The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 3

Bobadil. I pray you, possess no gallant of your acquaintance with a knowledge of my lodging.

Master Matthew. Who, I, sir? — Lord, sir!

Ben Jonson.

The next morning found Nigel Olifaunt, the young Lord of Glenvarloch, seated, sad and solitary, in his little apartment, in the mansion of John Christie, the ship-chandler; which that honest tradesman, in gratitude perhaps to the profession from which he derived his chief support, appeared to have constructed as nearly as possible upon the plan of a ship’s cabin.

It was situated near to Paul’s Wharf, at the end of one of those intricate and narrow lanes, which, until that part of the city was swept away by the Great Fire in 1666, constituted an extraordinary labyrinth of small, dark, damp, and unwholesome streets and alleys, in one corner or other of which the plague was then as surely found lurking, as in the obscure corners of Constantinople in our own time. But John Christie’s house looked out upon the river, and had the advantage, therefore, of free air, impregnated, however, with the odoriferous fumes of the articles in which the ship-chandler dealt, with the odour of pitch, and the natural scent of the ooze and sludge left by the reflux of the tide.

Upon the whole, except that his dwelling did not float with the flood-tide, and become stranded with the ebb, the young lord was nearly as comfortably accommodated as he was while on board the little trading brig from the long town of Kirkaldy, in Fife, by which he had come a passenger to London. He received, however, every attention which could be paid him by his honest landlord, John Christie; for Richie Moniplies had not thought it necessary to preserve his master’s incognito so completely, but that the honest ship-chandler could form a guess that his guest’s quality was superior to his appearance.

As for Dame Nelly, his wife, a round, buxom, laughter-loving dame, with black eyes, a tight well-laced bodice, a green apron, and a red petticoat edged with a slight silver lace, and judiciously shortened so as to show that a short heel, and a tight clean ankle, rested upon her well-burnished shoe — she, of course, felt interest in a young man, who, besides being very handsome, good-humoured, and easily satisfied with the accommodations her house afforded, was evidently of a rank, as well as manners, highly superior to the skippers (or Captains, as they called themselves) of merchant vessels, who were the usual tenants of the apartments which she let to hire; and at whose departure she was sure to find her well-scrubbed floor soiled with the relics of tobacco, (which, spite of King James’s Counterblast, was then forcing itself into use,) and her best curtains impregnated with the odour of Geneva and strong waters, to Dame Nelly’s great indignation; for, as she truly said, the smell of the shop and warehouse was bad enough without these additions.

But all Mr. Olifaunt’s habits were regular and cleanly, and his address, though frank and simple, showed so much of the courtier and gentleman, as formed a strong contrast with the loud halloo, coarse jests, and boisterous impatience of her maritime inmates. Dame Nelly saw that her guest was melancholy also, notwithstanding his efforts to seem contented and cheerful; and, in short, she took that sort of interest in him, without being herself aware of the extent, which an unscrupulous gallant might have been tempted to improve to the prejudice of honest John, who was at least a score of years older than his helpmate. Olifaunt, however, had not only other matters to think of, but would have regarded such an intrigue, had the idea ever occurred to him, as an abominable and ungrateful encroachment upon the laws of hospitality, his religion having been by his late father formed upon the strict principles of the national faith, and his morality upon those of the nicest honour. He had not escaped the predominant weakness of his country, an overweening sense of the pride of birth, and a disposition to value the worth and consequence of others according to the number and the fame of their deceased ancestors; but this pride of family was well subdued, and in general almost entirely concealed, by his good sense and general courtesy.

Such as we have described him, Nigel Olifaunt, or rather the young Lord Glenvarloch, was, when our narrative takes him up, under great perplexity respecting the fate of his trusty and only follower, Richard Moniplies, who had been dispatched by his young master, early the preceding morning, as far as the court at Westminster, but had not yet returned. His evening adventures the reader is already acquainted with, and so far knows more of Richie than did his master, who had not heard of him for twenty-four hours.

Dame Nelly Christie, in the meantime, regarded her guest with some anxiety, and a great desire to comfort him, if possible. She placed on the breakfast-table a noble piece of cold powdered beef, with its usual guards of turnip and carrot, recommended her mustard as coming direct from her cousin at Tewkesbury, and spiced the toast with her own hands — and with her own hands, also, drew a jug of stout and nappy ale, all of which were elements of the substantial breakfast of the period.

When she saw that her guest’s anxiety prevented him from doing justice to the good cheer which she set before him, she commenced her career of verbal consolation with the usual volubility of those women in her station, who, conscious of good looks, good intentions, and good lungs, entertain no fear either of wearying themselves or of fatiguing their auditors.

“Now, what the good year! are we to send you down to Scotland as thin as you came up? — I am sure it would be contrary to the course of nature. There was my goodman’s father, old Sandie Christie, I have heard he was an atomy when he came up from the North, and I am sure he died, Saint Barnaby was ten years, at twenty stone weight. I was a bare-headed girl at the time, and lived in the neighbourhood, though I had little thought of marrying John then, who had a score of years the better of me — but he is a thriving man and a kind husband — and his father, as I was saying, died as fat as a church-warden. Well, sir, but I hope I have not offended you for my little joke — and I hope the ale is to your honour’s liking — and the beef — and the mustard?”

“All excellent — all too good,” answered Olifaunt; “you have every thing so clean and tidy, dame, that I shall not know how to live when I go back to my own country — if ever I go back there.”

This was added as it seemed involuntarily, and with a deep sigh.

“I warrant your honour go back again if you like it,” said the dame: “unless you think rather of taking a pretty well-dowered English lady, as some of your countryfolk have done. I assure you, some of the best of the city have married Scotsmen. There was Lady Trebleplumb, Sir Thomas Trebleplumb the great Turkey merchant’s widow, married Sir Awley Macauley, whom your honour knows, doubtless; and pretty Mistress Doublefee, old Sergeant Doublefee’s daughter, jumped out of window, and was married at May-fair to a Scotsman with a hard name; and old Pitchpost the timber merchant’s daughters did little better, for they married two Irishmen; and when folks jeer me about having a Scotsman for lodger, meaning your honour, I tell them they are afraid of their daughters and their mistresses; and sure I have a right to stand up for the Scots, since John Christie is half a Scotsman, and a thriving man, and a good husband, though there is a score of years between us; and so I would have your honour cast care away, and mend your breakfast with a morsel and a draught.”

“At a word, my kind hostess, I cannot,” said Olifaunt; “I am anxious about this knave of mine, who has been so long absent in this dangerous town of yours.”

It may be noticed in passing that Dame Nelly’s ordinary mode of consolation was to disprove the existence of any cause for distress; and she is said to have carried this so far as to comfort a neighbour, who had lost her husband, with the assurance that the dear defunct would be better to-morrow, which perhaps might not have proved an appropriate, even if it had been a possible, mode of relief.

On this occasion she denied stoutly that Richie had been absent altogether twenty hours; and as for people being killed in the streets of London, to be sure two men had been found in Tower-ditch last week, but that was far to the east, and the other poor man that had his throat cut in the fields, had met his mishap near by Islington; and he that was stabbed by the young Templar in a drunken frolic, by Saint Clement’s in the Strand, was an Irishman. All which evidence she produced to show that none of these casualties had occurred in a case exactly parallel with that of Richie, a Scotsman, and on his return from Westminster.

“My better comfort is, my good dame,” answered Olifaunt, “that the lad is no brawler or quarreller, unless strongly urged, and that he has nothing valuable about him to any one but me.”

“Your honour speaks very well,” retorted the inexhaustible hostess, who protracted her task of taking away, and putting to rights, in order that she might prolong her gossip. “I’ll uphold Master Moniplies to be neither reveller nor brawler, for if he liked such things, he might be visiting and junketing with the young folks about here in the neighbourhood, and he never dreams of it; and when I asked the young man to go as far as my gossip’s, Dame Drinkwater, to taste a glass of aniseed, and a bit of the groaning cheese — for Dame Drinkwater has had twins, as I told your honour, sir — and I meant it quite civilly to the young man, but he chose to sit and keep house with John Christie; and I dare say there is a score of years between them, for your honour’s servant looks scarce much older than I am. I wonder what they could have to say to each other. I asked John Christie, but he bid me go to sleep.”

“If he comes not soon,” said his master, “I will thank you to tell me what magistrate I can address myself to; for besides my anxiety for the poor fellow’s safety, he has papers of importance about him.”

“O! your honour may be assured he will be back in a quarter of an hour,” said Dame Nelly; “he is not the lad to stay out twenty-four hours at a stretch. And for the papers, I am sure your honour will pardon him for just giving me a peep at the corner, as I was giving him a small cup, not so large as my thimble, of distilled waters, to fortify his stomach against the damps, and it was directed to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty; and so doubtless his Majesty has kept Richie out of civility to consider of your honour’s letter, and send back a fitting reply.”

Dame Nelly here hit by chance on a more available topic of consolation than those she had hitherto touched upon; for the youthful lord had himself some vague hopes that his messenger might have been delayed at Court until a fitting and favourable answer should be dispatched back to him. Inexperienced, however, in public affairs as he certainly was, it required only a moment’s consideration to convince him of the improbability of an expectation so contrary to all he had heard of etiquette, as well as the dilatory proceedings in a court suit, and he answered the good-natured hostess with a sigh, that he doubted whether the king would even look on the paper addressed to him, far less take it into his immediate consideration.

“Now, out upon you for a faint-hearted gentleman!” said the good dame; “and why should he not do as much for us as our gracious Queen Elizabeth? Many people say this and that about a queen and a king, but I think a king comes more natural to us English folks; and this good gentleman goes as often down by water to Greenwich, and employs as many of the barge-men and water-men of all kinds; and maintains, in his royal grace, John Taylor, the water-poet, who keeps both a sculler and a pair of oars. And he has made a comely Court at Whitehall, just by the river; and since the king is so good a friend to the Thames, I cannot see, if it please your honour, why all his subjects, and your honour in specialty, should not have satisfaction by his hands.”

“True, dame — true — let us hope for the best; but I must take my cloak and rapier, and pray your husband in courtesy to teach me the way to a magistrate.”

“Sure, sir,” said the prompt dame, “I can do that as well as he, who has been a slow man of his tongue all his life, though I will give him his due for being a loving husband, and a man as well to pass in the world as any betwixt us and the top of the lane. And so there is the sitting alderman, that is always at the Guildhall, which is close by Paul’s, and so I warrant you he puts all to rights in the city that wisdom can mend; and for the rest there is no help but patience. But I wish I were as sure of forty pounds as I am that the young man will come back safe and sound.”

Olifaunt, in great and anxious doubt of what the good dame so strongly averred, flung his cloak on one shoulder, and was about to belt on his rapier, when first the voice of Richie Moniplies on the stair, and then that faithful emissary’s appearance in the chamber, put the matter beyond question. Dame Nelly, after congratulating Moniplies on his return, and paying several compliments to her own sagacity for having foretold it, was at length pleased to leave the apartment. The truth was, that, besides some instinctive feelings of good breeding which combated her curiosity, she saw there was no chance of Richie’s proceeding in his narrative while she was in the room, and she therefore retreated, trusting that her own address would get the secret out of one or other of the young men, when she should have either by himself.

“Now, in Heaven’s name, what is the matter?” said Nigel Olifaunt. — “Where have you been, or what have you been about? You look as pale as death. There is blood on your hand, and your clothes are torn. What barns-breaking have you been at? You have been drunk, Richard, and fighting.”

“Fighting I have been,” said Richard, “in a small way; but for being drunk, that’s a job ill to manage in this town, without money to come by liquor; and as for barns-breaking, the deil a thing’s broken but my head. It’s not made of iron, I wot, nor my claithes of chenzie-mail; so a club smashed the tane, and a claught damaged the tither. Some misleard rascals abused my country, but I think I cleared the causey of them. However, the haill hive was ower mony for me at last, and I got this eclipse on the crown, and then I was carried, beyond my kenning, to a sma’ booth at the Temple Port, whare they sell the whirligigs and mony-go-rounds that measure out time as a man wad measure a tartan web; and then they bled me, wold I nold I, and were reasonably civil, especially an auld country-man of ours, of whom more hereafter.”

“And at what o’clock might this be?” said Nigel.

“The twa iron carles yonder, at the kirk beside the Port, were just banging out sax o’ the clock.”

“And why came you not home as soon as you recovered?” said Nigel.

“In troth, my lord, every why has its wherefore, and this has a gude ane,” answered his follower. “To come hame, I behoved to ken whare hame was; now, I had clean tint the name of the wynd, and the mair I asked, the mair the folk leugh, and the farther they sent me wrang; sae I gave it up till God should send daylight to help me; and as I saw mysell near a kirk at the lang run, I e’en crap in to take up my night’s quarters in the kirkyard.”

“In the churchyard?” said Nigel —“But I need not ask what drove you to such a pinch.”

“It wasna sae much the want o’ siller, my Lord Nigel,” said Richie, with an air of mysterious importance, “for I was no sae absolute without means, of whilk mair anon; but I thought I wad never ware a saxpence sterling on ane of their saucy chamberlains at a hostelry, sae lang as I could sleep fresh and fine in a fair, dry, spring night. Mony a time, when I hae come hame ower late, and faund the West-Port steekit, and the waiter ill-willy, I have garr’d the sexton of Saint Cuthbert’s calf-ward serve me for my quarters. But then there are dainty green graffs in Saint Cuthbert’s kirkyard, whare ane may sleep as if they were in a down-bed, till they hear the lavrock singing up in the air as high as the Castle; whereas, and behold, these London kirkyards are causeyed with through-stanes, panged hard and fast thegither; and my cloak being something threadbare, made but a thin mattress, so I was fain to give up my bed before every limb about me was crippled. Dead folks may sleep yonder sound enow, but deil haet else.”

“And what became of you next?” said his master.

“I just took to a canny bulkhead, as they ca’ them here; that is, the boards on the tap of their bits of outshots of stalls and booths, and there I sleepit as sound as if I was in a castle. Not but I was disturbed with some of the night-walking queans and swaggering billies, but when they found there was nothing to be got by me but a slash of my Andrew Ferrara, they bid me good-night for a beggarly Scot; and I was e’en weel pleased to be sae cheap rid of them. And in the morning, I cam daikering here, but sad wark I had to find the way, for I had been east as far as the place they ca’ Mile-End, though it is mair like sax-mile-end.”

“Well, Richie,” answered Nigel, “I am glad all this has ended so well — go get something to eat. I am sure you need it.”

“In troth do I, sir,” replied Moniplies; “but, with your lordship’s leave —”

“Forget the lordship for the present, Richie, as I have often told you before.”

“Faith,” replied Richie, “I could weel forget that your honour was a lord, but then I behoved to forget that I am a lord’s man, and that’s not so easy. But, however,” he added, assisting his description with the thumb and the two forefingers of his right hand, thrust out after the fashion of a bird’s claw, while the little finger and ring-finger were closed upon the palm, “to the Court I went, and my friend that promised me a sight of his Majesty’s most gracious presence, was as gude as his word, and carried me into the back offices, where I got the best breakfast I have had since we came here, and it did me gude for the rest of the day; for as to what I have eaten in this accursed town, it is aye sauced with the disquieting thought that it maun be paid for. After a’, there was but beef banes and fat brose; but king’s cauff, your honour kens, is better than ither folk’s corn; at ony rate, it was a’ in free awmous. — But I see,” he added, stopping short, “that your honour waxes impatient.”

“By no means, Richie,” said the young nobleman, with an air of resignation, for he well knew his domestic would not mend his pace for goading; “you have suffered enough in the embassy to have a right to tell the story in your own way. Only let me pray for the name of the friend who was to introduce you into the king’s presence. You were very mysterious on the subject, when you undertook, through his means, to have the Supplication put into his Majesty’s own hands, since those sent heretofore, I have every reason to think, went no farther than his secretary’s.”

“Weel, my lord,” said Richie, “I did not tell you his name and quality at first, because I thought you would be affronted at the like of him having to do in your lordship’s affairs. But mony a man climbs up in Court by waur help. It was just Laurie Linklater, one of the yeomen of the kitchen, that was my father’s apprentice lang syne.”

“A yeoman in the kitchen — a scullion!” exclaimed Lord Nigel, pacing the room in displeasure.

“But consider, sir,” said Richie, composedly, “that a’ your great friends hung back, and shunned to own you, or to advocate your petition; and then, though I am sure I wish Laurie a higher office, for your lordship’s sake and for mine, and specially for his ain sake, being a friendly lad, yet your lordship must consider, that a scullion, if a yeoman of the king’s most royal kitchen may be called a scullion, may weel rank with a master-cook elsewhere; being that king’s cauff, as I said before, is better than —”

“You are right, and I was wrong,” said the young nobleman. “I have no choice of means of making my case known, so that they be honest.”

“Laurie is as honest a lad as ever lifted a ladle,” said Richie; “not but what I dare to say he can lick his fingers like other folk, and reason good. But, in fine, for I see your honour is waxing impatient, he brought me to the palace, where a’ was astir for the king going out to hunt or hawk on Blackheath, I think they ca’d it. And there was a horse stood with all the quarries about it, a bonny grey as ever was foaled; and the saddle and the stirrups, and the curb and bit, o’ burning gowd, or silver gilded at least; and down, sir, came the king, with all his nobles, dressed out in his hunting-suit of green, doubly laced, and laid down with gowd. I minded the very face o’ him, though it was lang since I saw him. But my certie, lad, thought I, times are changed since ye came fleeing down the back stairs of auld Holyrood House, in grit fear, having your breeks in your hand without time to put them on, and Frank Stewart, the wild Earl of Bothwell, hard at your haunches; and if auld Lord Glenvarloch hadna cast his mantle about his arm, and taken bluidy wounds mair than ane in your behalf, you wald not have craw’d sae crouse this day; and so saying, I could not but think your lordship’s Sifflication could not be less than most acceptable; and so I banged in among the crowd of lords. Laurie thought me mad, and held me by the cloak-lap till the cloth rave in his hand; and so I banged in right before the king just as he mounted, and crammed the Sifflication into his hand, and he opened it like in amaze; and just as he saw the first line, I was minded to make a reverence, and I had the ill luck to hit his jaud o’ a beast on the nose with my hat, and scaur the creature, and she swarved aside, and the king, that sits na mickle better than a draff-pock on the saddle, was like to have gotten a clean coup, and that might have cost my craig a raxing-and he flung down the paper amang the beast’s feet, and cried, ‘Away wi’ the fause loon that brought it!’ And they grippit me, and cried treason; and I thought of the Ruthvens that were dirked in their ain house, for, it may be, as small a forfeit. However, they spak only of scourging me, and had me away to the porter’s lodge to try the tawse on my back, and I was crying mercy as loud as I could; and the king, when he had righted himself on the saddle, and gathered his breath, cried to do me nae harm; for, said he, he is ane of our ain Norland stots, I ken by the rowt of him — and they a’ laughed and rowted loud eneugh. And then he said, ‘Gie him a copy of the Proclamation, and let him go down to the North by the next light collier, before waur come o’t.’ So they let me go, and rode out, a sniggering, laughing, and rounding in ilk ither’s lugs. A sair life I had wi’ Laurie Linklater; for he said it wad be the ruin of him. And then, when I told him it was in your matter, he said if he had known before he would have risked a scauding for you, because he minded the brave old lord, your father. And then he showed how I suld have done, — and that I suld have held up my hand to my brow, as if the grandeur of the king and his horse-graith thegither had casten the glaiks in my een, and mair jackanape tricks I suld hae played, instead of offering the Sifflication, he said, as if I had been bringing guts to a bear. 7

‘For,’ said he, ‘Richie, the king is a weel-natured and just man of his ain kindly nature, but he has a wheen maggots that maun be cannily guided; and then, Richie,’ says he, in a very laigh tone, ‘I would tell it to nane but a wise man like yoursell, but the king has them about him wad corrupt an angel from heaven; but I could have gi’en you avisement how to have guided him, but now it’s like after meat mustard.’—‘Aweel, aweel, Laurie,’ said I, ‘it may be as you say’, but since I am clear of the tawse and the porter’s lodge, sifflicate wha like, deil hae Richie Moniplies if he come sifflicating here again.’— And so away I came, and I wasna far by the Temple Port, or Bar, or whatever they ca’ it, when I met with the misadventure that I tauld you of before.”

“Well, my honest Richie,” said Lord Nigel, “your attempt was well meant, and not so ill conducted, I think, as to have deserved so bad an issue; but go to your beef and mustard, and we’ll talk of the rest afterwards.”

“There is nae mair to be spoken, sir,” said his follower, “except that I met ane very honest, fair-spoken, weel-put-on gentleman, or rather burgher, as I think, that was in the whigmaleery man’s back-shop; and when he learned wha I was, behold he was a kindly Scot himsell, and, what is more, a town’s-bairn o’ the gude town, and he behoved to compel me to take this Portugal piece, to drink, forsooth — my certie, thought I, we ken better, for we will eat it — and he spoke of paying your lordship a visit.”

“You did not tell him where I lived, you knave?” said the Lord Nigel, angrily. “‘Sdeath! I shall have every clownish burgher from Edinburgh come to gaze on my distress, and pay a shilling for having seen the motion of the Poor Noble!”

“Tell him where you lived?” said Richie, evading the question; “How could I tell him what I kendna mysell? If I had minded the name of the wynd, I need not have slept in the kirkyard yestreen.”

“See, then, that you give no one notice of our lodging,” said the young nobleman; “those with whom I have business I can meet at Paul’s, or in the Court of Requests.”

“This is steeking the stable-door when the steed is stolen,” thought Richie to himself; “but I must put him on another pin.”

So thinking, he asked the young lord what was in the Proclamation which he still held folded in his hand; “for, having little time to spell at it,” said he, “your lordship well knows I ken nought about it but the grand blazon at the tap — the lion has gotten a claught of our auld Scottish shield now, but it was as weel upheld when it had a unicorn on ilk side of it.”

Lord Nigel read the Proclamation, and he coloured deep with shame and indignation as he read; for the purport was, to his injured feelings, like the pouring of ardent spirits upon a recent wound.

“What deil’s in the paper, my lord?” said Richie, unable to suppress his curiosity as he observed his master change colour; “I wadna ask such a thing, only the Proclamation is not a private thing, but is meant for a’ men’s hearing.”

“It is indeed meant for all men’s hearing,” replied Lord Nigel, “and it proclaims the shame of our country, and the ingratitude of our Prince.”

“Now the Lord preserve us! and to publish it in London, too!” ejaculated Moniplies.

“Hark ye, Richard,” said Nigel Olifaunt, “in this paper the Lords of the Council set forth, that, ‘in consideration of the resort of idle persons of low condition forth from his Majesty’s kingdom of Scotland to his English Court — filling the same with their suits and supplications, and dishonouring the royal presence with their base, poor, and beggarly persons, to the disgrace of their country in the estimation of the English; these are to prohibit the skippers, masters of vessels and others, in every part of Scotland, from bringing such miserable creatures up to Court under pain of fine and impisonment.”’

“I marle the skipper took us on board,” said Richie.

“Then you need not marvel how you are to get back again,” said Lord Nigel, “for here is a clause which says, that such idle suitors are to be transported back to Scotland at his Majesty’s expense, and punished for their audacity with stripes, stocking, or incarceration, according to their demerits — that is to say, I suppose, according to the degree of their poverty, for I see no other demerit specified.”

“This will scarcely,” said Richie, “square with our old proverb —

A King’s face

Should give grace —

But what says the paper farther, my lord?”

“O, only a small clause which especially concerns us, making some still heavier denunciations against those suitors who shall be so bold as to approach the Court, under pretext of seeking payment of old debts due to them by the king, which, the paper states, is, of all species of importunity, that which is most odious to his Majesty.”

“The king has neighbours in that matter,” said Richie; “but it is not every one that can shift off that sort of cattle so easily as he does.”

Their conversation was here interrupted by a knocking at the door. Olifaunt looked out at the window, and saw an elderly respectable person whom he knew not. Richie also peeped, and recognised, but, recognising, chose not to acknowledge, his friend of the preceding evening. Afraid that his share in the visit might be detected, he made his escape out of the apartment under pretext of going to his breakfast; and left their landlady the task of ushering Master George into Lord Nigel’s apartment, which she performed with much courtesy.

7I am certain this prudential advice is not original on Mr. Linklater’s part, but I am not at present able to produce my authority. I think it amounted to this, that James flung down a petition presented by some supplicant who paid no compliments to his horse, and expressed no admiration at the splendour of his furniture, saying, “Shall a king cumber himself about the petition of a beggar, while the beggar disregards the king’s splendour?” It is, I think, Sir John Harrington who recommends, as a sure mode to the king’s favour, to praise the paces of the royal palfrey.

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