Hawthornden And Roslin
( Originally Published 1912 )
" WALKED all the way from London, did he? Whew ! Wasn't he the fat one who always spilt his soup and drank twenty-five cups of tea at a time? Should think he'd have been done for after that jaunt ! "
Very emphatically, even a bit impatiently, was John corrected by his sister. Of course it had not been eighteenth-century Dr. Johnson but seventeenth-century Ben Jonson, the poet, who had thus made his way north to pay a visit to his friend, Drummond of Hawthornden, near Edinburgh.
Toward the beautiful estate which formerly belonged to this Scotch poet, Drummond, they were now turning their steps on a fair July morning. Once before they had come, only to be sent back to the city because the days for admitting strangers had recently been changed; this time the woman at the lodge smilingly admitted them and they proceeded along the wide drive.
" I wish we could have come in rhododendron season," remarked Barbara. " See, the bushes are thick at both sides of the road, and I'm sure they had those lavender blossoms, aren't you, Mother? "
Soon they came to the old garden, full of dainty, pale tea roses, and approached by the quaintest of gateways surmounted by two ancient urns. Near by is a wonderful sycamore tree, said to be the largest in all Scotland. Try as he would, John could not focus his camera so as to take in either its height or the width of its great spreading branches. As they marveled at its beauty, a woman who was knitting in the rose-garden told them that under this very tree Drummond stood to welcome his famous English guest.
" By Jove ! " exclaimed Philip all at once. There's a tree growing up out of the castle itself ! "
The woman did not smile; she only told them, with the weary air of one having given the same information to visitors since time was, of how some one had once planted a shoot from the famous sycamore tree inside the old keep. And so it now looms up very strangely above the square tower.
" You see," said Mrs. Pitt, sitting down on a wall to rest, " this old keep once belonged to a castle built by the Bruce himself. Drummond only added his seventeenth-century house and they stir it up." Then he ran eagerly ahead to examine a curiously arranged flood-gate, the operation of which he did not well understand.
Their path now became rougher and steeper; they scrambled up over rocks, holding by the bushes and lower branches ; they crept down slippery descents; and they stepped high over the giant tree-roots. A gentleman pointed out to them a short cut to Rosslyn Chapel, away from the rocky path; following his directions, they had a hard walk across fields and up a hill side, but at last they arrived, breathless, beside far-famed Rosslyn Chapel.
" Wait a moment, children ! Just wait till I get my breath ! And my hat ! Please straighten it, Barbara. My word ! that was a climb for me ! "
Mrs. Pitt had dropped upon the grass for a moment, but she soon allowed Philip to pull her up, laughing, as he said, " Never mind, Mother; the walk was worth it ! "
Before going any nearer the chapel, they went down a path which brought them to Rosslyn Castle. A very fine old place they found it, with its picturesque ruined keep, its private chapel, and its beacon-tower from which alarms could be sent out in the olden days. On one side of the courtyard is a building which was restored in 1622; it is still used, probably by a caretaker, who has the unusual advantage of living in a beautiful old room with pitch-pine paneling and a quaint ceiling in nine squares, one of which bears the St. Clair arms.
"The lordly line of high St. Clair has been a family of note in Scotland ever since Malcolm Canmore gave the Roslin territory into the possession of the founder of the line, a Norman baron." So Mrs. Pitt was telling them. " An ancestor of his was among those with Lord James Douglas when he started for Palestine, carrying the Bruce's heart. There is a legend about a certain brave earl of this line who, to prove that his two dogs could run down a mysterious white deer which even the king's own hounds could not overtake, wagered his head against the forest of Pentland, which the king promised to give him if his dogs could perform the feat. At first it did look as though the Earl would lose, but little by little his dogs gained on the deer until finally they overtook and killed it. But it is said that St. Clair, though his life was saved, could never forget the pitiful glance which the dying deer gave him. It haunted the Earl and it seemed surely to have some strange significance for, in a terrible storm, not long after, the beautiful daughter of the house was drowned by the upsetting of her boat in the Firth. You can read the story of ' Rosabelle ' in Scott's ` Lay of the Last Minstrel,' where it is given as one of the short songs."
" Yes," said Betty, " I remember. It tells how the chapel here at Roslin seemed to be on fire that night; it always looked like that before one of the St. Clairs was to die. And then they were buried in their armor, uncovered, in the crypt, weren't they? "
Mrs. Pitt had been trying to escape the many guides who flocked the castle precincts, but she finally listened to the pleadings of one Scotch youth. They were glad afterwards for, leading them through an old garden and past an ancient Irish yew tree (from which they used to make cross-bows because the wood was very flexible), he showed them vast buildings which are not visible from the courtyard above, because they are low and slope toward the river. They wondered at the huge baronial hall measuring sixty-four feet, and at the small rooms underneath which served as soldiers' quarters, rooms practically of the same size with arched stone roofs, one window, and uneven stone floors. They were amazed at the kitchen fireplace, which their guide called the largest in Europe, and properly impressed by the entrance to a blocked-up subterranean passage, which once connected Rosslyn Castle with Hawthornden, and had several entrances through caves in the Glen of the Esk.
" Oh! burst out John; " I want to go back and find them."
They saw some tiny round holes in the outer walls of the Bell Tower, from which arrows were shot. It is very rarely that one sees round holes instead of the narrow slits. They even heard of lifts and of speaking-tubes ! Strange things indeed to stumble across in an ancient Scotch castle ! On the whole, they did not grudge the guide his fee.
" It was Earl William, living in the middle of the fifteenth century, who founded Rosslyn Chapel," said Mrs. Pitt, as they left the castle behind them at last. " It was intended as the choir of a church which was never completed. This was the St. Clair who lived in grand state, Betty, being served by real earls who boasted castles of their own; and his countess, Margaret Douglas, was attended by seventy-five gentle-women, fifty-three of whom were the daughters of noblemen. But all their power and wealth could not prevent their magnificent chapel, built in 1446, from being destroyed in the revolution of 1688. Here it stood, unroofed and without either doors or windows, for long years before it was restored. It is most interesting, I think, that the late Earl had a horror of the ancient burial custom of his family; he wanted to be outside the chapel, ` in the sunshine,' as he said, and they accordingly laid him beneath the sod at the west end of the chapel."
" Well, he was the only sensible one among 'em," John muttered, as they neared the chapel door.
Both inside and out, Rosslyn Chapel is a marvel of minute design and elaborate carving done in the Spanish style. It is overpowering.
I'm not sure whether I like it," whispered Betty, gazing about her and then up at the carved stone ceiling. " It's so different some-how, not at all like what I thought I'd see ! "
Barbara was not long in finding the celebrated " 'Prentice Pillar," which has its pathetic little legend. As usual, John had for-gotten this, so Mrs. Pitt went through it briefly for his benefit.
" The master-builder was dissatisfied with his designs," she said; " he wanted to find a still more exquisite one for a certain pillar which was to stand near the altar, so he went to the Holy Land for his inspiration. Meantime a young apprentice boy, who worked on the building, knew why his master was delaying the structure. Having an idea of his own for the design of this last pillar,—to wind about it a marvelously delicate garland of foliage,—the boy set about to carve it himself, and far more lovely than any of the others it proved. When the master came back, he saw and realized this, but he was jealous and so angry with the boy that he struck him with a tool and killed him. There's the pillar, still in its place. Will you come and look at it, Betty? "
It was almost six o'clock when they stepped into one of the tourist coaches which ply between Roslin and Edinburgh.
It's been a great day ! " said John, swinging himself up to his favorite seat beside the driver.
" Yes," assented his sister, " but I don't want it to be over ! It's the very last night we can go back to dear Edinburgh ! "