The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 18.

And helter-skelter have I rode to thee,

And tidings do I bring, and lucky joys,

And golden times, and happy news of price.

Ancient Pistol.

Fortune, who seems at times to bear a conscience, owed the hospitable Udaller some amends, and accordingly repaid to Burgh-Westra the disappointment occasioned by the unsuccessful whale-fishing, by sending thither, on the evening of the day in which that incident happened, no less a person than the jagger, or travelling merchant, as he styled himself, Bryce Snailsfoot, who arrived in great pomp, himself on one pony, and his pack of goods, swelled to nearly double its usual size, forming the burden of another, which was led by a bare-headed bare-legged boy.

As Bryce announced himself the bearer of important news, he was introduced to the dining apartment, where (for that primitive age was no respecter of persons) he was permitted to sit down at a side-table, and amply supplied with provisions and good liquor; while the attentive hospitality of Magnus permitted no questions to be put to him, until, his hunger and thirst appeased, he announced, with the sense of importance attached to distant travels, that he had just yesterday arrived at Lerwick from Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, and would have been here yesterday, but it blew hard off the Fitful-head.

“We had no wind here,” said Magnus.

“There is somebody has not been sleeping, then,” said the pedlar, “and her name begins with N; but Heaven is above all.”

“But the news from Orkney, Bryce, instead of croaking about a capful of wind?”

“Such news,” replied Bryce, “as has not been heard this thirty years — not since Cromwell’s time.”

“There is not another Revolution, is there?” said Halcro; “King James has not come back, as blithe as King Charlie did, has he?”

“It’s news,” replied the pedlar, “that are worth twenty kings, and kingdoms to boot of them; for what good did the evolutions ever do us? and I dare say we have seen a dozen, great and sma’.”

“Are any Indiamen come north about?” said Magnus Troil.

“Ye are nearer the mark, Fowd,” said the jagger; “but it is nae Indiaman, but a gallant armed vessel, chokeful of merchandise, that they part with so easy that a decent man like my sell can afford to give the country the best pennyworths you ever saw; and that you will say, when I open that pack, for I count to carry it back another sort lighter than when I brought it here.”

“Ay, ay, Bryce,” said the Udaller, “you must have had good bargains if you sell cheap; but what ship was it?”

“Cannot justly say — I spoke to nobody but the captain, who was a discreet man; but she had been down on the Spanish Main, for she has silks and satins, and tobacco, I warrant you, and wine, and no lack of sugar, and bonny-wallies baith of silver and gowd, and a bonnie dredging of gold dust into the bargain.”

“What like was she?” said Cleveland, who seemed to give much attention.

“A stout ship,” said the itinerant merchant, “schooner-rigged, sails like a dolphin, they say, carries twelve guns, and is pierced for twenty.”

“Did you hear the captain’s name?” said Cleveland, speaking rather lower than his usual tone.

“I just ca’d him the Captain,” replied Bryce Snailsfoot; “for I make it a rule never to ask questions of them I deal with in the way of trade; for there is many an honest captain, begging your pardon, Captain Cleveland, that does not care to have his name tacked to his title; and as lang as we ken what bargains we are making, what signifies it wha we are making them wi’, ye ken?”

“Bryce Snailsfoot is a cautious man,” said the Udaller, laughing; “he knows a fool may ask more questions than a wise man cares to answer.”

“I have dealt with the fair traders in my day,” replied Snailsfoot, “and I ken nae use in blurting braid out with a man’s name at every moment; but I will uphold this gentleman to be a gallant commander — ay, and a kind one too; for every one of his crew is as brave in apparel as himself nearly — the very foremast-men have their silken scarfs; I have seen many a lady wear a warse, and think hersell nae sma’ drink — and for siller buttons, and buckles, and the lave of sic vanities, there is nae end of them.”

“Idiots!” muttered Cleveland between his teeth; and then added, “I suppose they are often ashore, to show all their bravery to the lasses of Kirkwall?”

“Ne’er a bit of that are they. The Captain will scarce let them stir ashore without the boatswain go in the boat — as rough a tarpaulin as ever swabb’d a deck — and you may as weel catch a cat without her claws, as him without his cutlass and his double brace of pistols about him; every man stands as much in awe of him as of the commander himsell.”

“That must be Hawkins, or the devil,” said Cleveland.

“Aweel, Captain,” replied the jagger, “be he the tane or the tither, or a wee bit o’ baith, mind it is you that give him these names, and not I.”

“Why, Captain Cleveland,” said the Udaller, “this may prove the very consort you spoke of.”

“They must have had some good luck, then,” said Cleveland, “to put them in better plight than when I left them. — Did they speak of having lost their consort, pedlar?”

“In troth did they,” said Bryce; “that is, they said something about a partner that had gone down to Davie Jones in these seas.”

“And did you tell them what you knew of her?” said the Udaller.

“And wha the deevil wad hae been the fule, then,” said the pedlar, “that I suld say sae? When they kend what came of the ship, the next question wad have been about the cargo — and ye wad not have had me bring down an armed vessel on the coast, to harrie the poor folk about a wheen rags of duds that the sea flung upon their shores?”

“Besides, what might have been found in your own pack, you scoundrel!” said Magnus Troil; an observation which produced a loud laugh. The Udaller could not help joining in the hilarity which applauded his jest; but instantly composing his countenance, he said, in an unusually grave tone, “You may laugh, my friends; but this is a matter which brings both a curse and a shame on the country; and till we learn to regard the rights of them that suffer by the winds and waves, we shall deserve to be oppressed and hag-ridden, as we have been and are, by the superior strength of the strangers who rule us.”

The company hung their heads at the rebuke of Magnus Troil. Perhaps some, even of the better class, might be conscience-struck on their own account; and all of them were sensible that the appetite for plunder, on the part of the tenants and inferiors, was not at all times restrained with sufficient strictness. But Cleveland made answer gaily, “If these honest fellows be my comrades, I will answer for them that they will never trouble the country about a parcel of chests, hammocks, and such trumpery, that the Roost may have washed ashore out of my poor sloop. What signifies to them whether the trash went to Bryce Snailsfoot, or to the bottom, or to the devil? So unbuckle thy pack, Bryce, and show the ladies thy cargo, and perhaps we may see something that will please them.”

“It cannot be his consort,” said Brenda, in a whisper to her sister; “he would have shown more joy at her appearance.”

“It must be the vessel,” answered Minna; “I saw his eye glisten at the thought of being again united to the partner of his dangers.”

“Perhaps it glistened,” said her sister, still apart, “at the thought of leaving Zetland; it is difficult to guess the thought of the heart from the glance of the eye.”

“Judge not, at least, unkindly of a friend’s thought,” said Minna; “and then, Brenda, if you are mistaken, the fault rests not with you.”

During this dialogue, Bryce Snailsfoot was busied in uncoiling the carefully arranged cordage of his pack, which amounted to six good yards of dressed seal-skin, curiously complicated and secured by all manner of knots and buckles. He was considerably interrupted in the task by the Udaller and others, who pressed him with questions respecting the stranger vessel.

“Were the officers often ashore? and how were they received by the people of Kirkwall?” said Magnus Troil.

“Excellently well,” answered Bryce Snailsfoot; “and the Captain and one or two of his men had been at some of the vanities and dances which went forward in the town; but there had been some word about customs, or king’s duties, or the like, and some of the higher folk, that took upon them as magistrates, or the like, had had words with the Captain, and he refused to satisfy them; and then it is like he was more coldly looked on, and he spoke of carrying the ship round to Stromness, or the Langhope, for she lay under the guns of the battery at Kirkwall. But he” (Bryce) “thought she wad bide at Kirkwall till the summer-fair was over, for all that.”

“The Orkney gentry,” said Magnus Troil, “are always in a hurry to draw the Scotch collar tighter round their own necks. Is it not enough that we must pay scat and wattle, which were all the public dues under our old Norse government; but must they come over us with king’s dues and customs besides? It is the part of an honest man to resist these things. I have done so all my life, and will do so to the end of it.”

There was a loud jubilee and shout of applause among the guests, who were (some of them at least) better pleased with Magnus Troil’s latitudinarian principles with respect to the public revenue, (which were extremely natural to those living in so secluded a situation, and subjected to many additional exactions,) than they had been with the rigour of his judgment on the subject of wrecked goods. But Minna’s inexperienced feelings carried her farther than her father, while she whispered to Brenda, not unheard by Cleveland, that the tame spirit of the Orcadians had missed every chance which late incidents had given them to emancipate these islands from the Scottish yoke.

“Why,” she said, “should we not, under so many changes as late times have introduced, have seized the opportunity to shake off an allegiance which is not justly due from us, and to return to the protection of Denmark, our parent country? Why should we yet hesitate to do this, but that the gentry of Orkney have mixed families and friendship so much with our invaders, that they have become dead to the throb of the heroic Norse blood, which they derived from their ancestors?”

The latter part of this patriotic speech happened to reach the astonished ears of our friend Triptolemus, who, having a sincere devotion for the Protestant succession, and the Revolution as established, was surprised into the ejaculation, “As the old cock crows the young cock learns — hen I should say, mistress, and I crave your pardon if I say any thing amiss in either gender. But it is a happy country where the father declares against the king’s customs, and the daughter against the king’s crown! and, in my judgment, it can end in naething but trees and tows.”

“Trees are scarce among us,” said Magnus; “and for ropes, we need them for our rigging, and cannot spare them to be shirt-collars.”

“And whoever,” said the Captain, “takes umbrage at what this young lady says, had better keep his ears and tongue for a safer employment than such an adventure.”

“Ay, ay,” said Triptolemus, “it helps the matter much to speak truths, whilk are as unwelcome to a proud stomach as wet clover to a cow’s, in a land where lads are ready to draw the whittle if a lassie but looks awry. But what manners are to be expected in a country where folk call a pleugh-sock a markal?”

“Hark ye, Master Yellowley,” said the Captain, smiling, “I hope my manners are not among those abuses which you come hither to reform; any experiment on them may be dangerous.”

“As well as difficult,” said Triptolemus, dryly; “but fear nothing, Captain Cleveland, from my remonstrances. My labours regard the men and things of the earth, and not the men and things of the sea — you are not of my element.”

“Let us be friends, then, old clod-compeller,” said the Captain.

“Clod-compeller!” said the agriculturist, bethinking himself of the lore of his earlier days; “Clod-compeller pro cloud-compeller, Νεφεληγερέτα Ζευς(o)Græcum est — in which voyage came you by that phrase?”

“I have travelled books as well as seas in my day,” said the Captain; “but my last voyages have been of a sort to make me forget my early cruizes through classic knowledge. — But come here, Bryce — hast cast off the lashing? — Come all hands, and let us see if he has aught in his cargo that is worth looking upon.”

With a proud, and, at the same time, a wily smile, did the crafty pedlar display a collection of wares far superior to those which usually filled his packages, and, in particular, some stuffs and embroideries, of such beauty and curiosity, fringed, flowered, and worked, with such art and magnificence, upon foreign and arabesque patterns, that the sight might have dazzled a far more brilliant company than the simple race of Thule. All beheld and admired, while Mistress Baby Yellowley, holding up her hands, protested it was a sin even to look upon such extravagance, and worse than murder so much as to ask the price of them.

Others, however, were more courageous; and the prices demanded by the merchant, if they were not, as he himself declared, something just more than nothing — short only of an absolute free gift of his wares, were nevertheless so moderate, as to show that he himself must have made an easy acquisition of the goods, judging by the rate at which he offered to part with them. Accordingly, the cheapness of the articles created a rapid sale; for in Zetland, as well as elsewhere, wise folk buy more from the prudential desire to secure a good bargain, than from any real occasion for the purchase. The Lady Glowrowrum bought seven petticoats and twelve stomachers on this sole principle, and other matrons present rivalled her in this sagacious species of economy. The Udaller was also a considerable purchaser; but the principal customer for whatever could please the eye of beauty, was the gallant Captain Cleveland, who rummaged the jagger’s stores in selecting presents for the ladies of the party, in which Minna and Brenda Troil were especially remembered.

“I fear,” said Magnus Troil, “that the young women are to consider these pretty presents as keepsakes, and that all this liberality is only a sure sign we are soon to lose you?”

This question seemed to embarrass him to whom it was put.

“I scarce know,” he said with some hesitation, “whether this vessel is my consort or no — I must take a trip to Kirkwall to make sure of that matter, and then I hope to return to Dunrossness to bid you all farewell.”

“In that case,” said the Udaller, after a moment’s pause, “I think I may carry you thither. I should be at the Kirkwall fair, to settle with the merchants I have consigned my fish to, and I have often promised Minna and Brenda that they should see the fair. Perhaps also your consort, or these strangers, whoever they be, may have some merchandise that will suit me. I love to see my rigging-loft well stocked with goods, almost as much as to see it full of dancers. We will go to Orkney in my own brig, and I can offer you a hammock, if you will.”

The offer seemed so acceptable to Cleveland, that, after pouring himself forth in thanks, he seemed determined to mark his joy by exhausting Bryce Snailsfoot’s treasures in liberality to the company. The contents of a purse of gold were transferred to the jagger, with a facility and indifference on the part of its former owner which argued either the greatest profusion, or consciousness of superior and inexhaustible wealth; so that Baby whispered to her brother, that, “if he could afford to fling away money at this rate, the lad had made a better voyage in a broken ship, than all the skippers of Dundee had made in their haill anes for a twelvemonth past.”

But the angry feeling in which she made this remark was much mollified, when Cleveland, whose object it seemed that evening to be, to buy golden opinions of all sorts of men, approached her with a garment somewhat resembling in shape the Scottish plaid, but woven of a sort of wool so soft, that it felt to the touch as if it were composed of eider-down. “This,” he said, “was a part of a Spanish lady’s dress, called a mantilla; as it would exactly fit the size of Mrs. Baby Yellowley, and was very well suited for the fogs of the climate of Zetland, he entreated her to wear it for his sake.” The lady, with as much condescending sweetness as her countenance was able to express, not only consented to receive this mark of gallantry, but permitted the donor to arrange the mantilla upon her projecting and bony shoulder-blades, where, said Claud Halcro, “it hung, for all the world, as if it had been stretched betwixt a couple of cloak-pins.”

While the Captain was performing this piece of courtesy, much to the entertainment of the company, which, it may be presumed, was his principal object from the beginning, Mordaunt Mertoun made purchase of a small golden chaplet, with the private intention of presenting it to Brenda, when he should find an opportunity. The price was fixed, and the article laid aside. Claud Halcro also showed some desire of possessing a silver box of antique shape, for depositing tobacco, which he was in the habit of using in considerable quantity. But the bard seldom had current coin in promptitude, and, indeed, in his wandering way of life, had little occasion for any; and Bryce, on the other hand, his having been hitherto a ready-money trade, protested, that his very moderate profits upon such rare and choice articles, would not allow of his affording credit to the purchaser. Mordaunt gathered the import of this conversation from the mode in which they whispered together, while the bard seemed to advance a wishful finger towards the box in question, and the cautious pedlar detained it with the weight of his whole hand, as if he had been afraid it would literally make itself wings, and fly into Claud Halcro’s pocket. Mordaunt Mertoun at this moment, desirous to gratify an old acquaintance, laid the price of the box on the table, and said he would not permit Master Halcro to purchase that box, as he had settled in his own mind to make him a present of it.

“I cannot think of robbing you, my dear young friend,” said the poet; “but the truth is, that that same box does remind me strangely of glorious John’s, out of which I had the honour to take a pinch at the Wits’ Coffeehouse, for which I think more highly of my right-hand finger and thumb than any other part of my body; only you must allow me to pay you back the price when my Urkaster stock-fish come to market.”

“Settle that as you like betwixt you,” said the jagger, taking up Mordaunt’s money; “the box is bought and sold.”

“And how dare you sell over again,” said Captain Cleveland, suddenly interfering, “what you already have sold to me?”

All were surprised at this interjection, which was hastily made, as Cleveland, having turned from Mistress Baby, had become suddenly, and, as it seemed, not without emotion, aware what articles Bryce Snailsfoot was now disposing of. To this short and fierce question, the jagger, afraid to contradict a customer of his description, answered only by stammering, that the “Lord knew he meant nae offence.”

“How, sir! no offence!” said the seaman, “and dispose of my property?” extending his hand at the same time to the box and chaplet; “restore the young gentleman’s money, and learn to keep your course on the meridian of honesty.”

The jagger, confused and reluctant, pulled out his leathern pouch to repay to Mordaunt the money he had just deposited in it; but the youth was not to be so satisfied.

“The articles,” he said, “were bought and sold — these were your own words, Bryce Snailsfoot, in Master Halcro’s hearing; and I will suffer neither you nor any other to deprive me of my property.”

Your property, young man?” said Cleveland; “It is mine — I spoke to Bryce respecting them an instant before I turned from the table.”

“I— I— I had not just heard distinctly,” said Bryce, evidently unwilling to offend either party.

“Come, come,” said the Udaller, “we will have no quarrelling about baubles; we shall be summoned presently to the rigging-loft,”— so he used to call the apartment used as a ball-room — “and we must all go in good-humour. The things shall remain with Bryce for to-night, and to-morrow I will myself settle whom they shall belong to.”

The laws of the Udaller in his own house were absolute as those of the Medes. The two young men, regarding each other with looks of sullen displeasure, drew off in different directions.

It is seldom that the second day of a prolonged festival equals the first. The spirits, as well as the limbs, are jaded, and unequal to the renewed expenditure of animation and exertion; and the dance at Burgh-Westra was sustained with much less mirth than on the preceding evening. It was yet an hour from midnight, when even the reluctant Magnus Troil, after regretting the degeneracy of the times, and wishing he could transfuse into the modern Hialtlanders some of the vigour which still animated his own frame, found himself compelled to give the signal for general retreat.

Just as this took place, Halcro, leading Mordaunt Mertoun a little aside, said he had a message to him from Captain Cleveland.

“A message!” said Mordaunt, his heart beating somewhat thick as he spoke —“A challenge, I suppose?”

“A challenge!” repeated Halcro; “who ever heard of a challenge in our quiet islands? Do you think that I look like a carrier of challenges, and to you of all men living? — I am none of those fighting fools, as glorious John calls them; and it was not quite a message I had to deliver — only thus far — this Captain Cleveland, I find, hath set his heart upon having these articles you looked at.”

“He shall not have them, I swear to you,” replied Mordaunt Mertoun.

“Nay, but hear me,” said Halcro; “it seems that, by the marks or arms that are upon them, he knows that they were formerly his property. Now, were you to give me the box, as you promised, I fairly tell you, I should give the man back his own.”

“And Brenda might do the like,” thought Mordaunt to himself, and instantly replied aloud, “I have thought better of it, my friend. Captain Cleveland shall have the toys he sets such store by, but it is on one sole condition.”

“Nay, you will spoil all with your conditions,” said Halcro; “for, as glorious John says, conditions are but”——

“Hear me, I say, with patience. — My condition is, that he keeps the toys in exchange for the rifle-gun I accepted from him, which will leave no obligation between us on either side.”

“I see where you would be — this is Sebastian and Dorax all over. Well, you may let the jagger know he is to deliver the things to Cleveland — I think he is mad to have them — and I will let Cleveland know the conditions annexed, otherwise honest Bryce might come by two payments instead of one; and I believe his conscience would not choke upon it.”

With these words, Halcro went to seek out Cleveland, while Mordaunt, observing Snailsfoot, who, as a sort of privileged person, had thrust himself into the crowd at the bottom of the dancing-room, went up to him, and gave him directions to deliver the disputed articles to Cleveland as soon as he had an opportunity.

“Ye are in the right, Maister Mordaunt,” said the jagger; “ye are a prudent and a sensible lad — a calm answer turneth away wrath — and mysell, I sall be willing to please you in ony trifling matters in my sma’ way; for, between the Udaller of Burgh-Westra and Captain Cleveland, a man is, as it were, atween the deil and the deep sea; and it was like that the Udaller, in the end, would have taken your part in the dispute, for he is a man that loves justice.”

“Which apparently you care very little about, Master Snailsfoot,” said Mordaunt, “otherwise there could have been no dispute whatever, the right being so clearly on my side, if you had pleased to bear witness according to the dictates of truth.”

“Maister Mordaunt,” said the jagger, “I must own there was, as it were, a colouring or shadow of justice on your side; but then, the justice that I meddle with, is only justice in the way of trade, to have an ellwand of due length, if it be not something worn out with leaning on it in my lang and painful journeys, and to buy and sell by just weight and measure, twenty-four merks to the lispund; but I have nothing to do, to do justice betwixt man and man, like a Fowd or a Lawright-man at a lawting lang syne.”

“No one asked you to do so, but only to give evidence according to your conscience,” replied Mordaunt, not greatly pleased either with the part the jagger had acted during the dispute, or the construction which he seemed to put on his own motives for yielding up the point.

But Bryce Snailsfoot wanted not his answer; “My conscience,” he said, “Maister Mordaunt, is as tender as ony man’s in my degree; but she is something of a timorsome nature, cannot abide angry folk, and can never speak above her breath, when there is aught of a fray going forward. Indeed, she hath at all times a small and low voice.”

“Which you are not much in the habit of listening to,” said Mordaunt.

“There is that on your ain breast that proves the contrary,” said Bryce, resolutely.

“In my breast?” said Mordaunt, somewhat angrily — “what know I of you?”

“I said on your breast, Maister Mordaunt, and not in it. I am sure nae eye that looks on that waistcoat upon your own gallant brisket, but will say, that the merchant who sold such a piece for four dollars had justice and conscience, and a kind heart to a customer to the boot of a’ that; sae ye shouldna be sae thrawart wi’ me for having spared the breath of my mouth in a fool’s quarrel.”

“I thrawart!” said Mordaunt; “pooh, you silly man! I have no quarrel with you.”

“I am glad of it,” said the travelling merchant; “I will quarrel with no man, with my will — least of all with an old customer; and if you will walk by my advice, you will quarrel nane with Captain Cleveland. He is like one of yon cutters and slashers that have come into Kirkwall, that think as little of slicing a man, as we do of flinching a whale — it’s their trade to fight, and they live by it; and they have the advantage of the like of you, that only take it up at your own hand, and in the way of pastime, when you hae nothing better to do.”

The company had now almost all dispersed; and Mordaunt, laughing at the jagger’s caution, bade him good-night, and went to his own place of repose, which had been assigned to him by Eric Scambester, (who acted the part of chamberlain as well as butler,) in a small room, or rather closet, in one of the outhouses, furnished for the occasion with the hammock of a sailor.

o p. 279. For Νεφεληγερέτα Ζευς read Νεφεληγερέτα Ζεύς. — A.L.

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