The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 12

—— This is the very barn-yard,

Where muster daily the prime cocks o’ the game,

Ruffle their pinions, crow till they are hoarse,

And spar about a barleycorn. Here too chickens,

The callow, unfledged brood of forward folly,

Learn first to rear the crest, and aim the spur,

And tune their note like full-plumed Chanticleer.

The Bear-Garden.

The Ordinary, now an ignoble sound, was in the days of James, a new institution, as fashionable among the youth of that age as the first-rate modern club-houses are amongst those of the present day. It differed chiefly, in being open to all whom good clothes and good assurance combined to introduce there. The company usually dined together at an hour fixed, and the manager of the establishment presided as master of the ceremonies.

Monsieur le Chevalier, (as he qualified himself,) Saint Priest de Beaujeu, was a sharp, thin Gascon, about sixty years old, banished from his own country, as he said, on account of an affair of honour, in which he had the misfortune to kill his antagonist, though the best swordsman in the south of France. His pretensions to quality were supported by a feathered hat, a long rapier, and a suit of embroidered taffeta, not much the worse for wear, in the extreme fashion of the Parisian court, and fluttering like a Maypole with many knots of ribbon, of which it was computed he bore at least five hundred yards about his person. But, notwithstanding this profusion of decoration, there were many who thought Monsieur le Chevalier so admirably calculated for his present situation, that nature could never have meant to place him an inch above it. It was, however, part of the amusement of the place, for Lord Dalgarno and other young men of quality to treat Monsieur de Beaujeu with a great deal of mock ceremony, which being observed by the herd of more ordinary and simple gulls, they paid him, in clumsy imitation, much real deference. The Gascon’s natural forwardness being much enhanced by these circumstances, he was often guilty of presuming beyond the limits of his situation, and of course had sometimes the mortification to be disagreeably driven back into them.

When Nigel entered the mansion of this eminent person, which had been but of late the residence of a great Baron of Queen Elizabeth’s court, who had retired to his manors in the country on the death of that princess, he was surprised at the extent of the accommodation which it afforded, and the number of guests who were already assembled. Feathers waved, spurs jingled, lace and embroidery glanced everywhere; and at first sight, at least, it certainly made good Lord Dalgarno’s encomium, who represented the company as composed almost entirely of youth of the first quality. A more close review was not quite so favourable. Several individuals might be discovered who were not exactly at their ease in the splendid dresses which they wore, and who, therefore, might be supposed not habitually familiar with such finery. Again, there were others, whose dress, though on a general view it did not seem inferior to that of the rest of the company, displayed, on being observed more closely, some of these petty expedients, by which vanity endeavours to disguise poverty.

Nigel had very little time to make such observations, for the entrance of Lord Dalgarno created an immediate bustle and sensation among the company, as his name passed from one mouth to another. Some stood forward to gaze, others stood back to make way — those of his own rank hastened to welcome him — those of inferior degree endeavoured to catch some point of his gesture, or of his dress, to be worn and practised upon a future occasion, as the newest and most authentic fashion.

The genius loci, the Chevalier himself, was not the last to welcome this prime stay and ornament of his establishment. He came shuffling forward with a hundred apish conges and chers milors, to express his happiness at seeing Lord Dalgarno again. —“I hope you do bring back the sun with you, Milor — You did carry away the sun and moon from your pauvre Chevalier when you leave him for so long. Pardieu, I believe you take them away in your pockets.”

“That must have been because you left me nothing else in them, Chevalier,” answered Lord Dalgarno; but Monsieur le Chevalier, I pray you to know my countryman and friend, Lord Glenvarloch!”

“Ah, ha! tres honore — Je m’en souviens — oui. J’ai connu autrefois un Milor Kenfarloque en Ecosse. Yes, I have memory of him — le pere de milor apparemment-we were vera intimate when I was at Oly Root with Monsieur de la Motte — I did often play at tennis vit Milor Kenfarloque at L’Abbaie d’Oly Root — il etoit meme plus fort que moi — Ah le beaucoup de revers qu’il avoit! — I have memory, too that he was among the pretty girls — ah, un vrai diable dechaine — Aha! I have memory —”

“Better have no more memory of the late Lord Glenvarloch,” said Lord Dalgarno, interrupting the Chevalier without ceremony; who perceived that the encomium which he was about to pass on the deceased was likely to be as disagreeable to the son as it was totally undeserved by the father, who, far from being either a gamester or libertine, as the Chevalier’s reminiscences falsely represented him, was, on the contrary, strict and severe in his course of life, almost to the extent of rigour.

“You have the reason, milor,” answered the Chevalier, “you have the right — Qu’est ce que nous avons a faire avec le temps passe? — the time passed did belong to our fathers — our ancetres — very well — the time present is to us — they have their pretty tombs with their memories and armorials, all in brass and marbre — we have the petits plats exquis, and the soupe-a-Chevalier, which I will cause to mount up immediately.”

So saying, he made a pirouette on his heel, and put his attendants in motion to place dinner on the table. Dalgarno laughed, and, observing his young friend looked grave, said to him, in a tone of reproach-Why, what!-you are not gull enough to be angry with such an ass as that?”

“I keep my anger, I trust, for better purposes,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “but I confess I was moved to hear such a fellow mention my father’s name — and you, too, who told me this was no gaming-house, talked to him of having left it with emptied pockets.”

“Pshaw, man!” said Lord Dalgarno, “I spoke but according to the trick of the time; besides, a man must set a piece or two sometimes, or he would be held a cullionly niggard. But here comes dinner, and we will see whether you like the Chevalier’s good cheer better than his conversation.”

Dinner was announced accordingly, and the two friends, being seated in the most honourable station at the board, were ceremoniously attended to by the Chevalier, who did the honours of his table to them and to the other guests, and seasoned the whole with his agreeable conversation. The dinner was really excellent, in that piquant style of cookery which the French had already introduced, and which the home-bred young men of England, when they aspired to the rank of connoisseurs and persons of taste, were under the necessity of admiring. The wine was also of the first quality, and circulated in great variety, and no less abundance. The conversation among so many young men was, of course, light, lively, and amusing; and Nigel, whose mind had been long depressed by anxiety and misfortune, naturally found himself at ease, and his spirits raised and animated.

Some of the company had real wit, and could use it both politely and to advantage; others were coxcombs, and were laughed at without discovering it; and, again, others were originals, who seemed to have no objection that the company should be amused with their folly instead of their wit. And almost all the rest who played any prominent part in the conversation had either the real tone of good society which belonged to the period, or the jargon which often passes current for it.

In short, the company and conversation was so agreeable, that Nigel’s rigour was softened by it, even towards the master of ceremonies, and he listened with patience to various details which the Chevalier de Beaujeu, seeing, as he said, that Milor’s taste lay for the “curieux and Futile,” chose to address to him in particular, on the subject of cookery. To gratify, at the same time, the taste for antiquity, which he somehow supposed that his new guest possessed, he launched out in commendation of the great artists of former days, particularly one whom he had known in his youth, “Maitre de Cuisine to the Marechal Strozzi — tres bon gentilhomme pourtant;” who had maintained his master’s table with twelve covers every day during the long and severe blockade of le petit Leyth, although he had nothing better to place on it than the quarter of a carrion-horse now and then, and the grass and weeds that grew on the ramparts. “Despardieux c’dtoit un homme superbe! With one tistle-head, and a nettle or two, he could make a soupe for twenty guests — an haunch of a little puppy-dog made a roti des plus excellens; but his coupe de maitre was when the rendition — what you call the surrender, took place and appened; and then, dieu me damme, he made out of the hind quarter of one salted horse, forty-five couverts; that the English and Scottish officers and nobility, who had the honour to dine with Monseigneur upon the rendition, could not tell what the devil any of them were made upon at all.

The good wine had by this time gone so merrily round, and had such genial effect on the guests, that those of the lower end of the table, who had hitherto been listeners, began, not greatly to their own credit, or that of the ordinary, to make innovations.

“You speak of the siege of Leith,” said a tall, raw-boned man, with thick mustaches turned up with a military twist, a broad buff belt, a long rapier, and other outward symbols of the honoured profession, which lives by killing other people —“you talk of the siege of Leith, and I have seen the place — a pretty kind of a hamlet it is, with a plain wall, or rampart, and a pigeon-house or so of a tower at every angle. Uds daggers and scabbards, if a leaguer of our days had been twenty-four hours, not to say so many months, before it, without carrying the place and all its cocklofts, one after another, by pure storm, they would have deserved no better grace than the Provost-Marshal gives when his noose is reeved.”

“Saar,” said the Chevalier, “Monsieur le Capitaine, I vas not at the siege of the petit Leyth, and I know not what you say about the cockloft; but I will say for Monseigneur de Strozzi, that he understood the grande guerre, and was grand capitaine — plus grand — that is more great, it may be, than some of the capitaines of Angleterre, who do speak very loud — tenez, Monsieur, car c’est a vous!”

“O Monsieur.” answered the swordsman, “we know the Frenchman will fight well behind his barrier of stone, or when he is armed with back, breast, and pot.”

“Pot!” exclaimed the Chevalier, “what do you mean by pot — do you mean to insult me among my noble guests? Saar, I have done my duty as a pauvre gentilhomme under the Grand Henri Quatre, both at Courtrai and Yvry, and, ventre saint gris! we had neither pot nor marmite, but did always charge in our shirt.”

“Which refutes another base scandal,” said Lord Dalgarno, laughing, “alleging that linen was scarce among the French gentlemen-at-arms.”

“Gentlemen out at arms and elbows both, you mean, my lord,” said the captain, from the bottom of the table.” Craving your lordship’s pardon, I do know something of these same gens-d’armes.”

“We will spare your knowledge at present, captain, and save your modesty at the same time the trouble of telling us how that knowledge was acquired,” answered Lord Dalgarno, rather contemptuously.

“I need not speak of it, my lord,” said the man of war; “the world knows it — all perhaps, but the men of mohair — the poor sneaking citizens of London, who would see a man of valour eat his very hilts for hunger, ere they would draw a farthing from their long purses to relieve them. O, if a band of the honest fellows I have seen were once to come near that cuckoo’s nest of theirs!”

“A cuckoo’s nest!-and that said of the city of London!” said a gallant who sat on the opposite side of the table, and who, wearing a splendid and fashionable dress, seemed yet scarce at home in it —“I will not brook to hear that repeated.”

“What!” said the soldier, bending a most terrific frown from a pair of broad black eyebrows, handling the hilt of his weapon with one hand, and twirling with the other his huge mustaches; “will you quarrel for your city?”

“Ay, marry will I,” replied the other. “I am a citizen, I care not who knows it; and he who shall speak a word in dispraise of the city, is an ass and a peremptory gull, and I will break his pate, to teach him sense and manners.”

The company, who probably had their reasons for not valuing the captain’s courage at the high rate which he himself put upon it, were much entertained at the manner in which the quarrel was taken up by the indignant citizen; and they exclaimed on all sides, “Well run, Bow-bell!”—“Well crowed, the cock of Saint Paul’s!”—“Sound a charge there, or the soldier will mistake his signals, and retreat when he should advance.”

“You mistake me, gentlemen,” said the captain, looking round with an air of dignity. “I will but inquire whether this cavaliero citizen is of rank and degree fitted to measure swords with a man of action; (for, conceive me, gentlemen, it is not with every one that I can match myself without loss of reputation;) and in that case he shall soon hear from me honourably, by way of cartel.”

“You shall feel me most dishonourably in the way of cudgel,” said the citizen, starting up, and taking his sword, which he had laid in a corner. “Follow me.”

“It is my right to name the place of combat, by all the rules of the sword,” said the captain; “and I do nominate the Maze, in Tothill-Fields, for place — two gentlemen, who shall be indifferent judges, for witnesses; — and for time — let me say this day fortnight, at daybreak.”

“And I,” said the citizen, “do nominate the bowling-alley behind the house for place, the present good company for witnesses, and for time the present moment.”

So saying, he cast on his beaver, struck the soldier across the shoulders with his sheathed sword, and ran down stairs. The captain showed no instant alacrity to follow him; yet, at last, roused by the laugh and sneer around him, he assured the company, that what he did he would do deliberately, and, assuming his hat, which he put on with the air of Ancient Pistol, he descended the stairs to the place of combat, where his more prompt adversary was already stationed, with his sword unsheathed. Of the company, all of whom seemed highly delighted with the approaching fray, some ran to the windows which overlooked the bowling-alley, and others followed the combatants down stairs. Nigel could not help asking Dalgarno whether he would not interfere to prevent mischief.

“It would be a crime against the public interest,” answered his friend; “there can no mischief happen between two such originals, which will not be a positive benefit to society, and particularly to the Chevalier’s establishment, as he calls it. I have been as sick of that captain’s buff belt, and red doublet, for this month past, as e’er I was of aught; and now I hope this bold linendraper will cudgel the ass out of that filthy lion’s hide. See, Nigel, see the gallant citizen has ta’en his ground about a bowl’s-cast forward, in the midst of the alley — the very model of a hog in armour. Behold how he prances with his manly foot, and brandishes his blade, much as if he were about to measure forth cambric with it. See, they bring on the reluctant soldado, and plant him opposite to his fiery antagonist, twelve paces still dividing them — Lo, the captain draws his tool, but, like a good general, looks over his shoulder to secure his retreat, in case the worse come on’t. Behold the valiant shop-keeper stoops his head, confident, doubtless, in the civic helmet with which his spouse has fortified his skull — Why, this is the rarest of sport. By Heaven, he will run a tilt at him, like a ram.”

It was even as Lord Dalgarno had anticipated; for the citizen, who seemed quite serious in his zeal for combat, perceiving that the man of war did not advance towards him, rushed onwards with as much good fortune as courage, beat down the captain’s guard, and, pressing on, thrust, as it seemed, his sword clear through the body of his antagonist, who, with a deep groan, measured his length on the ground. A score of voices cried to the conqueror, as he stood fixed in astonishment at his own feat, “Away, away with you! — fly, fly — fly by the back door! — get into the Whitefriars, or cross the water to the Bankside, while we keep off the mob and the constables.” And the conqueror, leaving his vanquished foeman on the ground, fled accordingly, with all speed.

“By Heaven,” said Lord Dalgarno, “I could never have believed that the fellow would have stood to receive a thrust — he has certainly been arrested by positive terror, and lost the use of his limbs. See, they are raising him.”

Stiff and stark seemed the corpse of the swordsman, as one or two of the guests raised him from the ground; but, when they began to open his waistcoat to search for the wound which nowhere existed, the man of war collected, his scattered spirits; and, conscious that the ordinary was no longer a stage on which to display his valour, took to his heels as fast as he could run, pursued by the laughter and shouts of the company.

“By my honour,” said Lord Dalgarno, “he takes the same course with his conqueror. I trust in heaven he will overtake him, and then the valiant citizen will suppose himself haunted by the ghost of him he has slain.”

“Despardieux, milor,” said the Chevalier, “if he had stayed one moment, he should have had a torchon — what you call a dishclout, pinned to him for a piece of shroud, to show he be de ghost of one grand fanfaron.”

“In the meanwhile,” said Lord Dalgarno, “you will oblige us, Monsieur le Chevalier, as well as maintain your own honoured reputation, by letting your drawers receive the man-at-arms with a cudgel, in case he should venture to come way again.”

“Ventre saint gris, milor,” said the Chevalier, “leave that to me. — Begar, the maid shall throw the wash-sud upon the grand poltron!”

When they had laughed sufficiently at this ludicrous occurrence, the party began to divide themselves into little knots — some took possession of the alley, late the scene of combat, and put the field to its proper use of a bowling-ground, and it soon resounded with all the terms of the game, as “run, run-rub, rub — hold bias, you infernal trundling timber!” thus making good the saying, that three things are thrown away in a bowling-green, namely, time, money, and oaths. In the house, many of the gentlemen betook themselves to cards or dice, and parties were formed at Ombre, at Basset, at Gleek, at Primero, and other games then in fashion; while the dice were used at various games, both with and without the tables, as Hazard, In-and-in, Passage, and so forth. The play, however, did not appear to be extravagantly deep; it was certainly conducted with great decorum and fairness; nor did there appear any thing to lead the young Scotsman in the least to doubt his companion’s assurance, that the place was frequented by men of rank and quality, and that the recreations they adopted were conducted upon honourable principles.

Lord Dalgarno neither had proposed play to his friend, nor joined in the amusement himself, but sauntered from one table to another, remarking the luck of the different players, as well as their capacity to avail themselves of it, and exchanging conversation with the highest and most respectable of the guests. At length, as if tired of what in modern phrase would have been termed lounging, he suddenly remembered that Burbage was to act Shakespeare’s King Richard, at the Fortune, that afternoon, and that he could not give a stranger in London, like Lord Glenvarloch, a higher entertainment than to carry him to that exhibition; “unless, indeed,” he added, in a whisper, “there is paternal interdiction of the theatre as well as of the ordinary.”

“I never heard my father speak of stage-plays,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “for they are shows of a modern date, and unknown in Scotland. Yet, if what I have heard to their prejudice be true, I doubt much whether he would have approved of them.”

“Approved of them!” exclaimed Lord Dalgarno —“why, George Buchanan wrote tragedies, and his pupil, learned and wise as himself, goes to see them, so it is next door to treason to abstain; and the cleverest men in England write for the stage, and the prettiest women in London resort to the playhouses, and I have a brace of nags at the door which will carry us along the streets like wild-fire, and the ride will digest our venison and ortolans, and dissipate the fumes of the wine, and so let’s to horse — Godd’en to you, gentlemen — Godd’en, Chevalier de la Fortune.”

Lord Dalgarno’s grooms were in attendance with two horses, and the young men mounted, the proprietor upon a favourite barb, and Nigel upon a high-dressed jennet, scarce less beautiful. As they rode towards the theatre, Lord Dalgarno endeavoured to discover his friend’s opinion of the company to which he had introduced him, and to combat the exceptions which he might suppose him to have taken. “And wherefore lookest thou sad,” he said, “my pensive neophyte? Sage son of the Alma Mater of Low-Dutch learning, what aileth thee? Is the leaf of the living world which we have turned over in company, less fairly written than thou hadst been taught to expect? Be comforted, and pass over one little blot or two; thou wilt be doomed to read through many a page, as black as Infamy, with her sooty pinion, can make them. Remember, most immaculate Nigel, that we are in London, not Leyden — that we are studying life, not lore. Stand buff against the reproach of thine over-tender conscience, man, and when thou summest up, like a good arithmetician, the actions of the day, before you balance the account on your pillow, tell the accusing spirit, to his brimstone beard, that if thine ears have heard the clatter of the devil’s bones, thy hand hath not trowled them — that if thine eye hath seen the brawling of two angry boys, thy blade hath not been bared in their fray.”

“Now, all this may be wise and witty,” replied Nigel; “yet I own I cannot think but that your lordship, and other men of good quality with whom we dined, might have chosen a place of meeting free from the intrusion of bullies, and a better master of your ceremonial than yonder foreign adventurer.”

“All shall be amended, Sancte Nigelle, when thou shalt come forth a new Peter the Hermit, to preach a crusade against dicing, drabbing, and company-keeping. We will meet for dinner in Saint Sepulchre’s Church; we will dine in the chancel, drink our flask in the vestry, the parson shall draw every cork, and the clerk say amen to every health. Come man, cheer up, and get rid of this sour and unsocial humour. Credit me, that the Puritans who object to us the follies and the frailties incident to human nature, have themselves the vices of absolute devils, privy malice and backbiting hypocrisy, and spiritual pride in all its presumption. There is much, too’ in life which we must see, were it only to learn to shun it. Will Shakespeare, who lives after death, and who is presently to afford thee such pleasure as none but himself can confer, has described the gallant Falconbridge as calling that man

——’ a bastard to the time,

That doth not smack of observation;

Which, though I will not practise to deceive,

Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn.”

But here we are at the door of the Fortune, where we shall have matchless Will speaking for himself. — Goblin, and you other lout, leave the horses to the grooms, and make way for us through the press.”

They dismounted, and the assiduous efforts of Lutin, elbowing, bullying, and proclaiming his master’s name and title, made way through a crowd of murmuring citizens, and clamorous apprentices, to the door, where Lord Dalgarno speedily procured a brace of stools upon the stage for his companion and himself, where, seated among other gallants of the same class, they had an opportunity of displaying their fair dresses and fashionable manners, while they criticised the piece during its progress; thus forming, at the same time, a conspicuous part of the spectacle, and an important proportion of the audience.

Nigel Olifaunt was too eagerly and deeply absorbed in the interest of the scene, to be capable of playing his part as became the place where he was seated. He felt all the magic of that sorcerer, who had displayed, within the paltry circle of a wooden booth, the long wars of York and Lancaster, compelling the heroes of either line to stalk across the scene in language and fashion as they lived, as if the grave had given up the dead for the amusement and instruction of the living. Burbage, esteemed the best Richard until Garrick arose, played the tyrant and usurper with such truth and liveliness, that when the Battle of Bosworth seemed concluded by his death, the ideas of reality and deception were strongly contending in Lord Glenvarloch’s imagination, and it required him to rouse himself from his reverie, so strange did the proposal at first sound when his companion declared King Richard should sup with them at the Mermaid.

They were joined, at the same time, by a small party of the gentlemen with whom they had dined, which they recruited by inviting two or three of the most accomplished wits and poets, who seldom failed to attend the Fortune Theatre, and were even but too ready to conclude a day of amusement with a night of pleasure. Thither the whole party adjourned, and betwixt fertile cups of sack, excited spirits, and the emulous wit of their lively companions, seemed to realise the joyous boast of one of Ben Jonson’s contemporaries, when reminding the bard of

“Those lyric feasts,

Where men such clusters had,

As made them nobly wild, not mad;

While yet each verse of thine

Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/nigel/chapter12.html

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