Home  »  Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer  »  Chapter VI

Sir Walter Scott. (1771–1832). Guy Mannering.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter VI

  • ——Next, the Justice,
  • In fair round belly, with good capon lined.
  • With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
  • Full of wise saws and modern instances,
  • And so he plays his part.
  • As You Like It.

  • WHEN Mrs. Bertram of Ellangowan was able to hear the news of what had passed during her confinement, her apartment rung with all manner of gossiping respecting the handsome young student from Oxford, who had told such a fortune by the stars to the young Laird, ‘blessings on his dainty face.’ The form, accent, and manners of the stranger were expatiated upon; his horse, bridle, saddle, and stirrups, did not remain unnoticed. All this made a great impression upon the mind of Mrs. Bertram, for the good lady had no small store of superstition.

    Her first employment when she became capable of a little work, was to make a small velvet bag for the scheme of nativity which she had obtained from her husband. Her fingers itched to break the seal, but credulity proved stronger than curiosity; and she had the firmness to enclose it, in all round it to prevent its being chafed. The whole was then put into the velvet bag aforesaid, and hung as a charm round the neck of the infant, where his mother resolved it should remain until the period for the legitimate satisfaction of her curiosity should arrive.

    The father also resolved to do his part by the child, in securing him a good education; and with the view that it should commence with the first dawnings of reason, Dominie Sampson was easily induced to renounce his public profession of parish schoolmaster, make his constant residence at the Place, and, in consideration of a sum not quite equal to the wages of a footman even at that time, to undertake to communicate to the future Laird of Ellangowan all the erudition which he had, and all the graces and accomplishments which—he had not, indeed, but which he had never discovered that he wanted. In this arrangement the Laird found also his private advantage; securing the constant benefit of a patient auditor, to whom he told his stories when they were alone, and at whose expense he could break a sly jest when he had company.

    About four years after this time, a great commotion took place in the county where Ellangowan is situated.

    Those who watched the signs of the times, had long been of opinion that a change of ministry was about to take place; and at length, after a due proportion of hopes, fears, and delays, rumours from good authority and bad authority, and no authority at all; after some clubs had drank Up with this statesman, and others Down with him; after riding and running and posting, and addressing and counter-addressing, and proffers of lives and fortunes, the blow was at length struck, the administration of the day was dissolved, and parliament, as a natural consequence, was dissolved also.

    Sir Thomas Kittlecourt, like other members in the same situation, posted down to his county, and met but an indifferent reception. He was a partisan of the old administration; and the friends of the new had already set about an active canvass in behalf of John Featherhead, Esq., who kept the best hounds and hunters in the shire. Among others who joined the standard of revolt was Gilbert Glossin, writer in ——, agent for the Laird of Ellangowan. This honest gentleman had either been refused some favour by the old member, or, what is as probable, he had got all that he had the most distant pretension to ask, and could only look to the other side for fresh advancement. Mr. Glossin had a vote upon Ellangowan’s property; and he was now determined that his patron should have one also, there being no doubt which side Mr. Bertram would embrace in the contest. He easily persuaded Ellangowan, that it would be creditable to him to take the field at the head of as strong a party as possible; and immediately went to work, making votes, as every Scotch lawyer knows how, by splitting and subdividing the superiorities upon this ancient and once powerful barony. These were so extensive, that by dint of clipping and paring here, adding and eking there, and creating over-lords upon all the estate which Bertram held of the crown, they advanced, at the day of contest, at the head of ten as good men of parchment as ever took the oath of trust and possession. This strong reinforcement turned the dubious day of battle. The principal and his agent divided the honour; the reward fell to the latter exclusively. Mr. Gilbert Glossin was made clerk of the peace, and Godfrey Bertram had his name inserted in a new commission of justices, issued immediately upon the sitting of the parliament.

    This had been the summit of Mr. Bertram’s ambition;—not that he liked either the trouble or the responsibility of the office, but he thought it was a dignity to which he was well entitled, and that it had been withheld from him by malice prepense. But there is an old and true Scotch proverb,—‘Fools should not have chapping sticks;’ that is, weapons of offence. Mr. Bertram was no sooner possessed of the judicial authority which he had so much longed for, than he began to exercise it with more severity than mercy, and totally belied all the opinions which had hitherto been formed of his inert good nature. We have read somewhere of a justice of peace, who, on being nominated in the commission, wrote a letter to a bookseller for the statutes respecting his official duty, in the following orthography,—‘Please send the ax relating to a gustus pease.’ No doubt, when this learned gentleman had possessed himself of the axe, he hewed the laws with it to some purpose. Mr. Bertram was not quite so ignorant of English grammar as his worshipful predecessor; but Augustus Pease himself could not have used more indiscriminately the weapon unwarily put into his hand.

    In good earnest, he considered the commission with which he had been entrusted as a personal mark of favour from his sovereign; forgetting that he had formerly thought his being deprived of a privilege, or honour, common to those of his rank, was the result of mere party cabal. He commanded his trusty aide de camp, Dominie Sampson, to read aloud the commission; and at the first words, ‘The king has been pleased to appoint’—‘Pleased!’ he exclaimed, in a transport of gratitude— ‘honest gentleman! I’m sure he cannot be better pleased than I am.’

    Accordingly, unwilling to confine his gratitude to mere feelings, or verbal expressions, he gave full current to the new-born zeal of office, and endeavoured to express his sense of the honour conferred upon him, by an unmitigated activity in the discharge of his duty. New brooms, it is said, sweep clean; and I myself can bear witness that on the arrival of a new housemaid, the ancient, hereditary, and domestic spiders, who have spun their webs over the lower division of my book-shelves (consisting chiefly of law and divinity) during the peaceful reign of her predecessor, fly at full speed before the probationary inroads of the new mercenary. Even so the Laird of Ellangowan ruthlessly commenced his magisterial reform, at the expense of various established and superannuated pickers and stealers, who had been his neighbours for half a century. He wrought his miracles like a second Duke Humphrey; and by the influence of the beadle’s rod, caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the palsied to labour. He detected poachers, blackfishers, orchard-breakers, and pigeon-shooters; had the applause of the bench for his reward, and the public credit of an active magistrate.

    All this good had its rateable proportion of evil. Even an admitted nuisance, of ancient standing, should not be abated without some caution. The zeal of our worthy friend now involved in great distress sundry personages whose idle and mendicant habits his own lâchesse had contributed to foster until these habits had become irreclaimable, or whose real incapacity for exertion rendered them fit objects, in their own phrase, for the charity of all well-disposed Christians. The ‘long-remembered beggar,’ who for twenty years had made his regular rounds within the neighbourhood, received rather as an humble friend than as an object of charity, was sent to the neighbouring workhouse. The decrepit dame, who travelled round the parish upon a hand-barrow, circulating from house to house like a bad shilling, which every one is in haste to pass to his neighbour,—she who used to call for her bearers as loud, or louder, than a traveller demands post-horses,—even she shared the same disastrous fate. The ‘daft Jock,’ who, half knave, half idiot, had been the sport of each succeeding race of village children for a good part of a century, was remitted to the county bridewell, where, secluded from free air and sunshine, the only advantages he was capable of enjoying, he pined and died in the course of six months. The old sailor, who had so long rejoiced the smoky rafters of every kitchen in the country by singing Captain Ward, and Bold Admiral Benbow, was banished from the county for no better reason than that he was supposed to speak with a strong Irish accent. Even the annual rounds of the pedlar were abolished by the Justice in his hasty zeal for the administration of rural police.

    These things did not pass without notice and censure. We are not made of wood or stone, and the things which connect themselves with our hearts and habits cannot, like bark or lichen, be rent away without our missing them. The farmer’s dame lacked her usual share of intelligence,—perhaps also the self-applause, which she had felt while distributing the awmous (alms) in shape of a gowpen (handful) of oatmeal to the mendicant who brought the news. The cottage felt inconvenience from interruption of the petty trade carried on by the itinerant dealers. The children lacked their supply of sugar-plums and toys; the young women wanted pins, ribbons, combs and ballads; and the old could no longer barter their eggs for salt, snuff, and tobacco. All these circumstances brought the busy Laird of Ellangowan into discredit, which was the more general on account of his former popularity. Even his lineage was brought up in judgment against him. They thought ‘naething of what the like of Greenside, or Burnville, or Viewforth, might do, that were strangers in the country; but Ellangowan! that had been a name amang them since the mirk Monanday, and lang before—him to be grinding the puir at that rate!—They ca’d his grandfather the Wicked Laird; but though he was whiles fractious aneuch, when he got into roving company and had ta’en the drap drink, he would have scorned to gang on at this gate. Na, na—the muckle chumlay in the Auld Place reeked like a killogie in his time, and there were as mony puir folk riving at the banes in the court and about the door, as there were gentles in the ha’ And the leddy, on ilka Christmas night as it came round, gae twelve siller pennies to ilka puir body about, in honour of the twelve apostles like. They were fond to ca’ it papistrie; but I think our great folk might take a lesson frae the papists whiles. They gie another sort o’ help to puir folk than just dinging down a saxpence in the brod on the Sabbath, and kilting, and scourging, and drumming them á the sax days o’ the week besides.’

    Such was the gossip over the good twopenny in every alehouse within three or four miles of Ellangowan, that being about the diameter of the orbit in which our friend Godfrey Bertram, Esq., J.P., must be considered as the principal luminary. Still greater scope was given to evil tongues by the removal of a colony of gipsies, with one of whom our reader is somewhat acquainted, and who had for a great many years enjoyed their chief settlement upon the estate of Ellangowan.