The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 27

This way lie safety and a sure retreat;

Yonder lie danger, shame, and punishment

Most welcome danger then — Nay, let me say,

Though spoke with swelling heart — welcome e’en shame

And welcome punishment — for, call me guilty,

I do but pay the tax that’s due to justice;

And call me guiltless, then that punishment

Is shame to those alone who do inflict it,

The Tribunal.

We left Lord Glenvarloch, to whose fortunes our story chiefly attaches itself, gliding swiftly down the Thames. He was not, as the reader may have observed, very affable in his disposition, or apt to enter into conversation with those into whose company he was casually thrown. This was, indeed, an error in his conduct, arising less from pride, though of that feeling we do not pretend to exculpate him, than from a sort of bashful reluctance to mix in the conversation of those with whom he was not familiar. It is a fault only to be cured by experience and knowledge of the world, which soon teaches every sensible and acute person the important lesson, that amusement, and, what is of more consequence, that information and increase of knowledge, are to be derived from the conversation of every individual whatever, with whom he is thrown into a natural train of communication. For ourselves, we can assure the reader — and perhaps if we have ever been able to afford him amusement, it is owing in a great degree to this cause — that we never found ourselves in company with the stupidest of all possible companions in a post-chaise, or with the most arrant cumber-corner that ever occupied a place in the mail-coach, without finding, that, in the course of our conversation with him, we had some ideas suggested to us, either grave orgay, or some information communicated in the course of our journey, which we should have regretted not to have learned, and which we should be sorry to have immediately forgotten. But Nigel was somewhat immured within the Bastile of his rank, as some philosopher (Tom Paine, we think) has happily enough expressed that sort of shyness which men of dignified situations are apt to be beset with, rather from not exactly knowing how far, or with whom, they ought to be familiar, than from any real touch of aristocratic pride. Besides, the immediate pressure of our adventurer’s own affairs was such as exclusively to engross his attention.

He sat, therefore, wrapt in his cloak, in the stern of the boat, with his mind entirely bent upon the probable issue of the interview with his Sovereign, which it was his purpose to seek; for which abstraction of mind he may be fully justified, although perhaps, by questioning the watermen who were transporting him down the river, he might have discovered matters of high concernment to him.

At any rate, Nigel remained silent till the wherry approached the town of Greenwich, when he commanded the men to put in for the nearest landing-place, as it was his purpose to go ashore there, and dismiss them from further attendance.

“That is not possible,” said the fellow with the green jacket, who, as we have already said, seemed to take on himself the charge of pilotage. “We must go,” he continued, “to Gravesend, where a Scottish vessel, which dropped down the river last tide for the very purpose, lies with her anchor a-peak, waiting to carry you to your own dear northern country. Your hammock is slung, and all is ready for you, and you talk of going ashore at Greenwich, as seriously as if such a thing were possible!”

“I see no impossibility,” said Nigel, “in your landing me where I desire to be landed; but very little possibility of your carrying me anywhere I am not desirous of going.”

“Why, whether do you manage the wherry, or we, master?” asked Green-jacket, in a tone betwixt jest and earnest; “I take it she will go the way we row her.”

“Ay,” retorted Nigel, “but I take it you will row her on the course I direct you, otherwise your chance of payment is but a poor one.”

“Suppose we are content to risk that,” said the undaunted waterman, “I wish to know how you, who talk so big — I mean no offence, master, but you do talk big — would help yourself in such a case?”

“Simply thus,” answered Lord Glenvarloch —“You saw me, an hour since, bring down to the boat a trunk that neither of you could lift. If we are to contest the destination of our voyage, the same strength which tossed that chest into the wherry, will suffice to fling you out of it; wherefore, before we begin the scuffle, I pray you to remember, that, whither I would go, there I will oblige you to carry me.”

“Gramercy for your kindness,” said Green-jacket; “and now mark me in return. My comrade and I are two men — and you, were you as stout as George-a-Green, can pass but for one; and two, you will allow, are more than a match for one. You mistake in your reckoning, my friend.”

“It is you who mistake,” answered Nigel, who began to grow warm; “it is I who am three to two, sirrah — I carry two men’s lives at my girdle.”

So saying, he opened his cloak and showed the two pistols which he had disposed at his girdle. Green-jacket was unmoved at the display.

“I have got,” said he, “a pair of barkers that will match yours,” and he showed that he also was armed with pistols; “so you may begin as soon as you list.”

“Then,” said Lord Glenvarloch, drawing forth and cocking a pistol, “the sooner the better. Take notice, I hold you as a ruffian, who have declared you will put force on my person; and that I will shoot you through the head if you do not instantly put me ashore at Greenwich.”

The other waterman, alarmed at Nigel’s gesture, lay upon his oar; but Green-jacket replied coolly —“Look you, master, I should not care a tester to venture a life with you on this matter; but the truth is, I am employed to do you good, and not to do you harm.”

“By whom are you employed?” said the Lord Glenvarloch; “or who dare concern themselves in me, or my affairs, without my authority?”

“As to that,” answered the waterman, in the same tone of indifference, “I shall not show my commission. For myself, I care not, as I said, whether you land at Greenwich to get yourself hanged, or go down to get aboard the Royal Thistle, to make your escape to your own country; you will be equally out of my reach either way. But it is fair to put the choice before you.”

“My choice is made,” said Nigel. “I have told you thrice already it is my pleasure to be landed at Greenwich.”

“Write it on a piece of paper,” said the waterman, “that such is your positive will; I must have something to show to my employers, that the transgression of their orders lies with yourself, not with me.”

“I choose to hold this trinket in my hand for the present,” said Nigel, showing his pistol, “and will write you the acquittance when I go ashore.”

“I would not go ashore with you for a hundred pieces,” said the waterman. “111 luck has ever attended you, except in small gaming; do me fair justice, and give me the testimony I desire. If you are afraid of foul play while you write it, you may hold my pistols, if you will.” He offered the weapons to Nigel accordingly, who, while they were under his control, and all possibility of his being taken at disadvantage was excluded, no longer hesitated to give the waterman an acknowledgment, in the following terms:—

“Jack in the Green, with his mate, belonging to the wherry called the Jolly Raven, have done their duty faithfully by me, landing me at Greenwich by my express command; and being themselves willing and desirous to carry me on board the Royal Thistle, presently lying at Gravesend.” Having finished this acknowledgment, which he signed with the letters, N. O. G. as indicating his name and title, he again requested to know of the waterman, to whom he delivered it, the name of his employers.

“Sir,” replied Jack in the Green, “I have respected your secret, do not you seek to pry into mine. It would do you no good to know for whom I am taking this present trouble; and, to be brief, you shall not know it — and, if you will fight in the quarrel, as you said even now, the sooner we begin the better. Only this you may be cock-sure of, that we designed you no harm, and that, if you fall into any, it will be of your own wilful seeking.” As he spoke, they approached the landing-place, where Nigel instantly jumped ashore. The waterman placed his small mail-trunk on the stairs, observing that there were plenty of spare hands about, to carry it where he would.

“We part friends, I hope, my lads,” said the young nobleman, offering at the same time a piece of money more than double the usual fare, to the boatmen.

“We part as we met,” answered Green-jacket; “and, for your money, I am paid sufficiently with this bit of paper. Only, if you owe me any love for the cast I have given you, I pray you not to dive so deep into the pockets of the next apprentice that you find fool enough to play the cavalier. — And you, you greedy swine,” said he to his companion, who still had a longing eye fixed on the money which Nigel continued to offer, “push off, or, if I take a stretcher in hand, I’ll break the knave’s pate of thee.” The fellow pushed off, as he was commanded, but still could not help muttering, “This was entirely out of waterman’s rules.”

Glenvarloch, though without the devotion of the “injured Thales” of the moralist, to the memory of that great princess, had now attained

“The hallow’d soil which gave Eliza birth,”

whose halls were now less respectably occupied by her successor. It was not, as has been well shown by a late author, that James was void either of parts or of good intentions; and his predecessor was at least as arbitrary in effect as he was in theory. But, while Elizabeth possessed a sternness of masculine sense and determination which rendered even her weaknesses, some of which were in themselves sufficiently ridiculous, in a certain degree respectable, James, on the other hand, was so utterly devoid of “firm resolve,” so well called by the Scottish bard,

“The stalk of carle-hemp in man,”

that even his virtues and his good meaning became laughable, from the whimsical uncertainty of his conduct; so that the wisest things he ever said, and the best actions he ever did, were often touched with a strain of the ludicrous and fidgety character of the man. Accordingly, though at different periods of his reign he contrived to acquire with his people a certain degree of temporary popularity, it never long outlived the occasion which produced it; so true it is, that the mass of mankind will respect a monarch stained with actual guilt, more than one whose foibles render him only ridiculous.

To return from this digression, Lord Glenvarloch soon received, as Green-jacket had assured him, the offer of an idle bargeman to transport his baggage where he listed; but that where was a question of momentary doubt. At length, recollecting the necessity that his hair and beard should be properly arranged before he attempted to enter the royal presence, and desirous, at the same time, of obtaining some information of the motions of the Sovereign and of the Court, he desired to be guided to the next barber’s shop, which we have already mentioned as the place where news of every kind circled and centred. He was speedily shown the way to such an emporium of intelligence, and soon found he was likely to hear all he desired to know, and much more, while his head was subjected to the art of a nimble tonsor, the glibness of whose tongue kept pace with the nimbleness of his fingers while he ran on, without stint or stop, in the following excursive manner:—

“The Court here, master? — yes, master — much to the advantage of trade — good custom stirring. His Majesty loves Greenwich — hunts every morning in the Park — all decent persons admitted that have the entries of the Palace — no rabble — frightened the king’s horse with their hallooing, the uncombed slaves. — Yes, sir, the beard more peaked? Yes, master, so it is worn. I know the last cut — dress several of the courtiers — one valet-of-the-chamber, two pages of the body, the clerk of the kitchen, three running footmen, two dog-boys, and an honourable Scottish knight, Sir Munko Malgrowler.”

“Malagrowther, I suppose?” said Nigel, thrusting in his conjectural emendation, with infinite difficulty, betwixt two clauses of the barber’s text.

“Yes, sir — Malcrowder, sir, as you say, sir — hard names the Scots have, sir, for an English mouth. Sir Munko is a handsome person, sir — perhaps you know him — bating the loss of his fingers, and the lameness of his leg, and the length of his chin. Sir, it takes me one minute, twelve seconds, more time to trim that chin of his, than any chin that I know in the town of Greenwich, sir. But he is a very comely gentleman, for all that; and a pleasant — a very pleasant gentleman, sir — and a good-humoured, saving that he is so deaf he can never hear good of any one, and so wise, that he can never believe it; but he is a very good-natured gentleman for all that, except when one speaks too low, or when a hair turns awry. — Did I graze you, sir? We shall put it to rights in a moment, with one drop of styptic — my styptic, or rather my wife’s, sir — She makes the water herself. One drop of the styptic, sir, and a bit of black taffeta patch, just big enough to be the saddle to a flea, sir — Yes, sir, rather improves than otherwise. The Prince had a patch the other day, and so had the Duke: and, if you will believe me, there are seventeen yards three quarters of black taffeta already cut into patches for the courtiers.”

“But Sir Mungo Malagrowther?” again interjected Nigel, with difficulty.

“Ay, ay, sir — Sir Munko, as you say; a pleasant, good-humoured gentleman as ever — To be spoken with, did you say? O ay, easily to be spoken withal, that is, as easily as his infirmity will permit. He will presently, unless some one hath asked him forth to breakfast, be taking his bone of broiled beef at my neighbour Ned Kilderkin’s yonder, removed from over the way. Ned keeps an eating-house, sir, famous for pork-griskins; but Sir Munko cannot abide pork, no more than the King’s most Sacred Majesty,21 nor my Lord Duke of Lennox, nor Lord Dalgarno — nay, I am sure, sir, if I touched you this time, it was your fault, not mine. — But a single drop of the styptic, another little patch that would make a doublet for a flea, just under the left moustache; it will become you when you smile, sir, as well as a dimple; and if you would salute your fair mistress — but I beg pardon, you are a grave gentleman, very grave to be so young. — Hope I have given no offence; it is my duty to entertain customers — my duty, sir, and my pleasure — Sir Munko Malcrowther? — yes, sir, I dare say he is at this moment in Ned’s eating-house, for few folks ask him out, now Lord Huntinglen is gone to London. You will get touched again — yes, sir — there you shall find him with his can of single ale, stirred with a sprig of rosemary, for he never drinks strong potations, sir, unless to oblige Lord Huntinglen — take heed, sir — or any other person who asks him forth to breakfast — but single beer he always drinks at Ned’s, with his broiled bone of beef or mutton — or, it may be, lamb at the season — but not pork, though Ned is famous for his griskins. But the Scots never eat pork — strange that! some folk think they are a sort of Jews. There is a resemblance, sir — Do you not think so? Then they call our most gracious Sovereign the Second Solomon, and Solomon, you know, was King of the Jews; so the thing bears a face, you see. I believe, sir, you will find yourself trimmed now to your content. I will be judged by the fair mistress of your affections. Crave pardon — no offence, I trust. Pray, consult the glass — one touch of the crisping tongs, to reduce this straggler. — Thank your munificence, sir — hope your custom while you stay in Greenwich. Would you have a tune on that ghittern, to put your temper in concord for the day? — Twang, twang — twang, twang, dillo. Something out of tune, sir — too many hands to touch it — we cannot keep these things like artists. Let me help you with your cloak, sir — yes, sir — You would not play yourself, sir, would you? — Way to Sir Munko’s eating-house? — Yes, sir; but it is Ned’s eating-house, not Sir Munko’s. — The knight, to be sure, eats there, and makes it his eating-house in some sense, sir — ha, ha! Yonder it is, removed from over the way, new white-washed posts, and red lattice — fat man in his doublet at the door — Ned himself, sir — worth a thousand pounds, they say — better singeing pigs’ faces than trimming courtiers — but ours is the less mechanical vocation. — Farewell, sir; hope your custom. “So saying, he at length permitted Nigel to depart, whose ears, so long tormented with continued babble, tingled when it had ceased, as if a bell had been rung close to them for the same space of time.

Upon his arrival at the eating-house, where he proposed to meet with Sir Mungo Malagrowther, from whom, in despair of better advice, he trusted to receive some information as to the best mode of introducing himself into the royal presence, Lord Glenvarloch found, in the host with whom he communed, the consequential taciturnity of an Englishman well to pass in the world. Ned Kilderkin spoke as a banker writes, only touching the needful. Being asked if Sir Mungo Malagrowther was there? he replied, No. Being interrogated whether he was expected? he said, Yes. And being again required to say when he was expected, he answered, Presently. As Lord Glenvarloch next inquired, whether he himself could have any breakfast? the landlord wasted not even a syllable in reply, but, ushering him into a neat room where there were several tables, he placed one of them before an armchair, and beckoning Lord Glenvarloch to take possession, he set before him, in a very few minutes, a substantial repast of roast-beef, together with a foaming tankard, to which refreshment the keen air of the river disposed him, notwithstanding his mental embarrassments, to do much honour.

While Nigel was thus engaged in discussing his commons, but raising his head at the same time whenever he heard the door of the apartment open, eagerly desiring the arrival of Sir Mungo Malagrowther, (an event which had seldom been expected by any one with so much anxious interest,) a personage, as it seemed, of at least equal importance with the knight, entered into the apartment, and began to hold earnest colloquy with the publican, who thought proper to carry on the conference on his side unbonneted. This important gentleman’s occupation might be guessed from his dress. A milk-white jerkin, and hose of white kersey; a white apron twisted around his body in the manner of a sash, in which, instead of a war-like dagger, was stuck a long-bladed knife, hilted with buck’s-horn; a white nightcap on his head, under which his hair was neatly tucked, sufficiently pourtrayed him as one of those priests of Comus whom the vulgar call cooks; and the air with which he rated the publican for having neglected to send some provisions to the Palace, showed that he ministered to royalty itself.

“This will never answer,” he said, “Master Kilderkin — the king twice asked for sweetbreads, and fricasseed coxcombs, which are a favourite dish of his most Sacred Majesty, and they were not to be had, because Master Kilderkin had not supplied them to the clerk of the kitchen, as by bargain bound.” Here Kilderkin made some apology, brief, according to his own nature, and muttered in a lowly tone after the fashion of all who find themselves in a scrape. His superior replied, in a lofty strain of voice, “Do not tell me of the carrier and his wain, and of the hen-coops coming from Norfolk with the poultry; a loyal man would have sent an express — he would have gone upon his stumps, like Widdrington. What if the king had lost his appetite, Master Kilderkin? What if his most Sacred Majesty had lost his dinner? O, Master Kilderkin, if you had but the just sense of the dignity of our profession, which is told of by the witty African slave, for so the king’s most excellent Majesty designates him, Publius Terentius, Tanguam in specula — in patinas inspicerejubeo.”

“You are learned, Master Linklater,” replied the English publican, compelling, as it were with difficulty, his mouth to utter three or four words consecutively.

“A poor smatterer,” said Mr. Linklater; “but it would be a shame to us, who are his most excellent Majesty’s countrymen, not in some sort to have cherished those arts wherewith he is so deeply embued — Regis ad exemplar, Master Kilderkin, totus componitur orbis — which is as much as to say, as the king quotes the cook learns. In brief, Master Kilderkin, having had the luck to be bred where humanities may be had at the matter of an English five groats by the quarter, I, like others, have acquired — ahem-hem! —” Here, the speaker’s eye having fallen upon Lord Glenvarloch, he suddenly stopped in his learned harangue, with such symptoms of embarrassment as induced Ned Kilderkin to stretch his taciturnity so far as not only to ask him what he ailed, but whether he would take any thing.

“Ail nothing,” replied the learned rival of the philosophical Syrus; “Nothing — and yet I do feel a little giddy. I could taste a glass of your dame’s aqua mirabilis.”

“I will fetch it,” said Ned, giving a nod; and his back was no sooner turned, than the cook walked near the table where Lord Glenvarloch was seated, and regarding him with a look of significance, where more was meant than met the ear, said — “You are a stranger in Greenwich, sir. I advise you to take the opportunity to step into the Park — the western wicket was ajar when I came hither; I think it will be locked presently, so you had better make the best of your way — that is, if you have any curiosity. The venison are coming into season just now, sir, and there is a pleasure in looking at a hart of grease. I always think when they are bounding so blithely past, what a pleasure it would be, to broach their plump haunches on a spit, and to embattle their breasts in a noble fortification of puff-paste, with plenty of black pepper.”

He said no more, as Kilderkin re-entered with the cordial, but edged off from Nigel without waiting any reply, only repeating the same look of intelligence with which he had accosted him.

Nothing makes men’s wits so alert as personal danger. Nigel took the first opportunity which his host’s attention to the yeoman of the royal kitchen permitted, to discharge his reckoning, and readily obtained a direction to the wicket in question. He found it upon the latch, as he had been taught to expect; and perceived that it admitted him to a narrow footpath, which traversed a close and tangled thicket, designed for the cover of the does and the young fawns. Here he conjectured it would be proper to wait; nor had he been stationary above five minutes, when the cook, scalded as much with heat of motion as ever he had been by his huge fire-place, arrived almost breathless, and with his pass-key hastily locked the wicket behind him.

Ere Lord Glenvarloch had time to speculate upon this action, the man approached with anxiety, and said —“Good lord, my Lord Glenvarloch! — why will you endanger yourself thus?”

“You know me then, my friend?” said Nigel.

“Not much of that, my lord — but I know your honour’s noble house well. — My name is Laurie Linklater, my lord.”

“Linklater!” repeated Nigel. “I should recollect —’

“Under your lordship’s favour,” he continued, “I was ‘prentice, my lord, to old Mungo Moniplies, the flesher at the wanton West-Port of Edinburgh, which I wish I saw again before I died. And, your honour’s noble father having taken Richie Moniplies into his house to wait on your lordship, there was a sort of connexion, your lordship sees.”

“Ah!” said Lord Glenvarloch, “I had almost forgot your name, but not your kind purpose. You tried to put Richie in the way of presenting a supplication to his Majesty?”

“Most true, my lord,” replied the king’s cook. “I had like to have come by mischief in the job; for Richie, who was always wilful, ‘wadna be guided by me,’ as the sang says. But nobody amongst these brave English cooks can kittle up his Majesty’s most sacred palate with our own gusty Scottish dishes. So I e’en betook myself to my craft, and concocted a mess of friar’s chicken for the soup, and a savoury hachis, that made the whole cabal coup the crans; and, instead of disgrace, I came by preferment. I am one of the clerks of the kitchen now, make me thankful — with a finger in the purveyor’s office, and may get my whole hand in by and by.”

“I am truly glad,” said Nigel, “to hear that you have not suffered on my account — still more so at your good fortune.”

“You bear a kind heart, my lord,” said Linklater, “and do not forget poor people; and, troth, I see not why they should be forgotten, since the king’s errand may sometimes fall in the cadger’s gate. I have followed your lordship in the street, just to look at such a stately shoot of the old oak-tree; and my heart jumped into my throat, when I saw you sitting openly in the eating-house yonder, and knew there was such danger to your person.”

“What! there are warrants against me, then?” said Nigel.

“It is even true, my lord; and there are those who are willing to blacken you as much as they can. — God forgive them, that would sacrifice an honourable house for their own base ends!”

“Amen,” said Nigel.

“For, say your lordship may have been a little wild, like other young gentlemen —”

“We have little time to talk of it, my friend,” said Nigel. “The point in question is, how am I to get speech of the king?”

“The king, my lord!” said Linklater in astonishment; “why, will not that be rushing wilfully into danger? — scalding yourself, as I may say, with your own ladle?”

“My good friend,” answered Nigel, “my experience of the Court, and my knowledge of the circumstances in which I stand, tell me, that the manliest and most direct road is, in my case, the surest and the safest. The king has both a head to apprehend what is just, and a heart to do what is kind.”

“It is e’en true, my lord, and so we, his old servants, know,” added Linklater; “but, woe’s me, if you knew how many folks make it their daily and nightly purpose to set his head against his heart, and his heart against his head — to make him do hard things because they are called just, and unjust things because they are represented as kind. Woe’s me! it is with his Sacred Majesty, and the favourites who work upon him, even according to the homely proverb that men taunt my calling with — ‘God sends good meat, but the devil sends cooks.’”

“It signifies not talking of it, my good friend,” said Nigel, “I must take my risk, my honour peremptorily demands it. They may maim me, or beggar me, but they shall not say I fled from my accusers. My peers shall hear my vindication.”

“Your peers?” exclaimed the cook —“Alack-a-day, my lord, we are not in Scotland, where the nobles can bang it out bravely, were it even with the king himself, now and then. This mess must be cooked in the Star- Chamber, and that is an oven seven times heated, my lord; — and yet, if you are determined to see the king, I will not say but you may find some favour, for he likes well any thing that is appealed directly to his own wisdom, and sometimes, in the like cases, I have known him stick by his own opinion, which is always a fair one. Only mind, if you will forgive me, my lord — mind to spice high with Latin; a curn or two of Greek would not be amiss; and, if you can bring in any thing about the judgment of Solomon, in the original Hebrew, and season with a merry jest or so, the dish will be the more palatable. — Truly, I think, that, besides my skill in art, I owe much to the stripes of the Rector of the High School, who imprinted on my mind that cooking scene in the Heautontimorumenos.” “Leaving that aside, my friend,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “can you inform me which way I shall most readily get to the sight and speech of the king?”

“To the sight of him readily enough,” said Linklater; “he is galloping about these alleys, to see them strike the hart, to get him an appetite for a nooning — and that reminds me I should be in the kitchen. To the speech of the king you will not come so easily, unless you could either meet him alone, which rarely chances, or wait for him among the crowd that go to see him alight. And now, farewell, my lord, and God speed! — if I could do more for you, I would offer it.”

“You have done enough, perhaps, to endanger yourself,” said Lord Glenvarloch. “I pray you to be gone, and leave me to my fate.”

The honest cook lingered, but a nearer burst of the horns apprized him that there was no time to lose; and, acquainting Nigel that he would leave the postern-door on the latch to secure his retreat in that direction, he bade God bless him, and farewell.

In the kindness of this humble countryman, flowing partly from national partiality, partly from a sense of long-remembered benefits, which had been scarce thought on by those who had bestowed them, Lord Glenvarloch thought he saw the last touch of sympathy which he was to receive in this cold and courtly region, and felt that he must now be sufficient to himself, or be utterly lost.

He traversed more than one alley, guided by the sounds of the chase, and met several of the inferior attendants upon the king’s sport, who regarded him only as one of the spectators who were sometimes permitted to enter the Park by the concurrence of the officers about the Court. Still there was no appearance of James, or any of his principal courtiers, and Nigel began to think whether, at the risk of incurring disgrace similar to that which had attended the rash exploit of Richie Moniplies, he should not repair to the Palace-gate, in order to address the king on his return, when Fortune presented him the opportunity of doing so, in her own way.

He was in one of those long walks by which the Park was traversed, when he heard, first a distant rustling, then the rapid approach of hoofs shaking the firm earth on which he stood; then a distant halloo, warned by which he stood up by the side of the avenue, leaving free room for the passage of the chase. The stag, reeling, covered with foam, and blackened with sweat, his nostrils extended as he gasped for breath, made a shift to come up as far as where Nigel stood, and, without turning to bay, was there pulled down by two tall greyhounds of the breed still used by the hardy deer-stalkers of the Scottish Highlands, but which has been long unknown in England. One dog struck at the buck’s throat, another dashed his sharp nose and fangs, I might almost say, into the animal’s bowels. It would have been natural for Lord Glenvarloch, himself persecuted as if by hunters, to have thought upon the occasion like the melancholy Jacques; but habit is a strange matter, and I fear that his feelings on the occasion were rather those of the practised huntsman than of the moralist. He had no time, however, to indulge them, for mark what befell.

A single horseman followed the chase, upon a steed so thoroughly subjected to the rein, that it obeyed the touch of the bridle as if it had been a mechanical impulse operating on the nicest piece of machinery; so that, seated deep in his demipique saddle, and so trussed up there as to make falling almost impossible, the rider, without either fear or hesitation, might increase or diminish the speed at which he rode, which, even on the most animating occasions of the chase, seldom exceeded three-fourths of a gallop, the horse keeping his haunches under him, and never stretching forward beyond the managed pace of the academy. The security with which he chose to prosecute even this favourite, and, in the ordinary case, somewhat dangerous amusement, as well as the rest of his equipage, marked King James. No attendant was within sight; indeed, it was often a nice strain of flattery to permit the Sovereign to suppose he had outridden and distanced all the rest of the chase.

“Weel dune, Bash — weel dune, Battie!” he exclaimed as he came up. “By the honour of a king, ye are a credit to the Braes of Balwhither! — Haud my horse, man,” he called out to Nigel, without stopping to see to whom he had addressed himself —“Haud my naig, and help me doun out o’ the saddle — deil ding your saul, sirrah, canna ye mak haste before these lazy smaiks come up? — haud the rein easy — dinna let him swerve — now, haud the stirrup — that will do, man, and now we are on terra firma.” So saying, without casting an eye on his assistant, gentle King Jamie, unsheathing the short, sharp hanger, (couteau de chasse,) which was the only thing approaching to a sword that he could willingly endure the sight of, drew the blade with great satisfaction across the throat of the buck, and put an end at once to its struggles and its agonies.

Lord Glenvarloch, who knew well the silvan duty which the occasion demanded, hung the bridle of the king’s palfrey on the branch of a tree, and, kneeling duteously down, turned the slaughtered deer upon its back, and kept the quarree in that position, while the king, too intent upon his sport to observe any thing else, drew his couteau down the breast of the animal, secundum artem; and, having made a cross cut, so as to ascertain the depth of the fat upon the chest, exclaimed, in a sort of rapture, “Three inches of white fat on the brisket! — prime — prime — as I am a crowned sinner — and deil ane o’ the lazy loons in but mysell! Seven — aught — aught tines on the antlers. By G— d, a hart of aught tines, and the first of the season! Bash and Battie, blessings on the heart’s-root of ye! Buss me, my bairns, buss me. “The dogs accordingly fawned upon him, licked him with bloody jaws, and soon put him in such a state that it might have seemed treason had been doing its full work upon his anointed body.” Bide doun, with a mischief to ye — bide doun, with a wanion,” cried the king, almost overturned by the obstreperous caresses of the large stag-hounds. “But ye are just like ither folks, gie ye an inch and ye take an ell. — And wha may ye be, friend? “he said, now finding leisure to take a nearer view of Nigel, and observing what in his first emotion of silvan delight had escaped him — ” Ye are nane of our train, man. In the name of God, what the devil are ye?”

“An unfortunate man, sire,” replied Nigel.

“I dare say that,” answered the king, snappishly, “or I wad have seen naething of you. My lieges keep a’ their happiness to themselves; but let bowls row wrang wi’ them, and I am sure to hear of it.”

“And to whom else can we carry our complaints but to your Majesty, who is Heaven’s vicegerent over us!” answered Nigel.

“Right, man, right — very weel spoken,” said the king; “but you should leave Heaven’s vicegerent some quiet on earth, too.”

“If your Majesty will look on me,” (for hitherto the king had been so busy, first with the dogs, and then with the mystic operation of breaking, in vulgar phrase, cutting up the deer, that he had scarce given his assistant above a transient glance,) “you will see whom necessity makes bold to avail himself of an opportunity which may never again occur.”

King James looked; his blood left his cheek, though it continued stained with that of the animal which lay at his feet, he dropped the knife from his hand, cast behind him a faltering eye, as if he either meditated flight or looked out for assistance, and then exclaimed — “Glenvarlochides! as sure as I was christened James Stewart. Here is a bonny spot of work, and me alone, and on foot too!” he added, bustling to get upon his horse.

“Forgive me that I interrupt you, my liege,” said Nigel, placing himself between the king and his steed; “hear me but a moment!”

“I’ll hear ye best on horseback,” said the king. “I canna hear a word on foot, man, not a word; and it is not seemly to stand cheek-for-chowl confronting us that gate. Bide out of our gate, sir, we charge you on your allegiance. — The deil’s in them a’, what can they be doing?”

“By the crown that you wear, my liege,” said Nigel, “and for which my ancestors have worthily fought, I conjure you to be composed, and to hear me but a moment!”

That which he asked was entirely out of the monarch’s power to grant. The timidity which he showed was not the plain downright cowardice, which, like a natural impulse, compels a man to flight, and which can excite little but pity or contempt, but a much more ludicrous, as well as more mingled sensation. The poor king was frightened at once and angry, desirous of securing his safety, and at the same time ashamed to compromise his dignity; so that without attending to what Lord Glenvarloch endeavoured to explain, he kept making at his horse, and repeating, “We are a free king, man — we are a free king — we will not be controlled by a subject. — In the name of God, what keeps Steenie? And, praised be his name, they are coming — Hillo, ho — here, here — Steenie, Steenie!”

The Duke of Buckingham galloped up, followed by several courtiers and attendants of the royal chase, and commenced with his usual familiarity — “I see Fortune has graced our dear dad, as usual. — But what’s this?”

“What is it? It is treason for what I ken,” said the king; “and a’ your wyte, Steenie. Your dear dad and gossip might have been murdered, for what you care.”

“Murdered? Secure the villain!” exclaimed the Duke. “By Heaven, it is Olifaunt himself!” A dozen of the hunters dismounted at once, letting their horses run wild through the park. Some seized roughly on Lord Glenvarloch, who thought it folly to offer resistance, while others busied themselves with the king. “Are you wounded, my liege — are you wounded?”

“Not that I ken of,” said the king, in the paroxysm of his apprehension, (which, by the way, might be pardoned in one of so timorous a temper, and who, in his time, had been exposed to so many strange attempts)—“Not that I ken of — but search him — search him. I am sure I saw fire-arms under his cloak. I am sure I smelled powder — I am dooms sure of that.”

Lord Glenvarloch’s cloak being stripped off, and his pistols discovered, a shout of wonder and of execration on the supposed criminal purpose, arose from the crowd now thickening every moment. Not that celebrated pistol, which, though resting on a bosom as gallant and as loyal as Nigel’s, spread such cause less alarm among knights and dames at a late high solemnity — not that very pistol caused more temporary consternation than was so groundlessly excited by the arms which were taken from Lord Glenvarloch’s person; and not Mhic-Allastar-More himself could repel with greater scorn and indignation, the insinuations that they were worn for any sinister purposes.

“Away with the wretch — the parricide — the bloody-minded villain!” was echoed on all hands; and the king, who naturally enough set the same value on his own life, at which it was, or seemed to be, rated by others, cried out, louder than all the rest, “Ay, ay — away with him. I have had enough of him and so has the country. But do him no bodily harm — and, for God’s sake, sirs, if ye are sure ye have thoroughly disarmed him, put up your swords, dirks, and skenes, for you will certainly do each other a mischief.”

There was a speedy sheathing of weapons at the king’s command; for those who had hitherto been brandishing them in loyal bravado, began thereby to call to mind the extreme dislike which his Majesty nourished against naked steel, a foible which seemed to be as constitutional as his timidity, and was usually ascribed to the brutal murder of Rizzio having been perpetrated in his unfortunate mother’s presence before he yet saw the light.

At this moment, the Prince, who had been hunting in a different part of the then extensive Park, and had received some hasty and confused information of what was going forward, came rapidly up, with one or two noblemen in his train, and amongst others Lord Dalgarno. He sprung from his horse and asked eagerly if his father were wounded.

“Not that I am sensible of, Baby Charles — but a wee matter exhausted, with struggling single-handed with the assassin. — Steenie, fill up a cup of wine — the leathern bottle is hanging at our pommel. — Buss me, then, Baby Charles,” continued the monarch, after he had taken this cup of comfort; “O man, the Commonwealth and you have had a fair escape from the heavy and bloody loss of a dear father; for we are pater patriae, as weel as pater familias.-Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus tarn cari capitis!-Woe is me, black cloth would have been dear in England, and dry een scarce!”

And, at the very idea of the general grief which must have attended his death, the good-natured monarch cried heartily himself.

“Is this possible?” said Charles, sternly; for his pride was hurt at his father’s demeanour on the one hand, while on the other, he felt the resentment of a son and a subject, at the supposed attempt on the king’s life. “Let some one speak who has seen what happened — My Lord of Buckingham!”

“I cannot say my lord,” replied the Duke, “that I saw any actual violence offered to his Majesty, else I should have avenged him on the spot.”

“You would have done wrong, then, in your zeal, George,” answered the Prince; “such offenders were better left to be dealt with by the laws. But was the villain not struggling with his Majesty?”

“I cannot term it so, my lord,” said the Duke, who, with many faults, would have disdained an untruth; “he seemed to desire to detain his Majesty, who, on the contrary, appeared to wish to mount his horse; but they have found pistols on his person, contrary to the proclamation, and, as it proves to be by Nigel Olifaunt, of whose ungoverned disposition your Royal Highness has seen some samples, we seem to be justified in apprehending the worst.”

“Nigel Olifaunt!” said the Prince; “can that unhappy man so soon have engaged in a new trespass? Let me see those pistols.”

“Ye are not so unwise as to meddle with such snap-haunces, Baby Charles?” said James —“Do not give him them, Steenie — I command you on your allegiance! They may go off of their own accord, whilk often befalls. — You will do it, then? — Saw ever a man sic wilful bairns as we are cumbered with! — Havena we guardsmen and soldiers enow, but you must unload the weapons yoursell — you, the heir of our body and dignities, and sae mony men around that are paid for venturing life in our cause?”

But without regarding his father’s exclamations, Prince Charles, with the obstinacy which characterised him in trifles, as well as matters of consequence, persisted in unloading the pistols with his own hand, of the double bullets with which each was charged. The hands of all around were held up in astonishment at the horror of the crime supposed to have been intended, and the escape which was presumed so narrow.

Nigel had not yet spoken a word — he now calmly desired to be heard.

“To what purpose?” answered the Prince coldly. “You knew yourself accused of a heavy offence, and, instead of rendering yourself up to justice, in terms of the proclamation, you are here found intruding yourself on his Majesty’s presence, and armed with unlawful weapons.”

“May it please you, sir,” answered Nigel, “I wore these unhappy weapons for my own defence; and not very many hours since they were necessary to protect the lives of others.”

“Doubtless, my lord,” answered the Prince, still calm and unmoved — “your late mode of life, and the associates with whom you have lived, have made you familiar with scenes and weapons of violence. But it is not to me you are to plead your cause.”

“Hear me — hear me, noble Prince!” said Nigel, eagerly. “Hear me! You — even you yourself — may one day ask to be heard, and in vain.”

“How, sir,” said the Prince, haughtily —“how am I to construe that, my lord?”

“If not on earth, sir,” replied the prisoner, “yet to Heaven we must all pray for patient and favourable audience.”

“True, my lord,” said the Prince, bending his head with haughty acquiescence; “nor would I now refuse such audience to you, could it avail you. But you shall suffer no wrong. We will ourselves look into your case.”

“Ay, ay,” answered the king, “he hath made appellatio ad Casarem — we will interrogate Glenvarlochides ourselves, time and place fitting; and, in the meanwhile, have him and his weapons away, for I am weary of the sight of them.”

In consequence of directions hastily given, Nigel was accordingly removed from the presence, where, however, his words had not altogether fallen to the ground. “This is a most strange matter, George,” said the Prince to the favourite; “this gentleman hath a good countenance, a happy presence, and much calm firmness in his look and speech. I cannot think he would attempt a crime so desperate and useless.”

“I profess neither love nor favour to the young man,” answered Buckingham, whose high-spirited ambition bore always an open character: “but I cannot but agree with your Highness, that our dear gossip hath been something hasty in apprehending personal danger from him.”

“By my saul, Steenie, ye are not blate, to say so!” said the king. “Do I not ken the smell of pouther, think ye? Who else nosed out the Fifth of November, save our royal selves? Cecil, and Suffolk, and all of them, were at fault, like sae mony mongrel tikes, when I puzzled it out: and trow ye that I cannot smell pouther? Why, ‘sblood, man, Joannes Barclaius thought my ingine was in some measure inspiration, and terms his history of the plot, Series patefacti divinitus parricidii; and Spondanus, in like manner, saith of us, Divinitus evasit.”

“The land was happy in your Majesty’s escape,” said the Duke of Buckingham, “and not less in the quick wit which tracked that labyrinth of treason by so fine and almost invisible a clew.”

“Saul, man, Steenie, ye are right! There are few youths have sic true judgment as you, respecting the wisdom of their elders; and, as for this fause, traitorous smaik, I doubt he is a hawk of the same nest. Saw ye not something papistical about him? Let them look that he bears not a crucifix, or some sic Roman trinket, about him.”

“It would ill become me to attempt the exculpation of this unhappy man,” said Lord Dalgarno, “considering the height of his present attempt, which has made all true men’s blood curdle in their veins. Yet I cannot avoid intimating, with all due submission to his Majesty’s infallible judgment, in justice to one who showed himself formerly only my enemy, though he now displays himself in much blacker colours, that this Olifaunt always appeared to me more as a Puritan than as a Papist.”

“Ah, Dalgarno, art thou there, man?” said the king. “And ye behoved to keep back, too, and leave us to our own natural strength and the care of Providence, when we were in grips with the villain!”

“Providence, may it please your most Gracious Majesty, would not fail to aid, in such a strait, the care of three weeping kingdoms,” said Lord Dalgarno.

“Surely, man — surely,” replied the king —“but a sight of your father, with his long whinyard, would have been a blithe matter a short while syne; and in future we will aid the ends of Providence in our favour, by keeping near us two stout beef-eaters of the guard. — And so this Olifaunt is a Puritan? — not the less like to be a Papist, for all that — for extremities meet, as the scholiast proveth. There are, as I have proved in my book, Puritans of papistical principles — it is just a new tout on an old horn.”

Here the king was reminded by the Prince, who dreaded perhaps that he was going to recite the whole Basilicon Doron, that it would be best to move towards the Palace, and consider what was to be done for satisfying the public mind, in whom the morning’s adventure was likely to excite much speculation. As they entered the gate of the Palace, a female bowed and presented a paper, which the king received, and, with a sort of groan, thrust it into his side pocket. The Prince expressed some curiosity to know its contents. “The valet in waiting will tell you them,” said the king, “when I strip off my cassock. D’ye think, Baby, that I can read all that is thrust into my hands? See to me, man — (he pointed to the pockets of his great trunk breeches, which were stuffed with papers)—“We are like an ass — that we should so speak — stooping betwixt two burdens. Ay, ay, Asinus fortis accumbens inter terminos, as the Vulgate hath it — Ay, ay, Vidi terrain quod esset optima, et supposui humerum ad portandum, et factus sum tributis serviens — I saw this land of England, and became an overburdened king thereof.”

“You are indeed well loaded, my dear dad and gossip,” said the Duke of Buckingham, receiving the papers which King James emptied out of his pockets.

“Ay, ay,” continued the monarch; “take them to you per aversionem, bairns — the one pouch stuffed with petitions, t’other with pasquinadoes; a fine time we have on’t. On my conscience, I believe the tale of Cadmus was hieroglyphical, and that the dragon’s teeth whilk he sowed were the letters he invented. Ye are laughing, Baby Charles? — Mind what I say. — When I came here first frae our ain country, where the men are as rude as the weather, by my conscience, England was a bieldy bit; one would have thought the king had little to do but to walk by quiet waters, per aquam refectionis. But, I kenna how or why, the place is sair changed — read that libel upon us and on our regimen. The dragon’s teeth are sown, Baby Charles; I pray God they bearna their armed harvest in your day, if I suld not live to see it. God forbid I should, for there will be an awful day’s kemping at the shearing of them.”

“I shall know how to stifle the crop in the blade — ha, George?” said the Prince, turning to the favourite with a look expressive of some contempt for his father’s apprehensions, and full of confidence in the superior firmness and decision of his own counsels.

While this discourse was passing, Nigel, in charge of a pursuivant-at-arms, was pushed and dragged through the small town, all the inhabitants of which, having been alarmed by the report of an attack on the king’s life, now pressed forward to see the supposed traitor. Amid the confusion of the moment, he could descry the face of the victualler, arrested into a stare of stolid wonder, and that of the barber grinning betwixt horror and eager curiosity. He thought that he also had a glimpse of his waterman in the green jacket.

He had no time for remarks, being placed in a boat with the pursuivant and two yeomen of the guard, and rowed up the river as fast as the arms of six stout watermen could pull against the tide. They passed the groves of masts which even then astonished the stranger with the extended commerce of London, and now approached those low and blackened walls of curtain and bastion, which exhibit here and there a piece of ordnance, and here and there a solitary sentinel under arms, but have otherwise so little of the military terrors of a citadel. A projecting low-browed arch, which had loured over many an innocent, and many a guilty head, in similar circumstances, now spread its dark frowns over that of Nigel. The boat was put close up to the broad steps against which the tide was lapping its lazy wave. The warder on duty looked from the wicket, and spoke to the pursuivant in whispers. In a few minutes the Lieutenant of the Tower appeared, received, and granted an acknowledgment for the body of Nigel, Lord Glenvarloch.

21The Scots, till within the last generation, disliked swine’s flesh as an article of food as much as the Highlanders do at present. It was remarked as extraordinary rapacity, when the Border depredators condescended to make prey of the accursed race, whom the fiend made his habitation. Ben Jonson, in drawing James’s character, says, he loved “no part of a swine.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/nigel/chapter27.html

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