Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 56

How like a hateful ape,

Detected grinning ‘midst his pilfer’d hoard,

A cunning man appears, whose secret frauds

Are open’d to the day!

Count Basil

There was a great movement at Woodbourne early on the following morning to attend the examination at Kippletringan. Mr. Pleydell, from the investigation which he had formerly bestowed on the dark affair of Kennedy’s death, as well as from the general deference due to his professional abilities, was requested by Mr. Mac-Morlan and Sir Robert Hazlewood, and another justice of peace who attended, to take the situation of chairman and the lead in the examination. Colonel Mannering was invited to sit down with them. The examination, being previous to trial, was private in other respects.

The Counsellor resumed and reinterrogated former evidence. He then examined the clergyman and surgeon respecting the dying declaration of Meg Merrilies. They stated that she distinctly, positively, and repeatedly declared herself an eye-witness of Kennedy’s death by the hands of Hatteraick and two or three of his crew; that her presence was accidental; that she believed their resentment at meeting him, when they were in the act of losing their vessel through the means of his information, led to the commission of the crime; that she said there was one witness of the murder, but who refused to participate in it, still alive — her nephew, Gabriel Faa; and she had hinted at another person who was an accessory after, not before, the fact; but her strength there failed her. They did not forget to mention her declaration that she had saved the child, and that he was torn from her by the smugglers for the purpose of carrying him to Holland. All these particulars were carefully reduced to writing.

Dirk Hatteraick was then brought in, heavily ironed; for he had been strictly secured and guarded, owing to his former escape. He was asked his name; he made no answer. His profession; he was silent. Several other questions were put, to none of which he returned any reply. Pleydell wiped the glasses of his spectacles and considered the prisoner very attentively. ‘A very truculent — looking fellow,’ he whispered to Mannering; ‘but, as Dogberry says, I’ll go cunningly to work with him. Here, call in Soles — Soles the shoemaker. Soles, do you remember measuring some footsteps imprinted on the mud at the wood of Warroch on — November 17 — by my orders?’ Soles remembered the circumstance perfectly. ‘Look at that paper; is that your note of the measurement?’ Soles verified the memorandum. ‘Now, there stands a pair of shoes on that table; measure them, and see if they correspond with any of the marks you have noted there.’ The shoemaker obeyed, and declared ‘that they answered exactly to the largest of the footprints.’

‘We shall prove,’ said the Counsellor, aside to Mannering, ‘that these shoes, which were found in the ruins at Derncleugh, belonged to Brown, the fellow whom you shot on the lawn at Woodbourne. Now, Soles, measure that prisoner’s feet very accurately.’

Mannering observed Hatteraick strictly, and could notice a visible tremor. ‘Do these measurements correspond with any of the footprints?’

The man looked at the note, then at his foot-rule and measure, then verified his former measurement by a second. ‘They correspond,’ he said, ‘within a hair-breadth to a foot-mark broader and shorter than the former.’

Hatteraick’s genius here deserted him. ‘Der deyvil!’ he broke out, ‘how could there be a footmark on the ground, when it was a frost as hard as the heart of a Memel log?’

‘In the evening, I grant you, Captain Hatteraick,’ said Pleydell, ‘but not in the forenoon. Will you favour me with information where you were upon the day you remember so exactly?’

Hatteraick saw his blunder, and again screwed up his hard features for obstinate silence. ‘Put down his observation, however,’ said Pleydell to the clerk.

At this moment the door opened, and, much to the surprise of most present, Mr. Gilbert Glossin made his appearance. That worthy gentleman had, by dint of watching and eavesdropping, ascertained that he was not mentioned by name in Meg Merrilies’s dying declaration — a circumstance certainly not owing to any favourable disposition towards him, but to the delay of taking her regular examination, and to the rapid approach of death. He therefore supposed himself safe from all evidence but such as might arise from Hatteraick’s confession; to prevent which he resolved to push a bold face and join his brethren of the bench during his examination. ‘I shall be able,’ he thought, ‘to make the rascal sensible his safety lies in keeping his own counsel and mine; and my presence, besides, will be a proof of confidence and innocence. If I must lose the estate, I must; but I trust better things.’

He entered with a profound salutation to Sir Robert Hazlewood. Sir Robert, who had rather begun to suspect that his plebeian neighbour had made a cat’s paw of him, inclined his head stiffly, took snuff, and looked another way.

‘Mr. Corsand,’ said Glossin to the other yokefellow of justice, ‘your most humble servant.’

‘Your humble servant, Mr. Glossin,’ answered Mr. Corsand drily, composing his countenance regis ad exemplar, that is to say, after the fashion of the Baronet.

‘Mac-Morlan, my worthy friend,’ continued Glossin, ‘how d’ ye do; always on your duty?’

‘Umph,’ said honest Mac-Morlan, with little respect either to the compliment or salutation.

‘Colonel Mannering (a low bow slightly returned), and Mr. Pleydell (another low bow), I dared not have hoped for your assistance to poor country gentlemen at this period of the session.’

Pleydell took snuff, and eyed him with a glance equally shrewd and sarcastic. ‘I’ll teach him,’ he said aside to Mannering, ‘the value of the old admonition, Ne accesseris in consilium antequam voceris.’

‘But perhaps I intrude, gentlemen?’ said Glossin, who could not fail to observe the coldness of his reception. ‘Is this an open meeting?’

‘For my part,’ said Mr. Pleydell, ‘so far from considering your attendance as an intrusion, Mr. Glossin, I was never so pleased in my life to meet with you; especially as I think we should, at any rate, have had occasion to request the favour of your company in the course of the day.’

‘Well, then, gentlemen,’ said Glossin, drawing his chair to the table, and beginning to bustle about among the papers, ‘where are we? how far have we got? where are the declarations?’

‘Clerk, give me all these papers,’ said Mr. Pleydell. ‘I have an odd way of arranging my documents, Mr. Glossin, another person touching them puts me out; but I shall have occasion for your assistance by and by.’

Glossin, thus reduced to inactivity, stole one glance at Dirk Hatteraick, but could read nothing in his dark scowl save malignity and hatred to all around. ‘But, gentlemen,’ said Glossin, ‘is it quite right to keep this poor man so heavily ironed when he is taken up merely for examination?’

This was hoisting a kind of friendly signal to the prisoner. ‘He has escaped once before,’ said Mac-Morlan drily, and Glossin was silenced.

Bertram was now introduced, and, to Glossin’s confusion, was greeted in the most friendly manner by all present, even by Sir Robert Hazlewood himself. He told his recollections of his infancy with that candour and caution of expression which afforded the best warrant for his good faith. ‘This seems to be rather a civil than a criminal question,’ said Glossin, rising; ‘and as you cannot be ignorant, gentlemen, of the effect which this young person’s pretended parentage may have on my patrimonial interest, I would rather beg leave to retire.’

‘No, my good sir,’ said Mr. Pleydell, ‘we can by no means spare you. But why do you call this young man’s claims pretended? I don’t mean to fish for your defences against them, if you have any, but — ’

‘Mr. Pleydell,’ replied Glossin, ‘I am always disposed to act above-board, and I think I can explain the matter at once. This young fellow, whom I take to be a natural son of the late Ellangowan, has gone about the country for some weeks under different names, caballing with a wretched old mad-woman, who, I understand, was shot in a late scuffle, and with other tinkers, gipsies, and persons of that description, and a great brute farmer from Liddesdale, stirring up the tenants against their landlords, which, as Sir Robert Hazlewood of Hazlewood knows — ’

‘Not to interrupt you, Mr. Glossin,’ said Pleydell, ‘I ask who you say this young man is?’

‘Why, I say,’ replied Glossin, ‘and I believe that gentleman (looking at Hatteraick) knows, that the young man is a natural son of the late Ellangowan, by a girl called Janet Lightoheel, who was afterwards married to Hewit the shipwright, that lived in the neighbourhood of Annan. His name is Godfrey Bertram Hewit, by which name he was entered on board the Royal Caroline excise yacht.’

‘Ay?’ said Pleydell, ‘that is a very likely story! But, not to pause upon some difference of eyes, complexion, and so forth — be pleased to step forward, sir.’ (A young seafaring man came forward.) ‘Here,’ proceeded the Counsellor, ‘is the real Simon Pure; here’s Godfrey Bertram Hewit, arrived last night from Antigua via Liverpool, mate of a West-Indian, and in a fair way of doing well in the world, although he came somewhat irregularly into it.’

While some conversation passed between the other justices and this young man, Pleydell lifted from among the papers on the table Hatteraick’s old pocket-book. A peculiar glance of the smuggler’s eye induced the shrewd lawyer to think there was something here of interest. He therefore continued the examination of the papers, laying the book on the table, but instantly perceived that the prisoner’s interest in the research had cooled. ‘It must be in the book still, whatever it is,’ thought Pleydell; and again applied himself to the pocket-book, until he discovered, on a narrow scrutiny, a slit between the pasteboard and leather, out of which he drew three small slips of paper. Pleydell now, turning to Glossin, requested the favour that he would tell them if he had assisted at the search for the body of Kennedy and the child of his patron on the day when they disappeared.

‘I did not — that is, I did,’ answered the conscience-struck Glossin.

‘It is remarkable though,’ said the Advocate, ‘that, connected as you were with the Ellangowan family, I don’t recollect your being examined, or even appearing before me, while that investigation was proceeding?’

‘I was called to London,’ answered Glossin, ‘on most important business the morning after that sad affair.’

‘Clerk,’ said Pleydell, ‘minute down that reply. I presume the business, Mr. Glossin, was to negotiate these three bills, drawn by you on Messrs. Vanbeest and Vanbruggen, and accepted by one Dirk Hatteraick in their name on the very day of the murder. I congratulate you on their being regularly retired, as I perceive they have been. I think the chances were against it.’ Glossin’s countenance fell. ‘This piece of real evidence,’ continued Mr. Pleydell, ‘makes good the account given of your conduct on this occasion by a man called Gabriel Faa, whom we have now in custody, and who witnessed the whole transaction between you and that worthy prisoner. Have you any explanation to give?’

‘Mr. Pleydell,’ said Glossin, with great composure, ‘I presume, if you were my counsel, you would not advise me to answer upon the spur of the moment to a charge which the basest of mankind seem ready to establish by perjury.’

‘My advice,’ said the Counsellor, ‘would be regulated by my opinion of your innocence or guilt. In your case, I believe you take the wisest course; but you are aware you must stand committed?’

‘Committed? for what, sir?’ replied Glossin. ‘Upon a charge of murder?’

‘No; only as art and part of kidnapping the child.’

‘That is a bailable offence.’

‘Pardon me,’ said Pleydell, ‘it is plagium, and plagium is felony.’

‘Forgive me, Mr. Pleydell, there is only one case upon record, Torrence and Waldie. They were, you remember, resurrection-women, who had promised to procure a child’s body for some young surgeons. Being upon honour to their employers, rather than disappoint the evening lecture of the students, they stole a live child, murdered it, and sold the body for three shillings and sixpence. They were hanged, but for the murder, not for the plagium32 — Your civil law has carried you a little too far.’

‘Well, sir, but in the meantime Mr. Mac-Morlan must commit you to the county jail, in case this young man repeats the same story. Officers, remove Mr. Glossin and Hatteraick, and guard them in different apartments.’

Gabriel, the gipsy, was then introduced, and gave a distinct account of his deserting from Captain Pritchard’s vessel and joining the smugglers in the action, detailed how Dirk Hatteraick set fire to his ship when he found her disabled, and under cover of the smoke escaped with his crew, and as much goods as they could save, into the cavern, where they proposed to lie till nightfall. Hatteraick himself, his mate Vanbeest Brown, and three others, of whom the declarant was one, went into the adjacent woods to communicate with some of their friends in the neighbourhood. They fell in with Kennedy unexpectedly, and Hatteraick and Brown, aware that he was the occasion of their disasters, resolved to murder him. He stated that he had seen them lay violent hands on the officer and drag him through the woods, but had not partaken in the assault nor witnessed its termination; that he returned to the cavern by a different route, where he again met Hatteraick and his accomplices; and the captain was in the act of giving an account how he and Brown had pushed a huge crag over, as Kennedy lay groaning on the beach, when Glossin suddenly appeared among them. To the whole transaction by which Hatteraick purchased his secrecy he was witness. Respecting young Bertram, he could give a distinct account till he went to India, after which he had lost sight of him until he unexpectedly met with him in Liddesdale. Gabriel Faa farther stated that he instantly sent notice to his aunt Meg Merrilies, as well as to Hatteraick, who he knew was then upon the coast; but that he had incurred his aunt’s displeasure upon the latter account. He concluded, that his aunt had immediately declared that she would do all that lay in her power to help young Ellangowan to his right, even if it should be by informing against Dirk Hatteraick; and that many of her people assisted her besides himself, from a belief that she was gifted with supernatural inspirations. With the same purpose, he understood his aunt had given to Bertram the treasure of the tribe, of which she had the custody. Three or four gipsies, by the express command of Meg Merrilies, mingled in the crowd when the custom-house was attacked, for the purpose of liberating Bertram, which he had himself effected. He said, that in obeying Meg’s dictates they did not pretend to estimate their propriety or rationality, the respect in which she was held by her tribe precluding all such subjects of speculation. Upon farther interrogation, the witness added, that his aunt had always said that Harry Bertram carried that round his neck which would ascertain his birth. It was a spell, she said, that an Oxford scholar had made for him, and she possessed the smugglers with an opinion that to deprive him of it would occasion the loss of the vessel.

Bertram here produced a small velvet bag, which he said he had worn round his neck from his earliest infancy, and which he had preserved, first from superstitious reverence, and latterly from the hope that it might serve one day to aid in the discovery of his birth. The bag, being opened, was found to contain a blue silk case, from which was drawn a scheme of nativity. Upon inspecting this paper, Colonel Mannering instantly admitted it was his own composition; and afforded the strongest and most satisfactory evidence that the possessor of it must necessarily be the young heir of Ellangowan, by avowing his having first appeared in that country in the character of an astrologer.

‘And now,’ said Pleydell, ‘make out warrants of commitment for Hatteraick and Glossin until liberated in due course of law. Yet,’ he said, ‘I am sorry for Glossin.’

‘Now, I think,’ said Mannering, ‘he’s incomparably the least deserving of pity of the two. The other’s a bold fellow, though as hard as flint.’

‘Very natural, Colonel,’ said the Advocate, ‘that you should be interested in the ruffian and I in the knave, that’s all professional taste; but I can tell you Glossin would have been a pretty lawyer had he not had such a turn for the roguish part of the profession.’

‘Scandal would say,’ observed Mannering, ‘he might not be the worse lawyer for that.’

‘Scandal would tell a lie, then,’ replied Pleydell, ‘as she usually does. Law’s like laudanum: it’s much more easy to use it as a quack does than to learn to apply it like a physician.’

32 This is, in its circumstances and issue, actually a case tried and reported.

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