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Legends of Leys: collected from oral traditions of the Burnett family, and ... online

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FROM THB BXqUBST OP

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)N a low roofed and carelessly furnished room, at the
top of one of the picturesque old castles of the North
of Scotland, sat, one autumn evening, an elderly
English Nurse and three young children. It had
been a wild stormy day. Now, in the deepening
twilight, the clouds were gathering thicker, and the rising
wind was howling among the turrets and battlements, and
scattering the leaves of the chestnut and lime trees, which
swept the lawns with their long branches. " What a
storm," said the eldest girl, rising from the hearth-rug,
where Willie and Katie still turned their picture-books by
the fire light. '*It will be like last night" — she added,
leaning against the turret window — " I fancied the Green
Lady moaning and shrieking in the old hall there, and all
the murdered men that Barbara tells about, assembling
there too to seek revenge. Such strange noises there were,
groans and cries between the gusts of wind — Did you hear



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IV



them, Nurse" ? " I heard t' owls,Jtfissie, loud enough," said
Nurse, shortly; for, though dismally superstitious herself,
she always checked any such fancies in her young charge.
" If you'd been asleep, as you should have been, you'd hear
no noises I warrant," " But I could'nt sleep, Nurse," per-
sisted Missie, coming to the old woman's knee. " Oh ! I
was so frightened, and Barbara says" — '*well, well, never
mind Barbara," replied Nurse ; " if you don't sleep sounder
to-night, I'll give you V dose of something in t' morning,
to cure such whimsies," Willie and Katie laughed at
this odd receipt against fear of ghosts, and Missie re-
treated in huge disdain to her window. " I wish Hannah
would come with t' milk for your suppers, bairns," con-
tinued Nurse — " she's been away more than half an hour,
silly thing, and you're to dress yet for dessert." " T
wish she'd come, and bring t' candle," said little Katie,
in Nurse's own dialect ; " for I've lost t' thimble, and
there's Willie with t' book, wW end oop 'stead of 't' head ! "
Before Willie could defend himself from this laughing
charge, the door of the old hall at the end of the passage,
was heard to shut with a loud bang. They all started ; for
though it was the favourite play-room of the children in
day-light, none of them would have entered it after dark,
in consequence of the stories told by the servants at the
Castle, and sometimes even by Qrandmanmia herself. What



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the vaulted old hall had originally been, was rather a
mystery : some said a chapel — others called it the " Hall of
Justice" — now it was a mere lumber room, where stood
chests of old armour, swords, leathern coats, &c., which
were little cared for by the family, and served as playthings
for the children during their holiday visits to the Castle.
A rustling noise was heard in the passage, and a slow
solemn step, or rather tap, which made the listeners hold
their breath as it approached. The door of the nursery was
thrown open, and their appeared within it, a figure which
might have been that of any ghost in the Castle, even
the Green Lady herself, dressed in a hooped petticoat, a
ruflf round its neck, and high plumes of black feathers on its
head; it bowed and nodded, and waved its arms, while
Nurse and children uttered exclamations of surprise and
alarm. Missie, indeed, flung herself on her knees at the
Nurse's feet, and hiding her face in her lap, shrieked in such
frantic terror, as showed how powerful was the impression
made on her vivid and susceptible imagination. " Hush
hush, Missie, for goodness' sake, don't scream so," said the
familiar voice of Hannah, the nursery girl. '' It's only me,
I thought it would amuse you" — and she advanced into the
room : the laughing face of the maid who had helped
her to dress, appearing over her shoulder — " Get along you
fond thing," cried Nurse, indignantly, " take off that non-



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VI



sense, and get t' supper — ^to frighten t* bairns that way ! "
But the children crowded round Hannah, laughing at their
late fears, and inquiring where she found that wonderful
dress. It was in one of the old chests in the hall, and nothing
but fear of the darkness prevented them from neglecting
their supper, and instantly exploring for further treasures
— " My lady wishes to see the children/* announced Mrs.
Barbara ; and faces were washed, and curls were smoothed,
and the children descended the long winding stairs to the
dining room. " Now we 11 ask Grandmamma for a story,"
whispered Missie, " I daresay she knows all about the Green
Lady, and who that dress belonged to." And it was from
"Grandma's'* stories, from hints and allusions in the
family tree, and a little exercise, perhaps, of imagination, that
the following Legends and Tales have been from time to
time collected and arranged.



XoTE. — The family of Barnett of Leys is of Norman descent, and came over
with William the Conqueror. The original name was De Bernard.



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Long, long ago, before the blessed light of the Eeformation had
dawned upon Scotland, there stood on the north bank of the river
Dee, about eighteen miles from Aberdeen, a small religious house or
monastery, dedicated to St. Temanus. The spot was sheltered and
picturesque. The broad river was broken into rapids by large stones
and fragments of rocks, and divided by four or five little islets^
covered with yellow furze, and fringed with alder. Looking west-
ward, the view was bounded by the blue hills of the Grampians,
rising higher and higher, till they terminated in Loch-na-gar, and Ben
Micdhui. To the north, the level country stretched away in noble
oak forests, with their opening glades, and occasional swamps, to the
bottom of the low, bare, and rugged hill of Fare. The monastery
was built in the form of a quadrangle, one side being formed by the
house of the superior, and the chapel ; beyond which, along the river's
bank, lay the quiet churchyard, planted round, as was also the north
side of the monastery, with fine ash trees. The whole building was
constructed for defence, as well as retirement ; for the highland clans,
from the head of Dee, made not unfrequent inroads on the lowland
country where the monks had settled ; consequently the lower storeys
were arched, and lighted only by slits in the massive walls, while
the upper part was defended by the round turrets, characteristic of
the Scottish architecture of that period. Strong gates protected the
court of the quadrangle, and beyond it, sloping up the bank, till it
reached the confines of the forest, lay the gardens and com fields



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cultivated by the monks with care and diligence. A well of pure
water (still known by the name of the saint), was duly prized and
protected, and to it was attached an iron chain and drinking cup, for
the benefit of the weary traveller. For about two miles to the north-
ward, a road wound through the forest, terminating in a wide open
space where lay a large sheet of water, known as the Loch of Leys,
and on the margin of which the powerful Baron De Bernard of Leys
had his residence. A few large oaks and beeches flung their giant
arms in friendly shelter round the house, defending it from the cold
blasts which swept across the hill of Fare, and the green-sward came
up to the outer gates, like a natural lawn. The house, built in the
same style as the monastery, fronted the south, and from the eastern
gable there ran a causeway raised on piles, extending some distance
into the lake, and terminating in a strong square tower, entered by a
narrow arched portal, consisting of two storeys of one appartment each,
and strongly battlemented on the top. To this tower the family
might retire, should the fortune of war drive them from the more ex-
posed House of Leys. Robert de Bernard held the office of king^s
forester, in right of charters granted by King Robert the Bruce to his
ancestor— a gallant knight of Norman descent, who had rendered the
Bruce good service in his struggle for the Scottish crown. The
woods were strictly preserved for the royal sport — and the splendid
deer, of a now extinct species, and much larger than any now found
in Scotland, tossed their huge antlers in proud security, seldom dis-
turbed in their woodland domain — ^for the times of James III. were
dark and troubled, and his wars and quarrels with the fierce Douglases,
left him little leisure for the hunting field : so the Baron lorded it at
his pleasure over the surrounding country, possessing extensive estates,
and many privileges, in virtue of his office. Though more familiar
with sword and spear — with hound and hawk — ^than with the arts of
reading and writing, he continued to be on friendly and even intimate
terms with the good old superior of St. Temanus, whose mule might



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9

often be seen ambling through the forest to the House of Leys, and
whose advice and counsel were always sought and often taloen by tite
imperious Baron. Never^ too, did De Bernard hunt or fish for the
supply of his own table, without a portion of the spoil finding its way
to the Monastery, besides the two fat bucks a-year, allowed by the
king to the monks ; while an abundant weekly supply of pikes and
eels were furnished by the Baron himself from the waters of the Loch.
Still more welcome was the amiable Father Francis to the Lady of
Leys, who looked upon him as a miracle of learning and wisdom, and
listened with pride and delight while he examined her two boys, as to
Ae progress they made in their studies under Brother Cyril, to whom
.was committed the care of their education. The Lady waa a woman
of a gentle and yet firm disposition, of a handsome person, and
gracious manners, ruling her household well and wisely, and exer-
cising a steady influence for good over her more impetuous and often
passionate husband. Her sons worshipped her — especially the eldest,
William, a gentle, earnest, dreamy, youth, who would gladly have
resigned his heirship to his bold, bright younger brother, Eobert,
for leave to enter the monastery, to read, and study, and meditate, by
the side of his beloved Father Francis.

iSuch were the inmates of the House of Leys ; and the neighbour-
hood had enjoyed a period of unusual tranquillity, though faction and
war were rife as ever in the southern parts of Scotland. De Bernard
had one brother. Sir Gilbert, who, leaving his own country, as page to
some noble lord, at a very early age, had won his spurs and knight-
hood at the Court of France. Of a tall and powerful form, he
possessed the broad open brow, and handsome head, characteristic
of his race, and in his bright blue eye, was that winning glance, half
entreaty, half command, which woman's heart so rarely resists.
Certainly the heart of Adele de Montemar had long confessed its
spell ; but Sir Gilbert was poor, and she not only the fairest of the
French Queen's bevy of fair maids of honour, but heiress of gold and

B



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jewels to no small amotuit. Sir Gilbert sighed in silence — he wore
her colours in the toumay ; and even on the deadUer battle field, her
little embroidered glove shone conscipuous on his helmet. But not
till Adele had refused the many cavaliers who sighed at her feet —
not till he had seen her weep and wring her hands, when some acci-
dent befel him in the lists — did Sir Gilbert resolve to throw himself on
her mercy, and offer her all he had — his trusty sword, and his noble
honest heart — and these Adele joyfully accepted. For what was
wealth ? — had she not enough for both ? and she would go to Scot-
land with him, to see the free wild woods where he had chased the
deer, the lake he had bathed in, the home of his boyhood, now half
forgotten, but brighter than ever through the golden haze of memory.
So Sir Gilbert sent a trusty messenger (the good knight, we blush to
say it, was little used to his pen) to his brother of Leys, with the in-
telligence of his marriage, and of his wish to live once more at home.
The Baron and his Lady were both delighted. The House of Camp-
field, built in the same style as that of Leys, though smaller and more
rude, was at once put in repair and fitted up, according to the taste
and means of the time. And when Sir Gilbert and his fair young
bride landed, after a tedious stormy passage, at the port of Aberdeen,
they found a cardial welcome to their new abode, and in their brother's
estimation, every comfort they could require. But, alas 1 for the
contrast ! after the gay luxurious Court of France, what a scene of
barbarous discomfort it presented. The house stood on the top of a
rising ground, above the lake and woods, and fearfully exposed to the
northern blasts. The low portal gave entrance to a narrow winding
stair, usually filled with the smoke which rolled along the vaulted
kitchen at its foot, and which was merely lighted by the blaze in the
ample fire-place ; for windows on the ground floor would have been a
dangerous luxury. Up to the large common room, with a smaller one
within, a ladies' withdrawing room, from which a door in one corner
communicated with another narrow stair, leading to two or three



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sleeping apartments. No hangings, no couches, no pictures— a few
high straight-backed chairs, rudely carved, were the most ornamental
part of the furniture. And Sir Gilbert wondered, half afraid, half
ashamed — how his memory could have so deceived him, as to allow
of the vivid description he had given to his wife, of all relating to his
childhood. Poor Adele wept and wailed for three whole days — a long
time for a volatile and suggestive little French woman — at the end of
these, she summoned her two attendants, Jacques and Margot, and
with their willing and active assistance soon planned and executed
many alterations and improvements. Her boxes were unpacked, and
stores of arras, of linen, and of plate produced, while French nick-knacks,
unknown in Scotland for centuries after, gave a graceful air to her
own boudoir. A garden was laid out in a sheltered nook, and stocked
by Jacques with those herbs and fruits so indispensable in French
economy. And the foreign air, d/ess, and manners, of the new
comers, made Campfield a constant resort for the few neighbours
around, who never wearied in expressing their wonder and admiration.
Adele was quite reconciled, and when, a year after her arrival, a baby
girl was added to her home, she felt she had nothing more to ask or
desire. The Lady of Leys fondled and nursed the little Beatrice,
but wondered at its dark hair, and eyes, and skin; and#always re-
turned to admire the more, her own fair, blue-eyed boys, so different
from the little French fairy. But as Beatrice grew older, her com-
plexion became that of 'a clear bright brunette, her hair was twined
in rich dark masses round her graceful statue-like head, or fell in
long wavy curls over her slender throat, and sloping shoulders. She
was a lovely girl, calm and quiet in all her ways, and with an expres-
sion of deep thought in her earnest hazel eyes, and a shade of sadness
on her fair forehead ; while the sweet mouth, dimpling into playful
smiles, showed a temper which made her the sunshine of the house,
and the delight of her father's heart. As to her education, Madame,
aa she was called, could instruct her in dancing, singing, and playing



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the lute ; Margot was a proficient in the mysteries of embroidery
and tapestrj*work ; and little Beatrice shared with her cousins, some-
times at home, and sometimes at the House of Leys, in the lessons of
Brother Cyril. And so they grew up ; William and Beatrice still
continuing to study together, while Robert became more and more
the companion of his father and uncle. To Sir Gilbert he was greatly
attached, accompanying him in his long day's sport, and through the
woods and moors, which he still trode with a step as light, and a figure
as erect, and almost as youthful as his nephew's. He was beloved by
all around — many a culprit brought for punishment to the Baron did
he beg ofi* — ^many a petty trespass in lake and forest did he conceal
with a firm yet kindly warning against its repetition. The rough
out>-spoken De Bernard was half^iked, half-feared, by his dependants.
Sir Gilbert was loved as the poor man's friend ; and Bobert resembled
him in disposition as well as person. Looking on his brother as sole
heir to their father's wide domains, and gathering from his parents'
hints, that they desired Beatrice should be his wife, — ^Robert had
learnt to dread her fair and gentle presence! as a foe to his peace, and
crushing down his love in the depths of his own noble heart, he re^
solved that though he could not hope to win her, she should, at least,
hear his naine where knightly deeds were done, and £une and honour
gained. Sir Gilbert and he, therefore, set off for the Scottish capital,
where the youthful King, James lY., now held the gayest and most
chivalrous Court that Scotland had ever seen. His own fair Queen,
Margaret, had as yet no rival in his eyes ; nor had the Queen of
France yet sent him the celebrated m e ss ag e, to march three miles
across the border,, for her sake, and strike three blows on Eo^ish
ground, which resulted in the fatal field of Flodden, aad the destruc-
ti<»i of all his chivahy. So William and Beatrice were left alone, aad
in the long soft summer evenings he lay on tiie green-sward at her
feet, and told her tales of saints and martyrs, of knights vowed to
solitude and meditation, and devested to the cross, or theiioly s^ulchre*



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Perhaps she would rather have listened to other tales, for her whole
heart was his, and while she fain would have been as rapt and un*
worldly as her saint-like cousin, in her secret heart she shrunk from
his longings after monastic life, as she would have done from a
convent for herself*

Meantime, a dispute arose between De Bernard and his next
neighbour, the Knight of Drum, regarding an exchange of part of
their respective estates, for the mutual advantage of both. But the
fiery Baron waxed so wrothfiil and unreasonable, that the Knight
at last drew back frt>m the proposal, and refused all further negotia*
tions. De Bernard repaired to the monastery for he^ and counsel —
old Father Francis was dead, and had been succeeded by Father
Ambrose, a man of sterner disposition, and less inclined to be indulgent
to the failings and passions of his flock. To him, with mudi vehemence,
the Baron made his complaint. The Father shook his head. ^^ I see
not how I can help you, my son* What would you have me to do ? '^
^^ Counsel him first, and exconmiunicate if he refuses !*' was the fierce
reply. '' My son, beware 1" said the Superior, ^^ tiie censures of the
church are not to be thus lightly dealt with ; beware, too, of the sin
of covetousness — ^r^nember the fate of King Ahab when he coveted"

" Father, I am no learned man," interrupted the Baron, " your

Greek and heathen kings^' ^^ Blaspheme not ! Baron of Iieys,"

said Ambrose solemnly, ^^ learned I know you are not ; and in your
blkidness and utter ignorance it would become you to listen with
rever^ce to the words of holy writ I was about to qnote." The
Baron stood a moment abashed, then glad to catch at any cause of
offence, he indignantly repeated, ^^ BUndness and utter ignorance, for-
sooth 1" — turned on bis heel, and with scant courtesy, qnitted the
apartment. Unluckily, as he rode moodily homewards, he encountered
the servants of the monafitoy, returning with their well-filled baskets of
fifiii fresh from the Loch of Leys. ^^ See there" he exdaimed, turning to
his followers, ^' h(vw these lazy monks take the best my lands afford.



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iuid eat and fatten at my expense ; yet, when I ask the smallest favour
at their hands, I am reviled as a heathen and blasphemer I Seize the
fish, my men, not one morsel shall they enjoy, till they learn to respect
the hand that feeds them." But his attendants shrunk back — it was
sacrilege to touch the property of the church — and the fishermen,
scarcely understanding the command, pressed forward with their loads.
De Bernard threw himself before them, struck the foremost to the
ground, and the rest, making no further resistance, hurried off to make
their complaint to the Suj:erior — while the fish and baskets being
all flung into the Loch, the Baron and his men rode on in sullen


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Online LibraryE. M. R.Legends of Leys: collected from oral traditions of the Burnett family, and ... → online text (page 1 of 3)