And Sheriff I will engage my word to you,
That I will by to morrow dinner time,
Send him to answer thee or any man,
For anything he shall be charged withal
Henry IV Part I
When the several by-plays, as they may be termed, had taken place among the individuals of the Woodbourne family, as we have intimated in the preceding chapter, the breakfast party at length assembled, Dandie excepted, who had consulted his taste in viands, and perhaps in society, by partaking of a cup of tea with Mrs. Allan, just laced with two teaspoonfuls of cogniac, and reinforced with various slices from a huge round of beef. He had a kind of feeling that he could eat twice as much, and speak twice as much, with this good dame and Barnes as with the grand folk in the parlour. Indeed, the meal of this less distinguished party was much more mirthful than that in the higher circle, where there was an obvious air of constraint on the greater part of the assistants. Julia dared not raise her voice in asking Bertram if he chose another cup of tea. Bertram felt embarrassed while eating his toast and butter under the eye of Mannering. Lucy, while she indulged to the uttermost her affection for her recovered brother, began to think of the quarrel betwixt him and Hazlewood. The Colonel felt the painful anxiety natural to a proud mind when it deems its slightest action subject for a moment to the watchful construction of others. The Lawyer, while sedulously buttering his roll, had an aspect of unwonted gravity, arising perhaps from the severity of his morning studies. As for the Dominie, his state of mind was ecstatic! He looked at Bertram — he looked at Lucy — he whimpered — he sniggled — he grinned — he committed all manner of solecisms in point of form: poured the whole cream (no unlucky mistake) upon the plate of porridge which was his own usual breakfast, threw the slops of what he called his ‘crowning dish of tea’ into the sugar-dish instead of the slop-basin, and concluded with spilling the scalding liquor upon old Plato, the Colonel’s favourite spaniel, who received the libation with a howl that did little honour to his philosophy.
The Colonel’s equanimity was rather shaken by this last blunder. ‘Upon my word, my good friend, Mr. Sampson, you forget the difference between Plato and Zenocrates.’
‘The former was chief of the Academics, the latter of the Stoics,’ said the Dominie, with some scorn of the supposition.
‘Yes, my dear sir, but it was Zenocrates, not Plato, who denied that pain was an evil.’
‘I should have thought,’ said Pleydell, ‘that very respectable quadruped which is just now limping out of the room upon three of his four legs was rather of the Cynic school.’
‘Very well hit off. But here comes an answer from Mac-Morlan.’
It was unfavourable. Mrs. Mac-Morlan sent her respectful compliments, and her husband had been, and was, detained by some alarming disturbances which had taken place the preceding night at Portanferry, and the necessary investigation which they had occasioned.
‘What’s to be done now. Counsellor?’ said the Colonel to Pleydell.
‘Why, I wish we could have seen Mac-Morlan,’ said the Counsellor, ‘who is a sensible fellow himself, and would besides have acted under my advice. But there is little harm. Our friend here must be made sui juris. He is at present an escaped prisoner, the law has an awkward claim upon him; he must be placed rectus in curia, that is the first object; for which purpose, Colonel, I will accompany you in your carriage down to Hazlewood House. The distance is not great; we will offer our bail, and I am confident I can easily show Mr. — I beg his pardon — Sir Robert Hazlewood, the necessity of receiving it.’
‘With all my heart,’ said the Colonel; and, ringing the bell, gave the necessary orders. ‘And what is next to be done?’
‘We must get hold of Mac-Morlan, and look out for more proof.’
‘Proof!’ said the Colonel, ‘the thing is as clear as daylight: here are Mr. Sampson and Miss Bertram, and you yourself at once recognise the young gentleman as his father’s image; and he himself recollects all the very peculiar circumstances preceding his leaving this country. What else is necessary to conviction?’
‘To moral conviction nothing more, perhaps,’ said the experienced lawyer, ‘but for legal proof a great deal. Mr. Bertram’s recollections are his own recollections merely, and therefore are not evidence in his own favour. Miss Bertram, the learned Mr. Sampson, and I can only say, what every one who knew the late Ellangowan will readily agree in, that this gentleman is his very picture. But that will not make him Ellangowan’s son and give him the estate.’
‘And what will do so?’ said the Colonel.
‘Why, we must have a distinct probation. There are these gipsies; but then, alas! they are almost infamous in the eye of law, scarce capable of bearing evidence, and Meg Merrilies utterly so, by the various accounts which she formerly gave of the matter, and her impudent denial of all knowledge of the fact when I myself examined her respecting it.’
‘What must be done then?’ asked Mannering.
‘We must try,’ answered the legal sage, ‘what proof can be got at in Holland among the persons by whom our young friend was educated. But then the fear of being called in question for the murder of the gauger may make them silent; or, if they speak, they are either foreigners or outlawed smugglers. In short, I see doubts.’
‘Under favour, most learned and honoured sir,’ said the Dominie, ‘I trust He who hath restored little Harry Bertram to his friends will not leave His own work imperfect.’
‘I trust so too, Mr. Sampson,’ said Pleydell; ‘but we must use the means; and I am afraid we shall have more difficulty in procuring them than I at first thought. But a faint heart never won a fair lady; and, by the way (apart to Miss Mannering, while Bertram was engaged with his sister), there’s a vindication of Holland for you! What smart fellows do you think Leyden and Utrecht must send forth, when such a very genteel and handsome young man comes from the paltry schools of Middleburgh?’
‘Of a verity,’ said the Dominie, jealous of the reputation of the Dutch seminary — ‘of a verity, Mr. Pleydell, but I make it known to you that I myself laid the foundation of his education.’
‘True, my dear Dominie,’ answered the Advocate, ‘that accounts for his proficiency in the graces, without question. But here comes your carriage, Colonel. Adieu, young folks. Miss Julia, keep your heart till I come back again; let there be nothing done to prejudice my right whilst I am non valens agere.’
Their reception at Hazlewood House was more cold and formal than usual; for in general the Baronet expressed great respect for Colonel Mannering, and Mr. Pleydell, besides being a man of good family and of high general estimation, was Sir Robert’s old friend. But now he seemed dry and embarrassed in his manner. ‘He would willingly,’ he said, ‘receive bail, notwithstanding that the offence had been directly perpetrated, committed, and done against young Hazlewood of Hazlewood; but the young man had given himself a fictitious description, and was altogether that sort of person who should not be liberated, discharged, or let loose upon society; and therefore — ’
‘I hope, Sir Robert Hazlewood,’ said the Colonel, ‘you do not mean to doubt my word when I assure you that he served under me as cadet in India?’
‘By no means or account whatsoever. But you call him a cadet; now he says, avers, and upholds that he was a captain, or held a troop in your regiment.’
‘He was promoted since I gave up the command.’
‘But you must have heard of it?’
‘No. I returned on account of family circumstances from India, and have not since been solicitous to hear particular news from the regiment; the name of Brown, too, is so common that I might have seen his promotion in the “Gazette” without noticing it. But a day or two will bring letters from his commanding officer.’
‘But I am told and informed, Mr. Pleydell,’ answered Sir Robert, still hesitating, ‘that he does not mean to abide by this name of Brown, but is to set up a claim to the estate of Ellangowan, under the name of Bertram.’
‘Ay, who says that?’ said the Counsellor.
‘Or,’ demanded the soldier, ‘whoever says so, does that give a right to keep him in prison?’
‘Hush, Colonel,’ said the Lawyer; ‘I am sure you would not, any more than I, countenance him if he prove an impostor. And, among friends, who informed you of this, Sir Robert?’
‘Why, a person, Mr, Pleydell,’ answered the Baronet, ‘who is peculiarly interested in investigating, sifting, and clearing out this business to the bottom; you will excuse my being more particular.’
‘O, certainly,’ replied Pleydell; ‘well, and he says —?’
‘He says that it is whispered about among tinkers, gipsies, and other idle persons that there is such a plan as I mentioned to you, and that this young man, who is a bastard or natural son of the late Ellangowan, is pitched upon as the impostor from his strong family likeness.’
‘And was there such a natural son, Sir Robert?’ demanded the Counsellor.
‘O, certainly, to my own positive knowledge. Ellangowan had him placed as cabin-boy or powder-monkey on board an armed sloop or yacht belonging to the revenue, through the interest of the late Commissioner Bertram, a kinsman of his own.’
‘Well, Sir Robert,’ said the Lawyer, taking the word out of the mouth of the impatient soldier, ‘you have told me news. I shall investigate them, and if I find them true, certainly Colonel Mannering and I will not countenance this young man. In the meanwhile, as we are all willing to make him forthcoming to answer all complaints against him, I do assure you, you will act most illegally, and incur heavy responsibility, if you refuse our bail.’
‘Why, Mr. Pleydell,’ said Sir Robert, who knew the high authority of the Counsellor’s opinion, ‘as you must know best, and as you promise to give up this young man — ’
‘If he proves an impostor,’ replied the Lawyer, with some emphasis.
‘Ay, certainly. Under that condition I will take your bail; though I must say an obliging, well-disposed, and civil neighbour of mine, who was himself bred to the law, gave me a hint or caution this morning against doing so. It was from him I learned that this youth was liberated and had come abroad, or rather had broken prison. But where shall we find one to draw the bail-bond?’
‘Here,’ said the Counsellor, applying himself to the bell, ‘send up my clerk, Mr. Driver; it will not do my character harm if I dictate the needful myself.’ It was written accordingly and signed, and, the Justice having subscribed a regular warrant for Bertram alias Brown’s discharge, the visitors took their leave.
Each threw himself into his own corner of the post-chariot, and said nothing for some time. The Colonel first broke silence: ‘So you intend to give up this poor young fellow at the first brush?’
‘Who, I?’ replied the Counsellor. ‘I will not give up one hair of his head, though I should follow them to the court of last resort in his behalf; but what signified mooting points and showing one’s hand to that old ass? Much better he should report to his prompter, Glossin, that we are indifferent or lukewarm in the matter. Besides, I wished to have a peep at the enemies’ game.’
‘Indeed!’ said the soldier. ‘Then I see there are stratagems in law as well as war. Well, and how do you like their line of battle?’
‘Ingenious,’ said Mr. Pleydell, ‘but I think desperate; they are finessing too much, a common fault on such occasions.’
During this discourse the carriage rolled rapidly towards Woodbourne without anything occurring worthy of the reader’s notice, excepting their meeting with young Hazlewood, to whom the Colonel told the extraordinary history of Bertram’s reappearance, which he heard with high delight, and then rode on before to pay Miss Bertram his compliments on an event so happy and so unexpected.
We return to the party at Woodbourne. After the departure of Mannering, the conversation related chiefly to the fortunes of the Ellangowan family, their domains, and their former power. ‘It was, then, under the towers of my fathers,’ said Bertram, ‘that I landed some days since, in circumstances much resembling those of a vagabond! Its mouldering turrets and darksome arches even then awakened thoughts of the deepest interest, and recollections which I was unable to decipher. I will now visit them again with other feelings, and, I trust, other and better hopes.’
‘Do not go there now,’ said his sister. ‘The house of our ancestors is at present the habitation of a wretch as insidious as dangerous, whose arts and villainy accomplished the ruin and broke the heart of our unhappy father.’
‘You increase my anxiety,’ replied her brother, ‘to confront this miscreant, even in the den he has constructed for himself; I think I have seen him.’
‘But you must consider,’ said Julia, ‘that you are now left under Lucy’s guard and mine, and are responsible to us for all your motions, consider, I have not been a lawyer’s mistress twelve hours for nothing, and I assure you it would be madness to attempt to go to Ellangowan just now. The utmost to which I can consent is, that we shall walk in a body to the head of the Woodbourne avenue, and from that perhaps we may indulge you with our company as far as a rising ground in the common, whence your eyes may be blessed with a distant prospect of those gloomy towers which struck so strongly your sympathetic imagination.’
The party was speedily agreed upon; and the ladies, having taken their cloaks, followed the route proposed, under the escort of Captain Bertram. It was a pleasant winter morning, and the cool breeze served only to freshen, not to chill, the fair walkers. A secret though unacknowledged bond of kindness combined the two ladies, and Bertram, now hearing the interesting accounts of his own family, now communicating his adventures in Europe and in India, repaid the pleasure which he received. Lucy felt proud of her brother, as well from the bold and manly turn of his sentiments as from the dangers he had encountered, and the spirit with which he had surmounted them. And Julia, while she pondered on her father’s words, could not help entertaining hopes that the independent spirit which had seemed to her father presumption in the humble and plebeian Brown would have the grace of courage, noble bearing, and high blood in the far-descended heir of Ellangowan.
They reached at length the little eminence or knoll upon the highest part of the common, called Gibbie’s Knowe — a spot repeatedly mentioned in this history as being on the skirts of the Ellangowan estate. It commanded a fair variety of hill and dale, bordered with natural woods, whose naked boughs at this season relieved the general colour of the landscape with a dark purple hue; while in other places the prospect was more formally intersected by lines of plantation, where the Scotch firs displayed their variety of dusky green. At the distance of two or three miles lay the bay of Ellangowan, its waves rippling under the influence of the western breeze. The towers of the ruined castle, seen high over every object in the neighbourhood, received a brighter colouring from the wintry sun.
‘There,’ said Lucy Bertram, pointing them out in the distance, ‘there is the seat of our ancestors. God knows, my dear brother, I do not covet in your behalf the extensive power which the lords of these ruins are said to have possessed so long, and sometimes to have used so ill. But, O that I might see you in possession of such relics of their fortune as should give you an honourable independence, and enable you to stretch your hand for the protection of the old and destitute dependents of our family, whom our poor father’s death — ’
‘True, my dearest Lucy,’ answered the young heir of Ellangowan; ‘and I trust, with the assistance of Heaven, which has so far guided us, and with that of these good friends, whom their own generous hearts have interested in my behalf, such a consummation of my hard adventures is now not unlikely. But as a soldier I must look with some interest upon that worm-eaten hold of ragged stone; and if this undermining scoundrel who is now in possession dare to displace a pebble of it — ’
He was here interrupted by Dinmont, who came hastily after them up the road, unseen till he was near the party: ‘Captain, Captain! ye’re wanted. Ye’re wanted by her ye ken o’.’
And immediately Meg Merrilies, as if emerging out of the earth, ascended from the hollow way and stood before them. ‘I sought ye at the house,’ she said, ‘and found but him (pointing to Dinmont). But ye are right, and I was wrang; it is here we should meet, on this very spot, where my eyes last saw your father. Remember your promise and follow me.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13