"He may buy half your stock-in-trade, if ever he comes to his own, for what I know," said his friend; "but, David, remember your bond, and use me not as you did when my housewife had the sheep's-head and the cock-a-leeky boiling for you as late as two of the clock afternoon."
"She had the more credit by her cookery," answered David, now fully awake; "a sheep's-head over-boiled, were poison, according to our saying."
"Well," answered Master George, "but as there will be no sheep's-head to-morrow, it may chance you to spoil a dinner which a proverb cannot mend. It may be you may forgather with your friend, Sir Mungo Malagrowther, for I purpose to ask his worship; so, be sure and bide tryste, Davie."
"That will I—I will be true as a chronometer," said Ramsay.
"I will not trust you, though," replied Heriot.—"Hear you, Jenkin boy, tell Scots Janet to tell pretty Mistress Margaret, my god-child, she must put her father in remembrance to put on his best doublet to- morrow, and to bring him to Lombard Street at noon. Tell her they are to meet a brave young Scots lord."
Jenkin coughed that sort of dry short cough uttered by those who are either charged with errands which they do not like, or hear opinions to which they must not enter a dissent.
"Umph!" repeated Master George—who, as we have already noticed, was something of a martinet in domestic discipline—"what does umph mean? Will you do mine errand or not, sirrah?"
"Sure, Master George Heriot," said the apprentice, touching his cap, "I only meant, that Mistress Margaret was not likely to forget such an invitation."
"Why, no," said Master George; "she is a dutiful girl to her god- father, though I sometimes call her a jill-flirt.—And, hark ye, Jenkin, you and your comrade had best come with your clubs, to see your master and her safely home; but first shut shop, and loose the bull-dog, and let the porter stay in the fore-shop till your return. I will send two of my knaves with you; for I hear these wild youngsters of the Temple are broken out worse and lighter than ever."
"We can keep their steel in order with good handbats," said Jenkin; "and never trouble your servants for the matter."
"Or, if need be," said Tunstall, "we have swords as well as the Templars."
"Fie upon it—fie upon it, young man," said the citizen;—"An apprentice with a sword!—Marry, heaven forefend! I would as soon see him in a hat and feather."
"Well, sir," said Jenkin—"we will find arms fitting to our station, and will defend our master and his daughter, if we should tear up the very stones of the pavement."
"There spoke a London 'prentice bold," said the citizen; "and, for your comfort, my lads, you shall crush a cup of wine to the health of the Fathers of the City. I have my eye on both of you—you are thriving lads, each in his own way.—God be wi' you, Davie. Forget not to-morrow at noon." And, so saying, he again turned his mule's head westward, and crossed Temple Bar, at that slow and decent amble, which at once became his rank and civic importance, and put his pedestrian followers to no inconvenience to keep up with him.
At the Temple gate he again paused, dismounted, and sought his way into one of the small booths occupied by scriveners in the neighbourhood. A young man, with lank smooth hair combed straight to his ears, and then cropped short, rose, with a cringing reverence, pulled off a slouched hat, which he would upon no signal replace on his head, and answered with much demonstration of reverence, to the goldsmith's question of, "How goes business, Andrew?"—"Aw the better for your worship's kind countenance and maintenance."
"Get a large sheet of paper, man, and make a new pen, with a sharp neb, and fine hair-stroke. Do not slit the quill up too high, it's a wastrife course in your trade, Andrew—they that do not mind corn- pickles, never come to forpits. I have known a learned man write a thousand pages with one quill." [Footnote: A biblical commentary by Gill, which (if the author's memory serves him) occupies between five and six hundred printed quarto pages, and must therefore have filled more pages of manuscript than the number mentioned in the text, has this quatrain at the end of the volume— "With one good pen I wrote this book, Made of a grey goose quill; A pen it was when it I took, And a pen I leave it still."]
"Ah! sir," said the lad, who listened to the goldsmith, though instructing him in his own trade, with an air of veneration and acquiescence, "how sune ony puir creature like mysell may rise in the world, wi' the instruction of such a man as your worship!"
"My instructions are few, Andrew, soon told, and not hard to practise. Be honest—be industrious—be frugal—and you will soon win wealth and worship.—Here, copy me this Supplication in your best and most formal hand. I will wait by you till it is done."
The youth lifted not his eye from the paper, and laid not the pen from his hand, until the task was finished to his employer's satisfaction. The citizen then gave the young scrivener an angel; and bidding him, on his life, be secret in all business intrusted to him, again mounted his mule, and rode on westward along the Strand.
It may be worth while to remind our readers, that the Temple Bar which Heriot passed, was not the arched screen, or gateway, of the present day; but an open railing, or palisade, which, at night, and in times of alarm, was closed with a barricade of posts and chains. The Strand also, along which he rode, was not, as now, a continued street, although it was beginning already to assume that character. It still might be considered as an open road, along the south side of which stood various houses and hotels belonging to the nobility, having gardens behind them down to the water-side, with stairs to the river, for the convenience of taking boat; which mansions have bequeathed the names of their lordly owners to many of the streets leading from the Strand to the Thames. The north side of the Strand was also a long line of houses, behind which, as in Saint Martin's Lane, and other points, buildings, were rapidly arising; but Covent Garden was still a garden, in the literal sense of the word, or at least but beginning to be studded with irregular buildings. All that was passing around, however, marked the rapid increase of a capital which had long enjoyed peace, wealth, and a regular government. Houses were rising in every direction; and the shrewd eye of our citizen already saw the period not distant, which should convert the nearly open highway on which he travelled, into a connected and regular street, uniting the Court and the town with the city of London.
He next passed Charing Cross, which was no longer the pleasant solitary village at which the judges were wont to breakfast on their way to Westminster Hall, but began to resemble the artery through which, to use Johnson's expression "pours the full tide of London population." The buildings were rapidly increasing, yet certainly gave not even a faint idea of its present appearance.
At last Whitehall received our traveller, who passed under one of the beautiful gates designed by Holbein, and composed of tesselated brick- work, being the same to which Moniplies had profanely likened the West-Port of Edinburgh, and entered the ample precincts of the palace of Whitehall, now full of all the confusion attending improvement. It was just at the time when James,—little suspecting that he was employed in constructing a palace, from the window of which his only son was to pass in order that he might die upon a scaffold before it,— was busied in removing the ancient and ruinous buildings of De Burgh, Henry VIII., and Queen Elizabeth, to make way for the superb architecture on which Inigo Jones exerted all his genius. The king, ignorant of futurity, was now engaged in pressing on his work; and, for that purpose, still maintained his royal apartments at Whitehall, amidst the rubbish of old buildings, and the various confusion attending the erection of the new pile, which formed at present a labyrinth not easily traversed.
The goldsmith to the Royal Household, and who, if fame spoke true, oftentimes acted as their banker,—for these professions were not as yet separated from each other,—was a person of too much importance to receive the slightest interruption from sentinel or porter; and, leaving his mule and two of his followers in the outer-court, he gently knocked at a postern-gate of the building, and was presently admitted, while the most trusty of his attendants followed him closely, with the piece of plate under his arm. This man also he left behind him in an ante-room,—where three or four pages in the royal livery, but untrussed, unbuttoned, and dressed more carelessly than the place, and nearness to a king's person, seemed to admit, were playing at dice and draughts, or stretched upon benches, and slumbering with half-shut eyes. A corresponding gallery, which opened from the ante-room, was occupied by two gentlemen-ushers of the chamber, who gave each a smile of recognition as the wealthy goldsmith entered.
No word was spoken on either side; but one of the ushers looked first to Heriot, and then to a little door half-covered by the tapestry, which seemed to say, as plain as a look could, "Lies your business that way?" The citizen nodded; and the court-attendant, moving on tiptoe, and with as much caution as if the floor had been paved with eggs, advanced to the door, opened it gently, and spoke a few words in a low tone. The broad Scottish accent of King James was heard in reply,—"Admit him instanter, Maxwell. Have you hairboured sae lang at the Court, and not learned, that gold and silver are ever welcome?"
The usher signed to Heriot to advance, and the honest citizen was presently introduced into the cabinet of the Sovereign.
The scene of confusion amid which he found the king seated, was no bad picture of the state and quality of James's own mind. There was much that was rich and costly in cabinet pictures and valuable ornaments; but they were arranged in a slovenly manner, covered with dust, and lost half their value, or at least their effect, from the manner in which they were presented to the eye. The table was loaded with huge folios, amongst which lay light books of jest and ribaldry; and, amongst notes of unmercifully long orations, and essays on king-craft, were mingled miserable roundels and ballads by the Royal 'Prentice, as he styled himself, in the art of poetry, and schemes for the general pacification of Europe, with a list of the names of the king's hounds, and remedies against canine madness.
The king's dress was of green velvet, quilted so full as to be dagger- proof—which gave him the appearance of clumsy and ungainly protuberance; while its being buttoned awry, communicated to his figure an air of distortion. Over his green doublet he wore a sad- coloured nightgown, out of the pocket of which peeped his hunting- horn. His high-crowned grey hat lay on the floor, covered with dust, but encircled by a carcanet of large balas rubies; and he wore a blue velvet nightcap, in the front of which was placed the plume of a heron, which had been struck down by a favourite hawk in some critical moment of the flight, in remembrance of which the king wore this highly honoured feather.
But such inconsistencies in dress and appointments were mere outward types of those which existed in the royal character, rendering it a subject of doubt amongst his contemporaries, and bequeathing it as a problem to future historians. He was deeply learned, without possessing useful knowledge; sagacious in many individual cases, without having real wisdom; fond of his power, and desirous to maintain and augment it, yet willing to resign the direction of that, and of himself, to the most unworthy favourites; a big and bold asserter of his rights in words, yet one who tamely saw them trampled on in deeds; a lover of negotiations, in which he was always outwitted; and one who feared war, where conquest might have been easy. He was fond of his dignity, while he was perpetually degrading it by undue familiarity; capable of much public labour, yet often neglecting it for the meanest amusement; a wit, though a pedant; and a scholar, though fond of the conversation of the ignorant and uneducated. Even his timidity of temper was not uniform; and there were moments of his life, and those critical, in which he showed the spirit of his ancestors. He was laborious in trifles, and a trifler where serious labour was required; devout in his sentiments, and yet too often profane in his language; just and beneficent by nature, he yet gave way to the iniquities and oppression of others. He was penurious respecting money which he had to give from his own hand, yet inconsiderately and unboundedly profuse of that which he did not see. In a word, those good qualities which displayed themselves in particular cases and occasions, were not of a nature sufficiently firm and comprehensive to regulate his general conduct; and, showing themselves as they occasionally did, only entitled James to the character bestowed on him by Sully—that he was the wisest fool in Christendom.
That the fortunes of this monarch might be as little of apiece as his character, he, certainly the least able of the Stewarts, succeeded peaceably to that kingdom, against the power of which his predecessors had, with so much difficulty, defended his native throne; and, lastly, although his reign appeared calculated to ensure to Great Britain that lasting tranquillity and internal peace which so much suited the king's disposition, yet, during that very reign, were sown those seeds of dissension, which, like the teeth of the fabulous dragon, had their harvest in a bloody and universal civil war.
Such was the monarch, who, saluting Heriot by the name of Jingling Geordie, (for it was his well-known custom to give nicknames to all those with whom he was on terms of familiarity,) inquired what new clatter-traps he had brought with him, to cheat his lawful and native Prince out of his siller.
"God forbid, my liege," said the citizen, "that I should have any such disloyal purpose. I did but bring a piece of plate to show to your most gracious Majesty, which, both for the subject and for the workmanship, I were loath to put into the hands of any subject until I knew your Majesty's pleasure anent it."
"Body o' me, man, let's see it, Heriot; though, by my saul, Steenie's service o' plate was sae dear a bargain, I had 'maist pawned my word as a Royal King, to keep my ain gold and silver in future, and let you, Geordie, keep yours."
"Respecting the Duke of Buckingham's plate," said the goldsmith, "your Majesty was pleased to direct that no expense should be spared, and—"
"What signifies what I desired, man? when a wise man is with fules and bairns, he maun e'en play at the chucks. But you should have had mair sense and consideration than to gie Babie Charles and Steenie their ain gate; they wad hae floored the very rooms wi' silver, and I wonder they didna."
George Heriot bowed, and said no more. He knew his master too well to vindicate himself otherwise than by a distant allusion to his order; and James, with whom economy was only a transient and momentary twinge of conscience, became immediately afterwards desirous to see the piece of plate which the goldsmith proposed to exhibit, and dispatched Maxwell to bring it to his presence. In the meantime he demanded of the citizen whence he had procured it.
"From Italy, may it please your Majesty," replied Heriot.
"It has naething in it tending to papistrie?" said the king, looking graver than his wont.
"Surely not, please your Majesty," said Heriot; "I were not wise to bring any thing to your presence that had the mark of the beast."
"You would be the mair beast yourself to do so," said the king; "it is weel kend that I wrestled wi' Dagon in my youth, and smote him on the groundsill of his own temple; a gude evidence that I should be in time called, however unworthy, the Defender of the Faith.—But here comes Maxwell, bending under his burden, like the Golden Ass of Apuleius."
Heriot hastened to relieve the usher, and to place the embossed salver, for such it was, and of extraordinary dimensions, in a light favourable for his Majesty's viewing the sculpture.
"Saul of my body, man," said the king, "it is a curious piece, and, as I think, fit for a king's chalmer; and the subject, as you say, Master George, vera adequate and beseeming—being, as I see, the judgment of Solomon—a prince in whose paths it weel becomes a' leeving monarchs to walk with emulation."
"But whose footsteps," said Maxwell, "only one of them—if a subject may say so much—hath ever overtaken."
"Haud your tongue for a fause fleeching loon!" said the king, but with a smile on his face that showed the flattery had done its part. "Look at the bonny piece of workmanship, and haud your clavering tongue.— And whase handiwork may it be, Geordie?"
"It was wrought, sir," replied the goldsmith, "by the famous Florentine, Benvenuto Cellini, and designed for Francis the First of France; but I hope it will find a fitter master."
"Francis of France!" said the king; "send Solomon, King of the Jews, to Francis of France!—Body of me, man, it would have kythed Cellini mad, had he never done ony thing else out of the gate. Francis!—why, he was a fighting fule, man,—a mere fighting fule,—got himsell ta'en at Pavia, like our ain David at Durham lang syne;—if they could hae sent him Solomon's wit, and love of peace, and godliness, they wad hae dune him a better turn. But Solomon should sit in other gate company than Francis of France."
"I trust that such will be his good fortune," said Heriot.
"It is a curious and very artificial sculpture," said the king, in continuation; "but yet, methinks, the carnifex, or executioner there, is brandishing his gully ower near the king's face, seeing he is within reach of his weapon. I think less wisdom than Solomon's wad have taught him that there was danger in edge-tools, and that he wad have bidden the smaik either sheath his shabble, or stand farther back."
George Heriot endeavoured to alleviate this objection, by assuring the king that the vicinity betwixt Solomon and the executioner was nearer in appearance than in reality, and that the perspective should be allowed for.
"Gang to the deil wi' your prospective, man," said the king; "there canna be a waur prospective for a lawful king, wha wishes to reign in luve, and die in peace and honour, than to have naked swords flashing in his een. I am accounted as brave as maist folks; and yet I profess to ye I could never look on a bare blade without blinking and winking. But a'thegither it is a brave piece;—and what is the price of it, man?"
The goldsmith replied by observing, that it was not his own property, but that of a distressed countryman.
"Whilk you mean to mak your excuse for asking the double of its worth, I warrant?" answered the king. "I ken the tricks of you burrows-town merchants, man."
"I have no hopes of baffling your Majesty's sagacity," said Heriot; "the piece is really what I say, and the price a hundred and fifty pounds sterling, if it pleases your Majesty to make present payment."
"A hundred and fifty punds, man! and as mony witches and warlocks to raise them!" said the irritated Monarch. "My saul, Jingling Geordie, ye are minded that your purse shall jingle to a bonny tune!—How am I to tell you down a hundred and fifty punds for what will not weigh as many merks? and ye ken that my very household servitors, and the officers of my mouth, are sax months in arrear!"
The goldsmith stood his ground against all this objurgation, being what he was well accustomed to, and only answered, that, if his Majesty liked the piece, and desired to possess it, the price could be easily settled. It was true that the party required the money, but he, George Heriot, would advance it on his Majesty's account, if such were his pleasure, and wait his royal conveniency for payment, for that and other matters; the money, meanwhile, lying at the ordinary usage.
"By my honour," said James, "and that is speaking like an honest and reasonable tradesman. We maun get another subsidy frae the Commons, and that will make ae compting of it. Awa wi' it, Maxwell—awa wi' it, and let it be set where Steenie and Babie Charles shall see it as they return from Richmond.—And now that we are secret, my good auld friend Geordie, I do truly opine, that speaking of Solomon and ourselves, the haill wisdom in the country left Scotland, when we took our travels to the Southland here."
George Heriot was courtier enough to say, that "the wise naturally follow the wisest, as stags follow their leader." "Troth, I think there is something in what thou sayest," said James; "for we ourselves, and those of our Court and household, as thou thyself, for example, are allowed by the English, for as self-opinioned as they are, to pass for reasonable good wits; but the brains of those we have left behind are all astir, and run clean hirdie-girdie, like sae mony warlocks and witches on the Devil's Sabbath e'en."
"I am sorry to hear this, my liege," said Heriot. "May it please your Grace to say what our countrymen have done to deserve such a character?"
"They are become frantic, man—clean brain-crazed," answered the king. "I cannot keep them out of the Court by all the proclamations that the heralds roar themselves hoarse with. Yesterday, nae farther gane, just as we were mounted, and about to ride forth, in rushed a thorough Edinburgh gutterblood—a ragged rascal, every dud upon whose back was bidding good-day to the other, with a coat and hat that would have served a pease-bogle, and without havings or reverence, thrusts into our hands, like a sturdy beggar, some Supplication about debts owing by our gracious mother, and siclike trash; whereat the horse spangs on end, and, but for our admirable sitting, wherein we have been thought to excel maist sovereign princes, as well as subjects, in Europe, I promise you we would have been laid endlang on the causeway."
"Your Majesty," said Heriot, "is their common father, and therefore they are the bolder to press into your gracious presence."
"I ken I am pater patriae well enough," said James; "but one would think they had a mind to squeeze my puddings out, that they may divide the inheritance, Ud's death, Geordie, there is not a loon among them can deliver a Supplication, as it suld be done in the face of majesty."
"I would I knew the most fitting and beseeming mode to do so," said Heriot, "were it but to instruct our poor countrymen in better fashions."
"By my halidome," said the king, "ye are a ceevileezed fellow, Geordie, and I carena if I fling awa as much time as may teach ye. And, first, see you, sir—ye shall approach the presence of majesty thus,—shadowing your eyes with your hand, to testify that you are in the presence of the Vice-gerent of Heaven.—Vera weel, George, that is done in a comely manner.—Then, sir, ye sail kneel, and make as if ye would kiss the hem of our garment, the latch of our shoe, or such like.—Very weel enacted—whilk we, as being willing to be debonair and pleasing towards our lieges, prevent thus,—and motion to you to rise;—whilk, having a boon to ask, as yet you obey not, but, gliding your hand into your pouch, bring forth your Supplication, and place it reverentially in our open palm." The goldsmith, who had complied with great accuracy with all the prescribed points of the ceremonial, here completed it, to James's no small astonishment, by placing in his hand the petition of the Lord of Glenvarloch. "What means this, ye fause loon?" said he, reddening and sputtering; "hae I been teaching you the manual exercise, that ye suld present your piece at our ain royal body?—Now, by this light, I had as lief that ye had bended a real pistolet against me, and yet this hae ye done in my very cabinet, where nought suld enter but at my ain pleasure."
"I trust your Majesty," said Heriot, as he continued to kneel, "will forgive my exercising the lesson you condescended to give me in the behalf of a friend?"
"Of a friend!" said the king; "so much the waur—so much the waur, I tell you. If it had been something to do yoursell good there would have been some sense in it, and some chance that you wad not have come back on me in a hurry; but a man may have a hundred friends, and petitions for every ane of them, ilk ane after other."
"Your Majesty, I trust," said Heriot, "will judge me by former experience, and will not suspect me of such presumption."
"I kenna," said the placable monarch; "the world goes daft, I think— sed semel insanivimus omnes—thou art my old and faithful servant, that is the truth; and, were't any thing for thy own behoof, man, thou shouldst not ask twice. But, troth, Steenie loves me so dearly, that he cares not that any one should ask favours of me but himself.— Maxwell," (for the usher had re-entered after having carried off the plate,) "get into the ante-chamber wi' your lang lugs.—In conscience, Geordie, I think as that thou hast been mine ain auld fiduciary, and wert my goldsmith when I might say with the Ethnic poet—Non mea renidet in domo lacunar—for, faith, they had pillaged my mither's auld house sae, that beechen bickers, and treen trenchers, and latten platters, were whiles the best at our board, and glad we were of something to put on them, without quarrelling with the metal of the dishes. D'ye mind, for thou wert in maist of our complots, how we were fain to send sax of the Blue-banders to harry the Lady of Loganhouse's dowcot and poultry-yard, and what an awfu' plaint the poor dame made against Jock of Milch, and the thieves of Annandale, wha were as sackless of the deed as I am of the sin of murder?"
"It was the better for Jock," said Heriot; "for, if I remember weel, it saved him from a strapping up at Dumfries, which he had weel deserved for other misdeeds."
"Ay, man, mind ye that?" said the king; "but he had other virtues, for he was a tight huntsman, moreover, that Jock of Milch, and could hollow to a hound till all the woods rang again. But he came to an Annandale end at the last, for Lord Torthorwald run his lance out through him.—Cocksnails, man, when I think of those wild passages, in my conscience, I am not sure but we lived merrier in auld Holyrood in those shifting days, than now when we are dwelling at heck and manger. Cantabit vacuus—we had but little to care for."
"And if your Majesty please to remember," said the goldsmith, "the awful task we had to gather silver-vessail and gold-work enough to make some show before the Spanish Ambassador."
"Vera true," said the king, now in a full tide of gossip, "and I mind not the name of the right leal lord that helped us with every unce he had in his house, that his native Prince might have some credit in the eyes of them that had the Indies at their beck."
"I think, if your Majesty," said the citizen, "will cast your eye on the paper in your hand, you will recollect his name."
"Ay!" said the king, "say ye sae, man?—Lord Glenvarloch, that was his name indeed—Justus et tenax propositi—A just man, but as obstinate as a baited bull. He stood whiles against us, that Lord Randal Olifaunt of Glenvarloch, but he was a loving and a leal subject in the main. But this supplicator maun be his son—Randal has been long gone where king and lord must go, Geordie, as weel as the like of you—and what does his son want with us?"
"The settlement," answered the citizen, "of a large debt due by your Majesty's treasury, for money advanced to your Majesty in great State emergency, about the time of the Raid of Ruthven."
"I mind the thing weel," said King James—"Od's death, man, I was just out of the clutches of the Master of Glamis and his complices, and there was never siller mair welcome to a born prince,—the mair the shame and pity that crowned king should need sic a petty sum. But what need he dun us for it, man, like a baxter at the breaking? We aught him the siller, and will pay him wi' our convenience, or make it otherwise up to him, whilk is enow between prince and subject—We are not in meditatione fugae, man, to be arrested thus peremptorily."
"Alas! an it please your Majesty," said the goldsmith, shaking his head, "it is the poor young nobleman's extreme necessity, and not his will, that makes him importunate; for he must have money, and that briefly, to discharge a debt due to Peregrine Peterson, Conservator of the Privileges at Campvere, or his haill hereditary barony and estate of Glenvarloch will be evicted in virtue of an unredeemed wadset."
"How say ye, man—how say ye?" exclaimed the king, impatiently; "the carle of a Conservator, the son of a Low-Dutch skipper, evict the auld estate and lordship of the house of Olifaunt?—God's bread, man, that maun not be—we maun suspend the diligence by writ of favour, or otherwise."
"I doubt that may hardly be," answered the citizen, "if it please your Majesty; your learned counsel in the law of Scotland advise, that there is no remeid but in paying the money."
"Ud's fish," said the king, "let him keep haud by the strong hand against the carle, until we can take some order about his affairs."
"Alas!" insisted the goldsmith, "if it like your Majesty, your own pacific government, and your doing of equal justice to all men, has made main force a kittle line to walk by, unless just within the bounds of the Highlands."
"Well—weel—weel, man," said the perplexed monarch, whose ideas of justice, expedience, and convenience, became on such occasions strangely embroiled; "just it is we should pay our debts, that the young man may pay his; and he must be paid, and in verbo regis he shall be paid—but how to come by the siller, man, is a difficult chapter—ye maun try the city, Geordie."
"To say the truth," answered Heriot, "please your gracious Majesty, what betwixt loans and benevolences, and subsidies, the city is at this present——"
"Donna tell me of what the city is," said King James; "our Exchequer is as dry as Dean Giles's discourses on the penitentiary psalms—Ex nihilo nihil fit—It's ill taking the breeks aff a wild Highlandman— they that come to me for siller, should tell me how to come by it—the city ye maun try, Heriot; and donna think to be called Jingling Geordie for nothing—and in verbo regis I will pay the lad if you get me the loan—I wonnot haggle on the terms; and, between you and me, Geordie, we will redeem the brave auld estate of Glenvarloch.—But wherefore comes not the young lord to Court, Heriot—is he comely—is he presentable in the presence?"
"No one can be more so," said George Heriot; "but——"
"Ay, I understand ye," said his Majesty—"I understand ye—Res angusta domi—puir lad-puir lad!—and his father a right true leal Scots heart, though stiff in some opinions. Hark ye, Heriot, let the lad have twa hundred pounds to fit him out. And, here—here"—(taking the carcanet of rubies from his old hat)—"ye have had these in pledge before for a larger sum, ye auld Levite that ye are. Keep them in gage, till I gie ye back the siller out of the next subsidy."
"If it please your Majesty to give me such directions in writing," said the cautious citizen.
"The deil is in your nicety, George," said the king; "ye are as preceese as a Puritan in form, and a mere Nullifidian in the marrow of the matter. May not a king's word serve ye for advancing your pitiful twa hundred pounds?"
"But not for detaining the crown jewels," said George Heriot.
And the king, who from long experience was inured to dealing with suspicious creditors, wrote an order upon George Heriot, his well- beloved goldsmith and jeweller, for the sum of two hundred pounds, to be paid presently to Nigel Olifaunt, Lord of Glenvarloch, to be imputed as so much debts due to him by the crown; and authorizing the retention of a carcanet of balas rubies, with a great diamond, as described in a Catalogue of his Majesty's Jewels, to remain in possession of the said George Heriot, advancer of the said sum, and so forth, until he was lawfully contented and paid thereof. By another rescript, his Majesty gave the said George Heriot directions to deal with some of the monied men, upon equitable terms, for a sum of money for his Majesty's present use, not to be under 50,000 merks, but as much more as could conveniently be procured.
"And has he ony lair, this Lord Nigel of ours?" said the king.
George Heriot could not exactly answer this question; but believed "the young lord had studied abroad."
"He shall have our own advice," said the king, "how to carry on his studies to maist advantage; and it may be we will have him come to Court, and study with Steenie and Babie Charles. And, now we think on't, away—away, George—for the bairns will be coming hame presently, and we would not as yet they kend of this matter we have been treating anent. Propera fedem, O Geordie. Clap your mule between your boughs, and god-den with you."
Thus ended the conference betwixt the gentle King Jamie and his benevolent jeweller and goldsmith.
O I do know him—tis the mouldy lemon Which our court wits will wet their lips withal, When they would sauce their honied conversation With somewhat sharper flavour—Marry sir, That virtue's wellnigh left him—all the juice That was so sharp and poignant, is squeezed out, While the poor rind, although as sour as ever, Must season soon the draff we give our grunters, For two legg'd things are weary on't. The Chamberlain—A Comedy
The good company invited by the hospitable citizen assembled at his house in Lombard Street at the "hollow and hungry hour" of noon, to partake of that meal which divides the day, being about the time when modern persons of fashion, turning themselves upon their pillow, begin to think, not without a great many doubts and much hesitation, that they will by and by commence it. Thither came the young Nigel, arrayed plainly, but in a dress, nevertheless, more suitable to his age and quality than he had formerly worn, accompanied by his servant Moniplies, whose outside also was considerably improved. His solemn and stern features glared forth from under a blue velvet bonnet, fantastically placed sideways on his head—he had a sound and tough coat of English blue broad-cloth, which, unlike his former vestment, would have stood the tug of all the apprentices in Fleet Street. The buckler and broadsword he wore as the arms of his condition, and a neat silver badge, bearing his lord's arms, announced that he was an appendage of aristocracy. He sat down in the good citizen's buttery, not a little pleased to find his attendance upon the table in the hall was likely to be rewarded with his share of a meal such as he had seldom partaken of.
Mr. David Ramsay, that profound and ingenious mechanic, was safely conducted to Lombard Street, according to promise, well washed, brushed, and cleaned, from the soot of the furnace and the forge. His daughter, who came with him, was about twenty years old, very pretty, very demure, yet with lively black eyes, that ever and anon contradicted the expression of sobriety, to which silence, reserve, a plain velvet hood, and a cambric ruff, had condemned Mistress Marget, as the daughter of a quiet citizen.
There were also two citizens and merchants of London, men ample in cloak, and many-linked golden chain, well to pass in the world, and experienced in their craft of merchandise, but who require no particular description. There was an elderly clergyman also, in his gown and cassock, a decent venerable man, partaking in his manners of the plainness of the citizens amongst whom he had his cure.
These may be dismissed with brief notice; but not so Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, who claims a little more attention, as an original character of the time in which he flourished.
That good knight knocked at Master Heriot's door just as the clock began to strike twelve, and was seated in his chair ere the last stroke had chimed. This gave the knight an excellent opportunity of making sarcastic observations on all who came later than himself, not to mention a few rubs at the expense of those who had been so superfluous as to appear earlier.
Having little or no property save his bare designation, Sir Mungo had been early attached to Court in the capacity of whipping-boy, as the office was then called, to King James the Sixth, and, with his Majesty, trained to all polite learning by his celebrated preceptor, George Buchanan. The office of whipping-boy doomed its unfortunate occupant to undergo all the corporeal punishment which the Lord's Anointed, whose proper person was of course sacred, might chance to incur, in the course of travelling through his grammar and prosody. Under the stern rule, indeed, of George Buchanan, who did not approve of the vicarious mode of punishment, James bore the penance of his own faults, and Mungo Malagrowther enjoyed a sinecure; but James's other pedagogue, Master Patrick Young, went more ceremoniously to work, and appalled the very soul of the youthful king by the floggings which he bestowed on the whipping-boy, when the royal task was not suitably performed. And be it told to Sir Mungo's praise, that there were points about him in the highest respect suited to his official situation. He had even in youth a naturally irregular and grotesque set of features, which, when distorted by fear, pain, and anger, looked like one of the whimsical faces which present themselves in a Gothic cornice. His voice also was high-pitched and querulous, so that, when smarting under Master Peter Young's unsparing inflictions, the expression of his grotesque physiognomy, and the superhuman yells which he uttered, were well suited to produce all the effects on the Monarch who deserved the lash, that could possibly be produced by seeing another and an innocent individual suffering for his delict.
Sir Mungo Malagrowther, for such he became, thus got an early footing at Court, which another would have improved and maintained. But, when he grew too big to be whipped, he had no other means of rendering himself acceptable. A bitter, caustic, and backbiting humour, a malicious wit, and an envy of others more prosperous than the possessor of such amiable qualities, have not, indeed, always been found obstacles to a courtier's rise; but then they must be amalgamated with a degree of selfish cunning and prudence, of which Sir Mungo had no share. His satire ran riot, his envy could not conceal itself, and it was not long after his majority till he had as many quarrels upon his hands as would have required a cat's nine lives to answer. In one of these rencontres he received, perhaps we should say fortunately, a wound, which served him as an excuse for answering no invitations of the kind in future. Sir Rullion Rattray, of Ranagullion, cut off, in mortal combat, three of the fingers of his right hand, so that Sir Mungo never could hold sword again. At a later period, having written some satirical verses upon the Lady Cockpen, he received so severe a chastisement from some persons employed for the purpose, that he was found half dead on the spot where they had thus dealt with him, and one of his thighs having been broken, and ill set, gave him a hitch in his gait, with which he hobbled to his grave. The lameness of his leg and hand, besides that they added considerably to the grotesque appearance of this original, procured him in future a personal immunity from the more dangerous consequences of his own humour; and he gradually grew old in the service of the Court, in safety of life and limb, though without either making friends or attaining preferment. Sometimes, indeed, the king was amused with his caustic sallies, but he had never art enough to improve the favourable opportunity; and his enemies (who were, for that matter, the whole Court) always found means to throw him out of favour again. The celebrated Archie Armstrong offered Sir Mungo, in his generosity, a skirt of his own fool's coat, proposing thereby to communicate to him the privileges and immunities of a professed jester—"For," said the man of motley, "Sir Mungo, as he goes on just now, gets no more for a good jest than just the king's pardon for having made it."
Even in London, the golden shower which fell around him did not moisten the blighted fortunes of Sir Mungo Malagrowther. He grew old, deaf, and peevish—lost even the spirit which had formerly animated his strictures—and was barely endured by James, who, though himself nearly as far stricken in years, retained, to an unusual and even an absurd degree, the desire to be surrounded by young people.
Sir Mungo, thus fallen into the yellow leaf of years and fortune, showed his emaciated form and faded embroidery at Court as seldom as his duty permitted; and spent his time in indulging his food for satire in the public walks, and in the aisles of Saint Paul's, which were then the general resort of newsmongers and characters of all descriptions, associating himself chiefly with such of his countrymen as he accounted of inferior birth and rank to himself. In this manner, hating and contemning commerce, and those who pursued it, he nevertheless lived a good deal among the Scottish artists and merchants, who had followed the Court to London. To these he could show his cynicism without much offence; for some submitted to his jeers and ill-humour in deference to his birth and knighthood, which in those days conferred high privileges—and others, of more sense, pitied and endured the old man, unhappy alike in his fortunes and his temper.
Amongst the latter was George Heriot, who, though his habits and education induced him to carry aristocratical feelings to a degree which would now be thought extravagant, had too much spirit and good sense to permit himself to be intruded upon to an unauthorized excess, or used with the slightest improper freedom, by such a person as Sir Mungo, to whom he was, nevertheless, not only respectfully civil, but essentially kind, and even generous.
Accordingly, this appeared from the manner in which Sir Mungo Malagrowther conducted himself upon entering the apartment. He paid his respects to Master Heriot, and a decent, elderly, somewhat severe- looking female, in a coif, who, by the name of Aunt Judith, did the honours of his house and table, with little or no portion of the supercilious acidity, which his singular physiognomy assumed when he made his bow successively to David Ramsay and the two sober citizens. He thrust himself into the conversation of the latter, to observe he had heard in Paul's, that the bankrupt concern of Pindivide, a great merchant,—who, as he expressed it, had given the crows a pudding, and on whom he knew, from the same authority, each of the honest citizens has some unsettled claim,—was like to prove a total loss—"stock and block, ship and cargo, keel and rigging, all lost, now and for ever."
The two citizens grinned at each other; but, too prudent to make their private affairs the subject of public discussion, drew their heads together, and evaded farther conversation by speaking in a whisper.
The old Scots knight next attacked the watchmaker with the same disrespectful familiarity.—"Davie," he said,—"Davie, ye donnard auld idiot, have ye no gane mad yet, with applying your mathematical science, as ye call it, to the book of Apocalypse? I expected to have heard ye make out the sign of the beast, as clear as a tout on a bawbee whistle."
"Why, Sir Mungo," said the mechanist, after making an effort to recall to his recollection what had been said to him, and by whom, "it may be, that ye are nearer the mark than ye are yoursell aware of; for, taking the ten horns o' the beast, ye may easily estimate by your digitals—"
"My digits! you d—d auld, rusty, good-for-nothing time-piece!" exclaimed Sir Mungo, while, betwixt jest and earnest, he laid on his hilt his hand, or rather his claw, (for Sir Rullion's broadsword has abridged it into that form,)—"D'ye mean to upbraid me with my mutilation?"
Master Heriot interfered. "I cannot persuade our friend David," he said, "that scriptural prophecies are intended to remain in obscurity, until their unexpected accomplishment shall make, as in former days, that fulfilled which was written. But you must not exert your knightly valour on him for all that."
"By my saul, and it would be throwing it away," said Sir Mungo, laughing. "I would as soon set out, with hound and horn, to hunt a sturdied sheep; for he is in a doze again, and up to the chin in numerals, quotients, and dividends.—Mistress Margaret, my pretty honey," for the beauty of the young citizen made even Sir Mungo Malagrowther's grim features relax themselves a little, "is your father always as entertaining as he seems just now?"
Mistress Margaret simpered, bridled, looked to either side, then straight before her; and, having assumed all the airs of bashful embarrassment and timidity which were necessary, as she thought, to cover a certain shrewd readiness which really belonged to her character, at length replied: "That indeed her father was very thoughtful, but she had heard that he took the habit of mind from her grandfather."
"Your grandfather!" said Sir Mungo,—after doubting if he had heard her aright,—"Said she her grandfather! The lassie is distraught!—I ken nae wench on this side of Temple Bar that is derived from so distant a relation."
"She has got a godfather, however, Sir Mungo," said George Heriot, again interfering; "and I hope you will allow him interest enough with you, to request you will not put his pretty godchild to so deep a blush."
"The better—the better," said Sir Mungo. "It is a credit to her, that, bred and born within the sound of Bow-bell, she can blush for any thing; and, by my saul, Master George," he continued, chucking the irritated and reluctant damsel under the chin, "she is bonny enough to make amends for her lack of ancestry—at least, in such a region as Cheapside, where, d'ye mind me, the kettle cannot call the porridge- pot—"
The damsel blushed, but not so angrily as before. Master George Heriot hastened to interrupt the conclusion of Sir Mungo's homely proverb, by introducing him personally to Lord Nigel.
Sir Mungo could not at first understand what his host said,—"Bread of Heaven, wha say ye, man?"
Upon the name of Nigel Olifaunt, Lord Glenvarloch, being again hollowed into his ear, he drew up, and, regarding his entertainer with some austerity, rebuked him for not making persons of quality acquainted with each other, that they might exchange courtesies before they mingled with other folks. He then made as handsome and courtly a congee to his new acquaintance as a man maimed in foot and hand could do; and, observing he had known my lord, his father, bid him welcome to London, and hoped he should see him at Court.
Nigel in an instant comprehended, as well from Sir Mungo's manner, as from a strict compression of their entertainer's lips, which intimated the suppression of a desire to laugh, that he was dealing with an original of no ordinary description, and accordingly, returned his courtesy with suitable punctiliousness. Sir Mungo, in the meanwhile, gazed on him with much earnestness; and, as the contemplation of natural advantages was as odious to him as that of wealth, or other adventitious benefits, he had no sooner completely perused the handsome form and good features of the young lord, than like one of the comforters of the man of Uz, he drew close up to him, to enlarge on the former grandeur of the Lords of Glenvarloch, and the regret with which he had heard, that their representative was not likely to possess the domains of his ancestry. Anon, he enlarged upon the beauties of the principal mansion of Glenvarloch—the commanding site of the old castle—the noble expanse of the lake, stocked with wildfowl for hawking—the commanding screen of forest, terminating in a mountain-ridge abounding with deer—and all the other advantages of that fine and ancient barony, till Nigel, in spite of every effort to the contrary, was unwillingly obliged to sigh.
Sir Mungo, skilful in discerning when the withers of those he conversed with were wrung, observed that his new acquaintance winced, and would willingly have pressed the discussion; but the cook's impatient knock upon the dresser with the haft of his dudgeon-knife, now gave a signal loud enough to be heard from the top of the house to the bottom, summoning, at the same time, the serving-men to place the dinner upon the table, and the guests to partake of it.
Sir Mungo, who was an admirer of good cheer,—a taste which, by the way, might have some weight in reconciling his dignity to these city visits,—was tolled off by the sound, and left Nigel and the other guests in peace, until his anxiety to arrange himself in his due place of pre-eminence at the genial board was duly gratified. Here, seated on the left hand of Aunt Judith, he beheld Nigel occupy the station of yet higher honour on the right, dividing that matron from pretty Mistress Margaret; but he saw this with the more patience, that there stood betwixt him and the young lord a superb larded capon.
The dinner proceeded according to the form of the times. All was excellent of the kind; and, besides the Scottish cheer promised, the board displayed beef and pudding, the statutory dainties of Old England. A small cupboard of plate, very choicely and beautifully wrought, did not escape the compliments of some of the company, and an oblique sneer from Sir Mungo, as intimating the owner's excellence in his own mechanical craft.
"I am not ashamed of the workmanship, Sir Mungo," said the honest citizen. "They say, a good cook knows how to lick his own fingers; and, methinks, it were unseemly that I, who have furnished half the cupboards in broad Britain, should have my own covered with paltry pewter."
The blessing of the clergyman now left the guests at liberty to attack what was placed before them; and the meal went forward with great decorum, until Aunt Judith, in farther recommendation of the capon, assured her company that it was of a celebrated breed of poultry, which she had herself brought from Scotland.
"Then, like some of his countrymen, madam," said the pitiless Sir Mungo, not without a glance towards his landlord, "he has been well larded in England."
"There are some others of his countrymen," answered Master Heriot, "to whom all the lard in England has not been able to render that good office."
Sir Mungo sneered and reddened, the rest of the company laughed; and the satirist, who had his reasons for not coming to extremity with Master George, was silent for the rest of the dinner.
The dishes were exchanged for confections, and wine of the highest quality and flavour; and Nigel saw the entertainments of the wealthiest burgomasters, which he had witnessed abroad, fairly outshone by the hospitality of a London citizen. Yet there was nothing ostentatious, or which seemed inconsistent with the degree of an opulent burgher.
While the collation proceeded, Nigel, according to the good-breeding of the time, addressed his discourse principally to Mrs. Judith, whom he found to be a woman of a strong Scottish understanding, more inclined towards the Puritans than was her brother George, (for in that relation she stood to him, though he always called her aunt,) attached to him in the strongest degree, and sedulously attentive to all his comforts. As the conversation of this good dame was neither lively nor fascinating, the young lord naturally addressed himself next to the old horologer's very pretty daughter, who sat upon his left hand. From her, however, there was no extracting any reply beyond the measure of a monosyllable; and when the young gallant had said the best and most complaisant things which his courtesy supplied, the smile that mantled upon her pretty mouth was so slight and evanescent, as scarce to be discernible.
Nigel was beginning to tire of his company, for the old citizens were speaking with his host of commercial matters in language to him totally unintelligible, when Sir Mungo Malagrowther suddenly summoned their attention.
That amiable personage had for some time withdrawn from the company into the recess of a projecting window, so formed and placed as to command a view of the door of the house, and of the street. This situation was probably preferred by Sir Mungo on account of the number of objects which the streets of a metropolis usually offer, of a kind congenial to the thoughts of a splenetic man. What he had hitherto seen passing there, was probably of little consequence; but now a trampling of horse was heard without, and the knight suddenly exclaimed,—"By my faith, Master George, you had better go look to shop; for here comes Knighton, the Duke of Buckingham's groom, and two fellows after him, as if he were my Lord Duke himself."
"My cash-keeper is below," said Heriot, without disturbing himself, "and he will let me know if his Grace's commands require my immediate attention."
"Umph!—cash-keeper?" muttered Sir Mungo to himself; "he would have had an easy office when I first kend ye.—But," said he, speaking aloud, "will you not come to the window, at least? for Knighton has trundled a piece of silver-plate into your house—ha! ha! ha!— trundled it upon its edge, as a callan' would drive a hoop. I cannot help laughing—ha! ha! ha!—at the fellow's impudence."
"I believe you could not help laughing," said George Heriot, rising up and leaving the room, "if your best friend lay dying."
"Bitter that, my lord—ha?" said Sir Mungo, addressing Nigel. "Our friend is not a goldsmith for nothing—he hath no leaden wit. But I will go down, and see what comes on't."
Heriot, as he descended the stairs, met his cash-keeper coming up, with some concern in his face.—"Why, how now, Roberts," said the goldsmith, "what means all this, man?"
"It is Knighton, Master Heriot, from the Court—Knighton, the Duke's man. He brought back the salver you carried to Whitehall, flung it into the entrance as if it had been an old pewter platter, and bade me tell you the king would have none of your trumpery."
"Ay, indeed," said George Heriot—"None of my trumpery!—Come hither into the compting-room, Roberts.—Sir Mungo," he added, bowing to the knight, who had joined, and was preparing to follow them, "I pray your forgiveness for an instant."
In virtue of this prohibition, Sir Mungo, who, as well as the rest of the company, had overheard what passed betwixt George Heriot and his cash-keeper, saw himself condemned to wait in the outer business-room, where he would have endeavoured to slake his eager curiosity by questioning Knighton; but that emissary of greatness, after having added to the uncivil message of his master some rudeness of his own, had again scampered westward, with his satellites at his heels.
In the meanwhile, the name of the Duke of Buckingham, the omnipotent favourite both of the king and the Prince of Wales, had struck some anxiety into the party which remained in the great parlour. He was more feared than beloved, and, if not absolutely of a tyrannical disposition, was accounted haughty, violent, and vindictive. It pressed on Nigel's heart, that he himself, though he could not conceive how, nor why, might be the original cause of the resentment of the Duke against his benefactor. The others made their comments in whispers, until the sounds reached Ramsay, who had not heard a word of what had previously passed, but, plunged in those studies with which he connected every other incident and event, took up only the catchword, and replied,—"The Duke—the Duke of Buckingham—George Villiers—ay—I have spoke with Lambe about him."
"Our Lord and our Lady! Now, how can you say so, father?" said his daughter, who had shrewdness enough to see that her father was touching upon dangerous ground.
"Why, ay, child," answered Ramsay; "the stars do but incline, they cannot compel. But well you wot, it is commonly said of his Grace, by those who have the skill to cast nativities, that there was a notable conjunction of Mars and Saturn—the apparent or true time of which, reducing the calculations of Eichstadius made for the latitude of Oranienburgh, to that of London, gives seven hours, fifty-five minutes, and forty-one seconds——"
"Hold your peace, old soothsayer," said Heriot, who at that instant entered the room with a calm and steady countenance; "your calculations are true and undeniable when they regard brass and wire, and mechanical force; but future events are at the pleasure of Him who bears the hearts of kings in his hands."
"Ay, but, George," answered the watchmaker, "there was a concurrence of signs at this gentleman's birth, which showed his course would be a strange one. Long has it been said of him, he was born at the very meeting of night and day, and under crossing and contending influences that may affect both us and him.
'Full moon and high sea, Great man shalt thou be; Red dawning, stormy sky, Bloody death shalt thou die.'"
"It is not good to speak of such things," said Heriot, "especially of the great; stone walls have ears, and a bird of the air shall carry the matter."
Several of the guests seemed to be of their host's opinion. The two merchants took brief leave, as if under consciousness that something was wrong. Mistress Margaret, her body-guard of 'prentices being in readiness, plucked her father by the sleeve, and, rescuing him from a brown study, (whether referring to the wheels of Time, or to that of Fortune, is uncertain,) wished good-night to her friend Mrs. Judith, and received her godfather's blessing, who, at the same time, put upon her slender finger a ring of much taste and some value; for he seldom suffered her to leave him without some token of his affection. Thus honourably dismissed, and accompanied by her escort, she set forth on her return to Fleet Street.
Sir Mungo had bid adieu to Master Heriot as he came out from the back compting-room, but such was the interest which he took in the affairs of his friend, that, when Master George went upstairs, he could not help walking into that sanctum sanctorum, to see how Master Roberts was employed. The knight found the cash-keeper busy in making extracts from those huge brass-clasped leathern-bound manuscript folios, which are the pride and trust of dealers, and the dread of customers whose year of grace is out. The good knight leant his elbows on the desk, and said to the functionary in a condoling tone of voice,—"What! you have lost a good customer, I fear, Master Roberts, and are busied in making out his bill of charges?"
Now, it chanced that Roberts, like Sir Mungo himself, was a little deaf, and, like Sir Mungo, knew also how to make the most of it; so that he answered at cross purposes,—"I humbly crave your pardon, Sir Mungo, for not having sent in your bill of charge sooner, but my master bade me not disturb you. I will bring the items together in a moment." So saying, he began to turn over the leaves of his book of fate, murmuring, "Repairing ane silver seal-new clasp to his chain of office—ane over-gilt brooch to his hat, being a Saint Andrew's cross, with thistles—a copper gilt pair of spurs,—this to Daniel Driver, we not dealing in the article."
He would have proceeded; but Sir Mungo, not prepared to endure the recital of the catalogue of his own petty debts, and still less willing to satisfy them on the spot, wished the bookkeeper, cavalierly, good-night, and left the house without farther ceremony. The clerk looked after him with a civil city sneer, and immediately resumed the more serious labours which Sir Mungo's intrusion had interrupted.
Things needful we have thought on; but the thing Of all most needful—that which Scripture terms, As if alone it merited regard, The ONE thing needful—that's yet unconsider'd. The Chamberlain.
When the rest of the company had taken their departure from Master Heriot's house, the young Lord of Glenvarloch also offered to take leave; but his host detained him for a few minutes, until all were gone excepting the clergyman.
"My lord," then said the worthy citizen, "we have had our permitted hour of honest and hospitable pastime, and now I would fain delay you for another and graver purpose, as it is our custom, when we have the benefit of good Mr. Windsor's company, that he reads the prayers of the church for the evening before we separate. Your excellent father, my lord, would not have departed before family worship—I hope the same from your lordship."
"With pleasure, sir," answered Nigel; "and you add in the invitation an additional obligation to those with which you have loaded me. When young men forget what is their duty, they owe deep thanks to the friend who will remind them of it."
While they talked together in this manner, the serving-men had removed the folding-tables, brought forward a portable reading-desk, and placed chairs and hassocks for their master, their mistress, and the noble stranger. Another low chair, or rather a sort of stool, was placed close beside that of Master Heriot; and though the circumstance was trivial, Nigel was induced to notice it, because, when about to occupy that seat, he was prevented by a sign from the old gentleman, and motioned to another of somewhat more elevation. The clergyman took his station behind the reading-desk. The domestics, a numerous family both of clerks and servants, including Moniplies, attended, with great gravity, and were accommodated with benches.
The household were all seated, and, externally at least, composed to devout attention, when a low knock was heard at the door of the apartment; Mrs. Judith looked anxiously at her brother, as if desiring to know his pleasure. He nodded his head gravely, and looked to the door. Mrs. Judith immediately crossed the chamber, opened the door, and led into the apartment a beautiful creature, whose sudden and singular appearance might have made her almost pass for an apparition. She was deadly pale-there was not the least shade of vital red to enliven features, which were exquisitely formed, and might, but for that circumstance, have been termed transcendently beautiful. Her long black hair fell down over her shoulders and down her back, combed smoothly and regularly, but without the least appearance of decoration or ornament, which looked very singular at a period when head-gear, as it was called, of one sort or other, was generally used by all ranks. Her dress was of white, of the simplest fashion, and hiding all her person excepting the throat, face, and hands. Her form was rather beneath than above the middle size, but so justly proportioned and elegantly made, that the spectator's attention was entirely withdrawn from her size. In contradiction of the extreme plainness of all the rest of her attire, she wore a necklace which a duchess might have envied, so large and lustrous were the brilliants of which it was composed; and around her waist a zone of rubies of scarce inferior value.
When this singular figure entered the apartment, she cast her eyes on Nigel, and paused, as if uncertain whether to advance or retreat. The glance which she took of him seemed to be one rather of uncertainty and hesitation, than of bashfulness or timidity. Aunt Judith took her by the hand, and led her slowly forward—her dark eyes, however, continued to be fixed on Nigel, with an expression of melancholy by which he felt strangely affected. Even when she was seated on the vacant stool, which was placed there probably for her accommodation, she again looked on him more than once with the same pensive, lingering, and anxious expression, but without either shyness or embarrassment, not even so much as to call the slightest degree of complexion into her cheek.
So soon as this singular female had taken up the prayer-book, which was laid upon her cushion, she seemed immersed in devotional duty; and although Nigel's attention to the service was so much disturbed by this extraordinary apparition, that he looked towards her repeatedly in the course of the service, he could never observe that her eyes or her thoughts strayed so much as a single moment from the task in which she was engaged. Nigel himself was less attentive, for the appearance of this lady seemed so extraordinary, that, strictly as he had been bred up by his father to pay the most reverential attention during performance of divine service, his thoughts in spite of himself were disturbed by her presence, and he earnestly wished the prayers were ended, that his curiosity might obtain some gratification. When the service was concluded, and each had remained, according to the decent and edifying practice of the church, concentrated in mental devotion for a short space, the mysterious visitant arose ere any other person stirred; and Nigel remarked that none of the domestics left their places, oreven moved, until she had first kneeled on one knee to Heriot, who seemed to bless her with his hand laid on her head, and a melancholy solemnity of look and action. She then bended her body, but without kneeling, to Mrs. Judith, and having performed these two acts of reverence, she left the room; yet just in the act of her departure, she once more turned her penetrating eyes on Nigel with a fixed look, which compelled him to turn his own aside. When he looked towards her again, he saw only the skirt of her white mantle as she left the apartment.
The domestics then rose and dispersed themselves—wine, and fruit, and spices, were offered to Lord Nigel and to the clergyman, and the latter took his leave. The young lord would fain have accompanied him, in hope to get some explanation of the apparition which he had beheld, but he was stopped by his host, who requested to speak with him in his compting-room.
"I hope, my lord," said the citizen, "that your preparations for attending Court are in such forwardness that you can go thither the day after to-morrow. It is, perhaps, the last day, for some time, that his Majesty will hold open Court for all who have pretensions by birth, rank, or office to attend upon him. On the subsequent day he goes to Theobald's, where he is so much occupied with hunting and other pleasures, that he cares not to be intruded on."
"I shall be in all outward readiness to pay my duty," said the young nobleman, "yet I have little heart to do it. The friends from whom I ought to have found encouragement and protection, have proved cold and false—I certainly will not trouble them for their countenance on this occasion—and yet I must confess my childish unwillingness to enter quite alone upon so new a scene."
"It is bold of a mechanic like me to make such an offer to a nobleman," said Heriot; "but I must attend at Court to-morrow. I can accompany you as far as the presence-chamber, from my privilege as being of the household. I can facilitate your entrance, should you find difficulty, and I can point out the proper manner and time of approaching the king. But I do not know," he added, smiling, "whether these little advantages will not be overbalanced by the incongruity of a nobleman receiving them from the hands of an old smith."
"From the hands rather of the only friend I have found in London," said Nigel, offering his hand.
"Nay, if you think of the matter in that way," replied the honest citizen, "there is no more to be said—I will come for you to-morrow, with a barge proper to the occasion.—But remember, my good young lord, that I do not, like some men of my degree, wish to take opportunity to step beyond it, and associate with my superiors in rank, and therefore do not fear to mortify my presumption, by suffering me to keep my distance in the presence, and where it is fitting for both of us to separate; and for what remains, most truly happy shall I be in proving of service to the son of my ancient patron."
The style of conversation led so far from the point which had interested the young nobleman's curiosity, that there was no returning to it that night. He therefore exchanged thanks and greetings with George Heriot, and took his leave, promising to be equipped and in readiness to embark with him on the second successive morning at ten o'clock.
The generation of linkboys, celebrated by Count Anthony Hamilton, as peculiar to London, had already, in the reign of James I., begun their functions, and the service of one of them with his smoky torch, had been secured to light the young Scottish lord and his follower to their lodgings, which, though better acquainted than formerly with the city, they might in the dark have run some danger of missing. This gave the ingenious Mr. Moniplies an opportunity of gathering close up to his master, after he had gone through the form of slipping his left arm into the handles of his buckler, and loosening his broadsword in the sheath, that he might be ready for whatever should befall.
"If it were not for the wine and the good cheer which we have had in yonder old man's house, my lord," said this sapient follower, "and that I ken him by report to be a just living man in many respects, and a real Edinburgh gutterblood, I should have been well pleased to have seen how his feet were shaped, and whether he had not a cloven cloot under the braw roses and cordovan shoon of his."
"Why, you rascal," answered Nigel, "you have been too kindly treated, and now that you have filled your ravenous stomach, you are railing on the good gentleman that relieved you."
"Under favour, no, my lord," said Moniplies,—"I would only like to see something mair about him. I have eaten his meat, it is true—more shame that the like of him should have meat to give, when your lordship and me could scarce have gotten, on our own account, brose and a bear bannock—I have drunk his wine, too."
"I see you have," replied his master, "a great deal more than you should have done."
"Under your patience, my lord," said Moniplies, "you are pleased to say that, because I crushed a quart with that jolly boy Jenkin, as they call the 'prentice boy, and that was out of mere acknowledgment for his former kindness—I own that I, moreover, sung the good old song of Elsie Marley, so as they never heard it chanted in their lives——"
And withal (as John Bunyan says) as they went on their way, he sung—
"O, do ye ken Elsie Marley, honey— The wife that sells the barley, honey? For Elsie Marley's grown sae fine, She winna get up to feed the swine.— O, do ye ken——"
Here in mid career was the songster interrupted by the stern gripe of his master, who threatened to baton him to death if he brought the city-watch upon them by his ill-timed melody.
"I crave pardon, my lord—I humbly crave pardon—only when I think of that Jen Win, as they call him, I can hardly help humming—'O, do ye ken'—But I crave your honour's pardon, and will be totally dumb, if you command me so."
"No, sirrah!" said Nigel, "talk on, for I well know you would say and suffer more under pretence of holding your peace, than when you get an unbridled license. How is it, then? What have you to say against Master Heriot?"
It seems more than probable, that in permitting this license, the young lord hoped his attendant would stumble upon the subject of the young lady who had appeared at prayers in a manner so mysterious. But whether this was the case, or whether he merely desired that Moniplies should utter, in a subdued and under tone of voice, those spirits which might otherwise have vented themselves in obstreperous song, it is certain he permitted his attendant to proceed with his story in his own way.
"And therefore," said the orator, availing himself of his immunity, "I would like to ken what sort of carle this Maister Heriot is. He hath supplied your lordship with wealth of gold, as I can understand; and if he has, I make it for certain he hath had his ain end in it, according to the fashion of the world. Now, had your lordship your own good lands at your guiding, doubtless this person, with most of his craft—goldsmiths they call themselves—I say usurers—wad be glad to exchange so many pounds of African dust, by whilk I understand gold, against so many fair acres, and hundreds of acres, of broad Scottish land."
"But you know I have no land," said the young lord, "at least none that can be affected by any debt which I can at present become obliged for—I think you need not have reminded me of that."
"True, my lord, most true; and, as your lordship says, open to the meanest capacity, without any unnecessary expositions. Now, therefore, my lord, unless Maister George Heriot has something mair to allege as a motive for his liberality, vera different from the possession of your estate—and moreover, as he could gain little by the capture of your body, wherefore should it not be your soul that he is in pursuit of?"
"My soul, you rascal!" said the young lord; "what good should my soul do him?"
"What do I ken about that?" said Moniplies; "they go about roaring and seeking whom they may devour—doubtless, they like the food that they rage so much about—and, my lord, they say," added Moniplies, drawing up still closer to his master's side, "they say that Master Heriot has one spirit in his house already."
"How, or what do you mean?" said Nigel; "I will break your head, you drunken knave, if you palter with me any longer."
"Drunken?" answered his trusty adherent, "and is this the story?—why, how could I but drink your lordship's health on my bare knees, when Master Jenkin began it to me?—hang them that would not—I would have cut the impudent knave's hams with my broadsword, that should make scruple of it, and so have made him kneel when he should have found it difficult to rise again. But touching the spirit," he proceeded, finding that his master made no answer to his valorous tirade, "your lordship has seen her with your own eyes."
"I saw no spirit," said Glenvarloch, but yet breathing thick as one who expects some singular disclosure, "what mean you by a spirit?"
"You saw a young lady come in to prayers, that spoke not a word to any one, only made becks and bows to the old gentleman and lady of the house—ken ye wha she is?"
"No, indeed," answered Nigel; "some relation of the family, I suppose."
"Deil a bit—deil a bit," answered Moniplies, hastily, "not a blood- drop's kin to them, if she had a drop of blood in her body—I tell you but what all human beings allege to be truth, that swell within hue and cry of Lombard Street—that lady, or quean, or whatever you choose to call her, has been dead in the body these many a year, though she haunts them, as we have seen, even at their very devotions."
"You will allow her to be a good spirit at least," said Nigel Olifaunt, "since she chooses such a time to visit her friends?"
"For that I kenna, my lord," answered the superstitious follower; "I ken no spirit that would have faced the right down hammer-blow of Mess John Knox, whom my father stood by in his very warst days, bating a chance time when the Court, which my father supplied with butcher- meat, was against him. But yon divine has another airt from powerful Master Rollock, and Mess David Black, of North Leith, and sic like.— Alack-a-day! wha can ken, if it please your lordship, whether sic prayers as the Southron read out of their auld blethering black mess- book there, may not be as powerful to invite fiends, as a right red- het prayer warm fraw the heart, may be powerful to drive them away, even as the Evil Spirit was driven by he smell of the fish's liver from the bridal-chamber of Sara, the daughter of Raguel? As to whilk story, nevertheless, I make scruple to say whether it be truth or not, better men than I am having doubted on that matter."
"Well, well, well," said his master, impatiently, "we are now near home, and I have permitted you to speak of this matter for once, that we may have an end to your prying folly, and your idiotical superstitions, for ever. For whom do you, or your absurd authors or informers, take this lady?"
"I can sae naething preceesely as to that," answered Moniplies; "certain it is her body died and was laid in the grave many a day since, notwithstanding she still wanders on earth, and chiefly amongst Maister Heriot's family, though she hath been seen in other places by them that well knew her. But who she is, I will not warrant to say, or how she becomes attached, like a Highland Brownie, to some peculiar family. They say she has a row of apartments of her own, ante-room, parlour, and bedroom; but deil a bed she sleeps in but her own coffin, and the walls, doors, and windows are so chinked up, as to prevent the least blink of daylight from entering; and then she dwells by torchlight—"
"To what purpose, if she be a spirit?" said Nigel Olifaunt.
"How can I tell your lordship?" answered his attendant. "I thank God I know nothing of her likings, or mislikings—only her coffin is there; and I leave your lordship to guess what a live person has to do with a coffin. As little as a ghost with a lantern, I trow."
"What reason," repeated Nigel, "can a creature, so young and so beautiful, have already habitually to contemplate her bed of last-long rest?"
"In troth, I kenna, my lord," answered Moniplies; "but there is the coffin, as they told me who have seen it: it is made of heben-wood, with silver nails, and lined all through with three-piled damask, might serve a princess to rest in."
"Singular," said Nigel, whose brain, like that of most active young spirits, was easily caught by the singular and the romantic; "does she not eat with the family?"
"Who!—she!"—exclaimed Moniplies, as if surprised at the question; "they would need a lang spoon would sup with her, I trow. Always there is something put for her into the Tower, as they call it, whilk is a whigmaleery of a whirling-box, that turns round half on the tae side o' the wa', half on the tother."
"I have seen the contrivance in foreign nunneries," said the Lord of Glenvarloch. "And is it thus she receives her food?"
"They tell me something is put in ilka day, for fashion's sake," replied the attendant; "but it's no to be supposed she would consume it, ony mair than the images of Bel and the Dragon consumed the dainty vivers that were placed before them. There are stout yeomen and chamber-queans in the house, enow to play the part of Lick-it-up-a', as well as the threescore and ten priests of Bel, besides their wives and children."
"And she is never seen in the family but when the hour of prayer arrives?" said the master.
"Never, that I hear of," replied the servant.
"It is singular," said Nigel Olifaunt, musing. "Were it not for the ornaments which she wears, and still more for her attendance upon the service of the Protestant Church, I should know what to think, and should believe her either a Catholic votaress, who, for some cogent reason, was allowed to make her cell here in London, or some unhappy Popish devotee, who was in the course of undergoing a dreadful penance. As it is, I know not what to deem of it."
His reverie was interrupted by the linkboy knocking at the door of honest John Christie, whose wife came forth with "quips, and becks, and wreathed smiles," to welcome her honoured guest on his return to his apartment.
Ay! mark the matron well—and laugh not, Harry, At her old steeple-hat and velvet guard— I've call'd her like the ear of Dionysius; I mean that ear-form'd vault, built o'er his dungeon, To catch the groans and discontented murmurs Of his poor bondsmen—Even so doth Martha Drink up, for her own purpose, all that passes, Or is supposed to pass, in this wide city— She can retail it too, if that her profit Shall call on her to do so; and retail it For your advantage, so that you can make Your profit jump with hers. The Conspiracy.
We must now introduce to the reader's acquaintance another character, busy and important far beyond her ostensible situation in society—in a word, Dame Ursula Suddlechop, wife of Benjamin Suddlechop, the most renowned barber in all Fleet Street. This dame had her own particular merits, the principal part of which was (if her own report could be trusted) an infinite desire to be of service to her fellow-creatures. Leaving to her thin half-starved partner the boast of having the most dexterous snap with his fingers of any shaver in London, and the care of a shop where starved apprentices flayed the faces of those who were boobies enough to trust them, the dame drove a separate and more lucrative trade, which yet had so many odd turns and windings, that it seemed in many respects to contradict itself.
Its highest and most important duties were of a very secret and confidential nature, and Dame Ursula Suddlechop was never known to betray any transaction intrusted to her, unless she had either been indifferently paid for her service, or that some one found it convenient to give her a double douceur to make her disgorge the secret; and these contingencies happened in so few cases, that her character for trustiness remained as unimpeached as that for honesty and benevolence.
In fact, she was a most admirable matron, and could be useful to the impassioned and the frail in the rise, progress, and consequences of their passion. She could contrive an interview for lovers who could show proper reasons for meeting privately; she could relieve the frail fair one of the burden of a guilty passion, and perhaps establish the hopeful offspring of unlicensed love as the heir of some family whose love was lawful, but where an heir had not followed the union. More than this she could do, and had been concerned in deeper and dearer secrets. She had been a pupil of Mrs. Turner, and learned from her the secret of making the yellow starch, and, it may be, two or three other secrets of more consequence, though perhaps none that went to the criminal extent of those whereof her mistress was accused. But all that was deep and dark in her real character was covered by the show of outward mirth and good-humour, the hearty laugh and buxom jest with which the dame knew well how to conciliate the elder part of her neighbours, and the many petty arts by which she could recommend herself to the younger, those especially of her own sex.
Dame Ursula was, in appearance, scarce past forty, and her full, but not overgrown form, and still comely features, although her person was plumped out, and her face somewhat coloured by good cheer, had a joyous expression of gaiety and good-humour, which set off the remains of beauty in the wane. Marriages, births, and christenings were seldom thought to be performed with sufficient ceremony, for a considerable distance round her abode, unless Dame Ursley, as they called her, was present. She could contrive all sorts of pastimes, games, and jests, which might amuse the large companies which the hospitality of our ancestors assembled together on such occasions, so that her presence was literally considered as indispensable in the families of all citizens of ordinary rank, at such joyous periods. So much also was she supposed to know of life and its labyrinths, that she was the willing confidant of half the loving couples in the vicinity, most of whom used to communicate their secrets to, and receive their counsel from, Dame Ursley. The rich rewarded her services with rings, owches, or gold pieces, which she liked still better; and she very generously gave her assistance to the poor, on the same mixed principles as young practitioners in medicine assist them, partly from compassion, and partly to keep her hand in use.