Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 19

Which sloping hills around inclose,

Where many a beech and brown oak grows

Beneath whose dark and branching bowers

Its tides a far-fam’d river pours,

By natures beauties taught to please,

Sweet Tusculan of rural easel

Warton.

Woodbourne, the habitation which Mannering, by Mr. Mac-Morlan’s mediation, had hired for a season, was a large comfortable mansion, snugly situated beneath a hill covered with wood, which shrouded the house upon the north and east; the front looked upon a little lawn bordered by a grove of old trees; beyond were some arable fields, extending down to the river, which was seen from the windows of the house. A tolerable, though old-fashioned garden, a well-stocked dove-cot, and the possession of any quantity of ground which the convenience of the family might require, rendered the place in every respect suitable, as the advertisements have it, ‘for the accommodation of a genteel family.’

Here, then, Mannering resolved, for some time at least, to set up the staff of his rest. Though an East-Indian, he was not partial to an ostentatious display of wealth. In fact, he was too proud a man to be a vain one. He resolved, therefore, to place himself upon the footing of a country gentleman of easy fortune, without assuming, or permitting his household to assume, any of the faste which then was considered as characteristic of a nabob.

He had still his eye upon the purchase of Ellangowan, which Mac-Morlan conceived Mr. Glossin would be compelled to part with, as some of the creditors disputed his title to retain so large a part of the purchase-money in his own hands, and his power to pay it was much questioned. In that case Mac-Morlan was assured he would readily give up his bargain, if tempted with something above the price which he had stipulated to pay. It may seem strange that Mannering was so much attached to a spot which he had only seen once, and that for a short time, in early life. But the circumstances which passed there had laid a strong hold on his imagination. There seemed to be a fate which conjoined the remarkable passages of his own family history with those of the inhabitants of Ellangowan, and he felt a mysterious desire to call the terrace his own from which he had read in the book of heaven a fortune strangely accomplished in the person of the infant heir of that family, and corresponding so closely with one which had been strikingly fulfilled in his own. Besides, when once this thought had got possession of his imagination, he could not, without great reluctance, brook the idea of his plan being defeated, and by a fellow like Glossin. So pride came to the aid of fancy, and both combined to fortify his resolution to buy the estate if possible.

Let us do Mannering justice. A desire to serve the distressed had also its share in determining him. He had considered the advantage which Julia might receive from the company of Lucy Bertram, whose genuine prudence and good sense could so surely be relied upon. This idea had become much stronger since Mac-Morlan had confided to him, under the solemn seal of secrecy, the whole of her conduct towards young Hazlewood. To propose to her to become an inmate in his family, if distant from the scenes of her youth and the few whom she called friends, would have been less delicate; but at Woodbourne she might without difficulty be induced to become the visitor of a season, without being depressed into the situation of an humble companion. Lucy Bertram, with some hesitation, accepted the invitation to reside a few weeks with Miss Mannering. She felt too well that, however the Colonel’s delicacy might disguise the truth, his principal motive was a generous desire to afford her his countenance and protection, which his high connexions, and higher character, were likely to render influential in the neighbourhood.

About the same time the orphan girl received a letter from Mrs. Bertram, the relation to whom she had written, as cold and comfortless as could well be imagined. It inclosed, indeed, a small sum of money, but strongly recommended economy, and that Miss Bertram should board herself in some quiet family, either at Kippletringan or in the neighbourhood, assuring her that, though her own income was very scanty, she would not see her kinswoman want. Miss Bertram shed some natural tears over this cold-hearted epistle; for in her mother’s time this good lady had been a guest at Ellangowan for nearly three years, and it was only upon succeeding to a property of about L400 a year that she had taken farewell of that hospitable mansion, which otherwise might have had the honour of sheltering her until the death of its owner. Lucy was strongly inclined to return the paltry donation, which, after some struggles with avarice, pride had extorted from the old lady. But on consideration she contented herself with writing that she accepted it as a loan, which, she hoped in a short time to repay, and consulted her relative upon the invitation she had received from Colonel and Miss Mannering. This time the answer came in course of post, so fearful was Mrs. Bertram that some frivolous delicacy, or nonsense, as she termed it, might induce her cousin to reject such a promising offer, and thereby at the same time to leave herself still a burden upon her relations. Lucy, therefore, had no alternative, unless she preferred continuing a burden upon the worthy Mac-Morlans, who were too liberal to be rich. Those kinsfolk who formerly requested the favour of her company had of late either silently, or with expressions of resentment that she should have preferred Mac — Morlan’s invitation to theirs, gradually withdrawn their notice.

The fate of Dominie Sampson would have been deplorable had it depended upon any one except Mannering, who was an admirer of originality, for a separation from Lucy Bertram would have certainly broken his heart. Mac-Morlan had given a full account of his proceedings towards the daughter of his patron. The answer was a request from Mannering to know whether the Dominie still possessed that admirable virtue of taciturnity by which he was so notably distinguished at Ellangowan. Mac-Morlan replied in the affirmative. ‘Let Mr. Sampson know,’ said the Colonel’s next letter, ‘that I shall want his assistance to catalogue and put in order the library of my uncle, the bishop, which I have ordered to be sent down by sea. I shall also want him to copy and arrange some papers. Fix his salary at what you think befitting. Let the poor man be properly dressed, and accompany his young lady to Woodbourne.’

Honest Mac-Morlan received this mandate with great joy, but pondered much upon executing that part of it which related to newly attiring the worthy Dominie. He looked at him with a scrutinising eye, and it was but too plain that his present garments were daily waxing more deplorable. To give him money, and bid him go and furnish himself, would be only giving him the means of making himself ridiculous; for when such a rare event arrived to Mr. Sampson as the purchase of new garments, the additions which he made to his wardrobe by the guidance of his own taste usually brought all the boys of the village after him for many days. On the other hand, to bring a tailor to measure him, and send home his clothes, as for a school-boy, would probably give offence. At length Mac-Morlan resolved to consult Miss Bertram, and request her interference. She assured him that, though she could not pretend to superintend a gentleman’s wardrobe, nothing was more easy than to arrange the Dominie’s.

‘At Ellangowan,’ she said, ‘whenever my poor father thought any part of the Dominie’s dress wanted renewal, a servant was directed to enter his room by night, for he sleeps as fast as a dormouse, carry off the old vestment, and leave the new one; nor could any one observe that the Dominie exhibited the least consciousness of the change put upon him on such occasions.’

Mac-Morlan, in conformity with Miss Bertram’s advice, procured a skilful artist, who, on looking at the Dominie attentively, undertook to make for him two suits of clothes, one black and one raven-grey, and even engaged that they should fit him — as well at least (so the tailor qualified his enterprise) as a man of such an out-of-the-way build could be fitted by merely human needles and shears. When this fashioner had accomplished his task, and the dresses were brought home, Mac-Morlan, judiciously resolving to accomplish his purpose by degrees, withdrew that evening an important part of his dress, and substituted the new article of raiment in its stead. Perceiving that this passed totally without notice, he next ventured on the waistcoat, and lastly on the coat. When fully metamorphosed, and arrayed for the first time in his life in a decent dress, they did observe that the Dominie seemed to have some indistinct and embarrassing consciousness that a change had taken place on his outward man. Whenever they observed this dubious expression gather upon his countenance, accompanied with a glance that fixed now upon the sleeve of his coat, now upon the knees of his breeches, where he probably missed some antique patching and darning, which, being executed with blue thread upon a black ground, had somewhat the effect of embroidery, they always took care to turn his attention into some other channel, until his garments, ‘by the aid of use, cleaved to their mould.’ The only remark he was ever known to make on the subject was, that ‘the air of a town like Kippletringan seemed favourable unto wearing apparel, for he thought his coat looked almost as new as the first day he put it on, which was when he went to stand trial for his license as a preacher.’

When the Dominie first heard the liberal proposal of Colonel Mannering, he turned a jealous and doubtful glance towards Miss Bertram, as if he suspected that the project involved their separation; but when Mr. Mac-Morlan hastened to explain that she would be a guest at Woodbourne for some time, he rubbed his huge hands together, and burst into a portentous sort of chuckle, like that of the Afrite in the tale of ‘The Caliph Vathek.’ After this unusual explosion of satisfaction, he remained quite passive in all the rest of the transaction.

It had been settled that Mr. and Mrs. Mac-Morlan should take possession of the house a few days before Mannering’s arrival, both to put everything in perfect order and to make the transference of Miss Bertram’s residence from their family to his as easy and delicate as possible. Accordingly, in the beginning of the month of December the party were settled at Woodbourne.

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