He could not deny that, looking round upon the dreary region, and seeing nothing but bleak fields and naked trees, hills obscured by fogs, and flats covered with inundations, he did for some time suffer melancholy to prevail upon him, and wished himself again safe at home.
—’Travels of Will. Marvel,’ Idler, No. 49.
As the light grew faint and more faint, and the morass appeared blacker and blacker, our traveller questioned more closely each chance passenger on his distance from the village of Kippletringan, where he proposed to quarter for the night. His queries were usually answered by a counter-challenge respecting the place from whence he came. While sufficient daylight remained to show the dress and appearance of a gentleman, these cross interrogatories were usually put in the form of a case supposed, as, ‘Ye’ll hae been at the auld abbey o’ Halycross, sir? there’s mony English gentlemen gang to see that.’—Or, ‘Your honour will become frae the house o’ Pouderloupat?’ But when the voice of the querist alone was distinguishable, the response usually was, ‘Where are ye coming frae at sic a time o’ night as the like o’ this?’—or, ‘Ye’ll no be o’ this country, freend?’ The answers, when obtained, were neither very reconcilable to each other nor accurate in the information which they afforded. Kippletringan was distant at first ‘a gey bit’; then the ‘gey bit’ was more accurately described as ‘ablins three mile’; then the ‘three mile’ diminished into ‘like a mile and a bittock’; then extended themselves into ‘four mile or thereawa’; and, lastly, a female voice, having hushed a wailing infant which the spokeswoman carried in her arms, assured Guy Mannering, ‘It was a weary lang gate yet to Kippletringan, and unco heavy road for foot passengers.’ The poor hack upon which Mannering was mounted was probably of opinion that it suited him as ill as the female respondent; for he began to flag very much, answered each application of the spur with a groan, and stumbled at every stone (and they were not few) which lay in his road.
Mannering now grew impatient. He was occasionally betrayed into a deceitful hope that the end of his journey was near by the apparition of a twinkling light or two; but, as he came up, he was disappointed to find that the gleams proceeded from some of those farm-houses which occasionally ornamented the surface of the extensive bog. At length, to complete his perplexity, he arrived at a place where the road divided into two. If there had been light to consult the relics of a finger-post which stood there, it would have been of little avail, as, according to the good custom of North Britain, the inscription had been defaced shortly after its erection. Our adventurer was therefore compelled, like a knight-errant of old, to trust to the sagacity of his horse, which, without any demur, chose the left-hand path, and seemed to proceed at a somewhat livelier pace than before, affording thereby a hope that he knew he was drawing near to his quarters for the evening. This hope, however, was not speedily accomplished, and Mannering, whose impatience made every furlong seem three, began to think that Kippletringan was actually retreating before him in proportion to his advance.
It was now very cloudy, although the stars from time to time shed a twinkling and uncertain light. Hitherto nothing had broken the silence around him but the deep cry of the bog-blitter, or bull-of-the-bog, a large species of bittern, and the sighs of the wind as it passed along the dreary morass. To these was now joined the distant roar of the ocean, towards which the traveller seemed to be fast approaching. This was no circumstance to make his mind easy. Many of the roads in that country lay along the sea-beach, and were liable to be flooded by the tides, which rise with great height, and advance with extreme rapidity. Others were intersected with creeks and small inlets, which it was only safe to pass at particular times of the tide. Neither circumstance would have suited a dark night, a fatigued horse, and a traveller ignorant of his road. Mannering resolved, therefore, definitively to halt for the night at the first inhabited place, however poor, he might chance to reach, unless he could procure a guide to this unlucky village of Kippletringan.
A miserable hut gave him an opportunity to execute his purpose. He found out the door with no small difficulty, and for some time knocked without producing any other answer than a duet between a female and a cur-dog, the latter yelping as if he would have barked his heart out, the other screaming in chorus. By degrees the human tones predominated; but the angry bark of the cur being at the instant changed into a howl, it is probable something more than fair strength of lungs had contributed to the ascendency.
‘Sorrow be in your thrapple then!’ these were the first articulate words, ‘will ye no let me hear what the man wants, wi’ your yaffing?’
‘Am I far from Kippletringan, good dame?’
‘Frae Kippletringan!!!’ in an exalted tone of wonder, which we can but faintly express by three points of admiration. ‘Ow, man! ye should hae hadden eassel to Kippletringan; ye maun gae back as far as the whaap, and baud the whaap till ye come to Ballenloan, and then—’
‘This will never do, good dame! my horse is almost quite knocked up; can you not give me a night’s lodgings?’
‘Troth can I no; I am a lone woman, for James he’s awa to Drumshourloch Fair with the year-aulds, and I daurna for my life open the door to ony o’ your gang-there-out sort o’ bodies.’
‘But what must I do then, good dame? for I can’t sleep here upon the road all night.’
‘Troth, I kenna, unless ye like to gae down and speer for quarters at the Place. I’se warrant they’ll tak ye in, whether ye be gentle or semple.’
‘Simple enough, to be wandering here at such a time of night,’ thought Mannering, who was ignorant of the meaning of the phrase; ‘but how shall I get to the place, as you call it?’
‘Ye maun baud wessel by the end o’ the loan, and take tent o’ the jaw-hole.’
‘O, if ye get to eassel and wessel again, I am undone! Is there nobody that could guide me to this Place? I will pay him handsomely.’
The word pay operated like magic. ‘Jock, ye villain,’ exclaimed the voice from the interior, ‘are ye lying routing there, and a young gentleman seeking the way to the Place? Get up, ye fause loon, and show him the way down the muckle loaning. He’ll show you the way, sir, and I’se warrant ye’ll be weel put up; for they never turn awa naebody frae the door; and ye ’ll be come in the canny moment, I’m thinking, for the laird’s servant—that’s no to say his body-servant, but the helper like—rade express by this e’en to fetch the houdie, and he just staid the drinking o’ twa pints o’ tippenny to tell us how my leddy was ta’en wi’ her pains.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Mannering, ‘at such a time a stranger’s arrival might be inconvenient?’
‘Hout, na, ye needna be blate about that; their house is muckle eneugh, and decking time’s aye canty time.’
By this time Jock had found his way into all the intricacies of a tattered doublet and more tattered pair of breeches, and sallied forth, a great white-headed, bare-legged, lubberly boy of twelve years old, so exhibited by the glimpse of a rush-light which his half-naked mother held in such a manner as to get a peep at the stranger without greatly exposing herself to view in return. Jock moved on westward by the end of the house, leading Mannering’s horse by the bridle, and piloting with some dexterity along the little path which bordered the formidable jaw-hole, whose vicinity the stranger was made sensible of by means of more organs than one. His guide then dragged the weary hack along a broken and stony cart-track, next over a ploughed field, then broke down a slap, as he called it, in a drystone fence, and lugged the unresisting animal through the breach, about a rood of the simple masonry giving way in the splutter with which he passed. Finally, he led the way through a wicket into something which had still the air of an avenue, though many of the trees were felled. The roar of the ocean was now near and full, and the moon, which began to make her appearance, gleamed on a turreted and apparently a ruined mansion of considerable extent. Mannering fixed his eyes upon it with a disconsolate sensation.
‘Why, my little fellow,’ he said, ‘this is a ruin, not a house?’
‘Ah, but the lairds lived there langsyne; that’s Ellangowan Auld Place. There’s a hantle bogles about it; but ye needna be feared, I never saw ony mysell, and we’re just at the door o’ the New Place.’
Accordingly, leaving the ruins on the right, a few steps brought the traveller in front of a modern house of moderate size, at which his guide rapped with great importance. Mannering told his circumstances to the servant; and the gentleman of the house, who heard his tale from the parlour, stepped forward and welcomed the stranger hospitably to Ellangowan. The boy, made happy with half-a-crown, was dismissed to his cottage, the weary horse was conducted to a stall, and Mannering found himself in a few minutes seated by a comfortable supper, for which his cold ride gave him a hearty appetite.