The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 13

To face the garment of rebellion

With some fine colour, that may please the eye

Of fickle changelings, and poor discontents,

Which gape and rub the elbow at the news

Of hurlyburly innovation.

Henry the Fourth, Part II.

There had been great preparations made at Ellieslaw Castle for the entertainment on this important day, when not only the gentlemen of note in the neighbourhood, attached to the Jacobite interest, were expected to rendezvous, but also many subordinate malecontents, whom difficulty of circumstances, love of change, resentment against England, or any of the numerous causes which inflamed men’s passions at the time, rendered apt to join in perilous enterprise. The men of rank and substance were not many in number; for almost all the large proprietors stood aloof, and most of the smaller gentry and yeomanry were of the Presbyterian persuasion, and therefore, however displeased with the Union, unwilling to engage in a Jacobite conspiracy. But there were some gentlemen of property, who, either from early principle, from religious motives, or sharing the ambitious views of Ellieslaw, had given countenance to his scheme; and there were, also, some fiery young men, like Mareschal, desirous of signalizing themselves by engaging in a dangerous enterprise, by which they hoped to vindicate the independence of their country. The other members of the party were persons of inferior rank and desperate fortunes, who were now ready to rise in that part of the country, as they did afterwards in the year 1715, under Forster and Derwentwater, when a troop, commanded by a Border gentleman, named Douglas, consisted almost entirely of freebooters, among whom the notorious Luck-ina-bag, as he was called, held a distinguished command. We think it necessary to mention these particulars, applicable solely to the province in which our scene lies; because, unquestionably, the Jacobite party, in the other parts of the kingdom, consisted of much more formidable, as well as much more respectable, materials.

One long table extended itself down the ample hall of Ellieslaw Castle, which was still left much in the state in which it had been one hundred years before, stretching, that is, in gloomy length, along the whole side of the castle, vaulted with ribbed arches of freestone, the groins of which sprung from projecting figures, that, carved into all the wild forms which the fantastic imagination of a Gothic architect could devise, grinned, frowned, and gnashed their tusks at the assembly below. Long narrow windows lighted the banqueting room on both sides, filled up with stained glass, through which the sun emitted a dusky and discoloured light. A banner, which tradition averred to have been taken from the English at the battle of Sark, waved over the chair in which Ellieslaw presided, as if to inflame the courage of the guests, by reminding them of ancient victories over their neighbours. He himself, a portly figure, dressed on this occasion with uncommon care, and with features, which, though of a stern and sinister expression, might well be termed handsome, looked the old feudal baron extremely well. Sir Frederick Langley was placed on his right hand, and Mr. Mareschal of Mareschal-Wells on his left. Some gentlemen of consideration, with their sons, brothers, and nephews, were seated at the upper end of the table, and among these Mr. Ratcliffe had his place. Beneath the salt-cellar (a massive piece of plate which occupied the midst of the table) sate the sine nomine turba, men whose vanity was gratified by holding even this subordinate space at the social board, while the distinction observed in ranking them was a salve to the pride of their superiors. That the lower house was not very select must be admitted, since Willie of Westburnflat was one of the party. The unabashed audacity of this fellow, in daring to present himself in the house of a gentleman, to whom he had just offered so flagrant an insult, can only be accounted for by supposing him conscious that his share in carrying off Miss Vere was a secret, safe in her possession and that of her father.

Before this numerous and miscellaneous party was placed a dinner, consisting, not indeed of the delicacies of the season, as the newspapers express it, but of viands, ample, solid, and sumptuous, under which the very board groaned. But the mirth was not in proportion to the good cheer. The lower end of the table were, for some time, chilled by constraint and respect on finding themselves members of so august an assembly; and those who were placed around it had those feelings of awe with which P. P., clerk of the parish, describes himself oppressed, when he first uplifted the psalm in presence of those persons of high worship, the wise Mr. Justice Freeman, the good Lady Jones, and the great Sir Thomas Truby. This ceremonious frost, however, soon gave way before the incentives to merriment, which were liberally supplied, and as liberally consumed by the guests of the lower description. They became talkative, loud, and even clamorous in their mirth.

But it was not in the power of wine or brandy to elevate the spirits of those who held the higher places at the banquet. They experienced the chilling revulsion of spirits which often takes place, when men are called upon to take a desperate resolution, after having placed themselves in circumstances where it is alike difficult to advance or to recede. The precipice looked deeper and more dangerous as they approached the brink, and each waited with an inward emotion of awe, expecting which of his confederates would set the example by plunging himself down. This inward sensation of fear and reluctance acted differently, according to the various habits and characters of the company. One looked grave; another looked silly; a third gazed with apprehension on the empty seats at the higher end of the table, designed for members of the conspiracy whose prudence had prevailed over their political zeal, and who had absented themselves from their consultations at this critical period; and some seemed to be reckoning up in their minds the comparative rank and prospects of those who were present and absent. Sir Frederick Langley was reserved, moody, and discontented. Ellieslaw himself made such forced efforts to raise the spirits of the company, as plainly marked the flagging of his own. Ratcliffe watched the scene with the composure of a vigilant but uninterested spectator. Mareschal alone, true to the thoughtless vivacity of his character, ate and drank, laughed and jested, and seemed even to find amusement in the embarrassment of the company.

“What has damped our noble courage this morning?” he exclaimed. “We seem to be met at a funeral, where the chief mourners must not speak above their breath, while the mutes and the saulies (looking to the lower end of the table) are carousing below. Ellieslaw, when will you lift?* where sleeps your spirit, man? and what has quelled the high hope of the Knight of Langley-dale?”

* [To lift, meaning to lift the coffin, is the common expression for commencing a funeral.]

“You speak like a madman,” said Ellieslaw; “do you not see how many are absent?”

“And what of that?” said Mareschal. “Did you not know before, that one-half of the world are better talkers than doers? For my part, I am much encouraged by seeing at least two-thirds of our friends true to the rendezvous, though I suspect one-half of these came to secure the dinner in case of the worst.”

“There is no news from the coast which can amount to certainty of the King’s arrival,” said another of the company, in that tone of subdued and tremulous whisper which implies a failure of resolution.

“Not a line from the Earl of D — nor a single gentleman from the southern side of the Border,” said a third.

“Who is he that wishes for more men from England,” exclaimed Mareschal, in a theatrical tone of affected heroism,

“My cousin Ellieslaw? No, my fair cousin,

If we are doom’d to die —”

“For God’s sake,” said Ellieslaw, “spare us your folly at present, Mareschal.”

“Well, then,” said his kinsman, “I’ll bestow my wisdom upon you instead, such as it is. If we have gone forward like fools, do not let us go back like cowards. We have done enough to draw upon us both the suspicion and vengeance of the government; do not let us give up before we have done something to deserve it. — What, will no one speak? Then I’ll leap the ditch the first.” And, starting up, he filled a beer-glass to the brim with claret, and waving his hand, commanded all to follow his example, and to rise up from their seats. All obeyed-the more qualified guests as if passively, the others with enthusiasm “Then, my friends, I give you the pledge of the day — The independence of Scotland, and the health of our lawful sovereign, King James the Eighth, now landed in Lothian, and, as I trust and believe, in full possession of his ancient capital!”

He quaffed off the wine, and threw the glass over his head.

“It should never,” he said, “be profaned by a meaner toast.”

All followed his example, and, amid the crash of glasses and the shouts of the company, pledged themselves to stand or fall with the principles and political interest which their toast expressed.

“You have leaped the ditch with a witness,” said Ellieslaw, apart to Mareschal; “but I believe it is all for the best; at all events, we cannot now retreat from our undertaking. One man alone” (looking at Ratcliffe) “has refused the pledge; but of that by and by.”

Then, rising up, he addressed the company in a style of inflammatory invective against the government and its measures, but especially the Union; a treaty, by means of which, he affirmed, Scotland had been at once cheated of her independence, her commerce, and her honour, and laid as a fettered slave at the foot of the rival against whom, through such a length of ages, through so many dangers, and by so much blood, she had honourably defended her rights. This was touching a theme which found a responsive chord in the bosom of every man present.

“Our commerce is destroyed,” hollowed old John Rewcastle, a Jedburgh smuggler, from the lower end of the table.

“Our agriculture is ruined,” said the Laird of Broken-girth-flow, a territory which, since the days of Adam, had borne nothing but ling and whortle-berries.

“Our religion is cut up, root and branch,” said the pimple-nosed pastor of the Episcopal meeting-house at Kirkwhistle.

“We shall shortly neither dare shoot a deer nor kiss a wench, without a certificate from the presbytery and kirk-treasurer,” said Mareschal-Wells.

“Or make a brandy jeroboam in a frosty morning, without license from a commissioner of excise,” said the smuggler.

“Or ride over the fell in a moonless night,” said Westburnflat, “without asking leave of young Earnscliff; or some Englified justice of the peace: thae were gude days on the Border when there was neither peace nor justice heard of.”

“Let us remember our wrongs at Darien and Glencoe,” continued Ellieslaw, “and take arms for the protection of our rights, our fortunes, our lives, and our families.”

“Think upon genuine episcopal ordination, without which there can be no lawful clergy,” said the divine.

“Think of the piracies committed on our East-Indian trade by Green and the English thieves,” said William Willieson, half-owner and sole skipper of a brig that made four voyages annually between Cockpool and Whitehaven.

“Remember your liberties,” rejoined Mareschal, who seemed to take a mischievous delight in precipitating the movements of the enthusiasm which he had excited, like a roguish boy, who, having lifted the sluice of a mill-dam, enjoys the clatter of the wheels which he has put in motion, without thinking of the mischief he may have occasioned. “Remember your liberties,” he exclaimed; “confound cess, press, and presbytery, and the memory of old Willie that first brought them upon us!”

“Damn the gauger!” echoed old John Rewcastle; “I’ll cleave him wi’ my ain hand.”

“And confound the country-keeper and the constable!” re-echoed Westburnflat; “I’ll weize a brace of balls through them before morning.”

“We are agreed, then,” said Ellieslaw, when the shouts had somewhat subsided, “to bear this state of things no longer?”

“We are agreed to a man,” answered his guests.

“Not literally so,” said Mr. Ratcliffe; “for though I cannot hope to assuage the violent symptoms which seem so suddenly to have seized upon the company, yet I beg to observe, that so far as the opinion of a single member goes, I do not entirely coincide in the list of grievances which has been announced, and that I do utterly protest against the frantic measures which you seem disposed to adopt for removing them. I can easily suppose much of what has been spoken may have arisen out of the heat of the moment, or have been said perhaps in jest. But there are some jests of a nature very apt to transpire; and you ought to remember, gentlemen, that stone-walls have ears.”

“Stone-walls may have ears,” returned Ellieslaw, eyeing him with a look of triumphant malignity, “but domestic spies, Mr. Ratcliffe, will soon find themselves without any, if any such dares to continue his abode in a family where his coming was an unauthorized intrusion, where his conduct has been that of a presumptuous meddler, and from which his exit shall be that of a baffled knave, if he does not know how to take a hint.”

“Mr. Vere,” returned Ratcliffe, with calm contempt, “I am fully aware, that as soon as my presence becomes useless to you, which it must through the rash step you are about to adopt, it will immediately become unsafe to myself, as it has always been hateful to you. But I have one protection, and it is a strong one; for you would not willingly hear me detail before gentlemen, and men of honour, the singular circumstances in which our connexion took its rise. As to the rest, I rejoice at its conclusion; and as I think that Mr. Mareschal and some other gentlemen will guarantee the safety of my ears and of my throat (for which last I have more reason to be apprehensive) during the course of the night, I shall not leave your castle till tomorrow morning.”

“Be it so, sir,” replied Mr. Vere; “you are entirely safe from my resentment, because you are beneath it, and not because I am afraid of your disclosing my family secrets, although, for your own sake, I warn you to beware how you do so. Your agency and intermediation can be of little consequence to one who will win or lose all, as lawful right or unjust usurpation shall succeed in the struggle that is about to ensue. Farewell, sir.”

Ratcliffe arose, and cast upon him a look, which Vere seemed to sustain with difficulty, and, bowing to those around him, left the room.

This conversation made an impression on many of the company, which Ellieslaw hastened to dispel, by entering upon the business of the day. Their hasty deliberations went to organize an immediate insurrection. Ellieslaw, Mareschal, and Sir Frederick Langley were chosen leaders, with powers to direct their farther measures. A place of rendezvous was appointed, at which all agreed to meet early on the ensuing day, with such followers and friends to the cause as each could collect around him. Several of the guests retired to make the necessary preparations; and Ellieslaw made a formal apology to the others, who, with Westburnflat and the old smuggler, continued to ply the bottle stanchly, for leaving the head of the table, as he must necessarily hold a separate and sober conference with the coadjutors whom they had associated with him in the command. The apology was the more readily accepted, as he prayed them, at the same time, to continue to amuse themselves with such refreshments as the cellars of the castle afforded. Shouts of applause followed their retreat; and the names of Vere, Langley, and, above all, of Mareschal, were thundered forth in chorus, and bathed with copious bumpers repeatedly, during the remainder of the evening.

When the principal conspirators had retired into a separate apartment, they gazed on each other for a minute with a sort of embarrassment, which, in Sir Frederick’s dark features, amounted to an expression of discontented sullenness. Mareschal was the first to break the pause, saying, with a loud burst of laughter, —“Well! we are fairly embarked now, gentlemen — vogue la galere!”

“We may thank you for the plunge,” said Ellieslaw.

“Yes; but I don’t know how far you will thank me,” answered Mareschal, “when I show you this letter which I received just before we sat down. My servant told me it was delivered by a man he had never seen before, who went off at the gallop, after charging him to put it into my own hand.”

Ellieslaw impatiently opened the letter, and read aloud —

EDINBURGH,--

Hond. Sir, Having obligations to your family, which shall be nameless, and learning that you are one of the company of, adventurers doing business for the house of James and Company, late merchants in London, now in Dunkirk, I think it right to send you this early and private information, that the vessels you expected have been driven off the coast, without having been able to break bulk, or to land any part of their cargo; and that the west-country partners have resolved to withdraw their name from the firm, as it must prove a losing concern. Having good hope you will avail yourself of this early information, to do what is needful for your own security, I rest your humble servant, Nihil Nameless.

For Ralph Mareschal, of Mareschal-Wells --these with care and speed.

Sir Frederick’s jaw dropped, and his countenance blackened, as the letter was read, and Ellieslaw exclaimed — “Why, this affects the very mainspring of our enterprise. If the French fleet, with the king on board, has been chased off by the English, as this d — d scrawl seems to intimate, where are we?”

“Just where we were this morning, I think,” said Mareschal, still laughing.

“Pardon me, and a truce to your ill-timed mirth, Mr. Mareschal; this morning we were not committed publicly, as we now stand committed by your own mad act, when you had a letter in your pocket apprizing you that our undertaking was desperate.”

“Ay, ay, I expected you would say so. But, in the first place, my friend Nihil Nameless and his letter may be all a flam; and, moreover, I would have you know that I am tired of a party that does nothing but form bold resolutions overnight, and sleep them away with their wine before morning. The government are now unprovided of men and ammunition; in a few weeks they will have enough of both: the country is now in a flame against them; in a few weeks, betwixt the effects of self-interest, of fear, and of lukewarm indifference, which are already so visible, this first fervour will be as cold as Christmas. So, as I was determined to go the vole, I have taken care you shall dip as deep as I; it signifies nothing plunging. You are fairly in the bog, and must struggle through.”

“You are mistaken with respect to one of us, Mr. Mareschal,” said Sir Frederick Langley; and, applying himself to the bell, he desired the person who entered to order his servants and horses instantly.

“You must not leave us, Sir Frederick,” said Ellieslaw; it we have our musters to go over.”

“I will go to-night, Mr. Vere,” said Sir Frederick, “and write you my intentions in this matter when I am at home.”

“Ay,” said Mareschal, “and send them by a troop of horse from Carlisle to make us prisoners? Look ye, Sir Frederick, I for one will neither be deserted nor betrayed; and if you leave Ellieslaw Castle to-night, it shall be by passing over my dead body.”

“For shame! Mareschal,” said Mr. Vere, “how can you so hastily misinterpret our friend’s intentions? I am sure Sir Frederick can only be jesting with us; for, were he not too honourable to dream of deserting the cause, he cannot but remember the full proofs we have of his accession to it, and his eager activity in advancing it. He cannot but be conscious, besides, that the first information will be readily received by government, and that if the question be, which can first lodge intelligence of the affair, we can easily save a few hours on him.”

“You should say you, and not we, when you talk of priorities in such a race of treachery; for my part, I won’t enter my horse for such a plate,” said Mareschal; and added betwixit his teeth, “A pretty pair of fellows to trust a man’s neck with!”

“I am not to be intimidated from doing what I think proper,” said Sir Frederick Langley; “and my first step shall be to leave Ellieslaw. I have no reason to keep faith with one” (looking at Vere) “who has kept none with me.”

“In what respect,” said Ellieslaw, silencing, with a motion of his hand, his impetuous kinsman —“how have I disappointed you, Sir Frederick?”

“In the nearest and most tender point — you have trifled with me concerning our proposed alliance, which you well knew was the gage of our political undertaking. This carrying off and this bringing back of Miss Vere — the cold reception I have met with from her, and the excuses with which you cover it, I believe to be mere evasions, that you may yourself retain possession of the estates which are hers by right, and make me, in the meanwhile, a tool in your desperate enterprise, by holding out hopes and expectations which you are resolved never to realize.”

“Sir Frederick, I protest, by all that is sacred —”

“I will listen to no protestations; I have been cheated with them too long,” answered Sir Frederick.

“If you leave us,” said Ellieslaw, “you cannot but know both your ruin and ours is certain; all depends on our adhering together.”

“Leave me to take care of myself,” returned the knight; “but were what you say true, I would rather perish than be fooled any farther.”

“Can nothing — no surety convince you of my sincerity?” said Ellieslaw, anxiously; “this morning I should have repelled your unjust suspicions as an insult; but situated as we now are —”

“You feel yourself compelled to be sincere?” retorted Sir Frederick. “If you would have me think so, there is but one way to convince me of it — let your daughter bestow her hand on me this evening.”

“So soon? — impossible,” answered Vere; “think of her late alarm — of our present undertaking.”

“I will listen to nothing but to her consent, plighted at the altar. You have a chapel in the castle — Doctor Hobbler is present among the company-this proof of your good faith to-night, and we are again joined in heart and hand. If you refuse me when it is so much for your advantage to consent, how shall I trust you tomorrow, when I shall stand committed in your undertaking, and unable to retract?”

“And I am to understand, that, if you can be made my son-inlaw to-night, our friendship is renewed?” said Ellieslaw.

“Most infallibly, and most inviolably,” replied Sir Frederick.

“Then,” said Vere, “though what you ask is premature, indelicate, and unjust towards my character, yet, Sir Frederick, give me your hand — my daughter shall be your wife.”

“This night?”

“This very night,” replied Ellieslaw, “before the clock strikes twelve.”

“With her own consent, I trust,” said Mareschal; “for I promise you both, gentlemen, I will not stand tamely by, and see any violence put on the will of my pretty kinswoman.”

“Another pest in this hot-headed fellow,” muttered Ellieslaw; and then aloud, “With her own consent? For what do you take me, Mareschal, that you should suppose your interference necessary to protect my daughter against her father? Depend upon it, she has no repugnance to Sir Frederick Langley.”

“Or rather to be called Lady Langley? faith, like enough — there are many women might be of her mind; and I beg your pardon, but these sudden demands and concessions alarmed me a little on her account.”

“It is only the suddenness of the proposal that embarrasses me,” said Ellieslaw; “but perhaps if she is found intractable, Sir Frederick will consider —”

“I will consider nothing, Mr. Vere — your daughter’s hand to-night, or I depart, were it at midnight — there is my ultimatum.”

“I embrace it,” said Ellieslaw; “and I will leave you to talk upon our military preparations, while I go to prepare my daughter for so sudden a change of condition.”

So saying, he left the company.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/black/chapter13.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29