The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 32

Benedict. This looks not like a nuptial.

Much Ado About Nothing.

Master George Heriot had no sooner returned to the king’s apartment, than James inquired of Maxwell if the Earl of Huntinglen was in attendance, and, receiving an answer in the affirmative, desired that he should be admitted. The old Scottish Lord having made his reverence in the usual manner, the king extended his hand to be kissed, and then began to address him in a tone of great sympathy.

“We told your lordship in our secret epistle of this morning, written with our ain hand, in testimony we have neither pretermitted nor forgotten your faithful service, that we had that to communicate to you that would require both patience and fortitude to endure, and therefore exhorted you to peruse some of the most pithy passages of Seneca, and of Boethius de Consolatione, that the back may be, as we say, fitted for the burden — This we commend to you from our ain experience.

‘Non ignara mail, miseris succurrere disco,’

sayeth Dido, and I might say in my own person, non ignarus; but to change the gender would affect the prosody, whereof our southern subjects are tenacious. So, my Lord of Huntinglen, I trust you have acted by our advice, and studied patience before ye need it — venienti occurrite morbo — mix the medicament when the disease is coming on.”

“May it please your Majesty,” answered Lord Huntinglen, “I am more of an old soldier than a scholar — and if my own rough nature will not bear me out in any calamity, I hope I shall have grace to try a text of Scripture to boot.”

“Ay, man, are you there with your bears?” said the king; “The Bible, man,” (touching his cap,) “is indeed principium et fons — but it is pity your lordship cannot peruse it in the original. For although we did ourselves promote that work of translation — since ye may read, at the beginning of every Bible, that when some palpable clouds of darkness were thought like to have overshadowed the land, after the setting of that bright occidental star, Queen Elizabeth; yet our appearance, like that of the sun in his strength, instantly dispelled these surmised mists — I say, that although, as therein mentioned, we countenanced the preaching of the gospel, and especially the translation of the Scriptures out of the original sacred tongues; yet nevertheless, we ourselves confess to have found a comfort in consulting them in the original Hebrew, whilk we do not perceive even in the Latin version of the Septuagint, much less in the English traduction.”

“Please your Majesty,” said Lord Huntinglen, “if your Majesty delays communicating the bad news with which your honoured letter threatens me, until I am capable to read Hebrew like your Majesty, I fear I shall die in ignorance of the misfortune which hath befallen, or is about to befall, my house.”

“You will learn it but too soon, my lord,” replied the king. “I grieve to say it, but your son Dalgarno, whom I thought a very saint, as he was so much with Steenie and Baby Charles, hath turned out a very villain.”

“Villain!” repeated Lord Huntinglen; and though he instantly checked himself, and added, “but it is your Majesty speaks the word,” the effect of his first tone made the king step back as if he had received a blow. He also recovered himself again, and said in the pettish way which usually indicated his displeasure —“Yes, my lord, it was we that said it — non surdo canis — we are not deaf — we pray you not to raise your voice in speech with us — there is the bonny memorial — read, and judge for yourself.”

The king then thrust into the old nobleman’s hand a paper, containing the story of the Lady Hermione, with the evidence by which it was supported, detailed so briefly and clearly, that the infamy of Lord Dalgarno, the lover by whom she had been so shamefully deceived, seemed undeniable. But a father yields not up so easily the cause of his son.

“May it please your Majesty,” he said, “why was this tale not sooner told? This woman hath been here for years — wherefore was the claim on my son not made the instant she touched English ground?”

“Tell him how that came about, Geordie,” said the king, dressing Heriot.

“I grieve to distress my Lord Huntinglen,” said Heriot; but I must speak the truth. For a long time the Lady Hermione could not brook the idea of making her situation public; and when her mind became changed in that particular, it was necessary to recover the evidence of the false marriage, and letters and papers connected with it, which, when she came to Paris, and just before I saw her, she had deposited with a correspondent of her father in that city. He became afterwards bankrupt, and in consequence of that misfortune the lady’s papers passed into other hands, and it was only a few days since I traced and recovered them. Without these documents of evidence, it would have been imprudent for her to have preferred her complaint, favoured as Lord Dalgarno is by powerful friends.”

“Ye are saucy to say sae,” said the king; “I ken what ye mean weel eneugh — ye think Steenie wad hae putten the weight of his foot into the scales of justice, and garr’d them whomle the bucket — ye forget, Geordie, wha it is whose hand uphaulds them. And ye do poor Steenie the mair wrang, for he confessed it ance before us and our privy council, that Dalgarno would have put the quean aff on him, the puir simple bairn, making him trow that she was a light-o’-love; in whilk mind he remained assured even when he parted from her, albeit Steenie might hae weel thought ane of thae cattle wadna hae resisted the like of him.”

“The Lady Hermione,” said George Heriot, “has always done the utmost justice to the conduct of the duke, who, although strongly possessed with prejudice against her character, yet scorned to avail himself of her distress, and on the contrary supplied her with the means of extricating herself from her difficulties.”

“It was e’en like himsell — blessings on his bonny face!” said the king; “and I believed this lady’s tale the mair readily, my Lord Huntinglen, that she spake nae ill of Steenie — and to make a lang tale short, my lord, it is the opinion of our council and ourself, as weel as of Baby Charles and Steenie, that your son maun amend his wrong by wedding this lady, or undergo such disgrace and discountenance as we can bestow.”

The person to whom he spoke was incapable of answering him. He stood before the king motionless, and glaring with eyes of which even the lids seemed immovable, as if suddenly converted into an ancient statue of the times of chivalry, so instantly had his hard features and strong limbs been arrested into rigidity by the blow he had received — And in a second afterwards, like the same statue when the lightning breaks upon it, he sunk at once to the ground with a heavy groan. The king was in the utmost alarm, called upon Heriot and Maxwell for help, and, presence of mind not being his forte, ran to and fro in his cabinet, exclaiming —“My ancient and beloved servant — who saved our anointed self! vae atque dolor! My Lord of Huntinglen, look up — look up, man, and your son may marry the Queen of Sheba if he will.”

By this time Maxwell and Heriot had raised the old nobleman, and placed him on a chair; while the king, observing that he began to recover himself, continued his consolations more methodically.

“Haud up your head — haud up your head, and listen to your ain kind native Prince. If there is shame, man, it comesna empty-handed — there is siller to gild it — a gude tocher, and no that bad a pedigree; — if she has been a loon, it was your son made her sae, and he can make her an honest woman again.”

These suggestions, however reasonable in the common case, gave no comfort to Lord Huntinglen, if indeed he fully comprehended them; but the blubbering of his good-natured old master, which began to accompany and interrupt his royal speech, produced more rapid effect. The large tear gushed reluctantly from his eye, as he kissed the withered hands, which the king, weeping with less dignity and restraint, abandoned to him, first alternately and then both together, until the feelings of the man getting entirely the better of the Sovereign’s sense of dignity, he grasped and shook Lord Huntinglen’s hands with the sympathy of an equal and a familiar friend.”

Compone lachrymas,” said the Monarch; “be patient, man, be patient; the council, and Baby Charles, and Steenie, may a’ gang to the deevil — he shall not marry her since it moves you so deeply.”

“He shall marry her, by God!” answered the earl, drawing himself up, dashing the tear from his eyes, and endeavouring to recover his composure. “I pray your Majesty’s pardon, but he shall marry her, with her dishonour for her dowry, were she the veriest courtezan in all Spain — If he gave his word, he shall make his word good, were it to the meanest creature that haunts the streets — he shall do it, or my own dagger shall take the life that I gave him. If he could stoop to use so base a fraud, though to deceive infamy, let him wed infamy.”

“No, no!” the Monarch continued to insinuate, “things are not so bad as that — Steenie himself never thought of her being a streetwalker, even when he thought the worst of her.”

“If it can at all console my Lord of Huntinglen,” said the citizen, “I can assure him of this lady’s good birth, and most fair and unspotted fame.”

“I am sorry for it,” said Lord Huntinglen — then interrupting himself, he said —“Heaven forgive me for being ungrateful for such comfort! — but I am well-nigh sorry she should be as you represent her, so much better than the villain deserves. To be condemned to wed beauty and innocence and honest birth —”

“Ay, and wealth, my lord — wealth,” insinuated the king, “is a better sentence than his perfidy has deserved.”

“It is long,” said the embittered father, “since I saw he was selfish and hardhearted; but to be a perjured liar — I never dreaded that such a blot would have fallen on my race! I will never look on him again.”

“Hoot ay, my lord, hoot ay,” said the king; “ye maun tak him to task roundly. I grant you should speak more in the vein of Demea than Mitio, vi nempe et via pervulgata patrum; but as for not seeing him again, and he your only son, that is altogether out of reason. I tell ye, man, (but I would not for a boddle that Baby Charles heard me,) that he might gie the glaiks to half the lasses of Lonnun, ere I could find in my heart speak such harsh words as you have said of this deil of a Dalgarno of yours.”

“May it please your Majesty to permit me to retire,” said Lord Huntinglen, “and dispose of the case according to your own royal sense of justice, for I desire no favour for him.”

“Aweel, my lord, so be it; and if your lordship can think,” added the Monarch, “of any thing in our power which might comfort you —”

“Your Majesty’s gracious sympathy,” said Lord Huntinglen, “has already comforted me as far as earth can; the rest must be from the King of kings.”

“To Him I commend you, my auld and faithful servant,” said James with emotion, as the earl withdrew from his presence. The king remained fixed in thought for some time, and then said to Heriot, “Jingling Geordie, ye ken all the privy doings of our Court, and have dune so these thirty years, though, like a wise man, ye hear, and see, and say nothing. Now, there is a thing I fain wad ken, in the way of philosophical inquiry — Did you ever hear of the umquhile Lady Huntinglen, the departed Countess of this noble earl, ganging a wee bit gleed in her walk through the world; I mean in the way of slipping a foot, casting a leglin-girth, or the like, ye understand me?”25

“On my word as an honest man,” said George Heriot, somewhat surprised at the question, “I never heard her wronged by the slightest breath of suspicion. She was a worthy lady, very circumspect in her walk, and lived in great concord with her husband, save that the good Countess was something of a puritan, and kept more company with ministers than was altogether agreeable to Lord Huntinglen, who is, as your Majesty well knows, a man of the old rough world, that will drink and swear.”

“O Geordie!” exclaimed the king, “these are auld-warld frailties, of whilk we dare not pronounce even ourselves absolutely free. But the warld grows worse from day to day, Geordie. The juveniles of this age may weel say with the poet —

‘Aetas parentum, pejor avis, tulit Nos nequiores —’

This Dalgarno does not drink so much, or swear so much, as his father; but he wenches, Geordie, and he breaks his word and oath baith. As to what you say of the leddy, and the ministers, we are a’ fallible creatures, Geordie, priests and kings, as weel as others; and wha kens but what that may account for the difference between this Dalgarno and his father? The earl is the vera soul of honour, and cares nae mair for warld’s gear than a noble hound for the quest of a foulmart; but as for his son, he was like to brazen us a’ out — ourselves, Steenie, Baby Charles, and our council — till he heard of the tocher, and then, by my kingly crown, he lap like a cock at a grossart! These are discrepancies betwixt parent and son not to be accounted for naturally, according to Baptista Porta, Michael Scott de secretis, and others. — Ah, Jingling Geordie, if your clouting the caldron, and jingling on pots, pans, and veshels of all manner of metal, hadna jingled a’ your grammar out of your head, I could have touched on that matter to you at mair length.”

Heriot was too plain-spoken to express much concern for the loss of his grammar learning on this occasion; but after modestly hinting that he had seen many men who could not fill their father’s bonnet, though no one had been suspected of wearing their father’s nightcap, he inquired “whether Lord Dalgarno had consented to do the Lady Hermione justice.”

“Troth, man, I have small doubt that he will,” quoth the king; “I gave him the schedule of her worldly substance, which you delivered to us in the council, and we allowed him half-an-hour to chew the cud upon that. It is rare reading for bringing him to reason. I left Baby Charles and Steenie laying his duty before him; and if he can resist doing what they desire him — why, I wish he would teach me the gate of it. O Geordie, Jingling Geordie, it was grand to hear Baby Charles laying down the guilt of dissimulation, and Steenie lecturing on the turpitude of incontinence!”

“I am afraid,” said George Heriot, more hastily than prudently, “I might have thought of the old proverb of Satan reproving sin.”

“Deil hae our saul, neighbour,” said the king, reddening, “but ye are not blate! I gie ye license to speak freely, and, by our saul, ye do not let the privilege become lost non utendo — it will suffer no negative prescription in your hands. Is it fit, think ye, that Baby Charles should let his thoughts be publicly seen? — No — no — princes’ thoughts are arcana imperiiQui nescit dissimulare nescit regnare. Every liege subject is bound to speak the whole truth to the king, but there is nae reciprocity of obligation — and for Steenie having been whiles a dike-louper at a time, is it for you, who are his goldsmith, and to whom, I doubt, he awes an uncomatable sum, to cast that up to him?”

Heriot did not feel himself called on to play the part of Zeno and sacrifice himself for upholding the cause of moral truth; he did not desert it, however, by disavowing his words, but simply expressed sorrow for having offended his Majesty, with which the placable king was sufficiently satisfied.

“And now, Geordie, man,” quoth he, “we will to this culprit, and hear what he has to say for himself, for I will see the job cleared this blessed day. Ye maun come wi’ me, for your evidence may be wanted.”

The king led the way, accordingly, into a larger apartment, where the Prince, the Duke of Buckingham, and one or two privy counsellors were seated at a table, before which stood Lord Dalgarno, in an attitude of as much elegant ease and indifference as could be expressed, considering the stiff dress and manners of the times.

All rose and bowed reverently, while the king, to use a north country word, expressive of his mode of locomotion, toddled to his chair or throne, making a sign to Heriot to stand behind him.

“We hope,” said his Majesty, “that Lord Dalgarno stands prepared to do justice to this unfortunate lady, and to his own character and honour?”

“May I humbly inquire the penalty,” said Lord Dalgarno, “in case I should unhappily find compliance with your Majesty’s demands impossible?”

“Banishment frae our Court, my lord,” said the king; “frae our Court and our countenance.”

“Unhappy exile that I may be!” said Lord Dalgarno, in a tone of subdued irony —“I will at least carry your Majesty’s picture with me, for I shall never see such another king.” “And banishment, my lord,” said the Prince, sternly, “from these our dominions.”

“That must be by form of law, please your Royal Highness,” said Dalgarno, with an affectation of deep respect; “and I have not heard that there is a statute, compelling us, under such penalty, to marry every woman we may play the fool with. Perhaps his Grace of Buckingham can tell me?”

“You are a villain, Dalgarno,” said the haughty and vehement favourite.

“Fie, my lord, fie! — to a prisoner, and in presence of your royal and paternal gossip!” said Lord Dalgarno. “But I will cut this deliberation short. I have looked over this schedule of the goods and effects of Erminia Pauletti, daughter of the late noble — yes, he is called the noble, or I read wrong, Giovanni Pauletti, of the Houee of Sansovino, in Genoa, and of the no less noble Lady Maud Olifaunt, of the House of Glenvarloch — Well, I declare that I was pre-contracted in Spain to this noble lady, and there has passed betwixt us some certain proelibatio matrimonii; and now, what more does this grave assembly require of me?”

“That you should repair the gross and infamous wrong you have done the lady, by marrying her within this hour,” said the Prince.

“O, may it please your Royal Highness,” answered Dalgarno, “I have a trifling relationship with an old Earl, who calls himself my father, who may claim some vote in the matter. Alas! every son is not blessed with an obedient parent!” He hazarded a slight glance towards the throne, to give meaning to his last words.

“We have spoken ourselves with Lord Huntinglen,” said the king, “and are authorised to consent in his name.”

“I could never have expected this intervention of a proxaneta, which the vulgar translate blackfoot, of such eminent dignity,” said Dalgarno, scarce concealing a sneer. “And my father hath consented? He was wont to say, ere we left Scotland, that the blood of Huntinglen and of Glenvarloch would not mingle, were they poured into the same basin. Perhaps he has a mind to try the experiment?”

“My lord,” said James, “we will not be longer trifled with — Will you instantly, and sine mora, take this lady to your wife, in our chapel?”

Statim atque instanter,” answered Lord Dalgarno; “for I perceive by doing so, I shall obtain power to render great services to the commonwealth — I shall have acquired wealth to supply the wants of your Majesty, and a fair wife to be at the command of his Grace of Buckingham.”

The Duke rose, passed to the end of the table where Lord Dalgarno was standing, and whispered in his ear, “You have placed a fair sister at my command ere now.”

This taunt cut deep through Lord Dalgarno’s assumed composure. He started as if an adder had stung him, but instantly composed himself, and, fixing on the Duke’s still smiling countenance an eye which spoke unutterable hatred, he pointed the forefinger of his left hand to the hilt of his sword, but in a manner which could scarce be observed by any one save Buckingham. The Duke gave him another smile of bitter scorn, and returned to his seat, in obedience to the commands of the king, who continued calling out, “Sit down, Steenie, sit down, I command ye — we will hae nae harnsbreaking here.”

“Your Majesty needs not fear my patience,” said Lord Dalgarno; “and that I may keep it the better, I will not utter another word in this presence, save those enjoined to me in that happy portion of the Prayer-Book, which begins with Dearly Beloved, and ends with amazement.”

“You are a hardened villain, Dalgarno,” said the king; “and were I the lass, by my father’s saul, I would rather brook the stain of having been your concubine, than run the risk of becoming your wife. But she shall be under our special protection. — Come, my lords, we will ourselves see this blithesome bridal.” He gave the signal by rising, and moved towards the door, followed by the train. Lord Dalgarno attended, speaking to none, and spoken to by no one, yet seeming as easy and unembarrassed in his gait and manner as if in reality a happy bridegroom.

They reached the Chapel by a private entrance, which communicated from the royal apartment. The Bishop of Winchester, in his pontifical dress, stood beside the altar; on the other side, supported by Monna Paula, the colourless, faded, half-lifeless form of the Lady Hermione, or Erminia Pauletti. Lord Dalgarno bowed profoundly to her, and the Prince, observing the horror with which she regarded him, walked up, and said to her, with much dignity — “Madam, ere you put yourself under the authority of this man, let me inform you, he hath in the fullest degree vindicated your honour, so far as concerns your former intercourse. It is for you to consider whether you will put your fortune and happiness into the hands of one, who has shown himself unworthy of all trust.”

The lady, with much difficulty, found words to make reply. “I owe to his Majesty’s goodness,” she said, “the care of providing me some reservation out of my own fortune, for my decent sustenance. The rest cannot be better disposed than in buying back the fair fame of which I am deprived, and the liberty of ending my life in peace and seclusion.”

“The contract has been drawn up,” said the king, “under our own eye, specially discharging the potestas maritalis, and agreeing they shall live separate. So buckle them, my Lord Bishop, as fast as you can, that they may sunder again the sooner.”

The Bishop accordingly opened his book and commenced the marriage ceremony, under circumstances so novel and so inauspicious. The responses of the bride were only expressed by inclinations of the head and body; while those of the bridegroom were spoken boldly and distinctly, with a tone resembling levity, if not scorn. When it was concluded, Lord Dalgarno advanced as if to salute the bride, but seeing that she drew back in fear and abhorrence, he contented himself with making her a low bow. He then drew up his form to its height, and stretched himself as if examining the power of his limbs, but elegantly, and without any forcible change of attitude. “I could caper yet,” he said “though I am in fetters — but they are of gold, and lightly worn. — Well, I see all eyes look cold on me, and it is time I should withdraw. The sun shines elsewhere than in England! But first I must ask how this fair Lady Dalgarno is to be bestowed. Methinks it is but decent I should know. Is she to be sent to the harem of my Lord Duke? Or is this worthy citizen, as before —”

“Hold thy base ribald tongue!” said his father, Lord Huntinglen, who had kept in the background during the ceremony, and now stepping suddenly forward, caught the lady by the arm, and confronted her unworthy husband. —“The Lady Dalgarno,” he continued, “shall remain as a widow in my house. A widow I esteem her, as much as if the grave had closed over her dishonoured husband.”

Lord Dalgarno exhibited momentary symptoms of extreme confusion, and said, in a submissive tone, “If you, my lord, can wish me dead, I cannot, though your heir, return the compliment. Few of the first-born of Israel,” he added, recovering himself from the single touch of emotion he had displayed, “can say so much with truth. But I will convince you ere I go, that I am a true descendant of a house famed for its memory of injuries.”

“I marvel your Majesty will listen to him longer,” said Prince Charles. “Methinks we have heard enough of his daring insolence.”

But James, who took the interest of a true gossip in such a scene as was now passing, could not bear to cut the controversy short, but imposed silence on his son, with “Whisht, Baby Charles — there is a good bairn, whisht! — I want to hear what the frontless loon can say.”

“Only, sir,” said Dalgarno, “that but for one single line in this schedule, all else that it contains could not have bribed me to take that woman’s hand into mine.”

“That line maun have been the SUMMA TOTALIS,” said the king.

“Not so, sire,” replied Dalgarno. “The sum total might indeed have been an object for consideration even to a Scottish king, at no very distant period; but it would have had little charms for me, save that I see here an entry which gives me the power of vengeance over the family of Glenvarloch; and learn from it that yonder pale bride, when she put the wedding-torch into my hand, gave me the power of burning her mother’s house to ashes!”

“How is that?” said the king. “What is he speaking about, Jingling Geordie?”

“This friendly citizen, my liege,” said Lord Dalgarno, “hath expended a sum belonging to my lady, and now, I thank heaven, to me, in acquiring a certain mortgage, or wanset, over the estate of Glenvarloch, which, if it be not redeemed before to-morrow at noon, will put me in possession of the fair demesnes of those who once called themselves our house’s rivals.”

“Can this be true?” said the king.

“It is even but too true, please your Majesty,” answered the citizen. “The Lady Hermione having advanced the money for the original creditor, I was obliged, in honour and honesty, to take the rights to her; and doubtless, they pass to her husband.”

“But the warrant, man,” said the king —“the warrant on our Exchequer — Couldna that supply the lad wi’ the means of redemption?”

“Unhappily, my liege, he has lost it, or disposed of it — It is not to be found. He is the most unlucky youth!”

“This is a proper spot of work!” said the king, beginning to amble about and play with the points of his doublet and hose, in expression of dismay. “We cannot aid him without paying our debts twice over, and we have, in the present state of our Exchequer, scarce the means of paying them once.”

“You have told me news,” said Lord Dalgarno, “but I will take no advantage.”

“Do not,” said his father, “be a bold villain, since thou must be one, and seek revenge with arms, and not with the usurer’s weapons.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” said Lord Dalgarno. “Pen and ink are now my surest means of vengeance; and more land is won by the lawyer with the ram-skin, than by the Andrea Ferrara with his sheepshead handle. But, as I said before, I will take no advantages. I will await in town to-morrow, near Covent Garden; if any one will pay the redemption-money to my scrivener, with whom the deeds lie, the better for Lord Glenvarloch; if not, I will go forward on the next day, and travel with all dispatch to the north, to take possession.”

“Take a father’s malison with you, unhappy wretch!” said Lord Huntinglen.

“And a king’s, who is pater patriae,” said James.

“I trust to bear both lightly,” said Lord Dalgarno; and bowing around him, he withdrew; while all present, oppressed, and, as it were, overawed, by his determined effrontery, found they could draw breath more freely, when he at length relieved them of his society. Lord Huntinglen, applying himself to comfort his new daughter-in-law, withdrew with her also; and the king, with his privy-council, whom he had not dismissed, again returned to his council-chamber, though the hour was unusually late. Heriot’s attendance was still commanded, but for what reason was not explained to him.

25A leglin-girth is the lowest hoop upon a leglin, or milk-pail. Allan Ramsay applies the phrase in the same metaphorical sense.

“Or bairns can read, they first maun spell,

I learn’d this frae my mammy,

And cast a leglin-girth mysell,

Lang ere I married Tammy.”

Christ’s Kirk On The Green.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/nigel/chapter32.html

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