The Fortunes of Nigel, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 4

Ay, sir, the clouted shoe hath oft times craft in’t,

As says the rustic proverb; and your citizen,

In’s grogram suit, gold chain, and well-black’d shoes,

Bears under his flat cap ofttimes a brain

Wiser than burns beneath the cap and feather,

Or seethes within the statesman’s velvet nightcap.

Read me my Riddle.

The young Scottish nobleman received the citizen with distant politeness, expressing that sort of reserve by which those of the higher ranks are sometimes willing to make a plebeian sensible that he is an intruder. But Master George seemed neither displeased nor disconcerted. He assumed the chair, which, in deference to his respectable appearance, Lord Nigel offered to him, and said, after a moment’s pause, during which he had looked attentively at the young man, with respect not unmingled with emotion —“You will forgive me for this rudeness, my lord; but I was endeavouring to trace in your youthful countenance the features of my good old lord, your excellent father.”

There was a moment’s pause ere young Glenvarloch replied, still with a reserved manner — “I have been reckoned like my father, sir; and am happy to see any one that respects his memory. But the business which calls me to this city is of a hasty as well as a private nature, and —”

“I understand the hint, my lord,” said Master George, “and would not be guilty of long detaining you from business, or more agreeable conversation. My errand is almost done when I have said that my name is George Heriot, warmly befriended, and introduced into the employment of the Royal Family of Scotland, more than twenty years since, by your excellent father; and that, learning from a follower of yours that your lordship was in this city in prosecution of some business of importance, it is my duty — it is my pleasure — to wait on the son of my respected patron; and, as I am somewhat known both at the Court, and in the city, to offer him such aid in the furthering of his affairs as my credit and experience may be able to afford.”

“I have no doubt of either, Master Heriot,” said Lord Nigel, “and I thank you heartily for the good-will with which you have placed them at a stranger’s disposal; but my business at Court is done and ended, and I intend to leave London and, indeed, the island, for foreign travel and military service. I may add, that the suddenness of my departure occasions my having little time at my disposal.”

Master Heriot did not take the hint, but sat fast, with an embarrassed countenance however, like one who had something to say that he knew not exactly how to make effectual. At length he said, with a dubious smile, “You are fortunate, my lord, in having so soon dispatched your business at Court. Your talking landlady informs me you have been but a fortnight in this city. It is usually months and years ere the Court and a suitor shake hands and part.”

“My business,” said Lord Nigel, with a brevity which was intended to stop further discussion, “was summarily dispatched.”

Still Master Heriot remained seated, and there was a cordial good-humour added to the reverence of his appearance, which rendered it impossible for Lord Nigel to be more explicit in requesting his absence.

“Your lordship has not yet had time,” said the citizen, still attempting to sustain the conversation, “to visit the places of amusement — the playhouses, and other places to which youth resort. But I see in your lordship’s hand one of the new-invented plots of the piece,8 which they hand about of late — May I ask what play?”

“Oh! a well-known piece,” said Lord Nigel, impatiently throwing down the Proclamation, which he had hitherto been twisting to and fro in his hand — “an excellent and well-approved piece — A New Way to Pay Old Debts.

Master Heriot stooped down, saying, “Ah! my old acquaintance, Philip Massinger;” but, having opened the paper and seen the purport, he looked at Lord Nigel with surprise, saying, “I trust your lordship does not think this prohibition can extend either to your person or your claims?” “I should scarce have thought so myself,” said the young nobleman; “but so it proves. His Majesty, to close this discourse at once, has been pleased to send me this Proclamation, in answer to a respectful Supplication for the repayment of large loans advanced by my father for the service of the State, in the king’s utmost emergencies.”

“It is impossible!” said the citizen —“it is absolutely impossible! — If the king could forget what was due to your father’s memory, still he would not have wished — would not, I may say, have dared — to be so flagrantly unjust to the memory of such a man as your father, who, dead in the body, will long live in the memory of the Scottish people.” “I should have been of your opinion,” answered Lord Nigel, in the same tone as before; “but there is no fighting with facts.”

“What was the tenor of this Supplication?” said Heriot; “or by whom was it presented? Something strange there must have been in the contents, or else —”

“You may see my original draught,” said the young lord, taking it out of a small travelling strong-box; “the technical part is by my lawyer in Scotland, a skilful and sensible man; the rest is my own, drawn, I hope, with due deference and modesty.”

Master Heriot hastly cast his eye over the draught. “Nothing,” he said, “can be more well-tempered and respectful. Is it possible the king can have treated this petition with contempt?”

“He threw it down on the pavement,” said the Lord of Glenvarloch, “and sent me for answer that Proclamation, in which he classes me with the paupers and mendicants from Scotland, who disgrace his Court in the eyes of the proud English — that is all. Had not my father stood by him with heart, sword, and fortune, he might never have seen the Court of England himself.”

“But by whom was this Supplication presented, my lord?” said Heriot; “for the distaste taken at the messenger will sometimes extend itself to the message.”

“By my servant,” said the Lord Nigel; “by the man you saw, and, I think, were kind to.”

“By your servant, my lord?” said the citizen; “he seems a shrewd fellow, and doubtless a faithful; but surely —”

“You would say,” said Lord Nigel, “he is no fit messenger to a king’s presence? — Surely he is not; but what could I do? Every attempt I had made to lay my case before the king had miscarried, and my petitions got no farther than the budgets of clerks and secretaries; this fellow pretended he had a friend in the household that would bring him to the king’s presence — and so —”

“I understand,” said Heriot; “but, my lord, why should you not, in right of your rank and birth, have appeared at Court, and required an audience, which could not have been denied to you?”

The young lord blushed a little, and looked at his dress, which was very plain; and, though in perfect good order, had the appearance of having seen service.

“I know not why I should be ashamed of speaking the truth,” he said, after a momentary hesitation — “I had no dress suitable for appearing at Court. I am determined to incur no expenses which I cannot discharge; and I think you, sir, would not advise me to stand at the palace-door, in person, and deliver my petition, along with those who are in very deed pleading their necessity, and begging an alms.”

“That had been, indeed, unseemly,” said the citizen; “but yet, my lord, my mind runs strangely that there must be some mistake. — Can I speak with your domestic?”

“I see little good it can do,” answered the young lord, “but the interest you take in my misfortunes seems sincere, and therefore ——” He stamped on the floor, and in a few seconds afterwards Moniplies appeared, wiping from his beard and mustaches the crumbs of bread, and the froth of the ale-pot, which plainly showed how he had been employed. —“Will your lordship grant permission,” said Heriot, “that I ask your groom a few questions?” “His lordship’s page, Master George,” answered Moniplies, with a nod of acknowledgment, “if you are minded to speak according to the letter.”

“Hold your saucy tongue,” said his master, “and reply distinctly to the questions you are to be asked.”

“And truly, if it like your pageship,” said the citizen, “for you may remember I have a gift to discover falset.”

“Weel, weel, weel,” replied the domestic, somewhat embarrassed, in spite of his effrontery —“though I think that the sort of truth that serves my master, may weel serve ony ane else.”

“Pages lie to their masters by right of custom,” said the citizen; “and you write yourself in that band, though I think you be among the oldest of such springalds; but to me you must speak truth, if you would not have it end in the whipping-post.”

“And that’s e’en a bad resting-place,” said the well-grown page; “so come away with your questions, Master George.”

“Well, then,” demanded the citizen, “I am given to understand that you yesterday presented to his Majesty’s hand a Supplication, or petition, from this honourable lord, your master.”

“Troth, there’s nae gainsaying that, sir,” replied Moniplies; “there were enow to see it besides me.”

“And you pretend that his Majesty flung it from him with contempt?” said the citizen. “Take heed, for I have means of knowing the truth; and you were better up to the neck in the Nor-Loch, which you like so well, than tell a leasing where his Majesty’s name is concerned.”

“There is nae occasion for leasing-making about the matter,” answered Moniplies, firmly; “his Majesty e’en flung it frae him as if it had dirtied his fingers.”

“You hear, sir,” said Olifaunt, addressing Heriot.

“Hush!” said the sagacious citizen; “this fellow is not ill named — he has more plies than one in his cloak. Stay, fellow,” for Moniplies, muttering somewhat about finishing his breakfast, was beginning to shamble towards the door, “answer me this farther question — When you gave your master’s petition to his Majesty, gave you nothing with it?”

“Ou, what should I give wi’ it, ye ken, Master George?”

“That is what I desire and insist to know,” replied his interrogator.

“Weel, then — I am not free to say, that maybe I might not just slip into the king’s hand a wee bit Sifflication of mine ain, along with my lord’s — just to save his Majesty trouble — and that he might consider them baith at ance.”

“A supplication of your own, you varlet!” said his master.

“Ou dear, ay, my lord,” said Richie —“puir bodies hae their bits of sifflications as weel as their betters.”

“And pray, what might your worshipful petition import?” said Master Heriot. —“Nay, for Heaven’s sake, my lord, keep your patience, or we shall never learn the truth of this strange matter. — Speak out, sirrah, and I will stand your friend with my lord.”

“It’s a lang story to tell — but the upshot is, that it’s a scrape of an auld accompt due to my father’s yestate by her Majesty the king’s maist gracious mother, when she lived in the Castle, and had sundry providings and furnishings forth of our booth, whilk nae doubt was an honour to my father to supply, and whilk, doubtless, it will be a credit to his Majesty to satisfy, as it will be grit convenience to me to receive the saam.”

“What string of impertinence is this?” said his master.

“Every word as true as e’er John Knox spoke,” said Richie; “here’s the bit double of the Sifflication.”

Master George took a crumpled paper from the fellow’s hand, and said, muttering betwixt his teeth —”‘Humbly showeth — um — um — his Majesty’s maist gracious mother — um — um — justly addebted and owing the sum of fifteen merks — the compt whereof followeth — Twelve nowte’s feet for jellies — ane lamb, being Christmas — ane roasted capin in grease for the privy chalmer, when my Lord of Bothwell suppit with her Grace.’— I think, my lord, you can hardly be surprised that the king gave this petition a brisk reception; and I conclude, Master Page, that you took care to present your own Supplication before your master’s?”

“Troth did I not,” answered Moniplies. “I thought to have given my lord’s first, as was reason gude; and besides that, it wad have redd the gate for my ain little bill. But what wi’ the dirdum an’ confusion, an’ the loupin here and there of the skeigh brute of a horse, I believe I crammed them baith into his hand cheek-by-jowl, and maybe my ain was bunemost; and say there was aught wrang, I am sure I had a’ the fright and a’ the risk —”

“And shall have all the beating, you rascal knave,” said Nigel; “am I to be insulted and dishonoured by your pragmatical insolence, in blending your base concerns with mine?”

“Nay, nay, nay, my lord,” said the good-humoured citizen, interposing, “I have been the means of bringing the fellow’s blunder to light — allow me interest enough with your lordship to be bail for his bones. You have cause to be angry, but still I think the knave mistook more out of conceit than of purpose; and I judge you will have the better service of him another time, if you overlook this fault — Get you gone, sirrah — I’ll make your peace.”

“Na, na,” said Moniplies, keeping his ground firmly, “if he likes to strike a lad that has followed him for pure love, for I think there has been little servant’s fee between us, a’ the way frae Scotland, just let my lord be doing, and see the credit he will get by it — and I would rather (mony thanks to you though, Master George) stand by a lick of his baton, than it suld e’er be said a stranger came between us.”

“Go, then,” said his master, “and get out of my sight.”

“Aweel I wot that is sune done,” said Moniplies, retiring slowly; “I did not come without I had been ca’d for — and I wad have been away half an hour since with my gude will, only Maister George keepit me to answer his interrogation, forsooth, and that has made a’ this stir.”

And so he made his grumbling exit, with the tone much rather of one who has sustained an injury, than who has done wrong.

“There never was a man so plagued as I am with a malapert knave! — The fellow is shrewd, and I have found him faithful — I believe he loves me, too, and he has given proofs of it — but then he is so uplifted in his own conceit, so self-willed, and so self-opinioned, that he seems to become the master and I the man; and whatever blunder he commits, he is sure to make as loud complaints, as if the whole error lay with me, and in no degree with himself.”

“Cherish him, and maintain him, nevertheless,” said the citizen; “for believe my grey hairs, that affection and fidelity are now rarer qualities in a servitor, than when the world was younger. Yet, trust him, my good lord, with no commission above his birth or breeding, for you see yourself how it may chance to fall.”

“It is but too evident, Master Heriot,” said the young nobleman; “and I am sorry I have done injustice to my sovereign, and your master. But I am, like a true Scotsman, wise behind hand — the mistake has happened — my Supplication has been refused, and my only resource is to employ the rest of my means to carry Moniplies and myself to some counter-scarp, and die in the battle-front like my ancestors.”

“It were better to live and serve your country like your noble father, my lord,” replied Master George. “Nay, nay, never look down or shake your head — the king has not refused your Supplication, for he has not seen it — you ask but justice, and that his place obliges him to give to his subjects — ay, my lord, and I will say that his natural temper doth in this hold bias with his duty.”

“I were well pleased to think so, and yet ——” said Nigel Olifaunt — “I speak not of my own wrongs, but my country hath many that are unredressed.”

“My lord,” said Master Heriot, “I speak of my royal master, not only with the respect due from a subject — the gratitude to be paid by a favoured servant, but also with the frankness of a free and loyal Scotsman. The king is himself well disposed to hold the scales of justice even; but there are those around him who can throw without detection their own selfish wishes and base interests into the scale. You are already a sufferer by this, and without your knowing it.”

“I am surprised, Master Heriot,” said the young lord, “to hear you, upon so short an acquaintance, talk as if you were familiarly acquainted with my affairs.”

“My lord,” replied the goldsmith, “the nature of my employment affords me direct access to the interior of the palace; I am well known to be no meddler in intrigues or party affairs, so that no favourite has as yet endeavoured to shut against me the door of the royal closet; on the contrary, I have stood well with each while he was in power, and I have not shared the fall of any. But I cannot be thus connected with the Court, without hearing, even against my will, what wheels are in motion, and how they are checked or forwarded. Of course, when I choose to seek such intelligence, I know the sources in which it is to be traced. I have told you why I was interested in your lordship’s fortunes. It was last night only that I knew you were in this city, yet I have been able, in coming hither this morning, to gain for you some information respecting the impediments to your suit.”

“Sir, I am obliged by your zeal, however little it may be merited,” answered Nigel, still with some reserve; “yet I hardly know how I have deserved this interest.”

“First let me satisfy you that it is real,” said the citizen; “I blame you not for being unwilling to credit the fair professions of a stranger in my inferior class of society, when you have met so little friendship from relations, and those of your own rank, bound to have assisted you by so many ties. But mark the cause. There is a mortgage over your father’s extensive estate, to the amount of 40,000 merks, due ostensibly to Peregrine Peterson, the Conservator of Scottish Privileges at Campvere.”

“I know nothing of a mortgage,” said the young lord; “but there is a wadset for such a sum, which, if unredeemed, will occasion the forfeiture of my whole paternal estate, for a sum not above a fourth of its value — and it is for that very reason that I press the king’s government for a settlement of the debts due to my father, that I may be able to redeem my land from this rapacious creditor.”

“A wadset in Scotland,” said Heriot, “is the same with a mortgage on this side of the Tweed; but you are not acquainted with your real creditor. The Conservator Peterson only lends his name to shroud no less a man than the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, who hopes, under cover of this debt, to gain possession of the estate himself, or perhaps to gratify a yet more powerful third party. He will probably suffer his creature Peterson to take possession, and when the odium of the transaction shall be forgotten, the property and lordship of Glenvarloch will be conveyed to the great man by his obsequious instrument, under cover of a sale, or some similar device.”

“Can this be possible?” said Lord Nigel; “the Chancellor wept when I took leave of him — called me his cousin — even his son — furnished me with letters, and, though I asked him for no pecuniary assistance, excused himself unnecessarily for not pressing it on me, alleging the expenses of his rank and his large family. No, I cannot believe a nobleman would carry deceit so far.”

“I am not, it is true, of noble blood,” said the citizen; “but once more I bid you look on my grey hairs, and think what can be my interest in dishonouring them with falsehood in affairs in which I have no interest, save as they regard the son of my benefactor. Reflect also, have you had any advantage from the Lord Chancellor’s letters?”

“None,” said Nigel Olifaunt, “except cold deeds and fair words. I have thought for some time, their only object was to get rid of me — one yesterday pressed money on me when I talked of going abroad, in order that I might not want the means of exiling myself.”

“Right,” said Heriot; “rather than you fled not, they would themselves furnish wings for you to fly withal.”

“I will to him this instant,” said the incensed youth, “and tell him my mind of his baseness.”

“Under your favour,” said Heriot, detaining him, “you shall not do so. By a quarrel you would become the ruin of me your informer; and though I would venture half my shop to do your lordship a service, I think you would hardly wish me to come by damage, when it can be of no service to you.”

The word shop sounded harshly in the ear of the young nobleman, who replied hastily —“Damage, sir? — so far am I from wishing you to incur damage, that I would to Heaven you would cease your fruitless offers of serving one whom there is no chance of ultimately assisting!”

“Leave me alone for that,” said the citizen: “you have now erred as far on the bow-hand. Permit me to take this Supplication — I will have it suitably engrossed, and take my own time (and it shall be an early one) for placing it, with more prudence, I trust, than that used by your follower, in the king’s hand — I will almost answer for his taking up the matter as you would have him — but should he fail to do so, even then I will not give up the good cause.”

“Sir,” said the young nobleman, “your speech is so friendly, and my own state so helpless, that I know not how to refuse your kind proffer, even while I blush to accept it at the hands of a stranger.”

“We are, I trust, no longer such,” said the goldsmith; “and for my guerdon, when my mediation proves successful, and your fortunes are re-established, you shall order your first cupboard of plate from George Heriot.”

“You would have a bad paymaster, Master Heriot,” said Lord Nigel.

“I do not fear that,” replied the goldsmith; “and I am glad to see you smile, my lord — methinks it makes you look still more like the good old lord your father; and it emboldens me, besides, to bring out a small request — that you would take a homely dinner with me to-morrow. I lodge hard by in Lombard Street. For the cheer, my lord, a mess of white broth, a fat capon well larded, a dish of beef collops for auld Scotland’s sake, and it may be a cup of right old wine, that was barrelled before Scotland and England were one nation — Then for company, one or two of our own loving countrymen — and maybe my housewife may find out a bonny Scots lass or so.”

“I would accept your courtesy, Master Heriot,” said Nigel, “but I hear the city ladies of London like to see a man gallant — I would not like to let down a Scottish nobleman in their ideas, as doubtless you have said the best of our poor country, and I rather lack the means of bravery for the present.”

“My lord, your frankness leads me a step farther,” said Master George. “I— I owed your father some monies; and — nay, if your lordship looks at me so fixedly, I shall never tell my story — and, to speak plainly, for I never could carry a lie well through in my life — it is most fitting, that, to solicit this matter properly, your lordship should go to Court in a manner beseeming your quality. I am a goldsmith, and live by lending money as well as by selling plate. I am ambitious to put an hundred pounds to be at interest in your hands, till your affairs are settled.”

“And if they are never favourably settled?” said Nigel.

“Then, my lord,” returned the citizen, “the miscarriage of such a sum will be of little consequence to me, compared with other subjects of regret.”

“Master Heriot,” said the Lord Nigel, “your favour is generously offered, and shall be frankly accepted. I must presume that you see your way through this business, though I hardly do; for I think you would be grieved to add any fresh burden to me, by persuading me to incur debts which I am not likely to discharge. I will therefore take your money, under the hope and trust that you will enable me to repay you punctually.”

“I will convince you, my lord,” said the goldsmith, “that I mean to deal with you as a creditor from whom I expect payment; and therefore, you shall, with your own good pleasure, sign an acknowledgment for these monies, and an obligation to content and repay me.”

He then took from his girdle his writing materials, and, writing a few lines to the purport he expressed, pulled out a small bag of gold from a side-pouch under his cloak, and, observing that it should contain an hundred pounds, proceeded to tell out the contents very methodically upon the table. Nigel Olifaunt could not help intimating that this was an unnecessary ceremonial, and that he would take the bag of gold on the word of his obliging creditor; but this was repugnant to the old man’s forms of transacting business.

“Bear with me,” he said, “my good lord — we citizens are a wary and thrifty generation; and I should lose my good name for ever within the toll of Paul’s, were I to grant quittance, or take acknowledgment, without bringing the money to actual tale. I think it be right now — and, body of me,” he said, looking out at the window, “yonder come my boys with my mule; for I must Westward Hoe. Put your monies aside, my lord; it is not well to be seen with such goldfinches chirping about one in the lodgings of London. I think the lock of your casket be indifferent good; if not, I can serve you at an easy rate with one that has held thousands; — it was the good old Sir Faithful Frugal’s; — his spendthrift son sold the shell when he had eaten the kernel — and there is the end of a city-fortune.”

“I hope yours will make a better termination, Master Heriot,” said the Lord Nigel.

“I hope it will, my lord,” said the old man, with a smile; “but,” to use honest John Bunyan’s phrase —‘therewithal the water stood in his eyes,’ “it has pleased God to try me with the loss of two children; and for one adopted shild who ives — Ah! woe is me! and well-a-day! — But I am patient and thankful; and for the wealth God has sent me, it shall not want inheritors while there are orphan lads in Auld Reekie. — I wish you good-morrow, my lord.”

“One orphan has cause to thank you already,” said Nigel, as he attended him to the door of his chamber, where, resisting further escort, the old citizen made his escape.

As, in going downstairs, he passed the shop where Dame Christie stood becking, he made civil inquiries after her husband. The dame of course regretted his absence; but he was down, she said, at Deptford, to settle with a Dutch ship-master.

“Our way of business, sir,” she said, “takes him much from home, and my husband must be the slave of every tarry jacket that wants but a pound of oakum.”

“All business must be minded, dame,” said the goldsmith. “Make my remembrances — George Heriot, of Lombard Street’s remembrances — to your goodman. I have dealt with him — he is just and punctual — true to time and engagements; — be kind to your noble guest, and see he wants nothing. Though it be his pleasure at present to lie private and retired, there be those that care for him, and I have a charge to see him supplied; so that you may let me know by your husband, my good dame, how my lord is, and whether he wants aught.”

“And so he is a real lord after all?” said the good dame. “I am sure I always thought he looked like one. But why does he not go to Parliament, then?”

“He will, dame,” answered Heriot, “to the Parliament of Scotland, which is his own country.”

“Oh! he is but a Scots lord, then,” said the good dame; “and that’s the thing makes him ashamed to take the title, as they say.”

“Let him not hear you say so, dame,” replied the citizen.

“Who, I, sir?” answered she; “no such matter in my thought, sir. Scot or English, he is at any rate a likely man, and a civil man; and rather than he should want any thing, I would wait upon him myself, and come as far as Lombard Street to wait upon your worship too.”

“Let your husband come to me, good dame,” said the goldsmith, who, with all his experience and worth, was somewhat of a formalist and disciplinarian. “The proverb says, ‘House goes mad when women gad;’ and let his lordship’s own man wait upon his master in his chamber — it is more seemly. God give ye good-morrow.”

“Good-morrow to your worship,” said the dame, somewhat coldly; and, so soon as the adviser was out of hearing, was ungracious enough to mutter, in contempt of his council, “Marry quep of your advice, for an old Scotch tinsmith, as you are! My husband is as wise, and very near as old, as yourself; and if I please him, it is well enough; and though he is not just so rich just now as some folks, yet I hope to see him ride upon his moyle, with a foot-cloth, and have his two blue-coats after him, as well as they do.”

8Meaning, probably, playbills.

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