The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 23

SWASH-BUCKLER. Bilboe’s the word —

PIERROT. It hath been spoke too often,

The spell hath lost its charm — I tell thee, friend,

The meanest cur that trots the street, will turn,

And snarl against your proffer’d bastinado.

SWASH-BUCKLER. ’Tis art shall do it, then —

I will dose the mongrels —

Or, in plain terms, I’ll use the private knife

’Stead of the brandish’d falchion.

Old Play.

The noble Captain Colepepper or Peppercull, for he was known by both these names, and some others besides; had a martial and a swashing exterior, which, on the present occasion, was rendered yet more peculiar, by a patch covering his left eye and a part of the cheek. The sleeves of his thickset velvet jerkin were polished and shone with grease — his buff gloves had huge tops, which reached almost to the elbow; his sword-belt of the same materials extended its breadth from his haunchbone to his small ribs, and supported on the one side his large black-hilted back-sword, on the other a dagger of like proportions He paid his compliments to Nigel with that air of predetermined effrontery, which announces that it will not be repelled by any coldness of reception, asked Trapbois how he did, by the familiar title of old Peter Pillory, and then, seizing upon the black-jack, emptied it off at a draught, to the health of the last and youngest freeman of Alsatia, the noble and loving master Nigel Grahame.

When he had set down the empty pitcher and drawn his breath, he began to criticise the liquor which it had lately contained. —“Sufficient single beer, old Pillory — and, as I take it, brewed at the rate of a nutshell of malt to a butt of Thames — as dead as a corpse, too, and yet it went hissing down my throat — bubbling, by Jove, like water upon hot iron. — You left us early, noble Master Grahame, but, good faith, we had a carouse to your honour — we heard butt ring hollow ere we parted; we were as loving as inkle-weavers — we fought, too, to finish off the gawdy. I bear some marks of the parson about me, you see — a note of the sermon or so, which should have been addressed to my ear, but missed its mark, and reached my left eye. The man of God bears my sign-manual too, but the Duke made us friends again, and it cost me more sack than I could carry, and all the Rhenish to boot, to pledge the seer in the way of love and reconciliation — But, Caracco! ’tis a vile old canting slave for all that, whom I will one day beat out of his devil’s livery into all the colours of the rainbow. — Basta! — Said I well, old Trapbois? Where is thy daughter, man? — what says she to my suit? —’tis an honest one — wilt have a soldier for thy son-in-law, old Pillory, to mingle the soul of martial honour with thy thieving, miching, petty-larceny blood, as men put bold brandy into muddy ale?”

“My daughter receives not company so early, noble captain,” said the usurer, and concluded his speech with a dry, emphatical “ugh, ugh.”

“What, upon no con-si-de-ra-ti-on?” said the captain; and wherefore not, old Truepenny? she has not much time to lose in driving her bargain, methinks.”

“Captain,” said Trapbois, “I was upon some little business with our noble friend here, Master Nigel Green — ugh, ugh, ugh —”

“And you would have me gone, I warrant you?” answered the bully; “but patience, old Pillory, thine hour is not yet come, man — You see,” he said, pointing to the casket, “that noble Master Grahame, whom you call Green, has got the decuses and the smelt.”

Which you would willingly rid him of, ha! ha! — ugh, ugh,” answered the usurer, “if you knew how — but, lack-a-day! thou art one of those that come out for wool, and art sure to go home shorn. Why now, but that I am sworn against laying of wagers, I would risk some consideration that this honest guest of mine sends thee home penniless, if thou darest venture with him — ugh, ugh — at any game which gentlemen play at.”

“Marry, thou hast me on the hip there, thou old miserly cony-catcher!” answered the captain, taking a bale of dice from the sleeve of his coat; “I must always keep company with these damnable doctors, and they have made me every baby’s cully, and purged my purse into an atrophy; but never mind, it passes the time as well as aught else — How say you, Master Grahame?”

The fellow paused; but even the extremity of his impudence could scarcely hardly withstand the cold look of utter contempt with which Nigel received his proposal, returning it with a simple, “I only play where I know my company, and never in the morning.”

“Cards may be more agreeable,” said Captain Colepepper; “and, for knowing your company, here is honest old Pillory will tell you Jack Colepepper plays as truly on the square as e’er a man that trowled a die — Men talk of high and low dice, Fulhams and bristles, topping, knapping, slurring, stabbing, and a hundred ways of rooking besides; but broil me like a rasher of bacon, if I could ever learn the trick on ’em!”

“You have got the vocabulary perfect, sir, at the least,” said Nigel, in the same cold tone.

“Yes, by mine honour have I,” returned the Hector; “they are phrases that a gentleman learns about town. — But perhaps you would like a set at tennis, or a game at balloon — we have an indifferent good court hard by here, and a set of as gentleman-like blades as ever banged leather against brick and mortar.”

“I beg to be excused at present,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “and to be plain, among the valuable privileges your society has conferred on me, I hope I may reckon that of being private in my own apartment when I have a mind.”

“Your humble servant, sir,” said the captain; “and I thank you for your civility — Jack Colepepper can have enough of company, and thrusts himself on no one. — But perhaps you will like to make a match at skittles?”

“I am by no means that way disposed,” replied the young nobleman,

“Or to leap a flea — run a snail — match a wherry, eh?”

“No — I will do none of these,” answered Nigel.

Here the old man, who had been watching with his little peery eyes, pulled the bulky Hector by the skirt, and whispered, “Do not vapour him the huff, it will not pass — let the trout play, he will rise to the hook presently.”

But the bully, confiding in his own strength, and probably mistaking for timidity the patient scorn with which Nigel received his proposals, incited also by the open casket, began to assume a louder and more threatening tone. He drew himself up, bent his brows, assumed a look of professional ferocity, and continued, “In Alsatia, look ye, a man must be neighbourly and companionable. Zouns! sir, we would slit any nose that was turned up at us honest fellows. — Ay, sir, we would slit it up to the gristle, though it had smelt nothing all its life but musk, ambergris, and court-scented water. — Rabbit me, I am a soldier, and care no more for a lord than a lamplighter!”

“Are you seeking a quarrel, sir?” said Nigel, calmly, having in truth no desire to engage himself in a discreditable broil in such a place, and with such a character.

“Quarrel, sir?” said the captain; “I am not seeking a quarrel, though I care not how soon I find one. Only I wish you to understand you must be neighbourly, that’s all. What if we should go over the water to the garden, and see a bull hanked this fine morning —‘sdeath, will you do nothing?”

“Something I am strangely tempted to do at this moment,” said Nigel.

“Videlicet,” said Colepepper, with a swaggering air, “let us hear the temptation.”

“I am tempted to throw you headlong from the window, unless you presently make the best of your way down stairs.”

“Throw me from the window? — hell and furies!” exclaimed the captain; “I have confronted twenty crooked sabres at Buda with my single rapier, and shall a chitty-faced, beggarly Scots lordling, speak of me and a window in the same breath? — Stand off, old Pillory, let me make Scotch collops of him — he dies the death!”

“For the love of Heaven, gentlemen,” exclaimed the old miser, throwing himself between them, “do not break the peace on any consideration! Noble guest, forbear the captain — he is a very Hector of Troy — Trusty Hector, forbear my guest, he is like to prove a very Achilles-ugh-ugh- —-”

Here he was interrupted by his asthma, but, nevertheless, continued to interpose his person between Colepepper (who had unsheathed his whinyard, and was making vain passes at his antagonist) and Nigel, who had stepped back to take his sword, and now held it undrawn in his left hand.

“Make an end of this foolery, you scoundrel!” said Nigel —“Do you come hither to vent your noisy oaths and your bottled-up valour on me? You seem to know me, and I am half ashamed to say I have at length been able to recollect you — remember the garden behind the ordinary — you dastardly ruffian, and the speed with which fifty men saw you run from a drawn sword. — Get you gone, sir, and do not put me to the vile labour of cudgelling such a cowardly rascal down stairs.”

The bully’s countenance grew dark as night at this unexpected recognition; for he had undoubtedly thought himself secure in his change of dress, and his black patch, from being discovered by a person who had seen him but once. He set his teeth, clenched his hands, and it seemed as if he was seeking for a moment’s courage to fly upon his antagonist. But his heart failed, he sheathed his sword, turned his back in gloomy silence, and spoke not until he reached the door, when, turning round, he said, with a deep oath, “If I be not avenged of you for this insolence ere many days go by, I would the gallows had my body and the devil my spirit!”

So saying, and with a look where determined spite and malice made his features savagely fierce, though they could not overcome his fear, he turned and left the house. Nigel followed him as far as the gallery at the head of the staircase, with the purpose of seeing him depart, and ere he returned was met by Mistress Martha Trapbois, whom the noise of the quarrel had summoned from her own apartment. He could not resist saying to her in his natural displeasure —“I would, madam, you could teach your father and his friends the lesson which you had the goodness to bestow on me this morning, and prevail on them to leave me the unmolested privacy of my own apartment.”

“If you came hither for quiet or retirement, young man,” answered she, “you have been advised to an evil retreat. You might seek mercy in the Star-Chamber, or holiness in hell, with better success than quiet in Alsatia. But my father shall trouble you no longer.”

So saying, she entered the apartment, and, fixing her eyes on the casket, she said with emphasis —“If you display such a loadstone, it will draw many a steel knife to your throat.”

While Nigel hastily shut the casket, she addressed her father, upbraiding him, with small reverence, for keeping company with the cowardly, hectoring, murdering villain, John Colepepper.

“Ay, ay, child,” said the old man, with the cunning leer which intimated perfect satisfaction with his own superior address —“I know — I know — ugh — but I’ll crossbite him — I know them all, and I can manage them — ay, ay — I have the trick on’t — ugh-ugh.”

You manage, father!” said the austere damsel; “you will manage to have your throat cut, and that ere long. You cannot hide from them your gains and your gold as formerly.”

“My gains, wench? my gold?” said the usurer; “alack-a-day, few of these and hard got — few and hard got.”

“This will not serve you, father, any longer,” said she, “and had not served you thus long, but that Bully Colepepper had contrived a cheaper way of plundering your house, even by means of my miserable self. — But why do I speak to him of all this,” she said, checking herself, and shrugging her shoulders with an expression of pity which did not fall much short of scorn. “He hears me not — he thinks not of me. — Is it not strange that the love of gathering gold should survive the care to preserve both property and life?”

“Your father,” said Lord Glenvarloch, who could not help respecting the strong sense and feeling shown by this poor woman, even amidst all her rudeness and severity, “your father seems to have his faculties sufficiently alert when he is in the exercise of his ordinary pursuits and functions. I wonder he is not sensible of the weight of your arguments.”

“Nature made him a man senseless of danger, and that insensibility is the best thing I have derived from him,” said she; “age has left him shrewdness enough to tread his old beaten paths, but not to seek new courses. The old blind horse will long continue to go its rounds in the mill, when it would stumble in the open meadow.”

“Daughter! — why, wench — why, housewife!” said the old man, awakening out of some dream, in which he had been sneering and chuckling in imagination, probably over a successful piece of roguery — “go to chamber, wench — go to chamber — draw bolts and chain — look sharp to door — let none in or out but worshipful Master Grahame — I must take my cloak, and go to Duke Hildebrod — ay, ay, time has been, my own warrant was enough; but the lower we lie, the more are we under the wind.”

And, with his wonted chorus of muttering and coughing, the old man left the apartment. His daughter stood for a moment looking after him, with her usual expression of discontent and sorrow.

“You ought to persuade your father,” said Nigel, “to leave this evil neighbourhood, if you are in reality apprehensive for his safety.”

“He would be safe in no other quarter,” said the daughter; “I would rather the old man were dead than publicly dishonoured. In other quarters he would be pelted and pursued, like an owl which ventures into sunshine. Here he was safe, while his comrades could avail themselves of his talents; he is now squeezed and fleeced by them on every pretence. They consider him as a vessel on the strand, from which each may snatch a prey; and the very jealousy which they entertain respecting him as a common property, may perhaps induce them to guard him from more private and daring assaults.”

“Still, methinks, you ought to leave this place,” answered Nigel, “since you might find a safe retreat in some distant country.”

“In Scotland, doubtless,” said she, looking at him with a sharp and suspicious eye, “and enrich strangers with our rescued wealth — Ha! young man?”

“Madam, if you knew me,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “you would spare the suspicion implied in your words.”

“Who shall assure me of that?” said Martha, sharply. “They say you are a brawler and a gamester, and I know how far these are to be trusted by the unhappy.”

“They do me wrong, by Heaven!” said Lord Glenvarloch.

“It may be so,” said Martha; “I am little interested in the degree of your vice or your folly; but it is plain, that the one or the other has conducted you hither, and that your best hope of peace, safety, and happiness, is to be gone, with the least possible delay, from a place which is always a sty for swine, and often a shambles.” So saying, she left the apartment.

There was something in the ungracious manner of this female, amounting almost to contempt of him she spoke to — an indignity to which Glenvarloch, notwithstanding his poverty, had not as yet been personally exposed, and which, therefore, gave him a transitory feeling of painful surprise. Neither did the dark hints which Martha threw out concerning the danger of his place of refuge, sound by any means agreeably to his ears. The bravest man, placed in a situation in which he is surrounded by suspicious persons, and removed from all counsel and assistance, except those afforded by a valiant heart and a strong arm, experiences a sinking of the spirit, a consciousness of abandonment, which for a moment chills his blood, and depresses his natural gallantry of disposition.

But, if sad reflections arose in Nigel’s mind, he had not time to indulge them; and, if he saw little prospect of finding friends in Alsatia, he found that he was not likely to be solitary for lack of visitors.

He had scarcely paced his apartment for ten minutes, endeavouring to arrange his ideas on the course which he was to pursue on quitting Alsatia, when he was interrupted by the Sovereign of the quarter, the great Duke Hildebrod himself, before whose approach the bolts and chains of the miser’s dwelling fell, or withdrew, as of their own accord; and both the folding leaves of the door were opened, that he might roll himself into the house like a huge butt of liquor, a vessel to which he bore a considerable outward resemblance, both in size, shape, complexion, and contents.”

“Good-morrow to your lordship,” said the greasy puncheon, cocking his single eye, and rolling it upon Nigel with a singular expression of familiar impudence; whilst his grim bull-dog, which was close at his heels, made a kind of gurgling in his throat, as if saluting, in similar fashion, a starved cat, the only living thing in Trapbois’ house which we have not yet enumerated, and which had flown up to the top of the tester, where she stood clutching and grinning at the mastiff, whose greeting she accepted with as much good-will as Nigel bestowed on that of the dog’s master.

“Peace, Belzie! — D— n thee, peace!” said Duke Hildebrod. “Beasts and fools will be meddling, my lord.”

“I thought, sir,” answered Nigel, with as much haughtiness as was consistent with the cool distance which he desired to preserve, “I thought I had told you, my name at present was Nigel Grahame.”

His eminence of Whitefriars on this burst out into a loud, chuckling, impudent laugh, repeating the word, till his voice was almost inarticulate — “Niggle Green — Niggle Green — Niggle Green! — why, my lord, you would be queered in the drinking of a penny pot of Malmsey, if you cry before you are touched. Why, you have told me the secret even now, had I not had a shrewd guess of it before. Why, Master Nigel, since that is the word, I only called you my lord, because we made you a peer of Alsatia last night, when the sack was predominant.

— How you look now! — Ha! ha! ha!”

Nigel, indeed, conscious that he had unnecessarily betrayed himself, replied hastily — “he was much obliged to him for the honours conferred, but did not propose to remain in the Sanctuary long enough to enjoy them.”

“Why, that may be as you will, an you will walk by wise counsel,” answered the ducal porpoise; and, although Nigel remained standing, in hopes to accelerate his guest’s departure, he threw himself into one of the old tapestry-backed easy-chairs, which cracked under his weight, and began to call for old Trapbois.

The crone of all work appearing instead of her master, the Duke cursed her for a careless jade, to let a strange gentleman, and a brave guest, go without his morning’s draught.

“I never take one, sir,” said Glenvarloch.

“Time to begin — time to begin,” answered the Duke. —“Here, you old refuse of Sathan, go to our palace, and fetch Lord Green’s morning draught. Let us see — what shall it be, my lord? — a humming double pot of ale, with a roasted crab dancing in it like a wherry above bridge?- -or, hum — ay, young men are sweet-toothed — a quart of burnt sack, with sugar and spice? — good against the fogs. Or, what say you to sipping a gill of right distilled waters? Come, we will have them all, and you shall take your choice. — Here, you Jezebel, let Tim send the ale, and the sack, and the nipperkin of double-distilled, with a bit of diet-loaf, or some such trinket, and score it to the new comer.”

Glenvarloch, bethinking himself that it might be as well to endure this fellow’s insolence for a brief season, as to get into farther discreditable quarrels, suffered him to take his own way, without interruption, only observing, “You make yourself at home, sir, in my apartment; but, for the time, you may use your pleasure. Meanwhile, I would fain know what has procured me the honour of this unexpected visit?”

“You shall know that when old Deb has brought the liquor — I never speak of business dry-lipped. Why, how she drumbles — I warrant she stops to take a sip on the road, and then you will think you have had unchristian measure. — In the meanwhile, look at that dog there — look Belzebub in the face, and tell me if you ever saw a sweeter beast — never flew but at head in his life.”

And, after this congenial panegyric, he was proceeding with a tale of a dog and a bull, which threatened to be somewhat of the longest, when he was interrupted by the return of the old crone, and two of his own tapsters, bearing the various kinds of drinkables which he had demanded, and which probably was the only species of interruption he would have endured with equanimity.

When the cups and cans were duly arranged upon the table, and when Deborah, whom the ducal generosity honoured with a penny farthing in the way of gratuity, had withdrawn with her satellites, the worthy potentate, having first slightly invited Lord Glenvarloch to partake of the liquor which he was to pay for, and after having observed, that, excepting three poached eggs, a pint of bastard, and a cup of clary, he was fasting from every thing but sin, set himself seriously to reinforce the radical moisture. Glenvarloch had seen Scottish lairds and Dutch burgomasters at their potations; but their exploits (though each might be termed a thirsty generation) were nothing to those of Duke Hildebrod, who seemed an absolute sandbed, capable of absorbing any given quantity of liquid, without being either vivified or overflowed. He drank off the ale to quench a thirst which, as he said, kept him in a fever from morning to night, and night to morning; tippled off the sack to correct the crudity of the ale; sent the spirits after the sack to keep all quiet, and then declared that, probably, he should not taste liquor till post meridiem, unless it was in compliment to some especial friend. Finally, he intimated that he was ready to proceed on the business which brought him from home so early, a proposition which Nigel readily received, though he could not help suspecting that the most important purpose of Duke Hildebrod’s visit was already transacted.

In this, however, Lord Glenvarloch proved to be mistaken. Hildebrod, before opening what he had to say, made an accurate survey of the apartment, laying, from time to time, his finger on his nose, and winking on Nigel with his single eye, while he opened and shut the doors, lifted the tapestry, which concealed, in one or two places, the dilapidation of time upon the wainscoted walls, peeped into closets, and, finally, looked under the bed, to assure himself that the coast was clear of listeners and interlopers. He then resumed his seat, and beckoned confidentially to Nigel to draw his chair close to him.

“I am well as I am, Master Hildebrod,” replied the young lord, little disposed to encourage the familiarity which the man endeavoured to fix on him; but the undismayed Duke proceeded as follows:

“You shall pardon me, my lord — and I now give you the title right seriously — if I remind you that our waters may be watched; for though old Trapbois be as deaf as Saint Paul’s, yet his daughter has sharp ears, and sharp eyes enough, and it is of them that it is my business to speak.”

“Say away, then, sir,” said Nigel, edging his chair somewhat closer to the Quicksand, “although I cannot conceive what business I have either with mine host or his daughter.”

“We will see that in the twinkling of a quart-pot,” answered the gracious Duke; “and first, my lord, you must not think to dance in a net before old Jack Hildebrod, that has thrice your years o’er his head, and was born, like King Richard, with all his eye-teeth ready cut.”

“Well, sir, go on,” said Nigel.

“Why, then, my lord, I presume to say, that, if you are, as I believe you are, that Lord Glenvarloch whom all the world talk of — the Scotch gallant that has spent all, to a thin cloak and a light purse — be not moved, my lord, it is so noised of you — men call you the sparrow-hawk, who will fly at all — ay, were it in the very Park — Be not moved, my lord.”

“I am ashamed, sirrah,” replied Glenvarloch, “that you should have power to move me by your insolence — but beware — and, if you indeed guess who I am, consider how long I may be able to endure your tone of insolent familiarity.”

“I crave pardon, my lord,” said Hildebrod, with a sullen, yet apologetic look; “I meant no harm in speaking my poor mind. I know not what honour there may be in being familiar with your lordship, but I judge there is little safety, for Lowestoffe is laid up in lavender only for having shown you the way into Alsatia; and so, what is to come of those who maintain you when you are here, or whether they will get most honour or most trouble by doing so, I leave with your lordship’s better judgment.”

“I will bring no one into trouble on my account,” said Lord Glenvarloch. “I will leave Whitefriars to-morrow. Nay, by Heaven, I will leave it this day.”

“You will have more wit in your anger, I trust,” said Duke Hildebrod; “listen first to what I have to say to you, and, if honest Jack Hildebrod puts you not in the way of nicking them all, may he never cast doublets, or dull a greenhorn again! And so, my lord, in plain words, you must wap and win.”

“Your words must be still plainer before I can understand them,” said Nigel.

“What the devil — a gamester, one who deals with the devil’s bones and the doctors, and not understand Pedlar’s French! Nay, then, I must speak plain English, and that’s the simpleton’s tongue.”

“Speak, then, sir,” said Nigel; “and I pray you be brief, for I have little more time to bestow on you.”

“Well, then, my lord, to be brief, as you and the lawyers call it — I understand you have an estate in the north, which changes masters for want of the redeeming ready. — Ay, you start, but you cannot dance in a net before me, as I said before; and so the king runs the frowning humour on you, and the Court vapours you the go-by; and the Prince scowls at you from under his cap; and the favourite serves you out the puckered brow and the cold shoulder; and the favourite’s favourite —”

“To go no further, sir,” interrupted Nigel, “suppose all this true — and what follows?”

“What follows?” returned Duke Hildebrod. “Marry, this follows, that you will owe good deed, as well as good will, to him who shall put you in the way to walk with your beaver cocked in the presence, as an ye were Earl of Kildare; bully the courtiers; meet the Prince’s blighting look with a bold brow; confront the favourite; baffle his deputy, and —”

“This is all well,” said Nigel! “but how is it to be accomplished?”

“By making thee a Prince of Peru, my lord of the northern latitudes; propping thine old castle with ingots — fertilizing thy failing fortunes with gold dust — it shall but cost thee to put thy baron’s coronet for a day or so on the brows of an old Caduca here, the man’s daughter of the house, and thou art master of a mass of treasure that shall do all I have said for thee, and —”

“What, you would have me marry this old gentlewoman here, the daughter of mine host?” said Nigel, surprised and angry, yet unable to suppress some desire to laugh.

“Nay, my lord, I would have you marry fifty thousand good sterling pounds; for that, and better, hath old Trapbois hoarded; and thou shall do a deed of mercy in it to the old man, who will lose his golden smelts in some worse way — for now that he is well-nigh past his day of work, his day of payment is like to follow.”

“Truly, this is a most courteous offer,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “but may I pray of your candour, most noble duke, to tell me why you dispose of a ward of so much wealth on a stranger like me, who may leave you to-morrow?”

“In sooth, my lord,” said the Duke, “that question smacks more of the wit of Beaujeu’s ordinary, than any word I have yet heard your lordship speak, and reason it is you should be answered. Touching my peers, it is but necessary to say, that Mistress Martha Trapbois will none of them, whether clerical or laic. The captain hath asked her, so hath the parson, but she will none of them — she looks higher than either, and is, to say truth, a woman of sense, and so forth, too profound, and of spirit something too high, to put up with greasy buff or rusty prunella. For ourselves, we need but hint that we have a consort in the land of the living, and, what is more to purpose, Mrs. Martha knows it. So, as she will not lace her kersey hood save with a quality binding, you, my lord, must be the man, and must carry off fifty thousand decuses, the spoils of five thousand bullies, cutters, and spendthrifts — always deducting from the main sum some five thousand pounds for our princely advice and countenance, without which, as matters stand in Alsatia, you would find it hard to win the plate.”

“But has your wisdom considered, sir,” replied Glenvarloch, “how this wedlock can serve me in my present emergence?”

“As for that, my lord,” said Duke Hildebrod, “if, with forty or fifty thousand pounds in your pouch, you cannot save yourself, you will deserve to lose your head for your folly, and your hand for being close-fisted.”

“But, since your goodness has taken my matters into such serious consideration,” continued Nigel, who conceived there was no prudence in breaking with a man, who, in his way, meant him favour rather than offence, “perhaps you may be able to tell me how my kindred will be likely to receive such a bride as you recommend to me?”

“Touching that matter, my lord, I have always heard your countrymen knew as well as other folks, on which side their bread was buttered. And, truly, speaking from report, I know no place where fifty thousand pounds — fifty thousand pounds, I say — will make a woman more welcome than it is likely to do in your ancient kingdom. And, truly, saving the slight twist in her shoulder, Mrs. Martha Trapbois is a person of very awful and majestic appearance, and may, for aught I know, be come of better blood than any one wots of; for old Trapbois looks not over like to be her father, and her mother was a generous, liberal sort of a woman.”

“I am afraid,” answered Nigel, “that chance is rather too vague to assure her a gracious reception into an honourable house.”

“Why, then, my lord,” replied Hildebrod, “I think it like she will be even with them; for I will venture to say, she has as much ill-nature as will make her a match for your whole clan.”

“That may inconvenience me a little,” replied Nigel.

“Not a whit — not a whit,” said the Duke, fertile in expedients; “if she should become rather intolerable, which is not unlikely, your honourable house, which I presume to be a castle, hath, doubtless, both turrets and dungeons, and ye may bestow your bonny bride in either the one or the other, and then you know you will be out of hearing of her tongue, and she will be either above or below the contempt of your friends.”

“It is sagely counselled, most equitable sir,” replied Nigel, “and such restraint would be a fit meed for her folly that gave me any power over her.”

“You entertain the project then, my lord?” said Duke Hildebrod.

“I must turn it in my mind for twenty-four hours,” said Nigel; “and I will pray you so to order matters that I be not further interrupted by any visitors.”

“We will utter an edict to secure your privacy,” said the Duke; “and you do not think,” he added, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, “that ten thousand is too much to pay to the Sovereign, in name of wardship?”

“Ten thousand!” said Lord Glenvarloch; “why, you said five thousand but now.”

“Aha! art avised of that?” said the Duke, touching the side of his nose with his finger; “nay, if you have marked me so closely, you are thinking on the case more nearly than I believed, till you trapped me. Well, well, we will not quarrel about the consideration, as old Trapbois would call it — do you win and wear the dame; it will be no hard matter with your face and figure, and I will take care that no one interrupts you. I will have an edict from the Senate as soon as they meet for their meridiem.”

So saying, Duke Hildebrod took his leave.

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