only feared to annoy you."

"Annoy!"

He gathered her to him and kissed her.

A castle all to themselves at four o'clock in the morning is a piece of fortune that rarely falls to lovers, and they need not expect it; but those great thick walls were no way taken by surprise: they had not been confidants of this kind of thing off and on for four or five hundred years to be taken by surprise now. Whether after such long familiarity with the old story they felt it any way stale, you will readily believe they did not say.

VI.

"I've forgotten the abbot entirely," said Edwin when he had time to come to himself after the first draught of miraculous champagne. "I was on my way to investigate his ghost when I heard an unaccountable scream."

"I never screamed before, and I don't think I shall ever scream again: I don't know how I have been so weak to-night."

"Weakness always draws out kindness," said Edwin.

"I would rather be weak than obtuse," said Bessie.

"But it is better to be only obtuse than both. I know someone who was both."

Well, what was I to think, and what could I do?"

"Nothing better than you did—make a declar—"

"What were you saying about the abbot's ghost?"

"I was on my way to have an interview with it when—"

"What was it like, and where did you find it?"

"It was like a column of light standing not far from the house near the corner of the abbey-field."

"And you did not think of any explanation of the phenomenon?"

"No, I did not: it seemed more mysterious even than the ringing of the bell."

"To obtuse people it does."

"I thought the abbot might be feeling without a home, and sympathized with him, I assure you, very heartily."

"I can tell you what it is: the servants had to rise at three this morning to work. It is the light shining out from the laundry-window: I've seen it often enough."

"Well, it was a providential ghost for you and Edwin."

"[illegible]" said John when they were assembled at breakfast next morning, looking no worse for the excitement of the previous evening, having all slept well: if the bell had rung it had disturbed no one at all. Mr. Forrester and Bessie had not made any one the wiser of the well-timed appearance of the abbot's ghost which had played such an effective part in their previous night's drama,—"I say," he said looking at Mr. Forrester and then at Bessie, "there is some understanding between you two; you are always looking at each other, and when you entered the room this morning you [illegible], and started off [illegible] been caught. But I have [illegible] this time."

Bessie realized that her secret had become common property, and blushed becomingly.

Mr. Forrester said, "What have you suspected, John?"

"That Bessie and you laid your heads together to make the bell ring last night to frighten us. Remember, I'm not stupid altogether."

"I assure you, John, I had nothing to do with the ringing of the bell," Bessie said.

"Nor had I," said Edwin.

"That's queer, then," said John; "but I'm sure there's something of some kind between you two: you're planning something, I know. What is it?"

"Wise people don't reveal their plans to every one till near the time for executing them, John," said Edwin.

"Oh, very well," John answered: "you can keep them to yourselves. I dare say it's nothing of consequence;" and having finished his breakfast, John was off to his out-door business. The shortest cut to his destination—and he always took short cuts—was through the kitchen, and as he hastily brushed along the wall toward the door he was brought up suddenly by a loud peal of the bell, and he looked at one of the servants, who was working at the table, as much as to say, "Do you hear that?"

She answered his look: "Yes, I ha'en, but there's naebody at the door. It was yu that rang the bell: ye cam against that bag of worsted clues for durning that I hung on the bell-wine yesterday. When onybody happens to touch it the weight o' 't gars the bell ring; I would hae to ta'en off."

With this simple and inglorious explanation John rushed to the dining-room where he found Mrs. Forrester and the châtelaine in deep Conspiracy again; and to this hour the ghost of Cockhoolet is a matter (if you can use that word in connection with a ghost at all) of faith and not of sight.

When Mrs. and Mrs. Ormiston returned they found that their eldest daughter was engaged to be married, which surprised them as little as it did the old woman but moved them a good deal more.