The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 35

We are not worst at once — the course of evil

Begins so slowly, and from such slight source,

An infant’s hand might stem its breach with clay;

But let the stream get deeper, and philosophy —

Ay, and religion too — shall strive in vain

To turn the headlong torrent.

Old Play.

The Templars had been regaled by our friend Richie Moniplies in a private chamber at Beaujeu’s, where he might be considered as good company; for he had exchanged his serving-man’s cloak and jerkin for a grave yet handsome suit of clothes, in the fashion of the times, but such as might have befitted an older man than himself. He had positively declined presenting himself at the ordinary, a point to which his companions were very desirous to have brought him, for it will be easily believed that such wags as Lowestoffe and his companion were not indisposed to a little merriment at the expense of the raw and pedantic Scotsman; besides the chance of easing him of a few pieces, of which he appeared to have acquired considerable command. But not even a succession of measures of sparkling sack, in which the little brilliant atoms circulated like motes in the sun’s rays, had the least effect on Richie’s sense of decorum. He retained the gravity of a judge, even while he drank like a fish, partly from his own natural inclination to good liquor, partly in the way of good fellowship towards his guests. When the wine began to make some innovation on their heads, Master Lowestoffe, tired, perhaps, of the humours of Richie, who began to become yet more stoically contradictory and dogmatical than even in the earlier part of the entertainment, proposed to his friend to break up their debauch and join the gamesters.

The drawer was called accordingly, and Richie discharged the reckoning of the party, with a generous remuneration to the attendants, which was received with cap and knee, and many assurances of —“Kindly welcome, gentlemen.”

“I grieve we should part so soon, gentlemen,” said Richie to his companions — “and I would you had cracked another quart ere you went, or stayed to take some slight matter of supper, and a glass of Rhenish. I thank you, however, for having graced my poor collation thus far; and I commend you to fortune, in your own courses, for the ordinary neither was, is, nor shall be, an element of mine.”

“Fare thee well, then,” said Lowestoffe, “most sapient and sententious Master Moniplies. May you soon have another mortgage to redeem, and may I be there to witness it; and may you play the good fellow, as heartily as you have done this day.”

“Nay, gentlemen, it is merely of your grace to say so — but, if you would but hear me speak a few words of admonition respecting this wicked ordinary —”

“Reserve the lesson, most honourable Richie,” said Lowestoffe, “until I have lost all my money,” showing, at the same time, a purse indifferently well provided, “and then the lecture is likely to have some weight.”

“And keep my share of it, Richie,” said the other Templar, showing an almost empty purse, in his turn, “till this be full again, and then I will promise to hear you with some patience.”

“Ay, ay, gallants,” said Richie, “the full and the empty gang a’ ae gate, and that is a grey one — but the time will come.”

“Nay, it is come already,” said Lowestoffe; “they have set out the hazard table. Since you will peremptorily not go with us, why, farewell, Richie.”

“And farewell, gentlemen,” said Richie, and left the house, into which they had returned.

Moniplies was not many steps from the door, when a person, whom, lost in his reflections on gaming, ordinaries, and the manners of the age, he had not observed, and who had been as negligent on his part, ran full against him; and, when Richie desired to know whether he meant “ony incivility,” replied by a curse on Scotland, and all that belonged to it. A less round reflection on his country would, at any time, have provoked Richie, but more especially when he had a double quart of Canary and better in his pate. He was about to give a very rough answer, and to second his word by action, when a closer view of his antagonist changed his purpose.

“You are the vera lad in the warld,” said Richie, “whom I most wished to meet.”

“And you,” answered the stranger, “or any of your beggarly countrymen, are the last sight I should ever wish to see. You Scots are ever fair and false, and an honest man cannot thrive within eyeshot of you.”

“As to our poverty, friend,” replied Richie, “that is as Heaven pleases; but touching our falset, I’ll prove to you that a Scotsman bears as leal and true a heart to his friend as ever beat in English doublet.”

“I care not whether he does or not,” said the gallant. “Let me go — why keep you hold of my cloak? Let me go, or I will thrust you into the kennel.”

“I believe I could forgie ye, for you did me a good turn once, in plucking me out of it,” said the Scot.

“Beshrew my fingers, then, if they did so,” replied the stranger. “I would your whole country lay there, along with you; and Heaven’s curse blight the hand that helped to raise them! — Why do you stop my way?” he added, fiercely.

“Because it is a bad one, Master Jenkin,” said Richie. “Nay, never start about it, man — you see you are known. Alack-a-day! that an honest man’s son should live to start at hearing himself called by his own name!” Jenkin struck his brow violently with his clenched fist.

“Come, come,” said Richie, “this passion availeth nothing. Tell me what gate go you?”

“To the devil!” answered Jin Vin.

“That is a black gate, if you speak according to the letter,” answered Richie; “but if metaphorically, there are worse places in this great city than the Devil Tavern; and I care not if I go thither with you, and bestow a pottle of burnt sack on you — it will correct the crudities of my stomach, and form a gentle preparative for the leg of a cold pullet.”

“I pray you, in good fashion, to let me go,” said Jenkin. “You may mean me kindly, and I wish you to have no wrong at my hand; but I am in the humour to be dangerous to myself, or any one.”

“I will abide the risk,” said the Scot, “if you will but come with me; and here is a place convenient, a howff nearer than the Devil, whilk is but an ill-omened drouthy name for a tavern. This other of the Saint Andrew is a quiet place, where I have ta’en my whetter now and then, when I lodged in the neighbourhood of the Temple with Lord Glenvarloch. — What the deil’s the matter wi’ the man, garr’d him gie sic a spang as that, and almaist brought himself and me on the causeway?”

“Do not name that false Scot’s name to me,” said Jin Vin, “if you would not have me go mad! — I was happy before I saw him — he has been the cause of all the ill that has befallen me — he has made a knave and a madman of me!”

“If you are a knave,” said Richie, “you have met an officer — if you are daft, you have met a keeper; but a gentle officer and a kind keeper. Look you, my gude friend, there has been twenty things said about this same lord, in which there is no more truth than in the leasings of Mahound. The warst they can say of him is, that he is not always so amenable to good advice as I would pray him, you, and every young man to be. Come wi’ me — just come ye wi’ me; and, if a little spell of siller and a great deal of excellent counsel can relieve your occasions, all I can say is, you have had the luck to meet one capable of giving you both, and maist willing to bestow them.”

The pertinacity of the Scot prevailed over the sullenness of Vincent, who was indeed in a state of agitation and incapacity to think for himself, which led him to yield the more readily to the suggestions of another. He suffered himself to be dragged into the small tavern which Richie recommended, and where they soon found themselves seated in a snug niche, with a reeking pottle of burnt sack, and a paper of sugar betwixt them. Pipes and tobacco were also provided, but were only used by Richie, who had adopted the custom of late, as adding considerably to the gravity and importance of his manner, and affording, as it were, a bland and pleasant accompaniment to the words of wisdom which flowed from his tongue. After they had filled their glasses and drank them in silence, Richie repeated the question, whither his guest was going when they met so fortunately.

“I told you,” said Jenkin, “I was going to destruction — I mean to the gaming-house. I am resolved to hazard these two or three pieces, to get as much as will pay for a passage with Captain Sharker, whose ship lies at Gravesend, bound for America — and so Eastward, ho! — I met one devil in the way already, who would have tempted me from my purpose, but I spurned him from me — you may be another for what I know. — What degree of damnation do you propose for me,” he added wildly, “and what is the price of it?”

“I would have you to know,” answered Richie, “that I deal in no such commodities, whether as buyer or seller. But if you will tell me honestly the cause of your distress, I will do what is in my power to help you out of it — not being, however, prodigal of promises, until I know the case; as a learned physician only gives advice when he has observed the diagnostics.”

“No one has any thing to do with my affairs,” said the poor lad; and folding his arms on the table, he laid his head upon them, with the sullen dejection of the overburdened lama, when it throws itself down to die in desperation.

Richard Moniplies, like most folk who have a good opinion of themselves, was fond of the task of consolation, which at once displayed his superiority, (for the consoler is necessarily, for the time at least, superior to the afflicted person,) and indulged his love of talking. He inflicted on the poor penitenta harangue of pitiless length, stuffed full of the usual topics of the mutability of human affairs — the eminent advantages of patience under affliction — the folly of grieving for what hath no remedy — the necessity of taking more care for the future, and some gentle rebukes on account of the past, which acid he threw in to assist in subduing the patient’s obstinacy, as Hannibal used vinegar in cutting his way through rocks. It was not in human nature to endure this flood of commonplace eloquence in silence; and Jin Vin, whether desirous of stopping the flow of words — crammed thus into his ear, “against the stomach of his sense,” or whether confiding in Richie’s protestations of friendship, which the wretched, says Fielding, are ever so ready to believe, or whether merely to give his sorrows vent in words, raised his head, and turning his red and swollen eyes to Richie —

“Cocksbones, man, only hold thy tongue, and thou shall know all about it — and then all I ask of thee is to shake hands and part. — This Margaret Ramsay — you have seen her, man?”

“Once,” said Richie, “once, at Master George Heriot’s in Lombard Street — I was in the room when they dined.”

“Ay, you helped to shift their trenchers, I remember,” said Jin Vin. “Well, that same pretty girl — and I will uphold her the prettiest betwixt Paul’s and the Bar — she is to be wedded to your Lord Glenvarloch, with a pestilence on him!”

“That is impossible,” said Richie; “it is raving nonsense, man — they make April gouks of you cockneys every month in the year — The Lord Glenvarloch marry the daughter of a Lonnon mechanic! I would as soon believe the great Prester John would marry the daughter of a Jew packman.”

“Hark ye, brother,” said Jin Vin, “I will allow no one to speak disregardfully of the city, for all I am in trouble.”

“I crave your pardon, man — I meant no offence,” said Richie; “but as to the marriage, it is a thing simply impossible.”

“It is a thing that will take place, though, for the Duke and the Prince, and all of them, have a finger in it; and especially the old fool of a king, that makes her out to be some great woman in her own country, as all the Scots pretend to be, you know.”

“Master Vincent, but that you are under affliction,” said the consoler, offended on his part, “I would hear no national reflections.”

The afflicted youth apologised in his turns, but asserted, “it was true that the king said Peg-a-Ramsay was some far-off sort of noblewoman; and that he had taken a great interest in the match, and had run about like an old gander, cackling about Peggie ever since he had seen her in hose and doublet — and no wonder,” added poor Vin, with a deep sigh.

“This may be all true,” said Richie, “though it sounds strange in my ears; but, man, you should not speak evil of dignities —-Curse not the king, Jenkin; not even in thy bed-chamber — stone walls have ears — no one has a right to know better than I.”

“I do not curse the foolish old man,” said Jenkin; “but I would have them carry things a peg lower. — If they were to see on a plain field thirty thousand such pikes as I have seen in the artillery gardens, it would not be their long-haired courtiers would help them, I trow.”27

“Hout tout, man,” said Richie, “mind where the Stewarts come frae, and never think they would want spears or claymores either; but leaving sic matters, whilk are perilous to speak on, I say once more, what is your concern in all this matter?”

“What is it?” said Jenkin; “why, have I not fixed on Peg-a-Ramsay to be my true love, from the day I came to her old father’s shop? and have I not carried her pattens and her chopines for three years, and borne her prayer-book to church, and brushed the cushion for her to kneel down upon, and did she ever say me nay?”

“I see no cause she had,” said Richie, “if the like of such small services were all that ye proffered. Ah, man! there are few — very few, either of fools or of wise men, ken how to guide a woman.”

“Why, did I not serve her at the risk of my freedom, and very nigh at the risk of my neck? Did she not — no, it was not her neither, but that accursed beldam whom she caused to work upon me — persuade me like a fool to turn myself into a waterman to help my lord, and a plague to him, down to Scotland? and instead of going peaceably down to the ship at Gravesend, did not he rant and bully, and show his pistols, and make me land him at Greenwich, where he played some swaggering pranks, that helped both him and me into the Tower?”

“Aha!” said Richie, throwing more than his usual wisdom into his looks, “so you were the green-jacketed waterman that rowed Lord Glenvarloch down the river?”

“The more fool I, that did not souse him in the Thames,” said Jenkin; “and I was the lad who would not confess one word of who and what I was, though they threatened to make me hug the Duke of Exeter’s daughter.”28

“Wha is she, man?” said Richie; “she must be an ill-fashioned piece, if you’re so much afraid of her, and she come of such high kin.”

“I mean the rack — the rack, man,” said Jenkin. “Where were you bred that never heard of the Duke of Exeter’s daughter? But all the dukes and duchesses in England could have got nothing out of me — so the truth came out some other way, and I was set free. — Home I ran, thinking myself one of the cleverest and happiest fellows in the ward. And she — she — she wanted to pay me with money for all my true service! and she spoke so sweetly and so coldly at the same time, I wished myself in the deepest dungeon of the Tower — I wish they had racked me to death before I heard this Scottishman was to chouse me out of my sweetheart!”

“But are ye sure ye have lost her?” said Richie; “it sounds strange in my ears that my Lord Glenvarloch should marry the daughter of a dealer — though there are uncouth marriages made in London, I’ll allow that.”

“Why, I tell you this lord was no sooner clear of the Tower, than he and Master George Heriot comes to make proposals for her, with the king’s assent, and what not; and fine fair-day prospects of Court favour for this lord, for he hath not an acre of land.”

“Well, and what said the auld watch-maker?” said Richie; “was he not, as might weel beseem him, ready to loop out of his skin-case for very joy?”

“He multiplied six figures progressively, and reported the product — then gave his consent.”

“And what did you do?”

“I rushed into the streets,” said the poor lad, “with a burning heart and a blood-shot eye — and where did I first find myself, but with that beldam, Mother Suddlechop — and what did she propose to me, but to take the road?”

“Take the road, man? in what sense?” said Richie.

“Even as a clerk to Saint Nicholas — as a highwayman, like Poins and Peto, and the good fellows in the play — and who think you was to be my captain? — for she had the whole out ere I could speak to her — I fancy she took silence for consent, and thought me damned too unutterably to have one thought left that savoured of redemption — who was to be my captain, but the knave that you saw me cudgel at the ordinary when you waited on Lord Glenvarloch, a cowardly, sharking, thievish bully about town here, whom they call Colepepper.”

“Colepepper — umph — I know somewhat of that smaik,” said Richie; “ken ye by ony chance where he may be heard of, Master Jenkin? — ye wad do me a sincere service to tell me.”

“Why, he lives something obscurely,” answered the apprentice, “on account of suspicion of some villainy — I believe that horrid murder in Whitefriars, or some such matter. But I might have heard all about him from Dame Suddlechop, for she spoke of my meeting him at Enfield Chase, with some other good fellows, to do a robbery on one that goes northward with a store of treasure.”

“And you did not agree to this fine project?” said Moniplies.

“I cursed her for a hag, and came away about my business,” answered Jenkin.

“Ay, and what said she to that, man? That would startle her,” said Richie.

“Not a whit. She laughed, and said she was in jest,” answered Jenkin; “but I know the she-devil’s jest from her earnest too well to be taken in that way. But she knows I would never betray her.’

“Betray her! No,” replied Richie; “but are ye in any shape bound to this birkie Peppercull, or Colepepper, or whatever they call him, that ye suld let him do a robbery on the honest gentleman that is travelling to the north, and may be a kindly Scot, for what we know?”

“Ay — going home with a load of English money,” said Jenkin. “But be he who he will, they may rob the whole world an they list, for I am robbed and ruined.”

Richie filled his friend’s cup up to the brim, and insisted that he should drink what he called “clean caup out.” “This love,” he said, “is but a bairnly matter for a brisk young fellow like yourself, Master Jenkin. And if ye must needs have a whimsy, though I think it would be safer to venture on a staid womanly body, why, here be as bonny lasses in London as this Peg-a-Ramsay. You need not sigh sae deeply, for it is very true — there is as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. Now wherefore should you, who are as brisk and trig a young fellow of your inches as the sun needs to shine on — wherefore need you sit moping this way, and not try some bold way to better your fortune?”

“I tell you, Master Moniplies,” said Jenkin, “I am as poor as any Scot among you — I have broke my indenture, and I think of running my country.”

“A-well-a-day!” said Richie; “but that maunna be, man — I ken weel, by sad experience, that poortith takes away pith, and the man sits full still that has a rent in his breeks.29

But courage, man; you have served me heretofore, and I will serve you now. If you will but bring me to speech of this same captain, it will be the best day’s work you ever did.”

“I guess where you are, Master Richard — you would save your countryman’s long purse,” said Jenkin. “I cannot see how that should advantage me, but I reck not if I should bear a hand. I hate that braggart, that bloody-minded, cowardly bully. If you can get me mounted I care not if I show you where the dame told me I should meet him — but you must stand to the risk, for though he is a coward himself, I know he will have more than one stout fellow with him.”

“We’ll have a warrant, man,” said Richie, “and the hue and cry, to boot.”

“We will have no such thing,” said Jenkin, “if I am to go with you. I am not the lad to betray any one to the harmanbeck. You must do it by manhood if I am to go with you. I am sworn to cutter’s law, and will sell no man’s blood.”

“Aweel,” said Richie, “a wilful man must have his way; ye must think that I was born and bred where cracked crowns were plentier than whole ones. Besides, I have two noble friends here, Master Lowestoffe of the Temple, and his cousin Master Ringwood, that will blithely be of so gallant a party.”

“Lowestoffe and Ringwood!” said Jenkin; “they are both brave gallants — they will be sure company. Know you where they are to be found?”

“Ay, marry do I,” replied Richie. “They are fast at the cards and dice, till the sma’ hours, I warrant them.”

“They are gentlemen of trust and honour,” said Jenkin, “and, if they advise it, I will try the adventure. Go, try if you can bring them hither, since you have so much to say with, them. We must not be seen abroad together. — I know not how it is, Master Moniplies,” continued he, as his countenance brightened up, and while, in his turn, he filled the cups, “but I feel my heart something lighter since I have thought of this matter.”

“Thus it is to have counsellors, Master Jenkin,” said Richie; “and truly I hope to hear you say that your heart is as light as a lavrock’s, and that before you are many days aulder. Never smile and shake your head, but mind what I tell you — and bide here in the meanwhile, till I go to seek these gallants. I warrant you, cart-ropes would not hold them back from such a ploy as I shall propose to them.”

27Clarendon remarks, that the importance of the military exercise of the citizens was severely felt by the cavaliers during the civil war, notwithstanding the ridicule that had been showered upon it by the dramatic poets of the day. Nothing less than habitual practice could, at the battle of Newbury and elsewhere, have enabled the Londoners to keep their ranks as pikemen, in spite of the repeated charge of the fiery Prince Rupert and his gallant cavaliers.

28A particular species of rack, used at the Tower of London, was so called.

29This elegant speech was made by the Earl of Douglas, called Tineman after being wounded and made prisoner at the battle of Shrewsbury, where

“His well labouring sword

Had three times slain the semblance of the king,”

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