Do not the hist'ries of all ages
Relate miraculous presages
Of strange turns m the world's affairs,
Foreseen by astrologers, soothsayers,
Chaldeans, learned genethliacs,
And some that have writ almanacks?
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 sleepery, 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 had 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 shoreside at Annan, and a mair decent,
orderly couple, with six as fine bairns as ye would wish to see
plash in a saltwater 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
Canny moment, lucky fit!
Is the lady lighter yet?
Be it lad, or be it lass,
Sign wi' cross and sain wi' mass.
'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 sloethorn 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 bonnie 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, Weel is them, that weel may
Fast upon Saint Andrew's day.
Saint Bride and her brat,
Saint Colme and his cat,
Saint Michael and his spear,
Keep the house frae reif and wear.
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 roadside for a bit cuddy,
and the bits o' rotten birk to boil their drap parritch wi'. 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.
'O 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, an I'll spae
'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
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 such impositions produced upon
this saturnine personage was, to extort an ejaculation of
'Prodigious!' or 'Very facetious!' pronounced syllabically, but
without moving a muscle of his own countenance.
On the present occasion, he turned a gaunt and ghastly stare upon
the youthful astrologer, and seemed to doubt if he had rightly
understood his answer to his patron.
'I am afraid, sir,' said Mannering, turning towards him, 'you may
be one of those unhappy persons who, their dim eyes being unable
to penetrate the starry spheres, and to discern therein the
decrees of heaven at a distance, have their hearts barred against
conviction by prejudice and misprision.'
'Truly,' said Sampson, 'I opine with Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, and
umwhile master of his Majesty's mint, that the (pretended) science
of astrology is altogether vain, frivolous, and unsatisfactory.'
And here he reposed his oracular jaws.
'Really,' resumed the traveller, 'I am sorry to see a gentleman of
your learning and gravity labouring under such strange blindness
and delusion. Will you place the brief, the modern, and, as I may
say, the vernacular name of Isaac Newton in opposition to the
grave and sonorous authorities of Dariot, Bonatus, Ptolemy, Haly,
Eztler, Dieterick, Naibob, Harfurt, Zael, Taustettor, Agrippa,
Duretus, Maginus, Origen, and Argol? Do not Christians and
Heathens, and Jews and Gentiles, and poets and philosophers, unite
in allowing the starry influences?'
'Communis error--it is a general mistake,' answered the inflexible
'Not so,' replied the young Englishman; 'it is a general and well-
'It is the resource of cheaters, knaves, and cozeners,' said
'Abusus non tollit usum.--The abuse of anything doth not abrogate
the lawful use thereof.'
During this discussion Ellangowan was somewhat like a woodcock
caught in his own springe. He turned his face alternately from the
one spokesman to the other, and began, from the gravity with which
Mannering plied his adversary, and the learning which he displayed
in the controversy, to give him credit for being half serious. As
for Meg, she fixed her bewildered eyes upon the astrologer,
overpowered by a jargon more mysterious than her own.
Mannering pressed his advantage, and ran over all the hard terms
of art which a tenacious memory supplied, and which, from
circumstances hereafter to be noticed, had been familiar to him in
Signs and planets, in aspects sextile, quartile, trine, conjoined,
or opposite; houses of heaven, with their cusps, hours, and
minutes; almuten, almochoden, anabibazon, catabibazon; a thousand
terms of equal sound and significance, poured thick and threefold
upon the unshrinking Dominie, whose stubborn incredulity bore him
out against the pelting of this pitiless storm.
At length the joyful annunciation that the lady had presented her
husband with a fine boy, and was (of course) as well as could be
expected, broke off this intercourse. Mr. Bertram hastened to the
lady's apartment, Meg Merrilies descended to the kitchen to secure
her share of the groaning malt and the 'ken-no,' [Footnote: See
Note i.] and Mannering, after looking at his watch, and noting
with great exactness the hour and minute of the birth, requested,
with becoming gravity, that the Dominie would conduct him to some
place where he might have a view of the heavenly bodies.
The schoolmaster, without further answer, rose and threw open a
door half sashed with glass, which led to an old-fashioned
terrace-walk behind the modern house, communicating with the
platform on which the ruins of the ancient castle were situated.
The wind had arisen, and swept before it the clouds which had
formerly obscured the sky. The moon was high, and at the full, and
all the lesser satellites of heaven shone forth in cloudless
effulgence. The scene which their light presented to Mannering was
in the highest degree unexpected and striking.
We have observed, that in the latter part of his journey our
traveller approached the sea-shore, without being aware how
nearly. He now perceived that the ruins of Ellangowan Castle were
situated upon a promontory, or projection of rock, which formed
one side of a small and placid bay on the sea-shore. The modern
mansion was placed lower, though closely adjoining, and the ground
behind it descended to the sea by a small swelling green bank,
divided into levels by natural terraces, on which grew some old
trees, and terminating upon the white sand. The other side of the
bay, opposite to the old castle, was a sloping and varied
promontory, covered chiefly with copsewood, which on that favoured
coast grows almost within water-mark. A fisherman's cottage peeped
from among the trees. Even at this dead hour of night there were
lights moving upon the shore, probably occasioned by the unloading
a smuggling lugger from the Isle of Man which was lying in the
bay. On the light from the sashed door of the house being
observed, a halloo from the vessel of 'Ware hawk! Douse the glim!'
alarmed those who were on shore, and the lights instantly
It was one hour after midnight, and the prospect around was
lovely. The grey old towers of the ruin, partly entire, partly
broken, here bearing the rusty weather-stains of ages, and there
partially mantled with ivy, stretched along the verge of the dark
rock which rose on Mannering's right hand. In his front was the
quiet bay, whose little waves, crisping and sparkling to the
moonbeams, rolled successively along its surface, and dashed with
a soft and murmuring ripple against the silvery beach. To the left
the woods advanced far into the ocean, waving in the moonlight
along ground of an undulating and varied form, and presenting
those varieties of light and shade, and that interesting
combination of glade and thicket, upon which the eye delights to
rest, charmed with what it sees, yet curious to pierce still
deeper into the intricacies of the woodland scenery. Above rolled
the planets, each, by its own liquid orbit of light, distinguished
from the inferior or more distant stars. So strangely can
imagination deceive even those by whose volition it has been
excited, that Mannering, while gazing upon these brilliant bodies,
was half inclined to believe in the influence ascribed to them by
superstition over human events. But Mannering was a youthful
lover, and might perhaps be influenced by the feelings so
exquisitely expressed by a modern poet:--
For fable is Love's world, his home, his birthplace:
Delightedly dwells he 'mong fays, and talismans,
And spirits, and delightedly believes
Divinities, being himself divine
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The power,the beauty, and the majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest, by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and wat'ry depths--all these have vanish'd;
They live no longer in the faith of reason!
But still the heart doth need a language, still
Doth the old instinct bring back the old names.
And to yon starry world they now are gone,
Spirits or gods, that used to share this earth
With man as with their friend, and to the lover
Yonder they move, from yonder visible sky
Shoot influence down; and even at this day
'T is Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
And Venus who brings everything that's fair.
Such musings soon gave way to others. 'Alas!' he muttered, 'my
good old tutor, who used to enter so deep into the controversy
between Heydon and Chambers on the subject of astrology, he would
have looked upon the scene with other eyes, and would have
seriously endeavoured to discover from the respective positions of
these luminaries their probable effects on the destiny of the new-
born infant, as if the courses or emanations of the stars
superseded, or at least were co-ordinate with, Divine Providence.
Well, rest be with him! he instilled into me enough of knowledge
for erecting a scheme of nativity, and therefore will I presently
go about it.' So saying, and having noted the position of the
principal planetary bodies, Guy Mannering returned to the house.
The Laird met him in the parlour, and, acquainting him with great
glee that the boy was a fine healthy little fellow, seemed rather
disposed to press further conviviality. He admitted, however,
Mannering's plea of weariness, and, conducting him to his sleeping
apartment, left him to repose for the evening.