WE must now return to Woodbourne, which, it may be remembered, we left just after the Colonel had given some directions to his confidential servant. When he returned, his absence of mind, and an unusual expression of thought and anxiety upon his features, struck the ladies whom he joined in the drawing-room. Mannering was not, however, a man to be questioned, even by those whom he most loved, upon the cause of the mental agitation which these signs expressed. The hour of tea arrived, and the party were partaking of that refreshment in silence, when a carriage drove up to the door, and the bell announced the arrival of a visitor. Surely, said Mannering, it is too soon by some hours.
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 handThe 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 timeno common sacrificebut 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 narrête 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 ladys 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.
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 tê-´-tête at eight in the morning.
Aye, 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.
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 ustota re perspectaI beg Miss Mannerings pardon for my Latinthat 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.
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 coena, the supper of the ancients, the pleasant meal and social glass that wash out of ones mind the cobwebs that business or gloom have been spinning in our brains all day.
The vivacity of Mr. Pleydells 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 businessIs 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 Manneringyou 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.
Pleydell put on his spectacles.A vile greasy scrawl, indeedand 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 pigI can hardly make it out.
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 wark thats 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 GODS NAME.
Stay, here follows some poetry
Dark shall be light,
And wrong done to right,
When Bertrams right and Bertrams might
Shall meet on Ellangowans 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 loath 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.
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 Kipple-tringan, with instructions corresponding to the letter. The horses will have a long and cold station on the outposts to-night if our intelligence be false.
Aye, 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 imposter 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, andbut I really have no more to sayonly I shall count the minutes till the carriage returns; but you cannot be expected to be so anxious.
True, Colonel; a lawyers anxiety about the fate of the most interesting cause has seldom spoiled either his sleep or digestion.n 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 Scarlattis sonatas with great brilliancy. The old lawyer, scraping a little upon the violoncello, and being a member of the gentlemens 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 ColonelI expectthat is, I hopeperhaps 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.
Why, some persons, strangers to me, talked of calling in the evening on business, answered her father, not without embarrassment, for he would little have brooked a disappointment which might have thrown ridicule on his judgement; 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 admirerfor so he has dubbed himselfMr. Pleydell.
Pray, dont talk of it, answered the young ladywe like you much better as you are. Utrecht, in Heavens name!I dare say you have spent all the intervening years in getting rid so completely of the effects of your Dutch education.
Oh, 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 clockwork in their attentions.
And then, said the old beau gargon, 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.
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 ownwere it not that I see Mr. Sampsons eyes have been closed, and his hands clasped for some time, attending the end of our conference to begin the graceAnd, to say the truth, the appearance of the wild ducks is very appetizing. 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. Allans sauce, of claret, lemon, and cayenne, was beyond praise.
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.
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 to the disconsolate lover, when bowed down to the earth by his mistresss 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 offMr. Barnes will assist you, Mr. Sampson,thank you, sirand, Mr. Barnes, a glass of ale, if you please.
While the old gentleman, pleased with Miss Mannerings 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 ate 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.
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, theres 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 Julias 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?
I am not in the vein, Mr. Sampson, answered Pleydell; heres metal more attractiveI 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 lawyers 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 èclat.
This led to another musical trial of skill, and that to lively conversation. At length, when the solitary sound of one oclock 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 upwhen at that instantBut what then befell will require a separate chapter.
Note 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 coenae 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 classic 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. Johns Street, Canongate. The conversation of the excellent old man, his high, gentlemanlike and chivalrous spirit, the learning and wit with which he defended his fanciful paradoxes, and the kind and liberal spirit of his hospitality, must render these noctes coenaeque dear to all who, like the author (though then young), had the honour of sitting at his board. [back]