The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 11

You are not for the manner nor the times,

They have their vices now most like to virtues;

You cannot know them apait by any difference,

They wear the same clothes, eat the same meat —

Sleep i’ the self-same beds, ride in those coaches,

Or very like four horses in a coach,

As the best men and women.

Ben Jonson

On the following morning, while Nigel, his breakfast finished, was thinking how he should employ the day, there was a little bustle upon the stairs which attracted his attention, and presently entered Dame Nelly, blushing like scarlet, and scarce able to bring out —“A young nobleman, sir — no one less,” she added, drawing her hand slightly over her lips, “would be so saucy — a young nobleman, sir, to wait on you!”

And she was followed into the little cabin by Lord Dalgarno, gay, easy, disembarrassed, and apparently as much pleased to rejoin his new acquaintance as if he had found him in the apartments of a palace. Nigel, on the contrary, (for youth is slave to such circumstances,) was discountenanced and mortified at being surprised by so splendid a gallant in a chamber which, at the moment the elegant and high-dressed cavalier appeared in it, seemed to its inhabitant, yet lower, narrower, darker, and meaner than it had ever shown before. He would have made some apology for the situation, but Lord Dalgarno cut him short —

“Not a word of it,” he said, “not a single word — I know why you ride at anchor here — but I can keep counsel — so pretty a hostess would recommend worse quarters.”

“On my word — on my honour,” said Lord Glenvarloch —

“Nay, nay, make no words of the matter,” said Lord Dalgarno; “I am no tell-tale, nor shall I cross your walk; there is game enough in the forest, thank Heaven, and I can strike a doe for myself.”

All this he said in so significant a manner, and the explanation which he had adopted seemed to put Lord Glenvarloch’s gallantry on so respectable a footing, that Nigel ceased to try to undeceive him; and less ashamed, perhaps, (for such is human weakness,) of supposed vice than of real poverty, changed the discourse to something else, and left poor Dame Nelly’s reputation and his own at the mercy of the young courtier’s misconstruction.

He offered refreshments with some hesitation. Lord Dalgarno had long since breakfasted, but had just come from playing a set of tennis, he said, and would willingly taste a cup of the pretty hostess’s single beer. This was easily procured, was drunk, was commended, and, as the hostess failed not to bring the cup herself, Lord Dalgarno profited by the opportunity to take a second and more attentive view of her, and then gravely drank to her husband’s health, with an almost imperceptible nod to Lord Glenvarloch. Dame Nelly was much honoured, smoothed her apron down with her hands, and said

“Her John was greatly and truly honoured by their lordships — he was a kind painstaking man for his family, as was in the alley, or indeed, as far north as Paul’s Chain.”

She would have proceeded probably to state the difference betwixt their ages, as the only alloy to their nuptial happiness; but her lodger, who had no mind to be farther exposed to his gay friend’s raillery, gave her, contrary to his wont, a signal to leave the room.

Lord Dalgarno looked after her, and then looked at Glenvarloch, shook his head, and repeated the well-known lines —

“‘My lord, beware of jealousy — It is the green-eyed monster which doth make The meat it feeds on.’

“But come,” he said, changing his tone, “I know not why I should worry you thus — I who have so many follies of my own, when I should rather make excuse for being here at all, and tell you wherefore I came.”

So saying, he reached a seat, and, placing another for Lord Glenvarloch, in spite of his anxious haste to anticipate this act of courtesy, he proceeded in the same tone of easy familiarity:—

“We are neighbours, my lord, and are just made known to each other. Now, I know enough of the dear North, to be well aware that Scottish neighbours must be either dear friends or deadly enemies — must either walk hand-in-hand, or stand sword-point to sword-point; so I choose the hand-in-hand, unless you should reject my proffer.”

“How were it possible, my lord,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “to refuse what is offered so frankly, even if your father had not been a second father to me?”— And, as he took Lord Dalgarno’s hand, he added —“I have, I think, lost no time, since, during one day’s attendance at Court, I have made a kind friend and a powerful enemy.”

“The friend thanks you,” replied Lord Dalgarno, “for your just opinion; but, my dear Glenvarloch — or rather, for titles are too formal between us of the better file — what is your Christian name?”

“Nigel,” replied Lord Glenvarloch.

“Then we will be Nigel and Malcolm to each other,” said his visitor, “and my lord to the plebeian world around us. But I was about to ask you whom you suppose your enemy?”

“No less than the all-powerful favourite, the great Duke of Buckingham.”

“You dream! What could possess you with such an opinion?” said Dalgarno.

“He told me so himself,” replied Glenvarloch; “and, in so doing, dealt frankly and honourably with me.”

“O, you know him not yet,” said his companion; “the duke is moulded of an hundred noble and fiery qualities, that prompt him, like a generous horse, to spring aside in impatience at the least obstacle to his forward course. But he means not what he says in such passing heats — I can do more with him, I thank Heaven, than most who are around him; you shall go visit him with me, and you will see how you shall be received.”

“I told you, my lord,” said Glenvarloch firmly, and with some haughtiness, “the Duke of Buckingham, without the least offence, declared himself my enemy in the face of the Court; and he shall retract that aggression as publicly as it was given, ere I will make the slightest advance towards him.”

“You would act becomingly in every other case,” said Lord Dalgarno, “but here you are wrong. In the Court horizon Buckingham is Lord of the Ascendant, and as he is adverse or favouring, so sinks or rises the fortune of a suitor. The king would bid you remember your Phaedrus,

‘Arripiens geminas, ripis cedentibus, ollas —’

and so forth. You are the vase of earth; beware of knocking yourself against the vase of iron.”

“The vase of earth,” said Glenvarloch, “will avoid the encounter, by getting ashore out of the current — I mean to go no more to Court.”

“O, to Court you necessarily must go; you will find your Scottish suit move ill without it, for there is both patronage and favour necessary to enforce the sign-manual you have obtained. Of that we will speak more hereafter; but tell me in the meanwhile, my dear Nigel, whether you did not wonder to see me here so early?”

“I am surprised that you could find me out in this obscure corner,” said Lord Glenvarloch.

“My page Lutin is a very devil for that sort of discovery,” replied Lord Dalgarno; “I have but to say, ‘Goblin, I would know where he or she dwells,’ and he guides me thither as if by art magic.”

“I hope he waits not now in the street, my lord,” said Nigel; “I will send my servant to seek him.”

“Do not concern yourself — he is by this time,” said Lord Dalgarno, “playing at hustle-cap and chuck-farthing with the most blackguard imps upon the wharf, unless he hath foregone his old customs.”

“Are you not afraid,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “that in such company his morals may become depraved?”

“Let his company look to their own,” answered Lord Dalgarno, cooly; “for it will be a company of real fiends in which Lutin cannot teach more mischief than he can learn: he is, I thank the gods, most thoroughly versed in evil for his years. I am spared the trouble of looking after his moralities, for nothing can make them either better or worse.”

“I wonder you can answer this to his parents, my lord,” said Nigel.

“I wonder where I should find his parents,” replied his companion, “to render an account to them.”

“He may be an orphan,” said Lord Nigel; “but surely, being a page in your lordship’s family, his parents must be of rank.”

“Of as high rank as the gallows could exalt them to,” replied Lord Dalgarno, with the same indifference; “they were both hanged, I believe — at least the gipsies, from whom I bought him five years ago, intimated as much to me. — You are surprised at this, now. But is it not better that, instead of a lazy, conceited, whey-faced slip of gentility, to whom, in your old-world idea of the matter, I was bound to stand Sir Pedagogue, and see that he washed his hands and face, said his prayers, learned his acddens, spoke no naughty words, brushed his hat, and wore his best doublet only on Sunday — that, instead of such a Jacky Goodchild, I should have something like this?”

He whistled shrill and clear, and the page he spoke of darted into the room, almost with the effect of an actual apparition. From his height he seemed but fifteen, but, from his face, might be two or even three years older, very neatly made, and richly dressed; with a thin bronzed visage, which marked his gipsy descent, and a pair of sparkling black eyes, which seemed almost to pierce through those whom he looked at.

“There he is,” said Lord Dalgarno, “fit for every element — prompt to execute every command, good, bad, or indifferent — unmatched in his tribe, as rogue, thief, and liar.”

“All which qualities,” said the undaunted page, “have each in turn stood your lordship in stead.”

“Out, you imp of Satan!” said his master; “vanish-begone-or my conjuring rod goes about your ears.” The boy turned, and disappeared as suddenly as he had entered. “You see,” said Lord Dalgarno, “that, in choosing my household, the best regard I can pay to gentle blood is to exclude it from my service — that very gallows — bird were enough to corrupt a whole antechamber of pages, though they were descended from kings and kaisers.”

“I can scarce think that a nobleman should need the offices of such an attendant as your goblin,” said Nigel; “you are but jesting with my inexperience.”

“Time will show whether I jest or not, my dear Nigel,” replied Dalgarno; “in the meantime, I have to propose to you to take the advantage of the flood-tide, to run up the river for pastime; and at noon I trust you will dine with me.”

Nigel acquiesced in a plan which promised so much amusement; and his new friend and he, attended by Lutin and Moniplies, who greatly resembled, when thus associated, the conjunction of a bear and a monkey, took possession of Lord Dalgarno’s wherry, which, with its badged watermen, bearing his lordship’s crest on their arms, lay in readiness to receive them. The air was delightful upon the river; and the lively conversation of Lord Dalgarno added zest to the pleasures of the little voyage. He could not only give an account of the various public buildings and noblemen’s houses which they passed in ascending the Thames, but knew how to season his information with abundance of anecdote, political innuendo, and personal scandal; if he had not very much wit, he was at least completely master of the fashionable tone, which in that time, as in ours, more than amply supplies any deficiency of the kind.

It was a style of conversation entirely new to his companion, as was the world which Lord Dalgarno opened to his observation; and it is no wonder that Nigel, notwithstanding his natural good sense and high spirit, admitted, more readily than seemed consistent with either, the tone of authoritative instruction which his new friend assumed towards him. There would, indeed, have been some difficulty in making a stand. To attempt a high and stubborn tone of morality, in answer to the light strain of Lord Dalgarno’s conversation, which kept on the frontiers between jest and earnest, would have seemed pedantic and ridiculous; and every attempt which Nigel made to combat his companion’s propositions, by reasoning as jocose as his own, only showed his inferiority in that gay species of controversy. And it must be owned, besides, though internally disapproving much of what he heard, Lord Glenvarloch, young as he was in society, became less alarmed by the language and manners of his new associate, than in prudence he ought to have been.

Lord Dalgarno was unwilling to startle his proselyte, by insisting upon any topic which appeared particularly to jar with his habits or principles; and he blended his mirth and his earnest so dexterously, that it was impossible for Nigel to discover how far he was serious in his propositions, or how far they flowed from a wild and extravagant spirit of raillery. And, ever and anon, those flashes of spirit and honour crossed his conversation, which seemed to intimate, that, when stirred to action by some adequate motive, Lord Dalgarno would prove something very different from the court-haunting and ease-loving voluptuary, which he was pleased to represent as his chosen character.

As they returned down the river, Lord Glenvarloch remarked, that the boat passed the mansion of Lord Huntinglen, and noticed the circumstance to Lord Dalgarno, observing, that he thought they were to have dined there. “Surely no,” said the young nobleman, “I have more mercy on you than to gorge you a second time with raw beef and canary wine. I propose something better for you, I promise you, than such a second Scythian festivity. And as for my father, he proposes to dine to-day with my grave, ancient Earl of Northampton, whilome that celebrated putter-down of pretended prophecies, Lord Henry Howard.”

“And do you not go with him?” said his companion.

“To what purpose?” said Lord Dalgarno. “To hear his wise lordship speak musty politics in false Latin, which the old fox always uses, that he may give the learned Majesty of England an opportunity of correcting his slips in grammar? That were a rare employment!”

“Nay,” said Lord Nigel, “but out of respect, to wait on my lord your father.”

“My lord my father,” replied Lord Dalgarno, “has blue-bottles enough to wait on him, and can well dispense with such a butterfly as myself. He can lift the cup of sack to his head without my assistance; and, should the said paternal head turn something giddy, there be men enough to guide his right honourable lordship to his lordship’s right honourable couch. — Now, do not stare at me, Nigel, as if my words were to sink the boat with us. I love my father — I love him dearly — and I respect him, too, though I respect not many things; a trustier old Trojan never belted a broadsword by a loop of leather. But what then? He belongs to the old world, I to the new. He has his follies, I have mine; and the less either of us sees of the other’s peccadilloes, the greater will be the honour and respect — that, I think, is the proper phrase — I say the respect in which we shall hold each other. Being apart, each of us is himself, such as nature and circumstances have made him; but, couple us up too closely together, you will be sure to have in your leash either an old hypocrite or a young one, or perhaps both the one and t’other.”

As he spoke thus, the boat put into the landing-place at Blackfriars. Lord Dalgarno sprung ashore, and, flinging his cloak and rapier to his page, recommended to his companion to do the like. “We are coming among a press of gallants,” he said; “and, if we walked thus muffled, we shall look like your tawny-visaged Don, who wraps him close in his cloak, to conceal the defects of his doublet.”

“I have known many an honest man do that, if it please your lordship,” said Richie Moniplies, who had been watching for an opportunity to intrude himself on the conversation, and probably remembered what had been his own condition, in respect to cloak and doublet, at a very recent period.

Lord Dalgarno stared at him, as if surprised at his assurance; but immediately answered, “You may have known many things, friend; but, in the meanwhile, you do not know what principally concerns your master, namely, how to carry his cloak, so as to show to advantage the gold-laced seams, and the lining of sables. See how Lutin holds the sword, with his cloak cast partly over it, yet so as to set off the embossed hilt, and the silver work of the mounting. — Give your familiar your sword, Nigel,” he continued, addressing Lord Glenvarloch, “that he may practise a lesson in an art so necessary.”

“Is it altogether prudent,” said Nigel, unclasping his weapon, and giving it to Richie, “to walk entirely unarmed?”

“And wherefore not?” said his companion. “You are thinking now of Auld Reekie, as my father fondly calls your good Scottish capital, where there is such bandying of private feuds and public factions, that a man of any note shall not cross your High Street twice, without endangering his life thrice. Here, sir, no brawling in the street is permitted. Your bull-headed citizen takes up the case so soon as the sword is drawn, and clubs is the word.”

“And a hard word it is,” said Richie, “as my brain-pan kens at this blessed moment.”

“Were I your master, sirrah,” said Lord Dalgarno, “I would make your brain-pan, as you call it, boil over, were you to speak a word in my presence before you were spoken to.”

Richie murmured some indistinct answer, but took the hint, and ranked himself behind his master along with Lutin, who failed not to expose his new companion to the ridicule of the passers-by, by mimicking, as often as he could do so unobserved by Richie, his stiff and upright stalking gait and discontented physiognomy.

“And tell me now, my dear Malcolm,” said Nigel, “where we are bending our course, and whether we shall dine at an apartment of yours?”

“An apartment of mine — yes, surely,” answered Lord Dalgarno, “you shall dine at an apartment of mine, and an apartment of yours, and of twenty gallants besides; and where the board shall present better cheer, better wine, and better attendance, than if our whole united exhibitions went to maintain it. We are going to the most noted ordinary of London.”

“That is, in common language, an inn, or a tavern,” said Nigel.

“An inn, or a tavern, my most green and simple friend!” exclaimed Lord Dalgarno. “No, no — these are places where greasy citizens take pipe and pot, where the knavish pettifoggers of the law spunge on their most unhappy victims — where Templars crack jests as empty as their nuts, and where small gentry imbibe such thin potations, that they get dropsies instead of getting drunk. An ordinary is a late-invented institution, sacred to Bacchus and Comus, where the choicest noble gallants of the time meet with the first and most ethereal wits of the age — where the wine is the very soul of the choicest grape, refined as the genius of the poet, and ancient and generous as the blood of the nobles. And then the fare is something beyond your ordinary gross terrestrial food! Sea and land are ransacked to supply it; and the invention of six ingenious cooks kept eternally upon the rack to make their art hold pace with, and if possible enhance, the exquisite quality of the materials.”

“By all which rhapsody,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “I can only understand, as I did before, that we are going to a choice tavern, where we shall be handsomely entertained, on paying probably as handsome a reckoning.”

“Reckoning!” exclaimed Lord Dalgarno in the same tone as before, “perish the peasantly phrase! What profanation! Monsieur le Chevalier de Beaujeu, pink of Paris and flower of Gascony — he who can tell the age of his wine by the bare smell, who distils his sauces in an alembic by the aid of Lully’s philosophy — who carves with such exquisite precision, that he gives to noble, knight and squire, the portion of the pheasant which exactly accords with his rank — nay, he who shall divide a becafico into twelve parts with such scrupulous exactness, that of twelve guests not one shall have the advantage of the other in a hair’s breadth, or the twentieth part of a drachm, yet you talk of him and of a reckoning in the same breath! Why, man, he is the well-known and general referee in all matters affecting the mysteries of Passage, Hazard, In and In, Penneeck, and Verquire, and what not — why, Beaujeu is King of the Card-pack, and Duke of the Dice-box — HE call a reckoning like a green-aproned, red-nosed son of the vulgar spigot! O, my dearest Nigel, what a word you have spoken, and of what a person! That you know him not, is your only apology for such blasphemy; and yet I scarce hold it adequate, for to have been a day in London and not to know Beaujeu, is a crime of its own kind. But you shall know him this blessed moment, and shall learn to hold yourself in horror for the enormities you have uttered.”

“Well, but mark you,” said Nigel, “this worthy chevalier keeps not all this good cheer at his own cost, does he?”

“No, no,” answered Lord Dalgarno; “there is a sort of ceremony which my chevalier’s friends and intimates understand, but with which you have no business at present. There is, as majesty might say, a symbolum to be disbursed — in other words, a mutual exchange of courtesies take place betwixt Beaujeu and his guests. He makes them a free present of the dinner and wine, as often as they choose to consult their own felicity by frequenting his house at the hour of noon, and they, in gratitude, make the chevalier a present of a Jacobus. Then you must know, that, besides Comus and Bacchus, that princess of sublunary affairs, the Diva Fortuna, is frequently worshipped at Beaujeu’s, and he, as officiating high-priest, hath, as in reason he should, a considerable advantage from a share of the sacrifice.”

“In other words,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “this man keeps a gaming-house.”

“A house in which you may certainly game,” said Lord Dalgarno, “as you may in your own chamber if you have a mind; nay, I remember old Tom Tally played a hand at put for a wager with Quinze le Va, the Frenchman, during morning prayers in St. Paul’s; the morning was misty, and the parson drowsy, and the whole audience consisted of themselves and a blind woman, and so they escaped detection.”

“For all this, Malcolm,” said the young lord, gravely, “I cannot dine with you to-day, at this same ordinary.”

“And wherefore, in the name of heaven, should you draw back from your word?” said Lord Dalgarno.

“I do not retract my word, Malcolm; but I am bound, by an early promise to my father, never to enter the doors of a gaming-house.”

“I tell you this is none,” said Lord Dalgarno; “it is but, in plain terms, an eating-house, arranged on civiller terms, and frequented by better company, than others in this town; and if some of them do amuse themselves with cards and hazard, they are men of honour, and who play as such, and for no more than they can well afford to lose. It was not, and could not be, such houses that your father desired you to avoid. Besides, he might as well have made you swear you would never take accommodation of an inn, tavern, eating-house, or place of public reception of any kind; for there is no such place of public resort but where your eyes may be contaminated by the sight of a pack of pieces of painted pasteboard, and your ears profaned by the rattle of those little spotted cubes of ivory. The difference is, that where we go, we may happen to see persons of quality amusing themselves with a game; and in the ordinary houses you will meet bullies and sharpers, who will strive either to cheat or to swagger you out of your money.”

“I am sure you would not willingly lead me to do what is wrong,” said Nigel; “but my father had a horror for games of chance, religious I believe, as well as prudential. He judged from I know not what circumstance, a fallacious one I should hope, that I should have a propensity to such courses, and I have told you the promise which he exacted from me.”

“Now, by my honour,” said Dalgarno, “what you have said affords the strongest reason for my insisting that you go with me. A man who would shun any danger, should first become acquainted with its real bearing and extent, and that in the company of a confidential guide and guard. Do you think I myself game? Good faith, my father’s oaks grow too far from London, and stand too fast rooted in the rocks of Perthshire, for me to troll them down with a die, though I have seen whole forests go down like nine-pins. No, no — these are sports for the wealthy Southron, not for the poor Scottish noble. The place is an eating- house, and as such you and I will use it. If others use it to game in, it is their fault, but neither that of the house nor ours.”

Unsatisfied with this reasoning, Nigel still insisted upon the promise he had given to his father, until his companion appeared rather displeased, and disposed to impute to him injurious and unhandsome suspicions. Lord Glenvarloch could not stand this change of tone. He recollected that much was due from him to Lord Dalgarno, on account of his father’s ready and efficient friendship, and something also on account of the frank manner in which the young man himself had offered him his intimacy. He had no reason to doubt his assurances, that the house where they were about to dine did not fall under the description of places which his father’s prohibition referred; and finally, he was strong in his own resolution to resist every temptation to join in games of chance. He therefore pacified Lord Dalgarno, by intimating his willingness to go along with him; and, the good-humour of the young courtier instantaneously returning, he again ran on in a grotesque and rodomontade account of the host, Monsieur de Beaujeu, which he did not conclude until they had reached the temple of hospitality over which that eminent professor presided.

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