Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 39

I am going to the parliament;

You understand this bag. If you have any business

Depending there be short, and let me hear it,

And pay your fees.

Little French Lawyer

‘Shall you be able to carry this honest fellow’s cause for him?’ said Mannering.

‘Why, I don’t know; the battle is not to the strong, but he shall come off triumphant over Jock of Dawston if we can make it out. I owe him something. It is the pest of our profession that we seldom see the best side of human nature. People come to us with every selfish feeling newly pointed and grinded; they turn down the very caulkers of their animosities and prejudices, as smiths do with horses’ shoes in a white frost. Many a man has come to my garret yonder that I have at first longed to pitch out at the window, and yet at length have discovered that he was only doing as I might have done in his case, being very angry, and of course very unreasonable. I have now satisfied myself that, if our profession sees more of human folly and human roguery than others, it is because we witness them acting in that channel in which they can most freely vent themselves. In civilised society law is the chimney through which all that smoke discharges itself that used to circulate through the whole house, and put every one’s eyes out; no wonder, therefore, that the vent itself should sometimes get a little sooty. But we will take care our Liddesdale man’s cause is well conducted and well argued, so all unnecessary expense will be saved: he shall have his pine-apple at wholesale price.’

‘Will you do me the pleasure,’ said Mannering, as they parted, ‘to dine with me at my lodgings? My landlord says he has a bit of red-deer venison and some excellent wine.’

‘Venison, eh?’ answered the Counsellor alertly, but presently added — ‘But no! it’s impossible; and I can’t ask you home neither. Monday’s a sacred day; so’s Tuesday; and Wednesday we are to be heard in the great teind case in presence, but stay — it’s frosty weather, and if you don’t leave town, and that venison would keep till Thursday — ’

‘You will dine with me that day?’

‘Under certification.’

‘Well, then, I will indulge a thought I had of spending a week here; and if the venison will not keep, why we will see what else our landlord can do for us.’

‘O, the venison will keep,’ said Pleydell; ‘and now good-bye. Look at these two or three notes, and deliver them if you like the addresses. I wrote them for you this morning. Farewell, my clerk has been waiting this hour to begin a d-d information.’ And away walked Mr. Pleydell with great activity, diving through closes and ascending covered stairs in order to attain the High Street by an access which, compared to the common route, was what the Straits of Magellan are to the more open but circuitous passage round Cape Horn.

On looking at the notes of introduction which Pleydell had thrust into his hand, Mannering was gratified with seeing that they were addressed to some of the first literary characters of Scotland. ‘To David Hume, Esq.’

To John Home, Esq.’ ‘To Dr. Ferguson.’ ‘To Dr. Black.’ ‘To Lord Kaimes.’ ‘To Mr. Button.’ ‘To John Clerk, Esq., of Eldin.’ ‘To Adam Smith, Esq.’ ‘To Dr. Robertson.’

‘Upon my word, my legal friend has a good selection of acquaintances; these are names pretty widely blown indeed. An East-Indian must rub up his facultiesa little, and put his mind in order, before he enters this sort of society.’

Mannering gladly availed himself of these introductions; and we regret deeply it is not in our power to give the reader an account of the pleasure and information which he received in admission to a circle never closed against strangers of sense and information, and which has perhaps at no period been equalled, considering the depth and variety of talent which it embraced and concentrated.

Upon the Thursday appointed Mr. Pleydell made his appearance at the inn where Colonel Mannering lodged. The venison proved in high order, the claret excellent, and the learned counsel, a professed amateur in the affairs of the table, did distinguished honour to both. I am uncertain, however, if even the good cheer gave him more satisfaction than the presence of Dominie Sampson, from whom, in his own juridical style of wit, he contrived to extract great amusement both for himself and one or two friends whom the Colonel regaled on the same occasion. The grave and laconic simplicity of Sampson’s answers to the insidious questions of the barrister placed the bonhomie of his character in a more luminous point of view than Mannering had yet seen it. Upon the same occasion he drew forth a strange quantity of miscellaneous and abstruse, though, generally speaking, useless learning. The lawyer afterwards compared his mind to the magazine of a pawnbroker, stowed with goods of every description, but so cumbrously piled together, and in such total disorganisation, that the owner can never lay his hands upon any one article at the moment he has occasion for it.

As for the advocate himself, he afforded at least as much exercise to Sampson as he extracted amusement from him. When the man of law began to get into his altitudes, and his wit, naturally shrewd and dry, became more lively and poignant, the Dominie looked upon him with that sort of surprise with which we can conceive a tame bear might regard his future associate, the monkey, on their being first introduced to each other. It was Mr. Pleydell’s delight to state in grave and serious argument some position which he knew the Dominie would be inclined to dispute. He then beheld with exquisite pleasure the internal labour with which the honest man arranged his ideas for reply, and tasked his inert and sluggish powers to bring up all the heavy artillery of his learning for demolishing the schismatic or heretical opinion which had been stated, when behold, before the ordnance could be discharged, the foe had quitted the post and appeared in a new position of annoyance on the Dominie’s flank or rear. Often did he exclaim ‘Prodigious!’ when, marching up to the enemy in full confidence of victory, he found the field evacuated, and it may be supposed that it cost him no little labour to attempt a new formation. ‘He was like a native Indian army,’ the Colonel said, ‘formidable by numerical strength and size of ordnance, but liable to be thrown into irreparable confusion by a movement to take them in flank.’ On the whole, however, the Dominie, though somewhat fatigued with these mental exertions, made at unusual speed and upon the pressure of the moment, reckoned this one of the white days of his life, and always mentioned Mr. Pleydell as a very erudite and fa-ce-ti-ous person.

By degrees the rest of the party dropped off and left these three gentlemen together. Their conversation turned to Mrs. Bertram’s settlements. ‘Now what could drive it into the noddle of that old harridan,’ said Pleydell, ‘to disinherit poor Lucy Bertram under pretence of settling her property on a boy who has been so long dead and gone? I ask your pardon, Mr. Sampson, I forgot what an affecting case this was for you; I remember taking your examination upon it, and I never had so much trouble to make any one speak three words consecutively. You may talk of your Pythagoreans or your silent Brahmins, Colonel; go to, I tell you this learned gentleman beats them all in taciturnity; but the words of the wise are precious, and not to be thrown away lightly.’

‘Of a surety,’ said the Dominie, taking his blue-checqued handkerchief from his eyes, ‘that was a bitter day with me indeed; ay, and a day of grief hard to be borne; but He giveth strength who layeth on the load.’

Colonel Mannering took this opportunity to request Mr. Pleydell to inform him of the particulars attending the loss of the boy; and the Counsellor, who was fond of talking upon subjects of criminal jurisprudence, especially when connected with his own experience, went through the circumstances at full length. ‘And what is your opinion upon the result of the whole?’

‘O, that Kennedy was murdered: it’s an old case which has occurred on that coast before now, the case of Smuggler versus Exciseman.’

‘What, then, is your conjecture concerning the fate of the child?’

‘O, murdered too, doubtless,’ answered Pleydell. ‘He was old enough to tell what he had seen, and these ruthless scoundrels would not scruple committing a second Bethlehem massacre if they thought their interest required it.’

The Dominie groaned deeply, and ejaculated, ‘Enormous!’

‘Yet there was mention of gipsies in the business too, Counsellor,’ said Mannering, ‘and from what that vulgar-looking fellow said after the funeral — ’

‘Mrs. Margaret Bertram’s idea that the child was alive was founded upon the report of a gipsy?’ said Pleydell, catching at the half-spoken hint. ‘I envy you the concatenation, Colonel; it is a shame to me not to have drawn the same conclusion. We’ll follow this business up instantly. Here, hark ye, waiter, go down to Luckie Wood’s in the Cowgate; ye’ll find my clerk Driver; he’ll be set down to high jinks by this time — for we and our retainers, Colonel, are exceedingly regular in our irregularities — tell him to come here instantly and I will pay his forfeits.’

‘He won’t appear in character, will he?’ said Mannering.

‘Ah! “no more of that, Hal, an thou lovest me,”’ said Pleydell. ‘But we must have some news from the land of Egypt, if possible. O, if I had but hold of the slightest thread of this complicated skein, you should see how I would unravel it! I would work the truth out of your Bohemian, as the French call them, better than a monitoire or a plainte de Tournelle; I know how to manage a refractory witness.’

While Mr. Pleydell was thus vaunting his knowledge of his profession, the waiter reentered with Mr. Driver, his mouth still greasy with mutton pies, and the froth of the last draught of twopenny yet unsubsided on his upper lip, with such speed had he obeyed the commands of his principal. ‘Driver, you must go instantly and find out the woman who was old Mrs. Margaret Bertram’s maid. Inquire for her everywhere, but if you find it necessary to have recourse to Protocol, Quid the tobacconist, or any other of these folks, you will take care not to appear yourself, but send some woman of your acquaintance; I daresay you know enough that may be so condescending as to oblige you. When you have found her out, engage her to come to my chambers tomorrow at eight o’clock precisely.’

‘What shall I say to make her forthcoming?’ asked the aid-de-camp.

‘Anything you choose,’ replied the lawyer. ‘Is it my business to make lies for you, do you think? But let her be in praesentia by eight o’clock, as I have said before.’ The clerk grinned, made his reverence, and exit.

‘That’s a useful fellow,’ said the Counsellor; ‘I don’t believe his match ever carried a process. He’ll write to my dictating three nights in the week without sleep, or, what’s the same thing, he writes as well and correctly when he’s asleep as when he’s awake. Then he’s such a steady fellow; some of them are always changing their ale-houses, so that they have twenty cadies sweating after them, like the bare-headed captains traversing the taverns of Eastcheap in search of Sir John Falstaff. But this is a complete fixture; he has his winter seat by the fire and his summer seat by the window in Luckie Wood’s, betwixt which seats are his only migrations; there he’s to be found at all times when he is off duty. It is my opinion he never puts off his clothes or goes to sleep; sheer ale supports him under everything. It is meat, drink, and cloth, bed, board, and washing.’

‘And is he always fit for duty upon a sudden turnout? I should distrust it, considering his quarters.’

‘O, drink, never disturbs him, Colonel; he can write for hours after he cannot speak. I remember being called suddenly to draw an appeal case. I had been dining, and it was Saturday night, and I had ill will to begin to it; however, they got me down to Clerihugh’s, and there we sat birling till I had a fair tappit hen24 under my belt, and then they persuaded me to draw the paper. Then we had to seek Driver, and it was all that two men could do to bear him in, for, when found, he was, as it happened, both motionless and speechless. But no sooner was his pen put between his fingers, his paper stretched before him, and he heard my voice, than he began to write like a scrivener; and, excepting that we were obliged to have somebody to dip his pen in the ink, for he could not see the standish, I never saw a thing scrolled more handsomely.’

‘But how did your joint production look the next morning?’ said the Colonel.

‘Wheugh! capital! not three words required to be altered: 25 it was sent off by that day’s post. But you’ll come and breakfast with me to-morrow, and hear this woman’s examination?’

‘Why, your hour is rather early.’

‘Can’t make it later. If I were not on the boards of the Outer House precisely as the nine-hours’ bell rings, there would be a report that I had got an apoplexy, and I should feel the effects of it all the rest of the session.’

‘Well, I will make an exertion to wait upon you.’

Here the company broke up for the evening.

In the morning Colonel Mannering appeared at the Counsellor’s chambers, although cursing the raw air of a Scottish morning in December. Mr. Pleydell had got Mrs. Rebecca installed on one side of his fire, accommodated her with a cup of chocolate, and was already deeply engaged in conversation with her. ‘O no, I assure you, Mrs. Rebecca, there is no intention to challenge your mistress’s will; and I give you my word of honour that your legacy is quite safe. You have deserved it by your conduct to your mistress, and I wish it had been twice as much.’

‘Why, to be sure, sir, it’s no right to mention what is said before ane; ye heard how that dirty body Quid cast up to me the bits o’ compliments he gied me, and tell’d ower again ony loose cracks I might hae had wi’ him; now if ane was talking loosely to your honour, there’s nae saying what might come o’t.’

‘I assure you, my good Rebecca, my character and your own age and appearance are your security, if you should talk as loosely as an amatory poet.’

‘Aweel, if your honour thinks I am safe — the story is just this. Ye see, about a year ago, or no just sae lang, my leddy was advised to go to Gilsland for a while, for her spirits were distressing her sair. Ellangowan’s troubles began to be spoken o’ publicly, and sair vexed she was; for she was proud o’ her family. For Ellangowan himsell and her, they sometimes ‘greed and some times no; but at last they didna ‘gree at a’ for twa or three year, for he was aye wanting to borrow siller, and that was what she couldna bide at no hand, and she was aye wanting it paid back again, and that the Laird he liked as little. So at last they were clean aff thegither. And then some of the company at Gilsland tells her that the estate was to be sell’d; and ye wad hae thought she had taen an ill will at Miss Lucy Bertram frae that moment, for mony a time she cried to me, “O Becky, O Becky, if that useless peenging thing o’ a lassie there at Ellangowan, that canna keep her ne’er-do-weel father within bounds — if she had been but a lad-bairn they couldna hae sell’d the auld inheritance for that fool-body’s debts”; and she would rin on that way till I was just wearied and sick to hear her ban the puir lassie, as if she wadna hae been a lad-bairn and keepit the land if it had been in her will to change her sect. And ae day at the spaw-well below the craig at Gilsland she was seeing a very bonny family o’ bairns — they belanged to ane Mac-Crosky — and she broke out — “Is not it an odd like thing that ilka waf carle in the country has a son and heir, and that the house of Ellangowan is without male succession?” There was a gipsy wife stood ahint and heard her, a muckle sture fearsome-looking wife she was as ever I set een on. “Wha is it,” says she, “that dare say the house of Ellangowan will perish without male succession?” My mistress just turned on her; she was a high-spirited woman, and aye ready wi’ an answer to a’ body. “It’s me that says it,” says she, “that may say it with a sad heart.” Wi’ that the gipsy wife gripped till her hand — “I ken you weel eneugh,” says she, “though ye kenna me. But as sure as that sun’s in heaven, and as sure as that water’s rinning to the sea, and as sure as there’s an ee that sees and an ear that hears us baith, Harry Bertram, that was thought to perish at Warroch Point, never did die there. He was to have a weary weird o’t till his ane-and-twentieth year, that was aye said o’ him; but if ye live and I live, ye’ll hear mair o’ him this winter before the snaw lies twa days on the Dun of Singleside. I want nane o’ your siller,” she said, “to make ye think I am blearing your ee; fare ye weel till after Martinmas.” And there she left us standing.’

‘Was she a very tall woman?’ interrupted Mannering.

‘Had she black hair, black eyes, and a cut above the brow?’ added the lawyer.

‘She was the tallest woman I ever saw, and her hair was as black as midnight, unless where it was grey, and she had a scar abune the brow that ye might hae laid the lith of your finger in. Naebody that’s seen her will ever forget her; and I am morally sure that it was on the ground o’ what that gipsy-woman said that my mistress made her will, having taen a dislike at the young leddy o’ Ellangowan. And she liked her far waur after she was obliged to send her L20; for she said Miss Bertram, no content wi’ letting the Ellangowan property pass into strange hands, owing to her being a lass and no a lad, was coming, by her poverty, to be a burden and a disgrace to Singleside too. But I hope my mistress’s is a good will for a’ that, for it would be hard on me to lose the wee bit legacy; I served for little fee and bountith, weel I wot.’

The Counsellor relieved her fears on this head, then inquired after Jenny Gibson, and understood she had accepted Mr. Dinmont’s offer. ‘And I have done sae mysell too, since he was sae discreet as to ask me,’ said Mrs. Rebecca; ‘they are very decent folk the Dinmonts, though my lady didna dow to hear muckle about the friends on that side the house. But she liked the Charlie’s Hope hams and the cheeses and the muir-fowl that they were aye sending, and the lamb’s-wool hose and mittens — she liked them weel eneugh.’

Mr. Pleydell now dismissed Mrs. Rebecca. When she was gone, ‘I think I know the gipsy-woman,’ said the lawyer.

‘I was just going to say the same,’ replied Mannering.

‘And her name,’ said Pleydell —

‘Is Meg Merrilies,’ answered the Colonel.

‘Are you avised of that?’ said the Counsellor, looking at his military friend with a comic expression of surprise.

Mannering answered that he had known such a woman when he was at Ellangowan upwards of twenty years before; and then made his learned friend acquainted with all the remarkable particulars of his first visit there.

Mr. Pleydell listened with great attention, and then replied, ‘I congratulated myself upon having made the acquaintance of a profound theologian in your chaplain; but I really did not expect to find a pupil of Albumazar or Messahala in his patron. I have a notion, however, this gipsy could tell us some more of the matter than she derives from astrology or second-sight. I had her through hands once, and could then make little of her, but I must write to Mac-Morlan to stir heaven and earth to find her out. I will gladly come to — shire myself to assist at her examination; I am still in the commission of the peace there, though I have ceased to be sheriff. I never had anything more at heart in my life than tracing that murder and the fate of the child. I must write to the sheriff of Roxburghshire too, and to an active justice of peace in Cumberland.’

‘I hope when you come to the country you will make Woodbourne your headquarters?’

‘Certainly; I was afraid you were going to forbid me. But we must go to breakfast now or I shall be too late.’

On the following day the new friends parted, and the Colonel rejoined his family without any adventure worthy of being detailed in these chapters.

24 The Tappit Hen contained three quarts of claret —

Weel she loed a Hawick gill,

And leugh to see a tappit hen.

I have seen one of these formidable stoups at Provost Haswell’s, at Jedburgh, in the days of yore It was a pewter measure, the claret being in ancient days served from the tap, and had the figure of a hen upon the lid. In later times the name was given to a glass bottle of the same dimensions. These are rare apparitions among the degenerate topers of modern days.

25 The account given by Mr. Pleydell of his sitting down in the midst of a revel to draw an appeal case was taken from a story told me by an aged gentleman of the elder President Dundas of Amiston (father of the younger President and of Lord Melville). It had been thought very desirable, while that distinguished lawyer was king’s counsel, that his assistance should be obtained in drawing an appeal case, which, as occasion for such writings then rarely occurred, was held to be matter of great nicety. The solicitor employed for the appellant, attended by my informant acting as his clerk, went to the Lord Advocate’s chambers in the Fishmarket Close, as I think. It was Saturday at noon, the Court was just dismissed, the Lord Advocate had changed his dress and booted himself, and his servant and horses were at the foot of the close to carry him to Arniston. It was scarcely possible to get him to listen to a word respecting business. The wily agent, however, on pretence of asking one or two questions, which would not detain him half an hour, drew his Lordship, who was no less an eminent ban vivant than a lawyer of unequalled talent, to take a whet at a celebrated tavern, when the learned counsel became gradually involved in a spirited discussion of the law points of the case. At length it occurred to him that he might as well ride to Arniston in the cool of the evening. The horses were directed to be put in the stable, but not to be unsaddled. Dinner was ordered, the law was laid aside for a time, and the bottle circulated very freely. At nine o’clock at night, after he had been honouring Bacchus for so many hours, the Lord Advocate ordered his horses to be unsaddled; paper, pen, and ink were brought; he began to dictate the appeal case, and continued at his task till four o’clock the next morning. By next day’s post the solicitor sent the case to London, a chef-d’oeuvre of its kind; and in which, my informant assured me, it was not necessary on revisal to correct five words. I am not, therefore, conscious of having overstepped accuracy in describing the manner in which Scottish lawyers of the old time occasionally united the worship of Bacchus with that of Themis. My informant was Alexander Keith, Esq., grandfather to my friend, the present Sir Alexander Keith of Ravelstone, and apprentice at the time to the writer who conducted the cause.

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