Guy Mannering, Or, the Astrologer — Complete eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2004)



  An old English proverb says, that more know Tom Fool than Tom Foolknows; and the influence of the adage seems to extend to works composedunder the influence of an idle or foolish planet. Many correspondingcircumstances are detected by readers of which the Author did notsuspect the existence. He must, however, regard it as a greatcompliment that, in detailing incidents purely imaginary, he has beenso fortunate in approximating reality as to remind his readers ofactual occurrences. It is therefore with pleasure he notices somepieces of local history and tradition which have been supposed tocoincide with the fictitious persons, incidents, and scenery of GuyMannering.

  The prototype of Dirk Hatteraick is considered as having been a Dutchskipper called Yawkins. This man was well known on the coast ofGalloway and Dumfriesshire, as sole proprietor and master of a buckkar,or smuggling lugger, called the 'Black Prince.' Being distinguished byhis nautical skill and intrepidity, his vessel was frequentlyfreighted, and his own services employed, by French, Dutch, Manx, andScottish smuggling companies.

  A person well known by the name of Buckkar-tea, from having been anoted smuggler of that article, and also by that of Bogle Bush, theplace of his residence, assured my kind informant Mr. Train, that hehad frequently seen upwards of two hundred Lingtow men assemble at onetime, and go off into the interior of the country, fully laden withcontraband goods.

  In those halcyon days of the free trade, the fixed price for carrying abox of tea or bale of tobacco from the coast of Galloway to Edinburghwas fifteen shillings, and a man with two horses carried four suchpackages. The trade was entirely destroyed by Mr. Pitt's celebratedcommutation law, which, by reducing the duties upon excisable articles,enabled the lawful dealer to compete with the smuggler. The statute wascalled in Galloway and Dumfries-shire, by those who had thriven uponthe contraband trade, 'the burning and starving act.'

  Sure of such active assistance on shore, Yawkins demeaned himself soboldly that his mere name was a terror to the officers of the revenue.He availed himself of the fears which his presence inspired on oneparticular night, when, happening to be ashore with a considerablequantity of goods in his sole custody, a strong party of excisemen camedown on him. Far from shunning the attack, Yawkins sprung forward,shouting, 'Come on, my lads; Yawkins is before you.' The revenueofficers were intimidated and relinquished their prize, though defendedonly by the courage and address of a single man. On his proper elementYawkins was equally successful. On one occasion he was landing hiscargo at the Manxman's Lake near Kirkcudbright, when two revenuecutters (the 'Pigmy' and the 'Dwarf') hove in sight at once ondifferent tacks, the one coming round by the Isles of Fleet, the otherbetween the point of Rueberry and the Muckle Ron. The dauntlessfreetrader instantly weighed anchor and bore down right between theluggers, so close that he tossed his hat on the deck of the one and hiswig on that of the other, hoisted a cask to his maintop, to show hisoccupation, and bore away under an extraordinary pressure of canvass,without receiving injury. To account for these and other hairbreadthescapes, popular superstition alleged that Yawkins insured hiscelebrated buckkar by compounding with the devil for one-tenth of hiscrew every voyage. How they arranged the separation of the stock andtithes is left to our conjecture. The buckkar was perhaps called the'Black Prince' in honour of the formidable insurer.

  The 'Black Prince' used to discharge her cargo at Luce, Balcarry, andelsewhere on the coast; but her owner's favourite landing-places wereat the entrance of the Dee and the Cree, near the old Castle ofRueberry, about six miles below Kirkcudbright. There is a cave of largedimensions in the vicinity of Rueberry, which, from its beingfrequently used by Yawkins and his supposed connexion with thesmugglers on the shore, is now called Dirk Hatteraick's Cave. Strangerswho visit this place, the scenery of which is highly romantic, are alsoshown, under the name of the Gauger's Loup, a tremendous precipice,being the same, it is asserted, from which Kennedy was precipitated.

  Meg Merrilies is in Galloway considered as having had her origin in thetraditions concerning the celebrated Flora Marshal, one of the royalconsorts of Willie Marshal, more commonly called the Caird ofBarullion, King of the Gipsies of the Western Lowlands. That potentatewas himself deserving of notice from the following peculiarities:--Hewas born in the parish of Kirkmichael about the year 1671; and, as hedied at Kirkcudbright 23d November 1792, he must then have been in theone hundred and twentieth year of his age. It cannot be said that thisunusually long lease of existence was noted by any peculiar excellenceof conduct or habits of life. Willie had been pressed or enlisted inthe army seven times, and had deserted as often; besides three timesrunning away from the naval service. He had been seventeen timeslawfully married; and, besides, such a reasonably large share ofmatrimonial comforts, was, after his hundredth year, the avowed fatherof four children by less legitimate affections. He subsisted in hisextreme old age by a pension from the present Earl of Selkirk'sgrandfather. Will Marshal is buried in Kirkcudbright church, where hismonument is still shown, decorated with a scutcheon suitably blazonedwith two tups' horns and two cutty spoons.

  In his youth he occasionally took an evening walk on the highway, withthe purpose of assisting travellers by relieving them of the weight oftheir purses. On one occasion the Caird of Barullion robbed the Lairdof Bargally at a place between Carsphairn and Dalmellington. Hispurpose was not achieved without a severe struggle, in which the gipsylost his bonnet, and was obliged to escape, leaving it on the road. Arespectable farmer happened to be the next passenger, and, seeing thebonnet, alighted, took it up, and rather imprudently put it on his ownhead. At this instant Bargally came up with some assistants, and,recognising the bonnet, charged the farmer of Bantoberick with havingrobbed him, and took him into custody. There being some likenessbetween the parties, Bargally persisted in his charge, and, though therespectability of the farmer's character was proved or admitted, histrial before the Circuit Court came on accordingly. The fatal bonnetlay on the table of the court. Bargally swore that it was the identicalarticle worn by the man who robbed him; and he and others likewisedeponed that they had found the accused on the spot where the crime wascommitted, with the bonnet on his head. The case looked gloomily forthe prisoner, and the opinion of the judge seemed unfavourable. Butthere was a person in court who knew well both who did and who did notcommit the crime. This was the Caird of Barullion, who, thrustinghimself up to the bar near the place where Bargally was standing,suddenly seized on the bonnet, put it on his head, and, looking theLaird full in the face, asked him, with a voice which attracted theattention of the court and crowded audience--'Look at me, sir, and tellme, by the oath you have sworn--Am not _I_ the man who robbed youbetween Carsphairn and Dalmellington?' Bargally replied, in greatastonishment, 'By Heaven! you are the very man.' 'You see what sort ofmemory this gentleman has,' said the volunteer pleader; 'he swears tothe bonnet whatever features are under it. If you yourself, my Lord,will put it on your head, he will be willing to swear that yourLordship was the party who robbed him between Carsphairn andDalmellington.' The tenant of Bantoberick was unanimously acquitted;and thus Willie Marshal ingeniously contrived to save an innocent manfrom danger, without incurring any himself, since Bargally's evidencemust have seemed to every one too fluctuating to be relied upon.

  While the King of the Gipsies was thus laudably occupied, his royalconsort, Flora, contrived, it is said, to steal the hood from thejudge's gown; for which offence, combined with her presumptive guilt asa gipsy, she was banished to New England, whence she never returned.

  Now, I cannot grant that the idea of Meg Merrilies was, in the firstconcoction of the character, derived from Flora Marshal, seeing I havealready said she was identified with Jean Gordon, and as I have not theLaird of Bargally's apology for charging the same fact on two severalindividuals. Yet I am quite content that Meg should be considered as arepresentative of her sect and class in general, Flora as well asothers.
  The other instances in which my Gallovidian readers have obliged me byassigning to

  Airy nothing A local habitation and a name,

  shall also be sanctioned so far as the Author may be entitled to do so.I think the facetious Joe Miller records a case pretty much in point;where the keeper of a museum, while showing, as he said, the very swordwith which Balaam was about to kill his ass, was interrupted by one ofthe visitors, who reminded him that Balaam was not possessed of asword, but only wished for one. 'True, sir,' replied the ready-wittedcicerone; 'but this is the very sword he wished for.' The Author, inapplication of this story, has only to add that, though ignorant of thecoincidence between the fictions of the tale and some realcircumstances, he is contented to believe he must unconsciously havethought or dreamed of the last while engaged in the composition of GuyMannering.