Home  »  Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer  »  Chapter XIV

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

Chapter XIV

  • The bell strikes one.—We take no note of time
  • But from its loss. To give it then a tongue
  • Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
  • I feel the solemn sound.
  • YOUNG.

  • THE MORAL which the poet has rather quaintly deduced from the necessary mode of measuring time, may be well applied to our feelings respecting that portion of it which constitutes human life. We observe the aged, the infirm, and those engaged in occupations of immediate hazard, trembling as it were upon the very brink of non-existence, but we derive no lesson from the precariousness of their tenure until it has altogether failed. Then, for a moment at least,
  • Our hopes and fears
  • Start up alarmed, and o’er life’s narrow verge
  • Look down—On what?—a fathomless abyss,
  • A dark eternity,—how surely ours!
  • The crowd of assembled gazers and idlers at Ellangowan had followed the views of amusement, or what they called business, which brought them there, with little regard to the feelings of those who were suffering upon that occasion. Few, indeed, knew anything of the family. The father, betwixt seclusion, misfortune, and imbecility, had drifted, as it were, for many years, out of the notice of his contemporaries—the daughter had never been known to them. But when the general murmur announced that the unfortunate Mr. Bertha had broken his heart in the effort to leave the mansion of his forefathers, there poured forth a torrent of sympathy, like the waters from the rock when stricken by the wand of the prophet. The ancient descent and unblemished integrity of the family were respectfully remembered;—above all, the sacred veneration due to misfortune, which in Scotland seldom demands its tribute in vain, then claimed and received it.

    Mr. Mac-Morlan hastily announced that he would suspend all further proceedings in the sale of the estate and other property, and relinquish the possession of the premises to the young lady, until she could consult with her friends, and provide for the burial of her father.

    Glossin had cowered for a few minutes under the general expression of sympathy, till, hardened by observing that no appearance of popular indignation was directed his way, he had the audacity to require that the sale should proceed.

    ‘I will take it upon my own authority to adjourn it,’ said the sheriff-substitute, ‘and will be responsible for the consequences. I will also give due notice when it is again to go forward. It is for the benefit of all concerned that the lands should bring the highest price the state of the market will admit, and this is surely no time to expect it—I will take the responsibility upon myself.’

    Glossin left the room, and the house too, with secrecy and dispatch; and it was probably well for him that he did so, since our friend Jock Jabos was already haranguing a numerous tribe of bare-legged boys on the propriety of pelting him off the estate.

    Some of the rooms were hastily put in order for the reception of the young lady, and of her father’s dead body. Mannering now found his further interference would be unnecessary, and might be misconstrued. He observed, too, that several families connected with that of Ellangowan, and who indeed derived their principal claim of gentility from the alliance, were now disposed to pay to their trees of genealogy a tribute, which the adversity of their supposed relatives had been inadequate to call forth; and that the honour of superintending the funeral rites of the dead Godfrey Bertha (as in the memorable case of Homer’s birthplace) was likely to be debated by seven gentlemen of rank and fortune, none of whom had offered him an asylum while living. He therefore resolved, as his presence was altogether useless, to make a short tour of a fortnight, at the end of which period the adjourned sale of the estate of Ellangowan was to proceed.

    But before he departed, he solicited an interview with the Dominie. The poor man appeared, on being informed a gentleman wanted to speak to him, with some expression of surprise in his gaunt features, to which recent sorrow had given an expression yet more grisly. He made two or three profound reverences to Mannering, and then, standing erect, patiently waited an explanation of his commands.

    ‘You are probably at a loss to guess, Mr. Sampson,’ said Mannering, ‘what a stranger may have to say to you?’

    ‘Unless it were to request that I would undertake to train up some youth in polite letters, and humane learning—But I cannot—I cannot—I have yet a task to perform.’

    ‘No, Mr. Sampson, my wishes are not so ambitious. I have no son, and my only daughter, I presume, you would not consider as a fit pupil.’

    ‘Of a surety, no,’ replied the simple-minded Sampson. ‘Natheless, it was I who did educate Miss Lucy in all useful learning,—albeit it was the housekeeper who did teach her those unprofitable exercises of hemming and shaping.’

    ‘Well, sir,’ replied Mannering, ‘it is of Miss Lucy I meant to speak—you have, I presume, no recollection of me?’

    Sampson, always sufficiently absent in mind, neither remembered the astrologer of past years, nor even the stranger who had taken his patron’s part against Glossin, so much had his friend’s sudden death embroiled his ideas.

    ‘Well, that does not signify,’ pursued the Colonel; ‘I am an old acquaintance of the late Mr. Bertha, able and willing to assist his daughter in her present circumstances. Besides, I have thoughts of making this purchase, and I should wish things kept in order about the place: will you have the goodness to apply this small sum in the usual family expenses?’—He put into the Dominie’s hand a purse containing some gold.

    ‘Pro-di-gi-ous!’ exclaimed Dominie Sampson. ‘But if your honour would tarry——’

    ‘Impossible, sir—impossible,’ said Mannering, making his escape from him.

    ‘Pro-di-gi-ous!’ again exclaimed Sampson, following to the head of the stairs, still holding out the purse. ‘But as touching this coined money——’

    Mannering escaped downstairs as fast as possible.

    ‘Pro-di-gi-ous!’ exclaimed Dominie Sampson, yet the third time, now standing at the front door. ‘But as touching this specie——’

    But Mannering was now on horseback and out of hearing. The Dominie, who had never, either in his own right or as trustee for another, been possessed of a quarter part of this sum, though it was not above twenty guineas, ‘took counsel,’ as he expressed himself, ‘how he should demean himself with respect unto the fine gold’ thus left in his charge. Fortunately he found a disinterested adviser in Mac-Morlan, who pointed out the most proper means of disposing of it for contributing to Miss Bertram’s convenience, being no doubt the purpose to which it was destined by the bestower.

    Many of the neighbouring gentry were now sincerely eager in pressing offers of hospitality and kindness upon Miss Bertha. But she felt a natural reluctance to enter any family for the first time, as an object rather of benevolence than hospitality, and determined to wait the opinion and advice of her father’s nearest female relation, Mrs. Margaret Bertha of Singleside, an old unmarried lady, to whom she wrote an account of her present distressful situation.

    The funeral of the late Mr. Bertha was performed with decent privacy, and the unfortunate young lady was now to consider herself as but the temporary tenant of the house in which she had been born, and where her patience and soothing attentions had so long ‘rocked the cradle of declining age.’ Her communication with Mr. Mac-Morlan encouraged her to hope that she would not be suddenly or unkindly deprived of this asylum—But fortune had ordered otherwise.

    For two days before the appointed day for the sale of the lands and estate of Ellangowan, Mac-Morlan daily expected the appearance of Colonel Mannering, or at least a letter containing powers to act for him. But none such arrived. Mr. Mac-Morlan waked early in the morning—walked over to the Post-office—there were no letters for him. He endeavored to persuade himself that he should see Colonel Mannering to breakfast, and ordered his wife to place her best china and prepare herself accordingly. But the preparations were in vain. ‘Could I have foreseen this,’ he said, ‘I would have travelled Scotland over, but I would have found some one to bid against Glossin.’—Alas! such reflections were all too late. The appointed hour arrived; and the parties met in the Masons’ Lodge at Kippletringan, being the place fixed for the adjourned sale. Mac-Morlan spent as much time in preliminaries as decency would permit, and read over the articles of sale as slowly as if he had been reading his own death-warrant. He turned his eye every time the door of the room opened, with hopes which grew fainter and fainter. He listened to every noise in the street of the village, and endeavoured to distinguish in it the sound of hoofs or wheels. It was all in vain. A bright idea then occurred, that Colonel Mannering might have employed some other person in the transaction: he would not have wasted a moment’s thought upon the want of confidence in himself which such a manœuvre would have evinced. But this hope also was groundless. After a solemn pause, Mr. Glossin offered the upset price for the lands and barony of Ellangowan. No reply was made, and no competitor appeared; so, after a lapse of the usual interval by the running of a sand-glass, upon the intended purchaser entering the proper securities, Mr. Mac-Morlan was obliged, in technical terms, to ‘find and declare the sale lawfully completed, and to prefer the said Gilbert Glossin as the purchaser of the said lands and estate.’ The honest writer refused to partake of a splendid entertainment with which Gilbert Glossin, Esquire, now of Ellangowan, treated the rest of the company, and returned home in huge bitterness of spirit, which he vented in complaints against the fickleness and caprice of these Indian nabobs, who never knew what they would be at for ten days together. Fortune generously determined to take the blame upon herself, and cut off even this vent of Mac-Morlan’s resentment.

    An express arrived about six o’clock at night, ‘very particularly drunk’ the maid-servant said, with a packet from Colonel Mannering, dated four days back at a town about a hundred miles’ distance from Kippletringan, containing full powers to Mr. Mac-Morlan, or any one whom he might employ, to make the intended purchase, and stating that some family business of consequence called the Colonel himself to Westmoreland, where a letter would find him, addressed to the care of Arthur Mervyn, Esq., of Mervyn Hall.

    Mac-Morlan, in the transports of his wrath, flung the power of attorney at the head of the innocent maid-servant, and was only forcibly withheld from horse-whipping the rascally messenger, by whose sloth and drunkenness the disappointment had taken place.