Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 41

Yes ye moss-green walls,

Ye towers defenceless, I revisit ye

Shame-stricken! Where are all your trophies now?

Your thronged courts, the revelry, the tumult,

That spoke the grandeur of my house, the homage

Of neighbouring barons?

Mysterious Mother.

Entering the castle of Ellangowan by a postern doorway which showed symptoms of having been once secured with the most jealous care, Brown (whom, since he has set foot upon the property of his fathers, we shall hereafter call by his father’s name of Bertram) wandered from one ruined apartment to another, surprised at the massive strength of some parts of the building, the rude and impressive magnificence of others, and the great extent of the whole. In two of these rooms, close beside each other, he saw signs of recent habitation. In one small apartment were empty bottles, half-gnawed bones, and dried fragments of bread. In the vault which adjoined, and which was defended by a strong door, then left open, he observed a considerable quantity of straw, and in both were the relics of recent fires. How little was it possible for Bertram to conceive that such trivial circumstances were closely connected with incidents affecting his prosperity, his honour, perhaps his life!

After satisfying his curiosity by a hasty glance through the interior of the castle, Bertram now advanced through the great gateway which opened to the land, and paused to look upon the noble landscape which it commanded. Having in vain endeavoured to guess the position of Woodbourne, and having nearly ascertained that of Kippletringan, he turned to take a parting look at the stately ruins which he had just traversed. He admired the massive and picturesque effect of the huge round towers, which, flanking the gateway, gave a double portion of depth and majesty to the high yet gloomy arch under which it opened. The carved stone escutcheon of the ancient family, bearing for their arms three wolves’ heads, was hung diagonally beneath the helmet and crest, the latter being a wolf couchant pierced with an arrow. On either side stood as supporters, in full human size or larger, a salvage man Proper, to use the language of heraldry, Wreathed and Cinctured, and holding in his hand an oak tree Eradicated, that is, torn up by the roots.

‘And the powerful barons who owned this blazonry,’ thought Bertram, pursuing the usual train of ideas which flows upon the mind at such scenes — ‘do their posterity continue to possess the lands which they had laboured to fortify so strongly? or are they wanderers, ignorant perhaps even of the fame or power of their fore-fathers, while their hereditary possessions are held by a race of strangers? Why is it,’ he thought, continuing to follow out the succession of ideas which the scene prompted — ‘why is it that some scenes awaken thoughts which belong as it were to dreams of early and shadowy recollection, such as my old Brahmin moonshie would have ascribed to a state of previous existence? Is it the visions of our sleep that float confusedly in our memory, and are recalled by the appearance of such real objects as in any respect correspond to the phantoms they presented to our imagination? How often do we find ourselves in society which we have never before met, and yet feel impressed with a mysterious and ill-defined consciousness that neither the scene, the speakers, nor the subject are entirely new; nay, feel as if we could anticipate that part of the conversation which has not yet taken place! It is even so with me while I gaze upon that ruin; nor can I divest myself of the idea that these massive towers and that dark gateway, retiring through its deep-vaulted and ribbed arches, and dimly lighted by the courtyard beyond, are not entirely strange to me. Can it be that they have been familiar to me in infancy, and that I am to seek in their vicinity those friends of whom my childhood has still a tender though faint remembrance, and whom I early exchanged for such severe task-masters? Yet Brown, who, I think, would not have deceived me, always told me I was brought off from the eastern coast, after a skirmish in which my father was killed; and I do remember enough of a horrid scene of violence to strengthen his account.’

It happened that the spot upon which young Bertram chanced to station himself for the better viewing the castle was nearly the same on which his father had died. It was marked by a large old oak-tree, the only one on the esplanade, and which, having been used for executions by the barons of Ellangowan, was called the Justice Tree. It chanced, and the coincidence was remarkable, that Glossin was this morning engaged with a person whom he was in the habit of consulting in such matters concerning some projected repairs and a large addition to the house of Ellangowan, and that, having no great pleasure in remains so intimately connected with the grandeur of the former inhabitants, he had resolved to use the stones of the ruinous castle in his new edifice. Accordingly he came up the bank, followed by the land-surveyor mentioned on a former occasion, who was also in the habit of acting as a sort of architect in case of necessity. In drawing the plans, etc., Glossin was in the custom of relying upon his own skill. Bertram’s back was towards them as they came up the ascent, and he was quite shrouded by the branches of the large tree, so that Glossin was not aware of the presence of the stranger till he was close upon him.

‘Yes, sir, as I have often said before to you, the Old Place is a perfect quarry of hewn stone, and it would be better for the estate if it were all down, since it is only a den for smugglers.’ At this instant Bertram turned short round upon Glossin at the distance of two yards only, and said — ‘Would you destroy this fine old castle, sir?’

His face, person, and voice were so exactly those of his father in his best days, that Glossin, hearing his exclamation, and seeing such a sudden apparition in the shape of his patron, and on nearly the very spot where he had expired, almost thought the grave had given up its dead! He staggered back two or three paces, as if he had received a sudden and deadly wound. He instantly recovered, however, his presence of mind, stimulated by the thrilling reflection that it was no inhabitant of the other world which stood before him, but an injured man whom the slightest want of dexterity on his part might lead to acquaintance with his rights, and the means of asserting them to his utter destruction. Yet his ideas were so much confused by the shock he had received that his first question partook of the alarm.

‘In the name of God, how came you here?’ said Glossin.

‘How came I here?’ repeated Bertram, surprised at the solemnity of the address; ‘I landed a quarter of an hour since in the little harbour beneath the castle, and was employing a moment’s leisure in viewing these fine ruins. I trust there is no intrusion?’

‘Intrusion, sir? No, sir,’ said Glossin, in some degree recovering his breath, and then whispered a few words into his companion’s ear, who immediately left him and descended towards the house. ‘Intrusion, sir? no, sir; you or any gentleman are welcome to satisfy your curiosity.’

‘I thank you, sir,’ said Bertram. ‘They call this the Old Place, I am informed?’

‘Yes, sir; in distinction to the New Place, my house there below.’

Glossin, it must be remarked, was, during the following dialogue, on the one hand eager to learn what local recollections young Bertram had retained of the scenes of his infancy, and on the other compelled to be extremely cautious in his replies, lest he should awaken or assist, by some name, phrase, or anecdote, the slumbering train of association. He suffered, indeed, during the whole scene the agonies which he so richly deserved; yet his pride and interest, like the fortitude of a North American Indian, manned him to sustain the tortures inflicted at once by the contending stings of a guilty conscience, of hatred, of fear, and of suspicion.

‘I wish to ask the name, sir,’ said Bertram, ‘of the family to whom this stately ruin belongs.’

‘It is my property, sir; my name is Glossin.’

‘Glossin — Glossin?’ repeated Bertram, as if the answer were somewhat different from what he expected. ‘I beg your pardon, Mr. Glossin; I am apt to be very absent. May I ask if the castle has been long in your family?’

‘It was built, I believe, long ago by a family called Mac-Dingawaie,’ answered Glossin, suppressing for obvious reasons the more familiar sound of Bertram, which might have awakened the recollections which he was anxious to lull to rest, and slurring with an evasive answer the question concerning the endurance of his own possession.

‘And how do you read the half-defaced motto, sir,’ said Bertram, ‘which is upon that scroll above the entablature with the arms?’

‘I— I— I really do not exactly know,’ replied Glossin.

‘I should be apt to make it out, Our right makes our might.’

‘I believe it is something of that kind,’ said Glossin.

‘May I ask, sir,’ said the stranger, ‘if it is your family motto?’

‘N— n — no — no — not ours. That is, I believe, the motto of the former people; mine is — mine is — in fact, I have had some correspondence with Mr. Cumming of the Lyon Office in Edinburgh about mine. He writes me the Glossins anciently bore for a motto, “He who takes it, makes it.”’

‘If there be any uncertainty, sir, and the case were mine,’ said Bertram, ‘I would assume the old motto, which seems to me the better of the two.’

Glossin, whose tongue by this time clove to the roof of his mouth, only answered by a nod.

‘It is odd enough,’ said Bertram, fixing his eye upon the arms and gateway, and partly addressing Glossin, partly as it were thinking aloud — ‘it is odd the tricks which our memory plays us. The remnants of an old prophecy, or song, or rhyme of some kind or other, return to my recollection on hearing that motto; stay — it is a strange jingle of sounds:—

The dark shall be light, And the wrong made right, When Bertram’s right and Bertram’s might Shall meet on ——

I cannot remember the last line — on some particular height; height is the rhyme, I am sure; but I cannot hit upon the preceding word.’

‘Confound your memory,’ muttered Glossin, ‘you remember by far too much of it!’

‘There are other rhymes connected with these early recollections,’ continued the young man. ‘Pray, sir, is there any song current in this part of the world respecting a daughter of the King of the Isle of Man eloping with a Scottish knight?’

‘I am the worst person in the world to consult upon legendary antiquities,’ answered Glossin.

‘I could sing such a ballad,’ said Bertram, ‘from one end to another when I was a boy. You must know I left Scotland, which is my native country, very young, and those who brought me up discouraged all my attempts to preserve recollection of my native land, on account, I believe, of a boyish wish which I had to escape from their charge.’

‘Very natural,’ said Glossin, but speaking as if his utmost efforts were unable to unseal his lips beyond the width of a quarter of an inch, so that his whole utterance was a kind of compressed muttering, very different from the round, bold, bullying voice with which he usually spoke. Indeed, his appearance and demeanour during all this conversation seemed to diminish even his strength and stature; so that he appeared to wither into the shadow of himself, now advancing one foot, now the other, now stooping and wriggling his shoulders, now fumbling with the buttons of his waistcoat, now clasping his hands together; in short, he was the picture of a mean-spirited, shuffling rascal in the very agonies of detection. To these appearances Bertram was totally inattentive, being dragged on as it were by the current of his own associations. Indeed, although he addressed Glossin, he was not so much thinking of him as arguing upon the embarrassing state of his own feelings and recollection. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I preserved my language among the sailors, most of whom spoke English, and when I could get into a corner by myself I used to sing all that song over from beginning to end; I have forgot it all now, but I remember the tune well, though I cannot guess what should at present so strongly recall it to my memory.’

He took his flageolet from his pocket and played a simple melody. Apparently the tune awoke the corresponding associations of a damsel who, close beside a fine spring about halfway down the descent, and which had once supplied the castle with water, was engaged in bleaching linen. She immediately took up the song:—

‘Are these the Links of Forth, she said,

Or are they the crooks of Dee,

Or the bonnie woods of Warroch Head

That I so fain would see?’

‘By heaven,’ said Bertram, ‘it is the very ballad! I must learn these words from the girl.’

‘Confusion!’ thought Glossin; ‘if I cannot put a stop to this all will be out. O the devil take all ballads and ballad-makers and ballad-singers! and that d — d jade too, to set up her pipe!’ — ‘You will have time enough for this on some other occasion,’ he said aloud; ‘at present’ (for now he saw his emissary with two or three men coming up the bank) — ‘at present we must have some more serious conversation together.’

‘How do you mean, sir?’ said Bertram, turning short upon him, and not liking the tone which he made use of.

‘Why, sir, as to that — I believe your name is Brown?’ said Glossin. ‘And what of that, sir?’

Glossin looked over his shoulder to see how near his party had approached; they were coming fast on. ‘Vanbeest Brown? if I mistake not.’

‘And what of that, sir?’ said Bertram, with increasing astonishment and displeasure.

‘Why, in that case,’ said Glossin, observing his friends had now got upon the level space close beside them — ‘in that case you are my prisoner in the king’s name!’ At the same time he stretched his hand towards Bertram’s collar, while two of the men who had come up seized upon his arms; he shook himself, however, free of their grasp by a violent effort, in which he pitched the most pertinacious down the bank, and, drawing his cutlass, stood on the defensive, while those who had felt his strength recoiled from his presence and gazed at a safe distance. ‘Observe,’ he called out at the same time, ‘that I have no purpose to resist legal authority; satisfy me that you have a magistrate’s warrant, and are authorised to make this arrest, and I will obey it quietly; but let no man who loves his life venture to approach me till I am satisfied for what crime, and by whose authority, I am apprehended.’

Glossin then caused one of the officers show a warrant for the apprehension of Vanbeest Brown, accused of the crime of wilfully and maliciously shooting at Charles Hazlewood, younger of Hazlewood, with an intent to kill, and also of other crimes and misdemeanours, and which appointed him, having been so apprehended, to be brought before the next magistrate for examination. The warrant being formal, and the fact such as he could not deny, Bertram threw down his weapon and submitted himself to the officers, who, flying on him with eagerness corresponding to their former pusillanimity, were about to load him with irons, alleging the strength and activity which he had displayed as a justification of this severity. But Glossin was ashamed or afraid to permit this unnecessary insult, and directed the prisoner to be treated with all the decency, and even respect, that was consistent with safety. Afraid, however, to introduce him into his own house, where still further subjects of recollection might have been suggested, and anxious at the same time to cover his own proceedings by the sanction of another’s authority, he ordered his carriage (for he had lately set up a carriage) to be got ready, and in the meantime directed refreshments to be given to the prisoner and the officers, who were consigned to one of the rooms in the old castle, until the means of conveyance for examination before a magistrate should be provided.

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