The night drave on wi’ sangs and clatter,|
And aye the ale was growing better
There was a short pause, when Barnes, opening the door of the saloon, announced Mr. Pleydell. In marched the lawyer, whose well-brushed black coat and well-powdered wig, together with his point ruffles, brown silk stockings, highly-varnished shoes, and gold buckles, exhibited the pains which the old gentleman had taken to prepare his person for the ladies’ society. He was welcomed by Mannering with a hearty shake by the hand. ‘The very man I wished to see at this moment!’
‘Yes,’ said the Counsellor, ‘I told you I would take the first opportunity; so I have ventured to leave the court for a week in session time—no common sacrifice; but I had a notion I could be useful, and I was to attend a proof here about the same time. But will you not introduce me to the young ladies? Ah! there is one I should have known at once from her family likeness! Miss Lucy Bertram, my love, I am most happy to see you.’ And he folded her in his arms, and gave her a hearty kiss on each side of the face, to which Lucy submitted in blushing resignation.
‘On n’arrête pas dans un si beau chemin,’ continued the gay old gentleman, and, as the Colonel presented him to Julia, took the same liberty with that fair lady’s cheek. Julia laughed, coloured, and disengaged herself. ‘I beg a thousand pardons,’ said the lawyer, with a bow which was not at all professionally awkward; ‘age and old fashions give privileges, and I can hardly say whether I am most sorry just now at being too well entitled to claim them at all, or happy in having such an opportunity to exercise them so agreeably.’
‘Upon my word, sir,’ said Miss Mannering, laughing, ‘if you make such flattering apologies we shall begin to doubt whether we can admit you to shelter yourself under your alleged qualifications.’
‘I can assure you, Julia,’ said the Colonel, ‘you are perfectly right. My friend the Counsellor is a dangerous person; the last time I had the pleasure of seeing him he was closeted with a fair lady who had granted him a tête-à-tête at eight in the morning.’
‘Ay, but, Colonel,’ said the Counsellor, ‘you should add, I was more indebted to my chocolate than my charms for so distinguished a favour from a person of such propriety of demeanour as Mrs. Rebecca.’
‘And that should remind me, Mr. Pleydell,’ said Julia, ‘to offer you tea; that is, supposing you have dined.’
‘Anything, Miss Mannering, from your hands,’ answered the gallant jurisconsult; ‘yes, I have dined; that is to say, as people dine at a Scotch inn.’
‘And that is indifferently enough,’ said the Colonel, with his hand upon the bell-handle; ‘give me leave to order something.’
‘Why, to say truth,’ replied Mr. Pleydell, ‘I had rather not. I have been inquiring into that matter, for you must know I stopped an instant below to pull off my boot-hose, “a world too wide for my shrunk shanks,”’ glancing down with some complacency upon limbs which looked very well for his time of life, ‘and I had some conversation with your Barnes and a very intelligent person whom I presume to be the housekeeper; and it was settled among us, tota re perspecta,—I beg Miss Mannering’s pardon for my Latin,—that the old lady should add to your light family supper the more substantial refreshment of a brace of wild ducks. I told her (always under deep submission) my poor thoughts about the sauce, which concurred exactly with her own; and, if you please, I would rather wait till they are ready before eating anything solid.’
‘And we will anticipate our usual hour of supper,’ said the Colonel.
‘With all my heart,’ said Pleydell, ‘providing I do not lose the ladies’ company a moment the sooner. I am of counsel with my old friend Burnet;1 I love the cœna, the supper of the ancients, the pleasant meal and social glass that wash out of one’s mind the cobwebs that business or gloom have been spinning in our brains all day.’
The vivacity of Mr. Pleydell’s look and manner, and the quietness with which he made himself at home on the subject of his little epicurean comforts, amused the ladies, but particularly Miss Mannering, who immediately gave the Counsellor a great deal of flattering attention; and more pretty things were said on both sides during the service of the tea-table than we have leisure to repeat.
As soon as this was over, Mannering led the Counsellor by the arm into a small study which opened from the saloon, and where, according to the custom of the family, there were always lights and a good fire in the evening.
‘I see,’ said Mr. Pleydell, ‘you have got something to tell me about the Ellangowan business. Is it terrestrial or celestial? What says my military Albumazar? Have you calculated the course of futurity? have you consulted your ephemerides, your almochoden, your almuten?’
‘No, truly, Counsellor,’ replied Mannering, ‘you are the only Ptolemy I intend to resort to upon the present occasion. A second Prospero, I have broken my staff and drowned my book far beyond plummet depth. But I have great news notwithstanding. Meg Merrilies, our Egyptian sibyl, has appeared to the Dominie this very day, and, as I conjecture, has frightened the honest man not a little.’
‘Ay, and she has done me the honour to open a correspondence with me, supposing me to be as deep in astrological mysteries as when we first met. Here is her scroll, delivered to me by the Dominie.’
Pleydell put on his spectacles. ‘A vile greasy scrawl, indeed; and the letters are uncial or semi-uncial, as somebody calls your large text hand, and in size and perpendicularity resemble the ribs of a roasted pig; I can hardly make it out.’
‘Read aloud,’ said Mannering.
‘I will try,’ answered the Lawyer.
|‘“You are a good seeker, but a bad finder; You set yourself to prop a falling house, but had a gey guess it would rise again. Lend your hand to the work that’s near, as you lent your ee to the weird that was far. Have a carriage this night by ten o’clock at the end of the Crooked Dykes at Portanferry, and let it bring the folk to Woodbourne that shall ask them, if they be there IN GOD’S NAME.”—|
Stay, here follows some poetry—
“Dark shall be light,|
And wrong done to right,
When Bertram’s right and Bertram’s might
Shall meet on Ellangowan’s height.”
A most mystic epistle truly, and closes in a vein of poetry worthy of the Cumaean sibyl. And what have you done?’
‘Why,’ said Mannering, rather reluctantly, ‘I was loth to risk any opportunity of throwing light on this business. The woman is perhaps crazed, and these effusions may arise only from visions of her imagination; but you were of opinion that she knew more of that strange story than she ever told.’
‘And so,’ said Pleydell, ‘you sent a carriage to the place named?’
‘You will laugh at me if I own I did,’ replied the Colonel.
‘Who, I?’ replied the Advocate. ‘No, truly, I think it was the wisest thing you could do.’
‘Yes,’ answered Mannering, well pleased to have escaped the ridicule he apprehended; ‘you know the worst is paying the chaise-hire. I sent a post-chaise and four from Kippletringan, with instructions corresponding to the letter; the horses will have a long and cold station on the outpost to-night if our intelligence be false.’
‘Ay, but I think it will prove otherwise,’ said the Lawyer. ‘This woman has played a part till she believes it; or, if she be a thorough-paced impostor, without a single grain of self-delusion to qualify her knavery, still she may think herself bound to act in character; this I know, that I could get nothing out of her by the common modes of interrogation, and the wisest thing we can do is to give her an opportunity of making the discovery her own way. And now have you more to say, or shall we go to the ladies?’
‘Why, my mind is uncommonly agitated,’ answered the Colonel, ‘and—but I really have no more to say; only I shall count the minutes till the carriage returns; but you cannot be expected to be so anxious.’
‘Why, no; use is all in all,’ said the more experienced lawyer; ‘I am much interested certainly, but I think I shall be able to survive the interval, if the ladies will afford us some music.’
‘And with the assistance of the wild ducks, by and by?’ suggested Mannering.
‘True, Colonel; a lawyer’s anxiety about the fate of the most interesting cause has seldom spoiled either his sleep or digestion.2 And yet I shall be very eager to hear the rattle of these wheels on their return, notwithstanding.’
So saying, he rose and led the way into the next room, where Miss Mannering, at his request, took her seat at the harpsichord, Lucy Bertram, who sung her native melodies very sweetly, was accompanied by her friend upon the instrument, and Julia afterwards performed some of Scarlatti’s sonatas with great brilliancy. The old lawyer, scraping a little upon the violoncello, and being a member of the gentlemen’s concert in Edinburgh, was so greatly delighted with this mode of spending the evening that I doubt if he once thought of the wild ducks until Barnes informed the company that supper was ready.
‘Tell Mrs. Allan to have something in readiness,’ said the Colonel; ‘I expect—that is, I hope—perhaps some company may be here to-night; and let the men sit up, and do not lock the upper gate on the lawn until I desire you.’
‘Lord, sir,’ said Julia, ‘whom can you possibly expect to-night?’
‘Why, some persons, strangers to me, talked of calling in the evening on business,’ answered her father, not without embarrassment, for he would have little brooked a disappointment which might have thrown ridicule on his judgment; ‘it is quite uncertain.’
‘Well, we shall not pardon them for disturbing our party,’ said Julia, ‘unless they bring as much good-humour and as susceptible hearts as my friend and admirer, for so he has dubbed himself, Mr. Pleydell.’
‘Ah, Miss Julia,’ said Pleydell, offering his arm with an air of gallantry to conduct her into the eating-room, ‘the time has been, when I returned from Utrecht in the year 1738—’
‘Pray don’t talk of it,’ answered the young lady; ‘we like you much better as you are. Utrecht, in Heaven’s name! I daresay you have spent all the intervening years in getting rid so completely of the effects of your Dutch education.’
‘O forgive me, Miss Mannering,’ said the Lawyer, ‘the Dutch are a much more accomplished people in point of gallantry than their volatile neighbours are willing to admit. They are constant as clock-work in their attentions.’
‘I should tire of that,’ said Julia.
‘Imperturbable in their good temper,’ continued Pleydell.
‘Worse and worse,’ said the young lady.
‘And then,’ said the old beau garçon, ‘although for six times three hundred and sixty-five days your swain has placed the capuchin round your neck, and the stove under your feet, and driven your little sledge upon the ice in winter, and your cabriole through the dust in summer, you may dismiss him at once, without reason or apology, upon the two thousand one hundred and ninetieth day, which, according to my hasty calculation, and without reckoning leap-years, will complete the cycle of the supposed adoration, and that without your amiable feelings having the slightest occasion to be alarmed for the consequences to those of Mynheer.’
‘Well,’ replied Julia, ‘that last is truly a Dutch recommendation, Mr. Pleydell; crystal and hearts would lose all their merit in the world if it were not for their fragility.’
‘Why, upon that point of the argument, Miss Mannering, it is as difficult to find a heart that will break as a glass that will not; and for that reason I would press the value of mine own, were it not that I see Mr. Sampson’s eyes have been closed, and his hands clasped for some time, attending the end of our conference to begin the grace. And, to say the truth, the appearance of the wild ducks is very appetising.’ So saying, the worthy Counsellor sat himself to table, and laid aside his gallantry for awhile to do honour to the good things placed before him. Nothing further is recorded of him for some time, excepting an observation that the ducks were roasted to a single turn, and that Mrs. Allan’s sauce of claret, lemon, and cayenne was beyond praise.
‘I see,’ said Miss Mannering, ‘I have a formidable rival in Mr. Pleydell’s favour, even on the very first night of his avowed admiration.’
‘Pardon me, my fair lady,’ answered the Counsellor, ‘your avowed rigour alone has induced me to commit the solecism of eating a good supper in your presence; how shall I support your frowns without reinforcing my strength? Upon the same principle, and no other, I will ask permission to drink wine with you.’
‘This is the fashion of Utrecht also, I suppose, Mr. Pleydell?’
‘Forgive me, madam,’ answered the Counsellor; ‘the French themselves, the patterns of all that is gallant, term their tavern-keepers restaurateurs, alluding, doubtless, to the relief they afford the disconsolate lover when bowed down to the earth by his mistress’s severity. My own case requires so much relief that I must trouble you for that other wing, Mr. Sampson, without prejudice to my afterwards applying to Miss Bertram for a tart. Be pleased to tear the wing, sir, instead of cutting it off. Mr. Barnes will assist you, Mr. Sampson; thank you, sir; and, Mr. Barnes, a glass of ale, if you please.’
While the old gentleman, pleased with Miss Mannering’s liveliness and attention, rattled away for her amusement and his own, the impatience of Colonel Mannering began to exceed all bounds. He declined sitting down at table, under pretence that he never eat supper; and traversed the parlour in which they were with hasty and impatient steps, now throwing up the window to gaze upon the dark lawn, now listening for the remote sound of the carriage advancing up the avenue. At length, in a feeling of uncontrollable impatience, he left the room, took his hat and cloak, and pursued his walk up the avenue, as if his so doing would hasten the approach of those whom he desired to see. ‘I really wish,’ said Miss Bertram,’ Colonel Mannering would not venture out after nightfall. You must have heard, Mr. Pleydell, what a cruel fright we had.’
‘O, with the smugglers?’ replied the Advocate; ‘they are old friends of mine. I was the means of bringing some of them to justice a long time since, when sheriff of this county.’
‘And then the alarm we had immediately afterwards,’ added Miss Bertram, ‘from the vengeance of one of these wretches.’
‘When young Hazlewood was hurt; I heard of that too.’
‘Imagine, my dear Mr. Pleydell,’ continued Lucy, ‘how much Miss Mannering and I were alarmed when a ruffian, equally dreadful for his great strength and the sternness of his features, rushed out upon us!’
‘You must know, Mr. Pleydell,’ said Julia, unable to suppress her resentment at this undesigned aspersion of her admirer, ‘that young Hazlewood is so handsome in the eyes of the young ladies of this country that they think every person shocking who comes near him.’
‘Oho!’ thought Pleydell, who was by profession an observer of tones and gestures, ‘there’s something wrong here between my young friends.’—‘Well, Miss Mannering, I have not seen young Hazlewood since he was a boy, so the ladies may be perfectly right; but I can assure you, in spite of your scorn, that if you want to see handsome men you must go to Holland; the prettiest fellow I ever saw was a Dutchman, in spite of his being called Vanbost, or Vanbuster, or some such barbarous name. He will not be quite so handsome now, to be sure.’
It was now Julia’s turn to look a little out of countenance at the chance hit of her learned admirer, but that instant the Colonel entered the room. ‘I can hear nothing of them yet,’ he said; ‘still, however, we will not separate. Where is Dominie Sampson?’
‘Here, honoured sir.’
‘What is that book you hold in your hand, Mr. Sampson?’
‘It’s even the learned De Lyra, sir. I would crave his honour Mr. Pleydell’s judgment, always with his best leisure, to expound a disputed passage.’
‘I am not in the vein, Mr. Sampson,’ answered Pleydell; ‘here’s metal more attractive. I do not despair to engage these two young ladies in a glee or a catch, wherein I, even I myself, will adventure myself for the bass part. Hang De Lyra, man; keep him for a fitter season.’
The disappointed Dominie shut his ponderous tome, much marvelling in his mind how a person possessed of the lawyer’s erudition could give his mind to these frivolous toys. But the Counsellor, indifferent to the high character for learning which he was trifling away, filled himself a large glass of Burgundy, and, after preluding a little with a voice somewhat the worse for the wear, gave the ladies a courageous invitation to join in ‘We be Three Poor Mariners,’ and accomplished his own part therein with great éclat.
‘Are you not withering your roses with sitting up so late, my young ladies?’ said the Colonel.
‘Not a bit, sir,’ answered Julia; ‘your friend Mr. Pleydell threatens to become a pupil of Mr. Sampson’s to-morrow, so we must make the most of our conquest to-night.’
This led to another musical trial of skill, and that to lively conversation. At length, when the solitary sound of one o’clock had long since resounded on the ebon ear of night, and the next signal of the advance of time was close approaching, Mannering, whose impatience had long subsided into disappointment and despair, looked at his watch and said, ‘We must now give them up,’ when at that instant—But what then befell will require a separate chapter.
1. The Burnet whose taste for the evening meal of the ancients is quoted by Mr. Pleydell was the celebrated metaphysician and excellent man, Lord Monboddo, whose cœnæ will not be soon forgotten by those who have shared his classic hospitality. As a Scottish judge he took the designation of his family estate. His philosophy, as is well known, was of a fanciful and somewhat fantastic character; but his learning was deep, and he was possessed of a singular power of eloquence, which reminded the hearer of the os rotundum of the Grove or Academe. Enthusiastically partial to classical habits, his entertainments were always given in the evening, when there was a circulation of excellent Bourdeaux, in flasks garlanded with roses, which were also strewed on the table after the manner of Horace. The best society, whether in respect of rank or literary distinction, was always to be found in St. John’s Street, Canongate. The conversation of the excellent old man, his high, gentleman-like, chivalrous spirit, the learning and wit with which he defended his fanciful paradoxes, the kind and liberal spirit of his hospitality, must render these noctes cœnæque dear to all who, like the author (though then young), had the honour of sitting at his board. [back]
2. It is probably true, as observed by Counsellor Pleydell, that a lawyer’s anxiety about his case, supposing him to have been some time in practice, will seldom disturb his rest or digestion. Clients will, however, sometimes fondly entertain a different opinion. I was told by an excellent judge, now no more, of a country gentleman who, addressing his leading counsel, my informer, then an advocate in great practice, on the morning of the day on which the case was to be pleaded, said, with singular bonhomie, ‘Weel, my Lord (the counsel was Lord Advocate), the awful day is come at last. I have nae been able to sleep a wink for thinking of it; nor, I daresay, your Lordship either.’ [back]