The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 42.

Go, some of you cry a reprieve!

Beggar’s Opera.

Captain Weatherport had, before this time, reached Kirkwall in person, and was received with great joy and thankfulness by the Magistrates, who had assembled in council for the purpose. The Provost, in particular, expressed himself delighted with the providential arrival of the Halcyon, at the very conjuncture when the Pirate could not escape her. The Captain looked a little surprised, and said —“For that, sir, you may thank the information you yourself supplied.”

“That I supplied?” said the Provost, somewhat astonished.

“Yes, sir,” answered Captain Weatherport, “I understand you to be George Torfe, Chief Magistrate of Kirkwall, who subscribes this letter.”

The astonished Provost took the letter addressed to Captain Weatherport of the Halcyon, stating the arrival, force, &c., of the pirates’ vessel; but adding, that they had heard of the Halcyon being on the coast, and that they were on their guard and ready to baffle her, by going among the shoals, and through the islands, and holms, where the frigate could not easily follow; and at the worst, they were desperate enough to propose running the sloop ashore and blowing her up, by which much booty and treasure would be lost to the captors. The letter, therefore, suggested, that the Halcyon should cruise betwixt Duncansbay Head and Cape Wrath, for two or three days, to relieve the pirates of the alarm her neighbourhood occasioned, and lull them into security, the more especially as the letter-writer knew it to be their intention, if the frigate left the coast, to go into Stromness Bay, and there put their guns ashore for some necessary repairs, or even for careening their vessel, if they could find means. The letter concluded by assuring Captain Weatherport, that, if he could bring his frigate into Stromness Bay on the morning of the 24th of August, he would have a good bargain of the pirates — if sooner, he was not unlikely to miss them.

“This letter is not of my writing or subscribing, Captain Weatherport,” said the Provost; “nor would I have ventured to advise any delay in your coming hither.”

The Captain was surprised in his turn. “All I know is, that it reached me when I was in the bay of Thurso, and that I gave the boat’s crew that brought it five dollars for crossing the Pentland Frith in very rough weather. They had a dumb dwarf as cockswain, the ugliest urchin my eyes ever opened upon. I give you much credit for the accuracy of your intelligence, Mr. Provost.”

“It is lucky as it is,” said the Provost; “yet I question whether the writer of this letter would not rather that you had found the nest cold and the bird flown.”

So saying, he handed the letter to Magnus Troil, who returned it with a smile, but without any observation, aware, doubtless, with the sagacious reader, that Norna had her own reasons for calculating with accuracy on the date of the Halcyon’s arrival.

Without puzzling himself farther concerning a circumstance which seemed inexplicable, the Captain requested that the examinations might proceed; and Cleveland and Altamont, as he chose to be called, were brought up the first of the pirate crew, on the charge of having acted as Captain and Lieutenant. They had just commenced the examination, when, after some expostulation with the officers who kept the door, Basil Mertoun burst into the apartment and exclaimed, “Take the old victim for the young one! — I am Basil Vaughan, too well known on the windward station — take my life, and spare my son’s!”

All were astonished, and none more than Magnus Troil, who hastily explained to the Magistrates and Captain Weatherport, that this gentleman had been living peaceably and honestly on the Mainland of Zetland for many years.

“In that case,” said the Captain, “I wash my hands of the poor man, for he is safe, under two proclamations of mercy; and, by my soul, when I see them, the father and his offspring, hanging on each other’s neck, I wish I could say as much for the son.”

“But how is it — how can it be?” said the Provost; “we always called the old man Mertoun, and the young, Cleveland, and now it seems they are both named Vaughan.”

“Vaughan,” answered Magnus, “is a name which I have some reason to remember; and, from what I have lately heard from my cousin Norna, that old man has a right to bear it.”

“And, I trust, the young man also,” said the Captain, who had been looking over a memorandum. “Listen to me a moment,” added he, addressing the younger Vaughan, whom we have hitherto called Cleveland. “Hark you, sir, your name is said to be Clement Vaughan — are you the same, who, then a mere boy, commanded a party of rovers, who, about eight or nine years ago, pillaged a Spanish village called Quempoa, on the Spanish Main, with the purpose of seizing some treasure?”

“It will avail me nothing to deny it,” answered the prisoner.

“No,” said Captain Weatherport, “but it may do you service to admit it. — Well, the muleteers escaped with the treasure, while you were engaged in protecting, at the hazard of your own life, the honour of two Spanish ladies against the brutality of your followers. Do you remember any thing of this?”

“I am sure I do,” said Jack Bunce; “for our Captain here was marooned for his gallantry, and I narrowly escaped flogging and pickling for having taken his part.”

“When these points are established,” said Captain Weatherport, “Vaughan’s life is safe — the women he saved were persons of quality, daughters to the governor of the province, and application was long since made, by the grateful Spaniard, to our government, for favour to be shown to their preserver. I had special orders about Clement Vaughan, when I had a commission for cruizing upon the pirates, in the West Indies, six or seven years since. But Vaughan was gone then as a name amongst them; and I heard enough of Cleveland in his room. However, Captain, be you Cleveland or Vaughan, I think that, as the Quempoa hero, I can assure you a free pardon when you arrive in London.”

Cleveland bowed, and the blood mounted to his face. Mertoun fell on his knees, and exhausted himself in thanksgiving to Heaven. They were removed, amidst the sympathizing sobs of the spectators.

“And now, good Master Lieutenant, what have you got to say for yourself?” said Captain Weatherport to the ci-devant Roscius.

“Why, little or nothing, please your honour; only that I wish your honour could find my name in that book of mercy you have in your hand; for I stood by Captain Clement Vaughan in that Quempoa business.”

“You call yourself Frederick Altamont?” said Captain Weatherport. “I can see no such name here; one John Bounce, or Bunce, the lady put on her tablets.”

“Why, that is me — that is I myself, Captain — I can prove it; and I am determined, though the sound be something plebeian, rather to live Jack Bunce, than to hang as Frederick Altamont.”

“In that case,” said the Captain, “I can give you some hopes as John Bunce.”

“Thank your noble worship!” shouted Bunce; then changing his tone, he said, “Ah, since an alias has such virtue, poor Dick Fletcher might have come off as Timothy Tugmutton; but howsomdever, d’ye see, to use his own phrase”——

“Away with the Lieutenant,” said the Captain, “and bring forward Goffe and the other fellows; there will be ropes reeved for some of them, I think.” And this prediction promised to be amply fulfilled, so strong was the proof which was brought against them.

The Halcyon was accordingly ordered round to carry the whole prisoners to London, for which she set sail in the course of two days.

During the time that the unfortunate Cleveland remained at Kirkwall, he was treated with civility by the Captain of the Halcyon; and the kindness of his old acquaintance, Magnus Troil, who knew in secret how closely he was allied to his blood, pressed on him accommodations of every kind, more than he could be prevailed on to accept.

Norna, whose interest in the unhappy prisoner was still more deep, was at this time unable to express it. The sexton had found her lying on the pavement in a swoon, and when she recovered, her mind for the time had totally lost its equipoise, and it became necessary to place her under the restraint of watchful attendants.

Of the sisters of Burgh-Westra, Cleveland only heard that they remained ill, in consequence of the fright to which they had been subjected, until the evening before the Halcyon sailed, when he received, by a private conveyance, the following billet:

—“Farewell, Cleveland — we part for ever, and it is right that we should — Be virtuous and be happy. The delusions which a solitary education and limited acquaintance with the modern world had spread around me, are gone and dissipated for ever. But in you, I am sure, I have been thus far free from error — that you are one to whom good is naturally more attractive than evil, and whom only necessity, example, and habit, have forced into your late course of life. Think of me as one who no longer exists, unless you should become as much the object of general praise, as now of general reproach; and then think of me as one who will rejoice in your reviving fame, though she must never see you more!”—

The note was signed M. T.; and Cleveland, with a deep emotion, which he testified even by tears, read it an hundred times over, and then clasped it to his bosom.

Mordaunt Mertoun heard by letter from his father, but in a very different style. Basil bade him farewell for ever, and acquitted him henceforward of the duties of a son, as one on whom he, notwithstanding the exertions of many years, had found himself unable to bestow the affections of a parent. The letter informed him of a recess in the old house of Jarlshof, in which the writer had deposited a considerable quantity of specie and of treasure, which he desired Mordaunt to use as his own. “You need not fear,” the letter bore, “either that you lay yourself under obligation to me, or that you are sharing the spoils of piracy. What is now given over to you, is almost entirely the property of your deceased mother, Louisa Gonzago, and is yours by every right. Let us forgive each other,” was the conclusion, “as they who must meet no more.”— And they never met more; for the elder Mertoun, against whom no charge was ever preferred, disappeared after the fate of Cleveland was determined, and was generally believed to have retired into a foreign convent.

The fate of Cleveland will be most briefly expressed in a letter which Minna received within two months after the Halcyon left Kirkwall. The family were then assembled at Burgh-Westra, and Mordaunt was a member of it for the time, the good Udaller thinking he could never sufficiently repay the activity which he had shown in the defence of his daughters. Norna, then beginning to recover from her temporary alienation of mind, was a guest in the family, and Minna, who was sedulous in her attention upon this unfortunate victim of mental delusion, was seated with her, watching each symptom of returning reason, when the letter we allude to was placed in her hands.

“Minna,” it said —“dearest Minna! — farewell, and for ever! Believe me, I never meant you wrong — never. From the moment I came to know you, I resolved to detach myself from my hateful comrades, and had framed a thousand schemes, which have proved as vain as they deserved to be — for why, or how, should the fate of her that is so lovely, pure, and innocent, be involved with that of one so guilty? — Of these dreams I will speak no more. The stern reality of my situation is much milder than I either expected or deserved; and the little good I did has outweighed, in the minds of honourable and merciful judges, much that was evil and criminal. I have not only been exempted from the ignominious death to which several of my compeers are sentenced; but Captain Weatherport, about once more to sail for the Spanish Main, under the apprehension of an immediate war with that country, has generously solicited and obtained permission to employ me, and two or three more of my less guilty associates, in the same service — a measure recommended to himself by his own generous compassion, and to others by our knowledge of the coast, and of local circumstances, which, by whatever means acquired, we now hope to use for the service of our country. Minna, you will hear my name pronounced with honour, or you will never hear it again. If virtue can give happiness, I need not wish it to you, for it is yours already. — Farewell, Minna.”

Minna wept so bitterly over this letter, that it attracted the attention of the convalescent Norna. She snatched it from the hand of her kinswoman, and read it over at first with the confused air of one to whom it conveyed no intelligence — then with a dawn of recollection — then with a burst of mingled joy and grief, in which she dropped it from her hand. Minna snatched it up, and retired with her treasure to her own apartment.

From that time Norna appeared to assume a different character. Her dress was changed to one of a more simple and less imposing appearance. Her dwarf was dismissed, with ample provision for his future comfort. She showed no desire of resuming her erratic life; and directed her observatory, as it might be called, on Fitful-head, to be dismantled. She refused the name of Norna, and would only be addressed by her real appellation of Ulla Troil. But the most important change remained behind. Formerly, from the dreadful dictates of spiritual despair, arising out of the circumstances of her father’s death, she seemed to have considered herself as an outcast from divine grace; besides, that, enveloped in the vain occult sciences which she pretended to practise, her study, like that of Chaucer’s physician, had been “but little in the Bible.” Now, the sacred volume was seldom laid aside; and, to the poor ignorant people who came as formerly to invoke her power over the elements, she only replied —“The winds are in the hollow of His hand.”— Her conversion was not, perhaps, altogether rational; for this, the state of a mind disordered by such a complication of horrid incidents, probably prevented. But it seemed to be sincere, and was certainly useful. She appeared deeply to repent of her former presumptuous attempts to interfere with the course of human events, superintended as they are by far higher powers, and expressed bitter compunction when such her former pretensions were in any manner recalled to her memory. She still showed a partiality to Mordaunt, though, perhaps, arising chiefly from habit; nor was it easy to know how much or how little she remembered of the complicated events in which she had been connected. When she died, which was about four years after the events we have commemorated, it was found that, at the special and earnest request of Minna Troil, she had conveyed her very considerable property to Brenda. A clause in her will specially directed, that all the books, implements of her laboratory, and other things connected with her former studies, should be committed to the flames.

About two years before Norna’s death, Brenda was wedded to Mordaunt Mertoun. It was some time before old Magnus Troil, with all his affection for his daughter, and all his partiality for Mordaunt, was able frankly to reconcile himself to this match. But Mordaunt’s accomplishments were peculiarly to the Udaller’s taste, and the old man felt the impossibility of supplying his place in his family so absolutely, that at length his Norse blood gave way to the natural feeling of the heart, and he comforted his pride while he looked around him, and saw what he considered as the encroachments of the Scottish gentry upon THE COUNTRY, (so Zetland is fondly termed by its inhabitants,) that as well “his daughter married the son of an English pirate, as of a Scottish thief,” in scornful allusion to the Highland and Border families, to whom Zetland owes many respectable landholders; but whose ancestors were generally esteemed more renowned for ancient family and high courage, than for accurately regarding the trifling distinctions of meum and tuum. The jovial old man lived to the extremity of human life, with the happy prospect of a numerous succession in the family of his younger daughter; and having his board cheered alternately by the minstrelsy of Claud Halcro, and enlightened by the lucubrations of Mr. Triptolemus Yellowley, who, laying aside his high pretensions, was, when he became better acquainted with the manners of the islanders, and remembered the various misadventures which had attended his premature attempts at reformation, an honest and useful representative of his principal, and never so happy as when he could escape from the spare commons of his sister Barbara, to the genial table of the Udaller. Barbara’s temper also was much softened by the unexpected restoration of the horn of silver coins, (the property of Norna,) which she had concealed in the mansion of old Stourburgh, for achieving some of her mysterious plans, but which she now restored to those by whom it had been accidentally discovered, with an intimation, however, that it would again disappear unless a reasonable portion was expended on the sustenance of the family, a precaution to which Tronda Dronsdaughter (probably an agent of Norna’s) owed her escape from a slow and wasting death by inanition.

Mordaunt and Brenda were as happy as our mortal condition permits us to be. They admired and loved each other — enjoyed easy circumstances — had duties to discharge which they did not neglect; and, clear in conscience as light of heart, laughed, sung, danced, daffed the world aside, and bid it pass.

But Minna — the high-minded and imaginative Minna — she, gifted with such depth of feeling and enthusiasm, yet doomed to see both blighted in early youth, because, with the inexperience of a disposition equally romantic and ignorant, she had built the fabric of her happiness on a quicksand instead of a rock — was she, could she be happy? Reader, she was happy, for, whatever may be alleged to the contrary by the sceptic and the scorner, to each duty performed there is assigned a degree of mental peace and high consciousness of honourable exertion, corresponding to the difficulty of the task accomplished. That rest of the body which succeeds to hard and industrious toil, is not to be compared to the repose which the spirit enjoys under similar circumstances. Her resignation, however, and the constant attention which she paid to her father, her sister, the afflicted Norna, and to all who had claims on her, were neither Minna’s sole nor her most precious source of comfort. Like Norna, but under a more regulated judgment, she learned to exchange the visions of wild enthusiasm which had exerted and misled her imagination, for a truer and purer connexion with the world beyond us, than could be learned from the sagas of heathen bards, or the visions of later rhymers. To this she owed the support by which she was enabled, after various accounts of the honourable and gallant conduct of Cleveland, to read with resignation, and even with a sense of comfort, mingled with sorrow, that he had at length fallen, leading the way in a gallant and honourable enterprise, which was successfully accomplished by those companions, to whom his determined bravery had opened the road. Bunce, his fantastic follower in good, as formerly in evil, transmitted an account to Minna of this melancholy event, in terms which showed, that though his head was weak, his heart had not been utterly corrupted by the lawless life which he had for some time led, or at least that it had been amended by the change; and that he himself had gained credit and promotion in the same action, seemed to be of little consequence to him, compared with the loss of his old captain and comrade.41 Minna read the intelligence, and thanked Heaven, even while the eyes which she lifted up were streaming with tears, that the death of Cleveland had been in the bed of honour; nay, she even had the courage to add her gratitude, that he had been snatched from a situation of temptation ere circumstances had overcome his new-born virtue; and so strongly did this reflection operate, that her life, after the immediate pain of this event had passed away, seemed not only as resigned, but even more cheerful than before. Her thoughts, however, were detached from the world, and only visited it, with an interest like that which guardian spirits take for their charge, in behalf of those friends with whom she lived in love, or of the poor whom she could serve and comfort. Thus passed her life, enjoying from all who approached her, an affection enhanced by reverence; insomuch, that when her friends sorrowed for her death, which arrived at a late period of her existence, they were comforted by the fond reflection, that the humanity which she then laid down, was the only circumstance which had placed her, in the words of Scripture, “a little lower than the angels!”

41 We have been able to learn nothing with certainty of Bunce’s fate; but our friend, Dr Dryasdust, believes he may be identified with an old gentleman, who, in the beginning of the reign of George I., attended the Rose Coffee-house regularly, went to the theatre every night, told mercilessly long stories about the Spanish Main, controlled reckonings, bullied waiters, and was generally known by the name of Captain Bounce.

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