OUR narration is now about to make a large stride, and omit a space of nearly seventeen years; during which nothing occurred of any particular consequence with respect to the story we have undertaken to tell. The gap is a wide one; yet if the readers experience in life enables him to look back on so many years, the space will scarce appear longer in his collection than the time consumed in turning these pages.
It was, then, in the month of November, about seventeen years after the catastrophe related in the last chapter, that, during a cold and stormy night, a social group had closed round the kitchen fire of the Gordon Arms at Kippletringan, a small but comfortable inn, kept by Mrs. MacCandlish in that village. The conversation which passed among them will save me the trouble of telling the few events occurring during this chasm in our history, with which it is necessary that the reader should be acquainted.
Mrs. Mac-Candlish, throned in a comfortable easy chair lined with black leather, was regaling herself, and a neighbouring gossip or two, with a cup of genuine tea, and at the same time keeping a sharp eye upon her domestics, as they went and came in prosecution of their various duties and commissions. The clerk and precentor of the parish enjoyed at a little distance his Saturday nights pipe, and aided its bland fumigation by an occasional sip of brandy and water. Deacon Bearcliff, a man of great importance in the village, combined the indulgence of both partieshe had his pipe and his tea-cup, the latter being laced with a little spirits. One or two clowns sat at some distance, drinking their twopenny ale.
Assuredly not, Mrs. Mac-Candlish; assuredly not. I am sure ony sma thing they might want frae my shop, under seven, or eight, or ten pounds, I would book them as readily for it as the first in the country.Do they come in the auld chaise?
I dare say no, said the precentor; for Miss Bertram comes on the white powny ilka day to the kirkand a constant kirk-keeper she isand its a pleasure to hear her singing the psalms, winsome young thing.
I am sure, neighbour Ovens, said the hostess, the Hazlewoods of Hazlewood, though they are a very gude auld family in the country, never thought, till within these twa score oyears, of evening themselves till the Ellangowans.Wow, woman, the Bertrams of Ellangowan are the auld Dingawaies lang synethere is a sang about ane o them marrying a daughter of the King of Man; it begins,
Gudewife, said Skreigh, gathering up his mouth, and sipping his tiff of brandy punch with great solemnity, our talents were gien us to other use than to sing daft auld sangs sae near the Sabbath day.
Hout fie, Mr. Skreigh; Ise warrant I hae heard you sing a blythe sang on Saturday at een before now.But as for the chaise, Deacon, it hasna been out of the coachhouse since Mrs. Bertram died, thats sixteen or seventeen years sin syne.Jock Jabos is away wi a chaise of mine for them;I wonder hes no come back. Its pit mirkbut theres no an ill turn on the road but twa, and the brigg ower Warroch burn is safe eneugh, if he haud to the right side. But them theres Heavieside-brae, thats just a murder for post-cattlebut Jock kens the road brawly.
His appearance, voice, and manner, produced an instantaneous effect in his favour. He was a handsome, tall, thin figure, dressed in black, as appeared when he laid aside his riding-coat; his age might be between forty and fifty; his cast of features grave and interesting, and his air somewhat military. Every point of his appearance and address bespoke the gentleman. Long habit had given Mrs. Mac-Candlish an acute tact in ascertaining the quality of her visitors, and proportioning her reception accordingly:
There was never a prettier bit o horse-flesh in the stable o the Gordon Arms, said the man; which information increased the landladys respect for the rider. Finding, on her return, that the stranger declined to go into another apartment (which indeed, she allowed, would be but cold and smoky till the fire bleezed up), she installed her guest hospitably by the fire-side, and offered what refreshment her house afforded.
Mrs. Mac-Candlish bustled about, reinforced her teapot with hyson, and proceeded in her duties with her best grace. We have a very nice parlour, sir, and everything very agreeable for gentlefolks; but it s bespoke the-night for a gentleman and his daughter, that are going to leave this part of the countryane of my chaises is gane for them, and will be back forthwith. Theyre no sae weel in the warld as they have been; but were a subject to ups and downs in this life, as your honour must needs kenbut is not the tobacco-reek disagreeable to your honour?
The sound of wheels was now heard, and the landlady hurried to the door to receive her expected guests; but returned in an instant, followed by the postilion.No, they canna come at no rate, the Lairds sae ill.
Aye, and his affairs an a, said the Deacon; the creditors have entered into possession o the estate, and its for sale; and some that made the maist by himI name nae names, but Mrs. Mac-Candlish kens wha I mean(the landlady shook her head significantly)theyre sairest on him een now. I have a sma matter due mysell, but I would rather have lost it than gane to turn the auld man out of his house, and him just dying.
Aye, but, said the parish-clerk, Factor Glossin wants to get rid of the auld Laird, and drive on the sale, for fear the heir-male should cast up upon them; for I have heard say, if there was an heir-male, they couldna sell the estate for auld Ellangowans debt.
I wot weel it s no twenty years, said the landlady; its no abune seventeen at the outside in this very month; it made an unco noise ower a this countrythe bairn disappeared the very day that Supervisor Kennedy cam by his end.If ye kennd this country lang syne, your honour wad maybe ken Frank Kennedy the Supervisor. He was a heartsome pleasant man, and company for the best gentlemen in the county, and muckle mirth he s made in this house. I was young then, sir, and newly married to Bailie Mac-Candlish, that s dead and gone (a sigh)and muckle fun Ive had wi the Supervisor. He was a daft dog.Oh, an he could hae hauden aff the smugglers a bit! but he was ay venturesome.And so ye see, sir, there was a kings sloop down in Wigton bay, and Frank Kennedy, he behoved to have her up to chase Dirk Hatteraicks luggeryell mind Dirk Hatteraick, Deacon? I dare say ye may have dealt wi him(the Deacon gave a sort of acquiescent nod and humph). He was a daring chield, and he fought his ship till she blew up like peelings of ingans; and Frank Kennedy he had been the first man to board, and he was flung like a quarter of a mile off, and fell into the water below the rock at Warroch Point, that they ca the Gaugers Loup to this day.
No, no, said the Deacon, yere clean out there. Luckiefor the young Laird was stown away by a randy gipsy woman they cad Meg MerriliesI mind her looks weelin revenge for Ellangowan having gard her be drummd through Kippletringan for stealing a silver spoon.
Upon being urged, however, to speak out, he preluded, with two or three large puffs of tobacco-smoke, and out of the cloudy sanctuary which these whiffs formed round him, delivered the following legend, having cleared his voice with one or two hems, and imitating, as near as he could, the eloquence which weekly thundered over his head from the pulpit.
What we are now to deliver, my brethren,hemhem,I mean, my good friends,was not done in a corner, and may serve as an answer to witch-advocates, atheists, and misbelievers of all kinds. Ye must know that the worshipful Laird of Ellangowan was not so preceese as he might have been in clearing his land of witches (concerning whom it is said Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live) nor of those who had familiar spirits, and consulted with divination, and scorcery, and lots, which is the fashion with the Egyptians, as they ca themsells, and other unhappy bodies, in this our country. And the Laird was three years married without having a familyand he was sae left to himsell, that it was thought he held ower muckle troking and communing wi that Meg Merrilies, wha was the maist notorious witch in a Galloway and Dumfries-shire baith.
Aweel, gudewife, then the less I lee.Sae the lady was wi bairn at last, and in the night when she should have been delivered, there comes to the door of the ha housethe Place of Ellangowan as they cadan ancient man, strangely habited, and asked for quarters. His head, and his legs, and his arms were bare, although it was winter time o the year, and he had a grey beard three quarters lang. Weel, he was admitted; and when the lady was delivered, he craved to know the very moment of the hour of the birth, and he went out and consulted the stars. And when he came back, he telld the Laird, that the Evil One wad have power over the knave-bairn that was that night born, and he charged him that the babe should be bred up in the ways of piety, and that he should hae a godly minister at his elbow, to pray wi the bairn and for him. And the aged man vanished away, and no man of this country ever saw mair o him.
Now, that will not pass, said the postilion, who, at a respectful distance, was listening to the conversation, begging Mr. Skreighs and the companys pardon,there was no sae mony hairs on the warlocks face as theres on Letter-Gaes1 ain at this moment; and he had as gude a pair o boots as a man need streik on his legs, and gloves too;and I should understand boots by this time, I think.
No muckle, to be sure, Mr. Skreighonly that I lived within a penny-stane cast o the head o the avenue at Ellangowan, when a man cam jingling to our door that night the young Laird was born, and my mother sent me, that was a hafflin callant, to show the stranger the gate to the Place, which, if he had been sic a warlock, he might hae kennd himsell, ane wad thinkand he was a young, weelfaured, weel-dressed lad, like an Englishman. And I tell ye he had as gude a hat, and boots, and glove, as ony gentleman need to have. To be sure he did gie an awsome glance up at the auld castleand there was some spaewark gaed onI ay heard that; but as for his vanishing, I held the stirrup mysell when he gaed away, and he gied me a round half-crownhe was riding on a haick they cad Souple Samit belanged to the George at Dumfriesit was a bloodbay beast, very ill o the spavinI hae seen the beast baith before and since.
Aweel, aweel, Jock, answered Mr. Skreigh, with a tone of mild solemnity, our accounts differ in no material particulars; but I had no knowledge that ye had seen the man.So ye see, my friends, that this soothsayer having prognosticated evil to the boy, his father engaged a godly minister to be with him morn and night.
Weel, but, said the precentor, waving his hand, as if eager to retrieve the command of the discourse, he waited on the young Laird by night and day. Now it chanced, when the bairn was near five years auld, that the Laird had a sight of his errors, and determined to put these Egyptians aff his ground; and he caused them to remove; and that Frank Kennedy, that was a rough swearing fellow, he was sent to turn them off. And he cursed and damned at them, and they swure at him; and that Meg Merrilies, that was the maist powerfu with the Enemy of Mankind, she as gude as said she would have him, body and soul, before three days were ower his head. And I have it from a sure hand, and thats ane wha saw it, and thats John Wilson that was the Lairds groom, that Meg appeared to the Laird as he was riding hame from Singleside, over Gibbies-know, and threatened him wi what she wad do to his family; but whether it was Meg, or something waur in her likeness, for it seemed bigger than ony mortal creature, John could not say.
Ou, the event and upshot of it was, sir, said the precentor, that while they were all looking on, beholding a kings ship chase a smuggler, this Kennedy suddenly brake away frae them, without ony reason that could be descriedropes nor tows wad not hae held himand made for the wood of Warroch as fast as his beast could carry him; and by the way he met the young Laird and his governor, and he snatched up the bairn, and swure, if he was bewitched, the bairn should have the same luck as him; and the minister followed as fast as he could, and almaist as fast as them, for he was wonderfully swift of footand he saw Meg the witch, or her master in her similitude, rise suddenly out of the ground, and caught the bairn suddenly out of the gaugers armsand then he rampauged and drew his swordfor ye ken a fie man and a cusser fearsna the deil.
So, sir, she grippit him, and clodded him like a stane from the sling over the craigs of Warroch-head, where he was found that eveningbut what became of the babe, frankly I cannot say. But he that was minister here then, thats now in a better place, had an opinion that the bairn was only conveyed to Fairy-land for a season.
The stranger had smiled slightly at some parts of this recital, but ere he could answer, the clatter of a horses hoofs was heard, and a smart servant, handsomely dressed, with a cockade in his hat, bustled into the kitchen, with Make a little room, good people; when, observing the stranger, he descended at once into the modest and civil domestic, his hat sunk down by his side, and he put a letter into his masters hands. The family at Ellangowan, sir, are in great distress, and unable to receive any visits.