The important interview expected at the conclusion of my last took place sooner than I had calculated; for the very day I received the letter, and just when my dinner was finished, the squire, or whatever he is called, entered the room so suddenly that I almost thought I beheld an apparition. The figure of this man is peculiarly noble and stately, and his voice has that deep fullness of accent which implies unresisted authority. I had risen involuntarily as he entered; we gazed on each other for a moment in silence, which was at length broken by my visitor.
‘You have desired to see me,’ he said. ‘I am here; if you have aught to say let me hear it; my time is too brief to be consumed in childish dumb-show.’
‘I would ask of you,’ said I, ‘by what authority I am detained in this place of confinement, and for what purpose?’
‘I have told you already,’ said he, ‘that my authority is sufficient, and my power equal to it; this is all which it is necessary for you at present to know.’
‘Every British subject has a right to know why he suffers restraint,’ I replied; ‘nor can he be deprived of liberty without a legal warrant. Show me that by which you confine me thus.’
‘You shall see more,’ he said; ‘you shall see the magistrate by whom it is granted, and that without a moment’s delay.’
This sudden proposal fluttered and alarmed me; I felt, nevertheless, that I had the right cause, and resolved to plead it boldly, although I could well have desired a little further time for preparation. He turned, however, threw open the door of the apartment, and commanded me to follow him. I felt some inclination, when I crossed the threshold of my prison-chamber, to have turned and run for it; but I knew not where to find the stairs — had reason to think the outer doors would be secured and, to conclude, so soon as I had quitted the room to follow the proud step of my conductor, I observed that I was dogged by Cristal Nixon, who suddenly appeared within two paces of me, and with whose great personal strength, independent of the assistance he might have received from his master, I saw no chance of contending. I therefore followed, unresistingly and in silence; along one or two passages of much greater length than consisted with the ideas I had previously entertained of the size of the house. At length a door was flung open, and we entered a large, old-fashioned parlour, having coloured glass in the windows, oaken panelling on the wall, a huge grate, in which a large faggot or two smoked under an arched chimney-piece of stone which bore some armorial device, whilst the walls were adorned with the usual number of heroes in armour, with large wigs instead of helmets, and ladies in sacques, smelling to nosegays.
Behind a long table, on which were several books, sat a smart underbred-looking man, wearing his own hair tied in a club, and who, from the quire of paper laid before him, and the pen which he handled at my entrance, seemed prepared to officiate as clerk. As I wish to describe these persons as accurately as possible, I may add, he wore a dark-coloured coat, corduroy breeches, and spatterdashes. At the upper end of the same table, in an ample easy-chair covered with black leather, reposed a fat personage, about fifty years old, who either was actually a country justice, or was well selected to represent such a character. His leathern breeches were faultless in make, his jockey boots spotless in the varnish, and a handsome and flourishing pair of boot-garters, as they are called, united the one part of his garments to the other; in fine, a richly-laced scarlet waistcoat and a purple coat set off the neat though corpulent figure of the little man, and threw an additional bloom upon his plethoric aspect. I suppose he had dined, for it was two hours past noon, and he was amusing himself, and aiding digestion, with a pipe of tobacco. There was an air of importance in his manner which corresponded to the rural dignity of his exterior, and a habit which he had of throwing out a number of interjectional sounds, uttered with a strange variety of intonation running from bass up to treble in a very extraordinary manner, or breaking off his sentences with a whiff of his pipe, seemed adopted to give an air of thought and mature deliberation to his opinions and decisions. Notwithstanding all this, Alan, it might be DOOTED, as our old Professor used to say, whether the Justice was anything more then an ass. Certainly, besides a great deference for the legal opinion of his clerk, which might be quite according to the order of things, he seemed to be wonderfully under the command of his brother squire, if squire either of them were, and indeed much more than was consistent with so much assumed consequence of his own.
‘Ho — ha — aye — so — so — hum — humph — this is the young man, I suppose — hum — aye — seems sickly. Young gentleman, you may sit down.’
I used the permission given, for I had been much more reduced by my illness than I was aware of, and felt myself really fatigued, even by the few paces I had walked, joined to the agitation I suffered.
‘And your name, young man, is — humph — aye — ha — what is it?’
‘Right — aye — humph — very right. Darsie Latimer is the very thing — ha — aye — where do you come from?’
‘From Scotland, sir,’ I replied.
‘A native of Scotland — a — humph — eh — how is it?’
‘I am an Englishman by birth, sir.’
‘Right — aye — yes, you are so. But pray, Mr. Darsie Latimer, have you always been called by that name, or have you any other? — Nick, write down his answers, Nick.’
‘As far as I remember, I never bore any other,’ was my answer.
‘How, no? well, I should not have thought so, Hey, neighbour, would you?’
Here he looked towards the other squire, who had thrown himself into a chair; and, with his legs stretched out before him, and his arms folded on his bosom, seemed carelessly attending to what was going forward. He answered the appeal of the Justice by saying, that perhaps the young man’s memory did not go back to a very early period.
‘Ah — eh — ha — you hear the gentleman. Pray, how far may your memory be pleased to run back to? — umph?’
‘Perhaps, sir, to the age of three years, or a little further.’
‘And will you presume to say, sir,’ said the squire, drawing himself suddenly erect in his seat, and exerting the strength of his powerful voice, ‘that you then bore your present name?’
I was startled at the confidence with which this question was put, and in vain rummaged my memory for the means of replying. ‘At least,’ I said, ‘I always remember being called Darsie; children, at that early age, seldom get more than their Christian name.’
‘Oh, I thought so,’ he replied, and again stretched himself on his seat, in the same lounging posture as before.
‘So you were called Darsie in your infancy,’ said the Justice; ‘and — hum — aye — when did you first take the name of Latimer?’
‘I did not take it, sir; it was given to me.’
‘I ask you,’ said the lord of the mansion, but with less severity in his voice than formerly, ‘whether you can remember that you were ever called Latimer, until you had that name given you in Scotland?’
‘I will be candid: I cannot recollect an instance that I was so called when in England, but neither can I recollect when the name was first given me; and if anything is to be founded on these queries and my answers, I desire my early childhood may be taken into consideration.’
‘Hum — aye — yes,’ said the Justice; ‘all that requires consideration shall be duly considered. Young man — eh — I beg to know the name of your father and mother?’
This was galling a wound that has festered for years, and I did not endure the question so patiently as those which preceded it; but replied, ‘I demand, in my turn, to know if I am before an English Justice of the Peace?’
‘His worship, Squire Foxley, of Foxley Hall, has been of the quorum these twenty years,’ said Master Nicholas.
‘Then he ought to know, or you, sir, as his clerk, should inform him,’ said I, ‘that I am the complainer in this case, and that my complaint ought to be heard before I am subjected to cross-examination.’
‘Humph — hoy — what, aye — there is something in that, neighbour,’ said the poor Justice, who, blown about by every wind of doctrine, seemed desirous to attain the sanction of his brother squire.
‘I wonder at you, Foxley,’ said his firm-minded acquaintance; ‘how can you render the young man justice unless you know who he is?’
‘Ha — yes — egad, that’s true,’ said Mr. Justice Foxley; ‘and now — looking into the matter more closely — there is, eh, upon the whole — nothing at all in what he says — so, sir, you must tell your father’s name, and surname.’
‘It is out of my power, sir; they are not known to me, since you must needs know so much of my private affairs.’
The Justice collected a great AFFLATUS in his cheeks, which puffed them up like those of a Dutch cherub, while his eyes seemed flying out of his head, from the effort with which he retained his breath. He then blew it forth with — ‘Whew! — Hoom — poof — ha! — not know your parents, youngster? — Then I must commit you for a vagrant, I warrant you. OMNE IGNOTUM PRO TERRIBILI, as we used to say at Appleby school; that is, every one that is not known to the Justice; is a rogue and a vagabond. Ha! — aye, you may sneer, sir; but I question if you would have known the meaning of that Latin, unless I had told you.’
I acknowledged myself obliged for a new edition of the adage, and an interpretation which I could never have reached alone and unassisted. I then proceeded to state my case with greater confidence. The Justice was an ass, that was clear; but if was scarcely possible he could be so utterly ignorant as not to know what was necessary in so plain a case as mine. I therefore informed him of the riot which had been committed on the Scottish side of the Solway Firth, explained how I came to be placed in my present situation, and requested of his worship to set me at liberty. I pleaded my cause with as much earnestness as I could, casting an eye from time to time upon the opposite party, who seemed entirely indifferent to all the animation with which I accused him.
As for the Justice, when at length I had ceased, as really not knowing what more to say in a case so very plain, he replied, ‘Ho — aye — aye — yes — wonderful! and so this is all the gratitude you show to this good gentleman for the great charge and trouble he hath had with respect to and concerning of you?’
‘He saved my life, sir, I acknowledge, on one occasion certainly, and most probably on two; but his having done so gives him no right over my person. I am not, however, asking for any punishment or revenge; on the contrary, I am content to part friends with the gentleman, whose motives I am unwilling to suppose are bad, though his actions have been, towards me, unauthorized and violent.’
This moderation, Alan, thou wilt comprehend, was not entirely dictated by my feelings towards the individual of whom I complained; there were other reasons, in which regard for him had little share. It seemed, however, as if the mildness with which I pleaded my cause had more effect upon him than anything I had yet said. We was moved to the point of being almost out of countenance; and took snuff repeatedly, as if to gain time to stifle some degree of emotion.
But on Justice Foxley, on whom my eloquence was particularly designed to make impression, the result was much less favourable. He consulted in a whisper with Mr. Nicholas, his clerk — pshawed, hemmed, and elevated his eyebrows, as if in scorn of my supplication. At length, having apparently made up his mind, he leaned back in his chair, and smoked his pipe with great energy, with a look of defiance, designed to make me aware that all my reasoning was lost on him.
At length, when I stopped, more from lack of breath than want of argument, he opened his oracular jaws, and made the following reply, interrupted by his usual interjectional ejaculations, and by long volumes of smoke:—‘Hem — aye — eh — poof. And, youngster, do you think Matthew Foxley, who has been one of the quorum for these twenty years, is to be come over with such trash as would hardly cheat an apple-woman? Poof — poof — eh! Why, man — eh — dost thou not know the charge is not a bailable matter — and that — hum — aye — the greatest man — poof — the Baron of Graystock himself, must stand committed? and yet you pretend to have been kidnapped by this gentleman, and robbed of property, and what not; and — eh — poof — you would persuade me all you want is to get away from him? I do believe — eh — that it IS all you want. Therefore, as you are a sort of a slip-string gentleman, and — aye — hum — a kind of idle apprentice, and something cock-brained withal, as the honest folks of the house tell me — why, you must e’en remain under custody of your guardian, till your coming of age, or my Lord Chancellor’s warrant, shall give you the management of your own affairs, which, if you can gather your brains again, you will even then not be — aye — hem — poof — in particular haste to assume.’
The time occupied by his worship’s hums, and haws, and puffs of tobacco smoke, together with the slow and pompous manner in which he spoke, gave me a minute’s space to collect my ideas, dispersed as they were by the extraordinary purport of this annunciation.
‘I cannot conceive, sir,’ I replied, ‘by what singular tenure this person claims my obedience as a guardian; it is a barefaced imposture. I never in my life saw him, until I came unhappily to this country, about four weeks since.’
‘Aye, sir — we — eh — know, and are aware — that — poof — you do not like to hear some folk’s names; and that — eh — you understand me — there are things, and sounds, and matters, conversation about names, and suchlike, which put you off the hooks — which I have no humour to witness. Nevertheless, Mr. Darsie — or — poof — Mr. Darsie Latimer — or — poof, poof — eh — aye, Mr. Darsie without the Latimer — you have acknowledged as much today as assures me you will best be disposed of under the honourable care of my friend here — all your confessions — besides that — poof — eh — I know him to be a most responsible person — a — hay — aye — most responsible and honourable person — Can you deny this?’
‘I know nothing of him,’ I repeated; ‘not even his name; and I have not, as I told you, seen him in the course of my whole life, till a few weeks since.’
‘Will you swear to that?’ said the singular man, who seemed to await the result of this debate, secure as a rattle-snake is of the prey which has once felt its fascination. And while he said these words in deep undertone, he withdrew his chair a little behind that of the Justice, so as to be unseen by him or his clerk, who sat upon the same side; while he bent on me a frown so portentous, that no one who has witnessed the look can forget it during the whole of his life. The furrows of the brow above the eyes became livid and almost black, and were bent into a semicircular, or rather elliptical form, above the junction of the eyebrows. I had heard such a look described in an old tale of DIABLERIE, which it was my chance to be entertained with not long since; when this deep and gloomy contortion of the frontal muscles was not unaptly described as forming the representation of a small horseshoe.
The tale, when told, awaked a dreadful vision of infancy, which the withering and blighting look now fixed on me again forced on my recollection, but with much more vivacity. Indeed, I was so much surprised, and, I must add, terrified, at the vague ideas which were awakened in my mind by this fearful sign, that I kept my eyes fixed on the face in which it was exhibited, as on a frightful vision; until, passing his handkerchief a moment across his countenance, this mysterious man relaxed at once the look which had for me something so appalling. ‘The young man will no longer deny that he has seen me before,’ said he to the Justice, in a tone of complacency; ‘and I trust he will now be reconciled to my temporary guardianship, which may end better for him than he expects.’
‘Whatever I expect,’ I replied, summoning my scattered recollections together, ‘I see I am neither to expect justice nor protection from this gentleman, whose office it is to render both to the lieges. For you, sir, how strangely you have wrought yourself into the fate of an unhappy young man or what interest you can pretend in me, you yourself only can explain. That I have seen you before is certain; for none can forget the look with which you seem to have the power of blighting those upon whom you cast it.’
The Justice seemed not very easy under this hint,‘Ha! — aye,’ he said; ‘it is time to be going, neighbour. I have a many miles to ride, and I care not to ride darkling in these parts. You and I, Mr. Nicholas, must be jogging.’
The Justice fumbled with his gloves, in endeavouring to draw them on hastily, and Mr. Nicholas bustled to get his greatcoat and whip. Their landlord endeavoured to detain them, and spoke of supper and beds. Both, pouring forth many thanks for his invitation, seemed as if they would much rather not, and Mr. Justice Foxley was making a score of apologies, with at least a hundred cautionary hems and eh-ehs, when the girl Dorcas burst into the room, and announced a gentleman on justice business.
‘What gentleman? — and whom does he want?’
‘He is cuome post on his ten toes,’ said the wench; ‘and on justice business to his worship loike. I’se uphald him a gentleman, for he speaks as good Latin as the schule-measter; but, lack-a-day! he has gotten a queer mop of a wig.’
The gentleman, thus announced and described, bounced into the room. But I have already written as much as fills a sheet of my paper, and my singular embarrassments press so hard on me that I have matter to fill another from what followed the intrusion of — my dear Alan — your crazy client — Poor Peter Peebles!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00