Say from whence
You owe this strange intelligence? or why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting?
Speak, I charge you.
Upon the evening of the day when Bertram's examination had taken
place, Colonel Mannering arrived at Woodbourne from Edinburgh. He
found his family in their usual state, which probably, so far as
Julia was concerned, would not have been the case had she learned
the news of Bertram's arrest. But as, during the Colonel's
absence, the two young ladies lived much retired, this
circumstance fortunately had not reached Woodbourne. A letter had
already made Miss Bertram acquainted with the downfall of the
expectations which had been formed upon the bequest of her
kinswoman. Whatever hopes that news might have dispelled, the
disappointment did not prevent her from joining her friend in
affording a cheerful reception to the Colonel, to whom she thus
endeavoured to express the deep sense she entertained of his
paternal kindness. She touched on her regret that at such a season
of the year he should have made, upon her account, a journey so
'That it was fruitless to you, my dear,' said the Colonel, 'I do
most deeply lament; but for my own share, I have made some
valuable acquaintances, and have spent the time I have been absent
in Edinburgh with peculiar satisfaction; so that on that score
there is nothing to be regretted. Even our friend the Dominie is
returned thrice the man he was, from having sharpened his wits in
controversy with the geniuses of the northern metropolis.'
'Of a surety,' said the Dominie, with great complacency, 'I did
wrestle, and was not overcome, though my adversary was cunning in
'I presume,' said Miss Mannering, 'the contest was somewhat
fatiguing, Mr. Sampson?'
'Very much, young lady; howbeit I girded up my loins and strove
'I can bear witness,' said the Colonel; 'I never saw an affair
better contested. The enemy was like the Mahratta cavalry: he
assailed on all sides, and presented no fair mark for artillery;
but Mr. Sampson stood to his guns notwithstanding, and fired away,
now upon the enemy and now upon the dust which he had raised. But
we must not fight our battles over again to-night; to-morrow we
shall have the whole at breakfast.'
The next morning at breakfast, however, the Dominie did not make
his appearance. He had walked out, a servant said, early in the
morning. It was so common for him to forget his meals that his
absence never deranged the family. The housekeeper, a decent old-
fashioned Presbyterian matron, having, as such, the highest
respect for Sampson's theological acquisitions, had it in charge
on these occasions to take care that he was no sufferer by his
absence of mind, and therefore usually waylaid him on his return,
to remind him of his sublunary wants, and to minister to their
relief. It seldom, however, happened that he was absent from two
meals together, as was the case in the present instance. We must
explain the cause of this unusual occurrence.
The conversation which Mr. Pleydell had held with Mr. Mannering on
the subject of the loss of Harry Bertram had awakened all the
painful sensations which that event had inflicted upon Sampson.
The affectionate heart of the poor Dominie had always reproached
him that his negligence in leaving the child in the care of Frank
Kennedy had been the proximate cause of the murder of the one, the
loss of the other, the death of Mrs. Bertram, and the ruin of the
family of his patron. It was a subject which he never conversed
upon, if indeed his mode of speech could be called conversation at
any time; but it was often present to his imagination. The sort of
hope so strongly affirmed and asserted in Mrs. Bertram's last
settlement had excited a corresponding feeling in the Dominie's
bosom, which was exasperated into a sort of sickening anxiety by
the discredit with which Pleydell had treated it. 'Assuredly,'
thought Sampson to himself, 'he is a man of erudition, and well
skilled in the weighty matters of the law; but he is also a man of
humorous levity and inconsistency of speech, and wherefore should
he pronounce ex cathedra, as it were, on the hope expressed by
worthy Madam Margaret Bertram of Singleside?'
All this, I say, the Dominie THOUGHT to himself; for had he
uttered half the sentence, his jaws would have ached for a month
under the unusual fatigue of such a continued exertion. The result
of these cogitations was a resolution to go and visit the scene of
the tragedy at Warroch Point, where he had not been for many
years; not, indeed, since the fatal accident had happened. The
walk was a long one, for the Point of Warroch lay on the farther
side of the Ellangowan property, which was interposed between it
and Woodbourne. Besides, the Dominie went astray more than once,
and met with brooks swoln into torrents by the melting of the
snow, where he, honest man, had only the summer recollection of
little trickling rills.
At length, however, he reached the woods which he had made the
object of his excursion, and traversed them with care, muddling
his disturbed brains with vague efforts to recall every
circumstance of the catastrophe. It will readily be supposed that
the influence of local situation and association was inadequate to
produce conclusions different from those which he had formed under
the immediate pressure of the occurrences themselves. 'With many a
weary sigh, therefore, and many a groan,' the poor Dominie
returned from his hopeless pilgrimage, and weariedly plodded his
way towards Woodbourne, debating at times in his altered mind a
question which was forced upon him by the cravings of an appetite
rather of the keenest, namely, whether he had breakfasted that
morning or no? It was in this twilight humour, now thinking of the
loss of the child, then involuntarily compelled to meditate upon
the somewhat incongruous subject of hung beef, rolls, and butter,
that his route, which was different from that which he had taken
in the morning, conducted him past the small ruined tower, or
rather vestige of a tower, called by the country people the Kaim
The reader may recollect the description of this ruin in the
twenty-seventh chapter, as the vault in which young Bertram, under
the auspices of Meg Merrilies, witnessed the death of Hatteraick's
lieutenant. The tradition of the country added ghostly terrors to
the natural awe inspired by the situation of this place, which
terrors the gipsies who so long inhabited the vicinity had
probably invented, or at least propagated, for their own
advantage. It was said that, during the times of the Galwegian
independence, one Hanlon Mac-Dingawaie, brother to the reigning
chief, Knarth Mac-Dingawaie, murdered his brother and sovereign,
in order to usurp the principality from his infant nephew, and
that, being pursued for vengeance by the faithful allies and
retainers of the house, who espoused the cause of the lawful heir,
he was compelled to retreat, with a few followers whom he had
involved in his crime, to this impregnable tower called the Kaim
of Derucleugh, where he defended himself until nearly reduced by
famine, when, setting fire to the place, he and the small
remaining garrison desperately perished by their own swords,
rather than fall into the hands of their exasperated enemies. This
tragedy, which, considering the wild times wherein it was placed,
might have some foundation in truth, was larded with many legends
of superstition and diablerie, so that most of the peasants of the
neighbourhood, if benighted, would rather have chosen to make a
considerable circuit than pass these haunted walls. The lights,
often seen around the tower, when used as the rendezvous of the
lawless characters by whom it was occasionally frequented, were
accounted for, under authority of these tales of witchery, in a
manner at once convenient for the private parties concerned and
satisfactory to the public.
Now it must be confessed that our friend Sampson, although a
profound scholar and mathematician, had not travelled so far in
philosophy as to doubt the reality of witchcraft or apparitions.
Born, indeed, at a time when a doubt in the existence of witches
was interpreted as equivalent to a justification of their infernal
practices, a belief of such legends had been impressed upon the
Dominie as an article indivisible from his religious faith, and
perhaps it would have been equally difficult to have induced him
to doubt the one as the other. With these feelings, and in a thick
misty day, which was already drawing to its close, Dominie Sampson
did not pass the Kaim of Derncleugh without some feelings of tacit
What, then, was his astonishment when, on passing the door--that
door which was supposed to have been placed there by one of the
latter Lairds of Ellangowan to prevent presumptuous strangers from
incurring the dangers of the haunted vault--that door, supposed to
be always locked, and the key of which was popularly said to be
deposited with the presbytery--that door, that very door, opened
suddenly, and the figure of Meg Merrilies, well known, though not
seen for many a revolving year, was placed at once before the eyes
of the startled Dominie! She stood immediately before him in the
footpath, confronting him so absolutely that he could not avoid
her except by fairly turning back, which his manhood prevented him
from thinking of.
'I kenn'd ye wad be here,' she said, with her harsh and hollow
voice; 'I ken wha ye seek; but ye maun do my bidding.'
'Get thee behind me!' said the alarmed Dominie. 'Avoid ye! Conjuro
te, scelestissima, nequissima, spurcissima, iniquissima atque
miserrima, conjuro te!!!'
Meg stood her ground against this tremendous volley of
superlatives, which Sampson hawked up from the pit of his stomach
and hurled at her in thunder. 'Is the carl daft,' she said, 'wi'
'Conjuro,' continued the Dominie, 'abjuro, contestor atque
viriliter impero tibi!'
'What, in the name of Sathan, are ye feared for, wi' your French
gibberish, that would make a dog sick? Listen, ye stickit
stibbler, to what I tell ye, or ye sail rue it while there's a
limb o' ye hings to anither! Tell Colonel Mannering that I ken
he's seeking me. He kens, and I ken, that the blood will be wiped
out, and the lost will be found,
And Bertram's right and Bertram's might
Shall meet on Ellangowan height.
Hae, there's a letter to him; I was gaun to send it in another
way. I canna write mysell; but I hae them that will baith write
and read, and ride and rin for me. Tell him the time's coming now,
and the weird's dreed, and the wheel's turning. Bid him look at
the stars as he has looked at them before. Will ye mind a' this?'
'Assuredly,' said the Dominie, 'I am dubious; for, woman, I am
perturbed at thy words, and my flesh quakes to hear thee.'
'They'll do you nae ill though, and maybe muckle gude.'
'Avoid ye! I desire no good that comes by unlawful means.'
'Fule body that thou art,' said Meg, stepping up to him, with a
frown of indignation that made her dark eyes flash like lamps from
under her bent brows--'Fule body! if I meant ye wrang, couldna I
clod ye ower that craig, and wad man ken how ye cam by your end
mair than Frank Kennedy? Hear ye that, ye worricow?'
'In the name of all that is good,' said the Dominie, recoiling,
and pointing his long pewter-headed walking cane like a javelin at
the supposed sorceress--'in the name of all that is good, bide off
hands! I will not be handled; woman, stand off, upon thine own
proper peril! Desist, I say; I am strong; lo, I will resist!' Here
his speech was cut short; for Meg, armed with supernatural
strength (as the Dominie asserted), broke in upon his guard, put
by a thrust which he made at her with his cane, and lifted him
into the vault, 'as easily,' said he, 'as I could sway a Kitchen's
'Sit down there,' she said, pushing the half-throttled preacher
with some violence against a broken chair--'sit down there and
gather your wind and your senses, ye black barrow-tram o' the kirk
that ye are. Are ye fou or fasting?'
'Fasting, from all but sin,' answered the Dominie, who, recovering
his voice, and finding his exorcisms only served to exasperate the
intractable sorceress, thought it best to affect complaisance and
submission, inwardly conning over, however, the wholesome
conjurations which he durst no longer utter aloud. But as the
Dominie's brain was by no means equal to carry on two trains of
ideas at the same time, a word or two of his mental exercise
sometimes escaped and mingled with his uttered speech in a manner
ludicrous enough, especially as the poor man shrunk himself
together after every escape of the kind, from terror of the effect
it might produce upon the irritable feelings of the witch.
Meg in the meanwhile went to a great black cauldron that was
boiling on a fire on the floor, and, lifting the lid, an odour was
diffused through the vault which, if the vapours of a witch's
cauldron could in aught be trusted, promised better things than
the hell-broth which such vessels are usually supposed to contain.
It was, in fact, the savour of a goodly stew, composed of fowls,
hares, partridges, and moor-game boiled in a large mess with
potatoes, onions, and leeks, and from the size of the cauldron
appeared to be prepared for half a dozen of people at least. 'So
ye hae eat naething a' day?' said Meg, heaving a large portion of
this mess into a brown dish and strewing it savourily with salt
and pepper. [Footnote: See Note 4.]
'Nothing,' answered the Dominie, 'scelestissima!--that is,
'Hae then,' said she, placing the dish before him, 'there's what
will warm your heart.'
'I do not hunger, malefica--that is to say, Mrs. Merrilies!' for
he said unto himself,' the savour is sweet, but it hath been
cooked by a Canidia or an Ericthoe.'
'If ye dinna eat instantly and put some saul in ye, by the bread
and the salt, I'll put it down your throat wi' the cutty spoon,
scaulding as it is, and whether ye will or no. Gape, sinner, and
Sampson, afraid of eye of newt, and toe of frog, tigers'
chaudrons, and so forth, had determined not to venture; but the
smell of the stew was fast melting his obstinacy, which flowed
from his chops as it were in streams of water, and the witch's
threats decided him to feed. Hunger and fear are excellent
'Saul,' said Hunger, 'feasted with the witch of Endor.' 'And,'
quoth Fear, 'the salt which she sprinkled upon the food showeth
plainly it is not a necromantic banquet, in which that seasoning
never occurs.' 'And, besides,' says Hunger, after the first
spoonful, 'it is savoury and refreshing viands.'
'So ye like the meat?' said the hostess.
'Yea,' answered the Dominie, 'and I give thee thanks,
sceleratissima!--which means, Mrs. Margaret.'
'Aweel, eat your fill; but an ye kenn'd how it was gotten ye maybe
wadna like it sae weel.' Sampson's spoon dropped in the act of
conveying its load to his mouth. 'There's been mony a moonlight
watch to bring a' that trade thegither,' continued Meg; 'the folk
that are to eat that dinner thought little o' your game laws.'
'Is that all?' thought Sampson, resuming his spoon and shovelling
away manfully; 'I will not lack my food upon that argument.'
'Now ye maun tak a dram?'
'I will,' quoth Sampson, 'conjuro te--that is, I thank you
heartily,' for he thought to himself, in for a penny in for a
pound; and he fairly drank the witch's health in a cupful of
brandy. When he had put this copestone upon Meg's good cheer, he
felt, as he said, 'mightily elevated, and afraid of no evil which
could befall unto him.'
'Will ye remember my errand now?' said Meg Merrilies; 'I ken by
the cast o' your ee that ye're anither man than when you cam in.'
'I will, Mrs. Margaret,' repeated Sampson, stoutly; 'I will
deliver unto him the sealed yepistle, and will add what you please
to send by word of mouth.'
'Then I'll make it short,' says Meg. 'Tell him to look at the
stars without fail this night, and to do what I desire him in that
letter, as he would wish
That Bertram's right and Bertram's might
Should meet on Ellangowan height.
I have seen him twice when he saw na me; I ken when he was in this
country first, and I ken what's brought him back again. Up an' to
the gate! ye're ower lang here; follow me.'
Sampson followed the sibyl accordingly, who guided him about a
quarter of a mile through the woods, by a shorter cut than he
could have found for himself; then they entered upon the common,
Meg still marching before him at a great pace, until she gained
the top of a small hillock which overhung the road.
'Here,' she said, 'stand still here. Look how the setting sun
breaks through yon cloud that's been darkening the lift a' day.
See where the first stream o' light fa's: it's upon Donagild's
round tower, the auldest tower in the Castle o' Ellangowan; that's
no for naething! See as it's glooming to seaward abune yon sloop
in the bay; that's no for naething neither. Here I stood on this
very spot,' said she, drawing herself up so as not to lose one
hair-breadth of her uncommon height, and stretching out her long
sinewy arm and clenched hand--'here I stood when I tauld the last
Laird o' Ellangowan what was coming on his house; and did that fa'
to the ground? na, it hit even ower sair! And here, where I brake
the wand of peace ower him, here I stand again, to bid God bless
and prosper the just heir of Ellangowan that will sune be brought
to his ain; and the best laird he shall be that Ellangowan has
seen for three hundred years. I'll no live to see it, maybe; but
there will be mony a blythe ee see it though mine be closed. And
now, Abel Sampson, as ever ye lo'ed the house of Ellangowan, away
wi' my message to the English Colonel, as if life and death were
upon your haste!'
So saying, she turned suddenly from the amazed Dominie and
regained with swift and long strides the shelter of the wood from
which she had issued at the point where it most encroached upon
the common. Sampson gazed after her for a moment in utter
astonishment, and then obeyed her directions, hurrying to
Woodbourne at a pace very unusual for him, exclaiming three times,
'Prodigious! prodigious! pro-di-gi-ous!'