Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 38

Die and endow a college or a cat.

Pope.

There is a fable told by Lucian, that while a troop of monkeys, well drilled by an intelligent manager, were performing a tragedy with great applause, the decorum of the whole scene was at once destroyed, and the natural passions of the actors called forth into very indecent and active emulation, by a wag who threw a handful of nuts upon the stage. In like manner, the approaching crisis stirred up among the expectants feelings of a nature very different from those of which, under the superintendence of Mr. Mortcloke, they had but now been endeavouring to imitate the expression. Those eyes which were lately devoutly cast up to heaven, or with greater humility bent solemnly upon earth, were now sharply and alertly darting their glances through shuttles, and trunks, and drawers, and cabinets, and all the odd corners of an old maiden lady’s repositories. Nor was their search without interest, though they did not find the will of which they were in quest.

Here was a promissory note for 20 Pounds by the minister of the nonjuring chapel, interest marked as paid to Martinmas last, carefully folded up in a new set of words to the old tune of ‘Over the Water to Charlie’; there was a curious love correspondence between the deceased and a certain Lieutenant O’Kean of a marching regiment of foot; and tied up with the letters was a document which at once explained to the relatives why a connexion that boded them little good had been suddenly broken off, being the Lieutenant’s bond for two hundred pounds, upon which no interest whatever appeared to have been paid. Other bills and bonds to a larger amount, and signed by better names (I mean commercially) than those of the worthy divine and gallant soldier, also occurred in the course of their researches, besides a hoard of coins of every size and denomination, and scraps of broken gold and silver, old earrings, hinges of cracked, snuff-boxes, mountings of spectacles, etc. etc. etc. Still no will made its appearance, and Colonel Mannering began full well to hope that the settlement which he had obtained from Glossin contained the ultimate arrangement of the old lady’s affairs. But his friend Pleydell, who now came into the room, cautioned him against entertaining this belief.

‘I am well acquainted with the gentleman,’ he said, ‘who is conducting the search, and I guess from his manner that he knows something more of the matter than any of us.’

Meantime, while the search proceeds, let us take a brief glance at one or two of the company who seem most interested.

Of Dinmont, who, with his large hunting-whip under his arm, stood poking his great round face over the shoulder of the homme d’affaires, it is unnecessary to say anything. That thin-looking oldish person, in a most correct and gentleman-like suit of mourning, is Mac-Casquil, formerly of Drumquag, who was ruined by having a legacy bequeathed to him of two shares in the Ayr bank. His hopes on the present occasion are founded on a very distant relationship, upon his sitting in the same pew with the deceased every Sunday, and upon his playing at cribbage with her regularly on the Saturday evenings, taking great care never to come off a winner. That other coarse-looking man, wearing his own greasy hair tied in a leathern cue more greasy still, is a tobacconist, a relation of Mrs. Bertram’s mother, who, having a good stock in trade when the colonial war broke out, trebled the price of his commodity to all the world, Mrs. Bertram alone excepted, whose tortoise-shell snuff-box was weekly filled with the best rappee at the old prices, because the maid brought it to the shop with Mrs. Bertram’s respects to her cousin Mr. Quid. That young fellow, who has not had the decency to put off his boots and buckskins, might have stood as forward as most of them in the graces of the old lady, who loved to look upon a comely young man; but it is thought he has forfeited the moment of fortune by sometimes neglecting her tea-table when solemnly invited, sometimes appearing there when he had been dining with blyther company, twice treading upon her cat’s tail, and once affronting her parrot.

To Mannering the most interesting of the group was the poor girl who had been a sort of humble companion of the deceased, as a subject upon whom she could at all times expectorate her bad humour. She was for form’s sake dragged into the room by the deceased’s favourite female attendant, where, shrinking into a>corner as soon as possible, she saw with wonder and affright the intrusive researches of the strangers amongst those recesses to which from childhood she had looked with awful veneration. This girl was regarded with an unfavourable eye by all the competitors, honest Dinmont only excepted; the rest conceived they should find in her a formidable competitor, whose claims might at least encumber and diminish their chance of succession. Yet she was the only person present who seemed really to feel sorrow for the deceased. Mrs. Bertram had been her protectress, although from selfish motives, and her capricious tyranny was forgotten at the moment, while the tears followed each other fast down the cheeks of her frightened and friendless dependent. ‘There’s ower muckle saut water there, Drumquag,’ said the tobacconist to the ex — proprietor, ‘to bode ither folk muckle gude. Folk seldom greet that gate but they ken what it’s for.’ Mr. Mac-Casquil only replied with a nod, feeling the propriety of asserting his superior gentry in presence of Mr. Pleydell and Colonel Mannering.

‘Very queer if there suld be nae will after a’, friend,’ said Dinmont, who began to grow impatient, to the man of business.

‘A moment’s patience, if you please. She was a good and prudent woman, Mrs. Margaret Bertram — a good and prudent and well-judging woman, and knew how to choose friends and depositaries; she may have put her last will and testament, or rather her mortis causa settlement, as it relates to heritage, into the hands of some safe friend.’

‘I’ll bet a rump and dozen,’ said Pleydell, whispering to the Colonel, ‘he has got it in his own pocket.’ Then addressing the man of law, ‘Come, sir, we’ll cut this short, if you please: here is a settlement of the estate of Singleside, executed several years ago, in favour of Miss Lucy Bertram of Ellangowan.’ The company stared fearfully wild. ‘You, I presume, Mr. Protocol, can inform us if there is a later deed?’

‘Please to favour me, Mr. Pleydell’; and so saying, he took the deed out of the learned counsel’s hand, and glanced his eye over the contents.

‘Too cool,’ said Pleydell, ‘too cool by half; he has another deed in his pocket still.’

‘Why does he not show it then, and be d-d to him!’ said the military gentleman, whose patience began to wax threadbare.

‘Why, how should I know?’ answered the barrister; ‘why does a cat not kill a mouse when she takes him? The consciousness of power and the love of teasing, I suppose. Well, Mr. Protocol, what say you to that deed?’

‘Why, Mr. Pleydell, the deed is a well-drawn deed, properly authenticated and tested in forms of the statute.’

‘But recalled or superseded by another of posterior date in your possession, eh?’ said the Counsellor.

‘Something of the sort, I confess, Mr. Pleydell,’ rejoined the man of business, producing a bundle tied with tape, and sealed at each fold and ligation with black wax. ‘That deed, Mr. Pleydell, which you produce and found upon, is dated 1st June 17 —; but this (breaking the seals and unfolding the document slowly) is dated the 20th — no, I see it is the 21st — of April of this present year, being ten years posterior.’

‘Marry, hang her, brock!’ said the Counsellor, borrowing an exclamation from Sir Toby Belch; ‘just the month in which Ellangowan’s distresses became generally public. But let us hear what she has done.’

Mr. Protocol accordingly, having required silence, began to read the settlement aloud in a slow, steady, business-like tone. The group around, in whose eyes hope alternately awakened and faded, and who were straining their apprehensions to get at the drift of the testator’s meaning through the mist of technical language in which the conveyance had involved it, might have made a study for Hogarth.

The deed was of an unexpected nature. It set forth with conveying and disponing all and whole the estate and lands of Singleside and others, with the lands of Loverless, Liealone, Spinster’s Knowe, and heaven knows what beside, ‘to and in favours of (here the reader softened his voice to a gentle and modest piano) Peter Protocol, clerk to the signet, having the fullest confidence in his capacity and integrity — these are the very words which my worthy deceased friend insisted upon my inserting — but in trust always (here the reader recovered his voice and style, and the visages of several of the hearers, which had attained a longitude that Mr. Mortcloke might have envied, were perceptibly shortened) — in trust always, and for the uses, ends, and purposes hereinafter mentioned.’

In these ‘uses, ends, and purposes’ lay the cream of the affair. The first was introduced by a preamble setting forth that the testatrix was lineally descended from the ancient house of Ellangowan, her respected great-grandfather, Andrew Bertram, first of Singleside, of happy memory, having been second son to Allan Bertram, fifteenth Baron of Ellangowan. It proceeded to state that Henry Bertram, son and heir of Godfrey Bertram, now of Ellangowan, had been stolen from his parents in infancy, but that she, the testatrix, was well assured that he was yet alive in foreign parts, and by the providence of heaven would be restored to the possessions of his ancestors, in which case the said Peter Protocol was bound and obliged, like as he bound and obliged himself, by acceptance of these presents, to denude himself of the said lands of Singleside and others, and of all the other effects thereby conveyed (excepting always a proper gratification for his own trouble), to and in favour of the said Henry Bertram, upon his return to his native country. And during the time of his residing in foreign parts, or in case of his never again returning to Scotland, Mr. Peter Protocol, the trustee, was directed to distribute the rents of the land, and interest of the other funds (deducting always a proper gratification for his trouble in the premises), in equal portions, among four charitable establishments pointed out in the will. The power of management, of letting leases, of raising and lending out money, in short, the full authority of a proprietor, was vested in this confidential trustee, and, in the event of his death, went to certain official persons named in the deed. There were only two legacies; one of a hundred pounds to a favourite waiting-maid, another of the like sum to Janet Gibson (whom the deed stated to have been supported by the charity of the testatrix), for the purpose of binding her an apprentice to some honest trade.

A settlement in mortmain is in Scotland termed a mortification, and in one great borough (Aberdeen, if I remember rightly) there is a municipal officer who takes care of these public endowments, and is thence called the Master of Mortifications. One would almost presume that the term had its origin in the effect which such settlements usually produce upon the kinsmen of those by whom they are executed. Heavy at least was the mortification which befell the audience who, in the late Mrs. Margaret Bertram’s parlour, had listened to this unexpected destination of the lands of Singleside. There was a profound silence after the deed had been read over.

Mr. Pleydell was the first to speak. He begged to look at the deed, and, having satisfied himself that it was correctly drawn and executed, he returned it without any observation, only saying aside to Mannering, ‘Protocol is not worse than other people, I believe; but this old lady has determined that, if he do not turn rogue, it shall not be for want of temptation.’

‘I really think,’ said Mr. Mac-Casquil of Drumquag, who, having gulped down one half of his vexation, determined to give vent to the rest — ‘I really think this is an extraordinary case! I should like now to know from Mr. Protocol, who, being sole and unlimited trustee, must have been consulted upon this occasion — I should like, I say, to know how Mrs. Bertram could possibly believe in the existence of a boy that a’ the world kens was murdered many a year since?’

‘Really, sir,’ said Mr. Protocol, ‘I do not conceive it is possible for me to explain her motives more than she has done herself. Our excellent deceased friend was a good woman, sir — a pious woman — and might have grounds for confidence in the boy’s safety which are not accessible to us, sir.’

‘Hout,’ said the tobacconist, ‘I ken very weel what were her grounds for confidence. There’s Mrs. Rebecca (the maid) sitting there has tell’d me a hundred times in my ain shop, there was nae kenning how her leddy wad settle her affairs, for an auld gipsy witch wife at Gilsland had possessed her with a notion that the callant — Harry Bertram ca’s she him? — would come alive again some day after a’. Ye’ll no deny that, Mrs. Rebecca? though I dare to say ye forgot to put your mistress in mind of what ye promised to say when I gied ye mony a half-crown. But ye’ll no deny what I am saying now, lass?’

‘I ken naething at a’ about it,’ answered Rebecca, doggedly, and looking straight forward with the firm countenance of one not disposed to be compelled to remember more than was agreeable to her.

‘Weel said, Rebecca! ye’re satisfied wi’ your ain share ony way,’ rejoined the tobacconist.

The buck of the second-head, for a buck of the first-head he was not, had hitherto been slapping his boots with his switch-whip, and looking like a spoiled child that has lost its supper. His murmurs, however, were all vented inwardly, or at most in a soliloquy such as this — ‘I am sorry, by G-d, I ever plagued myself about her. I came here, by G-d, one night to drink tea, and I left King and the Duke’s rider Will Hack. They were toasting a round of running horses; by G-d, I might have got leave to wear the jacket as well as other folk if I had carried it on with them; and she has not so much as left me that hundred!’

‘We’ll make the payment of the note quite agreeable,’ said Mr. Protocol, who had no wish to increase at that moment the odium attached to his office. ‘And now, gentlemen, I fancy we have no more to wait for here, and I shall put the settlement of my excellent and worthy friend on record to-morrow, that every gentleman may examine the contents, and have free access to take an extract; and’ — he proceeded to lock up the repositories of the deceased with more speed than he had opened them — ‘Mrs. Rebecca, ye’ll be so kind as to keep all right here until we can let the house; I had an offer from a tenant this morning, if such a thing should be, and if I was to have any management.’

Our friend Dinmont, having had his hopes as well as another, had hitherto sate sulky enough in the armchair formerly appropriated to the deceased, and in which she would have been not a little scandalised to have seen this colossal specimen of the masculine gender lolling at length. His employment had been rolling up into the form of a coiled snake the long lash of his horse-whip, and then by a jerk causing it to unroll itself into the middle of the floor. The first words he said when he had digested the shock contained a magnanimous declaration, which he probably was not conscious of having uttered aloud — ‘Weel, blude’s thicker than water; she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.’ But when the trustee had made the above-mentioned motion for the mourners to depart, and talked of the house being immediately let, honest Dinmont got upon his feet and stunned the company with this blunt question, ‘And what’s to come o’ this poor lassie then, Jenny Gibson? Sae mony o’us as thought oursells sib to the family when the gear was parting, we may do something for her amang us surely.’

This proposal seemed to dispose most of the assembly instantly to evacuate the premises, although upon Mr. Protocol’s motion they had lingered as if around the grave of their disappointed hopes. Drumquag said, or rather muttered, something of having a family of his own, and took precedence, in virtue of his gentle blood, to depart as fast as possible. The tobacconist sturdily stood forward and scouted the motion — ‘A little huzzie like that was weel eneugh provided for already; and Mr. Protocol at ony rate was the proper person to take direction of her, as he had charge of her legacy’; and after uttering such his opinion in a steady and decisive tone of voice, he also left the place. The buck made a stupid and brutal attempt at a jest upon Mrs. Bertram’s recommendation that the poor girl should be taught some honest trade; but encountered a scowl from Colonel Mannering’s darkening eye (to whom, in his ignorance of the tone of good society, he had looked for applause) that made him ache to the very backbone. He shuffled downstairs, therefore, as fast as possible.

Protocol, who was really a good sort of man, next expressed his intention to take a temporary charge of the young lady, under protest always that his so doing should be considered as merely eleemosynary; when Dinmont at length got up, and, having shaken his huge dreadnought great-coat, as a Newfoundland dog does his shaggy hide when he comes out of the water, ejaculated, ‘Weel, deil hae me then, if ye hae ony fash wi’ her, Mr. Protocol, if she likes to gang hame wi’ me, that is. Ye see, Ailie and me we’re weel to pass, and we would like the lassies to hae a wee bit mair lair than oursells, and to be neighbour-like, that wad we. And ye see Jenny canna miss but to ken manners, and the like o’ reading books, and sewing seams, having lived sae lang wi’ a grand lady like Lady Singleside; or, if she disna ken ony thing about it, I’m jealous that our bairns will like her a’ the better. And I’ll take care o’ the bits o’ claes, and what spending siller she maun hae, so the hundred pound may rin on in your hands, Mr. Protocol, and I’ll be adding something till’t, till she’ll maybe get a Liddesdale joe that wants something to help to buy the hirsel. What d’ye say to that, hinny? I’ll take out a ticket for ye in the fly to Jethart; od, but ye maun take a powny after that o’er the Limestane Rig, deil a wheeled carriage ever gaed into Liddesdale.23 And I’ll be very glad if Mrs. Rebecca comes wi’ you, hinny, and stays a month or twa while ye’re stranger like.’

While Mrs. Rebecca was curtsying, and endeavouring to make the poor orphan girl curtsy instead of crying, and while Dandie, in his rough way, was encouraging them both, old Pleydell had recourse to his snuff-box. ‘It’s meat and drink to me now, Colonel,’ he said, as he recovered himself, ‘to see a clown like this. I must gratify him in his own way, must assist him to ruin himself; there’s no help for it. Here, you Liddesdale — Dandie — Charlie’s Hope — what do they call you?’

The farmer turned, infinitely gratified even by this sort of notice; for in his heart, next to his own landlord, he honoured a lawyer in high practice.

‘So you will not be advised against trying that question about your marches?’

‘No, no, sir; naebody likes to lose their right, and to be laughed at down the haill water. But since your honour’s no agreeable, and is maybe a friend to the other side like, we maun try some other advocate.’

‘There, I told you so, Colonel Mannering! Well, sir, if you must needs be a fool, the business is to give you the luxury of a lawsuit at the least possible expense, and to bring you off conqueror if possible. Let Mr. Protocol send me your papers, and I will advise him how to conduct your cause. I don’t see, after all, why you should not have your lawsuits too, and your feuds in the Court of Session, as well as your forefathers had their manslaughters and fire-raisings.’

‘Very natural, to be sure, sir. We wad just take the auld gate as readily, if it werena for the law. And as the law binds us, the law should loose us. Besides, a man’s aye the better thought o’ in our country for having been afore the Feifteen.’

‘Excellently argued, my friend! Away with you, and send your papers to me. Come, Colonel, we have no more to do here.’

‘God, we’ll ding Jock o’ Dawston Cleugh now after a’!’ said Dinmont, slapping his thigh in great exultation.

23 The roads of Liddesdale, in Dandie Dinmont’s days, could not be said to exist, and the district was only accessible through a succession of tremendous morasses. About thirty years ago the author himself was the first person who ever drove a little open carriage into these wilds, the excellent roads by which they are now traversed being then in some progress. The people stared with no small wonder at a sight which many of them had never witnessed in their lives before.

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