The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 37

Jacques. There is, suie, another flood toward, and these couples are coming to the ark! — Here comes a pair of very strange beasts. —

As You Like It.

The fashion of such narratives as the present, changes like other earthly things. Time was that the tale-teller was obliged to wind up his story by a circumstantial description of the wedding, bedding, and throwing the stocking, as the grand catastrophe to which, through so many circumstances of doubt and difficulty, he had at length happily conducted his hero and heroine. Not a circumstance was then omitted, from the manly ardour of the bridegroom, and the modest blushes of the bride, to the parson’s new surplice, and the silk tabinet mantua of the bridesmaid. But such descriptions are now discarded, for the same reason, I suppose, that public marriages are no longer fashionable, and that, instead of calling together their friends to a feast and a dance, the happy couple elope in a solitary post-chaise, as secretly as if they meant to go to Gretna-Green, or to do worse. I am not ungrateful for a change which saves an author the trouble of attempting in vain to give a new colour to the commonplace description of such matters; but, notwithstanding, I find myself forced upon it in the present instance, as circumstances sometimes compel a stranger to make use of an old road which has been for some time shut up. The experienced reader may have already remarked, that the last chapter was employed in sweeping out of the way all the unnecessary and less interesting characters, that I might clear the floor for a blithe bridal.

In truth, it would be unpardonable to pass over slightly what so deeply interested our principal personage, King James. That learned and good-humoured monarch made no great figure in the politics of Europe; but then, to make amends, he was prodigiously busy, when he could find a fair opportunity of intermeddling with the private affairs of his loving subjects, and the approaching marriage of Lord Glenvarloch was matter of great interest to him. He had been much struck (that is, for him, who was not very accessible to such emotions) with the beauty and embarrassment of the pretty Peg-a- Ramsay, as he called her, when he first saw her, and he glorified himself greatly on the acuteness which he had displayed in detecting her disguise, and in carrying through the whole inquiry which took place in consequence of it.

He laboured for several weeks, while the courtship was in progress, with his own royal eyes, so as wellnigh to wear out, he declared, a pair of her father’s best barnacles, in searching through old books and documents, for the purpose of establishing the bride’s pretensions to a noble, though remote descent, and thereby remove the only objection which envy might conceive against the match. In his own opinion, at least, he was eminently successful; for, when Sir Mungo Malagrowther one day, in the presence-chamber, took upon him to grieve bitterly for the bride’s lack of pedigree, the monarch cut him short with, “Ye may save your grief for your ain next occasions, Sir Mungo; for, by our royal saul, we will uphauld her father, Davy Ramsay, to be a gentleman of nine descents, whase great gudesire came of the auld martial stock of the House of Dalwolsey, than whom better men never did, and better never will, draw sword for king and country. Heard ye never of Sir William Ramsay of Dalwolsey, man, of whom John Fordoun saith — ‘He was bellicosissimus, nobilissimus?’— His castle stands to witness for itsell, not three miles from Dalkeith, man, and within a mile of Bannockrig. Davy Ramsay came of that auld and honoured stock, and I trust he hath not derogated from his ancestors by his present craft. They all wrought wi’ steel, man; only the auld knights drilled holes wi’ their swords in their enemies’ corslets, and he saws nicks in his brass wheels. And I hope it is as honourable to give eyes to the blind as to slash them out of the head of those that see, and to show us how to value our time as it passes, as to fling it away in drinking, brawling, spear-splintering, and such-like unchristian doings. And you maun understand, that Davy Ramsay is no mechanic, but follows a liberal art, which approacheth almost to the act of creating a living being, seeing it may be said of a watch, as Claudius saith of the sphere of Archimedes, the Syracusan —

“Inclusus variis famulatur spiritus astris,

Et vivum certis motibus urget opus.’”

“Your Majesty had best give auld Davy a coat-of-arms, as well as a pedigree,” said Sir Mungo.

“It’s done, or ye bade, Sir Mungo,” said the king; “and I trust we, who are the fountain of all earthly honour, are free to spirit a few drops of it on one so near our person, without offence to the Knight of Castle Girnigo. We have already spoken with the learned men of the Herald’s College, and we propose to grant him an augmented coat-of-arms, being his paternal coat, charged with the crown-wheel of a watch in chief, for a difference; and we purpose to add Time and Eternity, for supporters, as soon as the Garter King-at-Arms shall be able to devise how Eternity is to be represented.”

“I would make him twice as muckle as Time,” 30 said Archie Armstrong, the Court fool, who chanced to be present when the king stated this dilemma. “Peace, man — ye shall be whippet,” said the king, in return for this hint; “and you, my liege subjects of England, may weel take a hint from what we have said, and not be in such a hurry to laugh at our Scottish pedigrees, though they be somewhat long derived, and difficult to be deduced. Ye see that a man of right gentle blood may, for a season, lay by his gentry, and yet ken whare to find it, when he has occasion for it. It would be as unseemly for a packman, or pedlar, as ye call a travelling merchant, whilk is a trade to which our native subjects of Scotland are specially addicted, to be blazing his genealogy in the faces of those to whom he sells a bawbee’s worth of ribbon, as it would be to him to have a beaver on his head, and a rapier by his side, when the pack was on his shoulders. Na, na — he hings his sword on the cleek, lays his beaver on the shelf, puts his pedigree into his pocket, and gangs as doucely and cannily about his peddling craft as if his blood was nae better than ditch-water; but let our pedlar be transformed, as I have kend it happen mair than ance, into a bein thriving merchant, then ye shall have a transformation, my lords.

‘In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas —’

Out he pulls his pedigree, on he buckles his sword, gives his beaver a brush, and cocks it in the face of all creation. We mention these things at the mair length, because we would have you all to know, that it is not without due consideration of the circumstances of all parties, that we design, in a small and private way, to honour with our own royal presence the marriage of Lord Glenvarloch with Margaret Ramsay, daughter and heiress of David Ramsay, our horologer, and a cadet only thrice removed from the ancient house of Dalwolsey. We are grieved we cannot have the presence of the noble Chief of that House at the ceremony; but where there is honour to be won abroad the Lord Dalwolsey is seldom to be found at home. Sic fuit, est, et erit.-Jingling Geordie, as ye stand to the cost of the marriage feast, we look for good cheer.”

Heriot bowed, as in duty bound. In fact, the king, who was a great politician about trifles, had manoeuvred greatly on this occasion, and had contrived to get the Prince and Buckingham dispatched on an expedition to Newmarket, in order that he might find an opportunity in their absence of indulging himself in his own gossiping, coshering habits, which were distasteful to Charles, whose temper inclined to formality, and with which even the favourite, of late, had not thought it worth while to seem to sympathise. When the levee was dismissed, Sir Mungo Malagrowther seized upon the worthy citizen in the court-yard of the Palace, and detained him, in spite of all his efforts, for the purpose of subjecting him to the following scrutiny:—

“This is a sair job on you, Master George — the king must have had little consideration — this will cost you a bonny penny, this wedding dinner?”

“It will not break me, Sir Mungo,” answered Heriot; “the king hath a right to see the table which his bounty hath supplied for years, well covered for a single day.”

“Vera true, vera true — we’ll have a’ to pay, I doubt, less or mair — a sort of penny-wedding it will prove, where all men contribute to the young folk’s maintenance, that they may not have just four bare legs in a bed together. What do you propose to give, Master George? — we begin with the city when money is in question.”31

“Only a trifle, Sir Mungo — I give my god-daughter the marriage ring; it is a curious jewel — I bought it in Italy; it belonged to Cosmo de Medici. The bride will not need my help — she has an estate which belonged to her maternal grandfather.”

“The auld soap-boiler,” said Sir Mungo; “it will need some of his suds to scour the blot out of the Glenvarloch shield — I have heard that estate was no great things.”

“It is as good as some posts at Court, Sir Mungo, which are coveted by persons of high quality,” replied George Heriot.

“Court favour, said ye? Court favour, Master Heriot?” replied Sir Mungo, choosing then to use his malady of misapprehension; “Moonshine in water, poor thing, if that is all she is to be tochered with — I am truly solicitous about them.”

“I will let you into a secret,” said the citizen, “which will relieve your tender anxiety. The dowager Lady Dalgarno gives a competent fortune to the bride, and settles the rest of her estate upon her nephew the bridegroom.”

“Ay, say ye sae?” said Sir Mungo, “just to show her regard to her husband that is in the tomb — lucky that her nephew did not send him there; it was a strange story that death of poor Lord Dalgarno — some folk think the poor gentleman had much wrong. Little good comes of marrying the daughter of the house you are at feud with; indeed, it was less poor Dalgarno’s fault, than theirs that forced the match on him; but I am glad the young folk are to have something to live on, come how it like, whether by charity or inheritance. But if the Lady Dalgarno were to sell all she has, even to her very wylie-coat, she canna gie them back the fair Castle of Glenvarloch — that is lost and gane — lost and gane.”

“It is but too true,” said George Heriot; “we cannot discover what has become of the villain Andrew Skurliewhitter, or what Lord Dalgarno has done with the mortgage.”

“Assigned it away to some one, that his wife might not get it after he was gane; it would have disturbed him in his grave, to think Glenvarloch should get that land back again,” said Sir Mungo; “depend on it, he will have ta’en sure measures to keep that noble lordship out of her grips or her nevoy’s either.”

“Indeed it is but too probable, Sir Mungo,” said Master Heriot; “but as I am obliged to go and look after many things in consequence of this ceremony, I must leave you to comfort yourself with the reflection.”

“The bride-day, you say, is to be on the thirtieth of the instant month?” said Sir Mungo, holloing after the citizen; “I will be with you in the hour of cause.”

“The king invites the guests,” said George Heriot, without turning back.

“The base-born, ill-bred mechanic!” soliloquised Sir Mungo, “if it were not the odd score of pounds he lent me last week, I would teach him how to bear himself to a man of quality! But I will be at the bridal banquet in spite of him.”

Sir Mungo contrived to get invited, or commanded, to attend on the bridal accordingly, at which there were but few persons present; for James, on such occasions, preferred a snug privacy, which gave him liberty to lay aside the encumbrance, as he felt it to be, of his regal dignity. The company was very small, and indeed there were at least two persons absent whose presence might have been expected. The first of these was the Lady Dalgarno, the state of whose health, as well as the recent death of her husband, precluded her attendance on the ceremony. The other absentee was Richie Moniplies, whose conduct for some time past had been extremely mysterious. Regulating his attendance on Lord Glenvarloch entirely according to his own will and pleasure, he had, ever since the rencounter in Enfield Chase, appeared regularly at his bedside in the morning, to assist him to dress, and at his wardrobe in the evening. The rest of the day he disposed of at his own pleasure, without control from his lord, who had now a complete establishment of attendants. Yet he was somewhat curious to know how the fellow disposed of so much of his time; but on this subject Richie showed no desire to be communicative.

On the morning of the bridal-day, Richie was particularly attentive in doing all a valet-de-chambre could, so as to set off to advantage the very handsome figure of his master; and when he had arranged his dress to the utmost exactness, and put to his long curled locks what he called “the finishing touch of the redding-kaim,” he gravely kneeled down, kissed his hand, and bade him farewell, saying that he humbly craved leave to discharge himself of his lordship’s service.

“Why, what humour is this?” said Lord Glenvarloch; “if you mean to discharge yourself of my service, Richie, I suppose you intend to enter my wife’s?”

“I wish her good ladyship that shall soon be, and your good lordship, the blessings of as good a servant as myself, in heaven’s good time,” said Richie; “but fate hath so ordained it, that I can henceforth only be your servant in the way of friendly courtesy.”

“Well, Richie,” said the young lord, “if you are tired of service, we will seek some better provision for you; but you will wait on me to the church, and partake of the bridal dinner?”

“Under favour, my lord,” answered Richie; “I must remind you of our covenant, having presently some pressing business of mine own, whilk will detain me during the ceremony; but I will not fail to prie Master George’s good cheer, in respect he has made very costly fare, whilk it would be unthankful not to partake of.”

“Do as you list,” answered Lord Glenvarloch; and having bestowed a passing thought on the whimsical and pragmatical disposition of his follower, he dismissed the subject for others better suited to the day.

The reader must fancy the scattered flowers which strewed the path of the happy couple to church — the loud music which accompanied the procession — the marriage service performed by a bishop — the king, who met them at Saint Paul’s, giving away the bride — to the great relief of her father, who had thus time, during the ceremony, to calculate the just quotient to be laid on the pinion of report in a timepiece which he was then putting together.

When the ceremony was finished, the company were transported in the royal carriages to George Heriot’s, where a splendid collation was provided for the marriage-guests in the Foljambe apartments. The king no sooner found himself in this snug retreat, than, casting from him his sword and belt with such haste as if they burnt his fingers, and flinging his plumed hat on the table, as who should say, Lie there, authority! he swallowed a hearty cup of wine to the happiness of the married couple, and began to amble about the room, mumping, laughing, and cracking jests, neither the wittiest nor the most delicate, but accompanied and applauded by shouts of his own mirth, in order to encourage that of the company. Whilst his Majesty was in the midst of this gay humour, and a call to the banquet was anxiously expected, a servant whispered Master Heriot forth of the apartment. When he re-entered, he walked up to the king, and, in his turn whispered something, at which James started.

“He is not wanting his siller?” said the king, shortly and sharply.

“By no means, my liege,” answered Heriot. “It is a subject he states himself as quite indifferent about, so long as it can pleasure your Majesty.”

“Body of us, man!” said the king, “it is the speech of a true man and a loving subject, and we will grace him accordingly — what though he be but a carle — a twopenny cat may look at a king. Swith, man! have him — pundite fores. — Moniplies? — They should have called the chield Monypennies, though I sall warrant you English think we have not such a name in Scotland.”

“It is an ancient and honourable stock, the Monypennies,” said Sir Mungo Malagrowther; “the only loss is, there are sae few of the name.”

“The family seems to increase among your countrymen, Sir Mungo,” said Master Lowestoffe, whom Lord Glenvarloch had invited to be present, “since his Majesty’s happy accession brought so many of you here.”

“Right, sir — right,” said Sir Mungo, nodding and looking at George Heriot; “there have some of ourselves been the better of that great blessing to the English nation.”

As he spoke, the door flew open, and in entered, to the astonishment of Lord Glenvarloch, his late serving-man Richie Moniplies, now sumptuously, nay, gorgeously, attired in a superb brocaded suit, and leading in his hand the tall, thin, withered, somewhat distorted form of Martha Trapbois, arrayed in a complete dress of black velvet, which suited so strangely with the pallid and severe melancholy of her countenance, that the king himself exclaimed, in some perturbation, “What the deil has the fallow brought us here? Body of our regal selves! it is a corpse that has run off with the mort-cloth!”

“May I sifflicate your Majesty to be gracious unto her?” said Richie; “being that she is, in respect of this morning’s wark, my ain wedded wife, Mrs. Martha Moniplies by name.”

“Saul of our body, man! but she looks wondrous grim,” answered King James. “Art thou sure she has not been in her time maid of honour to Queen Mary, our kinswoman, of redhot memory?”

“I am sure, an it like your Majesty, that she has brought me fifty thousand pounds of good siller, and better; and that has enabled me to pleasure your Majesty, and other folk.”

“Ye need have said naething about that, man,” said the king; “we ken our obligations in that sma’ matter, and we are glad this rudas spouse of thine hath bestowed her treasure on ane wha kens to put it to the profit of his king and country. — But how the deil did ye come by her, man?”

“In the auld Scottish fashion, my liege. She is the captive of my bow and my spear,” answered Moniplies. “There was a convention that she should wed me when I avenged her father’s death — so I slew, and took possession.”

“It is the daughter of Old Trapbois, who has been missed so long,” said Lowestoffe. —“Where the devil could you mew her up so closely, friend Richie?”

“Master Richard, if it be your will,” answered Richie; “or Master Richard Moniplies, if you like it better. For mewing of her up, I found her a shelter, in all honour and safety, under the roof of an honest countryman of my own — and for secrecy, it was a point of prudence, when wantons like you were abroad, Master Lowestoffe.”

There was a laugh at Richie’s magnanimous reply, on the part of every one but his bride, who made to him a signal of impatience, and said, with her usual brevity and sternness — “Peace — peace, I pray you, peace. Let us do that which we came for.” So saying, she took out a bundle of parchments, and delivering them to Lord Glenvarloch, she said aloud — “I take this royal presence, and all here, to witness, that I restore the ransomed lordship of Glenvarloch to the right owner, as free as ever it was held by any of his ancestors.”

“I witnessed the redemption of the mortgage,” said Lowestoffe; “but I little dreamt by whom it had been redeemed.”

“No need ye should,” said Richie; “there would have been small wisdom in crying roast-meat.”

“Peace,” said his bride, “once more. — This paper,” she continued, delivering another to Lord Glenvarloch, “is also your property — take it, but spare me the question how it came into my custody.”

The king had bustled forward beside Lord Glenvarloch, and fixing an eager eye on the writing, exclaimed —“Body of ourselves, it is our royal sign-manual for the money which was so long out of sight! — How came you by it, Mistress Bride?”

“It is a secret,” said Martha, dryly.

“A secret which my tongue shall never utter,” said Richie, resolutely — “unless the king commands me on my allegiance.”

“I do — I do command you,” said James, trembling and stammering with the impatient curiosity of a gossip; while Sir Mungo, with more malicious anxiety to get at the bottom of the mystery, stooped his long thin form forward like a bent fishing-rod, raised his thin grey locks from his ear, and curved his hand behind it to collect every vibration of the expected intelligence. Martha in the meantime frowned most ominously on Richie, who went on undauntedly to inform the king, “that his deceased father-in-law, a good careful man in the main, had a’ touch of worldly wisdom about him, that at times marred the uprightness of his walk; he liked to dabble among his neighbour’s gear, and some of it would at times stick to his fingers in the handling.”

“For shame, man, for shame!” said Martha; “since the infamy of the deed must be told, be it at least briefly. — Yes, my lord,” she added, addressing Glenvarloch, “the piece of gold was not the sole bait which brought the miserable old man to your chamber that dreadful night — his object, and he accomplished it, was to purloin this paper. The wretched scrivener was with him that morning, and, I doubt not, urged the doting old man to this villainy, to offer another bar to the ransom of your estate. If there was a yet more powerful agent at the bottom of this conspiracy, God forgive it to him at this moment, for he is now where the crime must be answered!”

“Amen!” said Lord Glenvarloch, and it was echoed by all present.

“For my father,” continued she, with her stern features twitched by an involuntary and convulsive movement, “his guilt and folly cost him his life; and my belief is constant, that the wretch, who counselled him that morning to purloin the paper, left open the window for the entrance of the murderers.”

Every body was silent for an instant; the king was first to speak, commanding search instantly to be made for the guilty scrivener. “I, lictor,” he concluded, “colliga manus — caput obnubito-infelici suspendite arbori.”

Lowestoffe answered with due respect, that the scrivener had absconded at the time of Lord Dalgarno’s murder, and had not been heard of since.

“Let him be sought for,” said the king. “And now let us change the discourse — these stories make one’s very blood grew, and are altogether unfit for bridal festivity. Hymen, O Hymenee!” added he, snapping his fingers, “Lord Glenvarloch, what say you to Mistress Moniplies, this bonny bride, that has brought you back your father’s estate on your bridal day?”

“Let him say nothing, my liege,” said Martha; “that will best suit his feelings and mine.”

“There is redemption-money, at the least, to be repaid,” said Lord Glenvarloch; “in that I cannot remain debtor.”

“We will speak of it hereafter,” said Martha; “my debtor you cannot be.” And she shut her mouth as if determined to say nothing more on the subject.

Sir Mungo, however, resolved not to part with the topic, and availing himself of the freedom of the moment, said to Richie —“A queer story that of your father-in-law, honest man; methinks your bride thanked you little for ripping it up.”

“I make it a rule, Sir Mungo,” replied Richie, “always to speak any evil I know about my family myself, having observed, that if I do not, it is sure to be told by ither folks.”

“But, Richie,” said Sir Mungo, “it seems to me that this bride of yours is like to be master and mair in the conjugal state.”

“If she abides by words, Sir Mungo,” answered Richie, “I thank heaven I can be as deaf as any one; and if she comes to dunts, I have twa hands to paik her with.”

“Weel said, Richie, again,” said the king; “you have gotten it on baith haffits, Sir Mungo. — Troth, Mistress Bride, for a fule, your gudeman has a pretty turn of wit.”

“There are fools, sire,” replied she, “who have wit, and fools who have courage — aye, and fools who have learning, and are great fools notwithstanding. — I chose this man because he was my protector when I was desolate, and neither for his wit nor his wisdom. He is truly honest, and has a heart and hand that make amends for some folly. Since I was condemned to seek a protector through the world, which is to me a wilderness, I may thank God that I have come by no worse.”

“And that is sae sensibly said,” replied the king, “that, by my saul, I’ll try whether I canna make him better. Kneel down, Richie — somebody lend me a rapier — yours, Mr. Langstaff, (that’s a brave name for a lawyer,)— ye need not flash it out that gate, Templar fashion, as if ye were about to pink a bailiff!”

He took the drawn sword, and with averted eyes, for it was a sight he loved not to look on, endeavoured to lay it on Richie’s shoulder, but nearly stuck it into his eye. Richie, starting back, attempted to rise, but was held down by Lowestoffe, while Sir Mungo, guiding the royal weapon, the honour-bestowing blow was given and received: “Surge, carnifex — Rise up, Sir Richard Moniplies, of Castle-Collop! — And, my lords and lieges, let us all to our dinner, for the cock-a-leekie is cooling.”

30Chaucer says, there is nothing new but what it has been old. The reader has here the original of an anecdote which has since been fathered on a Scottish Chief of our own time.

31The penny-wedding of the Scots, now disused even among the lowest ranks, was a peculiar species of merry-making, at which, if the wedded pair were popular, the guests who convened, contributed considerable sums under pretence of paying for the bridal festivity, but in reality to set the married folk afloat in the world.

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