Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 21

What say’st thou, Wise One? that all powerful Love

Can fortune’s strong impediments remove,

Nor is it strange that worth should wed to worth,

The pride of genius with the pride of birth.

Crabbe.

V. Brown — I will not give at full length his thrice unhappy name — had been from infancy a ball for fortune to spurn at; but nature had given him that elasticity of mind which rises higher from the rebound. His form was tall, manly, and active, and his features corresponded with his person; for, although far from regular, they had an expression of intelligence and good-humour, and when he spoke, or was particularly animated, might be decidedly pronounced interesting. His manner indicated the military profession, which had been his choice, and in which he had now attained the rank of captain, the person who succeeded Colonel Mannering in his command having laboured to repair the injustice which Brown had sustained by that gentleman’s prejudice against him. But this, as well as his liberation from captivity, had taken place after Mannering left India. Brown followed at no distant period, his regiment being recalled home. His first inquiry was after the family of Mannering, and, easily learning their route northward, he followed it with the purpose of resuming his addresses to Julia. With her father he deemed he had no measures to keep; for, ignorant of the more venomous belief which had been instilled into the Colonel’s mind, he regarded him as an oppressive aristocrat, who had used his power as a commanding officer to deprive him of the preferment due to his behaviour, and who had forced upon him a personal quarrel without any better reason than his attentions to a pretty young woman, agreeable to herself, and permitted and countenanced by her mother. He was determined, therefore, to take no rejection unless from the young lady herself, believing that the heavy misfortunes of his painful wound and imprisonment were direct injuries received from the father, which might dispense with his using much ceremony towards him. How far his scheme had succeeded when his nocturnal visit was discovered by Mr. Mervyn, our readers are already informed.

Upon this unpleasant occurrence Captain Brown absented himself from the inn in which he had resided under the name of Dawson, so that Colonel Mannering’s attempts to discover and trace him were unavailing. He resolved, however, that no difficulties should prevent his continuing his enterprise while Julia left him a ray of hope. The interest he had secured in her bosom was such as she had been unable to conceal from him, and with all the courage of romantic gallantry he determined upon perseverance. But we believe the reader will be as well pleased to learn his mode of thinking and intention from his own communication to his special friend and confidant, Captain Delaserre, a Swiss gentleman who had a company in his regiment.

Extract

‘Let me hear from you soon, dear Delaserre. Remember, I can learn nothing about regimental affairs but through your friendly medium, and I long to know what has become of Ayre’s court-martial, and whether Elliot gets the majority; also how recruiting comes on, and how the young officers like the mess. Of our kind friend the Lieutenant-Colonel I need ask nothing; I saw him as I passed through Nottingham, happy in the bosom of his family. What a happiness it is, Philip, for us poor devils, that we have a little resting-place between the camp and the grave, if we can manage to escape disease, and steel, and lead, and the effects of hard living. A retired old soldier is always a graceful and respected character. He grumbles a little now and then, but then his is licensed murmuring; were a lawyer, or a physician, or a clergyman to breathe a complaint of hard luck or want of preferment, a hundred tongues would blame his own incapacity as the cause. But the most stupid veteran that ever faltered out the thrice-told tale of a siege and a battle, and a cock and a bottle, is listened to with sympathy and reverence when he shakes his thin locks and talks with indignation of the boys that are put over his head. And you and I, Delaserre, foreigners both — for what am I the better that I was originally a Scotchman, since, could I prove my descent, the English would hardly acknowledge me a countryman? — we may boast that we have fought out our preferment, and gained that by the sword which we had not money to compass otherwise. The English are a wise people. While they praise themselves, and affect to undervalue all other nations, they leave us, luckily, trap-doors and back-doors open, by which we strangers, less favoured by nature, may arrive at a share of their advantages. And thus they are in some respects like a boastful landlord, who exalts the value and flavour of his six-years-old mutton, while he is delighted to dispense a share of it to all the company. In short, you, whose proud family, and I, whose hard fate, made us soldiers of fortune, have the pleasant recollection that in the British service, stop where we may upon our career, it is only for want of money to pay the turnpike, and not from our being prohibited to travel the road. If, therefore, you can persuade little Weischel to come into ours, for God’s sake let him buy the ensigncy, live prudently, mind his duty, and trust to the fates for promotion.

‘And now, I hope you are expiring with curiosity to learn the end of my romance. I told you I had deemed it convenient to make a few days’ tour on foot among the mountains of Westmoreland with Dudley, a young English artist with whom I have formed some acquaintance. A fine fellow this, you must know, Delaserre: he paints tolerably, draws beautifully, converses well, and plays charmingly on the flute; and, though thus well entitled to be a coxcomb of talent, is, in fact, a modest unpretending young man. On our return from our little tour I learned that the enemy had been reconnoitring. Mr. Mervyn’s barge had crossed the lake, I was informed by my landlord, with the squire himself and a visitor.

‘“What sort of person, landlord?”

‘“Why, he was a dark officer-looking mon, at they called Colonel. Squoire Mervyn questioned me as close as I had been at ‘sizes. I had guess, Mr. Dawson”(I told you that was my feigned name), “but I tould him nought of your vagaries, and going out a-laking in the mere a-noights, not I; an I can make no sport, I’se spoil none; and Squoire Mervyn’s as cross as poy-crust too, mon; he’s aye maundering an my guests but land beneath his house, though it be marked for the fourth station in the survey. Noa, noa, e’en let un smell things out o’ themselves for Joe Hodges.”

‘You will allow there was nothing for it after this but paying honest Joe Hodges’s bill and departing, unless I had preferred making him my confidant, for which I felt in no way inclined. Besides, I learned that our ci-devant Colonel was on full retreat for Scotland, carrying off poor Julia along with him. I understand from those who conduct the heavy baggage that he takes his winter quarters at a place called Woodbourne, in —— shire in Scotland. He will be all on the alert just now, so I must let him enter his entrenchments without any new alarm. And then, my good Colonel, to whom I owe so many grateful thanks, pray look to your defence.

‘I protest to you, Delaserre, I often think there is a little contradiction enters into the ardour of my pursuit. I think I would rather bring this haughty insulting man to the necessity of calling his daughter Mrs. Brown than I would wed her with his full consent, and with the King’s permission to change my name for the style and arms of Mannering, though his whole fortune went with them. There is only one circumstance that chills me a little: Julia is young and romantic. I would not willingly hurry her into a step which her riper years might disapprove; no — nor would I like to have her upbraid me, were it but with a glance of her eye, with having ruined her fortunes, far less give her reason to say, as some have not been slow to tell their lords, that, had I left her time for consideration, she would have been wiser and done better. No, Delaserre, this must not be. The picture presses close upon me, because I am aware a girl in Julia’s situation has no distinct and precise idea of the value of the sacrifice she makes. She knows difficulties only by name; and, if she thinks of love and a farm, it is a ferme ornee, such as is only to be found in poetic description or in the park of a gentleman of twelve thousand a year. She would be ill prepared for the privations of that real Swiss cottage we have so often talked of, and for the difficulties which must necessarily surround us even before we attained that haven. This must be a point clearly ascertained. Although Julia’s beauty and playful tenderness have made an impression on my heart never to be erased, I must be satisfied that she perfectly understands the advantages she foregoes before she sacrifices them for my sake.

‘Am I too proud, Delaserre, when I trust that even this trial may terminate favourably to my wishes? Am I too vain when I suppose that the few personal qualities which I possess, with means of competence, however moderate, and the determination of consecrating my life to her happiness, may make amends for all I must call upon her to forego? Or will a difference of dress, of attendance, of style, as it is called, of the power of shifting at pleasure the scenes in which she seeks amusement — will these outweigh in her estimation the prospect of domestic happiness and the interchange of unabating affection? I say nothing of her father: his good and evil qualities are so strangely mingled that the former are neutralised by the latter; and that which she must regret as a daughter is so much blended with what she would gladly escape from, that I place the separation of the father and child as a circumstance which weighs little in her remarkable case. Meantime I keep up my spirits as I may. I have incurred too many hardships and difficulties to be presumptuous or confident in success, and I have been too often and too wonderfully extricated from them to be despondent.

‘I wish you saw this country. I think the scenery would delight you. At least it often brings to my recollection your glowing descriptions of your native country. To me it has in a great measure the charm of novelty. Of the Scottish hills, though born among them, as I have always been assured, I have but an indistinct recollection. Indeed, my memory rather dwells upon the blank which my youthful mind experienced in gazing on the levels of the isle of Zealand, than on anything which preceded that feeling; but I am confident, from that sensation as well as from the recollections which preceded it, that hills and rocks have been familiar to me at an early period, and that, though now only remembered by contrast, and by the blank which I felt while gazing around for them in vain, they must have made an indelible impression on my infant imagination. I remember, when we first mounted that celebrated pass in the Mysore country, while most of the others felt only awe and astonishment at the height and grandeur of the scenery, I rather shared your feelings and those of Cameron, whose admiration of such wild rocks was blended with familiar love, derived from early association. Despite my Dutch education, a blue hill to me is as a friend, and a roaring torrent like the sound of a domestic song that hath soothed my infancy. I never felt the impulse so strongly as in this land of lakes and mountains, and nothing grieves me so much as that duty prevents your being with me in my numerous excursions among recesses. Some drawings I have attempted, but I succeed vilely. Dudley, on the contrary, draws delightfully, with that rapid touch which seems like magic; while I labour and botch, and make this too heavy and that too light, and produce at last a base caricature. I must stick to the flageolet, for music is the only one of the fine arts which deigns to acknowledge me.

‘Did you know that Colonel Mannering was a draughtsman? I believe not, for he scorned to display his accomplishments to the view of a subaltern. He draws beautifully, however. Since he and Julia left Mervyn Hall, Dudley was sent for there. The squire, it seems, wanted a set of drawings made up, of which Mannering had done the first four, but was interrupted by his hasty departure in his purpose of completing them. Dudley says he has seldom seen anything so masterly, though slight; and each had attached to it a short poetical description. Is Saul, you will say, among the prophets? Colonel Mannering write poetry! Why, surely this man must have taken all the pains to conceal his accomplishments that others do to display theirs. How reserved and unsociable he appeared among us! how little disposed to enter into any conversation which could become generally interesting! And then his attachment to that unworthy Archer, so much below him in every respect; and all this because he was the brother of Viscount Archerfield, a poor Scottish peer! I think, if Archer had longer survived the wounds in the affair of Cuddyboram, he would have told something that might have thrown light upon the inconsistencies of this singular man’s character. He repeated to me more than once, “I have that to say which will alter your hard opinion of our late Colonel.” But death pressed him too hard; and if he owed me any atonement, which some of his expressions seemed to imply, he died before it could be made.

‘I propose to make a further excursion through this country while this fine frosty weather serves, and Dudley, almost as good a walker as myself, goes with me for some part of the way. We part on the borders of Cumberland, when he must return to his lodgings in Marybone, up three pair of stairs, and labour at what he calls the commercial part of his profession. There cannot, he says, be such a difference betwixt any two portions of existence as between that in which the artist, if an enthusiast, collects the subjects of his drawings and that which must necessarily be dedicated to turning over his portfolio and exhibiting them to the provoking indifference, or more provoking criticism, of fashionable amateurs. “During the summer of my year,” says Dudley, “I am as free as a wild Indian, enjoying myself at liberty amid the grandest scenes of nature; while during my winters and springs I am not only cabined, cribbed, and confined in a miserable garret, but condemned to as intolerable subservience to the humour of others, and to as indifferent company, as if I were a literal galley slave.” I have promised him your acquaintance, Delaserre; you will be delighted with his specimens of art, and he with your Swiss fanaticism for mountains and torrents.

‘When I lose Dudley’s company, I am informed that I can easily enter Scotland by stretching across a wild country in the upper part of Cumberland; and that route I shall follow, to give the Colonel time to pitch his camp ere I reconnoitre his position. Adieu! Delaserre. I shall hardly find another opportunity of writing till I reach Scotland.’

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