Guy Mannering; or, The Astrologer — Complete eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2006)



  An old English proverb says, that more know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows;and the influence of the adage seems to extend to works composed underthe influence of an idle or foolish planet. Many correspondingcircumstances are detected by readers of which the Author did not suspectthe existence. He must, however, regard it as a great compliment that, indetailing incidents purely imaginary, he has been so fortunate inapproximating reality as to remind his readers of actual occurrences. Itis therefore with pleasure he notices some pieces of local history andtradition which have been supposed to coincide with the fictitiouspersons, incidents, and scenery of Guy Mannering.

  The prototype of Dirk Hatteraick is considered as having been a Dutchskipper called Yawkins. This man was well known on the coast of Gallowayand Dumfriesshire, as sole proprietor and master of a buckkar, orsmuggling lugger, called the 'Black Prince.' Being distinguished by hisnautical skill and intrepidity, his vessel was frequently freighted, andhis own services employed, by French, Dutch, Manx, and Scottish smugglingcompanies.

  A person well known by the name of Buckkar-tea, from having been a notedsmuggler of that article, and also by that of Bogle Bush, the place ofhis residence, assured my kind informant Mr. Train, that he hadfrequently seen upwards of two hundred Lingtow men assemble at one time,and go off into the interior of the country, fully laden with contrabandgoods.

  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 Edinburgh wasfifteen shillings, and a man with two horses carried four such packages.The trade was entirely destroyed by Mr. Pitt's celebrated commutationlaw, which, by reducing the duties upon excisable articles, enabled thelawful dealer to compete with the smuggler. The statute was called inGalloway and Dumfries-shire, by those who had thriven upon the contrabandtrade, '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. Heavailed 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 revenue officerswere intimidated and relinquished their prize, though defended only bythe courage and address of a single man. On his proper element Yawkinswas equally successful. On one occasion he was landing his cargo at theManxman's Lake near Kirkcudbright, when two revenue cutters (the 'Pigmy'and the 'Dwarf') hove in sight at once on different tacks, the one cominground by the Isles of Fleet, the other between the point of Rueberry andthe Muckle Ron. The dauntless freetrader instantly weighed anchor andbore down right between the luggers, so close that he tossed his hat onthe deck of the one and his wig on that of the other, hoisted a cask tohis maintop, to show his occupation, and bore away under an extraordinarypressure of canvass, without receiving injury. To account for these andother hairbreadth escapes, popular superstition alleged that Yawkinsinsured his celebrated buckkar by compounding with the devil forone-tenth of his crew every voyage. How they arranged the separation ofthe stock and tithes is left to our conjecture. The buckkar was perhapscalled 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 were atthe entrance of the Dee and the Cree, near the old Castle of Rueberry,about six miles below Kirkcudbright. There is a cave of large dimensionsin the vicinity of Rueberry, which, from its being frequently used byYawkins and his supposed connexion with the smugglers on the shore, isnow called Dirk Hatteraick's Cave. Strangers who visit this place, thescenery of which is highly romantic, are also shown, under the name ofthe Gauger's Loup, a tremendous precipice, being the same, it isasserted, 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 of Barullion,King of the Gipsies of the Western Lowlands. That potentate was himselfdeserving of notice from the following peculiarities:--He was born in theparish of Kirkmichael about the year 1671; and, as he died atKirkcudbright 23d November 1792, he must then have been in the onehundred and twentieth year of his age. It cannot be said that thisunusually long lease of existence was noted by any peculiar excellence ofconduct or habits of life. Willie had been pressed or enlisted in thearmy seven times, and had deserted as often; besides three times runningaway from the naval service. He had been seventeen times lawfullymarried; and, besides, such a reasonably large share of matrimonialcomforts, was, after his hundredth year, the avowed father of fourchildren by less legitimate affections. He subsisted in his extreme oldage by a pension from the present Earl of Selkirk's grandfather. WillMarshal is buried in Kirkcudbright church, where his monument is stillshown, decorated with a scutcheon suitably blazoned with two tups' hornsand 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 Laird ofBargally at a place between Carsphairn and Dalmellington. His purpose wasnot achieved without a severe struggle, in which the gipsy lost hisbonnet, and was obliged to escape, leaving it on the road. A respectablefarmer happened to be the next passenger, and, seeing the bonnet,alighted, took it up, and rather imprudently put it on his own head. Atthis instant Bargally came up with some assistants, and, recognising thebonnet, charged the farmer of Bantoberick with having robbed him, andtook him into custody. There being some likeness between the parties,Bargally persisted in his charge, and, though the respectability of thefarmer's character was proved or admitted, his trial before the CircuitCourt came on accordingly. The fatal bonnet lay on the table of thecourt. Bargally swore that it was the identical article worn by the manwho robbed him; and he and others likewise deponed that they had foundthe accused on the spot where the crime was committed, with the bonnet onhis head. The case looked gloomily for the prisoner, and the opinion ofthe judge seemed unfavourable. But there was a person in court who knewwell both who did and who did not commit the crime. This was the Caird ofBarullion, who, thrusting himself up to the bar near the place whereBargally was standing, suddenly seized on the bonnet, put it on his head,and, looking the Laird full in the face, asked him, with a voice whichattracted the attention of the court and crowded audience--'Look at me,sir, and tell me, by the oath you have sworn--Am not _I_ the man whorobbed you between Carsphairn and Dalmellington?' Bargally replied, ingreat astonishment, 'By Heaven! you are the very man.' 'You see what sortof memory this gentleman has,' said the volunteer pleader; 'he swears tothe bonnet whatever features are under it. If you yourself, my Lord, willput it on your head, he will be willing to swear that your Lordship wasthe party who robbed him between Carsphairn and Dalmellington.' Thetenant of Bantoberick was unanimously acquitted; and thus Willie Marshalingeniously contrived to save an innocent man from danger, withoutincurring any himself, since Bargally's evidence must have seemed toevery 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 the judge'sgown; for which offence, combined with her presumptive guilt as a 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 as others.

  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. Ithink the facetious Joe Miller records a case pretty much in point; wherethe keeper of a museum, while showing, as he said, the very sword withwhich Balaam was about to kill his ass, was interrupted by one of thevisitors, who reminded him that Balaam was not possessed of a sword, butonly wished for one. 'True, sir,' replied the ready-witted cicerone; 'butthis is the very sword he wished for.' The Author, in application of thisstory, has only to add that, though ignorant of the coincidence betweenthe fictions of the tale and some real circumstances, he is contented tobelieve he must unconsciously have thought or dreamed of the last whileengaged in the composition of Guy Mannering.