Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 45

But if thou shouldst be dragg’d in scorn

To yonder ignominious tree,

Thou shall not want one faithful friend

To share the cruel fates’ decree.

Shenstone.

Plunged in the gloomy reflections which were naturally excited by his dismal reading and disconsolate situation, Bertram for the first time in his life felt himself affected with a disposition to low spirits. ‘I have been in worse situations than this too,’ he said; ‘more dangerous, for here is no danger; more dismal in prospect, for my present confinement must necessarily be short; more intolerable for the time, for here, at least, I have fire, food, and shelter. Yet, with reading these bloody tales of crime and misery in a place so corresponding to the ideas which they excite, and in listening to these sad sounds, I feel a stronger disposition to melancholy than in my life I ever experienced. But I will not give way to it. Begone, thou record of guilt and infamy!’ he said, flinging the book upon the spare bed; ‘a Scottish jail shall not break, on the very first day, the spirits which have resisted climate, and want, and penury, and disease, and imprisonment in a foreign land. I have fought many a hard battle with Dame Fortune, and she shall not beat me now if I can help it.’

Then bending his mind to a strong effort, he endeavoured to view his situation in the most favourable light. Delaserre must soon be in Scotland; the certificates from his commanding officer must soon arrive; nay, if Mannering were first applied to, who could say but the effect might be a reconciliation between them? He had often observed, and now remembered, that when his former colonel took the part of any one, it was never by halves, and that he seemed to love those persons most who had lain under obligation to him. In the present case a favour, which could be asked with honour and granted with readiness, might be the means of reconciling them to each other. From this his feelings naturally turned towards Julia; and, without very nicely measuring the distance between a soldier of fortune, who expected that her father’s attestation would deliver him from confinement, and the heiress of that father’s wealth and expectations, he was building the gayest castle in the clouds, and varnishing it with all the tints of a summer-evening sky, when his labour was interrupted by a loud knocking at the outer gate, answered by the barking of the gaunt half-starved mastiff which was quartered in the courtyard as an addition to the garrison. After much scrupulous precaution the gate was opened and some person admitted. The house-door was next unbarred, unlocked, and unchained, a dog’s feet pattered upstairs in great haste, and the animal was heard scratching and whining at the door of the room. Next a heavy step was heard lumbering up, and Mac-Guffog’s voice in the character of pilot — ‘This way, this way; take care of the step; that’s the room.’ Bertram’s door was then unbolted, and to his great surprise and joy his terrier, Wasp, rushed into the apartment and almost devoured him with caresses, followed by the massy form of his friend from Charlie’s Hope.

‘Eh whow! Eh whow!’ ejaculated the honest farmer, as he looked round upon his friend’s miserable apartment and wretched accommodation — ‘What’s this o’t! what’s this o’t!’

‘Just a trick of fortune, my good friend,’ said Bertram, rising and shaking him heartily by the hand, ‘that’s all.’

‘But what will be done about it? or what can be done about it?’ said honest Dandie. ‘Is’t for debt, or what is’t for?’

‘Why, it is not for debt,’ answered Bertram; ‘and if you have time to sit down, I’ll tell you all I know of the matter myself.’

‘If I hae time?’ said Dandie, with an accent on the word that sounded like a howl of derision. ‘Ou, what the deevil am I come here for, man, but just ance errand to see about it? But ye’ll no be the waur o’ something to eat, I trow; it’s getting late at e’en. I tell’d the folk at the Change, where I put up Dumple, to send ower my supper here, and the chield Mac-Guffog is agreeable to let it in; I hae settled a’ that. And now let’s hear your story. Whisht, Wasp, man! wow, but he’s glad to see you, poor thing!’

Bertram’s story, being confined to the accident of Hazlewood, and the confusion made between his own identity and that of one of the smugglers who had been active in the assault of Woodbourne, and chanced to bear the same name, was soon told. Dinmont listened very attentively. ‘Aweel,’ he said, ‘this suld be nae sic dooms desperate business surely; the lad’s doing weel again that was hurt, and what signifies twa or three lead draps in his shouther? if ye had putten out his ee it would hae been another case. But eh, as I wuss auld Sherra Pleydell was to the fore here! Od, he was the man for sorting them, and the queerest rough-spoken deevil too that ever ye heard!’

‘But now tell me, my excellent friend, how did you find out I was here?’

‘Od, lad, queerly eneugh,’ said Dandie; ‘but I’ll tell ye that after we are done wi’ our supper, for it will maybe no be sae weel to speak about it while that lang-lugged limmer o’ a lass is gaun flisking in and out o’ the room.’

Bertram’s curiosity was in some degree put to rest by the appearance of the supper which his friend had ordered, which, although homely enough, had the appetising cleanliness in which Mrs. Mac-Guffog’s cookery was so eminently deficient. Dinmont also, premising he had ridden the whole day since breakfast-time without tasting anything ‘to speak of,’ which qualifying phrase related to about three pounds of cold roast mutton which he had discussed at his mid-day stage — Dinmont, I say, fell stoutly upon the good cheer, and, like one of Homer’s heroes, said little, either good or bad, till the rage of thirst and hunger was appeased. At length, after a draught of home-brewed ale, he began by observing, ‘Aweel, aweel, that hen,’ looking upon the lamentable relics of what had been once a large fowl, ‘wasna a bad ane to be bred at a town end, though it’s no like our barn-door chuckies at Charlie’s Hope; and I am glad to see that this vexing job hasna taen awa your appetite, Captain.’

‘Why, really, my dinner was not so excellent, Mr. Dinmont, as to spoil my supper.’

‘I daresay no, I daresay no,’ said Dandie. ‘But now, hinny, that ye hae brought us the brandy, and the mug wi’ the het water, and the sugar, and a’ right, ye may steek the door, ye see, for we wad hae some o’ our ain cracks.’ The damsel accordingly retired and shut the door of the apartment, to which she added the precaution of drawing a large bolt on the outside.

As soon as she was gone Dandie reconnoitred the premises, listened at the key-hole as if he had been listening for the blowing of an otter, and, having satisfied himself that there were no eavesdroppers, returned to the table; and, making himself what he called a gey stiff cheerer, poked the fire, and began his story in an undertone of gravity and importance not very usual with him.

‘Ye see, Captain, I had been in Edinbro’ for twa or three days, looking after the burial of a friend that we hae lost, and maybe I suld hae had something for my ride; but there’s disappointments in a’ things, and wha can help the like o’ that? And I had a wee bit law business besides, but that’s neither here nor there. In short, I had got my matters settled, and hame I cam; and the morn awa to the muirs to see what the herds had been about, and I thought I might as weel gie a look to the Touthope Head, where Jock o’ Dawston and me has the outcast about a march. Weel, just as I was coming upon the bit, I saw a man afore me that I kenn’d was nane o’ our herds, and it’s a wild bit to meet ony other body, so when I cam up to him it was Tod Gabriel, the fox-hunter. So I says to him, rather surprised like, “What are ye doing up amang the craws here, without your hounds, man? are ye seeking the fox without the dogs?” So he said, “Na, gudeman, but I wanted to see yoursell.”

‘“Ay,” said I, “and ye’ll be wanting eilding now, or something to pit ower the winter?”

‘“Na, na,” quo’ he, “it’s no that I’m seeking; but ye tak an unco concern in that Captain Brown that was staying wi’ you, d’ye no?”

‘“Troth do I, Gabriel,” says I; “and what about him, lad?”

‘Says he, “There’s mair tak an interest in him than you, and some that I am bound to obey; and it’s no just on my ain will that I’m here to tell you something about him that will no please you.”

‘“Faith, naething will please me,” quo’ I, “that’s no pleasing to him.”

‘“And then,” quo’ he, “ye’ll be ill-sorted to hear that he’s like to be in the prison at Portanferry, if he disna tak a’ the better care o’ himsell, for there’s been warrants out to tak him as soon as he comes ower the water frae Allonby. And now, gudeman, an ever ye wish him weel, ye maun ride down to Portanferry, and let nae grass grow at the nag’s heels; and if ye find him in confinement, ye maun stay beside him night and day for a day or twa, for he’ll want friends that hae baith heart and hand; and if ye neglect this ye’ll never rue but ance, for it will be for a’ your life.”

‘“But, safe us, man,” quo’ I, “how did ye learn a’ this? it’s an unco way between this and Portanferry.”

‘“Never ye mind that,” quo’ he, “them that brought us the news rade night and day, and ye maun be aff instantly if ye wad do ony gude; and sae I have naething mair to tell ye.” Sae he sat himsell doun and hirselled doun into the glen, where it wad hae been ill following him wi’ the beast, and I cam back to Charlie’s Hope to tell the gudewife, for I was uncertain what to do. It wad look unco-like, I thought, just to be sent out on a hunt-the-gowk errand wi’ a landlouper like that. But, Lord! as the gudewife set up her throat about it, and said what a shame it wad be if ye was to come to ony wrang, an I could help ye; and then in cam your letter that confirmed it. So I took to the kist, and out wi’ the pickle notes in case they should be needed, and a’ the bairns ran to saddle Dumple. By great luck I had taen the other beast to Edinbro’, sae Dumple was as fresh as a rose. Sae aff I set, and Wasp wi’ me, for ye wad really hae thought he kenn’d where I was gaun, puir beast; and here I am after a trot o’ sixty mile or near by. But Wasp rade thirty o’ them afore me on the saddle, and the puir doggie balanced itsell as ane of the weans wad hae dune, whether I trotted or cantered.’

In this strange story Bertram obviously saw, supposing the warning to be true, some intimation of danger more violent and imminent than could be likely to arise from a few days’ imprisonment. At the same time it was equally evident that some unknown friend was working in his behalf. ‘Did you not say,’ he asked Dinmont, ‘that this man Gabriel was of gipsy blood?’

‘It was e’en judged sae,’ said Dinmont, ‘and I think this maks it likely; for they aye ken where the gangs o’ ilk ither are to be found, and they can gar news flee like a footba’ through the country an they like. An’ I forgat to tell ye, there’s been an unco inquiry after the auld wife that we saw in Bewcastle; the Sheriff’s had folk ower the Limestane Edge after her, and down the Hermitage and Liddel, and a’ gates, and a reward offered for her to appear o’ fifty pound sterling, nae less; and Justice Forster, he’s had out warrants, as I am tell’d, in Cumberland; and an unco ranging and ripeing they have had a’ gates seeking for her; but she’ll no be taen wi’ them unless she likes, for a’ that.’

‘And how comes that?’ said Bertram.

‘Ou, I dinna ken; I daur say it’s nonsense, but they say she has gathered the fern-seed, and can gang ony gate she likes, like Jock the Giant-killer in the ballant, wi’ his coat o’ darkness and his shoon o’ swiftness. Ony way she’s a kind o’ queen amang the gipsies; she is mair than a hundred year auld, folk say, and minds the coming in o’ the moss-troopers in the troublesome times when the Stuarts were put awa. Sae, if she canna hide hersell, she kens them that can hide her weel eneugh, ye needna doubt that. Od, an I had kenn’d it had been Meg Merrilies yon night at Tibb Mumps’s, I wad taen care how I crossed her.’

Bertram listened with great attention to this account, which tallied so well in many points with what he had himself seen of this gipsy sibyl. After a moment’s consideration he concluded it would be no breach of faith to mention what he had seen at Derncleugh to a person who held Meg in such reverence as Dinmont obviously did. He told his story accordingly, often interrupted by ejaculations, such as, ‘Weel, the like o’ that now!’ or, ‘Na, deil an that’s no something now!’

When our Liddesdale friend had heard the whole to an end, he shook his great black head — ‘Weel, I’ll uphaud there’s baith gude and ill amang the gipsies, and if they deal wi’ the Enemy, it’s a’ their ain business and no ours. I ken what the streeking the corpse wad be, weel eneugh. Thae smuggler deevils, when ony o’ them’s killed in a fray, they ‘ll send for a wife like Meg far eneugh to dress the corpse; od, it’s a’ the burial they ever think o’! and then to be put into the ground without ony decency, just like dogs. But they stick to it, that they ‘ll be streekit, and hae an auld wife when they’re dying to rhyme ower prayers, and ballants, and charms, as they ca’ them, rather than they’ll hae a minister to come and pray wi’ them — that’s an auld threep o’ theirs; and I am thinking the man that died will hae been ane o’ the folk that was shot when they burnt Woodbourne.’

‘But, my good friend, Woodbourne is not burnt,’ said Bertram.

‘Weel, the better for them that bides in’t,’ answered the store-farmer. ‘Od, we had it up the water wi’ us that there wasna a stane on the tap o’ anither. But there was fighting, ony way; I daur to say it would be fine fun! And, as I said, ye may take it on trust that that’s been ane o’ the men killed there, and that it’s been the gipsies that took your pockmanky when they fand the chaise stickin’ in the snaw; they wadna pass the like o’ that, it wad just come to their hand like the bowl o’ a pint stoup.’

‘But if this woman is a sovereign among them, why was she not able to afford me open protection, and to get me back my property?’

‘Ou, wha kens? she has muckle to say wi’ them, but whiles they’ll tak their ain way for a’ that, when they’re under temptation. And then there’s the smugglers that they’re aye leagued wi’, she maybe couldna manage them sae weel. They’re aye banded thegither; I’ve heard that the gipsies ken when the smugglers will come aff, and where they’re to land, better than the very merchants that deal wi’ them. And then, to the boot o’ that, she’s whiles cracked-brained, and has a bee in her head; they say that, whether her spaeings and fortune-tellings be true or no, for certain she believes in them a’ hersell, and is aye guiding hersell by some queer prophecy or anither. So she disna aye gang the straight road to the well. But deil o’ sic a story as yours, wi’ glamour and dead folk and losing ane’s gate, I ever heard out o’ the tale-books! But whisht, I hear the keeper coming.’

Mac-Guffog accordingly interrupted their discourse by the harsh harmony of the bolts and bars, and showed his bloated visage at the opening door. ‘Come, Mr. Dinmont, we have put off locking up for an hour to oblige ye; ye must go to your quarters.’

‘Quarters, man? I intend to sleep here the night. There’s a spare bed in the Captain’s room.’

‘It’s impossible!’ answered the keeper.

‘But I say it is possible, and that I winna stir; and there’s a dram t’ ye.’

Mac-Guffog drank off the spirits and resumed his objection. ‘But it’s against rule, sir; ye have committed nae malefaction.’

‘I’ll break your head,’ said the sturdy Liddesdale man, ‘if ye say ony mair about it, and that will be malefaction eneugh to entitle me to ae night’s lodging wi’ you, ony way.’

‘But I tell ye, Mr. Dinmont,’ reiterated the keeper, ‘it’s against rule, and I behoved to lose my post.’

‘Weel, Mac-Guffog,’ said Dandie, ‘I hae just twa things to say. Ye ken wha I am weel eneugh, and that I wadna loose a prisoner.’

‘And how do I ken that?’ answered the jailor.

‘Weel, if ye dinna ken that,’ said the resolute farmer, ‘ye ken this: ye ken ye’re whiles obliged to be up our water in the way o’ your business. Now, if ye let me stay quietly here the night wi’ the Captain, I’se pay ye double fees for the room; and if ye say no, ye shall hae the best sark-fu’ o’ sair banes that ever ye had in your life the first time ye set a foot by Liddel Moat!’

‘Aweel, aweel, gudeman,’ said Mac-Guffog, ‘a wilfu’ man maun hae his way; but if I am challenged for it by the justices, I ken wha sall bear the wyte,’ and, having sealed this observation with a deep oath or two, he retired to bed, after carefully securing all the doors of the bridewell. The bell from the town steeple tolled nine just as the ceremony was concluded.

‘Although it’s but early hours,’ said the farmer, who had observed that his friend looked somewhat pale and fatigued, ‘I think we had better lie down, Captain, if ye’re no agreeable to another cheerer. But troth, ye’re nae glass-breaker; and neither am I, unless it be a screed wi’ the neighbours, or when I’m on a ramble.’

Bertram readily assented to the motion of his faithful friend, but, on looking at the bed, felt repugnance to trust himself undressed to Mrs. Mac-Guffog’s clean sheets.

‘I’m muckle o’ your opinion, Captain,’ said Dandie. ‘Od, this bed looks as if a’ the colliers in Sanquhar had been in’t thegither. But it’ll no win through my muckle coat.’ So saying, he flung himself upon the frail bed with a force that made all its timbers crack, and in a few moments gave audible signal that he was fast asleep. Bertram slipped off his coat and boots and occupied the other dormitory. The strangeness of his destiny, and the mysteries which appeared to thicken around him, while he seemed alike to be persecuted and protected by secret enemies and friends, arising out of a class of people with whom he had no previous connexion, for some time occupied his thoughts. Fatigue, however, gradually composed his mind, and in a short time he was as fast asleep as his companion. And in this comfortable state of oblivion we must leave them until we acquaint the reader with some other circumstances which occurred about the same period.

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