The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 36

The thieves have bound the true men —

Now, could thou and I rob the thieves, and go

merrily to London.

Henry IV., Part I.

The sun was high upon the glades of Enfield Chase, and the deer, with which it then abounded, were seen sporting in picturesque groups among the ancient oaks of the forest, when a cavalier and a lady, on foot, although in riding apparel, sauntered slowly up one of the long alleys which were cut through the park for the convenience of the hunters. Their only attendant was a page, who, riding a Spanish jennet, which seemed to bear a heavy cloak-bag, followed them at a respectful distance. The female, attired in all the fantastic finery of the period, with more than the usual quantity of bugles, flounces, and trimmings, and holding her fan of ostrich feathers in one hand, and her riding-mask of black velvet in the other, seemed anxious, by all the little coquetry practised on such occasions, to secure the notice of her companion, who sometimes heard her prattle without seeming to attend to it, and at other times interrupted his train of graver reflections, to reply to her.

“Nay, but, my lord — my lord, you walk so fast, you will leave me behind you. — Nay, I will have hold of your arm, but how to manage with my mask and my fan? Why would you not let me bring my waiting-gentlewoman to follow us, and hold my things? But see, I will put my fan in my girdle, soh! — and now that I have a hand to hold you with, you shall not run away from me.”

“Come on, then,” answered the gallant, “and let us walk apace, since you would not be persuaded to stay with your gentlewoman, as you call her, and with the rest of the baggage. — You may perhaps see that, though, you will not like to see.”

She took hold of his arm accordingly; but as he continued to walk at the same pace, she shortly let go her hold, exclaiming that he had hurt her hand. The cavalier stopped, and looked at the pretty hand and arm which she showed him, with exclamations against his cruelty. “I dare say,” she said, baring her wrist and a part of her arm, “it is all black and blue to the very elbow.”

“I dare say you are a silly little fool,” said the cavalier, carelessly kissing the aggrieved arm; “it is only a pretty incarnate which sets off the blue veins.”

“Nay, my lord, now it is you are silly,” answered the dame; “but I am glad I can make you speak and laugh on any terms this morning. I am sure, if I did insist on following you into the forest, it was all for the sake of diverting you. I am better company than your page, I trow. — And now, tell me, these pretty things with horns, be they not deer?” “Even such they be, Nelly,” answered her neglectful attendant.

“And what can the great folk do with so many of them, forsooth?”

“They send them to the city, Nell, where wise men make venison pasties of their flesh, and wear their horns for trophies,” answered Lord Dalgarno, whom our reader has already recognised.

“Nay, now you laugh at me, my lord,” answered his companion; “but I know all about venison, whatever you may think. I always tasted it once a year when we dined with Mr. Deputy,” she continued, sadly, as a sense of her degradation stole across a mind bewildered with vanity and folly, “though he would not speak to me now, if we met together in the narrowest lane in the Ward!”

“I warrant he would not,” said Lord Dalgarno, “because thou, Nell, wouldst dash him with a single look; for I trust thou hast more spirit than to throw away words on such a fellow as he?”

“Who, I!” said Dame Nelly. “Nay, I scorn the proud princox too much for that. Do you know, he made all the folk in the Ward stand cap in hand to him, my poor old John Christie and all?” Here her recollection began to overflow at her eyes.

“A plague on your whimpering,” said Dalgarno, somewhat harshly — “Nay, never look pale for the matter, Nell. I am not angry with you, you simple fool. But what would you have me think, when you are eternally looking back upon your dungeon yonder by the river, which smelt of pitch and old cheese worse than a Welshman does of onions, and all this when I am taking you down to a castle as fine as is in Fairy Land!”

“Shall we be there to-night, my lord?” said Nelly, drying her tears.

“To-night, Nelly? — no, nor this night fortnight.”

“Now, the Lord be with us, and keep us! — But shall we not go by sea, my lord? — I thought everybody came from Scotland by sea. I am sure Lord Glenvarloch and Richie Moniplies came up by sea.”

“There is a wide difference between coming up and going down, Nelly,” answered Lord Dalgarno.

“And so there is, for certain,” said his simple companion. “But yet I think I heard people speaking of going down to Scotland by sea, as well as coming up. Are you well avised of the way? — Do you think it possible we can go by land, my sweet lord?”

“It is but trying, my sweet lady,” said Lord Dalgarno. “Men say England and Scotland are in the same island, so one would hope there may be some road betwixt them by land.”

“I shall never be able to ride so far,” said the lady.

“We will have your saddle stuffed softer,” said the lord. “I tell you that you shall mew your city slough, and change from the caterpillar of a paltry lane into the butterfly of a prince’s garden. You shall have as many tires as there are hours in the day — as many handmaidens as there are days in the week — as many menials as there are weeks in the year — and you shall ride a hunting and hawking with a lord, instead of waiting upon an old ship-chandler, who could do nothing but hawk and spit”

“Ay, but will you make me your lady?” said Dame Nelly.

“Ay, surely — what else?” replied the lord —“My lady-love.”

“Ay, but I mean your lady-wife,” said Nelly.

“Truly, Nell, in that I cannot promise to oblige you. A lady-wife,” continued Dalgarno, “is a very different thing from a lady-love.”

“I heard from Mrs. Suddlechop, whom you lodged me with since I left poor old John Christie, that Lord Glenvarloch is to marry David Ramsay the clockmaker’s daughter?”

“There is much betwixt the cup and the lip, Nelly. I wear something about me may break the bans of that hopeful alliance, before the day is much older,” answered Lord Dalgarno.

“Well, but my father was as good a man as old Davy Ramsay, and as well to pass in the world, my lord; and, therefore, why should you not marry me? You have done me harm enough, I trow — wherefore should you not do me this justice?”

“For two good reasons, Nelly. Fate put a husband on you, and the king passed a wife upon me,” answered Lord Dalgarno.

“Ay, my lord,” said Nelly, “but they remain in England, and we go to Scotland.”

“Thy argument is better than thou art aware of,” said Lord Dalgarno. “I have heard Scottish lawyers say the matrimonial tie may be unclasped in our happy country by the gentle hand of the ordinary course of law, whereas in England it can only be burst by an act of Parliament. Well, Nelly, we will look into that matter; and whether we get married again or no, we will at least do our best to get unmarried.”

“Shall we indeed, my honey-sweet lord? and then I will think less about John Christie, for he will marry again, I warrant you, for he is well to pass; and I would be glad to think he had somebody to take care of him, as I used to do, poor loving old man! He was a kind man, though he was a score of years older than I; and I hope and pray he will never let a young lord cross his honest threshold again!”

Here the dame was once more much inclined to give way to a passion of tears; but Lord Dalgarno conjured down the emotion, by saying with some asperity —“I am weary of these April passions, my pretty mistress, and I think you will do well to preserve your tears for some more pressing occasion. Who knows what turn of fortune may in a few minutes call for more of them than you can render?”

“Goodness, my lord! what mean you by such expressions? John Christie (the kind heart!) used to keep no secrets from me, and I hope your lordship will not hide your counsel from me?”

“Sit down beside me on this bank,” said the nobleman; “I am bound to remain here for a short space, and if you can be but silent, I should like to spend a part of it in considering how far I can, on the present occasion, follow the respectable example which you recommend to me.”

The place at which he stopped was at that time little more than a mound, partly surrounded by a ditch, from which it derived the name of Camlet Moat. A few hewn stones there were, which had escaped the fate of many others that had been used in building different lodges in the forest for the royal keepers. These vestiges, just sufficient to show that “herein former times the hand of man had been,” marked the ruins of the abode of a once illustrious but long-forgotten family, the Mandevilles, Earls of Essex, to whom Enfield Chase and the extensive domains adjacent had belonged in elder days. A wild woodland prospect led the eye at various points through broad and seemingly interminable alleys, which, meeting at this point as at a common centre, diverged from each other as they receded, and had, therefore, been selected by Lord Dalgarno as the rendezvous for the combat, which, through the medium of Richie Moniplies, he had offered to his injured friend, Lord Glenvarloch.

“He will surely come?” he said to himself; “cowardice was not wont to be his fault — at least he was bold enough in the Park. — Perhaps yonder churl may not have carried my message? But no — he is a sturdy knave — one of those would prize their master’s honour above their life. — Look to the palfrey, Lutin, and see thou let him not loose, and cast thy falcon glance down every avenue to mark if any one comes. — Buckingham has undergone my challenge, but the proud minion pleads the king’s paltry commands for refusing to answer me. If I can baffle this Glenvarloch, or slay him — If I can spoil him of his honour or his life, I shall go down to Scotland with credit sufficient to gild over past mischances. I know my dear countrymen — they never quarrel with any one who brings them home either gold or martial glory, much more if he has both gold and laurels.”

As he thus reflected, and called to mind the disgrace which he had suffered, as well as the causes he imagined for hating Lord Glenvarloch, his countenance altered under the influence of his contending emotions, to the terror of Nelly, who, sitting unnoticed at his feet, and looking anxiously in his face, beheld the cheek kindle, the mouth become compressed, the eye dilated, and the whole countenance express the desperate and deadly resolution of one who awaits an instant and decisive encounter with a mortal enemy. The loneliness of the place, the scenery so different from that to which alone she had been accustomed, the dark and sombre air which crept so suddenly over the countenance of her seducer, his command imposing silence upon her, and the apparent strangeness of his conduct in idling away so much time without any obvious cause, when a journey of such length lay before them, brought strange thoughts into her weak brain. She had read of women, seduced from their matrimonial duties by sorcerers allied to the hellish powers, nay, by the Father of Evil himself, who, after conveying his victim into some desert remote from human kind, exchanged the pleasing shape in which he gained her affections, for all his natural horrors. She chased this wild idea away as it crowded itself upon her weak and bewildered imagination; yet she might have lived to see it realised allegorically, if not literally, but for the accident which presently followed.

The page, whose eyes were remarkably acute, at length called out to his master, pointing with his finger at the same time down one of the alleys, that horsemen were advancing in that direction. Lord Dalgarno started up, and shading his eyes with his hand, gazed eagerly down the alley; when, at the same instant, he received a shot, which, grazing his hand, passed right through his brain, and laid him a lifeless corpse at the feet, or rather across the lap, of the unfortunate victim of his profligacy. The countenance, whose varied expression she had been watching for the last five minutes, was convulsed for an instant, and then stiffened into rigidity for ever. Three ruffians rushed from the brake from which the shot had been fired, ere the smoke was dispersed. One, with many imprecations seized on the page; another on the female, upon whose cries he strove by the most violent threats to impose silence; whilst the third began to undo the burden from the page’s horse. But an instant rescue prevented their availing themselves of the advantage they had obtained.

It may easily be supposed that Richie Moniplies, having secured the assistance of the two Templars, ready enough to join in any thing which promised a fray, with Jin Vin to act as their guide, had set off, gallantly mounted and well armed, under the belief that they would reach Camlet Moat before the robbers, and apprehend them in the fact. They had not calculated that, according to the custom of robbers in other countries, but contrary to that of the English highwayman of those days, they meant to ensure robbery by previous murder. An accident also happened to delay them a little while on the road. In riding through one of the glades of the forest, they found a man dismounted and sitting under a tree, groaning with such bitterness of spirit, that Lowestoffe could not forbear asking if he was hurt. In answer, he said he was an unhappy man in pursuit of his wife, who had been carried off by a villain; and as he raised his countenance, the eyes of Richie, to his great astonishment, encountered the visage of John Christie.

“For the Almighty’s sake, help me, Master Moniplies!” he said; “I have learned my wife is but a short mile before, with that black villain Lord Dalgarno.”

“Have him forward by all means,” said Lowestoffe; “a second Orpheus seeking his Eurydice! — Have him forward — we will save Lord Dalgarno’s purse, and ease him of his mistress — Have him with us, were it but for the variety of the adventure. I owe his lordship a grudge for rooking me. We have ten minutes good.”

But it is dangerous to calculate closely in matters of life and death. In all probability the minute or two which was lost in mounting John Christie behind one of their party, might have saved Lord Dalgarno from his fate. Thus his criminal amour became the indirect cause of his losing his life; and thus “our pleasant vices are made the whips to scourge us.”

The riders arrived on the field at full gallop the moment after the shot was fired; and Richie, who had his own reasons for attaching himself to Colepepper, who was bustling to untie the portmanteau from the page’s saddle, pushed against him with such violence as to overthrow him, his own horse at the same time stumbling and dismounting his rider, who was none of the first equestrians. The undaunted Richie immediately arose, however, and grappled with the ruffian with such good-will, that, though a strong fellow, and though a coward now rendered desperate, Moniplies got him under, wrenched a long knife from his hand, dealt him a desperate stab with his own weapon, and leaped on his feet; and, as the wounded man struggled to follow his example, he struck him upon the head with the butt-end of a musketoon, which last blow proved fatal.

“Bravo, Richie!” cried Lowestoffe, who had himself engaged at sword-point with one of the ruffians, and soon put him to flight — “Bravo! why, man, there lies Sin, struck down like an ox, and Iniquity’s throat cut like a calf.”

“I know not why you should upbraid me with my upbringing, Master Lowestoffe,” answered Richie, with great composure; “but I can tell you, the shambles is not a bad place for training one to this work.”

The other Templar now shouted loudly to them — “If ye be men, come hither — here lies Lord Dalgarno, murdered!”

Lowestoffe and Richie ran to the spot, and the page took the opportunity, finding himself now neglected on all hands, to ride off in a different direction; and neither he, nor the considerable sum with which his horse was burdened, were ever heard of from that moment.

The third ruffian had not waited the attack of the Templar and Jin Vin, the latter of whom had put down old Christie from behind him that he might ride the lighter; and the whole five now stood gazing with horror on the bloody corpse of the young nobleman, and the wild sorrow of the female, who tore her hair and shrieked in the most disconsolate manner, until her agony was at once checked, or rather received a new direction, by the sudden and unexpected appearance of her husband, who, fixing on her a cold and severe look, said, in a tone suited to his manner —“Ay, woman! thou takest on sadly for the loss of thy paramour.”— Then, looking on the bloody corpse of him from whom he had received so deep an injury, he repeated the solemn words of Scripture — ”‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay it.’— I, whom thou hast injured, will be first to render thee the decent offices due to the dead.”

So saying, he covered the dead body with his cloak, and then looking on it for a moment, seemed to reflect on what he had next to perform. As the eye of the injured man slowly passed from the body of the seducer to the partner and victim of his crime, who had sunk down to his feet, which she clasped without venturing to look up, his features, naturally coarse and saturnine, assumed a dignity of expression which overawed the young Templars, and repulsed the officious forwardness of Richie Moniplies, who was at first eager to have thrust in his advice and opinion. “Kneel not to me, woman,” he said, “but kneel to the God thou hast offended, more than thou couldst offend such another worm as thyself. How often have I told thee, when thou wert at the gayest and the lightest, that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall? Vanity brought folly, and folly brought sin, and sin hath brought death, his original companion. Thou must needs leave duty, and decency, and domestic love, to revel it gaily with the wild and with the wicked; and there thou liest like a crushed worm, writhing beside the lifeless body of thy paramour. Thou hast done me much wrong — dishonoured me among friends — driven credit from my house, and peace from my fireside — But thou wert my first and only love, and I will not see thee an utter castaway, if it lies with me to prevent it. — Gentlemen, I render ye such thanks as a broken-hearted man can give. — Richard, commend me to your honourable master. I added gall to the bitterness of his affliction, but I was deluded. — Rise up, woman, and follow me.”

He raised her up by the arm, while, with streaming eyes, and bitter sobs, she endeavoured to express her penitence. She kept her hands spread over her face, yet suffered him to lead her away; and it was only as they turned around a brake which concealed the scene they had left, that she turned back, and casting one wild and hurried glance towards the corpse of Dalgarno, uttered a shriek, and clinging to her husband’s arm, exclaimed wildly — “Save me — save me! They have murdered him!”

Lowestoffe was much moved by what he had witnessed; but he was ashamed, as a town-gallant, of his own unfashionable emotion, and did a force to his feelings when he exclaimed — “Ay, let them go — the kind-hearted, believing, forgiving husband — the liberal, accommodating spouse. O what a generous creature is your true London husband! — Horns hath he, but, tame as a fatted ox, he goreth not. I should like to see her when she hath exchanged her mask and riding-beaver for her peaked hat and muffler. We will visit them at Paul’s Wharf, coz — it will be a convenient acquaintance.”

“You had better think of catching the gipsy thief, Lutin,” said Richie Moniplies; “for, by my faith, he is off with his master’s baggage and the siller.”

A keeper, with his assistants, and several other persons, had now come to the spot, and made hue and cry after Lutin, but in vain. To their custody the Templars surrendered the dead bodies, and after going through some formal investigation, they returned, with Richard and Vincent, to London, where they received great applause for their gallantry. — Vincent’s errors were easily expiated, in consideration of his having been the means of breaking up this band of villains; and there is some reason to think, that what would have diminished the credit of the action in other instances, rather added to it in the actual circumstances, namely, that they came too late to save Lord Dalgarno.

George Heriot, who suspected how matters stood with Vincent, requested and obtained permission from his master to send the poor young fellow on an important piece of business to Paris. We are unable to trace his fate farther, but believe it was prosperous, and that he entered into an advantageous partnership with his fellow-apprentice, upon old Davy Ramsay retiring from business, in consequence of his daughter’s marriage. That eminent antiquary, Dr. Dryasdust, is possessed of an antique watch, with a silver dial-plate, the mainspring being a piece of catgut instead of a chain, which bears the names of Vincent and Tunstall, Memory-Monitors.

Master Lowestoffe failed not to vindicate his character as a man of gaiety, by inquiring after John Christie and Dame Nelly; but greatly to his surprise, (indeed to his loss, for he had wagered ten pieces that he would domesticate himself in the family,) he found the good-will, as it was called, of the shop, was sold, the stock auctioned, and the late proprietor and his wife gone, no one knew whither. The prevailing belief was, that they had emigrated to one of the new settlements in America.

Lady Dalgarno received the news of her unworthy husband’s death with a variety of emotions, among which, horror that he should have been cut off in the middle career of his profligacy, was the most prominent. The incident greatly deepened her melancholy, and injured her health, already shaken by previous circumstances. Repossessed of her own fortune by her husband’s death, she was anxious to do justice to Lord Glenvarloch, by treating for the recovery of the mortgage.

But the scrivener, having taken fright at the late events, had left the city and absconded, so that it was impossible to discover into whose hands the papers had now passed. Richard Moniplies was silent, for his own reasons; the Templars, who had witnessed the transaction, kept the secret at his request, and it was universally believed that the scrivener had carried off the writings along with him. We may here observe, that fears similar to those of Skurliewhitter freed London for ever from the presence of Dame Suddlechop, who ended her career in the Rasp-haus, (viz. Bridewell,) of Amsterdam.

The stout old Lord Huntinglen, with a haughty carriage and unmoistened eye, accompanied the funeral procession of his only son to its last abode; and perhaps the single tear which fell at length upon the coffin, was given less to the fate of the individual, than to the extinction of the last male of his ancient race.

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