But this poor farce has neither truth nor art
To please the fancy or to touch the heart
Dark but not awful dismal but yet mean,
With anxious bustle moves the cumbrous scene,
Presents no objects tender or profound,
But spreads its cold unmeaning gloom around
‘Your majesty,’ said Mannering, laughing, ‘has solemnised your abdication by an act of mercy and charity. That fellow will scarce think of going to law.’
‘O, you are quite wrong,’ said the experienced lawyer. ‘The only difference is, I have lost my client and my fee. He’ll never rest till he finds somebody to encourage him to commit the folly he has predetermined. No! no! I have only shown you another weakness of my character: I always speak truth of a Saturday night.’
‘And sometimes through the week, I should think,’ said Mannering, continuing the same tone.
‘Why, yes; as far as my vocation will permit. I am, as Hamlet says, indifferent honest, when my clients and their solicitors do not make me the medium of conveying their double-distilled lies to the bench. But oportet vivere! it is a sad thing. And now to our business. I am glad my old friend Mac-Morlan has sent you to me; he is an active, honest, and intelligent man, long sheriff — substitute of the county of — under me, and still holds the office. He knows I have a regard for that unfortunate family of Ellangowan, and for poor Lucy. I have not seen her since she was twelve years old, and she was then a sweet pretty girl, under the management of a very silly father. But my interest in her is of an early date. I was called upon, Mr. Mannering, being then sheriff of that county, to investigate the particulars of a murder which had been committed near Ellangowan the day on which this poor child was born; and which, by a strange combination that I was unhappily not able to trace, involved the death or abstraction of her only brother, a boy of about five years old. No, Colonel, I shall never forget the misery of the house of Ellangowan that morning! the father half-distracted — the mother dead in premature travail — the helpless infant, with scarce any one to attend it, coming wawling and crying into this miserable world at such a moment of unutterable misery. We lawyers are not of iron, sir, or of brass, any more than you soldiers are of steel. We are conversant with the crimes and distresses of civil society, as you are with those that occur in a state of war, and to do our duty in either case a little apathy is perhaps necessary. But the devil take a soldier whose heart can be as hard as his sword, and his dam catch the lawyer who bronzes his bosom instead of his forehead! But come, I am losing my Saturday at e’en. Will you have the kindness to trust me with these papers which relate to Miss Bertram’s business? and stay — to-morrow you’ll take a bachelor’s dinner with an old lawyer, — I insist upon it — at three precisely, and come an hour sooner. The old lady is to be buried on Monday; it is the orphan’s cause, and we’ll borrow an hour from the Sunday to talk over this business, although I fear nothing can be done if she has altered her settlement, unless perhaps it occurs within the sixty days, and then, if Miss Bertram can show that she possesses the character of heir-at-law, why — But, hark! my lieges are impatient of their interregnum. I do not invite you to rejoin us, Colonel; it would be a trespass on your complaisance, unless you had begun the day with us, and gradually glided on from wisdom to mirth, and from mirth to-to-to — extravagance. Good-night. Harry, go home with Mr. Mannering to his lodging. Colonel, I expect you at a little past two to-morrow.’
The Colonel returned to his inn, equally surprised at the childish frolics in which he had found his learned counsellor engaged, at the candour and sound sense which he had in a moment summoned up to meet the exigencies of his profession, and at the tone of feeling which he displayed when he spoke of the friendless orphan.
In the morning, while the Colonel and his most quiet and silent of all retainers, Dominie Sampson, were finishing the breakfast which Barnes had made and poured out, after the Dominie had scalded himself in the attempt, Mr. Pleydell was suddenly ushered in. A nicely dressed bob-wig, upon every hair of which a zealous and careful barber had bestowed its proper allowance of powder; a well-brushed black suit, with very clean shoes and gold buckles and stock-buckle; a manner rather reserved and formal than intrusive, but withal showing only the formality of manner, by no means that of awkwardness; a countenance, the expressive and somewhat comic features of which were in complete repose — all showed a being perfectly different from the choice spirit of the evening before. A glance of shrewd and piercing fire in his eye was the only marked expression which recalled the man of ‘Saturday at e’en.’
‘I am come,’ said he, with a very polite address, ‘to use my regal authority in your behalf in spirituals as well as temporals; can I accompany you to the Presbyterian kirk, or Episcopal meeting — house? Tros Tyriusve, a lawyer, you know, is of both religions, or rather I should say of both forms; — or can I assist in passing the fore-noon otherwise? You’ll excuse my old-fashioned importunity, I was born in a time when a Scotchman was thought inhospitable if he left a guest alone a moment, except when he slept; but I trust you will tell me at once if I intrude.’
‘Not at all, my dear sir,’ answered Colonel Mannering. ‘I am delighted to put myself under your pilotage. I should wish much to hear some of your Scottish preachers whose talents have done such honour to your country — your Blair, your Robertson, or your Henry; and I embrace your kind offer with all my heart. Only,’ drawing the lawyer a little aside, and turning his eye towards Sampson, ‘my worthy friend there in the reverie is a little helpless and abstracted, and my servant, Barnes, who is his pilot in ordinary, cannot well assist him here, especially as he has expressed his determination of going to some of your darker and more remote places of worship.’
The lawyer’s eye glanced at Dominie Sampson. ‘A curiosity worth preserving; and I’ll find you a fit custodier. Here you, sir (to the waiter), go to Luckie Finlayson’s in the Cowgate for Miles Macfin the cadie, he’ll be there about this time, and tell him I wish to speak to him.’
The person wanted soon arrived. ‘I will commit your friend to this man’s charge,’ said Pleydell; ‘he’ll attend him, or conduct him, wherever he chooses to go, with a happy indifference as to kirk or market, meeting or court of justice, or any other place whatever; and bring him safe home at whatever hour you appoint; so that Mr. Barnes there may be left to the freedom of his own will.’
This was easily arranged, and the Colonel committed the Dominie to the charge of this man while they should remain in Edinburgh.
‘And now, sir, if you please, we shall go to the Grey-friars church, to hear our historian of Scotland, of the Continent, and of America.’
They were disappointed: he did not preach that morning. ‘Never mind,’ said the Counsellor, ‘have a moment’s patience and we shall do very well.’
The colleague of Dr. Robertson ascended the pulpit.21 His external appearance was not prepossessing. A remarkably fair complexion, strangely contrasted with a black wig without a grain of powder; a narrow chest and a stooping posture; hands which, placed like props on either side of the pulpit, seemed necessary rather to support the person than to assist the gesticulation of the preacher; no gown, not even that of Geneva, a tumbled band, and a gesture which seemed scarce voluntary, were the first circumstances which struck a stranger. ‘The preacher seems a very ungainly person,’ whispered Mannering to his new friend.
‘Never fear, he’s the son of an excellent Scottish lawyer;22 he’ll show blood, I’ll warrant him.’
The learned Counsellor predicted truly. A lecture was delivered, fraught with new, striking, and entertaining views of Scripture history, a sermon in which the Calvinism of the Kirk of Scotland was ably supported, yet made the basis of a sound system of practical morals, which should neither shelter the sinner under the cloak of speculative faith or of peculiarity of opinion, nor leave him loose to the waves of unbelief and schism. Something there was of an antiquated turn of argument and metaphor, but it only served to give zest and peculiarity to the style of elocution. The sermon was not read: a scrap of paper containing the heads of the discourse was occasionally referred to, and the enunciation, which at first seemed imperfect and embarrassed, became, as the preacher warmed in his progress, animated and distinct; and although the discourse could not be quoted as a correct specimen of pulpit eloquence, yet Mannering had seldom heard so much learning, metaphysical acuteness, and energy of argument brought into the service of Christianity.
‘Such,’ he said, going out of the church, ‘must have been the preachers to whose unfearing minds, and acute though sometimes rudely exercised talents, we owe the Reformation.’
‘And yet that reverend gentleman,’ said Pleydell, ‘whom I love for his father’s sake and his own, has nothing of the sour or pharisaical pride which has been imputed to some of the early fathers of the Calvinistic Kirk of Scotland. His colleague and he differ, and head different parties in the kirk, about particular points of church discipline; but without for a moment losing personal regard or respect for each other, or suffering malignity to interfere in an opposition steady, constant, and apparently conscientious on both sides.’
‘And you, Mr. Pleydell, what do you think of their points of difference?’
‘Why, I hope, Colonel, a plain man may go to heaven without thinking about them at all; besides, inter nos, I am a member of the suffering and Episcopal Church of Scotland — the shadow of a shade now, and fortunately so; but I love to pray where my fathers prayed before me, without thinking worse of the Presbyterian forms because they do not affect me with the same associations.’ And with this remark they parted until dinner-time.
From the awkward access to the lawyer’s mansion, Mannering was induced to form very moderate expectations of the entertainment which he was to receive. The approach looked even more dismal by daylight than on the preceding evening. The houses on each side of the lane were so close that the neighbours might have shaken hands with each other from the different sides, and occasionally the space between was traversed by wooden galleries, and thus entirely closed up. The stair, the scale-stair, was not well cleaned; and on entering the house Mannering was struck with the narrowness and meanness of the wainscotted passage. But the library, into which he was shown by an elderly, respectable-looking man-servant, was a complete contrast to these unpromising appearances. It was a well — proportioned room, hung with a portrait or two of Scottish characters of eminence, by Jamieson, the Caledonian Vandyke, and surrounded with books, the best editions of the best authors, and in particular an admirable collection of classics.
‘These,’ said Pleydell, ‘are my tools of trade. A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect.’
But Mannering was chiefly delighted with the view from the windows, which commanded that incomparable prospect of the ground between Edinburgh and the sea — the Firth of Forth, with its islands, the embayment which is terminated by the Law of North Berwick, and the varied shores of Fife to the northward, indenting with a hilly outline the clear blue horizon.
When Mr. Pleydell had sufficiently enjoyed the surprise of his guest, he called his attention to Miss Bertram’s affairs. ‘I was in hopes,’ he said, ‘though but faint, to have discovered some means of ascertaining her indefeasible right to this property of Singleside; but my researches have been in vain. The old lady was certainly absolute fiar, and might dispose of it in full right of property. All that we have to hope is, that the devil may not have tempted her to alter this very proper settlement. You must attend the old girl’s funeral to-morrow, to which you will receive an invitation, for I have acquainted her agent with your being here on Miss Bertram’s part; and I will meet you afterwards at the house she inhabited, and be present to see fair play at the opening of the settlement. The old cat had a little girl, the orphan of some relation, who lived with her as a kind of slavish companion. I hope she has had the conscience to make her independent, in consideration of the peine forte et dure to which she subjected her during her lifetime.’
Three gentlemen now appeared, and were introduced to the stranger. They were men of good sense, gaiety, and general information, so that the day passed very pleasantly over; and Colonel Mannering assisted, about eight o’clock at night, in discussing the landlord’s bottle, which was, of course, a magnum. Upon his return to the inn he found a card inviting him to the funeral of Miss Margaret Bertram, late of Singleside, which was to proceed from her own house to the place of interment in the Greyfriars churchyard at one o’clock afternoon.
At the appointed hour Mannering went to a small house in the suburbs to the southward of the city, where he found the place of mourning indicated, as usual in Scotland, by two rueful figures with long black cloaks, white crapes and hat-bands, holding in their hands poles, adorned with melancholy streamers of the same description. By two other mutes, who, from their visages, seemed suffering under the pressure of some strange calamity, he was ushered into the dining-parlour of the defunct, where the company were assembled for the funeral.
In Scotland the custom, now disused in England, of inviting the relations of the deceased to the interment is universally retained. On many occasions this has a singular and striking effect, but it degenerates into mere empty form and grimace in cases where the defunct has had the misfortune to live unbeloved and die unlamented. The English service for the dead, one of the most beautiful and impressive parts of the ritual of the church, would have in such cases the effect of fixing the attention, and uniting the thoughts and feelings of the audience present in an exercise of devotion so peculiarly adapted to such an occasion. But according to the Scottish custom, if there be not real feeling among the assistants, there is nothing to supply the deficiency, and exalt or rouse the attention; so that a sense of tedious form, and almost hypocritical restraint, is too apt to pervade the company assembled for the mournful solemnity. Mrs. Margaret Bertram was unluckily one of those whose good qualities had attached no general friendship. She had no near relations who might have mourned from natural affection, and therefore her funeral exhibited merely the exterior trappings of sorrow.
Mannering, therefore, stood among this lugubrious company of cousins in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth degree, composing his countenance to the decent solemnity of all who were around him, and looking as much concerned on Mrs. Margaret Bertram’s account as if the deceased lady of Singleside had been his own sister or mother. After a deep and awful pause, the company began to talk aside, under their breaths, however, and as if in the chamber of a dying person.
‘Our poor friend,’ said one grave gentleman, scarcely opening his mouth, for fear of deranging the necessary solemnity of his features, and sliding his whisper from between his lips, which were as little unclosed as possible — ‘our poor friend has died well to pass in the world.’
‘Nae doubt,’ answered the person addressed, with half-closed eyes; ‘poor Mrs. Margaret was aye careful of the gear.’
‘Any news to-day, Colonel Mannering?’ said one of the gentlemen whom he had dined with the day before, but in a tone which might, for its impressive gravity, have communicated the death of his whole generation.
‘Nothing particular, I believe, sir,’ said Mannering, in the cadence which was, he observed, appropriated to the house of mourning.
‘I understand,’ continued the first speaker, emphatically, and with the air of one who is well informed — ‘I understand there is a settlement.’
‘And what does little Jenny Gibson get?’
‘A hundred, and the auld repeater.’
‘That’s but sma’ gear, puir thing; she had a sair time o’t with the auld leddy. But it’s ill waiting for dead folk’s shoon.’
‘I am afraid,’ said the politician, who was close by Mannering, ‘we have not done with your old friend Tippoo Sahib yet, I doubt he’ll give the Company more plague; and I am told, but you’ll know for certain, that East India Stock is not rising.’
‘I trust it will, sir, soon.’
‘Mrs. Margaret,’ said another person, mingling in the conversation, ‘had some India bonds. I know that, for I drew the interest for her; it would be desirable now for the trustees and legatees to have the Colonel’s advice about the time and mode of converting them into money. For my part I think — but there’s Mr. Mortcloke to tell us they are gaun to lift.’
Mr. Mortcloke the undertaker did accordingly, with a visage of professional length and most grievous solemnity, distribute among the pall-bearers little cards, assigning their respective situations in attendance upon the coffin. As this precedence is supposed to be regulated by propinquity to the defunct, the undertaker, however skilful a master of these lugubrious ceremonies, did not escape giving some offence. To be related to Mrs. Bertram was to be of kin to the lands of Singleside, and was a propinquity of which each relative present at that moment was particularly jealous. Some murmurs there were on the occasion, and our friend Dinmont gave more open offence, being unable either to repress his discontent or to utter it in the key properly modulated to the solemnity. ‘I think ye might hae at least gi’en me a leg o’ her to carry,’ he exclaimed, in a voice considerably louder than propriety admitted. ‘God! an it hadna been for the rigs o’ land, I would hae gotten her a’ to carry mysell, for as mony gentles as are here.’
A score of frowning and reproving brows were bent upon the unappalled yeoman, who, having given vent to his displeasure, stalked sturdily downstairs with the rest of the company, totally disregarding the censures of those whom his remarks had scandalised.
And then the funeral pomp set forth; saulies with their batons and gumphions of tarnished white crape, in honour of the well — preserved maiden fame of Mrs. Margaret Bertram. Six starved horses, themselves the very emblems of mortality, well cloaked and plumed, lugging along the hearse with its dismal emblazonry, crept in slow state towards the place of interment, preceded by Jamie Duff, an idiot, who, with weepers and cravat made of white paper, attended on every funeral, and followed by six mourning coaches, filled with the company. Many of these now gave more free loose to their tongues, and discussed with unrestrained earnestness the amount of the succession, and the probability of its destination. The principal expectants, however, kept a prudent silence, indeed ashamed to express hopes which might prove fallacious; and the agent or man of business, who alone knew exactly how matters stood, maintained a countenance of mysterious importance, as if determined to preserve the full interest of anxiety and suspense.
At length they arrived at the churchyard gates, and from thence, amid the gaping of two or three dozen of idle women with infants in their arms, and accompanied by some twenty children, who ran gambolling and screaming alongside of the sable procession, they finally arrived at the burial-place of the Singleside family. This was a square enclosure in the Greyfriars churchyard, guarded on one side by a veteran angel without a nose, and having only one wing, who had the merit of having maintained his post for a century, while his comrade cherub, who had stood sentinel on the corresponding pedestal, lay a broken trunk among the hemlock, burdock, and nettles which grew in gigantic luxuriance around the walls of the mausoleum. A moss-grown and broken inscription informed the reader that in the year 1650 Captain Andrew Bertram, first of Singleside, descended of the very ancient and honourable house of Ellangowan, had caused this monument to be erected for himself and his descendants. A reasonable number of scythes and hour-glasses, and death’s heads and cross-bones, garnished the following sprig of sepulchral poetry to the memory of the founder of the mausoleum:—
Nathaniel’s heart, Bezaleel’s hand If ever any had, These boldly do I say had he, Who lieth in this bed.
Here, then, amid the deep black fat loam into which her ancestors were now resolved, they deposited the body of Mrs. Margaret Bertram; and, like soldiers returning from a military funeral, the nearest relations who might be interested in the settlements of the lady urged the dog-cattle of the hackney coaches to all the speed of which they were capable, in order to put an end to farther suspense on that interesting topic.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00