The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 15

Twas when fleet Snowball’s head was woxen grey,

A luckless lev’ret met him on his way. —

Who knows not Snowball — he, whose race renown’d

Is still victorious on each coursing ground?

Swaffhanm Newmarket, and the Roman Camp,

Have seen them victors o’er each meaner stamp —

In vain the youngling sought, with doubling wile,

The hedge, the hill, the thicket, or the stile.

Experience sage the lack of speed supplied,

And in the gap he sought, the victim died.

So was I once, in thy fair street, Saint James,

Through walking cavaliers, and car-borne dames,

Descried, pursued, turn’d o’er again, and o’er,

Coursed, coted, mouth’d by an unfeeling bore.

&c. &c. &c,

The Park of Saint James’s, though enlarged, planted with verdant alleys, and otherwise decorated by Charles II., existed in the days of his grandfather, as a public and pleasant promenade; and, for the sake of exercise or pastime, was much frequented by the better classes.

Lord Glenvarloch repaired thither to dispel the unpleasant reflections which had been suggested by his parting with his trusty squire, Richie Moniplies, in a manner which was agreeable neither to his pride nor his feelings; and by the corroboration which the hints of his late attendant had received from the anonymous letter mentioned in the end of the last chapter.

There was a considerable number of company in the Park when he entered it, but, his present state of mind inducing him to avoid society, he kept aloof from the more frequented walks towards Westminster and Whitehall, and drew to the north, or, as we should now say, the Piccadilly verge of the enclosure, believing he might there enjoy, or rather combat, his own thoughts unmolested.

In this, however, Lord Glenvarloch was mistaken; for, as he strolled slowly along with his arms folded in his cloak, and his hat drawn over his eyes, he was suddenly pounced upon by Sir Mungo Malagrowther, who, either shunning or shunned, had retreated, or had been obliged to retreat, to the same less frequented corner of the Park.

Nigel started when he heard the high, sharp, and querulous tones of the knight’s cracked voice, and was no less alarmed when he beheld his tall thin figure hobbling towards him, wrapped in a thread-bare cloak, on whose surface ten thousand varied stains eclipsed the original scarlet, and having his head surmounted with a well-worn beaver, bearing a black velvet band for a chain, and a capon’s feather for an ostrich plume.

Lord Glenvarloch would fain have made his escape, but, as our motto intimates, a leveret had as little chance to free herself of an experienced greyhound. Sir Mungo, to continue the simile, had long ago learned to run cunning, and make sure of mouthing his game. So Nigel found himself compelled to stand and answer the hackneyed question — “What news to-day?”

“Nothing extraordinary, I believe,” answered the young nobleman, attempting to pass on.

“O, ye are ganging to the French ordinary belive,” replied the knight; “but it is early day yet — we will take a turn in the Park in the meanwhile — it will sharpen your appetite.”

So saying, he quietly slipped his arm under Lord Glenvarloch’s, in spite of all the decent reluctance which his victim could exhibit, by keeping his elbow close to his side; and having fairly grappled the prize, he proceeded to take it in tow.

Nigel was sullen and silent, in hopes to shake off his unpleasant companion; but Sir Mungo was determined, that if he did not speak, he should at least hear.

“Ye are bound for the ordinary, my lord?” said the cynic; —“weel, ye canna do better — there is choice company there, and peculiarly selected, as I am tauld, being, dootless, sic as it is desirable that young noblemen should herd withal — and your noble father wad have been blithe to see you keeping such worshipful society.”

“I believe,” said Lord Glenvarloch, thinking himself obliged to say something, “that the society is as good as generally can be found in such places, where the door can scarcely be shut against those who come to spend their money.”

“Right, my lord — vera right,” said his tormentor, bursting out into a chuckling, but most discordant laugh. “These citizen chuffs and clowns will press in amongst us, when there is but an inch of a door open. And what remedy? — Just e’en this, that as their cash gies them confidence, we should strip them of it. Flay them, my lord — singe them as the kitchen wench does the rats, and then they winna long to come back again. — Ay, ay — pluck them, plume them — and then the larded capons will not be for flying so high a wing, my lord, among the goss-hawks and sparrow-hawks, and the like.”

And, therewithal, Sir Mungo fixed on Nigel his quick, sharp, grey eye, watching the effect of his sarcasm as keenly as the surgeon, in a delicate operation, remarks the progress of his anatomical scalpel.

Nigel, however willing to conceal his sensations, could not avoid gratifying his tormentor by wincing under the operation. He coloured with vexation and anger; but a quarrel with Sir Mungo Malagrowther would, he felt, be unutterably ridiculous; and he only muttered to himself the words, “Impertinent coxcomb!” which, on this occasion, Sir Mungo’s imperfection of organ did not prevent him from hearing and replying to.

“Ay, ay — vera true,” exclaimed the caustic old courtier —“Impertinent coxcombs they are, that thus intrude themselves on the society of their betters; but your lordship kens how to gar them as gude — ye have the trick on’t. — They had a braw sport in the presence last Friday, how ye suld have routed a young shopkeeper, horse and foot, ta’en his spolia ofima, and a’ the specie he had about him, down to the very silver buttons of his cloak, and sent him to graze with Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Muckle honour redounded to your lordship thereby. — We were tauld the loon threw himsell into the Thames in a fit of desperation. There’s enow of them behind — there was mair tint on Flodden-edge.”

“You have been told a budget of lies, so far as I am concerned, Sir Mungo,” said Nigel, speaking loud and sternly.

“Vera likely — vera likely,” said the unabashed and undismayed Sir Mungo; “naething but lies are current in the circle. — So the chield is not drowned, then? — the mair’s the pity. — But I never believed that part of the story — a London dealer has mair wit in his anger. I dare swear the lad has a bonny broom-shank in his hand by this time, and is scrubbing the kennels in quest after rusty nails, to help him to begin his pack again. — He has three bairns, they say; they will help him bravely to grope in the gutters. Your good lordship may have the ruining of him again, my lord, if they have any luck in strand-scouring.”

“This is more than intolerable,” said Nigel, uncertain whether to make an angry vindication of his character, or to fling the old tormentor from his arm. But an instant’s recollection convinced him, that, to do either, would only give an air of truth and consistency to the scandals which he began to see were affecting his character, both in the higher and lower circles. Hastily, therefore, he formed the wiser resolution, to endure Sir Mungo’s studied impertinence, under the hope of ascertaining, if possible, from what source those reports arose which were so prejudicial to his reputation.

Sir Mungo, in the meanwhile, caught up, as usual, Nigel’s last words, or rather the sound of them, and amplified and interpreted them in his own way. “Tolerable luck!” he repeated; “yes, truly, my lord, I am told that you have tolerable luck, and that ye ken weel how to use that jilting quean, Dame Fortune, like a canny douce lad, willing to warm yourself in her smiles, without exposing yourself to her frowns. And that is what I ca’ having luck in a bag.”

“Sir Mungo Malagrowther,” said Lord Glenvarloch, turning towards him seriously, “have the goodness to hear me for a moment.”

“As weel as I can, my lord — as weel as I can,” said Sir Mungo, shaking his head, and pointing the finger of his left hand to his ear.

“I will try to speak very distinctly,” said Nigel, arming himself with patience. “You take me for a noted gamester; I give you my word that you have not been rightly informed — I am none such. You owe me some explanation, at least, respecting the source from which you have derived such false information.”

“I never heard ye were a great gamester, and never thought or said ye were such, my lord,” said Sir Mungo, who found it impossible to avoid hearing what Nigel said with peculiarly deliberate and distinct pronunciation.” I repeat it — I never heard, said, or thought that you were a ruffling gamester — such as they call those of the first head. — Look you, my lord, I call him a gamester, that plays with equal stakes and equal skill, and stands by the fortune of the game, good or bad; and I call him a ruffling gamester, or ane of the first head, who ventures frankly and deeply upon such a wager. But he, my lord, who has the patience and prudence never to venture beyond small game, such as, at most, might crack the Christmas-box of a grocer’s ‘prentice, who vies with those that have little to hazard, and who therefore, having the larger stock, can always rook them by waiting for his good fortune, and by rising from the game when luck leaves him — such a one as he, my lord, I do not call a great gamester, to whatever other name he may be entitled.”

“And such a mean-spirited, sordid wretch, you would infer that I am,” replied Lord Glenvarloch; “one who fears the skilful, and preys upon the ignorant — who avoids playing with his equals, that he may make sure of pillaging his inferiors? — Is this what I am to understand has been reported of me?”

“Nay, my lord, you will gain nought by speaking big with me,” said Sir Mungo, who, besides that his sarcastic humour was really supported by a good fund of animal courage, had also full reliance on the immunities which he had derived from the broadsword of Sir Rullion Rattray, and the baton of the satellites employed by the Lady Cockpen. “And for the truth of the matter,” he continued, “your lordship best knows whether you ever lost more than five pieces at a time since you frequented Beaujeu’s — whether you have not most commonly risen a winner — and whether the brave young gallants who frequent the ordinary — I mean those of noble rank, and means conforming — are in use to play upon those terms?”

“My father was right,” said Lord Glenvarloch, in the bitterness of his spirit; “and his curse justly followed me when I first entered that place. There is contamination in the air, and he whose fortune avoids ruin, shall be blighted in his honour and reputation.”

Sir Mungo, who watched his victim with the delighted yet wary eye of an experienced angler, became now aware, that if he strained the line on him too tightly, there was every risk of his breaking hold. In order to give him room, therefore, to play, he protested that Lord Glenvarloch “should not take his free speech in malam partem. If you were a trifle ower sicker in your amusement, my lord, it canna be denied that it is the safest course to prevent farther endangerment of your somewhat dilapidated fortunes; and if ye play with your inferiors, ye are relieved of the pain of pouching the siller of your friends and equals; forby, that the plebeian knaves have had the advantage, tecum certasse, as Ajax Telamon sayeth, apud Metamorphoseos; and for the like of them to have played with ane Scottish nobleman is an honest and honourable consideration to compensate the loss of their stake, whilk, I dare say, moreover, maist of the churls can weel afford.”

“Be that as it may, Sir Mungo,” said Nigel, “I would fain know —”

“Ay, ay,” interrupted Sir Mungo; “and, as you say, who cares whether the fat bulls of Bashan can spare it or no? gentlemen are not to limit their sport for the like of them.”

“I wish to know, Sir Mungo,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “in what company you have learned these offensive particulars respecting me?”

“Dootless — dootless, my lord,” said Sir Mungo; “I have ever heard, and have ever reported, that your lordship kept the best of company in a private way. — There is the fine Countess of Blackchester, but I think she stirs not much abroad since her affair with his Grace of Buckingham; and there is the gude auld-fashioned Scottish nobleman, Lord Huntinglen, an undeniable man of quality — it is pity but he could keep caup and can frae his head, whilk now and then doth’minish his reputation. And there is the gay young Lord Dalgarno, that carries the craft of gray hairs under his curled love-locks — a fair race they are, father, daughter, and son, all of the same honourable family. I think we needna speak of George Heriot, honest man, when we have nobility in question. So that is the company I have heard of your keeping, my lord, out-taken those of the ordinary.”

“My company has not, indeed, been much more extended than amongst those you mention,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “but in short —”

“To Court?” said Sir Mungo, “that was just what I was going to say — Lord Dalgarno says he cannot prevail on ye to come to Court, and that does ye prejudice, my lord — the king hears of you by others, when he should see you in person — I speak in serious friendship, my lord. His Majesty, when you were named in the circle short while since, was heard to say, ’Jacta est alea! — Glenvarlochides is turned dicer and drinker.’— My Lord Dalgarno took your part, and he was e’en borne down by the popular voice of the courtiers, who spoke of you as one who had betaken yourself to living a town life, and risking your baron’s coronet amongst the flatcaps of the city.”

“And this was publicly spoken of me,” said Nigel, “and in the king’s presence?”

“Spoken openly?” repeated Sir Mungo Malagrowther; “ay, by my troth was it — that is to say, it was whispered privately — whilk is as open promulgation as the thing permitted; for ye may think the Court is not like a place where men are as sib as Simmie and his brother, and roar out their minds as if they were at an ordinary.”

“A curse on the Court and the ordinary both!” cried Nigel, impatiently.

“With all my heart,” said the knight; “I have got little by a knight’s service in the Court; and the last time I was at the ordinary, I lost four angels.”

“May I pray of you, Sir Mungo, to let me know,” said Nigel, “the names of those who thus make free with the character of one who can be but little known to them, and who never injured any of them?”

“Have I not told you already,” answered Sir Mungo, “that the king said something to that effect — so did the Prince too; — and such being the case, ye may take it on your corporal oath, that every man in the circle who was not silent, sung the same song as they did.”

“You said but now,” replied Glenvarloch, “that Lord Dalgarno interfered in my behalf.”

“In good troth did he,” answered Sir Mungo, with a sneer; “but the young nobleman was soon borne down — by token, he had something of a catarrh, and spoke as hoarse as a roopit raven. Poor gentleman, if he had had his full extent of voice, he would have been as well listened to, dootless, as in a cause of his ain, whilk no man kens better how to plead to purpose. — And let me ask you, by the way,” continued Sir Mungo, “whether Lord Dalgarno has ever introduced your lordship to the Prince, or the Duke of Buckingham, either of whom might soon carry through your suit?”

“I have no claim on the favour of either the Prince or the Duke of Buckingham,” said Lord Glenvarloch. —“As you seem to have made my affairs your study, Sir Mungo, although perhaps something unnecessarily, you may have heard that I have petitioned my Sovereign for payment of a debt due to my family. I cannot doubt the king’s desire to do justice, nor can I in decency employ the solicitation of his Highness the Prince, or his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, to obtain from his Majesty what either should be granted me as a right, or refused altogether.”

Sir Mungo twisted his whimsical features into one of his most grotesque sneers, as he replied —

“It is a vera clear and parspicuous position of the case, my lord; and in relying thereupon, you show an absolute and unimprovable acquaintance with the King, Court, and mankind in general.-But whom have we got here? — Stand up, my lord, and make way — by my word of honour, they are the very men we spoke of — talk of the devil, and — humph!”

It must be here premised, that, during the conversation, Lord Glenvarloch, perhaps in the hope of shaking himself free of Sir Mungo, had directed their walk towards the more frequented part of the Park; while the good knight had stuck to him, being totally indifferent which way they went, provided he could keep his talons clutched upon his companion. They were still, however, at some distance from the livelier part of the scene, when Sir Mungo’s experienced eye noticed the appearances which occasioned the latter part of his speech to Lord Glenvarloch. A low respectful murmur arose among the numerous groups of persons which occupied the lower part of the Park. They first clustered together, with their faces turned towards Whitehall, then fell back on either hand to give place to a splendid party of gallants, who, advancing from the Palace, came onward through the Park; all the other company drawing off the pathway, and standing uncovered as they passed.

Most of these courtly gallants were dressed in the garb which the pencil of Vandyke has made familiar even at the distance of nearly two centuries; and which was just at this period beginning to supersede the more fluttering and frivolous dress which had been adopted from the French Court of Henri Quatre.

The whole train were uncovered excepting the Prince of Wales, afterwards the most unfortunate of British monarchs, who came onward, having his long curled auburn tresses, and his countenance, which, even in early youth, bore a shade of anticipated melancholy, shaded by the Spanish hat and the single ostrich feather which drooped from it. On his right hand was Buckingham, whose commanding, and at the same time graceful, deportment, threw almost into shade the personal demeanour and majesty of the Prince on whom he attended. The eye, movements, and gestures of the great courtier were so composed, so regularly observant of all etiquette belonging to his situation, as to form a marked and strong contrast with the forward gaiety and frivolity by which he recommended himself to the favour of his “dear dad and gossip,” King James. A singular fate attended this accomplished courtier, in being at once the reigning favourite of a father and son so very opposite in manners, that, to ingratiate himself with the youthful Prince, he was obliged to compress within the strictest limits of respectful observance the frolicsome and free humour which captivated his aged father.

It is true, Buckingham well knew the different dispositions both of James and Charles, and had no difficulty in so conducting himself as to maintain the highest post in the favour of both. It has indeed been supposed, as we before hinted, that the duke, when he had completely possessed himself of the affections of Charles, retained his hold in those of the father only by the tyranny of custom; and that James, could he have brought himself to form a vigorous resolution, was, in the latter years of his life especially, not unlikely to have discarded Buckingham from his counsels and favour. But if ever the king indeed meditated such a change, he was too timid, and too much accustomed to the influence which the duke had long exercised over him, to summon up resolution enough for effecting such a purpose; and at all events it is certain, that Buckingham, though surviving the master by whom he was raised, had the rare chance to experience no wane of the most splendid court-favour during two reigns, until it was at once eclipsed in his blood by the dagger of his assassin Felton.

To return from this digression: The Prince, with his train, advanced, and were near the place where Lord Glenvarloch and Sir Mungo had stood aside, according to form, in order to give the Prince passage, and to pay the usual marks of respect. Nigel could now remark that Lord Dalgarno walked close behind the Duke of Buckingham, and, as he thought, whispered something in his ear as they came onward. At any rate, both the Prince’s and Duke of Buckingham’s attention seemed to be directed by such circumstance towards Nigel, for they turned their heads in that direction and looked at him attentively — the Prince with a countenance, the grave, melancholy expression of which was blended with severity; while Buckingham’s looks evinced some degree of scornful triumph. Lord Dalgarno did not seem to observe his friend, perhaps because the sunbeams fell from the side of the walk on which Nigel stood, obliging Malcolm to hold up his hat to screen his eyes.

As the Prince passed, Lord Glenvarloch and Sir Mungo bowed, as respect required; and the Prince, returning their obeisance with that grave ceremony which paid to every rank its due, but not a tittle beyond it, signed to Sir Mungo to come forward. Commencing an apology for his lameness as he started, which he had just completed as his hobbling gait brought him up to the Prince, Sir Mungo lent an attentive, and, as it seemed, an intelligent ear, to questions, asked in a tone so low, that the knight would certainly have been deaf to them had they been put to him by any one under the rank of Prince of Wales. After about a minute’s conversation, the Prince bestowed on Nigel the embarrassing notice of another fixed look, touched his hat slightly to Sir Mungo, and walked on.

“It is even as I suspected, my lord,” said Sir Mungo, with an air which he designed to be melancholy and sympathetic, but which, in fact, resembled the grin of an ape when he has mouthed a scalding chestnut —“Ye have back-friends, my lord, that is, unfriends — or, to be plain, enemies — about the person of the Prince.”

“I am sorry to hear it,” said Nigel; “but I would I knew what they accuse me of.”

“Ye shall hear, my lord,” said Sir Mungo, “the Prince’s vera words — ‘Sir Mungo,’ said he, ‘I rejoice to see you, and am glad your rheumatic troubles permit you to come hither for exercise.’— I bowed, as in duty bound — ye might remark, my lord, that I did so, whilk formed the first branch of our conversation. — His Highness then demanded of me, ‘if he with whom I stood, was the young Lord Glenvarloch.’ I answered, ‘that you were such, for his Highness’s service;’ whilk was the second branch. — Thirdly, his Highness, resuming the argument, said, that ‘truly he had been told so,’ (meaning that he had been told you were that personage,) ‘but that he could not believe, that the heir of that noble and decayed house could be leading an idle, scandalous, and precarious life, in the eating- houses and taverns of London, while the king’s drums were beating, and colours flying in Germany in the cause of the Palatine, his son-in-law.’— I could, your lordship is aware, do nothing but make an obeisance; and a gracious ‘Give ye good-day, Sir Mungo Malagrowther,’ licensed me to fall back to your lordship. And now, my lord, if your business or pleasure calls you to the ordinary, or anywhere in the direction of the city — why, have with you; for, dootless, ye will think ye have tarried lang enough in the Park, as they will likely turn at the head of the walk, and return this way — and you have a broad hint, I think, not to cross the Prince’s presence in a hurry.”

You may stay or go as you please, Sir Mungo,” said Nigel, with an expression of calm, but deep resentment; “but, for my own part, my resolution is taken. I will quit this public walk for pleasure of no man — still less will I quit it like one unworthy to be seen in places of public resort. I trust that the Prince and his retinue will return this way as you expect; for I will abide, Sir Mungo, and beard them.”

“Beard them!” exclaimed Sir Mungo, in the extremity of surprise — “Beard the Prince of Wales — the heir-apparent of the kingdoms! — By my saul, you shall beard him yourself then.”

Accordingly, he was about to leave Nigel very hastily, when some unwonted touch of good-natured interest in his youth and experience, seemed suddenly to soften his habitual cynicism.

“The devil is in me for an auld fule!” said Sir Mungo; “but I must needs concern mysell — I that owe so little either to fortune or my fellow-creatures, must, I say, needs concern mysell — with this springald, whom I will warrant to be as obstinate as a pig possessed with a devil, for it’s the cast of his family; and yet I maun e’en fling away some sound advice on him. — My dainty young Lord Glenvarloch, understand me distinctly, for this is no bairn’s-play. When the Prince said sae much to me as I have repeated to you, it was equivalent to a command not to appear in his presence; wherefore take an auld man’s advice that wishes you weel, and maybe a wee thing better than he has reason to wish ony body. Jouk, and let the jaw gae by, like a canny bairn — gang hame to your lodgings, keep your foot frae taverns, and your fingers frae the dice-box; compound your affairs quietly wi’ some ane that has better favour than yours about Court, and you will get a round spell of money to carry you to Germany, or elsewhere, to push your fortune. It was a fortunate soldier that made your family four or five hundred years syne, and, if you are brave and fortunate, you may find the way to repair it. But, take my word for it, that in this Court you will never thrive.”

When Sir Mungo had completed his exhortation, in which there was more of sincere sympathy with another’s situation, than he had been heretofore known to express in behalf of any one, Lord Glenvarloch replied, “I am obliged to you, Sir Mungo — you have spoken, I think, with sincerity, and I thank you. But in return for your good advice, I heartily entreat you to leave me; I observe the Prince and his train are returning down the walk, and you may prejudice yourself, but cannot help me, by remaining with me.”

“And that is true,”— said Sir Mungo; “yet, were I ten years younger, I would be tempted to stand by you, and gie them the meeting. But at threescore and upward, men’s courage turns cauldrife; and they that canna win a living, must not endanger the small sustenance of their age. I wish you weel through, my lord, but it is an unequal fight.” So saying, he turned and limped away; often looking back, however, as if his natural spirit, even in its present subdued state, aided by his love of contradiction and of debate, rendered him unwilling to adopt the course necessary for his own security.

Thus abandoned by his companion, whose departure he graced with better thoughts of him than those which he bestowed on his appearance, Nigel remained with his arms folded, and reclining against a solitary tree which overhung the path, making up his mind to encounter a moment which he expected to be critical of his fate. But he was mistaken in supposing that the Prince of Wales would either address him, or admit him to expostulation, in such a public place as the Park. He did not remain unnoticed, however, for, when he made a respectful but haughty obeisance, intimating in look and manner that he was possessed of, and undaunted by, the unfavourable opinion which the Prince had so lately expressed, Charles returned his reverence with such a frown, as is only given by those whose frown is authority and decision. The train passed on, the Duke of Buckingham not even appearing to see Lord Glenvarloch; while Lord Dalgarno, though no longer incommoded by the sunbeams, kept his eyes, which had perhaps been dazzled by their former splendour, bent upon the ground.

Lord Glenvarloch had difficulty to restrain an indignation, to which, in the circumstances, it would have been madness to have given vent. He started from his reclining posture, and followed the Prince’s train so as to keep them distinctly in sight; which was very easy, as they walked slowly. Nigel observed them keep their road towards the Palace, where the Prince turned at the gate and bowed to the noblemen in attendance, in token of dismissing them, and entered the Palace, accompanied only by the Duke of Buckingham, and one or two of his equerries. The rest of the train, having returned in all dutiful humility the farewell of the Prince, began to disperse themselves through the Park.

All this was carefully noticed by Lord Glenvarloch, who, as he adjusted his cloak, and drew his sword-belt round so as to bring the hilt closer to his hand, muttered —“Dalgarno shall explain all this to me, for it is evident that he is in the secret!”

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