The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 35.

“I left my poor plough to go ploughing the deep!”


When the Provost and Cleveland had returned into the public council-room, the former retired a second time with such of his brethren as he thought proper to advise with; and, while they were engaged in discussing Cleveland’s proposal, refreshments were offered to him and his party. These the Captain permitted his people to partake of, but with the greatest precaution against surprisal, one party relieving the guard, whilst the others were at their food.

He himself, in the meanwhile, walked up and down the apartment, and conversed upon indifferent subjects with those present, like a person quite at his ease.

Amongst these individuals he saw, somewhat to his surprise, Triptolemus Yellowley, who, chancing to be at Kirkwall, had been summoned by the Magistrates, as representative, in a certain degree, of the Lord Chamberlain, to attend council on this occasion. Cleveland immediately renewed the acquaintance which he had formed with the agriculturist at Burgh-Westra, and asked him his present business in Orkney.

“Just to look after some of my little plans, Captain Cleveland. I am weary of fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus yonder, and I just cam ower to see how my orchard was thriving, whilk I had planted four or five miles from Kirkwall, it may be a year bygane, and how the bees were thriving, whereof I had imported nine skeps, for the improvement of the country, and for the turning of the heather-bloom into wax and honey.”

“And they thrive, I hope?” said Cleveland, who, however little interested in the matter, sustained the conversation, as if to break the chilly and embarrassed silence which hung upon the company assembled.

“Thrive!” replied Triptolemus; “they thrive like every thing else in this country, and that is the backward way.”

“Want of care, I suppose?” said Cleveland.

“The contrary, sir, quite and clean the contrary,” replied the Factor; “they died of ower muckle care, like Lucky Christie’s chickens. — I asked to see the skeps, and cunning and joyful did the fallow look who was to have taken care of them —‘Had there been ony body in charge but mysell,’ he said, ‘ye might have seen the skeps, or whatever you ca’ them; but there wad hae been as mony solan-geese as flees in them, if it hadna been for my four quarters; for I watched them so closely, that I saw them a’ creeping out at the little holes one sunny morning, and if I had not stopped the leak on the instant with a bit clay, the deil a bee, or flee, or whatever they are, would have been left in the skeps, as ye ca’ them!’— In a word, sir, he had clagged up the hives, as if the puir things had had the pestilence, and my bees were as dead as if they had been smeaked — and so ends my hope, generandi gloria mellis, as Virgilius hath it.”

“There is an end of your mead, then,” replied Cleveland; “but what is your chance of cider? — How does the orchard thrive?”

“O Captain! this same Solomon of the Orcadian Ophir — I am sure no man need to send thither to fetch either talents of gold or talents of sense! — I say, this wise man had watered the young apple-trees, in his great tenderness, with hot water, and they are perished, root and branch! But what avails grieving? — And I wish you would tell me, instead, what is all the din that these good folks are making about pirates? and what for all these ill-looking men, that are armed like so mony Highlandmen, assembled in the judgment-chamber? — for I am just come from the other side of the island, and I have heard nothing distinct about it. — And, now I look at you yoursell, Captain, I think you have mair of these foolish pistolets about you than should suffice an honest man in quiet times?”

“And so I think, too,” said the pacific Triton, old Haagen, who had been an unwilling follower of the daring Montrose; “if you had been in the Glen of Edderachyllis, when we were sae sair worried by Sir John Worry”——

“You have forgot the whole matter, neighbour Haagen,” said the Factor; “Sir John Urry was on your side, and was ta’en with Montrose; by the same token, he lost his head.”

“Did he?” said the Triton. —“I believe you may be right; for he changed sides mair than anes, and wha kens whilk he died for? — But always he was there, and so was I; — a fight there was, and I never wish to see another!”

The entrance of the Provost here interrupted their desultory conversation. —“We have determined,” he said, “Captain, that your ship shall go round to Stromness, or Scalpa-flow, to take in stores, in order that there may be no more quarrels between the Fair folks and your seamen. And as you wish to stay on shore to see the Fair, we intend to send a respectable gentleman on board your vessel to pilot her round the Mainland, as the navigation is but ticklish.”

“Spoken like a quiet and sensible magistrate, Mr. Mayor,” said Cleveland, “and no otherwise than as I expected. — And what gentleman is to honour our quarter-deck during my absence?”

“We have fixed that, too, Captain Cleveland,” said the Provost; “you may be sure we were each more desirous than another to go upon so pleasant a voyage, and in such good company; but being Fair time, most of us have some affairs in hand — I myself, in respect of my office, cannot be well spared — the eldest Bailie’s wife is lying-in — the Treasurer does not agree with the sea — two Bailies have the gout — the other two are absent from town — and the other fifteen members of council are all engaged on particular business.”

“All that I can tell you, Mr. Mayor,” said Cleveland, raising his voice, “is, that I expect”——

“A moment’s patience, if you please, Captain,” said the Provost, interrupting him —“So that we have come to the resolution that our worthy Mr. Triptolemus Yellowley, who is Factor to the Lord Chamberlain of these islands, shall, in respect of his official situation, be preferred to the honour and pleasure of accompanying you.”

“Me!” said the astonished Triptolemus; “what the devil should I do going on your voyages? — my business is on dry land!”

“The gentlemen want a pilot,” said the Provost, whispering to him, “and there is no eviting to give them one.”

“Do they want to go bump on shore, then?” said the Factor —“how the devil should I pilot them, that never touched rudder in my life?”

“Hush! — hush! — be silent!” said the Provost; “if the people of this town heard ye say such a word, your utility, and respect, and rank, and every thing else, is clean gone! — No man is any thing with us island folks, unless he can hand, reef, and steer. — Besides, it is but a mere form; and we will send old Pate Sinclair to help you. You will have nothing to do but to eat, drink, and be merry all day.”

“Eat and drink!” said the Factor, not able to comprehend exactly why this piece of duty was pressed upon him so hastily, and yet not very capable of resisting or extricating himself from the toils of the more knowing Provost —“Eat and drink? — that is all very well; but, to speak truth, the sea does not agree with me any more than with the Treasurer; and I have always a better appetite for eating and drinking ashore.”

“Hush! hush! hush!” again said the Provost, in an under tone of earnest expostulation; “would you actually ruin your character out and out? — A Factor of the High Chamberlain of the Isles of Orkney and Zetland, and not like the sea! — you might as well say you are a Highlander, and do not like whisky!”

“You must settle it somehow, gentlemen,” said Captain Cleveland; “it is time we were under weigh. — Mr. Triptolemus Yellowley, are we to be honoured with your company?”

“I am sure, Captain Cleveland,” stammered the Factor, “I would have no objection to go anywhere with you — only”——

“He has no objection,” said the Provost, catching at the first limb of the sentence, without awaiting the conclusion.

“He has no objection,” cried the Treasurer.

“He has no objection,” sung out the whole four Bailies together; and the fifteen Councillors, all catching up the same phrase of assent, repeated it in chorus, with the additions of —“good man”—“public-spirited”—“honourable gentleman”—“burgh eternally obliged”—“where will you find such a worthy Factor?” and so forth.

Astonished and confused at the praises with which he was overwhelmed on all sides, and in no shape understanding the nature of the transaction that was going forward, the astounded and overwhelmed agriculturist became incapable of resisting the part of the Kirkwall Curtius thus insidiously forced upon him, and was delivered up by Captain Cleveland to his party, with the strictest injunctions to treat him with honour and attention. Goffe and his companions began now to lead him off, amid the applauses of the whole meeting, after the manner in which the victim of ancient days was garlanded and greeted by shouts, when consigned to the priests, for the purpose of being led to the altar, and knocked on the head, a sacrifice for the commonweal. It was while they thus conducted, and in a manner forced him out of the Council-chamber, that poor Triptolemus, much alarmed at finding that Cleveland, in whom he had some confidence, was to remain behind the party, tried, when just going out at the door, the effect of one remonstrating bellow. —“Nay, but, Provost! — Captain! — Bailies! — Treasurer! Councillors! — if Captain Cleveland does not go aboard to protect me, it is nae bargain, and go I will not, unless I am trailed with cart-ropes!”

His protest was, however, drowned in the unanimous chorus of the Magistrates and Councillors, returning him thanks for his public spirit — wishing him a good voyage — and praying to Heaven for his happy and speedy return. Stunned and overwhelmed, and thinking, if he had any distinct thoughts at all, that remonstrance was vain, where friends and strangers seemed alike determined to carry the point against him, Triptolemus, without farther resistance, suffered himself to be conducted into the street, where the pirate’s boat’s-crew, assembling around him, began to move slowly towards the quay, many of the townsfolk following out of curiosity, but without any attempt at interference or annoyance; for the pacific compromise which the dexterity of the first Magistrate had achieved, was unanimously approved of as a much better settlement of the disputes betwixt them and the strangers, than might have been attained by the dubious issue of an appeal to arms.

Meanwhile, as they went slowly along, Triptolemus had time to study the appearance, countenance, and dress, of those into whose hands he had been thus delivered, and began to imagine that he read in their looks, not only the general expression of a desperate character, but some sinister intentions directed particularly towards himself. He was alarmed by the truculent looks of Goffe, in particular, who, holding his arm with a gripe which resembled in delicacy of touch the compression of a smith’s vice, cast on him from the outer corner of his eye oblique glances, like those which the eagle throws upon the prey which she has clutched, ere yet she proceeds, as it is technically called, to plume it. At length Yellowley’s fears got so far the better of his prudence, that he fairly asked his terrible conductor, in a sort of crying whisper, “Are you going to murder me, Captain, in the face of the laws baith of God and man?”

“Hold your peace, if you are wise,” said Goffe, who had his own reasons for desiring to increase the panic of his captive; “we have not murdered a man these three months, and why should you put us in mind of it?”

“You are but joking, I hope, good worthy Captain!” replied Triptolemus. “This is worse than witches, dwarfs, dirking of whales, and cowping of cobles, put all together! — this is an away-ganging crop, with a vengeance! — What good, in Heaven’s name, would murdering me do to you?”

“We might have some pleasure in it, at least,” said Goffe. —“Look these fellows in the face, and see if you see one among them that would not rather kill a man than let it alone? — But we will speak more of that when you have first had a taste of the bilboes — unless, indeed, you come down with a handsome round handful of Chili boards37 for your ransom.”

“As I shall live by bread, Captain,” answered the Factor, “that misbegotten dwarf has carried off the whole hornful of silver!”

“A cat-and-nine-tails will make you find it again,” said Goffe, gruffly; “flogging and pickling is an excellent receipt to bring a man’s wealth into his mind — twisting a bowstring round his skull till the eyes start a little, is a very good remembrancer too.”

“Captain,” replied Yellowley, stoutly, “I have no money — seldom can improvers have. We turn pasture to tillage, and barley into aits, and heather into greensward, and the poor yarpha, as the benighted creatures here call their peat-bogs, into baittle grass-land; but we seldom make any thing of it that comes back to our ain pouch. The carles and the cart-avers make it all, and the carles and the cart-avers eat it all, and the deil clink doun with it!”

“Well, well,” said Goffe, “if you be really a poor fellow, as you pretend, I’ll stand your friend;” then, inclining his head so as to reach the ear of the Factor, who stood on tiptoe with anxiety, he said, “If you love your life, do not enter the boat with us.”

“But how am I to get away from you, while you hold me so fast by the arm, that I could not get off if the whole year’s crop of Scotland depended on it?”

“Hark ye, you gudgeon,” said Goffe, “just when you come to the water’s edge, and when the fellows are jumping in and taking their oars, slue yourself round suddenly to the larboard — I will let go your arm — and then cut and run for your life!”

Triptolemus did as he was desired, Goffe’s willing hand relaxed the grasp as he had promised, the agriculturist trundled off like a football that has just received a strong impulse from the foot of one of the players, and, with celerity which surprised himself as well as all beholders, fled through the town of Kirkwall. Nay, such was the impetus of his retreat, that, as if the grasp of the pirate was still open to pounce upon him, he never stopped till he had traversed the whole town, and attained the open country on the other side. They who had seen him that day — his hat and wig lost in the sudden effort he had made to bolt forward, his cravat awry, and his waistcoat unbuttoned — and who had an opportunity of comparing his round spherical form and short legs with the portentous speed at which he scoured through the street, might well say, that if Fury ministers arms, Fear confers wings. His very mode of running seemed to be that peculiar to his fleecy care, for, like a ram in the midst of his race, he ever and anon encouraged himself by a great bouncing attempt at a leap, though there were no obstacles in his way.

There was no pursuit after the agriculturist; and though a musket or two were presented, for the purpose of sending a leaden messenger after him, yet Goffe, turning peace-maker for once in his life, so exaggerated the dangers that would attend a breach of the truce with the people of Kirkwall, that he prevailed upon the boat’s crew to forbear any active hostilities, and to pull off for their vessel with all dispatch.

The burghers, who regarded the escape of Triptolemus as a triumph on their side, gave the boat three cheers, by way of an insulting farewell; while the Magistrates, on the other hand, entertained great anxiety respecting the probable consequences of this breach of articles between them and the pirates; and, could they have seized upon the fugitive very privately, instead of complimenting him with a civic feast in honour of the agility which he displayed, it is likely they might have delivered the runaway hostage once more into the hands of his foemen. But it was impossible to set their face publicly to such an act of violence, and therefore they contented themselves with closely watching Cleveland, whom they determined to make responsible for any aggression which might be attempted by the pirates. Cleveland, on his part, easily conjectured that the motive which Goffe had for suffering the hostage to escape, was to leave him answerable for all consequences, and, relying more on the attachment and intelligence of his friend and adherent, Frederick Altamont, alias Jack Bunce, than on any thing else, expected the result with considerable anxiety, since the Magistrates, though they continued to treat him with civility, plainly intimated they would regulate his treatment by the behaviour of the crew, though he no longer commanded them.

It was not, however, without some reason that he reckoned on the devoted fidelity of Bunce; for no sooner did that trusty adherent receive from Goffe, and the boat’s crew, the news of the escape of Triptolemus, than he immediately concluded it had been favoured by the late Captain, in order that, Cleveland being either put to death or consigned to hopeless imprisonment, Goffe might be called upon to resume the command of the vessel.

“But the drunken old boatswain shall miss his mark,” said Bunce to his confederate Fletcher; “or else I am contented to quit the name of Altamont, and be called Jack Bunce, or Jack Dunce, if you like it better, to the end of the chapter.”

Availing himself accordingly of a sort of nautical eloquence, which his enemies termed slack-jaw, Bunce set before the crew, in a most animated manner, the disgrace which they all sustained, by their Captain remaining, as he was pleased to term it, in the bilboes, without any hostage to answer for his safety; and succeeded so far, that, besides exciting a good deal of discontent against Goffe, he brought the crew to the resolution of seizing the first vessel of a tolerable appearance, and declaring that the ship, crew, and cargo, should be dealt with according to the usage which Cleveland should receive on shore. It was judged at the same time proper to try the faith of the Orcadians, by removing from the roadstead of Kirkwall, and going round to that of Stromness, where, according to the treaty betwixt Provost Torfe and Captain Cleveland, they were to victual their sloop. They resolved, in the meantime, to intrust the command of the vessel to a council, consisting of Goffe, the boatswain, and Bunce himself, until Cleveland should be in a situation to resume his command.

These resolutions having been proposed and acceded to, they weighed anchor, and got their sloop under sail, without experiencing any opposition or annoyance from the battery, which relieved them of one important apprehension incidental to their situation.

37 Commonly called by landsmen, Spanish dollars.

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