Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 47

It is not madness

That I have utter’d, bring me to the test,

And I the matter will re-word, which madness

Would gambol from.

Hamlet.

As Mr. Sampson crossed the hall with a bewildered look, Mrs. Allan, the good housekeeper, who, with the reverent attention which is usually rendered to the clergy in Scotland, was on the watch for his return, sallied forth to meet him — ‘What’s this o’t now, Mr. Sampson, this is waur than ever! Ye’ll really do yoursell some injury wi’ these lang fasts; naething’s sae hurtful to the stamach, Mr. Sampson. If ye would but put some peppermint draps in your pocket, or let Barnes cut ye a sandwich.’

‘Avoid thee!’ quoth the Dominie, his mind running still upon his interview with Meg Merrilies, and making for the dining-parlour.

‘Na, ye needna gang in there, the cloth’s been removed an hour syne, and the Colonel’s at his wine; but just step into my room, I have a nice steak that the cook will do in a moment.’

‘Exorciso te!’ said Sampson; ‘that is, I have dined.’

‘Dined! it’s impossible; wha can ye hae dined wi’, you that gangs out nae gate?’

‘With Beelzebub, I believe,’ said the minister.

‘Na, then he’s bewitched for certain,’ said the housekeeper, letting go her hold; ‘he’s bewitched, or he’s daft, and ony way the Colonel maun just guide him his ain gate. Wae’s me! Hech, sirs! It’s a sair thing to see learning bring folk to this!’ And with this compassionate ejaculation she retreated into her own premises.

The object of her commiseration had by this time entered the dining-parlour, where his appearance gave great surprise. He was mud up to the shoulders, and the natural paleness of his hue was twice as cadaverous as usual, through terror, fatigue, and perturbation of mind.

‘What on earth is the meaning of this, Mr. Sampson?’ said Mannering, who observed Miss Bertram looking much alarmed for her simple but attached friend.

‘Exorciso,’ said the Dominie.

‘How, sir?’ replied the astonished Colonel.

‘I crave pardon, honourable sir! but my wits —— ’

‘Are gone a wool-gathering, I think; pray, Mr. Sampson, collect yourself, and let me know the meaning of all this.’

Sampson was about to reply, but finding his Latin formula of exorcism still came most readily to his tongue, he prudently desisted from the attempt, and put the scrap of paper which he had received from the gipsy into Mannering’s hand, who broke the seal and read it with surprise. ‘This seems to be some jest,’ he said, ‘and a very dull one.’

‘It came from no jesting person,’ said Mr. Sampson.

‘From whom then did it come?’ demanded Mannering.

The Dominie, who often displayed some delicacy of recollection in cases where Miss Bertram had an interest, remembered the painful circumstances connected with Meg Merrilies, looked at the young ladies, and remained silent. ‘We will join you at the tea-table in an instant, Julia,’ said the Colonel; ‘I see that Mr. Sampson wishes to speak to me alone. And now they are gone, what, in Heaven’s name, Mr. Sampson, is the meaning of all this?’

‘It may be a message from Heaven,’ said the Dominie, ‘but it came by Beelzebub’s postmistress. It was that witch, Meg Merrilies, who should have been burned with a tar-barrel twenty years since for a harlot, thief, witch, and gipsy.’

‘Are you sure it was she?’ said the Colonel with great interest.

‘Sure, honoured sir? Of a truth she is one not to be forgotten, the like o’ Meg Merrilies is not to be seen in any land.’

The Colonel paced the room rapidly, cogitating with himself. ‘To send out to apprehend her; but it is too distant to send to Mac-Morlan, and Sir Robert Hazlewood is a pompous coxcomb; besides, the chance of not finding her upon the spot, or that the humour of silence that seized her before may again return. No, I will not, to save being thought a fool, neglect the course she points out. Many of her class set out by being impostors and end by becoming enthusiasts, or hold a kind of darkling conduct between both lines, unconscious almost when they are cheating themselves or when imposing on others. Well, my course is a plain one at any rate; and if my efforts are fruitless, it shall not be owing to over-jealousy of my own character for wisdom.’

With this he rang the bell, and, ordering Barnes into his private sitting-room, gave him some orders, with the result of which the reader may be made hereafter acquainted.

We must now take up another adventure, which is also to be woven into the story of this remarkable day.

Charles Hazlewood had not ventured to make a visit at Woodbourne during the absence of the Colonel. Indeed, Mannering’s whole behaviour had impressed upon him an opinion that this would be disagreeable; and such was the ascendency which the successful soldier and accomplished gentleman had attained over the young man’s conduct, that in no respect would he have ventured to offend him. He saw, or thought he saw, in Colonel Mannering’s general conduct, an approbation of his attachment to Miss Bertram. But then he saw still more plainly the impropriety of any attempt at a private correspondence, of which his parents could not be supposed to approve, and he respected this barrier interposed betwixt them both on Mannering’s account and as he was the liberal and zealous protector of Miss Bertram. ‘No,’ said he to himself, ‘I will not endanger the comfort of my Lucy’s present retreat until I can offer her a home of her own.’

With this valorous resolution, which he maintained although his horse, from constant habit, turned his head down the avenue of Woodbourne, and although he himself passed the lodge twice every day, Charles Hazlewood withstood a strong inclination to ride down just to ask how the young ladies were, and whether he could be of any service to them during Colonel Mannering’s absence. But on the second occasion he felt the temptation so severe that he resolved not to expose himself to it a third time; and, contenting himself with sending hopes and inquiries and so forth to Woodbourne, he resolved to make a visit long promised to a family at some distance, and to return in such time as to be one of the earliest among Mannering’s visitors who should congratulate his safe arrival from his distant and hazardous expedition to Edinburgh. Accordingly he made out his visit, and, having arranged matters so as to be informed within a few hours after Colonel Mannering reached home, he finally resolved to take leave of the friends with whom he had spent the intervening time, with the intention of dining at Woodbourne, where he was in a great measure domesticated; and this (for he thought much more deeply on the subject than was necessary) would, he flattered himself, appear a simple, natural, and easy mode of conducting himself.

Fate, however, of which lovers make so many complaints, was in this case unfavourable to Charles Hazlewood. His horse’s shoes required an alteration, in consequence of the fresh weather having decidedly commenced. The lady of the house where he was a visitor chose to indulge in her own room till a very late breakfast hour. His friend also insisted on showing him a litter of puppies which his favourite pointer bitch had produced that morning. The colours had occasioned some doubts about the paternity — a weighty question of legitimacy, to the decision of which Hazlewood’s opinion was called in as arbiter between his friend and his groom, and which inferred in its consequences which of the litter should be drowned, which saved. Besides, the Laird himself delayed our young lover’s departure for a considerable time, endeavouring, with long and superfluous rhetoric, to insinuate to Sir Robert Hazlewood, through the medium of his son, his own particular ideas respecting the line of a meditated turnpike road. It is greatly to the shame of our young lover’s apprehension that, after the tenth reiterated account of the matter, he could not see the advantage to be obtained by the proposed road passing over the Lang Hirst, Windy Knowe, the Goodhouse Park, Hailziecroft, and then crossing the river at Simon’s Pool, and so by the road to Kippletringan; and the less eligible line pointed out by the English surveyor, which would go clear through the main enclosures at Hazlewood, and cut within a mile or nearly so of the house itself, destroying the privacy and pleasure, as his informer contended, of the grounds. In short, the adviser (whose actual interest was to have the bridge built as near as possible to a farm of his own) failed in every effort to attract young Hazlewood’s attention until he mentioned by chance that the proposed line was favoured by ‘that fellow Glossin,’ who pretended to take a lead in the county. On a sudden young Hazlewood became attentive and interested; and, having satisfied himself which was the line that Glossin patronised, assured his friend it should not be his fault if his father did not countenance any other instead of that. But these various interruptions consumed the morning. Hazlewood got on horseback at least three hours later than he intended, and, cursing fine ladies, pointers, puppies, and turnpike acts of parliament, saw himself detained beyond the time when he could with propriety intrude upon the family at Woodbourne.

He had passed, therefore, the turn of the road which led to that mansion, only edified by the distant appearance of the blue smoke curling against the pale sky of the winter evening, when he thought he beheld the Dominie taking a footpath for the house through the woods. He called after him, but in vain; for that honest gentleman, never the most susceptible of extraneous impressions, had just that moment parted from Meg Merrilies, and was too deeply wrapt up in pondering upon her vaticinations to make any answer to Hazlewood’s call. He was therefore obliged to let him proceed without inquiry after the health of the young ladies, or any other fishing question, to which he might by good chance have had an answer returned wherein Miss Bertram’s name might have been mentioned. All cause for haste was now over, and, slackening the reins upon his horse’s neck, he permitted the animal to ascend at his own leisure the steep sandy track between two high banks, which, rising to a considerable height, commanded at length an extensive view of the neighbouring country.

Hazlewood was, however, so far from eagerly looking forward to this prospect, though it had the recommendation that great part of the land was his father’s, and must necessarily be his own, that his head still turned backward towards the chimneys of Woodbourne, although at every step his horse made the difficulty of employing his eyes in that direction become greater. From the reverie in which he was sunk he was suddenly roused by a voice, too harsh to be called female, yet too shrill for a man: ‘What’s kept you on the road sae lang? Maun ither folk do your wark?’

He looked up. The spokeswoman was very tall, had a voluminous handkerchief rolled round her head, grizzled hair flowing in elf-locks from beneath it, a long red cloak, and a staff in her hand, headed with a sort of spear-point; it was, in short, Meg Merrilies. Hazlewood had never seen this remarkable figure before; he drew up his reins in astonishment at her appearance, and made a full stop. ‘I think,’ continued she, ‘they that hae taen interest in the house of Ellangowan suld sleep nane this night; three men hae been seeking ye, and you are gaun hame to sleep in your bed. D’ ye think if the lad-bairn fa’s, the sister will do weel? Na, na!’

‘I don’t understand you, good woman,’ said Hazlewood. ‘If you speak of Miss — — I mean of any of the late Ellangowan family, tell me what I can do for them.’

‘Of the late Ellangowan family?’ she answered with great vehemence — ‘of the late Ellangowan family! and when was there ever, or when will there ever be, a family of Ellangowan but bearing the gallant name of the bauld Bertrams?’

‘But what do you mean, good woman?’

‘I am nae good woman; a’ the country kens I am bad eneugh, and baith they and I may be sorry eneugh that I am nae better. But I can do what good women canna, and daurna do. I can do what would freeze the blood o’ them that is bred in biggit wa’s for naething but to bind bairns’ heads and to hap them in the cradle. Hear me: the guard’s drawn off at the custom-house at Portanferry, and it’s brought up to Hazlewood House by your father’s orders, because he thinks his house is to be attacked this night by the smugglers. There’s naebody means to touch his house; he has gude blood and gentle blood — I say little o’ him for himsell — but there’s naebody thinks him worth meddling wi’. Send the horsemen back to their post, cannily and quietly; see an they winna hae wark the night, ay will they: the guns will flash and the swords will glitter in the braw moon.’

‘Good God! what do you mean?’ said young Hazlewood; ‘your words and manner would persuade me you are mad, and yet there is a strange combination in what you say.’

‘I am not mad!’ exclaimed the gipsy; ‘I have been imprisoned for mad — scourged for mad — banished for mad — but mad I am not. Hear ye, Charles Hazlewood of Hazlewood: d’ye bear malice against him that wounded you?’

‘No, dame, God forbid; my arm is quite well, and I have always said the shot was discharged by accident. I should be glad to tell the young man so himself.’

‘Then do what I bid ye,’ answered Meg Merrilies, ‘and ye ‘ll do him mair gude than ever he did you ill; for if he was left to his ill-wishers he would be a bloody corpse ere morn, or a banished man; but there’s Ane abune a’. Do as I bid you; send back the soldiers to Portanferry. There’s nae mair fear o’ Hazlewood House than there’s o’ Cruffel Fell.’ And she vanished with her usual celerity of pace.

It would seem that the appearance of this female, and the mixture of frenzy and enthusiasm in her manner, seldom failed to produce the strongest impression upon those whom she addressed. Her words, though wild, were too plain and intelligible for actual madness, and yet too vehement and extravagant for sober-minded communication. She seemed acting under the influence of an imagination rather strongly excited than deranged; and it is wonderful how palpably the difference in such cases is impressed upon the mind of the auditor. This may account for the attention with which her strange and mysterious hints were heard and acted upon. It is certain, at least, that young Hazlewood was strongly impressed by her sudden appearance and imperative tone. He rode to Hazlewood at a brisk pace. It had been dark for some time before he reached the house, and on his arrival there he saw a confirmation of what the sibyl had hinted.

Thirty dragoon horses stood under a shed near the offices, with their bridles linked together. Three or four soldiers attended as a guard, while others stamped up and down with their long broadswords and heavy boots in front of the house. Hazlewood asked a non-commissioned officer from whence they came.

‘From Portanferry.’

‘Had they left any guard there?’

‘No; they had been drawn off by order of Sir Robert Hazlewood for defence of his house against an attack which was threatened by the smugglers.’

Charles Hazlewood instantly went in quest of his father, and, having paid his respects to him upon his return, requested to know upon what account he had thought it necessary to send for a military escort. Sir Robert assured his son in reply that, from the information, intelligence, and tidings which had been communicated to, and laid before him, he had the deepest reason to believe, credit, and be convinced that a riotous assault would that night be attempted and perpetrated against Hazlewood House by a set of smugglers, gipsies, and other desperadoes.

‘And what, my dear sir,’ said his son, ‘should direct the fury of such persons against ours rather than any other house in the country?’

‘I should rather think, suppose, and be of opinion, sir,’ answered Sir Robert, ‘with deference to your wisdom and experience, that on these occasions and times the vengeance of such persons is directed or levelled against the most important and distinguished in point of rank, talent, birth, and situation who have checked, interfered with, and discountenanced their unlawful and illegal and criminal actions or deeds.’

Young Hazlewood, who knew his father’s foible, answered, that the cause of his surprise did not lie where Sir Robert apprehended, but that he only wondered they should think of attacking a house where there were so many servants, and where a signal to the neighbouring tenants could call in such strong assistance; and added, that he doubted much whether the reputation of the family would not in some degree suffer from calling soldiers from their duty at the custom-house to protect them, as if they were not sufficiently strong to defend themselves upon any ordinary occasion. He even hinted that, in case their house’s enemies should observe that this precaution had been taken unnecessarily, there would be no end of their sarcasms.

Sir Robert Hazlewood was rather puzzled at this intimation, for, like most dull men, he heartily hated and feared ridicule. He gathered himself up and looked with a sort of pompous embarrassment, as if he wished to be thought to despise the opinion of the public, which in reality he dreaded.

‘I really should have thought,’ he said, ‘that the injury which had already been aimed at my house in your person, being the next heir and representative of the Hazlewood family, failing me — I should have thought and believed, I say, that this would have justified me sufficiently in the eyes of the most respectable and the greater part of the people for taking such precautions as are calculated to prevent and impede a repetition of outrage.’

‘Really, sir,’ said Charles, ‘I must remind you of what I have often said before, that I am positive the discharge of the piece was accidental.’

‘Sir, it was not accidental,’ said his father, angrily; ‘but you will be wiser than your elders.’

‘Really, sir,’ replied Hazlewood, ‘in what so intimately concerns myself —— ’

‘Sir, it does not concern you but in a very secondary degree; that is, it does not concern you, as a giddy young fellow who takes pleasure in contradicting his father; but it concerns the country, sir, and the county, sir, and the public, sir, and the kingdom of Scotland, in so far as the interest of the Hazlewood family, sir, is committed and interested and put in peril, in, by, and through you, sir. And the fellow is in safe custody, and Mr. Glossin thinks —— ’

‘Mr. Glossin, sir?’

‘Yes, sir, the gentleman who has purchased Ellangowan; you know who I mean, I suppose?’

‘Yes, sir,’ answered the young man; ‘but I should hardly have expected to hear you quote such authority. Why, this fellow — all the world knows him to be sordid, mean, tricking, and I suspect him to be worse. And you yourself, my dear sir, when did you call such a person a gentleman in your life before?’

‘Why, Charles, I did not mean gentleman in the precise sense and meaning, and restricted and proper use, to which, no doubt, the phrase ought legitimately to be confined; but I meant to use it relatively, as marking something of that state to which he has elevated and raised himself; as designing, in short, a decent and wealthy and estimable sort of a person.’

‘Allow me to ask, sir,’ said Charles, ‘if it was by this man’s orders that the guard was drawn from Portanferry?’

‘Sir,’ replied the Baronet, ‘I do apprehend that Mr. Glossin would not presume to give orders, or even an opinion, unless asked, in a matter in which Hazlewood House and the house of Hazlewood — meaning by the one this mansion-house of my family, and by the other, typically, metaphorically, and parabolically, the family itself, — I say, then, where the house of Hazlewood, or Hazlewood House, was so immediately concerned.’

‘I presume, however, sir,’ said the son, ‘this Glossin approved of the proposal?’

‘Sir,’ replied his father, ‘I thought it decent and right and proper to consult him as the nearest magistrate as soon as report of the intended outrage reached my ears; and although he declined, out of deference and respect, as became our relative situations, to concur in the order, yet he did entirely approve of my arrangement.’

At this moment a horse’s feet were heard coming very fast up the avenue. In a few minutes the door opened, and Mr. Mac-Morlan presented himself. ‘I am under great concern to intrude, Sir Robert, but —— ’

‘Give me leave, Mr. Mac-Morlan,’ said Sir Robert, with a gracious flourish of welcome; ‘this is no intrusion, sir; for, your situation as sheriff-substitute calling upon you to attend to the peace of the county, and you, doubtless, feeling yourself particularly called upon to protect Hazlewood House, you have an acknowledged and admitted and undeniable right, sir, to enter the house of the first gentleman in Scotland uninvited — always presuming you to be called there by the duty of your office.’

‘It is indeed the duty of my office,’ said Mac-Morlan, who waited with impatience an opportunity to speak, ‘that makes me an intruder.’

‘No intrusion!’ reiterated the Baronet, gracefully waving his hand.

‘But permit me to say, Sir Robert,’ said the sheriff-substitute, ‘I do not come with the purpose of remaining here, but to recall these soldiers to Portanferry, and to assure you that I will answer for the safety of your house.’

‘To withdraw the guard from Hazlewood House!’ exclaimed the proprietor in mingled displeasure and surprise; ‘and you will be answerable for it! And, pray, who are you, sir, that I should take your security and caution and pledge, official or personal, for the safety of Hazlewood House? I think, sir, and believe, sir, and am of opinion, sir, that if any one of these family pictures were deranged or destroyed or injured it would be difficult for me to make up the loss upon the guarantee which you so obligingly offer me.’

‘In that case I shall be sorry for it, Sir Robert,’ answered the downright Mac-Morlan; ‘but I presume I may escape the pain of feeling my conduct the cause of such irreparable loss, as I can assure you there will be no attempt upon Hazlewood House whatever, and I have received information which induces me to suspect that the rumour was put afloat merely in order to occasion the removal of the soldiers from Portanferry. And under this strong belief and conviction I must exert my authority as sheriff and chief magistrate of police to order the whole, or greater part of them, back again. I regret much that by my accidental absence a good deal of delay has already taken place, and we shall not now reach Portanferry until it is late.’

As Mr. Mac-Morlan was the superior magistrate, and expressed himself peremptory in the purpose of acting as such, the Baronet, though highly offended, could only say, ‘Very well, sir; it is very well. Nay, sir, take them all with you; I am far from desiring any to be left here, sir. We, sir, can protect ourselves, sir. But you will have the goodness to observe, sir, that you are acting on your own proper risk, sir, and peril, sir, and responsibility, sir, if anything shall happen or befall to Hazlewood House, sir, or the inhabitants, sir, or to the furniture and paintings, sir.’

‘I am acting to the best of my judgment and information, Sir Robert,’ said Mac-Morlan, ‘and I must pray of you to believe so, and to pardon me accordingly. I beg you to observe it is no time for ceremony; it is already very late.’

But Sir Robert, without deigning to listen to his apologies, immediately employed himself with much parade in arming and arraying his domestics. Charles Hazlewood longed to accompany the military, which were about to depart for Portanferry, and which were now drawn up and mounted by direction and under the guidance of Mr. Mac-Morlan, as the civil magistrate. But it would have given just pain and offence to his father to have left him at a moment when he conceived himself and his mansion-house in danger. Young Hazlewood therefore gazed from a window with suppressed regret and displeasure, until he heard the officer give the word of command — ‘From the right to the front, by files, m-a-rch. Leading file, to the right wheel. Trot.’ The whole party of soldiers then getting into a sharp and uniform pace, were soon lost among the trees, and the noise of the hoofs died speedily away in the distance.

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