The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 41.

Joy, joy, in London now!


The news of the capture of the Rover reached Kirkwall, about an hour before noon, and filled all men with wonder and with joy. Little business was that day done at the Fair, whilst people of all ages and occupations streamed from the place to see the prisoners as they were marched towards Kirkwall, and to triumph in the different appearance which they now bore, from that which they had formerly exhibited when ranting, swaggering, and bullying in the streets of that town. The bayonets of the marines were soon seen to glisten in the sun, and then came on the melancholy troop of captives, handcuffed two and two together. Their finery had been partly torn from them by their captors, partly hung in rags about them; many were wounded and covered with blood, many blackened and scorched with the explosion, by which a few of the most desperate had in vain striven to blow up the vessel. Most of them seemed sullen and impenitent, some were more becomingly affected with their condition, and a few braved it out, and sung the same ribald songs to which they had made the streets of Kirkwall ring when they were in their frolics.

The Boatswain and Goffe, coupled together, exhausted themselves in threats and imprecations against each other; the former charging Goffe with want of seamanship, and the latter alleging that the Boatswain had prevented him from firing the powder that was stowed forward, and so sending them all to the other world together. Last came Cleveland and Bunce, who were permitted to walk unshackled; the decent melancholy, yet resolved manner of the former, contrasting strongly with the stage strut and swagger which poor Jack thought it fitting to assume, in order to conceal some less dignified emotions. The former was looked upon with compassion, the latter with a mixture of scorn and pity; while most of the others inspired horror, and even fear, by their looks and their language.

There was one individual in Kirkwall, who was so far from hastening to see the sight which attracted all eyes, that he was not even aware of the event which agitated the town. This was the elder Mertoun, whose residence Kirkwall had been for two or three days, part of which had been spent in attending to some judicial proceedings, undertaken at the instance of the Procurator Fiscal, against that grave professor, Bryce Snailsfoot. In consequence of an inquisition into the proceedings of this worthy trader, Cleveland’s chest, with his papers and other matters therein contained, had been restored to Mertoun, as the lawful custodier thereof, until the right owner should be in a situation to establish his right to them. Mertoun was at first desirous to throw back upon Justice the charge which she was disposed to intrust him with; but, on perusing one or two of the papers, he hastily changed his mind — in broken words, requested the Magistrate to let the chest be sent to his lodgings, and, hastening homeward, bolted himself into the room, to consider and digest the singular information which chance had thus conveyed to him, and which increased, in a tenfold degree, his impatience for an interview with the mysterious Norna of the Fitful-head.

It may be remembered that she had required of him, when they met in the Churchyard of Saint Ninian, to attend in the outer isle of the Cathedral of Saint Magnus, at the hour of noon, on the fifth day of the Fair of Saint Olla, there to meet a person by whom the fate of Mordaunt would be explained to him. —“It must be herself,” he said; “and that I should see her at this moment is indispensable. How to find her sooner, I know not; and better lose a few hours even in this exigence, than offend her by a premature attempt to force myself on her presence.”

Long, therefore, before noon — long before the town of Kirkwall was agitated by the news of the events on the other side of the island, the elder Mertoun was pacing the deserted aisle of the Cathedral, awaiting, with agonizing eagerness, the expected communication from Norna. The bell tolled twelve — no door opened — no one was seen to enter the Cathedral; but the last sounds had not ceased to reverberate through the vaulted roof, when, gliding from one of the interior side-aisles, Norna stood before him. Mertoun, indifferent to the apparent mystery of her sudden approach, (with the secret of which the reader is acquainted,) went up to her at once, with the earnest ejaculation —“Ulla — Ulla Troil — aid me to save our unhappy boy!”

“To Ulla Troil,” said Norna, “I answer not — I gave that name to the winds, on the night that cost me a father!”

“Speak not of that night of horror,” said Mertoun; “we have need of our reason — let us not think on recollections which may destroy it; but aid me, if thou canst, to save our unfortunate child!”

“Vaughan,” answered Norna, “he is already saved — long since saved; think you a mother’s hand — and that of such a mother as I am — would await your crawling, tardy, ineffectual assistance? No, Vaughan — I make myself known to you, but to show my triumph over you — it is the only revenge which the powerful Norna permits herself to take for the wrongs of Ulla Troil.”

“Have you indeed saved him — saved him from the murderous crew?” said Mertoun, or Vaughan —“speak! — and speak truth! — I will believe every thing — all you would require me to assent to! — prove to me only he is escaped and safe!”

“Escaped and safe, by my means,” said Norna —“safe, and in assurance of an honoured and happy alliance. Yes, great unbeliever! — yes, wise and self-opinioned infidel! — these were the works of Norna! I knew you many a year since; but never had I made myself known to you, save with the triumphant consciousness of having controlled the destiny that threatened my son. All combined against him — planets which threatened drowning — combinations which menaced blood — but my skill was superior to all. — I arranged — I combined — I found means — I made them — each disaster has been averted; — and what infidel on earth, or stubborn demon beyond the bounds of earth, shall hereafter deny my power?”

The wild ecstasy with which she spoke, so much resembled triumphant insanity, that Mertoun answered —“Were your pretensions less lofty, and your speech more plain, I should be better assured of my son’s safety.”

“Doubt on, vain sceptic!” said Norna —“And yet know, that not only is our son safe, but vengeance is mine, though I sought it not — vengeance on the powerful implement of the darker Influences by whom my schemes were so often thwarted, and even the life of my son endangered. — Yes, take it as a guarantee of the truth of my speech, that Cleveland — the pirate Cleveland — even now enters Kirkwall as a prisoner, and will soon expiate with his life the having shed blood which is of kin to Norna’s.”

“Who didst thou say was prisoner?” exclaimed Mertoun, with a voice of thunder —“Who, woman, didst thou say should expiate his crimes with his life?”

“Cleveland — the pirate Cleveland!” answered Norna; “and by me, whose counsel he scorned, he has been permitted to meet his fate.”

“Thou most wretched of women!” said Mertoun, speaking from between his clenched teeth — “thou hast slain thy son, as well as thy father!”

“My son! — what son? — what mean you? — Mordaunt is your son — your only son!” exclaimed Norna —“is he not? — tell me quickly — is he not?”

“Mordaunt is indeed my son,” said Mertoun —“the laws, at least, gave him to me as such — But, O unhappy Ulla! Cleveland is your son as well as mine — blood of our blood, bone of our bone; and if you have given him to death, I will end my wretched life along with him!”

“Stay — hold — stop, Vaughan!” said Norna; “I am not yet overcome — prove but to me the truth of what you say, I would find help, if I should evoke hell! — But prove your words, else believe them I cannot.”

Thou help! wretched, overweening woman! — in what have thy combinations and thy stratagems — the legerdemain of lunacy — the mere quackery of insanity — in what have these involved thee? — and yet I will speak to thee as reasonable — nay, I will admit thee as powerful — Hear, then, Ulla, the proofs which you demand, and find a remedy, if thou canst:—

“When I fled from Orkney,” he continued, after a pause —“it is now five-and-twenty years since — I bore with me the unhappy offspring to whom you had given light. It was sent to me by one of your kinswomen, with an account of your illness, which was soon followed by a generally received belief of your death. It avails not to tell in what misery I left Europe. I found refuge in Hispaniola, wherein a fair young Spaniard undertook the task of comforter. I married her — she became mother of the youth called Mordaunt Mertoun.”

“You married her!” said Norna, in a tone of deep reproach.

“I did, Ulla,” answered Mertoun; “but you were avenged. She proved faithless, and her infidelity left me in doubts whether the child she bore had a right to call me father — But I also was avenged.”

“You murdered her!” said Norna, with a dreadful shriek.

“I did that,” said Mertoun, without a more direct reply, “which made an instant flight from Hispaniola necessary. Your son I carried with me to Tortuga, where we had a small settlement. Mordaunt Vaughan, my son by marriage, about three or four years younger, was residing in Port-Royal, for the advantages of an English education. I resolved never to see him again, but I continued to support him. Our settlement was plundered by the Spaniards, when Clement was but fifteen — Want came to aid despair and a troubled conscience. I became a corsair, and involved Clement in the same desperate trade. His skill and bravery, though then a mere boy, gained him a separate command; and after a lapse of two or three years, while we were on different cruises, my crew rose on me, and left me for dead on the beach of one of the Bermudas. I recovered, however, and my first enquiries, after a tedious illness, were after Clement. He, I heard, had been also marooned by a rebellious crew, and put ashore on a desert islet, to perish with want — I believed he had so perished.”

“And what assures you that he did not?” said Ulla; “or how comes this Cleveland to be identified with Vaughan?”

“To change a name is common with such adventurers,” answered Mertoun, “and Clement had apparently found that of Vaughan had become too notorious — and this change, in his case, prevented me from hearing any tidings of him. It was then that remorse seized me, and that, detesting all nature, but especially the sex to which Louisa belonged, I resolved to do penance in the wild islands of Zetland for the rest of my life. To subject myself to fasts and to the scourge, was the advice of the holy Catholic priests, whom I consulted. But I devised a nobler penance — I determined to bring with me the unhappy boy Mordaunt, and to keep always before me the living memorial of my misery and my guilt. I have done so, and I have thought over both, till reason has often trembled on her throne. And now, to drive me to utter madness, my Clement — my own, my undoubted son, revives from the dead to be consigned to an infamous death, by the machinations of his own mother!”

“Away, away!” said Norna, with a laugh, when she had heard the story to an end, “this is a legend framed by the old corsair, to interest my aid in favour of a guilty comrade. How could I mistake Mordaunt for my son, their ages being so different?”

“The dark complexion and manly stature may have done much,” said Basil Mertoun; “strong imagination must have done the rest.”

“But, give me proofs — give me proofs that this Cleveland is my son, and, believe me, this sun shall sooner sink in the east, than they shall have power to harm a hair of his head.”

“These papers, these journals,” said Mertoun, offering the pocket-book.

“I cannot read them,” she said, after an effort, “my brain is dizzy.”

“Clement has also tokens which you may remember, but they must have become the booty of his captors. He had a silver box with a Runic inscription, with which in far other days you presented me — a golden chaplet.”

“A box!” said Norna, hastily; “Cleveland gave me one but a day since — I have never looked at it till now.”

Eagerly she pulled it out — eagerly examined the legend around the lid, and as eagerly exclaimed —“They may now indeed call me Reimkennar, for by this rhyme I know myself murderess of my son, as well as of my father!”

The conviction of the strong delusion under which she had laboured, was so overwhelming, that she sunk down at the foot of one of the pillars — Mertoun shouted for help, though in despair of receiving any; the sexton, however, entered, and, hopeless of all assistance from Norna, the distracted father rushed out, to learn, if possible, the fate of his son.

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