"Do not call me out of my own name, my dear boy, Jin Vin," answered Ursula, in a tone betwixt rage and coaxing,—"do not; because I am no saint, but a poor sinful woman, with no more patience than she needs, to carry her through a thousand crosses. And if I have done you wrong by evil counsel, I must mend it and put you right by good advice. And for the score of pieces that must be made up at settling-day, why, here is, in a good green purse, as much as will make that matter good; and we will get old Crosspatch, the tailor, to take a long day for your clothes; and—"
"Mother, are you serious?" said Jin Vin, unable to trust either his eyes or his ears.
"In troth am I," said the dame; "and will you call me Mother Midnight now, Jin Vin?"
"Mother Midnight!" exclaimed Jenkin, hugging the dame in his transport, and bestowing on her still comely cheek a hearty and not unacceptable smack, that sounded like the report of a pistol,—"Mother Midday, rather, that has risen to light me out of my troubles—a mother more dear than she who bore me; for she, poor soul, only brought me into a world of sin and sorrow, and your timely aid has helped me out of the one and the other. "And the good-natured fellow threw himself back in his chair, and fairly drew his hand across his eyes.
"You would not have me be made to ride the Skimmington then," said the dame; "or parade me in a cart, with all the brass basins of the ward beating the march to Bridewell before me?"
"I would sooner be carted to Tyburn myself," replied the penitent.
"Why, then, sit up like a man, and wipe thine eyes; and, if thou art pleased with what I have done, I will show thee how thou mayst requite me in the highest degree."
"How?" said Jenkin Vincent, sitting straight up in his chair.—"You would have me, then, do you some service for this friendship of yours?"
"Ay, marry would I," said Dame Ursley; "for you are to know, that though I am right glad to stead you with it, this gold is not mine, but was placed in my hands in order to find a trusty agent, for a certain purpose; and so—But what's the matter with you?—are you fool enough to be angry because you cannot get a purse of gold for nothing? I would I knew where such were to come by. I never could find them lying in my road, I promise you."
"No, no, dame," said poor Jenkin, "it is not for that; for, look you, I would rather work these ten bones to the knuckles, and live by my labour; but—" (and here he paused.)
"But what, man?" said Dame Ursley. "You are willing to work for what you want; and yet, when I offer you gold for the winning, you look on me as the devil looks over Lincoln."
"It is ill talking of the devil, mother," said Jenkin. "I had him even now in my head—for, look you, I am at that pass, when they say he will appear to wretched ruined creatures, and proffer them gold for the fee-simple of their salvation. But I have been trying these two days to bring my mind strongly up to the thought, that I will rather sit down in shame, and sin, and sorrow, as I am like to do, than hold on in ill courses to get rid of my present straits; and so take care, Dame Ursula, how you tempt me to break such a good resolution."
"I tempt you to nothing, young man," answered Ursula; "and, as I perceive you are too wilful to be wise, I will e'en put my purse in my pocket, and look out for some one that will work my turn with better will, and more thankfulness. And you may go your own course,—break your indenture, ruin your father, lose your character, and bid pretty Mistress Margaret farewell, for ever and a day."
"Stay, stay," said Jenkin "the woman is in as great a hurry as a brown baker when his oven is overheated. First, let me hear that which you have to propose to me."
"Why, after all, it is but to get a gentleman of rank and fortune, who is in trouble, carried in secret down the river, as far as the Isle of Dogs, or somewhere thereabout, where he may lie concealed until he can escape aboard. I know thou knowest every place by the river's side as well as the devil knows an usurer, or the beggar knows his dish."
"A plague of your similes, dame," replied the apprentice; "for the devil gave me that knowledge, and beggary may be the end on't.—But what has this gentleman done, that he should need to be under hiding? No Papist, I hope—no Catesby and Piercy business—no Gunpowder Plot?"
"Fy, fy!—what do you take me for?" said Dame Ursula. "I am as good a churchwoman as the parson's wife, save that necessary business will not allow me to go there oftener than on Christmas-day, heaven help me!—No, no—this is no Popish matter. The gentleman hath but struck another in the Park—"
"Ha! what?" said Vincent, interrupting her with a start.
"Ay, ay, I see you guess whom I mean. It is even he we have spoken of so often—just Lord Glenvarloch, and no one else."
Vincent sprung from his seat, and traversed the room with rapid and disorderly steps.
"There, there it is now—you are always ice or gunpowder. You sit in the great leathern armchair, as quiet as a rocket hangs upon the frame in a rejoicing-night till the match be fired, and then, whizz! you are in the third heaven, beyond the reach of the human voice, eye, or brain.—When you have wearied yourself with padding to and fro across the room, will you tell me your determination, for time presses? Will you aid me in this matter, or not?"
"No—no—no—a thousand times no," replied Jenkin. "Have you not confessed to me, that Margaret loves him?"
"Ay," answered the dame, "that she thinks she does; but that will not last long."
"And have I not told you but this instant," replied Jenkin, "that it was this same Glenvarloch that rooked me, at the ordinary, of every penny I had, and made a knave of me to boot, by gaining more than was my own?—O that cursed gold, which Shortyard, the mercer, paid me that morning on accompt, for mending the clock of Saint Stephen's! If I had not, by ill chance, had that about me, I could but have beggared my purse, without blemishing my honesty; and, after I had been rooked of all the rest amongst them, I must needs risk the last five pieces with that shark among the minnows!"
"Granted," said Dame Ursula. "All this I know; and I own, that as Lord Glenvarloch was the last you played with, you have a right to charge your ruin on his head. Moreover, I admit, as already said, that Margaret has made him your rival. Yet surely, now he is in danger to lose his hand, it is not a time to remember all this?"
"By my faith, but it is, though," said the young citizen. "Lose his hand, indeed? They may take his head, for what I care. Head and hand have made me a miserable wretch!"
"Now, were it not better, my prince of flat-caps," said Dame Ursula, "that matters were squared between you; and that, through means of the same Scottish lord, who has, as you say, deprived you of your money and your mistress, you should in a short time recover both?"
"And how can your wisdom come to that conclusion, dame?" said the apprentice. "My money, indeed, I can conceive—that is, if I comply with your proposal; but—my pretty Marget!—how serving this lord, whom she has set her nonsensical head upon, can do me good with her, is far beyond my conception."
"That is because, in simple phrase," said Dame Ursula, "thou knowest no more of a woman's heart than doth a Norfolk gosling. Look you, man. Were I to report to Mistress Margaret that the young lord has miscarried through thy lack of courtesy in refusing to help him, why, then, thou wert odious to her for ever. She will loathe thee as she will loathe the very cook who is to strike off Glenvarloch's hand with his cleaver—and then she will be yet more fixed in her affections towards this lord. London will hear of nothing but him—speak of nothing but him—think of nothing but him, for three weeks at least, and all that outcry will serve to keep him uppermost in her mind; for nothing pleases a girl so much as to bear relation to any one who is the talk of the whole world around her. Then, if he suffer this sentence of the law, it is a chance if she ever forgets him. I saw that handsome, proper young gentleman Babington, suffer in the Queen's time myself, and though I was then but a girl, he was in my head for a year after he was hanged. But, above all, pardoned or punished, Glenvarloch will probably remain in London, and his presence will keep up the silly girl's nonsensical fancy about him. Whereas, if he escapes—"
"Ay, show me how that is to avail me?" said Jenkin. "If he escapes," said the dame, resuming her argument, "he must resign the Court for years, if not for life; and you know the old saying, 'out of sight, and out of mind.'"
"True—most true," said Jenkin; "spoken like an oracle, most wise Ursula." "Ay, ay, I knew you would hear reason at last," said the wily dame; "and then, when this same lord is off and away for once and for ever, who, I pray you, is to be pretty pet's confidential person, and who is to fill up the void in her affections?—why, who but thou, thou pearl of 'prentices! And then you will have overcome your own inclinations to comply with hers, and every woman is sensible of that- -and you will have run some risk, too, in carrying her desires into effect—and what is it that woman likes better than bravery, and devotion to her will? Then you have her secret, and she must treat you with favour and observance, and repose confidence in you, and hold private intercourse with you, till she weeps with one eye for the absent lover whom she is never to see again, and blinks with the other blithely upon him who is in presence; and then if you know not how to improve the relation in which you stand with her, you are not the brisk lively lad that all the world takes you for—Said I well?"
"You have spoken like an empress, most mighty Ursula," said Jenkin Vincent; "and your will shall be obeyed."
"You know Alsatia well?" continued his tutoress.
"Well enough, well enough," replied he with a nod; "I have heard the dice rattle there in my day, before I must set up for gentleman, and go among the gallants at the Shavaleer Bojo's, as they call him,—the worse rookery of the two, though the feathers are the gayest."
"And they will have a respect for thee yonder, I warrant?"
"Ay, ay," replied Vin, "when I am got into my fustian doublet again, with my bit of a trunnion under my arm, I can walk Alsatia at midnight as I could do that there Fleet Street in midday—they will not one of them swagger with the prince of 'prentices, and the king of clubs— they know I could bring every tall boy in the ward down upon them."
"And you know all the watermen, and so forth?"
"Can converse with every sculler in his own language, from Richmond to Gravesend, and know all the water-cocks, from John Taylor the Poet to little Grigg the Grinner, who never pulls but he shows all his teeth from ear to ear, as if he were grimacing through a horse-collar."
"And you can take any dress or character upon you well, such as a waterman's, a butcher's, a foot-soldier's," continued Ursula, "or the like?"
"Not such a mummer as I am within the walls, and thou knowest that well enough, dame," replied the apprentice. "I can touch the players themselves, at the Ball and at the Fortune, for presenting any thing except a gentleman. Take but this d—d skin of frippery off me, which I think the devil stuck me into, and you shall put me into nothing else that I will not become as if I were born to it."
"Well, we will talk of your transmutation by and by," said the dame, "and find you clothes withal, and money besides; for it will take a good deal to carry the thing handsomely through."
"But where is that money to come from, dame?" said Jenkin; "there is a question I would fain have answered before I touch it."
"Why, what a fool art thou to ask such a question! Suppose I am content to advance it to please young madam, what is the harm then?"
"I will suppose no such thing," said Jenkin, hastily; "I know that you, dame, have no gold to spare, and maybe would not spare it if you had—so that cock will not crow. It must be from Margaret herself."
"Well, thou suspicious animal, and what if it were?" said Ursula.
"Only this," replied Jenkin, "that I will presently to her, and learn if she has come fairly by so much ready money; for sooner than connive at her getting it by any indirection, I would hang myself at once. It is enough what I have done myself, no need to engage poor Margaret in such villainy—I'll to her, and tell her of the danger—I will, by heaven!"
"You are mad to think of it," said Dame Suddlechop, considerably alarmed—"hear me but a moment. I know not precisely from whom she got the money; but sure I am that she obtained it at her godfather's."
"Why, Master George Heriot is not returned from France," said Jenkin.
"No," replied Ursula, "but Dame Judith is at home—and the strange lady, whom they call Master Heriot's ghost—she never goes abroad."
"It is very true, Dame Suddlechop," said Jenkin; "and I believe you have guessed right—they say that lady has coin at will; and if Marget can get a handful of fairy-gold, why, she is free to throw it away at will."
"Ah, Jin Vin," said the dame, reducing her voice almost to a whisper, "we should not want gold at will neither, could we but read the riddle of that lady!"
"They may read it that list," said Jenkin, "I'll never pry into what concerns me not—Master George Heriot is a worthy and brave citizen, and an honour to London, and has a right to manage his own household as he likes best.—There was once a talk of rabbling him the fifth of November before the last, because they said he kept a nunnery in his house, like old Lady Foljambe; but Master George is well loved among the 'prentices, and we got so many brisk boys of us together as should have rabbled the rabble, had they had but the heart to rise."
"Well, let that pass," said Ursula; "and now, tell me how you will manage to be absent from shop a day or two, for you must think that this matter will not be ended sooner."
"Why, as to that, I can say nothing," said Jenkin, "I have always served duly and truly; I have no heart to play truant, and cheat my master of his time as well as his money."
"Nay, but the point is to get back his money for him," said Ursula, "which he is not likely to see on other conditions. Could you not ask leave to go down to your uncle in Essex for two or three days? He may be ill, you know."
"Why, if I must, I must," said Jenkin, with a heavy sigh; "but I will not be lightly caught treading these dark and crooked paths again."
"Hush thee, then," said the dame, "and get leave for this very evening; and come back hither, and I will introduce you to another implement, who must be employed in the matter.—Stay, stay!—the lad is mazed—you would not go into your master's shop in that guise, surely? Your trunk is in the matted chamber, with your 'prentice things—go and put them on as fast as you can."
"I think I am bewitched," said Jenkin, giving a glance towards his dress, "or that these fool's trappings have made as great an ass of me as of many I have seen wear them; but let line once be rid of the harness, and if you catch me putting it on again, I will give you leave to sell me to a gipsy, to carry pots, pans, and beggar's bantlings, all the rest of my life." So saying, he retired to change his apparel.
Chance will not do the work—Chance sends the breeze; But if the pilot slumber at the helm, The very wind that wafts us towards the port May dash us on the shelves.—The steersman's part is vigilance, Blow it or rough or smooth. Old Play.
We left Nigel, whose fortunes we are bound to trace by the engagement contracted in our title-page, sad and solitary in the mansion of Trapbois the usurer, having just received a letter instead of a visit from his friend the Templar, stating reasons why he could not at that time come to see him in Alsatia. So that it appeared that his intercourse with the better and more respectable class of society, was, for the present, entirely cut off. This was a melancholy, and, to a proud mind like that of Nigel, a degrading reflection.
He went to the window of his apartment, and found the street enveloped in one of those thick, dingy, yellow-coloured fogs, which often invest the lower part of London and Westminster. Amid the darkness, dense and palpable, were seen to wander like phantoms a reveller or two, whom the morning had surprised where the evening left them; and who now, with tottering steps, and by an instinct which intoxication could not wholly overcome, were groping the way to their own homes, to convert day into night, for the purpose of sleeping off the debauch which had turned night into day. Although it was broad day in the other parts of the city, it was scarce dawn yet in Alsatia; and none of the sounds of industry or occupation were there heard, which had long before aroused the slumberers in any other quarter. The prospect was too tiresome and disagreeable to detain Lord Glenvarloch at his station, so, turning from the window, he examined with more interest the furniture and appearance of the apartment which he tenanted.
Much of it had been in its time rich and curious—there was a huge four-post bed, with as much carved oak about it as would have made the head of a man-of-war, and tapestry hangings ample enough to have been her sails. There was a huge mirror with a massy frame of gilt brass- work, which was of Venetian manufacture, and must have been worth a considerable sum before it received the tremendous crack, which, traversing it from one corner to the other, bore the same proportion to the surface that the Nile bears to the map of Egypt. The chairs were of different forms and shapes, some had been carved, some gilded, some covered with damasked leather, some with embroidered work, but all were damaged and worm-eaten. There was a picture of Susanna and the Elders over the chimney-piece, which might have been accounted a choice piece, had not the rats made free with the chaste fair one's nose, and with the beard of one of her reverend admirers.
In a word, all that Lord Glenvarloch saw, seemed to have been articles carried off by appraisement or distress, or bought as pennyworths at some obscure broker's, and huddled together in the apartment, as in a sale-room, without regard to taste or congruity.
The place appeared to Nigel to resemble the houses near the sea-coast, which are too often furnished with the spoils of wrecked vessels, as this was probably fitted up with the relics of ruined profligates.— "My own skiff is among the breakers," thought Lord Glenvarloch, "though my wreck will add little to the profits of the spoiler."
He was chiefly interested in the state of the grate, a huge assemblage of rusted iron bars which stood in the chimney, unequally supported by three brazen feet, moulded into the form of lion's claws, while the fourth, which had been bent by an accident, seemed proudly uplifted as if to paw the ground; or as if the whole article had nourished the ambitious purpose of pacing forth into the middle of the apartment, and had one foot ready raised for the journey. A smile passed over Nigel's face as this fantastic idea presented itself to his fancy.—"I must stop its march, however," he thought; "for this morning is chill and raw enough to demand some fire."
He called accordingly from the top of a large staircase, with a heavy oaken balustrade, which gave access to his own and other apartments, for the house was old and of considerable size; but, receiving no answer to his repeated summons, he was compelled to go in search of some one who might accommodate him with what he wanted.
Nigel had, according to the fashion of the old world in Scotland, received an education which might, in most particulars, be termed simple, hardy, and unostentatious; but he had, nevertheless, been accustomed to much personal deference, and to the constant attendance and ministry of one or more domestics. This was the universal custom in Scotland, where wages were next to nothing, and where, indeed, a man of title or influence might have as many attendants as he pleased, for the mere expense of food, clothes, and countenance. Nigel was therefore mortified and displeased when he found himself without notice or attendance; and the more dissatisfied, because he was at the same time angry with himself for suffering such a trifle to trouble him at all, amongst matters of more deep concernment. "There must surely be some servants in so large a house as this," said he, as he wandered over the place, through which he was conducted by a passage which branched off from the gallery. As he went on, he tried the entrance to several apartments, some of which he found were locked and others unfurnished, all apparently unoccupied; so that at length he returned to the staircase, and resolved to make his way down to the lower part of the house, where he supposed he must at least find the old gentleman, and his ill-favoured daughter. With this purpose he first made his entrance into a little low, dark parlour, containing a well-worn leathern easy-chair, before which stood a pair of slippers, while on the left side rested a crutch-handled staff; an oaken table stood before it, and supported a huge desk clamped with iron, and a massive pewter inkstand. Around the apartment were shelves, cabinets, and other places convenient for depositing papers. A sword, musketoon, and a pair of pistols, hung over the chimney, in ostentatious display, as if to intimate that the proprietor would be prompt in the defence of his premises.
"This must be the usurer's den," thought Nigel; and he was about to call aloud, when the old man, awakened even by the slightest noise, for avarice seldom sleeps sound, soon was heard from the inner room, speaking in a voice of irritability, rendered more tremulous by his morning cough.
"Ugh, ugh, ugh—who is there? I say—ugh, ugh—who is there? Why, Martha!—ugh! ugh—Martha Trapbois—here be thieves in the house, and they will not speak to me—why, Martha!—thieves, thieves—ugh, ugh, ugh!"
Nigel endeavoured to explain, but the idea of thieves had taken possession of the old man's pineal gland, and he kept coughing and screaming, and screaming and coughing, until the gracious Martha entered the apartment; and, having first outscreamed her father, in order to convince him that there was no danger, and to assure him that the intruder was their new lodger, and having as often heard her sire ejaculate—"Hold him fast—ugh, ugh—hold him fast till I come," she at length succeeded in silencing his fears and his clamour, and then coldly and dryly asked Lord Glenvarloch what he wanted in her father's apartment.
Her lodger had, in the meantime, leisure to contemplate her appearance, which did not by any means improve the idea he had formed of it by candlelight on the preceding evening. She was dressed in what was called a Queen Mary's ruff and farthingale; not the falling ruff with which the unfortunate Mary of Scotland is usually painted, but that which, with more than Spanish stiffness, surrounded the throat, and set off the morose head, of her fierce namesake, of Smithfield memory. This antiquated dress assorted well with the faded complexion, grey eyes, thin lips, and austere visage of the antiquated maiden, which was, moreover, enhanced by a black hood, worn as her head-gear, carefully disposed so as to prevent any of her hair from escaping to view, probably because the simplicity of the period knew no art of disguising the colour with which time had begun to grizzle her tresses. Her figure was tall, thin, and flat, with skinny arms and hands, and feet of the larger size, cased in huge high-heeled shoes, which added height to a stature already ungainly. Apparently some art had been used by the tailor, to conceal a slight defect of shape, occasioned by the accidental elevation of one shoulder above the other; but the praiseworthy efforts of the ingenious mechanic, had only succeeded in calling the attention of the observer to his benevolent purpose, without demonstrating that he had been able to achieve it.
Such was Mrs. Martha Trapbois, whose dry "What were you seeking here, sir?" fell again, and with reiterated sharpness, on the ear of Nigel, as he gazed upon her presence, and compared it internally to one of the faded and grim figures in the old tapestry which adorned his bedstead. It was, however, necessary to reply, and he answered, that he came in search of the servants, as he desired to have a fire kindled in his apartment on account of the rawness of the morning.
"The woman who does our char-work," answered Mistress Martha, "comes at eight o'clock-if you want fire sooner, there are fagots and a bucket of sea-coal in the stone-closet at the head of the stair—and there is a flint and steel on the upper shelf—you can light fire for yourself if you will."
"No—no—no, Martha," ejaculated her father, who, having donned his rustic tunic, with his hose all ungirt, and his feet slip-shod, hastily came out of the inner apartment, with his mind probably full of robbers, for he had a naked rapier in his hand, which still looked formidable, though rust had somewhat marred its shine.—What he had heard at entrance about lighting a fire, had changed, however, the current of his ideas. "No—no—no," he cried, and each negative was more emphatic than its predecessor-"The gentleman shall not have the trouble to put on a fire—ugh—ugh. I'll put it on myself, for a con- si-de-ra-ti-on."
This last word was a favourite expression with the old gentleman, which he pronounced in a peculiar manner, gasping it out syllable by syllable, and laying a strong emphasis upon the last. It was, indeed, a sort of protecting clause, by which he guarded himself against all inconveniences attendant on the rash habit of offering service or civility of any kind, the which, when hastily snapped at by those to whom they are uttered, give the profferer sometimes room to repent his promptitude.
"For shame, father," said Martha, "that must not be. Master Grahame will kindle his own fire, or wait till the char-woman comes to do it for him, just as likes him best."
"No, child—no, child. Child Martha, no," reiterated the old miser— "no char-woman shall ever touch a grate in my house; they put—ugh, ugh—the faggot uppermost, and so the coal kindles not, and the flame goes up the chimney, and wood and heat are both thrown away. Now, I will lay it properly for the gentleman, for a consideration, so that it shall last—ugh, ugh—last the whole day." Here his vehemence increased his cough so violently, that Nigel could only, from a scattered word here and there, comprehend that it was a recommendation to his daughter to remove the poker and tongs from the stranger's fireside, with an assurance, that, when necessary, his landlord would be in attendance to adjust it himself, "for a consideration."
Martha paid as little attention to the old man's injunctions as a predominant dame gives to those of a henpecked husband. She only repeated, in a deeper and more emphatic tone of censure,—"For shame, father—for shame!" then, turning to her guest, said, with her usual ungraciousness of manner—"Master Grahame—it is best to be plain with you at first. My father is an old, a very old man, and his wits, as you may see, are somewhat weakened—though I would not advise you to make a bargain with him, else you may find them too sharp for your own. For myself, I am a lone woman, and, to say truth, care little to see or converse with any one. If you can be satisfied with house-room, shelter, and safety, it will be your own fault if you have them not, and they are not always to be found in this unhappy quarter. But, if you seek deferential observance and attendance, I tell you at once you will not find them here."
"I am not wont either to thrust myself upon acquaintance, madam, or to give trouble," said the guest; "nevertheless, I shall need the assistance of a domestic to assist me to dress—Perhaps you can recommend me to such?"
"Yes, to twenty," answered Mistress Martha, "who will pick your purse while they tie your points, and cut your throat while they smooth your pillow."
"I will be his servant, myself," said the old man, whose intellect, for a moment distanced, had again, in some measure, got up with the conversation. "I will brush his cloak—ugh, ugh—and tie his points— ugh, ugh—and clean his shoes—ugh—and run on his errands with speed and safety—ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh—for a consideration."
"Good-morrow to you, sir," said Martha, to Nigel, in a tone of direct and positive dismissal. "It cannot be agreeable to a daughter that a stranger should hear her father speak thus. If you be really a gentleman, you will retire to your own apartment."
"I will not delay a moment," said Nigel, respectfully, for he was sensible that circumstances palliated the woman's rudeness. "I would but ask you, if seriously there can be danger in procuring the assistance of a serving-man in this place?"
"Young gentleman," said Martha, "you must know little of Whitefriars to ask the question. We live alone in this house, and seldom has a stranger entered it; nor should you, to be plain, had my will been consulted. Look at the door—see if that of a castle can be better secured; the windows of the first floor are grated on the outside, and within, look to these shutters."
She pulled one of them aside, and showed a ponderous apparatus of bolts and chains for securing the window-shutters, while her father, pressing to her side, seized her gown with a trembling hand, and said, in a low whisper, "Show not the trick of locking and undoing them. Show him not the trick on't, Martha—ugh, ugh—on no consideration." Martha went on, without paying him any attention.
"And yet, young gentleman, we have been more than once like to find all these defences too weak to protect our lives; such an evil effect on the wicked generation around us hath been made by the unhappy report of my poor father's wealth."
"Say nothing of that, housewife," said the miser, his irritability increased by the very supposition of his being wealthy—"Say nothing of that, or I will beat thee, housewife—beat thee with my staff, for fetching and carrying lies that will procure our throats to be cut at last—ugh, ugh.—I am but a poor man," he continued, turning to Nigel- -"a very poor man, that am willing to do any honest turn upon earth, for a modest consideration."
"I therefore warn you of the life you must lead, young gentleman," said Martha; "the poor woman who does the char-work will assist you so far as in her power, but the wise man is his own best servant and assistant."
"It is a lesson you have taught me, madam, and I thank you for it—I will assuredly study it at leisure."
"You will do well," said Martha; "and as you seem thankful for advice, I, though I am no professed counsellor of others, will give you more. Make no intimacy with any one in Whitefriars—borrow no money, on any score, especially from my father, for, dotard as he seems, he will make an ass of you. Last, and best of all, stay here not an instant longer than you can help it. Farewell, sir."
"A gnarled tree may bear good fruit, and a harsh nature may give good counsel," thought the Lord of Glenvarloch, as he retreated to his own apartment, where the same reflection occurred to him again and again, while, unable as yet to reconcile himself to the thoughts of becoming his own fire-maker, he walked up and down his bedroom, to warm himself by exercise.
At length his meditations arranged themselves in the following soliloquy—by which expression I beg leave to observe once for all, that I do not mean that Nigel literally said aloud with his bodily organs, the words which follow in inverted commas, (while pacing the room by himself,) but that I myself choose to present to my dearest reader the picture of my hero's mind, his reflections and resolutions, in the form of a speech, rather than in that of a narrative. In other words, I have put his thoughts into language; and this I conceive to be the purpose of the soliloquy upon the stage as well as in the closet, being at once the most natural, and perhaps the only way of communicating to the spectator what is supposed to be passing in the bosom of the scenic personage. There are no such soliloquies in nature, it is true, but unless they were received as a conventional medium of communication betwixt the poet and the audience, we should reduce dramatic authors to the recipe of Master Puff, who makes Lord Burleigh intimate a long train of political reasoning to the audience, by one comprehensive shake of his noddle. In narrative, no doubt, the writer has the alternative of telling that his personages thought so and so, inferred thus and thus, and arrived at such and such a conclusion; but the soliloquy is a more concise and spirited mode of communicating the same information; and therefore thus communed, or thus might have communed, the Lord of Glenvarloch with his own mind.
"She is right, and has taught me a lesson I will profit by. I have been, through my whole life, one who leant upon others for that assistance, which it is more truly noble to derive from my own exertions. I am ashamed of feeling the paltry inconvenience which long habit had led me to annex to the want of a servant's assistance—I am ashamed of that; but far, far more am I ashamed to have suffered the same habit of throwing my own burden on others, to render me, since I came to this city, a mere victim of those events, which I have never even attempted to influence—a thing never acting, but perpetually acted upon—protected by one friend, deceived by another; but in the advantage which I received from the one, and the evil I have sustained from the other, as passive and helpless as a boat that drifts without oar or rudder at the mercy of the winds and waves. I became a courtier, because Heriot so advised it—a gamester, because Dalgarno so contrived it—an Alsatian, because Lowestoffe so willed it. Whatever of good or bad has befallen me, has arisen out of the agency of others, not from my own. My father's son must no longer hold this facile and puerile course. Live or die, sink or swim, Nigel Olifaunt, from this moment, shall owe his safety, success, and honour, to his own exertions, or shall fall with the credit of having at least exerted his own free agency. I will write it down in my tablets, in her very words,—'The wise man is his own best assistant.'"
He had just put his tablets in his pocket when the old charwoman, who, to add to her efficiency, was sadly crippled by rheumatism, hobbled into the room, to try if she could gain a small gratification by waiting on the stranger. She readily undertook to get Lord Glenvarloch's breakfast, and as there was an eating-house at the next door, she succeeded in a shorter time than Nigel had augured.
As his solitary meal was finished, one of the Temple porters, or inferior officers, was announced, as seeking Master Grahame, on the part of his friend, Master Lowestoffe; and, being admitted by the old woman to his apartment, he delivered to Nigel a small mail-trunk, with the clothes he had desired should be sent to him, and then, with more mystery, put into his hand a casket, or strong-boy, which he carefully concealed beneath his cloak. "I am glad to be rid on't," said the fellow, as he placed it on the table.
"Why, it is surely not so very heavy," answered Nigel, "and you are a stout young man."
"Ay, sir," replied the fellow; "but Samson himself would not have carried such a matter safely through Alsatia, had the lads of the Huff known what it was. Please to look into it, sir, and see all is right— I am an honest fellow, and it comes safe out of my hands. How long it may remain so afterwards, will depend on your own care. I would not my good name were to suffer by any after-clap."
To satisfy the scruples of the messenger, Lord Glenvarloch opened the casket in his presence, and saw that his small stock of money, with two or three valuable papers which it contained, and particularly the original sign-manual which the king had granted in his favour, were in the same order in which he had left them. At the man's further instance, he availed himself of the writing materials which were in the casket, in order to send a line to Master Lowestoffe, declaring that his property had reached him in safety. He added some grateful acknowledgments for Lowestoffe's services, and, just as he was sealing and delivering his billet to the messenger, his aged landlord entered the apartment. His threadbare suit of black clothes was now somewhat better arranged than they had been in the dishabille of his first appearance, and his nerves and intellects seemed to be less fluttered; for, without much coughing or hesitation, he invited Nigel to partake of a morning draught of wholesome single ale, which he brought in a large leathern tankard, or black-jack, carried in the one hand, while the other stirred it round with a sprig of rosemary, to give it, as the old man said, a flavour.
Nigel declined the courteous proffer, and intimated by his manner, while he did so, that he desired no intrusion on the privacy of his own apartment; which, indeed, he was the more entitled to maintain, considering the cold reception he had that morning met with when straying from its precincts into those of his landlord. But the open casket contained matter, or rather metal, so attractive to old Trapbois, that he remained fixed, like a setting-dog at a dead point, his nose advanced, and one hand expanded like the lifted forepaw, by which that sagacious quadruped sometimes indicates that it is a hare which he has in the wind. Nigel was about to break the charm which had thus arrested old Trapbois, by shutting the lid of the casket, when his attention was withdrawn from him by the question of the messenger, who, holding out the letter, asked whether he was to leave it at Mr. Lowestoffe's chambers in the Temple, or carry it to the Marshalsea?
"The Marshalsea?" repeated Lord Glenvarloch; "what of the Marshalsea?"
"Why, sir," said the man, "the poor gentleman is laid up there in lavender, because, they say, his own kind heart led him to scald his fingers with another man's broth."
Nigel hastily snatched back the letter, broke the seal, joined to the contents his earnest entreaty that he might be instantly acquainted with the cause of his confinement, and added, that, if it arose out of his own unhappy affair, it would be of a brief duration, since he had, even before hearing of a reason which so peremptorily demanded that he should surrender himself, adopted the resolution to do so, as the manliest and most proper course which his ill fortune and imprudence had left in his own power. He therefore conjured Mr. Lowestoffe to have no delicacy upon this score, but, since his surrender was what he had determined upon as a sacrifice due to his own character, that he would have the frankness to mention in what manner it could be best arranged, so as to extricate him, Lowestoffe, from the restraint to which the writer could not but fear his friend had been subjected, on account of the generous interest which he had taken in his concerns. The letter concluded, that the writer would suffer twenty-four hours to elapse in expectation of hearing from him, and, at the end of that period, was determined to put his purpose in execution. He delivered the billet to the messenger, and, enforcing his request with a piece of money, urged him, without a moment's delay, to convey it to the hands of Master Lowestoffe.
"I—I—I—will carry it to him myself," said the old usurer, "for half the consideration."
The man who heard this attempt to take his duty and perquisites over his head, lost no time in pocketing the money, and departed on his errand as fast as he could.
"Master Trapbois," said Nigel, addressing the old man somewhat impatiently, "had you any particular commands for me?"
"I—I—came to see if you rested well," answered the old man; "and—if I could do anything to serve you, on any consideration."
"Sir, I thank you," said Lord Glenvarloch—I thank you;" and, ere he could say more, a heavy footstep was heard on the stair.
"My God!" exclaimed the old man, starting up—"Why, Dorothy—char- woman—why, daughter,—draw bolt, I say, housewives—the door hath been left a-latch!"
The door of the chamber opened wide, and in strutted the portly bulk of the military hero whom Nigel had on the preceding evening in vain endeavoured to recognise.
SWASH-BUCKLER. Bilboe's the word— PIERROT. It hath been spoke too often, The spell hath lost its charm—I tell thee, friend, The meanest cur that trots the street, will turn, And snarl against your proffer'd bastinado. SWASH-BUCKLER. 'Tis art shall do it, then—I will dose the mongrels— Or, in plain terms, I'll use the private knife 'Stead of the brandish'd falchion. Old Play.
The noble Captain Colepepper or Peppercull, for he was known by both these names, and some others besides; had a martial and a swashing exterior, which, on the present occasion, was rendered yet more peculiar, by a patch covering his left eye and a part of the cheek. The sleeves of his thickset velvet jerkin were polished and shone with grease,—his buff gloves had huge tops, which reached almost to the elbow; his sword-belt of the same materials extended its breadth from his haunchbone to his small ribs, and supported on the one side his large black-hilted back-sword, on the other a dagger of like proportions He paid his compliments to Nigel with that air of predetermined effrontery, which announces that it will not be repelled by any coldness of reception, asked Trapbois how he did, by the familiar title of old Peter Pillory, and then, seizing upon the black- jack, emptied it off at a draught, to the health of the last and youngest freeman of Alsatia, the noble and loving master Nigel Grahame.
When he had set down the empty pitcher and drawn his breath, he began to criticise the liquor which it had lately contained.—"Sufficient single beer, old Pillory—and, as I take it, brewed at the rate of a nutshell of malt to a butt of Thames—as dead as a corpse, too, and yet it went hissing down my throat—bubbling, by Jove, like water upon hot iron.—You left us early, noble Master Grahame, but, good faith, we had a carouse to your honour—we heard butt ring hollow ere we parted; we were as loving as inkle-weavers—we fought, too, to finish off the gawdy. I bear some marks of the parson about me, you see—a note of the sermon or so, which should have been addressed to my ear, but missed its mark, and reached my left eye. The man of God bears my sign-manual too, but the Duke made us friends again, and it cost me more sack than I could carry, and all the Rhenish to boot, to pledge the seer in the way of love and reconciliation—But, Caracco! 'tis a vile old canting slave for all that, whom I will one day beat out of his devil's livery into all the colours of the rainbow.—Basta!—Said I well, old Trapbois? Where is thy daughter, man?—what says she to my suit?—'tis an honest one—wilt have a soldier for thy son-in-law, old Pillory, to mingle the soul of martial honour with thy thieving, miching, petty-larceny blood, as men put bold brandy into muddy ale?"
"My daughter receives not company so early, noble captain," said the usurer, and concluded his speech with a dry, emphatical "ugh, ugh."
"What, upon no con-si-de-ra-ti-on?" said the captain; and wherefore not, old Truepenny? she has not much time to lose in driving her bargain, methinks."
"Captain," said Trapbois, "I was upon some little business with our noble friend here, Master Nigel Green—ugh, ugh, ugh—"
"And you would have me gone, I warrant you?" answered the bully; "but patience, old Pillory, thine hour is not yet come, man—You see," he said, pointing to the casket, "that noble Master Grahame, whom you call Green, has got the decuses and the smelt."
Which you would willingly rid him of, ha! ha!—ugh, ugh," answered the usurer, "if you knew how—but, lack-a-day! thou art one of those that come out for wool, and art sure to go home shorn. Why now, but that I am sworn against laying of wagers, I would risk some consideration that this honest guest of mine sends thee home penniless, if thou darest venture with him—ugh, ugh—at any game which gentlemen play at."
"Marry, thou hast me on the hip there, thou old miserly cony-catcher!" answered the captain, taking a bale of dice from the sleeve of his coat; "I must always keep company with these damnable doctors, and they have made me every baby's cully, and purged my purse into an atrophy; but never mind, it passes the time as well as aught else—How say you, Master Grahame?"
The fellow paused; but even the extremity of his impudence could scarcely hardly withstand the cold look of utter contempt with which Nigel received his proposal, returning it with a simple, "I only play where I know my company, and never in the morning."
"Cards may be more agreeable," said Captain Colepepper; "and, for knowing your company, here is honest old Pillory will tell you Jack Colepepper plays as truly on the square as e'er a man that trowled a die—Men talk of high and low dice, Fulhams and bristles, topping, knapping, slurring, stabbing, and a hundred ways of rooking besides; but broil me like a rasher of bacon, if I could ever learn the trick on 'em!"
"You have got the vocabulary perfect, sir, at the least," said Nigel, in the same cold tone.
"Yes, by mine honour have I," returned the Hector; "they are phrases that a gentleman learns about town.—But perhaps you would like a set at tennis, or a game at balloon—we have an indifferent good court hard by here, and a set of as gentleman-like blades as ever banged leather against brick and mortar."
"I beg to be excused at present," said Lord Glenvarloch; "and to be plain, among the valuable privileges your society has conferred on me, I hope I may reckon that of being private in my own apartment when I have a mind."
"Your humble servant, sir," said the captain; "and I thank you for your civility—Jack Colepepper can have enough of company, and thrusts himself on no one.—But perhaps you will like to make a match at skittles?"
"I am by no means that way disposed," replied the young nobleman,
"Or to leap a flea—run a snail—match a wherry, eh?"
"No—I will do none of these," answered Nigel.
Here the old man, who had been watching with his little peery eyes, pulled the bulky Hector by the skirt, and whispered, "Do not vapour him the huff, it will not pass—let the trout play, he will rise to the hook presently."
But the bully, confiding in his own strength, and probably mistaking for timidity the patient scorn with which Nigel received his proposals, incited also by the open casket, began to assume a louder and more threatening tone. He drew himself up, bent his brows, assumed a look of professional ferocity, and continued, "In Alsatia, look ye, a man must be neighbourly and companionable. Zouns! sir, we would slit any nose that was turned up at us honest fellows.—Ay, sir, we would slit it up to the gristle, though it had smelt nothing all its life but musk, ambergris, and court-scented water.—Rabbit me, I am a soldier, and care no more for a lord than a lamplighter!"
"Are you seeking a quarrel, sir?" said Nigel, calmly, having in truth no desire to engage himself in a discreditable broil in such a place, and with such a character.
"Quarrel, sir?" said the captain; "I am not seeking a quarrel, though I care not how soon I find one. Only I wish you to understand you must be neighbourly, that's all. What if we should go over the water to the garden, and see a bull hanked this fine morning—'sdeath, will you do nothing?"
"Something I am strangely tempted to do at this moment," said Nigel.
"Videlicet," said Colepepper, with a swaggering air, "let us hear the temptation."
"I am tempted to throw you headlong from the window, unless you presently make the best of your way down stairs."
"Throw me from the window?—hell and furies!" exclaimed the captain; "I have confronted twenty crooked sabres at Buda with my single rapier, and shall a chitty-faced, beggarly Scots lordling, speak of me and a window in the same breath?—Stand off, old Pillory, let me make Scotch collops of him—he dies the death!"
"For the love of Heaven, gentlemen," exclaimed the old miser, throwing himself between them, "do not break the peace on any consideration! Noble guest, forbear the captain—he is a very Hector of Troy—Trusty Hector, forbear my guest, he is like to prove a very Achilles-ugh-ugh- —-"
Here he was interrupted by his asthma, but, nevertheless, continued to interpose his person between Colepepper (who had unsheathed his whinyard, and was making vain passes at his antagonist) and Nigel, who had stepped back to take his sword, and now held it undrawn in his left hand.
"Make an end of this foolery, you scoundrel!" said Nigel—"Do you come hither to vent your noisy oaths and your bottled-up valour on me? You seem to know me, and I am half ashamed to say I have at length been able to recollect you—remember the garden behind the ordinary,—you dastardly ruffian, and the speed with which fifty men saw you run from a drawn sword.—Get you gone, sir, and do not put me to the vile labour of cudgelling such a cowardly rascal down stairs."
The bully's countenance grew dark as night at this unexpected recognition; for he had undoubtedly thought himself secure in his change of dress, and his black patch, from being discovered by a person who had seen him but once. He set his teeth, clenched his hands, and it seemed as if he was seeking for a moment's courage to fly upon his antagonist. But his heart failed, he sheathed his sword, turned his back in gloomy silence, and spoke not until he reached the door, when, turning round, he said, with a deep oath, "If I be not avenged of you for this insolence ere many days go by, I would the gallows had my body and the devil my spirit!"
So saying, and with a look where determined spite and malice made his features savagely fierce, though they could not overcome his fear, he turned and left the house. Nigel followed him as far as the gallery at the head of the staircase, with the purpose of seeing him depart, and ere he returned was met by Mistress Martha Trapbois, whom the noise of the quarrel had summoned from her own apartment. He could not resist saying to her in his natural displeasure—"I would, madam, you could teach your father and his friends the lesson which you had the goodness to bestow on me this morning, and prevail on them to leave me the unmolested privacy of my own apartment."
"If you came hither for quiet or retirement, young man," answered she, "you have been advised to an evil retreat. You might seek mercy in the Star-Chamber, or holiness in hell, with better success than quiet in Alsatia. But my father shall trouble you no longer."
So saying, she entered the apartment, and, fixing her eyes on the casket, she said with emphasis—"If you display such a loadstone, it will draw many a steel knife to your throat."
While Nigel hastily shut the casket, she addressed her father, upbraiding him, with small reverence, for keeping company with the cowardly, hectoring, murdering villain, John Colepepper.
"Ay, ay, child," said the old man, with the cunning leer which intimated perfect satisfaction with his own superior address—"I know- -I know—ugh—but I'll crossbite him—I know them all, and I can manage them—ay, ay—I have the trick on't—ugh-ugh."
"You manage, father!" said the austere damsel; "you will manage to have your throat cut, and that ere long. You cannot hide from them your gains and your gold as formerly."
"My gains, wench? my gold?" said the usurer; "alack-a-day, few of these and hard got—few and hard got."
"This will not serve you, father, any longer," said she, "and had not served you thus long, but that Bully Colepepper had contrived a cheaper way of plundering your house, even by means of my miserable self.—But why do I speak to him of all this," she said, checking herself, and shrugging her shoulders with an expression of pity which did not fall much short of scorn. "He hears me not—he thinks not of me.—Is it not strange that the love of gathering gold should survive the care to preserve both property and life?"
"Your father," said Lord Glenvarloch, who could not help respecting the strong sense and feeling shown by this poor woman, even amidst all her rudeness and severity, "your father seems to have his faculties sufficiently alert when he is in the exercise of his ordinary pursuits and functions. I wonder he is not sensible of the weight of your arguments."
"Nature made him a man senseless of danger, and that insensibility is the best thing I have derived from him," said she; "age has left him shrewdness enough to tread his old beaten paths, but not to seek new courses. The old blind horse will long continue to go its rounds in the mill, when it would stumble in the open meadow."
"Daughter!—why, wench—why, housewife!" said the old man, awakening out of some dream, in which he had been sneering and chuckling in imagination, probably over a successful piece of roguery,—"go to chamber, wench—go to chamber—draw bolts and chain—look sharp to door—let none in or out but worshipful Master Grahame—I must take my cloak, and go to Duke Hildebrod—ay, ay, time has been, my own warrant was enough; but the lower we lie, the more are we under the wind."
And, with his wonted chorus of muttering and coughing, the old man left the apartment. His daughter stood for a moment looking after him, with her usual expression of discontent and sorrow.
"You ought to persuade your father," said Nigel, "to leave this evil neighbourhood, if you are in reality apprehensive for his safety."
"He would be safe in no other quarter," said the daughter; "I would rather the old man were dead than publicly dishonoured. In other quarters he would be pelted and pursued, like an owl which ventures into sunshine. Here he was safe, while his comrades could avail themselves of his talents; he is now squeezed and fleeced by them on every pretence. They consider him as a vessel on the strand, from which each may snatch a prey; and the very jealousy which they entertain respecting him as a common property, may perhaps induce them to guard him from more private and daring assaults."
"Still, methinks, you ought to leave this place," answered Nigel, "since you might find a safe retreat in some distant country."
"In Scotland, doubtless," said she, looking at him with a sharp and suspicious eye, "and enrich strangers with our rescued wealth—Ha! young man?"
"Madam, if you knew me," said Lord Glenvarloch, "you would spare the suspicion implied in your words."
"Who shall assure me of that?" said Martha, sharply. "They say you are a brawler and a gamester, and I know how far these are to be trusted by the unhappy."
"They do me wrong, by Heaven!" said Lord Glenvarloch.
"It may be so," said Martha; "I am little interested in the degree of your vice or your folly; but it is plain, that the one or the other has conducted you hither, and that your best hope of peace, safety, and happiness, is to be gone, with the least possible delay, from a place which is always a sty for swine, and often a shambles." So saying, she left the apartment.
There was something in the ungracious manner of this female, amounting almost to contempt of him she spoke to—an indignity to which Glenvarloch, notwithstanding his poverty, had not as yet been personally exposed, and which, therefore, gave him a transitory feeling of painful surprise. Neither did the dark hints which Martha threw out concerning the danger of his place of refuge, sound by any means agreeably to his ears. The bravest man, placed in a situation in which he is surrounded by suspicious persons, and removed from all counsel and assistance, except those afforded by a valiant heart and a strong arm, experiences a sinking of the spirit, a consciousness of abandonment, which for a moment chills his blood, and depresses his natural gallantry of disposition.
But, if sad reflections arose in Nigel's mind, he had not time to indulge them; and, if he saw little prospect of finding friends in Alsatia, he found that he was not likely to be solitary for lack of visitors.
He had scarcely paced his apartment for ten minutes, endeavouring to arrange his ideas on the course which he was to pursue on quitting Alsatia, when he was interrupted by the Sovereign of the quarter, the great Duke Hildebrod himself, before whose approach the bolts and chains of the miser's dwelling fell, or withdrew, as of their own accord; and both the folding leaves of the door were opened, that he might roll himself into the house like a huge butt of liquor, a vessel to which he bore a considerable outward resemblance, both in size, shape, complexion, and contents."
"Good-morrow to your lordship," said the greasy puncheon, cocking his single eye, and rolling it upon Nigel with a singular expression of familiar impudence; whilst his grim bull-dog, which was close at his heels, made a kind of gurgling in his throat, as if saluting, in similar fashion, a starved cat, the only living thing in Trapbois' house which we have not yet enumerated, and which had flown up to the top of the tester, where she stood clutching and grinning at the mastiff, whose greeting she accepted with as much good-will as Nigel bestowed on that of the dog's master.
"Peace, Belzie!—D—n thee, peace!" said Duke Hildebrod. "Beasts and fools will be meddling, my lord."
"I thought, sir," answered Nigel, with as much haughtiness as was consistent with the cool distance which he desired to preserve, "I thought I had told you, my name at present was Nigel Grahame."
His eminence of Whitefriars on this burst out into a loud, chuckling, impudent laugh, repeating the word, till his voice was almost inarticulate,—"Niggle Green—Niggle Green—Niggle Green!—why, my lord, you would be queered in the drinking of a penny pot of Malmsey, if you cry before you are touched. Why, you have told me the secret even now, had I not had a shrewd guess of it before. Why, Master Nigel, since that is the word, I only called you my lord, because we made you a peer of Alsatia last night, when the sack was predominant.
—How you look now!—Ha! ha! ha!"
Nigel, indeed, conscious that he had unnecessarily betrayed himself, replied hastily,—"he was much obliged to him for the honours conferred, but did not propose to remain in the Sanctuary long enough to enjoy them."
"Why, that may be as you will, an you will walk by wise counsel," answered the ducal porpoise; and, although Nigel remained standing, in hopes to accelerate his guest's departure, he threw himself into one of the old tapestry-backed easy-chairs, which cracked under his weight, and began to call for old Trapbois.
The crone of all work appearing instead of her master, the Duke cursed her for a careless jade, to let a strange gentleman, and a brave guest, go without his morning's draught.
"I never take one, sir," said Glenvarloch.
"Time to begin—time to begin," answered the Duke.—"Here, you old refuse of Sathan, go to our palace, and fetch Lord Green's morning draught. Let us see—what shall it be, my lord?—a humming double pot of ale, with a roasted crab dancing in it like a wherry above bridge?- -or, hum—ay, young men are sweet-toothed—a quart of burnt sack, with sugar and spice?—good against the fogs. Or, what say you to sipping a gill of right distilled waters? Come, we will have them all, and you shall take your choice.—Here, you Jezebel, let Tim send the ale, and the sack, and the nipperkin of double-distilled, with a bit of diet- loaf, or some such trinket, and score it to the new comer."
Glenvarloch, bethinking himself that it might be as well to endure this fellow's insolence for a brief season, as to get into farther discreditable quarrels, suffered him to take his own way, without interruption, only observing, "You make yourself at home, sir, in my apartment; but, for the time, you may use your pleasure. Meanwhile, I would fain know what has procured me the honour of this unexpected visit?"
"You shall know that when old Deb has brought the liquor—I never speak of business dry-lipped. Why, how she drumbles—I warrant she stops to take a sip on the road, and then you will think you have had unchristian measure.—In the meanwhile, look at that dog there—look Belzebub in the face, and tell me if you ever saw a sweeter beast— never flew but at head in his life."
And, after this congenial panegyric, he was proceeding with a tale of a dog and a bull, which threatened to be somewhat of the longest, when he was interrupted by the return of the old crone, and two of his own tapsters, bearing the various kinds of drinkables which he had demanded, and which probably was the only species of interruption he would have endured with equanimity.
When the cups and cans were duly arranged upon the table, and when Deborah, whom the ducal generosity honoured with a penny farthing in the way of gratuity, had withdrawn with her satellites, the worthy potentate, having first slightly invited Lord Glenvarloch to partake of the liquor which he was to pay for, and after having observed, that, excepting three poached eggs, a pint of bastard, and a cup of clary, he was fasting from every thing but sin, set himself seriously to reinforce the radical moisture. Glenvarloch had seen Scottish lairds and Dutch burgomasters at their potations; but their exploits (though each might be termed a thirsty generation) were nothing to those of Duke Hildebrod, who seemed an absolute sandbed, capable of absorbing any given quantity of liquid, without being either vivified or overflowed. He drank off the ale to quench a thirst which, as he said, kept him in a fever from morning to night, and night to morning; tippled off the sack to correct the crudity of the ale; sent the spirits after the sack to keep all quiet, and then declared that, probably, he should not taste liquor till post meridiem, unless it was in compliment to some especial friend. Finally, he intimated that he was ready to proceed on the business which brought him from home so early, a proposition which Nigel readily received, though he could not help suspecting that the most important purpose of Duke Hildebrod's visit was already transacted.
In this, however, Lord Glenvarloch proved to be mistaken. Hildebrod, before opening what he had to say, made an accurate survey of the apartment, laying, from time to time, his finger on his nose, and winking on Nigel with his single eye, while he opened and shut the doors, lifted the tapestry, which concealed, in one or two places, the dilapidation of time upon the wainscoted walls, peeped into closets, and, finally, looked under the bed, to assure himself that the coast was clear of listeners and interlopers. He then resumed his seat, and beckoned confidentially to Nigel to draw his chair close to him.
"I am well as I am, Master Hildebrod," replied the young lord, little disposed to encourage the familiarity which the man endeavoured to fix on him; but the undismayed Duke proceeded as follows:
"You shall pardon me, my lord—and I now give you the title right seriously—if I remind you that our waters may be watched; for though old Trapbois be as deaf as Saint Paul's, yet his daughter has sharp ears, and sharp eyes enough, and it is of them that it is my business to speak."
"Say away, then, sir," said Nigel, edging his chair somewhat closer to the Quicksand, "although I cannot conceive what business I have either with mine host or his daughter."
"We will see that in the twinkling of a quart-pot," answered the gracious Duke; "and first, my lord, you must not think to dance in a net before old Jack Hildebrod, that has thrice your years o'er his head, and was born, like King Richard, with all his eye-teeth ready cut."
"Well, sir, go on," said Nigel.
"Why, then, my lord, I presume to say, that, if you are, as I believe you are, that Lord Glenvarloch whom all the world talk of—the Scotch gallant that has spent all, to a thin cloak and a light purse—be not moved, my lord, it is so noised of you—men call you the sparrow-hawk, who will fly at all—ay, were it in the very Park—Be not moved, my lord."
"I am ashamed, sirrah," replied Glenvarloch, "that you should have power to move me by your insolence—but beware—and, if you indeed guess who I am, consider how long I may be able to endure your tone of insolent familiarity."
"I crave pardon, my lord," said Hildebrod, with a sullen, yet apologetic look; "I meant no harm in speaking my poor mind. I know not what honour there may be in being familiar with your lordship, but I judge there is little safety, for Lowestoffe is laid up in lavender only for having shown you the way into Alsatia; and so, what is to come of those who maintain you when you are here, or whether they will get most honour or most trouble by doing so, I leave with your lordship's better judgment."
"I will bring no one into trouble on my account," said Lord Glenvarloch. "I will leave Whitefriars to-morrow. Nay, by Heaven, I will leave it this day."
"You will have more wit in your anger, I trust," said Duke Hildebrod; "listen first to what I have to say to you, and, if honest Jack Hildebrod puts you not in the way of nicking them all, may he never cast doublets, or dull a greenhorn again! And so, my lord, in plain words, you must wap and win."
"Your words must be still plainer before I can understand them," said Nigel.
"What the devil—a gamester, one who deals with the devil's bones and the doctors, and not understand Pedlar's French! Nay, then, I must speak plain English, and that's the simpleton's tongue."
"Speak, then, sir," said Nigel; "and I pray you be brief, for I have little more time to bestow on you."
"Well, then, my lord, to be brief, as you and the lawyers call it—I understand you have an estate in the north, which changes masters for want of the redeeming ready.—Ay, you start, but you cannot dance in a net before me, as I said before; and so the king runs the frowning humour on you, and the Court vapours you the go-by; and the Prince scowls at you from under his cap; and the favourite serves you out the puckered brow and the cold shoulder; and the favourite's favourite—"
"To go no further, sir," interrupted Nigel, "suppose all this true— and what follows?"
"What follows?" returned Duke Hildebrod. "Marry, this follows, that you will owe good deed, as well as good will, to him who shall put you in the way to walk with your beaver cocked in the presence, as an ye were Earl of Kildare; bully the courtiers; meet the Prince's blighting look with a bold brow; confront the favourite; baffle his deputy, and- -"
"This is all well," said Nigel! "but how is it to be accomplished?"
"By making thee a Prince of Peru, my lord of the northern latitudes; propping thine old castle with ingots,—fertilizing thy failing fortunes with gold dust—it shall but cost thee to put thy baron's coronet for a day or so on the brows of an old Caduca here, the man's daughter of the house, and thou art master of a mass of treasure that shall do all I have said for thee, and—"
"What, you would have me marry this old gentlewoman here, the daughter of mine host?" said Nigel, surprised and angry, yet unable to suppress some desire to laugh.
"Nay, my lord, I would have you marry fifty thousand good sterling pounds; for that, and better, hath old Trapbois hoarded; and thou shall do a deed of mercy in it to the old man, who will lose his golden smelts in some worse way—for now that he is well-nigh past his day of work, his day of payment is like to follow."
"Truly, this is a most courteous offer," said Lord Glenvarloch; "but may I pray of your candour, most noble duke, to tell me why you dispose of a ward of so much wealth on a stranger like me, who may leave you to-morrow?"
"In sooth, my lord," said the Duke, "that question smacks more of the wit of Beaujeu's ordinary, than any word I have yet heard your lordship speak, and reason it is you should be answered. Touching my peers, it is but necessary to say, that Mistress Martha Trapbois will none of them, whether clerical or laic. The captain hath asked her, so hath the parson, but she will none of them—she looks higher than either, and is, to say truth, a woman of sense, and so forth, too profound, and of spirit something too high, to put up with greasy buff or rusty prunella. For ourselves, we need but hint that we have a consort in the land of the living, and, what is more to purpose, Mrs. Martha knows it. So, as she will not lace her kersey hood save with a quality binding, you, my lord, must be the man, and must carry off fifty thousand decuses, the spoils of five thousand bullies, cutters, and spendthrifts,—always deducting from the main sum some five thousand pounds for our princely advice and countenance, without which, as matters stand in Alsatia, you would find it hard to win the plate."
"But has your wisdom considered, sir," replied Glenvarloch, "how this wedlock can serve me in my present emergence?"
"As for that, my lord," said Duke Hildebrod, "if, with forty or fifty thousand pounds in your pouch, you cannot save yourself, you will deserve to lose your head for your folly, and your hand for being close-fisted."
"But, since your goodness has taken my matters into such serious consideration," continued Nigel, who conceived there was no prudence in breaking with a man, who, in his way, meant him favour rather than offence, "perhaps you may be able to tell me how my kindred will be likely to receive such a bride as you recommend to me?"
"Touching that matter, my lord, I have always heard your countrymen knew as well as other folks, on which side their bread was buttered. And, truly, speaking from report, I know no place where fifty thousand pounds—fifty thousand pounds, I say—will make a woman more welcome than it is likely to do in your ancient kingdom. And, truly, saving the slight twist in her shoulder, Mrs. Martha Trapbois is a person of very awful and majestic appearance, and may, for aught I know, be come of better blood than any one wots of; for old Trapbois looks not over like to be her father, and her mother was a generous, liberal sort of a woman."
"I am afraid," answered Nigel, "that chance is rather too vague to assure her a gracious reception into an honourable house."
"Why, then, my lord," replied Hildebrod, "I think it like she will be even with them; for I will venture to say, she has as much ill-nature as will make her a match for your whole clan."
"That may inconvenience me a little," replied Nigel.
"Not a whit—not a whit," said the Duke, fertile in expedients; "if she should become rather intolerable, which is not unlikely, your honourable house, which I presume to be a castle, hath, doubtless, both turrets and dungeons, and ye may bestow your bonny bride in either the one or the other, and then you know you will be out of hearing of her tongue, and she will be either above or below the contempt of your friends."
"It is sagely counselled, most equitable sir," replied Nigel, "and such restraint would be a fit meed for her folly that gave me any power over her."
"You entertain the project then, my lord?" said Duke Hildebrod.
"I must turn it in my mind for twenty-four hours," said Nigel; "and I will pray you so to order matters that I be not further interrupted by any visitors."
"We will utter an edict to secure your privacy," said the Duke; "and you do not think," he added, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, "that ten thousand is too much to pay to the Sovereign, in name of wardship?"
"Ten thousand!" said Lord Glenvarloch; "why, you said five thousand but now."
"Aha! art avised of that?" said the Duke, touching the side of his nose with his finger; "nay, if you have marked me so closely, you are thinking on the case more nearly than I believed, till you trapped me. Well, well, we will not quarrel about the consideration, as old Trapbois would call it—do you win and wear the dame; it will be no hard matter with your face and figure, and I will take care that no one interrupts you. I will have an edict from the Senate as soon as they meet for their meridiem."
So saying, Duke Hildebrod took his leave.
This is the time—Heaven's maiden sentinel Hath quitted her high watch—the lesser spangles Are paling one by one; give me the ladder And the short lever—bid Anthony Keep with his carabine the wicket-gate; And do thou bare thy knife and follow me, For we will in and do it—darkness like this Is dawning of our fortunes. Old Play.
When Duke Hildebrod had withdrawn, Nigel's first impulse was an irresistible feeling to laugh at the sage adviser, who would have thus connected him with age, ugliness, and ill-temper; but his next thought was pity for the unfortunate father and daughter, who, being the only persons possessed of wealth in this unhappy district, seemed like a wreck on the sea-shore of a barbarous country, only secured from plunder for the moment by the jealousy of the tribes among whom it had been cast. Neither could he help being conscious that his own residence here was upon conditions equally precarious, and that he was considered by the Alsatians in the same light of a godsend on the Cornish coast, or a sickly but wealthy caravan travelling through the wilds of Africa, and emphatically termed by the nations of despoilers through whose regions it passes Dummalafong, which signifies a thing given to be devoured—a common prey to all men.
Nigel had already formed his own plan to extricate himself, at whatever risk, from his perilous and degrading situation; and, in order that he might carry it into instant execution, he only awaited the return of Lowestoffe's messenger. He expected him, however, in vain, and could only amuse himself by looking through such parts of his baggage as had been sent to him from his former lodgings, in order to select a small packet of the most necessary articles to take with him, in the event of his quitting his lodgings secretly and suddenly, as speed and privacy would, he foresaw, be particularly necessary, if he meant to obtain an interview with the king, which was the course his spirit and his interest alike determined him to pursue.
While he was thus engaged, he found, greatly to his satisfaction, that Master Lowestoffe had transmitted not only his rapier and poniard, but a pair of pistols, which he had used in travelling; of a smaller and more convenient size than the large petronels, or horse pistols, which were then in common use, as being made for wearing at the girdle or in the pockets. Next to having stout and friendly comrades, a man is chiefly emboldened by finding himself well armed in case of need, and Nigel, who had thought with some anxiety on the hazard of trusting his life, if attacked, to the protection of the clumsy weapon with which Lowestoffe had equipped him, in order to complete his disguise, felt an emotion of confidence approaching to triumph, as, drawing his own good and well-tried rapier, he wiped it with his handkerchief, examined its point, bent it once or twice against the ground to prove its well-known metal, and finally replaced it in the scabbard, the more hastily, that he heard a tap at the door of his chamber, and had no mind to be found vapouring in the apartment with his sword drawn.
It was his old host who entered, to tell him with many cringes that the price of his apartment was to be a crown per diem; and that, according to the custom of Whitefriars, the rent was always payable per advance, although he never scrupled to let the money lie till a week or fortnight, or even a month, in the hands of any honourable guest like Master Grahame, always upon some reasonable consideration for the use. Nigel got rid of the old dotard's intrusion, by throwing down two pieces of gold, and requesting the accommodation of his present apartment for eight days, adding, however, he did not think he should tarry so long.
The miser, with a sparkling eye and a trembling hand, clutched fast the proffered coin, and, having balanced the pieces with exquisite pleasure on the extremity of his withered finger, began almost instantly to show that not even the possession of gold can gratify for more than an instant the very heart that is most eager in the pursuit of it. First, the pieces might be light—with hasty hand he drew a small pair of scales from his bosom, and weighed them, first together, then separately, and smiled with glee as he saw them attain the due depression in the balance—a circumstance which might add to his profits, if it were true, as was currently reported, that little of the gold coinage was current in Alsatia in a perfect state, and that none ever left the Sanctuary in that condition.
Another fear then occurred to trouble the old miser's pleasure. He had been just able to comprehend that Nigel intended to leave the Friars sooner than the arrival of the term for which he had deposited the rent. This might imply an expectation of refunding, which, as a Scotch wag said, of all species of funding, jumped least with the old gentleman's humour. He was beginning to enter a hypothetical caveat on this subject, and to quote several reasons why no part of the money once consigned as room-rent, could be repaid back on any pretence, without great hardship to the landlord, when Nigel, growing impatient, told him that the money was his absolutely, and without any intention on his part of resuming any of it—all he asked in return was the liberty of enjoying in private the apartment he had paid for. Old Trapbois, who had still at his tongue's end much of the smooth language, by which, in his time, he had hastened the ruin of many a young spendthrift, began to launch out upon the noble and generous disposition of his new guest, until Nigel, growing impatient, took the old gentleman by the hand, and gently, yet irresistibly, leading him to the door of the chamber, put him out, but with such decent and moderate exertion of his superior strength, as to render the action in no shape indecorous, and, fastening the door, began to do that for his pistols which he had done for his favourite sword, examining with care the flints and locks, and reviewing the state of his small provision of ammunition.
In this operation he was a second time interrupted by a knocking at the door—he called upon the person to enter, having no doubt that it was Lowestoffe's messenger at length arrived. It was, however, the ungracious daughter of old Trapbois, who, muttering something about her father's mistake, laid down upon the table one of the pieces of gold which Nigel had just given to him, saying, that what she retained was the full rent for the term he had specified. Nigel replied, he had paid the money, and had no desire to receive it again.
"Do as you will with it, then," replied his hostess, "for there it lies, and shall lie for me. If you are fool enough to pay more than is reason, my father shall not be knave enough to take it."
"But your father, mistress," said Nigel, "your father told me—"
"Oh, my father, my father," said she, interrupting him,—"my father managed these affairs while he was able—I manage them now, and that may in the long run be as well for both of us."
She then looked on the table, and observed the weapons.
"You have arms, I see," she said; "do you know how to use them?"
"I should do so mistress," replied Nigel, "for it has been my occupation."
"You are a soldier, then?" she demanded.
"No farther as yet, than as every gentleman of my country is a soldier."
"Ay, that is your point of honour—to cut the throats of the poor—a proper gentlemanlike occupation for those who should protect them!"
"I do not deal in cutting throats, mistress," replied Nigel; "but I carry arms to defend myself, and my country if it needs me."
"Ay," replied Martha, "it is fairly worded; but men say you are as prompt as others in petty brawls, where neither your safety nor your country is in hazard; and that had it not been so, you would not have been in the Sanctuary to-day."
"Mistress," returned Nigel, "I should labour in vain to make you understand that a man's honour, which is, or should be, dearer to him than his life, may often call on and compel us to hazard our own lives, or those of others, on what would otherwise seem trifling contingencies."
"God's law says nought of that," said the female; "I have only read there, that thou shall not kill. But I have neither time nor inclination to preach to you—you will find enough of fighting here if you like it, and well if it come not to seek you when you are least prepared. Farewell for the present—the char-woman will execute your commands for your meals."
She left the room, just as Nigel, provoked at her assuming a superior tone of judgment and of censure, was about to be so superfluous as to enter into a dispute with an old pawnbroker's daughter on the subject of the point of honour. He smiled at himself for the folly into which the spirit of self-vindication had so nearly hurried him.
Lord Glenvarloch then applied to old Deborah the char-woman, by whose intermediation he was provided with a tolerably decent dinner; and the only embarrassment which he experienced, was from the almost forcible entry of the old dotard his landlord, who insisted upon giving his assistance at laying the cloth. Nigel had some difficulty to prevent him from displacing his arms and some papers which were lying on a small table at which he had been sitting; and nothing short of a stern and positive injunction to the contrary could compel him to use another board (though there were two in the room) for the purpose of laying the cloth.
Having at length obliged him to relinquish his purpose, he could not help observing that the eyes of the old dotard seemed still anxiously fixed upon the small table on which lay his sword and pistols; and that, amidst all the little duties which he seemed officiously anxious to render to his guest, he took every opportunity of looking towards and approaching these objects of his attention. At length, when Trapbois thought he had completely avoided the notice of his guest, Nigel, through the observation of one of the cracked mirrors, oh which channel of communication the old man had not calculated, beheld him actually extend his hand towards the table in question. He thought it unnecessary to use further ceremony, but telling his landlord, in a stern voice, that he permitted no one to touch his arms, he commanded him to leave the apartment. The old usurer commenced a maundering sort of apology, in which all that Nigel distinctly apprehended, was a frequent repetition of the word consideration, and which did not seem to him to require any other answer than a reiteration of his command to him to leave the apartment, upon pain of worse consequences.
The ancient Hebe who acted as Lord Glenvarloch's cup-bearer, took his part against the intrusion of the still more antiquated Ganymede, and insisted on old Trapbois leaving the room instantly, menacing him at the same time with her mistress's displeasure if he remained there any longer. The old man seemed more under petticoat government than any other, for the threat of the char-woman produced greater effect upon him than the more formidable displeasure of Nigel. He withdrew grumbling and muttering, and Lord Glenvarloch heard him bar a large door at the nearer end of the gallery, which served as a division betwixt the other parts of the extensive mansion, and the apartment occupied by his guest, which, as the reader is aware, had its access from the landing-place at the head of the grand staircase.