Next day the snow had entirely disappeared; the country again looked
fresh and green; and when we met for breakfast, and while the ladies
were exchanging their morning kisses lightly on each cheek—à la
Française, rather than à l’Ecossaise—various excursions were again
Among others, Cora urged that we should visit the ruined Castle of
Piteadie, which belonged of old to a branch of my uncle’s family now
It stands on the slope of a gentle eminence, some distance westward of
the famous “long town” of Kirkaldy, a pleasant ride of ten miles or so
from the glen; and was a place we frequently rode to in the days of my
boyhood, when my feats in the saddle were performed on a shaggy,
barrel-bellied Shetland pony; so I longed to see the old ruin again.
A message was sent to the stable-yard after luncheon, and horses were
ordered for the party, which was to consist of Lady Louisa, Cora, Miss
Wilford, Berkeley, the M.P., and myself.
The ladies soon appeared in their riding-habits; and, to my perhaps
partial fancy, there seemed something matchless in the grace with which
Louisa Loftus held, or draped up, the gathered folds of her ample dark
blue skirt in her tightly gloved left hand.
There was the faintest flush on her usually pale cheek, a furtive
glancing in her long-lashed dark eyes, as she threw her veil over her
shoulder, gave a last smoothing to the braids of her black hair, and
tripped down the front steps, leaning on the arm of her courteous old
host, to where our cavalry stood, pawing the gravel impatiently, arching
their necks, and champing their bright steel bits.
We were soon mounted and _en route_. Cora and Lady Louisa, who were
resolved on having a little private gossip, after merrily quizzing me
about my dragoon seat on the saddle, rode at first together; and, as we
paired off down the avenue, followed by my man, Willie Pitblado, and
another well-mounted groom, I found myself alongside of Berkeley, after
Sir Nigel, who had a county meeting to attend at Cupar, left us.
“Your uncle’s stables make a good turn-out of cavalry,” said Berkeley;
“this grey is a good bit of horseflesh.”
“’Treads well above his pasterns,’ is rather a favourite with Sir
Nigel,” said I, coldly, for he had a patronizing tone about him that I
did not relish. I could laugh with Lady Louisa when she spoke of Sir
Nigel as “a queer old droll,” or “a dear old thing;” but I could ill
tolerate Berkeley, when he ran on in the following fashion—
“He is certainly a trump, Sir Nigel, but droll, as Lady Loftus
says—exquisitely droll! If he—haw—spills salt, no doubt he remembers
Judas, and throws a pinch over his left shoulder; knocks the bottoms out
of his eggs, lest the fairies make tugs of’em; and—haw, haw—would faint,
I suppose, if he dined one of thirteen.”
“I am not aware that Sir Nigel has any of the proclivities that you
mention,” said I; but, heedless that I was staring at him, Berkeley,
with his bland, insipid smile, continued his impertinence.
“Things have—haw—changed so much within the last few years, that these
old fellows are actually ignorant of the world they live in; and
the—haw, haw—world goes so fast, that in three years _we_ learn more of
it, and of life (Gad! they know nothing of real life), than they did in
thirty. As a young man, Sir Nigel was, I have no doubt, a buck in
leather breeches and hair powder—haw—drove a Stanhope, perhaps, and wore
a Spenser, _ultimus Romanorum_; paid his first visit to London in the
old mail coach, with a brace of pistols in his pocket, and the thorough
conviction that every second Englishman was a thief.”
I listened with growing indignation, for on this man, who quizzed him
thus, my poor uncle was lavishing his genuine, old-fashioned Scottish
hospitality. I had every disposition to quarrel with Berkeley, and had
we been with the regiment, or elsewhere, would undoubtedly have done so;
but in my uncle’s house, a _fracas_ with a guest, more especially a
brother officer, was the last thing to be thought of.
“You are somewhat unfriendly in your remarks, Mr. Berkeley,” said I,
“I am—haw—not much of a reader, Norcliff; but I greatly admire a certain
writer, who says that ’Friendship means the habit of meeting at
dinner—the highest nobility of the soul being his who pays the
reckoning!’” replied Berkeley.
“And you always thought that axiom——”
“To be doocid good! Slubber is the only old fellow I ever knew who kept
pace with the times.”
“Indeed!” said I, with an affected air of perfect unconcern. “I have
heard of him—he is said to have proposed to our fair friend in front.”
“Ah, may I ask which of them?”
“For Lady Louisa.”
“It is very likely—the families are extremely intimate, and I know that
she has gone twice to the Continent in Slubber’s yacht.”
Berkeley said this with a bearing cooler even than mine; but I was aware
that the fellow was scanning me closely through his confounded eyeglass.
“His fortune is, I believe, handsome?”
“Magnificent! Sixty thousand a year, at least—haw! His father was a
reckless fellow in the days of the Regency, going double-quick to the
dogs; but luckily died in time to let the estates go to nurse during the
present man’s minority. I have heard a good story told of the late Lord
Slubber de Gullion, who, having lost a vast sum on the Derby, applied to
a well-known broker in town to give him five thousand pounds on my Lady
“’Number the brilliants,’ said he, ’and put false stones in their
places; she will never know the difference.’
“’You are mosh too late, my lord,’ replied he of the three six-pounders,
with a grin.
“’Too late! What the devil do you mean, Abraham?’
“’My Lady Slubbersh shold the diamonds to me three years ago, and these
stones are all falsh!’
“So my lord retired, collapsed with rage, to find that a march had been
stolen upon him—doocid good, that!”
The snow, I have said, had entirely disappeared, save on the summits of
the hills; but, swollen by its melting, the wayside runnels bubbled
merrily along under the black whins and withered ferns, reflecting the
pure blue of the sky overhead. At a place where the road became wider,
by a dexterous use of the spurs, I contrived to get my horse between the
pads of Cora and Lady Louisa, and so rid myself of Berkeley.
We chatted away pleasantly as we rode on at an easy pace, and ere long,
on ascending the higher ground, saw the wide expanse of the Firth of
Forth shining with all its ripples under the clear winter sun, with the
hills of the Lothians opposite, half shrouded in white vapour.
I would have given all I possessed to have been alone for half an hour
with Louisa Loftus, but no such chance or fortune was given me; and
though our ride to the ruined castle was, in itself, of small
importance, it proved ultimately the means towards an end.
One old woman, wearing one of those peculiar caps which Mary of Gueldres
introduced in Scotland, with a black band—the badge of widowhood—over
it, appeared at the door of a little thatched cottage, and directed us
by a near bridle-path to the ruin, smiling pleasantly as she did so.
“Newton,” said Cora, “you remember old Kirsty Jack?”
“Perfectly,” said I; “many a luggie of milk I have had from her in past
Cora always wondered why people loved her, and why all ranks were so
kind to her; but the good little soul was all unaware that her girlish
simplicity of manner, her softness of complexion and feature, her
winning sweetness of expression and modulation of voice, were so
alluring. Had she been so, the charm had, perhaps, vanished, or had
become more dangerous by the exercise of coquetry. Often when I looked
at her, the idea occurred to me that if I had not been dazzled by Lady
Louisa, I should certainly have loved Cora.
The cottage bore a signboard inscribed, “_Christian Jack—a callender[*]
by the hour or piece_,” an announcement which caused some speculation
among our English friends; and ignorant alike of its origin and meaning,
or what is more probable, affecting to be so, Berkeley laughed
immoderately at the word, simply because it was not English.
[*] Literally a mangle, from _calandre_, the French. The term has been
common all over Scotland for centuries. In Paris there is a street
named Rue de la Calandre.
“Christian Jack—Presbyterian John, I should suggest,” said he, as we
cantered along the bridle-path, in Indian file, Cora at our head, with a
firm little hand on her reins, her blue veil and her skirt, and two long
black ringlets, floating behind her.
Lady Louisa followed close, her jet hair gathered up in thick and
elaborate rolls by the artful fingers of her French _soubrette_; her
larger and more voluptuous figure displayed to the utmost advantage by
her tight riding-habit; and now, in a few minutes, the old ruin, with
all its gaping windows, loomed in sight.
It was not an object of much interest, save to Cora and myself, for it
had been the scene of many a picnic and visit in childhood, and had been
long the seat of a branch of the Calderwoods now extinct and passed
Some strange and quaint legends were connected with it; and Willie
Pitblado, old Kirsty at the Loanend, and Cora’s nurse, had told us tales
of the old lairds of Piteadie, and their “clenched hand,” which was
carved above the gate, that made us feel far from comfortable in the
gloomy winter nights, when the vanes creaked overhead, and when the wind
that howled down the wooded glen shook the cawing rooks in their nests
and made the windows of old Calderwood House rattle in their sockets.
The little castle of Piteadie stands on the face of a sloping bank to
the westward of Kirkaldy, and a little to the north of Grange, the old
barony of the last champion of Mary Queen of Scots; and no doubt it is
founded on the basement of a more ancient structure, for in 1530, during
the reign of James V., John Wallanche, Laird of Piteadie, was slain near
it, in a feudal quarrel, by Sir John Thomson and John Melville of the
House of Raith.
The present edifice belongs to the next century, and is a high, narrow,
and turreted pile. The windows are small, and have all been thickly
grated, and access is given to the various stories by a narrow circular
Within a pediment, half covered with moss, above the arched gateway in
the eastern wall, is a mouldered escutcheon of the Calderwoods, bearing
a saltire, with three mullets in chief; and a helmet surmounted by a
clenched hand—the initials “W.C.” and the date 1686.
Pit is a common prefix to Fifeshire localities. By some antiquarians it
is thought to mean Pict; by others a grave.
Cora drew our attention to the clenched hand, and assured us that it
grasped something that was meant to represent a lock or ringlet of hair.
Whether this was the case or not, it was impossible for us to say, so
much was it covered by the green moss and russet-hued lichens; but she
added that “it embodied a quaint little legend, which she would relate
to us after dinner.”
“And why not now, dear Cora?” said Lady Loftus. “If it is a legend,
where so fitting a place as this old ruin, with its roofless walls and
“We have not time to linger, Louisa,” said Cora, pointing with her whip
to the great hill of Largo, the cone of which was rapidly becoming
hidden by a grey cloud; while another mass of vapour, dense and gloomy,
laden with hail or snow, came heavily up from the German Sea, and began
to obscure the sun. “See, a wintry blast is coming on, and the sooner
we get back to the glen the better. Lead the way, Newton, and we shall
“With pleasure,” said I; and giving a farewell glance at the old ruin I
might never see again, I turned my horse’s head northward, and led the
way homeward at a smart canter; but we had barely entered Calderwood
avenue when the storm of hail and sleet came down in all its fury.
Dinner over, I joined the ladies early in the drawing-room, leaving the
M.P. to take the place of Sir Nigel, who was still absent. The heavy
curtains, drawn closely over all the oriels, rendered us heedless of the
state of the weather without; and while Binns traversed the room with
his coffee-trays, a group was gathered in a corner round Cora, from whom
we claimed her story of the old castle we had just visited, and she
related it somewhat in the following manner.