The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 1

Now Scot and English are agreed,

And Saunders hastes to cross the Tweed,

Where, such the splendours that attend him,

His very mother scarce had kend him.

His metamorphosis behold,

From Glasgow frieze to cloth of gold;

His back-sword, with the iron hilt,

To rapier, fairly hatch’d and gilt;

Was ever seen a gallant braver!

His very bonnet’s grown a beaver.

The Reformation.

The long-continued hostilities which had for centuries separated the south and the north divisions of the Island of Britain, had been happily terminated by the succession of the pacific James I. to the English Crown. But although the united crown of England and Scotland was worn by the same individual, it required a long lapse of time, and the succession of more than one generation, ere the inveterate national prejudices which had so long existed betwixt the sister kingdoms were removed, and the subjects of either side of the Tweed brought to regard those upon the opposite bank as friends and as brethren.

These prejudices were, of course, most inveterate during the reign of King James. The English subjects accused him of partiality to those of his ancient kingdom; while the Scots, with equal injustice, charged him with having forgotten the land of his nativity, and with neglecting those early friends to whose allegiance he had been so much indebted.

The temper of the king, peaceable even to timidity, inclined him perpetually to interfere as mediator between the contending factions, whose brawls disturbed the Court. But, notwithstanding all his precautions, historians have recorded many instances, where the mutual hatred of two nations, who, after being enemies for a thousand years, had been so very recently united, broke forth with a fury which menaced a general convulsion; and, spreading from the highest to the lowest classes, as it occasioned debates in council and parliament, factions in the court, and duels among the gentry, was no less productive of riots and brawls amongst the lower orders.

While these heart-burnings were at the highest, there flourished in the city of London an ingenious but whimsical and self opinioned mechanic, much devoted to abstract studies, David Ramsay by name, who, whether recommended by his great skill in his profession, as the courtiers alleged, or, as was murmured among the neighbours, by his birthplace, in the good town of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, held in James’s household the post of maker of watches and horologes to his Majesty. He scorned not, however, to keep open shop within Temple Bar, a few yards to the eastward of Saint Dunstan’s Church.

The shop of a London tradesman at that time, as it may be supposed, was something very different from those we now see in the same locality. The goods were exposed to sale in cases, only defended from the weather by a covering of canvass, and the whole resembled the stalls and booths now erected for the temporary accommodation of dealers at a country fair, rather than the established emporium of a respectable citizen. But most of the shopkeepers of note, and David Ramsay amongst others, had their booth connected with a small apartment which opened backward from it, and bore the same resemblance to the front shop that Robinson Crusoe’s cavern did to the tent which he erected before it.

To this Master Ramsay was often accustomed to retreat to the labour of his abstruse calculations; for he aimed at improvements and discoveries in his own art, and sometimes pushed his researches, like Napier, and other mathematicians of the period, into abstract science. When thus engaged, he left the outer posts of his commercial establishment to be maintained by two stout-bodied and strong-voiced apprentices, who kept up the cry of, “What d’ye lack? what d’ye lack?” accompanied with the appropriate recommendations of the articles in which they dealt.

This direct and personal application for custom to those who chanced to pass by, is now, we believe, limited to Monmouth Street, (if it still exists even in that repository of ancient garments,) under the guardianship of the scattered remnant of Israel. But at the time we are speaking of, it was practised alike by Jew and Gentile, and served, instead of all our present newspaper puffs and advertisements, to solicit the attention of the public in general, and of friends in particular, to the unrivalled excellence of the goods, which they offered to sale upon such easy terms, that it might fairly appear that the venders had rather a view to the general service of the public, than to their own particular advantage.

The verbal proclaimers of the excellence of their commodities, had this advantage over those who, in the present day, use the public papers for the same purpose, that they could in many cases adapt their address to the peculiar appearance and apparent taste of the passengers. [This, as we have said, was also the case in Monmouth Street in our remembrance. We have ourselves been reminded of the deficiencies of our femoral habiliments, and exhorted upon that score to fit ourselves more beseemingly; but this is a digression.] This direct and personal mode of invitation to customers became, however, a dangerous temptation to the young wags who were employed in the task of solicitation during the absence of the principal person interested in the traffic; and, confiding in their numbers and civic union, the ‘prentices of London were often seduced into taking liberties with the passengers, and exercising their wit at the expense of those whom they had no hopes of converting into customers by their eloquence. If this were resented by any act of violence, the inmates of each shop were ready to pour forth in succour; and in the words of an old song which Dr. Johnson was used to hum —

“Up then rose the ‘prentices all,

Living in London, both proper and tall.”

Desperate riots often arose on such occasions, especially when the Templars, or other youths connected with the aristocracy, were insulted, or conceived themselves to be so. Upon such occasions, bare steel was frequently opposed to the clubs of the citizens, and death sometimes ensued on both sides. The tardy and inefficient police of the time had no other resource than by the Alderman of the ward calling out the householders, and putting a stop to the strife by overpowering numbers, as the Capulets and Montagues are separated upon the stage.

At the period when such was the universal custom of the most respectable, as well as the most inconsiderable, shopkeepers in London, David Ramsay, on the evening to which we solicit the attention of the reader, retiring to more abstruse and private labours, left the administration of his outer shop, or booth, to the aforesaid sharp-witted, active, able-bodied, and well-voiced apprentices, namely, Jenkin Vincent and Frank Tunstall.

Vincent had been educated at the excellent foundation of Christ’s Church Hospital, and was bred, therefore, as well as born, a Londoner, with all the acuteness, address, and audacity which belong peculiarly to the youth of a metropolis. He was now about twenty years old, short in stature, but remarkably strong made, eminent for his feats upon holidays at foot-ball, and other gymnastic exercises; scarce rivalled in the broad-sword play, though hitherto only exercised in the form of single-stick. He knew every lane, blind alley, and sequestered court of the ward, better than his catechism; was alike active in his master’s affairs, and in his own adventures of fun and mischief; and so managed matters, that the credit he acquired by the former bore him out, or at least served for his apology, when the latter propensity led him into scrapes, of which, however, it is but fair to state, that they had hitherto inferred nothing mean or discreditable. Some aberrations there were, which David Ramsay, his master, endeavoured to reduce to regular order when he discovered them, and others which he winked at — supposing them to answer the purpose of the escapement of a watch, which disposes of a certain quantity of the extra power of that mechanical impulse which puts the whole in motion.

The physiognomy of Jin Vin — by which abbreviation he was familiarly known through the ward — corresponded with the sketch we have given of his character. His head, upon which his ‘prentice’s flat cap was generally flung in a careless and oblique fashion, was closely covered with thick hair of raven black, which curled naturally and closely, and would have grown to great length, but for the modest custom enjoined by his state in life and strictly enforced by his master, which compelled him to keep it short-cropped — not unreluctantly, as he looked with envy on the flowing ringlets, in which the courtiers, and aristocratic students of the neighbouring Temple, began to indulge themselves, as marks of superiority and of gentility.

Vincent’s eyes were deep set in his head, of a strong vivid black, full of fire, roguery, and intelligence, and conveying a humorous expression, even while he was uttering the usual small-talk of his trade, as if he ridiculed those who were disposed to give any weight to his commonplaces. He had address enough, however, to add little touches of his own, which gave a turn of drollery even to this ordinary routine of the booth; and the alacrity of his manner — his ready and obvious wish to oblige — his intelligence and civility, when he thought civility necessary, made him a universal favourite with his master’s customers.

His features were far from regular, for his nose was flattish, his mouth tending to the larger size, and his complexion inclining to be more dark than was then thought consistent with masculine beauty. But, in despite of his having always breathed the air of a crowded city, his complexion had the ruddy and manly expression of redundant health; his turned-up nose gave an air of spirit and raillery to what he said, and seconded the laugh of his eyes; and his wide mouth was garnished with a pair of well-formed and well-coloured lips, which, when he laughed, disclosed a range of teeth strong and well set, and as white as the very pearl. Such was the elder apprentice of David Ramsay, Memory’s Monitor, watchmaker, and constructor of horologes, to his Most Sacred Majesty James I.

Jenkin’s companion was the younger apprentice, though, perhaps, he might be the elder of the two in years. At any rate, he was of a much more staid and composed temper. Francis Tunstall was of that ancient and proud descent who claimed the style of the “unstained;” because, amid the various chances of the long and bloody wars of the Roses, they had, with undeviating faith, followed the House of Lancaster, to which they had originally attached themselves. The meanest sprig of such a tree attached importance to the root from which it derived itself; and Tunstall was supposed to nourish in secret a proportion of that family pride, which had exhorted tears from his widowed and almost indigent mother, when she saw herself obliged to consign him to a line of life inferior, as her prejudices suggested, to the course held by his progenitors. Yet, with all this aristocratic prejudice, his master found the well-born youth more docile, regular, and strictly attentive to his duty, than his far more active and alert comrade. Tunstall also gratified his master by the particular attention which he seemed disposed to bestow on the abstract principles of science connected with the trade which he was bound to study, the limits of which were daily enlarged with the increase of mathematical science.

Vincent beat his companion beyond the distance-post, in every thing like the practical adaptation of thorough practice, in the dexterity of hand necessary to execute the mechanical branches of the art, and doubled-distanced him in all respecting the commercial affairs of the shop. Still David Ramsay was wont to say, that if Vincent knew how to do a thing the better of the two, Tunstall was much better acquainted with the principles on which it ought to be done; and he sometimes objected to the latter, that he knew critical excellence too well ever to be satisfied with practical mediocrity.

The disposition of Tunstall was shy, as well as studious; and, though perfectly civil and obliging, he never seemed to feel himself in his place while he went through the duties of the shop. He was tall and handsome, with fair hair, and well-formed limbs, good features, well-opened light-blue eyes, a straight Grecian nose, and a countenance which expressed both good-humour and intelligence, but qualified by a gravity unsuitable to his years, and which almost amounted to dejection. He lived on the best of terms with his companion, and readily stood by him whenever he was engaged in any of the frequent skirmishes, which, as we have already observed, often disturbed the city of London about this period. But though Tunstall was allowed to understand quarter-staff (the weapon of the North country) in a superior degree, and though he was naturally both strong and active, his interference in such affrays seemed always matter of necessity; and, as he never voluntarily joined either their brawls or their sports, he held a far lower place in the opinion of the youth of the ward than his hearty and active friend Jin Vin. Nay, had it not been for the interest made for his comrade, by the intercession of Vincent, Tunstall would have stood some chance of being altogether excluded from the society of his contemporaries of the same condition, who called him, in scorn, the Cavaliero Cuddy, and the Gentle Tunstall.

On the other hand, the lad himself, deprived of the fresh air in which he had been brought up, and foregoing the exercise to which he had formerly been accustomed, while the inhabitant of his native mansion, lost gradually the freshness of his complexion, and, without showing any formal symptoms of disease, grew more thin and pale as he grew older, and at length exhibited the appearance of indifferent health, without any thing of the habits and complaints of an invalid, excepting a disposition to avoid society, and to spend his leisure time in private study, rather than mingle in the sports of his companions, or even resort to the theatres, then the general rendezvous of his class; where, according to high authority, they fought for half-bitten apples, cracked nuts, and filled the upper gallery with their clamours.

Such were the two youths who called David Ramsay master; and with both of whom he used to fret from morning till night, as their peculiarities interfered with his own, or with the quiet and beneficial course of his traffic.

Upon the whole, however, the youths were attached to their master, and he, a good-natured, though an absent and whimsical man, was scarce less so to them; and when a little warmed with wine at an occasional junketing, he used to boast, in his northern dialect, of his “twa bonnie lads, and the looks that the court ladies threw at them, when visiting his shop in their caroches, when on a frolic into the city.” But David Ramsay never failed, at the same time, to draw up his own tall, thin, lathy skeleton, extend his lean jaws into an alarming grin, and indicate, by a nod of his yard-long visage, and a twinkle of his little grey eye, that there might be more faces in Fleet Street worth looking at than those of Frank and Jenkin. His old neighbour, Widow Simmons, the sempstress, who had served, in her day, the very tip-top revellers of the Temple, with ruffs, cuffs, and bands, distinguished more deeply the sort of attention paid by the females of quality, who so regularly visited David Ramsay’s shop, to its inmates. “The boy Frank,” she admitted, “used to attract the attention of the young ladies, as having something gentle and downcast in his looks; but then he could not better himself, for the poor youth had not a word to throw at a dog. Now Jin Vin was so full of his jibes and jeers, and so willing, and so ready, and so serviceable, and so mannerly all the while, with a step that sprung like a buck’s in Epping Forest, and his eye that twinkled as black as a gipsy’s, that no woman who knew the world would make a comparison betwixt the lads. As for poor neighbour Ramsay himself, the man,” she said, “was a civil neighbour, and a learned man, doubtless, and might be a rich man if he had common sense to back his learning; and doubtless, for a Scot, neighbour Ramsay was nothing of a bad man, but he was so constantly grimed with smoke, gilded with brass filings, and smeared with lamp-black and oil, that Dame Simmons judged it would require his whole shopful of watches to induce any feasible woman to touch the said neighbour Ramsay with any thing save a pair of tongs.”

A still higher authority, Dame Ursula, wife to Benjamin Suddlechop, the barber, was of exactly the same opinion.

Such were, in natural qualities and public estimation, the two youths, who, in a fine April day, having first rendered their dutiful service and attendance on the table of their master and his daughter, at their dinner at one o’clock — Such, O ye lads of London, was the severe discipline undergone by your predecessors! — and having regaled themselves upon the fragments, in company with two female domestics, one a cook, and maid of all work, the other called Mistress Margaret’s maid, now relieved their master in the duty of the outward shop; and agreeably to the established custom, were soliciting, by their entreaties and recommendations of their master’s manufacture, the attention and encouragement of the passengers.

In this species of service it may be easily supposed that Jenkin Vincent left his more reserved and bashful comrade far in the background. The latter could only articulate with difficulty, and as an act of duty which he was rather ashamed of discharging, the established words of form —“What d’ye lack? — What d’ye lack? — Clocks — watches — barnacles? — What d’ye lack? — Watches — clocks — barnacles? — What d’ye lack, sir? What d’ye lack, madam? — Barnacles — watches — clocks?”

But this dull and dry iteration, however varied by diversity of verbal arrangement, sounded flat when mingled with the rich and recommendatory oratory of the bold-faced, deep-mouthed, and ready- witted Jenkin Vincent. —“What d’ye lack, noble sir? — What d’ye lack, beauteous madam?” he said, in a tone at once bold and soothing, which often was so applied as both to gratify the persons addressed, and to excite a smile from other hearers. —“God bless your reverence,” to a beneficed clergyman; “the Greek and Hebrew have harmed your reverence’s eyes — Buy a pair of David Ramsay’s barnacles. The King — God bless his Sacred Majesty! — never reads Hebrew or Greek without them.”

“Are you well avised of that?” said a fat parson from the Vale of Evesham. “Nay, if the Head of the Church wears them — God bless his Sacred Majesty! — I will try what they can do for me; for I have not been able to distinguish one Hebrew letter from another, since — I cannot remember the time — when I had a bad fever. Choose me a pair of his most Sacred Majesty’s own wearing, my good youth.” “This is a pair, and please your reverence,” said Jenkin, producing a pair of spectacles which he touched with an air of great deference and respect, “which his most blessed Majesty placed this day three weeks on his own blessed nose; and would have kept them for his own sacred use, but that the setting being, as your reverence sees, of the purest jet, was, as his Sacred Majesty was pleased to say, fitter for a bishop than for a secular prince.”

“His Sacred Majesty the King,” said the worthy divine, “was ever a very Daniel in his judgment. Give me the barnacles, my good youth, and who can say what nose they may bestride in two years hence? — our reverend brother of Gloucester waxes in years.” He then pulled out his purse, paid for the spectacles, and left the shop with even a more important step than that which had paused to enter it.

“For shame,” said Tunstall to his companion; “these glasses will never suit one of his years.”

“You are a fool, Frank,” said Vincent, in reply; “had the good doctor wished glasses to read with, he would have tried them before buying. He does not want to look through them himself, and these will serve the purpose of being looked at by other folks, as well as the best magnifiers in the shop. — What d’ye lack?” he cried, resuming his solicitations. “Mirrors for your toilette, my pretty madam; your head-gear is something awry — pity, since it is so well fancied.” The woman stopped and bought a mirror. —“What d’ye lack? — a watch, Master Sergeant — a watch that will go as long as a lawsuit, as steady and true as your own eloquence?”

“Hold your peace, sir,” answered the Knight of the Coif, who was disturbed by Vin’s address whilst in deep consultation with an eminent attorney; “hold your peace! You are the loudest-tongued varlet betwixt the Devil’s Tavern and Guildhall.”

“A watch,” reiterated the undaunted Jenkin, “that shall not lose thirteen minutes in a thirteen years’ lawsuit. — He’s out of hearing — A watch with four wheels and a bar-movement — a watch that shall tell you, Master Poet, how long the patience of the audience will endure your next piece at the Black Bull.” The bard laughed, and fumbled in the pocket of his slops till he chased into a corner, and fairly caught, a small piece of coin.

“Here is a tester to cherish thy wit, good boy,” he said.

“Gramercy,” said Vin; “at the next play of yours I will bring down a set of roaring boys, that shall make all the critics in the pit, and the gallants on the stage, civil, or else the curtain shall smoke for it.”

“Now, that I call mean,” said Tunstall, “to take the poor rhymer’s money, who has so little left behind.”

“You are an owl, once again,” said Vincent; “if he has nothing left to buy cheese and radishes, he will only dine a day the sooner with some patron or some player, for that is his fate five days out of the seven. It is unnatural that a poet should pay for his own pot of beer; I will drink his tester for him, to save him from such shame; and when his third night comes round, he shall have penniworths for his coin, I promise you. — But here comes another-guess customer. Look at that strange fellow — see how he gapes at every shop, as if he would swallow the wares. — O! Saint Dunstan has caught his eye; pray God he swallow not the images. See how he stands astonished, as old Adam and Eve ply their ding-dong! Come, Frank, thou art a scholar; construe me that same fellow, with his blue cap with a cock’s feather in it, to show he’s of gentle blood, God wot — his grey eyes, his yellow hair, his sword with a ton of iron in the handle — his grey thread-bare cloak — his step like a Frenchman — his look like a Spaniard — a book at his girdle, and a broad dudgeon-dagger on the other side, to show him half-pedant, half-bully. How call you that pageant, Frank?”

“A raw Scotsman,” said Tunstall; “just come up, I suppose, to help the rest of his countrymen to gnaw old England’s bones; a palmerworm, I reckon, to devour what the locust has spared.”

“Even so, Frank,” answered Vincent; “just as the poet sings sweetly —

‘In Scotland he was born and bred,

And, though a beggar, must be fed.’”

“Hush!” said Tunstall, “remember our master.”

“Pshaw!” answered his mercurial companion; “he knows on which side his bread is buttered, and I warrant you has not lived so long among Englishmen, and by Englishmen, to quarrel with us for bearing an English mind. But see, our Scot has done gazing at St. Dunstan’s, and comes our way. By this light, a proper lad and a sturdy, in spite of freckles and sun-burning. — He comes nearer still, I will have at him.”

“And, if you do,” said his comrade, “you may get a broken head — he looks not as if he would carry coals.”

“A fig for your threat,” said Vincent, and instantly addressed the stranger. “Buy a watch, most noble northern Thane — buy a watch, to count the hours of plenty since the blessed moment you left Berwick behind you. — Buy barnacles, to see the English gold lies ready for your gripe. — Buy what you will, you shall have credit for three days; for, were your pockets as bare as Father Fergus’s, you are a Scot in London, and you will be stocked in that time.” The stranger looked sternly at the waggish apprentice, and seemed to grasp his cudgel in rather a menacing fashion. “Buy physic,” said the undaunted Vincent, “if you will buy neither time nor light — physic for a proud stomach, sir; — there is a ‘pothecary’s shop on the other side of the way.”

Here the probationary disciple of Galen, who stood at his master’s door in his flat cap and canvass sleeves, with a large wooden pestle in his hand, took up the ball which was flung to him by Jenkin, with, “What d’ye lack, sir? — Buy a choice Caledonian salve, Flos sulphvr. cum butyro quant. suff.

“To be taken after a gentle rubbing-down with an English oaken towel,” said Vincent.

The bonny Scot had given full scope to the play of this small artillery of city wit, by halting his stately pace, and viewing grimly, first the one assailant, and then the other, as if menacing either repartee or more violent revenge. But phlegm or prudence got the better of his indignation, and tossing his head as one who valued not the raillery to which he had been exposed, he walked down Fleet Street, pursued by the horse-laugh of his tormentors.

“The Scot will not fight till he see his own blood,” said Tunstall, whom his north of England extraction had made familiar with all manner of proverbs against those who lay yet farther north than himself.

“Faith, I know not,” said Jenkin; “he looks dangerous, that fellow — he will hit some one over the noddle before he goes far. — Hark! — hark! — they are rising.”

Accordingly, the well-known cry of, “‘Prentices —‘prentices — Clubs — clubs!” now rang along Fleet Street; and Jenkin, snatching up his weapon, which lay beneath the counter ready at the slightest notice, and calling to Tunstall to take his bat and follow, leaped over the hatch-door which protected the outer-shop, and ran as fast as he could towards the affray, echoing the cry as he ran, and elbowing, or shoving aside, whoever stood in his way. His comrade, first calling to his master to give an eye to the shop, followed Jenkin’s example, and ran after him as fast as he could, but with more attention to the safety and convenience of others; while old David Ramsay, with hands and eyes uplifted, a green apron before him, and a glass which he had been polishing thrust into his bosom, came forth to look after the safety of his goods and chattels, knowing, by old experience, that, when the cry of “Clubs” once arose, he would have little aid on the part of his apprentices.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00