My native village is, I regret to say, very little known. Historians and antiquarians, it would seem, find nothing in or around it worthy of notice. ‘Tis true that it has not the remains of a Cardinal Beaton’s Castle to be ashamed of, neither can it boast of the gorgeous ruins of a Melrose Abbey. It is a quiet, unassuming, little place, with its kirk, kirkyard, manse, and school-house. However, when its antiquities are hunted up from oblivion, it, too, can show that men have been connected with it who have borne their parts in the world’s affairs. ‘Tis not my wish, however, to render it famous; I withdraw from such a task, knowing that abler pens than mine could undertake it. Although many of the readers of the People’s Journal may never have heard of the village already alluded to, yet I trust this short narrative in connection with it may not be found out of place.
On his first entering the village the curiosity of the stranger would be aroused by the old parish church, but not being an antiquary, I cannot pretend to tell the date when this edifice was built; suffice to say that it is still there with its Gothic carved windows, chancel, and belfry, while in its shade lie the dead of many generations. Away to the east, at a short distance from the village, enclosed in a shady wood, stands the ancient mansion house of E—, the seat of a family named Bruce. One of the descendants of this house seems to have borne an active part in the persecution of the Christians; we find at least in Hislop’s “Covenanter’s Dream” the following lines:—
“’Twas the few faithful ones who with Cameron were lying,
Concealed ‘mong the mist where the heath fowls were crying,
For the horsemen of E— around them were hov’ring,
And their bridal-reins rising through the thin misty cov’ring.”
The youngsters of the village are still hushed to peace by the name “Bluidy Bruce,” if at any time they are like to rebel against their grandams! Many a time have I, when a boy, hurried past the gate leading into the avenue, with a timid side-long look, fearing lest “The Bruce” should break forth upon me! I might describe some of the other ancient places in the neighbourhood, but wish to come to the scene of my narrative.
A very little to the north of the village is a mound, whereon now grow two rows of bushy yew trees, but where, in centuries gone by, stood the Castle of L—. Nothing now of its ruins is to be seen—a few years past, the present owner of the estate ordered them to be torn down. Around the foot of the mound already mentioned ran a very broad, deep moat, which in these barbarous times formed a most important part in warfare, while on the summit of the mound, running in a direction nearly parallel to the moat, were the great broad walls of the fortress. Here and there these battlements were pierced with embrasures, while in the midst of the buildings, and towering above them, rose the strong watch-tower. The ivy would spread its green arms here and there across the strong arched doorway and neighbouring walls. Such then is a rough outline of the castle at the time in which my tale finds it. Now-a-days, however, a few reeds and sedges raise their stems above the damp ground, enough to mark the place where the moat was wont to be. One, Sir Robert de Quinci, is said to have been the founder, builder, and possessor of this fortress; but through a succession of wars and outbreaks it had been lost by the De Quinci family, and had fallen into the hands of a Celtic chief—Ness. Little is known of the history of this chieftain; his family consisted of one daughter, Luda by name; her mother had long before gone to “kindred dust.” On his daughter the chief bestowed all the kindness and affection which were in his breast: to others he was harsh, cruel, and tyrannical. Luda, to all appearance, had seen about twenty summers; fair was her countenance and elegant her form; mild and gentle she was towards all.
It was customary with her to come from her chamber a little before sunset to promenade around the battlements, and to enjoy the cooling breezes of the even. Sometimes, too, she would chant a wild melody, and cause the woods beyond to respond in faint echoes. Oft as she was on her walk would the old cheftain [sic] gaze at her from his window, and gazing, he would smile as he beheld her truly elegant form, her dark flowing hair yielding to the wavy breeze which mildly threw it over her shoulders; he sparkling eyes bespoke the kindly heart within. Oft, too, the watchman would look down from his tower, and, listening to her undulating notes, would for a moment forget his arduous duty. One evening as she was on her usual walk a group of soldiers in the castle-yard stood chatting over the various feats which each had accomplished. Luda passed near them. As she passed, did you not perceive the eyes of that youth sparkle, and his cheek have a ruddier hue? Was it the evening gale which gently kissed his cheek that he so blushed? Nay. Who cannot guess the cause? Why leaves he his companions and seeks yonder corner of the castle? Ah, it is that he may for a little longer look on that well-known form which had now passed.
Young Colmar loved; Luda loved, and both were happy in each other’s smiles. Colmar had seen the same summers which had passed over Luda; his forefathers had served the ancestors of the old chieftain, who was the only master Colmar had ever known or wished to know. But the loves of Luda and of Colmar were unknown to the chief. How earnestly the young soldier looks after the love of his heart! Why looks he so earnestly? Why does she stop and look so often round as she glides along yonder narrow passage? Now she stands at a door situated at the further end of this passage; she beckons; Colmar looks inquiringly, first at the chieftain’s casement, then at Luda, and conscious (as he thought), of not being noticed by any scrutinizing eye, he, with hurried step, passes on to the door where waits the lovely Luda. This door she opened; a short flight of the steps led down into a small chamber which was overhung with richly decorated tapestry, while the arched window, over which the ivy hung a few twigs, looked on the lawn beneath. Having carefully secured the door above, the lovers descended into the room now described. The sun was “sinking embedded in rosy clouds behind the western hill,” and the trees threw their extended shadows along the ground. The windows of the fortress glittered in the “lessening ray.” On yonder turret a young soldier lingered; his head hung pensive; his eyes were seemingly fixed on the dull moat below. He admired not the loveliness of that sunset; all seemed pleasant outwardly, yet wrath and hate were in his bosom.
The sun at last sunk from sight—the shadows had departed, yet why lingers he on the lone turret? Did we say Colmar was not seen when he hurried to Luda’s arms? Ah! the eyes of Lodin glistened as he saw the lovers meet; they sparkled not with love, but with a dark frown they sparkled with rage. His clenched hand betrayed the feeling within, and his wild countenance, as he stood thus alone, showed peace was then absent from his heart. But why is revenge in his meditations? Hear. Two full years had fled since, on an evening such as the one now described, Lodin met Luda on hear accustomed walk. He began to speak of his fond affection. She ran from and avoided him. He was eager to unfold his tale, and by curiosity Luda was constrained to listen. She then kindly showed him how vain was his passion, and leaving him amazed, left him. Her words, though gentle, cut core into the heart of Lodin, and he determined to discover who was the happy possessor of the affections of the chieftain’s daughter. After careful watchings—after many sleepless nights—he at last found out what he so earnestly desired.
We will return to the lovers, who descended into the chamber which we mentioned before. The countenance of Luda was this night more troubled than Colmar had ever seen. “Fair one, why so dejected? What disturbs the beatings of thy heart that thy countenance is sad? Do thou unfold to me the burden of thy heart, and —.” He stopped abruptly, while Luda turned appalled to the side of her chamber. They heard a low moan—another. They looked at each other and shuddered. Yet a third groan! still coming as it were from that side of the chamber, and they started back in horror. They listened, but no more sounds came. With a trembling hand Luda clutched the arm of her lover, and both stood at the window. She said with a faltering voice—“It was yesternight at this time I sat here by the window. I was singing, and methought I did hear a sound. I stopped and listened, and heard even as we have now heard. I sprang in terror to my feet. I thought the sun cast a ghastly glare in this chamber. I ran to the door, and once more walked where I thought myself in safety. Canst thou understand these noises? This it is which saddens thy Luda.” The lovers quitted the room after having tenderly impressed a kiss on each other’s lips. We will now relate how these noises arose. We saw Lodin lurking in the quiet tower which was near the door by which Luda entered her chamber. Here he discovered that Colmar was the lover of Luda. Lodin would be revenged on her for the refusal he met with, and he could not behold the happiness of Colmar; hence his hate.
Where there is a will there is also a way. Hatred cherished, alas! soon breaks forth into action. ‘Twas even so with Lodin. Having for a long time pondered as to how he could accomplish the destruction of the two fond ones, he formed the following plan, which will appear in the course of the narrative. The floor of the turret where he so often lurked was composed of pavement, and one of these flat stones he uplifted. Strange to say, here he discovered immediately beneath a stair leading downwards—he knew not where. However, as next evening approached, he provided himself with a torch, closed the stone over his head, descended the stair, and with a dagger in his hand walked forward a few yards through a passage which led into a wide room, and which seemed never to have been visited for many years gone by. The roof overhead was strongly arched, the walls were covered with a damp which hung in drops, or trickled downwards. The whole place seemed weird as he entered, and he himself clutched firmer the dagger which he held. He looked around to see if any other door led into the room, and found a small door at the other side, which he pushed open, and found himself in a little closet. What sound heard Lodin now that he flourished the gleaming dagger? What dark hole is that before him? It is a deep vault in that closet, and the rusty hinges causes it to repeat the heavy sound. He approached the mouth of this vault, and wildly gazed down. The gleam of the torch was reflected from something far below. Can this be water? A stone was dropped, but two seconds had passed ere it responded to the hand it had just left. It sunk with a gurgling noise, and the vault moaned again. While gazing he heard a noise above. He listened, and heard that same noise again. He listens more and more eagerly, and discovers that this was Luda’s voice as she sung, and that this closet was immediately beneath her little chamber. Now, a dark thought came into his mind; could he but get the two lovers to fall into this dark abyss, his revenge would be complete. He made no noise, and fearing lest this retreat might be discovered, he left the horrid closet, carefully closing the creaking door, and returning through the damp hall. At the foot of the stair he sheathed his dagger. The torch cast a frightful glare along the narrow-walled passage; and the drops of damp on the utmost end of the chamber sparkled with a dismal light. He ascended the stair. Once more he stands in the silent tower, and again replaces the stone in the floor.
That night sleep kissed not the eyes of Lodin—murderous thoughts kept him awake. One evening afterwards he saw Luda enter her chamber alone at her usual time before sunset Lodin descended into the place already described. He remained in the little closet beneath, and heard her sing, as before. He uttered a groan, which was re-echoed by the deep vault. He uttered a second, and again a third, and at last heard quickened steps leave the room above. He watched Luda and Colmar on the next even after this, and uttered the same noises as on the previous night. Thus came the moans from the side of Luda’s chamber which appalled the lovers when they met. On this second night, immediately after the fond ones left, Lodin, who remained beneath, proceeded to weaken some of the wooden planks which formed the floor of the room above and the roof of the closet beneath. He partially cut these planks in the middle, then retreated from the ghostly chamber. Some evenings after he saw the innocent, compassionate Luda, accompanied with her fond Colmar, enter their accustomed meeting-place. Lodin saw not the beautiful sunset. He hurried to the murderous closet carrying no torch. He uttered a mournful noise. Luda and Colmar trembled, and were about to leave the room. Ah! how pale their cheeks! Another heavy moan ascended, and the lovers stepped aside in terror. Oh! why did they step aside? Dreadful sight! The little chamber is empty now! Where are they? Heard ye that sound far, far below? The floor still yawned, but no more was Luda, no more was Colmar seen. But where now is the wild Lodin? It is said his restless spirit walked in yonder woods at midnight.
Oft in the pale light of the moon have I wandered by the mound, and as I heard the wind sighing among the trees I fancied I heard the cries of the unfortunate Colmar and Luda.