The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 32

I strive like to the vessel in the tide-way,

Which, lacking favouring breeze, hath not the power

To stem the powerful current. — Even so,

Resolving daily to forsake my vices,

Habits, strong circumstance, renew’d temptation,

Sweep me to sea again. — O heavenly breath,

Fill thou my sails, and aid the feeble vessel,

Which ne’er can reach the blessed port without thee!

’Tis Odds when Evens meet.

Cleveland, with his friend Bunce, descended the hill for a time in silence, until at length the latter renewed their conversation.

“You have taken this fellow’s wound more on your conscience than you need, Captain — I have known you do more, and think less on’t.”

“Not on such slight provocation, Jack,” replied Cleveland. “Besides, the lad saved my life; and, say that I requited him the favour, still we should not have met on such evil terms; but I trust that he may receive aid from that woman, who has certainly strange skill in simples.”

“And over simpletons, Captain,” said his friend, “in which class I must e’en put you down, if you think more on this subject. That you should be made a fool of by a young woman, why it is many an honest man’s case; — but to puzzle your pate about the mummeries of an old one, is far too great a folly to indulge a friend in. Talk to me of your Minna, since you so call her, as much as you will; but you have no title to trouble your faithful squire-errant with your old mumping magician. And now here we are once more amongst the booths and tents, which these good folk are pitching — let us look, and see whether we may not find some fun and frolic amongst them. In merry England, now, you would have seen, on such an occasion, two or three bands of strollers, as many fire-eaters and conjurers, as many shows of wild beasts; but, amongst these grave folk, there is nothing but what savours of business and of commodity — no, not so much as a single squall from my merry gossip Punch and his rib Joan.”

As Bunce thus spoke, Cleveland cast his eyes on some very gay clothes, which, with other articles, hung out upon one of the booths, that had a good deal more of ornament and exterior decoration than the rest. There was in front a small sign of canvass painted, announcing the variety of goods which the owner of the booth, Bryce Snailsfoot, had on sale, and the reasonable prices at which he proposed to offer them to the public. For the further gratification of the spectator, the sign bore on the opposite side an emblematic device, resembling our first parents in their vegetable garments, with this legend —

“Poor sinners whom the snake deceives,

Are fain to cover them with leaves.

Zetland hath no leaves, ’tis true,

Because that trees are none, or few;

But we have flax and taits of woo’,

For linen cloth and wadmaal blue;

And we have many of foreign knacks

Of finer waft, than woo’ or flax.

Ye gallanty Lambmas lads,31 appear,

And bring your Lambmas sisters here;

Bryce Snailsfoot spares not cost or care,

To pleasure every gentle pair.”

While Cleveland was perusing these goodly rhymes, which brought to his mind Claud Halcro, to whom, as the poet laureate of the island, ready with his talent alike in the service of the great and small, they probably owed their origin, the worthy proprietor of the booth, having cast his eye upon him, began with hasty and trembling hand to remove some of the garments, which, as the sale did not commence till the ensuing day, he had exposed either for the purpose of airing them, or to excite the admiration of the spectators.

“By my word, Captain,” whispered Bunce to Cleveland, “you must have had that fellow under your clutches one day, and he remembers one gripe of your talons, and fears another. See how fast he is packing his wares out of sight, so soon as he set eyes on you!”

His wares!” said Cleveland, on looking more attentively at his proceedings; “By Heaven, they are my clothes which I left in a chest at Jarlshof when the Revenge was lost there — Why, Bryce Snailsfoot, thou thief, dog, and villain, what means this? Have you not made enough of us by cheap buying and dear selling, that you have seized on my trunk and wearing apparel?”

Bryce Snailsfoot, who probably would otherwise not have been willing to see his friend the Captain, was now by the vivacity of his attack obliged to pay attention to him. He first whispered to his little foot-page, by whom, as we have already noticed, he was usually attended, “Run to the town-council-house, jarto, and tell the provost and bailies they maun send some of their officers speedily, for here is like to be wild wark in the fair.”

So having said, and having seconded his commands by a push on the shoulder of his messenger, which sent him spinning out of the shop as fast as heels could carry him, Bryce Snailsfoot turned to his old acquaintance, and, with that amplification of words and exaggeration of manner, which in Scotland is called “making a phrase,” he ejaculated —“The Lord be gude to us! the worthy Captain Cleveland, that we were all sae grieved about, returned to relieve our hearts again! Wat have my cheeks been for you,” (here Bryce wiped his eyes,) “and blithe am I now to see you restored to your sorrowing friends!”

“My sorrowing friends, you rascal!” said Cleveland; “I will give you better cause for sorrow than ever you had on my account, if you do not tell me instantly where you stole all my clothes.”

“Stole!” ejaculated Bryce, casting up his eyes; “now the Powers be gude to us! — the poor gentleman has lost his reason in that weary gale of wind.”

“Why, you insolent rascal!” said Cleveland, grasping the cane which he carried, “do you think to bamboozle me with your impudence? As you would have a whole head on your shoulders, and your bones in a whole skin, one minute longer, tell me where the devil you stole my wearing apparel?”

Bryce Snailsfoot ejaculated once more a repetition of the word “Stole! Now Heaven be gude to us!” but at the same time, conscious that the Captain was likely to be sudden in execution, cast an anxious look to the town, to see the loitering aid of the civil power advance to his rescue.

“I insist on an instant answer,” said the Captain, with upraised weapon, “or else I will beat you to a mummy, and throw out all your frippery upon the common!”

Meanwhile, Master John Bunce, who considered the whole affair as an excellent good jest, and not the worse one that it made Cleveland very angry, seized hold of the Captain’s arm, and, without any idea of ultimately preventing him from executing his threats, interfered just so much as was necessary to protract a discussion so amusing.

“Nay, let the honest man speak,” he said, “messmate; he has as fine a cozening face as ever stood on a knavish pair of shoulders, and his are the true flourishes of eloquence, in the course of which men snip the cloth an inch too short. Now, I wish you to consider that you are both of a trade — he measures bales by the yard, and you by the sword — and so I will not have him chopped up till he has had a fair chase.”

“You are a fool!” said Cleveland, endeavouring to shake his friend off. —“Let me go! for, by Heaven, I will be foul of him!”

“Hold him fast,” said the pedlar, “good dear merry gentleman, hold him fast!”

“Then say something for yourself,” said Bunce; “use your gob-box, man; patter away, or, by my soul, I will let him loose on you!”

“He says I stole these goods,” said Bryce, who now saw himself run so close, that pleading to the charge became inevitable. “Now, how could I steal them, when they are mine by fair and lawful purchase?”

“Purchase! you beggarly vagrant!” said Cleveland; “from whom did you dare to buy my clothes? or who had the impudence to sell them?”

“Just that worthy professor Mrs. Swertha, the housekeeper at Jarlshof, who acted as your executor,” said the pedlar; “and a grieved heart she had.”

“And so she was resolved to make a heavy pocket of it, I suppose,” said the Captain; “but how did she dare to sell the things left in her charge?”

“Why, she acted all for the best, good woman!” said the pedlar, anxious to protract the discussion until the arrival of succours; “and, if you will but hear reason, I am ready to account with you for the chest and all that it holds.”

“Speak out, then, and let us have none of thy damnable evasions,” said Captain Cleveland; “if you show ever so little purpose of being somewhat honest for once in thy life, I will not beat thee.”

“Why, you see, noble Captain,” said the pedlar — and then muttered to himself, “plague on Pate Paterson’s cripple knee, they will be waiting for him, hirpling useless body!” then resumed aloud —“The country, you see, is in great perplexity — great perplexity, indeed — much perplexity, truly. There was your honour missing, that was loved by great and small — clean missing — nowhere to be heard of — a lost man — umquhile — dead — defunct!”

“You shall find me alive to your cost, you scoundrel!” said the irritated Captain.

“Weel, but take patience — ye will not hear a body speak,” said the Jagger. —“Then there was the lad Mordaunt Mertoun”——

“Ha!” said the Captain, “what of him?”

“Cannot be heard of,” said the pedlar; “clean and clear tint — a gone youth; — fallen, it is thought, from the craig into the sea — he was aye venturous. I have had dealings with him for furs and feathers, whilk he swapped against powder and shot, and the like; and now he has worn out from among us — clean retired — utterly vanished, like the last puff of an auld wife’s tobacco pipe.”

“But what is all this to the Captain’s clothes, my dear friend?” said Bunce; “I must presently beat you myself unless you come to the point.”

“Weel, weel — patience, patience,” said Bryce, waving his hand; “you will get all time enough. Weel, there are two folks gane, as I said, forbye the distress at Burgh-Westra about Mistress Minna’s sad ailment”——

“Bring not her into your buffoonery, sirrah,” said Cleveland, in a tone of anger, not so loud, but far deeper and more concentrated than he had hitherto used; “for, if you name her with less than reverence, I will crop the ears out of your head, and make you swallow them on the spot!”

“He, he, he!” faintly laughed the Jagger; “that were a pleasant jest! you are pleased to be witty. But, to say naething of Burgh-Westra, there is the carle at Jarlshof, he that was the auld Mertoun, Mordaunt’s father, whom men thought as fast bound to the place he dwelt in as the Sumburgh-head itsell, naething maun serve him but he is lost as weel as the lave about whom I have spoken. And there’s Magnus Troil (wi’ favour be he named) taking horse; and there is pleasant Maister Claud Halcro taking boat, whilk he steers worst of any man in Zetland, his head running on rambling rhymes; and the Factor body is on the stir — the Scots Factor — him that is aye speaking of dikes and delving, and such unprofitable wark, which has naething of merchandise in it, and he is on the lang trot, too; so that ye might say, upon a manner, the tae half of the Mainland of Zetland is lost, and the other is running to and fro seeking it — awfu’ times!”

Captain Cleveland had subdued his passion, and listened to this tirade of the worthy man of merchandise, with impatience indeed, yet not without the hope of hearing something that might concern him. But his companion was now become impatient in his turn:—“The clothes!” he exclaimed, “the clothes, the clothes, the clothes!” accompanying each repetition of the words with a flourish of his cane, the dexterity of which consisted in coming mighty near the Jagger’s ears without actually touching them.

The Jagger, shrinking from each of these demonstrations, continued to exclaim, “Nay, sir — good sir — worthy sir — for the clothes — I found the worthy dame in great distress on account of her old maister, and on account of her young maister, and on account of worthy Captain Cleveland; and because of the distress of the worthy Fowd’s family, and the trouble of the great Fowd himself — and because of the Factor, and in respect of Claud Halcro, and on other accounts and respects. Also we mingled our sorrows and our tears with a bottle, as the holy text hath it, and called in the Ranzelman to our council, a worthy man, Niel Ronaldson by name, who hath a good reputation.”

Here another flourish of the cane came so very near that it partly touched his ear. The Jagger started back, and the truth, or that which he desired should be considered as such, bolted from him without more circumlocution; as a cork, after much unnecessary buzzing and fizzing, springs forth from a bottle of spruce beer.

“In brief, what the deil mair would you have of it? — the woman sold me the kist of clothes — they are mine by purchase, and that is what I will live and die upon.”

“In other words,” said Cleveland, “this greedy old hag had the impudence to sell what was none of hers; and you, honest Bryce Snailsfoot, had the assurance to be the purchaser?”

“Ou dear, Captain,” said the conscientious pedlar, “what wad ye hae had twa poor folk to do? There was yoursell gane that aught the things, and Maister Mordaunt was gane that had them in keeping, and the things were but damply put up, where they were rotting with moth and mould, and”——

“And so this old thief sold them, and you bought them, I suppose, just to keep them from spoiling?” said Cleveland.

“Weel then,” said the merchant, “I’m thinking, noble Captain, that wad be just the gate of it.”

“Well then, hark ye, you impudent scoundrel,” said the Captain. “I do not wish to dirty my fingers with you, or to make any disturbance in this place”——

“Good reason for that, Captain — aha!” said the Jagger, slyly.

“I will break your bones if you speak another word,” replied Cleveland. “Take notice — I offer you fair terms — give me back the black leathern pocket-book with the lock upon it, and the purse with the doubloons, with some few of the clothes I want, and keep the rest in the devil’s name!”

“Doubloons!!!”— exclaimed the Jagger, with an exaltation of voice intended to indicate the utmost extremity of surprise — “What do I ken of doubloons? my dealing was for doublets, and not for doubloons — If there were doubloons in the kist, doubtless Swertha will have them in safe keeping for your honour — the damp wouldna harm the gold, ye ken.”

“Give me back my pocket-book and my goods, you rascally thief,” said Cleveland, “or without a word more I will beat your brains out!”

The wily Jagger, casting eye around him, saw that succour was near, in the shape of a party of officers, six in number; for several rencontres with the crew of the pirate had taught the magistrates of Kirkwall to strengthen their police parties when these strangers were in question.

“Ye had better keep the thief to suit yoursell, honoured Captain,” said the Jagger, emboldened by the approach of the civil power; “for wha kens how a’ these fine goods and bonny-dies were come by?”

This was uttered with such provoking slyness of look and tone, that Cleveland made no further delay, but, seizing upon the Jagger by the collar, dragged him over his temporary counter, which was, with all the goods displayed thereon, overset in the scuffle; and, holding him with one hand, inflicted on him with the other a severe beating with his cane. All this was done so suddenly and with such energy, that Bryce Snailsfoot, though rather a stout man, was totally surprised by the vivacity of the attack, and made scarce any other effort at extricating himself than by roaring for assistance like a bull-calf. The “loitering aid” having at length come up, the officers made an effort to seize on Cleveland, and by their united exertions succeeded in compelling him to quit hold of the pedlar, in order to defend himself from their assault. This he did with infinite strength, resolution, and dexterity, being at the same time well seconded by his friend Jack Bunce, who had seen with glee the drubbing sustained by the pedlar, and now combated tightly to save his companion from the consequences. But, as there had been for some time a growing feud between the townspeople and the crew of the Rover, the former, provoked by the insolent deportment of the seamen, had resolved to stand by each other, and to aid the civil power upon such occasions of riot as should occur in future; and so many assistants came up to the rescue of the constables, that Cleveland, after fighting most manfully, was at length brought to the ground and made prisoner. His more fortunate companion had escaped by speed of foot, as soon as he saw that the day must needs be determined against them.

The proud heart of Cleveland, which, even in its perversion, had in its feelings something of original nobleness, was like to burst, when he felt himself borne down in this unworthy brawl — dragged into the town as a prisoner, and hurried through the streets towards the Council-house, where the magistrates of the burgh were then seated in council. The probability of imprisonment, with all its consequences, rushed also upon his mind, and he cursed an hundred times the folly which had not rather submitted to the pedlar’s knavery, than involved him in so perilous an embarrassment.

But just as they approached the door of the Council-house, which is situated in the middle of the little town, the face of matters was suddenly changed by a new and unexpected incident.

Bunce, who had designed, by his precipitate retreat, to serve as well his friend as himself, had hied him to the haven, where the boat of the Rover was then lying, and called the cockswain and boat’s crew to the assistance of Cleveland. They now appeared on the scene — fierce desperadoes, as became their calling, with features bronzed by the tropical sun under which they had pursued it. They rushed at once amongst the crowd, laying about them with their stretchers; and, forcing their way up to Cleveland, speedily delivered him from the hands of the officers, who were totally unprepared to resist an attack so furious and so sudden, and carried him off in triumph towards the quay — two or three of their number facing about from time to time to keep back the crowd, whose efforts to recover the prisoner were the less violent, that most of the seamen were armed with pistols and cutlasses, as well as with the less lethal weapons which alone they had as yet made use of.

They gained their boat in safety, and jumped into it, carrying along with them Cleveland, to whom circumstances seemed to offer no other refuge, and pushed off for their vessel, singing in chorus to their oars an old ditty, of which the natives of Kirkwall could only hear the first stanza:

“Robin Rover

Said to his crew,

‘Up with the black flag,

Down with the blue! —

Fire on the main-top,

Fire on the bow,

Fire on the gun-deck,

Fire down below!’”

The wild chorus of their voices was heard long after the words ceased to be intelligible. — And thus was the pirate Cleveland again thrown almost involuntarily amongst those desperate associates, from whom he had so often resolved to detach himself.

31 It was anciently a custom at Saint Olla’s Fair at Kirkwall, that the young people of the lower class, and of either sex, associated in pairs for the period of the Fair, during which the couple were termed Lambmas brother and sister. It is easy to conceive that the exclusive familiarity arising out of this custom was liable to abuse, the rather that it is said little scandal was attached to the indiscretions which it occasioned.

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