Enter Time, as Chorus
I, that please some, try all, both joy and terror
It was, then, in the month of November, about seventeen years after the catastrophe related in the last chapter, that, during a cold and stormy night, a social group had closed around the kitchen-fire of the Gordon Arms at Kippletringan, a small but comfortable inn kept by Mrs. Mac-Candlish in that village. The conversation which passed among them will save me the trouble of telling the few events occurring during this chasm in our history, with which it is necessary that the reader should be acquainted.
Mrs. Mac-Candlish, throned in a comfortable easychair lined with black leather, was regaling herself and a neighbouring gossip or two with a cup of genuine tea, and at the same time keeping a sharp eye upon her domestics, as they went and came in prosecution of their various duties and commissions. The clerk and precentor of the parish enjoyed at a little distance his Saturday night’s pipe, and aided its bland fumigation by an occasional sip of brandy and water. Deacon Bearcliff, a man of great importance in the village, combined the indulgence of both parties: he had his pipe and his tea-cup, the latter being laced with a little spirits. One or two clowns sat at some distance, drinking their twopenny ale.
‘Are ye sure the parlour’s ready for them, and the fire burning clear, and the chimney no smoking?’ said the hostess to a chambermaid.
She was answered in the affirmative. ‘Ane wadna be uncivil to them, especially in their distress,’ said she, turning to the Deacon.
‘Assuredly not, Mrs. Mac-Candlish; assuredly not. I am sure ony sma’ thing they might want frae my shop, under seven, or eight, or ten pounds, I would book them as readily for it as the first in the country. Do they come in the auld chaise?’
‘I daresay no,’ said the precentor; ‘for Miss Bertram comes on the white powny ilka day to the kirk—and a constant kirk-keeper she is—and it’s a pleasure to hear her singing the psalms, winsome young thing.’
‘Ay, and the young Laird of Hazlewood rides hame half the road wi’ her after sermon,’ said one of the gossips in company. ‘I wonder how auld Hazlewood likes that.’
‘I kenna how he may like it now,’ answered another of the tea-drinkers; ‘but the day has been when Ellangowan wad hae liked as little to see his daughter taking up with their son.’
‘Ay, has been,’ answered the first, with somewhat of emphasis.
‘I am sure, neighbour Ovens,’ said the hostess, ‘the Hazlewoods of Hazlewood, though they are a very gude auld family in the county, never thought, till within these twa score o’ years, of evening themselves till the Ellangowans. Wow, woman, the Bertrams of Ellangowan are the auld Dingawaies lang syne. There is a sang about ane o’ them marrying a daughter of the King of Man; it begins—
Blythe Bertram’s ta’en him ower the faem,|
To wed a wife, and bring her hame—
I daur say Mr. Skreigh can sing us the ballant.’
‘Gudewife,’ said Skreigh, gathering up his mouth, and sipping his tiff of brandy punch with great solemnity, ‘our talents were gien us to other use than to sing daft auld sangs sae near the Sabbath day.’
‘Hout fie, Mr. Skreigh; I’se warrant I hae heard you sing a blythe sang on Saturday at e’en before now. But as for the chaise, Deacon, it hasna been out of the coach-house since Mrs. Bertram died, that’s sixteen or seventeen years sin syne. Jock Jabos is away wi’ a chaise of mine for them; I wonder he’s no come back. It’s pit mirk; but there’s no an ill turn on the road but twa, and the brigg ower Warroch burn is safe eneugh, if he haud to the right side. But then there’s Heavieside Brae, that’s just a murder for post-cattle; but Jock kens the road brawly.’
A loud rapping was heard at the door.
‘That’s no them. I dinna hear the wheels. Grizzel, ye limmer, gang to the door.’
‘It’s a single gentleman,’ whined out Grizzel; ‘maun I take him into the parlour?’
‘Foul be in your feet, then; it’ll be some English rider. Coming without a servant at this time o’ night! Has the hostler ta’en the horse? Ye may light a spunk o’ fire in the red room.’
‘I wish, ma’am,’ said the traveller, entering the kitchen, ‘you would give me leave to warm myself here, for the night is very cold.’
His appearance, voice, and manner produced an instantaneous effect in his favour. He was a handsome, tall, thin figure, dressed in black, as appeared when he laid aside his riding-coat; his age might be between forty and fifty; his cast of features grave and interesting, and his air somewhat military. Every point of his appearance and address bespoke the gentleman. Long habit had given Mrs. Mac-Candlish an acute tact in ascertaining the quality of her visitors, and proportioning her reception accordingly:—
To every guest the appropriate speech was made,|
And every duty with distinction paid;
Respectful, easy, pleasant, or polite—
‘Your honour’s servant!’ ‘Mister Smith, good-night.’
On the present occasion she was low in her courtesy and profuse in her apologies. The stranger begged his horse might be attended to: she went out herself to school the hostler.
‘There was never a prettier bit o’ horse-flesh in the stable o’ the Gordon Arms,’ said the man, which information increased the landlady’s respect for the rider. Finding, on her return, that the stranger declined to go into another apartment (which, indeed, she allowed, would be but cold and smoky till the fire bleezed up), she installed her guest hospitably by the fireside, and offered what refreshment her house afforded.
‘A cup of your tea, ma’am, if you will favour me.’
Mrs. Mac-Candlish bustled about, reinforced her teapot with hyson, and proceeded in her duties with her best grace. ‘We have a very nice parlour, sir, and everything very agreeable for gentlefolks; but it’s bespoke the night for a gentleman and his daughter that are going to leave this part of the country; ane of my chaises is gane for them, and will be back forthwith. They’re no sae weel in the warld as they have been; but we’re a’ subject to ups and downs in this life, as your honour must needs ken,—but is not the tobacco-reek disagreeable to your honour?’
‘By no means, ma’am; I am an old campaigner, and perfectly used to it. Will you permit me to make some inquiries about a family in this neighbourhood?’
The sound of wheels was now heard, and the landlady hurried to the door to receive her expected guests; but returned in an instant, followed by the postilion. ‘No, they canna come at no rate, the Laird’s sae ill.’
‘But God help them,’ said the landlady, ‘the morn’s the term, the very last day they can bide in the house; a’ thing’s to be roupit.’
‘Weel, but they can come at no rate, I tell ye; Mr. Bertram canna be moved.’
‘What Mr. Bertram?’ said the stranger; ‘not Mr. Bertram of Ellangowan, I hope?’
‘Just e’en that same, sir; and if ye be a friend o’ his, ye have come at a time when he’s sair bested.’
‘I have been abroad for many years,—is his health so much deranged?’
‘Ay, and his affairs an’ a’,’ said the Deacon; ‘the creditors have entered into possession o’ the estate, and it’s for sale; and some that made the maist by him—I name nae names, but Mrs. Mac-Candlish kens wha I mean (the landlady shook her head significantly)—they’re sairest on him e’en now. I have a sma’ matter due myself, but I would rather have lost it than gane to turn the auld man out of his house, and him just dying.’
‘Ay, but,’ said the parish clerk, ‘Factor Glossin wants to get rid of the auld Laird, and drive on the sale, for fear the heir-male should cast up upon them; for I have heard say, if there was an heir-male they couldna sell the estate for auld Ellangowan’s debt.’
‘He had a son born a good many years ago,’ said the stranger; ‘he is dead, I suppose?’
‘Nae man can say for that,’ answered the clerk mysteriously.
‘Dead!’ said the Deacon, ‘I’se warrant him dead lang syne; he hasna been heard o’ these twenty years or thereby.’
‘I wot weel it’s no twenty years,’ said the landlady; ‘it’s no abune seventeen at the outside in this very month. It made an unco noise ower a’ this country; the bairn disappeared the very day that Supervisor Kennedy cam by his end. If ye kenn’d this country lang syne, your honour wad maybe ken Frank Kennedy the Supervisor. He was a heartsome pleasant man, and company for the best gentlemen in the county, and muckle mirth he’s made in this house. I was young then, sir, and newly married to Bailie Mac-Candlish, that’s dead and gone (a sigh); and muckle fun I’ve had wi’ the Supervisor. He was a daft dog. O, an he could hae hauden aff the smugglers a bit! but he was aye venturesome. And so ye see, sir, there was a king’s sloop down in Wigton Bay, and Frank Kennedy, he behoved to have her up to chase Dirk Hatteraick’s lugger—ye’ll mind Dirk Hatteraick, Deacon? I daresay ye may have dealt wi’ him—(the Deacon gave a sort of acquiescent nod and humph). He was a daring chield, and he fought his ship till she blew up like peelings of ingans; and Frank Kennedy, he had been the first man to board, and he was flung like a quarter of a mile off, and fell into the water below the rock at Warroch Point, that they ca’ the Gauger’s Loup to this day.’
‘And Mr. Bertram’s child,’ said the stranger, ‘what is all this to him?’
‘Ou, sir, the bairn aye held an unco wark wi’ the Supervisor; and it was generally thought he went on board the vessel alang wi’ him, as bairns are aye forward to be in mischief.’
‘No, no,’ said the Deacon, ‘ye’re clean out there, Luckie; for the young Laird was stown away by a randy gipsy woman they ca’d Meg Merrilies—I mind her looks weel—in revenge for Ellangowan having gar’d her be drumm’d through Kippletringan for stealing a silver spoon.’
‘If ye’ll forgieme, Deacon,’ said the precentor, ‘ye’re e’en as far wrang as the gudewife.’
‘And what is your edition of the story, sir?’ said the stranger, turning to him with interest.
‘That’s maybe no sae canny to tell,’ said the precentor, with solemnity.
Upon being urged, however, to speak out, he preluded with two or three large puffs of tobacco-smoke, and out of the cloudy sanctuary which these whiffs formed around him delivered the following legend, having cleared his voice with one or two hems, and imitating, as near as he could, the eloquence which weekly thundered over his head from the pulpit.
‘What we are now to deliver, my brethren,—hem—hem,—I mean, my good friends,—was not done in a corner, and may serve as an answer to witch-advocates, atheists, and misbelievers of all kinds. Ye must know that the worshipful Laird of Ellangowan was not so preceese as he might have been in clearing his land of witches (concerning whom it is said, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”), nor of those who had familiar spirits, and consulted with divination, and sorcery, and lots, which is the fashion with the Egyptians, as they ca’ themsells, and other unhappy bodies, in this our country. And the Laird was three years married without having a family; and he was sae left to himsell, that it was thought he held ower muckle troking and communing wi’ that Meg Merrilies, wha was the maist notorious witch in a’ Galloway and Dumfries-shire baith.’
‘Aweel, I wot there’s something in that,’ said Mrs. Mac-Candlish; ‘I’ve kenn’d him order her twa glasses o’ brandy in this very house.’
‘Aweel, gudewife, then the less I lee. Sae the lady was wi’ bairn at last, and in the night when she should have been delivered there comes to the door of the ha’ house—the Place of Ellangowan as they ca’d—an ancient man, strangely habited, and asked for quarters. His head, and his legs, and his arms were bare, although it was winter time o’ the year, and he had a grey beard three-quarters lang. Weel, he was admitted; and when the lady was delivered, he craved to know the very moment of the hour of the birth, and he went out and consulted the stars. And when he came back he tell’d the Laird that the Evil One wad have power over the knave-bairn that was that night born, and he charged him that the babe should be bred up in the ways of piety, and that he should aye hae a godly minister at his elbow to pray wi’ the bairn and for him. And the aged man vanished away, and no man of this country ever saw mair o’ him.’
‘Now, that will not pass,’ said the postilion, who, at a respectful distance, was listening to the conversation, ‘begging Mr. Skreigh’s and the company’s pardon; there was no sae mony hairs on the warlock’s face as there’s on Letter-Gae’s1 ain at this moment, and he had as gude a pair o’ boots as a man need streik on his legs, and gloves too; and I should understand boots by this time, I think.’
‘Whisht, Jock,’ said the landlady.
‘Ay? and what do ye ken o’ the matter, friend Jabos?’ said the precentor, contemptuously.
‘No muckle, to be sure, Mr. Skreigh, only that I lived within a penny-stane cast o’ the head o’ the avenue at Ellangowan, when a man cam jingling to our door that night the young Laird was born, and my mother sent me, that was a hafflin callant, to show the stranger the gate to the Place, which, if he had been sic a warlock, he might hae kenn’d himsell, ane wad think; and he was a young, weel-faured, weel-dressed lad, like an Englishman. And I tell ye he had as gude a hat, and boots, and gloves, as ony gentleman need to have. To be sure he did gie an awesome glance up at the auld castle, and there was some spae-wark gaed on, I aye heard that; but as for his vanishing, I held the stirrup mysell when he gaed away, and he gied me a round half-crown. He was riding on a haick they ca’d Souple Sam, it belanged to the George at Dumfries; it was a blood-bay beast, very ill o’ the spavin; I hae seen the beast baith before and since.’
‘Aweel, aweel, Jock,’ answered Mr. Skreigh, with a tone of mild solemnity, ‘our accounts differ in no material particulars; but I had no knowledge that ye had seen the man. So ye see, my friends, that this soothsayer having prognosticated evil to the boy, his father engaged a godly minister to be with him morn and night.’
‘Ay, that was him they ca’d Dominie Sampson,’ said the postilion.
‘He’s but a dumb dog that,’ observed the Deacon; ‘I have heard that he never could preach five words of a sermon endlang, for as lang as he has been licensed.’
‘Weel, but,’ said the precentor, waving his hand, as if eager to retrieve the command of the discourse, ‘he waited on the young Laird by night and day. Now it chanced, when the bairn was near five years auld, that the Laird had a sight of his errors, and determined to put these Egyptians aff his ground, and he caused them to remove; and that Frank Kennedy, that was a rough, swearing fellow, he was sent to turn them off. And he cursed and damned at them, and they swure at him; and that Meg Merrilies, that was the maist powerfu’ with the Enemy of Mankind, she as gude as said she would have him, body and soul, before three days were ower his head. And I have it from a sure hand, and that’s ane wha saw it, and that’s John Wilson, that was the Laird’s groom, that Meg appeared to the Laird as he was riding hame from Singleside, over Gibbie’s know, and threatened him wi’ what she wad do to his family; but whether it was Meg, or something waur in her likeness, for it seemed bigger than ony mortal creature, John could not say.’
‘Aweel,’ said the postilion, ‘it might be sae, I canna say against it, for I was not in the country at the time; but John Wilson was a blustering kind of chield, without the heart of a sprug.’
‘And what was the end of all this?’ said the stranger, with some impatience.
‘Ou, the event and upshot of it was, sir,’ said the precentor, ‘that while they were all looking on, beholding a king’s ship chase a smuggler, this Kennedy suddenly brake away frae them without ony reason that could be descried—ropes nor tows wad not hae held him—and made for the wood of Warroch as fast as his beast could carry him; and by the way he met the young Laird and his governor, and he snatched up the bairn, and swure, if he was bewitched, the bairn should have the same luck as him; and the minister followed as fast as he could, and almaist as fast as them, for he was wonderfully swift of foot, and he saw Meg the witch, or her master in her similitude, rise suddenly out of the ground, and claught the bairn suddenly out of the ganger’s arms; and then he rampauged and drew his sword, for ye ken a fie man and a cusser fearsna the deil.’
‘I believe that’s very true,’ said the postilion.
‘So, sir, she grippit him, and clodded him like a stane from the sling ower the craigs of Warroch Head, where he was found that evening; but what became of the babe, frankly I cannot say. But he that was minister here then, that’s now in a better place, had an opinion that the bairn was only conveyed to fairy-land for a season.’
The stranger had smiled slightly at some parts of this recital, but ere he could answer the clatter of a horse’s hoofs was heard, and a smart servant, handsomely dressed, with a cockade in his hat, bustled into the kitchen, with ‘Make a little room, good people’; when, observing the stranger, he descended at once into the modest and civil domestic, his hat sunk down by his side, and he put a letter into his master’s hands. ‘The family at Ellangowan, sir, are in great distress, and unable to receive any visits.’
‘I know it,’ replied his master. ‘And now, madam, if you will have the goodness to allow me to occupy the parlour you mentioned, as you are disappointed of your guests—’
‘Certainly, sir,’ said Mrs. Mac-Candlish, and hastened to light the way with all the imperative bustle which an active landlady loves to display on such occasions.
‘Young man,’ said the Deacon to the servant, filling a glass, ‘ye’ll no be the waur o’ this, after your ride.’
‘Not a feather, sir; thank ye, your very good health, sir.’
‘And wha may your master be, friend?’
‘What, the gentleman that was here? that’s the famous Colonel Mannering, sir, from the East Indies.’
‘What, him we read of in the newspapers?’
‘Ay, ay, just the same. It was he relieved Cuddieburn, and defended Chingalore, and defeated the great Mahratta chief, Ram Jolli Bundleman. I was with him in most of his campaigns.’
‘Lord safe us,’ said the landlady; ‘I must go see what he would have for supper; that I should set him down here!’
‘O, he likes that all the better, mother. You never saw a plainer creature in your life than our old Colonel; and yet he has a spice of the devil in him too.’
The rest of the evening’s conversation below stairs tending little to edification, we shall, with the reader’s leave, step up to the parlour.
1. The precentor is called by Allan Ramsay,—|
The Letter-Gae of haly rhyme. [back]