The Bride of Lammermoor HTML version

Chapter 31
In which a witch did dwell, in loathly weeds,
And wilful want, all careless of her deeds;
So choosing solitary to abide,
Far from all neighbours, that her devilish deeds
And hellish arts from people she might hide,
And hurt far off, unknown, whome'er she envied.
Faerie Queene.
THE health of Lucy Ashton soon required the assistance of a person more skilful
in the office of a sick-nurse than the female domestics of the family. Ailsie
Gourlay, sometimes called the Wise Woman of Bowden, was the person whom,
for her own strong reasons, Lady Ashton selected as an attendant upon her
This woman had acquired a considerable reputation among the ignorant by the
pretended cures which she performed, especially in "oncomes," as the Scotch
call them, or mysterious diseases, which baffle the regular physician. Her
pharmacopoeia consisted partly of herbs selected in planetary hours, partly of
words, signs, and charms, which sometimes, perhaps, produced a favourable
influence upon the imagination of her patients. Such was the avowed profession
of Luckie Gourlay, which, as may well be supposed, was looked upon with a
suspicious eye, not only by her neighbours, but even by the clergy of the district.
In private, however, she traded more deeply in the occult sciences; for,
notwithstanding the dreadful punishments inflicted upon the supposed crime of
witchcraft, there wanted not those who, steeled by want and bitterness of spirit,
were willing to adopt the hateful and dangerous character, for the sake of the
influence which its terrors enabled them to exercise in the vicinity, and the
wretched emolument which they could extract by the practice of their supposed
Ailsie Gourlay was not indeed fool enough to acknowledge a compact with the
Evil One, which would have been a swift and ready road to the stake and tar-
barrel. Her fairy, she said, like Caliban's, was a harmless fairy. Nevertheless, she
"spaed fortunes," read dreams, composed philtres, discovered stolen goods, and
made and dissolved matches as successfully as if, according to the belief of the
whole neighbourhood, she had been aided in those arts by Beelzebub himself.
The worst of the pretenders to these sciences was, that they were generally
persons who, feeling themselves odious to humanity, were careless of what they
did to deserve the public hatred. Real crimes were often committed under
pretence of magical imposture; and it somewhat relieves the disgust with which
we read, in the criminal records, the conviction of these wretches, to be aware
that many of them merited, as poisoners, suborners, and diabolical agents in
secret domestic crimes, the severe fate to which they were condemned for the
imaginary guilt of witchcraft.
Such was Aislie Gourlay, whom, in order to attain the absolute subjugation of
Lucy Ashton's mind, her mother thought it fitting to place near her person. A