They told me, by the sentence of the law,|
They had commission to seize all thy fortune.
Here stood a ruffian with a horrid face,
Lording it o’er a pile of massy plate,
Tumbled into a heap for public sale;
There was another, making villainous jests
At thy undoing; he had ta’en possession
Of all thy ancient most domestic ornaments.
After a pleasant ride of about an hour, the old towers of the ruin presented themselves in the landscape. The thoughts, with what different feelings he had lost sight of them so many years before, thronged upon the mind of the traveller. The landscape was the same; but how changed the feelings, hopes, and views of the spectator! Then life and love were new, and all the prospect was gilded by their rays. And now, disappointed in affection, sated with fame and what the world calls success, his mind, goaded by bitter and repentant recollection, his best hope was to find a retirement in which he might nurse the melancholy that was to accompany him to his grave. ‘Yet why should an individual mourn over the instability of his hopes and the vanity of his prospects? The ancient chiefs who erected these enormous and massive towers to be the fortress of their race and the seat of their power,—could they have dreamed the day was to come when the last of their descendants should be expelled, a ruined wanderer, from his possessions! But Nature’s bounties are unaltered. The sun will shine as fair on these ruins, whether the property of a stranger or of a sordid and obscure trickster of the abused law, as when the banners of the founder first waved upon their battlements.’
These reflections brought Mannering to the door of the house, which was that day open to all. He entered among others, who traversed the apartments, some to select articles for purchase, others to gratify their curiosity. There is something melancholy in such a scene, even under the most favourable circumstances. The confused state of the furniture, displaced for the convenience of being easily viewed and carried off by the purchasers, is disagreeable to the eye. Those articles which, properly and decently arranged, look creditable and handsome, have then a paltry and wretched appearance; and the apartments, stripped of all that render them commodious and comfortable, have an aspect of ruin and dilapidation. It is disgusting also to see the scenes of domestic society and seclusion thrown open to the gaze of the curious and the vulgar, to hear their coarse speculations and brutal jests upon the fashions and furniture to which they are unaccustomed,—a frolicsome humour much cherished by the whisky which in Scotland is always put in circulation on such occasions. All these are ordinary effects of such a scene as Ellangowan now presented; but the moral feeling, that in this case they indicated the total ruin of an ancient and honourable family, gave them treble weight and poignancy.
It was some time before Colonel Mannering could find any one disposed to answer his reiterated questions concerning Ellangowan himself. At length an old maidservant, who held her apron to her eyes as she spoke, told him ‘the Laird was something better, and they hoped he would be able to leave the house that day. Miss Lucy expected the chaise every moment, and, as the day was fine for the time o’year, they had carried him in his easychair up to the green before the auld castle, to be out of the way of this unco spectacle.’ Thither Colonel Mannering went in quest of him, and soon came in sight of the little group, which consisted of four persons. The ascent was steep, so that he had time to reconnoitre them as he advanced, and to consider in what mode he should make his address.
Mr. Bertram, paralytic and almost incapable of moving, occupied his easy-chair, attired in his nightcap and a loose camlet coat, his feet wrapped in blankets. Behind him, with his hands crossed on the cane upon which he rested, stood Dominie Sampson, whom Mannering recognised at once. Time had made no change upon him, unless that his black coat seemed more brown, and his gaunt cheeks more lank, than when Mannering last saw him. On one side of the old man was a sylph-like form—a young woman of about seventeen, whom the Colonel accounted to be his daughter. She was looking from time to time anxiously towards the avenue, as if expecting the post-chaise; and between whiles busied herself in adjusting the blankets so as to protect her father from the cold, and in answering inquiries, which he seemed to make with a captious and querulous manner. She did not trust herself to look towards the Place, although the hum of the assembled crowd must have drawn her attention in that direction. The fourth person of the group was a handsome and genteel young man, who seemed to share Miss Bertram’s anxiety, and her solicitude to soothe and accommodate her parent.
This young man was the first who observed Colonel Mannering, and immediately stepped forward to meet him, as if politely to prevent his drawing nearer to the distressed group. Mannering instantly paused and explained. ‘He was,’ he said, ‘a stranger to whom Mr. Bertram had formerly shown kindness and hospitality; he would not have intruded himself upon him at a period of distress, did it not seem to be in some degree a moment also of desertion; he wished merely to offer such services as might be in his power to Mr. Bertram and the young lady.’
He then paused at a little distance from the chair. His old acquaintance gazed at him with lack-lustre eye, that intimated no tokens of recognition; the Dominie seemed too deeply sunk in distress even to observe his presence. The young man spoke aside with Miss Bertram, who advanced timidly, and thanked Colonel Mannering for his goodness; ‘but,’ she said, the tears gushing fast into her eyes, ‘her father, she feared, was not so much himself as to be able to remember him.’
She then retreated towards the chair, accompanied by the Colonel. ‘Father,’ she said, ‘this is Mr. Mannering, an old friend, come to inquire after you.’
‘He’s very heartily welcome,’ said the old man, raising himself in his chair, and attempting a gesture of courtesy, while a gleam of hospitable satisfaction seemed to pass over his faded features; ‘but, Lucy, my dear, let us go down to the house; you should not keep the gentleman here in the cold. Dominie, take the key of the wine-cooler. Mr. a—a—the gentleman will surely take something after his ride.’
Mannering was unspeakably affected by the contrast which his recollection made between this reception and that with which he had been greeted by the same individual when they last met. He could not restrain his tears, and his evident emotion at once attained him the confidence of the friendless young lady.
‘Alas!’ she said, ‘this is distressing even to a stranger; but it may be better for my poor father to be in this way than if he knew and could feel all.’
A servant in livery now came up the path, and spoke in an undertone to the young gentleman—‘Mr. Charles, my lady’s wanting you yonder sadly, to bid for her for the black ebony cabinet; and Lady Jean Devorgoil is wi’ her an’ a’; ye maun come away directly.’
‘Tell them you could not find me, Tom, or, stay,—say I am looking at the horses.’
‘No, no, no,’ said Lucy Bertram, earnestly; ‘if you would not add to the misery of this miserable moment, go to the company directly. This gentleman, I am sure, will see us to the carriage.’
‘Unquestionably, madam,’ said Mannering, ‘your young friend may rely on my attention.’
‘Farewell, then,’ said young Hazlewood, and whispered a word in her ear; then ran down the steep hastily, as if not trusting his resolution at a slower pace.
‘Where’s Charles Hazlewood running?’ said the invalid, who apparently was accustomed to his presence and attentions; ‘where’s Charles Hazlewood running? what takes him away now?’
‘He’ll return in a little while,’ said Lucy, gently.
The sound of voices was now heard from the ruins. The reader may remember there was a communication between the castle and the beach, up which the speakers had ascended.
‘Yes, there’s a plenty of shells and seaware for manure, as you observe; and if one inclined to build a new house, which might indeed be necessary, there’s a great deal of good hewn stone about this old dungeon, for the devil here—’
‘Good God!’ said Miss Bertram hastily to Sampson, ‘’t is that wretch Glossin’s voice! If my father sees him, it will kill him outright!’
Sampson wheeled perpendicularly round, and moved with long strides to confront the attorney as he issued from beneath the portal arch of the ruin. ‘Avoid ye!’ he said, ‘avoid ye! wouldst thou kill and take possession?’
‘Come, come, Master Dominie Sampson,’ answered Glossin insolently, ‘if ye cannot preach in the pulpit, we’ll have no preaching here. We go by the law, my good friend; we leave the gospel to you.’
The very mention of this man’s name had been of late a subject of the most violent irritation to the unfortunate patient. The sound of his voice now produced an instantaneous effect. Mr. Bertram started up without assistance and turned round towards him; the ghastliness of his features forming a strange contrast with the violence of his exclamations.—‘Out of my sight, ye viper! ye frozen viper, that I warmed, till ye stung me! Art thou not afraid that the walls of my father’s dwelling should fall and crush thee limb and bone? Are ye not afraid the very lintels of the door of Ellangowan Castle should break open and swallow you up? Were ye not friendless, houseless, penniless, when I took ye by the hand; and are ye not expelling me—me and that innocent girl—friendless, houseless, and penniless, from the house that has sheltered us and ours for a thousand years?’
Had Glossin been alone, he would probably have slunk off; but the consciousness that a stranger was present, besides the person who came with him (a sort of land-surveyor), determined him to resort to impudence. The task, however, was almost too hard even for his effrontery—‘Sir—sir—Mr. Bertram, sir, you should not blame me, but your own imprudence, sir—’
The indignation of Mannering was mounting very high. ‘Sir,’ he said to Glossin, ‘without entering into the merits of this controversy, I must inform you that you have chosen a very improper place, time, and presence for it. And you will oblige me by withdrawing without more words.’
Glossin, being a tall, strong, muscular man, was not unwilling rather to turn upon the stranger, whom he hoped to bully, than maintain his wretched cause against his injured patron.—‘I do not know who you are, sir,’ he said, ‘and I shall permit no man to use such d—d freedom with me.’
Mannering was naturally hot-tempered: his eyes flashed a dark light; he compressed his nether lip so closely that the blood sprung, and approaching Glossin—‘Look you, sir,’ he said, ‘that you do not know me is of little consequence. I know you; and if you do not instantly descend that bank, without uttering a single syllable, by the Heaven that is above us you shall make but one step from the top to the bottom!’
The commanding tone of rightful anger silenced at once the ferocity of the bully. He hesitated, turned on his heel, and, muttering something between his teeth about unwillingness to alarm the lady, relieved them of his hateful company.
Mrs. Mac-Candlish’s postilion, who had come up in time to hear what passed, said aloud, ‘If he had stuck by the way, I would have lent him a heezie, the dirty scoundrel, as willingly as ever I pitched a boddle.’
He then stepped forward to announce that his horses were in readiness for the invalid and his daughter. But they were no longer necessary. The debilitated frame of Mr. Bertram was exhausted by this last effort of indignant anger, and when he sunk again upon his chair, he expired almost without a struggle or groan. So little alteration did the extinction of the vital spark make upon his external appearance that the screams of his daughter, when she saw his eye fix and felt his pulse stop, first announced his death to the spectators.