Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 57

Unfit to live or die — O marble heart!

After him, fellows, drag him to the block.

Measure for Measure.

The jail at the county town of the shire of —— was one of those old-fashioned dungeons which disgraced Scotland until of late years. When the prisoners and their guard arrived there, Hatteraick, whose violence and strength were well known, was secured in what was called the condemned ward. This was a large apartment near the top of the prison. A round bar of iron,33 about the thickness of a man’s arm above the elbow, crossed the apartment horizontally at the height of about six inches from the floor; and its extremities were strongly built into the wall at either end. Hatteraick’s ankles were secured within shackles, which were connected by a chain, at the distance of about four feet, with a large iron ring, which travelled upon the bar we have described. Thus a prisoner might shuffle along the length of the bar from one side of the room to another, but could not retreat farther from it in any other direction than the brief length of the chain admitted. When his feet had been thus secured, the keeper removed his handcuffs and left his person at liberty in other respects. A pallet-bed was placed close to the bar of iron, so that the shackled prisoner might lie down at pleasure, still fastened to the iron bar in the manner described.

Hatteraick had not been long in this place of confinement before Glossin arrived at the same prison-house. In respect to his comparative rank and education, he was not ironed, but placed in a decent apartment, under the inspection of Mac-Guffog, who, since the destruction of the bridewell of Portanferry by the mob, had acted here as an under-turnkey. When Glossin was enclosed within this room, and had solitude and leisure to calculate all the chances against him and in his favour, he could not prevail upon himself to consider the game as desperate.

‘The estate is lost,’ he said, ‘that must go; and, between Pleydell and Mac-Morlan, they’ll cut down my claim on it to a trifle. My character — but if I get off with life and liberty I’ll win money yet and varnish that over again. I knew not of the gauger’s job until the rascal had done the deed, and, though I had some advantage by the contraband, that is no felony. But the kidnapping of the boy — there they touch me closer. Let me see. This Bertram was a child at the time; his evidence must be imperfect. The other fellow is a deserter, a gipsy, and an outlaw. Meg Merrilies, d-n her, is dead. These infernal bills! Hatteraick brought them with him, I suppose, to have the means of threatening me or extorting money from me. I must endeavour to see the rascal; must get him to stand steady; must persuade him to put some other colour upon the business.’

His mind teeming with schemes of future deceit to cover former villainy, he spent the time in arranging and combining them until the hour of supper. Mac-Guffog attended as turnkey on this occasion. He was, as we know, the old and special acquaintance of the prisoner who was now under his charge. After giving the turnkey a glass of brandy, and sounding him with one or two cajoling speeches, Glossin made it his request that he would help him to an interview with Dirk Hatteraick. ‘Impossible! utterly impossible! it’s contrary to the express orders of Mr. Mac-Morlan, and the captain (as the head jailor of a county jail is called in Scotland) would never forgie me.’

‘But why should he know of it?’ said Glossin, slipping a couple of guineas into Mac-Guffog’s hand.

The turnkey weighed the gold and looked sharp at Glossin. ‘Ay, ay, Mr. Glossin, ye ken the ways o’ this place. Lookee, at lock-up hour I’ll return and bring ye upstairs to him. But ye must stay a’ night in his cell, for I am under needcessity to carry the keys to the captain for the night, and I cannot let you out again until morning; then I’ll visit the wards half an hour earlier than usual, and ye may get out and be snug in your ain birth when the captain gangs his rounds.’

When the hour of ten had pealed from the neighbouring steeple Mac-Guffog came prepared with a small dark lantern. He said softly to Glossin, ‘Slip your shoes off and follow me.’ When Glossin was out of the door, Mac-Guffog, as if in the execution of his ordinary duty, and speaking to a prisoner within, called aloud, ‘Good-night to you, sir,’ and locked the door, clattering the bolts with much ostentatious noise. He then guided Glossin up a steep and narrow stair, at the top of which was the door of the condemned ward; he unbarred and unlocked it, and, giving Glossin the lantern, made a sign to him to enter, and locked the door behind him with the same affected accuracy.

In the large dark cell into which he was thus introduced Glossin’s feeble light for some time enabled him to discover nothing. At length he could dimly distinguish the pallet-bed stretched on the floor beside the great iron bar which traversed the room, and on that pallet reposed the figure of a man. Glossin approached him. ‘Dirk Hatteraick!’

‘Donner and hagel! it is his voice,’ said the prisoner, sitting up and clashing his fetters as he rose; ‘then my dream is true! Begone, and leave me to myself; it will be your best.’

‘What! my good friend,’ said Glossin, ‘will you allow the prospect of a few weeks’ confinement to depress your spirit?’

‘Yes,’ answered the ruffian, sullenly, ‘when I am only to be released by a halter! Let me alone; go about your business, and turn the lamp from my face!’

‘Psha! my dear Dirk, don’t be afraid,’ said Glossin; ‘I have a glorious plan to make all right.’

‘To the bottomless pit with your plans!’ replied his accomplice; ‘you have planned me out of ship, cargo, and life; and I dreamt this moment that Meg Merrilies dragged you here by the hair and gave me the long clasped knife she used to wear; you don’t know what she said. Sturmwetter! it will be your wisdom not to tempt me!’

‘But, Hatteraick, my good friend, do but rise and speak to me,’ said Glossin.

‘I will not!’ answered the savage, doggedly. ‘You have caused all the mischief; you would not let Meg keep the boy; she would have returned him after he had forgot all.’

‘Why, Hatteraick, you are turned driveller!’

‘Wetter! will you deny that all that cursed attempt at Portanferry, which lost both sloop and crew, was your device for your own job?’

‘But the goods, you know — ’

‘Curse the goods!’ said the smuggler, ‘we could have got plenty more; but, der deyvil! to lose the ship and the fine fellows, and my own life, for a cursed coward villain, that always works his own mischief with other people’s hands! Speak to me no more; I’m dangerous.’

‘But, Dirk — but, Hatteraick, hear me only a few words.’

‘Hagel! nein.’

‘Only one sentence.’

‘Tousand curses! nein.’

‘At least get up, for an obstinate Dutch brute!’ said Glossin, losing his temper and pushing Hatteraick with his foot.

‘Donner and blitzen!’ said Hatteraick, springing up and grappling with him; ‘you will have it then?’

Glossin struggled and resisted; but, owing to his surprise at the fury of the assault, so ineffectually that he fell under Hatteraick, the back part of his neck coming full upon the iron bar with stunning violence. The death-grapple continued. The room immediately below the condemned ward, being that of Glossin, was, of course, empty; but the inmates of the second apartment beneath felt the shock of Glossin’s heavy fall, and heard a noise as of struggling and of groans. But all sounds of horror were too congenial to this place to excite much curiosity or interest.

In the morning, faithful to his promise, Mac-Guffog came. ‘Mr. Glossin,’ said he, in a whispering voice.

‘Call louder,’ answered Dirk Hatteraick.

‘Mr. Glossin, for God’s sake come away!’

‘He’ll hardly do that without help,’ said Hatteraick.

‘What are you chattering there for, Mac-Guffog?’ called out the captain from below.

‘Come away, for God’s sake, Mr. Glossin!’ repeated the turnkey.

At this moment the jailor made his appearance with a light. Great was his surprise, and even horror, to observe Glossin’s body lying doubled across the iron bar, in a posture that excluded all idea of his being alive. Hatteraick was quietly stretched upon his pallet within a yard of his victim. On lifting Glossin it was found he had been dead for some hours. His body bore uncommon marks of violence. The spine where it joins the skull had received severe injury by his first fall. There were distinct marks of strangulation about the throat, which corresponded with the blackened state of his face. The head was turned backward over the shoulder, as if the neck had been wrung round with desperate violence. So that it would seem that his inveterate antagonist had fixed a fatal gripe upon the wretch’s throat, and never quitted it while life lasted. The lantern, crushed and broken to pieces, lay beneath the body.

Mac-Morlan was in the town, and came instantly to examine the corpse. ‘What brought Glossin here?’ he said to Hatteraick.

‘The devil!’ answered the ruffian.

‘And what did you do to him?’

‘Sent him to hell before me!’ replied the miscreant.

‘Wretch,’ said Mac-Morlan, ‘you have crowned a life spent without a single virtue with the murder of your own miserable accomplice!’

‘Virtue?’ exclaimed the prisoner. ‘Donner! I was always faithful to my shipowners — always accounted for cargo to the last stiver. Hark ye! let me have pen and ink and I’ll write an account of the whole to our house, and leave me alone a couple of hours, will ye; and let them take away that piece of carrion, donnerwetter!’

Mac-Morlan deemed it the best way to humour the savage; he was furnished with writing materials and left alone. When they again opened the door it was found that this determined villain had anticipated justice. He had adjusted a cord taken from the truckle-bed, and attached it to a bone, the relic of his yesterday’s dinner, which he had contrived to drive into a crevice between two stones in the wall at a height as great as he could reach, standing upon the bar. Having fastened the noose, he had the resolution to drop his body as if to fall on his knees, and to retain that posture until resolution was no longer necessary. The letter he had written to his owners, though chiefly upon the business of their trade, contained many allusions to the younker of Ellangowan, as he called him, and afforded absolute confirmation of all Meg Merrilies and her nephew had told.

To dismiss the catastrophe of these two wretched men, I shall only add, that Mac-Guffog was turned out of office, notwithstanding his declaration (which he offered to attest by oath), that he had locked Glossin safely in his own room upon the night preceding his being found dead in Dirk Hatteraick’s cell. His story, however, found faith with the worthy Mr. Skriegh and other lovers of the marvellous, who still hold that the Enemy of Mankind brought these two wretches together upon that night by supernatural interference, that they might fill up the cup of their guilt and receive its meed by murder and suicide.

33 This mode of securing prisoners was universally practised in Scotland after condemnation. When a man received sentence of death he was put upon The Gad, as it was called, that is, secured to the bar of iron in the manner mentioned in the text. The practice subsisted in Edinburgh till the old jail was taken down some years since, and perhaps may be still in use.

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