The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 16

Give way — give way — I must and will have justice.

And tell me not of privilege and place;

Where I am injured, there I’ll sue redress.

Look to it, every one who bars my access;

I have a heart to feel the injury,

A hand to night myself, and, by my honour,

That hand shall grasp what grey-beard Law denies me.

The Chamberlain.

It was not long ere Nigel discovered Lord Dalgarno advancing towards him in the company of another young man of quality of the Prince’s train; and as they directed their course towards the south-eastern corner of the Park, he concluded they were about to go to Lord Huntinglen’s. They stopped, however, and turned up another path leading to the north; and Lord Glenvarloch conceived that this change of direction was owing to their having seen him, and their desire to avoid him.

Nigel followed them without hesitation by a path which, winding around a thicket of shrubs and trees, once more conducted him to the less frequented part of the Park. He observed which side of the thicket was taken by Lord Dalgarno and his companion, and he himself, walking hastily round the other verge, was thus enabled to meet them face to face.

“Good-morrow, my Lord Dalgarno,” said Lord Glenvarloch, sternly.

“Ha! my friend Nigel,” answered Lord Dalgarno, in his usual careless and indifferent tone, “my friend Nigel, with business on his brow? — but you must wait till we meet at Beaujeu’s at noon — Sir Ewes Haldimund and I are at present engaged in the Prince’s service.”

“If you were engaged in the king’s, my lord,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “you must stand and answer me.”

“Hey-day!” said Lord Dalgarno, with an air of great astonishment, “what passion is this? Why, Nigel, this is King Cambyses’ vein! — You have frequented the theatres too much lately — Away with this folly, man; go, dine upon soup and salad, drink succory-water to cool your blood, go to bed at sun-down, and defy those foul fiends, Wrath and Misconstruction.”

“I have had misconstruction enough among you,” said Glenvarloch, in the same tone of determined displeasure, “and from you, my Lord Dalgarno, in particular, and all under the mask of friendship.”

“Here is a proper business!”— said Dalgarno, turning as if to appeal to Sir Ewes Haldimund; “do you see this angry ruffler, Sir Ewes? A month since, he dared not have looked one of yonder sheep in the face, and now he is a prince of roisterers, a plucker of pigeons, a controller of players and poets — and in gratitude for my having shown him the way to the eminent character which he holds upon town, he comes hither to quarrel with his best friend, if not his only one of decent station.”

“I renounce such hollow friendship, my lord,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “I disclaim the character which, even to my very face, you labour to fix upon me, and ere we part I will call you to a reckoning for it.”

“My lords both,” interrupted Sir Ewes Haldimund, “let me remind you that the Royal Park is no place to quarrel in.”

“I will make my quarrel good,” said Nigel, who did not know, or in his passion might not have recollected, the privileges of the place, “wherever I find my enemy.”

“You shall find quarelling enough,” replied Lord Dalgarno, calmly, “so soon as you assign a sufficient cause for it. Sir Ewes Haldimund, who knows the Court, will warrant you that I am not backward on such occasions. — But of what is it that you now complain, after having experienced nothing save kindness from me and my family?”

“Of your family I complain not,” replied Lord Glenvarloch; “they have done for me all they could, more, far more, than I could have expected; but you, my lord, have suffered me, while you called me your friend, to be traduced, where a word of your mouth would have placed my character in its true colours — and hence the injurious message which I just now received from the Prince of Wales. To permit the misrepresentation of a friend, my lord, is to share in the slander.”

“You have been misinformed, my Lord Glenvarloch,” said Sir Ewes Haldimund; “I have myself often heard Lord Dalgarno defend your character, and regret that your exclusive attachment to the pleasures of a London life prevented your paying your duty regularly to the King and Prince.”

“While he himself,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “dissuaded me from presenting myself at Court.”

“I will cut this matter short,” said Lord Dalgarno, with haughty coldness. “You seem to have conceived, my lord, that you and I were Pylades and Orestes — a second edition of Damon and Pythias — Theseus and Pirithoiis at the least. You are mistaken, and have given the name of friendship to what, on my part, was mere good-nature and compassion for a raw and ignorant countryman, joined to the cumbersome charge which my father gave me respecting you. Your character, my lord, is of no one’s drawing, but of your own making. I introduced you where, as in all such places, there was good and indifferent company to be met with — your habits, or taste, made you prefer the worse. Your holy horror at the sight of dice and cards degenerated into the cautious resolution to play only at those times, and with such persons, as might ensure your rising a winner — no man can long do so, and continue to be held a gentleman. Such is the reputation you have made for yourself, and you have no right to be angry that I do not contradict in society what yourself know to be true. Let us pass on, my lord; and if you want further explanation, seek some other time and fitter place.”

“No time can be better than the present,” said Lord Glenvarloch, whose resentment was now excited to the uttermost by the cold-blooded and insulting manner, in which Dalgarno vindicated himself — “no place fitter than the place where we now stand. Those of my house have ever avenged insult, at the moment, and on the spot, where it was offered, were it at the foot of the throne. — Lord Dalgarno, you are a villain! draw and defend yourself.” At the same moment he unsheathed his rapier.

“Are you mad?” said Lord Dalgarno, stepping back; “we are in the precincts of the Court.”

“The better,” answered Lord Glenvarloch; “I will cleanse them from a calumniator and a coward.” He then pressed on Lord Dalgarno, and struck him with the flat of the sword.

The fray had now attracted attention, and the cry went round, “Keep the peace — keep the peace — swords drawn in the Park! — What, ho! guards! — keepers — yeomen — rangers!” and a number of people came rushing to the spot from all sides.

Lord Dalgarno, who had half drawn his sword on receiving the blow, returned it to his scabbard when he observed the crowd thicken, and, taking Sir Ewes Haldimund by the arm, walked hastily away, only saying to Lord Glenvarloch as they left him, “You shall dearly abye this insult — we will meet again.”

A decent-looking elderly man, who observed that Lord Glenvarloch remained on the spot, taking compassion on his youthful appearance, said to him, “Are you aware that this is a Star-Chamber business, young gentleman, and that it may cost you your right hand? — Shift for yourself before the keepers or constables come up — Get into Whitefriars or somewhere, for sanctuary and concealment, till you can make friends or quit the city.”

The advice was not to be neglected. Lord Glenvarloch made hastily towards the issue from the Park by Saint James’s Palace, then Saint James’s Hospital. The hubbub increased behind him; and several peace-officers of the Royal Household came up to apprehend the delinquent. Fortunately for Nigel, a popular edition of the cause of the affray had gone abroad. It was said that one of the Duke of Buckingham’s companions had insulted a stranger gentleman from the country, and that the stranger had cudgelled him soundly. A favourite, or the companion of a favourite, is always odious to John Bull, who has, besides, a partiality to those disputants who proceed, as lawyers term it, par wye du fait, and both prejudices were in Nigel’s favour. The officers, therefore, who came to apprehend him, could learn from the spectators no particulars of his appearance, or information concerning the road he had taken; so that, for the moment, he escaped being arrested.

What Lord Glenvarloch heard among the crowd as he passed along, was sufficient to satisfy him, that in his impatient passion he had placed himself in a predicament of considerable danger. He was no stranger to the severe and arbitrary proceedings of the Court of Star-Chamber, especially in cases of breach of privilege, which made it the terror of all men; and it was no farther back than the Queen’s time that the punishment of mutilation had been actually awarded and executed, for some offence of the same kind which he had just committed. He had also the comfortable reflection, that, by his violent quarrel with Lord Dalgarno, he must now forfeit the friendship and good offices of that nobleman’s father and sister, almost the only persons of consideration in whom he could claim any interest; while all the evil reports which had been put in circulation concerning his character, were certain to weigh heavily against him, in a case where much must necessarily depend on the reputation of the accused. To a youthful imagination, the idea of such a punishment as mutilation seems more ghastly than death itself; and every word which he overheard among the groups which he met, mingled with, or overtook and passed, announced this as the penalty of his offence. He dreaded to increase his pace for fear of attracting suspicion, and more than once saw the ranger’s officers so near him, that his wrist tingled as if already under the blade of the dismembering knife. At length he got out of the Park, and had a little more leisure to consider what he was next to do.

Whitefriars, adjacent to the Temple, then well known by the cant name of Alsatia, had at this time, and for nearly a century afterwards, the privilege of a sanctuary, unless against the writ of the Lord Chief Justice, or of the Lords of the Privy-Council. Indeed, as the place abounded with desperadoes of every description — bankrupt citizens, ruined gamesters, irreclaimable prodigals, desperate duellists, bravoes, homicides, and debauched profligates of every description, all leagued together to maintain the immunities of their asylum — it was both difficult and unsafe for the officers of the law to execute warrants emanating even from the highest authority, amongst men whose safety was inconsistent with warrants or authority of any kind. This Lord Glenvarloch well knew; and odious as the place of refuge was, it seemed the only one where, for a space at least, he might be concealed and secure from the immediate grasp of the law, until he should have leisure to provide better for his safety, or to get this unpleasant matter in some shape accommodated.

Meanwhile, as Nigel walked hastily forward towards the place of sanctuary, he bitterly blamed himself for suffering Lord Dalgarno to lead him into the haunts of dissipation; and no less accused his intemperate heat of passion, which now had driven him for refuge into the purlieus of profane and avowed vice and debauchery.

“Dalgarno spoke but too truly in that,” were his bitter reflections; “I have made myself an evil reputation by acting on his insidious counsels, and neglecting the wholesome admonitions which ought to have claimed implicit obedience from me, and which recommended abstinence even from the slightest approach of evil. But if I escape from the perilous labyrinth in which folly and inexperience, as well as violent passions, have involved me, I will find some noble way of redeeming the lustre of a name which was never sullied until I bore it.”

As Lord Glenvarloch formed these prudent resolutions, he entered the Temple Walks, whence a gate at that time opened into Whitefriars, by which, as by the more private passage, he proposed to betake himself to the sanctuary. As he approached the entrance to that den of infamy, from which his mind recoiled even while in the act of taking shelter there, his pace slackened, while the steep and broken stairs reminded him of the facilis descensus Averni, and rendered him doubtful whether it were not better to brave the worst which could befall him in the public haunts of honourable men, than to evade punishment by secluding himself in those of avowed vice and profligacy.

As Nigel hesitated, a young gentleman of the Temple advanced towards him, whom he had often seen, and sometimes conversed with, at the ordinary, where he was a frequent and welcome guest, being a wild young gallant, indifferently well provided with money, who spent at the theatres and other gay places of public resort, the time which his father supposed he was employing in the study of the law. But Reginald Lowestoffe, such was the young Templar’s name, was of opinion that little law was necessary to enable him to spend the revenues of the paternal acres which were to devolve upon him at his father’s demose, and therefore gave himself no trouble to acquire more of that science than might be imbibed along with the learned air of the region in which he had his chambers. In other respects, he was one of the wits of the place, read Ovid and Martial, aimed at quick repartee and pun, (often very far fetched,) danced, fenced, played at tennis, and performed sundry tunes on the fiddle and French horn, to the great annoyance of old Counsellor Barratter, who lived in the chambers immediately below him. Such was Reginald Lowes-toffe, shrewd, alert, and well-acquainted with the town through all its recesses, but in a sort of disrespectable way. This gallant, now approaching the Lord Glenvarloch, saluted him by name and title, and asked if his lordship designed for the Chevalier’s this day, observing it was near noon, and the woodcock would be on the board before they could reach the ordinary.

“I do not go there to-day,” answered Lord Glenvarloch. “Which way, then, my lord?” said the young Templar, who was perhaps not undesirous to parade a part at least of the street in company with a lord, though but a Scottish one.

“I— I—” said Nigel, desiring to avail himself of this young man’s local knowledge, yet unwilling and ashamed to acknowledge his intention to take refuge in so disreputable a quarter, or to describe the situation in which he stood —“I have some curiosity to see Whitefriars.”

“What! your lordship is for a frolic into Alsatia?” said Lowestoffe-”-Have with you, my lord — you cannot have a better guide to the infernal regions than myself. I promise you there are bona-robas to be found there — good wine too, ay, and good fellows to drink it with, though somewhat suffering under the frowns of Fortune. But your lordship will pardon me — you are the last of our acquaintance to whom I would have proposed such a voyage of discovery.”

“I am obliged to you, Master Lowestoffe, for the good opinion you have expressed in the observation,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “but my present circumstances may render even a residence of a day or two in the sanctuary a matter of necessity.”

“Indeed!” said Lowestoffe, in a tone of great surprise; “I thought your lordship had always taken care not to risk any considerable stake — I beg pardon, but if the bones have proved perfidious, I know just so much law as that a peer’s person is sacred from arrest; and for mere impecuniosity, my lord, better shift can be made elsewhere than in Whitefriars, where all are devouring each other for very poverty.”

“My misfortune has no connexion with want of money,” said Nigel.

“Why, then, I suppose,” said Lowestoffe, “you have been tilting, my lord, and have pinked your man; in which case, and with a purse reasonably furnished, you may lie perdu in Whitefriars for a twelvemonth — Marry, but you must be entered and received as a member of their worshipful society, my lord, and a frank burgher of Alsatia — so far you must condescend; there will be neither peace nor safety for you else.”

“My fault is not in a degree so deadly, Master Lowestoffe,” answered Lord Glenvarloch, “as you seem to conjecture — I have stricken a gentleman in the Park, that is all.”

“By my hand, my lord, and you had better have struck your sword through him at Barns Elms,” said the Templar. “Strike within the verge of the Court! You will find that a weighty dependence upon your hands, especially if your party be of rank and have favour.”

“I will be plain with you, Master Lowestoffe,” said Nigel, “since I have gone thus far. The person I struck was Lord Dalgarno, whom you have seen at Beaujeu’s.”

“A follower and favourite of the Duke of Buckingham! — It is a most unhappy chance, my lord; but my heart was formed in England, and cannot bear to see a young nobleman borne down, as you are like to be. We converse here greatly too open for your circumstances. The Templars would suffer no bailiff to execute a writ, and no gentleman to be arrested for a duel, within their precincts; but in such a matter between Lord Dalgarno and your lordship, there might be a party on either side. You must away with me instantly to my poor chambers here, hard by, and undergo some little change of dress, ere you take sanctuary; for else you will have the whole rascal rout of the Friars about you, like crows upon a falcon that strays into their rookery. We must have you arrayed something more like the natives of Alsatia, or there will be no life there for you.”

While Lowestoffe spoke, he pulled Lord Glenvarloch along with him into his chambers, where he had a handsome library, filled with all the poems and play-books which were then in fashion. The Templar then dispatched a boy, who waited upon him, to procure a dish or two from the next cook’s shop; “and this,” he said, “must be your lordship’s dinner, with a glass of old sack, of which my grandmother (the heavens requite her!) sent me a dozen bottles, with charge to use the liquor only with clarified whey, when I felt my breast ache with over study. Marry, we will drink the good lady’s health in it, if it is your lordship’s pleasure, and you shall see how we poor students eke out our mutton-commons in the hall.”

The outward door of the chambers was barred so soon as the boy had re-entered with the food; the boy was ordered to keep close watch, and admit no one; and Lowestoffe, by example and precept, pressed his noble guest to partake of his hospitality. His frank and forward manners, though much differing from the courtly ease of Lord Dalgarno, were calculated to make a favourable impression; and Lord Glenvarloch, though his experience of Dalgarno’s perfidy had taught him to be cautious of reposing faith in friendly professions, could not avoid testifying his gratitude to the young Templar, who seemed so anxious for his safety and accommodation.

“You may spare your gratitude any great sense of obligation, my lord,” said the Templar. “No doubt I am willing to be of use to any gentleman that has cause to sing Fortune my foe, and particularly proud to serve your lordship’s turn; but I have also an old grudge, to speak Heaven’s truth, at your opposite, Lord Dalgarno.”

“May I ask on what account, Master Lowestoffe?” said Lord Glenvarloch.

“O, my lord,” replied the Templar, “it was for a hap that chanced after you left the ordinary, one evening about three weeks since — at least I think you were not by, as your lordship always left us before deep play began — I mean no offence, but such was your lordship’s custom — when there were words between Lord Dalgarno and me concerning a certain game at gleek, and a certain mournival of aces held by his lordship, which went for eight — tib, which went for fifteen — twenty-three in all. Now I held king and queen, being three — a natural towser, making fifteen — and tiddy, nineteen. We vied the ruff, and revied, as your lordship may suppose, till the stake was equal to half my yearly exhibition, fifty as fair yellow canary birds as e’er chirped in the bottom of a green silk purse. Well, my lord, I gained the cards, and lo you! it pleases his lordship to say that we played without tiddy; and as the rest stood by and backed him, and especially the sharking Frenchman, why, I was obliged to lose more than I shall gain all the season. — So judge if I have not a crow to pluck with his lordship. Was it ever heard there was a game at gleek at the ordinary before, without counting tiddy? — marry quep upon his lordship! — Every man who comes there with his purse in his hand, is as free to make new laws as he, I hope, since touch pot touch penny makes every man equal.”

As Master Lowestoffe ran over this jargon of the gaming-table, Lord Glenvarloch was both ashamed and mortified, and felt a severe pang of aristocratic pride, when he concluded in the sweeping clause that the dice, like the grave, levelled those distinguishing points of society, to which Nigel’s early prejudices clung perhaps but too fondly. It was impossible, however, to object any thing to the learned reasoning of the young Templar, and therefore Nigel was contented to turn the conversation, by making some inquiries respecting the present state of White-friars. There also his host was at home.

“You know, my lord,” said Master Lowestoffe, “that we Templars are a power and a dominion within ourselves, and I am proud to say that I hold some rank in our republic — was treasurer to the Lord of Misrule last year, and am at this present moment in nomination for that dignity myself. In such circumstances, we are under the necessity of maintaining an amicable intercourse with our neighbours of Alsatia, even as the Christian States find themselves often, in mere policy, obliged to make alliance with the Grand Turk, or the Barbary States.”

“I should have imagined you gentlemen of the Temple more independent of your neighbours,” said Lord Glenvarloch.

“You do us something too much honour, my lord,” said the Templar; “the Alsatians and we have some common enemies, and we have, under the rose, some common friends. We are in the use of blocking all bailiffs out of our bounds, and we are powerfully aided by our neighbours, who tolerate not a rag belonging to them within theirs. Moreover the Alsatians have — I beg you to understand me — the power of protecting or distressing our friends, male or female, who may be obliged to seek sanctuary within their bounds. In short, the two communities serve each other, though the league is between states of unequal quality, and I may myself say, that I have treated of sundry weighty affairs, and have been a negotiator well approved on both sides. — But hark — hark — what is that?”

The sound by which Master Lowestoffe was interrupted, was that of a distant horn, winded loud and keenly, and followed by a faint and remote huzza.

“There is something doing,” said Lowestoffe, “in the Whitefriars at this moment. That is the signal when their privileges are invaded by tipstaff or bailiff; and at the blast of the horn they all swarm out to the rescue, as bees when their hive is disturbed. — Jump, Jim,” he said, calling out to the attendant, “and see what they are doing in Alsatia. — That bastard of a boy,” he continued, as the lad, accustomed to the precipitate haste of his master, tumbled rather than ran out of the apartment, and so down stairs, “is worth gold in this quarter — he serves six masters — four of them in distinct Numbers, and you would think him present like a fairy at the mere wish of him that for the time most needs his attendance. No scout in Oxford, no gip in Cambridge, ever matched him in speed and intelligence. He knows the step of a dun from that of a client, when it reaches the very bottom of the staircase; can tell the trip of a pretty wench from the step of a bencher, when at the upper end of the court; and is, take him all in all — But I see your lordship is anxious — May I press another cup of my kind grandmother’s cordial, or will you allow me to show you my wardrobe, and act as your valet or groom of the chamber?”

Lord Glenvarloch hesitated not to acknowledge that he was painfully sensible of his present situation, and anxious to do what must needs be done for his extrication.

The good-natured and thoughtless young Templar readily acquiesced, and led the way into his little bedroom, where, from bandboxes, portmanteaus, mail-trunks, not forgetting an old walnut-tree wardrobe, he began to select the articles which he thought best suited effectually to disguise his guest in venturing into the lawless and turbulent society of Alsatia.

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