The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 26

Give us good voyage, gentle stream — we stun not

Thy sober ear with sounds of revelry;

Wake not the slumbering echoes of thy banks

With voice of flute and horn — we do but seek

On the broad pathway of thy swelling bosom

To glide in silent safety.

The Double Bridal.

Grey, or rather yellow light, was beginning to twinkle through the fogs of Whitefriars, when a low tap at the door of the unhappy miser announced to Lord Glenvarloch the summons of the boatman. He found at the door the man whom he had seen the night before, with a companion.

“Come, come, master, let us get afloat,” said one of them, in a rough impressive whisper, “time and tide wait for no man.” “They shall not wait for me,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “but I have some things to carry with me.”

“Ay, ay — no man will take a pair of oars now, Jack, unless he means to load the wherry like a six-horse waggon. When they don’t want to shift the whole kitt, they take a sculler, and be d — d to them. Come, come, where be your rattle-traps?”

One of the men was soon sufficiently loaded, in his own estimation at least, with Lord Glenvarloch’s mail and its accompaniments, with which burden he began to trudge towards the Temple Stairs. His comrade, who seemed the principal, began to handle the trunk which contained the miser’s treasure, but pitched it down again in an instant, declaring, with a great oath, that it was as reasonable to expect a man to carry Paul’s on his back. The daughter of Trapbois, who had by this time joined them, muffled up in a long dark hood and mantle, exclaimed to Lord Glenvarloch —“Let them leave it if they will, let them leave it all; let us but escape from this horrible place.”

We have mentioned elsewhere, that Nigel was a very athletic young man, and, impelled by a strong feeling of compassion and indignation, he showed his bodily strength singularly on this occasion, by seizing on the ponderous strong-box, and, by means of the rope he had cast around it, throwing it on his shoulders, and marching resolutely forward under a weight, which would have sunk to the earth three young gallants, at the least, of our degenerate day. The waterman followed him in amazement, calling out, “Why, master, master, you might as well gie me t’other end on’t!” and anon offered his assistance to support it in some degree behind, which after the first minute or two Nigel was fain to accept. His strength was almost exhausted when he reached the wherry, which was lying at the Temple Stairs according to appointment; and, when he pitched the trunk into it, the weight sank the bow of the boat so low in the water as well-nigh to overset it.

“We shall have as hard a fare of it,” said the waterman to his companion, “as if we were ferrying over an honest bankrupt with all his secreted goods — Ho, ho! good woman, what, are you stepping in for? — our gunwale lies deep enough in the water without live lumber to boot.”

“This person comes with me,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “she is for the present under my protection.”

“Come, come, master,” rejoined the fellow, “that is out of my commission. You must not double my freight on me — she may go by land — and, as for protection, her face will protect her from Berwick to the Land’s End.”

“You will not except at my doubling the loading, if I double the fare?” said Nigel, determined on no account to relinquish the protection of this unhappy woman, for which he had already devised some sort of plan, likely now to be baffled by the characteristic rudeness of the Thames watermen.

“Ay, by G — but I will except, though, “said the fellow with the green plush jacket: “I will overload my wherry neither for love nor money — I love my boat as well as my wife, and a thought better.”

“Nay, nay, comrade,” said his mate, “that is speaking no true water language. For double fare we are bound to row a witch in her eggshell if she bid us; and so pull away, Jack, and let us have no more prating.”

They got into the stream-way accordingly, and, although heavily laden, began to move down the river with reasonable speed.

The lighter vessels which passed, overtook, or crossed them, in their course, failed not to assail them with their boisterous raillery, which was then called water-wit; for which the extreme plainness of Mistress Martha’s features, contrasted with the youth, handsome figure, and good looks of Nigel, furnished the principal topics; while the circumstance of the boat being somewhat overloaded, did not escape their notice. They were hailed successively, as a grocer’s wife upon a party of pleasure with her eldest apprentice — as an old woman carrying her grandson to school — and as a young strapping Irishman, conveying an ancient maiden to Dr. Rigmarole’s, at Redriffe, who buckles beggars for a tester and a dram of Geneva. All this abuse was retorted in a similar strain of humour by Greenjacket and his companion, who maintained the war of wit with the same alacrity with which they were assailed.

Meanwhile, Lord Glenvarloch asked his desolate companion if she had thought on any place where she could remain in safety with her property. She confessed, in more detail than formerly, that her father’s character had left her no friends; and that, from the time he had betaken himself to Whitefriars, to escape certain legal consequences of his eager pursuit of gain, she had lived a life of total seclusion; not associating with the society which the place afforded, and, by her residence there, as well as her father’s parsimony, effectually cut off from all other company. What she now wished, was, in the first place, to obtain the shelter of a decent lodging, and the countenance of honest people, however low in life, until she should obtain legal advice as to the mode of obtaining justice on her father’s murderer. She had no hesitation to charge the guilt upon Colepepper, (commonly called Peppercull,) whom she knew to be as capable of any act of treacherous cruelty, as he was cowardly, where actual manhood was required. He had been strongly suspected of two robberies before, one of which was coupled with an atrocious murder. He had, she intimated, made pretensions to her hand as the easiest and safest way of obtaining possession of her father’s wealth; and, on her refusing his addresses, if they could be termed so, in the most positive terms, he had thrown out such obscure hints of vengeance, as, joined with some imperfect assaults upon the house, had kept her in frequent alarm, both on her father’s account and her own.

Nigel, but that his feeling of respectful delicacy to the unfortunate woman forebade him to do so, could here have communicated a circumstance corroborative of her suspicions, which had already occurred to his own mind. He recollected the hint that old Hildebrod threw forth on the preceding night, that some communication betwixt himself and Colepepper had hastened the catastrophe. As this communication related to the plan which Hildebrod had been pleased to form, of promoting a marriage betwixt Nigel himself and the rich heiress of Trapbois, the fear of losing an opportunity not to be regained, together with the mean malignity of a low-bred ruffian, disappointed in a favourite scheme, was most likely to instigate the bravo to the deed of violence which had been committed. The reflection that his own name was in some degree implicated with the causes of this horrid tragedy, doubled Lord Glenvarloch’s anxiety in behalf of the victim whom he had rescued, while at the same time he formed the tacit resolution, that, so soon as his own affairs were put upon some footing, he would contribute all in his power towards the investigation of this bloody affair.

After ascertaining from his companion that she could form no better plan of her own, he recommended to her to take up her lodging for the time, at the house of his old landlord, Christie the ship-chandler, at Paul’s Wharf, describing the decency and honesty of that worthy couple, and expressing his hopes that they would receive her into their own house, or recommend her at least to that of some person for whom they would be responsible, until she should have time to enter upon other arrangements for herself.

The poor woman received advice so grateful to her in her desolate condition, with an expression of thanks, brief indeed, but deeper than any thing had yet extracted from the austerity of her natural disposition.

Lord Glenvarloch then proceeded to inform Martha, that certain reasons, connected with his personal safety, called him immediately to Greenwich, and, therefore, it would not be in his power to accompany her to Christie’s house, which he would otherwise have done with pleasure: but, tearing a leaf from his tablet, he wrote on it a few lines, addressed to his landlord, as a man of honesty and humanity, in which he described the bearer as a person who stood in singular necessity of temporary protection and good advice, for which her circumstances enabled her to make ample acknowledgment. He therefore requested John Christie, as his old and good friend, to afford her the shelter of his roof for a short time; or, if that might not be consistent with his convenience, at least to direct her to a proper lodging-and, finally, he imposed on him the additional, and somewhat more difficult commission, to recommend her to the counsel and services of an honest, at least a reputable and skilful attorney, for the transacting some law business of importance. The note he subscribed with his real name, and, delivering it to his protegee, who received it with another deeply uttered “I thank you,” which spoke the sterling feelings of her gratitude better than a thousand combined phrases, he commanded the watermen to pull in for Paul’s Wharf, which they were now approaching.

“We have not time,” said Green-jacket; “we cannot be stopping every instant.”

But, upon Nigel insisting upon his commands being obeyed, and adding, that it was for the purpose of putting the lady ashore, the waterman declared that he would rather have her room than her company, and put the wherry alongside the wharf accordingly. Here two of the porters, who ply in such places, were easily induced to undertake the charge of the ponderous strong-box, and at the same time to guide the owner to the well-known mansion of John Christie, with whom all who lived in that neighbourhood were perfectly acquainted.

The boat, much lightened of its load, went down the Thames at a rate increased in proportion. But we must forbear to pursue her in her voyage for a few minutes, since we have previously to mention the issue of Lord Glenvarloch’s recommendation.

Mistress Martha Trapbois reached the shop in perfect safety, and was about to enter it, when a sickening sense of the uncertainty of her situation, and of the singularly painful task of telling her story, came over her so strongly, that she paused a moment at the very threshold of her proposed place of refuge, to think in what manner she could best second the recommendation of the friend whom Providence had raised up to her. Had she possessed that knowledge of the world, from which her habits of life had completely excluded her, she might have known that the large sum of money which she brought along with her, might, judiciously managed, have been a passport to her into the mansions of nobles, and the palaces of princes. But, however conscious of its general power, which assumes so many forms and complexions, she was so inexperienced as to be most unnecessarily afraid that the means by which the wealth had been acquired, might exclude its inheretrix from shelter even in the house of a humble tradesman.

While she thus delayed, a more reasonable cause for hesitation arose, in a considerable noise and altercation within the house, which grew louder and louder as the disputants issued forth upon the street or lane before the door.

The first who entered upon the scene was a tall raw-boned hard- favoured man, who stalked out of the shop hastily, with a gait like that of a Spaniard in a passion, who, disdaining to add speed to his locomotion by running, only condescends, in the utmost extremity of his angry haste, to add length to his stride. He faced about, so soon as he was out of the house, upon his pursuer, a decent-looking, elderly, plain tradesman — no other than John Christie himself, the owner of the shop and tenement, by whom he seemed to be followed, and who was in a state of agitation more than is usually expressed by such a person.

“I’ll hear no more on’t,” said the personage who first appeared on the scene. —“Sir, I will hear no more on it. Besides being a most false and impudent figment, as I can testify — it is Scandaalum Magnaatum, sir — Scandaalum Magnaatum” he reiterated with a broad accentuation of the first vowel, well known in the colleges of Edinburgh and Glasgow, which we can only express in print by doubling the said first of letters and of vowels, and which would have cheered the cockles of the reigning monarch had he been within hearing — as he was a severer stickler for what he deemed the genuine pronunciation of the Roman tongue, than for any of the royal prerogatives, for which he was at times disposed to insist so strenuously in his speeches to Parliament.

“I care not an ounce of rotten cheese,” said John Christie in reply, “what you call it — but it is TRUE; and I am a free Englishman, and have right to speak the truth in my own concerns; and your master is little better than a villain, and you no more than a swaggering coxcomb, whose head I will presently break, as I have known it well broken before on lighter occasion.”

And, so saying, he flourished the paring-shovel which usually made clean the steps of his little shop, and which he had caught up as the readiest weapon of working his foeman damage, and advanced therewith upon him. The cautious Scot (for such our readers must have already pronounced him, from his language and pedantry) drew back as the enraged ship-chandler approached, but in a surly manner, and bearing his hand on his sword-hilt rather in the act of one who was losing habitual forbearance and caution of deportment, than as alarmed by the attack of an antagonist inferior to himself in youth, strength, and weapons.

“Bide back,” he said, “Maister Christie — I say bide back, and consult your safety, man. I have evited striking you in your ain house under muckle provocation, because I am ignorant how the laws here may pronounce respecting burglary and hamesucken, and such matters; and, besides, I would not willingly hurt ye, man, e’en on the causeway, that is free to us baith, because I mind your kindness of lang syne, and partly consider ye as a poor deceived creature. But deil d — n me, sir, and I am not wont to swear, but if you touch my Scotch shouther with that shule of yours, I will make six inches of my Andrew Ferrara deevilish intimate with your guts, neighbour.”

And therewithal, though still retreating from the brandished shovel, he made one-third of the basket-hilled broadsword which he wore, visible from the sheath. The wrath of John Christie was abated, either by his natural temperance of disposition, or perhaps in part by the glimmer of cold steel, which flashed on him from his adversary’s last action.

“I would do well to cry clubs on thee, and have thee ducked at the wharf,” he said, grounding his shovel, however, at the same time, “for a paltry swaggerer, that would draw thy bit of iron there on an honest citizen before his own door; but get thee gone, and reckon on a salt eel for thy supper, if thou shouldst ever come near my house again. I wish it had been at the bottom of the Thames when it first gave the use of its roof to smooth-faced, oily-tongued, double-minded Scots thieves!”

“It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest,” replied his adversary, not perhaps the less bold that he saw matters were taking the turn of a pacific debate; “and a pity it is that a kindly Scot should ever have married in foreign parts, and given life to a purse-proud, pudding-headed, fat-gutted, lean-brained Southron, e’en such as you, Maister Christie. But fare ye weel — fare ye weel, for ever and a day; and, if you quarrel wi’ a Scot again, man, say as mickle ill o’ himsell as ye like, but say nane of his patron or of his countrymen, or it will scarce be your flat cap that will keep your lang lugs from the sharp abridgement of a Highland whinger, man.”

“And, if you continue your insolence to me before my own door, were it but two minutes longer,” retorted John Christie, “I will call the constable, and make your Scottish ankles acquainted with an English pair of stocks!”

So saying, he turned to retire into his shop with some show of victory; for his enemy, whatever might be his innate valour, manifested no desire to drive matters to extremity — conscious, perhaps, that whatever advantage he might gain in single combat with Jonn Christie, would be more than overbalanced by incurring an affair with the constituted authorities of Old England, not at that time apt to be particularly favourable to their new fellow-subjects, in the various successive broils which were then constantly taking place between the individuals of two proud nations, who still retained a stronger sense of their national animosity during centuries, than of their late union for a few years under the government of the same prince.

Mrs. Martha Trapbois had dwelt too long in Alsatia, to be either surprised or terrified at the altercation she had witnessed. Indeed, she only wondered that the debate did not end in some of those acts of violence by which they were usually terminated in the Sanctuary. As the disputants separated from each other, she, who had no idea that the cause of the quarrel was more deeply rooted than in the daily scenes of the same nature which she had heard of or witnessed, did not hesitate to stop Master Christie in his return to his shop, and present to him the letter which Lord Glenvarloch had given to her. Had she been better acquainted with life and its business, she would certainly have waited for a more temperate moment; and she had reason to repent of her precipitation, when, without saying a single word, or taking the trouble to gather more of the information contained in the letter than was expressed in the subscription, the incensed ship chandler threw it down on the ground, trampled it in high disdain, and, without addressing a single word to the bearer, except, indeed, something much more like a hearty curse than was perfectly consistent with his own grave appearance, he retired into his shop, and shut the hatch-door.

It was with the most inexpressible anguish that the desolate, friendless and unhappy female, thus beheld her sole hope of succour, countenance, and protection, vanish at once, without being able to conceive a reason; for, to do her justice, the idea that her friend, whom she knew by the name of Nigel Grahame, had imposed on her, a solution which might readily have occurred to many in her situation, never once entered her mind. Although it was not her temper easily to bend her mind to entreaty, she could not help exclaiming after the ireful and retreating ship-chandler — “Good Master, hear me but a moment! for mercy’s sake, for honesty’s sake!”

“Mercy and honesty from him, mistress!” said the Scot, who, though he essayed not to interrupt the retreat of his antagonist, still kept stout possession of the field of action — “ye might as weel expect brandy from bean-stalks, or milk from a craig of blue whunstane. The man is mad, bom mad, to boot.”

“I must have mistaken the person to whom the letter was addressed, then;” and, as she spoke, Mistress Martha Trapbois was in the act of stooping to lift the paper which had been so uncourteously received. Her companion, with natural civility, anticipated her purpose; but, what was not quite so much in etiquette, he took a sly glance at it as he was about to hand it to her, and his eye having caught the subscription, he said, with surprise, “Glenvarloch — Nigel Olifaunt of Glenvarloch! Do you know the Lord Glenvarloch, mistress?”

“I know not of whom you speak,” said Mrs. Martha, peevishly. “I had that paper from one Master Nigel Gram.”

“Nigel Grahame! — umph.-O, ay, very true — I had forgot,” said the Scotsman. “A tall, well-set young man, about my height; bright blue eyes like a hawk’s; a pleasant speech, something leaning to the kindly north-country accentuation, but not much, in respect of his having been resident abroad?”

“All this is true — and what of it all?” said the daughter of the miser.

“Hair of my complexion?”

“Yours is red,” replied she.

“I pray you peace,” said the Scotsman. “I was going to say — of my complexion, but with a deeper shade of the chestnut. Weel, mistress, if I have guessed the man aright, he is one with whom I am, and have been, intimate and familiar — nay — I may truly say I have done him much service in my time, and may live to do him more. I had indeed a sincere good-will for him, and I doubt he has been much at a loss since we parted; but the fault is not mine. Wherefore, as this letter will not avail you with him to whom it is directed, you may believe that heaven hath sent it to me, who have a special regard for the writer — I have, besides, as much mercy and honesty within me as man can weel make his bread with, and am willing to aid any distressed creature, that is my friend’s friend, with my counsel, and otherwise, so that I am not put to much charges, being in a strange country, like a poor lamb that has wandered from its ain native hirsel, and leaves a tait of its woo’ in every d — d Southron bramble that comes across it.” While he spoke thus, he read the contents of the letter, without waiting for permission, and then continued — “And so this is all that you are wanting, my dove? nothing more than safe and honourable lodging, and sustenance, upon your own charges?”

“Nothing more,” said she. “If you are a man and a Christian, you will help me to what I need so much.”

“A man I am,” replied the formal Caledonian, “e’en sic as ye see me; and a Christian I may call myself, though unworthy, and though I have heard little pure doctrine since I came hither — a’ polluted with men’s devices — ahem! Weel, and if ye be an honest woman,” (here he peeped under her muffler,) “as an honest woman ye seem likely to be — though, let me tell you, they are a kind of cattle not so rife in the streets of this city as I would desire them — I was almost strangled with my own band by twa rampallians, wha wanted yestreen, nae farther gane, to harle me into a change-house — however, if ye be a decent honest woman,” (here he took another peep at features certainly bearing no beauty which could infer suspicion,) “as decent and honest ye seem to be, why, I will advise you to a decent house, where you will get douce, quiet entertainment, on reasonable terms, and the occasional benefit of my own counsel and direction — that is, from time to time, as my other avocations may permit.”

“May I venture to accept of such an offer from a stranger?” said Martha, with natural hesitation.

“Troth, I see nothing to hinder you, mistress,” replied the bonny Scot; “ye can but see the place, and do after as ye think best. Besides, we are nae such strangers, neither; for I know your friend, and you, it’s like, know mine, whilk knowledge, on either hand, is a medium of communication between us, even as the middle of the string connecteth its twa ends or extremities. But I will enlarge on this farther as we pass along, gin ye list to bid your twa lazy loons of porters there lift up your little kist between them, whilk ae true Scotsman might carry under his arm. Let me tell you, mistress, ye will soon make a toom pock-end of it in Lon’on, if you hire twa knaves to do the work of ane.”

So saying, he led the way, followed by Mistress Martha Trapbois, whose singular destiny, though it had heaped her with wealth, had left her, for the moment, no wiser counsellor, or more distinguished protector, than honest Richie Moniplies, a discarded serving-man.

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