Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 12

Reputation! that’s man’s idol

Set up against God, the Maker of all laws,

Who hath commanded us we should not kill,

And yet we say we must, for Reputation!

What honest man can either fear his own,

Or else will hurt another’s reputation?

Fear to do base unworthy things is valour;

If they be done to us, to suffer them

Is valour too.

Ben Jonson.

The Colonel was walking pensively up and down the parlour when the officious landlady reentered to take his commands. Having given them in the manner he thought would be most acceptable ‘for the good of the house,’ be begged to detain her a moment.

‘I think,’ he said, ‘madam, if I understood the good people right, Mr. Bertram lost his son in his fifth year?’

‘O ay, sir, there’s nae doubt o’ that, though there are mony idle clashes about the way and manner, for it’s an auld story now, and everybody tells it, as we were doing, their ain way by the ingleside. But lost the bairn was in his fifth year, as your honour says, Colonel; and the news being rashly tell’d to the leddy, then great with child, cost her her life that samyn night; and the Laird never throve after that day, but was just careless of everything, though, when his daughter Miss Lucy grew up, she tried to keep order within doors; but what could she do, poor thing? So now they’re out of house and hauld.’

‘Can you recollect, madam, about what time of the year the child was lost?’ The landlady, after a pause and some recollection, answered, ‘she was positive it was about this season’; and added some local recollections that fixed the date in her memory as occurring about the beginning of November 17 —.

The stranger took two or three turns round the room in silence, but signed to Mrs. Mac-Candlish not to leave it.

‘Did I rightly apprehend,’ he said, ‘that the estate of Ellangowan is in the market?’

‘In the market? It will be sell’d the morn to the highest bidder — that’s no the morn, Lord help me! which is the Sabbath, but on Monday, the first free day; and the furniture and stocking is to be roupit at the same time on the ground. It’s the opinion of the haill country that the sale has been shamefully forced on at this time, when there’s sae little money stirring in Scotland wi’ this weary American war, that somebody may get the land a bargain. Deil be in them, that I should say sae!’ — the good lady’s wrath rising at the supposed injustice.

‘And where will the sale take place?’

‘On the premises, as the advertisement says; that’s at the house of Ellangowan, your honour, as I understand it.’

‘And who exhibits the title-deeds, rent-roll, and plan?’

‘A very decent man, sir; the sheriff-substitute of the county, who has authority from the Court of Session. He’s in the town just now, if your honour would like to see him; and he can tell you mair about the loss of the bairn than ony body, for the sheriff — depute (that’s his principal, like) took much pains to come at the truth o’ that matter, as I have heard.’

‘And this gentleman’s name is — ’

‘Mac-Morlan, sir; he’s a man o’ character, and weel spoken o’.’

‘Send my compliments — Colonel Mannering’s compliments to him, and I would be glad he would do me the pleasure of supping with me, and bring these papers with him; and I beg, good madam, you will say nothing of this to any one else.’

‘Me, sir? ne’er a word shall I say. I wish your honour (a courtesy), or ony honourable gentleman that’s fought for his country (another courtesy), had the land, since the auld family maun quit (a sigh), rather than that wily scoundrel Glossin, that’s risen on the ruin of the best friend he ever had. And now I think on’t, I’ll slip on my hood and pattens, and gang to Mr. Mac — Morlan mysell, he’s at hame e’en now; it’s hardly a step.’

‘Do so, my good landlady, and many thanks; and bid my servant step here with my portfolio in the meantime.’

In a minute or two Colonel Mannering was quietly seated with his writing materials before him. We have the privilege of looking over his shoulder as he writes, and we willingly communicate its substance to our readers. The letter was addressed to Arthur Mervyn, Esq., of Mervyn Hall, Llanbraithwaite, Westmoreland. It contained some account of the writer’s previous journey since parting with him, and then proceeded as follows:—

‘And now, why will you still upbraid me with my melancholy, Mervyn? Do you think, after the lapse of twenty-five years, battles, wounds, imprisonment, misfortunes of every description, I can be still the same lively, unbroken Guy Mannering who climbed Skiddaw with you, or shot grouse upon Crossfell? That you, who have remained in the bosom of domestic happiness, experience little change, that your step is as light and your fancy as full of sunshine, is a blessed effect of health and temperament, cooperating with content and a smooth current down the course of life. But my career has been one of difficulties and doubts and errors. From my infancy I have been the sport of accident, and, though the wind has often borne me into harbour, it has seldom been into that which the pilot destined. Let me recall to you — but the task must be brief — the odd and wayward fates of my youth, and the misfortunes of my manhood.

‘The former, you will say, had nothing very appalling. All was not for the best; but all was tolerable. My father, the eldest son of an ancient but reduced family, left me with little, save the name of the head of the house, to the protection of his more fortunate brothers. They were so fond of me that they almost quarrelled about me. My uncle, the bishop, would have had me in orders, and offered me a living; my uncle, the merchant, would have put me into a counting-house, and proposed to give me a share in the thriving concern of Mannering and Marshall, in Lombard Street. So, between these two stools, or rather these two soft, easy, well — stuffed chairs of divinity and commerce, my unfortunate person slipped down, and pitched upon a dragoon saddle. Again, the bishop wished me to marry the niece and heiress of the Dean of Lincoln; and my uncle, the alderman, proposed to me the only daughter of old Sloethorn, the great wine-merchant, rich enough to play at span-counter with moidores and make thread-papers of bank-notes; and somehow I slipped my neck out of both nooses, and married — poor, poor Sophia Wellwood.

‘You will say, my military career in India, when I followed my regiment there, should have given me some satisfaction; and so it assuredly has. You will remind me also, that if I disappointed the hopes of my guardians, I did not incur their displeasure; that the bishop, at his death, bequeathed me his blessing, his manuscript sermons, and a curious portfolio containing the heads of eminent divines of the church of England; and that my uncle, Sir Paul Mannering, left me sole heir and executor to his large fortune. Yet this availeth me nothing; I told you I had that upon my mind which I should carry to my grave with me, a perpetual aloes in the draught of existence. I will tell you the cause more in detail than I had the heart to do while under your hospitable roof. You will often hear it mentioned, and perhaps with different and unfounded circumstances. I will therefore speak it out; and then let the event itself, and the sentiments of melancholy with which it has impressed me, never again be subject of discussion between us.

‘Sophia, as you well know, followed me to India. She was as innocent as gay; but, unfortunately for us both, as gay as innocent. My own manners were partly formed by studies I had forsaken, and habits of seclusion not quite consistent with my situation as commandant of a regiment in a country where universal hospitality is offered and expected by every settler claiming the rank of a gentleman. In a moment of peculiar pressure (you know how hard we were sometimes run to obtain white faces to countenance our line-of-battle), a young man named Brown joined our regiment as a volunteer, and, finding the military duty more to his fancy than commerce, in which he had been engaged, remained with us as a cadet. Let me do my unhappy victim justice: he behaved with such gallantry on every occasion that offered that the first vacant commission was considered as his due. I was absent for some weeks upon a distant expedition; when I returned I found this young fellow established quite as the friend of the house, and habitual attendant of my wife and daughter. It was an arrangement which displeased me in many particulars, though no objection could be made to his manners or character. Yet I might have been reconciled to his familiarity in my family, but for the suggestions of another. If you read over — what I never dare open — the play of “Othello,” you will have some idea of what followed — I mean of my motives; my actions, thank God! were less reprehensible. There was another cadet ambitious of the vacant situation. He called my attention to what he led me to term coquetry between my wife and this young man. Sophia was virtuous, but proud of her virtue; and, irritated by my jealousy, she was so imprudent as to press and encourage an intimacy which she saw I disapproved and regarded with suspicion. Between Brown and me there existed a sort of internal dislike. He made an effort or two to overcome my prejudice; but, prepossessed as I was, I placed them to a wrong motive. Feeling himself repulsed, and with scorn, he desisted; and as he was without family and friends, he was naturally more watchful of the deportment of one who had both.

‘It is odd with what torture I write this letter. I feel inclined, nevertheless, to protract the operation, just as if my doing so could put off the catastrophe which has so long embittered my life. But — it must be told, and it shall be told briefly.

‘My wife, though no longer young, was still eminently handsome, and — let me say thus far in my own justification-she was fond of being thought so — I am repeating what I said before. In a word, of her virtue I never entertained a doubt; but, pushed by the artful suggestions of Archer, I thought she cared little for my peace of mind, and that the young fellow Brown paid his attentions in my despite, and in defiance of me. He perhaps considered me, on his part, as an oppressive aristocratic man, who made my rank in society and in the army the means of galling those whom circumstances placed beneath me. And if he discovered my silly jealousy, he probably considered the fretting me in that sore point of my character as one means of avenging the petty indignities to which I had it in my power to subject him. Yet an acute friend of mine gave a more harmless, or at least a less offensive, construction to his attentions, which he conceived to be meant for my daughter Julia, though immediately addressed to propitiate the influence of her mother. This could have been no very flattering or pleasing enterprise on the part of an obscure and nameless young man; but I should not have been offended at this folly as I was at the higher degree of presumption I suspected. Offended, however, I was, and in a mortal degree.

‘A very slight spark will kindle a flame where everything lies open to catch it. I have absolutely forgot the proximate cause of quarrel, but it was some trifle which occurred at the card-table which occasioned high words and a challenge. We met in the morning beyond the walls and esplanade of the fortress which I then commanded, on the frontiers of the settlement. This was arranged for Brown’s safety, had he escaped. I almost wish he had, though at my own expense; but he fell by the first fire. We strove to assist him; but some of these looties, a species of native banditti who were always on the watch for prey, poured in upon us. Archer and I gained our horses with difficulty, and cut our way through them after a hard conflict, in the course of which he received some desperate wounds. To complete the misfortunes of this miserable day, my wife, who suspected the design with which I left the fortress, had ordered her palanquin to follow me, and was alarmed and almost made prisoner by another troop of these plunderers. She was quickly released by a party of our cavalry; but I cannot disguise from myself that the incidents of this fatal morning gave a severe shock to health already delicate. The confession of Archer, who thought himself dying, that he had invented some circumstances, and for his purposes put the worst construction upon others, and the full explanation and exchange of forgiveness with me which this produced, could not check the progress of her disorder. She died within about eight months after this incident, bequeathing me only the girl of whom Mrs. Mervyn is so good as to undertake the temporary charge. Julia was also extremely ill; so much so that I was induced to throw up my command and return to Europe, where her native air, time, and the novelty of the scenes around her have contributed to dissipate her dejection and restore her health.

‘Now that you know my story, you will no longer ask me the reason of my melancholy, but permit me to brood upon it as I may. There is, surely, in the above narrative enough to embitter, though not to poison, the chalice which the fortune and fame you so often mention had prepared to regale my years of retirement.

‘I could add circumstances which our old tutor would have quoted as instances of day fatality, — you would laugh were I to mention such particulars, especially as you know I put no faith in them. Yet, since I have come to the very house from which I now write, I have learned a singular coincidence, which, if I find it truly established by tolerable evidence, will serve as hereafter for subject of curious discussion. But I will spare you at present, as I expect a person to speak about a purchase of property now open in this part of the country. It is a place to which I have a foolish partiality, and I hope my purchasing may be convenient to those who are parting with it, as there is a plan for buying it under the value. My respectful compliments to Mrs. Mervyn, and I will trust you, though you boast to be so lively a young gentleman, to kiss Julia for me. Adieu, dear Mervyn. — Thine ever, Guy Mannering.’

Mr. Mac-Morlan now entered the room. The well-known character of Colonel Mannering at once disposed this gentleman, who was a man of intelligence and probity, to be open and confidential. He explained the advantages and disadvantages of the property. ‘It was settled,’ he said, ‘the greater part of it at least, upon heirs-male, and the purchaser would have the privilege of retaining in his hands a large proportion of the price, in case of the reappearance, within a certain limited term, of the child who had disappeared.’

‘To what purpose, then, force forward a sale?’ said Mannering. Mac-Morlan smiled. ‘Ostensibly,’ he answered, ‘to substitute the interest of money instead of the ill-paid and precarious rents of an unimproved estate; but chiefly it was believed, to suit the wishes and views of a certain intended purchaser, who had become a principal creditor, and forced himself into the management of the affairs by means best known to himself, and who, it was thought, would find it very convenient to purchase the estate without paying down the price.’

Mannering consulted with Mr. Mac-Morlan upon the steps for thwarting this unprincipled attempt. They then conversed long on the singular disappearance of Harry Bertram upon his fifth birthday, verifying thus the random prediction of Mannering, of which, however, it will readily be supposed he made no boast. Mr. Mac-Morlan was not himself in office when that incident took place; but he was well acquainted with all the circumstances, and promised that our hero should have them detailed by the sheriff — depute himself, if, as he proposed, he should become a settler in that part of Scotland. With this assurance they parted, well satisfied with each other and with the evening’s conference.

On the Sunday following, Colonel Mannering attended the parish church with great decorum. None of the Ellangowan family were present; and it was understood that the old Laird was rather worse than better. Jock Jabos, once more despatched for him, returned once more without his errand; but on the following day Miss Bertram hoped he might be removed.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29