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lucy might have despised these tales if they had been related concerning another family, or if her own situation had been less despondent. but circumstanced as she was, the idea that an evil fate hung over her attachment became predominant over her other feelings; and the gloom of superstition darkened a mind already sufficiently weakened by sorrow, distress, uncertainty, and an oppressive sense of desertion and desolation. stories were told by her attendant so closely resembling her own in their circumstances, that she was gradually led to converse upon such tragic and mystical subjects with the beldam, and to repose a sort of confidence in the sibyl, whom she still regarded with involuntary shuddering. dame gourlay knew how to avail herself of this imperfect confidence. she directed lucy's thoughts to the means of inquiring into futurity—the surest mode perhaps, of shaking the understanding and destroying the spirits. omens were expounded, dreams were interpreted, and other tricks of jugglery perhaps resorted to, by which the pretended adepts of the period deceived and fascinated their deluded followers. i find it mentioned in the articles of distay against ailsie gourlay—for it is some comfort to know that the old hag was tried, condemned, and burned on the top of north berwick law, by sentence of a commission from the privy council—i find, i say, it was charged against her, among other offences, that she had, by the aid and delusions of satan, shown to a young person of quality, in a mirror glass, a gentleman then abroad, to whom the said young person was betrothed, and who appeared in the vision to be in the act of bestowing his hand upon another lady. but this and some other parts of the record appear to have been studiously left imperfect in names and dates, probably out of regard to the honour of the families concerned. if dame gourlay was able actually to play off such a piece of jugglery, it is clear she must have had better assistance to practise the deception than her own skill or funds could supply. meanwhile, this mysterious visionary traffic had its usual effect in unsettling miss ashton's mind. her temper became unequal, her health decayed daily, her manners grew moping, melancholy, and uncertain. her father, guessing partly at the cause of these appearances, made a point of banishing dame gourlay from the castle; but the arrow was shot, and was rankling barb-deep in the side of the wounded deer.

it was shortly after the departure of this woman, that lucy ashton, urged by her parents, announced to them, with a vivacity by which they were startled, "that she was conscious heaven and earth and hell had set themselves against her union with ravenswood; still her contract," she said, "was a binding contract, and she neither would nor could resign it without the consent of ravenswood. let me be assured," she concluded, "that he will free me from my engagement, and dispose of me as you please, i care not how. when the diamonds are gone, what signifies the casket?"

the tone of obstinacy with which this was said, her eyes flashing with unnatural light, and her hands firmly clenched, precluded the possibility of dispute; and the utmost length which lady ashton's art could attain, only got her the privilege of dictating the letter, by which her daughter required to know of ravenswood whether he intended to abide by or to surrender what she termed "their unfortunate engagement." of this advantage lady ashton so far and so ingeniously availed herself that, according to the wording of the letter, the reader would have supposed lucy was calling upon her lover to renounce a contract which was contrary to the interests and inclinations of both. not trusting even to this point of deception, lady ashton finally determined to suppress the letter altogether, in hopes that lucy's impatience would induce her to condemn ravenswood unheard and in absence. in this she was disappointed. the time, indeed, had long elapsed when an answer should have been received from the continent. the faint ray of hope which still glimmered in lucy's mind was well nigh extinguished. but the idea never forsook her that her letter might not have been duly forwarded. one of her mother's new machinations unexpectedly furnished her with the means of ascertaining what she most desired to know.

thursday clxxxvi

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