Five minutes had elapsed after the town clock struck two, before Alan Fairford, who had made a small detour to put his letter into the post-house, reached the mansion of Mr. Provost Crosbie, and was at once greeted by the voice of that civic dignitary, and the rural dignitary his visitor, as by the voices of men impatient for their dinner.
‘Come away, Mr. Fairford — the Edinburgh time is later than ours,’ said the provost.
And, ‘Come away, young gentleman,’ said the laird; ‘I remember your father weel at the Cross thirty years ago — I reckon you are as late in Edinburgh as at London, four o’clock hours — eh?’
‘Not quite so degenerate,’ replied Fairford; ‘but certainly many Edinburgh people are so ill-advised as to postpone their dinner till three, that they may have full time to answer their London correspondents.’
‘London correspondents!’ said Mr. Maxwell; ‘and pray what the devil have the people of Auld Reekie to do with London correspondents?’ 48
‘The tradesmen must have their goods,’ said Fairford.
‘Can they not buy our own Scottish manufactures, and pick their customers pockets in a more patriotic manner?’
‘Then the ladies must have fashions,’ said Fairford.
‘Can they not busk the plaid over their heads, as their mothers did? A tartan screen, and once a year a new cockernony from Paris, should serve a countess. But ye have not many of them left, I think — Mareschal, Airley, Winton, Vemyss, Balmerino, all passed and gone — aye, aye, the countesses and ladies of quality will scarce take up too much of your ball-room floor with their quality hoops nowadays.’
‘There is no want of crowding, however, sir,’ said Fairford; ‘they begin to talk of a new Assembly room.’
‘A new Assembly room!’ said the old Jacobite laird —‘Umph — I mind quartering three hundred men in the old Assembly room 49 — But come, come — I’ll ask no more questions — the answers all smell of new lords new lands, and do but spoil my appetite, which were a pity, since here comes Mrs. Crosbie to say our mutton’s ready.’
It was even so. Mrs. Crosbie had been absent, like Eve, ‘on hospitable cares intent,’ a duty which she did not conceive herself exempted from, either by the dignity of her husband’s rank in the municipality, or the splendour of her Brussels silk gown, or even by the more highly prized lustre of her birth; for she was born a Maxwell, and allied, as her husband often informed his friends, to several of the first families in the county. She had been handsome, and was still a portly, good-looking woman of her years; and though her peep into the kitchen had somewhat heightened her complexion, it was no more than a modest touch of rouge might have done.
The provost was certainly proud of his lady, nay, some said he was afraid of her; for of the females of the Redgauntlet family there went a rumour, that, ally where they would, there was a grey mare as surely in the stables of their husbands, as there is a white horse in Wouvermans’ pictures. The good dame, too, was supposed to have brought a spice of politics into Mr. Crosbie’s household along with her; and the provost’s enemies at the council-table of the burgh used to observe that he uttered there many a bold harangue against the Pretender, and in favour of King George and government, of which he dared not have pronounced a syllable in his own bedchamber; and that, in fact, his wife’s predominating influence had now and then occasioned his acting, or forbearing to act, in a manner very different from his general professions of zeal for Revolution principles. If this was in any respect true, it was certain, on the other hand, that Mrs. Crosbie, in all external points, seemed to acknowledge the ‘lawful sway and right supremacy’ of the head of the house, and if she did not in truth reverence her husband, she at least seemed to do so.
This stately dame received Mr. Maxwell (a cousin of course) with cordiality, and Fairford with civility; answering at the same time with respect, to the magisterial complaints of the provost, that dinner was just coming up. ‘But since you changed poor Peter MacAlpin, that used to take care of the town-clock, my dear, it has never gone well a single day.’
‘Peter MacAlpin, my dear,’ said the provost,’ made himself too busy for a person in office, and drunk healths and so forth, which it became no man to drink or to pledge, far less one that is in point of office a servant of the public, I understand that he lost the music bells in Edinburgh, for playing “Ower the Water to Charlie,” upon the tenth of June. He is a black sheep, and deserves no encouragement.’
‘Not a bad tune though, after all,’ said Summertrees; and, turning to the window, he half hummed, half whistled, the air in question, then sang the last verse aloud:
‘Oh I loe weel my Charlie’s name,
Though some there be that abhor him;
But oh to see the deil gang hame
Wi’ a’ the Whigs before him!
Over the water, and over the sea,
And over the water to Charlie;
Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go,
And live or die with Charlie.’
Mrs. Crosbie smiled furtively on the laird, wearing an aspect at the same time of deep submission; while the provost, not choosing to hear his visitor’s ditty, took a turn through the room, in unquestioned dignity and independence of authority.
‘Aweel, aweel, my dear,’ said the lady, with a quiet smile of submission, ‘ye ken these matters best, and you will do your pleasure — they are far above my hand — only, I doubt if ever the town-clock will go right, or your meals be got up so regular as I should wish, till Peter MacAlpin gets his office back again. The body’s auld, and can neither work nor want, but he is the only hand to set a clock.’
It may be noticed in passing, that notwithstanding this prediction, which, probably, the fair Cassandra had the full means of accomplishing, it was not till the second council day thereafter that the misdemeanours of the Jacobite clock-keeper were passed over, and he was once more restored to his occupation of fixing the town’s time, and the provost’s dinner-hour.
Upon the present occasion the dinner passed pleasantly away. Summertrees talked and jested with the easy indifference of a man who holds himself superior to his company. He was indeed an important person, as was testified by his portly appearance; his hat laced with POINT D’ESPAGNE; his coat and waistcoat once richly embroidered, though now almost threadbare; the splendour of his solitaire, and laced ruffles, though the first was sorely creased, and the other sullied; not to forget the length of his silver-hilted rapier. His wit, or rather humour, bordered on the sarcastic, and intimated a discontented man; and although he showed no displeasure when the provost attempted a repartee, yet it seemed that he permitted it upon mere sufferance, as a fencing-master, engaged with a pupil, will sometimes permit the tyro to hit him, solely by way of encouragement. The laird’s own jests, in the meanwhile, were eminently successful, not only with the provost and his lady, but with the red-cheeked and red-ribboned servant-maid who waited at table, and who could scarce perform her duty with propriety, so effectual were the explosions of Summertrees. Alan Fairford alone was unmoved among all this mirth; which was the less wonderful, that, besides the important subject which occupied his thoughts, most of the laird’s good things consisted in sly allusions to little parochial or family incidents, with which the Edinburgh visitor was totally unacquainted: so that the laughter of the party sounded in his ear like the idle crackling of thorns under the pot, with this difference, that they did not accompany or second any such useful operation as the boiling thereof.
Fairford was glad when the cloth was withdrawn; and when Provost Crosbie (not without some points of advice from his lady touching the precise mixture of the ingredients) had accomplished the compounding of a noble bowl of punch, at which the old Jacobite’s eyes seemed to glisten, the glasses were pushed round it, filled, and withdrawn each by its owner, when the provost emphatically named the toast, ‘The King,’ with an important look to Fairford, which seemed to say, You can have no doubt whom I mean, and therefore there is no occasion to particularize the individual.
Summertrees repeated the toast, with a sly wink to the lady, while Fairford drank his glass in silence.
‘Well, young advocate,’ said the landed proprietor, ‘I am glad to see there is some shame, if there is little honesty, left in the Faculty. Some of your black gowns, nowadays, have as little of the one as of the other.’
‘At least, sir,’ replied Mr. Fairford, ‘I am so much of a lawyer as not willingly to enter into disputes which I am not retained to support — it would be but throwing away both time and argument.’
‘Come, come,’ said the lady, ‘we will have no argument in this house about Whig or Tory — the provost kens what he maun SAY, and I ken what he should THINK; and for a’ that has come and gane yet, there may be a time coming when honest men may say what they think, whether they be provosts or not.’
‘D’ye hear that, provost?’ said Summertrees; ‘your wife’s a witch, man; you should nail a horseshoe on your chamber door — Ha, ha, ha!’
This sally did not take quite so well as former efforts of the laird’s wit. The lady drew up, and the provost said, half aside, ‘The sooth bourd is nae bourd. 50 You will find the horseshoe hissing hot, Summertrees.’
‘You can speak from experience, doubtless, provost,’ answered the laird; ‘but I crave pardon — I need not tell Mrs. Crosbie that I have all respect for the auld and honourable House of Redgauntlet.’
‘And good reason ye have, that are sae sib to them,’ quoth the lady, ‘and kend weel baith them that are here, and them that are gane.’
‘In troth, and ye may say sae, madam,’ answered the laird; ‘for poor Harry Redgauntlet, that suffered at Carlisle, was hand and glove with me; and yet we parted on short leave-taking.’
‘Aye, Summertrees,’ said the provost; ‘that was when you played Cheat-the-woodie, and gat the by-name of Pate-inPeril. I wish you would tell the story to my young friend here. He likes weel to hear of a sharp trick, as most lawyers do.’
‘I wonder at your want of circumspection, provost,’ said the laird — much after the manner of a singer when declining to sing the song that is quivering upon his tongue’s very end. ‘Ye should mind there are some auld stories that cannot be ripped up again with entire safety to all concerned. TACE is Latin for a candle,’
‘I hope,’ said the lady, ‘you are not afraid of anything being said out of this house to your prejudice, Summertrees? I have heard the story before; but the oftener I hear it, the more wonderful I think it.’
‘Yes, madam; but it has been now a wonder of more than nine days, and it is time it should be ended,’ answered Maxwell.
Fairford now thought it civil to say, ‘that he had often heard of Mr. Maxwell’s wonderful escape, and that nothing could be more agreeable to him than to hear the right version of it.’
But Summertrees was obdurate, and refused to take up the time of the company with such ‘auld-warld nonsense.’
‘Weel, weel,’ said the provost, ‘a wilful man maun hae his way. What do your folk in the country think about the disturbances that are beginning to spunk out in the colonies?’
‘Excellent, sir, excellent. When things come to the worst; they will mend; and to the worst they are coming. But as to that nonsense ploy of mine, if ye insist on hearing the particulars,’ — said the laird, who began to be sensible that the period of telling his story gracefully was gliding fast away.
‘Nay,’ said the provost, ‘it was not for myself, but this young gentlemen.’
‘Aweel, what for should I not pleasure the young gentlemen? I’ll just drink to honest folk at hame and abroad, and deil ane else. And then — but you have heard it before, Mrs. Crosbie?’
‘Not so often as to think it tiresome, I assure ye,’ said the lady; and without further preliminaries, the laird addressed Alan Fairford.
‘Ye have heard of a year they call the FORTY-FIVE, young gentleman; when the Southrons’ heads made their last acquaintance with Scottish claymores? There was a set of rampauging chields in the country then that they called rebels — I never could find out what for — Some men should have been wi’ them that never came, provost — Skye and the Bush aboon Traquair for that, ye ken. — Weel, the job was settled at last. Cloured crowns were plenty, and raxed necks came into fashion. I dinna mind very weel what I was doing, swaggering about the country with dirk and pistol at my belt for five or six months, or thereaway; but I had a weary waking out of a wild dream. When did I find myself on foot in a misty morning, with my hand, just for fear of going astray, linked into a handcuff, as they call it, with poor Harry Redgauntlet’s fastened into the other; and there we were, trudging along, with about a score more that had thrust their horns ower deep in the bog, just like ourselves, and a sergeant’s guard of redcoats, with twa file of dragoons, to keep all quiet, and give us heart to the road. Now, if this mode of travelling was not very pleasant, the object did not particularly recommend it; for, you understand, young man, that they did not trust these poor rebel bodies to be tried by juries of their ain kindly countrymen, though ane would have thought they would have found Whigs enough in Scotland to hang us all; but they behoved to trounce us away to be tried at Carlisle, where the folk had been so frightened, that had you brought a whole Highland clan at once into the court, they would have put their hands upon their een, and cried, “hang them a’,” just to be quit of them.’
‘Aye, aye,’ said the provost, ‘that was a snell law, I grant ye.’
‘Snell!’ said the wife, ‘snell! I wish they that passed it had the jury I would recommend them to!’
‘I suppose the young lawyer thinks it all very right,’ said Summertrees, looking at Fairford —“an OLD lawyer might have thought otherwise. However, the cudgel was to be found to beat the dog, and they chose a heavy one. Well, I kept my spirits better than my companion, poor fellow; for I had the luck to have neither wife nor child to think about, and Harry Redgauntlet had both one and t’other. — You have seen Harry, Mrs. Crosbie?’
‘In troth have I,’ said she, with the sigh which we give to early recollections, of which the object is no more. ‘He was not so tall as his brother, and a gentler lad every way. After he married the great English fortune, folk called him less of a Scottishman than Edward.’
‘Folk lee’d, then,’ said Summertrees; ‘poor Harry was none of your bold-speaking, ranting reivers, that talk about what they did yesterday, or what they will do tomorrow; it was when something was to do at the moment that you should have looked at Harry Redgauntlet. I saw him at Culloden, when all was lost, doing more than twenty of these bleezing braggarts, till the very soldiers that took him cried not to hurt him — for all somebody’s orders, provost — for he was the bravest fellow of them all. Weel, as I went by the side of Harry, and felt him raise my hand up in the mist of the morning, as if he wished to wipe his eye — for he had not that freedom without my leave — my very heart was like to break for him, poor fellow. In the meanwhile, I had been trying and trying to make my hand as fine as a lady’s, to see if I could slip it out of my iron wristband. You may think,’ he said, laying his broad bony hand on the table, ‘I had work enough with such a shoulder-of-mutton fist; but if you observe, the shackle-bones are of the largest, and so they were obliged to keep the handcuff wide; at length I got my hand slipped out, and slipped in again; and poor Harry was sae deep in his ain thoughts, I could not make him sensible what I was doing,’
‘Why not?’ said Alan Fairford, for whom the tale began to have some interest.
‘Because there was an unchancy beast of a dragoon riding close beside us on the other side; and if I had let him into my confidence as well as Harry, it would not have been long before a pistol-ball slapped through my bonnet. — Well, I had little for it but to do the best I could for myself; and, by my conscience, it was time, when the gallows was staring me in the face. We were to halt for breakfast at Moffat. Well did I know the moors we were marching over, having hunted and hawked on every acre of ground in very different times. So I waited, you see, till I was on the edge of Errickstane-brae — Ye ken the place they call the Marquis’s Beef-stand, because the Annandale loons used to put their stolen cattle in there?’
Fairford intimated his ignorance,
‘Ye must have seen it as ye came this way; it looks as if four hills were laying their heads together, to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A d — d deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is, and goes straight down from the roadside, as perpendicular as it can do, to be a heathery brae. At the bottom, there is a small bit of a brook, that you would think could hardly find, its way out from the hills that are so closely jammed round it.’
‘A bad pass, indeed,’ said Alan.
‘You may say that,’ continued the laird. ‘Bad as it was, sir, it was my only chance; and though my very flesh creeped when I thought what a rumble I was going to get, yet I kept my heart up all the same. And so, just when we came on the edge of this Beef-stand of the Johnstones, I slipped out my hand from the handcuff, cried to Harry Gauntlet, ‘Follow me!’— whisked under the belly of the dragoon horse — flung my plaid round me with the speed of lightning — threw myself on my side, for there was no keeping my feet, and down the brae hurled I, over heather and fern, and blackberries, like a barrel down Chalmer’s Close, in Auld Reekie. G — sir, I never could help laughing when I think how the scoundrel redcoats must have been bumbazed; for the mist being, as I said, thick, they had little notion, I take it, that they were on the verge of such a dilemma. I was half way down — for rowing is faster wark than rinning — ere they could get at their arms; and then it was flash, flash, flash — rap, rap, rap — from the edge of the road; but my head was too jumbled to think anything either of that or the hard knocks I got among the stones. I kept my senses thegither, whilk has been thought wonderful by all that ever saw the place; and I helped myself with my hands as gallantly as I could, and to the bottom I came. There I lay for half a moment; but the thoughts of a gallows is worth all the salts and scent-bottles in the world for bringing a man to himself. Up I sprang, like a four-year-auld colt. All the hills were spinning round with me, like so many great big humming-tops. But there was nae time to think of that neither; more especially as the mist had risen a little with the firing. I could see the villains, like sae mony craws on the edge of the brae; and I reckon that they saw me; for some of the loons were beginning to crawl down the hill, but liker auld wives in their red cloaks, coming frae a field preaching, than such a souple lad as I was. Accordingly, they soon began to stop and load their pieces. Good-e’en to you, gentlemen, thought I, if that is to be the gate of it. If you have any further word with me, you maun come as far as Carriefraw-gauns. And so off I set, and never buck went faster ower the braes than I did; and I never stopped till I had put three waters, reasonably deep, as the season was rainy, half a dozen mountains, and a few thousand acres of the worst moss and ling in Scotland, betwixt me and my friends the redcoats.’
‘It was that job which got you the name of Pate-inPeril,’ said the provost, filling the glasses, and exclaiming with great emphasis, while his guest, much animated with the recollections which the exploit excited, looked round with an air of triumph for sympathy and applause — ‘Here is to your good health; and may you never put your neck in such a venture again.’ 51
‘Humph! — I do not know,’ answered Summertrees. ‘I am not like to be tempted with another opportunity — 52 Yet who knows?’ And then he made a deep pause.
‘May I ask what became of your friend, sir?’ said Alan Fairford.
‘Ah, poor Harry!’ said Summertrees. ‘I’ll tell you what, sir, it takes time to make up one’s mind to such a venture, as my friend the provost calls it; and I was told by Neil Maclean — who was next file to us, but had the luck to escape the gallows by some sleight-of-hand trick or other — that, upon my breaking off, poor Harry stood like one motionless, although all our brethren in captivity made as much tumult as they could, to distract the attention of the soldiers. And run he did at last; but he did not know the ground, and either from confusion, or because he judged the descent altogether perpendicular, he fled up the hill to the left, instead of going down at once, and so was easily pursued and taken. If he had followed my example, he would have found enough among the shepherds to hide him, and feed him, as they did me, on bearmeal scenes and braxy mutton, till better days came round again.’ 53
‘He suffered then for his share in the insurrection?’ said Alan.
‘You may swear that,’ said Summertrees. ‘His blood was too red to be spared when that sort of paint was in request. He suffered, sir, as you call it — that is, he was murdered in cold blood, with many a pretty fellow besides. Well, we may have our day next — what is fristed is not forgiven — they think us all dead and buried — but’— Here he filled his glass, and muttering some indistinct denunciations, drank it off, and assumed his usual manner, which had been a little disturbed towards the end of the narrative.
‘What became of Mr. Redgauntlet’s child?’ said Fairford.
MISTER Redgauntlet! He was Sir Henry Redgauntlet, as his son, if the child now lives, will be Sir Arthur — I called him Harry from intimacy, and Redgauntlet, as the chief of his name — His proper style was Sir Henry Redgauntlet.’
‘His son, therefore, is dead?’ said Alan Fairford. ‘It is a pity so brave a line should draw to a close.’
‘He has left a brother,’ said Summertrees, ‘Edward Hugh Redgauntlet, who has now the representation of the family. And well it is; for though he be unfortunate in many respects, he will keep up the honour of the house better than a boy bred up amongst these bitter Whigs, the relations of his elder brother Sir Henry’s lady. Then they are on no good terms with the Redgauntlet line — bitter Whigs they are in every sense. It was a runaway match betwixt Sir Henry and his lady. Poor thing, they would not allow her to see him when in confinement — they had even the meanness to leave him without pecuniary assistance; and as all his own property was seized upon and plundered, he would have wanted common necessaries, but for the attachment of a fellow who was a famous fiddler — a blind man — I have seen him with Sir Henry myself, both before the affair broke out and while it was going on. I have heard that he fiddled in the streets of Carlisle, and carried what money he got to his master, while he was confined in the castle.’
‘I do not believe a word of it,’ said Mrs. Crosbie, kindling with indignation. ‘A Redgauntlet would have died twenty times before he had touched a fiddler’s wages.’
‘Hout fye — hout fye — all nonsense and pride,’ said the Laird of Summertrees. ‘Scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings, cousin Crosbie — ye little ken what some of your friends were obliged to do yon time for a sowp of brose, or a bit of bannock. G— d, I carried a cutler’s wheel for several weeks, partly for need, and partly for disguise — there I went bizz — bizz — whizz — zizz, at every auld wife’s door; and if ever you want your shears sharpened, Mrs. Crosbie, I am the lad to do it for you, if my wheel was but in order.’
‘You, must ask my leave first,’ said the provost; ‘for I have been told you had some queer fashions of taking a kiss instead of a penny, if you liked your customer.’
‘Come, come, provost,’ said the lady; rising, ‘if the maut gets abune the meal with you, it is time for me to take myself away — And you will come to my room, gentlemen, when you want a cup of tea.’
Alan Fairford was not sorry for the lady’s departure. She seemed too much alive to the honour of the house of Redgauntlet, though only a fourth cousin, not to be alarmed by the inquiries which he proposed to make after the whereabout of its present head. Strange confused suspicions arose in his mind, from his imperfect recollection of the tale of Wandering Willie, and the idea forced itself upon him that his friend Darsie Latimer might be the son of the unfortunate Sir Henry. But before indulging in such speculations, the point was to discover what had actually become of him. If he were in the hands of his uncle, might there not exist some rivalry in fortune, or rank, which might induce so stern a man as Redgauntlet to use unfair measures towards a youth whom he would find himself unable to mould to his purpose? He considered these points in silence, during several revolutions of the glasses as they wheeled in galaxy round the bowl, waiting until the provost, agreeably to his own proposal, should mention the subject, for which he had expressly introduced him to Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees.
Apparently the provost had forgot his promise, or at least was in no great haste to fulfil it. He debated with great earnestness upon the Stamp Act, which was then impending over the American colonies, and upon other political subjects of the day, but said not a word of Redgauntlet. Alan soon saw that the investigation he meditated must advance, if at all, on his own special motion, and determined to proceed accordingly.
Acting upon this resolution, he took the first opportunity afforded by a pause in the discussion of colonial politics, to say, ‘I must remind you, Provost Crosbie, of your kind promise to procure some intelligence upon the subject I am so anxious about.’
‘Gadso!’ said the provost, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘it is very true. — Mr. Maxwell, we wish to consult you on a piece of important business. You must know indeed I think you must have heard, that the fishermen at Brokenburn, and higher up the Solway, have made a raid upon Quaker Geddes’s stake-nets, and levelled all with the sands.’
‘In troth I heard it, provost, and I was glad to hear the scoundrels had so much pluck left as to right themselves against a fashion which would make the upper heritors a sort of clocking-hens, to hatch the fish that folk below them were to catch and eat.’
‘Well, sir,’ said Alan, ‘that is not the present point. But a young friend of mine was with Mr. Geddes at the time this violent procedure took place, and he has not since been heard of. Now, our friend, the provost, thinks that you may be able to advise’—
Here he was interrupted by the provost and Summertrees speaking out both at once, the first endeavouring to disclaim all interest in the question, and the last to evade giving an answer.
‘Me think!’ said the provost; ‘I never thought twice about it, Mr. Fairford; it was neither fish, nor flesh, nor salt herring of mine.’
‘And I “able to advise”!’ said Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees; ‘what the devil can I advise you to do, excepting to send the bellman through the town to cry your lost sheep, as they do spaniel dogs or stray ponies?’
‘With your pardon,’ said Alan, calmly, but resolutely, ‘I must ask a more serious answer.’
‘Why, Mr. Advocate,’ answered Summertrees, ‘I thought it was your business to give advice to the lieges, and not to take it from poor stupid country gentlemen.’
‘If not exactly advice, it is sometimes our duty to ask questions, Mr. Maxwell.’
‘Aye, sir, when you have your bag-wig and your gown on, we must allow you the usual privilege of both gown and petticoat, to ask what questions you please. But when you are out of your canonicals, the case is altered. How come you, sir, to suppose that I have any business with this riotous proceeding, or should know more than you do what happened there? the question proceeds on an uncivil supposition.’
‘I will explain,’ said Alan, determined to give Mr. Maxwell no opportunity of breaking off the conversation. ‘You are an intimate of Mr. Redgauntlet — he is accused of having been engaged in this affray, and of having placed under forcible restraint the person of my friend, Darsie Latimer, a young man of property and consequence, whose fate I am here for the express purpose of investigating. This is the plain state of the case; and all parties concerned — your friend, in particular — will have reason to be thankful for the temperate manner in which it is my purpose to conduct the matter, if I am treated with proportionate frankness.’
‘You have misunderstood me,’ said Maxwell, with a tone changed to more composure; ‘I told you I was the friend of the late Sir Henry Redgauntlet, who was executed, in 1745, at Hairibie, near Carlisle, but I know no one who at present bears the name of Redgauntlet.’
‘You know Mr. Herries of Birrenswork,’ said Alan, smiling, ‘to whom the name of Redgauntlet belongs?’
Maxwell darted a keen reproachful look towards the provost, but instantly smoothed his brow, and changed his tone to that of confidence and candour.
‘You must not be angry, Mr. Fairford, that the poor persecuted nonjurors are a little upon the QUI VIVE when such clever young men as you are making inquiries after us. I myself now, though I am quite out of the scrape, and may cock my hat at the Cross as I best like, sunshine or moonshine, have been yet so much accustomed to walk with the lap of my cloak cast over my face, that, faith, if a redcoat walk suddenly up to me, I wish for my wheel and whetstone again for a moment. Now Redgauntlet, poor fellow, is far worse off — he is, you may have heard, still under the lash of the law — the mark of the beast is still on his forehead, poor gentleman — and that makes us cautious — very cautious, which I am sure there is no occasion to be towards you, as no one of your appearance and manners would wish to trepan a gentleman under misfortune.’
‘On the contrary, sir,’ said Fairford, ‘I wish to afford Mr. Redgauntlet’s friends an opportunity to get him out of the scrape, by procuring the instant liberation of my friend Darsie Latimer. I will engage that if he has sustained no greater bodily harm than a short confinement, the matter may be passed over quietly, without inquiry; but to attain this end, so desirable for the man who has committed a great and recent infraction of the laws, which he had before grievously offended, very speedy reparation of the wrong must be rendered.’
Maxwell seemed lost in reflection, and exchanged a glance or two, not of the most comfortable or congratulatory kind, with his host the provost. Fairford rose and walked about the room, to allow them an opportunity of conversing together; for he was in hopes that the impression he had visibly made upon Summertrees was likely to ripen into something favourable to his purpose. They took the opportunity, and engaged in whispers to each other, eagerly and reproachfully on the part of the laird, while the provost answered in an embarrassed and apologetical tone. Some broken words of the conversation reached Fairford, whose presence they seemed to forget, as he stood at the bottom of the room, apparently intent upon examining the figures upon a fine Indian screen, a present to the provost from his brother, captain of a vessel in the Company’s service. What he overheard made it evident that his errand, and the obstinacy with which he pursued it, occasioned altercation between the whisperers.
Maxwell at length let out the words, ‘A good fright; and so send him home with his tail scalded, like a dog that has come a-privateering on strange premises.’
The provost’s negative was strongly interposed —‘Not to be thought of’—‘making bad worse’—‘my situation’—‘my utility’— ‘you cannot conceive how obstinate — just like his father’.
They then whispered more closely, and at length the provost raised his drooping crest, and spoke in a cheerful tone. ‘Come, sit down to your glass, Mr. Fairford; we have laid our heads thegither, and you shall see it will not be our fault if you are not quite pleased, and Mr. Darsie Latimer let loose to take his fiddle under his neck again. But Summertrees thinks it will require you to put yourself into some bodily risk, which maybe you may not be so keen of.’
‘Gentlemen,’ said Fairford, ‘I will not certainly shun any risk by which my object may be accomplished; but I bind it on your consciences — on yours, Mr. Maxwell, as a man of honour and a gentleman; and on yours, provost, as a magistrate and a loyal subject, that you do not mislead me in this matter.’
‘Nay, as for me,’ said Summertrees, ‘I will tell you the truth at once, and fairly own that I can certainly find you the means of seeing Redgauntlet, poor man; and that I will do, if you require it, and conjure him also to treat you as your errand requires; but poor Redgauntlet is much changed — indeed, to say truth, his temper never was the best in the world; however, I will warrant you from any very great danger.’
‘I will warrant myself from such,’ said Fairford, ‘by carrying a proper force with me.’
‘Indeed,’ said Summertrees, ‘you will, do no such thing; for, in the first place, do you think that we will deliver up the poor fellow into the hands of the Philistines, when, on the contrary, my only reason for furnishing you with the clue I am to put into your hands, is to settle the matter amicably on all sides? And secondly, his intelligence is so good, that were you coming near him with soldiers, or constables, or the like, I shall answer for it, you will never lay salt on his tail.’
Fairford mused for a moment. He considered that to gain sight of this man, and knowledge of his friend’s condition, were advantages to be purchased at every personal risk; and he saw plainly, that were he to take the course most safe for himself, and call in the assistance of the law, it was clear he would either be deprived of the intelligence necessary to guide him, or that Redgauntlet would be apprised of his danger, and might probably leave the country, carrying his captive along with him. He therefore repeated, ‘I put myself on your honour, Mr. Maxwell; and I will go alone to visit your friend. I have little; doubt I shall find him amenable to reason; and that I shall receive from him a satisfactory account of Mr. Latimer.’
‘I have little doubt that you will,’ said Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees; ‘but still I think it will be only in the long run, and after having sustained some delay and inconvenience. My warrandice goes no further.’
‘I will take it as it is given,’ said Alan Fairford. ‘But let me ask, would it not be better, since you value your friend’s safety so highly and surely would not willingly compromise mine, that the provost or you should go with me to this man, if he is within any reasonable distance, and try to make him hear reason?’
‘Me! — I will not go my foot’s length,’ said the provost; and that, Mr. Alan, you may be well assured of. Mr. Redgauntlet is my wife’s fourth cousin, that is undeniable; but were he the last of her kin and mine both, it would ill befit my office to be communing with rebels.’
‘Aye, or drinking with nonjurors,’ said Maxwell, filling his glass. ‘I would as soon expect; to have met Claverhouse at a field-preaching. And as for myself, Mr. Fairford, I cannot go, for just the opposite reason. It would be INFRA DIG. in the provost of this most flourishing and loyal town to associate with Redgauntlet; and for me it would be NOSCITUR A SOCIO. There would be post to London, with the tidings that two such Jacobites as Redgauntlet and I had met on a braeside — the Habeas Corpus would be suspended — Fame would sound a charge from Carlisle to the Land’s End — and who knows but the very wind of the rumour might blow my estate from between my fingers, and my body over Errickstane-brae again? No, no; bide a gliff — I will go into the provost’s closet, and write a letter to Redgauntlet, and direct you how to deliver it.’
‘There is pen and ink in the office,’ said the provost, pointing to the door of an inner apartment, in which he had his walnut-tree desk and east-country cabinet.
‘A pen that can write, I hope?’ said the old laird.
‘It can write and spell baith in right hands,’ answered the provost, as the laird retired and shut the door behind him.
48 Not much in those days, for within my recollection the London post; was brought north in a small mail-cart; and men are yet as live who recollect when it came down with only one single letter for Edinburgh, addressed to the manager of the British Linen Company.
49 I remember hearing this identical answer given by an old Highland gentleman of the Forty-Five, when he heard of the opening of the New Assembly Rooms in George Street.
50 The true joke is no joke.
51 The escape of a Jacobite gentleman while on the road to Carlisle to take his trial for his share in the affair of 1745, took place at Errickstane-brae, in the singular manner ascribed to the Laird of Summertrees in the text. The author has seen in his youth the gentleman to whom the adventure actually happened. The distance of time makes some indistinctness of recollection, but it is believed the real name was MacEwen or MacMillan.
52 An old gentleman of the author’s name was engaged in the affair of 1715, and with some difficulty was saved from the gallows by the intercession of the Duchess of Buccleugh and Monmouth. Her Grace, who maintained a good deal of authority over her clan, sent for the object of her intercession, and warning him of the risk which he had run, and the trouble she had taken on his account, wound up her lecture by intimating that in case of such disloyalty again, he was not to expect her interest in his favour. ‘An it please your Grace,’ said the stout old Tory, ‘I fear I am too old to see another opportunity.’
53 BRAXY MUTTON. — The flesh of sheep that has died of disease, not by the hand of the butcher. In pastoral countries it is used as food with little scruple.
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