The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 9.

This is a gentle trader, and a prudent.

He’s no Autolycus, to blear your eye,

With quips of worldly gauds and gamesomeness;

But seasons all his glittering merchandise

With wholesome doctrines, suited to the use,

As men sauce goose with sage and rosemary.

Old Play.

On the subsequent morning, Mordaunt, in answer to his father’s enquiries, began to give him some account of the shipwrecked mariner, whom he had rescued from the waves. But he had not proceeded far in recapitulating the particulars which Cleveland had communicated, when Mr. Mertoun’s looks became disturbed — he arose hastily, and, after pacing twice or thrice across the room, he retired into the inner chamber, to which he usually confined himself, while under the influence of his mental malady. In the evening he re-appeared, without any traces of his disorder; but it may be easily supposed that his son avoided recurring to the subject which had affected him.

Mordaunt Mertoun was thus left without assistance, to form at his leisure his own opinion respecting the new acquaintance which the sea had sent him; and, upon the whole, he was himself surprised to find the result less favourable to the stranger than he could well account for. There seemed to Mordaunt to be a sort of repelling influence about the man. True, he was a handsome man, of a frank and prepossessing manner, but there was an assumption of superiority about him, which Mordaunt did not quite so much like. Although he was so keen a sportsman as to be delighted with his acquisition of the Spanish-barrelled gun, and accordingly mounted and dismounted it with great interest, paying the utmost attention to the most minute parts about the lock and ornaments, yet he was, upon the whole, inclined to have some scruples about the mode in which he had acquired it.

“I should not have accepted it,” he thought; “perhaps Captain Cleveland might give it me as a sort of payment for the trifling service I did him; and yet it would have been churlish to refuse it in the way it was offered. I wish he had looked more like a man whom one would have chosen to be obliged to.”

But a successful day’s shooting reconciled him to his gun, and he became assured, like most young sportsmen in similar circumstances, that all other pieces were but pop-guns in comparison. But then, to be doomed to shoot gulls and seals, when there were Frenchmen and Spaniards to be come at — when there were ships to be boarded, and steersmen to be marked off, seemed but a dull and contemptible destiny. His father had mentioned his leaving these islands, and no other mode of occupation occurred to his inexperience, save that of the sea, with which he had been conversant from his infancy. His ambition had formerly aimed no higher than at sharing the fatigues and dangers of a Greenland fishing expedition; for it was in that scene that the Zetlanders laid most of their perilous adventures. But war was again raging, the history of Sir Francis Drake, Captain Morgan, and other bold adventurers, an account of whose exploits he had purchased from Bryce Snailsfoot, had made much impression on his mind, and the offer of Captain Cleveland to take him to sea, frequently recurred to him, although the pleasure of such a project was somewhat damped by a doubt, whether, in the long run, he should not find many objections to his proposed commander. Thus much he already saw, that he was opinionative, and might probably prove arbitrary; and that, since even his kindness was mingled with an assumption of superiority, his occasional displeasure might contain a great deal more of that disagreeable ingredient than could be palatable to those who sailed under him. And yet, after counting all risks, could his father’s consent be obtained, with what pleasure, he thought, would he embark in quest of new scenes and strange adventures, in which he proposed to himself to achieve such deeds as should be the theme of many a tale to the lovely sisters of Burgh-Westra — tales at which Minna should weep, and Brenda should smile, and both should marvel! And this was to be the reward of his labours and his dangers; for the hearth of Magnus Troil had a magnetic influence over his thoughts, and however they might traverse amid his day-dreams, it was the point where they finally settled.

There were times when Mordaunt thought of mentioning to his father the conversation he had held with Captain Cleveland, and the seaman’s proposal to him; but the very short and general account which he had given of that person’s history, upon the morning after his departure from the hamlet, had produced a sinister effect on Mr. Mertoun’s mind, and discouraged him from speaking farther on any subject connected with it. It would be time enough, he thought, to mention Captain Cleveland’s proposal, when his consort should arrive, and when he should repeat his offer in a more formal manner; and these he supposed events likely very soon to happen.

But days grew to weeks, and weeks were numbered into months, and he heard nothing from Cleveland; and only learned by an occasional visit from Bryce Snailsfoot, that the Captain was residing at Burgh-Westra, as one of the family. Mordaunt was somewhat surprised at this, although the unlimited hospitality of the islands, which Magnus Troil, both from fortune and disposition, carried to the utmost extent, made it almost a matter of course that he should remain in the family until he disposed of himself otherwise. Still it seemed strange he had not gone to some of the northern isles to enquire after his consort; or that he did not rather choose to make Lerwick his residence, where fishing vessels often brought news from the coasts and ports of Scotland and Holland. Again, why did he not send for the chest he had deposited at Jarlshof? and still farther, Mordaunt thought it would have been but polite if the stranger had sent him some sort of message in token of remembrance.

These subjects of reflection were connected with another still more unpleasant, and more difficult to account for. Until the arrival of this person, scarce a week had passed without bringing him some kind greeting, or token of recollection, from Burgh-Westra; and pretences were scarce ever wanting for maintaining a constant intercourse. Minna wanted the words of a Norse ballad; or desired to have, for her various collections, feathers, or eggs, or shells, or specimens of the rarer sea-weeds; or Brenda sent a riddle to be resolved, or a song to be learned; or the honest old Udaller — in a rude manuscript, which might have passed for an ancient Runic inscription — sent his hearty greetings to his good young friend, with a present of something to make good cheer, and an earnest request he would come to Burgh-Westra as soon, and stay there as long, as possible. These kindly tokens of remembrance were often sent by special message; besides which, there was never a passenger or a traveller, who crossed from the one mansion to the other, who did not bring to Mordaunt some friendly greeting from the Udaller and his family. Of late, this intercourse had become more and more infrequent; and no messenger from Burgh-Westra had visited Jarlshof for several weeks. Mordaunt both observed and felt this alteration, and it dwelt on his mind, while he questioned Bryce as closely as pride and prudence would permit, to ascertain, if possible, the cause of the change. Yet he endeavoured to assume an indifferent air while he asked the jagger whether there were no news in the country.

“Great news,” the jagger replied; “and a gay mony of them. That crackbrained carle, the new factor, is for making a change in the bismars and the lispunds;34 and our worthy Fowd, Magnus Troil, has sworn, that, sooner than change them for the still-yard, or aught else, he’ll fling Factor Yellowley from Brassa-craig.”

“Is that all?” said Mordaunt, very little interested.

“All? and eneugh, I think,” replied the pedlar. “How are folks to buy and sell, if the weights are changed on them?”

“Very true,” replied Mordaunt; “but have you heard of no strange vessels on the coast?”

“Six Dutch doggers off Brassa; and, as I hear, a high-quartered galliot thing, with a gaff mainsail, lying in Scalloway Bay. She will be from Norway.”

“No ships of war, or sloops?”

“None,” replied the pedlar, “since the Kite Tender sailed with the impress men. If it was His will, and our men were out of her, I wish the deep sea had her!”

“Were there no news at Burgh-Westra? — Were the family all well?”

“A’ weel, and weel to do — out-taken, it may be, something ower muckle daffing and laughing — dancing ilk night, they say, wi’ the stranger captain that’s living there — him that was ashore on Sumburgh-head the tother day — less daffing served him then.”

“Daffing! dancing every night!” said Mordaunt, not particularly well satisfied —“Whom does Captain Cleveland dance with?”

“Ony body he likes, I fancy,” said the jagger; “at ony rate, he gars a’ body yonder dance after his fiddle. But I ken little about it, for I am no free in conscience to look upon thae flinging fancies. Folk should mind that life is made but of rotten yarn.”

“I fancy that it is to keep them in mind of that wholesome truth, that you deal in such tender wares, Bryce,” replied Mordaunt, dissatisfied as well with the tenor of the reply, as with the affected scruples of the respondent.

“That’s as muckle as to say, that I suld hae minded you was a flinger and a fiddler yoursell, Maister Mordaunt; but I am an auld man, and maun unburden my conscience. But ye will be for the dance, I sall warrant, that’s to be at Burgh-Westra, on John’s Even, (Saunt John’s, as the blinded creatures ca’ him,) and nae doubt ye will be for some warldly braws — hose, waistcoats, or sic like? I hae pieces frae Flanders.”— With that he placed his movable warehouse on the table, and began to unlock it.

“Dance!” repeated Mordaunt —“Dance on St. John’s Even? — Were you desired to bid me to it, Bryce?”

“Na — but ye ken weel eneugh ye wad be welcome, bidden or no bidden. This captain — how ca’ ye him? — is to be skudler, as they ca’t — the first of the gang, like.”

“The devil take him!” said Mordaunt, in impatient surprise.

“A’ in gude time,” replied the jagger; “hurry no man’s cattle — the devil will hae his due, I warrant ye, or it winna be for lack of seeking. But it’s true I’m telling you, for a’ ye stare like a wild-cat; and this same captain — I watna his name — bought ane of the very waistcoats that I am ganging to show ye — purple, wi’ a gowd binding, and bonnily broidered; and I have a piece for you, the neighbour of it, wi’ a green grund; and if ye mean to streek yoursell up beside him, ye maun e’en buy it, for it’s gowd that glances in the lasses’ een now-a-days. See — look till’t,” he added, displaying the pattern in various points of view; “look till it through the light, and till the light through itwi’ the grain, and against the grain — it shows ony gate — cam frae Antwerp a’ the gate — four dollars is the price; and yon captain was sae weel pleased that he flang down a twenty shilling Jacobus, and bade me keep the change and be d — d! — poor silly profane creature, I pity him.”

Without enquiring whether the pedlar bestowed his compassion on the worldly imprudence or the religious deficiencies of Captain Cleveland, Mordaunt turned from him, folded his arms, and paced the apartment, muttering to himself, “Not asked — A stranger to be king of the feast!”— Words which he repeated so earnestly, that Bryce caught a part of their import.

“As for asking, I am almaist bauld to say, that ye will be asked, Maister Mordaunt.”

“Did they mention my name, then?” said Mordaunt.

“I canna preceesely say that,” said Bryce Snailsfoot; —“but ye needna turn away your head sae sourly, like a sealgh when he leaves the shore; for, do you see, I heard distinctly that a’ the revellers about are to be there; and is’t to be thought they would leave out you, an auld kend freend, and the lightest foot at sic frolics (Heaven send you a better praise in His ain gude time!) that ever flang at a fiddle-squeak, between this and Unst? Sae I consider ye altogether the same as invited — and ye had best provide yourself wi’ a waistcoat, for brave and brisk will every man be that’s there — the Lord pity them!”

He thus continued to follow with his green glazen eyes the motions of young Mordaunt Mertoun, who was pacing the room in a very pensive manner, which the jagger probably misinterpreted, as he thought, like Claudio, that if a man is sad, it must needs be because he lacks money. Bryce, therefore, after another pause, thus accosted him. “Ye needna be sad about the matter, Maister Mordaunt; for although I got the just price of the article from the captain-man, yet I maun deal freendly wi’ you, as a kend freend and customer, and bring the price, as they say, within your purse-mouth — or it’s the same to me to let it lie ower till Martinmas, or e’en to Candlemas. I am decent in the warld, Maister Mordaunt — forbid that I should hurry ony body, far mair a freend that has paid me siller afore now. Or I wad be content to swap the garment for the value in feathers or sea-otters’ skins, or ony kind of peltrie — nane kens better than yoursell how to come by sic ware — and I am sure I hae furnished you wi’ the primest o’ powder. I dinna ken if I tell’d ye it was out o’ the kist of Captain Plunket, that perished on the Scaw of Unst, wi’ the armed brig Mary, sax years syne. He was a prime fowler himself, and luck it was that the kist came ashore dry. I sell that to nane but gude marksmen. And so, I was saying, if ye had ony wares ye liked to coup35 for the waistcoat, I wad be ready to trock wi’ you, for assuredly ye will be wanted at Burgh-Westra, on Saint John’s Even; and ye wadna like to look waur than the Captain — that wadna be setting.”

“I will be there at least, whether wanted or not,” said Mordaunt, stopping short in his walk, and taking the waistcoat-piece hastily out of the pedlar’s hand; “and, as you say, will not disgrace them.”

“Haud a care — haud a care, Maister Mordaunt,” exclaimed the pedlar; “ye handle it as it were a bale of coarse wadmaal — ye’ll fray’t to bits — ye might weel say my ware is tender — and ye’ll mind the price is four dollars — Sall I put ye in my book for it?”

“No,” said Mordaunt, hastily; and, taking out his purse, he flung down the money.

“Grace to ye to wear the garment,” said the joyous pedlar, “and to me to guide the siller; and protect us from earthly vanities, and earthly covetousness; and send you the white linen raiment, whilk is mair to be desired than the muslins, and cambrics, and lawns, and silks of this world; and send me the talents which avail more than much fine Spanish gold, or Dutch dollars either — and — but God guide the callant, what for is he wrapping the silk up that gate, like a wisp of hay?”

At this moment, old Swertha the housekeeper entered, to whom, as if eager to get rid of the subject, Mordaunt threw his purchase, with something like careless disdain; and, telling her to put it aside, snatched his gun, which stood in the corner, threw his shooting accoutrements about him, and, without noticing Bryce’s attempt to enter into conversation upon the “braw seal-skin, as saft as doe-leather,” which made the sling and cover of his fowlingpiece, he left the apartment abruptly.

The jagger, with those green, goggling, and gain-descrying kind of optics, which we have already described, continued gazing for an instant after the customer, who treated his wares with such irreverence.

Swertha also looked after him with some surprise. “The callant’s in a creel,” quoth she.

“In a creel!” echoed the pedlar; “he will be as wowf as ever his father was. To guide in that gate a bargain that cost him four dollars! — very, very Fifish, as the east-country fisher-folk say.”

“Four dollars for that green rag!” said Swertha, catching at the words which the jagger had unwarily suffered to escape —“that was a bargain indeed! I wonder whether he is the greater fule, or you the mair rogue, Bryce Snailsfoot.”

“I didna say it cost him preceesely four dollars,” said Snailsfoot; “but if it had, the lad’s siller’s his ain, I hope; and he is auld eneugh to make his ain bargains. Mair by token the gudes are weel worth the money, and mair.”

“Mair by token,” said Swertha, coolly, “I will see what his father thinks about it.”

“Ye’ll no be sae ill-natured, Mrs. Swertha,” said the jagger; “that will be but cauld thanks for the bonny owerlay that I hae brought you a’ the way frae Lerwick.”

“And a bonny price ye’ll be setting on’t,” said Swertha; “for that’s the gate your good deeds end.”

“Ye sall hae the fixing of the price yoursell; or it may lie ower till ye’re buying something for the house, or for your master, and it can make a’ ae count.”

“Troth, and that’s true, Bryce Snailsfoot, I am thinking we’ll want some napery sune — for it’s no to be thought we can spin, and the like, as if there was a mistress in the house; and sae we make nane at hame.”

“And that’s what I ca’ walking by the word,” said the jagger. “‘Go unto those that buy and sell;’ there’s muckle profit in that text.”

“There is a pleasure in dealing wi’ a discreet man, that can make profit of ony thing,” said Swertha; “and now that I take another look at that daft callant’s waistcoat piece, I think it is honestly worth four dollars.”

34 These are weights of Norwegian origin, still used in Zetland.

35 Barter.

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