« PreviousContinue »
the least attempt to retort upon his tormentors. He slunk from college by the most secret paths he could discover, and plunged himself into his miserable lodgings, where, for eighteenpence a week, he was allowed the benefit of a straw mattress, and, if his landlady was in good humour, permission to study his task by her fire. Under all these disadvantages, he obtained a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, and some acquaintance with the sciences.
In progress of time, Abel Sampson, probationer of divinity, was admitted to the privileges of a preacher. But, alas ! partly from his own bashfulness, partly owing to a strong and obvious disposition to risibility which pervaded the congregation upon his first attempt, he became totally incapable of proceeding in his intended discourse, gasped, grinned, hideously rolled his eyes till the congregation thought them flying out of his head, shut the Bible, stumbled down the pulpit-stairs, trampling upon the old women who generally take their station there, and was ever after designated as a “stickit minister.” And thus he wandered back to his own country, with blighted hopes and prospects, to share the poverty of his parents. As he had neither friend nor confidant, hardly even an acquaintance, no one had the means of observing closely how Dominie Sampson bore a disappointment which supplied the whole town with a week's sport. It would be endless even to mention the numerous jokes to which it gave birth, from a ballad, called “ Sampson's Riddle," written upon the subject by a smart young student of humanity, to the sly hope of the Principal, that the fugitive had not, in imitation of his mighty namesake, taken the college gates along with him in his retreat.
To all appearance, the equanimity of Sampson was unshaken. He sought to assist his parents by teaching a school, and soon had plenty of scholars, but very few fees. In fact, he taught the sons of farmers for what they chose to give him, and the poor for nothing; and, to the shame of the former be it spoken, the pedagogue's gains never equalled those of a skilful ploughman. He wrote, however, a good hand, and added something to his pittance by copying accounts and writing letters for Ellangowan. By degrees, the Laird, who was much estranged from general society, became partial to that of Dominie Sampson. Conversation, it is true, was out of the question, but the Dominie was a good listener, and stirred the fire with some address. He attempted even to snuff the candles, but was unsuccessful, and relinquished that ambitious post of courtesy after having twice reduced the parlour to total darkness. So his civilities, thereafter, were confined to taking off his glass of ale in exactly the same time and measure with the Laird, and in uttering certain indistinct murmurs of acquiescence at the conclusion of the long and winding stories of Ellangowan.
On one of these occasions, he presented for the first time to Mannering his tall, gaunt, awkward, bony figure, attired in a threadbare suit of black, with a coloured handkerchief, not over clean, about his sinewy, scraggy neck, and his nether person arrayed in grey breeches, dark-blue stockings, clouted shoes, and small copper buckles.
Such is a brief outline of the lives and fortunes of those two persons, in whose society Mannering now found himself comfortably seated.
Do not the bist'ries of all ages
The circumstances of the landlady were pleaded to Mannering, first, as an apology for her not appearing to welcome her guest, and for those deficiencies in his entertainment which her attention might have supplied, and then as an excuse for pressing an extra bottle of good wine.
"I cannot weel sleep," said the Laird, with the anxious feelings of a father in such a predicament, "till I hear she's gotten ower with it-and if you, sir, are not very sleepry, and would do me and the Dominie the honour to sit up wi' us, I am sure we shall not detain you very late. Luckie Howatson is very expeditious ;-there was ance a lass that was in that way-she did not live far from hereabouts—ye needna shake your head and groan, Dominie-I am sure the kirk dues were a' weel paid, and what can man do mair ?—it was laid till her ere she has a sark ower her head; and the man that she since wadded does not think her a pin the waur for the misfortune. - They live, Mr. Mannering, by the shore-side, at Annan, and a mair decent, orderly couple, with six as fine bairns as ye would wish to see plash in a salt-water dub; and little curlie Godfrey—that's the eldest, the come o' will, as I may say, he's on board an excise yacht-I hae a cousin at the board of excise-that's Commissioner Bertram ; he got his commissionership in the great contest for the county, that ye must have heard of, for it was appealed to the House of Commons
-now I should have voted there for the Laird of Balruddery; but ye see my father was a Jacobite, and out with Kenmore, so he never took the oaths; and I ken not weel how it was, but all that I could do and say, they keepit me off the roll, though my agent, that had a vote upon my estate, ranked as a good vote for auld Sir Thomas Kittlecourt. But, to return to what I was saying, Luckie Howatson is very expeditious, for this lass "
Here the desultory and long-winded narrative of the Laird was interrupted by the voice of some one ascending the stairs from the kitchen story, and singing at full pitch of voice. The high notes were too shrill for a man, the low seemed too deep for a woman. The words, as far as Mannering could distinguish them, seemed to run thus :
“ Canny moment, lucky fit;
Is the lady lighter yet?
" It's Meg Merrilies, the gipsy, as sure as I am a sinner," said Mr. Bertram. The Dominie groaned deeply, uncrossed his legs, drew in the huge splay foot which his former posture had extended, placed it perpendicularly, and stretched the other limb over it instead, puffing out between whiles huge volumes of tobacco smoke. "What needs ye groan, Dominie? I am sure Meg's sangs do nae ill.”
“Nor good neither," answered Dominie Sampson, in a voice whose untuneable harshness corresponded with the awkwardness of his figure. They were the first words which Mannering had heard him speak; and as he had been watching with some curiosity, when this eating, drinking, moving, and smoking automaton would perform the part of speaking, he was a good deal diverted with the harsh timber tones which issued from him. But at this moment the door opened, and Meg Merrilies entered.
Her appearance made Mannering start. She was full six
feet high, wore a man's great-coat over the rest of her dress, had in her hand a goodly sloe-thorn cudgel, and in all points of equipment, except her petticoats, seemed rather masculine than feminine. Her dark elf-locks shot out like the snakes of the gorgon, between an old-fashioned bonnet called a bongrace, heightening the singular effect of her strong and weather-beaten features, which they partly shadowed, while her eye had a wild roll that indicated something like real or affected insanity.
"Aweel, Ellangowan,” she said, “wad it no hae been a bonnie thing, an the leddy had been brought-to-bed, and me at the fair o' Drumshourloch, no kenning, nor dreaming a word about it? Wha was to hae keepit awa the worriecows, I trow? Ay, and the elves and gyre-carlings frae the bonny bairn, grace be wi' it? Ay, or said Saint Colme's charm for its sake, the dear?” And without waiting an answer she began to sing
• Trefoil, vervain, John's-wort, dill,
Hinders witches of their will;
Saint Bride and her brat,
This charm she sung to a wild tune, in a high and shrill voice, and, cutting three capers with such strength and agility, as almost to touch the roof of the room, concluded, “And now, Laird, will ye no order me a tass o' brandy?”.
“That you shall have, Meg-Sit down yont there at the door, and tell us what news ye have heard at the fair o' Drumshourloch."
“Troth, Laird, and there was muckle want o' you, and the like o' you; for there was a whin bonnie lasses there, forbye mysell, and deil ane to gie them hansels."
“ Weel, Meg, and how mony gipsies were sent to the tolbooth ?”
“Troth, but three, Laird, for there were nae mair in the fair, bye mysell, as I said before, and I e'en gae them leg-bail, for there's nae ease in dealing wi' quarrelsome fowk. And there's Dunbog has warned the Red Rotten and John Young aff his grunds-black be his cast! he's nae gentleman, nor drap's bluid o' gentleman, wad grudge twa gangrel puir bodies the shelter o' a waste house, and the thristles by the road-side for a bit cuddy, and the bits o'rotten birk to boil their drap parritch wis Weel, there's ane abune a'-but we'll see if the red cock craw not in his bonnie barn-yard ae morning before day-dawing."
“ Hush! Meg, hush! hush! that's not safe talk.”
“What does she mean ? " said Mannering to Sampson, in an undertone.
“Fire-raising," answered the laconic Dominie. “Who, or what is she, in the name of wonder ?” “Harlot, thief, witch, and gipsy,” answered Sampson again.
“Oh, troth, Laird,” continued Meg, during this by-talk, “it's but to the like o' you ane can open their heart; ye see, they say Dunbog is nae mair a gentleman than the blunker that's biggit the bonnie house down in the howm. But the like o you, Laird, that's a real gentleman for sae mony hundred years, and never hunds puir fowk aff your grund as if they were mad tykes, nane o' our fowk wad stir your gear if ye had as mony capons as there's leaves on the trysting-tree. —And now some o' ye maun lay down your watch, and tell me the very minute o' the hour the wean's born, and I'll spae its fortune.”
“Ay, but, Meg, we shall not want your assistance, for here's a student from Oxford that kens much better than you how to spae its fortune-he does it by the stars."
“Certainly, sir," said Mannering, entering into the simple humour of his landlord, “I will calculate his nativity according to the rule of the Triplicities, as recommended by Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Diocles, and Avicenna. Or I will begin ab hora questionis, as Haly, Messahala, Ganwehis, and Guido Bonatus, have recommended."
One of Sampson's great recommendations to the favour of Mr. Bertram was, that he never detected the most gross attempt at imposition, so that the Laird, whose humble efforts at jocularity were chiefly confined to what were then called bites and bams, since denominated hoaxes and quizzes, had the fairest possible subject of wit in the unsuspecting Dominie. It is true, he never laughed, or joined in the laugh which his own simplicity afforded—nay, it is said, he never laughed but once in his life; and on that memorable occasion his landlady miscarried, partly through surprise at the event itself, and partly from terror at the hideous grimaces which attended this unusual cachinnation. The only effect which the discovery of