The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 34

To this brave man the knight repairs

For counsel in his law affairs;

And found him mounted in his pew.

With books and money placed for show,

Like nest-eggs to make clients lay,

And for his false opinion pay.


Our readers may recollect a certain smooth-tongued, lank-haired, buckram-suited, Scottish scrivener, who, in the earlier part of this history, appeared in the character of a protege of George Heriot. It is to his house we are about to remove, but times have changed with him. The petty booth hath become a chamber of importance — the buckram suit is changed into black velvet; and although the wearer retains his puritanical humility and politeness to clients of consequence, he can now look others broad in the face, and treat them with a full allowance of superior opulence, and the insolence arising from it. It was but a short period that had achieved these alterations, nor was the party himself as yet entirely accustomed to them, but the change was becoming less embarrassing to him with every day’s practice. Among other acquisitions of wealth, you may see one of Davy Ramsay’s best timepieces on the table, and his eye is frequently observing its revolutions, while a boy, whom he employs as a scribe, is occasionally sent out to compare its progress with the clock of Saint Dunstan.

The scrivener himself seemed considerably agitated. He took from a strong-box a bundle of parchments, and read passages of them with great attention; then began to soliloquize —“There is no outlet which law can suggest — no back-door of evasion — none — if the lands of Glenvarloch are not redeemed before it rings noon, Lord Dalgarno has them a cheap pennyworth. Strange, that he should have been at last able to set his patron at defiance, and achieve for himself the fair estate, with the prospect of which he so long flattered the powerful Buckingham. — Might not Andrew Skurliewhitter nick him as neatly? He hath been my patron — true — not more than Buckingham was his; and he can be so no more, for he departs presently for Scotland. I am glad of it — I hate him, and I fear him. He knows too many of my secrets — I know too many of his. But, no — no — no — I need never attempt it, there are no means of over-reaching him. — Well, Willie, what o’clock?”

“Ele’en hours just chappit, sir.”

“Go to your desk without, child,” said the scrivener. “What to do next — I shall lose the old Earl’s fair business, and, what is worse, his son’s foul practice. Old Heriot looks too close into business to permit me more than the paltry and ordinary dues. The Whitefriars business was profitable, but it has become unsafe ever since — pah! — what brought that in my head just now? I can hardly hold my pen — if men should see me in this way! — Willie,” (calling aloud to the boy,) “a cup of distilled waters — Soh! — now I could face the devil.”

He spoke the last words aloud, and close by the door of the apartment, which was suddenly opened by Richie Moniplies, followed by two gentlemen, and attended by two porters bearing money-bags. “If ye can face the devil, Maister Skurliewhitter,” said Richie, “ye will be the less likely to turn your back on a sack or twa o’ siller, which I have ta’en the freedom to bring you. Sathanas and Mammon are near akin.” The porters, at the same time, ranged their load on the floor.

“I— I,”— stammered the surprised scrivener —“I cannot guess what you mean, sir.”

“Only that I have brought you the redemption-money on the part of Lord Glenvarloch, in discharge of a certain mortgage over his family inheritance. And here, in good time, comes Master Reginald Lowestoffe, and another honourable gentleman of the Temple, to be witnesses to the transaction.”

“I— I incline to think,” said the scrivener, “that the term is expired.”

“You will pardon us, Master Scrivener,” said Lowestoffe. “You will not baffle us — it wants three-quarters of noon by every clock in the city.”

“I must have time, gentlemen,” said Andrew, “to examine the gold by tale and weight.”

“Do so at your leisure, Master Scrivener,” replied Lowestoffe again. “We have already seen the contents of each sack told and weighed, and we have put our seals on them. There they stand in a row, twenty in number, each containing three hundred yellow-hammers — we are witnesses to the lawful tender.”

“Gentlemen,” said the scrivener, “this security now belongs to a mighty lord. I pray you, abate your haste, and let me send for Lord Dalgarno — or rather I will run for him myself.”

So saying, he took up his hat; but Lowestoffe called out — “Friend Moniplies, keep the door fast, an thou be’st a man! he seeks but to put off the time. — In plain terms, Andrew, you may send for the devil, if you will, who is the mightiest lord of my acquaintance, but from hence you stir not till you have answered our proposition, by rejecting or accepting the redemption-money fairly tendered — there it lies — take it, or leave it, as you will. I have skill enough to know that the law is mightier than any lord in Britain — I have learned so much at the Temple, if I have learned nothing else. And see that you trifle not with it, lest it make your long ears an inch shorter, Master Skurliewhitter.”

“Nay, gentlemen, if you threaten me,” said the scrivener, “I cannot resist compulsion.”

“No threats — no threats at all, my little Andrew,” said Lowestoffe; “a little friendly advice only — forget not, honest Andrew, I have seen you in Alsatia.”

Without answering a single word, the scrivener sat down, and drew in proper form a full receipt for the money proffered.

“I take it on your report, Master Lowestoffe,” he said; “I hope you will remember I have insisted neither upon weight nor tale — I have been civil — if there is deficiency I shall come to loss.”

“Fillip his nose with a gold-piece, Richie,” quoth the Templar. “Take up the papers, and now wend we merrily to dine thou wot’st where.”

“If I might choose,” said Richie, “it should not be at yonder roguish ordinary; but as it is your pleasure, gentlemen, the treat shall be given wheresoever you will have it.”

“At the ordinary,” said the one Templar.

“At Beaujeu’s,” said the other; “it is the only house in London for neat wines, nimble drawers, choice dishes, and —”

“And high charges,” quoth Richie Moniplies. “But, as I said before, gentlemen, ye have a right to command me in this thing, having so frankly rendered me your service in this small matter of business, without other stipulation than that of a slight banquet.”

The latter part of this discourse passed in the street, where, immediately afterwards, they met Lord Dalgarno. He appeared in haste, touched his hat slightly to Master Lowestoffe, who returned his reverence with the same negligence, and walked slowly on with his companion, while Lord Dalgarno stopped Richie Moniplies with a commanding sign, which the instinct of education compelled Moniplies, though indignant, to obey.

“Whom do you now follow, sirrah?” demanded the noble.

“Whomsoever goeth before me, my lord,” answered Moniplies.

“No sauciness, you knave — I desire to know if you still serve Nigel Olifaunt?” said Dalgarno.

“I am friend to the noble Lord Glenvarloch,” answered Moniplies, with dignity.

“True,” replied Lord Dalgarno, “that noble lord has sunk to seek friends among lackeys — Nevertheless — hark thee hither — nevertheless, if he be of the same mind as when we last met, thou mayst show him, that, on to-morrow, at four afternoon, I shall pass northward by Enfield Chase — I will be slenderly attended, as I design to send my train through Barnet. It is my purpose to ride an easy pace through the forest, and to linger a while by Camlet Moat — he knows the place; and, if he be aught but an Alsatian bully, will think it fitter for some purposes than the Park. He is, I understand, at liberty, or shortly to be so. If he fail me at the place nominated, he must seek me in Scotland, where he will find me possessed of his father’s estate and lands.”

“Humph!” muttered Richie; “there go twa words to that bargain.”

He even meditated a joke on the means which he was conscious he possessed of baffling Lord Dalgarno’s expectations; but there was something of keen and dangerous excitement in the eyes of the young nobleman, which prompted his discretion for once to rule his vit, and he only answered —

“God grant your lordship may well brook your new conquest — when you get it. I shall do your errand to my lord — whilk is to say,” he added internally, “he shall never hear a word of it from Richie. I am not the lad to put him in such hazard.”

Lord Dalgarno looked at him sharply for a moment, as if to penetrate the meaning of the dry ironical tone, which, in spite of Richie’s awe, mingled with his answer, and then waved his hand, in signal he should pass on. He himself walked slowly till the trio were out of sight, then turned back with hasty steps to the door of the scrivener, which he had passed in his progress, knocked, and was admitted.

Lord Dalgarno found the man of law with the money-bags still standing before him; and it escaped not his penetrating glance, that Skurliewhitter was disconcerted and alarmed at his approach.

“How now, man,” he said; “what! hast thou not a word of oily compliment to me on my happy marriage? — not a word of most philosophical consolation on my disgrace at Court? — Or has my mien, as a wittol and discarded favourite, the properties of the Gorgon’s head, the turbatae Palladis arma, as Majesty might say?”

“My lord, I am glad — my lord, I am sorry,”— answered the trembling scrivener, who, aware of the vivacity of Lord Dalgarno’s temper, dreaded the consequence of the communication he had to make to him.

“Glad and sorry!” answered Lord Dalgarno. “That is blowing hot and cold, with a witness. Hark ye, you picture of petty-larceny personified — if you are sorry I am a cuckold, remember I am only mine own, you knave — there is too little blood in her cheeks to have sent her astray elsewhere. Well, I will bear mine antler’d honours as I may — gold shall gild them; and for my disgrace, revenge shall sweeten it. Ay, revenge — and there strikes the happy hour!”

The hour of noon was accordingly heard to peal from Saint Dunstan’s. “Well banged, brave hammers!” said Lord Dalgarno, in triumph. —“The estate and lands of Glenvarloch are crushed beneath these clanging blows. If my steel to-morrow prove but as true as your iron maces to-day, the poor landless lord will little miss what your peal hath cut him out from. — The papers — the papers, thou varlet! I am to-morrow Northward, ho! At four, afternoon, I am bound to be at Camlet Moat, in the Enfield Chase. To-night most of my retinue set forward. The papers! — Come, dispatch.”

“My lord, the — the papers of the Glenvarloch mortgage — I— I have them not.”

“Have them not!” echoed Lord Dalgarno — “Hast thou sent them to my lodgings, thou varlet? Did I not say I was coming hither? — What mean you by pointing to that money? What villainy have you done for it? It is too large to be come honestly by.”

“Your lordship knows best,” answered the scrivener, in great perturbation. “The gold is your own. It is — it is —”

“Not the redemption-money of the Glenvarloch estate!” said Dalgarno. “Dare not say it is, or I will, upon the spot, divorce your pettifogging soul from your carrion carcass!” So saying, he seized the scrivener by the collar, and shook him so vehemently, that he tore it from the cassock.

“My lord, I must call for help,” said the trembling caitiff, who felt at that moment all the bitterness of the mortal agony —“It was the law’s act, not mine. What could I do?”

“Dost ask? — why, thou snivelling dribblet of damnation, were all thy oaths, tricks, and lies spent? or do you hold yourself too good to utter them in my service? Thou shouldst have lied, cozened, out-sworn truth itself, rather than stood betwixt me and my revenge! But mark me,” he continued; “I know more of your pranks than would hang thee. A line from me to the Attorney-General, and thou art sped.”

“What would you have me to do, my lord?” said the scrivener. “All that art and law can accomplish, I will try.”

“Ah, are you converted? do so, or pity of your life!” said the lord; “and remember I never fail my word. — Then keep that accursed gold,” he continued. “Or, stay, I will not trust you — send me this gold home presently to my lodging. I will still forward to Scotland, and it shall go hard but that I hold out Glenvarloch Castle against the owner, by means of the ammunition he has himself furnished. Thou art ready to serve me?” The scrivener professed the most implicit obedience.

“Then remember, the hour was past ere payment was tendered — and see thou hast witnesses of trusty memory to prove that point.”

“Tush, my lord, I will do more,” said Andrew, reviving —“I will prove that Lord Glenvarloch’s friends threatened, swaggered, and drew swords on me. — Did your lordship think I was ungrateful enough to have suffered them to prejudice your lordship, save that they had bare swords at my throat?”

“Enough said,” replied Dalgarno; “you are perfect — mind that you continue so, as you would avoid my fury. I leave my page below — get porters, and let them follow me instantly with the gold.”

So saying, Lord Dalgarno left the scrivener’s habitation.

Skurliewhitter, having dispatched his boy to get porters of trust for transporting the money, remained alone and in dismay, meditating by what means he could shake himself free of the vindictive and ferocious nobleman, who possessed at once a dangerous knowledge of his character, and the power of exposing him, where exposure would be ruin. He had indeed acquiesced in the plan, rapidly sketched, for obtaining possession of the ransomed estate, but his experience foresaw that this would be impossible; while, on the other hand, he could not anticipate the various consequences of Lord Dalgarno’s resentment, without fears, from which his sordid soul recoiled. To be in the power, and subject both to the humours and the extortions of a spendthrift young lord, just when his industry had shaped out the means of fortune — it was the most cruel trick which fate could have played the incipient usurer.

While the scrivener was in this fit of anxious anticipation, one knocked at the door of the apartment; and, being desired to enter, appeared in the coarse riding-cloak of uncut Wiltshire cloth, fastened by a broad leather belt and brass buckle, which was then generally worn by graziers and countrymen. Skurliewhitter, believing he saw in his visitor a country client who might prove profitable, had opened his mouth to request him to be seated, when the stranger, throwing back his frieze hood which he had drawn over his face, showed the scrivener features well imprinted in his recollection, but which he never saw without a disposition to swoon.

“Is it you?” he said, faintly, as the stranger replaced the hood which concealed his features.

“Who else should it be?” said his visitor.

“Thou son of parchment, got betwixt the inkhorn And the stuff’d process-bag — that mayest call The pen thy father, and the ink thy mother, The wax thy brother, and the sand thy sister And the good pillory thy cousin allied — Rise, and do reverence unto me, thy better!”

“Not yet down to the country,” said the scrivener, “after every warning? Do not think your grazier’s cloak will bear you out, captain — no, nor your scraps of stage-plays.”

“Why, what would you have me to do?” said the captain —“Would you have me starve? If I am to fly, you must eke my wings with a few feathers. You can spare them, I think.”

“You had means already — you have had ten pieces — What is become of them?”

“Gone,” answered Captain Colepepper —“Gone, no matter where — I had a mind to bite, and I was bitten, that’s all — I think my hand shook at the thought of t’other night’s work, for I trowled the doctors like a very baby.”

“And you have lost all, then? — Well, take this and be gone,” said the scrivener.

“What, two poor smelts! Marry, plague of your bounty! — But remember, you are as deep in as I.”

“Not so, by Heaven!” answered the scrivener; “I only thought of easing the old man of some papers and a trifle of his gold, and you took his life.”

“Were he living,” answered Colepepper, “he would rather have lost it than his money. — But that is not the question, Master Skurliewhitter — you undid the private bolts of the window when you visited him about some affairs on the day ere he died — so satisfy yourself, that, if I am taken, I will not swing alone. Pity Jack Hempsfield is dead, it spoils the old catch,

‘And three merry men, and three merry men, And three merry men are we, As ever did sing three parts in a string, All under the triple tree.’”

“For God’s sake, speak lower,” said the scrivener; “is this a place or time to make your midnight catches heard? — But how much will serve your turn? I tell you I am but ill provided.”

“You tell me a lie, then,” said the bully —“a most palpable and gross lie. — How much, d’ye say, will serve my turn? Why, one of these bags will do for the present.”

“I swear to you that these bags of money are not at my disposal.”

“Not honestly, perhaps,” said the captain, “but that makes little difference betwixt us.”

“I swear to you,” continued the scrivener “they are in no way at my disposal — they have been delivered to me by tale — I am to pay them over to Lord Dalgarno, whose boy waits for them, and I could not skelder one piece out of them, without risk of hue and cry.”

“Can you not put off the delivery?” said the bravo, his huge hand still fumbling with one of the bags, as if his fingers longed to close on it.

“Impossible,” said the scrivener, “he sets forward to Scotland to-morrow.”

“Ay!” said the bully, after a moment’s thought —“Travels he the north road with such a charge?”

“He is well accompanied,” added the scrivener; “but yet —”

“But yet — but what?” said the bravo.

“Nay, I meant nothing,” said the scrivener.

“Thou didst — thou hadst the wind of some good thing,” replied Colepepper; “I saw thee pause like a setting dog. Thou wilt say as little, and make as sure a sign, as a well-bred spaniel.”

“All I meant to say, captain, was, that his servants go by Barnet, and he himself, with his page, pass through Enfield Chase; and he spoke to me yesterday of riding a soft pace.”

“Aha! — Comest thou to me there, my boy?”

“And of resting”— continued the scrivener — “resting a space at Camlet Moat.”

“Why, this is better than cock-fighting!” said the captain.

“I see not how it can advantage you, captain,” said the scrivener. “But, however, they cannot ride fast, for his page rides the sumpter-horse, which carries all that weight,” pointing to the money on the table. “Lord Dalgarno looks sharp to the world’s gear.”

“That horse will be obliged to those who may ease him of his burden,” said the bravo; “and egad, he may be met with. — He hath still that page — that same Lutin — that goblin? Well, the boy hath set game for me ere now. I will be revenged, too, for I owe him a grudge for an old score at the ordinary. Let me see — Black Feltham, and Dick Shakebag — we shall want a fourth — I love to make sure, and the booty will stand parting, besides what I can bucket them out of. Well, scrivener, lend me two pieces. — Bravely done — nobly imparted! Give ye good-den.” And wrapping his disguise closer around him, away he went.

When he had left the room, the scrivener wrung his hands, and exclaimed, “More blood — more blood! I thought to have had done with it, but this time there was no fault with me — none — and then I shall have all the advantage. If this ruffian falls, there is truce with his tugs at my purse-strings; and if Lord Dalgarno dies — as is most likely, for though as much afraid of cold steel as a debtor of a dun, this fellow is a deadly shot from behind a bush — then am I in a thousand ways safe — safe — safe.”

We willingly drop the curtain over him and his reflections.

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