|Give me a cup of sack, to make mine eyes look red. For I must speak in passion, and I will do it in King Cambyses’ vein.|
As soon as they arrived in Edinburgh, and were established at the George Inn, near Bristo Port, then kept by old Cockburn (I love to be particular), the Colonel desired the waiter to procure him a guide to Mr. Pleydell’s, the advocate, for whom he had a letter of introduction from Mr. Mac-Morlan. He then commanded Barnes to have an eye to the Dominie, and walked forth with a chairman, who was to usher him to the man of law.
The period was near the end of the American war. The desire of room, of air, and of decent accommodation had not as yet made very much progress in the capital of Scotland. Some efforts had been made on the south side of the town towards building houses within themselves, as they are emphatically termed; and the New Town on the north, since so much extended, was then just commenced. But the great bulk of the better classes, and particularly those connected with the law, still lived in flats or dungeons of the Old Town. The manners also of some of the veterans of the law had not admitted innovation. One or two eminent lawyers still saw their clients in taverns, as was the general custom fifty years before; and although their habits were already considered as old-fashioned by the younger barristers, yet the custom of mixing wine and revelry with serious business was still maintained by those senior counsellors who loved the old road, either because it was such or because they had got too well used to it to travel any other. Among those praisers of the past time, who with ostentatious obstinacy affected the manners of a former generation, was this same Paulus Pleydell, Esq., otherwise a good scholar, an excellent lawyer, and a worthy man.
Under the guidance of his trusty attendant, Colonel Mannering, after threading a dark lane or two, reached the High Street, then clanging with the voices of oyster-women and the bells of pye-men; for it had, as his guide assured him, just ‘chappit eight upon the Tron.’ It was long since Mannering had been in the street of a crowded metropolis, which, with its noise and clamour, its sounds of trade, of revelry, and of license, its variety of lights, and the eternally changing bustle of its hundred groups, offers, by night especially, a spectacle which, though composed of the most vulgar materials when they are separately considered, has, when they are combined, a striking and powerful effect on the imagination. The extraordinary height of the houses was marked by lights, which, glimmering irregularly along their front, ascended so high among the attics that they seemed at length to twinkle in the middle sky. This coup d’œil, which still subsists in a certain degree, was then more imposing, owing to the uninterrupted range of buildings on each side, which, broken only at the space where the North Bridge joins the main street, formed a superb and uniform place, extending from the front of the Lucken-booths to the head of the Canongate, and corresponding in breadth and length to the uncommon height of the buildings on either side.
Mannering had not much time to look and to admire. His conductor hurried him across this striking scene, and suddenly dived with him into a very steep paved lane. Turning to the right, they entered a scale staircase, as it is called, the state of which, so far as it could be judged of by one of his senses, annoyed Mannering’s delicacy not a little. When they had ascended cautiously to a considerable height, they heard a heavy rap at a door, still two stories above them. The door opened, and immediately ensued the sharp and worrying bark of a dog, the squalling of a woman, the screams of an assaulted cat, and the hoarse voice of a man, who cried in a most imperative tone, ‘Will ye, Mustard? Will ye? down, sir, down!’
‘Lord preserve us!’ said the female voice, ‘an he had worried our cat, Mr. Pleydell would ne’er hae forgi’en me!’
‘Aweel, my doo, the cat’s no a prin the waur. So he’s no in, ye say?’
‘Na, Mr. Pleydell’s ne’er in the house on Saturday at e’en,’ answered the female voice.
‘And the morn’s Sabbath too,’ said the querist. ‘I dinna ken what will be done.’
By this time Mannering appeared, and found a tall, strong countryman, clad in a coat of pepper-and-salt-coloured mixture, with huge metal buttons, a glazed hat and boots, and a large horsewhip beneath his arm, in colloquy with a slipshod damsel, who had in one hand the lock of the door, and in the other a pail of whiting, or camstane, as it is called, mixed with water—a circumstance which indicates Saturday night in Edinburgh.
‘So Mr. Pleydell is not at home, my good girl?’ said Mannering.
‘Ay, sir, he’s at hame, but he’s no in the house; he’s aye out on Saturday at e’en.’
‘But, my good girl, I am a stranger, and my business express. Will you tell me where I can find him?’
‘His honour,’ said the chairman, ‘will be at Clerihugh’s about this time. Hersell could hae tell’d ye that, but she thought ye wanted to see his house.’
‘Well, then, show me to this tavern. I suppose he will see me, as I come on business of some consequence?’
‘I dinna ken, sir,’ said the girl; ‘he disna like to be disturbed on Saturdays wi’ business; but he’s aye civil to strangers.’
‘I’ll gang to the tavern too,’ said our friend Dinmont, ‘for I am a stranger also, and on business e’en sic like.’
‘Na,’ said the handmaiden, ‘an he see the gentleman, he’ll see the simple body too; but, Lord’s sake, dinna say it was me sent ye there!’
‘Atweel, I am a simple body, that’s true, hinny, but I am no come to steal ony o’ his skeel for naething,’ said the farmer in his honest pride, and strutted away downstairs, followed by Mannering and the cadie. Mannering could not help admiring the determined stride with which the stranger who preceded them divided the press, shouldering from him, by the mere weight and impetus of his motion, both drunk and sober passengers. ‘He’ll be a Teviotdale tup tat ane,’ said the chairman, ‘tat’s for keeping ta crown o’ ta causeway tat gate; he’ll no gang far or he’ll get somebody to bell ta cat wi’ him.’
His shrewd augury, however, was not fulfilled. Those who recoiled from the colossal weight of Dinmont, on looking up at his size and strength, apparently judged him too heavy metal to be rashly encountered, and suffered him to pursue his course unchallenged. Following in the wake of this first-rate, Mannering proceeded till the farmer made a pause, and, looking back to the chairman, said, ‘I’m thinking this will be the close, friend.’
‘Ay, ay,’ replied Donald, ‘tat’s ta close.’
Dinmont descended confidently, then turned into a dark alley, then up a dark stair, and then into an open door. While he was whistling shrilly for the waiter, as if he had been one of his collie dogs, Mannering looked round him, and could hardly conceive how a gentleman of a liberal profession and good society should choose such a scene for social indulgence. Besides the miserable entrance, the house itself seemed paltry and half ruinous. The passage in which they stood had a window to the close, which admitted a little light during the daytime, and a villainous compound of smells at all times, but more especially towards evening. Corresponding to this window was a borrowed light on the other side of the passage, looking into the kitchen, which had no direct communication with the free air, but received in the daytime, at second hand, such straggling and obscure light as found its way from the lane through the window opposite. At present the interior of the kitchen was visible by its own huge fires—a sort of Pandemonium, where men and women, half undressed, were busied in baking, broiling, roasting oysters, and preparing devils on the gridiron; the mistress of the place, with her shoes slipshod, and her hair straggling like that of Megæra from under a round-eared cap, toiling, scolding, receiving orders, giving them, and obeying them all at once, seemed the presiding enchantress of that gloomy and fiery region.
Loud and repeated bursts of laughter from different quarters of the house proved that her labours were acceptable, and not unrewarded by a generous public. With some difficulty a waiter was prevailed upon to show Colonel Mannering and Dinmont the room where their friend learned in the law held his hebdomadal carousals. The scene which it exhibited, and particularly the attitude of the counsellor himself, the principal figure therein, struck his two clients with amazement.
Mr. Pleydell was a lively, sharp-looking gentleman, with a professional shrewdness in his eye, and, generally speaking, a professional formality in his manners. But this, like his three-tailed wig and black coat, he could slip off on a Saturday evening, when surrounded by a party of jolly companions, and disposed for what he called his altitudes. On the present occasion the revel had lasted since four o’clock, and at length, under the direction of a venerable compotator, who had shared the sports and festivity of three generations, the frolicsome company had begun to practise the ancient and now forgotten pastime of high jinks. This game was played in several different ways. Most frequently the dice were thrown by the company, and those upon whom the lot fell were obliged to assume and maintain for a time a certain fictitious character, or to repeat a certain number of fescennine verses in a particular order. If they departed from the characters assigned, or if their memory proved treacherous in the repetition, they incurred forfeits, which were either compounded for by swallowing an additional bumper or by paying a small sum towards the reckoning. At this sport the jovial company were closely engaged when Mannering entered the room.
Mr. Counsellor Pleydell, such as we have described him, was enthroned as a monarch in an elbow-chair placed on the dining-table, his scratch wig on one side, his head crowned with a bottle-slider, his eye leering with an expression betwixt fun and the effects of wine, while his court around him resounded with such crambo scraps of verse as these:—
Where is Gerunto now? and what’s become of him?|
Gerunto’s drowned because he could not swim, etc., etc.
Such, O Themis, were anciently the sports of thy Scottish children! Dinmont was first in the room. He stood aghast a moment, and then exclaimed, ‘It’s him, sure enough. Deil o’ the like o’ that ever I saw!’
At the sound of ‘Mr. Dinmont and Colonel Mannering wanting to speak to you, sir,’ Pleydell turned his head, and blushed a little when he saw the very genteel figure of the English stranger. He was, however, of the opinion of Falstaff, ‘Out, ye villains, play out the play!’ wisely judging it the better way to appear totally unconcerned. ‘Where be our guards?’ exclaimed this second Justinian; ‘see ye not a stranger knight from foreign parts arrived at this our court of Holyrood, with our bold yeoman Andrew Dinmont, who has succeeded to the keeping of our royal flocks within the forest of Jedwood, where, thanks to our royal care in the administration of justice, they feed as safe as if they were within the bounds of Fife? Where be our heralds, our pursuivants, our Lyon, our Marchmount, our Carrick, and our Snowdown? Let the strangers be placed at our board, and regaled as beseemeth their quality and this our high holiday; to-morrow we will hear their tidings.’
‘So please you, my liege, to-morrow’s Sunday,’ said one of the company.
‘Sunday, is it? then we will give no offence to the assembly of the kirk; on Monday shall be their audience.’
Mannering, who had stood at first uncertain whether to advance or retreat, now resolved to enter for the moment into the whim of the scene, though internally fretting at Mac-Morlan for sending him to consult with a crack-brained humourist. He therefore advanced with three profound congees, and craved permission to lay his credentials at the feet of the Scottish monarch, in order to be perused at his best leisure. The gravity with which he accommodated himself to the humour of the moment, and the deep and humble inclination with which he at first declined, and then accepted, a seat presented by the master of the ceremonies, procured him three rounds of applause.
‘Deil hae me, if they arena a’ mad thegither!’ said Dinmont, occupying with less ceremony a seat at the bottom of the table; ‘or else they hae taen Yule before it comes, and are gaun a-guisarding.’
A large glass of claret was offered to Mannering, who drank it to the health of the reigning prince. ‘You are, I presume to guess,’ said the monarch, ‘that celebrated Sir Miles Mannering, so renowned in the French wars, and may well pronounce to us if the wines of Gascony lose their flavour in our more northern realm.’
Mannering, agreeably flattered by this allusion to the fame of his celebrated ancestor, replied by professing himself only a distant relation of the preux chevalier, and added, ‘that in his opinion the wine was superlatively good.’
‘It’s ower cauld for my stamach,’ said Dinmont, setting down the glass—empty however.
‘We will correct that quality,’ answered King Paulus, the first of the name; ‘we have not forgotten that the moist and humid air of our valley of Liddel inclines to stronger potations. Seneschal, let our faithful yeoman have a cup of brandy; it will be more germain to the matter.’
‘And now,’ said Mannering, ‘since we have unwarily intruded upon your majesty at a moment of mirthful retirement, be pleased to say when you will indulge a stranger with an audience on those affairs of weight which have brought him to your northern capital.’
The monarch opened Mac-Morlan’s letter, and, running it hastily over, exclaimed with his natural voice and manner, ‘Lucy Bertram of Ellangowan, poor dear lassie!’
‘A forfeit! a forfeit!’ exclaimed a dozen voices; ‘his majesty has forgot his kingly character.’
‘Not a whit! not a whit!’ replied the king; ‘I’ll be judged by this courteous knight. May not a monarch love a maid of low degree? Is not King Cophetua and the Beggar-maid an adjudged case in point?’
‘Professional! professional! another forfeit,’ exclaimed the tumultuary nobility.
‘Had not our royal predecessors,’ continued the monarch, exalting his sovereign voice to drown these disaffected clamours,—‘had they not their Jean Logies, their Bessie Carmichaels, their Oliphants, their Sandilands, and their Weirs, and shall it be denied to us even to name a maiden whom we delight to honour? Nay, then, sink state and perish sovereignty! for, like a second Charles V, we will abdicate, and seek in the private shades of life those pleasures which are denied to a throne.’
So saying, he flung away his crown, and sprung from his exalted station with more agility than could have been expected from his age, ordered lights and a wash-hand basin and towel, with a cup of green tea, into another room, and made a sign to Mannering to accompany him. In less than two minutes he washed his face and hands, settled his wig in the glass, and, to Mannering’s great surprise, looked quite a different man from the childish Bacchanal he had seen a moment before.
‘There are folks,’ he said, ‘Mr. Mannering, before whom one should take care how they play the fool, because they have either too much malice or too little wit, as the poet says. The best compliment I can pay Colonel Mannering is to show I am not ashamed to expose myself before him; and truly I think it is a compliment I have not spared to-night on your good-nature. But what’s that great strong fellow wanting?’
Dinmont, who had pushed after Mannering into the room, began with a scrape with his foot and a scratch of his head in unison. ‘I am Dandie Dinmont, sir, of the Charlie’s Hope—the Liddesdale lad; ye’ll mind me? It was for me ye won yon grand plea.’
‘What plea, you loggerhead?’ said the lawyer. ‘D’ye think I can remember all the fools that come to plague me?’
‘Lord, sir, it was the grand plea about the grazing o’ the Langtae Head!’ said the farmer.
‘Well, curse thee, never mind; give me the memorial and come to me on Monday at ten,’ replied the learned counsel.
‘But, sir, I haena got ony distinct memorial.’
‘No memorial, man?’ said Pleydell.
‘Na, sir, nae memorial,’ answered Dandie; ‘for your honour said before, Mr. Pleydell, ye’ll mind, that ye liked best to hear us hill-folk tell our ain tale by word o’ mouth.’
‘Beshrew my tongue, that said so!’ answered the counsellor; ‘it will cost my ears a dinning. Well, say in two words what you’ve got to say. You see the gentleman waits.’
‘Ou, sir, if the gentleman likes he may play his ain spring first; it’s a’ ane to Dandie.’
‘Now, you looby,’ said the lawyer, ‘cannot you conceive that your business can be nothing to Colonel Mannering, but that he may not choose to have these great ears of thine regaled with his matters?’
‘Aweel, sir, just as you and he like, so ye see to my business,’ said Dandie, not a whit disconcerted by the roughness of this reception. ‘We’re at the auld wark o’ the marches again, Jock o’ Dawston Cleugh and me. Ye see we march on the tap o’ Touthop-rigg after we pass the Pomoragrains; for the Pomoragrains, and Slackenspool, and Bloodylaws, they come in there, and they belang to the Peel; but after ye pass Pomoragrains at a muckle great saucer-headed cutlugged stane that they ca’ Charlie’s Chuckie, there Dawston Cleugh and Charlie’s Hope they march. Now, I say the march rins on the tap o’ the hill where the wind and water shears; but Jock o’ Dawston Cleugh again, he contravenes that, and says that it bauds down by the auld drove-road that gaes awa by the Knot o’ the Gate ower to Keeldar Ward; and that makes an unco difference.’
‘And what difference does it make, friend?’ said Pleydell. ‘How many sheep will it feed?’
‘Ou, no mony,’ said Dandie, scratching his head; ‘it’s lying high and exposed: it may feed a hog, or aiblins twa in a good year.’
‘And for this grazing, which may be worth about five shillings a year, you are willing to throw away a hundred pound or two?’
‘Na, sir, it’s no for the value of the grass,’ replied Dinmont; ‘it’s for justice.’
‘My good friend,’ said Pleydell, ‘justice, like charity, should begin at home. Do you justice to your wife and family, and think no more about the matter.’
Dinmont still lingered, twisting his hat in his hand. ‘It’s no for that, sir; but I would like ill to be bragged wi’ him; he threeps he’ll bring a score o’ witnesses and mair, and I’m sure there’s as mony will swear for me as for him, folk that lived a’ their days upon the Charlie’s Hope, and wadna like to see the land lose its right.’
‘Zounds, man, if it be a point of honour,’ said the lawyer, ‘why don’t your landlords take it up?’
‘I dinna ken, sir (scratching his head again); there’s been nae election-dusts lately, and the lairds are unco neighbourly, and Jock and me canna get them to yoke thegither about it a’ that we can say; but if ye thought we might keep up the rent—’
‘No! no! that will never do,’ said Pleydell. ‘Confound you, why don’t you take good cudgels and settle it?’
‘Odd, sir,’ answered the farmer, ‘we tried that three times already, that’s twice on the land and ance at Lockerby Fair. But I dinna ken; we’re baith gey good at single-stick, and it couldna weel be judged.’
‘Then take broadswords, and be d—d to you, as your fathers did before you,’ said the counsel learned in the law.
‘Aweel, sir, if ye think it wadna be again the law, it’s a’ ane to Dandie.’
‘Hold! hold!’ exclaimed Pleydell, ‘we shall have another Lord Soulis’ mistake. Pr’ythee, man, comprehend me; I wish you to consider how very trifling and foolish a lawsuit you wish to engage in.’
‘Ay, sir?’ said Dandie, in a disappointed tone. ‘So ye winna take on wi’ me, I’m doubting?’
‘Me! not I. Go home, go home, take a pint and agree.’ Dandie looked but half contented, and still remained stationary. ‘Anything more, my friend?’
‘Only, sir, about the succession of this leddy that’s dead, auld Miss Margaret Bertram o’ Singleside.’
‘Ay, what about her?’ said the counsellor, rather surprised.
‘Ou, we have nae connexion at a’ wi’ the Bertrams,’ said Dandie; ‘they were grand folk by the like o’ us; but Jean Liltup, that was auld Singleside’s housekeeper, and the mother of these twa young ladies that are gane—the last o’ them’s dead at a ripe age, I trow—Jean Liltup came out o’ Liddel water, and she was as near our connexion as second cousin to my mother’s half-sister. She drew up wi’ Singleside, nae doubt, when she was his housekeeper, and it was a sair vex and grief to a’ her kith and kin. But he acknowledged a marriage, and satisfied the kirk; and now I wad ken frae you if we hae not some claim by law?’
‘Not the shadow of a claim.’
‘Aweel, we’re nae puirer,’ said Dandie; ‘but she may hae thought on us if she was minded to make a testament. Weel, sir, I’ve said my say; I’se e’en wish you good-night, and—’ putting his hand in his pocket.
‘No, no, my friend; I never take fees on Saturday nights, or without a memorial. Away with you, Dandie.’ And Dandie made his reverence and departed accordingly.