There was another person, however, in the inn on whom Brown could not avoid repeatedly fixing his eyes--a tall, witch-like woman. It was Meg Merrilies the gipsy; but time had grizzled her raven locks, and added many wrinkles to her wild features. As he looked at her, he could not help saying to himself: "Have I dreamed of such a figure?"
As he was asking himself the question, the gipsy suddenly made two strides towards him and seized his hand, at the same time saying to him:
"In God's name, young man, tell me your name, and whence you come!"
"My name is Brown, mother, and I come from the East Indies," he answered.
On hearing his answer she dropped his hand with a sigh, and said:
"It cannot be, then--it cannot be; but be what ye will, ye have a face and a tongue that puts me in mind of old times." As Brown took his departure on foot, the gipsy looked after him and muttered to herself: "I maun [Footnote: I must.] see that lad again."
The traveller had gone a considerable distance across the lonely moorland through which his road lay, when his little dog Wasp began to bark furiously at something in front of them. Brown quickened his pace, and soon caught sight of the subject of the terrier's alarm. In a hollow, a little below him, was his late companion Dandie Dinmont, engaged with two other men in a desperate struggle. In a moment Brown, who was both strong and active, came to the rescue; and, after a short fight, the two would-be murderers of the farmer were flying for their own lives across the heath, pursued by Wasp. Dinmont then took his friend upon his pony, and they succeeded after some time in reaching Charlie's Hope, the farmer's home, where they were welcomed by his wife and a large troop of children.
The next few days were spent salmon spearing, and hunting otters on the hills in the neighbourhood. One of the huntsmen, of whom there were a large number out, was a dark-featured man, resembling a gipsy in his appearance; and Brown noticed that whenever he approached him he endeavoured to hide his face. He could not remember, however, having ever seen the man before; but he learned, on asking about him, that he was a stranger in those parts, who had come from the south-west of Scotland, and that his name was Gabriel. Nothing further was known about him at Charlie's Hope.
Brown's visit to Dandie Dinmont was now at an end, and he again took the road for Woodbourne, the residence of Julia Mannering.
He had hired a chaise and horses, but had not gone far on the wild road to Kippletringan when night came on and the snow fell heavily; and shortly after, to make matters worse, the driver missed the way. When the horses were unable to proceed any further, Brown dismounted from the carriage in order to look for a house where he could ask the way; and as he wandered through the plantations which skirted the road, he saw a light in the distance amongst the trees. After traversing a deep and dangerous glen, he reached the house from which the light shone. It was an old and ruinous building. Before approaching the door, he peeped in through an aperture in the ruined wall, and saw in the room inside the figure of a man, stretched on a straw bed, with a blanket thrown over it. He could see that the man was dying. A woman clad in a long cloak was sitting by the bedside, and moistening at times the lips of the man with some liquid. She was singing a low monotonous strain.
She paused in her singing, and Brown heard a few deep groans come from the dying man.
"It will not be," she muttered to herself. "He cannot pass away with that on his mind; I must open the door."
Brown stood before her as she opened the door, and he at once recognised the same gipsy woman whom he had met in the inn a few days before. He noticed, too, that there was a roll of linen about the dying man's head, which was deeply stained with blood.
"Wretched woman, who has done this?" exclaimed Brown.
And the gipsy answered: "They that were permitted;" and she added after a few moments, "He's dead now."
Sounds of voices at a distance were now heard. "They are coming,"
said she to Brown; "you are a dead man." He was about to rush out, when the gipsy seized him with a strong grasp. "Here," she said, "here, be still, and you are safe; stir not, whatever you see or hear, and nothing shall befall you!"
She made him lie down among a parcel of straw, and covered him carefully; and then resumed her song.
Brown, though a soldier and a brave one, was terrified as he lay in his hiding-place. Peeping out through the straw, he saw five rough-looking men come in who seemed to be gipsies and sailors.
They closed round the fire and commenced to drink, holding consultation together in a strange gibberish which he could not altogether understand. Whenever the gipsy woman addressed them, she spoke angrily to them; and more than once she called them murderers; they, however, did not seem to mind her.
They continued drinking and talking for a considerable time, but all that Brown could make out was that there was someone whom they were going to murder. They also referred to a murder committed some twenty years before, in which their dead companion had had a hand.
After some time spent in this way, one of the party went out and brought in a portmanteau, which Brown at once recognised as the one he had left in the chaise. They ripped it open, and after examining the contents, which included all the owner's ready money, with the exception of a trifling sum in his pocket, they divided the whole amongst them. Then they drank more; and it was not until morning that they left the building. When they left, they carried the dead body with them.
No sooner were they well outside, than Meg Merrilies got up from where she had been pretending to be asleep, and told Brown to follow her instantly. Brown obeyed with alacrity, feeling that he was already out of reach of danger when the villains had gone out; but before leaving he took up a cutlass belonging to one of the five, and brought it with him in the belief that he might yet have to fight with them for his life. The snow lay on the ground as he and the gipsy came out, and as he followed her he noticed that she chose the track the men had taken, so that her footprints might not be seen.
After a while, however, she turned from the track, and led the way up a steep and rugged path under the snow-laden trees, and on reaching a place some distance farther on, she pointed out the direction of Kippletringan, and told her companion to make what speed he could. Brown was entirely at a loss to make out the reason the gipsy had for taking such an interest in preserving his life from her comrades; and was even more puzzled by her conduct when she took an old purse from her pocket before parting, and gave it to him.
She said as she handed it to him: "Many's the alms your house has given Meg and hers." And Brown, as he thanked her for her kindness, asked her how he could repay the money she had given him.
"I have two boons to crave," answered the gipsy, speaking low and hastily: "one is that you will never speak of what you have seen this night; the other, that when I next call for you, be it in church or market, at wedding or at burial, meal-time or fasting, that ye leave everything else and come with me."
"That will do you little good, mother," answered Brown.
"But 'twill do yourself much good," replied Meg Merrilies. "I know what I am asking, and I know it has been the will of God to preserve you in strange dangers, and that I shall be the means to set you in your father's seat again. So give your promise, and mind that you owe your life to me this blessed night."
When Brown had promised, she parted from him, and was soon out of sight.
The young soldier could come to no other conclusion but that the woman was mad; and having in this way solved the mystery to his own satisfaction, he strode quickly on through the wood in search of the highroad to Kippletringan.
He reached the village at length, and engaged a room at the Gordon Arms, a comfortable inn kept by a Mrs. Mac-Candlish. On opening the purse which the gipsy had given him, he was astonished to find that it contained money and jewels worth about a hundred pounds.
He accordingly entrusted it to the landlady of the inn for safe keeping.
The day after his arrival at the village of Kippletringan, he determined to see Miss Mannering; and learning that she was likely to be found with a party of skaters on a lake in the neighbourhood, he proceeded in that direction.
The skating party, of whom Julia Mannering was one, consisted of herself and Lucy Bertram, and young Charles Hazlewood, who, as before mentioned, was Miss Bertram's lover. Having spent some time upon the ice, they were returning to Woodbourne through the plantation. Hazlewood, who had a gun with him, had offered his arm to Miss Mannering, who was tired after skating, as they walked towards home. When they had proceeded some little distance in this way, Brown happened to meet them. He was wearing the rough suit in which he had spent the night in the gipsy's house, having been unable to procure a change on account of his portmanteau having been stolen.
Julia Mannering, who had had no intimation that her old lover was in the district, uttered a scream when she suddenly saw him standing before her; and Hazlewood, fancying from the rough appearance of the stranger that he was either a gipsy or a tramp, pointed his gun towards him, and ordered him to keep off.
Brown, in a fit of jealousy, and fearing that the gun might go off, rushed upon Hazlewood and seized the fowling-piece. But in the struggle which ensued between them it was discharged by accident, and young Hazlewood fell to the ground, wounded in the shoulder.
Brown, when he saw what had occurred, became frightened at the thought of the dangers of his position. He bounded over a hedge which divided the footpath from the plantation, and was not heard of again for a considerable time.
On the news of Hazlewood's being wounded getting abroad, the neighbourhood was thrown into a ferment of indignation. All the circumstances of the occurrence were exaggerated. It was universally believed that the attacking party was a smuggler or a gipsy, and that he had attempted in broad daylight to murder the young man. It was stated that the assailant had been seen earlier in the day wearing a smuggler's cutlass; and the purse which had been left at the inn was opened and found to contain property which had been previously stolen. Charles Hazlewood himself, however, continued to protest that the wounding was accidental; while the only person who could give any real account of the mysterious stranger, namely Julia Mannering, for reasons best known to herself, never pretended that she had any idea who he was.
Amongst those who were most active in their endeavours to capture the missing Brown was Glossin, the new Laird of Ellangowan. It was plain, too, that he had some other motive for apprehending him than merely the desire to do his duty as a magistrate of the county, which he had now become.
On returning to his house one day, he was informed that Mac- Guffog, the thief-taker, had made a prisoner, and that he was waiting with him in the kitchen. When the prisoner was introduced to the magistrate's room, Glossin at once recognised that it was Dirck Hatteraick, the smuggler captain.
In the interview which took place between them, no one else being present, it transpired that Glossin had been a kind of partner with the smuggler at the time of Kennedy's murder and the disappearance of young Harry Bertram. Dirck Hatteraick told him, too, very plainly, that if he was to be condemned he would let the secret out and ruin Glossin. Glossin, who was much terrified at the thought of being discovered, then arranged, like a villain that he was, to imprison Hatteraick for that night in a room in the old castle of Ellangowan, and at the same time give him a small file with which he might rid himself of his handcuffs and escape. During the interview between them, Hatteraick also told the attorney that young Bertram was still alive, and at Kippletringan. Glossin's situation was therefore perilous in the extreme, for the schemes of a life of villainy seemed at once to be crumbling around and about him.
Hatteraick was accordingly then sent to his place of confinement in the old castle.
At midnight Glossin looked out from his bedroom towards the castle, and after watching for some time in an agony of guilty suspense, he saw the dark form of a man, whom he knew to be Hatteraick, drop from the prison window and make his way to the beach, where he succeeded in shoving out a boat which was lying there. In a few minutes after, he had hoisted the sail, and soon disappeared round the Point of Warroch.
Great was the alarm and confusion the next morning when it was discovered that the smuggler had escaped from prison. Constables were sent out in every direction to search for him, and Glossin took care to send them to places where they would be least likely to find him.
In the meantime he himself made his way to a cave by the seashore near the Point of Warroch, where he had arranged with Hatteraick to meet him the day after his escape.
Glossin had never been near this spot since the day on which the unfortunate Kennedy was murdered; and the terrible scene came back to his mind with all its accompaniments of horror as he stealthily approached the cavern. When he reached it and went in, he found Hatteraick in the dark and shivering with cold.
During the conversation that ensued between them he learned from the smuggler what had become of young Bertram after Kennedy's murder. He had been taken to Holland, Hatteraick said, and left with an old merchant named Vanbeest Brown, who took a fancy to the boy and called him by his own name. He had afterwards been sent to India; but the smuggler knew nothing of him from the time he went there. Bertram had, however, been seen, he said, a few days before, among the hills by a gipsy named Gabriel.
Glossin then discovered for the first time that it was young Bertram, in reality, who had wounded Hazlewood. In his terror at the thought of losing his property at Ellangowan if it came to be known that Harry Bertram was alive, yet at all times fertile in every kind of villainous device, Glossin now hit upon a new plan to get rid of the man who stood between him and his peace of mind.
By making large promises to Hatteraick he induced the smuggler to agree to come by night, with a large body of his men, to the prison where Bertram would be confined for his attack on Hazlewood, and to break open the doors and carry him off. He said he would have the soldiers withdrawn on some pretence or other, so as to make the rescue more certain; and having completed the details of this desperate and lawless piece of villainy, he went back to Ellangowan.
But it is time to return to Brown, who was now a fugitive from justice in consequence of the unlucky accident of which his rashness had been the cause. He determined to make his way to England, and to wait there until he received letters from friends in his regiment establishing his identity, in possession of which he could again show himself at Kippletringan, and offer to young Hazlewood any explanation or satisfaction he might require. He accordingly took ship for Cumberland. He chanced on board to meet a man whose daughter was at the time in Colonel Mannering's service at Woodbourne and by his means contrived to get a letter delivered to Miss Mannering, in which he begged of her to forgive him for his rash conduct towards Hazlewood. Having landed on the English coast, he wrote to the colonel of his regiment for such testimony of his rank in the army as should place his character as a gentleman and an officer beyond question; and, as he was now reduced to great straits for want of funds, he wrote to his sturdy farmer friend, Dandie Dinmont, for the loan of a little money.
After a delay of some days, he received a short letter from Miss Mannering, in which she upbraided him for his thoughtless conduct, and bade him good-bye, telling him on no account to come back to Woodbourne.
On reading it over, he came somehow to the conclusion that Miss Mannering meant the opposite of all she had written, and in this belief he set sail at once for Kippletringan.