The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 30

Yet though thou shouldst be dragg’d in scorn

To yonder ignominious tree,

Thou shall not want one faithful friend

To share the cruel fates’ decree.

Ballad of Jemmy Dawson.

Master George Heriot and his ward, as she might justly be termed, for his affection to Margaret imposed on him all the cares of a guardian, were ushered by the yeoman of the guard to the lodging of the Lieutenant, where they found him seated with his lady. They were received by both with that decorous civility which Master Heriot’s character and supposed influence demanded, even at the hand of a punctilious old soldier and courtier like Sir Edward Mansel. Lady Mansel received Margaret with like courtesy, and informed Master George that she was now only her guest, and no longer her prisoner.

“She is at liberty,” she said, “to return to her friends under your charge — such is his Majesty’s pleasure.”

“I am glad of it, madam,” answered Heriot, “but only I could have wished her freedom had taken place before her foolish interview with that singular young man; and I marvel your ladyship permitted it.”

“My good Master Heriot,” said Sir Edward, “we act according to the commands of one better and wiser than ourselves — our orders from his Majesty must be strictly and literally obeyed; and I need not say that the wisdom of his Majesty doth more than ensure —”

“I know his Majesty’s wisdom well,” said Heriot; “yet there is an old proverb about fire and flax — well, let it pass.”

“I see Sir Mungo Malagrowther stalking towards the door of the lodging,” said the Lady Mansel, “with the gait of a lame crane — it is his second visit this morning.”

“He brought the warrant for discharging Lord Glenvarloch of the charge of treason,” said Sir Edward.

“And from him,” said Heriot, “I heard much of what had befallen; for I came from France only late last evening, and somewhat unexpectedly.”

As they spoke, Sir Mungo entered the apartment — saluted the Lieutenant of the Tower and his lady with ceremonious civility — honoured George Heriot with a patronising nod of acknowledgment, and accosted Margaret with —“Hey! my young charge, you have not doffed your masculine attire yet?”

“She does not mean to lay it aside, Sir Mungo,” said Heriot, speaking loud, “until she has had satisfaction from you, for betraying her disguise to me, like a false knight — and in very deed, Sir Mungo, I think when you told me she was rambling about in so strange a dress, you might have said also that she was under Lady Mansel’s protection.”

“That was the king’s secret, Master Heriot,” said Sir Mungo, throwing himself into a chair with an air of atrabilarious importance; “the other was a well-meaning hint to yourself, as the girl’s friend.”

“Yes,” replied Heriot, “it was done like yourself — enough told to make me unhappy about her — not a word which could relieve my uneasiness.”

“Sir Mungo will not hear that remark,” said the lady; “we must change the subject. — Is there any news from Court, Sir Mungo? you have been to Greenwich?”

“You might as well ask me, madam,” answered the Knight, “whether there is any news from hell.”

“How, Sir Mungo, how!” said Sir Edward, “measure your words something better — You speak of the Court of King James.”

“Sir Edward, if I spoke of the court of the twelve Kaisers, I would say it is as confused for the present as the infernal regions. Courtiers of forty years’ standing, and such I may write myself, are as far to seek in the matter as a minnow in the Maelstrom. Some folk say the king has frowned on the Prince — some that the Prince has looked grave on the duke — some that Lord Glenvarloch will be hanged for high treason — and some that there is matter against Lord Dalgarno that may cost him as much as his head’s worth.”

“And what do you, that are a courtier of forty years’ standing, think of it all?” said Sir Edward Mansel.

“Nay, nay, do not ask him, Sir Edward,” said the lady, with an expressive look to her husband.

“Sir Mungo is too witty,” added Master Heriot, “to remember that he who says aught that may be repeated to his own prejudice, does but load a piece for any of the company to shoot him dead with, at their pleasure and convenience.”

“What!” said the bold Knight, “you think I am afraid of the trepan? Why now, what if I should say that Dalgarno has more wit than honesty — the duke more sail than ballast — the Prince more pride than prudence — and that the king —” The Lady Mansel held up her finger in a warning manner —“that the king is my very good master, who has given me, for forty years and more, dog’s wages, videlicit, bones and beating. — Why now, all this is said, and Archie Armstrong23 says worse than this of the best of them every day.”

“The more fool he,” said George Heriot; “yet he is not so utterly wrong, for folly is his best wisdom. But do not you, Sir Mungo, set your wit against a fool’s, though he be a court fool.”

“A fool, said you?” replied Sir Mungo, not having fully heard what Master Heriot said, or not choosing to have it thought so — “I have been a fool indeed, to hang on at a close-fisted Court here, when men of understanding and men of action have been making fortunes in every other place of Europe. But here a man comes indifferently off unless he gets a great key to turn,” (looking at Sir Edward,) “or can beat tattoo with a hammer on a pewter plate. — Well, sirs, I must make as much haste back on mine errand as if I were a fee’d messenger. — Sir Edward and my lady, I leave my commendations with you — and my good-will with you, Master Heriot — and for this breaker of bounds, if you will act by my counsel, some maceration by fasting, and a gentle use of the rod, is the best cure for her giddy fits.”

“If you propose for Greenwich, Sir Mungo,” said the Lieutenant, “I can spare you the labour — the king comes immediately to Whitehall.”

“And that must be the reason the council are summoned to meet in such hurry,” said Sir Mungo. “Well — I will, with your permission, go to the poor lad Glenvarloch, and bestow some comfort on him.”

The Lieutenant seemed to look up, and pause for a moment as if in doubt.

“The lad will want a pleasant companion, who can tell him the nature of the punishment which he is to suffer, and other matters of concernment. I will not leave him until I show him how absolutely he hath ruined himself from feather to spur, how deplorable is his present state, and how small his chance of mending it.”

“Well, Sir Mungo,” replied the Lieutenant, “if you really think all this likely to be very consolatory to the party concerned, I will send a warder to conduct you.”

“And I,” said George Heriot, “will humbly pray of Lady Mansel, that she will lend some of her handmaiden’s apparel to this giddy-brained girl; for I shall forfeit my reputation if I walk up Tower Hill with her in that mad guise — and yet the silly lassie looks not so ill in it neither.”

“I will send my coach with you instantly,” said the obliging lady.

“Faith, madam, and if you will honour us by such courtesy, I will gladly accept it at your hands,” said the citizen, “for business presses hard on me, and the forenoon is already lost, to little purpose.”

The coach being ordered accordingly, transported the worthy citizen and his charge to his mansion in Lombard Street. There he found his presence was anxiously expected by the Lady Hermione, who had just received an order to be in readiness to attend upon the Royal Privy Council in the course of an hour; and upon whom, in her inexperience of business, and long retirement from society and the world, the intimation had made as deep an impression as if it had not been the necessary consequence of the petition which she had presented to the king by Monna Paula. George Heriot gently blamed her for taking any steps in an affair so important until his return from France, especially as he had requested her to remain quiet, in a letter which accompanied the evidence he had transmitted to her from Paris. She could only plead in answer the influence which her immediately stirring in the matter was likely to have on the affair of her kinsman Lord Glenvarloch, for she was ashamed to acknowledge how much she had been gained on by the eager importunity of her youthful companion. The motive of Margaret’s eagerness was, of course, the safety of Nigel; but we must leave it to time to show in what particulars that came to be connected with the petition of the Lady Hermione. Meanwhile, we return to the visit with which Sir Mungo Malagrowther favoured the afflicted young nobleman in his place of captivity.

The Knight, after the usual salutations, and having prefaced his discourse with a great deal of professed regret for Nigel’s situation, sat down beside him, and composing his grotesque features into the most lugubrious despondence, began his raven song as follows:—

“I bless God, my lord, that I was the person who had the pleasure to bring his Majesty’s mild message to the Lieutenant, discharging the higher prosecution against ye, for any thing meditated against his Majesty’s sacred person; for, admit you be prosecuted on the lesser offence, or breach of privilege of the Palace and its precincts, usque ad mutilationem, even to dismemberation, as it is most likely you will, yet the loss of a member is nothing to being hanged and drawn quick, after the fashion of a traitor.”

“I should feel the shame of having deserved such a punishment,” answered Nigel, “more than the pain of undergoing it.”

“Doubtless, my lord, the having, as you say, deserved it, must be an excruciation to your own mind,” replied his tormentor; “a kind of mental and metaphysical hanging, drawing, and quartering, which may be in some measure equipollent with the external application of hemp, iron, fire, and the like, to the outer man.”

“I say, Sir Mungo,” repeated Nigel, “and beg you to understand my words, that I am unconscious of any error, save that of having arms on my person when I chanced to approach that of my Sovereign.”

“Ye are right, my lord, to acknowledge nothing,” said Sir Mungo. “We have an old proverb — Confess, and — so forth. And indeed, as to the weapons, his Majesty has a special ill-will at all arms whatsoever, and more especially pistols; but, as I said, there is an end of that matter.24 I wish you as well through the next, which is altogether unlikely.”

“Surely, Sir Mungo,” answered Nigel, “you yourself might say something in my favour concerning the affair in the Park. None knows better than you that I was at that moment urged by wrongs of the most heinous nature, offered to me by Lord Dalgarno, many of which were reported to me by yourself, much to the inflammation of my passion.”

“Alack-a-day!-Alack-a-day!” replied Sir Mungo, “I remember but too well how much your choler was inflamed, in spite of the various remonstrances which I made to you respecting the sacred nature of the place. Alas! alas! you cannot say you leaped into the mire for want of warning.”

“I see, Sir Mungo, you are determined to remember nothing which can do me service,” said Nigel.

“Blithely would I do ye service,” said the Knight; “and the best whilk I can think of is, to tell you the process of the punishment to the whilk you will be indubitably subjected, I having had the good fortune to behold it performed in the Queen’s time, on a chield that had written a pasquinado. I was then in my Lord Gray’s train, who lay leaguer here, and being always covetous of pleasing and profitable sights, I could not dispense with being present on the occasion.”

“I should be surprised, indeed,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “if you had so far put restraint upon your benevolence, as to stay away from such an exhibition.”

“Hey! was your lordship praying me to be present at your own execution?” answered the Knight. “Troth, my lord, it will be a painful sight to a friend, but I will rather punish myself than baulk you. It is a pretty pageant, in the main — a very pretty pageant. The fallow came on with such a bold face, it was a pleasure to look on him. He was dressed all in white, to signify harmlessness and innocence. The thing was done on a scaffold at Westminster — most likely yours will be at the Charing. There were the Sheriffs and the Marshal’s men, and what not — the executioner, with his cleaver and mallet, and his man, with a pan of hot charcoal, and the irons for cautery. He was a dexterous fallow that Derrick. This man Gregory is not fit to jipper a joint with him; it might be worth your lordship’s while to have the loon sent to a barber-surgeon’s, to learn some needful scantling of anatomy — it may be for the benefit of yourself and other unhappy sufferers, and also a kindness to Gregory.”

“I will not take the trouble,” said Nigel. —“If the laws will demand my hand, the executioner may get it off as he best can. If the king leaves it where it is, it may chance to do him better service.”

“Vera noble — vera grand, indeed, my lord,” said Sir Mungo; “it is pleasant to see a brave man suffer. This fallow whom I spoke of — This Tubbs, or Stubbs, or whatever the plebeian was called, came forward as bold as an emperor, and said to the people, ‘Good friends, I come to leave here the hand of a true Englishman,’ and clapped it on the dressing-block with as much ease as if he had laid it on his sweetheart’s shoulder; whereupon Derrick the hangman, adjusting, d’ye mind me, the edge of his cleaver on the very joint, hit it with the mallet with such force, that the hand flew off as far from the owner as a gauntlet which the challenger casts down in the tilt-yard. Well, sir, Stubbs, or Tubbs, lost no whit of countenance, until the fallow clapped the hissing-hot iron on his raw stump. My lord, it fizzed like a rasher of bacon, and the fallow set up an elritch screech, which made some think his courage was abated; but not a whit, for he plucked off his hat with his left hand, and waved it, crying, ‘God save the Queen, and confound all evil counsellors!’ The people gave him three cheers, which he deserved for his stout heart; and, truly, I hope to see your lordship suffer with the same magnanimity.”

“I thank you, Sir Mungo,” said Nigel, who had not been able to forbear some natural feelings of an unpleasant nature during this lively detail — “I have no doubt the exhibition will be a very engaging one to you and the other spectators, whatever it may prove to the party principally concerned.”

“Vera engaging,” answered Sir Mungo, “vera interesting — vera interesting indeed, though not altogether so much so as an execution for high treason. I saw Digby, the Winters, Fawkes, and the rest of the gunpowder gang, suffer for that treason, whilk was a vera grand spectacle, as well in regard to their sufferings, as to their constancy in enduring.”

“I am the more obliged to your goodness, Sir Mungo,” replied Nigel, “that has induced you, although you have lost the sight, to congratulate me on my escape from the hazard of making the same edifying appearance.”

“As you say, my lord,” answered Sir Mungo, “the loss is chiefly in appearance. Nature has been very bountiful to us, and has given duplicates of some organs, that we may endure the loss of one of them, should some such circumstance chance in our pilgrimage. See my poor dexter, abridged to one thumb, one finger, and a stump — by the blow of my adversary’s weapon, however, and not by any carnificial knife. Weel, sir, this poor maimed hand doth me, in some sort, as much service as ever; and, admit yours to be taken off by the wrist, you have still your left hand for your service, and are better off than the little Dutch dwarf here about town, who threads a needle, limns, writes, and tosses a pike, merely by means of his feet, without ever a hand to help him.”

“Well, Sir Mungo,” said Lord Glenvarloch, “this is all no doubt very consolatory; but I hope the king will spare my hand to fight for him in battle, where, notwithstanding all your kind encouragement, I could spend my blood much more cheerfully than on a scaffold.”

“It is even a sad truth,” replied Sir Mungo, “that your lordship was but too like to have died on a scaffold — not a soul to speak for you but that deluded lassie Maggie Ramsay.”

“Whom mean you?” said Nigel, with more interest than he had hitherto shown in the Knight’s communications.

“Nay, who should I mean, but that travestied lassie whom we dined with when we honoured Heriot the goldsmith? Ye ken best how you have made interest with her, but I saw her on her knees to the king for you. She was committed to my charge, to bring her up hither in honour and safety. Had I had my own will, I would have had her to Bridewell, to flog the wild blood out of her — a cutty quean, to think of wearing the breeches, and not so much as married yet!”

“Hark ye, Sir Mungo Malagrowther,” answered Nigel, “I would have you talk of that young person with fitting respect.”

“With all the respect that befits your lordship’s paramour, and Davy Ramsay’s daughter, I shall certainly speak of her, my lord,” said Sir Mungo, assuming a dry tone of irony.

Nigel was greatly disposed to have made a serious quarrel of it, but with Sir Mungo such an affair would have been ridiculous; he smothered his resentment, therefore, and conjured him to tell what he had heard and seen respecting this young person.

“Simply, that I was in the ante-room when she had audience, and heard the king say, to my great perplexity, ‘Pulchra sane puella;’ and Maxwell, who hath but indifferent Latin ears, thought that his Majesty called on him by his own name of Sawney, and thrust into the presence, and there I saw our Sovereign James, with his own hand, raising up the lassie, who, as I said heretofore, was travestied in man’s attire. I should have had my own thoughts of it, but our gracious Master is auld, and was nae great gillravager amang the queans even in his youth; and he was comforting her in his own way and saying — ‘Ye needna greet about it, my bonnie woman, Glenvarlochides shall have fair play; and, indeed, when the hurry was off our spirits, we could not believe that he had any design on our person. And touching his other offences, we will look wisely and closely into the matter.’ So I got charge to take the young fence-louper to the Tower here, and deliver her to the charge of Lady Mansel; and his Majesty charged me to say not a word to her about your offences, for, said he, the poor thing is breaking her heart for him.”

“And on this you have charitably founded the opinion to the prejudice of this young lady, which you have now thought proper to express?” said Lord Glenvarloch.

“In honest truth, my lord,” replied Sir Mungo, “what opinion would you have me form of a wench who gets into male habiliments, and goes on her knees to the king for a wild young nobleman? I wot not what the fashionable word may be, for the phrase changes, though the custom abides. But truly I must needs think this young leddy — if you call Watchie Ramsay’s daughter a young leddy — demeans herself more like a leddy of pleasure than a leddy of honour.”

“You do her egregious wrong, Sir Mungo,” said Nigel; “or rather you have been misled by appearances.”

“So will all the world be misled, my lord,” replied the satirist, “unless you were doing that to disabuse them which your father’s son will hardly judge it fit to do.”

“And what may that be, I pray you?”

“E’en marry the lass — make her Leddy Glenvarloch. — Ay, ay, ye may start — but it’s the course you are driving on. Rather marry than do worse, if the worst be not done already.”

“Sir Mungo,” said Nigel, “I pray you to forbear this subject, and rather return to that of the mutilation, upon which it pleased you to enlarge a short while since.”

“I have not time at present,” said Sir Mungo, hearing the clock strike four; “but so soon as you shall have received sentence, my lord, you may rely on my giving you the fullest detail of the whole solemnity; and I give you my word, as a knight and a gentleman, that I will myself attend you on the scaffold, whoever may cast sour looks on me for doing so. I bear a heart, to stand by a friend in the worst of times.”

So saying, he wished Lord Glenvarloch farewell; who felt as heartily rejoiced at his departure, though it may be a bold word, as any person who had ever undergone his society.

But, when left to his own reflections, Nigel could not help feeling solitude nearly as irksome as the company of Sir Mungo Malagrowther. The total wreck of his fortune — which seemed now to be rendered unavoidable by the loss of the royal warrant, that had afforded him the means of redeeming his paternal estate — was an unexpected and additional blow. When he had seen the warrant he could not precisely remember; but was inclined to think, it was in the casket when he took out money to pay the miser for his lodgings at Whitefriars. Since then, the casket had been almost constantly under his own eye, except during the short time he was separated from his baggage by the arrest in Greenwich Park. It might, indeed, have been taken out at that time, for he had no reason to think either his person or his property was in the hands of those who wished him well; but, on the other hand, the locks of the strong-box had sustained no violence that he could observe, and, being of a particular and complicated construction, he thought they could scarce be opened without an instrument made on purpose, adapted to their peculiarities, and for this there had been no time. But, speculate as he would on the matter, it was clear that this important document was gone, and probable that it had passed into no friendly hands. “Let it be so,” said Nigel to himself; “I am scarcely worse off respecting my prospects of fortune, than when I first reached this accursed city. But to be hampered with cruel accusations, and stained with foul suspicions-to be the object of pity of the most degrading kind to yonder honest citizen, and of the malignity of that envious and atrabilarious courtier, who can endure the good fortune and good qualities of another no more than the mole can brook sunshine — this is indeed a deplorable reflection; and the consequences must stick to my future life, and impede whatever my head, or my hand, if it is left me, might be able to execute in my favour.”

The feeling, that he is the object of general dislike and dereliction, seems to be one of the most unendurably painful to which a human being can be subjected. The most atrocious criminals, whose nerves have not shrunk from perpetrating the most horrid cruelty, endure more from the consciousness that no man will sympathise with their sufferings, than from apprehension of the personal agony of their impending punishment; and are known often to attempt to palliate their enormities, and sometimes altogether to deny what is established by the clearest proof, rather than to leave life under the general ban of humanity. It was no wonder that Nigel, labouring under the sense of general, though unjust suspicion, should, while pondering on so painful a theme, recollect that one, at least, had not only believed him innocent, but hazarded herself, with all her feeble power, to interpose in his behalf.

“Poor girl!” he repeated; “poor, rash, but generous maiden! your fate is that of her in Scottish story, who thrust her arm into the staple of the door, to oppose it as a bar against the assassins who threatened the murder of her sovereign. The deed of devotion was useless; save to give an immortal name to her by whom it was done, and whose blood flows, it is said, in the veins of my house.”

I cannot explain to the reader, whether the recollection of this historical deed of devotion, and the lively effect which the comparison, a little overstrained perhaps, was likely to produce in favour of Margaret Ramsay, was not qualified by the concomitant ideas of ancestry and ancient descent with which that recollection was mingled. But the contending feelings suggested a new train of ideas. — “Ancestry,” he thought, “and ancient descent, what are they to me? — My patrimony alienated — my title become a reproach — for what can be so absurd as titled beggary? — my character subjected to suspicion — I will not remain in this country; and should I, at leaving it, procure the society of one so lovely, so brave, and so faithful, who should say that I derogated from the rank which I am virtually renouncing?”

There was something romantic and pleasing, as he pursued this picture of an attached and faithful pair, becoming all the world to each other, and stemming the tide of fate arm in arm; and to be linked thus with a creature so beautiful, and who had taken such devoted and disinterested concern in his fortunes, formed itself into such a vision as romantic youth loves best to dwell upon.

Suddenly his dream was painfully dispelled, by the recollection, that its very basis rested upon the most selfish ingratitude on his own part. Lord of his castle and his towers, his forests and fields, his fair patrimony and noble name, his mind would have rejected, as a sort of impossibility, the idea of elevating to his rank the daughter of a mechanic; but, when degraded from his nobility, and plunged into poverty and difficulties, he was ashamed to feel himself not unwilling, that this poor girl, in the blindness of her affection, should abandon all the better prospects of her own settled condition, to embrace the precarious and doubtful course which he himself was condemned to. The generosity of Nigel’s mind recoiled from the selfishness of the plan of happiness which he projected; and he made a strong effort to expel from his thoughts for the rest of the evening this fascinating female, or, at least, not to permit them to dwell upon the perilous circumstance, that she was at present the only creature living who seemed to consider him as an object of kindness.

He could not, however, succeed in banishing her from his slumbers, when, after having spent a weary day, he betook himself to a perturbed couch. The form of Margaret mingled with the wild mass of dreams which his late adventures had suggested; and even when, copying the lively narrative of Sir Mungo, fancy presented to him the blood bubbling and hissing on the heated iron, Margaret stood behind him like a spirit of light, to breathe healing on the wound. At length nature was exhausted by these fantastic creations, and Nigel slept, and slept soundly, until awakened in the morning by the sound of a well-known voice, which had often broken his slumbers about the same hour.

23The celebrated Court jester.

24Wilson informs us that when Colonel Grey, a Scotsman who affected the buff dress even in the time of peace, appeared in that military garb at Court, the king, seeing him with a case of pistols at his girdle, which he never greatly liked, told him, merrily, “he was now so fortified, that, if he were but well victualled, he would be impregnable.”— WILSON’S Life and Reign of James VI., apud KENNET’S History of England, vol. ii. p. 389. In 1612, the tenth year of James’s reign, there was a rumour abroad that a shipload of pocket-pistols had been exported from Spain, with a view to a general massacre of the Protestants. Proclamations were of consequence sent forth, prohibiting all persons from carrying pistols under a foot long in the barrel. Ibid. p. 690.

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