MY AUNT MARGARET'S MIRROR
by Sir Walter Scott
From Short Stories Published in "The Keepsake Annual" of 1828
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 pounds sterling!
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 of Aspen."
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 mind.
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 poor
"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 Margaret.
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
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 his death.
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
"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 Sumpsimus."
"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 candles."
"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
"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
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 spouse.
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 Continent?"
"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 the Gazette."
"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
"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
"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 matter."
"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 wife."
"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 her
"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 repay it."
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
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
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 servant--Baptista
"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 sister's
"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
"That question my sister must answer for herself," said Lady Bothwell.
"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 her
"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 his
"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
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 apartment.
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
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
"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
"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 sister's hands."
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
"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 Philip.
"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
"MAY be a knave! Come," said the doctor, "I am glad to hear your
ladyship allows such a possibility in anything that comes from Italy."
"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
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
"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
"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
"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 passed away.
"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
"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
"'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 Bothwell.
"'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 lady.
"'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, 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
"He was turning from her.
"'Stop,' she exclaimed; 'I will try--yes, I will try to pardon him.'
"'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 life.'
"'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
"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.