Redgauntlet, by Walter Scott

Chapter 14

Narrative of Alan Fairford, Continued

We left Alan Fairford on the deck of the little smuggling brig, in that disconsolate situation, when sickness and nausea, attack a heated and fevered frame, and an anxious mind. His share of sea-sickness, however, was not so great as to engross his sensations entirely, or altogether to divert his attention from what was passing around. If he could not delight in the swiftness and agility with which the ‘little frigate’ walked the waves, or amuse himself by noticing the beauty of the sea-views around him, where the distant Skiddaw raised his brow, as if in defiance of the clouded eminence of Criffel, which lorded it over the Scottish side of the estuary, he had spirits and composure enough to pay particular attention to the master of the vessel, on whose character his own safety in all probability was dependent.

Nanty Ewart had now given the helm to one of his people, a bald-pated, grizzled old fellow, whose whole life had been spent in evading the revenue laws, with now and then the relaxation of a few months’ imprisonment, for deforcing officers, resisting seizures, and the like offences.

Nanty himself sat down by Fairford, helped him to his tea, with such other refreshments as he could think of, and seemed in his way sincerely desirous to make his situation as comfortable as things admitted. Fairford had thus an opportunity to study his countenance and manners more closely.

It was plain, Ewart, though a good seaman, had not been bred upon that element. He was a reasonably good scholar, and seemed fond of showing it by recurring to the subject of Sallust and Juvenal; while, on the other hand, sea-phrases seldom chequered his conversation. He had been in person what is called a smart little man; but the tropical sun had burnt his originally fair complexion to a dusty red; and the bile which was diffused through his system, had stained it with a yellowish black — what ought to have been the white part of his eyes, in particular, had a hue as deep as the topaz. He was very thin, or rather emaciated, and his countenance, though still indicating alertness and activity, showed a constitution exhausted with excessive use of his favourite stimulus.

‘I see you look at me hard,’ said he to Fairford. ‘Had you been an officer of the d — d customs, my terriers’ backs would have been up. He opened his breast, and showed Alan a pair of pistols disposed between his waistcoat and jacket, placing his finger at the same time upon the cock of one of them. ‘But come, you are an honest fellow, though you’re a close one. I dare say you think me a queer customer; but I can tell you, they that see the ship leave harbour know little of the seas she is to sail through. My father, honest old gentleman, never would have thought to see me master of the JUMPING JENNY.’

Fairford said, it seemed very clear indeed that Mr. Ewart’s education was far superior to the line he at present occupied.

‘Oh, Criffel to Solway Moss!’ said the other. Why, man, I should have been an expounder of the word, with a wig like a snow-wreath, and a stipend like — like — like a hundred pounds a year, I suppose. I can spend thrice as much as that, though, being such as I am. Here he sang a scrap of an old Northumbrian ditty, mimicking the burr of the natives of that county:—

‘Willy Foster’s gone to sea,

Siller buckles at his knee,

He’ll come back and marry me —

Canny Willy Foster.’

‘I have no doubt,’ said Fairford, ‘your present occupation is more lucrative; ‘but I should have thought the Church might have been more’—

He stopped, recollecting that it was not his business to say anything disagreeable.

‘More respectable, you mean, I suppose?’ said Ewart, with a sneer, and squirting the tobacco-juice through his front teeth; then was silent for a moment, and proceeded in a tone of candour which some internal touch of conscience dictated. ‘And so it would, Mr. Fairford — and happier, too, by a thousand degrees — though I have had my pleasures too. But there was my father (God bless the old man!) a true chip of the old Presbyterian block, walked his parish like a captain on the quarterdeck, and was always ready to do good to rich and poor — Off went the laird’s hat to the minister, as fast as the poor man’s bonnet. When the eye saw him — Pshaw! what have I to do with that now? — Yes, he was, as Virgil hath it, “VIR SAPIENTIA ET PIETATE GRAVIS.” But he might have been the wiser man, had he kept me at home, when he sent me at nineteen to study Divinity at the head of the highest stair in the Covenant Close. It was a cursed mistake in the old gentleman. What though Mrs. Cantrips of Kittlebasket (for she wrote herself no less) was our cousin five times removed, and took me on that account to board and lodging at six shillings instead of seven shillings a week? it was a d — d bad saving, as the case proved. Yet her very dignity might have kept me in order; for she never read a chapter excepting out of a Cambridge Bible, printed by Daniel, and bound in embroidered velvet. I think I see it at this moment! And on Sundays, when we had a quart of twopenny ale, instead of butter-milk, to our porridge, it was always served up in a silver posset-dish. Also she used silver-mounted spectacles, whereas even my father’s were cased in mere horn. These things had their impression at first, but we get used to grandeur by degrees. Well, sir! — Gad, I can scarce get on with my story — it sticks in my throat — must take a trifle to wash it down. Well, this dame had a daughter — Jess Cantrips, a black-eyed, bouncing wench — and, as the devil would have it, there was the d — d five-story stair — her foot was never from it, whether I went out or came home from the Divinity Hall. I would have eschewed her, sir — I would, on my soul; for I was as innocent a lad as ever came from Lammermuir; but there was no possibility of escape, retreat, or flight, unless I could have got a pair of wings, or made use of a ladder seven stories high, to scale the window of my attic. It signifies little talking — you may suppose how all this was to end — I would have married the girl, and taken my chance — I would, by Heaven! for she was a pretty girl, and a good girl, till she and I met; but you know the old song, “Kirk would not let us be.” A gentleman, in my case, would have settled the matter with the kirk-treasurer for a small sum of money; but the poor stibbler, the penniless dominie, having married his cousin of Kittlebasket, must next have proclaimed her frailty to the whole parish, by mounting the throne of Presbyterian penance, and proving, as Othello says, “his love a whore,” in face of the whole congregation.

‘In this extremity I dared not stay where I was, and so thought to go home to my father. But first I got Jack Radaway, a lad from the same parish, and who lived in the same infernal stair, to make some inquiries how the old gentleman had taken the matter. I soon, by way of answer, learned, to the great increase of my comfortable reflections, that the good old man made as much clamour as if such a thing as a man’s eating his wedding dinner without saying grace had never happened since Adam’s time. He did nothing for six days but cry out, “Ichabod, Ichabod, the glory is departed from my house!” and on the seventh he preached a sermon, in which he enlarged on this incident as illustrative of one of the great occasions for humiliation, and causes of national defection. I hope the course he took comforted himself — I am sure it made me ashamed to show my nose at home. So I went down to Leith, and, exchanging my hoddin grey coat of my mother’s spinning for such a jacket as this, I entered my name at the rendezvous as an able-bodied landsman, and sailed with the tender round to Plymouth, where they were fitting out a squadron for the West Indies. There I was put aboard the FEARNOUGHT, Captain Daredevil — among whose crew I soon learned to fear Satan (the terror of my early youth) as little as the toughest Jack on board. I had some qualms at first, but I took the remedy’ (tapping the case-bottle) ‘which I recommend to you, being as good for sickness of the soul as for sickness of the stomach — What, you won’t? — very well, I must, then — here is to ye.’

‘You would, I am afraid, find your education of little use in your new condition?’ said Fairford.

‘Pardon me, sir,’ resumed the captain of the JUMPING JENNY; ‘my handful of Latin, and small pinch of Greek, were as useless as old junk, to be sure; but my reading, writing and accompting, stood me in good stead, and brought me forward; I might have been schoolmaster — aye, and master, in time; but that valiant liquor, rum, made a conquest of me rather too often, and so, make what sail I could, I always went to leeward. We were four years broiling in that blasted climate, and I came back at last with a little prize-money. I always had thoughts of putting things to rights in the Covenant Close, and reconciling myself to my father. I found out Jack Hadaway, who was TUPTOWING away with a dozen of wretched boys, and a fine string of stories he had ready to regale my ears withal. My father had lectured on what he called “my falling away,” for seven Sabbaths, when, just as his parishioners began to hope that the course was at an end, he was found dead in his bed on the eighth Sunday morning. Jack Hadaway assured me, that if I wished to atone for my errors, by undergoing the fate of the first martyr, I had only to go to my native village, where the very stones of the street would rise up against me as my father’s murderer. Here was a pretty item — well, my tongue clove to my mouth for an hour, and was only able at last to utter the name of Mrs. Cantrips. Oh, this was a new theme for my Job’s comforter. My sudden departure — my father’s no less sudden death — had prevented the payment of the arrears of my board and lodging — the landlord was a haberdasher, with a heart as rotten as the muslin wares he dealt in. Without respect to her age or gentle kin, my Lady Kittlebasket was ejected from her airy habitation — her porridge-pot, silver posset-dish, silver-mounted spectacles, and Daniel’s Cambridge Bible, sold, at the Cross of Edinburgh, to the caddie who would bid highest for them, and she herself driven to the workhouse, where she got in with difficulty, but was easily enough lifted out, at the end of the month, as dead as her friends could desire. Merry tidings this to me, who had been the d — d’ (he paused a moment) ‘ORIGO MALI— Gad, I think my confession would sound better in Latin than in English!

‘But the best jest was behind — I had just power to stammer out something about Jess — by my faith he HAD an answer! I had taught Jess one trade, and, like a prudent girl, she had found out another for herself; unluckily, they were both contraband, and Jess Cantrips, daughter of the Lady Kittlebasket, had the honour to be transported to the plantations, for street-walking and pocket-picking, about six months before I touched shore.’

He changed the bitter tone of affected pleasantry into an attempt to laugh, then drew his swarthy hand across his swarthy eyes, and said in a more natural accent, ‘Poor Jess!’

There was a pause — until Fairford, pitying the poor man’s state of mind, and believing he saw something in him that, but for early error and subsequent profligacy, might have been excellent and noble, helped on the conversation by asking, in a tone of commiseration, how he had been able to endure such a load of calamity.

‘Why, very well,’ answered the seaman; ‘exceedingly well — like a tight ship in a brisk gale. Let me recollect. I remember thanking Jack, very composedly, for the interesting and agreeable communication; I then pulled out my canvas pouch, with my hoard of moidores, and taking out two pieces, I bid Jack keep the rest till I came back, as I was for a cruise about Auld Reekie. The poor devil looked anxiously, but I shook him by the hand, and ran downstairs, in such confusion of mind, that notwithstanding what I had heard, I expected to meet Jess at every turning.

It was market-day, and the usual number of rogues and fools were assembled at the Cross. I observed everybody looked strange on me, and I thought some laughed. I fancy I had been making queer faces enough, and perhaps talking to myself, When I saw myself used in this manner, I held out my clenched fists straight before me, stooped my head, and, like a ram when be makes his race, darted off right down the street, scattering groups of weatherbeaten lairds and periwigged burgesses, and bearing down all before me. I heard the cry of “Seize the madman!” echoed, in Celtic sounds, from the City Guard, with “Ceaze ta matman!”— but pursuit and opposition were in vain. I pursued my career; the smell of the sea, I suppose, led me to Leith, where, soon after, I found myself walking very quietly on the shore, admiring the tough round and sound cordage of the vessels, and thinking how a loop, with a man at the end of one of them, would look, by way of tassel.

‘I was opposite to the rendezvous, formerly my place of refuge — in I bolted — found one or two old acquaintances, made half a dozen new ones — drank for two days — was put aboard the tender — off to Portsmouth — then landed at the Haslar hospital in a fine hissing-hot fever. Never mind — I got better — nothing can kill me — the West Indies were my lot again, for since I did not go where I deserved in the next world, I had something as like such quarters as can be had in this — black devils for inhabitants — flames and earthquakes, and so forth, for your element. Well, brother, something or other I did or said — I can’t tell what — How the devil should I, when I was as drunk as David’s sow, you know? But I was punished, my lad — made to kiss the wench that never speaks but when she scolds, and that’s the gunner’s daughter, comrade. Yes, the minister’s son of no matter where — has the cat’s scratch on his back! This roused me, and when we were ashore with the boat, I gave three inches of the dirk, after a stout tussle, to the fellow I blamed most, and took the bush for it. There were plenty of wild lads then along shore — and, I don’t care who knows — I went on the account, look you — sailed under the black flag and marrow-bones — was a good friend to the sea, and an enemy to all that sailed on it.’

Fairford, though uneasy in his mind at finding himself, a lawyer, so close to a character so lawless, thought it best, nevertheless, to put a good face on the matter, and asked Mr. Ewart, with as much unconcern as he could assume, ‘whether he was fortunate as a rover?’

‘No, no — d — n it, no,’ replied Nanty; ‘the devil a crumb of butter was ever churned that would stick upon my bread. There was no order among us — he that was captain today, was swabber tomorrow; and as for plunder — they say old Avery, and one or two close hunks, made money; but in my time, all went as it came; and reason good, for if a fellow had saved five dollars, his throat would have been cut in his hammock. And then it was a cruel, bloody work. — Pah — we’ll say no more about it. I broke with them at last, for what they did on board of a bit of a snow — no matter what it was bad enough, since it frightened me — I took French leave, and came in upon the proclamation, so I am free of all that business. And here I sit, the skipper of the JUMPING JENNY— a nutshell of a thing, but goes through the water like a dolphin. If it were not for yon hypocritical scoundrel at Annan, who has the best end of the profit, and takes none of the risk, I should be well enough — as well as I want to be. Here is no lack of my best friend,’— touching his case-bottle; —‘but, to tell you a secret, he and I have got so used to each other, I begin to think he is like a professed joker, that makes your sides sore with laughing if you see him but now and then; but if you take up house with him, he can only make your head stupid. But I warrant the old fellow is doing the best he can for me, after all.’

‘And what may that be?’ said Fairford.

‘He is KILLING me,’ replied Nanty Ewart; ‘and I am only sorry he is so long about it.’

So saying he jumped on his feet, and, tripping up and down the deck, gave his orders with his usual clearness and decision, notwithstanding the considerable quantity of spirits which he had contrived to swallow while recounting his history.

Although far from feeling well, Fairford endeavoured to rouse himself and walk to the head of the brig, to enjoy the beautiful prospect, as well as to take some note of the course which the vessel held. To his great surprise, instead of standing across to the opposite shore from which she had departed, the brig was going down the Firth, and apparently steering into the Irish Sea. He called to Nanty Ewart, and expressed his surprise at the course they were pursuing, and asked why they did not stand straight across the Firth for some port in Cumberland.

‘Why, this is what I call a reasonable question, now,’ answered Nanty; ‘as if a ship could go as straight to its port as a horse to the stable, or a free-trader could sail the Solway as securely as a King’s cutter! Why, I’ll tell ye, brother — if I do not see a smoke on Bowness, that is the village upon the headland yonder, I must stand out to sea for twenty-four hours at least, for we must keep the weather-gage if there are hawks abroad.’

‘And if you do see the signal of safety, Master Ewart, what is to be done then?’

‘Why then, and in that case, I must keep off till night, and then run you, with the kegs and the rest of the lumber, ashore at Skinburness,’

‘And then I am to meet with this same laird whom I have the letter for?’ continued Fairford.

‘That,’ said Ewart, ‘is thereafter as it may be; the ship has its course — the fair trader has his port — but it is not easy to say where the laird may be found. But he will be within twenty miles of us, off or on — and it will be my business to guide you to him.’

Fairford could not withstand the passing impulse of terror which crossed him, when thus reminded that he was so absolutely in the power of a man, who, by his own account, had been a pirate, and who was at present, in all probability, an outlaw as well as a contraband trader. Nanty Ewart guessed the cause of his involuntary shuddering.

‘What the devil should I gain,’ he said, ‘by passing so poor a card as you are? Have I not had ace of trumps in my hand, and did I not play it fairly? Aye, I say the JUMPING JENNY can run in other ware as well as kegs. Put SIGMA and TAU to Ewart, and see how that will spell — D’ye take me now?’

‘No indeed,’ said Fairford; ‘I am utterly ignorant of what you allude to.’

‘Now, by Jove!’ said Nanty Ewart, ‘thou art either the deepest or the shallowest fellow I ever met with — or you are not right after all. I wonder where Summertrees could pick up such a tender along-shore. Will you let me see his letter?’

Fairford did not hesitate to gratify his wish, which, he was aware, he could not easily resist. The master of the JUMPING JENNY looked at the direction very attentively, then turned the letter to and fro, and examined each flourish of the pen, as if he were judging of a piece of ornamented manuscript; then handled it back to Fairford, without a single word of remark.

‘Am I right now?’ said the young lawyer.

‘Why, for that matter,’ answered Nanty, ‘the letter is right, sure enough; but whether you are right or not, is your own business rather than mine.’ And, striking upon a flint with the back of a knife, he kindled a cigar as thick as his finger, and began to smoke away with great perseverance.

Alan Fairford continued to regard him with a melancholy feeling, divided betwixt the interest he took in the unhappy man, and a not unnatural apprehension for the issue of his own adventure.

Ewart, notwithstanding the stupefying nature of his pastime, seemed to guess what was working in his passenger’s mind; for, after they had remained some time engaged in silently observing each other, he suddenly dashed his cigar on the deck, and said to him, ‘Well then, if you are sorry for me, I am sorry for you. D— n me, if I have cared a button for man or mother’s son, since two years since when I had another peep of Jack Hadaway. ‘The fellow was got as fat as a Norway whale — married to a great Dutch-built quean that had brought him six children. I believe he did not know me, and thought I was come to rob his house; however, I made up a poor face, and told him who I was. Poor Jack would have given me shelter and clothes, and began to tell me of the moidores that were in bank, when I wanted them. Egad, he changed his note when I told him what my life had been, and only wanted to pay me my cash and get rid of me. I never saw so terrified a visage. I burst out a-laughing in his face, told him it was all a humbug, and that the moidores were all his own, henceforth and for ever, and so ran off. I caused one of our people send him a bag of tea and a keg of brandy, before I left — poor Jack! I think you are the second person these ten years, that has cared a tobacco-stopper for Nanty Ewart.’

‘Perhaps, Mr. Ewart,’ said Fairford, ‘you live chiefly with men too deeply interested for their own immediate safety, to think much upon the distress of others?’

‘And with whom do you yourself consort, I pray?’ replied Nanty, smartly. ‘Why, with plotters, that can make no plot to better purpose than their own hanging; and incendiaries, that are snapping the flint upon wet tinder. You’ll as soon raise the dead as raise the Highlands — you’ll as soon get a grunt from a dead sow as any comfort from Wales or Cheshire. You think because the pot is boiling, that no scum but yours can come uppermost — I know better, by —. All these rackets and riots that you think are trending your way have no relation at all to your interest; and the best way to make the whole kingdom friends again at once, would be the alarm of such an undertaking as these mad old fellows are trying to launch into.

‘I really am not in such secrets as you seem to allude to,’ said Fairford; and, determined at the same time to avail himself as far as possible of Nanty’s communicative disposition, he added, with a smile,’ And if I were, I should not hold it prudent to make them much the subject of conversation. But I am sure, so sensible a man as Summertrees and the laird may correspond together without offence to the state.’

‘I take you, friend — I take you,’ said Nanty Ewart, upon whom, at length, the liquor and tobacco-smoke began to make considerable innovation. ‘As to what gentlemen may or may not correspond about, why we may pretermit the question, as the old professor used to say at the Hall; and as to Summertrees, I will say nothing, knowing him to be an old fox. But I say that this fellow the laird is a firebrand in the country; that he is stirring up all the honest fellows who should be drinking their brandy quietly, by telling them stories about their ancestors and the Forty-five; and that he is trying to turn all waters into his own mill-dam, and to set his sails to all winds. And because the London people are roaring about for some pinches of their own, he thinks to win them to his turn with a wet finger. And he gets encouragement from some, because they want a spell of money from him; and from others, because they fought for the cause once and are ashamed to go back; and others, because they have nothing to lose; and others, because they are discontented fools. But if he has brought you, or any one, I say not whom, into this scrape, with the hope of doing any good, he’s a d — d decoy-duck, and that’s all I can say for him; and you are geese, which is worse than being decoy-ducks, or lame-ducks either. And so here is to the prosperity of King George the Third, and the true Presbyterian religion, and confusion to the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender! I’ll tell you what, Mr. Fairbairn, I am but tenth owner of this bit of a craft, the JUMPING JENNY— but tenth owner and must sail her by my owners’ directions. But if I were whole owner, I would not have the brig be made a ferry-boat for your Jacobitical, old-fashioned Popish riff-raff, Mr. Fairport — I would not, by my soul; they should walk the plank, by the gods, as I have seen better men do when I sailed under the What-d’ye-callum colours. But being contraband goods, and on board my vessel, and I with my sailing orders in my hand, why, I am to forward them as directed — I say, John Roberts, keep her up a bit with the helm. — and so, Mr. Fairweather, what I do is — as the d — d villain Turnpenny says — all in the way of business.’

He had been speaking with difficulty for the last five minutes, and now at length dropped on the deck, fairly silenced by the quantity of spirits which he had swallowed, but without having showed any glimpse of the gaiety, or even of the extravagance, of intoxication.

The old sailor stepped forward and flung a sea-cloak over the slumberer’s shoulders, and added, looking at Fairford, ‘Pity of him he should have this fault; for without it, he would have been as clever a fellow as ever trod a plank with ox leather.’

‘And what are we to do now?’ said Fairford.

‘Stand off and on, to be sure, till we see the signal, and then obey orders.’

So saying, the old man turned to his duty, and left the passenger to amuse himself with his own meditations. Presently afterward a light column of smoke was seen rising from the little headland.

‘I can tell you what we are to do now, master,’ said the sailor. ‘We’ll stand out to sea, and then run in again with the evening tide, and make Skinburness; or, if there’s not light, we can run into the Wampool river, and put you ashore about Kirkbride or Leaths, with the long-boat.’

Fairford, unwell before, felt this destination condemned him to an agony of many hours, which his disordered stomach and aching head were ill able to endure. There was no remedy, however, but patience, and the recollection that he was suffering in the cause of friendship. As the sun rose high, he became worse; his sense of smell appeared to acquire a morbid degree of acuteness, for the mere purpose of inhaling and distinguishing all the various odours with which he was surrounded, from that of pitch to all the complicated smells of the hold. His heart, too, throbbed under the heat, and he felt as if in full progress towards a high fever.

The seamen, who were civil and attentive considering their calling, observed his distress, and one contrived to make an awning out of an old sail, while another compounded some lemonade, the only liquor which their passenger could be prevailed upon to touch. After drinking it off, he obtained, but could not be said to enjoy, a few hours of troubled slumber.

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